. 8
( 14)


trality. The War Cabinet hesitated, and it was not until after the Finns
had signed an armistice on 13 March that it agreed that the mine-laying
operation should go ahead.101 It was anticipated that the Germans
might react by invading Norway, and troops were embarked on cruisers
in the Forth and Clyde ready to sail to Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim
and Narvik.
There is not room in a book of this nature to do justice to the blunders
that led to the Allied defeat in Norway. Two factors stand out: ¬rst, a
marked tendency on Churchill™s part to improvise rather than to have a
clear and consistent strategy; second, the importance of air power. By
the evening of 6 April the Admiralty knew that there were large-scale
shipping movements in German waters, even before the ¬rst British
mine¬elds were due to be laid around Narvik early on 8 April. Never-
theless, Churchill™s reaction on hearing that German warships were at
sea was to prepare for a purely naval encounter, and on his instructions
the troops aboard the cruisers in the Forth and Clyde were disembarked
on 8 April, to allow the cruisers to join the Home Fleet. As a result,
when the Germans landed in Norway on 9 April, the British reaction
was too slow to secure the ports there. There was a further muddle when
Churchill, as chairman of the Cabinet™s Military Co-ordination Com-
mittee, ordered half of a convoy which was carrying an infantry brigade
to attack Narvik to be diverted to Namsos on 14 April, as part of an
unsuccessful attempt to take Trondheim.102 The Royal Navy did in¬‚ict
losses on the German navy, particularly at Narvik, where ten German
destroyers were sunk in two engagements on 10 and 13 April, but it
was unable to prevent the ¬‚ow of German reinforcements across the
Skagerrak because of the danger of air attack.

Churchill, Second World War, vol. I, pp. 480“92, at p. 492.
Ironside Diaries, pp. 191“2.
Cabinet conclusions, 23 Feb. 1940, CAB 65/5, TNA.
Reynolds, In Command of History, p. 123; Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, pp. 157“62;
Ironside Diaries, pp. 255“65.
The Second World War 203

The Luftwaffe dominated the skies over Norway because the RAF™s
¬ghters lacked the range to intervene from Britain. A squadron of
¬ghters was transported to central Norway by aircraft carrier but was
unable to sustain itself at its improvised base on a frozen lake against
attacks by German bombers. The Germans had made Norwegian air-
¬elds their ¬rst objective, seizing them with airborne troops and sup-
plying them by air. From that point the Royal Navy was at a
disadvantage. As Admiral Sir Charles Forbes, the commander of the
Home Fleet admitted, ˜the scale of air attack that would be developed
against our military forces on shore and our naval forces off the Nor-
wegian coast was grievously underestimated when the operations were
undertaken™.103 The Allies™ only success on land was the capture of
Narvik on 28 May, but it was evacuated shortly afterwards because the
troops were needed in France, where the situation following the main
German offensive in the West was critical.
The German attack on Holland and Belgium on 10 May had long
been foreseen and the French army and the BEF advanced to take up
defensive positions east of Brussels. If the Belgian and Dutch armies,
with 22 and 8 divisions respectively, are added to the 10 British and 104
French divisions between the North Sea and Switzerland, there was
almost exact equality with the 136 German divisions deployed in the
West on that date. The French and Germans each had about 2,500
tanks (excluding obsolete French light tanks); the British initially had
only one tank brigade with 100 infantry tanks, but an armoured division
with 143 cruiser and 114 light tanks arrived during the ¬ghting. The
Germans enjoyed superiority in the air, using 2,741 combat aircraft in
the campaign against 1,046 French, 416 RAF and about 400 Belgian
and Dutch aircraft, but even that advantage was a result of British
strategy, which gave priority to the air defence of Great Britain and
reserved most of Bomber Command for strategic bombing. Had the
greater part of the RAF been employed in France, as in 1918, the Allies
would have matched the Germans as closely in the air as on land.104
A number of factors contributed to the Allied defeat. German dive
bombers acted as mobile artillery, and the concentrated mass of panzer
divisions overwhelmed the widely dispersed French tanks and advanced
to the Channel, cutting the Allied armies in two. The British Tank

Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, p. 179.
Lionel Ellis, The War in France and Flanders 1939“1940 (London: HMSO, 1953),
p. 254; Germany and the Second World War, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990“
2001), vol. II: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rohde, Bernd Stegemann and Hans Umbreit,
Germany™s Initial Conquests in Europe (1991), p. 279; Overy, Air Power; R. H. S. Stol¬,
˜Equipment for victory in France in 1940™, History, 55 (1970), 1“20.
204 Arms, economics and British strategy

Brigade achieved some success at Arras on 21 May but the Allies failed
to close the gap; on 26 May the BEF was ordered to ¬ght its way to the
coast. Two days later the exhausted Belgian army surrendered. Most of
the BEF and many French troops were evacuated through Dunkirk by 4
June, but all their heavy equipment was lost. After the campaign the
BEF was able to claim that, although it had been de¬cient in equipment,
its line had never been broken by frontal attacks, and that its retreats had
been made in order to conform to those of its allies.105 Even if the 1st
Armoured Division had been available earlier, it could not have stopped
the nine panzer divisions employed in the German drive to the coast.
Only by a radically different policy of preparing armoured divisions in
preference to infantry divisions could the British army have made much
difference to the outcome of the campaign. However, armoured divisions
could not have ful¬lled the inter-war army™s everyday role of colonial
policing and, in any case, as noted in chapter 3 (see pp. 124“5, 157),
muddle in preparing tank designs delayed the completion even of two
such formations.
British air strategy and doctrine contributed to the debacle. The War
Of¬ce had been impressed by German use of air power in close support
of ground forces in the Polish campaign, and wanted to create a tactical
air force under army command, but the Air Ministry was determined to
retain control of all bombers. Sixteen squadrons were earmarked to
support the army, but Bomber Command maintained that the proper
role of its main force was to attack the Ruhr, in a long-term strategy to
disable German industry by attacking oil and power plants. Fewer
¬ghter squadrons were sent to France than the French wanted, and the
squadrons that were sent lacked the road transport necessary to cope
with a fast-moving land campaign. Home-based squadrons had suf¬-
cient range to cover Dunkirk, but not further inland. The Armee de l™Air
was undergoing a re-equipment programme, so that its pilots tended to
have either obsolescent or unfamiliar aircraft. Even so, the Luftwaffe
suffered casualties in May that were on the same scale as in August and
September, during the Battle of Britain, suggesting that German control
of the air over Belgium and northern France was not inevitable, if the
Allies had made better use of their forces.106

˜Committee to review the lessons learned from the recent ¬ghting in Flanders
(Bartholomew Committee) Report, 1940™, WO 32/9581, TNA; Lord Gort™s
despatches, London Gazette, no. 35305, 17 Oct. 1941.
J. R. M. Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. II (London: HMSO, 1957), pp. 154“6; Ellis, War
in France, pp. 24“9; William Green, ˜Who lost the battle for France?™, RAF Flying
Review, 15 (June 1960), 21“4; Murray, Luftwaffe, p. 45; Overy, Air Power; Webster
and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, pp. 125“43.
The Second World War 205

The British government faced dif¬cult strategic and political choices
in the immediate aftermath of Dunkirk. French pleas for more aircraft
were rejected, in order to conserve Fighter Command for the direct
defence of the United Kingdom. It was harder to refuse to send troops,
since Churchill was aware that nine-tenths of the ¬ghting on the ground
had been done by the French, and the gesture of sending a new BEF
might encourage them to continue the struggle. The only two formed
divisions available in June were sent, and in due course lost their
equipment when they were evacuated after the French request for an

Grand strategy: the Empire at bay, June 1940“July 1942
The immediate problem facing the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff
in June 1940 was the defence of the United Kingdom and its trade
routes. In the longer term, there were the questions of whether and how
the war could be won. Churchill placed his hopes in ˜immense American
supplies™ becoming available, and even in Roosevelt bringing the United
States into the war once the presidential election in November was
over.108 By September a new strategy was in place for a long war, on the
assumption that American support would eventually be forthcoming.
Meanwhile a German invasion had to be averted.
The role of Fighter Command in the defence of the United Kingdom
in 1940 is well known. Less familiar are the roles of the army, navy and
Bomber Command. Although the army lacked artillery, tanks and
transport after its losses in France, it was still suf¬ciently strong
numerically, thanks to the evacuation from Dunkirk, to impose on the
Germans the necessity of mounting a full-scale invasion over several
days, rather than a coup de main. The German navy had sustained losses
and damage during the Norwegian campaign, severely limiting its ability
to protect the large number of ships, tugs, river barges and other
improvised craft required to transport the ¬rst wave of nine divisions. For
the invasion to succeed the Luftwaffe had to neutralise the Royal Navy,
and to do that it had ¬rst to establish air superiority over the Channel.
Bomber Command added to the Germans™ dif¬culties by attacking
concentrations of invasion craft in French and Belgian ports.109

Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 116“17, 123“30, 137“9, 189.
Ibid., pp. 152, 174; John Colville, The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939“55
(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 283.
Bennett and Bennett, Hitler™s Admirals, pp. 78“86; Basil Collier, The Defence of the
United Kingdom (London: HMSO, 1957), pp. 123“5, 127, 137“8, 175“82, 225“7;
Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, pp. 254“61.
206 Arms, economics and British strategy

The Battle of Britain was the ¬rst to be decided by aircraft, with the
most intensive ¬ghting by day lasting from 8 August to 7 September.
The outcome might have been different if the Germans had persisted
with their bombing attacks on radar stations and Fighter Command
air¬elds instead of switching to raids on London. The RAF lost a higher
percentage of its ¬ghter pilots in August and September than the
Luftwaffe, whose operations were intended to in¬‚ict losses on the
defending ¬ghters in the air. However, many members of the Luftwaffe
command believed that only direct daylight attacks on London would
be decisive and, following several RAF night raids over Berlin, the
Germans changed their tactics. The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was at the
limit of its combat range over London, and the twin-engined Mes-
serschmitt Bf 110 was no match for the single-engined Spit¬res and
Hurricanes. The Luftwaffe was forced to abandon heavy daylight
attacks, owing to losses among its lightly armed bombers, and by mid-
October autumnal weather meant that the threat of invasion in 1940
was over. The Germans turned to night bombing to weaken British
Meanwhile the threat to Britain™s trade routes had greatly increased.
From France the Luftwaffe could attack coastal shipping and sea ports
all round Britain, instead of only along the east coast, and U-boats could
make extended voyages in the Atlantic. British losses of destroyers off
Norway and Dunkirk had reduced the number of escort vessels, as did
the need to deploy destroyers in an anti-invasion role until October. The
agreement made by Churchill with Roosevelt on 5 September whereby
¬fty obsolete, surplus American destroyers of 1918“20 vintage were
exchanged for the leasing to the United States of British bases in the
western Atlantic was chie¬‚y of political importance, since the destroyers
had to be modernised in overworked British dockyards. Nevertheless
they were made available at a critical time.111 In the same month the
German U-boats adopted their tactic of night attacks on convoys by
˜wolf packs™ on the surface, rendering Asdic almost useless, and
from January 1941 the Germans increased the number of operational
U-boats. The winter of 1940“1 was the only time when blockade might
have defeated Britain, for the U-boats were sinking ships at a greater rate
than they could be replaced, something that did not recur even
when shipping losses were higher in 1942“3, for by then increased

Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (London: Public Record Of¬ce,
2001), pp. 79“95; T. C. G. James, The Battle of Britain, ed. Sebastian Cox (London:
Frank Cass, 2000); Murray, Luftwaffe, pp. 43“59.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 353“68; Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, p. 348.
The Second World War 207

shipbuilding in the United States offset British losses.112 It was in
the period 1939“41 that Coastal Command was least effective against
U-boats. Fortunately the Luftwaffe gave a low priority to attacks on
merchant shipping, although for a time in 1941 its long-range recon-
naissance aircraft played an important role in guiding U-boats to their
targets.113 What is striking is that, despite the danger to Britain™s trade
routes, Coastal Command received a lower priority for new aircraft than
Bomber Command. To understand why one has to look at how
Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff hoped to win the war.
Notwithstanding Germany™s conquests in Europe and trade with the
Soviet Union, British intelligence still believed in the summer of 1940
that the German war machine was vulnerable to economic warfare on
account of shortages of food, oil, rubber and textile ¬bres. Economic
warfare was broadly de¬ned, to include bombing and sabotage of
industrial targets and communications, as well as blockade to deny
Germany access to overseas trade.114 The Chiefs of Staff produced a
Future Strategy paper on 4 September 1940 in which they predicted that
the Germans™ oil stocks might be exhausted by June 1941. They believed
that the Germans could improve their position only by bringing the war
to an end by defeating Britain, or by driving the Royal Navy from the
Eastern Mediterranean, thereby enabling them to import oil from
Romania and the Soviet Union by sea. The Chiefs of Staff concluded that
an Italo-German attack on Egypt was likely within the next six months;
that any steps to deprive Germany of oil would hasten her defeat; and that
Britain should aim ˜to pass to the general offensive in all spheres and in all
theatres with the utmost possible strength in the spring of 1942™.115
The belief that the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt might be a
decisive theatre was not new. When Italy entered the war the British had
four capital ships and an aircraft carrier at Alexandria, and a further three
capital ships and an aircraft carrier at Gibraltar, against four operational
Italian capital ships (plus two re¬tting), but the danger of attack from the
large Italian air force led the Admiralty at the end of June to consider
abandoning the Eastern Mediterranean. Churchill vetoed the idea, and
in July urged that the air defences of Alexandria and Malta should be
reinforced, although the Battle of Britain was about to begin.116 Then in
Marc Milner, ˜The Battle of the Atlantic™, in Gooch (ed.), Decisive Campaigns, pp. 45“
66, at pp. 49, 52.
Air Ministry, Rise and Fall, pp. 104“16; Bennett and Bennett, Hitler™s Admirals, pp. 91“
3, 143.
Hinsley, British Intelligence, vol. I, pp. 234“41.
˜Future strategy™, COS (40) 683, 4 Sep. 1940, CAB 80/17, TNA.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 388“90, 392“3; Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I,
pp. 295“8.
208 Arms, economics and British strategy

August, at the suggestion of the CIGS, Dill, the War Cabinet agreed to
send 154 infantry tanks “ about half the total available “ to Egypt,
although the outcome of the Battle of Britain was uncertain.117
It was, however, to Bomber Command that Churchill looked for
decisive offensive action against Germany. On 3 September he wrote:
˜¬ghters are our salvation, but bombers alone provide the means to
victory™. He believed that only by pulverising ˜the entire industry and
scienti¬c structure™ of Germany could Britain hope to overcome the
enemy™s ˜immense military power™.118 The Chiefs of Staff™s emphasis
on Germany™s shortage of oil pointed to a more precise target. Oil
re¬neries and synthetic plants were to be attacked whenever conditions
were favourable, for example in good weather and when there was a full
moon, but attacks on enemy morale by raids on Berlin or other urban
centres were to be made at other times. Bomber Command was
instructed by the Air Staff to follow the German technique of using
incendiaries to start ¬res and then high-explosives to prevent ¬re bri-
gades from tackling the ¬res. This was the technique that became known
as area bombing.119
The Future Strategy paper of 4 September saw the purpose of
blockade and bombing as wearing down the German economy until it
would be possible for the British army to re-establish itself on the
continent with a good chance of success, even although it would be
inferior in numbers to the German army.120 Churchill had created the
Special Operations Executive (SOE) in July to pursue economic warfare
by sabotage and to enable European resistance movements to prepare a
general uprising to assist major operations by British forces.121 In the
same month he had set up the Combined Operations Command to
carry out raids using purpose-built landing craft, and by 1941 the pro-
duction of many types of assault craft was under way, including ones big
enough to land tanks on beaches.122
The execution of the strategy worked out in September 1940 involved
two choices: ¬rst, the balance between the offensive and defensive use of

See Reynolds, In Command of History, pp. 191“3 for how Churchill came to claim
credit for this decision.
˜The munitions situation™, memorandum by the Prime Minister, 3 Sep. 1940, WP (40)
352, CAB 66/11, TNA.
Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, pp. 155“60.
˜Future strategy™, COS (40) 683, 4 Sep. 1940, CAB 80/17, TNA.
David Stafford, ˜The detonator concept: British strategy, SOE and European
resistance after the fall of France™, Journal of Contemporary History, 10 (1975), 185“
217, at 202. See also M. R. D. Foot, SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the
British Special Operations Executive in France 1940“1944 (London: HMSO, 1966).
Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 217“23.
The Second World War 209

air power; and second, the allocation of sea, land and air forces as
between the Middle East and Far East. As regards air power, the
availability of better night-¬ghters for Fighter Command, and the
movement of many Luftwaffe units to Eastern Europe in spring 1941 in
preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union, meant that debate
centred on whether bombers were better used to attack Germany or to
support the navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Air Staff had no
doubts that the proper use of bombers was in the strategic air offensive,
but by March 1941 merchant shipping losses were so great that
Churchill directed Bomber Command to give priority over the next four
months to attacking U-boats at sea, in dock, or in building yards, and to
counteracting Luftwaffe operations against shipping. German battle-
cruisers at Brest were also bombed, although the head of Bomber
Command was sure that there was not much chance of destroying these
ships.123 However, when there was a marked reduction in merchant
shipping losses in July 1941, Churchill demanded to know why new
American bombers were being allocated to Coastal Command instead
of to the bomber offensive, and in October the First Sea Lord and the
CAS had to resist pressure from the Prime Minister to transfer aircraft
from Coastal Command to Bomber Command.124
From December 1941 merchant shipping losses began to mount again,
partly because the U-boats were able to take advantage of American
unpreparedness when Germany declared war on the United States on 10
December. There was a debate in Whitehall about the relative advantages
of protecting shipping and bombing German towns. The most extreme
viewpoint was put to Churchill by the head of Bomber Command on 17
June 1942. Harris claimed that the ˜over-swollen establishment of the
purely defensive™ Coastal Command achieved nothing essential, either to
Britain™s survival or the defeat of the enemy, and prevented very few
shipping losses. He believed that Coastal Command should be redirected
from its ˜mainly futile™ defensive role to the offensive, in combination
with Bomber Command.125 In fact, as we have seen, it was in 1942 when
Coastal Command at last became pro¬cient in attacking U-boats; what it
needed were long-range aircraft. Agreement on the allocation of aircraft
between Bomber Command and Coastal Command was not reached
until November 1942 (see below, p. 217).
Meanwhile, the inability of Bomber Command to do signi¬cant
damage to oil targets, or transport systems, which for a time became an

Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, pp. 165, 167.
Buckley, RAF and Trade Defence, pp. 127“8.
Memorandum by Harris, 17 June 1942, PREM 3/19, TNA.
210 Arms, economics and British strategy

alternative priority, led inexorably to area bombing. The technical rea-
sons for this policy have already been noted. The question asked here is:
what did Bomber Command hope to achieve by way of ful¬lment of the
overall war strategy of weakening Germany prior to re-establishing the
army on the European continent? By the autumn of 1941 the chief
target was the morale of German workers, but Churchill doubted
whether, in the light of British reactions to bombing, such a strategy
would be decisive. He wrote to the CAS on 7 October that, if the United
States entered the war, the air offensive ˜would have to be supplemented
in 1943 by simultaneous attacks by armoured forces in many of the
conquered countries which were ripe for revolt™.126 Following heavy
losses in November 1941, the Prime Minister insisted that Bomber
Command™s strength should be conserved until the spring of 1942.
Churchill™s faith in the value of a strategic air offensive was partially
restored in 1942. His scienti¬c adviser, Lindemann, now Lord Cher-
well, persuaded the Lord President of the Council, Anderson (himself
trained as a scientist), to set up an enquiry by two scientists, Solly
Zuckerman and J. D. Bernal, into the effects of bombing of British cities.
Even before the enquiry™s ¬ndings were circulated in April 1942,
Cherwell was advising Churchill that the best use of Bomber Command
would be to damage the German people™s morale by destroying their
homes. Cherwell wrongly anticipated that Zuckerman and Bernal would
show that area bombing would break the spirit of the German people,
whereas the evidence of Hull and Coventry suggested the reverse was
true. Nevertheless, he did not allow that evidence to weaken his case,
which was based on a belief that German cities would be subjected to far
heavier bombing than anything experienced by the British. He assumed
that the over-ambitious programme for producing 10,000 heavy bom-
bers over the next ¬fteen months would be ful¬lled, although in Feb-
ruary the Ministry of Aircraft Production had made the ¬rst of what
proved to be a series of modi¬cations to the programme to make it more
realistic. Sir Henry Tizard, a scientist who had been advising the Air
Ministry since the 1930s, and who favoured the proposed policy of area
bombing in principle, demonstrated that Bomber Command would not
have the resources to strike a decisive blow before mid-1943 at the
earliest, and that the attempt to do so might lead to the loss of the war by
the diversion of aircraft from other purposes, including trade defence.
The Cherwell“Tizard debate paralleled the debate between the Air Staff
and the Naval Staff, and a judge, Mr Justice Singleton, was asked to
review the likely results of bombing Germany. Singleton reached no

Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, p. 184.
The Second World War 211

clear conclusions in his report on 20 May 1942, but he did make the
point that the bombing offensive helped the Soviet Union by forcing the
Germans to divert resources to air defence.127
This was a powerful consideration at a time when there was pressure
on Britain from the Soviet Union and the United States to open a
second front in France.128 In the spring and summer of 1942 Bomber
Command was beginning to have some success, including a spectacular
one-thousand bomber raid on Cologne on 30 May. Harris, who had
established excellent relations with Churchill, argued that the strategic
air offensive could reduce a continental land campaign to a mopping up
exercise.129 Churchill did not take so exaggerated a view of air power,
but in a review of the war position in July 1942 he looked to a combined
British and American air offensive to cripple German U-boat and air-
craft production, and to prepare the conditions for major military
operations on the continent.130
Meanwhile the defence of the Empire and overseas interests had been
a heavy burden on British, dominion and Indian forces. The Italians had
made the ¬rst moves, occupying British Somaliland in August 1940, and
pushing ¬fty miles into Egypt from Libya in September. The British
forces in the Middle East lacked modern equipment, and the Australian
and New Zealand contingents there were still undergoing training, but
the bold stroke of sending modern tanks to Egypt gave the General
Of¬cer Commanding-in-Chief, Middle East, Wavell, the means of
defeating the Italian army in Egypt in December and advancing to the
border of Tripolitania by 9 February 1940.131 The Regia Aeronautica
proved to be less of a threat than anticipated and the Royal Navy seized
the initiative in the Mediterranean, disabling or sinking half of Italy™s
capital ships and 8-inch-gun cruisers between November 1940 and
March 1941.132
This successful period was brought to an end by the intervention of
the Germans, ¬rst by sending Luftwaffe squadrons to the Mediterranean

The Singleton report is reproduced in Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive,
vol. IV, pp. 231“8. For Zuckerman™s account of Cherwell™s misguided use of the
British evidence, and of the Cherwell“Tizard debate, see Solly Zuckerman, From Apes
to Warlords 1904“46, An Autobiography (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978), pp. 141“8,
Churchill, Second World War, vol. IV: The Hinge of Fate (1951), pp. 281“308.
Memorandum by Harris, 17 June 1942, PREM 3/19, TNA.
Memorandum by the Prime minister, 21 July 1942, reproduced in Churchill, Second
World War, vol. IV, pp. 781“4.
For the decisive impact of British tanks on the the Italian army, see Lucio Ceva, ˜The
North African campaign, 1940“43™, in Gooch (ed.), Decisive Campaigns, pp. 84“104,
at p. 87.
Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, pp. 300“1, 419, 427“31.
212 Arms, economics and British strategy

at the end of 1940 and then by sending an army into Bulgaria in March
1941 with a view to coming to the rescue of the Italians, whose attack on
Greece in October 1940 had turned out badly. A paper dated 16 Feb-
ruary 1941 by the Director of Military Operations, Sir John Kennedy,
made out a cogent case for Wavell™s army pushing on to Tripoli, to deny
the Germans a foothold in Africa and to improve air cover for British
ships in the central Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the Chiefs of Staff
decided on 23 February that for political reasons some of Wavell™s forces
should be sent to support the Greeks.133 Cyril Falls subsequently
described British intervention as ˜a sorry tale of political and strategic
frivolity™.134 Certainly there was a case to answer. The Chiefs of Staff
regarded the enterprise as hazardous. The RAF was short of aircraft,
especially ¬ghters. Although Wavell considered that there was a good
chance that an enemy advance could be stopped, the detailed military
appreciation that Churchill requested was never received. Churchill
himself felt that the loss of Greece would not be a major catastrophe,
provided Turkey remained an ˜honest neutral™. The of¬cial history
suggests that the decisive factor was a feeling that it would be less
damaging to British prestige to suffer defeat than to leave the Greeks to
their fate.135
Falls had the bene¬t of hindsight. While the British were preparing to
send troops to Greece, the Germans were establishing their Afrika Korps
in Libya, the ¬rst troops having arrived on 8 February, and a panzer and
a light (mechanised) division were ready to take the offensive at the end
of March. By that date the British had two armoured divisions in the
Middle East, but one was re¬tting after its successful operations against
the Italians; the other was divided between Cyrenaica and Greece. The
Germans™ advantage in armour and the daring of their commander,
General Erwin Rommel, led in April to the British being driven from
Cyrenaica apart from the port of Tobruk, which withstood an eight-
month siege. Meanwhile the Germans drove the British Commonwealth
expeditionary force out of Greece by the end of the month. To complete
British discom¬ture, Crete was taken by German airborne troops
between 20 May and 1 June. German air power in¬‚icted heavy losses on
the Royal Navy, which found itself on the defensive, concentrating on
supplying Malta.136 On the other hand, success was not all on one side.

