T. H. Wintringham
Source: Picture Post, June 15, 1940, pp. 9-24.
Transcription: Phyll Smith
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
For the first time since Napoleon’s day we must now reckon with the prospect of invasion, if it finds us ready we can beat it. In this issue the lessons of different campaigns are recorded for our guidance.
“We be the King’s men, hale and hearty,
Marching to meet old Bonaparty:
If he be seasick, says No, No,
We shall have marched for nothing—oh
THAT was the sort of song the Militia sang, a hundred and thirty years ago. The Grand Army of the enemy of those days, an army that had never been defeated, commanded by the greatest soldier of the past thousand years, was waiting at Boulogne for the chance to invade England That Grand Army never crossed the Channel. The men who carried their pikes and muskets on the South Downs, never had the chance to show their quality against an invading army—though many of these same Militia were later called up to defeat Napoleon’s veterans in Spain and at Waterloo.
They “marched for nothing—oh.” Perhaps that also will be the luck of those who are preparing to-day in England to resist an even more formidable invasion, an invasion not only of soldiers but of machines, not only from the sea but darkening the skies. If so, none of us is going to complain. But scarcely a man now in Britain fails to realise that an invasion is at least a possibility. And all over the country there are men clamouring for arms, for instruction, for the chance to prepare themselves to defend what they hold dear.
We have a Government that is in itself an awakening; on many fields of effort it is moving rapidly. Many of the things that are recommended here may already be done before these pages are printed and on sale. Other things that are recommended here may be replaced by better suggestions or rejected. But here I try to put down, as fully and as frankly as possible, what I believe to be the necessary measures for our defence. And to provide for the volunteer and the civilian a brief outline of what he can do.
The time is too short and the danger too urgent for us to leave everything to the Government, the local authorities, and others burdened with the difficult job of trying to make up ground lost by past sleepiness and stupidity. To-day we need the powers and abilities of every fit man and woman in these islands. Each of us must find out, if no one tells us what to do, what it is we can do on our own initiative.
I am trying to do what I advise everyone to do—get on with the job of defence against invasion, without waiting for official approval. At any rate, my suggestions, based mainly on experience of the Spanish War, can be useful if they fill the gap until better and more authoritative guidance comes along.
My “authority” for what I say is my own experience as an officer in the International Brigade. So please take this “guide-book for defenders” as entirely unofficial.
The first thing necessary is to realise what we may be up against. Hitler, like Napoleon, may find the Channel too difficult to cross. But if he does make a real effort to cross, it will not be with parachutists only; they will not be more than a small part of his force. Parachutists are likely to be scattered at or near strategic centres, road and railway junctions, centres of government, munition factories and stores. Others, in larger groups, will have a more important job to do, as the advance guard of an actual army.
Their main job is to seize landing places where troops can be landed from aeroplanes. These places do not have to be aerodromes; there are many meadows, downs, and moors where the big German planes can come down. And larger machines can bring tons of ammunition, light artillery, armoured cars, and even light tanks. It is best to be ready for the worst case, and say that tanks of sixteen tons may possibly be flown across.
Far too many people are thinking only in terms of attack from the air. But there is some possibility of a German landing from the sea. In the last war the Royal Navy never guaranteed that a German landing was impossible. All it guaranteed was that our ships could cut the communications of any force that the Germans landed.
Our ships, faced by concentrated attack from the air, may not interrupt those communications completely at all times. Again, taking the worst case that seems possible, we reckon the Germans might land two or three divisions covered by their air-borne troops, establish their base at a harbour, or harbours, that they guard with submarines, mines, guns and planes, and gradually slip over to this harbour, mainly at night, a force that in the first week or two would become something like ten divisions. During this process, as many Nazi troops might go to the bottom of the sea as would reach the shore. But Hitler has shown that he is willing to risk this.
This, then, is the sort of danger we are discussing. The Germans have shown us that an enter prise they undertake is not started on a small scale in a casual and absent-minded way, as our own similar enterprises have been all too often. It is planned to the last detail, timed to the last tenth of a second, and covered with a thick fog of lies, peace proposals, threats in other directions. . . .
We are not taking this worst case because we think it is certain to happen. It just possibly might happen. Therefore, it is the thing for which we must all prepare—to make it less likely to happen.
