MAY 1940: Catastrophe across the Channel. More than 350,000 British and French troops are rescued off the sands at Dunkirk from the tanks of the encircling German army. The British have lost 68,000 killed, wounded or captured and leave behind all their tanks, guns, trucks, vast reserves of ammunition and spare parts and stores – more than 600 tanks, nearly 2,500 guns including all their heavy artillery, some 84,500 vehicles including 20,000-plus motorbikes, some 77,000 tons of ammunition, over 416,000 tons of stores and 165,000 tons of petrol. As Winston Churchill told the House of Commons, wars are not won by evacuations.
A British/French expeditionary force escapes from Norway, again only through abandoning all its equipment and losing an aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious, sunk by German battlecruisers. Particularly sad is the loss of most of the pilots who with great skill had flown their Hurricane fighters on to Glorious to bring their aircraft home.
Meanwhile the victorious Germans swing west towards Paris, driving before their tanks the remnants of the French Army and the remaining British formations on the Continent. The French surrender in late June. After a headlong retreat for the western ports, the last British troops escape. Once more they must abandon much of their equipment. Of the 700 tanks sent to France over previous months only 25 are brought back across the Channel. Britain’s army has suffered its greatest defeat.
Our old rivals across the Channel have a spokesman, who appears a very decent fellow, Michel Barnier. He was ambushed last week by a journalist on a sunny street somewhere in northern France or Belgium. Barnier spouted the ritual contempt lines for the British – it must be taught at the elite French management schools – that we voted for Brexit because of nostalgia for the time when we were a great power. That is long over, he declared, nor will it ever come back. Reality is what counts in politics, only reality.
He’s absolutely right about reality.
And absolutely wrong about the inhabitants of these islands.
Because reality for France and their political and economic boss, Germany, looks rather different from ours. Their reality is that the Germans have won the political and economic war to rule Europe. France has done well out of their victory and Britain should accept its more modest status as a cash cow and stop rocking the boat. The Germans need Britain to make their rule with France acceptable to the rest of Europe.
France has surrendered, this time without a war.
All the nations of Europe were invaded by Germany and Italy and Russia or economically occupied by Germany. We were invaded, via the sky, but defeated our attackers. The Swedes became a bomb-safe arms factory for Hitler. The Swiss were cleverer and played a dangerous game of poker with Hitler. Neutrality living next door to a monster is not easy, as Winston Churchill told the Swiss Cabinet after the war, over lunch in a friend’s garden a mile or so down the road from our house.
All the nations of Europe including Russia, other than those which stayed neutral, were defeated and occupied, while Britain with the future Commonwealth fought on alone.
France was defeated and on the whole collaborated. Allied soldiers were killed by French troops obeying orders from the Vichy government to defend French colonies. The Royal Navy sank the French battlefleet at Oran on the coast of North Africa. Charles de Gaulle was the exception, not the rule. Paris gendarmes arrested French Jews who were sent to concentration camps, many never seen again.
Today we remember D-Day, June 6, 1944. As a young parachute engineer, I was lucky enough to serve with officers and sergeants who were veterans of D-Day.
The figures give perspective – the final plan involved landing on the first two days 176,475 men and 20,111 vehicles, including 3,000 guns, 1,500 tanks, and 5,000 other armoured vehicles. On the first day the air plan would require 13,743 sorties by all types of aircraft. The naval plan involved the largest fleet in history, with 143 warships from the Royal Navy, 46 from the US Navy and 11 from the Allied navies. No fewer than 6,047 landing craft were available for D-Day, more than half from the Royal Navy. The warships included seven battleships, two monitors, 27 cruisers and 164 destroyers.
When Eisenhower outlined the plan to the British Prime Minister, Churchill said to him, ‘If by the winter you have a bridgehead from the mouth of the Seine to Cherbourg and the Brittany Peninsula, and you have 36 divisions ashore, I’ll consider it a victory, and if you have Le Havre as well I’ll consider it decisive.’
‘By Christmas,’ replied Eisenhower, ‘we shall be on the Rhine.’
After the war France fought desperately to hold on to its colonies – Indo-China and Algeria were the most brutal battles and both ended in defeat.
Contrast this with Partition in India, the Wind of Change in Africa, independence for the islands of the Caribbean, British campaigns in Malaya and then Malaysia. Many of the planters went into the jungle with the Malays in 1942 and fought the Japanese. When the Emergency began against communists in 1948, the battle was about giving Malaya a good start as an independent country. Confrontation was also about life after independence, stopping Indonesia grabbing the North Borneo territories from the Federation of Malaysia. We had 50,000 servicemen in the Far East, half the Royal Navy and 9,000 troops in the jungle for over three years.
Britain had a far-seeing and imaginative foreign policy in those days. But it wasn’t run by the Foreign Office: the Commonwealth Relations Office ran the part of foreign policy that would change the world for the better.
I am ashamed that we didn’t follow through and take the same care of Zimbabwe. Wealthy French farmers got the money which might have helped poor Africans, and revealed Mugabe as just a big mouth for China and North Korea. At least we rediscovered ourselves during the South Atlantic War, and for my money, we did again on 23 June 2016.
The history of France during the 18th century was of the monarchs trying to establish central control of a medieval country with powerful regional nobles. France still had feudal peasants in 1789, a system that had ceased to exist over two hundred years earlier on our side of the Channel. France is still trying to establish central control through a modern aristocracy of Eurocrats and Europhiles. Germany has been a stable democracy only since 1954 but re-unification plus Angela Merkel released the old Prussian blinkered vision and stubborn over-confidence to repeat the same old mistakes. Merkel’s EU desperately tries to stop countries leaving her empire while all sorts of countries want to join the Commonwealth.
On 23 June 2016 very few Britons save Mrs May and followers voted to be a province of the new axis empire of Germany, Russia and China. I certainly did not.
I’d rather build what Merkel and her Brussels satraps fear the most – a booming champion of free speech and free trade that is a leader, allied to a Commonwealth of like-minded peoples on every continent including the United States.
Whatever makes Michel Barnier think that the votes by the British people in June 2016 and May 2019 are anything other than the old lion awakening?