Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Attack on the Takao

One of the most daring exploits of World War II, or naval warfare in general, was carried out by a young Royal Navy officer from Ealing, London, Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser. The son of a marine engineer, he worked in the merchant marine in the late 30’s and joined the Royal Navy in 1939, volunteering for submarine service. By 1943 he was serving on HMS Sahib with distinction and earned the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The following year he became a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve at the age of 24 and transferred to the special ‘midget submarine’ service. These were the X-craft mini-subs which had already earned a page in naval history for crippling the mighty German battleship Tirpitz in 1943. Lt. Fraser was to command an XE-craft which was an updated version of the X-craft that would see service in East Asia. An important point, though, was that the XE-craft were unarmed. They were designed to be taken by a combat submarine to the area of operations, dispatched to stealthily approach their target and then one man in diving gear would attach mines to the hull of their target and destroy it. It took men of exceptional courage and nerve to carry out such missions.

The Takao
Lt. Fraser and his boat, the XE-3 were to take part in “Operation Struggle”, the plan for the liberation of the vital fortress city of Singapore which had fallen to the Japanese in 1942. Allied troops were, by July of 1945, back on the Malay peninsula but they dared not move against Singapore because of the powerful guard Japan had posted in the Johore Strait. That was the target of XE-3, the powerful Japanese heavy cruiser Takao. The lead ship of its class, the Takao was an awesome sight to behold. With 127mm armor, bristling with 8-inch guns, 5-inch guns, anti-aircraft guns, torpedoes and depth charges and with powerful engines giving her a top speed of just over 35 knots the Takao was a floating example of the excellence of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Stationed where she was, no Allied advance on Singapore was possible as the 8-inch batteries on Takao could decimate any Allied army that attempted to cross the causeway. The Takao was also a battle-hardened veteran which had been in action since the war began and had sunk or crippled numerous Allied warships and merchant vessels. Targeted by the Allies many times, the Takao had been subject to submarine attack twice but survived and was hit in air attacks numerous times but survived. Now manned by a skeleton crew, the veteran ship was placed to cover the causeway and provide protection from air attack with her formidable (and greatly enlarged) arsenal of anti-aircraft guns.

This was a real David and Goliath type of mission, a battle-scarred Japanese heavy cruiser versus a British mini-sub without so much as a single machine gun or torpedo. Still, the X-craft had proven that, while the odds were long, they could achieve success and Fraser and his men were ready to try. The XE-3 was truly a “British Empire” submarine with a diverse crew. Alongside London-born Lieutenant Fraser was Lieutenant “Kiwi” Smith from New Zealand, their helmsman Charles Reed (the only other Brit) and an Irishman named J.J. “Mick” Magennis who would have to set the charges. All were hand-picked for the job and all but Fraser himself were veterans of mini-sub service. It was just after midnight on July 30, 1945 that XE-3, after being towed to the vicinity by His Majesty’s Submarine Stygian, crept toward the entrance to Johore Straits where the mighty Takao was waiting. Just after dawn Fraser sighted the island that marked the entrance to the strait and ordered the XE-3 to submerge. From then on, victory or death were the only alternatives.

The XE-4
As the sub swam towards the entrance to the straits, Fraser looked through the periscope to a frightening sight. The way was blocked by two Japanese gunboats which, with or without sonar, would have an easy time spotting the sub in the clear, shallow waters. It was the only safe entrance to the straits but the Japanese, never lacking in thoroughness, had sealed it off. Still, Fraser was determined to make the attack and he ordered Smith to surface the boat. With only seven inches of hull above water, it would be hard to spot the sub in the low light of early dawn, but if just one Japanese gunboat happened to, the XE-3 would be a sitting duck. Fraser decided to go ahead and with just the top of his head peering out from the hatch he passed commands to steer the XE-3 past the watchful gunboats, doing his best to hug the shore. When the curving coast finally hid the gunboats from view, Fraser ordered the boat into the swept central passage and increased to flank speed, a mere 6 and a half knots for his little craft. It was risky, but if they didn’t strike fast the odds would be even greater that the Japanese would destroy them before they ever got near the Takao.

Then, as the sub was surging forward as best it could, around another bend in the strait appeared another Japanese gunboat. Immediately, Fraser ordered them to dive and once submerged turned hard to starboard (that’s “right” in naval talk). Even if they were not spotted, they would be just as dead if the Japanese inadvertently rammed them. However, as it happened, they had turned right into a minefield. If they hit one of the mine cables, it would pull the explosive down on them and end their lives right there. Plus, if the gunboat had spotted them, just one depth charge, anywhere in the immediate area, would set off the mines and they would be blown into a million pieces. It was a desperate gamble, but if they hadn’t been spotted, the minefield would prevent them from being detected -the downside being that it could easily kill them with just one wrong move. They sat silent for what seemed like an eternity, all nerves jumping when the sound of a mine scraping against the hull reminded them of just how perilous their situation was. Luckily, it didn’t go off and eventually floated free. With plenty of time having elapsed for the ship to pass them by, Fraser ordered them to move slowly out of the minefield. It would have been nice to see what exactly was in front of them but raising the periscope could happen to set off a mine so, instead, they carefully and blindly crept forward.

The Takao
Once clear, a quick look through the periscope showed them to be only 3,000 yards from the harbor where the Takao lay at anchor. But, between them and the harbor was a steel anti-submarine net with only one gate, operated by a nearby trawler to let friendly traffic in and out. Fraser waited and soon enough the trawler dragged open the gate to let out a tanker. As the big ship went through, Fraser ordered flank speed and the XE-3 surged forward, through the gate and into the harbor. Looking through the periscope, their wasn’t much to see but dilapidated old junks. By the summer of 1945 the Imperial Japanese Navy had been practically wiped out but that also meant that a powerful warship like the Takao would be all the more heavily guarded. Yet, while the XE-3 circled the harbor, searching and searching, the Takao was nowhere to be seen. It was as if an entire heavy cruiser had just vanished. Fraser and his men started to get rattled. Where could it be? Every hour that slipped by increased the odds that they would be detected and a heavy cruiser should have been the easiest thing in the world to find. A 10,000-ton battle cruiser is not something you just miss.

Just then, Fraser spotted through the periscope a launch full of sailors, all smartly uniformed, coming out of a group of old fishing boats near a tangle of jungle. They had to be from Takao and as he looked more closely he finally spotted the carefully camouflaged heavy cruiser. The Japanese had made the ship as close to invisible as it could possibly get, however, once spotted, Fraser retracted the periscope and maneuvered in blind, unable to risk being spotted himself, while Magennis prepared to make his attack. They crept forward, bumping along a rise in the harbor floor that served as a natural anti-submarine defense. As the depth gauge moved higher and higher they finally clanged into the side of the cruiser. At that point, Fraser had to maneuver the XE-3 underneath the Takao to set the charges on her keel, otherwise the full impact of the explosion would be directed away from the ship. There was a shallow area on the bottom that seemed just large enough for the British sub. Finally, a terrible noise told them they had scraped the bottom of the warship and, halfway under the beast, Fraser stopped. It was time for Magennis to make the attack.

