World War II and the Battle of Britain: Operation Sea Lion, Looking Back

Testimony of a Distinguished Veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)



Editor’s Note

This incisive article written seven years ago by renowned author Frederic Clairmonte, is phrased as  “a letter written to a colleague from the Sorbonne.  F.”

The film on  Lord Dowling, the Supremo  of Fighter  Command during what prosaically has been  labeled the Battle of Britain,  stimulated you to  make some perceptive comments. You asked for some clarifications and  amplifications and I shall take  some time off to do so. To achieve this I consulted my Archives.  I also happened to be a member of the Royal Air Force which I joined in the year of the Battle of Stalingrad.  It was an essential part of my experience and the greatest of educations.

It was more than the transition from an adolescent to an adult. It was far more than a world of flying.  A span of time that included not merely flying and doing what I was trained to do but also  a world  of books and study and thinking and reflecting and in talking to others and learning from them. If you wish to call that a University you may be free to do.  In that world diplomas and degrees  were of utter irrelevance. They would come later.

Let me say at once that there is considerable misunderstanding and swirling myths  of what is meant by the Battle of Britain which began after the collapse of France in June 1940. The mass bombings of South England began  in August. They were called off in November and we shall see why.  There was in the first place no such thing as the Battle of France. France was defeated and capitulated in June 1940. The nostrum of The Battle  of Britain was  concocted  by Winston Churchill. who used it  as a promotional battering ram to give colour and charisma to his leadership.  In sum, he used  it effectively as a public relations stunt.
The Nazis did not ‘lose’  the so called  BoB because while they launched an attack it was called off by Hitler in November for reasons we shall nowelucidate.  From this was drawn the conclusion that  the BoB was won by Britain under Churchill’s leadership.  That is a fallacy.Having said that we do not wish to diminish  the fighting spirit  of the British military and steadfastness and tenacity  of its peoples during those critical weeks. Nor do I intend to disparage the Royal Air Force  Fighter Command  that operated under  an embattled leadership tarnished by personal  squabbles and personal ambition. What we are saying is let us try to see things in perspective.

You’ve no doubt seen the earlier film starring  Sir Lawrence  Olivier.It gave a romanticized version of events portraying Air Marshal Dowling as a hero and the RAF Fighter Command as a band  of young all-white  indomitable brothers  that rescued  the UK from  the clutches  of  the Nazi invasion thus ensuring the victory of the BoB. This is mythology of a supine  order. There was an onslaught on Britain from the middle of August to be sure  that  lasted until the middle November.

I shall sketch  briefly some of the factors leading up to the BoB.  Certainly, the  discovery of Radar in 1936 and its  deployment played a  role in  confrontingthe Luftwaffe. But it  was never busted. It was not the only factor in play and in the  strides of history no single event or personality is of primordial  importance. It is mandatory  study the ensemble of inter-locking events and their causative relationships.

In the course of my military service I  became  acquainted  with many of these  fighter pilots many of whom had  later  shifted to Bomber Command.  True, the Luftwaffe  pilots,  not least of all,  such aces as Oberst Adolf Galland  had brought with them enormous experience  culled from earlier air campaigns.

These were the indispensable  testing  grounds of the Luftwaffe which the RCAF and the RAF did not have but were soon to acquire. I refer to the Condor  Air Squadrons and the use  of the Stukas as a devastating  destructive force in Spain and you will recall Guernica.  The embryonic  Luftwaffe was baptized  as  our ‘flying  artillery’ by Goering.  Incidentally, he  was  never referred to in the R A F/ RCAAFby his  name but  by the sobriquet  ‘the Fat Boy’, a name  that he took with him to the Nuremberg  Tribunal.

Many of the  RAF  fighter  crews members  were sub-standard but of course there were exceptions. Many  were greenhorns and their training in many cases wholly inadequate.  But that too was not immutable.The importance of Radar was that it directed from the ground via radio signals to the air crews the direction and altitude of the attacking aircraft. That was no mean feat and Galland as he said after the war  was struck by the fact that  they zoomed in  unerringly on their targets.  But the Luftwaffe interceptor aircraft had already surmised  that  somethingradically new in aerial warfare had  emerged.  The so-called  BoB began  inDunkirk and the collapse of the French armies.

“The  final Wehrmacht  victory over England is now only a question of time”, noted General Jodl, chief of operations  at OKW on June 30, 1940.  This is illustrativeofWehrmacht arrogance, understandable enough in the light of the  conquests of the Nazi Blitzkrieg;  and such  imbecile triumphalism  was to be repeated again and again. in the early stages of  the invasion of the Soviet Union. And he went on: “Enemy offensive operations  on a large scale are no longer possible.”What he had in mind was that for the first time Hitler’s Germany  had control of  the North Sea with the defeat of  Norway and Denmark. Nazi  military might was therefore  unstoppable or appreared to be so.  Itwas the herald of the  great victories of the Uebermensch.

