§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)
It is four weeks since the Prime Minister spoke to the House on the war situation, and much has happened since then. I know that the House would have liked at its first Sitting in the new year to have a review of the general position of our affairs by the Prime Minister in his own inimitable style. I am equally certain that the House appreciates the compelling reasons that have taken him across the Atlantic. The entry of the United States of America into the war demanded that, as quickly as possible and as authoritatively as possible, plans should be concerted to bring the greatest possible co-ordination into the efforts of the two great democracies on either side of the Atlantic. In the sphere of strategy and that of supply it was vitally necessary that there should be unity of direction as well as unity of effort, and the visit of the Prime Minister, Lord Beaverbrook and of the 83 high staff officers who accompanied them has resulted in achieving a degree of unity and co-operation which, I think, could not possibly have been brought about in any other way than by personal contact.
The House is aware of the main results that have been achieved. There has been, first of all, the joint declaration of the 26 nations, which sets out in plain terms the pledges of the signatories to stand together in support of the principles of the Atlantic Charter against the savage and brutal forces which are seeking to subjugate the world. Secondly, there has been the decision to create, as a result of proposals put forward by the Chiefs of Staff of the United States and of Great Britain a system of unified command in the South-West Pacific Area, whereby all the Forces in that area—air, land and sea—will be under one supreme commander. General Wavell, who has been appointed to this command, will have on his staff officers of the Australian, Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States Forces. At the same time, the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has accepted the command of all the land and air Forces of the united nations which are now or may be at any time in future operating in the Chinese theatre. These arrangements constitute a considerable achievement in the unification of our war effort in one particular theatre. But the matter will not stop there. These arrangements must in due course form part of a wider plan to ensure the proper co-ordination of the efforts of the Allies everywhere.
Questions have been asked in the House to-day and previously as to the formation of an Imperial War Cabinet—
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves this point, may I ask him a question? I thoroughly approve of the arrangements with which he is dealing. Will he be good enough to say what are the limits of General Wavell's command? Does it include India? Does it include parts of Australia? It is important to know the precise area covered.
§ Mr. Attlee
Roughly speaking, it covers Burma and, excluding Indo-China, goes up to the North to the Philippines, and then on a line drawn down to the North Coast of Australia and then sweeping round the islands of the Malay Archipelago. It excludes India and Australia.
84 Questions were asked about the formation of an Imperial War Cabinet and the creation of a Supreme War Council. It would be premature for me to try and discuss this at the present time, but attention has been given to it. It would be a mistake to assume that exactly the same kind of organisation which was found suitable in 1917 will necessarily suit the conditions of this war. In 1917 the war was practically confined to two theatres of war in Europe and one smaller one in Asia. To-day it embraces every Continent. You have four great Powers geographically separated. I think the House will agree that it would not be proper to enter into this question of further co-ordination in the absence of the Prime Minister, who has been discussing it with the President of the United States and with representatives of other Powers. But, besides those two concrete results, the value of the meeting of the leaders of two great nations engaged as Allies in war comes to something far different from just an adding-up of concrete results. It lies much more in the imponderables, in the understanding between the minds of the Prime Minister and the President, in that close and intimate association in a common task, and also in the consultations of the chief staff officers of the armed forces of both nations. This increased understanding is not being confined to the heads of our nations. Those two great speeches of the Prime Minister, the one addressed to Congress, the other addressed to the Canadian Parliament, were heard and appreciated by tens of millions in Canada and the United States of America, and I know they have drawn from them both inspiration and enthusiasm.
The work of the Prime Minister in the sphere of politics and strategy has been supplemented by the work of Lord Beaverbrook in the field of supply, and that great programme outlined by President Roosevelt in his message to Congress shows that the full power of American industry is going to be harnessed to the war effort. In that fighting speech the President showed that in his mind co-ordination did not stop just at the limited provision for one particular command. He said:Plans have been laid here and in the other capitals for co-ordinating co-operative action by all united nations—military action and economic action. There will be a continuation of the conferences and consultations 85 among the military staffs, so that the plans and operations of each will fit into a general strategy designed to crush the enemy. We shall not fight isolated wars, each nation going its own way. These 26 nations are united not in a spirit of common determination alone but in the broad conduct of the war in all its phases.I am quite sure the House is appreciative of the great service which this visit has done to our common cause, and will join with me in gratitude to the Prime Minister and his companions for what they have done. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, accompanied by Sir Alexander Cadogan, and Major-General Nye, has just returned from visiting Mr. Stalin, again another example of close personal collaboration, and I hope he will be able to tell the House later in the day something of his visit. When he returned he brought with him representatives of the Russian trade unions, who have been very welcome visitors to this country. As the House knows, General Wavell has paid a visit to General Chiang-Kai-Shek, in order to concert plans with him, and the unstinting support which the generalissimo has promised to the Allies, in spite of the fact that his country has been ravaged and assailed for four years, deserves our profound gratitude. The successes of the Chinese Forces over the Japanese at Chang-sha are a good augury for future success.
In reviewing the events in the various theatres of war during the past four weeks, we have to strike a 'balance of loss and gain. In Libya, General Auchinleck has continued to strike heavy blows at the Axis forces. When the Prime Minister addressed the House the disengagement of Tobruk had just been effected, but the enemy was still standing strongly on a line running from Gazala southwards into the desert, a little to the west of the fortress of Tobruk, while in Bardia, in Sollum and in Halfaya strong pockets of the enemy were still holding out. In the following week, despite heavy counter attacks, General Rommell found himself unable to hold his position owing to our armoured forces outflanking him. The vigorous pressure of our forces prevented him from standing again on any north and south line there. Some attempt was made to hold the line Mekeli-Derna, but he was turned out of that. A quick outflanking movement hurried him back. The pursuit continued relentlessly along 86 the Derna-Benghazi road, and along the desert route from Mekeli, until on Christmas Eve Benghazi was captured. Large numbers of prisoners and much material were captured. Meanwhile, away to the south, light detachments have been moving, cutting off the desert road back to Tripoli.
Our operations have been handicapped frequently by very bad weather. At the present time General Rommell has concentrated his forces in Jedabaya and heavy tank battles have taken place. As the House knows, the enemy force at Bardia surrendered, yielding over 8,000 prisoners and much material, and the remaining pockets at Halfaya and Sollum are very closely invested. That is where the position stands in Libya.
Throughout the whole of this campaign there has been magnificent co-operation by our naval, military and air forces. I think we ought to realise the responsibilities of the Navy in this campaign. They are threefold. First of all there is the maintenance of supplies for our own forces. Secondly, the interruption of supplies to the enemy forces. Thirdly, the bombardment of shore targets to assist the Army's advance. All those duties they have shared with the Royal Air Force. Then, on that long sea route round the Cape, the convoys continue to travel safely, and while some casualties have been caused by submarine attack on the convoys along the Libya coast, they have been comparatively light, and many of the attackers have paid the penalty. Enemy supplies have been continually attacked by air, by submarines and by surface ships, and a heavy toll has been taken. One of the most successful of these operations was the sinking of two cruisers off the coast of Tunis by our destroyers. The R.A.F., besides co-operating in those attacks, have rendered signal service to the Army throughout the campaign. The Army have been loud in praise of the unfailing support they have received and the system of command and co-operation has proved most successful. There had been criticisms formerly of the lack of co-operation. This campaign has been an example of most successful co-operation.
It is not very easy to appreciate the scale of this battle in North Africa. One sees in the papers a small map, a kind of small semi-circle of territory, but our Forces 87 are operating 600 miles from their starting point, and although the disengagement of Tobruk, and the capture of Derna and Benghazi will, in time, give some relief, everyone must realise the enormous difficulties of supply across those miles of desert; and the valour and endurance of our troops—British, Dominion, Indian and Allied troops—who have taken part in a most exacting campaign, is beyond all braise. I cannot leave the story of the Middle East without mentioning the steadfastness and gallantry of the garrison and people of Malta, under the inspiring leadership of General Dobbie. Both in attack and defence they have played a great part and the enemy have paid them the compliment of directing very heavy attacks upon them.
Meanwhile, as always, the Battle of the Atlantic continues, a battle which at this time of year is not only against the enemy but against the forces of the elements. The satisfactory decline in our shipping losses which the Prime Minister referred to in his last statement has continued, but it would be a very great mistake not to realise the strain which the extension of the war in the Far East has put both on our Royal Navy and on our Merchant Navy.
The other great gain on the credit side which we can speak of to-day is the steady progress of the Russian offensive. In the air, and over wide sectors of the front, the initiative has definitely passed to the Russians. There is hardly even a pretence by the German Command that all these retreats are in accordance with plan. Those frantic appeals for warm clothing by Dr. Goebbels show, more clearly than anything else, that there has been a complete upset in Hitler's plan, which could never have contemplated that the Germany army would have to spend the winter out in the open—a Russian winter. If they had been snugly housed in Moscow and Leningrad, gorged with the loot of two great cities, the German army might have passed a very different winter. Whether the assumption of the supreme command by Herr Hitler, and his dependence on his intuitions instead of military science, are likely to comfort the soldiers in their distress, I will leave to those who have better knowledge of German mentality than I can claim.
88 It is satisfactory to us to know that the tanks and aeroplanes that we sent from this country have borne their part in these great achievements by the Russians, just as Hitler's need for retaining air forces in Germany and the Middle East have not been without their effect on the balance of air power on the Eastern front. Before leaving the campaign in Europe, it must be noted that throughout this period, so far as weather conditions allowed, our bombers have continued to operate against targets in Germany and German-occupied countries and have played their great part in the Battle of the Atlantic.
I turn now to the Far East. The Prime Minister warned the House of the gravity of the events in the Far East and the power of our new antagonist. He said it might well be that we should have to suffer considerable punishment and that we should defend ourselves everywhere with the utmost vigour, in close co-operation with the United States of America and the Netherlands. Events have borne out his warning. Before giving an account of what is happening in the Far Eastern theatre, it is well to consider the broad facts of the strategic situation. It is obvious that, in war, the British Commonwealth and Empire, composed of so many units separated by huge stretches of ocean, offers a great number of favourable points for attack. So long as Germany was our only enemy, our overseas Empire and Commonwealth, suffered few attacks, except perhaps from occasional raiders. The main danger which faced us was the attack on our commerce and the possibility of the development from the Continent of an attack on these Islands. When Italy came into the war, the Mediterranean ceased to be just a safe highway between our lands in the East and the West and became a major war zone. Finally, when Japan came into the war, the hitherto peaceful pacific ceased to live up to its name and also became a war zone, in which Japan, with a most powerful fleet in those waters, a very strong army and a strong air force, was in a position at once to assail all our scattered possessions in that area. The fact that the United States entered the war on our side determines the ultimate result of the war beyond a shadow of doubt, but does not offset the immediate advantage of Japan by reason of her strategic position 89 and the initiative which she seized by a treacherous attack on two nations, one pre-occupied elsewhere and the other unsuspecting and at peace with all the world.
The fact that, at the outbreak of war, Japan found our territories in the Far East less strongly garrisoned and equipped than we should have wished them to be, springs not from any lack of prevision but from the fundamental fact that it is beyond our resources to be strong everywhere. Here again, it is difficult to appreciate just what the scale of the war is in the Far East. We generally see a small-scale map on which the Malay Peninsula appears to be just a small appendage. Actually, its size is comparable with that of Great Britain. In relation to Singapore, Khota Baru is as Edinburgh is to London, and that Eastern coast which is exposed to the danger of attacks from Japan is broadly equal to our whole East coast. Similarly, the Dutch possessions in the East Indies are not small places but are great islands, equalling in size and population many of the larger European States. With this background, we can turn to the narrative of events.
Our Northern outpost, Hong Kong, was attacked on 8th December by greatly superior forces which began to penetrate into Kowloon on the mainland. On 11th December, in accordance with a longstanding plan, the mainland brigade was withdrawn to the island. After six days of shelling and bombing, the enemy were able to effect landings at two points, and to nourish their lodgements continually. Our forces, though outnumbered and experiencing very great difficulties in getting supplies of munitions, food and water—not because those supplies were not there originally, but because they had been cut off—held out gallantly in three isolated areas until 25th December, when, after having rejected three previous demands to surrender, the Governor had no option but to accept the advice of his naval and military commanders that further resistance was impossible. The Hong Kong defenders held up important enemy forces and inflicted heavy losses on them, and set a very fine example of courage and tenacity against heavy odds. Nor should we forget the gallant attempt to relieve Hong Kong made by our Chinese Allies, at the express order of General Chiang Kai-shek.
90 In Malaya, the battle is still raging, and the House will not expect me to carry the account beyond the opening stages of the campaign. On 8th December, the Japanese effected considerable landings at Singgora and Patani in Southern Thailand. These were unopposed by the Thais, and there is every reason to believe that stores and fuel had been accumulated for their benefit there in advance. Simultaneously, the Japanese, after initial failures, managed to land at Khota Baru, in Northern Malaya. They considerably outnumbered our forward troops and started a series of enveloping movements. Our troops succeeded in cutting their way out, heavy casualties being incurred, but also inflicted on the enemy. Our aerodromes and communications were destroyed as we withdrew. At the present time, our Northern Forces have fallen back to a position 60 miles North of Kuala Lumpur, and our garrisons of the East and North East have been drawn back to conform. As the House knows, Burma, and in particular Rangoon, is now well within the war zone. The first raid on Rangoon took place on 23rd December. It was made by 60 bombers escorted by fighters, and 10 enemy aircraft were destroyed. On 25th December the Japanese attacked again, with 80 bombers escorted by about 20 fighters. This time they lost 27 machines. In neither of these raids was any substantial material damage done, but I regret to say that in the first there was a large number of casualties in personnel because people had not learnt to take cover. The casualties in the second raid were light.
There are two points which I should like to make. The first is as to the adequacy of our defence preparations. It is quite unfair to blame the commanders on the spot for the fact that we had not as strong forces by land, sea and air as we could wish. The demands on our resources in men, arms and transport have been very heavy. In addition to providing what was essential for our home defence and what was required in the Middle East and elsewhere, we have also sent planes and tanks to Russia, and in deciding how to allocate our resources the Government must take into account not what is desirable but what is possible. They must meet the most urgent needs first of all. We were, of course, aware of the possibility of a sudden attack by Japan, and, believe me, that possibility 91 has been present in the minds of the Government ever since we took office. There was always the chance of their coming in, but the danger seemed, and proved for a long period less imminent than attacks in other quarters. What would hon. Members have said if we had excused ourselves for having insufficient forces in the Middle East on the plea that we had locked up large forces in Singapore, which at that time seemed most unlikely to be attacked, or at least on which an attack was purely problematical? Similarly, when there seemed a serious possibility of the German attack on Russia, particularly towards the Caucasus, succeeding, we did not hesitate to send tanks and planes to Russia; what would hon. Members have said if we had pleaded that we could not help in that vital sector because we had to retain the arms in another sector where the need was less urgent?
During the war we have sent what reinforcements we could spare to the Far East, but it is idle to suppose that even if we had increased our production to the utmost extent imagined to be possible by some hon. Members we could, after providing for our own defence and within the margin of time available, have produced and transported enough arms and personnel to equal the forces of a great military power such as Japan.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (Marylebone)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point. He says that the commanders in the Far East are not to blame. Could he possibly tell the House who is to blame?
§ Mr. Attlee
The Government take full responsibility, and if the hon. Member had been listening to me, he would, I think, have understood that it was not possible for us to provide the arms which it was desirable to provide for the whole of the scattered British Empire, exactly in the same way as after Dunkirk we had not enough arms in this country to go round. The hon. Member can put the blame where he likes. He can put the blame back as many years as he likes. My point was that it was unfair to blame local commanders for deficiencies for which they are not responsible.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say what arrangements have been made in Malaya 92 for enlisting the armed co-operation of the Malays?
§ Mr. Attlee
I am afraid that that is a detailed question which I cannot answer without notice. The hon. Member asked me what arrangements had been made. It is quite obvious that I cannot give a statement like that off-hand, nor can I state what are our forces in Malaya while the battle is going on.
Can he say whether there is any considerable body of Malays enlisted and fighting on our side?
§ Mr. Attlee
I cannot answer that offhand. I am not prepared to give details of the numbers of the Forces available.
§ Mr. Molson (High Peak)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves this point. I am sure hon. Members will agree about the unfairness to the local commanders. Can he say something about what has been done in the way of destroying communications and especially the railway along the Eastern side? That I think is the gist of most of the criticisms that have been made.
§ Mr. Attlee
My information is that in a country of great distances, with a limited personnel at their disposal, everything possible had been done to hinder the enemy by destroying everything that could give them assistance, such as railways, power plants and supplies as well. I think there was a Question on the Order Paper about some of those points.
The second point I wish to deal with concerns aerodromes. There are some 15 aerodromes in Malaya, but in no case was there any attack from the rear or by parachute or air-borne troops. They were lost because of the loss of the area in which they were situated, exactly as when General Rommel was driven back in Libya he lost the aerodromes in Cyrenaica. While it is true that aerodromes are important strategetic points and should be defended, it is ridiculous to think that they could be held in isolation when superior enemy forces caused the whole area to be abandoned. It would be another matter if those aerodromes had been taken by landings made from the rear by parachute troops, or because there was insufficient preparation. That was not the case. The aerodromes were lost because a strategic retirement had to take place, and nothing could 93 have been more futile, in a country such as Malaya, where the mobility of troops must be the first consideration, than to lock up little pockets of troops for the defence of aerodromes for a few extra hours or days. Wherever aerodromes have been evacuated they have, as far as possible, been rendered unserviceable. What has happened in Malaya is very different from what might happen in this country.
This brings me to the last matter which I wish to bring to the attention of the House to-day. That is the defence of aerodromes. As a result of a careful study of campaigns overseas and of the conditions which are likely to occur during an attempted invasion of this country, we have carried into effect during some months a considerable development of our plans for defending our aerodromes. We have tested these plans, which are of course secret, by holding exercises and trials, and in particular we have studied the rapid reinforcement or relief of aerodromes that may be attacked. Great progress has been made during the past six months, with the full co-operation and assistance of the War Office and the Army authorities, in arming and training a large number of the R.A.F. technical, maintenance and other personnel of aerodromes so that they can take their proper and considerable share in the defence of their own stations. As a result of these experiences, lasting over a number of months, a further decision of far-reaching importance has recently been taken, but before announcing it I should like to give a brief indication of the nature of the problem, so that hon. Members can see better as to how it should be met.
