Churchill saw the invasion of Britain coming. Churchill watched as Hitler moved across Europe. The key to Hitler’s invasion technique was speed, it was known as ‘Blitzkrieg’. It involved using modern military technology to sweep quickly across vast areas of land.
After the majority of Europe had been captured Hitler had no choice but to turn to the one country it was still at war with, Britain. Hitler said to Jodl, ‘ The British have lost the war but they don’t know it; one must give them time and they will come round.’
Many assumed that Britain would surrender now that France had been defeated. At the time conquering Britain would have bought Hitler more disadvantages than advantages and peace with Britain would guard Germany from the war brewing with America. Peace with Britain would give Hitler peace on the German Western Front and an opportunity to attack Soviet Russia.
There were of course times when the British contemplated making peace. On 27 May just before the Dunkirk evacuation the War Cabinet contemplated peace negotiations. The next day Churchill had second thoughts. In front of the Cabinet he declared, ‘Of course whatever happens at Dunkirk we shall fight on.’ Ministers screamed ‘Well done Prime Minister,’ several burst into tears, others hit Churchill on the back.
The knowledge that they had defeated Germany only a few decades previously gave the British and almost absurd optimism as they watched the imminent war slowly approach.
Before Hitler could invade he needed to re-think his invasion technique. Britain was a fortress, shielded from Hitler’s tanks and guns by the English Channel. The Luftwaffe led by Goering was his only hope.
The Hitler knew he could defeat England by destroying the RAF. If Germany managed to take control of the sky then the invasion would be unstoppable. On the 1 July 1940 the first German Aircraft crossed the English Channel and the Battle of Britain began.
It is difficult to tell who was surer of victory. The Germans had every reason to believe that they would be successful, they had just conquered the majority of Europe, they had more aircraft than the British, and the German pilots were well trained and experienced. But the Luftwaffe had several weaknesses; the planes were only able to fly over Britain for about 30 minutes, Luftwaffe bombers weren’t big enough, Luftwaffe pilots who baled out over Britain became prisoners of war, their leader Goering was relatively bad a tactics and their Aircraft were no match for the British Spitfires and Hurricanes.
One of the things that perhaps was the greatest asset to the British during the Battle of Britain was the radar. The experienced radar operators were able to accurately estimate the size and speed of the approaching aircraft. This meant that the RAF was never caught unprepared, previously Germany was able to destroy most of its enemy’s aircraft on the ground. Dowding’s investment in radar mean that the RAF; firstly was not exhausted as it meant that the pilots would only leave the ground when the radar told them that enemy was approaching; and secondly were not caught on the ground as the Luftwaffe approached.
The Battle of Britain was not actually a single Battle as it consisted of a series of air battles. After the 1 July 1940 hundreds of German aircraft flew over from France to Britain every day. They targeted the RAF airfields and each day they faced fierce opposition from the RAF themselves.
I have discovered quite a large amount of variation in the numbers of RAF and Luftwaffe planes that were destroyed, below is the number claimed by ‘Modern World History’ (Ben Walsh) of RAF and Luftwaffe planes destroyed between 1 July-31 October 1940.
As shown in this table above the RAF was steadily destroying larger amounts of the German aircraft than German aircraft was destroying British aircraft. On the 15 September the Germans made their last great effort. The RAF emerged triumphant losing 26 aircraft to the Germans 60, at the time the number of German aircraft lost was thought to be about 185, which was a huge moral booster, but the true figure was a huge triumph anyway. Though the Luftwaffe came close to defeating the RAF Goering change his tactics and began bombing the cities not the RAF airfields and the RAF was able to keep control of the skies. The Luftwaffe had failed.
On the 17 September 1940 Hitler postponed ‘Operation Sea lion’ until further notice. The survival of Britain depended hugely on the success of the RAF defence of the skies. Germany could not attack until it had control of the skies and Germany would only be able to attack before winter while the sea that they would have to cross was still calm.
By keeping the German out for those 3 months they managed to save Britain from invasion that year. This was summed up in one of Churchill’s speeches when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
On the 12 October 1940 the invasion was put off for the winter. The Germans continued some preparations up until March 1942, and the British maintained their defences until long afterwards but the 15 of September was the day that Britain was saved. From that day forward Britain was never under any real threat of Nazi invasion.
The Germans continued attacking the British also through the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-44). During the First World War Germany had almost defeated Britain by cutting off her resources from the sea. The North Atlantic Ocean was a vital link that bought in supplies from Canada and the USA to Britain. Without the supplies arriving from Canada and the USA, Britain could not carry on through the war. Germany decided right from the beginning of the war that they had to cut off these supplies to Britain. The German U-boats were very effective in 1940m the Germans sunk over 1000 ships. In 1941 the allies lost 1300 ships. In 1942 they lost 1661 ships. In 1943 the navy only had 2 months of fuel left. Churchill realised how close the Battle of the Atlantic came to destroying the British. Churchill wrote after the war, ‘ the only thing that ever really frightened me was the U-boat peril’.