This idea may seem rather disheartening. Some volunteers, untrained men or ex-servicemen, have begun to look hopefully at the sky for parachutists. If we tell these volunteers that ten German divisions, headed by monster tanks, are coming rolling up the road, some of them may feel that the odds against them are rather heavy; they might even feel momentarily disheartened. But, in fact, it is this possibility of a real invasion that makes the volunteer work of any or all of us so vitally important If these men in their village can get ready not only to deal with a few odd parachutists, but to help others to deal also with German soldiers landed from the air, and even with tanks rolling up from a port, we shall be much more sure of destroying quietly the largest German force that can possibly land.
Part of the German idea in dropping parachutists is that they keep the regular army of the country attacked busy running about the country, mopping up these murderous pests. If we have to use our fully-trained, fully-equipped troops, now organised in brigades and divisions, mainly to look after parachutists, we shall have tot few of such troops to batter in towards a place where the Germans have landed, and cut away their foothold from under them.
And whatever happens here the war in France will still be going on; German troops are nearer to Paris than to London; a new B.E.F. is already forming on French soil. Is Hitler’s threat of invasion so serious that all our trained men must be kept in Britain to meet it? The answer is Yes, if there are no other armed forces in this country on whom we can rely. The answer is No, if there is a people armed as well as possible, alert, aware of what it can do.
The Germans will try to repeat in England, if they can land their vehicles, the rapid long-range raids that they succeeded in carrying out in Poland and in France. They took the town of Abbeville, with its 20,000 inhabitants, by a raiding party consisting of motor-cyclists and a few armoured cars. A couple of hundred women armed with milk bottles, beer bottles, and other things to throw could have stopped those motor-cyclists. If each of our villages and towns contain men and women who refuse to be panicked, they can make these German raids impossible.
But before I list the things that can be done by each of us, let me put down briefly some of the things that I think should be done by the Government and other authorities.
First we need a single command. At present the War Office controls the soldiers, the Air Ministry controls the planes. The Germans use their planes mainly as a flying artillery that hits at defending soldiers on the ground. We must do the same, grouping soldiers and airmen under the same commander, with the naval units devoted to the defence of these islands, police, A.R.P. and other civilian services, as well as the Local Defence Volunteers. And in choosing the man to carry this immense responsibility, let us ask one thing that he should be young.
There have been too many cases of men who are seventy, or are approaching that age, appointed to responsible posts in our defending forces. The real experience of warfare of some of these men is that of the Boer War. They have changed their ideas very little since then.
The majority of the most successful commanders in war have been men between 25 and 45. Many men of such ages have recently been showing courage and competence on the seas, in the air, and during the desperate land battles in France and Belgium. Some of them have the great advantage that they have not spent their whole lives in one of the fighting services, and are not hampered by knowing only service methods of work. We need such men in charge of our defences.
Our next need is for a full understanding of the new German technique of attack. The Nazis use mast of their bombers as a flying artillery. We use too many of ours as a sort of chivalry, raiding wherever they find a good target. We need to earn this method of attack, because if the Germans land it is we who must do the attacking.
I do not deal with ways of resisting or enduring the enemy’s bombers; that A.R.P. business is a separate job and a big one.
During the governments of Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Chamberlain, when appeasement ruled and the Nazis were allowed to conquer by threat or fraud a number of European countries, the British and French Governments naturally appointed generals whose military ideas fined in with the main line of policy of these governments. This main line was to sit tight behind fortifications and the North Sea—a policy of passive defence. Our armies have been trained and organised for this policy. And therefore in some of the plans for the defence of these islands there is the fatal idea of the “cordon system,” the idea that parachutists or troops landed in planes can be just ringed round with defenders for some hours or days, until heavy forces of trained troops can be brought up to deal with them.
It is, of course, necessary that certain points should be guarded. Because the German attack comes so quickly, the necessary guards should be in position all the time. These troops and volunteers set to guard decisive points are important; but since the German attack is heavily armed and quick-moving, they are less important than those whose duty it is to prevent the Nazis securing a firm foothold and launching their large-scale attacks. For this purpose no system of sentries or cordons is enough; we must have dispersed forces which can be near the spot where the Germans land, forces that have no hampering responsibility for guarding tins or that point. Whether they are as well armed as the Germans or not, whether they are equal in numbers or not, these dispersed patrols must attack. By so doing they destroy the carefully-considered German plans; they bring their weapons to points where they can command the probable spots at which the Germans will drop reinforcements.
