Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion. Books 1, 2 and 3.

20 May 1982 - 11 January 1940.
I've decided to try to finally put this work to bed, and have decided to have it here in this forum. Obviously, there is no discussion on here, but here is the link to the discussion forum where, if you do want to chat about it, please do.

20 May 1982. 14:00hrs. South Atlantic.

Captain Alan Grose finished writing the letter to his wife and looked at his watch. There was fifteen minutes to spare before the meeting with his Heads of Department, and so he called for his steward to bring him a cup of tea. His desk was full of reports, as it always seemed to be the case. His ship, HMS Bristol (D23), had set sail on 10 May from Portsmouth. Most of the Royal Navy Task Force was in and around the Total Exclusion Zone, preparing for the invasion of the Falklands. The Admiralty had put together a small fleet of reinforcements and replacements consisting of HMS Bristol, two Type 21 frigates, HMS Avenger and HMS Active; three Leander class frigates, HMS Minerva, HMS Andromeda and HMS Penelope, accompanied by RFA Olna, a tanker and stores ship. Just south of Gibraltar they had been joined by the Type 42 destroyer, HMS Cardiff. They had departed Ascension the day before, Wednesday 19 May and were now in the South Atlantic and making steady progress at 16 knots, expecting to rendezvous with the fleet on or about the 26 May.

Having finished his tea and done some more paperwork, Captain Grose joined the senior officers for the Heads of Department meeting, the main point on the agenda was the damage control exercise that had been run that morning. Since the loss of HMS Sheffield to an Exocet missile ten days previously, the damage control exercises had been more intensive, frequent and dedicated. Captain Grose was able to ascertain that morale was pretty high throughout the ship, and that the exercise had been generally successful, though the Chief Engineer had picked up on a couple of points that needed further work. More damage control training during the night and the next day was planned, and Grose was confident that Cdr Tom Cummings, the First Officer would make sure that everything would be well organised. As the meeting was coming to an end a more general speculation about the amphibious assault on the Falklands, which was due to begin the next day, and how it would go was interrupted by a sudden and violent movement that threw the men to the deck. His first reaction was that the ship had hit a mine or been torpedoed, so violent was the shock.

The General Quarters alarm was sounding. Picking himself up Grose made for the ops room, while the others hurried off to their battle stations. Arriving in the gloom room, a little breathless from the adrenalin, he sat on the Captain’s Chair and asked, as calmly as he could for a damage report. Warning lights were flashing all over the consoles and one rating was still on the deck rolling around holding his ankle. Lieutenant William 'Taffy' Jones, who had the duty watch, quickly briefed his captain and tried to say what he had experienced, but it was outwith anything he had ever known. Various departments of the ship began to report in with damage reports and requests for information. Grose ordered Engineering to stop the ship, and Communications to contact the other ships in the group to report and to likewise hold their position until they could figure out what had happened.

Things started to get back to something like normal. There had been a few injuries, mostly broken bones, but the ships company were gradually regaining control of themselves and their ship. In due course the flashing red lights were replaced with green as it was found that the ship’s systems were all working within acceptable limits.

Lt-Cdr Tony Wilson, the communications officer, approached the captain and asked for a quick word in private. He was looking particularly pale, so Grose led him to a quiet spot, while Cdr Cummings, the First Officer, joined them at Grose’s invitation. Wilson had, as ordered, contacted the other ships which had all had the same experience. But he had had no contact with the rest of the fleet, nor with Northwood. The satellite links were all down, and there was nothing wrong with the equipment that his men could find, there just wasn’t any signal at all. He had picked up other traffic, mostly in morse code. One was a mayday from an SS Streonshalh, saying that they were being forced to abandon ship by a German battleship. Also while his code man was still working on it, there was another message which seemed like an old admiralty code, a really old code. Grose nodded for him to continue. “Well, I am obviously wrong, but I would have sworn that the Streonshalh was the last freighter the Graf Spee sank in December 1939. I don’t remember the date offhand.”

Grose asked if the Streonshalh had given its position. The position it gave was 800 miles east of Rio de Janeiro. HMS Bristol and her consorts were only about 2 days sailing, but they should have been forty three years away. Grose asked Wilson to invite the captains of the other ships to join him immediately aboard for a conference. As Wilson went off to comply, Grose talked through some of the implications with Cummings and what else might explain the anomaly. Other than science fiction they couldn’t come up with anything. They discussed what other information they would need to prove or disprove that they weren’t transported into the past, into a much bigger conflict than they had been expecting.

The conference of ships' captains got underway at 16:00hrs local time. In attendance were: Bristol: Capt Alan Grose; Cardiff: Capt Mike Harris; Avenger: Capt Hugo White; Active: Cdr Paul Canter; Andromeda: Capt James Weatherall; Minerva: Cmdr Steven Johnston; Penelope, Cmdr Peter Rickard; RFA Olna: Capt James (Bill) Bailey. Each of the ships had experienced the same odd falling sensation, and there were a number of broken or strained ankles and legs in the fleet. All ships were nonetheless fully operational and had resumed their southerly course. The situation was discussed fully, there was a noticeable change in the weather, which suggested a definite change from May to December. Once darkness fell a star shot should give some clarity about just exactly where and when they found themselves. The communications specialists had been unable to make contact with anyone, but were picking up bits and pieces of Morse, most of which appeared to be in various kinds of code. As well as getting a clear view of the sky, it was hoped that as darkness fell, radio reception would improve. The good news was that air and surface radar pictures were clear, as were the sonar returns.

The question was left then as what to do? The options were to return directly to Ascension Island and make contact with the naval and air units based there, if there were any. Or they could turn north and go back directly to Britain. Alternatively they could continue south in the hope whatever the anomaly was would reverse itself and they would have something interesting to tell Admiral Woodward when they arrived in the Total Exclusion Zone.

On the other hand, if it was indeed December 1939 they could either find the British cruisers on their way to the River Plate or could attempt to take on the Admiral Graf Spee themselves. There was a lengthy discussion concerning the last. Looking at the seven ships’ armaments it wasn’t clear if they would be able to actually take on a pocket battleship/heavy cruiser. Someone had come up with the information that the Graf Spee had six 11-inch and eight 5.9-inch guns. The thickness of its belt armour was up to 3.1 inches, the deck up to 1.8 inches and the turrets up to 5.5 inches of armour. Most of the Bristol Group ships had Exocets, but it reckoned that these would need a miracle to actually do any damage to a heavily armoured ship. To get in range to use the 4.5 inch guns, they need to close to under 24000 yards, well inside the range of Graf Spee’s guns. HMS Bristol’s Ikara might have been useful if they were carrying a nuclear depth charge, but these had been left behind. The Lynx helicopters could fire Sea Skuas, but these would be even less effectual than the Exocets.

One thing that was clear, the 7 warships, with RFA Olna, were a fantastic resource to Great Britain if she was indeed at war with Nazi Germany. Yet, even more than the ships, it was the knowledge, training and expertise of the crews that was even more valuable. Not one of the captains would think twice about going up against a pocket battleship, but the possible loss to a nation at war that a single 11 inch shell could cause had to be taken into consideration. Continuing south was the agreed course, speed would be increased to 20 knots, Olna’s top speed. Hopefully they would be able to make contact with the 1939 Royal Navy, and then all sorts of possibilities were open to them.

During the night comms were able to pick up various radio signals that could only come from 1939, as did the star sightings. The ships’ companies were abuzz with the rumours, and many a matelot lay awake considering his future, and his past.

21 May 1982. 12:00hrs. South Atlantic.

Lt Cdr Andy Johnston leaned over Leading Seaman Martin Clarke’s shoulder and asked “Still nothing?” “No, Sir, nothing from Northwood since the last message we got on the 18th." Clarke continued, "There's some morse code that doesn’t make any sense, and there was that distress call I told you about, Sir.” "Very well, Clarke, carry on" replied Johnston as the turned back into the control room of HMS Onyx. After looking at the charts for inspiration, Johnston said, “Right, Number One, we’ll surface and see if we can pick up anything at all on the radio… Sonar, any contacts?” “None sir” was the reply. “Fine, standby to surface, take her up Number One.”

The Oberon class submarine rose from the depths and its antennae vacuumed the radio waves, listening for anything that would explain the changes that had happened the previous day. Clarke had his eyes closed as the radio cycled through frequencies, at last he had something he recognised. He passed the word for the Captain.

“Sir, it’s a request for contact from HMS Bristol. They aren’t picking up anything from Northwood, and are trying to signal HMS Hermes. We must be directly in the path of the signal to have picked it up.” Johnston, offering a silent prayer of thanks, ordered him to reply with their position and request further instructions.

An hour later Johnston was in his cabin, reading the oddest communication he’d ever had, or even heard about in the Royal Navy. Although HMS Onyx had left Ascension a week ahead of the Bristol Group, he had been making much slower progress. Now, according to Captain Grose it was 8 December 1939, which meant he was at war with Nazi Germany. To make matters even more interesting, he was about 200 nautical miles ahead of the estimated position of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee which was heading for the River Plate. Until informed otherwise, the rules of engagement were to positively identify and sink the German raider. That brought a smile to his lips. You didn’t have to have a fancy nuclear boat like the Conqueror to sink Second World War vintage cruisers! Now all he had to do was figure out what and how to tell the ship’s company. “Good news and bad news, I suppose,” he thought.

9 December 1939. 13:00hrs. South Atlantic.

Kapitän zur See Langsdorff paced the open bridge going over in his mind the opportunities and threats that faced him in the River Plate area. So far he had been able to avoid contact with the British and French forces that were searching for him. By heading to the rich sea lanes off Uruguay there was every possibility that the British navy would have something there to protect the convoy he knew was about to leave. Hopefully it might just be a couple of destroyers, maybe a light cruiser, nothing too dangerous to trouble his magnificent ship.

Suddenly he found himself prostrate on the deck, the shockwave of the explosion under the keel had lifted the whole ship out of the water. As his mind tried to process how he found himself on the deck, and in terrible pain from his legs, he could hear the ship’s officers calling for damage reports, or like himself crying out in agony. He found that was unable to push himself off the deck, it seemed to one part of his mind that he must have broken both his legs. A couple of men from the bridge came over to check on him, but every attempt to get him to his feet simply incurred greater pain. Through the agony the admiral was furious with the look-outs who should have given warning of torpedo tracks, had the idiots been asleep?

The damage reports that were relayed to the bridge were calamitous. The ship’s back had been broken. The torpedo seemed to have exploded under the ship, not on the side, and there was no way the ship could be saved. Langsdorff gave the command to abandon ship, but the ship went down quickly, taking the Langsdorff and four hundred and eighty of the crew with it. In addition a number of captured merchant crews also went down with the ship that had sunk their ships and taken them prisoner.

On board HMS Onyx the sounds of the explosion of the Tigerfish torpedo, and the subsequent breaking up of the ship were played through the internal sound system. Lieutenant-Commander John Mulholland, the weapons engineer officer, had spent a long and frustrating period of time when HMS Onyx had been the submarine which had been used to test the torpedoes. Their unreliability had become a source of constant frustration for the whole crew. They had ten on board, as well as 2 Mark 20 and 11 Mark 8 torpedoes. As the submarine had worked itself into a position to ambush the German pocket-battleship, the question of how to sink it had led to a fairly heated debate among the senior staff. The Admiral Graf Spee was cruising at about 18 knots. To get a shot on it with the Mark 8 torpedoes would take a fair bit of work. Mulholland argued that using the Tigerfish would give them two bites at the cherry. They could launch the Tigerfish and guide them from a position where they could use their own active acquisition to attack the ship. If they failed, then there was still a chance to get another shot away with the Mark 8s. This plan was eventually agreed.

Mulholland and his team had then spent the next few hours giving the two chosen torpedoes some tender loving care in the hope that they could to get them to work. Mulholland would have preferred to fire off four Tigerfish, but there was no chance of getting anymore, ever, so keeping some of them in reserve was the captain’s decision. So the two fish had been fired, one of them immediately breaking its wire, and being lost. The other however did exactly what they had hoped, making Mulholland feel enormous relief, though the thought of all those men drowning didn’t give him any pleasure.

10 December 1939. 13:00hrs. South Atlantic.

Captain Hugo White felt the thrill of HMS Avenger’s speed as she raced towards the River Plate. The sea was quite calm and Avenger was making 32 knots. The Bristol Group were following behind having picked up survivors from the ill-fated Admiral Graf Spee. Captain White had been detached and tasked with making contact with HMS Ajax which should be around the River Plate at 32° south, 47° west, waiting to be joined by HMS Achilles and HMS Exeter. Commodore Henry Harwood had ordered the three cruisers to rendezvous there to wait for the arrival of Admiral Graf Spee. It was now 10 December and HMS Avenger was eating up the miles to the rendezvous. His reverie was interrupted when he was called to the ops room with a surface contact. The profile fitted HMS Ajax, and so White ordered an intercept course and for the battle ensign to be raised to ease identification.

First contact with HMS Ajax was achieved successfully. Commodore Henry Harwood and Captain Charles Woodhouse, Ajax’s captain, were invited to dine in the Type 21’s comfortable wardroom. After a tour of the ship and a flight in the Lynx around their own cruiser, Avenger accompanied HMS Ajax and to the rendezvous with HMS Achilles and in due course Exeter. The four Royal Navy ships eventually met with the rest of the Bristol Group and made for Freetown. HMS Exeter was given the task of carrying the rescued sailors from Admiral Graf Spee to the Falkland Islands, where they would have to be held incommunicado, until someone could decide what to do with them.

One of the first and important pieces of information that was passed on from the Bristol Group was that the German B-Dienst code breakers, were reading British Naval Cipher No.3. This information would be used to provide false information for a period of time until new ciphers were introduced for the whole fleet, both naval and merchant. This meant that information being passed from Force G to the rest of the fleet was highly curtailed. The decision to sail for was for Freetown was so that Admiral George d'Oyly Lyon, Commander in Chief, South Atlantic could make an assessment of the situation.

20 December 1939. 14:00hrs. Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The men of 1982 lined the rails and looked on in wonder at HMS Ark Royal, HMS Renown and 3rd Destroyer Division. There were a very great number of men on the Bristol Group ships who had made plastic models of this aircraft carrier and battlecruiser when they were children, and to see them in real life was a thrill. Likewise the men of 1939 were fascinated by these future ships. Over a couple of days information was exchanged, tours were undertaken.

The arrival of a Wessex onto the Ark Royal was greeted with enthusiasm, and a degree of wonder. Many of the matelots were exchanging stories and happily found that not much had changed in the humour and complaints of those who served in the Royal Navy. A copy of the film Battle of the River Plate was screened and met with much glee. The crew of RFA Olna, whose predecessor played the Altmark in the film, were proud owners of full copy of the film and had the proper facilities to show it.

During the journey across the Atlantic a great deal of effort went into looking at listing the issues, resources and priorities that the Bristol Group’s arrival in 1939 should be considered. Lists were made of the knowledge base of all the servicemen on board. There were a large number of specialists who were earmarked to go ashore to share the technological advances of the next forty years with British industry. In addition the Olna was proving to be a gold mine as its inventory of stocks which it was shipping to the Task Force was impressive, over and above its fuel stocks. There were a great many books, including a great deal of naval history that would be of use. One Sub-Lieutenant had brought his reference books on the battle of the Atlantic which he was studying for his Masters degree.

In discussion with Admiral d'Oyly Lyon and his staff it was decided that there were some things that were of such importance that a group of men from the Bristol Group, including Captains Grose and White would fly by seaplane back to Britain with some of the material. Photographs were taken of the materials to provide a copy in case anything should happen to the flight. The group was split between two Sunderlands giving a better chance of not losing all their eggs in one basket. Along with the two Royal Navy captains, there was a ship’s surgeon, with some medical materials; the senior intelligence officer from the Bristol Group; an RAF Flight Lieutenant who had been sailing on RFA Olna as a late replacement for the Harrier Squadron on HMS Hermes; a Captain from The Scots Guards, who’d also been on RFA Olna, who had missed sailing with his regiment due to being on leave after his marriage.

After an uncomfortable journey, both Sunderlands arrived safely in Cornwall, where the party was met by a large group of military and civilians to begin the process of sifting through the implications of the arrival of the future ships and the possible impact on the war.

23 December 1939. 09:00hrs. RAF Mount Batten. Cornwall. England.

Having arrived in the Sunderlands late the night before, the men of the Bristol Group had been given a night’s sleep before their first meeting with their reception party. The morning was spent with a very suspicious group of men from Military Intelligence who interviewed each of them separately. The possibility of this being some kind of elaborate hoax played by an enemy had to be examined, even if it seemed unlikely. Each of the Bristol Group men got more and more frustrated as the morning and its interviews dragged on. Having to tell their stories over and over again was causing them a great deal of anger. They had information that could literally mean the difference between life and death, winning the war quickly or far more slowly, even possibly losing it. However after a break for lunch, Captain Grose was invited to speak for the whole group to a select audience from various parts of the government and the military.

Among the materials that had been brought back on the Sunderlands was a television, a VCR and a set of VHS tapes of the television series, “The World At War”. While the Bristol Group men were being interviewed, or stewed as they called it, the audience had been sitting through a version of history that might unfold. They hadn’t had time to watch all of it, which would take a whole day. A recommendation of which episodes to watch had been made, covering the first part of the war, up to the fall of Singapore, and then the last couple of episodes, including the one on the Holocaust. What they had seen had horrified them.

That gave Grose an audience which was full of questions, but also ready to listen. Much thought had gone into this lecture, one that Grose and his comrades would probably have to repeat a number of times. There were a number of things that could be done that would hinder Hitler’s plans in the first part of the war. There were a number of other things that would provide the ability to win the war. Lastly there were a number of things that could be done to improve the position of the nation in a post-war world. Obviously some things could be worked on concurrently, but his team had put together a list of priorities to avoid the defeats of 1940 and 1941.

31 December 1939. 21:00hrs. Loch Ewe, Scotland.

Having sailed nine days previously from Freetown, and keeping a steady 18 knots, the Bristol Group, along with force K, arrived at Loch Ewe. The passage was uneventful, they’d deliberately steered clear of any other shipping, and their arrival at night was met by elements of Home Fleet, especially minesweepers which had been hard at work making sure the anchorage was clear. Loch Ewe had been chosen as giving the best equipped anchorage which would also inhibit German reconnaissance efforts. The need to camouflage the future ships had also been prepared for. Amongst those who were desperate to have a look around the new arrivals was the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and Admiral of the Fleet Alfred Dudley Pound.

The best use of these ships had been the subject of much discussion. The loss of personnel ashore would mean that at least two ships would be unable to be manned. HMS Penelope was the oldest of the Leander class ships and it was felt she would be best suited to be taken apart to look at her systems, including the Babcock and Wilcox propulsion system. It was felt that the Type 21s were the least useful ships and that HMS Active would be similarly given over to be broken up. Active was chosen over Avenger because there was evidence of greater hull cracking. The Rolls-Royce Olympus and Tyne gas turbines would be of some interest to the Navy, and the RAF. As to the rest, the suggestion that was made to the Admiralty was that they would be very useful in their primary role of Anti-Submarine Warfare. In addition they might be deployed alongside the aircraft carriers to provide them with greater radar support. A few exercises with Ark Royal personnel and aircraft on the way north had shown that this would be beneficial. HMS Onyx had made her own direct way home in solitary fashion, having been fully stored before leaving the Bristol Group, and had arrived just the day before.

There were others who were appalled at the very thought of putting these future ships, and more importantly, their crews in harm’s way. Their potential loss would be catastrophic. Cooler heads however prevailed. Designed to kill Soviet submarines, far more advanced than the U-boats of the beginning of the war, having three or four hunting groups based around the future ships, could end the battle of the Atlantic before it began. The appeal of the crews matched this desire. While many of them were resigned to their fate of winding up ashore in offices or workshops, the chance to give the Nazis a good kicking was a too good to miss.

The psychological impact on the crews of the Bristol Group had been of enormous concern to their officers, and, to their credit, that of the wartime Admiralty. Long conversations with the chaplains, from both times, and with many of the officers had taken place. There was no definitive answer to anything, but one rating, who was a keen reader of science fiction had posited the multiverse theory. Many of officers and men had taken up the idea that they were copies transferred to this version of reality to do away with tyranny. Meanwhile their true selves were continuing on their way to the Falklands conflict and would return home in due course. For some that was enough. A few hands had disappeared overboard, unable to contemplate their loss, but the vast majority were professionals getting on with the job, and dealing with things their own way.

If God or the Universe or whatever, had put them here to kick Adolf in the ball, then that was a cause they could get behind. There had been a few incidents at Freetown when the consumption of increased amounts of alcohol had allowed feelings of anger and confusion come to the surface. The chaplains and medical officers were keeping an eye on people and offering what comfort they could. Even some of them were struggling. One example was the Roman Catholic chaplain, Fr Tim McGlynn, who’d arrived on HMS Cardiff having been picked up in Gibraltar. He’d taken refuge in the bottle, his alcoholism becoming a particular cause for concern. Along with a couple of others who weren’t coping, he would be sent to a secure location where some support and care could be given.

2 January 1940. 08:00hrs. Loch Ewe. Scotland.

Winston Churchill could hardly contain himself, despite the restraints that he’d been forced to wear when he boarded the Wessex that would deliver him and his entourage onto HMS Bristol. The pilot had kindly agreed to a fly past of each of the ships that had been hurriedly camouflaged as the sun rose over Loch. The fact that it was raining helped make sure that no German eyes would see the ships of the future. Fully laden HMS Bristol displaced over 7100 tonnes, about the same size as HMS Achilles, the Leander class light cruiser which had made the journey with them. The Type 42 destroyer Cardiff displaced 4000t, in contrast to the H class destroyer HMS Hero which displaced 1900t fully loaded. The frigates Avenger and Active displaced 3200 tonnes, the Leanders were around 3000 tonnes, had no real equivalents in the 1939 navy. The Onyx was a few meters longer than a T class submarine, but with a much greater displacement. RFA Olna was simply huge to the eyes of 1940.

Winston Churchill jumped down off the Wessex and saluted the flag and then Captain Grose, who welcomed him and his party on board. As the Wessex clattered away and normal conversation was able to be resumed the First Lord of the Admiralty was quick to recognise that these visitors were a godsend to him, but at much cost to themselves. After an exhaustive tour of the ship, and what seemed like thousands of questions, Captain Grose brought the Admiralty party to the wardroom for lunch, as invited by the ship’s officers.

The main questions that came up were around the capabilities of the ships of the Bristol group, their strengths and weaknesses. The discussion beforehand had been very keen to emphasise the limitations of the technology they had brought back. While many of the systems were developments of things that were already underway, there were other elements, such as transistors that would have to be “invented”. The war stocks on hand of the missiles wouldn’t last long if they were put under constant air attack. Once those missiles, especially Sea Dart and Sea Wolf were expended it would be long time before they could be replicated. Exocet anti-ship missiles, as discussed regarding Admiral Graf Spee, would be very limited against the highly armoured capital ships, as were the smaller Sea Skua carried by the Lynx helicopters. These too would take a lot of time before they could be replicated.

The Vickers mark 8 4.5-inch guns were effective enough, but only four of the ships had them. The fact that all three Leander class frigates had no large guns, likewise HMS Onyx, had been a revelation to the Royal Navy of 1940. It felt that it was a pity that the Leanders had lost their twin Mark 6 gun mountings, replaced by the Exocets, as that had been an effective system, and was within the ability of current manufacture to replicate. The Leanders did have two 40mm Bofors guns each. The others had two Oerlikon 20mm guns for close defence against air attack, (HMS Bristol had four) all the ships were preparing to use GPMGs to supplement their anti-aircraft defences. The Sea Cat missile system on the Type 21s and the Leanders was recognised as being the most easily copied system, though it was felt that using its radar system with Bofors 40mm guns was likely to be a better, certainly quicker choice.

The helicopters, six Lynx and three Wessex, were something that the Admiralty were familiar with the concept of, however their capabilities were something that obviously had great potential. The fact that anti-submarine warfare was the main capability of most of the ships was exciting, especially knowing the potential dangers of an unrestricted U-boat campaign. The radar, which always confused the people who knew it as RDF, was far in advance of what was currently being used, and the sonar, or ASDIC, was likewise far more capable. For anti-submarine killing HMS Bristol had the Ikara system, the took some explaining, the rest of the ships all had anti-submarine torpedo launchers with Mk 46 homing torpedoes, the description of which made a number of RN personnel drool. HMS Andromeda also had five of the latest Stingray torpedoes.

Already the process of stripping the ships of all material that would go for study in various sites was underway, and the officers and men whose knowledge and expertise were considered essential were being fitted for 1940 pattern uniforms so that they would fit in with their new surroundings. As Winston was about to disembark, he was requested to say a few words to the assembled crew, words which would be recorded and conveyed to the other crews in the anchorage. Normally he liked to prepare for speech, but he was buoyed by the experience of the day, and the generous portions of whiskey provided by officers of HMS Bristol. As he came to the microphone, his well-known voice, even to those born long after he died, began…

“Dear shipmates, forgive my impertinence using this term, but it seems that we have been thrown together on this voyage into the unknown. You have entered this New Year festival far from your time, far from your family, yet I hope that you do not feel so far from home. Whether it be the ties of blood, or the friendships that have developed, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship, we face this new year, and new situation together, as men of the Royal Navy.

“We are locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other. Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have a task. A difficult task, a task that will call on all of us a terrible toll. But, whether 1940 or 1982, we are …, well perhaps it is best summed up in a chorus (you’ll forgive me if I don’t sing): ‘Heart of Oak are our ships, Jolly Tars are our men, We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady! We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again.’”

2 January 1940. 11:00hrs. RAF Mount Batten. Cornwall. England.

Commander Tom Allen, the senior intelligence officer on board HMS Bristol had spent the longest week of his life passing on all the information he had about the secret war of spies and intelligence. His entire career had been faced with the danger of the Soviet Union, and so his knowledge of the Second World War was limited, but the information in the book “The Double Cross System” by John Masterman had been picked over intently. It was hoped that this time around British Intelligence would have a similar success rate.

The fact that Allen had some knowledge of Bletchley Park was initially horrifying, but knowing the central importance of the Ultra to British success, and the fact that a team from the Bristol Group would be going there to help matters along was a relief. The cryptology that was used by the Royal Navy in 1982 was being examined, and the problems brought to light with the knowledge of German code breaking successes were being addressed with great urgency.

It was the matter of Soviet penetration into the Secret Intelligence Service that was the biggest surprise. Two of the books that Allen had brought along, “A Climate of Treason” by Andrew Boyle and “Their Trade is Treachery” by Chapman Pincher, gave a fairly extensive picture of Soviet success, and British failure. Allen was keen to stress that, for all he knew, the unmasking of the spies’ names in these books wouldn’t necessarily be the whole story. It was highly likely there were others passing information to the Kremlin completely unknown to MI5.

To complicate matters some of those named in these books, and from Allen’s general knowledge were, as yet in 1940 innocent, or at a very low level. What was currently going on was as much a mystery to him, as it was to MI5. At least now they had no excuse, there was obviously a problem, and it was clear that something would have to be done about it. Allen himself was sure that wouldn’t be something he’d be informed about, but he was keen to stress, that while Stalin and Hitler were still in cahoots, there was ample reason to crack down as hard on Soviet spies as it was on Nazi spies. The Cambridge spy ring was a good place to start.

The Joint Intelligence Committee, as Allen had been informed of this just this morning, had agreed to the proposal that had been suggested by him. His idea was that Britain should pretend to have a highly placed spy within the Nazi hierarchy who was feeding information. Under this cover appropriate future knowledge could be disseminated safely. The worst that could happen if the Germans found out about it is starting a mole hunt in their own leadership cadre. Allen had been careful to point out that things would change from what was “known” as events progressed or “butterflied away”.

2 January 1940. 14:00hrs. RAF Mount Batten. Cornwall. England.

It was painful, very, very painful. Flight Lieutenant Robin Smith finished his lunch and was heading back to the office where he seemed to having been banging his head against a brick wall for a week. As a Harrier pilot in 1 Squadron, he had missed joining the rest of his squadron when they’d left to go off to HMS Hermes. He’d had been on an exchange visit in America. When he’d returned, post haste, he’d been put aboard RFA Olna, with a few ground crew from the squadron to act as battle replacements, should it be necessary. So he had missed one war, and here he was in another, but not exactly as he had expected. Instead of being given a Spitfire and shooting down Nazis, it seemed he was at war with his own service.

It was clear that his assessment of the RAF’s performance in the war was not to the liking of the Air Ministry or the most senior officers of the RAF. Hugh Dowding, the commander of Fighter Command was the exception, he was prepared to listen, probably because his command had done very well, from Smith’s point of view. Bomber Command, on the other hand, he expected would sooner burn him as a heretic than anything else.

It was fair to say that watching “The World At War” had been a bit counter-productive for the Bomber Command officers. They could see the destruction of German cities and it seemed to them that this was exactly what Strategic Bombing was all about. The fact that it didn’t really get going until 1944, and it cost a huge amount of casualties among the air-crew, and in fact didn’t really stop the war, didn’t seem to matter one iota. One of them had actually said to him, in front of others, “Ah well, old boy, once we get the Atom Bomb, that will hurry things along much more quickly, won’t it?” Smith had been gobsmacked. They seemed to have no clue about the failures and costs of their obsession with “the bomber always getting through”.

They had got fixated about fleets of Lancasters dropping Tall Boys with pin-point accuracy and weren’t prepared to listen to the very real, and very quick, small changes that could be made now, that would improve things enough to stop the appalling losses this May in the Advanced Air Component and Advanced Air Striking Component in France. Like all pilots who’d been trained in the RAF, Smith had learned about the mistakes, and bravery of the pilots, flying in Battles and Blenheims, and their complete failure to achieve anything, except die in large numbers. As a Harrier pilot he’d tried to explain the importance of Close Air Support, used successfully by the Luftwaffe, but not really employed by the RAF until well into the desert campaigns in 1942. He’d have been as well beating his head against a brick wall for all the good it was doing. He’s spoken to one of the Fleet Air Arm pilots who’d arrived along with him from Freetown about his conversations. It seemed the FAA were open to what they were being told, but they’d laughed together when they’d tried to imagine how the RAF types would have reacted to getting the same information from the Royal Naval Air Branch!

Taking a deep breath, Smith opened the door to office, and was surprised to find an RAF Officer he hadn’t met before, alone, sitting smoking a cigarette. “Flight Lieutenant Smith, pleased to meet you. My name is Douglas Evill. Evill by name, but not by nature I hope.” Noticing the braid that signified an Air Vice Marshall, Smith came to attention and saluted. “Now, now, none that!” he said, motioning him to a chair. “It seems that my colleagues have been giving you something of a hard time, Flight Lieutenant, or may I call you Robin?” “Of course sir, if you prefer.” Smith’s response came from that same place of frustration that he’d been feeling since he’d arrived in Cornwall. Evill nodded, “It seems that you now have friends in high places. A heavily censored report you wrote crossed the desk of Sir Kingsley Wood, the Secretary of State for Air, he particularly noted the concerns you raised over my bailiwick in France, and sent me down to “get to the heart of the matter”. Now that was the single most surprising exercise of my life, to get into this building and to meet you, Robin.” “I can imagine, Sir! Though not as surprising a time travel I expect.”

“Indeed, there you are! And here you are! I’ve been having a bit of a chat over lunch with the men who you’ve been with the last few days, and I have to say, that I’m a bit surprised at their response to you. Not at all what I expected. Nothing in the manner of ‘manna from heaven’, ‘a wonderful stroke of luck’, which makes me fear a little for the state of the Royal Air Force. I wonder, if you’d mind terribly talking me through what you’ve been trying to say, but perhaps haven’t been listened to? I can assure you that I will give you a fair hearing. Now if you find me agreeable I’ve been assigned to be your liaison. No more banging your head against brick walls, what!”

Smith took a deep breath, “Well Sir, I have been banging on about a number of things. It’s no good looking at what might be available in three or four years. We have until May at the latest before the Nazi hammer falls, April if you count Norway. What can and needs to be done in three months to make us ready for what’s coming?

“If there is just one thing that could be done now more than anything else to make the biggest difference, is get Castle Bromwich to produce Spitfires now. You might have to fire Lord Nuffield to do it, but the sooner that factory can contribute its production the better. In my time it was July before the first Spitfires were produced, but we have to get them moving by the end of January. Even if they only produce fifty a month from February to April, an extra 150 Spitfires in May will make a huge difference. That is the one single thing that I can’t emphasise enough.

“There are a few simple fixes to increase the effectiveness of the planes already in service. I’ve mentioned in my report a way of fixing the Spitfire’s problem with the engine cutting out in negative G manoeuvres. Putting De Havilland constant speed propellers on all the fighters will give them better performance. Sort out the delays with getting the 20mm canon working, even if you have to beg the French for their help, but start putting canons in the fighters as soon as possible, it will give them a much better chance to shoot down Jerries.

“In terms of training the “finger-four” formation needs to be practised rather than the three plane “vic”. We should be setting up a “Red Flag” exercise with the home based squadrons. The idea is to get pilots to have an intensive time of battle-like conditions, with as much realism as possible. I would also propose a “Top Gun” school. This means having one squadron which will mimic German tactics, called the aggressors. The best pilots from each squadron will be brought together to go up against them, hopefully learning how to overcome them. Dogfighting is a skill that can make all the difference. Remember, many of the Luftwaffe’s pilots have combat experience in Spain and Poland. That means they already have an advantage. We have to close that gap as quickly as possible.

“In the short term every Spitfire and Hurricane pilot should go up against the bomber squadrons to learn how to shoot accurately, and particularly learn deflection shooting. Much greater emphasis must be placed on gunnery training. If the fighters start to get 20mm canons instead of machine guns, accurate fire will be all the more crucial. Pilots have to learn to not waste their limited ammo by missing the targets completely. There’s a lot more I could say about that, but well…

“The bombers take terrible losses, are basically ineffective for the best part of four years, and DON’T win the war! How long does it take to train the pilot, navigator and gunner in a Battle? I would guess about a year, right? Though most men on squadron will be in for a couple of years at least. You have about 18 squadrons of Battles designated for France. That is a lot of aircrew, a huge investment in training and skills. The Battles will be withdrawn from frontline service after the battle of France, because they are too vulnerable, too many are shot down by flak and Me 109s. Too many excellent men are lost, and for no gain. You have to withdraw the Battles now and save some of your best trained aircrew. You might consider is using a whole lot of the planes in Training Command, especially when the Empire Training Scheme gets up and running. That is about all they are useful for.

“OK, so what do you do if you have withdrawn 18 squadrons of Battles? My expertise is Close Air Support that is what I’ve been trained to do. I think it would be possible to teach some of the basic skills quickly enough to be able to offer the army in France something, rather than the nothing we would otherwise. We have to blunt the German edge in tank and mobile warfare. If Hawker could adapt the wings of Hurricanes with hard points to carry bombs, then they could do ground support missions as what we call Fighter Bombers. Stop production of the Battles immediately, and use the Merlins meant for them to make more Hurricanes. They were called ‘Hurribombers’ where I come from. If we lose one to ground fire, at least it is only one crewman killed or captured, not the three in a Battle. It might be worth asking the current Battle navigators to retrain as pilots, even ask the air gunners. They've been through a lot of training already, so hopefully pilot training for them could be quicker. You’ll need a lot more pilots and they could be a good source for some quickly.

“You’ve already learned that unescorted daylight bombing is suicidal. I’ve written down some ideas for better navigation at night so that your bombs fall something closer than five miles from the target. We are some distance from radars being fitted, but there is are things called Gee and Oboe that could be brought forward. The German’s have a method based on the Lorenz system which would be a good start. Though I’m told that there aren’t enough oscilloscopes, sorry, oscillographs. I could go on, Sir, but you look a bit overwhelmed.”

The Air Vice Marshall hid his smile while lighting another cigarette. “Well, well, Robin that was about as passionate a speech I’ve ever heard. And I can see why my colleagues weren’t of a mind to listen. Why don’t you take the rest of the afternoon off? I have to get back to London and place a very big bomb under the Air Ministry, and another under Lord Nuffield. I would love for you to come along and see the faces of people who are not going to like the medicine you’re prescribing. But dear chap, pleased be assured that this medicine will be forced down their throats, whether they like it or not. You have my word.” “Thank you Sir,” was as much as Smith could muster.

2 January 1940. 15:00hrs. RAF Mount Batten. Cornwall. England.

Captain Iain Murray, Captain of the Scots Guards, had been on board RFA Olna instead of Queen Elizabeth II with his regiment due to his recent and now distant nuptials. Murray’s reception by the army’s representatives who’d been gathered to listen to the recommendations from history had been very well received. He definitely fitted the bill as “one of us.” The fact that he was a guardsman, from a good family, with the correct alma maters, made his communication with the representatives of the army of 1940 very smooth. This afternoon’s session was a final read through the report that would be put to the Army Council regarding the priorities for making the army as ready as possible for the blooding that was to come.

There were three basic recommendations, which it was hoped would give the army a fighting chance against the Germans when they came. There were many other recommendations about weapons and their production that would be part of supplementary reports. The army hadn’t changed that much from 1940 to 1982 in its love for training. The first recommendation was increased training, something that no-one would likely complain about. The types of training however was a little more radical. Basically it was proposed that all the soldiers in France, and those preparing to go to France, would spend the next three months doing a serious of training exercises. Instead of wasting much of their time digging trenches along the Franco-Belgian borders as they did during the phoney war as Murray knew it, the chances to exercise had to be made the most of. Even it was going to be a harsh winter and spring.

Murray happened to have with him the 1981 serious of pamphlets “Training for War.” These dealt with the principles and organisation of training, then individual training and finally collective training. In essence what these pamphlet recommended was a logical progression from the 1937 “Infantry training, training and war.” The fundamental difference between them was that in 1937 it was expected that each regiment was responsible for its own training, and that gave a lot of latitude for the officer responsible making for an unevenness between the levels of training from one regiment to another. Whereas in 1981, everyone in the army was expected to have the same level of basic training, and that “battle school” an innovation of World War Two, was an essential part of that training.

It had been learned that troops had to be preconditioned to the disorientating physical environment of the battlefield. The best way of overcoming the inherently stressful conditions was for them to learn rote actions that they could repeat as ordered almost without thinking. This school would be set up and run by the Royal Marines that had arrived in HMS Onyx, members of the SBS, who would be well capable of setting up and running a battle school at Fort George, outside Inverness. Two senior sergeants from each infantry Battalion destined for France would be detached to the school for a period of three weeks during January. They would spend the first part learning the drills themselves, and then the second part learning how to teach it. Representatives of each training cadre in the army would then go through the same process so that all the new recruits to the army would learn them too as part of their basic training.

In the month of February these sergeants would train their fellow NCOs and junior officers, so that in March every infantry battalion would learn these drills at individual, squad, platoon and company level. During the months of January and February the basics of physical fitness and weapon proficiency would be worked on with the infantrymen until the trainers had been trained.

