§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
I am very glad that the Prime Minister agreed a week ago that the Motion for the Adjournment to-day would furnish a suitable occasion for hon. Members to raise the question of our help to Russia. I believe the whole House will be grateful to him for having arranged that the Foreign Secretary should come here and reply to the Debate. It is, I think, right that this question should be raised. It is one of the duties of hon. Members of this House to voice the feelings of the people in the country; and no one who has been about the country in recent weeks can doubt that there has been deep and widespread anxiety about the war in Russia and about what the British Forces have done to help Russia in her hour of need.
Some observers, whose judgment I usually respect, have called that feeling "anger." I think some things have made the people angry—: the Government warning, during the first month of Russia's magnificent resistance, that Hitler might abandon his unswerving rule of "one by one" and that, if he did so, that was "the invasion season," the famous article by the Secretary of State for War, which certainly produced upon his Army an effect very different from that which he desired; the use of the word "sacrifice" to describe the despatch of arms to Russia; the announcement that our rations would be improved and that we should have better Christmas dinners.
I am not discussing whether, on those points, the Government were right or wrong. I know they could produce very 1944 strong arguments on each of them. I am only saying that they made the people angry. But the main feeling in the country is not one of anger. It consists, I think, of two things. The first is a generous but bitter sense of frustration that it should still be possible for Hitler to go on taking his victims one by one, a feeling of passionate resentment that we cannot share, and thereby lighten, the fearful onslaught which the Russian people have so magnificently endured. The second is this: Day by day people reach that we have shot down Italian pilots in German Stukas at Sollum, that we have captured German tank-crews on the Libyan frontier, the members of which were under 20 years of age and very? "humble and afraid"; that the German High Command is making desperate efforts to get more troops from Mussolini, to raise another 10 Rumanian divisions and to make the reluctant Bulgarians fight. They read that since the beginning of the Russian battle, the German occupying force in France has been reduced by half.
Day by day they rend of revolts and sabotage throughout the conquered countries; and of the death notices in the German papers which not even the Gestapo dare suppress-"To my dear son Hans, killed on the Eastern Front, as his father was in 1916 "and" To our dear son Fritz, killed in Russia. For 20 years our only care was to make him safe and free." Day by day our people are reminded that for four months Hitler has made a continuous Verdun on a front of 1,500 miles and that his losses have been colossal. They get the feeling that his army and air force are dangerously stretched, and remembering the course of events in 1918, they feel that he is taking colossal risks both with his army and at home. On the other hand, they see that if Russia breaks, our blockade is broken, the road to Iraq, Egypt and Africa lies open. And they think, therefore, that this may be for us the moment of his greatest weakness and that never again will he be so vulnerable to any aggressive action that we can take. As a result of all these things they have a kind of deep, instinctive conviction that this is a decisive opportunity which, if we miss it, may not soon recur. And naturally they find it very bitter that our great Army, our Navy and our Air Force cannot take a larger share in this battle and that the 1945 ghastly business of "one by one" must still go on.
I hope the Government will not treat that: feeling, either to-day or ever, with impatience, resentment or disrespect. I am sure that they will not, for I believe that in truth they share it. I have noticed in the papers that some of the Government's critics have been going round the country passing public resolutions for a second front in France. I remember that the advice given to us only four months ago by the far-sighted statesmen who sponsored these resolutions was very different. If we had taken that advice, there would have been no question of a second front in France; there would have been no front at all. We should have surrendered with Vichy France, or rather, we should have made a super-Munich two years ago. When I hear them talking of sinister forces now sabotaging our help to Russia, I remember that as late as June they were themselves sabotaging in our factories the making of the very arms they now want us to send to Russia. Such critics do nothing but harm to the cause they urge. Their attacks are both ignorant and wicked. Not even Lord Gort's despatches, which I hope have silenced for good and all some other critics of the Government, have taught them that in May, 1940, we had hardly begun the manufacture of arms; that you cannot improvise the switch-over of a nation to arms production; that it took Hitler six years to do it with all the power of his ferocious despotism to drive it on; that we have had barely 18 months in which to catch him up. The attacks of these critics are founded on a complete ignorance of the basic facts. But they are not only ignorant, they are wickedly malicious and mischief-making, too.
If they were right, the Government would have been guilty, not only of a military blunder, but of a treasonable crime against the nation. What right have they to make or to imply this monstrous charge? Have they forgotten the Prime Minister's declaration on the first day of the Russian war? That was an act of statesmanship, the effects of which, in my profound conviction, will be felt not only through the war but for decades after, when the war is done. It ensured for Russia, as perhaps nothing else could possibly have done, not only our help, but 1946 the help from the United States, which in the end will prove decisive. And our help to Russia did not begin with the Prime Minister's declaration. For a year, while these critics were urging us to make a "people's peace" with Hitler and Mussolini, we held the pass alone. What would have happened in the Baltic if we had not smashed the German Navy before Russia was attacked? What would the "Bismarck," "Gneisenau," "Scharnhorst," "Graf Spee" and all the rest, have done? What would the air attacks on Russia have been like if we had not destroyed 6,000 or 8,000 German aircraft and killed or captured the flower of their pilots and their crews? Have these critics forgotten the campaigns in Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete, which were gloriously justified by their immediate military results alone, but which, above all, as we now know for certain, delayed the attack oh Russia by six vital weeks? They may be the six weeks by which Hitler loses the war. Have these critics forgotten that our Expeditionary Force in Singapore, our making of the Burma Road, our moral and material help to China, our alliance with the Dutch East Indies, our drastic economic sanctions against Japan, have for four months already held back the crazy militarists of Tokyo from breaking Russia's lifeline to America? Perhaps these measures may yet succeed in preventing altogether that felonious but very dangerous attack. Have these critics forgotten that our campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Persia have prevented the encirclement of Turkey and of the Caucasus, and have kept open other vital routes of supply to Russia?
In all these ways we have served our own interest, of course, but we have also rendered services of great importance to Russia. By so doing, we have been obliged to disperse our strength in widely scattered fields of action, and we have made great drains on our still far too limited sources of supply. Yet in spite of that, we have also made other and more direct contributions to Russia's own war effort since her battle began. It was always certain that if Russia stood, it would become a war of attrition on the most colossal scale. That meant that Russia must be certain of her long-range supplies. She could make full use of her resources only if she knew that they 1947 would be replaced. Economic help, therefore, and help in armaments, aircraft, tanks and guns was vital. Something has been made public of the economic help which the Ministry of Economic Warfare has organised and sent. Preparations had been made before the Russian war began; our Economic Mission under Mr. Laurance Cadbury left this country four days after war began; cargoes of vital war materials were diverted and released; shipping was allocated; loans were made; and I believe it is true to say that a great part of the economic help which Russia asked for has in fact been sent. We have sent fighter aircraft, hundreds of them, the Prime Minister told us. No less important, we have diverted aircraft from America which were coming to us. That is real help, because the Russians have reserves of skilled pilots to fly these aircraft when they arrive. We have begun to send them tanks, and we have diverted tanks from the United States. Above all, we have promised to go on sending aircraft, tanks and guns in a steady stream, together with quantities of war materials not far short of what the Russian Government asked for a little while ago. Let us not forget that astonishing scene in the Kremlin when to item after item Mr. Harriman said "Agreed" and Lord Beaverbrook said "O.K," and when Mr. Litvinov, in his excitement, rose and slapped his thigh.
Do not let us under-estimate the part which our own Armed Forces have played in the defence of Russia in the last four months. We have sent a wing of fighters who have been in action and have made a splendid start. Our Naval Forces and Fleet Air Arm have done everything they could, on one occasion at least with heavy losses to themselves, to co-operate in destroying Nazi expeditions against the most Northern Finnish front. Much more important, our bomber and our fighter forces have pressed their offensive in the West to the utmost limit of what the weather would allow. In doing that they have inflicted losses on enemy shipping, which is important to Russia. They have done considerable damage to enemy ports and railways, and some damage, at least, to his armament factories of various kinds.
But in addition, and much more important, they have, as we were told on 1948 the wireless the other clay—and I have the best reasons for believing it to be true—held in the West more than half the whole fighter force of the Luftwaffe. The Russians have a splendid new dive bomber, the Stormovik; I have heard a first-hand account of it from a British pilot who saw it at Leningrad. It has played a great part in the defence of Leningrad and Moscow. It is more heavily armoured, and therefore less vulnerable, than the German Stuka. But any dive bomber in a land battle is "easy meat" for a fighter, and what has it meant for Russia, therefore, that half the Nazi fighter forces, and that does not include the Messerschmitts in Libya, are pointing westwards against us? Taking these things together, our war effort over the last two years, our destruction of the German Navy, our weakening of the Luftwaffe, our economic help, our dispatch of arms, our promise of growing long-term support, our actual Naval and Air Force co-operation—our help to Russia has not been a little thing. No Government could have done it unless its heart were in the work. And, indeed, I think the Government might fairly claim that all this war effort and direct assistance may already have made the difference to Russia between successful resistance and defeat.
I have tried to state all this as clearly and as fully as I can, because with great respect, the Government themselves have not done so yet, and because I do not think the general public outside fully realises what has been done. But I must in honesty go on to say that, if the general public did realise it, it would not wholly remove the doubts and anxieties to which they are a prey. What they want to know is this: Do the Government sufficiently realise, do they realise with enough urgency, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) asked them three weeks ago to realise, that Russia is not an important side show, that it is, in his words, the vital theatre of the war? Do they think of the Russian resistance as giving them a supreme opportunity, an opportunity for which, of course, they are not fully prepared but which, if Russia failed, might not return? Do they sufficiently realise that this may in very truth be Hitler's moment of greatest weakness against us? They have had four months. Have they done enough to bring our full resources and our 1949 armed strength into this decisive fight? Have they acted from June onwards with all the speed and all the decision that were required?
When I ask these questions I confess to sharing in some measure the doubts and anxieties of so many of the public. I have often expressed my admiration, and more than admiration, for the Government's conduct of the war in what, 18 months ago, was very nearly a desperate situation. I believe they are entitled to claim, as the Prime Minister claimed the last time he spoke here, that they have shown restraint and courage, prudence and daring, as the case required. But the Government themselves would never claim that they have never failed, that they have made no mistakes. I am sure they have made crave mistakes. And I believe that those mistakes have principally consisted in not seeing the total identity of interest between our Allies and ourselves, in not thinking of our Allies' territories and of their armies and their campaigns as though they were in very truth our own. It is an almost inevitable failing of any General Staff. It happened continually in the last war. It is the oldest and the most general mistake in war from the beginning of time. Marlborough suffered terribly from it from the Dutch. Who has forgotten the Prime Minister's brilliant chapter on "The unfought Waterloo." He said:The Dutch wore out Fortune with their sluggish precautions. They feared their fate too much.Looking back to Norway, I believe we did the same when the cruisers were ordered back from Bergen at the last minute on that first fateful day. I have discussed that war in Norway with Norwegian officers who fought it in the mountains and the woods, and they believe, as I believe, that if we had answered their entreaties and taken Bergen and Trondheim, as they were certain that we could, we should have driven the Nazis out of Norway and kept them out. If we had done that, would not Norway, with its naval bases and its aerodromes and its natural resources have been a tremendous offset to the loss of France; and what would have been the effect on Sweden and Finland?
Looking back to the Albanian campaign of the Greek Army, what would 1950 it have meant if we had thought of that campaign as genuinely and absolutely our own? For months that campaign was "touch and go." The Greeks were near successes that might have driven the Italians to the sea. Suppose we had had a couple of squadrons bombing the two rotten little ports through which Mussolini was supplying an army of 300,000 men. It is not impossible that that alone might have made the whole difference to the result. Suppose we had raised the Albanians in revolt behind the Italians. We could have done it. I know the objections that were made, and I know from where they came. I thought then, and I think now, they should have been swept ruthlessly aside. How immensely different the Foreign Secretary's visit to the Middle East would have been in the Spring, if Albania had been cleared of Fascists when he arrived. Where else could two squadrons have had the chance of helping to achieve so immensely important a strategical result? All that winter our convoys were trying to take out new divisions of our own to the Mediterranean. If we could have given the Greeks the equivalent in war materials of what we give to two divisions, we might have saved a dozen divisions of their splendid troops.
I sometimes wonder whether we have not made the same kind of wrong appreciation about Russia now. When I say that I am not thinking primarily of what, I admit, is uppermost in the minds of the public, the use of our land Army. For my part, I fully accept the view that no-one outside the Cabinet and the General Staffs can form a useful judgment on the question of a Western Front. I think the Prime Minister is a thousand times right to refuse to allow the Government to be drawn into the discussion of future strategy and plans; and I wish all his Ministers and all his Ambassadors would take that view. I am certain that nothing more constantly preoccupies the Government mind than the problem of drawing off or keeping away Hitler's land divisions from the Russian front. I am sure that I can say nothing which they have not thought of and over which they have not pondered many times. But perhaps it may serve a useful purpose if I say here some things which are being said very insistently outside. The country is ready for any sacrifice to help the Russians. 1951 The Army wants to fight. The Government can count on the most absolute support, whatever it commands. And, alas, it is only in action that an army learns to fight. The more action the Government can give it, the readier our Army will be for the supreme test, if that test should come.
It is not only in Western Europe that the British Army can bring aid to Russia. The War Office used to say that our frontier was on the Rhine; today, we all know that our frontier is on the Volga and the Don. India, Iraq, Egypt and Africa must all be defended in the Caucasus, and the Caucasus must be defended on the Ukraine front to-day. My right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley drew attention three weeks ago to the vital importance of the Caucasus. I venture the assertion that, if the Caucasus is held until next summer, the war is won. We have now powerful land Forces in the Middle East, and we cannot use them all in Libya. I believe that our people would be very happy if some part of this Force could be sent to support the Russian Armies in the Ukraine. It would be no easy enterprise, because supply would be a serious problem; but it is by overcoming serious problems that wars are won. There is more than one route by which supplies could be sent. If this can be done, I hope the Government will tell. General Auchinleck and General Wavell that one division sent in the near future may be worth three divisions in six or eight months' time.
