*** war and social upheaval: World War II United Kingdom

World War II: The United Kingdom

 World War II Britain
Figure 1.--Britain after the fall of France (June 1940) no longer had the capability of defeating NAZI Germany. Without America, Britain's very existence was in doubt. Britain fought the NAZIs for over 2 years before America entered the War. Even before Pearl Harbor (December 1941), however, Britain and American began planning to defeat the NAZIs. Once in the War America and Britain formed the most important military alliance in the history of warfare. Never before had two countries so coordinated their industruial, scientific, and military operations to defeat a common enemy. There were important differences between the two nations, but those differences were resolved or put aside to achieve the overal objective--the unconditional surrender of NAZI Germany. America had the industry and resources to do that. The British at great cost had gained the expeience and the appreciation of NAZI strengths that America in 1942 still lacked. Source: U.S. Army

"What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'”

-- Winston Churchill. Speech to the Commons, June 18, 1940.

Britain played a key role in World War II. Unlike World War I, it was unable to prevent the German defeat of France. This irrevocably changed the world ballance of power. Britain did manage to resist NAZI aggression, the first county to do so. Many felt Britain could not hold out after the fall of France. Hitler was willing to make a deal. He would have allowed Britain to keep the Empire in exchange for a free hand in Europe. It might have made sence after the spectacular German victories, Many did not believe Britain could resist the Germans. The deciding factor after the Royal Navy sucessfully got the Army home from Dunkirk almost certainly was Munich. The whole British people remembered how Prime-minister Chamberlain had brought back Herr Hitler's signature pledging peace. It was clear than German guarantees were worthless. The British had no real choice, but to fight it out. And the Royal Air Force managed to pull it off. Britain despite the odds refused to be beaten. The Luftwaffe got not gain control of the skies over the Channel. And without aerial supremecy there coukd be no invasion. The RAF victory in the Battle of Britain had an even larger meaning. Hitler when he launched the War faced great odds. But he calculated that German technology and military skills would provide they key to victory. The Luftwaffe defeat in the Battle of Britain was in part a failure of German technology and tactics. This meant that less than a year after he started the War, Hitler's basic strategy was failing. It was not so apparent at the time with France firmly in the NAZI grasp. The following year America through Lend Lease pledged to underwrite the British war effort. This made Britain unassailable by Hitler. Many World War II accounts under estimate the importance of the Royal Navy and the strength of the British scientific estanlishment. Hitler when he launched World War II was determined not to make the mistake of World War I and fight a two-front war. Frustrated by the British and Ameruican support for Britain and seeing himself as the greatest military commander in history, Hitler decided to fight the two-front war he had always opposed. From the beginning it was the Soviet Union and Lebebnsraum in the East that was Hitler's principal war aim. Incredibly within the space of just a few months, with Britain undefeated, he invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941) and declared war on the United States (December 1941). Britain became an unsinkable air craft carrier off NAZI dominated Europe. Britain allowed America to enter the war in Europe, first from the air and then on the ground. Britain never won a major land battle without American support, but the importance of the British Army while the American Army was still poorly trained and without battle experience can not be overstated. Huge quanities of American war material and military personnel flowed into Britain. From Britain a strategic bombing campaign against Germany was launched (1942). America joined in an arround-the-clock bombing campaign. And then the Anglo-American cross-Channel invasion cracked Hitler's Fortress Europe wide open (June 1944). The Allies 9-months later were crossing the Rhine.

General Election (1935)

The British General election of 1035 was one of the most consequantial of the 20th century. There would not be another for 10 years. The Conservatives would win an overwheaming victory, nearly 48 percent of the vote, giving them an 387 Members of Parliament (MPS), a huge majority. The opposition Labour Party had only 154 MPs and all the other parties only 63 MPsThis provided the Conservatives total control of national politics. It was a continuation of the National Government coalition, but a coaltion totally controlled by the Conservatives. Unemployment and foreign policy were major issues in the election. The election was held late in the year (November 14). In many ways a by election held earlier determined the policies of the Conservative Party which won the election. Prime-minister Baldwin was shocked when Labour won a by-election in Fulham East, a safe Conservative constiuency. Pacifism was clearly in the air. Labour turned a Conservative majority in the previoius electionm into a 5,000 vote victory. It should be understood where Lan=bour stood at the time. Labour would come to be an important cog in Churchill's struggle to cinfront the NAZis, but that was not where Labour and the Liberals stood in 1935. Despite the massuve NAZI Rearmament program--the Liberals and Labour were determined to cut defense spending. Many openly expoused disarment. The Liberals were commited to disarmament full stop. Labour Leader George Lansbury disnand the Army and dismiss the Air Force and dare the world (meaning Germany), "Do your worst!". Of course that is precisely what Germnany woukd do. At the Labour Party Conference (October 1933), Lanbour delefates vited in favor of total diasarmaent and a general stike in resomse to an actual war. The victorious Lan=bour candidate in Fulkham East ran on disarmament and pacifism. [Bouverie, p.25.] In response Baldwin and the Conservatibes ran the 1935 campaign based on a defense policy, not of matching the Germans but on basing British security on collective security and the League of Nations. Fulham East also convinced Balwin and Chanberlain that the country would not stand for a massive rearmament program, because it was precrived as leading to another War. Thus appeasement was seen as being the only realistic alternative. Appeasement was supported by a large number of prominent Britons.

Defense Spending

Neville Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchecker helped formukate the Appeasement Policy with Prime-Minister Baldwin, Chanberlain became prime-minister (1937). He seens to have felt it had a chance of succeeding. And notably he did not think that Britain needed to match German rearmament. It was clear even eralier that Germany was conducting a massive rearmamebt program. Even so, ge thoight it was sufficent to have a military that could harm Germany, thinking that this would be adequate deterence. And he supressed reports he was receiving of German rearmanent, trying to keep from the British people of German remiiatrazation.

Munich (September 1938)

After the Anchluss n Austria, NAZI propganda began to focus on the German minority in Czecholsovakia, especially the Sudetenland. Britain and France had trearly obligations with Czechoslovakia. The Czechs were prepared to fight. Chamberlain despeately wanted peace. He talked about how terrible it was that Britain should be drawn into war for a "far-away country and people we know little". Hitler promissed Chamberlin "Peace in our times" if he was given the Sudetenland. The Allies (Britain and France) acquiesed and Czechoslovakia which was prepared to fight was dismembered. Churchill was apauled. Amazingly Hitler after the Conference felt he had been cheated. He in fact wanted war.

Czechoslovakia (March 1939)

Hitler threatened the Czechs with military action on several occassions after Munich. Finally he called elderly President Dr. Emil Hacha to Berlin (March 14). There after midnight Hitler haranged him. Then Göring offered a mocked applogy for having his bombers destroy Prague, but said it would be a good lesson to the British and French. Hacha fainted and had to be revived. He telephoned Prague ordering that there should be no resistance. Göring and Ribbentrop bullied him into signing a paper asking for German interbention. [Black, p. 512.] The Wehrmacht crossed the border and occupied Bohenia and Moravia in one day (March 15). This was a total violation of the Munich Agreement. Slovakia had succeeded the day before and became Hiler's most slavish puppet state. Hungary with Hitler's approval seized Ruthenia. All of Czechoslovakia was now in the NAZI orbit. The Czechs would pay a terrible price. They would be Hitler's last bloodless victory. They would not, however, be his last stunning victory.

End to Appeasement

Hitler by adding the Czechs to his empire had crossed a line. He had repeatedly told Chamberlain, "We want no Czechs. He was now no longer uniting the Germans. Bohemia and Moravia were Czech lands. It was clear to the Allies that Hitler was prepared to make one demand after another. Although facing a rearmed Germany with an unrivaled air force, British and French leaders and increasingly the public in those countries realized that there was no choice, but to confront the NAZIs with military force. Even Chamberlain realized that this meant an end to appeasement. He delivered a speed in Birmingham March 17. Although he did not admit error, he described the commitments that Hitler had made in Muich and he expressed sympathy for the Czechs. What he did not do, however, was resign. Perhaps mever before in British history had a primeminister who had failed so disaterously insisted on holding on to power. Britian did institute conscription, but under Chamberlain reluctantly prepared for war and with the same lack of determination that had marked his dealings with Hitler. At this stage the Allies needed an ally. America was not yet available. The Soviets were, but Chamberlain gave no priority to working out arrangements with Stalin. NAZI propaganda began to focus on the Polish Corridor so it was obvious that Poland was to be the next target. And in contrast to the Allies, Hitler moved decisively to make arrangements with Stalin. Chamberlain was right about one thing. If there was another war ith Germsny, the Soviets would benefit. Chmberlain put Britain and Western civilization in danger. He did accomoplish one matter--something he was not tring to do. He took a country that was dead set against another war by a huge majority. Thanks to Hitle Chaberlain appeasement turned it into a country that recognized that they had no choice but to fight. Through the next 6 years, terrrible defeats and the Blitz as well as severe rationing -- the British people supported the war effort. There was at no time the slighest hint of anti-war feeling.

