The Dark Side Part III Chapter IV - Fritz the Cat

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Dark Side III
Chapter 4

Collapse of the third Republic dark side three chapters four
Editor’s comment

Most of the missed opportunities to put a stop to Hitler’s war machine foundered on the misapprehension of its true strength.  Fritz the cat smells a rat.  He takes with a grain of salt all the protestation of ignorance and fear used as excuses for not taking a "stitch in time".  France commanded overwhelming military force vis a vis Hitler when Germany re occupied the Rhineland, a fact observable to any civilian present there, and surely known to the French high command, despite their protestations.

Hitler, whom I once considered an "evil genius", I now feel was the mark in a sophisticated con game, a small man of limited intelligence whose ego and greed are gradually engorged by the Rhineland (March 7, 1935), Austria (March 12, 1938), and Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939), served up on a silver platter by the cynical western powers anxious to reestablish the traditional hierarchy so rudely interrupted by Lenin in 1917.

The European royal families, deprived of dejure power by the post world war one democracies,  still held the defacto power of the purse with which to corrupt the people’s representatives, who much preferred being well paid puppets on a string to the alternative of being part of the sheep they were leading to the slaughter.  The Germans, derived from the race that had sacked Rome and stopped Julius Caesar, once described as sheep with very sharp teeth, were led by a puppet who thought he had escaped the puppet master.  In reality he was being suckered into a war with a puppet who really had escaped the puppet master, Stalin.  But back to our book.

(Page 460).  On the night of August 19, 1939 while France and Britain tried to reason with Poland, Stalin and Hitler, the former wary of the west, and the latter by now contemptuous of it, decided on a mutual pact.  As late as the 16 th Stalin was undecided.  Molotov had explained as much to the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Lawrence Steinhart.  Steinhart then cabled Washington with this information.  It was passed to the British Ambassador to Washington Sir Ronald Lindsey on August 16, who air mailed the news to London.  It didn’t arrive until August 22, three days after the Hitler-Stalin pact had been concluded.  But without a doubt, had Sir Ronald not bungled this last chance at a reprieve from world war two, someone else would have, because Hitler had not yet burned his boats.

(Page 468).  In a few day Germany and Russia had arranged and concluded a treaty Russia and the West had been working on for five months.  The Germans had made every concession Russia asked for, in return they got Russia’s assurances that they would stay out of Germany’s war.  In a secret protocol they divided up Eastern Europe.

(Page 471).  The pact changed the European balance of power in Germany’s favor.  The rulers of France realized the full weight of the war would fall on her, given the Russian withdrawal, British  unpreparedness, and American isolationism.  French generalissimo Gamelin, in an August 23 meeting of the French political military hierarchy, states that France is ready to mobilize but will not be ready to fight until the next spring when the British will be ready to join her.  The Polish should be able to hold the German main force at bay until that time.  Later testimony reveals that he knew that if Germany threw her full weight against France alone, France was finished.  Nevertheless, at that meeting it was decided to enter the war if Poland were attacked.

Page 478 to 480).  Hitler had set the invasion  for dawn on August 26, but then unwelcome news that Britain and France would surely commit themselves this time, and that Italy was not yet ready to fight on Hitler’s side, made him stay his attack at the last moment.  A few Polish customs posts were actually attacked, but the Poles were not overly alarmed because Germany had been provoking incidents along the border for several days.

(Page 482 to 483).  France was divided as ever, with the right convinced that Britain was dragging France into war, as Charles Maurras announced on the front page of the royalist L’Action Francaise, a paper widely read by army and navy officers.  Leon Blum had lost leadership of the socialist party to Paul Faure, who advocated peace at any price.  The French communist party, growing in numbers and political strength, did an about face with the Stalin Hitler pact, from war party to party of peace.  The problem was how to explain that to the rank and file.  Leon Blum realized that the communists were in an untenable position, and would probably be torn apart, but premier  Daladier got them off the hook by suppressing their papers and driving them underground.  The communists left, resenting the police harassment and treated as outlaws, soon found themselves once again on the side of their class enemies on the right.
(Page 484).  There was growing competition between premier Daladier and his finance minister, Paul Reynaud.  Reynaud had a stronger personality and had thought Daladier too weak since Munich.  In addition each was heavily influenced by his mistress, one a countess and the other a marquise, seemingly a perennial French problem.  Both were from high bourgeois a families and had married into the nobility.

