Showing posts from May, 2020

Eighty years ago, the move of a fighting general to home command and a sweep of potential Quislings point to fear of an imminent invasion

The change in government and the growing military debacle in France triggered major changes at the top of the British Army. General Sir William ("Tiny") Ironside was moved from being Chief of the Imperial General Staff to command of home forces. Ironside was, and was seen as, a battlefield soldier so the demotion from the top job in the army after a brief tenure was not in itself a disgrace. Ironside would anyway by far have preferred the command of the BEF to being made CIGS. Moreover the move flagged a clear expectation that his fighting skills would be required to meet a German invasion. He was succeeded as CIGS by General Sir John Dill who had been commander of home forces before the war and was rather seen as having been passed over for the top job then. Both men were near retirement age and neither appointment was set to last. Amidst great constitutional acrimony King Leopold of Belgium took personal command of the Belgian armed forces  and surrendered them unc

Eighty years ago, a desperate situation calls for great situation comedy

The Franco-British strategy to counter a German land attack crumbled at its first contact with reality. Its key element was its fatal flaw. It had long been planned to push the British army into  Belgium but this was a strategy of default. The allies had never truly addressed the implications of having an unfortified frontier with Belgium in contrast to the defences of the Maginot Line. It was little better than pious hope that a worthwhile line of defence could be established along the Dyle. Occupying Belgium was also supposed to deprive the Luftwaffe of bases from which to attack Britain. The move into Belgium played perfectly into German hands, leaving the allied armies split as the Wehrmacht broke through the supposedly difficult terrain of the Ardennes. After only ten days the Germans reached the sea near Abbeville, cutting off the British army and large French forces in a pocket on the north coast of France. The German advance was temporarily held back by a large Britis

Eighty years ago, a dismal era of British government comes to an inglorious end

The Germans had given good warning that they were bored of the phony war with the invasion of Denmark and Norway. They proceeded to deliver a brutal lesson in what real war was like to the British and the French, and to neutrals whose territory lay in the path of what the German general staff felt was the best route to invade France. As Holland and Belgium began to learn to their cost, there was no point in not giving offence to Hitler. Whether you cringed to him or held your head high was indifferent. It was a lesson that Chamberlain’s Britain had not taken fully on board either.  The German army attacked Holland on 10 th May but was temporarily held up at the city of Rotterdam which resisted for three days. To break the stalemate on the ground the Luftwaffe bombed the city heavily. About one thousand civilians were killed and most of the centre was flattened. It was by any standards a war crime but it was fearfully effective. When the Germans threatened to launc

Eighty years ago, Chamberlain is finally held to account for his dismal record

The wheels completely fell off the British operation in southern Norway. It had achieved nothing and the forces involved had suffered severe casualties. They had been entirely outclassed by the Germans both in the land and the air. The only option to escape complete destruction was a rapid and full evacuation; the northern element of the British forced embarked at Namsos, where it had landed. The only saving grace for the British that this was accomplished smoothly with little interference by the Luftwaffe . It was a major military humiliation. After only three weeks on shore the British army had withdrawn leaving most of Norway to its fate.  In the north of the country around Narvik the British and French fought on rather more successfully, helped by the presence of two squadrons of RAF fighters, which provided the air cover that had been sadly lacking around Trondheim. But this was only a very modest compensation. Inevitably the government had to face a debate in