The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

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Antonio Bonomi
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The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Antonio Bonomi » Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:19 pm

Hello everybody,

we have evidence about the First Sea Lord Adm D. Pound pressing Adm J. Tovey to court martial RearAdm W.F. Wake-Walker and Capt J.C. Leach for the Denmark Strait events, with Sir W. Churchill prodding Adm Pound about it.

We have Admiral Henry Leach ( Capt. J.C. Leach son ) declaration written into Tarrant book on KGV battleships :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Leach

Admiral_Leach_01.jpg
Admiral_Leach_01.jpg (115.68 KiB) Viewed 2512 times


Tarrant_page_61_Leach_photo_caption.jpg
Tarrant_page_61_Leach_photo_caption.jpg (100.04 KiB) Viewed 2512 times


and we have Colin McMullen interview to the Imperial War Museum reporting Adm Tovey talking about it too :

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80010751

McMullen_reel_3_court_martial_IWM.jpg
McMullen_reel_3_court_martial_IWM.jpg (142.95 KiB) Viewed 2512 times


We have several reference about it also on known books, ... but what we would like to find here is if there are more evidence to sum up to the above 2 that in any case are enough to believe that something occurred about it at the end of May 1941.

Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby dunmunro » Mon Mar 23, 2015 5:59 pm

There are probably dozens of books that reference Tovey's claim for a possible court martial. However, all these books reference Tovey himself, with no other corroborating evidence, so there is only ONE reference for it, and that is based upon the recollections of an elderly Admiral (Tovey) who was later diagnosed with dementia.

Nothing has ever come to light in published admiralty documents, diaries, Churchill biographies, and War Cabinet papers. No wartime accounts by any of the other participants have ever mentioned it including Henry Leach who bases his statements upon Tovey's postwar claims, and Tovey's claims are 2nd hand, all, apparently, stemming from his conversation with McMullen.

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frontkampfer
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby frontkampfer » Mon Mar 23, 2015 6:03 pm

IMHO-Churchill was the one pushing CM for Leach because he turned away after Hood sank and PoW was being smacked around by BS & PE. W-W was not in position to engage. It was classic Winston pique and nothing more. The DS engagement was in the Germans favor and nothing the RN participants did was going to change that. Just my 2 pfennig!
"I will not have my ship shot out from under my ass!"

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby wadinga » Mon Mar 23, 2015 7:14 pm

Hello Duncan,

I think you may have it back to front:

Tovey's claims are 2nd hand, all, apparently, stemming from his conversation with McMullen.
should read McMullen's are all second hand..........conversation with Tovey.

Hello Frontkamper,

Excellent phrasing:
It was classic Winston pique and nothing more.
Exactly. Forgotten about as soon as the Great Man returned to the disaster in Crete happening simultaneously.

This imaginary Court Martial wasn't mentioned to Roskill by Tovey until the 1960s, the official RN historian having discovered nothing in the previous 20 years despite having access to all sorts of documentation.

Grenfell criticised many aspects of RN conduct in the chase and references conversations with Tovey and McMullen but there is not a whisper in his 1948 book.

Bernard Ash is scathing in "Someone had Blundered" (1960) about PoW's SE Asia deployment and castigates Holland over his tactics. He spends pages on a lowerdeck whispering campaign in 1941 about the "Coward Ship" that ran away, yet he uncovers not the slightest suggestion of official action against Leach or Wake-Walker. He goes on to describe the cordial relations between Leach and Churchill during the trip to Argentia Bay.

I have yet to get a copy of Churchill and his Admirals by Roskill (1977) in which the imaginary Court Martial rates a footnote. Roskill is remarkably uninterested, but he has described bigger arguments between Tovey and Churchill over PQ-17.

Tom Phillips VCNS lists many reasons why he considered the first Hood enquiry inadequate, but not once is there any suggestion that the second should study tactics or behaviour of any of the officers.

Sir Henry Leach visited his father aboard PoW in Singapore, ie after Churchill had been a guest aboard PoW and yet there was no mention of any Court Martial until after Tovey's letter to Roskill in the 60s.