The German fleet was no longer bottled up as it was  in 1914-18 by British  mines and sea power that  blocked  the Kaiser’sU-boats from breaking out  into the North Atlantic on a large scale, and shoved  the German Merchant Marine  from the high  seas. In  so doing,the Royal Navy’s blockade  strangledImperial Germany. Or rather was one of the central factors. The massive German High Sea  Kriegs Marine  built  up byAdmiral von Tirpitz since 1897  at an astronomic financial  cost was  a formidable  naval fighting  force.  Its power remained, however, purely ‘potential’.

By May-June 1940 the configuration had changed with the conquest of Denmark and Norway. To this was added the entire French Atlantic coast which bestowed more than 3,000 kms of additional coast to the Third Reich’s ballooning empire. All the  pre-conditions for  the successful  launching  of  the Atlantic war were now present. But other considerations  would  blunt its full materialization. That  major condition – the looming presence of  the Soviet Union – which was permanently in the cross-hairs of the yet-to-be conquerors of the USSR would  ultimately weaken and deflectthe full impact of its offensive  naval capability. The Fuehrer’s psycho-neurotic  obsession was his Eastern frontier – Germany ’s India. The clubbing of England, a land that was never his ideological or ethnic enemy, would now  be pushed “into the cupboard” as Goering jokingly noted.

On May 20, the Panzers of Heinz Guderian  smashed through the British and French lines at Abbevile. The final day of reckoning had  struck.  Nine British  divisions and ten French divisions  were trapped.And so was the more than 300,000 British expeditionary  force (BEF). What  followed  was to be one of the major turning points of the war. And in the view of many one of Hitler’s major mis-calculations.The trap was never sprung. On 24 May, the order coming from the High Command, acting on Hitler’s personal order, was that the enveloping movementand the encirclement of the trapped forces  was  halted.
What now happened revealed not merely his lack of strategic thinking but his wider avaricious ambitions that puzzled many of his cronies.  Heinz Guderian, the Panzer  commander,  was indignant and so was Oberst Adolf Galland – the Luftwaffe’s  incomparable ace –  but what they failed to realize was that the decision proclaimed unilaterally as was his style  to halt  the attack was politically  and ideologically motivated. England to be sure was an enemy but it was not  to be  the primordial enemy.

Hitler as Halder  sedulously  believed  that the defeat of France would have brought peace and the British ruling class in the manner of Chamberlainwould have capitulated.. Personalities in history  as I have always stressed in these lectures  invariably  play a crucial role  never ultimately the decisive role; they cannot however  be abstracted from the historical process.  Churchill was  certainly a Tory reactionary but he was not a Lloyd George or a Chamberlain who cherished the delusion that the Empire’s  white man’s rule  would best be perpetuatedby a deal;  with  the Nazi warlords.

In this Churchill  was acting like shrewd  real estate agent  whounderstoodthat Hitler and Mussolini’s had expropriatory designs on the vastness of Empire.Of course it could be speculated  that there were those in England (such as Lloyd George who Churchill branded  a Petainist) who would have cut a  capitulationist  deal with Hitler if those 360,000  Anglo-French  troops had been captured in the Dunkirk salient. In comparison, Paulus’sSixth Army that surrendered at Stalingrad numbered 250,000.

The 360,000 escapees became the  core of a reborn military phalanx to be entirely modernized in very short order and deployed shortly in North Africa, and the conquest of Italian Somaliland. The evacuation  that was an extraordinary feat owed nothing to “miracles”; it changed the play of things; it reinforced  Churchill’s prowess for deal and wheeling. And thus  British resistance.  Hitler had  had placed his  bet on  the erroneous  belief  thatChurchill and the British ruling class would grovel for peace rendering an invasion superfluous. As the unfolding years of the twenties and thirties dramatized so cruelly  (Spain and Ethiopia were  sordid case histories) the British ruling class was never opposed to the ideals  of Nazidom with its with its cold-blooded  quest  to knife the October Revolution in its cradle.

I know the weather in the Channel very well.  And its savagery and capriciousness, And of course the course of events after August owed much not only to the Spitfires and the Hurricanes but to meteorological conditions which made a channel crossing  a physical impossibility. That was the reason why June was the last date for our invasion in 1944. And that was why the capture of the portof Cherbourg was so vital following D-Day.In  September,  the weather had already turned nasty with storms and heavy waves. But apart from the vicissitudes of nature’s caprices Hitler and his gang had no grasp of the technical complexities of amphibious warfare.

