04 October, 2010

Day 87 - Battle of Britain

Trailing in the wake of its competitor, the Daily Mail led with the reshuffle, focusing on John Reith being moved from the Ministry of Transport and given the job of planning for post-war reconstruction. Reith was also charged with organizing immediate repairs for those buildings which could not wait, and "in all probability" starting an immediate investigation into the question of providing "more and better air-raid shelters". The other big change the paper highlighted was the promotion of Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, into the War Cabinet in order to "represent the trade unions".

The Daily Worker was not in the least impressed with the appointment of Morrison. Having taken over the Home Office, he will, like Anderson, keep-at-it refusing deep shelters and suppressing democratic rights, the paper said. The job of holding down the people as the new round of the fight for air raid protection begins has been entrusted to this Labour leader, notorious for his reactionary views.

By coincidence, on this very day, Aneurin Bevan in The Tribune chose to launch an offensive on domestic war aims. Countering the "big picture" rhetoric of the war leader, he authored a two-page piece entitled "War Aims Begin at Home".

Rumour was reaching him, he wrote, that the Government was moving in the issue and was about to make a statement. "It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the statement about to be made", he wrote. "If it is conceived boldly and inspired by social and political penetration, it will do more than all the armies and the air and water navies to bring victory to the Allies and hope to the world".

The Tribune, Bevan added, along with other enlightened journals, like the New Statesman and Nation, had urged upon the Government "the paramount necessity of giving us the blue prints of the kind of world the Allies intend to build if victory goes to Allied arms".

We have insisted, he said, "that the right war aims will be the most powerful kind of armament we can employ against the enemy, for if the aims are intelligently thought out they can be expected to start a ferment among the oppressed populations under Nazi power which will increasingly embarrass the Nazi rule".

However, Bevan was going further than this, arguing that the sincerity of any such aims would be judged by the willingness of the Government to adopt sweeping social reforms at home. These would be "an earnest of what we intend for the rest of Europe when we, are victorious".

In Berlin, reported the Daily Express citing Nazi radio, Hitler had ordered the authorities to rush the construction of deep shelters under Berlin's big public buildings, which were to be reserved for young children and expectant mothers. Effective confirmation of the diminishing invasion threat came from the Italian press. It, like the rest of the world's media – including the Daily Express, which gave the story the front-page lead – was monitoring a much advertised meeting between Hitler and Mussolini.

This was at the Brenner Pass, where the two dictators spent three hours together in an armoured train, a gift from the F├╝hrer to the Duce. And what was particularly noteworthy was that Hitler was no longer talking about invading Britain. In Rome, the newspaper, Il Popolo di Roma, spoke of a long war in prospect, with Germany unable to invade Britain this year. That may have been unwelcome to Hitler, who had wanted a short war, but it spelled grave danger for Britain, which could not sustain its current shipping losses.

The line in Berlin from Foreign Office spokesmen was that the two leaders had discussed an appeal to the British to call off the war. Shirer covered the meeting from Berlin. "The best guess here", he wrote to his diary, "is that Mussolini is sore because the Germans apparently have abandoned the idea of invading Britain this fall, leaving him holding the bag with his offensive in the Egyptian desert". AP writer Kirke L. Simpson wrote that "[t]he battle of England seems slated to bog down into a tragic winter stalemate of attrition". Yet it also meant that England "will enjoy surcease from fears of the worst – successful Nazi invasion". On the other hand, it faced new fears – of increasing shortages and grave economic stress.

The productive Simpson also wrote of Spain that it had voted to stay out of the war. General Franco was not convinced Britain was beaten. He was apprehensive that an airtight British blockade of Spain would invite starvation-bred disorders that could unseat him as military dictator. He had no intention of stepping in to grasp at the Axis-preferred Gibraltar prize until it was far more certain that Britain had been beaten.

Mrs Churchill had been out and about in Chingford, the Prime Minister’s constituency, accompanied by Jock Colville. It had not been all sweetness and light. One woman, who had been bombed out, looked at the party, and complained: "It is all very well for them, who have all they want; but we have lost everything".

Meanwhile, Winston appeared to be responding to the chorus of concerns about the shipping situation when he addressed the War Cabinet. He had, he told his ministers, discussed the matter with the Defence Committee. Their view was that suitable weather for an invasion "was not likely to prevail on many occasions during the winter months", so it would be right to divert a number of destroyers and anti-submarine trawlers from anti-invasion duties, to reinforce shipping escorts. He also hoped to have ten further destroyers and six corvettes available for service in the next four weeks, including vessels received from the USA. The growing crisis, though – as was shortly to become apparent – had not been resolved.

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