Churchill sets out his priorities

THE very highest priority in personnel and material should be assigned to what may be called the Radio sphere. This demands Scientists, Wireless Experts, and many classes of highly-skilled labour and high-grade material.

On the progress made, much of the winning of the war and our future strategy, especially Naval, depends. We must impart a far greater accuracy to the A.A. guns, and a far better protection to our warships and harbours. Not only research and experiments, but production must be pushed hopefully forward from many directions, and after repeated disappointments we shall achieve success.

Sound locator crew working with search lights during the Blitz
A sound locator crew working with a Search Light unit during the Blitz. Such methods, as well as the Observation Corps, were given considerable publicity and shown as part of the co-ordination of Air Raid detection. By contrast the Radar system, which was already playing a crucial role, remained highly secret.

On the 15th October 1940 Winston Churchill set out his priorities in a War Cabinet ‘Note by the Prime Minister’.

He was perhaps mindful of the recent success of HMS Ajax in utilising radar against the Italian Navy, which he would just have been briefed about:

THE very highest priority in personnel and material should be assigned to what may be called the Radio sphere. This demands Scientists, Wireless Experts, and many classes of highly-skilled labour and high-grade material.

On the progress made, much of the winning of the war and our future strategy, especially Naval, depends. We must impart a far greater accuracy to the A.A. guns, and a far better protection to our warships and harbours. Not only research and experiments, but production must be pushed hopefully forward from many directions, and after repeated disappointments we shall achieve success.

The 1A priority must remain with Aircraft Production, for the purpose of executing approved Target programmes. It must be an obligation upon them to contrive by every conceivable means not to let this priority be abused and needlessly hamper other vital Departments. For this purpose they should specify their requirements in labour and material.

Other priorities were that he set out were:

The establishment of 10 Armoured Divisions by the end of 1941.

We cannot hope to compete with the enemy in numbers of men and must therefore rely upon an exceptional proportion of armoured fighting vehicles

Rifles and small arms ammunition – the Home Guard was still for the most part without weapons, and there was a shortage of ammunition for all units.

Small craft and anti U-Boat craft in preference to large ships for the Navy.

See TNA CAB/66/12/46

Blenheim Mk IFs of No. 25 Squadron at Martlesham Heath, 25 July 1940. The foreground aircraft is equipped with AI Mk III radar. The squadron was used for night fighter operations.
Blenheim Mk IFs of No. 25 Squadron at Martlesham Heath, 25 July 1940. The foreground aircraft is equipped with AI Mk III radar. The squadron was used for night fighter operations.
A member of the Observer Corps listens for the approach of aircraft while his colleague sleeps, 29 February 1940.
A member of the Observer Corps listens for the approach of aircraft while his colleague sleeps, 29 February 1940.

Morale remains high under fire

The almost incredible bravery of the people, their fortitude and endurance, and in especial the stoic calm of those who have lost their homes and possessions, beggars description. London and the provinces share equal honours in this last respect, and all writers are touchingly grateful for the kindness shown to them.

“Now the windows are all boarded up and tarpaulin put on the roof it does not seem so bad ….. The people around here have all been so kind. So many offered us a home… We did not know we had such wonderful friends.”

Anti aircraft guns in London during the Blitz
‘Londoners agree universally that the noise of the big guns is music in their ears, and that they sleep better when the barrage is in progress’

The Government was secretly opening the mail going out of the country. It was partly a counter espionage measure but it also enabled them to monitor the state of morale in the country. On the 7th October the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, asked that the latest report ‘Home Opinion – As Shewn in the Mails to USA and Eire’ be circulated to the rest of the War Cabinet:

REACTION TO AIR-RAIDS …

Morale is highest in London, but the provinces run a good second, and only a few letters from Liverpool, mostly from Irish writers, show any sign of panic.

Courage.

The almost incredible bravery of the people, their fortitude and endurance, and in especial the stoic calm of those who have lost their homes and possessions, beggars description. London and the provinces share equal honours in this last respect, and all writers are touchingly grateful for the kindness shown to them.

“Now the windows are all boarded up and tarpaulin put on the roof it does not seem so bad ….. The people around here have all been so kind. So many offered us a home… We did not know we had such wonderful friends.” (Bedford Park, London.)

“I don’t know whether you heard of our bit of bad luck or rather good luck, last Tuesday. We were left without a home, but not a scratch to anyone.” (Liverpool.).

“It is no longer necessary to make window displays, the chief reason being that I have no windows. On the boards which have replaced the glass are two notices, which have, caused a deal of comment. – “Business as usual, everybody safe. Not an ache and only a few panes …… .” (Liverpool)

“These people who are left without a thing in the world, except the spirit of winning the war ……” (London, E.8,)

“In the East End they seem more annoyed at Buckingham Palace being hit than their own homes ….. in some cases had spread out the Union Jack on the houses that had been hit (Southampton)

The Barrage.

Londoners agree universally that the noise of the big guns is music in their ears, and that they sleep better when the barrage is in progress.

“The great and lovely guns that burst Hell’s fire into the . Heavens, What a sight” (London)

“The splendid noise of our guns ….. the best tonic Londoners have ever had.” (N.W.1.)

“It’s an awful noise, but it’s wonderful music all the same and we like it and are able to get some sleep while it’s on.” (N.15.)