The Air Force has now a vital part to play in all forms of war, and air forces are dependent, like naval forces, on the possession of secure bases. Therefore, the capture of these bases has become a major object round which a plan of war may well be built. The defence of aerodromes cannot be regarded as a problem isolated from the defence of the areas in which they are located. The point I made in regard to Malaya applies here. This defence, except against very light raiding forces, cannot be conducted solely or even mainly from the aerodromes themselves. The outcome of a land battle miles away may seal the fate of aerodromes upon which no direct attack has been made. Depth of defence, room for 94 manoeuvre, perhaps considerable military and air forces, may be necessary to hold an aerodrome, and perhaps the biggest single factor in the defence of aerodromes is the gaining and retention of air supremacy. This can only be effected by fighter aircraft. The area surrounding an aerodrome may thus become a battlefield in which a major engagement is fought, the aerodrome itself being a tactical feature in that area. The function of aerodrome defence is therefore to ensure that the personnel of the aerodromes are so commanded, organised, armed, trained and provided with defence works that they can take their part to the fullest effect at the aerodrome in the battle for the defence of the area which contains it if a major attack by the enemy is staged, and to ensure, too, that they could, by themselves, successfully defeat an attempt at a coup de main. For this reason, aerodrome defence is essentially part of the general land defence and must be the task and responsibility of the military commander. In this task the R.A.F. on the aerodrome must be able to assist to the fullest extent. The R.A.F. ground staff are, however, under the control of the Station Commander, as are also all the material resources of the aerodrome, and the Station Commander is himself under the command of his R.A.F. superiors. If the regular garrison of the aerodrome is made up of Regular soldiers under the control of the military authorities there will be divided responsibility with all its attendant dangers. That is one of the main problems which have had to be solved.
After very careful consideration, and on the unanimous advice of all the Service authorities concerned, it has been decided that, while Army responsibility for ground defence as a whole must be maintained, the R.A.F. shall, as the Army's agent and, under military direction, undertake the entire local defence arrangements at its aerodromes in this country. As a majority of Royal Air Force personnel on the aerodromes is to have personal weapons and to take part in its defence, it is right that the regular garrison should be composed, not as now of soldiers under the control of the military authorities, but of personnel forming part of the Royal Air Force. Therefore, a corps of aerodrome defence troops under the executive and administrative control of the Air Council will be formed for that 95 purpose. The corps which will be called the "Royal Air Force Regiment," will be organised, trained and equipped for the particular task of local aerodrome defence, and its units will possess a number of armoured fighting vehicles and artillery weapons as well as the normal infantry arms. Major-General C. F. Liardet, who was until recently the Inspector of Aerodrome Defences, has been appointed Director-General of Ground Defence in the Air Ministry; and as the senior officer of the Regiment, although not exercising operational control, he will be given the title of Commandant. He will be assisted by a number of other Army officers, many of senior rank and high qualifications, who are being lent to the Royal Air Force for this purpose. Under this new system the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, who is responsible, under the War Office, for the land defence of the British Isles, will decide the strength and location of the aerodrome garrisons provided by units of the Royal Air Force Regiment and will indicate to the Air Ministry the nature of the tactical methods of defence he wishes to be adopted. He will also have the right to satisfy himself, through his representatives, that proper measures to implement general policy are being taken and are effective.
At the same time, each R.A.F. Station Commander will, under the direction, and with the assistance, of his R.A.F. superiors, be responsible for the local defence of his station, and will exercise full executive control over the whole-time garrison troops of the Royal Air Force Regiment as well as over the ordinary R.A.F. personnel who have been armed and trained to fight in an emergency. In the event of active land operations against the enemy in the vicinity of his aerodrome, the Station Commander will, for the purpose of defence, come under the operational control of the local military commander, with whom he will have previously concerted plans for the relief of the station should this become necessary. I should add that Ministry of Aircraft Production aerodromes will be included in the scope of the scheme and will have appropriate garrison units provided by the Royal Air Force Regiment. The Admiralty are taking similar action for the naval air stations. The Government are satisfied that the new scheme which 96 I have outlined will achieve a marked improvement in the arrangements for the defence of aerodromes and at the same time enable the most economical use to be made of the available resources in man-power. By ending a system of divided control over the actual defence measures at individual aerodromes, and by placing the responsibility for such matters on the aerodrome users, while at the same time maintaining the essential military control over land defence as a whole, including the defence of aerodromes, many difficulties and potential sources of weakness will be removed. The House will see that it has been a difficult problem and I hope that Members will examine this scheme, which has the approval of the Chiefs of Staff of all the three Services.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, could he inform the House by what date the Royal Air Force Regiment will be fully trained and equipped for this work?
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
There is one very crucial aspect of this new and rather complex arrangement on which the right hon. Gentleman has not touched. Who will decide on the apportionment of the weapons to the new Force, particularly with regard to the allocation of armoured vehicles?
§ Mr. Muff (Hull, East)
Is it not possible to recruit the personnel from the Army which is at present defending some of these aerodromes, and incorporate them in this new Royal Air Force Regiment so that there will be no additional delay?
§ Mr. Attlee
There is a difference between the static defence of aerodromes and active defence. At present we have units stationed at aerodromes which might be more usefully employed on active defence outside.
§ Squadron-Leader Hulbert (Stockport)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us from what sources this Force will be recruited?
§ Mr. Attlee
We have a large number already. We are going to supplement them by ordinary methods of recruiting.
§ Mr. Molson
There is the anti-aircraft defence of aerodromes. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to refer to land defence. In the case of anti-aircraft defence will that be divided between Anti-Aircraft Command in the case of large guns and the Royal Air Force in the case of Lewis guns?
§ Mr. Attlee
I understand that the position there will be substantially the same as it is now, but the hon. Member will realise that I am not in charge of the Department concerned with this. I could not give answers on all these details, though I know the general plan. Perhaps the hon. Member will put a point later.
§ Mr. Muff
Those of us who have visited these places officially and unofficially have seen numbers of the Army being trained, they have the equipment, and they can do the job. The difficulty has been the falling down on the dual command. I do impress upon the Departments concerned that we must not have undue delay in this matter. You have the nucleus with those men who have been trained for a year or two in field training.
§ Mr. Attlee
That is rather a different matter of the allocation of personnel. Although they may have been trained, it does not necessarily follow that the best use of their services will be at the aerodromes.
§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman says that this arrangement is to apply only in this country. Are we to infer that the present unsatisfactory arrangements are to continue for some considerable time, at any rate, overseas, or is this arrangement likely to apply overseas at any date?
§ Mr. Attlee
If the hon. Member had listened to what I said, he would have heard that it was a rather different problem there.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
I wish to ask for an assurance as to the question of the co-operation of the Home Guard 98 in the defence of aerodromes. Was that fully considered, or will it be considered? They are static troops, permanently in the neighbourhood of an aerodrome.
§ Squadron-Leader Hulbert
It is very important that when this Force is obtained, it shall be equipped. When will that be done?
§ Mr. Attlee
As soon as possible; but there is bound to be a hiatus.
I have endeavoured to give the House some information on that particular subject, and also a general account of the war situation as it is to-day. I have tried to give a balanced picture, without emphasising unduly either the lights or the shadows. One has to remember that at no time during this war have we been without very urgent anxieties. At no time have we been complacent, but we have never allowed particulars events, whether favourable or unfavourable, to obscure the fundamental facts of the situation. We can look at those fundamental facts today. We have entered on the year 1942 under very different conditions from those of 1941. We have, it is true, a new enemy, with power to do us harm for a time, and our old enemy, despite his reverses, is still very strong. But we have, in the United States, Russia, and China, great new allies in the fight against tyranny. We have effective unity to-day. We are concerting unity of action between the united nations. Great efforts will be needed to change potential strength into actual power. There is no excuse for any relaxation in our striving, but I do say that we can go forward in this new year with a sober and well-grounded confidence in the ultimate success of our cause.
§ Sir Edward Campbell (Bromley)
I know that my right hon. Friend has not been able to include everything, but does he not agree that the Allies have every reason to be grateful for the assistance of the Navy and the Air Force of the Netherlands in the Far East?
§ Mr. Attlee
I can strongly endorse what my hon. Friend says, and I am sure there will be many further opportunities of loyal co-operation between us and that country.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
The House has listened with interest to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who has given us an exhaus- 99 ttive picture of what is happening at the present time. In the course of his discourse, he has put a girdle around the world and has endeavoured to follow the war into all the continents and seas where it has been raging. Towards the end of his speech, he announced the Government's decision on a matter on which the House and the country as a whole have been greatly exercised for a long time.
Before I come to that part of his speech, I am sure the House would wish me to express my congratulations to the Prime Minister on his decision to visit Washington and then to go to Ottawa, to get into direct contact with the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. We who often sit under the spell of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in this House can well appreciate the effect that his recent speeches in Washington and in Ottawa must have had on those who listened to him in America. But I am sure that we shall all agree that, important as was the effect on his hearers in those two countries, still more important were the decisions taken between him and the President with regard to the conduct of the war. The unification of command which has been decided upon by those two statesmen may well have a very important and lasting effect on the war.
It would be inappropriate for me to ask, and still more inappropriate for my right hon. Friend to reply, as to when the campaign in the Far East is going to change from the defensive, which has been the unfortunate beginning, to the offensive, which alone can bring it to a successful issue. Quite clearly, that is not a matter which can be dealt with in public, but I think we are entitled to say that the country expects Sir Archibald Wavell to turn the defensive into an offensive at the earliest possible moment, and we hope that the opportunity will arise very soon. While we are congratulating the Prime Minister on what he has done in the West, we also desire to express to the Foreign Secretary our pleasure at the result of his visit to the Soviet Union, and at the successful talk that he evidently had with Mr. Stalin. We hope to hear later on to-day—I think it has been already decided—a statement from the Foreign Secretary which will carry a little further what we have already heard from him on the broadcast, perhaps giving some details.
100 Having said that on the general aspects of the war, I would like to turn to the important pronouncement which the Lord Privy Seal has made with regard to aerodromes. I say frankly for my part that, before expressing any opinion, I should like to read what he has said and to think about it. There is no doubt that the country and this House have been somewhat alarmed at the dual control which has existed up to now. It is not only that, but the country has not felt fully satisfied that the equipment of the aerodromes was adequate in all respects for their defence. The events in the Far East have, of course, brought this question into immediate prominence. I confess that I was not quite clear, from what the Lord Privy Seal said, how far what happened at Khota Baru was accounted for by his explanation. As I understand his statement, aerodromes were lost because the forces at our disposal were not holding the surrounding terrain; but—speaking subject to correction—I thought that the effective use of the aerodrome at Khota Baru was lost in the first few hours, if not the first few minutes, after the Japanese had made their onslaught. I was under the impression that one of the difficulties was that our ships were not supported from the air, because the effective use of the aerodromes had been lost from the beginning. That was the impression that I formed.
§ Mr. Attlee
The landings were made at Khota Baru. The enemy were able to infiltrate and to drive off our troops, and therefore the aerodrome fell. It did not fall because there was not a very protective defence in that area. It was not a case of the aerodrome being surprised behind.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I confess that I do not fully understand that. What I understand happened was that it was not a question of hours or days and forces landing and carrying things out. I thought it happened within a few minutes, and the explanation that the Lord Privy Seal has given now seems, I will not say to conflict, but to be something new. I have not heard it put forward in earlier statements, and perhaps at a later stage we may get the full information, because it is of supreme importance and is certainly exercising the minds of the country. I am bound to tell the Lord Privy Seal 101 that up till now the explanation that has been given in Parliament and elsewhere with regard to the aerodromes in the Far East has not fully allayed—I will not put it higher than that—the feeling that has been aroused in the country. There has been a feeling that, not necessarily in the Government but that somewhere or other there were shortcomings and that the support which was expected from the aerodromes by the Air Force to the ships somehow did not arrive. The House and the country as a whole recognise that we have not an unlimited amount of arms and of aeroplanes and that necessarily therefore we cannot do all that we would like, but there is a feeling that over and above that there was some shortcoming which prevented the best use being made of what we had.
That brings me to the last point with regard to the whole aerodrome question. I do not feel competent without a great deal more study to express an opinion whether the solution which the Government profess to have found meets the whole problem. There is certainly a good deal to recommend it. I take it that the proposal is in regard to the Air Force to create some sort of body of men comparable to the Marines with regard to the Navy. It may be that that is the best solution of the problem, but there are a great many things to be thought out. Whatever be the actual solution adopted, even if the one which the Government are proposing proves the success which we all hope it may be, nothing will take away the absolute necessity of eternal vigilance, because this war is not fought by the slow methods in which wars have been fought in the days gone by. Things happen within a matter of hours or of minutes, and therefore I hope that no idea will get abroad that any aerodrome can at any moment, day or night, relax vigilance, which can alone provide security.
There are several other matters which have arisen during the Recess which I hope at the appropriate time will be explained. There was the intervention of Mr. Curtin, from Australia, and I gather—and I hope that it is true—that the trouble that was expressed there has now been satisfactorily settled. But at some time or other the House will be entitled to hear what the trouble was all about. I do not think that there is any harm in plain speaking. It is a proof of the friend- 102 ship between ourselves and Australia that there can be plain speaking without any lasting ill-feeling or without any trouble remaining unsolved. I happened to be reading a paper only yesterday, and there was a letter in it from an Australian correspondent, and it seemed so appropriate to this particular situation, though it was written weeks before Mr. Curtin made his utterance, that it seems worth quoting. The writer, speaking of Australian quarrels, says:The sun does not go down upon much wrath. Our people's incorrigible habit of shouting their grievances from the housetops in full daylight makes Australia the despair of intriguers who love mystery movements and midnight plots.I think that that is a very good description of the fact that when the mystery is all cleared up, none of us will feel the worse, and we shall all feel better friends for having had the case before us.
There is another part of the Empire whose contribution to the war effort is of supreme importance, and not only its contribution to the war effort, but its loyal co-operation with us, both now and in the events that will follow the war. I refer to the great sub-continent of India. The entry of the Japanese into the war seems to have brought a new atmosphere into Indian politics and, as I think, made a new approach possible. I notice that in the last few hours a certain number of Indian politicians have addressed a special communication to the Prime Minister with regard to the position of India, and I want to urge upon the Government and, if my voice can reach to the Prime Minister himself, particularly on the Prime Minister, that it will be very unfortunate if at this particular moment, when there is a new atmosphere prevailing in India, the step is not taken by His Majesty's Government, and if possible by the Prime Minister himself, to help to resolve the difficulties that have beset us. The Prime Minister has a special responsibility in this matter. At the time when the House was discussing the Indian question the Prime Minister took his own line. Rightly or wrongly, that line was interpreted in India as one less favourably disposed towards self-government there than that of his colleagues. That may have been a mistake, but that was the interpretation placed upon his attitude by some people, at any rate, in India.
103 What is required more than anything else to-day is that the Indian peoples should have confidence that in all influential sections in this House there is the definite intention and purpose to confer self-government upon India after the war, and if the Prime Minister can see his way to make some pronouncement at this time, it may have consequences of vital importance, first of all, to the co-operation which India gives to the prosecution of the war, and afterwards towards making a satisfactory decision in Asia as part of the general settlement of the world. I understand that the purport of this particular communication which was addressed to the Prime Minister is this: It has been felt in India that sometimes the Viceroy and his entourage of Indian advisers come to quite sensible solutions of difficulties which, by constant reference to Whitehall, are—I will not say over-ridden—but whittled down. They do not so much object to government from Delhi but they do object to government from Whitehall. The Prime Minister, in his inimitable way and because of his great mastery of words, can put ideas which prevail in this House into words which carry greater conviction than they would if they were put by anyone else. I suggest that he can perform a service which no one else can render if he will take this matter seriously and will regard it as an important and essential part of the war effort.
Since the House last met we have entered upon a new calendar year. The forces of the Allies all over the world are getting themselves together and building up their resources to strike a shattering blow at the Axis Powers. It may well be that before we can gain complete mastery over the enemy we shall see a long and protracted struggle, and it is quite clear that unless we envisage this we shall not make the efforts which are necessary for obtaining the complete victory which we all desire. Therefore, I welcome the careful statement made by the Prime Minister in his speech in Washington and the words of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal to-day—that this is the supreme hour, that every effort must be put forward, and that we must be prepared to face the conflict, however long it may last. I welcome these careful and prudent statements, but at the same time I hope the Government 104 have not altogether shut out from their minds a possible alternative course of events. I hope that it not happen that the outbreak of peace will catch us as unprepared as the approach to war in 1938, the actual outbreak in 1939, the resurgence of the war in the early spring and the entrance of Italy in the later spring of 1940 and, to some extent the actual and immediate entry of Japan into the conflict just recently.
I do not suggest that the Government should ask that the country should direct its attention to that matter—I think the country must get on with the war—but I hope the Government itself has plans for dealing with the peace. It is not merely a question of the kind of things which the Minister without Portfolio has to handle. What I am thinking of largely is Europe. I see the German invasion of Europe like a fetid flood over-running the land and one day, be it early or be it late, that flood will recede and then something very drastic will have to be done, by our Government principally, to control the situation. There will be a tendency for grave disorder to break out over the whole Continent of Europe. There may be a great shortage of food, although I understand that so far as that problem is concerned the Government have already made plans. I hope, however, that they will go beyond the mere storing of food, that they have some definite ideas as to how to distribute it and how to tackle disorder and prevent Europe from becoming a charnel house. The brutality of the German invaders both in the East, West and the North-West may well produce a situation which will get out of control unless the Government take the question thoroughly in hand. I need not pursue that further. I will end on the note on which I began. We have the Foreign Secretary back from the visit to Russia, safe and sound, and we welcome his return. We wish the Prime Minister also a safe and happy return to this country; we shall welcome him with all the greater enthusiasm when he comes back to us in this House.
§ Mr. Cary (Eccles)
The prophecies which were made by the Prime Minister and others in September of last year as to what might happen in the war on the Eastern front have been fully justified. What has happened there will no doubt remain a mystery to people for a long time as to how it came about that the 105 German High Command failed to recognise that in winter conditions in Russia a sheepskin is more important as a weapon of war than the fastest tank or the most accurate machine gun. The world is not deceived by the pleas of ignorance of the conditions on Russia's Western front. Indeed, the Germans have fought over that country on many occasions. The Russian civilian population has imposed a serious burden upon the German army. The Russian soldier has proved himself no less redoubtable than his opponent and, in the cause for which he fights, he is undoubtedly superior.
It seems a far cry from the swift victories which the Germans attained against Poland and Yugoslavia. The German people are bewildered and anxious. The German Chancellor, by the whining tone of his New Year message to the German people, shows clearly that there is something more than the thought of defeat in the German minds. There is, indeed, the anticipation of defeat. What is the truth behind the military situation in Europe? I think it is this. Because of the reluctance of the democracies to face the realities of war, and all that total war entails, the German Army obtained a flying start in equipment, training and tactical initiative. For that reason the German army developed a bogus air of invincibility—a sham invincibility which even the great Armies of France did not take the trouble to challenge. The Russian Armies had no illusions. They knew the falsehood of the German creed of a new order and the brittleness which lay behind her facade of steel. What is now happening on the Eastern front proves conclusively the wisdom of the Russian people in making the German army fight every yard of the way over that 2,000 mile front. The initiative has passed to the Russian Armies. The German soldier is in retreat and is afraid; typhus thins the ranks; badly wounded men are left behind, or worse still, are assisted to die. And never in the long and painful annals of European military history has a more contemptible spectacle been presented to the world's gaze than the retreat of the German army. One can only express the hope that the retreat will not stop until the Russian Armies stand on the German frontiers in East Prussia and Silesia. If that bright moment ever comes, I hope the Russian soldier will not 106 forget what the "scorched earth" policy has meant to his own country.