The Amphibious landing craft were built in Glasgow and the engines in Detroit and elsewhere.What Hitler had were wooden barges which were not artifacts of war. That was what Napoleon’s  had. Obviously, that too was a non-starter Amphibious operations  was perfected between 1942 and 1943. McArthur’s island hopping expeditions in the Pacific were more  than test benches. The Wehrmacht had nothing of the sort but then their vision was directed  to what they regarded as greener and more exploitable pastures.

I witnessed and participated in the intense preparation for the  invasion of June 1944. From Scotland, I did aerial  reconnaissance work on the entire Norwegian coast whichas in the case of Denmark I came to  be familiar with.  But that was not all. I saw the amphibious  training  exercise that  was taking place  from Margate in the West to Lands End  at the  western extremity of the British Isles.  I also had the possibility of talking to the  highly skilled crewsthat were operating those landing craft.  By the end of November 1943, the RAF and the RCAAF  was  transferred from Bomber Command  of  Air Marshal  Sir Arthur Harris to  the supremo of  the Allied forces:  General  Ike  Eisenhower.The air  assaults on German cities were called off.

The missions of the Avro Lancasters was to photograph every centimeter of the French coast from Calais to the southern most tip of the  Bay of Biscay . We straddled  not merely the coasts  but  plunged deep into the  great  river estuaries in which many of the  big cities were located.  Throughout the winter air reconnaissance  was exhaustive  and the intelligence gleaned of incomparable value. The Wehrmacht’s  Intelligence  in 1940 was  poor or better still poverty-stricken. But then  they did not have the materiel and  their  hearts and minds were not on the job. From Cap Gris Nez to Dover is a  very small stretch of water. The inhabitants of  both places could gaze , as the expression went,  intoeach others backyard  on a sunny day.  And from the air that visibility was  magnified a thousand times.

The Air Operations

On 15 August the first massive  air attacks  (baptized Adlersangriffe) were launched.  This was Directive No. 21.  Within the ranks of the  German High  Command there were  doubts.  Grand Admirals Raeder and Doenitz  summed it up by saying  that the German Navy could not  undertake  the enterprise of an invasion before  May 1941. They were juggling with time. That was to be Hitler’s crucial date in another part of the world. And  they would soon know why the invasion had been shoved into the cupboard.. The Fuhrer cradled  other plans. It could not give protection to the ports that were being  attacked such as Ostend, Cherbourg, le Havre and many others.  They had become systematic targets of the R A F and the Royal Navy.

On 7 September, hundreds of bombers came over. Here again there was  a major miscalculation perhaps one of the greatest  in  World War 2. The  Luftwaffe had resorted to  mass ‘terror bombings’ – the words are those of  Goebbels -in London ’s East End. The Luftwaffe  shifted from  bombing  the airfields of  South Eastern England where Fighter Command Airfields were located  and directed their  attacks  against London ’s East End . That was the working class area as you know that contained  many people of East European and Russian descent. It was also one of the great bastions of Progressivism and the Communist Party. It was that part  of London where Eleanor Marx, barely 20 years old,  began  her tireless and successful  militancy  amongst the East End workers.

From the  spires of St Paul ’s Cathedral the future  supremo  of Bomber Command  Air Marshal Arthur Harris (born in India ) and  his adjutant  Air Marshall Tedder (born in Burma that was then part  of India)  scrutinized and analyzed the bombing patterns. Harris remarked in his cold analytical way: “This is the height of folly. I shall burn them and make them pay for it.”They were terrible words by a determined strategist  but they were impotent because  he was powerless to strike back at German cities. His aspiration would become a cataclysmic reality.In  less thantwo years with the advent of the  four-engined Avro Lancaster  powered by  Merlin Rolls Royce  engines another mighty Nemesis  would  begin – night and day, summer and winter –  their relentless onslaughts.

The  masters of the Third Reich  – and tragically the urban dwellers  of the Third Reich  – would grasp  in their flesh the torrid  promises of Harris or Bomber Harris  as he was baptized..The Fat Boy  had earlier boasted: “If a single bomb drops on German cities  my name is Meyer”. Indeed the ‘Meyers’ would  attain exponential growth levels. Ironically, it was one of the  most ironic , and foolish morsels  of  babbling  in the  annals  of warfare.The  call-off in November  had given theRA F a reprieve. Goering, backed by Hitler, went on the assumption that mass terror bombings of  civilian areas would demoralize the population and hence contribute tothe nation’s capitulation.  The mistakes and miscalculations were now being compounded at  staggering rates.

