Tuesday, 5 May 1942

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.

Yorkshire Post, 5 May 1942, 1

Some good news from Burma, or at least less bad than usual. The Yorkshire Post reports that, although still retreating, Allied forces 'have successfully evaded the enemy attempt to cut them off in the Mandalay area' (1). The British have been divided from the Chinese, however, with the former retreating up the Chindwin and the latter up the Irrawaddy. The paper's military correspondent gives credit to General Alexander's 'skilful manœuvring' in avoiding encirclement, but also praises the 'valour' of Chinese soldiers after the fall of Lashio, who 'got across the path of the [Japanese] armoured brigade and even drove its tanks back with losses' and thereby gave the British time to make good their retreat. But the task is before Alexander now, 'one of the hardest ever set before a commander', to retire northwest without being engaged by the Japanese, to link up again with Chinese forces in the north, and 'to avoid being driven on India'. The Manchester Guardian's first leading article today admits that 'Japan's campaign in Burma is now almost won', at least 'the fine delaying actions fought by our troops have given India a previous four months for making ready' (4).

Moving in the same direction as Alexander's army are Indian refugees. Between 250,000 and 300,000 people, about a quarter of the prewar population of Indian immigrants, have now arrived in India, and are still arriving at the rate of 2000 a day. According to the Guardian (6),

The whole organisation for the reception and dispersal of evacuees is non-racial in character. On the Indian side of the land border the elaborate arrangements made in organising food, water, and shelter along a difficult road were completed in a remarkably short time. Under the present arrangements no refugee need pay for anything from the moment he reaches Tamu, on the border, until he reaches the railhead in India.

In fact the Indian government has suffered accusations of 'racial discrimination and general inefficiency' in its handling of the refugee problem, from among others the Congress party. In its defence, the Overseas Department pointed out the huge scale of the problem and explained how cholera had threatened the evacuation route, and only 'drastic medical measures brought it under control'. But Congress itself is not immune to criticism. One of its key figures, Rajagopalachari, has resigned from the Congress Working Committee because it rejected his proposal that Congress 'acknowledge the claim of the Moslem League to separation'; in the words of The Times 'the most serious breach that has been made in the solidarity of Congress in recent years' (4). The same committee's support of 'non-violent con-cooperation' has led to concerns in the United States about 'the advantage [...] it may give to Japanese propaganda, not only in India but elsewhere in the Orient'. One suggestion is that 'a Pacific Charter' be drawn up (not withstanding the fact that India is nowhere near the Pacific!), apparently some sort of commitment to greater independence after the war since the reference follows a comment that 'the actions of the Japanese are in themselves a denial of the pretence of a war of "Asiatic liberation"'.

Where Japan will attack next is the question. The Yorkshire Post's New Delhi correspondent suggests it is unlikely that it will continue pressing overland in Burma, since 'the Japanese have rarely shown themselves in favour of long-strung-out land battles' (1). More likely it will turn to the sea. (Early this morning 'a combined British naval and military force' arrived off Madagascar 'to forestall a Japanese move', so it probably won't be there.) It could try 'to bypass India and to head for the Persian Gulf'; perhaps via Ceylon, which is 'determined to become another Malta'. But Australians in India all seem to agree that Japan will 'concentrate all available forces [...] for a full-scale attack upon Australia':

The attack upon Townsville [sic] is read as an augury of this. It is thought to indicate a projected land invasion.

That opinion is shared in Australia itself, according to the paper's 'Special Correspondent with General MacArthur' (3). In the six months since Pearl Harbor 'she has achieved miracles', not only in raising armies but in making 'changes in the social and economic order in the cause of total war which anyone who knew this tough and politically minded people before the war would find almost incredible'. For example, Australia has 'Ruthlessly streamlined her economic system, thus following Britain's example' in finding labour for factory work; 'Reduced her seven State Governments factually, if not theoretically, to one'; laid the foundations for a postwar economy 'comparable to that of Britain and America, despite her infinitely smaller population'; and

Finally, and this is an historic move, she has turned her thoughts and plans from the coasts which are highly vulnerable to enemy air and sea attack, and begun taming the interior. Much of this country can only be compared which such areas as the Sahara and Gobi Deserts. She has also found quite unexpected riches in her deserts.

While 'Australia is making the same mistakes as Britain', with 'the same wrangling among the Government departments, and the same threat of black markets',

if this country survives something new is coming out of all this. It will be similar perhaps to Britain's social revolution, yet in many ways it will be characteristically Australian. Rightly or wrongly, Australians believe that they will either go under or become a real nation, and they do not mean to go under.

I wonder how that's going to turn out...

After a lull of a few days, the bomber war has started up again, with a German raid on Exeter and a British raid on Hamburg. Exeter was the first city to be attacked in the Baedeker raids, though little about it reached the press at the time. There's no denying it this time: as the Daily Mirror has it (5),


That's an impressive result for the defenders, since there were only about thirty attacking aircraft. (Two were accounted for over France by Squadron Leader J. A. F. MacLachlan, DFC, who lost his arm flying in defence of Malta and now uses an 'attachment' to help fly his fighter: 'Flying with this new gadget is a piece of cake', 2.) The losses appear to have forced new tactics upon the Luftwaffe, as 'FOR the first time, fighters escorted night bombers', in 'short and fairly intense' raids on two (unidentified) south coast towns last night (Daily Express, 1). But regardless, 'The loss of life is likely to be heavier than in the earlier attacks' (Mirror, 5).