Ludovic Kennedy in Pursuit released the story first, but he has extensive notes relating Tovey's errors of memory late in life and bitterness towards Pound and Churchill's wartime treatment of him, and Kennedy doesn't even seem to believe it himself, but as a journalist could not leave such a juicy morsel out.

From his book this this unsubstantiated story of a Court martial that never was (and was never going to be) has spread around the Web, especially Wikipedia, just like the other urban myth, that Lutjens never made the Nazi salute. See the photo when Hitler walks down the gangplank after the Gydnia inspection.

As Winston once said
A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.


All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Byron Angel » Tue Mar 24, 2015 3:00 am

It is impossible at this remove to determine the objective truth of this matter. But it must be allowed as a possibility - especially if viewed as having occurred, not as a nicely documented Admiralty campaign, but as a momentary, off-the-cuff, undocumented fit of Churchillian rage/pique in the course of a phone conversation with Tovey, the particulars of which never passed beyond those parties immediately involved. It would be interesting to learn exactly when in the 60's Tovey made this revelation. If it was after Churchill's passing in 1965, this would in my mind lend an increment of support to its possible validity.

FWIW.

B

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Alberto Virtuani » Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:21 am

Hi everybody,
I think Byron is right, the request could have been something coming out in the heat of discussions after BS was lost and just after her sinking, never becoming a formally recorded request. After May 27 1941, political and wartime propaganda reasons must have convinced Sir W.Churchill (and Pound) to celebrate instead of to punish.....

However, denying the CM request looks a bit hard, as even Adm H.Leach, former First Sea Lord, felt obliged to defend his father memory stating that :
"Pound, with Churchill's prodding, unfairly pressed to have Leach court-martialled for failing to close and re-engage BS after Hood blew-up".

It's clear from his sentence above that he was aware of an actual request of court-martial from both Pound and Churchill, not only of the rumors about it.

Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby paulcadogan » Tue Mar 24, 2015 1:44 pm

Here is a description of Churchill's reaction from Bercusson & Herwig's "The Destruction of the Bismarck":

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was at Chequers, his country estate, when he first received news of the Hood's destruction and Captain Leach's decision to withdraw. His guest that weekend was Averell Harriman, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's special envoy to the United Kingdom. The United States had been doing all it could as a supposedly neutral country to help Britain fight the Battle of the Atlantic, and Harriman was deeply interested in the Royal Navy's efforts to bring the Bismarck to heel. Churchill broke the news of the sea battle to Harriman early on Saturday morning. Harriman thought him strangely calm, almost distant as he told Harriman that the Hood was lost. But Churchill was, in fact, bitterly disappointed by his navy's performance and furious that Leach had broken off the action. Over the next few days, he thundered his anger at Captain Leach, at the First Sea Lord, Admiral Dudley Pound, and at anyone else he thought responsible. He accused Leach of "the worst thing since [Admiral Ernest] Troubridge turned away from the Goeben in 1914."


It then goes on the speak of Pound's conversation with Tovey.

The reference for the Harriman story is given as "Richard Hough, Former Naval Person: Churchill and the Wars at Sea (London 1985)".

I don't think there can be any doubt that Churchill was upset. There are other instances where he vented his displeasure for lesser things! If he was in fact "thundering his anger" at Pound - no wonder there was the Admiralty signal to WW about his intentions on re-engaging. And it would also be logical that Pound would entertain thoughts of court martial in an effort to appease!
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Antonio Bonomi
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Antonio Bonomi » Tue Mar 24, 2015 6:19 pm

Hello everybody,

taken from Adm Tovey website, here in :

http://www.tovey.org/admiral.html

One problem remained: the King George V had barely enough fuel left to get her home at reduced speed, so Tovey reluctantly decided to turn for home as soon as it was clear that the Bismarck was sinking. He had not welcomed the Admiralty signal, obviously inspired by Churchill, that the Bismarck was to be sunk even if the King George V had to be towed home, and he was even more stung when he got back to Scapa by Churchill's severe criticism of Admiral Wake-Walkers (C.S.I.) and Captain Leach (Prince of Wales) for not pressing home the attack on the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait. Tovey maintained that they had acted perfectly correctly, and as he would have done, in shadowing rather than attacking, and when the Prime Minister threatened to have them brought to trial by court martial Tovey reacted by saying that he would resign his command to act as the accused's friend. The idea was dropped.


