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Editorial – Tides of Battle

17 January 1942

South Yorkshire Times, January 17th 1942

Tides of Battle

Though resistance visibly grows, the Japanese drive in the Pacific has not yet lost its momentum, and the danger to Malaya becomes acute, the threat to Singapore serious. In Malaya we have been caught unprepared, and an inadequate force is not only outnumbered but blinded and unroofed. We are witnessing in Malaya a situation similar to that which confronted us after Dunkirk, when we had to judge with the utmost nicety the extent to which we could risk our precious air squadrons in the preliminaries leading to the crucial battle.

The Japanese are swarming by sea, land, and air, and only the glorious gallantry which in our military history has so often supplied the deficiencies of vision and preparation, has so far held them in check. There has been a good deal of air fighting but the real struggle for air mastery is still to come.

At present we hold the air over Singapore, and so long as we do so that vital base cannot be taken. The Japanese have a hard road before them, but they are travelling light, realising that victory depends on speed. The current news from Malaya is not good, and it is clear that we are rapidly approaching a crisis, but powerful help is on the way and every day gained by a gallant though overtaxed defence is of great importance.

We are fighting a delaying action there just as the Axis forces under General Rommel are seeking to delay our advance on Tripoli. The capture of that key point would not only confirm us in the mastery of the Mediterranean but would give us fresh fighter protection for sorely-tried Malta, which stands like a half-tide rock in a sea of ferocious assault. Here also we approach a crisis, and once more the Axis is racing against time. Malta must be either seized or neutralised before Allied domination in The Mediterranean becomes decisive. Malta is a pistol pointed at the heart of Italy. The war has swelled and raged in many directions according to the strategic moves indicated and the means of making them, but Malta has known little rest or relief since the war began in earnest, and has â–ªendured an incredible amount of bombing.

Even so, it may be that still sterner trials lie ahead, and that Hitler in desperation may hurl the Luftwaffe at that devoted garrison in the hope of upsetting British strategy, diverting the attention of the Germans from military disaster in the East, and renewing the threat to Egypt and India. Fantastic as such a programme may appear in present circumstances, it chimes with the mood and method of such a strategist as Hitler, who is beaten whenever brought to a halt, as he has been in Russia and Libya, and must ever be casting round for new victories.

The toils are closing in upon him, his alternative moves are becoming restricted, and he is now being forced to give battle on ground and at times not of his choosing. The Russian advance continues unabated, the frost-bitten German hosts are being rolled back without pause or rest, and for Germany the frightful menace of Stalin’s vengeful hordes grows. The spectre of counter-invasion now haunts the evil race which has carried invasion to almost every corner of Europe. There is no sign yet that the Russians, now superior in numbers, equipment and probably generalship, can be held and if they are not stopped the signal for general retreat of all Nazi invaders must soon be given.

In the conviction that passive defence is fatal—it is certainly alien to the German military temper Hitler may yet attempt desperate adventures against Malta, Gibraltar, Turkey, or Britain and may cause great suffering and loss, even though these flurries expedite the final ruin of the Reich But the grip of the Russian may well be mortal if not soon broken.