§ 3.2 p.m.
rose to call attention to the conduct of the war generally and in particular to the operations in Norway; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble 268 friend the Leader of the Opposition has done me the honour of asking me to move the Motion which stands in my name, which we have drawn widely because we understood that a number of your Lordships would be intervening and we did not wish in any way to restrict the debate I myself propose, however, with your Lordships' permission, only to deal with certain matters arising out of the Scandinavian campaign. I have given prior notice of the most important matters I intend to raise to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, so it would not have worried me if he had not turned up until later. I am glad to see, however, that he is now here, and I am sure we all appreciate how good it is of him, with all his responsibilities, to come, at such an early hour of the afternoon.
Before I develop as briefly as possible the case which I suggest the Government might answer, on behalf of my noble friends—and I am sure on behalf of your Lordships—I want to take the immediate opportunity of paying tribute to the very high standard of gallantry and devotion to duty displayed by the officers and men of the Royal Navy, His Majesty's Army and the Royal Air Force in the recent operations in Scandinavia, and indeed in the operations which are still proceeding. In this connection I wish, if your Lordships will allow me, to pay a special tribute to the Dominion airmen. On all sides from the beginning of this campaign—your Lordships, I am sure, will have had the same experience—I have heard nothing but great praise for the magnificent quality of the airmen who have come from the Dominions to fight in our common struggle. Such service as the Dominion Navies have been able to show, particularly at the action of the River Plate, at which the New Zealand cruiser His Majesty's ship "Achilles" played a very great part, has proved that the seafaring men from the Dominions are in a position to show the same qualities. It is a great pleasure to say these things, which are not empty forms of speech, because I shall, I am afraid, have to say some rather critical things about the higher strategy of the campaign which is still proceeding.
The Government apologists have shown a tendency to pretend that recent events in Denmark and Norway are of secondary importance. They may, of course, be 269 right, but I do not subscribe to that view and my Party do not subscribe to that view. We look upon them as matters of very great importance indeed. My right honourable and honourable friends in another place and my noble friends here, though they are confident that we shall win the war, feel that we must also look as if we were winning it; and so far we do not give that impression at all to our friends or to our enemies, judging by the special campaign which I propose to ask the Government to explain or defend. The popular view in this country, I think, was very well represented in a brilliant cartoon in one of our popular papers yesterday, the Daily Mail, the proprietor of which is a member of your Lordships' House, and which I see has recently obtained the services of Illingworth of Punch. If your Lordships saw that cartoon in yesterday's Daily Mail, I believe you will agree with me that it certainly represents the view of the great mass of people in this country, quite irrespective of station, Party or anything else.
I believe I am right in saying that there is considerable uneasiness about the Government's conduct of affairs recently, and still more uneasiness about the possibility of their mending their ways. But supposing that the Government case is right, and that the Norwegian campaign is, after all, compared to the world struggle in which we are engaged, of secondary importance—which I traverse—then it has been very badly mishandled. And this mishandling of the Norwegian operations, I suggest to your Lordships, is a symptom of a disease, and this disease must be treated quickly or it will become chronic. The disease, I am going to suggest, is that there are defects in both the personnel and the methods of the Government so far as their conduct of the war is concerned. The only service we can perform to our nation in discussing these recent events is to draw the lessons from our setback and seek means to prevent further setbacks. In giving notice of the matters I propose to raise today in collaboration with my noble friends, I notified the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Lord Hankey that we had no desire to wash dirty linen in public unless there were bloodstains on it.
One other matter. In certain quarters I find a tendency to blame the Norwegians 270 for what is happening. I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and particularly the Foreign Secretary, will find it possible now or in the near future to make it absolutely plain that we are not seeking scapegoats in the Norwegians. I believe that the people of this country have the greatest sympathy for the Norwegians and for their King and their Government in what has happened. From what we have heard and learnt of the action of the Norwegians once they were able to rally and had got over the shock of surprise, they have done a very fine service indeed. The exploits of some of the Norwegian naval ships would be creditable to any Navy in the world. I hope we shall hear no more of such aspersions, based apparently on some isolated case of some Norwegians who did not want to blow up a railway bridge. Poor fellows! They probably had not even got the dynamite; all their arsenals and mobilisation stations had been seized. On that to hang in some way the case that the Norwegians disappointed us is unworthy. I am sure that the statements which have been put about are not made with the authorisation of the Foreign Secretary or of Lord Hankey, and I respectfully suggest that they should refute them.
Let me come now to the events which I propose to discuss. The City of Oslo was captured by 1,500 men who were landed by aeroplanes on the civil aerodrome outside the City. Oslo is an open town, and there were only a few police, who do not even carry pistols in Norway. The Germans walked straight into the City, to the amazement of everybody. As soon as the situation had been understood in the fortifications in the entrance to the long, narrow, intricate Oslo Fjord, and when certain treacherous officers—a very small minority—had been removed, the forts put up a magnificent resistance, which lasted for two days. It was two days before the 1,500 men who had been landed in Oslo by aeroplane could be reinforced from the sea. During that time the Norwegians were certain that help would come from this country. Remember, my Lords, that the alarm had reached the Grand Fleet two days before that a portion of the German High Seas Fleet was at sea, and the Grand Fleet was debouched to take up its stations in the North Sea. It was in a position to have sent ships at once to Oslo Fjord 271 and to have driven away the much lighter German forces which were beleaguring the coastal batteries.
I know the arguments which can be adduced about the danger of air attack and so on, but I think that there was a failure to appreciate the situation—I do not put it any higher than that—and that an opportunity there was missed. I do not, however, lay great blame in that respect, because there was obscurity as to the German intentions, and many other possibilities were open to the German aggressors. As soon as these were known we might have done more to sever German sea communications. With regard to the help that was sent, I wish to say at once that in the opinion of my Party we were perfectly right in sending immediately what help we could to succour the Norwegians. We agree that it was necessary to send such forces as we could as quickly as possible to hearten and to support them, and if possible to prevent the Germans from overrunning the country. We do not quarrel with that decision. The high strategy was right; if indeed we could not help Norway, our sea neighbour, what neutral in the future could look to us for succour?
I ventured a few days ago to suggest that something was very wrong with our intelligence services and that our information was faulty. Since then, however, it has come to my notice, or rather I have been reminded, that although the information about the immediate movements of the Germans was faulty, the German plan of attacking Norway in a world war had been known in detail for some years to the combined General Staffs of the three Fighting Services. Just as the Schlieffen plan for the invasion of Belgium was the centre of German strategy for the last war, so ever since 1929 at least it has been accepted doctrine in Germany that in another world war some opportunity or excuse would be found to occupy the Norwegian coast. That was known to the Admiralty Staff, and presumably to the other Staffs, and was known in detail. It was known, furthermore, that Herr Hitler himself was enthusiastic about this plan. This was known, and I presume that Lord Hankey knew it. It was known that it was part of the German plan in another world war to repair what they described 272 as the mistake of the last world war, and to seize the first opportunity of occupying Norway.
That was known to the Staffs, but it did not percolate upwards to the men who took the decisions at the top. The Prime Minister was able to say in the House of Commons, two or three days after the aggression, that we were taken completely by surprise. This is one more proof of the need of reorganisation of the machinery of government. There is something wrong with the chain of command; decisions cannot under the present system be taken quickly enough, and vital information of that kind either is not appreciated or does not reach the men who matter in the War Cabinet. The reason, I am afraid, is that the men who matter in the War Cabinet are taken up with all kinds of departmental and administrative duties; they are not free to devote their minds to the prosecution of the war. This matter has been put more ably than I can put it on several occasions by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, by Lord Swinton, by Lord Hutchison and by others of your Lordships, and I will not labour it; I bring this particular fact forward only as one more piece of evidence.
I must say something else about this question of surprise and lack of preparation. In 1916, when I was myself on the Admiralty War Staff, we received news that the Germans even then were contemplating aggression against Norway. Lord Hankey was then in a position to know the same thing, and he will not and cannot deny it.
In 1916, yes. I am not taxing his memory too much, and I am sure that the noble Lord will remember an important matter like this; I believe he has one of the finest memories in the country. We then prepared countermeasures, and one of them was the seizure of a base on the Norwegian coast after the enemy attacked Norway. We did not merely draw up paper plans—it may be that even paper plans were not ready in this case—but we did much more. We collected the material at a port. In this matter I speak from exact knowledge. We had the booms and the nets and the guns to land to protect the entrance, the mines to lay, and so on, all 273 ready collected in a northern port ready to send over if the Germans made this aggression. I do not know—it was not my business to know—but I imagine that the Army had made similar provision. That was what was done in 1916, and that material was kept together all ready until the end of the last war.
Now I will give the Government this point. No doubt in the Staff Departments in Berlin there are detailed plans for aggression in any and every direction, very carefully drawn up, no doubt including the preliminary boring and undermining from within the establishment of fifth columns and all the rest of it. No doubt such detailed plans as can be prepared are in existence for attacking this country and every other country in the world, including the United States of America. I have no doubt about that. But the more likely ones we should have been prepared to anticipate, and I am afraid that in this case we were taken by surprise, and our strategy was ad hoc strategy. We cannot afford to do this thing again; we cannot afford to make such a mistake again. I am sorry to have to say this, but the evidence is too strong: something is radically wrong with the higher direction of the strategy of the war. I mentioned just now that the German plan for the invasion of Norway in this war had reached this country and had been translated and circulated to the senior officers of the War Staffs. I have full details about that. I do not want to explain how they reached this country, but if any noble Lord challenges me, I am perfectly ready to give him the evidence that he requires; and that includes the members of the Government too, although they ought not to need it.
I now come to what seems to have been the existing strategy. It was not suitable to meet the case which arose, but it seems to have been such strategy as the Government had worked out and thought out and prepared for. And that seemed to attach undue importance to Narvik. From the Norwegian point of view, and indeed from our point of view, to hold Narvik and the country north of it and abandon the rest of the country, would be like holding John o' Groats and the Orkney Islands and abandoning the rest of this Kingdom to an enemy. Nearly all the wealth, population, industry and resources are in the south 274 and west of Norway. I am afraid the Government were obsessed with the iron ore. I am afraid we are not going to get any iron ore ourselves from Narvik for a very long time. The German forces there will undoubtedly destroy all the loading apparatus before they leave or are defeated, and it will take us a long time to ship the stocks which exist there. I doubt very much if we shall get any iron ore from the Swedish mines via Narvik. I am pretty certain, as things are going, that the Germans will get all the iron ore from the Swedish mines which the Swedish railways can carry, however long and uneconomic the haul may be.
As I say, I am afraid that the Narvik iron ore seems to have obsessed the Government in all their actions. Finally, they were persuaded—the Prime Minister said so in his interesting speech yesterday—into understanding that the key to the whole situation was Trondheim. For one thing, Trondheim in Allied hands meant an outlet for Sweden to the rest of the world. Sweden now is cut off from the rest of the world, except through the north of Finland and is therefore economically at the mercy of Germany. At Trondheim there are stone quays which could not easily be destroyed from the air, where we could have landed our heavy artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft guns and bulky stores. At Trondheim there was an aerodrome, the lack of which, we are told, was the ruin of this, our first enterprise; and beyond the aerodrome there was the little fortress of Hegre, where about 150 brave Norwegian soldiers were holding out, and I should have thought it was worth an effort to relieve them, apart from anything else. Trondheim Fjord is deep, navigable, an arm of salt water stretching with its turns and twists 100 miles into the interior of Norway, and the Swedish frontier, with its main railway line, connecting with the other systems of railways in Sweden, is only forty or fifty miles away. Trondheim is the old capital of the country. The surrounding country is fertile, with the two great valleys which reach down to Oslo, up which the German mechanised troops were to drive.
The strategic importance of Trondheim was very great indeed, and the Government recognised it. Your Lordships will be aware that Bergen is not connected by 275 road with Oslo. The railway was only completed twenty-five years ago. It is not possible to get, other than by this single railway line or mere tracks, from Oslo to Bergen except by sea. The southwest corner of Norway could of course wait, but Trondheim could not, and it was necessary, therefore, to take action there at once. I need not go into the landings to the north and the landings to the south or into the rout and withdrawal of our troops, in spite of their gallantry and persistence. Rout?—yes. They were routed in the action at Stenkjer. The force which landed at Namsos and attempted to proceed down the railway and road skirting the fjord, consisted of two county Territorial battalions, lightly armed. What happened? As soon as they got down to the fjord two German destroyers were able to land troops in their rear and bombard them from the sea—the inland sea of Trondheim Fjord. Why did the Navy not go into Trondheim Fjord, as the "Warspite" and her destroyers went into Narvik and as, earlier, that very gallant officer Captain Warburton-Lee, with his meagre forces, entered Narvik in the first very gallant and successful and important action? If we could spare the "Warspite" at Narvik why could we not spare the "Warspite" or a similar ship if that were necessary, which I question? Why not risk a direct attack?
Let us see what the forces were—and my information here is the best available, the same as is available to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, who will presently reply. My information comes from the best source—namely, the Norwegian authorities—and is accurate. There were no submerged torpedo tubes at the entrance of Trondheim Fjord. There are at the entrance of Bergen and Oslo Fjords, but not at Trondheim Fjord. The water is very deep, and not suitable for mining, and there were no submerged mine-fields. The guns were only nine in number, and they were very old guns, of not great power. On the south side of the fjord is a little battery of three five-inch guns; on the north side, two batteries of three eight-inch guns each. These are old naval guns—Armstrongs of the 1896 pattern in open mountings, just protected by gun shields, no cupolas over them, not in pits themselves, but mounted like the guns your Lordships have seen 276 on the breakwater at Dover. They were not guns of high velocity—nothing to deter anything that we were very justified in sending in. Guns in open mountings like that could have been reduced by aircraft and by enfilading fire from the sea. Our ships, with their modern long-range guns could have laid off and have battered these guns from the sea—that is, if they were intact and the Norwegians had not injured them, though I understand that the Norwegians who were taken in the rear by the Germans damaged the guns. But supposing they were not damaged, there was no naval obstacle whatever to forcing the entrance of Trondheim Fjord and entering that hundred miles of water. That would have meant the end of the German destroyers, and, instead of our gallant Territorials being battered by German destroyers, we should have been able to land troops behind the German forces, and we could have controlled the railway along the fjord. We could have held that aerodrome at Varnes which we wanted so badly for fighter aeroplanes. Why was not that done?
We have put down a demand for Papers. The Papers I ask for are the instructions to the Fleet with regard to a sea attack at Trondheim and the interruption of the enemy's sea communications with Oslo. I think it is reasonable that we should ask for those Papers and I would ask your Lordships to support my request for Papers. There are no secrets to be given away now. That chapter is closed. I know the sort of answer that will be made: "Oh, yes, but then, if our ships had gone into Trondheim Fjord think of the danger from air attack." Our warships had to face air attack in covering the landing and the evacuation of our troops. If we are to occupy ourselves in any operations of war except on the wide Atlantic we have to face the risk of air attack. "Oh," we shall be told, "the Germans could have mounted new guns." They could not have mounted new guns in the first three days. How long does it take to mount heavy guns with concrete emplacements? The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, knows perfectly well from the time it took to mount guns for the defence of the Thames against air attack. He knows how long it takes; it cannot be done in a few days. "Oh," we shall be told, "the Germans could have had 277 movable howitzers." They had movable howitzers at Narvik until a destroyer, the "Cossack," knocked out the biggest of them. And if things got too hot for our ships, they could come out again. At any rate the attempt should have been made.
The Prime Minister says: "Oh, we did not know whether it would have succeeded or not" Of course it would have succeeded; the questioning of success in such an operation is a reflection on the Royal Navy, the present Royal Navy, which is highly efficient. The fighting spirit of those men has been exemplified in every action and the result was as certain as anything can be in war if we had acted in Trondheim in time. Forgive me, my Lords, if I show a little heat when the efficiency and gallantry of the Royal Navy are assailed. I did not mean for a moment to lose my composure. "Ah," the noble Lord may say—I do not know—"our professional advisers were against it." The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has had his part in overriding the advice of professional experts in war before, when it has been necessary to do it. We should have lost the last war if we had not overridden professional expert opinion at the Admiralty, for example, on the convoy question. We had to override the professional experts on the question of the number of machine guns per battalion in France at the beginning. We had to override expert professional opinion on the question of shrapnel being the only kind of shells and in insisting on high explosive shells. Professional expert opinion had to be overridden on the question of the tanks. Professional expert opinion maintained cavalry on the Western Front right up to the end, and I really wonder the noble Lord was not a party to sending cavalry to Norway! Professional expert opinion must be overridden sometimes, and in any case political chiefs cannot make scapegoats of their professional advisers. I know the noble Lord will be the last to attempt to do that. He was an honoured member of the great Fighting Forces himself.
I hope that this retreat is only a withdrawal so that we may jump the farther, and that we will learn our lessons. May I briefly suggest the lessons from which we should now profit? The first is, of course, the tremendous importance of air 278 power in all operations, and, in this connection, the need for long-range fighters. I do not blame Lord Swinton or Lord Trenchard for having concentrated, with their limited supplies from the Treasury, on building up a defence force of short-range fighters, but there is now a need for long-range fighters, and in future operations they will be indispensable. In the second place, the chain of command must be better defined. Quicker decisions are needed to meet an enemy like Nazi Germany. I do not know whether anything of the sort exists, but I suggest that some machinery such as an Anglo-French War Cabinet in continual touch or session is needed. If before we take an important new decision we have to summon a meeting of the Supreme Council in Paris or London, that means delay. The third lesson is this: I do hope the leaders in the Government will drop this attitude of complacency. I do not wish to enlarge on that, but even now I do not believe that several of the important members of the War Cabinet have quite realised the importance of this Norwegian campaign. I am not quite sure that, even yet, they realise that it is not a sideshow, that the present operations in Narvik are of great importance in the meantime, and that plans must be made for clearing the Germans out of Norway.
