HL Deb 23 February 1943 vol 126 cc164-86

LORD BEAVERBROOK rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the urgent need for a Second Front in Europe; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name I take leave to observe that it seems to me to be the duty and indeed the obligation of your Lordships to discuss the Second Front in this House. I think we are indeed required to discuss the war doctrine of the Cabinet. That seems to me the duty of your Lordships' House, not only in order that we may give our views on war doctrine to the members of the War Cabinet, but in order that our debates should be conducted in such manner that the country will be fully aware of our opinions and the reasons why we reached them. I do not deny that strategy must necessarily be the first duty of the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff. None the less, although strategy must chiefly concern the War Cabinet, I have no objection at all as far as I am concerned to its being discussed here. Certainly war doctrine as apart from strategy must come constantly under the review of this House and of the House of Commons.

It is quite true that the country will pay not so much attention to questions of war doctrine at this time as usual, because the country seems to be quite satisfied that the war is going admirably and optimism abounds everywhere. In fact, so far as I can ascertain, the public is of the opinion that the war is won, but that the fighting has not yet finished. For my part I take a very different view. I believe, contrary to public opinion, that the war is not won. It is true that we have had many trials and that those trials have banished fears that oppressed us. We no longer fear the invasion of Britain. We no longer fear the U-boat menace as we did in 1941, for your Lordships will remember that we had formed the view ' that the U-boat had been dealt with. It was only late in 1941 that we found we were in error and for a time it was extremely uncertain what would be the effect of U-boat campaign upon our merchant shipping at sea. Throughout 1941 and early 1942 that issue was in fact decided and the fear of the U-boat menace in its most serious form passed from us. Again we fear no longer the French Fleet joining with the German Fleet and the possible consequences. We do not fear the invasion of Egypt, of Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal. We do not fear the U-boat menace on the West African coast any more, and the fear of shadows over Australia and over India and even Ceylon has passed from us. Moreover, we have many benefits. We have captured the entire Italian empire. That is a real benefit that has been bestowed upon us in the course of the war. Our Armies are now fully equipped. They were most inadequately equipped in May, 1940, but now they are fully equipped and have been for some time; in fact, as was said in another place, there is equipment left to spare.

But none the less, with all these banishments of fear and these advantages that have been given us, we have not yet got to grips with the Germans. In fact, it is true that the Germans have captured more prisoners than we have taken from the Germans. It is true that the Germans have captured more guns, more British guns than we have captured German guns. Again, the Germans have destroyed many, many tons of British merchant shipping. The Japanese have captured from us a Colonial Empire more extensive in area than the Italian Empire, and certainly much more valuable. But, not-withstanding these balancing forces of the war, I admit that there is splendid optimism everywhere. I acknowledge it without hesitation. But why this optimism? Whence does it spring? We all know that it comes from the success of the Russian offensive, the second Russian offensive. The defeat sustained by the German Army has resulted from wonderful operations which have exceeded all our expectations. But we have no right to count on these advantages too much, for there are dangers ahead, serious dangers of which we must be aware. There are, for instance, the efforts to separate Russia from Britain by the peace talk in Italy, for that of course is the only purpose of it. Italy is trying to persuade Russia that a Western peace will be negotiated, thus arousing suspicions and anxieties in the minds of the Russian people. Of course, it is just nonsense and it was completely answered by the "unconditional surrender" decision of our Prime Minister and President Roosevelt. None the less this Italian propaganda persists. We must beware of it and always take steps if we can to resist it and break it down.

Now there is another story being put about—the danger of Communism in Europe. This is another form of enemy propaganda which is being very widely disseminated. I ask those who take note of it: What is Communism now? Anyway it is certainly not what Communism was in 1917—very far from it. We must remember that the Constitution of Russia is subject to change, is subject to development, like our human bodies, and, over everything, that Anglo-Russian friendship and collaboration do not involve us in adopting the Russian system of government. The difference in the minds of men on the subject of freedom, in the United States and Britain, after the War of Independence, may be compared to the difference now between Russia and Britain. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, the Russians, like the American Colonists 160 years ago, have attempted a social revolution on the broadest scale, and we should do well to recall that at the end of the eighteenth century our ancestors looked with dismay on the revolutionary nature of the United States, just as some of us may indeed dread the methods and ideology of the Soviet Union to-day. But with the merits or the faults of the Russian system, we are in no event and in no way concerned. It should be our task, not to change the temper of the Russian Government, but to deal amicably with the Government and people, to work in the close relationship of two friends who, despite difference of political opinions, are possessed of mutual trust and good will.

