| London, England, April 9, 1941
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
Apart from this important aspect we should have been
content, in view of the danger which was growing in the Balkans, to
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,
building up a strong armored force on the African shore. With this
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
any way be complicated by what are called prestige values or
considerations for public opinion.
Now that the Germans are using their armored strength
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
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
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 Hindustan.
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
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
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
I now turn from Cyrenaica and Abyssinia to the
formidable struggle which has followed the German invasion of the
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
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
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
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
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
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 invasion.
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
Many thousands of German airmen, soldiers and political
police were ensconced in key positions before the actual announcement
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
mention they entered at 4 o'clock this morning.
It has never been our policy nor our interest to see
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
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
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
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
and the Greek Prime Minister. The latter declared spontaneously on
behalf of his government that Greece was resolved at all costs to
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 and Germany.
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
share their ordeal, and that the soldiers of the British Empire must
stand in the line with them.
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 hazard.
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
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
If they had made common cause with the Greeks when the
Greeks hurled back the Italian invaders, the complete destruction of
Italian armies in Albania could have been certainly and swiftly
achieved long before the German forces could have reached the theatre
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
could preserve their independence by patching up some sort of pact with
Once again we see the odious German poison technique
employed. In this case, however, it was to the government rather than
the nation that the dose and inoculations were administered. The
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
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
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 gang.
A frightful vengeance was vowed against the Southern
Slavs. Rapid, perhaps hurried, redispositions were made of German
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
I therefore turn for a few moments to the larger
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
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 with us.
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
the mass of the French people would endorse that strange and sinister
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
There is another action into which Vichy might be led
the dictation of Germany: namely, sending powerful war vessels which
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
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
Germany. Also, I draw attention to the remarkable increase in its
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
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
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
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
resources we control, these losses could not continue indefinitely
without seriously affecting our war effort and our means of
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
tons to fill the gaps which are being created and to carry us on
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 results.
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
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
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 year.
Here, then, is the assurance upon which we may count
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
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
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
The defeat of the U-boats and of surface raiders has
been proved to be entirely a question of adequate escorts for our
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
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
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 purpose.
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
gaining the resources wherewith to wear down the English-speaking
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.