Battle of Britain + 81

This month marks the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  It was the first major battle that was fought entirely in the air, and it pioneered the use of radar as a force multiplier. The history of this battle is very interesting from the military and technology standpoints–but those things are not the focus of this post.

With the fall of France (June 22, 1940), many people believed that further resistance by Britain was hopeless.  The French writer Georges Bernanos, living in exile in Brazil, wrote (in December of that year) about how many establishment figures had been willing to despair…and how epic a story Britain’s survival in fact was:

No one knows better than I do that, in the course of centuries, all the great stories of the world end by becoming children’s tales. But this particular one (the story of England’s resistance–ed) has started its life as such, has become a children’s tale on the very threshold of its existence. It mean that we can at once recognize in it the threefold visible sign of its nature. it has deceived the anticipations of the wise, it has humiliated the weak-hearted, it has staggered the fools. Last June all these folk from one end of the world to the other, no matter what the color of their skins, were shaking their heads. Never had they been so old, never had they been so proud of being old. All the figures that they had swallowed in the course of their miserable lives as a safeguard against the highly improbable activity of their emotions had choked the channels of circulation..They were ready to prove that with the Armistice of Rethondes the continuance of the war had become a mathematical impossibility…Some chuckled with satisfaction at the thought, but they were not the most dangerous…Others threatened us with the infection of pity…”Alone against the world,” they said. “Why, what is that but a tale for children?” And that is precisely what it was–a tale for children. Hurrah for the children of England! 

Men of England, at this very moment you are writing what public speakers like to describe in their jargon as one of the “greatest pages of history”….At this moment you English are writing one of the greatest pages of history, but I am quite sure that when you started, you meant it as a fairy tale for children. “Once upon a time there was a little island, and in that island there was a people in arms against the world…” Faced with such an opening as that, what old cunning fox of politics or business would not have shrugged his shoulders and closed the book?

But only a two years earlier, Britain had signed the Munich agreement.  General Edward Spears, along with many others was overcome by despair:

Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.

Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.

The Battle of Britain has been, fairly, called a battle that saved civilization. But the saving of civilization is not a one-time thing, and there are today very serious threats to individual liberty and the rule of law..really, to civilization itself…in Britain as well as in the US. There are many dark clouds overhead and on the horizon. But the Battle of Britain should inspire us with the thought that battles that seem to be hopeless may, in fact, be winnable through sufficient determination and skill.

45 thoughts on “Battle of Britain + 81”

  1. When you’re defending civilization, you have to be lucky every time. The savages only have to get lucky once…

  2. God bless Hawker Aviation, Supermarine Division of Vickers, LTD, the men and women of Fighter Command and Chain Home, and Arnold Wilkins, of the Radio Research Station, who was the actual inventor of British radar, not Watson Watt.

    They did save civilization.

  3. Scott…also Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the radar information filtering concept. And many, many others, including the people of London and other cities, who did not panic in the manner that had been projected by pre-war thinking about the bombing of cities.

  4. All honor to RAF Fighter Command! (I grew up on Biggles books.)

    The history is interesting though–“One Little Island Against the World” was in reality the largest empire on the planet against a continental warlord with practically no navy.

    And who now recalls (other than readers of the late John Lukacs) that Churchill made a desperate attempt to make a British-French political union –a merger of the two countries–in a bid to keep the French fighting?

    Personally I don’t think civilization is safe until the last Commie is strangled with the entrails of the last Muslim.

    Cousin Eddie

  5. “battles that seem to be hopeless may, in fact, be winnable through sufficient determination and skill.”

    Without taking anything away from the determination & skill of the Few, we have to remember that those were necessary but insufficient conditions for success.

    Luck. Let’s not forget luck, like the weather in that year when radar was primitive and would easily have been confused by clouds.

    And friends. Let’s not forget the pipeline of support from across the Atlantic at a time when that friend was the Workshop of the World.

    And the mistakes of the enemy. The German decision to bomb cities instead of bombing airfields and radar sites was a huge mistake.

    As for saving “civilization”, we can look around today and echo Pyrrhus — If this is civilization, our hands are not big enough to hold it.

