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In Britain the ruling elite were similarly embattled, facing down challenges from the working class and demands for greater democracy. Looking across to Europe many establishment figures identified readily with the fascist struggle against the left. In 1927 after a visit to Mussolini, Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer said ‘Had I been Italian, I am sure that I would have been with you … in opposition to the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism’.20 It was Churchill, wrote his cousin Claire Sheridan, ‘who is talked of as the likely leader of a Fascisti party in England’. 21 Churchill said of Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf that ‘the story of that struggle cannot be read without admiration’.22 Churchill’s views of Communism were close to Hitler’s. As Home Secretary Churchill used troops to kill two revolutionaries in the ‘siege of Sidney Street’ in January 1911 he used troops to break up strikes at Newport Docks in May 1910, at Tonypandy 9 November 1910, and at Liverpool docks in August 1911, when he anchored the warship Antrim in the Mersey. During the 1926 General Strike Churchill established military control of the country, including a government newspaper, the British Gazette.
Though Bevin’s loyal and respectable Labour movement was kept at arm’s length by the National Government in the 1930s, it would turn out to be the factor that gave Churchill’s government the advantage over Hitler in the 1940s. ‘I have to ask you,’ Bevin told trade union delegates in May 1940, ‘virtually to place yourselves at the disposal of the state’.27 It was Bevin’s sacrifice of labour’s interests to the greater good that made the ‘People’s War against Fascism’ a plausible ideological appeal.
On 27 February 1939 Neville Chamberlain recognised the ‘nationalist’ government of Francisco Franco, installed after three years of military rebellion against the centre-left government elected in 1936. Spain joined the list of dictatorships created to frustrate popular
Admiral Horthy’s created in Hungary in 1919, Mussolini’s from 1922, General Pilsudski’s in Poland and Salazar’s in Portugal from 1926, King Alexander’s dictatorship in Yugoslavia from 1929, King Carol II’s in Romania from 1930 Hitler’s from 1933, General Metaxas’ in Greece, (formed to break a general strike) in 1935.
What the democracies and the dictatorships had in common was that they had channelled popular aspirations into nationalist and militarist movements. Even where voting was not suspended, the political process was more and more focussed on the assertion of national status through military strength. Nationalism displaced socialism as the voters were asked to identify not with class but country. The claims of the working classes to a greater share of the national wealth, and a greater say in the governing of the land were subdued in the name of a supposedly greater glory, the nation. Next to the nation, it was claimed, the demands of organised labour were merely sectional. Party politics, where left and right fought out their quarrels in constituent assemblies, was seen as a divisive distraction from national greatness, that would dissipate that power. Nationalism was an ideology that overrode the movement towards socialism, but it was one that set in train yet more dangerous aspirations in Italy, Japan and Germany. Having cranked up their supporters to expect great victories for the nation, elites would be expected to deliver on those promises.
In Britain heightened national identification made Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Germany unpopular.
Chapter Fourteen Blitzkrieg – The German Invasion of Europe In the 1930s military strategists General Charles de Gaulle of France, Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the Soviet Union and J.F.C. Fuller1 and Basil Liddell Hart in Britain developed a theory of motorised warfare that argued for a much greater emphasis on tanks, with motorised support breaking through enemy lines, in contrast to the slow attrition of trench warfare. After the war it was often claimed that German General Heinz Guderian had used De Gaulle and Liddell Hart’s doctrine to plan the invasion of Germany’s European neighbours. Guderian wrote about the doctrine in his book Achtung Panzer (1937). In a later work Guderian described the theory I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance. My historical studies; the exercises carried out in England and our own experience with mock-ups had persuaded me that the tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross-country performance. In such formation of all arms, the tanks must play primary role, the other weapons being subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to fight with full effect.2 Armoured, or Panzer Divisions were set up in the German army and, backed up by aerial bombardment of enemy positions, played a decisive role in the invasion of western Poland, between 1 and 19 September 1939; and again in the invasion of both Holland and Belgium between 10 and 15 May 1940; and of France between 13 and 26 May, when the tank divisions famously by-passed the supposedly impregnable underground fortresses of the French ‘Maginot Line’. The style of warfare became known as Blitzkrieg, or ‘lightning strike’.
On one level the way that the internal combustion engine changed warfare is uncontroversial. On another, just how important motorised warfare was to German military strategy has been questioned since. Military historican Victor Madej points out that ‘Germany accomplished what it did with an army that was about 75 per cent horse-drawn’.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey undertaken after the war found that Germany’s motor industry had not been integrated into the country’s military to any great extent.3 Whatever the operational importance of motorisation, the idea of the Blitzkrieg mystified the real nature of the invasion of western Europe. Blitzkrieg summons up a vision of Germany’s overwhelming industrial-military might, before which an unprepared Europe was powerless. That is an account that seems to help explain how ‘the military conquest of large parts of Europe had taken place with relative, surprising ease’. ‘In the first two years of the World War, the well-greased German military machine seemed almost unconquerable’, according to the Danish resister and historian Jørgen Hæstrup.4 But it was not the wellgreased military machine, or the Panzer-driven blitzkrieg that was the real reason for Germany’s initial successes.
