Volume 3, Chapter 29
3:10 PM on May 27, 1940. 10 Downing Street, London.
Winston Churchill stood with his hands tracing along the map placed on the wall of his office. Frowning as he looks towards the corner of France.
In his hands was a telegram. Several other people were sitting dejectedly in the office, silently looking at Churchill.
“Mr. Eden, there is nothing for you to say.”
Churchill turned and looked blankly at the War Secretary.
“It was because of you and Ismay proudly proclaiming and assuring me that this was a weakness within the Germans. Even guaranteeing that was the chance to save our army. Leaving me to believe you and to approve of this senseless plan. But now your plan has placed our army in an even more dangerous position!”
Churchill slowly walked back to his desk and sat down.
“Prime Minister, this was not entirely our mistake. The intelligence from two days ago may very well have been accurate, it’s just that the estimates for the arrival of the German tanks were off. Perhaps if Gort’s troops acted a bit faster, we might have succeeded.” Ismay said.
“Time? Your estimate was off by a whole day! Now because of your mistake, the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 50th Divisions are all completely surrounded! It was your choice to break through! Or do you still believe in your plan?”
Churchill stood up and angrily yelled as he could no longer suppress his anger.
Continuing in his anger. “Do you still not see that this was all a German trap? The Germans didn’t need to repair, there was no shortage of fuel. They were waiting for us to send the Expeditionary Force into their trap! Now Gort’s army is clashing with the jaws of the German tank units. Although they have managed to hold off the attack so far, it is uncertain how much longer they can resist.
General Gort is preparing to retreat… They lacked the time to set up a strong defensive position, nor do they have enough firepower in their arsenal. There is no reason to continue clashing against the Germany’s elite in a disadvantageous situation. General Gort sent in his detailed report of the front this morning. Half his supplies and ammunition have been consumed during this operation, leaving only two more days of supplies. Ammunition is barely enough to continue fighting. The German plan is truly too sinister and cunning, they finally deceived all of us.
Fortunately, they have not yet trapped the main force of our army. However, if we don’t do anything soon then their destruction is also only a matter of time… I want you to prepare suitable options for resolving this disaster.”
“Prime Minister, do you have any ideas?”
Churchill was shocked and shouted, “Did you not even consider a backup plan these last two days?”
“Well… that is true, we were under the assumption that the plan’s chances of success were so high that it was not necessary… Rather, the situation changed too suddenly, we only received a report this morning. We have not had enough time to think of a remedy yet.” Ismay said while avoiding Churchill’s furious gaze.
“What!? You are a failure! Do you still want your position?
If the Expeditionary Force is destroyed by the Germans then our fate will be the same. The entire cabinet may be sacked for this mistake! How will you explain the loss of a full nine divisions of infantry to the citizens? I do not dare think of what would happen to the Empire if all of them were lost. For at least six months, we would have no power to guard Britain.
I’ve already issued an order for the various colonies and territories to transfer some of their elite troops. However, this process takes time. Moreover, these troops will be far from enough to compensate for the loss of the Expeditionary Force. Even now it would be too late to conscript more soldiers, it would take six months to train them. Before that date, we’ll have to rely on retired veterans and untrained rookies to protect the coastline.”
“So, what do you mean?” The War Minister asked.
“What do I mean? I am doing what is necessary. I just want our troops to come back and protect this country.” Churchill said as he started to calm down. Then his voice turned grim once again.
“Currently, the situation is very serious. No, it is simply disastrous. This stupid mistake already made us lose four elite infantry divisions. Although the 5th and 50th were already severely damaged in the previous battle, the other two divisions were from the main force of the army. Their commanders are also rare officers. However, now we lack the power to save them from their encirclement. After all, our hands are full with our own problems.
We only now have five infantry divisions at our disposal. I cannot watch them be destroyed by the Germans as well. I’ve decided to restart Operation Dynamo. We must withdraw them from France.”
“Are you sure that you want to restart Operation Dynamo? By this time, it may be too late. Also, the Navy has stated that it will take another two days to make a passage big enough for transport ships to pass through the minefield.” Ismay asked.
Eden said as he sat contemplation. “Then have the Navy speed up their pace. First, we can send some small supply ships through. Any size will do, as long as supplies are immediately delivered to the troops. We must do everything we can to support Gort’s line of defense. Rely on airdrops if necessary.”
Churchill said with a burst of excitement. “Yes, at the same time we must tighten our defenses. Because of the loss of the four divisions, we will be unable to continue holding such a thinly-spread line. It is imperative that we join back up with the French and re-establish a better defensive perimeter.
We also need to pay close attention to the Belgian line of defense. I have not yet received any reports from that region. I wonder if transferring those British units made any impact yet. However, based on my last report, it seems the Germans have begun amassing troops, probably for an assault.
If in fact the Belgians are defeated, then the British lines will be completely exposed. I think that the at the rear of the Belgians, we should station a reserve force. If necessary, they can delay the enemy until we can re-form our lines. This would also allow us to evacuate the Belgian officials and monarchy to London. Potentially giving us more authority later in the war.