Souvenirs.

Londoners have found a new pastime in the collecting of pieces of shrapnel and fragments of crashed planes. “One of my friends has a piece of wing of an aeroplane. We all treasure our shrapnel here, for they are good souvenirs.” (E.1.)

See TNA cab/66/12/37

Symbolic photograph of a sentry standing guard on a beach in southern England, 7 October 1940.
Symbolic photograph of a sentry standing guard on a beach in southern England, 7 October 1940.

British ‘take the bombing in good heart’

An increasingly fatalistic attitude towards the effect of bombing is reported, and this appears to be coupled with a high state of morale. In the East End the searchlights rather than the sirens are now taken as a sign for going to the shelters. Cooperation and friendliness in public shelters are reported to be increasing …

At the beginning of the war Air Raid Wardens were often seen as unnecessarily officious and interfering. Attitudes changed as the bombing became more intense and there were eventually nearly 1.4 million voluntary unpaid wardens.

On the 5th September Churchill had addressed the House of Commons on the war situation. The following day the Ministry of Information had collated the response to the speech and attitudes to air raids generally, in its daily public attitude survey:

The public continue to take the bombing in good heart. In London last night’s alarm was talked of jokingly for the most part, and fewer people complain of tiredness today; more are sleeping through the night alarms.

There is general satisfaction at the Prime Minister’s announcement that something is to be done about the sirens, and the details are awaited eagerly.

An increasingly fatalistic attitude towards the effect of bombing is reported, and this appears to be coupled with a high state of morale. In the East End the searchlights rather than the sirens are now taken as a sign for going to the shelters. Cooperation and friendliness in public shelters are reported to be increasing, but there are many complaints about ‘insanitary messes’ in shelters, and improper behaviour of various varieties is causing distress among the more respectable elements of the community.

There was more detail in the London regional report:

LONDON

The Prime Minister’s speech was welcomed. The siren policy is still a controversial subject; most Londoners seem to approve the idea of a preliminary ‘stand-by’ siren with a further warning to indicate immediate danger. However there is a small school of thought who wish for no sirens.

The problem of night sleeping in shelters is the greatest concern of observers, particularly in the poor and crowded districts. Sanitary arrangements in many cases are inadequate: the atmosphere becomes very foul: there are increasing numbers of cases of colds and septic throats especially among children and it is feared that there may be epidemics. In several districts cases of blatant immorality in shelters are reported; this upsets other occupants of shelters and will deter them from using the shelters again.

See TNA INF 1/264

In the summer of 1940 the first Polish squadrons were formed in Fighter Command. No. 303 'City of Warsaw' Squadron was the top-scoring RAF unit in September 1940, with nine of its pilots claiming five or more kills. Pilot Officers Jan Zumbach (left) and Mirosław Ferić, two of its aces, playing with the Squadron's mascot - a puppy dog. RAF Leconfield, 24 October 1940.
In the summer of 1940 the first Polish squadrons were formed in Fighter Command. No. 303 ‘City of Warsaw’ Squadron was the top-scoring RAF unit in September 1940, with nine of its pilots claiming five or more kills. Pilot Officers Jan Zumbach (left) and Mirosław Ferić, two of its aces, playing with the Squadron’s mascot – a puppy dog. RAF Leconfield, 24 October 1940.

Meanwhile the daily battles over the south east of England continued unabated. 303 (Polish) Squadron’s Diary for the day is just one example of the activity of RAF Fighter Command, albeit by a group of men particularly motivated by their hatred of the Germans:

Nine Hurricanes left Northolt at 08.40 hours [on 6 September 1940]. Four Hurricanes landed Northolt 08.35 [sic] — 09.50 hours. After various patrol orders the [303 Polish] Squadron was over western Kent and saw very large formations of enemy aircraft moving up from the coast to the east of them and above.

Their lack of height forced them to attack climbing and at only 140 mph. This contributed largely to our heavy casualties.

S/Ldr Kellett destroyed one Do 215 and force-landed at Biggin Hill slightly wounded.

F/O Urbanowicz reports:

‘I was Yellow 2 with S/Ldr Krasnodebski; the second section. I saw a raid a mile away travelling westward – about 40 Dorniers. Red Section went in to attack. I saw Me 109s and Hurricanes flying across from left to right on each other’s tails. One Me 109 then attacked me from starboard. we had a short dogfight. I fired 3 or 4 seconds at 200 yards. The engine caught fire and E/A fell vertically to earth.

I lost my section and orbited. I saw bombs dropping in one place and Me109s circling round that place and much AA fire. I circled there and attacked a bomber; One Me 109 was in the way and two more attacked me. I had to dogfight with the three Me’s. I had no chance to fire. I escaped over some balloons by the sea, and the Me’s climbed up. I heard “All Apany Pancake” calling the squadron in to land and I came home.’

F/Lt Forbes shot down one Me 109 and damaged another. He was forced down by petrol pouring into the cockpit. He tried to land but overshot the field and was slightly wounded by splinters. The aircraft was damaged by shellfire and the landing and was Cat 3. [i.e. destroyed]

F/O Feric destroyed one Me 109 and probably another

Sgt Frantiszek shot down one Me 109 and his aircraft was hit in the tail by a shell. He landed at Northolt and his aircraft has been repaired here;

S/Ldr Krasnodebski’s aircraft a/c was hit by a shell before he had engaged the enemy and immediately caught fire. He was taken to Farnborough Hospital suffering from burns and shock.

