By June 1940, France had surrendered to Germany and Britain had rescued approximately 330,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. Britain now stood alone with its empire against Germany. Hitler believed that Britain had to be defeated before he could turn his attention to the USSR and so in the invasion of Britain codenamed Operation Sealion, two German armies (totalling 100,000 men) would be transported across the English Channel. However this crossing could be blocked by the Royal Navy, which was protected by the RAF. The Luftwaffe had to eliminate the RAF in order to bomb the Royal Navy blockade.
The two sides fought each other in a series of “dog fights” which became known as the Battle of Britain. From July 10th1940 fleets of German bombers were sent, escorted by German fighter planes to protect them from attack whose targets were the airfields in Southern England. Britain was faced with overwhelming odds as German planes (2500 aircraft) far outnumbered those of the British (700 aircraft) and Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe was confident of success. However Hitler made a major tactical error. Upto 7th September, Germany, with its huge number of pilots in comparison to Britain, was defeating Britain.
Any German plane shot down was relatively easy to replace and equip with another pilot. In the first week of September, Britain had lost 185 aircraft and 300 men. Only 200 replacement pilots were available and it took longer to train new pilots than to build new planes, which were constantly bombed by the Luftwaffe whilst in their airbases. Hugh Dowding, Chief of RAF fighter command, had feared that the battle would be lost. However on 7th September Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb London instead of the airbases in reprisal for a British bombing raid on Berlin.
This allowed the several airbases that had been put out of action to repair themselves and replace aircraft that had been destroyed by bombing. These aircraft were able to resume the defence of Britain and to attack the Luftwaffe on their way to London. Germany had also made a series of miscalculations and underestimations of Britain’s defence. The British-operated Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft proved to be more superior to German equivalents and more strongly built, which gave the British advantages in combat. The RAF also had the secret weapon of RADAR, which the Luftwaffe was unaware of.
This allowed the RAF to assemble their fighters to intercept the Luftwaffe. German fighters were also relatively light and could only carry comparatively little fuel and so as a result they were unable to escort their bombers over London whereas the RAF were operating in their own territory and so could remain in the air for much longer. By September 17th, Hitler called off Operation Sealion, although the Luftwaffe continued to bomb London and other major cities. The bombing raids by Britain on Berlin were the key factor that had caused the German switch in bombing tactics.
Although Britain had not planned to cause this switch in tactic, it was this tactical error that allowed Britain to build more aircraft and so to ultimately hold out in the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain also boosted Britain’s morale greatly as it convinced the British public that Germany could be defeated. The Blitz The bombing of British cities, or the Blitz began on 7th September 1940. Although the Blitz was used as an act of retaliation against the British bombing of Berlin, Hitler’s aim was to bomb Britain into submission.
This would destroy Britain’s military capacity and shatter the British public’s morale and so eventually Britain would either be defeated or it would have to negotiate peace terms. For the next 76 nights (except 2nd November) London and other major cities were bombed continuously. The worst single air raid was on 14th November against Coventry, which lasted 10 hours. 4000 people were killed and the Cathedral was destroyed. Germany deliberately aimed to destroy public morale as well as industrial areas and approximately 2. 5 million people had been left homeless and 43,000 were killed.
In my opinion, it was the effective organisation of the people and country that enabled Britain to survive the Blitz. A national government had been set up that involved talents from all parties and so there where no domestic political arguments to hold back the country. The Prime Minister, Churchill (Prime Minister from May 1940) was one of the greatest inspirations for ordinary people. His determination not to give in enabled the country to keep going despite being so close to defeat and he gave the country an important moral boast.
He regularly gave radio broadcasts to inspire the nation and make it feel their efforts were valued and so they would be more determined to continue with the war effort. He visited bombed areas to give a sense of unity between the government and its citizens and even turned Dunkirk, a military defeat, into a victory, which helped psychologically (“Dunkirk Spirit”). The Emergency Powers Act passed in 1940 gave the government almost unlimitless power over its citizens, which enabled it to make effective use of them.
To protect its citizens, the government recruited air-raid precautious wardens (ARP) to help people survive bombing raids and issued leaflets to help its citizens. The government enforced blackouts so that the enemy would find it harder to bomb industrial targets as well as minimising the number of people killed and encouraged people to build shelters to defend them from the blast of the bombs. Barrage balloons were placed to stop bombers flying low. Searchlights, and radar were used to locate enemy aircrafts so they could be shot down using the newly installed anti-aircraft batteries and the RAF.
