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What If…? A Nightmare Scenario for the Battle of Britain…

Back in 1940, last night an event happened that has been identified as one of the major events of the Second World War.  81 twin engined bombers from the Royal Air Force flew to Berlin in a revenge attack for 10 German bombers dropping their bombs on London.

This was a major embarrassment for Göring who had earlier said, “If ever bombs fall on Berlin, you can call me Maier” (which is a German term for something that is impossible)…and so he had to respond. And respond he did.

 For so far during the Battle of Britain the German Airforce – the Luftwaffe – had been pounding the Royal Air Force, and whilst in the air the RAF was giving as good as it got, it was on the ground that it was struggling. The bases where they flew from were however suffering.  Many RAF squadrons had been dispersed to remote grass strips, often taking off from flying clubs and small aerodromes simply because their parent airfields had been to great a target for the Luftwaffe’s bombers. But because of the raid of the 25th August, the Luftwaffe was ordered to shift it’s priority for targets. 

And that major target now became London and other population centres.  The RAF was given time to breathe and regroup.  It was Hitler and Göring’s biggest mistake in the Battle of Britain. It effectively lost them the battle, for the RAF was able to come back against the enemy and eventually cause enough losses to the Germans to limit daylight operations and go over to the night time bombing that would last for the next few months – the Blitz of London.

And this got me to thinking. This was a major turning point.  The RAF and Britain had dark days to follow that, but it was the shift that changed the battle. But did it change the war? Was it the moment of departure?

And it got me to thinking. What if…? What if Göring had explained to Hitler that he was winning the battle and that in just a few days the RAF would be beaten in the south of England.  If he had kept bombing and hitting the RAF, what could have happened.

And here is my ‘What If…?’ 

The Germans continue pounding the RAF, so much so that in just a few days the RAF’s ability to operate from the ground south of the Thames is untenable.  Dowding, the leader of Fighter Command, much against Churchill’s wishes has to pull back No 11 Group to north of London. They can still operate fighter sweeps, but the ability to respond to Luftwaffe attacks it greatly diminished. More importantly this gives the control of the air over the English Channel to the Germans, forcing the Royal Navy out to operate, to support British shipping. Britain was a trading nation and needed 55 million tons of imports a year to survive, and so the control of the sea and ports was vital. However with this lost and with the RN forced to operate without air cover, the German Stuka dive-bomber that had been mauled by the RAF were now able to fly without fear again. These turned their attention against the British Navy destroying many ships. 

The American Ambassador, Joe Kennedy, who had earlier said that the British government was likely to fall, re-iterated this point of view, saying that Churchill’s government was losing popularity and that it had less than six weeks left in it.  This was re-inforced by two things. Firstly the Luftwaffe bombed the Bristol docks, and also hit the population centre of the city there as well. Hitler promised the British that he would level the British towns and cities one after another unless they surrendered.  Churchill gave another of his brave speeches talking about the British spirit of defiance triumphing against the odds, but his position was weak as the Italians had attacked the British forces in the Horn of Africa. Here, they were forced back, and the Italians entered Egypt, aiming to sever the Suez Canal.

The Americans were worried by the British position, worried enough to send troops to occupy Iceland to protect their northern flank against aggression. They then annexed Bermuda and sent their Marine Corps into the Caribbean to occupy British colonies and protectorates there.

This was the last straw for Churchill and his position became untenable. With the prospect of London being hit in a similar way to Bristol and food shortages already starting to bite he had to go.  His replacement, the only one in the War Cabinet with any level of authority who was not directly associated with Churchill was Lord Halifax.  He immediately made approaches to the Germans for a cease fire.  His negotiating position was that in return for no German occupation he would limit the size of the British Army, disband the RAF and hand over the bulk of the Royal Navy to the Germans.  The British Army would be a defence force only – roughly the same size of the German army after the imposition of the Treaty of Versailles, and would not be capable of any offensive operations. 

Hitler gratefully accepted this position, allowing the British some semblance of pride and more importantly no occupation forces.  He wanted his troops to be available for his next and greatest prize – the ideological destruction of the Russia.  With the British governments collapse in support of the Italian campaign in North Africa German troops land and sweep through into Palestine and Trans-Jordan.  Rommel and Heize Guderian take Panzers into Iraq and secure the oil-fields.  Meanwhile other German forces occupy the Balkans and pause before they launch into the 1941 operation of the invasion of the Soviet Union.  Operation Barbarossa is launched in May 1941 and makes the massive inroads into Russia. But instead of the three army groups that attack in the real events of WW2, there is a fourth army group led by Guderian who strikes up from Iraq into the Caucasus aiming due north for Moscow. By October the German advance into the hinterland of Russia was well made and the Caucasus army group of Guderian had cut off a huge amount of supplied that the Russians had tried to send to fight the main front in the west.  Stalin sat in the Kremlin and considered his position, but late November the Germans were outside Moscow and Stalin knew he had to leave.  He retreated his government to behind the Ural mountains, and attempted to re-group his army to counter attack in the Russian winter. However the Germans had by now captured Moscow and dug in for the winter.

