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Britain at War

Discussion in 'The Blitz' started by Jim, Sep 24, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    via War44
    By the morning of the 3rd September 1939 war was inevitable. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation at 11.15 a.m. that morning that this country is at war with Germany. This declaration followed Britain's issuing of an ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from the Polish territory they had attacked and occupied in the early hours of the 1st September.
    Less than a year earlier, at the end of September 1938, Neville Chamberlain had negotiated a peace deal in Munich with Adolf Hitler in which Britain conceded to the German annexation of Sudetenland. Keen to avoid a second war with Germany only twenty years since the end of the 'Great War', Chamberlain agreed that those parts of Czechoslovakia's Sudentenland occupied by ethnic Germans could become part of German territory. He returned from the talks in Munich to declare, I believe it to be peace in our time.
    The threat and outbreak of war brought immediate effects on most of the population. Fear of aerial bombardment, first seen in the First World War and developed by the Germans in the Spanish Civil War, provoked a mass evacuation of children, young mothers and pregnant women from the major cities. Whether one of the evacuated, one of those left behind in the cities or one of those that housed the evacuees, this process meant huge emotional and practical upheaval.
    By the second week in September troops of the British Expeditionary Force had crossed the Channel to meet up with French forces and moved to defend the Belgian border. These were regular and reserve soldiers, well trained but poorly equipped. Although throughout there had been some preparations for war, the years between the end of the Great War, the war to end all wars, and 1939 had seen a cutting down on defence spending, so that when war did come the military were not in a state of readiness.
    After the initial flurry of activity in September there was little action in 1939. The term 'phoney war' was coined to reflect the fact that neither the Allies nor the Germans took any major initiatives. The British Expeditionary Force sat, alongside their allies, cold and bored in trenches in France. It was largely quiet in the air also; no bombing raids had materialised. Evacuees drifted back to their homes in the cities. Only at sea were there any sustained attacks by the Germans who used their V-boats and magnetic mines to threaten the British merchant fleet and challenge the Royal Navy.
    While there was no official rationing until 8th January 1940; the consequences of the German campaign at sea had an early effect on consumers. Imported luxury items became scarce and eventually disappeared from the shelves. Home production of everything inessential ceased too as manufacturing changed to produce the weapons of war. Rationing started with butter, sugar and bacon, but extended to include many other basic foodstuffs, clothes and household items.

    People gather outside the House of Commons to listen on news from the Commons


    On the fighting front it was not until 9'" April 1940 that Hitler made any moves. This time it was Denmark and Norway, swiftly followed by attacks on the Low Countries and then France. This blitzkrieg or lightning war saw the defeat of Allied troops: 2000 German soldiers trained in winter warfare forcing the withdrawal of a 13,000 strong Allied force at Trondheim in Norway; and most famously, the evacuation of troops of the British Expeditionary Force and their allies from the beaches of Dunkirk between the 28th May and 3rd June. It took just ten days, from 10th to 20th May, for the Germans to occupy most of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, moving on into France. A week later British and French troops were pushed into a small pocket on the coast of France around Dunkirk. It was thought that Operation Dynamo, as the rescue mission was codenamed, could rescue fewer than 50,000 troops - in the event 38.226 men were saved.
    The blitzkrieg had profound political effects in Britain as well as in continental Europe. Chamberlain was a political casualty, resigning his Premiership when he had failed to prevent the German occupation of Norway, Denmark. Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, On 10th May. Winston Churchill took over as Prime minister at the head of a coalition government.
    Back in Britain the troops rescued from the beaches were hailed as heroes, Churchill turning the defeat at Dunkirk into a victory of the British Spirit. Eight hundred civilian vessels had joined the 222 naval ships in Operation Dynamo. However, while the men had been rescued, their equipment was not and Britain faced the possibility of an invasion and blitzkrieg with an army lacking in weapons.

    Operation Sea Lion was Hitler's codename for the invasion of Britain. The 15th of September was the date for the invasion by sea, the tides being most favourable on that date. In order for troop ships to land without being attacked from the air, the Luftwaffe needed to destroy the RAF's capability. So began the Battle of Britain. For much of the summer of 1940 the skies over southern England were witness to dogfights between British and German planes, but the air war took place over much of continental Europe. By the day set for the invasion the RAF had lost 915 planes, the Luftwaffe, 1733.
    Churchill said of the skill and bravery of the pilots in the Battle of Britain never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. And indeed the RAF not only helped save Britain from invasion but they also bought time for the army to regroup and begin to re-arm itself. On 1st January 1940 two million men between the ages of 20 and 27 had been conscripted or called up and most of those were still undergoing training while the retreat from France was taking place. Conscription for military service extended throughout the war to include adult men up to the age of 50. In 1941 all mobile women, that is women without carer responsibilities, between the ages of 20 and 30 were called up. Not all those conscripted were expected to go into the fighting forces, many were sent to do essential War work in factories or administration or even, like the “Bevin Boys, in the coal mines.
    Everyday life for the majority of the population changed, starting with everyday occupations. If not employed in an essential or reserved occupation men found themselves conscripted into the forces, or their factory or trade pressed into serving the war effort. Women, who before the war had been a small part of the workforce, became the majority of the workforce, in the factories, on the land, in administrative jobs, service industries. Even Women at home, looking after children, the sick or the elderly were expected to contribute to the war effort by assembling small machine parts at home. Children's schooling was interrupted and they too had to contribute in a variety of ways, such as helping with harvest or collecting materials for recycling.
    One year on, and by September 1940 the war had affected everyone through absence or loss of loved ones, changing patterns of life, shortages and rationing of food, clothing, household items, and the constant fear of invasion or aerial attack. This fear was finally realised in August 1940 when bombing raids began on British cities and towns. London was attacked on the 25th August; the RAF retaliated with a raid on Berlin. Twenty-one British towns and cities were targeted by the Luftwaffe on the 27th August. On 7th September London suffered the first in a series of raids which became known as the London Blitz. In November of 1940 the Germans widened their targets to include cities and towns such as Coventry, Southampton, Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol and Birmingham. The Blitz had arrived across Britain.

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