The Business of War: The War Narrative of Major-General Sir John Kennedy, ed. Bernard
Fergusson (London: Hutchinson, 1957), pp. 80“5.
Cyril Falls, The Second World War: A Short History (London: Methuen, 1948), p. 91.
Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. II, pp. 442“7; Churchill, Second World War, vol. III: The
Grand Alliance (1950), pp. 89“90, 92.
Playfair, The Mediterranean and the Middle East, vol. II, esp. pp. 12, 147.
The Second World War 213

By holding Malta the British retained a base from which to attack
Rommel™s seaborne supplies. An Iraqi government suspected of pro-
Axis sympathies was overthrown and the country occupied in May, and
Syria was wrested from Vichy control in June. These campaigns pre-
venting German penetration of the Middle East were undertaken mainly
by formations not equipped to the standard required to face the Afrika
Korps (horsed cavalry were used by the British army for the last time in
Syria). The Italian forces in East Africa were defeated between February
and May 1941, removing a potential threat to communications through
the Red Sea.
The presence of two German divisions, and their Italian allies, on the
Egyptian frontier in late April had a profound effect on British grand
strategy. On 28 April Churchill issued a directive in which he stated that
the loss of Egypt and the Middle East would be a disaster of the ¬rst
magnitude, second only to a successful invasion of Great Britain. On the
other hand, he believed that the danger of Japan entering the war was
remote and that, if she did, the United States would almost certainly
come in on Britain™s side.137 The CIGS, Dill, pointed out on 6 May that
it was ˜an accepted principle of our strategy that in the last resort the
security of Singapore comes before that of Egypt™; yet Singapore™s
defences were well below what was required.138 Churchill responded
that Singapore required only a small fraction of the forces required for
the defence of Egypt, and that therefore Singapore and Egypt were not
comparable alternatives.139 Churchill™s refusal to agree to air reinfor-
cements for the Far East proved to be crucial. After the fall of France,
defence policy in the Far East had been recast, given the need to retain a
British ¬‚eet in the Mediterranean, and the likelihood that Japan would
use French Indo-China as a springboard for operations. The Chiefs of
Staff considered in August 1940 that it would be necessary to defend the
whole of Malaya, not just Singapore. Primary responsibility for the
defence of the peninsula had been given to the RAF, but of the planned
frontline strength of 336 aircraft, only 150 were in place in June 1941,
and no more than 158 in December, many of them obsolescent. The
army™s garrison remained at the size that had been planned on the
assumption that the main burden would fall on the air force, although in

˜Directive by the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence™, 28 Apr. 1941, WO 216/5,
˜The relation of the Middle East to the security of the United Kingdom™, 6 May 1941,
WO 216/5, TNA.
Prime Minister to Chief of General Staff, 13 May 1941, WO 216/5, TNA. For
Churchill repeatedly holding up air reinforcements for the Far East, see Churchill War
Papers, vol. III, pp. 81, 476, 774.
214 Arms, economics and British strategy

July 1941 the new commander in Malaya, General A. E. Percival,
estimated that ¬ve divisions, instead of ten brigades were required. As the
of¬cial history notes, it was evident by that date that ˜existing plans for the
defence of Malaya had broken down™.140 Nevertheless, Churchill,
anxious to support the Soviet Union, which had suffered heavy defeats
since June, particularly with regard to its air force, preferred in August to
offer to send 445 modern ¬ghter aircraft to Murmansk.141
Most of the controversy over the fall of Singapore is centred on naval
strategy and in particular the loss of a new capital ship, the Prince of
Wales, and the battle-cruiser Repulse when they were attacked off the
coast of Malaya by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941.142 Churchill
had told the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand at the end of
October that the Prince of Wales would be the best possible deterrent to
Japanese aggression, and he boasted to Stalin that it could ˜catch and kill
any Japanese ship™.143 His blindness to the danger of land-based air
attack is surprising, in view of British losses off Crete a few months
earlier. His defence in his memoirs was that, after the Japanese
declaration of war, the capital ships should have crossed the Paci¬c to
join the American ¬‚eet, the existence of an Anglo-American ¬‚eet being
the best possible shield for Australia.144 The Admiralty™s plans had been
more ambitious, aiming at offensive action in the South China Sea by a
¬‚eet of older capital ships operating under cover of land-based aircraft.
During Anglo-American naval talks between October 1940 and April
1941 the Americans had made plain that they expected the British to
make a substantial contribution to the defence of the Far East. In
August the Admiralty became aware that the Americans intended to
hold the Philippines in strength, and by September its plans envisaged
holding a line from Hong Kong to Manila, with the latter being used as

Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. II, pp. 506“7; J. M. A. Gwyer and J. R. M. Butler, Grand
Strategy, vol. III (London: HMSO, 1964), p. 278.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. III, p. 403.
There is a huge literature on this subject, most of it highly critical, including Paul
Haggie, Britannia at Bay: The Defence of the British Empire against Japan 1931“1941
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); Ian Hamill, The Strategic Illusion: The Singapore
Strategy and the Defence of Australia (Singapore University Press, 1981); Arthur J.
Marder, Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy,
Strategic Illusions 1936“1941 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); W. David McIntyre,
The Rise and Fall of the Singapore Naval Base, 1919“1942 (London: Macmillan, 1979);
and Alan Warren, Singapore: Britain™s Greatest Defeat (London: Hambledon and
London, 2002). Christopher Bell, ˜The ˜˜Singapore strategy™™ and the deterrence of
Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty and the dispatch of Force Z™, English
Historical Review, 116 (2001), 604“34, points out that the purpose of sending out the
Prince of Wales and the Repulse was to deter war rather than to make a commitment to a
particular war strategy.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. III, pp. 469, 525. 144 Ibid., p. 547.
The Second World War 215

an advanced base for six British capital ships, provided it could be made
secure from air attack.145 In the event, the necessary dispositions had
not been made by December.
Britain™s Far Eastern strategy quickly collapsed. Hong Kong fell on 25
December. The largely inexperienced British, Australian and Indian
troops in Malaya were no match for Japanese veterans of the Sino-
Japanese war who landed in the north of the peninsula, where they
quickly seized air¬elds built for the RAF. The surrender of Singapore on
15 February, and the loss of 140,000 men, mostly taken prisoner, to a
numerically inferior Japanese force, was a shock that Churchill blamed
on the failure of those responsible for the defence of the base there to
turn it into the fortress of his imagination.146 He did not explain how
even a forti¬ed Singapore could have been held once the numerically
inferior RAF had been defeated. The conquest of Malaya gave Japan 75
per cent of the world™s natural rubber and 66 per cent of the tin, and the
subsequent loss of the Dutch East Indies provided her with enough oil
for her needs. The loss of Burma between December 1941 and March
1942, and Japanese naval raids on Ceylon in April, accompanied by the
sinking in the Indian Ocean of a British aircraft carrier and two cruisers,
reinforced the sense of British powerlessness. Fortunately the Japanese
did not press home their advantage. On 5 May British forces landed in
Madagascar to deny the Japanese bases on that Vichy-controlled island.
Even so, the preservation of communications across the Indian Ocean
depended on the success of the US Navy in the Paci¬c.
The priority given to the defence of Egypt had disappointing results.
British Commonwealth forces built up there engaged in a series of
battles in the Western Desert from 18 November 1941, eventually
ending the siege of Tobruk on 8 December, and driving the Afrika Korps
out of Cyrenaica. However, Rommel counter-attacked in January“
February 1942 and recovered most of Cyrenaica. In late May he
mounted another offensive, driving the Eighth Army back into Egypt,
where it made a successful stand at El Alamein in July. Most dis-
appointing to Churchill was the fall of Tobruk on 20 June. He heard the
news while he was in conference with Roosevelt in Washington and,
when asked by the President what the United States could do to help,

Ian Cowman, ˜Main ¬‚eet to Singapore? Churchill, the Admiralty, and Force Z™,
Journal of Strategic Studies, 17 (1994), no. 2, 79“93. Bell, ˜The ˜˜Singapore strategy™™™
shows that Cowman™s belief that the Admiralty sought to conceal its plans from
Churchill is unfounded.
Reynolds, In Command of History, pp. 296“7. For an illuminating account of the
campaign, see Masanobu Tsuji, Singapore: The Japanese Version (London: Constable,
216 Arms, economics and British strategy

replied: ˜give us as many Sherman tanks as you can spare™.147 Once
more Britain had to turn to the United States for help.
British strategy from the fall of France to July 1942 was ambitious
with regard to defeat of Germany, but was not, on the whole, a success
after the Battle of Britain. The Germans were able to offset the effects of
blockade by plunder of conquered countries and by putting pressure on
neutrals to supply raw materials. The strategic air offensive against
Germany was not decisive because Bomber Command lacked the
technology and numbers to damage German industry. Moreover, stra-
tegic bombing had its opportunity cost. Air power might have been used
to greater advantage against U-boats and in support of the army and
navy in the Middle East and, especially, the Far East. British agents and
commandos helped to inspire the European resistance, but the pro-
spects for widespread revolt against the Germans in Europe seemed
remote, except in Yugoslavia and Greece, and even in these countries
the resistance was weakened by con¬‚ict between Communist and non-
Communist forces.
The defeat of the German army would depend upon the operations of
Britain™s allies as well as on those of an enlarged British army. Here sea
power could make a contribution: munitions sent to Murmansk could
encourage the Soviet Union to soldier on, even if some of the equip-
ment was inferior to Soviet models, and the responsibility for ensuring
that the Arctic convoys got through fell to the British Home Fleet. The
Luftwaffe, U-boats and German surface vessels posed such a threat in
1942 that the Admiralty wanted to suspend the convoys during the long
summer days. Roosevelt insisted that the convoys continue; Churchill
promised Stalin that they would; but when two-thirds of the merchant
ships in convoy PQ 17 were lost in July, even Churchill had to agree
that no more convoys would sail to Murmansk until the autumn.148 July
1942 was not a good time to suspend aid to the Soviet Union, for in that
month the Germans took the Russian fortress of Sevastopol and were
advancing towards the oil¬elds of the Caucasus, and Stalin was bitterly
reproachful of the British decision. Fortunately there was another route
by which supplies could reach the Soviet Union, through Iran,
which British and Soviet forces had occupied in August 1941 to sup-
press German in¬‚uence. However, the German advance in the Cau-
casus in 1942 raised doubts about the security even of this route, or