Waves of raiders swept low over the city machine-gunning streets. A number of people were killed. 'Military objectives' included a hospital and almshouses. At least five churches were destroyed, as well as a girls' school and a college. The shopping centre suffered severe damage.

Exeter took it: 'eye-witnesses said that they had never seen people people stand up to a blitz more splendidly', and firefighters and ARP workers all did their part. But the Daily Express's reporter in Exeter has written a blistering attack on the 'muddle' exhibited by the city's post-raid welfare services (4):

100 homeless 'forgotten' in rest centre

As of last night, 'NUMBERS of homeless in Exeter, including aged invalids and babies' were still waiting for the promised buses to take them to reception areas out of the city. 'Many had been waiting since dawn', and had arrived in their nightclothes and barefoot. The WVS and NFS had fed and clothed them, 'But at the central relief office I found they knew nothing about this rest centre, and did not know anyone was there'.

At another rest centre people were fed and told to go to the central office a mile and a half away if they wanted to be evacuated.

Some were so old and tired that they sat and slept on benches. Some women cried from exhaustion, but most of the people, even the children, endured muddle and delay stoically.

For its part, on Sunday night Bomber Command attacked the docks and shipyards of Hamburg, though reports in the press are strangely subdued, giving little more than a description of the value of the targets, an account of the flak and fighter defences, and the assertion that the RAF 'left great fires glowing through the cloud' (The Times, 4). For once, much more prominence is given to Coastal Command, which 'had a successful night' over Norway. For example,

An Australian squadron flying Hampdens attacked the aerodrome, troop barracks, and a strongpoint near Kristiansand, on the southern tip of Norway, with high-explosive and incendiary bombs. A few moments after bombs had been dropped in some woods near the barracks pilots saw a succession of green, blue and white flashes, suggesting that an ammunition dump had been hit, and big fires broke out. The next aircraft dropped a stick of bombs right across the barrack block.

Other targets bombed include another aerodrome, another strongpoint, and two 'medium-sized enemy merchant ships lying side by side in a narrow fjord, apparently refuelling'. Coastal Command suffered no losses; Bomber Command lost five aircraft.

The air correspondent for the Yorkshire Post writes that 'there is this contest in bombing' between Britain and Germany, which 'bears some resemblance to that of 1940 with the roles reversed':

At that time the R.A.F. would probably have preferred to make few or no bombing replies to the heavy and sustained German raiding. There was no illusion in the Service, which knew it was yet ready to strike hard at Germany with the bomb.

But the scale of the German raids was such that it demanded some reply by the R.A.F. The consequence was that, with the relatively small forces then available, counter-attacks were made. They were on a comparatively small scale, but they served to show that we were not entirely incapable of hitting back.

Now it is Germany which is being bombed heavily, and which needs to show it is striking back. In fact, this contest will probably escalate:

we must not suppose that we are to-day engaged in air warfare on the largest possible scale. It will certainly increase in intensity and probably soon. The Germans will certainly contrive to throw more bombers into their attacks on this country. The R.A.F. will soon be reinforced -- in accordance with the undertaking of General Marshall -- by units of the United States Army Air Forces working from bases in Britain.

Even if Germany were to redeploy bombers from Russia and Italy 'in order to strike at hated Britain', they are reaching 'the limit of their air power, whereas the United Nations are now coming to the point of greatest augmentation'.

Unless all calculations are proved false; unless every level of computation of productive power and productive resources is wrong, the United Nations should be able to bomb Germany before this autumn is out on a scale never before contemplated; on a scale which will make the German attacks on this country in 1940 and 1941 look comparatively small.

Finally, the Express has an update on the fortunes of 'Storm Troopers Over Perivale', the 'H.G.s invasion play'. The playwright and producer, P. B. Baker, says it has played to 'packed houses' in Basingstoke since the Express reviewed it, and has made more than £100, which isn't bad on a £20 investment. And the future looks bright. The play will have two performances at the Aldershot Theatre Royal next month, and may be staged by 'Army units in Blackpool'. More than that, London beckons: 'Mr. Clifford Hamilton, manager of the original "Journey's End" company [...] was impressed with its qualities and hopes it will be possible to stage the play commercially'.

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2 thoughts on “Tuesday, 5 May 1942

  1. I wonder if anyone in history has every been persuaded by the "But we retreated real good!" argument. It doesn't even work very well when it's true, and the scale of embarrassment here would be beyond belief if the facts were known.

    Why wasn't there a metalled road between Assam and Burma? Why was there no railway bridge over the Brahmaputra? (In both cases, "because it was hard" is an acceptable answer, and "you should have tried harder" an acceptable rejoinder.)

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