The XE-8
The intrepid Irishman in his diving gear exited the submarine, retrieved the limpet bomb from its compartment and tried to attach it to the Takao’s hull. However, the ship was so encrusted with barnacles that the magnet wouldn’t stick. Magennis had to use his knife to scrape away the crusty covering, cutting himself on the barnacles in the process, until he finally reached the hull and could attach the bomb. It took so much time that he almost exhausted his oxygen supply but he kept his cool and just in time managed to attach all five bombs and return to the submarine. Once back aboard, all that was left was for Fraser to release the two bow canisters of explosives and they were done. The port canister was released but something went wrong and the starboard canister remained stuck. There was no time to coax it, in one hour the limpet bombs would go off and if they were not well away the XE-3 would be hoisted on its own petard. Fraser decided to get out and release the other canister in the harbor. He ordered engines back full but, to the horror of all, the little sub didn’t move. They had been down so long that the tide had fallen and the Takao was now pressing down on them, pinning them to the harbor bottom. The clock ticked away to certain death.

Fraser ordered the engines to full speed, forward and then back again, trying to dislodge the sub. It didn’t work. Desperate, he ordered the ballast tanks blown to lighten them, and tried again. Finally, the XE-3 pushed free but as the ballast tanks were empty, they immediately began to rocket to the surface. Immediately, Fraser ordered an emergency dive, re-filling the tanks. If they had popped to the surface right there, they would have been dead in the water. However, releasing the port canister while the starboard remained had made them lighter while throwing off their balance, the sub continued to rise and finally burst up on to the surface. The Japanese, somehow, didn’t notice them but in forty minutes and counting they would certainly notice the five bombs going off under the Takao. Fraser had to get that other canister off immediately.

Magennis and Fraser
“Mick” Magennis got his gear on and headed into the diving trunk again. Everyone waited, watching the minutes tick by till the bombs would explode. Magennis soon found the problem; the threads on the bolts attaching the canister to the sub were jammed. It took every ounce of strength he had but he finally got them off and the canister fell into the harbor. He raced back inside and Fraser turned the little sub for the harbor entrance with all the speed possible. They only had ten minutes before the bombs exploded. Just as the XE-3 got clear of the harbor gate they heard the huge explosion as the bombs detonated, raising the Takao up in the water and tearing a huge hole in the underside of the massive cruiser. Amazingly, the rugged ship still did not sink but it was certainly crippled and put completely out of action. Almost 1,800 Japanese officers and sailors lost their lives on the Takao, the formidable heavy cruiser was out of the war for good and the main defense of Singapore had been eliminated -and all by one tiny submarine and four Royal Navy sailors with nerves of steel. David had brought down Goliath.

The men of the XE-3 returned to a well-deserved heroes welcome. Twelve hours later they were picked up in the Singapore Strait by HMS Stygian and His Majesty King George VI awarded Reed and Smith the Distinguished Service Order and for Fraser and Magennis the coveted Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for courage in the face of the enemy. Fraser was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and continued to serve in the Royal Navy and then Royal Navy Reserve until 1965. He died in 2008 at the age of 87. For this daring operation, all of them earned an honored place in the annals of naval history.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Australia in World War II

The Commonwealth of Australia came of age as a country in the Twentieth Century. Australian forces had proven themselves in the First World War in numerous engagements, from the brutal stalemate of Gallipoli to their hard charging success in the Middle East. Australia was a growing, thriving country that fit in well with the British Empire. All serious people understood that this was essential for Australia in terms of national defense. With a small population it had an army of less than 100,000 men, a navy which could boast no larger warships than two cruisers and an air force of less than 300, mostly outdated, airplanes. The Australian armed forces, with their courage and rugged resilience, could hit above their weight but there was no realistic way the country could stand alone against the potential threats they faced. The most immediate threat faced by Australia was the Empire of Japan and this was understood well before the outbreak of war. Japan was the only country in the region that had naval and air forces capable of attacking Australia and it had the manpower available to have Australia totally outmatched.

This disparity was the reason why Australia was most reluctant to see the Anglo-Japanese alliance come to an end in 1921. It improved relations with the United States but the Americans would make no promises to defend Australia or any part of the British Empire in case of attack and so the Australians preferred to maintain the alliance with Japan at least until Australian military strength could be increased to a level that would give Japan pause should the “Land of the Rising Sun” turn hostile. This, however, was not to be and the alliance was terminated which necessitated Australia holding closely to Great Britain and the rest of the empire as the country would have to depend on the Royal Navy to be their shield against a possible Japanese attack. Later, anti-British elements in Australia would pour scorn on this policy but it was, putting history and sentiment aside, the only sensible thing for Australia to do. Thus, as concerned events in Europe, whatever action or inaction the British government took, they could count on Australia’s full support. When war broke out over the German invasion of Poland in 1939 there was no debate, if Britain was at war with Germany then Australia was as well.

Naturally, Australia was concerned about their own security given that Japan was part of the Axis but, in what turned out to be a major and costly mistake for Great Britain, the leadership in London assured Australia that there was no real danger of war with Japan. Australian forces were mobilized for action on the continent of Europe but the German conquest of France was so swift that the British had been forced to pull out before the Australians arrived. Still, their presence was felt soon enough as Australian pilots gave good service in the Battle of Britain and ships of the Royal Australian Navy scored several successes in the Mediterranean against the Italians. Australian troops first saw major action in the extremely successful Operation Compass in North Africa which drove the Italians out of Egypt and deep into Libya. Although often outnumbered, the Australians were backed up by British tanks and artillery that the Italians had no answer for and the Australian troops won a string of victories in North Africa in 1941. Their most important prize was the capture of the port city of Tobruk along with 25,000 Italian prisoners in January. But the British offensive was stopped and the situation changed dramatically with the arrival of the German “Afrika Korps” under General Erwin Rommel.

Australians defending Tobruk
Rightly guessing his enemy to be tired and over-stretched, Rommel threw caution to the wind and launched an immediate counter-offensive that drove the Allied forces back. However, the Australians proved their worth in what must be remembered as one of the proudest pages in Australian military history. Rommel was determined to take Tobruk and the garrison that defended it was largely Australian, commanded first by Australian General Sir Leslie Morshead, a tough, strict, no-nonsense general who would win more than his share of victories in World War II. Asked to hold Tobruk for two months, the hard fighting Australians held on for the better part of seven until November of 1941 when the siege was lifted, withstanding numerous, ferocious assaults by German and Italian forces. The Royal Australian Navy too played an important part in the gallant defense of Tobruk by ferrying supplies to the embattled garrison in spite of heavy attacks by Italo-German naval and air forces. The fighting was fierce and the sacrifices were great but the Australians held the port, taking everything that Rommel threw at them and earned the status of heroes.

