Eighty years ago, evidence that Germany plans to invade doesn't weaken Belgium's delusive neutralityrality




The Finns scored a major victory over the Red Army in the Battle of Suomussalmi. Soviet forces had driven to capture the city of Oulu which would have cut Finland in half but the attack had run out of steam in the cold weather leaving an exposed salient. Still outnumbered but with far greater mobility thanks to ski troops and sled borne equipment, the Finns counter-attacked over familiar terrain. Two Soviet divisions were annihilated. The battle became an icon of Finland’s performance in the Winter War.

A chance incident revealed the German Fall Gelb plan to invade France through Belgium and the Netherlands, both still neutral. Over drinks at a Luftwaffe mess the base commander offered to fly a paratrooper major to Germany the following day and spare  him a tedious rail journey. Perhaps  still  affected by the convivial evening, the pilot lost his way. The weather was so cold that the Rhine had frozen which didn’t help navigation. The Me 108 force landed at Mechelen in Belgium. The paratrooper had plans for Fall Gelb in his  briefcase which he was only partially able to burn. The documents were rapidly translated and shared with the Dutch,  British and French. The attack seemed imminent and the  Belgian army chief of staff made a radio broadcast to this effect on his own initiative. The French hoped  that the Belgians would allow the French army into the country but the King and his chief military adviser clung to neutrality.  The attack did not come and the Germans waved away Belgian diplomatic protests. The Belgian and Dutch governments failed to recognise that it was only a matter of time before Germany put the plans into effect and clung to their doomed neutrality. Neville Chamberlain who had long convinced himself that the  Germans would never attack in the West suspected the plans were merely a deception. 

In a fitting tail-piece to news that the BEF had suffered its first fatal casualties in France, the road traffic statistics for December were published. 1,155 people were killed on the roads, the largest number since records began, compared to 943 in December 1938. The black-out was proving far more lethal than the Wehrmacht or the Luftwaffe

The same cold weather affected Britain and the Thames froze over for the first time since 1888. A fluke combination of systems led to heavy rain which immediately froze into thick ice. The weight of ice brought down power lines and branches across the country. To complete the misery and disruption, heavy snow then fell on top of the ice. It was known as the Great Ice  Storm. 

The FBI arrested 17 members of the Christian Front and charged them with plotting to overthrow the government. The operation was fronted with his habitual showmanship by J. Edgar Hoover The Christian Front was a mainly American-Irish association of supporters of Father Coughlin, the radio priest whose anti-Semitic, pro Fascist and isolationist propaganda had a wide following.  Front members had committed numerous attacks on Jews but it is likely that the whole operation was essentially political. Attorney General Frank  Murphy had promised a drive against un-American activities on the right of the political spectrum.  The House Unamerican Activities Committee had rather restricted its investigations into Communists. The charges were wildly overstated and the men were eventually acquitted.

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