Says this observer: "The next five or six months — from May to October of 1941 —will decide the issue of this war"
The Crucial Six Months
Says this observer: "The next five or six months — from May to October of 1941 —will decide the issue of this war"
LONDON—Punctually to the moment Hitler’s bid for victory, of which I have been writing since I started these articles for Maclean's in November last, has begun. The ordeal is upon us.
The next five or six months—from May to October of 1941—will decide the issue of this war. We should in October be able to say, “Hitler is beaten now; he may fight on for another six months, a year, two years, but we have him.” Between now and then the greatest test and ordeal in our history await us, but unless the marrow has withered in the bone of Britain we should by October be able to say that. We hold the trump cards, if we play Jthem right.
At a time when the tide of war seems for the moment to have turned against us once more, I believe the above paragraph gives the true picture, whatever the details of the moment.
First, bear in mind that this is Hitler’s final bid for victory, not a bid for victory. I have in these articles previously drawn attention to the close resemblance between the situation of this war, now, and that of the last war in its last phase, 1917-1918. That resemblance and recollection are much more vividly present in the German mind, unfortunately, than in the minds of people in this country. You need to live long in Germany to know of it and to realize its importance, and while our Air Force still is more than a match for the Germans when it meets them, while our Navy is proving in every battle it fights the incalculable value of centuries of seafaring tradition, while our Armies are gradually improving in quality and experience, our fourth arm, which in this war should perhaps count as our first arm is still lamentably laggardly.
I mean the propaganda arm.
WE SHOULD at thismomentbedinningintotheGerman ear, night and day, the one remorseless and implacable refrain—“You cannot win this war, whatever you do; whatever successes you achieve, you cannot win; you are already back in the year 1918.” That should be the signature tune of everything we tell the Germans and the peoples of the countries they have overrun. We should play on that theme like a dentist drilling mercilessly on a nerve. It is our strongest weapon. For the decisive battle of this war should be fought and won with psychological weapons, not military ones; it could be won, not primarily by our Air Force, Navy or Army, but by Hitler’s enemies in Germany and in the countries Hitler has occupied. By the astute use of that weapon, we could from the autumn
of this year onward reduce Germany to the state she reached in the autumn of 1918—when we delivered a final assault that was successful; but if we had not delivered it we should still have won six months later, without a shot fired.
For Hitler has already, and for the first time, promised his people final victory. He did not promise that in 1940, as was widely believed, but he has done it this year. He has promised them final victory in 1941, knowing that he cannot prolong the bill if he fails to deliver. And the German people, with the memory of 1918 in their minds, are already reminding him of his promise. The most significant thing that any German newspaper has published since this war began recently appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung:
“Hitler has actually fixed the exact date of our victory, which he has never done before. By this Hitler committed himself to end the war victoriously this year, and we Germans know this is meant as no consolation, but is a guarantee. Ribbentrop also gave this guarantee to Matsuoka.”
Those who know Germany will know that these words may have been written either by one of Hitler’s most fervid disciples and admirers, who wished to inspire German readers with further confidence in their Fuehrer, or by one of Hitler’s many implacable enemies in Germany—for there are still men writing for German newspapers who are that and who know how to juggle with words. The writer of this passage may have wished to get Hitler’s promise down on paper, to fix it in the German mind, to sow the seed of disillusionment and defeatist presentiment so that it should sprout and spring in the autumn—if the promise is not fulfilled. What so few people outside Germany, most unhappily, realize, is that there are still millions of people in Germany to whom the explosion of a British bomb is sweetest music.
So much for the greater picture of the war, the background, the frame. As I say, we can be in a winning jxjsition by the autumn—if we use our opportunities. We are still not using them to the full, especially the propagandist opportunity, the chance to mobilize in our cause our friends—Hitler’s foes—within his gates and in the countries he has conquered.
Hitler’s Strategy Clear
NOW, WHAT of the present fighting? As I have written in these articles, Hitler has delivered his blow, and we can now clearly oversee his strategy. The
direct attack on this Island, by means of which alone he can finally win this war, has been postponed or abandoned, probably postponed, though it may later be abandoned. For the nonce, Hitler hopes by his sea and air attacks on our shipping, by the Battle of the Atlantic, to cut our life line to America and thus to weaken us to a point where the direct attack might yet be delivered. Meanwhile, he has gone off in search of those military successes which he must indispensably have in the Balkans and Africa. He is going to strike at us, if he can, from both sides, from east and from west, seize Iran and Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, the Suez Canal, drive us from the Mediterranean.
As I write, it is too soon to foretell how great his success will be in that battlefield. By the time this article appears Canadian readers will see how the battle is going. It was a great triumph for us, and for the reviving faith of small peoples in our cause, that the Jugoslavs at the very last moment rose against their own government and decided to fight, that the tiny Greek nation, undaunted, resolved to resist this second mighty adversary.
