Motion of Confidence in His Majesty's Government.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 28 January 1942.

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Photo of Colonel Victor Cazalet Colonel Victor Cazalet , Chippenham

It is always a nice point whether criticism of the Government, especially in time of war, is the highest form of patriotism or the basest form of treachery. Several speakers during this Debate have taken both points of view. I remember that when the Government were criticised at the time of the Norwegian crisis it was then considered to be the highest form of patriotism to criticise the Government; in fact, it put the present Prime Minister in his position, for which we are all devoutly grateful. My only regret is that the Prime Minister cannot on certain occasions, perhaps once in every six months, step down from the Front Bench to his old place and give us one of those critical and of course constructive surveys to which we were accustomed to listen for 10 years before war started. I am sure it would be a tremendous tonic for all of us, including even for some Members of his own party. No one realises better than I the limitations of amateur strategists. In the last war I happened to be at the Supreme War Council at Versailles, and relatively I knew everything, whereas to-day I know nothing. Without knowledge of facts and the necessary information which it would be wrong for me to have, I realize how difficult and indeed impossible it is to pass any considered judgment on strategy. Nor do I consider that it is the duty of the House of Commons to direct strategy. Hon. Members are emboldened however to make certain observations.

If a year ago or even less I or any other Member had been endowed with the gift of prophecy and had foretold exactly what course the war would take and had warned the Government accordingly, there would not have been a member of the Government who would have listened. As the Prime Minister has said, the repercussions of any one single event of this war are so unexpected that even he hesitates to prophesy. Take the case of Greece and Crete, about which the Government are often criticised. Greece and Crete have always seemed to me to be a proof that God was on our side, rather than an exhibition of great military skill in either conception or execution. After all, we went into Greece largely for political and moral reasons, and we defended Crete because we could not retire to Egypt without first stopping there. In a few weeks we were driven from both, a month in Greece and a month in Crete. All our men were driven from these countries, except for a few who to-day are still there and are being cared for, hidden and provided for by the heroism and self-sacrifice of Greek citizens. In spite of this, I believe that the Crete and Greek campaigns may well have been the turning point in the war. There were two results. Firstly, as everyone knows, they held up the German attack on Russia by at least two months until Generals December and January had come to the aid of those heroic Russian soldiers.

The second result of the campaign is this: The defeat and annihilation of practically all the German parachute troops, the destruction of nearly all their gliders and the immense difficulties the Germans encountered in trying to convey seaborne troops, all of which were brought about by a very small force with practically no air power, must have played a great part in making the German High Command wonder whether the invasion of England on these lines was ever a practical possibility. I give the House the information as it came to me. I was told that a German general in Athens stated that the German casualties in Crete alone were in the neighbourhood of 25,000.

It may well be that the very ease with which Japan has extended her activities throughout the Pacific, thousands of miles away from her bases, may in the long run be her undoing. It is really rather a gloomy thought to learn from the Far East how little we have gained from past experience. First of all there is our Intelligence. Either it was wrong, inadequate or it was ignored. We under-estimated the Japanese, as we have under-estimated our opponents before. Personally, I consider that the Japanese activities in the Pacific are a model of combined operations. As in the case of Italy, various countries gave supplies to Japan almost: to the end. When the Japanese entered Siam we failed to realise the full importance of their act, as we did when the Germans entered Bulgaria. We established aerodromes, but we failed to defend them or make preparations to destroy them in case of retreat. We had no one person in control, as we had in the Middle East, though I realise that this is not an exact analogy. I believe it is impossible to exaggerate the usefulness of the Minister of State in Cairo. I believe that every Service chief of a Department, every Ambassador and High Commissioner is profoundly grateful for having on the spot someone, who can and will take a decision; especially someone of the ability of the Minister of State. [Interruption.] I believe that in Singapore there was a Governor who was even also another G.O.C. of troops, an independent naval and air commander as well as a Minister from this country. I believe that, if one of these people had been given control from the beginning, certain decisions might have been taken which would have improved our position.