The German Chancellor has asked for the salvation of the German people in 1942. No doubt the German people could have that salvation now under the armistice terms of the British and Russian Governments. But there is no salvation for the German Chancellor, the Nazi leaders, the Nazi party, or the German armed forces. The ultimate objective of the Allies must be the removal of those things from the face of the earth and the restoration in full of German institutions—religious institutions, trades union institutions, and much else. For them it will mean freedom to pray, freedom to talk, freedom to trade, freedom to travel, but never again freedom to fight under the banner of some casual lunatic like Adolf Hitler.
Out of the present fighting two facts emerge clearly. First, it is highly improbable that the German army will again recover its former impetus and morale; certainly, never the prestige which it snatched at a bargain price from the smaller nations of Europe. In face of the growing strength of the Allies, the difficulties of the German High Command would appear great in the extreme. Secondly, the Russian civilian population has shown clearly through guerilla tactics the great part which the peoples of the occupied countries throughout Europe might be able to play in the final overthrow of the German army. The Prime Minister once pictured to us the advantages which accrued to the German Command because they were built up on interior lines. Now those interior lines run out to such great distances, I doubt whether that first appreciation by the Prime Minister remains valid any longer. I think there is generally a realisation of the immense part the civilian populations of the occupied countries will play in the future campaign—arson, sabotage, and the ruthless boycott of everything German.
In any case, I hope British workers will not be distracted by what is happening in other theatres of war. The position between Germany and ourselves remains the great problem of the war, the premier consideration of our Government, and all aid for and full co-operation with Russia our first duty outside our own essential needs. For that reason, the Government are to be congratulated on two things. For months past they have diverted every 107 available bomber over German targets. That operation strikes into the heart of Germany and is the centre of our target. Secondly, in spite of popular clamour, the Government have resisted the temptation to throw on to the Army at the present time the immense burden of a continental invasion, in spite of the fact that we possess command of the sea and command of the air to support it. If the opportunity for such an invasion does arise, I am perfectly certain the Government will find a better opportunity in the future. Russia cannot be excluded from the noble sentiments which were expressed by the Prime Minister in his address to the United States Senate. The Russian system did not kill individualism, and internationalism did not prevent its people from being Russians, ready to die for the things free men treasure—native soil, homes, and the right to choose one's own way of life. That was amply confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his broadcast on Sunday night, when he said, "There is not one Russian Quisling."
The Lory Privy Seal has dealt at considerable length with the situation in the Far East, and I would like to say a few words about that theatre of war. Japanese ambitions in the Far East do not date from the rise of modern Germany. What is happening there is the outcome of many years of Japanese forethought and planning. Germany and Italy only provided the convenient moment to strike. The collapse of France gave Japan a new strategic alignment on which to base, not new ambitions, but old ambitions. Therefore, Far Eastern waters should have been made, all through the post-Great War years, as important as any other theatre in the consideration of Imperial strategy and defence. To that initial false appreciation by the Committee of Imperial Defence I attribute largely the disaster which has come so suddenly upon us in the Far East. But away from that, perhaps our consent to the Five-Power Naval Treaty years ago was the real initial blunder which has led to our difficulties in the Far East, and every subsequent decision has been tied by that unfortunate agreement in 1923. Looking back to the Imperial Conference of 1937, all of us realise how grossly inadequate was the agenda then considered, and when I hear responsible people in Australia being frank now in this desperate situation, I 108 only wish that the Australian delegates to the Imperial Conference in 1937 had been frank then. That was the time to be frank. That was the time not only to wake up this country, but to wake up their own country, too.
§ Mr. Cary
I cannot recall. In the autumn of 1937, within the knowledge and with the help of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, I paid an unofficial visit to that great base at Singapore. I hate to see the newspaper headlines describing Singapore as a fortress. Forts are no substitute for fleets. The naval base it not a substitute for sea forces. The rôle in war of a base is to improve and increase the mobility of our own great fleet. It would be quite unnecessary for the Japanese to spend thousands of lives and risk many ships in an attempt actually to occupy the island of Singapore. If Singapore is completely isolated, the effect upon our fleet and upon our sea power will be identically the same. Movement is everything in sea strategy. Movement to-day depends upon fuel; it depends upon docking and repairing facilities, and the immense stores of ammunition required by fleets to move with high mobility over the great oceans.
The question which must be in the mind of every Member of the House is, If Singapore is taken or isolated, how can that fact be overcome? It is not for me to say what are the possibilities, but obviously the importance of Ceylon, Simonstown and the Cape become: paramount. Remember that the real defences of Singapore were not to be found upon the Island of Singapore but in the things we have lost—Sarawak, North Borneo and the aerodromes which run from one side of the Kra Isthmus to the other. The outer defences of Ceylon and of Simonstown are equally as important, and I hope that suitable steps will be taken to improve those defences.
There is one aspect of the matter which I think should be considered. The Japanese penetration of the Indian Ocean is a serious possibility, and on the African side of the Indian Ocean is to be found the great Island of Madagascar, which is still under the authority of the Vichy Government. The Vichy Government made substantial concessions to Japan in 109 Indo-China, and as a result they lost Indo-China. No doubt, in regard to Madagascar the Vichy Government are in as weak a position as they were in the case of Indo-China. So vital is the strategic position of the great Island of Madagascar that I hope the Foreign Office and the Government are taking suitable steps in regard to it. The position in the Far East will take a long time to restore. How long it will take no one dare prophesy, but I feel that the Japanese will not have it all their own way and that within a reasonable time some part of the position may be restored. The key to the problem is not the defeat of Japan now, but to increase and improve our efforts against Germany.
For that reason, may I say a few words about our contribution to the Allied Command? Tactics are the direct responsibility of the military commanders, and the direction of the war and strategy, being purely civilian functions, are the direct responsibility of the War Cabinet. The structure of our system of government, with its gentle gradients up to the Prime Minister, was never designed nor intended to undertake the terrific tasks facing us to-day. Indeed, it is amazing how little the system has changed from the formalism of pre-war days. Departments have been doubled, many additional clerks have been appointed, and advisory committees have been added. Departments enjoy spending power undreamt of, and in that way the Government becomes almost the sole employer of the nation's capacity to work and produce goods. I constantly ask myself this question: Is that the true path to the winning of this war? If it is, then why have we had so much difficulty during the past five years in producing the means with which to wage war? It may be said that it is now too late to change the system, but if that is so it gives rise to the haunting fear that our failure to change or modify in time an inadequate system for directing a war against a fully armed Germany may influence largely the circumstances of how that war ends. We have staked everything on the outright military defeat of Germany, and we should use every means to thrash out a machinery of government which is superior to anything which the enemy can attain. Both sides have the same basic advantages of man-power, productive 110 capacity and science. Superior strategy in the deployment of these things is the real key to the winning of the war. We must cease to grope our way to victory. I hope that a reformed War Cabinet will be brought into existence which will spend its whole time and devote all its energies to the consideration of the broad problem of grand strategy, both economic and military.
We all know the reasons why Germany defeated France. We have no reason to suppose that the defeat of Germany can be brought about in the same way. On the contrary, everything points to the opposite direction. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in his excellent speeches, frequently refers to the day of final victory. In my opinion, we shall have to fight all the way to that objective—in effort, in arms and in suffering. If the Eastern Front has proved nothing else, it at least proves that the Germans still know how to die. There is much talk in this country, prompted, no doubt, by a sentence in the Prime Minister's County Hall speech, that the Germans themselves might overthrow the Nazi regime. I do not believe that there is any short cut to victory in that. Collapse will not take place in Germany until the military pressure which we exert from outside is simultaneously effective. Some months ago the German Chancellor said to Germany, "Remember, if we lose this war, it is the end of the German people." I do not think that anyone would deny, with the possible exception of Bismarck, Adolph Hitler is the most sinister prophet in German history. Broadly, the position is this: Victory will not come to us. The onus is upon ourselves to retrieve it.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
The whole House listened with very great interest to the Lord Privy Seal's account of the efforts which have been made in Washington to attain a wide-scale plan for the co-ordination of defence, and I am sure that the whole country learned with a feeling of very great relief of the appointment of General Wavell as General Officer in Command of the South-West Pacific. For my part, that is one of the few lights in the darkness of the situation in that part of the world. For some time I have gone about with General Wavell's lectures in my pocket. I regard him as one of the few military authorities who really understands the situation and who 111 really understands how to command men. Those Members who have not read his lectures will do very well to do so, and especially to con the first quotation he makes with regard to military affairs, which is from Socrates, and which refers to the provision of food and necessities for the soldiers. When General Wavell gets to work in the Pacific, I believe that we shall have a different story to tell from the rather sorry tale of disasters which have taken place in that part of the world. I do not propose to enter into a study of these disasters—the loss of ships and airfields, and what has been very rightly called in one of the papers "The Shame of Penang"—but on the question of the shame of Penang it would be worth while the Government informing the House why, when we have had the scorched earth policy demonstrated with such devotion by the Russians, we were informed that there were large supplies of tin and rubber and very large numbers of small ships left intact. Are there Quislings in that part of the world or to what is it due? We ought to be told. It seems a perfectly shameful business that that should have happened at this stage in the war.
Reference has been made to Mr. Curtin's recent statement with regard to lack of consultation between the authorities here and the Australian Government. When I read it I felt very glad indeed that an Australian had had the courage to speak out very straight on the matter. I think Mr. Curtin was quite right to do so, because there has been a lack of political imagination about our strategy. We need a very far-seeing political outlook and I emphatically do not agree with the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Cary). I do not think we can afford to concentrate entirely on the war in Europe and leave the war in the Pacific to look after itself, or to take a subordinate position. It seems to me that the war in the Pacific is undoubtedly of equal importance to anything that is going on in the West. I believe that the blunders that have recently been made are essentially political. The damage, of course, is vitally military. One of the greatest blunders that have been committed recently is failure to appreciate the situation in India and the military importance of that country. India has a population of 380,000,000. We are now rejoicing that 112 the United States, with its immense capital and its population of something like 130,000,000, has come into the war. How much more should we rejoice if it were possible to get 380,000,000 of people with a high productive capacity into the war instead of being somewhat Gandhi-ish about it. I see that the Secretary of State dissents, but I have sources of information. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else will say that India is wholeheartedly and enthusiastically behind the war effort. Of course it is not, and the reason is that the situation in India has been extremely badly handled by the Government. In the last few days there has been an appeal to the Prime Minister at Washington signed among others by Mr. Srinnastri Shastri, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. Jazaker, whom many Members in this House must know, and many others, and they have put forward a view to which I think the Government ought to pay very great respect and attention. They ask, not for formal changes at present, but that India be treated on an equality with the Dominions, and I believe that that demand ought to be met by a frank acceptance. What my right hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench said with regard to the Prime Minister's past connection with the Indian situation ought to be very carefully considered by the Government. He has changed his views about the Soviet. He once used language about it stronger than anything he has said about India. He has now shown that it is possible to be in the closest touch and association with them. I hope he will find it possible, if necessary, to change the expression of his views with regard to India and send a warm and encouraging message promising them Dominion status and asking for their frank and full co-operation in the war effort.
The hon. Member for Eccles raised the question of the possibility of the fall of Singapore. I hope there is no possibility that that may happen, but anyone who considers that our Eastern possessions are immune from attack is indulging in very optimistic and wishful thinking. I feel that it is essential that we should enlist with us against the Fascist Powers the very great material and spiritual resources of India, which ought to be more frankly 113 appreciated in this country. One of the Indian leaders on the Congress side, Mr. Rajagopalacharia, whom I knew when he was a young man, has advanced to a position where I feel confident that it is possible that a franker exchange of opinions with him and other Congress leaders, and the Liberal leaders, would enable a modus vivendi to be arrived at and would enable the Indian tangle to be escaped from.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I think the hon. Member's speech will do great harm in India. He does not include Mr. Jinnah, the leader of the Moslem party?
I had him in my mind because the statements which have recently been made provide a platform on which the Indian Liberals and others may meet, and it is precisely because of that that I attach so very much value to this initiative by Mr. Shastri and the other gentlemen whom I have mentioned and other Indian communities and sections of opinion. There has undoubtedly been a very serious blunder with regard to India, and there was a very serious blunder recently with regard to Burma. The Prime Minister of Burma came here offering and hoping to get full co-operation from this Government. It is no secret that he went away very troubled indeed in his mind and that the people in Burma are now beginning to talk about an Eastern Ireland. It is most unfortunate at this time, when the principles of the Atlantic Charter have been proclaimed with the authority of President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister behind them, that the application of those principles to India and Burma should be hedged around by all kinds of limiting conditions and withdrawals and hesitations, so as to give those people the feeling that they are not wanted and that at some future time matters may be attended to but that this is not the right moment. It is suggested that you cannot make great changes in war-time, and I do not suggest that we should now make the great constitutional changes which will finally have to be made. It is not true that in war-time we cannot make great changes. We have already made great changes in the Near East with regard to Syria and the Lebanon and we are making great changes with regard to Abyssinia.
This lack of insight into the political 114 situation in the East and the lack of imagination in regard to the Japanese suggest to my mind the urgent necessity of meeting the proposal made from the Dominions by Sir Earle Page yesterday that there should be a Dominions War Council in which all the Dominions would have an opportunity of expressing their opinions on an equality and of obtaining information. I believe that it would be advisable to extend that council to the Allied Nations and it would be essential to have on it the co-operation of India and Burma on equal terms. I do not want to suggest that it will be necessary to take even more drastic means to secure changes, but I do feel that we ought to take a long view of the war so as to secure that all who are intimately concerned, all the 26 united nations and those who may join us, should feel that they have an equality of status with regard to decisions, should feel that they really have the opportunity of pulling their weight and that they are not disregarded and overridden by decisions made by others above their heads. It is especially with regard to the East and the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand that this War Council should be established so that we may go forward through what I feel will be a hard year, possibly followed by another hard year in 1943, more united than we are at present and with more political imagination and looking forward not only to the objectives of the immediate war strategy, but to how the peace is to be brought into existence when the times comes for that to break out, as my right hon. Friend said. I do not feel that we can leave other nations out as we are leaving them at the present time. We must have more meetings like the Allied War Council which met some time ago at St. James's Palace. We must bring in all the Dominions, India and Burma. I believe that we can get in that way the concerted war effort of the vast majority of the people and the resources of this planet which will ensure a victory of the kind we wish as well as merely a military victory.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
History has repeated itself. In the last war it was the magnificent heroism of the Russian Armies which gave to ourselves and to the French that breathing space which enabled us to stem the tide of the German advance. To-day we pay a tribute to what Russia has done and is 115 doing. At last the tide seems to have turned upon the Eastern front. It is true that the German rereat to winter quarters has not yet become a rout, but it might become a rout at any time. What it is possible for Russian generalship and courage to do will be done. Hitler's preoccupation is to our advantage, but do not let us under-estimate his will or his ability to strike. Thanks to Russia our war industry has been left in peace for several months. Our industrial centres have had a respite from bombing which I can only hope and pray they have turned to account. Our final triumph in this war is not in doubt, but the date of victory depends on three things. First, wise leadership which, while profiting by past mistakes does not try either to deny or to excuse them. Second, the output of the men and women engaged in the gigantic task of creating war material. Third, although I put it last, it is not because it is the least important point, the skill and courage of the officers and men of the Fighting Services which skill and courage have never for a moment been in doubt.
Events in Libya have taught us the un-wisdom of flamboyant and unduly optimistic prognostications of victory before it has been actually achieved. Now, after weeks of hard fighting, it looks as if victory was once more in sight, but we would do well to remember that until our opponents have been finally beaten it is unwise to crow. No one but a fool expects victory to be easy of achievement. In war there must needs be reverses, but there is no reason why we should be unduly perturbed by reverses unless they are due to incompetence or neglect.
There is however in this country—and there is no reason why one should try to pretend otherwise—considerable perturbation about events in the Far East and the conduct of the war. That does not mean that people are defeatist. Angry they may be, and they may have every reason to be angry, but they are not dismayed. Recent events do not become any less grave because either by speeches in this House or elsewhere the Government try to minimise them. The rejoicing at the Prime Minister's well-deserved and well-staged personal triumphs in Washington and Canada should not be allowed to distract our attention from what is happening in Malaya. Russian successes, however hardly and magnificently they have been 116 won, will not save Singapore. General Auchinleck's fine campaign in North Africa does not offset the loss of Guam and Wake and the over-running by the Japanese of the Philippines. How much better it would have been if the Government had encouraged the United States to augment the defences of those vitally important places rather than encourage them to expend time and material in the creation of the new bases which we have leased to them in the West Indies, Bermuda and Newfoundland.
No one appreciates the tremendous drama of this war more than the Prime Minister. He is the central figure on the stage, a great personality playing a great part, but it may well be that sometimes his own part so absorbs his attention that he fails to realise that the audience in this country and throughout the Empire are not altogether satisfied with the actions of some of his fellow actors in the drama or, indeed, the way in which the drama is being played. It may be, too, that his impetuous energy tempts him to try and play parts which should be played by others, both Ministers and chiefs of staffs. Let me remind the House, if reminder be needed, that this Government came into existence owing to the criticisms levelled at their predecessors. One can picture what a howl of criticism would have gone up in connection with recent events in the Far East had the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain been Prime Minister.
If the defences of Singapore have been neglected the Government have nobody but themselves to blame. Singapore is one of the few vitally important key-positions in the whole world. Our possession or non-possession of Singapore affects not only India, Burma, Australia and New Zealand, but the entire course of our conduct of the war and our ability to win it. We had the right, therefore, to expect that it should have lacked none of that material which would enable it to have withstood, or will enable it to withstand, the attacks of the Japanese. To deny to Singapore and to those aerodromes adjacent to it which were vital to its defence, the equipment which would have enabled them to have been held was an act of utter folly. If ever there was a place which should have been under the command of one of our most distinguished soldiers, that place was Singapore, but not until the Japanese storm was about to break was any change made in the office 117 of Commander-in-Chief. Did the previous Commander-in-Chief, now the subject of considerable criticism, at any time make representations to the Government with regard to the lack of defence in Singapore? If he did not, why did he not; and if he did make those representations, what happened? What did the Government do about it? Why was nothing done in order to make Singapore impregnable?
