What would we have done?

by Harry on April 27, 2006

Via Norm, a very interesting article by Max Hastings, arguing that if Britain had been invaded by the Nazis the British would have behaved much as the French did:

Most of France’s “haves” collaborated not willingly, but in the face of perceived necessity. The bourgeois classes allowed their view to be determined by law-and-order arguments, which possess even greater force in war than in peace. Sabotage provoked murderous reprisals upon the innocent. Surely, people said, it is in the interests of the community that we behave in such a way as to be spared killings and confiscations, when daily existence is harsh enough already.

Resistance, confined to a small minority until 1944, was dominated by what middle-class people would categorise as “the awkward squad”: teachers and unionists (many of them leftists), young mavericks, communist activists, journalists, peasants: in short, little people.

All this, I think, would have applied equally in a German-occupied Britain.

Hastings commends Eden’s statement, when asked to comment on the behaviour of the French during the war, that “It would be impertinent for any country that has never suffered occupation to pass judgment on one that did.” We’d all do well to reflect on that brilliantly diplomatic, and true, comment. Hastings concludes that

Némirovsky’s great novel paints a portrait of a society that did not conduct itself with conspicuous courage or honour. I am doubtful, however, that we would have done much better.

I can think of only one piece of counter-evidence, which I can’t link to because my googling skills aren’t up to it, but I undertsand that as soon as the war began the British government started to train a secret domestic guerrilla army in preparation for invasion, comprised of conscription-age men who were (because of their age) regarded throughout the war (and until the end of the 50-year embargo on the confidential records) as conscientious objectors. But this is slim evidence (made even slimmer by my inability to cite it: did I dream that I heard a Radio 4 documentary about them?)

Talking of Eden, I recently read Kenneth Harris’s wonderful biography of Attlee (prompted by being fascinated by the role Attlee plays in Five Days in London: May 1940).

One of the many surprising things that comes out is the friendship that Attlee and Eden developed during the war as what can only be called Churchill’s minders. Churchill comes over as indispensible to the war effort (obviously, perhaps), but wild, needing to be constantly managed by two people whose good sense and personal relationship were indispensible to Churchill’s indispensibility. In another thread, regular commenter otto reminds us that pretty much whatever bad things Churchill did (or might have done) he comes out ahead on any measure by having kept Britain in the war in the first days and months of his premiership; similarly, from reading Harris, I get the impression that whatever else Eden did he, too, comes out ahead by virtue of the role that he and Attlee played in keeping Churchill on the straight and narrow. Maybe its time for some Eden rehabilitation.



Matthew 04.27.06 at 9:52 am

There’s been an a major attempt at Eden rehabiliation, which was DR Thorpe’s biography. It’s a good read, which I highly recommend, and it make you somewhat sympathetic to the pre-1950 Anthony Eden, but it can’t do much about the post-1950 one.


and also http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n10/john01_.html (subscription required)


Donald Johnson 04.27.06 at 9:53 am

I’m not sure that violent resistance is justified if it would just lead to more reprisal killings. There’s a just war argument one can use–don’t take actions that will do more harm to innocent people than any good they will do in bringing the war to an end.

OTOH, there was an absolute moral obligation to hide Jews or in other ways to resist the Holocaust.


Jonathan 04.27.06 at 9:53 am

What are the counterfactual narratives here? I remember a Len Deighton book, though I haven’t read it. Where do they come down on this issue?


Jake 04.27.06 at 9:54 am

This is why the French-are-surrendering-cowards language we’ve seen so much of the last few years is so idiotic. Just more inane exceptionalism . . . .


Ted 04.27.06 at 9:56 am


The Deighton book may have been “SS-GB”.

The SS police officer in charge of New Scotland Yard affects British-Style dress and all that.


Rasselas 04.27.06 at 9:58 am

Gosh, humanity sucks. Interesting that popular fiction about WWII, contrary to Hastings, is full of heroes of the bourgeoisie. Apart from the novels of Alan Furst, I’m not sure I can recall a novel mentioning the French Resistance that does not depict the local chateau as a citadel of occult defiance, whether in the person of the iron-boned grande dame or the dashing young comte.

Rene Char’s “Leaves of Hypnos” doesn’t, as I recall, suggest that Char received any help at all from the local landowners, but his descriptions are far from comprehensive.


ajay 04.27.06 at 9:59 am

They were called the Home Guard Auxiliary Units. There was a documentary on them recently on TV. They weren’t COs, though: they were generally recruited from the Home Guard itself.

I would hope that the British would have behaved slightly better than the French. I cannot imagine, for a start, a British general agreeing to rule a Vichy state in Britain, or the same revulsion occuring towards the British government as occurred in France towards the Third Republic.

There would also have been a nucleus of resistance by the fleet, which would have fled to Canada – which of course was a country in its own right, not a colony, and so would not have surrendered at the same time as Britain, as Algeria did when France fell. The Empire and Commonwealth would have survived.


Brett 04.27.06 at 10:07 am

About the resistance units set up by the British in the event of invasion, these did exist: they were called the Auxilary Units.

But there is some counter-counterfactual evidence pointing the other way: part of Britain was in fact occupied by the Germans — the Channel Islands — and collaboration (and some resistance too) occured there, just like any other occupied country.


abb1 04.27.06 at 10:09 am

Humanity doesn’t suck, it’s merely trying to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it – exactly as it was order to behave at the beginning of this whole thing.


Jake McGuire 04.27.06 at 10:09 am

I’m not sure that violent resistance is justified if it would just lead to more reprisal killings. There’s a just war argument one can use—don’t take actions that will do more harm to innocent people than any good they will do in bringing the war to an end.

Does this apply to Hamas as well?

And of course, Nazis don’t occupy one’s country in a vacuum – they must invade and you must surrender. The British did have natural geographic advantages, but they also took much more robust anti-invasion measures (e.g. having a long-standing policy of spending all of their money on the Royal Navy), to the point where the Nazi’s had no hope of successful invasion.


abb1 04.27.06 at 10:10 am

“was ordered” that is.


ajay 04.27.06 at 10:11 am

I’m not sure that violent resistance is justified if it would just lead to more reprisal killings. There’s a just war argument one can use—don’t take actions that will do more harm to innocent people than any good they will do in bringing the war to an end.
OTOH, there was an absolute moral obligation to hide Jews or in other ways to resist the Holocaust.

Somewhat incoherent, that. Your second paragraph seems to contradict your first. What if ‘resisting the Holocaust’ brought about reprisals? Surely the moral burden of reprisal killings rests on those committing the killings?


markg 04.27.06 at 10:31 am

seldom mentioned now is the fact that The first American casualties in the European theater of the war were inflicted by French troops resisting the North African landings. I would like to think that even had England been conquered, the use of its troops to serve German ends would have remained inconceivable.


Henry 04.27.06 at 10:50 am

Jo Walton’s forthcoming alternative history novel, _Farthing_ is very good on all of this.


