Britain's completely underrated role in WWII

Because of a project I’m working on at the moment, I have online access to JIC, Cabinet office and MI5 papers, and ULTRA Decrypts sent to the PM. To say it makes fascinating reading is an understatement unfortunately! I could spend almost every minute of the day reading through the files, but have to be disciplined to meet my deadline.

But what these archives show is the total war that the United Kingdom, the dominions, and the Empire were engaged in. But, by 1944 it’s clear that leadership has passed from the UK to America. The tone of foreign office and Cabinet office papers changes towards one of compliance and obsequious hand wringing.

The marginalia (comments written down the sides of reports, memoranda, letters…) speak volumes. So does the fact that many of these official documents are typed on the back of previously used documents or blank requisition forms for example. The immediate postwar period saw the UK being effectively bankrupt. It could barely afford to pay wages of the forces and the civil service; it couldn’t afford to buy in the services of hundreds of talented German engineers and scientists. The Russians offered three times what the UK could offer this valuable resource. The sense of weariness and defeat pervades much of the documentation of the late 1940s.
And yet without the resolve of Britain from the fall of France until the invasion of the USSR, the world would now be Fascist or maybe post-Fascist.
 
Wait... What..? WW2 has ended? When did this happen? I'd better tell my Grandfather that he is no longer allowed to 'kill Jerry' or them 'little yellow monkeys.'
Hiroo Onoda walt
 
The Klystron and Magnetron were exchanged for the Norden bomb-sight, as an example.
Did manage to work out how the magnetron works?
 
Churchill got involved from the strategic down to the very tactical detail, which was afforded to him by reading huge volumes of intercepted German signals - possibly at the expense of strategic thinking and decision-making. However, this wasn't new. As First Sea Lord in 1914-15, he used his position to advise the Royal Navy on all manner of trivial detail about the maintenance and operation of ships. He was to repeat this when he returned to the role in 1939.
And I am lead to believe reduced the rum ration
 
Major Ivan Henderson, REME, I think. There were a few of the factories workers living in the plant and Henderson saw potential in what was to become the VW Beetle. He got an order for a few thousand beetles from the British Government of Occupation and the rest is history. I paid a visit to the Wolfsburg factory a few years ago and it is an amazing place bearing in mind it was built in the thirties . One thing I did note as I sipped a beer as I waited for my train was all the taxis at the rank outside the station were Skoda Superbs - not a VW in sight!
No it was Hirst. He got and order for 50ush from a Yank general by saying the next three beetles where going to an address he gave in the states
Ivan Hirst - Wikipedia
I was lucky enough to go to the VW factory museum on a few occasions.
16000 slaves mainly Roma, I will stop now
Skoda is a a VW
 
Dont confuse wartime expediency - with long term strategy - or indeed persons deemed to be of German ethnicity in eastern Europe being conscripted with now tolerating untermensch

I think certain demographics that had been more than willing to assist with the Jewish problem - would have been somewhat dismayed to learn they were next on the list.

Not for nothing were large numbers of children classed as look German enough and taken from eastern European families and sent to german ones
It is rather instructive to refer back to "Mein Kampf" to see what Hitler's goals were. In his analysis of global empires and great powers, he distinguished between them on the basis of whether their power was based on a colonial system where the imperial power ruled over large numbers of diverse colonial subjects of different racial backgrounds, or whether their power was based on possessing a large homogenous population living in a large contiguous territory which contained most of the natural resources required for them to be self sufficient.

In this analysis he did look at France, Russia, and China. However he primarily focused his attention on "England" (the British Empire) and the US. He considered the British Empire to be the opposite of the future that he proposed for Germany. He saw that empire as being inherently unstable, and that with any major reverse it would disintegrate (which in fact it did after WWII). He compared the British Empire to being a pyramid standing on its point.

He saw the US on the other hand as the model for his future new Germany. It was, in his view, a pyramid which stood on its base and so was inherently stable over the long term. It had a large, nearly homogenous population living in a largely contiguous territory and nearly self sufficient in terms of resources. It did have some overseas colonies, but these were not the basis of its power.

