How much firepower did the British navy represent in 1940?

How much firepower did the British navy represent in 1940?

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A question was recently asked about how Britain would have defended herself against a cross-channel invasion by Hitler. A key element in the British defense would be the Royal Navy. At the beginning of the war, it included (among other ships), something like 15 battleships and battle cruisers, 66 cruisers, and 184 destroyers.

One of the main concerns of the British army was that it had lost most of its artillery, and other heavy equipment at Dunkirk.

The Navy's first priority was to sink the German landing ships and covering naval forces. After fulfilling this assignment, the Navy could have been used as "artillery" to bombard (surviving) German land forces. If the above-mentioned ships were performing this "bombardment" role, how valuable would such support be?

Put another way, how much "artillery," or "firepower," would the Royal Navy represent (in batteries, divisions, or whatever other equivalent units of firepower might exist)? And if were being fired from the sea side, so that German ground forces were caught in a "cross fire" between British land forces and naval firepower, would such firepower be more or less effective than an equivalent amount of artillery supporting British troops from the land side?

The land-based regiments would have a lot more firepower. Typically you might be talking several divisions having perhaps 2000+ guns combined. Note however these are relatively small caliber compared to naval guns. Most field artillery is 4-, 5- and 6-inch guns, whereas a battleship would have 8-10 15" guns.

The critical question in a fight like this is not so much firepower, as whether the invader can supply the beachhead. Soldiers need three basic things: water, food and ammunition. In mechanized warfare you also need lubricating oil and fuel. If a steady stream of these commodities does not reach the unit, they will surrender (or otherwise become ineffective). The importance of the navy would be to prevent supply ships, which are very vulnerable to any warship, from landing.

I was given several pieces of information in another answer that allowed me to construct my own.

First, I was reminded that the typical division of 10,000 to 12,000 men has about 2,000 artillerymen. At the rate of 20 men per gun, that is about 100 guns per division.

It was also helpful to learn that "most field artillery is 4-, 5- and 6-inch guns," because that's the caliber of destroyer or light cruiser guns.

If there were 66 cruisers (heavy and light), there might be eight guns per ship, or the total of about 500 six inch guns, or the equivalent. Each destroyer has about eight five inch guns, and 184 of them will have over 1400 guns. So far, we have enough guns for 19 divisions.

The 15 battlewagons would have about 8 guns apiece, or about 120 guns in total, but of much greater caliber than the field artillery. The radii of each of their shells would be about three times that of a destroyer, and their "throw weight" twenty-seven times that of the smaller shells, based on volume being 4/3 times pi times r cubed. (The first two terms, 4/3 and pi cancel out, so a battleship shell would be 27 times the size of a destroyer shell, based on 3r-cubed. Multiply this 27 factor by 120 guns, and you get the equivalent of over 3000 guns, or the firepower of about 30 divisions.

So Britain's naval artillery power was equivalent to that of 40-50 land divisions. And it would be probably be more valuable than an equivalent amount of land-based artillery because of the "crossfire" effect, and because it is easier to move this "artillery" by sea, than land artillery.

I have seen it stated that the British Navy would have been at the mercy of German bombers had the R.A.F. not contained them. Germany had a sufficient bomber force in September of 1940 to bomb day and night if required. However if the case of the Americans in the pacific, there was any amount of heavy bombers deployed against the navy of Japan. They proved notably ineffective due to the fact that bombes dropped from the combat operational height would only strike manoeuvring ship by pure accident.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II has since 1952 served as reigning monarch of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and numerous other realms and territories, as well as head of the Commonwealth, the group of 53 sovereign nations that includes many former British territories. Extremely popular for nearly all of her long reign, the queen is known for taking a serious interest in government and political affairs, apart from her ceremonial duties, and is credited with modernizing many aspects of the monarchy.

In September 2015, Elizabeth surpassed the record of 63 years and 216 days on the throne set by Queen Victoria (her great-great-grandmother) to become the longest-reigning British monarch in history.

The British Curry

The UK now celebrates National Curry Week every October. Although curry is an Indian dish modified for British tastes, it’s so popular that it contributes more than £5bn to the British economy. Hence it was hardly surprising when in 2001, Britain’s foreign secretary Robin Cook referred to Chicken Tikka Masala as a “true British national dish”.

If Britain taught India how to play cricket, India perhaps returned the favour by teaching the British how to enjoy a hot Indian curry. By the 18th century, East India Company men (popularly called ‘nabobs’, an English corruption of the Indian word ‘nawab’ meaning governors or viceroys) returning home wanted to recreate a slice of their time spent in India. Those who couldn’t afford to bring back their Indian cooks satisfied their appetite at coffee houses. As early as 1733, curry was served in the Norris Street Coffee House in Haymarket. By 1784, curry and rice had become specialties in some popular restaurants in the area around London’s Piccadilly.

An East India company official enjoying hookah (in India)

The first British cookery book containing an Indian recipe was ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy’ by Hannah Glasse. The first edition, published in 1747, had three recipes of Indian pilau. Later editions included recipes for fowl or rabbit curry and Indian pickle.

Excerpt from ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple’ by Hannah Glasse

The first purely Indian restaurant was the Hindoostanee Coffee House which opened in 1810 at 34 George Street near Portman Square, Mayfair. The owner of the restaurant, Sake Dean Mahomed was a fascinating character. Born in 1759 in present-day Patna, then part of the Bengal Presidency, Mahomed served in the army of the East India Company as a trainee surgeon. He later travelled to Britain with ‘his best friend’ Captain Godfrey Evan Baker and even married an Irishwoman. With his coffee house, Mohamed tried to provide both authentic ambience and Indian cuisine “at the highest perfection”. Guests could sit in custom-made bamboo-cane chairs surrounded by paintings of Indian scenes and enjoy dishes “allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England”. There was also a separate smoking room for hookahs.

‘Portrait of a Gentleman, Possibly William Hickey, and an Indian Servant’ by Arthur William Devis, 1785

One of the chief patrons of the restaurant was Charles Stuart, famously known as ‘Hindoo Stuart’ for his fascination with India and the Hindu culture. However, unfortunately, the venture was unsuccessful and within two years Dean Mohamed filed for bankruptcy. It was difficult to compete with other curry houses that were better established and were closer to London. Also, it is likely that nabobs in the Portman Square locality could afford to employ Indian cooks, hence not much need to go out to try Indian dishes.

Lizzie Collingham in her book ‘Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors’ argues that Britain’s love for curry was fuelled by the bland nature of British cookery. The hot Indian curry was a welcome change. In William Thackeray’s satirical novel ‘Vanity Fair’, the protagonist Rebecca’s (also known as Becky Sharp) response to cayenne pepper and chili shows how unfamiliar Britons were to spicy food:

“Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear,” said Mr. Sedley, laughing. Rebecca had never tasted the dish before……..“Oh, excellent!” said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper. “Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested. “A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping. “Oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported……. “How fresh and green they look,” she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry……….. “Water, for Heaven’s sake, water!” she cried.

By the 1840s sellers of Indian products were trying to persuade the British public with the dietary benefits of curry. According to them, curry aided digestion while stimulating the stomach thereby invigorating blood circulation resulting in a more vigorous mind. Curry also gained popularity as an excellent way of using up cold meat. In fact currying cold meat is the origin of jalfrezi, now a popular dish in Britain. Between 1820 and 1840, the import of turmeric, the primary ingredient in making curry, in Britain increased three fold.

Chicken Jalfrezi

However, the bloody revolt of 1857 changed the British attitude towards India. Englishmen were banned from wearing Indian clothes recently educated public officials disparaged old company men who had gone native. Curry too ‘lost caste’ and became less popular in fashionable tables but was still served in army mess halls, clubs and in the homes of common civilians, mainly during lunch.

