Britain's War at Sea 1939-45 Part One - Imperial Overstretch
By 1939, the Royal Navy had lost a decade of growth, after budget cuts during the Great Depression and the closure of shipyards resulted in an older fleet than that of its enemies. The navy's role as the defender of the sea lanes that bound the empire together meant that it was for much of the war, Britain's primary line of defence against the Axis powers. The British were vulnerable as a net importer of food to U-Boat warfare and following the failure of the Battle of Britain and the decision by Hitler to shelve plans for an invasion indefinately, attacks on British merchant shipping was the means by which the Nazi regime believed the British could be brought to their knees. This podcast explores the challenges of strategy and military hardware that the British were presented with at the start of the war.
Richard Nixon and the beginning of the Watergate Scandal 1972-3
When Richard Nixon won his second presidential term in 1972 defeating George McGovern in 1972, he was at the height of his popularity. The previous year he had captured the public mood when he addressed the nation's fears about the growing economic stagnation that America had begun to experience at the end ofthe 1960s. He had successfully negotiated with both Mao and Brezhnev earlier that year and offered many Americans the prospect of a withdrawal from Vietnam without humiliation. The break in at the Watergate hotel had not attracted many headlines by the time of the January 1973 inauguration, but within seventeen months, Nixon's presidency was over and he left the White House in disgrace.Explaining History Podcast listeners are eligible for a 10% discount on all history book orders from Story Tellers Bookshop (email Katie@storytellersinc.co.uk and quote Explaining History)
German Militarism and Social Cohesion in 1914
Despite a decade of social conflict prior to the First World War between German trade unions and bosses, the declaration of war by Germany against Russia in the summer of 1914 led to a temporary but significant period of social unity in the Reich. The SPD, Germany's Social Democratic Party, showed its loyalty to the Kaiser's government by voting for his war credits to fund the army, and were recognised by the Chancellor Bethman Hollweg as a pliant and passive organisation that did not need to be repressed. National minorities in Silesia, Alsace Lorraine and Schleswig Holstein did not fare quite as well, with their leaders facing arrest and imprisonment at the start of the war. The Explaining History Podcast listeners are eligible for a 10% discount on all history book orders from Story Tellers Bookshop (email Katie@storytellersinc.co.uk and quote Explaining History)
Debt, decline and post Prague Spring Eastern Europe 1969-1989
When the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies drove their tanks into Prague in 1968, crushing the nascent pro democracy movement led by Alexander Dubcek, the last pretense of there being anything emancipatory about Soviet Communism disappeared. Instead, the USSR and its sattelite regimes were shorn of any ideological credibility and now faced sullen and uncooperative populations across the eastern bloc whose only interest in communism was whether it could economically deliver. The next two decades were an exercise in economic failure for the Soviet Union and its satellites, and an opportunity for Western banks, that had injected debt into Eastern Europe, as Soviet backed regimes desperately tried to modernise their economies, but became ensnared in a financial game that the west and its institutions were far better at playing.
The Indian Army in the Middle East - 1940
In the summer of 1940 the British faced supply shortages in the Middle East and were vastly outnumbered by Italian forces in Libya. Archibald Wavell, one of Churchill's least favourite generals, came under intense pressure from his Prime Minister for a swift and impressive victory. HIs opposite number Count Graziani quickly realised the Italian Army was poorly equipped for desert war, and despite its size would struggle to achieve a decisive victory. The Indian Fourth Division was deployed in this context and intensively trained by Major General Richard O'Connor to fight the desert battles to come. This podcast is the first of several where I will examine the realities of desert warfare for Indian soldiers.
Hitler, the Luftwaffe and the 'England Problem' - 1940
In the summer of 1940, German successes in Europe had been based on a very particular model of interaction between air and ground forces. The planned invasion of southern England and the seizure of London envisioned by Hitler presented the German airforce with entirely new problems. Some German commanders believed that the Luftwaffe alone could defeat the British, but it was Eric Raeder, the head of Hitler's navy, who wanted an amphibious invasion to showcase the power of the Kriegsmarine. Hitler offered a peace deal to the British, certain that it would be rejected, and instead embarked upon his first great failure, the Battle of Britain and the subsequent bombing campaign known as the Blitz.
Grain seizures and famine during the Great Leap Forward
During the forced programme of industrialisation in the late 1950s in China, known as the Great Leap Forward, China's peasants came under intense pressure from the violent Maoist state to produce impossible grain quotas. Villages had already undergone the process of communalisation, where the basic structures of communal and even family life were torn apart and peasants were taken from the land in huge numbers to work on poorly planned vanity projects. In villages, kitchens and cooking utensils were taken from homes and communal kitchens were established, giving the state ultimate control over food supply in rural China. This podcast draws from the excellent account of the famine, Tombstone by Yang Jisheng.
Harold Wilson and MI6 - 1963-76
Harold Wilson was the most successful Labour prime minister of the 20th Century, but was the subject of plots to remove him from power by the military, business and intelligence elites. No coup attempt against Wilson was ever launched in Britain, but his sudden resignation in 1976 followed years of speculation that he had been spied upon by the intelligence services. This podcast explores his often frictional relationship with Britain's intelligence services and the record of other Labour leaders, who were frequently viewed as illegitimate by Britain's upper classes and the security state.
When Mao Zedong, China's 'great helmsman' died in 1976, the China that emerged after destructive reign began to be de-Maoified economically but also culturally. By the early 1980s a cutlure of Mao criticism was prevalent in the arts, television and cinema, along with critiques of the Mao era communist party. This podcast examines the processes of De-Maoification and how China changed throughout the 1980s, and the significance of this in the 21st Century.