It is not by our own Armies only that we can keep Hitler's land divisions away from Russia. Throughout Europe now there is a vast movement of unrest. In some countries there is large-scale, very large-scale, guerilla warfare, and in others leading German officers are being shot. Everywhere sabotage is going on. I sometimes hear it said that we must now try to damp this movement down, because it will only evoke savage reprisals, and that the time to do it has not come. I profoundly disagree with that argument and all that it implies. I deplore the Nazi reprisals as much as anybody; but whatever will shorten the conflict will involve the least bloodshed in the end. I cannot doubt that this movement, from the winter night of 1952 Northern Norway to the mountain fastnesses of Crete, will do very much to curb and reduce the power of Hitler to strike at Russia. There are many things we can do to encourage and to help this movement; and I hope the Government will do them, and do them now.
But I must say quite frankly that I believe that our power to help Russia, and to help any Ally—I think this has always been true—lies far more in the air than on the land. In every battle in this war air mastery has proved decisive. By air power Hitler bombed his way to victory in Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, Greece and Crete. It was the R.A.F. which saved Britain, cleared the way for General Wavell and stopped von Rommell's very dangerous attack. It is in the air that we have a firm lead in quality over the enemy, and in which we have the best hope of catching him up in quantity as well. I hope that the Government will not allow the Minister of Supply, with his usual methods, to divert a single ton of raw material from aircraft to guns or tanks. That is the more important, because in Russia, as elsewhere, air mastery, wherever it has been established, has proved decisive.
I do not feel convinced that we have given to Russia all the assistance that we could have given her. We could have helped her more in three different ways. The first is that we could have sent more aircraft for their own pilots to use, and sent them much more quickly than we did. Before Russia was invaded we were confident that we were strong enough to meet a Nazi attack upon us whenever it should come. But the day after Russia was invaded we knew that we were at least 1,000 aircraft stronger vis-à-vis the Germans than we had been before, and we knew that we had a respite of some time before they could attack. Why could we not have sent to Russia the equivalent of a full month's production from our aircraft factories, taking the machines from our reserves? If we had done that we should have heard a lot about it in the communiqués and in the Press by now. In any case, we now know that the Luftwaffe has suffered immense losses and that it will take Hitler many months to rebuild his squadrons. Surely, now is the time to draw very 1953 heavily on our reserves of aircraft, to throw them into this decisive battle, to rely on our expanding production here and in the United States to safeguard the future, and to give Russia, so far as it is in our power, everything she needs.
The second way is that we ought to have sent to Russia more of our own squadrons, particularly fighter squadrons, to help them on the eastern front. We have sent one wing; but a wing is an elastic formation, which may be very small. One wing is just enough to prove that the thing can be done, that it succeeds, and that it could, therefore, have been done on a far greater scale. I know that our fighter squadrons are doing good work on this side, and I have already said so; but I am sure they would do far better work over there. The Stuka dive-bombers are the greatest single danger to the Russian defence. If we want to smash the power of the Luftwaffe against this Island, we must get the Spitfires up against the Stukas in a land battle wherever we can do so. In the early stages of the Battle of France, in accordance with the then doctrine of our air staff, the vast majority of our fighting squadrons sat in this country doing nothing. Later in the battle, the R.A.F.— in the Prime Minister's words—used "part of its main metropolitan strength to strike at the German bombers and the fighters which accompanied them." By so doing at Dunkirk and elsewhere, it destroyed 2,500 German machines, with victories of more than four to one. It may well be argued that if this "part of our main metropolitan force'' had not been used in that battle, then the Battle of Britain might have come much sooner; and that it might never have been won. If we had a strong force of fighters defending Leningrad or Moscow, it might have weakened the Luftwaffe four times more than that same force had been able to weaken it on this side; it might have played a great part in keeping the Russian Armies and their line intact; above all, that concrete evidence of our large scale and strong support might have had a great effect on the morale of the Russian troops on which, in the last resort, victory may depend. Again, I hope that we shall send strong forces now.
The third way in which we could give the Russians more help in the air, perhaps decisive help, help which, I believe, from 1954 their policy they desire, is for the R.A.F. to go back to its old policy of bombing German oil. Everybody agrees that this is an oil war. Expert evidence, common sense and the whole strategy of Hitler's campaigns prove to demonstration that oil is by far Hitler's weakest single point. The Russians' policy has shown that they think so too. The main figures of his supply and of his normal estimated needs and probable stocks are all well known. If I may, I respectfully recommend the Foreign Secretary to read a new expert study of them in that admirable French monthly, "La France Libre." I know the author, and his qualifications entitle his opinion to the highest possible respect. He declares that the lowest estimate of Hitler's consumption must be 1,000,000 tons a month; that that figure increases with every advance which his armies make; that he cannot exploit the agriculture of the Ukraine without oil, which he has not got at the present time; that his reserve stocks cannot at the present rate of expenditure last for very long. Well, we know that half his current supply comes from synthetic plants and the other half has to pass through refineries at Ploesti and in Germany and Italy.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend? Will he tell the House what the reserve stocks are, because the whole argument really depends on that?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The estimate made by this author was that they amounted some time ago to five or six million tons, of which not all could be moved about, and that when they were used up Hitler would have to rely on the current supplies of which I am now speaking. All these refineries and synthetic plants are targets which the R.A.F. can reach and bomb. I know they are not very easy targets, but last year the R.A.F. got some remarkable results. They made Politz a raging sea of fire half a mile square; they put the plant at Misburg—a very big plant—out of action for six months; they did tremendous damage at Emmerich and elsewhere. But since Christmas, so far as I have been able to discover, they have hardly attacked any oil targets at all. If, in the Middle East, the Royal Air Force could destroy the Italian oil plants at Naples and Bari, they would do more than they could in any other way to hamper the Axis forces, not only in Libya but in the whole of the Central Mediterranean, by 1955 land and sea and air. They could impose the greatest difficulties on the Italians in the transport of their oil. Both Bari and Naples are within very easy range. Our bombers go to Naples very often. The other night they attacked the arsenal, the torpedo factory, the Alfa-Romeo works, the railway station, shipping and the docks; but they left the oil plant religiously alone. It looks as if the Middle East Command were left to choose its own targets on day-to-day tactical considerations only, without any guidance based on a broad strategical plan. But, for the Axis, oil supplies are a single common pool; every target is a vital target; and in the destruction of those targets the surest hope of Russia's safety and of our victory may easily lie.
I have tried to impress on the Government the anxiety that is weighing on the hearts of very many of our people at the present time. I have tried to state to those anxious people the full extent of the great services which we have rendered to Russia, and are rendering now. I have urged upon the Government that, while they have done much, they might have done still more. I have tried to suggest ways in which by land and in the air our help could be even more effective in the months to come. But my main purpose, first, last and all the time, is to tell the Government that they can count upon the people. The people have an instinct, amounting to a deep conviction, that the supreme crisis of the war has now begun. They have been profoundly moved by events in Russia. Hour by hour, day by day, they can never forget the millions of men, women and children who are resisting, with self immolating heroism, the most powerful and cruel onslaught in the history of mankind. They want to share that ghastly Calvary. They are ready to take risks—grave risks—for Russia. Let the Government be very sure that, whatever they decide, this House and this nation will see them through.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I confess that I cannot altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), because although he began his speech by giving what seemed to me a very clear and detailed statement of the various methods in which we have been giving assistance 1956 to our Russian Allies, later on he appeared rather to contradict the position he had at first taken up. At the beginning I gathered that he could hardly find anything more that the Government could do, and that not only could he not find anything more that the Government could do, but he was convinced—and I share his opinion in this matter—that the Government were second to none in their desire to do everything that was humanly possible in the present circumstances to help our Russian Allies. He concluded by making some suggestions as to how that aid to Russia could be increased. He mentioned—and here is one point on which I wish to join issue with him— that we should do more in the air, that wherever air supremacy had been found it had been decisive.
I would, however, like to remind him and the House that although air supremacy is certainly essential to the success of any campaign it is necessary to have ground forces as well to exploit and make use of that air supremacy. Ground forces superior to those of the enemy will be useless in the absence of air supremacy, but it is impossible to do very much on the ground if you have no ground forces, even if you have air supremacy from time to time in that area. I think there are many false ideas floating around in this country, based on a completely incorrect analogy between what is loosely termed "command of the sea" and "command of the air." They are not the same.
The final point I made a note of was the suggestion my hon. Friend made to the effect that the Royal Air Force should return to its policy of bombing oil supplies. He mentioned the specific case of attacks on Naples, and definitely stated that the Royal Air Force in recent attacks had left the oil plant there religiously alone. I have not been favoured with a glance at the operation orders issued to the Royal Air Force squadron concerned, but I am bound to say that unless my hon. Friend knows it for a fact, I should be astonished to hear that any R.A.F. force bombing Naples had been given any instructions that oil refineries should be left religiously alone, because that seems to me to be the implication of his remark. I think it is quite as likely that they tried to hit them but did not succeed in doing so.
1957 Where I do agree entirely with my hon. Friend is that the question which is uppermost in the public mind at the present moment is this matter of assistance to Russia. As the truly heroic proportions of the resistance which our Allies are making become apparent, I think the people of this country are putting themselves through a most anxious self-examination. Are we doing all that is humanly possible to give aid to our Russian Allies? They go further than that, and ask themselves whether every risk that can rightly be run is being hazarded in order to help Russia. I venture to say, from personal knowledge, that in our war factories it is realised to the fullest extent that Russia's war is our war, and that our war is Russia's war. It is realised that the men who are dying in the Atlantic and those who are dying in front of Moscow are linked together by their sacrifice to a common cause.
But this altogether praiseworthy desire to give the utmost possible aid to Russia, which runs right through the country, has, in my judgment, provided a by-product which is neither helpful to us nor the Russians. A view is being heard in a number of directions that we should do something in the way of a Western front. This is the particular point to which I shall confine my remarks in the short time during which I intend to address the House. I would like to start by saying that there are other aspects of the war in which I by no means find myself in agreement with the Government, particularly in the conduct of political warfare, which I still think is lamentable, and I fear I shall have to continue to press my views in this matter on the Government for a long time to come. But I do think that in the particular respect of refusing to be moved by this ill-informed clamour for what is called opening-up the Western front the Government are absolutely correct.
§ Commander King-Hall
The hon. Member will hear that in the course of my observations. The criticism which one hears can be divided into two categories —the ordinary conversations which one hears, and certain public or semi-public statements, such as when the shop stewards were reported as having passed 1958 a resolution which they sent to the Prime Minister demanding the opening-up of a Western front, and pledging themselves not only to see that that opening was kept open, so to speak, but that aid would also be sent to Russia. I wonder how many of those who supported that resolution have the remotest notion of what is involved in that innocent-sounding phrase, that supreme example of wishful strategy, "Opening-up the Western front." I am sure that the shop stewards would be rightly astonished if I were to suggest that I should go into the toolroom of a factory and suggest that it was necessary to increase production by 500 per cent. and that I would give a guarantee that it would be done.
That point of view, nonsensical, as it seems to me, is almost more sensible than this extraordinary notion which some people seem to have, and share with the shop stewards, that one has only to say that one wants the Western front opened, and the job is done. In a well-known national daily recently has appeared a statement that there has occurred an uprising in favour of direct military aid for opening up a second military front such as this country has not seen since the outbreak of war. The writer said he had received letters from members of the Home Forces, one of which was quoted and which runs, "We are soldiers. We make a simple demand—open up the Western front. We demand immediate action." That communication is alleged to have come from seven soldiers in a well-trained infantry brigade. Whatever else they are trained in, they require the attention of an Army education officer for some elementary lessons in strategy.
In a weekly newspaper we are told that many strategists, not amateurs, believe that an attack on another front such as, "for example, the Peninsula at Cherbourg or Brest," might have turned the course of the war, that a diversion which might have turned the scales in Western Europe might have been possible. By this it is argued that at least 20 to 30 German divisions might have been brought back from the Eastern front to the West. It would be interesting to know who these strategists are who believe in this fantastic nonsense. If they were the General Staff of such an expedition, we could safely leave out the middle letter of B.E.F. We are confronted with the 1959 not uncommon spectacle of a Government which may need criticism in some respects being criticised for something in which they are being perfectly sensible and correct. It will be asked by the critics, "Are the Government being sensible or, when the full facts are revealed, shall we learn that the Prime Minister, with a timidity and lack of resolution which he has hitherto succeeded in hiding from the public, has been thrusting into the waste paper basket well-conceived schemes for the landing of great forces of well-equipped troops on the West coast of Europe, and so cause the German General Staff to transfer at least 20 to 30 divisions from the Eastern front?" I have some difficulty in relating that picture to reality or even probability. The picture I visualise is more one of the Prime Minister, very late at night, fortified no doubt by a cigar, cross-examining his Chiefs of Staffs severely, asking them if by any scheme or any device, something can be done to overcome the limitations of resources and geography which are the obstacles—
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, and I do not intend giving an opinion one way or another about a landing of forces, but in relation to the Greek campaign were not the Government in the same state of ignorance as the seven soldiers; should they not have had simple lessons in strategy?
§ Commander King-Hall
Opinions will differ, and looking backwards it might be said it would have been better if we had not sent our troops to Greece, but I am bound to say that at the time the political desirability of doing everything that could be done for Greece, and the comparatively limited number of troops involved, only two divisions, led me to favour the venture, though I would have preferred a brigade. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs went out there and, I presume, reported on the probabilities.