  6. There was an interest in trying to assassinate Hitler and Goering. It has been also recorded that, had they been assassinated, a more effective leadership might have replaced them. Especially Goering. Many of the German general staff were reluctant to go to war, especially in 1939, but the fall of France convinced them. They remained enthusiastic until the Russian campaign failed. Personally, I think the Polish Guarantee was Chamberlain’s final mistake. The “Phony War” followed. The shift, by Goering, to bombing the cities was the determining factor in the Battle. The Germans also did not understand how the British could build as many fighter planes as they did. The Germans kept assuming the British were out of planes, then were surprised.

  7. “The German decision to bomb cities instead of bombing airfields and radar sites was a huge mistake.”
    The British helped them along in their mistake. When they bombed one of the Chain Home stations, it was rendered inoperative. The RAF immediately put out fake radar signals to convince the Luftwaffe that the site was still working. The Luftwaffe fell for the ruse and decided to attack other stuff. Then Hitler jumped in and said to bomb London. The British were often successful in their deceptions.

  8. Richard Overy points out that the Germans consistently under-estimated British fighter production, while the Brits OVERestimated German numbers.

    One of the great What-ifs is a German win in the BoB (air phase). If that had happened we would be celebrating the RN’s smashing of Hitler’s Armada (BoB sea phase) IMHO.

    As to assassinations in WWII, allow me to commend Howard Blum’s Night of the Assassins, about the German effort to crash the Big Three party in Teheran. Fascinating story.

    The contrast between German reactions to war in 1914 and 1939 have been well-known ever since– it wasn’t only the generals who had misgivings. But success, even temporary success, often turns heads.

    Cousin Eddie

  9. I am of the personal opinion that Britain should have stayed out of WWI. The Germans made it tough with their behavior in Belgium. Still, a repeat 1870 would have left Britain with their empire and us with no Great Depression.

  10. Luck? Well then, history has no point does it. No wonder so few appreciate or connect the events to a meta narrative.

    Death6

  11. Death6: Things can be down to luck, and also have a point. The two notions aren’t mutually incompatible.

    The conversation reminds me of this famous Belloc quote:
    “The Barbarian hopes — and that is the mark of him, that he can have his cake and eat it too.He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization, should have offended him with priests and soldiers…. In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make: that he can befog and destroy but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilization exactly that has been true.
    We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.”

  12. I have heard many places that the outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic came down to about a year’s production of U-Boats and that the German master plan was predicated on that extra year for both U-Boats and aircraft production. Why Hitler jumped the gun isn’t clear, there is supposed to be evidence that the German economy was nearing collapse without being put on a war footing. There was also the fact that Britain and France were rearming at an accelerating rate.

    The big reason for the switch from bombing military targets to terror bombing was the raids on Berlin. This also caused the Germans to divert production to fighters, not that bomber production was ever a very high priority. They never developed a heavy bomber.

    The Germans were quite effectively shut off from the rest of the world, this included not just oil and rubber that were a major problem throughout the war, it especially included things like nickle and chromium, the lack of which greatly limited the performance and life of high performance engines. The lack of quartz for oscillator crystals made their radios difficult to operate and somewhat fragile. Not attributes popular among fighter pilots.

    I doubt they could have pulled off an invasion of Britain. They would have had to tow most of their troops across in unpowerd barges made of concrete. They would not have had anywhere near the air superiority that we enjoyed on D-Day. Even if they had established a toe hold, they lacked the shipping capacity to supply it. It took us every minute of the three and a half years from Dec. 7 to D-Day to get ready.

    Once they were fighting the Russians, the only question was where the Russians would end up. Supposing Hitler didn’t attack Russia, the Russians planned to attack Germany. Germany would have made an especially ripe target with a British invasion bogging them down.

  13. Mike K: “I am of the personal opinion that Britain should have stayed out of WWI.”

    And that applies double with bells on to the USA. The US really had no dog in that fight between European Imperialists.

    If the US had not tipped the balance by supplying arms to Perfidious Albion while supposedly being neutral, and then come in late in the war with fresh forces when both sides were nearing exhaustion, the outcome would probably have been a negotiated stalemate with much of western Russia under German control. No vindictive Treaty of Versailles to spur a future war. No inhumane English post-war continuing blockade of the defeated countries leading to massive starvation. Probable failure of Communist rule in Russia.

    Politicians make a mistake, and a hundred years later we descendants are still paying for it.

