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DT509er
Santa Rosa CA USA
Posts: 1034
Joined: 2005
The survival of Great Britain
2/5/2022 1:06:02 PM
Great Britain could do nothing more than observe as Nazi Germany overran Poland. Then came the invasion in the west leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk. From there it was downhill for the mighty empire. Battle of the Atlantic shipping losses of destroyers and merchant shipping were disastrous. The Battle of Britain was obliterating Great Britain’s docks and cities, even though morale remained positive all the while rationing had its impact on the populace. Then came the losses in Greece, Crete, The Med, Africa’s back and forth of victory and defeat, the Indian Ocean raid, the recalling of Australian troops, Hong Kong, the shocking loss of the battleship Prince of Wales & battlecruiser Repulse, Singapore, etc.

The invasion of the Soviet Union would eventually help but until that first winter the fall of the Soviets seemed imminent, such an event would have been disastrous for Great Britain. America's involvement would not be felt until late 1942 and while Winston believed their involvement would bring about victory, the US itself was taking a beating in the Pacific.

With all of these losses, when did it all turn around for Great Britain? What was that moment that allowed for a breath of air and observation that Great Britain would survive the war?




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"American parachutists-devils in baggy pants..." “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Lord Ernest Rutherford
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12182
Joined: 2009
The survival of Great Britain
2/5/2022 2:32:42 PM
That's a difficult question because there is a difference between knowing that you probably would not be defeated and knowing that you are going to win.

So I think that victory during the Battle of Britain in 1940 and Hitler's subsequent decision to call off an invasion that would have been disastrous, perhaps gave Britain a moment to consider that it would survive this war. That doesn't mean a victory but a cessation of war and a new relationship with the power that controlled the continent, Germany.

1941 was a key year however in that Britain who had been fighting alone though aided by Commonwealth troops, gained two large allies in the USSR first and then the US. Churchill had already secured FDR as an ally in 1941 and this led to a supply of Lend Lease materiel that would allow Britain to continue the fight which it did, in Africa.

cheers,

George

Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5452
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/5/2022 3:53:15 PM
The survival of Great Britain herself was one thing: the survival of her empire another.

The nation itself was relatively secure. No complacency here , especially in view of the scores of thousands of British civilians who were killed by German bombing and the sense of peril that isolation engendered.

As for the British Empire , the jeopardy was profound and shockingly revealed by the huge defeats and humiliation suffered at the hands of the Japanese.



The enormous support and involvement of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India was crucial in keeping Britain in the war, but this itself recalibrated British imperial status.

The survival of the Soviet Union and the intervention of the United States was enough to secure British hope and resolve : Pearl Harbor and the turning back of the German advance on Moscow marked the moment.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4209
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/5/2022 9:32:50 PM
DT:Quote:
Great Britain could do nothing more than observe as Nazi Germany overran Poland. Then came the invasion in the west leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk. From there it was downhill for the mighty empire. Battle of the Atlantic shipping losses of destroyers and merchant shipping were disastrous. The Battle of Britain was obliterating Great Britain’s docks and cities, even though morale remained positive all the while rationing had its impact on the populace. Then came the losses in Greece, Crete, The Med, Africa’s back and forth of victory and defeat, the Indian Ocean raid, the recalling of Australian troops, Hong Kong, the shocking loss of the battleship Prince of Wales & battlecruiser Repulse, Singapore, etc.

The invasion of the Soviet Union would eventually help but until that first winter the fall of the Soviets seemed imminent, such an event would have been disastrous for Great Britain. America's involvement would not be felt until late 1942 and while Winston believed their involvement would bring about victory, the US itself was taking a beating in the Pacific.

With all of these losses, when did it all turn around for Great Britain? What was that moment that allowed for a breath of air and observation that Great Britain would survive the war?

Wow! That’s one of the sparsest, quickest, most cynical one-para descriptors of the first two+ years of the war I have ever read. If I also sense some vitriol, and if I feel you’ve ignored some positives for the British side and misrepresented some events, your assessment is interesting and your question is a puzzler.

