We are now able, and indeed required, to take a more
general view of the war than when this resolution of thanks was first
The loss of Bengazi and the withdrawal imposed upon us by the German
incursion into Cyrenaica are injurious chiefly on account of the valuable
airfields around Bengazi which have now passed into enemy hands.
Apart from this important aspect we should have been content, in view
of the danger which was growing in the Balkans, to have halted our original
advance at Tobruk.
The rout of the Italians, however, made it possible to gain a good
deal of ground easily and cheaply and it was thought worthwhile to do
this, although in consequence of other obligations, already beginning
to descend upon us, only comparatively light forces could be employed
to hold what we had won.
The movement of German air forces and armored troops from Italy and
Sicily to Tripoli had begun even before we took Bengazi and our submarines
and aircraft have taken a steady toll of the transports carrying the
German troops and vehicles.
But that has not prevented, and could not prevent, their building up
a strong armored force on the African shore. With this force they have
made a rapid attack in greater strength than our commanders expected
at so early a date and we have fallen back upon stronger positions and
more defensible country.
I cannot attempt to forecast what the course of the fighting in Cyrenaica
will be. It is clear, however, that military considerations alone must
guide our generals, and that these must not in any way be complicated
by what are called prestige values or considerations for public opinion.
Now that the Germans are using their armored strength in Cyrenaica
we must expect hard and severe fighting, not only for the defense of
Cyrenaica but for the defense of Egypt.
It is fortunate that the Italian collapse in Eritrea, Ethiopia and
British and Italian Somaliland is liberating progressively very substantial
forces and masses of transport to reinforce the Army of the Nile.
This sudden darkening of the scene in Cyrenaica in no way detracts
from the merits of the brilliant campaigns which have destroyed the
Italian Empire in North and East Africa. Nor does it diminish our gratitude
to the troops or our confidence in the commanders who led them. On the
contrary, we shall show that our hearts go out to our armies even more
warmly when they are in hard action than when they are sailing forward
in the flowing tide of success.
A fortnight ago I warned the public that an unbroken continuance of
success could not be hoped for; that reverses as well as victories must
be expected; that we must be ready, indeed we always are ready, to take
the rough with the smooth.
Since I used this language other notable episodes have been added to
those that had gone before. Cheren was stormed after hard fighting which
cost us about 4,000 casualties.
The main resistance of the Italian army in Eritrea was overcome. Foremost
in all this fighting in Eritrea were our Indian troops, who at all points
and on all occasions sustained the martial reputation of the sons of
After the fall of Cheren the army advanced. Asmara has surrendered,
the port of Massawa is in our hands. The Red Sea has been virtually
cleared of enemy warships, which is a matter of considerable and even
far reaching convenience. Harar has fallen and our troops have entered
and taken charge of Addis Ababa.
The Duke of Aosta's army has retreated into the mountains where it
is being attended upon by the patriot forces of Ethiopia. The complete
destruction or capture of all Italian forces in Abyssinia [Ethiopia]
with corresponding immediate relief to our operations elsewhere, may
be reasonably expected.
Besides these land operations the Royal Navy under Admiral Cunningham,
splendidly aided by the fleet air arm and the R.A.F. have gained the
important sea battle of Cape Matapan-decisively breaking Italian naval
power in the Mediterranean.
When we look back upon the forlorn position in which we were left in
the Middle East by the French collapse, and when we remember that not
only were our forces in the Nile Valley out-numbered by four or five
to one by the Italian armies, that we could not contemplate without
anxiety the defense of Nairobi, of Khartum, of Cairo, Alexandria, Jerusalem
and the Suez Canal, and that this situation has been marvelously transformed;
that we have taken more Italian prisoners than we had troops in the
country, that the British Empire has fought alone and conquered alone
except for the aid of the gallant Free French and Belgian forces who,
although few in number, have borne their part-when all this is recalled
amid the unrelenting pressure of events, I feel confident that I can
commit this resolution to the House, and that it will be most heartily
and enthusiastically acclaimed.
I now turn from Cyrenaica and Abyssinia to the formidable struggle
which has followed the German invasion of the Balkan Peninsula.
We have watched with growing concern the German absorption of Hungary,
the occupation of Rumania and the seduction and occupation of Bulgaria.
Step by step we have seen this movement of German military power to
the east and southeast of Europe. A remorseless accumulation of German
armored and motorized divisions and of aircraft has been in progress
in all these countries for months.
And at length we find that the Greeks and the Yugoslavs, nations and
States which never wished to take part in the war, neither of which
was capable of doing the slightest injury to Germany, must now fight
to the death for their freedom and for the lands of their fathers.
Until Greece was suddenly and treacherously invaded at the behest of
the base Italian dictator, she had observed meticulous neutrality. It
may be that the sentiments of her people were on our side, but nothing
could have been more correct than the behavior of her government.
We had no contacts or engagements of a military character with the
Greek Government. Although there were islands like Crete of the highest
naval consequence to us, and although we had given Greece our guarantee
against aggression, we abstained from the slightest intrusion upon her.
It was only when she appealed to us for aid against the Italians that
we gave whatever support in the air and in supplies was possible.
All this time the Germans continued to give friendly assistance to
Greece and to toy with the idea of a new commercial treaty. German high
officials, both in Athens and Berlin, expressed disapproval of the Italian
From the beginning of December the movements of German forces through
Hungary and through Rumania toward Bulgaria became apparent to all.
More than two months ago, by the traitorous connivance of the Bulgarian
King and government, advance parties of the German air force in plain
clothes gradually took possession of Bulgarian air fields.
Many thousands of German airmen, soldiers and political police were
ensconced in key positions before the actual announcement of the accession
of Bulgaria to the Axis was made.
German troops then began to pour into Bulgaria in very large numbers.
One of their objectives was plainly Salonika, which I may mention they
entered at 4 o'clock this morning.
It has never been our policy nor our interest to see the war carried
into the Balkan Peninsula. At the end of February we sent Foreign Secretary
Eden and General Sir John G. Dill to the Middle East to see if anything
could be done to form a united defensive front in the Balkans. They
went to Athens, and to Ankara and would have gone to Belgrade but they
were refused permission by Prince Paul's government.
If these three threatened States had stood together they could have
had at their disposal sixty or seventy divisions, which with a combined
plan and prompt united action taken, might have confronted the Germans
with a resistance which might well have deterred them altogether and
must in any case have delayed them a long time, having regard to the
mountainous and broken character of the country and limits of communications.
Although we were anxious to promote such a defensive front, by which
alone the peace of the Balkans could be maintained, we were determined
not to urge upon the Greeks, already at grips with the Italians, any
course contrary to their desires.
The support which we can give to the peoples fighting for freedom in
the Balkans and in Turkey, or ready to fight, is necessarily limited
at present and we did not wish to take the responsibility of pressing
the Greeks to engage in a conflict.
With the new and terrible foe gathering upon their borders, however,
on the first occasion Eden and Dill met the Greek King and the Greek
Prime Minister. The latter declared spontaneously on behalf of his government
that Greece was resolved at all costs to defend her freedom and native
soil against any aggressor, and that even if left wholly unsupported
by Great Britain or by Turkey and Yugoslavia, they would remain faithful
to their alliance with Great Britain, which came into play at the opening
of the Italian invasion, and would fight to the death against both Italy
This being so, our duty was clear. We were bound in honor to give them
all the aid in our power. If they were resolved to face the might and
fury of the Huns, we had no doubts but that we should share their ordeal,
and that the soldiers of the British Empire must stand in the line with
We were apprised by our generals on the spot, Dill and Sir Archibald
Wavell, and Greek Commander in Chief Alexander Papagos-both victorious
commanders in chief-that a sound military plan, giving good prospects
of success, could be made.
Of course in all these matters there is hazard. In this case as any
one can see, without particularizing unduly, there was for us a double
It remains to be seen how well these opposing risks and duties have
been judged. But of this I am sure, that there is no less likely way
of winning a war than to adhere pedantically to the maxim of "safety
Therefore, early in March we made a military agreement with the Greeks,
and the considerable movement of British and Imperial troops and supplies
began. I cannot enter into details or, while this widespread battle
is going on, attempt to discuss either the situation or the prospects.
I therefore turn to the story of Yugoslavia. This valiant steadfast
people, whose history for centuries has been a struggle for life and
who owe their survival to their mountains and to their fighting qualities,
made every endeavor to placate the Nazi monster.
If they had made common cause with the Greeks when the Greeks hurled
back the Italian invaders, the complete destruction of the Italian armies
in Albania could have been certainly and swiftly achieved long before
the German forces could have reached the theatre of war.
Even in January or February this extraordinary military opportunity
was still open. But Prince Paul's government, undeterred by the fate
of so many small countries, not only observed the strictest neutrality
and refused even to enter into effective staff conversations with Greece
or with Turkey or with us, but hugged the delusion that they could preserve
their independence by patching up some sort of pact with Hitler.
Once again we see the odious German poison technique employed. In this
case, however, it was to the government rather than to the nation that
the dose and inoculations were administered. The process was not hurried.
Why should it be? All the time the German armies and air force were
entering and massing in Bulgaria. From a few handfuls of tourists admiring
the beauties of the Bulgarian landscape in the wintry weather, the German
forces grew to seven, twelve, twenty and finally to twenty-five divisions.