Meanwhile Murray would organise a school for company and Battalion officers. One Major and one Captain from each infantry battalion would then have the three week course starting later in January. Much of the work of this school would be to do with communication, leadership, and combined arms cooperation. This would take place at Sandhurst, so that that organisation would benefit from the methodology. The officers who passed this training course would then be organised as Brigade teams to pass that training onto their fellow officers during the rest of February into March.

The last part of the process, due to happen at the end of February into early March, would be a week’s “war school” for all the senior officers: Brigadiers, Divisional, Corps and Army Commanders. By this time it should be clear what the BEF’s strategy would be, in and of itself, and in relation to the French and probably Belgian allies.

That would mean that during the month of April comprehensive Battalion, Brigade, Divisional and finally Army series of exercises could be conducted, hopefully with French participation. Four months was all they had to prepare to Fall Gleb, they had to make the most of that time.

The second recommendation was regarding “C3I”: Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. If the BEF had been defeated in May 1940 it was due in no small part to its failure in these matters. They had not foreseen how German doctrine and organisation would interact with their own on the battlefield. Hopefully the hindsight that the Bristol Group had brought would fix that problem. But historically the BEF’s C3I could not cope with the tempo of operations that the Germans imposed upon it. Amongst the recommendations was that the C-in-C of all forces in France, General Gort, should not also have the responsibility of the army commander. So within the BEF, there should be created First Army, with its own commander-in-chief. In due course it was expected that a second, even a third army would be created, with would require an Army Group commander. C-in-C of the BEF would then be free to deal with the whole, while the army commander got on with that specific job. Part of the hope for the “war school” mentioned in training, was that each Corps staff should be adequate for the job they were entrusted with. The deficit of training of senior officers was a problem that needed to be addressed and could only be done so but the leadership of the army.

There was a reliance on cable communications by the BEF, not least on the French telephone system, that was dangerous. It was clear that the army did not have enough radios to be able to do its job effectively. The Royal Corps of Signals needed to be strengthened as did the signals platoon in each battalion. Attention should be given to radio security, and Murray had a tried and tested system used by the army in 1982 that should be introduced, rather than the time consuming ciphers currently used. Getting to the point where each Company had radio communications, that all formations, including the RE Field Companies, were tied into a network was of paramount importance. This would be particularly helpful in the combined arms operations that were envisaged. Everything possible should be done to acquire enough Wireless Sets No 11 and 18 and fully trained operators by May 1940.

Unless something drastic took place, the Intelligence part of the equation should be very strong. However the danger could be that there would be an over-reliance on what the Germans should do, as opposed to what they were actually doing. So while strategically the German plan was understood, but it was the role of Intelligence to make sure that the German ability to be creative and flexible, didn’t outwit them this time around. The BEF’s intercept service should be strengthened by having enough linguists, who were well versed in German military terms, so that plain text tactical messages intercepted, could be utilised, but again the need for the dissemination of that intelligence between the intercept stations, GHQ and lower headquarters would have to be well organised and trained.

The third and final recommendation was more of a medium to long term issue. The various battles and campaigns of World War Two had seen a number of experiments with the Table of Organisation and Equipment (TOE) of the army from squad to divisional level. What the army had finished the war with in 1945 had then become the foundation of the army all the way up to 1982. Murray’s description of that TOE was to be examined and ideally moved towards as soon as practicable. Trying to implement wholescale changes at this point would simply confuse matters, but since First Armoured Division was still in the process of formation, replacing the “support group” with an infantry Brigade, preferably “mechanised” could be done and still allow it to arrive in France by the end of April. Two Divisions (5oth (Northumbrian) and 51st (Highland)) should be chosen as the first two infantry Divisions to attempt to increase their mechanisation. They would then join First Armoured Division as a “Mechanised Corps.”

As the group finished off their deliberations and found a consensus among themselves about these recommendations, Murray wondered if they had enough time, and motivation to be able to stand up to Hitler’s armies. He was reminded of a quote from Claude Auchinleck that the British Army in 1940 had encountered in the Germans a foe as radical as their forebears had found in Napoleon’s Grand Armée. It had taken a lot of learning before the army in the early 19th Century had finally been able to best Napoleon’s troops. Murray hoped that the recommendations that were being proposed would short-cut some of the most expensive lessons so hard won by 1945. That would only happen as long as the army as a whole would be prepared to listen and change. If there was one thing the British army of 1940 needed to do, it needed to change.

3 January 1940. 14:00hrs. 10 Downing Street. London. England.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was sitting contemplating his future over a cup of tea. The War Cabinet had spent the morning being fully briefed on the events that had led to the sinking of the Admiral Graf Spee and the arrival of the Bristol Group. The information that they had given, and the hope they held out had made for an interesting discussion. Lord Halifax had, perhaps simply playing devil’s advocate, explored the question of whether the long term future of the British Empire would be better served by withdrawing from the agreements with France and making a separate peace with Hitler. The Germans were beastly and would have to be stopped somehow, there was no question of that. The question however, was whether or not defeating them was worth the cost of an impoverished and weakened England, divesting itself of its colonial possessions with indecent haste. Was that outcome better or worse than the loss of face in abandoning treaty obligations?

There was a strong disagreement about this line of thinking in the cabinet. A much rosier point of view was given by Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. In his view, the information, if properly distributed, and there was a big choice to be made regarding the French, then the German’s expansionism could be brought to a resounding stop. As some of the new equipment was brought into production, it might well be possible to see the Nazi regime collapse within a year or two. Then the Empire would be in a much stronger position, with the opportunity to become the world leader in science and technology.

Eventually this line of argument won the day, and the decision was made to establish an Oversight Committee under the chairmanship of Baron Maurice Hankey, Minister without Portfolio. The committee was given the task of making the most of the information that had fallen into their laps. The job ultimately would be to make sure that all elements of the nation would work together to bring success to the military forces that would take the brunt of the fighting.

However, what was really on the Prime Minister’s mind was the fact that the future Navy doctor had examined him the other day. It was known that he had died of cancer and the hope was that an early diagnosis might give him a chance of recovery. The best men from Harley Street would no doubt confirm the diagnosis of cancer. Chamberlain was no coward, and the possibility of going under the knife wasn’t what he was thinking about. War. Total, relentless and awful war. He knew that he wasn’t the right man for the job. He put down his cup and picked up the telephone, asking his private secretary to see if perhaps he might have an audience with the King.

4 January 1940. 10:00hrs. The Admiralty. London, England.

Lieutenant Charles Parker checked his notes once more as he waited to be called into the conference room. His studies on the Battle of the Atlantic were well advanced and he had been nearing completing his Masters Degree in History. Now he was right in the middle of that very history he’d studied. He had packed some of the most important sources with him when he had set sail for the Falklands on HMS Andromeda hoping to do some work when he had a chance. Thank goodness he had, because it was now worth its weight in gold.

As he had sailed up from Freetown he had time to organise his study materials so he could present them to the Naval Intelligence Division in London. The trip south from Loch Ewe in an uncomfortable steam train compartment had been a revelation, seeing Britain in January 1940 pass his window. London itself was suffering from a particularly cold winter, as was all of Europe, if there was one thing that he’d forgotten was the ubiquitous coal smoke from chimneys.

He was wearing a downtime uniform, which was slightly ill-fitting, and this added to his discomfort. The door opened and a pretty Wren invited him to come in. Picking up his cap from the chair beside him, he marched into the room and gave his best salute. He was immediately put at ease by the chairman, a rear admiral. “We’ve a lot to get through, Lieutenant, so pull up a chair and explain this goldmine you’ve given us.”

“Thank you, Sir. What you have before you are photocopies of the war diaries of the German Naval Staff Operations Division for 1940. These were translated by the American’s Office of Naval Intelligence after the end of the war and declassified in 1972. These particular copies are ones I made from the original in the library at Dartmouth and are part of my research into the early stages of the Battle of the Atlantic. Each folder covers one calendar month. If I may… (he picked up the January 1940 folder and turned to 4 January, that very day)…it notes that U30 is southeast of Ireland and U32 west of the Shetlands. U46 is in the Atlantic and U56 and U58 are in the North Sea. U58 was responsible for sinking Swedish vessel Lars Magnus Trozelli on New Year’s Day and Swedish vessel Svarton yesterday. Now it doesn’t give us exact coordinates, but it is enough to give us an idea of where to look for them.

“Looking at tomorrow’s entry you will see U30 is in the Irish Sea, U32 is in the North Channel, and U46 is on its return passage near the Hebrides, and U19 is on passage towards Rattray Head. We know for example it was U30 that was responsible for damaging HMS Barnham in December. I’ve tried to make charts of the probable locations of the various submarines over the next couple of weeks.

“I believe Captain Grose has requested permission to make a demonstration of our ASW abilities. There is a huge amount of information in these diaries, a lot of it will be really useful, I believe that such a demonstration might be particularly effective in the second half of January.

“May I also point out that these diaries also shows the German penetration of the Naval Cipher.” (There was an audible harrumph from more than one of those at the meeting) These detailed reports will obviously be less accurate the more things change, you’ll notice that there is information about HMS Hood, Warspite, Rodney and Suffolk. As we change the code and start to act on some of the intelligence this will become less and less useful. Above all I strongly urge you to examine the Norwegian campaign. If we can seriously interdict that and keep Norway out of the hands of the Nazis, that alone will be a huge game changer to the war.”

The meeting proceeded for another few hours, Parker fielding as many questions as he could, including one "what is a photocopy?" One outcome was that Commodore Grose’s plan for a demonstration was agreed.

5 January 1940. 10:00hrs. Hatfield. Hertfordshire. England.

Geoffrey de Havilland rose from his desk as his visitor entered the office. “Wilfred, to what do I owe the honour seeing you again so soon?”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: Thank you for seeing me at such short notice Mr de Havilland, there are a couple of pressing matters that we’d appreciate your help with. As you know we’ve been making changes to the Merlin to allow it to take the Rotol propeller. However there are a great many Spitfires and Hurricanes already in service which don’t have the improved propeller. We were wondering about whether your company might be able to fit your constant speed propellers onto those aircraft, as a matter of urgency?

GdH: I believe that should be possible. If I remember correctly the mechanism will be the same as our Hydromatic propeller, but we’ll need to have a Spitfire and a Hurricane to test them on. If you were able to have one of each here, I’ll get in touch with our factory in Bolton, and get a team to bring a couple of sets down so we can get to work immediately.

WF: That is wonderful, there is a Spitfire pilot standing by, so I shall telephone his station and get him on his way as soon as possible. I’ll need to make another call to get a Hurricane, but that will be no problem. Thank you. Now, if you don’t mind, there is another thing. Since our meeting on the First, we have decided to go further than just the prototype we agreed on then. I have here a contract under Specification B.1/40 for 150 bomber-reconnaissance variants of the DH.98. In addition we have another Specification F.21/40 for a long range fighter armed with four 20mm cannon and four .303 machine guns in the nose. It should be able to carry an Airborne Interception equipment to enable it be a night fighter. We have an initial order for 150 of these. To be perfectly honest, we believe that this could be a world beating aircraft, and these 300 orders are the first of many.

GdH: Well, that is extraordinarily excellent news! I will inform Eric Bishop immediately to let him know to get his pencils sharpened.

WF: I’m glad to be the bearer of good news. I would urge a sense of urgency for Mr Bishop, and indeed for your whole company. If you could get the design work as far forward as possible, and we might be able to offer some help with that. We would really love to see a prototype in the summer, and if all goes well pre-production before the end of the year. If it was in squadron service by spring of next year, we would be most grateful.

GdH: I really can’t promise you any timings as this point, but we will certainly do our best. This help you’re offering, could you say a little more?

WF: Not at this point, there’s a bit of a sea change about to happen, and your aircraft will be at the cutting edge of where we want to be in 1941. So please expect a lot of help, and probably some pressure too.

GdH: Help and pressure. An interesting combination. Do you have time for some tea Wilfred?

WF: There’s always time for tea, though if you wouldn’t mind contacting Bolton about the propellers first.

GdH: My, it really is a priority.

The Spitfire arrived at Hatfield later that day, joined the following day by a Hurricane. It took four days for de Havilland technicians to make the necessary changes. With the new propeller the modified Spitfire had a shorter take-off run, was much faster in climb, and its maximum altitude increased by 7,000 feet, the same performance as those equipped with the Rotol propeller. Similar improvements were made to the Hurricane’s performance.

Two days after that a convoy of trucks departed the de Havilland factory in Bolton aiming for the various RAF stations where Spitfires were based. Each truck carried six conversion units. The de Havilland engineers did the conversions, training RAF fitters as they did so. They then moved onto the next station. Each Spitfire squadron was thus equipped within three weeks of the initial meeting. Once the Spitfires had been converted work began on the Hurricane Squadrons. Those currently based in France were first, flying back for two days, having the installation done, and then returning to their forward bases.

While they were back in the UK, the pilots were given a series of lectures about proposed changes to the directives on formation flying, aerial tactics and some updated information about the German aircraft they would be facing. Each Squadron was asked to exercise with a four ship formation rather than three. They were paired with Battle or Blenheim Squadrons to practice attacks, and occasionally with a visiting Spitfire Squadron for practicing dogfighting.

6 January 1940. 10:00hrs. Derby. England.

Ernest Hives rose from his desk in the Rolls Royce factory as his visitor entered the office. “Air Chief Marshal, to what do I owe the honour?”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: Thank you for seeing me at such short notice Mr Hives. I’d like to talk about production of the Merlin if you don’t mind.

EH: Of course, sir. How can I help?

WF: I see from your last report that the shadow factories in Crewe and Glasgow have started production, which is excellent news. There are a number of changes to the planned aircraft production coming before the end of the month and I wanted to give you some pre-warning personally. You may have heard that Lord Nuffield is no longer in charge of the factory at Castle Bromwich?

EH: That must have been quite a conversation between the Prime Minister and his Lordship!

WF: I believe it was, and I’m not sure his Lordship quite knows what happened. A team from Vickers will be arriving there as we speak. However, back to the matter at hand. It is essential that we get as many Spitfires and Hurricanes into the air as quickly as possible. For that we will need to increase the production of your Merlins. The fourth shadow factory planned for Rolls Royce is at Trafford Park, and will be run by Ford, I believe. Currently it isn’t due to start production until early next year. We have been looking at that, and it really has to change. I know it will be difficult to get the machine tools, and train the workforce, but we need that factory as soon as humanly possible. I wonder if I could urge you, in the strongest possible terms to work with Ford and get things moving much more quickly.

EH: I suppose we can do something about it. I will get a team onto it and light a fuse under them.

WF: Thank you, we’d appreciate it. There have been some developments in the last month regarding the war, and so there are a few other things we would appreciate your help with. I’m afraid it is a mixture of both good and bad news.

EH: Why don’t you give me the bad new first, Air Chief Marshall?

WF: We are going to concentrate all of our efforts on just a few aircraft, and therefore engines. Therefore I would urge you to suspend all work on the Peregrine and Vulture engines, just as you have already with the Exe. The Whirlwind and the Manchester are both going to be cancelled. We need you to put all your design expertise into improving the Merlin and developing the Griffon.

EH: Well, that isn’t exactly bad news, I’ve been thinking along the same lines myself, though Westland and Avro can’t be too happy.

WF: We have other plans for those two companies that should satisfy them. Avro will move to a four engined type, based around the Manchester, but we expect it to have four Merlins. I can’t say too much about Westland at the moment. However we have some further bad news, some of your design team are going to be “requisitioned” into another project. This will pay great dividends for you as a company in the future, and again I can’t say too much more on this, but, believe me when I tell you that the name of Rolls Royce will continue to be associated with cutting edge technology for decades to come.

EH: Well, that is intriguing, I have to say. There will be a problem if you are asking us to develop the Merlin and Griffon and at the same time taking away some of my designers.

WF: I understand your concern, however I believe we may be able to compensate you in other ways, but at the moment, again, I can’t say any more. Now, further bad news. It is the desire of His Majesty’s Government that the production of the Merlin should be increased dramatically. To that end we would like you to enter into negotiations with the Packard Motor Car Company in the United States to licence production of the Merlin in America. Now, I know that is something that you have avoided before, and I understand your reasons for it. However such are the numbers of aircraft that are going to be built using the Merlin, and later the Griffon that having another source of engines will be necessary. There is a particular fighter aircraft that we hope will be designed and built in the USA that will be bought by the RAF, but we want it to have your engine.

EH: If I refuse, will I have a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister, as Lord Nuffield did?

WF: I doubt it, but I can’t rule it out. At this point, we would simply want you to begin the process of inquiry about the possibility. We still have to get agreement about the aircraft, and until that is resolved, we can’t be sure about the engine. It would however make life a little easier for the Canadians if they could ship Merlins up from America, rather than across the Atlantic.

EH: When you put it like that, I will of course look into what would be involved. Now I hope you might have some good news, to sweeten this somewhat bitter pill I’m having to swallow.

WF: Well, actually yes. As well as vastly increased orders for the Merlin, and the Griffon in due course, we would also like to have a de-rated Merlin IIIs for the use in land vehicles, specifically tanks. This isn’t exactly my area of expertise, but getting some kind of powerful engine for their tanks has got the Army into a bit of a tizzy. It seems that someone has come up with the brilliant plan to adapt the Merlin. To that end I have here a letter of credit for £1 million pounds to make it happen. I would suggest entering into an agreement with Rover at Tyseley for them to open up a plant for manufacturing, but with your company taking the lead in getting it ready for production. It may be that some of your chassis design team might fit the job for designing tanks and their engines.

EH: A million pounds is quite a sweetener! Once more, I will ask some of my people to look into it. So let me make sure I’ve got this right. You want us to suspend all work on everything bar the Merlin and Griffon. You are going to steal some of my designers for something very hush hush. We’ve to explore a licence deal with the Americans, and you want us to build a tank engine based on the Merlin. Is that about it?

WF: Basically yes, but don’t forget getting Trafford Park up and running as soon as possible. Otherwise that is the gist of it. Thank you for your time.

7 January 1940. 19:00hrs. Greenock. Scotland.

A heavily escorted convoy of merchant ships slipped into Greenock and tied up, a heavy presence of soldiers all around the docks increased the feeling that something very special was happening. During the night the ships were unloaded, and crates of varying size and shape, quickly covered over with tarpaulins, were transferred onto two trains, with a number of soldiers riding in the goods wagons as protection when they departed.

A large number of sailors got into the passenger carriages on the two trains. The men didn’t look any different from any other sailors being transferred, though the fact there had special trains laid on for them was odd. The trains headed south at best possible speed. The first train headed for RAF St Athan, near Cardiff where all aeronautical materials and experts were headed. A large number of engineers, designers and other interested parties from all around the country were given short notice of their transfer to special projects, but their movement took place under a great veil of secrecy.

The second train made its way to Plymouth to the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keyham College. The actual college itself moved to Manadon a little quicker than had originally had been planned. Keyham then became the centre of research and development for nautical design, using the materials that fallen into their laps. Like RAF St Athan the population was quickly increased by all sorts of people from all over the country.

In both sites Bristol men were finding themselves in the company of people who were often heroes to them. Frank Whittle and Barnes Wallis took up residence in Wales. Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers passed through the RAF station to be shown the kind of thing they had fathered. Leaving Wales they went back to Bletchley Park with 8 specialists who joined them to increase the speed and complexity to what was already called “Colossus.”

As well as the two centres that had been set up a large number of academics of various types were visited with encouragement, investment and advice. John Randall and Harry Boot were visited at the University of Birmingham to see how they were progressing with the cavity magnetron, and they found themselves with a few extra pair of hands to get a working design ready for production.

Where possible patents and royalties continued to be honoured. One exception to this was with the introduction of the transistor. Julius Lilienfeld had filed patents in Canada and the United States, and he was approached by the electronics firm Pye Radio Ltd to take up his ideas and try to bring something to fruition. The promised royalties were enough for him to agree. Within a relatively short time a purpose built facility in Cambridge was attempting to develop various types of transistor for several different applications.

A number of other companies found themselves being chosen by the Government for significant investment. There was a large order for radios for the army, and so Philips, despite it being a Dutch company, and supposedly neutral, were encouraged, some would day bribed, by grants and tax breaks to build a new factory near Liverpool to diversify their production base from Holland.

The shadow factories planned before the war were being opened and brought into production as fast as possible. Men from the Ministries of Labour and Production were active in making sure that this process was as smooth and rapid as possible. Castle Bromwich, where Spitfires were supposed to be produced, was particularly singled out for “support” and a number of workers were found other positions in other companies if they didn’t collaborate with the new management regime. Supermarine, and their parent company Vickers, were under no illusion that if Castle Bromwich wasn’t producing Spitfires by February that heads would roll.

The government began to make purchases of a number of rare metals and these were being stockpiled over and above the strategic resources that were already being acquired. The price of certain commodities increased as demand rose, but the quantities that were being sought didn’t lessen.

8 January 1940. 10:00 hrs. Small Heath. Birmingham. England.

Man from the Ministry of Supply: The French have been very helpful with these modifications to the spring, de-icing and the belt feed on the Hispano cannon. We’ll be wanting a great many of these, in fact they’ll probably replace nearly all the Brownings you’re making for aircraft over the next couple of years. When can we expect delivery of the first 12 for testing? Remember, it is urgent.

Director of Birmingham Small Arms Factory: These don’t seem as if they’ll take much doing. I’ll need to check with the engineers, some of these notes are in metric numbers rather than Imperial, so we’ll need to translate that. But, well, how does the end of next week sound for the twelve?

MofS: A week on Friday it is then. Now, we’ve been looking at the shadow factories planned for the Hispano. Of the three factories at Stoke-on-Trent, Corsham and Newcastle-Under-Lyme, we’d like you to get Stoke-on-Trent up and running as quickly as possible. They’ll be working round the clock. When can I tell the minister it will be producing?

BSA: I reckon it will take a good few months to get the machine tools made and installed, then we’d need to get the workforce trained. We could move a few of our teams from here to get them started. Say June for initial production and August for full?

MofS: April and June would be better. Maybe have a few more teams in at the beginning from here?

BSA: That would be pushing it, how about May and July?

MofS: We might be able to get some help from the French with some tools and training, as I said, it is very urgent. So anything you can shave off that would be appreciated. Thank you for your time.

9 January 1940. 09:00hrs. Woolwich. London. England.

Tank Board Meeting, Royal Arsenal. Woolwich.

Attendance: Cmdr E R Micklem (Chair), Mr P Bennett (Director General of Tanks and Transport), Maj General Campbell Clarke (Director of Artillery), Brigadier V Pope (Army Representative), Mr J H Moyses (Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Ltd), Mr W A Robotham (Rolls Royce), Mr G W Thompson (Member of General Council of Trades Union Congress), Mr AAM Durrant (Chief Engineer of London Passenger Transport Board).

Chair: It seems that we have been brought together to sort out what to do about our tanks, and to begin the process of deciding what will replace those currently being produced. We’ve managed to get some details about the German Panzer III and IV which we will be facing and, other than the 37mm gun on the III and the IV’s short HE only gun, we think they are both pretty good, arguably much better than what we have. So we have a look at a new specification, and the guidance from the Ministry of Supply is that we are to aim towards having one “universal” tank. Let’s just talk through some of the big issues now and produce the specifics in due course if that is alright with you?

Vyvyan Pope: So rather than having three types of tank: light, cruiser and infantry, you’re saying that all three should be replaced with something like Panzer “medium” tank, which is about 25 tons? From the army’s point of view there are three things a tank needs: good protection, a good gun and speed. It needs to have a three man turret, be reliable, and easy to manufacture and maintain in the field. No small task to get all of that right.

Harry Moyses: Companies like mine, Birmingham Railway, while we’re working on the A10, just now, we don’t have a lot of experience in designing new tanks.

Roy Robotham: I’ve been working on chassis for Rolls Royce, I really don’t understand why I’ve been asked to sit on this board!

Chair: Harry and Roy have been identified as being people who could start from a blank piece of paper and, with the specifications we decide, make a working AFV. So please don’t underestimate your abilities.

Peter Bennett: I find it interesting that both myself as Director General of Tanks and Transport, and General Clarke as Director of Artillery are both here. I suppose that means that the development of the tank and its gun has to go hand in hand?

Campbell Clarke: Yes, that’s certainly my understanding. The guidance I’ve been given is that we should be looking at the 6-pdr gun as the first choice for this tank, with some debate on whether the French idea of a 75mm gun, which would have a good HE round, but might need some help to have a satisfactory anti-tank round.

Arthur Durrant: The Brigadier mentioned reliability and speed. That depends a great deal on the power plant. We obviously can’t get Maybach to sell us their V12 engine, and currently the Liberty engine is the only one available, unless we try to fit lorry engines into tanks, which I imagine would be a failure.

Chair: Part of the reason that Roy is here is because Rolls Royce have been approached to adapt their Merlin III for a tank engine. That should give plenty of power, which will give good speed, though we will also need to consider range as a factor.

George Thompson: I see from the notes that the Panzer has torsion bar suspension. Is that a possibility, or will the Christie suspension be used?

Peter Bennett: That is an excellent question, as is the gears, the cooling system, in fact pretty much everything. For myself I would argue that the new tank has to be made of cast armour and welded. Rivets or bolts flying around inside the tank are deadly. One of the other things I don’t particularly like about the Panzer IV is it has narrow tracks, on mud they might struggle, so wider tracks for us I think.

Vyvyan Pope: Having been spending time with the men of the Royal Tank Regiment they would have a long list, as you can imagine, but there are a few things that make perfect sense. It has to be easily maintainable. Don’t put something in an awkward space that means you need to take the whole engine out to get to. Perhaps being able to take the whole engine out in one easy stage would be good too, that way if it does break down putting in a new one won’t take too long.

They also wanted good sized hatches, if they need to get out in a hurry, so you may want to think how each crewman gets in and out. They want some kind of boiling vessel so they can make a brew! Where you store the ammunition will be an issue too, they’re worried if the tank gets penetrated how you can minimize the risk of all the ammo blowing up. Also good radio and some kind of improved intercom system so they can speak to one another more easily. Also some way of speaking to the infantry without having to open hatches, one person suggested a kind of telephone at the back of the tank.

Chair: So basically we want the perfect tank, and if at all possible, we’d like it yesterday…

Peter Bennett: May I ask about the current tanks under development? Have any decisions been made, or are we going to have look at that too?

Chair: As I understand it, in general terms, the Mark VI light tank will stop production, allowing Vickers to concentrate on speeding up process of getting the Valentine into production. Regarding the cruisers, the mark I, or the A9, is going to concentrate on the Close Support version with its HE gun. The mark II, or A10, will continue production, but give way to the Valentine as Vickers gets it moving. The cruiser mark III or A13 will go ahead, though probably up-armoured enough to call it a mark IV. Production of this will continue until our new tank replaces it and in due course, the Valentine. What Nuffield are calling the Covenanter, the cruiser mark V, will be cancelled, so that more production resources can go into A13 and prepare the way for the universal tank. The A15 Crusader, which is a development of the A13, is under consideration as the basis of a family of vehicles such as self-propelled guns, both artillery and anti-aircraft, armoured personnel carriers and specialised engineering vehicles. It doesn’t offer that much of an improvement over the A13 as a tank to warrant replacing it on production lines.

As for the infantry tanks, the Matilda I will come to an end almost immediately and Vulcan will be asked to put all of their efforts to get Matilda IIs into service. The Valentine falls somewhere in between the infantry and cruiser tanks, a heavy cruiser if you will. All of this means that our Tank Brigades will be a mixture of Mk VI lights, A9, A10, A13, Matilda IIs and Valentines. That gentlemen is why we want one “universal” tank.

George Thompson: There are a lot of companies involved in all of this, many of them have no experience of building tanks, not even of heavy engineering. A lot of workers are being asked to work on something about which they are unprepared and untrained. I foresee problems in quality control unless that is addressed.

Arthur Durrant: With all of these new factories being opened, would it be worth assigning one or two of them to be devoted exclusively to tank manufacture? If we’re talking about welding rather than riveting or bolting, the workers will need to be trained on that. If we are aiming to get this new tank into production in a year, which to be honest seems a bit ambitious to my way of thinking, maybe we could use that time to set up the factories, get the right tools and training, so that when production begins, it is streamlined.

Chair: I believe we have a good deal to work on, and I feel that we have a good team here to get on with it. So, shall we move into specifics? General Clarke, let’s talk guns shall we?

10 January 1940. 09:00hrs. Vulcan Plant, Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. England.

Man from the War Office: So, as you know, we’ve curtailed the Matilda I and have given you a larger order for the Matilda II. I’m here today to ask if you can put everything into the Matilda II and get as many of them ready by April, even if you have to go to twenty-four hour working, we need as many of them as we can get as quickly as possible.

Director of Vulcan: They are terribly slow to make. I can get more shifts on to increase production a bit, but the grinding is specialised work. I’m not sure how many more we can produce in a few months.

MWO: Regarding that, as you know we approached Ruston & Hornsby to begin production of the Matilda II last September. What we would like to do now is to approach a number of other firms: William Fowler; London, Midland & Scottish Railway; Harland & Wolff and North British Locomotive Works to support production with some of the castings and other bits and pieces. We are hoping that many hands will make light work. Tank production is now at the highest level of priority in the country, followed a close second by aircraft manufacture. So you see, everything that can be done, needs to be done.

DV: I suppose we could have a word with those other companies and sort out who would make what, then bring it all here and assemble them. That would certainly make things go along a bit quicker.

MWO: That would be very helpful. In addition we will accept some changes to the tank to speed production up. I believe the hull side coverings could be left off or simplified, if that would save time. Now, between us, I believe a new tank design may be in the works, and if you are able to help us with this, I’m sure that will be taken into account when we look at ordering the next tank.

DV: Well, I’m sure we’d want to bid on that. I’ll talk to the managers to see if we can’t get you as many tanks as we can in the meantime.

11 January 1940. 09:00hrs. RAF St Athan. Wales.

“Gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to a few of the weapons that are used by British forces in the future, and hopefully the near future. Let us begin with something you will be completely unfamiliar with. This is the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle. Somewhat different from the Boys elephant gun you are currently using, I think you’ll find. This is a single shot, breech loading weapon with a rifled barrel. The thing that makes this so powerful is the shaped charge "HEAT" (High Explosive Anti-Tank) round. Shaped charges are already around in various forms, you will be familiar with the Munroe Effect. Now, the Charlie G is a heavy, awkward piece of kit to lug around. When it goes off it's like the world farting and the cheeks of its arse slapping you round the head. Fire off too many rounds and you’ll feel concussed. But if you hit a Panzer with this thing, it will ruin their whole day. You can hit a moving target out to 150 meters, and stationary targets up to 700m.

“This is the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, or SLR. It is a semi-automatic, that is, it fires one shot each time you pull the trigger, without the need to cycle the bolt yourself; it has a twenty round detachable box magazine. The L1A1 is a reliable, hard-hitting, gas-operated, magazine-fed semi-automatic rifle. It is very accurate out to 600m. Obviously if it is chosen to replace the Lee Enfield, there will be an issue with the cartridge. The .303 as you know is a rimmed round, and that will cause problems. I get the impression however that no one is keen on changing guns and ammunition at this point.

“This is the Sterling submachine gun. It takes the 9 x 19mm Parabellum round. Its rate of fire is 550 rounds per minute and is accurate enough out to 200 yards, though 100 is more likely. The magazine holds 34 rounds. It is very useful for close in work, and at 6lbs weight, is a useful little number for carrying around. Sub-machine guns are extremely useful, and I believe that you may want to give this serious consideration.

“This however, it the piece-de resistance. The L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun, known affectionately as the Gimpy. Effective range of the GPMG light role is 800m. In the Sustained Fire role it is 1800m and using map predictive fire 3000m. Its cyclic rate of fire is between 750-1000 rounds per minute. Practically about 200 in sustained fire, and 100 in light role. The problem will be that it will difficult to adapt it for .303. One suggestion is to use this instead of the BESA on tanks, but using the same 7.92 x 57mm Mauser round. Hopefully there will be a lot of captured German kit lying around to keep it fed.

“Now, Gentlemen, you can see on the table here various other pieces of kit for your perusal today. The Browning 9mm pistol is probably already familiar to you; the M79 grenade launcher, the 66mm LAW disposable rocket launcher, and beside the table the L16 81mm mortar. We also have the L9 A1 51mm, but it is basically the same as the 2 inch mortar currently in use. There are however some types of rounds for it that you will find useful. The Olna was carrying good quantities of these weapons and ammunition as part of her cargo. There were also a few other bigger bits of kit that the RAF will be interested in.

“So, shall we go to the firing range and try out some of our goodies? Good, follow me then, and feel free to ask any questions…”

11 January 1940. 10:00hrs. Plymouth. England.

In a Nissan Hut in Keyham College.

Bristol Man: So that was the Hedgehog, which was replaced by the Squid launcher that I was trained on, and then there was the Limbo, which has just been taken out of service. I was on the old Salisbury, which was the last operator of the Squid. I’ve written down as much as I can remember about its system and operation. Though to be honest, I think the Hedgehog will do in the meantime. The fuse was really interesting on the Hedgehog. The problem with a contact fuse is how you get it not to explode on contact with the sea. Some boffin came up a kind of propeller system. So the bomb is fired and enters the sea, the propeller is then turned by the water as it sinks, three or four turns later the fuse is armed and, if it hits a sub, BOOM. Really clever. There was book called "The Secret War 1939-45" that covered all of that kind of thing. You should ask around to see if anyone has a copy, it will be dead useful.

11 January 1940. 11:00hrs. RAF St Athan. Wales.

In a Nissan Hut in RAF St Athan.

PO (Missile) Harry Collins: “And that Sir, is the Exocet missile. To be honest, I don’t think it is worth bothering doing much with this at this point. There are bits and pieces in here that will take years of development to replicate. I think if we had fired it at the Graf Spee it would just have burned off some paint. So it’s not really worth bothering about. The missiles you should be looking at are the 2 inch rocket pods that the Olna was carrying down to the carriers. They’re unguided, and should be able to be reproduced with that you already have. If you want missiles that may be your best hope. All the others that I’m familiar with – Sea Dart, Sea Wolf, Sea Cat, even Sea Slug are some way off. Sorry I can’t be more help sir.”

In another Nissan Hut in RAF St Athan.

PO (Weapons) John Reynolds. I’m sorry but I wasn’t trained on this, but helpfully there was a manufacturer’s leaflet with it on the Olna. It was carrying forty of these BL755 Cluster Bombs. It is an area attack and area denial weapon. The bomb weighs 600lb. The casing contains 147 HEAT bomblets packed in seven sections of 21 rounds each. Someone has explained HEAT to you yes? Good. When released from the aircraft the outer casing covers are jettisoned by a gas ejector at one of four pre-set times. The bomblets are then ejected sideways up to 60ft. Each of the bomblet deploys a small parachute to make sure it explodes on impact. The shaped charge produces a jet of high velocity, high temperature plasma which can punch through up to 250mm armour. In addition they release of 2000 pieces of shrapnel produces a secondary anti-personnel effect.

Basically it wipes out anything it falls on within the size of a football pitch, maybe a bit bigger. Drop this on a tank battalion and they won’t come out to play again. It is very nasty. I remember reading that the Soviets had a kind of early version of this called a PtAB, I’m not sure what it stands for. But basically it was a small bomb, about 2.5kg, about 5 and a half pounds, with 3lbs of explosive. You drop a bunch, say forty of those and you cover a greater area than dropping a 250lb general purpose bomb, at least on armour. It also gives your pilots a better chance of hitting something. Worth thinking about.
12 - 17 January 1940
12 January 1940. 09:00hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: “I have Sir Richard Fairey from Fairey Aviation on the line for you, sir.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Sir Richard, thank you for your call, I take it you got my letter.

Sir Richard Fairey: “Air Chief Marshal, yes indeed. I have it here in my hand, and to be honest I am almost speechless!”

WF: “I can understand your frustration.

RF: “Frustration doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel. We are to stop production of the Battle at Heaton Chapel with immediate effect, as are Austin at Longbridge! Between the two plants that is the best part 700 planes that are not to be built! Further, as if that wasn’t enough, all production of the Albacore is to cease, and instead work is to continue on the Swordfish. Thankfully you have left us with the Fulmar. Though I see there are modifications to be made to both the Swordfish and the Fulmar.

WF: Please allow me to expand on what the Ministry of Supply, and the Air Ministry are thinking. We have strong reason to believe that the Battle will fare very badly against the Germans, to the point where it would be almost suicidal to send our airmen out in it. Now that is not Fairey’s fault, when it was designed and put into production it was a good aircraft. But we’ve got quite a bit of information now from the Polish campaign about the Luftwaffe, and the Battle just won’t do. Those 700 Merlin engines will be used instead to build Hurricanes, which will have a much better chance against the Bf 109. All the current Battles, and all the equipment and spares that you have will be transferred to Training Command, where the Battles will continue to serve our country well.

RF: And the Albacores?

WF: Now this is more to do with the Fleet Air Arm than the RAF, but as I understand it, it was felt that the Albacore didn’t make much of an improvement over the Swordfish, and they would rather have just one aircraft, and one engine on all the carriers and shore establishments for simplicity’s sake. I do think that they are hoping for some changes to be made to the Swordfish to improve it, such as the enclosed cockpit from the Albacore, and probably delete the air gunner position to save weight. Though I don’t have that information fully to hand at the moment. But, as I understand what the FAA want, it is to jump from the Swordfish to the Barracuda, without going through the Albacore. Now we will be giving you some help with the Barracuda, which will hopefully have the Griffon engine as standard, once Rolls Royce get that working. The Barracuda will be a substantial order once it is finalised, certainly over 1000 units.

RF: But they do want the Fulmar?

WF: Again, that is my understanding of the situation within the FAA. There is a desire for a more powerful Merlin on it, once that is available, but the expectation is that the current order should be delivered as planned. I believe they want to try it with a radar to give the fleet some “airborne early warning” if you can imagine such a thing.

RF: Certainly the Barracuda is good news, but I really don’t know where all the changes leave us as a company.

WF: First of all, let me say that your company’s future is very much part of the plan within the Ministry of Supply. Because of the need for more Hurricanes, we have asked that both Heaton Chapel and Longbridge convert to Hurricane production as soon as possible. We know that means there will be a loss of production over the next few months as you change things from Battles to Hurricanes, but once the summer comes we want to have a lot more Hurricanes. You will continue providing Swordfish and then the Barracuda. So the medium term is looking rosy. Any spare production you have at Heaton Chapel we would like to talk to you about building Bristol’s new heavy fighter, the Beaufighter. In the longer term there is going to be a meeting with all the aircraft manufacturers to talk over where we want to go from 1941 onwards. There are some exciting things in the works and we see Fairey having a big part to play in that.

