Friday, April 15, 2022

Churchill’s War to Save Britain’s Colonial Empire

With his romantic notions of the Raj and the empire, Churchill’s primary objective during the Second World War was to save Britain’s colonial empire, not to free Europe from Hitler’s Nazi regime. The first major military missions that the British conducted, during the Second World War, were devoted to safeguarding Britain’s assets in the Middle East and North Africa. Churchill believed that control of petroleum and the Suez Canal was a key to the British Empire’s survival. 

In 1941, the American military was planning to make a direct attack on the German heartland—the plan was to land allied troops in some part of Northern France or in the Balkans region. When Churchill learned of this plan, he made a visit to Washington in 1942 for a meeting with President Roosevelt and the senior commanders of the American military. Churchill insisted that the allied force should attack French North Africa. (He didn’t tell the Americans that this region was crucial for saving Britain's petroleum assets in the Middle East and the Suez Canal).

Churchill’s plan was fiercely opposed by General George Marshall who believed that attacking French North Africa was a waste of valuable time and military resources. Marshall believed that the USA should either follow a “Germany first” strategy in Europe or focus on the Pacific war with Japan. He suspected that Churchill was intent on using the allied military resources to save Britain’s colonial assets in the Middle East and North Africa. But Churchill managed to persuade Roosevelt to agree to the operation in French North Africa. 

Roosevelt ordered that the operations in North Africa, named Operation Torch, should have precedence over other operations—this was one of only two direct orders he gave to military commanders during the war. 

The diversion of resources for Operation Torch delayed the allied invasion of Europe by more than a year. This enabled Hitler’s regime to survive till the middle of 1945. The execution of Operation Torch gave an advantage to the Soviet Union—the Red Army had the opportunity to beat the Americans in the race to Berlin. The allied troops were lagging at the borders of Germany, when the Red Army smashed into Berlin. Due to his obsession with saving Britain’s assets in the Middle East and North Africa, Churchill lost Berlin and Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union.

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