Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 08 February 1941
The Twisted Axis
Winter still grips the war here, while the British campaign in Africa becomes more fluid, flexible, and widespread. There the Italian empire is crumbling on every front at the approach of Wavell’s hosts. With every new encounter resistance lessens and confusion and demoralisation increase. Italy has proved but a broken reed, and the folly and futility of Mussolini have sabotaged Hitler’s schemes. His whole Balkan policy has to be adjusted to a new and unfavourable situation. He made sure of Rumania before the collapse of Italy, but his next move is full of difficulty and danger.
The Italian debacle eases the uncomfortable position of Yugoslavia. The Serbs may well take courage from the contrast between the fate of Greece and of Rumania, and from the exposure under military test, of the rottenness of the Axis.
With the British Fleet in unfaltering command of the Mediterranean; with the Italians retreating on five fronts: with Turkey grimly preparing to defend the Dardanelles; with the increased unlikelihood of Russian interference; with Greece battling valiantly and successfully and with ever-rising morale, and with Britain ready to hold for Greece the great base of Salonica: with all these and other considerations operating, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria may well take heart, and the Nazi dictator may well have a care.
He says he will fight the English wherever he can find them. They are easily found; there are days and nights when he has not to leave Berlin to find them. They are still to be found over France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Germany. Italy. North Africa, in fact “all over the place.” The armies which have routed Graziani are waiting for Hitler if he undertakes a Balkan campaign, though that would be for him a gamble nearly as desperate as the “vital stroke” he is preparing in the West. He has lost precious time in both theatres by failing to realise the completeness of his success in France and the completeness of his Ally’s defeat in Libya. His task is tremendously harder to-day than it would have been six months ago. Every succeeding day increases his difficulties and the strength of the forces which are rallying to meet his supreme challenge.
We are in no danger of under-estimating the strength and fury of the attack which the Nazis are preparing for us. We have been repeatedly warned by our own leader that a stern test lies before us; Americans and European neutrals are continually passing to us hints of the wrath to come; and lest we should disregard these intimations and admonitions Hitler and his nervewar department have turned on the “threatenings and slaughters” at full blast.
We are to be conquered as dramatically and completely as France. Our invaders are sending before them boasts as loud and confident as if they had never heard of the R.A.F., the Royal Navy, or the four million armed and mechanised men now standing-to in every part of these islands, ready to meet every threat from every quarter. There have been fantastic estimates of the size of the Luftwaffe available for the aerial invasion of Britain, but the sober facts are formidable enough and we know that the strength and spirit of this country will be sorely tried in the coming conflict.
We know that the Germans, if they venture at all, will strike with all their might, using all their brutal power, their low cunning, their unfathomable baseness, all their treacherous art and ingenuity, and once committed will take appalling risks and accept fearful losses for the chance of subduing and destroying the one Power that stands between them and the peaceful enjoyment of all their gains, none of which is secure and confirmed until Britain has been vanquished. We have certainly been warned, and if we fall, from neglect or contempt of the danger, we shall have deserved our fate.
Equall, the Germans must be aware that what they are meditating is so desperate an enterprise that if it fails their whole gigantic system will crumble. The Nazi regime will fall and with it, for ever, the recurring Teutonic menace to peace, order, and liberty in the world.
Marshal Petain is fighting another kind of Verdun. “Ils ne passeront pas.” The scattered remnants of the honour of France are in his hands; he guards the one way by which France may return to freedom, independence, and self-respect. Hitler, utterly indifferent to the villainy of anything he proposes, demands the French Fleet, the French Mediterranean ports, and the Tunisian port of Bizerta, for use against the British, the deserted Ally of France.
Although the leaders of France, including Petain, are stained with the dishonour of that desertion, there is a limit of infamy beyond which Petain will not go, and he is the one man who can still speak with authority to and for Frenchmen. He cannot do Hitler’s will; he dare not. That is the difficulty that neither Hitler nor his rascally tool, Laval, can overcome. They have nothing with which to bargain. Hitler holds two million French prisoners and two-thirds of France, and may seize the remaining third tomorrow. He has the power to make an enormous offer for Petain’s collaboration, yet it is all useless because there is no validity in any promise, pledge, or undertaking he might give. Thus it is to be totally destitute of honour and credit.
Petain’s two cards – the Fleet and the Empire -are worth infinitely more to him than all the promises of a man incapable of keeping his word. Petain is not a knave we never thought he was and it appears he is not a fool either. He has one other card, without which the others would perhaps not be of much value British ascendancy in the Mediterranean.
That is the real strength of Petain (or alternatively of Weygand, who has taken up a strategical position in Tunisia) and in the might and valour of Britain there is dawning hope a resurgent France.