The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Discussions on all aspects of the The United Kingdom & its Empire and Commonwealth during the Inter-War era and Second World War. Hosted by Andy H
durb
Member
Posts: 628
Joined: 06 May 2014 09:31

The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by durb » 28 Jan 2015 00:38

I just watched one more British TV series where Britain is hailed as "a small island" which bravely "alone" stood against Hitler. I think that this is nonsense in which it is forgotten that Great Britain of 1940 was not the more limited actual version of 21st Century. Only from very narrow European perspective (Hitler) this might have looked so.

But the truth was that Britain was never alone. There were Canada, Australia and New Zealand for starters. And there were India + lots of other places around the world under British rule in 1940. How much is this recognized in British history writing? Why we see so much pulp fiction of "tiny island alone" bravely fighting against Hitler´s hordes in 1940 and early 1941?

I think that Commonwealth + Empire were actually the decisive factors why Churchill & Co. decided to continue to fight in the first place and rejected all Hitler´s "generous" offers. There was really much back-up for Britain to continue the war against Hitler even if USA remained neutral for the time being.

Knouterer
Member
Posts: 1542
Joined: 15 Mar 2012 17:19

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by Knouterer » 28 Jan 2015 17:21

Even without the Empire, Britain was not particularly "small", let alone "tiny", compared to Germany in 1940, as regards its capacity for waging war. It may have felt that way because people had wildly exaggerated ideas about the German capabilities - not surprising in view of the dramatic events in May-June.
Whatever numbers you care to look at - coal and steel production, aircraft, tanks, etc. - with very few exceptions Britain was doing either better than Germany, or was not far behind.
Of course the Germans could use the resources of the conquered countries, but it would take time to harness those to the German war effort. The United States by contrast was already supplying lots of aircraft, trucks, weapons and other useful stuff to Britain, even though it all had to be paid for in cash (Lend-Lease only started in March 1941).
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

User avatar
sitalkes
Member
Posts: 469
Joined: 18 Feb 2013 00:23

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by sitalkes » 30 Jan 2015 00:40

Yes, it's annoying, especially when you look at what troops were to be in the front line against a German invasion - amongst the best and first into combat were to be the New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian troops. There were quite a lot of Commonwealth personnel in the RAF, and the Canadian navy grew from tiny beginnings to play a huge part in the Battle of the Atlantic. The North African campaign without the Commonwealth forces? Impossible. However, don't forget there were also lots of allied troops (hundreds of thousands in Poland's case) from countries like Poland, France, and Czechoslovakia who also fought with Britain in 1940 and later (once British prejudice had been overcome).

User avatar
phylo_roadking
Member
Posts: 17487
Joined: 30 Apr 2006 23:31
Location: Belfast

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jan 2015 00:53

Actually - 18,000 Polish troops. And 800 Belgians, 850 Free French, 15,000 Norwegians, 1,500 Dutch and 3,000 Czechs as of October 1940.

But - OP, don't forget the simple geography of the situation, as well as the socio-political aspects of...
I just watched one more British TV series where Britain is hailed as "a small island" which bravely "alone" stood against Hitler.
All those Allied "Free" contingents were here because their nations had disappeared from the map of allies.
Twenty years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs....
Lord, please keep Kevin Bacon alive...

OpanaPointer
Member
Posts: 4326
Joined: 16 May 2010 14:12
Location: United States of America

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by OpanaPointer » 30 Jan 2015 03:41

What? This isn't 100% accurate?

Image
Come visit our sites:
hyperwarHyperwar
World War II Resources

Bellum se ipsum alet, mostly Doritos.