I had intended to raise certain other matters, but, on giving notice to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, he asked me not to do so, for reasons of national security, and I therefore will not touch on them and should not do so even if we had a Secret Session. But it is obvious that matters cannot rest where they are, and if the present Government are not capable of drawing up plans and carrying them through for reversing this setback, then really it is their duty to make way for other people. I am not now speaking on behalf of my colleagues, as I have not had the opportunity of consulting them, but I consider there ought to be a Select Committee of Inquiry into this Norwegian campaign. It need not be a long-drawn-out affair, and it would be time well spent. As to the best form the inquiry should take I do not know—I have not the experience of other members of your Lordships' House—but there ought to be some form of Select Committee to inquire into this matter. I have tried to cover a very large subject in a very short time, and I 279 beg leave only to add this. It may be that the complacency of which we complain, especially in the Prime Minister, really reflects the besetting sin of our nation. Your Lordships will remember, in Pilgrim's Progress, how Christian had to pass through the Valley of Humiliation to reach his goal. We have been too self-satisfied in the past, too easygoing, too confident. May be, we shall have to pass through the Valley of Humiliation, and possibly this Norwegian debâcle—for this Trondheim check is a debâcle—is our Valley of Humiliation. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the conduct of the war generally and in particular to the operations in Norway.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ 3.38 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I know that several of your Lordships desire to take part in this debate before the reply to the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord is made from the Government Bench. Therefore I merely wish to make one or two general observations arising out of the part of his Motion which deals particularly with the expedition to Norway. In the first instance, I join the noble Lord in expressing our admiration and recognition of the part played by the members of the three Forces in this campaign. There is no need to dwell on that because I am sure that represents the unanimous opinion of the whole House. There is one method of criticism in which Lord Strabolgi did not indulge, but which has been employed elsewhere. That is, while assuming that His Majesty's Government and all the members of the Fighting Forces are themselves scrupulously careful to respect all the rights of neutrals and the sometimes rather uncertain injunctions of International Law, at the same time to claim that results ought to have been arrived at which could only have been achieved by unscrupulous action infringing those regulations. I am sure it is important to refrain from any criticisms of that kind. But really all I want to say is something on the attitude of the neutral countries in its bearing on this Norwegian campaign.
The policy of the German Government with regard to its neutral neighbours has been—to use a phrase familiar to us from 280 what we read in our daily papers—a policy of "smash and grab." We all know what that is. Two or three men arrive before a jeweller's shop in a motor car; they break a plate-glass window with a crowbar or a spanner, and one of them grasps as much of the spoil in the window as he can get hold of. But we know how often, in fact almost invariably, that succeeds at the moment. It hardly ever happens that the participants are caught at the moment. Precisely the same thing happens in the attitude of the Germans to the neutrals. It is obviously impossible to place an armed sentry in front of every jeweller's shop because nobody knows what jeweller will be attacked. Similarly, no neutral country has known which is to be the first prey of German ambition.
Look back at all the neutral neighbours of Germany. In regard to one after the other we have heard rumours, and rumours authenticated by a good deal of evidence, to the effect that in a week or a fortnight an attack was going to be made on a particular country by Germany; then the rumour has passed away, and the danger, or apparent danger, has passed for the time being. How long it will pass over any one neutral neighbour of Germany nobody can say. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Strabolgi, stated that to his knowledge the details of the German plan for the invasion of Scandinavian countries, and in particular Norway, have been in the possession of the authorities here for a considerable time. That was new to me. I have no doubt the noble Lord who replies for the Government will be able to deal with that question. But to the ordinary outside observer it certainly was a bitter disappointment that after so much had been said of our holding the entire command of the North Sea as a result of the action we had taken in mine-laying in all directions, it apparently was possible for the German Fleet to send important details to occupy the most valuable Norwegian Fjords some considerable time before April 8 when the attack was made, and that apparently we knew nothing about it. And how much did the Norwegian Government know of the presence of those German ships of war in those important positions, and is it now known at what period the Germans were able to send so relatively small, but in the situation important 281 forces, to those key points, and in particular to the Fjord of Trondheim, of which the noble Lord has made so much?
Without in any sense infringing the obligations imposed by International Law on our dealings with neutrals, would it not have been possible, some considerable time ago, for His Majesty's Government to point out to the Norwegian Government the imminent peril in which they stood of German aggression? I think it would have been possible for them to say: "Unless you are prepared to strain International Law sufficiently to allow us, not exactly to occupy but to keep a regular inspection of your principal harbours, the time will come when you will be attacked and our power to help you will be so greatly diminished as to be found to be almost useless." Whether any such pressure was put upon the Norwegian Government, I do not know; but if so the Norwegian Government may well have replied: "That is all very well, but at any rate, by maintaining our strict attitude of neutrality, there is an off-chance that we may not be attacked at all, whereas if we show any kind of special favour to you by straining the international custom in your favour, it makes it a certainty that we shall receive a lightning attack from Germany." It would have been then for the Norwegian Government to consider which was the more appalling danger to them, and they surely would have been wise to have given us the opportunity of being able to secure those bases in those two or three principal fjords, and especially no doubt that of Trondheim.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Strabolgi, developed with great force and circumstance the thesis that even as it was a naval attempt at Trondheim would have succeeded. We shall await with great interest the reply which will come from the Front Bench opposite on that point. From reading the report of the debate in another place I do not find that that contention was very fully or adequately answered there and therefore we shall wait to hear what is said. I think it is only fair to admit that even if we had been able to make earlier and stronger preparations it might have been scarcely possible to save Oslo from capture. It was captured, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, reminded us, with very great ease through acts of utter treachery on the part of some Norwegians—I hope 282 a very small minority—but in any case if the Germans were prepared to pay the price of transporting a large force to Oslo it may well be argued that its capture could not have been prevented. As it is it is only fair to add that they have paid a very considerable price. I imagine that the German loss in that transaction is probably greater than the monthly average of Germans killed in France when the entire German army was engaged during either the year 1916 or 1917. That cannot be regarded as anything but a serious loss, and we shall, I am sure, be interested to see what the published figures are whenever it is possible to arrive at a clear estimate.
I have no desire to dwell on the wider questions which may arise out of the noble Lord's Motion, but with regard to all the Norwegian invasion His Majesty's Government have to show—and I think it is not easy for them to show—that they have not been lacking in the foresight and promptitude which we have a right to expect of the British Government. We cannot help feeling that they might very often have indulged in plainer speaking, particularly where some of the neutral countries were concerned. There have been individual cases where plain speaking was not forgotten, but it did not appear to be the unanimous act of His Majesty's Government, nor did it appear that it would always be followed by prompt action. I hope therefore that the debates here and in another place will prove to be in some respect salutary as showing that the country is not altogether satisfied with the way in which the war is being carried on. From some points of view I think there would have been a distinct advantage in Private Sessions being held in both Houses to discuss this subject. There was some very frank speaking in the debate in another place yesterday, and I dare say there will be more to-day. There may be also some frank speaking from sonic of your Lordships in the course of this debate. But for very obvious reasons in neither House can speaking be as frank and completely unrestrained as it would be in Private Session and I therefore regret that these debates have not in the first instance taken place in that manner.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, my first observation, like that of the noble Lord 283 opposite, must be to pay a tribute to the gallantry and efficiency displayed by the three Fighting Services throughout these operations, which was worthy of the highest traditions of our race—the Navy, who first secured command of the North Sea and then convoyed the whole military force and landed them safely amid continuous dangers from attack below and above the sea; the Mercantile Marine, who shared those dangers and rendered inestimable service in carrying and landing the troops and their supplies; the R.A.F. to whose countless services I shall frequently refer; the Territorials who took the first shock of the land battles; and the Regulars who held up immensely superior German forces for days together and fought a masterly rearguard action; and let me add our Norwegian Allies who are fighting courageously in circumstances of very great difficulty. I re-echo all that the noble Lord opposite has said about them. The heroism and competence of our Fighting Forces are a shining example to the nation and a good augury for the difficult days to come.
I propose to devote myself mainly to the campaign in Norway, leaving my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to reply to any wider issues that may be raised in the course of the debate. Before I come to the principal criticisms that have been made here and elsewhere, there are one or two preliminary points that I should like to make. The first is that the decisions of those responsible must be judged in the light of the information in their possession concerning the situation that existed at the time, and not in the light of subsequent events. The second is that there are a number of matters bearing on these events which cannot be mentioned without detriment to the public interest. I think the noble Lord opposite rather tended to suggest that I might adopt an obscurantist attitude in this matter. If I could speak quite freely I should be on complete clover, but I will say here in this House that nothing would induce me to give any information at all that might be of the slightest value to the enemy. The enemy watches debates of this kind with the utmost vigilance, and in spite of precautions I have not the slightest doubt that things do slip out that are of value to him.
284 I think both the preceding speakers spoke of our lack of adequate intelligence about these things. The Nazi system is an abominable system in many ways, but it has many advantages from the point of view of making war, and one of the chief of these advantages arises in the matter of intelligence. It is not so frightfully easy to get intelligence there as it is here. They have no Parliamentary debates; they have no Parliamentary questions; the Press is doped and muzzled and has been for years—it has got accustomed to it. And they behead their spies.
Might I ask the noble Lord one question on this point, if he will permit me? I appreciate the difficulty of getting intelligence from Germany, though that should not be insuperable; we got a great deal in the last war. But I am speaking of intelligence from Norway and Denmark. Those countries were not under the Nazi system. There was something wrong there with our whole system of intelligence—the Foreign Office, Admiralty, Secret Service and everything else. That is what I suggest.
§ LORD HANKEY
To begin with, I would not say that, in spite of these difficulties, it is impossible to obtain information in Germany. Of course a great deal of information has been obtained, and, as the House will see from my statement last week, we had a general knowledge that the enemy had assembled troops and shipping in his ports and was practising embarkation and disembarkation. In Norway and Denmark, of course, difficulties are less; but mark this: the Norwegians and Danes themselves, for all their close connections and all their close shipping associations with Germany, had not the slightest idea of what was coming. We really could not know more in Denmark and Norway than the Governments knew themselves.
I was engaged in giving certain points. The third general observation is that, 285 generally speaking, Governments must depend for advice on military matters on their responsible naval, military and air advisers, not on irresponsible officers on the retired list, however distinguished they may be. The noble Lord spoke of our professional advisers as though their advice was worthless You would almost think it would be better not to have them at all—no intelligence departments, no General Staff, no people studying the details of all these questions. He gave some examples. I suppose everybody makes mistakes sometimes; Turenne said that he who has made no mistakes in war has seldom made war. But, broadly speaking, the advice of these great advisers on whom we depend is absolutely the best that can be obtained and is based on the best possible information, and I repudiate altogether the idea that our Staffs are not of the highest quality.
The noble Lord poured out a tremendous flood of questions upon me: I was hardly able to jot them down in the order in which they came; but one of the first was related to strategy, in which he referred to a German plan. It is, of course, quite true that such a document existed; I think it was a public document. It so happened that it was after I retired that that document came into our hands, and I did not see it I got back into office. I had no access to documents, even those which were not confidential; I was not in close touch with those quarters. A great many books of that kind are, of course, produced, and of course it was known to the Staff; and we actually, as I shall presently show, had plans ready for this particular emergency and the particular operations which that work provided for.
Would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt for one moment? He is obviously referring to Admiral Wegener's book. I was not referring to that; we had much more precise information than that, and I should be very glad to give the noble Lord the information if he has not got it.
§ LORD HANKEY
I should be very glad if the noble Lord would give me the information. As I have said, I was out of official life for a year and I do not pretend to have dug up every document that was brought in during that period. Admiral Wegener's work I am familiar 286 with, and it sounded so similar to what the noble Lord spoke of that I naturally assumed that it was the matter to which he had referred.
I shall at this point come to a number of criticisms, and shall try to make a connected story in which I shall endeavour to answer various points that have now been raised in debate. I suppose that the first matter which arises in this story is the dispersal of the Finland expedition. There has been a great deal of criticism of this. I think myself that a great deal too much has been made of it, and I shall now show that that is the case. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the forces prepared for the Anglo-Finnish Expedition consisted of two parts: there were advance troops who were to be put in first, and a larger body which was to follow later and which would form the main body. When the war in Finland came to an end about the middle of March, the question arose as to whether those forces should be retained in this country. Norway and Denmark were not the only countries threatened. As the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said just now, stories were constantly coming in of forthcoming attacks on Holland or Belgium or Luxemburg or France, or in the Balkans, often accompanied by military dispositions of an extremely disquieting character. In these circumstances, we decided to retain in this country the advance force, the spearhead, as it were, of the expedition, but to allow the main body to go to France, which had been its original destination and where it was best available for providing against these other emergencies. If it had been found possible to establish the advance troops in Norway, there would have been no delay in following them up with the main body from France, because, as your Lordships are aware, we actually did bring French troops from France.
Another reason for dispersing the main body was that we did not want to lock up indefinitely for a possible war in Scandinavia, which, after all, might never take place after the Finnish campaign was at an end, the considerable amount of shipping tonnage allocated for the transport of the troops and their stores. After all, our war effort requires shipping for a great many purposes; we are not in the same position as the enemy, whose tonnage is confined to waters adjacent to 287 Germany and has no other value than for military purposes. In all the circumstances, therefore, the Government did not feel justified in retaining inactive the whole of these forces and in immobilising shipping which was required for other purposes. I am convinced that our decision was right, and I am convinced that it made no difference; for, as I am going to show in a moment, before the emergency arose we had reverted to the original plan, and no actual delay resulted from the dispersion. I may mention that, when the troops were dispersed, the special equipment and clothing were collected and held centrally in depots against their being required later, and all units that recently proceeded to Norway were issued with that equipment.
Early in April, a new factor entered into the situation with our decision to lay mine-fields in Norwegian territorial waters in order to put an end to the abuse of those waters by ships carrying iron ore and other contraband to Germany. We realised, of course, that the laying of mines might lead to some kind of German reaction, and plans were drawn up for this contingency, just as plans had been drawn up for the Finnish contingency. It was decided to hold a military force in readiness to occupy Norwegian western ports at short notice and to seize the aerodromes in their vicinity in case of a German aggression against Southern Norway. I think that the noble Lord said that we thought too much about Northern Norway; but we realised that an attack on Southern Norway was probable. It seemed the more probable because, if the German Fleet came into the North Sea and entered the fjords, and in those fjords was opposed by the forts and held up, its position would have been a very perilous one with our Fleet on its rear. We realised, however, that our troops could not enter Norway unless the Norwegians either invited us in or allowed us to come in.
We had at this time by no means forgotten the German concentration in Baltic ports at the beginning of April, and the plans were sharpened up for the dispatch of the small force which had been kept in England for emergency, and preparations were at once put in hand—this was at the beginning of April—for additional troops to be got ready to reinforce these expeditions if and when necessary. Your 288 Lordships will see, therefore, that we had got back to the original plan, the Finnish plan. I submit that that was as good a plan as could be devised without previous consultation with Norway, and to this the Norwegian Government, for reasons that are well known, had not been ready to consent.
While I am on this point, I can reassure the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that we did not fail to warn the Norwegian Government of the dangers which threatened them. As I have already said, I welcome all the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said about the Norwegians. I am not reflecting in any way on the past decision of a Government who are staunchly resisting aggression in circumstances of great difficulty, and towards whom we all feel a profound sympathy and understanding. We must realise, too, that for a country living under the constant menace of German aggression, and naturally desiring to preserve its neutrality above all else, the decision was one of the utmost difficulty. That, however, does not alter the fact that the decision did place us under grave disadvantages at all stages of this affair, for without preliminary conversations no plans could be concerted to forestall the kind of aggression which the Germans actually carried out, and we were insufficiently informed about the Norwegian military plans and dispositions. If your Lordships compare the position with the position in regard to France, for example, we had our plans made with France and we had all our arrangements concerted, but it all took a good deal of time. It really is very difficult, however, to go in to help a country against a sudden attack if you are not in a position to concert arrangements with them beforehand.
All this brings me to the answer to the question of why we were forestalled in the Norwegian ports. The answer is that the enemy was not bound by any scruples corresponding to those that bound us. The Germans never have been bound by such scruples. The whole history of Germany is filled with examples of treachery compared with that which we have just witnessed. Tacitus describes how "specious pretences are employed to veil their designs." The late Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, in his History of Europe, aptly describes Frederick the Great's invasion of Silesia without a declaration of war in 1740 as "an act of the blackest treachery," and 289 the story of the partitions of Poland, which followed a few years after, as "one of the most shameful in the annals of the Continent." Again, Bismarck tricked Denmark into war with Prussia in 1864 by a false story that England had threatened to intervene in the event of war; in 1870 France was the victim of the despicable Ems telegram, and in 1914 there was the tearing up of the famous "scrap of paper." In the last year or two we have seen these examples paralleled and repeated, the same treachery, the same specious pretences, to veil their designs that Tacitus speaks of—in Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and now in Denmark and Norway.
