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Winston S. Churchill: Challenge of War 1914-1916

de Martin Gilbert

Sèrie: Winston S. Churchill (Volume 3)

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This third volume of the official biography of Sir Winston Churchill contains a full account of his initiatives and achievements as wartime First Lord of the Admiralty between August 1914 and May 1915. These include his efforts to prolong the siege of Antwerp, his support for the use of air power, and his part in the early development of the tank. It shows the forcefulness with which he argued for an offensive naval policy, first against Germany, then against Turkey. "What about the Dardanelles?" was the cry Churchill heard often between the two world wars. It epitomized the distrust in which he was held by both politicians and the public as a result of the naval setback at the Dardanelles in March 1915 and the eventual failure of the Gallipoli landings launched the following month-although Gallipoli was the ministerial responsibility of the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, and the ultimate responsibility of the Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith. Martin Gilbert examines the political crisis of May 1915, during which the Conservative Party forced Asquith to form a coalition government. The Conservatives insisted that Churchill leave the center of war policymaking for a position of increasing political isolation. In the next seven months, while the Gallipoli campaign was being fought, Churchill served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with no authority over military or naval policy. Resigning from the Cabinet in November 1915, Churchill was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding an infantry battalion in the trenches of the Western Front. In May 1916, he returned from the trenches, hoping to reenter political life, but his repeated attempts to regain his once-substantial influence were unsuccessful. For the final year of Asquith's premiership, Churchill held no political office, and was frustrated by his lack of power.… (més)

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When the First World War began in August 1914 Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising star in the governing Liberal Party. Less than two years later, he was a colonel on the Western Front, with his political career in tatters. How this talented politician and energetic administrator came to suffer such a grievous fall is the subject of Martin Gilbert’s book. In it, he uses both Churchill’s personal papers and a trove of documents that had only been recently declassified at that time to provide the fullest explanation of Churchill’s fall and gradual recovery.

At the center of this book was the Dardanelles, the failed British effort to open the water passageway between Europe and Asia in March 1915. The operation was a product of the frustration with the emerging stalemate in France and the desire to exploit Britain’s naval preponderance. Forcing the Straits, Churchill and others believed, would force the Ottoman Empire out of the war and provide Britain with better access to their Russian ally. Gilbert makes a compelling case that responsibility for the operation was a collective one, with other ministers and military commanders bearing a share of the blame. Yet Gilbert doesn’t ignore Churchill’s role in advocating for the operation, one that left him vulnerable to dismissal in the aftermath of the “shells scandal,” which forced Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to dismiss Churchill at the bequest of his new coalition partners in the Unionist Party.

