April 28, 1941 (19th Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)


Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

Mr. Speaker, as this House of Commons reassembles to-day, after an adjournment of less than three weeks, hon. members will no doubt wish me to review the events of the last eighteen days, and to say a word as to their significance.
Hon. members may recall that speaking on the day prior to adjournment, in reference to the Balkan campaign which began on April 6,
I stated that the attacks on Yugoslavia and Greece marked the launching in deadly earnest of the 1941 military campaign. I said that we must be prepared for a bitter struggle in the new phase of the war which had then actually begun. I added that there was certain to be frightful destruction of life and property, and that we must be prepared for setbacks and disappointments. By pointing out that the enemy's superiority w7as so formidable as to appear "almost overwhelming", I sought to prepare the public mind as to what seemed, at the time, the all but inevitable result of the enemy's sudden attack with vastly superior numbers of men and machines. What I did not forecast at that time, and what no one could venture then to predict, was the rapidity with which the nazi forces would be able to occupy the whole of Yugoslavia and the mainland of Greece. Events have now told that story.
The Balkan campaign began on April 6. By April 9, the Germans had broken through to the Yardar valley in Yugoslavia, and taken the Greek port of Salonika. Organized resistence in Yugoslavia lasted barely four days. On April 15, the Yugoslav army capitulated, and the country's king and government fled to Greece. On April 10, the Germans broke through the Monastir gap into northwestern Greece and, at the same time, effected a junction with the Italians in Albania. Despite heroic resistance, the Greek armies and the British expeditionary force which had come to their assistance were driven steadily back. On April 23, the Greek army, retiring from Albania, found its retreat barred by the Germans, and surrendered. The same day King George II and his government withdrew
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to Crete. Within the past forty-eight hours, the Commander-in-Chief of the Greek army has resigned his command, and the German troops have entered Athens.
It will be recalled that, on April 7, I stated that the Balkan campaign might well be the prelude of a great battle for the whole Mediterranean basin. The governments of the United Kingdom and the dominions have never been under any illusion that the campaign in 1941 would be any less terrible than the nazi campaign of 1940, or that the 1941 campaign would not follow, in all essential respects, the pattern of last year. I think I emphasized the fact that the great nazi army was still intact, and still undefeated. I also stressed the further fact that the earlier victories in Africa and in Albania were victories against the Italians, not against the Germans; that we could not afford to be misled by the successes, however great, scored against Italy.
In Africa, the events since adjournment have amply demonstrated the difference between German might and Italian weakness. On April the 5th, the nazis recovered Bengasi in Libya for the axis. Within eight days, German forces had recovered, with the exception of Tobruk which continued to be held by the British, the whole of the Libyan territory overrun by the British earlier in the year. Since April 14, they have been halted at Salum on the Egyptian frontier. At the moment they are attempting an advance into Egypt. The lightning nazi thrust on land was partially offset by British naval attacks upon axis communications. On April 16 the Admiralty announced that an important enemy convoy was destroyed on the way to Libya, and on April 21 the harbour of Tripoli was subjected to a terrific naval bombardment.
On the day Bengazi was captured by the Germans, the British and South African troops entered Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. On April 8, the port of Massawa in Eritrea was taken from the Italians. The fall of Massawa marked the end of effective Italian resistance in East Africa. This fact was recognized by the proclamation of President Roosevelt on April 11, which opened the Red sea and the gulf of Aden to United States ships. News has been received this morning of the fall of Dessie in Ethiopia. The virtual disappearance of effective Italian resistance in East Africa has released for duty elsewhere in the middle east a great part of the British forces engaged in that region.
On April 19, growing unrest, and the potential threat to the oil fields of Mosul and the pipe line to Haifa, occasioned the landing of British troops at Basra, in the Persian gulf, to protect British communications in Iraq.