RF: Very well, I’ll speak to my managers at Heaton Chapel, and at Hayes about the Battle and Albacore. We will comply with the instructions we’ve been given. But I do want to make clear that Fairey Aviation is not happy with these decisions, and that my letter expressing these feelings will be arriving post-haste.

WF: I can well understand, and your complaint will be duly noted. I look forward to meeting with you to talk over the future when we have the chance, Good day, Sir Richard.

RF: Good day to you Air Chief Marshall.

12 January 1940. 09:30hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: “I have Mr John Dudley North from Bouton Paul Aircraft Ltd on the line for you, sir.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Mr North, thank you for your call, I take it you got my letter.

JDN: I most certainly did, are you trying to put me out of business?

WF: Certainly not Mr North, we have to make some hard decisions in this war, and I’m afraid the Defiant will need to be sacrificed.

JDN: But just last month you ordered another 150, which you have now cancelled, along with the 363 you ordered in 1938. So we are to complete the original order for 87, and once those are completed, which should be in the next month or so, that is us out of business.

WF: I am very sorry, but we have been looking at the information about the Luftwaffe that has come from their invasion of Poland, and to be honest, we don’t think that the Defiant will prove very effective against first class opposition. Now that is no slight on your excellent company. The Defiant fitted very well the specification against which it was designed. I’m afraid it was us at the Air Ministry that got it wrong. The 500 Merlins which were ordered for those cancelled Defiants will be used instead on more Hurricanes and Spitfires.

JDN: You have also cancelled the Blackburn Roc which we were building under licence. Before you know it I’ll have an idle workforce, and here is us at war, don’t you know!

WF: The Fleet Air Army are somewhat unhappy at the Roc’s performance, and are attempting to get a Hurricane developed that can fly off their carriers in place of the Roc, and the Skua to some extent. But we certainly don’t want your workforce standing idle by any means. My letter did say that we would want you to start moving onto producing Spitfires in place of the Defiant and Rocs. A team from Supermarine and Vickers will be coming to you after they have finished getting Castle Bromwich sorted out.

JDN: That’s all very well, and no doubt the Spitfire is a good plane. But surely we have something more to offer the war effort than subcontracting for other aircraft manufacturers?

WF: Well you certainly do. The turrets you make are excellent. We are going to be moving into four engined bombers in due course and your turrets will certainly be needed for them. We are also being requested by the army for some kind of ground vehicle that can provide anti-aircraft fire to support their soldiers. We would love for you to work on your turrets, perhaps experimenting with 20mm cannons instead of the .303 machine guns.

JDN: Our turrets are very good. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do something with cannons, though it will probably take some work. Just out of curiosity, what are the RAF going to do with the Defiants we have produced?

WF: I think that they will likely go to Training command. The turrets will be very useful for training air gunners before they go onto bombers. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a squadron or two might be formed using them as night fighters.

JDN: I put a lot of effort into that aircraft, and a lot of investment. It seems very bad business, simply cancelling orders as you’ve done. My letter of complaint will be with you poste-haste.

WF: I completely understand, and I do regret having to have made the decisions we have. However I do think that your company has a great deal to offer the war effort, and if we can all work together, I think the aircraft manufacturing firms will be looking at a very bright future.

JDN: I will believe that when I see it. Good day to you Air Chief Marshall.

WF: Good day to you too, Mr North.

12 January 1940. 10:00hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: “I have Mr Oswald Short from Short Brothers Ltd., on the line for you, sir.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Mr Short, thank you for your call, I take it you got my letter?

OS: What the devil is the meaning of this? Total cancellation of the Short Stirling! It is to be stillborn?

WF: I’m afraid Mr Short that we are having to reconsider all of our orders for new aircraft in the light of the studies done from the German invasion of Poland. We now believe that the Stirling will not be able to give the RAF the ability that they will need.

OS: But that is completely the opposite of what you were saying just the other month. “Oh the RAF can’t wait to get the Stirling into service, it is just the job!” That’s what you said to me when you wanted 1500 of them!

WF: I can understand that you are very upset, but they fault is entirely ours. We really believed that the service ceiling and bomb load would be more than adequate, however we have had to reconsider that. We now feel that the Stirling, as good an aircraft as it would undoubtedly be, isn’t quite as good as we need it to be.

OS: If it is a matter of improvements, I’m sure my design team would be happy to make any modifications deemed necessary to satisfy the RAF’s requirement.

WF: I am very sorry, but we really believe that the Handley Page Halifax will give us the performance we need, with some modifications, and we would rather have just one type of four engined bomber in squadron service for simplicity’s sake.

OS: But we have geared up our factories and ordered great quantities of material ready for production. Is there no possibility of you reconsidering?

WF: I’m afraid not, Mr Short, the decision has been taken at the highest level. The Bristol Hercules engines that were on order for the Stirling bomber will find a new home in Bristol’s Beaufighter, which has been given priority for manufacture. We are going to need something better than the Blenheim, and one of the effects of cancelling the Stirling is that we can build two extra Beaufighters for every Stirling that isn’t constructed.

You did note in the letter that we want to increase the numbers of Sunderlands for Coastal Command did you not?

OS: Yes, I did note that, as well as wanting an even more powerful flying boat for operations in the Pacific area. I suppose a great deal of the materials for the Stirlings could go into the Sunderland, they do come from the same stable after all.

WF: Yes, the need for a long range Maritime Patrol Aircraft will be very important, and there is none better than the Sunderland. If you were able to give us a design with bigger engines and longer endurance, that would be most helpful in the future. Can I also say that we have high hopes for what we might be able to do from 1941 onwards, and we really hope that Short Brothers will have a very important part to play in that future!

OS: Nonetheless you will be receiving my letter of objection to the cancellation of the Short Stirling.

WF: Pleased be assured that your objection will be given its proper consideration. Thank you for your call. Good day, Mr Short.

OS: Good day to you too.

12 January 1940. 10:30hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: “I have Mr Robert Blackburn from Blackburn Aircraft on the line for you, sir.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Mr Blackburn, thank you for your call, I take it you got my letter?

RB: What is the meaning of this, cancelling the Roc and the Botha, just like that?

WF: Well the Fleet Air Arm wanted to cancel the Roc, you know don’t you that we’re cancelling the Defiant too? It seems from our studies of the Polish campaign that a fighter with a turret just isn’t going to cut the mustard against first class opposition. The original choice of the Botha I’m afraid was a marginal decision anyway, and we believe that the Beaufort will give Coastal Command a better workhorse. You did see in my letter that we want to continue with the Skua in the meantime, but to concentrate on it as a dive bomber rather than a fighter. The FAA are hoping to get some Hurricanes in that role, and until the Barracuda comes along, the Skua will soldier on as a dive bomber.

RB: We designed it with the capability of dive bombing, but not as its main function. I notice that you want us to make some changes to the Skua.

WF: Well, yes, frankly the Skua is a bit underpowered and we are hoping to see if it might be able to take a Hercules to make it a bit more effective. Even if that isn’t possible there are some other changes which might improve it.

RB: I would need to speak to the design team about that, but I have my doubts. I see that you also want us to stop work on the B20 flying boat. Is there any future for Blackburn aircraft in the mind of the Ministry of Supply?

WF: Out concern at the moment is to concentrate our efforts on a smaller number of aircraft, to get the RAF and FAA what they need as quickly as possible. The place of flying boats is under a great deal of speculation currently, but we want to get the design teams of the various companies together soon. We have high hopes for what we can do from 1941 onwards, and yes, we do see a future for Blackburn. At the moment you have two factories, one making Skuas in Yorkshire, and the other in Dumbarton making Bothas. You didn’t have the capability of also producing the Roc, which was given to Boulton Paul, which delayed their Defiants. You are currently bringing Sherburn-in-Elmet into production, and then you will have the ability to expand production.

You may want to think about transport aircraft for example. A new Transport Command is being considered and they’ll be looking for likely aircraft. In the meantime, please continue with the Skua, and when you get Sherburn-in-Elmet up and running there will be plenty of work for you, probably with Swordfish then Barracudas.

RB: I really am not happy about this and my letter of complaint will be with you poste-haste.

WF: I perfectly understand, and your objections will be taken seriously. Thank you for your call. Good Day, Mr Blackburn.

RB: Good day to you too Air Chief Marshall.

12 January 1940. 11:00hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: “I have Mr Teddy Petters from Westland Aircraft ltd., on the line for you, sir.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Mr Petters, thank you for your call, I take it you got my letter?

TP: I did indeed, Air Chief Marshall. I see that we are to suspend all work on the Whirlwind, as Rolls Royce are not going to be producing the Peregrine engine. I have to say that I am deeply disappointed.

WF: I can well understand that you would feel that way. However, after some thought, it has been decided to concentrate on only a few types of fighter, preferably using the same engine, in this case the Merlin on the Spitfire and Hurricane.

TP: Yes I note that you want Yeovil to be adapted to Spitfire production, and for us to run down the Lysander production line. It really is very sad.

WF: The Lysander in its army cooperation role will continue, but we have to scale it back. What the army needs is close air support, and for that we have a variant of the Hurricane in the works, which most of the Lysander squadrons will transfer onto. Against first class opposition the Lysander will be something of a sitting duck, and we don’t want to put our pilots at any kind of disadvantage.

TP: That’s all very well, but where does that leave us?

WF: You may have noticed on my letter an invitation to meet me at St Athans in Wales next week.

TP: I did, but you were very vague.

WF: I’m afraid I have to continue to be that way, but I can assure that what I’m going to show you will knock your socks off. Furthermore, I believe you and your firm will have a very exciting next few years.

TP: Well that is heartening, though still somewhat mysterious. I do have to lodge a complaint about the cancellation of the orders that you’ve placed with my company, and the letter will be with you in due course.

WF: That is perfectly understandable, and the complaint will be given due consideration. I look forward to seeing you next week at St Athans. Good day to you.

TP: Good day to you too, Air Chief Marshall.

WF: (To secretary), well that was quite a morning. We’ll have a few more calls in the afternoon no doubt, but I’ll be at my club for lunch. Try and get something yourself too, I think we might need some sustenance to get us through the rest of the day.

12 January 1940. 14:00hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: Mr Thomas Sopwith from Hawker Siddeley Aircraft to see you sir.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Thomas, come in and have a seat. Thank you for coming along this afternoon. Can we get you a cup of tea?

TS: Thank you, but no, Wilfred, I’m not long after my lunch. I believe you have been stirring up trouble in the entire aircraft manufacturing sector. Is it true that Lord Nuffield still doesn’t know what happened to him?

WF: I couldn’t possibly comment on that, and yes, I have been fielding a number of calls all morning from various firms questioning my sanity and how we can possibly win the war at the rate we’re going.

TS: I thought from your letter that I’d better bring a pencil and paper to take notes, as it seems there are a number of things you’re looking for from my companies.

WF: Yes, I’m afraid so. Over the last couple of weeks we have been going through the results of the study of the Luftwaffe’s performance in Poland, and it has rather brought us up short I’m afraid. There are three primary lessons that we need to take seriously. First, their Stuka and other bombers were used very effectively as close air support for the Wehrmacht. Now we don’t think the Stuka is all that great an aircraft, and it would need a lot of fighter protection to survive, but we have nothing that can really do close air support for our army.

TS: Well, the bomber boys always were against that idea, strategic bombing or bust seemed to be their view.

WF: I think that is a very accurate description. However, we can’t ignore what the Luftwaffe did. So we need something that can do an “army cooperation” job, but with real teeth. The light and medium bombers, basically the Fairey Battle and Bristol Blenheim are not the aircraft to do it.

TS: I heard that the Battles are being withdrawn from France already?

WF: Yes they are. Which brings me to the first order of business. We believe that given the right help, the Hurricane could become what we’ve christened a “fighter-bomber.” With an upgraded Merlin, when it comes along, and a new wing that would let it carry bombs and rockets, the “Hurribomber” could give us what we need, and the army is screaming for.

TS: The new wing shouldn’t be a problem, I remember seeing something pass my desk that we were looking at something like that anyway, something to do with either more machine guns or fitting cannons. As to the better Merlin, when could we hope to see that?

WF: I was up in Derby a few days ago and I think they are expecting to have the Merlin XX in full production by the end of April. It will be using the 100 octane fuel that we’ve put a rush on for, and that will even help the Merlin IIIs. So we’re hoping that you’ll be able to move from the Mark I Hurricane to a Mark II in May, with any luck. The Mark II we would envision as either the pure fighter, call it a Mark IIA and the fighter bomber, perhaps a Mark IIB.

TS: Obviously I’ll need to talk to the team, and Sydney Camm particularly, but I’m sure we will do everything we can to oblige.

WF: That is wonderful. Now the follow on aircraft for the Hurricane that Sydney has been working on, the Typhoon. We have some information coming out from America about the design of wings and laminar flow, which we’d like to pass along to him. We have high hopes for the next generation of fighter bomber that would designed from the start with that dual role in mind.

TS: Well, that is good news that you’ll be looking for something in that line from us, I’m sure Sydney will be interested in seeing this new material.

WF: Well, actually there’s quite a lot of things that we think Sydney is going to like a lot, but more of that in due course. Now, the second thing that we think we should be mindful of from the invasion of Poland is that the Luftwaffe struggled a bit from having too many types of medium bombers, but nothing heavier. They have Heinkels, Dorniers, Junkers which match in some ways our Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens. So there are two things that affect your group that we need to inform you of.

TS: Don’t tell me, you want Armstrong Whitworth to stop producing Whitleys!

WF: Well, actually no. We would like to talk to Avro about the Manchester. We think that it might be better to go back to the drawing board and redesign it with four Merlins, making it a heavy bomber. We think that the Wellington will do as the main twin engined bomber, with the Hampden, and eventually the Whitley being phased out. What we do want you to do is replace the current Whitleys in service with the Mark V, but then for it to be halted. The specific night bombing mission still has a place, and No 4 Group are going to be increasingly busy using it. The bad news is that we don’t see a place for the Albemarle that Armstrong Whitworth are working on, and so we would like all work on that to stop.

TS: So we move into heavy bombers but out of the medium bomber business. That sounds reasonable. There will be a place for this new Avro machine I take it?

WF: If it lives up to the expectations we have for it, yes.

TS: So fighter bombers and heavy bombers. What was next?

WF: We want to talk about production. It would seem that German production isn’t quite as super as we thought it was, and part of that is the way the companies are run, and the very loose hand of Goring over it all. Our production figures are going to go down for a couple of months as some of the less effective aircraft are removed from production lines, and we expand production of the most important aircraft. So Vickers has been asked to concentrate on Spitfires and Wellingtons. We’ve asked them to help Westland and Boulton Paul to convert to Spitfire production.

TS: Why do I feel it is my turn next?

WF: Because it is. We want as many Hurricanes and Hurribombers as we can possibly get our hands on. We know that Gloster have already started on the Hurricane and so if all Gladiator work can be stopped to concentrate entirely on that please. Obviously Hawker itself is doing that, but we’d like you to work with Fairey to take help convert Heaton Chapel and to take over Austin’s Longbridge plant as they stop producing the Battle, and get them onto Hurricane production as quickly as possible.

TS: You aren’t kidding about wanting a lot of Hurricanes! How did Sir Richard Fairey take that news?

WF: As you can imagine he’s not entirely happy. But they will continue with the Swordfish and the new Barracuda. But yes, we need a lot of Hurricanes and Hurribombers. The Fleet Air Arm would also like some Hurricanes adapted for carrier use, perhaps Gloster could look into that too?

TS: I shall pass it on. Going back to Avro for a moment, you haven’t mentioned the Anson.

WF: A very useful trainer, and we’re going to need all the trainers can get, training aircraft are not involved in this rationalisation process.

TS: So let me get my notes right here. Hawker and Gloster are to focus of the Hurricane in all its forms. Avro continues with the Anson, but needs to redesign the Manchester. Armstrong Whitworth runs down the Whitley and doesn’t move onto the Albemarle. So what do you want Armstrong Whitworth to do instead? Don’t say Hurricanes for goodness sake!

WF: Ah yes! Well if the four engine Manchester works out, then perhaps they could help Avro with that. I think we may be looking for transport aircraft and so an improved Ensign might be a good bet to keep them busy.

TS: Well, I’ll take all this under advisement and hopefully we can be of service. You look as if you’ve forgotten something?

WF: Well yes, there’s one other thing. We were wondering if you might look at setting up another factory to help with things in the Far East. At the moment everything has to be shipped, and if there was somewhere producing Hurricanes, perhaps in India, just the Canadians are doing, it would be very helpful.

TS: Would there even be the infrastructure for that?

WF: It would probably have to be done from scratch.

TS: I suppose there will be some help for that?

WF: Oh yes. There would definitely be investment support.

TS: Well in that case I will certainly explore the possibility.

WF: Thank you for your time this afternoon. The Hurricane is going to be a war winner, as long as we have enough of them.

TS. Thank you Air Chief Marshall, I believe that we will do our very best. Good day to you sir!

WF: Good day to you too, and thank you again.

12 January 1940. 16:00hrs Whitehall, London. England.

Secretary: Sir Stanley White from Bristol Aircraft Corporation to see you sir.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Sir Stanley, come in and have a seat. Thank you for coming along this afternoon. Can we get you a cup of tea?

SW: No thank you, shall we get down to business, I believe you’ve got some changes in mind for my company?

WF: Well Sir Stanley, not so much changes, as requests. First of all regarding the Blenheim. The studies of the German campaign in Poland have thrown up a bit of worry within the RAF about the survivability of the Blenheim, and indeed the very concept of a light bomber. While the Blenheim is a good aircraft, the progress made in fighters over the four years since it was designed, has meant that its speed, which was understood to be an important part of its ability has now been offset by the Bf 109. We also learned that what the RAF needs is what we are calling a close air support aircraft. The Beaufighter would fit that bill very well. We believe is not only very good as a heavy fighter, and we want the first 60 Beaufighters as night fighters, but it also has the power to support the army with its canons and the ability to carry rockets and bombs.

SW: So what are you saying?

WF: We want you to increase the pace of getting the Beaufighter into production, and we are prepared to accept you winding down Blenheim production to enable that to happen.

SW: When you say wind down Blenheim production, what kind of numbers are you talking about?

WF: To be entirely honest, if stopping building Blenheims today meant that we got 60 Beaufighters into squadron service in May we would take that as a win. Our expectation is that the Beaufighter will replace the Blenheim in squadron service.

SW: It depends very much on the Hercules engine, getting the Beaufighter. There was talk about trying a Merlin on the aircraft to help with that.

WF: We think that is likely to be a dead end, so we’ve cancelled the Short Stirling so we can put most of the Hercules into Beaufighters.

SW: That is a very strange decision. Is the Beaufighter really that important?

WF: We believe so, yes. The strategic bombing by the RAF will be cut right back. Handley Page have been asked to make some changes to the Halifax, so it won’t go into production to much later this year. The Hercules is key. I know you’ve had Roy Fedden working at increasing its power. We are prepared to do everything in our power to support his work on that.

SW: Roy is indeed hard at work, though you asking for us to work on the Centaurus too is a bit confusing.

WF: It seems clear to us that engine power is going to have to be increased dramatically. We’ve asked Rolls Royce to do the same with the Merlin, and also develop the Griffon for the next generation of aircraft. So getting a more powerful Hercules and then the Centaurus for the next generation is what we are looking for.

SW: Very well, I’ll speak to Roy when I get back to Filton.

WF: Just staying on the subject of engines, the Ministry of Supply will be offering extra support to get the shadow factory at Accrington up to full production.

SW: Well, all the help we can get, especially with machine tools would be most helpful. The sleeve values seem to be a nuisance for building.

WF: Indeed, that is why the help will be available. Now currently Avro at subcontracting building Blenheims. We expect them to carry on until something is done to improve the Manchester. But we would ask if a similar deal can be made with Fairey for production of the Beaufighter at their plant in Stockport, as well as at your own new plant at Weston-super-Mare.

SW: I will need to take that to the board, but I imagine it should be approved. That would be three factories making Beaufighters, if Filton moves from Blenheims to Beaufighters.

WF: That is correct, we will be wanting a great many of them, and as soon as possible. Another request if you don’t mind. Regarding the Blenheims that are still being built, there are a couple of things we’d like to ask for. First is to strip down as much weight as possible, including the rear gunner position. We aren’t convinced that that role is entirely useful, where the extra knots in the air could be. Secondly, there are problems with the bomb-bay doors being on bungee cords. It seems that there have been some issues with accuracy of bombing, if the bombs have to rely on forcing the doors open through gravity. So the RAF squadrons are testing removing the doors altogether to let the bombs fall freely. But if a proper opening and closing mechanism for the doors could be devised, that would be very helpful.

SW: We’ve seen the reports about this. I will certainly pass on your request. It won’t save that much weight to the basic aircraft leaving out the rear gunner’s position. Most of the weight is the man, the gun and the ammunition. Won’t it leave the aircraft defenceless?

WF: I think the idea of unescorted bombing raids in daylight, relying on the bomber’s own defensive firepower and speed, was hard lesson learned with the Wellingtons. So we wouldn’t expect the Blenheims to go out on operations without some fighters to protect them.

SW: Is that the case for the Beaufort too? Do you want us to delete the gun positions?

WF: We are rather keen on having the Beaufort go the same way as the Blenheim, in terms of production being wound down. Obviously it is better than the Wildebeest it is replacing, but we think that the Beaufighter, once a stronger Hercules comes along could be made into a torpedo bomber too. There are four squadrons using Wildebeests currently, two here and two in Singapore. We would want to see the Beaufort in those four squadrons, and then hopefully torpedo-Beaufighters replacing them.

SW: That is a good deal less that your previous order! What about building the Beauforts in Australia. Do you want that still to go ahead?

WF: I don’t imagine it will surprise you if I ask that the Australian deal goes ahead, but making Beaufighters instead? At this point we would like to see them equipped with your Hercules rather than the Pratt and Whitney engines that have been considered. They may have to be shipped the long way round, but we hope that both the RAF and the RAAF in the Far East should have the same aircraft, preferably by the summer of 1941. Do you think 18 months would be enough time?

SW: I really don’t know what the situation in Australia is like, in terms of infrastructure. But again, I will put your request to the board with my approval and emphasis the need for speed.

WF: Thank you again, Sir Stanley. We are intending to have a meeting soon with all the aircraft manufacturer’s design teams to talk about 1941 onwards. We have some new information from various sources and want to have a clear idea of where we want to go in terms of aircraft to replace those currently in production. I do hope that you will encourage your excellent team to participate, I am convinced that it will have very beneficial effects on your company.

SW: Well that sounds intriguing. I am sure our team of designers will be happy to take part in such a meeting. If that is all Air Chief Marshall, I need to get to the station to get a train back to Bristol.

WF: Yes indeed, and thank you again, Sir Stanley. (To secretary): Please see to it that a driver takes Sir Stanley to the train station and make sure he gets there safely and on time.

12 January 1940. 19:00hrs. A Gentleman’s Club. Central London. England.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman: “Sir Robert, so kind of you to agree to have this meeting over dinner here at my club.”

Sir Robert McNeil (Chairman of Vickers (Aviation)): Well, Sir Wilfred, as long as you are buying, I am happy to meet with you. I believe I’m not the first person from aircraft manufacturers that you’ve spoken to today.

WF: In that you would be entirely correct, in fact I don’t think there’s a single company I haven’t spoken to over the last week or so.

RMcN: So, are you going to do a Nuffield on me and take over my business?

WF: Of course not, Sir Robert. In fact part of the reason for having this meeting here, with a nice bottle of Bordeaux, is to thank you for what Vickers Armstrongs is doing for the nation. The Spitfire and the Wellington are essential aircraft. By taking over Castle Bromwich and getting that mess sorted out, you are doing enormously important work that could well make all the difference to winning this war.

RMcN: Well, work on that is progressing. To be entirely honest, we will have Spitfires from Castle Bromwich before the end of January, as promised. Though that will have much more to do with Supermarine than Nuffield’s old crew. Real production aircraft will be rolling out in February, I can assure you. My, this Bordeaux is rather nice. What do you recommend from the menu here, by the by?

WF: Personally I tend to stick to the steak, though I believe the pigeon has a good name.

RMcN: The steak sounds fine, shall we order

WF: (To waiter)…orders the meal and another bottle of Bordeaux.

RMcN: A second bottle, we are celebrating!

WF: It has been a rather trying day. As I was saying, we are looking for as many Spitfires as we can get, and the Wellington will be the heart of Bomber Command for at least a year, until Handley Page can get their Halifax up to scratch.

RMcN: I believe someone from your office has been in touch about improving the design of the Spitfire for a new Mark II?

WF: Yes, we think that improving the propeller and the armament is just one part of making the aircraft even more useful. However, it will be getting an upgraded Merlin that will really make the difference, and then the Mark after than should have a Griffon engine. We believe that that will take the Spitfire far beyond anything anyone else has, or is likely to have, for the foreseeable future.

RMcN: That expresses a great deal of confidence. I am glad that we are in agreement about that. You say the Wellington will be the heart of Bomber Command?

WF: As you know the five Bomber command groups are currently flying Battles, Blenheims, Hampdens, Whitleys and Wellingtons. The Whitleys will continue on in the night bomber role in the medium term. The Hampdens are of limited use, and we hope that they will be replaced by Wellingtons. The Battles are being withdrawn, to be replaced with a version of the Hurricane that can do army cooperation, or “close air support”. The Blenheims will eventually all be replaced with Beaufighters. But regarding medium bombers, the Wellington is our best bet. We envision some of the Blenheim squadrons transferring onto Wellingtons in the meantime. So I was hoping that you would do everything possible to increase production of the Wellington, just as you are doing with the Spitfire.

RMcN: I will talk to Hew Kilner first thing tomorrow and tell him the good news. Will we be able to get engines for the extra bombers?

WF: Well the two prototypes that flew last year, the Wellington II with Merlin Xs and the Wellington III with Hercules IIIs are both good choices. We would be happy with either or with both. The negotiations with Rolls Royce and Bristol we can leave up to you. It may be that your Weybridge factory might make Wellington IIs and Chester could make Wellington IIIs.

RMcN: Which leaves Blackpool, which isn’t too far from readiness.

WF: The chances are that Bristol will probably be the better bet than Rolls Royce. There’s the hope that along with the Spitfire, the Merlin will be used on a new fast bomber from De Havilland, and possibly a four engined job from Avro. So Blackpool might be better tooling up for Wellington IIIs.

RMcN: That seems fair enough. I just wonder if there isn’t a sting in the tail of all this.

WF: We are planning on having a big meeting in February for all the aircraft design teams. Now your Barnes Wallis has been part of the preparation for that meeting, and I think what they’ll look at will be startling. What it hopefully will mean is that later in the year we will have a clear notion of what we want to do in replacing the current aircraft in production when we get into 1941.

RMcN: Yes, Wallis seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

WF: I’m afraid it is all rather hush-hush at the moment and is likely to stay that way for some time. However we’ve had a phenomenal piece of luck and I think the dividends are going to be priceless. Anyway here come the steaks, and the other bottle of the Bordeaux. Let’s enjoy the meal shall we, I must say I’ve worked up quite an appetite today.

RMcN: And a thirst I see. Good-oh. Tuck in.

13 January 1940. 10:00hrs. The Admiralty. London. England.

So, Gentlemen, we need to finalise our recommendations about the changes to our ship building programme. We shall start with Battleships. The King George V class of five battleships are in an advanced state of building. All have been launched, KGV herself will be commissioned in October if all goes as scheduled. Then Prince of Wales next January and Duke of York in the summer of 1941. HMS Howe and Anson should follow in 1942 as planned. There is no doubt about these five ships being completed and commissioned, though with improvements to RDF and anti-aircraft armament? Excellent.

The question then is what to do with HMS Lion and Temeraire which were laid down in June and July 1939. All work on them was suspended last October and the question is whether to affirm that suspension or to rescind it. Likewise the early design work on HMS Vanguard begs the question, build or not? So our recommendation is to affirm the suspension of work on all new battleships except the KGV class? Good.

Now, aircraft carriers. The first three Illustrious Class carriers, HMS Illustrious, Formidable and Victorious have all been launched and are due for completion and commissioning. HMS Illustrious in May and Formidable in November of this year. Victorious in May 1941. The fourth of the class, HMS Indomitable will be launched in March of this year and commissioned in October of 1941. All are agreed that improvements to RDF and AAA are all that we really want to do with them? Good.

Now the next two HMS Implacable and Indefatigable were only laid down in March and November of 1939 and so are at a very early level of construction. The proposal is to use these two hulls to experiment with the move towards a more futuristic design, angled deck and so on. Realistically these won’t be commissioned until 1943 at least. So do we want to go ahead with that? Yes? Good.

The other issue regarding Aircraft Carriers is what is being called light fleet carriers. HMS Unicorn was laid down as a maintenance carrier in 1939 and is due to be commissioned in 1942, unless there are any reasons to delay her. There are some who would use that basic design for these light fleet carriers or design something else, such as what is being called a Centaur class. Am I correct in saying that other than Unicorn going ahead as planned, we do not have a consensus? Yes? Fine.

Escort Carriers then. We have these plans to convert tankers into simple aircraft carriers to accompany some convoys. I take it we are happy to take one in for conversion and then use it experimentally? Yes? Good.

Next are cruisers. 23 have been laid down, and like everything else we are hoping for improvements to their RDF and AAA, but otherwise carry on as planned, but order nothing else until a full review has been done? Everybody happy? Good.

Destroyers and escorts now. 32 Fleet destroyers and 20 Hunt class under construction. Nine other escorts and 56 Flowers laid down or on order. At this point there is no reason to change this, again except for the simple improvements that can be made without harming the build? Agreed? Good.

Submarines. There are nine building and we would like to see some radical changes in the future, so complete those well advanced and have the designers look at those in the early stages of construction to see what improvements can be built in? Everybody happy? Good.

Lastly there are a lot of ships tied up currently being converted into Merchant Cruisers. That is taking a lot of dock space and labour away from new building work. Our proposal is a moratorium on all new work of this type, but finish what has been started? Very well, that is agreed too.

Beyond these specifics we are to have a full review of all future needs so that the building programme for 1941 onwards is likely to have major changes to design and equipment. Correct? Good! Well, gentlemen, that wasn’t too onerous. Shall we stop for a cup of tea? Yes, I thought there would be unanimous agreement on that proposal!

14 January 1940. 07:00hrs. Loch Ewe. Scotland.

Commodore Alan Grose adjusted his sleeves with the new piping on them. His promotion was a bit of a surprise, but not half as much as the surprise of the Admiralty when he told them the 1982 level salary that he was expecting. The look on the face of one of Pound’s aides still amused him. He was once more on the bridge of the Bristol as it steamed out of Loch Ew. Along with HMS Bristol were HMS Ark Royal, four H class destroyers, the light cruiser HMS Achilles and the two modern Leander class frigates, HMS Minerva and Andromeda. In the discussions about this sub hunt he had emphasised that the Leanders, with their quietness would be most useful. Andromeda had the Seawolf system that would be a good goalkeeper for the Ark Royal too. Unfortunately they hadn’t been refitted for the new the towed array that HMS Phoebe had received. Their Type 162 (bottom profiling), 184 (medium range search) and 199 (variable depth) sonars would give them a detection range of about 6 miles depending on the sea state. HMS Bristol had come because it had the larger command and control facilities to accommodate the downtimers who came along. The two Leanders also had their Lynx HAS.2 on-board, which with their dipping sonar increased the range of the search.

The Lynx pilots had spent some time with the air group on Ark Royal discussing search patterns and communications. If any of the Swordfish were able to spot a U Boat on the surface then it was important to get that information to the Bristol as quickly as possible. The Swordfish would not be carrying torpedoes or bombs to maximise their fuel load. It was known that U34 was somewhere to the north of Cape Wrath, and that this would be their quarry.

Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Rollman stood on the bridge of U34 as it smashed through the waves heading west. The sky was overcast and the sea spray was icy cold. The progress was good, though there had so far been no chance to sink anything. The lookouts were all scanning the sky and sea for any targets or threats. Nothing was visible and the hydrophones hadn’t picked up anything before they surfaced. The lookout facing south cried out an aircraft warning. Sounding the crash dive alarm Rollman just had time to identify that it was a bi-plane. As he slammed the hatch closed behind him, his brain calculated that it was probably a Swordfish, the kind that flew off aircraft carriers. Now, that was a target.

Diving down to sixty feet, Rollman set about the chart trying to work out ranges and courses. Rigging for silence, Rollman leaned on the corner of the hydrophone compartment. After thirty minutes the operator was able to identify multiple, high speed targets. They were heading due north and right at them. Ordering the boat to periscope depth, Rollman did a 360° traverse. He thought he could see some smoke on the southern horizon, but it was still too far to make out the actual vessels themselves. If it was an aircraft carrier, then it would probably be heavily protected, his attack profile would have to be excellent to get a kill and get away.

When the radio message came in about the sighting of a diving U boat, then the ops room in the Bristol went quiet. The ratings who called out the bearings and other information were the only ones who spoke. It felt to the downtimers like a running commentary. Helo One has lifted off Minerva and will arrive at coordinates in five minutes. Helo Two is also on its way and will arrive two minutes later…

Helo One has arrived on station and is now deploying her dipping sonar. Helo Two has arrived on station, three miles to the west of Helo One, and is deploying sonar now. Helo One reports Contact, definite submarine, bearing… Helo Two also reports contact, bearing…speed… Andromeda has the contact now on her 187. Triangulating position. Position fixed. Ikara reports ready, coordinates set. Permission to fire? The Principal Weapons Officer gave the command.

Outside the Ikara rocket blasted off with a huge noise and cloud of smoke. As it entered the area of the coordinates it jettisoned the rear ventral fin and torpedo rear covering and then released its 12.7 inch Mark 44 acoustically-guided anti-submarine torpedo. The torpedo descended by parachute while the missile carried on, splashing down some distance away to avoid interference with the acoustic torpedo's seeker head. The torpedo then began a circular search pattern to find and lock-on to the submarine contact.

Rollman felt the panic begin to overwhelm him. All the U boat commanders had been briefed on the British ASDIC, and they had various plans to defeat it. When the sounds of the pinging began, he had coolly called out for course and depth changes. But the pinging didn’t falter. Then it seemed to be joined by another source, enveloping the submarine. This limited his options, but nonetheless he had every confidence in his boat and his crew. But each move he made was countered, a third source of sound joined the first two, one of which would occasionally cease and then start again closer, but it was not coming from the ships that were still bearing down on his position. The British must have been able to fit something to a plane, though he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out how.

Initially his crew were calmed by Rollman’s calmness, but his growing discomfort was being picked up and resonated by the crew. After the third source began, this one obviously coming from one of the ships, he thought about trying to get some kind of warning off, it would need to be in the clear as he didn’t he’d have time to encode it. But to send off a warning would mean putting up the periscope, but that would be an invitation for the aircraft to drop depth charges on him. He decided to go as deep as he could and as silent as a mouse. The ships would have to go above him before they could use their depth charges. As he understood it, they would lose contact with him as the ASDIC for forward facing. In that case there was still a chance of escape.

A cry came from the hydrophone operator. Splash, probable depth charge, no… wait. It has a propeller. They could all hear the fourth source of pings, this last was closest and the frequency of the pings increased, soon they could all hear the sound of the high speed propeller and it sounded as if it was coming straight for them. “Sound collision, all hands, brace for impact” was Rollman’s last order. The 75 pound warhead exploded just below the conning tower, the submarine and its crew died mercifully quickly.

On board HMS Bristol, in the gloom room, as the ops centre was known, the report from Helo One that a large underwater explosion was seen was greeted with jubilation among the downtimers. A few of them noticed a little more reticence among the Bristol men, but certainly a satisfaction. Commander John (Johnnie) Walker sidled up to Commodore Grose and asked him why there wasn’t more celebrations among his shipmates. Grose thought for a few moments before replying. “We’ve trained all our Navy lives to hunt and kill submarines. That is the first shot we’ve ever taken in anger. The first successful kill. But all I can think of is the forty-odd men who’ve just died.” Walker turned away then and rejoined his fellow downtimers.

15 January 1940. The War Office. London. England.

General the Viscount Gort and General Alan Brooke were recalled from France for an urgent meeting at the War Office. As C-in-C of the British Expeditionary Force, Gort was hoping to speed up the build-up of his forces. This “Phony War” wasn’t going to last forever, and if the Germans came in spring as expected he would need every man, gun and bullet he could get his hands on. Brooke was less clear on why he had been summoned. As the CO of II Corps he didn’t see any particular reason for him to be called for rather than anyone else. That is, except is someone had actually bothered to read his assessment of the French army that was anything but complimentary.

The conference was presided over by Oliver Stanley the new Secretary of State for War. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Edmund Ironside and his deputy General Sir John Dill were in attendance as were a number of aides, intelligence chaps and, to Brooke’s surprise, a Navy Captain looking very out of place. Stanley got the meeting under way with the announcement that there had been an extraordinary breakthrough in intelligence. Since it concerned the BEF, Stanley thanked Lord Gort and General Brooke for coming to the briefing at such short notice.

A nondescript intelligence man was invited to share the information. “’Fall Gelb’”, he announced, “is the code name of the German plan for the invasion of France. The Belgians have very kindly given us a copy of the plans which they captured from a German called… (he consulted his notes)…Luftwaffe Major Hellmuth Reinberger. On his person the Belgians found Aufmarschanweisung N°2, the complete German plan. His Messerschmitt 108 crashed on the 10th January at a place called…(he consulted his notes again)…Mechelen-aan-de-Maas, north of Maastricht. (He looked up at his audience) Now I know what you are thinking, that this is a German red herring designed to throw us off the scent of the real plan. However, we have checked everything, and have a number of confirmations that give us very high confidence on this being completely authentic. I can’t go into sources, you understand, but we have no doubt that the German plan of attack is not what has fallen into our hands. We do however believe it is a true draft of a plan which will be updated and modified.

“We believe at the moment that Hitler hasn’t decided when exactly he is going to launch this. Our sources suggest that he has been looking at a winter offensive. However the OKW have persuaded him to give their divisions time to recover from their exertions in Poland. Spring is the most likely time, and one impeccable source gives late evening on May 9 as the start date. The fundamental difference between this draft of the plan and what will actually happen is this….”

Brooke was fascinated not only with the briefing, but with the reaction of the Navy Captain. Brooke had come to the conclusion that the Navy must be the source of at least some of this. When the conference broke for tea, Brooke deliberately made sure he was able to talk to the Captain. Brooke saw some recognition and something else when he had introduced himself, in return the Captain introduced himself as Mike Harris. Brooke remarked that Harris had obviously heard that briefing before, since he looked almost bored by it. Harris simply smiled and replied that he’s been working on this “for a while”. What Harris couldn’t tell Brooke was that he had studied Operation Dynamo intensely during his career, and that had to include what led up to it. It had been his idea to use the Mechelen Incident as the cover for knowledge of Fall Gelb. The question Harris wanted to ask Brooke was about the French.

