GENERAL ARTICLES

LONDON LETTER

Hitler's Russian Gamble

A. Beverley Baxter August 15 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

LONDON LETTER

Hitler's Russian Gamble

A. Beverley Baxter August 15 1941

LONDON LETTER

Hitler's Russian Gamble

A. Beverley Baxter

TO JUDGE the conditions under which these words are being written it is necessary to record that the date is July 1, 1941. It would have been a congenial task to have devoted my letter to the splendid if troubled story of Canada on this, the celebration of Dominion Day, but a writer cannot always choose his themes.

I would have liked to have described the most radiant summer England has had in years after the complete failure of spring to appear at all. We simply went from winter to summer with an authoritarian completeness that Hitler himself could not have excelled

And what is in these summer skies over England? White-flecked clouds, yes, drifting across a background of gold and azure blue.....birds flying

wantonly from one luxuriant tree to another. ... : barrage balloons like fat men so full of wind that they have floated upward and left the world behind.

All these things are there but also something far more significant. All day yesterday in the country I heard them and watched them—squadron after squadron of the R.A.F. surging up into the skies and then with a drifting roar of engines race for the Channel and the enemy beyond it.

There hardly seemed a minute when the skies were quiet. Formations of twenty, thirty and forty machines would rendezvous in the air and then, wheeling like cavalry, turn their noses to the coast. And while they gathered together and sped on their way other formations kept coming . back, some with an exuberance that one could sense, and others more soberly because they were fewer than when they set out and good friends had gone to their deaths.

It was our promise to Russia, to give her all the assistance we could—and that meant pounding German communications by day and by night.

Nine days ago Hitler announced to the German people that they were at war with Russia. Not so many months ago he stood up in the Reichstag and said: “I have reached an understanding with Stalin which means that never again will there be war between Russia and Germany. England plotted to set Russia and ourselves against each other but England has failed. The old antagonism of the Russian and the German is at an end.” Those were sweet words to German ears. Always before they had had to fight Russia and now their wonder man, their miracle worker had turned the light of his countenance upon the dark menace and it was no more. Heil Hitler!

Then on Sunday morning, nine days ago, at an uncomfortably early hour Hitler called his dumb, driven slaves to their radios and said: “Germans, we are at war with Russia!”

He had not prepared them for it by a single public criticism of Stalin. Neither on the radio nor in the press had there been any suggestion of trouble between the two countries. With the contempt of the megalomaniac for the human herd which has raised him to the level of a god, Hitler merely told the Germans after their sons had marched against the Soviet.

In London we have had reports of the effect it

nad upon the German people. They heard the announcement with utter dismay. On every hand they were saying to each other; “What is happening? First it is Hess who runs away. Now it is war with Russia. The Fuehrer told us that there was only England to beat and yet he is always going East fighting more and more countries. What is happening that we do not understand?”

And the Nazi officials and State police have not interfered because they are as troubled and curious as the others. For once they have wanted to hear the expression of opinion, not to suppress it.

To understand how all this happened requires firstly an understanding of Hitler himself. There is a school of thought in Britain, especially in military circles, which looks upon the Fuehrer as a relentless organizer who never takes any step without complete preparation and an absolutely clear idea of each move as his plan develops.

A general said to me yesterday: “Hitler knows exactly what he is doing. He will pincer the Russians, get behind them and within three weeks they will be a disorganized mob. Then’he will

sweep through Afghanistan toward the Kyber Pass, also taking Egypt and Mosul. In the summer of 1942 he will come at us here. We shall defeat him and in the summer of 1943 we and the Americans will take the offensive. But make no mistake of it Hitler knows exactly what he is doing. He wasn’t going to leave the threat of Russia in his rear when he attacked us. It was for that reason, and to get oil and food reserves that he invaded Russia. Everything is a clear cut timetable with him, my boy.”

Agreeable as it is in one’s mellowing years to be called “my boy” I cannot bring myself to subscribe to the general’s theories. The trouble with the

military mind is that it Í3 too direct. It suffers from the conviction that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line whereas everyone knows that often the most direct route is to go in circles.

Some Bets Go Wrong

HITLER is not a supreme organizer but unhappily the German race is. He is at heart a gambler subject to the wild self-confidence and gloomy doubts of the man who looks on life as one of the green-baize tables at Monte Carlo.

He has never read, he has never travelled, he has never developed any of his half talents save a weakness for painting bad sunsets and an oldfashioned, ranting oratory which would have finished him with laughter in any country but Germany. But he has the quick wit of the mongrel, the daring of the gambler who would rather trust his luck than go to work, the supreme contempt of the trickster for the laborious spiritual processes of the ordinary honest man.

Just as at Monte Carlo a gasp of admiration goes up from the onlookers when a player has put the maximum on a number that turns up so Hitler has won a reputation for genius by placing his bets in accordance with the run of the wheel.

The Rhineland, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, the challenge to British sea power in Norway—all these were gambles that came off. Hitler was in luck and he played it to the limit.

But the one thing certain about luck is that it does not last. It is as fickle as the month of May and I claim that in the case of Hitler it is the change of fortune which forced him to do what he most earnestly desired not to do, attack Russia.

