The Battle of 1941

"Our greatest peril now seems to be an invasion of Eire for it would place the Germans between this Island and the United States"—Reed


The Battle of 1941

"Our greatest peril now seems to be an invasion of Eire for it would place the Germans between this Island and the United States"—Reed


The Battle of 1941

"Our greatest peril now seems to be an invasion of Eire for it would place the Germans between this Island and the United States"—Reed



LONDON--(By airmail and cable) When I began to write these monthly articles for

Maclean's the winter of 1940 was at the door and, still scarcely daring to believe my mind’s eyes, 1 was able to look back on the summer and autumn of 1940 and see that Britain had survived, that Hitler had not even been able to attempt his invasion. Now the spring of 1941 is upon us, and one of the decisive battles of the world’s history impends.

In London, as I write, the air is quick with anticipation. Spring is on the way, but it is not only this which imparts that tingle to the air. At any instant the smoldering war may blaze into flame, and everybody knows or feels that. We were reprieved last year when we already faced a firing squad with levelled riñes; now we have to fight and win. After a winter of bombs and blackness, the city is rapidly returning to vigorous life. Each week more of the theatres, which all closed when the air raids began, reopen. The restaurants are packed.

The bombing, for some reason still not clear, does not yet approach the fierceness of last autumn and winter, but when bombs do fall the population takes little notice of them. People now go out in the evening, and although a bomb recently fell on a fashionable restaurant, thronged with dancers, other restaurants and dance halls, the next night, were as full as ever. The cities and countryside are alive with soldiers, of many nationalities and in the uniforms of all the services, and their vastly improved physique and bearing show that good use has been made of the nine months respite since the British Expeditionary Force escaped, as by a miracle, from the jaws of shame and defeat at Dunkirk. Food, as yet, though scarce in comparison with the abundance which prevailed in peace, is still ample and, though hunger is among the perils that threaten us, none need suffer it yet; I have ascertained that through visits to the slums of London and our provincial cities.

Such is the picture of this island on the eve of a decisive

battle—perhaps the greatest decisive battle in the history of the world. The country is calm and confident and doggedly sure of victory. The presence of so many troops from Canada and the other Dominions is among the most heartening things.

The Balkan Situation

AS I WRITE, Hitler is trying, by his usual method of intimidation, to compel Jugoslavia to submit, to join his Axis Pact, to allow the passage of German troops. He seeks also to compel the capitulation of Greece, calculating that this country will give up the struggle rather than oppose the might of the German army. He hopes by similar tactics to frighten Turkey into abandonment of her alliance with Britain. He means, if he can, to march through or round all these countries and attack the British in Palestine, on the Suez Canal, in Egypt and Africa.

I have written before that, even if he were to succeed in these plans to the utmost of his hopes, he would still not have won the war, which he can only win, conclusively and finally, by the invasion and conquest of this Island. But, setting that aside for a moment, what are his prospects in the Balkans and beyond?

What of Jugoslavia? Every Jugoslav knows, that submission to Germany would mean not only the end of Jugoslav independence, but the actual breakup of the Jugoslav State—for Germany, once in command of Jugoslavia, would never again give up Croatia, the northern province of Jugoslavia, which formerly belonged to the Austrian Monarchy and which carries with it the prize that Germany covets more than any other save the conquest of Biitain, namely, the possession of a strip of Adriatic coast and therewith an outlet to the Mediterranean. The utmost the Jugoslavs could hope to save from the wreck would be a little Serb principality in nominal independence, but actual vassalage.

The overwhelming majority of the Jugoslav people, Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, are ardently anti-German, anti-Italian, anti-dictatorship, pro-Biitish and prodemocratic. But the Jugoslavs for years past have had no voice in the government of their State, a strictly controlled press withholds all information about current affairs from them, and since the murder of King Alexander at Marseilles

in 1934 the whole development of Jugoslavia has been toward submission to Germany.

When the crisis came the Jugoslav leaders capitulated as was foreseeable but the feeling of the Jugoslavs, particularly the Serbs, who were rigidly repressed for years by the Prince Paul regime, broke through at the moment when these rulers had already signed away Jugoslav independence and assented to the breakup of the Yugoslav state.