Several factors allowed Britain to survive the battle. British intelligence was able to break the German code and was able to guide the convoys away from the U-boats. New weapons were developed to combat the German submarines. Long-range bombers began escorting the convoys across the Atlantic; they were fitted with special radar etc… Radio linked ships and aircraft, which were fighting the U-boats, and they would make use of the information acquired. The shipping production level rose and the USA’s shipyards were turning out huge numbers of cargo ships. Soon the Allies were making more ships then could be sunk. The merchant navy men were courageous, patriotic and heroic they ensured that the supplies got through to Britain.
Churchill then in 1943 gave top priority to the fighting the Battle of the Atlantic. The U-boats were being sunk at a faster rate than they could be produced. In 1944 Admiral Donitz (head of the German U-boats) called off the U-Boat campaign, the Battle of the Atlantic was won.
The German bombing of London was apparently accidental. Towards the end of the Battle of Britain a German Bomber flew over a ‘Blacked out’ London and not realising he was over London he ditched his bombs onto the city below. Britain retaliated by bombing Berlin (something Hitler had sworn would never happen) Hitler had no choice but to retaliate by bombing London; this was the beginning of the Blitz.
So began a bizarre war between Germany and Britain. Germany had failed to invade Britain and Britain at this point couldn’t invade the continent so each attacked the other attempting to destroy them but realistically unable to do so with their own limited resources.
The morale of the British people was one that could not be destroyed by the bombs. ‘Business as usual’ was that phrase that summed up the attitude of the London people every morning that they woke up with a slightly bigger piece of London destroyed. Had this level of morale not been present I’m sure that eventually Britain would have surrendered.
The reasons for this morale was based hugely on the fact that the British people still remembered the first world war, still remembered how difficult it had been, all the sacrifices they had to make but how in the end they had won. This was also on the minds of the Germans. One soldier remembered; ‘Last time I was disarmed by a washer-woman, I wonder who will disarm me this time’
The government worked hard to keep morale level high; all victories were ‘milked’. For example the victories in North Africa were greatly celebrated and gave a feeling of being less hopeless and in a time where Hitler’s hot knife seemed to be gliding through the butter that was Europe these victories held great significance in proving that Hitler was not invincible.
The BBC had a large role in spreading good news and keeping the morale levels high. They never missed a single broadcast (reflecting the ‘business as usual’ attitude of it’s audience). It informed the nation of all victories, had famous singers on, singing patriotic songs and had comedians on mocking the war and Hitler. The British sense of humour has always been one that can laugh at anything and this was never more evident than at this point.
During the Blitz Britain was overwhelmed with not only being united but by being equal. Rations were implemented that had the rich living more simply and the poor more lavishly. The Royal family had ration books as well. The people were all truly equal which untied them and boosted morale. One’s class, job, wealth, was no longer as important, everyone was in the same boat, everyone was on the same side.
The Bombing of Buckingham palace confirmed this idea. The idea that nobody was safe was probably what the Germans intended but instead it just united the people even more. The royal family grew very popular as they stayed in London during the blitz.
The Queen (now the queen mother) said, ‘The children will not leave without me, I will not leave without the King and the King will never leave.’ Therefore nobody complained about how awful the war was affecting him or her because it was affecting everyone. The state of mind of the British changed. The individual was not as important. Nobody thought in terms of ‘I’ but in terms of ‘we’.
Beaverbrook, owner of the ‘Daily Express’ was a master at keeping morale up through rather devious propaganda.
He was the mastermind behind the ‘pots and pans’ campaign. In this campaign he appealed to the British people to give up their pots and pans to be melted down to be made into aircraft. Actually there was no shortage of aluminium or of aircraft; only a shortage of pilots and this was done solely to make the British people the feeling that they were contributing to the war effort.
Evidence of this come in through the facts that 1 million men asked for there conscription to me made faster and thousands of men who couldn’t join the army joined the ‘home guard’, prepared to defend Britain.
The British leader Churchill was another reason that the British never faltered. Churchill was a man who despite everything never stopped believing in the power of the British Empire.
Previously his ideas about Britain and her empire had seemed old fashioned but now it was this ‘old-fashioned’ attitude of British greatness that was needed. He was a great speaker and his speeches like the one where he proclaimed that ‘we shall fight them on the Beaches etc.’ were inspirational to the British people.
He had an overwhelming presence and energy, when he spoke everything he said seemed genuine. He celebrated with every victory but at the same time he did not try to delude the British people with false victories. For example he described the evacuation of Dunkirk as miraculous but also said that they wouldn’t win the war by running away.
Hitler had failed to invade Britain; this to him was not a big deal as it gave him the opportunity to attack Russia. Though he continued to bomb Britain the focus of the war turned. Hitler was now facing war on two fronts had he conquered one, chances are the other would have fallen too but with the army divided on different sides of the continent Hitler was no longer as sure of victory.
Had Russia been defeated Hitler perhaps would have been able to Hitler had re-focus his attack on Britain and perhaps win but he had no hope of winning the war on two fronts
This period of time while Hitler was focussed on Russia gave Britain a time to re-group and prepare for invading the continent. During this time Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and America entered the war. Hitler at this point was already in an uncomfortable situation with war on two fronts and Hitler, no longer sure of victory, declared war against America. At this point Britain was saved, she was no longer alone. Britain emerged from what seemed to be certain defeat with a smile on her face, able to win the war.