Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, over the
week-end, as hon. members are aware, the war entered on a new phase. At dawn yesterday, the German army and air force launched an attack on both Yugoslavia and Greece. Reports from the fronts are meagre as yet. They are sufficient, however, to make clear that attacks against both countries have been of the ruthless and barbarous character witnessed during the invasion of Poland at the beginning of the war and repeated again against Norway, the low countries, and France during the course of the spring campaign of 1940. They mark, in fact, the launching in deadly earnest of the 1941 military campaign. The attack on Yugoslavia was made by German divisions operating from southern Austria, from Roumania and from Bulgaria toward the Varder valley; that on Greece, by a combined German and Bulgarian onslaught down the Struma valley, directed at the capture of the Greek seaport of Salonika.
The world is again witnessing the determination of nazi Germany to ride roughshod over all countries which dare to oppose the demands of her leaders, or to stand in the way of German domination.
It appeared as recently as the 26th of March, that nazi Germany, by a process of intimidation, was about to add Yugoslavia to her already extended list of victims, thereby achieving through deceptive diplomacy and overwhelming intimidation, another bloodless victory. On the previous day at Vienna, the government of Yugoslavia in desperation had adhered to the tripartite pact, signed at Berlin on September 27, last year, by Germany, Italy and Japan, and agreed that Germany might make use of Yugoslav roads and railways in its projected attack on Greece. The pact, however, was never ratified. The mere announcement of its terms provoked widespread resentment in Yugoslavia. Popular opinion made itself so strongly felt that the council of regents, responsible for the country's betrayal, took refuge in flight. The young king, Peter II, assumed the throne, and a new government was formed which soon gained the support of every section of the Yugoslav people. It made clear the determination of the country to maintain its independence. Because of this attempt by Yugoslavia at self-preservation, Hitler is now seeking to gain by violence what he failed to obtain by subtle means.
The courage of the Yugoslav nation in standing up to the armed might of Germany is enheartening beyond words. It is the more heroic in that Germany within the past few months has gained all the advantages of a complete occupation of Roumania and Bulgaria, and is supported in her present onslaught by Italy and by her control of Hungary, each of which countries have had designs on Yugoslav territory. Italy has, in fact, already boasted of attacking Yugoslavia.
The nazi attempt to subjugate Yugoslavia followed what has come to be the classic nazi pattern of aggression. Just as Czechoslovakia was half conquered by the occupation of Austria; just as Poland and Hungary were half conquered by the occupation of Czechoslovakia; just as France was more than half defeated by the invasion of the low countries; and just as the nazis hoped by the conquest of Norway and the occupation of France to outflank Britain; so the nazis expected that
The War-The Balkans
the outflanking of Yugoslavia by the occupation of Roumania and Bulgaria would serve to undermine the spirit of resistance in the Yugoslav people. The nazis expected that, almost surrounded, Yugoslavia would consider resistance hopeless and surrender without a struggle. The action of Yugoslavia in offering resistance in the face of well-nigh overwhelming odds has undoubtedly come as a surprise to Germany.
Throughout their troubled history, the Yugoslavs have given proof on a hundred battlefields of great military virtues and of a stubborn courage in the face of heavy odds. Their determination to resist this latest act of brutal aggression, to fight, and if need be to die in order to preserve their homeland and their hard-won liberties, opens a chapter, however tragic, which does the highest honour to their great traditions. A reversal of policy so sudden and complete as that witnessed in the case of the Yugoslav administration in the past few days is rare indeed, even in a generation which has become accustomed to kaleidoscopic changes. The Yugoslavs, however, to cite as examples only their immediate neighbours, had before them the fate of Hungary, of Roumania and of Bulgaria. One by one these countries in turn, having yielded to a succession of threats, first economic and then military, have found themselves in the end the victims of German aggression. Whatever form the so-called cooperation took, in practice it was discovered to mean the occupation of their territory by nazi forces, and a complete submission to nazi domination in economic, political and military spheres. All three countries ceased to be the masters of their own destinies and became the tools of German policy. This fate the Yugoslavs were determined to avoid, if at all possible, at however great a cost.
In Yugoslavia's noble resistance, nazi diplomacy suffered a signal defeat. In her attempt to subjugate the Balkan peninsula, Germany has been forced to fight. War on two fronts, the spectre which long has haunted German strategy, has become a grim reality. To what lengths the new front may extend, to what proportions the war itself may grow, time alone will dislose.