I honestly don’t know if the point you talk of ever happened, at least in the way you imply. I sense that the adaptations GB faced altered GB so much during six hard years that a totally different nation emerged in 1945 than existed in 1939. Yes, GB probably reached a point (and there are a number of points that might be chosen) where they believed GB would still exist after Nazism and Fascism were defeated. But it was increasingly clear that it would be a very different GB. And so it proved to be.

You seem to be forcing this into a Brit issue. I don’t think that is the point. You argue, e.g., “Then came the invasion in the west leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk.” False direction, IMHO. The Nazi invasion of the west led to the fall of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. This was a massive victory, not just a lead up to BEF troop withdrawal from Europe. BEF numbers were never large in the pre-war era, whether in Army units or in air support.

I could discuss each issue you raise (e.g., BofB had nothing to do with ports but with control of the air), but that doesn’t answer your main question: “What was that moment that allowed for a breath of air and observation that Great Britain would survive the war?” I don’t think there was a moment, but if I had to choose a point which might have brought relief/belief, I would probably choose June 7, 1944. That is, of course, a military date of significance. For the civilian population, I tend to believe that the V-1 and V-2 campaigns must have kept belief in victory at bay.

Lotsa stuff to consider. Thanks, DT, for a good question.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G.



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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5452
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/6/2022 5:23:57 AM
Looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, the date is startlingly obvious : 22 June 1941. By Hitler's account, the World would hold its breath when Barbarossa began : for the British, though, this was a time to breathe again.

At the time, though, British predictions were that the Soviet Union would only last four months, and that - while the immediate danger of German invasion was seen to be much diminished - the acute peril was going to return when the Soviets had been destroyed.


From the invasion of Poland until the surrender of Japan was a period of precisely six years. Only Great Britain and the British Dominions ( Eire excluded) went through those six years of conflict from beginning to end. It's terribly difficult to assess the whys and wherefores of DT's post : especially for a British person whose judgement is bound to be flawed by an emotional reaction.


Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
DT509er
Santa Rosa CA USA
Posts: 1034
Joined: 2005
The survival of Great Britain
2/6/2022 2:51:29 PM
Naturally my question is one in which there is no defined moment or event that 'flipped the switch'. That Germany was unable to cross the channel, the Soviets survived the summer onslaught and eventually America's involvement on more the production side vs military manpower, initially played key points that I think bought time and space for GB to survive. I am awed that they were able to survive as a country, though in the long run the empire was finished.

Thank you for the input on my question!
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"American parachutists-devils in baggy pants..." “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Lord Ernest Rutherford
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 822
Joined: 2005
The survival of Great Britain
2/7/2022 12:27:11 PM
Quote:


With all of these losses, when did it all turn around for Great Britain? What was that moment that allowed for a breath of air and observation that Great Britain would survive the war?




Hi DT509er,

I think the victory at El Alamein, plus the Soviet victory at Stalingrad probably indicated to all that Britain would definitely survive the war and not be conquered. Whether there was ever a true threat of invasion after the immediate aftermath of the fall of France is up for debate. I don't think Nazi Germany would have been able to cross the channel, and certainly not before the seemingly endless resources of the US were swung into action. Those few miles of sea between Dover and Calais did more work than any BEF deployed on the continent.

As Phil suggests, the survival of Britain and the survival of the Empire were not necessarily the same thing; India was promised independence in order to swing behind the war effort. Australia, Canada and New Zealand finished the war as more reliant for defence on the US than they were on GB. The end of empire was accelerated by the war; Britain's reserves were drained and more, with nothing left in the tank for imperial renewal.

Cheers,

Colin

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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5452
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/7/2022 3:55:12 PM
The Second World War demolished British imperial aspirations. The defeats had been so stark. The same could not be said of the French, who were dragged kicking and screaming out of Indo China and Algeria in the post war years . The British underwent one more foray into humiliation in the Suez debacle in 1956, but were by and large reconciled to relinquishing their previous status, although it was rather a painful transformation and still hurts.

I wonder if this is attributable to a feeling that we were just damned lucky to escape as we did from 1939-45 with enough left intact to start anew and make a decent account of ourselves in the New Jerusalem.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12182
Joined: 2009
The survival of Great Britain
2/7/2022 5:01:16 PM
Phil and Colin,

I often feel badly about the condition that GB was left in after the war. It is especially disturbing to realize that the US and Canadian economies were quite buoyant at the end of the war.