The attack on them produced the answer to the question I asked in my last article—whether we had decided to try and retain our last foothold in Europe or not. We have. British troops are fighting in Greece. As I write, it seems that the enormous strength of the German armies may nevertheless carry them right through Jugoslavia and Greece, that we shall have to renew the battle on the other side of the Mediterranean. Even if that happens, the accession of these small but valorous nations to our cause is a gain beyond price. It means that they believe in our final victory—and these Balkan peoples are astute judges. They did not expect, unaided or even with the succor of British troops, to be able to keep those gigantic German armies out of their countries. They were looking farther ahead—to the end of the war.
Meanwhile, the other prong of Hitler’s attack has come down through Tripoli and driven us out of the territory we so quickly and brilliantly won from the Italians. There is no denying that this has been a serious disappointment to the British people. The splendid successes which Imperial troops won in Libya were the first really heartening news of this war, and that we should so soon have had to yield the fruits of them makes the average Britisher grit his teeth. There is an uneasy feeling that the Germans once again excelled in quickness and slickness, especially in the transport of large forces across the Mediterranean to Tripoli, and there is an unequally uneasy suspicion that some remnant of the old unalertness and unwariness, which us in such bad stead in France and Norway, may have cheated us of our triumphs in that field of war.
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This is but a widespread public feeling, for none know the facts, but developments help to foster it. In any case, the threat to Egypt, which seemed quite to have been banished, has arisen again, and that is most unpleasant news for this beleaguered Island, which takes some of the sweetness from our other victories over the Italians in Africa.
Battle Of The Atlantic
DUT, NO matter how far Hitler may thrust, no matter how far his armies may march in that distant theatre of war, he cannot win the war without successfully invading this Island, and if our lifeline to America holds we shall sooner or later be on his track and shall get him.
So what of that lifeline? That is the crucial question. The Battle of the Atlantic will decide the issue.
I can only give the answer that logical thinking supplies. The United States has virtually committed herself, now, to participation in this war. She knows that if this Island be overcome she has only the worst to fear. Our shipping losses are enormous—as they were the last time Germany, in her final bid for victory, tried “unrestricted submarine warfare.” If they were to continue at their present rate, without replacement, our chances of victory might yet be snatched from us. But is it logical to think that the United States, having committed herself to supply us with all we need to carry on the struggle to a victorious end, will build those airplanes and tanks and guns, dispatch those consignments of foodstuffs and raw materials, only to see them sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic?
It is not logical. It is not conceivable. She will have, at the least, to help secure the ferry, to see that the things we need
for victory reach us. That is why, at the beginning of our greatest ordeal, I can only see ultimate victory, and think that we shall be able to perceive this by the autumn. For if Hitler has not by then redeemed his promise to the German people, they will be beginning to know what air bombardment is, and they will not, with defeatist presentiment in their minds, stand up to it.
For the present, this Island stands as staunch as ever, and the one thing that most people regret is that no way suggests itself of irritating Hitler into attempting the direct invasion, which should be the quickest way of ending the war in our favor. There is still one more thing he can do, short of the direct invasion, and I have called attention to it before in these articles and hope our leaders are intently watching the danger. He may, by airborne troops —the way he sent his troops to Tripoli shows the possibilities of this—invade Ireland, which would mean that he would be standing directly astride our lifeline to America and have even greater means of cutting or damaging it. This is a spectral menace, and for my part I only pray that all arrangements to counter it may be made long in advance. If not, it will not be for want of warning.
TN THIS country all goes well. There is
still no serious lack of food; still none need go hungry. But with the coming of the finer weather, the air bombardment is again increasing in intensity, and this undoubtedly puts a great strain on the nerves of the poorer classes, for instance, those in the East End of London and in similar districts in other cities.
They are living, and have for months been living, in conditions of great dis-
discomfort. Nevertheless, their spirit is troubled less by the dangers and discomforts they have to endure than by the feeling that Germany is not being paid enough in her own coin. That, for the moment, is one of the most discomforting factors in this war. They read that an open city like Belgrade, for instance, has been massacred from the air, and know that their own cities are being ruthlessly bombed every night, and they remember that Rome has not yet heard a bomb, that we are not yet able to give Germany an equal taste of bombing with that which we have to suffer.
The sooner this can be remedied, the better. How soon it will be, I do not know. From all accounts, we should have the necessary strength by next autumn to pay Germany bomb-for-bomb, at least, and if we then do it, the suffering thousands in the shelters will recover confidence and resolution. But there are still numbers of
people, who live mostly in safe districts and invoke the name of Christianity, who protest that we should not serve the enemy as he has served us and so many others. If their counsel were heeded, the spirit of the people in the badly-bombed East End and other poor districts might sag badly. News of vigorous retaliation would restore it—apart from the fact that air-bombing against Germany is almost a decisive weapon in this war, but people who do not know the German mind cannot be brought to understand or believe this.
So the ordeal looms nearer and greater and deadlier, with Hitler’s legions still riding roughshod over new lands and still massacring women and children in peaceful cities, and with our own strength still beneath its summit. The climax approaches.
As I say, we can win, and we can perceive victory ahead by next autumn —if we use all our chances and miss none.
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