§ LORD HANKEY
I do not quite take the point. Well, that is the reply to those who ask why we were forestalled. Given the fact that Denmark and Norway were taken completely by surprise and could give us no warning that attack was coming; given that the forts for the most part did not resist the entry of the German ships, which seems to have been facilitated by treachery inside; given also that it had been impossible to hold any technical conversations with Norway, there was no way, I submit to your Lordships, except by taking similar action ourselves by which we could have prevented the execution of the German plan.
I am now going to come to a suggestion that has been made this afternoon and that has been made elsewhere, that we have lacked decision, lacked vigour in dealing with this crisis—as though indeed a War Cabinet was likely to lack vigour in which my right honourable friend the First Lord of the Admiralty occupies a key position. As described in my statement on May 2, we learnt on Sunday, April 7, that a large German naval force was moving along and towards the west coast of Norway. Sea power is the basis of all our plans, and we cannot afford to neglect any of those rare and fleeting opportunities vouchsafed to us by the German Fleet to bring it to action. Accordingly that very day the main Battle Fleet and the Second Cruiser Squadron put to sea in the hope of engaging the enemy, and they were followed on the next morning by the First Cruiser Squadron, which sailed to join in the 290 hunt. Early on the morning of Tuesday, April 9—that is, the next day—we obtained the first news of the German seizure of the Norwegian western ports.
That is the moment at which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, says the Fleet ought to have gone to Oslo. But the Fleet was already at sea, and the German Fleet had gone far north. The "Renown" engaged the "Scharnhorst" and another German cruiser, opposite Narvik. The Fleet could not have been at Oslo on that particular day, even if that had been the proper course to take. Whether it was the proper course to take I should think is a very dubious proposition. I have not only, like the noble Lord, had the experience of the last war, but I have read about the last war, and I find that even in those days, before the air menace was developed at all, it was regarded as a most serious operation of war for the Fleet to go into the Skagerrak and the Kattegat. It was hardly ever done. I happened the other day, as a matter of interest, to look through the whole five volumes of the Naval Histories, and the occasions were rare indeed on which the Skagerrak and the Kattegat were penetrated at all, and then not very far. However, as I have said, as a matter of fact the Fleet was scouring the North Sea, very properly anxious to engage the mobile forces of the enemy, and was not very near to Oslo.
As I say, we got that news very early in the morning. We may lack vigour as the noble Lord says, but I do not think we lacked it that day. No time was lost at all. The Chiefs of Staff met at six o'clock in the morning, and the War Cabinet met at half past eight to receive the report prepared by the Chiefs of Staff, and the Supreme War Council met in London that afternoon. The Supreme War Council is not such a slow body as some people seem to think. It has met a good many times in this war. It has met to discuss a good many emergencies. The decision that it should meet can be taken by telephone, extremely rapidly, and the same day Ministers can cross the Channel in an aeroplane and they can at a pinch be back the same day. That procedure is constantly followed. Ministers follow it, Chiefs of Staff follow it, in exactly the same way; I have followed it myself. Before I leave the 291 Supreme War Council I would reply to the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that the Supreme War Council has a permanent organisation which is in constant session. There are both the Staff and the Secretariat. Well, that day—we are still at April 9—a number of dispositions had been taken first thing in the morning, and a promise of help was sent to the Norwegian Government.
While these events were taking place in London, in the North Sea the "Renown" was engaging the "Scharnhorst" and another cruiser successfully in extremely bad weather conditions not far from Narvik. Then that was followed by the two brilliant destroyer attacks on Narvik on April 10 and 13, the latter supported by His Majesty's ship "Warspite," and those operations accounted for the whole of the naval forces in those regions. The operations of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm at Bergen on April 10 had resulted in further German losses, and the "Admiral Scheer" had been hit by torpedoes from a British submarine on April 11. We must not forget also the point which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made that the Norwegian forts rendered a great service in sinking one or more of the German ships and so contributing to the clearing up of the naval situation, which was the first thing to be done and which was pretty well through by the evening of April 12. Meanwhile the Royal Air Force was acting with equal vigour. It was the Air Force reconnaissance on April 7 that revealed the presence of German armoured forces, and it was Air Force bombers that went out and attacked them. From that moment onwards until the final evacuation the Royal Air Force was engaged constantly, at very long ranges and often in the most terrible weather conditions, in pounding the German aerodromes in Norway, Denmark, and Sylt with a view to reducing the activities of the German Air Force. It is known that they inflicted very heavy casualties on the enemy. I submit that no charge of lack of vigour or decision can be sustained in respect of the Navy or the Air Force. There may be the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, about a naval attack to which I shall come directly—that is quite a different question—but I submit that in clearing the seas in these few days there 292 can be no accusation of lack of decision or lack of vigour.
Now we come to the military campaign, and we shall examine whether there was lack of decision or lack of vigour there. I have already mentioned that, so far from no preparations having been made, military forces had been kept in readiness to cross the North Sea to occupy the Norwegian western ports the moment we were invited or that Germany violated Norwegian territory. The first of these military forces was dispatched to Narvik on April 12. There were rather good reasons for sending it to Narvik, apart from the question of iron ore, because on the day following that on which they sailed we knew that the second destroyer attack was to take place, and if the result should be an opportunity to follow that up rapidly, it would be very good to have some military forces available and handy. As far as Narvik is concerned I do not think it can be maintained for one moment that the Government or the Services displayed the smallest lack of vigour or decision.
That brings us to Central Norway. Before coming to the conduct of operations, perhaps I ought to examine briefly whether we were right to go into Central Norway at all. Obviously it was an expedition involving great risks, more particularly in view of the fact that the Germans were already in possession of the only satisfactory ports and aerodromes in that part of the country. A Government which really lacked vigour and decision could have found plenty of excuses for inaction. At first our information about what was going on was a bit vague because communications with Norway had fallen into German hands and the Government and the military authorities were driven out of Oslo. But on April 11 we were glad to learn that the Norwegian Government had given instructions for military co-operation with the Allies, and on the following day we heard that the Norwegian forces were resisting on a line some sixty to seventy miles north of Oslo, but were hard pressed. From April 12 onwards we began to receive urgent appeals from the Norwegian Government and from the High Command for help, and these appeals included particularly a request for the recapture, at all costs, of Trondheim, a place that they felt was essential as a port and as a seat for the King and 293 Government. It became increasingly clear, therefore, that unless the attempt was made the Norwegians might be unable to continue the struggle and that the whole country might fall at once into German hands. Great as the difficulties and dangers of the operations were, especially from the point of view of submarine and air attack, nevertheless, in the light of the information we had at that time, they did not appear insuperable.
Remember, my Lords, the Norwegians were resisting. The enemy was not, as yet, believed to be in very great force. His communications were being tremendously attacked by our submarines and mines and by the Royal Air Force, which in addition had begun to subject his aerodromes to as heavy a hammering as weather conditions permitted. We were justified, I feel, in hoping for a good deal from these operations, though possibly we overrated them. But in Norway also the terrain appeared to lend itself to large-scale and effective demolitions by the Norwegians, and if these demolitions had been possible—the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has explained the circumstances in which, in the event, they were not possible—they would have made a very great difference in hampering the enemy's advance. Always coming back to the point that the Government must be judged by what they knew and had reason to expect at the time, I think that particular point of the demolitions is one that should carry weight. Moreover, the political advantages of action were so overriding as to justify some risk. In the case of Poland and Finland it had not been possible for the Allies to bring effective assistance for the simple reason that these countries were inaccessible to us; but Norway is on the sea, and though it is not very conveniently situated as a theatre of war for British forces, nevertheless it is not inaccessible. Were we to allow another small nation fighting for its liberty to collapse without making a real effort to strengthen its resistance? Were we to remain deaf to those appeals for help that were coming in from the Norwegian Government and Army? The Allies had not a moment's hesitation. They did not underrate the risks, but they decided without a moment's unnecessary delay, that these risks must be run, and I should doubt if any of your Lordships, placed as we were, would have taken a different decision.
294 Now I come to this controversial question, a possible naval attack. The noble Lord has urged that we ought to have undertaken two attacks of this kind, one on Oslo in the Skagerrak and Kattegat and the other on Trondheim. I do not know if he contemplated that they should be simultaneous and take place at a moment when, as I have mentioned, the Fleet was quite busily engaged on its naval occasions in cleaning up the North Sea, but at any rate he has made a very interesting case in favour of an attack on Trondheim. A similar case was made yesterday in another place by a very distinguished Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Roger Keyes, who has been a friend of mine for a great many years. He is notoriously a strong advocate of that form of attack, and his distinguished record entitles him to the utmost respect. I remember that at the time of the evacuation of the Dardanelles he was most insistent that we ought to attack the Narrows instead of withdrawing. His Commander-in-Chief, Admiral de Robeck, did not agree, nevertheless he allowed him to return to London and urge the case. His plea was rejected then, although that was before the full development of the Air Force in naval warfare, and it seems from his account that when he came to the Admiralty on the present occasion it was rejected in this case also. Obviously, however, neither in 1915 nor to-day could the Admiral of the Fleet have had the same knowledge of all the circumstances involved as were in the possession of the Admiralty.
This subject is one on which there is more than one school of thought in the Navy. One school holds that given the range of modern guns this is a legitimate operation of war, and that case, of course, is strengthened where, as at Trondheim, the defences were not of the highest order, although as a matter of fact 8-inch gun defences in a fjord are not to be despised. The other school maintains that ships are meant to fight ships; that they are at a grave disadvantage in attacking forts; that the trajectory of the ships' guns is too flat; that they do not carry the right sort of projectiles and other technical considerations of that kind. Another question that has to be considered in each case is whether, when a passage has been forced, the troops available to support the landing can be put on shore and 295 can occupy a town or port in the face of an enemy that has had sufficient time to prepare a defence, and for those purely land defences no very great time is required. In addition to that, under modern conditions elaborate preparations have to be made. For example, the bombarding ships and all their accompanying vessels of the transports containing troops have got to be properly protected against attacks by submarines and Air Forces, and all that takes a certain amount of time and draws other very large forces in from other parts of the theatre of war. Finally, there will always be found, when you come to consider a naval attack, that there are wider considerations that have to be taken into account. There are the current or potential commitments in the theatre of war itself, or in other parts of the world further afield, the number of ships available at the moment, their distribution, and a great number of technical issues. These are the kind of considerations that have to be weighed by the responsible authorities.
My view is that it is neither necessary nor advisable that I should attempt to state the precise reasons as to why, in the circumstances prevailing at that moment, a naval bombardment was not undertaken in the case of Trondheim. It would involve, incidentally, a mass of detail about dates, times, places and so forth, and in addition other considerations would, I am perfectly sure, come in the mere discussion of which here would be of assistance to the enemy. In a technical matter of this kind the Government must take their decision, as we did, after giving full consideration to the opinions of their responsible professional advisers. The alternative to a direct attack was to land elsewhere and, as is well known, the landing places selected were Namsos in the north and Andalsnes in the south, which, of course, did not offer landing facilities in any way comparable to those at Trondheim and other ports available to the enemy. As I have so much ground to cover I shall not try to describe the military operations on which the fullest available information has already been published. The main difficulty that arose on the fighting fronts and on their lines of communications and at the base ports was the lack of air protection. I think, therefore, I would like to deal with the question as to how it came about 296 that a fully organised anti-aircraft defence was not installed at those ports from the outset.
To begin with I must remind your Lordships that speed was the essence of the operation. If we were to arrive in time to keep the Norwegian forces in the field; if we were to join them in an attempt to recapture Trondheim before the enemy were dug in; if we were to get our first covering detachments ashore before the German Air Forces could arrive—as we actually succeeded in doing—those forces must proceed light. The heavier war material such as antiaircraft defence, with the masses of ammunition which are its indispensable concomitant, artillery and mechanised transport had to follow as soon as possible, and only light A.A. guns could be included in the first echelon at Andalsnes and with the French contingent at Namsos. But this does not mean that anti-aircraft protection was overlooked. I have already explained that the Royal Air Force was to hammer away at the aerodromes in German use to try and keep down the enemy's aircraft, and with the same object Stavanger aerodrome was bombarded by His Majesty's ship "Suffolk" on April 16. Unfortunately the weather was very unfavourable a great deal of the time, and although these operations provided some alleviation they did not stop the enemy attacks. On April 20 we had a stroke of bad luck. A ship in convoy loaded with anti-aircraft guns, motor transport, ammunition and other valuable stores was torpedoed and sunk. It was actually the only transport to be sunk during the whole campaign, but it was a pretty serious loss at that juncture. Still, that was better than the loss of the valuable lives of our troops, and it is very satisfactory to be able to record that the whole of the force was landed without any serious casualties.
Of course, the best defence of all is fighter aircraft, but the difficulty there was that, as I have mentioned, all the available aerodromes were already in German hands and unfortunately the Norwegians had not had time to destroy them before the avalanche fell upon them. This matter of aerodromes was not the least of the disadvantages under which we laboured owing to there having been no prior consultations with the Norwegians. We could not know what lands 297 or frozen lakes were available where it might be possible to create aerodromes. On the front south of Trondheim an attempt was made to establish some fighter aircraft on a small lake, to which they were flown from an aircraft carrier. In the brief period of their activity these aircraft claim to have shot down six German bombers and probably eight more, but the next day their position was located by enemy bombers and most of the machines were destroyed. Fortunately the only casualties to personnel were two injured. Then again at Namsos the situation was greatly relieved by the support of aircraft operating from aircraft carriers. The Fleet Air Arm undertook a number of flights of incredible daring and gallantry and inflicted very heavy damage on the enemy's Air Force.
I now come to the question: Why did we withdraw? The reasons will, I think, already have become apparent to your Lordships. In spite of our attacks on his lines of communication the enemy forces in Norway had been heavily increased. Moreover those systematic large-scale demolitions on the roads and railways for which we had hoped had not been carried out. In these circumstances the enemy's forces were soon supported by medium artillery and tanks which both the Norwegian and British forces lacked. The enemy's superiority in the air also, as I have said, was overwhelming. We decided, therefore, to cut our losses, and to re-embark in order to carry on the campaign elsewhere in Norway, and I believe that your Lordships will probably endorse our decision and say that it was a right one.
There are two points which, although they are a little extraneous to the Norwegian question, I think I must just mention. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, proposed that there should be some inquiry into these events. He spoke, I think, of a Select Committee, or whatever was the proper body. I hope your Lordships will think twice about adopting that suggestion. There was the Roebuck Commission in the Crimean War. I do not think anyone who has read Kinglake's chapter on the subject would think that was of great value. I have seen something of these inquiries myself. There was the Mesopotamia Commission and there was the Dardanelles Commission. At the time of the Dardanelles Commission I was secretary to the War 298 Cabinet. I suppose I was one of the busiest men in the country, but I had a mass of information without which that Commission could not really perform its work. I had to work late into the night preparing my evidence. If ever I had a Sunday off, which was not very often, I had to give up the whole day to it. I got so cross about it that I entered in my diary every hour that I worked on it, and it amounted in the aggregate to 169 hours in the middle of the most serious part of the Great War. And added to that, from the position I occupied I was able to see that people in responsible positions were affected by the inquiries. I knew one distinguished person who used to keep a basket labelled "Royal Commission" into which he used to throw bits of paper which would justify his action. It is a very serious matter to draw into an inquiry of that kind—and you cannot get the evidence without it—the people who are at the moment engaged in conducting a great war, and I do not believe it is of any value whatever to the morale of the Government or of the Forces.
The other point on which I must just touch is the animadversions on our supposed complacency. Really I think Governments are in a very difficult position here. If we paint the situation too light we may do very much harm. If we had said at the time when we were sending our expedition to Norway, "After all, it is a very precarious operation and we doubt if it will come off," that would not have been very cheering to the Norwegian Government and we should very rightly and properly have been accused of the most hopeless defeatism and of betraying our cause throughout the world. If we display a reasonable optimism, then we are apt to be told that we are complacent. Well, we have to do our best in the circumstances. But of course this withdrawal from Southern Norway has come as a shock to most people in this country. For Norway, indeed, it is a tragedy, except for the fact that, owing to our intervention, the King and Government still remain on Norwegian soil. Again, no one will underestimate the damaging effect on neutrals and a certain loss of prestige to ourselves. But we had to bear that again and again in the last war, and it did not prevent us from winning it; and it will not prevent us this time.
299 Having said this, I would add that to the Allies the gravity of the recent setback can easily be exaggerated. It is not remotely comparable to the retreat from Mons, or to the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula, or to the German attack on March 21, 1918. The military operations, indeed, can better be compared to Sir John Moore's campaign in Spain in the winter of 1808–9. Moore was sent to try to help the Spanish people to resist Napoleon's army of 250,000 men which was rampaging through the country. Even with Moore's help the Spaniards could not stand up to Napoleon's veterans; he had to retreat. But his small force of 25,000 men drew from 60,000 to 10,000 French troops down to Galicia away from the decisive point. In the same way the force which we sent to Norway, which was even smaller than Moore's, failed in its main object, as Moore's force failed, of enabling the Norwegian Army to hold the enemy in check in that part of Norway; but, like Moore's army, it drew considerable German forces, some eight or nine divisions, to say nothing of huge air forces, away from the main theatre into Norway, where they sustained very heavy casualties.