The offensive by the Russians was weak and the German army repelled it, forcing the effective defeat of the Red Army.  The Urals became the de-facto border of the German Empire with a long slow guerrilla war underway in the vast spaces of Siberia.

The defeat of the Red Army meant that Hitler’s position at the top of Europe was impossible to match and his antecedence was complete. The world 70 years later would look a lot different…

And this was, in my mind all down to the ability of the RAF to defeat the Germans in the Battle of Britain.  The Few of the RAF fought and defended not only Britain, but also western civilisation as we know it…for Churchill’s own words would have come true…if they had failed… “then the whole world…will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” 

It is my conjecture that if the Germans had beaten the Royal Air Force in 1940 – as it was so close to doing – then the British government would have fallen; the course of the war, and of history would have been much, much different…

But over to you, what do YOU think?

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13 thoughts on “What If…? A Nightmare Scenario for the Battle of Britain…

  1. That, quite possibly, is the scariest “What if…” I’ve ever read! Fantastic post, as always, but it certainly is a scary thought that we were so close to that happening.

  2. Carol_51 on said:

    Churchill’s own words on becoming Prime Minister:

    “We can only do our best.” But as we went to bed at 3am the following day, he reflected a profound sense of relief. “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial.”

    According to the memoirs of Churchill’s bodyguard Churchill felt guided by his sense of destiny throughout the war.

    There is no doubt the RAF saved Great Britain in the summer of 1940 and we would have ‘lost’ the war but how many times since had the decisions made by Churchill saved us?

    We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all our armed forces but for me, Churchill guided the whole of Great Britain in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

  3. Well, once again, you seem to have hit the nail on the head.

    However, I do feel that another major advantage in the switching of targets from RAF establishments to London was that in doing so, they came in range of 12 group.

    Now as is personified by the film “Battle of Britain” rather well, we see that the “Big Wing” tactical formation (developed by AVM Leigh-Mallory and Acting Sqn Ldr Douglas Bader) is able to take on large waves of Enemy Aircraft with minimalistic casualties.

    11 Gp (Headed up by AVM Park) used the Squadron approach where smaller formations of aircraft would enter a melee with enemy aircraft.

    The main concept of the combination of the two groups of aircraft (apart from the increase of kites in the air) was the mixture of the two formations creating a lethal unpredictability. This mean that the enemy were unable to predict or prepare for who they were intercepted by.

    All in all, this resulted in an increased kill rate for the Royal Air Force and, eventually, domination of the air over good ol’ Blighty.

  4. Nigel Dickinson on said:

    It’s interesting that you don’t fall into the trap of talking about the Germans invading Britain. Contrary to popular belief, they were not physically able to, owing to the shortage of seagoing barges and transports – the RAF did its bit to help in this shortage, of course. But there was no possible way to ferry enough men and equipment over the Channel for the Germans to have a realistic chance of establishing a bridgehead – even against the depleted and under-equipped forces which the British had to hand.

    I like to think that the prospect of such humiliating conditions as you mention would have been unacceptable – don’t forget that as a seagoing power, Britain would not have been forced under by the Luftwaffe, but if at all, by the Kriegsmarine. The Luftwaffe might have made a nuisance of itself, but would not have been able to inflict more damage on British shipping or ports than it did in any case. Ju87s had a pretty poor range to begin with, and the only version which might have had a chance of reaching the target – defenders notwithstanding – was the R-type, which could carry only one 500Kg bomb. The ones to watch would not have been Stukas, but Ju88s.

    By dint of routing convoys away from the south of England, and using the ports of Liverpool and Hull among others, convoys could have been kept clear of the worst threats from the air. This, of course, is exactly what happened in reality once the Navy stopped pig-headedly using the Channel for important shipping. Meanwhile, the seaborne threat would have developed much as it in fact did, if only because the Germans failed to commit their surface fleet convincingly (which decision air superiority had no significant effect on) and equally failed to build up the U-boat fleet quickly enough for it to be the dangerous enemy if had become two years later. In 1940, U-boat strength was only a hint of what was to come.

