16 FEBRUARY 1940, Page 7



UMOUR is once again busy with the possibilities of an attack on the Low Countries. This may mean no ore than is suggested by a reading of Germany's govern- s impulse in the light of her actual military dispositions. -arcelv a week passes without some evidence of her nsitiveness to the pressure of the blockade. If she were t short of many of the necessities, why do we hear of se plans for shipping oil via Bulgaria and for the new schange of goods with Russia? If the old arrangements t current needs why make new ones? For twenty years erman military students have maintained that a prolonged ar must be avoided at all costs because of the cumulative ect of the blockade ; and though a saving caution warns not to take that conclusion too literally, the arrange- ents and rearrangements for necessary supplies tend to stify the beliefs that have shaped German strategy. For t is the fact that the fleet was not designed for naval action t to attack our commerce, and the army was planned to lire the maximum momentum less from its mass than rom its speed of movement. This is the main purpose of e mechanised divisions. But if the army is designed to trike, it is inevitable we should ask and ask again, where ill it strike and when?

Moreover, while the German dispositions remain as they ye done for over two months, the invasion of the Low ntries cannot be dismissed, however great a gamble it av seem. While nearly a third of the German divisions the West remain concentrated on the frontiers of Luxem- ,rg, Belgium and Holland, it would be folly to rule out s unreasonable the conclusion that they may be launched gainst those countries. The position may, without any training at facts, be put even more strongly, since almost alf of that force lies on the borders of Limburg, which, s I have before pointed out, is the easiest gateway into olland and the Scheldt estuary. Indeed the headquarters f General Blascowitz, who with Reichenau controlled the ulk of the mechanised divisions in Poland, are only about 12 miles from the boundary of the province. It was lascowitz who received the surrender of Warsaw. When take these facts together, can we be accused of undue ervousness or profligate imagination if we take rather enously the fresh rumours about the invasion of Limburg? The present rumours are, however, connected with the 'eather. The frontier waterways are said to be frozen, nd as the rumours arose before when that condition xisted, there is a suggestion that it was the cause. Such suggestion inverts the position from the military stand- Dint. A frozen frontier waterway might give a momentary ectical twist to the situation, but for a mass movement uch as has been suggested longer-range plans must be ade. A heavy frost at this time of the year would scarcely eem to offer more than the certainty of a vast thaw in the ery near future. If the German command is to depend its ts mechanised divisions, it would be unwise to seize possible week of firm roads with the certainty of en- ountering desperate bogs at the end. What is beyond estion, however, is that the weather will have a real uence on the possibilities of launching a campaign and is character.

Everyone wishes to know how the war is likely to evelop. If I am right, and Hitler is impelled to launch land offensive by the conditions he has himself created, veryone will wish to know the objective at the earliest ,oment. The mere waiting is a trial to the nerves, and if e can put a term to the uncertainty it will be a relief. i t is for this reason that the opening of the campaigning awn is of interest. But this year circumstances have rovided an object lesson on the peril of prediction. The rly part of last month witnessed the worst weather ever Own in this century. It was so bad that it would have eemed safe to predict an imposed truce on land and air activity at least. Once in Gallipoli a torrential downpour enforced a truce. But even on that unique occasion the truce did not last for long ; and last month it never even began. Although civilian planes, on occasion, were held up by the state of the aerodromes, the coastal command and the fighting patrols lost not a single day. Neither the intense cold nor the blinding snow-storms, not even the snowbound aerodromes, prevented them carrying on with their daily work, which not only added to our safety against normal enemy attack but assisted in deceiving the German com- mand, which otherwise might have seized the occasion to launch a large-scale air-offensive. To have flown nearly a million miles in such weather is so astounding a record that the prophet who would foretell the inhibition of operations by the weather is bound to pause.

But campaigns have begun earlier than this in other wars. The tremendous Russian campaign in Armenia began early in January, and Erzerum was not captured until February 16th. Russia, at this moment, is fighting a desperate campaign in the bitter winter in Finland. She is even using tanks on all sectors of the front. In this, however, she is admittedly spendthrift. But the weather is no deterrent. Nor was it to the British armies in France, which, in 1917, fought for six weeks on the Ancre until, towards the end of February, the Germans were compelled to slip away in order to avoid being cut off. The Germans, on several occasions in the last war, began campaigns on both fronts in February. It was, for instance, on February zt st that General von Falkenhayn opened the attack on Verdun. This, one of the grimmest campaigns in history, dragged on for months until the Allied offensive on the Somme compelled the German commander to put an end to it. But it is seldom remarked that on no fewer than five occa- sions one or other of the German generals wished to terminate the fighting. The long-drawn-out siege warfare is no favourite with the German soldier. Nor is he at his best in defence, though he stood on the defensive against the Allies for over two years in the last war.

The Germans like swift and clean results ; and the whole of their training is shaped to produce them. Every fault is forgiven except lack of initiative and boldness in exploiting opportunities. Mistakes are expected ; hesitation is anathema. It is for this reason that they have developed their tactics of mechanised attack, with aeroplanes acting as scouts and breaking up resistance in their path. But this method of attack, which is being practised behind the lines, is undoubtedly to some extent conditioned by the weather. There is no limit to what man can do and over- come. The machine is not so complaisant. The customary summer rains might have saved Poland. The dried roads betrayed her. So it is that, though it is not easy to set a date for the end of a campaign in the west, it is not so difficult to place the beginning. If Blascowitz were to launch his mechanised columns against Dutch Limburg at this moment, he would be acting in spite of the conditions. Having abandoned the chance of strategical surprise, and being faced with the profound difficulty of tactical surprise, he must at least exact a reasonable spell of campaigning weather.

It is for this reason it seems possible to say that though the calendar had brought round the campaigning season, the weather is not following the time-table. A hard frost much earlier might have encouraged exploitation. Now it is too late for any reliance to be placed on its continuance, even in so exceptional a season. Of one thing we may be certain. It cannot be long now before we learn what course Germany means to pursue on the western front. If she means to attack she will do so at the earliest moment that promises a fair run of sufficiently fine weather to allow her mechanised divisions to show their paces.