Recent War Developments
CAMPAIGNS AND POLICIES SKILLFULLY MANAGED
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered before Parliament, London, September 21, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 743-754.
I COULD not embark upon the business which is set down for today without expressing what is in the hearts of all members of this House—our profound regret at the very sad news it has been your duty, Mr. Speaker, to announce from the chair of the sudden death early this morning of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Only yesterday evening he sat with us in the Cabinet, apparently in the best health and spirits, and now he has been instantaneously removed from our affairs in which he was playing a most important part. I would suggest that on the next-sitting day we pause for a short time in our business in order to give the House the opportunity of paying a more formal tribute to one of its distinguished members who was holding an office of the greatest consequence in the peculiar stresses of war.
I will defer any remarks which I may make on this sad matter—to me a very acute personal grief—until the proper time is reached.
I now turn to the statement which I understood was desired by the House that I should make.
I have to go some way back in order to put the whole broad scene before the House.
At my conference with the President at Washington in June, 1942, the decision was taken to send an American army and a strong British contingent to occupy French Northwest Africa and, later on, November 8, 1942, was fixed for the descent. I was very much in favor of this for a variety of reasons, most of which are now well known.
I have never regarded this African operation as a substitute for a direct attack across the Channel upon the Germans in France or the Low Countries. On the contrary, the opening of this new front in the Mediterranean was always intended by itself and others to be an essential preliminary to the main attack on Germany and her ring of subjugated and satellite States.
At that time, fifteen months ago, no decision was taken beyond the occupation of North Africa. There followed almost immediately—in fact, while I was in Washington—the June, 1942, disaster of Tobruk and the retreat, with the loss of 80,000 men, of our desert army of more than 400 miles to the approaches to Cairo and Alexandria.
This raised very grave issues, the delta, Nile Valley and Suez Canal all being in jeopardy at the same time the German attack through the Caucasus was developing in a way which seemed to menace the Caspian basin and the vital oil fields of Baku, Iraq and Persia.
Stalin Revealed Plan
At Moscow Premier Stalin was able to speak to me with confidence in his ability to withstand the German attack, and he told me beforehand of the counter-strokes by which he intended to relieve Stalingrad and, if possible, to destroy the German forces before it.
At Cairo Generals Alexander and Montgomery were placed in command, and their substantial reinforcements which had been sent from Britain several months before had arrived to strengthen the desert army. Plans were made to resist Rommel's impending attack and thereafter to regain the initiative by a major battle. These plans proved successful. Almost exactly a year ago, on September 23, began the heavy action which resulted in Rommel's derisive repulse, and a month later the desert army won a hard and prolonged battle at Alamein and set forth upon its immortal march—a march that is not yet completed.
From that time on for a whole year we and our great Allies have had an almost unbroken success by land, by sea and in the air. I cannot recollect anything so complete and prolonged as the series of victories which have attended our Allied arms in almost every theatre.
At the same time that our desert army has been making its great advance with the conquest of northwest Africa and Sicily, the Russian armies have advanced 1,000 miles of front from the Volga almost to the Dnieper, a distance in many places of more than 500 miles, driving before them with prodigious slaughter the hordes of Germans who had invaded their country and inflicted so many indescribable barbarities upon its inhabitants.
When I next met the President in January of this year, and the combined Anglo-American staffs went into a protracted conference at Casablanca, the whole scene of the war was already transformed.
No decision had hitherto been taken by us to go beyond North Africa, but now the advance of the desert army, which already stood before the gates of Tripoli, brought another quarter million men into play and enabled us to carry out the policy which I mentioned in my broadcasts of November last of using North Africa not as a seat but as a springboard.
We resolved, therefore, to complete the conquest of Tunisia and meanwhile to make all preparations for invading Sicily. The final victories in Tunisia were obtained in May when the whole of the enemy forces in North Africa, then a little short of a half million strong, were destroyed or captured.
When I visited the President again at Washington in May, 1943, after and during the victory at Tunisia, the British and American Armies had great results to display and we therefore extended our view and set before ourselves as our principal objective the knocking of Italy completely out of the war this year. No one in attempting to frame a timetable for this task would have expected it would so rapidly be achieved.
On July 10, British and American Armies on a scale of perhaps half a million men, the first wave of whom were carried, as the House knows, in upward of 2,700 ships and landing craft, began their attack upon Sicily, and in a campaign of thirty-eight days the entire island was conquered with a loss to the enemy of 165,000 killed, wounded and prisoners, or more than four times the Allies' losses in the operation.
It is necessary in order to have a correct perspective on the proportion of events to survey the whole chain of causation, the massive links of which have been forced by the diligence and burnished with the devotion and skill of our combined forces and their commanders until they shine in the sunshine of today and will long shine in the history of the war.
This same year victory on land has been accomplished by an ever-increasing mastery of the air by the British, Americans and Russians over the enemy in Europe.
Speaking particularly of our own air power, the weight of bombs discharged by the Royal Air Force on Germany in the last twelve months is three times that of the preceding twelve months, and the weight of bombs discharged in the last three months is half as great again as that of the preceding three months. There has also been great improvement in accuracy, owing to technical devices. The percentage of loss for the first three months of 1943 is less than in the same period last year, and the morale and ardor of our bombing crews are very high.
The almost total and systematic destruction of many of the centers of the German war effort continues on a greater scale and at a greater pace. The havoc wrought is indescribable.
The effect upon German war production in all its forms and upon U-boat building is matched by those produced upon the life and economy of the whole of that guilty organization. There has been an enormous diversion of the German energy from the war fronts to internal defense against our attacks, and the offensive power of the enemy has been notably crippled thereby.
The German Air Force has been driven increasingly onto the defensive. The attacks we have had in this island, though marked by occasional distressing incidents, are at present negligible compared with the vast scale of war the enemy is increasingly compelled to concentrate on building fighter aircraft and night fighter aircraft for home defense at the expense of his bomber production. He is also forced to save his strength so far as possible on all the fighting fronts and is, therefore, restricted to a far lower rate of activity than we and our allies maintain. Thus he throws the burden increasingly upon his fully occupied ground forces. The Royal Air Force is at present maintaining in action throughout the war scene in all theatres nearly 50 per cent more first-line aircraft than Germany—that is, the RAF alone, apart from Russia.
I On top of this already heavy preponderance comes the whole rapidly expanding weight of the United States Army, building up ceaselessly in this country and already in action on a great scale both here and in the Mediterranean. The American system of daylight bombing gives great accuracy on specific targets and is also accompanied by very severe fighting, producing heavy losses among the enemy's fighting aircraft.
Praises Our Air Forces
Many superb actions of courage and daring have been sought by the great American Air Force, which is developing here and in the Mediterranean a high spirit of fellowship. Generous emulation subsists between them and their British comrades.
The British and American forces are fed by an ever-broadening and improving supply of new aircraft, which altogether exceeds the corresponding German aircraft supply by more than four to one.
