Fish

Hamilton Fish: Memoir of an American Patriot by Hamilton Fish jr.

 

This review by 'Gunner' first appeared in the Western Front Association magazine Stand To! no.35 Summer 1992.

 

The author was a politician who served as a white officer in the black 369th infantry the 'Harlem Hellfighters'  – in the USA and on the Western front. In a frustratingly short chapter he tells us how he used his inference to get his regiment moved up from the deep south and how, up north, he had to issue live Ammunition to his black soldiers to defend themselves against a threatened raid by a nearby Alabama national guard unit. In France the 369th at first were used as stevedores which caused considerable offence. After some agitation, they were sent up the line but as American law apparently forbade the stationing of armed black troops alongside white soldiers, they served with the French army. They Acquitted themselves well and Fish won the silver star. After the war he resumed his political career and played a leading role in founding the American Legion, and in establishing the US Tomb of the unknown soldier.

 

Fish championed minority groups, and became seriously anti-red; presumably Reds did not count as a minority. Hamilton Fish came out strongly against American intervention in World War II and much of his book is taken up with accusing President Roosevelt of trying to drag America into it. His hatred of FDR permeates his writing and makes unpleasant reading for anyone who remembers what a good friend the president was to us in our darkest hour.

 

His detestation of communism made him slightly less anti-Nazi than might otherwise have been the case. He was certainly naive when, on the eve of war and after years of appeasement, he still thought that Hitler could be trusted. Whether or not America's interests were involved in the war, it is salutary  to remember that without her involvement, it would have ended with a Europe dominated by either the communists or the Nazis. Who can doubt that the post war West, even with the Cold War, was a better place thanks to America coming into the war?

Hamilton Fish died in January 1991, aged 102. 'Gunner'.

 

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Further information. Hamilton S Fish. Wikipedia.

Sir Ian HamiltonWritten by John Philip Jones

ISBN: 978-1-84884-788-0

Pen and Sword Military, 2012. 264pp.

General Sir Ian Hamilton lived a long and eventful life. Born in 1853, he lived until 1947. He was a linguist who spoke four languages and a soldier who was twice recommended for the Victoria Cross. He wrote poetry, a novel and military and travel books, 18 titles in all, and he helped make a documentary film. A liberal rounded man of parts (Jones quotes in his preface a telling piece of Hamilton's prose – educated, literary in style and soaked in classical Grecian allusions), he also came to have attributed to him by his own staff officers at Gallipoli "the shallow optimism of an obstinate man who thinks it unsoldierly to tell unpleasant truths and is no strategist". It was Hamilton's misfortune to be remembered, primarily, not for that long life but for the events of less than one year: that of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. John Philip Jones, American-based, British-born author of a previous book on the British Army in 1914, sets out to give a fuller account of Hamilton's life and an analysis of his generalship.

To give some idea of structure: 85 pages deal with the story up to the Second Boer War; just over 40 summarise that experience; just under 50 are on the period from 1901 to 1914, and 45 are on the Gallipoli campaign. Less than 30 pages cover the remainder of his life. Those 45 pages on Gallipoli are reduced in number again, when one removes preparatory story-telling on the origins of the campaign. Although one should not criticise an author for not writing a different book, arguably WFA members may find the Gallipoli sections simply too brief, given their centrality to Hamilton's long-term reputation. In his preface, Jones does say that the Gallipoli chapter is the most important section. In fairness, discussion in the first chapter, analysis rather than narrative, does something to address the need and Jones is explicit in saying that the narrative sections of the book are selected to support his analyses. This is not a conventional biography.

Jones has also been criticised for not listing many primary documents in the notes following his account of Gallipoli (there is no formal bibliography but his references are detailed in the chapter notes) but given the size of his Gallipoli chapter, it is probably unsurprising that he uses for the most part Aspinall-Oglander's Official History, the reports of the Dardanelles Commission, Hankey, Churchill, Hamilton's own account and that of his talented opponent, Liman von Sanders. For fuller accounts, WFA readers have the books by Peter Hart, Robin Prior, Edward J Erickson and Harvey Broadbent amongst others from which to choose.

