Sunday, August 8, 2010

Richard North and the Battle of Britain

When North started this series of posts, I wasn't sure where it would go, or whether it would be of great interest to me. Basically, for each date this summer (beginning I forget when), he is saying something about what was happening in the Battle of Britain on the same date in 1940.

He has said two things that I find very interesting. First: there has been some debate about 1)whether Britain shot down German planes that were clearly marked as rescue planes for flight crews that went down over water; 2) whether these attacks were justified by the alleged fact that the dastardly Germans sometimes used rescue planes in their attacks; 3) whether German rescue planes would rescue British and Allied crews as well as German crews, indiscriminately; and 4) whether Britain made any attempt to provide rescue planes for her own crews, much less anyone else's. The answers, which North makes clear he regrets, are yes, no, yes and no. He gives this an interesting libertarian twist by saying governments will lie to you if they think they can get away with it.

Then a slightly larger question: Was Churchill correct that "the few"--fighter pilots--basically won this battle? Churchill's own remarks, considered more fully, point to the importance of bombers attacking German sites; and a little-known fact of the battle is the extent to which anti-aircraft crews made a difference. Although this was not known immediately, they apparently confirmed over 200 "kills" of aircraft; and their effects went beyond that. Going to contributions that are even less likely to be recognized or glorified, the crews of small boats called colliers kept hauling coal to England in the face of extreme danger, and indeed increasing casualties.

Then perhaps the biggest question: did Germany have a realistic chance of invading Britain? North says no.

However perilous the situation for Fighter Command might have been, the outcome of the Battle of Britain was never seriously in doubt. The Germans' objective – the invasion of Britain – was one which could never have succeeded. Apart from anything else, they simply did not have the physical resources to transport and sustain an invasion force. We, on the other hand, at the height of the battle, still had sufficient resource to send a squadron of Hurricanes to Malta.

I have tended to assume that Hitler let the Brits off the hook twice--first at Dunkirk, than by breaking off the Battle of Britain. I must admit I haven't thought much about the fact that Germany would have had to launch an amphibious attack on Britain, as the Western Allies eventually did beginning on D-Day, and probably no country including Germany had the means to do that in 1940. I have speculated that Hitler was surprised there was so much resistance to his campaigns in Britain--when there had been little evidence of such resistance only a few months earlier, and the French, led by their generals from World War I, had given up quite easily. Hitler may have surveyed certain actions of the British Empire and decided that these folks were natural Nazis. The rule of India is obviously part of this, but if anything the use of genocidal wars in Ireland to relieve political pressure in London is an even better example.

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