§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
Nine weeks have passed since I spoke here on the Vote of Censure. I am most grateful to the House for the substantial majority which they then gave to me and to the Government. Every proof that is given to the world of the inflexible steadfastness of Parliament and of its sense of proportion strengthens the British war effort in a definite and recognisable manner. Most particularly are such manifestations of our national will-power a help to the head of the British Government in time of war. The Prime Minister of the day, as head of the Executive, has to be from time to time in contact and correspondence with the Heads of the Executives of the great Allied States. President Roosevelt and Premier Stalin are not only Heads of the Executive but are Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. We work our affairs in a different way. The Prime Minister is the servant of the House and is liable to dismissal at a moment's notice by a simple vote. It is only possible for him to do what is necessary, and what has got to be done on occasion by somebody or other, if he enjoys, as I do, the support of an absolutely loyal and united Cabinet, and if he is refreshed and fortified from time to time, and especially in bad times, as I have been, by massive and overwhelming Parliamentary majorities. Then your servant is able to transact the important business which has to be done with confidence and freedom, and is able to meet people at the heads of the Allied countries on more or less equal terms, and on occasion to say "Yes" and "No" without delay upon some difficult questions. Thus we arrive, by our ancient constitutional methods, at practical working arrangements which show that Parliamentary democracy can adapt itself to all situations and can go out in all weathers. That is why I am especially grateful to the House for their unswerving support and for the large majority with which they rejected a hostile vote on the last occasion we were together.
Since that day and since the House separated there have been several important operations of war. The first of these has been the carrying into Malta of a convoy of supplies sufficient to ensure the life and resistance of that heroic island fortress for a good many months 83 to come. This operation was looked forward to with a certain amount of anxiety on account of the great dangers to which many of His Majesty's most valuable ships must be exposed. For this purpose a powerful battle squadron, supported by three aircraft carriers trained to work in combination, and by powerful cruiser squadrons and flotillas were set in motion through the Straits of Gibraltar. At the same time the Malta Air Force was raised to a very high level of strength by the flying through of Spitfires from other carriers, so that an effective protective umbrella was spread around the island for a considerable distance and the local command of the air was effectively assured. The convoy was thus able to force its way through the extraordinary dangers which beset its passage from Sardinia onwards. Three or four hundred German and Italian shore-based bombers, torpedo planes and long-range fighters were launched against our armada—an enormous concourse of ships—and in the narrows, which were mined, it was attacked by E-boats and U-boats. Severe losses were suffered both by the convoy and the escorting fleet. One aircraft-carrier, the "Eagle," two cruisers and one destroyer were sunk and others damaged. But this price, although heavy, was not excessive for the result obtained, for Malta is not only as bright a gem as shines in the King's Crown, but its effective action against the enemy communications with Libya and Egypt is essential to the whole strategic position in the Middle East. In the same operation one eight-inch Italian cruiser and one six-inch Italian cruiser were torpedoed and badly damaged and two U-boats were sunk. A most remarkable feature of this fighting was undoubtedly the defeat by gunfire, and by aircraft of the carriers, of the enemy's shore-based aircraft. Fifty-six Axis aircraft were shot down for certain and 15 others were probably destroyed. Of these 39 were shot down by carrier-borne aircraft of the Fleet and 17 by the "Ack-Ack" guns of the ships of the convoy and of the escort. In addition, at least 16 were destroyed by aircraft from Malta, and all this loss was sustained by these very powerful shore-based squadrons, operating from bases in comparatively close proximity, without their being able to inflict by air action any appreciable damage upon the ships of 84 war or the supply ships of the convoy—a remarkable fact.
Although the loss of the "Eagle" at the outset of the operation affected the combination of the three carriers on which much store was set—which always seemed to me, personally, to be of the highest importance and a new feature—we must regard the whole episode as a further proof of the value of aircraft carriers working together in combination at sea and also of the increasing power of the gunnery of the fleet and of the merchant vessels, which were all armed to the teeth and fought with customary determination. All of this fleet and the whole operation was led with the utmost discipline and determination, reflecting the highest credit on all officers and men concerned, both of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine and upon the skilful admirals in charge—Admiral Syfret, Admiral Burrough and Admiral Lyster.
The second important operation was the attack upon Dieppe. It is a mistake to speak or write of this as "a Commando raid," although some Commando troops distinguished themselves remarkably in it. The military credit for this most gallant affair goes to the Canadian troops, who formed five-sixths of the assaulting force, and to the Royal Navy, which carried them all there and which carried most of them back. The raid must be considered as a reconnaissance in force. It was a hard, savage clash such as are likely to become increasingly numerous as the War deepens. We had to get all the information necessary before launching operations on a much larger scale. This raid, apart from its reconnaissance value, brought about an extremely satisfactory air battle in the West which Fighter Command wish they could repeat every week. It inflicted perhaps as much loss upon the enemy in killed and wounded as we suffered ourselves. I, personally, regarded the Dieppe assault, to which I gave my sanction, as an indispensable preliminary to full-scale operations. I do not intend to give any information about these operations, and I have only said as much as I have because the enemy can see by his daily reconnaissances of our ports many signs of movements that we are unable to conceal from his photography. He is also aware of the steady and rapid influx into this Island of United States divisions and other troops, but what he 85 does not know is how, when, where and with what forces and in what fashion he will be smitten. And on this point it is desirable that he should be left to his own ruminations, unassisted by British or American advice or comment.
Since the successful action off Midway Island, our American Allies, with the very active support of Australian Forces, have been engaged with the Japanese in the South-west Pacific, and in the course of these operations they have taken the offensive and occupied the Islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi and other islands in the Solomons. They have, moreover, according to the reports which have already been seen in the Press, frustrated Japanese activities in Milne Bay. The fighting ashore, in which United States marines were prominent, and the fighting at sea have both been exceptionally bitter. In the fighting at sea His Majesty's Australian ship "Canberra" has been sunk, as has already been announced. His Majesty's Government considered that the Commonwealth Government should not bear this grievous loss, following the sinking of other gallant Australian ships. We have therefore decided to offer freely and unconditionally the transfer of His Majesty's eight-inch gun cruiser "Shropshire" to the Commonwealth Government. The offer has been most warmly received.