Events in the Far East have had a repercussion of which we should do well to take heed. The Government and the people of Australia are both apprehensive and angry. Australia has always stood by the side of the Motherland. In any difficulty into which we have got Australian courage, Australian spirit, everything they possess—they held nothing back—have been placed at our disposal, and they had a right to expect that the safety of Australia, which is bound up with the possession of Singapore and the maintenance of sea and air domination in the Far East, should have been guaranteed to them. Singapore's peril is the peril of Australia and New Zealand. I know the Government are not very fond of criticism in this House. They will have to listen to criticisms from Australia. The "Sydney Daily Telegraph" of 18th October accused Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham and other high officers of "fatuous optimism." Let me read what it said:In the last three months our leaders have constantly acclaimed the fact that the Empire has air parity with her enemies. Then why do our troops retreat before death from the skies, and cry Where are our fighters? Did all those people really mean what they told the public? If so, they are fools. What mistakes must be made by high officers before they are sacked?The "Sydney Daily Mirror" said:Australia wants to see planes, not assurances from London.When Sir Robert Brooke-Popham was replaced by General Sir Henry Pownall, Mr. Hughes, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in Australia, said that there had been a belated awakening to the utter incapacity of men to deal with new and terrible situations. He said, further, and this is worthy of being remembered by this House:So far all our defences have gone down like Aunt Sallies in a skittle alley. Hong-Kong, Manilla, British and American battleships have gone. This is a belated recognition 118 by those in authority of ineffectiveness and incompetence.But it was this Government which put those men in those positions. It was this Government which neglected to make suitable provision for the defence of Singapore and the Far East. They cannot shirk the responsibility, which is theirs. They may resent criticism in this House, but they will have to listen to it from Australia. Australian resentment at the present conduct of affairs led to that article, which everyone has seen, written by Mr. Curtin, the Prime Minister, in the "Melbourne Herald," and it remains ominous and significant in spite of the efforts which have been made since it appeared to whittle it down and soften the tone of it, He said:Without inhibitions of any kind, I say Australia looks to the United States of America, free of any pangs as to traditional links of kinship with the United Kingdom.What a thing to have said in the middle of the war. Subsequently Mr. Curtin said, what we know to be true:There is no part of the Empire more steadfastly determined to maintain its greatness and no people more loyal to the King than Australia.He added this most significant phrase, which I hope the Government have taken note of:Australia is no mere colony and her voice must be heard.Time after time I have heard my hon. Friend who sits on the other side of the House pressing for an Empire War Cabinet. He did not get much encouragement—not from the Front Bench. In fact, he got on one occasion what is vulgarly termed "a raspberry." But he is going to get what he has asked for, for the pressure of events in the Far East have proved him to be right when the Front Bench was wrong. I pay my tribute to the magnificent speeches made by the Prime Minister both in Washington and in Ottawa—who does not? But in his great speech to the Congress of the United States the Prime Minister said this:If people ask me, as they have the right to ask me in England"—I am glad he told Congress that—why is it you have not ample equipment of modern aircraft and weapons of all kinds in Malaya and the East Indies, I can only point to the victories which General Auchinleck has gained in the Libyan campaign. Had we diverted and dispersed our gradually growing resources between Libya and Malaya we should have been found wanting in both spheres.119 Yes, but why was the campaign in Libya necessary at all, with all its expenditure of life and effort? Because early last year we made the tragic mistake of allowing political and sentimental considerations to interfere with military strategy. Unless we could have continued to hold all that General Wavell's brilliant campaign had obtained for us at such trifling cost we should never have embarked on the expeditions to Greece and Crete and thereby lost Libya. The reverses we sustained in those two expeditions cost us not only the lives of officers and men who can ill be spared, but an immense amount of vitally important war material, the lack of which we are now suffering from. That has been brought home most tragically to us at the present time. General Auchinleck is now, great general that he is, at great cost trying to regain all that General Wavell once held. I believe that history, when it comes to be written, will say that had we held on to what we had gained in Northern Africa, and had we used the aerodromes at Benghazi and in Northern Africa to bomb Italy, we should have knocked her out of the war long ago.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle (St. Albans)
Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that we should not have gone to Greece and Crete?
§ Sir A. Southby
I suggest exactly what I said just now, that unless we could have continued to hold our Northern African gains we should not have gone to Greece or Crete. We should have helped them from the air and with our sea-power, but unless we could continue to hold what it was vitally necessary for us to hold we should not have embarked upon those expeditions. Mistakes in war have an unpleasant habit of being far-reaching. According to the Prime Minister himself, the security of Malaya had to be hazarded so that material might be sent to Libya. For the sake of Greece we have lost or may lose Singapore. Then it has been said that tanks and aeroplanes which might have gone to Libya have had to be sent to Russia. The loss of the islands in the Pacific and the threat to Singapore gravely impair our command of the sea, and it is our command of the sea which alone enables Russia to receive supplies of all kinds from both ourselves and the United States.
What an extraordinary situation now obtains. We are in difficulty in Singa- 120 pore because we have not got aeroplanes, and we have not got the aeroplanes because they have been sent to Russia. We could hit at the Japanese who are trying to get into Singapore by bombing them in Tokyo, and the easiest place from which to do that is Vladivostock, but we cannot do that because our Russian Ally is not fighting the Japanese. Neither the United States nor ourselves can stem the tide of Japanese victory in the Far East unless we hold Singapore. If we lose Singapore we cannot beat the Japanese in the Far East until we regain it. Sea power cannot operate in the Far East unless Singapore is available as a base.
I agree with what was said just now from this side of the House, by the Member who objected to Singapore being referred to as a fortress. It is not a fortress. It is a naval bass before it is a fortress, and its real use is as one of the only places where our Fleet or the American Fleet can re-fuel and refit. Not only have we through our neglect imperilled the security of Singapore for use as a vitally necessary base, but, through the loss of the. "Repulse" and the "Prince of Wales" we have gravely imperilled our sea-power. Our balance of sea-power is not so great that we can afford to lose many more capital ships. The fate of the French Fleet is not yet decided. Italy still possesses large and efficient capital ships, although she may not possess at the moment the will to use them at sea—but Germany may make her think differently. We do not know what Germany is building or has built. What was the point of sending those two ships to Singapore? By themselves they could not fight the Japanese fleet. If we had been able to send a big enough squadron of battleships to Singapore, either by ourselves or in conjunction with the United States, which could have met the Japanese fleet on equal or nearly equal terms, it would have been worth doing, but to send two ships by themselves was to do what Germany never does, namely, to dissipate one's forces. [HON. MEMBERS: "The 'Bismarck.'"]
The last war taught us that you cannot send capital ships to sea unless you protect them by destroyers against submarine attack. This war has taught us that you cannot send capital ships to where they are liable to be attacked from the air, by 121 land or sea-based aircraft, unless you provide not only that destroyer escort against submarines, but also a fighter escort as protection against attack from the air. In spite of that, we sent those two ships out to Singapore. We must have known there was not sufficient land-based fighter strength to enable those ships to operate under the umbrella of the air. Why then did we not send an aircraft carrier? I asked in this House whether it was the fact that expert opinion at the Admiralty advised that those ships should not go out unless they could be accompanied by an aircraft carrier. If that was so, then who overruled the recommendation of the expert advisers? If we are told that in view of our commitments we had not an aircraft carrier to spare, why are we short of them? We have never been told the circumstances of the loss of the "Glorious" and the "Courageous." They may have been justifiably hazarded or they may not, but their sinking has had a terrible repercussion in Malaya. If those two ships could not be sent out suitably protected by fighter aircraft they should never have been sent at all. Two units of our battle fleet which might well have been vitally necessary to us in the days to come have been thrown away.
Some time ago, in 1938, a proposal was made to the Committee of Imperial Defence that merchant ships should be so adapted that they might be able to carry a small number of aircraft. Their superstructure would, of course, need to be altered. If the superstructure was not capable of alteration so that aircraft could fly on or off, then, I suggest, catapults could be used to get the aircraft into the air. That suggestion was taken to the Air Ministry, who turned it down as being of no use at all. I happen to know that the suggestion was brought to the notice of the present Prime Minister in 1940 and I understand it was submitted by him to the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. The Air Ministry said that they had nothing to add to their decision of 1938. The Admiralty thanked the man who made the suggestion. Obviously the suggestion has been made use of recently because the loss of the aircraft carrier in the—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Balfour)
I do not want to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, but 122 the statements which he has made in regard to the Air Ministry are not correct.
§ Sir A. Southby
Perhaps it would save the time of the House if I showed my right hon. and gallant Friend the copies of the letters from the Air Ministry which I have in my hand.
§ Sir A. Southby
The proposal was, as I said, that suitable alterations should be made to merchant ships. This was brought to the notice of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and here is a letter from the Air Ministry, London, dated 1st March, 1938, reference 661877/37/S, 8/1266:SIR,I am directed to refer to your letters of 4th January and 12th February, 1938, relating to your suggestion for converting fast mercantile craft into aircraft carriers.In reply I am to inform you that the suggestion has been fully examined, but the idea is not considered to be of practical utility for the Royal Air Force.In these circumstances it is regretted that the Department are unable to take any further action in connection with your submission, but I am nevertheless to thank you for the trouble you have taken in bringing the matter to notice.The suggestion was re-submitted and was brought to the notice of the present Prime Minister in a letter dated 7th May, 1940. It was then apparently submitted again to the Air Ministry, because a letter from the Air Ministry dated 23rd May, 1940, read as follows:Sir,I am directed to refer to your letter of the 7th instant, on the subject of "Air Attack at Distance from Base.In reply I am to state that your proposal has been re-examined, but it is regretted that it is not found possible to add to our letter of 1st March, 1938.Nevertheless, I am to thank you for your continued interest.
§ Sir A. Southby
I do not know why I should say to whom the letters are addressed, but I can say by whom they were signed.
§ Captain Balfour
Perhaps I might point out that when a good citizen comes forward with some suggestion, we do not always tell him whether in fact we are working on that particular idea or not.
§ Sir A. Southby
I understood my right hon. and gallant Friend to say, when I made this suggestion, that what I said was incorrect. I leave the House to judge whether it was incorrect or not. Obviously, something has been done in this connection, because the reported loss of H.M.S. "Audacity" showed that at long last we have taken some steps to convert merchant ships into small aircraft carriers. If this had been done two or three years ago we should have been able to send badly-needed aircraft out to the Pacific. It is essential to have large numbers of both small and large aircraft carriers.
Singapore is primarily a great naval base. It should have been provided with proper air protection. By all accounts, the action of the Army in Libya might have been more successful and easier had they been able to operate their own aircraft. Had the Navy been able to have control of its own air bases in Singapore and Malaya the history of Malaya might have been different. I ask this question; when will the Government learn the lesson of this war, and indeed of the last war, that you cannot have divided control? Where flying has to do with military operations, it must come under the direct control of the military command; where it has to do with naval operations, it must come under the direct control of the naval officer concerned. I raised this matter in the House of Commons on 19th December.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
Has anything shown recently that co-operation between the Army and Air Force in the Libyan campaign was not very good?
§ Sir A. Southby
I did not say that. I said that had the Army had its own Air Force, operated by itself, events in Libya might have been different. The Army might have had a very much easier task than it has had. Of course, there is co-operation; we all know that. I raised this matter in the House on 19th December, 1940, and I asked that the Admiralty should be given sufficient aerodromes and aircraft under its sole control to enable it to carry out its duties. I ventured to say that, in my opinion, it was a matter of plain sense and of simple naval strategy, and that if the present system of compromise was allowed to continue, we risked losing the war. In a brief, and not 124 very friendly or enthusiastic, reply from the Lord Privy Seal, I was accused of blowing on the embers of an old controversy. What does it matter what embers you blow on so long as we win the war? The Lord Privy Seal said:I think it is unfortunate that a discussion should be raised now that the working arrangements have been agreed by both Departments. They are working satisfactorily, and I think it is entirely unnecessary to raise this controversy, which can only impair efficiency by dividing where there should be unity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1940; col. 1430, vol.367.]It is idle to blind our eyes to the fact that there has been criticism of the work of the R.A.F. both from Libya and from naval sources. I pay my tribute to the way Coastal Command has operated, but if we had had naval aerodromes in Singapore, and in Malaya, the whole story of what is going on there now might have been different. Before it is too late I do beg the Government earnestly to consider whether it is not possible to give to the Army control of Army aircraft and aerodromes and to the Navy control of aircraft and aerodromes for use in naval operations. Our Empire has been built up on sea power. Three times in history have we stood in the path of an individual set upon the domination of the entire world. On each occasion his dreams have been brought to nought because of British sea power. If we continue to preserve our sea power, it will bring down Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and everyone else who stands against us. If through foolishness or neglect we make it impossible for us to exercise sea power in any theatre of war in the world, we put our chances of winning in great jeopardy. Only by being beaten at sea and in the air can we be made to lose this war. Only through sea and air power can we win it. May I quote, in conclusion, the words of the great Bacon. He said:This much is certain, that he that commands the sea is at great liberty and may take as much or as little of the war as he will.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
We have listened to a very stimulating and well reasoned speech by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who has raised a number of controversial points. We have had a series of most interesting speeches which seemed to justify the special meeting of the House to-day instead of our reassembling at a later date. Seeing that the House had asked for the 125 occasion, the attendance might have been better. I would like to take this early opportunity, an opportunity taken by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench, to express our approval, on the first opportunity the House of Commons has had, of the Prime Minister's visit to America and also of the Foreign Secretary's great adventure in Russia. Neither of these journeys was without risk. That particularly applies to the perils of the Atlantic Ocean. It required courage and imagination, in the middle of a great war, and at a critical time like this, for the Prime Minister himself to go to Washington. It has struck the imagination of the whole world. The action has been immortalised by the brilliant speech at Washington, which, I venture to say, will prove a landmark in the history of the relations between the United States and ourselves. But, as the Lord Privy Seal pointed out, these journeys of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister are symbolic of the conviction of the Government that unity, both in strategy and in production, are essential to victory.
It may seem an unfair thing to say, but we have missed the Prime Minister. We have missed him to-day. He leaves a gap which it is impossible to fill. We recognise that it is impossible for a man to be in two places at the same time; but when the Lord Chancellor goes abroad, the Great Seal is put into commission; when the Prime Minister goes abroad, the situation does not lend itself to the same kind of procedure. The remaining members of the War Cabinet are all excellent in their own ways, but none of them has the potentials of a War Minister to fill the Prime Minister's place. I think the country would like to know what exactly is the position. Is the Premiership in commission; or is the Lord Privy Seal acting Prime Minister; or have important decisions, in the absence of the Prime Minister abroad, to be referred to him by cable or telephone? The situation is changing from day to day, and certainly during the absence of the Prime Minister things have not been easy.
I will not say that the nation is alarmed at the position in the Pacific. For one thing, the Pacific is some way off, and, for another, the nation has been hardened by two and a half years' experience of the horrors of war. But the situation of which the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) and the hon. Member 126 above the Gangway—both of whom, by the way, have gone out of the House—have spoken does require a good deal of explanation. The Japanese attack came as no surprise. On the contrary, for years we have been spending millions on Singapore, not because of a phantom danger but because of our knowledge of the real position in the Pacific. Ever since Manchukuo was occupied by the Japanese, there has been tension between this country and Japan. In the phrase of the Lord Privy Seal, and as was pointed out by the Prime Minister, "It is impossible to be strong everywhere." But the country was led, by inspired paragraphs in the Press, to believe that our position both at Hong Kong and at Singapore was more or less impregnable. Inspired paragraphs about the A.B.C.D. Powers and how co-ordinated they were seemed to indicate that our position was secure.
I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Sir E. Campbell) pointed out how remarkably for the moment the "D." Power, the Dutch, have acquitted themselves. Little country as they are, with their whole State in the hands of the enemy, they have already put up a very gallant fight. But there seems to have been an absence of co-ordinated planning there. I recognise the position of the United States and their natural desire not to precipitate matters. My impression, and I think that of the nation, is that plans had not been carefully thought out in advance. Malaya is a vital source of supply of essential raw materials, rubber, tin and other raw materials, which, as has already been pointed out, are now in the hands of the enemy. There is an inclination now—it did not exist before war broke out with Japan—to suggest that the Pacific is a secondary theatre of war and that we have to concentrate only on Germany, and that when the time comes it will be easy to make mincemeat of our other enemy. Unfortunately, Japan can do irreparable damage, not only material damage but, what is more important, damage to our prestige in the East, and, what is in my view even more serious, to our relations with the Dominions.
The Dominions came to our help in our darkest hour, both with men and materials. Their blood has reddened the desert sands, and their gallant fight in 127 Crete will take its place as an epoch-making battle. I know that the House realises, and certainly the Dominions do, that Dominion man-power is strictly limited. Australia has a vast coast. It is a Continent disposed to attack. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Epsom pointed out, the Australian Prime Minister has spoken in most scathing terms. Perhaps public men in the Dominions do not take such care of their language as we do and do not stick to what we call Parliamentary forms. They are accustomed to call a spade a spade, but I believe that the Australian Prime Minister and the Deputy-Leader of their Opposition, Mr. Hughes, are speaking the mind of the Australian people. Very unkind things were said about Air-Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, who has been referred to in this House. I have never quite understood why he was appointed to the position of Supreme Commander in the East. He was on the retired list and had become a Governor and has gone more or less into civil life. He was brought back into the Services to deal with this most difficult and serious position.
I am not surprised entirely that in the Dominions, where they are realists and not so polite as we are, they felt that they had had a raw deal. As long ago as 20th August, 1940, I put in a plea for a Dominion Prime Minister or statesman being in the War Cabinet, and I have reiterated that plea on more than one occasion, and I supported my hon. Friend the Member for the Eye Division (Mr. Granville). I appreciate the difficulties. They are great. I think that all the Prime Ministers have their own delicate home situation with which to deal. Obviously, General Smuts would be the ideal man, but he is fully occupied in dealing with a difficult opposition. The same applies to the Australian Prime Minister. He has not the blessing of a national government, representative of all parties; he is in a very delicate position, with no real majority at all, and I understand that Mr. Mackenzie King finds his hands full in dealing with Canada's domestic problems. Still, the fact remains that at a time like this, when the very life of the British Commonwealth is at stake, it would be a splendid thing if the Government could find some distinguished Dominion statesman, Australian, Cana- 128 dian or New Zealand, to provide a symbol that this is not a British Dr a European war but a world war in which the Dominions are fighting.
It was important in the last war to have Dominion statesmen in the Government. Surely it is 10 times more important in this war, which threatens the very life and economic and political independence of the Dominions themselves. I think something should be done. The Lord Privy Seal made reference to an Imperial War Cabinet. In the last war, in addition to the War Cabinet, there was an Imperial War Cabinet in session for the last 18 months. There would be a strong case for a Cabinet of that kind, particularly if it were possible to include representatives of India.