Now, if I may say so, I am no Communist; I am a Capitalist. I do not favour a sharing of wealth, I want only a sharing of opportunity. It must be admitted that Russian Communism has directed in two successive winters two most immense offensives, offensives unparalleled in history. The offensive of four months duration this winter, too, has certainly been unparalleled in the annals of mechanized warfare. And this has been accomplished through unexampled efforts on the part of the Russian people. Consider what they have done. In 1941 in Russia, Stalin lost 400,000 square miles of territory—but he saved his Army. He lost in tanks, aeroplanes and military equipment far more than all that has been sent to him by Great Britain and the United States since October, 1941, or indeed since the beginning of the war in Russia. He lost more than one-third of the industrial capacity of Russia, nearly half the Russian farm lands, and countless dead. Gone was Kursk, gone was the Ukraine, and Moscow was in a state of siege. Then on December 6, 1941, came the Russian attack and triumph. How did that miracle come to pass? Certainly it was on account of the bravery of the Russian Armies, but it was also due to the hope and expectation, planted in the minds of the Russian soldiers by Stalin, of supplies of tanks, aircraft and raw materials from the Western Powers. The fact that help from the West was coming was used by Stalin to the fullest possible extent in sustaining, supporting and uplifting the soldiers who were required to go into battle. That was Russia in 1941, with Stalin convincing his people that help was coming, convincing them of the supplies at his command from the United States and from Britain.

Then what was the position in Russia in 1942 after the first offensive? Gone was the Don Basin, Stalingrad was in flames, the Volga was threatened, the Caucasus was invaded, and Stalin was fiercely defending every street and square of the city bearing his name. How did Stalin keep the light of hope burning in the storm of 1942? How did he rally his Armies? By persuading his tired people that the Second Front held out a prospect of victory, by persuading his people that the Second Front was not far off. In 1942 we had Stalin saying to his people as the year was drawing to a close these words: It is often asked: But will there be a Second Front in Europe after all? Yes, there will be; sooner or later, there will be one. Not only because we need it, but, above all, because our Allies need it no less than we do. He encouraged and strengthened his people by that promise of a Second Front. His troops attacked the enemy in 1942, and, in 1943, with sullen and persistent gunfire, they were driving the enemy from Stalingrad. The Russians are fighting during the day and during the night. They are fighting fiercely, with deadly hatred in their hearts. They are driving the Germans back to the Don, back to the Donetz, and now, perhaps, to the Dnieper.

Stalin in 1943 has sent us two messages. The first message was two days ago: Friendly feelings strengthen our confidence that the moment is near when the Armed Forces of our countries, by joint offensive operations, will smash our common enemy. That was two days ago. We have another message this morning, in Stalin's Order of the Day: Owing to the absence of a Second Front in Europe, the Red Army has been bearing alone the whole burden of the war. What answer are we to send to Stalin? What is it to be? There is need for haste. Reflect for a moment on the position of the enemy. The Germans may be salvaging their Armies in Russia. Last November, the Germans had a front of 2,400 miles, with 200 divisions manning that front. There is a line from Riga to Odessa of only 1,000 miles, which can be manned by 100 divisions. The spring offensive is not far off. Germany will have 50 or, perhaps, 70 divisions for the purpose of a spring offensive. Moreover, Germany is bringing another million soldiers into her Armies. What, then, will be the spring offensive of the Germans? Will they attack again in Russia? Will they make a new attack on Russia, or will they go to Turkey and the Dardanelles, or will they try to occupy Spain and Algeciras, with the command of Gibraltar? It may be that they are massing up to 70 divisions, and the million soldiers who are being brought into their Armies, to man the Western European Front. But, whatever may be the plans of the Germans, we should strike, and strike now, before the Germans can regroup their divisions. We should strike before the Germans recover from the Russian offensive.

The Germans are predicting another attack upon Russia. Goebbels spoke last week, and Goering last month, and they both made remarkable speeches, which should be read very carefully and closely. Goebbels' speech was hours long, but of the utmost importance. Both of them predicted another attack upon Russia. Now, if an attack takes place, June may be the date, for June was the time when the Germans struck in 1941 and 1942. We must therefore strike quickly if we are to be ready by June. If we are to take part in the spring offensive, we must move with great speed.

I am bound to say that there is another reason for speed, and a very good reason. It is a Japanese reason. Japan is inactive now, which contrasts strangely with the wild and triumphant outburst of energy which we saw in the first six months of the war with Japan. The Japanese have only 80 divisions, but they could quite easily have 500 divisions; it is well within their man-power. What are they doing? Obviously the Japanese are assiduously engaged in industrial production on a big scale. Some say that they are short of raw materials. That is quite wrong. They have plenty of raw materials. They have captured from Great Britain and the United States half the pre-war imports of iron ore into Great Britain. They have captured iron ore in China, and they have iron ore in Manchuria. They have captured in China valuable steel mills, only recently constructed. They have captured from the Allies more oil than Britain imported in the pre-war years, and more rubber, more bauxite and more tin. We see, therefore, if we examine the situation, that the Japanese are well provided with raw materials. The larger part of their population is engaged in working those raw materials into munitions of war—ships, guns, aeroplanes and tanks. We must hurry, for we have to smash the Germans first, and then we must turn on the Japanese with speed and energy. We have all the more need for dealing with the German situation as swiftly as possible.

