28 JUNE 1940, Page 6



HE gravest item in the settlement which, in Marshal T Petain's words, was made " in honour as between soldiers " and which General Keitel suggested 'shows that Germany " knows how to honour a courageous defeated foe," is France's assent to the surrender of the French navy. It is true that the use of the fleet is governed by a " solemn declaration " by Germany ; but after the amazing exhibition of " honour " in the most abject terms ever accepted by a Great Power, it is a little difficult to take the " solemn declaration " at full par value. At the moment we do not know if the whole of the French navy has passed into German hands to be used, with French industry, as a means to defeat France's ally whose victory alone can redeem her from permanent slavery ; but clearly, if it has, everyone will stand aghast at an action which is without parallel in modern history. What worse could have happened to France if she had refused to sign the Armistice and had sent her fleet to British ports? She could not be doubly enslaved and the Government would have preserved its honour. But apparently Marshal Pe'tain's Government finds it easier to talk of " shame " and " honour " than to avoid the one and preserve the other ; and we can only do our best to protect it against itself.

In this connexion it is desirable to study with some care Marshal Petain's explanation of the causes of his surrender, not for purposes of recrimination but because they involve a fallacy which cannot be allowed to pass into currency without serious damage to our own chances of victory. He attributes the French debacle to German superiority in numbers and material. It will have been noticed that he does not mention " tanks " ; and this is intelligible, because the modern French army apparently did not like tanks. It is certain that General de Gaulle, the apostle of the " tank," did not find much favour with his superiors, though it is said that M. Reynaud, as long ago as 1935, tried to secure approval for the creation of 10 armoured divisions, to be manned by a technical body of long-service men. The Army Committee of the Chamber would not have it. Lamentable but intelligible, one might say, for soldiers are generally conservative ; but it is impossible to understand why the French Staff did not seriously study the Polish campaign. They had representatives on the spot, and, in Poland, the tank and low-flying plane ran riot.

Marshal Petain mentions the air ; though, with the help of the Royal Air Force, the odds were never quite as heavy as he suggests. He also contrasts the numbers available in 1918 and in this year. Here he completely misrepresents the position .t. There were, of course, never 58 Italian divisions in France at any time. There were, on the contrary, British and French divisions propping up the Italian defence until the crisis of 1918. He means, presumably, that in 1918 Italy was fighting with the Allies and not against them ; but he omits to say that Italy was engaged against another enemy. Then he says that there were " 42 American divisions." Actually there was that number in France, though not more than three-quarters of it was ready for battle. But the total effect of his argument is more seriously wrong than any of its detail. There never was a defeated General yet who did not deafen the air with his calls for reinforcements and attri- bute his lack of success to. his inferiority in numbers and material. The victor as frequently insists on reinforcements during the battle, but at the end attributes his victory to skill. It is perfectly natural to insist on a superiority in numbers and material ; but it is fatal to assume defeat in default of them.

When an invader reaches Britain he will probably land in a number of places, and in one or two of them it is almost certain he will have at least a local numerical superiority for the moment. He should be able to achieve that by virtue of surprise. It would, however, be supreme folly to attack him with one's mind filled with the conviction that the attack will be 'useless ; and yet this attitude is the natural offspring of Marshal Petain's argument and may have played no small part in the defeat of the French army, whereas other and graver defects sufficiently account for it. The Paris correspondent of The Times wrote on Monday of the same Frenchmen day after day having " to fight on, a sleepless, nerve-racked, and ever- dwindling but glorious band, while fresh troops by the hundrc d thousand were held idle behind the lines." Could there be a more crushing retort to Marshal Petain's contention that it v.. inferiority of men or material that caused the defeat? It due to most serious strategical and tactical errors, and to attitude of mind which fostered defeatism. Never did so signs.; a service as that of M. Maginot produce so tragic a result.

If Marshal Petain wished to refer to the victorious Allied campaign of 1918 he might have pointed to the magnificerr battle by which Sir Douglas Haig broke through the Hinden- burg Line in September. On that occasion the 4o British divisions and two American divisions defeated 57 German divisions defending a position of tremendous artificial strength. The disparity in numbers was not as great as it appears, since the big American division was equal to about two of ours, and the German units were shrinking rapidly. But, at least, it is certain that in men and material the Germans were superior, and they were standing on a highly organised and defensive position. On the Meuse-Argonne sector, on the other hand. the French and Americans had an effective numerical superiority of three to one and did not achieve so much. These incidents show that numbers alone, or together with material. are not all ; they are not even the main ingredient of victory.

Though we must have a gross superiority in men and material as against an invader, it may well happen that locally we shall be inferior in one or both. Then much will depend upon the cool head and steady heart. Whatever force we have, it must be organised as perfectly as possible ; and already there appear to be numbers of services whose work may be of tremendous importance if carefully correlated, but which, if they are not, may largely neutralise each other. The value of organisation is that it settles beforehand the problems that can be foreseen, leaving the minds of commanders free for the un- expected which it is impossible to chart. Is the Local Defence Force, for instance, part of the local army command? There are those who would subject the Royal Air Force to the Army in the interests of unity of command. Anyone who feels the impulse to go that length had better consider placing the Navy under the Army too. It is certain beyond all question that invasion cannot be dealt with successfully without the closest collaboration of all three services. Nothing more fundamental than this is conceivable. But it is equally certain that the services work best when they are allowed to develop their own tradition, theory and practice. Each of them is committed to operations in one medium, and though their fields of opera- tion meet the ordinary collaboration of sensible men should cover such problems. Anyone who has examined the crowded beaches of Dunkirk, remembering the vast number who escaped unhurt, must conclude that the Royal Air Force dealt there with the German bombing force in the best, if not in the most spectacular, way.

Moreover, now that France has surrendered, though our Army may secure us the condition precedent to victory it cannot directly achieve it. The influence of the Navy will be more direct ; but most direct will be the effect of air-power. We can look forward to a real supremacy in the air, and when that is achieved we shall be within sight of victory. It is not generally known that as early as November, 1916, the president of the powerful steel-works union of Dusseldorf telegraphed to the German High Command that British air raids resulted in a curtailment of night-work and to an average decrease of 3o per cent. of the steel-works' output; and it was feared that night- work might soon have to be entirely suspended. This was the work of No. 3 Naval Wing when bombing was comparatively in its infancy. As a consequence of this and other complaints flights of fighters had to be dotted about over Germany ; but there then arose considerable disorganisation between the various means of defence, and consequently "all the means of air combat and air defence with the army, in the field and in the home areas, were amalgamated into one unit."

About the same time the British Government carried out the same process ; but the memorandum of General Smuts upon which the decision was founded emphasised not the dis- organisation but the developing scope of air operations. In his report, he said that the day might not be far off when " aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruc- tion of industrial centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which the older form of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate." It is at least possible that such a development may be nearer today, when a ruthless Continental enemy combine is confront- ing an island sea-power, than seemed credible six months ago. Sea-power and air-power, with sufficient land-power to repel invasion, may add a new chapter to Mahan, whose thesis the immense developments in Continental communications and credit have done so much to modify.