  14. Death 6: “Luck? Well then, history has no point does it. No wonder so few appreciate or connect the events to a meta narrative.”

    Don’t be shy! What is this chance-free meta narrative the cognoscenti understand?

    Luck? What if Rommel had not been seriously wounded in an air attack in France ahead of D-Day? With his generalship, the D-Day invasion might have failed. Of course, that would not have saved Germany from ultimate defeat, but would have ended up with the Red Army standing on the cliffs at Normandy. Luck can have a drastic effect on the course of history.

  15. Rommel was wounded well after D-Day; he was at home for Frau Feldmarschall Rommel’s birthday on June 6.

    “We should have stayed out” arguments are pretty pointless IMHO, in regard to Great Power conflicts–after all, Trotsky was right about the interests of War.

    Several notches below such geopolitical speculations are alternatives that start from realities.

    One of my faves is– What If the Germans, in 1914, had left Belgium and France alone?
    No (or half-hearted) Brit intervention, and Plan 17 would have been just as disastrous as in OTL; we know that a much smaller German force defeated the Russians in 1914, and imagine what the bulk of the Kaiserheer could have done, and how soon Tsardom would collapse.

    Then again, as in OTL’s 1914-15, success itself may have increased German appetite.

    As to the Red Army in Normandy–not without continued Western aid . . .

    Cousin Eddie

  16. Cousin Eddie — Thank you for the correction. Yes, Rommel was taken off the board several weeks after D-Day when his car was strafed on July 17. On D-Day, he had proposed a different (probably more effective) use of the Panzer reserves, but was over-ruled by Hitler. Not a good example of the impact of luck on history — but there are others.

    As to the hypothetical of what if the D-Day invasion had failed — is there any reason to suppose that Western (ie US) aid to the USSR would have ceased because of the failure to open a Western front?

  17. The big reason for the switch from bombing military targets to terror bombing was the raids on Berlin. This also caused the Germans to divert production to fighters, not that bomber production was ever a very high priority. They never developed a heavy bomber.

    The first raid on Berlin was “an accident” as British bombers got lost and bombed Berlin. If you believe that, I have…..

    I don’t think the Germans could ever have invaded England but they could, if the RAF was destroyed, have made life miserable. Possibly miserable enough to cause Churchill to lose power.

    The French were close to losing WWI and the British paid dearly for that alliance.

    I highly recommend Pat Buchanan’s book, “The Unnecessary War”although I disagree with him on Churchill and WWI. Churchill was right about Gallipoli although it became a fiasco after the Royal Navy chickened out. Buchanan has some good arguments about WWI. I read a biography of Edward Grey after I read his book.

  18. More to David’s point, it was the first victory after what had to have been a very dark time, where Germany seemed unstoppable. It’s easy for us to pick apart the Luftwaffe’s strategy and material from here, not as easy when the bombs are falling on you and yours.

    It’s also easy to forget just how few trained troops were on the island, just as at the start of WWI. The Dunkirk rescue looms especially large and the German failure to follow through when they had them in their hand hard to understand.

    Goering boasted that bombs would never fall on Germany. When the British were able to put the lie to that so early, it deranged the whole German war strategy even before it was able to inflict much damage.

  19. @Gavin Longmuir– I’ll come back to that point (Red Army in Normandy) later.

    And make some other points as well.

    Cousin Eddie

  20. When it comes to luck, chance, or fortune in war, I’m with Clausewitz.

    A failed OVERLORD would have had many possible effects, at least one of which is increased US focus on air power–specifically Nukes Against Nazis. Another could have been more resources devoted to the Pacific War. If the Germans no longer have to worry about their Western front, that’s more to use to resist the Reds in the East.

    While the US would still have had an interest in helping the USSR, the aid would not have
    (IMO) outweighed the now-deployable German forces in the West moving East, and for that matter even if the Reds reach Berlin there’s no more benefit to the US to the Red Army in
    Normandy in this case than in reality. The Reds reached Berlin with a lot of essential help, and could not have gone much farther without it in OTL.

    OTOH, a Western defeat in Normandy in ’44 would certainly see Churchill out of power, and
    potentially a revolution in the UK–certainly a lot of (especially non-white) colonials would be emboldened to rise . . .

    The permutations are endless. To me, Whatiffery is only justified as a way of focusing attention on the salient features of a situation–they prove nothing, and CAN prove nothing.

