Post-blogging 1940-2


Observer, 26 April 1942, 5

The Observer's lead story (5) is about Japan's continuing advance in Burma. It's very hard to work out what exactly is going on based on the summary report: there are at least three fronts, their relation to each other is not stated, and the map provided is too small-scale to be of much use. The analysis by the Observer's military correspondent is much more helpful:

The Japanese are practising the advantages of mobility which they enjoyed in Malaya, and getting full benefit of the lead which it gives them over our more cumbersomely equipped forces. They have been switching their attack from the east to the west and back again to the east, looking all the time for our weak spots. They found one at Taunggyi, ninety-five miles south-east of Mandalay, and they are now throwing their heavy forces into this railway terminus, which gives them a valuable springboard for the decisive attack on Mandalay.

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Daily Mirror, 25 April 1942, 1

Lots of interesting things in today's papers about the campaign in Burma, the future of India, Anzac Day, and so on -- but there's also a lot on bombing, so I'm going to talk about that. The predominant theme is, as the Daily Mirror's front page headlines above claim, that Bomber Command is now delivering exceptionally heavy blows against enemy-held cities (one, Flushing or rather Vlissingen, is actually in the Netherlands, not Germany, though the Mirror doesn't mention this):

THE RAF have opened a new era in aerial warfare. Within the past twenty-four hours they have launched the two most destructive and furious raids of the war.

While Rostock, the German Baltic supply base for the Russian front, was still burning following one hour of concentrated bombing in the early morning, Fighter Command yesterday carried out their biggest ever single offensive.

In this day attack swarms of Spitfires took a force of Boston bombers to smash the docks at Flushing.

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Yorkshire Post, 24 April 1942, 1

Yesterday's muted announcement of a British retreat in Burma is followed today by more prominent headlines of a further withdrawal, albeit this time in the Taungdwingyi sector. But while the front page of the Yorkshire Post (above) grimly declares that

OUR retirement through Central Burma is bringing us nearer the plains of Mandalay and the defence of Northern Burma

it immediately goes on to find hope in yesterday's revelation that US Army troops were already in India. It is suggested that this may in time develop into one of America's major fronts against Japan. In the meantime, though, hard fighting will be necessary to protect the Burma Road which is threatened by 'a Japanese force of tanks, guns and infantry', though on the Post's analysis this is to stop Chinese reinforcements reaching Burma rather than Allied supplies reaching China. Further withdrawals are likely British troops will likely have to fall back on Meiktila.

Present policy is to deny the enemy the high ground in the North and keep him on the lower flats until the rain breaks and floods the river valleys.

The Times notes that Japan has been aided by 'traitorous Burmese' (5) and has the advantage of being able to use two good roads from the east, whereas communications between India and Burma are poor. Still,

In difficult circumstances our troops have never weakened, whatever the strain. Whenever the call has come, fatigue has been forgotten. Gurkhas, Baluchis, Frontier Force Rifles have vied with British units in courage and resolution. No finer fighting has been seen in this war. Coolness allied with determination has extricated the force or portions of it from many ugly situations, though not always without regrettable loss in men and material.

It's probably easier to forget the fatigue of the troops in Burma from the vantage point of London than it would be on the spot!
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Daily Mirror, 23 April 1942, 1

Most newspapers today lead with the story of a successful Commando raid on the French coast near Boulogne early yesterday morning -- though only the Daily Mirror (above), rather bizarrely, focuses on the fact that 'All wore gym shoes' (1) (apart from the ex-Limehouse police inspector who wore slippers). More colour is provided by the dashing Lord Lovat who led the raid wearing 'the bonnet of his own Lovat Scouts, a body of Highland deerstalkers [...] whose training is ideal for Commando work'. The purpose of the raid is not clear -- the official communique only says it was a reconnaissance mission -- so it's hard to say if it achieved its objective. Perhaps the aim was to tie up German cement supplies:

SO greatly do the Germans fear Commando raids and invasion that they have earmarked more than half the French production of cement -- about one and a quarter million tons a year -- for use on new defence works along the coast.

But in purely operational terms the raid seems to have been a success (8):

Remarkable from the military point of view was that, after spending two hours on enemy-occupied territory, every man was withdrawn with arms. Our casualties were negligible.

The Navy, which delivered and retrieved the Commandos, also got away largely unscathed, and damaged two armed German trawlers in the process.
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I've now finished my (somewhat piecemeal) post-blogging of the Blitz. It's time to step back and see if there is anything to made of the whole thing.