The Lend-Lease programme of the US and the lesser known Mutual Aid programme of Canada were appreciated I know but it seems that before these programmes began, Britain was already in difficulty economically.

Because of the US Neutrality Act, Britain was compelled to buy necessaries on a cash and carry basis. Gold reserves were depleted and assets and securities in the US were sold off so as to make purchases. And Britain was compelled to provide land for military bases on British controlled territories like Newfoundland.

As well, as the Battle of Britain played out, Britain travelled to the US and gave up incredible technological advances unknown in the US. The cavity magnetron tube was perhaps the most important but there were many more. Surely these advances could have had a value placed on them and bartered for goods.

We know that the US was anti-imperialist and did not wish to see any nation let alone Britain, re-establish its colonial relationships. But I wonder what the British colonial relationships were like in 1939.

Were the colonies operated as they were when the US rebelled? By that I mean was mercantilism still the economic practice? As a member of the Commonwealth, I see the relationship between Britain and former colonies as more benign. But in 1939, did some of the colonies exist to provide raw materials to Britain to improve its economy. I am trying to understand the enmity held by some US politicians of that day for British imperialism. The concept of Empire seemed to bother them, including FDR who was of great help to Britain.

I am rambling here but I feel that as a victor in the war, Britain should have emerged in much better shape. Instead, Britain was impoverished.

Cheers,

George

Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5452
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/7/2022 5:31:04 PM
Britain squandered her treasure 1939-45 but saved her people.

To have engaged in such a terrifyingly dangerous conflict, from beginning to end, and escaped with the loss of “ only” 357,00 of her population killed - and to have been victorious - is a truly remarkable achievement.

A triumph, but a kind of wipe out at the same time.....not an easy legacy.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4209
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/7/2022 8:17:32 PM
Wow, change of focus.

I’m uncertain whether GB in the post-war years should be felt badly for or not. I like what Phil says: Quote:
To have engaged in such a terrifyingly dangerous conflict, from beginning to end, and escaped with the loss of “ only” 357,00 of her population killed - and to have been victorious - is a truly remarkable achievement.
I also agree with Colin: Quote:
The end of empire was accelerated by the war; Britain's reserves were drained and more, with nothing left in the tank for imperial renewal.
. In particular, “nothing left in the tank” rings true with me.

I think much of GB’s struggle post-war was as a result of an option that went sour. The war, IMHO, had dragged GB out of a class-based society into a much more egalitarian and socialist one. I am certain that nobody was more surprised than WSC when Clement Attlee won the 1945 “Victory” election. But on paper, the choice of Attlee was a reflection of how many changes had taken place since 1939. National Health, controlled wages and production, rationed food, clothing and building material, and growing need for government assistance for rehousing were all aspects of Phil’s “remarkable achievement.” To maintain and even increase civilian hardship in order to add other social (and socialist) programs may have been the source of the sourness, but at least some of those programs were desperately needed to assure the new standards of health and nutrition which the war had brought.

Education was in a shambles: loss of schools, teachers, and in some instances long-standing school catchment areas. Industry was facing a huge transition from war-time to post-war production. Agriculture needed to broaden the scope of production. And, of course, there was the need to try to reclaim overseas markets in a world that was largely reshaped and didn’t necessarily look to GB for finished goods. In facing all these immediate issues, civilians took the brunt; they’re war existence lasted until 1951 and the Festival of Britain, meant to be a showpiece for British technological skills and (of course) for the Labour Government who made it possible. Ironically, Labour would be voted out of power after the flag-waving. And who should pop up again but WSC!

Is there another side to this story of challenge and deprivation? Of course. In Canada, “Made in Britain” remained a hallmark, simply because it had always been that way. Steel was good if it was stamped with the name “Sheffield”, e.g. By 1948, Austins, Morrises, Jaguars, Vanguards, Hillmans and other makes of autos (MGs, Allards, Rovers, Land Rovers) were flooding our streets. We were seeing electronic gear, largely radio, so names like PYE were available. On a very different level, De Havilland introduced the first jet liner, the “Comet” – an exquisite craft to introduce the future, but with a fateful flaw – metal fatigue.