Sgt Karubin claims to have shot down one He 111. He crashed near Pembury, shot down by a Me109, and was admitted to Pembury Hospital, slightly injured.

Summary: Enemy casualties — 1 Do 215, 5 Me 109s and 1 He 111 destroyed. 2 Me 109s probable. Own casualties — 5 Hurricanes Cat 3, 1 Hurricane Cat 2. [i.e. badly“ I damaged], Two pilots wounded and two pilots slightly wounded.

A group of pilots of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron RAF standing by the tail elevator of one of their Hawker Hurricane Mark Is at RAF Leconfield, 24 October 1940. Left to right: Pilot Officer Mirosław Ferić, Flying Officer Bogdan Grzeszczak, Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach, Flying Officer Zdzisław Henneberg and Flight Lieutenant John A. Kent, a Canadian who commanded 'A' Flight of the Squadron at this time.
A group of pilots of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron RAF standing by the tail elevator of one of their Hawker Hurricane Mark Is at RAF Leconfield, 24 October 1940. Left to right: Pilot Officer Mirosław Ferić, Flying Officer Bogdan Grzeszczak, Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach, Flying Officer Zdzisław Henneberg and Flight Lieutenant John A. Kent, a Canadian who commanded ‘A’ Flight of the Squadron at this time.

Churchill visits ‘Hell-Fire Corner’

Later that afternoon, we had to drive to Ramsgate and on the way we saw a smoldering aircraft in a field, and Churchill asked the driver to pull off the road and get as close to the wreckage as he could. There was firemen, soldiers and ARP men standing around and I walked with the Prime Minister towards the aircraft. Even though I warned Mr Churchill about the dangers of being out in the open during an air raid, he said that he must have a look, and when he saw the tangled mess he said ‘Dear God, I hope it isn’t a British plane.’ He was reassured that it was not.

Winston Churchill viewing activity in the Channel from an observation post at Dover Castle during his tour of defences, 28 August 1940. Enemy air attacks were in progress at the time, and two German bombers were seen to crash into the sea.
Winston Churchill viewing activity in the Channel from an observation post at Dover Castle during his tour of defences, 28 August 1940. Enemy air attacks were in progress at the time, and two German bombers were seen to crash into the sea.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill studies reports of the action that day with Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Flag Officer Comanding Dover, on 28 August 1940.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill studies reports of the action that day with Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Flag Officer Comanding Dover, on 28 August 1940.

Famously Winston Churchill claimed “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”. Throughout the war he was to show great enthusiasm for visiting the front line wherever he travelled, sometimes making a nuisance of himself with the military authorities. Throughout the summer of 1940 he was energetic in visiting many areas in the south of England that might be potential invasion areas.

It was while we were at Dover, that we saw the approaching German bombers and just a short distance away they were met by British fighters. Mr Churchill seemed mesmerized as the air battle took place almost overhead. We saw maybe two German bombers crash into the sea and some fighters with smoke trailing from them as they spiraled away from the main dogfight.

Later that afternoon, we had to drive to Ramsgate and on the way we saw a smoldering aircraft in a field, and Churchill asked the driver to pull off the road and get as close to the wreckage as he could. There was firemen, soldiers and ARP men standing around and I walked with the Prime Minister towards the aircraft. Even though I warned Mr Churchill about the dangers of being out in the open during an air raid, he said that he must have a look, and when he saw the tangled mess he said ‘Dear God, I hope it isn’t a British plane.’ He was reassured that it was not.

Inspector W.Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard

Winston Churchill and his entourage walk away from the crash-site of a Messerschmitt Bf 109E on Church Farm at Church Whitfield near Dover, 28 August 1940. Churchill was travelling between Dover and Ramsgate at the time, touring invasion defences, when the German aircraft was shot down. He ordered his car to halt and walked over to view the wreckage, much to the consternation of his personal bodyguard, Inspector W H Thompson (seen here on the right), as German aircraft were still in the vicinity.
Winston Churchill and his entourage walk away from the crash-site of a Messerschmitt Bf 109E on Church Farm at Church Whitfield near Dover, 28 August 1940. Churchill was travelling between Dover and Ramsgate at the time, touring invasion defences, when the German aircraft was shot down. He ordered his car to halt and walked over to view the wreckage, much to the consternation of his personal bodyguard, Inspector W H Thompson (seen here on the right), as German aircraft were still in the vicinity.

By contrast Adolf Hitler was very reluctant to visit the site of war damage in Germany. There are no photographs of him visiting bomb sites – the Nazi Propaganda Ministry had to resort to using a pre war photograph of him visiting the site of a domestic gas explosion in order to pretend that he did.

The Dover War Memorial Project records that there was a steady stream of civilian casualties during 1940.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects bomb damage caused by Luftwaffe night raids in Ramsgate, Kent, England on 28 August 1940.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects bomb damage caused by Luftwaffe night raids in Ramsgate, Kent, England on 28 August 1940.
Morris Quad and 25-pdr field gun passing through a town 'somewhere in England', 28 August 1940.
Morris Quad and 25-pdr field gun passing through a town ‘somewhere in England’, 28 August 1940.