British Military Forces

The British military forces were the only ones to engage Axis forces throughout World War II. They played key roles in the defeat of both Germany and Italy, although the contribution to the Pacific war was more limited, it wa not unimportant thereas well. British forces were bolstered by both Commonwealth as well as foreign (Czech, Jewish, and Polish) units. Free French units generally fought as part of American command. Cananadian forces were especially important. After Dunkirk, the only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. British units fought the War with American supplies and equipment and after Pearl Harbor in close cooperation with the United States, arguavly the cloest and mot important military alliance in history. Britain's most important service was the Royal Navy, often referred to as the Senior Srvice. As in World War I, however, the Royal Navy could only made its force felt if the Germans were stopped in the early phase of the War. The Royal Navy was reduced from World War I suceeded in keeping the sea lanes open and help disuade the Germans from invading until America came into the War. The Royal Air Force (RAF) of course delivered the first major defeat to the Germans and ensured that Britain would continue the struggle (September 1940). RAF Bomber Command after the Fall of France became the major force by which the ritish could being the war home to Germany. The British Army was the first Allied force to master Blitzkrieg and defeated the Afrika Korps at El Alemain (October 1942). An under appreciated appreciated factor in assessing the British military contribution to the War was the degree to which the United States Arny brnefitted from the association with their British conterparts. After the fall of France, Britain no longer had the capability of winning the war on its own, only with America was this possible. In addituon to the three principal services was the Home Guard.

German Invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939)

The NAZIs launched their invasion of Poland (September 1). Britain and France demanded that the Germans withdeaw and when they refused, declared war (September 3). The Germans more than any other military, correctly assessed the lessons of World War II. The War in Europe began in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. The Panzers crossed the Polish frontier on September 1 along with a devestating strike by the Luftwaffe. The Polish Army and Air Force was shattered. Over 1 million German soldiers surged into Poland. Hitler emerged from the Reich Chancellery in a new grey uniform with his World War I Iron Cross. In a speech at the Reichstag before cheering NAZIs he declared, "I myself am today, and will be from now on, nothing but the soldier of the German Reich." Whithin 6 days Cracow, the center of Polish nationhood, fell. Pincer movements began on September 9 to encirle the major remaining Polish forces. Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk on September 18. Warsaw fell a few days later after a ruthless bombing assault. The Blitzkrieg tactics that were to prove so devestaing in the West during 1940 were all on display in 1939. Neither the British or French showed much attention, abscribing Polish defeat to military incompetance. The French had promissed the Poles an offensive in the West. It never came. [Fest, pp. 602-603.]

Declaration of War (September 3, 1939)

Britain did not declare war when the Panzers crossed the Polish border (September 1). Prime-Minister Chamnberlain was still hopeful that Hitler could be oersuaded to pull back which tells you how poorly he had judged the Führer's character. Camberlain was still hopeful rthst contacts with Hermann Göring through Swedish businsman, Johan Birger Essen Dahlerus, would convince Hitler to cancel the invasion. It should be sressed that neither Hitler or Chamberlsin wanted war with each other. In fact they both wanted an mutal alliance against the Soviet Union. Hitler's violation of the Munich Accords (September 1938) meant British leaders would not consider negotiating with him short of military defeat as did the French. And there was the proiblem of Poland and Czechoslovakia sepoarating Germany and the Soviet Union. This meant thsat he would have to reveal his character before getting to the Soviets. But just as Chamberlain misjudged Hitler, Hitler misjudged the British. He was convinced thst the British and French would not declare war. He had assured his military commanders that they would not declare war, calling British and French leaders 'worms'. Of course, the British did declare war, honoring the recently signed Anglo-Polish military alliance. Chgamberlain announced the declaration of war 24 hours after issuing an ultimatum to Germany demanding the withdrawl of German forces from Poland. The British declaration of war came at 11.15 (September 3). The French followed suit a few hours later. The Prime-Minister spoke to the nation in a brief dislatory radio announcement--a feeble statement to join the greatest most consequwntal war in history. His central policy of appeasement had failed and in fact brought on the very war he had hoped to prevent. He was a defeated man and sounded like it. There was no clariuon call to defend freedom and Western civilization as Churchill would latrer declare. British diominions colonies, as well as the Indian Raj found themselves at war alongside Britain, although this was not as automatic as it had been in 1914.

Evacuations (September 1939)

The British Government even before war was declared on Germany in September 1939 sought to safeguard the civilain population, especially children, from aerial bombardment. The Government on August 31, 1939 ordered the evacuations to begin. Within a few weeks, 3 million Britains, mostly children had been evacuated from the cities. It was the most extensive movement of people in British history. Caos insued as the children were tagged liked parcels and shipped out of the cities. The abrupt separtaion of many very young children from their parents was a traumatic experience. The British concern was especially deep because of the Luftwaffe atracks on civilian populations. Even before the Blitz, the British watched in horror as the Luftwaffe in September launched terror attacks on Warsaw and other Polish citids. The vast majority of the children evacuated were sent to the English countryside, usually to live with individual families who volunteered to care for them. This would be just the first evacuation. When air assautls on Britain did not matrialize, the children began coming home. This meant that with the fall of France (June 1940), many children were back in Londin and other cities with the Battkle of Britain begabn in preparation for an invasion.

War Declared (September 3, 1939)

As Britian and France had treaty agreements with Poland, they were obliged to declare war. Prime Minister Chamberlin a year earlier had returned from Munich with an agreement signed by Hitler which he waved to the press claiming that it guaranteed "Peace in our times". Now deeply dismayed he had to address the British people by radio. It was the most monentous announcement up to that time that had ever been made on radio. A deeply shaken Chamberlin told th British, "... the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the ... No such undertaking have been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany. ... it is evil things we shall be fighting against." Later in the day King George addressed his people, "For the second time in the lives of most of us--we are at war. ...." It was kust what Chamberlain had labored to avoid since becoming primeminister. Despite his policy of appeasement, Britain now was at war. The horros of war, however, still dominated Chamberlain's mind and the British war effort would reflect it. He did recall his sharpest critic, the old war horse of British politics, Winston Churchill to the Admiralty. A signal went out to the fleet, 'Winnie's back'.

Phoney War (September 1939-May 1940)

The successful NAZI conquest of Poland was followed by inactivity in the West. Hitler was ready to move west and scheduled several Western Offensives, but the General Staff managed to disuade him for a variety of reasons, primarily the insuitability of the weather. The press styled the inactivity "The Phony War"--a term originally coined by isolationist Senator Borah in America. The French Army refused to sally beyond the saftey of the Maginot Line. In actuality, it was a deadly race with Britain and France attempting to rearm so that they could meat the inevitable German Western Offensive. The Germans had to knock out the Allies before they could rearm with the support of American industry. To the surprise of many, Hitler after Poland did not unleash the Lufwaffe on the Allies--not yet. [Freidel, pp. 328-329.] The initial panic by civilians subsided. British children that had been evacuated began coming home, especially as Christmas approached.


Ireland is the closest bit to America of what was once called the British Isles. In fact Ireland stands between almost all of England and the Atlantic Ocean. Ulster is the northern partb of Irekand, odten called Northern Ireland. Often forgotten in modern discussions of World War II. It has a small population and the war to to the east and south understandably receives most of the coverage. But Ulster played an important part in the British war effort. During World War I the Royal Navy operated from Ireland which at the time was more than a nominal part of the United Kingdom. Look at the map England has no real Atlantic ports other than the Channel ports--ports that cold not be used during much of the War because of the Luftwaffe. With the advent of World War II, Ireland, then the Irishb Free State/Eire, jealously pursued neutrality, maintaining diplomatic relations with NAZI Germany until the very end. This meaat that the Royal Navy was denied access to what wase called the Treaty Ports, meaning the Irish Atlantic ports the Royal Navy used in World War I. This was even more serious in World War II because of the far greater importabnce of air power. Air bases in Ireland would have been very useful in tyhe Battle of the Atlantic. Lack of access seriously affected the Royal Navy's and RAF's ability to project naval and air power out into the North Atlantic which was critical in protecting the all imprtant Western Apoproaches for the Atlantic convoys. It was here that the convoys from Canada and America reached Britain (Glasgow and Liverpool). Ullser was the only bit of Ireland left in British hands to which the Royal Navy and RAF had access to. It proved vital in projecting both air and sea power. Air fields in Ulster constituted the most westerly territory in the United Kingdom. Thus air patrols and convoy escorts could be launched into the Western Approches area. Several air fields were constructed in Ulster. The Donegal Air Corridor from Lough Erne was part of the effort to close the the Atlntic air gap. A lot of the first American tropps to reach Britain landed in Ulster. Ulster was an imprtant staging area for Allied troops, especially the Americans.