Australian forces would serve with distinction throughout the North African campaign but, of course, by the end of 1941 there was a new and more immediate enemy to worry about when after the first week of December 1941 the Empire of Japan launched attacks on Hawaii, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia where many Australian troops were stationed. Because of the focus on the war in Europe, where the British were fighting for their lives, the British Empire was militarily weak in East Asia. To put it another way, they were focused on defending the front door from Germany and Italy when the back door was kicked in by Japan.
Still, despite having few forces available and being largely unprepared, Australian forces fought as hard as their countrymen in Europe and North Africa. In the swift and stunning onslaught by Japanese forces under General Yamashita in Malaysia it was the Australians who were brought in after the Indian forces were decimated on the Slim River. At Johor, with their backs to the wall of fortress Singapore, the hard-fighting Australians brought the Japanese to a halt, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Unable to break the Australians, the Japanese were forced to flank them with an amphibious landing. Breaking through the Indian forces holding that line, the Australians finally had to pull back.

Execution of an Australian POW
Singapore was the linchpin of British military strategy in the region and it was a shock to the world when the vital port city surrendered to a Japanese army that was much smaller and almost out of ammunition. Almost 15,000 Australians were among those British Imperial forces who became prisoners of the Japanese, representing about 25% of all Australian forces serving overseas. It was a terrible blow that Churchill himself lamented as the worst disaster in British military history. Those taken prisoner would suffer immense hardships and often cruelty. Thousands of Australians would not survive captivity, dying from disease, starvation, brutal treatment or outright execution. With a death rate some seven times that of prisoners held by Germany or Italy, it was something Australians would never forget. Yet, more setbacks were in store as the Japanese swept across Southeast Asia and the Pacific. An early target was Rabaul in New Britain off Papua New Guinea (itself an Australian possession at the time). Reinforcements couldn’t reach Rabaul and the garrison was forced to surrender. Many were executed by the Japanese and many more were killed when the ship they were on was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine. Rabaul then became a major base for Japanese forces in the South Pacific.

In the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) Australian forces were sent to reinforce the small Dutch colonial army but it was an almost hopeless enterprise from the start. Japanese victories at sea meant that island garrisons were cut off and even if not defeated outright would have to surrender eventually. Yet, some did not as on Timor where the Australians waged a guerilla war against the Japanese for a year. Others who did surrender often met a grisly fate as over 300 Australian prisoners of war were massacred by the Japanese in a series of mass killings in February of 1942. Eventually, almost all of the East Indies fell to Japan and there was a massive buildup of military forces in Australia as fears grew of a Japanese attack.

Training to defend the homeland
Such fears were not hysteria as there was a Japanese proposal for an invasion of Australia. However, it was never adopted and while there was a more realistic plan for a strike southward to sever the shipping lanes between Australia and America this plan was dropped in favor of Admiral Yamamoto’s campaign aimed at the island of Midway. As we know, the Battle of Midway was a disaster for Japan and represented a turning point in the Pacific War after which, almost without exception, Japanese forces suffered one defeat after another. Prior to the fall of the Philippines, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia to take command of all Allied forces in the southwest Pacific. This was a major turning point for Australia as the government, for the first time, turned to look toward the United States as a strategic defense partner rather than Great Britain. That policy has remained in place from 1942 until the present day. Australia was a huge and vital staging ground for Allied operations in World War II with over a million American troops passing through the country. Australia supplied a great deal of the resources necessary for the war and along with Australian military personnel, Australian civilians at home and on other islands in the vicinity often gave invaluable service as observers in coastal areas, keeping watch and informing the Allied command of Japanese movements.

Unlike the experience of those Australians serving in North Africa against the Germans and Italians, where a measure of chivalry still lingered, what those in the east were fighting was no “Gentleman’s War”. As American and Australian forces went on the offensive in New Guinea, more Australian forces were massacred after surrendering by the Japanese and, as a result, the Australians generally stopped giving any quarter to the enemy which, in any event, was often not requested anyway. After being defeated on Guadalcanal, Japanese forces began to pull back to New Guinea but Australian and American air power devastated their forces at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. It was one more step in the turning tide as American and Australian forces began driving the Japanese out of New Guinea, striking rapidly while bypassing stronger points that would wither away in isolation. From about the middle of 1943 onward it was the Australian and other Allied forces that were on the advance throughout New Guinea though the fighting was fierce and the conditions brutal for the troops on both sides.

The bombing of Darwin
At home, while in no danger from invasion, Australia was certainly not immune from attack. Starting in February of 1942 the Japanese launched air attacks on the northern port of Darwin, putting it out of action and killing some 235 people. Periodic Japanese bombing attacks on northern Australia continued throughout the rest of the year and most of 1943. Fortunately, Japan did not have sufficient aircraft or available nearby bases for these to do much serious damage. And, there were also attacks from the sea to worry about. Several German raiders and one German U-Boat operated in Australian waters during the war and Japanese submarines sunk a number of ships around Australia. In May of 1942 three Japanese midget-submarines infiltrated Sidney harbor to attack Allied ships. Two were detected and destroyed before they could make their attack but a third managed to sink a converted ferry before it too was lost. The operation had been a failure but it made the point that even Sidney was not immune from attack. In the naval fight it was fortunate that the Japanese did not use their submarines to best advantage but still, some managed to do quite a bit of damage, none more so than the I-21 which sank 45,000 tons of Allied shipping in Australian waters. Whether close to home or on the other side of the world the Royal Australian Navy gave good service against the navies of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Starting in 1944, the Australian military contribution to the war effort began to be downsized. For a country with so small a population, it was already trying to do too much and the British and American leadership agreed that Australia would be of more help putting more men back to work on the home front to support the war effort of the other Allies, particularly the United States, which had more than sufficient numbers of men and machines to carry on the fight. Still, the remaining Australian forces played an important part in re-taking New Guinea, liberating the Philippines and in such naval battles as Leyte Gulf which practically destroyed the Imperial Japanese Navy as an effective fighting force forever. Australian personnel also played an important part in driving the Japanese out of the Dutch East Indies, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands. From the Greek islands and Libya to Iran to the Philippines, the Australians fought with equal tenacity all over the world. Australian military leaders were even organizing their contribution to the planned invasion of Japan which thankfully proved unnecessary. At the very end, as the Allies accepted the Japanese surrender on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, it was General (later Field Marshal) Sir Thomas Blamey, victorious commander of several operations in the New Guinea campaign, who signed on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Blamey accepting Japan's surrender
The Australians had fought long and hard in World War II and paid a heavy price. In the fighting against Axis forces in Europe and Africa the Australians lost a little over 9,500 men killed and about as many wounded. Against the Japanese the Australians lost about 17,500 killed and 14,000 wounded. About 8,000 Australians were captured by German and Italian forces, mostly in Greece or as a result of being shot down in the air war. Most were relatively well treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The largest number, over 21,000, were captured by the Japanese, mostly in the early part of the war. Unlike their countrymen in Europe, only about 14,000 of these men survived their captivity. Almost half of the total number of Australians who lost their lives in the Pacific War died after being taken prisoner rather than in battle. World War II affected Australia as no other conflict ever had. From the burning sands of Tobruk to the steamy jungles of New Guinea the Royal Australian Armed forces had earned a reputation for determined defense and courageous attacks. Industrial growth was spurred by war production at home, a greater interest was taken in world affairs and Australian security policy shifted from alignment with Britain toward alignment with the United States. There was also a move to grow the Australian population by encouraging immigration. Some of these changes worked out for the best, others did not, however, good and bad alike, the Second World War had a huge impact on Australia and for a country of its size, the Australian contribution proved decisive in several areas to the ultimate Allied victory.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Britain and the War It Couldn't Win

