The Battle of Britain

Matthew Hawkins The Battle of Britain Source A Spitfires in formation 1 Study Source B. What effect do you think these words would have had on the B...
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Matthew Hawkins

The Battle of Britain Source A Spitfires in formation

1 Study Source B. What effect do you think these words would have had on the British population?


s the queen gazed proudly at the flyover of Buckingham Palace by veteran aircraft from the Second World War during the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the crowds below cheered loudly. Some of those gathered in the Mall also saluted the Spitfires and the Hurricane which accompanied the Lancaster bomber. It is difficult to think of any other military aircraft that have such a place in a nation’s heart as those fighters which emerged victorious in the Battle of Britain. After all, it was this clash between the Luftwaffe and the RAF that first postponed, then finally led to the abandonment of, the German invasion of Britain.

Background Since the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the British government had prepared for the inevitable Nazi assault on the West. However, for over 6 months, all was quiet on the Western Front, during the period known as the Phony War.


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Source B Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940:

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 civilisation. 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.’


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Yet the peace was shattered in April 1940 when the Wehrmact invaded Denmark and Norway. Holland and Belgium soon followed, and when Hitler launched his devastating Blitzkrieg against the French in May, it became clear that this new, lightening war was almost impossible to stop. The French signed the terms of surrender on 22 June. One thing was absolutely clear: Britain was next.

Operation Sealion However, invading Britain was easier said than done. No one had successfully invaded the island since William the Conqueror. In spite of Nazi victories over Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France, Hitler realised that a different approach was required if the Reich was to maintain its victorious streak. On 16 July 1940, he ordered preparations for the invasion of England to begin. Codenamed Operation Sealion, the invasion required 13 divisions (totalling some 247,000 men and split into three army groups) to land in southeast England and encircle London. The date was set for 15 September, 1940.

Source C Adolf Hitler, explaining why he felt he had no choice but to invade Britain, 18 August, 1940:

After making one proposal after another to the British on the reorganisation of Europe…I now find myself forced against my will to fight this war against Britain. I find myself in the same position as Martin Luther, who had just as little desire to fight Rome but was left with no alternative.

But in order for the invasion to be successful, the Nazis needed control of the skies. This task lay with the head of the Luftwaffe, Herman Goering. Relishing the opportunity to take on the Royal Air Force, he declared on 30 June that, ‘As long as the enemy air force is not defeated, the prime requirement is to attack it…by day and night, in the air and on the ground’. The Nazi military hierarchy fully appreciated that the German navy was no match for the Royal Navy, thus air cover was vital if Operation Sealion was to be successful. Goering had plenty of aircraft at his disposal (over 2,500), including almost 700 fighters. The Luftwaffe was ready.

But the most pressing priority was the maintenance of air supremacy. The RAF had been preparing for such an eventuality during the 1930s. The commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, was responsible, and it was he who has since been credited for the development of Radio Directional Finding (RDF), or radar. This allowed Fighter Command to track the course and altitude of enemy aircraft as they approached, thereby permitting Dowding to send squadrons to intercept over England, rather than over the Channel. He also had almost 600 fighters, including the infamous Spitfire and Hurricane. His aircraft were deployed in four groups: No. 10 covered southwest England, No. 11 the southeast, No. 12 the east and midlands, and No. 13 the north.

The Battle of Britain The Luftwaffe began its assault by targeting shipping and coastal towns in order to gain air superiority over the Channel (Kanalkampf — ‘Channel Battle’). Throughout July 1940, bombing raids saw both sides suffer heavy losses, with the RAF suffering twice as many losses as the Luftwaffe. In early August Goering was confident enough to declare that air superiority had been established over the Strait of Dover during daylight hours.

Eagle Day Goering was now ready to focus on the destruction of the RAF: ‘Eagle Day’ was set for 13 August. On this day the Luftwaffe launched 1,485 sorties against various targets across southeast England, concentrating specifically on airfields. The next day, a further 500 sorties were flown; on 15 August 1,786 sorties were launched; another 1,700 sorties were flown the following day.

2 Study Source C. How convincing do you find Hitler’s reasoning?

Source D Goering addressing pilots

British defences As the Führer planned his invasion, the British prepared their defences. The countryside was covered in hundreds of miles of barbed wire and children were evacuated from London; obstacles were placed on potential landing sites, and beaches were filled with thousands of mines. Signposts were removed to confuse any German paratroopers, while church bells were silenced except as a warning of invasion. January 2013

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Source F RAF Group Captain Peter Matthews, Flying Officer with Number 1 Squadron, recalls the Battle of Britain:

I was flying Hurricanes — there were more Hurricanes than Spits in Fighter Command at the time. We’d get to bed just after dark and try to get a few hours’ sleep — then up again. We spent a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring.