Home Guard

The Home Guard (HG) was a voluntary World War II auxillery of the British Army. The original name was the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). After months of inaction, the Germans launched their massive Western Offensive (May 10, 1940). On the same day Winston Churchill became primeminister and reorganized the cabinet. Churchill's new Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, in a radio speech to the nation asked for volunteers (May 14). 'We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance [that an invasion would be repelled] doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the Local Defence Volunteers. This name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniforms and will be armed. In order to volunteer, what you have to do is give your name at your local police station, and then, when we want you, we will let you know ...' Within 2 weeks the British Expeditionary Force was defeated and barely escaped destruction at Dunkirk. While most in a small miracle made in back across the Channel, they were forced to leave their vehicles and weapons behind. The core of the British Army which would fight the Germans, however was saved. And it looked like the Home Guard and largely disarmed British Army would face an invasion by a well-armed German force. The only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. The response to Eden's request was immediate and overwealming. The Government expected about 150,000 men to volunteer. Within 24 hours of Eden's radio the broadcast, 250,000 men had put in their names. By the end of the month, there were 300,000-400,000 volnteers. HG units with a mottly collection of small arms were soon drilling all over the country. And by the next month there were 1.5 million volunteers. Churchill as the Battle of Brutain was shaping up decided that LDV was a rather uninspiring term and ordered the name changed to the Home Guard (July 1940). After the regular Army was rearmed, the HG began to receive modern weapons as well. The HG rolls peaked at 1.8 million (March 1943). The rolls, however, never fell below 1 million men.

Norway (April 1940)

The one Allied offensive in the first year of the War was planned to secure Norway. The Germans responded with an offensive north invading Denmark and Norway (April 9, 1940). It was a rapidly organized invasion to counter a planned British attempt to move into Norway to cut off iron shipments. The German Krriegsmarine suffered severe losses, especilly of destroyers. The British fough on in northern Norway for 3 weeks, but the superiority of the Luftwaffe finally forced them to withdraw. The loss of Norway not only provided access to raw material, but meant that the U-boats could not br bottled up as they were in World war I. It also mean later in the War that supplying Russia would be very difficult.

Churchill Becomes Prime Minister (May 10, 1940)

Just as the NAZI blow in the West came, Prime Minister Chamerlain resigned. His position in Parliament had become untenable. "Go! In the name of God go!" shouted one MP. It was expected that Foreign Minister Lord Halifax would replace him. But Halifax declined. It is not know why he declined nor has he ever explained. Perhaps he realized he was not up to the job. Instead the Commons turned to Churchill. Later Churchill wrote, "At last I had the authority to give direction over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past lifehad been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial." Never has a British prome minister taken office in such a crisis. The news was bad and would get worse. On the same day Churchill became prime minister, the Germans launched their long-awaited Western Offensive. Ambassador Bullit in Paris and Ambassador Kennedy in London cabled Washington with reports that got worse day by day. Neither had confidence in Churchill or the British. As the weight of the NAZI offensive fell upon France, Churchill atempted as best he could to keep the French in the War.

German Western Offensive (May 1940)

Winston Churchill was appointed primeminister, the same day that the Germans launced their western offensive (May 10). Churchill was not the leading contender for primeminister. The Foreign Secretarry Lord Halifax could have had the office, but declined. The British drove north to save the Dutch, but they capitulated before the British arrived. Then the Germab struck in the Ardennes and before the French responded decisevely had crossed the Meuse and seized Sedan. Than they drove to the Channel using Blitzkrieg tactics that neither the British or or French were prepared to respond. Within days they had reached the Channel, cutting off the BEF and and the First French Army.

Dunkirk (May 1940)

The War Cabinent made its decession while the evacuation of Dunkirk was underway and the outcomne not yet clear. As the Panzers cut accross France, the British decided to evacuate the BEF. About 400,000 British an French soldiers began to fall back on Dunkirk. At this time the BEF was still within Hitler's grasp. It was not just the number of men that were at stake. The BEF was the professional core--the heart of the British Army. The men of the BEF would be the officers and NCOs of the British army that would eventually play an important role in defeating the Germans. The loss of the BEF would hsve crippled the Bitish war effort if not forced the British to seek terms. Churchill warned the Commons that it "should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings". The Panzers were only a few miles south of Dunkirk and facing no serious opposition. Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt. Some believe that he hoped this gesture would help convince the British to comes to terms, other believe that is was just as it was described at the time, aneeded pause to regroup and prepare for a more coordinated assault. [Davidson, p. 408 and Fest, p. 630.] What ever the reason, this 48-hour respite allowed the British to organize a defensive perimter around Dunkirk and begin an almost miraculous withdawl. Although King Leopold III surended the Belgian Army, the French First Army delayed the Germans. The BEF fell back toward Dunkirk, abandoing their equipment along the roads. Nearly 340,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, including French and Dutch sholdiers. This is even more important that it sounds as akmost all if the British sholdiers were regulars and would form the corps of the future British Army that would play such an important role in the War. All of the BEF's equipment, however, was lost and there was no replacemments for the lost equipment waiting for them back in England.

Britain's Decession (June 1940)

Britain faced what many felt was certain defeat. At this time Britain could have made a deal with Hitler. Lord Halifax thought Britain had little choice. Halifax was Britain's Foreign Secretary and had supported Chamberlain's policy of apeasement to avoid warwith Germany. One of the unansweed questions about the War is why Halifax did not replace Chaberlain as prime minister. He was next in line and could have been primeminister rather than Churchill, yet he declined. No one knows why. Some believe he thought he was not up to the task. It may well be that as the German Western offensive fell (May 10) that he did not want to be the prime minister presiding over a defeated Britain. Hitler admired the British. Hewould have offered an arrangement more attractive than that offered France. Britain could have kept its fleet and much of the Empire. Hitler in the end did not wantwar ith Britain. He wanted to secure his western front so he could fovcus on the Soviet Union in the east. Churchill refused, however, to treat with Hitler and the NAZIs. He was determined to resist as dire as the circumstances. Halifax and others in the war Cabinent believed that Britain should deal with Hitler. Churchill was narroiwly able to bring the War Cabinent with him. There would be no British Vichy. There was some support in Britain for reaching an understanding with Hitler. Some of the moneyed class saw Hitler and the NAZIs as a way of controlling the working class and confronting Bolshevism. In the end Britain would be saved, not by the gentry, but the minors, workers, and common people often living in squalid city slums. [Jesson] That commitment was to be shown by London's East End when the Blitz commenced. Churchill after the RAF had defeated the Luftwaffe and defeat was no longer eminent, replaced Halifax with a close ally, Anthony Eden. Halifax was disposed of by being made ambassador to the United States, a deft political move.

The Channel Islands

The British Channel islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark lie only 15 miles off the French coast. Thus after the fall of France they were indefensable for the hard-pressed British, bracing for a German invasion of Englnd itself. Primeminister Churchill announced that Jersey was to be demilitarised and declared an undefended zone (June 19). Available shipping was limited. The British were not able to evacuate the entire civilian population. They evacuted all military personnel along with women and children desiring to be evacuated. Only men choosing to join the military were evacuated. The remaining population would have to endure German occupation. The Germans arrived (July 1940). The Islands thus became the only British territory to be occupied by the Germans during the War. The Germans stationed axsubstantial garrison on the Island, over 10,000 men. The Islands were of no real strategic importance. Hitler considered them useful as a propaganda statement. As the balance of power began to shift he became concerned that the British might seize the Islands. He thus ordered a massive construction campaign to build defensive fotifications. It was a massive effort, so large that it delayed the much more important project of building the Atlantic Wall. After the Normandy invasion (June 1944), the Islands and their German garrison was cut off. The Germans and the population neaely starved. They were finally liberated by the British after the German surrender (May 1945).

