Editorial – Britain at Bay

19 April 1941

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 19 April 1941

Britain at Bay

A swift shadow has passed over our military position in North Africa, where the Germans driving with, uncomfortable rapidity from Tripoli, have stripped us of our Libyan gains and with dramatic suddenness restored the threat to Egypt of which the ignominious defeat of Graziani seemed to dispose. With brilliant opportunism the Nazis have taken advantage of the emergency created for us in the Balkans and have countered convoys to Greece with convoys to Tripoli. The Germans have shown here, as in the attack on Norway, how much can be achieved in warfare of this kind by boldness, speed, and readiness to accept and conceal losses.

We are faced at an awkward moment with a highly organised German force formidable not only in itself but as a spear-head for Italian masses and machines. Though we have been caught at a disadvantage our forces have been withdrawn coolly and methodically, without undue loss, and with perfect readiness to give up strongholds rather than allow them, as the Italians did, to become mantraps. Tobruk appears to be an exception to this policy of disentangling our forces from siege positions, but it is not possible to appreciate yet the part allotted to Tobruk in the main action now preparing.

Meanwhile a second large British force mainly supplied from Libya and Egypt, stands on the defensive in Greece, side by side with the gallant Greeks, and so far as can be gathered from scanty and obscure information so far issued this Anglo-Greek line is established from Mount Olympus in the south-east to Florina at the south of the Monastir Gap, and thence west to the Adriatic across the southern half of Albania. This line in some form is meant to hold while within it the counter-offensive is being born.

Further north, Yugoslav resistance to the fierce incisive thrusts of the Nazi armoured columns has been scattered, if not shattered, and the half-mobilised Serbian army reduced to nuisance value while already Yugoslavia is being dismembered by way of making assurance doubly sure.

The unlucky Serbs have paid dearly not only for their courageous defiance of Hitler but for their failure to prepare betimes with the Greeks and the British common measures of defence; the tragedy of the Low Countries enacted over again. From the moment that they abandoned contact with the left wing of the Greek armies they were lost. Nevertheless, such is the nature both of the Serbs and their country, and so strong is the memory of their rehabilitation against the same foe in the last war, that we may expect resistance to continue in Montenegro, Herzogovina, and other parts of Yugoslavia and to break into offensive flame when the British and the Greeks, are able to break through to them.

For the moment, however, in Greece as in North Africa, we have the problem of meeting offensives of great weight, driven home by plane, foot and artillery. In short, to borrow a masterly understatement of Mr. Churchill’s, we may presently expect “hard fighting.” Although the Germans will not find, either in Greece or in Libya, the optimum conditions for the new warfare that they found in France and the Low Countries, they have great resources which they will use with reckless energy, exploiting any and every success with great promptitude and daring. They are now confronting troops which are more than their match in steadiness and stamina, their equal in discipline and training, but not as yet in equipment or numbers, disadvantages offset by the defensive strength of the terrain in which fighting is taking place. We may expect anxious moments when the full strain comes on; we may hope for success both defensively and offensively. “Only be strong and of a good courage, and then thou shalt have good success.”

The Germans are not in the Balkans or in North Africa by their own desire; though they are showing skill, resolution, and efficiency in their new campaign, nothing can disguise the fact that they have been drawn by the incompetence of their ally, from the’ primary theatre of war, where alone final victory is to be won and where very soon it will be quite unattainable. While the Germans turn aside to put together Humpty Dumpty, British defence in the West consolidates, the link with Britain’s arsenal strengthens, and “the sword of retributive justice” is being forged.