The continued progress of Anglo-American preponderance which can certainly be expected month after month opens the possibilities of saturating German defenses both on the ground and in the air, in spite of the desperate efforts which the enemy is making and will certainly continue to make to strengthen his home defenses in proportion to the mounting weight of our attack.
This word saturation comes to have a particular significance in the general field of air war. If a certain degree of saturation can be reached—and we can be sure that this can only be won against an increasingly hard foe and a bitter struggle with enemy air defenses—a reaction of the most far-reaching character will be produced. We shall, in fact, create conditions under which, with small loss to ourselves, the actual methodical destruction by day and night of the enemy military target, of significance in the widest sense, will become possible.
This destruction by the Anglo-American forces is not necessarily beyond our reach even in 1944 with consequences, if it is attained, which cannot be measured and must certainly be profound.
All this must be considered in relation to the gigantic struggle which is proceeding ceaselessly along the 2,000-mile Russian front from the White Sea to the Black Sea, where the Russian forces are already at many points superior in strength to the Germans.
But we must not in these favorable tendencies do anything to weaken our efforts or to belittle the dangers that are facing us or believe that the war is coming to an end. On the contrary, we must expect that the terrible foe whom we are so heavily smiting will make frenzied efforts to retaliate.
Awaits New Weapons
The speeches of German leaders from Hitler downward contain mysterious allusions to new methods and new weapons which will presently be tried against us. It would be, of course, only natural for the enemy to spread such rumors in order to encourage his own people.
There is probably more in it than that. We have, for example, now had experience with a new type of aerial bomb which the enemy has begun to use upon our shipping at close quarters on our ships close to the coast. This bomb may be described as a sort of rocket-assisted glider which releases its bombs from a height and is directed toward its target by a parent aircraft. It may be that the Germans ale developing other weapons on novel lines with which they hope to do us damage. I can assure the House that unceasing vigilance and most intense study—the most intense we are capable of giving—is being given to these possibilities. So far we have always been able to find an answer to any new problems presented.
At the same time no one must exclude from their minds that novel forms of attack will be employed and should they be employed, I shall be able to show to the House in detail the prolonged, careful examination beforehand that we have given to these possibilities and, I trust, show the measures brought against these new attacks.
So much for air. Not less remarkable than air or land and certainly not least important is the revolution effected in our position at sea. I have repeatedly stated that our greatest danger since the war began, since invasion seemed so much more remote, is the U-boat war upon our sea communications and Allied shipping all over the world.
The great victory which was won by our north Atlantic convoys and their escorts in May was followed by a magnificent diminution in sinkings.
The monthly statements which are issued on authority of the President and myself and about which the Canadian Government—who contribute to the Battle of the Atlantic brave men, airplanes and vessels—are also consulted, deserve close attention. I have little to add to them today, but it is a fact that for the four months which ended September 18 no merchant vessel was sunk by enemy action in the north Atlantic.
The month of August was the lowest month we have ever had since the United States entered the war and was less than half the average of British and Allied sinkings in the fifteen months preceding the American entry into the war. In the first fortnight of September no Allied ships were sunk by U-boat action in any part of the world.
This is altogether unprecedented in the whole history of the U-boat struggle either in this war or the last.
New Herd of U-boats Out
Naturally, I do not suggest for a moment that this immunity or anything like it could possibly continue. A new herd of U-boats has been coming out in the last week or so into the Atlantic from bases in France and Germany, and they no doubt have been fitted with what is thought to be the best and latest apparatus. We for our part have not been idle, and we await this renewal of the conflict which, in fact, already has begun—one convoy is being attacked at the present time—with sober confidence. If they attack convoys we shall be able to attack U-boats.
In spite, however, of the reduced number of U-boats which have been at work since the May massacre, rarely a day passes without us getting one of these ill-starred vessels. Moreover, United States and British air attacks on German bases and building yards and on factories where the component parts are made have definitely reduced the rate of production of U-boats in Germany. The high percentage of killings has certainly affected the morale of U-boat crews, and many of the most experienced U-boat captains have been drowned or are prisoners in British and American hands.
The output of new building from the United States has fulfilled all that I ever hoped from it and more. We build our regular quota in these islands, and the Canadian output—an entirely new development for Canada—also is remarkable. The credit balance of new building over losses for all times, including marine risks since the beginning of the year—the net gain, that is to say—exceeds 6,000,000 tons, and, should the present favorable condition hold, we shall soon have replaced all the losses suffered by the United Nations since the beginning of the war.
The massive achievement of United States shipbuilding has been shared generously with us on this principle of division of war labor in accordance with the highest economy of effort which we from the beginning of our association with the United States in this war have made our guide and which is now becoming increasingly our rule.
The favorable position now enjoyed has enabled a larger number of faster ships to be built and projected. We have taken advantage of the lull in U-boat attacks to bring in the largest possible convoys, and we have replenished our resources in this island of essential commodities, especially oil fuels, which stand now almost at a higher level than at any time since the outbreak of the war. We have a substantial margin between us and what is called the danger level and which we have never trenched upon even at the worst times.
All this has not come about accidentally. It is the result of industry and organization on both sides of the Atlantic. It is also the result of hard, faithful and unwearying services given by the multitude of escort vessels of all kinds and most of all, so far as last year is concerned, it is the result of startling intervention of long-range aircraft of the British Empire and the United States and especially our Coastal Command.
Besides this, a large number of auxiliary aircraft carriers now coming into service are able to give a measure of air protection to convoys and to conduct aggressive warfare against U-boats in those areas which are beyond the reach even of long-range aircraft of the two countries.
I repeat, as I always have done and as I am bound to do, my warning that no guarantee can be given for the continuance of these favorable conditions, but I can now go so far as to say we could only be defeated by U-boats if we were guilty of gross neglect of duty in shipyards and on the sea and of inexcusable falling off in that scientific and technical ability on both sides of the Atlantic which hitherto has stood us in good stead.
I cannot pass from this subject without paying tribute once more to the officers and men of the merchant navy, whose losses have been even in greater proportion than those of the Royal Navy. We never call on them in vain, and we are confident that they will continue to play their part in the carrying of our men and their equipment and munitions to any place they may be required and under whatever conditions may exist at the time.
I may add also that, with these new resources of shipbuilding which are coming into view, every saving is immediately demanded in the fighting services in their endeavor to intensify and to augment our offensive action. Their appetite keeps far ahead of the supply, even though that is ahead of our expectations. The more ships we have the more we seem to want.
I have dealt with land, air and navy, but now I must turn to another part of the world.
Offensive Against Japan
At the conference at Quebec much attention was given to the prosecution of the war against Japan, an offensive already on foot on a considerable scale in various parts of the Pacific. The main strength of the United States is deployed in that ocean. The main weight of the offensive operations there is in the Solomons and New Guinea, where General MacArthur—an officer of outstanding personality to whom we and our Australian brothers are under an immeasurable debt—is conducting a large-scale offensive.
