Showing posts from February, 2020

Eighty years ago, the French are told (almost literally) to tighten their belts whilst the British government uses augmented wartime powers for rather less honourable purposes

The French finance minister, Paul Reynaud, gave a radio broadcast setting out a series of economic measures to the public. Chief amongst these was the planned introduction of food rationing. This came some months after Britain had brought in similar measures. With five million men mobilised for war, France’s still heavily agrarian economy was in a poor position to meet the population’s food needs. Prices had started to rise. The war was clearly going to last well beyond the next harvest so the move was pre-emptive. On the demand side of the equation, the government would subsidise the import of foreign labour and the cost of spring sowing; the price of fertilisers would be brought down. In ceremonies redolent of the wars of early in the previous century, the ships’ crews of Ajax and Exeter which had defeated the Graf Spee in the Battle of River Plate were fĂȘted on their return to London. They were inspected by the King, paraded through the capital and treated to a grand f

Eighty years ago, the Royal Navy helps open the cracks in Scandinavian neutrality

The Royal Navy’s stellar run of success against the Graf Spee found a worthy tailpiece when the destroyer HMS Cossack under her swash-buckling Captain Philip Vian tracked down the German tanker Altmark , which was taking 300 British sailors from ships sunk by the Graf Spee to imprisonment in Germany. Altmark took refuge in Josing Fjord in the then still neutral Norway but Cossack followed her and boarded her to liberate the British prisoners who delivered the celebrated cry, “The Navy’s here.” Eight German sailors were killed and their burial was exploited to the full in a propaganda exercise to depict the British as ruthless aggressors. The operation gave a great boost to British morale but helped bring the war to Scandinavia. The blatant infringement of Norwegian neutrality suggested that the delicate position of the Scandinavian nations counted for little in London even if the affair was relatively trivial. Sweden gave a public affirmation of its neutrality in the

Eighty years ago, the end comes near for the Finns as the British expolore war as a winter sport

The sheer superiority in numbers that the Red Army could deploy against Finland started to tell. Soviet strength of almost half a million men outnumbered the Finnish army threefold. The Soviets launched a major offensive on the Karelian Peninsula which broke through the Mannerheim Line. Marshal Mannerheim ordered a retreat to fall-back positions. It was beginning to look like just a matter of time before Finland would have to concede. The British government were confronted with a potential embarrassment when the extreme left wing Labour MP Denis Pritt asked a question in Parliament about his suspicion that the Finnish government was conducting what would be illegal activities in Britain to recruit British citizens to fight in the Winter War. Despite a privileged upbringing Pritt was a rabid supporter of the Soviet Union and was soon to be expelled by the Labour Party for publishing a book that defended Stalin’s invasion of Finland. There was no real substance to Pritt’s