The following words, with which Napier ends his description of Moore's retreat, may well be applied to the recent withdrawal:'Honourable retreats,' says Lord Bacon, 'are no ways inferior to brave charges, as having less of fortune, more of discipline, and as much of valour.' That is an honourable retreat in which the retiring general loses no trophies in fight, sustains every charge without being broken, and finally, after a severe action, re-embarks his army in the face of a superior enemy without being seriously molested.My Lords, before the present year is out the episode we have been discussing will have been merged into events of major importance in the history of the world. We shall then see it in proper perspective. I am not underrating the importance of Norway, but looking at it in the whole complex of the spread of the war, I feel that we ought not to allow ourselves to be depressed at our withdrawal from one portion of this theatre. For my part I would rather take comfort from the fact that our forces have comported themselves in a manner equal to the great traditions of the past.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I count myself fortunate that it has been so arranged that I follow in debate my noble friend who has just sat down. It is not the first time that he and I have been associated in matters connected with this debate. For many years I worked with him, and, may I say, I learned from him the great value of co-ordination of the Fighting Services. My only regret is that the seed which we sowed—or I may put it higher: the plant which we nurtured—was not allowed to develop afterwards, and the want of it has been so acutely felt in recent times. I know my noble friend does not quite agree with me.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is an old bone which lies between us. But I venture to think that I shall have something to say before I sit down to support my view. Let me, however, first of all say that I hope all your Lordships will agree with me in my profound gratitude for the devoted service which the members of the Government have given in these very difficult times. If we criticise some elements of what they have done, that is not to be interpreted as equivalent to saying that we do not appreciate ail the efforts which they have made and the work which they have put through. We have every kind of sympathy with them in their efforts. Perhaps, to use a phrase which I believe was originally coined by no less a person than the present First Lord of the Admiralty, there has been a certain want of intelligent anticipation of events before they have occurred. There has been a little want of insight and foresight. But there is a great deal to encourage us. I do not want, if I may say so with respect, that your Lordships should take a depressed view of the situation. There is a great deal which is very encouraging.
Let me express in the first place, as was done by the noble Lord who initiated this debate and again by other noble Lords and by my noble friend who has just sat down, our admiration for the gallantry—nay, may I say the heroism—of our Fighting Forces wherever they have been engaged. Of course we feel that, and it is an immense encouragement to us to know that in our people and in 301 the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fight for us the old spirit is still there. That warms one's heart; and whatever we may desire to do by way of criticism—why, it is entirely in order, if we can, to help these gallant soldiers, sailors and airmen to do their work efficiently; and, indeed, may I say with respect, to help His Majesty's Government to do their work efficiently. I would say at once that I do not want to go into all the technical details with which my noble friend has very properly just dealt, and with which it is his business to deal. In a word, I have nothing to say against the withdrawal of the troops from Norway in the circumstances as they developed. The Government had every right to withdraw them. Whether the circumstances ought to have arisen is rather a different question; but with regard to the withdrawal I do not think there can be two opinions.
But I have read, as every one of your Lordships has read, with the greatest interest a speech which was delivered in another place by the Prime Minister, and there was much in that speech which was very encouraging. I saw great signs of initiative, of decision and of the demand for national unity, all of which are very valuable. I think that perhaps they have been a little lacking in the past, but it is a great thing to note the change. Let me give an example of initiative. It did not figure in my noble friend's speech just now, but I think that it did figure in his speech on May 2. I refer to the concentration of the Fleet in the Mediterranean. I am not going into detail; the subject is evidently a very delicate one. It seems to me, however, a fine example of initiative, and shows what can be done if that lesson of the necessity for initiative is laid to heart. The other word that my noble friend used was "decision." In the matter of decision, too, I think there was considerable encouragement in the Prime Minister's speech, because he explained in another place that there was to be a great change in the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I believe it to be a most welcome change. I cannot help asking why that change was not carried out before. If the work which I learned under my noble friend Lord Hankey years ago had been developed during all these years, it would not have been necessary to make this remarkable change in the position of the First Lord 302 of the Admiralty. He will now, in effect, become, at any rate to a very large extent, though perhaps not quite fully, a Minister of Defence.
Let me call your Lordships' attention to what the Prime Minister said in respect of him. The Prime Minister said that he would henceforth be able to give guidance and direction to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He would move them to prepare plans to carry out the objectives given to them by him, and he would have a special responsibility for the supervision of military operations day by day. Every aspect of military policy would be examined, and he would see that when that policy was decided on it was followed up with promptness and energy. That was something like what should be done; that was the function that some Minister in the War Cabinet ought to have had all along.
§ LORD HANKEY
I hesitate to interrupt the noble Marquess, but of course Lord Chatfield was the predecessor of the First Lord as Chairman of the Military Co-ordination Committee.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps my noble friend has not read the Prime Minister's speech. It is quite clear from that speech that he was announcing a new departure. It was received, of course, with great enthusiasm, and indeed it is quite right that it should have been so received. I am very glad indeed that that point of view, which some of us had urged upon His Majesty's Government with insistence and with, I am afraid, wearisome repetition, has become part of their policy. I think that if it is to be completed it ought to be carried a step further. It is necessary not only that the Minister of Defence should preside over the Chiefs of Staff Committee and that he should move them to initiate plans and see that they are carried out, but also that he should have some jurisdiction to see that the supplies available for the Forces are suitable for their purposes and are not delayed. I am not in a position this evening to speak to your Lordships upon delay in producing supplies, but I am bound to say in all honesty that most sinister rumours have reached me.
When we are making this supreme effort and pouring out our money like water, as we ought to do, for our country, and sending our sons and our grand- 303 sons to risk their lives for the country, anything like undue delay in supplies, anything like inefficiency or dawdling, ought to be eradicated; and the man who can do that is the man who, presiding as he will do over the operations of the Services and the plans of the Chiefs of the Staffs, knows what supplies are necessary and essential. I should like to say very respectfully to the Government, therefore, that they ought to add to what they have already conferred upon Mr. Churchill, a proper power of co-ordination over the whole process of supply.
I should like to say one further word in connection with this subject. Mr. Churchill remains First Lord of the Admiralty. I doubt whether that is a good arrangement. I do not mean to say that he is not a splendid First Lord of the Admiralty—of course he is—but, quite honestly, I do not believe that a man can have the supreme function of digesting the war plans necessary to lay before the Government and at the same time run the intricate business of the Admiralty. I think it stands to reason that it is impossible. If do not mean to say that Mr. Churchill would not face it—I rather doubt whether there is anything he would not face—but I am thinking of the country. I do not believe that the work can be properly done quite on those lines, and I gather from his speech that the Prime Minister is already beginning to see that Mr. Churchill in his new capacity must have a special staff, because incidentally I notice that he has appointed him a new staff officer. Well, he will have to furnish him with the full equipment of an office—as indeed I believe was always intended when my noble friend Lord Hankey and I worked together years ago. I therefore cannot help hoping that as experience proves, it will be found that it is impossible for one man to run the Admiralty as well as the Ministry of Defence.
Indeed, I go a step further. I speak with diffidence but I am one of those who think that on the whole it is wiser that the War Cabinet should not have in it Departmental Ministers. I know that it was said in another place last night that the heads of the Fighting Services would have to be consulted by the Cabinet. Of course they will. But the point is, who is going to be responsible 304 for Cabinet decision? I venture to think that people forget the difference between the burden of mere work and the burden of responsibility. The thing that really tells on a man, the thing that wears him out and makes his hair grow grey is responsibility. It is a far greater weight and effort to carry than the mere conduct even of the greatest of public offices. And therefore I say that the men on whom the great responsibility lies of our great effort in the war should be relieved of the extra weight and burden of the routine of their Departments.
As I am on this part of the subject, I would like to add one further word. The principle upon which the Prime Minister has so properly acted in placing Mr. Churchill at the head of the Fighting Services ought to be carried out not only in the domain of ordinary war but in the domain of economic war also. There ought to be a proper Economic War Minister in the War Cabinet. I have been very much shocked to find that the distinguished gentleman who is entrusted with this function is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now it seems to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite the wrong man for such work. The business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I mean of any Chancellor of the Exchequer—is to say "No." That is what he is there to do—to stop expenditure and to see that too much money is not spent. But it you are going to carry out economic warfare you cannot be always saying "No." The whole purpose is to have the enterprise and the energy which characterise all war, and therefore the negative attitude of a Chancellor of the Exchequer is entirely and absolutely wrong. And may I say that in this negative attitude the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is not an exception? Well then, let this principle of the War Cabinet be carried a step further and, just as there is a Minister in charge of defence, that is to say of material warfare and weapons and the plans attaching to it, let there be a Minister in charge of economic warfare and all that appertains to that.
I apologise for that digression, for I want to go back, if I may, to the fighting question. I think I heard my noble friend who has just sat down say that in dealing with Norway we were in danger of losing our perspective. I may say that I agree with him. I think that we are not going 305 to look upon the Norwegian incident, however regrettable it may be, as of this vast importance. It is only an incident in the war undoubtedly—a formidable incident, but still, only an incident in the war. And I think therefore, that what I am going to say upon Norway is more in the nature of an illustration, showing how necessary a Ministry of Defence is, and how valuable it would have been before the Norway incident. It might indeed have gone a long way to have prevented it or to have mitigated it. Let us just consider for a moment. The noble Lord who initiated this discussion, Lord Strabolgi, said it was well known that there were plans, that the Germans had plans, for the invasion of Norway. I gathered that that was confirmed by my noble friend. That is one piece of evidence. Then there is the fact, which of course is admitted, that the Germans had gathered together a large force.
Would the noble Marquess permit me I know he will be glad of this interruption. The plans were known in detail in the Staffs, among the professional officers, but they never reached the great people at the top.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord knows better than I do about that. At any rate such plans existed. It is quite clear that my noble friend Lord Hankey knew that there were plans. They may not have been the same plans, but they were German plans, and they were plans of aggression on Norway. There was also this force which was gathered in the Baltic, and we know that the Germans were practising the embarkation and the disembarkation of troops. What were they doing that for? Evidently there was an oversea expedition intended. I think that was fully admitted by my noble friend Lord Hankey on May 3. Well, that prima facie placed Norway in danger. Then there is Denmark. I do not suggest for a moment that the Danes could have resisted, but I find it very hard to believe that the Danes did not know that the Germans were going to overrun their country. I should think probably, if they were not going to resist, there were intimations of arrangements between the German Government and the Danish Government. Perhaps I was rather rash to say that. At any rate, I can be very easily corrected by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, who knows 306 far more about it than I do. But if there was the slightest intimation that Denmark was going to be overrun, why, that was another threat to Norway, because the Germans would never overrun Denmark except with a view to going on to Norway.
With all these elements of suspicion, which were, I suspect, in the knowledge of His Majesty's Government and in the knowledge of the Norwegian Government, what did they lead to? I notice that my noble friend in his speech just now felt it necessary to explain that though the Norwegian Government were in this great and obvious position of peril, there were no plans arranged between the British Government and the Norwegian Government because, he said, the Norwegian Government would not allow it. I think the phrase he used was that "there were no powers of consultation." I gather that there must have been communications between His Majesty's Government and the Norwegian Government. I presume His Majesty's Government made suggestions to the Norwegian Government that they were in great peril and that it was in the mutual interest of both parties that we should have certain facilities offered to us, that something should be done, that an agreement should be come to as to aerodromes, ports, demolitions, or whatever it was. If I understood the answer of my noble friend Lord Hankey aright, the Norwegian Government declined to allow us to do anything of the kind. I must say that that is a most astonishing attitude for the Norwegians to take up. It is very difficult to carry on war on these principles. It is almost impossible to do it. If you are out to help another against a possible attack, and he knows the dangers and will not even consult with you as to what can be done to prevent it, how is the matter to be done?
I should be very glad—I do not ask for this because it may be confidential—to see the kind of communications which passed between His Majesty's Government and the Norwegian Government. If they were quite unreasonable, we ought to have said so and our actions ought to follow what we said. It is not that I despise the Norwegians or that I do not admire their gallantry and recognise the importance of saving a neutral from being overrun by Germany, but surely it is an 307 intolerable thing that we should be expected to make these headlong efforts at the last moment with all the strategical and tactical advantages against us, and that we should risk the credit of the British Government and our reputation in the world and the reaction on other neutrals because the Norwegian Government were not brave enough to take us into their complete confidence.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It was not our fault, but I draw the inference that we ought to make it quite clear that we are now going ahead henceforth with initiative and decision, and we expect those we help to co-operate with us and make the thing possible for us rather than to place us in the unfortunate position in which we stand in respect of the Norwegian incident. I ought to say that I quite recognise the special importance of Narvik to ourselves. That obviously ought to be excepted whatever the Norwegians did, and we ought to defend it now; but I am speaking of the vast body of the country. I cannot help thinking that if there had been a proper Ministry of Defence all these things would have been looked into from the very beginning, the proper communications would have been made, proper preparations made, a proper plan of campaign worked out, the difficulties properly faced. The absence of that Minister may have been—I do not say it was—the origin of these unfortunate results.
I must apologise for having kept your Lordships so long, but I do want to take one further point from the Prime Minister's speech, one other great encouragement which I gathered from it, and that is the great appeal at the end of his speech for national unity. Can it be right that there should be any difference of Party of any kind in the face of the present circumstances of the time? I see one or two members of the Labour Party opposite me. I hope I may make—I am sure they will believe it to be—a most sincere and respectful appeal to them and those they represent, and to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who is just taking his place again. I cannot think he would be willing to defend abstention from responsibility at such a 308 moment. Surely it should be done. Here are the words of the Prime Minister:…we want also to get the co-operation of honourable members of all Parties…if not the co-operation of all members of all Parties, in a work which every one recognises to be the prime need to-day.That was a very important invitation. I earnestly hope it will bear fruit, and that no susceptibilities of any Minister or statesman will be allowed to stand in the way of such a result. I hope that may be so, because I cannot help feeling, now that the era, as I hope, of initiative and greater decision has begun, backed by national unity, that we may yet bring this year to a close with more glory than it has been begun.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, there is one point with which I am sure every one of your Lordships is absolutely in full agreement, and that is our utter determination and conviction that this war is going to end in our complete victory. But there is a point about which there will be, and must be, some difference of opinion, and that is as to the methods by which we are going to bring that victory about. In that connection it is worth considering the possibilities of such matters as freedom of criticism, free speech, and a free Press. I believe we regard these as the surest foundations of the British Constitution, and no one would allow them to be abolished. I am sure His Majesty's Government would be horrified if they were not subject to freedom of criticism. It may not always be very pleasant, but it undoubtedly helps to keep the Government virile, strong and determined, which it is absolutely essential they should be. It strikes me there are two kinds of criticism. One is the informed criticism which is based on definite facts; the other is the uninformed criticism based on hearsay. I imagine that the only people in this country who really have the definite facts to-day are the Government. I, like the majority of your Lordships, depend entirely on the 'facts I receive from the Press, and after studying these and getting such knowledge as one can from the Press, one can assimilate them with a proper sense of proportion.
The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has urged us that when we make criticisms of any sort we should be very careful to 309 make sure that we say nothing that can possibly encourage the enemy. I am quite convinced, and I am sure all of your Lordships will agree, that that advice should be followed, for I feel the great thing to avoid is saying anything that may strengthen the morale of the Germans by letting them think we are a divided people. That is a very difficult thing to avoid with a people like the Germans because they do not know, and they cannot understand, what a free Press and free speech mean. I think it highly probable that when they hear and read about speeches made in this country, they must be under the impression that those speeches are made with the full approval of the Government and that consequently we are a divided people. Therefore it is, I think, essential, it we can do so, absolutely to avoid that in every way we possibly can. I would like to say to those who indulge, as they so often do, in criticism of strategy and tactics, that they should first of all study and make themselves familiar with the very largest-scale maps they can get hold of. Using a small-scale map can lead to such terrible difficulties. I have of ten felt that if only those who were responsible for the final terms of the Treaty of Versailles had used really big-scale maps and made themselves acquainted with the geography of those countries whose destinies they were carving out, we should have been saved an enormous lot of trouble during these past years.
Coming to the subject of Norway we have been informed that His Majesty's Government had prepared an expeditionary force to go to the help of Finland. That force could, of course, only reach Finland by crossing Norway, and the Norwegians refused to allow it to go. I am sure we regretted that decision, but before we condemn the Norwegians for it I think it would be well if we put ourselves in their place and imagined what we should have said in like circumstances. Norway's great effort was to remain absolutely neutral. She thought that if she allowed the slightest infringement of her neutrality she would be subject to attack from either Germany or Russia, or most likely from both. Therefore it was very very difficult to see how, in her own interests, she could do anything but refuse consent to our troops being allowed to go to Finland across Norway. As 310 things have turned out, that was of no avail. The Germans eventually, as we know, without any reason or cause, attacked Norway, and in doing so they also violated the neutrality of Denmark, irrespective of the fact that very shortly before they had signed a treaty of non-aggression with Denmark.
When we come to think of the unfortunate condition of that poor little country of Denmark, and when we think of what the Germans have done to Czecho-Slovakia, Poland and Austria, and what they are now doing in Norway, our hearts must bleed for them. We have to realise that what we are now witnessing is a most appalling state of misery which takes our minds back to the terrors caused by Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, who slaughtered people by tens of thousands and took a hundred thousand prisoners and made them slaves. That is exactly what the Germans are now doing to the Poles. We read that so appalling was the misery in those days that the people were selling their children for food, and those who were fortunate enough to obtain dogs to eat thought themselves very lucky indeed. That is the state of civilisation to which Nazi Germany has now been reduced in the year of grace 1940.