British morale reported to be ‘excellent’

Reports from all areas show morale to be excellent. Recent air-raid alarms proved that confidence has greatly increased since the beginning of the war and people showing more neighbourliness towards each other. Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and similar offices which were besieged by anxious people after first alarms in September were practically empty after last week’s raids. Many people did not take shelter when the siren went; even men in uniform in Kensington Gardens took no notice and civilians are inclined to follow their example. Confusion still exists as to what people should do when siren goes; some employers grudge wasting time and don’t encourage their staff to take shelter.

Mrs Cross, a sailor's wife, waves goodbye to her neighbours as she drives away from her bombed-out home in the back of a removal truck. Her friend, also sitting in the truck, holds aloft a Union flag.
Mrs Cross, a sailor’s wife, waves goodbye to her neighbours as she drives away from her bombed-out home in the back of a removal truck. Her friend, also sitting in the truck, holds aloft a Union flag.

In a week when over 300 civilians were killed and over 600 seriously injured in bombing raids, the Ministry of Information was able to report to the Cabinet that morale on the Home Front was excellent. The daily reports were compiled from a variety of sources, including formal one-to-one surveys, as well as reports of conversations ‘overheard’ in public places:

21st August 1940

Morale continues high.

The Prime Minister’s speech was received extremely well, according to all reports.

From Northern Ireland comes the comment that it is the most forceful and heartening he has yet made. Newcastle reports that it has created a strong feeling of confidence.

Two Bristol verbatim reports are as follows:
‘Everyone feels now that, come what will, we are top dogs; the past week has shown that we shall win no matter what slight doubts there were before!’
‘Bristol has implicit trust in Churchill. If he says things are all right Bristol people know they are all right; if he says they are bad, they know they are bad!’

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects a 'Tommy gun' while visiting coastal defence postions near Hartlepool, 31 July 1940.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects a ‘Tommy gun’ while visiting coastal defence postions near Hartlepool, 31 July 1940.

From Scotland comes the report that the three points which interested people most were, first the reference to the Russian Air Force as perhaps immobilising a large part of the German air fleet, secondly the hint that the war might not last as long as was formerly expected, and thirdly the reference to closer relations with the USA. People in Scotland still seem reluctant to face up to the prospect of a long war, and the air successes of last week have strengthened the hope that the war may end quickly. There is no evidence that the Prime Minister’s references to the food blockade have produced any antagonism or disagreement.

Comment on the Somaliland evacuation is still limited and regional reports suggest that its impact is not great. The siren controversy continues heatedly.

From the various reports from around the regions:

LONDON

Reports from all areas show morale to be excellent. Recent air-raid alarms proved that confidence has greatly increased since the beginning of the war and people showing more neighbourliness towards each other. Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and similar offices which were besieged by anxious people after first alarms in September were practically empty after last week’s raids. Many people did not take shelter when the siren went; even men in uniform in Kensington Gardens took no notice and civilians are inclined to follow their example. Confusion still exists as to what people should do when siren goes; some employers grudge wasting time and don’t encourage their staff to take shelter. Street shelters in Paddington and Bayswater without roofs owing to shortage of material.

Doubt is still expressed about the accuracy of German air losses.

Evacuated children still returning to London. Many areas, particularly East End, view with gravity lack of full schooling facilities for children especially those under eight. It is felt that discipline and home life in evacuation areas have practically disappeared: even quite young children forming themselves into bands of hooligans. Hoxton and Shoreditch parents, normally not anxious about education, want full time schooling restored as they are unable to control their children. Hackney and Stoke Newington where class of parents is better realise children are growing up without sufficient education. It is difficult to prosecute parents for not sending children to school and bad parents are taking advantage of this. It is felt that the progress of twenty- five years has been broken down in one.

Some bitter feeling expressed about the giving up of Somaliland and French held to be responsible; no anxiety expressed about general situation in Middle East so long as the White Ensign is still flying.

Churchill’s speech yesterday, particularly his reference to the RAF, thought to be completely right — epitomises the feeling of the country.

Letters from internees in Isle of Man show conditions to be good.

For all the reports see TNA INF1/274.

For more on the Home Front see The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset.

Troops and civilians pose with Junkers Ju 88A-1 (B3+BM) of 4./KG 54, which belly-landed on Marsh Farm, Earnley, Sussex, on the evening of 21 August 1940. It had been intercepted by No. 17 Squadron Hurricanes during an attack on RAF Brize Norton.

 

"Never in the field of human conflict …"

“we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.”

Battle of Britain poster with Churchill's 'the few'
Winston Churchill knew how to coin a memorable phrase and the Ministry of Information knew how to use it. In the earliest posters using his words Bomber Command pilots were featured. Churchill included bomber crew amongst ‘the few’ when he spoke on 20th August.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk Vs of No. 102 Squadron during a press day at Driffield, March 1940. N1382 DY-A in the background was lost on a raid to Augsburg, 16/17 August 1940. The foreground aircraft is N1421 DY-C, which was shot down over Norway on the night of 29/30 April 1940.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk Vs of No. 102 Squadron during a press day at Driffield, March 1940. N1382 DY-A in the background was lost on a raid to Augsburg, 16/17 August 1940. The foreground aircraft is N1421 DY-C, which was shot down over Norway on the night of 29/30 April 1940.