Curry needed a jolt and who better to promote it than the Queen herself. Queen Victoria was particularly fascinated by India. Her interest in India could be seen at the Osborne House, which she and her husband Prince Albert built between 1845 and 1851. Here she collected Indian furnishings, paintings, and objects in a specially designed wing. The Durbar Room (initially commissioned to be built as a sumptuous Indian dining room in 1890 by the Queen) was decorated with white and gold plasterwork in the shapes of flowers and peacocks.

Victoria employed Indian servants. One among them, a 24-year-old named Abdul Karim, known as the Munshi, became her ‘closest friend’. According to Victoria’s biographer A.N. Wilson, Karim impressed the monarch with chicken curry with dal and pilau. Later her grandson George V was said to have little interest in any food except curry and Bombay duck.

Queen Victoria and the Munshi in 1893

By the early 20th century, Britain had become home to around 70,000 South Asians, mainly servants, students and ex-seamen. A handful of Indian restaurants sprang up in London, the most famous being Salut-e-Hind in Holborn and the Shafi in Gerrard Street. In 1926, Veeraswamy opened at 99 Regent Street, the first high-end Indian restaurant in the capital. Its founder Edward Palmer belonged to the same Palmer family frequently mentioned in William Dalrymple’s famous book, ‘The White Mughals’. Edward’s great-grandfather William Palmer was a General in the East India Company and was married to Begum Fyze Baksh, a Mughal princess. Palmer’s restaurant was successful in capturing the ambience of the Raj notable clients included the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin, amongst others.

Curry was yet to establish itself firmly in British cuisine. In the 1940s and 1950s, most major Indian restaurants in London employed ex-seamen from Bangladesh, particularly from Syhlet. Many of these seamen aspired to open a restaurant of their own. After the Second World War, they bought bombed-out chippies and cafes selling curry and rice alongside fish, pies, and chips. They stayed open after 11 pm to catch the after-pub trade. Eating hot curry after a night out in the pub became a tradition. As customers became increasingly fond of curry, these restaurants discarded British dishes and turned into inexpensive Indian takeaways and eateries.

Chicken Tikka Masala, Britain’s favorite curry

After 1971, there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants into Britain. Many entered the catering business. According to Peter Groves, co-founder of National Curry Week, “65%-75% of Indian restaurants” in the UK are owned by Bangladeshi immigrants.

Today there are more Indian restaurants in Greater London than in Delhi and Mumbai combined. As Robin Cook aptly puts it, this national popularity of curry is a “perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences”.

By Debabrata Mukherjee. I am an MBA graduate from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM), currently working as a consultant for Cognizant Business Consulting. Bored with mundane corporate life, I have resorted to my first love, History. Through my writing, I want to make history fun and enjoyable to others as well.

Denmark and Norway

Fighting began in the spring of 1940, but not in France or Belgium. German forces invaded Denmark and Norway on 9 April with the dual objective of safeguarding their iron ore supplies from Sweden, which shipped out of Norwegian ports, and preventing the Royal Navy from controlling the North Atlantic by blockading German shipping in its own ports.

Denmark surrendered on the day it was invaded. British and French troops fought briefly in Norway, but engaged too late. By 10 June the country had fallen fully under German control.

However, at Narvik in northern Norway, warships of the Royal Navy took a heavy toll on the ships of the German Kriegsmarine (navy). This ensured that, in the long term, the Kriegsmarine was unable to contest control of the North Sea and the English Channel. It also meant that in the short term their contribution to the battle that followed further south in north-west Europe, especially in the evacuations from Dunkirk and elsewhere, was small.

WW1-era British destroyers

R class destroyers (1916-17)

HMS Skate of R class in 1942
A few of this mass of R-class, improved S-class, were still active in 1939: HMS Skate participated in the Second World War, and HMS Radiant, sold in Siam in 1920 was active as Phra Ruang in 1942 during the French-Siamese war. Sea the WW1 DD section.

Shakespeare class leaders (1916-20)

Thornycroft presented in admiralty competition in 1916 destroyers leaders who were to take the squadron of class V buildings and respond to the new German destroyers, which – according to intelligence service – had parts of 140 mm. Due to lack of time to develop new naval artillery pieces of equivalent caliber, a proven 4.7 inches (120 mm) field gun was adapted, relatively slow to reload to naval standards.

No less than five masked pieces constituted the endowment of this class, which became in fact the best armed of the moment. The Shakespeare were a new standard in the matter within the Royal Navy. Out of 7 ships will be ordered, two were cancelled in April 1919, and the Rooke and Keppel completed in the 1920s. The Shakespeare, the Spencer and the Wallace took part in the conflict.

They were followed by Scott class ships built at Cammell Laird’s. After the war, the Rooke will be renamed Broke while the Shakespeare and the Spencer will be put in reserve then sent for scrapping in 1936. In 1939, the survivors of this class were Wallace, Broke and Keppel, whose speed and weapons remained at Royal Navy standards.

Was later added the Huff-Duff and the sonar as standard, as well as ASW grenade launchers with a large supply, while removing their parts of 120 mm, two were retained. The Broke was one of the rare Allied ships destroyed during Operation Torch: She was sent to the bottom on November 8, 1942, by a coastal battery held by French faithful to Vichy, defending the port of Algiers. The Wallace will be rebuilt as an anti-aircraft destroyer and served as an Atlantic escort with the Spencer.

Auhor’s rendition of HMS Broke, of the Shakespeare class

Characteristics (Shakespeare, 1939):

-Displacement: 1500 t. standard -2 145 t. Full Load
-Dimensions: 101 m long, 9.6 m wide, 3.8 m draft (full load).
-Propulsion: 2 shaft Brown-Curtis turbines, 4 Yarrow boilers, 40,000 hp.
-Maximum speed 36 knots, RA 3000 nautical miles at 12 knots.
-Armour: 80 mm gun shields.
-Armament: 2 x 120 mm (2ࡧ), 1 x 76 mm MK VI AA, 2 x 40 mm AA, 6 x 533 mm TTs (2ࡩ), 1 Hedgehog, 8 mortars, 98 ASM grenades.
-Crew: 195

V/W class destroyers (1917-18)

HMS Valentine, 1917 IWM

The “V” class of the great war formed the backbone of the light forces of the Royal Navy during the interwar period. These were 26 units organized in squadrons and led by the 5 Shakespeare-type leaders (see above). They proceeded from a new design resulting from false information coming from the British secret services that the Germans were secretly preparing a new standard of powerfully armed destroyers of more than 1200 tonnes.

The Vs were therefore dimensioned, their bridge reinforced to accommodate new banks of triple torpedo tubes. Bigger, taller, they held the sea better in bad weather and were better adapted to the Atlantic. The gun platforms were protected by steel steps, to break the blades, which was still new at the time. Their entire construction gave the impression of great robustness. They were de facto, much more massive than their German equivalents of the same era, more comfortable in the Baltic.

All took part in the great war: Built quickly, the last of the V series were accepted in service in June1918. A unit jumped on mines in August 1918, and one was also lost following a Soviet mine in 1919, and the third of a torpedo launched by a star also Soviet. Subsequently, four buildings were withdrawn from service in 1936 and cannibalized to keep the units in operation. 18 were in service in 1939, two of which were quickly paid to the Australian Navy (RAN).

A conversion into AA destroyer escort (AAE) was carried out on 7 units during 1940, when being equipped with new 102 mm DP turrets with rapid fire, four AA 20 mm Oerlikon guns under mask and an ASW complement of 45 vehicles for two lockers and two mortars. Their autonomy had also been increased, with almost 10 tonnes of additional fuel oil. Eight other British destroyers of this class were converted into long-range escorts (designed to escort convoys to the USA). For this, several boilers were sacrificed for the benefit of additional fuel oil reserves.

Their speed therefore fell to 25 knots, having only 15,000 hp “underfoot”. The equipment of this conversion specializing in ASM (LRE for Long Range Escort) fight included two to three pieces of 120 mm, 2 Bofors and 6 Oerlikon, but especially 110 grenades in traps, reserves, and 4 to 6 mortars.

