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Remembered Today:

Did We Ever Think We`d Lose


PhilB
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Ian Hislop has commented that the WW2 survivors he has met all claimed not to have considered that we might lose the war. He expressed surprise at this as, though we know now that we won, we didn`t know then and the odds were stacked against us at times. I was a young boy in WW2 but I don`t remember anyone ever contemplating losing WW2.

What about WW1? Was the nation confident that we`d win even in the darkest times? Was there any talk of "If the Kaiser won...."? Or, once again, did we just assume (for no good reason) we`d muddle through? :)

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Oooh Phil B,

At last I have met another of my generation. Like you we never considered that we would lose WW2, why would one, thats defeatism class 1.

As I suspect that ww1 kids were of the same leaning it is more than probable that they would have thought the same way.

David

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Simulations suggest that had the Germans invaded in 1940, if Britain had held its nerve even if London had fallen, it would have ended in them loosing an army (all a matter of supply and logistics). Similarly in 1805 had Napoleon got across the channel there would have been horrific damage and casualties but he would eventually have lost. In both cases the invasion threat was as much an attempt to scare the British government into conceding as anything else. In 1914/18 a German invasion was never a serious proposition. So long as the RN was operational Britain was safe even if France fell (as Jellico said of Jutland he was the only man who could loose the war in a single day) Once it was realised that Zeppelins couldn't flatten whole cities there doesn't seem to have been any major worry about loosing. There may have been pessimism about not winning (and the war dragging on and on) in some quarters but that's a different matter.

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This word 'loosing' could do with losing an 'o' :D .

As Centurion says, there was never any realistic prospect of a German invasion of the UK from ports in Germany and Belgium, and even if the BEF had been defeated in France, it's doubtful whether the Germans would have even thought seriously of trying to invade. The Navy would have been more than capable of holding off any German threat, and, thrown back on home defence, the air force would no doubt have grown accordingly and adapted to ward off the threat from the air. The high command and war cabinet must, however, have contemplated the possibility of losing the war on the Continent, with all the consequences that later came to pass in 1940 - not least naval and U-boat bases on the French Atlantic coast.

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centurion,

in the simulation you mention, surely if the germans had invaded it would have meant that the royal navy had been defeated and presumably the R A F ,so where would the supply problem arise, also you could pose the same question for napoleon, after all it worked for the allies on d- day, no german navy in the channel and no air cover. just a thought.

mike.

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centurion,

in the simulation you mention, surely if the germans had invaded it would have meant that the royal navy had been defeated and presumably the R A F ,so where would the supply problem arise, also you could pose the same question for napoleon, after all it worked for the allies on d- day, no german navy in the channel and no air cover. just a thought.

mike.

No most 'models' assume that the RN is forced away from the channel just long enough for an invasion force to get across. In 1805 this could have been weather, in 1940 it would have been air attack forcing a 'retreat' out of range. However weather changes and the Luftwaffe wasn't strong enough to maintain a clear channel continuously. In both cases the supply lines of any landed army would be cut. The D day example works because the Allies were able to maintain an adequate supply line after the initial landing was successful. If the German idea of vast numbers of torpedo armed mini subs off the beach heads had worked (instead of being a dismal failure) the campaign in Normandy might have had a very different outcome.

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Even operation 'Sealion' would not have succeeded. This has been proved by subsequent exercises by military experts. The invasion 'scare' was deliberately played up by the British in 1940.

The German tactic during the 1914-18 war was to attempt to stir up dissention, in Ireland in particular by arming the IRA. Even this was only a half-hearted attempt (captured Russian rifles with very little suitable ammunition, that mostly ended up on the seabed.).

As has been said the Zeppelin and Gotha raids allthough destructive of life and property was little more than a pinprick in the scale of things and not a prelude to invasion.

There was no operation 'Sealion' in 1914 as there was in 1940, the German intention was to cut off the Channel ports and deny them to the British.

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Hi Phil,

I suppose it all boils down to what the definition of "lose" was.

Many are quoting in this thread about the invasion of Britain by German forces, but,as the conquest of Britain was not the kaiser's main plan (unless I am very mistaken!), then to "lose" would surely mean retreating from France and letting Belgium and France remain in German hands. (ala, The Schlieffen plan.)

I suppose once the Russians bailed out in 1917 (before the Americans joined??) it must have been a consideration due to the extra German divisions and firepower that became available, particularly on the western front.

I am (obviously!) no expert in this field, but would think it must have entered the minds of the war office. Although this would never be admitted as "damn it all man, we are british after all...."

Cheers,

Sean.

