The Missing Front
IF TRUTH BE TOLD:
SECRECY AND SUBVERSION
IN AN AGE TURNED UNHEROIC
By STAN WINER*
BRITAIN'S JOINT Intelligence Committee deemed it "imperative" at the end of the war that historians be prohibited from prying into "apparently unaccountable operational orders" carried out by the Western armed forces.1 The result, to this day, is enduring public ignorance and mass mystification in the West concerning Britain and America's wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. With the benefit of hindsight and the huge body of evidence assembled over the years by historical researchers, however, it is clear that something large and still largely suppressed was secretly going on behind the scenes. One may plausibly conjecture that the overt fight against Hitler was covertly subordinated by Churchill to an intense dislike of communism, which outweighed by far any real commitment by Churchill to the overt war against Nazism.
By land, sea and air, the Western Allies generally failed to deploy their overwhelming military advantages to good effect while Russia suffered appalling losses as a result. With Leningrad and Sebastopol in ruins and Stalingrad under siege, 10,000 Russians were dying every day in the greatest battle in the history of the world - the Russian-German war on the eastern front. Stalin probably had a valid point when he complained that British policy appeared to be "aimed at encouraging Germany and Russia to weaken and exhaust one another; and then, when they have become weak enough, to appear on the scene with fresh strength, to appear of course, in the 'interests of peace', and to dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerent.
The Red Army, engaging about four-fifths of Hitler's forces on the eastern front, was in a such a desperate situation in mid-1942 that Hitler bragged to his commanders that the Red Army was "as good as beaten".3 This was no idle boast and would almost certainly have been picked up by Churchill through Ultra intercepts and decrypts. Still there was no sign of the Western Allies relieving pressure on the Russians by opening a second front in Europe. In secret correspondence with Churchill, which would be made public by the Russians after the war, Stalin bluntly told Churchill on July 18, 1942 that their alliance had taken "an improper turn". Churchill tried unconvincingly to defend his position by arguing there were nine German divisions in France, making it impossible for the Western Allies to launch a concerted ground offensive in western Europe. Stalin countered with the observation that there was "not a single German division in France of any (fighting) value"4 This was corroborated later in classified German documents captured by the Allies, showing that the stationing of German troops in the campaign against Russia on the eastern front generally precluded effective defence in the west. In Hitler's own words, a major Allied landing in western Europe in mid-1942 would have brought the Germans "to a generally critical position". It would have drawn off an appreciable share of Hitler's forces from the Russian-German front, making it possible for the Red Army to deal a decisive blow which would either have crushed Germany immediately or made certain its defeat within a reasonably short period.5 The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this is that Churchill was not only loath to do anything to assist the Russians, but his actions and omissions were in effect actually prolonging the war.
The fragility of Russia's survival in mid-1942 was exacerbated by Churchill's mishandling of the German U-boat menace, at that time preventing essential war materials from being transported by Allied convoys across the Atlantic, then through the Arctic and round the northern tip of Norway to the north Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel. These supplies had been promised to Russia by Roosevelt in terms of America's then recently legislated Lend-Lease Act; the Russians being desperate that the supplies should reach them in time to launch a concerted counter-offensive against the Germans on the principal and decisive front of the war. There was, however, absolute resistance on the part of Churchill and the Air Staff to deploy very long-range aircraft to locate and attack both the U-boats and the auxiliary surface supply vessels upon which the U-boats were dependent. About 3 000 000 tonnes of Allied merchant shipping was consequently lost on the Atlantic and Arctic routes in the first six months of 1942 alone.6 This huge loss could have been avoided, and the U-boat menace overcome, through the operational use by Bomber Command of very long-range anti-submarine aircraft capable of patrolling far into the Atlantic. These very long range aircraft had the capability of patrolling an area 1 100 miles from base for up to three hours at a time, using the RAF's highly