User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4243
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by Urmel » 30 Jan 2015 09:55

sitalkes wrote: However, don't forget there were also lots of allied troops (hundreds of thousands in Poland's case) from countries like Poland, France, and Czechoslovakia who also fought with Britain in 1940 and later (once British prejudice had been overcome).
Hundreds of thousands from Poland? in 1940? I think you need to do some serious reading on history. The bulk of the Polish forces who commenced fighting under the British army came through Iran in 1941. in 1940 they were still enjoying Mr. Stalin's hospitality. While it's not quite clear from this website (http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/polisharmy/chapter1.html), I would guesstimate less than 50,000 men, including the Carpathian Brigade in the Middle East.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

Rob Stuart
Member
Posts: 1070
Joined: 18 Apr 2009 00:41
Location: Ottawa

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by Rob Stuart » 30 Jan 2015 11:51

durb wrote:I just watched one more British TV series where Britain is hailed as "a small island" which bravely "alone" stood against Hitler. I think that this is nonsense in which it is forgotten that Great Britain of 1940 was not the more limited actual version of 21st Century. Only from very narrow European perspective (Hitler) this might have looked so.

But the truth was that Britain was never alone. There were Canada, Australia and New Zealand for starters. And there were India + lots of other places around the world under British rule in 1940. How much is this recognized in British history writing? Why we see so much pulp fiction of "tiny island alone" bravely fighting against Hitler´s hordes in 1940 and early 1941?
Yes, it's not true that Britain was alone. (I believe that in 1940 some wag in the UK made a joke along the lines of "Yes, we're alone - all 450 million of us.".) However, there is some truth to "Alone". The UK had no major ally between June 1940 and June 1941, and its Commonwealth partners had not yet raised large forces or produced much materiel. Since I'm Canadian I'll point out that just one RCAF fighter squadron participated in the Battle of Britain (none from elsewhere in the Commonwealth did) and that until the fall of 1940 there was only one Canadian division in the UK. As for the RCN, the first Canadian-built corvettes did not commission until November 1940. If we look only at the forces located in the UK from June to September 1940, the non-British (i.e., Commonwealth and foreign) forces were not large and they were not fully equipped. With respect to repulsing SEALION, if it had been launched, the UK would have been "Nearly Alone", if I may put it that way.

Knouterer
Member
Posts: 1542
Joined: 15 Mar 2012 17:19

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by Knouterer » 30 Jan 2015 16:20

Here's Low's cartoon contrasted with that of Fougasse in Punch (taken from David Edgerton: Britain's War Machine). It seems to me Low got the wrong end of the stick rather often, but it didn't harm the popularity of his cartoons one bit, then or now.
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

User avatar
phylo_roadking
Member
Posts: 17487
Joined: 30 Apr 2006 23:31
Location: Belfast

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jan 2015 18:25

OpanaPointer wrote:What? This isn't 100% accurate?

Image
Of course it is - we had to re-equip them with British equipment! :D
Twenty years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs....
Lord, please keep Kevin Bacon alive...

User avatar
phylo_roadking
Member
Posts: 17487
Joined: 30 Apr 2006 23:31
Location: Belfast

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jan 2015 18:38

But the truth was that Britain was never alone. There were Canada, Australia and New Zealand for starters. And there were India + lots of other places around the world under British rule in 1940. How much is this recognized in British history writing?
Yes, it's not true that Britain was alone. (I believe that in 1940 some wag in the UK made a joke along the lines of "Yes, we're alone - all 450 million of us.".) However, there is some truth to "Alone". The UK had no major ally between June 1940 and June 1941, and its Commonwealth partners had not yet raised large forces or produced much materiel. Since I'm Canadian I'll point out that just one RCAF fighter squadron participated in the Battle of Britain (none from elsewhere in the Commonwealth did) and that until the fall of 1940 there was only one Canadian division in the UK. As for the RCN, the first Canadian-built corvettes did not commission until November 1940. If we look only at the forces located in the UK from June to September 1940, the non-British (i.e., Commonwealth and foreign) forces were not large and they were not fully equipped. With respect to repulsing SEALION, if it had been launched, the UK would have been "Nearly Alone", if I may put it that way.
Rob's correct; if you look at the figures -

From Canada: One infantry division plus various ancillary units. The second infantry division completed concentrating in England in September...but were basically unequipped IIRC...and the 1st Cdn. had inconveniently left its MT in France when evacuated after its very short stay in June with BEF II.