On the 20th August 1940 Churchill addressed Parliament on the state of the war. Once again his speech was a rhetorical masterpiece, taking the listener on a journey through the present difficulties to an eventual outcome that would see all Europe liberated. There was an unshakeable confidence in achieving this final full victory, whatever it might take.

It was full of memorable phrases including one that has become one of his most famous, a phrase now indelibly associated with the Battle of Britain:

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

“The Few” is now a widely understood reference to those RAF fighter pilots who were fought in the skies over Britain that summer. For example the Churchill Centre and Museum states in its introduction to the speech:

In this speech Churchill coined the phrase “The Few” to describe the R.A.F fighter-pilots.

Except that he didn’t. Any ordinary reading of the phrase in the context of the speech shows that he was referring to all RAF aircrew, including bomber crew, not just fighter pilots:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Perhaps a little unfairly, since the RAF incorporated significant numbers of pilots from conquered Europe as well as from around the Empire, he refers to “British airmen”. But this is not a reference to fighter pilots alone.

In the very next sentence he elaborates upon this:

All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day; but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.

On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain.

Whatever meaning “The Few” has come to represent in the time since, there can be no doubt that in this speech Churchill was referring to both fighter and bomber aircrew. There was intense public interest in the air battles above and in sight of the British public that summer but Churchill emphasised that the sacrifice was being made by unseen bomber crews as well. He would have been only too well aware of the scale of losses being sustained by Bomber Command on, for example, the [permalink id=7117 text=’Dortmund-Ems canal’] raid and the [permalink id=7295 text=’Aalborg airfield’] raid. Only some of these could be publicly acknowledged at the time.

The Ministry of Information pamphlet, published in 1941, which defined the Battle of Britain around RAF Fighter Command.
The Ministry of Information pamphlet, published in 1941, which defined the Battle of Britain around RAF Fighter Command.

When on the [permalink id=1381 text=’18th June’] Churchill first used the term ‘the battle of Britain’ he was certainly not using the phrase to refer to the defence of Britain by fighter pilots. It referred to a much wider potential conflict, including possible invasion, that was yet to come. ‘The Battle of Britain’ was an Air Ministry pamphlet produced in March 1941, with a version widely distributed in the United States. The pamphlet was exclusively concerned with the fighter battle defence of Britain and, as an introduction, prominently featured this extract of Churchill’s of speech:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

In the text the same extract was used, still without the following two elaborating sentences. No mention was made of Bomber Command operations. Only photographs of fighter aircraft and fighter pilots were featured. The Battle of Britain had been created and it was now inextricably and solely linked to Fighter Command. It became obvious and natural that “the few” referred to fighter pilots. According to the Air Ministry ‘The Battle’ took place between 8th August and 31st October.

In due course the Battle was given even more shape and became even more celebrated. The Battle of Britain clasp was issued as an adornment to the 1939-1945 Campaign Medal – and was only eligible to fighter pilots from certain squadrons who had served between specified dates. Now the scope of the Battle was even more closely defined, although the date of commencement moved to the 10th July 1940.

The clasp is not available for personnel who flew in aircraft other than fighters, notwithstanding that they may have been engaged with the enemy during the qualifying period.

battleofbritain1940.net has the full 1946 Air Ministry Order.

As the war ended in 1945 the work of Bomber Command suddenly seemed more controversial. Gratitude to the Bomber Command pilots and aircrew of the summer of 1940, whom Churchill had so clearly identified as being amongst “the few”, was now in short supply. Bomber Command as a whole was now associated with the laying waste of large swathes of Germany. Whatever the terrible sacrifices involved and whatever the contribution to ultimate victory, the later bombing campaigns were something that post war Governments did not want to celebrate. There was no campaign medal for any of Bomber Command.

The speech in which Churchill urged that “we must never forget” the bomber squadron crews ultimately achieved the opposite. It became used to promote a myth that excluded them from popular memory. The myth that the “few” who fought in the summer of 1940 in the “battle of Britain” came only from the ranks of fighter pilots. Fortunately some sources now challenge that myth – see What is the Battle of Britain?.

For all these reasons, and more, Churchills speech is well worth reading in its entirety.

Handley Page Hampden being bombed up, 2 August 1940.
Handley Page Hampden being bombed up, 2 August 1940.
Blenheim crews of No. 110 Squadron at Wattisham add Le Bourget to a list of recent targets, August 1940.
Blenheim crews of No. 110 Squadron at Wattisham add Le Bourget to a list of recent targets, August 1940.

Royal Navy evacuates British Somaliland

The British completed their evacuation of British Somaliland on 19th August 1940, following the invasion on 3rd August and the Battle of the Tug Argan Gap. There were some 250 British forces casualties and over 2,000 on the Italian side. It was the only campaign during the Second World war that the Italian fascist regime successfully concluded without the assistance of German armed forces.

The italian Flag flies over the former British Governor\’s bomb damaged residence.

The British completed their evacuation of British Somaliland on 19th August 1940, following the invasion on 3rd August and the Battle of the Tug Argan Gap. There were some 250 British forces casualties and over 2,000 on the Italian side. It was the only campaign during the Second World war that the Italian fascist regime successfully concluded without the assistance of German armed forces.