Since we were last together the tendencies of war have continued to move in our favour. Of the Russian Front, I will only at this moment say that it is the 8th of September. In other quarters the growing predominance of the Allied air power is continuous. From June onwards to the first week in September, just closed, we have discharged nearly double the bomb load upon Germany as was discharged in the corresponding period of last year, and that with much greater precision. A far larger proportion fell in built-up areas or hit the actual target. The United States daylight bombing is a new and increasingly important factor, and there is no doubt that both in accuracy of aim and in mutual defensive power new possibilities of air warfare are being opened by our American comrades and their Flying Fortresses.
The losses at sea are still very heavy, but I am glad to say that the months of July, August, and September so far as it has run, are a definite improvement 86 on those which preceded them. This is due largely to the continued development and completion of the convoy system off the American coast, and this improvement has been effected in spite of heavy losses in war operations, such as the Russian and Malta convoys.
During these same months, the line of new building of merchant ships of the United Nations has definitely crossed and maintained itself on the graph above the line of sinkings. Warfare—and this is even more important, because offence is more important than defence, however successful—warfare on U-boats has been more successful than at any former period in the war. In fact, very few days have passed without one or more being sunk or damaged by us or our Allies. One would, of course, expect the U-boats to suffer heavier losses as there are more of them about, and I cannot say that the sinkings of U-boats have nearly kept pace with the believed and planned new construction. On the other hand, our heavy and successful bombing of the German shipbuilding yards will have an increasing effect upon future output and assembly of U-boats, and the part which the air is taking in the U-boat warfare grows more important with every week that passes.
We must regard the struggle at sea as the foundation of all the efforts of the United Nations. If they lost that, all else would be denied to them, but there is no reason to suppose that we have not the means of victory in our hands, provided that the utmost in human power is done here and in the United States.
Lastly, we may note that the ruthless unlimited German U-boat warfare and the outrages to which this gave vent, have brought us a new Ally, and in the dawn of the fourth year of the war we welcome the accession of Brazil to the ranks of the United Nations. We are entitled to regard this as a most helpful and encouraging event.
Continued efforts are made by us and our Allies to unify and concert the command and action of the United Nations, and particularly of their leading members. These efforts are made in spite of all the obvious difficulties which geography can interpose. During the month of July, President Roosevelt sent a most important mission to this country. No announcement of this was made at the time. The mission comprised General Marshall, the 87 Head of the United States Army, Admiral King, the Head of the Navy, and Mr. Hopkins, the President's Personal Representative. These gentlemen met in numerous conferences, not only the British Chiefs of Staff, but the Members of the War Cabinet, and of the Defence Committee which is a somewhat smaller grouping of it. During a period of 10 days or more the whole field of the war was explored and every problem of importance in it was scrutinised and weighed. Decisions of importance were taken affecting the whole future general conduct of our operations not only in Europe but throughout the world. These decisions were in accordance with the wishes of President Roosevelt, and they received his final approval. Thus, by the end of July complete agreement on war policy and war plans had been reached between Great Britain and the United States. This agreement covers the whole field of the war in every part of the world, and also deals with the necessary productive and administrative measures which are required to enforce the combined policy and strategy which has been agreed upon.
Armed with this body of agreement between Great Britain and the United States, and invigorated by the good will of the House manifested at what was a particularly dark, unhappy and anxious moment, I took advantage of the Recess to visit the Army in the Middle East and to visit Premier Stalin in Moscow. Both these journeys seemed necessary in the public interest, and I believe that the results achieved, although now secret, will as they become apparent justify any trouble or expense incurred.
Travelling always in a Liberator bomber, it was possible to reach Cairo in an uncommonly short time. Before I left I had some reason to believe that the condition of the Desert Army and the troops in Egypt was not entirely satisfactory. The Eighth Army, or the Army of the Western Desert, or the Desert Army as I like to call it, had lost over 80,000 men. It had been driven back about 400 miles since May, with immense losses in munitions, supplies and transport, General Rommel's surprisingly rapid advance was only rendered possible because he used our captured stores and vehicles. In the battles around Gazala, in the stress of the retreat and the fighting 88 at El Alamein, where General Auchinleck succeeded in stabilising the front, the structure of the Army had become much deranged. The divisional formations had been largely broken up, and a number of battle groups or other improvised formations had sprung into being piecemeal in the course of the hard fighting. Nevertheless, as I can myself testify, there was a universal conviction in officers and men of every rank that they could beat the Germans man to man and face to face. But this was coupled with a sense of being baffled and of not understanding why so many misfortunes had fallen upon the Army. The spirit of the troops was admirable, but it was clear to me that drastic changes were required in the High Command and that the Army must have a new start under new leaders. I was fortified in these conclusions by the advice of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who accompanied me, and also by the massive judgment of Field-Marshal Smuts, who flew from Cape Town to Cairo to meet me and also, of course, to see the South African divisions which he has sent into the line.
I, therefore, after many heart-searchings, submitted proposals to the War Cabinet for changing and remodelling the High Command. In these proposals, General Alexander, fresh from his brilliant uphill campaign in Burma—a most testing ordeal for any man—succeeded General Auchinleck, and General Gott, who was greatly trusted by the troops, was to command the Eighth Army. The Cabinet was in the act of endorsing these telegraphed recommendations when General Gott was killed by the enemy. I felt this very much, because I met him only the day before; I spent a long time in his company, and he seemed a most splendid man. General Montgomery, who now commands the Eighth Army, is one of our most accomplished soldiers, and we had need of him for certain purposes here at home. However, the imminent threat of battle in the Western Desert left us no choice but to call upon him. I am satisfied that the combination of General Alexander, as Commander-in-Chief, and General Montgomery under him commanding the Eighth Army, with General McCreery, an officer deeply versed in the handling of tanks, as Chief of the General Staff, is a team well adapted to our needs and the finest at our disposal at the 89 present time. There were, of course a number of other changes. It is always painful making such changes, but in wartime individual feelings cannot be spared, and whatever is thought to be the best arrangement must be made without regard to persons, and must be made quickly. I hope the House will not press me to argue these matters on merits in detail, as I certainly should not be able to comply with their wish without detriment to the public interest.