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Several reports I have read of British prisoners being interrogated and the German captors commented that the vast majority of prisoners were confident that the Entente would win. This attitude was evident at the very beginning, during the retreat from Mons and also seems to have prevailed in the Kaiserschlacht in 1918 which would presumably have been when things looked blackest. It seems that British soldiers at least, were confident that they would win in the end. The people at the very top, High Command, cabinet ministers and their equivalent in France and Germany would have known that when the German attack failed in 1914, the might of the British Empire from a financial point of view and the strength of the Royal Navy would prevail in time. From the beginning of trench warfare, Germany could not win a crushing victory, she could only hope to make gains at the treaty table. The biggest danger for the Entente was that France would decide that she would not absorb further losses and agree to a treaty. As it turned out, that danger was overestimated and France never really contemplated anything less than outright victory.

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There was at least one notable pessimist/defeatist in Britain in WW1 – Jellicoe - as shown in part by his memo to the War Cabinet, 1st May 1917:

'...It is quite true that we are masters of the situation as far as surface ships are concerned but it must be realised and realised at once that it will be quite useless if the enemy's submarines paralyse, as they do now, our lines of communication...disaster is sure to follow and our present policy is heading for disaster'.

Jellicoe's increasing pessimism as the war progressed, manifesting itself in doubting Britain's capacity to carry on fighting, was at odds with Lloyd George's views, who, despite his quarrels with the generals, was committed to continuing the fight. Jellicoe’s innate pessimism ultimately cost him the confidence of the Prime Minister, and on Christmas Eve 1917, Jellicoe was dismissed as First Sea Lord by the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Eric Campbell Geddes.

It seems that continually voicing pessimism got you sacked from high office in Britain during WW1.

Cheers-salesie.

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There was at least one notable pessimist/defeatist in Britain in WW1 – Jellicoe - as shown in part by his memo to the War Cabinet, 1st May 1917:

'...It is quite true that we are masters of the situation as far as surface ships are concerned but it must be realised and realised at once that it will be quite useless if the enemy's submarines paralyse, as they do now, our lines of communication...disaster is sure to follow and our present policy is heading for disaster'.

Jellicoe's increasing pessimism as the war progressed, manifesting itself in doubting Britain's capacity to carry on fighting, was at odds with Lloyd George's views, who, despite his quarrels with the generals, was committed to continuing the fight. Jellicoe's innate pessimism ultimately cost him the confidence of the Prime Minister, and on Christmas Eve 1917, Jellicoe was dismissed as First Sea Lord by the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Eric Campbell Geddes.

It seems that continually voicing pessimism got you sacked from high office in Britain during WW1.

Cheers-salesie.

It also helps if you have a worm like Beatie constantly undermining you.

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It also helps if you have a worm like Beatie constantly undermining you.

That goes with job - whatever the level, there's always someone trying to get up to where you are on that greasy pole of success. I doubt if anyone, Jellicoe included, achieved high-office without being very adept at playing the old promotion game.

Cheers-salesie.

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We may not have lost to a conventional invasion in 1940, but had we lost the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941 then we would have been in real trouble. Churchill was certainly of the opinion that had the U-boat war gone against us then it would have been touch and go if we could survive. fortunately Hitler didn't understand the importance of U-boats and he stupidly declared war against the Americans when he had no need to. That, and the colossal folly of invading Soviet Russia meant that we were going to win. I think that by December 1941 most people in this country were of the opinion that it was only a matter of time before the Allies won; but before then it's a moot point.

As far as the First War is concerned everything that I've read over the years would lead me to believe that no-one in this country was ever seriously concerned that we would lose, just that it would take a long time and a lot of dead men before we won.

Dave Swarbrick

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There was at least one notable pessimist/defeatist in Britain in WW1 – Jellicoe - as shown in part by his memo to the War Cabinet, 1st May 1917:

................................

It seems that continually voicing pessimism got you sacked from high office in Britain during WW1.

Cheers-salesie.

I have not studied Jellicoe as such but I have read quite a bit about the High Command, Lloyd George and the War Office and so on. Jellicoe is a man who crops up repeatedly. There seems no doubt that he was a very strange man indeed. Eccentric in the extreme. He is described in " Hankey: Man of Secrets", S. Roskill, as " Chronically pessimistic". The same writer puts forward the idea that one of the reasons IIIYpres was prolonged so far into the year was Jellicoe's pessimism with regard to submarines. He suggested more than once in 1917 that Britain's merchant fleet would be wiped out within the year. He did not accept that the convoy system would have any great effect. Perhaps in this case, a senior commander was sacked because he was no longer capable of carrying out his task.

