23 July, 2010

Day 14 - Battle of Britain

Halifax's speech jolted official German circles, according to Shirer. He recorded "angry Nazi faces" at the noon press conference. A spokesman had said with a snarl: "Lord Halifax has refused to accept the peace offer of the Führer. Gentlemen, there will be war".

Shirer noted that the campaign to whip the people up for a war with Britain had started with a bang that morning. Every paper in Berlin, he said, carried practically the same headline: "Churchill's answer – cowardly murdering of a defenceless population!". The story was that, since Hitler's speech, the British had increased their night attacks on helpless women and children.

Hitler, however, stood aloof. He attended a performance of Wagner's Götterdämmerung at the Bayreuther Festspiele – the last time in his life he was ever to see a live performance of Wagner. Augustus Kubizek, a childhood friend, recalled the Chancellor telling him: "I am still tied up by the war. But, I hope it won't last much longer and then I'll be able to build again and to carry out what remains to be done".

The Press Association conveyed news of a "renewed German peace drive". German radio had embarked on an intensive "peace offensive" in which Great Britain had been repeatedly urged to accept Hitler's "appeal to reason". The Bremen station was almost monopolized from 9.30 p.m. by a series of talks on the theme that this was Britain's last chance to save herself.

"Unless the Führer's offer is accepted now – and as it stands – there can be no question of its acceptance at a later date, or of any negotiations at any time", one had said. "If the Führer is forced to do what he does not want to do, the order for the utter destruction of England will be finally and irrevocably given. The sad fact of the present crisis is that the views of the British people have not been heard at all".

That, of course, was the last thing the British Government wanted. William Connor, writing in his Cassandra slot in the Mirror, noted that a farmer had been fined £26 for "revealing" that Hitler had only sent over a few bombers so far, then speculating on what would happen when thousands came over. "I suppose he can count himself lucky that he wasn't clapped in the State dungeons for about half a year", wrote Connor.

Elsewhere Haydn Spenser Dunford, a 28-year-old dockyard fitter, described as a "Dunkirk hero", had been fined £50 and ordered to pay £15 15s costs by Falmouth magistrates for "trying to cause disaffection among naval men". This was a man who had been at the Dunkirk and Brest evacuations and among the first to board bombed ships. He had rescued wounded men and thrown boxes of ammunition overboard to prevent explosions. Yet he got no sympathy from the bench chairman, Mr A. W. Chard, who told him: "Only by a majority have we decided to fine you. The next offender like you will have no option to prison". Dunford's mates had a whip-round to pay the fine.

The Daily Express this day listed five cases caught by Cooper's "Silent Column", including Phyllis Bateman, a 30-year-old Post Office clerk in Clacton, jailed for three months for suggesting to two Army sergeants – flippantly, she claimed – that if they did not agree with government policy then they should "revolt". "Why don't you start a riot or a strike?" she is alleged to have said.

Home Intelligence articulated complaints about the prosecution of a prominent South Yorkshire councillor for calling Chamberlain a traitor and criticizing him for unpreparedness. This was contrasted with Halifax's broadcast rejection of Hitler's peace offer. "We will not stop fighting till freedom for ourselves and others is secured", he had said. On another occasion, a man had been fined for saying, "this is a capitalist war in defence of dividends". This raised more than a few eyebrows. The Daily Worker had been openly saying much the same thing for months.

The last straw was the conviction of a vicar, on the evidence of four boys – two aged 15 and two 16. It was alleged that in addressing about a hundred boys he had "communicated air raid information which might be useful to the enemy, and made remarks which were likely to cause alarm or despondency".

In Germany, stormed the Mirror, children are taught to spy on adults – even on their own mothers and fathers. The British people have often been told that one of the worst features of the Gestapo system of the Nazis is the way children are encouraged to supply evidence for its prosecutions. And the British people are now being assured by their Ministry of Information that there is no intention of encouraging a "Gestapo" atmosphere here. We need more than mere assurances.

There was only one person who could now sort this – the Prime Minister. In the Commons, he was challenged by Kenneth Lindsay, MP for Kilmarnock. The policy was "well-meant in its endeavour", Churchill assured him. After the briefest of defences, Cooper's baby was passed into what was called in the USA "innocuous desuetude". The Australian newspaper, The Age, later notes that "the amusingly ironical style" with which Mr Churchill buried the "silent column" did not entirely disguise the fact that he was administering a sharp rebuke to his colleague, Mr Duff Cooper, its inventor.

The Express on its front page offered a story about the state of the fleet. Britain, as builder of warships for the world's navies, had been able to take over ships being built in British yards for foreign governments. This was not helpful to Churchill, who was in the process of begging fifty surplus destroyers from Roosevelt.

But the story also gave details of a massive new minefield being laid, from Cornwall to south-east Ireland, ostensibly to prevent the Germans invading Ireland. This was the lead item in The Guardian, which also noted that much of the French deep sea fishing fleet in the western ports had escaped to Britain.

Many of the vessels had been taken over by the Royal Navy, bringing home the staggering number which were being conscripted, or "impressed" in Navy jargon - ships such as the Ulswater (below). Trawlers, drifters and whalers were to form the backbone of the patrol service, providing capable warships which could spell death to any invasion fleet.

As to the air war, the Luftwaffe was still targeting shipping. This day it concentrated its attacks on a convoy codenamed "Pilot" steaming off the Lincolnshire coast. Two raiders were shot down by fighters. In the mid-afternoon, a lone Dornier dropped bombs on the old airship hangar at Pulham and another attempted to bomb the Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory at Weybridge.

Fighter Command lost three aircraft, all to accidents. A Blenheim and a Hudson were also lost, bringing RAF losses to five, compared with six suffered by the Luftwaffe. In two full weeks of fighting, total RAF losses stood at 110, compared with ninety-nine to the Luftwaffe.

One of the Luftwaffe losses made history in a small way when a Blenheim night fighter downed a Dornier 17 using airborne radar. But with the final stages of the kill in bright moonlit conditions, it was a long time before the success could be repeated. The Luftwaffe had its own successes.

The cargo ship Lady Mostyn detonated a mine 1½ miles off the Formby Light Vessel, sinking with the loss of all seven crew. And a Dornier bomber attacked a submarine, about 150 miles east of Aberdeen. This was most likely the Narwhal, which had sailed from Blyth on 22 July to lay mines off the Norwegian coast. She failed to return.

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