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Did the RAF save Britain in 1940?

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1939 - 1942' started by harolds, Jan 6, 2017.

  1. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Just finished an interesting little book by Anthony J. Cumming, titled "The Battle for Britain-Interservice Rivalry between the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, 1909-40". In it, he made the case that RN probably did more to thwart an invasion of Britain than the RAF. He bases this on the Shlacking that the Kriegsmarine took in the Norway operation, plus some night operations that showed the RN was quite competent in night fighting. (The German plan called for ships and barges to cross the Channel by night.) According to Cumming, these night ops by the RN probably did more damage to the invasion barges than the RAF's bombing. In the end, Adm. Raeder understood that there was no way the KM could force the Channel but blamed Goring and the Luftwaffe for failing to get air supremacy over the Channel and S.E. England. So how did the RAF get credit for foiling Hitler's planned invasion? Cumming says the RAF had better PR than the RN. Fighter pilots make better heros in the new media and public eye and the RAF exploited this in the justification for having the RAF as an independent service. Raeder's comments after the war helped buttress this apparently one-sided public view of this famous campaign.
    Comments?
     
  2. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

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    I agree completely. RAF helped but RN was the reason the invasion would never succeed, in my opinion.
     
  3. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    Don't forget that the Germans lost even more aircraft during the battle of France and that they could never replaced those 3000 aircraft and went to the BoB crippled .
     
  4. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, no, it was half that. E. R. Hooton, in Phoenix Triumphant, p. 267-268, gives Luftwaffe losses to enemy action as 1,428.
     
  5. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

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    Do you know how many captured German pilots were released by the French after the armistice? Many hundreds, I think. Would have been nice to have gotten them to the UK before the fall.
     
  6. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru WW2|ORG Editor

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    I would disagree. Having recently read a book on the Battle of Britain, I am still of the mind that Air Superiority would still be the key to any sort of Invasion.

    If the Germans controlled the air and launched an invasion, the BN would have to send everything they could against it and would be sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe. The power of the Air was shown with the invasion of France, I think, the Stukas acting as artillery, the lack of cohesion from the French Air Force even with all the British Wings that reinforced them.

    The British won the battle in the air over Dunkirk, which allowed the BEF to escape. Had it swung the other way, then the Luftwaffe would have wrecked havoc on those beaches and ships. The Pacific War certainly showed what Air Power can do for you so I think you have to hand it to the RAF in this one - everything I have read has cited the Air War as being the deciding factor in regards to Sealion, not the RN Naval Successes in Norway or elsewhere. It was always down to who was controlling the skies.
     
  7. harolds

    harolds Member

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    I have to disagree with you Musso. The RN would NOT be "sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe"! Hitting ships from the air was very hard with the technology of 1940. A pertinent example would be the trouble the LW had in just hitting the slow coal colliers in the channel. If they had trouble hitting them with stukas, how would they have fared against dodging, weaving RN ships shooting back at them? If the Germans tried crossing at night then the RAF would have been worthless. The Fleet Air Arm, operating from shore, might have done better but the RN ground up the German forces.

    Dunkirk, in my view was more of a draw (air to air)in my estimation, but does show how hard it was to hit ships from the air-especially when there was cloud cover.
     
  8. freebird

    freebird Member

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    Correct, and despite multiple attempts no RN battleship was sunk by bombs, or even severely damaged.
    The LW used heavier AP bombs in the Med in 1941, not sure if they had them available in 1940, and the Stuka's standard 550 lb bomb was pretty ineffective vs RN BB's
     
  9. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    One shouldn't overlook that terms such as 'media' and 'propaganda' are vital elements of modern warfare. In 1940, many of Britain's Allies-to-be thought the country was 'finished' and that Nazi Germany was unstoppable.

    Of course, the RAF didn't save Britain on its own - one can argue that the Navy did so at Dunkirk and even go on to say that the Army had conducted a successful retreat and thereby 'saved the Country'.

    It is now generally accepted that Hitler sought a Political and moral collapse ( as happened in France ). The 'invasion' would have been more of an Occupation - the prerequisite being the defeat of the RAF. With the UK collapsing, the Navy would have been neutralized, as happened with the French Navy.