The first steps were taken by the eviction of the Japanese from Guadalcanal and Papua. These were exploited by landings which took place June 30 on New Georgia Island and on September 4 in Huon Bay, northeast of Lae.
New Georgia has been cleared of the enemy and the twin bases of Salamaua and Lae were reduced in a manner which shows remarkable development in the use of amphibious and air-borne power and which furnished another opportunity for the Ninth Australian Division to display to the Japanese their qualities, which the Germans had tested at El Alamein.
These operations give great promise for the future and will unfold stage by stage as the months pass by.
While we were at Quebec we also received news of the evacuation of the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands, which are American territory. The occupation of Kiska, in which Canadian forces also took part, was a sequel to the annihilation of the Japanese garrison from the island of Attu, and it was certainly remarkable for the fact that the Japanese, who had occupied Kiska with a garrison of 10,000 men or more, were hot prepared to await the assault but fled beforehand under cover of darkness.
Here is a new feature in the resistance of Japan. Hitherto we reckoned on their dying to the last man, which they Certainly did at Attu and in which respect we were prepared to serve them as well as we could. But at Kiska, and also to some extent at Salamaua and Lae, a somewhat different mood seemed to possess the enemy. Evacuation and retreat in order to save lives now seems to take a place in their method fighting. We shall see in due course whether these new tendencies become pronounced; if so, while they will not alter the result they will save cost and trouble.
Fundamental Fact About Japan
A fundamental fact in the war against Japan is the steady diminution of Japanese shipping in relation to the task their war policy imposed upon them. The wasting process is most marked. Their widely dispersed conquests depend upon a certain minimum shipping supply. They cannot possibly hold the vast areas they occupy except upon a certain minimum shipping supply. Their losses certainly exceed any means they have or can ever obtain of replacement.
This also is true about their air force, which can scarcely keep up its initial strength and long ago had been overtaken ana now is increasingly surpassed every month by the enormous United States expansion.
In both these vital respects, on which the Japanese conquests were repeatedly made dependent for their maintenance, a steady progress of attrition is at work, and the strength of the enemy must be considered a wasting asset.
I venture to dwell on these favorable aspects of the war against Japan only because I know it is realized throughout the United States that the slightest slackening of effort would destroy all.
These favorable tendencies depend on a small margin. Any slackening of effort might allow them to come into a stagnant condition and we might well find ourselves condemned to a long-drawn process of futile expenditure of life and treasure. It is the pace that kills.
Turning to another but cognate aspect of the war which was discussed at Quebec, considerable progress has been made in the reorganization of the Southeast Asia Command which is being set up in India to intensify the war against Japan. The Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Mount-batten, will shortly arrive in India, accompanied by staff officers who will form a combined Allied headquarters modeled on that which has been set up under General Eisenhower with so much advantage.
Combined Headquarters Necessary
I This form of combined Allied headquarters was absolutely necessary because many United States establishments were growing up separately for many purposes in that area, particularly in respect to the great air route to China which is being extended and expanded on an ever-increasing scale, and although there is excellent liaison and good feeling it was absolutely necessary to have unity of command in this theatre.
Headquarters of the new command will be set up first at Delhi so as to be in close liaison with the Government of India. Daring the organizational period they have to be in closest liaison with the Government of India and with General Auchinleck, Commander in Chief in India.
The new command and the appointment of Admiral Mountbatten have been warmly welcomed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and they are in full accord with the view of our American allies.
In all these questions of joint command, matters have to be so arranged that the men who are chosen to command have the full confidence of all parties concerned.
Another step which was foreseen when we examined these matters as much as sixteen or seventeen years ago in the Committee of Imperial Defense was the separation from the ordinary normal statutory command in India of any large extensive campaign fought on or beyond the frontiers of India. That also had been achieved.
A general survey of this amazing and fearful World War is an essential part of any balanced statement. Without it
events in any one theatre cannot be viewed in their proper setting or proportion. To understand fully any part of this war one must have at least a broad conception of the whole.
The Overthrow of a Dictator
I now return, after placing these general considerations before the House, to the more recent events in the Mediterranean theatre which are so fresh and vivid in our hands.
July 25 was a memorable day. Even before we had half completed the conquest of Sicily or had set foot on the Italian mainland, Dictator Mussolini was overthrown and the fascist regime which had lasted twenty-one years was cast down, vehemently repudiated by the whole mass of the Italian people.
The Badoglio government came into existence with the intention of making peace in accordance with the will of the nation. They were, however, intruded upon at all points and overlaid by the Germans and had the greatest difficulty in maintaining themselves against this fateful pressure. We knew nothing about this new regime. Once fascism was overthrown we naturally were anxious to find some authority with whom we could deal so as to bring about the. unconditional surrender of Italy in the shortest time with the least possible cost in the blood of our soldiers.
It was necessary, as I advised the House, to wait until the position had become more definite and we, therefore, confined our preparations for an invasion in strength of the mainland of Italy and of Europe, on which we resolved at the May conference at Washington.
Presently feelers were put out by the new Italian Government through various channels, asking for terms and explaining the deadly character of the difficulties in which they were involved. These difficulties arose from the menacing presence of German armies, police and spies all around them. We were sympathetic to those difficulties.
(Here a member made an interjection which was not audible in the press gallery.)
Wait and see. That is cheap criticism from people who must be hard put to it to find criticism, but I am going to answer very precisely and exhaustively even before we break off for the mid-day refreshment. We were sympathetic to those difficulties, but to all advances we made the reply: Surrender must be unconditional.
Offer of Badoglio Government
On August 15 an Italian envoy, an officer with the rank of general, called on our Ambassador at Madrid, Sir Samuel Hoare, with credentials proving he came with full authority from Marshal Badoglio and that he came to say that when the Allies landed in Italy the Italian Government was prepared to join them against Germany. When could they come?
I was at this time not entirely by accident at Quebec for the conference, and I was in closest contact with the President. The Foreign Secretary was with me, and I also was accompanied by an ample cipher staff and secretariat through whom hourly touch could be maintained with my colleagues in the War Cabinet. The President and I, therefore, were able to act together and give prompt guidance in any emergency.
With the approval of the War Cabinet it was decided that General Eisenhower should send British and American staff officers to meet the Italian envoy at Lisbon.
We at once informed Premier Stalin of what was in progress. On August 19 a meeting in Lisbon took place. The envoy was informed we would only accept unconditional surrender. Military terms embodying this act of surrender-not so much the conditions as the directions following the act of surrender—which had been prepared some weeks earlier, after prolonged discussion between Washington, London and General Eisenhower's headquarters, were now placed before the envoy.
He did not oppose those terms, drastic though they were, but replied the purpose of his visit was to discuss how Italy could join the United Nations in the war against Germany. He also asked how the terms could be executed in the face of German opposition.
