The Right Honourable Arnold Hiller, M.P
By Chris Oakley
Includes material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the first two parts of this series we traced Arnold Hiller’s rise to power; his crushing of Ernest Rome’s SA and the British teachers’ strike; and the establishment of his alliance with Italy’s Benito Mussolini. In this installment we’ll look at his decision to occupy Ireland in the mid-1930s and his stunning non- aggression pact with Germany, a country he had previously denounced as an “evil empire”.1
Ireland greeted Arnold Hiller’s accession to the prime minister’s position with trepidation, if not outright alarm. In My Fight he had denounced the Irish Free State as “a spear aimed at England’s vitals” and pledged that if he gained political power he would use it to push for the re-imposition of British rule on that country. His chief of counterespionage Admiral William Connors, head of what was then MI5, had been quietly assembling a series of dossiers on the Irish armed forces since Hiller’s first days as prime minister-- and when the time was right, Hiller promised his inner circle, he would make full use of the information these dossiers contained.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Joyce wholeheartedly endorsed Prime Minister Hiller’s takeover plans; despite being part- Irish by birth, he held little affection for that country and wanted to see its prime minister, Eamon de Valera, swing from a gallows. He also had political ambitions of one day succeeding Hiller as British prime minister and believed that backing the proposed occupation-- code-named Plan White --would be a worthwhile first step towards achieving his ultimate goal.
The trick was figuring out where and when the British armed forces should make their move. Martin Borman, Hiller’s chief of staff for BNSP policy, hit on the perfect solution: fabricate an incident near the demarcation line which separated the six British-controlled counties of Northern Ireland from the 26 counties which made up the Irish Free State in the south. While de Valera’s cabinet was busy trying to sort out the mess, the British armed forces could sweep down from Ulster and overwhelm the lightly equipped Irish army, thus putting all of Ireland once more under Britain’s control.
Hiller liked the idea very much. It was a strategy worthy of Nelson or Wellington; not only did it pave the way for a swift conquest of his most detested foe, but it also had the side benefit of gaining new coastal bases for the Royal Navy, whose submarine fleet continued to grow under Charles Dornett’s direction and whose surface forces were acquiring bigger and nastier warships as political tensions all over Europe continued to escalate.
Erich Ludendorff, leader of the military oligarchy which had ruled Germany with an iron fist since the Weimar Republic’s collapse in the early days of the Great Depression, espoused a foreign policy that was every bit as anti-British as the BNSP’s program was anti-German. So he was understandably surprised when, in the summer of 1935, the Swiss ambassador in Berlin presented him with a communiqué from Prime Minister Hiller indicating that he wanted to open talks on an Anglo- German non-aggression pact at the earliest possible moment. “I see no reason,” Hiller said in his missive, “why England and Germany should be enemies anymore.”
It was a tactical ploy on Hiller’s part-- with Anglo-French relations beginning to deteriorate over France’s disagreement with the Hiller- Mussolini pact, the British prime minister was looking to guarantee that Paris didn’t make common cause with Berlin to interfere with the forthcoming takeover of Ireland. Ludendorff, however, was unaware of this and welcomed Hiller’s apparent shift in attitude toward his Third Reich; in September of 1935 he dispatched a diplomatic party to London to get the non-aggression talks started.
The talks lasted until early February of 1936; they were conducted largely in secret to avoid the possibility of Ludendorff’s or Hiller’s adversaries moving against them before the treaty was in place. On February 12th, 1936 the non-aggression pact was formally signed and announced at Foreign Secretary Mosley’s offices in London; Mosley, convinced that he had just pulled off the greatest British diplomatic triumph the world had seen in a hundred years, hailed the new treaty as “a guarantee of peace in our time”. Mussolini had little enthusiasm for the Mosley Pact but kept his protests to himself; he had no wish to alienate Hiller, especially considering the British prime minister had pledged to back Italy if she went to war with Germany over the Ludendorff government’s persistent territorial and racial claims on Austria.
In June of 1936 the Hiller government took the first steps along the final path to war, initiating a harsh crackdown pro-republican factions in Ulster. For weeks he’d been trying to goad the de Valera government into attacking Britain, all to no avail; de Valera, as much he detested the “wheezy little sergeant”,2 was determined to avoid conflict with Britain until his military was ready to meet the Royal Army on even terms.
