Prince Philip at Matapan

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (source: Town & Country Magazine)

During my interview with him about the Battle of Matapan, renowned author and professor Craig L. Symonds suggested that I get in touch with Dr. Richard Porter to get a better sense of what the Duke of Edinburgh accomplished during this fateful day on the sea. Dr. Porter is Curator of The Britannia Museum at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

Being fascinated with Prince Philip in general and his role during World War II in particular, I was extremely happy to get in touch with Dr. Porter, who kindly replied to me despite a demanding schedule. Even though the Duke of Edinburgh is no longer front and center in the news media, I’m sure all the enthusiasts of military history will appreciate this text.

Without further introduction, here is the full content of his response.

A Midshipman was the lowest form of naval life.

Prince Philip was appointed to the WW1 Battleship HMS Valiant in January 1940. He was one of 20 Midshipmen out of a crew of 1200. As he put it, a Midshipman was the lowest form of naval life. He also makes the point that with a crew of 1200 information was not easily relayed to all crew members, even so even the Midshipmen were aware that the Italian Fleet was thought to be at sea. Prince Philip thought that there was definitely a ‘special atmosphere of anticipation as the Fleet put to sea from Alexandria during the night of 27 March’. The Prince’s Action Station was on the Bridge and at night he had control of the port searchlight. From that position he managed to gather roughly what was going on.

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The Peasant Emperor

A few years ago, media outlets reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping dined on steamed buns in a Beijing restaurant. Whether this venue was an orchestrated photo opportunity or the instantaneous desire of a world leader searching for a whiff of normalcy in the sometime claustrophobic alleys of power doesn’t really matter. Its true purpose was revelatory of who Xi is; a leader who is and wants to be close to the people.

I was reminded of that outing while reading Kerry Brown’s book The World According to Xi: Everything You Need to Know About the New China (I.B. Tauris), a pertinent and still timely book (2018) on the actual leader of the second most important economy on the planet.

“Of the recent leaders of China since Deng [Xiaoping], in many ways Xi is the one with the most authentic, best-known links to the countryside, and his use of this set of experiences aims to convey this.” Furthermore, and probably because he was a victim of the Cultural Revolution himself, Xi had to make no less than 10 attempts to become a member of the Party. In a nutshell, the General Secretary of the Party didn’t get an easy pass to power. And I’m certain this resonates with many ordinary people.

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Xi Jinping: micro-manager

Deng Xiaoping (left) and Xi Jinping (right). (sources: Wikipedia and CNN)

I have always been fascinated with anything related to Deng Xiaoping. It is thus not surprising that an article from the Journal of Contemporary China caught my attention a few days ago.

In the scope of a few pages, the late Ezra Vogel compares the stewardship of Deng to the one of the current leader of China, Xi Jinping. The Harvard University academic, who passed away a few days before last Christmas, was also the acclaimed biographer of Deng, who was at the helm of the People’s Republic of China between 1978 and 1989.

Xiaoping, in the author’s words, established “[…] the foundations for the most successful four decades in China’s history”. He rose to power at the age of 74, cumulating decades of experience, notably collaborating with Zhou Enlai and 13 years spent in the inner sanctum of power. This enviable track record prepared him well for supreme responsibility. Well versed in the discipline of power and most probably surrounded by people who were well acquainted with his methods and thinking, Deng could afford to be a macro-manager. To that end, the following anecdote told by Ezra Vogel is illuminating:

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“Write me a victory”

“Wellington cuts an unattractive personal figure”, writes G. E. Jaycock in his groundbreaking book Wellington’s Command: A Reappraisal of his Generalship in the Peninsula and at Waterloo (Pen & Sword). For the huge fan of the Iron Duke in me, such a conclusion came as a shocker. Full disclosure, this book challenged my conceptions of Wellington’s grandeur and I found myself labouring through it more than once. But I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me to nuance my understanding.

