The Second World War (IV)

This will be my last post about the book(s). You can read my previous posts about it(/them) here, here, and here. In this post I’ve included some quotes and observations from the last few hundred pages.

“In wartime […] truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

“On June 10 [1944] General Montgomery reported that he was sufficiently established ashore to receive a visit. […] Montgomery, smiling and confident, met me at the beach as we scrambled out of our landing craft. His army had already penetrated seven or eight miles inland. There was very little firing or activity. […] The General was in the highest spirits. I asked him how far away was the actual front. He said about three miles. I asked him if he had a continuous line. He said, “No.” “What is there then to prevent an incursion of German armour breaking up our luncheon?” He said he did not think they would come. […] In the first six days 326,000 men, 54,000 vehicles, and 104,000 tons of stores were landed. […] [German] divisions arrived piecemeal, short of equipment, and fatigued by long night marches, and were thrown into the line as they came. […] On June 17, at Margival, near Soissons, Hitler held a conference with Rundstedt and Rommel. His two generals pressed on him strongly the folly of bleeding the German Army to death in Normandy. They urged that before it was destroyed the Seventh Army should make an orderly withdrawal towards the Seine […] Hitler would not agree. Here, as in Russia and Italy, he demanded that no ground should be given up and all should fight where they stood. The generals were of course right. […] by the middle of July thirty Allied divisions were ashore. Half were American and half British and Canadian. Against these the Germans had gathered twenty-seven divisions. But they had already suffered 160,000 casualties, and General Eisenhower estimated their fighting value as no higher than sixteen divisions. […] By August 30 our troops were crossing the Seine at many points. Enemy losses had been tremendous: 400,000 men, half of them prisoners, 1,300 tanks, 20,000 vehicles, 1,500 field guns. […] the Seine was reached six days ahead of the planned time.”

[During a visit to the Italian front:] [General] Alexander had planned an early start and a long day on the front. He had also promised to take me wherever I wanted to go. […] We first climbed by motor up a high outstanding rock pinnacle, upon the top of which a church and village were perched. The inhabitants, men and women, came out to greet us from the cellars in which they had been sheltering. It was at once plain that the place had just been bombarded. Masonry and wreckage littered the single street. “When did this stop?” Alexander asked the small crowd who gathered round us, grinning rather wryly. “About a quarter of an hour ago,” they said. […] Presently Alexander said that we had better not stay any longer, as the enemy would naturally be firing at observation posts like this and might begin again. […] We got into our cars accordingly, and in half an hour were across the river, where the road ran into undulating groves of olives, brightly patched with sunshine. Having got an officer guide from one of the battalions engaged, we pushed on through these glades till the sounds of rifle and machine-gun fire showed we were getting near to the front line. Presently warning hands brought us to a standstill. It appeared there was a minefield, and it was only safe to go where other vehicles had already gone without mishap. […] [We] found a very good place in the stone building, which was in fact an old château overlooking a rather sharp declivity. Here one certainly could see all that was possible. The Germans were firing with rifles and machine-guns from thick scrub on the farther side of the valley, about five hundred yards away. Our front line was beneath us. The firing was desultory and intermittent. But this was the nearest I got to the enemy and the time I heard the most bullets in the Second World War. After about half an hour we went back to our motor-cars and made our way to the river”.