advanced electronic surveillance and radio direction-finding equipment to locate the enemy with great accuracy. RAF Bomber Command had such aircraft, of which the Mark I Consolidated Liberators were the most impressive with an operational range of 2 400 miles, but Harris refused adamantly to deploy them on anti-submarine duties.7 In addition to the large tonnage of Allied shipping lost to U-boats in the Atlantic, the courageous convoys to northern Russia, if they actually managed to survive the perilous Atlantic crossing, faced further appalling hazards. They were being picked off by Germany's powerful surface squadron dominated by the battlecruiser Scharnhorst positioned in northern Norway. Astonishingly, the Scharnhorst had in February 1942 been allowed by Churchill's idiosyncratic style of war management to make a dash from the French port of Brest to Germany through British home waters. The episode caused The Times to declare on 17 February: "No more mortifying an episode has occurred in 300 years of British seapower". Against this background of events, Arctic convoy PQ13 which made passage at the end of March, lost five ships out of 20. PQ16, the May convoy, lost eight of the 35 that set out. The next convoy, PQ17, was almost a total disaster, losing 23 of its 34 ships as it struggled to reach Archangel. When it finally limped into port no more than 70,000 tonnes of the convoy's original 200 000 tonnes of cargo had managed to reach destination.8 Churchill used this, the largest maritime loss of the war, to justify his suspension o f the convoys to Russia. They wer e "too dangerous" and to attempt further Arctic convoys at that time, he told Stalin, "would bring no benefit to you and would only involve a dead loss to the common cause". Stalin replied: "No major task can be carried out in wartime without risk or losses. You know of course that the Soviet Union is suffering far greater losses."9
Churchill persisted in claiming that aerial bombardment of Germany was a more effective method of taking pressure off the Russians than the opening of a second front in Europe. Yet potentially war-winning weapons systems allowing greatly improved precision bombing capability were either discouraged or withheld deliberately from operational use because they were "too valuable to risk over enemy territory".10 Despite stiff opposition from the air force, the Miscellaneous Weapons Development Department of the Royal Navy, almost in desperation at the RAF's lack of co-operation, developed two types of remarkably accurate rocket-boosted and radar-guided flying bombs that could achieve direct hits on difficult targets from a safe height of 20,000 feet.11 Britain also had a wide margin of technological superiority over German radar, navigation and weapons delivery systems including guided missiles and advanced aiming systems.12 There is no record of Churchill ever having considered sharing these secret weapons with Russia, and the same is true with regard to Ultra, the most secret weapon of all.
Some of these highly advanced weapons would either be deployed far too late in World War II to make any significant contribution to its outcome, or be deployed in such small numbers as to be insignificant, or not be deployed at all. This applied especially to fast tactical fighter-bombers such the RAF's Hawker Typhoon and the Mosquito, and also the American Mustang and P- 47 Thunderbolt, which had the capability to conduct very precise attacks on enemy rail communications and troop movements deep in German territory. The RAF's Mosquito in particular, with the range of a bomber and the speed of a fighter, had the ability to carry a 4,000lb bomb while retaining a high survivability rate. With a super-charged top speed of 350 mph, it was faster than anything then available to the Germans. Its major advantage, as with all fighter-bombers, lay in the elements of precision and surprise, and many airmen were of the opinion these aircraft could win the war on their own if they were deployed in sufficient numbers. Several Mosquitoes could be built for the price of one heavy Lancaster bomber; yet production of Mosquitoes remained a low priority throughout the war, accounting for barely 10 percent of overall aircraft production.13
In short, aside from the huge intelligence advantages provided by Ultra, there was at Churchill's disposal a vast array of potentially war-winning weaponry, which he could have deployed had he been committed to shortening the war in Europe. That he failed to encourage the deployment of such weapons in sufficient quantity infers that Churchill intended deliberately to prolong the war, while the Red Army and the people of the Soviet Union continued to sustain huge losses in eastern Europe. The terms of warfare in Europe, while appearing to be those of Hitler, were in essence Churchill's terms, and they would remain so for the duration of World War II.
