Wednesday, 5 October 1938

SERIOUS GAPS IN DEFENCES / Sir T. Inskip's 'System Must be Improved' / PLEDGE TO DEFEND CZECHS / Daily Mail, 5 October 1938, p. 11

The Sudeten crisis, or rather its aftermath, still dominates the headlines. But the headlines themselves are getting smaller -- these ones from the Daily Mail (p. 11) are only a couple of columns wide, where even a couple of days ago they were nearly the whole page across. The news today is serious enough: Inskip, the Minister for the Coordination of Defence, told the House of Commons yesterday that the crisis revealed gaps in Britain's defences which need to be filled -- though it seems he didn't give actual details of any gaps. Commanders have been named as part of an expansion of anti-aircraft defences: three new AA divisions are to be raised for the Territorial Army (The Times, p. 8). W. J. Fawkner writes to the Daily Mail to suggest (p. 10) that service in the Territorials should be compulsory for all men aged 18 to 24 -- 'Surely this is not asking too much?' It is for J. Fuller, though, who declares that 'compulsory national service is something completely at variance with the British spirit'. So that's that then.

Inskip also defended Chamberlain's handling of the crisis: 'H. M. Government had not broken a single pledge' (The Times, p. 7). A. V. Alexander, Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, has a different view, referring to 'the complete betrayal of Czechoslovakia'. Probably the biggest speech in Parliament yesterday, though, was in the Lords: the maiden speech there of Chamberlain's predecessor, Stanley Baldwin, or Earl Baldwin of Bewdley as he now known (Daily Mail, p. 6). He paid Chamberlain glowing tribute, saying that he thanks God that Chamberlain was able to take the decision to fly to Berchtesgaden to meet with Hitler, and that 'I know I could not have done it':

Had there been war there would have been tens of thousands of mangled women and children civilians before a single soldier gave his life for his country. That is a very awful thought.

What right had a man to condemn to a terrible death hosts of civilians unless he knew that all that could be done had been done?

The leading article in The Times agrees (p. 15), and adds that:

On the most pessimistic estimate of the future we have gained a respite in which to make up a backwardness in armaments that is now recognized even by those who most bitterly opposed all attempts to put it right.

The leader in the Manchester Guardian (p. 8), on the other hand, wonders whether it is possible for the democracies to negotiate with the dictatorships on any basis other than 'the new version of give-and-take -- that we shall continue to give and they will continue to take?' Where will it all end?

Of course, by 'we' we should read Czechoslovakia, which is paying the greatest price for the peace. Sudetens who apposed the union with Germany are fleeing from the Sudetenland: readers of the Manchester Guardian are sending in funds to be given to the refugees (pp. 9, 12). Hungary is demanding more territory, and German radio is demanding that President Beneš resign. Meanwhile Hitler has triumphantly visited Carlsbad, after the peaceful withdrawal of Czech troops (The Times, p. 13). Graffiti has begun appearing on shops throughout the town informing passers-by of the presence of a 'Talmud Jew' or a 'Racial shamer'. 1200 men of the British Legion are gathering in London in order to go to police those areas of Czechoslovakia which will have their ultimate fate decided by plebiscite (The Times, p. 11).

Another group who fears they may pay a price for Munich: Ulster unionists. At least two independent MPs in the Northern Ireland House of Commons objected to a motion congratulating Chamberlain's peacemaking. As T. Henderson said: 'If Mr. Chamberlain sold the Czechs he will sell Ulster if it suits him in the event of war'. I wonder if de Valera is taking notes?

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9 thoughts on “Wednesday, 5 October 1938

  1. Erik Lund

    If the Territorials go on AA guns, who is going to drive all of Lord Nuffield's new tanks?
    Hmm, maybe the French won't mind fighting the Germans one-on-one if Liverpool has adequate AAA.
    Or, well, there's national service.
    But that would be crazy.

  2. Post author

    Could be wrong, but I don't think there's much call for tanks until 1939, after the next Czech crisis. (Which I won't be post-blogging!)

  3. CK

    At some point, Brett, you're going to have to weave "It was the last summer before the war..." into a post.

    But that's still six months away.

  4. CK

    ...and blow me down if that sidebar doesn't deserve comment. Good to see everybody clearing the deck.

    "Signor" Mussolini WTF?

  5. Post author

    Well, it was customary in the British press to use the relevant honorific: Signor Mussolini, Herr Hitler, M. Daladier, Mr. Chamberlain. Mussolini and Hitler were important world leaders and not yet enemies, so it's not so surprising really.

  6. Erik Lund

    You'd be surprised at just how single-minded French policy makers are about the phrase "British continental commitment." The place to defend Britain from enemy aeroplanes is on the battlefields of Belgium and Holland!

  7. Chris Williams

    In 1939/40, that _was_ the place to do it. Attacking SE England from France and the Low Countries is _vastly_ easier than doing so from Germany, as Bomber Command discovered in 1939-42 when it tried it in the opposite direction. One example - the bomber offensive got a lot more powerful in late 1944 simply because Gee transmitters moved east with the Allies.

    Even if there's no prospect or knowledge of triogonometric navigation aids, distance means early warning, a well-known threat axis, and the arrival of an enemy who are already tired and low on fuel. And unescorted. Compare Adlertag and Wilhelmshavn, for example.

  8. Erik Lund

    Oh, there was plenty of prospect of navigation aids in 1939. While the visionaries were mostly talking about improving dead-reckoning by automating it (which came too), airline work on "radio ranges" and landing aids was of long standing, and any bomber could ask for a radio fix, anyway.

  9. Post author

    Wasn't just the French who were saying that. In 1934, the Defence Requirements Committee suggested beefing up the Army so that it could prevent the Low Countries from being used to bomb Britain, and in turncould be used as a forward base for bombing Germany.

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