July 7, 2011 0 Comments

In the wider world, the Pact had tremendous strategic implications. American support and sympathy for Britain, lukewarm in the Phoney War, had been growing in the fortnight campaign between May 10 and 24, but fell away sharply once the Pact was announced. The war in Europe over, American attention increasingly focused on the darkening situation in the Pacific.

Meanwhile Hitler was able, once Paris was occupied and the Reynaud Government signed their own peace agreement, to concentrate on the East without any fear of having to fight a war on two fronts. His new Western provinces were held with relatively few divisions, the only continental opposition to the peace being articulated by a Colonel de Gaulle, who found it impossible to raise French enthusiasm for a war of revanche. German factories hitherto dedicated to U-boat production were reconditioned to build the tanks and aircraft Hitler now required for a final settling of accounts with Bolshevism.


Without any British-backed provocation in Yugoslavia and Greece, Hitler felt no inclination to divert his attention toward southeast Europe before unleashing Blitzkrieg on Russia. He duly launched Operation Barbarossa on April 22, 1941, as soon as the roads across the steppes were dry and long before the Russian winter could be mobilized in Stalin’s support.


The Butler-Bastianini Pact also had profound implications for the continental alliance, which Halifax had painstakingly built up during his foreign secretaryship. The French, not unnaturally, ascribed their humiliation on betrayal by “perfidious Albion.” King Léopold of the Belgians even broke off diplomatic relations with Britain for their “treacherous” failure to warn him before the Pact was signed. On the other hand, most of the British Commonwealth dominions applauded the Pact, especially South Africa, which had been deeply split over the conflict, and Australia, which was looking toward her domestic defenses against an increasingly aggressive Japan.


When, in December 1941, Japan simultaneously attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor and the British possessions in the Far East, Germany— in accordance with its undertakings to guarantee the Empire—declared war against Tokyo. This was a mere pro forma declaration but President Roosevelt nonetheless made known his appreciation of German effective neutrality in the conflict.


With no European war to mobilize American public opinion behind close Anglo-American cooperation the United States and Great Britain fought essentially separate campaigns in defense of their Indian and Pacific Ocean interests. Failing also to pool their knowledge in the field of atomic research, the war against Japan was fought out, island by island, until the final, costly victory in August 1949.


As befitted a Christian gentleman, Lord Halifax steadfastly stuck to the spirit and the letter of the Pact, whilst prudently maintaining high defense spending on all three services. The loss of the bases on Malta and Gibraltar severely stretched Britain’s Mediterranean fleet, which had to use Cyprus as its main center of operations. When battle was joined between the German Fatherland and Russian Motherland, Britain and America stayed resolutely neutral, refusing to help either side even covertly in the struggle.


The result was, of course, that when the Soviet forces finally prevailed there was no Anglo-American presence in Western Europe when the triumphant Red Army marched on Berlin and beyond. Although the Wehrmacht had taken Moscow—which the Russians evacuated and burned as in 1812—and captured Stalingrad and subjected Leningrad to a grueling thousand-day siege, the final outcome was not in doubt. The combination of overlong German supply lines, appalling Russian winters, and dogged Soviet resistance, with manpower easily replaced wherever it was lost, meant that Stalin triumphed in the end, albeit at the cost of nearly 40 million Russians dead.


For all Hitler’s strategic and matériel advantages in 1941–42, the sheer size of Russia and her army, and the willingness to accept any privations rather than surrender began to tell against him by 1944–45. The watershed year came in 1945, and by January 1946, the Wehrmacht was in full retreat back to Germany’s borders.


Stalin felt no compunction to stop his march westward once Hitler had committed suicide in the ruins of Berlin in April 1946 and the Third Reich lay crushed beneath the Soviet heel. Indeed the lack of any help from Britain or America in his struggle, and their complete military absence from the European theater, probably goaded him on. In the spring of 1946, Stalin picked up the rest of Hitler’s Western spoils. Communist-led resistance movements in Northern France, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and the Low Countries welcomed the Red Army into their countries, lynching the quislings who had administered their countries for the Nazis. Opponents of Communism, such as Colonel de Gaulle in Bordeaux, were arrested and executed; and there were several unpleasant instances of British businessmen having their heads forcibly shaved.

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