His Majesty's Government have, I know, been severely criticised for the fact that when this attack was made upon Norway they did not at once send the expeditionary force which had been got ready for Finland. I am not in the least behind the scenes, and very few of us are, but it is obvious that neither Norway nor Denmark suspected the attack which has been made upon them. They feared it, but that is a very different thing. They are not the only people who fear such an attack. Holland, Belgium and Hungary all fear it. Czecho-Slovakia feared it, but without any reason to expect that it was coming. Could we have foreseen this attack on Norway, could we have felt justified in keeping large numbers of men and transports to meet it when we did not know whether they might be required elsewhere? Ought we to have kept these men and transports in readiness to meet what has occurred in Norway and Denmark? I honestly do not see how we possibly could have done that. However well the force was organised, could we, having got to Namsos, have remained there? We found that when the force 311 got there it was unable to remain. In the circumstances it was decided to evacuate and that of course was the only sensible policy possible in the circumstances.
For that, again, the Government have been abused. The Government have been severely criticised for evacuating Namsos. I have seen in the Press and I have heard expressions referring to the evacuation of Namsos as a disaster which might influence the whole proceedings of the war and which really might influence our final victory. The evacuation of Namsos has been referred to as a disaster like that of the evacuation of Gallipoli. I can only say that anyone who can talk about the evacuation of these comparatively small detachments from Namsos as a disaster are absolutely wanting in real knowledge of what a military disaster is. I happen to have had the good fortune to be entrusted with the evacuation of troops from Gallipoli and I cannot regard that as a disaster. I do regard it as a definite acknowledgment of failure, but it was very different to what has been done at Namsos. Our troops who were evacuated from Gallipoli were taken right away from that theatre of the war. That was an acknowledgment of failure. In Norway, on the contrary, the troops are being retained and will be available for such operations as may be thought advisable after full consideration of the Staffs.
I trust, and I am sure His Majesty's Government will agree to this, that in future their whole object will be to strike hard and to strike hard night and day. Among our troops we have, I know, many skilled men of experience and there are also those very fine French troops the Chasseurs Alpins who also are very skilled skiers. I hope they will be engaged constantly in making raids upon the German communications. There is nothing that affects the morale of troops more than the thought that their communications are being cut. I should make use of those troops in that way persistently. They will be supported by the Norwegian people and it ought to be possible by this means to interrupt the communications and wipe out small detachments of German troops. As a soldier, I am full of gratitude for the part taken by the Navy in our evacuation. I can speak from my own experiences at Gallipoli. I know that 312 there we regarded the British Navy as our father and our mother. We were absolutely helpless, we could have done nothing there but for the Navy. They have seen us through this difficulty at Namsos, and, far from regarding this as a disaster, I hope it will lead to very great success in the future.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, may I add my voice to what has been said in praise of the great fighting qualities of our Navy, our Army and Air Force? We must all applaud the wonderful dash shown by the Navy in a very difficult undertaking. There is one other thing I would like to say. No matter what criticism I make this afternoon, I would congratulate the Air Staff on their handling of the Air Force in trying to keep the aerodromes in Norway under control. I consider that that work, which was most difficult, was done extraordinarily well. I would like also to express admiration for those pilots and crews who continually flew in good weather and bad, with very short nights, all the way over the water to Norway and back, keeping up the attack on aerodromes and on German aircraft, knowing full well that if they were wounded or their machines were damaged, there awaited them the North Sea with practically no chance of rescue. I would include in this tribute the splendid work of the Fleet Air Arm.
I am the last man, I think, to overlook or minimise the danger, in question or answer here, of imparting useful information to the enemy, but often Ministers and their critics have very different opinions on the danger of doing that, especially when Ministers are on the defensive. On Thursday of last week, the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, declared:We had been aware for many months that the Germans were accumulating transports and troops in Baltic ports and that these troops were constantly being practised in embarkation and disembarkation.He then went on to say:It was evident that some act of aggression was in contemplation but these enemy forces were equally available for attack upon Finland, Sweden, Norway, Holland or this country, and it was impossible to tell before-hand where the blow would fall.I do not want to embarrass the Government—not that I flatter myself that I have that ability—by asking, nor should I expect them to answer if I did, the 313 question what preparations they did make for each of these eventualities, and if they have made all preparations for any other eventualities. But to me there is one of those eventualities which is completely incomprehensible. I mean that the attack might have been made on this country. I am not thinking of an attack by air, but of these ships in the Baltic ports coming over to invade this country. Did the Government really believe for one moment that Germany intended to use her assembled Fleet for the task of landing to invade this country? Apparently from what happened at the end of last year they did.
But is it possible that they could entertain such a belief? Just think. It means that Germany must be prepared to undertake an operation of invasion over some hundreds of miles of sea in the teeth of an overwhelming Fleet, with no friendly spot, as in Norway, at which to land; opposed by an Air Force that had never been seriously attacked, still less tamed, and with not a single aerodrome at their disposal. Can the Government really believe that German military strategy bases itself on such wild and hopeless gambles? I would not have mentioned this matter if there had only been a reference to it in a speech, but it was in a statement made in another place and repeated in a written statement in this House. Therefore the whole Cabinet must take the responsibility of saying that the Germans were making this sort of preparation. I feel that that expression was put in definitely for some reason which I do not know. It may have been inserted to stimulate the Home Front. I hope not, because that is not the stimulation that the Home Front wants.
Be that as it may I will now turn to the very difficult question of whether this expedition to Southern Norway should ever have taken place. I say that the strategic plan, however good, which ignores the tactical factors is doomed to failure. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said that "it became evident to us some days ago that it would be impossible owing to German local air supremacy" to land the necessary support for our troops. This should have been evident to the Government weeks and months ago. To try to land a force in a country when all ports with landing facilities were denied to us was a difficult enough operation in all conscience. With the help of the 314 Navy it could be done and was done, and a brilliant success it was in every way, but the real question is, should it have been done in the face of an Air Force which was overwhelmingly more powerful than ours? I do not mean only in numbers, which I hold less store by than many, but more powerful owing to the very close proximity of the German Air Force and their air bases and the enormous distances which we had to fly before we could reach the scene of the encounter.
Our airmen had to fly five or more hours to accomplish twenty minutes work, whereas the Germans had to fly only for a short time—an hour at the most—in order to accomplish the same amount of work. Such an advantage multiplied many times the relative effectiveness of every single German aeroplane. I cannot believe that any Staff paper that has ever been written since 1920 by any Staff officer, senior or junior, would ever have concluded that such an operation was practicable. It was hound to end disastrously if we could not secure air bases first, and even if we could obtain all the air bases that are in Norway the much greater proximity of the land air bases in Denmark and Germany would have made our task very severe. In this connection I should like to point out that although the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said in your Lordships' House that it became evident to us some days ago that it would be impossible owing to German local air superiority, from general discussion I have heard and from what I have seen in the papers, people seem still to think that this would all have been changed if Trondheim had been captured, and that the aerodrome there would have changed the situation. Apparently they think that. But I notice in the Prime Minister's speech last night that he said:I may add that the air facilities at Trondheim were known to us to be inadequate to allow our aeroplanes to operate from it without extensive repair and extension.Extensive repair and extension—anybody who knows anything about the subject knows how many months that would take. If we had taken Trondheim I am not at all sure that it would not have made the operation a thousand times more dangerous.
No doubt the political argument for action appeared overwhelming, but can 315 any political advantage have been secured by operations leading to negative results? It is not as if there were not several other alternatives open to us to help Norway. Why did we wait? What prevented us at once bombing the assembled transports and the growing and practising troop formations? I want to put all the emphasis I can on this. We are told that we did not know where the Germans were going to use them, that there were five or six alternatives. But if there were fifty or sixty alternatives I would still ask, why did we not attack them at their bases? We should no longer have had to await a summons to help that came too late and base our plans on guesses as to objectives which were unknown to us. I believe I can tell your Lordships the answer to that. I find it in certain words of a Minister of the War Cabinet who broadcast to the whole nation the other night: "We will not bomb open towns." Only a week ago. What does anyone honestly mean by "open towns"? Let us be honest with ourselves about this. Centuries ago open towns were those which had no walls or guns mounted upon them. To-day every town is a defended town with hundreds of anti-aircraft guns, balloons, A.R.P. shelters and other things. What do the Government mean by this—I would like to say meaningless—phrase about not bombing open towns? Is it that they will not bomb military objectives if they are in any town anywhere?
We are always told that we must do nothing to give information to Germany. We are always being told that any criticisms or remarks on our future policy should be avoided. We have been told that this afternoon, and I am always being cautioned about it. Can anyone imagine a more helpful statement being made to the Germans than "We will not attack you anywhere in Germany"? We practically proclaim that Germany need not keep in her homeland home defences, guns, fighters, searchlights, civil guards or take air raid precautions. These forces are immense, and she is now free to move them to overpower her weak neighbours and to expel us when we rush—if "rush" is the right word—to their assistance. If it is wrong for me to say that I should like to see military objectives in Germany hit by air, then it is a thousand times more wrong for the Government to help the Germans by saying 316 that we shall never do it. Of course, it may be said that I have wrongly interpreted the expression "We will not bomb open towns." Was it, then, meant purposely to be ambiguous, for each to put his own interpretation on it? I hope not. No Englishman wants to kill civilians, but the Government are deluding themselves if they think that the civilian population of this country are going to shrink from facing, as their relations and comrades in the field have to face, whatever risk may be necessary to bring this war to a successful conclusion. The Fighting Forces have no monopoly of courage. Their people have the same blood running in their veins and, if not misled, will make the same sacrifices in the cause of victory.
In the course of the debate here and in another place, as well as in discussions in the Press, I have seen it repeatedly stated that we do not know how this war is going to develop: it is not what we expected, and no one can possibly foresee the developments. No one can possibly win a war who does not foresee developments; but are these statements in fact true? They might have been true on September 3, when the first air-raid warning went and everyone thought it meant the beginning of what was expected. Now, however, we have had eight months to watch the Germans, and does it not look as if their one intention at present was to prevent as far as humanly possible, and not from any reason of humanity, the war being carried into Germany? Surely with their enormous machine they will do, as they have done in Poland, Norway and Denmark, everything possible to keep the war from their own country, as it has been kept so far. Can anything be more satisfactory to the Germans than to see both sides bombing a harmless civilised neutral country—except perhaps when the time comes to bomb this island? Make no mistake about it: when the time comes and it suits Germany's book, Germany will hit us by air, open towns and military objectives alike, mercilessly and thoroughly. Why should we await her convenience before striking at military might in Germany?
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, I need hardly say that I am not in any way qualified to answer the noble Lord who has just sat down on his own subject, and 317 I certainly shall not attempt to do so. But I think we ought to be quite sure what he means. Would he suggest that any military objective was proper to be bombed, whatever the risk to civilians near by? I cannot imagine a better military objective than the Hohenzollern military bridge at Cologne, but if you attempted to bomb that, the result might be the destruction of the cathedral. I do not say it might not come to taking that risk, but I think we ought to know exactly where we are before embarking on such a prospect as that. Neither will I say anything about the political aims of the Norwegian expedition; but of course the political gains, as has already been pointed out, are not negligible.
May I say one word about the speech of Lord Strabolgi, who began this debate? He spoke as I believe he is, in spite of differences of opinion—rather, as I know he is—a real patriot who wants to pursue the war to a success. But I cannot help remarking that his words would have greater weight if his Party were ready not only to criticise but also to assume responsibility themselves. I cannot, as I say, go into the technical merits of the questions that have been raised, but I do want to make such protest as I can against what I conceive to be the mischievous and ludicrous exaggeration that has been given to the whole of this question of Norway. If an intelligent foreigner, enemy or neutral, were to judge our country by the utterances of certain people in newspapers and elsewhere, he would, I believe, come to the conclusion that we were the most miserable set of lily-livered neurotics that ever deserved to lose a war. Last September everyone was keyed up, or professed to be, to take his chance of being blown to pieces from the air, and, if he was not so blown to pieces, to sit down to a three-years' war, with whatever troubles and anxieties it might occasion. But now, after the first miscarriage of what was obviously an offchance, many began to—I can only say—squeak, bleat and bray without the slightest sufficient reason.
Some speak as if the withdrawal of an expedition was a calamity almost unheard of and unparalleled. I wonder how many people know—I am sure I do not—how many withdrawals of expeditionary forces there were during the great French wars. I certainly cannot remember them all, but I do remember a few, and here they are. 318 First of all we sent under the Duke of York a force to Flanders and Northern France: that was withdrawn. We sent another to Toulon in Southern France: that came to grief—the first time we came across Napoleon. We occupied Corsica for some years and then withdrew. We sent a force to guard the Papal States and withdrew; the same with Naples, the same with Sicily. Then you come to the Convention of Cintra, for which, if I remember aright, the Corporation of the City of London presented an address for the recall of Sir Arthur Wellesley—at any rate they did later on, if they did not then. Then came Coruña, to which Lord Hankey alluded; then came the expedition to Buenos Aires, and that time we did not withdraw, because most of our men died of fever and the others were so emaciated that they were forced to surrender to the Spaniards. Then come the expedition to Walcheren and Holland, and then, actually as late as 1812, there was the retreat back into Portugal, after, I think, three years of hard fighting, of Lord Wellington after the failure to take Burgos.
These things, no doubt, are all deplorable and may be preventable, but they have happened often before and they will happen again. The moral that I draw from it is that, as we won the war against Napoleon, so this will not make us do anything to lose the war against Hitler. I recognise, however, that all this excitement about Norway to some extent arises from impatience generally, and not particularly from anxiety about Norway. We continually see in the newspapers allusions to the vigorous prosecution of the war, and to foresight, initiative, and so on. I should like, if it were possible, to cross-examine some of those who use those words as to what they mean. Take initiative and foresight, for instance. Are we to use the same kind of initiative that the Germans do? Are we to start a competition in mendacity and corruption? If we are, then, apart from any other considerations which perhaps may occur to noble Lords, it is fairly certain the professionals will beat the amateurs. When we talk about initiative in other ways, are we to start bullying the neutrals on our own? There are several countries in Europe which may be theatres of war very soon, and perhaps to-morrow. Are we in anticipation of that to take them at once into protective custody, whether they like it or not?
319 It is questions of that kind which ought to be put to a certain class of critics. These things have not been critics. These things have not been mentioned in this House to-night, and that is another example of how often it is another example of how often it is found that the criticisms that people make gaily outside, where there is no possibility of answering them, come to nothing when they are subjected to Parliamentary debate. There is however, this which must be remembered. Initiative involves taking chances, and those who ask for initiative must not rend their garments if the chances do not come off.
So far I have been speaking generally, but now I should like to say a word about war organisation. We hear a great deal about a small War Cabinet, but I should like to know how it is going to work. If you bring in men of the greatest ability and courage and experience possible, outside the Departments, the first thing that they will want when they get into the room is information from the Departments. Who is to give it to them but the heads of those Departments and thier advisers? They cannot be brought one after the other into the room like witnesses at an inquiry and examined upon their proposals; they must be enabled to state their case in the presence of other Departments, and those other Departments will be more numerous, it will be found, than the mere three Service Departments. You will have a number of heads of Departments coming in, and they will all have their experts, they will all have to be heard, and decisions will have to be made. As I ventured to point out the other day, when there was supposed to be a War Cabinet in 1917 and 1918 there were often thirty-five people, and sometimes, I believe, as many as forty, in the room. I really do not see how a small Cabinet can possibly work in the rush of war, with the number of questions which have to be answered, with the number of Departments concerned and the fact that all these questions interlock with one another. I do not see how any men outside the Departments can possibly be expected to solve these problems properly.
When I say that, however, it does not follow that the Departmental Ministers ought not to be given some relief. I was rather sorry to see an answer from the Prime Minister the other day to the effect 320 that he did not think that that could be done, but I gather from what he said yesterday that he thinks that in one Department it can be done. One thing that the public do not in the least realise, even in time of peace, is the tremendous physical pressure on Ministers, and of course that is doubled in time of war. In all Departments there must surely be a mass of work which could be delegated either to the Under-Secretary or perhaps to some new officer of State. That applies not only in the case of the three Services, but I think to the Foreign Office certainly, to the Treasury certainly, and to the Board of Trade probably. I admit that it will not be very easy. I believe that it will involve something like a constitutional revolution at which old civil servants will shudder, and perhaps it will involve legislation. It might involve legislation to change the composition and status of the Army Council, the Board of Admiralty and so on. Where do draw the line, where to give the responsibility to the Under-Secretary or to the new Minister, I cannot say; that will probably differ in the different Departments. I do believe, however, that it is essential to give relief to the harassed Departmental Ministers, and I believe that the difficulty of drawing the line is not insuperable.
