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Churchill and Hitler, 1940

  1. Apr 12, 2010 #1
    After the fall of France in June, 1940, the German Government, by way of Hitler's public statements and diplomatic back channels, offered to discuss the end of hostilities between Germany and the British Empire (incl Canada, Australia and New Zealand) based on the "map of Europe".

    At that point in time Austria, Czechoslovakia, and parts of Poland had been annexed by Germany. German troops occupied the rest of western Poland, half of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. Italy was allied to Germany and a pact, amounting to an alliance, existed between Germany and the USSR. Spain, Finland, Vichy France and most of the eastern Europe states had pro-German governments. Sweden and Switzerland were "neutral". The only place in mainland Europe somewhat friendly to the UK was Greece.

    The US was officially neutral and in any case, totally unprepared for a land war. Also, it was known from some of Hitler's many verbal outpourings and his book Mein Kampf that Hitler had vague hopes for an eventual Anglo-German alliance against the USSR.

    Given all this and an American public that seemed all too willing to let Britain go down, why did Churchill refuse to even discuss the matter and rather risk the possible invasion of Britain and the new "dark age" that he himself described in a speech before Parliament?

    EDIT: My question here regards the rationality of Churchill's position. He could have bought time by entering into discussions. In the end, the UK survived and eventually, with its allies, won. But he risked a disaster that could have easily occurred with the destruction of the Royal Air Force. As it happened, the country suffered terribly, and it was only Hitler's decision to invade Russia, and the Japanese decision to attack the US that took much of the pressure off Britain.

    Last edited: Apr 13, 2010
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  3. Apr 13, 2010 #2
    Maybe there was not a lot of rationality apart from some elements, throughout the ages, the grand strategy of Britain had generally been, to support the weaker party in Europe to oppose the emerge of large powerful empires that might threathen the Albion. Also Churchill may have been very aware of Hitlers strong aversion against the treaty (dictate) of Versailles 1919 that elicited revenge on the German side eventually.

    If you follow his finest hour speech, you could not deny Churchill having some keen vision about the future. No doubt that he visioned a German attack in future even if there was to be an agreement. I think that Hitler already had shown some contempt about treaties like that. He had enough reason to see that the period 1918-1939 was merely a truce in a continuous single world war

    Also maybe the factor of buying time with talks is unsure. The Luftwaffe had lost many transport aircraft during the May 1940 campaign in the low countries and needed time to restore that capacity to support an invasion. However it's a bit rationalisation afterwards, Churchill just being convinced that he had to stand up against the Nazis and avoid sending mixed signals that could confuse friends too.

    Possibly true on a strategic level, on the tactical level, during the battle of Brittain, it was certainly Hitlers decision, following a RAF air attack on Berlin (in reaction to bombs on London), to shift the bombing from RAF assets, to the cities at night. This gave the heavily attrited RAF a break and opened to possibility to restore the air defence forces. Eventually the losses of the luftwaffe grew so big that continuation of the attack was against the odds. Apart from that Hitler could not afford to postpone operation Barbarossa (attack on Russia) to avoid still fighting in the extreme cold Russian winter.
  4. Apr 13, 2010 #3


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    Some of the countries that have already fallen had their goverments and soldiers on exile in UK. They were allies with signed treaties with UK. To start talks with Hitler would mean betraying them and they were numerous enough to became a problem. Not to mention fact that betraying them would be simply dishonest (which, as history shows, sometimes is an important argument, sometimes is not).
  5. Apr 13, 2010 #4
    Yes. but Britain always worked with continental allies to help manage the European balance of power. From the late 1600's to the early 1800's England/Britain worked with Germanic allies (Austria, Prussia) against its perennial foe, France. After that, the main constant in British continental policy was that no continental power should control the low countries (Benelux). By June, 1940, the Germans held the Benelux and Britain had no continental allies.

    I'm not saying that Churchill's position was irrational; motivated only by an absolute loathing of Adolf Hitler. I'm only saying it was not the most rational. It was not "realpolitik". It's true that an immediate invasion was unlikely. The Germans weren't prepared for amphibious warfare. But the destruction of RAF was likely. It was vastly outnumbered, and it nearly was destroyed. If the Germans gained uncontested control of British airspace, they wouldn't have needed to invade. It would have been over.

    Any agreement with the Nazi government would have been cynical. Certainly the German-USSR pact was. Moreover, the British could have simply agreed to a truce and delayed any commitment. Hitler wanted to attack the USSR, not Britain. In Nazi racial theory, the British (or at least the English) were fellow Teutons (at least for the time being).

    What "friends" are you talking about? The major commonwealth members were not in any immediate danger, no matter what Britain did. The US administration was friendly to Britain and tried to help, by way of Lend Lease and other schemes that belied its official neutrality. But the US was neither prepared for, not did the public support, entry into the war in 1940. Not everyone in the US was an anglophile. There were large numbers of people with Irish, Italian and German ancestry. Many of them (but by no means all) openly supported their ancestral homelands right up to December 7, 1941.

