LONDON LETTER

The War's Balance Sheet

Beverley Baxter January 15 1940
LONDON LETTER

The War's Balance Sheet

Beverley Baxter January 15 1940

The War's Balance Sheet

London, December 19. (By cable. Passed by censor.)

IN THE last few days a number of letters have reached me from readers of Maclean's asking if I would tell them what is really happening in this strangest of all wars. The writers are generous enough to thank me for the pictures I have been able to give them of wartime Britain, but they would like to know what is going on deep down in the earth.

I doubt if Lord Halifax or Mr. Chamberlain could do that. I am not sure that even Hitler could forecast the trend of events with any guarantee of accuracy. Yet we are not working completely in a fog. Therefore I shall try to give you a balance sheet of the war as it throws its dark shadow on the coming new year.

First let us deal with Germany’s position. Those who hoped for an early internal breaking have been forced to revise their optimism. The belief in a swift German collapse was held by many shrewd men in Dindon. One who had been right through Europe just before the war wagered a hundred pounds that the war Would be over by Christmas, 1939. Unfortunately for himself, he refused to take into account two important factors. Complete control of the press and radio enables the Nazi Government to give their people the German truth, the whole German truth and nothing but German truth. It is all very well to expect people to think for themselves, but it requires almost an omnipotence to form one’s own conclusions against the insistence of the newspapers and radio, and why should they doubt Hitler when he has conquered Poland, which was threatening them, removed the menace of Russian arms, and held the Allies on the Western Front without fighting a battle?

I listen frequently to fifteen-odd German radio stations. When they are not filling up their people with the outlandish lies which pass for German truth, they are playing regimental marches. Hitler has reduced the Germans to a childlike level of intelligence. He lets them dress up like soldiers. He gives them guns to play with, and, as I said, puts regimental marches on the air. When they are tired, he tells them bedtime stories about the wicked British who would murder them in their beds if it ware not for Ali Hitler and his forty Gauleiters. The other difficulty about an internal rising is an obvious one. In former days, a rabble could storm the streets and start a revolution. Today, a machine gun can scatter or decimate 10,000 unarmed people. When in addition the Gestapo has put sons to spy on fathers and women to report the talk of neighbors, the difficulty of an organized uprising can be understood.

There is plenty for the German people to complain about, and precious little for them to enthuse about. But the German is a dogged fellow, and can endure hardship providing he does not have to think for himself. That, to him, would be the end of the world.

No Early German Break-Up

"DOR ALL these reasons, therefore, I predict that the Third Reich will not break up until an important military defeat is inflicted upon the Nazis in the field or in the air. You might ask, then, if the position of Germany is a basically sound one which am hold out for years providing no disaster comes to their arms. I would not take that view. The more I hear from what is called “the whispering underground railway from Germany to Switzerland.” the more I realize that both materially and psychologically Germany is a giant beset by difficulties.

Last week I dined with Dr. Rauschning, former president of the Danzig Senate, and a powerful Nazi in the early days. Today. Rauschning is one more of that formidable shadow army of Germans which is gathering outside the Reich to

assist in the war against Hitler. This is what he said to me about Nazi hierarchy.

Their jealousies and feuds are just as acute as before the blood purge of 1932. Himmler has such control of the Gestapo that he is capable of searching Hitler’s place at Berchtesgaden and finding whatever he had decided to find. He is bloodless, cruel, and determined to control the man at the top. Goering would undoubtedly cut Hitler’s throat if he were certain Himmler would not cut his. Goebbels would like to shoot both Goering and Ribbentrop, while Hitler clings to Ribbentrop as the lamb which he would throw to the wolves if the wolves become too fierce. They are desperate men, without pity or the troublings of conscience.

“Then there is the army. It is determined to come out of war intact. It will not fight a losing war for Hitler like the army that fought for the Kaiser. But the army cannot act now. It must wait until the Hitler legend begins to fade."

A massive and splendid man, this former Nazi who was Hitler’s spearhead in Danzig until he refused to persecute the Jews. Now he waits on events like all the other shadows.

