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Friday, 23 February 2018

Exit of an acccidental opponent of appeasement

Anyone who might have doubted that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was fully in charge of British foreign policy was presented with unambiguous evidence that they were wrong. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden resigned suddenly and, despite a gentlemanly reluctance to go into the gory details on Eden’s part, this was obviously because they disagreed on policy. Eden was not opposed to appeasance as such - in fact it was he who came up with the word to describe British policy he was just  deeply suspicious of Mussolini’s trustworthiness, but such doubts counted for little with Chamberlain. Chamberlain imagined he could play Italy and Germany off against each other by pursuing constructive diplomacy towards both powers. He imagined he held a trump card in the form of British recognition of Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia. Mussolini, naturally, wanted this but never intended to play any real price. More insidious than disagreement on policy was Chamberlain’s habit of going behind Eden’s back, using a weird and wonderful array of unofficial emissaries to put his case. These ran from his half-brother’s widow to the legal adviser to the Italian embassy in London Adrian Dingli, Maltese born but Italian educated, who was run by the sinister figure of Sir Joseph Ball, the ex-spy who hovered in the shadows of Chamberlain’s premiership. Chamberlain's (other) eminence grise Sir Horace Wilson saw the flaws in Eden's personality and was not sorry to see him gone. By the accidents of history, Eden's resignation set him on the path to his own disastrous premiership almost twenty years later. Perhaps it is significant that the two strongest contenders for the title of worst twentieth century British Prime Minister  were Conservatives who disagreed on a point of foreign policy.

The Spanish Republicans’ calamitous offensive in the East unwound visibly and spectacularly as Franco’s Nationalists retook Teruel, the worthless goal that had lain at its heart. In a foretaste of the murderous squabbles amongst Republican leaders that were to come, the local commander Valentino Gonzalez (el Campesino) blamed Enrique Lister, another Communist, of having intentionally withdrawn forces so that he would be captured. In the event he escaped. The battle of Teruel cost both sides heavily in men and materiel; the Republicans could not make these losses good; the Nationalists could.

The Kuomintang armies of China pursued their strategy of trading space for time and gradually withdrawing in front of the advancing Japanese armies, better armed, disciplined and equipped. The comprehensive defeat of a tentative counter-attack amply demonstrated the wisdom of this strategy. It barely slowed down the Japanese advance on the Yellow River.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Eighty years ago: the Sun Drops Below the Hills of the Raj and Rises over the Alps of the Third Reich

 Unconsciously King George VI sounded the death-knell of the British Empire in India with the announcement that he would not be travelling there for a Coronation Durbar the following winter. The formal proclamation of the British monarch as Emperor or Empress of India had been the cornerstone of Britain’s constitutional position in the sub-continent. It was a prime example of a great tradition that only happened once. There had been Durbars for Victoria and Edward VII but they had not been present in person. The only King/Emperor to attend his own Durbar was George V in 1911 at apogee of the Empire's might. The ceremony was a byword for magnificent lavishness and was held in a huge, specially built amphitheatre. Edward VIII had dragged his heals over any thought of participating in a similar ceremony, as he did in all things concerned with India. As Prince of Wales he had resisted his father’s wish for him to visit India. His brother naturally took a more dutiful approach, but the huge cost of such an event and – not that London admitted it was was consideration – Indian nationalism combined to force postponement, for ever as it turned out. The political establishment had pulled out all the stops to ensure that his coronation as King of Britain succeeded so as to give a stamp of full legitimacy to his uncomfortable and unexpected succession but the tank had run dry. George was the last sovereign to bear the proud Ind. Imp handle but the global cataclysm that lay ahead meant that he would also lose it.

The London government’s scheme for very limited political autonomy for India had never managed to get up and running; it had not managed to fit enough wheels to ensure stability and traction. Even those that had been fitted were now in process of coming off. Two of the state government’s established under the new legislation in Bihar and the United Provinces resigned because they could not over-ride the “reserved” powers of the London-appointed (white) governors and order the release of political prisoners.

Meanwhile in Central Europe Adolf Hitler was operating an informal empire with a good deal more ruthlessness and success. Kurt Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, had visited him at his mountain retreat, the Berghof, to try to stabilize relations with Germany. He found himself peremptorily instructed to reconstruct his cabinet to enhance Nazi representation. In particular Arthur Seyß-Inquart, not yet a party member but deeply sympathetic, was to be appointed as security minister with full control of all police. Schuschnigg and Austria's President Miklas struggled to demur but they were confronted by an insuperable force.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Paperback out on Thursday and radio interview

The paperback of The King Who Had To Go is out on Thursday 15th February, currently priced at £9.99. Listen to me talk about it on Talk Radio Europe tomorrow (Wednesday) at 4.30pm UK time

Friday, 9 February 2018

Eclipse of the Old Elite in Nazi Germany

Hitler followed up his easy success in displacing von Blomberg as the head of the armed forces on the genuine grounds of his having married a former prostitute by displacing Jürgen von Fritsch as army commander-in-chief on the entirely spurious grounds that he was a homosexual (he was merely unmarried). Fritsch was no great supporter of the Nazis and had been indiscreet in saying so. The enfeebled state of the traditional officer class can be judged from the pitifully weak attempts made by his brother officers to shield von Fritsch from this slander. The men who replaced Blomberg and Fritsch – Keitel and Brauchitsch – were notoriously subservient. The promotion of Herman Goering to the rank of Field Marshal further underlined that power in the military had shifted to Hitler’s immediate entourage. Hitler completed his coup against the old elites by appointing Joachim von Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister, displacing Baron von Neurath, an old-style aristocratic diplomat who, like Blomberg, had still been willing to abase himself to the Nazi  regime. Ribbentrop was neither an old Nazi nor a competent diplomat (he had nurtured Hitler’s fantasy that King Edward VIII would swing Britain around to acting as Germany’s friend) but he was entirely biddable.

In widely publicized military manoeuvres around the newly opened fortified naval base at Singapore aircraft of the RAF “defeated” naval and air attacks. More out of a desire not to spend money than any true military calculation, the British government had accepted the RAF’s vigorously advanced claim that Singapore could be defended cheaply and flexibly by aircraft. After the huge expense of developing the base the budget was thus spared the cost of a large army garrison. The manoeuvres amounted to little more than propaganda that this strategy was the correct one. Four years later  harsh reality proved to be quite different.

A counter-offensive by Franco’s Nationalists sprang the trap on the Republican offensive in Aragon. The Nationalist attack featured one of the last major cavalry charges in history but it was broader military superiority rather than élan that spelt defeat for the Republicans, who had not merely failed to husband their scanty resources but wasted them in an offensive of dubious strategic merit. The first stage of the counter-offensive gave the Nationalists control of the high ground of the Sierra Palomera from which they could attack the now increasingly threatened Republican enclave in the city of Teruel, conquered with great fanfare and heavy casualties a short time before.