Two others were converted to SRE (Short range escort): They kept their machinery and speed intact, but their armament was also changed. Some kept a bank of torpedo tubes. Others saw the addition later in the war of a Hedgehog (ASM rocket launcher) or sometimes a 47 mm Q-Gun with ultra-rapid fire, designed to fire at the kiosks of diving units.

The SREs carried out their standard electronic equipment including a Huff-Duff antenna (trigonometric tracking) and a sonar. Solid, these ships therefore waged their second war in thirty years. They were scrapped in 1946-47. The remaining units were untouched, except for the possibility of replacing one of their banks of torpedo tubes with a 47 mm rapid-fire cannon, the addition of 33 ASM grenades and two to four 20 mm AA guns.

Casualties in combat were relatively few: There was the Venetia, lost on a mine in Nov. 1940, the Vimiera which suffered the same fate in January 1942, and the Vortigern, torpedoed by a U-Boote in March 1942. In 1942, they all had a Huff-duff** antenna and an asdic-sonar.

HMS Viceroy in 1943, with her white livery for winter escorts of Murmansk convoys. Example of AAE conversion

HMS Viscount in August 1942, in “western approach” livery (North Atlantic convoys) Example of LRE conversion. (1/400)


-Displacement: 1500 t. standard -2 145 t. Full Load
-Dimensions: 101 m long, 9.6 m wide, 3.8 m draft (full load).
-Propulsion: 2 shaft Brown-Curtis turbines, 4 Yarrow boilers, 40,000 hp.
-Maximum speed 36 knots, RA 3000 nautical miles at 12 knots.
-Armor: 80 mm guns shields.
-Armament: 2 x 120 mm (2ࡧ), 1 x 76 mm MK VI AA, 2 x 40 mm AA, 6 x 533 mm TTs (2ࡩ), 1 Hedgehog, 8 mortars, 98 ASW grenades.
-Crew: 195

Scott class destroyers (1917-18)

HMS Scott in 1917 – AWM

The Scott class was derived directly from the Shakespeare class. It was a series of eight squadron leaders launched in slight deferral. The Scott was indeed launched at the end of 1917 and the others during 1918, at Cammel Laird and Hawthorne Leslie. Only three took part in the last operations of the great war.

All but one (the Scott torpedoed on November 18, 1918) were operational in 1939, without modernization. The Scotts in their time confirmed the successful design of the Shakespeare. These buildings were in fact taken over to inspire the “standard” destroyers of the next generation.

HMS Douglas in WW2

They also served as a basis for plans for destroyers sold for export. In 1942, the needs of the escort led to a drastic modernization. All thus lost their upper rear part (C) in favor of a 76 mm AA gun soon enough. It also involved replacing one of their banks of torpedo tubes with an artillery bench A, and at the front an ASW (P-Gun) 47 mm rapid-fire cannon, at the front for three units, another was equipped with a Hedgehog (Malcolm) with the addition of ASW grenades and two to four 20 mm AA guns.

They also all had a Huff-duff** antenna and an asdic-sonar. The Stuart was sent to serve with the RAN. They had a very active career and were broken up in 1947.

HMS Campbell, light blue livery 1939

HMS Montrose in 1943, Murmansk convoys


-Displacement: 1850 t. standard -2235 t. Full Load
-Dimensions: 101.3 m long, 9.7 m wide, 3.8 m draft (full load).
-Propulsion: 2 shafts Parsons turbines, 4 Yarrow boilers, 40,000 hp.
-Maximum speed 36 knots, RA 3000 nautical miles at 12 knots.
-Armor: Maximum masks of parts 80 mm.
-Armament: 3 x 120 mm (3ࡧ), 1 x 76 mm MK VI AA, 2 x 40 mm AA, 6 x 533 mm TTs (2ࡩ), 4 ASW mortars, 70 grenades.
-Crew: 164

W class destroyers (1918)

HMS Waterhen

This very important series was derived from the upsizing performed by wing leaders such as Shakespeare and Scott. Their tonnage was much higher, their armament reinforced, comprising four pieces of 102 mm QF under masks and six torpedo tubes in two axial benches. Their hull was reinforced for the harsh conditions of the North Atlantic.

A good part was operational at the end of the war, some participants in the blockade of Zeebrugge and Ostend. The hms Warwick will be seriously damaged there, but later towed by the hms Velox and repaired, it will resume service. The Waterhen and Voyager will be sent to the RAN (Royal Australian Navy) in 1933, the Walrus hit a reef and sank in 1938, while eighteen others were in service with equipment almost unchanged since their commissioning.

The imperatives of the escort missions quickly imposed their reconversion: 5 units were taken in hand for reconversion in SRE (Short Range Escort) 5 in AAE (Anti-aircraft escorts) and two in SRE (Short Range) with in particular a double Y-Gune to 76 mm rapid fire and 20 ASM grenades.

The others received an AA complement of 20 mm Oerlikon pieces and two 40 mm bofors, more in some cases a Y-Gun piece and 28 to 34 ASM grenades as well as mortars, all at the stern. From 1942, all received standard Huff-Duff and a recent asdic-sonar. 7 of them were sunk, including 6 in Europe by U-boats and Stukas, and one, hms Waterhen, by Japanese aviation in the Far East. The survivors were placed in reserve in 1945-46 and BU soon after.

HMS Walpole in gray “western approach” livery, Atlantic, 1942. Note the Y-Gun instead of the bank of torpedo tubes B

HMS Wolsey in 1939, with the standard livery of the time, medium gray hull and pale gray superstructures, and white bands of squadrons on the funnels.

Characteristics (Walpole, SRE 1942)

Displacement: 1665 t. standard 1710 t. Full Load
Dimensions: 95 m long, 9 m wide, 3.2 m draft (full load).
Propulsion: 2 propellers, 2 Parsons / Brown-Curtis turbines, 4 Yarrow boilers, 27,000 hp.
Performances: Maximum speed 34 knots, RA 2,500 nautical miles at 12 knots.
Armor: Maximum masks of parts 80 mm.
Armament: 4 x 102 mm (4ࡧ), 2 x 76 mm MK VI AA ASM, 3 x 40 mm AA, 3 x 533 mm TT (1ࡩ), 20 ASW grenades.
Crew: 134


Strategic bombing during World War I introduced air attacks intended to panic civilian targets and led in 1918 to the amalgamation of the British army and navy air services into the Royal Air Force (RAF). [24] Its first Chief of the Air Staff, Hugh Trenchard, was among the military strategists in the 1920s, like Giulio Douhet, who saw air warfare as a new way to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare. Interception was nearly impossible, with fighter planes no faster than bombers. Their view (expressed vividly in 1932) was that the bomber will always get through, and that the only defence was a deterrent bomber force capable of matching retaliation. Predictions were made that a bomber offensive would quickly cause thousands of deaths and civilian hysteria leading to capitulation. However, widespread pacifism following the horrors of the First World War contributed to a reluctance to provide resources. [25]

Developing air strategies Edit

Germany was forbidden a military air force by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and therefore air crew were trained by means of civilian and sport flying. Following a 1923 memorandum, the Deutsche Luft Hansa airline developed designs for aircraft such as the Junkers Ju 52, which could carry passengers and freight, but also be readily adapted into a bomber. In 1926, the secret Lipetsk fighter-pilot school began operating. [26] Erhard Milch organised rapid expansion, and following the 1933 Nazi seizure of power, his subordinate Robert Knauss formulated a deterrence theory incorporating Douhet's ideas and Tirpitz's "risk theory". This proposed a fleet of heavy bombers to deter a preventive attack by France and Poland before Germany could fully rearm. [27] A 1933–34 war game indicated a need for fighters and anti-aircraft protection as well as bombers. On 1 March 1935, the Luftwaffe was formally announced, with Walther Wever as Chief of Staff. The 1935 Luftwaffe doctrine for "Conduct of Air War" (Luftkriegführung) set air power within the overall military strategy, with critical tasks of attaining (local and temporary) air superiority and providing battlefield support for army and naval forces. Strategic bombing of industries and transport could be decisive longer-term options, dependent on opportunity or preparations by the army and navy. It could be used to overcome a stalemate, or used when only destruction of the enemy's economy would be conclusive. [28] [29] The list excluded bombing civilians to destroy homes or undermine morale, as that was considered a waste of strategic effort, but the doctrine allowed revenge attacks if German civilians were bombed. A revised edition was issued in 1940, and the continuing central principle of Luftwaffe doctrine was that destruction of enemy armed forces was of primary importance. [30]

