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 Hillerís 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; and his campaign to take over the French colonial empires in North Africa and the Middle East. In this segment weíll examine the British assault on southern France, Operation Dragoon; the 1937 Yokohama Naval Agreement that served as the cornerstone for the Anglo-Japanese alliance in the Pacific; the so-called ĎDay of Broken Glassí in Ireland; and the United Statesí formal entry into World War II.
Operation Gladstone effectively made the Mediterranean an Axis lake. With Portugal being relatively weak in military terms and Spain bitterly divided by civil war, there was almost no opposition to Hillerís plans left in continental western Europe. If there was to be any real challenge to Axis power in the region, the United States would have to provide it. However, the US armed forces still had a bit of a way to go before they could confront Hiller in his own backyard; furthermore, the Roosevelt Administrationís top military priority at the time was girding US defenses in the Pacific for what looked more and more like an inevitable showdown with Japan and the British Far East fleet.
But if Washington wasnít yet in a position to wage war on Hiller in Europe, US industry was certainly doing all it could to help Spain and France fight him on the United Statesí behalf in the meantime. Ten days after British troops reached Senegalís Atlantic coastline, the US Congress voted to repeal the Neutrality Act completely; this cleared the way for US-made arms and munitions to start reaching Hillerís foes in quantities that heretofore could have only been imagined.
On the other side of the coin, Spanish and French intelligence operatives kept the OSS apprised of Britainís latest moves on the battlefield as well as potential strategic weaknesses the United States could exploit if and when it formally went to war with Great Britain. Germany, despite officially being neutral in the increasingly bitter standoff between London and Washington, unofficially turned a blind eye when one of its premier aircraft designers, Ernst Heinkel, met with American aviation tycoon Howard Hughes to debrief him on a revolutionary new turbine engine design that could substantially boost flight speeds for combat aircraft-- as Hiller would eventually learn to his dismay, Jodl and his fellow generals didnít trust the British prime minister any further than they could throw him...
But it would be a long time before the BNSP had to cope with the sting of defeat. When Operation Dragoon began on May 10th, 1938 with amphibious landings at Nice and Toulon, the invasion forces wasted no time establishing beachheads at those cities; within 36 hours after their initial assault, theyíd already driven twenty-five miles inland and were steadily pushing north toward Vichy to link up with their comrades advancing south from Paris. With little in the way of French air opposition to bother them, RAF ground attack planes could bomb and strafe to their heartís content; British armored forces cut through French anti-tank barriers like scissors through paper. Two weeks after the initial British landings the entire French Mediterranean coast was in Axis hands; a week after that a joint force of British and Italian marines occupied Corsica.
By June 9th the writing was on the wall for Franceís government and what was left of her armed forces. Despite wanting to stay in Vichy and fight to the last bullet, General de Gaulle reluctantly agreed to evacuate himself and his top staff to Canada, where French diplomats and Canadian foreign ministry officials had laid the groundwork for de Gaulle to establish a headquarters-in-exile in Montreal. De Gaulle and his aides were smuggled to Sweden in a transport plane disguised with bogus RAF markings to fool Axis fighter squadrons; when the plane touched down in Stockholm, a freighter ship took the general and his senior aides to the Nova Scotia port of Halifax. Upon his arrival in Halifax, de Gaulle boarded a DC-3 to Montreal, where thousands of French-Canadians greeted him with a thunderous ovation the moment his plane touched down-- to them, the war in France was not a faraway foreign conflict but a holy crusade to defend a common heritage from a brutal tyrant, and in de Gaulle they saw the living symbol of that crusade.
On June 17th Montgomeryís advance units from the north and Operation Dragoon forward battalions from the south linked up five miles east of Vichy, effectively cutting the town off from the rest of France and isolating the last fragments of the regular French army in a steadily diminishing pocket where they were completely defenseless against RAF tactical raids or British Army artillery barrages. By June 20th British Army infantry sections had entered Vichy itself and the townís weary defenders were having to conserve their ammunition in order to avoid running out too soon.
Realizing that their situation was hopeless, the ministers of the provisional government headed by acting prime minister Eduoard Daladier urged him to agree to an immediate cease-fire to avoid further senseless bloodshed. Sick at heart over the prospect of handing his country over to one of Europeís worst totalitarians, Daladier nonetheless agreed that the time had come to surrender. On June 21st he telegraphed the commander of the main British Army assault force inside Vichy and informed him that the provisional government had ordered its surviving troops to cease resistance.
Less than two hours later Prime Minister Hiller jubilantly broke the news of the surrender to the House of Commons with the words "The battle for France is over; the battle for Spain now begins!" He was given a passionate ovation by his fellow MPs, and Joseph Gable hailed the fall of Vichy as "the greatest British military triumph since Trafalgar"1. And in truth, Hiller certainly had pulled off quite a monumental coup; less than nine months after the submarine incident off Le Havre that had started the Second World War, his armies had crushed one continental European power and stood ready to directly intervene in the internal affairs of another. With all of France now under British occupation, Hiller could now send troops across the Franco-Spanish border to assist General Francoís Falangists in wiping out what was left of Republican rule in Spain.