Of General Auckinleck I will only say that he is an officer of the greatest distinction and of a character of singular elevation. He wrested victory for us at the battle of Sidi Rezegh in November, and in the early days of July he stemmed the adverse tide at El Alamein. He has at present, at his own request, gone on leave, and it is my hope that his services may be available later on in the war.
In spite of the heavy losses which I mentioned, the Army of the Western Desert is now stronger actually and relatively than it has ever been. In fact, so large have the new reinforcements which have reached this Army been, that what is to a large extent a new Army has been created while the fighting has actually been in progress. The principal measures which rendered this possible were taken before the disaster of Tobruk, and, indeed, before the opening of the battle at Gazala in May. They were part of the general preparation which, looking ahead, we made for the hazards and stresses of the Desert campaign of 1942. As far back as March last I asked President Roosevelt to lend me shipping to transport an additional 40,000 or 50,000 men to the Middle East so as to have something to veer and haul upon, so as to have a force which could be turned to the various theatres in which danger might develop. The President consented and placed at our disposal a number of American ships, and in consequence at the critical moment we had rounding the Cape a very large and well-equipped force which could be directed immediately to Egypt. It is to that that the improvement in our affairs, the maintenance of our affairs, in that region must largely be attributed. Besides this a broadening stream of drafts to replace casualties, of equipment, tanks, anti-tank guns, "Ack-Ack" guns and vehicles of all kinds has been flowing from this country and from the United States to the Middle East, and we now 90 have in Egypt a very good, strong, well-equipped and resolute Army barring the further advance of the invader.
In the Debate on the Vote of Censure on Thursday, 2nd July, some of the Opposition speakers seemed to think that the fall of Cairo and Alexandria was only a matter of days. "Wait till Monday, wait till Tuesday," it was said, "and events will reinforce our criticisms." Well, we have waited, and now after more than two months I feel able to assure the House that they may be confident in our ability to maintain the successful defence of Egypt, not for days or for weeks, but for several months ahead. [Interruption.] I say several months ahead, but I might say more. Suffice it to say that.
I am strengthened in this view by the results of the heavy fighting of last week. Owing to the restraint and understatement which have been practised in the Middle East communiqués in deference to the taste of the House, the scale and intensity of these operations have not been realised, or have -only now begun to be realised. General Rommel has been much hampered by the sinkings of so many of his supply ships by our submarines, as well as by the British and United States air attacks renewed again from Malta and also from Egypt. Under the inconveniences resulting from their pressure as we may suppose, he came round our Southern flank last Monday week in a major offensive with the whole German Afrika Korps, including the 90th Light Division, the two Panzer divisions and a large part of the 20th Italian Motorised Corps. We have not been able to keep our left hand upon the Qattara depression, which dies away at this point to the Eastward, and there was plenty of room for Rommel to execute such a manoeuvre. The Desert Army under its new command had, however, been reorganised in depth and had been reinforced by every brigade, by every tank and by every gun that could be hurried forward from the Delta. I had the good fortune to visit the troops on exactly the ground where this battle took place, and I must say it seemed to me very obliging of General Rommel to have come on to us just where all the preparations had been made for his hearty reception.
This desert warfare has to be seen to be believed. Large armies, with their innumerable transport and tiny habitations, 91 are dispersed and scattered as if from a pepper-pot over the vast indeterminate slopes and plains of the desert, broken here and there only by a sandy crease of tuck in the ground or outcrop of rock. The ground in most places, especially on all commanding eminences, is rock with only an inch or two of sand on the top, and no cover can be obtained for guns or troops except by blasting. Scattered though the troops are, there is an elaborate system of signalling, the enormous development of which is incredible. The more improvements there are in our means of communication the more people are required to serve the Signals Branch. But owing to this elaborate system of signalling, in which tens of thousands of people are engaged, this army, scattered over these vast areas, can be moved and brought into action with extraordinary rapidity, and enormous distances can be covered by either side in what seemed a few years ago to be an incredibly short space of time.
It did not seem to our commanders that General Rommel would dare to bypass the desert Army, with its formidable armoured striking power, and push on to Cairo, and in this they were right; but in order that the desert Army should have the fullest freedom of manoeuvre a new Army has been brought into being along the line of the Nile and the Delta, where conditions prevail totally different from those which exist in the desert. In fact, you could not have a greater contrast in every military condition than is presented at the point where cultivation begins and the desert ends. Rommel was not, however, disposed to run the risk of going round and by-passing the Army, and he strove instead to repeat the tactics he had used at Gazala. He was met not only by British armour but by British artillery used on a scale hitherto unprecedented. We had many hundreds of 25-pounders, as good a field gun as exists in the world, as well as many hundreds of 6-pounder high velocity anti-tank guns in action. We had a good superiority in armour, though we were not quite equal in the heaviest-gunned tanks, and we had once again undoubted mastery in the air. The attack of the Axis army, which had been reinforced up to 12 divisions and had also very powerful artillery, with some superiority in medium guns, and powerful armoured 92 forces, was first brought to an abrupt standstill and then pressed slowly and steadily back with heavy losses of tanks and vehicles of all kinds. We are entitled to consider this last week's fighting as distinctly not unsatisfactory, especially when we compare it with what our position was 2½ months ago. As to the future, I can only say that the desert Army will welcome every opportunity of fighting that is offered to it and that further developments may be awaited with good heart by all who are watching events in that theatre.
