Showing posts from October, 2020

Eighty years ago, jealousy between the dictators helps spread the war into the Mediterranean

    In one of the war’s most pointless follies Italy launched an invasion of Greece. It is hard to find any material justification for the move, on strategical or economic grounds. It is just conceivable that Mussolini imagined that Greece would cede the territory that he was demanding – on no legal or historical basis whatever – and grant him a bloodless victory. Otherwise it was aggression for the sake of aggression. The invasion of Albania in 1939 could - just – be viewed as a step to cement control of the Adriatic and exert pressure on Yugoslavia but Greece was no more than a senseless southern expansion of the Italian “empire.” The decision was in part due to Mussolini’s sense of inferiority towards Hitler, whom he felt subordinated Italy to German expansionary moves without consultation. Here he could play the same trick on Hitler. Futile as it was, the invasion of Greece expanded the geographical scope of the war into both the Balkans, which had been uneasily peaceful, and the M

Eighty years ago, Hitler meets two generals turned political leaders and opts for the status quo

  Hitler made a long journey to the south in his personal train Europa to meet the leaders of Spain and France, both friends of Germany but in no way friends of each other; they were riven by mutual distrust and predatory sentiment. Any move by Germany to strengthen ties with one would have affected relations with the other. Hitler set out with no strong ideas of what he wanted to obtain and the talks were essentially exploratory from him, which was just as well. Hitler and Franco met at Hendaye just north of the France’s frontier with Spain. Franco arrived in an antiquated a leaky train once used by the royal family. He somehow deluded himself that he was negotiating from a position of strength and delivered a long list of the rewards that he expected for joining the war on Hitler’s side. These were presented in a long and pompous monologue, objectionable to Hitler who expected to subject his interlocutors to such torment, not suffer it himself. As these gains would mainly have c

Eighty years ago, the Royal Family broadens its role in the war effort as scandal laps at Churchill's circle

  Princess Elizabeth, today Queen Elizabeth, made her first broadcast on BBC Children’s Hour at the remarkably early age of fourteen, opening a mdeia career that runs to this day. It was a considerably happier event than her uncle’s broadcast explaining his abdication four years before. The programme ushered in a new feature on the BBC North America service aimed at children who had been evacuated from Britain to escape bombing and the threat of invasion and now had to face a lonely life without their parents. She addressed her audience as fellow regular listeners to Children’s Hour. Inevitably the content barely rose above platitude but it was delivered well and demonstrated how artfully the Royal Family was being mobilised for the war effort. The "little princesses" had been a staple of adoring press comment during the 1930 as the model of an attractive young family, in implicit contrast to the louche demeanour of the Prince of Wales, later (briefly) Edward VIII. Elizabeth&

Eighty years ago, fate consolidates Churchill's hold on power and the dictators mount a sham show of solidarity

The former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned from the War Cabinet and the leadership of the Conservative Party because an operation to address his stomach cancer had proved unsuccessful. Health reasons were given publicly as the explanation but the full gravity of Chamberlain’s illness was not. In the ruthless calculus of politics Winston Churchill was the main beneficiary. Even after victory in the Battle of Britain many, if not most, Conservatives still distrusted him and had looked to Chamberlain as the unchallenged leader of the party to act as a restraining influence and the guarantor of the party’s true values and spirit. The anti-Churchill forces in the Conservative Party were strong but not strong or sufficiently organized to have built up a rival to Churchill, who was able to step into Chamberlain's place as party leader unopposed.   There was a minor reshuffle of ministers triggered by the need to replace Chamberlain as Lord Privy Seal. Two new ministe

Eighty years ago, finding the limits to solidarity amongst dictators

  Germany, Italy and Japan signed what was officially know as the Tripartite Pact, but is better known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis as an extension of the original Berlin-Rome Axis. The signatories undertook to assist any other if it was attacked by “a Power not at present involved in the European war or in the Sino-Japanese conflict”, in practise the United States or the Soviet Union.   The risk of this happening was slight: Stalin was busily appeasing Hitler and had secured his eastern frontier against Japanese encroachment already; existing agreements with the USSR – in practice the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact which partitioned Poland - were to be left alone; US isolationist forces were so strong as to make intervention in Europe highly improbable and intervention against Japan only a little less so. If the Pact served any practical purpose it was to fire a shot across the bows of President Roosevelt who had shown himself willing to face up to Japan, mostly recently with economic sanct