Coastal Defenses

For centuries, Britain's defense was primarily the Royal Navy. In World War II, this was no longer the case in 1940. The Royal Navy had to withdraw major fleet elements from the Channel because of the vulnerability to air attack. The plan was to to bring them back once the invasion began. So the first phase of the invasion battle would be in the hands of the RAF which is what the Battle of Britain was all about. The RAF had the Chain Home radar system, but in 1940 this was only for air attack, not a a ship born invasion. After the Dunkirk evacuation, Prime-Minister Churchill delivered his memorable "We shall fight on the beaches" speech to Parliament (June 4, 1940). This was, however, something Britain was not at the time prepared to do. In World War I, Britain's defenses were the Trench line in northern France. And this was expected to be the same in again. Only with the stunning German victory and looming fall of France, the British coast was largely undefended. And this had been made worse because, although the Brutish Army had been saved by the Dunkirk evacuation, all of its heavy weapons, especially artillery had been left behind in France and it would take months to reequip the Army. So very quickly Britain had to build its coastal defenses, what the Brits called the Coastal Crust. And it short order, southern England was turned into a prepared battlefield. The British coastal defenses at time of the fall of France consisted largely of antiquated forts built during the Napoleonic and Victorian era when France was seen as the major threat. These were antiquated, but not unimportant because to succeed the Germans needed to seize a port. (The same problem the D-Day planners faced.) So the major ports had some defenses, including a small number of heavy guns. There guns were World War I vintage heavy guns, which were upgraded with modern optical and eventually radar ranging systems. To sustain and equip a substantial invasion seizing a port was critical. The old forts like Dover Castle also provided secure locations for command and control centers. Nothing was in place, however, to defend most of the beaches. The War Office with France tottering set up the Directorate of Fortifications and Works (FW3) to begin hardening coastal defenses. Major-General G.B.O. Taylor was put in charge. The British began building large numbers of concrete and brick pillboxes all along the Channel and southeastern coast. Some still stand. They were built by local soldiers and labor. There were six basic designs. These were primarily for machine guns, but some were for field guns as well. Ditches and treches were dug, including anti-tank ditches. Beaches were closed off for holiday makers. The Army mined and laid barbed wire. Extensible off shore mine field were laid. The Home Guard would be an important part of the defense if as expected the Germans came in 1940. Deception and disinformation was also important. This involved camouflaging real weapons and fortifications. And efforts were made to create the impression of the existence of defenses that were not real. Unlike during the run up to D-Day, the Luftwaffe was engaging in extensive photo reconnaissance. Drain pipes were made to kook like real guns. Dummy pillboxes were constructed. [Wills, p. 163.] Not much of this existed in May 1940, but by September when the German Operation Sea Lion landing were planned, the British had begun to harden their coastal defenses and the Army had begun receiving heavy weapons. And this was a hard break, because after September the weather in the Channel begins to deteriorate.

Britain Alone (1940-41)

From a distance of several decades we tend to see a supremely confident Churchill. We are moved by his defiant speeches. And of course we have the advantage of knowing that Britain did survive and triumph. This is not, however, a luxury Churchill had immediately after Dunkirk. It was not at all clear at the time that Britain would survive. Churchill flew to Paris to try to bolster the reeling French. He saw it was a lost cause. France was broken and the Panzers were moving south toward Paris. Churchill meeting with General Hastings Ismay on his staff announced, more in desperation than defiance, "We fight alone." Ismay replied, "We'll win the Battle of Britain." Churchill's response was, "You and I will be dead in three months time." [Reynolds] This was not view Churchill ever allowed to be seen pubically and it reflected the desperation of the moment more than his real conviction . That was understandable immediately after the fall ofFrance. Churchill did not want it revealed even after the War. He thought it would affect his image. It well might. It shows how desperate Britain's plight was. It also humanizes the man and I think makes his defiance to Hitler even more admirable. After the Germans entered Paris, the French sined an Armistice. Britain was alone. The future was bleak. In World War I the British with French and Russian assistance barely stopped the Germans until America entered the War. Now Britain had to do it on her own. Many in Europe and America thought Britain lost. Churchil writes, "After the first forty days we were alone, with victorious Germany and Italy engaged in na mortal attack upom us, with Soviet Russia a hostile neutral actively aiding Hitler, and Japan an unjknowable menace." [Churchill, p. 230.]

The United Kingdom and the Empire

Britain includes England, Wales, and Scotland. The United Kingdom includes other assiciated territoties, including Northern Ireland and several smaller territories like Manx anf the Chnnel Islands. The great bulk of the population of industrial might of the United Kingdom was in England. But put together they added to the U.K.'s potential wage war. In addition there were also natural resources and even more imortabtly strategic benefits as a result of geography that aided the war effort. Thee territories to the north and west of England were beyond the reach of the initial Luftwaffe assult, because the short range German fighters could not escort the bombers. An early unescorted asault on Scotland by Luftflotte 5 was cut to shreads by RAF fighters (August 1940). It was the first and last unescorted daylight raid attempted. When the Germans shited to nighttime raids, but this meant that the bombers could not hit targets of military importance, only cities. Scotland' northerly location provide important air and naval bases that the Luftwaffe could not hit in night raids. While the term "Britain Alone" is commonly used as we have used it. Britain in a very real sence, however, was not quite alone. Even as the NAZIs reached the Channel, the First Canadian Division was braced as the only fully equipped divion in England. In addition to a very sympatheic American president, the Dominions stood by Britain. While each alone were not a major force, the combined strngth of the Dominions was very substantial. In fact is that it likely that without the Dominions, the Axis would have seized the Middle East and gained access to the vital oil resources of Iran and Iraq in 1941. Each of the Dominions as well as India played key roles in the War. Other colonial outposts played various roles in the War. The autonomous British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa all declared war in September 1939 on Britain's side and stood by her throughout the War. After the fall of France, Britain was alone with the Empire. The British effort was a collective Empire effort.

Hitler Address (July 19, 1940)

Hitler after the Fall of France had achieved his objectives in the West. Now he wanted peace with Britain so he could focus on the East. He knew that Britain could never be a truly independent country when confronted with a NAZI-dominated Europe. He thus took on the mantel of a peace maker and made a major address, again to the Reichstag with the huge NAZI eagle as a backdrop. He offered peace to Britain and the retention of the Empire. Britain would have to recognize German control of the occupied countries. Hitler issued an "appeal to common sence". He also threatened Britain with annilation if they did not comply--hardly te words of a eace maker. [Black, p. 575.] This was no iddle threat as the Luftwaffe had already begun the initial phase of its air campaign with Britain. Churchill reportedly listened to the speech. There were those in Britain who wanted to make peace. Churchill was a persuasive speaker, but he did not control public opinion. The British public, however, were not persuaded. They vividly remembered Prime Minister Churchill returning from Munich and waving the pledge from Hitler of "peace in our time". Hitler had crossed a line, there would be no more easy victories. The British were prepared to fight and they were more prepared than the NAZIs and the Luftwaffe understood.

Battle of Britain (July-September 1940)

The German initiated their long awaited western campaign in May 1940. Paris fell June 14 and France capitulated June 22. The Luftwaffe quickly established bases in France and by July 10 launched preliminary strikes in what has come to be called the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe while better trained and outnumbering the RAF was ill prepared for the campaign. They did not appreciate the critical importance of the British home chain radar network. They also had no straegic bomber fleet. The air offensive was to be conducted with two engine bombers that proved highly effective in short range tactical operations, but were not well suited for kinger-range strategic bombing. The Battle of Brirain began in ernest on August 13 with Luftwaffe raids on British airfields and aircraft factories. Hitler had assumed that the Luftwaffe could force the British to capitualte. This isresumably why he stopped the panzers before Dunkirk. Unlike his strategy against the Poles, Dutch, and Belgians, there were no German terror bombing of London and other British cities. The Luftwaffe im its August campaign seriously weakened the RAF and Fighter Command was having increasing difficulty maintaining its forward air bases in Kent. Then off-course German bombers accidentally bomb London on August 23-24. RAF Bomber Command on August 25-26 mounted a small reprisal raid against Berlin. Hitler is furious and orders an immediate change in Luftwaffe tactics. Rather than completing its offensive against the RAF infrastructure, Hitler ordered a "blitz" on British cities which began in earnest on September 7. The Luftwaffe wreaked havoc on civilians in London and major English cities. An estimated 42,000 civilians were killed. Thousands of civilians were killed. Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from London ("London calling ...") described Britain's valiant resistance to rapt American radio audiences, greatly affecting American attitides toward the Hitler and the NAZIs. White British cities burned, the RAF was given a respite, allowing its forward air bases to recover from the damage done in August. As a result the RAF was able to mount increasingly costly attacks on the German bomber fleets. The Lutwaffe eventually is forced to shift to nightime raids. Night bombing made it impossible to hit actually military and industrail targets, only cities could be targetted. The Luftwaffe eventually ended the major offensive against the British as the German military in 1941 began preparing for Opperation Barbarosa, Hitler's long awaited dream of invading the Soviet Union which at the time was a virtual German ally.