The extensive bombings of London extended from  September 7 to  November3..Arms  production did not decrease  in that span of time.It made  rapid strides not least because of the  organizing brilliance of  Lord Beaverbrook  and others.  At that point, Hitlerhalted  the  offensive. The  Hitlerian leadership continued to believe the world of fantasies.  One month after the high-point of the bombings, the chief of the operational staff General  Hans Jeschonnek stated that  England ’s  destruction would require an air fleet  four times as large  as  the Third Reich  possesses.  A statement of that  kind reveals  once again  the sheer foolishness of  these estimations. Why 4 and not 6 or  10 or 12? This was babbling  and nothing more.  Jeschonnek and Richtofen Stukas  blasted Stalingrad day after day in August 1942 but we know  where that led to. It  transformed a rubble-ruined  industrial city into an impregnable  fortress.

The  Nazi military machine  was the greatest  and mightiest  military force that the world  had  seen by theend May 1940. And here I would  concur  with William Schirer  when he stated that,  in truth, neither Hitler , the High Command  nor the general staffs of the  Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe had even seriously considered how a war with  Britain could  be fought and won . They were clueless.  Now with the dazzling success  in the midsummer of 1940  they stood stark naked in their  victories; they had no projects and elan  for exploiting  the greatest  military  victories  that the Third  Reich would ever know.

But Hitler did have a master plan. Hitler’s horizon was never  confined  to the Cliffs of Dover.  Hitler and Churchill to be sure were enemies. But their  shared a common enemy  that came to loom larger and more menacing  as the thirties  moved on.  Their obsession was  the Soviet Union.

The Spectre of the Soviet Union

Hitler was not only  a reactionary but the embodiment of the  greatest counter-revolution our world has ever known  one  thatGerman Big Capital  readily recognized and lavishly bankrolled. He was revered by the masters of property who tried to conceal the rationale of his entire being by his quasi-mystical  totemism and  perverted  folklore. His  vision was not of recent  vintage evidenced  in  the Nazi bible Mein Kampf.  It was the proclamation of the war against  Bolshevism.  Let us look at  the crux of his thinking to understand why Britain was not  the major enemy. And why at this moment it was to be shoved into the cupboard.

“And so we national socialists  turn our gaze towards the lands of the East…When we speak of new territory in Europe today we must  think principally of Russia and her border vassalstates. Destiny itself illuminates our way.the colossal empire in the East is ripe for dissolution, and the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russiaas a state.”

In one of his musings to Rundstedt, Hitler  noted  that “once England is finished we would not be able to rouse  the German people to a fight against Russia. Thus, “ Russia would have to be disposed of first”The fact is that the blueprint  for the annihilation of  the  Soviet Union  was  iniated in  May 1940  and Halder was one of its prime architects. Directive  21 was signed by Hitler on 18 December given the pompous name of  Operation Barbarossa. The  Directive is clear. Its reading is chilling. Its ruling ideawas  that the USSR was not  only to be militarily squashed  but also obliterated as a political force.  “A war against  the USSR would be child’s play”, Hitler ranted. That was  his  credo and it was the credo also of the political universe of Big Capital and its political hirelings.  As to the child’s play  history  would soon give another verdict.

With  Directive 21  Operation Sea Lion was scrapped.  The grand panorama  now envisioned was more than a war of imperial conquest;  it was to be metamorphosed  intoa war of  genocide, a Rassenkampf or Race War the scale of which the world had never seen. An event whose consummation would begin on the 22 June, the same date that the Grande Armee traversed the Niemen.  I was an adolescent and I was finishing my apprenticeship  as a welder and a machinist.

The Vision of India

Churchill and Hitler share a common  ideal. Churchill loved  Indiaso much that he did not want to leave it. “ I did not become the King’s  first  Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”  This  was his inimitable  rejoinder, his greatest truth,  to someone who questioned his obduracy on India ’s  freedom. For Hitler , India was a model  of a predatory colonial empire.“The Soviet Union will be our India .”  he  jubilantly declaimed.  A thought that has long weighed on  me and which encapsulates  the energizing drive wheelsof Hitlerian  genocide.  A proclamation which has not ceased to  numb  our brains  even after  more than six decades. Such utterances  put  both British imperialism and the rapacity of Hitlerian imperialism into much clearer focus.

As Churchill  confessed:  the ‘loss’ of India was one of  “my greatest personal losses” And no doubt his lugubrious  whine must be grasped in this context when  he saidthat it  was not only an irreparable‘loss’  for the British Empire but for humanity as a whole and  “ a personal loss that will  never cease to gnaw at my  soul.”Abstracted from  the bogus rhetorical outburst it simply meant  that  the lush pickings of empire flowed in his blood stream.And as you know he was a subaltern in the  Indian imperial army.  He was also a major  shareholder in British tea plantations in Assam and the  the South African gold mines of his friend Cecil Rhodes.