I should like to say in conclusion what I believe to be the real and the worst danger at this time. It was pointed out in a letter in The Times newspaper this morning by Mr. Spender. I have known Mr. Spender for a very long time, and about thirty years ago I thought him the mouthpiece of everything that was most mischievous in home politics; but I thoroughly endorse what he said in this letter. He pointed out that at the end of 1916 in this country—and he might have added that it was much more so in France—there was a tremendous feeling of popular discontent. Whether in this country that was entirely unfounded with the Government then in power, or whether it was unfounded in France, I will not say; but at any rate the result was that on both sides of the Channel it was resolved that something must be done, and so the great Nivelle advance was arranged. If any noble Lords have read General Spear's illuminating account of how that worked and of how that ended, they will realise the danger. That is the danger—popular impatience, and some attractive programme. I do not 321 think that with the present Prime Minister it will be allowed to prevail for a moment, but what happened in 1917, when France was shaken almost to the point of defeat, is a warning for us now.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, my desire to economise tune will prevent me from commenting upon the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, except to mention that he appears to find satisfaction in the fact that what we are at present criticising has happened many times in the course of our history. That does not appear so satisfactory to me as it does to the noble Lord. I intervene in this debate only because, as representing the official Opposition, we have rather a special responsibility in this debate. We have to remember that the nation entrusts its safety and well-being to Parliament and not to Governments, that Parliament itself is responsible to the nation, and it cannot delegate that responsibility either to the Government or to any person connected with the Government. And we are in the position today that we cannot let our respect and affection for many members of His Majesty's Government deflect us from what we consider to be our duty to the nation today. First of all, I want on behalf of the Party for whom I speak to say a general necessary word. We wish to re-assert in the strongest way the essential unity of the nation. Concerning the principle for which our country is at war there has not been, there will not be, either retreat or division. The Labour Party had its own ideas and plans for the development of a peaceful world, and We have no doubt at all that, had those ideas been applied, peace would have been preserved, and for the war we disavow all responsibility. But we are compelled to face the world as it is. Right has been challenged by might, freedom by despotism, democracy by authoritarianism, and in resisting that evil trinity there are no Parties, no sections, and no divisions. Without reservation and without qualification, all the will and force of our united people are engaged. I felt it necessary to say that general word lest it should be assumed from criticisms that have been made or that I shall make that there is any kind of division in regard to the main purpose in which our country is engaged.
322 What is the position today after eight months of war? The nation has made great sacrifices, it has poured out treasure, and it is today trying to estimate what are the gains and what the losses. I will not go over in detail the ground that has been covered in regard to Norway, but I cannot help saying that, so far as I have read the Prime Minister's speech in another place yesterday, it was full of complacent self-satisfaction. It appeared to have no comprehension of what the country is feeling about this matter at the present time, and not a word in it seemed to me to be said which would renew the nation's faith in what is happening. Parliament was even chided because it presumed to question what was going on. In my judgment the situation of our country is as serious to-day as it has ever been. One notices in regard to the debate in another place that the tactics in debate have been superior to the tactics in war. An eminent Admiral yesterday made a devastating attack upon the Government, which merited from the First Lord of the Admiralty if not an immediate, an early, reply, a reply which no-one else could give. But, with some discretion, the First Lord of the Admiralty is not informing the House of Commons of its defence——
§ LORD SNELL
——because he is going to be the last speaker, when no-one else can reply and criticise. In spite of all the apologetic statements that have been made here and elsewhere, the Government are weaker today than they were yesterday. Their enemies dislike the Government, and none of their friends trust them. I agree with what has been said that we need not raise to the status of a calamity what has happened in Norway, but we are entitled to draw some kind of balance sheet on the operation. First of all, there are some gains; let us frankly acknowledge them. The Germans have expended much essential material. As a naval Power Germany has been reduced to something of the status of Sweden, and she has acquired a sinister maritime record that will cover the German name with reproach for generations yet to come. And then again Herr Hitler is no doubt at present counting and lamenting his "out-of-pocket battleships," and many 323 of his cruisers and destroyers and ships of other kinds have "Gone with the Wind," never to return. We have also gained a greater freedom for our Fleet wherever it may be needed.
These are gains not to be under-estimated. But there are also losses. It is the purpose of the Government to be little these losses, but strategically we are in a worse position, and politically we have suffered a major defeat. We have rehabilitated Hitler in the minds of his own people. Our credit with small nations has been shattered. America is stunned. We ourselves are partly humiliated. This arises because of the promises that were made. The Prime Minister yesterday said that people expected too much, they relied upon reports from Stockholm. Why did the Government do nothing to steady public opinion? When mines were laid it was stated that "Britain is ready for any action the Germans may take"; Hitler had "missed the 'bus"; but he took an aeroplane, which was quicker. The First Lord of the Admiralty said "We are not going to allow the enemy to supply their armies across these waters with impunity." That did not come from Stockholm; it came from a responsible Minister, who must have known the facts. The position of Mr. Churchill is highly interesting. Some of us have reason to know what, at least until recently, his opinion of the Government was, but today he is put up to save them from shipwreck, and we are tonight to witness the strange sight of both the horse and its rider apparently going the same way—temporarily. It is not that the people of this country are broken by bad news: they resent being misled. They can stand hard going, but they do not like being hocussed.
There is only one further thing I should say about Norway, and it is this, that if it was not intended to carry it through it should not have been begun. There is an appropriate epitaph which an infant is said to have written on its own tombstone:If I was so soon to be done for,I wonder what I was begun for".That seems to be applicable to present circumstances. I cannot, because of my position as representing the Labour Party, fail to join in the worthy and merited tributes which members of all 324 Parties have paid to the Fighting Services. General Paget and his gallant men conducted most brilliantly an ordered withdrawal, and we should like to assure them, if that is necessary, of our admiration and our gratitude. The Prime Minister said yesterday that in every respect, man for man, our Forces showed themselves superior to the foe. That is a tradition of our Fighting Services. Once more they have proved that, and they have also proved, as was stated by a distinguished friend of mine, Mr. Bernard Shaw, that the British soldier can stand up to anything except the British War Office.
I should like to say a word about the Intelligence Service which has been commented on. We pay £1,500,000 sterling a year for that service. It is the one service which Parliament is not permitted to scrutinise, and we are frowned on if we even ask for information. I should like to know what the Government get for this service. Why did not the Government know the details of Germany's preparations, about the camouflaged Germans waiting in innocent ships, of German agents planted all over the place? It seems to us that there were other than innocent ships concerned in this matter.
I must pass quickly on, but I wish to say that nothing we can say here today can alter the past. It is the future with which we are concerned. That raises the whole question of the competence of the Government, the question that must be taken into account. The country today, to use a not very honoured phrase at this time is ten times less confident than it was that its fate is in competent hands. I dislike intensely having to make that sort of criticism. A man would be both fortunate and honoured to have the friendship of most of the members of His Majesty's Government, but no nation except ourselves would select them to fight its enemies. The Government always seems to me to be something like a sleepwalker who also goes slowly and never knows where he is going. In the other place yesterday His Majesty's Prime Minister said that the country does not realise its danger. That is not correct. It is the Prime Minister who does not realise the danger. This country has supported his Government beyond their merits, as we believe, and that kind of reproach is not due to it.
325 The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, is no longer in the House, but as a courtesy to him I ought to acknowledge what he said. He appealed to Labour to forget its differences, and respond to the Prime Minister's appeal for co-operation. The answer to that appeal does not lie in my hands, but I should like to say something. I have been engaged now for fifty years in trying to build up an independent Labour Party. We are asked to sacrifice that independence probably in a way which will give us no power to direct policy, without any assurance that there will be an absence of that lack of grip of which he complains. It is not so easy to forget as the noble Marquess thought. We have twice had experience of the way in which we are treated when we are in office—in 1924 when the malodorous Zinoviev letter was published, in 1931 when at the request of "Big Business" the Labour colt was successfully roped and thrown. Your Lordships may forget these incidents, but you will forgive us if we do not forget so readily. Today, when something is wanted from us, there is no abuse of any kind. To use a phrase of Dryden, our critics are as "kind as kings upon their coronation day." We cannot tell what will happen, but we are not going to sacrifice that position which fifty years of labour has built up, without proper consideration and assurances.
I must draw to a close with another comment affecting this House. This is more important than your Lordships perhaps realise. The country is thoroughly disturbed, and unless the situation is resolved in Parliament it will be resolved outside of it. I suggest to your Lordships with all humility and with great respect, because you have always been abundantly kind to me, that you have a very special responsibility. Not only have you consistently supported the Government in office against all argument and against all appeal, but today you are in a special position, you can neither be terrified nor subdued by the Gestapo of the Whips Office in another place. You can be free agents to that extent, and I wish to say that in my judgment, if your Lordships fail to make it clear what your feelings are to-day, you will incur a responsibility with which afterwards you may reproach yourselves. I think that the time has come when serious decisions must be made, and upon you will rest the ultimate responsibility. I conclude by repeating 326 that the German Government should not delude themselves in regard to the crime against humanity which they have committed, that there is any doubt or division in this land. Our people remain united and steadfastly resolved to break the evil and unclean spell with which Nazism has polluted the earth, and to achieve that righteous result a united people will endure to the end.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I do not propose to detain you for more than a moment or two, but there are two things that I think want saying. The first is with regard to Norway. Every speaker has paid tribute to the courage, determination and skill of those who took part in the difficult Norway enterprise, but one might think from the course of this debate that we have got nothing to show from it, and one can imagine the bitter disappointment of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen if it were indeed the fact that all their labours had been in vain. That is indeed not true, and I am surprised that no reference has been made, except by one noble Lord, to an important gain that has been made, and that is that the King of Norway and his constitutional Government have been able to continue in their own country. It is something which is of great value to us as a combatant nation, that the Norwegian King and his Government still remain on their own soil. I remember that in the last war the King of the Belgians himself said to me on the fatal 8th of October, 1914, in Antwerp: "If the King and the Government of Belgium are still on Belgium soil, Belgium will survive, do not you think so? If we do not remain here the people of Belgium will be overwhelmed; do not you think that would be the end of my country?" Of course I replied "Your Majesty is right. The fact that you and your Government remain in Belgium makes all the difference."
Now that has been achieved in the case of Norway, and that is entirely due—if I am wrong in this I shall be corrected by one of His Majesty's Ministers—to our soldiers, sailors and airmen, supported by their French comrades in arms. It is due to their efforts that the King of Norway and his constitutional Government are now on Norwegian soil as free agents. But for our efforts they would undoubtedly have been overwhelmed, and at this moment would presumably not be 327 able to be with their people. For that I think we ought to be grateful and I do hope that it will not be forgotten by those who departed on what was a desperate enterprise, that they achieved the principal purpose which they set out to achieve, to save the King and the Government of the country. That is one point that I wish to make.
The other point is this. I gave notice to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, that I was going to raise this matter because one does not wish to say anything which would in any way please the enemy. I think that in the way I shall put it that can be avoided; at any rate what I am going to say does seem to me to want saying. Reference has been made to the failure of our troops, but my view is that man for man they have proved themselves the equal of the enemy. I believe that is perfectly true of all the actual combatant forces who were engaged in the conflict. I am glad to see that Lord Hankey is now present, and I hope he will confirm what I have said in his absence, that it is entirely due to our soldiers, sailors and airmen and their French comrades that the King of Norway and his Government are now on Norwegian soil. Lord Hankey nods his head, and I have no doubt it can be proved that that is true.
But to return to the point on which I want the Government to give a lead and take action at once: although what I have said is true of the actual combatant troops, it is not true of the mass of our people who are not in the combatant forces, nor is it true of a considerable number of the new forces we have raised not strictly of a combatant type. There is a very real danger to this country. As a Cabinet Minister himself put it to me, suppose a crowd of airmen were to drop down in Hyde Park and 200 of them appeared there, I am afraid the first reaction of ordinary people, if there were no soldiers, sailors or airmen present, would be to say: "Tut, tut, we must telephone to the police." I believe that is perfectly true, but what would be the good of telephoning the police, because ex hypothesi at the same moment as those airmen appeared in Hyde Park the telephones would have been put out of action. I do not know if your Lordships have considered that the methods which 328 the Germans have adopted with astonishing success in I think no fewer than nine great cities without firing a shot, had been adopted previously in America by gangsters like Scarface Al Capone. I do not wish to say anything impolite of the German General Staff, but I believe what I have just hinted at to be true, that this action of the Germans in neutral countries is really based on what was done by that very remarkable man Al Capone. I get that information from a very good source. It makes one laugh to think of it, but it is a fact that the man to whom I have just referred held up completely the whole City of Chicago so that no man could get justice, and no man could be sure of his life except by favour of Al Capone. His method, pursued with infinite skill by the German Gestapo and by Hitler's minions, reinforced by a brilliant Army and Staff, have enabled the Germans to do the remarkable things which they have done.
But what is it based on? It is based on highly specialised technique and also on the fact that every German young man is thoroughly trained to arms and to swift combative action. We ought to be so trained. We used to be. This land of ours is the home of what is called the "Hue and cry." I am told that this is the only country where the Common Law of England—later put into a Statute by Edward I and curiously enough confirmed in the year 1887 by this House which reenacted it—lays down that every citizen must pursue felons and join in a hue and cry, so doing at the risk of his life under pain of penalties if he does not obey. The words are so striking and so applicable to this situation that I venture to quote them to your Lordships. It does not matter whether it is a constable or a civilian who calls upon you. In the hour of danger all the citizens must fly to help to arrest the felon. All citizens, armed or unarmed, including all members of His Majesty's Forces, are bound so to act, and in the original Act there are these quaint words, that they will pursueuntil the offender be apprehended or at least he be so pursued to the sea-side.As a consequence, in all our early history all able-bodied men were trained to arms; that is why they were so skilled as archers. But it is not so now, and a strange combination of very divergent people has put us in a worse position than most other nations.
329 There are devoted people like the man whose memory I shall always revere, the late Mr. George Lansbury, whom so many of us remember with affection, not only in the House of Commons but in the East End. He so hated war that whenever he had the power he would prevent anybody from learning anything of the art of self-defence. At the opposite end of the scale there is the danger about which I would warn the Government caused by people so keen about the mechanisation of the Army that tens of thousands of men now know nothing about the art of defence or the use of arms. I have seen them. These people say there is so much to learn that there is no time to teach it. I ask His Majesty's Government to look into this and make sure, as Germany has done, that every young man, and above all at this moment, all those in His Majesty's Forces are at once trained act swiftly in support of the civil power to overcome the enemy wherever he may appear. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that the chance of a raid on this country is very remote, and of course it is now impossible because there are so many troops at home waiting to be sent abroad who are thoroughly trained, but that state of affairs will not last for ever.
I beg the Government to go into this question. If they ask any man in charge of a great camp whether there has been any attempt to teach the men the use of arms they will hear that it has not been done. Consider, for instance, the men in the Pioneer Corps, who may have to go abroad to build railways behind the lines. I have seen such a body of men over-whelmed. They were Americans employed far behind the lines when the Germans broke through. Those Americans with their spades put up a great fight, and my Canadians came along and helped them, but they ought never to have been in that position. Many of them did not know how to fight. Fas est ab hoste doceri—it is fight to learn from your enemy. Germany's success which has astonished the world is largely the result of all her people being taught to be fierce, determined, fearless, unselfish, ready to die at a moment's notice in defence of their country. I beg the Government to take steps at once to put this matter right.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, I would like to go back for a few moments to what the noble Lord, Lord Snell, said. 330 He dealt with the Norwegian episode and magnified it into one of almost supreme importance. He said that the Government by their action had rehabilitated Hitler and had shattered our credit, and then after a long catalogue of shortcomings rather vaguely expressed he summed the matter up by saying they were sleep-walkers. It was interesting to note that the noble Lord on the same Bench who opened the debate did not adopt that open attitude of uncompromising condemnation. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said that he considered it right for the Government to send what help they could and I gather that he did not blame the Government for the major decisions which had been reached. It may well have been that details in the operation were wrongly conceived. It is not possible for this House during a war to be told the inner history of the plans, but I am sure that most of us are told privately that even if Trondheim had been forced the net result would very likely have been the same, that if we could not land troops and materials in these other ports in face of a great supremacy of air power, we could not do so at Trondheim.
I have met people in the War Office in junior responsibilities who have expressed the view that we ought to be profoundly grateful that the Government had the pluck, when they saw that they were not going to succeed, to pull out before they were overtaken by disaster. I think those who make these attacks on the Government, shirk consideration of the position. We were told last night by the Secretary of State for War that on the morning of April 9 they were faced with the situation that before Norway had even asked for our help every aerodrome and arsenal had been already surrendered and that our task was not to help Norway to resist but to reconquer the country. Well, it may be that the Staffs of the three Fighting Services lacked adequate appreciation of the problem. It is not suggested by the critics of the Government that we should have outraged the neutrality of Norway and gone in in front, and given that limitation no one has yet said in this debate what alternative action could have been adopted. If there has been a lack of co-ordination, it will no doubt be put right by the new organisation for which the noble Marquess has been pressing and which will enable thinking ahead in the matter of these 331 plans. It will also, presumably, enable a proper concentration on the right type of war stores; because we have all heard disquieting accounts of the lack of proper liaison between the War Office and the Ministry of Supply as to the military requirements which should be laid down by the Staff. If it is a matter, not of lack of co-ordination, but of fundamental fault in appreciation and planning, it is not reasonable to attack the personnel of the Government on that; it is clearly a matter where the Minister responsible ought to be in a position to make changes and to get Staff advisers who are free from the faults of appreciation which, according to that explanation, may have taken place.
I sat through most of the debate yesterday in another place, and I was very much disquieted and to some extent surprised by the astonishing storm of anxiety which has been stirred up. I do not know whether it started in the country or in another place. It seems to me that there is a great danger in the middle of this war effort that two entirely different elements of criticism may combine to produce results which are contrary to the public advantage. The first criticism comes from the Opposition, the school of thought which has been expressed by Lord Snell this afternoon. We have heard a lot about the complacency of the Government yesterday, but I have never heard anything like the complacency of their critics. We were told that the Government had had an uninterrupted career of failure; and this by people who a year ago voted against the Second Reading of the Military Training Bill, who have opposed every effort to get adequate preparation, and who all the time have been saying that we ought to take on the world! They are the people who have obstructed our military effort. If it had not been for the campaigns waged in the country before these measures were taken, can anybody doubt that we should have been further ahead than we are now with military preparedness? And what evidence is there that these leaders of the blind, who have such a record of ineptitude in opposing military preparedness and at the same time laying down facile generalisations as to how we could get our way without military preparedness but by force of arms, will be any better judges of war- 332 time strategy than they were of peace-time possibilities?
