No. 185 NAI DFA 219/4

Confidential report from William Warnock to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Berlin, 28 May 1940

The surrender of King Leopold of Belgium was announced this morning, little more than a fortnight after the commencement of the present campaign, and it may not be long now until the war is carried to Great Britain herself. Britain will be invaded for the first time since the expedition of William the Conqueror, and if events continue to develop as at present, it is not improbable that the German invader may come as a conqueror, too. The past few weeks have brought such a series of amazing surprises that it is well to consider them closely, even though the campaign is still in progress.

It is quite obvious that the Western Powers thought that their blockade would greatly weaken Germany, and that its effect would be so telling that military operations on a vast scale might not be necessary. The German pact with Russia, and the annihilation of Poland in less than three weeks, prevented the blockade from becoming a total one. All Northern and Eastern Europe remained open to Germany, and while some foodstuffs and raw materials were undoubtedly difficult to obtain, German energy and powers of organisation succeeded in overcoming almost all the difficulties immediately presenting themselves. Huge stores had been built up in recent years, and we were assured at the beginning of the war that Germany could hold out indefinitely. Agriculture has been so developed since 1933 that the country now produces about three-quarters of her food supply within her own borders; to this must be added the extensive agricultural districts in Poland which are also under German control, together with Denmark and Holland.

The failure of sanctions against Italy might have served as a lesson for the Western Powers, but they persisted with their ideas of an economic war. They thought that all they had to do was to remain on the defensive, and that after a while the civil population in Germany would be almost dead with hunger, the soldiers underfed, that there would be a scarcity of all necessities, no tyres for motor-cars or lorries, no petrol for tanks or aeroplanes, no cloth, and no metal for munitions or heavy industry. Even if this result could not be brought about within a few months, they hoped to accomplish it within a few years. The effect of hunger and privation would, it was thought, considerably lower German morale, and might, perhaps, even cause an inner revolution something like that of 1918.

I find that my colleagues from neutral countries are all astounded at the evident military unpreparedness of the Western Powers after nine months of war. The speed and thoroughness of the German advance must, undoubtedly, have knocked the Allies off their balance, but it was thought that they would surely recover themselves to some extent after a few days; instead of recovering themselves the only course left open to them has, apparently, been to retreat as fast as they can. Nobody would have believed – before the events took place – that it would be possible for Germany within the space of less than three weeks to over-run Holland and Belgium, and to break through the Maginot-Line and drive a corridor through Northern France to the sea, and thereby, by use of her enormous Air Force, to gain control of the English Channel. It is all very well for the British to say that the Germans are throwing men and machines into the fight regardless of cost – the most important point for consideration is that they are advancing and breaking all opposition at an incredible pace, and are at last in a position to set about the accomplishment of one of their most intense desires – a thrust at the heart of Britain. A total blockade of Great Britain by air is due to commence, and it is expected that submarines will also play their part.1

Where now, it is asked, are the gentlemen who went about telling the world that Germany was ripe for revolution, that the financial system was about to crash, that industry was on the point of bankruptcy, that German aeroplanes and munitions 'simply hadn't got the stuff', and who were prepared to rise to great heights of witticism at the expense of German substitute materials for rubber, wool, and the like? Tyres made of 'Buna'2 have carried German troops to Boulogne and Calais, the alleged inferiority of their component parts has not prevented German aeroplanes from destroying the most heavily fortified positions of the enemy, nor from inflicting loss on the Allied navies, and even if the German tanks 'haven't got the stuff', the opposing anti-tank guns can do little against them.

British prestige has sunk very low, even amongst those of my acquaintances who are inclined to prefer Great Britain to Germany. The British Army is in danger of becoming a laughing stock, particularly since the debacle in Norway.3 An American colleague told me the other day that the British troops who landed at Åndalsnes had not more than their rifles for quite a while. They are accused of having caused wanton destruction in Belgium, not even sparing churches. No doubt the original purpose behind the destruction of bridges and the like was to delay the German advance, but many cases are cited where bridges and buildings were blown up ruthlessly without the slightest warning having been given to the civilian population living in the immediate vicinity.

British assistance to Holland appears to have been confined to the carrying-off of the Dutch gold reserve to London. For months they have been attempting to overcome the isolated German garrison at Narvik, and they do not seem to be any nearer success than when they started.

Here in Berlin the war still seems unreal at times, as we are so far away from the theatre of operations. We have had only two air-raid alarms, both of them in early September. The British raiders have not come any nearer than Hanover. Quite trustworthy reports reach me concerning the indiscriminate bombing carried out practically every night by the British over North-Western Germany. In some places as many as sixty civilians have been killed, but no damage at all done to military objectives.

In the Legation we are beginning to feel somewhat isolated, but we can still keep in touch as long as a connection remains through Rome. If Italy comes into the war, that link will go, and we may then be forced to fall back on telegraphic communication through the United States.

The German people are receiving the reports of the amazing military successes with a remarkable calm. They, too, are astounded; they simply cannot grasp the facts. One would have expected outbursts of jubilation, but life is very quiet. We have as yet no ideas of the losses on either side, though it is claimed that the German casualties are comparatively small.

[signed] W. Warnock

1 This sentence has been highlighted by a reader in the left-hand margin.

2 'Buna' is a form of synthetic rubber.

3 To counter the German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 British and French troops landed at Namsos, Harstad and Åndalsnes from 14 to 18 April. By the date of Warnock's despatch the combined force had suffered a series of defeats at German hands and, despite advancing on Narvik, had been forced into a series of evacuations. The Anglo-French force informed Norway of its plan to evacuate the country entirely on 1 June. By 10 June Norwegian forces had surrendered and the government of Norway was in exile in Britain. The campaign led directly to the resignation of Neville Chamberlain on 10 May 1940.

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