Mr. Jaycock, who completed a MA degree in history about the Duke of Wellington at Buckingham University, argues that “the existing historiography has largely downplayed or ignored” the fact that Wellington’s command was characterized by “poor inter-personal relationships within the army [which] undermined effectiveness.” And his demonstration doesn’t fail to disappoint.

In short, the idolized figure depicted between the covers is one of an autocratic and aristocratic micro-manager who was unable to accept any kind of blame or responsibility. There was also a vituperate – not to say frankly despicable – side to the British icon that could be resumed in the following anecdote brought forward by the author:

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Prince Philip and the Gurkhas

Sir Peter Duffell (left) introducing HRH the Duke of Edinburgh to the two Queen’s Gurkha Orderly Officers at the annual Field of Remembrance on the grounds of Westminster Abbey in November 2012. (source: courtesy of Sir Peter Duffell)

I have always been a huge fan of the Gurkhas, who are among the best soldiers who have served and are still serving for Queen and Country. In that regard, I have the privilege of being in touch with Sir Peter Duffell, author of Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown (Pen & Sword), a former commanding officer of the Gurkhas, who later went on to commanding British Forces in Hong Kong between 1989 and 1992. This impressive and generous military figure also served as British Army’s Inspector General.

Upon learning of Prince Philips’s passing two weeks ago, I wrote Sir Peter to ask him about the relationship between the consort and the Gurkhas. Here’s what he mentioned:

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« Le déploiement de vaccins au Canada est l’opération la plus complexe et sensible à laquelle j’ai participée. » – Mgén Dany Fortin

Le Major-général Dany Fortin (source: Forces armées canadiennes)

Originaire de Montmagny et diplômé du Collège militaire royal Saint-Jean (CMR), le Major-général Dany Fortin est actuellement vice-président de la logistique et des opérations à l’Agence de la santé publique du Canada depuis le 27 novembre 2020. À ce titre, il est en charge des opérations de distribution des vaccins pour lutter contre la Covid-19 à travers le pays.

Sa longue feuille de route l’a notamment mené à servir sur les théâtres d’opération en Bosnie et en Afghanistan. Détenteur d’une maîtrise en arts et sciences militaires du Collège de commandement et d’état-major général de l’Armée américaine (CGSC) à Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (États-Unis). En 2017, il a été affecté au Bureau du Conseil privé (le saint des saints du gouvernement fédéral) à Ottawa, à titre de directeur des opérations au secrétariat de la politique étrangère et de défense. En 2018-2019, il a dirigé la mission de l’OTAN en Irak.

Le Major-général Fortin est, en quelque sorte, celui qui fournit les minutions aux provinces pour vaincre la pandémie, un vaccin à la fois. Un leader très bien outillé pour mener ce combat.

Malgré un horaire surchargé et d’énormes responsabilités, le Major-général Fortin a néanmoins accepté de répondre à mes questions. Et c’est avec grand plaisir que je partage avec vous le contenu de cet entretien exclusif.

Face à une demande mondiale grandissante et des défis de production chez tous les manufacturiers, les quantités de vaccins et les calendriers de livraison nécessitent une coordination étroite et sans relâche avec toutes les parties prenantes.

Major-général Fortin, pourriez-vous me dire ce qui, dans votre carrière militaire, vous a le mieux préparé à ce que vous accomplissez actuellement?

Poursuivre la lecture

11 Minutes to Recognize Israel

Harry S. Truman always ranked among my favorite presidents of the United States, if only because he made sure America was the first country to recognize the birth of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. In his new book Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization (HarperCollins), bestselling author and renowned TV personality (MSNBC) Joe Scarborough reiterates that the 34th president faced stern opposition from his Secretary of State George C. Marshall and his deputies, which “[…] led to an open conflict between the State Department and the White House.”  Although such a conflict is to be expected, I was surprised and amazed to read that it only took 11 minutes for the president to make his decision, against all odds.