The 1937 Yokohama Naval Agreement was unquestionably one of the most important-- and controversial --treaties in British diplomatic history. Officially it was simply an agreement for the two countries to share technical information between their respective navies; raise warship tonnage limits up from where they had been established in the Washington naval accords of 1921; and come to each otherís aid on the high seas if either signatoryís vessels were attacked. In reality, however, it was considerably more than that.
Among other things, the Yokohama Agreement permitted the Royal Navy to station submarines at Japanese naval bases; for Hiller, who feared the British Pacific submarine fleetís effectiveness would be diluted by the loss of so many strategic ports after Canada and India defected from the British Commonwealth, the acquisition of the rights to use Japanese docks was a welcome step towards restoring the Royal Navyís full power to wage offensive submarine warfare in the Far East. The pact also contained a secret protocol arranging for Britain and Japan to jointly occupy French Indochina once the British campaign in France had ended.2 A similar protocol arranged for Britain to supply medical, munitions, and intelligence aid for the Japanese expeditionary force then fighting in mainland China.
In addition to these articles, the pact made provisions for the Japanese to station marines in Hong Kong and Singapore to strengthen British colonial authoritiesí control of those regions. Last but by no means least, the Yokohama Naval Agreement included a guarantee that should either country go to war with the United States, the other would join it in swiftly attacking American naval outposts at the soonest possible moment-- beginning with Pearl Harbor, the likely nerve center of any American war effort against the Axis in the Far East.
For those who were aware of Japanís ambitions to be the dominant land power in Asia, Hillerís alliance with Tokyo struck them as a recipe for disaster as far as British interests were concerned; for those acquainted with Hillerís broad-reaching territorial aspirations for the British Empire, the Yokohama Naval Agreement was a house of cards destined to crumble the moment that Britainís international agenda started interfering with Japanís. No less an authority than Joseph Stalin predicted in a private letter to then-Soviet foreign minister Vycheslav Molotov that by 1941 at the latest there would be some sort of incident to make London and Tokyo, in Leninís words, "turn their knives against each other".
On the surface, however, the Anglo-Japanese relationship was one of perfect harmony. In a speech given the day after the British campaign in France ended Foreign Secretary Mosley boasted of "the unshakable and eternal friendship between the worldís two greatest naval powers"; likewise, in a reception for newly arrived Axis diplomats at the Imperial Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, Japanese foreign minister Daisuke Matsuoka confidently declared that "together the righteous strength of the Japanese and British empires shall cleanse humanity of the stain of American gangster capitalism".3
An American intelligence report issued in mid-July of 1938 prophetically described British-occupied southern Ireland as "a time bomb ready to explode at any second". The fuse for that explosion was lit on August 3rd, 1938 when a Dublin teenager named Marshall Green, infuriated by the way the BNSP were treating his people, shot and killed King Edward VIIIís brother, the Duke of York. The murder sent Hiller into a towering fury; in revenge for the Dukeís assassination he gave British security forces in southern Ireland a free hand to exact reprisals against the Irish for Greenís violent act.
The result of Hillerís directive was an orgy of vandalism, rape, and murder the New York Times would later call "the Day of Broken Glass". Lasting all day and most of the evening of August 4th, 1938, the Day of Broken Glass saw thousands of homes and businesses in Ireland looted or burned-- sometimes both --and a multitude of brutal acts against individual Irish citizens ranging from forced castration to mass execution by firing squad. Irish women received particularly cruel treatment from the British occupation forces; in one barbaric instance recorded by the BNSPís own archives, two Shannon women were raped in broad daylight by hordes of SS troopers, some of whom had gotten drunk on whiskey pillaged from the cityís taverns and pubs. The death toll from the British fascistsí rampage is estimated to approach 50,000, with at least as many again injured or sent to prison.
William Joyce described the Day of Broken Glass as "the Irishmanís just desserts for his foul murder of our esteemed Duke of York".4 In a similar vein, Joseph Gable condemned Green and his fellow Irishmen as "vermin who kill the good at the drop of a hat".5 Dr. Joseph Angle, sensing the chance to put his proposed mass sterilization campaign into action, sought and was granted the authority to begin culling inmates from the BNSPís detention camps in Ireland for his perverted experiments.
On August 6th, 1938, Hiller raged against the Irish people in a two-hour rant before the House of Commons accusing them of having a hand in every British misfortune from street crime in the East End to the outbreak of the war with France. He vowed to make the Irish people pay for their supposed misdeeds; from that vow would emerge the worst mass atrocity of the 20th century...
Meanwhile, the US Navyís Atlantic fleet was doing everything it could to strengthen its anti-submarine capabilities. The US Chief of Naval Operations at the time, Admiral William D. Leahy, had received intelligence that Royal Navy subs were targeting a number of East Coast ports for attack; New York City and Boston were considered to be especially tempting objectives for these subs, given that at least half of American maritime commerce in the Atlantic was handled through these ports.