The British and American officers replied that they were empowered only to discuss unconditional surrender. They were, however, authorized to add—this was the decision we took at Quebec—that if at any time, anywhere and in any circumstances any Italian forces or people were found by our troops to be fighting the Germans we would immediately give them all possible aid.
On August 23 the Italian general departed with these military terms expressing the act of unconditional surrender and with full warning that civil and administrative terms would be presented later.
He then made his way back to Rome with great secrecy and danger. He promised to lay these terms before his government and to bring back their answer to General Eisenhower's headquarters by August 31. In the interval another Italian general arrived, bringing with him as his credentials no less a person than General Carton de Wiart, V. C., one of our most famous military figures, whom the Italians captured two years ago through a forced landing in the Mediterranean.
This second mission did not, however, affect the course of events.
On August 31 the Italian envoy returned. He met General Eisenhower's representative at Syracuse. The Italian Government were willing to accept the terms unconditionally, but they did not see how they could carry them out in the teeth of the heavy German forces gathered near Rome and many other points throughout the country.
We did not doubt the sincerity of the envoy nor his government, but we were not able to reveal our military plans for the invasion of Italy. The real difficulty was that the Italians were powerless, and until we landed in strength we couldn't give them a date.
We, therefore, timed the announcement for the moment we deemed would give us the best military chance and give them the best chance of extricating themselves from the German grip. This meant an armistice should be accorded only at that moment or just before our main descent.
We would have done more if it had been possible to help this unhappy government, who were beset on every side by insoluble problems and who have since acted toward us to the best of their ability both with courage and good faith.
American Division Offered
We offered and prepared to land an American air-borne division in Rome at the same time the armistice was declared in order to fight off two German armored divisions which were massed outside it, and to help the Italians, but, owing to the German investment of the Rome airfields, which took place in the last day or two before the announcement of the armistice—of which investment the Italian Government warned us—it was not possible to carry out this part of the plan, which was, I think, a pretty daring plan to cast this powerful force there in Rome under conditions which no one could measure and which might have led to its complete destruction. We were quite ready to do it, but at the last moment the warning came through: "Airfields are not in our control.
Unconditional surrender, of course, comprises everything. But not only was a special provision for the surrender of war criminals included in the longer terms, but particular stipulation was made for the surrender of Signor Mussolini.
It was not, however, possible to arrange for him to be delivered specially and separately before the armistice and our main landing took place, for this would certainly have disclosed the intentions of the Italian Government to the enemy.
The Italian position had been that, although an internal revolution had taken place in Italy, they were still the allies of Germany carrying on a common cause with them. This was a position very difficult to maintain day after day with the pistols of the Gestapo pointing at the napes of so many necks.
We have every reason to believe that Mussolini was being kept under strong guard in a secure place. Certainly it was very much in the interests of the Badoglio government to make sure he did not escape.
Mussolini himself was reported to have declared he believed he was being delivered to the Allies. This was certainly the intention and would have taken place but for circumstances unhappily beyond our control. The measures which the Badoglio government took were carefully conceived and the best they could do to hold Mussolini, but they did not provide against so heavy a parachute descent as the Germans made at the particular point where he was confined.
It will be noted that they sent him some books of Nietzsche and leaflets to console him and diversify his confinement, and no doubt they were fully acquainted with where he was and the conditions in which he was, but the stroke was one of great daring and was conducted with a heavy force and certainly shows there may be possibilities of this kind which are open in modern war.
Had Orders to Kill Ex-Duce
I do not think there was any slackness or breach of faith on the part of the Badoglio government, and they had one card up their sleeve—Carabinieri guards had orders to shoot Mussolini if there was any attempt at a rescue—but they failed in their duty, having regard to the larger and considerable German forces who descended upon them from the air who undoubtedly would have held them responsible for his health and safety.
So much for that. The terms were signed at Syracuse on the night of September 3, and from that time forth occasional aircraft passed secretly between Rome and Allied headquarters. This was a very difficult matter as great numbers of guns had to be silenced.
The Russian Soviet Government, having studied the terms, authorized General Eisenhower to sign them in their name and he accordingly did that, not only on behalf of the United States and Great Britain but on behalf of the Soviet Government and the United Nations.
Answers Critics of Events
I have seen it said that forty days of precious time were lost in these negotiations and that in consequence British and American blood was needlessly shed around Salerno. This criticism is as ill-founded as it is wounding to those who are bereaved.
The time of our main attack upon Italy was fixed without the slightest reference to the attitude of the Italian Government, and the actual provisional date of operation was settled long before any negotiations with them had taken place or even before the fall of Mussolini. But the date depended upon the time necessary to disengage our landing craft from the beaches of southern Sicily, across which up to the first week in August the major part of our armies actually engaged there had to be supplied from day to day.
These landing craft had then to be taken back to Africa. Those which had been damaged—and there were many—had to be repaired and then they had to be reloaded with ammunition, etc., in exact and complex order before there could be any question of carrying out another amphibious operation. I suppose it is realized that these matters are arranged in most extraordinary detail. Every landing vessel or combat ship is packed in exactly the order which the troops to be landed will require when they land, so far as can be foreseen, and every lorry is in fact packed with the necessary articles which the units require when landed.
Some do swim out to the ships and swim back again, and they are all packed exactly with the things which have priority from the start so that nothing is left to chance. Only in this way are these extraordinary operations safe and possible in the face of the vast modern firepower which a few men can bring to bear.
The condition and the preparation of the landing craft were the sole and decisive limiting factors—it had nothing to do with these negotiations we were "passing" time over, nothing to do with the Foreign Office holding back the generals while they worried over different things of this clause and that clause.
There was not for one moment a pause in the process of carrying out military operations, and everything else had to fit in with the main line traffic. When I hear people talking in an airy way of throwing modern armies ashore here and there as if they were bales of goods to be dumped on the beach and forgotten, I really marvel at the lack of knowledge of the conditions of modern warfare which still prevails.
Most strenuous efforts were made by all concerned to speed up our onfall. For instance, I sent a telegram myself from Quebec to General Alexander on August 18 as follows:
"You are no doubt informed of the Italian approaches to us and the answer we have sent them. Our greatest danger is that the Germans should enter Rome and set up a Quisling Fascist government under, say, Farinacci.
1 "Scarcely less unpleasant would be the whole of Italy sliding into anarchy. I doubt if the Badoglio Government can hold their position until the present date fixed for our main attack, so that anything you can do to shorten this period without danger to military success will help very much."
General Alexander replied on August 20:
"Many thanks for your message. Everything possible is being done to carry out this operation at the earliest possible date. All here realize very clearly that every additional hour gives the enemy more time to organize and prepare against bur forces."
Most people, knowing the character of these generals—Eisenhower, Alexander and Montgomery—would have thought that quite enough. The date, which had originally been the fifteenth, was, however, in fact brought forward to the night of September 8.
