November 29, 1942
British Information Services.
Two Sundays ago all the bells rang to celebrate the victory of our Desert Army at Alamein. Here was a martial episode in British history which deserved special recognition. But the bells also carried with their clashing, joyous peals our thanksgiving that in spite of all our errors and shortcomings, we have been brought nearer to the frontiers of deliverance. We have not reached them yet. But we are becoming ever more entitled to be sure that the awful perils which might well have blotted out our life and all that we have and cherish, will be surmounted, and that we shall be preserved for further service in the vanguard mankind.
We have to look back along the path we have trod these last three years of toil and strife to value properly all we have escaped and all we have achieved. No mood of boastfulness, of vainglory, over-confidence must cloud our minds, but I think we have a right which history will endorse to feel that we had the honour to play a part in saving the freedom and the future of the world. That wonderful association of States and races spread all over the globe called the British Empire, or British Commonwealth if you will-I do not quarrel about it-and above all our small island, stood in the gap all alone in the deadly hour. Here we stood, firm though all was drifting. Throughout the British Empire not one community faltered. All around was very dark. Here we kept the light burning which now spreads broadly over vast area of the United Nations. That is why it was right to ring out the bells and lift our heads for a moment, in gratitude and in relief, before we turned again to the grim and probably long ordeals which lie before us, and to the exacting tasks upon which we are engaged.
Since we rang the bells for Alamein, the good cause has prospered. The Eighth Army has advanced nearly 400 miles, driving before them in rout and ruin the remnants of the powerful forces which Rommel boasted and Hitler and Mussolini believed would conquer Egypt. Another serious battle may be impending at entrance to Tripolitania. I make it a rule not to prophesy about battles before they are fought. Everyone must try to realize the immense distances over which the North African war ranges and the enormous labors and self-denial of the troops, who press forward relentlessly twenty, thirty, forty and sometimes fifty miles in a single day. I will say no more than that we may have the greatest confidence in Generals Alexander and Montgomery, and in our soldiers and airmen, who have at last begun to come into their own.
At the other side of Africa, a thousand miles or more to the westward, the tremendous joint undertaking of the United States and Britain, which was fraught with so many hazards, has also been crowned with astonishing success. To transport these large armies of several hundred thousand men, with all their intricate, elaborate, modern apparatus, secretly across the seas and oceans and to strike, to the hour and almost to the minute, simultaneously at a dozen points in spite of all the U-boats and all the chances of weather, was a feat of organization which will long be studied with respect. It was rendered possible only by one sovereign fact, namely, the perfect comradeship and understanding prevailing between the British and American Staffs and troops. This majestic enterprise is under the direction and responsibility of the President of the United States, and our First British Army is serving under the orders of the American Commander-in-Chief, General Eisenhower, in whose military skill and burning energy we put our faith and whose orders to attack we shall punctually and unflinchingly obey. Behind all lies the power of the Royal Navy, to which is joined a powerful American fleet, the whole under the command of Admiral Cunningham, and all subordinated to the Allied Commander-in-Chief.
It was not only that the U-boats were evaded and brushed aside by the powerfully escorted British and American convoys. They were definitely beaten in the ten days' conflict that followed the landings both inside and outside the Mediterranean. There was no more secrecy. We had many scores of ships continuously exposed. Large numbers of U-boats were concentrated from all quarters. Our destroyers and corvettes, and our aircraft took up the challenge and wore them down and beat them off. For every transport or supply ship we have lost, a U-boat has been sunk or severely damaged. For every ton of Anglo-American shipping lost so far in this expedition, we have gained perhaps two tons in the shipping acquired or recovered in the French harbours North and West Africa. Thus in this respect, as Napoleon commended, war has been made to support war.
General Alexander timed his battle at Alamein to suit exactly is great stroke from the west, in order that his victory should courage friendly countries to preserve their strict neutrality and also to rally the French forces in North West Africa to a full sense of their duty and of their opportunity. Now at this moment the First British Army is striking hard at the last remaining footholds of the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. American, British and French troops are pressing forward side by side, vying with each other in a generous rivalry and brotherhood. In this there lies the hope and the portent of the future.
I have been speaking about Africa, about the 2,000 miles of coastline fronting the under-side of subjugated Europe. From all this we intend, and I will go so far as to say we expect, to expel the enemy before long. But Africa is no halting-place. It is not a seat but a spring-board. We will use Africa to come closer grips.