Source E German bomber down

Source G RAF pilots waiting beside a Spitfire

3 Research the weeks between the defeat of France and the first bombing raids on England. What efforts did Hitler make to reach a peace settlement with the British government? Were any politicians willing to make a deal? 4 Study Source G. What does this tell you about the RAF pilots’ state of readiness during the battle?


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By the end of 18 August, it is estimated that the Germans had lost 363 aircraft, compared to 200 from the RAF. Dowding still had 700 fighters fit for immediate use (Goering believed that Fighter Command had less than half that number available). The reality was that, in spite of its losses, the RAF remained intact. The first phase of the Battle of Britain had gone the way of the British.

More attacks Yet the attacks continued, leading to heavy losses. The focus of the Luftwaffe changed slightly, with a greater concentration on southern airfields. Goering’s intention was to lure the remainder of the RAF out in order to defend the airfields of No. 11 Group. Between 24 August and 6 September the Luftwaffe mounted 33 major raids, and the RAF suffered significant losses: not only were 286 aircraft destroyed, but 103 pilots were killed (a further 128 were wounded). The Germans had also devised feint attacks across the Channel, while increased fighter escorts for bombers accounted for greater RAF losses. Despite high production rates, the RAF could not replace the aircraft quickly enough. Dowding was in danger of losing the battle. The beginning of the Blitz Fortunately for Dowding, Goering did not take full advantage of the situation. The radar stations remained largely untouched (those that were damaged were quickly rebuilt and functioning), while targets were not prioritised. It was actually a quirk of fate that contributed significantly to victory. On the night of 24 August, a German bomber mistakenly bombed London; the next night, the RAF bombed Berlin in retribution. Hitler was furious: he had promised the German population that German cities would be safe from enemy attack, and ordered the bombing of London. On 7 September, 300 bombers attacked the East End and the docks, resulting in over 1,500 casualties, and marking the beginning of the Blitz. The pressure on Fighter Command had relented, albeit temporarily.

We were all pretty scared, really. The waiting was the worst part — we’d sit about playing poker, with that tension in the pit of our stomachs — it was almost a relief when we heard the phone ring to scramble us. In a day we might be scrambled three, four or even five times — then you were probably only in the air for half an hour or 45 minutes. It’s amazing that time went so fast. I suppose we all stood up to it because we were young. From Images of War magazine, 1993

‘Battle of Britain Day’ However, on 15 September (‘Battle of Britain Day’), Field Marshal Albert Kesselring launched a massive assault towards London. The first wave of 100 bombers approached the Kent coast, only to be met by 20 Spitfires. During a furious morning, the fighting stretched all the way from the Channel to London. Individual battles between fighters and bombers and their accompanying fighters dominated the skies. By the early afternoon, the enemy had been scattered. Churchill monitored proceedings from No. 11 Group’s operations centre at Uxbridge. At one point, he asked Air Vice-Marshal

Source G Hindsight

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Source H Major Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe pilot commenting on the Battle of Britain, 27 September 1940:

British plane wastage was far lower and production far higher than the German intelligence staff estimated and now events were exposing the error so plainly that it had to be acknowledged. Quoted in The Second World War by John Keegan

Keith Park what reserves were available. Park’s reply was to the point: ‘None’. Much to Park’s concern, Kesselring’s bombers returned in the afternoon. But again they were intercepted by the fighters from No. 11 Group, inflicting significant losses. While the initial estimate of 183 German aircraft having been shot down was an exaggeration (the total was closer to a third), the fact remained that Fighter Command had held off the Luftwaffe. Crucially, the window of opportunity for invasion had almost closed; the German army’s High Command did not believe that the Luftwaffe had defeated Fighter Command, and thereby did not have air supremacy. An invasion was no longer possible. Operation Sealion was postponed indefinitely.