The ferocity and effectiveness of German air defences had meanwhile killed more members of the RAF than German civilians. Bomber Command had lost one aircraft for every 10 tonnes of bombs dropped. If shot down, aircrews had only a 20 percent chance of baling out and becoming prisoner. Of Bomber Command's casualties, more than 47,000 air crew would die on operations or in captivity before the war ended. Nearly 10,000 more would become prisoners and more than 8 000 would be wounded.14 While Bomber Command was taking heavy casualties in 1942, German fighter aircraft production remained unscathed, forcing the heavy, lumbering RAF bombers to operate either from extreme altitude or by night. In the former case they could not hit any selected military targets, in the latter they could not even find their targets. Due to aiming difficulties they could hit nothing smaller than an entire German town.15 Many aircrews missed their intended targets by up to five miles and more. As one British MP observed at the time: "As far as direct hits on specified industrial targets by high-flying aircraft by night are concerned, we might as well send the long-distance bombers to the moon."16
Only one leading British politician refused to be party to Churchill's manoeuvres. Lord Beaverbrook, when he resigned in mid-1942 as Minister for Supply, bluntly told the War Cabinet:
I wish to take advantage of the rising temper in the country for helping Russia. Others don't. I want to make a supreme effort to raise production so as to help Russia. Others don't. I want to fulfil in every particular the agreement (to help Russia) made in Moscow. Others don't. The Chiefs of Staff don't. The line of cleavage between me and my colleagues and the Chiefs of Staff is complete.17
In response to Stalin's increasingly urgent pleas for the participation of British and American land forces in Europe, and to take the heat off Russia's diplomatic demands upon Britain, Churchill and Roosevelt had earlier assured Stalin a second front would definitely be formed in 1942. As the end of 1942 approached, with the Arctic convoys suspended due to heavy losses and with large numbers of American soldiers and equipment remaining idle in the British isles, Roosevelt was importuned by Soviet foreign affairs commissar Vyacheslav Molotov to "do something now". Roosevelt, forced to concede the hollowness of Churchill's earlier promises of opening a second front in Europe, warned his envoy in London that he was finally "going to insist on some action".18
The disaster at Dieppe: Canadian cannon fodder - 'a colossal blunder' or 'hidden success'?
ROOSEVELT'S intervention ostensibly brought the temporising to an end, and an amphibious landing was staged in August 1942 at the German-held French port of Dieppe. The stated objective was, as usual, to provide relief to the Russians on the eastern front. Instead, it merely provided history with yet a further link in the disastrous chain of apparently inexplicable operational blunders that had come to characterise key moments of the war. Astonishingly, although plans for the invasion of France were supposed to be top-secret, and strict censorship of the media was in force, the BBC was encouraged to broadcast a warning to French citizens in the coastal regions of France that the Allied occupation of France was imminent. The New York Times repeated the BBC's announcement on June 9, 1942, bringing the Germans to a high state of preparedness and expectancy. They had no difficulty surmising that Dieppe was the most likely landing spot. Although Ultra was providing Churchill with invaluable information about the strength and disposition of German troops in France, the by now familiar pattern reasserted itself. Vital available intelligence was either ignored, "inaccurately evaluated", or not communicated to the "invaders".19 On August 19, the day of the landing, there was no preliminary bombardment; the operation was conducted in broad daylight; usually reliable communications systems suddenly failed, and landing craft were specifically directed towards beaches that subsequently proved the least suitable for tanks. Those few tanks that did somehow manage to extricate themselves from the loose shingle soon found their advance blocked by anti-tank obstacles before the tanks were completely destroyed. Canadian troops forming the bulk of the landing force suffered enormous casualties: Some of the Canadian regiments were virtually wiped out. Of 5,000 men from the Canadian 2nd Division, about 900 were killed and nearly 2 000 taken prisoner. The RAF lost 106 fighter planes, and more than 500 Royal Navy officers and ratings were killed, wounded, captured or missing. German casualties were a mere 600.20
On the face of it, the disaster at Dieppe represented a planning and intelligence failure of huge proportions - but "success" or "failure" in the shadowy world of strategic deception is largely a matter of human value judgement rather than any universally recognisable state. The hidden success of the operation lay in the fact that it effectively dispelled any hope of an early invasion by creating the illusion of a virtually invincible enemy force in western Europe. It provided Churchill with an apparently valid excuse for further inaction; he could plausibly deny that Britain was purposely dragging its heels in rendering assistance to the Russians at a time of their greatest need. He accordingly informed the Defence Committee of the War Cabinet that land operations in western Europe were out of the question. There was no chance of "doing anything on a scale likely to be of the slightest use" to Russia. 21 This is perhaps what Churchill really meant when he recorded for posterity that "the results fully justified the heavy cost" of the disaster at Dieppe.22 Only Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten seems to have suspected something improper when he suggested to Admiral Ramsey that the Dieppe raid had been conducted "purely for political reasons".23
