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Thoughts about D-day (1)


Whatever Britain's reason might have been for declaring war on Germany in 1939 on the issue of Danzig, and fighting it as a World War instead of a war in defence of Poland, the outcome of the War bore no resemblance to its origin.

There were five major Powers in the world in 1939:  Britain, the USA, Japan, the Soviet Union and Germany.  (Germany had been restored to the status of a major Power through the active collaboration of Britain with Hitler between 1933 and 1938).  And there was a sixth major Power, which one tends to forget:  France.

The reason one tends to forget France is that in 1919 Britain deprived it of the fruits of victory in the Great War and demoralised it.  France had borne the main cost of the 1914 War on Germany and should have become the hegemonic Power in Europe as a consequence.  Britain, however, decided this should not be the case.  There was a contest of wills between the two in 1919 and the early 1920s.  And France was deprived not only of the hegemonic influence which should be the natural result of victory in a Great War, but of the secure frontier against Germany, which was its basic requirement.  Therefore it was demoralised.

Nevertheless Britain intended that France should again bear the main burden of another war on Germany in 1939—a war that could happen only because Britain had subverted France's Continental policy in 1919, and had restored Germany (which it had demonised in 1914-19) to the status of a major Power.

Britain's reliance on demoralised France—on the France which it had demoralised—to do the bulk of the fighting when it decided to demonise Germany for a second time led to the fiasco of 1939-40.  British propaganda in July 1940—and ever since—blamed the fiasco on a Nazi Fifth Column in France which opened the Front to the Germans.

The truth is that neither country had the will to fight—neither Britain which declared war, nor France which seconded its declaration of war.  Having declared war, both stood idly by in September 1939 while the German/Polish War, precipitated by Britain's spurious Guarantee to Poland, ran its course.  They let the declaration of war stand when the Polish state collapsed and the Soviet Union occupied the territory it had lost to Poland in the War of 1920.  During the Winter of 1939-40, while maintaining a formal state of war with Germany, Britain tried to get involved in war with the Soviet Union in Finland.  When that did not work out, Britain set about breaching Norwegian neutrality with the object of stopping trade between Sweden and Germany.

It was only then that Germany responded to the declaration of war on it—having had eight months to consider what to do, while Britain and France did everything but prosecute the war which they had declared.

Britain declared war with the intention that France should fight it.  Having done this once—and been given a salutary lesson on British foreign policy statesmanship—France waited for Britain to lead by example the second time round.  But Britain had no intention of leading by example.  It effectively decided to make war on Germany in March 1939, with the Polish Guarantee, but by May 1940 it had only put a minimal army in the field in France.

After a couple of weeks' fighting it took its army home but refused to call off the War.  The Royal Navy still dominated the seas, and it was used to keep the war going with interventions here and there.  The object was to keep Europe in an unsettled condition and spread the war.

When Britain withdrew its army from France, France made a provisional settlement with Germany, pending a general settlement in which Britain's declaration of war would be called off.  Britain denounced this French action as betrayal.  The British demand seems to have been that France, having declared war on Germany and having been defeated in battle, should launch a general uprising in which warfare by regular armies would be replaced by guerrilla warfare.  When the French decided not to do this, but to accept the outcome of formal battle in the war which they had brought on themselves, an Anglo-French War began within the British war on Germany.


The British war on Germany then took the form of an intervention in the Italian/Greek War, in which the Greeks were doing rather well.

The Greek leader, General Metaxas, had refused the British offer of military support, because it was not needed, and because he saw that it would bring Germany in on the Italian side.  Metaxas had been Chief of Staff in 1915 when Britain demanded that Greece should join it in the war on Turkey, to be rewarded by Turkish territory in Asia Minor.  He had supported the King in maintaining a policy of neutrality.  The Greek neutralists were denounced as German agents.  Britain overthrew the King's Government and installed a Government which declared war on Turkey.  When Turkey was defeated and the Greeks embarked on the conquest of Asia Minor, they came up against Ataturk's national resistance, were abandoned by the British who had incited them to this war of conquest, and were driven back to the sea, with catastrophic consequences for the old Greek cities in Asia Minor.

In 1940 General Metaxas was the Greek leader.  His Government has been called a dictatorship.  And he has been described as a Fascist.  He was at any rate a competent soldier and an experienced politician who knew how to calculate realities.  He refused British support on the ground that it would merge his local war with Italy into Britain's war with Germany—which, of course, was Britain's object.

But Metaxas died early in 1941.  His successor succumbed to British pressure.  The Greek/Italian War was submerged into Britain's World War, with catastrophic consequences for Greece both during and after that War.  And it also led to the break-up of Yugoslavia and the alliance of Croatia with Germany against Serbia.

Britain could not allow the Italian/Greek War to be a local war to be settled by arbitration in the light of military facts, in the traditional way.  It needed to bind it into its war on Germany, which it had never been willing to fight by direct action against Germany.

Britain's war began to be called a War on Fascism, but it never became so in fact.  And the Greek/Italian War was particularly unsuitable for characterisation as an anti-Fascist War, since it was a war between fascist states.  It was also a war which had roots in British duplicity in the Great War.  Both Greece and Italy were allies of Britain in the Great War, the Greeks having been forced into the British alliance by invasion and the Italians lured into it by lavish promises of Austrian territory.  Neither got what it was promised, so there were matters to be sorted out between them.