Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ten Myths about the Phoney War - new Quadrant Article

A new one of my articles has just been published in the Australian Quadrant magazine (Vol. 61 No.1-2,  January-February 2017 edition), that attempts to kick the crap out of the historians who write off the 'Phoney War' as a period where nothing happened.

It is based on the proposed Allied March 1940 plan to move troops through Norway and Sweden to assist Finland against the Soviet invaders they had been remarkably successful in resisting for several months.

The 10 issues I cover are:

1, The Myth that the Soviet Union was strong in 1940.
2. The Myth that Germany was strong in 1940.
3. The Myth that the British were flailing for a strategy in 1940.
4. The Myth that Poland's collapse made everyone believe in 'Blitzkreig'.
5. The Myth that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact could not last.
6. The Myth that the sides were already fixed.
7. The Myth that intervention would not improve the Allied situation.
8. The Myth that intervention would be militarily foolish for the Allies.
9. The Myth that the Allies could have chosen not to help Finland.
10. The Myth that Norway and Sweden would oppose an intervention.

The fun part is the reason behind the story.

Orders were actually given by the British and French Chiefs of Staff at 6.30pm on March 12, 1940, for the landings in Norway to go ahead the next day. Only last minute duplicity by the Socialist Foreign Minister of Finland Vaino Tanner to hide this information from the cabinet while he forced through a surrender before midnight, prevented the war from developing into a Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact war against Britain, France, and probably their new allies - including possibly Italy, Japan, Turkey, Scandinavia and the Balkans countries...

If you want the full reasoning, you'll have to get the article.


  1. I cannot get access to the article. Any suggestions?

  2. Hello! I have a question that is a little off topic, but I'm a fan of this blog (especially the General Ratings). You've mentioned in past posts explaining parliamentary monarchies: in that they are a combination of Democracy, Oligarchy and Autocracy. Historically what are the most successful of each of these in their respective forms? (You may have mentioned that Serene Republic of Venice as the best Oligarchy) Secondly, which is the better – the Australian Senate or the British House of Lords?

    1. By 'successful' I assume 'survivable'? Apart from Republic of Venice the longest term 'Oligarchies' were the Republics of Rome, and the US, both having an exclusively white, male, property owning, electorate for most of their history... that's an Oligarchy isn't it? Monarchies can last a lot longer, but the most successful are Constitution, which by definition means having all 3 elements.
      The Australian Senate started as a States Rights house, but has devolved into a Special Interest house. Neither works as well as the Lords, which has become the most meritocratic house of review on the planet...

  3. any more posts for 2017?? Great blog mate!

  4. The article is crawling with wishful thinking and failure to understand.

    1st, i´m Swedish and have a longstanding special interest in WW2, and while it´s perfectly true that the REAL preference of Sweden in 1940 was towards the UK, that was heavily

    dependent on our territorial integrity being respected.
    Norway, as far as i can tell is similar but slightly more likely to accept a British intervention.

    I would give a 75% chance that Sweden resists an intervention. However, the REAL problem is next, that such an intervention could realistically cause Sweden to re-align itself

    with Germany as a means to safeguard its borders.
    Also, do NOT forget that Norway has been part of both Sweden and Denmark, any intervention in Norway that starts a fight, even by mistake could easily just by itself align both

    nations towards Germany, and suddenly Weserubung might happen with the active assistance of all 3 nations.

    And at that point, the expeditionary force is now in a deathtrap. Because while Scandinavian/German forces enjoys almost perfectly safe supply lines, the Luftwaffe and

    Kriegsmarine will have merry days sinking ships in the North sea, a place where they have much easier access and loitering time than the British can ever manage.

    That however still does not look at the ultimate stupidity of this idea.
    "6. The myth that the sides were already fixed."
    Indeed they were not. But only an archidiot who left his brain behind after sneezing would want Germany and USSR fighting together. Analyse it, wargame it, the conclusion is

    always do NOT allow Germany to truly ally with USSR or you are in DEEP TROUBLE.

    Meanwhile, i might mention that if i wargame as Germany, i rather favour the Brits going into Scandinavia, as it distracts them from France, allowing easy overrun victories there.

    Anyway, lets look at the myths shall we?
    1, "Strong USSR". I think you may have read too much Mein Kampf or something.
    The problem with that myth is that it doesn´t really matter, because USSR sure as hell was not weak either.
    It also ignores that the allies at the time had their own, quite massive troubles.
    It ALSO completely ignores that there´s a huge difference between attacking another country and defending your own. Expecting Soviet troops to be as uninterested in defending

    their homeland as they were in foreign adventures is a mistake on at least the same level as "on good kick and the whole rotten house falls down".