Churchill, Second World War, vol. IV, p. 344.
James P. Levy, The Royal Navy™s Home Fleet in World War II (Basingstoke: Palgrave,
2003), pp. 108“25.
The Second World War 217

indeed about the northern ¬‚ank of the British position in the Middle

Grand strategy: coalition warfare July 1942“August 1945
The entry of the United States into the war as a combatant had, as
Churchill had foreseen, a huge, if delayed, impact on all aspects of grand
strategy. American support helped to make the blockade more complete
as regards overseas supplies to Germany, although it was only after
neutrals close to Germany had con¬dence in imminent Allied victory
that supplies such as Swedish ball-bearings, Spanish wolfram and
Turkish chrome were denied to the enemy in 1944.150 Germany™s
chances of seizing the oil¬elds of the Middle East and the Caucasus, and
of shipping Romanian oil via the Eastern Mediterranean, faded in late
1942 as a result of the battles of El Alamein and Stalingrad, but it was
the arrival of American forces that swung the balance of power in North
Africa decisively in favour of the Allies. The appearance of strategic
bombers of the USAAF™s Eighth Air Force over Western Europe from
August 1942 meant that it was no longer necessary for Bomber Com-
mand to attempt to have a decisive impact on its own. In September
1941 the Air Staff had estimated that Bomber Command would require
4,000 frontline heavy bombers to defeat Germany by area bombing.
This ¬gure was beyond what British industry could achieve, especially if
the needs of the other services were to be met, but by September 1944
Bomber Command and the American Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces
had a combined average daily operational strength of 4,609 bombers, of
which two-thirds were American.151 Moreover, the huge output of
aircraft from the United States meant that it was no longer necessary to
starve Coastal Command of long-range aircraft for the bene¬t of
Bomber Command, and a War Cabinet Anti-U-boat Warfare Com-
mittee chaired by Churchill reached agreement on 18 November 1942
on strengthening Coastal Command.152 As regards the liberation of
Europe, resistance movements could be expected to gain more popular
support once the prospects of Allied victory improved, and the combi-
nation of the American and British Commonwealth armies would be big

Gwyer and Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. III, pp. 446“7, 589“91; Michael Howard,
Grand Strategy, vol. IV (London: HMSO, 1972), pp. 34“6, 51, 53“4.
Medlicott, Economic Blockade, vol. II, pp. 638“9.
Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, p. 182; Craven and Cate (eds.),
Army Air Forces, vol. III, p. 596. The Eighth Air Force was based in the United
Kingdom and the Fifteenth in Italy.
Roskill, War at Sea, vol. II, pp. 77“90.
218 Arms, economics and British strategy

enough for an invasion, given that most of the German army was on the
Russian front.
The strategic problems of making the best use of scarce resources
were thus eased by the resources becoming less scarce, but choices still
had to be made. Grand strategy had to be worked out within the frame-
work of a coalition, in which the three principal members necessarily
had different priorities. Stalin was understandably anxious that the
burden of war against Germany on land should not be borne almost
entirely by the Soviet Union. The United States might have been
expected to settle scores ¬rst with Japan, and indeed the US Navy did
give priority to the Paci¬c war, although Churchill and Roosevelt agreed
in Washington in December 1941 that the Allies should aim to defeat
Germany ¬rst. Britain™s interests were world-wide and her manpower
was limited, and Churchill hesitated to commit the British army to open
a second front in France before Germany had been signi¬cantly wea-
kened by air power and economic warfare. Britain™s relative contribution
to the war compared with that of the United States was declining: by
December 1944 the British army was only about one-half of the
American, and Churchill expected that it would soon be little more than
a third.153 In February 1945 he spoke of Britain as a ˜small lion™ in the
company of a ˜huge Russian bear™ and a ˜great American elephant™.154
British strategy depended very much upon what the Americans could be
persuaded to agree to.
The British government had to take decisions in the autumn of 1942
on how to allocate manpower between the services and munitions
production, since the demands of the services far exceeded what the
Ministry of Labour and National Service could ¬nd. In September
Churchill had told the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair,
that the strength of Bomber Command must be increased, and the Air
Ministry had secured approval of a large increase in production of
bombers that would require an increase of 850,000 workers in the air-
craft industry. In view of the increased scope of the war, Churchill had
also recently issued a directive stating that the Ministry of Supply should
equip the equivalent of 100 divisions, 23 of them armoured, including
Commonwealth and Allied forces attached to the British Army, by April
1943. The Admiralty, in view of the heavy losses being incurred in the
Battle of the Atlantic, wanted a greater proportion of national output to
go to naval construction, and required crews for the additional ships due
to be completed in 1943. The Lord President, Anderson, surveying the

Churchill, Second World War, vol. VI: Triumph and Tragedy (1954), p. 233.
Colville, Fringes of Power, p. 564.
The Second World War 219

manpower budget for the eighteen months ending December 1943,
concluded that it would not be possible to meet the essential needs of
the navy, build up an army of 100 divisions, and equip an air force
of 600 squadrons. Churchill decided on 28 November that the Battle of
the Atlantic should for the time being have overriding priority, and also
suggested that aircraft production should have priority over increasing
the RAF™s manpower, and that the reduced threat to the United
Kingdom from the Luftwaffe should make possible reductions in air
defences. The ¬nal allocation agreed by the War Cabinet on 11
December gave the army and air force little more than half of their
estimated additional manpower requirements, and manpower for the
Ministry of Supply was reduced.155 This allocation re¬‚ected the Chiefs
of Staff™s agreement that strategic bombing was required to undermine
Germany™s military power before an invasion, but that two-thirds of the
bombing force would be American, and that the resources allocated to
Bomber Command should not impair the navy™s ability to secure supply
by sea or the army™s ability to mount an invasion of Europe in 1943. The
army, however, would have to rely increasingly on American sources for
its equipment.156
As regards how Allied forces should be deployed, Churchill had
wished as early as December 1941 to secure French North Africa to
forestall a German occupation of naval bases on the Atlantic coast, and
to add the French army there to the Allied forces.157 On his second visit
to Washington in June 1942 he dismissed the possibility of a cross-
Channel invasion of France before 1943, but argued that the Allies
could not remain idle in 1942. The conclusion of his talks with Roose-
velt was that preparations for a landing in France in 1943 should go
ahead and the possibilities of French North Africa, Norway and the
Iberian Peninsula in the autumn and winter of 1942 should be studied
by the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff.158 North Africa was
chosen at an Anglo-American conference in the following month for
what would be the ¬rst major seaborne invasion. The size of Allied
forces that could be deployed in the autumn of 1942 was subject to the
degree of success that could be achieved in the Battle of the Atlantic.
However, it was equally true that the Royal Navy and the RAF,
Gwyer and Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. III, pp. 546“7; Hancock and Gowing, British
War Economy, pp. 441“7; Howard, Grand Strategy, vol. IV, pp. 6“7; Postan, British
War Production, pp. 221“5; Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I,
p. 343.
Howard, Grand Strategy, vol. IV, pp. 197“208; Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air
Offensive, vol. I, p. 366, 372“4.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. III, pp. 574“8.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. IV, pp. 342“5.
220 Arms, economics and British strategy