Published also in the Naval Review issue of July 1980, on page 209 :

http://www.naval-review.com/issues/1980s/1980-3.pdf

Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby wadinga » Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:02 pm

Hello Antonio,

Goody, more evidence from the Web, checked by peer review no doubt, Mr Raven, :D but unless the Web existed before 1961 or more accurately the publishing date of "Pursuit", inadmissible hearsay. :cool:

From the last time we went this way

QUOTE Initially there was only the pointed message to WW about intentions for re-engaging. This is mentioned in Grenfell but the Court Martial threat was apparently revealed by Tovey only in the 1960s, and is described thus by Corelli Barnett in "Engage the Enemy More Closely":

Immediately after Admiral Tovey's return to Scapa Flow at the end of the hunt for Bismarck, Pound was to telephone him to say (according to Tovey's later account) that;

....he wished Wake-Walker and Jack Leach brought to trial by Court-Martial for not re-engaging the Bismarck. I explained to him that the action taken by both these officers was exactly what I wished, the last thing I wanted was for the Bismarck to be pushed further to the West and away from my own force. He stated that he still wished them to be brought to trial. I replied that nothing would persuade me to do so. He informed me that the Admiralty would order a trial. I replied that if they did I would act as Prisoner's Friend, if necessary resigning my command to do so. I heard no more about it.


Barnett points out this was in a letter from Tovey to Roskill dated 14th December 1961. Kennedy provides plenty of detail showing Tovey's disagreements with Churchill's interference and Pound's weakness in being pressured by Winston. KGV to run out of fuel if necessary etc. PQ 17 etc etc Kennedy also points out Tovey's memory was none to good late in life.

Churchill was under immense pressure at this time, Averell Harriman (US ambassador) was staying at Chequers, the PM's country retreat when the terrible news of Hood's loss was receved early in the morning. At the same time terrible news was coming in about the struggle for Crete and there too, Winston was accusing the Navy of lack of determination. (Yes Alberto even ABC was under criticism.) UNQUOTE

The last time we discussed this Paul said
Now this is not to say that the conversation with Pound never happened. But Kennedy's account differs slightly from McMullen's. McMullen suggests it was when KGV returned to Scapa Flow after the action and got into telephone contact with the Admiralty (she arrived on June 1). Kennedy writes that the conversation took place several weeks later after Pound had read all the reports on the action and studied the track charts. Not quite the same scenario! If both are based on accounts from Tovey given at different times, it suggests that he may have altered it from one time to another.


Hi Paul, I find my copy of B&H invaluable as a door stop or paperweight. It is riddled with errors and exaggerations from one end to the other. This much more useful book (one I must get), a biography of Pound starts to describe the Chequers outburst, but p180 can't be previewed :x Churchill's Anchor: The Biography of Admiral Sir Dudley Pound
By Robin Brodhurst
It quotes Churchill's secretary about the Chequers incident and points out the Crete disaster was far more important in the Great Man's mind. Whatever he was thundering about "for days afterward" it was not W-W and Captain Leach.

Byron, there is your date for Tovey's "revelation", over 20 years after the incident, but before Winston died and 13 years before it saw the light of day as journalist Kennedy included it, with massive caveats, in his book.

This piece of salacious but unsubstantiated gossip is so attractive in portraying Pound and Winston as blackguards turning on their own people, that no subsequent author can resist repeating it without checking veracity or even including the caveats that even a journalist included. To me it is sad even McMullen and Sir Henry Leach are convinced, though they have no source other than Tovey and neither question why he hasn't mentioned it at any time in the previous twenty years.