    Cousin Eddie

  21. I have often wondered why Hitler did the unthinkable and declared war on the Soviet Union before vanquishing Britain. A historian recently may have answered that question saying that Hitler feared Stalin would strike first.

    In any event, Operation Sea Lion, the Nazi plan to invade Britain, would be cancelled.

    Was that ever a serious plan?

    I love history for the profound changes, earth-shattering changes, that can occur by one individual.

    Would Britain have prevailed had Edward VIII, a Nazi sympathizer, remained as King?

    After Dunkirk, Churchill was under tremendous pressure to seek an accommodation with Hitler.

    I don’t believe he would have prevailed given that scenario.

    An excellent book on Churchill’s first year, culled (presumably) by the diary entries of many family members and cabinet members, is Erik Larson’s book The Splendid and the Vile.

  22. Bill Brandt: “I have often wondered why Hitler did the unthinkable and declared war on the Soviet Union before vanquishing Britain.”

    A more significant question is why France & England did the unthinkable and declared war on Germany over the issue of the joint German/USSR invasion and occupation of Poland. Especially since this triggered the Phony War in which belligerents England & France did nothing to help Poland — not even condemning the USSR for their assault on Poland.

    Former President Hoover (“Freedom Betrayed”) ascribed this cosmic stupidity of the English & French to the machinations of FDR. Certainly, we now know that FDR’s regime had Communist/USSR sympathizers in key positions. And we have the evidence from books by Suvorov (eg “The Chief Culprit”) that the USSR was indeed in the process of mobilizing to attack Germany when Germany beat them to the punch.

  23. As far as the British and French reaction to the Soviet invasion of Poland in concerned, they may have adopted to policy of one war at a time and in any case lacked the means to intervene. Much more likely is that they realized that the Soviet-Nazi détente was as unstable as it actually was with nothing to be gained by antagonizing a future Allie.

  24. Someone off topic to the Battle of Britain, but 2 scenarios stunned me as to a quick outcome to WW2 had they been implemented: Had Britain attacked Germany while all of her units were in Poland? And during the invasion of France, French reconnaissance pilots reported a massive traffic jam of German infantry and armor waiting to get to France. But the French generals discounted the reports. Think what a bombing campaign at their front and rear, then the middle – would have done to the outcome. WW2, at least in Europe, with the disposition of Hitler, would have been a footnote.

  25. Oh hell. Suvorov’s thesis is shaky and not well-regarded by most WWII specialists. (On his own personal experiences in Spetsnaz I have no argument.)

    NOT that Stalin wouldn’t have struck Hitler at a time convenient to Stalin, but that he was anywhere near ready for such a strike in the summer of 1941. Stalin was the supreme opportunist and if Hitler had draped himself over a barrel by launching Sea Lion no realistic person thinks Stalin wouldn’t have taken advantage. Why wouldn’t he, or anyone?

    The French did make a face-saving minor offensive into Germany in Sept ’39 IIRC; there were not enough British forces in France even in May 1940–much less in 1939–to have done the same.

    The “bomb the Panzers in the Ardennes” is a great idea in hindsight but it probably wouldn’t have helped that much. Even the Luftwaffe, which had experience, would have had a hard time, and we know that when the Brits did try to take out the Meuse bridges with their crappy planes it was suicidal. The Germans had the best AA and the best fighter cover, and it takes a long time to develop ground-attack skills.

    The whole “FDR and Stalin played the Brits and French” argument and its variants are really inane IMO. All the leaders operated in murky circumstances and were subject to surprises; that there were a lot of Reds and Pinkos in FDR’s admin isn’t news, but that’s a far cry from demonstrating that they influenced FDR (how? when?) to influence the Brits and French (how? when?) to declare war on Germany on 3-9-39.

    And just a sidenote–there was actually some planning done by the RAF for bombing Soviet oil facilities in Baku, so some people took at least took the Nazi-Soviet Pact at face value.

    Cousin Eddie

  26. What happens if France/England strike Germany before the invasion of France? Massive riots and perhaps revolution, no?

  27. Vousin Eddie: “The whole “FDR and Stalin played the Brits and French” argument and its variants are really inane IMO.”

