Munich Shuffle 1938-1942 - Hendon
September 17th 1938 – Britain – Disaster at Hendon
After the Anschluss in March of 1938 there may have been hopes that Hitler might be satisfied with his gains and concentrate on consolidating them, at least for a year or two. There was a brief panic about the possibility of a German attack on Czechoslovakia in the weeks after the Anschluss. When this came to nothing many in Britain and France felt Hitler had been forced to back down by the possibility of action on their part. Since the panic was the product of nothing more than rumour, this reaction served to enrage Hitler and by the summer the threat of war was looming large as Hitler began issuing bombastic demands for the unification of the Sudetenland with Germany. This border region of Czechoslovakia did have a majority ethnic German population, and Czechoslovakia was allied with France and the USSR while the Sudetenland contained much of the Czechs border defences. This time war seemed almost inevitable, even some supporters of appeasement felt this might be the end of the road, that these fresh demands from Berlin could not be met.
The public reaction in Britain was alarm bordering on panic in some cases. The 1930s had been a decade marked by the rise of pacifism and demands for disarmament, fuelled by the rise of the view that all the sacrifices of the First World War had been futile. The promises of a ‘land fit for heroes’ rang hollow to those struggling with poverty and unemployment in the midst of the Great Depression. The infamous 1933 Oxford Union debate where the proposition, ‘This house will under no circumstance fight for its king and country’, was passed can be taken as a indication of the attitudes of the time, or students wishing to shock the establishment if one wishes to take a contrary position.
In the summer of 1938, there was still no appetite for war, either in the British public or in the corridors of power. Nonetheless by August air raid shelters were being constructed, gas masks were being distributed en masse and anti-aircraft defences were being put in place around London. A report circulating in Whitehall claimed that London would be destroyed by bombing within a week of war starting with 1,000,000 casualties. Unbeknownst to the British at almost the same time as this dire prediction was being taken as gospel in London the Luftwaffe High Command, in a panic at the prospect of a war it was far from ready to fight, was telling Hitler that no strategic bombing campaign could be carried out against the British mainland unless bases in Norway and Northern France could be secured first.
In this febrile atmosphere it is then far more comprehensible that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, one of the chief architects of appeasement after all, was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent war. Two questions have hung over Chamberlain’s actions ever since. Was he playing for time or genuinely convinced that peace could be had? And to what extent were his intentions changed by the events at Hendon Aerodrome on the 17th of September 1938?
On the 17th Chamberlain was flying back to London from his second trip to Germany. Neither had produced satisfactory results, which was all but inevitable given that a satisfactory result for Hitler was the outbreak of war. What Chamberlain’s intentions were at this point is uncertain, though it seems likely that he was still disposed to try again and perhaps offer greater concessions than those that had already caused some alarm in the cabinet. Whatever the Prime Minister’s intentions they were rendered irrelevant as the Lockheed 14 Super Electra carrying him made its final approach to land at Hendon Aerodrome and suffered a mechanical failure. As is all too often the case in such accidents eyewitness accounts were confused about the exact sequence of events, some claiming to have seen fire, smoke, or something falling off the Electra as it descended.
What can be said with certainty is that with the plane around 200ft off the ground the right wing dipped, sending the aircraft into a sharp turn, causing it to slow and lose lift, resulting in a rapid descent. At the last moment the plane seemed to level and struck the ground belly first, destroying the landing gear. That the wing didn’t clip the ground is probably why the plane didn’t cartwheel or roll as it crashed, though what did happen to the Electra was bad enough. The tail of the aircraft tore off and there was extensive damage to the fuselage as it skidded across the grass. Still it did remain upright, almost certainly saved lives, including that of Neville Chamberlain himself. This was one of seven accidents involving the Super Electra in 1938, which has not prevented multiple works of fiction, and alleged non-fiction, from creating plots involving sabotage and attempted assassination, including among their ranks a James Bond novel, which was considerably better written and more plausible than many of the increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories.
Disregarding the cause of the crash the central fact was that the Prime Minister had survived. Chamberlain had a broken leg and most seriously an ugly gash across the face that would cost him the sight in his left eye in addition to a plethora of cuts and bruises. Some at the time saw Chamberlain’s survival as an act of providence. Others, particularly after the war, saw it as a punishment for hubris, what is not in doubt is that fate of Europe was hanging on how London, Paris, and Berlin reacted to this new twist in the Sudetenland crisis.
 Yes that model of aircraft really did have a terrible accident record:
Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra - Wikipedia
-----------So, this is called Munich Shuffle because the above delays the Munich Agreement and that reshuffles the sequence of many of the events of 1938-1942. Some of this will be direct consequences of the POD, some will be the butterfly effect. Where bad luck or some thin chain of circumstance worked against the British the chain will often be broken and the luck reversed, so yes, it’s a britwank. It is also very much a draft, though its a complete draft so I won’t be running out of updates halfway through, please do point out mistakes, gaffes, and anywhere you think I could improve it. If you enjoy it, tell your friends. If you hate, tell your enemies...