The Pittsburgh Press/July 14, 1940
British Know Now They Face Smart Foe
English Public Doped Into Placidity Even After War Was Started
Adolf Hitler’s secret weapon has been discovered. It is brains.
That was the bitter confession, enclosed in a wisecrack, that I heard just before I left London.
General Edmund Ironside, when chief of the British Imperial General Staff, once said deprecatingly:
“We know those German generals. They were captains and majors in the last war, while ours were colonels and generals.”
He was wrong about those generals just as the world was all wrong about Hitler. General Ironside and the rest of the world—outside Germany—did not realize how great was Hitler’s organizing power.
British phlegm and inertia in critical months before the war started and even after it began gave great help to Hitler’s plans.
British Moved Slowly
When the world became cognizant of the war machine Germany was building, the dead hand of Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, and Neville Chamberlain slowed up Britain’s rearmament.
A couple of years ago, an alarmed Parliament voted $7,500,000,000 for arms, but the government went about converting it into materials as though it had all the time in the world.
The British public doped itself into a state of placidity even after the war started. Papers, during the lull on the Western Front, jibed at the blitzkrieg that was a “sitzkrieg.” People sang and danced to “Hang Out Your Washing on the Siegfried Line”
When Hitler started through the Low Countries, dynamic Winston Churchill was called as prime minister, but he could not accomplish in a few weeks what the Germans had done in years of intensive labor.
The British Lineup
As the blitzkrieg started, here was the lineup of the British war machine.
Navy: The fleet was the strongest in Europe and probably in the world, with many new vessels building and nearing completion.
Army: The army was a bit larger than the American army, better equipped, with greater mechanization, and gun power superior to anything in Britain’s history. But it was pitifully small compared to Hitler’s legions, and much equipment was lost when the British fled Dunkerque.
Air Force: The R. A. F. was man for man and machine for machine superior to the Germans, but vastly outnumbered in trained men and perfected machines Mr. Churchill named hustling Lord Beaverbrook to get planes for the air force, but here again the “too late” bell was tolling.
Trained Men Slowly.
The amazing thing is how slowly the British trained men for the army. In the world war, when Lord Kitchener was war minister, thousands of men were trained and sent to France in nine months time. That was not true in the present conflict.
It was not all due to inertia. Probably the government lacked officers, equipment, and barracks.
All this does not mean that the fibre of the individual Briton is weakened. Smashing of the Graf Spee, attacks upon German warships in Norwegian fjords, and evacuation of Dunkerque all belie this.
I know one clerk who owned a cheap little motor boat. He sent it across the English Channel in the teeth of Nazi fire to bring back eight or 10 soldiers at a clip. Some 600 other small boat owners did the same thing.
The British are now awake to the fact that for the first time since 1066 their island is in danger of invasion. They are prepared to sell their freedom dearly.
Before I left London I saw men and machines digging trenches in parks, gardens, and golf courses to keep German aircraft from landing. More than 350,000 males under or over military are training to be combat parachutists. And the famous week-end has been abandoned: work in munitions plants and plane factories goes on continuously.
Hurt By Strikes
As things have turned out, one of the luckiest breaks coming Hitler’s way was the elevation of the Socialist leader, Leon Blum, to the premiership of France, Blum, a French Jew, hated Hitler, his tenet, and all his works. But he was tied to his his past promises.
In 1936 Blum became leader of a “popular front” government, comprised of left wingers of the Radical party, the Socialists, the Communists, and a number of fellow travelers. His victory was foreshadowed by things that happened before the election.
French labor had invented a new trick, later to be copied in America. In metallurgical plants more than a million sat down. And metallurgy often spells cannon.
Blum quickly settled the strike by promising enactment of remedial and social legislation. He kept his promises. There was little criticism of laws for old age and sickness benefits: there was much support for laws enforcing collecting bargaining.
But two acts Blum passed struck a well-nigh fatal blow at French rearmament efforts.
Just after Parliament voted funds to double France’s effective war strength, the Blum government put across a work week of 40 hours. At one blow that cut down the prospect of speedy production of big numbers of airplanes.
Next Blum put into force the nationalization of all armament plants, first tackling the aircraft factories. The idea was that the government should own two-thirds of the stock in such plants and the other third was to be retained by the owners. This condition made for confusion and greatly aided in the slowing-down process.
Blum fell from the premiership in August, 1938, and was succeeded by Edouard Daladier, who, like Neville Chamberlain, failed to put drive into war preparation. When Paul Reynaud was called, it was again too late.
Blame for the too-great faith in the Maginot Line rests with both cabinet and military leaders, but the matter of the German tank “surprise” is a puzzle of puzzles.
One Gun Effective
When the Nazis smashed the Maginot Line, one of their most potent weapons was the 70-ton tank. It is believed they got these tanks when they grabbed Czechoslovakia. They were probably products of the Skoda works.
Now when Czechoslovakia was a free republic, it was a military ally of France. French attaches in Prague must have known all about the tanks.
Yet the French had no guns designed to smash the tanks when Hitler started through their defenses. Only later they found the famous 75’s were effective against them.
By then it was too late. All vital points in northern France were in German hands. The debacle had begun.
(Source: Google News, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19400714&id=WiobAAAAIBAJ&sjid=VEwEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2619,2694625)