Jones claims some originality in his view of the reasons for failure at Gallipoli ("Other analysts have provided different explanations. I disagree with them all.") and believes uncontroversially that the primary reasons for failure were Hamilton's ineptness at strategic thought and Kitchener's failure to provide the necessary forces. The quotation above shows how much the first was soon recognised, and the second was known to the Official Historian.

The first chapter – Military Reputations – stands rather apart from the rest in examining the qualities necessary in generalship and providing an analytical framework for Jones' subsequent judgements. He is soon shown to be a man of forthright opinions giving firms views of Monty, Haig, Foch and Liddell Hart among others. Some might think his list of Great War stars contentious – they vary greatly in the size and nature of challenges faced – but it certainly allows for debate. More immediately, Jones wants to show Hamilton as, in the author's words, a complex man with a sharply-honed imagination, a searching power of observation and an imaginative spark, "far more attractive and interesting than his military contemporaries". Really!  Something might be said for the likes of Allenby, Birdwood, Monash et al.

Jones speaks of Hamilton's great moral courage but, in bowing to London's insistence to get the Gallipoli show on the road before sufficient manpower was in place and training fully done (Jones rightly compares Hamilton's failure here to Montgomery's insistence on being given time before Alamein), does not Hamilton display a lack of such moral courage? As Andrew Green shows, Hamilton was poor at telling his superiors unpleasant truths.

At the end of this chapter comes an insightful, almost concluding section on the reasons for Hamilton's failures in1915, presented well before the main chapter on the subject. As Jones notes, his thoughts on the consequences for generalship of entrenchments, modern rapid-fire small arms and artillery can be applied more widely to Great War generalship than just to that of Hamilton.

At the end of the Gallipoli chapter comes Jones' summation: the Gallipoli operation was not viable from its inception due to lack of manpower and a poorly chosen landing site at Cape Helles; given the right resources and landing places (Jones favours Sulva Bay and Ejelmar), the operations might have succeeded and made a major contribution to winning the war; Hamilton au fond had insufficient strategic feel; he failed to envisage the new power of entrenched defence; and Kitchener should, with much mitigation due to a huge range of responsibilities and being significantly over-worked, be seen as "the individual most responsible for the debacle". Jones believes that Gallipoli never received Kitchener's undivided attention due to the pressures upon him.

Beyond that, there is little need to outline the contents of the narrative chapters. Suffice to say that Jones shows a rare degree of perception and analysis and illuminates much of the history and social structures of the British Army in a way that enables him to analyse why generals of the Great War succeeded or failed, and in doing so shows a pleasing willingness to state firm opinions that will provoke thought and argument in the reader.

In his foreword, Sir Roger Wheeler, ex-CGS, notes that Hamilton's central failure, apart from simply being mentally overwhelmed at Gallipoli (and he was 61 years old), was his inability to think strategically, having operated at the tactical level throughout his career. This is valid, but a similar point can be made about the experience of any 19th century British soldier, weighed down by what Jones notes are the deeply entrenched military traditions discouraging flexibility and open-mindedness and called upon to be a General in 20th century industrialised warfare and to direct mass armies and manage their vast logistical requirements. All needed to relearn their business. Some succeeded, many failed. Hamilton was among the latter group. Wheeler calls Jones' book "a study in fallibility", and it is hard to argue with that.

Reviewed by Peter Cox

 

haig-master-of-the-fieldPen and Sword, 2010

ISBN: 184884362-3

The importance of this key text in the historiography of Haig's role in the Great War cannot be overstated. It was first published in 1953, and is written by the then senior surviving member of DH's inner circle at GHQ, Major General Sir John 'Tavish' Davidson. Tavish Davidson was, successively, DH's Operations Officer and Director of Operations between 1915 - 1919. Davidson's first hand insight is supported by an Introduction by another with intimate knowledge of events at the highest levels during the Great War, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Trenchard. In his Introduction Trenchard writes, inter alia, that: "I hope the views I express here may help the historians of the future to write accurately about Field Marshal Earl Haig's influence on the world in those difficult days."