The German occupation of central and western Europe succeeded in 1939-40 because it was not just an invasion from the outside, but one that found an echo in the countries invaded. There were outright collaborators in France, and some in Holland and Norway too;
and among the governing classes in Holland and Austria, there was so much shared ideology with the National Socialist revolution, that they found it difficult to object to occupation. As well as a German occupation, the invasion supported the ascendance of reactionary politicians in France, Belgium, Holland and Norway, and to the east in Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia, and the Ukraine. For many of the occupied countries, the German invasion was a continuation of the wave of reaction that swept over much of the rest of Europe. ‘A merciless civil war was added to the war between the occupiers and occupied’, as resistance historian Henri Michel put it.5 Put another way, the National Socialist revolution in Europe was ‘the same revolution’, said Goebbels, ‘which we have accomplished on a smaller scale in Germany’.6 Germany ran France with the aid of just 6000 military and civil police, and Norway with 806 administrative personnel, while the Dutch police were the bulwark of the occupation of the Netherlands.7 Things were different to the east. In Poland, by contrast, there would be no room at all for local collaborators. ‘Certain high-ranking Polish aristocrats and well-known intellectuals offered their services’, says resistance historian Henri Michel, but were snubbed by Hitler, for whom Poland ‘ceased to exist’.8 The further east the Reich extended, the more uncompromising its rule was, but in western Europe, Nazi authority rested on indigenous reactionary movements as well as military might.
Austria’s incorporation into the German Reich in 1938 was not achieved by invasion, but the threat of invasion persuaded Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Shuschnigg to resign and accept the ‘anschluss’ – or ‘link up’ between the two German speaking states. Already in an agreement with Berlin in July 1936 Schuschnigg had given up many of his nation’s rights, notably to an independent foreign policy, and the appointment of the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart to the ministry of the interior. Hitler’s claim to Austria was put in terms of the rights of ten million Germans artificially cut off from the Reich by the settlement at Versailles, which forbade union. In 1939 Cordell Hull at the US State Department made it clear that ‘the Government of the United States recognizes that Austria has ceased to exist as an independent state and has been incorporated in the the German Reich’. British Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson had made it clear too ‘the German government that England would make no objection if Hitler seized Austria’.9 Austrian resistance to the Anschluss was unlikely – not just because the ethnic German population wanted union with Germany – but also because Schuschnigg, and his predecessor Engelbert Dollfuss had prepared the way with a National Socialist-style revolution of their own. As his own dictatorship so closely paralleled Hitler’s Dollfuss struggled to make the case for Austria’s distinctiveness. Still the Austrian dictator insisted that he was a follower of Mussolini’s model, and likened Hitler’s National Socialism more to Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union – a pedantic difference that eluded many. The contest between these rival German fascisms was always unequal and despite being outlawed, the Austrian Nazi Party inaugurated its own terror campaign, culminating in the assassination of Dollfuss on 25 July 1934. Dollfuss’ successor Schuschnigg struggled to insist on his country’s independence, but the force that could have stood up to Hitler in 1938 had been already destroyed by the Austrian Fascist movement in 1934. Anschluss went ahead with astonishing success, but then it was only a matter of putting the icing on a cake that had already been baked. Incorporation of Austria into the Reich caused few difficulties. In November of 1938 after the Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath was assassinated assassinated by Herschel Grynszpan, Germany erupted in a government-organised campaign of attacks on Jews’ houses and businesses, known as ‘Kristallnacht’ (the night of broken glass). The campaign was particularly enthusiastically taken up in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Most of Vienna’s 94 synagogues and prayer-houses were partially or totally destroyed. People were made to scrub the pavements whilst being jeered by their Austrians neighbours.
The Netherlands Union
Overrun in five days, the Netherlands lost 2192 soldiers and sailors, and 2559 civilians.
As terrible as those deaths were, the relatively lesser total showed both that the Dutch had invested their hopes not in military preparedness, but on a policy of non-alignment, and also that the Germans saw the Dutch (like the Norwegians and the Danes) as ‘sister Germanic peoples’ in a Greater German Reich. Queen Wilhelmina left for London on 13 May 1940, followed by her Ministers, who left civil servants instructions to carry on their offices under the occupation as best they could. Before long, though, the political vacuum was filled with the founding of the Netherlands Union.