South Yorkhire Times – Saturday 7 February 1942
We have not yet got accustomed to the terrific pace of this war. In Russia, where giants are locked in a struggle, so intense that we can hear their joints creaking and their muscles cracking, one gets an impression of elemental gradualness. There the great armies seem to move like glaciers and one may follow the struggle for days before realising how fast and how far they have moved. For there, war is on the grand scale, in a major dimension, only to be followed with large-scale maps.
In smaller theatres armies similarly equipped appear to move much more quickly; keypoints are more numerous and interdependent, and progress relatively and perhaps actually more rapid. Libya and Malaya arc examples. We have not yet, even against the Italians, reached Rommel’s standard of speed and decision in attack. His latest riposte must be reckoned among the great military feats of the war, as he himself is undoubtedly one of the captains of the age, a master of desert warfare and a great example of courage and cunning. At Christmas he seemed at his last gasp, but he lives to plague us and we may expect more trouble from him before he is finally corralled.
Whatever egregious military spokesmen may say, we have a task in Libya which will demand more than parity in land, sea, and air strength, and we shall do well to learn quickly the lessons bountifully bestowed on us in that quarter. Auchinleck’s great effort last November undoubtedly forestalled a major stroke against Egypt and we have probably got Rommel’s measure sufficiently to put an end to all possibility of serious invasion, as long as we maintain our present measure of naval control in the Mediterranean. Rommel is “stalling” brilliantly, and is detaining important British forces badly needed elsewhere.
How badly, the appallingly swift evacuation of Malaya shows the Pacific war continues to go ill, and must for a long time to come, but few of us were prepared for the swift abandonment of all attempt to hold a long bridge-head and thus to ease the island of at least the agony of artillery bombardment Presumably no part of the mainland was defensible any further with the forces we have, under the conditions to which they are subject. We have failed so far to give adequate air support to the gallant fellows who have fought so stubbornly for nearly two months in the jungles of Malaya against swarming invader and his deadly dive-bombers.
The fate of Singapore depends on our power to remedy this grievous weakness in time, and to supply sufficient fighter strength to hold the air and therefore the ground. If this can be done, then Singapore can be held against the day when the tide of battle turns. How soon can the Anglo-Americans with their Dutch and Chinese allies muster a force sufficient to stop the racing Japanese, moving with incredible speed and impressive efficiency, from point to point of their audacious war plan? The margin is fine on both sides.
We believe in the final overthrow of the Japanese, but they must be met with something like their own speed and elan it they are not to hamstring us in the Far East and throw us back on to a long-term strategy the implications of which are horrible for the British, American and Dutch communities in the Pacific. The astonishing übiquity of the Japanese on the face of it impressive evidence of strength but it carries the seed of disaster. It has been made possible by temporary naval supremacy; the whole fortune of this desperate enterprise is embarked in a brittle sea-power which must and shall be broken before the Japanese can consolidate themselves on land. The enemy has given enormous hostages to fortune, and has grossly over-estimated his prospects. He cannot indefinitely maintain by sea-power vantage points wrested from nations which have an overwhelming naval superiority. It is true that this superiority cannot at present be brought to bear in the necessary concentration, but it is being rapidly deployed, and the time cannot be far distant when the Japanese Navy will be called upon to put its fortune to the touch, “to win or lose it all.” In the meantime as the American raid on the Marshalls and the Gilberts indicates, we are getting ready to vex and harass him all over the Pacific. The effect of surprise is wearing off and for the Jap the sands of time are running out. He has won the first round and has scored heavily in the second, for the siege of Singapore is in itself a strategic stroke of great importance. But unless he takes Singapore and other keypoints in the East Indies his great gamble has failed.
Meanwhile the Russian advance proceeds inexorably. The Russian winter which has petrified the Nazi offensive has still some weeks to go, and though Hitler talks glibly of a spring offensive the German Army has taken a bad knock. The steadiness of the retirement in the face of intolerable hardship is beyond praise, and worthy of a better cause. The Germans are fighting with the courage of despair. German morale to-day is maintained not by the hope of victory but the necessity to avoid defeat and exposure to retribution and vengeance. These people fight no longer for “lebensraum” but for survival.