Thus the whole of this operation—which is the answer to the charge of delay, and I have heard the word "slothful" used—was planned as a result of the decision taken before the fall of Mussolini and would have taken place in any case, whatever happened in Italy, at the earliest possible moment. The Italian surrender was a windfall which had nothing to do with the date fixed for the harvesting of the orchard.
The truth is that the armistice was delayed to fit in with the attack and not that the attack was delayed to fit in with the announcement.
This class of criticism, which I read in the newspapers when I arrived on Sunday morning reminds me of the simple tale which I have heard and which I daresay other members are familiar with, about the sailor who jumped into the dock. I think it was at Plymouth—to rescue a small boy from drowning. About a week later this sailor was accosted by a woman who asked him, "Are you the man who picked my son out of the docks the other night?"
The sailor replied modestly, "Well, that is so, ma'am."
"Oh, said the woman, "you are the man I'm looking for. Where is his cap?"
General Montgomery, at the head of the Eighth Army, with whom marched the Canadians—welcome comrades—on September 3 began to cross the Strait of Messina and to land at various points in the toe of Italy. One could not tell how much would leak out nor what would happen in Rome and in Italy before our main attack, nor to what extent the Italian Government would have the power to carry out their undertaking so in this uncertainty, I availed myself off the President's invitation to remain with him in the White House. We may pause for a moment to survey and appraise the act of the Italian Government endorsed and acclaimed as it was by the Italian nation.
Cites Hitler's Expert View
Herr Hitler has left us in no doubt he considers the conduct of Italy treacherous and base in the extreme, and the is a good judge of such matters. Others may hold that the act of treachery and ingratitude took place with the Fascist confederacy headed by Mussolini—for he was lot alone, but now became the absolute dictator of his country's destiny—when the whole nation was ground up into his system after nearly a generation of totalitarian rule when he used arbitrary power to strike for material gain at falling France and so became the enemy of the British Empire, which for so many years cherished the cause of Italian liberty, and afterward becoming the enemy of the United States, in which six or seven million Italians have found a happy home.
There was the crime and, though it cannot be undone and though nations who allow their rights and liberty to be subverted by tyrants must suffer heavy penalties for those tyrants' crimes, yet I cannot view the Italian action at this juncture as other than natural and human.
May it prove to be the first of a series of acts to self-redemption. It is possible, indeed, that I or the Foreign Secretary will have a further statement to make upon the subject of the Badoglio Government before we separate. The Italian people have already suffered terribly. Their manhood has been cast away in Africa and Russia. Their soldiers have been deserted in the field. We have seen that ourselves. Their wealth has been squandered. Their empire has been lost, irretrievably lost.
Now their own beautiful homeland must become the battlefield for German rearguards. Even more suffering lies ahead. They are to be pillaged and terrorized in Hitler's fury and revenge. Nevertheless, as the armies of the British Empire and the United States march forward in Italy, as we shall march, the Italian people will be rescued from the state of servitude and degradation and will be enabled in due course to regain their rightful place among the free democracies of the modern world.
Judges Germany Differently
I cannot touch upon the matter of Italy without exposing myself to a question I shall most properly be asked: Would you apply this line of argument to the German people?
Sir, I say the case is different. Twice in our lifetime and also three times in that of our fathers, they have plunged the world into their wars of expansion and aggression. They combine in the most deadly manner the qualities of the warrior and the slave. They do not value freedom themselves, and the spectacle of it in others is hateful to them.
Whenever they become strong they seek their prey, and they will follow with an iron discipline anyone who will lead them to it. The core of Germany is Prussia. There is the source of the recurring pestilence. But we do not war with races as such. We war against tyranny and we seek to preserve ourselves from destruction.
I am sure the British, American and Russian peoples, who have suffered measureless waste, peril and bloodshed twice in a quarter of a century through the Teutonic urge for domination, will this time take steps to put it beyond the power of Prussia or all Germany to come at them again.
The Nazi tyranny and Prussian militarism are the two main elements in German life which must be absolutely destroyed. They must be absolutely rooted out if Europe and the world are to be spared a third and still more frightful conflict. Controversies about whether Burke was right or wrong when he said, "I do not know a method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people," these controversies seem to be at this time sterile and academic.
Here are two obvious practical targets for us to fire at—Nazi tyranny and Prussian militarism. Let us aim every gun, let us set every man who will march in motion against them. We must not add needlessly to the weight of our task or to the burden that our soldiers bear. Satellite States, suborned or overawed, may perhaps, if they can help to shorten the war, be allowed to work their passage home, but the twin roots of all our evils—Nazi tyranny and Prussian militarism—must be extirpated. Until this is achieved there are no sacrifices that we will not make, no length in violence to which we will not go.
I will add this. Having at the end of my life acquired some influence upon affairs, I wish to make it clear that I would not prolong this war needlessly for a single day, and my hope is that if and when the British people are called by victory to share the responsibility of shaping the future we shall show the same poise and temper as we did in the hour of our mortal peril.
The Invasion of Italy
I made a considerable, but I think by no means unnecessary, diversion into relations and views which we may form toward the various enemy or satellite countries with whom we may have to deal, and I now come back to the purely military sphere.
The invasion of Italy in the Naples area was the most daring amphibious operation which we have yet launched or which has ever been launched on a similar scale. In North Africa we expected little resistance and much help from the French. In Sicily we expected the opposition of Italians would be lukewarm, and we knew we greatly outnumbered the Germans and on landing in northwest Africa no serious air power was likely to be encountered. * * *
But from the Gulf of Salerno we were at the extreme range of shore-based aircraft flying from Palermo and other conquered Sicilian fields. Until we gained refueling stations and landing places our single-engined fighter squadrons had but a quarter hour's activity over the battlefield area. * * *
It is a terrible problem for a pilot engaged in action to fight for a few minutes and then to submit himself to reaching home across the seas.
Therefore, it was necessary to make demands on our air strength which even at its great numbers could hardly supply the forces necessary for maintenance and continuous flying with the rapidity which is necessary. We could not, therefore, go farther north than Naples. It was, in fact, said it might have been better to go to the north of Naples and Spezia, but we could not go farther north than Naples, unless we dispensed with the aid of land-based aircraft.
Even as it is, we are dependent upon sea-borne aircraft in Which we are happily becoming stronger and in the future will become stronger. To have gone farther north would have deprived our carriers of the support of shore-based aircraft, and they would have thus become the sole object of the enemy's attack, thus absorbing their own airpower for their own defense instead of helping the troops on the beaches.
These are the hard limitations imposed upon us at the present time. These considerations must have been known to the Germans, with whom alone we had to deal.
Although the German forces were not numerous enough to man the whole of the threatened sectors of the coast, they could counter-attack within a few hours with forces equal to those which we had built up in the first stages. At least the enemy's forces were equal to our own, and they had the power to march against us and counter-attack when they knew the forces they expected to meet there.