operating from Malta and Egypt, were successfully limiting supplies to
Axis forces in North Africa. By 23 October the new commander of the
Eighth Army, General Bernard Montgomery, was ready to take the
offensive at El Alamein, forcing Rommel to retreat from Egypt and
Libya. The opposition of Vichy forces to the Anglo-American landings
in Morocco and Algeria on 8 November was slight, but hopes of a
complete occupation of the North African coast were deferred by a
German invasion of Tunisia.
Matters stood thus when future strategy was discussed with the
Americans at the Casablanca conference in January 1943. It was com-
mon ground between the American and British chiefs of staff that most
resources should be devoted to the defeat of Germany, but whereas the
Americans wanted to devote 30 per cent to the Paci¬c, instead of the
existing proportion of 15 per cent, so as to prevent the Japanese digging
in, the British thought in terms of ¬nding out what minimum would be
necessary to prevent further Japanese expansion. No ¬gures appeared in
the document setting out Allied strategy, and in any case nearly all the
resources to be used in the Paci¬c were under American control. It was
decided that a beginning should be made in 1943 to retaking Burma,
with the aim of reopening land links with China. With regard to Eur-
opean operations in 1943, the main choice to be made was between
exploiting the Allies™ success in North Africa by knocking Italy out of the
war, and perhaps bringing Turkey in on the Allied side, or invading
France from the United Kingdom, since it was unlikely that landing
craft used in the Mediterranean could be transferred to the English
Channel before the weather broke in the autumn. The British Chiefs of
Staff preferred the Mediterranean strategy, as did Churchill, although
the Prime Minister wanted the possibility of a cross-Channel operation
in August or September left open. General George Marshall, the chief of
staff of the US Army, was opposed to inde¬nite operations in the
Mediterranean and believed that the decisive effort must be made in
France. The British argued that a Mediterranean strategy would divert
more Germans from the Russian front than a cross-Channel operation
would, since, if the Italians surrendered, the Germans would be forced
to occupy Italy and to replace Italian troops in the Balkans. The
Germans already had forty-four divisions in France, more than enough
to cope with anything that the twenty-one to twenty-four divisions that
the Allies could assemble in the United Kingdom in 1943 could do. It
was agreed, therefore, to invade Sicily once the Axis forces in Tunisia
had been dealt with, and to weaken Germany by strategic bombing
while a force large enough to invade France was assembled in the United
The Second World War 221

Kingdom. The Battle of the Atlantic was to remain the ¬rst charge on
The strategic air offensive began to have a decisive impact in 1943.
The Casablanca conference failed to resolve the issue of whether it was
better to attack selected targets, particularly submarine construction
yards, aircraft factories, transport systems and oil plants, or whether
weakening German morale through destroying housing was a more
realistic objective. The Americans preferred the selective approach by
day; the British preferred area bombing by night. At least this division of
labour made co-ordination of the efforts of Bomber Command and the
USAAF Eighth Air Force based in Britain easier. Bomber Command
did considerable damage to the towns of the Ruhr and to Berlin.
Especially devastating were the ¬re raids on Hamburg from 24 July to 3
August, which permanently reduced production in that city. The fact
that German production of strategic goods such as steel, petroleum and
synthetic rubber, and also aircraft, rose in 1943 might suggest that
Germany was not much weakened by the strategic air offensive in that
year, but increased output was possible because the German economy
had had spare capacity earlier and production would have been even
greater in the absence of bombing. Both Bomber Command and the
USAAF suffered heavy losses. However, they were not alone in this.
The German day-¬ghter force suffered an unsustainable attrition rate,
especially after the Americans increased the numbers of escort ¬ghters
late in the year. The inability of the Luftwaffe to oppose the Allied
invasion of France, when it came, showed that Germany had been
weakened by the strategic air offensive, although not in the way that the
British Air Staff or Harris had expected.160 The Russians also bene¬ted
from the Germans being forced to devote 41 per cent of their munitions
output to aircraft in 1943, compared with 6.27 per cent to tanks. As
Phillips O™Brien has argued, in material terms, if not in military man-
power, the decisive theatre was in the west rather than the east.161
Meanwhile, the Axis armies in Tunisia had surrendered in May; Sicily
fell between 10 July and 17 August, and the invasion of Italy followed on
3 September, after the Italian government that had replaced Mussolini
had indicated a wish to surrender. However, the Germans held most of

See Michael Howard, The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War (London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968).
Alan S. Milward, War, Economy and Society 1939“1945 (London: Allen Lane, 1977),
pp. 79, 298“302; Overy, Air War, pp. 123“5; Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air
Offensive, vol. II, pp. 10“16, 236“7, 244“300; Murray, Luftwaffe, pp. 186“211.
Phillips P. O™Brien, ˜East versus West in the defeat of Nazi Germany™, Journal of
Strategic Studies, 23 (2000), no. 2, 89“113.
222 Arms, economics and British strategy

the country, and there followed a long and arduous campaign that was
not concluded until 29 April 1945. There were major debates between
the British and the Americans on how far to take the Mediterranean
strategy. British planners considered options from Sardinia to the
Aegean, but the American chiefs of staff made clear at the second
Washington conference in May 1943 that they were opposed to any-
thing that might detract from or delay a cross-Channel attack. It was
agreed that forces would be concentrated in Great Britain ready to
mount an operation by 1 May 1944, but at the ¬rst Quebec conference
in August 1943 the British succeeded in incorporating the principle of
¬‚exibility regarding Mediterranean operations in the Combined Chiefs
of Staff™s conclusions.162
Churchill was keen to take advantage of the opportunities apparently
offered by the Italian surrender to seize the Dodecanese Islands and
perhaps bring Turkey into the war. However, once more the Germans
had anticipated events and sent reinforcements, while the supply of
landing craft available to the British in the Eastern Mediterranean had
been reduced in August by a decision at the Quebec conference to
transfer them to the Indian Ocean ready for operations against the
Japanese. Small British units landed on Kos, Leros and Samos in the
middle of September, but only the ¬rst of these islands had an air¬eld
from which the RAF could operate, and the Germans quickly took it on
4 October. After that date air support depended on aircraft based in
Egypt or Italy. Churchill appealed on 7 October to Roosevelt for landing
craft that had been earmarked for preparations for the cross-Channel
invasion of France to be diverted temporarily to the Aegean to enable
the British to recapture Kos and take Rhodes. However, the President
refused to allow any delay in the timetable that had been settled in May,
or to agree to any diversion of forces from Italy for what might prove to
be the beginning of a Balkan campaign. Nor did Churchill have support
from his own CIGS, Brooke, who thought that commitments in Italy
precluded serious operations in the Aegean, and believed that the Prime
Minister was unbalanced on the subject of Rhodes. Churchill was bit-
terly disappointed at the lack of American support, and efforts in
November to bring Turkey into the war fared no better, since the British
could not promise the Turks as much air support as they demanded.
Lack of air cover led to the loss of the remaining British footholds in the
Aegean by 27 November, by which time the British had lost six
destroyers and two submarines sunk and four cruisers and two

Howard, Grand Strategy, vol. IV, pp. 411“20, 425“32, 561“70.
The Second World War 223

destroyers damaged.163 The operations were on a small scale, involving
only a few thousand men, but the whole affair illustrated Britain™s
inability to conduct an independent strategy in the Mediterranean.
The Cairo and Tehran conferences in November and December 1943
underlined the point. The British managed to fend off an American
proposal that a single supreme commander should be appointed for
operations in the Mediterranean and North-West Europe, and also to
control the strategic air forces in the Mediterranean and the United
Kingdom. Instead there would be one commander for the Mediterra-
nean, who would be British, and one for North-West Europe, who
would be American, and the question of control of the strategic air
forces was left open. At Tehran, Stalin pressed the British to commit
themselves ¬rmly to a cross-Channel operation in May 1944; the
Americans naturally agreed with him, and all that Churchill could
secure was agreement that operations in the Aegean would be desirable,
provided that they could be ¬tted in without detriment to landings in
France.164 The British did return to Greece in October 1944, but only
after the Germans had evacuated the country to avoid being cut off by
the Russian advance across the Balkans. Notwithstanding the fact that
the Allied Commander in the Mediterranean, General Sir Harold
Alexander, was British, American views prevailed over those of
Churchill on the relative importance of a landing in the south of France
and an all-out offensive in Italy. Against the advice of the British Chiefs
of Staff, three American and four French divisions were transferred from
Italy to attack Toulon and Marseilles on 15 August and to link up with
the Allied forces advancing from Normandy, leaving only twenty divi-
sions to continue the Italian campaign.165
The commitment of a large part of the British army to the Medi-
terranean and elsewhere meant that of the thirty-¬ve divisions required
for the cross-Channel invasion of France, only sixteen would be British,
and that subsequent reinforcements would have to come from the
United States. The overriding importance of the cross-Channel opera-
tion was such that from April to September 1944 the direction of
Bomber Command was transferred to the American Supreme Com-
mander of the Allied Forces in North-West Europe, General Dwight
Eisenhower. The appointment of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder
as deputy supreme commander, with his experience of air co-operation
in North Africa, ensured that optimal use was made of Allied air power.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. V: Closing the Ring (1952), pp. 186“200;
Alanbrooke, War Diaries, pp. 458“9; John Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. V (London:
HMSO, 1956), pp. 91“103.
Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. V, pp. 168“83, 189. 165 Ibid., pp. 348“58, 361“7.
224 Arms, economics and British strategy