Churchill put a brave face on the development, in public it was argued that British Somaliland was not strategically important and the troops were needed elsewhere. In private he suggested to the Commander in Chief, Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell that, judging by the number of casualties, the British led forces might have put up more resistance. Wavell responded that a ‘butchers bill’ was not necessary to prove the value of a textbook tactical withdrawal.

Meanwhile back in Britain another period of bad weather limited the intensity of the fighting in the air war over Britain. Both sides were taking stock.

In Britain strenuous efforts had been made to keep aircraft repaired and serviceable, and more kept arriving from the factories. The problem was pilots. The RAF had lost 90 pilots killed in the last ten days and a further 50 injured and out of combat. Only 65 replacements had arrived from the training schools – and it was this cohort of inexperienced young men who were to suffer particularly badly in the following weeks.

In Germany Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe was becoming increasingly frustrated. The knockout blow to Britain’s air defences, which he had promised Hitler, had failed to materialise either on ‘Eagle Day’ or since. He held a conference on the 19th with his air chiefs. The outcome, alongside the sacking of a number of junior commanders, was the clarification of the objectives:

We have reached the decisive period of the air war against England. The vital task is to turn all means at our disposal to the defeat of the enemy Air Force.

Our first aim is the destruction of the enemy’s fighters. If they no longer take to the air, we shall attack them on the ground, or force them into battle by directing bomber attacks against targets within the range of our fighters.

At the same time, and on a growing scale, we must continue our activities against the ground organisation of the enemy bomber units. Surprise attacks on the enemy aircraft industry must be made by day and by night.

Once the enemy Air Force has been annihilated; our attacks will be directed as ordered against other vital targets.

It was these tactics which would start to put real pressure on the RAF. For Britain the the battle was entering its most dangerous phase.

Children embarking on a ship in the first wave of evacuation to Australia under the government scheme, 19 August 1940.

Churchill’s ‘Defence Against Invasion’ memo

The defence of any part of the coast must be measured not by the forces on the coast, but by the number of hours within which strong counter-attacks by mobile troops can be brought to bear upon the landing places. Such attacks should be hurled with the utmost speed and fury upon the enemy at his weakest moment, which is not, as is sometimes suggested, when actually getting out of his boats, but when sprawled upon the shore with his communications cut and his supplies running short.

A 'fighting column' from the South Wales Borderers man their motorcycles which are parked in a suburban street in Bootle, Liverpool, England, 16 August 1940. This training operation formed part of British preparations to repel the threatened German invasion of 1940
A ‘fighting column’ from the South Wales Borderers man their motorcycles which are parked in a suburban street in Bootle, Liverpool, England, 16 August 1940. This training operation formed part of British preparations to repel the threatened German invasion of 1940
Anti-invasion defences: digging tank traps on a golf course.
Anti-invasion defences: digging tank traps on a golf course.

On 5th August Churchill had sent a memorandum to the Chiefs of Staff on his strategy for meeting a possible invasion. He believed that the first three lines of defence were:

i. monitoring the enemy ports and attacking any build up of shipping

ii. ‘vigilant sea patrolling’ to intercept any invasion expedition and ‘destroy it in transit’, and

iii. ‘counter-attack upon the enemy when he makes any landfall, and particularly while he is engaged in the act of landing’.

He saw that the Royal Navy and RAF would have the principal role in forestalling any invasion …

However, should the enemy succeed in landing at various points, he should be made to suffer as much as possible by local resistance on the beaches, combined with the aforesaid attack from the sea and the air. This forces him to use up his ammunition, and confines him to a limited area.

The defence of any part of the coast must be measured not by the forces on the coast, but by the number of hours within which strong counter-attacks by mobile troops can be brought to bear upon the landing places.

Such attacks should be hurled with the utmost speed and fury upon the enemy at his weakest moment, which is not, as is sometimes suggested, when actually getting out of his boats, but when sprawled upon the shore with his communications cut and his supplies running short.

It ought to be possible to concentrate 10,000 men fully equipped within six hours, and 20,000 men within twelve hours, upon any point where a serious lodgment has been effected. The withholding of the reserves until the full gravity of the attack is known is a nice problem for the Home Command.

On 17th August Churchill received a memorandum in reply from the Chiefs of Staffs Committee, in which they stated they were in ‘complete agreement’ with these general principles, and outlined the disposition of the 26 Divisions that were available to provide the mobile reserve. It was only now that he distributed these two memoranda to the rest of the War Cabinet. Churchill was both Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and had streamlined the decision making process, although his memoranda and directives were not always met with full agreement by the Chiefs of Staff.

See TNA cab/66/10/50

The troops based on the coast were stretched very thinly, as can be seen from 2nd/4th South Lancashire Regiment War Diary.

Churchill was sceptical about the prospects for a successful invasion, which he had assessed on the 10th July 1940.

It was a perspective that he carried over when the situation was later reversed, when the Allies were considering an invasion of France. Churchill was to lead opposition to proposals from the United States for the Allies to land in Europe in 1943. When D-Day was launched in 1944 the “nice problem” of “withholding of the reserves until the full gravity of the attack is known” was faced by Hitler – a problem that the Allies managed to greatly exacerbate with their elaborate deception plans.