We knew the Germans had the power to march against us and to counter-attack with superior or equal numbers before we could secure any land bases or harbors, and while for several days we had to land and feed our forces on the open beaches. At this stage of the war a disastrous repulse and an enforced re-embarkation would have been particularly vexatious.
No doubt, if this had occurred, criticism would have been leveled at the British and American direction of operation across the channel. The enterprise, therefore, seemed full of hazards, specially as such a long distance—over 150 miles—separated the vanguard of the Eighth Army from our new and major attack. This attack was confined to the United States Army commander of the Fifth Army. General Clark, an officer of remarkable energy and force, who had under his command an equal number of United States and British divisions supported by ample British and American naval forces and by our entire combined air forces.
If we had been ready to take greater risks, we could have, of course, attacked earlier with stronger forces. We could have attacked much farther northward if we relied wholly on sea-borne aircraft.
I think the case against delay is pretty watertight. When I survey in retrospect last week's intense fighting, with the battles swaying to and fro, it looks as if we cut it very time, indeed. On the night of September 8 the approaches and landing were successfully effected, but as the battle developed, it was, from the second day onward, most critical.
The British and American divisions fought side by side with their backs to the sea, with only a few miles behind them and with their equipment coming in slowly over the beaches and their landing craft coming in under recurrent attacks from the enemy in the air.
The Germans came in well-organized assaults, fighting with their practiced skill in offense and defense. From day three to day seven the issue hung in the balance, and the possibility of a large-scale disaster could not be excluded. There are no certainties in war. There is a precipice on both sides—a precipice of precaution and a precipice of daring.
General Alexander, in whose group of armies this operation lay, and later on General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, proceeded to the scene in person and visited divisional and brigade headquarters of this fluctuating battle front and conferred with General Clark at his battle post ashore. Every inch of ground was savagely disputed.
The harbor at Salerno was got into working order and is now discharging supplies on a considerable scale. Reinforcements, of which there is no lack, were poured in to the utmost limit of our landing craft. The battle swung to and fro, and one can quite understand that the German hopes of driving us into the sea, with the bloody mopping up on the beaches, must have risen high at times. When we thought we had their measure, a British battle squadron with some of tie finest battleships joined an inshore squadron and by a heavy bombardment of the enemy on shore ran a great risk in narrow waters and at close range of enemy aircraft.
Enemy gliders damaged some ships.
It was right to risk capital ships in this matter in view of the improvement of our naval balance, to which I will refer before sitting down.
Air Force Work Cited
British and American Air Forces surpassed all previous efforts. Almost 2,500 fighter and bomber sorties were flown during twenty-four hours at the height of the battle, and 1,400 tons of bombs were dropped on German forces in the battlefield and among their immediate communications during the same twenty-four hour period.
Meanwhile, the Eighth Army, whose operations had been considered from the beginning as complementary, were striking with the Fifth Army. They had become masters of many points in the toe, ball and heel of Italy and were advancing with giant strides, and on the tenth day began to intervene, as it was intended they should, on the enemy's southern flank and rear.
Results show the enemy has been worsted. Our main forces are fully assured, and the Eighth Army is coming into action in suitable places.
We have recovered the initiative and we are able now to advance northward on a broad front. That operation now is in progress.
We must consider this episode—landing on the beaches at Salerno—as an important and pregnant victory, one deserving a definite place in the records of the British and United States armies and in the records of the British and United States armies fighting together and shedding their blood. While this struggle was raging the armistice with Italy was made public and the Badoglio government ordered the Italian troops to fulfill its conditions. They also called upon them to resist the Germans when attacked by them. German panzer divisions outside Rome broke into the city and drove out the King and his government, and I will not add to the excellent accounts, fuller and more vivid, which have been published in the newspapers, which are fuller and more interesting than official telegrams, but I would say that in my opinion they give a very true picture broadly to the public of what has been taking place. I do not, I say, need to add to them. Indeed, I have found myself at a disadvantage, having for five days had to depend on official accounts and not knowing what the newspapers contained, a knowledge of which the House itself fully possessed in the way of descriptive passages about this battle.
Italian Aid Is Noted
I will, however, emphasize some main points which stand out. The first is that the Italian forces and the population have everywhere shown themselves unfriendly or actively hostile to the Germans and everywhere have endeavored to obey so far as possible, the order of the King and Italy's new Government.
The second is that every effort has been made both by that Government and its forces to comply with the armistice conditions. Fighting is taking place at many points between Italians and the German intruders, and there is no doubt whatever on which side the sympathy, hopes and efforts of the Italian nation now lie.
In Sardinia, for instance, which until lately was considered a major prize in itself, four Italian divisions have driven out the German garrison. American forces have low landed in their support. The French have landed in Corsica.
We had great and elaborate plans worked out for these places, but we have got them broadly as result of sound blows at the center and vital points of the enemy. The French have landed in Corsica and added to the Italian garrison there, are actively attacking the Germans. This is the first time the French have been in action for the liberation of their home territory. At one site in Bastia harbor the batteries were manned by Italian and French patriots whom the Italians had been sent to put down. The fight was conducted by Italian destroyers and a British submarine, all united in shelling and driving the Germans out of the place. For the first tone, as I have said, the French were in action for the liberation of their territory. But a powerful French army is growing up and it will play an increasing part.
Issue of Italian Civil War
The escape of Mussolini to Germany, his rescue by paratroops and his attempt to form a Quisling government with German bayonets which will try to refix the Fascist yoke upon the necks of the Italian people—this raises the issue of Italian civil war.
It is necessary in the general interest as well as in that of Italy that all the surviving forces in Italy's national life should be rallied together around their Government and that the King and Marshal Badoglio should be supported by whatever liberal and left-wing elements are capable of making head against the Nazi Quisling gang and thus drive this villainous combination from Italian soil or, better still, annihilate it on the spot.
This, of course, without the slightest prejudice to the untrammelled right of the Italian nation to make what arrangement it chooses for the future government of their country on democratic lines, when peace and tranquillity are restored.
If there is any issue on this point—and it certainly is one which will come most abundantly to the front—we must, of course, thresh it out and come to an issue, because the Government intends to pursue a policy of engaging all the forces it can to make headway against the Germans and drive them out of Italy.
We propose to do that and we are not going to be put off that action by any fear that we should not have, perhaps, complete unanimity on the subject. Parliament does not act on unanimity and democratic assemblies do not act unanimity. They act by majority.
I have not the slightest hesitation or doubt as to what will be the view of the House and what will be the view of the country in respect to the policy which I am announcing and which we are determined to carry through with the utmost vigor.
I would make it perfectly clear that we are endeavoring to rally the strongest forces together in Italy to make headway against the Germans and the Mussolini-Quisling-Fascist combination. That's what we intend to do.