Cian 04.27.06 at 10:57 am

There’s a movie recently reissued on DVD (by the guys who did Winstanley), which portrays an England where most people collaborate. I doubt things would have been any different in the UK from France, and I’m sure they would have had no problem finding a general from the British army willing to collaborate. People forget how much support there was for Hitler among the haute-bourgoise before the war.


Tom Scudder 04.27.06 at 10:59 am

In Tim Powers’ Last Call, what we see of the resistance (which isn’t all that much, that part of the story doesn’t take up that many pages) is pretty leftist and marginal.


Antoni Jaume 04.27.06 at 11:10 am

I’ve read that a significant part of the “French” resistence were in fact Spanish refugees. They had a strong incentive to fight against the nazis, since being captured would easily mean death.



Gar Lipow 04.27.06 at 11:10 am

On the other hand I seem to remember that other occupied nations behaved a bit better than France. Denmark? Sweden? True? False?


P.D. 04.27.06 at 11:31 am

#17 “…other occupied nations behaved a bit better than France. Denmark? Sweden? True? False?”

True behaved better than False, as is always the case.


blatherskite 04.27.06 at 11:31 am

Recently, as an american getting UK programs via torrent, I ran across an episode from Series 1 of “Who Do You Think You Are?” in which Ian Hislop’s ancestry was traced back through Jersey — Nazi-occupied Jersey no less!

It sure didn’t seem that Jersey was a hotbed of resistance to Nazi occupation.

Since I did not know that this part of Britain had been occupied, I obviously don’t know the cultural and historical idiosyncracies that may contextualize the behavior of these Jersey folk. But I was surprised to see it and thought the occupation may deserve mention here, if only to be batted down as a true data point.


abb1 04.27.06 at 11:33 am

Sweden wasn’t occupied at all, and the popular story about Danish king wearing yellow star is a myth.


jim 04.27.06 at 11:35 am

There wouldn’t have been the need for a general. Sir Oswald Mosley would have been released from internment and raised to be Prime Minister. It wouldn’t have required much in the way of German resources to have raided the island the Duke of Windsor was governing (Bermuda? Bahamas?) and rescued him to be restored to his rightful throne. It was fear that he might collaborate that led to him being packed off to his island.

Yes, the government and the king would have been evacuated to Canada and formed a government in exile. But from there, even with the fleet in being, they’d have been essentially powerless. Resistance needs external support.


Britisher 04.27.06 at 11:50 am

to gar lipow…
Denmark had it’s own visible Nazi party that facilitated the German’s control. As a result the occupation of Denmark was less brutal than elsewhere and control was graduated and more subtle…it took the majority of Danes a while to figure out they’d made a Devil’s pact.

the ITV WOrld At War DVD series shows this well.

In general..
The British AU units are indicative that the Brits were prepared to not cave so quickly, at least in spirit. But the Germans had a very detailed plan of the UK–they wanted to maintain the police force and indeed the Monarchy. They wanted to preserve the UK as much as possible–they couldn’t afford a lot of trouble from the locals so they needed acquiescence. I think they would have gotten it too ‘cos in 1940/41 the UK was in quite desperate straights and the US hadn’t committed fully then. But I can imagine that after a few years of occupation a revolt would have been organized–with some US support and perhaps Russian too ( assuming the germans would have taken the Ukraine and reduced Russia having no longer to worry about the UK and mediterranean fronts. The relative isolation of the UK as an island would work both for and against both occupation and opposition. In a way resistance might actually have been more sustainable than was the case in Denmark and FRance. But I’m sure had the Germans invaded as they planned they’d have one and gained a very grudging capitulation. The UK would have been nothing but trouble in the long run, more trouble than the French Resistance–and I mean no disrespect to the French by that. Simple geography at least, imposed different options.


dearieme 04.27.06 at 11:53 am

It’s a bit unfair to the Channel Islanders to cite them. The men of military age had been evacuated and the population had been instructed not to resist. At one time those islands had one German soldier per three inhabitants and, of course, they lack mountains, bogs, deserts, woodland or whatever else one needs to hide in. Not much like France. Never having been subjected to occupation, I am reluctant to moralise about the French, but am inclined to enquire whether the French commies really put up any resistance before Hitler attacked the USSR. The British ones were happily fomenting strikes before then.


mpowell 04.27.06 at 11:55 am

There is more involved here than just the lack of a strong French resistance in occupied France. The French gave up pretty early on in the land war against Germany and their capitulation, the formation of Vichy France and its accomodation of German interests, made the war much harder for the Allied forces. In particular, there is simply no reason the French Navy or French colonial territories had to be surrendered to Nazi control or become ‘neutrals’ in the fight. If those forces had continued to fight on, the African campaign would have been a lot easier for the allied forces, as well as the naval struggle in the Atlantic.

So if the British and American merchant marine want to hold it against the French for not fighting hard enough, I think that’s fair.


mpowell 04.27.06 at 12:01 pm

I should correct myself- there was a reason to neutralize French colonies and French naval forces- it was what allowed the French the ability to negotiate the existence of Vichy France. But I would hardly regard that as a good justification. As a political move its as if the French still hadn’t learned that you couldn’t successfully appease Hitler. If he had won the war against the Allied forces it would not have been long before Vichy France was fully under German control.

So, as I said, maybe its unfair to criticize occupied France for not doing more in the way of resistance. But I think you need to do more to show that jokes about French capitulation are unjustified.


Brett 04.27.06 at 12:22 pm

I don’t see why it’s unfair to cite the Channel Islands; the fact that the situation was adverse was precisely the point – they could have made heroic but futile gestures, but chose self-preservation instead. (And as I said, there were some acts of resistance, active and passive.) I’m not passing a moral judgement; I’m sure I would have done the same! But at the very least, the example of the Channel Islands provides no evidence that there would have been some sort of an innate tendency towards resistance to the Nazis in British culture or institutions, which is part of the myth of 1940.

I think, also, with the European resistance movements, the fact that Britain (and then the USSR and USA) was fighting on both gave them both some hope that their fight was worthwhile, and provided a conduit for practical assistance. That wouldn’t have been the case for Britain had it been conquered, or at least much less so.


harry b 04.27.06 at 12:29 pm


the official CP in GB certainly behaved treachorously prior to the invasion of the Saviet Union. It also bled membership during that period, and regained it in spades in the subsequent years of the war (the CPUSA has the same pattern). So it depends who you mean by “commies”. I don’t know about the French, but the left consisted of much more than the CP, even then.


Brendan 04.27.06 at 12:33 pm

The Len Deighton novel was of course SS-GB. There is also a very good novel Fatherland, by Robert Harris on the same theme. The real curve ball is of course ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by P.K. Dick which asks the question: what would the Americans have done if the Nazis (and the Japanese) had conquered THEM?