Besides these smaller patrols, we need strong mobile striking forces, equipped with armoured trains and heavy lorries protected by sandbags. These mobile forces are intended to move at a few manures’ notice and mop up rapidly any larger concentration of troops landed from planes
Here, then, are the first four things we need from the Government
1. A unified command.
2. Young men, with new methods, in charge.
3. The decision to attack invaders wherever they are found.
4. An organisation of defence forces that can not only guard strategic points, but can also attack within a few minutes or a few hours.
All these lead to another thing that is perhaps the most important of all. The people of this country need arms. It is not good enough to give men rifles only, if they have to meet German troops (who arc walking arsenals), or German tanks. There are plenty of men available, so many men that it is unlikely that we have even enough rifles for all of them. Therefore, let us get more and better weapons.
Some “parashots” are carrying twelve-bore shotguns. These are not good enough for the job. But if they have to be used, the following can be done: take each cartridge and remove the card board end; shake out the small pellets of shot. If you can get hold of more powder, remove the wad that separates the powder from the shot and add enough extra powder to fill half the space where the shot used to be. Take the pellets, which will seldom stop a man at twenty yards and melt them down to make large slugs. These should be about the size of your little finger. Pack three of these into the open end of the cartridge, and you have something that will stop a man at fifty yards or more.
The .22 rifle should not be despised. It is more valuable than most pistols.
But the weapon that every imaginative youth who wants to fight would like to have is the “Tommy-gun,” the sort of sub-machine gun used by gangsters and by G-men in the U.S.A. Why not appeal to those who make and possess these weapons in the U.S.A.? A few days after we had asked for these guns, and for American and Canadian sporting rifles—some of which are heavy enough to kill grizzlies—we should find the New York docks piled high with them. Half the farms in North America have weapons of some sort. And the little sub-machine guns are made by the thousand.
During the war in Spain, factories in Catalonia were able to make these simple sub-machine guns. Factories in Britain can certainly do so. What the Catalans did was to take a captured German gun and copy it; what we should do in normal times) is to spend many years discussing the design. That is what we did with the Bren gun. The Catalan system is better.
Some years ago those who knew German arms pressed on our War Office the idea that some of our troops should be armed with “Tommy-guns.” A General is said to have answered, “We do not intend to introduce the methods of the Chicago gangster into European warfare.” Now someone else has introduced these methods, and very effective methods they are. Twelve thousand parachutists, most of them carrying sub-machine guns, dropped into Holland in the three days following May 9th. That was the moment to wake up; and if we had woken up then, we might already have had in this country the whole available supply, new or second-hand, of such guns from North America. And within a few weeks we could be turning out several hundred a week in this country. If we mean to arm the people, it has got to be done.
Another important weapon is even easier to make. That is the hand-grenade. Our men in France in 1914 and 1915 made hand-grenades out of plum-and-apple jam tins. They are not always perfectly safe, these home-made hand-grenades. We are not advising anybody to start making them in the kitchen. It is quite considerably unwise for youngsters who know nothing about explosives to experiment with them. But there are in this country not only factories but even garages, pithead workshops, etc., which are quite capable of turning out effective hand-grenades. They are so easy and so cheap to make that it is really a miracle of incompetence that this country has, at the time of writing, remarkably few available for those who must defend it. The small hand-grenade, about the size of an orange, is excellent against men. But we also need a much larger grenade against tanks.
Early in the Spanish War we had no way of stopping enemy tanks. Then miners came from the coal pits and iron mines, sometimes carrying brown paper parcels of mining explosives under their arms. They strung themselves out across the fields near Madrid, crouching under olive trees or hushes, in roadside ditches or any hole in the ground. They waited for the tanks. And when these blind machines came nosing into a line of our “dynamiters,” one of our men would throw a packet of explosive with a crackling fuse, dropping it between the tank and the ground. And there was no tank!
If the tank did not come near enough, the men on each side of it would watch the direction in which the tank’s guns were pointing. Bolting from cover, one of them would cut across to get close into the side of the tank, so that he could sling his “present” under the tracks. A tank’s machine-gun can seldom fire downwards sufficiently to catch a man who is crouching just beside its tracks. Sometimes these men blew themselves up on the way to the line, or as they were blowing up a tank. But they mastered the tanks.
In May, 1940, larger and more powerful German tanks smashed across Belgium and France, caught the British Army, the Belgian Army and many French divisions in a net of steel and flame. The French anti-tank guns were too weak; the British too few. And the men who knew how to destroy German tanks, who had practised the job and were confident and proud of it—these men were Spanish refugees or International Brigaders, locked up in French concentration camps Or they had been sent to Africa or Syria to make roads, their help refused, their souls embittered.
