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Editorial – Loss Upon Loss!

7 March 1942

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 07 March 1942

Loss Upon Loss!

Java and Lower Burma have vanished for a time beneath the Japanese tidal wave. The valiant Dutch, who flung themselves at the invader the moment he appeared in Malaya, and generously spent their sea and air forces in our defence, looked in vain, when their own hour arrived, for the British and American reinforcements that might have saved them. For want of planes by the hundred we have lost priceless possessions and positions while covering our home bases with planes by the thousand. It is a tragic tale and our failure to hold the Dutch East Indies is its most grievous feature.

Nothing about our conduct of the Pacific war makes sense. Though we have let the East Indies go, we must assume that somewhere in those regions there are being assembled forces capable of giving battle to the Japanese by land, sea, and air, and disputing the onward march of the invader. The collapse of the imperial resistance in Malaya and Singapore, ending in the surrender of a great host and a vast arsenal, was criticised in Java as elsewhere, but the rapid conquest of Java in the face of a large and resolute army demonstrates beyond a doubt the impotence of ground forces exposed to unchallenged aerial bombardment. No courage can endure such an ordeal indefinitely. That has been demonstrated again and again. The great successes of the Axis powers are derived entirely from their appreciation of this vital circumstance. Every battle must be regarded as lost in advance by the side which fails or neglects to win local air superiority.

The plane production of the United Nations must to-day be at least equal to that of the Axis powers and their potential is far greater, but the grand strategy of the war is still directed by the Axis, the battlefields are still chosen, the tactics still dictated, and the issues still fought out where Axis air power is supreme. The Allies are still driven to over-insure at home and hope for the best at the outposts. Exhortations to send all aid to Russia are still mixed with warnings that we may need every plane at home. Fatal under-estimation of the enemy has led us to send out pocket expeditions to be mopped up in detail.

The Japanese, however bestial in victory, have shown themselves resolute and audacious in battle, and we have ceased to put a limit to what they will dare and do. That they will over-reach themselves is certain; short of the abject and general collapse of the United Nations they cannot hold their gains for long nor extend them touch farther. The issue will be decided at sea, not necessarily in one dramatic action — though that is the best hope of the Japanese—but possibly by attrition, by raiding and counter-raiding of communications, leading inevitably but slowly to a general fleet action.

It may be that the power we dare not venture in defence of Java is being reserved for the supreme test, the defence of Australia. or of India, or of both. For the present the Burma Road has been cut and we lose touch with the teeming millions of Chinese who were to have restored the situation in Malaya as effectively as they were to have raised the siege of Hong Kong. The immediate problem there is for the Chinese to withdraw out of reach of the Japanese the large supplies which had been got to them, as far as Lashio, before the route was cut. It is thought that presently the Japanese, timing their strokes with Hitler’s, will invade Siberia at the height of the German spring offensive in the Crimea. It is not easy to see why the Japanese should break off their programme of conquest in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in order to take on a new and dangerous enemy who as yet denies to his allies the one thing they most need — land bases from which to strike at the heart of Japan. Japanese help for Hitler is more likely to take the form of intense commerce raiding in the Indian Ocean and an attempt to join forces at Suez.

Everything points to the Caucasus as the storm-centre. If Hitler fails there a second time we may begin to hope for a turn in the tide of misfortune and frustration. No possibility can he excluded—the defences of this country will almost certainly be tested, and any success might lead to a rapid transfer of the main German effort from East to West. But the monster which this Frankenstein has conjured from the sleeping steppes now overspreads the whole horizon of German hopes and fears, and if the Red Army is to be held in check at all it must be by something more than a containing force. Russia is Germany’s Nemesis—sleepless and relentless; until that bogey is laid, Germany cannot know again the glad confidence of 1940.