References have been made to India. War now approaches her shores; Burma has been bombed. India is not now outside the war arena. The Indian people must have become more war conscious. Japan must be more of a reality to the Indian people than any other Continent could possibly be. With her immense resources in men and material, it would be a pity if those resources were not exploited. They can be exploited only if we can get the good will of the Indian people, as represented by Congress and through other channels. The position is full of difficulties, and we do not want to underrate them. The Secretary of State for India has been pressed to make a gesture, and from what I know of him he is only too willing to make a gesture if he could be satisfied that it would meet with success. But I realise, as every realist must realise, that the approach must come from both ends—from the Government and the Indian people. There is presented an unequalled opportunity, now that India is faced with war at her very door, to do something that will react successfully in India. It may be worth while considering that if you created an Imperial War Cabinet, in addition to the Inner Cabinet, with representatives of all the Dominions, it would give a chance to take the Indian people into equal partnership in our war effort. There was a representative of India in the Imperial War Cabinet during the last war. Perhaps this will provide a bridge towards bringing the two people together in their common effort of facing an appalling danger.
129 There has been criticism to-day—healthy criticism. I will not say that the war is not going better than it was. The victories of Russia, the coming in of the United States of America, and our successes in Libya are things which we never anticipated 12 months ago. It is our duty as Members of Parliament to point out the weak spots, and I hope that now the Government are facing the problem of the Pacific in such a way as will not only satisfy the people of this country, but have the approval of our Dominions across the seas, as well as the acceptance of the people of India.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
For some 12 months past I have been trying to catch the eye of the Chair in order to participate in a Debate on the war situation, but I confess I have always felt a certain amount of relief when I was not called, because I was diffident about participating in these Debates, for three reasons. In the first place, I recognise that even the most inconspicuous Back-bench Member, speaking within these walls, may use an unfortunate phrase which may be taken up outside, possibly distorted, and used by enemy propaganda. Indeed, I think it is the exact reverse of the old Latin tag we learnt at school—Parturiunt montes; nascetur ridiculus mus.Here a ridiculous and insignificant person may labour at a speech and a mountain of trouble be born outside. The second reason I hesitated was that I recognise, as we all must, that any ordinary Member of Parliament, speaking during this war, above all in a critical way, must speak as one lacking information and criticising those who have full information. That criticism may, therefore, be quite unjustified, and, further, a full reply may not be able to be made by Members of the Government for reasons of State.
The third reason I had for hesitation was that I felt that any criticism one makes here may be regarded as an attack upon the Prime Minister. I deprecate that attitude. I recognise, as we all do, the enormous debt of gratitude that this House, this nation, and the whole world, owe to the Prime Minister. During those extremely dark times after Dunkirk, probably the most dangerous in all our long history, the Prime Minister rallied the nation and inspired it to resist to the utmost, and to be ready to go down fight- 130 ing in final ruin rather than compromise with evil. I remember in my school days reading that the Roman Senate after the disaster of Cannae thanked the Consul that he did not despair of the safety of the Republic. So, indeed, we thank the Prime Minister that in the darkest hours he did not despair of the safety of our State. But criticism is a function of this House, and during a war such as this, when such vast issues are at stake, it is the duty of a Member of Parliament, if he feels sincerely on certain aspects, to express his feelings. Criticism is not an attack either on the Government or on the Prime Minister. No Government and no individual is infallible. Even the greatest leaders in war, Napoleon and Nelson, made mistakes, and the greatest national leader we had up to the present, comparable with the Prime Minister, the great Pitt, made mistakes, naturally enough, in the long war against Napoleon. Therefore one's duty is, I think, to criticise, but a Member should, if possible, criticise in a constructive manner, certainly in a moderate manner, and not use the occasion to make any kind of disparaging, vague attacks either upon an individual or upon the Government. My reason for taking part in these Debates has been to put forward certain ideas which I hold, rightly or wrongly, as to priorities—priorities for men and material, and priorities in regard to strategy.
Firstly, let me refer to priorities in regard to men and material. I consider that our first priority must be ships and shipbuilding—ships for the Royal Navy and ships for the Mercantile Marine. We are an island people who have been dependent upon the seas throughout our history, and, therefore, whatever sacrifices we have to make, we must build up the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine. Shipping is the yardstick which controls our war effort. Our shipping capacity measures the amount of our imports of food, or in other words the health of our people, and it also affects our imports of materials and munitions. Our shipping capacity controls our imports of finished munitions, as well as the number of men we can send overseas to various parts of the Empire and to the various theatres of war overseas. It controls the amount of munitions and food we can send overseas, and the amount of aid 131 which we can send to our Allies, and, above all, to our Russian Allies. Here let us note that the entry of Russia into the war has imposed an enormously increased strain upon the shipping resources of this country. All the supplies of food and munitions which we send to Russia have to go by a round-about route, along a difficult and dangerous sea passage, and have to be landed at ports which are inadequately equipped to deal with the large increase in traffic. I recognise that there is a joint priority, in that ships must have adequate air support. Ships must have air support, especially in our coastal waters and in narrow seas within range of attack by bombers based on land aerodromes. Ships must, of course, have protection while loading and unloading in ports. Therefore, there is an equal priority for providing adequate aeroplane support. In this connection I would point out that the building of heavy bombers comes lower down in the scale of priorities. First priority should be given to aeroplanes to protect your shipping and your ports. Bombers to attack the enemy come a good deal lower down in the scale. I sometimes wonder whether at a time like this, when there is an urgent demand for tanks—and we all know how desperate the demand is—it is possible that we have ever retarded our shipbuilding programme, both for the Navy and the Mercantile Marine, in order to provide materials and skilled men for making tanks. Have we in any way sacrificed, even for the time being, our shipbuilding programme? I recognise the enormous importance of providing tanks, but destroyers must take precedence of tanks. We have an urgent need for both, but on destroyers we depend absolutely for our life. They are essential. While both are urgently necessary, we must have precedence for ships.
Then, are we giving sufficient precedence to the right types of aircraft? I submit that the types that we require are fighter aircraft, light bombers and torpedo-carrying aircraft. Torpedo-carrying aircraft have proved their enormous power during recent months. They proved their power in the attack on the "Bismarck" and, to our sad loss, in the successful attack on the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse." I wonder whether we are providing enough of these 132 to protect our shipping and to attack that of the enemy, or are we diverting too much of our skill, our labour and our materials to building these gigantic bombers. I believe one giant bomber takes 80,000 to 100,000 man-hours of labour to make. Are we overdoing the time and energy spent in building these big bombers and not building enough torpedo-carrying planes, and so on? I cannot help thinking that perhaps, if we had spent less in constructing these giant bombers and more on constructing the light bombers and torpedo-carrying planes, our position to-day in Malaya might be very much better and our position in the Mediterranean very much stronger. I know there is a school that believes that we shall win the war by the night bombing of Germany, but it is a diminishing school. The defence against the night bomber is getting more and more efficient, and the opinion is arising that large-scale night bombing attacks on well-defended cities will become so expensive that they will gradually peter out.
Now I should like to turn to discuss priority as to strategy. It is obvious that the first priority is to defend this island base of Great Britain. I recognise that we are liable to an invasion. I am not one of those who hold that the threat of an invasion is merely a scare. I think it probable that before Germany collapses and if Hitler sees German morale breaking, his last desperate try to save the situation may be an attempt at the invasion of this country. Our second general strategic principle is the same today as it has been for the last 300 years, to guard the great sea lines of our communications with foreign countries, the British Dominions, India and the British Colonies. The first priority is to defend the life-line to America, our communications across the Atlantic. We are gratified to hear that the Battle of the Atlantic is going so well, but I would make this suggestion. We have seen our enemies in this war on several occasions achieve feats which the military mind at the beginning of the war would have said were impossible. We have seen them accomplish the apparently impossible. I hope that the Admiralty are working and thinking not entirely on old-fashioned lines and that they conceive it possible that our enemies may contemplate ideas and strokes which a few years ago might 133 have been regarded as utterly impossible. While the Battle of the Atlantic is going well, do not let us rule out as entirely impossible the participation of Japanese ships in this battle.
The second great strategic line of communication is, of course, past the Spanish Peninsula, down the West coast of Africa to the Cape, then up to the Red Sea and through the Persian Gulf and on to India, Malaya and Australasia. That is the second line that we must hold at all costs. Unfortunately, we have lost for the time being the command of the seas between Eastern India and Australasia, and I fear that we have lost to a large extent the use of our great naval base at Singapore, or, if its use is not yet lost, it is threatened. I do not say that Singapore is in danger of capture. We have all heard with immense relief the assurance given by the Prime Minister that Singapore is not in danger of that. We want to maintain Singapore, however, not as a fortress, but as a naval base. That is the essential thing. If the Japanese can establish themselves in aerodromes within fighter range of Singapore, it will be very difficult to use it as a naval base. I cannot help thinking that many people in this country, as they read day after day of Japanese troops disembarking on both sides of the Malayan Peninsula, some of them on the Western side from barges and ships captured at Penang, as they read of those ships and barges, some of them anchored and ideal targets for any bombers, and realise that not a British bomb is dropped anywhere near, rightly or wrongly many of them cannot help having feelings of intense frustration and, I would add, of humiliation. As night after night in my home on the East Coast I hear masses of heavy bombers going overseas to bomb Germany and the occupied countries, I ask myself whether some of the immense effort which has created those machines might not have been diverted to create lighter machines, in greater numbers, to be sent out to defend this vital naval base of the British Empire. We are told that we are short of aeroplanes, bombers and fighters, at Singapore, yet we know that we have built up an immense Air Force, and were assured recently that it was at least as big as Germany's and of better quality. 134 Could we not have spared more aeroplanes to defend this base?
It is said that we cannot be strong everywhere, and if that is so surely the thing we must do is to concentrate our strength on essential points and not scatter it. I submit that we have scattered it. I submit that the defence of Hong-Kong was a dissipation of strength, of the limited, insufficient amount of strength in the Far East, which should have been concentrated. When I am told that the defence of Hong-Kong saved time, I want to know what time. I listened to the Lord Privy Seal saying that it occupied the forces of the enemy, but we know that during the attack on Hong-Kong the enemy were landing troops by the hundreds of thousands in the Philippines and in Malaya and I cannot see that the defence of Hong-Kong saved us in that respect. We are told that the shortage of equipment at Singapore was due to the demands of home defence in the first place, secondly to the sending of supplies to Russia, and thirdly, to sending supplies to Libya. Help to Russia is a priority that takes first place, I agree. We know that we must, even at appalling sacrifice, help Russia to maintain her great counter-offensive. But regarding Libya I am not quite so sure. The Libyan campaign is not yet over. Just as when Russia was invaded by Napoleon our armies in the Peninsula were a running sore to Napoleon—I think those were his own words—because they drained France of the man-power which he badly wanted in Russia, so we may hope that in Libya to-day our Armies may be draining Germany of the man-power which she so badly requires in her Russian campaign.
Libya is not finished. We hope that it will lead to the occupation of the whole of Libya, including Tripoli. If it does, it will be a great victory, but if the campaign does not get the whole of Libya and succeeds only in occupying and holding the province of Cyrenaica, the military historian of the future may say that it was an ill exchange if in order to get Cyrenaica we had to risk the safety of the great naval base of the British Empire in the East, Singapore. The third strategical line of communication is through the Mediterranean, and that has been lost. We hope it may be restored. It would save our shipping to an enormous degree. I believe that some 60 per cent. of the 135 goods entering this country in peace-time came through the Mediterranean. We can restore the use of that route only if we destroy the possibility of Germany occupying bomber bases within easy reach of the Suez Canal, such as in Crete. The time may come when we shall be able to achieve that position.
Although to-day the outlook is in some ways dark, yet, looking back to a year ago, and still more to 18 months ago, the position is vastly improved. After Dunkirk it seemed as though the end of things had come and that this country would be unable to defend itself. If this country had then fallen, with the fall of the base here the British Empire would have fallen. We know that we have now made this country secure and that, even if the impossible were to happen and we were successfully invaded, the war would go on, and Germany would be defeated. We have given time for America to commence and to get into gear for the first beginnings of her colossal rearmament. We have Russia as an Ally. We have organised for war. Looking back to that desperate time, I feel that we have much to be thankful for—for the help of the men in the Armed Forces and the men in the factories, of our military leaders and of our Prime Minister for his great leadership in those dark days; but do not let us disguise from ourselves the fact that while we have made the base secure here in Britain, the Empire in the East has never been in greater peril. In the coming weeks and months we may face not only times of difficulty but even disasters, yet we know that our people are supported by the overwhelming resources of the United States and Russia. However dark the times through which we may pass during the few months that lie ahead, ultimate victory is assured to us, and freedom will be preserved in the world.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
I am sure that we have all listened with the greatest interest to the thoughtful and constructive speech of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus). I find myself in agreement with much that he said. The difficult question of allocating priorities is the kind of question which must be left to the War Cabinet, which is in possession of all the facts, both as regards our own strategy and the information it receives of enemy strategy. It all comes down to the ques- 136 tion of production and supply. We are still having to pay the price of lack of preparation in the past, and so long as we are strategically on the defensive we shall, from time to time, have to meet the difficulty of deciding where to send the aircraft or the ships or which priority to make A1. The declaration from Washington gives us some hope that one day we shall be able to plan grand strategy because we have grand supplies.
Before the Recess the Government made some attempt to get rid of the House of Commons for a long Adjournment. The attempt was frustrated by the authority of Parliament, and I think it was frustrated because there is in the House of Commons a growing feeling of anxiety about the general state of affairs. Before the Recess the House was in a critical mood. I have listened to most of these Debates for some time, and I have listened to the Debate to-day, and I think the House is still in a critical mood. At any rate the House has, at long last, exercised its authority, and in my judgment the Debate to-day has been well worth the while of the Government to call us back at an earlier date. I listened to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, and it seems that according to the military spokesman in Cairo, we have made considerable progress in Libya. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft said in a moving part of his speech, grave things are happening in Malaya and the Pacific. We have had the Washington Declaration, which has been welcomed by the Press and in this House by Parliament, but let us face the fact that in the world of deeds it is the Russian cockerel which has saved the necks of a few chickens.
In the last few weeks there has been in this country a Press and wireless campaign of political propaganda such as has never been known by the Press or public opinion. In the newspapers the leaders all tell the same story. In the feature articles the same story is always being told of the imminent collapse of Hitlerian Germany. We read also almost every day of the end of the Luftwaffe. I pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Information for his remarkable influence upon the Press of this country, but I warn him at the same time that although there is much to be said for this, he must beware that he does not create complacency.
137 I want to refer to the question of Empire co-operation, which has also been ventilated to a considerable extent in the newspapers during the Recess. Whenever it has been raised in the House of Commons by various hon. Members, we have nearly always had a half-hearted reply from the Government. But as has been said in this Debate by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) and the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Liberal party on this side of the House, there have been grumblings from Australia. There has been from the Australian Press, and from Australian statesmen, very considerable criticism, and it is quite clear that "Down under" they have been dissatisfied for some time with regard to the question of air support for Crete, and Greece, and Libya, and now for Malaya. On 19th December I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, in view of the criticism in the Dominion Press of the shortage of aircraft in Malaya, whether the Commonwealth of Australia was consulted before the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his present position in Singapore, and whether Australia agreed to that appointment. I asked him again whether the Commonwealth was consulted before that appointment was made. I never had a very satisfactory answer from the right hon. Gentleman. I would like to ask that question to-day of him or whoever is to reply for the Government.
I would also like to ask the Foreign Secretary, who, I believe, is to reply for the Government, whether Australia, a member of the Commonwealth of British Nations, was consulted before the appointment was made of the present Minister of State in Cairo. On 18th December I again asked the Lord Privy Seal a Question, in which I said that certain discussions were going on with the object of concerting Allied war plans, and whether he could say whether the Dominion representatives were present at those discussions. The reply I received from the Lord Privy Seal was:We have constantly under consideration the best methods. That does not mean that the Committee is sitting. We are in constant consultation on these matters with the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 18th December, 1941; col. 2085; Vol. 376.]It is important for us in the House of Commons to know what consultations 138 have been going on, what discussions have been taking place, because of the serious complaints that are being made, and have been made, by the Press in Australia and, most recently, by the Prime Minister of Australia himself. The hon. and gallant Member for Epsom read extracts from statements made by the Prime Minister of Australia in the Australian Press. I shall quote very briefly one or two of those statements. In the "Melbourne Herald,"not a journalist or a political correspondent, but the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, which is facing the present situation with regard to the Pacific, wrote that they would exert their energies towards shaping a plan which would give that country some confidence of being able to hold out until the battle swept against the enemy. Their policy would be shaped towards working out, with the United States as the major factor, a plan of specific strategy along with British, Dutch and the Chinese forces.
He went on, in another paragraph of great importance to this country and the Empire:When Russia was being assailed by the Axis Powers, the Australian Government put forward a proposal that a reciprocal agreement between Russia and Britain should be negotiated to meet any act of aggression by Japan. The suggestion was then regarded—wrongly, as time has proved—as premature.Mr. Curtin said at the same time:Australia was never satisfied with the position. The representations we have made in the last few days have been restatements of those we made over a lengthy period. The answer facing all the Allies is production.I was given an assurance before we parted for the Recess that there were adequate methods of consultation between, the member States of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I observe that the Foreign Secretary is not on the Front Bench; I hope that he is going to reply to the Debate, and not give us a rehash of his wireless talk. He is a Member of the War Cabinet. Several Members of this House have paid high and glowing tributes to the magnificent contributions in men, material, and courage made by the Australian troops where they have fought as storm troops, and I think the House of Commons is entitled to a public statement from the right hon. Gentleman, for public consumption, in reply to the serious suggestions which have been made.
139 by the Prime Minister of Australia. Those of us who pressed for the House of Commons to continue in session while these great events were taking place in the Pacific—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara (Chelmsford)
I think the remark that my hon. Friend has just made might be very widely misinterpreted if allowed to stand—I mean his remark that the Australians have been used as storm troops. It would be resented by the nation in general if it were felt that the Australians were used as our storm troops.
§ Mr. Granville
I am an old member of the Australian Forces which acted as storm troops at Gallipoli; and I know that Australia is prepared, if the country is in danger, to spare nothing that is required, and to allow its troops to be used as storm troops. But this great nation is entitled to a full share in the conduct of the war. This nation has a grievance; it has been stated in public, and there has been no reply as to the attitude of the War Cabinet to Mr. Curtin's allegation. The Prime Minister of Australia had to make representations direct to Washington. I do not know whether his representations were communicated to the Dominions Office here. We seldom see anything of the Dominions Office at present. I do not know whether the War Cabinet received a similar communication at the same time, but Mr. Curtin found it necessary to make a direct representation, I believe, to the President of the United States, and to the Prime Minister while he was in Washington. The Government do not seem to have been in touch with Dominion opinion in the last few months. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says, "the last few years." He has been there since I have, and I accept his version. We have sent a Member of this House to Canberra as High Commissioner, for the sole purpose of keeping the Australian Government informed, and the Australian Government have appointed Sir Earle Page as their Minister in London, for the sole purpose of keeping the War Cabinet informed of public opinion in Australia. Surely the War Cabinet cannot dismiss this matter at the first meeting of the House of Commons after the Recess and say that all the criticism which has been made in the Press is not to be answered and there is not to be some sort of explanation given. 140 In Australia, they are quite obviously dissatisfied with the conduct of affairs in the Pacific, but they are also dissatisfied in not having an adequate voice in the direction of the war effort of the British Commonwealth of Nations as a whole. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us a statement on behalf of the War Cabinet which will answer these fears and anxieties.