It seems to me that the danger is that public impatience, fanned by this kind of irresponsible criticism, may drive the Government into the same kind of hasty activity as happened in the last war, when, before we were ready, when we were far behind the Germans in the state of our organisation, we were committed to take offensives—the Nivelle plan and so forth—which probably increased the dangers to the Allies and certainly put off the moment when it was possible to exercise an overwhelming force against Germany. We have now got seven years of leeway to make up, and the best service that we can pay to the State is to work for the very best system of organisation and to avoid pressing the Government into more active courses or a premature initiative before they are in a position to take it effectively.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Snell, speaking just now, said that Parliament had certain duties and responsibilities quite apart from the responsibilities and duties of the Government. It is as a member of Parliament with a certain measure of independence that I desire to speak, and I think we should realise our responsibilities. Sitting here in the quiet atmosphere of this House, we are perhaps apt to forget the very strong feeling which exists in this country and in the world about the war effort of the Government. We are facing a very critical situation. It is a time when we have to review facts boldly and to do so with honesty and without any personal abuse or bitterness. We have, as I see it, three tasks before us: one, to restore the confidence of the country in the machinery of government; the second, to restore the confidence of the neutral world and of this country in the Allies' effort; and the third, to get a government machinery whose efforts will not so often be so late. I am perfectly certain that the noble Viscount who is going to reply will realise as much as anybody the vital importance of having neutral opinion, whether it is in large countries or in small countries, favourable and helpful to our effort. What I am afraid of is that in another place the Whips will be put on, that the herd instinct of the caucus will produce the requisite majority, and that a promise 333 of a small reshuffle, a redistribution of powers from one Minister to another, will be taken as adequate and enough from the Government. A victory in these circumstances will not restore the prestige of this country in the world. It is only by a very radical reconstruction of the machine of government that we shall be able to do that.
I am not going to say much about Norway; other noble Lords have said it and the time is getting on. I have only to say two things about Norway. One of the things that we learn from Norway is the failure of the Government to understand completely the audacity, the efficiency, the character and the treachery of Hitler and the Nazis. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, referred to the treachery of the German people and the Nazis. If the Government realised that that was one of the characteristics of the Nazis, they ought to have provided against it. If they realised that there was this embarkation, this accumulation of forces, and if, as Lord Hankey has informed us, they realised that the Nazis were treacherous, they ought surely to have provided more effective means of countering acts of treachery. The Norway incident is serious because it is only one of many rebuffs and reverses. The Norway incident is serious because, so far as I can see it, Hitler still maintains the initiative, partly because of his character and partly because of our relative unpreparedness. Our efforts to rearm have been inadequate both before the war and also since last September. A perusal of the OFFICIAL REPORT will show endless debates in which the Government were asked to have a National Register, to have National Service, to have a Ministry of Supply. I have a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT beside me in which the spokesman of the Government, a month after Munich, in resisting the demand for a Ministry of Supply, said we do not need it, because we do not contemplate the need of a large expeditionary continental force—a complete misunderstanding of the danger ahead of us. That was a month after Munich. It was quite possible to hope for the best from the policy of appeasement, but at the same time it was the duty of the Government to prepare for the worst.
Then take the inadequacy of our attempts at rearmament and at reorganis- 334 ing the machinery of government since the war started in September. It is too late to give many illustrations. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, referred to the delay in the production of supplies. Everybody knows that the Government have been very slow and remiss in increasing the amount of skilled labour. It takes a long time to produce a skilled man. Before Christmas—some time in November—they announced that they were going to have advisory committees to assist in what I will call, for the sake of brevity, dilution. One of these committees did not have its first meeting until February. Take another illustration. Early in December, the then Lord Privy Seal announced that he had been instructed by the Government to produce a better food policy. That was in December. January has passed, February has passed, March, April, the then Lord Privy Seal has been moved to another office, and his successor now announces that he is going, apparently, to produce a food policy—after four months have gone by! That is why the country is feeling uneasy, because the efforts of the Government are so often too late and too small.
I think that what we need, and what the country looks for, is a real National Government. After all, the National Government have played a great part, but they have been in office for nine years. The last Election was five years ago, and I am perfectly certain that if there were an Election tomorrow the representation in the House of Commons would be entirely different from what it is now. That is one of the dangers. There is a Division there tonight which may not represent the feelings and the wishes of the country. I would make one appeal to the noble Lords who represent the Labour Party. Up to date, they have had influence without responsibility. Now the measure of influence which you can have without sharing the responsibility is only relatively small. I venture to repeat the suggestion which has been made more than once to-day, that the time has now come when the Labour Party should be willing to share responsibility. They have many men, both in Parliament and also in the trade union world, who would be a great asset at the present time in the more successful prosecution of the war and in dealing with some of the many intricate problems which face us.
335 The other day the Labour Party produced a programme. There are some parts of that programme with which many of us could readily agree. There are some parts of that programme which are just words, like parts of every political programme, which may mean anything or nothing. There are other parts which are highly controversial. I venture to suggest that in this time of crisis the Labour Party will not insist on pressing to the forefront the more controversial items of their programme, when so much of the rest can be generally accepted. After all, they stand to lose just as much as any other Party if Hitler were by any mischance to win the war. None of us would have any social reform programme or programme of any kind if by any mischance we were not to win the war and win it in adequate time. The noble Viscount who is going to reply occupies, by his high gifts of integrity and singleness of purpose, a great position not only in your Lordships' House but in the country as a whole. I venture to urge him to use the whole of his great influence in order to see that there is a radical reconstruction in the machinery of government. Before sitting down I make a further appeal to the Labour Party not to wait for more disasters, for more reverses, but to recognise that the situation is really critical and that they can do a great deal to restore the confidence of the world in Britain and in the ability of the Allies by helping to form a real National Government.
§ 7.17 p.m.
My Lords, it has been said in another place that it is perhaps premature to strike a balance sheet of the operations in Norway, but I do not think that it is premature to strike a provisional balance sheet. Let me cover the ground very quickly. At the outset of the operations in Norway, the Allied Command was faced with a sudden and long-premeditated attack on a neutral country which, rightly or wrongly, considered that the safest plan was to adopt an attitude of benevolent neutrality towards Germany and which was even prepared to resist any help that might be offered by the Allies to strengthen her position. As I see it, we had two objects of paramount importance: one was to delay the advance of German troops from Southern Norway,
336 giving time for the Norwegians to carry out mobilisation and stiffening the resistance of the Norwegian Government, preventing any possibility of capitulation; and the other was to establish a controlling position in the Narvik area. We may not have entirely achieved those two objects, but the Norwegian Army is mobilised and fighting gallantly and the Government of the country is still in being, while in our operations we have destroyed a very large portion of the German Navy with comparatively little loss to ourselves. This has enabled us to deploy our naval forces in another and perhaps more important sphere. Last but not least—and this is a point which I do not think has been mentioned to-day—the magnificent Norwegian merchant fleet will now be operating on the side of the Allies. I do not think that the balance is so much on the wrong side as some may suppose.
The Allied Command had two alternatives. One was to risk the landing of forces in Southern Norway at ports which were not then held by the enemy, but with only light equipment, which of course was governed by the landing facilities and the most important thing of all, the time factor. The other alternative was to abandon all hope of delaying the German advance and to concentrate entirely in the Narvik area. In my humble opinion they very rightly, as well as courageously, chose the first alternative, presumably having in mind the establishment of a substantial base at the earliest possible moment. It is, of course, on this point of the establishment of a substantial base and securing important landing stages for our mechanical equipment and so on, that all the controversy has really raged. There may have been very good and sufficient reasons for not embarking on this operation, and I do not propose to offer an opinion. I do trust, however, that we have learnt through these operations the lesson that troops without supporting aircraft are like grass standing before the onslaught of a scythe. We had our warnings in Spain, in Poland, and in Finland. Do not let us forget them.
I had the good fortune to be in Oslo as a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union just before Germany entered Poland, and I received the impression from a number of leading members of the Norwegian community that they felt that their country's neutrality would be 337 quickly threatened in the event of war breaking out between England and Germany. I cannot help feeling that if any criticism should be levelled at the Government it would be that the plans for the operations in Scandinavia were not worked out to the last minute detail, although of course we are well aware that the Quislings of Norway did, and would, alter any preconceived ideas. There is very little use in recriminations and the finding of scapegoats, but in a democratic country it is essential that matters should be debated in Parliament, and weaknesses and deficiencies brought to light, and I would suggest that we must now close our ranks and profit by any mistakes that may have been made.
I have listened very carefully to the cross-currents of opinion which have been running through many speeches in your Lordships' House today, and I propose to touch on one or two of them. In the first place it has been said in this country, and also in France, that the Allies are no longer prepared to tolerate a continuation of the Nazi initiative, by which the Germans strike where they will and the Allies arrive on the scene, in the words of our French friends, après coup. What are we to do about this? As the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, are we to commence bombing the sinews of war in Germany? Are we to endeavour to destroy the aircraft factories that day by day are turning out hundreds of fighters and bombers, or are we to wait until one day at dusk we see the might of the German Air Force bearing down upon our seaports and towns and factories, and perhaps even London, in an attempt to paralyse our efforts at retaliation? No, I think we must seriously consider taking the initiative in the air ourselves. Of course, that must depend upon the question of whether we have reached air parity. If we are to accept a change in policy, or perhaps I should say a greater initiative, it must be a wholehearted one, parts of which may be unpalatable to our present ideas. It may be that we must forestall the enemy by taking direct action in neutral countries. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, is not in his place.
Let us look at such a change in policy a little more closely. In the north at Narvik we may be faced with the position at any moment as to whether we should 338 enter Northern Sweden and seize the ore mines with or without that country's consent. It is no use mincing matters, it is a position that must be faced. Germany, as soon as the ice is clear in the Gulf of Bothnia, may demand an entry through Northern Sweden at the Port of Lulea. If we are to take action, we must take action quickly. But it is a change of policy which can only come about after a great deal of searching of heart and perhaps a reorientation of our present ideas about neutrality. It may be justified by the fact that we are opposed to an unscrupulous enemy who is out to destroy civilisation as we know it by any means which he thinks will achieve his end. It may be justified by the fact that it may tend to shorten the war and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, which would in turn relieve the oppressed neutrals from the scourge of Nazi terrorism. We have seen the beginning of such a change in neutral policy in the laying of mines in Norwegian territorial waters. It is of course a policy which can only be decided by the Supreme War Council, who are in a position to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. But let us not forget that the policy of attack is the best policy of defence and, in the words of our greatest seaman of all times, let us remember to engage the enemy more closely.
§ 7.26 p.m.
My Lords, I have no wish to keep your Lordships more than a few minutes at this late hour, but as one of the younger members of your Lordships' House, who has been connected with aviation through most of his life, and therefore I hope is rather air-minded, I have just two observations to make. I have listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has said and I have no wish to offer any criticisms, but I do feel that in this campaign His Majesty's Government did not altogether realise the tremendous repercussions of air power. I do not think they realised the great immobility of an Air Force—how it was impossible for our Air Force to take an active part in this campaign until proper aerodromes were found for it. I feel also that the Fleet Air Arm was called in to help them out of a difficulty and, perhaps not quite soon enough, they suddenly realised that we had a Fleet Air Arm and called it in at the last moment to do a job which it 339 was not altogether fitted to do. But I think the Fleet Air Arm did it extremely well. I was very glad to hear Lord Hankey mention it today, because there is a little feeling that what the Fleet Air Arm have done has not been altogether realised, either by the public or by the Press, and Lord Hankey paid a proper tribute today to what they have done.
The other point I wish to make is that, without in any way derogating from the work of the Royal Air Force, I feel sometimes that the pilots of the Royal Air Force are rather expected to be Jack of all trades, and do not get sufficient opportunity of specialising in one particular form of air work and through that I feel that the Naval Forces have on occasion suffered through lack of proper information. Without wishing to bring up again the controversy about the Fleet Air Arm, I feel that it is essential that the Navy and the Fleet should have adequate air reconnaissance from their own arm and that they should not suffer from mistakes through lack of knowledge. I have listened with great interest to this debate. I think at these times it is vital for us to keep a united front and I heartily support the Government.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I am sorry at this late hour to intervene, but I did want to say one or two things. I do not propose to be wise after the event and to point out as a lesson what it is perfectly obvious could not be known either to our Government or to our military or naval advisers. I am at one with the noble Lord who opened the debate so ably, who pointed out the lessons we ought to learn from recent events, and the chief purpose of this debate should be to answer the question whether we are going to learn our lessons. My noble friend Lord Salisbury was pleased that at last we were going to get a Defence Minister. Again and again the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will remember, in another place in 1928, when the present Lord Baldwin was Prime Minister, I pressed and pressed for a Minister of Defence. It is the only way in which you can co-ordinate the three; Services. Again in 1932 and 1935, in this House, I raised the subject, and at last, after the pressure of war comes, you are doing what is the obvious thing to do.
340 It is perfectly obvious to anyone who has had professional training in military service to realise that a War Cabinet cannot come to decisions unless they get expert advice put before them, and that expert advice has got to be sifted thoroughly by an individual responsible for advising the Prime Minister on the plans suggested. I hope and trust that Mr. Churchill, when he is given this great post of sitting on top, not only of the Chiefs of Staffs of the Services, but I hope of a Staff of his own, and sifting out the different problems that come before him before they go to the War Cabinet, will be relieved of the great duties of the First Lord of the Admiralty, because I am perfectly certain it is a fulltime job today to carry out the duties of Defence Minister. That is one advance in this war. It is a funny thing we cannot learn our lessons from the last war, but there it is. Here we are in the midst of another great war, and at last we are learning them.
The next thing I would say is this, that when the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, spoke at that box this afternoon a cold shiver went down my back when he made the various remarks he did, when he said they were surprised and had to improvise plans. Good gracious! surely they have General Staffs in the War Office and at the Admiralty—I do not know about the Air Ministry. Surely these Staffs must have worked out plans. If I were Chief of the General Staff, and asked for the man responsible for Norway and he had not the plan worked out to the last detail, I should think I was badly served. When it is suggested that these plans were not available, there is surely something wrong. The next point I wish to make—and it is a point of great interest to the country—is that I cannot conceive a country like ours in a great war not having a strategic reserve in this country, commanded, staffed, and prepared with all necessary stores, ready to go wherever it is wanted. No country at war can afford not to have a strategic reserve. Surely, when we have such a great number of troops being prepared, we ought to have such a reserve ready for use in any direction. I hope the lesson of Norway will be learned in this respect, and that the Government will see that a suitable strategic reserve is prepared in this country. I should be glad to know how far this is being done.
My next point is this. I cannot conceive how our Ambassadors in Denmark 341 and Norway, especially Denmark, could not have known that movements were going on towards the occupation of those countries. A man there, who was employed before in the Foreign Office, is sent over to Denmark, yet apparently we did not know what was going on. At least we in the financial world knew what was going on, and took steps accordingly to remove funds which were lying there. The last point I wish to make in the very limited time I have got is this. We are calling up in each of the various age groups about 250,000 men at a time. Wherever I go—and I have been asked to visit various units—the complaint is that they have not got the officers in whom they can have confidence. You have got to call out the old officers and put them through the doctor. Take Lord Strabolgi and many other noble Lords amongst us. It is not a question of age. We are absolutely ridden by the regulations of the War Office. There are many men of sixty-five who are fitter than men of fifty. That is a fact. Go down to these new units or go to the units which have come back from Norway and hear what they say. If we had had two or three regular officers of old standing looking after these units, believe me you would have had a very different state of affairs. Now you have got all this new training coming along—battalions, brigades, and divisions—so for goodness sake make use of these old fellows who have responsibility and are fit, and who can be looked up to by our young soldiers who form the British Army of today.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, it has been with great enjoyment, I am sure, that the House has listened to the speech of the veteran recruit which has just been delivered. We should not willingly have missed it. The House will perhaps appreciate that it has not been without some rather mixed feelings, in my capacity as Foreign Secretary, that I have listened to some: of the observations that have been made in the course of this debate. Those who made them will forgive me if, in the course of what I have to say, I excuse myself from following them across what must be rather delicate ground. I have, of course, taken note of the various suggestions on 342 different matters that have been raised. I cannot, I am afraid, hope to cover them all in my reply, though I shall do my best; and particularly have I taken note of the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Mottistone in the matter of civil defence. I shall certainly see that that suggestion is conveyed to the proper quarter, if it is not—as I fancy it is—already in their minds.
This debate has, perhaps inevitably, assumed a double character. It has, on one side of it, been an inquest into past events, which Parliament of course has every right to make, and it has also, in another part of it, covered a great deal of criticism of His Majesty's Government, which perhaps found its sharpest expression in the concluding observations of the noble Lord who leads the Opposition, always, of course, as is every speech from him, couched in terms of the utmost courtesy. From him fell rather sharp words of attack on my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. On that I only make one observation. It is not possible for anyone in this House or in another place to draw any distinction between the Prime Minister and any other member of the War Cabinet who are, or have been, in complete accord with him, and, with him, share full responsibility for what has been done.