And in the French, and British and Belgian armies there were few hand-grenades: there were none big enough to stop tanks; there were no men trained for this job. Our generals had been told all about this way of stopping tanks. Presumably they replied, “We will not introduce the methods of the Spanish Anarchists into European warfare.”
But, in fact, these methods were nor only used by the opponents of General Franco in Spain. BrigadieróGeneral P. R. C. Groves, D.S.O. visited General Franco’s forces in 1937, and on November 7th in that year the Observer printed his account of an attack on General Franco’s line at Fuentes del Ebro, carried out by over eights Russian-made 14-ton tanks.
“While the men in the front line trenches held their ground and beat off the advancing infantry, the supports and the reserves from the village closed on the tanks. They closed in with bombs bottles of petrol, and rags soaked in the same liquid. Nine of the tanks were captured or destroyed by this means, and the remainder retired; the five disabled in no-man’s-land were knocked out by anti-tank guns.”
Brigadier-General Groves then described the Russian tanks, and their vulnerable points. He goes on:
“The armament of this 14-ton tank consists of a 4 quick-fixer and a machine-gun, both mounted in a cupola; both must fire in the same direction, and neither can be depressed sufficiently to reach a man close alongside and bent double. However rapidly the cupola may be turned, a simultaneous rush from all directions invariably ends in a number of men reaching the tank untouched; it is these who use the rags, blankets, petrol, and picks; bombs do the rest.”
It is really amazing that British generals, even if they refused to learn from the “Reds”—who held up German tanks and planes for more than two years—should also have refused to learn from the Fascists But it is no use digging up the past, except to make for ourselves entrenchments against a future danger.
If I were asked to produce weapons and men able to destroy the German tanks here or in France, my first answer would be, “Get hold of somebody who had done the job. I myself have never handled these grenades.” The first thing to be done is to find Spaniards and International Brigaders, who know the technique inside out. Next, get hold of some mining engineer who can tell us which a the best mining explosives to use, and how large are the stocks available in our mining industry. Then make up some sample grenades; tow a tank across a field by means of another tank and a long wire rope. Try out the grenades on the second tank—which should be empty, unless some of our generals wish to show their contempt for “Anarchist bomb-throwing methods.” When you have got a grenade that seems more powerful than necessary, make one twice as big—so as to have a margin for the greater strength of the larger German tanks—and distribute it, not only to soldiers but also to reliable gangs from among our own miners. The latter are accustomed by their daily work to the handling of explosives and to the need for courage.
I believe that the following points are correct. Fuses should be very rapid: 1½ to 2½ seconds. In a second a tank may travel 40 feet, and you cannot afford to have your grenade burst behind the machine. The best place to throw the grenade from is a position as close to the side of the tank as possible; let the machine go past you and sling the grenade under the tank from behind it, dropping flat as you do so. Don’t try to lob the grenade up into the air, as it will probably bounce off, or waste its punch on armour that can resist it. The tracks and cog wheels of a tank, and the relatively unarmoured belly, are the machine’s weakest points.
Where roads have to be guarded, grenades that will go off when a tank runs over them are very useful. They are much better than land mines, which have to be buried where German bombs may set them off. Even the largest grenade can be hidden by the man carrying it in the bottom of a ditch, in some sort of hole, until the tank comes along. With these sort of grenades, it is useful to have a string across the road. The man on one side hauls on this string just as the tank is approaching. On the other side a man rolls the grenade out on to the road. A check string, which most not get tangled, prevents the grenade from going too far across to die other side. If you have grenades to spare, string several of them together to make a “necklace” over which the tank cannot pass without detonating at least one grenade.
Remember always that a tank’s driver and gunner can only look our of little slits in the armour plate. If you stay hidden they cannot see you. If you jump out suddenly, the tank gunner has to turn his turret round to bring his guns to bear on you. The most dangerous distance away from a tank is 200 yards; rise safest distance is six inches. And remember that bullets bounce off armour. To fire a rifle or machine-run at a moving tank only tells rise crew where you are. If a tank is stopped, and you are a very good shot, you may be able to put a bullet into the little slits from which the driver and gunner look out. But it is not easy.
Men handling grenades against tanks should nor have rifles. They should be supported by one or two men with rifles who take a position well away from them, and whose main idea is that they will distract the tank’s attention and make it swing its guns towards them and away from the hidden “dynamiters.”