§ Dr. Thomas
But should he too not have had lessons in strategy as you suggest in the case of the seven private soldiers?
§ Commander King-Hall
I think that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who was with the Foreign Secretary, is fairly 1960 competent in strategy. If I may continue my argument, I have difficulty in imagining the Prime Minister sitting there, thrusting into the wastepaper basket well-conceived schemes for landing large Forces on the Western front.
In conclusion, I may, perhaps, put before the House some of the considerations which must be in the mind of anybody who wants to open up the Western front. There are about 20 German divisions in the West, and I think it is admitted, even by the critics themselves, that to do anything which would be of use to help the Russians in this respect we must draw at least 20 to 30 German divisions from the East to the West front. That means that our Forces must be capable of taking on 40 to 50 German divisions. The Prime Minister has told us that there are about three-quarters of a million men in the Middle East. The House will appreciate, even with the limited amount of knowledge available to any Member of Parliament, that one must be careful on the question of quoting figures, but if we were to denude this country of all the regular troops—I presume that even the critics do not suggest that the Home Guard should be withdrawn—I wonder how many divisions these critics think we could send at the present time to Western Europe. I mean divisions of fully equipped, trained troops, including some armoured divisions.
One is in a difficulty in making an estimate of what would be possible, but I think it is relevant to the issue if we bear in mind that in December, 1918, the population in this country had been able by then to raise 71 divisions. That was before we had very large forces, as we have now, in Civil Defence. There were fewer people in munition factories and not the same number of people in anti-aircraft defence. Further, the Royal Air Force, as we heard yesterday, in another place, was very much smaller than at present. It is quite impossible to send out from the United Kingdom any force which, if it could be landed in Western Europe, could take on 40 to 50 German divisions. I wonder whether the critics have worked out the amount of shipping that would be required for moving, say, 10 divisions.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that the Germans could afford when the landing took place 1961 to bring together all the divisions that they have scattered over Europe, keeping the occupied countries in subjection?
§ Commander King-Hall
The Germans are operating on interior lines. If we landed a force they would undoubtedly bring a large number of their forces to the decisive point. Do the critics realise that for months we have been told that the invasion ports have been blasted by the R.A.F.? Have they asked themselves which base, or bases, we should use; or do they think that a full-scale invasion of Europe can be conducted from an open beach? Have they considered the time that it took to land one small force in 1939, when there was no air opposition? Have they noted that the Air Ministry—though I imagine this is rather an exaggeration—suggest that 50 per cent. of the German fighter strength is in the West at the present time? Do these critics realise that, under modern conditions, a force can get ashore only under air protection, and that such a force would need to have all its air strength based in this country until we had penetrated some distance inland? I do not think they have thought out all these points. Some people may say, "All this is very pessimistic. Are you suggesting that for a long time it is unlikely that we shall be able to put a considerable force ashore in Western Europe?" Personally I doubt whether we should ever be able to put a force ashore in the West until the German forces began to disintegrate; but the Hitler Empire in Europe has a bottom, as well as two sides. The bottom is called Italy. That opens up possibilities which I will not attempt to deal with to-day. So much for the policy of a landing in the West which some people in all sincerity, and others in perhaps not quite so much sincerity, are advocating at the present time.
I would like to address a last word particularly to the Government. I regard it as the duty of Members of Parliament in time of war, particularly of total war, to do their best to instruct and inform their constituents on the broad issues of the war in the strategic sense. It is also the duty of the Government to realise that it is very difficult for Members of Parliament to obtain information, which they should obtain, unless the Government give them some facilities. Many Members find themselves obliged to give thought 1962 to questions of war strategy which have hitherto not been of particular interest to them, and they simply do not know what are the main problems involved in putting a force ashore. There is no mystery about these things. There should be more contact between Members of Parliament and the Armed Forces. Members should be given an opportunity of seeing an armoured division on the ground. Strategy is only applied commonsense, but in order to form a reasoned opinion on broad strategical issues it is necessary to have a rough working knowledge of the capabilities of the various weapons of war. That knowledge is clearly not possessed by those who think we could assist Russia by indulging at the present time in a hopeless attempt to land a large force in the West.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I hope that this Debate will not degenerate into the old discussion on the virtues of the Western front. Such a controversy kept us going throughout the whole of the last war. I want us to concentrate far more on how we can best help Russia Certainly I do not think that we can help Russia best by attacking the Communist Party. I thought the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) was admirable, except for the 10 minutes which he devoted to attacking Communists. If we start attacking people with whom we disagreed one or two or three years ago we shall break down our greatest asset, which is our unity. Let us forget the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who behaved very much in the same way as the appeasers behaved before him. Now, thank goodness, we have them all together. We want to keep them together. The whole point is, how we can best give help to Russia.
All the suggestions that have been made, whether for opening up the Western Front by an expeditionary force, or cut-and-run raids, or attacks on Sicily, Sardinia or Italy, or, as I prefer, direct assistance by British divisions fighting in the Caucasus side by side with our gallant Russian allies, should be considered only from the point of view of, which will be the greatest contribution to the common cause, which will keep Russia in the war? To save us from another Dark Age, we rely upon Russian courage and British resolution. If Russia surrenders, I doubt 1963 whether our resolution to hold out would endure for long, so tempting would be Hitler's offers of peace, a peace which, with power left in his hands, could be but the prelude to our submission. We should emphasise, first and foremost, the importance of British resolution. If Russia goes out, if America does not come in, if Hitler offers us, through whoever is his go-between—I do not know who that will be—terms whereby the British Empire would be left intact, our resolution must be firm, and we. must realise that any peace with Hitler, leaving Hitler in power anywhere, means merely a truce to be ended by a Third Punic war, in which we should be helpless. Hitler using the whole of Europe to build up not only his air power but his sea power would be supreme. In five years, with the whole resources of his conquered territories available, as they must be if he is left in power, he can outbuild us, and deprive us of our last safeguard, a supreme Navy. That is one of the things we must keep in mind all our lives—that there is no hope for us except by smashing Hitler.
Now we have a God-given chance of actually doing it. British resolution comes first; and, after that, we rely for our victory on Russian courage. Our businesss in judging the issue before us to-day is to decide how we can best maintain and stimulate that marvellous Russian courage, which I think few of us expected but all of us now admire. Obviously, the help we can give and the hope we can give to Russia must be based on what the Russians themselves desire. I remember at the beginning of the last war, when we were on the run in the West, in the early days of August, 1914, the Russians did fling into East Prussia a gigantic ill-equipped army, which was sacrificed absolutely and recklessly by the Russians in order to help our Western front. I think that possibly it was worth it, and that the Marne was due to troops being taken away from the Western front and sent over to smash the Russians at Tannenberg. It is possible that a similar sacrifice, even a repetition of Dunkirk, if it did save Russia, might be worth while. It is a matter of considering two risks. Is the greater risk a second Tannenberg, or is it a second Peace of Brest-Litovsk? A month ago, two months ago certainly, I would have felt that the risk of a second Brest-Litovsk 1964 was the greater risk. I am not so certain about it now.
It is a matter, I agree, for the Cabinet to judge, but in consultation with their Allies, and not on their own or on the suggestion of their expert advisers only. It is a question of taking both the partners in this desperate struggle into consultation. I know that this great body of public opinion in this country which is at present furious at what it thinks to be the inaction of the British Government would immediately withhold any form of criticism if it knew that what was being done was being done by the general approval of both the Allies and not the work of our expert advisers. Expert advisers have been far from accurate in their judgment in the past and are not trusted as implicitly as is the Prime Minister of this country. It is all a question of choice of risk. All war consists in the choice of risk, but fortunately in this case I think the risk is not merely between saving Russia from a second Peace of Brest-Litovsk and ordering a large sacrifice of our troops on the Continent of Europe. I think there are other and better ways of helping Russia, as effective as far as keeping up Russian courage is concerned and, probably more effective as far as that other war, the internal war in Europe, is concerned. We have to consider this question by taking a long view.
I have been much struck lately by what the hon. Member for Derby said, that there is a sort of campaign going on in this country now to say that we must call off the subject races of Europe from rising to murder Germans and to sabotage; that we should not call upon them to do it and sacrifice Themselves until we are ready to help. I think that that is a disastrous view. I see that the Free French Forces say something of the same sort to the French people in the papers to-day. You have to call upon these people now and all the time to make these sacrifices. If you leave it for a couple of years, they will accept the position. They will sink as slaves and, ultimately, accept their fetters. You have to stimulate every form of revolt. How can you combine that rising which is going on not only in France and Yugoslavia, but, as I verily believe, in Italy and even within the confines of Germany itself? How can we stimulate that and at the same time draw off some of the attack from Russia?
1965 I see that Lord Moyne yesterday, and my hon. Friend to-day, said that more than half the German fighter force was looking out for us in the Channel ports. I wonder from where they got that information? I do not altogether trust these reports. It may be the same source, the same people perhaps, that reported at the beginning of the war that one raid upon London would kill or wound 200,000 people. It is all guesswork. It was erroneous guesswork then, as we have since learnt, and I am afraid that it is just as likely to be erroneous guesswork and wishful thinking now. Does the House realise how difficult it is to get reports on these questions? Reports from the Secret Service are very difficult to get, and this report, I imagine, comes from the Air Force itself. I have noticed over and over again that either the Germans or the Russians or we have had a glorious day in which we have destroyed 40 aeroplanes on an aerodrome. I am conscious of the fact, and I think we all are, that there are a great many sham aeroplanes standing on aerodromes and very few genuine ones. Aeroplanes are not left standing on aerodromes. They are very apt to leave sham ones standing on the aerodromes and perhaps it is these flocks of sham fighter machines that have been seen and have given rise to this rumour.
But supposing it is so and that there is the presence of this immense number of fighter aeroplanes reserved by the Germans to prevent our landing in France, what sort of effect has it upon these Germans if they are told by Ministers of the Crown and Ministers of the Cabinet that we consider that it would be suicide to land in Europe to-day? The immediate result of that is that, if there are a great number of enemy fighters at the Channel ports to-day, they will be gone to-morrow. They will see that they will be no longer necessary. Whatever our views are why go out of the way to state publicly, so that the enemy shall know it, that you are not going to attack on the Western Front? It is madness. I think we can put the matter right still. We can put the matter right in the German mind, if not in our own, if we substitute for one large attack, attacks at 100 places a night, all along 4,000 miles of coast, feints of invasion. It is possible to treat the sea to trench raids similar to 1966 the trench raids carried out in the last war.
What was the object of the trench raids in the last war? It was to find out the weak spots in the enemy's lines, to get information as to what troops he had in a particular part of the line, and also to keep up the morale and standard of our own troops. Exactly the same thing applies to-day. If we want to find out whether there is this enormous fleet of fighters in France, or what are the morale, numbers and discipline of the German divisions, we can give our Army something that will put heart into them at the same time. We could allot to generals so many miles of land on the other side, so many ships, so many guns and electrically-driven boats that would carry a dozen men each. We could say to them, "Make your own plans. Here are maps of the other side, and these are the coasts we want you to have a look at." Put the matter into the hands of the men who want to do the job. At present I believe it is the hands of the Admiralty. It was not the Admiralty's job to carry out trench raids in the last war. This is exactly parallel. Let the Army land men one night, burn and kill, take a few prisoners and destroy, if possible, all things of value. Such raids might be more successful than raids by bomber squadrons if the places you were aiming at were reasonably near the seashore.
In that way you will help the Russians by drawing off Hitler's legions, stretching his forces and communications through, enemy countries, killing his men, and at the same time giving our own Army training in fighting such as they will never get from manoeuvres, however extended. The only proper training for fighting is fighting. I am very much afraid that our Army, sitting down in great numbers in this country, may get discouraged and may lose its morale. There is such a thing as being overtrained; it is the real thing they want. I have a horrible recollection that after Hannibal's great victory at Cannæ the Carthaginian army retired to the luxury of Capua, and there they sat for a year, while Rome recovered. I sometimes wonder whether Cairo has not become a second Capua without the excuse of Cannæ. If you leave any large body of men impotent while other Services are doing heroic work, what must be the 1967 result on these people? Besides the Army here, we have a considerable Army sitting in the Near East, an Army in Singapore sitting in that tropical climate waiting to be attacked, an Army at the Suez Canal waiting to be attacked, and large forces sitting in Iran and Iraq. Are they sitting there also, waiting to be attacked as they are sitting here at home waiting to be attacked? What a role for the British Army.
If you look back through the histories of our wars in the past, you will not find that the British Army waited to be attacked. Our military history has been made by attack, not by sitting behind a Maginot Line, the Channel, or barbed wire in Cairo and Iraq. It has been made by attacking and vindicating the doctrines of all students of military matters—that only by attack comes victory. You can defend a town, but you can never defend a country by playing a static role. I would remind the Government of the immortal doctrine of Foch on the subject of attack and morale. Foch said, "When your right has given way, when your centre is pierced and when your left is in flight, when all is lost, attack." That is the only way to maintain morale and to restore courage. Many of us have been through it. We know that directly one man goes to the front others will turn and go too. We may be suffering from a terribly infectious disease, and. I am not certain that we have not caught fear of the German army. In the old days it was an infectious disease that the Spanish troops were invincible, but we destroyed that disease by one charge at Zutphen. So we must to-day destroy fear by attack. It does not matter where the attack comes, but I would have it ten times a night throughout the thousands of miles of enemy-occupied coast. I would have it side by side with our gallant Allies. If the time should come, we will cure it here in England rather than ever make peace with Hitler.