Since time is the first consideration—I think your Lordships will all agree about that—it seems to me that we must now invade North-West Europe. We must now invade in the Mediterranean too; but we must certainly invade from a British base as well as from an African base. It is true that Africa has many attractions as a base for an attack upon Europe, but Britain has more advantages—far more advantages. Look at the African situation after three years of warfare, and after very many splendid and brilliant British victories. The Axis has not yet been turned out of Africa. The Axis is still hanging on, and the Axis is stronger in Africa in German man-power and in implements of war and war materials than it was during Wavell's 1941 campaign, or at any time since that campaign. Axis strength has grown in Africa, although much territory has been gained by us. Why has there been this development of Axis strength? Obviously because of the advantageous supply routes. For the Axis, the supply route is a matter of weeks; for us, it is a matter of months. Again, the Germans can easily assemble their air power in Africa, because they are near at hand, and the assembly of air power at a distance is difficult. The airfields in Africa are not always suited to fast aircraft, but the Germans have near at hand in Sicily air-fields which are available for their purposes. Air power is essential in attack; we are all agreed on that now. We remember our experiences in Greece, where we were put to rout because we had not the air facilities which we required, nor could we have had them in the special circumstances.

For the reasons I have given—the advantageous position of the Axis in Africa, due to short supply routes, easy handling of air power and suitable air-fields available—let us fight in Europe, for here we have supply routes equal to or better than those of the enemy, and we have air-fields in Britain and air facilities, so that we can use aircraft to the utmost extent in developing our attack. The argument in favour of the attack has been so brilliantly stated by my master in war doctrine some years ago that I beg leave to quote it to you: It is obvious that the defeat and breaking up of the German Armies in the West affords the best, the simplest and the swiftest method of arriving at decisive victory. The only question is, have we the power to do it? It would be a pity to discard this direct and obvious method of victory in favour of weaker, more roundabout, protracted and far less decisive strategy unless we are convinced that we have not the power to conquer on the Western Front. That is a quotation from my master in strategy of years ago.

Have we the power? True, the French coast is very heavily fortified. But the Dieppe method of attack will not do. The Dieppe model—and I am not making a criticism at all—was an example of a combined operations compromise, and we want a Combined Operations Command. The German method in Crete offers a much more favourable example of what can be done in attack. It is similar to the situation in which we find ourselves in Western Europe. The German method was an attack by sea, by land and by air. And mark the results. There was a very big British force in Crete, supported by Greek units, by Australian and New Zealand units, and by Egyptians. The Germans in that attack lost 6,000 dead and 10,000 wounded, according to the statistics that we have issued. But there were 16,000 missing British soldiers. So it will be seen that in that attack the Germans lost not more than the total British troops that were missing. Therefore I say that the Crete example is a most admirable illustration of the sort of attack that some of us recommend for directing our offensive against North-West Germany.

And if we succeed, what then? Count the many blessings. The U-boat bases in France that are now such a worry and trouble to us will all have been disposed of, will be in our hands. We shall have opened up the Channel ports—the Channel ports that are our Channel ports, that are so admirably equipped with the necessary machinery for swift loading and swift unloading. And how valuable those Channel ports would be to us. We should have relieved the pressure on the South Coast towns, and I am sure all of us want very much to devise some method of relieving pressure upon the South Coast towns of Britain. We should have shortened the air route to Africa, and that would be a great advantage which would mean much to us. Much time and effort would be saved in journeys to Africa; indeed it would be of an enormous assistance to the campaign in Africa. But everything depends upon time and speed. We cannot afford years, or even many months—at most a few months. These are precious weeks passing now, and war is not won by the turning tide of fortune, nor by the inexorable massing of superior machines. We should not comfort ourselves, like the fool in the parable, by the knowledge that we have got goods laid up everywhere, accumulating immense treasures of weapons. If we should forfeit the supreme chance offered to us at this moment we should have lost something more precious than vast stores of aeroplanes and tanks.

Time is the essence of the matter. Consider the decision Stalin made before the ramparts of Moscow on the 6th of November, 1941. If he had withheld his stroke for another day the city would have fallen and all the advantages won through the long months of retreat might have been dissipated in a single day. Consider again his choice of time in the great offensive of 1942. Another week of delay and the city on the Volga would have been compelled to yield. Such are the fearful hazards of war. It is the choice of the hour for staking all which decides the fate of nations, which raises some to eminence and casts others down to the dust. The hour for decision presses upon us now. If we loiter and delay it may never come again; it may be gone for ever. I think that this nation will rise in all its lion's strength and seize the hour in that spirit of daring which has made us great and which alone can keep us great. This should be the hour of British glory, the hour we have planned for and worked for and striven for. Please God we shall not let it slip from us. I beg to move.


