The Right Honourable Arnold Hiller, M.P
By Chris Oakley
Includes material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first eight chapters of this series we traced Arnold Hiller’s rise to power; his crushing of domestic opposition; his 1936 occupation of Ireland; his alliance with Mussolini; his invasion of France at the start of the Second World War; his takeover of the French colonial empires in North Africa and the Middle East; the "Day of Broken Glass" in Ireland; and the official US entry into World War II. In this segment we’ll review the beginnings of unrestricted British submarine warfare against American convoys to Spain, the Japanese preparations for war against the CANZUS alliance, and the deployment of the first US combat troops overseas in preparation for the campaign to liberate Ireland.
The USS Moffett was only the first casualty in what promised to be a long and bitter fight with Great Britain; with Anglo-American war now a stark reality, Prime Minister Hiller now gave the Royal Navy free reign to unleash its submarines against American merchant ships in a campaign of unrestricted naval warfare the likes of which Europe hadn’t seen since Britain herself had nearly been starved out by the Imperial German Navy’s U-boats in 1917. On land, British soldiers and marines were being trained to meet the Americans with bayonets and bullets should Roosevelt try to fulfill his pledge to liberate Ireland from British occupation; RAF fighter pilots were busy acquainting themselves with the strengths and weaknesses of the US Army Air Corps, preparing for the day when they would be battling their American counterparts in the skies over Europe. Henry Hamill’s SS was also busy at work, training special "black ops" units for infiltration missions on American soil to assassinate key leaders and sabotage the American industrial effort. August Scofield, fresh off his triumphant mission in Paris near the end of the battle for France, assumed command of one such unit; his friend and former right-hand man Major James Piper was appointed to take charge of another.
Major Piper was particularly suited for his new role: as a member of the military attaché’s staff at the British embassy in Washington between 1926 and 1932, Piper had gotten a thorough education in the strengths and weaknesses of American society. And when the time came,he intended to make full use of that education to cut the White House off at the knees.
Halfway around the world, the militaristic Japanese government, dominated by army minister General Hideki Tojo, followed the news from the Atlantic with rapt interest. If Hiller’s intervention in Spain was successful, and at the moment there was little reason to think that it wouldn’t be, the United States’ attention would be even more focused on Europe than it had been before, creating a window of opportunity for Japan to expand its gains in China and snap up European colonial possessions in the Pacific. Thus the Imperial Army and Navy started laying the groundwork for a series of attacks that they hoped to mount on American outposts in the Pacific as soon as the situation in China would permit.
In the meantime, to quell any doubts the outside world might have regarding Japan’s commitment to the Axis cause, Tojo drafted a three- page statement on September 17th, 1938 reaffirming Japan’s friendship with Great Britain and Italy and warning that any American military action against Japanese interests in the Far East would be met with, in Tojo’s words, "cold unbreakable steel". Though there would a long way to go before Tojo, known by friends and enemies alike as "the Razor", could make good on his boast, it alarmed CANZUS defense and intelligence officials just the same-- words could all too easily be translated into actions given the right time and circumstances, and Japan was getting plenty of foreign aid from her Axis partners.
One strategic flashpoint to which both sides devoted a great deal of attention was the Panama Canal Zone; Axis and CANZUS maritime strategists knew that if the Canal could be blocked or otherwise crippled, it would set a future CANZUS war effort back weeks or even months. Also of concern was the distinct possibility that the Royal Navy might make common cause with their Japanese brethren to force Canada back into the British Commonwealth orbit at gunpoint-- or else attack American outposts like Wake Island and Midway.
Last but not least, there was the real(if somewhat remote) danger that Axis troops might invade Australia and New Zealand if given the means to do so. Tojo’s most senior strategist, General Tomoyuki Yamashiita, believed that a successful Japanese land campaign in southeast Asia could pave the way for amphibious operations on the coasts of New Zealand and Australia; in turn, success with those assaults, Yamashiita argued, would give Japan a broader strategic front from which to wage war on the United States in the near future.
