In the Luftwaffe lull the British are asking: Will "aid to Russia" be enough?
The Third Winter
In the Luftwaffe lull the British are asking: Will "aid to Russia" be enough?
LONDON, September 15 — There is a nip in the air. The creeper on the houses round St. John’s Wood is turning blood-red. Every evening the call of the air-raid wardens, “Put that light out!” sounds earlier; the blackout, once ordained, seemingly must go on for ever, no matter how futile, how advantageous to the night raider, how disadvantageous to the night fighter.
The third autumn, the third winter impend. As they approach, London, torn and tormented a year ago, lies quiet and peaceful by day and night, by dawn and dusk. A year ago today the city knew no respite from fire and bomb. On September 15 the Germans launched their supreme daylight air attack; it cost them 185 aircraft. A week before that, on September 8, they caused fires that made London look as if it were ablaze from end to end. In the week between, London knew no rest, either in the hours of light or those of darkness.
It seemed beyond hope, then, that in a year’s time the city would be so peaceful, that the theatres would beTpacked with people every night; that, although the nightly stream of motor cars bearing the prudent to homes beyond the danger area still continues, the sound of sirens and bombs and gunfire would have become a rarity. Yet so it is. I felt a sense of sudden shock yesterday when a soldier reader, who had made use of his dawn-tomidnight leave to hitchhike from Somerset to London to see me, said to me as he looked at London, “The thing that surprises me is, how little damage has been done.” Looking through his eyes, I saw that he was right. True, the mending of the roads and the clearance of debris, the tidying up of the damage, has put the picture in proportion. Only now can a Londoner who lived through that time realize how small—relative to»the vastness of London—the havoc has been.
A year ago, the twilight hour was one of fear, of hurrying homeward, of scurrying for shelter, of
pricked-up ears waiting for the sirens that were certain to sound as soon as the darkness fell, of grim alertness among the fire fighters and rescue squads whose lot was to face whatever dangers the night held in store for them. Today, the dusk falls on a city calmly preparing to go out and dine or dance or watch a play.
The war has moved East. The death and destruction are being worked elsewhere. London has a respite, as autumn comes, with winter crouching in its shadow.
BUT IN the hearts of the people a good deal of anxiety and apprehension is taking root. Three months have passed since the miracle came that made the hope of victory suddenly loom large even in the vision of the most dubious; since the attack on Russia. Two months have passed since “all possible” British and U.S. aid was promised. All that has been given is an unknown quantity of “supplies,” an unknown but presumably not very large number of aircraft, and a wing of the British Royal Air Force. The British bombing of German cities is not felt to be heavy enough sensibly to diminish the pressure on Russia and would supposedly have been carried out in any case, as it reflects the growing strength of the British bombing forces.
Meanwhile the German military machine has efficiently and relentlessly, if more slowly than its masters had hoped and more slowly than of wont, bitten deep into Russia. Now it is running a race with winter for the capture of great Russian cities, to serve as winter quarters for the German armies. The danger is clear that it may succeed.
Beyond question, this is worrying many people in the British Island. They feel that a heavy blow struck at Germany now would be worth a dozen heavy blows struck after Russia had been defeated, or driven back to outlandish regions without great cities or great industries from which only a defensive, possibly only a guerilla warfare could be carried on. They feel that a shrewd blow now would get Germany facing both ways, would make
Germany dizzy; and they pine, long and yearn for it. They begin to ask how the war can ever be won against a Germany master of Europe and capable of giving undivided attention to Britain, if Britain cannot devise and deliver, at a moment so favorable and so unlikely to recur as this, a blow heavy enough to relieve the pressure on Russia until winter falls.
All the British people have to go by in this anxious moment is the statement of those in authority that “all that can be done is being done.” Their minds are still heavy with the memory of the laggardly way the forces in France were equipped (only now have they learned that the tanks arrived after Dunkirk), of the aid that arrived too late in Finland, of the expedition to Norway that was so direly ill-equipped and ill-supported, of the beleaguered garrison in Crete, that had no air support. They do not want to see another expedition hastily improvised and sent out without a fair chance of achieving anything. But they do feel that if, after all these sore experiences and after two years of war, what is at present being done to prevent Russia from collapsing is “all that can be done,” it is not enough, and that more ought to be possible.
The people are told so little about the facts of the situation—or what they are told is so often contradictory and contradicted—that they have only their own instincts to guide them. And their instincts undoubtedly tell them that Hitler’s attack on Russia, and the unexpectedly stout Russian resistance, gave this country, in the language of the bargain-sale advertisements, “an opportunity which will not recur.” For that reason, they are growing uneasy as the German advance in Russia continues and nothing happens, from this side, to relieve the pressure. They are depressed by the prospect that, if this goes on, Hitler may by the winter have bitten deep enough into Russia to call a halt, declare that he has obtained all he wanted, establish a defensive line there—and then devote the winter months, during which he will have the entire armament industry of E urope at his command, to the preparation of a new assault on this country. The feeling in this country, that some blow should
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at all cost be devised and struck which would avert the worst in Russia, is very strong. The alternative, people feel, may at the best be a far prolongation of the war. For success in Russia would once again revive and reanimate the belief of the German people in victory, it would buoy them up through the winter; and it would once again—and this is the worst of all—cast down the spirits of our most valuable allies, our potential war-winning allies, the peoples in the occupied countries.