As long as our lines can withstand the German assault for a week, that should be enough to withdraw the main portion of our army. We must face this arduous task with everything we have. No matter the cost, both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force must do their best to support this plan.
I will need to immediately inform the Naval Minister and Air Force Minister, and start to discuss the plan. We must succeed, for the kingdom, but also for ourselves. Even if we can only save a small portion… No, even if it is only a single regiment, it is a victory in and of itself. Not to mention this situation was caused by our mistakes. We must assume the responsibility of correcting it.
Then Ismay reminded, “The most important factor currently is supplies. No supplies, then everything else is worthless. Not only will we need to supply the Expeditionary Force, we also need to consider the French. From our reports, they are also running short. If the French army collapses first then we will not be far away.
Although the French army’s combat effectiveness is less than preferable, it is the only thing we have holding the line together. Once we signal for withdrawal, they will need to bring up the rear.”
“Anyhow, what is Ironside doing right now? He should have the most extensive contact with the French. He was always the most supportive of the plan. I think that if anyone should be responsible for the current situation, he would bear the greatest responsibility.” Eden said excitedly.
“Ironside is it? Come to think of it, when we were discussing the plan, he was the one to dismiss most of the concerns. It was by his stupidity that the Expeditionary Force was caught in the present crisis. Prime Minister, I’m asking you to immediately pursue the Chief of General Staff’s failure in this incident.” Ismay almost cried out. At the same time, he was admiring the War Minister’s thinking of redirecting blame. To even find a scapegoat so quickly, allowing the two to escape this quagmire.
Churchill was listening to these two, his heart gave a short erratic beat. Picking up one of the half cigars that laid extinguished on the ashtray. Picking up the lighter and relighted it. Frowning slightly at the two men’s proposal.
Churchill started to carefully contemplate. The more he thought, the more feasible it seemed. Of course, someone had to bear the responsibility of this situation somehow. Ironside’s status as Chief of General Staff made it more convenient to become a scapegoat. Hence, even if Operation Dynamo failed, the army annihilated, there would likely be no change in the political leadership.
“Mr. Eden, immediately recall General Ironside to London. Once he arrives, detain him. Then set up a committee to determine his responsibility in this failure. I will leave this to you, as for the media… It’ll be up to you also.” Making up his mind, Churchill’s words sealed Ironside’s fate.
Inwardly, both the Anthony Eden and General Ismay were as if flowers bloomed inside their hearts. However, of course on the surface, they maintained a serious look. Rather, exaggeratedly grim. Only giving a nod in understanding.
Then a slight knock came from outside the thick wooden door of the office. Churchill quickly gave a shout.
“Prime Minister, this was just sent in. General Gort’s emergency telegram!” Churchill’s secretary rushed in.
“Oh! give it here.” Churchill snatched the telegram and wanted to quickly look over its contents. However, he soon remembered something.
“Wait.” He shouted at the secretary who was about to leave.
“Immediately inform the Naval and Air Force Ministers to meet me as soon as possible.”
“Yes Sir, it will be done immediately.” The secretary then walked out and closed the door.
Churchill looked down at the telegram, but the more he read, the uglier his face became. Until finally he walked back to his desk and slowly sat down. His face pale, a deep frown plastered on his face.
“What was in Gort’s telegram?” Eden asked nervously. From Churchill’s face, he could guess that the situation probably deteriorated again.
“The situation has changed, you can read for yourself.” Churchill picked up the telegram and handed it to Eden.
Both of the men quickly stood up and looked over the contents. The two reading the telegram were shocked.
“What? Calais fell? What should be done now? All that is left is the port of Dunkirk. Once Guderian grasps complete control over Calais they would have a straight route to Dunkirk. Even the local forces have no chance against his advance. He should be able to reach Dunkirk within two days. We may have been too late to implement Operation Dynamo.” Eden exclaimed.
“God, poor, poor Britain!” Ismay also lamented loudly.
“No, not until the last moment, we cannot lose confidence. We must stand firm. As long as Dunkirk has not fallen, we will not give up hope. Even if there is a trace, we will continue to act. We will be sure to get our troops out of there.”
Churchill stood up with unmatched seriousness and determination.
“We still have our air force, we have our powerful navy. The Expeditionary Force cannot be allowed to fall. If we can resist for a week, we can get most of our troops back. Any price is worth it. Weapons can be readily bought, but trained elite soldiers cannot be so easily obtained. As long as we have our army, we can hold the Empire. I believe that the final victory will be ours.”
As Churchill’s loud speech concluded, another knock came from the door.
“The ministers and chiefs of staff have arrived. They are waiting for you in the living room.
“Oh, ask them to go to the conference room. I will be there right away.”
“Yes, Prime Minister.”
The secretary retreated and carefully shut the door once more. Churchill turned back around and said seriously.
“Gentlemen, let us go. I hope they can come up with a better plan to save the Empire.”