Reasons for victory There is no question that the bravery of the RAF pilots was absolutely critical. Called into action at short notice, these men engaged in terrific dogfights at high altitude, often outnumbered by German fighters. Czechs, Poles and Free French

were among the nationalities who contributed to Fighter Command’s victory. There was an enormous strain placed on all of the pilots: some units flew as many as 50–60 operations each day. Dowding can be credited with insisting that all pilots took 24 hours’ leave each week; indeed, Dowding himself played a pivotal role in Britain’s victory. He had had the foresight to organise Fighter Command into groups prior to the war, as well as invest in radar, allowing the RAF to direct fighters against enemy attacks as they developed. He could also call upon the full support of Park, who commanded the pivotal No. 11 Group, as well as the brilliance of Air Vice-Marshal Trafford LeighMallory, who commanded No. 10 Group. In addition, Britain’s aircraft production was able to churn out replacements for those aircraft lost in battle, much to the disbelief of the hierarchy of the Luftwaffe. Finally, in spite of the devastating firepower of the Messerschmitt Bf-109 (the leading German fighter), both the Hurricane and the Spitfire had advantages which contributed to the RAF’s success — the latter’s manoeuvrability and the former’s sheer speed accounted for significant losses for the Luftwaffe. While the RAF undoubtedly deserves the majority of the credit for its victory, Goering’s mistakes cannot be ignored. A greater concentration on the airfields and radar stations, particularly during the critical period of the last 2 weeks of August, when Fighter Command acknowledged that it was on its knees, would surely have paved the way for the Luftwaffe to achieve its goal of air supremacy. Similarly, Hitler’s intervention to avenge Bomber Command’s raid on Berlin ensured that the focus switched from the airfields to London. While the capital (and other major cities) suffered enormously during the Blitz, Dowding was at least able to gain some much needed breathing space.

5 Research the daily life of RAF pilots during the Battle of Britain. Find out as much as you can about their routine. How did they spend their hours while waiting for the order to take to the skies? 6 Compare and contrast the RAF fighters with their Luftwaffe counterparts and identify the specific strengths and weaknesses of each.

Conclusion During the summer and early autumn of 1940, Britain held its breath as it prepared for what it saw as the inevitable Nazi invasion. That the invasion was postponed indefinitely — and ultimately abandoned — was due largely to the heroic efforts of Fighter Command, aided by strategic and tactical errors by the hierarchy of the Luftwaffe. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of what was the first real defeat of the seemingly unbeatable Nazi war machine: the 1,700 aircraft that were lost were not replaced until the spring of 1941, at a time when Hitler needed his military to be at full strength as it embarked east. The few had indeed triumphed, the Spitfire and the Hurricane became the stuff of legend, and Britain remained safe from foreign invasion. This was, as Churchill put so it pointedly, ‘their finest hour’. HS January 2013

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7 Prepare a debate based on this motion: ‘The RAF victory in the Battle of Britain was due more to Goering’s mistakes than RAF successes.’


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improve your grade

Nikki Christie

The USA’s withdrawal from Vietnam Source A Napalm attack


he short answer to any question regarding the reasons for US withdrawal from Vietnam is that there was no hope of the USA emerging victorious from the conflict. Good answers will consider the difficulties of fighting a guerrilla war in a distant country with an extremely challenging physical environment, as well as the impact of the war on the USA’s domestic politics. The very best answers will show an appreciation of changing international relations in the early 1970s and the impact of Nixon’s policies and actions. A clear understanding of the chronology of the conflict will help develop your explanation. The ‘strategic hamlets’ campaign, ‘zippo’ raids, ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’ and the ‘Christmas bombings’ all have a role in explaining why the USA failed to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, but these are not concurrent. Knowledge of when events occurred between 1964 and 1973 and the progression of events will help you to write more focused and thoughtful answers to any question explaining why the USA withdrew from Vietnam and why that withdrawal took until 1973.

Why did the USA fail to win hearts and minds? The USA failed to win the support of the civilian population. The British had fought a successful counter insurgency campaign against Communist


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forces in Malaya in the late 1940s by identifying and isolating villages in the same way that the Americans operated their ‘strategic hamlets’ policy. However, the British combined ‘strategic hamlets’ with intensive investment in villages, including supplying water, education and support for democratic village politics. The USA progressed from ‘strategic hamlets’ to ‘search and destroy’ and under Nixon to torture for suspected Communist infiltrators. The combination of trigger happy US youngsters, lack of local knowledge and support for a succession of corrupt and useless South Vietnamese governments meant that the Americans were never able to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. US rhetoric about democracy meant little in the face of napalm bombing and Mai Lai.