So how was Germany to become the United States of Europe? It couldn't be done by conquering neighbouring countries and ruling over their populations, he was quite clear on that. I suspect that his views on this may have been strongly influenced by his growing up in the "ethnically diverse" Austro-Hungarian Empire, an empire which he despised.

Instead, he proposed that Germany was to take over "Russia" and make those lands "German", much as the US had expanded west across the middle of North America and made those lands "American" (white anglo-saxon protestant of the American flavour). This was to be a long term project, but Hitler was thinking in the long term and of the encouragement of large families. The US after all expanded across their new western territories in a matter of a few decades once they started.

As to what was to happen to the Russians and other Slavic people who inhabited those territories, he wasn't explicit about that in Mein Kampf. Then again he was never very publicly explicit about the "final solution" to any of the other ethnic inconveniences who got in the way of his plans. There appeared to be no place for any Slavs in his future Greater Germany however. He had been very clear that for the pyramid to stand on its base, the new Greater Germany to be founded in Russia must consist entirely of Germans, not a thin crust of German administrators ruling over colonial subjects. Russians it would seem were to vanish from the pages of history.

It is vital to keep the above in mind when talking about the course of the war. Germany went to war in order to conquer the Soviet Union, exterminate their population, and repopulate the territory with "Aryans". Anything else was a side show and not a core objective. Germany didn't need to defeat and occupy Britain. They just needed to ensure that Britain wouldn't interfere with their real plans in the east. By staying in the war and remaining in the fight Britain presented a road block to the pursuit of Germany's true strategic efforts.

I think the common question "why did Germany lose WWII?" is prone to leading to incorrect conclusions because it assumes that the default state is that Germany would win unless something goes wrong. I think it is better to look at it in terms of what would Germany have had to do to win, and why they didn't achieve that. The Germans were taking a huge strategic gamble and many things had to go right in order for them to win the war, as opposed to simply winning battles or campaigns.

One of the major strategic factors in modern warfare is access to natural resources on a scale of global significance. Without that, the war machine, no matter how brilliant the commanders or spiffy the uniforms, is going to grind to a halt in any prolonged conflict.

Under Hitler's long term plan, those global scale resources were to be obtained through the conquest and exploitation of Russia. This would give them the oil, coal, iron ore, food, wood, and other natural resources they needed. However, it would take time to defeat the Soviets, occupy the territory and bring it under control, and rebuild the extractive industries and agriculture to make them productive again.

Germany did start the war with stockpiles of raw materials which were intended to supply industry until new resources could be obtained. They also got some resources through trade with the Soviet Union before they invaded them, but not enough to meet demand and avoid running down their stockpiles, even at peacetime demand levels, let alone under war conditions.

Alternatively, they could import resources from overseas through trade. However, that option was only open provided they were not at war with Britain, as Britain could blockade any commercial shipping to the continent.

Taken together, this meant that the Germans either had to either knock Britain out of the war or defeat the Soviets and occupy their territory and return it to a productive state again within a very strict time limit. However, the British didn't want to give up, and the Germans were unable to force them to. The Soviets took a lot of losses, but didn't fold and were able to hang in and rebuild their army. Hence, the Germans did not meet the conditions necessary for them to win and so by this means, lost. Just like in WWI, for WWII the Germans could only win the war if it was a short one.

It is often said that history is written by the victors. In many respects however, influential histories of WWII were written by the losers. Cold War politics and the resulting necessity to "rehabilitate" the German nation played a large part in this. Thus the German generals who were defeated in war were able to publish their memoirs in which they recounted how awesome they were and how they almost won the war and would have if it only Hitler would have listened to them. They could write pretty much anything they wanted about what happened in eastern Europe with little fear of contradiction because nobody was prepared to listen to the Soviets. Oh, and all the bad things which happened were all the fault of a handful of Nazis who must have piled into their flying saucers and escaped to the moon at the end of the war because there seemed to be oddly few of them around after the war.

In the 1990s western historians gained access to the ex-Soviet archives and turned up many documents which has caused many of them to question much of the received wisdom with regards to the course of the war. Much current thought seems to conclude that the German invasion of the Soviet Union was doomed due to the deficiencies of the German logistical system, which was incapable of prosecuting a major war at any great distance beyond their borders. Before the invasion the German logistical experts had predicted that the German advance would stall out roughly where it eventually did, but the senior command weren't interested in listening to them because a real commander lead from the front instead of pushing supplies and men in from the rear.