All these authors answer these questions in pretty much the same way: i.e. people would probably have just gone along with it. What people forget about the European resistence is that it relied upon external powers to help them to procure ammo, materiel, weapons etc, and that the vast majority of this (at least in the early years of the war) came from the UK. If Britain had been succesfully conquered and pacified, the European resistance movements would probably have just run out of steam. Likewise, if somehow the Nazis had completely conquered Europe and Russia (and the Japanese had taken Asia), and then, somehow, the USA had been defeated, where would the arms and ammo have come from for the American resistance? After a while (perhaps quite a long while admittedly) the US resistance would have been worn down too, and after that, most Americans would probably have gone along with the invaders. This is not to make a statement about the Americans or British, just to reiterate that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge those who collaborated when we haven’t faced the same difficult decisions ourselves.


abb1 04.27.06 at 12:59 pm

I don’t think the arms and ammo matter as much as the level of oppression. The French didn’t suffer under German occupation nearly as much as the Pols and later Belorussians, Russians and Ukrainians; the strength of resistance was roughly proportional to level of oppression. Action results in an equal opposite reaction.


Sharon 04.27.06 at 1:12 pm

The Brownlow/Mollo film has recently been released on DVD: It happened here. It’s an amazing film. There’s a truly disturbing sequence in the middle where they got a bunch of real British fascists to speak to camera. Another highlight is the newsreel sequence that includes the rewriting of the WWI Christmas day football match for pro-Nazi propaganda.


Louis Proyect 04.27.06 at 1:13 pm

I must confess a certain bewilderment over Geras’s posting of this item. I wonder if he approves of French acquiescence to outside occupation since all his energy nowadays seems wrapped up in trying to rationalize the imposition of a Vichy-type regime in Iraq. Who knows, if the French had 1/10th the fighting spirit of the Iraqis, the occupation might have ended a lot sooner. Speaking of the Resistance, Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Ghosts” can be seen in NYC and LA for the first time since 1969. Here’s my review:



Dan Goodman 04.27.06 at 1:17 pm

A large number of alternative history fiction and counterfactual “nonfiction” books and shorter work dealing with occupied Britain can be found at http://www.uchronia.net/bib.cgi/diverge.html?o=1000
as part of unchronia.net’s listing of alternate histories by date of divergence. Some of the listings obviously (from their titles) deal with this; others obviously don’t — and there are some whose main entries would have to be looked at.


jet 04.27.06 at 1:18 pm

I disagree with your take on the US. Most americans have been instilled with a great since of pride in their country and would strongly agree with the phrase “live free or die”. I don’t know how many other countries actively instill this value in their children. Don’t forget that a large fraction of the US believes that at some point in their lives they will have to make a choice to “live free or die”.


Dan Goodman 04.27.06 at 1:19 pm

Didn’t catch a typo in previous message: it’s http://uchronia.net. Best source of information on alternate history/counterfactuals, and among the best bibliographies on the Web.


Kevin Donoghue 04.27.06 at 1:27 pm

Re #25: if Wikipedia’s figures for French casualties are right (90,000 killed, 200,000 wounded) it seems a bit harsh to say that France just “gave up”, especially considering that the British army and the RAF were pulled out of the fight – a sensible decision but one which pretty well scuppered any chance the French had of stabilising the situation. To say that the French gave up gives insufficient credit to the Germans, who were pretty hard to stop in those days.


abb1 04.27.06 at 1:28 pm

Most americans have been instilled with a great since of pride in their country and would strongly agree with the phrase “live free or die”.

Well, if you believe Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 (which is, of course, based on his experience being a POV), the American POVs were the most whiny and pathetic of them all.


jet 04.27.06 at 1:36 pm

Also it is interesting to comptemplate what a UK resistance would have looked like. Since the Germans would have faced thousands of tons of mustard gas from bombardments and sprayings during their UK invasion, they would have responded with nerve gas. This would have either completely ended the resistance or have ended with Stalingrad looking like a small skirmish.


mpowell 04.27.06 at 1:37 pm

Re #36: The entire French navy was left intact. That’s what I’m talking about. The germans won the land war decisively and it would have been a considerable sacrifice on the part of the french to continue fighting it. When the french agreed to surrender and form an ‘independent’ vichy france, the british were forced to conduct a surprise attack on a significant part of the french navy in a french harbor to insure the ships wouldn’t be used by the germans. The best part is that the french navy had the chutzpah to be indignant about it. The remaining portion of the french navy was destroyed by the germans in port after allied forces conquered north africa.

Also, I am sympathetic to the situation of occupied France, but these arguments that the british and the americans would have done the same and therefore the french should be forgiven just don’t fly. If germany had conquered england, the situation in europe truly would have been just about hopeless- that is a huge argument against useless resistance and you can’t use that argument to explain why first, the british wouldn’t have resisted and second, this makes what the french did okay. In comparison, the war was very much in doubt during france’s occupation. An active french resistance would have further sapped german resources, helping the allied cause.


jet 04.27.06 at 1:40 pm

How does one’s complaining as a POV translate into one’s willingness to put their and their families lives on the line? Or is this just a cheap shot against americans?


abb1 04.27.06 at 1:41 pm

that’s POW, of course, not POV. Damn abbreviations.


Rob 04.27.06 at 1:47 pm

Hey, whining is a form of resistance…


Richard Cownie 04.27.06 at 1:50 pm

“say that France just “gave up”, especially considering that the British army and the RAF were pulled out of the fight”

I don’t think the army was “pulled out” – once the
Germans broke through, they had no choice but to
fall back towards the sea, and in such disarray
that they weren’t in a condition to put up much
of a fight. The choice to preserve
the RAF was deliberate, on the other hand, and
without that the Battle of Britain might well have
been lost and a German invasion might have been feasible.

I’m not sure a German invasion would have
succeeded: the Wehrmacht was tactically brilliant,
but I doubt their logistical ability to keep
adequate supplies flowing across the Channel.
The logistics involved in D-day and its aftermath were on a
vastly greater scale than anything the Germans ever did.

However, assuming the success of a German
invasion, I’m fairly sure there would have been
a sizable segment of the British population
prepared to accept a Vichy-like compromise,
while others, especially in the remoter areas, would have put up a fight.
Eden’s comment is wise.


harry b 04.27.06 at 1:50 pm

mpowell, no-one is arguing that what the French did is ok, surely. Just that no other country which did not suffer invasion that says that what they did was not ok has a reason to feel superior.

Jet and Brendan — the geography of the US makes it incredible that the Germans or Japanese could have completely conquered it; in fact its kind of silly to think about invasion because it was never a real possibility, unlike invasion of Britain. That said, many of the political forces which kept the US out of the war until after Pearl Harbor were no entirely morally innocent. The US question is not “what would we have done if Hitler had invaded us?” but “What would we have done if Hitler had conquered the UK?”. Robert Harris’s answer in Fatherland is not at all fantastic.


Rob 04.27.06 at 1:51 pm


That narrative is quite wrong, actually. Churchill ordered the attack on Mers El Kebir over the objections of most of his senior admirals, who believed that the French fleet would not fight on the German side. The attack was botched, and the most valuable French ships escaped. The French Fleet later scuttled itself at Toulon in November 1942 to avoid falling into German hands.

If the French Navy didn’t join the Germans after Mers El Kebir, it’s pretty absurd to think they would have joined in its absence.