What was the impact of the Vietnam War on US domestic politics? Conscription tore the USA apart. By 1968 the Democrats, who had embarked on the escalation of the war in Vietnam, were hopelessly divided. In the wake of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination their chances of election victory were effectively ended. Nixon’s presidency set the agenda of ‘peace with honour’, which in practice meant illegal bombing of Laos and Cambodia, torture of civilians in Hindsight

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Source B US marines on a ‘search and destroy’ mission in South Vietnam

South Vietnam and the carpet bombing of North Vietnam. Vietnam was inextricably linked to youth and student protest and decisively divided US politics. The scale of protest meant that whoever was in power needed to find a way out of Vietnam to heal the divisions in the USA.

Source C

Why was the final withdrawal in 1973? Final withdrawal occurred in 1973, 5 years after the respected news anchorman Walter Cronkite responded to news of the Tet Offensive by saying ‘what the hell is going on I thought we were winning this war’. The Nixon presidency promised ‘peace with honour’. This translated into withdrawal of US ground troops or the ‘Vietnamisation’ of the South Vietnamese army combined with extensive bombing of North Vietnam and neighbouring countries. Hanoi agreed to talks in the wake of the bombing attacks and the USA forced the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Improving relations with both the USSR and China meant that containing communism in Vietnam no longer seemed a vital part of US foreign policy. By the 1970s it was clear that the USSR and China were not allied in one Communist bloc, making containment in southeast Asia less of a priority for the USA. As a result, the USA was happy to withdraw from Vietnam, despite knowing that the South Vietnamese could not win the conflict.

Source C Americans demonstrating against the Vietnam War in New York City, 15 April 1967

Conclusion The Vietnam campaign, never officially a war, was a blueprint in how not to tackle an ideologically motivated guerrilla enemy. Withdrawal occurred in 1973, 5 years after the turning point of the Tet Offensive, because of the impact of the Nixon presidency. April 2013

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Question ‘Failure to win Vietnamese “hearts and minds” was the principle reason for US withdrawal from (10 marks) Vietnam in 1973.’ Do you agree with this statement? Explain your answer. Examiner’s comment This is a good answer, which has considered two sides of the argument and supported the points made effectively with own knowledge. The student agrees with the statement in the question, but has not really explained why failure to win ‘hearts

and minds’ was a more significant factor than US military weakness and Viet Cong strength. Moreover, this is a general answer, which explains the failure of the war in Vietnam, but does not address the specific reasons for withdrawal in 1973.

Student answer The USA finally ended its disastrous involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973. It had never controlled the countryside or stopped the Ho Chi Minh trail. Thousands of soldiers had died and the

Factual content There is some good factual content in the answer, but some of it is generalised and there is no specific chronology. Try to improve the sentences highlighted in pink. ■ How many Americans died? ■ Give examples of US domestic protests. ■ When was Mai Lai and when did it become public knowledge? ■ When was the Tet Offensive and what was its significance in the conflict? ■ What happened at Khe Sanh and to the area following the end of the siege?

US people were up in arms against the government. The most important reason for its defeat was the failure to win Vietnamese hearts and minds because without the support of the Vietnamese people the USA could never have won the war. The ordinary people in South Vietnam did not all support the Americans. This is because of the behaviour of the US troops. They had no way of telling who was a Communist supporter and who was not and in searches of villages their behaviour to village people was often very bad. One of the worst things the Americans did was the Mai Lai massacre, which became known about the following year and shocked the world. But there were hundreds of incidents of threatening behaviour and destroying food supplies, which all made the people of South Vietnam anti-American and Viet Cong. The Viet Cong were also much better than the Americans at fighting a guerrilla war. They were comfortable with the terrain and trained in guerrilla fighting. When they challenged the Americans in the open, like in the Tet Offensive, they were not able to win. But mostly the Americans faced an enemy who attacked and then slipped away. Even when they thought they were holding strategic points, like the air base at Khe Sanh, when the Viet Cong moved the conflict somewhere else all the effort became worthless. The

Focus on the question This is a question about 1973, not just the general failure of the war in Vietnam. Write a short paragraph explaining why the Americans withdrew in 1973 following Nixon’s ‘peace with honour’ policy.

Viet Cong were more dedicated and disciplined than US troops, who were young and scared and sometimes even ‘fragged’ their own officers.