British Finances

Britain at the turn-of-the 20th century was the richest power in Europe with a vast Empire that helped feed the national treasury. Londom was the center of world finance. Loans from America helped bank role the British war effort. British finances had been weakened by the vast cost of World War I. The Great Depression further weakended the country's finncial position. While Germany lost World War I, it did not pay a substantial part of the reparations. Most of the German payments were money borrowed from America. And the Germans could finance the War by looting the occupied countries. Britain could not do this. And the costs of the War were rapidly deplelting the British treasury. Britain to continue the War needed to import food and raw material in addition to armaments made in America. American Neutrality Laws placed this on a "cash and carry" basis. Britain after the fall of France (June 1940) found itself the only country still ar war with Germany. The Battle of Britain (July-Septmber 1940) had prevented invasion, but Britain now had to fight the Germanswho had much of the resources of Western and Central Europe at his disposal and as aesult easily able to finance the War. At the samr time, Britain's financial capability to finance the War was rapidly declining, both reserves and the ability to borrow money. Britain facing bankruptsy turned to the United States. Prime Minister Churchill wrote to President Roosevelt (December 1940). President Roosevelt's answer was Lend Lease (March 1941). This in esence was the American commitment to bank role the British war effort. It was basically a declaration of economic war against NAZI Germany

British War Production

Western histories of World War II often focus on the prodigious output of the United States when assessing Allied war production. The British contribution to Allied war production, however, was very sizeable and played a key role in the Allied victory. It thus needs to be considered in some detail. Germany at the onset of World war II had the largest economy in Europe outside the Siviet Union. It was much larger than France and larger than Britain, although the British and French combined out produced Germany. Despite this inbalance, the British launched a total mobilization of the economy and was out profucing the Germans (1940-41). A major aspect of British mobilization was to use women so as to free men for military service. The Brtish assigned a major priority to aircraft. This played a role in the Battle of Britain and eventually built Bomber Command into a fearsome force to conduct a stategic Nombing campaign against the Reich. A major aspect of British war production was access to the resources of the Empire and the United states. In addition to raw materials, this afforded thev British a degree od specializatuin. The Canadians built large numbers of escort vdessels. And the American Libertt Ship program provide merchant shipping in large numbers. This cinsideravly feeed up British shipyards for other ship types. Another important element in the British war effort was the British scientific community which because of close Anglo-American cooperation also greatly assisted American war production.

British Scientific Establishment

British science was one of its greatest assetts during World War II/ Britain had one of the world's most advanced scientific and industrial establishment at the time of World War II. German scientists are generally credited with creating the nost advanced weapons of the War, especially jet and rocket weapons. British scientists made major contributions to the War ad unlike the well known German wepons probably had a greater impact on the War. A fctor here was that the Germans were primarily interested in weaoons of an offensive nature. And Germany had two disadvantages. First Hitlr interfered ans made some dreadful decisions. And Germany had a limited industrial capacity to actually manufacture the weapons created by its scientists. The Brirish scientists had one great asset the Germans did not have--the United States. Early in the War, Primemiidter Churchill decided to collborate fully with with the United States and share Britains secret weapon programs. This meant that not only could British and Anerican scientists collaborate, but that the British had access to American industry which had the capacity io actually manufacture the weapons developed--and manufacture them in vast quantuties Some of the weapons developed by British scientists included radar, the hedge hogs, the promimity fuse, and many other important devices. Interestingly, much of the advances achieved by Blethcly Park was the work of amaturs and not precisly scientists, but amateurs with scientific and msthematics educations from thge counrt's major universities. The British in many instances did not have the industrial capacity to actually manufacture the devices conceived by its scientists. British scientist played an important role in the Manhattan OProject. Other weapons that came out of Brirish indutry was the Royles Royce Merlin Engine that was at the heart of the P-51 Mustang.

British Towns and Cities

Britain's twuns and cities were framatically affected by the War. This klargely came about as a result of the Blitz and subsequent German air assaults. Here geography was a major factor. Germany fought the War with a tactical air force with realatively limited range, even though the Luftwaffe had bases in Framce and Norway. This maeant that southern England, especailly Channel ports were the most exposed. One of the first British cities struck by the Luftwaffe was Dover. The port was particularly exposed as heavy German artillery at Calais was in range. The primary German targets after the opening phases of the Battle of Britain were London and the industrial Midlands. London of course became a primary target. The photograph of St. Paul's riding above the flames surrounding it is one of the iconic images of the War. Cities like Manchester were heravily bombed. The heart of Coventry was obliterated. The Luftwaffe also hit Liverpool which was the primary Atlantic port. Raids on the Liverpool and northgern Britain were on the outer limit of the Luftwaffee's capability. Growiung Allied air power limited the Luftwaffee's ability to continue the air war (1942). But they resumed it with V-1 and V-2 strikes, again porimarily oin London and southern targets.

The Children's War

A HBC reader tells us, "I visited the Imperial War Museum in London during June 2005. They had a fascinating exhibition called ‘The Children’s War’. This is my recollection of the themes the exhibition dealt with. For children in Britain September 1939 was a warm sunny month. It was the end of the summer and the start of things to come. Sunday September 3 was the start of the Second World War. Most families were at home that Sunday listening to the radio. They were listening to the voice of Neville Chamberlain, the then British Prime Minister; tell the nation that Britain was at war with NAZI Germany. The War would last until 1945 but nobody knew that then. In the Second World War, British children found that they were in the front line of the war. They had to endure nightly bombing raids in which their homes were destroyed, family members and neighbours injured or killed.The first big trauma for children though was being evacuation from manufacturing towns and cities.

Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45)

The Royal Navy played a key role in the War. The emphasis in the early yeats of the War was on the Luftwaffe and the Panzers. As the War continued, the importance of the Royal Navy began to be felt. Britain was a trading nation. It had to import to survive, let alone wage war. British industry needed imported raw materials and food imports were needed for the population. Churchill after the Wr wrote that it was the camaign in the North Atlantic that gave him the greatest concern. Nefore the War Hitler had given the greatest attention to the suface fleet. With U-boat successes in the early months of the War this changed. The fall of France significantly expanded the U-boat threat as they now had Atlantic ports. Admiral Donitz introduced Wolf-Pack tactics and reasoned that if his U-boats could sink merchant vessels faster than they could be built, Britain would be forced out of the War. br>

Lend Lease (March 1941)

The NAZI Blitz on London, reprtedly nightly by radio by Edward R. Murrow had a profound impact on American public opinion. Public opinion polls by December, 1940, indicated that 60 of Americans favored helping Britain, the only country still resisting the NAZIs, even if it meant war. This and the President's overwealming reelection, strengthened his hand in Congress. The U.S. Congress's in March, 1941, passed the Lend-Lease Act proposed by the Administration. It proverd to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in history. . The Lend-Lease Act empowered the president to "lend, lease, or exchange" war materials with nations whose struggle against aggression was considered necessary to American security. It made the United States the "arsenal of democracy," not only for the United States, but for a vast coalition of allied nations forming around Britain and the United States.

The Atlantic Charter (August 1941)

The Atlantic Charter is one of the key documents of the 20th century and remains still relevant today. President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill meet aboard the Prince of Wales on August 9-13, 1941 at Placentia Bay. The Prince of Wales had been badly mauled by Bismark in May. It was to be sunk by a Japanese aerial attack in December. Roosevelt and Churchill issue the Atlantic Charter. The two were war time allies. Britain had weathered the worst that the NAZI Luftwaffe could throw at it. America and Britain were fighting the U-boats in the North Atlantic to keep Britain alive. It was clear that America would soon be drawn into the War. America had already played an important role in keeping Britain alive and the two countries were the only hope of the occupied European and in fact Western civilization itself--threatened by the evil tide of NAZI tyranny. The two leaders, the two most important men of the 20th century, agreed to a simple, but elegant eight-point statement of their aims which today still stands as the central credo of the Atlantic Alliance.