This doesn’t absolve the French Navy or Vichy France; I wish the French had joined the Royal Navy, regardless of political objections. But there’s no need to exaggerate the French failure.


abb1 04.27.06 at 1:53 pm

Jet, I don’t know, I read that book decades ago, but as far as I remember he attributes it to excessive self-pity and excessive individualism (lack of team spirit that is, comparing to a bunch of British POWs in the same camp). If what he wrote was true, it certainly would be a problem for organizing a successful resistance under occupation.


Barry 04.27.06 at 1:58 pm

“Don’t forget that a large fraction of the US believes that at some point in their lives they will have to make a choice to “live free or die”.”

Posted by jet

Oh, Bullsh*t. Most Americans are submissive; look at what happened to all of those militia whiners once Bush took over. They went from ‘I love my country but fear my government’ to ‘I {heart} the Imperial Executive’.


Donald Johnson 04.27.06 at 2:06 pm

To ajay–

It was possible to hide Jews and people did so. I believe there were one or two French villages which did this on a fairly large scale, so your claim of incoherence when I’d explicitly mentioned “hiding Jews” as an option makes no sense except as a lazy rhetorical attack. If there was a way of saving Jews through the use of violence, then yes, it would be justified, but my suspicion is that nonviolent methods would have been more effective for the average civilian living under occupation and hiding people was less likely to lead to Nazi reprisals than assassinations.

As for who gets the blame for reprisals, obviously the Nazis. But that evades the issue. Do you kill one German soldier if you know the Germans have a habit of wiping out villages in response? Is it worth it? Do you say to yourself, “Oh, well, the moral blame falls on the Nazis” and then do whatever you want, heedless of likely consequences?

To Jake–

Why wouldn’t it apply to Hamas? Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is despicable, but that doesn’t give Hamas the right to blow up Jewish civilians. Why do you ask?


jet 04.27.06 at 2:06 pm


You are smoking crack if you think they are that blindly loyal to the Republican party. They dread the that Bush’s worse-than-Clinton expansion of federal power falls into the hands of the left. Hit up ar-15.com sometime to see how the gun toting far right sees Bush.


clew 04.27.06 at 2:13 pm

“Liberty, equality, fraternity.” The last two might reduce resistance, in short-term sympathy for one’s fellow citizen, or increase it, in long-term sympathy.


Dan K 04.27.06 at 2:25 pm

Not sure the situation in Europe would have been hopeless if UK had surrendered – at least not in the sense that Nazism would have prevailed. It is a matter of fact that Germany was beaten by Russia. Yugoslavia is also instructive since it more or less liberated itself. Europe would have been completely dominated by Soviet-style communism, of course. In that sense, the importance of Churchill for the survival and revival of western-style democracy cannot be overestimated.


soru 04.27.06 at 3:04 pm

Jet and Brendan—the geography of the US makes it incredible that the Germans or Japanese could have completely conquered it; in fact its kind of silly to think about invasion because it was never a real possibility, unlike invasion of Britain..

Actually, I don’t think an actual invasion of Britain was noticably more feasible – the Royal Navy was several times the size of the German fleet.

Worst case is something like losing the Battle of Britian, and then over the course of the next year or two losing multiple further battles, including the destruction of the fleet. In those circumstances, a surrender would be inevitable, sooner or later.

Quite likely the result would be a British fascist government, as it would have been pretty thoroughly demonstrated that democracies can’t fight wars. Not Mosely, but some mainstream conservative adopting his philosophy.


Dale 04.27.06 at 3:05 pm

Jet: ‘live free or die’? As exemplified by the current sheep-like conformity to corporate indenture? Or by the extraordinary range and variety of political discourse?


jasper emmering 04.27.06 at 3:08 pm

“It would be impertinent for any country that has never suffered occupation to pass judgment on one that did.”

It’s also a bit impertinent to pretend that Britain never suffered an occupation.

First off, Wales and Scotland were ruled from Westminster for centuries.

As for England, my knowledge of English history is far from complete, but as far as I can tell there have been as least as many succesful invasions as unsuccesful ones.

You got the Romans followed by the Saxons followed by the Danes followed by the Normans. That’ll give you Boudicca, King Arthur, Alfred the Great and Robin Hood as proof that the endemic people considered themselves occupied alright. La resistance as the stuff of legends. Except that the occupiers, you know, won. (With Alfred and the Danes it was something of a draw, I believe). In all these cases the aboriginals seem to have accommodated to having new overlords.

Then you get the Spanish Armada.

Followed, a century later, by the Glorious Revolution. William had a Dutch fleet twice the size of the Armada, and his Dutch army stayed on in the British isles to fight on the Boyne. That’s an occupation alright.

Finally, Napoleon and Hitler. Maybe Emperor Wilhelm although I don’t know of any WWI invasion plans.


engels 04.27.06 at 3:46 pm

You are smoking crack if you think [libertarians] are that blindly loyal to the Republican party.

When freedom is outlawed, “libertarians” will be saying “life was worse under Clinton”.


Colin Danby 04.27.06 at 3:48 pm

There’s useful work on the Channel Islands occupation including Madeleine Bunting’s _Model Occupation_

Here’s a shorter Bunting piece: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1130153,00.html

this looks interesting:


as does this:


Chris Williams 04.27.06 at 3:57 pm

Rob, Mers el Kebir wasn’t botched, not in the military sense. Some RN admirals thought that the MN could be trusted never to go over to the Germans, but others (notably and rather crucially Pound) did not. Churchill may well have been misinformed about one important issue, though: in his later autohagiography, he claims that French naval assets in the north were surrendered to advancing Germans troops without a fight, which could not be further from the truth. Perhaps he invented that later – there’s no evidence in his papers that he actually thought it at the time.

In the event, Cunningham (too senior to sack) disobeyed Churchill’s orders, ignored the deadline, and got a local deal which immobilsed the MN squadron in Alexandria. Somerville followed them, and attacked on time at MeK – at least partly because Gensoul, his opposite number, misrepresented the severity of the British ultimatum in his cable to Paris. That attack worked: 1 battleship destroyed, 2 knocked out for a year or more, 1 slightly damaged in situ, 1 escaped to Toulon. It was the subsequent attempts to destroy Richlieu at Dakar which were screwed up royally.

As for the later scuttlings in Toulon, who cares? By the end of 1942, the smart money was coming round to the Allies winning, and French attitudes had (accordingly?) changed. In the summer of 1940, most people worldwide thought that Germany had already won and that was that. Mers el Kebir was not only the military blow that preserved the UK’s invulnerability to invasion, it was a very definite political statement; a boat-burning exercise.


Brendan 04.27.06 at 4:01 pm

And you are EXACTLY the sort of person that P.K. Dick’s great novel is aimed at.

But more seriously you have the absolute bottom line that a serious resistance requires some form of supply line from somewhere else, and if you don’t have it, your resistance simply grinds to a halt. In a world where Russia and the Atlantic were controlled by the Germans and the Pacific by the Japanese, and central/South America controlled by the Germans via fascist dictators installed via coups, it is safe to say that any American resistance would eventually have ground to a halt, although it may well have taken many decades. It’s certainly true that the US’ great advantage (size) would have slowed down this process, but not in the long run. After all, Genghis Khan and his successors did, after all, conquer China, who are no less nationalistic than the Americans.

