17 July, 2010

Day 8 - Battle of Britain

On this day the newspapers were not following that war in any great detail. They were complaining about proposals for new administrative courts. These were to be without juries yet would have the power to hand down death sentences. As the enabling measure went before parliament, the Daily Mirror published a lament that would not look out of place today:
Many MPs, appointed as guardians of the people's liberties, did not bother to attend the House when this measure, gravely affecting the liberty of the subject, was debated. Until the debate was ending, there were never more than fifty or sixty members in the Chamber. At times, even when vital points were being discussed, the number fell to barely thirty.
Meanwhile, for "indiscreet repetition of unfounded rumours" that British troops had fired on refugees at Boulogne to prevent them boarding ships transporting troops to England, labourer John Dodd was imprisoned for three months. Such prosecutions, according to Home Intelligence, were now being widely criticized. "Informed circles" were nervous about the way the law was being interpreted and working-class people were "suspicious and afraid". "We are fighting for freedom but losing what freedom we've got" was one comment.

Beaverbrook's Express joined the chorus of criticism, declaring: "[A]lready there are many prosecutions of a rather foolish kind directed against talk liable to cause alarm and despondency". It added: "Aged and silly people are being sent to prison for offences which could in the first instance be met by a good talking to and a warning. The difficult task of police and magistrates must be done with level-headed common sense".

In the evening, the government tried to stoke up public interest in the air war, with a broadcast by Air Minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair. Another of Churchill's appointees, he warned listeners of a "great onslaught" to be launched within the next month, by land, sea and air simultaneously. Colville wrote of it being "expected daily now", adding that it might be "followed perhaps by a peace offensive rather than by an invasion". There again was another hint that Hitler might want to make peace. Of any air offensive, Colville noted that, since St Swithin's Day, it had rained and blown ceaselessly, "so we may expect a respite until the sun shines again".

Certainly, there was very little happening on the air front. Dull weather and occasional rain limited activity to the occasional raider as far apart as Dundee and Cornwall. The focus again had been on shipping.  Overnight, aircraft had been out laying mines in the Thames Estuary and between Middlesbrough and the Wash. The Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary were mined by Heinkel 111s. Fighter Command flew 253 sorties, losing one Spitfire. Bomber Command lost a Blenheim. The Luftwaffe lost four aircraft. It was low intensity warfare.

For the German General Staff, though, it had been a busy day; it had issued an order allocating forces for Sealion, instructing thirteen divisions to move to the coast for use as first-wave troops. Six divisions of General Busch's 16th Army were to depart from the Pas de Calais and land between Ramsgate and Bexhill. Four divisions of General Strauss's 9th Army, embarking in the area of Le Havre, would land between Brighton and the Isle of Wight. Three divisions of General Reichenau's 6th Army, leaving from the Cherbourg peninsula, would land in Lyme Bay between Weymouth and Lyme Regis. Some 90,000 men would be put ashore in the initial assault. Numbers would increase by the third day to 260,000.

This was the "broad front" strategy, first outlined by Jodl. But Raeder believed its risks were so great that he feared the entire invading forces could be lost. Unequivocally, he refused to guarantee the safety of the transports if the crossing stretched from Ramsgate to the Isle of Wight. As Navy chief he could not, of course, override Army decisions. Thus he told the Commander in Chief of the Army, Colonel-General Walther von Brauchitsch, that he intended to appeal directly to Hitler to get the plan changed.

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