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Showing posts from April, 2020

Eighty years ago, the British land in Norway in a campaign worthy of the debacles of the eighteenth century

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British involvement in the Norwegian campaign got firmly under way. Even though Britain had had adequate intelligence of the German invasion plan, the operations were largely improvised. Before the invasion Britain had been working on plans to land in the north of the country – under the pretext of assisting the Finns against the USSR – and block exports of iron ore to Germany. This was a pet project of Winston Churchill and he was at odds with the desire of British generals to focus on Trondheim in the centre. In the event the British divided their forces between both zones.  Recapturing Trondheim from the Germans became a political priority, advocated by the Norwegian government as proof that Britain meant business. The British began by considering a seaborne attack up the fjord. This was briefly championed by Churchill in an unhappy echo of his plans for the Dardanelles in 1915. This was dropped and the British opted for a poorly focused land operation. Separate army briga

Eighty years ago, a Norwegian Nazi puppet adds a new word to the English language and a Soviet puppet gives British politics a brief moment of surreal absurdity

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The announcement that a new government with a complete cabinet had been formed in Norway under the leadership of the head of the country’s Nazi party, Vidkun Quisling, proved to be over hasty. King Haakon refused to approve Quisling’s seizure of power, which largely deprived him of his potential value as puppet ruler. The Germans dispensed with any pretence that they were anything but conquerors and appointed Josef Terboven as Reichskommissar . The only immediate outcome of Quisling’s attempted coup was to add a new word to the English language with quisling becoming a generic term for any collaborator or traitor. Sir Horace Wilson, Chamberlain’s arch-appeaser right-hand man, was swiftly rechristened Sir Horace Quisling. The Royal Navy went into action against the units of the Kriegsmarine that had brought German invasion forces to the north of Norway through the port of Narvik. British destroyers twice entered the fjord in what came to be known as the first and second bat

Eighty years ago, Chamberlain guarantees his status as one of history's greatest bunglers with another deathless fatuity

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Neville Chamberlain delivered a phrase that fully deserves to rank with his "peace for our time" declaration as one of history's great inaccurate statements. In a speech to the Conservative Party Central Council h e claimed that there was no doubt that Hitler had "missed the bus".  Chamberlain meant that Germany had lost its chance to defeat Britain by not attacking on the outbreak of war when Chamberlain believed it had immense military superiority, in particular the ability to bomb London flat almost unchallenged. In reality the Luftwaffe was never capable of this or even planned to.  Chamberlain gave further evidence of complacency and mis-placed optimism by going on to boast that Hitler had  "very little margin of strength still to call upon." The war was as good as won. In the event Chamberlain was proved wrong even more quickly than he had been over his belief in the permanency of the Munich settlement. His comeuppance took less th

Eighty years ago, a spoof Hitler rant illustrates the British sense of humour while a genuine Churchill broadcast illustates their sense of history

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Radio listeners on a BBC frequency were treated to what purported to be the retransmission of a broadcast (in German naturally) by Adolf Hitler in which he claimed that America had been discovered by the use of German technology. Americans of Czech and Polish origin were apparently clamouring to be given the benefits enjoyed by their ehtnic brothers of living under a German protectorate. The US was thus to become incorporated into the greater Reich. Hitler would take his pre-ordained seat in what was to be renamed "The Brown House." According to one story, the US network CBS contacted the BBC in some panic to find out more. It was an April Fool hoax, with an Austrian emigre actor, Martin Miller, imitating the Fuehrer and reprising a skit he had performed in cabaret. The BBC was punished by a complaint from the official covert propaganda outfit, Electra House, that it was trespassing. Electra House was the brainchild of Sir Campbell Stuart, who used the pretext of secrec