Showing posts from October, 2021

Eighty years ago, blackmail battles oratory inside the British government

    Lord Beaverbrook’s campaign to elbow himself a larger share of power in government, and, perhaps to position himself to displace Churchill, found its way into public notice, albeit in well-disguised form. He had intensified his drive to promote giving maximum support to the Soviet Union, which served as a platform to attract support both inside government and with the public.   Stories appeared pointing to the strain on his health – he was known to suffer from badly from asthma – brought on by the intensity of his working arrangements. What was hidden was the fact that as well as periodic threats of resignation on points of principle he bombarded Churchill with threats of resignation on the grounds of health. It is not known who lay behind this move to call Beaverbrook’s bluff. Churchill’s standing was always greater with the public than inside government. His greatest strength was his oratory which bound the nation to the war effort; the staunchest Chamberlainite appeasement nos

Eighty years ago a Soviet super-spy is arrested in Tokyo and France enters a cycle of random killing and reprisal

  The career of one of the most successful spies ever came to an end when Japan's military security police, the Kempetai, arrested Richard Sorge, a German journalist and long term Soviet agent. As well as a network of Japanese agents, Sorge had a close relationship with the German ambassador to Tokyo Eugen von Ott and had access to all his communciations with Berlin. Von Ott tolerated Sorge's affair with his wife, one of his very many mistresses. Sorge had accurately warned his controllers of the pending German invasion and, perhaps more important, that Japan had decided against attacking the Soviet Union, which freed the Red Army to concentrate on fighting the Germans. Stalin discounted Sorge's warnings of Barbarossa like all the others and preferred to keep his deluded trust in Hitler, but may have paid attention to the information on Japan's intentions. Sorge's one-time pad coded messages to Moscow were never broken but their sheer volume gave almost unmistakeabl

Eighty years ago Japan chooses war

  The army won the latest and crucial round in the struggle for Japanese policy. The navy faction which supported the prime minister Prince Konoe and wished to avoid war with the US was defeated.   Konoe’s overtures to the US had failed to yield worthwhile results; President Roosevelt stuck to his hard line. German success in the East further strengthened the army’s hand. The Emperor swung behind the army. Konoe resigned, clearing the way for General Tojo to replace him. It became a matter of time for Japan to go to war. The German attack towards Moscow progressed, seemingly with remorseless success, but there were clear signs of military over-reach. Another two huge groups of Soviet troops were surrounded in the Vyazma and Bryansk pockets. Ultimately perhaps 0.5m would be taken prisoner, but in the meantime they fought on. This tied down over twenty German divisions in a battle of attrition, which weakened the thrust towards the Soviet capital. The loathsome farce of the Vichy g

Eighty years ago Hitler breaks cover into hubris

  Hitler made his first speech since Operation Barbarossa was launched. It was perhaps the high-point of the Third Reich’s triumphalism. He was in confident mood and portrayed the thrust towards Moscow that had been launched a few days before as a decisive step in the defeat of the Soviet Union. He boasted of 2.5m prisoners taken. Curiously he spent more time attacking Churchill, whom he blamed for the war, than Stalin. He did accuse the Soviets of planning an attack but the best he could come up with to present Germany's policy towards the Soviet Union in a favourable light was to assert that no criticism of the Soviet Union had been allowed to appear in German media. He claimed that Germany was strong enough to meet any enemies, a faint warning shot across the bows of the US. Stalin at a stroke reversed decades of Soviet hostility to religion and declared that there would henceforward be full freedom of worship. In part this aimed a mobilizing the Orthodox church, which had n

Eighty years ago the SS wins the battle for control in Prague

  German occupied Czechoslovakia had become a battleground between the terrorists of the SS and the conservatives. The latter were represented by Konstantin von Neurath, an old style diplomat who had been replaced as foreign minister by Ribbentrop in 1938, and had been installed as Reich protector in Prague in a cynical atttempt to persuade world opinion that Czechoslovakia would be ruled in a decent fashion. Von Neurath did not endorse Nazi plans to obliterate Czech culture and conducted a soft-touch policy through Czech collaborationists. To discredit him the SS staged attacks, supposedly the work of the Czech underground. With the war against the Soviet Union under way, security in Czechoslovakia had assumed a new dimension. When the SS forced the issue, Hitler took their side and sent von Neurath "on leave", installing as his effective replacement Reinhard Heydrich, the master secret policeman, architect of the Holocaust and one of the most effective and fightening figure