They, under the influence of the Russian resistance, were just lieginning to bestir themselves; revolt was not far out of sight. In Serbia the puppet-premier, General Neditch, has openly declared in a broadcast from the German-controlled radio station at Belgrade: “The outrages in Serbia are leading to civil war. All Serbs are asked to do everything in their power to prevent a punitive expedition from being sent to this country, which would thus be converted to a heap of ruins.” In Norway hundreds of arrests have been made, and death sentences passed. Similar news was coming in every day from France, Czechoslovakia and Holland.
For these reasons—and for the still better reason that the people of this country are fighters and like to strike when they are roused— there has been a feeling of grim embitterment as the days and weeks have passed and the threat to Leningrad and Kiev has gradually grown greater, and nothing has been found possible for the succor of Russia.
The British people are suffering much with little complaint, but they do not want to see opportunities missed. And they think they see an opportunity.
The Long-Range “Plan”
YET SEEMINGLY nothing can be done. It was a shock to people here, who have long been told to let nothing pass their lips which would help the enemy, when President Roosevelt, after the Atlantic meeting, told questioners that a British invasion of Europe was unlikely before 1943. If Hitler was in a position to count on that, his attack on Russia appears much less hazardous. The detailed figures about U.S. deliveries to this country which have been published during the past month have been so far below everything the British public had been led to believe, that a rather depressing effect has been made.
In spite of the feeling in this country, however, it is by all credible accounts next to certain that no major attempt to relieve the pressure on Russia will be made. The “difficulties” are said to be too great, and the opportunity, however golden it may appear, must seemingly be allowed to pass in favor of adherence to the long-range “plan” for the subjugation of Germany, to which guarded references are sometimes made, though none knows quite what it is. As far as it can be guessed at, it foresees the gradual building-up of the Royal Air Force until mastery in the German air is
achieved, and then an invasion. Whether the present strength of the Royal Air Force could not be employed notv to help defeat the German aims in Russia, and whether that would not be better than the bombing of the Western German cities, in accordance with the longrange plan, are questions that have presumably been discussed, but are not publicly put or answered.
For the present then, Germany, almost unhampered, reaches out her clutching hand nearer and nearer to the Russian cities— Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Moscow.
By the time Canadian readers see this article, they may already know whether all or any of these have fallen, whether the Russo-German campaign is to continue on fairly stable lines through the winter, or whether Hitler has taken enough of Russia for him to announce that he has “eliminated the Bolshevist regime” and thereby attained his object.
In that case the next card in his joint diplomatic and military hand may be expected, namely, the great “Peace Offer.”
It might very well be that Hitler, proclaiming that he had rid Europe of Bolshevism and united that Continent behind the leadership of Germany, would then offer “Peace.” He might well offer even to evacuate some of the occupied countries, or some portion of them.
I should like Canadian readers to know the true meaning of this move, if and when it is made, and only wish more people in this country understood it. It is a two-headed coin; whatever the outcome, Hitler can lose nothing by it. If the offer were accepted by Britain, Germany would be left as undefeated conqueror of the entire Continent with a mighty and undefeated army—and the final phase of the war, the attack on Britain, would come in just as many months or years as Germany needed to prepare it. If it were rejected, the isolationists in the United States would argue that Britain alone was
responsible for the continuance of the war and that U.S. intervention in it would be madness. Hitler’s chief motive in making the offer would be precisely this—to strengthen the hand of the isolationists in the United States, to make President Roosevelt’s position more difficult, and to avert U.S. entry into the war. He would not have any real hope of British acceptance. The prospect that Britain would have to continue the war alone would certainly increase.
Russia Has Last Word
I HAVE discussed the Battle for Russia exclusively in this article. Everything else—Iran, the rumors of an impending British attack on Libya, the many questions that are asked in this country about the immunity of Italy from Royal Air Force attack—pales into unimportance beside it. It is transcendent.
We have not seen much sun in this country in 1941. As the autumn approaches and the days shorten, we see less and less. Similarly, as the German armies draw near to Leningrad and Kiev, the golden opportunity that suddenly shone on us in midsummer, seems to be sinking below the horizon. May the fates ordain otherwise. Russia itself, after all, has the last word to say in that matter. Russia has already produced great and unexpected reserves of strength. Perhaps Russia may yet find within itself the strength to keep the invader out of its cities, to force him to winter in icy and barren fields, far from his friends and homeland. In that case the aid we have been unable to give may not matter. Perhaps we may yet be able to give just enough aid, in some form or other.
But it will be a rather grim winter if Hitler once again succeeds in crushing a great army that might have helped us to victory. By the time I write next month’s article for Maclean's we shall be able to see much more clearly.
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