I have written about all of the above on other similar threads, together with references and quotes. I'm not going to repeat all that detail here again when those threads are still available.

Given the above, it can be seen that once the war had started in 1939, there were only two things which could have allowed Germany to win.

First, Britain decides to give up after the fall of France, and make peace with Germany, or at least an armistice. This would have given German access to world markets for resources with which to pursue a war of attrition with the Soviet Union. Churchill's personality and leadership probably played a decisive role in Britain not giving up.

Alernatively, the Soviet Union falls apart at the first hammer blow from Germany. A less capable and ruthless man than Stalin may not have been able to hold things together. It is pointless to speculate on the "what ifs" of a Soviet leader who could inspire people to follow him through love, as that wouldn't have been the Soviet Union and you would be talking about turning the clock back to 1917 rather than 1939.

As to what role the US played in this, opinion is divided. That they helped greatly is unquestionable. As to whether that help was decisive is not clear. The biggest thing that their involvement did ensure however was that when the Iron Curtain came down at the end of the war, it came down across Central Europe rather than at the shore of the English Channel. It is rather sobering to consider what the subsequent history of Europe might have been if the latter had happened.
 
That story has mixed together several different things, at least with respect to Canada. During WWII Canada set up a fund which the UK could use to buy whatever they needed in Canada. That included weapons, raw materials, food, etc. It started with $1 billion grant, no repayment required. When that ran out, it was topped up with a much larger zero interest loan ($2 billion dollars, if I recall correctly). At the end of the war the loan was simply written off, with no repayment required. So Britain ended the war with no war debt to Canada. That fund by the way was also open to other Commonwealth countries to buy war materials, not just Britain.

After the war, Canada extended another $1.2 billion loan to the UK in 1946. That was the loan the BBC article referred to as a "war debt" to Canada, whereas it was actually a post-war debt.

To put those numbers into perspective, Canada's GDP in 1939 was $5.6 billion, and had roughly doubled by 1945. I assume wartime inflation played a very large role in that apparent increase. In other words the aid was equivalent to a significant share of Canada's GDP, and was on top of Canada's own war spending.
Historical statistics of Canada: Section F: Gross National Product, the Capital Stock, and Productivity
 
What a fascinating subject!

Even after the United States had entered the war, Britain and the Commonwealth bore the brunt of the fighting in the Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean, provided most of the landing craft and escorts for the Normandy landings (7000 approx of 9000 approx allied vessels in the Channel on 6 June 1944 flew the White Ensign), and a huge proportion of the troops during the initial invasion of occupied Europe.

One could argue that the war was won by the time the allies had achieved a beachhead in France.
Tojo needs a word with you
 
Telling that 9 out of 10 German casualties of the war occurred on the eastern front
Germany was not the ONLY enemy, the little yellow ******* who yelled Banzai and made it to India and the Philippines and took on China would beg to say you forgot the war in Asia
 
Really? I wasn't aware of that... though I do recall the USA not forgiving the Brit war debt... which the UK didn't pay off until the 1970s or so.
In fact I'm not sure the UK WAS a beneficiary of the Marshall plan which allowed Germany and Japan to recover, industrially, far quicker than the UK... growing fat under the protection of the US/UK nuclear umbrella.
You recall wrong

what the UK repaid was the "Anglo American loan" the UK requested from the USA (in addition to marshall plan aid)

Lend Lease was easily paid off

you had several options at the end to reconcile it

A- Write off items as expended in action or destroyed by enemy action
B- Return items to US Control
C- Dump items (See RN dumping new F4U Corsairs overboard
D- Purchase items on 10 cents to the Dollar

a C-47 Dakota which cost American taxpayers US$85K cost the British Taxpayer US $ 8,500.00
Jeeps which cost US 738.34 for a US Taxpayer you got for US$73.00
M
You kept
Dakotas
TBM/TBF Avengers
M1919A4 Brownings (US Cost $737 ea UK cost $73)
M2HB Brownings (US Cost $1,560 ea UK cost $156)
Jeeps
M5A1 Tanks (deturreted as A/T Prime movers)
M4 Shermans
M1 and M1A1 Carbines
M1 155mm Long Toms
 
It is rather instructive to refer back to "Mein Kampf" to see what Hitler's goals were. In his analysis of global empires and great powers, he distinguished between them on the basis of whether their power was based on a colonial system where the imperial power ruled over large numbers of diverse colonial subjects of different racial backgrounds, or whether their power was based on possessing a large homogenous population living in a large contiguous territory which contained most of the natural resources required for them to be self sufficient.