The nazi attack is directed mainly at Greece as the key to the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. Having voluntarily met the attacks of Germany's ally for five long months, after having inflicted heavy losses upon the Italian invaders and driven them from Greek soil, Greece has now to face the force of nazi Germany herself, on another and more exposed section of her extended frontiers. It is a tremendous task: in terms of
military equipment and power, one that would seem to be almost overwhelming. Greece, however, has revealed that a heroic spirit is more to be desired than all else. The Greeks have already risen to face their new enemy with indomitable courage and with the united will of the whole Greek nation.
The nazi attack on Yugoslavia and Greece is a major development. It is too early even to surmise what it may portend. We must be prepared to witness a stupendous conflict. We should realize, too, that the nazi design of conquest in the Balkans is not an end in itself. It is another attempt at ouflanking positions which are obstacles in the path of world domination. Each country Germany occupies serves two purposes: the resources of the conquered people are added to her strength, and a new base is acquired for the next act of aggression. Germany is seeking the subjugation of the Balkan peninsula as a step in the outflanking of Britain's position in the Mediterranean.
In their struggle, the Yugoslavs and the Greeks will have all the support in materials and men that it is possible, in the circumstances with which they are faced, for Britain and the British commonwealth to provide. They will have, too, material aid from the United States under the terms of the lease-lend act.
The announcement from London of the presence in Greece of an expeditionary force of British, Australian and New Zealand troops makes clear that British support is already at hand. The word that British and South African forces have taken Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, gives promise also of the early release of additional British forces for employment in other theatres of war in the near east.
In the whole situation, however, nothing could be more significant than that once again the great nazi military machine has not been able to impose the nazi will by threats, fear and intimidation. That is in itself symbolic of ultimate victory. The feeling of hope and encouragement it affords should not, however, blind us to the realities of the situation. The great nazi army is still intact, and still undefeated; it outnumbers the Greek and Yugoslav armies many times over. The aid which can be sent to these two countries is necessarily restricted. Moreover, the Balkan peninsula is not the only or even the major theatre of war. Indeed the opening of the Balkan campaign may well be the prelude to a great battle for the whole Mediterranean basin. The nazis had hoped that a bloodless conquest would secure their supplies from the Balkan region and bring them a step nearer to the consolidation of the whole of continental
Visit of General Sikorski
Europe as a nazi stronghold. We can all be profoundly grateful that in the nazi path,
Greece and Yugoslavia have become active obstacles.
But the chief obstacle to nazi ambitions is still Britain, and Britain can afford to devote but a part of her effort to the Balkans. The threat of invasion of her own island has not passed; that danger will grow as the spring advances. The battle of the Atlantic has not been won and it is, as we all know, the most vital struggle of all. The unsettled state of France and the presence of the nazi army of occupation on the Spanish frontier, constitute a source of danger to Gibraltar and to British communications in the western Mediterranean, The situation in the far east also is by no means without its dangers.
In a world struggle, events must be viewed in perspective. The conflict must be seen as a whole. Facile optimism and exaggerated expectations may be just as dangerous as abject fear. We must be prepared, in the new phase of the war which has now actively begun, for a bitter struggle. In the end, the spirit of freedom will conquer. Meanwhile, there is certain to be frightful destruction of life and property, and we must be prepared for setbacks and disappointments. The heroism of the Greeks and the determination of the Yugoslavs may well fill with fresh courage all of those who love liberty.
Some may be inclined to feel that hostilities in the Balkans are very remote from this continent. The truth is that the outbreak in the near east, far from being remote, has in fact brought the conflict closer to us than ever. In a realistic calculation of this world struggle, it should not be forgotten that the subjugation by Germany of each new country amounts, in fact, to the addition of another slave state as a dependency of nazi power. In the nazi design for Europe- the so-called "new order"-Germany would be the workshop and arsenal of the European continent. Within her borders, or under her control, the important and highly technical industries would be concentrated, while the conquered territories became hewers of wood and drawers of water, ministering to the nazi war machine, and adding to its staying power. It is important that all should realize that, sooner or later, the successful accomplishment of this great nazi design, were such a thing ever to come about, would in fact result in world domination by the nazi power. Apart from what it would mean to the survival of Britain and the continuance of the British commonwealth, its effect upon this continent, in other respects, would quickly make itself felt. While it might not of necessity be followed by an attempt at mili-14873-139J
tary invasion of this continent, it would, through competition of standards, drive North America into economic isolation and to the use of totalitarian methods in seeking its survival. Nazi control of Europe would in fact involve the outflanking of North America. It is, of course, inconceivable that so long as free men are able to resist, this dark day will ever come to pass.
Subtopic: HOSTILITIES IN THE BALKANS