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I have not studied Jellicoe as such but I have read quite a bit about the High Command, Lloyd George and the War Office and so on. Jellicoe is a man who crops up repeatedly. There seems no doubt that he was a very strange man indeed. Eccentric in the extreme. He is described in " Hankey: Man of Secrets", S. Roskill, as " Chronically pessimistic". The same writer puts forward the idea that one of the reasons IIIYpres was prolonged so far into the year was Jellicoe's pessimism with regard to submarines. He suggested more than once in 1917 that Britain's merchant fleet would be wiped out within the year. He did not accept that the convoy system would have any great effect. Perhaps in this case, a senior commander was sacked because he was no longer capable of carrying out his task.

Good point, Tom - chronic pessimism would ultimately lead to being not-fit-for-purpose, especially in wartime.

Cheers-salesie.

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I saw a DVD of an old TV programme the other day. A WW1 veteran stated that when War was declared there was never any thought that Great Britain and the Empire would lose. Great Britian was the best country in the world and any right minded British or Empire citizen could not entertain such a thought.

Positive mental attitude at it's best.

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Many are quoting in this thread about the invasion of Britain by German forces, but,as the conquest of Britain was not the kaiser's main plan (unless I am very mistaken!), then to "lose" would surely mean retreating from France and letting Belgium and France remain in German hands. (ala, The Schlieffen plan.)

That would have resulted in a situation akin to that faced by Britain after 1806 or 1940: she would have lost her continental allies but not have lost. It would then be a case of whether there was the resolve to carry on fighting.

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Even operation 'Sealion' would not have succeeded. This has been proved by subsequent exercises by military experts. The invasion 'scare' was deliberately played up by the British in 1940.

How wonderful it is to be wise after the event! In 1940 the British had seen Norway and Denmark captured (not achieved by Napoleon), The Netherlands, Belgium and Paris captured (not achieved by the Kaiser). Parachutists and the "Fifth Column" appeared very effective; the British were alone and under attack as never before. These "subsequent exercises by military experts" have been run with dubious results and even more dubious sceanarios. I doubt 'Sealion' would have succeeded, but it may have left Britain so crippled that various people disposed to favour Hitler might have come to power and at the very least negotiated a further "Peace in Our Time."

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I saw a DVD of an old TV programme the other day. A WW1 veteran stated that when War was declared there was never any thought that Great Britain and the Empire would lose. Great Britian was the best country in the world and any right minded British or Empire citizen could not entertain such a thought.

Positive mental attitude at it's best.

I think this is from Last Voices of World War One and the veteran was Lt. Richard Hawkins. I think he said something about Britain being the best country in the world and it was the duty of every man to get over to France and 'stop this nonsense'. It is well worth viewing episode one of this series to get a flavour of the optimistic attitiude which prevailed at the time (at least in 1914).

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Entirely by coincidence I came across this this morning, from the Essex volume of Arthur Mee's "King' England" series, referring to the parish church at Great Holland.

"...but the modern interior is pleasing, and one corner of it must always be a solemn place to the village, for it was built while the Great War was raging. It is the vestry, where we read on a tablet these words of courage written in our Motherland's darkest hour:

To the Glory of God and in complete confidence that victory will be given to us, this vestry was added as an act of faith and thanksgiving. August 1917. "

Adrian

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How wonderful it is to be wise after the event! In 1940 the British had seen Norway and Denmark captured (not achieved by Napoleon), The Netherlands, Belgium and Paris captured (not achieved by the Kaiser). Parachutists and the "Fifth Column" appeared very effective; the British were alone and under attack as never before. These "subsequent exercises by military experts" have been run with dubious results and even more dubious scenarios. I doubt 'Sealion' would have succeeded, but it may have left Britain so crippled that various people disposed to favour Hitler might have come to power and at the very least negotiated a further "Peace in Our Time."

This is obviously a question with no definitive answer. Evidence for many different scenarios could be put forward and a good case argued. I would simply say that Britain in 1940 was a very different place from Britain in 1914. The electorate, the government they had elected, how these interacted, the relationship between the mother country and the Empire/commonwealth; they had all undergone a radical change in the 20 years or so since the Great War ended.

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How wonderful it is to be wise after the event! In 1940 the British had seen Norway and Denmark captured (not achieved by Napoleon),

Napoleons troops were in Denmark supporting the Danes, as Denmark was on Napoleon's side not much point in invading it. Norway at the time was ruled from Denmark and also on the French side, indeed it only surrendered to a Swedish/British force in 1814 after France had made peace. False analogy I'm afraid.

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British soldiers have been grumbling across battlefields for centuries, it has rarely resulted in charges!

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