    Yes. Britain caught a break by the fact that getting its cities and civilian population pounded was a diversion by the Luftwaffe from destroying the RAF. There might have been an easier and less painful way is all I'm saying.

    Your argument that Hitler did not want to delay Barbarossa would play into my argument if it were true. It would have strengthened the British negotiating position. However it's not exactly true. Hitler's wanted to someday conquer the USSR up to Urals, but he did not commit to it until January, 1941 when he ordered his High Command to lay plans for an attack to begin in May, 1941. It was later delayed to June 1941 because of Yugoslavia's defection (for which it paid a high price.)
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2010
  6. Apr 13, 2010 #5
    What's the most rational policy? To risk the very existence of your nation, or to play a cynical game? In my view, Britain was lucky, both at Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain. That's not to take anything away from the heroic feats of the RAF and the British public. But if von Runstedt's column did not halt for two days due to overabundance of caution, the BEF might well have been captured or destroyed in toto on the beaches of Dunkirk.

    I can't put my finger on a source right now, but the British Government had worse case plans to move all functions and all possible military/naval assets to Canada, and continue the war from there.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2010
  7. Apr 13, 2010 #6


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    Considering how difficult Normandy was, how strong the British navy was and how easily we could have at least jumped-in to help repel an invasion, I think it would be a tough sell to convince someone today that a successful invasion of the UK would have been possible. Even at that time, I bet they felt pretty secure and that probably weighed in the decision making process.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2010
  8. Apr 13, 2010 #7


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    Even though southern England was much less defended in 1940 than Normandy was in 1944 and with many fewer troops. The German army doesn't seem to have had any idea about how difficult a beach landing was compared to a blitzkreig. Churchill had planned the Gallipoli attack and saw what even lightly armed resistance could do to an invasion force.

    There has been a lot of debate about why an obviously insane invasion plan was mounted. Apart from requiring the destruction of the RAF it relied on the navy to do nothing against a force of unarmed river barges.

    The current favorite theory is that all three German services thought it was impossible but couldn't lose face by being the one to say so - and were happy to let if fail as the result of one of the others. Certainly all the surviving commanders claimed this in 1945.

    Probably harder than you think, the only way to get that much troops and equipment is by sea, and the few troop transport ships available and the limited escorts in 1940 would be an easy U-boat target.
    There is then the question of how many 100,000 men lost at sea before even reaching the battle field the US public would stand. This may have even been part of the plan - to force a pre-emptive and aborted US involvement.
  9. Apr 13, 2010 #8


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    I cannot see where Churchill had any choices. Surrender was not an option, perhaps a century earlier when surrendering to a German invasion would have just meant a different cousin on the English throne it could have been different. But Hitler was NOT a member of any of the Royal families of Europe so neither the ruling class nor the common people would have tolerated a surrender as it would have been the end of England.

    Even Hitler knew that he needed air superiority to have any chance for a successful invasion, he started where he had to start, Churchill was not given any options, he was fighting for the very existence of the UK and defended as he HAD to defend.

    I am not sure that the loss of the English army at Dunkirk would have been that significant other then to moral. Hitler still needed air superiority, so needed to win the Battle of Britain, he did not, and the men and equipment saved at Dunkirk were not part of that victory. I would bet that they were a small fraction of the D day force. Dunkirk was more of a moral victory and in the long run really did not contribute that much the overall victory.
  10. Apr 13, 2010 #9
    No. Churchill had a choice. Hitler made a public offer to end hostilities: Britain recognizes the "map of Europe" and Germany makes no other demands on Britain, the Commonwealth or its possessions. No bombing, no threat of invasion. He bought off the USSR with such a treaty in 1939. That treaty essentially gave Stalin a free hand (as far as Germany was concerned) to take over eastern Poland, the Baltic states and Finland (all formerly part of the Czarist Russian Empire). Finland had other ideas and turned back the Soviet invaders in the 1939-40 Winter War.

    All Churchill had to do was agree to a truce. Churchill, I'm sure, suspected Hitler would attack the USSR and wanted to cover his rear by neutralizing Britain with a pact. Another PM might have taken up the offer, just to gain a respite. Britain lacked the capacity to influence events in Europe anyway. Better to take advantage of a truce, to build forces with the expectation that Hitler would eventually turn on Britain, but not right way.
  11. Apr 13, 2010 #10


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    I was actually thinking about only a naval support role, not a ground force.
  12. Apr 29, 2010 #11


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    I don't think this last assumption fits the time line. The Battle of Britain began June 10, 1940 with the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pack still in place. The Nazi pre-invasion air attack of Britain was more/less abandoned long before the Nazis attacked the Soviets.
  13. Apr 29, 2010 #12


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    That's a very reasonable set of assumptions unless the Germans had won the early air battle. British navy would have to flee or sink, Britain becomes blockaded so that a starving Britain is nowhere near as strong as a German held Normandy, US couldn't come to the rescue - especially in 1940. Also, the German's probably would have gone with large scale airborne invasions - maybe Isle of Wight to start - as the did in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Crete#Evacuation_to_Egypt.2C_28.E2.80.9331_May". Cut it off, build or capture air strips, etc.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  14. Apr 29, 2010 #13


