cover image Churchill and Sea Power

Churchill and Sea Power

Christopher M. Bell. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-19-969-357-3

Historian Bell (The Royal Navy), of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, addresses a surprisingly neglected aspect of Winston Churchill's career: his attitude to sea power. Churchill's relationship to the Royal Navy was closer and more comprehensive than that of any other modern British statesman. Bell combines archival and published material to make a convincing case for Churchill's reputation as a naval strategist and a "steward of the Royal Navy" despite the criticisms of politicians, sailors, and historians (and two disastrous naval campaigns while he served as Lord of the Admiralty early in both world wars). The author shows Churchill's approach to naval power to be unsentimental and pragmatic in his views on sea power. Early faith in the navy's offensive potential was shaken by its limited achievements in WWI. Thereafter Churchill came to regard the navy's mission as predominantly defensive. His frustrated efforts in WWII to find an offensive role against a German-controlled continent led him to conclude that the navy should be maintained at the lowest level necessary to fulfill its defensive mission while offensive resources were best funneled to air power. But Churchill also met the navy's most important needs and protected its long-term interests as well as possible in the context of changing strategic requirements, concludes Bell in this illuminating study. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Dec.)