From Australia: Elements of one infantry division equivalent (in numbers but not in equipment) to a strong brigade group arrived during June.

From New Zealand: 7,000 men mustered in two numerically weak infantry brigades and an improvised covering force arrived during June. And parts of this force were transferred to the Delta during the summer...

I don't know about the Australians offhand - but various battalions of the 2nd Echelon NZEF in the UK were seriously undertrained when they arrived here. The 28th (Maori) battalion for example had to complete its basic weapons training on arrival in the UK.

From India: a number of mule transport companies were evacuated from France with the BEF from St Nazaire in June.

From Newfoundland: One artillery unit, about 1,000 strong, arrived during June, and several pioneer companies specialising in forestry work had spent most of the winter in the UK.


By the way, Durb - most of the above comes from Fleming. The contribution of Commonwealth forces to the defence of the UK is not unrecognised by historians by many means.
Twenty years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs....
Lord, please keep Kevin Bacon alive...

User avatar
MarkoZ
Member
Posts: 97
Joined: 23 Jun 2006 22:39
Location: Doncaster,England

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by MarkoZ » 30 Jan 2015 22:49

At the time of the French armistice on 22 June 1940 the British Army in Britain totalled 26 divisions 12 of which were recently formed and not fully trained or equipped the 13/14 Divisions which had been in France had lost all of their Artillery and Antitank weapons and 575 out of 600 tanks had been lost. Churchill intended issuing the Home Guard with Pikes made from bayonets, the High command told him this would totally demean the organisation and make it a laughing stock. Churchill agreed.
That's how close Europe came to becoming a Nazi empire.
You owe a lot to the people of Britain and to Winston Churchill,one of the greatest War leaders of all time. :thumbsup:

User avatar
phylo_roadking
Member
Posts: 17487
Joined: 30 Apr 2006 23:31
Location: Belfast

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jan 2015 23:09

Churchill intended issuing the Home Guard with Pikes made from bayonets, the High command told him this would totally demean the organisation and make it a laughing stock. Churchill agreed.
Marko - the pikes were actually manufactured as the "Croft Pike" and distributed to the Home Guard beginning in 1942

http://www.home-guard.org.uk/hg/pike.html
Twenty years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs....
Lord, please keep Kevin Bacon alive...

User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4243
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by Urmel » 30 Jan 2015 23:21

Goes to show that private sector cartoonists beat government propaganda in terms of impact. :milwink:
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

durb
Member
Posts: 628
Joined: 06 May 2014 09:31

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by durb » 31 Jan 2015 00:59

Britain 1940 truly alone would have been like this: no Commonwealth backup because Canada etc. decided to be like Eire with similar governements, Empire broken and all colonies independent and little interested in European affairs. No raw materials coming from ex-colonies except for "market price" and not any possibility to count on their support and resources.

Although it took time to mobilize the resources of Commonwealth/Empire, it must have been very important for British to know that those resources existed. They made it possible to consider a long war against Germany and believe in the chance that such war could be won.

Halle
Member
Posts: 73
Joined: 22 Jun 2012 08:03

Re: The myth of lonely tiny island of 1940?

Post by Halle » 31 Jan 2015 09:36

In 1940 , the Empire was very far away - all that stood between Britain , and the Wehrmacht , was the English Channel ( And the home fleet ) . Britain was , in a sense , very much alone . However , the fact that it stood firm , when maybe it would have been far easier to just agree to German terms , gave it the time to mobilise the ( willing ) Empire forces , and those of its defeated allies , and start on the long road to eventual German defeat .

Return to “The United Kingdom & its Empire and Commonwealth 1919-45”