In the history of mankind, no political entity ever came close to matching the British Empire at its peak. After World War I, the British Empire; the United Kingdom, its territories, protectorates, mandates, the Empire of India and associated Commonwealths covered more land and sea and included more peoples than any other empire in the history of the world. George VI, the last British King-Emperor, reigned over an empire larger than that of Alexander the Great, Caesar Trajan or Genghis Khan. Winston Churchill, at the height of the battle of Britain, famously said that, “…if the British Empire, and its commonwealths, last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘THIS was their finest hour’”. Absolutely no one could deny that this was true. Yet, the British Empire was not to last a thousand years and almost before World War II was over, the dissolution of this monument to Anglo-Saxon civilization had already begun. Because it was so large, covering so many diverse lands and peoples, there has never been a greater setback to the cause of monarchy than the break-up of the British Empire whose collapse gave birth to so many republics across Africa and southern Asia. How could this have happened?

The causes of this catastrophe can be categorized in a number of ways. There were economic, strategic, military and political reasons for it. One of the greatest strengths of the British people, at least to my mind, was their ability to admit their own mistakes, look at them honestly and improve themselves going forward. The examples of this are numerous, in numerous fields, from politics to the military. However, when it came to foreign policy, past wisdom seemed to be increasingly forgotten in the events leading up to World War II. The First World War had left the British Empire at its peak in terms of size, but in economic terms it was stretched to the breaking point. The total war that Britain embarked on in 1914 had caused all other considerations to be set aside in favor of destroying Imperial Germany. Part of that included putting the British Empire deep in debt to the United States to buy the food, war materials and other necessary resources to keep Britain in the fight so that, by the time it was over, Britain owed billions of dollars to America. This, combined with a rise in the socialist movement within the trade unions after the war meant that the British Empire was economically unprepared for the strain and expense of an even larger, costlier world war in 1939. Before it was over, by choosing to fight in 1939 the British government was forced to turn over virtually its entire gold reserve to the United States to sustain the war effort.

In strategic terms, the strength of the British Empire depended on maintaining control of several vital “choke points” around the globe. British leaders had, for centuries, taken care to bring these “choke points” under the control of London so that, about the only one Britain did not control was the Panama Canal. To keep open the trade and supply lines vital to maintaining the empire, Britain had to maintain control of several strategic points such as Gibraltar, Malta and the Suez Canal through the Mediterranean and Singapore in South East Asia. After World War I all of these strategic points were totally secure and yet, due to foreign policy decisions, all were threatened by the start of World War II. In terms of foreign policy, the traditional British practice was to remain aloof from the continent to focus on maintaining control of the oceans and maritime trade routes which were vital to the empire. Britain would intervene on the continent only if the balance of power was disrupted to the point to become a potential threat to Britain’s global possessions. However, after World War I the British government began making extensive promises to continental powers and made several decisions which imperiled Britain’s strategic “choke points” around the globe.

One of the first such decisions was ending the alliance Britain had with the Empire of Japan since 1902. When representatives of the British Empire met to discuss the treaty, all but Canada favored renewing the alliance. The Canadian Prime Minister feared that his country would suffer if trouble developed between Japan and the United States while the British Empire was allied to Japan. Naturally, the United States wanted an end to the alliance as American business feared that it would allow Japan to dominate Asian markets. Ultimately, Britain decided it was better to end the alliance with Japan to improve relations with the United States. However, while Britain was already in a position in which it was certainly necessary to keep on good terms with America, this was not necessarily beneficial to the British Empire as a whole. Under the terms of the original 1902 treaty, Japan was bound to defend the British possessions in Asia in case of trouble. There were even provisions requiring Japan to deploy sizable numbers of troops to India if the subcontinent ever rose up in rebellion against British rule. Needless to say, the United States was not about to make similar promises and by ending the treaty, Japan immediately ceased to be an ally and became a potential threat. This, combined with post-war reductions in naval armaments, meant that British possessions were left vulnerable and it placed vital strategic positions, such as Singapore, open to Japanese attack.

Of course, there had been increased tensions with Japan since the end of World War I and one could reasonably argue that Japan would have been a potential enemy in any event. Was Japan really adhering to the alliance in good faith? Especially since the war with Russia, many Asian colonial dissident groups looked to Japan for inspiration and support in throwing off British rule and such rebel groups were not lacking in sympathizers within Japan. Racist sentiments were growing, coinciding with the pan-Asian movement that aimed to expel all Europeans from the region. Therefore, the case could be made that by ending the alliance and drawing closer to the United States, Britain was simply preparing for a time when Japan would break the alliance anyway. Yet, as things stood prior to the outbreak of World War II, nothing Japan had done had threatened British possessions or interests in the region. Japanese expansion had focused on northeast Asia, far from the British sphere of influence in China or British holdings in India and Southeast Asia. The choice to go to war with Germany in 1939, however, removed all British options in Asia. Forced to focus British military force on Europe and North Africa, British possessions in Asia were ripe for attack and only American military assistance could stop Japan from striking the British Empire while Britain itself was fighting a titanic struggle in the west against the Germans. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Burma would all ultimately fall to the Japanese and while British rule would be restored after the war, it was not to last for long.

In the west, other foreign policy decisions also turned another former ally into a potential (and ultimately actual) enemy which was the Kingdom of Italy, which just happened to sit astride the vital British lifeline through the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Suez. Originally, even after Mussolini came to power in 1921, there were no serious problems in Anglo-Italian relations. In contrast to Hitler’s admiration of the Fascist dictator, Mussolini was not well disposed to the Nazi leader. When Nazis in Austria assassinated the chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, it was Mussolini who rushed Italian troops to the border and forced Hitler to back down. However, the Duce was rather annoyed that neither Britain nor France supported him in the emergency. However, what proved to be the breaking point in Anglo-Italian relations was the outbreak of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1935. Here was a case of high-minded principle coming into conflict with British imperial interests. Popular opinion in Britain, as with most of the rest of the liberal-democratic world, was firmly in sympathy with Ethiopia (though neither side was liberal or democratic) and yet the interests of the British Empire were not at all impacted by the issue of whether Haile Selassie or Victor Emmanuel III were Emperor of Ethiopia.

