Thursday, April 20, 2000

History of the Second World War

B. H. Liddell Hart
1970


Part III

THE SURGE

The Overrunning of Norway

{p. 52} The dream-castles raised by Churchill had come tumbling down. They had been built on a basic misconception of the situation, and of the changes in modern warfare—particularly the effect of airpower on seapower.

There had been more reality and significance in his closing words when, after depicting Norway as a trap for Hitler, he spoke of the German invasion as a step into which Hitler had 'been provoked'. For the most startling of all post-war discoveries about the campaign has been the fact that Hitler, despite all his unscrupulousness, would have preferred to keep Norway neutral, and did not plan to invade her until; he was provoked to do so by the palpable signs that the Allies were planning a hostile move in that quarter.

It is fascinating to trace the sequence of events behind the scenes on either side—though tragic and horrifying to see how violently offensive-minded statesmen tend to react on one another to produce explosions of destructive force. The first clear step on either side was on September 19, 1939 when Churchill (as his memoirs record) pressed on the British Cabinet the project of laying a minefield 'in Norwegian territorial waters' and thus 'stopping the Norwegian transportation of Swedish iron-ore from Narvik' to Germany. He argued that such a step would be 'of the highest importance to crippling the enemy's war industry'. According to his subsequent note to the First Sea
{p. 53} Lord: 'The Cabinet, including the Foreign Secretary [Lord Halifax], appeared strongly favourable to this action.'

This is rather surprising to learn, and suggests that the Cabinet were inclined to favour the end without carefully considering the means—or where they might lead…

The Foreign Office staff exerted a restraining influence, however, and made the Cabinet see the objections to violating Norway’s neutrality as proposed. Churchill mournfully records: ‘The Foreign Office arguments about neutrality were weighty, and I could not prevail. I continued … to pass my point be every means and on all occasions.’* It became a subject of discussion in widening circles, and arguments in its favour were even canvassed in the Press. That was just the way to arouse German anxiety and countermeasures.


A fresh and much stronger incitement, to both side, arose out of the Russian invasion of Finland at the end of November. Churchill saw in it a new possibility of striking at Germany’s flank under the cloak of aid to Finland: ‘I welcomed this new favourable breeze as a means of achieving the major strategic advantage of cutting off the vital iron-ore supplies of Germany.’ †

In a note of December 16 he marshaled all his arguments for this step,

* Churchill: The Second World War, vol. I, p. 483.
ibid, p. 489.

{p. 54} which he described as ‘a major offensive operation’. He recognized that it was likely to drive the Germans to invade Scandanavia for, as he said: ‘If you fire at the enemy he will fire back.’ But he went on to assert ‘we have more to gain than to lose by a German attack upon Norway and Sweden’. (He omitted any consideration of what the Scandanavian peoples would suffer from having their countries thus turned into a battleground.)

Most of the Cabinet still had qualms about violating Norway’s neutrality. Despite Churchill’s powerful pleading they refrained from sanctioning the immediate execution of his project. But they authorized the Chiefs of Staff to plan for landing a force at Narvik’—which was the terminus of the railway leading to the Gällivare ironfields in Sweden, and thence into Finland. While aid to Finland was the ostensible purpose of such an expedition, the underlying and major purpose would be the domination of the Swedish ironfields.


Raeder persuaded Hitler to see Quisling personally, and they met on December 16 and 18. The record of their talk shows that Hitler said ‘he would prefer Norway, as well as the rest of Scandinavia, to remain completely neutral’, as he did not want to ‘enlarge the theatre of war’. But ‘if the enemy were preparing to spread the war he would take steps to guard himself against the threat’…


{p. 56} …The records of Raeder’s conferences with Hitler show that Hitler was still torn between his conviction that ‘the maintenance of Norway’s neutrality is the best thing’ for Germany and his fear of an imminent British landing there…


…On Februaury 21 Daladier urged that the Altmark affair should be used as a pretext for the ‘immediate seizure’ of the Norwegian ports ‘by a sudden stroke’. Daladier argued: ‘Its justification in the eyes of world public opinion will be more easy the more rapidly the operation is carried out and the more our propaganda is able to exploit the memory of the recent complicity of Norway in the Altmark incident’—a way of talking which was remarkably like Hitler’s. The French
{p. 57} Government’s proposal was viewed with some doubt in London, as the expeditionary forces were not ready and Chamberlain still hoped that the Norwegian and Swedish Governments would agree to the entry of Allied troops.

At the meeting of the War Cabinet on March 8, however, Churchill unfolded a scheme of arriving in force off Narvik and throwing a detachment of troops ashore immediately—on the principle of ‘displaying strength in order to avoid having to use it’. At a further meeting in the 12th the Cabinet ‘decided to revive the plans’ for landings at Trondheim, Stavanger, and Bergen as well as Narvik.

The force landed at Narvik was to push rapidly inland and over the Swedish frontier to the Gällivare ironfield. Everything was to be ready for putting the plans into execution on March 20.

But the plans were upset by Finland’s military collapse and her capitulation to Russia on March 13—which deprived the Allies of the primary pretext for going into Norway. In the first reaction to the cold douche, two divisions which had been allotted for the Norway force were sent to France, though the equivalent of one division remained as Prime Minister of France Paul Reynaud—who came to power on the surge of a demand for a more offensive policy and quicker action. Reynaud went to London for a meeting of the Allied Supreme War Council, on march 28, determined to press for the immediate execution of the Norwegian project that Churchill had so long been urging.


{p. 57} It was settled that the mining of Norwegian waters should be carried out on April 5, and be backed by the landing of forces at Narvik, Trondhiem, Bergen, and Stavanger. The first contingent of troops was to sail, for Narvik, on the 8th. But then a fresh delay arose. The French War Committee would not agree to the dropping of mines in the Rhine lest it should bring German retaliation ‘which would fall upon France’. They showed no such concern
{p. 58}about the retaliation that would fall upon Norway…


One of the most questionable points of the Nuremberg Trials was that the
{p. 59} planning and execution of aggression against Norway was put among the major charges against the Germans. It is hard to understand how the British and French Governments had the face to approve the inclusion of this charge, or how the official prosecutors could press for a conviction on this score. Such a course was one of the most palpable cases of hypocrisy in history.



Part IX

EPILOGUE

{p. 706} In reality, there was no prospect of France and Britain ever being able, alone, to develop the strength required to overcome Germany. Their best hope, now that Germany and Russia faced each other on a common border, was that friction would develop between these two mutually distrustful confederates, and draw Hitler's explosive force eastward, instead of westward. that happened a year later, and might well have happened earlier of the Western Allies had not been impatient—as is the way of democracies.

Their loud and threatening talk of attacking Germany's flanks spurred Hitler to forestall them. His first stroke was to occupy Norway. The captured records of his conferences show that until 1940, he still considered 'the maintenance of Norway's neutrality to be the best course' for Germany, but that in February he came to the conclusion that 'the English intend to land there, and I want to be there before them'. A small German invading force arrived there on April 9, upsetting the British plans for gaining control of that neutral area—and captured the chief ports while the Norwegians' attention was absorbed by the British naval advance into Norwegian waters.

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