On his father’s side (his Mother was  American industrial  heiress) his  family’s  extensive pickings harked back to the East India Company to  be  vastly compounded in his own lifetime. These investments embraced large land holdings in the Punjab, commodity trading,  mines, shipping and insuranceand a wide variety of  other assets. Here was the assemblage of  the  personification  of capital wedded to Big Politics.  The two moved in easy consonance. Plunder  is seldom faceless and in the case of India  and the Empire  Churchill,  like members ofhis social caste, personified  the scale of  its parasitism.

What  Hitler and Churchill’s mutual  “love” of India  boils down to  was that India was a  a source of pillage  and exploitation. In the latter it enshrined a reality;  in the former an aspiration.  This was  their  common  denominator. They were kindred spirits each in his own  way. As I said  in my  other lectures on Colonialism  it was not  fortuitous that Churchillwas the guiding  butcher of the  incipient October Revolution. In so doing he rose  to  the defense of his class and its profits.

Churchill and his Wars of Intervention  (1918-1921) which the British government  bankrolled  escalated him and  Woodrow Wilson and Clemenceau to the  highest summits of State Terrorism. What  was more shocking as  the historical record  now discloseswas  that  a sizeable chunk of  the money  for the ‘wars of intervention’ in Russia (resulting in the death and massacre of millions by death and starvation) was  borne by  the ‘Indian’ government. Or if  you prefer, the  oppressed  peoples of colonial India  with the taxes imposed by their oppressors  bankrolled  the counter-revolution in Russia .

His love of empire  and his anti-communist  credo were the guiding lights – he had no others – of his  diseased social class from  which he never departed.  In the  United States he saw  as the major historical  agency for the perpetuation of  the values of his  visibly defunct empire. It  was not surprising that he resurfaced again  with his Fulton Speech ( March 1946) with his familiar baggage. Note the volte face and hypocrisy. Barely one year  earlier he was referring glibly to  the leader of the Soviet  Union “as my good friend Marshal Stalin”. It exposed  the nakedness of his bankruptcy and  his sanctification of the  Cold War. A war for which the coloured  peoples of the world starting from China would exact a human toll of tens of millions of  dead. A blood letting thatshows  no signs of ending.

The Fulton declaration of war  was the product of a blood-drenched  colonial regime in its  death throes. And it was not surprising that he made that declaration in a land  whose leaders,  more akin to political Gauleiters,  exalted  their crimes of bestiality in glaring  contrast to that  of Hitler and his acolytes, in  the mantle  of  human freedom. The Fulton fulminations  was a Manifesto  of genocide  as the subsequent decades revealed.

Let me say if  I had not said so before,  that my loathing for his persona and his policies during  the war  years  and after  were incommensurable . That was one measure of my polarization or my growing up if you prefer a more nuanced  tone. I regarded him like many of my own class as a class enemy. A corollary of this  is thatI would never have  shed a tear if  his ancestral  residence in Marlborough had been obliterated. I refused to visit it  even  when the occasion presented itself.

Rather, I spared  my tears for the proletarians of the East End whose degutted homes and  smashed streets  and broken lives I personally visited with certain Comrades. I refer here specifically to the  vestiges  of the 1940 Blitz and the V2 bombings. For me, and  I was not alone, this was not merely the artifact of war, but the deadly iniquitous face of  the counter-revolution.  This was my education or a very  important part of it.

Hence to  speak of Churchill as a Democrat and Hitler as a tyrant is to obscure as I have stressed their commonalities.Churchill the aristocrat  was the gang  leader of the coalition bent on the annihilation  of the emerging October Revolution. His celebrated words  were the rallying cry  of the dispossessed exploiters:  “Either we nip  it in the bud now  or they  shall devour us.”  That as we saw  was also Hitler’s  template. You will recall what I said in my lectures on Versailles and the counter revolution.  Nor  should  we  forget what Thorsten Veblen said in his polemic with the young Keynes. On that score  he  was unique  among American intellectuals in his prescience and wisdom.

Hitler never dissimulated  his colonial ambitions. It is not surprising  that he was one of the greatest admirers of the British Empire.  Being a rabid racialist – Gypsies, Negroes, Jews – was  only one of his facets;.  Hitler wasirrevocably wedded to the  old order  and its propertied class relations. They rocketed  him into power. He was their anointed creation.He  correctly saw the British Empire for  what it was:  a Plunderbund in that  exquisitely succinct German expression for imperial parasitism. He wanted to be a part of it.