Britain's Importance

A British reader writes, I stumbled across the following one of your history page by chance via a search engine. In the first paragraph of the ntroductory page on World War II, it reads "Only America could save Britain..." This is blatantly incorrect! Whilst Britain was indeed in grave danger of invasion following the overthrow of France, the Nazis had already been absoltely thwarted in this arena, over a year before the US even entered the war. You see, there was this event called "The Battle of Britain" in 1940, in which the luftwaffe was heavily defeated by the Royal Air Force against all odds (casualties were 2 to 1 in favour of the British). Hence, Germany could never enjoy air-superiority over the British Isles, and therefore could never invade. American relief was - and is - immensley appreciated by the British people, but I must point out that they had already saved themselves from defeat. Your claim to the contrary is unfortunately a recurring theme in American-centric history." HBC would be the last to dennegarte the importance of the British in the Allied war effort. And we certainly agree that the Battle of Britain fought by the British with virtually no American assistance was critical to the war effort. Britain was, however, exhausted by the first year of the War and by the end of the 1940 bankrupt. Churchill wrote to Roosevelt explaining that Britain was bankrupt and could no longer afford to pay for war materials to continue the War. Hitler on the other hand had all of Western and Central Europe to plunder and could afford to continue the War for years. He also had the ememse industrial resources of Europe to integrate into Germany's own considerable industrial might.

The Anglo-American Alliance

Britain and America during World War II formed the most important military alliance in the history of warfare. Never before had two countries so coordinated their industruial, scientific, and military operations to defeat a common enemy. There were important differences between the two nations Many World War II hidtories stress the common ties of language and culture that bound America and Britain and to often ignore the very real differences. The Alliance in fact was created out of mutual necesity. [Soybel] Differences between the two countries were resolved or put aside to achieve the overal objective--the unconditional surrender of NAZI Germany. America had the industry and resources to do that. The British at great cost had gained the expeience and the appreciation of NAZI strengths that America in 1942 still lacked. The Alliance was forned by the personal commitment of President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill. This personal relationship helped over come the very real differences between the two countries. The relationship began with aid to Britain, especially after the fall of France. A key factor in the Alliance was Lend Lease. Joint military planning began even before America entered the War and was based on agreement that the number one priority was the defeat of NAZI Germany. The Allied leaders met in a series of war conferences to make major decessions. The achievment of the alliance are very extensive and include victory in the North Atlantic, the key victory of the Western Allies. Specific achiievements of the Alliance are notable. The P-51 Mustang which broke the Luftwaffe was a marriage of an American air frame and a British engine. The very important code-breaking operation was an Anglo-American operation. Victory in the North Atlantic was an Anglo-Amerucan indertaking with an important Canaduian contribution. The British shared their scientific advances on radar abnd the United States devrloped the technology to mass produce radar sets. The D-Day invasion was a joint undertaking of breath taking proportions. It succeeded in large measure because the British managed to delay it until 1944 and America provided the air power to drive the Luftwaffe out of France and the abundance of supplies needed to cross the Channel. The Manhattan Project creating the atomic bomb was another joint undertaking.

Home Front

The story of the British Home Front is an under reported and very important part of World War II. Britain and France did not use the 1 year gained at Munich (October 1938) to good effect. After War broke out (September 1939) this began to change, especially after the fall of France (June 1940). Britain monbilized totally for war to an extent beyond even what Speer did when he obtained control over the German economy later in the War. Even by the time of the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940), Britain was outproducing German in aircraft production. The entire economy was shifted to war production. Food which had to be imported in large quantities was rationed. And in a step not taken by the Germans even in the final last year of the war, women were mobilized. Britain used women to man the factories so the men could join the forces. Many women joined the forced themselves, including the teenage Princess Elizabeth who learned autmobile mechanics. Girls also went into the Land Army to make sure that farmers had the labor to maintain agricultural production. Hitler gambled on a short war, believing he could defeat the Allies before they were fully prepared to fight a modern war. The gamble succeed in France, but not with Britain. And by 1940 the British ecomonomy was producing modern arms in large quantitgies. Children in Britain were front row observers in the Battle of Britain which took place in the skies over them. Bits and pieces of shot down air craft and anti-aircraft artillery became prized collectables. [ After the War: This trend also happened to the next generation of children born after WW2. There were comic stories about the War in all its theatres. A boys comic called "The Victor.' featured stories of World War II--V.C holders. There were a host of films about the war that were regular featured at the cinema. There was also a programme on TV called 'All Our Yesterdays.' It used Pathe newsreel film and dealt with life in Britain over the previous 25 years. It started in the mid 1930s and was a regular weekly feature on British TV. It came to an end when the time period the programme covered reached 1945.

Western Dessert (1940-43)

Once it was clear that the French Army was defeated, Mussolini decided to join Hitler and declared war on France and Britain. Even though German armies were pouring through France, Mussolini's attack in the south was unsuccessful. Mussolini also invaded Egypt from Libya, hoping to seize the Suez Canal (September 13, 1940). Although badly outnumbered the British 8th Army not only stopped the Italians but counter attacked (December 9, 1940). The British move toward Benghazi with a series of victories. The Italians are near collapse. Hitler in order to prevent the fall of Libya orders a small armoured force to Libya to support the Italians. The force under Erwin Rommel begins to arrive March 22, 1941. Rommel and his Africa Korps stop the British and even though he has only a small force launches a counter-attack (March 30, 1941). Rommel drives the British back into Egypt. Here Rommel's inovatic tactics and the superority of the German Panzers were critical. ANZAC resistance at Tobruck helps to stop Rommel. A British counter offensive drive Rommel and the Italians back into Libya (November 18, 1941). It is at this time that Churchill honors a pledge to assist Greece weakens the 8th Army. Rommel strikes and again drives into Egypt (January 21, 1942). This time Rommel takes Tobruk (June 21, 1942). He moves toward Suez, but is stopped after a ferocious battle at El Alemain (July 2, 1942). A standoff occurs as the two armies prepare for a show down. Churchill gives Montgomery command of the 8th Army (August 13, 1942). This is the highwater of the German war effort. Rommel is only a few miles from Suez and Von Paulitz's 6th Army is investing Stalingrad. Here America's entry into the War begins to swing the ballance. American industry provided Montgomery, with supplies and equipment in massive quantities. The Germans bogged down in the Soviet Union can not devote the men are material needed by Rommel. The British defeat of the Italian Navy in the Mediterrean means that much of the supplies sent to Rommel are sunk. The British are assisted in this effort by Ultra.


Barbarossa (June 1941)

Hitler when he launched World war II was determined not to make the mistake of World War I and fight a two-front war. Frustrated by the British and seeing himself as the greatest military commander in history, Hitler decided after the Luftwaffe's failure in the Battle of Britain to fight the two-front war he had always opposed. This was the turning pointg in World War II. The British even with American assistance could have never reentered Europe against an intact Wehrmacht. Churchill who had argued for aid to Finland when the Siviets invaded (1939), now pledged aid to the Soviets in their struggle with NAZI German. This led to the costly Arctic Convoys to get armaments to the Soviets. The NAZIs had been forced to largely discontinue air attacks on Britain to persue the campaign in the Soviet Union. It also mean that with the Wehrmacht committed in the Soviet Union, Britain had the capability of holding its position in Egypt and Suzez.

Pearl Harbor (December 1941)

Hitler, incredibly within the space of just a few months, with Britain undefeated, invaded the Soviet Union and declared war on the United States. Britain after the fall of France became an unsinkable air craft carrier off NAI dominated Europe. Huge quanities of American war material and military personnel flowed into Britain. But America hesitated. President Roosevelt did what he could to support Britain, even went Britain essentially went bankrupt. Here Lend Lease made a huge difference. While the American people gradually came to see like the Bresident that Britain had to be supported, isolationist views were still strong. Many Americans were steadfast against actually entering the War. Suddenly when Japanese bombs began falling at Pearl Harbor, the national debate ended over night. The Japanese attack instantneously changed the national psyche. The United States not only entered the War, but very importantly entered the War a united nation. Thevgreat national debate was over. When Churchill learned of it, he immediately knew the significance. It achieved what he had wanted from the very beginning, an Anglo-American alliance. He also knew that Britain after fighting along against the NAZI menace was saved. Churchill later wrote, "To have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. Now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! ... Hitler's fate was sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder."