    RAF Fighter Command fought a highly visible Battle ( my own Father still remembers the thrill of watching the aerial fighting from his backyard ). The Luftwaffe failed to achieve their objective. Nothing in War happens in isolation and much else happened to 'save' Britain in 1940 - but not to use Fighter Command as a 'media' to show the World that 'Britain could take it' - well, it would have been rather stupid not to.

    BTW, I've read the book in question and thought it unfortunate that the author made a good point - but spoilt it rather by going to great length to denigrate the RAF and especially Dowding.
     
  10. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I've often thought the same. When you look at the logistics; naval, air, supply, of invading Great Britain in 1940, Germany just didn't have it. Hitler had backed down Chamberlain in 1938, why couldn't a big bluff in 1940 also work? Did they really think they could pack a dozen divisions into a motley collection of river barges, ferry them across through the RN and RAF, then keep them supplied? I don't think so.

    Nobody can know what was in Hitler's mind, but he may have only wanted another peace agreement - Britain out of the war - before he turned around for lebensraum in the east.

    The whole Battle of Britain victory (as real as it was for those airmen and those bombed cities) may have been more of a morale thing, a real victory, but one inflated to put the nation on a war footing.

    Were there overtures (direct or indirect) from Germany for some kind of settlement? I confess I don't know, but I suspect there were. Churchill wasn't Chamberlain, so I suspect any contact through the Swiss or Swedes found a door slammed in their face.
     
  11. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Indeed there was German overtures that Summer after the collapse of France, but Churchill told him where he could stick his thousand year Reich. Basically Churchill said Germany would have withdraw all its forces from France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. Not too certain about what was said about Poland at that stage; half of Poland was now Soviet. Obviously, this stuck in Hitler's craw.
     
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  12. SDP

    SDP recruit

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    The Germans knew that, in order to succeed with an invasion, they really needed air superiority and, in that respect, the RAF made the difference. The Royal Navy could still have defeated an invasion but that is in the realms of a 'what-if'.....and I don't subscribe to those! By the RAF winning the Battle of Britain, the Royal Navy didn't get the chance to prove anything in that respect. Let's also not forget that the concept of German air power sinking large British ships had already been proven with the tragic loss of the Lancastria. Later history, actually not that much later, also proved that capital ships stood no chance against aircraft.....Bismarck, Pearl Harbour, HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales to name but a few.

    Overall conclusion: the RAF did save the UK in 1940. This bought time for the Army to rebuild and the Royal Navy not having to do the job instead.
     
  13. KJ Jr

    KJ Jr Well-Known Member

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    That is the difference. If you take the entire conflict as a whole than I would side with the RAF. But based on that salient point, early in the war and without technological advances (such as improved bombsights, countermeasures, better strategies and techniques, etc) the RN was a formidable obstacle.
     
  14. SDP

    SDP recruit

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    The Royal Navy was, as you say, a formidable obstacle but, I would argue, not invulnerable. If the RAF hadn't 'deterred' the Germans from invading, then the Royal Navy would have had to do the job during an actual invasion....with possibly horrendous losses even if it did, in the end, defeat the invasion. I dread to think what would have happened if the Germans had achieved air superiority over the UK and/or the Royal Navy had been depleted in ships....the whole track of the War would have changed.

    Conclusion: as in my post #12.
     
  15. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Please remember that the Germans planned to move their troops and supplies over at night. That makes hitting them from the air all that much harder. The only moving BB loss to bombs I can think of off hand was the Italian BB that was sunk by a German Fritz-X guided bomb while sailing to be interned by the Allies. The rest were hit by torpedoes or were stationary such as in Taranto or Pearl Harbor-or hit by both while stationary. Moving, dodging ships present a very tough target for dumb bombs. I don't think the Germans even had a dedicated torpedo bomber at that time-or later, so I'm not sure that more effective weapon would have been much use to the LW.

    @ Martin B. : I too thought Cumming screamed about the horrible interservice rivalry by the RN and RAF, but seemed to be caught up in it himself! It seems his historical specialty is modern naval history. As you said, he did make a good point though.