The striking feature in this theatre is, of course, the outstanding strength and resiliency of our Air Force. Three-quarters of the Air Force is British, but there are also some most gallant and efficient Australian and South African squadrons and powerful United States air groups working with the Royal Air Force. Co-operation between the Air and the Army had been brought to the very highest degree in the days of General Auchinleck, and it is now renewed between Air Chief Marshal Tedder and General Alexander and Air Vice-Marshal Conyngham and General Montgomery. The Army and Air commanders in the field live and camp together in the same moving headquarters, and the Air Force rather than being divided among the troops is used as a whole in characteristic fashion for their benefit and, as far as I could see, not only for their benefit but to their very great satisfaction. The Air Force has played a decisive part throughout this campaign. Without its superior power, no one can say whether we should have got thus far. But the story is only half told and it would be inartistic to attempt to anticipate the further chapters which remain to be written.
Three times when I asked the question, "What do you think of the dive bombers?"—because I asked all sorts of questions of all sorts of people—I got the answer, "Which dive bombers?" from officers of different ranks. There is no doubt at all that our ground strafing aircraft and fighter bombers are achieving results at least equal to those of the Stukas without being vulnerable as the Stukas are when caught unprotected by their fighter escort. The most intense exertions have been made by all the air squadrons not only during the action but in the preparatory stages. I should not have thought it possible 93 that such a high percentage of sorties could be maintained without detriment to health and efficiency. Nothing could exceed however the efficiency and ardour of all the airmen whom I saw, and nothing could exceed the admiration and good will in which the Air Force is held by their comrades in the Army. I took pains while I was there to visit and inspect almost every large formation, not only those at the front but others which were preparing in the rear. I spent five days in this way and was most kindly received by the troops, to whom I explained the extraordinary importance and significance of their task and its bearing upon the issues of the whole war. Their life in the fierce light of the desert, with its cool strong breezes, is hard but healthy. I have never seen an Army which deserved victory more, and I await with confident hope the further unfolding of the scroll of fate.
Apart from the changes in the High Command, I reached the conclusion that the Middle East Command was too extensive in itself, and that General Auchin-leck had been unduly burdened by having to consider the problems of Persia and Iraq, some 600 or 700 miles away, at the same time that he had Rommel on his hands within 50 miles of Alexandria. I therefore obtained permission from my colleagues for the detaching of Persia and Iraq from the Middle Eastern Command and the making of a new and separate Command round the Tenth Army based on Basra and Baghdad. This sphere is given to Sir Henry Maitland-Wilson, who, from his command of the Ninth Army in Syria and Palestine, has already had opportunities of being thoroughly acquainted with the situation. The Tenth Army is being rapidly strengthened and, with the substantial Air Force which it will require, may eventually give support to the Russian left flank, and will in any case defend the soil of Persia.
During my visit to Cairo the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and I had the advantage of long consultations with General Wavell about India, with Lord Gort about Malta, and with General Platt about East Africa. In Cairo I was received by King Farouk and in Teheran by the Shah of Persia. Both these young rulers, who are also brothers-in-law, affirmed their loyalty to the cause of the United Nations, and the Shah of Persia was good enough to enter upon a most 94 able exposition of the solid reasons which make the interests of Persia identical with the victory of Britain and her Allies.
The main purpose of my journey was, however, to visit Premier Stalin in Moscow. This was accomplished in two long flights with a break at Teheran. We flew across the two mountain systems, each about 300 miles wide, which lie South of the Caspian Sea and between which spreads the plain and plateau of Persia. Some of these peaks go up to 18,000 or 19,000 feet, but as we flew by day we had no need to go higher than 13,000 feet. We flew across long stretches of the Caspian Sea up the Ural River towards Kuibyshev (formerly Samara) and reached Moscow in the afternoon.
In this part of my mission I was accompanied by Mr. Averell Harriman, President Roosevelt's personal representative. The House will see that it was a great advantage to me to have the support of this most able and forceful man who spoke with the august authority of the President of the United States. We spent four days in conferences with Premier Stalin and Mr. Molotov, sitting sometimes for five and six hours at a time, and we went into everything with the utmost candour and thoroughness. At the same time, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and General Wavell, who accompanied me, had farther conferences with Marshals Voroshilov and Shaposhnikov and dealt with the more technical aspects of our joint affairs. Naturally I should not give any account of the subjects we discussed or still less of the conclusions which we reached. I have reported all these to the War Cabinet, and Mr. Harriman has reported them to President Roosevelt, but all must remain secret.
I may say, however, that the Russians do not think that we or the Americans have done enough so far to take the weight off them. This is not at all surprising, in view of the terrific onslaught which they are enduring and withstanding with such marvellous tenacity. No one in the last war would have deemed it possible that Russia could have stood up as she has been doing to the whole weight of the Teutonic armies. I say the whole weight, because, although there are 40 to 45 Germans divisions facing us in the West and holding down the subjugated countries, these numbers are more than made up against Russia by Finnish, Hungarian, 95 Rumanian and Italian troops who have been dragged by Hitler into this frightful welter. It is a proof of the increased strength which Premier Stalin has given to Russia that this prodigious feat of the resistance of Russia alone to the equivalent of the whole of the Teutonic Army has been accomplished for so long and with so great a measure of success. It is difficult to make the Russians comprehend all the problems of the sea and of the ocean. We are sea animals and the United States are to a large extent ocean animals. The Russians are land animals. Happily, we are all three air animals. It is difficult to explain fully all the different characteristics of the war effort of various countries, but I am sure that we made their leaders feel confidence in our loyal and sincere resolve to come to their aid as quickly as possible and in the most effective manner without regard to the losses or sacrifices involved so long as the contribution was towards victory.
It was an experience of great interest to me to meet Premier Stalin. The main object of my visit was to establish the same relations of easy confidence and of perfect openness which I have built up with President Roosevelt. I think that, in spite of the accident of the Tower of Babel, which persists as a very serious barrier in numerous spheres, I have succeeded to a considerable extent. It is very fortunate for Russia in her agony to have this great rugged war chief at her head. He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power and a man direct and even blunt in speech, which, having been brought up in the House of Commons, I do not mind at all, especially when I have something to say of my own. Above all, he is a man with that saving sense of humour which is of high importance to all men and all nations, but particularly to great men and great nations. Stalin also left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom and a complete absence of illusions of any kind. I believe I made him feel that we were good and faithful comrades in this war—but that, after all, is a matter which deeds not words will prove.