Serb Army Intervention

AS ALWAYS in times of mortal danger for Serbia, for instance the crisis of 1903 and 1914, the Serb army intervened, and by Thursday’s act cancelled Monday’s pact. In 1903 and 1914 desperate patriotic conspirators used the weapon of political assassination; this time, having learned from world repugnance of this method, they deposed the Regent, arrested cabinet ministers, and enthroned the young King, which means that the Serb army rules Jugoslavia until the danger is past and the Boy King is able to take up the role of his murdered father, Alexander, who led the Serb army to victory from exile in the last war.

This Serb rising, with which the Croats in the north are overwhelmingly in sympathy despite the strategically exposed situation of their Croatia, is the most inspiring event in the war to date, for every Serb knows that his country is now once more exposed, as in 1914, to the bombardment of Belgrade, the overrunning of the country, foreign occupation and the possible withdrawal of King, Government, and Army into exile whence the war would have to be carried on. But King Peter’s kingdom, which would have been irretrievably broken up by the pact in Vienna, has now been saved for him, and even though he will perhaps be unable to occupy the throne when he comes of age in September of this year, he will eventually succeed to the kingdom bequeathed him by his father, undiminished if not enlarged.

The silent Battle of Belgrade, which resulted in these events, was one of the decisive battles of this war. Knowing Belgrade well, and knowing the almost mystical faith of the Serbs in British and American strength, staying power, and resources, I prayed for the spectacular British intervention which would ignite popular feeling in Jugoslavia. This

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came in the nick of time—even after the pact of capitulation had been signed—in the form of Serb-speaking British Minister Amery’s broadcast, which was the first major diplomatic triumph scored by Britain for a long time. It set a spark to the Serb powder barrel.

By the grace of God this vitally important development in the Balkans was followed by a brilliant British naval victory over the Italians—the thing most calculated to strengthen the Jugoslavs, their confidence and valor. They now hold a valuable trump card. If Hitler attacks from the north, they can fall on the Italians in Albania and, with the Greeks, annihilate them or drive them into the sea. The Italian military reputation and morale is now too impaired to offer hope of a successful resistance to such an onslaught. Thus Hitler can only overrun Jugoslavia at the price of his ally’s complete humiliation.

These events completely changed the Balkan and Mediterranean situation and Hitler’s dilemma is daily becoming more difficult, so that now rumors again are being spread that he intends to attack Russia. It is to be hoped these are unfounded, as such a development might generate anew the old confusion of ideas and enable him to extricate himself, by skilful exploitation of discredited but dangerous illusions, from a situation which is coming to resemble a rat trap.

An arrangement between Turkey, Greece and Jugoslavia for joint resistance now again becomes a possibility when hope of it seemed gone, and the new visit of Eden and Dill to Athens may be connected with such a possibility.

Greece And Turkey

VTTHAT of Greece and Turkey? They *Y have a Mediterranean coast line, and the British Navy still rules the Mediterranean. Anthony Eden and General Dill have been to both countries, and presumably have preconcerted with their rulers’ plans to oppose any new German thrust. The Greek victories over the Italians have thrown Hitler’s timetable completely out of gear. Greece was by now to have been conquered; instead of that he must conquer Greece himself, if he means to have Greece. Many valuable months have been gained, by the Greek resistance, for Britain to prepare her plans in that part of Europe, and these months have also been used to drive the Italians from large areas of their African Empire.

As I write, the British Government and the British General Staff and Admiralty have certainly decided whether they intend

to take up the struggle with Hitler in the Balkans and in the Dardanelles, when he next strikes. I do not know what that decision is. I do know that Greece and Turkey are our last foothold, our last bridgehead in Europe. What I do not know, what nobody outside the innermost circle knows, what everybody is waiting to know, is whether the British Government has decided, when the next blow falls, to take up the challenge there, to fight for possession of that last foothold.

These issues will have become clear by the time Canadian readers see this article.

If Hitler should succeed in overrunning Greece and in cowing Turkey, the war will have moved, or will be moving, to Palestine, the Suez Canal and Africa, and Germany will be fighting the British Empire there. As I say, she cannot win final Victory there, however successful she may be.

Then what of this Island, where alone that complete and conclusive Victory is to be had?