Public opinion, however, proved decisive and the British joined in placing sanctions on Italy which were not strong enough to cripple the Italian war effort but were strong enough to enrage public opinion against what Mussolini called the “plutocratic democracies of the west”, primarily Britain and France. In the end, despite the sanctions, the Italians conquered Ethiopia in seven months and Haile Selassie went into exile in England. Mussolini, because of the sanctions, was always particularly infuriated by efforts to use economic pressure to force a course of action and the sanctions imposed on Italy because of the war in Abyssinia represented a burning of bridges between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Italy. Mussolini put aside his past feelings and embraced the one major power that had not joined in the sanctions against Italy: Nazi Germany. Too late, Britain seemed to recognize that Hitler was the real threat that had to be opposed and tried to get Italy to come back alongside Britain and France in opposing Germany but this request was made, embarrassingly, while the sanctions were still in effect and needless to say, Mussolini was content to stand with Hitler and forsake any friendship with the British Empire.

Rather like World War II as a whole, Britain had taken a stand, almost universally considered on the moral high ground but which proved detrimental to the strategic interests of the British Empire. Italy had gone from an enemy of Germany to her primary ally and the British lifeline through the Mediterranean was under threat. And, it proved to be rather useless anyway as the British government ultimately recognized Italian rule of Abyssinia in 1938. So, the sanctions did no good, Ethiopia was still conquered, Britain eventually accepted the conquest and all that was achieved was to the benefit of Nazi Germany which gained an ally that threatened Britain’s lifeline in the Mediterranean and a free hand to annex Austria which Mussolini no longer objected to after the Abyssinian war. This also had some serious ramifications for the cause of monarchy which often goes unmentioned in histories of the build-up to World War II. It is not entirely out of order to suggest that the Franco-British opposition to the Italian conquest of Abyssinia thwarted a very real possibility of a restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy.

Previous efforts to restore the Hapsburg monarchy had been centered on Hungary and were thwarted by real or perceived Franco-British opposition as well as the unwillingness of the regent Admiral Horthy to give up power. Austria, however, was a different story as it became clear fairly early on that the only foreign countries which really mattered to Austria were Germany on one hand and Italy on the other. There had been an effort at a revival of nationalism in the country under the leadership of the “Austrofascists” led by Englebert Dollfuss. Dollfuss had courted the monarchists but never brought them home from the dance. His successor (after his aforementioned assassination by local Nazis), Kurt von Schuschnigg, was a different story. He took more pro-monarchy steps than his predecessor, actually met with the heir to the throne, Archduke Otto and stated that the monarchy would be restored within one year. He even broached the subject to Mussolini who had no objection and even considered that (yet another) royal marriage between the Houses of Hapsburg and Savoy would be beneficial. According to what Schuschnigg told Archduke Otto, it was not a question of “if” the monarchy would be restored but simply “when”. All that changed with the Abyssinian war, after which Mussolini dropped his opposition to Germany annexing Austria and Hitler did so enthusiastically, conspicuously naming his invasion plan “Operation Otto”.

Finally, it is also true that while Britain was attempting to draw a line in the sand against Italy, it was making agreements with Hitler’s Germany. As most know, there were several points at which German expansion could have been stopped. When the German military moved back to the French border, even Hitler admitted that the French could have easily stopped him but Britain wouldn’t back up France and so France did nothing. Austria was an opportunity but was lost due to the opposition to the Italo-Abyssinian War. Czechoslovakia was another but it too was lost and partly due to the fact that the German cause seemed to be not entirely unjust. There were some in the Allied nations who felt rather guilty about the treatment of Germany after World War I and who felt that German desires for a redress of Versailles were not unreasonable. However, the bottom line is that so long as Hitler focused his expansion on Eastern Europe there was little to nothing that Britain could really do to stop him. When Britain finally decided that they would let Hitler go no further the issue in question was Poland and there simply wasn’t anything Britain could do to aid Poland in the event of a German attack. Britain gave Poland a war guarantee and did go to war with Germany over the German invasion but while Britain could go to war with Germany in retribution for invading Poland there was no way Britain could actually help defend Poland and stop Hitler from conquering it in the first place.

It is also an obvious, if unpleasant, fact that the interests of the British Empire were in no way threatened by the German flag being raised over Danzig or German road and rail links being established with the isolated rump of East Prussia which is what the German-Polish dispute centered on. The only power on earth that was positioned to stop the Germans in Poland was the Soviet Union and Hitler and Stalin had signed a pact and the Soviets were even prepared to take eastern Poland when war broke out, which they did. Obviously, given that, there was nothing Britain could do to actually help Poland and British military preparedness had been woefully neglected, particularly considering the course of British foreign policy. In 1939 Britain was pledged to defend a country it couldn’t reach with an army it didn’t have to thwart a country that did not, as yet, pose any threat to the British Empire. A very small minority of writers have argued that Britain fostered the build-up to war by giving the war guarantee to Poland, without which the Poles might have been more willing to give in to Hitler’s demands regarding Danzig and corridor. That just might be possible, but sounds like pandering to anti-British sentiment to me. Poland made mistakes on its own and does not seem to have been inclined to surrender territory under any circumstances. It was a country that had known years of subjugation and it is not surprising that the Poles were rather hostile toward their former masters after regaining independence as well as being over-confident after giving the incompetent Bolsheviks a thrashing in 1920.

Whether Britain did the right thing in declaring war on Germany on behalf of Poland in 1939 is hardly debatable. That is what is usually focused on. What is not is the question; was it prudent? In terms of the British Empire and the place of Great Britain as a major power, the answer must be “no”. Britain had nothing to gain and everything to lose because, right or wrong, it was a war that Britain could not win. Of course, the British Empire did not immediately go to war with all the Axis powers in 1939 but given recent policy it should have been obvious that such an outcome was highly probable and that was a war that was simply beyond the strength and resources of Britain to win. Britain had to have considerable help, which ultimately meant an unsavory alliance with Stalin (and thus the loss of the independence of those countries Britain went to war over in the first place) as well becoming totally indebted to the United States, the only country economically powerful enough to lend the money needed even before the USA came into the war. In short, the British Empire had entered into a war which could only be won in concert with two other countries, both of which were led by men opposed to the British Empire continuing.