Presently the weak and unfortunate Prince and afterward his Ministers
were summoned, like others before them, to Hitler's footstool and a
pact was signed which would have given Germany complete control not
over the body but over the soul of the Yugoslav nation.
Then at last the people of Yugoslavia saw their peril, and with a universal
spasm of revolt swept from power those who were leading them into a
shameful tutelage, and resolved at the eleventh hour to guard their
freedom and their honor with their lives.
A boa constrictor who had already covered his prey with his foul saliva
and then had it suddenly wrested from his coils, would be in an amiable
mood compared with Hitler, Goering, Ribbentrop and the rest of the Nazi
A frightful vengeance was vowed against the Southern Slavs. Rapid,
perhaps hurried, redispositions were made of German forces and German
diplomacy. Hungary was offered large territorial gains to become the
accomplice in the assault upon a friendly neighbor with whom she had
just signed a solemn pact of friendship and non-aggression. Count Teleki,
Hungarian Premier, preferred to take his own life rather than join in
such a deed of shame.
A heavy forward movement of the German armies, already gathered in
Austria, was set in motion through Hungary to the northern frontier
of Yugoslavia. A ferocious howl of hatred from the supreme miscreant
was the signal for the actual invasion. The open city of Belgrade was
laid in ashes and a tremendous drive by the German armored forces in
Bulgaria was launched westward into Southern Serbia.
When it was no longer deemed worth while to keep up the farce of love
for Greece, other powerful forces rolled forward into Greece, where
they were at once unflinchingly encountered and have already sustained
more than one bloody repulse at the hands of the heroic Greek Army.
The British and Imperial troops have not up to the present been engaged.
Further than this, I cannot attempt to carry the tale.
I therefore turn for a few moments to the larger aspects of the war.
I must first speak of France and of the French people, to whom in their
sorrows we are united not only by memories but by living ties.
I welcomed cordially the declaration of Marshal Petain that France
would never act against her former allies or go to war with her former
allies. Such a course, so insensate, so unnatural and on lower grounds
so improvident, might well-though it is not for me to speak for any
government but our own-such a course might alienate from France for
long years the sympathy and support of the American democracy. I am
sure that the French nation would, with whatever means of expression
are still open to them, repudiate such a shameful course.
We must, however, realize that the government of Vichy is in a great
measure dependent and, in a great many matters, though happily not in
all, in Hitler's hands, acting daily through the Armistice Commission
at Wiesbaden. Two million Frenchmen are in German hands. A great part
of the food supply in France has been seized by Germany. Both prisoners
and food can be doled out in return for hostile propaganda or unfriendly
action against Britain. Or again, the cost of the German occupation
of France, for which a cruel and exorbitant toll is exacted, may be
raised still further as a punishment for any manifestation of sympathy
Admiral Darlan tells us that the Germans have been generous in the
treatment of France. All the information which we have, both from occupied
and unoccupied France, makes me very doubtful whether the mass of the
French people would endorse that strange and sinister tribute.
But I must make it clear that we must maintain our blockade against
Germany and rights of contraband control at sea, which have never been
disputed or denied to any belligerent and which a year ago France was
exercising with us.
Some time ago we were ready to open economic negotiations with the
French to mitigate the hardships of their conditions, but any chance
of fruitful negotiations was nipped in the bud by "the generous
Germans" and imperative orders were given from Wiesbaden to Vichy
to break off all contact with us.
We have allowed very considerable quantities of food to go into France
out of a sincere desire to spare the French people every hardship in
our power. When, however, it comes to thousands of tons of rubber and
other vital war material which pass, as we know, directly to the German
armies, we are bound, even at the risk of collisions with French warships
at sea, to enforce our rights as recognized by international law.
There is another action into which Vichy might be led by the dictation
of Germany: namely, sending powerful war vessels which are unfinished
or even damaged from the French African parts to ports in metropolitan
France now under German control or which may at very short notice fall
under their control.
Such movements of French war vessels from Africa to France would alter
the balance of naval power and would thus prejudice the interests of
the United States as well as our own. I trust that such incidents will
be avoided, or if they are not avoided, that the consequences which
will follow from them will be understood and fairly judged by the French
nation for whose cause we are contending no less than for our own.
I am glad to be able to report a continued and marked improvement in
the relative strength of the R.A.F. compared with that of Germany. Also,
I draw attention to the remarkable increase in its actual strength and
in its bombing capacity and also a marked augmentation in the power
and size of the bombs which we shall be using in even greater number.
The sorties which we are now accustomed to make upon German harbors
and cities are increasing both in the number of aircraft employed and
in the weight of the discharge with every month that passes.
In some cases we have already in our raids exceeded in severity anything
which a single town has in a single night experienced over here. At
the same time, there is a sensible improvement in our means of dealing
with German raids upon this island.