Since I last wrote, and recorded that Hitler had promised his people “victory this year,” well knowing that if he cannot fulfill that promise he is beaten, Goebbels has echoed his master’s voice and said, “We are bound to end the war this year, and will end it this year.” That is truth. The Germans must win this year, or they are beaten. Then, how?

Here in this Island we still await the all-or-nothing bid to invade and conquer. For my part, I cannot believe, now, that Hitler will venture that gigantic, direct assault, because the odds against its success should be overwhelming and its failure would mean the early, if not immediate end of the war. Moreover, the headlong, head-on assault against great fortifications is not the German method; we used it, to our cost, on the Somme and at Passchendaele, and shall never, it is to be hoped, employ it again. The German method is to find a way round, to outflank, to come through the back door, not the front door. That is how they overcame the Maginot Line.

The British Government and General Staff are presumably well aware of this, but the British public seems to be making the mistake of fixing its gaze on the Straits of Dover and expecting the Germans to strike there, which seems most unlikely.

I believe that a sea-borne invasion should now be impossible, and that an invasion by parachute troops or aircraft-carried troops should similarly be impossible, in view of the great progress which has been made in our defenses in recent months.

Vulnerable Eire

BUT EIRE, the defenses of which are not under British control, may well be open to such an air-borne invasion and the Germans, once established there, might be difficult to expel. This seems a greater danger, now, than the direct invasion, for it would place the Germans between this Island and the United States and Canada and would greatly improve the German chances of intercepting and blocking our shipping approaches and starving us out.

This, indeed, seems our greatest peril now. In Hitler’s last speech he foretold the unloosing of a gigantic submarine and air campaign against our foodships. In my view this means that he sees his last hope of winning this war in the starve out, in “unrestricted submarine warfare.” He is back to where Ludendorff was in 1917. True, he is in a better position to make war on our shipping, because he holds the French coast, because the airplane has now come to help the submarine.

Here, then, as I believe, is the last mortal threat to Britain in this war, the last chance of defeat. Since I last wrote, Hitler has actually unleashed the submarine war he threatened. Our shipping losses in the week which has just finished have been great, even daunting. Worse may yet come. We are approaching short commons; we may know dire hunger.

But just at this moment comes the

answer—the passage of the Lend-Lease I Bill in the United States. It has been ! delayed far longer than most people j expected, but now it is law. I think it is Hitler's death warrant, the end of his last hope of starving us out and of winning the j war. Our greatest need has been for more ¡ ships to convoy our food supplies across the { Atlantic, until such time as our own and ; U.S. shipbuilding can catch up with the losses. We now seem likely to get these ships, from the United States, even if the United States does not enter the war.

So, on the eve of great events and of our greatest ordeal, I am confident that we shall survive this coming summer, and that by the winter we shall be able to perceive victory in the distance. The daybomber we have fought off; a German ¡ airman very rarely dare show himself over J Britain these days. The night-bomber is being fought down; the numbers of those brought down are still small, but they are rising, and there are signs that the German night-raider no longer relishes his task as he did six months ago.

Similarly we shall fight off and overcome the submarines and the oceanic air-raiders, j We may go hungry, for a while, but we ¡ shall overcome that too. The passage of j the Lend-Lease Bill, at this vital moment, j makes this one of the great moments of I history. It decides in our favor, on the eve | of combat, a decisive battle of the world’s history.

If we survive these coming months, as I believe we shall, victory will be ours. For in the winter we shall approach air equality with Germany and next year we shall have superiority, if not supremacy. Then, as I fervently hope, we shall make good Mr. Churchill’s promise to hit Germany hard in Germany—for failure to do that, and our still laggardly propaganda, are our greatest handicaps in this war as yet. In this queer war more civilians have been killed, up to now, than soldiers; a great naval victory was won by the British over the French fleet; a second great naval victory was won by British airplanes over an Italian fleet in harbor, at Taranto. Similarly, most of our bombs, until now, have fallen on our friends—on Frenchmen, Hollanders, Belgians and Norwegians. That, I assume, is a well-considered military necessity, but it should stop at the first possible moment, for the German morale can stand the bombing of Frenchmen, Hollanders, Belgians and Norwegians forever. The German morale will not stand air bombing in Germany once the German mind knows that Victory, final Victory, is not to be had.