Much the same was occurring in the North African campaign against Rommel's panzer army, where seemingly inexplicable British armoured tactics and the deliberate withholding of adequate numbers of bomber aircraft from the desert campaign lent themselves well to German successes. The German armed forces, encouraged by the absence of RAF bombers which had earlier resulted in the surrender of 10,000 South African troops at Tobruk, continued to take major military risks in which they succeeded only because they were permitted to do so by Churchill and Britain's central war planners. Although Ultra was providing valuable information about the state of Rommel's fuel, ammunition and tank reserves, which were fast diminishing, German armour was on at least two occasions allowed to escape even though General Montgomery's 8th Army was in a ideal position to inflict crippling blows. As one Ultra expert later described it: "Ultra was showing the British commanders a vision, but they let it vanish before their eyes like mist in the sun."24 Hence Rommel's ability to regroup his panzer divisions for the defence of Tunisia after the German defeat at Alamein. This regrouping of the German panzer divisions caused Anglo-American operations in Tunisia to be suspended, allowing the Germans to quickly move 24 divisions, including five armoured divisions, from France and elsewhere to the Russian-German front.25
The Western media, meanwhile, presented the illusion of a happy, unclouded and fruitful relationship between Russia and West. So successful was the illusion that Life magazine in America devoted an entire edition to a laudatory description of the Soviet Union's accomplishments. It had already named Stalin as "Man of the Year" in 1941; now, in mid-1943 Life described Lenin as "perhaps the greatest man of modern times". In Britain, The Times simultaneously provided an admiring public with a comprehensive guide to Soviet affairs in the form of regular articles written by the historian EH Carr.26
THE WESTERN media's glowing admiration for the Soviet Union was apparently not shared by at least some elements of the American secret intelligence service. In February 1943 a group of them held secret talks in Switzerland with Prince Maximilian Hohenlohe, an agent of Himmler's SS. Their purpose, according to Soviet espionage reports, was to discuss the possibility of a separate peace between America and the Third Reich. Allen Dulles, the leader of the American delegation and later destined to head the American CIA, allegedly shared the Nazi vision of an undivided post-war Germany and the establishment of a cordon sanitaire against communism and Pan-Slavism.27 The Nazis had long been pressing peace proposals on the Western Allies, in the hope that Germany could turn its undivided attention on the USSR. When Rudolf Hess had flown to Britain on May 10, 1941, he brought with him two specific peace proposals from Hitler: be neutral in a war between Germany and the Soviet Union, and Britain's Empire and spheres of interest would be guaranteed, or join Germany's assault on Russia, and Britain and Germany could then divide the spoils between them.28
Both offers were evidently rejected by Churchill, although to this day a veil of secrecy prevails in Britain over the Hess affair. Official British papers on the subject are officially withheld from the public domain, and the British Foreign Office refuses to say why - apart from the usual, bland nonsense about "national security" and the "national interest". Even if the documents are ever released, the full story might still remain untold. As the historian Arnold Toynbee has noted:
The information to be found in an official document will have been put there - if we may assume that the document has been drafted competently - in order to serve some official purpose which, whatever it may have been, will certainly not have been the irrelevant purpose of informing a future historian.29
What is clear, is that Churchill's obligation to open a second front in Europe was not honoured in 1943 and would remain unfulfilled for nearly another year while desperately needed aircraft and other essential supplies from the West failed to reach Stalin. The "strategic" bombing of Germany continued to derive false legitimacy from the core deception of "helping Russia" at a time when, behind the scenes, Cold War doctrine was being formulated by Churchill and his closest advisers. Public misperceptions were encouraged about Western support for the Russians when events on the battle field and in the "strategic" air offensive against Germany were proving the very opposite to be true. Only Colonel Moore-Brabazon, Britain's Minister for Aircraft Production, may have had the honesty to admit the purpose behind Churchill's procrastination in opening a second front, when he boasted: "Let the German and Soviet armies tear into each other. We will pick up the pieces."30
1. David Stafford, Military Affairs, Vol 42, February 1978, p.29ff.
2. Vladimir Petrov (ed.), Soviet Historians and the German Invasion, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press 1968, p.286. The war on the eastern front has been very extensively documented by Russian historians, less so by their English-language counterparts, with only a few notable exceptions such as Werth op cit, and John Erickson, Stalin's War With Germany, (2 vols) London: Grafton, 1985.
3. Luftwaffe commander Adolf Galland in EM Emme (ed.), The Impact of Air Power, New York: Van Nostrand, 1959, pp.256-7.
4. Secret wartime correspondence disclosed in Stewart Richardson (ed.), The Secret History of World War II: Wartime Letters and Cables of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, New York: Richardson and Steirman / Novosti, 1986, p.6 et al.
5. Captured German documents quoted in Gordon Harrison, "The European Theatre of Operations: The Cross Channel Attack" in K.R. Greenfield (ed.) The US Army in World War II, (Official History) Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army: US Government Printing Office 1951, p.141ff. See also Trumbull Higgins, Winston Churchill and the Second Front, New York: Oxford University Press, 1957, p.167-8.