The RAF responded to Luftwaffe developments with its 1934 Expansion Plan A rearmament scheme, and in 1936 it was restructured into Bomber Command, Coastal Command, Training Command and Fighter Command. The last was under Hugh Dowding, who opposed the doctrine that bombers were unstoppable: the invention of radar at that time could allow early detection, and prototype monoplane fighters were significantly faster. Priorities were disputed, but in December 1937, the Minister in charge of Defence Coordination, Sir Thomas Inskip, sided with Dowding that "The role of our air force is not an early knock-out blow" but rather was "to prevent the Germans from knocking us out" and fighter squadrons were just as necessary as bomber squadrons. [31] [32]

The Spanish Civil War gave the Luftwaffe Condor Legion the opportunity to test air fighting tactics with their new aeroplanes. Wolfram von Richthofen became an exponent of air power providing ground support to other services. [33] The difficulty of accurately hitting targets prompted Ernst Udet to require that all new bombers had to be dive bombers, and led to the development of the Knickebein system for night time navigation. Priority was given to producing large numbers of smaller aeroplanes, and plans for a long-range, four-engined strategic bomber were delayed. [24] [34]

First stages of World War II Edit

The early stages of World War II saw successful German invasions on the continent, aided decisively by the air power of the Luftwaffe, which was able to establish tactical air superiority with great effectiveness. The speed with which German forces defeated most of the defending armies in Norway in early 1940 created a significant political crisis in Britain. In early May 1940, the Norway Debate questioned the fitness for office of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. On 10 May, the same day Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister, the Germans initiated the Battle of France with an aggressive invasion of French territory. RAF Fighter Command was desperately short of trained pilots and aircraft. Churchill sent fighter squadrons, the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force, to support operations in France, [35] where the RAF suffered heavy losses. This was despite the objections of its commander Hugh Dowding that the diversion of his forces would leave home defences under-strength. [36]

After the evacuation of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French surrender on 22 June 1940, Hitler mainly focused his energies on the possibility of invading the Soviet Union. [37] He believed that the British, defeated on the continent and without European allies, would quickly come to terms. [38] The Germans were so convinced of an imminent armistice that they began constructing street decorations for the homecoming parades of victorious troops. [39] Although the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, and certain elements of the British public favoured a negotiated peace with an ascendant Germany, Churchill and a majority of his Cabinet refused to consider an armistice. [40] Instead, Churchill used his skilful rhetoric to harden public opinion against capitulation and prepare the British for a long war.

The Battle of Britain has the unusual distinction that it gained its name before being fought. The name is derived from the This was their finest hour speech delivered by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on 18 June, more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle:

. What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour". [23] [41] [42]

German aims and directives Edit

From the outset of his rise to power, Adolf Hitler expressed admiration for Britain, and throughout the Battle period he sought neutrality or a peace treaty with Britain. [43] In a secret conference on 23 May 1939, Hitler set out his rather contradictory strategy that an attack on Poland was essential and "will only be successful if the Western Powers keep out of it. If this is impossible, then it will be better to attack in the West and to settle Poland at the same time" with a surprise attack. "If Holland and Belgium are successfully occupied and held, and if France is also defeated, the fundamental conditions for a successful war against England will have been secured. England can then be blockaded from Western France at close quarters by the Air Force, while the Navy with its submarines extend the range of the blockade." [44] [45]

When war commenced, Hitler and the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or "High Command of the Armed Forces") issued a series of Directives ordering, planning and stating strategic objectives. "Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War", dated 31 August 1939, instructed the invasion of Poland on 1 September as planned. Potentially, Luftwaffe "operations against England" were to "dislocate English imports, the armaments industry, and the transport of troops to France. Any favourable opportunity of an effective attack on concentrated units of the English Navy, particularly on battleships or aircraft carriers, will be exploited. The decision regarding attacks on London is reserved to me. Attacks on the English homeland are to be prepared, bearing in mind that inconclusive results with insufficient forces are to be avoided in all circumstances." [46] [47] Both France and the UK declared war on Germany on 9 October, Hitler's "Directive No. 6" planned the offensive to defeat these allies and "win as much territory as possible in the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France to serve as a base for the successful prosecution of the air and sea war against England". [48] On 29 November, OKW "Directive No. 9 – Instructions For Warfare Against The Economy Of The Enemy" stated that once this coastline had been secured, the Luftwaffe together with the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) was to blockade UK ports with sea mines. They were to attack shipping and warships and make air attacks on shore installations and industrial production. This directive remained in force in the first phase of the Battle of Britain. [49] [50] It was reinforced on 24 May during the Battle of France by "Directive No. 13", which authorised the Luftwaffe "to attack the English homeland in the fullest manner, as soon as sufficient forces are available. This attack will be opened by an annihilating reprisal for English attacks on the Ruhr Basin." [51]

By the end of June 1940, Germany had defeated Britain's allies on the continent, and on 30 June the OKW Chief of Staff, Alfred Jodl, issued his review of options to increase pressure on Britain to agree to a negotiated peace. The first priority was to eliminate the RAF and gain air supremacy. Intensified air attacks against shipping and the economy could affect food supplies and civilian morale in the long term. Reprisal attacks of terror bombing had the potential to cause quicker capitulation, but the effect on morale was uncertain. On the same day, the Luftwaffe Commander-in-Chief, Hermann Göring issued his operational directive: to destroy the RAF, thus protecting German industry, and also to block overseas supplies to Britain. [52] [53] The German Supreme Command argued over the practicality of these options.

In "Directive No. 16 – On preparations for a landing operation against England" on 16 July, [54] Hitler required readiness by mid-August for the possibility of an invasion he called Operation Sea Lion, unless the British agreed to negotiations. The Luftwaffe reported that it would be ready to launch its major attack early in August. The Kriegsmarine Commander-in-Chief, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, continued to highlight the impracticality of these plans and said sea invasion could not take place before early 1941. Hitler now argued that Britain was holding out in hope of assistance from Russia, and the Soviet Union was to be invaded by mid 1941. [55] Göring met his air fleet commanders, and on 24 July issued "Tasks and Goals" of firstly gaining air supremacy, secondly protecting invasion forces and attacking the Royal Navy's ships. Thirdly, they were to blockade imports, bombing harbours and stores of supplies. [56]

Hitler's "Directive No. 17 – For the conduct of air and sea warfare against England" issued on 1 August attempted to keep all the options open. The Luftwaffe's Adlertag campaign was to start around 5 August, subject to weather, with the aim of gaining air superiority over southern England as a necessary precondition of invasion, to give credibility to the threat and give Hitler the option of ordering the invasion. The intention was to incapacitate the RAF so much that the UK would feel open to air attack, and would begin peace negotiations. It was also to isolate the UK and damage war production, beginning an effective blockade. [57] Following severe Luftwaffe losses, Hitler agreed at a 14 September OKW conference that the air campaign was to intensify regardless of invasion plans. On 16 September, Göring gave the order for this change in strategy, [58] to the first independent strategic bombing campaign. [59]

