The Keyes Papers, Volume III, 1939-1945

Vol 122 (1981), Professor P.G. Halpern

The start of Volume III, 1939-1945, finds Keyes in a frustrating position. Too young for fleet command in the First World War, he was now too old for command in the Second World War. Keyes’s temperament did not allow him to suffer in silence. His criticisms of the Naval Staff, and implicitly of the government reached another climax with his celebrated speech in the debate in the House of Commons in May 1940, which helped to bring down the Chamberlain government.

On 17 July 1940 Keyes was appointed Director of Combined Operations, and he set to work to build up an organization. Immediately this organization was at odds with both the Royal Navy and the Army, as they were competing for the same supplies, equipment and manpower. He was treated with considerable suspicion, personally, by the 3 Chiefs of Staff, who knew all to well his close connection to Churchill, and most of his proposals were ruled out by various planning committees.

In March 1941 the Commandos carried out a raid on the Lofoten Islands, and for much of the summer Keyes was involved in planning a raid on the Grand Canary Island or the Azores (Operation Pilgrim). This culminated in August in Exercise Leapfrog, designed as the dress rehearsal for the operation. The mistakes committed during this exercise led directly to Keyes dismissal as DCO and was eventually relived of his post by Churchill.

For the second time in the war Keyes was out of a job, when he thought he ought to have been running the war. He continued to write to all his naval friends and spoke out against the conduct of the war in Parliament. Despite his criticisms of the direction of the war Churchill offered Keyes a peerage, which he accepted. He died on 26th December 1945.

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About Paul Halpern

Paul Halpern was born in New York 27 January 1937, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1958 with honours in History. He served in the US Army 1958-60, reaching the rank of First Lieutenant. He entered Harvard University in 1960, where he gained an MA in History in 1961 and in 1966 his PhD, with a two volume thesis on The Mediterranean Naval Situation. He spent his entire academic career at Florida State University at Tallahassee, starting as an instructor in 1965, rising to assistant professor in 1966, associate professor in 1970, and professor in 1974. On retiring in 2005 he became emeritus professor. In 1986-87 he served as visiting professor of strategy at the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island.

He served on the Council of the Navy Records Society 1968-72, 1982-86 and 2010-14. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a member of the American Historical Foundation, the US Naval Institute, the Naval Historical Foundation, Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Eta Sigma

His publications include
• The Mediterranean Naval Situation, 1908-1914 (Harvard University Press, 1971).
• The Naval War in the Mediterranean (Allen and Unwin, 1987).
• The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, 1915-18 (Navy Records Society, 1987)
• The Keyes Papers, Volume I (Navy Records Society, 1972).
• The Keyes Papers, Volume II (Navy Records Society, 1980).
• The Keyes Papers, Volume III (Navy Records Society, 1981).
• A Naval History of World War I (Naval Institute Press, 1994).
• Anton Haus: Osterreich-Ungarns Grossadmiral (Graz, 1998).
• The Battle of the Otranto Straits: Controlling the gateway to the Adriatic in World War I (Indiana University Press, 2004).
• The Mediterranean Fleet, 1919-29 (Navy Records Society, 2011).
• The Mediterranean Fleet, 1930-39 (Navy Records Society, 2016).