I'll start with the things I wish I'd done differently. I had intended to use a greater diversity of sources, especially the Popular Newspapers during World War II microfilm collection, which includes the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror along with some Sunday papers. I only managed to do this for the period around the bombing of Coventry. You can see from there that these papers were much more visceral, shall we say, in their reactions to German air raids than the more staid Times, Manchester Guardian or even the Daily Mail. My coverage of the Mail anyway ends after early October so that meant much of the last few rounds of post-blogging relied on the old standbys of The Times and the Guardian, and was less interesting because of it. (Though fewer sources did make them easier to write, not unimportant given I was trying to get each day's post up before midnight!) The exception was for the Clydeside blitz, where I used only a single source, the Glasgow Herald. My aim there was to try and see how the local press covered its own blitz, rather than just taking in the usual views from London (or Manchester). But I think it might have been more valuable had I contrasted the Herald's coverage with, say, The Times, to see if there were differences or whether they in fact were similar (whether because of censorship, the pressure of events or conformity to now-established stereotypes of how blitzes went).
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Manchester Guardian, 21 May 1941, 5

Hitler is on the move again! Yesterday, German airborne forces attacked Crete. According to the Manchester Guardian (5), Churchill informed the House of Commons of this news last evening, but his information was dated 3pm. However, 'at noon the situation was reported to be in hand'.

The attack began early in the morning with intense bombardment of Suda Bay, where there is anchorage for the largest vessels, and on aerodromes in the neighbourhood. The parachute troops, brought in troop-carriers and gliders, began to land, apparently with the object of capturing Maleme, an aerodrome on the Bay of Canea. In this they have so far failed. A military hospital which was seized was retaken by our troops under General Freyberg. From time to time the Germans bombed and machine-gunned anti-aircraft defences. Heraklion (Candia) was bombed, but no landings have so far been reported there.

The size of Allied forces on Crete is unknown, but two weeks ago it was reported that two Greek divisions had arrived there following the German conquest of the mainland, and there are also British and New Zealand forces present. King George of the Hellenes and members of the Greek government also managed to evacuate to the island.
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Manchester Guardian, 20 May 1941, 5

For the first time in a while, The Times and the Manchester Guardian differ in their lead stories. The latter (above, 5) focuses mainly on the surrender of seven thousand Italian soldiers in northern Abyssinia, but also notes a repulse of German armoured columns near Sollum and a new RAF attack on Vichy aerodromes in Syria. The Times deals only with Syria. There's surprisingly little crowing in either paper about this victory; perhaps because Gondar and Gimma are still holding out, or perhaps because, as a leading article in the Guardian says, 'As a nation [...] we are more disturbed by our defeats than excited by our victories' (4). But the The Times does rub salt into Italian wounds with a little article which points out that while it took the Italians 'seven months to march 425 miles' in their conquest of Abyssinia in 1935-6, 'Imperial Forces have covered a distance of 1,500 miles in 94 days' in order to free it (3).
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The Times, 19 May 1941, 4

There is a lot going on in the Mediterranean and African theatres at the moment. The big news, as reported here by The Times, is that Italian forces in northern Abyssinia have asked for surrender terms (4). They, along with the Duke of Aosta, Viceroy of Abyssinia, are holed up in 'the mountain stronghold of Amba Alagi', where they are being battered by Indian and South African troops. According to the delayed dispatch of The Times's correspondent, Italian morale was very low nearly a week ago, and must be on the verge on breaking by now:

It is a strange twist of fortune that has made the caves where Haile Selassie once sheltered the refuge of the Duke of Aosta's Army. Its disintegration goes on constantly. Deserters at night time steal their own lorries to make a getaway. Many reach the security of our lines. Some are not so lucky.

Once Amba Alagi falls, there will be only two remaining centres of Italian resistance left in Abyssinia.
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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.
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The Times, 17 May 1941, 4

Without even waiting for a response to Eden's warning, on Thursday RAF aircraft bombed three Vichy aerodromes in Syria, as The Times reports (4). According to RAF HQ, Middle East Command:

At Palmyra three Ju90s, two other German aircraft, and one Cr42 were machine-gunned. At least three of these aircraft were severely damaged and one other was burnt out.

General Dentz, the French High Commissioner in Syria, protested these raids, saying that they had killed a French officer. He further claimed that the German aircraft were there due to 'forced landings' and that his officials, 'according to the terms of the Armistice, procured their most rapid departure'. The diplomatic correspondent to The Times comments that Syria 'must now be counted an important arena of war'.
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