Now, for today's historians and interested laymen, Pen and Sword have republished this important text, to which is added a Preface by Douglas Scott, Haig's grandson and a respected military historian. Douglas corresponded with me regarding the writing of his Preface and was tremendously enthused that Davidson's book was once more going to be in print. Sadly, as members of this page are aware, Douglas died at the start of July and so did not live to see Tavish Davidson's classic work republished.

Pen & Sword are to be commended for producing this republication, though it is to be regretted that they also replicated the original edition's major deficiency - the lack of an index. This is all the more exasperating an omission in the case of such a uniquely insightful work. Better by far that the illustration section, which was not part of the original edition, had been left out in favour of the index which would have made this book so much more user friendly as a reference tool. Make no mistake, however, 'Haig: Master of the Field' remains an absolutely essential title for the library of anyone wishing to fully grasp the British C-in-C and the British Armies in France's role in the dramatic final two years of the Great War.

Tavish Davidson wrote 'Haig: Master of the Field' to counter what he and many of his generation saw as what, by 1953, had developed into unjustified and uninformed criticism of the British Commander-in-Chief and the purpose and achievement of his armies' role in the Great War. Much of the more extreme examples of course, had been inspired and co-ordinated by Basil Liddell Hart for his own purposes. In his interesting Foreword, Tavish Davidson notes, inter alia, something of the nature of the encouragement which the genesis of his book had from senior officers of the Great War who knew whereof they spoke:

"Since the issue of the Official History, I have received a number of letters requesting that I should publish such records or notes that I may have on the subject of the war in 1917 and 1918. I quote a typical letter from one who commanded a Corps in Flanders during the period under review. He wrote a letter to me dated 18th February 1949:- 'My reason for writing to you is that you are perhaps one of the few remaining Officers who were on Haig's Staff who knows the whole truth about that period of the fighting. Would it not be wise therefore to let the facts be known rather more widely than by your letter to The Times (14th February 1949) or Edmonds' [the Official Historian] Preface. I think for Haig's reputation something should be done.'

"Feeling that Lord Haig would have been generally satisfied with the Official History, I concluded at first that no comments from me were either necessary or desireable. On seconds thoughts I felt that I was free and in a position to throw some light on certain aspects of the campaigns, and, in doing so, I would have had the approval not only of the Commander-in-Chief but also of the Commanders of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Armies, all of whom, after a speech which I made in the House of Commons on 6th August 1919 and in which I reviewed the events of 1917 and 1918, expressed to me their concurrence with what I had said. Lord Haig wrote to me on the 12th:- 'I was very pleased to see from Hansard how well you spoke out in the House regarding the critical period we went through in 1917. For this I thank you and congratulate you.' This speech was summarised in the notes to pages 127 and 128 in 'Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches.'

"General The Honble. Sir Herbert Lawrence, who had served in the 17th Lancers and in the South African War with Lord Haig, and who was his Chief-of-Staff throughout 1918, had consistently advised and urged me to place on record such information as I possessed. He regarded it of importance and, on his death, he left me his papers connected with that period. General Sir Douglas Baird, who was for a long period on Lord Haig's Staff both in India and France and who subsequently commanded an Army in India, as well as Lt-General Sir Bertie Fisher, who was in the 17th Lancers with Lord Haig and was subsequently Colonel of the Regiment - both close friends of his - expressed their views to me that some record as I now propose should be published."

Douglas Scott's Preface to the 2010 edition reads as follows:

"Major-General Sir John Davidson DSO, KCMG, CB, the author of this important book, was Director of Military Operations for my grandfather, Field Marshal Earl Haig, from 1915 until the end of the First World War. He was thus in a key position to understand and write authoritatively about the battles of the Somme (the first time France was saved by the British), Third Ypres, often known as Passchendaele (the second time France was rescued from almost certain defeat), the crushing of the German attacks in 1918, known as the Kaiserschlacht, and the British victories from 8 August 1918 until Armistice.