Not much is written about Truman. Not enough in my humble opinion. After all, there is much more to the 34th President than the decision to use the bomb to end World War II. In Joe Scarborough’s words, he was “the most consequential foreign policy president of the past seventy-five years.”

Apart from showing tremendous courage in facing headwinds about Israel, he had previously been instrumental in blocking the Soviet Union’s advance in the Mediterranean area. Upon learning in February 1947 that Great Britain could no longer shoulder its global role because “[…] Hitler’s war machine wreathed that nation in everlasting glory, but exhausted its resources and its people”, the Truman administration had a choice to make. Revert to isolationism or espouse a leadership role in the world. Great Britain would pass the torch to the United States and Washington would undertake the mission of developing and implementing a policy to prevent Greece and Turkey from falling under the hammer and sickle.

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Le prince Philip a pris part à une bataille navale souvent négligée

La réputation de l’historien militaire Benoît Rondeau n’est plus à faire. Il a déjà publié des livres et biographies remarqués au sujet de Rommel, Patton et l’Afrikakorps pour ne citer que ces exemples.

Le 22 avril prochain, les Éditions Perrin publieront son nouveau livre Le soldat britannique : Le vainqueur oublié de la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Dans le contexte du décès de Son Altesse royale le Duc d’Édimbourg, la maison d’édition m’a généreusement donné la permission de partager quelques extraits relatifs au prince Philippe. Qu’ils en soient sincèrement remerciés, en cette journée où je tiens à manifester tout mon respect et ma profonde gratitude envers le Duc d’Édimbourg.

Le prince Philip a servi dans la Royal Navy sur les fronts de la Méditerranée et du Pacifique durant le conflit mondial. Benoit Rondeau résume ainsi l’importance du premier dans la conduite de la guerre :

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“Prince Philip was a serious and accomplished naval officer before he was a member of the Royal Family” – Naval Historian Craig L. Symonds

Prince Philip during in service in the Royal Navy (source: The Independent).

In my humble opinion, one of the aspects that deserves the most interest about the Duke of Edinburgh was his military service in the Royal Navy during World War II. As I’m right into reading the French edition of Professor Craig L. Symonds excellent book World War II at Sea (Oxford University Press, 2008, published in French under the title Histoire navale de la Seconde Guerre mondiale and published by Éditions Perrin at the beginning of this year), I submitted a few questions to this internationally renowned specialist about maritime warfare and the significance of Prince Philip’s service in the Royal Navy. Professor Symonds generously accepted to respond to my questions and I am extremely pleased, on this very day when we bid a final farewell to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, to share this exchange here.

Anyone interested in learning more about the naval dimension of World War II should definitely get a copy of his insightful and well-written book.

The strategic significance of the battle of Cape Matapan was that it dissuaded Italian naval authorities from attempting to exert influence in the eastern Mediterranean afterward.

In your book, you explain that the Battle of Cape Matapan – in which the late Duke of Edinburgh took part – clipped the wings of Mussolini’s Navy in the Mediterranean Sea. In the larger context of the war, could you tell us more about the significance / importance of the battle?

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Prince Philip had a library of 13 000 nonfiction books

Royal biographer Ingrid Seward (source: Twitter)

In the aftermath of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’s death and the publication of my review of her excellent biography about him, Editor in Chief of Majesty Magazine, Ingrid Seward kindly and generously accepted to respond to a few questions about the longest serving consort in the history of the British Monarchy. For anyone interested in knowing more about the life and times of Prince Philip, I could not encourage you enough to get a copy of Prince Philip Revealed (Simon & Schuster). Without any further introduction, here is the content of our exchange:

Lots has been said and written since the announcement of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, but what would be, in your opinion, his main legacy?

His main legacy is his remarkable sense of duty which enabled him to do so many things. I suppose the Duke of Edinburgh awards are the main thing he will be remembered for.

As a biographer, you have certainly met with Prince Philip on several occasions. What is your best memory of those encounters?

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