I have advocated for a long time an Empire War Cabinet, and I am convinced that we shall have that Empire War Cabinet. I know the arguments against it. They have been put up from time to time. Nobody suggests that you should have a War Cabinet of all Dominion Prime Ministers here as a great Commonwealth Cabinet. We know the political records of the last war, but it is no good arguing that because South Africa or Canada may or may not be satisfied with the present machinery all is well. It is no good saying that, if you have an Empire War Cabinet here, it takes away from the authority of the Prime Ministers in the Dominions. We had to come to this in 1917 after a long discussion. What is needed is that the Dominion mind should be represented in the War Cabinet here. Whatever machinery you may use under the Statute of Westminster—and there seems to be a number of minds in this country which still regard the British Empire as noblesse oblige and white ducks—constant new decisions must be made here in London which affect the war effort, policy, strategy and operations of the whole Commonwealth. The Prime Minister could change all this to-morrow. He could ask the Dominion Prime Ministers if they would nominate statesmen of War Cabinet stature who had the confidence of the governments and of public opinion in the Dominions to sit in the War Cabinet over here. By this method the Dominion Prime Ministers would have direct access to the War Cabinet through their own representatives in the War Cabinet.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
Does not my hon. Friend think that it would be of great assistance in carrying out the policy that he now advocating if Australia were to form a National Government herself?
§ Mr. Granville
I do not pretend to speak for Australian politics but we do not seem to understand that Australia as a member 141 State is concerned with the whole Commonwealth. She is a principal in the Commonwealth of British Nations. I do not know whether it would be suggested that they could appoint the Minister of Labour or the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a member of the War Cabinet. That might or might not be, but they produce a particular kind of statesman. They are very much in touch with the new world, and I believe they have a great contribution to make to the future of the British Empire. By this method of Dominion Prime Ministers nominating their own representatives for the War Cabinet, I believe you would get over many of the difficulties.
I want briefly to refer to an article that was written by Sir Keith Murdoch, who was Minister of Information in Mr. Menzies' Government in Australia. He said—and he used more direct language than we use in the House of Commons—I believe that should we be swept out of Singapore the Government will change. I believe that in any case some change in the control of war efforts should be forced by the Dominions or should be initiated in Britain by Mr. Churchill, with Dominion knowledge.He said in the same article, which was published a few days ago:I believe, however, that Australia should request immediate entrance into the War Cabinet and a place for her experts on the Council of Defence.That was written in the "Daily Mail" a few days ago. Perhaps some hon. Gentleman might prefer to see it in the "Times." Well, he wrote a letter to the "Times," in which he said:I believe that this country"—meaning Great Britain—and this is very much the gist of the whole problem—has been taking a tremendous responsibility, unwise in any event but shattering in its effect if things go wrong, in deciding strategy and policy alone for all British everywhere. … The entry of stout Dominions minds into the war council and of our overseas Service men and business men into the Army, Navy and Air Supply Councils has thus become of great importance for the two reasons that the Dominions will not stand grave decisions going against them unless they are in those decisions and that something must be done to improve the war management.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith (Rotherhithe)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether that statement has or has not been repudiated from Australia?
§ Mr. Granville
This article was written in the "Daily Mail" by Sir Keith Murdoch, who was, I believe, the Minister of Information in the last Australian Government, as was the letter in the "Times." If they have been repudiated, I have not seen the repudiation. There is also the question of whether or not—and this must be faced—you are to have the Dominions each with their own separate representative on any Allied War Council which may be formed as the result of the Washington discussions. I listened to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, and I could not gather whether it is intended to set up a permanent Allied War Council or even an Allied High Command, but I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary, who is to reply to this Debate, whether it is intended, if an Allied War Council is to be set up, to have one single representative or British delegation on that Council or whether the Dominions will be given their own individual and separate representation? I have been raising these questions for 18 months, and I am convinced that they are of tremendous importance. The Foreign Secretary is one of the younger members of the War Cabinet. There are many people in the British Commonwealth of Nations who criticise the old country because they think they are afraid to dispense when necessary with some of their old traditions. Here is a chance for the right hon. Gentleman to convince the youth of the British Empire which is fighting this war for us that the Government are keeping abreast of the times and that they are prepared to tackle the matter in a realistic way and to assist the Dominions in proper war representation.
I, personally, cannot see any future for civilisation except through the British Commonwealth of Nations. I read somewhere the other day:We may have to choose between whether in this island we shall be one of the Western outposts of a totalitarian Europe or an Eastern outpost of an American controlled civilisation.There is no future for the 46,000,000 peoples with their present standard of living unless we can get on that front bench men who see the British Commonwealth of Nations as one great alliance. It has worked at Geneva. If we are to build up security, let us build it up against war and poverty by a new, better, wiser 143 and bolder conception of the future of the Commonwealth of British Nations.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
If I ask permission to make a very brief survey of the general situation of the war, it is because it must be taken as one great whole, and I think there is a tendency in various quarters to look at one part of the war, perhaps that which is attracting most attention, rather than at the war as a whole. Germany is still the great enemy. If Germany falls, we shall have gone a tremendously long way towards ending the war victoriously from our own point of view. If she stands, the war will go on. Undoubtedly, Germany has miscalculated the Russian situation. She was under the impression that she could dispose of Russia before winter came. Now she finds herself confronted by winter, that Russian winter of which a Russian Emperor of the past was speaking when he said that he had not yet used his two best generals, who were in reserve, and their names were General January and General February. If we accept the Germans' own statement, which is that they are voluntarily breaking off their series of engagements on the Russian front—if we accept that for the moment as a basis of argument—then there occurs the undoubted fact that it takes two to break off an engagement, and as the Russians are not desisting from their attacks, and are, in fact, following up and hitting at the enemy as he goes, it is obvious that the Germans are in a very much Worse way than they themselves make out.
I think we should make a great mistake if we were to over-rate the plight of the Germans, at any rate in laying our own plans and making our own appreciation of the situation. The Germans are now retreating, and what is more important, they are being hunted back by the Russians. What will be the effect on their morale? There is no doubt that good troops—the Germans undoubtedly are good troops—even if they are tired and hungry and cold, will go on as long as they feel that they are winning, but when they are going back—and the Germans have gone back and may have to go back much further yet—how long will their morale stand, how long will it be before they realise that they are frozen, famished and ill-clad? When that time comes, I think that the German morale will be well 144 on the way to cracking. It seems to me that at the very best there must be considerable doubt whether these German armies, even assuming that they make a more or less successful withdrawal now, can be fit for much for many months to come, until they have been reinforced and rested, refitted and reclothed. There must be a very high proportion, under the conditions in which they are now serving, who will be, if not in hospitals, at any rate very far from fit.
It is a question of whether the Germans can go on without making heavy drafts upon such troops which they have scattered throughout Europe in occupied countries in order to make good their losses. The fact that their forces are scattered throughout Europe is to our advantage, because they cannot be concentrated except after a considerable interval of time. The Luftwaffe can undoubtedly be assembled fairly quickly, although its fitness is another matter. Both physically and geographically it is impossible to concentrate these troops without an interval of a few weeks, and in our plans this factor ought to be taken into, consideration. We may, I think, look hopefully to the condition of the German armies, which will be far from what their leaders would wish when the spring comes.
The Libyan position undoubtedly looks good. After all, one of the great objects of the campaign is to free communications through the Mediterranean. This is a matter of great importance to us, and it is sometimes forgotten what a tremendous factor communications are in war and how much depends upon them. If we can get the Mediterranean communications comparatively free, we shall be in an infinitely better position for any further operations which we may undertake in the Mediterranean, in the Far East or elsewhere. Have the Government any information as to the numbers and efficiency of the Axis troops? Very much depends on this. Have they any reliable information as to the position of the Luftwaffe? The public certainly has not this information. Then there is the Battle of the Atlantic, where the position is better than at any other time. Is it still going as well, and what is our naval position in the Mediterranean? Information on these points is necessary if we are to form a correct appreciation of the position in Europe and in the Middle East. It is also 145 important because it shows whether we can spare any further air or sea forces for the Far East.
We have heard a certain amount about the necessity for sending reinforcements, especially air reinforcements, to the Far East. I think that it would be well to bear in mind that it is one thing to talk about sending them, and it is another thing to get them there. They cannot be sent by the waving of a magician's wand; it takes time to get air and sea forces to the Far East, together with the necessary ground organisations to keep the aeroplanes in the air. There has been a tendency in the country to underrate the power of Japan. I have heard reasonably well-informed people saying that they cannot understand how Japan can dare to challenge the might of America. These people forget that Japan is a very highly organised first-class Power, with a first-class fleet and with a first-class and numerous army, whereas America, with all her population and resources, is not as yet highly organised in regard to either her land or air forces, while her navy has been surprised both strategically and tactically. It has been strategically surprised because, instead of being at Hawaii, it ought to have been on the opposite side of the Pacific. There was only one place for it when war was imminent, and that was in the neighbourhood of Singapore.
The Japanese have most unfortunately gained command of the sea, and that means a tremendous thing to the British Empire, because for the first time for many years we find ourselves committed to an important campaign overseas without having command of the sea. It is not easy to see how the Americans can get their fleet across the Pacific, because they have no base to get to, perhaps not even to aim at, with Singapore in the position in which it is now, but unless they can get a superior fleet there, it is certain that we shall not have command of the sea, and we shall have our communications interrupted by raiders, if not by hostile fleets, for many months to come. The Japanese can not only prey on our commerce, but can land forces and reinforce them when and where they please. They can prevent us from reinforcing or supplying to a great extent Malaya, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, and so forth. It seems to me that we must face the un- 146 pleasant prospect of further losses at sea and on land. I hope we shall not have them, but there is every indication that they are possible, if not probable. We have to face that prospect unless and until the American fleet can establish command of the Far Eastern seas. As it is, it is damaged for one thing, and, as far as we know, it is on the wrong side of the Pacific for another. The seaward defences of Singapore are very strong indeed, and the Malaya approaches through jungle and swamp are difficult, but the naval base may be made unoccupiable by air attack, and that is one of the principal dangers that we have to face now. As far as uninformed judgment can tell, knowing no more than appears in the newspapers, and having seen Singapore not so many years ago, the fortress should be able to hold out, but whether the naval base will be occupiable or not is another matter.
As regards Hong Kong, the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) suggested that it ought not to have been held. I would only ask what would be the judgment of this House, of the British Empire and of the world if we had not tried to hold it. I think it would have been rightly regarded as a disgrace if we had attempted to withdraw and let that prosperous, well organised Colony go by default. One point about Hong Kong occurred to me as a possibility, and that was whether we ought to have allowed the landing, which took place at night so far as we can gather from the accounts, to take place. It is obvious that Kowloon had to go against enemy attack on land; it was indefensible, and once Kowloon had gone, the only airfield in Hong Kong had gone too, and that had a very great bearing on the general situation, but as far as the landing which gained a footing on the beaches of Hong Kong and drove the defenders to the hills is concerned, I wonder whether we were not, like the Americans at Hawaii, caught napping and whether it ought to have happened.
It has been asked who is to blame for things going wrong in the Far East. I suggest that those hon. Members who were Members of the House in the early days after the last war and at the time of the Washington Treaty, who not merely acquiesced in but urged the reduction of our armaments and who practically left it certain that in the event of war we should have no naval strength worth talking 147 about in the Pacific, are more to blame than anybody else, if anybody is to blame. His Majesty's Services have to be silent in these matters, but if hon. Members had heard some of the comments made in instructed circles of the Services at that time, they might not have been flattered. In the meantime, I would venture one or two suggestions. The first is that, although speedy action is undoubtedly desirable, we should not undertake any large action until we have assembled sufficient forces to render success reasonably probable. That must take time. To atempt to reinforce with inadequate forces in a hurry is only to court disaster. There are, of course, certain other counter-measures that may be taken, and although they are pretty obvious and would probably occur to the enemy, I will not venture to mention them, because I do not wish even to appear to hint at action that we might take. I would only suggest again that it is impossible to assemble troops by, as it were, the wave of a wand.
The next suggestion that I want to make is that our own requirements should have first call on our resources. We have already gone seriously short of certain materials to the extent of our aid to Russia. We have given Russia a pledge that we will give her certain quantities of materials, and we are bound to honour that pledge, but I suggest that we cannot send, for instance, tanks, guns and aircraft which we urgently need ourselves to China, however much we may sympathise with them. I say that because I have seen suggestions that we must at once aid China. Of course, it is desirable to do so, but our resources are not unlimited; further, I greatly doubt whether the Chinese are sufficiently organised and trained to make adequate use of such munitions and so forth if we were to send them. There should be a careful overhaul of the higher direction of the war, both in regard to the War Cabinet and possibly to the Service chiefs. Have we the best system? Ought we not to have something in the nature of an Imperial War Cabinet on which the Dominions would be represented? We have heard that suggested already to-day, and I merely add my small voice in support of it and suggest that at least it should be seriously considered whether there ought not to be an Imperial War Cabinet.
148 Is the co-operation of the Air Force with the Army as satisfactory as it ought to be? I believe that the majority of officers of the Army are far from satisfied on that subject. Army co-operation is apt to be treated in the Air Force as relatively unimportant. It is immensely important. There are certain types of operation, as our enemies have demonstrated in the most conclusive way, which demand the very best airmen and aircraft and the closest type of co-operation. I feel that the Army should have its own Air Arm, in the same way as the Navy, and I believe there is a growing feeling to that effect in the Army itself. Incidentally, the Russians and the Germans both, I believe I am right in saying, have aircraft operating with the Army under Army command. Is the present position due to the old idea, because there was such an old idea, of inter-Service jealousy? I hope not, because I do not believe there is such a thing to-day.
What I do feel is that our aircraft with the Army should be under the general officer commanding-in-chief. The system whereby an army commander-in-chief has to go, so to speak, hat in hand to an independent air commander-in-chief, who is his equal in rank, to ask for the aircraft he needs for any particular operation or series of operations, seems to me to be wrong and to cry aloud for amendment. The position of the air officer commanding-in-chief in the Middle East at the time of the operations in Greece, Libya, and so forth was undoubtedly unenviable, because he had, with a very limited number of aircraft, to decide where they should be sent, with urgent calls coming from Libya, from Greece, from Iraq, from Abyssinia—to begin with—and later from Syria.
We have heard a good deal to-day about the protection of aerodromes, and undoubtedly, in the opinion of many people, this has undoubtedly been a weak spot in our defensive arrangements. I hope that the arrangement which was outlined by the Lord Privy Seal will be found effective, and provided that a considerable number of those at present engaged on the defence of aerodromes are transferred to this new Air Force Regiment it does seem to me that it might be reasonably expected to work, and I hope that it will.
I would venture to appeal to the Government to take the House a little more into their confidence as regards 149 information. I am quite aware that information cannot be given in open Debate which might be of use to the enemy, but I feel that at any rate in Secret Session much more information might be given to the House than actually is given and that if such information were given, the criticism which might follow would be less destructive and more instructive than it sometimes has been in the past. Lastly, there is the question of co-operation with our Allies. Ought we not to have a Supreme War Council for our direction of the war? At the end of the last war it was found necessary to have a Supreme War Council sitting at Versailles. I know that it would be more difficult in this particular case, because the war is far more widespread about the world, and the location of the War Council might be difficult to settle. But I hope that the Government will, in conjunction with our Allies, consider very seriously whether a Supreme War Council might not be of very great use.
Then there is the question of putting British Armies and Fleets under foreign army or fleet commanders. I venture to think that in this matter we have in the past made some very serious mistakes. It seems to me that two things are necessary if there is to be a foreign commander-in-chief. The first is that such a generalissimo must be not a commander-in-chief of a foreign army, and, secondly, that he must be outstanding and marked out by ability and reputation for the position. Marshal Foch was a good example. He was not, as is often supposed, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army. On the contrary, he was superimposed over General Pétain, who was commanding the French Army, and over Sir Douglas Haig, who was commanding the British Army, as generalissimo for the direction and co-ordination of strategy. That is a very different position from putting British Armies under commanders of foreign armies. The commander of a foreign army will naturally, and perhaps instinctively, always think of his own army first and the armies of other nations and countries very much second.
We repeated that mistake of putting the British Expeditionary Force under a French general. He was not a generalissimo but the commander of the French Army, and he had very little regard for the efficiency or safety of the British Army. Far from being of outstanding 150 merit and reputation, he turned out to be a failure as a commander. That was a mistake. At the beginning of the last war, the British Commander-in-Chief was independent of the French Commander-in-Chief but was ordered to conform to his strategy. We repeated the mistake in Greece last year. The British Force which landed in Greece was put, lock stock and barrel, under the Greek High Command. That was as wrong as it could be. We had no adequate voice, as we ought to have had. We ought to have gone to Greece as Allies, conforming as far as possible to Greek strategy but with very definite orders to insist upon strategy which we considered sound and adequate. As it was, the Greek strategy was as bad as it could be. Positions far too advanced were taken up which could not possibly be held. The Greek Army in Eastern Macedonia was a gift from the beginning; the Greek Commander-in-Chief placed far too high a value on the possibilities of Serbian resistance. We all know the result.
There is one other point in this placing of British Armies under foreign commanders. I greatly hope that it will not happen again. I refer to the constitutional position. That mistake was very nearly made in 1917. We were very nearly put under that most unsuccessful General, Nivelle. I have always understood that one of the causes of that scheme breaking down was that the constitutional position would have been impossible. The question was asked to whom this Commander of the British Army was to be responsible. The only possible answer was that it would be to the President and Government of the French Republic. Whatever may have been the feelings of this House and the British Government on the subject, I have always understood that those who objected most strongly and most decidedly were the Dominion Governments, and that it was very largely on that account that that most ill-judged proposal was dropped.
As regards the General Wavell position, I think we all agree that he is of outstanding reputation and merit and that his selection was admirable, but his position will be very difficult indeed. Although his command may include the Philippines and such American troops as are in them, he will be completely cut off, because of our lack of command of 151 the sea. The influence he will be able to exercise over those troops will be very nebulous indeed. Similarly, he must undoubtedly have very considerable difficulties, for communication reasons, in exercising effective command both over our own troops and over Dutch troops in the Far East.