One thing stands out in my mind above all others from this visit to Moscow—the inexorable, inflexible resolve of Soviet 96 Russia to fight Hitlerism to the end until it is finally beaten down. Premier Stalin said to me that the Russian people are naturally a peaceful people, but the atrocious cruelties inflicted upon them by the Germans have roused them to such a fury of indignation that their whole nature is transformed.
As I flew back to Cairo across the vast spaces, back across the Caspian Sea and the mountain ranges and deserts, I bore with me the conviction that in the British Empire, the United States and the Soviet Union, Hitler has forged an alliance of partnership which is strong enough to beat him to the ground, and steadfast enough to persevere not only until his wickedness has been punished, but until some at least of the ruin he has wrought has been repaired.
We have recently been reminded that the third anniversary of the war has come and gone and that we are now entered upon the fourth year. We are indeed entitled, nay, bound to be thankful for the inestimable and measureless improvements in our position which have marked the last two years. From being all alone, the sole champion left in arms against Nazi tyranny, we are now among the leaders of a majestic company of States and nations, including the greatest nations of the world, the United States and Russia, all moving forward together until absolute victory is won, and not only won but established upon unshakable foundations. In spite of all the disappointing episodes, disasters and sufferings through which we have passed, our strength has grown without halt or pause, and we can see each day that not only our own power but the weight of the United States becomes increasingly effective in the struggle.
Apart from the physical and mortal dangers of the war through which we have made our way so far Without serious injury, there was a political danger which at one time seemed to me, at any rate, to be a formidable threat. After the collapse of France, when the German armies strode on irresistibly in triumph and conquest, there seemed to be a possibility that Hitler might establish himself as a kind of Charlemagne in Europe and would unite many countries under German sway while at the same time pointing to our island as the author of the blockade and the cause of all their woes. That danger, such as it was, and I certainly did not 97 think it negligible, has rolled away. The German is now more hated in every country in Europe than any race has been since human records began. In a dozen countries Hitler's firing-parties are at work every morning, and a dark stream of cold execution blood flows between the Germans and almost all their fellow-men. The cruelties, the massacres of hostages, the brutal persecutions in which the Germans have indulged in every land into which their armies have broken have recently received an addition in the most bestial, the most squalid and the most senseless of all their offences, namely, the mass deportation of Jews from France, with the pitiful horrors attendant upon the calculated and final scattering of families. This tragedy fills one with astonishment as well as with indignation, and it illustrates as nothing else can the utter degradation of the Nazi nature and theme, and the degradation of all who lend themselves to its unnatural and perverted passions.
When the hour of liberation strikes in Europe, as strike it will, it will also be the hour of retribution. I wish most particularly to identify His Majesty's Government and the House of Commons with the solemn words which were used lately by the President of the United States, namely, that those who are guilty of the Nazi crimes will have to stand up before tribunals in every land where their atrocities have been committed, in order that an indelible warning may be given to future ages and that successive generations of men may say, "So perish all who do the like again."
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I think my first word ought to be a word of welcome, on behalf of the Members of this House, to the Prime Minister upon his safe return from his most recent, no doubt not his last, adventurous journey, an adventurous journey which in his inimitable way he has so picturesquely described, and thereby enabled himself no doubt to avoid entering on some rather more controversial issues. I will in the few remarks that I shall make follow the Prime Minister's references. I think we have all heard with pride of the success, notwithstanding heavy punishment, of the latest Malta convoy, for if that small indomitable island were to go, it would perhaps be Rommel's greatest victory. As regards Dieppe, the Prime Minister 98 told us very little, and perhaps that is not surprising. Though we accept the assurance that this was a reconnaissance in force, I have no doubt myself that it provided experience in combined operations which will be needed in the further stages of the war. It is, of course, obvious that the Prime Minister cannot tell the House how, when and where any further efforts of this kind, or greater ones, are to take place, but I noticed a phrase of his which I interpret in a generous manner. He spoke of Dieppe being a preliminary to full-scale operations. I have never myself joined in the demand for what is called a second front until such a new front could be successfully and permanently established, and it may well be that Dieppe has taught us a great deal as to our future operations.
I am glad the Prime Minister referred to the offensive action now being taken in the South-Western Pacific. The United States, like this country, got off on the wrong leg at the beginning of the war. For that, one does not attach any blame to any person, but it is a comfort now to know that the worst of the disasters may well be over in the Pacific. I wish that the Prime Minister, while he was roaming over that part of the globe, had referred to the recent victories in China, which have not perhaps received the attention in this part of the world that their intrinsic importance in my view demands. The Prime Minister's reference to increasing air raids was one which gives us considerable comfort. It is good to know that United States airmen and United States aircraft are taking part in ever-increasing numbers in both day and night raids, and out of their combined operations I have no doubt will come not double the strength but even more than double the strength of the two single air forces.
The sea situation, the right hon. Gentleman tells us, is somewhat better, that is to say, as I understood him, we are now producing rather more than we are losing, that our campaign against the U-boat is developing and heavy damage is being inflicted upon the enemy; but I submit that that is not enough. The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the overwhelming importance of sea-power for the United Nations, but merely to get on top of current losses does not do much to replace that vast amount of tonnage which 99 has gone to the bottom of the sea in the last three years. Therefore, we must not, and I think the Prime Minister would be the last to suggest that we should, fall into a sense of easy complacency about the shipping situation which, after all, whatever may be said about the production of munitions, is really the major bottle-neck of the war to-day as regards its conduct overseas, and, indeed as regards its conduct over here should that become necessary. With the Prime Minister I welcome Brazil, that great country with enormous resources and with a strategic advantage over that of all other parts of North and South America, as an active ally in the present great struggle.