While these events have been proceeding with dramatic suddenness in the Balkans, Africa, and the middle east, the nazi air attacks over Britain have been intensified, and the grim battle of the Atlantic has not lessened in seriousness.
As respects the far east, probably the most significant event was the recent visit of the Japanese foreign minister, Mr. Matsuoka, to Berlin, Rome and Moscow, and the signing at Moscow, on April 13, of the Neutrality pact by the Soviet union and Japan. What these events really signify remains a matter of speculation. The growing tension in the far east was reflected in the announcement, on April 24, of the landing of another contingent of Australian troops at Singapore.
Those who have studied the military situation as a whole will not have been greatly surprised, save as respects its rapidity, at the success of the nazi campaign in Yugoslavia and Greece. The odds against both countries were overwhelming. In the case of .Yugoslavia, the situation was made the more hopeless by the prolonged vacillation of the government under Prince Paul, and by the virtual encirclement of the country resulting from nazi collusion with Hungary and the occupation of Roumania and Bulgaria. When the new government was established by General Simovitch on March 27, it was given barely ten days to organize the defences of the country before the nazi onslaught. The difficulties of effective defence were increased by the long-standing friction between the Serbs and the Croats, and by uncertainty as to the loyalty, and subsequent refusal of a part of the Croatian troops to engage in hostilities. Until the very end, the anxiety on the part of Yugoslavia to preserve the strictest neutrality, and to give Germany no excuse for an attack, prevented the working out in advance of joint plans with the British and the Greeks, even after the hopes of a larger allied Balkan front had vanished.
In Yugoslavia, the familiar pattern of the nazi blitzkreig was repeated. It was Norway, Holland and Belgium over again. Without pre-arranged plans, British aid was necessarily less than might otherwise have been furnished, and also less effective when supplied. While greater aid might have prolonged the campaign, it is, however, only too true that it could scarcely have changed the result.
The Yugoslav army, with inferior mechanical equipment, a divided and distracted country and a civilian population subjected to all the ruthless violence of terrorism, was doomed to surrender after a brave but unsuccessful resistance. Yugoslavia and the world which applauded its honour and its

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courage, will some day know that the results of its resistance will be of far greater significance than they now appear. For freedom is not lost in defeat; it can only be lost in the unwillingness to defend it.
One aspect of the campaign in Yugoslavia is deserving of careful attention. Nothing could have demonstrated more completely the vital importance in modern war of superior equipment. According to the information available, the nazis did not have overwhelming superiority of man-power in Yugoslavia. They may even have had fewer troops engaged than the Yugoslavs. Their decisive superiority was in striking power-in machines and weapons of war.
The campaign in Greece reinforces the military lesson of the campaign in Yugoslavia. The British and Greek forces combined were much less numerous than the Yugoslav troops. But they were better equipped and better armed.
Whatever may be the purely military arguments for and against sending a British force to Greece, it will, I am sure, be generally agreed that the British were in honour bound to help the Greeks if they undertook to resist the Germans. The Greeks, by their dauntless courage in the long Albanian campaign, had more than earned all the aid which could possibly be given.
In the Balkans for six months the Greeks more than resisted the weight of the Italian attack. Although, according to ordinary mathematical and military calculation, the overwhelming comparative strength of the Italian empire made almost inevitable the early defeat of Greece, the Greek army, by heroic achievement and magnificent strategy, comfounded the prophecies of disaster.
The Greeks, of course, profited by air, land and sea power of the British in their fight against the Italians in North Africa. In the Mediterranean itself, Italian strength was also diverted by British activities. Nevertheless, Greece, with a spirit of independence, fighting alone on land, for six months, resisted and repulsed the vaunted might of Italy.
In carrying on by themselves, in Greece and Albania, the fight against their Italian aggressors, the Greeks had ever present, to their minds, the necessity of avoiding, if possible, a German attack upon Greece. During many months of Balkan intrigue there was the prospect that such an attack might come, but there was also the hope that it might be avoided. It was not until the German attack appeared inevitable that British military assistance was accepted. The plain fact is that the heroic Greeks, as long as Italy
was the only nation in arms against them, gravely resolved, and magnificently succeeded, in fighting their own battles.
The story of the battles recently fought by the forces of Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain, and the final result of their reembarkation to new battle grounds, is not yet fully known. It can be said, however, that one of the great actions of military history has been fought with superb courage. It is with a sense of proud kinship with her sister nations in the British commonwealth, that Canada records her admiration of the daring and bravery of the Australian, New Zealand and British forces who fought for freedom in the mountains and valleys of Greece.
In a war waged on so many fronts and divisible into so many phases, it is impossible at this time to estimate not only the ultimate result, but even the primary result of the various campaigns.
Although resistance to the nazis in the Balkans was not successful, it would be wholly wrong to imagine that, by fighting, nothing has been achieved for the allied cause. The alternative was a bloodless nazi conquest. The nazi losses in men and material have certainly been great. But that is not all. The devastation of Yugoslavia and Greece also marks loss for the Germans. The nazis had hoped to be able to exploit those countries as they have exploited Roumania. That Yugoslavia and Greece proved to be obstacles in the nazi path certainly made the way harder for the nazi war machine. Above all else, the resistance of these two peoples obliged Hitler materially to alter his general plan of campaign.
There are other important results from the Balkan campaign which we will do well at this time to remember. Germany has gained important military objectives, but as I have already said, her armies and air forces have suffered heavy losses. For the Italians, the Balkan campaign brought only defeat to their forces, and national humiliation. For Britain, the campaign has had some quite definite advantages. Had Germany's armies and air forces not been used in the Balkans, additional striking force would have been immediately available for use against Britain. Germany's preoccupation in Roumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece has given Britain additional time; and time is of the essence of this phase of the war, when British resistance and American help are the implacable powers over which Germany must triumph if Hitler is to impose his will upon the world.
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Apart also from tangible and material things, there is ever present the conviction that every time there is heroic resistance against great odds, every time men steel their hearts to preserve a nation's soul, the legions of freedom advance. It has often been said that, in the last analysis, the character of free peoples will decide the issue. Who will say that the heroism of Greece, the honour of Yugoslavia, and the dauntless spirit of Britain and the British dominions have not served to maintain the morale of the world?
On April 7, I pointed out that Germany was seeking the subjugation of the Balkan peninsula as a step in the outflanking of Britain's position in the Mediterranean. I suggested also that it might well be the beginning of a great battle for the whole Mediterranean basin. It is now clear that the nazi thrust across Libya, which had already begun before Greece and Yugoslavia were attacked by Germany, was more than a mere military diversion. The attacks in Libya and the Balkans were, in fact, two arms of the same design. They constitute a vast pincer movement directed against Egypt, the Suez canal and the pipe line at Haifa in Palestine, which supplies the British navy in the Mediterranean with oil.
The actual territory lost in Libya has relatively little value. It has been said that warfare on the desert is like warfare on the sea; what matters is the destruction of the enemy and the maintenance of one's own strength. The destruction of Graziani's army in Libya was clear gain. In Libya, as in Greece, the major partner has been obliged to take on the task which the minor partner failed to perform.
No one should underestimate the importance of other British successes in Africa. Eritrea, Somaliland, and Ethiopia have been severed from the Italian empire. Even if German occupation of the mountains of Greece and subsequent developments in North Africa bring a new menace to Egypt and the Suez canal, the menace of this hour cannot be what it was before the great Italian armies were captured or destroyed.
It would be unwise, however, to minimize the added danger to Alexandria, Suez and Haifa of the presence of nazi forces in Libya, or the demonstration of the ability of the enemy to move his forces to North Africa. While events have shown that naval power is the most effective British weapon in the present Libyan campaign, we must not lose sight of the fact that a fleet cannot continue to operate without bases or without an assured fuel supply.
The growing unrest in Iraq, Syria and the Arabian desert is a threat to the oil supplies

