Skip to comments.1940 - THE YEAR IN REVIEW
Posted on 01/01/2011 12:32:51 AM PST by CougarGA7
"The new War Cabinet appears to be a group devoted to 'victory' without regard to its practical possibility." - Basil Liddell Hart (11 May 1940)1
Perhaps it was true that the ascendancy of Winston Churchill to prime minister brought with it an over developed since of optimism, but it certainly stood in stark contrast to what had occurred leading up to that point. In January of 1940 the phony war was still in full battle regalia with the war consisting of words more than deeds. In the east the Soviets continued their war against their Finnish neighbors and were continuing to find themselves at a disadvantage at least from a leadership standpoint. This continued until March when the Finns submitted just to the sheer weight of the Soviets. Stalin had shown the world that he could be aggressive, but had not impressed them with his military acumen. The costs of the meager gains were high. 200,000 Soviet soldiers were killed compared to only 25,000 Finnish fighting men.2 Additionally, they had earned a neighbor that would continue to be extremely hostile to the Soviets which could only lead to more difficulties down the road.
The old men of the west were to see their last days in power in 1940. As Chamberlain was telling the House of Commons that Hitler had "missed the bus", Hitler was making ready his next move against the allies to protect his supply of iron ore.3 The Winter War had been a direct cause of the downfall of French leader Daladier and the failure to protect Norway from Nazi aggression would spell the end of Chamberlain. Chamberlain left office a tired and broken man. His dreams of appeasement as a tool of diplomacy lay in the shambles of a world at war. Unfortunately, he would never see any hope in what remained of his lifetime. By November, illness took him from a world that appeared to be one that would be dominated by the Nazis.
Churchill did not inherit a country on the cusp of victory. He did take over a country that was in its own possible death throes. The same day that Churchill took office; the Nazis attacked the west through the Ardennes forest putting the phony war to permanent rest. The plan for the German advance was later dubbed Sickle Cut by Churchill himself and consisted of an advance through Luxembourg with forces in the north attacking the neutral countries of Holland and Belgium as a diversion.4 The bulk of the attack would consist of Panzer units being used as independent divisions for the first time to make a fast rush to the coast, dividing the Allied forces in two and trapping much of it in the north, away from France.5 The plan worked almost to perfection with most of the defenses of both France and Britain having rushed up into Holland to defend in the same mode as World War I only to find themselves cut off from France and quite possibly doomed. Only the fortunate delay cause by Hitler himself allowed many of these men to escape from the port town of Dunkirk though most of their weapons had to be left behind.
France had fallen and Britain was alone. Only Churchill and his resolve stood between the Nazis and the British Isle. The Nazis didnt think very much of Churchill. Josef Goebbels was certain that the British would soon throw him out of office and sue the Germans for peace. He anxiously awaited the British people to fold asking, "Are the English giving in? No sure signs visible yet, Churchill still talks big. But then he is not England."6 The British were not giving in. They clung to the words of their determined leader and even as the bombs began to fall, first on the R.A.F. and then on London itself, they remained with the old bulldog and showed no signs of ever letting up. In fact, opportunities were being explored as to how they could actually strike back.
Italy would give them their first chance at it. First there was the loss of British Somaliland, but this would be followed by a less inspired attack on the British in Egypt itself. The drive would stall out quickly and Mussolini would be looking for some sort of conquest to justify his position as equal partner in the Axis. Hitler would discourage these moves by Benito to the point that when he made moves into Rumania it set Mussolini into fateful motion. Furious over the Nazis moves in the Balkans he told his son-in-law and foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano, Hitler always faces me with fait accompli This time I am going to pay him back in his own coin. He will find out from the papers that I have occupied Greece. In this way the equilibrium will be re-established.7
Hitler would not find his ally marching into Athens though. In fact, the Greek Army showed to be more than a match for the Italian forces and quickly began to drive them into Albania. Meanwhile back in Egypt, a plan was put in place by the British that involved a counterattack against the Italians in North Africa. Very quickly that front began to crumble as well for the Italians. The British had proven that while they showed no ability to defeat the Wehrmacht, they were more than a match for the Italian Army. As the year comes to the close, the plight of the British, the last of the Allies still looks dark but there are some faint glimmers of hope in Africa and as long as the Germans dont interfere they may be able to hold in this one area.
Homer_J_Simpson has once again taken us on this journey through the years events. The third in a series of eight years of events that shaped the world that many of us here grew up in. Through his postings from the New York Times he has constructed for us the world events from an American perspective as they occurred to the men and women of the time. Many of the nuances of the events take shape when you travel with him on this journey. No history book will tell you that in 1940 the French were fighting the British and the Japanese in skirmishes while the Russians were looking to strengthen their bond with the Germans. We saw America still remain on the sidelines and become even more polarized on the issue of the war in Europe. While efforts were made to keep the last western power, Britain, in the war, the America First group was founded to push strict isolationism. We got to see an American election in which the Republican candidate had many of the same problems with the one we witnessed again in the election that brought Obama to the presidency. A Republican that could have well has been a Democrat failed to motivate the base of the party and it resulted in Franklin D. Roosevelt being elected to an unprecedented 3rd term.
For those who have missed much of this year, 1940s, events, this year in review is an opportunity for you to visit the history that is being played out in this ongoing project. For those who have followed the journey, this review serves as a single stop to find the pieces that you found most interesting. No matter what your interest, this is a fascinating experience for any who are interested in the history of World War II much thanks is owed to Homer for his tireless work on this project. Heres to the continuation of the story with the coming of 1941. It is my impression that those who only follow the history of this war from Pearl Harbor forward will gain much if they follow the events leading up to next December and we will be here offering our usual commentary and occasional chicanery. Thanks again Homer, I look forward to next year.
SOURCES 1. Hastings, Max. Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, 19.
2. Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at War: A Global History of World War II, 2nd editon. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 106.
3. Hastings, 11.
4. Frieser, Karl-Heinz. The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005, 63-64. 5. Ibid, 65.
6. Hastings, 65.
7. Kershaw, Ian. Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941. New York: The Penguin Press, 2007, 169.
Happy New Year everyone.
ping for later.
Thanks for your work. Great discipline and a boon for the archives.
Cougar - I linked to all three year-in-review threads at the index by authors on my profile. That will make it easier for folks to find the articles listed without having to go back, back, back, through my posting history.
I keep the Year-in-Reviews in my “links” page as well. I like what you have done with your authors listing. That should help with those of us who want to look for a specific article. Thanks.
Many thanks to you and Homer J Simpson, truly. The posts for 1940 have been a joy, and I look forward to the ones for 1941.
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