(Page 487).  On the eve of the war the 83 year old marshal Petain, the country’s most illustrious warrior, now ambassador to Franco’s Spain and well bitten by the political bug, reestablished contact with former Premier Pierre Laval, who chafed at being out of power for so long.  Both men admired Franco and we’re drifting steadily towards authoritarianism.  Laval and his growing list of rightist partisans began feeding the marshal’s oversized ego.  Only he could to save the country, they said, by ridding it of the weak Republic and its premier Daladier, telling him not to worry about that day to day running of the country, as they would handle that.

(Page 490 to 497).  On August 29 Hitler began the same game he had played with Austria and Czechoslovakia.  He would negotiate with Poland, but only if a Polish negotiator with power to sign an agreement arrived in Berlin the next day.  His plan was obvious to his military assistant general Halder: the Fuehrer would make impossible demands on the 30 th, blame Polish stubbornness and break off negotiations on the 31 st, an attack on the 1 st of September, as he had planned.

Despite Germany’s fully mobilized army on the Polish border, the French and British ambassadors tried to restrain Poland from calling a general mobilization, still fearing to provoke Hitler.  The Polish government actually put mobilization off until noon of the next day, the 30 th, a move which would cost them dearly.  On August 31 Mussolini proposed a meeting in Rome to hash things out, in effect  another Munich, on September 5 th.  Daladier and Chamberlain both refused the invitation, despite the intrigues and pleas of French foreign minister Bonnet.  In any event Hitler had, shortly after noon on August 31, given the order to attack at dawn the next day.

(Page 499).  Even after the news arrived that the German army was advancing through Poland, French foreign minister Bonnet was still trying to persuade Poland to negotiate in Rome, but on the evening of the 1st the British and French ambassadors in Germany informed Hitler that they would support Poland.  Bonnet was not the only Frenchmen stalling for time.  General Gamelin wanted three days before initiating hostilities.  By the afternoon of the second the British, who had no troops involved, were increasingly restive at the French delay.  At 3:00 PM that day Daladier addressed the chamber of deputies and senate with the best speech of his life, saying that unless Germany pulled her troops out of Poland immediately it would mean war.

(Page 504).  After a brief recess attended by the heads of all the parties it was decided to ask parliament to vote for 70,000,000,000 francs in war credits, without any debate.  Only Pierre Laval and one other senator rose to speak, but they were shouted down.  The vote was taken by a show of hands, said to be unanimous, but the speaker Harriot declined to ask for a show of hands against, and quickly adjourned the meeting.

(Page a 510).  In London the house of commons was boiling over prime minister Chamberlain’s failure to declare war.  At 2:00 AM on the third Britain informed France that when commons met at 10:00 AM Chamberlain would announce that an ultimatum had been given to Hitler at 9:00 AM and barring conciliation on his part, a state of war would begin at 11:00 AM.  At 12:00 PM the French presented their ultimatum to Germany, with 5:00 PM as the last hour of peace.
When France marched to war in 1914 it was with bells ringing and people cheering.  Now it was with stony stoicism.  They had won the last war, but seemingly to no avail.  They knew that Hitler was getting stronger month by month, and perhaps it was better to face him now rather than later.  Yet another bloodletting would be catastrophic for France.  Many a bold soldier in the war that had ended only two decades earlier began opining that maybe this time it was best to lay low.

The phony war.
(Page 519).  In eight days Poland was crushed.  Britain and France did a little to fulfill their treaty obligations.  On the 15 th the Polish government crossed into Romania.  Russia, in agreement with Germany, moved in to take its share of the spoils.  The French entered Germany on September 8th.  Their fully armed 85 divisions faced 11 regular German divisions and 23 reserve divisions, the latter  seriously deficient in arms, munitions, and transport.  All German Panzer and motorized divisions were in Poland.

By September 12, with Germany controlling all of Poland, the French had advanced 5 miles into Germany on a 15 mile front, occupying 20 deserted villages.  French generalissimo Gamelin had replied to Polish pleas for urgent action with prevarication and outright lies.  Not a single tank or plane was diverted from east to west.  Gamelin had been frank with Daladier on the first when he said the only effective way to aid Poland required passage through Belgium.