This was precisely the  British empire that  the legendary Paul Robeson, who in the presence of  Harry Truman,  excoriated it as ‘the  world’s  biggest  prison of the peoples.’ An outburst  that was anathema  to  Truman that had now embarked on the path ofglobal military, political and  economic hegemony, unwaveringly  followed by  his successors.

Understandably so for he himself was the butcher of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the vilest war crimes of all  times perpetrated as a warning  signal to the Soviet Union  (as was Dresden  too which was  Churchill’s greatest of war crimes in February 45). It was not by chancethat the Fulton  speech  was  hurled at the worldin the State  of  Missouri – the fiefdom  of  that pedestrian war criminal that  was Harry Truman : the first ofall Presidents  – and the rest followed suite  – to incarnate  genocide, torture and State Terrorism as instruments of  war and diplomacy. Truman had set the  clock.. There would be no Presidents of the United States that would not be guilty of  the most heinous of war crimes.

As one of Hitler’s  recent biographers have  noted his ‘model’ for  domination, pillaging and exploitation was the British Empire with its inexhaustible  raw materials,  and its gargantuan  mass  of undifferentiated subsistence work-force. The British Empirewas thus a model to which  The Third Reich must aspire. The Master race (Das Herrenvolk)  was the British  Raj. Let us stress  once again  that The Third Reich and the British Empire were anchored  in the nostrum of  racial  supremacy. Racial supremacy was not an aberration but  an organic  part of the system.

No doubt this was what David Lloyd George meant when he said:“scratch a Tory and you will always find a Fascist”. And in Hitler’s case slave labour.  Hitler had voiced on many occasions his amazement that  a tiny islandthat lay off the coast of the  Euro-Asian land mass  had been able  to achieve such a prodigious scale of self-enrichment  thanks to the pillage  of its Empire.

This was a pointer of what the  Third Reich could achieve.  The British showed that it was possible  to occupy  the colossus of India Hitler admiringly arguedwith merely 250,000 men of which  white men were  less  than 50,000.  In his morbid psyche this was  his grand vision: “The Soviet Union will be turned into our India .”  Before I  proceed I should like  to interject a personal note. My thinking  of the nature of British imperialism in Indiawas moulded  by that very great work:  India Today by Rajani Palme Dutt and  of course  Labour Monthly.

And as you know from my own writings  onthe exploitation of India  it was to become  the focal point of my own teachings and writing. It was at that moment that  I read and studied  RPD’s  Fascism and the Social Revolution. I had become not only an anti-fascist combatant  but an ideologically armed one. I had ceased to be unarmed. As my Maltese comrade would have said.

A Personal Note

I should  like  to  interject a personal note. Before I came to the UK in the  autumn  of 1943 I had never heard of the  racist nostrum  of Untermensch. Getting to understand the meaning of that  word and its  terrible implications  was one of the scintillating  educational  and creative leaps in my life.  I asked  a Maltese  comrade  who was a bombardier.  He was  much older than I was. And  immensely educated. A man of very words. His taciturn nature concealed the  white hot anger that  bubbled  within him.  And which he shared with few.I being one of them. His entire family of  more than 10 people  were wiped in a Luftwaffe raid on Valetta.  He escaped their fate because he was staying  that night  with his grandmother who lived in the countryside.

He  fleshed out the intricacies  of its  vile multi-faceted  meanings. He told me that  it meant a sub-human species. Reaching into the entrails of the word I  asked: does that mean  that Joe  Louis( who was one of my childhood  heroes) who smashed  Max Schmeling in the first round was  a sub-human being? He  laughed but not contemptuously  at my assimilation. I retortedthat this was a load of  rubbish.

I agree with you,  he  said but  that is not the point. Those who used that word are beasts with human faces. And he was one of the first to remind  that colonialism is incompatible  with human dignity. The colonial subject  is an untermensch.  It is not limited to Germans. Look at America . Look at the Rhodesians  and the South Africans. They brandish the word wogs, niggers and  yids  unflinchingly.

We  are not  dealing with a system based  on science and logic he argued. Its Fascism he went on and that spells the devaluation of  human beings  starting from the ‘lower breeds’ and moving up and up.He was a great teacher . Its like the word ‘Aryan’ he went on. Don’t look for definitions. They  don’t  and cannot exist. They have their  own meaning and their logic. Their logic is punitive deployed to kill and maim.. He elaborated hisexplanation on that day  and in days to come. He was more than a beloved and irreplaceable  brother. He was an inspired  teacher that guided my reading..  He was also, or rather  had become,by the force of things  a cold blooded killer.  He killed with no remorse. In the spring of  45, his Avro Lancaster  was hit  by enemy fire but they limped  on  to the English coast where  it crashed.