Relative significance Look carefully at the sentences highlighted in blue. The answer moves from one factor to the next but does not explain why one is more important than the next in explaining US withdrawal. Write a sentence for the beginning of the paragraph on US tactics which shows that while it was important it was less important than winning ‘hearts and minds’. You could use one of the phrases below to help you: ■ Of secondary importance… ■ Of some importance… ■ In some ways… can be seen as less significant than winning ‘hearts and minds’ because…

Overall, I agree that failure to get the support of the South Vietnamese was the most important reason for the Americans leaving Vietnam. Without their support the Americans did not really know who the enemy was and were fighting in very hostile territory. There was not much that the Americans did right to try and get support though.

Conclusion Rewrite the conclusion to reflect the idea of relative significance of factors. Rather than just stating why you agree with the question or not, try to explain why the factor you have chosen as the most important is more important than other factors in constructing an explanation.


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Depth study

improve your grade

‘Are you surprised?’ questions Questions often ask students whether they are surprised by a particular source. The temptation to answer this rather deceptive question with a straightforward personal response, either asserting surprise or not, is often overwhelming. However, such answers, although they are entirely justified by the language and style of the question, are not rewarded by the mark scheme.

You must consider reasons that the source might appear surprising and then use contextual knowledge, or consider the subtext of the source, to provide a balanced response to the question. As a general rule, a source may appear surprising when taken at face value, but when the context, or subtext of the source is considered it will become apparent that the source is not that surprising after all.

Question Are you surprised by Source A?

(8 marks)

Read the advice below regarding analysis of Source A. Then answer the same question, but about Source B. It is surprising that: The women had to go on strike after the law had changed the year before in favour of equal pay for equal work. ■ The strike lasted 21 weeks. ■ The women were demanding TUC support. This suggests that the women were not receiving support from the Trades Union Congress (TUC). This is the umbrella organisation for all trades unions and one would expect it to be supportive of the idea of equal pay for equal work. ■

Source A Women on the picket line in Brentford, 1976. Women at the TRICO plant went on strike for 21 weeks in 1976 to demand equal pay for equal work. The Equal Pay Act had been passed in December 1975, but Trico, like many employers, simply ignored the new law. The women also demanded TUC support

But on further consideration: If employers were willing to break the law it is not surprising that women had to resort to strike action. ■ Women were given the vote in 1918 and yet equal pay was not passed until 1975. This suggests that attitudes towards women’s position at work were very slow to change. This would have included attitudes in trade union organisations, which were largely male dominated. This helps explain the demand for TUC support. Perhaps the TUC shared the general disinclination to pay women equally? ■ The strikers appear to be almost all female in this photograph, which suggests that male support was lacking. ■

Source B Extracts from TRICO strike committee bulletin, 1976: Why we will not appear before the Industrial Tribunal TRICO are finally going ahead with their application to the Industrial Tribunal for a declaration that the TRICO workers are not entitled to equal pay.... Neither the AUEW (Associated Union of Engineering Workers) nor the Strike Committee will be present or represented. Why? The Equal Pay Act 1970 came into effect on December 29th, 1975, and, in the first six months of its operation, the Industrial Tribunal turned down 79 of the applications made to it and upheld only 31 Equal Pay Act cases — a failure rate, therefore, of 71%.... We are not prepared in this case to use a Tribunal that has allowed the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts to become a lawyers’ paradise and a cobweb of loopholes for the discriminator. The Tribunal seems to be worried about the effect of women obtaining equal pay on wage levels generally. We say that is none of their business — the law is clear — women should get equal pay. Source: extracts taken from a bulletin produced by the striking women at the TRICO plant in 1976. The strike committee are explaining why they were not prepared to attend the hearing at the industrial tribunal. TRICO had presented a case to the tribunal arguing that the women were not entitled to equal pay in this particular case. Reproduced with permission from TUC Library Collections, London Metropolitan University

April 2013

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Conclusion: It might appear surprising that manufacturers were prepared to break the law and ignore the Equal Pay Act. However, having considered the detail and context of the source it is not surprising that women at the Trico plant had to go on strike for nearly half a year to achieve their new rights. Clearly, male attitudes were very slow to change, both among employers and trade unionists, and the only way the women at TRICO felt they could achieve change was through strike action.