The British didn’t have to go to war in 1939 nor did Britain have to continue to fight after the conquest of France and the retreat from Dunkirk. That they did so is something that everyone in Europe and not a few countries around the world who have no wish to imagine living under Axis domination should be grateful for. Because Britain became, necessarily, a more minor player in the war from 1942 onward alongside the massive militaries of America and Russia, the world tends to forget that it was Great Britain and the British Empire that took a stand, fighting a war in which they stood to gain nothing and which they had no realistic hope of being able to win prior to 1942. The British government willingly chose to sacrifice the greatest empire in history and Britain’s place as a top-tier power in order to wage war against Germany (and later Italy and Japan) in order to ensure that none of the Axis powers would be great powers themselves. Those who are quick to criticize the British Empire should think about that and what might have happened if the British had just given up on having an empire some time before and just how much they sacrificed in order to see the Axis powers defeated.

Whether the sacrifice was worth it or not is a judgment call and not the sort of thing one can ever know for sure as there is no way of knowing precisely how the world situation would have developed in the event of an Axis victory. What we do know for sure is that even if Britain had self-interested motives, viewing a Europe with Nazi Germany as the dominant power, Italy having control of the Horn of Africa or sacrificing American goodwill in exchange for the continued alliance with Japan as all being potentially bad for British interests in the long-run, the fact remains that the actions of Britain were not self-interested at all and while others certainly gained a great deal from World War II, Britain certainly gained nothing but the knowledge that if Britain would no longer be a great power, none of the Axis countries would either. Whether it was a fair trade depends on whether or not one views the current world order as positive or negative but the fact that Britain made the decision and sacrificed the empire to fight a war that could not be won on British, imperial and commonwealth strength alone is beyond question.

It did not, of course, have to happen that way. British policy makers could have said that unless America was prepared to make a better offer, the Japanese alliance would be maintained. After all, if there had been trouble with Japan in the future, the same factors which caused America to oppose the alliance would have ensured that America would have stood with Britain anyway. The British government could have said that Ethiopian independence was not worth losing Mussolini as an enemy of Hitler and block against the German annexation of Austria. In that event, if Britain had still decided that Danzig and the Polish corridor was worth a war with Germany, it would have been a more localized conflict that Britain stood a better chance of winning without having Malta, Suez, India and Singapore under threat at the same time. Being able to focus the Royal Navy and RAF in particular on Europe rather than stretching them over the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, would have been a considerable advantage. However, all things being as they were, when Britain chose to go to war in 1939, British leadership was simply impossible to maintain. It was impossible because Britain had only America to turn to for the money, munitions and resources essential to fighting the war and thus had to ultimately defer to the wishes of the United States just as, likewise, Britain had little choice but to agree to the extensive demands of Stalin for fear that he would capitulate or make a separate peace that would allow the Axis forces to concentrate all their strength on Great Britain.

It would be quite easy for monarchists who do not look down on the British Empire as is so fashionable these days, to look at its demise and the resulting upswing in the number of republics around the world, and say that it was too great a price to pay. It is certainly very easy to moan and groan about the world order that prevails today and wish that things could be different. However, I would say that, even for such monarchists, what would be an even more terrible vision than the British Empire going down in order to defeat the Axis powers would have been for Britain to have remained aloof only to see the likes of Clement Attlee elected to power and then the dissolution of the British Empire anyway, without even a great struggle to say that, at the end of the day, it was worth it. Friends and enemies of the British Empire alike would do well to give that some thought. Again, no one can say what would have happened for sure and I have puzzled over whether it was worth it or not, but that is ultimately for the British and Commonwealth Realms to determine. It is certainly though, something to think about and consider carefully whenever the subject of the British Empire comes up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Vision for the Future of Great Britain

Since this is the first foray into what might become a new mini-series of articles, allow me to establish a few guidelines as to what exactly I am going to be talking about. In short, this article (or “these articles” depending on how things go) will be on realistic policy proposals that I would like to see for the current monarchy in question (in this case Great Britain) for the not-to-distant future. By “realistic” I do not mean things that are likely to happen; that would be too great a leap for someone like me. My opinions are certainly not currently popular or anywhere close to being mainstream to suppose that. What I mean by “realistic” is that these are things which will be at least within the realm of possibility; things which are not so far-fetched as to be all but impossible. Were that not the case I would simply be relating a vision of my ideal future which would be extremely, gloriously reactionary but which is not grounded in reality and, while it might be fun, would be hard to argue as being in any way helpful. As I have said before, I am both a “theoretic monarchist” and an “active monarchist” in that, while interested in theory and ideals I am also about defending the monarchies that still exist in the world and restoring those that have fallen. That means that you have to work with the tools you have available to you, you have to match your tactics to the situation and recognize that, as Bismarck said, politics is the art of the possible.

So, I will be trying to temper my desires, at least as much as I can, by practical reality even though there will doubtlessly be those who will ignore everything I’ve just said and react as though everything I write here is my ideal. It is not, nor is most of it going to be all that likely but I am trying to at least meet the modern world I generally despise half way. These are things which probably will not happen but which could happen that I would like to see, perhaps unlikely but not totally impossible. And, as usual when it comes to policy matters, these opinions could change, depending on the circumstances or some new understanding on my part. Having gotten all of that out of the way, let us proceed with a proposed vision for the future of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

When it comes to internal politics, there seems to be no chance of really significant changes in policy when even UKIP is promising to maintain the NHS. When it comes to Parliament, similarly, while my greatest wish would be to see the restoration of the hereditary house of lords (with some reforms to make it more size-appropriate) that also seems to be beyond the pale given the current values of the public. Talk of lords reform, therefore, moves me very little because what exists today is no House of Lords at all and I cannot be very moved about changes to it or replacing it. The real thing (or what was left of it) was destroyed by Tony Blair, what exists now is a mockery and I have no time for it. What does seem increasingly likely though is the continuing trend of devolution and it seems, like it or not, probably that the future United Kingdom will consist of essentially autonomous “states” of Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and perhaps England. My best hope for this would be that such an autonomy would prove to the peoples of Britain which policies work and which do not as they would be forced to accept the consequences of their own decisions and, again being optimistic, this would ultimately cause the country as a whole to adopt wiser policies and be the better off for that. Aside from that, internally, much of the problems in Britain come down to matters of culture and much of that concerns the population and demographic changes. For the most part, those cannot be undone. Laws and policies can be changed but when a population is changed it is changed forever. Efforts can be made to minimize the impact but to a large extent there is simply no way to reverse things at this point for a moral people. It was possible in the days of Enoch Powell (whose statistical predictions have been proven to have been far too conservative even though he was accused in his day of being an alarmist), it is not possible anymore. My primary focus here though is to be on foreign policy.

