WORLD WAR II - Capt. L. H. Bell
The war-time, daily manuscript diaries of Captain L. H. Bell, the assistant to Admiral Tom Phillips, Vice Chief of the Naval Staff of the Royal Navy
London: 2 September 1939 - 26 July 1941. 6 volumes, large 8vo. Over 1400pp., written recto and verso within ruled diaries, with some entries written on sheets of paper neatly tipped in.
Extraordinary war-time diaries of an Admiralty insider.
Captain Bell served as the assistant to Admiral Tom Phillips, Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, among the most important naval figures of the war. Given his position, Bell was privy to an extraordinary amount of war-time news, intelligence, insight and strategy, which he dutifully records in daily entries. Beginning his diary on 2 September, the day following Germany's invasion of Poland and the day prior to Great Britain's Declaration of War, Bell's diary includes detailed descriptions relating to the Battle of the Atlantic, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Norwegian Campaign, the Blitz, Nazi movements on the Continent, battles in the Mediterranean and more. A brief selection of quotes:
20 September 1939: "Poles still holding out in Warsaw. Germans mopping up elsewhere & Russians advancing unchecked. More & more opinions being expressed that Russian intervention, though a low down stab in the back for Poland, will not be to Germany's advantage either now or in the future. But no one knows!..."
10 May 1940: "...the Germans have invaded Holland, Belgium, & Luxembourg ... All hell let loose at last & now the war legions to rage in full & utter earnest! ... Chamberlain resigned tonight & Churchill has accepted the job of Prime Minister & will choose his cabinet tomorrow. Not altogether unexpected but I don't trust Churchill's judgment & am very doubtful if the change will be for the good."
27 May 1940: "... God help the BEF! The country has still no conception of the gravity of the situation for in response to French appeals nearly all military news of the past few days has been suppressed. I think it is a mistake - the blow will be the more stunning when it falls."
29 May 1940: "The situation in Flanders & NE France remains grim & grisly ... By 10 pm 56,000 had been recovered but conditions at Dunkerque on the beaches must be indescribable. Practically every boat that floats between Portsmouth & Harwich has been launched to the beach between Dunkerque & Newport ... but the men are proving [?] down into the beach half dead with thirst & famished. There is no water in Dunkerque which has been bombed to bits ..."
10 June 1940: "Roosevelt broadcast at 0015 - the most pro-Ally speech he has yet made & pretty scathing about the Italian stab in the back. He is certainly out to help us all he can short of sending Americans to fight in Europe..."
15 September 1940: "There was a big air raid on London at about 1130. I watched from our window & one spitfire overhead in a clear patch of the blue sky through the clouds ... a large dark twin engined Dornier came spinning through the clouds. It looked as if it would fall into St. James Park lake but eventually I think fell in Victoria St. A black cloud of smoke followed its contact with the earth..."
30 December 1940: "... Last night an attack in London took the form of an intense bombing of the city with incendiaries & raging fires were caused all round St. Pauls. Guildhall has been destroyed & 7 Wren churches. Also many offices & old buildings. Little loss of life, but immense damage..."
10 May 1941: "Several uboats attacked a GB convoy & I think sank 5 ships from it but we bagged one certain U110 & probably another. More uboat attacks - convoys are threatened and are getting out a long way West..."
Although the final volume ends somewhat abruptly in July 1941, a postscript by Bell dated 1972 explains that the subsequent two volumes (which included his final months at the Admiralty before becoming Captain of the Fleet under Admiral Phillips aboard the HMS Prince of Wales in October 1941), went down with the battleship when it was sunk on 10 December 1941 off the coast of Malaya. Bell was among the few survivors. Thus, the present six volumes represent his complete war-time diaries.
Given his position within the Admiralty, Bell's diaries offer extraordinary insight into Great Britain's war-time decision making, offering first-hand knowledge of events as they unfolded.