Great Britain: Operation Canute

The press played it up as one of the decade's worst disasters. In a slow Easter week on Fleet Street, Britain's newspapers called it another Battle of Britain. A few correspondents even quoted Churchill's immortal words of that dark hour: "We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds." Fight what? Oil.

By some fateful miscalculation, the U.S.-owned oil tanker Torrey Canyon, en route from Kuwait to Wales, had run aground and begun to break up on a reef 18 miles off the southwest tip of...

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