Sunday, May 16, 2010

70 Years Ago Today 16/5/40

Western front: The war is going disastrously for the western allies. Two days ago on the 14th Holland surrendered after the Luftwaffe launched a heavy raid on Rotterdam in what would become one of the most publicised atrocities of the early years of the war. The Belgians too are getting pulverised and will not last much longer. The German army have broken through the French lines at Sedan and are now in a position to launch an all out attack on France. On this day 70 years ago newly appointed French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud contacted Winston Churchill and famously informed him that they have "no military reserve left". It was a virtual admission that it is only a matter of time to the fall of France.

The Dutch city of Rotterdam after it was bombed by the Luftwaffe. It is the second European city of the war after Warsaw to suffer heavy bombing. Approximately 1500 people died in the raid.


Paul said...

I've studied this conflict for my own MA (which is in Second War Studies)intensely. Interestingly two thesis of this period are worth considering.

1. What would have happened in the west if the Wehrmacht had failed to achieve surprise in May 1940?

2. To what extent did the pounding taken by the German Navy off Norway in April 1940 put them off the idea of attempting a later invasion of Britain?

Interestingly the German Navy said that even if the Luftwaffe had won the battle of Britain they would not have supported Sea lion as they feared taking another pasting. This is debateable certainly but what is plainly true is that the German Navy was not equipped for a cross channel invasion IMHO.

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks for the comment Paul, I love discussing the second World War.

Regarding point 1. It is very difficult to say but one possibility is as follows. If the Germans had been held at the Maginot line it is possible that the Soviets who by that stage had conquered more European land than the Nazis might have entered the war on the side of the Germans. It sounds quite unbelievable but there were many French and British leaders who at the time wanted the allies to confront Stalin militarily over Finland. If the Germans had of stalled in 1940, they may have been in a position to do just that. Who knows, in that event maybe Stalin who always wanted the west to be weak might have been willing to take action to make it so.

Regarding point 2. It is very interesting because if you watch many TV documentaries about the Battle of Britain they make it sound like an invasion of Britain would have been easy once the Luftwaffe controlled the skies. I don't think so. The invasion of France in 44 was hardly easy and the allies had complete control of the air. And Britain being an island would have been even more difficult.

Truthfully I wonder whether Sea Lion was ever really on. Hitler I'm sure wanted a weak Britain. He wanted to severely damage it but I don't think he wanted to destroy it. Certainly not while the Bolsheviks were still about.

I think the point about Norway is valid. It proved that invading Britain was not worth the high casualties particularly when the principal enemy to the East was only growing stronger.

Paul said...

'Truthfully I wonder whether Sea Lion was ever really on. Hitler I'm sure wanted a weak Britain. He wanted to severely damage it but I don't think he wanted to destroy it. Certainly not while the Bolsheviks were still about.'

No it was not I agree. Hitler believed that a constrained and contained Britain would sue for peace, perhaps out of desire to safeguard their empire. Certainly if Chamberlain or Lord Halifax were in power during the summer of 1940 this would have happened. However it was never on the cards with Churchill, the man had believed since his boyhood that he would be a 'British hero and a hero for democracy'. As to the empire which Churchill adored he was confident that British or American military power could safe guard it. But in terms of character Chamberlain and Churchill were radically different. Chamberlain was a pragmatist and a brutal realist. Churchill was a romantic and martyr. He genuinely believed like Gordon at Khartoum, that if your fight is just you fight it regardless of consequence.