In 2012 British Tory MEP Daniel Hannan spoke at the Manning Conference in Canada and in the Q&A period following his remarks was asked about an exchange of letters in the National Post concerning the Anglosphere. Mr. Hannan, in his remarks, had spoken a great deal about the Anglosphere and how much the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand had in common, at least in the conservative principles all have traditionally held and which are defended by the political right in these countries. A questioner, referencing the exchange in the National Post, asked Hannan’s opinion on the idea of the Anglosphere countries (presumably those named above) dropping out of the EU (for Britain), NATO and even the UN to form their own political, economic and military alliance. Hannan’s response was short and simple, “I’m in favor”. It is pleasing enough to me that his answer was so brief because, inevitably, when Hannan goes on at length he ends up saying things that offend my monarchist sensibilities so we will leave it at that as well.

I would be most ardently in favor of Britain getting out of the EU in particular and joining in a closer alliance with the Commonwealth Realms and, perhaps, in so doing become such an economic and trading powerhouse as to put the EU to shame. It is unfortunate that the current leadership of the Tory party does not share Hannan’s firm opposition to EU membership. However, another party that certainly does is the UK Independence Party and its leader, Nigel Farage, has spoken frequently of his vision for a United Kingdom that, once free of the constraints of the EU, renews closer ties with the countries of the Commonwealth, particularly those parts of the former British Empire which remain the most similar in their values, economies, language and principles. Indeed, Farage has spoken of Britain joining the EU almost as a betrayal, of turning their backs on the Commonwealth Realms with whom Britain has traditionally been most attached. The case for a new sort of Commonwealth alliance seems to be an increasingly easy one to make with support for the EU at record low levels in Britain and with the UN being seen increasingly as either a useless nuisance or an outright farce.

Since NATO has been mentioned and since the country has already been mentioned once, some comment should probably be made about the United States. Should this renegade republic be allowed into such a club? In economic terms it certainly has a market larger than any other potential member but I think a revived, new form of the Commonwealth would be a good idea with or without the United States involved. In matters of security, however, having America would be all but a necessity. Britain gave up an empire in order to fund a socialist welfare state and it has increasingly had to give up having a military in order to continue feeding this high tax - high benefits regime. As the commentator Douglas Murray recently said, whether one is pro-American or anti-American, the fact is that whenever people in Britain (or elsewhere) say that ‘something should be done’ what they really mean is that America should do something because only America has the military muscle to do almost anything these days. I would hope that, with or without America being included in the club, friendly relations would still be maintained. It is better to have the most militarily powerful country in the world as a friend rather than an enemy but the fact is that for the rest of the English-speaking world to say, “we don’t need American protection” they would have to start spending money on their militaries rather than on paying people not to work and paying for everyone’s old age pension and healthcare. That is a simple choice and as much as Kipling’s decedents have become fond of ‘hating those who guard’ them, I cannot in the foreseeable future see the other Anglosphere countries reverting back to individuals being responsible for their own retirement savings, rainy day funds and medical bills so as to restore their militaries to the point where they are at least capable of independent action.

That decision would have to be made but apart from that, whether America is in or out, this would still be a policy worth pursuing. Certainly for monarchists it would be extremely helpful for the Commonwealth Realms to work as closely together as possible, especially since so many republicans in the Commonwealth enjoy using anti-British bigotry to promote their cause. Finally, I would also say that it would be extremely helpful, and I know of no reason why it absolutely cannot happen, to have members of the Royal Family serve as Governors-General in the Commonwealth Realms. It would be an ideal way of educating the public about what the vice-regal office is really all about, it would further cement the idea of the Royal Family as being not just exclusively British while at the same time drawing the realms closer to Britain. I would also go further, though it is largely too late at this point, and say that if members of the Royal Family were to marry individuals from the Commonwealth Realms (if they are not going to marry other royals anyway) that would almost certainly, I think, spell the death of republicanism in the Commonwealth Realm in question.

In short, I would love to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union, shaking the dust from its boots as it goes, forming a new economic and political alliance, a revived sort of Commonwealth, with the rest of the English-speaking world. If it did so, I am confident it would be a great success and would form an extremely powerful bloc in the world that could do very well without the EU, NATO or the UN. They all have much more in common than with any other country or group of countries in the world. It would heighten the significance of the monarchy and if the members of the Royal Family were dispatched to serve as Governors-General it would make valuable use of the monarchy as a source of strength and unity for the English-speaking peoples around the world. However, for this to happen, there will have to be some big decisions made at home, perhaps the most fundamental being whether the British believe in themselves and have enough pride in themselves to reunite with their offspring, be more assertive and say, “We are not going it alone, we are family and families stick together”.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Anglo-American Empire

It is true that, ultimately, considering what are known as alternate histories is a waste of time. We can never know for sure what would have happened, what might have been or how this or that would have worked out. However, if kept in its proper place, such speculation can be of at least some benefit. As well as providing some creative exercise that might generate valuable ideas, I also have found it a good tool for bringing people to an understanding of free will, that the way the world is today did not just happen inexorably but was the result of past decisions. If different decisions had been made, we would be living in a different sort of world. Actions have consequences and this is a point that can be brought home by considering alternate possibilities. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves” as Shakespeare wrote and the life we have is what we have made it, to a large extent, because of the actions or inactions of ourselves or people like ourselves. As we recently saw the annual celebration of America’s Declaration of Independence, it may be worthwhile or at least entertaining to consider what might have happened if such a declaration had never been made. Likewise, if it had, what might have happened if Britain had won the war and the American colonies remained in the British Empire?

First of all, despite the way most people make it sound, America would not be some sort of oppressed, downtrodden land of miserable tyranny. Under the British Crown the American colonies already had a higher standard of living and more individual freedom than most people in the world. King George III was no tyrant, he did not get his way all the time and he never refused Royal Assent to any acts of Parliament. In many ways, life would not be all that different in America if the war had never happened or if the British had won. After all, standards of living are not terribly different in the modern United States compared to Australia or Canada. Given that calls for greater unity in the colonies already had a history by the time of independence, it seems likely that they would have come together under one government. The United States would also probably look much the same as it does today. It could be argued that the French Revolution might never have happened if the American Revolution had not been successful but that seems doubtful. If it did not happen, America would probably be smaller but the safer bet would be that it would have happened anyway. The “Enlightenment” mentality that helped inspire the American Revolution had been spreading in France far longer and there were major problems in France that were exacerbated by intervention in America but which were not caused by it or restricted to it. So, let us assume the French Revolution broke out as it occurred in history.

America would have then expanded just as it did, with Anglo-American forces seizing the Louisiana Territory during the war with France. During the time when Spain and France were allied it is also likely that Anglo-American forces would have seized Florida and possibly even more but that becomes increasingly less likely. With North America supporting the British war effort rather than hindering it, the allied victory over France might have been easier or come a bit sooner and the British Empire might have expanded even more but perhaps in different areas. Would India have been such a priority for Britain, for example, if all of North America was part of the empire, including the cotton states of the deep south, the coal fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia? Suppose that British North America expanded southward in a way similar to the United States and, just like the United States, was drawn into a war with Mexico over border disputes. In actual history, Britain tried to prevent the war because it would disrupt their lucrative trade with Mexico, however, events on the ground could have provoked such a conflict in any event and there probably would have been less trade with Mexico if what became the United States had remained in the British Empire with the increased inter-imperial commerce that would provide.