Gas masks had been issued to protect the public from gas attacks (but none came) and sirens were installed to warn people of air attacks. The more damage was minimised, the more public morale would remain and so be determined to hold out rather than surrender. Evacuation was introduced to minimise in particular the number of children killed by the bombing of major cities. Approximately 1. 5 million children and young mothers were evacuated to the countryside throughout the war. The government also took direct control of 75% of Industry and by 1943 production was 8. times greater than in 1939. Women were conscripted in 1941 to fill in vacant jobs in industry that conscripted men held, which was vital to enabling Britain to continue the war effort. Women also joined sections of the armed forces to do important jobs and some joined the Woman’s Land Army, which did everyday farming jobs, making more food available. The government used propaganda to make people inspired to help out in the war effort e. g. in factories and censored pictures of dead soldiers or destroyed houses to keep people’s morale.
Churchill introduced “Bulldog Spirit” to boost morale and claimed that “Dunkirk Spirit” would keep the country going. Bombed shops put signs saying “more open than usual” and people were determined to carry on with their normal lives e. g. in Coventry production rose despite suffering the worst single air raid in Britain. The king and queen visited bombed cites and made radio broadcasts, which the public were inspired by. Entertainment was organised every night to maintain public morale. Churchill encouraged original class barriers to be broken and insisted that everyone was “in it” together.
In May 1940, the Home Guards were set up to act as a second line of defence against a German invasion and consisted of men too old or young to fight, numbering nearly 1. 5 million by June 1940. The Home Guards trained after work with any weapons they could get and although the Home Guards did not help in military terms, it had huge psychological impact on the public. It made them feel more involved and committed to the war effort and therefore willing to keep going throughout the war. Rationing was introduced as there were food shortages because German U-boats were destroying British merchant ships carrying food and other essentials.
It was meant to distribute food and other essentials in a fair way so that everyone felt that they were in the war together equally suffering and so morale kept high. The “Dig for Victory” campaign, which encouraged people to grow food, was also highly successful in that more food was available and it made everyone feel involved with the war effort and therefore they would feel that they had “done their duty” and so would be inspired to help with the war effort. The Battle of the Atlantic Gemmy attempted to starve Britain into submission by destroying its merchant ships.
Britain was a small island and couldn’t provide for all her needs and it had a system of ships sailing worldwide to meet her needs. The government took control of all merchant ships and made them sail in convoys (most of which went to the USA) with escort “destroyer” ships. However, there were not enough destroyers for every group of convoys and the German U-boats hunted in “Wolf packs” of up to 12 for added protection. By 1942, 30 U-boats were being produced a month, and the U-boats had little difficulty in destroying the convoys.
In 1941, 1299 allied ships were shot down (six times the replacement rate) compared to only 87 U-boats and by 1942 the allies had lost almost 1700 ships, whilst the Germans had over 400 U boats. Soon Britain would be starved of food and essential raw materials and would be forced to sue for peace. However on 7th December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, which led to USA joining the war. The USA was a huge industrial power and was producing ‘Liberty’ ships faster than that U-boats could sink them and so these Liberty ships were able to escort the convoys.
The Royal Navy began received new ships that had been ordered in 1940 and so there were more ships able to escort the convoys. “Hunter-Killer” groups of ships went with the convoys to destroy the U-boats, which resulted in increased protection for the convoys. The convoys also received more protection from the increased air cover that the USA provided in addition to the RAF. This left a comparatively small area of the Atlantic uncovered by air cover. The aircrafts could also radio positions of located U-boats and this allowed the escort ships to locate them easier and sink them.
Now that the Atlantic wasn’t the sole responsibility of Britain helped Britain enormously and by 1943 many more convoys brought supplies back to Britain. In 1943, 247 U boats were sunk (mainly by aircraft) and the allies built four times as many boats as were sunk. Britain also benefited psychologically as it not only did it overcome its enemy, but it was no longer alone. It had the USA, a huge industrial power, as its ally and through lend-lease schemes, Britain received many more goods to help the war effort.