27 October, 2010

Day 110 - Battle of Britain

The long-running Petain saga seems to be coming to a close, with the word "collaboration" high up in the lists of comment. France, somewhat under force majeure, is to integrate politically and economically with Germany, as part of the Nazi's idea of a new world order. However, Petain seems to have avoided full military integration, with a declaration of war against Great Britain. It is still a hostile power, but not a belligerent. The United States threatens to seize French overseas possessions if military co-operation between Vichy and Germany is too close.

In the same edition of the Observer, where we see the news on France, there is also news of the Empress of Britain. German radio has declared her sunk. This is premature as, even as the paper rolls of the presses, a heroic struggle is under way to get the ship into port. The coup de grace comes not until tomorrow. The New York Times, on the other hand, has the ship on fire and beyond salvage.

This day, a German radio message is picked up by a radio listening post in Britain. Deciphered by the top-secret facility at Bletchley, and included in the "Ultra" intercepts, it instructs German forces gathered at the invasion ports "to continue their training according to plan". This is interpreted as meaning that an invasion could hardly be imminent, if training was to continue. Churchill is informed of the intercept and the conclusion.

The next day, photographic reconnaissance picks up substantial movement of shipping out of the invasion ports. It is moving eastwards, away from Great Britain. By 2 November, Churchill's private secretary is writing in his diary that the prime minister "now thinks the invasion is off".

Meanwhile, tension between the Greeks and the Italians who are camped in Albania along the Greek border, are increasing. Late in the evening, Italian ambassador in Athens Emanuele Grazzi relays an ultimatum from Mussolini. It demands that Italian troops be allowed occupy strategic points in Greece. Ioannis Metaxas, the Greek dictator, rejects the ultimatum, noting "Alors, c'est la guerre". The Greeks know of the Italian plans and have already mobilised in the areas facing the expected attack.

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