A very great measure of security has been given to this country in
daylight and we are glad that the days are lengthening; but now the
R.A.F. looks forward to the moonlight periods as opportunities for inflicting
severe losses upon raiders as well as for striking hard at the enemy
in his own territory. The fact that technical advisers welcome daylight,
moonlight and starlight and that we do not rely for our protection on
darkness, clouds and mist, as would have been the case some time ago,
is pregnant with hope and with meaning. But, of course, all these tendencies
are only in their early stages.
But, after all, everything turns upon the Battle of the Atlantic which
is proceeding with growing intensity on both sides. Our losses in ships
and tonnage are very heavy and, vast as are the shipping resources we
control, these losses could not continue indefinitely without seriously
affecting our war effort and our means of subsistence.
It is no answer to say that we have inflicted upon the Germans and
Italians a far higher proportion of losses, compared with the size of
their merchant fleet, and that our world-wide traffic is maintained.
We have in fact sunk, captured or seen scuttled over 2,300,000 tons
of German and Italian shipping. We have lost nearly 4,000,000 tons of
British tonnage. Against that we have brought under the British flag
over 3,000,000 tons of foreign or newly constructed tonnage, not counting
considerable Allied tonnage under our control. Therefore, at the moment
our enormous fleets sail the seas without any serious or obvious diminution
so far as numbers of ships is concerned.
But what is to happen in the future if losses continue at the present
rate? Where are we to find another 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 tons to fill
the gaps which are being created and to carry us on through 1942?
We are building merchant ships upon a very considerable scale and to
the utmost of our ability. We are also making a most strenuous effort
to repair the large number of vessels damaged by the enemy and the still
larger number damaged by Winter gales. We are doing our utmost to accelerate
the turnaround of our ships, remembering that even ten days' saving
on turnaround of our immense fleet is equal to a reinforcement of 5,000,000
tons of imports in a single year.
All the energy and contrivance of which we are capable have been and
will be devoted to these purposes and we are already conscious of substantial
But when all is said and done, the only way in which we can get through
the year 1942 without a very sensible contraction of our war efforts
is by another gigantic building of merchant ships in the United States
similar to that prodigy of output accomplished by the Americans in 1918.
All this has been in train in the United States for many months past.
There has now been a very large extension of the program and we have
assurance that several millions of tons of American newly-built shipping
will be available for the common struggle during the course of the next
Here, then, is the assurance upon which we may count for the staying
power without which it will not be possible to save the world from the
criminals who assail its future.
But the Battle of the Atlantic must be won not only in the factories
and shipyards but upon the blue water. I am confident that we shall
succeed in coping with the air attacks which are made upon the shipping
in our western and northwestern approaches.
I hope eventually the inhabitants of the sister isle [Ireland] may
realize that it is as much in their interests as it is in ours that
their ports and airfields should be available for naval and air forces
which must operate ever further into the Atlantic.
But while I am hopeful we shall gain mastery over the air attacks upon
our shipping, the U-boats and the surface raiders range ever farther
to the westward, ever nearer to the shores of the United States, and
constitute a menace which must be overcome if the life of Britain is
not to be endangered and if the purposes to which the Government and
peoples of the United States have devoted themselves are not to be frustrated.
We shall, of course, make every effort in our power.
The defeat of the U-boats and of surface raiders has been proved to
be entirely a question of adequate escorts for our convoys.
It will indeed be disastrous if the great masses of weapons, munitions
and instruments of war of all kinds made with the toil and skill of
American hands at the cost of the United States and loans to us under
the Aid to Britain Bill were to sink into the depths of the ocean and
never reach the hard-pressed fighting line.
That would be lamentable to us and I cannot believe it would be found
acceptable to the proud and resolute people of the United States.
Indeed, I am authorized to say that ten United States Revenue cutters,
fast vessels of about 2,000 tons displacement with a fine armament and
a wide range of endurance, have already been placed at our disposal
by the American Government and will soon be in action. These vessels,
originally designed to enforce prohibition, will now serve an even higher
It is, of course, very hazardous to try to forecast in what direction
or directions Hitler will employ his military machine in the present
year. He may at any time attempt the invasion of this island. That is
an ordeal from which we shall not shrink.
At the present moment he is driving fast through the Balkans and at
any moment he may turn upon Turkey. But there are many signs which point
to an attempt to secure the granary of the Ukraine [both in Russia]
and the oil-fields of the Caucasus as a German means of gaining the
resources wherewith to wear down the English-speaking world.
All this is speculation, but I will say one thing more: Once we have
gained the Battle of the Atlantic and are sure of the constant flow
of American supplies which are being prepared for us, then, however
far Hitler may go or whatever new millions and scores of millions he
may lap in misery, we who are armed with the sword of retributive justice
shall be on his track.
 New York Times, April 10, 1941.