A former German banker, whose name I dare not reveal, also gave me an insight into Germany’s economic position. “Her gasoline situation is not good,” he said. “She had

huge supplies, but the Polish campaign exhausted more than double what was expected. If the war really begins in 1940, Germany will not have enough gasoline to face another winter. That is why she is going to try to make this an economic war with an attempt to enforce a blockade at sea.”

He further told me that owing to the lack of raw materials, German steel production is down by forty per cent. And there is serious unemployment in that industry.

But to revert to the psychological factor once more, for I believe this will produce the ultimate collapse of the Hitler regime. The war at sea, and it has been a real one, has supplied Hitler with some startling successes and some crushing discouragements. Undoubtedly he had great hopes of his new long-range submarines, and the early harvest of shipping seemed to justify him, but with the

swiftness of the most efficient organization in the world, the British Fleet, the hunter became the hunted. Destroyers send explosives into the very belly of the sea while airplanes ride the skies like hawks and swoop on their victim if she dares to rise before night’s curtain has been drawn.

The magnetic mine, however, raised Hitler’s hopes again. With the element of surprise to help, it took a cruel toll of British and neutral shipping. The answer was ready, though. The fisherfolk went out in their trawlers, joined by hundreds of their comrades from gallant little Newfoundland. and they exploded the magnetic pests where they lay in the shallow depths from which they alone can inflict death.

There was. and is still, the parachute mine, but the Royal Air Force has set forth and machine gunned the places from which the carriers would set out. Our fliers are taking and paying a heavy toll. Many good youngsters never come back, but the barometer of sinkings is dropping.

And in all this business, keep a thought for the men on the British destroyers. They have had no rest from the enemy or that Old Devil Sea from the beginning of the war. They come in from convoy duty and in three hours put to sea again where the winter waves break endlessly in great cascades of foam over their bows. Like terriers they guard the convoys through the danger zone, then are called to some other spot to escort a cruiser or join a submarine hunt. Have thought for the men. but also keep one for the wives who never see their husbands month in and month out.

Contrast in Battle

BUT Hitler had even another card to play. There was the raiding pocket-battleship, that heavily gunned 10.000 ton masterpiece which could outrange anything but the heaviest British ships. You will remember how the converted Rawalpindi encountered one of the raiders. She had not a chance. Her guns could not have reached the German, and if they had done so the damage would have been slight. But the British fought her, nevertheless. Her captain refused to lower her flag, even when he stood amid the flames and helped to fire the last of his guns. He and his men went down, but the flag hovered proudly above the waves before the ship took the last plunge. A useless sacrifice? We had not long to wait to look on the other side of the picture. You have to be in England and live with this race of islanders to experience the thrill that swept across the country when the news came that the light-gunned cruisers Ajax, Exeter and Achilles had dashed in under the guard of the Graf Spee, with her enormous guns which could have destroyed each cruiser in turn. Commodore Harwood, now most deservedly knighted, was in charge of the Exeter and sent Nelson’s famous signal to his consort ships. The rest you know'. With consummate seamanship and unbelievable audacity the cruisers battered the harried German battleship until she limped into port at Montevideo.

I was dining at the House Sunday night when the Graf Spee was due to come out. Eight or nine young officers from a near-by training camp had come over for dinner. The one subject of discussion was what the Graf Spee would do. Some thought she would remain interned; others that she wauld try to make a run for it. And still more thought she w'ould come out and fight. Not one of us, young or old, forecast what w’ould really happen. It was a couple of hours later when we got news that the German ship had been scuttled by Hitler’s orders. With one accord the young officers said, “We’re glad. It would have been a pity to have killed the German crew\” They considered the incident well ended. Then our host asked the question, “What would the captain of a British ship do in the same

LONDON LETTER

Beverley Baxter

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circumstances?” Everyone looked toward him in unfeigned surprise. “Oh, a British captain,” they said, “would have gone down fighting, of course.” They could not understand how even such a question could be raised. I have told that incident for one reason—to illustrate the morale of the British as opposed to that of the Germans. It does not matter whether you make contact with the Air Force, the Navy or the Army, the spirit of Elizabethan days has come back to these islands once more. Grenville, Drake, Frobisher, Raleigh—they live again.