My Lords, I deprecate the moving of a Motion like that which has been moved by the noble Lord. In spite of all his speeches, in which he has instructed your Lordships what your duty is and what subjects should be discussed, I still deprecate the raising of this question. It will be remembered that last July, when the subject was raised before, I said: There is one more point I want to make. That is that I hope that in the future we shall hear less criticism of the Government and have less pressure put upon them by certain sections of the Press and a large number of other people regarding a Second Front. That must be left to the War Staff. In my view it is criminal to have this large section of the Press writing about a Second Front in the way they do. I sometimes think some of them have no sense of responsibility. I feel that that was then correct, and I still feel it is correct after the speech to which we have listened.

I hold no brief for the Government, nor do I want to defend them in any way. There are many points on which I am not in agreement with them, but this is a subject on which it is very easy to work up a dangerous feeling in the country among people who know nothing about the difficulties. Does the noble Lord understand the whole of the reasons actuating the Government? No Government can defend themselves from this sort of attack by explaining the difficulties or arguing the question, as they would give away very valuable information. Neither in secret nor in public can this subject be debated, and it is time that everybody knew it. When the Government try to give an answer, as they have in the past, their answer appears weak to everybody—worse than weak, unconvincing. And even worse is read into it than that, especially when such an appeal has been made on behalf of that great nation Russia. I call the speech to which we have just listened a most dangerous speech. You can discuss anything like organization, want of supplies, want of production, but where you are going to fight you cannot discuss publicly.

I hope there will be no disagreement in this House, or at any rate that a large number of your Lordships will agree with me. What we should press on the Government is not to answer this Motion. Do not answer it. It is impossible for it to be answered publicly. There is another reason why, in this particular case, it should not be answered. There is always a danger at present, owing to the shortage of paper, that the noble Lord's speech will be reported in full in that section of the Press for which he is responsible, and it is doubtful whether room can be found to publish any other speeches. The noble Lord has recently been adding much to the interest of your Lordships' debates on every conceivable subject, but I would ask him, in future, to leave this one subject alone.


My Lords, in spite of the appeal of the noble and gallant Viscount, I do not consider this subject is dangerous or unfit to be discussed in your Lordships' House, and I could not understand the basis of the arguments he addressed to your Lordships. With great respect to the noble and gallant Viscount, what does he mean when he talks about raising a dangerous feeling in the country? Dangerous for whom? I hope he means dangerous for the Germans. At any rate I would remind him that in this matter—not for the first time, and probably not for the last—he is at variance with his own Prime Minister. At the time when there was a great deal of agitation on this question last autumn the Prime Minister welcomed it. I have not got his actual words, but I am within the recollection of your Lordships when I say that the Prime Minister said what a happy thing it is that, in the midst of this terrible war, we have a nation, in spite of all its suffering and all its danger, which is eager for more resolute action and for more offensive strategy. That is the sense of the words with which he welcomed this particular agitation. It may be a little unwelcome to elderly professional military leaders of the old school who have not altogether moved with the times and are a little out of date in technical and tactical ideas. They do not like being "prodded," in the word of Mr. Wendell Willkie and in the word of Lord Beaverbrook as well. As long as there is an absence of complete victory over our enemies, of the forcing of unconditional surrender upon all three Axis partners, I hope that public opinion in this country, and those who speak for sections of it in your Lordships' House, will continue to prod and agitate and that the policy Lord Beaverbrook has indicated will be continued.

I may say that nothing would have prevented me from speaking in your Lordships' House on this occasion. As I told a noble friend who, like Lord Trenchard, considered the subject dangerous, only physical force would prevent me from voicing one or two considerations, which I hope will be balanced and not harmful. For twenty-four years, as two of my noble friends opposite, Lord Croft and Lord Snell, as old House of Commons men, know very well, I have been advocating a closer understanding and co-operation with the Russia of the Revolution. When I read the accounts of the great meetings held on Sunday in the Albert Hall and elsewhere, addressed by the Foreign Secretary and other great ornaments of the Government—leaders of the mighty Conservative Party—eulogizing Russia and praising the Red Army, it seemed to me they outdid the compliments paid even by the mover of this Motion. I can now share the feelings of Mr. Lloyd George when he read the Beveridge Report and the first favourable commentaries of the newspapers upon it. Going a little further back, I can imagine how John the Baptist would feel if he were present at the enthronement of a new Archbishop of Canterbury.

I am speaking entirely for myself on this side of the House as far as I know, but I congratulate Lord Beaverbrook on bringing forward this Motion and take this opportunity of congratulating him on his action and policy while in office and out of office since he visited Russia in October, 1941. I am all the more pleased to do this and to speak to-day because, on October 22, 1941, when Lord Beaverbrook was a prominent member of the Government, on a Motion in this House on man-power I deplored the lack of armaments in this country which was apparently the reason why, at that date, we did not pursue the obvious strategy of striking at the Germans in the West. I was accused of advocating mad policies by the then spokesman of the Government, Lord Moyne. I am sure I was right then when I deplored that we had not been able to take action, and I believe Lord Beaverbrook is right now in advocating action and speed now.

