Eighty years ago, the League of Nations expels the USSR and the Royal Navy redeems its embarrassments of the autumn
The League of Nations expelled the USSR for its unprovoked invasion of Finland in arguably the last significant act of its increasingly shadowy existence. Some observers were surprised that Stalin had not imitated Hitler and withdrawn before his country was thrown out. The most likely explanation is that this allowed him to stick to the ludicrous pretence that the USSR was innocent. This show of resolution by the League contrasted with its more muted response to German or Italian aggression over the four preceding years. The British delegation was led by Rab Butler, the ultra appeasing Foreign Office minister, who swung Britain firmly behind the expulsion, with a concern for the preservation of independent democracies, which had been notably absent from his handling of Nazi expansionism.
The Soviet invasion failed to break through the Mannerheim line across the Karelian isthmus despite its superiority in numbers of tanks. A severe defeat was inflicted on a Soviet attack at Taipale. The Soviet propaganda machine began to let it be known that Stalin's puppet Otto Kuusinen had misled his masters by predicting widespread popular support.
After losing a battleship, an aircraft carrier and a hopelessly outclassed armed merchant cruiser as well as failing to prevent German submarines and surface raiders from sinking a multitude of British and neutral merchant ships, the Royal Navy could finally claim a victory in the Battle of the River Plate. The damaged Graf Spee had retreated to Montevideo, but the neutral Uruguayan government had imposed a tight deadline for her to return to the open sea. Rather than resume the fight with the three weaker British cruisers, Langsdorff, her captain, ordered her scuttled and shot himself. Graf Spee stayed afloat long enough for the British to confirm that she was equipped with radar, which shook the complacent belief that Britain had a monopoly of the technology.
Joseph Davies, the US ambassador to Belgium and more importantly a close ally of President Roosevelt, reported to Washington and claimed publicly that the US faced "grave jeopardy " from the European situation and endorsed Roosevelt as right man to lead the country in an unprecedented third term in the White House. The campaign for the 1940 presidential election had begun with isolationism as the key issue.