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Editorial – Twilight Phase

26 July 1941

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 26 July 1941

Twilight Phase

We appear to have entered a twilight phase of the war. The enemy is quiescent on all our fronts because he is fully engaged in the blitzkrieg on Russia. There he is held tenaciously and is being punished mercilessly. He is paying a dangerously high price for scorched earth which has in itself no value.

The conviction is gaining ground that he has invaded once too often and that the transfer of his major war effort from west to east is both a fatal admission and a fatal blunder. The German hordes are advancing eastward, slowly, confusedly and at infinite cost but there is no sign that their panzers have searched and wrung the vitals of the enemy as they have done in every other land campaign.

The mighty German armies have at last been met by comparable armed strength —not so highly trained, not so perfecty organised, not so completely supplied, equipped, and co-ordinated, but an adversary capable of meeting novel tactics with guerilla warfare still more daring, original, and disconcerting. Hitler’s new campaign has evoked from the Russians military qualities of independence, improvisation, and elan, of which the Red armies had not been suspected. The Russians are defending and counter -attacking with a skill and constancy that the German general staff gravely underestimated.

Hitler broke off the fight in the West—and it is a most lamentable feature of the general military situation that he was able to do so—in order to destroy the nuisance value of Russia, realising too late that Russia is far too big and tough to be knocked out at a blow.

If the Allies were now in a position to exert land pressure in the West the military situation of the Nazis might deteriorate very rapidly, but we must assume that Russia would not have been attacked at all so long as the Allies had a foothold elsewhere on the Continent. It says much for the Nazis’ contemptuous confidence in their power to hold down the subjugated territories that they should have undertaken this enormous new commitment. Or to turn the picture round, it may be that this hazardous adventure against Russia was undertaken from a desperate consciousness that Europe could not be fully conquered and consolidated until Russia had been brought not merely to heel but under the heel.

Whichever theory is right the truth may lie between—the free and fighting democracies have been given breathing space of priceless value, time for amendment, opportunity to recover and reorganize, to assemble and marshal their vast war potential.

We expected the summer to be occupied with another Battle of Britain, a new attempt beat down our air defences and to invade us ; we expected a concurrent campaign in the Near East waged with intensity from several key points with the object of driving us out of Egypt, uncovering Africa and India, – wresting from us the strongholds of Gibraltar and Malta, Cyprus and Palestine, bringing down upon us the Japanese in Malaya and Australia, and possibly the Russians in the Caucasus and the Middle East.

Such a programme, however fantastic it might once have appeared, however grandiose even under the conditions following the fall of Greece and Crete, was at least feasible, and we had seen in the Balkans and in Libya the terrible swiftness and efficiency of the German striking power.

Mr. Churchill in his last review remarked that if we were no worse off in the Mediterranean six months hence he should be very happy. Our position there has in fact greatly improved; the Nazis have been powerless to prevent our occupation of Irak and Syria, a move of immense strategical value, ensuring the effective defence of Cyprus, and they have been unable to maintain their offensive in Libya.

Much of the fierce Nazi energy now locked up in the Russian adventure would have been loosed upon us east and west, and to that extent we are enormous gainers by Hitler’s fateful decision to attack Russia. Nor is the gain merely temporary, for whatever the outcome of the invasion of Russia the campaign has burnt up men and material at a fearful rate and Germany is to that extent weakened for the resumption of the fight in the west. It is not yet certain whether or when Germany will in fact be able to disengage the shock troops now absorbed in Russia; if not, Germany is doomed anyhow, and on the gloomiest view decisive victory over Russia would impose on the Germans a garrison problem compared with which the task of holding down France and the Netherlands is simplicity itself.

We do not, however, anticipate a German victory in the present struggle with Russia ; especially if we do our own part by striking at the heart of Germany with all our means and with all our might. The war has taken a turn amazingly favourable to us and we must prove our fitness to be so favoured by extracting, for ourselves and our allies the utmost advantage from this turn of fortune’s wheel.

We have reason to be grateful to the Russians for having attracted so much of the summer lightning of 1941 and given us the respite we needed in order to take a new grip of ourselves—and of the enemy.