Hiller had tried sending RAF planes to violate Irish airspace, but the Irish Air Corps merely shooed the offenders back to the British side of the Ulster frontier; attempts by Royal Navy submarines to provoke a naval war between Britain and Ireland succeeded only in getting the subs chased off with a few well-timed depth charges. The Ulster crackdown, however, was strikingly effective in achieving the results Hiller wanted; IRA bands in the south launched a series of brutal attacks against British political and military installations all throughout Ulster. Britain itself also came under assault, with a wave of bombings bringing London’s underground to a screeching halt. Outraged by these attacks, the British public demanded that their prime minister do something about them....and he was more than willing to oblige.
On July 27th, as Ireland’s representative in the League of Nations was petitioning the world body for help in mediating the border dispute, British troops in Ulster struck south into the Irish Free State, using a heretofore untried combination of rapid mass tank thrusts and fierce air strikes to demoralize and disorient their foes. A German newspaper correspondent on the front lines of the invasion dubbed this technique “blitzkrieg”, or lightning war; an outraged Eamon de Valera blasted it as “sub-human banditry”.
But whatever name one called it by, it was certainly quite effective; just a week after the first British troops crossed the Ulster border, more than a third of southern Ireland was under British occupation. Hiller and his top military advisors exulted at the swift and total nature of their armies’ victories over their Irish foes; Herman Geary in particular was quite pleased with the way RAF fighters dispatched the few Irish Air Corps planes that rose to challenge them. By August 7th British troops were less than five miles from Dublin and Hiller’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Joyce, had been named Royal Commissioner of the occupation government that was to control southern Ireland when the British conquest was completed.
On August 10th the British invasion force entered Dublin amidst murderous Irish resistance; what was left of the Irish Air Corps made a gallant if ultimately unavailing defense of Ireland’s ancient capital against RAF bombers. For seven days and nights Dublin’s streets became the scene of the most bitter land battles fought in Europe since the end of World War I. In the course of these battles de Valera and his chief political rival, John A. Costello, were both killed defending the Irish Parliament building against Royal Marines infantry and artillery battalions.
The guns finally fell silent on August 18th, when what was left of the Irish government ordered its troops to surrender unconditionally to Britain. They had very little food and ammunition left, and even the most fanatical resistance by IRA partisans couldn’t have held out much longer against the overwhelmingly superior numbers of British soldiers besieging Dublin.
Hiller was walking through Kensington Gardens when he was informed of the Irish surrender; his reaction, seen in newsreels around the world a few days later, was to spontaneously dance a victory jig with Eve Brown and several members of his cabinet looking on. On the surface it did seem like the prime minister had cause for celebration; in less than a month the British armed forces had overrun Ireland and avenged Britain’s defeat in the Irish war for independence of the 1920s.
In hindsight, however, it becomes clear that by his decision to occupy southern Ireland Hiller had unwittingly taken the first steps toward the collapse of the BNSP regime. While at home the prime minister may have been applauded as a hero, public opinion in much of the rest of the English-speaking world denounced the British invasion as not only a violation of international law, but also a violation of the moral codes which were considered part of the spiritual foundations of the Empire.
In many of the Empire’s overseas possessions, independence movements grew in numbers and prestige as people in places like Australia, the Bahamas, and Canada sought to disassociate themselves from Hiller and what he stood for. As for the United States, an ally of Britain for years yet also home to a considerable ethnic Irish population, there were waves of protest in every major city over the invasion; at the White House President Franklin Roosevelt, then running for a second term as commander-in-chief, began a thorough reassessment of the Washington-London relationship and wondered if perhaps the time had not come for it to be terminated.
In early September, Roosevelt summoned James Riverton, Hiller’s ambassador to the US, to the White House for a closed-door meeting on the occupation of Ireland. When that meeting was over, the course of world history would be radically altered...
To Be Continued
1 From a speech by Hitler before the House of Commons on May 17th, 1933.
2 A popular nickname for Hiller among his critics in general and the Irish in particular.