Churchill broadcasts to the Italian people

Your aviators have tried to cast their bombs upon London. Our armies are tearing – and will tear – your African empire to shreds and tatters. We are now only at the beginning of this sombre tale. Who can say where it will end? Presently, we shall be forced to come to much closer grips. How has all this come about, and what is it all for?

The Italian Offensive 1940 – 1941: British troops, sitting on captured Italian motorcycles, read copies of the congratulatory telegram sent to all units after their victory by the Secretary of State for War, Mr Anthony Eden.

On the 23rd December 1940 Churchill broadcast a speech directed at the Italian people. Various sources, not least interrogation of prisoners of war, made it clear that many Italians were ambivalent about the war and the direction that the dictatorship was taking them. This was all part of a longer campaign to turn the loyalties of the country:

We have never been your foes till now. In the last war against the barbarous Huns we were your comrades. For fifteen years after that war, we were your friends. Although the institutions which you adopted after that war were not akin to ours and diverged, as we think, from the sovereign impulses which had commanded the unity of Italy, we could still walk together in peace and good-will. Many thousands of your people dwelt with ours in England; many of our people dwelt with you in Italy.

We liked each other. We got on well together. There were reciprocal services, there was amity, there was esteem. And now we are at war – now we are condemned to work each other’s ruin.

Your aviators have tried to cast their bombs upon London. Our armies are tearing – and will tear – your African empire to shreds and tatters. We are now only at the beginning of this sombre tale. Who can say where it will end? Presently, we shall be forced to come to much closer grips. How has all this come about, and what is it all for?

Italians, I will tell you the truth.

It is all because of one man – one man and one man alone has ranged the Italian people in deadly struggle against the British Empire and has deprived Italy of the sympathy and intimacy of the United States of America.

That he is a great man I do not deny. But that after eighteen years of unbridled power he has led your country to the horrid verge of ruin – that can be denied by none.

It is all one man – one man, who, against the crown and royal family of Italy, against the Pope and all the authority of the Vatican and of the Roman Catholic Church, against the wishes of the Italian people who had no lust for this war; one man has arrayed the trustees and inheritors of ancient Rome upon the side of the ferocious pagan barbarians.

On the very same day in Italy Mussolini is despondent about the quality of Italian troops, who have been forced out of both Greece and Egypt within the last month. He tells his Foreign Minister, Count Ciano:

I must nevertheless recognise that the Italians of 1914 were better than these. It is not very flattering for the regime, but that’s the way it is.

Churchill seeks support from Roosevelt

We can endure the shattering of our dwellings, and the slaughter of our civil population by indiscriminate air attacks, and we hope to parry these increasingly as our science develops, and to repay them upon military objectives in Germany as our Air Force more nearly approaches the strength of the enemy.
The decision for 1941 lies upon the seas.

The lookout maintains a constant vigil from a Destroyer escorting a convoy.

On 8th December 1940, in a wide ranging letter to President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill reviewed the state of the war. Now isolated from continental Europe, Britain’s main source of supply, for food as well as all manner of war munitions, lay across the Atlantic. The Germans had recently had a series of successes, as their Surface raiders and U-Boat wolfpack tactics paid off. British countermeasures were constantly being developed but convoy escorts were not yet well co-ordinated, and there was still no answer to the long range Condor planes being used to spot shipping for the U-Boats.

This letter was copied to the War Cabinet and might well have been intended for a wider audience given the characteristic language employed:

The danger of Great Britain being destroyed by a swift, overwhelming blow, has for the time being very greatly receded. In its place, there is a long, gradually-maturing danger, less sudden and less spectacular, but equally deadly. This mortal danger is the steady and increasing diminution of sea tonnage.

We can endure the shattering of our dwellings, and the slaughter of our civil population by indiscriminate air attacks, and we hope to parry these increasingly as our science develops, and to repay them upon military objectives in Germany as our Air Force more nearly approaches the strength of the enemy.

