17 MAY 1940, Page 11



NOT enough attention has been paid to one aspect of the Norwegian side-show, and it is worth considering, for it is not without its importance. It is important because under- standing of it serves to correct perspective in circumstances in which we are apt to take a rather distorted view or too narrow a view of the position as a whole.

Why did Hitler go into Norway? The answer commonly given is that he wanted to safeguard the iron-ore route from Narvik, to secure bases from which the Luftwaffe could raid industrial centres in Britain, to prevent us from establishing in Norway air bases from which we could raid middle Germany. None of these reasons carries conviction. The covered way through territorial waters would be more and not less exposed to interruption by our warships if the Germans were in occupa- tion of Norway. Air bases in that country would be little nearer Britain than those already available in Sylt and north- western -Germany. Even Herr Hitler cannot have credited us with the intention of seizing Norwegian bases ; it would have spoilt our whole moral attitude to the German aggressions.

No, the attack on Norway was the outcome of a deeper scheme than that. Herr Hitler, it must be remembered, is a man who broods and plans and thinks far ahead. Like William the Silent he is "sleepless of habit "—but what a difference in the two men's characters l—and worries unceasingly down into the heart of a question, turning it over again and again in a mind that cannot rest. He is like a chess-player who sees every coming move, who imagines his opponent's reply to each, who tries to picture the board as it will be left if any of a number of possible gambits is opened. What will happen if I do this? How can I reply to such and such a counter-move by my opponent? What will be the position, after half a dozen moves, if I take such and such a line? That is the way, no doubt, that Hitler wrestles with his politico-strategical problems.

He is certain to have taken into account the probable reac- tion of public opinion in Britain to his Norwegian adventure. He knows, or Herr von Ribbentrop could inform him if he did not, that a " score " such as the swift invasion of Norway and Denmark represented for Germany might become also a " score " in the political game in this country. (That would not mean that party politics ousted patriotism ; rather, that the good party-man was convinced that the other side, being mostly composed of half-wits, could not run this war efficiently. Both sides want victory over Nazidom.) He would see that there was here a chance of splitting the British front and dividing counsel. One of the demands would certainly be for a recovery of the initiative which we had allowed the enemy to snatch from us. A bold and vigorous course of action in Norway would be called for in Westminster and Fleet Street alike.

Why is all this important? Because the attack on Norway was a trap into which Herr Hitler expected that our Fleet could be lured. It is significant that just after the invasion the reports from Stockholm were what they were: accounts of a great naval engagement in the Oslo Fjord, of our warships storming Bergen and Trondheim, of the British Navy dashing into all the narrow waters where the Germans had ventured. Indeed, in a pictorial history (in parts) of the war a great fleet action near Oslo has been depicted as if it in fact took place. Actually, of course, there was no such action. All these accounts were probably put about by Dr. Goebbels' myrmi- dons in the first instance. They were what the Nazis wanted our fleet to do, what our fleet was wise enough not to do. They wanted us to fling our ships against the fortresses which guarded the towns treacherously seized by the Germans and whose coat- manders had for the most part already been nobbled. Where they failed to secure the forts the capacity of these to deal effectively with any assault from the sea was at once made apparent. The fate of the Gneisenau (or was it only the Blucher '?) and the ' Karlsruhe ' showed what our ships might have suffered if they had fallen into the trap.

The German disappointment at our failure to do what they expected was evident in the grotesque story of the losses sus- tained by us as a result of bombing attacks. A whole line of battle, it seems, was sent to the bottom by the German aircraft. Such losses might well have occurred if our warships had been flung against the forts. It is a wild gamble for ships to engage is-inch guns on land.

The British fleet stands between Hitler—as it stood between a greater man, Napoleon—and world domination ; and he knows it. He cannot win this war so long as our fleet is in being. Sea power will grind Germany into the dust. His plan was cleverly laid and might have succeeded. Actually, the result has been that the British fleet is stronger in comparison with Germany's now battered fleet than it was before April 9th.

Circumstances are conceivable in which it would be worth- while to throw warships against powerful fortresses because of the magnitude of the larger strategical issues involved. In the last war, for instance, it might have been justifiable to attack Forts Carlisle and Camden from the sea if these forts, guarding Queenstown Harbour, had somehow been seized by the Germans, and to incur even severe losses in the operation of recapturing them. Such circumstances did not occur, however, in Norway, and to have gone bull-headed for the forts would have been to play Hitler's game. Nothing would have suited his book better.

We know from the debate in Parliament that Sir Roger Keyes and other naval men held that Trondheim could have been forced from the sea. We have had Mr. Churchill's reply to that claim, and to the writer, at least, it carries conviction. He is no less convinced that Herr Hitler believed that the Luftwaffe could take heavy toll of our warships in Norwegian waters. Actually, two destroyers and a sloop, with a few trawlers and one French and one Polish destroyer, were sunk by air action. To achieve that small success—as compared with the German naval losses—a phenomenal weight of bombs was dropped. There were probably 500 bombers in action during the three weeks' operations up to the time when we gave effect to the rather belated conclusion that Trondheim, Aandalsnes and Namsos should become evacuation areas. It is a moderate assumption that anything from Io,000 to 20,000 tons of bombs must have been deposited in the fjords, where they injured nothing but fishes. Nor was that all. A serious inroad must have been made upon Germany's not too plentiful stock of petrol. A Daimler-Benz or a Junkers-Jumo engine uses some- thing approaching 50 gallons of petrol an hour, and nearly 1,000 twin-engined machines must have been employed for perhaps five hours a day during the three weeks in question. A little arithmetic will show that, at 300 gallons (approximately) to the ton, the consumption must have been nearly 30,000 tons of petrol. Germany can ill spare that amount from her precious store, and such a rate of consumption must have worried Field Marshal Goring considerably.