It must be admitted, on any careful study of the situation, that the success and pace of the Russian offensives in the last few weeks have altered the basis of the Casablanca decisions. If your Lordships will study the maps you will see that the pace of the Russian advance, fortnight by fortnight, has been accelerated; it is increasing. Most great offensives in war go forward, if they are successful, with a mighty bound, and then, unless there is a complete victory, there is a gradual slowing up; but the opposite is happening in Russia. There can be only one conclusion, and that is that the Russians have established a definite military ascendency over the Germans and their satellite Armies. I can see no other explanation. That being the case, the basis of the conclusions reached at Casablanca—the details of which I have no knowledge and I am not inquiring—has been altered, and altered in the direction indicated by Lord Beaverbrook.

Lord Beaverbrook spoke of a German retreat to a line from Riga to Odessa. That is one alternative. It may be the German plan to retreat to the Riga-Brest-Litovsk-Carpathian mountain line. That would be the thousand miles' line of which Lord Beaverbrook spoke, or to some similar defence position. Supposing they cannot do that, and are driven still further back—are driven right off Russian territory. I would ask your Lordships to consider this. What guarantee have we that after that mighty effort, that mighty pursuit, and the fierce battles that will have been fought, with their lengthening lines of communication and the shortening German lines of communication, the Russian Armies will be able or willing to advance beyond their own frontiers. In the meantime, by the drastic combing out described by Lord Beaverbrook, our enemies may scrape together a new force of thirty first-line divisions and another thirty divisions only suitable for garrison duties—rather less than the million men that Lord Beaverbrook has estimated. But if his figures are right, the situation is all the more ominous. I do not like to use the word "procrastinate," but if we wait, if we are overcautious, if we delay until everything is absolutely right in every respect, we may, as Lord Beaverbrook has suggested, lose this tide and be faced with a very difficult problem in several months' time of forcing our agreed policy of unconditional surrender upon the enemy.

The compelling to unconditional surrender of the Germans, when every Nazi leader knows that the hangman's rope is ready for him, will mean a lot of hard fighting. We should be most foolish to rely on the Germans suddenly cracking up. They may do so—it is their habit when they know that they are beaten—but they may fight on to the last ditch, and our military problem will be a very serious one indeed. That is one possibility, that the Russians may be able to drive the Germans off Russian soil and then may sit down themselves on the defensive, as we are doing now. We are sitting on the defensive in this country. I shall come to the North African affair in a moment. In the meantime we are allowing the enemy to transfer divisions from the West to the East. I would ask your Lordships' particular attention to this matter. On 15th February (this month) the official Soviet Information Bureau, which I suppose is as reliable as our own Ministry of Information and which corresponds to the Ministry of Information there, gave the enemy's numbers as 19 divisions and 3 Panzer divisions sent to the Russian Front in the last two months. Eleven came from Germany, 11 from France, Belgian and Norway. Three of those were picked S.S. divisions, the flower of the German Army, one of these was an S.S. Panzer division. Those 3 S.S. divisions formed part of the Kharkov garrison. Those three S.S. divisions which were finally destroyed at Kharkov by the Red Army had arrived in Kharkov from Western Europe in the last few weeks, and two had arrived in Kharkov during February.

Take the second alternative. Suppose the Red Armies are able to invade Germany, probably through East Prussia, which is the nearest Province, and it is not a very great distance away, and dictate peace terms. The Germans may collapse and surrender to the Russians in the East. To the subsequent conference we and our Allies no doubt should be invited out of courtesy, and in accordance with the Anglo-Soviet Treaty, but we should be very junior partners; we should be rather like the Labour Ministers in the present War Cabinet. Or take a third alternative. The Germans—and this is not to be put aside as impossible—may make a successful stand on the Dneister, or one of the other river lines and then, with their communication lines shortened and our Russian Allies' communication lines lengthened, they may be able to mount a new Eastern offensive which Goebbels has boasted about. Lord Beaverbrook referred to the openly made statements of the intention of the Germans to open a new offensive made by Goebbels and Goering, the second and third most important members of the Nazi gangsters. When will that be? Lord Beaverbook suggests June. I suggest July. Shall we have made our great impression by landing on the Continent by July? We are now nearing the end of February.