    2, "Strong Germany". Oh no, Germany wasn´t strong in 1940, that´s perfectly true. But as with USSR, it only matters to a point, because other nations are in many cases either

    weaker or have even more problems.
    Giving them a fight helping to defend Sweden/Norway against the perfidious invaders would give them a serious morale boost and also a golden opportunity to exploit their own

    strengths. At worst for the British, the Luftwaffe might be able to spend two months sinking ships with a majority of its strength, forcing the British to send ever more of its

    navy to defend supply convoys. That is an equation the UK is doomed in.

    3, "UK flailing". Here, the author seems to have gone slightly insane. "As usual, their policy worked … eventually."? So, it was the British policy that caused the Germans

    to invade Holland, Norway, France, Greece, Yugoslavia? And sorry, but Germany invaded the USSR which Russia was part of, NOT Russia as a separate entity.
    NONE of the nations mentioned joined the UK in the war because of UK diplomacy(France can maybe be argued, but that´s a stretch).

  5. 4, "Blitzkrieg rules". Well it would be surprising if Hitler used the term, as it was a US newspaper that minted it.
    And while i can sort of agree with this as a myth, there´s also the fact that German stormtrooper tactics from WW1 coupled with motorisation and mass availability of radios

    together makes for a potential revolution of warfare, and the only people at the time that managed to make it work were the Germans. The Soviets might have been able to do the

    same under the right conditions at the time, but most other nations, unlikely.

    5, "Continued German/USSR pact". This is the one thing you REALLY DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WANT!!! If it does last, UK is screwed, France likewise.
    Because what it essentially does is to provide the German industry with effectively unlimited resources. And if matters become serious enough, provides USSR with all the tech

    upgrades they could want.
    BAD BAD BAD!!!

    7, "Not improving allied situation". First sentence says the author has trouble with reality. IF the intervention ends up with Sweden and Norway resisting and at worst even

    aligning with Germany, and possibly even with USSR (which would lead to a rapid defeat for Finland ), together with the almost guaranteed defeat the allied expeditionary force

    would suffer when they run out of supplies while trying to deal with guerilla tactics from Swedish and Norwegian troops, the combined effects even if the UK manage to not lose

    vital parts of its navy would still be massive on the rest of the world. And VERY unpredictable.

    It could for example push Italy to join earlier and with a lot more fervour, and while unlikely it might even push Spain into a more actively pro-axis role.
    And which way it would cause the USA to jump is anyones guess.

    8, "Not foolish". That´s not a myth i´m afraid. Yes, northern Sweden and Norway are magnificent areas for defence.
    But only if you manage to keep friendly with the natives. Otherwise it risks becoming a quagmire.
    And that´s before looking at how it´s much easier for the Germans to send troops and supplies north than it is for the allies.
    And there´s also the fact that if the British were truly interested first of all in helping Finland? Then they could land in northern Finland and NOT go through Sweden and


    9, ehm what?

    10, "The Myth that Norway and Sweden would oppose an intervention".
    Calling that a myth just shows you don´t know nearly as much as you believe.
    As i said from the start, yes both nations were definitely friendly towards UK, however both nations had as their primary desire to maintain territorial integrity.
    If UK is the first to breach that instead of Germany? The risk is HIGH that both nations but especially Sweden chooses to oppose. And the risk is probably around 50/50 if that

    happens that Sweden would also re-align towards Germany, out of perceived necessity.
    There´s also a part in this where such an event could greatly strengthen the leftwing radicals in both Sweden and Norway, as we would now effectively be allied with both Germany

    and USSR, a line of events i do NOT enjoy considering.

    1. Like your comments, though I disagree with many.

      I particularly like the issue of whether the intervention would have seen Sweden oppose or celebrate. The diplomatic papers of the period do not use the hindsight you seem to assume, and the Finnish Foreign Minister in particular was convinced the intervention being supported by the Swedish population was realistic. (That's why he panicked.)

      You're suggestion that the intervention might have pushed Sweden into the German side I find pretty unrealistic however.

      I note that the German invasion of Norway didn't push Sweden into Britain's arms, OR into Germany's arms. The anti-German/Soviet feeling that is highly documented through this period MAY not support my assumptions, but definitely DO not support your assumptions.

      But I like a good feedback, and your comment on wargaming has inspired me to a frivolous post on how to game the gamers...


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