Britain at Bay

Says this overseas observer: "We have more to hope for than to fear from a direct, smashing attempt at invasion"

DOUGLAS REED April 15 1941

Britain at Bay

Says this overseas observer: "We have more to hope for than to fear from a direct, smashing attempt at invasion"

DOUGLAS REED April 15 1941

Britain at Bay

Says this overseas observer: "We have more to hope for than to fear from a direct, smashing attempt at invasion"


LONDON.—(By cable.) Hitler’s madness, if he be mad, is certainly the madness of the March hare. Most of his major coups were made in that month— the reintroduction of conscription, the seizure of the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria, the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia—and now he has begun in March, 1941, to unleash his supreme—and final—bid for victory over Britain by renewed air, sea, and submarine attacks whereby he hopes to starve and reduce this Island to a weakened and dispirited condition wherein it will fall easy prey to his invasion.

It is instructive to note that Hitler, the man of new ideas who claims to have built a “new” Germany and intends to create a “new” Europe, has for his last bid for final victory fallen back on Von Ludendorff’s last hope of 1917— unrestricted submarine warfare, reinforced this time by intensive air attacks. He has been unable to devise anything new. As in 1917, the resultant threat to Britain is very serious, but as in 1917 it will be overcomeAnd as in 1917 the unrestricted submarine warfare brought the United States into the war and sealed Germany’s defeat, so in 1941 has unleashing this last desperate bid for victory coincided with the United States’ virtual entry. For Hitler previously enjoyed the exclusive monopoly of the month of March for his exploits, but in March 1941 he, for the first time, will be overtrumped—for the passage of the Lease-Lend Bill and Roosevelt’s speech, brilliant climax to the superbly quiet interplay of statesmanship between Churchill and Roosevelt, means that his final bid for victory has been defeated in advance, that Hitler is already a beaten man, on a long view, no matter how much havoc he may wreak in the coming months.

Thus history' repeats. Meanwhile, Britain stands at bay and faces her greatest ordeal, far worse than anything in 1940. Air raids on British cities have been resumed on a grand scale, and despite the growing toll of raiders much damage is being done. The main fury of the German attacks is being directed against the ports, in support of ocean warfare, above and below the surface, on our foodships. The damage to our shipping and to our cities is grave indeed—but no victory for Hitler lies in that direction. This Island has become used to air attacks and is being increasingly well organized to cope with them. There is no longer that superabundance of luxury foods of all kinds to which the population had become accustomed in peacetime, but there is still ample for all and none need know hunger. Short rations and even worse may come, but the people of this Island are resolved to see this thing through, and know that the U.S. is now committed to help maintain vital lines of supply in a dire emergency.

Thus, as spring and summer approach, the position is almost exactly that of 1918 in the last war. Hitler has several times promised his people, “Victory this year.” He cannot stand up at the beginning of 1942 and make the same promise because by that time the German people would be laboring under a defeatist presentiment born of the memory of 1918 and British Air Force blows against Germany would be approaching decisive strength. Thus he must obtain final victory by the coming autumn—and he cannot; events of March have already put it beyond his reach.

Secondary Victories Won’t Win

CANADIAN readers know that I am the last man to say that Hitler has missed the bus, and great sufferings impend for the people of this Island, sufferings which are the price to be paid for the locust-eaten pre-war years. But the final issue, in my opinion, is now beyond doubt.

While he seeks by air-raiding and ocean-raiding to beat and cow and starve this Island into a state where it will be unable to resist invasion, Hitler simultaneously is setting forth in search of victories in the Balkans, the Near East and Africa. As I foretold in an article which missed publication through postal delays, Bulgaria unresisted the German invasion and German armies are now seemingly on the verge of an attack on Greece to get Mussolini out of his troubles there. For weeks past a great diplomatic and intimidatory campaign has been in progress to obtain the submission of Jugoslavia by similar means to those employed with Bulgaria, and the result of this is still not certain to foresee as I write—for although Jugoslav leaders are seemingly inclined, through a feeling of isolation, to capitulate, the overwhelming feeling of the Jugoslav people is for resistance and this may at the uttermost moment compel the rulers of that country to stand fast. Greek and British victories over the Italians account for this stiffening of feeling among the Balkan peoples. If Greece, Jugoslavia and Turkey all resist, decisive battles may be fought in the Balkans. If they do not, Hitler will score further successes of intimidation in that remote theatre and may even drive through to attack the British on the Suez Canal and in Africa. But as I have written before in these articles, such victories cannot be more than secondary; complete and final victory in this war can only be won by the successful invasion and subjugation of this Island and in March, 1941, the moving finger wrote that Hitler cannot achieve this.

By the time this article meets Canadian eyes a good

deal will have happened. Britain stands at bay. Britain is on tiptoe. Before I discuss further what is happening, however, I want to show Canadian readers a glimpse of the English scene.

There is in the enormous city, London, a village. By some freakish chance, the great sea of bricks and mortar, spreading outward and swallowing up everything it encountered, divided and passed by this old village on either side, leaving it almost untouched and unspoiled deep within the city. Coming into it, you might think yourself deep in the English countryside, a hundred miles from London; yet London is all around, but a stone-throw distant. The village green is still there, and ancient inns; the legend of the manor still hangs over the place; and, probably on the same spot where it had stood for many centuries, was until recently the village store, run by two maiden ladies, sisters.

For some reason, or probably for no reason, probably because the German airmen dropped their bombs on the outskirts of the fiercest anti-aircraft fire, this village has been badly battered, and one side of the old village street lies in ruins. One of the first places to suffer was the village store, which was wrecked. The two old ladies salvaged what they could of their stock, got some more in, and prepared to reopen their business in a dairy a few doors away, which they also owned. On the evening before the opening, that too was bombed. Nothing daunted, they have now bought, for forty-five pounds, a little wooden hut, which has been put up on the village green, and there they carry on. Their business is recovering, they are afoot and abroad in the early morning, delivering newspapers from door to door.