However, this is incredible improbable. The sheer mechanics of staging an invasion across the Atlantic or the Pacific almost guarantee that it could never have taken place. What is much more likely (and in many ways more disturbing) is that America would have survived as a democracy, but would have eventually come to some form of detente and understanding with the Nazis and the Japanese. This is alluded to in Robert Harris’s Fatherland.

More to the point, native Fascist parties, heavily funded and influenced by the Germans and the Japanese may well have grown up. These may not manage to gain power, but they may well have shifted the American political landscape very far to the extreme right (this is of course the basic plot of Philip Roth’s The War Against America). Moreover, Germany would certainly have been in a position to demand (and get) the imposition of (for example) anti-semitic laws, or else the US would face punishing trade sanctions.

To put it bluntly a state like the US trades or dies, and Germany and Japan, if they controlled the Pacific and Atlantic, would have had the US by the balls.


Brendan 04.27.06 at 4:16 pm

One more point, which just occurred to me. Jet’s point only holds, of course, if people perceive what is happening to them as an invasion. But of course, in the real world, things can be ‘spun’.

For example, take ‘the glorious revolution’ of 1688, which has long been seen (by the English) as a wonderful and fantastic event in the history of England, much better than the French revolution in which English men threw off yada yada yada.

The actual facts of the matter was that 1688 was an invasion by the Dutch, which succeeded because of the various quislings and traiters in the English aristocracy, who had a near pathological hatred of Catholicism.

And so it has been taught for many centuries, and it’s only recently that historians have shown that the ‘received version’ is victor’s propaganda. (even now many people will tell you with a straight face that the last time the UK was invaded successfully was 1066).

In the same way if the US WAS ever invaded it is highly unlikely that it would be ‘spun’ as an invasion. Instead it would be perceived as a defence (of the constitution probably) with, perhaps, natural born American patriotic protestants merely being helped by our German friends, protecting the constitution against a coup d’etat (by the Jews? the ‘negroes’?) attempting to install a pro-communist government via the usual judeo-bolshevik sneakiness.

Thus a German invasion (or coup d’etat) could be masked as a DEFENCE of democracy or at least of the Republic (this is the idea behind the Revenge of the Sith, as my fellow nerds will know).


Wrye 04.27.06 at 4:40 pm

Re: #51

The USSR was logistically supported by both the US and UK, so a War in which the UK is knocked out before Barbarossa and the US doesn’t get involved in Europe is one where a German victory (of whatever form) in Russia might be possible. I think it’s fair to say that of the three major allies, none would have been guaranteed sucess if they were forced to fight absolutely single handedly. Moscow nearly fell in 1941, and with a few different choices–Japan makes menacing noises, to keep Siberian forces tied down, say, or Mussolini doesn’t drag Germany into Greece and throw the schedule off–maybe things go just differently enough.

From the French perspective, the argument was made by some (I.e., the Vicyists) that they had been abandoned by their allies and the war was already over, a la WWI or 1870. By the time the nature and aims of Nazi Germany became absolutely undeniable, the deal with the devil had been made, and even if there were second thoughts on the leadership’s part, they came far too late.

One demographic point I’ve seen that might have some bearing is that France–more so than Britain or even Germany–had a “missing generation” due to WWI, with a lack of 25-30 year olds. Evidently the French Army had little provision for home leave, with a resulting baby bust. So their army was weaker to begin with, and that natural pool of “talent” simply wasn’t there on the civilian side for any resistance to draw on.


bert 04.27.06 at 4:41 pm

Did I dream that I heard a Radio 4 documentary about them?

You didn’t, and you can Listen Again.
Here’s the Real Audio link for the broadcast. And for those who don’t have Real installed, here’s the programme blurb on the BBC site.

On Eden, he had a very good war. He got Munich right; he effectively handled not only Churchill but also de Gaulle. The reason his reputation is mud is nothing to do with that, and everything to do with Suez.
( … and Proyect, you tool, if you must talk about Iraq, that was your opening. Spare us your crass equivalence between the Resistance and the insurgency.)


jet 04.27.06 at 4:55 pm

Why does everyone discount the mustard gas the British were preparing to use in the case of German invasion? The Germans were in no way prepared to use para-troopers on the scale the US used them. So there would be no way to stop the shelling of landing forces with mustard gas. As the Iranians showed us, chemical weapons in coastal areas are decisive all on their own. Britain could possibly have been bombed into submission, but couldn’t really have been invaded.


Carlos 04.27.06 at 5:21 pm

It must be remembered that occupation by a foreign power was not a rare event for the population of continental Europe. We think of it as a terrible tragedy and humiliation but most European countries have been invaded and occupied several times (England being a sort of exception). Probably it was seen as not the end of the world but as something ugly and unpleasant that one had to live with for a while. The experience of WWI (huge casualties, destruction, etc.) probably had some weight too. Also, it was not unreasonable to think that the war was probably over; France had fallen and England wasn’t in a great position. The catastrophic decisions to invade the USSR and declare war to the USA happened later and they were completely unexpected.


Dan K 04.27.06 at 5:39 pm


I think the Russians would claim that they fought the Germans more or less alone for 3 years, and that the Western powers entered the fray when all was more or less decided. They are probably correct – Germany was on the defensive from summer 1943 on the eastern front. The logistical support was not unimportant, but not on the magnitude of the vastness of the Russian territory, the capricious Russian climate, the T34 tank, the ruthlessness of Stalin, or – most important of all – the sacrifice of the Russian people. Some numbers: US and UK military fatalities during the war totals roughly 300 000 each (including both the European and the Pacific theathres). Germany lost roughly 3 million soldiers. The USSR lost roughly 6 million.


Ian Whitchurch 04.27.06 at 5:58 pm


The reason that we think that use of mustard gas to prevent the German horse-drawn artillery from getting anywhere is unimportant is because it was.

The German landings – based on barges with a six-inch freeboard drawn from Rhine service – were simply impossible, even without the Royal Navy taking a hand. The English Channel’s weather would have done the job.

A surrender by the UK was possible. An invasion wasnt.

And as for collaboration – yeah, it would have happened.

Ian Whitchurch


mack 04.27.06 at 7:50 pm

Occupied countries seemed to give in and cooperate, even those that have extreme racial hatred for their occupiers.
Koreans hated Japanese for centuries before 1910, ever since Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded in 1592. Japan’s treatment of Koreans during the occupation was far worse than merely oppression and slavery, and was worse than anything the Germans inflicted on France or the Netherlands. That didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of koreans of volunteering for the Imperial Japanese Army, and 148 Koreans were even convicted of war crimes while fighting for the Japanese. Similarly, there were tens of thousands of Chinese in the Imperial Japanese Army, though there wasn’t nearly as much racial hatred there. There was an organised resistance (what Kim Il-Sung was originally famous for).

If occupied Koreans could cooperate with the Japanese, even going as far as volunteer with their occupiers to fight their neighbours in China, I am quite sure that had Britain been occupied there would have been significant cooperation, and there would have been British soldier willingly fighting Russian and even American forces.