My noble friend Lord Hankey has, I think, stated all that can usefully be said in regard to the actual military operations in Norway without treading upon ground that would not be, as he said, in the public interest to cover in debate. I think that my noble friend Lord Hutchison must have misunderstood my noble friend Lord Hankey if he derived from his speech any impression that plans for these contingencies that have recently been forced upon our attention were not in fact available, and had not been indeed available for a long time before. But that I only mention in passing. I think that if what my noble friend Lord Hankey said is fairly weighed it would show to anybody who was disposed to judge on the facts as they then appeared, that the Allied action was not deserving of much of the hard judgment that has been extended to it. I certainly would not claim, nor do I suppose anybody either could or would claim with certainty, that no mistakes were made, but I am in no way disposed on behalf of His Majesty's Government 343 to adopt before your Lordships what I might call the apologetic posture of a defendant.
I freely admit that on almost every day, which brought the successive necessity of quick decision, it is possible to argue that some other action might have been more successful; and the truth or the falsity of such argument cannot now, if ever, be finally established. It is at any rate clear that the success or failure of our action in Southern Norway was never in fact dependent upon the number of men sent, or upon the actual date on which they left this country or reached the Norwegian coast, or indeed on the tactics employed in the effort to capture Trondheim. And in that respect I find some support in what fell, although he drew a different conclusion from it, from my noble friend Lord Trenchard, in the course of his observations. There really was one factor that was decisive, and that was the advantage gained by the Germans in being able to deny to us the necessary air bases in Norway from which to operate. Unless we could establish air bases ourselves, there was clearly considerable risk involved in making the attempt to intervene in Southern Norway, but I would ask your Lordships to appreciate this, that if we had allowed that view to dominate and to outweigh all other considerations, the only conclusion would have been to send no troops at all to Southern Norway, which would certainly, I think, have exposed us—not that I greatly care about that, but it certainly would have exposed us—to still stronger criticism.
I think that those who throw their minds back to the moment when, and to the atmosphere in which, daily appeals for immediate action in Southern Norway were being made by the Norwegian Government, would not be prepared to say that we either could or ought to have refused to make such an attempt which, though admittedly it involved great risks, might yet not have proved impossible. There is another consideration of a more general kind of which I think it is perhaps permissible to remind your Lordships. Without touching the question of the present composition of His Majesty's Government, in regard to the character of which I will have a word to say in a moment, if the members of His 344 Majesty's Government, bringing as they certainly do to the problems of government very different minds and judgments, are yet unanimous upon a certain course, and if they reach their conclusions as they did without delay and with the assistance of the best technical advice that they could command, then I do not think it is an unfair deduction that other men, perhaps even some of their critics of today, would on the same information have reached conclusions not dissimilar.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made a speech which, by the authority from which it came, naturally commanded the attention of all who heard it. He will not expect me to discuss the matters that he raised in this House, and indeed I have not either the knowledge or the authority to do so. I might perhaps make one observation. He gave your Lordships a quotation from a speech delivered, he said, by a member of the Government a short time ago. I have not had the opportunity of refreshing my mind upon a speech that perhaps I have never, with great care, read, but he gave the quotation without context, and I do feel sufficiently assured to say that he would be falling into error if he tried to place deductions so general upon a foundation so slender. It is, as my noble friend Lord Hutchison said, always easier to be wise after than before the event, and to judge the past in the light of knowledge that was not available at the time is always to write false history.
My noble friend the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who made a speech every sentence of which I am glad to have been fortunate enough to hear—though I was not able to agree with all of them—said he was quite certain that there must have been arrangements and intimations passing between Germany and Denmark, and therefore, he said, there must have been elements of suspicion in the minds of His Majesty's Government, and therefore His Majesty's Government were greatly to be reprehended for having been so inert. It is conspicuously easy, if I may say so, to build up the deduction and the conclusion you want if you can also choose the premises you want out of a fertile imagination, because, so far as I know, the Danish Government had no ground whatever for suspicion of what was coming upon them any more than the suspicion that may lurk, for all I know, 345 in the minds of any small neutral Government who is neighbour to Germany.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My noble friend Lord Hutchison said that it was matter for blame that our Minister at Copenhagen was unaware of these imminent events, and that he knows the financial world did know. If he knows the financial world did know, I can only regret that he kept his information to himself. I am under no temptation to minimise the damage that this affair has brought to the Allied cause as a whole, for although this war—let us make no mistake about it—is going to be won by facts, hard facts, and not by prestige, the damage of our withdrawal has been very great, and great in its effect on neutral judgment and thought and on opinion in many parts of the world. There has not been wanting criticism of this country in neutral States, as indeed there has been not a little criticism of neutral States in this country. The noble Marquess opposite referred to that subject and was followed in that respect by my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury. I only make, if I may with respect, this observation on what fell from the Marquess of Salisbury, that I do not think that he has fully appreciated the difficult position in which neutral States are placed by this great whirlpool of war of great Powers raging round them. But in this case as in others, it is more profitable to draw conclusions and try to learn lessons than it is to indulge in mutual recriminations.
It is, I think, true to say that the damaging effect of withdrawal was largely due to the effect of exaggerated expectations. Up to that point I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snell. I am not arguing from what cause those exaggerated expectations sprang. If I did I should differ with the noble Lord, Lord Snell. But the damaging effect flowed from exaggerated expectations of what was immediately practicable as a result of the Allied military effort. It only requires a moment's reflection, of course, to appreciate that quite clearly corrections of these expectations could only be made by revealing what were the actual plans or revealing other information that would have been of great value to the enemy. I 346 make bold to say that the damage would have been far worse if, in face of conditions which were found to preclude success, the Allies for whatever reason had persisted in an effort which at continuing cost could yet not have been relied upon to produce the desired result. I have no doubt whatever that having made up their minds as to the impossibility of an attempt that was well worth making of establishing and maintaining an adequate Allied Force in Southern Norway, we were right to face the immediate decision—and I am glad to notice that several of your Lordships who have spoken have taken the same view—to cut our loss in order to operate elsewhere.
I think that one is entitled, as did my noble friend Lord Teynham, while acknowledging all the damage that failure has brought, to balance that against the positive gains. I do not recapitulate them in more than a sentence. First of all, the acceptance by this country of all the hazards of a very hazardous operation did show the Norwegians at a critical moment that we meant it when we said that we were prepared to make common cause with them. We have provided, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, reminded us, means for the King and Government to move to another part of Norway where the Government can be kept in being; and last but not least we have taken a toll of the German forces—the Fleet, many thousands of personnel and no negligible strain upon their Air Force and its material supplies—which I think will help us, as the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, reminded us, to see the thing in balanced perspective. Since the beginning of this campaign, of course, on the other side, German claims of our ships sunk or damaged have been astronomical, and it is quite clear that these fantastic claims had two purposes, one to encourage the home German front and the other to extract information from us. As to the second, I naturally am unable to oblige, but I would point out that if their claims were anywhere near the truth we should be hard put to it to maintain a fleet in home waters, let alone to revert, as we have reverted, as the noble Marquess reminded us, to more normal distribution of our forces in the Mediterranean.
347 The effect abroad, of course, will be more serious than in this country. Our people are not afraid to face things going wrong or to look ugly facts in the face. They will rightly wish to be assured that the best that it was possible to do in the circumstances was done and that any lessons to be learned are learned, but they are not so stupid as to think that you can make war without taking risks or without incurring setbacks, and the principal result of setbacks on our people is to make them set their teeth, strengthen their determination and be more resolute than they were before to see the business through. It is from time to time made a reproach to us that we do not bring effective and timely help to neutrals. That reproach is made often quite regardless of geography and of the capacity or even of the will of neutrals to resist themselves. And there is always this, when you are considering these problems that touch the borders of strategy, to be remembered. If the Allies win this war, there are certain assurances for those enslaved by Nazi tyranny, and therefore they are not less interested than we in the pursuit of sound policy and sound strategy. For if through failure to use our resources to the best advantage, or through the adoption of a strategy which might not be essentially sound, we were to fail to rid the world of this evil thing, then indeed the victims of German aggression would have no hope whatever of restoration.
I sometimes think that those who beg, as did my noble friend Viscount Astor, that this country should seize the initiative, do not always give sufficient weight to the essential difference in geographical position between Germany and ourselves. From the purely military point of view, and ignoring the considerations that arise from widely founded sea power, Germany has the advantage of being compact, of being central, and therefore in many respects, so far as that goes, less vulnerable, and of operating of course on interior lines. Great Britain and France, on the other hand are demonstrably in the case of most possible areas of action operating from the circumference and with world-wide dispersion of responsibility. It is also just to remember that for this war, Germany was prepared; Great Britain and France are still preparing. I think those are 348 facts that have to be remembered if one is to assess rightly the possibility of any immediate initiative and of using opportunities that we possess.
I am under no illusion, nor is any one of your Lordships, about the formidable nature of German strength or the quality or organisation of the enemy. We are facing by far the most dangerous challenge that this country has ever had to meet in its history, a challenge that calls for every ounce of energy, material, intellectual and spiritual, that this country can summon to its task. I agree profoundly with my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury, who talked about how essential it was to secure, keep and preserve national unity; and with Lord Snell, who spoke of the power and the necessity of a united will of a united people, and with others who have spoken. Speaking for myself, I should be glad to see that union of will and purpose expressed, so far as might be, through the machine of government. But, just because our task is so formidable, it is all the more important that we should not delude ourselves by wishful thinking at any moment on what is in fact militarily possible at any given time or place, or by the belief that there does somewhere exist locked up some short cut to victory. If anybody thinks that by some immediate exercise of superior strategy or some particular action decisive results can be quickly or miraculously achieved, he deceives himself and others.
I have always thought, and your Lordships have always thought, that it would take a long time to develop the full Allied effort. I have never disguised from myself what an immense strain it was going to impose upon us—not least upon our staying-power—in other words, upon our nerves; and that the result would largely depend upon our capacity to keep steady and to marshal our effort without waste and without dissipation of vital energy. Therefore the Government, I hope, will not be deflected from their main purpose, and will act as and when it appears to them, in the light of the best possible technical advice, that action of a particular kind is calculated to achieve results. I must quite frankly confess to your Lord-ships that I should be greatly alarmed if amateur strategists who shout for immediate action had the direction of affairs. Nothing would be more likely to lead to immediate disaster than to 349 yield to such a temptation to largescale adventures.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, spoke with approval of the change which the Prime Minister announced yesterday in regard to which my right honourable friend the First Lord of the Admiralty holds so outstanding a place. I share all his hopes that the result of that new arrangement may give valuable assistance in the direction of the higher strategy of the war. He will have observed that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister took particular note, of the point that the noble Marquess made today: whether asking Mr. Churchill to discharge this duty while retaining the office of First Lord was not asking him to do too much. The Prime Minister, I observed, said that his mind was open and that, if it was found to be too great a burden, he would naturally immediately relieve my right honourable friend of it.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The noble Marquess also asked to what extent the broader question of supply would fall within the purview of the First Lord in his new capacity. I have no doubt at all—I have not had the opportunity of refreshing my mind—that he would naturally be in a position to have any investigation made that he wished into the question of supply, and to suggest any improvements in his organisation of it that he might wish to make.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I would ask my noble friend not to press me too much upon technical details upon which I am ill informed; but I have no doubt at all that my right honourable friend in his position would be able to bring any questions in regard to which he thought there was a bottleneck to the appropriate authority for early and quick solution. The noble Marquess also spoke, as have one or two others of your Lordships—not with complete unanimity, because I think Lord Rankeillour differed from the noble Marquess on this point—upon the matter of the best construction of the War Cabinet. The noble Marquess favoured a smaller, non-departmental War Cabinet, which my noble friend Lord 350 Rankeillour, while recognising the desirability of relieving Ministers of part of their work, was himself disposed to regard with some doubt. Naturally it does not fall to me to speak dogmatically on this subject, and I shall of course convey to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the sense of what has been said on a matter that falls so particularly within his personal responsibility. We all, of course, want the same thing, and that is a dispatch of business as quickly and efficiently as may be; but I would enter just one word of caution.
It would, I think, be very rash to assume that all the advantages in this matter can safely be assumed to be on one side. There is a very real danger that in striving after excessive simplification—in as much as, for the reasons given by others in this debate, the practical work does come down still to a judgment of Departments—you may find yourselves in some regards introducing another cog into the machine and causing a new delay.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I gather that my noble friend does not pronounce definitely against such a change. He says that it possibly might not fulfil all the conditions which we suggested it would. I was speaking, of course, for a great many others besides myself when I made the observation.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The noble Marquess will not think that I have said anything to show otherwise. I entirely recognise the weight of responsible opinion which ranges itself behind the particular recommendation of which he was a spokesman, and, as I understand, it is certainly not for me to range myself either on one side or the other in a matter which is not within my personal responsibility. I am only concerned at this moment to plead for a certain moderation of judgment, perhaps on both sides, in order that we may together find the ideal solution which we all desire.
May I add just before I end—and I shall not keep your Lordships more than a very few minutes longer—an observation that is constantly in my mind on this general question of criticism in war? It seems to me perfectly right that criticism which has to be made should be directed against the Government, who are primarily responsible, and the effect of criticism upon the fortunes of any par- 351 ticular Government is a matter of excessively small and indeed trifling importance. We all have only one purpose, to win the war. If it was at any time thought to be the case that other men could do the job better, certainly no member of the Government, so far as I am aware, would be unwilling to be relieved of a responsibility that can bring no personal satisfaction but only a burden that at times must be well-nigh insupportable. No one who is doing his best would mind, or have any right to mind—in fact, he ought to welcome—mistakes being pointed out. It really does not matter from the point of view of the Government that a large percentage of the criticism made of them is bound to be only partially informed and in the nature of things, since criticism always follows the event, is bound to be based on fuller knowledge than was available to the Government when they took their action. But when the effect of criticism is to suggest to the country that its war effort, which is costing it so much, is misconceived and misapplied by those responsible for its direction—and that depends on the fashion in which criticism is made—then I think criticism defeats its own ends and can only add unnecessarily and unprofitably to the inevitable strain of war.
My Lords, every day we all see more clearly what things are at stake in this business. We can realise what would be left of the life of individuals who value liberty or of the life of free nations if the world were to surrender to this evil domination. As to individuals, the freedom of men to think and speak and act within the law, and to worship God according to their lights, would perish from the earth; and each man can judge the issue for himself. As to nations, the answer stares us no less plainly in the face. Seldom have I felt more nakedly the contrast between that which we fight for and that which we fight against than when the other day I read, as your Lordships must have read, the account of the Canadian Regiments, the Toronto Scottish and the Royal 22nd Regiment of French Canadians, mounting guard at Buckingham Palace. When it came to be the turn of the French Canadian Regiment, the sentries' orders were read in French. At the official dinner on guard at St. James's Palace, following that which now is, and I suspect for close on 352 two hundred years has been, the practice in French Canada on appropriate occasions, the toast of the King's health was given in French. The significance of that goes very deep, and there could be no more powerful illustration than this simple fact, I think, of the manner in which the spirit of the British Empire works, bringing diversity into unity under the flag of liberty. To preserve values such as those, which Hitler could never begin to understand, is no small part of the reason why the British Empire is at war.
§ 8.15 p.m.
If I may detain you, my Lords, for a very few moments, I should like to say that with most of what the Foreign Secretary has said my noble friends and I would of course agree, but if he will read his speech to-morrow he will see what I venture to suggest is a dangerous implication in it. I refer to his apologia for the Norwegian expedition and the form which it took and the retreat, and I put this forward in the most friendly way. The impression that will be formed by that exposition is that it was a face-saving expedition, that in order to satisfy honour and to meet the Norwegian desires and so forth and to show that we were going to do something, we sent this little force. If the noble Viscount will look at his words as they appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I think he will see that there is that implication in them, and I am sure he would wish to remove that implication. It was not in the least a face-saving expedition; it was looked on as a matter of life-saving to ourselves as well as to the Norwegians, and was regarded as a matter of the greatest importance.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
If your Lordships will allow me to say one word again, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord opposite for calling my attention to that. I confess that the interpretation which he says might flow from that speech is not one that would ever occur to me, and it was never in my mind. I hope that the correction which he has been good enough to afford me the opportunity of making, will effectively preserve me from any danger of being so misinterpreted.
I know that the noble Viscount spoke with complete sincerity, and I hope that he spoke with complete understanding, when he said 353 that the Cabinet were united on the question of strategy and that the results will be seen in future events. We put forward a demand far Papers. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has answered my demand for Papers on the naval operations and the reasons for them by saying that we did not enter the Skagerrak because we did not do so in the last war. That is really what his whole reply condenses itself to. We therefore find ourselves in the position of not being able to withdraw our demand for Papers.
Several noble Lords, including the Foreign Secretary, have referred to the need for the national unity which exists in the country on the major issues of this war being translated into the political sphere. My noble friend remarked that that was not for us to pronounce upon in this House, and I do not know what the verdict would be; but I can tell the members of the Government and your Lordships present—and I would particularly thank Lord Astor for his speech, and other noble Lords—what we will not do, and I speak here with exact knowledge. As the present War Cabinet is constituted, we have no intention whatsoever of offering our collaboration. We say that in the highest interests of the nation. I am sorry to have to rebuff the kindly intentions expressed by noble Lords, and I regret that I am not in a position to withdraw the Motion.
§ On Question, Motion negatived.