September 21, 2017

1940. New York Times: What Would a Nazi Invasion of Britain Look Like?

Britain Prepares for a Fight to the Death
"The British Isles: Decisive Battleground in Europe's Struggle." Map printed in The New York Times, June 23, 1940
From The New York Times, June 23, 1940:
Hitler Must First Try to Win Complete Mastery of Air Before Attempting An All-Out Assault on the Island

As the Germans drove deeper into France last week and France signed an armistice, Britain, facing a Continent dominated by her enemies, prepared for a fight to the death.
The impending "Battle of Britain," as Prime Minister Churchill made clear, will be more than another battle; it may be the final act in a tragic drama of long duration.

The opening phase of this battle may have been marked last week by the bombs dropped in the Ruhr and on British towns, but at the week-end it was not clear how soon it would reach its maximum intensity or to what extent its course would be affected or postponed by the terms of the French peace or possible Hitlerian overtures for a final peace with Britain. It seems certain, however, that Hitler will act quickly; his whole strategy is based on speed.

It seems equally certain that, if he wins the Battle of Britain, Hitler has won the war and probably ended the life of the empire upon which the sun never sets; whereas, if Britain wins the battle, her task has only begun. For the impending struggle is climactic in the fate of the British Empire and in the course of the war—if Hitler wins. If Hitler loses the Battle of Britain, he has lost in his attempt to crush the empire, but he has not lost the war; he still retains his hold upon the Continent of Europe, unless his repulse is so decisive as to cause Germany's collapse. That is possible but unlikely.

Britain's Two Big Tasks

Britain therefore has ahead of her two gigantic and separate tasks; first, the defense of Britain, the home base; second, subsequent operations designed to win the war. Entirely aside from the defensive measures which Britain must pursue in order to escape being crushed, she must adopt measures other than the blockade if she hopes to crush Germany.

Britain's fleet, it is true, is still supreme at sea, but in the Napoleonic wars it was not alone the stout walls of her navy that defeated Napoleon, but a combination of blockade with the power of the British pound and a system of opportunistic alliances. Today Britain has to blockade a continent. Her blockade plus the ravages of war may induce a famine in Europe next Winter, but we can be sure it will not be the Germans who will starve. The pound may again try to do the work of soldiers as it did 100 years ago, but it will be difficult to make it serve in a Europe dominated by economic autarchy. And the potential allies of Britain are, for the moment, few and frightened—a hesitant and alarmed Turkey; perhaps in the future a threatened Russia, though even this seems unlikely.

Dependence on Allies

The second of Britain's tasks therefore—the winning of the war—seems tremendous. But it must be clear that this second task is distinct from and does not necessarily stem from the first, which is the defense of Britain against a Germany still on the offensive, still retaining the initiative as she has done since the war began. But the first must be successfully conducted if the second ever is to develop. It seems apparent, therefore, that if Britain can ward off the immediate and deadly danger threatening her the war might yet be a long one, with unpredictable developments and Britain's chance of ultimate victory depending mainly on allies. Or the combatants might negotiate a peace, the terms of which might well leave Hitler in virtual control of the Continent and England with her empire still intact.

What are Britain's chances of guarding herself against the Hitlerian blow?

There are two ways in which Germany, with the help of Italy, can strike at the "tight little isle." One is a campaign of attrition or blockade—blockade by submarines and planes and perhaps small surface ships such as motor torpedo boats. The other is a campaign of assault. The method of one is starvation, the other of invasion; one is investment, the other attack.

Applying the Methods

There are several means of applying either of these methods; in fact, the two methods in some instances merge, and in such instances the Germans by one operation may utilize the methods of both investment and assault.

A bombing raid, for example, against docks, warehouses, shipping and convoys would not only tend to increase the difficulties of applying England but also would strike from the air against the people of England and against their morale. A raid from the sea in which guns took the place of bombs would serve the same double purpose; so, too, would long-distance artillery fire from emplacements at Calais and Dunkerque against the southeast coast and the Thames docks.

Even so, with submarines assisting in the blockade, a campaign of attrition in which bombing raids were limited to ports and perhaps munitions factories and no actual physical invasion was attempted might require too much time for Hitler's purpose. No sudden, blinding results, such as those that have occurred in the West since May 10, could then be expected and there would be time for American aid to become more effective. Besides, this method would permit the British Navy to operate under conditions most favorable to it, against an enemy it now understands how to cope with. The slow process of attrition would not seem to accord either with Hitlerian strategy or with German tradition. A blockade of England unquestionably will be attempted, but almost certainly it will be accompanied by an assault.

Methods of Assault

This may take two forms: the first, widespread and relentless assault by bombing against docks, factories, sources of supply, power stations and ultimately if not initially against the people—all with the idea of crushing the will of the people and of the nation to resist. The second form may be assault from the air as preliminary to actual physical invasion—from the air by parachute troops and transport planes; from the sea by small parties landed from small boats, submarines or light vessels at widely separated points. If a port should be captured, these invaders would be reinforced by troops transported in larger ships.

It is thus clear that regardless of what method or combination of methods the Germans may elect to try, air power will play the principal role in victory or defeat, for it is only through the full use of air power that the Germans can hope to win a definite victory either by assault or by blockade. Thus the first battles must be air battles. The Germans must decisively win air superiority over the British Isles if their plans are to succeed.

But the British, though on the strategical defensive against the German assaults, do not have to remain quiescent, withholding action until the German blows are launched. Their fleet with its attempted blockade of the Continent of Europe is actually an offensive instrument and, tactically, the bombers of the Royal Air Force which are already ranging deep into Germany, bombing the Ruhr, are important instruments of retaliation, offensive weapons of defense.

Bombing of Enemy Planes

In this first struggle for air superiority both sides will strive to reduce the enemy's air strength by bombing his planes on the ground, to reduce the enemy's capacity for plane replacements by bombing aircraft factories, to reduce capacity for plane operation by bombing air fields and fuel supplies.

Such a struggle must preface and accompany submarine and motor torpedo boat operations in the narrow waters around Britain by some of the 150 to 250 submarines and several score of motor torpedo boats available to the Axis powers. Britain will counter with the convoy system, the surface ships of her powerful navy and the plane.

If invasion is attempted it cannot be expected until Britain has been "softened" by preliminary operations intended to disrupt communications, disorganize defense, cut off outside supplies.

Then, if invasion does come, it is more likely to be general rather than limited—parachute troops dropping all over the country; small boats landing small bodies of troops all along the eastern and southern coasts, in attempts to establish bridgeheads on British soil, at strips of beaches and airports, where reinforcements in considerable numbers could be landed.

What Troops Would Do

If troops are once landed in sufficient numbers—and there are a thousand difficulties between the writing and the doing—the effort will undoubtedly be to cut Britain into separate unconnected areas by spearheads thrust along the lines of her great water courses and communication arteries. Drives must be attempted, for instance, from the Wash to the Thames or to the Severn in the south; from the Humber to the Mersey; from the Tyne to Solway Firth; from the Firth of Forth to the Clyde, and from Moray Firth to Loch Linnhe.

But such operations are at present only speculative and must be opportunistic. The Battle of Britain must first be fought in the air. The Summer months will tell a tale unpredictable in its outcome but certain to be sanguinary in its results.