Ministerial Changes.

Part of War Situation. – in the House of Commons on 24th February 1942.

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Photo of Mr Cyril Culverwell Mr Cyril Culverwell , Bristol West

I can only say that two wrongs do not make a right. A translation of reports which, if one knew the languages concerned, one could listen to over the wireless, is kept under lock and key in the Library of the House, and I think that is absurd. There is no reason why the public should not see it, let alone Members of Parliament. The other day, an American commentator, talking about the position in America, said: This is total war. It requires total effort and total support. Yet the peoples and nations are not fully enlisted in this fight, and their confidence in their governments' word is not as firm and implicit as it should be because people suspect, with reason, that they are not being frankly dealt with. The same thing is said in America as here—that any information that the Government may give that tells the truth or even half the truth will be of value to the enemy. Therefore, my first point is that people are tired of having soothing syrup dished out to them, and that we should be nearer winning the war if we faced realities. With regard to the military situation, our Debates lose very much of their value because it is impossible, for obvious reasons, to talk as freely as one might wish, and it is unreasonable to expect the Government to answer as freely as they might. But I do not think that any- one will dispute that we have suffered a long series of reverses and disasters which need a great deal of explaining. I know that the Prime Minister, with his unrivalled command of language, can make even failure appear to be successes, and he has done so on numerous occasions; but really these reverses need a little more explaining away than has been done by Government spokesmen. Strategy is only the exercise of common sense applied to warfare. What alarms me, and also many other people, is that so often I and others with no technical or inside information have predicted the failure of our operations, and our fears have been realised in exactly the manner we have foretold. If I can sit down in my armchair, and be sneered at as an amateur strategist, and if I can predict the failure of an operation which the Government undertake long before the failure is ever suspected by the people, or even anticipated, apparently, by the Government, there seems to be something wrong somewhère. It is not as if it were an isolated matter. There were Norway, the advance into Belgium from our defensive positions in France, the expedition to Greece, Wavell's failure in Libya as a result, partly, of the expedition to Greece, Hong Kong, now Singapore, and shortly Rangoon and Java. There must be some explanation for these failures. During the fall of France we heard M. Reynaud talk about incredible mistakes. We seem to have made incredible mistakes; at any rate. we have made mistakes which an amateur strategist like myself has anticipated would lead to disaster.

I ask myself one or two questions. Is it that political and sentimental considerations override military opinion? I do not know. That would be the kindest excuse one could make for our failures. If that be so, if military strategy and the conduct of the war are made subservient to sentimental considerations and popular clamour, I am astonished that the Government did not launch an expedition on the coast of France or the Netherlands in deference to the outcry and clamour made by some sections of the public and the Press. If that be so, and military strategy is subservient to political and sentimental considerations, I beg the Government not to bow to it any longer. The other alternative is that our expert advisers do to employ common sense and imagination.

We know that the French staff made a pretty good mess of things, and they were supposed to have better soldiers than we, had. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for the changes he has made, but I should like to know whether it is the Government or their expert advisers who are to blame for the failures we have suffered. It is no good changing Ministers if it is their expert advisers who are at fault. Are the expert advisers who advised us on the abortive expeditions to Norway, to Finland, to Greece, and who advised us on the Libyan campaign and so on, still there? I do not know whether they are all there, but some certainly are. I should like to know to what extent the War Cabinet overrides military opinion and expert advice. I should like to know why we defied aerial supremacy in Norway and in Greece, when the danger was perfectly obvious.

An hon. Member opposite referred earlier in the Debate to the fact that these recent disasters are not causing so much disquiet, and I agree with him; it is the series of defeats we have suffered, dating back to the abortive expedition to Norway. Why did we leave the security of our defences in France in order to advance into Belgium? Was that decision taken upon purely political considerations or upon expert military advice? Why did we reinforce Hong Kong, and who advised the Prime Minister that we could hold it, when it must have been clear to anybody who thought about the question that Hong Kong could not stand against a Japanese attack. Again, it was perfectly clear to me and to many others that Singapore was bound to fall the moment Japan got within air-striking distance. I should like to know why we reinforced Singapore at a time when its fall was inevitable. Surely, instead of dispatching our forces to Singapore we should have reinforced Burma? Why was it that so much shipping was left at Singapore to be bombed, destroyed and damaged? It seems curious to me that with heavy air attacks going on we allowed convoys to sail up to Singapore to take away women and the wounded, and so allowed much shipping to be damaged.

I should like to ask the Government whether they appreciated the menace of the Japanese occupation of Indo-China and immediately fortified the Burma frontier? It does not look to me as if we put up a very brilliant fight on the Burma frontier, and it seems inevitable that Rangoon will fall, if it has not fallen already. Instead of chucking troops away in Singapore and in Hong Kong, we ought to have reinforced the vital areas of Burma and Java, where at any rate we could make a stand. With the danger of war in the Pacific, why did not the Government continue its policy of appeasement towards Japan? I know that appeasement does not appeal to many hon. Members. But we pursued exactly the same policy towards Japan that we employed at Munich. Why, knowing the obvious dangers of a war in the Pacific, did the Government not continue their policy of appeasement and bring pressure to bear upon America to act with them?