Post by email@example.com Post by firstname.lastname@example.org Post by Bozo
Pity Chamberlain waited in 1938.
Read an interesting take on Chamberlain recently that while his public
display of peace-making ruined his reputation forever, England was at the
time in no condition to wage a war, and his act bought them time to build
up their arsenal. If accurate, that's pretty important.
I might well have written it. While I was a student at Oxford the
Conservative Association offered a meeting with a former Prime Minister- Sir
Alec Douglas-Home. He was at Munich, as a junior Foreign Office minister.
Before going to Munich Chamberlain had met with the Chiefs of Staff. The RAF
had 20 Spitfires ready to fight, and the rest of the fighters had serious
problems. The Civil Air Defence was unready. There were barrage balloons,
but few AA batteries able to reach German flights expected to be at high
altitude. The Navy could be ready to fight in 1939, but in 1938 only had
crews and ready to sail ships for about 20% of the fleet. The Army likewise
had little modern equipment, and its peacetime strength was low.
Chamberlain also had an assessment of the likely losses due to German air
attack. Based on what had been observed in the Spanish Civil War (Guernica),
the expectation was 641000 casualties in London alone in the first 3 months.
(These details are from a novelised account of the meeting: Robert Harris's
Munich. It agrees with what I heard in Oxford but adds a lot more detail.)
BY 1939 Britain had radar, a despatch system for defensive RAF flight, more
aircraft than the Luftwaffe, and produced aircraft at a rate Germany never
matched. It had coastal defences, AA defences, a fully manned Navy, and a
plan for dealing with bombing by civil defence, bomb shelters for the
population, and a plan to evacuate children from the cities to the country,
with their teachers.
More than half of government spending after, and in the period immediately
before, Munich, was on war preparation.
These plans all worked. When the war came in 1939 my parents' education
finished. Their teachers and many fellow students were evacuated, but neither
set of grandparents let them go. My mother started work next door to the
Spitfire factory- an obvious target- and the whole area was bombed
intensively as the Luftwaffe could manage. An aunt who was evacuated wrote a
letter to me and her sons about the experience: she was in the country 20
miles from home, and one night her hosts took her outside. The sky was red,
and they told her 'That's Birmingham.'
As a by-product, the arrangements for getting medical care to evacuees
(children with no money or family around) later became the nucleus of the
NHS. Another impetus for the NHS was the discovery that some 30% of called-up
men were unfit for military service. It wasn't socialism: it was really
about having a 'fighting-fit' population, just like the German system
Bismarck introduced in 1870 or so.
Interesting post. I think we tend to oversimplify history to make it
a lot more subtle and significant than we think.