Negotiated peace or neutrality Edit

Hitler's 1923 Mein Kampf mostly set out his hatreds: he only admired ordinary German World War I soldiers and Britain, which he saw as an ally against communism. In 1935 Hermann Göring welcomed news that Britain as a potential ally was rearming. In 1936 he promised assistance to defend the British Empire, asking only a free hand in Eastern Europe, and repeated this to Lord Halifax in 1937. That year, von Ribbentrop met Churchill with a similar proposal when rebuffed, he told Churchill that interference with German domination would mean war. To Hitler's great annoyance, all his diplomacy failed to stop Britain from declaring war when he invaded Poland. During the fall of France, he repeatedly discussed peace efforts with his generals. [43]

When Churchill came to power, there was still wide support for Halifax, who as Foreign Secretary openly argued for peace negotiations in the tradition of British diplomacy, to secure British independence without war. On 20 May, Halifax secretly requested a Swedish businessman to make contact with Göring to open negotiations. Shortly afterwards, in the May 1940 War Cabinet Crisis, Halifax argued for negotiations involving the Italians, but this was rejected by Churchill with majority support. An approach made through the Swedish ambassador on 22 June was reported to Hitler, making peace negotiations seem feasible. Throughout July, as the battle started, the Germans made wider attempts to find a diplomatic solution. [60] On 2 July, the day the armed forces were asked to start preliminary planning for an invasion, Hitler got von Ribbentrop to draft a speech offering peace negotiations. On 19 July Hitler made this speech to the German Parliament in Berlin, appealing "to reason and common sense", and said he could "see no reason why this war should go on". [61] His sombre conclusion was received in silence, but he did not suggest negotiations and this was effectively an ultimatum which was rejected by the British government. [62] [63] Halifax kept trying to arrange peace until he was sent to Washington in December as ambassador, [64] and in January 1941 Hitler expressed continued interest in negotiating peace with Britain. [65]

Blockade and siege Edit

A May 1939 planning exercise by Luftflotte 3 found that the Luftwaffe lacked the means to do much damage to Britain's war economy beyond laying naval mines. [66] The Head of Luftwaffe intelligence Joseph "Beppo" Schmid presented a report on 22 November 1939, stating that "Of all Germany's possible enemies, Britain is the most dangerous." [67] This "Proposal for the Conduct of Air Warfare" argued for a counter to the British blockade and said "Key is to paralyse the British trade". [49] Instead of the Wehrmacht attacking the French, the Luftwaffe with naval assistance was to block imports to Britain and attack seaports. "Should the enemy resort to terror measures – for example, to attack our towns in western Germany" they could retaliate by bombing industrial centres and London. Parts of this appeared on 29 November in "Directive No. 9" as future actions once the coast had been conquered. [50] On 24 May 1940 "Directive No. 13" authorised attacks on the blockade targets, as well as retaliation for RAF bombing of industrial targets in the Ruhr. [51]

After the defeat of France, the OKW felt they had won the war, and some more pressure would persuade Britain. On 30 June the OKW Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl issued his paper setting out options: the first was to increase attacks on shipping, economic targets and the RAF: air attacks and food shortages were expected to break morale and lead to capitulation. Destruction of the RAF was the first priority, and invasion would be a last resort. Göring's operational directive issued the same day ordered the destruction of the RAF to clear the way for attacks cutting off seaborne supplies to Britain. It made no mention of invasion. [53] [68]

Invasion plans Edit

In November 1939, the OKW reviewed the potential for an air- and seaborne invasion of Britain: the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) was faced with the threat the Royal Navy's larger Home Fleet posed to a crossing of the English Channel, and together with the German Army viewed control of airspace as a necessary precondition. The German navy thought air superiority alone was insufficient the German naval staff had already produced a study (in 1939) on the possibility of an invasion of Britain and concluded that it also required naval superiority. [69] The Luftwaffe said invasion could only be "the final act in an already victorious war." [70]

Hitler first discussed the idea of an invasion at a 21 May 1940 meeting with Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, who stressed the difficulties and his own preference for a blockade. OKW Chief of Staff Jodl's 30 June report described invasion as a last resort once the British economy had been damaged and the Luftwaffe had full air superiority. On 2 July, OKW requested preliminary plans. [18] [63] In Britain, Churchill described "the great invasion scare" as "serving a very useful purpose" by "keeping every man and woman tuned to a high pitch of readiness". [71] On 10 July he advised the War Cabinet that invasion could be ignored, as it "would be a most hazardous and suicidal operation". [72]

On 11 July Hitler agreed with Raeder that invasion would be a last resort, and the Luftwaffe advised that gaining air superiority would take 14 to 28 days. Hitler met his army chiefs, von Brauchitsch and Halder at the Berchtesgaden on 13 July where they presented detailed plans on the assumption that the navy would provide safe transport. [73] Von Brauchitsch and Halder were surprised that Hitler took no interest in the invasion plans, unlike his usual attitude toward military operations (Bishop "Battle of Britain" p105), but on 16 July he issued Directive No. 16 ordering preparations for Operation Sea Lion. [74]

The navy insisted on a narrow beachhead and an extended period for landing troops the army rejected these plans: the Luftwaffe could begin an air attack in August. Hitler held a meeting of his army and navy chiefs on 31 July. The navy said 22 September was the earliest possible date and proposed postponement until the following year, but Hitler preferred September. He then told von Brauchitsch and Halder that he would decide on the landing operation eight to fourteen days after the air attack began. On 1 August he issued Directive No. 17 for intensified air and sea warfare, to begin with Adlertag on or after 5 August subject to weather, keeping options open for negotiated peace or blockade and siege. [75]

Independent air attack Edit

Under the continuing influence of the 1935 "Conduct of the Air War" doctrine, the main focus of the Luftwaffe command (including Göring) was in concentrating attacks to destroy enemy armed forces on the battlefield, and "blitzkrieg" close air support of the army succeeded brilliantly. They reserved strategic bombing for a stalemate situation or revenge attacks, but doubted if this could be decisive on its own and regarded bombing civilians to destroy homes or undermine morale as a waste of strategic effort. [76] [77]

The defeat of France in June 1940 introduced the prospect for the first time of independent air action against Britain. A July Fliegercorps I paper asserted that Germany was by definition an air power: "Its chief weapon against England is the Air Force, then the Navy, followed by the landing forces and the Army." In 1940, the Luftwaffe would undertake a "strategic offensive . on its own and independent of the other services", according to an April 1944 German account of their military mission. Göring was convinced that strategic bombing could win objectives that were beyond the army and navy, and gain political advantages in the Third Reich for the Luftwaffe and himself. [78] He expected air warfare to decisively force Britain to negotiate, as all in the OKW hoped, and the Luftwaffe took little interest in planning to support an invasion. [79] [53]

The Luftwaffe faced a more capable opponent than any it had previously met: a sizeable, highly coordinated, well-supplied, modern air force.