This uncritical acceptance means it pops up in a million web hits- so what? Now Antonio has made it the cornerstone of the foundations of his wobbly ziggurat of supposition that a Great Conspiracy took place.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Alberto Virtuani » Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:12 pm

Wadinga wrote: "... To me it is sad even McMullen and Sir Henry Leach are convinced, though they have no source other than Tovey and neither question why he hasn't mentioned it at any time in the previous twenty years....."

Hi Sean,
you forget that Sir Henry Leach spoke with his father when PoW was deployed in the Far East and (as per Tarrant's account) he asked him about the DS....... :wink:
He had a first hand account and he clearly trusted the court-martial request.

Bye, Alberto
"It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition" (Adm.A.B.Cunningham)

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby A Raven » Wed Mar 25, 2015 1:03 am

Dear old Winston demanded that poor old Somerville be crucified for his actions at The battle of Spartivento.
No doubt, someone .... will dig up this event and pick at it, hoping that it will bleed and fester.

Hacks, journalists, revisionists, sometime writers; I cannot stand them. Looking to make their name known; look at me! type thing.

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby paulcadogan » Wed Mar 25, 2015 4:16 am

wadinga wrote:Hi Paul, I find my copy of B&H invaluable as a door stop or paperweight. It is riddled with errors and exaggerations from one end to the other.


:lol: I couldn't agree more Sean - that's why I checked for the reference at the back!

I do recall what I said way back when (you're really good at locating quotes from hundred-and-odd page threads aren't you?!) about the differences between McMullen's and Kennedy's accounts of the Tovey-Pound conversation. As I said then I still don't think we can discount that a conversation of sorts took place at some point. The fact is that there is no official documentation - so it obviously did not get past the private conversation stage. One might speculate that such a private conversation could be held as confidential for a very long time, too, with Tovey's advancing age loosening his tongue?

There is no doubt though that Sir Winston would sound off at his admirals or captains if they fell short of his expectations - realistic or not. One can imagine his disbelief on hearing that his navy's newest battleship had hauled out of action with the enemy's newest battleship leaving the latter to forge ahead into the Atlantic shipping lanes, albeit still under surveillance. Highly embarrassing at the very least....worse to add to the stress of the Crete debacle...

But in the absence of official evidence, the court martial plan remains anecdotal, but still worthy of mention with that caveat IMHO.
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Alberto Virtuani
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Alberto Virtuani » Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:09 am

Paul Cadogan wrote: ".....One can imagine his (Churchill) disbelief on hearing that his navy's newest battleship had hauled out of action with the enemy's newest battleship leaving the latter to forge ahead into the Atlantic shipping lanes....."

Hi Paul, well said :clap: , I can personally understand Churchill mood....

As Mr.Raven mentioned, at Cape Spartivento, for much less, Somerville was officially inquired by the RN, and then acquitted of all charges. Why Leach and W-W were not after May 24 ? I do think just because of May 27 outcome of the BS chase....

IMHO, would BS have escaped and raged in Atlantic, the board of inquiry was sure for both (plus Ellis.... :think: ) and the court-martial very probable and well deserved.....

Bye, Alberto

P.S. I have to correct my previous post: Sir Henry Leach conversation about DS with his father in Singapore is mentioned by M.Wills in his Capt.Leach biography at pag.127.... sorry.
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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby A Raven » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:22 am

Mr Virtuani,
Re your line where you state that, "and the Courts Martial very probable and well deserved."

Having read, IN FULL, Leach's official report as to why he broke off the action, I completely disagree with with your last three words.

Tovey, who had already seen major surface action, saw it the same way, and that was why he responded to the demand for a Courts Martial as he did; correctly.

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Re: The Court Martial for the Denmark Strait

Postby Alberto Virtuani » Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:20 pm

Mr.Raven,
very respectful of your personal opinion, having read Leach's official report as well, I just have a very different perception of what is the duty of an officer and my own opinion is more in line with Pound's/Churchill's initial reaction.

However I understand from your last sentence that you consider the request of a Court Martial as a fact (to which Tovey answered the way he did....)

Bye, Alberto
Last edited by Alberto Virtuani on Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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