I see a very dangerous argument which has appeared in the columns of certain very influential newspapers, and it is that we must clear the last German out of Africa before we open a Second Front in Europe. I was going to suggest that the African Front, though very important, was never more than a side show, and its weakness, as Lord Beaverbrook has suggested, is the length and inadequacy of the communications: the length of the sea communications and the badness of the land communications. Our strategy, as soon as we have accumulated and got ready the troops and munitions—and surely we have them by this time—is presumably to strike along the shortest lines of communications and where we shall get the greatest support from the local inhabitants. We have not got full support from the local people in Africa. We have some support but we have not got unanimous support. We shall have a great deal more support on the Continent of Europe where they have first-hand experience of German tyranny. I presume we have worked out a modern technique for overcoming fixed coastal defences. I was delighted to hear Lord Beaverbrook draw attention to the obsolete methods, as he called them, attempted at Dieppe. That was a very gallant and finely executed attack, but except that the barges were driven by motors instead of by muffled oars it was technically of the same period, the same age, as the great exploits of Cochrane, Nelson and the other gallant Admirals of the Napoleonic era. Obviously we have now something ready which is better than that. This is what I am afraid I must confess is what disturbs me most to-day and ought to disturb the members of the Government. Every month of delay means more and more destruction of European culture. Every further delay of a month that allows these brutes to dominate in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Western Europe means more and more of the future leaders of the European renaissance, which must come, being slaughtered. "Wait till everything is ready; be cautious; it is dangerous to take the offensive yet." That has been the policy in the past. What is certain is that there will be little of European civilization to save if there is much more delay. I believe, my Lords, that we missed an opportunity of finishing the war much more quickly when we failed to strike last winter. We know now, and I presume the War Office knew then, with their admirable intelligence services, that the German Army was within an ace of collapse. It has been admitted since last winter that the German Army was in a terrible plight. If we had struck then I believe we should have shortened the war immensely. Well, we have a second opportunity, a great opportunity now, and I presume the Government are going to take advantage of it. I will give them all praise when they do and if there are set-backs and disappointments they will have no stouter defender than myself; but what we will not forgive is over-caution which may throw away this great chance. The gods deal hardly with those who err twice.


My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches have asked me to express very briefly their point of view on the Motion that has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, and I think this is perhaps necessary because my noble friend Lord Strabolgi has made it perfectly plain that he is speaking for himself and for himself alone. We share the noble Lord's admiration for the achievements of the Red Army and we are no less anxious than he is for the maximum assistance to be afforded at a suitable moment.


My noble friend does not want, I am sure, in any way to misrepresent me. I speak for myself perhaps on these Benches, but I do speak for a large section of the Labour Party.




I have no desire to misrepresent my noble friend. I merely wish to make it plain that he is not speaking for the members of the Labour Party in this House, and I venture to say that he is not representing, at any rate the predominant view in the Labour Party as a whole. I was venturing to remark that, while we welcome and share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, on the subject of Russia and on the subject of the need for assistance, it is fairly plain that these views are shared by every member of your Lordships' House. They were expressed by the noble Lord himself in this Chamber only a very few weeks ago. We maintain that the subject of the Second Front is not one that should be raised publicly in the House, and we would venture to express the view that the noble Lord is doing a positive disservice to the country by raising it. There are two alternatives, either of which the Government can take and either of which is bound to be a handicap to our war effort. Either they can provide a full and detailed answer about our strategical and tactical intentions, which means giving exactly the information that the Axis Powers require, or they can merely indulge in vague generalities which are an encouragement to the Axis, and are bound to discourage our Allies. In either event the Government are placed in a position in which their reply can only do harm and we very sincerely regret that the subject should have been raised by the noble Lord in public debate.


My Lords, whatever may be said about the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook's choice of a subject and whatever may be thought of the occasion on which he chooses to bring it forward, we shall all recognize that he sets us a good example in the directness of his speech and in the comparative brevity of his contribution. I will try on this occasion to imitate his brevity and he must not mind if I also imitate his directness. This Motion for Papers raises a discussion on the urgent need for a Second Front in Europe. I take the view which has just been expressed by the noble Earl who spoke from the front Opposition Bench. I cannot think that to initiate a discussion on this subject at present is well-timed. If we were to go in for some of the discussion which my noble friend initiated as to where the attack can most suitably be made, what are the arguments for this or that, the discussion would become absolutely dangerous. On behalf of the Government I have to say that I do not intend to say one single word on that subject at all. Therefore I shall find no difficulty in being brief.

It is only three weeks ago that the noble Lord in the debate to which the last speaker referred urged upon us the claims which the gallant Russians had on all the help we can give them in the provision of aircraft and tanks. I noticed that in the course of his speech, so far from adducing facts in support of a Second Front, he began to argue against it. After having described in very suitable terms what the Russians had done—and humanity is indeed under an unpayable debt to them in respect of it—he went on to say: What can we do to help the Russians? There is one thing perhaps we can do and that would be to send them some of the bombing power that we are now expending upon Germany … But, my Lords, the bombing of Germany is in the nature of a Second Front. That is one of the main reasons why we are bombing Germany, and the effect of it can be gathered from the reports received. That was what the noble Lord said only three weeks ago. He went further and he said this: There is a great deal of talk about attacking Germany in the 'soft belly,' as I think it is called. That was intended to indicate the North of the Mediterranean. "Surely," said my noble friend three weeks ago, the 'soft belly' of Germany is somewhere on the Russian Front. That is the best soft belly to penetrate rather than to think too much about Italy. Is that an argument in favour of the Second Front? Only three weeks ago my noble friend in his zeal, which I admire, to send help to Russia, was really against the very views he has advocated in your Lordships' House to-day.

