February 2, 2022
Posted by: ANDY FIELD

I tried hard with this book but didn’t get off to a good start. The book is well illustrated, but thumbing through, I noticed on page 98 a picture of “HMS Vanguard exercising with other Royal Navy vessels in the South China Seas in the mid-1930s.  Impressive for a ship not completed until 1946! Not good editing and enough to put me off the book. And why so much on WW2 and the Cold War? I persevered, but ultimately, Mr Simons’ premise, that the United States had spent most of the 20th century intent on destroying the British Empire was something that I just could not buy into. I could see how one could claim this and I could have been persuaded. Just not by this book.

I was really hoping to read an analysis of War Plan Red, one of several plans, first drawn up after the 1927 Geneva Naval Conference, updated in 1934-35 and withdrawn in 1939. Never officially adopted, was it, then, one of a series of plans drawn up as strategic exercises, never to be taken seriously? Not if you’re Mr Simons. On page 71 he tells us that “…..It clearly shows that as far as the US Navy was concerned, the plan was to ensure world domination and to establish the USA as the world’s only superpower…..”. That’s what this book seemed ultimately about, Regime change.

Mr Simons’ first two chapters, which I felt unnecessary, cover a lot of ground, including the period up to the Great War and its aftermath, nods at the Irish influence in American politics, naval expansion, and the Washington Naval Treaty. Why, though, a picture of SMS Frithjof, a German coastal defence battleship on page 44, or the never-completed German aircraft carrier, Graf Zeppelin, on page 53? I can guess, but it’s never made clear. Information given in chapters often seem presented as givens. This certainly seems to be the case with chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3, The Run-Up To Red is almost entirely what Mr Simons describes as the “…..somewhat convoluted ‘risk assessment’…..”.  and we get it all. Chapter 4, ‘War Plan Red’ is the War Plan and, “…..As can be seen, the language was dreary, repetitive and tedious…..”

Why is it there at all? Especially as there’s nothing that I could see that validates the claim that it was a part of a longer-term aim to “…overthrow the British Empire”. I feel that Mr Simons lost an opportunity here to discuss how Red fitted in with the other US plans, to describe the US Navy’s wargaming battles against the British and their importance, or otherwise, to consider the difficulties both sides would have faced basing and supplying a fleet near to their enemy. Instead, there’s just the Plan.

Doing any of this may have weakened Mr Simons’ argument,  trying to place War Plan Red in the context of what he sees as a broader, American strategy, to supplant the British Empire. By now Mr Simons was losing me, though. I’d been wanting a different book and I was almost ready to give up. I skimmed Chapters 5 and 6, covering American isolationism, the ‘Monroe Doctrine’, westwards expansion and the emergence of America as a world power. There was also a biography of Joseph Kennedy, Ambassador to Britain in 1939, before the book strayed into ‘Ben Macintyre territory’ with the story of the London embassy cipher clerk Tyler Kent and his espionage activities. ‘Reilly, Ace of Spies’ even popped up, briefly. I skipped chapters 7 and 8 completely, wanting to find out why there was mention of CIA’s post-war, clandestine activities in Europe and Asia, making use of surplus aircraft and covert airlines. The answer? Regime change.

The book finishes with a long quote from Enoch Powell, speaking in the House of Commons in November 1953 (we’re not told in what context) about the dangers of America actively overseeing the collapse of Britain’s Empire and Commonwealth. I can see what Mr Simons set out to do, but for me, it didn’t work.  I wasn’t persuaded and found his approach, wanting quotes to speak for themselves, ultimately disappointing.  Many were too long and two at least, entire chapters, it’s nice to see such a well-illustrated book, but they seem to be additional to the text, not a part of it. Consequently, I do not feel I can recommend this book to members of The Naval Review.