Eighty years ago, the British government moves against Communist pro-Nazi defeatism
The Daily Worker newspaper was suppressed on the orders of the Home Secretary, Labour's Herbert Morrison. It was the official organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and, as such, a direct mouthpiece for the Soviet Politburo. Just like Neville Chamberlain when he was British prime minister, Stalin was terrified of doing anything that might provoke Hitler, who was notionally his ally. As well as simply publishing what Moscow told it, the Daily Worker had dreamed up the concept of “revolutionary defeatism” as a theoretical justification for its attempts to undermine the British war effort and to promote German victory. It had been especially critical of the government's performance during the Blitz and missed no opportunity to trumpet the Luftwaffe's successes. It had been given a formal warning not to continue to contravene Defence Regulation 2D which made it an offence, “systematically to publish matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war.” Only the most extreme left-wing MPs, including naturally the CPGB’s only MP Willie Gallacher (Harry Pollitt the other CPGB member elected in 1935, had been expelled for welcoming the British declaration of war in 1939), made any show of opposition. On other points, the House of Commons had shown itself willing to challenge the government’s authoritarian behaviour, but faced with such flagrantly treasonous behaviour, Morrison’s action was generally approved of.
Roosevelt manoeuvred delicately to push his measures in favour of assistance to Britain through Congress. One debate had even been delayed so as to allow Joe Kennedy to speak. As he came to the end of this ambassadorship in London, it was reckoned that Kennedy would swing his voice behind the powerful isolationist movement anyway. It would have been dangerously crude to exclude him from the debate. Roosevelt wanted to help Britain fight, but the US still expected a price. Henry Morgenthau, the Treasury Secretary, let it be known that the liquidation of the remaining British owned assets in the US to pay for arms, was under way.
Hitler and Mussolini met at the Berghof against a background of Italian military defeat in practically every theatre of operations. This was a contrast to previous meetings which had been held either on the border of the two empires on a reciprocal quasi state-visit basis; here Mussolini was plainly the supplicant. They agreed that Germany would help Italy in North Africa but not in Albania. German forces had already deployed to Italy and the build-up was of a scale to be obvious even in the international press.
The British-commanded Western Desert Force continued its seemingly effortless advance into Libya. The fortress of Tobruk fell to the attackers in less than 24 hours. Once again, the main honours fell to the Australian 6th division but in a throwback to the Napoleonic era the monitor HMS Terror bombarded the defences. With a degree of symmetry, the Italian cruiser San Giorgio came under Australian mortar fire in the harbour. As had happened at Bardia, the Italians suffered heavy (over 2,000) casualties and lost men 20,000 as prisoners of war. Casualties on the attacking side were minimal.
Another omen of burgeoning Luftwaffe power in the central Mediterranean came when Ju87’s sank the cruiser HMS Southampton whilst she was escorting supply convoys to Malta. There were few fighters on the island to provide cover against Axis aircraft flying the short distance from Sicily. The RAF continued to hold back huge resources of aircraft in the UK, partly against the eventuality that the Luftwaffe would renew its assault on Britain.