Britain in the Second World War Revision
Key Issue: How did Britain resist and help to defeat Germany in the Second World War?
The BEF in Europe 1939-40: Dunkirk
September 1939, 11am: Chamberlain broadcasts that Britain has declared war: ‘it is evil things that we
shall be fighting – brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution’.
Poland falls – Britain can do nothing:
‘Phoney War’ – no fighting, just preparations (Barrage balloons / Pillar boxes were painted with yellow gas-sensitive
paint/ 38 million gas-masks/ 400m sandbags/ London zoo killed all poisonous snakes)/ RAF drops 12 million
propaganda leaflets on Germany/.
11 Sept: British Expeditionary Force of four divisions – 158,000 men with 25,000 vehicles – to France, but too small
(France’s strategy was dominated by the Maginot line).
9 April: Denmark captured (surrenders after 1 day).
Norway falls (9 June) – Quisling sets up collaboration govt.
10 May: Hitler invades Holland, Belgium and France.
Churchill becomes PM.
14 May: Holland surrenders.
Belgium falls (28 May).
France invaded – defeated – Vichy puppet government.
22 May: Britain begins to withdraw BEF (‘Operation Dynamo’).
Navy, ferries, and small craft from beaches.
345,000 troops evacuated.
Used to build morale: in public, Churchill described it as ‘a miracle of deliverance’.
reality: BEF left 2,500 guns, 84,500 vehicles, 77,000 tons ammunition, 416,000 tons supplies and 165,000 tons petrol.
68,000 soldiers killed/ prisoner. In private, Churchill called Dunkirk ‘the greatest military defeat for many centuries’.
Battle of Britain
Hitler’s invasion plan (‘Operation Sealion’).
v. RAF (Hurricanes an Spitfires)/ radar stations/ Air Chief Marshall Dowding (reorganised RAF into four
Groups)/ Lord Beaverbrook (owner of
: May 1940, Churchill put him in charge of aircraft production).
Air war starts 12 August; at first RAF lost many planes and pilots (‘Dowding’s chicks’).
switches to bombing cities.
15 Sep major
Sealion called off.
The RAF lost 1,173 planes and 510 pilots and gunners
killed in the Battle of Britain.
lost 1,733 planes and 3,368 airmen killed or captured.
Battle of the Atlantic
4 Sep 1939
: a Nazi U-boat sinks the
– 112 passengers died.
15 Sep 1939