One other point has been made which I confess seemed to me to be possibly an unnecessary one, and that was that the Commander of the American Fleet should be the Commander over our Fleet in the Far East. The American Fleet has not begun this war very well, and further the American Navy, although it has undoubtedly good material in ships and no doubt good material in personnel, has no experience of modern war whatever. It took no part in any fighting in the last war, and I greatly doubt whether any American admiral is nearly as knowledgeable or as experienced as are the admirals of the British Navy. I merely put that forward as the feeling of one British subject. I do not know how others feel about it, but I cannot help feeling that there will be considerable doubt. It is certain that the British soldier does not like serving under a foreigner, and I doubt very much whether the British seaman likes serving under foreign command any better than his brother in the Army. I have ventured to put forward these considerations on the present position, and particularly I would urge His Majesty's Government not to be in a hurry with measures for the relief of Singapore until they have concentrated and have available adequate forces. I urge them not to undertake any relief operations with forces which are too weak or too scattered to have their effect.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
Perhaps I have been somewhat luckier than my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) who in opening his remarks referred to the fact that he had waited for nearly a year before being fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in a war Debate. My time has been somewhat shorter; it has only been six months. I am not complaining, and I mention the fact only because I have sat through practically all of the war Debates. I have tried to speak on many occasions during the last six months, without any luck, and it might perhaps appear somewhat chur- 152 lish if, after the Prime Minister's great success in America, I should venture to criticise in his absence that part of the war with which he is most intimately connected, namely, the conduct and the strategy of the military activity of the war. I do so, however, for two reasons; first, because I think this is far too important a matter to allow of any delay, and secondly because I find myself in the awkward position that I may be out of the country by the time the right hon. Gentleman comes back.
I comfort myself with the reflection that surely the Prime Minister had an opportunity on 11th December to allow us to debate the statement which he made on that day and which, I think, was wrongly made at the end of Questions instead of on the Adjournment, when we should have had an opportunity of expressing our views. I do not accuse him for a single moment of treating the House with any disrespect, but surely one would not be accused of being unduly suspicious if one were to say that he was probably aware when he made that statement on 11th December that he was going to America. Looking through what he said on that day it seems a pity that, when some hon. Members challenged the wisdom or not making the statement on the Adjournment, he should have become so irritable about it, even to the length of saying that after all he need not have come to the House at all but might have addressed us through the B.B.C. I feel that whatever I may be going to say—and I do not in the least wish to be personal—can be excused on those grounds.
We find ourselves in the position of having the Prime Minister in the United States with most of the Chiefs of Staff, and that does seem to me to illustrate the disadvantage of having a Prime Minister who is also Minister of Defence. I leave it at that with these two observations. I, myself, hate to think of the military centre of control shifting to Washington for reasons into which I need not go. Secondly, it strengthens a nasty feeling, which I have had for many months, indeed I might almost say for many years, that we may find ourselves reduced to occupying what I term the position of America's Heligoland off the coast of Europe. The Prime Minister's speech of 11th December has never been dealt with and I want, first, to review what has happened since this Government took 153 over. I am not going to waste the time of the House by going into a large amount of detail, but in order to give force to my argument it is essential that I should cover the main points. I do so particularly as one who has fought in a war, who had experience of the tragic effect of the amateur strategy of politicians in the last war, and who is determined to do whatever is possible in existing circumstances, on behalf of those people, many of them in the House now, who are called upon to go out and do the actual fighting to see that that sort of thing does not happen again.
I do not want to be offensive but I find myself angry at the complacency with which old men of the Cabinet who have had no real experience of fighting a war, who have never indulged in the filthy business of killing—and any one who has killed a man knows it is filthy; I know what it is like—just letting things drift on, and assuming that all will come right in the end, and sending cheery words and messages from the proximity of dugouts costing £750,000. The questions I want answered are concerned with a long series of blunders which must be attributed either to the Chiefs of Staff, whom we are not allowed to criticise, or to the Minister of Defence, who is not in a position to be here to-day, or to the War Cabinet. Therefore, I address my remarks to the War Cabinet, and I am glad to see the Foreign Secretary in his place. With all respect to him, knowing him as a busy man, I do think it a pity that on rare occasions of this kind, when we have a Debate on the war, the Minister who is to reply does not spend more time with us.—[Interruption.]—The right hon. Gentleman says he has been here. I want to say to him that neither the House nor the country will be well content unless he answers the Debate instead of indulging in a rehash of his broadcast speech made the other day.
I want to go back to the beginning. Most of us have, or we should have, made some study of Lord Gort's Despatches. It is no use avoiding the issue. The War Cabinet are responsible for the strategy of the war and the conduct of affairs. One question I want to ask the Foreign Secretary is this. It is made perfectly clear in Lord Gort's Despatches that he was instructed during the period of 21st-26th May to carry out a movement which, in 154 his opinion, would be disastrous and utterly impossible. Who insisted that he should attack to the south when he said it was impossible to succeed? The second thing of which I wish to remind the House, because it does seem to me to have a bearing on the conduct of our affairs at sea today, is the ill-fated expedition into Norway. The House will recollect that on 11th April, 1940, the Prime Minister made these two utterances in his speech:For myself, I consider that Hitler's action in invading Scandinavia is as great a strategic and political error as that committed by Napoleon in 1807 or 1808, when he invaded Spain.He also said:All German ships in the Skaggerak and the Kattegat will be sunk, and by night all ships will be sunk as opportunity serves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April, 1940; cols. 747–8, Vol. 359.]There we have the Minister of Defence telling us exactly what is to be done. I want to ask the Foreign Secretary, who stopped him from doing it? The third matter is one about which I feel great concern, and I am sure many others do—the sinking of the aircraft carrier "Glorious." I once raised the matter in an Adjournment Debate in this House, and the First Lord of the Admiralty evaded every question I put to him. He rode the whole thing off on a personal issue with another hon. Member. I want to remind the House that the officer in command of Coastal Control was not told of the movement of that ship; I believe that the officer commanding the Home Fleet was not told; and certainly the officer commanding submarines was not told. Consequently, when it was attacked and sunk, as two smaller ships were, by the German ships, the men were left to float about on rafts, and nobody went to look for them. Only a handful of men were picked up.
§ Mr. Stokes
Who could go? The Coastal Command did not know. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will reply on this point. The opinion of high serving officers is that if the proper routine had been followed a great number of those 155 men would have been saved. I want to know who gave the instruction that "Glorious" was to go home without it going through the proper channels? The next disaster was Dakar.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I want to understand what I have to answer. When the hon. Member says, "without it going through the proper channels," what does he mean—that it did not go through the officer commanding Coastal Command?
§ Mr. Stokes
Both the officer commanding Coastal Command and the officer commanding submarines ought to have known. Everybody knows that those people were floating about in Arctic waters for 48 hours. Everybody knows that—
§ Mr. Stokes
My suspicion is—[Interruption.] How do I know? [Interruption.] I do make the charge. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to tell me that if the order had gone through the ordinary channels the officer commanding Coastal Command, the officer commanding the Home Fleet, and the officer commanding submarines would not have known. If they did, my case falls to the ground. But it would seem to me an extraordinary state of affairs, if that was the case, because the ship was inadequately escorted. My point is that there was something wrong with the control. The matter was never adequately answered by the First Lord when he dealt with it in Debate.
I have been some time on this point; and, with deference to the House, I will skip across to Greece. In spite of the opinion which has been expressed in this House, I think that the historians, when they write about the expedition to Greece, will say that it was crazy. We lost land materials that we could not afford, and, even as recently as 1st January, 1942, the "Daily Telegraph" made this remark:We are still paying a heavy price for our great losses in Greece.We lost a great deal of shipping there—something of the order of 300,000 or 400,000 tons. It is within the bounds of 156 possibility that had not that expedition been undertaken, we might not have lost Libya after General Wavell captured it. The question I want to put on naval strategy is whether we are satisfied that the control at the top is sufficiently alive and active, and whether the men in the ships are being properly supported in the way that they have every right to be and deserve to be supported.
Now I turn to the land issue in Libya, and here, having criticised adversely, please do not let anybody think for a moment that I do not recognise the terrific efforts made by all officers and men everywhere and the magnificent and brave show they put up in the various theatres of war in which they are engaged. But my anxiety is whether they are really getting a square deal. I take Libya particularly. The Prime Minister, when speaking on 11th December, backed the military spokesman in Cairo as having made a reasonable anticipation of what was going to happen and said that, on the whole, he thought he was right. But does not the House recollect that within the last few days there has been a report in the newspapers to the effect that General Cunningham, just before the attack started, said that the fight would be hazardous and that, while it might end quickly, it would be a very risky proceeding having regard to the forces which he knew would be against him. It is an astonishing thing that, after having given that warning, General Cunningham is apparently now at home ostensibly because he is sick, though I did not seem to notice any particular frailty about him when I saw him walking about the other day. The point I want to put to the House out of fairness to the soldiers in Libya is: What might anybody expect from what was said in this country about the Libya offensive?
A message was sent on 28th November, and this point is somewhat puzzling to me. I cannot make out why it was not sent by His Majesty the King or the Commander-in-Chief. It was sent by the Prime Minister, and I do not know why that should have been the case. The message said that for the first time British and Empire troops would meet the Germans with ample equipment in modern weapons of all kinds. In this House on 20th November, the Prime Minister said that, as in the sea battle, all might be settled one way or the other in the course 157 of perhaps a few hours. What was the conclusion that an average Member like myself gathered from those two remarks? First, that the battle very probably would be over quickly. I heard hon. Members on their way to the smoke-room saying: "It will all be done by tea time." I heard hon. Members say—and they had a right to think so—that we really had got equipment at least equal to that of the Germans, and if that is so, it does not take a heaven-sent genius to deduce that, because we have braver and more efficiently trained people with equal equipment, they certainly ought to walk away with it. The Prime Minister emphasised the point about equipment when he said that:This is the first time we have met the Germans at least equally well-armed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1941; col. 476, Vol. 376.]Was this really the case? I do not believe it. I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary—and this would not be giving information away to the enemy, because Rommel knows exactly what he has against him in Libya—whether he can really tell us whether we had a single tank or any tanks capable, both in armour and in gun-power and range, of standing up to German tanks then in operation in that area? I do not think that we had. The German tanks, as far as I know them, have 77 millimetre guns, and we have not anything like that, though I am bound to admit that I do not know the exact calibre of the guns on our tanks there. I am quite certain that they have nothing like a calibre of 77 millimetres. May I digress for a moment to say that you cannot "kid" people into believing they have better equipment simply by changing its name? I refer to the fact that the Minister of Supply, when he first took over, started the stunt of tacking names on to everything. He called one particular tank "Churchill" which I think was an outrage on the Prime Minister because, as far as I understand it, and with great respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) the "Churchill" was laid down while my right hon. Friend was at the War Office. People have been led to believe that it was laid down very much later. I happen to know the works in which the first one was made.
158 I find myself in some difficulty because I cannot make out what we really ought to expect in Libya. First of all we were told that it would be a quick battle but there was as usual a qualifying clause round the corner. Then there was the statement that we were equal to the enemy in Libya and in the same breath we were told that we were numerically unequal but technically superior. Then, to cap it all, we told the world that we were so heavily engaged in Libya that Malaya had to go short. I will deal with the question of Malaya going short in a moment or two. I cannot for the life of me make out what an ordinary sensible person is expected to gather from such extraordinarily vague and contradictory statements in the same speech. We were told that Rommel would be surrounded and annihilated, but that has not come off. I heard one hon. Member say to-day that we have driven him where we want him, but I suggest that we have driven him where we do not want him—where he can get reinforcements from across the water and where he has strong flank defences. The newspapers have had reports, presumably passed by the Ministry of Information, that reinforcements of a substantial nature were sent across. If there is any doubt in anybody's mind about the standard of equipment and whether we have or have not equal equipment let me quote from a "Daily Mail" article of 6th January by Terence Atherton, from Cairo. He said:Rommel put up a brilliant fight by all military standards, though he had heavier armoured tanks which could and did, outshoot ours. …There is a categorical statement that the armour and gun-power of his tanks were greater than ours, so that it seems perfectly preposterous that the House and the country should be misled in that way.
I want to say a word or two now about Hong Kong. I disagree with those who think we did right in staying in Hong Kong. I never had the good fortune to go there, but I was very near and I always understood that we could not hold Hong Kong unless we had adequate sea power—which we had not. So there was really no sense in losing the 6,000 to 7,000 men that we did lose there. The Japanese also claim to have sunk nine destroyers—I do not believe that is true—but there was no sense in losing those forces whatever they were. Would it not have been much more to the point had 159 they been transferred to Malaya where they would have been of paramount importance in defending and protecting the important port of Singapore? I thought a remark which the Lord Privy Seal made, that a tremendous amount of damage had been done to the Japanese was, perhaps, a little bit of an overstatement. I am not saying that our men did not fight gallantly, but if the figures are correct, it does not seem to me that the odd 2,000 casualties which the Japanese suffered were worth the exchange we made. I cannot see what delay there was in holding Hong Kong or how it benefited the general war situation. I recall to hon. Members that on 20th December, in a leading article on Hong Kong in the "Times," it was stated:The impression was given that it was capable of holding out for months against any force the Japanese could bring against it; and only the other day we were rejoicing over the arrival of a strong and well-equipped Canadian force to reinforce a garrison already confident of its ability to beat off any attack.That is entirely contrary to everything that has ever been told me by any military strategist since the last war about the possibilities of holding Hong Kong. As to Malaya, I was dumbfounded when I heard the Lord Privy Seal excuse the position there by saying that we cannot be strong at all points all the time. Of course, we know that; but surely, we know where are the important points, and it is ridiculous to suggest that the combined output capacities of the British Empire and the United States of America are, between them, incapable of supplying enough to beat up a miserably small force of 150,000 troops in Libya, mostly Italians, and at the same time provide for what surely is the next major strategic point, Singapore. On 8th December the Prime Minister said:The House and the Empire will notice that some of the finest ships in the Royal Navy have reached their stations in the Far East at a very convenient moment. Every preparation in our power has been made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1941; cols. 1372–3, Vol. 376.]What preparation? There does not seem to me to have been any preparation. We lost Penang without a fight. Why was it not protected? I am told that the petrol and tin were left intact. There was then the tragic loss of the ships, which I am not a sufficient expert to deal with, but it seems to me that something careless 160 happened. Airfields were unguarded. Japanese transports were lying at anchor unmolested, landing their troops at will on the coast of Malaya. Some questions ought to be asked about the right hon. Gentleman who was appointed with Cabinet rank and sent to the Far East some time ago. Why was he sent? Will the Foreign Secretary tell us whether the right hon. Gentleman made any report, and if so, whether it was acted on? Either he made a report and it was not acted on, or he has simply been put into a job which he is not fully capable of carrying out, and it is not fair to him to allow any doubt as to which of the two answers is the correct one. The Lord Privy Seal then made a remark with which everybody will agree; he told us that we must not blame the people on the spot. Then why was Sir Robert Brooke-Popham sacked? Let us recollect what was said by him on 22nd December in Singapore, as reported in the "Times" the next day. In addressing a meeting of the leaders of the various communities, he said that the authorities responsible for war supplies accurately assessed the requirements of the various fronts, and supplies which might have come to Malaya went to Russia and Libya. Surely, we were not so stupid as to leave Singapore completely bare, in order to fulfil other demands that were not so immediate, whatever anybody may say; for whatever Ministers may say about supplies reaching Russia, it is obvious to anybody who knows about transport difficulties that one cannot get vast quantities of tanks and heavy equipment there in next to no time. It would be ridiculous to leave Singapore inadequately protected in order to have a great conglomeration of machinery floating about the ocean, or half-way through Iran, without any particular object except in relation to a battle to be fought in Russia some time in the middle of this year.
I want to conclude by saying that I think we have a wrong impression of what it is we are trying to do. I suggest we cannot expect to have the strongest and best Navy, the strongest and best Air Force, the strongest and best Army, the strongest and best Merchant Marine, and be the largest arsenal in the world all at the same time, with the population that we have. We should turn away alto- 161 gether from the idea of huge armies rolling across Europe. What we should do is turn to what has always been our safeguard, to the sea, to the building of ships, more ships, and still more ships. What do we find now? Anybody who knows about priorities knows that ships are not at the top of the list. They ought to be. The sooner that that part of our strategy is altered the better that will be for all of us. I wish before I sit down to say one word more about the speech made by the Prime Minister on 11th December. He concluded that speech by saying:I said the other day that four-fifths of the human race were on our side. It may well be an under-estimate. Just these gangs and cliques of wicked men and their military or party organisations have been able to bring these hideous evils upon mankind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, nth December, 1941; col. 1709, Vol. 376.]I hope that the Prime Minister therein recognises there are vast numbers of people in Germany and in Italy who are reasonable and sane. Surely, at a time when we think there are difficulties within Germany—and Hitler's action in taking over command is possibly one of the signs—we should make some appeal by direct propaganda to these people and give them something upon which they can hang their hopes. We have the Atlantic Charter, but if I were a German its effect upon me would be to make me rally more than ever behind Hitler. It must but confirm in their hearts the melancholy thought that Hitler is right; that they must all support him to the last ounce of their strength and the last drop of their blood in defeating us, otherwise they will have another and a worse Versailles. I listened the other day to an admirable speech by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) in which he pointed out that the Nazis had a terrific crusade in support of what he termed their filthy creed. We know that in Russia the people have a burning idea of what they are fighting for in their own territory. Surely it is time that our Government started a rallying cry to which all reasonable people all over the world can respond. It is only then that we can expect things to begin to disintegrate behind Hitler and his regime and then perhaps this devastating war may be brought to an end sooner than at the present time seems likely.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I will do my best to 162 meet the wishes of the House in my reply, by covering as many as possible of the individual questions which have been raised. If my hon. Friends will allow me, there are one or two observations which I should also like to make in regard to my visit to Russia, which, I hope, will not be regarded as merely a rehash of what I stated in my broadcast. Perhaps I might start by saying that had the House been in Session when I came back, I should, of course, have wanted to make my report at once to this House, but in view of the circumstances and of the obvious public desire to have some information upon what were my impressions, I think hon. Members will understand my speaking first on the wireless on Sunday night.
A very wide range of criticism has been indulged in, about which the Government do not complain, and, indeed, it would be surprising if it had been otherwise, because we know perfectly well the anxiety through which we are now passing. I shall start by answering individual points which have been raised. I must say to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) that I find some of his complaints rather difficult to get into their context. He said, and we all know it is true, that he has had experience in war, and we all know his very gallant record in the last war. He said that there were in the War Cabinet a lot of old men who knew nothing about the war, who issued all sorts of orders from the bowels of the earth. I do not know to whom he was referring. We all know that few people have had greater experience of war in one way or another than the Prime Minister. There has hardly been a campaign in which he has not been engaged in some form or other. The hon. Member spoke about a number of speeches which the Prime Minister has made and which he criticised. I am bound to say that I feel sympathy for the Prime Minister there. There is nothing that I dislike more than having to make speeches in war-time on the progress of the war. I defy anyone to get through entirely successfully, and I am going to explain an error which I made on Sunday when I come to my Russian talk. I am the last person to say that you can always make these statements without any error.
§ Mr. Stokes
The right hon. Gentleman is not representing me fairly. What I complained about was three contradictory statements in the same speech.