Tojo shared Yamashiita’s sentiments on this score and instructed him to prepare a series of contingency plans which could be used for a long-term campaign of conquest in the Pacific Basin once the war in China had been resolved.
In fact there were very few people in the upper reaches of the Japanese political hierarchy who didn’t share Tojo’s bloodlust for a military showdown with the United States and its CANZUS allies. Much to Tojo’s dismay, one of those people was a highly respected senior naval officer whose political influence was almost as great as Tojo’s: Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a carrier fleet commander who in the 1920s had served as naval attaché at the Japanese embassy in Washington. The day after Tojo’s declaration reiterating Japan’s commitment to the Axis cause, Yamamoto sent Emperor Hirohito a strongly worded private memo opposing Tojo’s war plans vis-à-vis the United States; he warned that in his view an attack on US outposts could accomplish very little other than to, in his words, "awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve".1
Yamamoto was not by any means the only military man who belonged to the "peace wing" of the Japanese political establishment, but he was indisputably the most prominent-- and by Tojo’s lights, also the most dangerous. Where the admiral went, many other naval men followed; a number of civilian political figures also backed Yamamoto’s view, most notably Prince Fumimaro Konoye, Japan’s prime minister and an even sterner critic of Tojo than Yamamoto. But short of assassinating the esteemed naval commander, it was unclear what exactly could be done to silence Yamamoto’s growing calls for a halt to the Razor’s seemingly unstoppable march to war with America.
In the meantime the war in mainland China raged on, devouring men and resources at an alarming rate. Sooner or later, something would have to give, and when it did the rest of Asia would be subject to the kind of bitter and protracted land warfare that had been a fact of life in China for years.
Just two weeks after Moffett went down, an RN submarine under the command of Commander Gordon Prine slipped past anti-sub defense nets at the US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia and fired two torpedoes at the battleship USS West Virginia, on temporary transfer from its usual home port at Pearl Harbor to Atlantic Fleet duty to strengthen US naval firepower in the North Atlantic theater of operations. Both torpedoes found their mark, with the second scoring a direct hit on West Virginia’s main engines; as her crew was struggling to put out the fires caused by the first two torpedo hits, Prine’s sub fired a third torpedo and hit her port bow, forcing her captain to order his crew to abandon ship.
Under other circumstances this might have been an extremely difficult mission for Prine to undertake, given the sheer expanse of the North Atlantic; however, shortly after the outbreak of war between the United States and Britain a Royal Marines expeditionary force had landed in Bermuda and overwhelmed the island’s Canadian garrison2, thus allowing the British to reclaim possession of the island and the Royal Navy to station submarines with striking distance of all major US East Coast ports and naval bases.
Prine was flown back to London and declared a hero of the British Empire by Hiller; Commodore Charles Dornett personally awarded Cmdr. Prine the Victoria Cross for his daring in the attack on the USS West Virginia in a ceremony which Joseph Gable arranged to have filmed for domestic newsreel audiences in Great Britain. Even Admiral Eric Raye, a longtime battleship advocate, had to concede that Prine’s raid had struck a valuable blow in the service of the British war effort.
The West Virginia’s demise marked the beginning of what Royal Navy submariners would later call "the happy time", a string of several months during late 1938 and early 1939 during which RN subs were able to sink American ships almost at will with very few losses to their own ranks. One out of every five US-flagged naval merchant ships lost to enemy action in the first six months of the United States’ direct participation in World War II were sunk by British submarines; Prine and his former RN basic training bunkmate, Lt. Cmdr. August Cromwell3, between the two of them to account for at least half of such sinkings.