Gilbert’s book provides a detailed examination of Churchill’s life during these years, as well as the times in which he lived them. At times the level of detail can seem overwhelming, yet for the most part Gilbert does a good job of covering one of the most dramatic and important periods of Churchill’s long life. Given it’s importance, it’s one that no reader interested in learning about Churchill’s career during the First World War can afford to ignore, though they should gird themselves for the amount of information they will absorb from it. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
Volume Three of Churchill's mammoth eight volume biography is a detailed history of a tight time period - two and a half years. The only other volume providing such an in-depth account is [b:Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (Volume VI)|25324937|Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (Volume VI) (Churchill Biography Book 6)|Martin Gilbert|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1430630399s/25324937.jpg|439887], looking at the beginning of the next World War. In this case the story is almost in reverse. The book begins with Churchill at the heart of power, in charge of one of the two military services (and the greatest navy in the world) at the onset of the Great War. Yet he only spent just over six months in this central position before being dropped from his role as First Lord of the Admiralty in a cabinet reshuffle. This book charts the journey from being an energetic 39 year old discharging power at the very heart of Britain's war strategy to humiliation and isolation from all political power.
The late Martin Gilbert was a masterful historian, and in this book (first published in 1971) he combines the evidence of extensive research in Churchill's own archive as well as examining extensive letters, newspapers, archives and interviews with surviving protagonists in the story. Gilbert has been accused of being biased in favour of Churchill but the book offers a balanced view. Criticisms of Churchill are freely quoted and although being a biography the events are viewed from his perspective the evidence is presented neutrally enabling the reader to form their own opinions.
There is no doubt that Churchill was excited by war. His own sense of history led him to relish his position in making and executing momentous decisions. When his fall occurred he was obsessed with rehabilitating his tarnished record and gaining political power to provide an outlet for what he saw as his drive and talent. The book provides some balance to critical accounts such as that of [b:The Grand Deception: Churchill and the Dardanelles|25283458|The Grand Deception Churchill and the Dardanelles|Tom Curran|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1428109096s/25283458.jpg|45009948]. This book very much reflects the contemporary view that his actions in the origins of the Dardanelles campaign were evidence that "he was a man of blood, lacking sound judgement, and unfit for high office".
This well written book is a detailed account of a man's fall, his lust for power and frustration. It also provides an interesting perspective "on the ground" of the war during Churchill's period in command of an infantry Battalion in Belgium. The Kindle edition is brilliantly priced, well formatted and presented with good clear maps. ( )
  bevok | Jul 31, 2017 |
Randolph Churchill who wrote the first two volumes having died, Martin Gilbert, a research assistant took over, and the books take a much more objective flavour. Mr. Gilbert, as an outsider, was capable of less partisan judgements. The Aura of the Great Man clears, and the level of rhetoric, as opposed to insight, drops. We are now dealing with the war-leader Churchill as opposed to the politician. He has successes(the mobilization) and failures (Dare I say Gallipoli?)
I read it twice. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Nov 16, 2013 |
1758 Winston S. Churchill Volume III 1914-1916 The Challenge of War, by Martin Gilbert (read 24 Dec 1982) Since I read Ted Morgan's biography of the early Churchill (up to 1915), I thought I should read Volume III of Gilbert's--particularly since the first two volumes are by his son Randolph, but Volume III and after are written by Martin Gilbert--since it starts at 1914. This book is very detailed, and quotes extensively from letters and other documents. But it is interesting, and in dealing with Parliamentary events gets into an area which is always especially interesting to me. After Churchill left the Duchy of Lancaster job he went to the trenches in France, and did a good job in a minor role--commanding a battalion. But he left there and returned to parliament. The book ends dismally, since Churchill does not return to the Cabinet when Lloyd George became prime minister in Dec 1916. The book is defective in that it relies very little on anything but letters and documents of Churchill's--it is the "official" biography and so has the defects of that type of biography. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 24, 2008 |
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This third volume of the official biography of Sir Winston Churchill contains a full account of his initiatives and achievements as wartime First Lord of the Admiralty between August 1914 and May 1915. These include his efforts to prolong the siege of Antwerp, his support for the use of air power, and his part in the early development of the tank. It shows the forcefulness with which he argued for an offensive naval policy, first against Germany, then against Turkey. "What about the Dardanelles?" was the cry Churchill heard often between the two world wars. It epitomized the distrust in which he was held by both politicians and the public as a result of the naval setback at the Dardanelles in March 1915 and the eventual failure of the Gallipoli landings launched the following month-although Gallipoli was the ministerial responsibility of the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, and the ultimate responsibility of the Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith. Martin Gilbert examines the political crisis of May 1915, during which the Conservative Party forced Asquith to form a coalition government. The Conservatives insisted that Churchill leave the center of war policymaking for a position of increasing political isolation. In the next seven months, while the Gallipoli campaign was being fought, Churchill served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with no authority over military or naval policy. Resigning from the Cabinet in November 1915, Churchill was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding an infantry battalion in the trenches of the Western Front. In May 1916, he returned from the trenches, hoping to reenter political life, but his repeated attempts to regain his once-substantial influence were unsuccessful. For the final year of Asquith's premiership, Churchill held no political office, and was frustrated by his lack of power.

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