Robert McDougall 04.27.06 at 9:30 pm


J.G. Ballard, writing about his childhood experience of Japanese P.O.W. camps (Empire of the Sun), takes just the opposite line, contrasting the grit and self-sufficiency of the American P.O.W.s with the whiny helplessness of the British.

Maybe Ballard and Vonnegut should get together sometime to compare impressions.


EWI 04.27.06 at 10:24 pm

but I undertsand that as soon as the war began the British government started to train a secret domestic guerrilla army in preparation for invasion, comprised of conscription-age men who were (because of their age) regarded throughout the war (and until the end of the 50-year embargo on the confidential records) as conscientious objectors. But this is slim evidence (made even slimmer by my inability to cite it: did I dream that I heard a Radio 4 documentary about them?)

There was a brouhaha a couple of years ago when it was revealed that they had lists of local assassination targets (i.e. people judged to be likely to collaborate with the Germans). Guerilla warfare is a necessarily brutal experience.

(“Conventional” warfare, too.)

There is more involved here than just the lack of a strong French resistance in occupied France. The French gave up pretty early on in the land war against Germany and their capitulation

Remind us again. The British fecked off back across the Channel in full retreat before the collapse of France, yes?


Martha Bridegam 04.28.06 at 12:38 am

Hadn’t known there was anything secret about the UK Home Guard but certainly when it came to the units that were openly preparing to defend London, veterans of the Spanish Civil War including Tom Wintringham and George Orwell, made considerable efforts to prepare their fellow Londoners for a house-by-house defense against the Germans. Orwell wrote repeatedly that control of the London Home Guard should be removed from the hands of the WWI generation, not only for reasons having to do with his political views, but also because their experience of trench warfare had not prepared them to defend a major city.

Actually Orwell, though he had fought bravely in Spain by all accounts, was a mechanical klutz and caused an artillery accident during training that nearly killed a fellow member of his Home Guard unit.


goatchowder 04.28.06 at 1:09 am

Of course it would have. It applies equally well today in Corporate-occupied America.


abb1 04.28.06 at 1:57 am

…contrasting the grit and self-sufficiency of the American P.O.W.s with the whiny helplessness of the British.

Sure, it just shows you that generalizing about huge groups of people (based on “live free or die” motto or whatever) is probably not a good idea.


fs 04.28.06 at 2:18 am

Robert Paxton shows in his book on Vichy that that regime did all it could to join the “new order” in Europe. The existence of Vichy made Germany’s task in administering defeated France much easier than it woudl otherwise have been. And Vichy had the almost unanimous support of France, in partiuclar the elite,in 1940. Of course, France thought the war was over. Collaboration did not work, i.e. did not bring any benefits for France, because Germany and specifically Hitler, didn’t want any of it. He wanted submission. Not sure if this woudl have happened in UK. But of course if UK had faced this situation, the war would have been over. The attack on teh Soviet Union coudl quite likely have succeeded in 1941 with no threats from the West. US woudl just have stayed out.


Nabakov 04.28.06 at 3:57 am

Yo 16. “In Tim Powers’ Last Call, what we see of the resistance (which isn’t all that much, that part of the story doesn’t take up that many pages) is pretty leftist and marginal.”

You may have the wrong book there. Just reread it recently and it’s all about the Fisher King and gambling for souls in Las Vegas.

Also just saw It Happened Here”.

It’s a stunning work, especially when you realise it was made by two teenagers with fuckall money. While it never explains how the Nazis took Britain, it paints an utterly believeable picture of how life in Albion would have gone on under their regime. The British way of dealing with the final solution is an utterly chilling climax, especially because it unfolds in such a hints and glimpses documentary way.

And for how Germany could have taken the UK pre WW1, check out Saki’s forgotten novel “When William Came”. Towards the end, an old Tory matriarch advises the upper class huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ and ridin’ protoganist to become a commercial traveller as the best way of travelling around formenting resistance to the Hohenzollerns.

Also, apparently it was Colonel FM Bailey who was tasked with forming the Brit stay behind guerilla version of the Nazi Werewolves (The Badgers?) in SE England should the Krauts get through Winnie’s plan to pump oil into the English Channel and then set it ablaze.


Chris Williams 04.28.06 at 4:18 am

“The British fecked off back across the Channel in full retreat before the collapse of France, yes?”

Rather unfair, that one – c.300,000 British troops and about 100,000 French were cut off in the north. They were evacuated. Meanwhile, other British troops were being landed on the French coast further west, and those that hadn’t been cut off were still fighting – notably the 51st Division, which was captured at St Valery on June 12th, a several days after the _end_ of Operation Dynamo.

Reynaud, of course, only resigned after contacting Roosevelt, saying: “We’ll fight on only if the US joins the war.” This was almost certainly a put-up job on his part designed to spread the responsibility, since he knew that the chances of FDR saying “yes” were remote. But it’s a novel sidelight, not usually commented on by that segment of US opinion which sees WW2 as a crusade fought by the New World against fascism, hampered by the effeteness of the Old, rather than as an old-fashioned struggle for European hegemony (with some highly welcome spinoffs) that it was.


Kermit 04.28.06 at 4:36 am

Orwell touched upon this issue in some of his essays and letters from the early fourties. I am at work and do not have the book at hand but his general feeling was that the rich and decently well off would quickly surrender and that many of these people indeed had sympathies for the German side. I’ll have to go back and check on the details but in any case, I highly recommend The collection of Orwell writings called “My Country Right or Left-1940-1943 Collected essays, etc.” I ripped through this thing like a cheap novel and so much of it remains relevant.


dearieme 04.28.06 at 4:49 am

One argument says that Hitler was never very likely to press home an invasion of Britain because there weren’t enough Jews there. He wanted to kill Jews so the USSR was the place to go. Ain’t hindsight easy?


jamie 04.28.06 at 4:55 am

There’s another factor as well. If Britain had capitulated under invasion, what’s the likelihood that a puppet government would have entered the war in the Pacific on the Japanese side after Pearl Harbour?


soru 04.28.06 at 5:37 am

The USSR lost roughly 6 million.

True enough, but actually not determinant of who won the war.

If Churchill remains in power in the UK long enough for the Manhattan project to complete, it’s game over for Hitler and Germany.


abb1 04.28.06 at 5:41 am

One argument says that Hitler was never very likely to press home an invasion of Britain because there weren’t enough Jews there. He wanted to kill Jews so the USSR was the place to go.

Before 1941 their preferred solution was to expel Jews, not to kill them. Something like 70-80% of the German and Austrian Jews emigrated or were expelled. So, even assuming that everything the Nazis did was about the Jews (which it wasn’t, of course), the logical conclusion would have to be the opposite – that they would’ve actually preferred to invade a country without Jews.


Brendan 04.28.06 at 6:33 am

I thought it’s now been more or less established that Operation Sealion was a bluff, and that the real target was always Russia? In any case, Hitler greatly admired the British Empire and didn’t want to dismantle it: he tried hard to sue for peace and if Churchill had died in that car accident in ’32, Halifax would probably have become PM during the war and Halifax would almost certainly have agreed to let Hitler have Europe if the British could keep India (what the Japanese would have made of this deal is another issue).