But the balance wasn’t entirely tilted in favor of the British, as US Navy search planes were on patrol hunting for evidence of submarine activity; as soon as such evidence was found, the sub unfortunate to have been detected could count on being subjected to attack by bombs from anti-submarine aircraft or depth charges from American surface warships. In some circumstances, an RN sub captain might even have to cope with both forms of attack simultaneously. Whenever possible, land-based bombers modified to carry anti-submarine bombs or torpedoes were used to kill the British subs; more often, however, the job would be entrusted to naval aircraft stationed on US Navy light carriers in the Atlantic and the Caribbean.
Yet it required a certain amount of luck for an American anti-sub aircraft to even locate, much less sink, a British submarine; most of the time the RN subs managed to sneak in, do their dirty deeds, and sneak out again without so much as a disapproving glance from the US Atlantic fleet. They succeed in their attacks to such an extent that Hiller boasted to a friend in January of 1939: "The Atlantic shall be the graveyard of the American navy!" US Navy top brass feared he might be able to make good on that boast, and Navy engineers were kept busy in their quest to find a way to detect British submarines before the subs could attack.
In March of 1939, under the terms of its mutual defense pacts with Canada, the United States began stationing combat troops in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to support the Canadians in resisting any attempts by the British to invade North America. It was also hoped that the two coastal provinces could be used as staging areas when the time came to send CANZUS troops across the Atlantic to liberate southern Ireland from British occupation.
Meanwhile, in Spain, the Republican government in Madrid had finally collapsed and General Franco’s Falangists controlled the entire country. With the reins of power now firmly hand, Franco set to work preparing his next great campaign: the elimination of any potential bases for an anti-Falangist countercoup. In this he would be aided by Hiller’s SS, who dispatched advisors to Madrid to offer insights gleaned from their own anti-partisan activities in southern Ireland to help guide the Falangists in neutralizing any attempts at a counterrevolution.
At their suggestion, Franco had his secret police organize grupos del accion4 similar to the SS Special Commandos in occupied Ireland to flush out known or suspected anti-Falangist agitators in Spain. Franco gave them a free hand to take whatever action they deemed necessary to crush remaining opposition to his rule; he especially encouraged them to be harsh on the Basques and the Catalans, whose separatist mindsets had made them bitter enemies of the Falangist government.
The first of these grupos del accion was established in Barcelona in April of 1939 and wasted no time in starting to assassinate Basque independence advocates; in its first day of operations alone the grupo del accion in Barcelona murdered no less than two dozen people thought to be in favor of an anti-Falangist independent Basque nation. By June the grupos del accion were averaging at least 50-100 killings per day in the Basque region and the body count in Catalonia was just as high, sometimes higher.5
At the same time the SS advisory contingent was teaching the Falangists, it was also learning from them; one SS officer who was especially looking forward to applying those lessons when he left Spain was one Colonel Randolph Ash, senior advisor to a Cadiz grupo del accion who had previously served as second-in-command at the notorious Clonmel detention camp in Ireland and would very shortly be returning there as the camp’s new commandant. With the possible exception of Hiller himself, no one in Hiller’s regime hated the Irish more than Colonel Ash, and he had long ago resolved that if got the chance he would do everything he could to destroy them as a nation...
To Be Continued
1The original memo is preserved today at the archives of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces in Tokyo.
2In keeping with existing mutual defense treaties between the CANZUS nations, Canada had agreed to assume primary responsibility for Bermuda’s defense until the United States could complete negotiations with the Bermudan government to deploy its own troops there.
3It should be noted here that, contrary to popular myth, Captain Cromwell bore no relation whatsoever to Oliver Cromwell; the notion of the captain being a descendant of the Protector was a myth fostered by Joseph Gable’s propaganda machine as a means of intimidating Allied captains who might cross the path of Cromwell’s submarine.
4Literally translated, the phrase means "action groups".
5George Orwell’s novel Homage To Catalonia, written during the author’s years of exile in Canada, paints a vivid and disturbing picture of how the Falangist grupos del accion operated in the Catalan region during the Second World War.