Anyone can see the importance to us of re-opening the Mediterranean to military traffic and saving the long voyage round the Cape. Perhaps by this short cut and the economy of shipping resulting from it we may strike as heavy a blow at the U-boats as has happened in the whole war. But there is another advantage to be gained by the mastery of the North African shore. We open the Air battle upon a new front. In order to shorten the struggle it is our duty to engage the enemy in the Air continuously on the largest scale and at the highest intensity. To bring relief to the tortured world there must be the maximum possible air fighting. Already the German Air Force is a wasting asset. Their new
construction is not keeping pace with their losses. Their front line is weakening, both in numbers and on the whole in quality.
The British, the American and the Russian Air Forces, already together far larger, are growing steadily and rapidly. The British and United States expansion in 1943 will be, to put it mildly, well worth watching. All we need is more frequent opportunities contact. The new Air Front which the Americans and also the Royal Air Force are deploying along the Mediterranean shore ought to give us these extra opportunities abundantly in 1943.
Thirdly, our operations in French North Africa should enable us to bring the weight of the war home to the Italian Fascist State in a manner not hitherto dreamed of by its guilty leaders or, still less, by the unfortunate people Mussolini has led, exploited and disgraced.
Already the centers of war industry in Northern Italy are being subjected to harder treatment than any of our cities experienced in the winter of 1940. But if the enemy should in due course be blasted from the Tunisian tip-which is our aim-the whole of the south of Italy, all the naval bases, and all the munition establishments and other military objectives wherever situated will be brought under prolonged scientific and shattering air attack.
It is for the Italian people, forty million of them, to say whether they want this terrible thing to happen to their country or not.
One man and one man alone has brought them to this pass. There was no need for them to go to war. No one was going to attack them. We tried our best to induce them to remain neutral, enjoying peace and prosperity and exceptional profits in a world of storm. But Mussolini could not resist the temptation of stabbing prostrate France and what he thought was helpless Britain in the back. Mad dreams of imperial glory, the lust of conquest and of booty, the arrogance of long unbridled tyranny, led him to his fatal, shameful act. In vain I warned him. He would not harken. On deaf ears and a stony heart fell the wise, far-seeing appeals of the American President. The hyena in his nature broke all bounds of decency and even common sense. Today his Empire is gone. We have over one hundred Italian Generals and nearly 300,000 of his soldiers in our hands as prisoners of war. Agony grips the fair land of Italy.
This is only the beginning, and what have the Italians to show for it? A brief promenade, by German permission, along the Riviera; a flying visit to Corsica; a bloody struggle with the heroic patriots of Yugoslavia; a deed of undying shame in Greece; the ruins of Genoa, Turin, Milan. And this is only a foretaste.
One man, and the regime he has created have brought these measureless calamities upon the hard-working, gifted and once happy Italian people, with whom until the days of Mussolini, the English-speaking world had so many sympathies and never a quarrel.
How long must this endure?
We may certainly be glad about what has lately happened in Africa, and we may look forward with sober confidence to the moment when we may say "One continent redeemed." But these successes in Africa, swift and decisive as they have been, must not divert our attention from the prodigious blows which Russia is striking on the Eastern Front. All the world wonders at the giant strength which Russia has been able to conserve and to ply. The invincible defense of Stalingrad is matched by the commanding military leadership of Stalin. When I was leaving the Kremlin in the middle of August I said to Premier Stalin: "When we have decisively defeated Rommel in Egypt I will send you a telegram"; and he replied: "When we make our counteroffensive here," and he drew an arrow on the map, "I will send you one." Both messages have duly arrived and both have been thankfully received. As I speak the immense battle, which has already yielded results of the first magnitude, is moving forward to its climax. And this, it must be remembered, is only one part of the Russian front stretching from the White Sea to the Black Sea, along which at many points the Russian armies are attacking. The jaws of another Russian winter are closing on Hitler's armies. One hundred and eighty German divisions, many of them reduced little more than brigades by the slaughters and privations they have suffered, together with a host of miserable Italians, Rumanians and Hungarians dragged from their homes by a maniac's fantasy-all these, as they reel back from the fire and steel of the avenging Soviet armies, must prepare themselves with weakened forces and with added pangs for a second dose of what they got last year. They have of course the consolation of knowing that they have been commanded and led not by the German General Staff but by Corporal Hitler himself.
I must conduct you back to the West-to France, where another vivid scene of the strange, melancholy drama has been unfolded. It was foreseen when we were planning the descent upon North Africa that this would bring about immediate reactions in France. I never had the slightest doubt myself that Hitler would break the Armistice, over-run all France and try to capture the French fleet at Toulon. Such developments were to be welcomed by the United Nations because they entailed the extinction for all practical purposes of the sorry farce and fraud of the Vichy Government. This was a necessary prelude to that re-union of France without which French resurrection is impossible.