So life goes on, beneath the bombs.

Invasion ?

T BELIEVE Britain will fight off and overcome the two mortal foes, invasion and hunger, as she has fought off and overcome past dangers. And if Hitler has not finally conquered us by the autumn, he is a finished man.

First, that invasion. As I have explained before in these

articles, I cannot foresee its success now, for if Hitler could not achieve it last summer, when we were at our weakest, how shall it succeed now that we are so much stronger? But it must still be reckoned with, for failure to attempt it is deleat, for Hitler, defeat a little delayed, true, but defeat just as certain and implacable as an unsuccessful invasion would be. Because of this, because Hitler and his lieutenants know that no matter how many “victories” they gain they cannot have “Victory” without the conquest of this island. I feel that he may still nerve himself to stake everything on an all-or-nothing bid. If he does, we should be able to hurl the invaders into the sea—and the war would be over.

Thus we have, in my view, more to hope for than to fear from a direct, smashing attempt at invasion.

As for the attempt to starve us by unrestricted submarine and air attack so that we should be in no state to resist ultimate invasion, I have already said that I do not believe in defeat from this source, though I do think it possible that this island, for the first time for many centuries, will make the acquaintance of hunger. The Germans have been sinking a good many of our food-ships, and are said to have between 300 and 500 small submarines, with which to harry and destroy the incoming food-ships. By the use of this weapon they reduced us to a perilous plight in 1917, and as their great air force will this time be able to collaborate with the submarines, far out into the Atlantic, they may do that again. If they should tie as successful as they hope—and by the time this article appears Canadian readers may be in a position to judge for themselves how the battle is going—the prospects of an invasion would improve, and they might yet deliver it.

But, without having figures or other data to prove my contention, I feel certain, myself, that Britain can fight off and overcome this danger too. We have cruel times ahead, but 1 believe we can master them.

Nearing Climax

CO THE drama moves to its great climax, with Britain C' standing firm, with the United States seemingly moving nearer and nearer to participation in the war. with Japan swaying this way and that in indecision, with the Balkans once more in chaos, with the armed power of the British Empire growing every day, with German submarines and airplanes aprowl in the Atlantic.

The time for the decision draws near. In the last war Germany went from victory to victory for three and a half years and then, almost overnight, found herself defeated. In this war, she has reached that point after eighteen months. She is already in “1918.” She must win, completely, in the next nine months, or defeat looms implacably ahead of her.

The German morale is good and the Germans are full of fight. Nevertheless, at the back of every German mind a little alarm-bell is ringing, and the sound it makes is ‘'Neunzehn-Achtzehn’’—which means, 1918. The memory of that sudden and catastrophic change in Germany’s fortunes is still the biggest thing in every German’s heart; those who are not old enough to remember that collapse and the things to which it led have learned of them from their parents.

Hitler knows that, and that is why only one sentence, in his very long speech of January 30. was really important and revealing—that in which he said there would “never be another 1918” in Germany. Goebbels, too, in his introductory address, said that. The Nazi Schwarze Corps has been shouting it.

Qui s’excuse, s’accuse. These defiant and would be reassuring exclamations show what is in the Gemían mind —the thought of 1918. The very words, Neunzehn— Achtzehn, are a spectre and a death knell to every German. The year 1941 is, for them. 1918. They know that if they do not win this year, they are beaten.

I am sure they will be beaten. It is good, at this moment, when Britain is on tiptoe, awaiting the worst, to recall the record of Mr. Churchill, .whom an American lecture-tour agent billed in 1900 as “the coming Prime Minister of Great Britain,” but who was kept from that office for forty years by elderly and jealous gentlemen, afraid of youth and energy.

Three days before the 1914 war broke out, Churchill mobilized the British Navy. He did it on his own responsibility, and risked dismissal and disgrace. That master stroke may have saved Britain. Churchill, too, again on his own responsibility, had the first tanks made; if they had been more cleverly'used, the 1914-1918 war might have been much curtailed. It might have been shortened by years if other master strokes of his had not, at that time, been spoiled by the obstruction of desk-ridden and shortsighted seniors. There was the Antwerp Expedition, brilliant in his conception, but so belatedly carried out that it failed as abjectly as our equally ill-prepared expedition to Norway in the present war. There was the Dardanelles Expedition, just as brilliantly conceived, and spoiled in the same way; it might have cut years off that war.

This time, Churchill has the power to give full play to his projects. Canadian readers will have remarked the

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signs of a new, more daring and more inventive spirit that have been shown in recent months—the striking successes of British arms in Libya, the air attack on Taranto and the naval bombardment of Genoa, the British parachutists who were dropped in Italy.

The omens are good. It should not be beyond a Churchill to overcome our greatest present foe—the submarine. When that is done, the road to victory is clear, if not short.

The other day, I saw a German newspaper, the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter. In it, a German airman described a daylight flight over London. Through a rift in the clouds, he said, he saw London beneath him. It was lunchtime “but who has time or peace to eat in London nowadays, when we are always overhead, always menacing?”

I am sorry for that young German in the clouds, if he believed what he wrote, because great disappointments lie in store for him. When I had finished reading his report, I went to lunch, at the Cate Royal. It was full to overcrowding, like every other restaurant in Dmdon these days. The first fear of air raids has vanished. The measures to combat them are improving daily. Spring is on the way and new hope is in the air.

The two old ladies in the little village I told about, the village inside London, are the symbol of Britain at bay, as they carry on quietly with their work in the little wooden hut on the village green !