I assume from what the Prime Minister said about the American Mission that closer bonds of co-operation were forged during that visit. His reference, however, was merely to the agreement between this country and the United States. One may hope that such co-operation as has been achieved has met with the approval and support of our other Allies, and that the results of that Mission will be woven into the major strategy of the war. With regard to the Middle East, the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the situation had become somewhat unsatisfactory. When the changes took place, the public impression was one of mystification. I think the right hon. Gentleman has cleared the situation to-day. If, in his judgment, confirmed by the judgment of the War Cabinet, men are unfitted, for one reason or another which is not necessarily a criticism of them personally, for particular posts, or if they have become stale or tired, it is clear that they should be replaced. The right hon. Gentleman has expressed his perfect confidence in the new Army leaders. I remember an earlier occasion when he spoke with great fervour of the qualities of General Auchinleck—sincerely and no doubt rightly. One hopes that this very brave, very sincere and able man will not be relieved from war service for all time, and that his experience can be re-employed.
The right hon. Gentleman really is a master of the meaningless phrase, which he uses quite deliberately. He said that the results of recent months in Egypt were definitely not unsatisfactory. It would have pleased the Committee had he been able to say that, even within limits, they were definitely satisfactory.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It would have convinced the Committee a little more had the right hon. Gentleman said it in his speech. After the ebb and flow, and the reverses that we have had, the public feel—and they will certainly feel it even more keenly after the Prime Minister's speech—that a definite advance ought soon to be made, in view of the very large reinforcements which, the Prime Minister told us, are now in that theatre of war.
As to Russia, it is perhaps in the nature of the case that the Prime Minister was uncommunicative. He did give us a picturesque account of his flight to Moscow, and then the door of the Kremlin closed, and we did not hear very much more about it. I think we can infer that the result of the discussions between Britain, the United States and the U.S.S.R. will be a new and better understanding. I am quite sure that the public heard of the Prime Minister's visit to Russia with pleasure and gratitude for two reasons. In the first place, the British people feel in their hearts that, however much we have done for the U.S.S.R. in material of all kinds—and it is not negligible—somehow it is not enough. That is the general feeling. One reason for the public appreciation of the Prime Minister's visit was, that out of this came the hope in peoples minds that it might lead to closer co-operation in the war sphere.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am just going to say a word on that point. The public of this country want to know whether Russia is now completely 100 per cent. in accord with the major strategy which, in the early days—although it may have been modified—was agreed upon between this country and the United States. The second reason why the public were more than interested in the Prime Minister's visit was that they know that Anglo-Russian relations have been clouded for many years by mutual suspicion, created very largely on this side, but which, having regard to their treatment in the Press, the Russians maintained up to very recent days. If we can do something, as the Prime Minister has told us he has endeavoured to do with some success, to 101 give the impression that we are not going to let the Russians down but are going to play fair by them, and that we are standing in with them in this struggle, it will not only add powerfully to the successful prosecution of the war but will lay the foundation of a permanent friendship after the war. In the years of the interregnum after the war, this will be vital to the maintenance of peace in Europe.
There is one aspect of the problem on which I would like to say a word or two. The British Trades Union Congress, which is the most powerful and most responsible trade union movement in the world, with its more than 6,000,000 members, is meeting in conference this week. Anybody who has read the president's address, the annual report or the agenda of resolutions, will find there an increasing toughness, an even stronger determination to secure, as far as possible, the effective prosecution of the war. The report of the Council records a year of great activity during which the Council have taken in very many ways their share of the burden of thought, advice and administration in all our war industries. Some of the resolutions seem to show that, without in any way wishing to minimise what has been done—we tend to do that too often—there is the view that labour, with its skill and experience, is not being used as fully as it should be. There is a wealth of experience and technical knowledge in the workshops and mines in this country which ought to be more fully mobilised for war purposes. That finds its expression in some of the resolutions of the Trades Union Congress. It is, or it may well be, the last ounce of that effort which will make the difference between victory and defeat in Egypt. If that ounce of effort can be obtained, as I believe it can, by harnessing the skill, enthusiasm and determination of the workers to the full, in my view it ought to be done.
The right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech referred to the fourth year of war.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
On a point of Order. It is not very unusual for the Prime Minister to leave the House when the Leader of the Opposition is replying to his first speech? May I be informed whether he is coming back?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
That is not a point of Order. The Leader of the House is here.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I think, Colonel Clifton Brown, it is a point of hunger, hunger which I share myself. That brings me to the conclusion of my own statement. The fourth year of war opens on a scene which seems to me to offer possibilities of accomplishment which we have not hitherto had in any previous year of the war. I think we are entitled to expect something more than sad reverses, something more than rebuffs, in this fourth year of war. When the factories of the world are pouring out munitions on a scale unprecedented in the world's history, when the number of men under arms grows day by day to gigantic proportions, we can only hope that the leadership of this and others of the great Allied countries will be such that this fourth year of war will register events which will stand to our credit, and will bring nearer the successful conclusion of the war.
§ Mr. Cary (Eccles)
I am sure that all hon. and right hon. Members of the Committee will have heard with perhaps even greater interest than on any other occasion the account which the Prime Minister has given of his most recent political tour. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has just said, when the British public heard about it they were heartened and regarded it with the greatest satisfaction. The hazards of the journey were great and no doubt demanded great energy and endurance from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. But that sort of expedition seems to refresh my right hon. Friend rather than wear him out. May that long continue.
Following my right hon. Friend's visits to President Roosevelt, it had been the wish of many Members of this House that the Prime Minister should seek an early opportunity to meet the head of the Russian State. Members will recall the opinion which was expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister in the Debate on 19th May, when he said that you could not get leaders or leaders' representatives together quickly to-day. Air transportation has not been the limiting factor in taking the Prime Minister to Washington and Moscow, in taking General Smuts to Egypt or General Chiang Kai-shek to 103 Delhi, but the shortage of air transport equipment has been a grave handicap in many other directions—for essential personnel, mails and urgent battle equipment. I think that before we can begin to win this war at full flood much more will have to be done in that direction. I ask the Government to give it their fullest attention. The Empire, with its limitless frontiers of waterways and seaways, has the ideal geography for great seaplanes, and I hope this vital work will ultimately be planned at the centre by a central authority to which all the Empire Governments will subscribe.