We shall do our utmost to explain and justify any course we take to Parliament, but we cannot expect to convince everybody. There are some people who will run their own ideas to such a point without the slightest regard about the difficulties and dangers which the troops have to face, and also I may say, without giving the slightest consideration to the actual conditions of confusion and anarchy which prevail in Italy and which at this most terrible juncture require the most desperate measures in order to make any form of Italian nationality coherent and physical.
[Frederick S. Cocks, Laborite: "Do the Allied governments intend to allow Italian exiles, people like Count Sforza, to go back to Italy and help rouse the people?"]
I cannot speak for Count Sforza, but I should be glad, indeed, to see those kind of forces rallied to the government which must be formed to drive out the Germans. If they are given an opportunity and do not come forward, then in my opinion they will be taking great responsibility, for there are moments in the life of a country when people cannot be more nice than wise. They have to throw in their lot for what it is worth with the forces on which depend the existence and identity of their nation.
Well, now, is that all right? Nothing that is settled here in administrative diplomacy prejudges or prejudices in any way the decision of the Italian people in the form of government they intend to have. We are coming to the rescue and liberation of Italy. We are prepared to place large armies in Italy and to deploy a wide, active fighting front against the enemy on whatever lines he chooses to resist and to maintain the offensive against him with increasing weight and vigor, if need be throughout the autumn and winter and beyond.
It is, of course, of great importance to the United Nations to bring the largest forces they possibly can to bear upon the enemy and to force the fighting to the utmost. We are terribly hampered by the sea, which has been our shield and protection and is now a barrier which prevents employment of these considerable forces. It is our interest to force the fighting to the utmost and to find the means, some of them not even the best means, of coming into contact with the enemy. Especially is this true in the air, where our superiority of numbers as well as quality must find full scope.
It is to our advantage to use the air on equal terms and more than equal terms—worse than equal terms to the enemy, in order to produce that diminution which we can sustain and which he cannot. But, happily, losses will show advantage on our side. They have lost more heavily than we have in nearly all fights.
A "Second Front"
I call this front which we opened first in Africa, next in Sicily and now in Italy the third front. A second front, which already exists potentially and which is rapidly gathering weight, has not yet been engaged. But it is here, holding force in its front, and I am not going to hint at the moment when it will be engaged. But the second front exists and is a main preoccupation already with the enemy.
It has not yet been thrown into play. On the day when we and our American Allies judge to be the right time this front also will be thrown open and thrown into play, and a mass invasion of the Continent from the west in combination with this invasion from the south will begin.
It really is quite impossible for those who do not know the facts and figures of American assembly in Britain or our own powerful expeditionary armies now preparing here, who do not know the dispositions of the enemy as between various fronts on which he is menaced or assaulted, or who cannot measure his reserve or resources and his power to transfer large forces from one front to another over the vast railway system of Europe, who do not know the state of our fleet or of landing craft of all kinds—and this must be proportionate to work they have to do—who do not know how actually the means of landing will take place or what are the necessary stages of build-up that have to be thought out beforehand in relation to what the enemy can do, it is impossible for those who do not know these facts, which are studied by hundreds of skilled officers day after day and month after month, to pronounce a useful opinion upon this operation.
[William Gallacher. Communist, interrupted to ask if that applied to Premier Joseph Stalin.]
We certainly should not take our advice in matters of this kind from British Communists, because we know they stood aside and cared nothing for our fortunes in our dire and mortal peril.
Any advice we take will be from the friends and allies, who are all joined together in the common cause and winning the victory. The House may be absolutely certain that the present Government will never be swayed or overborne by any uninstructed agitation, however natural, or pressure, however well meant, in matters of this kind.
It will not be forced or cajoled into undertaking vast operations against our better judgement in order to gain political unanimity or a cheer from any quarter.
The bloodiest portion—make no mistake about it—the bloodiest portion of this war for Great Britain and the United States lies ahead of us. Neither the House nor His Majesty's Government will shrink from that ordeal.
We shall not grudge any sacrifice for the common cause, but must regard it as a matter of personal honor to act only in the conviction of success founded upon the highest professional advice at our disposal in operations of the first magnitude.
I decline, therefore, to discuss at all the question of where, how and on what scale the main assault from the west will be launched, and I trust and am confident the House will support the Government in this attitude.
I am glad to say that several important arrangements have been made at Quebec and in consultation with the War Cabinet here for a closer correlation of policy and action between the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States. Difficulties of geography have hitherto proved an insuperable impediment, although various efforts have been made not only by the United States and by the British Government to bridge the physical gap by the successive visits to Moscow of Lord Beaverbrook, the Foreign Secretary and myself and by the visit of Foreign Commissar Molotoff to this country and the United States.
Stalin Suggested Commission
In August, replying to a telegram from President Roosevelt and myself informing Russia of the Italian peace feelers, Marshal Stalin expressed the wish to have an inter-Allied commission set up in the Mediterranean to deal with these and similar problems as and when they arose—the Mediterranean problem, a working Italian armistice and all that, as they arose.
We were very glad to find this friendly interest taken in our Mediterranean operations by our Russian allies.
The commission cannot, of course, supersede the authority or diminish the responsibilities of the Governments, but its members will be kept fully informed of all that passes and will have the power of individual or collective representation to their Governments.
Our representative will be Harold Macmillan, whose work at General Eisenhower's headquarters is closely connected with this held and who is discharging his difficult duties with increasing distinction and success.
But arrangements also have been made—I must make it quite clear that this does not relieve the Governments of their responsibilities because that would be contrary to the parliamentary principle on which we rest and also, of course, to the military emergency which dominates everything—arrangements also have been made, as has already beep stated, for a tripartite conference between the Foreign Secretaries of the three countries or their representatives.
We shall be represented by the Foreign Secretary, in whom the House and his colleagues have complete confidence.
The conference will take place at an early date, and no question will be barred from its discussions. The whole ground will be surveyed, and matters will be carried forward to agreement wherever possible. Where there is a difference, that will be set aside for what I am coming to.
We have also confident hope of a subsequent meeting before the end of the year between the President of the United States, Marshal Stalin and myself, and I need scarcely say the time and the place of this meeting will not be made public until the meeting has been concluded.
And I would add that all speculation on such points of details in the newspaper press would on the whole be unhelpful.
The work which will have to be done on a foreign office level between the three countries should prove invaluable aid is certainly an indispensable preliminary to any such meetings between the heads of the Governments. I will At say any more on this subject at the present time except that no meeting during this war could carry with it so much significance for the future of the world as a meeting between the heads of the three Governments, for without a close, cordial and lasting association between Soviet Russia and the other great allies we might find ourselves at the end of the war only to have entered upon a period of deepening confusion.
At Quebec also was settled the question of recognition of the French Committee of National Liberation. Any difference in the degrees of this recognition which may be noticed in the documents of the various powers arises solely from the importance which is attached to preserving full freedom to the French nation as a whole to decide its future destinies under conditions of freedom and tranquillity. Neither Great Britain nor the United States is prepared to regard the French National Committee as other than a provisional instrument, and this view is fully accepted by the members of the committee themselves. I am happy to say that continued improvement in personal relations and a fusion of aims has taken place in the last two months within the committee itself.
