Hut 24 – 1919-1940
The Road to War
Once Hitler had declared himself Fuhrer, he was able to carry out his plans for Germany. Contravening the Treaty of Versailles, he reintroduced military conscription and rebuilt the German military. Britain and France did nothing.
The Attack on Poland
The loss of German territory to Poland at Versailles had been one of Hitler’s strongest grievances. This territory included the Polish corridor, the German speaking city of Danzig and the largely German speaking area of Silesia. Hitler’s next plan, therefore, after Czechoslovakia, was to take Poland.
The Phoney War
Within minutes of Chamberlain’s announcement, the soon to be familiar sound of the sirens could be heard across London. A radar station had located an unidentified aircraft and two flights of RAF fighters were quickly scrambled. Although the intruder was found to be only a French civilian light aircraft, London had its first taste of things to come.
The Battle of the Atlantic
The longest and most bitterly fought campaign of the Second World War was the Battle of the Atlantic. Over five years and eight months, 72,000 lives were lost and 15 million tons of shipping destroyed in a conflict fought across 3 million square miles of sea.
The Battle for Norway
Control of Norway was crucially important to Germany’s ability to use its sea power effectively against the Allies, particularly Britain. While Norway was at peace, and unoccupied by either of the fighting powers, there was no threat. The weakness of Norwegian coastal defences, and the inability of her field army to resist effectively a determined invasion by a stronger power were clear – if the Royal Navy had bases at Bergen, Narvik and Trondheim, the North Sea would be virtually closed to Germany, and the Kriegsmarine would be at risk, even in the Baltic.
The Invasion of the Low Countries
Friday 17th May, saw the entry of the Germans into Brussels. Armoured thrusts by the French, under de Gaulle, at Laon and by the British at Arras, dented, but did not cut the Panzer corridor and by the 20th, Guderian was racing along the Somme towards the Channel. Despite fierce resistance from the British 12th and 23rd divisions, the 1st Panzer Division captured Amiens at midday, and the 2nd Division had reached Abbeville and Noyelles at the mouth of the river by evening. They had advanced 386km in only 11 days. By Wednesday 22nd May, Guderian was striking north to attack the encircled British and French troops in what would become the Dunkirk perimeter.
The Battle of France
After the evacuation of Dunkirk, General Weygand took stock of his badly depleted French Army. Twenty-four infantry divisions, all three mechanised divisions, two light cavalry divisions and one armoured division had been lost. In addition, all but one British division – the 51st Infantry division – had escaped from the Dunkirk beaches. General Weygand considered that if the troops were re-formed they would total 60 divisions as against Germany’s 130 divisions. Re-grouping could not possibly be completed until 15th June, by which time the enemy would most certainly have attacked.
On Friday 24th May 1940, there occurred one of the strangest events of the war. To the intense frustration of the Panzer Generals, Hitler ordered their divisions to halt at Gravelines, South-West of Dunkirk. Why this order was given remains the object of intense speculation but it is thought that Hitler did not believe Germany would benefit by bringing Britain to her knees, his aim was British acknowledgement of Germany’s position on the Continent. Hitler’s hesitation resulted in what has come to be known as ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’, a massive sea-borne rescue of over 300,000 men from the French coast.
The Battle of Britain
With the surrender of France on 21st June 1940, Hitler was now able to concentrate on the plan to invade Britain, code named ‘Operation Sealion’. A successful invasion would only be achieved once mastery of both the English Channel and the North Sea was won. The key was not sea power, but air power. Until the RAF was driven from the skies, German landing craft could not cross the Channel in safety. With the Luftwaffe boasting the finest air force in the world and Goering’s assurance of its invincibility, Hitler resolved to pit the Luftwaffe against the RAF to secure control of the airways and ultimately control of Britain.
The Fall of Paris
On 13th June, the Germans, after crossing the River Seine, reached Evreux. As they advanced they pushed the French 10th Army westwards towards Brittany. The remaining troops, exhausted by four days of battle and night marches, also began to withdraw from around Paris. Thus Paris was cleared completely of Allied armies.
Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships
A pre-war measure by the Admiralty Trade Division was the establishment in June 1939, of the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (D.E.M.S.) organisation. Old naval guns and related equipment were collected and stored in the main ports.