Fighters Edit

The Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110C fought against the RAF's workhorse Hurricane Mk I and the less numerous Spitfire Mk I Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires in RAF Fighter Command by about 2:1 when war broke out. [80] The Bf 109E had a better climb rate and was up to 40 mph faster in level flight than the Rotol (constant speed propeller) equipped Hurricane Mk I, depending on altitude. [81] The speed and climb disparity with the original non-Rotol Hurricane was even greater. By mid-1940, all RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighter squadrons converted to 100 octane aviation fuel, [82] which allowed their Merlin engines to generate significantly more power and an approximately 30 mph increase in speed at low altitudes [83] [84] through the use of an Emergency Boost Override. [85] [86] [87] In September 1940, the more powerful Mk IIa series 1 Hurricanes started entering service in small numbers. [88] This version was capable of a maximum speed of 342 mph (550 km/h), some 20 mph more than the original (non-Rotol) Mk I, though it was still 15 to 20 mph slower than a Bf 109 (depending on altitude). [89]

The performance of the Spitfire over Dunkirk came as a surprise to the Jagdwaffe, although the German pilots retained a strong belief that the 109 was the superior fighter. [90] The British fighters were equipped with eight Browning .303 (7.7mm) machine guns, while most Bf 109Es had two 7.92mm machine guns supplemented by two 20mm cannons. [nb 9] The latter was much more effective than the .303 during the Battle it was not unknown for damaged German bombers to limp home with up to two hundred .303 hits. [91] At some altitudes, the Bf 109 could outclimb the British fighter. It could also engage in vertical-plane negative-g manoeuvres without the engine cutting out because its DB 601 engine used fuel injection this allowed the 109 to dive away from attackers more readily than the carburettor-equipped Merlin. On the other hand, the Bf 109E had a much larger turning circle than its two foes. [92] In general, though, as Alfred Price noted in The Spitfire Story:

. the differences between the Spitfire and the Me 109 in performance and handling were only marginal, and in a combat they were almost always surmounted by tactical considerations of which side had seen the other first, which had the advantage of sun, altitude, numbers, pilot ability, tactical situation, tactical co-ordination, amount of fuel remaining, etc. [93]

The Bf 109E was also used as a Jabo (jagdbomber, fighter-bomber) – the E-4/B and E-7 models could carry a 250 kg bomb underneath the fuselage, the later model arriving during the battle. The Bf 109, unlike the Stuka, could fight on equal terms with RAF fighters after releasing its ordnance. [94] [95]

At the start of the battle, the twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110C long-range Zerstörer ("Destroyer") was also expected to engage in air-to-air combat while escorting the Luftwaffe bomber fleet. Although the 110 was faster than the Hurricane and almost as fast as the Spitfire, its lack of manoeuvrability and acceleration meant that it was a failure as a long-range escort fighter. On 13 and 15 August, thirteen and thirty aircraft were lost, the equivalent of an entire Gruppe, and the type's worst losses during the campaign. [96] This trend continued with a further eight and fifteen lost on 16 and 17 August. [97]

The most successful role of the Bf 110 during the battle was as a Schnellbomber (fast bomber). The Bf 110 usually used a shallow dive to bomb the target and escape at high speed. [98] [99] One unit, Erprobungsgruppe 210 – initially formed as the service test unit (Erprobungskommando) for the emerging successor to the 110, the Me 210 – proved that the Bf 110 could still be used to good effect in attacking small or "pinpoint" targets. [98]

The RAF's Boulton Paul Defiant had some initial success over Dunkirk because of its resemblance to the Hurricane Luftwaffe fighters attacking from the rear were surprised by its unusual gun turret. [100] During the Battle of Britain, it proved hopelessly outclassed. For various reasons, the Defiant lacked any form of forward-firing armament, and the heavy turret and second crewman meant it could not outrun or outmanoeuvre either the Bf 109 or Bf 110. By the end of August, after disastrous losses, the aircraft was withdrawn from daylight service. [101] [102]

Bombers Edit

The Luftwaffe's primary bombers were the Heinkel He 111, Dornier Do 17, and Junkers Ju 88 for level bombing at medium to high altitudes, and the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka for dive-bombing tactics. The He 111 was used in greater numbers than the others during the conflict, and was better known, partly due to its distinctive wing shape. Each level bomber also had a few reconnaissance versions accompanying them that were used during the battle. [103]

Although it had been successful in previous Luftwaffe engagements, the Stuka suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Britain, particularly on 18 August, due to its slow speed and vulnerability to fighter interception after dive-bombing a target. As the losses went up along with their limited payload and range, Stuka units were largely removed from operations over England and diverted to concentrate on shipping instead until they were eventually re-deployed to the Eastern Front in 1941. For some raids, they were called back, such as on 13 September to attack Tangmere airfield. [104] [105] [106]

The remaining three bomber types differed in their capabilities the Dornier Do 17 was the slowest and had the smallest bomb load the Ju 88 was the fastest once its mainly external bomb load was dropped and the He 111 had the largest (internal) bomb load. [103] All three bomber types suffered heavy losses from the home-based British fighters, but the Ju 88 had significantly lower loss rates due to its greater speed and its ability to dive out of trouble (it was originally designed as a dive bomber). The German bombers required constant protection by the Luftwaffe's fighter force. German escorts were not sufficiently numerous. Bf 109Es were ordered to support more than 300–400 bombers on any given day. [107] Later in the conflict, when night bombing became more frequent, all three were used. Due to its smaller bomb load, the lighter Do 17 was used less than the He 111 and Ju 88 for this purpose.

On the British side, three bomber types were mostly used on night operations against targets such as factories, invasion ports and railway centres the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, the Handley-Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington were classified as heavy bombers by the RAF, although the Hampden was a medium bomber comparable to the He 111. The twin-engined Bristol Blenheim and the obsolescent single-engined Fairey Battle were both light bombers the Blenheim was the most numerous of the aircraft equipping RAF Bomber Command and was used in attacks against shipping, ports, airfields and factories on the continent by day and by night. The Fairey Battle squadrons, which had suffered heavy losses in daylight attacks during the Battle of France, were brought up to strength with reserve aircraft and continued to operate at night in attacks against the invasion ports, until the Battle was withdrawn from UK front line service in October 1940. [108] [110]


It was all the more important that he should do this, since the Labour Party was fighting a strong campaign, hammering home its policies on the nationalisation of industry, full employment, social security and the issue which, according to the opinion polls, was most important in the minds of voters - housing. Churchill, however, decided that scare tactics would be more effective.

I've tried them with pep and I've tried them with pap .

In the opening broadcast of the campaign, on 4 June, he warned that the introduction of Socialism into Britain would require '. some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance.' This preposterous allegation, apparently inspired by Friedrich Hayek's book Road to Serfdom (1944), was likely to impress no one except the most loyal and unquestioning of Tories. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that it cost Churchill many votes, still less that it cost him the election.

In a second broadcast he emphasised improvements in health and nutrition, and extolled the coalition government's plans for social insurance. But after this he reverted to negative tactics by exploiting the 'Laski affair'.

In a statesmanlike gesture, Churchill had invited Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, to accompany him to the Potsdam Conference (held to discuss international policy following the defeat of Germany), which was taking place at the same time as the British election campaign. He did this to ensure continuity in the event of a change of government half way through the conference. But the chairman of the Labour party's National Executive, Harold Laski, put out a statement declaring that Attlee's presence at Potsdam could not bind the party to any decisions reached there.

Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook - the newspaper owner and one-time minister in Churchill's cabinet - played on this embarassing rift for all it was worth, with allegations that the Labour Party was run by a sinister body, the National Executive, which claimed the right to dictate to Parliament. Churchill, however, sensed that he was out of his depth. At one point during the campaign he gave Attlee a lift in his car and, speaking of his electoral tactics, confessed:

'I've tried them with pep and I've tried them with pap, and I still don't know what they want.'

How much firepower did the British navy represent in 1940? - History

Based upon an excellent Czechoslovakian design, the equally-excellent BREN Light Machine Gun was adopted into service with the British Army in the late 1930s.

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 05/23/2019 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The BREN Light Machine Gun was the standard light machine gun of the British Army and Commonwealth forces throughout World War 2 and beyond. The type's existence was actually owed to the 1920's-era Czech ZB vz/26 Light Machine Gun brought to the British Army's attention prior to adoption of other types during a long-lasting, years-long search. The simple-yey-excellent ZB vz/26 was adopted by the Czech Army in 1924 with production out of the storied Brno facility. Chambered for the 7.9mm rimless cartridge, it operated from a top-fed, straight detachable box magazine through a gas-operated action featuring a tilting breechblock. The weapon was heavily adopted elsewhere (including Nazi Germany as the MG 26(t)) and saw extensive service in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1937, 1946-1950), World War 2 (1939-1945), the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Congo Crisis (1960-1965), the Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1979), The Northern Ireland "Troubles" (1966-1998) and the Falklands War (1982).