I think GB did what it could do rebound after the war, so I don’t feel badly for them. At the same time, many of their products were being built to requirements which were no longer world standards. WW2 had made US tolerances in mechanics the new benchmark, just as it had led to different power norms and shipping terms.

All this is without talking about the loss of prestige which was exposed throughout much of the empire during the war. This might be better as a separate post. But please note that while WSC expected the colonies to fight in support of GB, there were few examples where GB fought effectively to save colonies. Hong Kong’s rapid collapse is one example. A second is the collapse of the Malay States. A third is the loss of Singapore. In at least one of these instances, the “Resident Brits” maintained their arrogance to the very end; IIUC, officers of the “colonial” troops (Australian and Indian) were not welcome at “Raffles”, the oh so British hotel in Singapore. They could die for Brits, but not dine with Brits. I would argue that such behaviour touches the moral bankruptcy of the self-styled British mandate. That too would play out during the five years we now call the “Age of Austerity.”

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G

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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5452
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/8/2022 4:34:25 AM
A very excoriating analysis, Brian !

Having read George Orwell’s Burmese Days, I have to agree that much of what you say about British snobbery in the Far East is all too true.

I wonder how the Dutch treated their colonial subjects in that region of the world.

The French, from what I’ve heard, were more liberal about physical mixing with “ natives “, but were more intolerant of indulging some indigenous aspirations in cultural and linguistic matters.

George , it’s gratifying to think that Canada’s wealth and prestige was enhanced by the war. Hong Kong, Dieppe, Ortona , Caen and Walcheren, not to mention an immense contribution to Bomber Command and protecting vital sea lanes : Canada was there through thick and thin, and if Great Britain herself was depleted and diminished , the British Commonwealth exhibited some very encouraging attributes and enhanced the triumphal aspects of the war conducted by a unique “ family of nations”.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 822
Joined: 2005
The survival of Great Britain
2/8/2022 8:34:23 AM
Quote:
Britain squandered her treasure 1939-45 but saved her people.


Hi Phil,

I would question the use of the word 'squandered'. What economic resources Britain had were rather effectively used, I would argue. It was understandable that assets would be liquidated prior to credit being extended; let's be grateful there were assets to use up in those darkest hours of 1940-41. I would be interested to learn of what payment the Soviets offered up for the materiel we sent them once they entered the war.

Brian - you raise interesting points about the legacy of standards. In my time working in Glasgow, I have met many ex-ship builders. The Second World War brought a welcome boom to Glasgow's yards, as the industry had been in decline in the 1920s and 1930s as other yards around the world got better at building ships for a cheaper price than the yards of Glasgow could offer. One old shipbuilder told me of the Glasgow method of rivetting that existed well into the 1950s - all the while everyone else was welding plates together! He told me of loadsof equipment in the yards that had been there since his grandfather's time (shipbuilding apparently being a heriditary trade); there was no money for new kit. Meanwhile, Germany and Japan (and others) were able to rise from the ashes build new yards and use the latest technology, largely funded by American credit, both national and private. How galling it was to Glasgow's shipbuilders that although they were the supposed victors, their former enemies were now building better and cheaper ships more quickly than they could with their antiquated methods and equipment.

Britain, for all the talk of a 'New Jerusalem', was a country beset by historical hindrances. Heavily dependent on imports from a Commonwealth that was turning its reliance on to the United States. Export markets that could get better deals elsewhere. A huge national debt that required immediate servicing and an empire that needed divesting of. There were expensive obligations in Greece, Palestine and east of Suez that needed funding, plus a perceived threat from the Soviet Union to contend with. The country needed new houses and it needed them now; they needed jobs for returning service personnel; I would go on but we get the idea. Rationing was symptomatic of the state of the nation; too few resources to go around to meet the burgeoning demands. I think in the circumstances, both Attlee and Churchill did rather well in the immediate post-war decade to keep Britain as a front rank power and to begin to build a society fit for the future.

Cheers,

Colin




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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5452
Joined: 2004
The survival of Great Britain
2/8/2022 8:54:10 AM
Colin,

You’re right : I shouldn’t have used that word “ squandered “ . And, as you say, those financial resources were used effectively. They were lavished to exhaustion and beyond. More discernment required on my part !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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