Churchill’s art of questioning

  During World War II, Churchill performed his primary function as a wartime leader by shaping some of the most significant decisions of wartime. But underlying these high-level strategic decisions that historians often pay close attention to are other, less visible, but equally important activities. These activities include making decisions about the details—details that, while important, are details after all.
  Perhaps the most important of these activities was Churchill’s constant checking of the military’s judgment. The Secretary to the Chief of Staff, Lord Ismay, was an integral figure in the war machine, writing in his memoirs: “Over the course of the war Churchill more than once overruled military advisers on purely military matters.” Exactly. Said he exercised control over events by constantly asking the staff in detail. As the generals often complained, Churchill paid close attention to many military details, asking not only about combat operations, but also the larger implications of those operations. A good example of this is Churchill’s scrutiny of a military exercise. The exercise, code-named “Victor”, was held from 22 to 25 January 1941 and was supported by the then commander of the British Home Forces, General Alan Brooke. On March 30, Churchill wrote a note to Ismay asking him about the “Victor” exercise. The United Kingdom has formulated a series of large-scale exercise plans to find out the problems of the British army and prepare for the German invasion in the event of a German invasion across the English Channel. The “Victor” exercise is one of them. The British still faced the military challenge of a German invasion, although the British narrowly won an air battle in the autumn of 1940, thus temporarily easing the threat of a German invasion. In this note, Churchill asks the following questions:
  1. In the “Victor” invasion exercise, it is assumed that the enemy forces of two armored, one motorized, and two infantry divisions in the face of stiff resistance Landed on the Norfolk coast. The five divisions landed after a fierce battle and were all assumed to be combat capable at the end of the 48 hours.
  2. I speculate that the details of such a remarkable achievement were worked out by the relevant staff. Let me look at these details. For example, how many ships and sappers are needed to transport the strength of the five divisions? How many armored vehicles do they include? How many trucks, how many cannons, how many ammunition, how many soldiers, how many tons of supplies? How far can they advance in the first 48 hours? In the first 12 hours, how many soldiers and vehicles are assumed to have landed, and what proportion of the losses did they suffer? How were their transports and munitions ships during the first 48 hours of fighting? Have these transports and munitions been emptied of their cargo, or are they still parked offshore not far from the beach? How is their naval escort? Was the landing at this point covered by a dominant fighter formation deployed by the enemy during the day? If the landing is covered at this point, how many fighter jets must the enemy have to cover the entire landing area?
  In the third paragraph, Churchill clearly stated the purpose of the question:
  3. All the above data will be extremely valuable to our future offensive. If these staffs mentioned above could come up with a plan whereby we could land a similar number of troops on the French coast, assuming the Germans had a maritime superiority in the English Channel, and get our fighter jets on the landing Provided the same range of cover, then I would have been very happy…
  Clearly Churchill was concerned that the assumptions made in this type of exercise contributed to an overall overestimation of enemy capabilities. If taken seriously, this estimate would have discouraged the British High Command and prevented it from doing anything other than defensive. On April 7, Brooke responded, providing the numbers Churchill wanted to know, including an estimate of the enemy’s loss rate (10% when crossing the Channel and 5% to 10% when landing).
  Churchill responded a few weeks later. On the one hand, he emphasized that the situation of the British landing in Greece had proved that the actual situation was much more difficult than the above-mentioned assumption, and on the other hand, he continued to ask questions.
  What is the significance of this episode? It shows the way Churchill dealt with his subordinates: asking them questions about their assumptions and views, not just once, but repeatedly in debate. It is worth noting that the commander in charge of the exercise, Brooke, withstood Churchill’s test, not only was he not bothered by Churchill’s questions, but he was eventually promoted to the position of Chief of Staff of the British Empire and Chairman of the Committee of Chiefs of Staff. This shows very clearly that Churchill can tolerate people who disagree with him, as long as they are neither stupid nor silent about his questions.
  Churchill was aware of the broader implications of any technical question, and he asked with that awareness. In fact, much of his war genius lay in his ability to connect seemingly routine affairs to far broader issues of policy and strategy.
  Churchill’s military judgments were occasionally significantly better than those of his subordinates, but that’s not to say that was always or often the case. Rather, Churchill performed one of his most important functions as a wartime leader by measuring the predictions and predictions made by his subordinates against the vast amount of common sense he had gained from extensive reading and war experience. assertion. In many cases, when he asked questions of the Joint Planning Staff, he received responses that he did not approve of, and he would investigate those responses in depth.
  Throughout the course of the war, Churchill’s inquiries, investigations, and questions to the various branches of government were like a never-ending river, flowing from his pen (or, more precisely, from his mouth, because almost all of his work was is done by dictation) outflow. Norman Brooke, who worked in the Cabinet Secretariat from 1941 to 1962 and minister from 1947 to 1962, recalled the effect of Churchill’s questioning.
  Churchill’s messages were sometimes indisputable, but always very relevant and timely. The realization soon spread among government officials in Whitehall. This information goes a long way, confirming the feeling that there is now a strong personal control at the center of government. This vast river of information is like the beam of a searchlight, shone back and forth continuously, and into the depths of the government – so that everyone, no matter how low his position or how insignificant his role, feels that he has something to do with it. One day a beam of light might hit him and illuminate what he did. In Whitehall, the effect of this influence was immediate and dramatic… As people began to realize that a firm hand, guided by a strong desire, was firmly in control of the steering wheel, a A new sense of purpose and urgency develops.
  Churchill wrote in “World Crisis”: “At the highest level, true strategy and politics are one.” If one looks closely at Churchill’s career, especially when he served as British Prime Minister and Secretary of Defense during World War II During this period, one may discover how inextricably intertwined the civilian-military relationship and strategy development are. It also demonstrates the power of ruthlessly and intelligently asking questions based more on extensive reading and a lot of common sense than on expert knowledge—a talent that Clausewitz argues is military genius Foundation.
  Churchill’s chief political virtue was his ability to move the hearts of men and women with words that reflected his own unique, indomitable spirit. Writing later on in 1940, he pointed out that the British had a lion’s heart and that he was simply given the privilege to roar. Such overly modest rhetoric may not be characteristic of him. He had many strengths as a wartime leader who sat in a cabinet room or at a table with a handful of advisers. Few have the talent for writing razor-sharp state documents and insightful memos like him. As we’ve highlighted, his art of leadership includes a skill of questioning and questioning military subordinates that few others have mastered. But if all these techniques are not based on a kind of courage, then they will be useless. An indomitable fighting spirit, paired with skills in the art of wartime leadership at a higher level, made Churchill the greatest wartime statesman of the 20th century.

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