October 1940, on board HMS Westminster, an escort vessel of a convoy from Sheerness to Rosyth. The lookout on the bridge.

The decision for 1941 lies upon the seas. Unless we can establish our ability to feed this Island, to import the munitions of all kinds which we need, unless we can move our armies to the various theatres where Hitler and his confederate, Mussolini, must be met, and maintain them there, and do all this with the asurance of being able to carry it on till the spirit of the Continental Dictators is broken, we may fall by the way, and the time needed by the United States to complete her defensive preparations may not be forthcoming.

It is therefore in shipping and in the power to transport across the oceans, particularly the Atlantic Ocean, that in 1941 the crunch of the whole war will be found. If, on the other hand, we are able to move the necessary tonnage to and fro across salt water indefinitely, it may well be that the application of superior air power to the German homeland and the rising anger of the German and other Nazi-gripped populations, will bring the agony of civilization to a merciful and glorious end.

But do not let us underrate the task.

 

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

However, there was one crucial factor that he had to spell out.

The moment approaches [he said] when we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies. While we will do our utmost, and shrink from no proper sacrifice to make payments across the Exchange, I believe you will agree that it would be wrong in principle and mutually disadvantageous in effect, if at the height of this struggle, Great Britain were to be divested of all salable assets, so that after the victory was won with our blood, civilisation saved, and the time gained for the United States to be fully armed against all eventualities, we should stand stripped to the bone. Such a course would not be in the moral or the economic interests of either of our countries.

See TNA CAB/66/13/46

The number of ships sunk and the rate of supplies entering Britain was given close attention at the highest level. The weekly Naval Situation report to the War Cabinet would give a broad overview, as well as listing all the individual ships sunk. The general summary for this week gives an indication of the scale of the resources involved:

25. 19 ships totalling 78,234 tons have been reported lost by enemy action, and of these 16 ships (52,668 tons) were British. Nine British ships (44,042 tons) were sunk by U-Boats and one large Norwegian ship (18,673 tons), 3 British ships (2,392 tons) and a Belgian Trawler were sunk by mine. One British ship and a Trawler were sunk by aircraft. Thirteen ships are reported damaged by enemy action.

Protection of Seaborne Trade.

26. During the week ending noon Wednesday, the 11th December, 795 ships, including 130 allied and 12 neutral, were convoyed, and of these three are reported lost by enemy action. One battleship, one cruiser, eleven armed merchant cruisers, 43 destroyers and 30 sloops and corvettes were employed on escort duty. Since the commencement of hostilities 46,610 ships have been convoyed, of which 200 have been lost.

See TNA CAB/66/14/8

 

The interception and scuttling of the German SS Idarwald, 8 And 9 December 1940. On board a British warship off Cuba. The German Hamburg-Amerika Freighter Idarwald was intercepted by a patrolling British warship off Cuba. The German crew at once scuttled their ship, set fire to her, and took to their boats. The British ship fought the fire and took the Idarwald in tow, but she had to be cast off shortly thereafter and sank.
The IDARWALD is well on fire amidships as the boats pull away from the abandoned ship.
A bulkhead of the IDARWALD has given way and she sinks more rapidly by the bows. The British warship has abandoned her salvage attempts and the German freighter is cast off.

Neville Chamberlain dies

Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938
A SS Honour Guard for a British Prime Minister. Neville Chamberlain at Munich in September 1938 with the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop.

Neville Chamberlain died from cancer on 9th November 1940, only six months after he had resigned as Prime Minister. Although far more interested in domestic policy and social reform, his period as Prime Minister was dominated by the rising threat of Nazi Germany, and eventually the outbreak of war. He believed that when he signed the “Munich agreement” in September 1938 he had come to an agreement with Hitler that would ensure peace. At the time only a minority in the House of Commons and in Britain at large took the opposite view:

Winston Churchill told the Commons,

England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.

But when Chamberlain died Churchill was magnanimous – he paid tribute to him in the House of Commons on 12th November 1940:

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused?

They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour.

Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

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.