From depression to victory: a record of growing British determination during the Battle of Britain.

Author:Thomas, Adam


If political measures do not succeed, England's will to resist will have to be broken by force"--German General Alfred Jodl, chief of the operations staff of the German armed forces high command. (1) Early in World War II, the Germans realized that Great Britain would not give in lightly and that the will of the British people would ultimately determine the fate of the British Isles. The German focus on the Giulio Douhet-inspired principle of bombing civilian centers meant they had to force the British people to lose their will to fight. This never actually happened, as the British came together with their staunch determination, which became the driving force behind their eventual victory in the conflict. At a low point during the unemployment-ridden, socially fragmented 1930s, the British peoples' morale grew as a result of the frequent, powerful speeches from Winston Churchill and from mundane, daily activities that diverted their minds away from the destruction around them. These factors, combined with faulty Luftwaffe tactics that focused on unsuccessful terror bombing, coupled with the growing ability of the British people to resist oppression and incredible odds, allowed for their survival and eventual victory in the Battle of Britain.

The Luftwaffe's goal throughout its campaign against Britain was to break the will of the people so that they would give in without conflict on the ground. A prominent operational effort by the German air force was its employment of terror bombing. (2) The Germans based this idea on the early airpower advocate Giulio Douhet and his teachings on bombing strategy. The Germans knew that, in the coming aerial battle, "all of [Britain's] citizens will become combatants, since all of them will be exposed to the aerial offenses of the enemy. There will be no distinction any longer between soldiers and civilians." (3) This means that the Germans were willing to bomb anything, as all of the British people were viable targets under the Douhet model. The Germans used this model in developmental planning for operational victory in the Battle of Britain; however, they underestimated how strong the will of the people would become in the months between the Battle's beginning in July 1940, and its suspension the following October.

Widespread unemployment started in Great Britain in the 1920s and grew more prevalent in the 1930s. (4) Large cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow endured a "culture of poverty" that impeded their competition with cities that had more efficient working populations. (5) The Pilgrim Trust, a national trust funded by American Edward Steven Harkness (a Rockefeller associate) that began only a few years earlier, encountered an underclass that counted their "series of failures" in getting a job by years. (6) The dim outlook toward employment during the years before the Luftwaffe attacked, led to a widespread feeling of destitution among the British people. The first bombs that fell during the Battle of Britain instigated a "social reconstruction" of society in which people strove to improve the country and dig themselves out of their beleaguered state. (7) The Battle of Britain put people to work and inspired their dedication toward Great Britain as a powerful and unified nation, a nation capable of defeating the German juggernaut at their doorstep.

The dim outlook toward the beginning of the war, due to the previous depression, recent French surrender, and apparent "dead minds and pro-Fascists" in British government, had to change if Britain was to have a chance against the Germans. (8) British novelist and journalist George Orwell wrote diary entries nearly every day during the Battle of Britain, as well as during the period leading up to the conflict. The earlier diaries, recounting France's surrender and the resultant British lack of confidence in their own leaders, described a society that should not have won against the Luftwaffe. Commenting on the British outlook toward the war in these preliminary days, Orwell wrote, "Growing recognition that the only thing that would certainly right the situation is an unsuccessful invasion. (9) Orwell, knowing that the British navy could keep out any attempted seaborne invasion from Germany, secretly hoped for the Luftwaffe's arrival to the skies of Britain. Orwell continued by commenting on the political notion that "the London "left' intelligentsia are now completely defeatist, look on the situation as hopeless and all but wish for surrender." (10) Orwell's summary of British sentiment toward war derived from the mix of 1930s depression and the inevitable fact that the Germans were about to attack the British Isles.

Contrary to the bleak outlook held by Britons before the Battle of Britain, morale improved in the country once the Luftwaffe began its attacks. A member of Parliament during the time of the Second World War, Harold Nicolson wrote about the collective feeling toward war as a member of the upper tier of society. (11) Despite "pretty bad" bombings of ports in the British Isles, Nicolson described the morale of the people as "perfect." (12) He even described his own "cocky" outlook toward the whole war: in his view, there was no...

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