    President Hoover’s tome “Freedom Betrayed” can be slow going — and Hoover obviously had his own axe to grind about FDR — but it certainly changed my perspective on World War II. Especially because Hoover’s critique was predictive, not based on the hindsight of knowing that Churchill later abandoned the Poles to the tender mercies of Stalin and thus undermined the justification for the Brits starting the war in the first place.

    Hoover’s contention in a nutshell is Hitler had long made it clear that he intended to defeat the USSR. That was part of his drive to move east. If the English & French had not so theatrically (and emptily) declared war on Germany in the west, Hitler would have continued to move east and Germans & Soviets would have fought each other to a near standstill — and then the West could have come in and cleaned up the mess.

    Who can say what the outcome of any path not taken would have been? But there may be a message for us today. FDR’s circle with its Communist sympathizers of the USSR may have put the interests of the USSR ahead of the interests of the American people. Then as now, the real enemy may have been within the gates.

  28. @Gavin Longmuir–

    I admit I have not read Hoover, but I will try to address the main points you raise.

    As for “the Brits starting the war,” Clausewitz’s quipped that it’s always the defender who decides whether there will be a war or not–anyone is free to give up at any time. There’s a whole subculture of alternative historical speculation, for instance, premised on the idea that intelligent leadership would have consisted of letting the Germans do whatever they wanted, whether in 1914 or 1939 . . . As if Great Britain and France and the USA were but Switzerlands, to set and trim their sails just to survive and be let alone.

    Hoover astutely notes that Hitler’s longtime goal was Lebensraum, and everyone knew that
    the USSR represented an international revolutionary movement whose longtime goal was world communism. That is, both sides and all outsiders had every reason to think that there would come a showdown.

    That Poles and others would be ground up in the clash was a given, but that’s life in a bad neighborhood.

    As to empty declarations, Allied personnel began dying on September 3 1939 and continued to do so until May 1945. And apparently (that diabolical FDR again?) the empty declaration left Hitler no choice but to invade Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Egypt on the road to Russia, while using his air force and navy to starve the British out.

    It’s only fair to mention that my thoughts on all this are most influenced by the late John Lukacs, among historians of the era.

    Finally, there’s no need to reach back to the 1930s and 40s to make a case that we are now being subverted by people who put other interests ahead of ours. The two stand separately.

    Cousin Eddie

  29. Cousin Eddie: “That Poles and others would be ground up in the clash was a given, but that’s life in a bad neighborhood.”

    Indeed! Understanding that reality, why would England’s leaders have let their mouths write a check they knew they could not honor when they virtue signaled about any attack on Poland? The whole Phony War period demonstrated that the English & French had no capability to assist Poland and no capability to dissuade either Germany or the USSR from invading Poland. Hoover ascribes this foolish English act to pressure & inducements from FDR. It is at least a more plausible explanation than the English being forced to act because the honor of Perfidious Albion was at stake.

    Once the English & French had taken the initiative and declared war on Germany (however ineffectually), Hitler faced the Two Front problem. He could not continue to the east without first securing his western border. However, the English/French foolishness did buy time for the USSR — which probably was what FDR was actually seeking.

    “Finally, there’s no need to reach back to the 1930s and 40s to make a case that we are now being subverted by people who put other interests ahead of ours. The two stand separately.”

    But there is continuity between the two. Arguably even continuity going back to Wilson pushing the US into the middle of the European Imperialists’ WWI. Which makes one wonder how long has it been since the US had “leaders” who actually cared about the people they claimed to lead? And why US “leaders” — with the sole exception of President Trump — have put Americans last?

    Democracy is dysfunctional. There are lots of reasons to criticize Putin and Xi — but at least their respective peoples have no doubt that their leader is on their side. We in the US can’t say that, even though “80 Million” of us kinda-sorta “voted” for Resident Biden*.

  30. I don’t seem to be making much progress against Gavin Longmuir’s ideological commitments.

    That every historical point I make is ignored in favor of some irenic fantasy is frustrating. It’s fair enough to criticize and critique the leaders of the last hundred years for botching things up, but as things turned out 1945 ended with the two most aggressive great powers thoroughly smashed and humbled, at the price of ideological division in both Europe and Asia.

    Persuade me that Europe and Asia half-free was a worse result than both of them under a single hegemon–especially given that the choicer parts of both ended in the Western sphere.