of the British- navy in the Mediterranean. As already mentioned, it was to defend her communications and her vital oil resources that Britain recently landed troops at Basra in the Persian gulf. We should not overlook the fact that the threat to British interests in Iraq is also a menace to Turkey. The now familiar nazi technique is, once more, in evidence. Instead of making a frontal attack, Hitler, clearly, is seeking to outflank and isolate the Turks. The success of this movement would mark the realization of the "Berlin-to-Bagdad" dream of the Germans in 1914, and would open to German exploitation the great oil fields of Mosul. Such a move by the nazis has long been expected. Hon. members may recall that, on November 12, I told the house that the problem of oil might well account for the interest which the enemy was showing in Iraq and Iran, and in the control of the Mediterranean basin.
The enemy is not limiting his interest to the eastern Mediterranean. The presence of a nazi force in Libya also constitutes a potential threat to the French possessions in North Africa. By turning westwards, the nazis might use their force in Libya as the left flank of a pincer movement directed against Gibraltar, which is already menaced by the nazi army in the Pyrenees, ready, if a chance offers, to strike through Spain.
Hitler has certainly not overlooked the possibilities of closing the Mediterranean altogether. This he may attempt by an attack through Spain, seeking control, not of the fortress, which may prove impregnable, but of the straits which are far more vulnerable. Germans and Italians in the guise of tourists and experts of the armistice commission, have already been infiltrating into North Africa. I give this appraisal of the general situation in order that due account may be taken of the enormous burden which the obligation to guard so many strategic points at one and the same time has placed upon the shoulders of Britain.
The Germans obviously regard the control of the Mediterranean as the key to the domination of the rest of continental Europe, of the middle east, and of North Africa. British naval power in that sea remains the most formidable obstacle to nazi ambition. Realizing the impossibility of defeating the navy in open combat on the waters of the Mediterranean, the nazis are evidently seeking to effect their end by encircling the fleet, cutting its line of communications both at Gibraltar and Suez, and gaining control of its supplies of fuel.
Let me add this: The nazi design in the Mediterranean is, again, not merely an end in itself. It is another stage in Germany's plan

