Eighty years ago, Hitler's generals benefit from his management style and Dad's Army receives a sinister message

Hitler promoted twelve of his senior commanders to the rank of Field Marshal, which had been especially revived for the occasion. This was marked by a dignified and impressive ceremony, in practice a triumph for the conquest of France, at the Kroll Opera House, where the Reichstag sat. The seats of five deputies killed in the campaign were occupied by golden wreaths. The new Field Marshals were chiefly the battlefield commanders of the French campaign, but also included Erhard Milch, who had been the true organiser of the Luftwaffe’s expansion but had never held a significant operational command. Goering who had been the only Marshal up till then was promoted to the unique dignity of Reichsmarschall. Hitler took a cynical view of such promotions and regarded them as another tool (along with generous money grants) to keep the loyalty of his generals. They also received the traditional ornate baton as emblem of the rank. The exercise did not reflect a favourable view of their military abilities which he continued to hold in contempt, although he could countenance some trickle down of the glory heaped on him by his fawning military creature Keitel, who had christened him “the greatest warlord of all time” (größter Feldherr aller Zeiten). Keitel’s grotesque flattery was ironically contracted to a pseudo-bureaucratic acronym GröFaZ in the wake of Stalingrad as Germany’s defeats piled up.

Hitler used the occasion to deliver a speech addressed to Britain making a “final appeal to reason.” The tone was moderate an unprovocative, but it was liberally sown with abuse of Churchill and his “war mongers.” It made no specific proposals but was designed to create an opening for Britain to seek terms. If it was intended seriously, the speech fell wide of the mark. Hitler failed to recognise just how firmly in power Churchill was and wildly exaggerated the likelihood that he would be replaced by a defeatist government of Chamberlain, Halifax and Lloyd George. In practice the speech provided a counterpoint to Churchill’s own speeches and cemented public opinion in favour of continuing resistance.

Germany’s next (unintentional) boost to British morale came in the form of a veiled compliment to the Home Guard, as the Local Defence Volunteers had been renamed. They were denounced as terrorists and “armed gangs”, implying that they would make some noticeable military impact if Germany invaded. Inevitably German propaganda claimed that this was all contrary to the rules of war and that the "civilians" involved were no better than murderers, even though the Home Guard was a uniformed part of the army. Had Captain Mainwaring and his men actually found themselves fighting the Wehrmacht, they would probably have been summarily executed if they had been captured.

Coming swiftly on top of the news of severe food rationing, came a supplementary – very firmly wartime austerity - budget from Sir Kingsley Wood who had taken over as Chancellor in the new government. When the regular budget had been presented in April war spending had been running at £40m per week but this had risen to £50m since and reached the huge level of £57m in the four weeks leading up to the budget.  Basic income tax was increased from 7/6 in the £ to 8/6 (37.5% to 42.5% in post-decimalisation figures). A tax of 33% on the wholesale cost of “luxuries” was introduced and duty on drinks increased. Tellingly, the measures excited little surprise, interest or comment. They were firmly of a piece with Britain’s military plight. The only “distinguished strangers” who bothered to turn up for the event at the House of Commons were the Belgian ambassador and the Governor of the Bank of England, who had a professional interest anyway.


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