    As for pounding our cities… They did. They pounded them by night, and failed to destroy the morale of the British people, while Fighter Command floundered round the night skies in an assortment of aircraft, failing to shoot them down. That would come later. The Luftwaffe did not have the mighty force of heavy bombers one imagines; no Lancasters or Fortresses, just He111s and light strike bombers such as the Ju88. A maximum bomb-load of two tons for the He111, but over short distances. As the fuel load rises, the bomb load decreases… Admittedly, Coventry showed what they were capable of, but that was a single mass raid. How many more similar raids they would actually be able to carry out remains a moot point. And Coventry is quite a small town; it is not London or Birmingham… Meanwhile again, whether daylight attacks would have proven overpowering remains to be seen. Fighter Command would not have stayed broken; Bomber Command might have been bled for personnel; the factories were still producing aircraft, and even if a line might have to be drawn across the south of England following the maximum fighting range of the Bf109, the Luftwaffe would still have had a very difficult time by day once out of range of their Freie Jagd sweeps and escorts. Even if Fighter Command pulled back north of London, there would still have been the opportunity for serious attacks on German formations – all the more so because they could have intercepted them inland, thereby giving Bader’s boys in 12 Group the chance to assemble and use their Big Wing formations. That was not a possibility when the interceptions had to be carried out as far forward as possible, by squadron-sized formations from 11 Group. So it is unlikely that the Blitz would have been that much worse than it already was. And Britain would have survived – just.

    I think you’re being terribly pessimistic, in any case – but extremely interesting ideas, and a scenario I had not imagined at all.

    • I bow to your knowledge, but brevity of the post meant that some of my background thoughts were left out. I also subscribe to the
      fact that the Germans would have been unable to actually land forces on British soil by sea.

      Firstly, the Kreigsmarine would have had it’s part to play in taking on the RN, and in conjunction with the Luftwaffe I believe that they could have inflicted serious losses on the RN. Let us remember that the thought of a massed fleet of the big ships of the German Navy was a serious threat to the British ships. Their surface force wasn’t committed, mainly due to lack of air superiority, which would have been given in my scenario.

      With regards to the pounding of the cities, Coventry was a very clear example of the threat, and the danger of a massed raid. It was this model that I used for the raising of Bristol in the scenario. Let us remember also that the British could point at the morale of the victory of the Battle of Britain to pull them through. Added to the fact that Churchill had spoken with authority. In my case he can’t. The RAF had been defeated. Fighter Command had been broken and would, in my case remain broken for a serious amount of time. The principle in the book The Narrow Margin says that the RAF would always win the Battle because of the way the aircraft production was in place for the British AND the ability of the RAF to carry out training of crews overseas. In my case Fighter Command IS broken. It is beaten and it knows it. The major aircraft factories producing fighters were of course in Castle Donnington and Southampton. These would have been another major target and at least ONE of those would have been well within the range of the Bf109.

      It is my assumption that the RAF is beaten to an extent that it cannot operate. With this in place not even Leigh-Mallory and Bader’s Big Wings can make an effect. They are without the Radar cover and have to rely upon the ROC to provide information about the raids. Without Radar to give advance notice of the enemy raids, the time it took to assemble the Big Wings would have negated their abiity to be effective in combat. It is based upon this that the rest follows. And based upon the loss to the British of Churchill.

      His affect on the morale of the British population cannot be understated, and in my scenario he is similarly broken by the failure of the RAF. I might be being pessimistic, but so were a lot of the population at that time. My scenario is a worst case scenario. But I don’t feel that it is far too far away from the realms of reality.

  5. 66usual on said:

    Good stuff. I reckon that Hitler at some point would have provoked the US so much, or Roosevelt may provoked Hitler enough that was between Germany and the US would become inevitable and ended up with nuclear weapons laying waste to Central Europe in 1946 or 7

  6. Mike Cox on said:

    the world would have been so evil that no one would have wanted to exist,thanks to the brave pilots of 1940 they not only saved gt britain,but also eventually europe,thankyou to you all.

  7. Carol_51 on said:

    I would just like to add a final note that without Churchill we would have surrendered to the Nazis.

    • I totally agree. As long as he maintained his credibility Britain was safe. If the RAF had been defeated. Had the Italians made in-roads into Egypt, had the Americans turned their back on him…then he would have fallen. All his stirring speeches would have just been so much hot air.

      I don’t think we’d have ‘surrendered’ however, I do think we would have ‘come to terms’. And they would have been harsh terms – for the British at any rate.

  8. Carol_51 on said:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8234000/8234106.stm

    Yes may be the word ‘surrendered’ is a bit harsh but I strongly disagree with some of the unkind comments in the above article.

    We know Churchill made mistakes which cost lives but he saved many more.

    I’m determined to pay my respects at his graveside and one day I will.

  9. Carol_51 on said:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10989709

    The pilots of World War Two should never be forgotten, hopefully present day RAF, cenotaph ceremonies, poppies, media and church services will help to keep their memory alive.

  10. I don’t really see a scenario where even with a badly damaged RAF
    the Germans had a realistic chance of putting any significant force
    ashore as long as the Royal Navy remained intact. Even the wake of
    an RN destroyer at speed would be sufficient to sink the german
    troop barges. If there is no realistic threat of invasion then there is
    no need to accept unfavourable terms.

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