I think myself and I would urge all serious-minded people to consider that this use of the words "Second Front"—a catchpenny phrase—is seriously misleading. It seems to suggest that we are in a situation where warfare goes on between two parallel lines of troops trying to overcome one another. Is it really a fair view of our part in this war to say that none of the brunt has fallen upon us and that we have never undertaken operations which are in the nature of a Second Front? What is the noble Lord's view of the operations of the Royal Navy since the war began? I should have thought that was a direct operation in the nature of a Second Front, because it tends to take off the strain from those who are so heavily assailed. Then the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, emphasizes that after three years warfare in Africa the Germans are there in greater numbers than ever. Does not that show that operations which are going on in Africa are drawing the German Army away from Europe? Let us consider air warfare. It may seem difficult to talk about a Second Front in the case of the air, but it is related to it. Does my noble friend realize that during last summer the operations of our own Air Force combined with the American Air Force in Western Europe kept engaged 50 per cent. of the total fighting air strength of Germany? Is not that giving relief to those who otherwise would have been left to bear the burden alone? And since then, as I am informed, it would be true to say that our operations in Western Europe in the air have not only occupied 50 per cent. of the fighting force but 50 per cent. of the whole force of the German air machine. It may be very suitable for a phrase but if we consider the realities of the war is it reasonable to treat the action of this country in the past as if we had failed to do our utmost to raise what is the equivalent of a Second Front—a series of diversions and counter-attractions and counter-dangers of the most formidable kind, which in point of fact have operated all the time to the defeat of our common enemy?

I very much regret that my noble friend should give currency to the other idea. It is nearly as regrettable as was his sentence to-day when he said that the public took the view that the fear of the U-boat menace was disposed of early in 1942. What are the instructors of public opinions doing with their great organs of influence? Why do they not print at any rate the statement made by the Prime Minister only a fortnight ago when he gave an account of the Casablanca Conference and said that this U-boat warfare takes the first place in our thoughts? To say that the public believe the U-boat menace has passed from us is palpably contrary to the fact. The public are perfectly well aware that there is a tremendous task before them. It is not true that British people think that they can sit back rejoicing in the prodigious valour of the Russians without being obliged to share the burden themselves. Ask any household which has members taking part in the war. Tell that to the woman whose husband is a merchant seaman helping to carry supplies to Russia. She does not think so. Nobody thinks so.

That argument is really put forward merely for the purpose of suggesting, I believe without reasonable justification, that there must be a criticism now started of the policy and strategy of the United Nations. I do not believe that is justified. It encourages a complaint that we have failed in our efforts when in point of fact we have not failed. For a whole twelve months we faced the enemy single-handed. There was no Second Front for us at that time. We acknowledge in the fullest way the immense achievements of our Russian Allies, but though those of us who were able to attend the celebrations at the Albert Hall or elsewhere were deeply moved by those demonstrations, I do not think they went to indicate that the British people thought they had no part of the task to carry on their own shoulders. I wonder whether my noble friend was in the Albert Hall. If he was, he would have known there was the fullest acknowledgment of the heroic efforts which are being made by the Russians, whole-hearted rejoicing, unlimited satisfaction. If he wants to know what called forth the biggest cheer I will tell him. The biggest cheer in the Albert Hall was for the merchant seamen who have been carrying these very supplies in such fearful danger in order to help our Russian Allies.

I really do not think that this debate need be prolonged. The situation is an exceedingly simple one and it has been made abundantly clear by the Casablanca Conference. I do not know whether my noble friend's objection to Committees leads him to pour contempt even upon the Casa- blanca Conference. I gather from my noble friend Lord Strabolgi that his feeling is that in the matter of discussing strategy all men are equal. I confess that I cannot take that view. I think that these technical matters must be left to the best people we can find to decide them. What I do know is that after the Casablanca Conference the Prime Minister stated in terms that the dominating aim which we had set before ourselves was to engage the enemies' forces on land and sea, and in the air, "on the largest possible scale, and at the earliest possible moment." I ask noble Lords, respectfully, do they accept that and do they believe it? If my noble friend who moved this Motion believes it, I do not know why this Motion should have been brought on at this particular moment. Are there, in this House, some members who are in a position to discuss, in public, these questions of strategy, the precise way and time in which steps against the enemy should be taken by the United Nations? I do not think so. I hope that as the result of this debate your Lordships will take it upon yourselves to do all in your power to help to get rid of what are mere slogans based really on ill-informed clamour, and that you will not hesitate to denounce any influences which may have resulted from the setting up of that clamour.