Furthermore, the Day of Broken Glass had wiped out the last traces of isolationist sentiment in America; the debate in Congress was no longer if Washington should intervene in the war in Europe, but which battlefront should be granted top priority. Massachusetts patriarch and former Wall Street tycoon Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., seeking to change FDRís "Pacific First" defense policies, enlisted his allies on Capitol Hill and in the press to mount a public relations campaign intended to shame the Roosevelt Administration into mounting a massive amphibious operation aimed at ejecting British occupation forces from southern Ireland. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox also advocated an attack on British occupation forces in Ireland; he was concerned that the Royal Navy would use Irish bases to mount its submarine campaign against the US East Coast.
By contrast Rooseveltís Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, was of the view that the chief objective of any American military campaign in Europe should be the liberation of France from British occupation. However, his arguments that Franceís Normandy coast could be used as a staging area for an invasion of Great Britain carried little weight in the Oval Office, particularly after Stimsonís own army chief of staff General George C. Marshall pointed out in an internal memo that the same purpose could be served by a liberated Ireland-- and that Ireland was noticeably closer to the British Isles than France.
The ĎIreland firstí crowd gained momentum two weeks after the Day of Broken Glass, when US naval intelligence officers got confirmation from their Canadian colleagues that Hiller was making preparations to impose a naval blockade of Spainís Atlantic coast to aid his Falangist allies in winning the Spanish Civil War. Many of the ports from which the projected blockade fleet was expected to deploy were located in Ireland, and one base in particular, the Royal Navy outpost at Galway, had been greatly expanded to accommodate an expected upsurge in the number of surface vessels and submarines stationed there.
Around this same time the Chicago Tribune printed an account of SS atrocities at a typical BNSP concentration camp in southern Ireland. Written under a pseudonym by an ex-inmate whoíd managed to escape, and verified by Spanish intelligence operatives, it painted a horrific picture of the kind of barbarism that was being tolerated, and in some cases encouraged, by the Hiller regime in the aftermath of the Day of Broken Glass. Torture, starvation, sexual assault, beatings, deliberate neglect of sanitation, forced labor, and in some cases out- and-out murder were all common practices within the camp system; so was singling out particularly truculent prisoners for use as subjects in Dr. Angleís experiments. Making matters worse, the report said, there were rumors the BNSP had authorized research into ways to put inmates to death in special gas chambers using a modified version of a popular British commercial insecticide called Cyclone-2. For FDR, whose anger toward Hiller had been mounting daily since the war began, the Tribune story was the straw that broke the camelís back.
On August 22nd, 1938, in a speech before Congress invoking the famous Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt warned the British government in no uncertain terms that any attack by Royal Navy vessels against American ships, regardless of where it happened, would be deemed an act of war by Great Britain against the United States and answered in kind. An armed showdown between London and Washington was now acknowledged to be inevitable; it was simply a question of when and where the first shots would be fired.
Those shots were fired less than a month later. At 8:36 PM on the evening of September 14th, 1938, during a routine patrol cruise off the Carolinas, the destroyer USS Moffett was attacked and sunk by two RN submarines which had been shadowing her for several hours; she went down with most of her crew still on board. The attack had been ordered by Prime Minister Hiller as a reminder to Roosevelt that the Royal Navy still dominated the seas, and as the two subs made their way back toward Ireland undetected it seemed that the demonstration had been a smashing success.
But the British submarinesí luck ran out just after 10:00 PM when a light aircraft carrier attached to a Spain-bound convoy spotted one of the subs as it was resurfacing temporarily to recharge its diesel batteries. The sighting was immediately relayed to the rest of the convoy, and within minutes an intensive search was underway for the the unfortunate first sub; the second sub was sighted around midnight and fired on by American destroyers. By 1:15 AM US Eastern Daylight Time, both British subs were at the bottom of the Atlantic, most of their crews either drowned or in US military custody. Word of the Moffettís sinking reached the White House half an hour later; when it did, President Roosevelt blew his stack. "The hand that held the dagger has struck it into our backs." he indignantly told his vice- president John Nance Garner, and as he phoned Congressional leaders to inform them he would shortly be asking for a declaration of war against Great Britain Roosevelt swore to take that dagger and slit Hillerís throat with it.
At 3:45 AM on the morning of September 15th, 1938 the House of Representatives and Senate met in joint session to hear Rooseveltís request for a declaration of war. By 5:15 that declaration had been passed unanimously by the House and with only one dissenting vote in the Senate; for the third time in their history and the first time since the War of 1812, the United States and Britain were in direct armed conflict with each other.
Despite having reservations about what would happen to Italy if the full strength of American industry was brought to bear for the war effort, Benito Mussolini announced on September 18th that the Italian government was declaring war on the United States as an act of solidarity with its British ally. Some people on both sides of the war feared all hell was about to break loose, and many others believed it already had....
To Be Continued
1Quoted from an AP dispatch out of Geneva dated June 22nd, 1938.
2And as weíll see in later chapters, the Hiller regime was quick to take advantage of that protocol.
3He didnít seem to remember-- or care --that much of his own countryís economy depended to a certain degree on trade with those selfsame gangster capitalists. But thatís a story for another day.
4From a BBC propaganda broadcast dated August 5th, 1938.
5See Footnote 4.