“What would happen, do you think, if we were to give this briefing to General Gamelin?” Brooke considered for a moment before replying. “I suppose we should see what Lord Gort’s reaction is first. If he is convinced that the main German thrust is through the Ardennes and that could cut us off from Calais and our line of supply, then he might convince Gamelin to reinforce the Sedan sector. But Gamelin is hoping the Germans won’t come until 1941, when he’ll be ready, or at least he might be ready. I was visiting some French units, and I have to say I don’t know if they’ve got much fight in them. And if your Intelligence Johnny is right about the use of Panzers, then we’ll all be on a very sticky wicket.”

When the conference resumed, CIGS, Edmund Ironside addressed the gathering. “After much reflection and investigation we are ready to act on this intelligence as being accurate. We have as much proof as we possibly can from a number of sources, all of which are impeccable. So, Lord Gort, with the German plan in mind, what do you think should be our response?” Gort did not like Ironside, in fact the feeling was mutual. The fact that Ironside was sold on this “intelligence coup” was enough to convince Gort that it was a German ploy. So his answer was somewhat scathing. “In any case”, he concluded, “if what you say is true about the German use of their Panzers, which is the one thing I agree is likely, then with an Armoured Brigade, consisting mostly of light tanks, even if reinforced with 1st Armoured Division, I’m not sure the BEF could do much more than delay the German advance. Our French allies have plenty of tanks, but there is no way that they are going to believe this fairy-tale, and no way that they are going to change their plans.”

Oliver Stanley brought the meeting to an end, “I think perhaps we have done enough for today, let us sleep on it, and begin again tomorrow morning at 9am. There is a copy of the intelligence for you to peruse this evening. I do hope that you might study it further. I think the opportunity we have is too important to be ignored. Thank you all Gentlemen, I shall see you tomorrow.”

15 January 17:00hrs. West of Shetland. North Atlantic.

Commodore Grose had been for taking the task force back to Loch Ewe after their success the day before, but the rear Admiral on board wanted to carry on with the sub hunt, the intelligence was that U25 and U32 were in the vicinity of Shetland. To sink another two U boats in a few days would put a large dent in the German fleet and their morale. Grose was worried about German reconnaissance overflights. Photographs of unidentified ships could let the cat out of the bag, especially as the Germans had just lost their cypher breakthrough, as the Navy had changed their codes.

Churchill was very keen on making the most of the intelligence while it was still fresh, so the task force moved eastwards to the north of Shetland. Further aerial resources were flown off from Shetland trying to get a sighting of the submarines. The advantage that the Bristol Group was their surface search radar, coupled with the Lynxs’ Sea Spray gave the opportunity for tracking down surface contacts at a longer range. One of the Lynx picked up a contact 50 miles east of Fair Isle. Armed with two Mark 46 torpedoes, the Lynx was able to get to within four miles of the submarine before it dived. With permission to fire, the Lynx dropped its first torpedo without success. After re-acquiring the sub with its dipping sonar, the second torpedo made short work of U32.

16 January 1940. 10:00hrs. Cabinet Office. London. England.

The Joint Intelligence Committee, chaired by Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, had a lot on its plate. Ever since the arrival of the Bristol Group there had been a fundamental question that had to be answered: How to manage the windfall, without letting the cat out of the bag. The Royal Navy personnel from 1982 had their own ideas, but there had been a feeding frenzy among the various intelligence agencies, all of whom wanted to be the sole point of contact with this amazing resource. Vice-Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, expressed the view that since the vast majority of the Bristol Group was Royal Navy, then it should be the Royal Navy that controlled it. MI5 and MI6 had their own view of this, as did the Directorate of Military Intelligence (the Army’s agency), and the Government Code and Cypher School. The RAF’s limited Administrative and Special Duties Branch (Intelligence) had the weakest claim.

Prime Minister Chamberlain took the advice of both the Bristol Group and Bill Bentinck (as he preferred to be known) and ordered a compromise. The JIC was to have the overall picture in mind at all times, especially on the larger economic and future potential of the Bristol Group. A sub-committee, based on the organisation used in 1982, was the formation of the Defence Intelligence Staff, to be made up of the Directors of the three armed services own intelligence agencies, or their deputies. These were to liaise with a group of officers from the Bristol Group to utilise the intelligence as it pertained to the execution of the war.

A second group, the Joint Intelligence Office, made up of MI5 (concerned with internal security) MI6 (concerned with foreign intelligence) and GCCS (concerned with code breaking and signal intelligence), was tasked with making use of the non-military intelligence brought back by the Bristol Group. A most important part of their work was keeping the Bristol Group secret, a difficult task with so many ships and men being used in different places and positions. Special Branch, part of the Metropolitan Police Force, were represented on the JIO, as a great deal of the work of keeping the secret would fall to them. The Foreign Office also had a place on the JIO.

For Bentinck this was the first full meeting of the JIC and there was a great many items on the agenda to get through. There had now been enough time for the various organisations to make an initial assessment of the information received from the Bristol Group and the question for the JIC was how to organise and prioritise that information. Bentinck had decided that one way of getting through the agenda was to make each organisation state its first and second priorities so that they would all have an overview of the situation.

Stewart Menzies, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), had been shocked at the levels of Soviet penetration of his organisation that the Bristol Group knew of. His first task was to implement a plan to counter this, but for that he would need the help of MI5. His second priority was to look again at the deficit of human intelligence in the opposing powers of Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy and Japan. Vernon Kell, head of MI5, the security service, had been in post for a very long time, and his two main concerns were setting up the Double Cross system to turn enemy agents, for which John Masterman would be a central player, and dealing with enemy aliens in the country. The Government Code and Cypher School’s head, Alastair Denniston, wanted the expansion of his organisation to deal with the expected help in decoding the German Enigma messages. Secondly, he was concerned about the way in which those decrypts would be used operationally. Special Branch was keen of having some kind of cover story to hide the reality of the Bristol Group that involved a fake organisation being set up in Bristol. They would also needed more resources.

Each of the military forces were clear on how to make the best use of the intelligence. The Navy were gearing up to defeat the U-boat threat before it led to the Battle of the Atlantic, and on preparing for the Norwegian campaign, that could effectively destroy of the Kreigsmarine, the German Navy. The Army had to prepare for Norway and the German onslaught in May, they had a good notion of what to do and how to do it. The RAF were in something of a meltdown because the sacred cow of Strategic Bombing had had to be sacrificed, and they were having to come to terms with a very different way forward.

In addition to these specific plans, there were a number of other economic and scientific questions that had to be answered. While there were a lot of simple fixes to improve the current weapons and things like RDF, or radar as it was increasingly being called, there were also a lot of possibilities for the future of manufacturing. The temptation among some privy to the Bristol Group secret was to imagine a future that was full of amazing progress. The reality was a great deal of investment and planning would be needed to bring about any changes.

Bill Bentinck had taken a number of notes of things that would need to be discussed at Cabinet. The first was science and technology education. Obviously the universities would have to play an important role in this, but it was clear that education at all levels would have to give greater emphasis to science and mathematics than was currently the case. A phrase that he had highlighted was “the white heat of the scientific revolution (or technology, it wasn’t entirely clear which was the exact quote)” that had been coined by a future (Labour!) Prime Minister. The second issue was the cultural and social changes over the coming decades. The men of the Bristol Group were in many ways very similar to the men of 1940, but there was a change in some attitudes which were surprising. Their dislike of racism and what they called “sexism” was surprising enough, but their view on sex, contraception, social policy in general was quite frightening in some aspects.

Perhaps though it was Britain’s place in the world that would give the Cabinet palpitations. A world in which Argentina would seriously consider an invasion of the Falkland Islands, thinking they could get away with it, seemed to be a nadir of Britain’s position. De-colonisation, the loss of Empire was bad enough, the rise of the USA and the Soviet Union as “superpowers” was worse, as was the economic integration that seemed to be happening in Europe in 1982.

When the meeting was finished and Bentinck was writing up his notes to present to Cabinet, he also took some time to give recommendations about the personnel involved in the various Intelligence Organisations. There were some, such as MI5 Vernon Kell who were clearly out of their depth, and others who might prove more useful.

16 January 1940. 13:00hrs. North Sea.

The task group, with HMS Bristol at its heart, sailed down the west coast of Shetland. As they expected U25 to enter the area they kept up the search. In the morning a Sunderland flying boat had a sighting of a suspected periscope to the east of the Orkneys and made a depth bomb run. No sign of success was noted. The task force sailed towards the sighting. This time it was a Swordfish from Ark Royal that scored the kill, bombing U25 which it had caught it on the surface. The Royal Navy celebrated three U boat kills in three days.

16 January 1940. 14:00hrs. The Foreign Office. London. England.

Lord Halifax was reading a précis of the timeline that would have unfolded without the arrival of the Bristol Group. The defeat and occupation of Denmark and Norway, then Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France within a few months was unbelievable. But men and ships coming from the future was unbelievable, though he had met a few of the men and seen photographs of the ships. France was an ally, but all the others were neutral. How on earth could His Majesty’s Government convince them, or at least warn them enough that this could be prevented. “His Majesty” sowed the seed of a thought, which geminated into an idea, which might just produce a plan. He buzzed the intercom to call in his private secretary.

17 January 1940. 10:00hrs. Dagenham. London. England.

George Lancaster and George Patchett thought the whole thing a bit suspicious. They had been approached by a man from the War Office with a machine pistol. He was particularly vague about where the machine pistol had arrived from, and insisted on calling it a sub-machine gun. On close examination there were a few places where it was obvious that manufacturer’s stamps had been filed off. The impression was that it was of foreign extraction, probably German, going by the quality, but that the War Office were very keen on getting it into production as quickly as possible. Any matters of patents or the rights of the designers were to be ignored. As far as anyone was to know it was designed by Mr Patchett and manufactured by the Sterling Engineering Company Ltd. The good news was that there was to be an initial order of 50000 if they could replicate the sub-machine gun and get it into production in just a few months. Even better news was that the War Office would pay for extra production facilities to be set up, as long as production was of good quality as well as quantity. The expectation was that the War Office would be looking at a minimum purchase of 500000 units.

17 January 1940. 11:00hrs. Witton. England.

A workshop of ICI Metals Division found a team of men having a cup of tea, trying to heat themselves up. They had retired to the workshop having seen a demonstration of a recoilless rifle that some gentlemen from the War Office had brought along. The demonstration had been very interesting and in the relative comfort of a workbench they were stripping down the weapon, pointing out its workings. The team from ICI had been quite curious as to where it had come from. It obviously wasn’t a prototype, but it and the ammunition for it seemed to all markings removed. The men from the War Office were a bit cagey about its heritage, saying only it had come into their possession through very odd means, which they couldn’t go in to. It was obviously pinched from somewhere, and by the quality of the work, it looked Czech or German. The fact that the War Office were calling the weapon the ‘Carl Gustav’ made it sound Swedish or Finnish. When asked if they had acquired it from the Soviets through the Finns or Swedes, all they would answer was that there would be no problem with patents or anything. Beyond that they could say no more.

The question was, could ICI replicate it and get it into quantity production as soon as possible? The actual weapon was fairly straightforward to copy. The ammunition, especially the shaped charge HEAT warhead would take a little work, but ICI was confident enough that they could work up a few prototypes. The men from the War Office were keen to point out that the thing in itself was just about perfect for the Army’s needs, but it need a lot of them and soon. So there was no need to try to re-invent the wheel. A straight copy, a knock-off, would do just fine. The initial order would be for 10000, but it was likely that the total order would be nearer 100000.

The company were already busy with a lot of government contracts, but with the priority and extra funding offered by the Ministry of Supply, they would get to work on it immediately. Getting a 1000, with 40000 HEAT rounds, by the middle of April would win the company a large bonus.

17 January 1940. 12:00hrs. Fort Halstead. Kent. England.

Alwyn Crow, Chief Superintendent of Projectile Development, had an unrotated projectile in front of him. Everyone else called it a rocket, but he still preferred to refer to it as a UP. The Royal Navy had informed him that the use of UPs as anti-aircraft weapons was going to be scrapped immediately. However both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force wanted a 3-inch rocket that could be fired from underneath the wings of their fighters. The Army were also keen on moving away from the Z battery idea of an anti-aircraft weapon, but were keen to explore using batteries of rockets as a supplement to artillery fire.

What surprised Crow was that he’d been given an “artists impression” of what the weapon should look like, as well as a drawing of the kind of rails that would be needed to fit them under the wings of fighter planes. The specification called for both a 60lb HE warhead and one based on the 25-pdr shell for armour piercing. All three services were adamant that the 3-inch was the required size, not the 2-inch, which was judged not to provide enough range.

As an exercise in design Crow thought it was fairly straightforward, but there was pressure on him to get it ready for trials in just three months. He called together his team and explained what was wanted and they began the process of putting the “artist’s impression” into reality.

17 January 1940. 13:00hrs. Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. London. England.

“Did you see those new drawings for the 2-inch mortar rounds, John?” John Mulgrew was trying to eat his lunch in the canteen, but Billy Wilson had sat down beside him and kicked off a conversation that he couldn’t ignore, as much as he wanted to. “Aye, I saw them. Improvements no doubt. I bet the soldier boys will be glad to have them.” He took a forkful of potatoes while he could, Billy didn’t half go on once he got started. Billy had a sandwich, bits of which sprayed from his mouth as he said, “I’m not so sure they will be. Getting new types of mortar bombs designed, tested and produced will take ages. What’s wrong with the ones we’re making anyway?” John picked a bit of saliva coated bread off his sleeve. “Well, nothing I suppose. It’s just these will be better. Better explosives, so a bigger bang. Better smoke, so a better screen. Better illumination, so a better light. Seems sensible enough to me.”

Billy wasn’t buying it. “Yeah, but did you see the drawings? Those looked like they had been copied off of something. Do you reckon we’ve got a spy somewhere, nicking stuff off the Jerries?” John looked over at the “Careless Talk Costs Lives” poster, and pointed it out. “Doesn’t matter where the drawings came from. My boss says that it has got every single detail on it, so getting the first lot ready for testing is going to be a breeze.” “That’s all well and good for your section, John. But we’ve got to play around with the filling. See all that new stuff about improving the HE content, I tell you, someone’s getting this from somewhere else. It’s all too precise.”

John finished off his plate and stood up. He’d rushed his food more than he wanted to, but he needed to get away from Billy, hopefully he’d have time for a brew back in the workshop. He leaned over and spoke in Billy’s ear. “Listen Billy, I fought in the last lot and have limp to prove it, and so I don’t care where anybody is getting anything from. But, if it makes our stuff better than the Hun’s, then I’m all for it. And I’d be careful if I were you talking about spies and such. You don’t know who is listening. See you later.”

17 January 1940. Walker Naval Yard, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Man from the Admiralty: There are a few tweaks we’d like to incorporate on the KGV, while there is time. Our Radio Detection Finder suite is one, it is going to mean a few changes to the mast and the electrical generation. We’d like to give it its own generator, we’ve got hold of an excellent one that won’t take up too much room. Also the control room for them will need to be bigger, the equipment is larger than we planned for.

Secondly we are going to increase the anti-aircraft suite. Since the ship will nearly always be working with carriers, we’ll remove the seaplanes and their fittings from the centre and that will give us the space to put in a number of extra Bofors pom-poms as quickly as they become available. There will also be various Oerlikon 20mms fitted in various places, wherever we can squeeze them in really.

Perhaps your draughtsmen can meet with some of my staff so they can give them the sizes and weights and so on...

(The oversight committee had decided that part of HMS Penelope’s radar suite would be transferred to the King George V. A similar meeting took place in Cammell Laird in Birkenhead regarding HMS Prince Of Wales which would receive part of HMS Active’s radar suite.)
18- 31 January 1940
18 January 1940. The Foreign Office. Whitehall. London.

Lord Halifax: Your Royal Highness, thank you so much for coming back from France for this meeting. I expect you are wondering what it is about, and so I’ll get straight to the point, if I may.

His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester: That would be fine.

LH: An extraordinary series of intelligence coups have come our way and we are trying to make the most of them. Perhaps Lord Gort mentioned something of this to you before his departure?

DofG: He did rant and rave a little about German cleverness, yes.

LH: Yes, well… I do believe, in fact I have had convincing evidence, to its credibility. There is a plan by Herr Hitler to invade Denmark and Norway in a few months. It is called Operation Weserübung. We believe it is likely to happen in April, the date, I believe is still to be decided. We don’t believe there is very much we can do about Denmark. It would be good if they were able to put up a stiff resistance and there are some resources we shouldn’t like to fall into enemy hands. However, Norway is another matter altogether. If the Germans take Norway it will be a severe blow on all sorts of levels, not least for the Navy.

DofG: This is fascinating, and troubling, but what exactly has it got to do with me?

LH: One of the problems the Norwegians face is that there are some Nazi sympathisers who make it difficult for us to pass on this information without letting the Germans know that we know. However, King Haakon might be able to put the country on alert without interference from these potential collaborators. So, having spoken to His Majesty, I wonder if you would mind making an unofficial visit to Oslo and have a word with your second cousin?

DofG: I presume you’ve worked out some kind of cover story?

LH: We have, Your Highness. It is quite straightforward, though there will be a little cloak and dagger about it. It is however essential that the warning is given, and, perhaps just as importantly, a promise of support if their neutrality is violated, very strong support.

DofG: You say you have convincing evidence for all this? If I am going to convince Haakon, I’ll need to be convinced myself.

LH: I can assure you, Your Highness, when you see your mode of transport, you’ll be left in no doubt at all.

19 January 1940. Arras, France.

Lieutenant George Wise was listening to the sergeant’s report on the readiness of the Gun Laying Mk 1 mobile Radio Detection Finding unit. His was one of seventeen in France and was part of the defences around BEF HQ in Arras. Part of the Royal Artillery’s First Anti-Aircraft Brigade, his unit was tasked with warning and directing their searchlights and guns against German raids. The Phoney War was still raging, and the sergeant was informing him that he had caught a couple of privates up to mischief. At that moment a staff car arrived followed by an RAF lorry. From the staff car emerged his Brigadier, a Flight-Lieutenant of the RAF and a man in civilian clothes.

After normal preliminaries, Brigadier Milligan asked if they could have a word in his command post. Milligan introduced Wise to the RAF officer and the civilian, and invited man from the War Office to explain what was planned. The man duly explained that the Army’s mobile RDF stations were really useful and it was hoped that as well as providing warning for the anti-aircraft Brigade, that having an RAF communications section present, then army and air force cooperation could be enhanced. Because of the difficulties with radio systems, having an RAF radio co-located with the RDF unit would enable instant communications with the fighter squadrons. The good news was that Wise’s job was still the same, the only difference would be that there would be an RAF presence in the command post giving real time information to that branch, just as he was giving his information to the Brigade.

Brigadier Milligan made it very clear that he considered this to be a Very Good Idea, as did the new commanding General, Sir John Dill. He would leave Flight-Lieutenant Smith and his section with him and expected that this would be a Very Good Thing. He and the civilian got back in the staff car and drove off. Wise was happy to show the RAF man where he could set up his unit, and went looking for the sergeant to pass on the Very Good Idea and make sure that the Crabs were to be made most welcome.

20 January 1940. 09:00hrs. Loch Ewe. Scotland.

The Duke of Gloucester was welcomed aboard HMS Onyx with great fanfare. His delight in every aspect of the submarine that he was shown, his fascination with its crew all made for a happy ship as it slide below the waves destined for Norway.

The Captain had given up his quarters to the VIP guest, but was once more sitting on his bunk discussing the future world with the Duke. There were interrupted by the Actions Stations alarm being sounded. The First Lieutenant briefed Captain Johnston as he took his place in the operations centre. The Duke being given a corner out of the way to watch. “Play it back Number One.” The recording of the sound of torpedoes and the breaking up of a ship were unmistakable. “The ship went down about 85 miles from Pentland Sound. The plot puts us thirty minutes away from interception, Sir,” the First Lieutenant concluded. Johnston looked at the plot and then looked at the Duke. The mission was to get the Duke safely to the rendezvous. The chance to take out a U boat was not completely without risk, but the risk was minimal at best. The look on the Duke’s face could only be described as eager, and the Captain did want to give his guest a good impression. “Very well, number one, bring us to course… and load tubes one through four. Ask the chief to give the torpedoes an extra bit of loving.

The Duke watched on fascinated by the calmness of this crew, it was as if there were on an exercise rather than at war. He was surprised that they launched the first two torpedoes so far from the target. The Chief Petty Officer whispered a running commentary about the Tigerfish torpedoes and their ability, and the frustration of their unreliability. The breaking of the wire on the first torpedo wasn’t greeted with any more than a grimace from the captain. The second was running normally and was being updated with course corrections. After ten minutes, with the sound being relayed through the ship, the torpedo suddenly increased to attack speed and successfully destroyed the contact, later identified as U55. There was almost a relief, rather than a celebration.

The captain brought the ship back to its original course, sent a brief report including the position of the sunk ship, and went back with the Duke to his cabin to continue their conversation about the future.

20 January 1940. 15:00hrs. General Gamelin’s Headquarters. Paris. France.

The British staff cars, with their motorcycle outriders swept up to the front door of the Chateaux de Vincennes in the suburbs of Paris. Generals Sir John Dill and Alan Brooke quickly made their way into the building followed by a gaggle of aides. They were a few minutes early for the meeting with General Gamelin, and were kept waiting until three o’clock precisely. Entering into the conference room Dill saluted Gamelin and held out his hand to shake the French commander’s hand. Gamelin chose to ignore it.

Dill presumed that Gamelin was out of sorts because of the removal of Lord Gort as commander of the BEF, and that was certainly part of the answer. However Gamelin had been informed by General Corap’s Ninth Army and General Huntziger's Second Army headquarters that the British had been in contact with him directly suggesting that the Germans might use the Ardennes as part of a thrust into France and Belgium. He didn’t know if he was angrier that the British had gone behind his back, or that they were spreading such useless rumours.

Dill, knowing that Brooke was fluent in French and more diplomatic than he was, let his subordinate take the lead. Sharing the intelligence that the maps captured by the Belgians were a draft of the plan, which British sources had identified as being authentic, but that the Germans were looking a more radical plan, just as Corap and Huntziger had told him. Gamelin realised that the British really were convinced of the accuracy of their intelligence. He began to pay more attention, as they even proposed moving the whole BEF to the Sedan area if he wasn’t prepared to do more to reinforce the 9th Army.

Further conversation took place about the use of tank forces and the air force. The British were struggling to get more infantry tanks to France, most of those in theatre were light tanks, only armed with machine guns. But the BEF did have a good number of two pounder anti-tank guns. The French tanks were better, though with weaknesses. It was proposed that there should be some joint exercises to examine some ideas that might be useful in defeating a heavily mechanised German attack.

Regarding the French air force, Gamelin was informed of the British Radio Detection Finding capability. It was discussed if a system could be organised to coordinate the RAF and Armée de l'Air, using the early warning system. The news that the Battle squadrons were being withdrawn was less well received. The question was therefore asked if the French bomber force was up to the task of interdiction. There was plenty to do, and time was running out.

20 January 1940. 16:00hrs. Arras, France.

The Times correspondent was trying to discover why Lord Gort had been replaced by Sir John Dill. There were all sorts of rumours, but nothing concrete. The Colonel from Intelligence asked if he could have a word in private. Kim Philby was delighted, all his expenses for bottles of whiskey were about to pay off. As Philby entered the room, he became aware of someone behind him, but before he could do anything, his world went black.

The colonel picked up the phone and contacted London. “We have both of them. Where do you want them shipped to?” He listened for a moment, “Very well, they are on their way.” An ambulance carrying two men made its way to Calais. Both men were unconscious, suffering from head injuries. Loaded onto the ferry they ended up in a non-descript house somewhere in England. Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby were joined by a number of others, and invited to give their Soviet masters information more to the liking of His Majesty’s government.

20 January 1940. 19:00hrs. London. England.

The policeman appeared from nowhere, catching him, literally, with his pants down. Next morning the sergeant was checking the cells and found Guy Burgess hanging from the bars. The investigation found that the police had fulfilled their duties correctly and that the prisoner had taken his own life by tearing his shirt into strips and hanging himself.

20 January 1940. 22:00hrs. Paris. France.

As he came out into the cold night from the Café Flore he pulled his coat closer and set off for his apartment. Crossing the boulevard he was hit by a car which never stopped. The British Embassy had to report that one of its officers had been killed in a hit and run accident. The French police couldn’t find any trace of the car and presumed it was drunk driver who didn’t want to face up to what he had done. The body of Donald MacLean was shipped home for a private family funeral.

21 January 1940. 01:00hrs. Off Stavanger. Norway.

HMS Onyx surfaced quietly in the darkness and was soon a hive of activity as an inflatable boat was prepared with its quiet outboard motor. Prepared for working with special forces Onyx had some of the SBS equipment on-board. The Duke of Gloucester was accompanied by an aide and two armed members of the ship’s company. It was freezing cold and they got away towards shore as quickly as possible.

A Norwegian fishing vessel was waiting for them at the entrance to the fjord, and the transfer went smoothly. The skipper of the fishing boat welcomed his guests on board with some akvavit and made his way back to port. A private car was waiting for them at the dockside and they were taken to a hunting lodge where King Haakon received them in the morning.

After a conversation about their families the Duke began to brief the King on the German plans for the invasion of Norway, and of the problems that would be caused by Nazi sympathisers. He wished he could have shown the King the absolutely convincing truth that he had seen, but he had to believe that the warning was based on firm evidence. The British were prepared to help as far as possible, certainly in terms of the navy interdicting the invasion as far as possible. There was also the possibility of sending ground and air forces to support the Norwegian army. But that support would be in vain unless the Norwegians themselves were fully prepared for the invasion.

King Haakon was prepared to believe that his cousin’s warning wasn’t some kind of ploy to upset their neutrality, already his merchant marine were suffering from U boat attacks. But, as a constitutional monarch his hands were clearly tied behind his back. His contacts with his senior military command would certainly respond to his suggestion to increase their readiness. However it would take the government to recall the reserves and mobilise the country. He couldn’t be sure that this would be possible to do, without either the Germans discovering it, or for that matter without forcing the hand of Quisling to try a coup d’etat. He would take advice from those he trusted.

The Duke then brought up the matter of the Danes. King Christian wasn’t as close to the British royal family, but Haakon had good relations with him. If somehow a similar warning to be prepared, especially for paratroopers, wouldn’t necessarily change the outcome, but perhaps a spanner in Hitler’s works wouldn’t go amiss, and any Danish ship or person who wished to carry on the fight from the UK would be welcome. The offer could also be made for the Danish gold reserves to be held in British or even American banks would also be an inconvenience to the Nazi regime. King Haakon agreed to think about how to pass the message on.

The Duke left that evening and rejoined the Onyx for the trip home, which was uneventful.

21 January 1941. 11:00hrs. 10000ft, Over Lille. France.

A flight of four Blenheims were flying a very strict course from Calais, over Lille towards Maubeuge, and then home. This was the first test for the coordination between the Royal Artillery’s Gun Laying Radar and the RAF. The question that had to be answered was whether the RAF liaison with the RDF operators could manage to get a flight of Hurricanes to intercept the Blenheims in a timely manner. The short answer was no, they couldn’t. However, it did give them enough information to study about how they could improve on this initial failure. The answer would probably have to lie with a similar type of system used by fighter command in England. An integrated early warning system would have to be replicated, and so a request was sent to Fighter Command asking for their help in doing this.

The Director of Communications Development, Robert A W Watt, at the Air Ministry was overseeing the construction of the Chain Home system. (note: Mr Watt started using the hyphenated form of his name after his knighthood was conferred in 1942) The Central Filter Room and Operations Control Centre had gone live at Fighter Command’s HQ at Bentley Priory. Progress since the beginning of January had been intensified as the Royal Navy had produced some expertise in managing radar interceptions. At RAF Yatesbury Squadron Leader Raymond Hart was working up a training program for RDF operators, with the help of this Royal Navy input. Flight Lieutenant DH Preist, responsible for the Army’s RDF had sent over a number of army personnel for this training too.

The army’s particular problem was that the Gun Laying Radar Mark 1 was that while it gave good accuracy, it had poor horizontal direction (azimuth), and worse, it had no elevation angle at all. To cap it all when dealing with multiple targets was it difficult to read, even for experienced operators. A better Mark 2 was in the works, but the immediate work was to sort out the height and direction problems. That meant that RDF coverage in France was hampered by inadequate material as well as an absence of infrastructure and training.

The fact that the British army would be expected to advance into Belgium in the event of a German invasion meant that making a permanent radar line, equivalent to Chain Home, would be a waste of resources. At the same time the Chain Home expansion was taking place, and so the establishment of a separate command was decided upon, and given the title of RAF 60 (Signals) Group, under the command of Air Commodore Arthur Gregory. Using the existing Base Maintenance Headquarters at Leighton Buzzard as its core, it would bring together all of the different RDF organisations, with the exception of the Royal Navy. This unit would be responsible for integrating the RDF installations in both Britain as well as for the BEF in France.

22 January 1940. 10:00hrs. University of Birmingham. England.

Harry Boot and John Randall couldn’t believe their good fortune. Usually working in academia was living a hand to mouth kind of existence, wondering where the next grant might come from. It seemed that His Majesty’s government had decided that their work was essential to the war effort, and there had been a sudden change to their fortunes. Not only was there an influx of navy men who had a really good grounding in the science they were doing, but the entire staff of the research laboratory of the General Electric Company in Wembley had been assigned to them. The role of the company scientists was more about how to mass produce the cavity magnetrons that Boot and Randall had been working on.

The men from the Royal Navy were an odd bunch. They seemed sometimes to speak their own language, and there were a lot of things they complained about. One of them was constantly on about the cold, another about how smoky everything was. There was an odd man from the Ministry of Supply whose sole job seemed to be to keep the Navy men as isolated from everybody else as much as possible. What kind of scared Boot and Randall was that they seemed to have a complete grasp of all the potential different uses that the cavity magnetrons had.

There was an airborne radar for night fighters, another for surface searches, a third for some kind of navigation aid for bombers. There had even been a discussion about a civilian use for the magnetron. It turned out that it might be used for heating food in a “microwave oven.” HMG however were not interested in that particular use at the moment, although one of the navy men thought it should be offered to De Havilland to help dry their glue more quickly. What was evident was that hand built versions of the Air Interception and Air to Surface Vessel radars were not far off completion. The General Electric Company were in advanced talks with some Canadian firms to get manufacture of the Cavity Magnetrons progressing as far as possible, as quickly as possible.

23 January 1940. 11:00hrs. Whitehall. London. England.

Chamberlain: So, CIGS, what you are saying is that there is nothing we can do for Finland, other than send them some intelligence and some material?

Ironside: That is correct Prime Minister. All of our efforts are going to preparing a force that can reinforce the Norwegians, and to strengthen the BEF in France. To take any forces allocated to those areas would be counter-productive. While none of us like what is happening to the Finns, to go to war with the Soviet Union as well as the Nazis would be…difficult.

Halifax: I have to agree, Prime Minister. Things are going very well with the Norwegians just now. The Swedes are more problematic, trying to get them to not sell iron ore to Hitler is just impossible, even offering to more for it than the Germans hasn’t worked. If we send forces to Finland we might find ourselves fighting on too many fronts without enough forces to see it through.

Churchill: Prime Minister, I too reluctantly have to agree with CIGs. We have enough on our plate, and we have to do away with Hitler as our first priority. The position of the Finns is already untenable. Sending forces would neither be sensible nor effective. However giving them some information about where and when Soviet attacks are likely would probably be of more help than anything else. We have some information about the next big Soviet attack on the Karelian Isthmus in February. With that knowledge, perhaps the Finns can do a little better.

Lord Chatfield: I concur, Prime Minister. Let us keep Hitler out of Norway and France. Once he has gone we can look at Stalin if we must.

Chamberlain: (Grimacing). Very well, CIGs, no force to be tasked to Finland. Though I do want to ship something to aid them in their struggle. Perhaps a squadron’s worth of Battles or something we’re not using?

Ironside: We are doing our very utmost to equip our own forces, which isn’t anywhere near as complete as we would like. But I shall endeavour to send whatever we can that would be of use.

Chamberlain: Right next on the agenda, the Middle East…

24 January 1940. 13:00hrs. Dalwhinnie Railway Station. Scotland.

All was chaos. The 49th (West Riding) Division was arriving piecemeal in the Cairngorms for “Mountain Warfare” training. The 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment were getting themselves off the train, and into platoons and companies to march off to their billets. A hastily convened Officers Call in the Station Master’s office was trying to sort out who should be where and when. Most of the Battalion were to be quartered in the whiskey distillery, which was of some concern to the Regimental Sergeant Major. Assurances had been given that there wouldn’t be anything for any light-fingered soldier to get their hands on, but then RSMs knew that assurances weren’t worth terribly much.

The British Army had very limited numbers of men able to impart winter mountain training, so a call had gone out to the civilian population for Ghillies, mountaineers and others who could teach the soldiers the basic survival skills they would need. A rather odd Royal Marine had turned up to oversee this particular part of the work.

As usual on occasions such as this the rumours were flying around the soldiers as they tramped their way from the railway to the distillery. Most believed that they would be sent to Finland to fight the Soviets. Others thought they might end up in the Alps for some reason. Nobody was particularly keen on any of the possibilities, because it was so blooming cold.

25 January 1940. RAF Duxford. England.

Sgt George 'Grumpy' Unwin landed his Spitfire and rolled to a stop. “Brilliant, just brilliant,” he exclaimed. The small group had gathered to hear his thoughts on the adaptation to the fuel flow. A man from the air ministry had come along with a small metal disk that he said would help solve the engine cutting out in negative G manoeuvres. 19 Squadron were the first to try it out, and Unwin was delighted. It wasn’t a total fix, but it helped, it helped a lot.

26 January 1940. 11:00hrs. Oslo. Norway.

Johan Nygaardsvold, Norwegian Prime Minister: “As you know we have mobilised a sizeable part of our armed forces. The 6th Division is at full strength guarding against a Soviet incursion from the Finnish front. The navy and air force are attempting to guard our neutrality. But as you have been informed, one of our merchant ships, the Miranda was sunk a few days ago by a German U boat.

We have two matters to consider today. Kristian Laake, the Commanding General of the Army, has been urging us to prepare for the possibility of the war coming upon us suddenly, either through a Soviet attack, or even a German one. He is due to retire this year and wants us to replace him with General Otto Ruge. Laake says that to give General Ruge the job would only work if we have a general mobilisation, and prepare to go on a war footing. So, the question is do we accept his recommendations or not? I must add, at this point, that the palace have been on to me, and His Majesty will be very interested in our response. While not saying it in so many words, he would seem to support General Laake’s suggestions.

The second matter, and not unrelated, is how do we deal Herr Hitler’s attacks on our shipping, and specifically what do we do about the loss of the Miranda.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Halvdan Koht: With regards the second, our ambassador in Berlin tells me that every time he has gone to protest at the sinking of one of our vessels, the German Foreign Ministry accuse us of breaching our neutrality by having our merchant fleet chartered by a belligerent nation like England. So, we can send another protest but it will just be met with the same answer.

Minister of Defence Fredrik Monsen: I, too, have been lobbied by many Army officers regarding the expansion of the mobilisation and of replacing Laake with Ruge. It would be very popular. The mobilisation might be a signal to Berlin that we’re not happy.

Minister of Social Affairs Kornelius Bergsvik: But that might be the wrong signal, perhaps standing down some of our forces, even cutting back on them, might bring the temperature down a few degrees. It really wouldn’t be good to be caught between Berlin and London.

Minister of Trade Alfred Madsen: Free movement of shipping and trade are absolutely vital to our nation’s interest. Anything we can do to prevent these losses, even to bring this war to an end must be considered.

Minister of Finance Adolf Indrebø: As you know our plan has been to reduce spending on the army, navy and air force. Would Ruge be favourable to this? Also a full mobilisation will be very expensive and dislocate our industry seriously if reserves are called up. I think we should leave things as they stand.

Prime Minister Nygaardsvold: So no consensus…

The meeting continued for another three hours, at the end of which it was agreed that General Ruge should be announced as successor of General Laake, to take up office on 1 March. Coupled with that announcement was the proclamation order bringing another five divisions up to full strength. The navy and air force are to be allowed to protect Norwegian shipping, even if that means firing their weapons in defence. A strongly worded note to Berlin was to be sent, warning them that Norway will defend itself against aggression. Further, they will secretly approach the British and French for an initial conversation about support in the event of a Soviet or German attack. They would look at upgrading the air forces by buying some more aircraft to supplement or replace the Gladiators that they currently have.
Minister of Education Nils Hjelmtveit as well as Minister of Social Affairs Kornelius Bergsvik resigned from the government.

27 January 1940. 14:00hrs. Salisbury Plain. England.

Lieutenant Peter Smith of A troop, “Nero” Squadron of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment was somewhat glorying in his brand new Matilda II tank. Today’s exercise was gunnery and his gunner Corporal John Twist was standing by. Private Wilson the loader was pushing the two pounder armour piercing round into the breech.

The lecture the tank crews had received that morning reminded them that the two pounder armour piercing round is very good against armour. However if the tank was engaged by an anti-tank gun it would take a very lucky shot to silence it. So part of this afternoons exercise was for the gunner to practise with the HE fragmentation shell. This was a bit of a change from standard procedure, which would have the tank only armed with armour piercing rounds. The lecturer went on to show how the German Panzer Divisions had been used in Poland, and their ‘sword and shield’ tactics. The Poles had very few armoured vehicles and so it was hard to see exactly how the BEF would fare in comparison, but no one was left under any illusion that the upcoming fight was going to be anything but terrible.

Having had the lectures in the morning, now in the afternoon they would put their learning into practice. First, they would attempt to engage an anti-tank gun with an AP round. Smith called out “Target, range 500 yards”. The loader called “up”, the gunner called “on”, Smith called “fire”. Through the binoculars it was clear that they had missed the target by only a foot or so. If it had been tank sized it would have been a hit. They were then ordered to fire the HE round. The loader took a little longer, making sure it sat properly, before calling “Up.” The gunner called “on” and Twist again called “fire”. The gun’s recoil felt a little heavier. The shell was a blunt-nosed serrated cylinder made of cast iron designed to strike the ground and pitch back into the air then explode, scattering fragments into the enemy position. The gunner had got his shot just right, destroying the target.

There was a good deal of debate in among the troopers later about the relative merits of the two types of round. Some of the Royal Artillery anti-tank gun regiment that were part of the exercise explained that they always carried some HE rounds for deterring any infantry attacks on them. Some of the tank men were staying with the premise that their job would be to take on enemy tanks, and so the more AP rounds a tank carried the better, the machine gun was good enough to take on any “soft targets.” What was coming out of the War Office was that there should be a certain minimum number of HE shots carried in every tank, though individual tank commanders were allowed to either stay at the minimum or have a more balanced stock of shells on hand.

