03 September, 2010

Day 56 - Battle of Britain

Keitel, C-in-C German Armed Forces issues a directive this day, setting out the timetable for Sealion.  The earliest date for the departure of the transport fleet is to be on 20 September, with S-day on the 21st. The  order for the start of the operation will be given on S -10 days, probably on 11 September and the final order will be follow at the latest by S - 3 days at noon.

Meanwhile, British photographic intelligence is picking up "sudden and startling" increases in the number of barges at Ostend (50 since 31 August), Terneuzen (140 since 16 August) and the south end of the Beveland Canal (90 since 1 September). The increase in barges at Ostend is regarded as "abnormal".

This is the first anniversary of the war, a full year since Neville Chamberlain informed the nation that there had been no response from Germany to his ultimatum. There were many reflective articles in the media, not least this one from an AP writer, explaining the condition of "Mr Average John Bull," to an American audience.

He was "the little man who pays for wars and fights them," and he "has had a year of it and in spite of loss of sleep, bombings, the blackout, food rations and high taxes is not dissatisfied with himself. As he sees it, he has three reasons not to feel downhearted.

First, he gets a sincere thrill out of the thought that John Bull alone, of all Hitler's antagonists, has lasted, and he is confident that he will outlast Hitler too. The official British view that the retreat in Flanders was not due to defeat of British Tommies but to defeat of flanking allies has fostered this attitude of self-reliance.

Second, the long opposition to the policy of appeasement, he thinks, finally led the government to "stand up to" Hitler. Winston Churchill, the prime minister, and the working class ministers of labour and supply, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison, are the people's choice to lick him.

Third, despite curtailment of many hard-won liberties, many a Briton thinks his country will be a better place to live in when the war is over, and that it will lead to reforms in the social structures. But talks of Europe's political reorganisation, some time in the future, bores him just now. He wants to see "our boys marching down that Unter den Linden".

Gen. Alan Brook is doing his best to make that happen, fully engaged in building Churchill's new army that will one day take us back to Europe. But, for the moment, there are more pressing concerns. This day, he is in Aldershot with Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, discussing how to meet the German invasion if it comes within the next few days. These two of Britain's most senior generals, however, still have broader horizons. They also discuss how to run the second year of the war.

And all the time, the Army is growing in strength - building, developing and exercising - here a column of Cruiser Mk IV tanks of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment on exercise in East Anglia.

Overnight, Luftwaffe visits have included Bristol, Cardiff, Monmouth, Birmingham and close by Castle Bromwich. Liverpool once again is hit, and so are inland Manchester and Sheffield. Bombs are dropped on Shilbottle, Ancroft, Blyth, South Newsham and Broomhill in Northumberland, Bishopton and Elwick in Co. Durham and Hull in Yorkshire. Air activity, however, finishes relatively early, at about 01:30hrs.

George Orwell this day records a conversation with a "Mrs C" who has recently come back from Cardiff. She had told him that air raids there have been "almost continuous". To avoid disruption, therefore, it was decided that work in the docks must continue, raids or no raids.

Almost immediately afterwards, said Mrs C, a German aircraft drops a bomb straight into the hold of a ship. The remains of seven men working there "had to be brought up in pails", following which there was a dock strike. The practice of taking cover is restored.

This, writes Orwell, is the sort of thing that does not get into the papers - and indeed it does not. There are occasional reports of tension between employers, who are losing production, and workers who are concerned with their safety. But since strikes are theoretically illegal, they are rarely reported.

Orwell asserts that casualties in the most recent raids, e.g., at Ramsgate, have been officially minimised, a policy which is acknowledged by Home Intelligence. But it continues to incense locals, who do not like to read about "negligible damage" when large numbers of people are killed. Such is the distrust of official figures that exaggerated accounts of air raid deaths tend to circulate.

More pressing issues, perforce, are preoccupying Winston Churchill who, this day, is addressing a War Cabinet, telling it (pp 228-9):
The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it. Therefore our supreme effort must be to gain overwhelming mastery in the air. The Fighters are our salvation but the Bombers alone provide the means of victory. We must therefore develop the power to carry an ever-increasing volume of explosives to Germany, so as to pulverize the entire industry and scientific structure on which the war effort and economic life of the enemy depend, while holding him at arm's length from our Island. In no other way at present visible can we hope to overcome the immense military power of Germany …
This is a policy with which the Air Staff is in entire agreement - or so we are told. Their only regret is that a more powerful bombing offensive against German industry was not already under way.

On the other hand, the United Press agency had a report from the Chicago Daily News London bureau, stating that peace rumours were circulating London. Further, the News Chronicle reported from Lisbon that Italy was seeking a separate peace.

Also, several days ago, it is said, a prominent Swede arrived in London with a new German peace offer – independence for part of Poland, autonomy for Czechoslovakia under the Reich, independence for Norway and Holland, a bigger Belgium and a smaller France, nothing from the British Empire.

The German peace offer seems not only possible but highly probable, the Chicago Daily News bureau says, for London believes there is concern in Nazi circles over the failure of the German air force to eliminate the Royal Air Force. A winter of warfare is not wanted by Berlin, London believes.

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