The book has some interesting coverage of the Warsaw Uprising. The short story to people who don’t know it is that the Polish resistance movement started a major uprising in the city of Warsaw when the Soviet forces were very close to the city, a move encouraged by the Soviets [“Soviet broadcasting stations had for a considerable time been urging the Polish population to drop all caution and start a general revolt against the Germans”]. What the Soviets did as a response to the uprising was then to halt their advance rather than keep it going, in order to let the German army help Stalin get rid of the non-communist Polish resistance. Stalin also explicitly refused to allow British and American aircraft providing supplies to the Poles to land on Soviet […Polish…] territory. The tactics changed slightly over time: “On September 10, after six weeks of Polish torment, the Kremlin appeared to change their tactics. […] They wished to have the non-Communist Poles destroyed to the full, but also to keep alive the idea that they were going to their rescue.” So they pretended to try to help, but really did very little. “The struggle in Warsaw had lasted more than sixty days. Of the 40,000 men and women of the Polish Underground Army about 15,000 fell. Out of a population of a million nearly 200,000 had been stricken. […] When the Russians entered the city three months later [they were at points less than 10 miles away from the city when the uprising began] they found little but shattered streets and the unburied dead. Such was their liberation of Poland, where they now rule.” It should perhaps be obvious, but of course Stalin’s deceit did not stop there – this later sequence of events is also illustrative:

“At the beginning of March 1945 the Polish Underground were invited by the Russian Political Police to send a delegation to Moscow to discuss the formation of a united Polish Government along the lines of the Yalta agreement. This was followed by a written guarantee of personal safety and it was understood that the party would later be allowed if the negotiations were successful to travel to London for talks with the Polish Government in exile. On March 27 General Leopold Okulicki, the successor of General Bor-Komorowski in command of the Underground Army, two other leaders, and an interpreter had a meeting in the suburbs of Warsaw with a Soviet representative. They were joined the following day by eleven leaders representing the major political parties in Poland. One other Polish leader was already in Russian hands. No one returned from the rendezvous. On April 6 the Polish Government in exile issued a statement in London giving the outline of this sinister episode. The most valuable representatives of the Polish Underground had disappeared without a trace in spite of the formal Russian offer of safe-conduct. Questions were asked in Parliament and stories have since spread of the shooting of local Polish leaders in the areas at this time occupied by the Soviet armies […] On May 18 Stalin publicly denied that the arrested Polish leaders had ever been invited to Moscow […] The prisoners were accused of subversion, terrorism, and espionage, and all except one admitted wholly or in part the charges against them. […] This was in fact the judicial liquidation of the leadership of the Polish Underground which had fought so heroically against Hitler. The rank and file had already died in the ruins of Warsaw.”

“In the autumn of 1942 only three American aircraft-carriers were afloat; a year later there were fifty; by the end of the war there were more than a hundred. This achievement had been matched by an increase in aircraft production which was no less remarkable.”

“The number of divisions that could be sustained [in Europe, 1944], and the speed and range of their advance, depended […] entirely on harbours, transport, and supplies. Relatively little ammunition was being used, but food, and above all petrol, governed every movement.”

“You are responsible for maintaining order in Athens and for neutralising or destroying all E.A.ME.L.A.S. bands approaching the city. […] Naturally E.L.A.S will try to put women and children in the van where shooting may occur. You must be clever about this and avoid mistakes. But do not hesitate to fire at any armed male in Athens who assails the British authority or Greek authority with which we are working. Do not […] hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.” (Telegram to General Scobie. Here’s a related wiki link. Churchill observes in the book that: “I felt grave concern about the whole business, but I was sure that there should be no room for doubts or hedging. I had in my mind Arthur Balfour’s celebrated telegram in the eighties to the British authorities in Ireland: “Don’t hesitate to shoot.” […] There was a furious storm about it in the House of Commons of those days, but it certainly prevented loss of life.”)

“I saw quite plainly that Communism would be the peril civilization would have to face after the defeat of Nazism and Fascism. It did not fall to us to end the task in Greece. […] I told the President [Roosevelt] that we ought to occupy as much of Austria as possible, as it was “undesirable that more of Western Europe than necessary should be occupied by the Russians.”” [Churchill’s subsequent italics] […] “I deem it highly important that we should shake hands with the Russians as far to the east as possible.” [telegram from Churchill to Eisenhower sent in the late stage of the war.]