There is no reason whatever why a great industrial nation such as ours should not make plenty of these grenades in a week or two. We in Spain had not always enough, so we used “petrol bombs.” I do not recommend these, and I mention them only with a serious warning. At least ten per cent, of those who try these nasty things are likely to burn themselves quite badly.
We made “petrol bombs” roughly as follows: take a 2-lb. glass jam jar. Fill with petrol. Take a heavy curtain, hail a blanket, or some other heavy material. Wrap this over the mouth of the jar, tie it round the neck with string, leave the ends of the material hanging free. When you want to use it have somebody standing by with a light. Fur a corner of the material down in front of you, turn the bottle over so that petrol soaks out round the mouth of the bottle and drips on to this corner of the material. Turn the bottle right way up again, hold it in your right hand, most of the blanket bunched beneath the bottle, with your left hand take the blanket near the corner that is wetted with petrol. Wait for your tank. When near enough, your pal lights in petrol soaked corner of the blanket. Throw the bottle and blanket as soon as this corner is flaring. (You cannot throw it far.) See that it drops in front of the tank. The blanket should catch in the tracks or in a cog-wheel, or wind itself round an axle. The bottle will smash, but the petrol should soak the blanket well enough to make a really healthy fire which will burn the rubber wheels on which the tank track runs, set fire to the carburettor or frizzle the crew. Do not play with these things. They are highly dangerous.
Petrol is not nearly so good as a hand-grenade neatly placed by a man accustomed to using explosives.
Do not use these things against flame-throwing tanks, which are fairly fireproof. The best place for meeting these nasty brutes is a damp ditch.
I have put this business of stopping German tanks at considerable length, because the German method of attack loses two-thirds of its power if their tanks are stopped. We proved this in Spam, where men with a few days’ or weeks’ training showed themselves able to hold up for months troops that were German-led, German-trained and German-equipped. Our equipment in England is not yet at the level where we can say that we can meet a German force with an equal weight of metal. But we are far better equipped than the Spanish Republican Army, relative to the forces opposed. The machine-guns of the battalion that I took into action in the Jarama battle (where we stopped fully-equipped troops who possessed a fire power ten times our own) were all over twenty years old.
It may be answered that parachutists were not used in Spain. That is a fact. And they were not used for a very good reason. Everywhere throughout Republican Spain, at any rate during the first year or so, everyone who could get arms carried arms. An armed people, with some rifles in every village and every suburb, an armed guard on every important cross-roads, revolvers worn by typists, and signs up in the restaurants “please leave hand-grenades and machine-guns at the door”—such a people can tackle parachutists before breakfast.
Let me suggest a definite grouping of our forces. First the patrols whose duty it is to attack parachutists as they land, or immediately after they have landed. I suggest patrols of ten men, of whom three should be soldiers in training, armed with rifles, three should be members of the Local Defence Volunteers armed with a rifle or two if available, or even a shot-gun or pistol, and a considerable number of hand-grenades. Four others, the youngest and best runners, are attached to the patrol to carry messages, to watch and to guide reinforcements.
Bicycles are useful, a motor-cycle or car invaluable. As soon as sub-machine guns have been bought, each unit might carry one and give up a rifle to a less well-armed unit.
The 71-years-old gentleman put in charge of the defence volunteers in the London Region—the vital and vulnerable centre of all our effort—has stated publicly that he does not expect his volunteers to patrol for observation purposes. He points out there are trained observers, able to distinguish one aeroplane engine from another, who are already keeping watch. The procedure of these observers is that they report to the police (or some other report centre) by telephone; the police telephone the local military commander. The latter then sends out troops.
This system would doubtless work very well under Boer War conditions. Unfortunately, the Germans bomb areas they are attacking. The bombs destroy telephone lines. The trained observers may or may not have dispatch riders attached to them. If they do their work becomes complicated when the bombers come in waves of thirty, and the parachute planes follow them. It is best to make sure that there are plenty of people who watch out for the parachutists, report their landings and their movements, and go for them as quickly as possible The same gentleman has announced that the duty of the armed volunteers is to hem in the troops landed from the air The same phrase was used by Sir Edward Grigg, Under-Secretary for War, in a debate in the House of Commons, reported in The Times of May 23. Sir Edward Grigg had described the “more particular function” of the volunteers as to “deal with the action of smaller enemy parties landed from the air”—not, it should be noted, to attack such parties. He went on:
“Another of their functions would be to help in the very earliest stage in preventing movement by enemy parties landed from the air by blocking roads, for instance, denying them access to means of movement, motors, and so on, and by seeing that they were as completely as possible hemmed in from the moment they were landed.”