    Yes, the RAF was visible and seemed to be the only thing at the tip of the British "spear" during the BoB, but did not Adm. Raeder make his final recommendation based on what his own forces could NOT do and then blamed the Luftwaffe? Interservice rivalry was endemic to all nations apparently.
     
  16. SDP

    SDP recruit

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    I accept Harold's point about torpedoes....but the Lancastria was sunk by the Luftwaffe using standard dumb bombs and would have proven a lot to the Germans at the time re their capabilities etc. The Germans also had U-Boats which had also already proved themselves in sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak in 1939 using torpedoes. All I'm saying is that thank God for the RAF as it saved having to use the last weapon on the armoury...the Royal Navy.
     
  17. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    I'll have to read this book of Cummings'.... as I thought the RN was notably NOT confident of detecting OR intercepting an invasion force before it reached the coast of England - and were constantly warning the Joint Chiefs of Staff of this. See David Newbold's thesis on the Defence of the UK in 1939-40 on this point.

    I'd also be interested in finding out more about these highly successful actions against barges - I thought they only managed to encounter one (1) barge convoy? The Dover destroyer flotilla...forced by circumstances to relocate halfway through the summer to Portsmouth...was supposed to carry out patrols across the Channel and along the coast of France, Belgiu and Holland every other night - but because of weather during September 194, only three (3) such sorties were carried out according to navalhistory.net's war diary for the month. In fact, the RN was more than a little poor IIRC at intercepting KM actions in the Channel - they had failed to intercept a number of minelaying operations off the English coast over the winter of 1939-40 by KM destroyers with a cruiser screen out to sea of them...and likewise failed to intercept the couple of minelaying ops the KM mounted in the summer of 1940. IIRC they actually only sortied against one, the raid into Falmouth bay....and turned back when it became clear they had no chance of catching them!

    As for Stukas supposedly not being that effective even against small, slow commercial shipping - when they found and attacked such traffic they were more than effective; see for example the atrocious losses suffered by the PEEWHIT convoy across two days. They had also developed interesting tactics for attacking slow moving or stationary naval targets...and used them effectively against HMS Foylebank in Dover harbour. That, other losses off Hellfire Corner, and the constant raids on Dover forced the withdrawal of RN destroyers from Dover.

    No, they wouldn't have been that effective against battleships...and fast, properly trimmed destroyers could constantly zigzag under air attack and avoid fall or shot....which is what saved a lot off Norway but by no means all from air attack. but anyway Adm. Forbes did NOT ever intend...and IIRC refused...to consider bringing Home Fleet's battlewagons further south than Great Yarmouth, into the "Narrow Sea" that was covered out to at least half its width by the artillery the Germans had clustered along the Pas...and the rest of the Narrows was plagued by shifting sandbars and shallows. BBs would not have had room to manouver at speed...and in certain places manouver at all...in the Channel.
     
  18. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    The RAF was almost a memory...Hitler's decision to bomb cities instead of airfields proved the turning point...
     
  19. harolds

    harolds Member

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    According to Cumming (Pg. 132) the two navies had the following dispositions as of Sept. 14, : RN--One BB, two cruisers and four destroyers at Plymouth; One cruiser and 12 destroyers at Portsmouth; two cruisers, sixteen destroyers, and four corvettes at Harwich; with three cruisers and four destroyers in the River Humber. Also, a large part of the Home Fleet was based at Rosyth. All of these could get to the Channel within 24 to 48 hours.

    The KM: Two obsolete BBs, One heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, one training cruiser, eight destroyers, nine E-Boats and a "handful" of U-Boats.

    If these dispositions are correct, then I think I know who would have won.
     
  20. harolds

    harolds Member

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    @phylo

    Here's what Cumming says:

    "Night after night, the Royal Navy broke into ports such as Dunkirk, Boulogne, Calais and Ostend, raking lines of invasion barges with point-blank gunfire." pg. 130

    "Whether Bomber Command or the Royal Navy were responsible for the majority of these losses has proved hard to determine." Pg. 131

    "Churchill for one was unconvinced by the evidence presented to him of a successful bombing raid upon an invasion port. Commenting on one aerial photograph, he wrote, 'What struck me about these photographs was the apparent inability of the bombers to hit these very large masses of barges.' " Pg.131
     

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