12 APRIL 1940, Page 7



WHATEVER has actually happened in Scandinavia, the war has entered upon a new phase and must in future proceed with a quickened tempo and an enlarged scope until the end. Denmark was occupied on Tuesday, and the main ports of Norway taken at the same time or later in the day. There are reports of fleet actions off the coast of Norway, and of submarine activity in the Skagerrak. Great air detachments are said to be fighting over Norway, and un- defined diplomatic activity is going on. It is difficult, indeed, to gather the proportion between what we know and what is still necessarily kept secret ; and whatever is stated now is liable to be overtaken, if not overturned, by events. There are, however, certain elements of the situation which are plain and grave, and these I must discuss as objectively as I can.

The mining of certain parts of the Norwegian coast now falls into place as an event in a sequence, not the origin of the German invasion but a fact bearing some relation to it that cannot at present be determined. Even this vague summing up is of importance, since the one crucial fact that dominates the position is the comparative irrelevance of the mining operations. Germany must somehow control the neutrals or fall. It is to her immense advantage to control them while they enjoy the great freedom of legal neutrality ; but, if she cannot have that, she will squeeze the best she can out of them. The Allies have compelled her to be content with the inferior position, not by the laying of mines but by their warning, which obviously presaged action of some sort. Her riposte had evidently been planned long ago, and it was actually launched early on Sunday, since the 'Rio de Janeiro' was torpedoed early on Monday. Why, with such a warning, the British Navy allowed the plan to develop without interference is one of the mysteries for an explanation of which we must wait ; and we hope that when it comes it will remove the fresh doubts that some neutrals are entertaining.

The course of the invasion followed simple lines. Den- mark, with a geographical position that made defence almost hopeless from the beginning, had gone rather further than the recognition of the inevitable by a virtually complete disarmament. Her southern frontier running with Germany, and including what was German territory until the plebiscite, and the country being flat, Germany had merely to walk in. Even a modern defensive system would have been of little help, since the flanks were open to turning movements from the sea. There was, then, no attempt at defence ; and not only Jutland, but the islands, including Zeeland on Which the capital is situated, were in German hands by Tuesday night. The occupation of the Norwegian centres proceeded with little more trouble, with the single exception of Oslo. It seems that landings were effected at Narvik, Trondhjem, Bergen, Stravanger and Kristiansand. By the evening Oslo was in German hands and the Government had re- treated to Hamar, where, after a defiance that aroused the world, it is reported to have opened negotiations with Ger- many. The Government may have been swayed by the action of Sweden, who is reported to have informed Germany that not only will she preserve her neutrality but she will even refrain from taking any steps in her own defence.

What is the design behind the German action? Germany wishes to make the fullest use of the resources of the neutrals; but by her present action she must sacrifice some of the advantage they would be to her as strict neutrals, and it seems clear that she has been moved to this decision by the deter- mination, perhaps indeed the need, to use them for military measures against Britain. Denmark, unfortunately for her, is merely a stepping-stone. If Germany wishes to control Scandinavia, Denmark is of immense importance. From its situation, pointing like a finger straight at Oslo, it is an inevitable base for operations against both Norway and Sweden. A space of only three miles separates Elsinore from Helsingborg (in Sweden), and there is also a Swedish service between Copenhagen and Malmo. After the German occu- pation of Oslo, the centre of communications with the rest of Norway and also with Sweden, the latter country was threatened from three directions—from Norway, from Den- mark (the Zeeland ports) and from the southern and south- eastern Baltic. Sweden, with the clearsightedness she had shown in the Finnish campaign, recognised the inevitable and gave Germany all the assurances she demands. At least that is the report.

The position of Norway was not by any means so hopeless. Practically the whole coast of the country is within com- paratively easy control of the British Navy. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive how Germany can imagine she could retain her hold on the ports she occupied, for any prolonged period, in face of the supremacy of the Allied navies. A conquest of the country is even more difficult to conceive as a practicable operation. The surface of Norway is as broken as that of Denmark is flat. The communications are, con- sequently, poor. It is possible that such footholds as have been secured may be precariously maintained for a time by means of the lines radiating from Oslo. But it seems most improbable that any considerable force could be maintained by this means. The establishment of aerodromes is not so impracticable. There are some already in existence; and, with the forces already sent, Germany will take them over and use them for her air-campaign against the British naval bases and perhaps ports. Unless, however, the Allied navies are reduced to comparative impotence such a use of Norway could not proceed for long, since we should certainly attack the German centres on the west and south coast. Perhaps before these lines appear such an attack will have been delivered. It is certain that every attempt will be made to displace the Germans, and that must have been allowed for in the German plans. It seems, therefore, that we shall be faced with a campaign of short duration, delivered with the utmost violence by the air might of Germany.

From what has been said it will be evident that it is mis- leading to infer that Germany, who is known to hate above all things the prospect of fighting on two fronts, has actually created a new front. There is hardly a possibility of large- scale fighting on such a terrain as Norway offers. Limited operations, depending more upon the naval units and the air force, would be the natural development ; and we need be in no doubt that Germany will most cheerfully sacrifice the units settled at various centres in Norway, and the men them- selves, such is German discipline, would fight to the end. The Allies are, therefore, placed in the position of having to find a solution to the new problem posed for them by the enemy ; and if it is difficult, normally, to effect a landing on hostile territory, it is even more difficult to eject an occupying force from the sea. Indeed, one of the minor mysteries of the invasion of Norway is how what are presumed to be limited forces were able to effect a landing in Norway. It is stated in explanation that the operation was carried out by German soldiers disguised as merchant sailors. That might be done if all the men were carefully selected and had their roles assigned to them. As the rehearsals for the invasion had been proceeding (without concealment) for some time, there can be little doubt that, disguise or no disguise, that part of the arrangement had been most carefully planned.

There is one possibility that deserves consideration. So much is unknown at present that we are in ignorance of even the scope of the occupations ; but it seems scarcely likely that they are in great force. Hence, so far from suggesting the opening of a new front, they may even be a diversion. As I have said it will probably cost the Allies a greater expendi- ture of force to turn the Germans out than it did to install them, and we shall use units that have been and are filling a necessary role whereas Germany will be using naval vessels that have hitherto been keeping harbour, or air units which have been kept in reserve. It seems to me quite possible that the major blow will fall on another quarter ; and, while we are engaged trying to root out the German settlements and fighting against mass air attacks on our fleet bases and sea- ports, the Low Countries will feel the full force of the Ger- man army. We cannot say. We can rest assured that this possibility has been recognised by the Allied staffs, and that if the enemy should strike in the west or in the south-cast he will be met.

The curtain has, at all events, gone up ; and, although for the present we do not know the nature of the movements that are taking place on the stage, so that we cannot be sure whether they form the first act of a great play or only an elaborate diversion from what is happening in the wings or behind the scenes, we can be certain that the curtain will not descend before the whole face of the war is changed.