Here again is the fatal idea of the cordon, of the ring fence to be established while troops are sent up to attack the parachutists. Let us repeat that our trained troops have other things to do, in France and Britain. And the very thing the parachutists want, often, is to be left alone to help the landing of troop-carrying planes bringing more and still more men.
Where it is impossible for the local volunteers to deal with a landing, by attacking when it is most vulnerable, we have to send out a mobile striking force. This can be more easily provided from trained troops; but as far as possible these troops must be kept for the main job, that of repelling an invasion by sea. Therefore two sorts of mobile force should be available, besides any provided by trained troops. All army centres where men are in training possess a certain number of weapons. They must organise men and their instructors as combatant companies, the available instructors being allocated to commanding positions. These companies must be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Training centres usually have too little transport for this. Therefore some of the thousands of civilian cars and lorries not, laid up must be allocated to them, and made ready for immediate movement.
But, besides the troops in training, there is another source of manpower for these mobile forces. That is the factories, particularly those that work night shifts. The men are immediately ready; they do not have to be hunted out from their homes or from scattered places of work. There are many ex-servicemen in factories able to command and form the bulk of such units.
And here we might ask why ex-servicemen are given so little chance to take part in the defence of their country. They can volunteer for a pioneer corps and make roads. They can be sentries or do other minor jobs. But they cannot form part of our “real army” What is the sense, in the present emergency, of calling up 25- or 26-year-olds, who have had no training whatever, while offering no combatant duty to the fit men of 40 or 45 who have had that best of training, actual experience of war? Why should not the ex-servicemen of this country be allowed to form a couple of complete divisions for the defence of these islands?
Many men of 1914-18 can take a Lewis gun to pieces blindfold in a few seconds. It should not be difficult to find some hundreds of Lewis guns. And the ex-serviceman knows what a hand-grenade is and how it can be used.
To return to the half-trained or untrained men who should be made available for defence against air attack. There are barrage balloon crews, searchlight units, the observer corps, the A.R.P. wardens and other organisations under discipline, most of whose members should be armed, even though they must remain at their posts. Among these organisations there are a certain number of women. Many do not wish arms; others desire them, and should have them if they are available. Whenever a people has been fighting for its life, the women have joined in. You can’t keep them out.
There are many other women who are eager for more work and more responsibility. I know of no reason why they should not play a bigger part in A.R.P. work, fire fighting, and perhaps take over half the business of handling the barrage balloons. I know that these balloons can tug at their ropes like young elephants; but there are quite a number of women who can do as much when holding on to a rope as any man of equal weight. Many thousands of fit men, organised and accustomed to combined action, would thus be released for more combatant work.
Now we turn to a different side of the business, one in which all of us can join. We must make the roads and villages and towns of Britain, the meadows and the downs, difficult for the Germans to fight across.
Let us start with the Germans own starting point. They land their planes on any smooth patch of ground two or three hundred yards long. A Canadian has suggested in The Times that if everyone would help we could soon make most of these possible landing places traps for the German planes. Telephone wire is probably strong enough, if firmly anchored, to make trip wires for planes stretching across smooth level patches of the downs. In almost all our fields there are trees. If the field is not being used except for pasture, an occasional tree trunk dropped about the centre of it will make it impossible to land in. Or we can dig wide trenches with sharp walls at least three feet high, to trip up planes when landing. Where there are crops, take stout wooden poles twenty feet high and sink them in the ground four feet; place them to smash the wing of a plane landing. They will scarcely get in the way of any agricultural work, and they will scare most pilots. Racecourses, cricket and football grounds, golf links, can all be denied to the enemy by one or another of these methods. Much work of the kind has been done.
There is more to do, and many willing hands to do it. It might be as well to make it difficult for Nazi seaplanes to land in some parts of our rivers and on the Norfolk Broads. Cars that are not needed for defence Units, and are not in use, must be really immobilised, in such a way that a competent mechanic cannot make them workable. Otherwise the Germans will be presented with all the transport they need if they capture a few of our towns.
