Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 24 February 1940
The Nelson Touch
The latest exploit of the British Navy rounds off the story of the “Graf Spee” very nicely. This time the Nelson touch came from the Admiralty. The Germans give Mr. Churchill a bad name and would no doubt hang him if they could; in this instance he proved what a bold bad man he can be.
His imperative order spoiled the “Altmark’s” little game. This supply ship of the scuttled “Graf Spee” was sneaking home through Norwegian waters with three hundred of our seamen under her hatches. These men were being smuggled into German internment, and there can hardly be a doubt that this was being done with the knowledge of the Norwegian authorities who connived at an illegal use of the immunity of their waters. The destroyer “Cossack” went in, rescued the men, scattered the “Altmark’s” crew, and left the vessel stuck with her stern in the ice.
This was performed in the teeth of the German Navy and Air Force, and the challenge was refused even as the “Graf Spee” herself declined combat. There has arisen a roar of genuine German rage and a chorus of politic indignation from the Teuto scared Norwegians whose claims are intended to cover their embarrassment at a piece of treachery dramatically exposed. The incident reflects little credit on a country which, while its seamen are daily being murdered and its ships destroyed, is yet ready to hold a craven candle to the destroyers.
The incident reveals also to the people of this country something of the difficulties which our Navy are encountering in Northern Europe, where Scandinavian neutrality is being grossly exploited and abused because of German menaces. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have suffered at the hands of this one belligerent a thousand more times than they have suffered or will ever suffer at the hands of the Powers who are putting down a pest which may yet strike at the very life of Scandinavia. The coastal waters of these three countries are being used as a screen for the passage of forces which have slaughtered Scandinavian seamen on the high seas with every circumstance of barbarity. Taken in conjunction with Sweden’s rejection of Finland’s desperate appeal for aid in the hour of her greatest need, a refusal dictated by warning growls from Germany, the incident of the “Altmark” illustrates vividly the extent to which, so long as the British Navy can be relied upon to keep her legal distance, Germany is able to terrorise Northern Europe.
The Swedes and the Norwegians, unless they are misrepresented by their Governments are little disposed to rush on their fate, even though boldness may be the better part of discretion. It may be that in saving their lives now they will in the end lose them the more surely and easily. The abandonment of Finland by Sweden at the command of Germany may prove to be the most disastrous as well as the most servile and humiliating step ever taken by Sweden. Cowering before German threats will certainly not save Sweden when the time comes for Germany to make in Scandinavia a move corresponding with that of the Russians in Poland. If gallant Finland falls, Sweden will bear a heavy responsibility not only for the fate of Finland but for her own. Sweden will have thrown away in advance her best hope of a successful defence against assailants whom no propitiation will fend off when they are ready to invade and annex.
Then, too late perhaps, Sweden will call on the Western Powers even as Finland now calls upon Sweden, the Powers who are at present hampered and obstructed by the shelter which Norway and Sweden, however unwillingly, are giving to the piratical forces of Germany.