American support promised – but Britain fights alone

Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940.

Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940.

Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in flight, April 1940.

Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in flight, April 1940.

What was later to be designated the Battle of Britain was now firmly underway, with more and more of RAF Fighters Command’s squadrons being drawn into action. Nevertheless much of the fighting was still taking place offshore, as the Luftwaffe continued its attacks on convoys. As a consequence the battle was not yet taking place regularly over the heads of civilians in the south east of England.

Reporting on the atmosphere in London was Mollie Panter-Downes, correspondent for New Yorker magazine:

28 July 1940

Except for isolated air raids and attacks on convoys round the coast, this has been a quiet week. The results of the air battles have confirmed the general impression that the British pilots are outflying the Germans, man for man and plane for plane.

On Friday afternoon, newspaper-sellers were chalking up on their boards “Twenty-three Planes Down Yesterday” — a new record which was later corrected to twenty-eight and which greatly encouraged people who had already been heartened a night or two earlier by Lord Beaverbrook’s broadcast announcement that arrangements had just been made for the production in the United States of three thousand planes a month for this country.

Skeptical listeners were even more impressed by Mr. Morgenthau’s [the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] subsequent statement that the United States Government had agreed to give the British “every possible facility to place their orders and secure delivery.” That, the doubters agreed, means something, though the date of the first of these precious deliveries must necessarily be far distant and time is a factor which may be heartbreakingly decisive.

The President’s statement on the possibility of sending American vessels to fetch children to the States brought hope to many anxious parents, but his insistence that there should be “reasonable assurances” of immunity from submarine and air attack didn’t sound very good, for the recent example of the Meknés is in everybody’s mind.

Although most Britons believe that the sinking of one child-refugee ship would have the same galvanizing effect on American public opinion that the Lusitania outrage had, there are plenty of people who think that the Germans might be clumsy or callous enough to risk it.

Although London may not be precisely comfortable, it is at the moment one of the most exhilarating cities in the world in which to find oneself. It can’t be comfortable to anyone who hasn’t a morbid affection for danger, since, as people say simply, however good the defences are, some of those waves of dive bombers which may momentarily be sent against them will certainly get through.

Horror may glide down suddenly and noiselessly out of the summer sky as it did on Barcelona, but all the same it’s stimulating to be here, as one of the remaining Americans remarked, because of a new vitality which seems to have been injected into the staid British atmosphere.

Possibly the feeling of increased confidence and purpose one gets from everybody is due to the fact that the British people are now not trusting in anybody or anything—not in the French Army or even in the American promise of planes – except the British people. After the bitterness and bewilderment of the last few tragic weeks, there’s relief in finding that faith can be so simplified.

See Mollie Panter-Downes: London War Notes, 1939-1945

A working class family in wartime: every day life with the Suter family in London, 1940. Doris and Alan Suter examine something of interest in a bush in the front garden of their Eltham home, in the summer of 1940. Note that both carry gas masks.

A working class family in wartime: every day life with the Suter family in London, 1940. Doris and Alan Suter examine something of interest in a bush in the front garden of their Eltham home, in the summer of 1940. Note that both carry gas masks.

Two members of the Home Guard with a Vickers machine gun on a village green in Surrey. Originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers, the force was set up in 1940 as a precaution against enemy parachute landings behind the lines in the event of an invasion. By July the Home Guard numbered 500,000.

Two members of the Home Guard with a Vickers machine gun on a village green in Surrey. Originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers, the force was set up in 1940 as a precaution against enemy parachute landings behind the lines in the event of an invasion. By July the Home Guard numbered 500,000.

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