In Poland and in France, German tanks drove up to civilian petrol stations and took their petrol from the pumps. All such stations should be guarded at once. The guards should be instructed when and how to burn the petrol. Where it is difficult to set petrol alight, because of danger to surrounding buildings, it may in some cases be enough to have means ready available for destroying the petrol pumps. In other cases it should be possible to make the petrol useless by dumping sugar or some similar substance into the storage tank. Water will not do.
In some towns it would be wise to close down the petrol pumps within the towns, as an elementary A.R.P. precaution, as well as a precaution against tank raids. Supplies for these towns could be made available at roadside petrol stations in relatively open country.
But if to-day we appointed volunteers, or half-trained soldiers, or even trained men who had not been in the front line in France, to guard such petrol stations, the first thing they would ask is “What do these tanks look like?“ It is urgently necessary that silhouettes, photographs and drawings of all German and British types of tanks, armoured cars and army transport vehicles should be circulated to our soldiers, and throughout the civilian population. In this issue of PICTURE POST the main German types of tank are illustrated. Until you get better illustrations than these, study these drawings carefully so that you really know them. Then you can be sure that you do not blow up a British tank, or wait smilingly while in German vehicle approaches waving a Union Jack as camouflage
Bridges in Poland, in Belgium, and on the Meuse in France were not blown sip. England has many rivers, and it may be necessary to blow up the bridges over them at an hour’s notice, if the Germans land tanks from planes or ships. At present many of these bridges are guarded by men whose job it is to see that parachutists do not blow them up. But in few cases are there arrangements made and explosives ready so blow them up ourselves if we need to do so. This, you may say, is surely a job for the government. It certainly is. But is has only just come to power, it has many things to alter. If I were in charge of an area of the country I should go to some mine owner and ask him to lend me enough explosive to wreck the bridges in my area, and enough men to bore the holes necessary, and to fire the shots if need be. There might be accidents? Yes. But better several accidents than a failure to blow up bridges in front of a German armoured column.
The next thing is road blocks. Some I have seen in Britain are not nearly substantial enough. It is little use to put an old plough and an Austin 7 across a road; they would stop motor-cyclists, and perhaps stop armoured cars, but would not stop the lightest form of tank. Barricades as solid as you can make them are necessary. And the men guarding these barricades should have hand-grenades as well as rifles.
The whole road must be blocked, including the grass verges; where possible this should be done at a place where a stream, or strong wall or buildings, or thick trees, make it impossible for tanks to swing off the road when they come up against the road block, and go round it. And always remember that a road block faces in both directions. The German attack may come from behind you instead of from in front of you. If possible make a strong point at each side of it well protected, from which you can fire at an enemy attacking in either direction. And if you are set to guard a road block, do not have all your party hunched together near it, or a tank will come up unexpectedly, wipe out the whole party, and smash tsp the barricade.
It is possible to make villages into fortresses. Houses at the edges of villages can be loop-holed. The best loop-hole is one that is inconspicuous from the outside, perhaps because covered by creeper, or set in a re-entrant angle of the wall. In a room that is loop-holed, the Nazis are likely so fire at the windows, if they do not see the loop-holes. So place the loop-hole where bullets or flying glass from the window will nor hurt you. If you can, have ready a piece of stout canvas or an old door to put behind the window. The main purpose of this is to catch flying glass; it may also deflect splinters. Do not put it directly behind the window and close to it, or the blast from a bomb or hand-grenade may drive straight through it. Put it close so the window at the bottom and farther in towards the centre of the room at the top; then anything coming into the room is more likely to be deflected, and you will get more light.
Two thick mattresses will often stop a machine-gun bullet. A thick brick wall will do so. The roof of a car will not; put a mattress over it when the Nazis begin ‘strafing” from the air.
The aim of loop-holing a house is to make the attackers waste lives by getting so close that they must throw hand-grenades. It is good to make them waste hand-grenades also; therefore, some way of retreat from an outpost house should be devised.
In some cases isolated houses are likely to be seized by German parachutists, because six men can hold a house against a hundred, during daylight and while their ammunition lasts. Therefore, see what you can do now about the barring of windows and fastening of doors. The best method of securing a door is not to rely on a lock or bolt; a heavy man can usually kick or batter the screws out of the lock. Nor is it easy to put a cross bar which cannot be driven out. The easiest thing is to have a block of wood or heavy piece of furnature on the floor, and put a stout bar of wood from the centre bar of the door, sloping down to this stop.
If you can only delay the parachutists for ten minutes, it may save you and your house, and the lives of a dozen men which would have to be spent in getting him out of the house once he has got in. In other cases it would be wise to prepare emergency trenches. Do not do this till you are sure of men to hold these trenches; it is no use digging something that might become a stronghold for a German detachment.
There is little time for beautifully laid-out trenches on the best Aldershot models. Luckily this country has plenty of ditches. A ditch is a bad trench because the enemy can fire along it. If you are having a running light with Germans in open country, beware of taking cover in a straight ditch that they can enfilade. Better to scatter behind trees or bushes. But a ditch can rapidly be made into something that will do as an emergency trench.
Do not try to deepen it at first; simply cut in the walls of it, preferably in the wall nearer the hedge, a number of slots about two feet square, large enough for a man to crouch in. Where you have a ditch, a hedge and then another ditch, do not occupy only one of the ditches, or you will find the Germans working along into the other one and bombing you out by lobbing hand-grenades over the hedge. Cut one of the slots tight through the hedge, so that you can move from one ditch to the other under cover.
When you have cut the slots, make sure that there is no disturbance of the ground that the enemy can see which will give away these firing positions. Do not leave the earth you have dug out—the “spoil”—in front of each slot. Carry it away to fill up some parts of the ditches through which the Germans might approach the positions you are preparing for defence.
When you are digging small entrenchments of this sort, get someone else to measure out the exact distance from your fire positions to the next hedge or wall, to various trees that can easily be recognised, and to the nearest buildings. Make a note of these ranges; if you can, draw a little sketch of the ground in front of your fire positions and mark the ranges on this sketch. Leave the sketch in a tin box in the trench, or entrust it to someone whom you are sure will be occupying this piece of trench and not another one.
The sort of place where this job is best done is close to a village, where a little hill lifts you up enough to look down on a stretch of main road.
My last suggestion is for those who cannot help otherwise old people, invalids, mothers fully occupied with their children, people working so hard to produce the things our forces nerd that they should not even volunteer for the “parashots.” There is an important thing that you can do. It is to decide exactly now what you will do if there is trouble.
It is no use deciding that when fighting starts you will go away on your bicycle or in your little car. If you do that, you help Hitler. He wants you to flood the roads, in vehicles and on foot, as the pathetic refugees did in Belgium and Northern France. They crowded the roads so badly that our own troops could not get through. They spread panic and disorganisation to towns and villages where otherwise there would have been resistance. The best thing is to plan to stay where you are and do something which helps the defenders. If you have something to do you will not panic. The next best thing is to plan how to get away from your home or your place of work without travelling along the roads. You will be much safer in a wood than you will be on the roads.
Best to stay where you are. But if you cannot do that, do not expose yourself and your family as a target to the Nazi planes. Scatter away from other people, if you must scatter; if you stick to the roads, it will be right and necessary for your own soldiers and police to drive you off these roads, for your own safety and for the safety of our islands.
The old, the ill and the very young should be evacuated now, nor only from coastal areas, but from all the main danger areas—seven or eight counties. It is the most hopeless thing on earth to leave the decision until fighting starts, and then hope to cross the country to a relative in Cornwall or North Wales. But if you do not take this advice, if you stay in the areas where there may be real fighting, then remember that you have at least this duty not to get in the way of the men who must attack and stamp out the Nail invaders.
Myself, I believe that if the Nazis try it, they can be defeated, and the defeat will be annihilating. Tackling our navy will cost them more than they reckon.
Tackling our people as a whole can be disastrous for them. A people aroused and armed is a force that the Nazis have not so far met, except in Spain, where the arms were old and few and the resistance to Fascist conquest was hampered by blockade and non-intervention. Let the Germans know that we are preparing, and that we have up our sleeves for them not only the things I suggest here, but the many other surprises that will startle their patient, card-index minds and upset their detailed plans.
The answer to totalitarian war, the method of the Nazis, is a people’s war. It was a people’s war in Spain 130 years ago that broke Napoleon. It was a people’s war in Spain three years ago that held up Hitler’s time-table for the conquest of Europe; he could not start on Austria until the armies of the Spanish Republic had been cut in two.
By all means let us have as many trained men as we ran, as many bombers, as many tan But until we have enough of these we can resist or make invasion impossible, by mobilising all the forces that are alive in this country. And if we do so, releasing thereby an ever-increasing number of our trained men to help the French, yet steadily growing stronger to defend these islands, Hitler may fear to take the enormous risk of invasion. Our “people’s war” will have “marched for nothing—oh.” But it will have helped to destroy the Nazi military machine.