Singapore and Burma

Singapore was the keystone of Britain's military position in the Pacific. Japan took the large well supplied British garison at Singapore with surprising ease. British General Percival has been sharplycriticized. The defense of Singaport was bady planned. The Japanese offensive down the Malay Peninsula briliantly executed. The key factors were that the Japanese were able to achieve aerial and naval mastery that was never anticipated in defense plans. Pearl Harbor left the American fleet unable to respond. Two of Britain's most powerful battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse were sent without air cover and sunk by Japanese bombers. [Gilbert] Churchill was outraged and Percival's surender. It was Percival's seming willingness to so quickly surrender that enraged Churchill. The British Division 8th Division had been rushed to Singapore after it was already too late. The fall of Singapore was a military catastrophy of emense proportions. Japanese forced within 6 months moved through Burma to the border of India in the West and New Guinea in the South. Australian trrops had garisoned Singapore, after previosly sending forces to North Africa, left the country virtually undefended. Singapore's fall even had consequences after the War. The prestige of the British Empire has been irreperably damaged. The fall of Singapore and the surrender of the garrison was the greatest disaster in British military history. It opened the way for a Japanese drive into Burma toward India. It also left Australia and New Zealand exposed to Japanese naval strikes

Pacific Ocean

The Royal Navy was substantially reduced after World War I. A bankrupt Britain could no longer afford its massive pre-War fleet or another naval arms race. The Washington Naval Talks resulted in arrangements with other countries to also reduce their fleets. This included Japan which was disturbed by the results. This meant that the Royal Navy would be able to only provide limited support to Britain's Far Eastern possessions in time of War in Europe. These included Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and a range of small islands in the South Pacific. Two Dominions (Australia and New Zealand) looked to Britain for their defense. Britain decided to build a huge naval base in Singapore which in time of war was designed to hold out while Britain gathered naval forces. Unfortunately despite powerful land-based guns, Singapore was not much of a base without a fleet to protect it or substantial air defenses. And when war broke out in Europe (1939), Britain could not spare much in the way of fleet or air units for Singapore, even though it was the cornerstone of British defenses in the Pacific. The Germans dispatched a few U-boasts and surface raiders to operate in the Indian Ocean and Pacific. Interestingly, the Japanese were not overly cooperative, despite the Axis alliance. One of the raiders (Atlantis) stumbled across an intelligence bonanza when it seized the the Blue Funnel Line cargo ship Automedon northwest of Sumatra near the Straits of Malacca (November 11, 1940). Included in the material was details on Singapore, included force dispositions and defense plans all of which were of immense value when after Pearl Harbor, Japan also attacked British and Dutch possessions (December 1941). The whole point for Japan of launching the Pacific War was to seize these possessions--What the Japanese called the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). Shanghai and Hong Kong quickly fell. And the hastily organized American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) forces were obliterated by the Japanese in sea battles around Java. The Royal Navy had to concentrate on the all-important Battle off the Atlantic (1939-43). The British belatedly sent HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to help defend Singapore, but without air cover which resulted in both being summarily sunk by the Japanese aircraft. Singapore was then overwhelmed by land attacks down the Malay Peninsula. It was the greatest British surrender in history -- four divisions and some 80,000 men. That was a force larger than the Japanese invasion force. This was a shock to the Australians and New Zealanders which until the fall of Singapore had looked to Britain for their defense and Singapore had been the rock in that defensive strategy. Their defense would now have to depend on the Americans. The Royal Navy after the Solomons campaign lent the Americans a carrier--the so called USS Robin (HMS Victorious) (December 1942) until the new Essex carriers began reaching the Pacific Fleet (1943). Singapore astride the Straits of Malacca would be extensively used by the Imperial Fleet throughout the War, especially because it was located close the SRZ oil fields of the DEI and British Borneo. The Japanese were soon finding it increasingly difficult to fuel major fleet assets based in the Home Islands. The American submarines beginning to destroy the country's Maru fleet (1943). There were some British submarine operations in the Pacific. And then the American Central Pacific campaign closed in on the Marianas and Philippines which essentially severed Japanese shipping connections with SRZ (1944). The German U-boat threat was essentially defeated (mid-1943) and the Royal Navy could begin expanding its fleet presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This was especially the case after D-Day (June 1944). The British Pacific Fleet would play a valuable role in final year of the Pacific War. Singapore would, however, remain in Japanese hands until the Japanese surrender.

Indian Ocean

The fall of Singapore (February 1942) opened the Indian Ocean to the Japanese Imperial Fleet. And the Japanese quick to exploit it. Admiral Nagumo with almost all of the Kido Butai (the six Japanese fleet carriers) entered the Indian Ocean to attack Royal Navy British naval assets -- Operation C (March-April 1942). The Japanese Army had refused to provide the men needed to seize a major prize like Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Madagascar was in Vichy hands and would not required an opposed invasion. So this was a raid and not an invasion attempt. A smaller operation by Malay Force did seize the Andaman Islands, a move related to the Burma campaign. At the time the Indian Ocean was of great strategic importance as control of the western Indian Ocean was needed to supply British forces in the Western Desert and to supply British forces in India. The Japanese raid was essentially a repeat of the Pearl Harbor tactics, catch the Royal Navy in port at Colombo and Trincomalee and destroy it. This did not occur because of Ultra forewarning, but the Japanese did some damage, sinking a carrier, three cruisers and destroying about 40 aircraft. This was, however, a huge strategic mistake. The only Allied military asset of any real importance was the American Pacific Fleet carriers based in Pearl Harbor. At the time of Pearl Harbor, American carrier operations were far behind those of the Japanese, but Admiral Halsey's raids on the Marshall and Gillbert Island and other operations were greatly improving those operations. The American carriers should have been the Imperial Navy's main target and was a serious miscalculation on Yamamoto's part. The Japanese force exited the Indian Ocean (April 10). A week later the Doolittle Raid (April 18) refocused Japanese attention on the American carriers, but thanks to 6 months of heavy action, the American carriers were a far more effective force than the Japanese would have encountered earlier. And unlike the Royal Navy Indian Ocean force, a force capable of inflicting real damage on Kido Butai. The Raid also should have warned Nagumo of Kido Butai's vulnerability without radar to incoming air attacks, both detecting them and in directing the CAP. There was some concern about the Japanese setting up a submarine base in Madagascar to cut the supply lines to the Eighth Army. The British invaded Madagascar ending that possibility (May 1942). The American Naval victory at Midway was gained by exploiting these Japanese weaknesses all to apparent during the Indian Ocean Raid (June 1942). The destruction of much of Kido Butai ended the ability of the Imperial Fleet to project significant naval power into the Indian Ocean and secured the the supply lines to the British Eighth Army in the Western Desert and to the British forces in India.

Strategic Bombing Campaign

Arguably the most contoversial aspect of World War II was the Allied strategic bombing campaign. There are two elements of the campaign that remain controversial. First is the effectiveness of the campaign. Second is the morality of the campaign. With the NAZIs in command of the Continent, the only way that Britain could stike at Germany was by air. Germamn air defenses meant that the RAF could only bomb at night and restricted British strategy to area bombing. This significantly inhibited the effectiveness of British operations. The entry of America into the War meant that the air offensive could be significantly expanded. Both Curchill and Roosevelt were committed to strategic bombing. The hope was that strategic bombing would force the NAIs to capitulate. The Allies at Casablanca demanded unconditional suurendetr (January 1943). The American buildup of air forces in Bitain continued throughout 1942 and by the beginning of 1943, the 8th Air Force was ready to join the British in an around the clock bombing campaign against Germany. American and British planners agreed on four priority targets: 1) U-boat building facilities, 2) aircraft production plants, 3) ballbearing plants, and 4) oil refineries. Although not at the time, the Allied strategic boming campaign has become the most controversial aspect of World War II.

D-Day (June 1944)

The invasion of Normandy, code named D-Day, was the single most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevely since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was n the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6 was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck withbthe largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this size

The V Weapons

German researchers led by the brilliant Wener Von braun who was later to play an important role in the American space program developed the revolutionary new weapn, the V-2 balistic missle in great secrecy at Penemunde along the Baltic coast. Reports from aerial recognisance and the Polish underground alerted the Allies to this new weapon. A British air rade delayed, but did not stop development of the weapon. The V-2 along with the V-1 and jet aircraft were the most innovative German weapns development. The German ME-262 could have had a major impact on the War if Hitler had not meddled in the program. The balistic missle was later to become a key military weapon. In World War II, the limited war head and imprecission in targeting meant that it no matter how innovative was not a weapon of great military significance. It was, however, a terrifying weapn that could be use to kill civilians. The Allies, after the break-out from Normandy (July) rapidly seized the German coastal facilities from which the V-1 buzz bombs were launched. The Allies liberated Belgium with its key port of Antwerp (September). This left the Netherlands as the only place that even V-2 rockets could be launched on London. The German began their V-2 offensive by firing two missiles at Paris (September 6). Hitler was, however, still fixated on London. The first launches targeting London followed 2 days later (September 8).