§ Major-General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
The Government have been criticised by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), who opened the Debate, and by people up and down the country for not having done enough to assist Russia. It has been suggested, certainly on some platforms in the country and in some organs of the Press, that not 1968 merely have the Government done nothing but are doing nothing and do not want to do anything to help the Russians. If no credit can be given to the Government for good will in this matter, surely they might be given credit for possessing a modicum of common sense, and, like another hon. Member who has spoken, I would remind the House that common sense is the basis of strategy. We are fighting the same enemy as the Russians, and the interest of each party is quite obviously to help the other, and it is equally certain that everything we do to help the Russians is, in fact, also helping ourselves. I do not think there can be any question about that. The hon. Member for Derby referred at considerable length to the various methods by which, in his opinion—and I entirely agree with him—we are, in fact, helping the Russians, but if I may summarise them, I would say that the principal ways in which we are now helping the Russians are as follow.
First of all, we are helping them by the supply of material and munitions and by the diversion of material and munitions intended for ourselves from the United States to Russia. Secondly—and to my mind of the very greatest importance— we are giving enormous aid to Russia by means of our sea-power. Not one ounce of munitions or materials could reach Russia at all if it were not for our sea-power and for our Mercantile Marine. I think that is incontrovertible. Thirdly, we are helping them by our air attacks on Germany which have been heavy and continuous, and which, let it not be forgotten, have been costly to ourselves— by our air attacks not only on Germany, but on German Forces and German-occupied ports, and on German establishments in Western Europe. Those air attacks are of evident use in the cause of helping Russia, and I need not stress them. But it should not be forgotten that we—and when I say "we" I mean our Armed Forces—go short of just so much as we supply to Russia and of just so much as we divert from the United States supplies which were intended for ourselves. It is not a fact, as has been alleged, that we can well spare what we are sending to Russia. We cannot spare it. We want every single bit of it for ourselves. We have not got anything like all that we want to equip 1969 our Armed Forces sufficiently and adequately for the struggle which is before them. So we are doing a real service to Russia in the munitions and the materials that we are sending them. Further, I think it should not be forgotten that our sea-power is subjected to a very considerable extra strain in the extra duties of extra convoying and of extra watching of approaches and fresh channels on the very few practicable routes to Russia in winter. Moreover, it is quite a question as to what extent we can spare any mercantile tonnage for the purpose of convoying goods to Russia.
There are critics in the country, and possibly in the House, who say that that is not enough, and they suggest, first— certainly it has been suggested in the country and I think suggested once in this House, if I am not mistaken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) in a previous Debate—that we ought to send a force to Russia itself, and secondly, it is freely asked, as has been mentioned by various hon. Members in this Debate, why are we not opening up the Western front, why are we not sending Forces to North-Western Europe? I venture to say that the first of these two is impossible, and obviously impossible, for geographical reasons, and I think a glance at the map would convince anybody of that fact. As regards the Western front, I do not pretend to know the plans of the Government. I think it is a very good thing that I do not and that the country does not know them, because the less they are talked about, the better. I do not pretend to know the plans of the Government, but nor, most emphatically I am certain, do the Government's critics know them.
Before sending any expeditionary forces, there are certain considerations which must be borne in mind, and I do not doubt for a moment that the Government have these in mind. They are briefly as follow. First, the question of the supply and assembly of shipping. I do not know, but obviously it is questionable whether we have actually got the shipping that is necessary to convey a really large modern force overseas. Perhaps we have, but if we have, equally it is absolutely certain that the assembly of that shipping would be a long business. It could not be done in a day, or a week 1970 or a month. It would be a matter of long and careful preparation. An immense amount of shipping is necessary to convey overseas any force which is larger than a raiding force, and I think that is sometimes forgotten by those who so airily talk about sending British expeditionary forces here, there, and everywhere. As to raids, I hope to say a word on them later.
But I ask seriously, have we the shipping available, after providing for the transport of material for Russia and of food and materials for our own country, and—let this not be forgotten, because it is a tremendous strain on our shipping— of providing for the maintenance of our Armies in the Middle East and the Far East? But assuming that shipping could be available, the next question to be considered is base ports. To land any considerable force, and still more to maintain it after it has been landed, you must have deep water ports with quays and wharfage available for the landing of troops and materials. Beaches are, most emphatically, not enough. It is possible to land, and there are appliances for landing, light forces on beaches, and granted that the weather is favourable and that the approaches to the beaches are suitable, it is possible to land even heavy guns and heavy material on beaches; but the idea which appears to prevail in a great many heads in this country that you can throw forces ashore on beaches and that tanks, heavy guns, lorries and troops will then go straight ahead, climb the cliffs and go on inland, and be perfectly all right, is so futile that one wonders that anybody can possibly hold it and express it. Yet that view is definitely held by some very un-instructed people.
There is, then, the question of what is to be the size of any expeditionary forces sent. Many of the critics are extraordinarily vague about that. It was only the other day that I heard a person—who might be considered to be well educated and who is certainly not in other matters a foolish man—who, on being asked that question, said, "Oh, I think that 100 divisions would do." I do not propose to comment on that at all. I merely quote it because it was definitely stated by a person who might otherwise not have been thought to be a candidate for Bedlam. I am afraid there are other people who are saying it, and, the more excited people who urge support to Russia become, the 1971 more exaggerated are their ideas of the size of the force that we can send abroad. There is no doubt to my mind that a well-prepared, well-equipped Expeditionary Force in sufficient numbers and with definite objectives might, if successful, have great results, but nothing less than that is good enough. For God's sake, let us have no more Dunkirks. Let us have no more evacuations from Norway, from Greece or from Crete, and let us take no risk of having such an evacuation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) talked about the strain upon the morale of the Army of sitting still and doing nothing, and he was perfectly right. It does constitute a strain, but it would indeed be a strain on the morale of the Army if we had another disastrous evacuation. There must be no more hastily prepared and imperfectly equipped Expeditionary Forces resulting not improbably in such an evacuation as we have had before.
If there are to be further overseas operations—and I by no means exclude the possibility—there are other possible theatres of war in which enemy communications might be longer and might be more difficult and in which the enemy might be less favourably placed for resistance than would be the case in North Western Europe. I will not attempt to specify any part of the world, but I am certain that there are other places where not only might circumstances be more difficult for the enemy than they undoubtedly would be in North Western Europe, but where the weather would be very much less unfavourable to operations than it is likely to be in. winter time in Northern Europe, and that is not an unimportant consideration. I believe that well-prepared and well-equipped raiding forces—I mean a little more than a few men in a few motor boats; I would even say possibly up to as much as 5,000 men —might achieve very considerable results, provided always that they could take the enemy by surprise. Whatever operations are contemplated, whether raids or large operations, the most certain way of ensuring failure is to talk about them beforehand and to advertise our intentions. I would even go so far as to say that if we give any information of any kind, it ought to be false. No other information ought to be published bearing on opera- 1972 tions at all. It is just possible that false information might deceive the enemy. True information, at any rate, would be looked into and might give the thing away. In my judgment there is far too much loose talk about possible operations and possible theatres of war. To mystify and mislead the enemy is one of the first rules of war. There can be no hope of doing this or of achieving surprise if there is a lot of loose talk about possible or contemplated operations. There has been at least one instance in this war, and there were several in the last, in which operations failed because they were talked about in the City of London and word got round to the enemy.
The safety of these Islands is the primary consideration. If ever Britain falls, the war is lost—I do not think anyone doubts that—and there will be no further possibility of help for Russia from us or from anyone else. Therefore, large forces must be kept for home defence. I will not suggest how great they must be. That is a matter for the General Staff and the War Cabinet, but home defence cannot possibly be left out of account, and I do not believe for a moment that the Government are leaving it out of account. The Government have been adjured in the country and in various organs of the Press to take their courage in both hands, and they have even been taunted about having less courage than the rest of the nation. I hope that those who level those taunts will not forget that there is such a thing as the valour of ignorance and that such valour, like a little knowledge, is apt to be a very dangerous thing.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
It would be difficult to believe from the atmosphere of this Debate, and from the numbers present, that the House appreciates the anxiety and the depth of feeling that prevail in the country on this subject. I doubt whether since the war began any matter has aroused deeper concern than what we are discussing to-day. I was speaking last night to the editor of a national newspaper, who told me that more letters and telegrams are pouring in on this subject than ever in his experience. We first discussed this matter on the Tuesday following the Sunday attack on the Soviet Union. I think that was the first and the last occasion. No representative assembly could have been more forbearing in the circumstances. In the very 1973 short discussion that then occurred I said I was convinced that, now that an attack had been made upon the Soviet Union, the people of Great Britain would be dismayed and discouraged unless military advantage was taken of that attack. Four months have gone by in which the House, as I say, has been exceedingly forbearing.
I do not blame the Government for not being able to take immediate military advantage of the opportunity afforded. There had grown up between this country and Russia such an estrangement that an exchange of military information was impossible. We did not know and we could not guess what forces the Russians were able to employ. For reasons which it is not necessary or wise to enter into, no interchange of information has occurred and, therefore, I do not blame the Government for not possessing enough exact knowledge to enable them to form immediate plans. There is no doubt, however, that there was a great deal of scepticism and hostility in certain quarters and a great deal of pessimism as to the extent and duration of Russian resistance to attack. Immediately it was seen that the resistance was far greater than was expected, this ill-informed pessimism gave place to what I consider was an equally ill-informed optimism. Our plans apparently began to be based, not as they normally were upon a comparatively early collapse of Russian resistance—looking, as someone has said, upon the whole German-Soviet war as an unexpectedly advantageous sideshow—but on the possibility of a spring offensive in the belief that the Russian resistance would be sufficiently prolonged. as to leave in the field a large Russian force able to cooperate with us in an offensive.
I have had an opportunity of visiting Russia on some occasions. I was there in 1928 and afterwards. It is true that Russia did perform miracles of industrial construction in their five-year-plans, but it was impossible for Russia to construct in so short a time an industrial basis sufficiently massive as to meet the challenge of the German industrial organisation. The reason why Russia was able to offer so formidable a resistance in the first three or four months of the war was that she had accumulated vast reserves of war material. After these reserves had been used up Russia had to continue to fight on the daily output of her war factories. 1974 It seemed to me that it should have been clear—it probably was clear to those who had considered this matter in the Government—that after the initial using up of the resources of war material Russia must find herself with far less than was necessary in order to meet the German attack. It seemed to me, therefore, that the essential thing was to try and maintain Russia in the war in front of and not behind her European industries. It is difficult to make statements that will not be misunderstood, especially in a matter that arouses violent feelings, but I am convinced that if the Russian armies are driven behind the Urals it will be hard for her to make a first-class offensive against the Germans, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to sustain her with any large supplies.
Strategy, as we have been told, is merely applied common sense, and it may be assumed that I have at least half as much common sense as other hon. Members who have discussed this matter; and it seems to me to be an elementary principle of strategy that what we should have done was to give every conceivable assistance we could to maintain Russia so that she could still be supplied by her European industries. These industries are clustered round Leningrad, Moscow and the Donetz Basin. They are all threatened, for the German attack is against all three. She seems to have been able to drive the Russians far enough back and to have inflicted sufficient losses upon them in the Moscow and Leningrad areas as to hold them there while she concentrates her attack on the Southern front, where the weather is more propitious to continuous winter operations. it seems to me that our strategy ought to be based, therefore, upon the necessity of keeping Russia in the field still so that she could still be supplied by her European industries. Evidently we believed it possible to do so. I hope that it is still possible, but, nevertheless, we have to meet that contingency.
The easy optimism which supervened upon the original pessimism seems to have led the Government into nebulous and dangerous miscalculations, and this optimism has gone so far as to deceive very large numbers of the British people. I regretted very much to see over the weekend a member of the Government making 1975 a statement that the casualties inflicted upon the Germans already amount to 4,000,000, Really that is not fair. I see that the "Daily Telegraph" either sincerely or ironically—and I have not been able to discover a sufficient sense of humour in that paper to think it is ironical —says we must accept that figure because it is based on the authority of a Minister. The Minister was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings. This is very serious. The figure was based, I am told, on figures given by Mr. Maisky. He said that the casualties were 3,000,000, and my hon. Friend probably added 1,000,000 for the present campaign. It is not for us to inquire into the reasons why Mr. Maisky made that statement, but we ought not to base our calculations upon it. Four million casualties are more than the German Army suffered in the last war. It means that even if the Germans were able to deploy 8,000,000 men on the front, they had lost at least 50 per cent. of their effectives. Who believes that it is possible for the Germans to deploy 8,000,000 men on the Russian front? Mr. Maisky also said, I am informed, that the Germans had lost one-third of their effectives. That means, if my hon. Friend is correct, that they have deployed 12,000,000 men. Such figures lose touch with reality and approach infinity.