Preparation for what became the D-Day landings in Normandy on 6
June involved air attacks by heavy bombers on German communications
in France, especially railway marshalling yards, as well as targets
hitherto the preserve of tactical air units: coastal batteries, ammunition
dumps and military camps.
The Normandy campaign was the last time that the British Com-
monwealth and the United States could be regarded as equals: 83,000
British and Canadians, and 73,000 Americans, landed on the Nor-
mandy beaches on D-Day. Eisenhower was in overall command but
Montgomery, as 21st Army Group commander, directed land opera-
tions until 1 September, when Eisenhower took over. The balance of the
opposing land forces in Western Europe in June 1944 was quite even:
thirty-seven Allied divisions in the United Kingdom, plus seven in Italy
earmarked for the landings in the south of France, faced ¬fty-eight
German divisions, but there were about forty more American divisions
in reserve in the United States. Moreover, German units were frequently
delayed in reaching the front by air attacks and sabotage, the latter often
organised by SOE. Even so, it was not until 19 August that the Germans
were in headlong retreat.
After the victory in Normandy, Montgomery saw the task of the 21st
Army Group as the destruction of the enemy forces in northern France,
the clearance of the Pas de Calais with its V-bomb sites, and the capture
of Antwerp. He also believed that the Allies should make a single,
powerful thrust with about forty divisions on a narrow front over the
Rhine into Germany, under his command. Eisenhower rejected the plan
on 23 August, preferring to advance on a wide front, linking up with the
American Seventh Army advancing from the south. From 1 September
Montgomery was in charge of only one of three army groups. He
believed that an opportunity to end the war in 1944 had been lost, and
subsequently let his views be known to Chester Wilmot, whose Struggle
for Europe (1952) stated that Montgomery™s advance from the Seine to
Antwerp in nine days ˜amply demonstrated that the Ruhr was vulnerable
to just such a stroke as he had proposed to Eisenhower™.166 American
critics of Montgomery claimed that he was at fault in allowing the
German army that had been guarding the Pas de Calais to escape and in
failing to clear the approaches to Antwerp before the Germans could
establish themselves at the mouth of the Scheldt, with the result that the
Allies were unable to use the port until 28 November. Montgomery was
also blamed for the failure of the British First Airborne Division to

Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (London: Collins, 1952), p. 476.
The Second World War 225

capture the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem in September.167 The
Allies™ logistical problems would have made victory in 1944 dif¬cult in
any case. The Germans still had suf¬cient forces to launch a counter-
attack in the Ardennes in December 1944, and the ¬nal Allied advance
across Germany did not begin until February 1945.
Meanwhile, there had been successful interactions between Allied air
and land forces. As already noted, the air forces had greatly impeded the
German army™s mobility by attacking its communications in France.
From the autumn, strategic and tactical bombers extended the attack to
transport systems in Germany itself, helping to paralyse the German
economy. Alfred Mierzejewski has argued that German industry was
dependent upon distribution of coal by rail and inland waterways and
that the bombing of railway marshalling yards in particular reduced
armaments production by more than half between June 1944 and
February 1945.168 Moreover, by 1944 the USAAF and Bomber Com-
mand had at last acquired the technical means and the experience with
which to make effective attacks on oil targets. The USAAF began to do
so in May 1944, and Bomber Command in June. German stocks of
aviation fuel, petrol and diesel oil had been increasing down to May, but
in May total fuel production fell to 85 per cent of that of April, and in
June to 50 per cent. The invasion of Normandy and the Soviet offensive
in White Russia in June forced the Germans to increase consumption of
fuel just as strategic bombing was reducing production. The Russians
captured the Romanian oil¬elds in August. With fuel in short supply,
the Luftwaffe found by November that it could no longer use the large
numbers of ¬ghter aircraft being produced in Germany, or train pilots to
¬‚y them. The strategic air offensive also bene¬ted from the advance of
the Allied armies, which deprived the Luftwaffe of radar early warning
systems in France and Belgium. This gain was particularly marked in
the case of Bomber Command, which had been suffering unsustainable
losses from German night-¬ghters prior to its diversion to operations
over France in support of D-Day. The German night-¬ghter force was
largely ineffective after August. On the other hand, the Allied armies
bene¬ted from the fact that by 1944 about 2 million German soldiers
and civilians were engaged in ground anti-aircraft defence, and that 30
per cent of total German artillery production was for the anti-aircraft
defences, including 70 per cent of 88-mm guns which otherwise would

G. E. Patrick Murray, Eisenhower versus Montgomery: The Continuing Debate (Westport,
Conn.: Praeger, 1996), chs. 1“4.
Alfred C. Mierzejewski, The Collapse of the German War Economy, 1944“1945 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), esp. p. 198.
226 Arms, economics and British strategy

have been employed in the anti-tank role.169 The last twelve months of
the war thus saw a successful combination of air and land power, quite
different from earlier Air Staff ideas of the RAF as an independent
instrument of war. After the war, the British Bombing Survey Unit
concluded that the attempt to break the morale of the German civilian
population had clearly failed.170
Britain™s resources were so fully stretched that her contribution to
victory over Japan was necessarily limited. The Allied objective in Burma
in 1944“5 was to reopen links with China, where the greater part of the
Japanese army was engaged, and from where American strategic bombers
could attack Japan. American and Chinese forces operated in northern
Burma, securing air¬elds and clearing the one good road from Burma to
China. The main British effort was to recover central Burma, and then to
seize the country™s only sizeable port, Rangoon. General Sir William
Slim™s 14th Army, which included African as well as British and Indian
divisions, began operations in October 1944, as the monsoon tailed off.
Mandalay fell on 20 March, and Rangoon on 3 May, 1945, after a
seaborne landing. The campaign was a brilliant success, but played little
part in the defeat of Japan. Likewise the creation of a British Paci¬c Fleet
in December 1944 was essentially a political gesture as by that date the
US Navy had gained decisive superiority over the Japanese.171
Japan had already been brought to the brink of surrender by blockade
and conventional air attacks by the time that atomic bombs were
dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945. The
Quebec agreement of August 1943 had stated that the United States
and the United Kingdom would not use an atomic bomb without the
other™s consent, and British consent had been given on 4 July 1945,
twelve days before the ¬rst test bomb was exploded at Los Alamos in
New Mexico. Churchill never doubted that President Truman™s deci-
sion to use the atomic bomb was right.172 The British decision to make
an atomic bomb went back to the end of August 1941, when British
scientists had concluded that there was a reasonable chance that one
could be produced before the end of the war, and the Chiefs of Staff had
recommended maximum priority. There had been a fear that the Ger-
mans might make one ¬rst. The Americans had also been active in the
Murray, Luftwaffe, pp. 245“50, 264“5; Overy, Air War, p. 122; Webster and
Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. III, pp. 123“40, 225“61; Wilson, Churchill
and the Prof, pp. 81“8.
Biddle, ˜British and American approaches™, pp. 126“7.
Jon Robb-Webb, ˜˜˜Light two lanterns, the British are coming by sea™™: Royal Navy
participation in the Paci¬c 1944“45™, in Greg Kennedy (ed.), British Naval Strategy
East of Suez, 1900“2000 (London: Frank Cass, 2005), pp. 128“53.
Churchill, Second World War, vol. VI, p. 553.
The Second World War 227

¬eld, and in October 1941, while the United States was still neutral,
Roosevelt had suggested that the British and American efforts might
usefully be co-ordinated or even jointly conducted. Churchill™s initial
response had been non-committal. However, by July 1942 Anderson,
the lord president, who had oversight of atomic research, realised that
the effort required to produce atomic bombs was beyond what Britain
could achieve in war-time, and recommended that the two countries™
research programmes should be merged.173 Subsequently the British
scientists concerned moved to the United States, and Canada provided
the raw material, uranium. Nevertheless, most of the scienti¬c and
industrial input to what was called the Manhattan Project was Amer-
ican, and it was the United States that emerged from the Second World
War as the ¬rst nuclear power.