    The balance of power, as Clausewitz wrote, only reveals itself when it is in danger of being lost, and both world wars were balance of power challenges. Only small and weak countries get passes from historical challenges like that.

    Cousin Eddie

  31. Eddie — It is not some irenic fantasy of a world without war. That has never been, and probably never will be — although the forms of war are changing around us.

    Note that Hoover’s preferred course of action in 1939 would have been to let “the two most aggressive great powers” thoroughly smash and humble each other — and then have the West step in to the conflict when Germany & the USSR were already exhausted & broken. He was not suggesting buying the world a Coke.

    I was brought up with the thesis that WWII was the “Good War” — our leaders great, their leaders evil. And D-Day saved the world! If only the damn Yanks had not used the Bomb, it would have been perfect.

    Only later, I began to learn about the Eastern front where German expansion was stopped, and by D-Day Germany was already in full retreat. I also learned about the actions taken by FDR against Japan in the pre-war days — actions which painted the Japanese into a corner, making war nearly inevitable; all while FDR was promising the American people to keep them out of war. Then I read Hoover’s account, and got my eyes opened. If you broaden your horizons, Eddie, you may come to similar realizations.

    I have great respect for the individuals who fought in WWII, suffering things we can hardly imagine. And I have no respect for the “leaders” on all sides. It certainly was not their finest hour. All the hagiography should be recognized for what it is.

    The past is water under the bridge, of course. We can’t change a thing. But if we learn from the past that those who claim to lead us are likely to be untrustworthy and have feet of clay, then it is useful study.

  32. NOT that Stalin wouldn’t have struck Hitler at a time convenient to Stalin, but that he was anywhere near ready for such a strike in the summer of 1941. Stalin was the supreme opportunist and if Hitler had draped himself over a barrel by launching Sea Lion no realistic person thinks Stalin wouldn’t have taken advantage. Why wouldn’t he, or anyone?

    What did Stalin have to gain ? I think by 1939 Stalin was pretty much over his infatuation with communism except for domestic consumption. He was a Russian Tsar. Germany needed the Ukraine wheat fields and saw Slavs as peasants (So did Stalin). Russia had no good reason to fight Germany except defense.

  33. Only later, I began to learn about the Eastern front where German expansion was stopped, and by D-Day Germany was already in full retreat. I also learned about the actions taken by FDR against Japan in the pre-war days — actions which painted the Japanese into a corner, making war nearly inevitable;

    Had Japan gone south after the oil they needed and avoided Pearl Harbor, I would not have been surprised if the US had still remained neutral. Plus of course Hitler and his idiotic declaration of war on us,.

  34. Stalin and Hitler and their coterie were evil monsters but they were never less than true believers. Just as Hitler coveted the Ukraine, Stalin most surely had the industry, population and resources of the West in his sights.They were as destined to come together as the slugs of U235 in Little Boy. Neither was going to be satisfied with half the pie. Stalin was realist enough to be playing a long game and wouldn’t have attacked in 1939 on his own. He was more than willing to hammer Germany against the anvil of the French and British, very possibly with the intent to mop up what was left of his “Allies” when it was over. I’m sure he was as appalled as anyone in France or Britain at the collapse of the Western Front.

    With Eastern Europe under his thumb, it was a very successful war for Stalin and as before, he was willing to wait for developments.

  35. Mike K: “Russia had no good reason to fight Germany except defense.”

    It is worth girding one’s loins, tensing up for a typical Russian flood of detailed data, and reading Viktor Suvorov’s “The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s grand design to start World War II” (2008). It seems fairly clear that, at least in the 1930s, Stalin was still enough of a Communist to be working towards a global revolution against the capitalist imperialists.

    One example would be the Palace of the Soviets, a massive building in Moscow planned to reach over 1,500 feet high, built to accommodate all the future Soviet Republics of the world. In 1941, construction was stopped and the steel framework was melted down into weapons.

    Another example would be the Red Army’s pre-WWII training of hundreds of thousands of paratroopers — not the obvious investment if an army was focused on defense rather than offence. Similarly, pre-war USSR air planes seem to have been designed for attack rather than defense.