The tragedy is that the point of view of the British people is based upon these figures. Their expectations will be based upon them, and when disillusion comes depression will follow. It is not necessary for us to use figures of that sort in order fully to appreciate the Russian resistance. The courage, the endurance and the sacrifice of our Russian Ally are sufficiently based upon ascertainable and sober facts. We do not need astronomical figures to satisfy us that their resistance has been on a heroic scale. It would seem to be necessary for the Government to base its plans upon an equally realistic estimate of the possibilities of Russian resistance. But we have done no such thing, apparently. I have a report of the speech made last Saturday by the Undersecretary of State for War. I knew the Noble Lord for many years when he was a Member of this House. Among his many undoubted virtues, originality of mind cannot be included, and therefore I 1976 would suspect that what he tells us is the mind of his colleagues in the' War Office. I do not believe he is capable of such inspiration of his own volition. He said:The Germans will almost certainly come at Batum and Baku across the Caucasus in the spring. If this is so the Iran frontier becomes vital to us first in supporting the Russian advance on Baku, if they will let us"—an astonishing thing to say—and secondly to deny the road to Egypt, India and the East.If the Under-Secretary of State is stating the mind of the War Office, we are to assume that we are expecting the Germans to mount an offensive in the Spring. The Germans will mount their offensive long before the Spring. The assumption that Hitler is going to obey this laggard, leisurely time-table of the British War Office has been falsified over and over again. The assumption that we shall be allowed time to prepare our forces in the Near East in order to co-operate with the Russian Armies—presumably still in the field, presumably virile and able to co-operate with us in an offensive— is based upon two considerations. One is a failure even yet to appreciate the strategy of our enemy, and the second the negative, defeatist and defensive state of mind of our military staff Consider the language used. He says: —I believe with a great Army raised in India,A great army raised in India—that from Lord Croft.together with our own forces based on Egypt, we can hold a line to the sea.This is the psychology of the Maginot Line. It is a point of view we have heard before. We will hold an Empire line. This is the psychology of the "Brass Hats." We are not considering a war of movement over Asia and Europe, we are going to entrench ourselves along a line in the Near East and defend India and defend Egypt against the assaults of the Nazis—in spite of the fact that over and over again it has been shown in this war that this conception of a line is utterly bankrupt, not only militarily but politically and spiritually, which is infinitely more important. I do not know what amuses the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but I can assure him that the country as a whole reads this kind of speech with the gravest apprehension. I can assure him there is very considerable feeling about this matter.
1977 If we are to assume the state of mind of the War Office from Lord Croft's speech, we are to play a passive role until our mounting war production and the cooperation of the Russians enable us to meet the assaults of the Germans in the Near East. When we say these things we are rebuked by hon. Members for being ignorant amateurs, and not even amateurs but ignorant laymen, without a knowledge of the facts. I have believed from the very beginning that Hitler's assault upon the Soviet Union was more a political than a military decision. I believe he made it because he believed such an assault would paralyse the governing class of Great Britain and undermine our influence in the United States. I am convinced that he believed that the attack on the Soviet Union would plant a Trojan horse in the hearts of thousands of British people.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Will my hon. Friend say whether he does not think Hitler was mistaken in that view?
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes. I was coming to the reply. I say he was wrong in assuming that he would be able to create any Fifth Column in Great Britain, but what he did succeed in creating was a negative, passive attitude to the Russian campaign which has converted this country into being a spectator of that tragedy for four months. He did not convert us into an active co-operator with Germany but he converted us into a negative spectator of the scene. It is paralysis from which we suffer at the present time.
What should we have done? Obviously no hon. Member can give an answer to that question. We cannot say that the Government ought to have opened up a front here or there or not have opened up a front somewhere else, but what the country is asking is this: If an Ally with 170,000,000 people comes unexpectedly into the field, if the pre-occupation of Germany with the Russians does not afford us an opportunity of hitting the Germans in a vital spot, what is the strategy of the Government for the winning of the war? Under what conditions do they expect to win the war? When France fell out of the war we knew that we needed a great land army to co-operate with us. When that land army was unexpectedly vouchsafed to us we were not able to take advantage of it. The country wants to know why. Some of the answers which 1978 have been given do not make sense. One hon. and gallant Member says that it is foolish for us to invade in the West for a variety of reasons which he has given, but all the reasons why we cannot invade Europe apply equally against Germany invading Great Britain. There is the lack of shipping—
§ Commander King-Hall
You have forgotten the paratroops; you have forgotten the position of Ireland.
§ Mr. Bevan
No, I forget none of those things, but it is no more impossible for Hitler successfully to envisage an invasion of this island than it is for us to envisage an invasion of Europe. We have been told by Lord Croft that the Home Guard in this country will inevitably be called upon to repel an invasion. I say that is the psychology of men spiritually defeated before the battle starts. That is the psychology of men waiting for the enemy to attack. I say, therefore, there is no argument that it is more impossible for us to invade Europe than it is for Hitler to invade us. Then we are told that the loss of men would be terrific. I dare say there would be losses, but they will be much greater later unless we take advantage of this opportunity now. Then it is said there are no strategical justifications for it. There were no strategical justifications for going into Greece. Every strategical consideration was against it.
Nevertheless, we went into Greece. Why? The Prime Minister said that it was for political reasons. We arranged supply over thousands of miles, imposing a strain on our shipping far greater than would be the case with a supply line in Europe, in order to meet the whole strength of the German military machine. That was done for political reasons. We failed. Are there no political reasons for taking risks now, or is this again evidence of the paralysis of which I spoke, evidence that Hitler did not convert our people into fifth columnists, but into spectators?
It is repugnant to a number of people that we should take risks to save the Soviet Union, and it was agreeable that we should take risks to save Greece; that is what a large number of our people are feeling at the present time, and it is time it was said on the Floor of this House. The Government have to answer these questions which are in the 1979 minds of large numbers of our people. I tell the Foreign Secretary, quite frankly, that he has a case to answer, and it is this: The people do not trust the Government. The people do not trust many of the people who are in the Government. The people believe that the Government are ratting. I am using forthright language. It is no use wrapping it up in involved language. It is necessary to speak, as people are thinking in the country as a whole. When Hitler was preparing his forces for an attack upon the Russian centre against Moscow, Lord Halifax, a member of the War Cabinet, gave him all the comfort, consolation and reassurance he needed. Hitler spoke at about the beginning of this month. Towards the end of September, Lord Halifax arrived back in the United States, after having visited the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet. We were told by the Prime Minister:I feel sure that the House of Commons, which is the solid foundation of the British war effort and which is resolved to prosecute the war as sternly and implacably as did our forerunners in bygone days, will expect and require from the Ministers who are its servants a particular measure of caution and restraint in all their utterances about the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th September, 1941; col. 512, Vol. 374.]Yet Lord Halifax informed Hitler in the plainest possible language that he need fear no attack by us and could prepare his forces without any danger that we should take advantage of the situation. He said:At present, shipping and equipment are both insufficient to make … [a landing] … feasible.I ask the right hon. Gentleman: How far removed from treason is a statement of that kind, at that time, when Hitler was gathering his forces all over Europe for an attack on the Soviet Union? The House of Commons have been asked by the Prime Minister to refrain from having a Debate on this subject because it was undesirable to inform the enemy of our plans. It was the essence of success for the Russians that Hitler should have the maximum doubt about our intentions. Suppose I had done this, or anybody else, what would have been said? But here is a member of the War Cabinet saying that our shipping and equipment were both insufficient to make the project feasible. What was the project? A landing 1980 or invasion on the Western Front. I suggest to hon. Members that behaviour of this sort unfits that person to occupy office at all.
I was very angry, when I was rebuked by the Prime Minister, and when I said that this man was an irresponsible man with a bad record. I thought that was a masterpiece of Parliamentary under-statement. I thought the bad record was established because Lord Halifax was, next to Lord Simon, the most unfortunate Foreign Secretary we have had for 50 years. Of the foreign policy which led to this disaster he was partly the architect. When I used the word "irresponsible," I thought that really was an under-statement. If the right hon. Gentleman had read all the letters I have received about this matter, he would appreciate that the complaint against me is not that I abused a Minister, but that I expressed myself too mildly. The Prime Minister reserved his anger for me and not for this man. The Prime Minister lost his temper, not over one of his Ministers who gave a piece of gratuitous and vital information to the enemy, but with the poor, simple backbencher Member of Parliament who called attention to the treachery. The Prime Minister should realise that unless he gets rid of some of these men, they will drag him down with them.
I repeat that the country is deeply suspicious of the attitude of the Government. It is not for the right hon. Gentleman to stand at that Box and to tell us that we have not enough tanks, ships and guns. We have been telling the Government that for a year and a half. For over a year people in the country outside the Government have been saying those things. The Select Committee on National Expenditure have been saying it in Report after Report, and so have the Trades Union Congress, the Amalgamated Engineering Union and Members of the House of Commons. The only people who have not been saying it are members of the Government. Now they say that they are unable to take advantage of this unique military opportunity because they have not the tanks which we have been telling them they were not making and ought to have been making.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I do not quite understand the argument of the hon. Gentleman. If he is priding himself upon his intellectual prevision in 1981 telling the Government that they ought to have been making tanks while they were not doing so, and if the tanks are not there, I do not understand the argument that the Government ought to be putting them into use.
§ Mr. Bevan
The Government stand indicted upon both counts, that they are not making use of the supplies available to them, and, if they say that the supplies are not sufficient to enable them to undertake a Western offensive which would assist our Russian Ally, that we are the victims of a policy of which they are the authors. We are the victims of a situation that we have been pointing out. If that position is not obvious to the hon. Member, I am sure it is obvious to the rest of the House. We have asked over and over again for the production policy of the Government to be overhauled. That has been the subject of more private and public sessions in this House than any other single subject since the beginning of the war, and indeed it was only the other day that the Prime Minister came down and rebuked us for giving comfort to the enemy by emphasising the shortage of production in Great Britain. He rebuked an hon. Member for making such statements in the House. I say quite frankly to the Government that the time has arrived for a general reconstruction of the Government and a reconsideration of their whole policy.
There is no time to discuss one other very vital and important aspect. India comes into the war, and is now in the centre of the picture. Lord Croft says that we shall raise large masses of troops in India. What warrant has he for that statement? If we are going to raise large masses of troops in India and make India a real Ally in the war, we shall have to have a more humane, generous and enlightened policy towards that country. The Government seem to me to fail in all these matters, and so far as I am concerned I tell the House quite frankly that if there were a vote to-day, I should go into the Lobby against the Government, whatever might be the cost, because I believe that the time has arrived when we should do the second half of the job which we left undone last year.
I believe it is time for the Government to be wholly reconstructed. I believe it is time for the machinery of the Government to be overhauled. I believe it is 1982 time for there to be a War Cabinet of Ministers, without departmental responsibilities, who can talk back to the Prime Minister. I believe it is time to throw out of office ail those old, jaded, tired Ministers who have been associated with disastrous policies. I am convinced that this is the desire of the country and that this House is falling into progressive disrepute because it is not forcing the Government to face these realities. I am convinced that the last few weeks and months have shown that there exist in this country inexhaustible reservoirs of talent and energy if the Government could only tap them, but this Government cannot do it. It is suffering from nostalgia, nostalgia for the days that are dead, nostalgia producing nothing at all but inertia and self-pity. If you cannot do the job, get out. The country demands the change, and it is the duty of the House of Commons to see that the will of the country is made known to the Government.
§ Sir J. Graham Kerr (Scottish Universities)
I rise under a sense of very great responsibility to make a few observations on a matter which affects the military efficiency of our country. I see before me the flower of our race confronted with a possible life-and-death struggle, and it is surely unbearable to think that they should not be entitled to every possible consideration. What I propose to speak about is not a matter of high strategy, for two reasons: First, I am so uninformed on the principles of high strategy that I should consider it an inexcusable waste of paper for even a few lines of the OFFICIAL REPORT to be devoted to what I have to say. But I have another reason, and that is that I have the greatest admiration for those who are conducting the affairs of the Fighting Services. I think the country has reason to be profoundly grateful to those splendid people who are bearing their heavy burden so admirably. I also think that we have every reason to be grateful to those others in this House who bear the burden of speaking for them within its precincts. I do not like raising the question in public at all. It is a matter which should have been discussed privately, but repeated private representations have failed to obtain any result. Repeatedly I have made these private representations. I have endeavoured, as I thought was, perhaps, the right of Members of this House, to obtain access to 1983 the Prime Minister in an interview. I have tried, again, to obtain an interview with the War Cabinet. I have finally addressed written representations to each member of the War Cabinet, without result, and therefore I appeal now to the House of Commons.
The particular matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the House is that of camouflage, one of the most important parts of war technique. We all of us know the purpose of camouflage— to delay the recognition of an object of military importance, because most operations of war are carried on in a hurry. A submarine commander who looks through his periscope, an airman who is travelling towards his target at a rate of two or three hundred miles per hour, is in a hurry; he has to make decisions as rapidly as possible. Anything that can hamper the making of such decisions is useful camouflage. Within this heading of camouflage there is embraced a very great variety of different devices. You may take the simplest case, where you have some military object under a covering, it may be a roof, or a covering of vegetation—turf or leafy twigs. You may make the object look like something else; if you erect a factory, build it in the semblance of a cottage or farmhouse. You may surround the object with skilfully constructed dummies to divert the enemy's attention. There are those, and many other types of what you may call structural camouflage.
It is not to these that I propose to refer particularly. Much of that camouflage has been done in a most admirable way by the officers responsible. They are not entirely without fault. For example, to me it seems a tragedy that before the war began our supplies of oil were not stored in underground cisterns instead of these conspicuous tanks on the ground. It is, I think, also a tragedy that more use was not made of low domed-shaped buildings, instead of buildings with vertical walls which give a sharp shadow and are simply unhideable from the enemy. These various types of material camouflage are very often not convenient or possible. You very often need some type of camouflage which is self-contained in a particular instrument or object of war, and that is where the use of paint or pig- 1984 ment is concerned. That, and that alone, is what I propose to refer to.
The use of pigment and paint in camouflage is perfectly well understood. Its general principles have been worked out not by physicists or by artists, but by biologists—not the biologist who works in a laboratory or museum, but the biologist who in nature, particularly in tropical nature, is endeavouring to find out the camouflage devices which have been evolved in the course of ages in the never-ending warfare between wild animals in their struggle for existence. This is not the place or the time for a scientific lecture on a fascinating subject, but perhaps I may be allowed to recall what hon. Members know quite well, the basic principles that have been discovered. The first is the very obvious one of imitative colouring. If you go into any museum you will see some of the most marvellous cases of camouflage, in the form of small creatures which imitate green leaves. That type of camouflage appeals not merely to the scientist but to the artist, who spends his professional life camouflaging canvas to look like the human figure or like a bit of scenery. He is constantly using colours and producing results to be appreciated at close range. One of the most astonishing realisations I have had was that this camouflage by colour, which is by far the most perfect form of camouflage in existence, does not work except for small objects. With larger objects, totally different methods are required. You find small creatures showing the most exquisite green colouring, so as to be invisible against green vegetation, but you do not find large animals coloured in that way. You do not find deer or antelopes or any beasts of prey coloured green. They adopt different methods.
