Personalities, politics and power: the British Chiefs of Staff Committee in the Phoney War, 1939-1940

McDowall, Colin John (2017) Personalities, politics and power: the British Chiefs of Staff Committee in the Phoney War, 1939-1940. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines the Chiefs of Staff Committee’s (COS) decision-making and policy-making influence on Britain during the September 1939 to May 1940 period of the Second World War, commonly known as the Phoney War. To date, the actions of the COS during the Phoney War have come under little scrutiny. Historians have included only passing reference to the committee’s actions during the Winter War and the Norway Campaign, and have argued that its conduct was mired in error and misjudgement. As a consequence there is both confusion and debate over the COS’s contribution to Britain’s conduct in the Phoney War.

This thesis contains the first systematic analysis of the influence of the COS on Britain’s course during the Phoney War and it advances the argument that the inadequacies of the committee had a major impact on the planning and conduct of the Phoney War. This study places the COS in the context of Britain’s wider decision-making and policy-making machinery during the Phoney War, where it was answerable to the War Cabinet and responsible for Britain’s defence. It argues that the COS was inadequate as a committee and that it failed to recognise its own limitations and to acknowledge the wisdom of its advisers. While on some occasions the COS provided good advice to the War Cabinet, it failed to press its opinions with sufficient force, particularly when the War Cabinet overlooked its recommendations. Individually, the Chiefs were dominated by both Churchill and Ironside, a factor which consistently undermined the COS’s effectiveness in policy-making and decision-making; Chiefs of Staff Newall and Pound were too easily influenced by Ironside and were insufficiently forceful in exerting their positions. This thesis also proposes that Britain’s organisation for the higher management of the war was weak and that this hindered the effectiveness of the COS; the committee structure during the period September 1939 to May 1940 was overly bureaucratic and this occupied too much of the COS’s time. It concludes that the COS demonstrated inadequacies as a decision-making and policy-making committee, however, while found to be wanting, there were mitigating factors which impinged upon its ability to perform.

This thesis’s examination of the COS provides a better understanding of a little documented committee, which, although often overlooked, had a profound influence on Britain’s course during the Phoney War. Through archival research of the COS and War Cabinet papers this study will appraise the COS’s contribution to the unfolding of events between September 1939 and May 1940.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: COS, Chiefs of Staff, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Edmund Ironside, Dudley Pound, Cyril Newall, Churchill, Winston Churchill, Second World War, Phoney War, June 1940, September 1939, War Cabinet, Twilight War.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Jackson, Professor Peter
Date of Award: 2017
Embargo Date: 14 May 2022
Depositing User: Dr Colin John McDowall
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-9094
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 May 2018 08:55
Last Modified: 14 May 2021 06:49

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