Personalities have receded, and the collective strength of this body, which I will call the trustees of France during the time of her incapacitation, has steadily grown. With the exception only of Indo-China, which is still within enemy hands, they administer with success the entire French Empire. This disposes of a considerable fleet in which the first-class modern battleship Richelieu will presently take her place.
A French Army of three or four hundred thousand men is being steadily organized by the French Committee under the command of General Giraud and in closest association with his colleague, General de Gaulle. This army is being equipped with the most modern equipment, supplied by the United States Government, and it will not be long before we shall again experience the inspiring sense of having strong French forces alongside us on the battlefront.
Russia and U. S. Agree
I am glad to add that both Russia and the United States are agreeable to the French National Committee being represented on the new commission which is being set up in the Mediterranean. In this respect and for the first time they take their place as an equal partner with the great nations which are warring against Germany in Europe.
Although I have not hesitated to express my differences with various sections of the French National Committee from time to time, and I cannot pretend that all has run smoothly and happily, I want to make it quite clear that I regard the restoration of France as one of the great powers of Europe as a sacred duty from which Great Britain will never turn.
This arises not only from sentiments which we have toward France for so long as our comrades in victory and misfortune, but also from the fact that it is one of the main and enduring interests of Great Britain in Europe that there should be a strong France and a strong French Army.
Such a condition can, however, only be reached on the basis of free self-expression of the French people as a whole. They must themselves be the judges of the conduct of their fellow Frenchmen in the terrible conditions which followed the military collapse in the summer of 1940.
I remain convinced that the highest honor will be accorded those who never flinched or wavered in the hour of disaster and that everlasting condemnation and, I trust, salutary punishment will be meted out to all prominent persons who have not only merely bowed to force of circumstances but who for the sake of personal ambition or profit have tried to promote a victory of the common foe.
[There was an interruption.]
Some people are reduced by our prolonged and unbroken successes to little more than mocking laughter.
There were three points arising out of the unconditional surrender of Italy and the armistice which we granted which require special notice.
First, there are our prisoners of war. There were nearly 70,000 British prisoners of war and upward of 25,000 Greek and Yugoslav prisoners in Italian hands.
From the very first moment of Mussolini's fall we made it brutally clear to the Italian Government and King that we regarded the liberation of these prisoners and their restoration to our care as a prime and indispensable condition of any relationship between us and any Italian Government. However, many of these prisoners in the north of Italy and others in central and southern parts might have fallen into the power of the Germans. I have no precise information to give the House today in view of the confusion prevailing in Italy which only our armies can clarify.
The Italian Government, however, has given orders for the release from confinement of all Allied prisoners under their control, and I have no doubt that these will be succored by the Italian people among whom they are dispersing, in spite of German threats and punishment to any Italians who show these acts of common humanity.
In all these matters we were acting with the greatest vigilance and earnestness and everything in human power would be done. Much—everything, in fact—depends on the movement of the armies in the next few weeks.
Outlook in Balkans
The second important feature arising out of the armistice with Italy was the situation in the Balkans. Here, with marvelous and with indomitable tenacity, patriot bands of Greeks and Yugoslavs had maintained formidable resistance to the torturers of their countries.
They hold great regions under their control; they fight fierce battles in the mountains; they destroy communications; they occupy important towns and ports with vigor and on a scale which has required no fewer than forty-seven German, Italian and Bulgarian divisions—for this is the dirty work Bulgaria does—to be maintained continuously in these vast and wild spaces.
Of these upward of twenty-five were Italian divisions, who, even if unable to turn upon the common foe, will certainly be of no further danger to the patriots, and, indeed, will be a valuable source of equipment to them.
This gap will have to be supplied from some quarter or other by the Germans at a time when they are so heavily strained upon the Russian front and other fronts. Hitherto, we have had no means of helping these unconquerable champions of Greek and Yugoslav freedom except by airborne supplies and by officers and money. With the control of southern Italy, to which we are confidently looking forward in the near future, and with the building up of our air power in Italy the entry and perhaps command of the Adriatic should become possible.
All this opens to us a far-reaching vista of action which must also be surveyed in relation to the conditions and temper of the people in the satellite States of Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria. All of which is a study in itself, and all of which will be increasingly affected by the advance of the Russian armies and by the development of Anglo-American bombing.
In dealing with this subject I must say no more than what is already obvious to the enemy. Henceforward we shall see the Germans holding down or trying to hold down the whole of Hitler's Europe by systematic terror.
Whenever Hitler's legions can momentarily avert their eyes from the hostile battlefronts which are closing in upon them, they can take their choice of either looking upon the ruinous cities of the German homeland or upon what is the not less awful spectacle of infuriated populations which are waiting to devour them.
The third and most tangible advantage we have gained from the overthrow of Italy is the surrender of the Italian fleet. This was fulfilled in fidelity to the orders of the Italian King and the Badoglio Government. Practically the whole of the Italian Navy and many merchant ships and many submarines, often in the face of great risk, have strictly executed the conditions of the armistice and made their way to Malta or other ports under British control.
This event has decisively altered the naval balance of the world. Not only have the Allies gained the Italian fleet to use in any way they think most serviceable, but there is also set free the stronger British fleet which was measured against it.
We came into two naval fortunes on the same day, or, as we should put it in this House, we counted two on the division. Very large additional naval forces are, therefore, at our disposal.
Aid to U. S. Naval Forces
United States forces are already dominating in the Pacific. Old disasters have been repaired with new building, but very large additional naval forces have now come into our hands, and, since they will not remain idle for one single unnecessary day, I venture to think that the Japanese warlords may soon find themselves confronted at any rate with some serious considerations, which were probably not in their minds at the time they ordered the attack upon Pearl Harbor.
I now have finished my survey and I have but one word more. The political atmosphere in the United States is not the same as it is over here. The Constitution decrees elections at fixed intervals, and parties are forced to assert and defend their special interests at these elections in a manner which we, by our more flexible system, have been able to lay aside for the time being.
Nevertheless, I was made conscious of the resolve and desire of all parties to drive forward the war on all fronts and against all foes with the utmost determination. I was also conscious of a feeling of friendliness toward Britain and the British Commonwealth and Empire such as I have never known before and a respect for the 46,000,000 in this small island and the conduct of our troops who are comrades of Americans in the hard-fought fields of this war.
All this was very dear and refreshing to my heart. I found also a feeling everywhere that the war was being well managed, that skilled direction made good plans and that highly competent and resolute officers were entrusted with their execution in every part of the globe.
It is my hope that this conviction is generally shared at home, and that the House of Commons will feel no need to reproach itself for the unwavering confidence which it has given to His Majesty's servants in their discharge of the exceptional burdens which have been thrust upon them.