Sunday, 18 May 1941

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Blitz of 1940-41 and the Baedeker Blitz of 1942. See here and here for introductions to the series, and here, here and here for conclusions.

Observer, 18 May 1941, 5

It's Sunday, which means the Observer, which today leads with the situation in the Middle East (5). Vichy has said that it doesn't consider the British bombing of its aerodromes in Syria to be 'acts of aggression' (though it's hard to see what else it could be). In any case there are many things which Vichy could do which would indirectly harm Britain, as listed by the Observer's diplomatic correspondent:

There is the question of the use by Germany of France's naval bases in the Mediterranean. There is the right of passage of German troops through Vichy France to Spain [...] And there is the German infiltration into French Morocco, a danger of which the far-sighted warnings of President Roosevelt shows him to be acutely conscious.

Vichy might also obstruct Britain in a more material sense: there is a report that '800 tons of arms and munitions from the French stores in Syria have already been sent to the Iraqi rebels at Bagdad'. But there are limits to Vichy's value to the German '"pincers" technique in the attack on the British position in the Middle East'. A naval correspondent notes that Germany can currently only ferry troops to Iraq by air, which is extremely limiting. If they want to move substantial numbers in, they will have to do so by sea. Here Britain holds all the cards. Not only does it have naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean, but even considering that the Axis now controls Greece and the Italian Dodecanese, 'Cyprus lies athwart' the route from Rhodes to Syria, and 'Cyprus is capable of accommodating much larger air forces that in Malta', another British island fortress which is doing its best to interrupt Axis sea routes.

Let's have a look at what editor J. L. Garvin says in his editorial comments today. He calls the new Vichy accommodation with Germany 'the second surrender' (4):

PÉTAIN of Verdun at the age of eighty-five has been forced to his knees by his Nazi masters, and there is nothing to kneel in but mud. Official France becomes the auxiliary of the German conquerors against the old and staunch allies of the French people.

The bombing of Syria, the possession of Britain's former ally, 'is our sharpest ordeal of feeling. We dare not flinch, come what may'. As for Hess, Garvin says this matters only if he reveals 'to the British Government the inmost secrets of Nazi policy and of the German situation'.

If he does reveal them his escape may be of historic importance. If he does not, his mission will prove a freak and his ideas a delusion and a snare. That is the alternative on which light has to be thrown. Nothing else counts.

By delusion and snare, Garvin means that the 'film-touch of the HESS affair' is distracting people from the fact that 'the war is now entering on its grimmest phase'.

The enemy's raids on London and the other selected target-towns will become heavier yet before the curve declines [...] There is no final cure but crushing air-supremacy over Nazidom. The R.A.F. is already wielding a terrible counter-offensive in the Reich. Its strength is not yet enough, nor nearly enough, to end a fearful competition by beating down those who challenged it [...] Nothing but the destruction of the Luftwaffe can deliver ourselves and the world from the most cynical devilry of terrorism ever yet contrived by the perversion of the human mind and heart.

The air correspondent, Oliver Stewart, ponders Germany's air strategy (6). he says that the 'tendency' to 'regard every lull in the air war' as a sign that the RAF has heavily damaged the Luftwaffe is mistaken. It might have been true after 'the Battle of Britain of 1940, but it is not true today'.

There was a lull after the heavy raid on London last Saturday. And the direction of the enemy's attack on the following night suggested that he had felt keenly the night interception prowess of the Royal Air Force, for he concentrated -- without much success -- upon Royal Air Force aerodromes.

(Stewart seems to dislike writing 'RAF'!) But this could be due to the weather, or the need to assemble 'bombs and ammunition in readiness for the next big assault'. He suggests that these raids, heavy though they are, could be 'feelers, 'designed to seek out our weak spots and to obtain information about our defences'. On the other hand, the numbers of aircraft raiding London 'may have been near the limit of what were immediately available'. This is a bit puzzling, Stewart says, for 'the Germans do not normally throw their entire weight into an attack unless they mean to follow it up with the heaviest blows both on the ground and in the air'. And

There appeared to be no signs at the time of the attack on London of May 10 of any invasion plans. Yet it can hardly be thought that the Germans still hold to the Douhet theory or believe that the resolution of this country can be broken down merely by the destruction of ancient monuments in the capital or anywhere else.

Time will no doubt tell. The lull appears to be over: on Friday night, 'A West Midlands town' (named by German sources as Birmingham) was bombed in a 'sharp and widespread' attack, 'a concentrated raid lasting for some hours' (5). A children's home was hit, as was a housing estate. That same night, RAF Bomber Command attacked Cologne, where 'Large fires were started in the industrial quarters on both sides of the Rhine'.

The Ministry of Home Security has released civilian air raid casualty figures for April. There were 6065 killed (2912 men, 2418 women, 680 children under 16, 55 unclassified), 6926 seriously injured (3659 men, 2748 women, 519 children under 16) and a further 61 missing, believed killed. This is the worst month for civilian casualties since October, although overall the totals for the first four months of 1941 are only around half of those for the last four months of 1940.

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2 thoughts on “Sunday, 18 May 1941

  1. I had no idea that Garvin was behind the bestest edition of the Britannica ever. (Chicago, let our encyclopaedia go! Oh, wait, no-one cares anymore.)

  2. Pingback:

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