'Tavish' Davidson was born in July 1876 and was commissioned from Sandhurst into the 60th Rifles in 1896. He saw service in South Africa, before going to the Staff College in 1905. Thereafter he had a number of appointments as a staff officer, including two years at the War Office, during the vital period, 1908-10, when Haldane and Haig laid the foundations for the Territorial Army and planned the expeditionary force, which went to France in 1914. After the war he became the Member of Parliament for Fareham until retiring in 1931 to look after his business interests. He died in December 1954 only a year after the first publication of 'Haig: Master of the Field.'

"It is a great pleasure to have been asked to write the Preface for this new Edition of Tavish Davidson's book covering the dramatic events of 1917 and 1918. The first edition, published by Peter Nevill in 1953, seems to have had rather a limited influence on military historians. Too many writers, anxious to sell books about this crucial period of the First World War, have sought to denigrate the outstanding professionalism of Douglas Haig, his team of Army Commanders, and the staff officers who served them by use of selective quotations, twisting facts and straightforward invention.

"Did any German General in the First World War really refer to the British Army as 'Lions led by Donkeys'? No, the nearest we can get to this is that a Russian General may have said it in the Crimean War. Did senior staff officers really not know the condition of the ground in the early and final stages of Third Ypres? Of course they did and they also knew that conditions were even worse for the Germans, because the natural drainage of rain-water from the Passchendaele-Roulers Ridge was away from Ypres and through the German defensive lines. The C-in-C also knew that the French Armies were not in any condition to defend themselves because of the mutinies, that the Russians were about to leave the war and that the Italians were groggy in the extreme. He was also aware of the tremendous loss of merchant ships from German submarines and thus the strategically vital objective of capturing the Channel ports, where the U-boats were based. Were the British casualties really more than 400,000 in Third Ypres? No, the official figure is 238,000, bad enough certainly but the campaign kept the French in the war and laid the foundations for the defeat of the Kaiserschlacht in the first part of 1918 and 'the 100 Days' of victory in the second half.

'Historians' hoping to find support for their pet sensational theory will not find it in Tavish's book. The book is a straightforward, factual account of what happened and why, by a senior staff officer who was there and closely involved in the planning and execution of battles. The Third Ypres battles are dealt with at length, covering almost half the book with the Kaiserschlacht and 'the 100 Days' together forming most of the second half of the book. The final chapters deal with the effect of poor French morale. Attached to the book are two Appendixes. The first is an article from 'Blackwood's Magazine' dated January 1944 and written by someone with the initials A.M.G. It deals in detail with the French mutinies. The second article is an extract from the 'British Official History' covering the period June to November 1917. The extract quotes from an article in the 'News Chronicle' of 25 March 1935:

'Why has not Haig been recognised as one of England's greatest generals? Why, as a national figure, did he count for less than Lord Roberts, whose wars were picnics by comparison? The answer may be given in one word: Passchendaele.'

"Davidson makes an unanswerable case for the Third Ypres Campaign. He explains the strategic background of the failure of Britain's allies Russia and Italy, the need to capture ports from which the German submarines fleet operated and the crisis resulting from the French Army mutinies. He describes the battle of Broodseinde, including Menin Road and Polygon Wood. The German High Command considered the final phase of the battle as 'The Black Day of October 4th' yet, when Britain commemorated Passchedaele in 2007, there was very little if any mention of Broodseinde in the media. All we were told about was that the first phase of the campaign in August was dreadful and that very little ground was captured.