In this analysis he did look at France, Russia, and China. However he primarily focused his attention on "England" (the British Empire) and the US. He considered the British Empire to be the opposite of the future that he proposed for Germany. He saw that empire as being inherently unstable, and that with any major reverse it would disintegrate (which in fact it did after WWII). He compared the British Empire to being a pyramid standing on its point.

He saw the US on the other hand as the model for his future new Germany. It was, in his view, a pyramid which stood on its base and so was inherently stable over the long term. It had a large, nearly homogenous population living in a largely contiguous territory and nearly self sufficient in terms of resources. It did have some overseas colonies, but these were not the basis of its power.

So how was Germany to become the United States of Europe? It couldn't be done by conquering neighbouring countries and ruling over their populations, he was quite clear on that. I suspect that his views on this may have been strongly influenced by his growing up in the "ethnically diverse" Austro-Hungarian Empire, an empire which he despised.

Instead, he proposed that Germany was to take over "Russia" and make those lands "German", much as the US had expanded west across the middle of North America and made those lands "American" (white anglo-saxon protestant of the American flavour). This was to be a long term project, but Hitler was thinking in the long term and of the encouragement of large families. The US after all expanded across their new western territories in a matter of a few decades once they started.

As to what was to happen to the Russians and other Slavic people who inhabited those territories, he wasn't explicit about that in Mein Kampf. Then again he was never very publicly explicit about the "final solution" to any of the other ethnic inconveniences who got in the way of his plans. There appeared to be no place for any Slavs in his future Greater Germany however. He had been very clear that for the pyramid to stand on its base, the new Greater Germany to be founded in Russia must consist entirely of Germans, not a thin crust of German administrators ruling over colonial subjects. Russians it would seem were to vanish from the pages of history.

It is vital to keep the above in mind when talking about the course of the war. Germany went to war in order to conquer the Soviet Union, exterminate their population, and repopulate the territory with "Aryans". Anything else was a side show and not a core objective. Germany didn't need to defeat and occupy Britain. They just needed to ensure that Britain wouldn't interfere with their real plans in the east. By staying in the war and remaining in the fight Britain presented a road block to the pursuit of Germany's true strategic efforts.

I think the common question "why did Germany lose WWII?" is prone to leading to incorrect conclusions because it assumes that the default state is that Germany would win unless something goes wrong. I think it is better to look at it in terms of what would Germany have had to do to win, and why they didn't achieve that. The Germans were taking a huge strategic gamble and many things had to go right in order for them to win the war, as opposed to simply winning battles or campaigns.

One of the major strategic factors in modern warfare is access to natural resources on a scale of global significance. Without that, the war machine, no matter how brilliant the commanders or spiffy the uniforms, is going to grind to a halt in any prolonged conflict.

Under Hitler's long term plan, those global scale resources were to be obtained through the conquest and exploitation of Russia. This would give them the oil, coal, iron ore, food, wood, and other natural resources they needed. However, it would take time to defeat the Soviets, occupy the territory and bring it under control, and rebuild the extractive industries and agriculture to make them productive again.

Germany did start the war with stockpiles of raw materials which were intended to supply industry until new resources could be obtained. They also got some resources through trade with the Soviet Union before they invaded them, but not enough to meet demand and avoid running down their stockpiles, even at peacetime demand levels, let alone under war conditions.

Alternatively, they could import resources from overseas through trade. However, that option was only open provided they were not at war with Britain, as Britain could blockade any commercial shipping to the continent.