§ Mr. Eden
I hope the hon. Member will never be guilty of anything of that kind himself. If he is not, he will have a very remarkable political record. With regard to the Prime Minister's speech about the Libyan campaign, if I remember aright, what my right hon. Friend said broadly was that this was the first time we were meeting our German opponents when our armaments were about equal to theirs. I think that is a perfectly fair and just statement. It may be true that the German tanks had a bigger gun, but it may be true that we had certain other advantages which had not been mentioned or made public, and which I do not propose to mention or make public now, in respect to our aircraft and other matters. The Prime Minister's statement broadly was that in armaments we were approximately equal, and I think that has proved true. At any rate, it would be perfectly proper for the Prime Minister to be challenged on the subject when he can answer it, but I should say that his statement was correct.
Then the hon. Member made some charges about the orders to the "Glorious," which very much surprised me. I had no notice that he was going to raise this, but he says I must answer it to the best of my ability. He was not altogether clear, but his complaint was that orders had been issued irregularly and not in a normal manner. In the very short time available I have made such inquiries as I could at the Admiralty, and the answer I had is that no special orders of any kind were given. There is no question of some political head, or sinister person, having intervened—which is the impression he created—in order to affect the movements of that ship. I can assure him that that is not so. The operational orders were given by the officer in charge on the spot on account of the fuel position. I can tell the hon. Member also that the mystery about the Coastal Command, of which he made a great deal, is explained by the fact that the scene of operations was at that time outside the range of Coastal Command. That explains some of these mysteries. If I had been told beforehand that the hon. Member was going to raise this question of the "Glorious" in detail, I would have 164 done my best to give him more information than that, but the suspicion of some interference, I presume he meant by some politician, in the issuing of the operational orders, is not justified, and nothing of the kind took place.
The hon. Member talked a lot about Norway. There again, is there any Member of the House who can lay his hand on his heart and say, "In the estimates that I have made of what was going to happen in this war I have never been wrong"? Fortunately, most of us, including, by the grace of God, the Foreign Secretary, do not very often have to make speeches on these subjects. If we did, we should be more often on record as having misjudged the strategical situation. If we are to strike a balance-sheet of the Prime Minister's speeches, the hon. Gentleman might well have put in the scale against the speech about Norway the two remarkable speeches which have been made in the American Continent within the last few days. Not one mention of any sort or kind was made of them by him.
I want to come to one or two other speeches and try to take the Debate in its chapters as far as I can. I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) and the right hon. Gentleman the member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) for the references they made to the visits that the Prime Minister and in a lesser degree myself have been paying. The right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green rightly referred to the physical difficulties created by those journeys, and in particular by the absence of the Prime Minister as head of the Government. Of course, he is perfectly right. That is what you have to set against the actual advantages of personal contact, and it is an embarrassment to the functioning of government when Ministers with grave responsibilities are away. Of that there is no doubt. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there was an acting Prime Minister. The answer is that the Lord Privy Seal acts as Prime Minister in his absence. As regards decisions, it is open to the War Cabinet to take decisions in the absence of the Prime Minister, or, if they judge the matter to be of such importance, to refer them to the Prime Minister. That is within their discretion. 165 That is in practice how it works at the present time.
I come from the question of Cabinet responsibility here to the remarks which my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) made about Dominion representation. I agree with him entirely as to the importance of this question. I was some months at the Dominions Office and had some experience of the working of this thing. My hon. Friend was rather inclined to over-simplify the problems. He talked as though all the Dominions were agreed that a certain course of action was the right course to follow and that the difficulty was only in the attitude of the Government here. That is not by any means the problem. In point of fact, the Dominions take quite divergent views on this problem. My hon. Friend asked whether we were satisfied with the present working of Dominion consultation. He probably remembers that the Canadian Prime Minister, when he was here in the summer, made an emphatic speech in which he said that he was satisfied with the present situation and did not want a change. A rather similar statement was made later by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. A different view has been taken by Australia. I only put this to the House, not in order to say that the present system is sacrosanct and cannot by any means be modified or improved. That is not at all the Government's attitude. It may be, and probably is so, that improvements and modifications are possible. All I want to put to the House is that it is not a simple problem or merely a problem between us and the Dominions collectively. In addressing our minds to this problem, we cannot fairly divorce the problem of a responsible Minister from that of the body to whom he is responsible. That is one of the difficulties in the situation. A Dominion statesman coming over here is, in fact, responsible to a Dominion Parliament just as we are responsible to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Granville
When Mr. Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister, said that the present machinery was satisfactory to him, did he say that he had any objection to Dominion representatives taking a seat in the War Cabinet?
§ Mr. Eden
I am not going to quote Mr. Mackenzie King from memory. The point I make is that both Canada and South Africa have shown that they have differ- 166 ent views on the problem of an Imperial War Cabinet from Australia. Of that there is no doubt, and that is one of the questions we have to face. Another specific question which he asked was whether there were any consultations with the Dominions about post-war problems. The answer is, Yes, about every phase of them. While I was in Moscow full information was passed on to the Dominions of what was going on in my conversations with M. Stalin, and that is normal.
Then my hon. Friend asked about the appointment of Cabinet Ministers to their present positions in Cairo and Singapore. In both cases information was given well in advance to the Dominions and, if my memory serves me right, when they received the information they all concurred in the intention.
§ Mr. Granville
Another question I asked was whether the Dominions are to be represented on the Allied War Council.
§ Mr. Eden
I must allow a full statement of that plan to be made by the Prime Minister, who is handling it. I do not want to start giving interpretations of it. I have been in Moscow, and he has been in Washington.
May I now take some of the criticisms which have been made about the Far Eastern situation? I should like to start by welcoming the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Sir E. Campbell) about collaboration with the Netherlands East Indies. I am very glad he made that interjection, because when we remember what has happened in Holland itself, which has been overrun by the German Army, the stalwart courage shown by our Dutch Allies has been most remarkable and is deserving of the warmest tributes.
Many questions have been asked and many criticisms have been made and no doubt a good deal could be said in reply. For instance, the hon. Member for Ipswich said the Government ought not to argue that our action in sending munitions to Russia when we did should be weighed against the sending of materials to Singapore. I do not know; I would not accept that. I think, indeed I know, that the munitions which we sent to Russia have played a very valuable part in the Russian military effort, as our Allies would be the first to admit. The hon. Member seemed to indicate that the Government ought to have had enough intelligence to 167 see at that time that the situation in the Far East was such that instead of sending those materials to Russia we should have sent them to the Far East. I do not know whether he took that view then.
§ Mr. Stokes
Will not my right hon. Friend admit that if we had transferred the Forces from Hong Kong, which was what I suggested—you must fake the two together—and sent a reasonable amount of stuff to Singapore, it really would not have militated against the success of our Allies in Russia, while securing Singapore?
§ Mr. Eden
I am dealing with the actual statement made by the hon. Gentleman that in his view we were wrong in supplying so much material to Russia and that it would have been very much better to have sent it to Singapore.
Now I come to the question of the position there. There are a lot of things which I should like to say but which perhaps it would be better not to say in public at this stage. There are certain things, however, which should be said. For the decision which has been taken in the Far East the Government take full responsibility. It is their burden and their responsibility, of that there can be no question, and it is not only desirable but I think essential that as soon as it can be done the fullest account should be given to the House of why that decision was taken. Then the House would be justified in assessing the responsibility. The only thing which I hope the House will not do is to ask for statements about things in detail, such as why this brigade was here, or that battalion there, or why this or the other thing was not done, because to explain that would be most unwise while fighting is still going on.
Let me deal with the criticism of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) in regard to reinforcing Singapore. The decisions in that respect were not taken out of neglect. We did consider this. I know, because I had been at these discussions in the Defence Committee. We considered the 168 claims of Malaya at each stage, when we were sending reinforcements to the Middle East or to Russia. It is not that we just neglected or forgot Singapore. If we were wrong in that decision which we took, it was a deliberate decision and not one based upon neglect.
The question was asked what we had been doing since this Government came into power in regard to reinforcements in the Far East. It is not true to say that we did nothing. The Forces in Malaya have been reinforced many times since 1939. They may not be as large as we could wish, but that is a statement of fact. In regard to the change of command, the decision was taken before hostilities broke out. It was taken, as it was thought, in the national interest at the time. I would like to say just this further word about the general Far Eastern situation. The Government will, at the earliest opportunity—I know that in this I am expressing the mind of the Prime Minister—invite the fullest discussion of the House. I think the Noble Lord was right in suggesting that that discussion, when it takes place, should occupy more than one day.
§ Earl Winterton
There is rather a delicate point about this matter. My right hon. Friend nearly fell into error. May I put the point? I suggested a full dress Debate of two or three days.
§ Mr. Eden
Obviously, I cannot pledge the Prime Minister in his absence. I understood the point of my Noble Friend to be that the House should have the fullest information and the fullest chance of expressing its opinion as soon as that could be done.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom said that he Government did not like criticism at all. He certainly did his best to cure us of that failure, because his speech was one long criticism of our many misdeeds. There is a point on which I must take him up. He referred to our despatch of troops to Greece and said he regarded that as a political and sentimental decision. He said that it was a very wrong decision. A further word or two about that. It is arguable, and will probably be arguable for an extremely long time, whether that decision was right or wrong, but it certainly was not a political and sentimental decision, as my colleagues are very well aware. It was taken 169 with the full advice and concurrence of the Chiefs of Staff and the commanders concerned. Whatever else the decision was, it was not political and it was not sentimental.
§ Sir A. Southby
Does my right hon. Friend mean by that reply that General Wavell, after having achieved the success he did in Libya, advised that it should be given up in order to fight in Greece?
§ Mr. Eden
I do not propose to put words into the mouths of commanders. What I am saying is that the decision was taken with the full advice of the military and technical advisers of the Government, and by that statement I stand absolutely. I would like to add that I think my hon. and gallant Friend took no account of the balance-sheet at all, when he condemned the error, as he called it, of sending troops to Greece. There is another side of the balance-sheet. There is the fact that there was a coup d'état in Yugoslavia, which was not unrelated to the fact that we had troops in Greece. That cannot be ignored.
§ Mr. Eden
My information is quite as good as that of the hon. Gentleman, and I am telling my hon. and gallant Friend that he omitted to take account of the fact that the Yugoslav position was greatly influenced by the fact that we had troops in Greece. Now I will go a stage further. The Yugoslav coup d'état also resulted in a Yugoslav-Russian rapprochement which was also of very great importance, and finally the resistance of Yugoslavia and Greece did delay by at least six weeks the breaking of the main attack upon Russia. That also, I may say, was of the very greatest importance, of which I assure you our Allies are very well aware. I put these points to the House because I think they should be borne in mind.
§ Mr. Eden
Certainly I would deny it. I have not the least doubt, from the information at our disposal, that the resistance of Yugoslavia delayed the attack on Russia.
170 Now, if the House will allow me, I should like to make one or two observations on my visit to Russia, even though I cannot add very much to what was said in the communiqués that were published. First of all, let me say something about the broadcast that I made on Sunday night and about one sentence in it. I have to stand in a white sheet about that, because I did not express myself very well. The sentence which I wish to modify was one in which I said that the trouble with Hitler is not that he is a Nazi at home but that he will not stay at home. There is in that sentence an over-simplification. I fully realise that it can be taken to mean that the Nazi is the kind of animal who might, in some circumstances, stay at home. He is not, and that is the fundamental trouble, not only with the Nazis but with the Germans. It is part of their creed that they will not stay at home, and I wish to say that in using that sentence I did not mean that the Nazi might be a non-aggressive animal. The essence of the breed, and the essence of German practice for the last 100 years, is that they are aggressive animals, and that is why we are at war with them. I only wish to correct what might have been a misunderstanding.
When we were in Moscow, Mr. Stalin and Mr. Molotov were good enough to give us a very full share of their time, and our discussions covered a very wide range of subjects—in fact, after some experience of international meetings, I do not remember an occasion where the subjects covered were so numerous in the time. Mr. Stalin is a man with a very clear mind and with a very decisive grasp of the details of any subject he deals with, be it political or military. He does not waste words, so that we exchanged views with, I believe, useful results for the conduct of the war, on almost every aspect of the war. Here I would like to be allowed to pay a tribute to our interpreter, the Soviet Ambassador, who discharged this most difficult task without flagging and without fault during many long sessions. Some of my hon. Friends who have had experience of international conferences will know how many mistakes can be made through faulty interpretations and what troubles can come about through people thinking they know a foreign language. I do not know whether the Ambassador has ever thought of himself as an interpreter, but if ever he wished to set up in that rôle, 171 I would very gladly give him a first-class certificate.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Ministry of Information that?
§ Mr. Eden
I was also very fortunate in my collaborators. Our Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps, has worked with exemplary patience and success for the betterment of Anglo-Soviet relations. His presence throughout the talks, not only the official ones, but the informal ones, was of the utmost value to us. Sir Alexander Cadogan's experience and balanced judgment were very valuable, and the military part of our delegation, very ably led by General Nye, was able to make contacts which, I think, should bear very good fruit in due course. Quite apart from the official conversations, there were a number of informal meetings, notably at the dinner,—dinners are sometimes rather long in Russia—which Mr. Stalin was good enough to give for us. Nothing could exceed Russian hospitality. The only difficulty is to bear up against it sometimes. At that dinner I met a number of Soviet leaders, military leaders, naval and air force leaders, including Marshal Timoshenko, just back from his brilliant successes in the Donetz Basin, and Marshal Voroshilov. General Nye had useful conversations with Marshal Shaposhnikov, the very able Chief of Staff of the Red Army. The House will not expect me to give revelations about these aspects of our work. The results will, I hope, speak for themselves in due course, and in these matters results are certainly better than any speech I could hope to make.
I can say that our supplies to Russia are arriving satisfactorily. What I want to give the House just for a moment or two, if I may, is the impression which we all of us formed while we were in Russia. We saw something of the commanders, something of the leaders of the nation and of the troops in the field. Everywhere we found a steady note of confidence and resolution. A visitor is conscious of this in every sphere and whoever he is speaking to. I think it is due to the fact that there can be few if any examples in all history of an army which has carried out so long and arduous a retreat as the Red Army did during the summer months and which yet maintained 172 its morale so well that it was able to turn upon the enemy with triumphant success over a wide front. It is a far greater achievement even than that of 1812, and every man in Russia, I believe, feels that. I read somewhere of a statement of one of Napoleon's marshals—a warning he gave him before he advanced into Russia. He warned him to beware of Russian fanaticism. If for that you substitute Russian fanatical patriotism, Russian love of the soil, I think you are very near the explanation of this great resistance. The Russian soldier has the power of endurance, and he has the power of adaptability which is bred in him, and which the German invader can never hope to equal.
I should like to give the House one example of what that endurance means in climatic conditions such as I mentioned in my broadcast. On our journey to Moscow we were rather near the Finnish frontier. Our Russian hosts had taken elaborate precautions. Among other things they attached to our train some open wagons on which were placed anti-aircraft guns and their crews. I told in my broadcast on Sunday something of the temperatures through which we had to pass. On one day there were at midday 54 degrees of frost. The House can picture what it means to be in open wagons moving day and night in that temperature. Of course, the men were relieved but they could only endure it because in the first place they were amazingly well clad. In addition to sheepskin coats, they had enormous great fur coats and gloves. You could not see the shape of the men. The general impression was like something in a dream. They are so used to those conditions that they could handle their guns and fire them, while for our people, unused to these conditions, and the Germans too, it would be enough to do to keep the guns in running order without having to fire them. Those are the conditions which exist there with which the Germans have to deal.
I think we should make a great mistake if we supposed that what has happened in Russia in the last few weeks has been to any extent due to chance. It has not at all. The turn of the tide is the outcome of many factors. First, the Russians throughout the summer and early autumn fought a fighting retreat. That was the 173 first phase. They took a toll of the enemy at every opportunity, and wore him down at every opportunity. The second factor was the scorched earth policy, which created enormous difficulties for the Germans, difficulties which will increase as the winter goes on. Thirdly, there were the guerillas and the counterpart of our own Home Guard, which harassed the enemy continually behind his own lines. Fourthly, there is the winter. Those are four elements which played their part. But that is not quite all. During the summer, when they were retreating, the Russians were beginning to build up their new Armies, well behind the lines. It is those new Armies which are now coming into action. The divisions which are now fighting and driving the Germans back from before Moscow are fresh divisions, not the divisions which were in the retreat during the summer. That has resulted in the turn of the tide. That, at any rate, is my analysis of the situation. That does not mean that the Soviet leaders would pretend—they would not for a moment—that there can be any guarantee against further setbacks in the future. Nor does it mean that the German army is not still strong. Of course it is very strong. But it means that the German army in Russia to-day is not the army of 22nd June. That is a matter of the greatest importance to us all.
Let me say one word on the political side. I thought it useful while in Moscow to ask our representatives at Teheran and Angora for consultation, and the Soviet Government were good enough to make the necessary arrangements. I did that because I thought, so far as our Ambassador to Turkey was concerned, that it was not improbable that the Germans would try to make mischief out of my visit to Moscow—and in that expectation I was not disappointed. I asked our Ambassador to come, in order that I might give him a first-hand account of our conversations so far as they affected Turkey. Our Ambassador has gone back. In due course he will report to the Turkish Ministers, and give them my message. The references to Turkey in our conversations were in all respects friendly, and such as the Turkish Government themselves would have been glad to hear. Turkey has nothing to fear from an 174 Allied victory. Her territorial integrity is in no way menaced from that quarter, and the Anglo-Soviet pledges that we gave to Turkey last autumn will be fully honoured. Both the Soviet Union and ourselves—I say that deliberately, after these conversations—wish to see Turkey strong and prosperous. It was a cardinal principle of the policy of modern Turkey, as laid down by Ataturk, the great leader of modern Turkey, that there should be close understanding between Russia and Turkey. The wisdom of that policy becomes daily more apparent amid the vicissitudes of war.
There is another aspect of my visit. As a preface to my visit to Moscow, the Polish Prime Minister, General Sikorski, had paid a most useful visit to the Soviet capital. Any steps which lead to closer understanding between Poland and the Soviet Union will be always welcomed by His Majesty's Government. General Sikorski showed a wise and courageous statesmanship in going to Moscow at that time. He had paid a visit to Polish forces who had been fighting so gallantly at Tobruk. I know that his visit was highly valued by the Soviet Government, and he has made yet another contribution to the attainment of inter-Allied solidarity. We all join in welcoming him back to this country.
One final sentence or two. We spoke in Moscow of the peace settlement and of post-war organisation. I regard these conversations as of the highest importance for the future, but they constitute, of course, only a beginning, and their importance will lie in the follow-up. That is what we have to do now—to follow-up the beginning which we made in Moscow. Anglo-Soviet relations have had a pretty chequered past. I believe that the march of events is bringing our nations together. It is the task of statesmanship to ensure that the future is a happy one for the peoples of both countries, a victorious one for the Allied war effort, and an enduring one for the peace of the world. It is because I believe that to some small extent our conversations contributed to that great cause that I have been glad to play my part in the conversations at Moscow.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.