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to achieve world domination. A nazi drive to the Persian gulf might, if concerted with military action in southeast Asia, constitute a vast axis pincer movement against the whole continent of Asia. In estimating all possible contingencies, we cannot, amid the uncertainty of rapidly moving events, ignore the . possibility of an attack on Singapore taking place at the same time as attacks on Gibraltar and Suez, and an attempted invasion of Britain. We must never forget that the destruction of the British empire is the supreme aim of the enemy. The world-wide threat to Britain is the measure of the magnitude of her task.
I had meant to say something of the other side of the picture, as it has developed since adjournment. I wished to refer to the steady growth of the strength of the defences of Britain against invasion, and of the improvement in the outlook for the Battle of the Atlantic.
I intended particularly to refer to the two ways in which United States aid is being made more effective: one, the coordination of production by the United States and Canada; the other, the patrol of the Atlantic by the United States. I intend, later to-day, to make a statement on the coordination of production as effected by the Hyde Park declaration. The importance of the patrol was set forth clearly, yesterday, in the stirring radio broadcast of Mr. Churchill. Mr. Churchill's speech is still fresh in the minds of all. I shall therefore content myself, for the present, with citing a few of his words. "It therefore was with indescribable relief," he. said, "that I learned of the tremendous decisions lately taken by the president and people of the United States. The American fleet and flying boats have been ordered to patrol the wide waters of the western hemisphere, and to warn peaceful shipping of all nations outside the combat zone of the presence of lurking U-boats or cruisers belonging to two aggressive nations. We British will therefore begin to concentrate our protecting forces far more upon the routes near their home, and to take far heavier toll of U-boats there."
Mr. Churchill went on to say that he could not believe the United States would allow the product of their skill and labour to be sunk to the bottom of the sea; that it now seemed the Americans were going to put their aid within British reach; and he then added these significant words: "That is why I feel a very strong conviction though the Battle of the Atlantic will be long and hard, and its issue by no means yet determined, it has entered upon a more grim, but at the same
time, a far more favourable phase. When you come to think of it, the United States are very closely bound up with us now, and have engaged themselves deeply in giving us moral, material, and, within the limits I have mentioned, naval support."
In these words Mr. Churchill disclosed the significance which Britain attaches to the naval and air patrols foreshadowed by Mayor LaGuardia in his speech in Ottawa on St. George's day (April 23). The recent speeches of Colonel Knox and Mr. Cordell Hull are likewise the clearest evidence of the determination of the United States that Britain shall not lose the Battle of the Atlantic.
What have for long been ominous probabilities, are, now, upon us as stem realities. The area of conflict widens every day; its intensity increases every day; losses on sea, in the air and on land will continue to mount; the scenes of terror and destruction which live in the memories of many lands free, beleaguered and invaded, will be repeated and renewed. In steadiness of heart, of hand and of vision we shall find our present strength and the path to victory. If we are depressed by the picture of to-day or to-morrow, we shall be unworthy of our allies and ourselves. Wars of endurance are not lost by the accidents of a day, or a week or a month. They are lost only by the steady disintegration of the moral fibre of a people. The stuff of which the peoples of the British commonwealth are made is not that kind of fibre. Let us therefore calmly and confidently continue to look at the facts steadily and as a whole, not bowed down by the failure of to-day, not unduly elated by the success of to-morrow.
Let me say that from now on as never before it is of the utmost importance that we should view the whole struggle in perspective, and seek to preserve a true sense of proportion. We must be prepared for the exten-tion of fighting over wide and wider areas, for a rapidity of movement at times, and in other places, not unlike what we have already witnessed in the Balkan campaign; and for an intensity and ferocity of warfare resulting in terrific destruction and in heavy losses of human life. Regardless of where the conflict may spread or how rapid may be the movement of forces, or how intensive and destructive the struggle may become in other parts of the world, we must keep ever in our mind the truth that so long as Britain stands no reverse will be decisive.
Britain is fighting with every ounce of her strength, every fibre of her being. We, in Canada, will strive more earnestly than ever to do our utmost on sea, in the air and on land; to work to produce, to manufacture,
Hyde Park Declaration

as we have never worked and produced or manufactured before. The news received yesterday of the landing in Britain of further contingents of Canadian troops, and airmen trained in the great commonwealth plan, should increase our confidence in the ability of Canada to help effectively in the decisive struggle. For the world it is renewed evidence of Canada's determination to spare neither her material resources nor her manhood in the battle for the world's freedom.

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