Taken together, this meant that the Germans either had to either knock Britain out of the war or defeat the Soviets and occupy their territory and return it to a productive state again within a very strict time limit. However, the British didn't want to give up, and the Germans were unable to force them to. The Soviets took a lot of losses, but didn't fold and were able to hang in and rebuild their army. Hence, the Germans did not meet the conditions necessary for them to win and so by this means, lost. Just like in WWI, for WWII the Germans could only win the war if it was a short one.

It is often said that history is written by the victors. In many respects however, influential histories of WWII were written by the losers. Cold War politics and the resulting necessity to "rehabilitate" the German nation played a large part in this. Thus the German generals who were defeated in war were able to publish their memoirs in which they recounted how awesome they were and how they almost won the war and would have if it only Hitler would have listened to them. They could write pretty much anything they wanted about what happened in eastern Europe with little fear of contradiction because nobody was prepared to listen to the Soviets. Oh, and all the bad things which happened were all the fault of a handful of Nazis who must have piled into their flying saucers and escaped to the moon at the end of the war because there seemed to be oddly few of them around after the war.

In the 1990s western historians gained access to the ex-Soviet archives and turned up many documents which has caused many of them to question much of the received wisdom with regards to the course of the war. Much current thought seems to conclude that the German invasion of the Soviet Union was doomed due to the deficiencies of the German logistical system, which was incapable of prosecuting a major war at any great distance beyond their borders. Before the invasion the German logistical experts had predicted that the German advance would stall out roughly where it eventually did, but the senior command weren't interested in listening to them because a real commander lead from the front instead of pushing supplies and men in from the rear.

I have written about all of the above on other similar threads, together with references and quotes. I'm not going to repeat all that detail here again when those threads are still available.

Given the above, it can be seen that once the war had started in 1939, there were only two things which could have allowed Germany to win.

First, Britain decides to give up after the fall of France, and make peace with Germany, or at least an armistice. This would have given German access to world markets for resources with which to pursue a war of attrition with the Soviet Union. Churchill's personality and leadership probably played a decisive role in Britain not giving up.

Alernatively, the Soviet Union falls apart at the first hammer blow from Germany. A less capable and ruthless man than Stalin may not have been able to hold things together. It is pointless to speculate on the "what ifs" of a Soviet leader who could inspire people to follow him through love, as that wouldn't have been the Soviet Union and you would be talking about turning the clock back to 1917 rather than 1939.

As to what role the US played in this, opinion is divided. That they helped greatly is unquestionable. As to whether that help was decisive is not clear. The biggest thing that their involvement did ensure however was that when the Iron Curtain came down at the end of the war, it came down across Central Europe rather than at the shore of the English Channel. It is rather sobering to consider what the subsequent history of Europe might have been if the latter had happened.
Can I cut 'n paste this on to an American site where 'we saved your asses' is a common theme?


I often write a less erudite version, and get called a Commie-loving pansy Brit.
 

ancienturion

LE
Book Reviewer
Total thread drift I know but a few years ago I was in Prague when the then new Superb was on show. Apparently it had something to do with the Audi engine but I can find no reference to it now. Was that true?
 
Much current thought seems to conclude that the German invasion of the Soviet Union was doomed due to the deficiencies of the German logistical system, which was incapable of prosecuting a major war at any great distance beyond their borders. Before the invasion the German logistical experts had predicted that the German advance would stall out roughly where it eventually did, but the senior command weren't interested in listening to them because a real commander lead from the front instead of pushing supplies and men in from the rear.
I like that. Plus it's worth reflecting that Germany didn't so much invade Russia because it was a plan that had been perfected. It was really Brinkmanship caused by the fact that Communism led by the then faction had sworn to do pretty much the same in terms of expansion. The Question was When. Stalin played an absolute blinder in comparison but IMHO Finland was a flawed war at the wrong time. conducted as it was under the NS soviet pact (i.e Germany not interfering) Finland, I think persuaded Hitler it had to be as soon as possible.
 

Fang_Farrier

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I don't think the soviets would have collapsed if they had lost the city.
The bulk of railway and road connections for the Western half of Russia went through Moscow, capturing them would have crippled any movements over that side of the country making any transfer of troops, equipment and material impossible other than on small minor roads.
 

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