Sappers of 211 Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, attached to 44th Infantry Division, make 'Molotov Cocktails' from beer bottles at Woodlands, Doncaster, England, as part of British preparations to repel the threatened German invasion of 1940.
Sappers of 211 Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, attached to 44th Infantry Division, make ‘Molotov Cocktails’ from beer bottles at Woodlands, Doncaster, England, as part of British preparations to repel the threatened German invasion of 1940.
Tommy Guns for sailors. 1940, Tommy guns being used by Naval units who man their own shore defences at their training camp. co-operating with the military, these sailors who wear khaki battledress but retain their sailor caps, man defence posts and patrol shores and cliffs against enemy invasion.
Tommy Guns for sailors. 1940, Tommy guns being used by Naval units who man their own shore defences at their training camp. co-operating with the military, these sailors who wear khaki battledress but retain their sailor caps, man defence posts and patrol shores and cliffs against enemy invasion.
A signpost in Surrey being dismantled as part of a campaign to remove everything which may prove of value to the enemy, should invasion occur.
A signpost in Surrey being dismantled as part of a campaign to remove everything which may prove of value to the enemy, should invasion occur.

British fighter production re-assures Churchill

He sent Prof. and me for some of his cherished graphs and diagrams and began to expound the supply position. Beaverbrook, he said, had genius and, what was more, brutal ruthlessness. He had never in his life, at the Ministry of Munitions or anywhere else, seen such startling results as Beaverbrook had produced; and Pownall, looking at the Aircraft Production charts, agreed that there had never been such an achievement.

Winston Churchill inspecting 9.2-inch guns of 57th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, during a tour of East Coast defences, 7 August 1940.
Winston Churchill inspecting 9.2-inch guns of 57th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, during a tour of East Coast defences, 7 August 1940.
A gas decontamination party from of 167th Field Ambulance dress in protective clothing during a training exercise near Canterbury, 10 August 1940.
A gas decontamination party from of 167th Field Ambulance dress in protective clothing during a training exercise near Canterbury, 10 August 1940.
King George VI talking to a member of the Home Guard during an inspection in Kent, 10 August 1940.
King George VI talking to a member of the Home Guard during an inspection in Kent, 10 August 1940.

The 10th August saw thundery showers and poor visibility which brought a lull in the fighting over Britain, with just a few bomber attacks by the Luftwaffe. Around the south coast the Army continued its preparations for the anticipated German invasion.

At the Prime Minister’s country retreat, Chequers, Winston Churchill spent the weekend in discussions with a wide variety of different political and military figures, including De Gaulle.

His principal Private Secretary John Colville was keeping a fascinating diary of these deliberations at the heart of government, as well as Churchill’s private views on the course of the war.

Of the many issues facing Churchill that weekend the progress of (what would later become known as) the Battle of Britain was uppermost in his mind. He knew that much depended not only the RAF prevailing in the air battles – but that aircraft production had to be able to make good the losses they sustained:

Saturday, August 10th

In a telegram to the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, promising that we will abandon the Mediterranean and send our fleet eastwards in the event of Japan attacking Australia or N.Z., Winston has written: “If Hitler fails to invade and conquer Britain before the weather breaks he has received his first and probably fatal check.”

Later on, at lunch, Winston gave me his own views about war aims and the future. He said there was only one aim, to destroy Hitler. Let those who say they do not know what they are fighting for stop fighting and they will see. France is now discovering what she was fighting for.

After the last war people had done much constructive thinking and the League of Nations had been a magnificent idea. Something of the kind would have to be built up again: there would be a United States of Europe, and this Island would be the link connecting this Federation with the new world and able to hold the balance between the two. “A new conception of the balance of power?” I said. “No,” he replied, “the balance of virtue.”

Lord Beaverbrook [Minister of Aircraft Production] rang up to say that the Germans had bombed an important factory at Rochester heavily but had contrived to miss with all their bombs. The Almighty is not always against us, he said, “In fact God is the Minister of Aircraft Production and I am his deputy. ”

[At Dinner they were joined by General Pownall, commanding the Home Guard, and Professor Lindemann, the Governments chief scientific adviser]

I … listened to Winston. He mentioned the numerous projects, inventions, etc., which he had in view and compared himself to a farmer driving pigs along a road, who always had to be prodding them on and preventing them from straying.

He praised the splendid sang-froid and morale of the people, and said he could not quite see why he appeared to be so popular. After all since he came into power, everything had gone wrong and he had had nothing but disasters to announce. His platform was only “blood, sweat and tears”.

He sent Prof. and me for some of his cherished graphs and diagrams and began to expound the supply position. Beaverbrook, he said, had genius and, what was more, brutal ruthlessness. He had never in his life, at the Ministry of Munitions or anywhere else, seen such startling results as Beaverbrook had produced; and Pownall, looking at the Aircraft Production charts, agreed that there had never been such an achievement.

W. regretted that the Ministry of Supply had shown themselves incapable of producing similar results for the army.

He proceeded to examine the statistics, calling on Prof. for frequent explanations, and declaring that we were already overhauling the Germans in numbers (our production already exceeds theirs by one third). It was generally agreed that Hitler’s aircraft position must be less good than we had supposed; otherwise why the delay, why the sparsity of attack?