Operation Barbarossa

The aborted Operation  Sea  Lion  was  important no doubt  but it was a side  show to Hitler’s  greatest counter-revolutionary ambition: the annihilation  of  the Soviet Union.  It was the grand climacteric of his life; the raison  d’être of  his capitalist  paymasters.  At least he was honest. There was no beating around the bush.  “We are fighting to save the world from  Bolshevik  Asiatic barbarism.”How could that scum speak of civilization? In that sense he was a true internationalist.

The butchered victims  of Guernica, Coventry, Warsaw, East London, Antwerp and Rotterdam  indubitably  would  have had  a divergent understanding  of that word. That would  of course not be the end of the Luftwaffe’s ‘civilizing mission.’There was muchmore to come, the thousands of Soviet villages and towns that would be razed. For the onslaught against the Soviet Union was conceived as early as May l940; a blueprint given its final imprimatur in December 1940 by Halder.  In  its sheer breadth of evilit revealedthe Fuhrer as an irrepressible  optimist as well as a self-deluding  fantasist. For Hitler and his likes it was an act of  deliverance.

Just as the French bourgeoisie had proclaimed  at the moment  of the ‘ Front Populaire:  “Mieux Hitler  que le Front Populaire”  their unwavering  class loyalty  to their  surging  Messiah  was never in doubt.What I am saying to you  is  that Hitler  unleashed his genocidal machine  with  the  supreme benediction  of the European and world bourgeoisie ,and that engulfs  the Japanese who nourished  ambitions of their own. They  had entered a state of ecstasy; the  agony would come later. And the American bourgeoisie which had already repudiated democracy  save in its formal frills was no exception.

In this  Hitler  was  joined to such  excrementas Atonescu, Horthy, Mussolini and others. They were the feeder base to hisgenocidal  machine.  The  neutrals: Switzerland and Sweden were big-timeindirect backers of his war machine. In the case  of Switzerland  that meant credits, arms, machine tools, you name it.  And there were no exceptions. Many Swiss fought in the ranks of the Wehrmacht.

In the case of  Antonescu’s Romania,  Nazi Germany did not  pay a single  pfennig for the food  and indispensable  oil itconsumed with such profligacy and without which his  military and industrial powerhouse would have ground to a halt. The  entire iron and steel, agricultural, mining and manufacturing  and engineering industries of Western capitalism  was shoveled  into  his grandest of Holocausts. The  race and class  enemy – the Ubermensch and the Untermensch, the exploiter and the exploited,  had been identified and was to be destroyed.

The goal was the military defeat  of the USSR and its annihilation as a political entity. The cost to the Soviet Union, in dead alone,  was of the order  of 20-25 millions  and tens of millions wounded.And that is only the human cost as even a perfunctory visit to Stalingrad  and its smashed productive  engine would tragically remind you.

In the earlypre-dawn  hours of the 22 June  the biggest military offensive that the world had ever seen would be unleashed. The long delay was now over. The war machine was  thirsting  for blood.At no point in history  had an attacker benefited  with  such overwhelming  advantages.  The clangof  the sledgehammer reverberated from the Arctic (Finland was now  corralledinto the Nazi  death machine)  to the Black  Sea. The attacking force  of ethnic Germans – Das Herrenvolk –  amounted to slightly over  3 million.Superimposed on this  was a million European mercenariesfrom all countries of occupied Europe that topped one million. A sum of  over  4 million.  This had no precedent in the annals of military history; one fourth  of the invading  killerswere non German.

In short,  joined to the Wehrmacht’scolossal  economic and military firepower  (supplemented  as you will recall by millions of slave  workers) was Western capitalism’s  industrial powerhouse  and its massive demographic base.The  Nazi  juggernaut  that  surged  forth  on  that  early morning of22 Juneincluded  3,600 tanks, 600,000 motorized vehicles, 7,000 artillery pieces, 2,500 aircraft supplemented by 650,000 horses.  Obviously not all was Blitzkrieg.

Well could Hitler gloat from  his  Wolfschanze in East Prussia.  “The world will hold its breath”.  They did.  But for different reasons. The unfolding of Barbarossa  aroused the passion of  the global bourgeoisie.He served  the interests of his class  that  believed  in his Crusade and rapturously applauded him. For years they had  known that he was their man. The proof  was now at hand.

It is not merely what the  printed historical record says, but from  what I learnt  from  my own  personal  contacts with the bourgeoisie  of occupied Europe many of whom I had got to know  at very close range.My mother who was a forewoman in the apparel industry did not however  hold her breath in anger but after the  appalling initial surprise and terrible setbacks  she said: “He has attacked the October Revolution and raped the  working class of the world and out of this  he will never win.” These were not solitary utterances. They were the emanations of the world of labour.It articulated the pain  and the thoughts and aspirations of  countless millions the world over.  That was a force that Hitler and his likes could not match.