(Page 523).  Gamelin halted his "invasion" of Germany out of the German Siegfried Line’s artillery range.  When Poland fell, Gamelin felt relieved of the necessity of attacking the Siegfried line.  Britain was of the same mind.  On September 30 Gamelin decided that he would soon be facing the Germans who had overrun Poland, and he wanted to be behind the French Maginot line for that battle.  This they did during the dark of the night.  October 16 the feared German counter attack came, in company and battalion force, disdaining use of the few tanks they had.  The French covering force retreated without a fight as ordered.  The German suffered fewer than 200 killed in action.  Thus began sapping of the French army’s morale.

(Page 525).  Thus far Britain had provided two divisions to France, and these incomplete.  Daladier had come to distrust Chamberlain, fearing he wanted France to fight alone.  In reality, at this time most of the war was being fought at sea, and this by the British navy.

(Page 526).  At the Nuremburg war trials, after Germany’s defeat, the aforementioned  German general Halder, who kept a diary which was a very important source for the author Shirer, testified that the invasion of Poland was only made possible by almost completely baring the western border.  Had France crossed through Belgium at full strength it could have easily crossed the Rhine and threatened the Ruhr industrial basin, heart of the German war production.  Other German generals backed him up, saying the French inaction as incomprehensible.

(Page 527).  On September 19 Hitler began a peace initiative with a radio speech, saying that he had no claims against Britain and France, and calling on the almighty to instill comprehension in other people.  On the 28th Germany and Russia formally established their border in the former Poland and began a joint peace and initiative towards Britain and France.  On October 3 Daladier, and on October  12th Chamberlain, rejected Hitler’s latest peace proposals.  Now Hitler could justify continued war to the German people.

(Page 531).  Under the new circumstances Daladier reformed his government.  He demoted Bonnet and put Herriot in his place.  Herriot’s hatred of Mussolini and Franco was well known, and Daladier tried to placate them by including marshal Petain in the cabinet, but Petain wasn’t interested.  Laval continued to intrigue for a government with Petain as a figurehead.  Unstated, but understood by many, was Laval’s determination to be the power behind the throne.

HItler’s new war tactics of a combined bomber and tank attack that had defeated Poland so quickly was still grasped by neither the old men of the French high command nor the old men in the cabinet.  DeGaulle, now a colonel, tried to explain that tanks now revolutionized warfare, to no avail.  In 1940 half of the 500 new tanks produced by France were sold to other countries.  Only 90 were on the front when Germany attacked.  Antitank guns, artillery, and ammunition continued to be exported in spite the of shortages in France.

(Page 534).  In addition to the bitter split between the French premier and his finance minister, the French army high command suffered under its own split, between the commander in chief general Gamelin and his commander of the franco German front, General Georges.  While Georges was responsible for army operation against Germany, Gamelin retained authority of planning and organizing them.

Though France was at war with Germany very little changed.  The cities were blacked out at night, but gasoline, all of it imported, was not rationed.  The two million Frenchmen at the front were trained only ½ day a week.  Boredom, and alcoholism soon set in.  German loudspeakers advised the French, across  no man’s land, not to die for Poland.  German and French soldiers fortifed their positions across the Rhine, inside and range of each other, in peace.  The bombers dropped only of leaflets.

(Page 538).  Throughout the phony war Hitler did what France did not, plan and train for the real war.  Moving troops from Poland to the Belgian border took time, which Hitler reluctantly conceded, a bit at a time.

Scandinavian interlude
(Page 539).  On the last day of November Stalin attacked Finland.  The French Press and parliament, so idle while Poland fell, demanded aid for Finland, which began with arms shipments on December 13.  In reality there was little hope for Finland, though she held lost all and for two months.  The British and France wanted transit rites through neutral Norway to get to Finland, hoping to forestall Hitler’s occupation of Norway in this way.  Half of Germany’s iron ore came from Sweden, and in the winter came overland through Norway.  In addition, German bombers could reach Britain from Norway, and France wanted the front against Germany to be anywhere besides France.  The French right, always lukewarm about opposing Hitler, were adamant about opposing Stalin.

(Page 540). Hitler’s generals had been pushing the importance of Norway on Hitler as early as October, but Hitler was preparing war on France.  The Russian invasion of Finland accelerated Hitler’s plans for Norway.  On December 14 Hitler had a long meeting with Vidkun Quisling, leader of the small NAZI party in Norway.  On March 12, 1940, Finland surrendered to Russia, depriving Britain of the pretext of occupying Norway in aid of Finland, but also to Germany’s excuse of occupying Norway to prevent British occupation.