Prior to World War 2, the British Army sought to find a viable and improved replacement for their existing Lewis Light Machine Gun line which proved a limited light machine gun design at best. A visit to Czechoslovakia alerted authorities to a locally-designed, well-rounded system in the ZB vz/26. With examples delivered to Britain for further testing in 1930, several other competing designs were entertained well into 1934. The ZB vz/26 evolved into the vz/27 and this begat the vz/30, vz/32 and vz/33 marks in time. All preceding marks up to the vz/30 were modified to fire the original 7.92mm Mauser cartridge which was of little value to the British need. It was the vz/30 that adopted the .303 British cartridge as the "ZGB vz/30" prototype of 1930 and underwent trials from 1931 to 1932. The following ZGB vz/33 development of 1933 became the official basis for the finalized British design. It was soon settled to adopt the Czech system for the Army with the British-centric changes to suit requirements. Design work continued into 1935, affording the design the official designation of "BREN" which paid homage to the weapon's true origin (BR = "Brno") and its place of main manufacture (EN = "Enfield Lock" through the Royal Small Arms Factory).

The primary (and most major) change to the Czech design was in the chambering - the Czech version utilized the German 7.92mm Mauser rimless rifle cartridge. For the sake of logistics and familiarity, the British instead opted for their .303 British rimmed rifle cartridge which was already in widespread circulation. This then forced changes to the Czech design's internals and a new curved magazine was developed to house the rimmed cartridges (giving the BREN its very defined and highly recognizable profile). The end result was largely faithful to the original Czech offering with its gas-operated, tilting bolt repeat-fire action retained. The overall design was highly linear in its general form with the rectangular receiver capped at one end by a solid shoulder buttstock and at the other end by the usual barrel and gas cylinder arrangement. The gas cylinder was fitted under the barrel in a traditional way and tapped expelled high pressure gas from exiting rounds for use in each subsequent round by converting the gas into required pressure to work the internal action. The weapon featured a standalone pistol grip with integrated trigger group slung under the rear portion of the receiver. A carrying handle was affixed to the barrel roughly at the midway point of the design. The barrel was capped by a conical flash hider and a folding bipod was fitted at the tip of the gas cylinder. The charging handle was set to the right side of the receiver and the new curved magazines were inserted through a top-mounted gate. Spent shell casings were ejected cleanly through the bottom of the receiver.

Production was assigned to the fabled Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock and set to begin in 1937. First deliveries began to reach frontline units in 1938. As British and Commonwealth involvement ramped up, so too did production of the BREN and eventually involved Canadian (Inglis and Long Branch), Australian (Lithgow) and Indian (Ishapore) factories. With the Chinese caught in its own bitter war against the Empire of Japan in Asia, BREN guns were also competed in their original 7.92mm Mauser chambering and sent overseas in support of Nationalist Chinese forces.

In practice, the BREN gun met nearly all expectations as a reliable, combat-friendly portable weapons system. Its sheer simplicity in design allowed for quick repair and maintenance in-the-field where gunners could quickly assemble and field-strip the weapon in minutes. The action also proved highly sound so as to produce a minimum number of stoppages. The type's overall weight - approximately 22.5lbs - made the BREN very portable in long marches and when relocating the gun to more advantageous positions. It featured a sound effective target range of 600 yards and a maximum area range out to 1,850 yards with a firing rate of 500 to 520 rounds per minute - the seemingly low rate-of-fire accounting for more effective cooling of the barrel between bursts, and thusly lowering the chance of a fractured barrel being encountered. An overheated barrel could also very quickly be addressed by the two-man crew in minutes. The .303 British cartridge gave good penetration value at range with its 2,400 feet per second muzzle velocity. Sighting was through iron arrangements standardized on the design from the beginning. If the BREN held any limitations, it was in its 30-round magazine which allowed for limited bursts of firing before reloading was required. However, as a light machine gun, use of magazines made for a highly portable weapon not requiring belted ammunition which could misfeed without proper attention. An operator not use to the downward ejection of casings could also be caught by surprise. Nevertheless, BREN machine gunners enjoyed their weapon and considered it a very accurate ranged system. A typical issue in British ranks was one gun per section with a crew of two assigned to each weapon - ammunition dispersed across the section.

BREN use was not only limited to its defined light machine gun, squad-level role. Several mounting types soon appeared which broadened the tactical role of the weapon considerably. Specialized tall tripod mountings allowed for the weapon to be used as a low-level anti-aircraft defensive system (complete with an empty casings soft bag) to help defend airfields and the like. The BREN was also a standard fixture across many British and Commonwealth military vehicles of the war when fitted on trainable mounts, able to engage cleanly around the vehicle and over it. A heavy duty tripod (weighing some 26.5lbs) was developed with applicable sighting optics and this made the BREN an effective defensive system when used in a fixed position while protecting vital areas and camps.

The BREN LMG appeared in several notable marks throughout its storied career. Initial versions were the "Gun, Machine, Bren, .303in Mark 1" introduced in 1938. These closely followed the lines of the original prototypes and were fielded with a rather complicated drum-pattern rear sighting device. The butt sported a hinged grip handle that could be folded down for use by the support hand. A sling system was also fitted which allowed the operator to carry the weapon across the shoulder and effectively wield the machine gun with both hands when "firing from the hip". A telescoping bipod was added under the gas cylinder and the cocking handle was of a foldable design intended to reduce snagging. However, in practice, the butt grip handle proved less than efficient and was dropped from further production in time. By 1940, there existed over 30,000 BREN examples in circulation, embedding itself as the standard British Army light machine gun. A hefty number of examples were lost in the miracle that was Dunkirk between May 26th, 1940 into June 4th, 1940. The resulting captured examples were then reconstituted by the advancing Germans and placed back into service as the "Leichte MG 138(e)".

With Britain fully committed to war, the "Gun, Machine, Bren, .303in Mark 2" was introduced in June of 1941. An adjustable leaf-type rear sighting device was brought about to help simplify production and general operation - particularly in light of the equipment losses experienced at Dunkirk. The bipod was further simplified to a fixed design type as was the folding cocking handle. Surfaces were also simplified (lacking lightening grooves) for the sake of speedier production and lower procurement costs - though at the expense of a slightly heavier end-product.

As the war raged on, the BREN system adapted to changes along the varied fronts. This produced the "Gun, Machine, Bren, 303in Mark 3" in July of 1944. This mark was generally similar to the Mark 1 of 1938 but given a shortened barrel assembly and cleaner production lines to simplify manufacture. The "Gun, Machine, Bren, 303in Mark 4" was nothing more than a late-war conversion of BREN Mark 2 guns to the BREN Mark 3 standard complete with modified buttstocks.

In 1948, there proved a new Cold War-era offering of the BREN in the "Gun, Machine, Bren, 303in, Mark 2/1". This mark was broadly similar to the wartime Mark 2 though with a new slide assembly and cocking handle.

In the post-war years, and based on the NATO adoption of the 7.62mm cartridge as a standard rifle/machine-gun caliber round, there began the modernized "L4 LMG" series that began with the "L4A1". L4A1 models were based on wartime BREN Mark 3 production models with changes instituted as required of the new 7.62mm cartridge. This included new straight magazines, barrel assemblies, a slotted flash suppressor, new breechblock and extractor and various other more subtle changes to the original design. The L4A1 was then improved in the upcoming L4A2 mark.

Wartime BREN Mark 2 models were then upgraded through a similar process in the L4A3 modification. Barrels were now lined with chromium to help extend the service lives of the guns for a time longer. BREN Mark 3s were then upgraded with chromium-lined barrels to produce the L4A4 designation. The L4A5 models did not feature chrome-lined barrels but two barrels were issued to be changed as the situation called. The L4A6 mark sported a chromium-lined barrel and were upgraded L4A1 production models. The L4A7 was intended for use by the Indian Army but this endeavor fell to naught.