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Should Chamberlain share responsibility for The wisdom of the British policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany is one of the most controversial issues in modern world history. The reputation of Neville Chamberlain, British prime minister in the crucial period from May 1937 until war was declared in September 1939, is at the centre of much historical debate. For many historians, Chamberlain deserves vilification for failing to act and thus missing the opportunity to, at the very least, lessen the extent of the death and destruction that took place across the globe until 1945. Others argue that Chamberlain’s position has been misrepresented and oversimplified — they argue that attributing blame for the war requires more complex considerations. Is it fair to hold Chamberlain partly responsible for the Second World War?

YES Chamberlain failed to understand Hitler Although simplistic, this argument is hard to refute. Right up to the Munich Conference of 1938, Chamberlain’s actions would seem to show beyond any doubt that he believed Hitler to be a reasonable man with whom he could negotiate. In particular, it would seem clear that he would not have made such forthright public pronouncements in the aftermath of Munich had he not believed that Hitler would honour his word, at least in the short term. All the available evidence suggests Chamberlain believed that he had secured a genuine agreement which, at worst, would significantly delay a war, while Hitler privately considered the document to be ‘of no significance whatsoever’. Chamberlain’s policy was morally indefensible To begin with it can be argued strongly that Chamberlain was deliberately deceptive in his portrayal of appeasement to the British public. In dressing up the policy as motivated entirely by the desirability of peace (glossing over the issue of Britain’s readiness for war), Chamberlain knowingly raised unrealistic hopes of long-term avoidance of war and wilfully neglected to consider the potential costs of allowing the Nazis to enhance their power. Furthermore, in the context of the eventual destruction of the war, it can be added that Chamberlain cannot be excused for disregarding Hitler’s extremism which was increasingly well known by 1937/38. Chamberlain was an ineffective leader Even the most generous assessment of Chamberlain should not overlook his shortcomings as a leader.


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Source A Neville Chamberlain meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, 15 September 1938

Good leadership involves preparing for unexpected outcomes and considering conflicting advice in order to ensure that contingencies are in place should they be needed. Chamberlain failed to heed the advice of many senior figures in his own cabinet, within the foreign office and in the military, which could have significantly improved Britain’s position. In particular, his overestimation of France’s capacity to resist a German attack and his spurning of the opportunity to court allies (particularly the USA and also the USSR) can only be seen as failures with catastrophic consequences for which Chamberlain must take ultimate responsibility.

Dan Silverman Hindsight

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ty for the start of the Second World War?

NO Chamberlain faced many pressures An obsession with ‘guilt’ has meant that the various pressures affecting Chamberlain have never been fully understood. He was prime minister of a country that was not adequately prepared for war and was in no position to fight Germany in either 1937 or 1938. Britain’s military chiefs urged Chamberlain to avoid war at all costs during the Munich Conference and there was little Britain could have done to prevent Hitler’s takeover of the Sudetenland in 1938. General Ironside, chief of the general staff, informed the prime minister during the Munich Conference that ‘We have not the means of defending ourselves and he [Hitler] knows it’. In this sense there was no other option but to investigate whether German grievances could be solved without going to war. Chamberlain’s policy put Britain in a stronger position to fight By delaying war Chamberlain had ensured that Britain was in a far stronger position — its radar system, covering the British coastline, which was crucial in preventing the Luftwaffe from defeating the RAF in 1940, was not operational in 1937 and 1938 when many of Chamberlain’s opponents were urging confrontation with Hitler. April 2013

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Source B Neville Chamberlain on his return from Munich, 24 September 1938

Furthermore, he was ensuring that Britain was rapidly addressing its deficiencies in terms of fighter planes. By 1939 Chamberlain had made sure that Britain was committing nearly one quarter of its gross national product (GNP) to rearmament — a figure which often surprises those who see the embattled prime minister as having just one policy with regards to the German dictator.

Britain had no reliable and effective allies in 1938 It is difficult to see where Chamberlain was likely to find reliable and effective allies in the period when appeasement took place: the USA was still deeply committed to isolationism, the French lacked serious political leadership, and Chamberlain was naturally suspicious of the Russians. Churchill’s vision of a ‘Grand Alliance’ did not take into account such practicalities. In any case, none of the countries of Eastern Europe would have been prepared to let Soviet troops pass through their territory to get to Germany. Furthermore, the Dominions (such as Australia, South Africa and Canada), which had been crucial in contributing significant numbers of troops in the First World War, were not wholly convinced of the case for war in 1938; these countries had been given control over their own foreign policies in 1931 and their support for Britain in times of war could not now be taken for granted. Paul Short


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