I remember watching one of the endless series of documentaries about Nazis on Channel Five, in which it was revealed that in the ’60s some surviving Nazi generals and the British wargamed ‘Operation Sealion’. The result was that the invasion failed. As long as the British could keep hold of their navy they could have harried and, eventually, cut off, any German invasion force, which would then eventually have been slowly destroyed by a process of attrition.


Chris Williams 04.28.06 at 7:43 am

Just because Sealion was militarily impossible (which it was), doesn’t mean that it was necessarily a conscious bluff rather than a serious intention. Hitler ordered a lot of militarily impossible operations in his time.


otto 04.28.06 at 9:03 am

Coming to this a little late:

1. Re. the original post by Harry, I think that the Atlee/Eden role of managing the rather “wild” WSC was replicated on the military side during WW2 by Ismay as chief of staff and military secretary to the cabinet – and probably by lots of others at various times of WSC’s rollercoaster career.

2. I thought it’s now been more or less established that Operation Sealion was a bluff, and that the real target was always Russia?
I thought so too, but Lukacs’s latest volume suggests otherwise, according to this review:

“Suffice to say that Hitler’s reluctant decision to attack the Soviet Union when he did had more to do with stunning Britain into a negotiated peace and keeping America out of the war than it did in securing new territories for the Reich.”



Richard Cownie 04.28.06 at 2:28 pm

“it was revealed that in the ‘60s some surviving Nazi generals and the British wargamed ‘Operation Sealion’. The result was that the invasion failed. As long as the British could keep hold of their navy they could have harried and, eventually, cut off, any German invasion force, which would then eventually have been slowly destroyed by a process of attrition.”

The key is air power. Ships without air support
were sitting ducks, as shown by the rapid
destruction of “Prince of Wales” and “Repulse”
off the coast of Malaya. *If* the Luftwaffe
could have destroyed the RAF, then the Royal
Navy would not have been able to operate for
long – especially in the confined waters of the

In this regard, the Germans made two bad mistakes:
first taking their focus away from attacking
airfields in order to bomb London; and second,
failing to build any heavy four-engine bombers.
The short range of their fighters was also a
problem – they could only fight over England very
briefly (20 minutes ?) before having to get back
across the Channel.

With slightly better weapons *or* slightly better
leadership, the RAF could have been wiped out.
But even without the RAF and the Royal Navy, I
think the logistics of supporting a large invasion
force across 20+ miles of stormy water might
have been beyond Germany’s capability. They would
have needed to capture a good port quickly, and
also get together a lot of shipping. All in all,
a dicey proposition.


Chris Williams 04.28.06 at 3:17 pm

Richard, you’re wrong. How many enemy ships travelling at speed did the Luftwaffe manage to sink before Sept 1940? Check out, for example the failure of Fliegerkorps X to sink the light cruiser HMS Suffolk during Operation Duck in April 1940: 50+ attacks didn’t do the job. They got a few RN destroyers at Dunkirk, but these were mainly stationary.

The RN had _lots_ of destroyers. To keep the Channel open for their supplies the Germans have to sink the entire Home Fleet – even one destroyer could have made a mess of the Sealion invasion convoy. Consider the IJN’s failure to sink all of Force Z’s escorts in Dec 1941.

If you want to get involved in this controversy, I suggest that you spend a few hours with the archives of the soc.history.what-if newsgroup, where we spent most of the 1990s reaching this conclusion.


theorajones 04.28.06 at 4:11 pm

Isn’t there something a populace needs in addition to a “fighting spirit” in order to wage a resistance? I’m thinking, um, bullets?

When I think of Europe, I think “land of no guns.” Maybe this is wrong, but I remember one of the biggest shocks that British troops had when they came to the US was that when they went into the countryside, colonists were almost universally armed and would take potshots at them (taking an ungentlemanly aim at the officers!).

One can talk about an Iraqi “fighting spirit,” but I imagine it would have been greatly diminished had the Coalition effectively secured all the munitions dumps in the first days of looting. (of course, the Coalition would have had to control the borders as well)

All I’m saying is a lot of options may have been closed off to a French Resistance in the first days, if the Germans did a good job nailing down the ammo. Don’t forget, guerilla warfare was harder back in those days, too–bombs were harder to make, harder to hide and deploy, and did less damage.

I can see where armed resistance is a very path-dependent thing, and less about toughness or national character than it is about opportunity. And hell, it’s not always the winning option. Look at Montreal and Quebec. The French lost that war, and the place has been English longer than it was ever French. Not that you’d know by walking around. So, really, who won the war?


Brendan 04.28.06 at 4:31 pm

As usual, Wikipedia (which, as the post above would seem to imply, is on the point of succeeding where the Germans failed in conquering the world), gets it right (i.e. it agrees with me).

‘In wargames conducted at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1974, which assumed the Luftwaffe has not yet won air supremacy, the Germans were able to establish a beachhead in England by using a minefield screen in the English Channel to protect the initial assault. However, the German ground forces were delayed at the “Stop Lines” (e.g. the GHQ Line), a layered series of defensive positions that had been built, each a combination of British Home Guard troops and physical barriers. At the same time the regular troops of the British Army were forming up. After only a few days, the Royal Navy was able to reach the Channel from Scapa Flow where they cut off supplies to German troops in England and prevented further reinforcement. Isolated and facing regular troops with armour and artillery the invasion force was forced to surrender.

A mass invasion by sea however, may not have been necessary. In British wartime cabinet documents released in 1998, it was revealed that after the failure of the British Expeditionary Force in France and its evacuation at Dunkirk, Winston Churchill had lost support in the cabinet and in Parliament. Had the Royal Air Force been defeated by the Luftwaffe, Churchill may have been replaced as Prime Minister by Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, who was believed to be in favour of peace negotiations with Germany rather than face a civilian bloodbath on British soil.’

This is the key point: people invariably consider just the military side of the equation. The fact is that neither the US nor the UK could possibly have been conquered purely militarily. The real threat always came from quislings and fifth columnists (many of them in the government).


'As you know' Bob 04.28.06 at 6:14 pm

As Brendan notes in #59, the determining factor for the success of any occupation is its legitimacy. If it can be adequately justified, with at least a window-dressing of legality, the populace will seize upon that as sufficient reason for their acquiesence. Resistence is a very costly alternative to acquiescence.

For example, the Supreme Court of the United States
gave the Bush junta enough legitimacy to seize power; and, as most Americans looked to the Court for legal justification, we agreed to accept the coup as a fait accompli.


goatchowder 04.28.06 at 6:53 pm

Surprised that nobody has mentioned this yet: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00005AFSL?v=glance


Rob 04.28.06 at 9:48 pm


Mers El Kebir was botched militarily; the only ships of consequence at MEK were Dunkerque, Strasbourg, and the six French super-destroyers. Dunkerque was damaged, but eventually managed to make it to Toulon. Strasbourg and five of the super-destroyers escaped without damage. The ships destroyed and heavily damaged included obsolete French dreadnoughts that wouldn’t have affected the course of the war in any case.