I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say that apart from Malta perhaps the most significant thing which has happened during the last four weeks has been the attack at Dieppe. Firstly, because it was the first real test of enemy defences, and secondly, because it provided a complete reversal of the long held military theory that the occupation of the Channel ports of the European coastline was fatal to the existence of Great Britain. No doubt the French General Staff, in the recommendation which it made to the French Government in June, 1940, and which was passed on to our own Prime Minister in such insulting phraseology, believed that the ultimate resistance of Great Britain was out of the question. But two years later what do we now see? That these Islands have become a gigantic forward base and aerodrome against the Continent, and in addition that they have become a titanic workshop for munitions of all sorts, with a greater output per man-unit than any other Allied nation including America. This has been achieved in spite of the most vicious submarine and air attacks against our merchant shipping. All honour is due to the Royal Navy, which must remain the supreme Service of the Armed Forces of the Crown.
I agree with the Prime Minister that if from now on we play our cards well there can be no question of how this war must end; not only must it end in our favour, but more important—
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Cary
As I was saying,. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that if 104 from now on we play our cards well there can be no question of how this war must end, not only ending in victory but promising the outright military defeat from the West of Hitler's Third Reich. Victory for us in the West has now become a legitimate ambition. I would ask other Allied nations to bear in mind that second fronts are not of limited application in geography, and that to continue to fight the enemy wherever he may appear or may be sought out is perhaps the best method of co-operation between the Allied nations.
At the beginning of the Recess in my own particular locality a large deputation waited upon the Lord Mayor of Manchester and asked for immediate action for the opening-up of a second front. The deputation claimed to represent 150,000 workers in surrounding industries. I think the time has come for a little straightforward speaking about this vital matter, which must do so much to shorten the war. No one, least of all the Prime Minister, would wish to damp down a natural desire for action. Surely he above all men would be the first to take some sudden action in removing any number of Nazis from the world, but my right hon. Friend has to put business before pleasure. I also hate the suggestion that the continuance of Russia's superb resistance is dependent or conditional upon something being done elsewhere. We have heard from the Prime Minister to-day of the superb leadership given to Russia by Premier Stalin. I have not the slightest doubt that that leadership will not fail.
When we do begin our attack in the West—call it a second front, call it what you will—we want our second front to be a freehold, not a tenancy. It will require better soldiers, better guns and better generalship than Germany's. It will require a level of training which will give us the advantage when the fight opens, and a margin of staying-power when it ends. Above all, we want to force the enemy to fight at the time, in the place and under the conditions best suited to ourselves. The period of "dare" in fighting this war is long since over. Cold calculation and exact planning to defeat the counter-planning of the German general staff are the only method. The deciding battle of this war will be the great engagement which must take place between the British-American 105 Army and the German Army. It is the battle the world is waiting for, and anyone can prophesy that the gaps in the man-power of all three nations engaged will, for many years after this war has ceased, be felt by those nations, and practically beyond repair. Many Members during the Recess have been heartened by seeing in so many parts of our country thousands of gallant American soldiers. We welcome them, and, as the Prime Minister has said, they represent a substantial fortification of our own efforts. The newspapers have catalogued a number of small isolated unfriendly incidents. It would indeed be strange if this sort of thing did not occur. But let us as a nation be at pains to be most tolerant and understanding hosts to these new Armies. This is the way I look at it. A high percentage of these men may not see the United States again, and Great Britain is the last free country many of them may know. I should like them to leave it, loving it and looking upon it as their own, and knowing it as the last free stronghold of democracy.
Sir Earle Page a few weeks ago prophesied that this war would last 10 years, that the Allies would lose the first four years and the Germans would lose the last six. I would be astonished if the German nation could suffer six years in reverse. Another Empire statesman, Mr. Nash, who "The Times" described as a friendly critic, and who is a great friend of this country, took us to task for not taking more trouble with or, at this juncture, more interest in the problems of post-war reconstruction. I think it would be a great mistake to divert too many of our energies to that sort of work or even to divert the minds of our people to considering what might follow this war. There is confidence of the victory in the West, but also a tendency to oversimplify the circumstances of victory day by stating what we failed to do to Germany in 1918. Twenty-three years ago the French and ourselves had suffered millions of casualties, inflation had poisoned our financial system, our delicate capitalist business machinery, which alone sustained the enormous population of these Islands, was in ruins. Tens of thousands of men overseas wanted to come home, and many of their civilian relatives demanded the return home of their surviving men. In those circumstances exhaustion and war sickness were 106 not all on the German side. If we had embarked on the occupation of Germany with a gigantic army of our own, a civilian army, for the purpose of civilising a demobilised and demoralised German army, I think it would have been a total failure.
Against what we did then such an occupation seems even now to me to be a fantastic alternative. Both our countries have terrible years ahead. Both sides are fighting for their lives. In my opinion it will go to the last bitter round, and the victor may have no more than a slender margin of staying-power left at the end. I would ask the Government not to associate themselves in any way with false hopes for the aftermath of victory. Rather let them devote all their energy to keeping the nation's will fixed on the one objective of overthrowing the Nazi tyranny by making all three Fighting Services the champions of every engagement If the Government do that, they will have served their country well. As far as my own constituency is concerned, the Prime Minister and his colleagues still enjoy the full confidence of the people.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
The Prime Minister, in giving his resumé of the war situation to-day, has given us a vivid insight into a large number of matters over a very wide field, but I feel, and I am sure I speak for many in this House, that he has not given us enough detailed information on certain matters which the House and which the country will wish to have. Dealing with the arrangements in the Middle East—the desert Army's affairs, as the Prime Minister described them—he gave us a good deal of detail. He described the arrangements of the Army. He made what to me was the very shocking revelation that Rommel was able to make his swift advance because of the equipment, ammunition, and supplies left behind by us. He gave us a great deal of detail about that campaign, and gave us—justifiably, so far as I am able to judge—by his words encouragement about the resisting powers of the Army defending Egypt, a point of defence vital for the whole of the world war.
