Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Great Myth of Britain's "Great Betrayal"

I wrote a proper book review of Ausgustine Meaher's The Road to Singapore (which inspired my recent post - The Mythology of British Weakness in the Second World War), which has been published in Quadrant magazine.

The link to my article The Great Myth of Britain's "Great Betrayal" is here.


  1. I found Meaher's book a bit based on myth itself. One need only read the title page to question Meaher's legitimacy as a serious writer. The cover title, and that on the title page, differ - and then he uses each title interchangibly in his preface/prologue.
    I doubt any historian disagrees that our inter-war politicans were deluded about Australia's defence. Even Day, Horner, Ross and the others he sets out to discredit left me with that impression.
    But Meaher is quite selective in his analysis, as he says are the others. He overlooks the particular effects of the Depression on Australia's economy - much worse here than in the UK and US. He overlooks the very many orders for equipment (mainly aircraft) placed on Britain that were never filled (even while orders for Finland and other non Empire countries were filled). He overloooks the interference run on Australia's aircraft and defence industry by Britain and some pro-British politicans. He justifies Churchill's treatment of Australia's forces (and Australia more generally) in a simple reference to the Westminster statute and Balfour Declaration (agreeing their foreign policy, he simplifies, means excusing everything Churchill's Britain did to Australia).
    He does not analyse Churchill's actions, and many of his key arguments lack any depth in analysis. His point that Australia misunderstood Empire Defence (viz local defence) is sound and is also widely acknowledged, but Meaher's basis is misleading. That Australia chose to raise its own navy rather than contribute $$ to the British RN is counter to his conclusion that Australia ignored her local defence. His RAAF example of the Demon fighter order in 1936 (the year UK ordered Spitfire/Hurricane) is a deceptive use of his reference. If he had read his reference in full (even the page preceding the one he quotes) he would have realised that many more Demons were ordered than he quotes, and that the new generation fighters took quite some time to mass production. On fighters, he does not explain why Australia had none - indeed, he completely overlooks the analysis that was done by Willams, Bostock and others including the British defence chiefs on Australia's need for a fighter.
    After reading your Quadrant Review of Meaher's PhD work, I looked forward to a read, but I was very disappointed. I don't recommend Meaher's book to anyone.

  2. Sorry if my review mislead you. The extra info I put in for clarity was not part of the book (which is why I said he was not a naval historian and didn;t cover a lot of it). He doesn't really get into armaments or reinforcements or any of that.

    Meaher states that he concentrates entirely on the failings of Australia's elites - political, social, military and economic. HIs book is quite good on these, but it is only supporting evidence for the overall trend of the discussion.

    (For a better historiographical analysis I hope you enjoy my more detailed article in a forthcoming Quadrant.)

  3. All military powers made some serious miscalculations though not always decisive one. Japanese never used their 65-70 high-quality U-boats to attack American supply. Germans and Japanese didn't quite well understand the idea of "superbattlefield". Britons didn't focus enough good aircraft for Navy carriers and made terrible mistakes sending battleships and other large vessels with poor aircover.

    If i had to select one great mistake both Japan and Germany made was their policy of training pilots after first huge success. They trusted too much on few thousand well trained pilots for air warfare. It was far far from enough as we noticed in action of 1943-44

    1. Good point, but all nations suffered from some variant of 'at the moment our X forces are the best, therefore we won't make adequate plans for the next generation...'
      The Germans and Japanese did this worst with planes and pilots, leaving upgrade models too late, and stepping up pilot production far too late.
      Mind you the British and the Americans did the same thing with Tanks!