Monday, August 12, 2013

August 13 - On this day in 1940 Germany Bombed England and So Lost the War

Garrison Keillor, a popular U.S. writer, poetry collector and radio personality with a unique Scandinavian-American brand of understated irony, has a serious item today in his emailed daily commentary, The Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1940 Germany began to bomb England, beginning the Battle of Britain. France had just been conquered, and Germany's plan was to destroy Great Britain's Royal Air Force before it began a land invasion of the country. The British had the most advanced radar systems in the world, which helped them shoot down many of the German bombers, but by the middle of August they had lost a quarter of their aircraft. Everything changed on August 24th, when a German bomber accidentally bombed London. Britain responded by bombing Berlin. Hitler was so angry that he ordered his air force to bomb London exclusively, turning his attention away from the Royal Air Force. If Hitler had focused on destroying the Royal Air Force, he probably would have won the Battle of Britain. Instead, the British weathered the bombing raids until the United States could join the war, and this led to Germany's ultimate defeat. 
Some background: On May 10, 1940 Prime Minister Chamberlain resigned, having lost a vote of no-confidence of the British House of Commons. His offenses:
  • He had signed the Munich Pact with Hitler, ignoring the invasion of Czechoslovakia in favor of a promise of "peace in our time." 
  • After September 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, Chamberlain did declare war against Germany but did not sufficiently address the urgent task of militarization. 
  • In April 1940, Hitler occupied Norway.
  • On May 10, the last straw, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium and quickly defeated them. Nothing but a narrow channel of water separated England from Hitler's fearsome Wehrmacht spread across the entire norther European coast. British and French troops faced German troops that appeared invulnerable.
Parliament replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister with Winston Churchill. Within two weeks, the Wehrmacht had British and French troops trapped near Dunkirk. Churchill was considering a conditional surrender.

Fortunately, bad weather grounded the then-dominant Luftwaffe. During the next week, mainly May 26-29, 338,000 British and French troops were evacuated across the English Channel in small boats.

Some histories have described Hitler as giving the order to let the troops go, hoping for a public outcry in favor of a British surrender and maybe an alliance against Stalin. But Hitler himself was apparently not initially involved. The order to let the evacuation proceed came from Goering, who was not a military expert and was petrified that the Allies would strike back.

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