After dinner (i.e. about 11.15!) we walked up and down beneath the stars, a habit which Winston has formed…

See John Colville: The Fringes Of Power. 10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955

UK-FLAG
US FLAG
Universal carriers and cyclists of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, passing through Haven Street on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.
Universal carriers and cyclists of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, passing through Haven Street on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.
Troops of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, stage a bayonet charge over trenches during a training exercise on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.
Troops of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, stage a bayonet charge over trenches during a training exercise on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.

1945: Mountbatten meets the US Chiefs and Churchill

The Prime Minister has never been so friendly to me in his life. He kept on telling me what a good job I had done, and how I had vindicated his judgement when he selected me for the job. He said: ‘When the war is over I am going to arrange a great ovation for you and for your battle-green jungle warriors. When we get back to London come and see me and we will talk about your future, as I have great plans in store.’ It was a mournful and eerie feeling to sit there talking plans with a man who seemed so confident that they would come off, and I felt equally confident that he would be out of office within 24 hours.

Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia: Mountbatten conferrring with Lieutenant General J W Stilwell Commander-in-Chief US Forces in China, Burma and India.
Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia: Mountbatten conferrring with Lieutenant General J W Stilwell Commander-in-Chief US Forces in China, Burma and India.

At the beginning of the war Lord Louis Mountbatten, at the time a minor member of the British Royal family (and uncle of the relatively unknown naval officer Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark) had been commander of a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Kelly. He had saved the Kelly after a torpedo attack in 1940 and had still been commanding her when she was sunk off Crete the following year.

He had then made extraordinary progression through the ranks under the patronage of Winston Churchill. First he had been appointed Chief of Combined Operations and had had ultimate responsibility for the Dieppe Raid.

Then Churchill had elevated him to the even more prestigious position of Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, a post equivalent in stature to Eisenhower’s position in Europe. It was in this role that he arrived at the Potsdam conference in Berlin on 24th July, where he was expecting to discuss the finer points of the final attack on Japan, which he expected to take the war into 1946. On the day that he arrived he had informal meetings with the most senior US officers and then with Churchill:

I can never describe the friendliness of the reception I had from the American Chiefs of Staff. Hard-boiled old Fleet Admiral King took my hand in both his hands and shook it a dozen times with great warmth. Bill Somervell appeared even more pleased to see me. General Marshall and General Arnold invited me to come back and have a drink with them.

Then Marshall swore me to secrecy and said he would reveal to me the greatest secret of the war.

It appeared that the team of British and American scientists who had been working on the release of atomic energy had atlast succeeded in utilizing the release of energy from the fission of element 2.3 5, an isotope of uranium, and that when this had been applied in a bomb the results had been quite shattering. An experimental bomb exploded in New Mexico and had had unbelievable results.

A steel girder structure half a mile away had either melted or been vaporized; there was nothing left of it. It was estimated that all human beings within a radius of two or three miles would be killed, and those beyond this radius for a mile or two, would be so burned as to be unlikely to recover.

Marshall told me they now had an atomic bomb on the way over to Okinawa, ready for release round about the 5th August.

I said: ‘This will surely mean the end of the war within the next few days, or anyway within the next few weeks?’

Marshall and Arnold both agreed that this was so, and that they couldn’t possibly visualize the war going on beyond the end of 1945 in any case.

I then asked why the meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff that afternoon had given the official date of the end of the war as the 15th November 1946; and they pointed out that on account of secrecy the planners had had to work without knowledge of the bomb’s existence, and that this was a fair estimate of how long it might have taken if there had been no bomb.

Finally General Marshall reminded me of my promise not to tell a living soul — not even the Prime Minister, with whom General Marshall knew I was dining that night.

After dinner we moved into the study, and the Prime Minister closed the doors. After looking round in a conspiratorial manner, he said: ‘I have a great secret to tell you’ — and proceeded to tell me the story of the atomic bomb.

He said it would be dropped on the 5th and that the Japanese would surrender on the 15th. He advised me to take all necessary steps to compete with the capitulation as soon after this date as possible. I therefore sent a telegram to Boy Browning to take all the necessary steps, without of course being able to give him the reason.

I had come back convinced that Labour would get in by a handsome majority and was astounded to find that the Prime Minister and indeed everyone I met at Potsdam was quite confident that the Conservative Party would get in.

The most pessimistic majority I heard was 30, and the Prime Minister himself told me he thought he would have 1OO.

The Prime Minister has never been so friendly to me in his life. He kept on telling me what a good job I had done, and how I had vindicated his judgement when he selected me for the job. He said: ‘When the war is over I am going to arrange a great ovation for you and for your battle-green jungle warriors. When we get back to London come and see me and we will talk about your future, as I have great plans in store.’

It was a mournful and eerie feeling to sit there talking plans with a man who seemed so confident that they would come off, and I felt equally confident that he would be out of office within 24 hours.

However, I was particularly glad to have a three-hour heart-to-heart talk with him, when he was in such a good mood. It would indeed have been terrible if I had not been able to see him until after his defeat at the elections. For once he did not keep me up late, and I was home before midnight.

See Personal Diary of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia, 1943-1946.

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, sits astride a captured Japanese 75mm gun while addressing men of the Royal Armoured Corps in Mandalay, 21 March 1945.
Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, sits astride a captured Japanese 75mm gun while addressing men of the Royal Armoured Corps in Mandalay, 21 March 1945.