When the Prime Minister dealt with the even more important matter of—I took down his own words at the time—the continuous effort to unify command between ourselves and the United States—those 107 were the only two countries he mentioned at first—he told us that there had been a very important mission in this country in July last, that it spent, I think, 10 days here, in continuous consultation, and that a very great measure of understanding and agreement was reached. That is, to my thinking, one of the most important parts of the Prime Minister's speech. Complete understanding and agreement between all the United Nations is the most important need at the present time. When my right hon. Friend was speaking from these benches just now, I ventured to interject a question as to whether the Prime Minister, when he was in Russia, had arranged equally close collaboration with Premier Stalin, leading to a united strategy. It is this united strategy between ourselves, the United States, the U.S.S.R., and China—and I regret that China seems to have been rather left out of the picture—as well as the other United Nations, to which we must address our efforts.
I have been an advocate on public platforms of what is known as the second front, because I believe that Germany can be beaten and brought to her knees, as she must be, only by an attack on land in Europe from this country as well as the attack from the Soviet Union. But it is really incorrect to speak of a second front, because in this world war there is really only one front. It has different sections. There is the front of the oceans, in which we hold the offensive in our hands in nearly all places—and in which our effort, I think, has been somewhat under-estimated. Were it not for the tremendous power of the British Navy, now fortunately added to by the American Navy, on the seas, the war could not have continued to this moment, whatever forces there had been on land. That front on the sea is of the first importance. But that other front on land, which stretches from the Arctic down through Leningrad and Moscow and Stalingrad, through the Caucasus and through the countries of the Near East, to Egypt and Libya, is of equal importance; and every part of that land front is as much our front as it is the front of the Soviet people.
The Soviet people at this moment are hotly contesting Stalingrad, where I understand there is a concentration of German troops, land forces and air forces, stronger than that which was in France 108 at the time of the fall of France. Whether that is so or not, the concentration of German troops against Stalingrad is' undoubtedly greater than anything we have seen in this war. The Russian troops there are not fighting an isolated battle for Stalingrad; they are not fighting merely to uphold the liberties and rights of the Soviet people; they are fighting a key battle in the world war, and what they do affects us as much as it does them. Until that realisation can enter into the minds of all of us we have not realised the meaning of this global war, as President Roosevelt calls it.
Is it true that there are on the Russian front at present 75 per cent. of Germany's effective military forces and air forces? Is it true that with one-quarter of his forces Hitler is keeping all the rest of the world with which he is in immediate opposition engaged, keeping Europe in subjection, keeping our forces here inactive, keeping the Americans inactive, and also carrying on the strenuous attacks which Rommel is delivering in Egypt? If that is true, what is going to happen if Hitler can succeed in his clear, obvious, and simple plan of driving back the Russians to the Volga, and fortifying the Volga as his East wall, which he could maintain, according to competent military critics, with a comparatively small army, enabling him to turn the rest of his armies on to some other front. I do not say that he is going to turn the rest of his armies on to this country; no doubt the fortress of Great Britain would be by-passed. Where he might turn them is to the Near East and Iraq, to make a junction there with Japan. I do not think we have been given enough information by the Prime Minister as to these possibilities, and as to what we are doing. I have strongly advocated the opening of an offensive by this country, with the assistance of the Americans, on the Continent of Europe. I have advocated that because only by smashing the Germans on land will you beat these prodigiously well-armoured and well-generaled men. You cannot do it by this long-distance bombing of the cities of Germany, which may have excellent results on their production, and, therefore, on supplies in six, nine or 12 months' time, but which does not affect the immediate issue of the fighting on the Russian front, which is the front that matters. Cannot the Prime Minister give us some more explanation about that?
109 Cannot he also tell us why this Government, under this Prime Minister, which has been in existence now for two years and three months, is not more ready to take action on land than it is at present? I do not underrate the immense effort which this country has made. I do not underrate the tremendous effort we have made upon the sea—an effort which, as I said just now, I think has been underrated—which is just as important as the land front in Russia; but, after two years and three months of a Government pledged to an all-out war effort, we ought to be more ready than we are to strike a blow.
I do not doubt ultimate victory. I know the spirit of our people, of the Dominions, of the Soviet Union, of the Allied Nations and of the United States of America under their great leader, President Roosevelt, but I do not want this war to be prolonged for two, four, six or more years, but to be brought to an end at an earlier period. If we allow Hitler at the present time to immobilise the Russian Forces by building an east wall on the Volga river, who then could say how long this war will continue, if Hitler is then free to dispose of his effectives on any other front he pleases? Do not let us exaggerate, or rather do not let us minimise the very great advantages which Hitler obtains at the present time from having the whole effective production strength of Europe at his disposal. We know that there is sabotage, that there is "Go Slow" and an unwillingness to co-operate, but not everywhere, and we know his difficulty in getting things done. But let us be so foolish or impotent as to allow Hitler to make a junction with the Japanese, and then he will have not only the productive power of Europe at his disposal but the national resources of the tropical world as well as the production resources here. This is a very real threat. Every competent military observer will, I believe, consider it to be at least a threat, and some consider it a very grave threat, and, if there is this possibility in front of us, the survey which the Prime Minister has given to us, fine and in some ways refreshing as it is, is not sufficient.
We are entitled to come back to the question with which I began and to which I hope we shall be given some answer at the end of the Debate—What progress has been made towards unifying the strategy 110 of this country, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and of all the United Nations in order that we may use all our resources at the point where the enemy is weakest and oppose him where he is strong with defensive forces, that we may have our forces concentrated and not dispersed, that they may be one spearhead directed at the German heart and not a whole flock of little arrows thrown around here, there and everywhere? We want to hit with all the Forces of the United Nations behind our Forces, and that can only be done if we have a united strategy and unity of command which will insist upon that being done.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again" [Major Sir James Edmondson], put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.