The fall of Daladier
On March 14, the French parliament began an offensive against premier Daladier for his inaction, not against Hitler, but against Stalin.  Since the communists had been outlawed and ousted from parliament with the Hitler-Stalin pact, the parliament would united in wanting to add Stalin to France’s enemies list.  There was a plan afoot within the French high command to strike Russia’s oil fields in the Caucus using France’s troops in the Middle East, thus not only depriving Hitler of this oil, but Russia too.  In certain circles in France the emphasis was shifting from Germany to Russia as the main enemy.  General Gamelin was at work on plans for general Weygand, commander of French forces in the Mideast, to attack the caucus oil fields and then proceed toward Moscow, there to meet with French troops proceeding from the liberation of Finland.

(Page 546).  On February 22 Gamelin had presented Daladier with a plan recommending the Allies concentrate bombing on the Baku Oil fields near the Caspian Sea, the source of 75% of the Soviet Union oil, preventing it sale to Hitler and its use by the Soviet Union.  France wanted Britain to bring warships into the Caspian to bombard Baku, but the British were having none of that.  The British command in the near east, led by general Sir Archibald Wavell, now working with general Weygand, was considering using intermediary air bases in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran for Allied bombers.

The idea of attacking Russia found favor with the same Frenchmen who were so conciliatory toward Hitler.  Led by Laval in the senate and Flandin in the chamber they began by attacking premier Daladier for bringing France into the war without ‘sufficient military and diplomatic preparation", and for missing the opportunity to attack Russia through Finland.  Laval and Flandin attacked Daladier for considering Germany, and not Russia, the main enemy.  Both were loudly applauded by their parliamentary bodies.

Daladier told parliament to throw him out if they disapproved of his leadership.  The senate gave him a vote of confidence 236 to 0, but with 60 abstention, and the chamber gave him a vote of confidence by 230 to 1, but with 300 deputies abstaining.  Constitutionally he was enabled to remain in office, but he resigned immediately after the vote.
(Page 553).  The president asked Paul Reynaud, Daladier’s finance minister and critic, to form a government.  Many compare Reynaud to Churchill, and indeed, they were good friends.  Reynaud also was friends with DeGualle.  All three saw the need to shake up the political and military hierarchy and to get rid of deadwood, but it was not to be.  Reynaud asked Daladier to be foreign minister but Daladier wanted to retain the minister of defense post he had held in his own government.  Reynaud had to give in because without Daladier’s Radical-Socialist party’s 116 votes in the house of deputies, Reynaud could not form a government.  He barely did anyway.

(Page 556).  The fragility of his government and the hidebound obstinacy of the old guard resulted in government policies similar to Daladier’s.  There would be no attack on the Siegfried line, no shakeup in the army, no motorized divisions, and no violation of Norway’s or Belgium’s neutrality.  All those would be left to Hitler.  Daladier, mindful of the DeGualle’s past criticism, would not permit  DeGualle’s appointment as secretary of the war cabinet.  Instead Reynaud appointed a technocrat from the ministry of finance, Paul Baudouin, much more aligned to the previous government’s policies that his own.

Reynaud had formed his government on March 22.  Why had this brilliant, strong willed man who resolve to fight a total war to the bitter end, surrounded himself with so many defeatists?  Even his mistress, who had worked tirelessly to get him the premier’s post, now undermined his self confidence and joined a cabal forming among those closest to him to undermine him.  Strangely, he seemed unaware of it.

Though Norway and Denmark had been informed by their intelligence bureaus before the end of March of German ships concentrating in Baltic ports, they had done nothing about it, or even notified France and Britain.  The first week of April found general Gamelin conferring with navy head general Weygand about reinforcements for the near east and preparations to bomb Russian oil fields.  On the morning of April 7 British aircraft and submarines radioed that the German fleet was headed for Norway, and on the morning of the eighth a British destroyer was sunk off the coast of Norway.  General Gamelin received news of 50 German naval vessels passing through the Danish straits on April 8, two days after their passage.  Reynaud only got the news from Reuters news agency.

