Eighty years ago, in the midst of the largest conflict in history, begins a small war you may have missed

 


Just as it had been for the Chamberlain government, the Ministry of Information (MOI) was proving to be a painful cross for Churchill’s national government to bear. Government plans for reforming the Ministry were poorly received in the House of Commons, or more accurately, the almost invisible nature of the changes was instantly obvious. Apart from the minister of information, Duff Cooper, no MP spoke in favour of the measures although sympathy was expressed for Sir John Anderson, civil servant turned minister, who had the misfortune to have to present the proposal to the House. The crux of the matter was the dissemination of war news. Here the individual service ministries continued to reign supreme, behind a façade of parroting the need for security as grounds for keeping full control over news. In reality all three operated their own PR machines dedicated to their own glorification. This stand-off was known as the Battle of Bloomsbury after the MOI’s headquarters in the Senate House of London University.

The Vichy French troops on the ground continued to resist stubbornly the British led advances into Syria and the Lebanon notably on the south-eastern front where a pitched battle was fought at Deir-es-Zor, but the cause was lost. The advance had almost reached Beirut which the British demanded that the French evacuate. General Dentz, the governor-general of Syria, knew that further resistance was futile and  asked the British for terms of surrender.

The US took another step towards full-scale participation in the war when they sent troops to take over the garrisoning of Iceland from the British. President Roosevelt’s message to Congress claimed that it was necessary to prevent a German invasion, which was manifestly a remote possibility. More revealing was his insistence on the necessity of keeping the Atlantic shipping lanes open in order to keep supplies flowing to Britain. In practice the move released British troops for direct combat duties.

War broke out between Peru and Ecuador in a traditional conflict over the demarcation of the border. Ecuador’s military junta was probably the more enthusiastic for battle despite huge military inferiority. The fighting grew out of insignificant border incidents; neither country appears to have a serious plan of battle beyond massing forces along the frontier. Peru had nearly ten times as many troops as well as two companies of the excellent Czech T-35 tank which led their counter-attack across the Zarumilla river. The T-35s remained in service for decades and even saw action against Shining Path guerrillas. Peru also had a small air force with modern planes and was able to bomb Ecuadorean positions.

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