1941. Right now, not very far from here, the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it, nothing. Until one tiny, damp little island says "No. No, not here." A mouse in front of a lion. You're amazing, the lot of you.Second World War. WW2 had such a massive impact on British history, it's usually referred to simply as "the war". Whale Meat Again- Rationing In January 1940, Britain introduced rationing, since 70% of its foodstuffs were imported and the Germans wanted to starve the UK into submission. It was not the only country to do, by any means (Nazi-occupied Europe did too - even neutral Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland did, albeit under better conditions). Rationing continued after the war. In 1946 bread was actually rationed because of the need to feed starving Europeans (specifically Germans). It was not until 1954 that the last item (bananas) stopped being rationed. You would be given a ration book, with coupons for different products- you still had to pay for them. It wasn't much, but it actually improved many diets. Certain items:
"...the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin...if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, 18 June 1940note
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."Our Crowning Moment Of Awesome. Once France fell the eyes of the Nazi war machine turned to Great Britain. After Dunkirk the British army was in tatters, although if it had failed to evacuate as many troops from France things would have been even worse. During the first year of the battle of Britain the only fully equipped battalion in Britain was Canadian, the British forces having abandoned their equipment in the retreat. A galling consequence, noted by many observers in the years following, was that the lorries and motor vehicles, as well as some tanks abandoned in France, were refurbished and used to equip new German formations and many got as far as Stalingrad under their new drivers. Captured British tanks were thought sub-standard for front line use but were used by the Germans for training and rear-area police work. (Some were used in 1945 as desperation issue against the Russians). If Germany had taken the British Isles then an Allied invasion of Europe would have been almost impossible. Luckily, the prospects of Germany successfully being able to invade and subjugate Britain were completely non-existent, not that this was known by the people of Britain at the time. Achtung, "Spuckfeuer"! The RAF Germany decided that in order to invade it needed Total Air Superiority, to prevent the RAF and the Royal Navy from sending their invasion fleet down to the bottom of the English Channel. And so the campaign against the RAF began. (This was, by the way, a completely impossible objective. Britain could replace planes and pilots faster than Germany could, with the added bonus that an RAF pilot who baled out could be returned to the fray, whereas a Luftwaffe one was permanently lost to the Germans. Even if the Luftwaffe had gained aerial superiority, it would be a fleeting victory at best and its capacity for attacking the Royal Navy with any good measure of success was totally abysmal. Add that to the weakness of the German Kriegsmarine and the total lack of suitable landing craft and the conditions for a successful German invasion are impossible to achieve.) Britain had a few tricks up its sleeve. One of these was RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging). Whilst the Luftwaffe tried to surgically attack the British air bases the RAF did not have to try and patrol all of their skies all of the time, burning up fuel reserves and stopping the pilots from sleeping, but rather wait for the little bleeping lights. Of course, loose lips sink aircraft, and Britain didn't want the Germans knowing about RADAR, so they claimed that the pilots had very good eyesight from eating carrots. Carrots suddenly became very popular in Britain. Although the Chain Home stations were rather low tech, this also meant they could be built rapidly, allowing them to be finished before The Battle of Britain and reducing the number of things that could go wrong. The Germans were, in fact, aware of them. However, they decided that the towers were too hard to destroy with bombing, and that the stations would not affect the war that much. In fact, the Chain Home stations (later joined by Chain Home Low and Chain Home Extra Low, mobile units intended to lower the minimum detection height of the RADAR) became vital, and their operators became capable of interpreting more in the data than the stations were designed to give them. They could not only tell where the enemy was but their speed, height, direction of flight and even the number of enemy planes. The creation of this system was driven by Hugh Caswall Tremenheere "Stuffy" Dowding, the head of Fighter Command, who tied the wide network of Radar, spotting stations, and airfields together by telephone and radio, enabling fighters to be launched at the optimum time for interception; as with the Bletchley Park codebreakers, Fighter Command was a triumph of technological innovation, forward thinking, and applied intelligence. Of course the best way to avoid death and costly losses is to have the Germans drop their bombs in the wrong places. A special command in Bomber command was set up, with the aid of stage magicians to make decoy aircraft and buildings. 297 decoy sites, including several entire airfields, were built. About 1 in 20 German bombs landed on a British decoy, and these skills were going to prove vital in concealing the D-Day landings. The pride of the Royal Air Force was the Supermarine Spitfire, indisputably the best British fighter of the war, and more than a match for the German Messerschmitt 109. While media both at the time and since focused on the Spitfire, the more numerous fighter was the Hawker Hurricane - not as fast and agile as the Spitfire, but rugged, dependable and just as loved by its pilots. In a case of Boring Yet Practical, the Hurricane's stability in flight, which made it less suited for dogfighting, made it far more capable when it came to the business of taking on German bombers; the Spitfires drew the glory, but the Hurricanes almost certainly saved more lives on the ground. The Germans found the RAF to be a more effective opposing force than any they had encountered previously, nevertheless much damage was done and some believe that if the Germans had continued to press their anti-RAF bombings, rather than switching to the Blitz, they may have broken through. It wasn't just British pilots, of course. People from Occupied Europe fought with the RAF (the Poles were especially good and remarkably numerous given the long journey through occupied Europe they had had to undertake), along with Commonwealth forces and American volunteers. 15 September 1940, although by no means the day with most fighting, had an air of "the deciding moment about" is often believed to be the point where Hitler effectively gave up and it has become Battle of Britain Day. Winston Churchill's account of that day in The Second World War is well worth reading- the RAF launched pretty much everything they had and were fortunate that the Germans ran out of fuel just as their planes had to land. The Blitz