    Various sources suggest that the USSR was the ally from Hell — all take, no give, even though the USSR was heavily dependent on the US for material supplies. An example would be the refusal to allow Allied planes bombing assets in the east to land in USSR-occupied territory. Since the doughty English officially went to war to protect Poland’s independence, why did they not insist on at least a promise from ally Stalin to liberate Poland at the conclusion of hostilities?

    Given that we now know with certitude that Senator McCarthy was correct and FDR’s administration was infused with Communist sympathizers, the parsimonious explanation for much of WWII is that the main aim of FDR’s inner circle was to protect the USSR. The interests of the American people seemingly did not enter into the calculation.

  36. I appreciate the comments, Mike K and MCS.

    But Gavin suggests I broaden MY horizons, after citing Hoover and Suvorov. How about Lukacs? How about Kershaw, or Weber? Niall Ferguson? Weinberg?

    On the history of WWII: what does it mean that “by D-Day the Germans were in full retreat”? Not in France, they weren’t, nor in Italy. Their U-boats and V-weapons were still, or becoming, real threats. The slave economy was working full tilt.

    What does it mean that the Eastern Front was “the place German expansion was stopped”? They had been stopped before, and even driven back to the defensive (not full retreat) in other theaters–because they had to fight a two-front war.

    Gavin, tell us what form of war the cleaning-up process would take in your scenario? How big an army, navy, and air force would be required to impose American will on even exhausted totalitarians, in whatever year you decide is the opportune one? What event would trigger US participation, if any? How much military force/appeasement would have been necessary to deter, say, a Pearl Harbor?

    And how can you be so sure that without the two-front war Hitler wouldn’t have completely smashed the Soviets and proceeded to make further attacks anywhere he chose? He did have a nasty habit of attacking strong opponents even when warned, or is that post-war hype?

    I’ve corrected some of your factual assertions, and you make enough of them for me to conclude that your knowledge base and understanding are lacking in important respects.
    I’ve also suggested that having half of Europe under Stalin was preferable to the whole
    of Europe under Hitler or Stalin, but you airily soar above such practicalities, and seem to carry a sense of grievance over sacrifices you did not make.

    It has been said that we can see far only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. I’m educated enough and humble enough not to take a piss while I’m there. YMMV.

    Cousin Eddie

  37. without the molotov pact, hitler could not have concentrated the bulk of his forces on the western front, many of german forces had been trained in soviet russia, and continued eve after the nazi victory, it is said that the abwehr provided hitler the list of training officers and that’s how the purge went down,

    even after kursk, it was not a sure thing that stalin would prevail, although a likelihood, and as such the nazi extermination machine would have been shutdown, of course had the germans had to fight on both fronts from the beginning, well the body count would have been lower still in the case of civilian casualties

  38. if hitler had been less stupid in his slav hatred, he would have alienated less caucasus nationals, ukrainians, ingush kalmyks et al, and may have made more progress on that front,
    similar to if johannes stark had not insisted in aryan science, they might have made more progress on the a bomb, of course had the french and british challenged hitler around munich, the german forces might have mutinied, (the spy ring pope pius was working with, had that objective,)

  39. Cousin Eddie: “It has been said that we can see far only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. I’m educated enough and humble enough not to take a piss while I’m there.”

    For which we are all grateful!

    Eddie, my mind is open — I have previously altered my understanding of WWII — but you have not made any convincing arguments. Citing Niall Ferguson — seriously?

    We are all merely blind men touching different parts of the elephant and being convinced by what is in front of us. Let’s just leave it that we each choose to put different weights on various bits of evidence and hence reach different conclusions.

    The big message I draw from an analysis of WWII once the “Good War” hype has been stripped away is that the American people were poorly served by their government. Then as now.

  40. Tell me what’s wrong with Ferguson in his works on WWII and imperialism. Obviously I was too kind when I described Suvorov as shaky–anyone who would cite him on WWII is simply not worth talking to about WWII. (Be honest, have you read Ferguson? Weinberg? Any real historians?)

    “Good War” hype or not, whether the American people were served well or poorly is always worth debate. The question might better be put: did the American people serve themselves and their allies and the future well?

    It’s very easy to sniff about how much cleverer you would have been–have you considered going into politics?

    Cousin Eddie

  41. the Germans were certainly planning a breakout at some point, Blohm & Voss was their main player, the Brits had built up their fleet, for some purpose, Vickers had liberally lined up bids all along,

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