All told, the BREN gave a good account of itself in the most dire of circumstances and conditions. It fought through mud and blood, desert and jungle in attempting to preserve the world from the tyranny brought about by the Axis powers and Cold War foes. This machine gun truly began a symbol of national pride and endured decades of formal use through seemingly countless conflicts. It no doubt deserves its standing amongst the best automatic small arms ever developed - and one of the best machine guns of all of World War 2 proper.

Its use spanned beyond standard-issue forces of the conflict as well, being air-dropped to partisans in Italy, featured by Free French forces and appearing across various former colonies. Israelis operated the type during their War of Independence and Irish Defence Forces adopted the type to replace their FN MAGs in the 1960s. The Netherlands adopted the BREN in the post-war years for lack of anything better appearing at the time. The BREN proved popular in many African nations in the post-war years.

The BREN gun was produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory of Enfield Lock in Britain, John Inglis and Company of Canada, the Long Branch Company of Canada, Ishapore of India and the Lithgow Small Arms Factory of Australia.

The last of the BREN-related L4 light machine gun systems were retired from British service in the 1990s - some 60 years after its introduction.

Advance and retreat

British troops in action in 1942 ©

There was even talk of an Axis offensive through Egypt linking up with a German drive down from Russia. A German mountain infantryman declared that the objective of the German thrust in south Russia in mid-1942 was simple: 'Down the Caucasus, round the corner, slice the British through the rear, and say to Rommel, "Hello, General, here we are!" '

Even if this was a strategic improbability, the psychological impact of the British loss of Egypt would have been enormous. Lastly, Hitler certainly did not regard North Africa as a sideshow, and his decision to send massive reinforcements to the theatre after El Alamein would eventually result in Axis losses in North Africa being greater than they were at Stalingrad.

And to the assertion that Montgomery, with numbers of men and equipment on his side, was bound to win at El Alamein, I respond that there were previous occasions when the British should have won the desert war but had failed to do so.

Sometimes politicians were to blame. In 1941, after a British offensive had bundled the Italians from the Egyptian frontier deep into Libya, the troops that might have clinched victory were diverted to Greece at Churchill's behest.

However, sometimes the responsibility lay with the generals. In the Gazala battles of mid-1942 the British time and time again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Small wonder that the Army was indeed, as Churchill described it, 'brave but baffled'.

So in the overall scheme of things, El Alamein mattered, and among the strengths of that prickly and opinionated general, Bernard Montgomery, was a determination to resist political pressure to attack before he was ready. His insistence on fighting a well-prepared 'teed up' battle was properly understood by his soldiers.

Lastly, Hitler certainly did not regard North Africa as a sideshow .

Even today the road that runs along the very edge of North Africa, with the Mediterranean on the one hand and the desert on the other, is not exactly a super-highway. During World War Two, it was a good deal worse. But it was the umbilical cord that linked the armies that fought for Egypt and Libya with their main logistic bases, and the tide of war ebbed and flowed along it.

In 1940 the Italians advanced from Libya and crossed the frontier of British-protected Egypt, where they halted and dug in. There were attacked by Major General Richard O'Connor's Western Desert Force which drove them back to El Agheila, half way to Tripoli.

However, with the British weakened by the diversion of troops to Greece, in March 1941 the newly-arrived Rommel counter-attacked and recaptured much of the lost territory, though the important port of Tobruk, garrisoned by Australians, held out. In May a limited British offensive, codenamed Brevity, proved disappointing, and the large-scale Battleaxe, following month, saw the loss of 220 British tanks to only 25 German.

In July 1941 Sir Archibald Wavell, C-in-C Middle East, was replaced by General Sir Claude Auchinleck, and in November, the 8th Army at last mounted a successful offensive, Operation Crusader, which relieved Tobruk and pushed on to El Agheila.

But Rommel was not slow in striking back, first in an offensive which took him to line just west of Tobruk and then, in a complex, swirling action between Gazala and the desert outpost of Bir Hacheim, in a battle which eventually saw 8th Army in full retreat.

British Machine Gun Battallions in World War II

Post by Damper » 02 Sep 2017, 13:10

My understanding of how Machine Gun battalions were deployed, is that they were the only unit equipped with Sustained fire machine guns in a British Army division.

This allowed for a detached platoon of four Vickers guns for each Infantry Battalion.

So how did this work in practice?, recently I was looking at which details how each Finnish infantry Bn had and attached company of 12 equivalent Maxim guns.

Also why were there only 4 guns per platoon? if a platoon was sufficient to man 6 anti tank guns or Mortars.

Also I understand that the UK had massive quantities of Vickers guns in stockpiles as the war started, how were the rest of the guns utilised?

Re: British Machine Gun Battallions in World War II

Post by Gary Kennedy » 02 Sep 2017, 18:01

I don't think I can quote you an official policy but I do have an idea how the issue of Vickers MMGs progressed in British units and formations.

In the 1937 organisation the intention was for the Inf Div to have three MG Bns and three Inf Bdes, each Bde of three Rifle Bns. These MG Bns had a WE of three MG Coys (12 MMGs per Coy) and one Atk Coy (16x 2-pr guns). That allowed each Rifle Bn to have a full MMG Coy in support and each Inf Bde an Atk Coy. By 1938 the anti-tank duties had been handed over to the RA and MG Bns went to four Coys each of 12 MMGs.

By 1940 the MG Bns had been removed from the Inf Div structure and become Corps troops. Generally speaking I think the BEF of 1940 had at least one MG Bn per Inf Div with some Divs having two MG Bns. In the post Dunkirk review of the Inf Div organisation it was decided to have a single MG Bn of 48 MMGs, in four Coys of 12 guns each. They could be deployed as a single Coy per Inf Bde, with a fourth Coy in Div reserve, or, if you've got two Bdes up each with two Bns up, you can deploy a full Coy per leading Inf Bn.

In 1942 there was the move to what were termed Support Battalions their original WE looks to be lost, but my understanding is they deleted the MMG entirely and used three Bde Coys operating 4.2-in mortars and 20-mm LAA guns, and a fourth Div Coy with just 20-mm guns.

The Sp Bn WE was heavily amended before the first ones saw service in Sicily and Italy, shifting to three Bde Sp Gps, each with 12 MMGs, 16x 20-mm LAA guns and 8x 4.2-in mortars. 50th and 51st Divs kept their existing MG Bns and added Inf Bde Sp Coys with (supposedly) 20-mm guns and 4.2-in mortars, though I don't know if they ever saw the 20-mms. Once in the Med Sp Bns found little use for the 20-mm guns and mothballed them, while the Vickers continued to be utilised. The Sp Bn org (which was a very large unit) was replaced by a new MG Bn in early 1944, the WE for which had three MG Coys (12 Vickers each) and one 4.2-in Mortar Coy (16 tubes). Armd Divs had a single Indep MG Coy of 12 guns and four mortars, ostensibly to support their single Inf Bde. Mot Bns had their own MMGs (two Pls of four guns each). Sp Bns in Italy adopted the new WEs during 1944, though I think the Canadians at least made some local adaptations to keep a higher number of 4.2-in mortars in use.

Now I know that doesn't address the specific query of why there were relatively few MMGs compared to the MG allocations for US, Red Army and German units. Certainly pre-war the British Army was looking at a very high number of MG Bns to Inf Bns and moved away from that before 1940. I understand that the opinion post Dunkirk was that the Vickers MMG was physically too heavy for the rapid displacements found in mobile warfare in the 1939-40 campaigns across Europe. North Africa proved the gun still had a role to play, and I think was the theatre where it was first married with the Universal carrier, which gave it a mobile firing platform.

Four guns per Platoon may simply have been a carryover from the Great War. An Atk Pl in an Inf Bn was substantially larger than an MMG Pl 55 men for six 6-pr guns and 43 men for six 3-in mortars, to 34 men for four MMGs, all based on 1944 WE strengths.

Watch the video: Το Αθάνατο Έπος 1940-1944 Μέρος Β (May 2022).