What Smith and his fellow officers noted was that as the regiment was being equipped with more Matilda IIs armed with the 3-inch howitzer, the close support variant. Normally one of these tanks would be assigned to the HQ squadron, supplied with smoke shells. However it seemed, going by the exercise that they were now planning on having one of these CS tanks in each squadron. These were also using HE rounds in preference to smoke, so obviously somebody was rethinking tank doctrine.

28 January 1940. 09:00hrs. Toronto. Canada.

Gentlemen, welcome to the Royal Canadian Air Force No. 1 Initial Training School. I am Group Captain George Brock, the Officer Commanding this school. I understand that this might be something of a shock to your system, leaving your homes and travelling here by ship. We believe that the Commonwealth Air Training Program has the potential to make the supply of pilots and aircrew for the RAF as well as the RCAF much healthier. As part of training command in the RAF you already know what your task here will be. What we are asking you to do is to bring the same level of professionalism and skill to this new program as you have been used to in England.

The same training program that you are used to teaching will be followed here. The candidates who will arrive here in the next few days have been at the Manning Depot here in Toronto for four weeks. You will have them here for the next four weeks where you will teach them navigation, theory of flight, meteorology, the duties of an officer, air force administration, algebra, and trigonometry. Once you have passed them fit for purpose they will then proceed on to the Elementary Flying Training School at Malton Ontario for 50 hours basic flying instruction, which should take about 8 weeks to complete. They will then be streamed either into fighter or multi-engined training. So they will proceed on to the Service Flying Training School for 16 weeks. Those going on to fighters will be based at Camp Borden, Ontario, multi-engines will go to Calgary, Alberta. There they will spend the first 8 weeks in an intermediate training squadron; then for the next 6 weeks an advanced training squadron. The final 2 weeks training will be conducted at a Bombing & Gunnery School. All told, a twenty-six week course, at the end of which the graduates will be shipped over to England and join an Operational Training Group for the finishing touches before being assigned to their squadrons.

Now that is the normal practice. However there are a number of men who have volunteered who already can fly. These will be your first class, arriving on February 1st. So we will be doing an abbreviated course for these men. In your case, we would like you to test their knowledge in your assigned courses to make sure that they are up to our standard. Once you are satisfied that that is the case, they will go on to Malton and their flying ability will be assessed there. At which point they will go on either to Camp Borden or Calgary for up to the normal 16 weeks. We really want to ship this first class over to England in June if at all possible.

Lastly, before I attempt to answer any questions you might have, I have to warn you that a number of the “Canadians” who will be going through your hands over the next few weeks and months will come from other parts of North America. They are to be treated as Canadian citizens, though their attitude and outlook on life, may not be exactly what you or I are used to. However they have volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, and will be expected to behave in a manner befitting the uniform. Some of those you will meet in the first class are in fact professional flyers, with both civilian and military backgrounds. The RAF and RCAF need them flying Spitfires and Hurricanes over England as quickly as possible, so I do ask you to be reasonable and if you have any problems, please do come to me. My door is always open. Now, are there any questions?

29 January 1940. 14:00hrs. Salisbury Plain. England.

The Matilda was an ungainly looking tank. Armed only with a machine gun, their usefulness for the BEF had been questioned. Until enough Matilda II and other tanks were available to replace them, they would have to soldier on. However this particular tank had been fitted with a plough system with the thought of tackling mine fields in mind. Another Matilda was the basis for an experiment with a flail system, but that required an extra engine to be fitted to drive the drum that rotated the chains that would set off a mine. The plough system was much simpler, though was only as broad as the tracks of the tank. The flail system would be needed to sweep the entire width of the tank. Some A9 cruiser tanks were being examined for that role too, but with the overall shortage of tanks for the BEF the use of the Matilda was preferred.

The Royal Engineers were also testing the early prototypes of landmines, something that the army had neglected in the inter-war period. There were a number of crude anti-tank mines based mainly around pipes, using pressure detonators and anti-personnel mine which could be set off either by trip wires or electrically by remote control. The later of these was a slightly curved case, filled with plastic explosive embedded in which were large numbers of ball bearings.

Among the other prototypes that were being trialled were a hose that would be filled with explosive after it had been projected forward with an unrotated projectile, this would then be detonated clearing mines or barbed wire. The Bangalore Torpedo had also be resurrected and the skills in its use were being rediscovered. Many of the Royal Engineer’s Field Companies would be sending men on courses to learn how to make the most of using mines in defensive positions, and clearing them in offensive situations.

30 January 1940. 09:00hrs. RAF Marham. Norfolk. England.

Wing Commander George Mills had called a meeting of the officers of 115 Squadron to give them the news. He had spent a few days up in London being briefed at the Air Ministry about the role his squadron were to play, and had been sent back to the airfield, with a couple of boffins who were going to be conducting the experiments. The squadron was abuzz with rumours about what the ‘old man’ was going to tell them. Some thought they’d be transferred to Coastal Command, others that they were off to sunny climes in Egypt. What they were told, nobody had guessed.

Standing in front of the assembled group, Mills began, “Gentlemen, our squadron has been chosen for a special assignment. (Groans all round.) Well, I can understand your groans, but I think you will find the challenge we have been assigned quite interesting. It has been a few years since the annual Laurence Minôt memorial bombing trophy has been played for among the RAF bomber squadrons. Now that trophy was inaugurated because bombing accuracy is very important to us bombers. The question that the Air Ministry want to look at is how can we improve the accuracy of our raids, to do the most damage, especially at night or in bad weather?”

Mills could see that he had the rapt attention of everyone in the room. He continued, “It has come to light from the German campaign in Poland that the Luftwaffe have formed a particular unit, Kampfgruppe 100. This group of elite pilots and crews are believed to be used to proceed the main force in each raid with the aid of navigational beams which are known as (checking a piece of paper) Knickebein, X Gerãt and Y Gerãt. The Kampfgruppe then accurately light up the target area with incendiary fires, meaning that when the main force comes along their bomb aimers have an accurate and well-lit target to aim for. We have been chosen to test that methodology for the RAF. Two scientists have been assigned to the squadron to look at the various German systems to see how they are used, how they can be defeated, but also to see how we can improve upon them. Now rather than creating a specific squadron made up of the best crews, the Air Ministry wants us, 115 Squadron, to show that any common or garden RAF squadron can be every bit as elite as any of Goring’s boys.” (Murmurs of “hear hears” and “good show”).

Mills continued, “Now for the good news. We will be doing a great deal of flying in the next few months. We are not on operations with the rest of Number 3 Group, but are detached for the purposes of experimentation. In addition to experiments with various navigational aids, each and every pilot, navigator and bomb aimer will have to sharpen their skills. I have therefore been given permission to have each crew in the squadron compete for the Laurence Minôt memorial bombing trophy every week. The crew with the best results will have the honour of bearing that name on the side of their aircraft. That crew and aircraft will lead the rest of the squadron, no matter the seniority of the pilot for the rest of the week. The crew with the worst results, will be roundly mocked by everyone else in the squadron. Each week, allowing for the work on the experimental equipment, the competition will continue. (Excited buzz around the room.)

Mills took a sip of water and waited for a hush to fall. At least three men had their hands up to ask questions. “I will attempt to answer your questions in a moment or two. Let me conclude by stating the obvious. Part of the reason for having the competition is that it will give a base line for the boffins to work from. If they know how accurate (or otherwise) our unassisted bombing is, then by using the navigational aids, we should see what improvement is made with the aids. Traditionally the bombing competition was the nearest to the target from the height of 10000 feet. Our competition will be the best accuracy from a number of different heights, speeds and both day and night bombing. Sir Charles Portal won the competition the first year with bombs falling thirty and forty yards from the target, flying a Vickers Virginia at about 80knots. Using our Wellingtons we will be flying much faster, and so bomb-aimers you are going to have your work cut out for you. Now questions…”

January 31st 1940. Meeting of the Oversight Committee, Whitehall, London.

Well it has been a busy month for all of us, so, let’s start with the RAF shall we?

RAF Representative: Thanks to De Havilland all Spitfires are now fitted with the constant speed propeller, and the Hurricanes are following. The adaptation to the fuel supply to the Spitfire had also started to be rolled out, meaning that our Spitfires are less likely to lose power during negative g turns.

The Castle Bromwich factory is now sorted and Spitfire production has actually begun, it may only have been three aircraft, but at least it is a start. We certainly didn’t make many friends in that factory, but Vickers and Supermarine have been outstanding. Increasing the number of Spitfires means that the some of the new Hurricanes can be outfitted as fighter-bombers, these will have first call on the 20mm canons. The first three adapted planes are now being tested by Battle pilots to see how the transition will go. That leaves us stronger in fighters, but weaker in light bombers for the spring. The Blenheims will have to soldier on as is. The fighter version are all being looked at for night fighter conversion, though they really aren’t all that terribly well suited.

There has been a clear out of the old guard at the Air Ministry and Bomber Command, which means that there are a lot of senior men holding very strong grudges, which will no doubt lead to questions in Parliament and the press. Hopefully the new men will be more sympathetic to the role tactical bombing, or at the very least, less obsessive about strategic bombing, at least for now. To that end a training program for the Wellington and Hampden bombers is being initiated. The Whitley’s are dedicated night bombers and probably need to stay that way.

As to bombs now. The General Purpose bombs will be replaced as quickly as possible by the Medium Capacity bombs, all of which will be forged rather than cast. The GP bomb stockpile is very large, and will have to be used until we have enough of the bigger and better bombs. The 40lb bomb has ceased production altogether, it was looked at as the basis for the new cluster bombs, but wasn’t suitable. The larger 2000lb and 4000lb bombs are being designed currently.

As I mentioned we are working on getting a cluster bomb into production. Obviously it won’t be nearly as clever as the ones from the Olna, but they should be pretty useful. There is a team looking a napalm too, but there are issues with that. Unrotated Projectiles are also being looked at and we hope to have working prototypes for trials in the next month or so.

In the past training would have been a bit limited by the bad weather, however a lot of work is being done. We have had a higher proportion of accidents due to the weather, but readiness is certainly improving. A few fighter squadrons are taking to the changes in tactics like ducks to water, and equally there are some who don’t like innovation. Dowding is looking into rearranging some of the squadron leaders to make sure those on the front line will have the best of everything. The Gladiator then the Defiant squadrons will convert to Spitfires next. Their pilots will need time to adjust their tactics. The Aggressor squadron has been formed, and are currently learning their new role. Unfortunately we don’t have any Bf109s to work with, but German fighter doctrine is quite well understood.

We’re going to ship some of the spare Gladiators as they become available over to the Norwegians, and we’ve giving them some Defiants too. Production on all outdated aircraft is coming to an end, and now Spitfires and Hurricanes have first priority. Wellingtons are the only bomber we are going to continue building until the modifications to the Halifax can be made. The last of the Whitleys and Hampdens will be rolling off the production lines shortly. All work on Battles has already ended.

Shorts are concentrating on Sunderlands, (the Stirling has been cancelled), and we’re hoping that the bigger Hercules engine version will soon be ready, that will give coastal command something to smile about. The four engine Lancaster is still on the drawing board. Some debate remains about just missing it out and going for a pressurised high flyer, like a really big Mosquito, but there’s a lot of work needing done to get there.

The Beaufighter and Mosquito will be available in due course, the Beaufighter first, and fitted as a night-fighter, but we won't see the Mosquito until the end of this year at best. The order for the Mustang has been communicated to North American Aviation, with our stipulations for the Merlin and canon armament, and so we can hope for that as the main long range fighter sooner than later. Sydney Cam is now looking at the replacement for the Hurricane. The Typhoon was already quite advanced, but he’s been given some information that should see that become something more like a Tempest or Fury.

Rolls Royce have been very good at looking at the improvements we’ve suggested and so we think the mark II Spitfire will be more like the Mark VB was in the other future; the mark III Spitfire will have the Griffon if all goes well. Bristol have had a fire lit under them and the Hercules is going much better. The sleeve valve manufacturing issues are all being sorted, and that book with the Focke Wolf 190’s solution of cooling the engine was a God-send. The Centaurus is starting to look like it might be become available, not though in this immediate time frame.

With a powerful Hercules we’re looking at a Halifax, Sunderland and some kind of C130 type for transport. That’ll save us buying the DC3 Dakota. With the uprated Merlin we’ve got the Mosquito, Lancaster and possible high altitude bomber.

The army RDF plan in France is working out some teething troubles, but please don’t ask how it is going with the French.

Chairman: Thank you for that, we’ll come back to the French later. Now, Fleet Air Arm.

Fleet Air Arm Representative: With the exception of Courageous, all our carriers are intact. The Argus is our training carrier and should continue in that role. Ark Royal is with Home Fleet as is Furious. Glorious is in the Mediterranean. Eagle is in the Indian Ocean. Hermes is being refitted, and we are trying to make the most of that. Illustrious and Formidable are due to join us in May and November. Victorious, Indomitable, Unicorn, Implacable and Indefatigable are all at various stages of construction. The last two can benefit most from our windfall, they are at an early stage and we can improve them massively. Unicorn we have to decide what to do, leave her as designed as a maintenance ship, useful in the Far East, or, since she is at an early stage, make her a light carrier. Victorious, Indomitable, are further along and so will be less changed, but much better than they would otherwise have been. Illustrious and Formidable are getting some minor additions so as not to slow their delivery, we can upgrade them later if needs be.

Eagle and Glorious can stay where they are for the moment, though Captain D'Oyly-Hughes is being recalled and replaced, much to his chagrin, however “the needs of the service” and all that. The next time they are to be refitted we can put the improvements on. If Italy stay out of it for a while longer, we should be fine in the Med and the Far East.

Our design for adapting merchant ships into simple carriers for convoy escort is now being tried on an oil tanker, the MV Acavus, which was converted in the other 1943. It will take a good few months to try it out, but hopefully we can make progress quickly. If the helicopters are working they would be assigned to these MAC ships for ASW.

Aircraft however are the problem. If Ark Royal and Furious, maybe Hermes too, act together along with Cardiff or Bristol, that can give us a good Home Fleet air wing. A Sea-Hurricane is being expedited to replace the Sea-Gladiators until something better comes along. With improved Sea-Hurricanes, Skuas and Swordfish, they should be able to do the job in the meantime. If we can improve what we have and decide if we want to go with the Griffon powered Barracuda or what else, is a question that has to be debated.

We’ve decided to stick with the Swordfish, which has meant cancelling the Albemarle. We’re trying to put some improvements into the Swordfish. The Skua will be concentrating on dive bombing. The Roc you’ll be glad to know has also been cancelled. Fairey are making Fulmers and the first squadron is assigned to Illustrious when it joins the fleet. We’ve given Fairey some tweaks, so what they are making will have better performance, but whether we should continue with it is the question. Generally it is thought of as being a good airframe for long range reconnaissance and possibly taking some kind of radar. But as a fighter, then hopefully the Sea Hurricane and SeaFire will do that job.

Chairman: Thank you for that. I believe the SeaFire might come along, but only if the RAF can get enough Spitfires first. You would also probably need to wait for the Mark II, which would be the better basis for the SeaFire. Now helicopters.

Air Ministry Representative: Since Napier’s Sabre has been cancelled, they have been looking at the turboprop. They plan to try to build an exact copy of a Gnome for a helicopter for the fleet that would be good. A copy of the Wessex, with two Gnomes, and a simplified Lynx with one should be possible. Westland are looking at the airframes now. Nothing will be ready until much later in the year.

Chairman: I think much later in the year might be a bit on the optimistic side of thing. Now, the senior service.

Royal Navy Representative: We’ve planned on using the Revenge class battleships, Revenge, Royal Sovereign, Ramillies, and Resolution, as convoy escorts, in the meantime. We are also proposing that as each KGV comes along, one of the Revenges goes into reserve so that their crews can be used on the new builds. The Queen Elizabeth’s are fine as they are, we’ll update the RDF and anti-aircraft guns as soon as practicable. The Nelsons will stay as they are too, though they are in need of some yard time. We’re upgrading the King George V and Prince of Wales with the future RDF. The Duke of York, Anson and Howe will get whatever upgrades we can give them. The Lions and Vanguard will probably never see the light of day at this point. The Hood, Repulse and Renown will carry on, we’ll do the same upgrades to RDF and AAA when we can. A big refit for HMS Hood might be on the cards after Norway.

The cruisers that we have will be refitted as time and slips allow. The Dido class which are still under construction we can amend to the Bellona model for better AAA. The Crown Colonies will also have minor changes. The Abdiel class of minelaying cruisers will be go ahead, though using them as fast transports is probably their best use.

Now destroyers and escort vessels. The new ASDIC is being rushed through as is Hedgehog, the fuse has been successfully tested already. New ships will all have space for RDF and ASDIC. We’re looking at getting the Squid up and running, but next year probably at the earliest. The training of captains in ASW techniques is a priority and we’re planning a perishers course with the Onyx. The best hope is keeping Norway and France, so that we can bottle up the German navy in the North Sea and Baltic.

The weapons now. We’re trying to get proximity fuses as a priority. If we get that it will help enormously with AA fire. We’re also looking at tracer rounds for the two pounder pompoms. If it is possible we’ll look at Bofors pompoms, hopefully next year. All the different calibres of guns on different ships is a problem that we’d like to resolve at some point. We looking at the 4.5 inch guns from Active and Penelope to see if they could be an answer to the various needs. In the ships we have already, it is a case of doing the best we can. RDF, ASDIC, AAA and training, especially in damage control, will be the keys however.

Increasing the Royal Marines and tasking them with amphibious warfare, a bit like the USMC, and the ships needed for that will take some time, but we’ve already got the go-ahead for that.

Chairman: Thank you. Again, I believe that training is going to be the answer for most things. Now let’s look at the Army.

Army Representative: Three divisions have been earmarked for Norway, and we are looking at creating a combined services structure for that campaign. They will be limited in tanks and other motor transport, but we’re already got the 49th Division training in the Grampians to acclimatise them and check for limitations in equipment. They will be followed by the 52nd Division and then the Canadians.

The Norway force has first priority for radios. We’re also checking the history books as much information as possible. Prevention is the key, interdicting the Kriegsmarine on the way will be a lot easier than rooting them out once they are established.

The BEF is still being strengthened, the Territorial Divisions are doing their best, but to get them trained in time will be a big task. The battle drill school has been opened at Fort George and is currently on schedule.

The Dyle plan is shelved, and negotiations with the Belgians and Dutch are continuing quietly. We’ve persuaded them of the danger of paratrooper and glider forces, and they are beginning to look at their defences more carefully. At this point we’re still not invited in, though there are a lot of fit single men on bicycling and tourist holidays, both us and the Germans surveying the lay of the land. If Hitler invades Denmark and Norway, I think they may change their mind and invite us to come to their aid, which of course Hitler will use as a cause of war.

The French Second and Ninth armies at the Ardennes are being strengthened and the main French mobile reserve, First Army, is now based in St Quentin so that it can swing either down to Sedan or up to the Gembloux gap as battle unfolds. Our own forces are training hard. We have stopped rotating units out of the Maginot sector, the training they were getting there was considered less important than having our own divisions train together. We are putting as many Matilda IIs and 25 pounders on the ground as fast as they become available. But if they use the plan we are expecting, I think we might avoid a Dunkirk.

As to weapons, we think the Sterling will be available before the fighting begins in earnest. Small numbers of Carl Gustavs will be in theatre to beef up anti-tank forces. We’ve been training against blitzkrieg tactics, and making the best use of what we have.

A new tank, something like a Cromwell or Comet, is under early development. The Valentine is being hurried along. Tank production has been declared equal priority to fighters. The 81mm mortar should start being available in the summer, moving production from the 3-inch wasn’t as complicated as we had feared. The various attempts at improving the 2 pounders in the tanks and anti-tank units are progressing, and tests with the HE rounds have shown that it can be effective.

Chairman: Thank you for that. Now, Ministry of Supply.

Ministry of Supply Representative: The country has mobilised brilliantly, we have factories working round the clock, and many new factories coming on line soon. We are stockpiling resources and there is a huge plan for agriculture being rolled out for the end of the winter. We are short of almost everything, especially machine tools, and it seems that the Americans are not likely to fulfil their orders, which will cause a few bottlenecks down the line. But by stopping some things altogether, such as some aircraft and work on some of the battleships, as well as cutting back our orders for some ships, we should be able to reallocate some workers and tools to the more pressing needs.

Chairman. Excellent, nice as succinct too. Can we talk security now please?

Joint Intelligence Committee Representative: Well there are lots of different plates that we are having to spin. As before we are seeking to keep our secrets from the Germans, about which we seem to be so far successful. The problem of Soviet infiltration is being addressed. Some of the more obvious leaks have been stopped or redirected, and we think we have rolled up a good proportion of their system. We imagine that Beria will know some of that, or at least guess it, but they allied to our enemy and so he shouldn’t be too surprised.

Obviously the single most important job is to keep the Bristol Group secret, and to be honest that is a nightmare. While most of the cover story works well enough, there are just too many people in the loop, or close enough to the loop to be a threat. We have been running ourselves ragged trying to keep things under wraps, but it won’t take much for something to unravel. There are some strict measures in place for something coming out, but, well we just have to constantly be on our guard.

Lastly we are looking are out own assets in various parts of the world. There is quite a lack of human intelligence, so our code breaking is ever more important. We also have been looking at plans for trying to decouple Mussolini from Hitler, and to possibly stir up some trouble for Stalin.

Chairman. So in the month since the arrival of the Bristol Group we have achieved a lot, but there is much, much further to go. So, shall we discuss progress and lack of it thus far…
1 - 14 February 1940
1 February 1940. 15:00hrs. House of Commons, Westminster, London.

Speaker: The Prime Minister!

PM: Mr Speaker, I have been informed by my doctors that I have an illness that will need to be treated. Having consulted with my party, and with the leader of the opposition, and having had an audience with His Majesty, I have decided to step down as Prime Minister and as leader of my party. I have asked the King to call on someone to form a National Unity Government so that we can face the evils of tyranny united and strong. I hope to resume my duties in the house after my treatment is complete. Thank you.

Clement Atlee, Leader of the Opposition: My own best wishes, and that of my party are extended to the right honourable gentleman. We thank him for his courage and we will support a Nation Unity Government…

Buckingham Palace.

King George VI: And so Winston, I hope that you will accept the challenge of forming a cross party cabinet and lead our country through the dark days ahead.

Winston Churchill. Your Majesty, I am honoured to be asked, and I will spend my last drop of blood to defeat the tyranny of Fascism.

Someone’s front room.

Announcer on the Radio. Here is the news. Winston Churchill has been asked by His Majesty King George to form a government of National Unity. Mr Churchill has accepted and we are expecting an announcement tomorrow of the new Cabinet members.

In other news….

The Captain’s Cabin, HMS Bristol.

Commodore Alan Grose raised a toast with the other captains from the Bristol Group, “Winston’s back!”

2 February 1940. 10:00hrs. North Sea.

HMS Andromeda was to the east of the Orkneys with four destroyers and sloops. The Lynx was flown by Larry Jeram-Croft and he was struggling to keep the hover steady as the wind buffeted them. His observer, Bill Bates, was working the dipping sonar. He was in touch by radio with HMS Greyhound. Greyhound had been chosen as the test bed for a redesigned depth charge. Based on drawings of an American Mark 9, teardrop shaped depth charge, a small number had been handmade for testing.

Utilising the normal depth charge amatol explosives and hydrostatic pistol until new explosives and pistols could be designed, this experimental depth charge was known as Reward. When they had been designing it one of the ratings off HMS Active had annoyed everyone by repeatedly singing the words from The Teardrop Explodes single of that name, the name stuck, though it was too difficult to explain to people.

Because of the Reward’s fast sinking rate, HMS Greyhound had to live up to her name. With Bates calling the depth from his sonar, the Greyhound raced over the submarines’ position and dropped a pattern of four. The depth charges worked as advertised and U58 was lost with all hands.

2 February 1940 17:50 hrs. Shetland – Faroe Gap.

HMS Minerva was accompanied by two H class destroyers, Hero and Havoc, and two Grimsby class sloops, Leith and Aberdeen. Leith had just come out of a refit and had the first Hedgehog prototype installed. Intelligence suggested that five U boats had set sail from Wilhelmshaven on January 27, and that the Shetland-Faroe Gap was a likely place to catch them.

In the ops room the surface radar operator called a contact. It looked like a submarine had just surfaced as darkness was falling. It was thirty nautical miles to the east of the group. Captain Johnston ordered the group to make best speed (about 15 knots for the sloops) and headed towards the enemy. The surface search radar kept the U boat position updated and at 1945hrs they were within visual range. The Hero was testing the new Snowflake rocket, which worked as advertised, bathing U56 in brilliant light. It immediately crash dived. Minerva manoeuvred in conjunction with HMS Leith. Minerva’s sonar operator called out the bearing and speed of the diving submarine which was piped over the tannoy on the Leith. When the range was 250 yards the spigot mortars began to fire, two at a time so that all twenty four would create a circular pattern. Two explosions immediately had the hopes of an early kill, though these proved to be defective fuses. One more explosion happened a few seconds later as one of the bombs hit the submarine. It was in serious trouble and blew its tanks to surface. As it broke the surface it was raked with fire from the Havoc’s Oerlikon anti-aircraft mounts. Crew members jumped into the sea and were rescued after the U boat’s scuttling charges sank her.

On board the Leith there was great celebrations, not least by Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Blacker, whose spigot mortar design, the Blacker Bombard had just had its first outing in a form he never expected.

3 February 1940. North Atlantic 150 Miles West of Barra

U44 had had a successful patrol, sinking 8 merchant ships totalling over 30000 tons. The men were looking forward to getting home. The last radio message from 2. Flottille had been decoded with the worrying information that a number of U boats had not reported and were feared lost. There was speculation among U44’s captain Ludwig Mathes’ officers that something was amiss, perhaps the Tommies had come up with some king of new detector.

HMS Avenger, a type 21 frigate, was less well equipped for ASW than the Leanders. But Captain Hugo White was happy enough to be at sea with what he had. Currently they were making 30 knots chasing down a surface contact. It had all the characteristics of a U boat on the surface and the captain and crew wanted to join the Bristol Group’s members with a kill. As the range closed to less than 8 nautical miles, White ordered the 4.5 inch gun to open fire. Using the radar director four shells were fired in less than ten seconds, two straddled the unfortunate U-boat, the other two destroyed it. When HMS Avenger arrived at the position the crew only found a few bodies and a little floating wreckage.

4 February 1940. 12:00hrs. West of Orkney Islands.

HMS Cardiff was exercising with HMS Ark Royal and HMS Furious. They were practising communications between ships and aircraft for defending against air attack. Things weren’t going very well, and Captain Mike Harris was getting more and more frustrated. Suddenly over the tannoy came the warning: Air Raid Warning Red. Harris was about to tear into somebody for messing up the drill, when he was told that an identified aircraft had entered the radar picture and was on an interception course. It was flying at 13000 feet and 180 knots at a range of 90nms and closing. The downtimer in the Ops room suggested that was the normal FW200 Condor flight profile. Harris quickly thought through his options. HMS Furious’ CAP of two Sea-Gladiators would take about ten minutes to intercept, if they could be directed by radio. It was worth giving it a try, though so far, this was where the problems lay in the exercise.

With the words, “this is not a drill” preceding the instructions the two pilots climbed to 14000 and closed with the Condor. They had some difficulty with icing, but with directions from the Cardiff’s radar operator they intercepted the Condor. The pilot of the Condor was very skilled and his gunners were fighting for their lives. One of the Sea Gladiators was badly damaged and limped away, the other had managed two passes and had peppered the Condor with .303 bullets, but it had only damaged the aircraft which was now at 9ooo feet and only 25 miles from the fleet. Not wanting it to get a sighting of HMS Cardiff, Harris ordered the other Sea Gladiator to clear the area fast. With the radar locked on to it, a Sea Dart was launched which put paid to the Condor.

When the exercise was restarted later in the afternoon, there was a greater degree of urgency to it.

4-5 February 1940. North Sea.

Conscious that the Condor which had been dispatched by HMS Cardiff may have been spotting for U-boats, the two sub-hunting groups led by HMS Minerva and HMS Andromeda were moved south and eastwards into the northern North Sea. Minerva demonstrated her long range sonar by sitting quietly listening. Her consorts likewise were doing little more than keeping position. A submarine contact was identified and the hunting group pounced. Using the lessons they had been learning, the two H class destroyers working together, using their own ASDIC equipment were able to hunt down and depth charge U21.

HMS Andromeda’s group found U48 almost by accident. They were returning to Scapa Flow as one of the sloops had developed an engine problem, which happened to be where U48 was lying in ambush for an unsuspecting ship to pass. Andromeda’s radar picked up the periscope return, with little time to lose, the Lynx was dispatched to kill it with a Mark 46 torpedo. These U boat losses, coupled with the loss of U41 by HMS Antelope on the 5th of February south of Ireland caused a panic in Admiral Donitz’s headquarters. The loss of 10 U boats in a four week period was beyond belief. They had lost a total of nine between September 1939 and the beginning of January 1940, about two per month. To have lost 10 in four weeks was unsustainable. With a force of less than sixty U boats, Donitz was forced to withdraw his ships into the southern North Sea to keep them in readiness for the Norwegian campaign.

The unexplained losses of U boats, coupled with the loss of reading the Royal Navy’s code, something had obviously happened. The German secret services were all trying to find out what was going on, the rumour that many of them were hearing was that there was a traitor, someone in the upper echelons of the Party who was a British spy. A mole hunt was begun by Himmler’s Gestapo.

6 February 1940. 17:00hrs. Simla. India.

While the Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland, had offered his resignation as Secretary of State for India and Burma to the new Prime Minister at the beginning of the month, he had been surprised that it had not been accepted. It seemed that Churchill was “pondering” his position on India. Instead, with quite undue haste in Dundas’ mind, he had been requested to fly to India to confer with the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, and the uncrowned Indian National Congress leader Mohandas Gandhi along with Jawaharlal Nehru.

The problems caused by the Viceroy’s unilateral declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 had caused ructions in India, and things were not improving. However Linlithgow had made a speech in January in Bombay in which he had said that he would “spare no effort” to hasten India along the road to Dominion status. Gandhi was intrigued by the speech and began a correspondence to seek clarification, copies of which had arrived on Zetland’s desk. Linlithgow wasn’t quite as good at replying to the letters as Gandhi would have liked, he was growing more impatient. The change in government in London, and the sudden announcement of the surprise visit of Zetland had surprised both Linlithgow and Gandhi.

When the Viceroy and Secretary of State had got together over a gin and tonic, it became clear that while they disagreed over the timetable, the road to Dominion status was what they were set upon. There was no doubt in the Cabinet in London about the role that India would need to play in the war. Therefore all efforts would have be made to enable that effort. If that meant that that compromises would have to be made with Gandhi’s party, then they would just have to bite that bullet. While they had no illusions that Gandhi would throw the weight of his Party’s efforts into the war effort, what they did hope was that by promising real progress towards Dominion Status would allow him to take a more nuanced stance, allowing the expansion of the Indian army and its deployment overseas. The investment in industry that would flow as these soldiers were equipped would have long term benefits for the Indian economy.

What had surprised the Viceroy, and would shock Gandhi when told, was that Zetland carried the message that His Majesty’s Government was proposing to grant Dominion status in 1945. This would be somewhat dependant on an “Indianisation” of the army and the Indian Civil Service. There would be a transition period where British civil servants and officers were to mentor Indians to learn their role and then continue as advisors while the new Indian civil servants grew into their jobs. The hope was that when India became a full Dominion, it would be ready to be run by Indians. In addition the expansion of the franchise to increase the numbers of those entitled to vote was planned, which in due course, would make India the world’s largest democracy. This was tantamount to independence and Gandhi recognised it immediately.

Conferring with one another after hearing this message, Nehru and Gandhi disagreed about their response. Gandhi saw weakness, an opportunity to simply by-pass Dominion status and declare independence. However Nehru was persuaded that there was something to work with here. What they could agree on was taking the proposal back to the Congress and debating it. Gandhi thought that a campaign of civil disobedience was obviously what the British feared, that would tie down too many of the soldiers that would be needed elsewhere. Nehru however thought that what they were being offered was too good a deal to pass up. The idea of a nuanced response, as Zetland had suggested, had its attractions. There was nothing to stop the call for complete independence, but to work alongside the British, seeing Dominion status as a stepping stone was promising.

What all four men did agree on, and made public, was that the discussions would continue, and that there was some hope for progress. All sides felt that this was about as much as could be hoped for at this point.

7 February 1940. 10:00hrs. Rome. Italy.

Sir Percy Loraine, British Ambassador to Italy, “Pompous Percy” to his staff, arrived for his meeting with Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister somewhat subdued. He had spent the last few days with a couple of men from the Foreign Office who had flown out to Rome to have “discussions” with the ambassador. The fact that the men from the Foreign Office were less than complimentary about Loraine’s view of Mussolini and the direction Il Duce was leading the Italian nation had been something of a shock to his system. They had actually accused him, to his face, of arrogance and of having a ‘condescending’ view of the Italians, which made him ripe for manipulation and deception by the Fascists. They suggested that his reports to Lord Halifax about the “remote” possibility of Italy joining the war on the side of Hitler was at best misleading, if not in fact wholly misguided. Loraine would have resigned there and then, but was told in no uncertain terms that his resignation would be accepted readily and that there was a vacancy for a representative of His Majesty in Tristan da Cunha which the new Foreign Secretary would be happy to appoint him to forthwith.

It seemed that keeping the Italians out of the war had become an even higher priority than ever. To that end His Majesty’s Government expected that at his meeting with Ciano that the Italians would reject the proposals that he had previously made. This was to supply coal in return for certain manufactured goods, including anti-tank guns and aircraft. The fact that this proposal was made at all was either strikingly bold or completely naïve, and the new Government in London were of the second opinion. The fact that it would be rejected however was an opportunity, one which the two men from the Foreign Office had thoroughly briefed Loraine on.

Ciano immediately saw that Loraine was not his normal self. The Italian had not been looking forward to this meeting, he had had a stern lecture from Mussolini that “states, like individuals, must follow a straight line of rectitude and honour.” The total rejection of the British proposal seemed to close off the chances of keeping at bay the British blockade of German coal imports. However Loraine’s reaction to the news surprised him. It was as if he had expected this response, but more surprisingly, Loraine had come with quite a different proposal.

The Royal Navy would once again postpone the implementation of the blockade of coal imports that the Germans were shipping on neutral ships through Rotterdam. However, this couldn’t continue indefinitely, but His Majesty’s Government was prepared to offer the Italian state time to make other arrangements for importing coal. Once again an offer was made to supply British coal at very good prices, and since the Italians wouldn’t be able to pay in hard currency, or in manufactured goods, they would be prepared to accept payment in agricultural products and Italian Government bonds. If Signor Mussolini was able to give his word that no strategic materials would be shipped to Germany, then the Royal Navy’s Contraband control patrols would be prepared to accept Italian ships are truly neutral. Ciano was astounded at this, and struggled to maintain his diplomatic poise.

Loraine went on, HMG recognised that Signor Mussolini was in a difficult position as a non-belligerent ally of Germany, which had allied itself with Stalin’s Soviet Union. As a committed anti-communist it must have hurt when Von Ribbentrop’s deal with Molotov had been made public. The danger of the expansion of communism remained something that both Britain and France were concerned over, for example what little help they could spare for Finland was being given, and perhaps Il Duce might have seen the difficulties that the Red Army was encountering? Britain and France continued to see the dangers of Soviet Communism and would actively oppose it wherever it threatened. Ciano nodded, this was a good stroke by the British, Il Duce was indeed upset about Hitler’s deal, but wasn’t in a position to do much about it. It seemed that the British were prepared to treat Mussolini with some respect, something that Ciano’s father-in-law craved.

As Ambassador Loraine was escorted out of his office, Count Ciano ruminated on what he had just witnessed. There was no desperation in the British offers, they seemed to understand that Italy was in a unique position, and were prepared to be flexible in their response. That spoke of confidence, perhaps Prime Minister Churchill, unlike Chamberlain, felt that Germany could be contained. Certainly it seemed that the war at sea was going Britain’s way, if the reports about U-boat losses were correct. Mussolini had told him that he would reconsider the British coal proposal in six months’ time. It would be interesting to see what his reaction would be to the new proposal, and the Royal Navy’s offer of special treatment to the Italian merchant fleet.

8 February 1940. 11:00hrs. The Hague. Netherlands.

General Henri Winkelman, having accepted the job of Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch Armed forces two days previously, had reviewed with his intelligence staff the job in front of him. Having mobilised the Armed Forces on the 28 August 1939, Winkleman had just under 300000 poorly trained and armed men under his command. They had no tanks, just some armoured cars, but they were not short of bicycles. Whatever field and anti-aircraft artillery they had were wholly inadequate. In other words, the task of defending the country with the resources at his disposal was highly improbable. It would be necessary to fall back to “Fortress Holland” and try to keep any German invaders at bay. Perhaps France and Britain would come to their aid if they held out long enough.

Among the congratulatory telegrams that Winkelman had received was one from General Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London. In the message was a request to meet with a representative from the British Embassy with some information that he might find helpful. It had piqued his curiosity and a somewhat cloak and dagger meeting had taken place between a Colonel of the Dutch Army and the new Military Secretary at the British Embassy, the results of which Winkelman was perusing currently.

If the information was to be believed, and that would take some work to discover, the British, with Belgian help, had a rough notion of how a German attack on France and the Low Countries would play out. It certainly seemed as if the British, and to some extent the French, were taking it seriously. There were no promises from the British for much in the way of help, they had their hands full getting their own army fully prepared. However the warnings about the possible use of German paratroopers and glider troops to capture key bridges was interesting. The destruction of the bridges over key rivers and canals was part and parcel of the Dutch plan of resistance. The British seemed to have a list that might be best to be blown as soon as a German attack was suspected. Winkelman made a note to talk to the commanders of those areas about what plans they had in place to prevent surprise attacks.

The other thing that the British were warning about was the way in which the Luftwaffe could be expected to attempt to destroy the Dutch Air Force on the ground in the first instance. Measures to protect the limited numbers of Dutch fighters and bombers were recommended. The one promise that the British were prepared to make was that they would continue to provide as much intelligence as they could, but added that the Dutch should not to neglect their own sources of information, which the British would be happy to receive too.

Adding this to the information that the electronics firm Philips had been approached to establish a subsidiary factory in England, as well as other approaches to individuals and companies promising that if things went badly, they would be welcome in England was very interesting. The Jewish community, especially those involved in the diamond trade, had been particularly targeted, with Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha, the British former Secretary of War paying a visit to “some friends” in Amsterdam, a visit which had made the papers. The British were obviously up to something, and Winkelman was prepared to play along for the moment.