Moreover, my point stands; there is no evidence that the French would have gone over to the Germans. If they didn’t go after Mers El Kebir (and they didn’t) then they just plain weren’t going to join the Axis.

Finally, the point about Toulon was to contradict the earlier assertion that the Germans sank the French fleet, which is completely inaccurate. The Germans were trying to capture the French fleet when the French sailors scuttled it.


fs 04.29.06 at 3:55 am

I thought that the key factor re Mers el Kebir was that it showed that the UK was going to fight, whatever the costs and consequences, even attacking a former ally. The general situation of the war in 1942 when the Toulon fleet was scuttled was very different from 1940. Certainly, the French government was or could be assumed to be more than willing to change sides; Mers el Kebir was in reaction to this threat, more vital in 1940 with a potential invasion etc.


agm 04.29.06 at 4:08 am

Brendan, I thought it was Google that was bringing us world domination (though one pundit has pointed out that it would be in beta perpetually).

If I get what you’re saying, basically the wargaming showed that Germany didn’t have the resources to do their own version of DDay?


Brendan 04.29.06 at 5:09 am

Again, according to the Wikipedia

‘Most current military analysts do not believe that Operation Sealion would have succeeded if undertaken. The main difficulty was the lack of German naval assets in comparison to those of the Royal Navy. In addition, the losses in men and material suffered by the German airborne troops over the Low Countries in May during the Battle of the Netherlands, could not be replaced in time for the planned operation.’

Also: ‘The transports to be used (in operation sealion) would (have been) Rhine barges as the Germans had almost no specialised landing craft. This would have limited the amount of artillery and tanks that could be transported.’


Chris Williams 04.29.06 at 2:03 pm

Rob, Provence and Bretagne (and Lorraine FWIW) were extensively reconstructed in the mid 1930s: new AA and engines. Are you getting confused with Paris and Courbet, unreconstructed dreadnoughts stormed in British habours in July 1940?

Dunkerque was knocked out for a year or more, which is what the RN needed, given that it had 5 more battleships on the way.

I take your point that we now know that the balance of opinion inside the MN was overwhelmingly to scuttle if ever there were orders from Paris to take up the fight on Germany’s behalf [see Martin Thomas ‘After Mers-el-Kebir: The Armed Neutrality of the Vichy French Navy, 1940-43’ in English Historical Review, Vol. 112, No. 447 (Jun., 1997) , pp. 643-670].

But that was not clear in London in June 1940, and Churchill and Pound were in no mood to leave intact the only weapon that could conceivably have made Sealion possible. Read Churchill’s papers, and this becomes clear. More here:

[Yes, I know it’s Michael Portillo. But he didn’t write the script.]


Richard Cownie 04.30.06 at 10:41 am

In reply to Chris:

1. The Luftwaffe didn’t sink a lot of ships.
But they were kinda busy trying to destroy the
RAF and bomb London. I’ll accept that they
didn’t the same expertise as the Japanese in
aerial attack against warships, so the way I
see it is that they would have needed to first
get air supremacy, second mount a prolonged
air/sea campaign to grind down the RN, and
only then attempt an invasion. The plan they
had was inadequate and never got past the
first step; but an alternative, and more
patient, could have achieved a landing – though
I still doubt their ability to move enough
supplies for success.

2. The idea that one destroyer would stop an
invasion is ludicrous. The Germans had some
excellent big ships (Bismarck, Scharnhorst, etc)
which would have made mincemeat of any small


David All 05.01.06 at 4:56 pm

A couple of points:
1). Even if the Luftwaffe had beaten the RAF and secured air supremacy over southern England, a German invasion of Britain in late Sept/Oct 1940 would have probably have failed for two reasons, both involving the time of year.
A. The increasingly long nights would have given the destroyers and torpedo boats of the Royal Navy excellant cover for destroying the slow moving barges the Germans were relying on to supply the invasion force. To save their supply fleet, the Germans would have had to restrict its operations to daylight only, which would probably have crippled their ability to get enough supplies to the Invasion Force to succeed or even to hold any beachhead.
B. The increasing severe Channel storms of Autumn would have also have severly restricted the ability of the Germans to re-supply at a high enough rate their invasion force.

2). The Germans did not have to conquer Britain directly to force the UK govt to surrender. A successful U-Boat campaign may well have starved Britain into surrendering. Indeed in the winter of 40-41 & 42-43, the U-Boats came close, particularly on the second occasion to doing just that. Also a successful German conquest of the Middle East, taking first the Suez Canal and then Iraq & Iran, where Britain’s oil came from, would have probably forced the British to terms. Rommel may well have done this had he been given a tenth of the force that was committed to the invasion of Russia.

3) The French did surrender rather quickly in 1940. Moreever unlike all the other nations the Nazis conquered, excepting Denmark, France did not just surrender militarily and send a govt-in-Exile to Britain, it surrendered politically as well. Vichy France was the legal and constitutional sucessor to the Third Republic. DeGaulle and his followers were deserters.
Also the Vichy govt collaborated far more enthusastically with the Nazis in turning over Jews for the Death Camps then any other govt in Western Europe including Fascist Italy.

This last point should be remembered in the next 20 to 50 years as Western Europe decides whether to resist or surrender to the onslaught of Militant Islam. So far, the picture is not a very encourging one. At the current rate, I believe Sir Bernard Lewis’ statement that Western Europe will be Islamic by 2100 is likely to be correct.


mpowell 05.01.06 at 5:12 pm


Thanks for clarifying some of the details regarding the French Navy in WWII. I had forgotten that the French ships were scuttled in Toulon, not destroyed by the Germans. However, as others have pointed out, this was after the Americans had landed in North Africa and after the German advance towards Cairo had been reversed. The French scuttled the fleet b/c they were trapped in harbor and could not escape due to the Germans. If they had not delayed as long, they could have escaped and those ships could have played a role in the war.


Chris Williams 05.02.06 at 5:46 am

Richard – sorry, I failed to make myself clear. Once the RN’s sunk all the German navy, which would take about two days, then it only needs to have one destroyer left to cut the German army off from any meaningful resupply. It’s worth noting as well that single RN destroyers did cause significant damage to German major units in 1940 – Gneisenau was not available for Sealion becuause of damage from a torpedo from HMS Acasta, for example. Bismarck wasn’t either: although commissioned, it needed a lengthy working-up cruise in the Baltic before being made ready for its first (and as it happened, last) sortie in spring 1941.

That’s all from me. If you still think it’s a goer, take it to soc.history.what-if and see how long you last.


MikeN 05.02.06 at 8:00 am

Operation Sea Lion? Alien Space Bats!

Have an old copy of Erskine Childer’s 1903 book “Riddle of the Sands” kicking around; imagine hauling the German invasion army across the Channel in barges loaded with cavalry horses.


Chris Williams 05.02.06 at 8:19 am

It’s good to see that ‘Alien Space Bats’ employed in its intended context.

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