Editorial – Ebb and Flow

20 December 1941

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 20 December 1941

Ebb and Flow

The fortunes of war swing and sway. In Russia dread gives way to hope; in Libya we are slowly pressing back fierce and formidable enemy—the ablest that has yet appeared against us; in the Pacific, and particularly in Malaya, anxiety deepens.

The Anglo-American forces will not soon recover from the foul blows they have received. It is idle to complain of Japanese treachery — Japan could not have ventured to challenge the naval might of Britain and America without reliance on initial successes that could only be won by foul means. A formal and honourable declaration of war and an invitation to fight it out at an appointed rendezvous on an agreed date, was certainly not to be expected of Japan; yet the Pearl Harbour disaster was only possible on the hypothesis that Japan would not attack without warning. After all the Japanese gave abundant and eloquent warning by word and deed of their intention to strike. The warning went unheeded by those whose first duty it was to be prepared, and the consequences for the cause of democracy have been deplorable. The mischief will be remedied and repaired slowly and at great cost.

As to the destruction of the British capital ships, it is difficult to see how the British admiral could have foreseen and correctly assessed the terrible danger to these ships and in any case he had a job to do there and then, whatever the hazard. We know now that the ships should not have ventured without air protection, but they were powerfully armed against aerial attack and though Taranto and Crete should have reminded us of the importance of local air supremacy, there was no precedent in this war for the complete destruction of capital ships by aerial attack alone. For the destruction of the “Bismarck” we required many planes and ships co-operating in a mighty hunt over half the Atlantic.

Scores of concentrated aerial attacks on the German pocket battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst and the cruiser, Prinz Eugen, sitting helplessly in dock, had done no more than disable them. Nevertheless our ships were lost and our naval dispositions deranged by the loss just as the American Fleet attacked in its main Pacific base was “put off its game.” The result of these misfortunes we see in the numerous landings that the Japanese have been able to effect in the Philippine and Malayan islands. It is as if the natural body defences by an unlucky accident were checked at the moment when they should have been rushing to the destruction of invading germs. If the Pacific war had started fair, with the British and American Fleets deployed under a united command, it is hardly conceivable that the Japanese could so quickly have gained so many footholds at vital strategic points. The immediate task is to hold them until the naval situation has been restored.

At present the land forces must do all — and more than all—that they are in garrison to do, until the full Allied strength can be gathered and the enemy brought to battle under conditions where skill for skill in the light of day will determine the issue.

Our great strongholds, Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila, are faced with a severe ordeal and will carry a terrible responsibility while the harm that has been done is being painfully undone and the yellow grip loosened.

Meanwhile the definite defeat of the German offensive against Moscow is established, and that is glorious news. Hitler, for the first time, is faced with major defeat on a major issue. He has failed in a ruinous gamble and has the frightful problem stabilising his line and inducing his troops to hold it through a Russian winter in the face of vengeful hosts reformed, re-equipped and filled with hate and resolution. He has to justify this catastrophic failure to the doped and duped German people and is already warning them, with the usual menaces, against spreading alarm and despondency or wavering in their fanatical faith in Hitler’s star.

The turn of events in Russia may yet be decisive, for it is certain that whatever happens elsewhere the war must be ended by the defeat of Germany in Europe. That victory won, all else shall be added to it, and the collapse of Germany’s puppets, great and small, and the liberation of Germany’s slaves will quickly follow.

Let us therefore concentrate always on the main enemy and suffer nothing to divert us from unceasing toil and struggle against him. Let us not worry about the last enemy that shall be destroyed —Germany must be the first. There is the root of the abscess, and there is the foul poison which will destroy the world unless it is drained away.

Russia has striven mightily and has nobly begun the work of demolishing this horrible thing. With a great price the Russian resistance has paved the way to restored freedom. German armies have been wrecked, smashed and discredited. The legend of invincibility which has gained for Germany so many effortless victories, has been destroyed. We see in Russia and in Libya that these ironclad robots can be stopped by equal force and that when their arms are struck out of their hands they turn and run like common men. With Germany the day of quick victories is over; it will be so with Japan presently. They have had the smooth and must sooner or later come to the rough.

Japan’s entry and early success have not saved Germany from frustration in Russia. The new war adds to the difficulties and embarrassments of Germany’s enemies at the cost to Germany and Italy of the full belligerency of the United States. Japan’s dastard blows have electrified the lumbering, somnolent form of “Uncle Sam,“ and in the long run will be worth many weeks compression of the crescendo to full war production. The Japanese may have believed that they had a feeble giant to deal with, but in the attempt to knock him out they merely knocked him down and bounced all the nonsense out of him. There is nothing in the situation from which the race that faced and survived Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain need flinch.  We are in good heart and fight on with the growing assurance that our toil, our courage, and our faith will not be in vain.