9 February 1940. 11:00hrs. The Mannerheim Line. Finland.

General Mannerheim himself came to view what was happening. The Red Army had been battering the Finnish defensive positions since 1 February, firing hundreds of thousands of shells. Since Timoshenko had taken over the Soviets had increased their forces to 26 Divisions and shipped large numbers of new tanks and artillery pieces to the theatre. In the Karelian Isthmus, in the Summa sector, pressure on the Finnish forces had become extreme. In other places the Finns had managed some successes, such as the encirclement of the Soviet 54th Division, however the weight of the Soviet attack was beginning to tell.

The British had given the Finns a certain amount of information about the likely Soviet attacks which had proven fairly accurate, but the sheer preponderance of Soviet might was likely to tell in the long term. What Mannerheim really appreciated was the arrival of large quantities of 75mm ammunition that the French had shipped. This, along with some old Great War Maxim guns captured from the Germans, twenty more FT-17 tanks, which would be used as pill boxes, like those already owned by the Finns were all very useful. The British had provided a number of Boys anti-tank rifles that had given the front line troops something to use against the Soviet tanks. A consignment of old Lewis guns with .303-inch ammunition would add to the burden of the logistic troops, but give some extra fire-power to the Finnish troops. Vickers had also sent some 2-pdr guns that could be fitted to the Mark E (6 ton) tanks that the Finns had bought before the war. These, along with captured T-28s and BT-7s would give Mannerheim a hard hitting counterattacking force.

More than eighty aircraft had been added to the Finnish air force since the middle of January. The British had provided a further twelve Bristol Blenheims, twelve Hawker Harts and twenty-four Gloster Gladiators. The Harts and Gladiators supplemented what the Swedes had provided. The French had sent a further thirty-five Morane-Saulnier 406 fighters on top of the previous thirty that had arrived at the end of December. The American Brewster F2As that had been shipped to Sweden were still being assembled, they weren’t expected to be available for another two weeks. Even with these extra aircraft they were still vastly outnumbered, but the Finnish pilots were more confident, which had been shown in a number attacks on Soviet artillery units.

The Soviets had been probing for weaknesses for over a week. With the intelligence supplied by the British, Mannerheim had been playing a little cat and mouse, trying to wear down the Red Army and point them in the wrong direction. The British had suggested that the main thrust would come on 11 February and that the 7th Army aim was to break the Finnish positions between Lake Muolaanjärvi and Karhula and advance to Viipuri. The 7th Army consisted of 9 infantry divisions, 5 tank brigades, a machine-gun brigade and 10 Corps-level Artillery Regiments. The 13th Army objective was to break the Finnish positions between Lake Muolaanjärvi and Lake Ladoga and advance to Käkisalmi. The main body of the 13th Army (5 infantry divisions, a tank brigade and 6 Corps-level artillery regiments) would be concentrated between Muolaanjärvi and Vuoksi. Mannerheim had no idea where the British were getting their information, but the reconnaissance flights and interrogations of prisoners seemed to give credence to the information.

The Finnish Army was pretty exhausted from their efforts and reserves of men were running low. Mannerheim had tried to bring together as much of a reserve as he could. The arrival of the 75mm shells would give his artillery the chance to support the infantry lines. Sourcing rifle calibre ammunition had been more of a problem as neither the British nor French had any quantities of 7.62mm ammunition. Some had been found in Spain from the Civil War period, and some from the United States, which had to be bought and paid for by the French. Work on the Interim Line, a second line of defence behind the Mannerheim Line was being worked on as hard as possible. Efforts to negotiate a peace deal were being rebuffed by Moscow, no doubt expecting that victory on the battlefield would allow them to dictate rather than negotiate terms. Therefore the Finns needed to hold out for as long as possible and inflict as much carnage on the Red Army that they could. Mannerheim’s visit to the front line was a chance to examine what the possibilities were of success.

10 February 1940. 15:00hrs. Bletchley Park. England.

Commander Alastair Denniston, operational head of GC&CS at Bletchley Park:
“The cryptologists are working very well on the enigma decodes, and we are getting pretty good at deciphering them pretty quickly. The Bombe for Enigma is up and running. The Colossus for Lorenz is coming along and will soon be ready to join to fight. Turing and Welchman are ecstatic about the help they're getting. We are getting more personnel assigned to it as quickly as possible, and the number of huts is increasing. The idea that a fourth rotor might be added on the Enigma device is being accounted for, just in case.

“As to the contents of those decrypts. As you know the Kriegsmarine codes are the most difficult to crack. However, as far as we can see, Donitz has ordered that U boats will be restricted to the southern part of the North Sea until further notice. Requests for intelligence about new British ASW capability has been sent to other agencies. So between the bad weather and the loss of U boats, there have been very few merchant vessels sunk.

“The Abwehr and the Gestapo seem to be having a bit of a row. There seems to be accusations flying around about possible British spies. So far, thankfully nobody seems to be thinking that anyone is reading their post. Heydrich might be in a spot of bother, his name seems to pop up every now and again. Sooner or later the mud might stick.

11 February 1940. 09:00hrs. Fort George. Inverness. Scotland.

It was bitterly cold as the men completed the final exercise of the Battle Drill School. They had been in the field for twenty-four hours, they were cold, wet and hungry. However for the Royal Marines who had been their instructors it had been a successful exercise and nearly all the sergeants would pass out of the programme with flying colours. The few who had failed tended to be older men whose bodies had suffered too much. Some hadn’t been fit enough in the first place, and so had to be side lined, a few more had damaged their ankles, but, what was particularly pleasing, was that not one of those who had joined the course had chosen to be washed out.

For Captain Iain Murray of the Scots Guards, this was the second class that were passing through the school. The first course had been a learning curve, but by the end of the three weeks, he was confident that the graduates would be more than capable of running the exercises back in their Battalions. This particular group of men were from each of the training establishments of the British Army. Now that they had gone through the Battle Drill Course, they would have another ten days learning how to teach it. Once they went back to their depots it would be up to them to set up the course so that all of the newly recruited troops would have the experience added to the end of their training routine.

As the tired and hungry men climbed on board the lorries that would take them back to the barracks they would enjoy a hot shower, a hot meal, and then have the rest of the day off to rest and recuperate. Tomorrow they would begin the second part of the experience. One of the Marines, Sergeant John McGinley, came up and saluted. He had a big grin on his face, knowing that he too was due the rest of the day off. “All present and accounted for, Sir. Three lads for sick parade when we get back, but otherwise they’ve done not too badly.” Murray rubbed his together after returning the salute. “Right Sergeant, let’s get going. Let’s go and see what the cookhouse has in store.” The sergeant nodded, “Yeah, about that. I put a wee word in before I left, a good hot curry. That’ll sort out the men from the boys.” Murray laughed, “Knowing you Sergeant, ‘hot’ won’t be the half of it!”

12 February 1940. 15:00hrs. Suez. Egypt.

Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, welcomed the men of the Australian 6th Division of the 2nd Australian Expeditionary Force to Egypt. There wasn’t much of a chance of a speech, Eden was conscious that this was more an opportunity for the cameras to make a propaganda film than anything else. The Australians were underequipped, part of bringing them here to Egypt, and shortly to move them up to Palestine was to allow the regulars of the British 6th Division to move to France to join the BEF. For a month or so the two divisions would work together to increase the training and fitness levels. The Australians would get the cast-off equipment when the British unit moved to France, where they would get the latest equipment.

Eden himself would be travelling back to London as soon as he was finished here. Prime Minister Churchill wanted a reshuffle of the government of national unity, and Eden was nominated as Foreign Secretary. But before the flight home, he was to have dinner with General Wavell, C-in-C Middle East and General Blamey, commander of the Australians. Eden knew that Wavell was less than keen on the current situation. In his opinion it would have been better to send the Australians straight to Britain, where they could be properly equipped and trained. He needed his regular troops because he had two threats. The Arabs in Palestine had not long finished an uprising, in addition to which Wavell had received some warnings of problems in Iraq. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Italians in Libya and Ethiopia could be a real threat to the Suez and Red Sea. Taking some of his best units, such as 6th Division, and replacing it with a green division was a problem that he could do without. Furthermore, his newly named 7th Armoured Division was having some of the brightest and best officers and NCOs transferred to the BEF to help set up 1st Armoured Division.

General Blamey likewise had just arrived in theatre and agreed with Wavell that his men would have best been sent to England. The ANZACs who had arrived in Egypt in 1914 had ended up at Gallipoli, and with Churchill in charge, Blamey was worried that his men might find themselves once more doing “something stupid”, as he put it. Eden found himself trying to get through the dinner as diplomatically as he could. At least it was good practise for the role of Foreign Secretary, being diplomatic. As soldiers often do however, once they had got the complaints out of the way, the men started reminiscing. Eden had won the Military Cross at the Somme, Wavell had won his at second battle of Ypres and Blamey had been mentioned in dispatches at Gallipoli and Pozières. The question of how would this new war unfold as opposed to the Great War was something that all three had strong opinions about.

13 February 1940. 13:00hrs. Castle Bromwich. England.

The management team from Supermarine and Vickers that had been brought in to get the shadow factory producing Spitfires had been trying to work miracles. The problems that had beset the factory were blamed by the Nuffield Organisation on the changes that the RAF insisted upon, so that they had been producing a lot of Spitfire bits, but no complete aircraft. Stanley Woodley was one of the Supermarine men who had been sent from Southampton to sort things out. The only way they had managed to get three produced by the end of January had been to ship up from Southampton large numbers of finished components, including some fully equipped fuselages, the working around the clock.

Because Lord Nuffield’s Morris Motors had attempted to replicate what they did with motor cars on Spitfires, using extensive jigging of all components so that they could be produced using relatively unskilled labour, it was a flawed plan. So the new plan was to use the expensive jigs and the semi-skilled labourers to produce those components that could be made that way. The skilled workers at Castle Bromwich and Southampton meanwhile produced the other components that the Morris workers couldn’t make. It was a hybrid solution, but one that was beginning to work. The target that had been set was to produce one aircraft per day in February, one and half in March and the two a day in April. After that, the factory should be well enough run to move towards Lord Nuffield’s boast that the plant could produce 60 aircraft per week.

Woodley reached the end of the production line and was met by Alex Henshaw, the new Chief Test Pilot at Castle Bromwich. His job was to take each completed Spitfire up for a production/acceptance test to make sure the aircraft didn’t have any faults before it was delivered to the front line squadrons. He was in his flight overalls and was impatiently waiting the next aircraft to be taken across the Chester Road to the aerodrome. He had got into the habit of walking with the aircraft as it was moved to the “Erecting Shed”, or hanger as it was universally known, where it would prepared for flight testing. Later in the day, when the test had been completed a pilot from the Air Transport Auxiliary would fly the aircraft to one of the RAF’s Maintenance Units, where it would be readied for squadron service.

Woodley and Henshaw watched as the twelfth production Spitfire of February was wheeled out. The two men walked around the aircraft, looking for any obvious defects. They really didn’t expect to see anything, the levels of supervision at each step of its creation should have ensured quality control. None the less, they couldn’t help themselves, and the plane was a thing of beauty in itself. There was some mist over the aerodrome and Woodley wondered if the flight test would go ahead. Henshaw said that it would, the conditions weren’t too bad, and the sooner the aircraft was in the hands of the RAF the better. As they parted, Woodley wondered about how Henshaw would manage when the factory was at full production, they could be producing up to ten aircraft per day. Henshaw laughed, “’Chief Test Pilot’ implies there should be more than one of me. As production ramps up, we’ll have a team of pilots. After all I don’t expect to fly every single aircraft that rolls out of the factory.”
15 - 28 February 1940
14 February 1940. 10:00hrs. Derby. England.

Ernest Hives and his team from Rolls Royce had been working with engineers from Ford. As per the request from the Air Ministry to get up the Shadow Factory at Trafford Park in Manchester to build Merlin engines. For the last month the two teams had been trying to figure out how Ford’s production model could successfully replicate Rolls Royce’s engine. The fundamental question was whether the blue prints for the Merlin could be redrawn to suit mass production.

After a month of long days and sleepless nights the two teams had come to show Hives the fruits of their labours. Hives was impressed with what he was looking at. The team eagerly explained what they had done, and some of the simplifications that would mean that Ford would be able to increase production of the engines. After some fairly technical discussions, Hives was able to give the green light to the new blueprints, though the joint team would have to continue to monitor the quality of the mass produced engines, so that the good name of Rolls Royce wouldn’t be tarnished. The Ford team were somewhat miffed at the suggestion, but said nothing.

Since it had been given high priority, Ford’s factory site in Manchester was also being worked on. The bottleneck for much of the expansion of the engineering sector was the lack of machine tools. The Machine Tool Control in the Ministry of Supply was trying to move heaven and earth to provide all the expanding factories with the required facilities. Cutting tools and equipment, gauges and measuring instruments were all needed in greater quantities and in a short amount of time. The Ministry of Aircraft Production needed 400000 tools alone, the Admiralty 600o and the Ministry of Supply’s other customers needed 450000. So far there was a shortfall of about 10%. As well as some imports from America, though these were generally behind schedule, the established machine-tool firms were making remarkable efforts to supply the increased demand. However the Ministry of Supply were looking towards many of the medium-sized and small firms in the British engineering industry, which would end up supplying a third of the demand. For these companies making many types of machine tools was well suited to the qualities and limitations of the sector.

Between the priority for outfitting the factory, and the work done on the blue prints, Ford were able to tell the Air Ministry that new Merlin engines would start to be produced from the Trafford Park factory by the end of the summer, all going well. The new blue prints that Hives got from that work with Ford was going to be very useful in the negotiations with the Packard Motor Car Company in the United States. The talks were still at an early stage, though looking positive. With the simplified process for making Merlin engines, should the deal go through, then these blue prints would be very useful in getting the American firm up and running more quickly. The deal with Rover, who were looking at manufacturing a de-rated Merlin, so far named the Meteor, planned for future tanks, was also progressing. Once again the new blue prints would help enormously with that too.

Calling in his secretary he began to dictate a letter to Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred R Freeman detailing the progress that had been made since their conversation at the beginning of January. Hives was sure that he would be happy to hear just how far forward things had progressed.

15 February 1940. 10:00hrs. Halifax. Nova Scotia. Canada.

All around them were ships, over fifty of every description, all with their steam up, beginning to leave the anchorage as part of convoy HX 20. On board SS Salacia the pilots and aircrew of No. 110 Army Co-operation (Auxiliary) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force were the first of their kind to head to war. No 1 and 2 Squadrons were due to follow in May, to join Fighter Command. But it was the 12 Lysanders of No 110 Squadron that had been loaded onto the ship. The pilots were confident that they would be paired with the 1st Canadian Division which had shipped over to England in December. It made sense to give the Canadian Division their own Army Co-operation squadron for reconnaissance.

As always there was a lot more speculation than information about what would be expected of them once they arrived at Liverpool. So far the 1st Canadian Division were still equipping and training in England, rumours of mountain training suggested they might be heading for Finland. Squadron Leader W.D. Van Vliet had no more information that anyone else in the squadron, though in his view the chances of going to Finland were remote. What Van Vliet did expect was that he and his men would need a period of training. What that training would comprise of was unclear, where it would take place was likely to be around Salisbury. Van Vliet had spent some time at the School of Army Co-operation there, and he had little doubt that this would be the first port of call for his intrepid band of pilots and observer/gunners.

The last few days had been busy getting all of the men and their equipment stowed away, checking on the aircraft, trying to protect them from the elements as they made a winter crossing of the Atlantic. Today they could relax and get themselves settled down. Tomorrow, he would have to begin a series of talks and table exercises to keep their mind off the voyage and the probable sea sickness they’d suffer. The Captain of the Salacia had told him that along with eight other ships which had better speed than the rest of the convoy, would proceed as a fast convoy, and that they could expect to arrive in Liverpool in about 13 or 14 days, depending on the weather. Two RCN ships, Fraser and St Laurent would sail with them for a couple of days before returning to port. After that they would be on their own. The main convoy would have the cruiser HMS Enterprise with them for the whole of the crossing, and then the Western Approaches Command escorts would shepherd them into port.

It was a wintry day, and a cold wind was blowing, but the chill that Van Vliet felt wasn’t just down to the weather. Pulling his greatcoat tighter around himself, he took a last drag of his cigarette, tossed the final burning ember overboard, took a lost look at his homeland, and then went inside looking for something warm to heat him up.

16 February 1940. 17:00hrs. Bonn. Germany.

In his first full day in charge General Edwin Rommel had maded a tour of his new command, 7th Panzer Division. Over the next couple of months they were due to be reequipped with Czech made panzers, Pz 38(t)s. The current Panzer I and IIs would be reassigned elsewhere. The division had only been formed in October 1939 and so hadn’t had any experience in the Polish campaign. Rommel was a hard driving man and what he had seen so far on his tour was disappointing.

While the morale of the men was universally high, he had come across too many instances where officers seemed to prefer an “easy life”, to the extent that their units looked sloppy. It was clear that not only would a great deal of training have to be done to integrate the new panzers, but also to harden up the officers. If an officer was floppy at this point, then when the bullets began to fly they would probably end up getting themselves, and worse, their men killed. Speaking to his aide, he asked him to make a note about bringing the officers together, they would soon have to be capable at all times of achieving what Rommel demanded of them. The chances were he would only have about 10 or twelve weeks to finely hone this Division into the kind of blade that would slice open the French heart.

17 February 1940. 17:00hrs. Scapa Flow. Scotland.

The ships entered the anchorage to a chorus of ship’s whistles. The light cruiser Arethusa (Captain Q D Graham), with Rear Admiral Destroyers (Rear Admiral R H C Hallifax) aboard, led the way. The destroyers HMS Cossack (Captain P L Vian), Sikh (Cdr J A Giffard), Nubian (Cdr R W Ravenhill), Intrepid (Cdr R C Gordon) and Ivanhoe (Cdr P H Hadow) had been able to intercept the Altmark as she tried to hide in Jøssingfjord. Fearful of German reprisals if they did not interfere, two Norwegian gunboats blocked the entrance to the fjord, attempting to convince the Royal Navy ships that Altmark was unarmed and did not carry prisoners. Vian insisted that he was going to board her, and invited the Norwegians to accompany him. Before tangling with the Norwegian vessels, he requested clarification of what to do about Norway’s neutrality.

From London, Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally intervened and demanded boarding the German vessel. After warning the Norwegian ships, Vian sailed into the fjord, relieved to see no hostile action from the Norwegian ships, and was able to close to within a very short distance of the Altmark before being spotted. He was surprised by the "unarmed" Altmark firing upon his ship. While Altmark's 2-lb "pom-pom" guns and four machine guns fired on Cossack, Altmark ran aground during manoeuvers, and was boarded by Royal Navy personnel. The boarding party opened the hatches to the hold and yelled "are there any English down there?" A collective response from 299 captives was heard, “We’re all British here!” To which the response was, “Well the Navy’s here!” which brought cheers from the victims of the Graf Spee’s activities. Two ratings were lost during the boarding and one was injured in the process of taking command of the ship. The Norwegian escorts protested, but did not intervene. All of the prisoners were released, and were lining the decks of the destroyers as they sailed into Scapa Flow, enjoying the sight of Home Fleet’s welcome.

18 February 1940. 08:00hrs. The Battle of Ling Bank. North Sea.

The German plan for operation Nordmark was known from the intelligence brought back from 1982, and Prime Minister Churchill wanted the Royal Navy to do something about it. A task force of the carriers HMS Ark Royal and Furious with a force of three cruisers, Norfolk, Devonshire and Calcutta, along with ten destroyers, accompanied by HMS Cardiff took up station in the North sea, north east of Fraserburgh. The battleships HMS Warspite and Rodney, the battlecruiser HMS Hood, with four destroyers, and HMS Bristol were lying in wait for the German ships off the coast of Norway, south west of Stavanger. In very poor weather the German search planes were unable to take off and so the Germans were unaware of the ambush. The Bristol’s search radars were not so limited by the weather.

German Admiral Marschall departed Wilhelmshaven for Operation NORDMARK with battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and destroyers Karl Galster, Wilhelm Heidkamp, and Wolfgang Zenker, with the object of attacking allied shipping between the Shetlands and Bergen. The Zenker had been damaged by ice and had had to turn back. The radar operators were confused as their sets seemed to be dysfunctional. They seemed to be working, but all they seemed to pick up was static. This was their first experience of jamming, but they were unaware that this was possible.

The aircraft on the Furious were iced in, however a flight of Swordfish were able to get off Ark Royal and, guided by Cardiff, made an attack on Gneisenau. Only one of the torpedoes came near the battleship, it exploded close to the propellers, causing a vibration in the shafts. Damage control officers asked for a reduction in speed so that they could check that there was no real damage. Admiral Marschall decided that enough was enough, the fact that the Royal Navy was at sea and he didn’t know in what force, left him with no option but to retreat.

Commodore Grose watched as his command team calmly called out the speed and direction of the German ships. Although they were well to the rear of the main gun line, well out of the range of the German fire, their radar picture was being provided to the battleships and cruisers. Knowing the German’s Seetakt radar was jammed, they were able to guide the British ships into a commanding position. The German ships turned for home, Admiral Hipper led, with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau following. The two destroyers followed.

The air attack was the first element of the ambush. In freezing weather the Royal Navy ships, cloaked by Bristol’s jamming, closed to 10000 yards before opening fire, snow flurries preventing the German optical suite to spot them before the British ships opened fire. Warspite’s first salvo straddled the Scharnhorst. Following Warspite, Rodney’s improved radar guided 16 inch guns got a lucky hit on Gneisenau bow causing flooding forward, forcing a loss of speed. HMS Hood’s first salvo fell short of the Admiral Hipper. The German ships were quick to return fire and came close to Hood and Rodney with their first broadside, Admiral Hipper’s 8 inch guns focused on Hood. The crew of the Warspite prided themselves on their gunnery, and their pride was well founded as her second salvo scored a hit on the Scharnhorst, piecing the armour belt and destroying a boiler room, slowing the ship significantly.

For the next fifteen minutes salvoes were exchanged, the range gradually narrowing, the German’s speed advantage lost. Radar guided gunnery proved to be decisive. Warspite hit the Scharnhorst again near the waterline, which caused flooding and slowed it further. Rodney continued to blast at Gneisenau, most of its salvoes straddling it. Hood still hadn’t managed any hits on Admiral Hipper which used its speed to pull away from the battle, though Hood had made hits on the two German destroyers with its secondary armament. HMS Hood was struck twice by Admiral Hipper causing substantial damage including jamming one of the aft turrets.

It was at this point that the three British cruisers added their part of the ambush. They, along with six destroyers raced in from the west and made a torpedo attack. The nine ships fired a spread of 48 torpedoes. One torpedo hit Scharnhorst and Gneisenau each. The two German destroyers were then caught up in a melee with the British destroyers.

Rodney had been damaged, but it didn’t stop her from closing on the Gneisenau and finishing her with torpedoes. The two German destroyers also succumbed to weight of numbers. Warspite’s gunnery, now at almost point blank range, quickly reduced the slowed Scharnhorst to a blazing wreck, and with another torpedo hit from HMS Devonshire on the same side as the previous, its list became a roll. Hipper alone survived the battle, racing southwards, towards safety.

Unfortunately for Hipper the last part of the ambush then revealed itself, as a line of British submarines were waiting to pick off any survivors. Hipper managed to avoid three submarines, but the fourth was in a lucky position to be able to fire a spread of ten torpedoes in its path. Two hit the cruiser which caused it to stop. The submarine, HMS Tribune had time to reload and fire another four at the stricken ship which sent her to the bottom.

The Royal Navy destroyers picked up only a few survivors from Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the North Sea in February was not conducive to life. The British fleet split up and made its way to Rosyth and Scapa Flow. Hood and Rodney would need a great deal of repair work, Warspite emerged from the battle unscathed. Devonshire and three destroyers had taken hits from secondary armament, they too would need to be repaired. Three of the four Swordfish failed to return to Ark Royal.

For the Kriegsmarine however it was a black day. Admiral Raeder was forced to retire and Admiral Dönitz was promoted, now completely convinced that someone was feeding the British intelligence on ship movements.

19 February 1940. 16:00hrs. Berlin. Germany.

Admiral Otto Schniewind, Chief of Staff of the Seekriegsleitung, responsible for the planning and execution of naval combat and directed the distribution of naval forces, was still reeling from the loss of the two battleships, a heavy cruiser and two destroyers the day before. On top of which Admiral Raeder had gone, putting Admiral Dönitz in command of the OKM, the Oberkommando der Marine. All hell had broken loose with Gestapo agents sniffing around for a possible spy which had led to the British Navy being in a position to ambush the Kriegsmarine ships.

Just to complicate matters Admiral Dönitz had just dropped the bombshell that the Fuhrer wanted the plans for the invasion of Denmark and Norway to be finalized as quickly as possible. With the boarding of the Altmark in neutral waters, under the very noses of two Norwegian gunboats, it was clear to the Fuhrer that Norwegian neutrality was no guarantee that iron ore imports from Sweden could continue to be made through its territorial waters. Those imports were far too essential to be left to chance. Raeder had brought up the strategic importance of Norway back in October 1939, and that had just been reaffirmed. If the British were prepared to flaunt their neutrality, then Norway must be bent to the will of the German people.

Schniewind was looking over the resources at his disposal. The loss of Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Admiral Hipper put a huge dent in the availability of heavy units to cover the light units that would be needed to invade Norway. Bismarck wouldn’t be ready until late April at the earliest, Tirpitz a year later. The old Schleswig-Holstein and Schlesien could be used against Denmark, but he daren’t put them anywhere near the Royal Navy. The heavy cruisers, Lützow and Blücher were all that were available. Admiral Graf Spee and Admiral Hipper were both sunk by the British, Admiral Scheer was undergoing extensive works in dock and Prince Eugen wouldn’t be commissioned until later in the year. Of the six light cruisers only four were available, two Nurnberg and Leipzig were still being repaired having been torpedoed by British U-boats. There were now only twenty Destroyers to do nearly all of the heavy lifting, if Wolfgang Zenker could be repaired quickly enough. These, along with all the torpedo boats, mine layers and mine sweepers would have to carry the invasion forces, and escort whatever other vessels could be utilised. If the Royal Navy got in among these ships, full of soldiers for the invasion, Schniewind shuddered at the thought.

A lot would depend on what the Army wanted, in terms of the numbers they thought necessary to achieve success. If the followed the outline to put troops directly into Oslo, Bergen, Narvik, Tromsø, Trondheim, Kristiansand, and Stavanger, that would take seven task groups. Six cruisers and twenty destroyers would struggle to achieve these objectives. They would need to look again at using slower merchant men to carry troops and their supplies. They would need every U-boat in the fleet, even the training fleet, to try to protect the surface fleet from any Royal Navy interference. The loss of so many U-boats since the beginning of the year gave serious concerns about what the British were using to track them down and kill them. If this went wrong, Schniewind could see the end of the Kriegsmarine as an effective force. He would have to work very hard to make sure it didn’t go wrong.

20 February 1940. 10:00hrs. Air Ministry. London. England.

Air Vice-Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory was called into the office of Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, Chief of the Air Staff. As commander of 12 Group of Fighter Command he wasn’t sure what to expect from this newly appointed Chief of the Air Staff. At first he expected it to be a simple “get to know you” kind of meeting, but instead the Chief of the Air Staff had a particular request to make of Leigh-Mallory.

Once they were settled and had the preliminaries out of the way, Ludlow-Hewitt got to the point. “Trafford, I was reminded the other day that you gave a lecture to the Royal United Services Institute back in 1930. I didn’t hear it myself, but I remember reading the paper. It was on air cooperation with mechanised forces, wasn’t it?” Leigh-Mallory was a bit taken aback. “Indeed it was, Sir. You may recall that I had been commandant of the school of air cooperation for the three years leading up to that lecture, and in some ways it was the fruits of what I had learned there.” Ludlow-Hewitt nodded, it was as he had been briefed. “Now, Trafford, a fair bit of work has gone into looking at the way the Luftwaffe operated during the campaign in Poland. We are trying to get an idea of what to expect if they attack France. What is your own view of what you’ve seen of them?”

Leigh-Mallory thought for a few seconds. “Well, they seem to have taken army cooperation to a whole new level. I would say that they seem to be largely a support to the army. The dive bombing squadrons of Stukas provide close air support, almost like mobile artillery. Their medium bombers seem to be used in a tactical manner rather in strategic bombing. Their fighters provide air supremacy to allow the bombers to get on with their job. In many ways it is very impressive.” The Air Chief Marshall nodded in agreement. “That is pretty much what the review said. As you are aware Fighter Command has had some changes over the last few weeks. The new propellers on the aeroplanes are just the beginning of a sea change in the way the RAF is being prepared to fight this war. I have been given the task of trying to push through some other ideas. And you Trafford, are the very many I need for one of them!”

Leigh-Mallory swallowed hard, “Well, Sir, I am happy with my current command. What is it that you have in mind?” Ludlow-Hewitt smiled and said, “No need to panic. Do you know Air Vice Marshall Evill from the Advanced Air Striking Component in France?” Leigh-Mallory replied, “I’ve met him once or twice, but don’t really know him terribly well. He is well regarded though.” Ludlow-Hewitt nodded in agreement and continued, “Yes he is. He has also had something of a revelation. Looking at the situation facing him, he is terribly worried that the way things are organised over there. Looking at the Polish campaign he fears the Battle squadrons could well suffer terribly at the hands of the Germans. His Army Cooperation squadrons are made up of Lysanders, good enough reconnaissance aircraft, but terribly vulnerable. Last, but not least, actual cooperation with the army isn’t all that great either. Consequently he has requested that something be done to improve matters, and that my dear fellow, is where you come in!”

“How exactly would I fit in, Sir?” asked Leigh-Mallory, a horrible sinking feeling starting in his stomach. “We need you to dust off your lecture notes and look at how to help Evill to put into practise air cooperation with mechanised forces, in other words, the British Expeditionary Force. In the absence of dive bombers we are looking in the short term to try to adapt Hurricanes to carry some bombs, so that the army can have some close air support that might have a better fighting chance than the Battles would. That, along with working out ways having some kind of forward observer, a bit like an artillery observer, but an Air Force man, who could call down that kind of support when needed. Lastly, making sure that the Advanced Air Striking Force and the Advanced Air Component cooperate between themselves to protect our forces from the Luftwaffe and do unto the Wehrmacht what they would do unto us.”

This meeting was not going the way Leigh-Mallory had envisioned it. “So, am I to understand correctly, Sir, that you want me to work with Air Vice Marshall Evill to improve things in France? What would that mean regarding 12 Group? As you said Sir, there are a lot of changes coming along, and I would very much like to see them through.” “At this point,” replied Ludlow-Hewitt, “we would like you to sit down with Evill and act as a consultant. Let him ask his questions, many of which come from your paper from 1930. But that needs to be brought up to date, ten years in a long time in aviation. We would value your input. It is too early to say what will happen, there is some talk of creating an Army Cooperation Group or possibly Command. Evill would rather it be called Tactical Command, having a foot in both Fighter and Bomber Commands. But that is all in the future. We need to sort out the thinking, then we can get on with the practical things. Well, do you think you can help?”

Leigh-Mallory was intrigued. He had beaten the drum of Army Coordination for a long time, like a voice crying in the wilderness. It certainly would be good to talk over the possibilities with Evill. But his own ambitions were very much in his mind. An Army Cooperation Command would certainly be a step up from a Group in Fighter Command. And it would get him away from Dowding. On the other hand, he could end up in a cul de sac. Bomber Command was the big beast of the RAF, could he imagine them signing off two of their groups to supporting the army, rather than bombing Germany flat? Things were changing very fast in the RAF just now. The fact that Ludlow-Hewitt had taken over from Cyril Newall was evidence of that. “Very well, Sir. I would be happy to talk to Air Vice Marshall Evill and assist him as far as I can. I’m not sure where that will take us, but I am committed to my current command, Sir.” Ludlow-Hewitt stood up and shook Leigh-Mallory’s hand, “Trafford,” he said, “That is very good to hear. I shall tell Evill that you are expecting him to call you. Now, let’s get you back to your command, and see how things are shaping up in Fighter Command.”

21 February 1940. 11:00hrs. Chongqing. China.

Frank Lockhart, Counsellor at the US embassy filed a report on behalf of the Nelson Johnson, the US Ambassador to Chiang Kai-shek’s National Government. Lockhart tried to summarise the situation of the war in China over the previous twelve months.

“There are no indications that Chinese determination to continue resistance had lessened, despite the uncertainties in the international situation, friction in the ‘United Front’, and the severe strain of war on the national economy. General Chiang Kai-shek retained the confidence of the nation and his influence was effective in settling the difficulties which arose between various factions in the government….One important factor in maintaining and increasing Chinese determination to resist was the ruthless Japanese bombing of civilian populations, the most murderous instance of which occurred in Chungking in May 1939.” (Foreign Relations of the United States (1940 Vol IV pg 287)

He went on to note that the various factions within the ‘United Front’ were due to the growing strength of the Chinese Communist Party in the northeast, based in Yan’an. To complicate matters further, Wang Jingwei’s attempt to formalise his own Nationalist Government in Nanjing, in collaboration with the Japanese, was coming to fulfilment.

Militarily the Shangtung Operation of the Japanese army had been a defeat for the Chinese forces, the latest in a long line. The main Chinese winter offensive, bringing together eighty divisions of troops, was aimed at recapturing huge swathes of territory. But almost nothing went to plan. Yan Xishan, supposedly an ally, carved out a deal with the Japanese for control of parts of Shanxi province, and then sat out the campaign. A Japanese invasion of Guanxi had caught the Chinese by surprise and cut off the route to the sea. All of the efforts of the offensive had to be reassigned to defensive fighting that eventually repelled the Japanese attack, after months of fierce fighting. This lead to Chiang Kai-shek opening a military conference for assessing the winter offensive, airing grievances, and apportioning blame.

The situation in Europe meant that the two main routes to bring support for the Nationalist Government, the railroad from French Indo-China and the British controlled road from Burma, were under threat. With France and Britain at war against the Germans, and the Soviets were aligned with the Nazis, any hope of real support from Paris, London or Moscow against the Japanese had faded. He had had a brief dalliance with Nazi Germany, receiving supplies of munitions in the early months of the war with Japan. However the Anti-Comitern Pact of 1936 had bound together Germany, Italy and Japan. But Germany had bowed to Japanese demands and had ceased support for China in 1938. Going back to them would be impossible, and a European war would be of no help to Chongqing.

A further worry for the Chinese was that the harvest in 1939 had been poor, and all the signs were that 1940’s harvest would be poorer still. Already the price of food was rising, and that would put even greater pressure on the strained economy. All in all the situation for Chiang Kai-shek was bleak. Lockhart noted that Chiang Kai-shek was looking more and more towards America for support. The $25 million loan that US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau had facilitated in December 1938 was something that Ambassador Johnson was constantly reminded of, in the hope that further assistance would be forthcoming.

While the report would be read in the State Department, Lockhart wasn’t sure if anything would come of it. There were rumours around town that the British delegation to Chongqing were offering some kind of deal to Chiang Kai-shek, but they were only rumours. Britain had enough troubles of its own, what help they might offer the Chinese could only be speculated at.

22 February 1940. 14:00hrs. Mannerheim Line. Finland.

The pressure from the Soviet Army over the last twenty days had been unrelenting, and the Finns had inflicted heavy casualties, but the inevitable weight of the attack had meant that the Finns had to face pulling back from the Mannerheim Line to their hastily developed fall back line. Their skilful withdrawal was planned to be coordinated with a small number of counter attacks that aimed to bleed the Red Army further. For all of the bleeding that had been achieved so far, the Soviets never gave up.

What was clear to the Finnish Government was that the situation was untenable. If the Soviets broke through then peace terms would be dictated by Moscow, and there was every likelihood that these would be crushing. Over the last few days, while the Finnish army continued to resist, many efforts had been made through Stockholm to negotiate an armistice. Moscow had been ignoring these calls, thinking that one more push would see the Finns crumble and then be able to impose the settlement they wanted. However as each day passed, and the efforts of the Red Army were thwarted, the possibility of negotiations were becoming more attractive. Especially if the Finns could hold out to the spring thaw, at which point the Red Army would get bogged down.

The Finns were prepared to start negotiations with the original demands that had been made in November 1939: The border between Finland and the USSR on the Karelian Isthmus would be moved back a significant distance for the sake of Leningrad's security. The islands of Suursaari, Lavansaari, Tytarsaari and Koivisto be ceded to the Russians in exchange for twice as much Soviet land in East Karelia, for the sake of Baltic security. A 30 year lease of Hanko, with rights to establish a base there for military security. Since the Soviets had captured the islands at the beginning of the war, the Finnish government were content to cede them, there was no realistic way of getting them back. There was no desire for Soviet land in East Karelia and so that too would be conceded. As for moving back the frontier, Finland was prepared to accept the current Mannerheim Line as a the new frontier, since that was as far as the Red Army had progressed, it seemed a fitting place to establish the new border. As for Hanko, since it was still in Finnish hands, so it should remain. As a sweetener in the deal, the Finns were prepared to offer parts of Karelia east of Lake Lagoda, once again parts that the Red Army already controlled.

For Molotov, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, the Finnish propositions might be seen as being a good place to start negotiations. However the reputation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was at stake. If they sued for peace now it would be seen throughout the world as a defeat. That was unacceptable. Timoshenko was told in no uncertain terms that he had to break the Finns, and he had to do it decisively.

23 February 1940. 09:00hrs. HMS Phoenix. Portsmouth. England.

Nearly all the men who had been sailing on the Bristol Group had passed through ‘their’ HMS Phoenix during their initial training, and went back through it a various stages on the promotion ladder, or the essential two day fire fighting course whenever they were assigned to a new ship. The men had also gone through the damage control training at Chatham in Kent. ‘Their’ HMS Phoenix had been opened in 1946 to make the lessons on damage control and fire fighting that had been learned at such cost during the war. ‘This’ HMS Phoenix was a mixture of both the damage control and fire fighting training courses that the Bristol Group had experienced.

Led by a Lieutenant from HMS Active, with a Chief Petty Officer and number of Petty Officers from various ships who had either been instructors or had completed the instructor course, they had overseen the construction of the facilities that were now named HMS Phoenix. Similar work had gone in to HMS Raleigh to provide all new recruits with the basics.

The unit for damage control was two similar sized tanks, one on top of the other. The bottom one was a small compartment about 10 ft square with a door fully clipped, made to look like the compartment of a ship. Inside there were holes to be closed with box and shoring, and split pipework which had to be wedged. The top tank was filled with water direct from the sea, which in February is rather cool.