I suggest further that we ought to put some trust in the people who act as our advisers. As we have been told by the Prime Minister, "a plan has been made for the future," and in this situation can anyone, in the knowledge that we have now a complete plan of action, presume to say publicly in what way the movements, which have been projected in this plan, are going to be carried out? The Prime Minister has said: We have now a complete plan of action, which comprises the apportionment of Forces as well as their direction, and the weight of the particular movements which have been decided upon and this plan we are going to carry out according to our ability during the next nine months, before the end of which we shall certainly make efforts to meet again. Surely there cannot be any member of your Lordships' House who, with that declaration in mind, will now get up and ask the Government to say what the plan is, what is the date of attack, and what is the point of attack. That, I am sure, nobody would wish to do. If there be some amongst us who wish to explain their own views as to how things should be done, well, this is a free country and everyone is entitled to say what he likes—certainly in the House of Lords. But I submit that this is not a subject which should occupy your Lordships' attention further.


My Lords, the Lord Chancellor is a master of distortion. He begins by telling us that I said that the U-boat menace had been dealt with in 1942. I said nothing of the sort. I said that in 1940 we believed that the U-boat menace had been dealt with. We did so believe. I got my information from the House of Commons. In 1939 or in the early part of 1940, a statement was made that we had overcome the U-boat menace; that we had learnt how to deal with it. Now the Lord Chancellor comes here today, fastens on a date in 1942, lawyer-like makes a great fuss about it, and thus manages to hold me up to ridicule or contempt, which he has no right to do. The facts did not justify him doing anything of the sort. Most certainly the Lord Chancellor made a slip in stating that I have been inconsistent in my attitude. I have never been inconsistent in these matters, and the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack knows it. He knows that there has been no inconsistency in my attitude in respect of this matter which we are discussing to-day. He knows that I have always been saying the same thing; yet he holds me up to scorn because he says that I have been inconsistent. He seizes on one or two quotations from speeches that I have made here, and he puts interpretations on them which they will not bear at all.

He suggests that I would be happy, pleased and entirely satisfied with our efforts on behalf of Russia if I went to a demonstration at the Albert Hall. Demonstrations of that sort may be a good way to help the Russian cause, which is our cause, but I take a different view. I am delighted to see that the Parties are all working together again after their recent disagreement. They were quite united in their expressions of dissatisfaction and discontent at the Motion which I have put forward here to-day. Well the Motion will do no harm; it will do a great deal of good. Everything depends upon the character of the Motion which is raised in this House. If it happens to be a Motion relating to bombing Germany from the air, then that it quite all right. But if it happens to be the bomb-shelling of Germany from the land, it is all wrong. Lord Trenchard has proclaimed publicly that it is better to bomb Germany than to send aid to Russia. He believes that bombing Germany from the air will win the war. He has told us so in many speeches which he has made, and in many articles which he has written. Let him not be ungrateful to the Press, for they print plenty of his articles. In fact, I suspect that sometimes when he makes a speech it is at once dispatched to one of the newspapers to serve as an article. He is a most powerful propagandist and it is all the more lamentable therefore that such an expert in that art should base his propaganda on such bad advice.

Long ago he was proved wrong. Before the war he gloried publicly in our air arm, and that was at a time when, as he knows, we did not possess an air arm. Two and a half years later he acknowledged his own folly. None the less he continues to give advice on strategy, but he does not at all approve of others doing the same thing. When newspapers are advising the bombing of Germany by land in the form of a Second Front he calls it criminal. I heard cheers from my noble friend Lord Southwood. Has his newspaper advised a Second Front? I think so, but his Lordship apparently subscribes to the opposite view. He appears to support the belief expressed by Lord Trenchard that the newspapers, at least some of them, have no sense of responsibility. So we get the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, advising the Government to bomb Germany from the air and deploring suggestions to the Government to bomb Germany from the land. He has two programmes, has the noble Lord; one is to bomb Germany from the air, and the other is to get after the Admirals.

I claim, my Lords, that we all have a right and a duty to discuss these subjects. It is our task to inform ourselves by debate and discussion and to make the position clear to the whole public. That is our task. War doctrine should be the constant purpose of every citizen. The more that we discuss war doctrine; the more that we decide among ourselves upon the course and direction that the war should take, the more certainly shall we give valiant service to our own war effort.

If this war is to be wrapt in mystery, if we are not to be encouraged to discuss it in public, then, of course, it will become a war of the experts, and it will not be in the hearts of the people. It is our duty to see that the war comes first in the bosoms of all our citizens, and we can achieve that purpose only by frankly discussing and openly debating the subjects which are brought up in this House. It is a regret to me to-day that the subject brought up in such moderate terms by me should have been distorted from the Woolsack. It is a matter of regret to me that the impression should be given that I made any reflection at all on the prowess of British Forces. I did no such thing. Your Lordships will hear me out when I remind you that the speech which I made to-day did not contain the slightest implication or the least suggestion of any failure in duty or want of effort or strength or force in the conduct of the war by any portion of the British units engaged in it. I am now in the unhappy predicament once more of having to ask leave to withdraw my Motion. I have not yet discovered a way round that; but I must say that it is my hope that, as a war effort, among other things, I shall be able in the course of time to bring a greater sense of reality into some of the discussions which take place in this House. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.