6. John Winton, Ultra at Sea, London: Leo Cooper, 1988, pp.61-5; Dudley Saward, Victory Denied, London: Buchan & Enright 1985, p.219; W. Averell Harriman, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin 1941-1946, New York: Random House, 1975, p.142.
7. Alfred Price, Aircraft versus Submarine: Anti-submarine aircraft 1912- 1980, London: Janes 1980, p.85; Terraine, op cit, pp.245, 432
8. The tragedy of the Arctic convoys, by contrast, is curiously absent from or mentioned only cursorily in most WW2 naval history books This account draws on CD Bekker, Hitler's Naval War, New York: Doubleday, 1974, based on official German records and written by a former intelligence officer in Hitler's Kriegsmarine. The Battle of the Atlantic, by contrast, has been extensively documented (see e.g. Jurgen Rohwer, "Radio Intelligence and its Role in the Battle of the Atlantic", in Christopher Andrews & David Dilks, The Missing Dimension: Governments and Intelligence Communities in the 20th Century, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984, pp.159-168).
9. Stalin-Churchill correspondence reprinted in Richardson, op cit, pp. 6- 7, 38.
10. British Air Ministry, Origins and Development of Operation Research in the RAF, Air Publication 3368, London: HMSO 1963, p.53.
11. RG Lee (ed.), Guided Weapons, Battlefield Weapons Systems, London: Brassey 1987; Ian V. Hogg and J.B. King, German and Allied Secret Weapons of World War II, London: Phoebus 1976, p.69.
12. See Alfred Price, Instruments of Darkness: A History of Electronic Warfare, London: Macdonald and Jane's 1977.
13. Hastings, op cit, pp.194, 374; Alexander McKee, The Mosquito Log, London: Souvenir, 1988; Richards and Saunders, op cit, Vol III, pp.152, 381-2; SAO Vol III, p.197 and Vol IV, p.428.
14. AJP Taylor, The Second World War, London: Hamish Hamilton, p.79; SAO, Vol IV, p.440; Terraine, op cit, pp.521-37; Harris, op cit, p.268.
15. United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Military Analysis Division, "Description of RAF Bombing", Washington DC: Government Printing Office 1945, p.1; Ministry of Defence, Air Historical Branch, The RAF in the Bombing Offensive Against Germany, Index No. AHB/11/117/1(b), p.122; David MacIsaac, Strategic Bombing in World War II, New York: Garland 1976, p.12.
16. Hansard, House of Commons, 4 March 1942, speech by Parliamentary backbencher Garro Jones MP for Aberdeen.
17. Beaverbrook quoted in George Bruce, Second Front Now: The Road to D-Day, London: McDonald and Janes 1979, p.27.
18. Harriman, op cit, p.137.
19. The intelligence failures are detailed in CP Stacey, Six Years of War, (Canadian official history) Ottawa: Government Publications 1957, p.398.
20. This account draws on: Stacey, ibid; Terence Robertson, Dieppe, the Shame and the Glory, London: Hutchinson 1963; Ross Munro, Gauntlet to Overlord: The Story of the Canadian Army, Toronto: Macmillan, 1946; John Grigg, The Victory that Never Was, London: Eyre Methuen 1980, p.215; Harriman, op cit, p.176ff.
21. Lawlor in Langhorne, op cit, p.173.
22. Churchill, Second World War, Vol 4, p.467.
23. Arthur Bryant, The Turn of the Tide, London: Collins 1957, p.487.
24. Ralph Bennett, Ultra and Mediterranean Strategy 1941-1945, London: Bodley Head 1981, p.162; cf., Hinsley, op cit, Vol II, p.59; Winterbotham, op cit, p.24.
25. Bennett, Ultra and Mediterranean Strategy, pp. 154-61; Richardson, op cit, p.86.
26. See Alan Foster, "The Times and Appeasement", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 16, 1981, pp.441-65.
27. Gar Alperovitz, "How Did the Cold War Begin?" in Walter LaFeber (ed.) The Origins of the Cold War 1941-1947, New York: John Wiley 1971, p.18.
28. Soviet archive material released to the Western media in 1990; East German archive material quoted in Bob Edwards and Kenneth Dunne, Study of a Master Spy, London: Housemans 1961, p.38.
29. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 10 Vols, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1954, Vol X, p.227
30. McLaine, op cit, p.207.
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