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, 20 August 1940
"Phoenix Resurectum"- Written on a slate placed over a bombed out church in Plymouth. In addition to bombing RAF airstrips and factories, the Germans also bombed industrial targets. During a raid on Thames Haven, on 24 August 1940, some German aircraft strayed over London and dropped bombs in the city. This prompted the British to mount a retaliatory raid on Berlin the next night causing 50 deaths. After several more similar attacks by Britain, Hitler was said to be furious, and on 5 September 1940, at the urging of the Luftwaffe high command, he issued a directive "... for disruptive attacks on the population and air defences of major British cities, including London, by day and night". The Luftwaffe began day and night attacks on British cities, concentrating on London. This relieved the pressure on the RAF's airfields but increased the civilians death tolls drastically. This was the beginning of the period known as The Blitz. The idea was to flatten the cities, wreck the infrastructure and demoralise the people. Despite creating plot fodder for a generation of childrens' books, it didn't really work. True, every night the people of major cities on the South coast (and elsewhere) were bombed, but rather than demoralising them, it generally galvanised them. "We are all in this together" was the attitude: if your shop-front was blown in you swept up the glass and hung a "more open than usual" sign on the door frame, if half your factory was flattened you put up tarpaulins and carried on working in the other half. This reaction was by no means universal, of course. Many slept far from their homes before going into work each day. It was during this period that King George VI and his queen, Elizabeth (no, not that one), won the enduring devotion of their people; the King vowed to remain in London "for the duration," and, despite his stutter, made a series of wartime broadcasts that helped keep morale up even as bombs rained over southern England. Buckingham Palace was bombed at the height of the Blitz, and the Queen Mother cemented her place in the hearts of the British people forever with the quote, "Finally. Now I can look the [heavily bombed] East End in the face." She also said, when asked why the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were not sent to the relative safety of the Commonwealth — after all, the Dutch royals-in-exile had sent their Queen and princesses to Canada — that "The girls cannot go without me; I cannot go without the King; and the King will never leave his country." Elizabeth and Margaret would remain in Buckingham Palace or nearby Windsor Castle for the duration, and HRH Elizabeth joined up with the Women's Auxiliaries as a driver and auto mechanic during the final months of the war. She remains both the only female member in the history of the British Crown to hold a military title in her own right — she rose to the rank of Junior Commander — and the last living sovereign to be a veteran of the Second World War. Despite all the destruction casualties were not as high as expected, mostly because pre-war projections for this kind of attack bordered on the insanely fatalistic. Most families with a garden had an Anderson shelter, a mostly underground bomb shelter. In London, despite instructions to the contrary, people used The London Underground as a shelter, and seeing as you could buy a platform ticket and stay as long as you liked anyway, no one could do anything about it. People without bomb shelters were told to crouch under the table. Plymouth was bombed so thoroughly that it was said that if Sir Francis Drake (the guy who fought the Spanish Armada) had sailed into harbour and was told that the city was destroyed he would look over the remnants and say "look like it is all here to me." The above quote means "From the ashes, we will rise." And they did. One of the most famous raids was on the industrial city Coventry on 14 November 1940, which killed at least 568 people and devastated much of the city, including destroying the ancient cathedral. The common theory is that ULTRA decrypts identified Coventry as a target, but the city could not be warned without alerting the Germans that the British were reading their messages, so the bombing was allowed to occur. RV Jones, a wartime scientist, however, says that the relevant message was not decrypted in time. He also pointed out that the Germans were using radio navigation beacons to find their targets, and on 14 November the British jammers were set to the wrong frequency and did precisely nothing. Quite a few of the German bombs didn't go off, leading to a lot of work (and casualties) for people who defused the things. German bombs are still being found in London today, one recently causing major traffic disruption in the Bow area for four days.
"Vera, what has become of you?"
— Pink Floyd, "Vera" (about Vera Lynn)Television switched off as soon as the war began and did not come back on until after it had finished. The BBC kept going in the form of radio. Note that at this time not many people had television sets in the first place, so this was less of an inconvenience than it would be now. There was one network for the British audience, the BBC Home Service, which today is now BBC Radio 4. The BBC overseas broadcasting was of valuable help to La Résistance (who got coded messages telling them that D-Day was imminent through it) and for propaganda purposes, as it also broadcast in German. The troops were entertained by the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). While there were quite a few talented people in that organisation, they were spread thin and the entertainment was generally sub-standard. People joked that ENSA stood for "Every Night Something Awful". However, the semi-official "soldiers' shows" which evolved on an ad-hoc basis as local entertainment for the troops, in which talented servicemen performed to entertain their mates and keep morale up, spawned an entire generation of talent who after demob became the mainstays of British entertainment until superceded in the 1960's and 1970's by the Monty Python generation. Artistes who honed their craft on their mates included Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Tommy Cooper, Norman Vaughan, and many others. The Goon Show, cited as a seminal influence on later British comedy, had its origins in WW2 as a satirical reaction to the petty indignities and Colonel-Blimp-like leadership imposed by the armed forces Theatres and cinemas were initially closed, but reopened to keep up morale. A number of fairly well-known wartime propaganda movies were made including: