Eight years ago, the Germans paint Chamberlain as a war-monger as he bewails the horror of war privately

The German media – in other words – propaganda granted Neville Chamberlain what might be considered a badge of honour: the epithet of war-monger which it had previously reserved for committed opponents of appeasement such as Winston Churchill or Duff Cooper. His reaction is not recorded.  He was granted the title for his firm rejection of Hitler’s peace proposals. The aggressive German tone was designed to mask the fact that these proposals did not feature any kind or restoration of the Polish state which had just been destroyed. The raison d’être for the war had disappeared irretrievably so the Germans hoped that they could pass themselves off as the friends of peace.

This kind of pitch was angled at isolationists in the US. Here one of the most vocal members of that tribe, Colonel Charles Lindbergh, broadened his assault on anyone willing to fight Hitler from his struggle to keep his own country out of war. In an outrageous criticism of an independent country, he argued that Canada was irresponsibly running the risk of dragging north America into the conflict by going to war along with Britain. He even insinuated that the US should be applying pressure on Canada. This was comparatively mild compared to the views of Senator Lundeen of Minnesota, who was deeply sympathetic to Germany. Lundeen argued publicly that the US should seize British territories in the Caribbean by force whilst it was occupied on the Western Front.

The Royal Navy suffered a severe blow when U-47 commanded by Günter Prien penetrated its anchorage at Scapa Flow and sank the battleship Royal Oak, killing two-thirds of her complement of 1,200. Royal Oak was an old ship of First World War vintage, so this did very little to dent Britain’s overwhelming superiority in surface warships, but coming hard on the heels of the loss of aircraft carrier Courageous in the first week of the war to another U-Boat, the sinking served as an unpleasant reminder that the supremacy of capital ships, on which the Royal Navy set so much store, faced severe challenge from more modern technology. National morale and the Royal Navy’s prestige suffered accordingly. The episode further tarnished Scapa Flow’s image as a safe haven for the fleet which had already been tested by – ineffectual – air attack; the eastern entrances to Scapa Flow were hastily and permanently blocked. Neville Chamberlain was deeply hurt by the loss of life. For all his glacial exterior, he had a powerful and visceral sense of the horror and wastefulness of war. The wreck remains a designated war grave and every year Navy divers fly a White Ensign at her stern.


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