Two types of technique have been evolved. One is called counter-shading; the other, dazzle. These words are American expressions, used long before the last war. It is nonsense to spread the idea, which is industriously spread, that they were inventions of 1917. Why is mere imitative colouring of no use for larger objects? Because the effective use of it is interfered with by light and shade. Nature works against this by what is called counter-shading. She distributes pigment over the body of an animal: dark above, light underneath, the dark gradually changing into light. That makes 1985 an animal appear absolutely flat, reduces the relief of the body, destroys the roundness which you see in any ordinary domestic animal. That applies not merely to animals but to every possible structure. Relief and shape are brought out by light and shade, and therefore should always be counteracted.
Dazzle is something quite different. It has for its function the breaking-up of the surface and the breaking-up of the outline by violent contrasting tones of pigment. You see that in such a creature as the zebra, the leopard or the jaguar. In each of these cases, although the creatures look so conspicuous in the museum, they have a marvellously efficient camouflage. An important point there, which bears on the whole subject of war camouflage, is that their camouflage is adapated to a particular kind of distance. The camouflage of the leopard or jaguar is adapted to it when it is that distance from its prey just before it gets into its final crouch. The camouflage of the zebra is so arranged that it comes into play at the same sort of distance which saves it from the prowling leopard.
These then are the main principles that nature has worked out, and these are the principles that govern the effectiveness of all war camouflage. The working-out of these ideas was entirely the work of biologists. It was the biologist studying the devices of nature and wild animals that discovered and formulated the principles. It was a biologist who first adapted these principles to human warfare. It was a biologist who was the author of the instructions that were circulated to the Fleet on 10th November, 1914. It was these instructions which to-day are as effective as ever and which should be acted upon by those responsible for camouflage. What do we find? We find apparently either total ignorance or absolute defiance of these scientific principles. We all of us know that. Every one of us who looks at pictures in the illustrated papers sees guns, ships, and all kinds of instruments of war in which the camouflage is absolutely all wrong. We see it also with our own eyes. We see machine-gun posts, large guns, tanks, Bren carriers, Army vehicles of one kind or another camouflaged all wrong, because they defy these principles.
1986 I have taken the responsibility of circulating privately to Members of this House a particular photograph which shows, on the one hand, a demonstration specimen produced by that great authority on camouflage, Dr. Hugh Cott, of the University of Cambridge, whom at last, after prolonged efforts, it had been possible to get allowed to give this demonstration. In that photograph you see how that gun barrel has been flattened out, destroyed as far as its relief is concerned. Two or three of the highest soldiers in this country have looked at that photograph. One in particular said, "I would never have seen that it was a gun barrel there at all." Another said, "I seem to see right through that gun barrel." That same photograph shows, besides the correctly camouflaged gun, the way in which the Services camouflage is carried out. There is nothing new in that particular photograph. All of us have seen the same kind of thing in illustrated papers, but the point I wish to make is that that marvellously efficient biological camouflage is being withheld from our fighting men, and I think that is discreditable.
I have in my hand a photograph of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In an effective picture very often its effectiveness is added to by the way in which the background is managed. This particular photograph is not wanting in that effectiveness of background, because the background is composed of a group of large guns. These guns are coloured dark about and white below, a feeble attempt at countershading. The dark and light are separated by a sharp line which does away with nine-tenths of the effectiveness that the counter-shading should have. On the back of the photograph I wrote certain words which I used in criticising precisely the same thing before. They are:Again I see guns and torpedo tubes coloured thus, the upper half dark and the lower white, thus missing nine-tenths of the value of the graduated shade.What was the previous occasion on which I used these words? It was in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy dated 18th July, 1915. Twenty-six years have elapsed since that protest was made, and still to-day one finds it entirely unheeded. I must draw my observations to a close, not because I have treated the subject anything like sufficiently, but I must 1987 reserve fuller treatment for some other time. But what I would like to emphasise is this: There is a state of affairs that must be put right. Feeling as strongly as I do, I would not have raised this question were it not for the fact that it can be put right in a very short time. It is not a case of weeks or months of painful research being required. The principles have been worked out, and if the order is given to-day, and it is carried out, that camouflage can be made effective all through our Fighting Services. I ask that that be done.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Would my hon. Friend go a little further in his dissertation on biological camouflage? He told us how a zebra and other animals camouflage themselves. Can he tell us how a beaver camouflages himself?
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that I have been in the House throughout the Debate and risen every time there has been an opportunity, am I to take it that it is impossible for the Chair to see Red?
§ Mr. Speaker
I fail to understand what that means. The hon. Member must understand that I am not going to be dictated to as to who should catch my eye.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am not trying to dictate. I am merely trying to draw your attention to what is notorious to Members in the House, that the—
§ Mr. Speaker
Is the hon. Member making a reflection on the Chair? If so, there is only one way of doing it, and that is to put a Motion on the Paper.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I welcome this Debate, which gives us an opportunity to raise various points which the public and hon. Members have in mind in connection with the wider aspects of the progress of the war. In thinking out the choice of subjects which could be raised in a Debate of such wide scope, I decided that I wanted to raise a matter which I know is causing a very considerable amount of distress and indignation among many people in my constituency and in the West of Scotland generally— concern, anxiety and indignation which I 1988 believe are shared by many others throughout the country. There is irritation as a result of the attempt by popular clamour to stampede the Government in matters of grave importance and strategy. For several weeks now there has been a spate of propaganda on the question of the formation of a second front, preferably, as I gather, in the West. I am one of those who believe that already we have our second front in the Middle East and that we are, quite apart from our vast obligations in that respect, carrying out our duties on other fronts in the West and elsewhere by the invaluable use of our sea-power, which seems to be ignored by these propagandists, and by the very valuable efforts we are making in the air.
But I do not intend, and I do not think it is desirable, to tackle the strategic side of this question. I am here to represent large numbers of my constituents, and I believe large numbers of people in the country, who resent, as I resent, the tremendous effort at propaganda in the region of strategy. Where does it come from? What is the source of it? We all know that it is coming mainly from certain organs of the Press. Is it any wonder that the historic question of Hamlet is being asked from lip to lip, somewhat wearily—Where is it. what is the source of all this? Is it to be or not to be? We talk glibly of the freedom of the Press, and no one believes in it more than I do, inasmuch as the Press should be at full liberty to attack the Government and to take up any question that it wishes; but. I cannot help wondering whether the Press is as free as we would like it to be. One sometimes feels that the freedom of the Press, from the point of view of the Press itself, is not altogether as sound a doctrine as we would like. Is it not true that all too often the Press is not free, but that in many cases it is shackled to the chariot wheels of a boss or proprietor who controls its policy and tells it what to do? [Interruption.] It applies, of course, to a great many newspapers. I only mention it in connection with the freedom of the Press—such an easy expression for us to indulge in. We are inundated with many currents, but they come from only one source. A great many trails seem to lead to one lair. This endeavour to stir up public clamour, by what I may call the clamour boys in the back room, is irritating a great many people and, I believe, has done a great 1989 deal of harm to the cause that they have endeavoured to "propagand."
On the general issue of whether it is wise or unwise to attempt to form a second front, those whose minds are working that way seem completely to ignore all questions of geography, which are, to my mind, overwhelming. They seem to ignore the very important question of the effect of General Winter upon Russian harbours in the North, and they also seem to ignore the immense difficulties in connection with shipping and air support. The Prime Minister not long ago gave us very clearly to understand that the Government found themselves in an extremely difficult position in answering this propaganda, and the vast majority of Members, I believe, fully appreciated and sympathised with his remarks. Therefore it is, of course, a very difficult position for back-bench Members to enter upon a discussion of these questions. Though they may be intensely interested in them, or may have ideas on them, they are conscious of the fact that those ideas are amateurish and that they may be doing a bad service to the country by raising them at all. I therefore propose, having said what I have said, to switch off from them to another matter.
I wonder whether the time is not rapidly approaching, because of the situation that has developed in the Eastern part of Europe and the fact that Germany's war potential in the form of factories of all kinds, not only in Germany but in her conquered territories, is so enormous, when our policy in regard to bombing factories in Germany, France and elsewhere might not be adjusted to the new situation. I may be quite wrong, and those who know best on the Government Bench will forgive me if I am. None of us know as much about it as do the responsible Members of the Government, but I have a feeling that our bombing policy has been settled to a large extent some weeks, or even it may be months, in advance and was, perhaps rightly at the time, influenced very largely by the wishes of the Ministry of Economic Warfare. There was a time when that was fundamentally correct. I do not suggest that the advice and recommendations of the Ministry of Economic Warfare should not be welcomed, and even carried out, but I think, now that Germany's war potential is so enormous 1990 from the point of view of factories, that if we spend our bombing strength solely on bombing factories, very often at great cost, it means that our bombers have to be over their target for a considerable length of time finding a not too easy target. What we really want to get to now is not to exclude that, because it will be important to bomb certain factories, but to consider the effect of our bombing policy on the morale of the German people.
We want to switch over to that now that a new situation is upon us. Let us see how they can take the medicine they gave to us. That is not a cruel, wicked policy for which we in this country need to be ashamed, because in the vast majority of cases the civilians get under cover in shelters. It is not so much the killing of civilians that I would advocate, but the fact that if their houses and homes are destroyed as our people's houses and homes have been destroyed, the German morale, which is not like British morale, may well be affected to a very serious degree. I suggest that that idea may be considered by an amendment of our foreign policy so that the effect on the morale of the people as well as on the war potential may be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
The question was raised in the early stages of the Debate by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) and the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) as to whether the Government were doing all they could to provide aid for the Soviet Union. I say that it is impossible for such a Government as this to give the 100 per cent. aid to the Soviet Union that is essential for the safety of the people of this country. An hon. Member on the other side said that it was common sense to support the Soviet Union, but Members should never forget that common interests often override common sense. If Members of the House and members of the Government have common interests with their like in Germany, they are not likely to be concerned with the people of the Soviet Union or the people of this country. Reference has been made to a Member in another House who occupies a position in the Government. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) quoted a speech he made about 1991 defending the Empire—not about defending the Soviet Union, but defending the Empire. When he was a Member of this House he was notorious because of his common interests with the Fascists overruling any semblance of common sense. He stood here time and again as a pronounced Fascist defending the sinking of British ships and the shooting of British seamen. He did that in speeches he made during the Spanish war. Now he is a member of the Government. He made every kind of apology for the Fascists while they were massacring the people of Spain. He and others who supported him were betraying the people of this country when they betrayed the people of Spain. They were betraying the people of this country when they betrayed the people of Czechoslovakia, and they are still in the Government. They are the men of Munich, and they must be driven out of the Government.
Could the Secretary of State for War be held up as a representative of progress and democracy or as having some interest in the fate of the Soviet Union or of the people of this country? Then there is the Minister for Aircraft Production, and we should never forget the speech he made in a semi-private meeting, when he said that there should be no aid for the Soviet Union, but that the Russians and Germans should be left to massacre one another, and that we should come out the stronger. That kind of thing is disastrous for the people of this country. There is some idea that I am somehow or other concerned with the people of the Soviet Union and not with the people of this country. The Home Secretary has made the statement that I am interested in or loyal to the people of the Soviet Union but am not loyal to this country. What is it that makes me concerned about the Soviet Union if it is not the people of this country? I was not interested in Czarist Russia, because that did not represent anything which had a common interest for the people of this country; but Soviet Russia represents a common interest with the people of this country, and it is clear that if the people of this country are to be saved from terrible sufferings we must help the people of the Soviet Union.
What was our attitude in Spain? Some of us here said, "The defence of Madrid 1992 is the defence of London. Save Madrid and you will save London." Before the late Prime Minister went to Munich he had sent a letter to Hitler in which he said: "My dear Herr Hitler—You can get all you want without war and without delay if you will only agree to another meeting." I opposed the Prime Minister's going. Why? Because I was convinced that the betrayal of Czechoslovakia would mean terrible sufferings to the people of this country. All my actions are dominated—it is impossible for it to be otherwise—by regard for the welfare of the people of this country. Let us understand that those who are against 100 per cent. co-operation with the Soviet Union are against the interests and the welfare of the people of this country. It is common interest with the enemy which is overcoming common sense.
Then we come to the question of the second front. I have never heard such arguments as are put up by the experts against the amateurs on the question of the second front. We have been told by the Secretary of State for War in a letter to the "Star" that the Continent is very near Britain and that Hitler may invade us at any time. If the Continent is near Britain, Britain is also near the Continent. What is the one advantage that Hitler had from the point of view of invading us? It was not his airborne troops, as one hon. Member said, because Britain could possibly have airborne troops. His advantage lay in his great superiority in forces. What is the situation to-day? A document was presented to the Turkish Government before the great advance upon Moscow started stating in effect that 70 per cent. of the German Army was on the front against Russia, 90 per cent. of her tank force, and practically the whole of the effective strength of the Luftwaffe. Where, then, is the preponderance of force so far as an invasion of this country or an invasion of the Continent is concerned? It is within.
It is said that we must learn the lesson of Dunkirk. Well, read Lord Gort's despatches. Is anybody being prosecuted for what happened before Dunkirk? Were they amateur strategists who sent our forces over there without armaments and without tank divisions to face Germany's powerful mechanised army, or were they the "red tabs"? Read Lord Gort's despatches and see what the experts are capable of doing. Is anybody to be 1993 prosecuted for what happened over there? Some of the people in the War Office or on the military staffs ought to be in gaol. There ought to be an inquiry into what happened in order to find out who was responsible, and effective action should be taken against them. We had at Dunkirk a lot of brave heroic lads with no armaments to meet a powerful mechanised army.
§ Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)
Were the hon. Member and his Friends at that time doing all they could to encourage the people to give arms to these brave men?
§ Mr. Gallacher
Yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Oh yes. Do not make any mistake about our attitude. We were in favour of a people's Government and a people's peace. In this House I declared on several occasions—it is on the records —that our comrades would defend the people of this country by every means in their power. We wanted a people's Government and a people's peace. That meant not only a changed situation in this country but the defeat of Hitler in Europe. We never had any doubt, and we made it clear, that if we had a people's Government, it would defend the people of this country with greater power and a greater offensive than did the Government that then existed. That was the line we took, but we never had any doubt as to the necessity of the people of this country and of Europe defeating Hitler.
But that is not the question. The question is not what we did, but what those responsible for the lives of the lads in our Army did. They sent the lads over there without the equipment necessary to face a powerful mechanised Army, and they should be called to account for it. We had not a powerful mechanised Army then, but we have an Army with equipment now. I had a letter from some soldiers the other day. The Prime Minister said words to this effect: ' Give us the tools, and we will do the job." He said it to America. The soldiers ended up their letter by saying:We have the tools; now let us do the job.We have the Army, and it is equipped. The hon. and gallant Member for Orms-kirk (Commander King-Hall) said that Hitler had 20 divisions in Europe and that a landing on our part in Europe would necessitate 30 divisions coming from the 1994 Eastern front, so that Hitler would have between 40 and 50 divisions against our Forces from this country. I never heard such expert nonsense. Hitler has armies in Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway. Does the hon. and gallant Member think that Hitler would bring the armies out of those countries to come and meet our Forces? Does he not understand that if we made a landing in Europe, Hitler would require not smaller forces in those countries, but larger forces?
There is great hope among the peoples of Europe. There never was such hope among those distressed and suffering people that the Government of this country will do something effective, but day passes day and week passes week, and the hope begins to fade. But if action were taken, what a surge would go through the whole of Europe. Does anybody imagine for a moment that Hitler would be able to withdraw his forces from any of those countries? No, Sir. He would have to put further forces into those countries. I have never heard any argument presented in such an ill-digested form as that which we have heard to-day.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith (Rotherhithe)
Will the hon. Member give us some conception of the size of the force he thinks would be necessary and of the corresponding amount of ships for supply, and can we afford that shipping?
§ Mr. Gallacher
The question of how many divisions or how many ships would be needed is one for the experts to work on. What I am dealing with is the relation of forces. It has been said that we feared an invasion by Hitler's airborne troops. That is nonsense; the reason for the fear of invasion, was that the forces on Germany's side were far greater than the forces we had in this country, and that is why the balance was in favour of a German invasion. But when the balance is in favour of this country it is possible for us to invade, if it was possible for Germany to invade here when the balance was in favour of that country. I do not say it should come about automatically, but it is possible for us take the initiative when the balance of force is in our favour.
Let us take the case of Spain. Can we do anything about Spain? I remember that when the Spanish war was going on an hon. Member who sits up there on the other side used to repeat all kinds 1995 of propaganda lies against the Republican Government. He was one of Franco's best friends. I said to him only the other day, "How long is your Franco Government going to last now?" He said that it would last only while the Germans were in the Pyrenees. I asked him if it was really as bad as that, and he replied that never had there been a Government in Spain that was hated as was the Franco Government. That comes from one who was a great Franco man during the Spanish war. Yesterday I was informed that in Spain the starvation among the people is appalling, and that in Barcelona and Madrid there is no food to be had at all.
Everybody knows that if it were possible for British Forces to go into Spain the masses of the Spanish people would welcome them with open arms. Is anything being done to arouse the people of Spain, to strengthen and encourage them and to clean out this gang of Fascists, the agents of Hitler and Mussolini, this Franco bunch, and prepare the ground for a landing? If we landed in Spain how long would Mussolini be in the war? If we once had bases in Spain, I am positive that within a month or two Mussolini would be a thing of the past. It is therefore the responsibility of the Government not to put up representatives who give encouragement to Hitler, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) so effectively pointed out was the case in relation to Lord Halifax, but to examine every conceivable method of developing aid to Russia, not only by giving supplies, but by developing an offensive in one form or another against Nazi Germany— developing the second front.
To put the developing of a second front as a front in the West is too crude. It might be that the most effective front would be developed in Italy or the Near East. But to develop a second front is a matter with which the Government should be continually concerning themselves. There never has been, I suppose, so much confidence reposed in a Prime Minister throughout the country as has been reposed in the present Prime Minister, although I must say I have never had any kindly feelings towards him—but it must also be said that he has more than adequately reciprocated my feelings. There has been the utmost con- 1996 fidence in him, but you can feel everywhere that that is on the wane, not because of any actions of the Prime Minister himself, but among the intelligent, active working class of this country there is a hatred of, and fear of, the men of Munich. I tell the Foreign Secretary, I tell the Prime Minister, that if they do not get rid of the men of Munich, the men of Munich will get rid of them and will destroy and betray the people of this country. The men of Munich got rid of the Foreign Secretary on one occasion already. They will get rid of him again, and they will get rid of the Prime Minister, they will destroy him, destroy his Government and destroy this country and its people unless the Prime Minister takes the necessary action to clear them out, clear out all those who are not for 100 per cent. co-operation with the Soviet Union, which means 100 per cent. for the people of this country. Clear them out, and from the best Members of this House—and there are some good Members in the House, [Interruption]—no, apart from me altogether—Members with ability, with strong enthusiasm, and men who have demonstrated in the past their loyalty to the Soviet Union, and their loyalty to the people of this country. There are such men in the House. To save the people of this country it is necessary that the men of Munich should go. Drive them out, and bring in from this House the very best forces to make a Government that will carry out its alliance with the Soviet Union 100 per cent., and save the people of this country from suffering and disaster.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich)
I do not think that in any quarter of the House there will be any inclination to treat the speech we have just heard too seriously. The hon. Member and the party he represents have played so miserable a part in this country's war effort that their record will not quickly be forgotten. The hon. Member seemed to think that the case against him was that he had been fond of the Soviet Union. Nothing of the sort. The case against him was that when this country was struggling for its life he did everything he could to hinder it in that struggle. He said, by way of explanation and in answer to an interruption, that what he had wanted was a people's Government. What did he mean by a people's Government? He meant a 1997 Government that would not have enjoyed for five minutes the support of the House of Commons. A People's Government such as he demanded was a Government that could only have governed this country in defiance of the House of Commons. That is his idea of democracy.
I will turn to the more serious and dangerous contribution of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). He, I think I am right in saying, is still a member of the Labour party which supports—or I thought supported—this Government and has distinguished representatives in this Government and in the War Cabinet. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made a direct and whole-hearted attack upon the Government, and made it quite clear that on a Vote of Confidence he would vote against them. The hon. Member said, in regard to some of the statements which he was making, that as they were being made in the country it was as well that they should be made in this House. I agree with him. But what some of us would like to know is this: is he making them in the country? He said that there was a widespread feeling that this country sent an expedition to Greece because it wished to save Greece, but that it was not now attacking in the West because there was no such fellow-feeling for Russia. Is that a statement that he is making in the country? If not, is it a statement that he is using all his influence to deny in the country? He has sufficient intelligence to know that that statement is a lie. This country is fighting, literally, for its existence. It is associated with the great forces of Russia in a similar struggle.
§ Mr. Strauss
As the right hon. Gentleman said, a united struggle—I shall not differ from him. There can be no doubt that the question whether Russia remains in this struggle is vitally important for us as well as for Russia, and that if Russia is driven out of this struggle it will be a disaster for both of us. Does the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale really believe that that fact is not obvious to every member of the War Cabinet? What right have he and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) to suppose that the War Cabinet has not considered the possibilities of action in the West, and, indeed, everywhere else? Let me put a proposi- 1998 tion, so simple that it must be obvious to every Member of the House, in whatever quarter he sits. No action that we can possibly take will help Russia unless it helps us to win the war. For us to take some flashy, showy action in some part of the world, sensational but ineffective, may be precisely what Hitler is hoping for. The sort of speech to which we have just listened—I make no accusation against the hon. Member, who may have made it in his innocence—if repeated, and effectively repeated, in the country, so that it stirs up the people of this country to demand some action which is not in fact calculated to promote the winning of the war, is precisely the sort of thing that Hitler's paid agents might be expected to encourage at this moment.
What, after all, is the problem? It is, by the joint forces of this country, of Russia and of all our other Allies, to defeat the armed might of Germany and of the satellites of Germany. That problem involves the most difficult technical problems. Hon. Members who have criticised the Government have generally started by saying that they were not experts in strategy and did not wish to lay down strategy, and then have promptly proceeded to do so. Even the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker)—with much of whose speech I found myself in quite unusual agreement—went on, after disclaiming any desire to dictate strategy, to make strategical criticisms—a temptation into which we are all, perhaps, inclined to fall. But I do not think that he or any other Member who genuinely desires the defeat of our enemy would desire such questions as when and where we are to strike to be decided without the most careful advice from our naval, military and Air Force experts. Does any hon. Member, does the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale himself, really think that the War Cabinet has not consulted its experts and has not considered these questions of an attack in the West and elsewhere to which he alluded? After all, it is not a subject upon which the Government can take the House fully into their confidence, but surely it is safe to assume that all these questions have been considered. The hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) has indicated some of the technical difficulties of attacking now in the West. But does anybody 1999 suppose that the West is the only part where we may have a second front, and is it not rather dangerous to assume that there will not be attacks on other fronts, possibly in the not distant future?
I do not know really what was the logic of the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. He holds, apparently, that we are greatly lacking in equipment at this moment and blames the Government for that fact. But he then assumes that it is nevertheless our duty to strike at once in the West or to do something of that kind. Although there is no need and it is no part of my purpose to defend the speech of the Noble Lord who represents the War Office in another place, that speech, if I remember it rightly, was in the main a demonstration of the necessity for a great British Army. I do not think that that was the impression given by the account of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. I do not think that it was a speech wholly on the defensive, and I should have thought, after some of the remarks which the hon. Member made on the importance of the Caucasus, that what the Noble Lord said was true and obvious and that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale would not have disagreed with him.
I can only say, in conclusion, that I believe, as the overwhelming majority of the House believes, that the Government are not so lacking in common sense and sincerity and courage as not to realise that we and our Allies are in a very great and dangerous struggle, that we have our backs to the wall, and that it is indeed worth making every effort to support Russia and to keep her effectively in this struggle. But we can do that only if the action which we take is action wisely calculated to win the war—and it will not be so calculated if it is done in response to public clamour raised by people who do not know any of the essential facts and even boast of their ignorance—after we have considered all the ways and means and proper timing. But I would say this to the Government: They may find that, in order to give this help to Russia and to ourselves, they may have to take a risk, a well-calculated risk, but a risk. I would give them the assurance which they have already had, I think, from all parts of the House, that, if they decide after considering all the facts that that risk is justified, 2000 this House and the country will support them.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I think the course of this Debate has shown how useful it can be in time of war for this House to have a periodical discussion upon the conduct and progress of the war in which there is frank and plain speaking from all parts of the House. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), who opened this Debate, spoke—and spoke quite rightly— of the depth of feeling in the country on this subject of help to Russia. He said he certainly hoped the Government would show neither impatience nor resentment at any criticism which this deep feeling might arouse from time to time. I can assure the hon. Member that there is no such feeling in the mind of the Government. In fact, even members of the War Cabinet must be allowed to be human, and for us also this is a period of natural impatience and of real ordeal.
When hon. Members ask us to meet them and to try and relieve their anxieties and tell them something of our intentions, they put a more difficult task on our shoulders. One hon. Member took the view that if Members could be in closer contact with the Fighting Services, they could be given a little more information to enable them to judge the situation so that they could inform their constituents. I sympathise with that feeling, but clearly to do that would be at once to widen the area of information and increase the risks of our strength, plans and information being made known. No, I am afraid there is no solution for that difficulty.
Let me now give an assurance to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), in response to a question which he put. He asked whether I would undertake that the Government would discuss nothing, however attractive, with Hitler. I can give him that assurance emphatically. As has already been stated the Government do not propose now or in the future or at any time to have any negotiations with Hitler or his associates on any subject— [An HON. MEMBER: "And Mussolini?"] Of course; he is hardly worth mentioning.
Before we examine this question of aid to Russia, I would like to say a word or two about the background of the problem which has been touched on in this Debate and fill it in a little more clearly. 2001 References have been made to Lord Gort's despatches and to the shortages of equipment which those despatches revealed. Every word said on that subject is fully justified, but we have to carry our examination of the position a stage further than that. All the equipment being produced at that time, and before the attack on France and ourselves, was being sent to France. Our position in the Middle East, and still more at home, was deplorably weak. We lost in France at that time about 1,000 guns, not a very large figure in the resources of a great Continental army, but a very large figure for our resources then, and the guns that were left to us in this country last summer after that event were very many fewer than a thousand.
As I have told the House before, there was in this country at one time during last Summer not even one fully trained and fully equipped division. I mention these things only because they must be borne in mind as we approach this problem. Added to that, our defences were virtually non-existent, and our Middle Eastern Forces lacked practically all modern equipment. Last Summer and last Autumn we had to equip not only the Army here, but also to send guns, tanks, and aeroplanes to the Middle East, even before some of the divisions of the Regular Army were fully equipped. We were absolutely right to take that risk.