Like a fool he sent the Bismarck into the Atlantic with the idea of reaching Dakar. With his usual impatience he stirred up the Iraq rebellion so that it went off half cock. After months of wooing Jugoslavia that brave country turned and fought. It was only for a few days but it ate up more and more of Germany’s dwindling oil reserves. Greece was expected to give in to Germany on the basis of a “generous peace.” Instead she fought. More oil gone, more tanks and airplanes.

Crete was a tragic affair for Britain but it took a terrific toll of German’s shock troops and her oil reserves. Then there was the surprise German attack in Lybia which was to begin the conquest of Egypt. The Germans are still outside Tobruk and suffering the torments of the damned in the summer heat.

Finally there was the Battle of the Atlantic. Look at the cards in Hitler’s hands for that struggle. The coast line of Europe from Narvik to Brest, the Channel practically unusable for British shipping, our convoys inadequately escorted as a target for submarines and aerial attack, German submarines at our very gates and with no distance from their bases.

It has been almost pathetic to hear the German wireless in English telling us each day recently that

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we are starving. Dr. Goebbels is becoming impatient now. Since he knows we are starving he regards it as downright pigheadedness for us not to know it too.

The cost of the Battle of the Atlantic has been a cruel one for Britain with dreadful losses of men and ships but it was not the British sailor who cried quits. Nothing in all the literature of horror can exceed the fate of the crews who manned the U. Boats. For tactical reasons the Admiralty has not announced the German losses in submarines but I can assure you that the total is a staggering one.

Hitler is losing the Battle of the Atlantic too. That has been burned into his consciousness during the last few weeks. Already his submarines are moving farther out to sea, meaning longer trips home, to escape the fury of the battle near the Western Approaches.

But even all that would not have precipitated the attack on Russia if there had not been internal trouble in Germany. When I wrote on the flight of Rudolf Hess to Britain I gave it as my opinion that Hess came for two reasons. First to save his life which was threatened by Himmler and secondly to try and end the war between Germany and Britain so that the Germans could attack Russia.

In the long-draw-out fight between Goering and Ribbentrop the victory has gone to the fat Falstaff over the poison-minded lago. The whole basis of Ribbentrop’s policy was to avoid a conflict with Russia until Britain and the rest of Europe had been conquered. The RussoGerman pact of 1939 was his supreme accomplishment, the diplomatic triumph that raised him high in the esteem of his beloved leader.

But the generals, in league with Goering, were afraid of an alliance with Russia. They did not want the Russian Air Force at their backs when the invasion of Britain began and they feared the demoralization of the German army if there was fraternization with the unspeakable Reds. A large section of the Nazi party, the younger Hessians who had absorbed the anti-Bolshevik pap in the nursery days of the Nazi movement, were also antagonistic to Moscow and loyal to Rudolf the Rat who had run away.

Finally there was the stark, inescapable fact that the Germans were running short of lubricating oil and that a mechanized army cannot move without it.

Faced by an internal party revolt, faced by an open threat from the generals, faced by the blunt opposition of Goering, faced by the growing uneasiness of the people Hitler thought quickly. The all-conquering war lord disappeared and the gambler was in the ascendancy once more.

Why not revert to the anti-Commintern policy of “Mein Kampf?” Why not divide the Catholics from the Protestants in Britain and the U.S.A. as well as the workers and the

capitalists? In fact why not cease being a footpad and become thej leader of a Christian crusade against the forces of darkness?

“With God’s help,” he whined to his people, “we shall have victory.” Bill Sykes had turned into Pecksniff ; overnight. Adolf Coeur de Lion was ready to go in search of the Holy Grail.

Russia In The Open

UNFORTUNATELY for him the

world had made up its mind. A rich but none too intelligent British Tory put it rather well when he said to me in the House of Commons: “Supposing there was a fellah in Hyde Park preaching revolution and Communism. That’s bad of course. But supposing while you were making up your mind to suppress him a mad dog came at your throat. Naturally unless you are mad yourself you deal with the dog first. You let the fellah, who is preaching revolution, wait. You see I regard Hitler as the mad dog.”

Strangely enough I had already guessed that but refrained from saying so. There’s something deeply impressive about British common sense. It is unsubtle and unemotional but it brings things down to earth with a bump.

Will the Germans take Leningrad and Moscow? I suppose so. Will the war with Russia end if they do? I doubt it.

In my opinion Hitler has blundered in departing from the cork-screw policy of the ex-wine-salesman Ribbentrop. By invading Russia he has opened up the pit of the unknown and before it is covered over again the whole course of destiny may be altered.

Whatever happens to the Soviet, that vast continent-country is now thrust into the open. Never again will she be able to withdraw behind her borders and continue the laboratory experiment of world revolution. She will be a world power with her place at the conference table, no longer the snubbed outsider but the equal partner.

Perhaps it is the end of the cranky, cursed creed of Communism. With the U.S.A. and Britain the Soviet may become a semi-capitalist semisocialist state which is the only plan for the future.

I don’t think Hitler will escape unscathed from Russia any more than Napoleon even if he dictates a conqueror’s peace. Russia is not so much a country as a state of mind, and the brute force of German arrogance will be weakened and confused by contact with it.

This is Hitler’s greatest gamble. There remains only one more—the invasion of Britain. I believe that he will lose them both and as the cry of the croupiers is heard: Rien ne va plus—there will be one more suicide added to the long list of those who would rather chance their luck than go to work.