We have taken a long step towards that unity. The artificial division between occupied and unoccupied territory has been swept away. In France all Frenchmen are equally under the German yoke and will learn to hate it with equal intensity. Abroad all Frenchmen will fire at the common foe.
The destiny of France must be worked out by Frenchmen themselves. We may be sure that after what has happened the ideals and the spirit of what we have called "Fighting France" will exercise a dominating influence upon the whole French Nation.
I agree with General de Gaulle that the last scales of deception have now fallen from the eyes of the French people. Indeed it was time.
"A clever conqueror," wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf, "will always if possible impose his demands on the conquered by installments. For a people that makes a voluntary surrender saps its own character and with such a people you can calculate that none of these oppressions in detail will supply quite enough reason for it to resort once more to arms."
How carefully, how punctiliously he lives up to his own devilish doctrines. The perfidy by which the French Fleet was ensnared is the latest and most perfect example. That Fleet, brought by folly, and worse than folly, to its melancholy end, redeemed its honour by an act of self-immolation, and from the flame and smoke of the explosions at Toulon, France will rise again.
The ceaseless flow of good news from every theater of war which has filled the whole month of November confronts the British people with a new test. They have proved that they can stand defeat. They proved that they can bear with fortitude and confidence long periods of unsatisfactory and unexplained inaction. I see no reason at all why we should not show ourselves equable, resolute and active in the face of victory. I promise nothing. I predict nothing. I cannot even guarantee that more successes are not on the way. I commend to all the immortal lines of Kipling:
"If you can dream and not make dreams your master,
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same."
There is my text for this Sunday's sermon though I have no license to preach one. Do not let us be led away by any fair-seeming appearances of fortune. Let us rather put our trust in those deep, slow-moving tides that have borne us thus far already and will surely bear us forward-if we know how to use them-until we reach the harbour where we would be.
I know of nothing that has happened yet which justifies the hope that the war will not be long or that bitter and bloody years do not lie ahead. Certainly, the most painful experiences would lie before us if we allowed ourselves to relax our exertions, to weaken the disciplined unity and order of our array, if we fell to quarreling about what we should do with our victory before that victory had been won.
We must not build on hopes or fears, but only on the continued faithful discharge of our duty wherein alone will be found safety and peace of mind.
Remember that Hitler with his armies and his secret police holds nearly all Europe in his grip. Remember that he has millions of slaves to toil for him, a vast mass of munitions, many mighty arsenals and many fertile fields. Remember that Goering as brazenly declared that whoever starves in Europe it will not be the Germans. Remember that these villains know that their lives are at stake. Remember how small a portion of the German army the British have yet been able to engage and to destroy. Remember that the U-boat warfare is not diminishing but growing and that it may well be worse before it is better. Then, facing the facts undaunted-the ugly facts as well as the encouraging facts-we shall learn to use victory as a spur to further effort and make good fortune the means of gaining more. This much only will I say about the future and I say it with acute consciousness of the fallibility of my own judgment.
It may well be that the war in Europe will come to an end before the war in Asia. The Atlantic may be calm while in the Pacific the hurricane rises to its full pitch. If events should take such a course we should at once bring all our forces to the other side of the world to the aid of the United States, to the aid of China and above all to the aid of our kith and kin in Australia and New Zealand in their valiant struggle against the aggressions of Japan.
While we were thus engaged in the Far East we could be sitting, with the United States and with our ally Russia and those of the United Nations concerned, shaping the international instruments and national settlements which must be devised if the free life of Europe is ever to rise again and if the fearful quarrels which have rent European civilization are to be prevented from once more disturbing the progress of the world.
It seems to me that should the war end thus-in two successive stages-there will be a far higher sense of comradeship around the council table than existed among the victors at Versailles.
Then the danger had passed away. The common bond between the Allies was broken. There was no sense of responsibility such as exists when victorious nations who are masters of one vast scene, are most of them still waging war side by side in another. I should hope, therefore, that we shall be able to make better solutions, more far reaching, more lasting, of the problems of Europe at the end of this war than was possible a quarter of a century ago. It is not much use pursuing these speculations further at this time for no one can possibly know what the state of Europe or of the world will be when the Nazi and Fascist tyrannies have been finally broken. The dawn of 1943 will soon loom red before us and we must brace ourselves to cope with the trials and problems of what must be a stern and terrible year. We do so with the assurance of ever growing strength and as a nation with strong will, a bold heart and a good conscience.