The events after the conflict might have been different though. In reality, the USA annexed the northernmost reaches of Mexico but paid compensation for it and resisted the urge to take over the whole country -which would have been too blatantly imperialist for the United States even though there were a few in Mexico at the time who thought that would have been best. Over time, a number of Britons expressed amazement that the US did not just annex Mexico and be done with it, rather than having to return to intervene periodically. As Britain certainly had no problem with imperial expansion, perhaps British North America would have grown to include Mexico. From there, it would only be a short step to expand into Central America. Britain had interest in the region (British Honduras, the Mosquito Coast) and might have been compelled to go further once France started looking into the idea of building a canal across Panama. From Gibraltar to Singapore, control of strategic maritime “choke points” has long been a priority for Britain. Given that, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the British Empire would have expanded into Central America and, with all of this going on, Britain might have been too busy to have intervened and expanded into other areas or perhaps not to the same extent as happened in history.

In Africa, for example, the foothold in South Africa would have happened in any event as it was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. However, it might have stopped there with Britain content to let the Boers move into Botswana and perhaps the Portuguese might have been able to realize their dream of linking their east and west coast possessions, an aspiration thwarted by Britain in actual history which put some strain on the oldest alliance in Europe. The American Civil War would, of course, have been averted both because energy would be expended toward grander schemes and because the slave areas would have had much more opposition as well as a government that was not averse to giving compensation for slave owners. The war with Spain would likely have been avoided. A young Winston Churchill observed the rebellion in Cuba and came away convinced that the island would be much the worse off under their rule than that of Spain and hoped that the United States would not compel Spain to give up the “Pearl of the Antilles”. Many did not share his view and he later approved of the U.S. conquest of the island (being a lifelong admirer of America) but in the event, it is possible Britain would have stayed out of the conflict so long as Germany or some other colonial rival did not intervene.

As it concerns Germany, the First World War might not have happened at all if America had remained in the British Empire or, at least, it might have been a much smaller conflict. Britain, like many countries, had no real reason to get involved but anti-German hysteria had been growing in Britain for some time due to the perception of Germany being a rival in the colonial, naval and economic spheres. More or less since the time of the industrial revolution, combined with the extensive trade routes controlled by the Royal Navy, Britain had been the largest economy in the world. However, in 1870 it was surpassed by the United States and has never regained the top spot ever since. If, however, America had remained in the British Empire, the economic powerhouse of America would have been a boost to Britain and might have allowed Britons to view the German economic rise more dispassionately. Even at its height, it would never have been a challenge to the economic supremacy of a British Empire that included North America. If, however, Great Britain still became embroiled in World War I, with the manpower, money and industry of America within the British Empire, it would likely have been a much shorter conflict, ending in a swift Allied victory.

Had such a thing occurred, the Russian Empire might not have collapsed, if the war had ended before the situation in Russia became too severe and thus the subsequent Cold War and all the proxy conflicts that entailed would never have happened. Similarly, a swift end to the war might have meant that the German and Austrian empires would have come to terms before being overthrown and so there might have been no World War II at all and we would all be living in a world with a balance of powers rather than one or two superpowers in constant standoff. And yet, if the Social Democrats in Germany managed to use the defeat to their advantage and bring down the monarchy, giving room for the rise to power of Hitler and so on, World War II might have happened anyway. In that event, it would have certainly been a much shorter and more localized war. American strength would have been present at the outset rather than only from 1942 onwards and it would have been focused on Europe alone. This would mean that the war might have ended in a German defeat even before the invasion of the Soviet Union and thus there would have been no Eastern Bloc and Soviet domination of half of Europe. It would also mean a completely different picture of Asia.

The British Empire and the Empire of Japan had been close allies after all and it was only when the United States demanded that Britain choose between friendship with America or friendship with Japan that Great Britain repudiated the Japanese alliance in favor of pleasing the United States. If there was no United States but a British North America, that would never have happened, the alliance would likely have been maintained and while Britain was focused on defeating Germany in Europe, few would have likely cared if China was being defeated by the Japanese. Japan would also have had no reason to go to war in 1941 as the primary source of vital resources, North America, would have been an ally. So, even if World War II had happened, it would have likely ended with Poland and Czechoslovakia independent, the Kingdoms of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania intact (though possibly under the Italian Crown, depending on how things might have changed for Italy). With monarchy being so dominant, and the war ending without massive Soviet involvement, perhaps it would even have been that the Hapsburgs would have been restored to at least some portion of their former territories. In Asia there would still be an Empire of Japan, an Empire of Manchuria and a Kingdom of Tibet with a less expansive China. It would likely also mean that it would be the Republic of China rather than the communist state that exists today. With monarchy such a strong force in the world, and trends and fashions do matter immensely, whether they should or not, the Chinese might not have embraced republicanism at all.

Similarly, without the influence of the American Freemasons, Mexico might have remained a monarchy under the Iturbide family though the rest of Latin America (outside Brazil) is more doubtful given that Spain was reluctant to recognize the independence of rebel colonies whereas Britain supported this. Much of Africa would also be a very different picture. Without the United States and Soviet Union competing during the race for de-colonization, the African colonies might have gained independence at a more moderate pace and in cooperation with native elites as Britain tended to favor doing or more newly independent countries might have chosen to maintain ties with the Crown as Commonwealth Realms. And, even in the event that this did not happen, the British Empire such as it was would have remained a dominant force considering that the primary source of strength would be North America and Australia where the people had greater bonds of history, culture and nationality with Britain as opposed to India which did not. In actual history, the loss of India was a blow from which the British Empire never recovered as India was, as one German observer put it, “the strength and greatness of England”. If, however, North America had remained and grown up united with the British Crown, the strength and greatness of the empire would have been in a land more loyal and less likely to cut ties but remain in union with the Crown as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have done.

Of course, this is all inherently speculative. The point is to simply provide some ‘food for thought’ for those who tend toward the Wilsonian view of the United States as the “savior of the world” and who tremble at the thought of America losing her War for Independence. That is quite a negative view, but it might have been more positive such as in the scenarios laid out here. Rather than suffering under British rule (which had never happened in the first place), things might have worked out quite well if the American colonies had remained under the British Crown. With all of the strengths, resources and admirable qualities of both, I tend to take a more positive view that if America and Britain had remained together, it would have been beneficial for both. I have long thought and often said that the Americans suffered, consciously or not, from being cut off from the rest of the English-speaking world and from the lack of the shared loyalty to the monarchy and that, likewise, the British Empire suffered from its lack of Americans, American resources, energy and vitality. They would, I think, have been stronger together and a great many others may well have benefited as a side-effect as well.