Hitler’s order that the Graf Spee scuttle herself was to my mind a psychological blunder of the first magnitude, especially following up on the fight by the Rawalpindi. In short, he has by his action virtually said to his fighting services, “If you are in a hole, get out of it and save your lives.” He might defend himself by saying that Napoleon issued the order ‘‘Sauve qui peut” at Waterloo, but Napoleon did not do it until the battle was over.

That rising morale of the British is fascinating to watch. America laughed

when one of our submarines which had the Bremen at her mercy refused to sink her. This is a cockeyed war, said a New York paper. Two days later, that same submarine made her way through the defenses of the enemy. She penetrated an escort of destroyers and torpedoed two German cruisers. There you have the true make-up of this country, when it is roused from the slough of intellectual indifference which characterizes so much of our life here in peacetime. It is a combination of selfcontrol in the one case and absolute audacity in the other which is making the Germans begin to wonder what is going to happen next.

The Canadians Arrive

AND as I am writing these words there comes the news that the First Canadian Division has arrived. The papers are full of it. with pictures of the magnificent specimens of young humanity Canada has sent. Again you must live here to understand the emotion with which we see our kinsmen from overseas taking their place beside the young men of Great Britain, and if it steels the purpose of Britain and puts new courage in her heart, what effect must it have on Hitler and his advisers? Macbeth, watching the approach of Birnam wood could not have felt the inevitability of his doom more clearly than Hitler watching these branches of the old tree coming against him.

If. then, we are gaining psychological superiority as undoubtedly we are doing, can we look toward the new year with confidence? I believe we have every right to do that. But at the same time we must realize the power of the enemy as well as his problems. It would seem the Germans are likely to concentrate on two things, the blockade of Britain and the economic war. It is no secret that the strength of our mercantile marine had been considerably reduced in the last ten years. There were many causes, some avoidable, some unavoidable, but we must take things as they are, not look back. Then the American Neutrality Act, which helped us on our way, has been a severe blow. The diversion of American shipping to other waters has placed an extra strain on British tonnage. It is true we are throttling German trade, but the process of bringing a landlocked nation down by blockade is of necessity a long one. On the other hand, an island which lives on imports depends completely upon the freedom of ships to enter and leave ports. The convoy system, although it has been an admirable success, greatly reduces the efficiency of our mercantile marine. The explanation is obvious. Ships assembling for convoy

must wait for each other and for escorts. The slowest ship of the lot dictates the pace at which they will travel. Tactical detours are made. All these things combine in reducing the number of voyages which any one ship can make in the course of a year.

The German submarine has been eliminated as a serious factor, but the indiscriminate mines which infest the waters constitute a problem which does not give our Navy any respite, and must, by their very nature, take constant toll of ships and lives. From that to our economic position is a natural step. The British will have to confine their imports very largely to the necessities of life, to raw materials for the manufacture of armaments, and exports. Armaments must come first. We are at war, and they are weapons of war. Exports must come next, for only by their volume can we pay for our imports. The thing which must be reduced is internal consumption in Britain. Sir John Simon is grappling with that now, and from the long talk which I had with him last weekend, I think he has every intention of bringing in measures which will be strong and effective. We have to find a way so that rising wages cannot he used to stimulate retail trade. I hope to see before long a decree for two meatless days a week, thus leaving more room on our ships for the necessities of exports and armaments. All these things we will have to do in order, like an athlete, to strip to the bone and be unimpeded for the great contest. Yet we must watch out that in doing this to facilitate and hasten victory, we do net give a false impression that the enemy has forced it on us through the blockade. It is going to be a titanic struggle. Much will tax the hearts and sinews of us all. Many objectives have to be kept in mind, and varying claims considered and balanced with clear judgment. First we must retain control of the seas and gradually dominate the air. Second, we must increase our imports. Thirdly, we must reduce the standard of living at home. Fourthly, we must keep the pound from weakening in value. Fifthly, we must do everything to assist the neutral countries and to maintain their confidence in our ultimate victory. Sixthly, we must wait for America to realize that there is a war going on between darkness and light, between decency and savagery, between humanity and barbarism.

It is a mighty struggle which we have been called upon to make, but if we do not falter, if we take success calmly though thankfully, and if we look at danger with clear eyes, nothing can prevent the final downfall of the Nazis and all they stand for.