Market Garden (September 17-26, 1944)

Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big push into Germany which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Markt Garden (September 17-26). While more attention is given to airborn opertions on D-Day, Market Garden was the largest airborn operation of World War II. Over 30.000 allied paratroopers were employed in the operation. Eisenhower was a proponent of a broad-front offensive against Germany. His field commnanders, especially Montgomery and Patton, wanted to focus the offensive on specific sectors (their own) to pierce the enemy defenses. Available supply lines in September 1944 were inadequate for a general broad-front offensive against the Germans. If there was to be an offensive in Septmber against the Germans, Eisenhower had to chose a specific sector. He chose Montgomery in the Netherlands. Eisenhower has never fully explained this decission. Seceral factors were certasinly involved. The route through the Netherlands was the most direct and shortest into the industrial heart of Germany. The Germans were launching V-1 rockets from the Netherlands which were causing civilian casualties in London and other British cities. Montgomery's plan offered a key objective, the seizure of the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem. In addition, the liberation of Belgium had brought with it the port of Antwerp which meant that if Montgomery was successful, supplies to exploit the crossing of the Rhine could be brought in through Antwerp, instead of the long truck routres through France. The effort achieved some success, but failed at Arnhem. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached.

The Bulge (December 1944)

The Wehrmacht launched a carefully planned attack against weak Anerican units in the Ardennes (December 16, 1944). The offensive was commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. The NAZI panzers stormed westward along a 60-mile front stretching from Saint Vith in Belgium south to Echternach in Luxembourg. The German goal was to break through the American lines, sweep through the Ardennes, and seize Antwerp. The port of Antwerp was essential to the Allied offensive. The major limiting factor to the Allie was supplies and the Allies were beginning to repair the Antwerp port facilities. With Antwerp the British and Canadians in northern Belgium could be cut off and encircled. The Allied thought the Wehrmacht was esentially defeated and incapable of mounting a major offensive. The Germans were also careful to avoid sending messages bout the offensive electronically. Thus Ultra did not have a clear picture, although Allied commanders were given some warnings. The Germans forced the U.S. 28th Division to retreat from Wiltz (December 19). Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to defend the vital crossroads town of Bastonge in Belgium. The German panzers pushed west. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American panzers, but they were slower and the Tigers could not cross many Belgian bridges, limited possible crosings. They also guzzled huge quantities of fuel and fuel ws the principal limiting facor to the Germand offensive. he German plans were contingent on capturing American fuel depots. When the German offensive began, George S. Patton's 3rd Army to the south was about to launch an invasion into the German Saar. In a brilliant movement, within 2 days, he turned the offensive on a 90° axis and struck northward into the German flank to relieve the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. The 3rd Army liberated Ettlebruck on Christmas Eve and broke through the German lines to relieve Bastogne (December 26). The U.S. 5th Armored Division conducted a surprise night crossing of the River Sure and liberated Diekirch (January 18, 1945). The Germans were pushed back to the positions they held at the start of the battle (January 28).

Crossing the Rhine: Invasion of Germany (March 1945)

Hitler with massive allied armies poised on the German eastern and western frontiers authorized Himler to form the Volkssturm (November 1944). Boys and old men were inducted to shore up Germany's crumbling defenses. The Soviets in the east gathered their forces for an all out attack on Berlin. The Western Allies had reducded the Bulge and solved their supply contraints (February 1945). Hitler prepared for the Allied on-slaught by issuing the "Nero Order" (March 19). For Germans that were still under the illusion that Hitler had any real interest in the the welfare of the German people, these actions make clear his total lack of concern. Hitler issued a series of orders designed to destroy the infrasture of Germany, creating a virtual wasteland. The Americans and British began to cross the Rhine, a forbidable challenge, but made easier by the capture of the Remagen Bridge in tact (March 7). The Allies rushed accross the Rhine and a few weeks later at many other sites with landing craft and pontoon bridges. This was followed by Operation Varsity a massive paratroop drop on the German side of the Rhine (March 24). Within weeks the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland was surround and huge numbers of Germans soldiers surrendered in the Ruhr pocket. Tghe Rhine was the last significant geographic barrier. Allied forces then began a race accross Germany toward the Russians pressing west. The horrendous crimes of the NAZI party were revealed to an incredulous world.

Axis Surrenders (1943-45)

The Italians were the first to surrender, but not Mussolini and the Fascists (September 1943). The Allies entered Rome (June 4, 1944). Mussolini was installed by Hitler in a rump Fascist repulic in the north. The failure of Markert Garden (October 1944) and the Bulge Offensive meant that the NAZIs woukd survive into 1945. The Allies crossed the Rhine (March 1945) and drove into the heart of the Reich. The Allies were horified as they entered the various NAZI concentration camps. The Soviets closed in on Berlin (April 1945). Finally with the Germans pulling out of northern Italy. the Resistance arrested Mussolinin and shot him (April 28, 1945). Hitler saw wire service photographs of Mussolini and his mistress hanging up side down with his mistress. He was determined that he would not suffer a similar fate. He and Eva Braun married committed suiside (April 30). He appointed Admiral Karl Dönitz as the second NAZI Reich Chancellor. Dönitz hoped that the Allies would treat with his Government. His only option was to surrender. There were two surrender ceremonies, one to the Western Allies and another to the Soviets. Thus Victory in Europe (VE) Day is celebrated on different days in the West and Russia (May 8-9). This meant that Japan was fighting alone against the vast Allied armed forces. At Potsdam President Truman issued a declaration demanding Japan surrender. The Japanese ignored it, hoping that the Soviets would help them obtain better terms. After the bloodletting at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and a devestating American stratehic bombing campaign, Japan still refused to surender. The Emperor finally decided to surrender after the Americans dropped atomic bombs (Hirodhima and Nagasaki) and the Soviets declared War and invased Manchuria. The Emperor announced his decesion (August 14)--Victory over Japan (VE Day). Britain began the War as one of the Great Powers and the preminent naval power. At the end of the war, it was bankrupt and a junior partner of one of the two world super powers--the United States and the Soviet Union.

Aftermath and Recovery

World War I significantly damaged the British economy and financial system. Eveb so, in the inter-War era, British living standards were highterv than on the Continent, including all the Western European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy). British living standard was lower than America, but higher than the Continent. After the War, Britain was slower to recover from the War. War time rationing contunied into the early 1950s. The last rationing ended about the time of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation (1953). And after recovery from the War, British living standards had fallen behind those on the Continent. It is not entirely clear why Britain which was at the turn of the 20th century the workld economic leader and major financial center managed to win both world wars, but did so poorly after World War II. BHritain had borrowed enormmous sons to finance the War, but payments to America, the primary debtor, were only partiallyb paid. There was of course considerable war damage, but Germany was even more damaged. A major event after VE Day was the election of Clemet Attlee's Labour Governmrnt committed to extensive and costly social reforms.


Black, Conrad. Franklin Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (Public Affairs: New York, 2003), 1280p.

Bouverie, Tim. Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War (The BidleybHead: London, 2019), 497p.

Churchill, Winston S. Memoirs of the Second World War (New York: Bonanza, 1958), 1065p.

Fest, Joachum. Hitler (Vintage: New York, 1974), 844p.

Jesson, Henry. And Beacons Burn Again - Letters from an English Soldier (New York: London: D. Appleton-Century and Company, 1940). The title comes from a fmous English poem, "A Shropshire Lad". These beautifully written letters reveal both a personality and an era. The author returned to England at the outbreak of the war and found himself in the midst of the apathy and inaction which prevailed in England at that time.

Meacham, Jon. Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship (Randon House, New York, 2003), 490p.

Moss, Norman. Nineteen Weeks: America, Britain and the Fateful Summer of 1940 (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 400p.

Reynolds, David. In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World war (Random House: 2005), 631p.

Soybel, Phyllis L. A Necessary Relationship The Development of Anglo-American Cooperation in Naval Intelligence (Praeger, 2005), 190p.

Wills, Henry (1985). Pillboxes: A Study of UK Defences (Leo Cooper: 1985).


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Created: 11:08 PM 4/10/2005
Last updated: 3:15 AM 1/2/2024