"General Davidson was well aware that his book would not be a popular book in the sense of high volume sales. In a letter, dated 4 September 1952, to my mother (Victoria, second daughter of Earl Haig) to whom he had sent a pre-production copy of the book, he wrote:

'.....I much appreciate all you say & am deeply grateful to you. I agree with you that the book will not have a wide public & as you rightly say it will be limited to students of history, to military establishments etc., but what I think is important is that it will be treated as a book of reference & help to correct some historical errors and false conceptions. I have tried to show up your father's wonderful qualities under the most abnormal conditions and in critical situations. He will grow in stature as the years go by....'

"Sadly the book did little 'to correct some historical errors and false conceptions'. Most of the 'historians' evidently preferred their errors and misconceptions. They usually list 'Haig: Master of the Field' in their bibliography, but there was little evidence that they actually read what General Davidson said about the unfolding drama of 1917 and 1918.

"Tavish's judgement that my grandfather 'will grow in stature as the years go by' has started to come true. Let us hope that this edition of his fine book will help the process.

Bemersyde
April 2010"

Review contributed by George A Webster

Buy this book from Pen and Sword

monty-rommelHB Preface Publishing ISBN 978-1-848-09152-8 £20
SB Arrow ISBN 978-1-848-09154-2 £7.99
500pp

This book, which is a double biography of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, covers these two soldiers' pre-Great War careers as well as their roles in both the First and Second World Wars. It is well researched and keeps the reader engaged from cover to cover.

Although just 120 pages is all that is dedicated to the 1914-18 period, Peter Caddick-Adams, who is well known to members of the WFA, still provides sufficient value in these 120 pages to make this well worth buying for those chapters alone.

Most of the rest of the book, not surprisingly, concentrates on the Second World War and it is therefore to a certain extent out of scope for the reader who is interested only in the Great War. Nevertheless the 'parallel lives' that the author details is well worth the divergence away from the 'pure' Great War reading that many WFA members and others commit to.

The pace and interest of this book is enhanced by the many side anecdotes that the author weaves into the text or into the footnotes. For instance, the details of a sixth (unused) D-Day landing beach is fascinating, as is the fact that the last Wehrmacht soldiers to yield in Western Europe did so some two weeks after the German surrender, when a 'forgotten' company surrendered on the tiny Channel Island of Les Minquiers.

Having had the pleasure of listening to Peter Caddick-Adams speak at WFA lectures in the past, it is of no surprise that this book is entertaining, well written and absorbing. It is pleasing that reference is made in one of the footnotes to information obtained via a WFA lecture: clearly there is value even for authors who lecture at the Defence Academy in attending our WFA meetings.

This is a thoroughly recommended book; let us hope that many more will come from this author.

Review by: David Tattersfield

 

 

 

 

haigs-generalsISBN: 1844151697  HB 217 pp
Published by Pen & Sword. 

For those who subscribe to the “Haig was an incompetent butcher” opinion, this book will perhaps open minds and bring the realities of Haig’s situation into focus.


No doubt Haig had shortcomings. Who of has not? However this book draws the reader into obvious comparisons with how any CEO would run a large organisation. The permanent dilemma between exercising strong personal control over detail or allowing able and proven subordinates to make and take decisions, was ever present for Haig. Taking the Corporation analogy forward, he had to balance the opinions and plans of his subordinates with the ever present (and changing) demands of an untrusting Chairman of the Board (Lloyd George).


This book allows the reader to follow the tactical plans offered by Haig’s generals with the strategic world in which Haig was compelled to live. Demanding more of Rawlinson’s plans for the Somme than perhaps tactical objectives suggested appropriate. Pushing Plumer to continue at 3rd Ypres when 20/20 hindsight offered alternatives.
The common thread is that Haig’s ability to wage war effectively was conditioned by the destruction and eventual re-creation of the British Army into the magnificent and very large fighting force of 1918 that eventually carried him through to victory. Also the politicians and the technology and tactics, all of which were not in harmony until after March 1918. These essays on Haig’s Generals will assist any battle guide or researcher seeking to give colour to the men behind the reputations.

Reviewer: Mike McCarthy

 

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