“Poland was discussed at no fewer than seven out of the eight plenary meetings of the Yalta Conference, and the British record contains an interchange on this topic of nearly eighteen thousand words between Stalin, Roosevelt, and myself. […] A large body of opinion in Great Britain was shocked at the idea of moving millions of people by force. Great success had been achieved in disentangling the Greek and Turkish populations after the last war […] but in that case under a couple of millions of people had been moved. […] I was not afraid of the problem of transferring populations, so long as it was proportionate to what the Poles could manage and to what could be put into Germany. But it was a matter which required study, not as a question of principle, but of the numbers which would have to be handled.”

“As war waged by a coalition draws to its end political aspects have a mounting importance. […] At this time the points at issue did not seem to the United States Chiefs of Staff to be of capital importance. They were of course unnoticed by and unknown to the public, and were all soon swamped, and for the time being effaced, by the flowing tide of victory. Nevertheless, as will not now be disputed, they played a dominating part in the destiny of Europe […] The indispensable political direction was lacking [due to Roosevelt’s illness and death] at the moment when it was most needed. The United States stood on the scene of victory, master of world fortunes, but without a true and coherent design. Britain, though still very powerful, could not act decisively alone. I could at this stage only warn and plead. Thus the climax of apparently measureless success was to me a most unhappy time. I moved amid cheering crowds, or sat at a table adorned with congratulations and blessings from every part of the Grand Alliance, with an aching heart and a mind oppressed by forebodings.
The destruction of German military power had brought with it a fundamental change in the relations between Communist Russia and the Western democracies. They had lost their common enemy, which was almost their sole bond of union. […] Apprehension for the future and many perplexities filled my mind as I moved among the cheering crowds of Londoners in their hour of well-won rejoicing after all they had gone through. […] Japan was still unconquered. The atomic bomb was still unborn. The world was in confusion. […] The Soviet menace, to my eyes, had already replaced the Nazi foe. But no comradeship against it existed. […] I had seen it all before. I remembered that other joy-day nearly thirty years before, when I had driven with my wife from the Ministry of Munitions through similar multitudes convulsed with enthusiasm to Downing Street to congratulate the Prime Minister. Then, as at this time, I understood the world situation as a whole. But then at least there was no mighty army that we need fear […] How stands the scene after eight years have passed? The Russian occupation line in Europe runs from Lübeck to Linz. Czechoslovakia has been engulfed. The Baltic states, Poland, Roumania, and Bulgaria have been reduced to satellite States under totalitarian Communist rule. Yugoslavia has broken loose. Greece alone is saved. Our armies are gone, and it will be a long time before even sixty divisions can be again assembled opposite Russian forces, which in armour and manpower are in overwhelming strength. This also takes no account of all that has happened in the Far East. The danger of a third World War, under conditions at the outset of grave disadvantage, casts its lurid shadow over the free nations of the world.” [The last quote in the above paragraph was written in 1953.]

“Over a million prisoners were taken in the first three weeks of April”.

“there never was a moment’s discussion as to whether the atomic bomb should be used or not. […] the decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never even an issue. There was unanimous, automatic, unquestioned agreement around our table; nor did I ever hear the slightest suggestion that we should do otherwise.”

“In sixty-eight months of fighting 781 German U-boats were lost. For more than half this time the enemy held the initiative. […] In the final count British and British-controlled forced destroyed 500 out of the 632 submarines known to have been sunk at sea by the Allies. In the First World War eleven million tons of shipping were sunk, and in the second fourteen and a half million tons, by U-boats alone. If we add the loss from other causes the totals become twelve and three-quarter million and twenty-one and a half million. Of this the British bore over 60 per cent. in the first war and over half in the second. […] It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell, and was brought about by overwhelming maritime power. […] Her shipping had been destroyed. She had entered the war with over five and a half million tons, later much augmented by captures and new construction, but her convoy system and escorts were inadequate and ill-organised. Over eight and a half million tons of Japanese shipping were sunk, of which five million fell to submarines. We, an island power, equally dependent on the sea, can read the lesson and understand our own fate had we failed to master the U-boats.”

June 25, 2016 - Posted by | books, history

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