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Eighty years ago, the British government moves against Communist pro-Nazi defeatism

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    The Daily Worker newspaper was suppressed on the orders of the Home Secretary, Labour's Herbert Morrison. It was the official organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and, as such, a direct mouthpiece for the Soviet Politburo. Just like Neville Chamberlain when he was British prime minister, Stalin was terrified of doing anything that might provoke Hitler, who was notionally his ally. As well as simply publishing what Moscow told it, the Daily Worker had dreamed up the concept of “revolutionary defeatism” as a theoretical justification for its attempts to undermine the British war effort and to promote German victory. It had been especially critical of the government's performance during the Blitz and missed no opportunity to trumpet the Luftwaffe's successes. It had been given a formal warning not to continue to contravene Defence Regulation 2D which made it an offence, “systematically to publish matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution

Eighty years ago, the Luftwaffe joins the assault on Malta

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    HMS Illustrious , one of the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carriers which had launched the devastating strike against the Italian fleet at Taranto, was sailing to help escort ships taking assistance to Greece when she was attacked by Luftwaffe Ju87 dive-bombers. She was hit by six bombs and severely damaged. Her Fulmar two-seat fighters had provided little protection. She made for Malta for urgent repairs and was again bombed by German aircraft in Valetta harbour. But for her armoured flight-deck, she would probably have been sunk. Her ship’s bell was riddled with shrapnel. The attacks came to be known by the Maltese as the Illustrious Blitz. It was a significant escalation of earlier Italian raids on the island, which was to become the most heavily bombed area of Europe in the years that followed as the Axis strove to neutralize it as a key base for attacks on surface shipping in the central Mediterranean. Malta was only 60miles (100km) from airbases in Sicily and thus severely e

Eighty years ago, another resounding defeat of the Italian army in Libya

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    The Italian fortress town of Bardia fell to Australian troops in part of General Wavell’s Operation Compass push into Libya. The attackers were outnumbered almost three to one by the defenders but did have an enormous qualitative superiority in tanks. 27 Matilda MkIIs faced 13 M13/40 medium tanks and over one hundred near worthless L3 tankettes. The M13/40s carried a similar gun to the Matilda’s but it could not penetrate the Matilda’s armour. The attackers’ casualties were almost negligible but the Italians lost heavily and about 36,000 were taken prisoner. The Italian commander Hannibale “Electric Whiskers” Bergonzoli, who had promised Mussolini to fight to the last, and his three divisional commanders escaped. The commander of the last Italian post to offer resistance wore a British MC awarded to him when the countries were allied in the First World War. The attackers continued their drive towards their next objective, Tobruk. Hitler’s intentions in the Balkans gave rise to e

Eighty years ago, German bombing creates an iconic image of British resilience

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    London suffered probably its most spectacular and damaging air raids of the Blitz, sometimes called the “Second Great Fire of London.” Human casualties were mercifully low: around 160 deaths including 12 of the firemen who fought the blazes, but the City of London financial business district was devastated. A combination of low tide and early bomb damage to a water main left the fire-fighters struggling for water, leading to near-uncontrollable fires throughout the area. The mediaeval Guildhall, seat of the City’s Corporation or local government, was gutted as were eight Wren churches. The print and publishing business concentrated in the narrow lanes around St. Paul’s Cathedral were hard hit but the cathedral itself survived intact. The image of St. Pauls surrounded by smoke and fire was taken by the Daily Mail’s chief photographer from the newspaper’s own office, just down Ludgate Hill. It is probably the most famous image of the Blitz and an icon of British defiance and resilie

Eighty years ago, Churchill dismantles the last relics of the old regime

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    Once again fate had intervened on Churchill’s side. Just as the final illness and death of Neville Chamberlain had allowed Churchill to consolidate his hold on political power, so the death of Lord Lothian, the British ambassador to the US, opened an opportunity for him to dismantle the last serious relics of the old regime that had held him back from power during the long miserable years of appeasement. The first piece of the jigsaw was to replace Lothian. Clearly the Washington embassy was the most critical of all Britain’s representations abroad and it was going to take an exceptional figure to fill the job. Churchill’s first choice was the former prime minister David Lloyd George but he pleaded ill-health; more likely Lloyd George’s dwindling hopes of being installed as a defeatist leader as part of a compromise peace with the Nazis was a more powerful factor. Churchill’s next choice was the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, the most conspicuous holdover from Chamberlain’s premie

Santa bulletin

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Santa will not be bringing a blog post tomorrow so good (and not-so-good) children will have to wait for the weekend.    Merry Christmas to All

Eighty years ago, Petain replaces one tarnished figure of the Third Republic with another and ducks a German PR stunt

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  The affairs of Vichy France took another sudden and mysterious turn. Prime minister Pierre Laval, who had been instrumental a few weeks before in arranging the meeting between Marshal Petain and Adolf Hitler, was dismissed and briefly imprisoned.   No explanation was ever given for either move, but contemporaries even suspected Laval of having plotted a coup against Petain. Whatever the immediate chain of events might have been, it is likely that the Marshal decided that Laval was just too pro-German. He was rapidly released at the request of the German ambassador, Otto Abetz, who had a very close relationship with Laval. Laval moved to Paris but continued to be a major figure in the world off Vichy. He was replaced as prime minister by Pierre-Etienne Flandin, an otherwise unremarkable politician of the Third Republic, with one claim to fame. After the Munich agreement of 1938 he had sent a personal telegram of congratulations to Hitler, who had replied welcoming the prospect of “col