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    You're making assumptions of real, useful gains for Churchill by making a pact. Churchill would have only been certain of holding a piece of paper in his hand, not that he would have in reality any respite. What evidence is there that he would have gained any time? Then the chance of that additional time must be balanced against the nearly certain disadvantages - Hitler gains more control of Europe, as you point out Hitler would have a free hand to attack the Soviets, resistance is demoralized in Europe, and Britain dilutes its own resolution to fight rather than appease.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2010
  15. Apr 29, 2010 #14

    Eh? Ireland was officially neutral during the war although in practice she had a stance of providing all sorts of assistance to the allies short of opening up her ports to the allied fleets; conversely, her stance towards the axis powers was much less hospitable. In addition, tens of thousands of Irish enlisted in British forces during this period. Indeed, Joe Kennedy excepted, there was considerable political support among Irish-Americans in the US for the UK's fight against the axis long before the Americans entered the war.
  16. Apr 29, 2010 #15
    No. The Battle of Britain began on August 15, 1940. See my link in post 1. It ended on Sept 7, 1940 when the Germans switched to civilian targets, allowing the British to begin replacing the losses of the RAF. Attacks continued on and off into 1941 but diminished as the Germans moved assets to the east. As I already stated, Hitler ordered his High Command to begin planning for Barbarossa in Jan, 1941.

    As far as an invasion of Britain goes, it couldn't have happened unless the RAF was destroyed; and if the RAF was destroyed, an invasion might not have been necessary. Hitler wanted to invade Russia, not Britain. In his mind, an Anglo-German alliance against the USSR was the goal; but Churchill was being irrational. If he made another peace offer after destroying the RAF, and Churchill refused, his government might have fallen, and new, more reasonable PM might have done a deal; or so Hitler thought.

    As far as the German-Soviet Pact goes, it was always cynical. But the pretense lasted right up to June 22,1941 when Germany attacked.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2010
  17. Apr 29, 2010 #16
    Joe Kennedy and many others in the US, although it was probably much less then a majority of Irish Americans. This was 1940. After Pearl Harbor, all (at least overt) pro-German feeling vanished virtually overnight.

    EDIT: Regardless of how Irish Americans may have felt about the Axis powers, I don't think "anglophile" would have described the typical Irish Catholic American in 1940. Also, I know Ireland was neutral during both world wars. I admit that sentence could have been misunderstood. I meant that the Irish Catholic American population weren't necessarily pro-British.

    EDIT: Sorry. Ireland was not an independent nation during WWI. The Irish Free State was established in 1922 although I'm not sure how free it was.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2010
  18. Apr 29, 2010 #17


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    Arg, I meant July 10, 1940. Your author refers to a particular attack, perhaps that marked the shift to attacks on RAF airfields. See, e.g., Gilbert's
    http://books.google.com/books?id=0z...rld War&pg=PA109#v=onepage&q=10 July&f=false":
    Or Hough and Richards here:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=AePbrerDWiIC&lpg=PP1&dq=Battle%20of%20Britain&pg=PA121#v=onepage&q&f=false" [Broken]
    Thus the German invasion of Russia had no impact in the success or failure of the Battle of Britain.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Apr 29, 2010 #18
    Not really. Just avoiding an existential threat until such time as when Britain was better prepared. The Luftwaffe was five times the size of the RAF in June, 1940. France was defeated, the USSR had a pact with Germany and was doing bad things (Finland, the Baltic states, eastern Poland), and the rest of Europe was either pro-German or neutral.

    You don't know what you can or cannot get unless you talk, and while you talk, you continue preparing for war. The fact was that Churchill simply loathed Hitler from a time before Hitler took power. He had the temerity to oppose his own party and its leader Neville Chamberlain when Chamberlain had secured "Peace in our time" in the 1938 Munch agreements.

    Obviously, you talk with the Nazis with your eyes open and your "power dry" and give nothing up. But you can't give up what you don't have, and Britain had no influence or power in continental Europe in June, 1940.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2010
  20. Apr 29, 2010 #19
    I never said it did. I said it took the pressure off Britain in terms of air raids which continued into early 1941.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2010
  21. Apr 29, 2010 #20
    William Stephenson was making great strides to gaining American support for Britain. With diplomatic ties forged by Stephenson Roosevelt all but openly made support of England the official American position on the war regardless of the US's ability to immediately enter the campaign. With the assistance of Roosevelt and the FBI Stephenson was able to choke american financial support for Germany when the Nazis were starting to grope for resources. It would seem that Churchill took a gamble on eventual american intervention and I would not really put that past him.

    Members of the old brigade were supporting, and attempting to make ties with, the Nazis. Ireland's marginal support of the Allies was really only won by circumstance, the government realizing that England would have made no qualms in taking them by force if they felt it necessary.
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