This post is part of an after-action report of Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games) and therefore entirely fictitious.
Letter from Gianni Rossatti, Counsellor of Embassy, posted at the Italian embassy in London, to Salvatore Graniti, Counsellor of Legation, currently in Milan
London, August 23, 1942
My dear Salvatore!
I am so relieved to hear that you have evaded Nazi capture. Since the first news of the German counter-attack have reached me, I have been praying for your delivery. It is uplifting to hear, especially as the good news have been so rare lately.
Not for me privately, of course. London has been safe from Nazi attacks since their failed invasion in December 1940, and despite all the privations that a war brings, life continues here. Like every other man and woman in the city, I do my part in the incessant activity to bring down Nazi tyranny, and I feel like London is the center of the anti-Nazi coalition, sending men and guns, planes and plans to every corner of Europe from Italy to Norway.
However, the misfortune of the British – and, as I officially do not cease to point out, Allied – forces in Germany has dampened the spirits, especially as it is the second time this has happened after the Normandy pocket of fall 1940. Just that this time the pocket is bigger and the losses more staggering.
And there we get to your question about the government crisis. As you will surely have read when this letter reaches you – cables, after all, travel faster than paper – Lord Halifax has resigned. But let me tell you how it happened. It was a dramatic story, and I have the benefit to have heard from one of the aides who has seen it unfold in front of his eyes.
After the news of General Montgomery’s capture had been compounded by the annihilation of the American forces in Hamburg, Lord Halifax called a special cabinet meeting. He opened it laying out the situation in drastic terms: The Axis counter-attacks in the north and south of Germany had inflicted the highest losses on British forces since the Battle of the Somme and destroyed the one battle-ready American force in the European theater of war. They had also led to the capture of the highest-ranking field commanders of the Allied nations, General Montgomery for the United Kingdom, and Lt. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall for the United States, whose imprisonment featured in newsreels before every movie at theater in Germany, „and Lt. Gen. Brooke is likely to join them soon, given that his army is surrounded at Ulm and cut off from supply“. Furthermore, Lord Halifax added, with both British field armies annihilated or surrounded, the Alps defense line was by no means secure.
Therefore, Lord Halifax said, he favored reaching out to Germany in search of a negotiated settlement to the war in the west. It would have to include the end of the occupation of France, Belgium, and Denmark, however, it would be not unreasonable to expect that their governments should not be hostile to Germany. The Germans would be open to such a proposition, as the west was only thinly defended by them and they would need all available forces to withstand the onslaught of the Red Army, already more than twice as numerous than the Axis forces on the Eastern front. „I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the handing of Eastern Europe to Bolshevism“, said Lord Halifax haughtily, „and neither in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Our American allies are tiring of the war in Europe in which they are only incidentally involved. Let us focus on the war against Japan, and let the continental tyrannies duke it out amongst themselves.“
Silence fell over the cabinet. Nobody dared to speak, not even in support of the Prime Minister. Then the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, raised his voice. „We have negotiated with Hitler. The Prime Minister knows this better than anyone else, for it was he who carried out this policy as Foreign Secretary at Munich.“ All eyes were on Churchill now. Him recalling the memory of appeasement and laying it at the feet of his Prime Minister – even in these matter-of-factly terms – smacked of rebellion. „I do not see“, continued Churchill, „why the Germans, now that they feel so much stronger, would be more inclined to a fair peace in Europe. Otherwise, I agree with the astute assessment of the situation made by the Prime Minister. I do, however, draw different conclusions. No one can accuse me of being soft on Bolshevism. I have spent much of my energy in earlier years on the noble attempt to strangle it in the crib. That has not met with success, and now the Soviet Union and we fight a common enemy. I would not disabuse us of such a powerful co-belligerent. Of course, we should not expect the liberation of western Europe to be a service performed for us by the Red Army. As the Prime Minister has reminded us, the Nazis were forced to pull their garrisons out of France for the counter-attack on our forces in Germany. If, therefore, we are committed to the liberation of France, we can achieve it ourselves, by means of strength and valor – together with those from our Commonwealth who have not incurred the same losses as we, chiefly the men of Canada. For our setback now has made a greater triumph later possible: The landing in France, and the liberation of western Europe. For this great undertaking, we shall gain the support of our wavering western cousins. They will accept our guidance, as they have before. And with our strategic vision and their industrial wealth, we shall overcome all our foes, and gain not only peace, but also honor, and victory.“
Again, silence fell. You know the men in Halifax’s cabinet – not very many remarkable characters among them. Then murmuring started, and finally Kingsley Wood, the Secretary of State for Air, spoke in support of Churchill. Samuel Hoare spoke against him, and then some of the even less consequential men for one or the other, but there was no way the Prime Minister could come out of such a rebellion in his very own cabinet unscathed. Lord Halifax offered his resignation to the King the same day and advised him to send for Churchill as new Prime Minister.
Churchill has been a whirlwind of activity since then. He has formed an all-party government with Labour and Liberal ministers, spoken to the public, inspected newly formed regiments for the next offensive, sent General Alexander from Burma to take command over our forces in the Alps, and demanded a higher production quota of aircraft, tanks, halftracks, and everything else. But much of that you will have read in the papers.
Keep me updated about your next adventures. The best I could wish for, of course, is for you to be posted to London again. One can hope…
You can see the current state of affairs in the game in the Twitter thread: