The Battle of Britain 1940
The Fall of France
 
It was in just two exceptionally short, very quick and lightning campaigns, with the effectiveness and precision of a well drilled machine that Germany overpowered the armies of Poland, Britain and France. The Polish military was no match for the supreme German forces that swiftly moved in and between September 8 and 10 1939, closed in on Warsaw both from the north and south, trapping the Polish forces to the west of the capital. The Poles had neither the weaponry nor the expertise in actual warfare, whereas the Germans already had combat experience in Spain (1936-39), Czechoslovakia (March 1939), .Norway (January 1940), and at Dunkirk in the May and June of 1940 where more than 335,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated by British naval vessels and an assortment of small civilian craft. To the British it was absolute chaos, they lacked experience, they fought with inferior weapons and they lacked organization, in fact the only thing that can be acredited to the British was the withdrawl from the beaches back to the safety of British soil. As one German officer said as he watched from a cliff top the hasty retreat from Dunkirk '....just look at them run.....like dogs with their tails between their legs'. The victory at Dunkirk only boosted the morale of the German forces, and as the British ran in defeat licking their wounds the Germans went back to their chateau's to rest, drink wine, dance and celebrate.


Prior to Dunkirk, the German generals knew that an invasion of France would not be as easy as the taking of Poland. The French were aware of a German invasion but relied heavily on the defences of the Maginot Line which would be the obvious place that the Germans would make their entry into France. They firmly believed that the hills and the woods of the Ardennes south of the Maginot were impeneterable and left the area undefended, but General Erich von Manstein believed and was quite right in thinking that the enemy would not expect the panzer divisions to attack there and this would give them a superior advantage. Hitler agreed to the General's proposition and so the panzer divisions broke through the Ardennes then began a northwestward sweep on French soil towards Belgium trapping the Belgians, British and the French forces in a small northeast pocket of France at Dunkirk on May 10 1940. On paper both sides were of equal strength but it was in the air that the Germans showed their superiority coupled with the fact that the Germans had a strategic plan that was adhered to. The allies on the other hand seemed to be at sixes and sevens. The Dutch and the Belgians had tried to stay neutral, but German airborne troops landed inside both Holland and Belgium and captured airfields and bridges and most importantly the huge fortress of Eben-Emael. Holland surrendered on May 14 soon after German heavy bombers destroyed the commercial sector of Rotterdam. On May 20 the Germans took Abbeville at the entrance to the Somme River and commenced the push towards the coast, it took them only eleven days to complete the 250 miles (400 Km) On May 26 Belgium surrendered just as the Germans had cornered the allies into a narrow beach head. German forces could have massacred the allies there and then if General von Rundstedt had not withdrawn the panzer divisions ready for the next phase of Germany's strategic plan to control the whole of Europe.


While the mass withdrawls were taking place from Dunkirk, Germany was already pushing into France, Britain had acknowledged France's request for assistance in the air but supplied only about a third of the aircraft requested, inexperienced pilots as far as combat was concerned and no plans for attack except just to do their best and defend as best they could.


On June 17, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, who had only become premier of France the day before, requested an armistice. This was signed on June 25 on the outcome that gave Germany full control of northern France, the Channel and the Atlantic coasts. Marshall Pétain then retreated to the southern half of France which was unoccupied and became known as Vichy France and he made the city of Vichy the capital. The Germans continued the march into France and entered and set up headquarters in the City of Paris.

A Pilot Remembers


"We were sent to France with the belief that we were to stop the advancing Germans. We were not allocated an airfield, only a reasonably level sort of field, well thats what it looked like from the air but it was as rough as blazes for take offs and landings. A large building the French call a chateu was our quarters and in the early part we spent more time in there and in the village than we did in the air. Occasionally a French order was issued because of some German acivity miles away but most of the time we were under the orders of our C.O. who really didn't know much more than we did. So we went out on reconaisence flights which usually was nothing more than a grand sightseeing tour. We only saw action towards the end of our stay and I must admit, we were totally outclassed and out manouvered by the Lufftwaffe pilots. What the hell we were supposed to achieve I don't know, thats why I suppose we achieved nothing, not in my book anyway. Was I glad when we were told that the German forces were advancing rapidly towards us and we we told to destroy any lame ducks (unservicable aircraft) and get the hell out of there. I ran out of fuel and crash landed just north of Portsmouth. I felt more at home after that on being transferred to 601 Squadron at Tangmere flying Hurricanes"
Sgt Harry 'Beano' Tomkins 601 Squadron


"Scramble"
Pilots used to sit around for what seemed ages in the early parts of the war just waiting for that call. They would sit around what was known as the Ops Room(Operations Room) either sitting in deck chairs, old sofas or anything that was donated. Many would just sit on the grass, many reading papers, books or just doing anything that would break the boredom. Then the phone would ring, and a voice would call out those magic words.
This photo is believed to have been taken in France of a Hurricane squadron in 'scramble' mode.

With France now defeated Hitler now had total control of the European coastline from the North Cape right to the Spanish border. Only one thing now stood in his way for total domination—that was Britain. Hitler had already stated that Britain 'was not our natural enemy' yet plans had already been in place for the invasion of the small yet powerful country. It is believed that Hitler had the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain fathomed out, he knew his weaknesses and he knew how to stall Chamberlain, after all, he had done it a number of times before. But now he had to contend with a new Prime Minister in Winston Churchill, who it seemed—had to go it alone. Churchill made it quite clear, that he was in no mood for surrender, yet who was there to stand by him. France still remembered that Britain offered aid to them, but really never got it. Stalin at this stage had no argument with Hitler therefore turned down a request to assist them. The Scandinavian countries along with Denmark, Holland and Belgium had been defeated by Germany and were in no position to help. The United States, although sympathetic to their call and at this time began for the first time peacetime conscription, but it was public opinion that was against getting involved in the war. Churchill would remember Norway and how Britain lost all of its Gladiator aircraft most which either crashed into the sea, or others who lost contact with their 'home' aircraft carrier. he would remember Norway again when 4,600 Germans faced a barrage of 24,700 British, Norwegian and French forces at Narvik plus the British had the Royal Navy lying just off the coast. But the Germans had the advantage of knowing the local terrain and outclassed their opponents. Yet, as they were pushed up against the neutral Swedish border and were very close to surrender, Britain, because of the urgency that was taking place in France, recalled its troops from Narvik.
Churchill would also remember Dunkirk, where 338,000 battle weary and fatigued soldiers of the British Expeditionery Force made their hasty withdrawl, where only 66 of the 261 Hurricanes had returned from France. He would know that although the war was only nine months old, Britain had lost 1025 aircraft so far, and that all that was left at his disposal was 330 fighter aircraft which consisted of Spitfires and Hurricanes backed up by 150 secondary fighters such as Gladiators, Blenheims and Defiants. And to rub salt into the wounds, an estimated 450 pilots were either killed, missing or had been captured. Of the three armed forces the Royal Air Force was the prestige military force but the BEF in France for weeks on end had been bombed, straffed and for most of the time were without air support which they so badly needed. After Dunkirk, the RAF were frowned upon, they were now at there lowest ebb, they were abused and often attacked when meeting up with members of the army. The truth was that numerous squadrons were shuttling backwards and forwards continuously trying to break up German air attacks but the combat consumption of the fighter plane was only fifteen minutes over enemy territory.


The Battle of France had taken it's toll, losses were heavy on both sides, and when we take into consideration earlier conflicts in Norway, Britain had lost more aircraft and personel than had Germany. Many historians and history book fail to agree with actual Air Ministry records. At one stage, it is recorded that over 900 aircraft were either lost or destroyed in six weeks, and what mattered most was that of this, 386 were Hurricanes and 67 were Spitfires. Another important factor to be taken into consideration was that, less than a hundred were destroyed in actual combat, the rest, some 350 aircraft were destroyed on the ground. We have to ask ourselves....why.
Other aircraft that can be put down as being destroyed were, 200 Bristol Blenheims, 140 Fairey Battles and 37 Lysnaders which is of no surprise as they were a very vulnerable aircraft. Bomber Command lost 26 Wellingtons and 26 Whitleys while Coastal Command lost 20 Hudsons. As far as personel were concerned, the RAF lost 1.382 men, 900 of them 915 were aircrew which included 534 pilots. When we take into consideration at the time, and it may only be a small figure compared with the Army's loss of 68,111, that the RAF did not employ as many personel as the other branches of the military, it was a figure that the RAF could ill afford.


The Luftwaffe fared no better, but if we take just the losses encountered during the Battle of France, and again it is hard to find exact and correct figures, but it is estimated that total losses amounted to about 2,000. This figure was ammended to 1,469 by Wood and Dempster, and further ammended by Denis Richards to 1,284. Official German records supplied by the Air Historical Branch state that 1,279 aircraft were either lost or damaged due to enemy action and that it comprised of 184 transport aircraft (which most of these losses occurred over Holland and Belgium in the early part of the war), 522 bombers (411 destroyed), 109 dive-bombers (89 destroyed), 193 Me109s and 107 Me110s.


The figures shown above are from "The Right of the Line" by John Terraine.
The figures are very similar, but if we look at the figures supplied by the authorities and the admitted total aircraft destroyed by their enemies we have 1,065 German aircraft destroyed to the 959 RAF aircraft destroyed.
One other thing that was brought to my attention was that considering the experience of the pilots of both sides, and we know that the Luftwaffe had far more experience in combat than the RAF, the inexperienced pilots and gunners of the RAF destroyed more aircraft than the far more experienced Luftwaffe.
Churchill had nothing to consider, he also had nothing to rejoice about either. Yes he remembered the constant defeats, the considerable losses so far, but he remained defiant over Hitler's triumphs. He was going to lead his people to victory no matter what.

 

".......the Battle of France is over. 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 institution 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 on 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'."

 

WINSTON CHURCHILL, JUNE 18 1940