Here I come to another statement made in the Debate. The fact that we took that risk not only enabled General Wavell to win his victories, but also enabled us to send a measure of help to Greece, even though that help was insufficient to save Greece. I have heard it said to-day that that decision was strategically unsound. I do not accept that for a moment. Let hon. Members follow out what happened. It was the despatch of those troops to Greece, it was the Yugo-Slav coup d'état, coupled with the resistance of the Greek Armies and our own, which, without the least doubt on evidence which we have now, delayed the attack on Russia by at least six weeks. Is not that in itself a contribution made to the common cause? Granted, if you like, that every point of that could not be foreseen at the time, but I say that that decision was fully and absolutely justified in the light of the events that we know of now.
§ Mr. Eden
Everybody is entitled to his opinion. I will deal now with the immediate problem which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby. He complained of an article in which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War spoke of the sacrifice of equipment going to Russia. I think it is clear what was in my right hon. and gallant Friend's mind. Many of our divisions have been waiting for a long time for full equipment to be delivered to them, and for any regiment awaiting its most recent equipment it is, of course, a disappointment when that equipment cannot be delivered; but no one suggests for a moment that the Army, or indeed anyone, has regarded the despatch of this equipment to Russia as other than a contribution that they want to make.
I am not much enamoured of using this phrase "help to Russia." That does not seem to me to be how we should regard this problem at all. It is help to a common victory. The whole cause is all one for us. It is in that conception that we have to approach the problem. It is not an important side-show. It is in that spirit that supplies began to be sent, and decisions to send supplies were taken, from the earliest moment of the attack on Russia. As the House knows, supplies were sent before Lord Beaver-brook went to Russia. Supplies have been sent since as a result of the programme upon which he agreed, with the full authority of the Government, of course. His task was to try to fill up the gap in Russian production caused by the loss of a large part of their industry. It is in exactly the same conception—the conception that this is all one problem— that, from that moment also, we sought to open up our communications through Persia, so that when the cold weather came alternative routes of supply might be opened.
The hon. Member for Derby gave a list of the measures of help which have been given. I am not going to follow him into that detail, but there was one element that he left out. That was the help given by the Royal Navy, not only directly in convoying all these supplies, but indirectly in the effective attacks that they have been making upon Germany's line of 2003 supply in the north to her troops attacking Russia. He said that perhaps we should have done better in certain instances to send more squadrons complete with their pilots, ground staff, equipment and all. The House has to measure these things. You have a certain capacity which your transport and your lines of communication can carry. It may be that, if your Ally can make good use of the material that you can send him, it is more economical to send him the material to use rather than to send him as well the men to use it. It may be that it is more economical, for instance, to send hundreds of aircraft than to send five or six or more squadrons complete.
Now I come to some of the charges made against the Government during this Debate. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said he would have imagined that the Government, faced with this problem, would have considered that Russia would very soon be hard pressed for raw material and that therefore we should have immediately considered the despatch of raw material. [HON. MEMBERS: "He never said it."] I do not want to put words into the hon. Member's mouth which he did not use, but my impression was that that was his argument. Perhaps he will let me deal with it. It is a reasonable comment to deal with.
§ Mr. Eden
I have said that I accept the hon. Member's denial, if he denies that he made that statement, but I wish also to deal with the supply of raw materials to Russia, which I think I am entitled to do. Actually, before the outbreak of hostilities, preparations had been made and supplies of raw material were among the first despatched to Russia, rightly, to make up for the supplies which would be rapidly consumed in the additional war effort that Russia was making.
2004 Now I come to a charge which I do not think the hon. Member will deny. He accused the Government of being swayed by prejudice in their attitude towards Russia. He said it was repugnant to us to take risks for Russia as we had been ready to take risks for Greece. I roundly and absolutely deny that charge. There is not a syllable of truth in it. The hon. Member imparted all the social prejudice that he could to his speech. If there is any social prejudice towards Russia, it is in his mind and not in the mind of the Government. Let me state what has actually happened, because the House is entitled to the information. Many weeks before there was an attack upon Russia at all the Prime Minister warned Stalin and told him of the information that we had. I did the same more than once at a later date to the Soviet Ambassador.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Eden
On the day that the attack took place the Prime Minister himself, as Prime Minister and as Chairman of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, gave instructions that every possible means should be examined of giving help to Russia in every sphere. That was the instruction given on the very day that the attack took place. From that day the preparations to send help began. What are we actually doing? The hon. Gentleman spoke as though nothing at all had been done. Lord Beaverbrook has, in the name of the Government and with the full assent of the Government, promised in tanks and aircraft exactly what M. Stalin himself asked for. With the help of our American friends we are giving exactly what was asked of us in this respect. Some tanks and aircraft have been delivered already. Large numbers of aeroplanes have been delivered. They are being delivered and will be delivered exactly in accordance with the terms of the programme which we pledged ourselves to M. Stalin to fulfil. That is an undertaking I give to this House. By every means in our power we are going to get these tanks and aeroplanes there in the numbers they were asked for.
2005 Let me say a little more to the hon. Gentleman. He said that the Government ratted. Who took these decisions about tanks, aeroplanes and supplies? I am willing to take my share of the responsibility. There are four members of the War Cabinet on the Defence Com-mittee—the Prime Minister, the Minister of Supply, the Lord Privy Seal and myself. The Service members—the Chiefs of Staff—attend. The hon. Gentleman says that we ratted. He said that the Government have not the confidence of the House or of the country. That is a serious charge, and I say to him that if that is his belief, he is at liberty to challenge us at any time he likes in the Division Lobbies, and we will accept that challenge. No Government bearing the responsibilities that this Government has to bear at this time could refuse to accept a challenge of that kind from whatever quarter it came. Fortunately, the relations between His Majesty's Government and the Soviet Government are very much better than the relations between the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the Treasury Bench.
Let me turn to another aspect of this problem. The hon. Member and others have complained during the Debate of Ministerial and Ambassadorial statements from time to time. They said that these statements were indiscreet or unwise or injurious. I am very conscious of the difficulty of making statements that are not of that character. That is why I liked the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, for it gives me something else to say. In the same breath in which he criticised Ministers and Ambassadors for what they say, the hon. Member asked us to give reasons for the decisions which we may or may not be going to take. That is an impossibility at the present time. This is a free country in the sense that a man, though he is free to speak, can also, I hope, at times keep silent. Anyone in this country can discuss any theories of strategy. Any Member of this House, any writer in the newspapers, is perfectly at liberty to discuss strategy, and personally I think it is natural and healthy that we should have these discussions. Suggestions multiply. Some of them are, no doubt, very good suggestions, some of them not quite so good, but, whatever their quality, everybody is at 2006 liberty to make them and everybody is at liberty to canvass them. But that is not the Government's job at a time like this. The duty of the Government is to use their judgment, to make their plans and to keep their counsel. The Government's duty is to listen to criticism, to weigh criticism, and not to be swayed by clamour, however eloquent. Emotion is a bad counsellor in war.
What are the fundamentals of the situation which we now face? This is the appeal that I would make to the House. It is clear to us all that Russia is facing a terrible ordeal. She is facing it with magnificent courage. There is not, believe me, a single member of the Government who does not earnestly wish to do everything in his power to help Russia in this struggle. To put it at the lowest, it is obviously in our own self-interest to do so. Where is this nation going to be if Russia is unable to hold her front? We realise as well as the hon. Member or any other Member of this House what are the opportunities which this German attack on Russia offers to us, but the hon. Member is not going to ask me, and the House is not going to ask me, what, as a result of our examinations and reflections, we are going to do. That would be to play into the hands of others. I can only give the House this one pledge, and it is a pledge which I assure them the Government are determined to honour; that we are going to give to Russia every help in our power and by every means. If the House will accept that assurance, if they will have confidence in those who have to carry this policy through, if they will show that confidence not by bitterness and by suspicion but in a real united national effort, it is thus that we can best help Russia, thus that we can best attain final victory.
The House knows that I held the view for long that, ideologies apart, there was no reason why at any time there should be a conflict of interest between ourselves and Russia. I hold that view unchanged to-day, and I tell the House that in the discussions we have had, which have been innumerable, in the hours which have been spent examining this problem, which have been very many, and in the work which has been put into it, which has been very heavy, the Government have been moved by only one motive, to give all the help in their power to aid Russia and bring final victory.
§ Mr. Eden
Both the Prime Minister and I dealt with that speech in answers to Questions some time ago. I think the hon. Member is giving a wholly exaggerated significance to that statement. What Lord Halifax was trying to do, clearly, was to meet a criticism of the American Press. It is not always easy, even for the most experienced of us, to say exactly the right words on such an occasion. I can only hope the hon. Member will never be at fault himself.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the War Cabinet should not divulge to hon. Members or others their plans, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statements referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) have created great disquiet in the minds of munition workers in this country, and therefore will the Government take some definite method of repudiating those statements?
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
It is precisely because of the points that have been raised that I should like to intervene. With the last part of the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs I think most Members will agree, but not only were these points raised in the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), but there was a substantial charge. The only reply made by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the matter was that too much stress has been laid upon it and that Lord Halifax was doing his best to answer a question. Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the statement was made not only by Lord Halifax but by other members of His Majesty's Government? It was made by Lord Moyne only yesterday. It was made by the right hon. Member for Rossendale 2008 (Sir R. Cross). He is a Member of this House and represents the Government in Australia. It was made also by Lord Croft.
What is the country to say when four members of the Government, in deliberate speeches, make the statement? Lord Halifax knew perfectly well that he would be asked the question by the American Press representatives. Every one of those members delivered a prepared speech. In the face of the warnings that had been given by the Prime Minister in this House to Members that we were not allowed to discuss these matters, and that it was dangerous for us to ask these questions, members of his Government go abroad and do these things. A part of the Prime Minister's speech has already been quoted, but there were even stronger words than those. May I remind the House of what the Prime Minister said as recently as 30th September? He said:For those reasons I could not attempt to discuss at the present time questions of future strategy "—Quite right. We all agree—They are discussed every day in the newspapers, in an exceedingly vivid and often well-informed manner, but I do not think that His Majesty's Government ought to take any part just now in such Debates. Take, for instance, the question of whether we should invade the Continent of Europe "—He calls attention to the precise thing—in order to lift some of the weight off Russia, whether we ought to take advantage of the lull now that Hitler is busy in Russia to strike him in the West. I shall be guilty of no indiscretion if I admit that these are questions which have several times occurred to those responsible for the conduct of the war. But what could I say about them that would be useful? If I were to throw out dark hints of some great design, no one would have any advantage but the enemy. If, on the other hand, I were to assemble the many cogent reasons, which could be ranged on the other side, I should be giving altogether gratuitous reassurance to Hitler."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th September, 1941; col. 512, Vol. 374.]That is precisely the gratuitous assurance which Lord Halifax gave—a member of the War Cabinet. Why should the Government disapprove if we raise these matters? One other thing: not only did he give that reassurance, but he gave the details. He went so far as to say, "Hitler, we have not got the ships in this country at the present moment." He went further and said, "We have not got the equipment," and it is on that precise 2009 point that we have challenged him. We have challenged on that point before, and every challenge we have made has been met by the words, "Everything is all right; why do you take such a gloomy view of things; why do you speak in that despondent way?" May I remind that Bench that when the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) a short while ago suggested that our output at the present moment was only 75 per cent. of what it ought to be, the Prime Minister came solemnly down to the House and rebuked him and the rest of us, asking how we dared to make such a statement? Yet only last week the Minister of Labour said to the world that he wants 40 per cent. more production than he is getting at the present time. Cannot the Government even agree upon a statement of that kind? That is precisely the point which is worrying the country. It is this matter which is causing anxiety from one end to another, because we realise from our everyday contact with affairs that equipment is not what it should be.
The right hon. Gentleman made a great appeal at the end of his speech for a united effort. We have been making that appeal for a united effort right from the outset, but is there a united effort to-day? Has industry been put on a war basis? Are we not still carrying on exactly as we were in peace-time, are we not still buying from one firm and an- other instead of getting all the firms working full time? Is labour working for a united country, or is it working for one individual and another? What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by a united effort? I am entitled to ask this question, particularly now that a promise has been made to Russia, a promise which, the right hon. Gentleman re-emphasised at that Box, will be carried out to the full, a promise of equipment, of tanks and aeroplanes. Where are they coming from? I have reminded the House before that up to a short while ago we were not producing enough in this country to equip ourselves; we had to go to America and ask for their assistance. A part of that American assistance has now to go to Russia. Where is equipment to come from if you pursue your present methods? Perfectly ob- 2010 viously, if you are to implement that promise to Russia, you have to reorganise all your methods, and you will not reorganise your methods until you reorganise that Bench.
The time has certainly come to speak out plainly. Many of us were criticising these very things in 1939 and 1940. Early in the war we were calling attention to the lack of equipment. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Leader of the Opposition, in the first speech which was made on the War Estimates—at least it was a speech which followed immediately after one made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), describing how the Expeditionary Force had gone over to France— asked at that time if the Force was fully equipped. The answer came from the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the then Government that it was perfectly equipped, to the last button of the last kit. Then the question came before the House with regard to aeroplanes. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer was then responsible for air production, and he led this House to believe that the amount of aircraft then being produced—"accruing" was the word he used—was equal to that of the Axis.
To-day we know the truth from Lord Gort. To-day we know the truth from his despatches that 128 aeroplanes were all that were left at the disposal of the British Expeditionary Force; that not a single armour-piercing shell was sent over, and that the only tank division was sent over on 12th May and arrived too late to be of any use. I am calling attention to these matters because the answers given to us in those days were precisely the answers which are given to us to-day, and very largely by the same men, certainly by the same type of mind. I join with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in saying that the country is getting not only disturbed, but tired, by these answers. We are entitled now, in this desperate moment, to have a united country turning out everything we possibly can. The people are willing. It is only leadership which we lack.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.