This seething anger was not confirmed to  individuals but like a typhoon it swept over  tens of millions.. It was the particular in the general.  My  mother’s sentiments of defiance  were echoed by Nehru, Krishna Menon. General Chu Teh of the Chinese  Eight Route Army, by Ho Chi Minh  and by the young Giap himself. I presume you have read my brochure on Stalingrad. You will recall that I started my comment with OperationSea Lion. But behind its shadow was something of far greater substance.

The  liquidation of the  Untermensch

But we are not dealing  with a war of military conquest and the plunder of its peoples. That was classical imperialism It went  beyond that  and in what follows I shall use some of my archival materials  to illustrate  the horrorsand reverberations ofthe doctrine ofthe Untermensch.In the writings of  Ilya Ehrenbourg  which I  and  others read (I was introduced to his  writings by  my Maltese  comrade-in-arms) I became aware of  some of its dreadful implications but it was only afterthe end of the war  that the diabolical power of its meaning hit me with such  force. Ehrenbourg was by no means- far from it –  the  unique source of my enlightenment.  Let us begin with  Heinrich Himmler, the number 2 in  Der Fuhrer’s cabal.

“What happens to a Russian  does not interest me in the slightest. Whether nations live in prosperity  or starve to death  like cattle  interests me  only in so far  as we need them as slaves for our  Kultur; otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether 10,000  Russian females fall down from exhaustion  while digging an antitank ditch  interests me  only in so far as the antitank ditch  forthe Third Reich  is finished.”

Erich Koch, Reich Commissar  for the Ukraine ,masterly articulated  the goals of the Nazi Ubermensch.

“We  are the Master Race and we must govern hard. I will draw every drop of blood out of this country.  I did not come  here to spread bliss… The population must work and work and work again. We  definitely  did not come  here to give out manna… We are a Master Race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically  a thousand times more valuable  than the population here”.

And there is Martin Bormann, Hitler’s ventriloquist dummy and party secretary.

“The Slavs are to work for us.  In  so far as we  don’t  need them, they may die.  Therefore compulsory vaccination and health services are superfluous. The fertility of the Slavs  is undesirable.  Education is dangerous.  It is enough if they can count up to 100… Every educated person is a  future enemy. Religion we leave to them as a source of diversion.  As for food  they won’t get  any more  than is absolutely necessary. We are the Masters. We come first.”

Herman Goering, as you will remember, was not merely  the boss of the Luftwaffe.  He was to be boss of the Soviet  Plunderbund, one of the most ruthless killers of all times.  And his  personal wealth was one of the highest in  Germany.

“It used  to be  called plunder  in other times.But today things have become  more  humane. In spite  of that,  I intend  to plunder and to do it  thoroughly.”  He was true to his word. In  that year (1942) he told Ciano the Italian foreign minister: “this year  between ten  and thirty million  will die of hunger  in Russia and it is well that it should be so.”  And the fat man without a glint of contrition boasted that Russian prisoners of war “had begun to eat each other”  In the scale of infamy we can sink no lower.

The thunders of Retribution

I started my letter to you that was far longer than  I  expected. But of course, the  span between aspirations and reality  can be  very wide as Hitler  noted in his  bunker.  As so it for the masters of the Third Reich and their mass serial killers. It was merely a period of  exactly ten years that  separated  Hitler’s power  grab  (January 1933)  and  The Third Reich’s  apocalypse  at  Stalingrad.- the 30 January 1943.  Which  brings meto  the  wisdom of Hegel’s teachings  elaborated in his History of Philosophy. “Out of the actions of men comes something quite different  from what they intend and directly know and will”.

And this applies not  merely  to the mass serial killers of  The Third Reich’s counterrevolution,  but pressingly so in our times  to its successor  the Gringo’s crumbling  imperio as  it  hobbles like a drunk from one lamp post to another exhibiting its  horrendous crimes. But the play is not yet ended. For where there is oppression there will always be resistance.

Frederick Clairmonte is a renowned author, analyst of the global political economy and author of the 1960s classic, The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism: The Making of the Economic Gulag.

He was for many years a Permanent Senior Economics Affairs Officer in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  He has also taught at several academic institutions including the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University, the University of Lovanium,  the Ecole  Nationale de Droit et d’Administration in the Congo, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. During World War II he served in the Canadian Royal Air Force.

See also: The World in Their Web: Dynamics of Textile Multinationals (Imperialism series) by Frederick Clairmonte and J. Cavanagh (Hardcover 1 Dec 1984).

Global Research article by Clairmont, Frederic

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