The scenario was to send the first group in to the dry compartment, at which point the instructor opened a large valve so that water comes in under pressure. The group would then shore and wedge as required, while the second group outside would bang on the compartment with hammers, to add to the difficulty. When complete, the instructor would shut off the valve, and then bang off the clips on the door to release the damp ratings, the water would have go to about waist high. The second group would climb in, the cold water is now about knee deep (up to the hatch coaming) and the derigged shoring and wedges would be floating around, boxes, mallets etc., under water. For the second time the instructor opened the valve, once again the water pours in, but now trying to find correct bits of shore in dark, cold water now up to their waists. The first group meanwhile warm up by hammering the compartment.

All too often, their fingers now numb, through both cold and being hit by others wielding mallets, and finding it not so easy to hammer wedges under water. The water level continues to rise until the instructor bangs on outside to warn the group that the door is opening, then bangs the clips off. The hatch explodes outwards, speed of water draining so quickly that it surprised the shorter members of course who "go with the flow" and are dumped on ground outside, the remainder clamber out shivering uncontrollably. Then marched to changing area to shower. The next day they would do it all again with the groups rotating.

At the fire fighting course there were a couple of issues regarding the equipment that was available for tackling fires. CO2 extinguishers were already available, but ICI had been given uptime foam and Halon extinguishers to examine, and if possible replicate. Much of normal fire fighting practice had been worked out over many years in the Royal Navy, going back to the days of wooden ships, where fire was always the greatest fear. The need for Breathing Apparatus (BA) in situations of smoke filled compartments was already understood, and improved BA systems were also being examined by boffins. The need for Extended Duration Breathing Apparatus was also part of the work that was going on in the back ground, some of which overlapped with divers’ equipment. Lastly was the Fearnaught suit for working in close proximity to heat and flames. The current Royal Navy, along with the other forces were developing asbestos suits. The Bristol Group had aluminised close proximity suits, that were now being examined.

The principle of fighting a fire on board a ship was to attack it. So the training course had the first team in to the area of the fire were called the attack party, wearing their normal uniform, sleeves down, collar up armed with nothing but extinguishers, while giving Loud Vocal Alarm until it could be heard piped on main broadcast. They were taught to maintain as continuous and aggressive an attack on the fire as they could without getting killed and whatever they did, just don't close the hatch! While the first time was in the compartment attacking the fire, the attack (BA) are getting ready. Again they would have their normal uniform but with hoods, gloves, EDBA and extinguishers. Meanwhile the main fire fighting team are getting ready in the Fearnaught suits. The main team is made up of Fire fighter, water wall, hose handler, hydrant operator, someone monitoring the BA controller monitoring everyone’s EDBA status and the team leader. If the fire was not liquid or electrical based, the “first aid hose reel” would be used, otherwise these hoses would be used in adjoining compartments to dampen down the walls and prevent the spread of the fire.

As with the Infantry Battle School, the first trainees through the new system were taught the instructors course, so that they would be able to pass on the information and set up further training courses at the main Royal Navy depots. Bringing together the applied experience of many years, the central training method began to widen out throughout the fleet. Over the course of a few months training and new equipment was beginning to reach the far flung parts of the Royal Navy’s global presence. Offers were made to allied nations to share the information and training. Some responded more quickly than others. Though the Marine National of France didn’t seem terribly keen and at the highest levels, reluctant to believe that they had much to learn.

24 February 1940. 09:00hrs. General Headquarters, New Dehli, India.

General Sir Robert Cassels, Commander in Chief read the message from London for a second time. 4th Indian Army Division were already in Egypt, but another two Brigades were to be sent to Sudan to form the 5th Indian Division with a British Brigade already in place. Further, three Brigades of Gurkhas were to be formed into a Division and transferred to Britain, where they would be fully supplied with equipment.

The Indian Army traditionally had three main roles to consider. In the first and foremost place was the internal security and tranquillity of the country. The second was the defence of the borders of the Raj. Before the war the main threat was considered to be a Soviet invasion through Afghanistan. Lastly there was to be an Imperial commitment, to supplying a brigade each for Singapore, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and Burma and meeting this commitment was already underway.

The message from London was that the possibility of a threat from the Soviet Union, despite the Nazi-Soviet Pact was to be downgraded. The Russian involvement in Finland suggested that the current level of preparedness in the North West was adequate. However Cassels was to prepare for an expansion of the Indian Army for Imperial commitments. The expansion would be for an extra five infantry and one armoured division was the first stage of an expansion to be ready for April 1941, the possibility was to be considered of doubling that to 10 divisions and another armoured division for 1942. There were no details in the plan about how all these new soldiers were going to be armed, but starting recruitment and basic training was to be begun. All that London would say was that a percentage of production of arms and ammunition would be earmarked for the expansion of the Indian Army.

In addition, training in all respects was to be increased. To put off some of the probable arguments about this expansion and increased training, London would be prepared to pay towards the costs.

Cassels put down the note, thinking, “They really don’t have a clue, do they?”

February 24th 1940. 10:00hrs. The Admiralty. London, England.

The secretary looked up from her typewriter as she heard gales of laughter coming from behind her boss’ door. The buzzer went, and she went in with her shorthand pad. “Ah, Miss Jones, please take a letter for the attention of the Prime Minister.
“Sir, it is my great pleasure to notify you of an unusual event which took place on 22nd of this month in the area of Dogger Bank. 6 German destroyers departed Wilhelmshaven early on the 22nd to conduct an anti-shipping sweep. That evening, northwest of Borkum Island, the destroyers were attacked by Luftwaffe He111's, which do not seem to have been informed of the destroyers' movements. One destroyer, Leberecht Mass, was struck by three bombs, ran onto a British mine and sank, while another, Max Schultz, in taking evasive manoeuvres from the bombing but also ran onto a British mine and sank. Casualties are thought to be very high. The minefield had been laid by units of the British 20th Destroyer Flotilla on the 9th/10th January.

That will be all Miss Jones, thank you.” “Thank you sir, I’m sure that will brighten up the Prime Minister’s day when he reads it.”

25 February 1940. 09:00hrs. Malaya Command Headquarters, Singapore.

General Lionel Bond read the message from London a second time, then called in his Chief of Staff. “I wonder if you could look out your predecessor’s review of the defence of Singapore from a thrust from the north? I’ve been instructed by London to give it a thorough going over. It seems that Percival’s assessment in 1937 should be dusted off and quote, ‘work at preparing defences in northern Malaya against a possible invasion from Thailand and Kota Bharu are to be undertaken.’

It goes on to say that the Indian troops that are coming to reinforce us are to be thoroughly trained in all aspects of jungle warfare, including during the monsoon season. The guns in Singapore are to have HE shells as part of their armoury. A full inventory of stored ammunition is to be undertaken in all depots to ensure there is no deterioration in its quality. So, there is plenty to be getting on with. Though I do wonder why on earth they are giving us such direct instructions. The other thing, which is wonderful, is that we are to try to have as much contact with the Thai authorities as possible to encourage them to ‘have as little to do with the Japanese as possible’. I don’t know what madness Prime Minister Churchill is working from.”

26 February 1940. 09:00hrs. Middle East Command. Cairo, Egypt.

General Archibald Wavell read the message from London again. He was to receive another two Indian Brigades in Sudan to create 5th Indian Division over the next few months. The previous warning to prepare a possible Italian declaration of war was reinforced. There wouldn’t be much in the way of extra reinforcements coming from home, so he would have to make do with what he had. The possibility of an Italian attack in Libya and from their colonies in East Africa was to be considered highly likely. The Australians, currently training in Palestine would remain under his command, not going to France as previously thought. These would be reinforced by another Australian Division in due course along with a New Zealand Brigade, rising to a Division, making an ANZAC Corps.

The paragraph about Malta was particularly interesting. He was asked to provide for more air cover and to increase AAA, even moving them from Suez if necessary. The RAF on Malta was to make all preparations for defending the island, all available aircraft, including those still in crates, were to be made ready. The Fleet Air Arm were to be requested if some of their Sea Gladiators on HMS Glorious might be used to support the RAF in this. The island should also be prepared for a possible siege, and so necessary preparations should be undertaken. Anti-invasion preparations should be reviewed, including against airborne landings. The Royal Navy were being asked to consider those resources that would best be moved to Alexandria in case Malta came under air attack and siege from Italy.

There was also a warning about pro-Nazi support among some of the leaders of the Iraqi army; his intelligence people should be looking for German interference. Unfortunately there were no names, but he was sure that the local men would have a good notion. Permission was given from London to be proactive in preventing any attempted coup.

27 February 1940. 11:00hrs. War Cabinet Room, Whitehall. London. England.

Churchill: So, CIGS, what you are saying is that there is nothing we can do for Finland, other than send them material?

Ironside: That is correct Prime Minister. All of our efforts are going to preparing a force that can reinforce the Norwegians, and to strengthen the BEF in France. To take any forces allocated to those areas would be counter-productive. While none of us like what is happening to the Finns, to go to war with the Soviet Union as well as the Nazis would be…difficult.

Halifax: I have to agree, Prime Minister. Things are going very well with the Norwegians just now. Although they registered a protest over the Altmark incident, very quietly they are gearing up to oppose a German invasion. The Swedes are more problematic, trying to get them to not sell iron ore to Hitler is just impossible, even offering to more for it than the Germans hasn’t worked. If we send forces to Finland we might find ourselves fighting on too many fronts without enough forces to see it through.

Greenwood, Minister without Portfolio: Prime Minister, I too agree with CIGs. We have enough on our plate, and we have to do away with Hitler as our first priority. The position of the Finns is already untenable. Sending forces would neither be sensible nor effective.

Atlee: I concur, Prime Minister. Let us keep Hitler out of Norway and France. Once he has gone we can look at Stalin.

Churchill: (Grimacing). Very well, CIGs, no force to be tasked to Finland. Though I do want a ship with something sent to aid them in their struggle, perhaps a squadron of Battles or something we’re not using.

Right next on the agenda, the Middle East…

February 28th 1940. 15:00hrs. Meeting of the Oversight Committee, Whitehall, London. England.

Let us start again with the RAF. Castle Bromwich, after much huffing and puffing, finally rolled out its first 3 Spitfires in January and they’ve managed 27 this month. We expect a minimum of 50 next month, rising to about 80 from then on. The men from Vickers and Supermarine have been working like Trojans to get it sorted. That should give us an extra 160 planes over and above what is coming from Supermarine. So by the beginning of May that should be enough for eight more squadrons from Castle Bromwich and eight from Southampton. Adding to the current 11 squadrons, which would give us 27 squadrons of Spitfires. That means all the Blenheim, Gladiator and Defiant squadrons will have converted.

The move to using higher octane fuel is well underway, and that is helping the performance of the fighters. There are some simple fixes for the Spitfire that should give it more of an edge in combat. There are certainly being better equipped to protect the pilots. The plan to arm them with cannons is also progressing, but the majority will continue with 8 machine guns.

With the cancellation of both the Roc and the Defiant, Boulton Paul have been approached to build Spitfires too. It will take some months for them to be ready, so we are looking at them preparing for the Mark II when it is ready. Now as you know the Mark II is the equivalent of what the Mark VB should be like. Ford have been working with Rolls Royce to help them simplify the next generation of Merlins to faster production and Ford’s Trafford Park facility is looking at producing up to 400 engines per month! Rolls Royce shadow factories in Crewe and Glasgow are both producing engines as well as Derby. So we should be well supplied with Merlins.

As well as Boulton Paul, we’ve also had a conversation with Westland at Yeovil, and although they’ll be doing helicopter work, once they’ve finished the Whirlwind and Lysanders then they too will open a Spitfire II line. If that works out, there shouldn’t be a fall in production when Southampton and Castle Bromwich to switch over to the new mark, perhaps even jumping straight to the Griffon Spitfire when it ready. We have also been in talks with Cunliffe-Owen about starting work on a SeaFire. The new Mark II was the basis for that historically. They are busy with subcontracting for Supermarine just now, but hopefully we’ve given them a head start to get it ready for carrier operations. We’ve given them some information that might help with the undercarriage problems.

Hawker and Gloster are pumping out Hurricane fighters at a good pace. Gloster are making both the SeaHurricane and the Hurribomber variants. With the early ending of the Battle production, Fairey’s Stockport factory will be building Hurribombers, while continuing their Fulmar production. Austin’s Longbridge factory is transitioning to Hurribomber as we speak and we hope to see them roll off the production line by the end of March. The Canadian Car and Foundry production line for Hurricanes is doing well, and we expect to see the results being shipped over with the first graduates of the Air Training Scheme.

By May 10 there should be 600 Hurricanes (all models having the improved propeller) and three hundred Hurribombers. Between those, and the Blenheims, the Advanced Striking Force in France will have 14 squadrons of light or fighter bombers, less than they should have, but better quality than the Battles. We’ve removing the Blenheim’s rear machine gunner and turret to reduce weight and hopefully increase speed, it isn’t much but it will help slightly, until the Beaufighter and Mosquito can replace it altogether. We’ve asked the RAF to consider a “Tactical” command that will be a bridge between Bomber and Fighter, basically an extension of “Army Cooperation”, but with more oomph.

I mentioned Fairey Fulmars, which we expect to carry on production in the short term, but we’re expecting SeaHurricanes and SeaFires to be the main carrier fighters. The Fulmars are getting whatever tweaks we can give them. Fairey are now looking at the Barracuda to have the stronger Merlin when it comes, but the Griffon would be better. This will replace Swordfish eventually as our Torpedo bomber. Blackburn are producing the Skua and we have asked them to concentrate on it as a dive bomber. Again we’re looking at tweaking it to try to give it better performance. A follow on dive-bomber is being looked at by a number of companies.

Two squadrons of Spitfires will be going to France next month. Dowding’s complaint has been noted, but things are looking better in terms of availability. They will be primarily tasked with defending airstrips. The new training is going well, the 3 plane ‘vic’ formation is now a thing of the past. The supply office have been complaining about how many rounds are being used in training, so that is a good sign. The Battle squadrons are getting an idea of what combat would have been like with all the mock attacks by Spitfire and Hurricane attacks they’ve been subjected to. The Battles will go to training establishments, especially in the Dominions to help the Air Training Programme.

The Defiant squadrons will convert to Spitfires as soon as they become available, though some work has been done to see if they could be used in close air support roles in the meantime. Two Defiant squadrons are training with ground based radar to have night interception capability. This will be superseded with the Blenheim night fighter. Try outs with the first hand-built radars are promising, though we intend to equip the first Beaufighter squadron as dedicated night fighters. With the Bristol Company and Hercules engine working well now, we hope that the first squadron of Beaufighters will be ready to start training in June, and in service as quickly as possible, certainly by August. The other Defiants will go to Training Command for the air gunners.

Bomber Command are continuing to train with the Wellington, they have been involved in a number of mine laying operations, Hampdens have been used for this too. We are still avoiding raiding German cities and industry until the new navigation aids are available. A couple of Whitleys are transferring to Canada to try the air to air refuelling idea. We’re using Harvard trainers as the receiving aircraft. The equipment is all sorted, it is just a case of training and learning, hopefully without loss of too many people. Short Brothers have been really helpful with the plumbing for this.

The British Commonwealth/Empire Air Training Plan is being fast tracked. Canada’s school is ahead of schedule, Australia will be up and running next. New Zealand, South Africa (with Rhodesia) and India are coming along. We can expect plenty new pilots and other crew from August onwards. The Indians will take a bit longer, we’re having to cobble together trainers from Singapore and Australia to get them going. But if the Japanese don’t move until late 1941, we should have a half-decent Indian Air Force for them to worry about.

Various representatives of the main aircraft manufacturers are due to sail next month to South Africa, India and Australia. We want to begin the building blocks of an aircraft industry in these countries. It will start off by creating a support structure for the maintenance of the aircraft and engines used on the Training Plan courses. From there we hope the companies will invest in building up what already exists, or create new subsidiaries. It is a long term plan, but should have lasting effects in the post-war situation.

Coastal Command have had a look at the design for the bigger Sunderland and like what they see. The will have more power from the Hercules, bigger wings means more fuel for extended range. We hope the prototype will fly next month. Shorts are using as much as possible from what they have to speed things along. They’ll also use the Blackburn site in Dumbarton for the Sunderland II. The Stirling production line in Rochester is being looked at for going into production of more Sunderlands. The suggestion was that Coastal Command should get the Stirling instead of buying American Catalinas or Liberators. However there is now a question mark over the future of the Stirling. Coastal Command are happy with the Sunderland currently, and the improved version will enhance their capability no end.

Production of all other bombers, except the Wellington, will shortly cease. We want to get everything we can from the Spitfire, Hurricane and Wellington lines. The bottleneck of skilled workers mean that some companies workforces will stop making obsolete machines and move, in the short term, to the factories where we need to increase production. So Armstrong-Whitworth will stop making Whitleys and the Albemarle. Avro’s Manchester will be still-born. Their design team is looking at the Lancaster, and they will tool up for that when it getting ready for production. Handley-Paige, with English Electric, will stop building Hampdens, and will concentrate of making the kinds of changes to the Halifax to make it really useful.

De Havilland are producing much needed trainers, and are feverishly getting on with the Mosquito. We should see it sooner than we did historically, but we all want it now!

The main engines we’ll be using is the current Merlin, with Meteors being looked at from there. The next Merlin will be equivalent to Merlin 45s. The Griffon will come after that. The Hercules is coming along nicely now and work is starting on the Centaurus. All other engine work is being centralised with these, except the new stuff.

Napier have dropped the Sabre and are concentrating on turboprops. They are doing well with the Gnome and we hope to have Wessex clone prototype in due course. The spare gnomes are being fitted to a prototype airframe to see if they have got it right, not for flying initially, just for ground testing. A team of the best people are working to get the jet up and running.

Now the Army. The BEF continue to train against Blitzkrieg tactics. It is quite difficult for them not think in terms of lines. But they are coming along.

The production line for the Carl Gustav is now up and running. It will enter full service next month, men are being trained even as we speak. Supplies of cotton wool for ear protection is being supplied! We’re working with a team to see if we can mate the Charlie G with the Mark VI light tank to give it an anti-tank capability. We will test it out and see what the tankers make of it.

A couple of people are looking at some kind of rocket system with a HEAT round. They are trying to get something as simple and quick as possible. We have some data on bazookas and Rocket Propelled Grenades. The LAW is another possibility, or even a HEAT rifle grenade. It might be possible to get a prototype in the next few weeks. Production might be feasible before May, but it will be very limited. A fair amount of work is being done with the rocket people. The 2 inch rocket pods for aircraft are making progress, but again we’re not sure when we’ll have them in service. The rockets are straightforward, it is the folding fins that are slowing things done a bit. The 3 inch rocket is also being looked at. At this point with all the unrotated projectiles being taken off the ships, it is probably a better starting point for aircraft than trying to set up a new system for the 2 inch.

Work is progressing with the 2 pounders and an HE shell for the tanks. We are seeing some progress there, and we hope that by May the Matilda II tanks will have some HE rounds along with the armour piercing. All the new Matildas are being given to First Armoured Division and they are working up. We hope that we can get them to a reasonable level of proficiency before they are deployed to France. We don’t want to throw them into the battle piecemeal. Vulcan are being absolute heroes in production terms. Scammell are increasing production of the Pioneer tank transporter, so that we can more the tanks to France a bit quicker. With the decision to make tank production equal to aircraft then we hope the levels of production will continue to rise. A team has been working to see if we can hurry the Valentine along any.

Mark II 25 pounders on the mark I carriage are being produced as fast as humanly possible. They’ll be matched with the Morris Quads and the ammunition trailer. By May we hope that the best part of a Corps’ worth will be available. We’ve got some regiments training with it now. We’re trying to get as much heavy artillery over to France as we can dig up. At lot of the old Great War stuff isn’t brilliant, but we know that something in this case is better than nothing. We’re still looking at the 4.5 inch gun from Penelope to go into production as our main heavy artillery piece, as well as on ships. The men at Royal Ordinance think it is very good, and are looking at how to get it made, but we don’t see it in anything less than months to see a copy.

Regarding the new tank. Woolwich have been getting on with things. They’ve brought in Robotham from Rolls Royce and Harry Moyses of the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, those two made the Comet. We’ve given them everything we have on tanks, which is quite a lot, there’s certainly enough to keep them right. Torsion bar suspension might be possible, though Christie is likely for the first mark. The gun remains an issue. The debate is between a 75mm with HEAT and the possible sabot rounds for armour and a good HE or the 6-pdr with good armour penetration but poorer HE.

We’ve asked them to look at various turrets on the chassis, an anti-aircraft type, a self-propelled gun, an engineer/recovery type, an armoured personnel carrier. Hopefully a family of Armoured Vehicles will make supply and maintenance simpler. All of this of course is much further down the line than we’d like. Nuffield is looking at their A13/A15 cruiser hulls for some of these jobs.

The first Sterling submachine guns are now in the hands of the troops, and they should be in good numbers in time for May. The feedback from the men is very positive. That means the orders for Thompsons from America will not have to be made. A few Browning pistols are coming into service, we hope more will be available over the next month. The new ammunition for the 2 inch mortar is progressing. The shotgun company that we gave the M79 grenade launcher to are confident that they’ll be in the hands of grenadiers shortly, which is very good news.

The 49th (West Riding) Division are now mostly equipped for Norway, we’ve got some contracts out for white smocks and other snow gear. 52nd Lowland Division are training now in the Grampians and they will be the second wave into Norway. The Canadians are on call as a possible third wave if needed. Lieut.-General Claude Auchinlek will command the ground forces. He has been fully briefed. The 15th Infantry Brigade will take the Faroes and Iceland when Denmark is attacked. The allocation of vessels for this is well advanced. Logistics are being very careful to get the right stuff in the right place at the right time. This isn’t a rushed job thankfully, so we can have some confidence that the plan to reinforce the Norwegians is progressing. We’ve talked to the French and they are likely to supply 6 battalions of Chasseurs Alpins, maybe more, including some tanks. I just hope they remember to pack all their kit.

All in all, the army is making progress. Though sometimes I wish the Bristol Group had appeared in 1937 or ’38. We’d be in a better position altogether.

Now, the Royal Navy.

The admiralty seem to agree that once Duke of York, Anson and Howe come along they will put the Revenge class into reserve and use the crews for the new ships. All work on the Lions is stopped and they are likely to be scrapped, though a final decision isn't made yet.

The Admiralty have been very impressed with the damage control techniques and there is now a course being run led by Bristol men to train damage control officers from ships all over the fleet. We hope that this will have a positive effect very quickly. Most of what they are learning was learned the hard way in a long war, learning it now will save lives and ships.

We’re not keeping up with all the AAA guns we need, a new factory just for Bofors is being opened up. There isn’t anything much we can do until the resources are available. Pye have been working on the proximity fuse. We are concentrating on the 5.25 inch shell at the moment. A lot of work needs to be done, but again we can see it happening in the not too distant future.

We have however been making progress with improving the various early radar sets, improving their range and ability. The Air to Surface Vessel is being tested on a Swordfish and will be going into production shortly. It isn’t Sea Spray, but it is already as good as ASV III. We think we can get 1942 level of equipment for all ships once they are being mass produced, and for those currently under construction we are hoping for 1945 levels. Mass production is not too far away.

The MAC conversion, MV Acavus is coming along nicely. Flight trials are scheduled for next month. She’ll carry 8 Swordfish and 4 Sea-Gladiators or SeaHurricanes when she goes to sea, helicopters too in due course. After the incident with the Condor, we’re looking at putting canon armament, even if it is just one, onto the Sea-Gladiator. We are concentrating on getting the Sea Hurricanes onto the front line carriers. We have another seven merchant ships identified to be modified. We are also looking at conversions to carry helicopters, this is much easier than fixed wing, and we’re looking at the Olna’s set up as a model for this.

Now we’ve been thinking a lot about mine warfare. A few of the Bristol men had served in minesweepers during their career. A programme of degaussing is being implemented as we speak. We are also looking at influence sweep gear and mechanical acoustic sweep. We haven’t seen too many magnetic and no acoustic mines yet, but we’re sure they’ll be coming.

All the Halcyon Minesweepers are being held back for sweeping duties rather than escorts. Each main port is having at least two extra minesweepers posted, a lot of them are trawlers, but it is important that we don’t give the Germans opportunities to bottle up sea trade with mine laying. We’re also looking at increasing the numbers of Wellington DWI to attack magnetic mines. A dedicated mine detecting sonar is being studied, but is not expected soon.

We are looking at the kinds of mines we are producing, most of them are still pretty primitive. The standard magnetic mine is being used for gardening. We are looking at a pressure mine, not dissimilar to the Oyster mine, which can also be air-dropped. Two squadrons of Hampdens are being designated for this task alone, and we’re helping them with navigation aids to increase accuracy and frequency. We will have an all-out effort in early April to interrupt or slow the Norway invasion fleet. The suggestion not to lay huge “defensive” minefields was not well received by those who wanted them. But the evidence, even from 1918, persuaded their Lordships to not waste resources.

Amphibious warfare next. We have given the admiralty designs for Landing Ship Tank, Landing Ship Dock, landing craft and for hovercraft. We won’t see much of this until 1942 at the earliest. But hopefully we can avoid having too many Huskys or Overlords. The Royal Marines however are very keen on having a couple of LSDs. They are also keen on the “junglies.” They liked the look of the Buffalo LVT and have included some of those in their letter to Santa.

Now RFA Olna. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary want her and many like her. We are currently showing them the Replenishment At Sea techniques and that is being well received. They haven’t yet grown up as an organisation because we still have our overseas bases. But for escorts over the Atlantic and once we build up in the Pacific then we’ll want to have fast fleet tankers and other replenishment ships. There are some merchantmen who we can take up from trade and assign them this role. For new build we’re looking at the new machinery. The Olna has been having naval architects climbing all over her, and coming away pretty dumbstruck at the construction implications. The propulsion systems likewise are putting design engineers’ collective knickers in a twist. The lessons of these will be assimilated into future projects, hopefully.

We have emptied the Olna’s shelves of everything and what a treasure trove it has proven to be. We can build a few sets of various radars from the spares she carried, and there were a bunch of very interesting spares for Harriers, not quite a whole one, but Frank Whittle is said to have fainted when he saw what we had. The Sea Darts and Sea Wolf missiles will keep us going for a while, though not so many Sea Cats. There’s a lot of 4.5 inch shells, some with proximity fuses that have sent to Pye. There was an Aden 30mm, presumably for the Sea Harriers down south, and that raises all sorts of possibilities.

The fuel it carried has proven very interesting. On the Olna there is plenty of jet fuel for when that becomes necessary, that is being removed and stored safely. The admiralty are also very interested in the F 76 multipurpose fuel. Again for the future it will be very helpful, but what the Olna brought is all we have for the Bristol ships currently and is being reserved for them.

The Hedgehog trial went very well - a kill on its first outing may in fact have given it legendary status. Along with the pencil beam ASDIC it will do very well, Squid will take much longer, but that was expected. The spigot mortars are being produced quickly. The gyro-stabilisation is proving slightly more problematical but it isn’t too far off from being ready. Destroyers are being designated for refits to install it. The teardrop depth charge is going into full production and we've made progress of air-dropped depth charges.

It has been a busy month, but we need as much as possible to go well in March and April so we'll be ready for May.
1 March 1940. 10:00hrs. Salisbury Plain. England.

A Vickers Mark VI light tank was lined up on the firing range. A Carl Gustav launcher had been fitted to the roof of the tank in such a way that the tank commander could aim and fire it from his hatch. When the range was declared clear, the sergeant fired the projectile at the target some five hundred yards distant. It was clear miss.

A Universal Carrier, with a Carl Gustav launcher affixed, now drove up beside the tank and took its place on the firing line. In this case the target was destroyed.

In discussions afterwards the experience of both the tank commander and the Carrier team agreed that the carrier was the better vehicle to carry the Carl Gustav into battle. The adaptation that allowed the anti-tank weapon to be carried was simple enough to be done in the field.

Next up at the firing range were a number of handheld anti-tank prototype weapons. The first to go was a bazooka style arrangement. The bazooka was a fixed version of the M72 LAW rocket. Instead of being disposable, this system was designed to be reused. The 66mm rocket, with fixed fins, was loaded and primed from behind, then fired from the shoulder. Its range was expected to be around 200 yards. Its HEAT warhead was thought to be able to counter any German tank currently in service. The test firing was successful, the target steel plate was holed.

The Rocket Propelled Grenade used the same warhead, but the rocket motor and charge was greater, giving it a greater range. However the test firing showed that it was less accurate than the bazooka.

The third weapon tested was a HEAT rifle grenade, based on the same 66mm warhead. One was designed for the Boys .55inch anti-tank rifle and the other for the Lee-Enfield. While the range was very much shorter, both were effective.

An order for a large quantity of the bazooka and both .55 and .303 rifle grenades was given, it was hoped that the first batch would be delivered in time for May.

2 March 1940. 12:00hrs. Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment. Boscombe Down. England.

The Swordfish taxied to the end of the runway and ran up the engine. So far the Bristol Hercules II engine was running smoothly, the RPM was at 2800, producing over 1200 horse power. The test pilot closed the canopy, another innovation, and released the brakes. The biplane picked up speed and climbed into the air. The test pilot called out the characteristics over the radio constantly. The centre of gravity still wasn’t right, the new engine being much heavier. The pilot's voice became more panic stricken as he made a swift turn to return to base. His own skills got him back onto the ground safely, but his opinion was that they should leave the stringbag alone.

So the Swordfish would continue in production with only minor changes. The canopy would be added and the third crewman, with the Lewis gun, would be left ashore. This allowed for a greater fuel capacity to be carried, extending its range. The Albacore was judged to be no great improvement and so Fairey was asked to concentrate on producing Swordfish, and the Albacore was cancelled.

The Blackburn Skua was next to take off. This had some modifications to its aerodynamic characteristics, it was hoped that this would have an impact on its performance. With the plan to provide Sea Hurricanes as the fleet fighter, the Skua, which was designed to be both a fighter and a dive bomber, would now concentrate on the dive bombing role. Some other changes, such as self-sealing fuel tanks and some armour for both the pilot and the TAG (Telegraphist-Air Gunner). The improved performance in the plane was good enough to have the Fleet Air Arm to undergo a programme of making the changes to the aircraft in their fleet as time and equipment allowed, the aircraft going back to Blackburn's factory to receive the changes.

3 March 1940. 17:00hrs. A French Airfield, near Tours.

The French squadron commander was berating his pilots, ground crew, in fact, everyone within earshot for embarrassing him in front of the sector commander, the bomber commander and, most vilely, the whole English RAF!

His squadron of M.S. 406s were tasked to escort a formation of the latest LeO 451 bombers in an exercise to test the RAF’s defence of their airfields. Instead of the 12 406s that he had planned for, only 8 were actually available. He was late making the rendezvous with the bombers and just as they joined they were jumped by a squadron Hurricanes who dived on them from the sun and proceeded to shout “ratatatatat” over the shared radio frequency as they made mock gun passes on the French aircraft. The observers in the bombers claimed that all his 406s were shot down or damaged, as were nine of the twelve bombers, for the loss of three or four Hurricanes, which the defensive armament on the bombers alone were responsible for.

4 March 1940. 15:00hrs. Headquarters of the Armée de L’Air. Paris, France.

Commander in Chief: Please explain to me why it is that in every single exercise against the RAF, our aircraft and pilots have been humiliated?

Air-Operations Chief: I cannot explain it, except to say that the English have been working harder at preparations than we have. The lack of operable aircraft has been shown up in every exercise. We haven’t been able to communicate between different squadrons all too often. Too many of our pilots have not had the chance to fly enough because of budget constraints. Most of the bombers that we have are too outdated, and the new ones are not yet in big enough numbers or have fully and properly trained crews. Likewise with the fighters. The new aircraft are still being delivered, but many of them lack spare parts. The older, obsolete planes are still in supposedly front-line squadrons.

Supply and Maintenance Chief: I resent the implication of that. My men are working night and day to have the best aircraft in the hands of the pilots. There have been problems, but that is the fault of the politicians who have been playing games with each other rather than making sure the orders for new aircraft are delivered as promised.

Commander in Chief: I want the following done, and done in the next two weeks. I want a minimum of 1000 fighters in front-line squadrons on alert. Every single one of them better be serviceable. If that means that you have to strip all the others for parts then do so. Each and every plane and pilot will undertake constant training, including gunnery. Yes, even if that means eating into war stocks. I want to make sure that if the Boche do come, as the English believe, that our men will send them to hell.

I want every airfield to look at its defences and the way the aircraft are dispersed. I want you to go and talk to the RAF about what they are doing. Those exercises where they attacked our airfields left us with terrible losses on the ground. That must be improved.

I want the Dewoitine 520 prioritised. I have spoken to the Prime Minister and he assured me that the factory will increase production significantly. I want to pick the best and most experienced pilots from the squadrons with obsolete aircraft and get them into the new plane as quickly as possible. Until they get the planes, have them exercise with the English early warning system. Form them into squadrons and have them based in the north east sector, covering the Belgian border. The older fighters can cover the Maginot Line sectors at the Alps and facing Italy, as they hopefully won’t be needed as much.

Similarly I want every fast bomber we have to be practising destroying bridges and railway lines. We will use them for tactical bombing. I want you to get a system up and running so that army requests for aerial support will be dealt with quickly. I don’t want another meeting with Gamelin to have him embarrass me about inter-service cooperation.

There will be another round of exercises in April with the RAF. If things are not much, much better, heads will roll. Do I make myself clear? Good, dismissed.

5 March 1940. 11:00hrs. BEF HQ, near Arras France.

General Dill: So Alan, how are things looking?

General Alan Brooke: Well sir, the winter training has been hard on the men and equipment. However, at least no one is complaining about being cold and bored!

The First Tank Brigade and the Royal Armoured Corps thoroughly enjoyed playing the attacking force. A few of the older NCOs remembered training in the old Experimental Armoured Force, and they took to ‘lightning war’ tactics with much verve and enthusiasm, even if some of their tanks can’t be described as lightning fast! Some of the lessons were much as we expected: Lags in communications time; some officers who really aren’t suitable for command in the field; paucity of heavy guns. Some things were better than we’d hoped. Air cooperation for example, Leigh-Mallory has done wonders and the Hurribomber is looking quite potent.

Links with our French neighbours is better than I expected, and joint exercises have been fruitful. There were a good number of Belgian “observers”, though I really wish we could do more with them. The two big problems, other than language, are radios and mentality. Our radios can’t seem to speak to their easily, and neither of us have enough radios anyway. Mark my words, before all this is over, we’ll find ourselves standing someone’s house making a telephone call to someone trying to get hold of a French general. Mentality is harder. They don’t really believe that the Germans will come, and their Maginot mentality means that all they have to do is sit tight and let the Boche butt their heads against prepared positions. When we put a regiment of them up against our tanks, it was pure murder.

As the Territorial Battalions have been arriving, we have been putting them through their paces, so that when they join their parent Brigade they are already fit enough. There’s not much sign yet of the promised new equipment, though there are a good few platoons on detached duty at home getting trained on it.

The anti-tank regiments gave a good account of themselves in the exercises, and we have been working hard with them on ambush, camouflage, infantry cooperation, speed of relocation, things like that. All things being equal, they are as good as we can make them. I just wish we had more. This “bazooka” thing sounds interesting as a platoon weapon. The Carl Gustav on universal carriers is also going to give us a mobile punch. The Corps machine gun battalions are well integrated with the units they’ve trained with. Keeping them together has helped with communications.

The mobile reserve force is coming along. First Armoured will be the heart of it when it arrives, though First Armoured Brigade are standing in at the moment. 51st Highlanders and 50th Northumbrian (motorised) Divisions will be the infantry, and they’ll have access to a lot of the new kit when it arrives. We’re calling them “mechanised” as we’ve been trying to increase their carrier numbers substantially. The Royal Engineers have been putting on various bodges to increase survivability for the infantry carriers and lorries.

The Artillery is coming along, greater numbers of the new 25 pounder are reaching us, or due soon. Every depot in England has been scoured for anything extra we can find, especially in heavy stuff. An extra regiment of 8 inch guns is in training with the First Armoured Division, and three batteries of 9.2 howitzers are on their way, as are some 6 inch howitzers. They’ll be worn down Great War stock, but we’ll be glad of them anyway. I’ve spoken to the French and asked if we could borrow some of their heavy units, but I’m not holding out much hope for that.

We’re going to stand down most of the force this week to give time to make and mend. All senior officers will have war games here at HQ to think through some of the possibilities. If Jerry doesn’t come till 10 May as expected, we should be better fixed than we are now.

6 March 1940. 15:00hrs. Stockholm. Sweden.

The Finnish delegation had arrived in the morning and would be travelling onto the Soviet Union overnight. The inevitable collapse of the Mannerheim line had happened on 1 March, but the retreat to the secondary line, with the local counterattacks had succeeded in holding the Red Army and bleeding them heavily. The extra aircraft that had come from France and Britain, even the American built Brewsters B239s, had helped a lot. In this David and Goliath fight, Goliath had to win. So the interim line was holding, but only just. The fact that the Swedes had managed to arrange for the negotiations to take place was remarkable.

The Soviets had initially rejected the Finnish propositions in February, sending back their own demands, which were unacceptable to the Finns. The Swedish had become the go-betweens, and had worked out a middle ground that was the starting place for the negotiations that the Finns were travelling to Moscow to enter into. The longer the Finnish forces to hold the Red Army at bay, the better chance that the Finns could get a deal they could live with. The Soviets were hoping to slow the whole process down so that they could have a stronger military position to dictate their terms. However the continued resistance was leaving them with little choice but to go along with the Swedish (and quietly German) nudging towards a negotiated settlement.

7 March 1940. 09:00hrs. D Napier & Sons Design Office. Acton. London. England.

Frank Halford (Chief designer): So we’ve been all over the Gnome engine off the Wessex and copying it should be straightforward, except for the metallurgy for the turbine blades, the fuel control system, the gear box, the linkage, what was the other thing? Oh yes, the machine tools for making the annular combustors. So, all very straightforward.

Ernest Edward Chatterton (Chief Engineer): The Royal Navy want this new diesel engine for a new class of minesweeper, and a number of other things. We know that our Culverin's 720 hp is not nearly enough for its needs. Their suggestion, someone even drew a sketch for us, is essentially three Culverins arranged in a large triangle (deltoid). It really is a very clever idea, I have no idea why someone hasn’t thought of it before. I’ve been looking at it and I think I can make it work. One of the Navy chaps thought it might have a role in locomotives for the railways too. That would do the firm a lot of good.

8 March 1940. 14:00hrs. Gloster Aircraft Company Headquarters, Brockworth.

Henry Folland: So the Navy has taken delivery of the first thirty Sea Hurricanes, and the feedback is generally positive. The changes were quite easy to make, in terms of the catapult spools and the arrestor hook. It did need some strengthening of the body to deal with the deceleration. The Naval radios and beacon receivers have also added weight, so the whole thing is slower than the land based aircraft. They prefer the de Havilland propeller over the Rotol, so that is fair enough.