More editors comments.
We saw Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, make a deal with Stalin in a few days that the west had been negotiating for five months, thus freeing Hitler to invade Poland.  We saw Blum’s glee at the manifestation of the internal contradictions of his enemies to the left turn sour when Daladier saved the communists from the necessity of explaining the all but inexplicable by banning their newspapers, and take their minds off the subject by outlawing them and driving them underground.

Fritz the cat will pause briefly here to rub his middle class socialists friends nose in this piece of dog shit, swat them with this paper, and say bad dog.  But puppies never realized that someone has to clean up the shit, and any socialist who doesn’t realize that ideology is just one more path to power will remain on the bottom rung, used by those who have a nose for power.  The socialist splitting of the hairs also splits the working class: Stalinist vs Trotskyite; Maoist vs Castroite; ad infinitatum.

We saw Daladier and Reynaud seduced into a honey trap by the ambitious daughters of the high bourgeoisie, the perennial French weakness of the flesh an excuse for a multitude of sins, sinking the entire country lower in the mire.  We saw Laval swing from extreme left to extreme right in his pursuit of the good life, and marshal Petain the swing from proud warrior to senile figurehead, in service of his ego.

Did Hitler ever ask himself the where to fore of all his painless victories?  Who was the ultimate puppet master?  Was the seat of the Euro community the 30 pieces of silver Belgium required for her insistence on a neutrality that France was pleased to respect and everyone knew Hitler would ignore?  Does a full belly compensate for a guilty conscious, or as John Lennon put it, how do you sleep at night?

Fritz the cat is reminded of the ancient regime’s wars, with the victory going to the brightest dressed, most crisply executed parade maneuvers on a battleground, before the shedding of blood was the object, with the bourgeoisie, in their finest dress, bringing picnic lunches to the hill above to watch a battle.  Does the puppet master enjoyed it just a bit more knowing that some of his puppets are conscious of being jerked around, but can do nothing about it?  Did the French, knowing they were being jerked around, decide it was better to live on your knees than die on your feet?  Is this another step in the domestications of the human animal?  Does history repeat itself because the spectators at this danse macabre enjoy seeing the rerun of an old classic?  But back to the book.

(Page 562).  Generalissimo, Gamelin took the NAZI invasion of Norway with aplomb, telling premier Reynaud that war is full of surprises, as if the NAZI fleet’s disappearance in Germany and reappearance in Norway were a clever card trick.  Gamelin was no doubt pleased that this meant that the pressure would be on the British navy to retake the Norwegian ports rather than the French army to hold them.  Reynaud, Daladier, and Darlan would fly to London that afternoon, April 9, 1940, to choreograph their next move.  On the bright side, Hitler’s navy was now out of its heavily protected home ports, and suffered badly from British and Norwegian counteraction.

Half of Germany’s iron ore came from Swedish mines, and during winter had to be transported overland through Norway to a Norwegian ice free port.  Yet both countries claim neutrality and the west respected that claim.  Raw materials, iron and oil, were Hitler’s Achille’s heel.  The Allies could have had Sweden’s iron ore for the taking, just as Hitler did.  Instead of acting against Hitler’s iron deficit in their own backyard, they plotted maneuvers through Turkey, Iraq, and Iran to the Caspian Sea to attack the oil fields of equally neutral Russia, who was selling oil to Hitler just as Sweden was selling him iron ore.  This beggars belief unless the German fascist were being sheltered, just as the French fascists who were attacking Blum’s popular front were sheltered by the French police.  Hitler was being strengthened by the Allies for a showdown with Stalin, just as Stalin feared from the very beginning.

The indecisiveness and wrong opinions strongly held during the run-up to the German invasion of Belgium makes sad reading.  Perhaps the generals, Gamelin above all, and politicians, Daladier above all, knew that Hitler was faded to meet Stalin, and had no wish to weaken him or provoke him.  The French did not wish to die for Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, or even France.  Perhaps one should walk a mile in their shoes.  Perhaps it is better to live on one’s knees than to die on one’s feet.

Especially disturbing is the French lack of modern communication equipment.  In 1940 motorcycle dispatches were still the fastest and most reliable means of communication.  Contrary to the later myths, the French were equal in the number and better in the quality of their tanks.  In aircraft they were equal in number and slightly inferior  in quality.  In the battle tactics of both machines they were  lamentably inferior to the Germans.  The French were still fighting the last war.

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