Britain was by no means as backward in her capacity to wage war as
critics such as Barnett have made out. While one can point to short-
comings, the overall impression is one of a formidable military-scien-
ti¬c-industrial complex. Nor were servicemen conservative either in
their requirements for new weapons systems or in the doctrines for their
use. The quality of British arms varied but most matched the best that
Germany could produce, and some, for example strategic bombers,
were better. There were failures, notably unreliable tanks, but failures
tended to be the result of trying to do too much too quickly, and the
improvement of British tanks by 1945 deserves as much attention as
earlier defects.
Britain began the war intending to conserve her economic strength for
a three-year war, but had to throw caution to the winds from the summer
of 1940. British strategy aimed to make the United Kingdom and its
trade routes secure, to protect overseas territories and interests, to sup-
port allies, and to win a long war in which the enemy would ¬rst be
weakened by blockade and air attack before a decisive offensive could be
mounted on land. The strategy could be said to have been successful
eventually, but there were many unexpected events on the way. It had
always been realised that Britain could not make her empire secure
against both Italy and Japan if she were engaged in a war with Germany.
Even so, Malaya could have been defended more effectively if Churchill

The Roosevelt“Churchill correspondence in 1941, and Sir John Anderson™s letter to
Churchill, 30 July 1942, recommending a merger with the Americans, are in PREM 3/
139/8A, TNA.
228 Arms, economics and British strategy

had allowed the Chiefs of Staff ™s plan for air defence to be implemented.
In the event, as the Norwegian campaign and the battle for Crete had
already demonstrated, sea power had to be supplemented by air power.
The defence of the United Kingdom itself depended upon Fighter
Command and, whatever criticisms may be made about neglect of
imperial defence before or during the war, events in 1940 showed the
wisdom of conforming to the strategic principle of ¬rst securing one™s base.
Belief in the effectiveness of blockade tended to be exaggerated, but
did not involve the creation of additional naval forces, since command of
the sea was necessary in any case to protect trade. The Air Staff™s faith in
the strategic bomber, however, did involve substantial opportunity cost
in terms of trade defence and tactical air power. Moreover, the RAF
failed to develop effective strategic bombers and the technical means of
hitting vital targets such as oil plants and transport systems until late in
the war. The Air Staff™s strategy also proved to be beyond Britain™s
industrial strength, which could never have supported a 4,000-strong
heavy bomber force without weakening the defence of her trade routes
and overseas interests even more than was the case.
Britain™s ability to conduct a long war was compromised by the fall of
France, and proved to be possible only with the support of Lend-Lease.
It was also the United States that provided about two-thirds of the air
and land forces used to defeat Germany in the west in 1944“5. The Red
Army absorbed the efforts of the greater part of the German army from
1941. Given the scale of the effort required for victory in 1945, it would
seem that the long-term strategy worked out by the Chiefs of Staff in the
autumn of 1940 for weakening Germany by blockade and bombing,
prior to landing British land forces in support of popular revolts in
occupied Europe, was beyond Britain™s unaided strength. Britain could
not realistically have mobilised more manpower than she did, and
indeed it was the manpower budget of 1942 that imposed a reality check
on Churchill™s directives requiring more heavy bombers and more army
divisions than could be provided.
Nevertheless, Britain™s contribution to the Allied victory was con-
siderable. She was the only great power to be engaged against Germany
from September 1939 to May 1945. She made the main contribution to
Allied sea power in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian
Ocean. She also built up a larger air force than Germany. The British
and Commonwealth armies played the leading role in the Middle East
and a strong supporting role in North-West Europe. Yet events showed
that Britain could not stand alone in a great war, militarily, economically
or in the scienti¬c-industrial effort to maintain the full range of weapons
systems, which, by July 1945, included the atomic bomb.
5 The impacts of the atomic bomb and the
Cold War, 1945“1954

For the purposes of military technology, the post-war period may be
divided into an atomic phase and a thermonuclear phase, the latter
beginning with the Americans™ ¬rst hydrogen-bomb tests in 1954. This
chapter deals with the ¬rst phase. As international relations came gra-
dually to be dominated by the Cold War, British foreign policy aimed to
co-operate with what Churchill in 1948 called three overlapping circles
of ˜free nations™: the United States, the Commonwealth and Western
Europe.1 Anglo-American relations were the most important for three
reasons. First, Britain had merged her atomic research with America™s in
1942 and had hopes of collaboration in the post-war period. Second,
Britain had to borrow dollars to ¬nance imports from North America
while converting her industries from war to peace, and she hoped to
co-operate with the United States in creating a stable and expanding
international economy. Third, only the United States could counter-
balance the power of the Soviet Union.
In analysing defence policy after 1945 one has to remember that the
course of international relations was not predictable. An important
Foreign Of¬ce brief for the Potsdam conference in July 1945 recom-
mended that Britain should stand ¬rm diplomatically against Soviet
designs, but did not assume that American support would be forth-
coming, and concluded that Britain must base its foreign policy on the
principle of co-operation between the United States, the Soviet Union
and the British Commonwealth.2 By May 1946 the Foreign Secretary,
Ernest Bevin, could tell the Cabinet and Commonwealth prime
ministers that the danger from the Soviet Union had become as great,
The Times, 11 Oct. 1948.
Sir Orme Sargent, ˜Stocktaking after VE Day™, 11 July 1945, reprinted in Documents on
British Policy Overseas (DBPO), series 1, vol. I (London: HMSO, 1984), pp. 181“7.
Sargent became permanent under-secretary in 1946.

230 Arms, economics and British strategy

and possibly greater, than that of a revived Germany, but the threat was
one of subversion not outright war. Bevin skilfully exploited American
fears of Communism as a means of reducing Britain™s commitments at a
time when the British economy was under strain. On 21 February 1947
he announced that Britain could no longer afford to give aid to Greece,
where Communist guerrillas were active, or Turkey, thereby prompting
the American President to announce the ˜Truman doctrine™ of sup-
porting ˜free peoples™ who were resisting armed minorities or outside
pressures.3 However, it was not until after the Communist takeover of
Czechoslovakia in February 1948 that Labour ministers were convinced
about Soviet hostility. The US State Department made plain that any
American commitment to the defence of Western Europe would depend
on evidence that the Europeans were willing to help themselves. To this
end Bevin signed the Brussels Treaty with France and the Benelux
countries in March 1948, creating the Western European Union
(WEU), with its obligation to assist any member that was attacked, and
the North Atlantic Treaty followed on 4 April 1949.4 It was the invasion
of South Korea by the Communist North on 25 June 1950 that turned
NATO from a mutual defence pact into a tight military alliance, since it
was believed in Washington and London that the war might be a
curtain-raiser for Soviet aggression in Europe within the next few years.
The Labour government™s response was to embark on an over-
ambitious rearmament programme that Churchill had to cut back after
he returned to of¬ce during a sterling crisis in October 1951.
The issues to be addressed in this chapter are: in what sense did the
Labour government™s decision to develop a British atomic bomb mark
the beginning of a nuclear phase in the British way of warfare? Was
Britain™s defence policy in the immediate post-war period commensu-
rate with her economic resources? Of particular signi¬cance in this
respect was the Chiefs of Staff™s Global Strategy paper of 1952, which
was described by a leading American expert in strategic studies, Richard
Rosecrance, as ˜undoubtedly the most in¬‚uential British defense paper
of the post-war period™, and by Eric Grove as ˜perhaps one of the most
remarkable attempts of its kind to rethink national strategy from ¬rst
principles™.5 John Baylis and Alan Macmillan questioned the extent to

Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (London: Heinemann, 1983), pp. 266,
368“70, 378“9.
John Baylis, The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO,
1942“1949 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993), pp. 68“73, 92“111.
R. N. Rosecrance, Defense of the Realm: British Strategy in the Nuclear Epoch (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 159; Eric Grove, Vanguard to Trident: British Naval
Policy since World War II (Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1987), p. 82.
The impacts of the atomic bomb and the Cold War 231

which the paper broke new ground but nevertheless considered that it
˜set the foundations of declaratory British strategic policy for many years
to come™.6 Brie¬‚y, the Global Strategy paper recognised that too much
expenditure on defence by Britain and her allies would undermine their
economies and present the Communists with a bloodless victory.
Moreover, the Cold War was expected to continue for a long period
during which equipment would become obsolescent, making high levels
of expenditure on research and development necessary to keep abreast
of the Soviet forces. However, ˜a new factor of fundamental importance™
was that studies in 1951“2 had shown that there would be no effective
defence in the foreseeable future against an atomic air attack, either
against the United Kingdom or the Soviet Union. A strategy of nuclear
deterrence therefore offered security at a sustainable cost.7 The Global
Strategy paper brings out starkly the interconnection between technol-
ogy, economics and strategy, and forms the main focus of this chapter.

Although central to the future of defence policy, atomic energy was
rarely on the Cabinet agenda, even for report. In 1945 and 1946 the
Prime Minister, Attlee, consulted his inner Cabinet: Bevin, Herbert
Morrison (lord president of the council) and Cripps (president of the
Board of Trade), and two or three others in an ad hoc ministerial
committee, known as Gen 75, the papers of which were not circulated to
the rest of the Cabinet. Initially, recommendations on atomic policy
were made by an Advisory Committee, which included service, scienti¬c
and of¬cial members, and was chaired by Sir John Anderson, who had
been in charge of the atomic energy programme during the war. A
complicating factor was that Anderson was Independent MP for the
Scottish universities and sat on the Opposition front bench. He was very
much involved in policymaking for about a year but thereafter the dis-
advantage that he did not attend ministerial meetings led to the creation
of a new standing committee, the Atomic Energy Of¬cial Committee,
which largely superseded Anderson™s committee. The decision to make
a British atomic bomb was not taken formally until January 1947, and
then by an ad hoc ministerial committee, known as Gen 163. Bevin and
Morrison were again members, along with the Secretary of State for the
Dominions, the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Supply. The

John Baylis and Alan Macmillan, ˜The British Global Strategy paper of 1952™, Journal of
Strategic Studies, 16 (1993), no. 2, 200“26, at 221.


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