The main thing they are looking for in the next batch is folding wings. The Illustrious carrier’s lifts can’t deal with the size of the aircraft. Either they keep them as a deck park, or they have to stay on the older carriers. But even they have to carry fewer aircraft because the Hurricane can’t be stowed effectively. The General Aircraft Company has some experience with folding wings, and so we’re in talks with them about doing some of the conversions of the Sea Hurricanes. A folding wing will add more weight, but if the new Merlin engines we are hearing about is all it is cracked up to be then, possibly it will be able to manage the extra weight. So that is the first thing to be looked at. Secondly is canon armament, it seems they've got permission to get some of the 20mms that are going into the Hurribombers, so they'll have four machine guns and two canons, which is the best we can do. So, can you have a look at the specs and work out how to get this order implemented, please.

9 March 1940 10:00hrs. Tank Design Team meeting, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.

So, let’s review the options with the gun. (Chorus of groans from the attendees). Remember the issue is about a tank gun that has both a good HE and anti-tank round. The 2 pounder is good enough currently for antitank, but poor for HE. The six pounders is well advanced now and will be an option for the new tank. Again the antitank round will be very good, but HE, while an improvement over what we have, still isn't up to scratch. The option of using a 75mm, possibly French, would put us into a good HE round, but there are questions about the antitank rounds. We’ve got examples of HEAT and HESH warheads and armour piercing discarding sabot rounds that should make it good enough to take on projected enemy tanks. Then there is talk of a seventeen pounder (76.2mm or 3 inch gun) being produced, though again its HE shell may be too limited. We could look at mounting various monster guns on a chassis, but that may be too much at the moment. Can you imagine what a 3.7 inch shell would do to Panzer I?

The government wants a medium tank. So we have a good engine, which I believe we are calling the Meteor to distinguish it from the aircraft type. It is to have sloped armour, good suspension and speed, a three man turret, with enough space for a boiling vessel. So…are we going with the 6-pdr? Yes, with the option of a bigger gun in a bigger tank to follow? Yes. Good. Now these other things. Putting a 25 pounder on for mobile artillery should be fine. A twin 20mm Oerlikon, or a single Bofors 40mm with a radar for an anti-aircraft vehicle is going to take a lot of work, without the radar it will be easier, and that is what we are recommending. A big box for 8-10 men for the APC, perhaps with a heavy machine gun turret for fire support. An engineer/recovery vehicle. All of these should be possible with the chassis we’re designing. The APC is the problem, with the engine at the back, but would it need as big an engine as the Meteor? That needs to be discussed. I know they want a family of vehicles so ease of maintenance and so on, but an APC may be overkill.

10 March 1940. 15:00hrs. Smith’s Docks. North Shields. England.

"Shell" Transport and Trading Company had been requested by the Admiralty to provide an oil tanker for conversion to a Merchant Aircraft Carrier. In due course MV Acavus, a Rapana Class tanker had arrived in North Shields at the end of January. For the last six weeks the superstructure had been removed, while the design for a landing deck for aircraft had been finalised and commissioned. It was hoped that the whole process could be completed in about six months, and certainly the inspection from the Admiralty today had seen that the timetable was be being adhered to.

The idea was to retain the oil carrying capacity, so that her main role would continue. She would lose about 10% of her capacity however as she needed to carry aviation fuel for the aircraft. The flight deck would be added as superstructure, allowing her to carry up to four or five aircraft. The flight deck would have four arrestor wires and a crash barrier, and was designed with the Swordfish in mind. Four aircraft would be enough to provide coverage for a convoy in the Atlantic to attempt to prevent possible U-boat attacks. There would be no hanger facilities which was a worry, but there was sufficient grounds for believing that this was a risk worth taking.

If this conversion was judged successful the rest of the Rapana Class tankers, and a variety of other ships, including grain carriers would follow suit and be transformed into Merchant Aircraft Carriers.

11 March 1940. 10:00hrs. Pye Headquarters, Cambridge. England.

Managing Director. So how are we getting on with the wireless sets?

Radio manager: Both the No 18 and 19 Wireless sets are just coming into full production. The VHF radiotelephone which works with the No 19 set is also just starting production, and that will give the infantry the ability to talk to the tanks. We’ve had a look at some of the new stuff and we think we can do some of the next generation of Frequency Modulation “radio sets”, but it will take some time to get all the requirements met.

MD: Good. RDF sets?

RDF manager: The Air Surface Vessel is being produced as quickly as possible. The first few sets were hand built for testing, and the Navy are very happy. So we’ve got a production line up and running and we’re making about seven or eight a week, and that should rise to fifty per month. The Airborne Interception radar, (we really need to make a decision if we call it RDF or radar) is in second phase of testing. The improvements that have been incorporated meant that we needed to change the system a bit, but if the RAF like it, we can get going with manufacturing in jig time. As long as the vacuum tubes keep coming, we should be putting out forty a month in no time.

MD: Excellent. Now proximity fuses.

Chief designer: Now we have the miniature thermionic valves, and the help we were given, will give a good number of shortcuts. We should be at first testing stage in about month. Production will be tricky, we need the miniature values in huge quantities, and the company that makes them will have to grow fast.

MD. Good. We’ll need to try to make sure that the Ministry of Supply don’t rip up off, giving our products to other companies to make, without any reference to us. Very well everyone, good work, let’s keep it up.

12 March 1940. 16:00hrs. Near Laon, France.

Senior Commander Marjory Dunn settled her WAAFs into their new accommodation. They had just arrived from Rudloe Manor, Fighter Command’s No 10 Group headquarters. Having trained as plotters with the Sector Station, her girls were now part of a new sector station for northern France. The whole fighter command system was being replicated. A chain of army RDF sets had been joined by some kind of secret Navy type. It had been put up on the Cuve Saint Vincent in Laon. The sector station was located in a well defended and camouflaged bunker. She had met one of the matelots responsible for setting up the links who had spoken very strangely, and had been extremely forward, so much so she had reported him.

The filterers and controllers had been attempting to get something put together, but it was obvious that the Fighter Command Sector system would have to be recreated in France to work properly. The Armee de l’Air liaisons would be a complication, but the controllers had been chosen for their language skills as well as their experience of working with Fighter Command.

The news that a further four Spitfire squadrons would be sent to reinforce the Air component of the BEF was well received, though Air Marshall Dowding was getting more and more worried about the defence of home nations. Another few squadrons had been converted to Hurribombers from Battles, and the Advanced Air Striking Force was starting to get back towards its full strength.

13 March 1940. 13:00hrs. Greenock. Scotland.

Commander Peter Rickard, captain of HMS Penelope, had drawn one of the short straws, as his ship had been chosen to be taken apart and studied along with its systems. The two months he had spent overseeing her breaking up would have been enough to make a grown man cry. But, the needs of the service, and all that. Now he was based in the Clyde would be teaching ASW techniques to ships captains. The course was an intense two week affair. The first week was full of lectures about U boat tactics, anti-submarine weapons, the physics of the sea and the effect on ASDIC, (though he kept calling it Sonar, and that was spreading through the fleet).

The second week was spent at sea. HMS Leith with the first ship equipped with Hedgehog and HMS Bideford, now similarly equipped, were to be used as training vessels. The two week course coincided with the submarine perishers course, and so the newly trained hunters both above and below the waves tried to put their new found knowledge to the test.

14 March 1940. 13:00hrs. HMS Vernon. Portsmouth. England.

Commander Paul Canter found himself in a similar position to Rickard, in that his ship, HMS Active had met the same fate, being broken up to be examined. Because he had previously commanded the Ton Class minehunter HMS Gavinton, he was now working with the mine warfare branch based at HMS Vernon. He was currently talking with one of the men he had studied, Commander Charles Goodeve, who already had worked out counters to the magnetic mine including the Double L sweep and degaussing. He was currently working on Wiping, a system that would change the magnetic signature of a ship to S-pole-down, rendering German magnetic mines ineffectual.

Together Canter and Goodeve were looking at acoustic mines, the first German ones were due to be deployed later in 1940 and so they were researching how they worked, and how they would be countered. The pressure mine was also a possibility, but the Germans wouldn’t have that in operation until later in the war. Goodeve was fascinated by the Kango Sweep, a pneumatic road drill of that manufacturer in a steel box lowered from a ship. Part of their studies was looking at creating British acoustic and pressure mines, a working prototype of the fuse was not far from completion.

Canter was also working with naval architects reconstructing a Ton class minesweeper from his memory and from Janes Fighting Ships.

15 March 1940. 14:00hrs. Singapore.

HMS Eagle sailed into the Royal Navy Dockyard, the damage from the explosion still visible. The day before a bomb had accidently been detonated killing 14 crew members and destroying most of the aircraft on board. Damage control had managed to get the fire under control and the ship was able to make its way into Singapore under its own steam. As soon as she was docked a team from the dockyard came aboard to begin a survey of the damage and begin to plan the repairs.

A signal about the accident had already been dispatched to the Admiralty in London. The situation regarding aircraft carriers was high on the agenda of the Bristol Group oversight committee which considered how to make the best use of the enforced dock time for HMS Eagle. It was estimated that the repairs would mean that the carrier would be in dock for about six weeks. It would take just over a month to get a ship from Portsmouth to Singapore via the Suez Canal, so it was decided to try to get a new air warning radar and gunnery radar out to Singapore in time for it to be fitted. This might delay her return to duty, but upgrading her would be worth it. There were still some German raiders abroad and HMS Eagle would have a role to play in tracking them down. Some crated Swordfish and Sea Gladiators to replace those lost in the explosion would also be sent along with the radar sets and their operators. At this point there weren’t enough anti-aircraft weapons to be spared for the refit, but these would be sent out to Singapore as and when they became available.
16 - 31 March 1940.
16 March 1940. 15:00hrs. Scapa Flow. Scotland.

The air raid sirens sounded the all clear. 32 German Junkers Ju88 bombers had raided the anchorage at Scapa Flow which had been something of a revelation for both sides. Since the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in October 1939 there had been a root and branch review of the security of the fleet anchorage. Subsequently the arrival of the Bristol Group, although they were primarily based in Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland, they had been often enough through the main Home Fleet anchorage that extra defensive measures had been taken. Half a flight of RAF Hurricanes were based at Wick and the other half at Sumburgh. Radar coverage had been extended, and a new RAF airfield near Kirkwall was being constructed, to be known as RAF Grimsetter.

HMS Ark Royal and Furious were present in the anchorage and when the first warning that enemy aircraft were inbound both scrambled their fighter squadrons. Since both were still equipped with Skuas and Sea Gladiators this wasn’t all that telling. The six Hurricanes from RAF Wick had been scrambled and had made an attack on the Ju88s before they reached Scapa Flow. They had managed to damage three of the bombers and had split up the formation. When the bombers arrived within range of the anti-aircraft defences, fully alerted to their presence, the heavy fire from both ship and ground based fire damaged two more aircraft and made their ability to attack much more difficult. HMS Minerva was the only Bristol Group ship present and her three SeaCat missile systems fired off twelve missiles, eight of which destroyed enemy aircraft, the other four aimed at all took such evasive manoeuvers as to make any attempt at bombing impossible.

The Skuas and Sea Gladiators found the German bombers to be too fast for interception, though some of the pilots claimed to cause damage on some of the Ju88s. The second flight of RAF Hurricanes arrived from Sumburgh as the bombers were leaving, claiming one shot down and another two damaged. Of the 32 bombers that had started the raid 22 returned home, five with some damage. The SeaCat had accounted for the majority of the losses, the other two had been so damaged that they were unable to make it home. HMS Norfolk was hit with one bomb, blowing a hole below the water line and killing 6. James Isbister became the first British civilian to be killed by a German bomb when his house in the nearby village of Bridge of Waithe was hit.

For the British it was clear that RAF Grimsetter had to be completed as soon as possible, and that the Sea Gladiator and Skua were unsuitable for the role of defensive fighter. The first FAA squadrons of SeaHurricanes were still working up, and it was hoped that these would be an improvement. The need to replace the Hurricane Squadron defending the anchorage with Spitfires was also realised, though at some point the FAA would have to take charge of defending the fleet at anchor, for which they would need suitable aircraft. The ability of the SeaCat to deal with piston engined planes was emphasised, and the desire to get it copied and into service was reinforced. The fleet and ground based anti-aircraft defences had been partially successful in making it difficult for the German bombers to fulfil their mission, but the lack of success in bringing them down was noted.

For the Germans, a 33% loss rate was unsustainable. The Luftwaffe knew that the Royal Navy had invested heavily in unrotated projectiles in the defence of their ships. It was obviously much more effective than they had been led to believe. The presence of RAF fighters had been a surprise, though the fact that the British still used biplanes was thought remarkable. Because of the losses another attack on Scapa Flow wasn’t planned. But the need to be careful attacking heavy units of the Royal Navy due to the effectiveness of their rockets was circulated around the other parts of the Luftwaffe.

17 March 1940. Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. Elswick. England.

The team responsible for hurrying the Valentine tank into production had been under constant pressure since January to achieve the aim of supplying the army with the tank in May, as the contract had stated. On paper, since the Valentine was based on the A10 cruiser tank, it should have been straightforward. However nothing on paper is ever quite the same as it should be in reality. So when the test vehicle was ready and taken by rail to Bovington for trials, some of the production team accompanied it to take notes of what would need fixed. These had now returned from the tests with a list of things that would need to be fixed. For the most part the issues were around the weight of the tanks armour being greater than the suspension and tracks were designed for. A lot of strengthening of simple things like track pins would be needed to get the tank mobile enough.

The question now was when they could get the production going. Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Co. Ltd. had been designated as the second company that would manufacture the tank along with Vickers. The Ministry of Supply had been most helpful with assigning skilled labour and all the physical resources that would be needed to get the tank into production. The War Department were obviously in a rush as they wanted to forego the normal pilot and pre-production models. The test prototype was all they wanted, after that the tank was to be put into full scale production with absolute priority. Vickers knew that there would be all sorts of problems with the first run of tanks, the pilot and pre-production models was to sort out the problems so that when the production run was set most of the teething troubles would be ironed out.

The desire for a three man turret, and the ability to be up-gunned to the 6-pdr gun, was still part of the War Department’s wishes, and the design team were currently working on the Mark II Valentine, which would also include a better engine. However the army needed tanks, and so 350 of the first production line were required as soon as possible. The army wanted to equip 5 Royal Tank Regiment with the Valentines, so they needed up to fifty tanks as quickly as possible. Vickers reckoned that they should be able to deliver a maximum of 30 by the end of April, which would allow for training to take place. Putting an all-out effort might mean they could get to almost 60 by the end of May. Metro-Cammell would take slightly longer to get going, they didn’t expect to have their first tanks completed until May. By June the two factories should each be producing about 10 tanks per week. Since an armoured regiment would need a minimum of 65 tanks, to say nothing of spares, that would be about a month’s production. An armoured Brigade of three regiments fully equipped with Valentine tanks could be envisioned for August 1940.

In the meantime the production of A10 cruiser tanks continued apace in Vickers and Metro-Cammell, though these would be superseded as production of the Valentine got into full swing. Harland & Wolff in Belfast were still producing A9s, concentrating on the Close Support variant with the 3.7-inch howitzer. Nuffield were making A13s which would be the main cruiser tank through 1940, though a version with improved armour protection was coming along. These, with the Matilda II tanks would have to keep the army going until the new universal tank could be manufactured.

18 March 1940. 10:00hrs. Oslo, Norway.

Johan Nygaardsvold, Norwegian Prime Minister: With the ceasefire in effect and holding, it looks as if Finland might come out of the war not too badly. However it looks like Hitler is trying to woo them with all sorts of promises. If that is the case then we will find ourselves in a very sticky position. Sweden is still leaning towards Germany, certainly in terms of selling them ore and other material. If both Finland and Sweden are under Nazi sway, where does that leave us?

Minister of Foreign Affairs Halvdan Koht: As some of you know I have been having secret talks with the British. We all know they are already prepared to guarantee our neutrality. They would really like to enter into a treaty with us, for us to become allies, which would mean war with Germany as soon as we do it. They have been supplying us with some aircraft and other equipment, and some intelligence too. For example the German Luftwaffe has over 500 transport aircraft designated to the “northern sector.” There is a parachute regiment, two mountain divisions, as well as five other infantry divisions who are earmarked for the same “northern sector”.

The British have promised us naval support, and since they sunk the two battleships last month, that is significant. The have two divisions ready to deploy to our aid and another one to follow. There is also the promise of RAF fighter squadrons to be based here. The French also have promised support. Now, the question is, will the Germans invade whatever we do, or will allying ourselves with the British and French bring about a German invasion?

Minister of Defence Fredrik Monsen: Our own mobilisation has progressed well. Each of the six divisions is moving towards full strength, though they are not yet at full readiness. We are trying to get as much training done as we can. Each unit tends to be based in one place, and they don’t have much practice in working in larger groups. We are trying to improve our static defences, particularly in port installations. We have no tanks. I don’t suppose the English are promising any? No? I didn’t think so. The Air Force has been strengthened. We got some P36 Hawks, which we’ve been getting ready for flight. The British have been sending us some more Gladiators, we are expecting some Defiants and Battles too. The issue is with having enough trained pilots. Also against the Luftwaffe, everything we have is pretty much obsolete. The navy is in the best shape and there are in a state of high readiness, with full war stocks on board. If the Germans do invade we should be able to give them a fight. By ourselves I don’t think we’re strong enough to stop them, but we could give them a run for their money. The information about German paratroopers is interesting. I'll have a word with the air force about defending the airfields. With British and French help, I think we could probably do quite well. I’d make the alliance.

Minister of Trade Alfred Madsen: Sinkings of our shipping had gone down this last couple of months, thanks to the Royal Navy. I think we are already at war in everything but name with the Germans, let us stop pretending and join the British while there is still time.

The meeting continued for some time. Halvdan Koht was tasked with discussing further with the British and French the terms of an alliance.

19 March 1940. 11:00hrs. Amalienborg, Copenhagen, Denmark.

King Christian X: So General, the Norwegians believe the British story about a possible invasion of our country next month, urging us consider our position. What do you think?

General William Prior, Commander in Chief, Royal Danish Army: Your Majesty, I have been getting similar intelligence from the Norwegian army. If the Germans invade, we will find it impossible to stop them completely. We do not have the weapons or ability. Our geography is also against it. We could, and I believe, should, resist them as much as possible, for as long as possible, but capitulation is likely to be our only conclusion. If the Germans meet substantial resistance, it may allow some of our most important assets to flee. But if the Germans invade Norway, and even Sweden, unlikely I know, but possible, then taking the most important things to England is our only choice.

King Christian: What assets are you thinking of?

Prior: Our ships, both naval and merchant. Anything that would be of use to the German war machine, like DISA, with its arms factories. Our gold reserves, art treasures, and the most important Danish asset, you Your Majesty.

King Christian: I do not think I can leave my people under those circumstances. We signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler just last year, why should he attack us?

Prior: I believe that we are only stepping stone to Norway. Our agricultural resources will be of benefit to his war. We will provide some protection to his north coast. If he has us and Norway, the Baltic is secure and he has better access to the Atlantic.

King Christian: Very well. Prepare your forces to resist invasion. If we can hold out for some time it will annoy him at least. Make provision, secretly of course, to take most things of value to England. Anything else?

Prior: If we are occupied, should we have some kind of resistance? If so, may I suggest that we destroy the police records of personal firearms. The Germans will look to confiscate them, but we shouldn’t make it easy for them.

King Christian: This isn’t going to end well. By all means, let Denmark be a thorn in the shoe of the Nazis.

March 20 1940. 14:00hrs. Supermarine Headquarters, Southampton. England.

Joseph Smith: So, back in January you said you really needed a fast photoreconnaissance plane. You asked us to improve on the modifications that the Photographic Development Unit had made to their mark 1 Spitfire which they’ve got up to 390 mph. We had some conversations with them about they’ve already done, which was excellent by the way.

So, this is our P.R. mark 4. It has flat head rivets to make it clean, we’ve tweaked all the things we can, better rear view mirror, all the stuff we used to do for air races. We’ve fitted with 66 gallon fuel tanks on both wing leading edges and the total fuel load including the 30 gallons behind the pilot is 218 gallons. It has a range of 1,750 miles. It has the best of the Merlin engines, Rotol’s best propeller and the highest octane fuel. We’ve clocked it at 407mph. On advice from Sydney Cotton and we’ve given it a couple of options for fitting cameras in the fuselage. Code W which is a fan of two F.8 20" cameras set at inclined of 10 deg. to the vertical and 20 deg. to each other. Or Code X, which is a fan of two vertical F.24 14" vertical cameras and one F.24 8" oblique camera. The vertical cameras were set at an inclined of 8½° to the vertical and 17° to each other.

Man from Air Ministry. This is wonderful. This will be the fastest thing out there. We’ll not be needing big numbers, but six to get us started would be ideal. We’ll probably be looking at three or four squadrons eventually. When can we expect delivery?

Joseph Smith: Well you can take this one away with you. We’ll set up the next five on the line for this modification. We’re suggesting all the factories move to flat head rivets for all the planes, it’ll give them an extra knot or two.

March 21 1940. Office in the Air Ministry (Coastal Command). London, England.

Official 1: The improved Sunderland is coming along. Shorts tell me that the new wing has had the Hercules IIs fitted and it all seems to be working properly. The tail plane has had to be increased, and a few other expected problems with the increased engine power. They are expecting a complete prototype to be completed in the next week, and first flight next month. They said that they’d like to leave the air to air refuelling system off the first prototype, but probably have it in the second, so as not to slow things down. They want to call it the Seaford, by the way. They say there is too much change for it to be just a mark 2.

Official 2: Have they figured out the placing for the antennae of the ASV radar yet? And the forward firing canons? Are they going to fit those?

Official 1: The antennae are going to be in streamlined blisters. The canons are going to be on the second prototype, they’ll put in a couple of Brownings in the meantime. That odd notion of wind up floats, like the Americans use on the PBY, Shorts liked it, and are looking at doing it on the next prototype.

Official 2: That is going to be some prototype! How about the Leigh Light, are they going with that idea?

Official 1: Yes, surprisingly, I didn't think they'd be keen, but they do seem quite excited about the changes.

Official 2: They're just thinking about the order numbers. I've paid a visit to Blackburn’s factory in Dumbarton, and they are prepared to tool up for Sunderlands and then Seafords, so that should move things along.

22 March 1940. 14:00hrs. Paris, France.

Albert Leburn, President of the French Republic, had two men in his office as they tried to work out the formation of the new government. The failure to send French troops to the aid of Finland to fight against Soviet aggression was enough for the Council of Deputies to have a vote of no confidence in Édouard Daladier as Prime Minister, and he had resigned a few days previously. Paul Reynaud had been narrowly voted in as the new Prime Minister, and Leburn was attempting to negotiate a deal between the two men. Daladier had been forced on Reynaud for the role of National Minister of Defence and War. The fact that France had quietly supplied Finland with ammunition and extra fighter aircraft had been done without fanfare, so Reynaud knew that Daladier wasn’t as much to blame as the Pierre Laval and the others in the Council of Deputies had made out. The Swedes would have refused permission to allow the French troops to cross their territory anyway, so again Daladier was not wholly to blame.

What the two men had to come to an agreement on was that in a few days they would be in London for the next meeting of the Anglo-French Supreme War Council. It would be Reynaud’s first meeting with Winston Churchill, the new British Prime Minister, and they had a lot to discuss. The warnings from the British about the possibility of an attack through the Ardennes to flank the Maginot Line was now considered by the French Generals as being likely. The British had made a list of things that they considered necessary, some of which had irked Daladier. However it was becoming clear from the war games that the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army and Air Force had undergone that there were serious deficiencies that needed to be addressed. Before they could go to London, they would need to come to an agreement about the proposed force to be sent to support Norway against a likely German attack. That was something that they could agree on easily.

The British had been wary about investing as heavily as the French in American aircraft manufacturers to supply the deficit in their own industry. The British were looking a joint ventures where possible, offering licenses for Rolls Royce Merlin and Bristol Hercules engines. In return they were looking to get similar help with 20mm cannons and 75mm tank guns. Much of the practical things were easy enough for the two men to agree on, though Reynaud’s liberal economic policies made him fear the kind of changes to the French economy that all-out war would entail. Daladier was keener on spending foreign currency and gold reserves on buying American, and the two men found it difficult to come to an agreement on that, the decision would be postponed.

The British were very keen on getting an agreement that neither country would make a separate peace with Germany if things went badly. Reynaud felt that this was a necessity, and persuaded Daladier to go along with it. In return, Daladier wanted from the British a number of concessions, especially around policy in the Mediterranean. It was crucial to keep Mussolini’s Italy out of the war, and that might need the British to dial back on the issues around Albania and Ethiopia. The two men agreed to see how the British would react to it.

The last piece of discussion was a fairly odd idea from London about the situation in the Far East. As well as keeping Italy out of the war, the British were worried about how things were going in China, and Japanese expansionism. While the British were bringing back quite a lot of their regular troops from India, they weren’t diminishing their forces in Malaya and Burma. They had asked the French to consider improving relations with Thailand, and to not weaken themselves too much in Indo-China. While the British thought that Japanese aggression was a more remote possibility than what they were facing with Germany, they were obviously concerned that Japan might take advantage of any perceived weakness or distraction to make trouble. Both Frenchmen thought that the British were being over-cautious. After all the Japanese attack against the Soviets had been such a failure, that there would be no way they would ever consider an attack on the white colonies in the Orient. However, they agreed not to draw down forces in Indo-China for the moment, which at least would shut the British up about that.

President Leburn was very pleased with the way the meeting had gone, he’d had to say very little, but as the Prime Minister and Defence Minister were coming to an end of their discussions, he took the opportunity to speak to them both about why they thought the English had become so suddenly sure about so many things. The idea seemed clear to them that British Intelligence had scored a great success in getting a very highly placed spy in Germany. It also looked as if Churchill had swept in like a new broom, and they were becoming far more focussed as a result. Reynaud had been asked to stay on for an extra day in London after the meeting for some “special secret discussions”, maybe he would know more after that, if he wasn’t sworn to secrecy of course!

March 23 1940. 13:00hrs. A secure location in England.

“Tim, you’ve a visitor”, the doctor told him, “It’s important, I think.” Fr Tim McGlynn, a Roman Catholic priest, and once Padre on HMS Cardiff sailing south to the Falklands had just finished his lunch. Visitors were rare, one of the Anglican Padres that had been sailing on HMS Bristol had been to see him a couple of times, but mostly it was just the staff and the other “inmates”. Going into the visiting room, Tim saw a well-dressed man, who looked like a soldier dressed as a civil servant. The man rose and addressed him, “Fr McGlynn, I’m so pleased to meet you. My name is Douglas Anderson, and I’m from the Foreign Office. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a few questions?” Tim was immediately wary. Although he’d been on the booze pretty hard since last December when the whole time travel thing happened, he’d been sober for four weeks now. The importance of the secret had been hammered into him, and the fact that this man knew him meant that something odd was going on. “I can’t guarantee an answer, but I’ll listen to the questions.” A fair enough reply Tim thought. Anderson nodded and sat back down, inviting Tim to take the other easy chair beside the coal fire.

On his way to the chair Tim picked up the poker and gave the coals a good poke, it took him back to his childhood in Clydebank in the 1950s, there was something nice and soothing about a real fire. Sitting down facing the visitor Tim gave him his full attention. “Fr McGlynn, I have permission from Captain Grose to approach you and this facility. I am told that you are doing well.” Tim wondered if there was some kind of test happening. So he decided to play hard to get. “Mr Anderson, I don’t know you from Adam, and I have to say that I resent my privacy being disrespected in this way. You say that you are from the Foreign Office. Could I see your credentials please?” “Of course, Father, and I have a letter of introduction from your former commanding officer, Captain Mike Harris of HMS Cardiff, and also a note from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill for you to read.”

Tim had to admit his surprise when he took the documents and examined them. As he was reading the letter from Captain Harris, which was quite a nice note in itself, hoping for his well-being and a swift return to the cause, Anderson continued’ “Of course, these could just clever forgeries, Father, but you must know that if I am here and I know who you are, then your very impressive desire to maintain the story, isn’t necessary.” Tim looked up from Churchill’s note and nodded. God, he could go a whiskey right now, maybe another one after that. “Can I keep these?” he asked. Anderson nodded, “Obviously they’ll need to be kept in a safe place. Perhaps the doctor might put them in the safe for you?” Tim replied “Right. So Mr Anderson, what’s this all about? You know me, and you know that I am an alcoholic, and by God’s grace I have been sober for twenty-seven days. What could the Foreign Office possibly want with a whisky priest?”

Anderson looked at the man in front of him. All the work he’d done in preparing for the meeting came down to the fact that no one really knew the priest. He’d been chaplain to HMS Daedalus when the Falkland’s conflict had broken out, and since there wasn’t any RC padres with the fleet, he’d been flown to Gibraltar to meet HMS Cardiff. The ship’s officers and crew had liked the man, he was quite funny, and they certainly knew he liked a drink, but then it was the Royal Navy, and who didn’t like a drink? A few of the FAA types on the Bristol Group had been based at Daedalus, though none were Catholics, and again although he was known, and respected well enough, no one really knew much about him, except that he came from Glasgow and liked a drink. So Anderson thought he’d be as well telling the truth.

“Father McGlynn,” he began. Tim interrupted him, “Listen son, you’re obviously not a Catholic, so why don’t you call me Tim, and I’ll call you, sorry what was your first name again?” “Douglas,” he replied. “So, Tim, the thing is since you all appeared here last December everyone has had their brain picked over for anything that is useful. All the ships’ crews are involved in all sorts of secret and highly important work.” “Except me, Douglas.” Tim interrupted him again. “Well, you aren’t the only one, but I was reading your file. When you were interviewed in Freetown about your background and skills, there wasn’t anything particularly crucial to the war effort.” Tim laughed, “Aye, and I was pissed as a newt when they were asking me. So I dare say, someone must have been tempted to tip me overboard with the gash, as being worse than useless.”

Douglas Anderson smiled for the first time, McGlynn was as likeable as people said. “Well Tim, part of the reason I’m here is because there was something you said that perhaps might just be more helpful than you think.” Tim sat up straight, “Aha, and what would that be?” Anderson continued, “In the notes the First Officer took, he mentioned that you had studied for the priesthood in Rome, and that, if I remember the quote correctly, they were the best days of your life.” “I think I would have to go with Dickens on that one, they were the best of times, and the worst of times. I loved it. Going to the Greg, that’s the Gregorian University, every day. The late Sixties and early Seventies was an exciting time to be a Catholic, the Council, Humanae Vitae, it was all happening. God, you probably don’t have a clue what I’m talking about! But, in the Scots College the wine flowed stronger than the Tiber. It’s where I acquired my taste for the ‘vino collapso’, and the gin before lunch, and the disgestif afterwards, and a wee night cap to help you sleep.” He smacked his lips, what he wouldn’t give for a nice sip of Chianti right now, the sound of the cork popping, best sound in the world. “Anyway,” Tim dragged himself back to the matter at hand. “What’s the Foreign Office interest in the future of the Catholic Church?”

Anderson wasn’t that interested in the future of the Catholic Church at all. But His Majesty’s government were very keen on keeping Mussolini from jumping into the war on the side of Hitler. The one man on the Bristol Group who had any real Italian experience was sitting on the other side of the fireplace. There were a good few matelots who’d had a run ashore in Naples, but no one had ever done much more than some joint exercises in the Mediterranean with the Italian Navy. So Fr Tim McGlynn’s name was the only one whose biography had flagged up Italy, and since he’d been on a bender since arriving back in time, now was the first chance to see if he could be of any use whatever. The only way to find out was to ask. “Have you given any thought to what you might contribute to this future, Tim?”

Tim looked at him hard. “I’ve thought about it, aye. I didn’t bring much in the way of books, with me, just what I needed for Mass and stuff. So I’d love to see the Church I know and love come into being before the sixties. Maybe. But there’s no way the Vatican are ever going to believe a drunk Scottish guy who claims he’s a priest from the future, here to tell them how to change for the better. They’d lock me away in a place that would make this place look like a palace. So no, Douglas, I really don’t know what I can contribute to this future of yours!” The desire for a drink was always with him, probably always would be, but right now Tim just wanted to climb inside a bottle and never come out.

Douglas Anderson knew how to read people, that was why he was in the job he was, and he could sense the pain and the fear in the man opposite him. But people were dying in the war, and if Italy jumped in, strategically it would be a big problem. Britain needed everyone, even an out of time alcoholic could be found a place in this war, and Anderson’s job to see if it might be possible. “You said you didn’t bring back many books, but one of the books that you had, I brought it with me, AJP Taylor’s illustrated history of the Second World War. It actually has already been extremely useful as an overview of what might happen. Why did you bring it?”

Tim took the book in his hands and flicked through the pages. If he was completely honest, he didn’t know the answer to Anderson’s question. Why had he brought it? Ever since he’d left the Diocese and become a Navy Chaplain he’d struggled to get into the mind-set of his flock. Most of his family were of Irish descent and big supporters of Glasgow Celtic. What was a man like him doing toasting the Queen and running about in a uniform? The easy answer was he liked having nice things, and the pay of a Navy Chaplain was way better than being a priest in Govanhill or the Gorbals. If he did twelve years, he’d have a nice pension, and to be honest, it was a bit of a skive, work-wise. So he’d brought along a book about the Second World War to appear a little bit more martial. Maybe there’d be some story in it he could use if someone needed a bit of a talk. It had loads of pictures, so it was an easy read, not that he’d ever picked it up of course. One of the lessons he’s learned since he’d come to this place, was that honesty was necessary, for himself if for no other. “To be honest, Douglas, I don’t know why I brought it. Somewhere in my head, sailing off to a shooting war, I thought it might come in handy. I’m glad to know that it has.” He passed the book back to Anderson.

“Thanks, Tim. What do you know about Italy and the war?” Anderson asked. Tim thought for a moment, “Just the usual I suppose. Mussolini jumped in when Hitler was winning. They got badly beaten in North Africa until Hitler sent Rommel to sort them out. We invaded Sicily, then they switched sides I think when we invaded the mainland. There was a lot of big battles like Monte Cassino.” “What about the Vatican?” asked Anderson. Tim sighed, “A lot of folk criticise Pope Pius for not helping the Jews enough. The church at that stage, I mean, this stage, were more worried about Communism than anything else as far as I know. Otherwise I think they kept their heads down.” Anderson said, “I’m on the Italian desk in the Foreign Office, and we really don’t want Mussolini to jump in. Knowing what you know about Rome, do you think it could be done?”

Tim shook his head, “I really wouldn’t have a clue to be honest, Douglas. Maybe if Hitler doesn’t do so well in France, maybe Mussolini won’t try anything himself. But to be honest, I’ve never given it much thought.” Anderson opened the book at the description of how Mussolini and his mistress were killed, and read the paragraph out loud. “’At Dongo on Lake Como partisans stopped the convoy and took Mussolini off the lorry where he was concealed. Bewildered what to do with him, the partisans consigned him and his mistress Clara Petacci, who had joined him, to a farm house. The next day a Communist Partisan colonel arrived. Mussolini said, ‘You have come to save me? I will give you an Empire? Petacci fumbled under the bedclothes. What asked what she was doing, she said, “I am looking for my knickers.” The colonel took them a few hundred yards down the road, stood Mussolini against a wall, and when Petacci tried to protect him, shot them both. A few hours later their bodies were taken to Milan and hanged upside down outside a garage.’ It’s all a bit tawdry isn’t it, Tim?”

Tim smiled, “I hadn’t read that bit, ‘I’m looking for my knickers’, great last words, eh? Aye, not much of an ending for a tin pot dictator.” Anderson put the book down, “Listen Tim, we don’t care much for Mussolini one way or another. Whether he meets the end that this book says, or something else, we don’t care. What we do care about is all the men that will end up in graveyards fighting battles over a tin pot dictator’s lust for glory. You know a whole different Rome, a Rome that’s very different to how it is now. What we really want to know, would you help us try to change history? I don’t know if we can, but I’d love to come back and chat with you some more. Would you give it some thought? What could we do to create the Rome you remember?”

Tim sat and looked at the fire. For the first time in months someone was asking him to think about something else other than himself. He had no idea how he could possibly be of help. But if he ever wanted to live his life, and not just end up dying of liver failure, he needed a reason for living. This man from the Foreign Office was offering the possibility that he could be of some kind of service. For all he was a rubbish priest, being of service was something that went to the heart of him. “I don’t know, Douglas. I don’t know how I could possibly help. But if you want to come back, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll think about it, but I’m not sure this addled brain of mine will come with anything that the great minds of the Foreign Office haven’t already thought of.” Douglas Anderson stood up, Tim rose with him and the two men shook hands and Anderson said, “That’s all we can ask, Tim. Just give it some thought.” “Could you leave me the book, Douglas, I wouldn’t mind reading it now?” “Certainly, Tim, but again, keep it in a safe place. It’s been copied that often that hopefully the author won’t ever know how much revenue he’s losing! I look forward to seeing you again Tim. Look after yourself.” Tim replied, “Thanks, Douglas, take care, and remember, one day at a time.”

March 24 1940. 16:00hrs. HMS Ark Royal, west of Orkneys.

Vice Admiral Wells, Vice Admiral Aircraft Carriers, was watching the recovery of Skuas from 800 naval squadron. The exercise was just coming to an end and Wells was thinking through the points he would be making at the debriefing. He glanced around the fleet taking in what he saw. HMS Ark Royal was in company with two other carriers, HMS Furious and the recently refitted HMS Hermes. HMS Cardiff was in the centre of the group using its air search radar for coordination. A number of cruisers and plenty of destroyers provided protection.

The objective had been to have aircraft from the three carriers working together to create a sizeable force to interdict a convoy in the Pentland Firth. HMS Ark Royal had embarked 18 Sea Hurricanes, 18 Skuas, and 24 Swordfish. Having 60 aircraft on board was an exercise in itself, they had had little practise of having so many. HMS Furious carried a squadron each of Swordfish, Skuas and Gladiators. The 18 RAF Gladiators of 263 Squadron had been loaned to the Fleet Air Arm as there was a shortage of available aircraft and pilots for the Fleet Air Arm. The FAA’s Blackburn Rocs had all been put ashore as being unsuitable for the role of providing a Combat Air Patrol. The Gladiator Mk IIs weren’t much better, but at least they were something of an improvement. HMS Hermes had one squadron of Swordfish and a half squadron of Sea Gladiators.

In the exercise Hermes’ Swordfish had provided reconnaissance and U boat patrols. Its Sea Gladiators shared the CAP with the squadron of Gladiators from HMS Furious. The squadron of Sea Hurricanes had provided escort for the Skua and Swordfish strike force. The Skuas were fitted for dive bombing and the Swordfish for torpedoes. The exercise had shown up all sorts of issues. An RAF Spitfire squadron had played the enemy, flying from RAF Wick. If it had been a real battle the Sea Hurricanes would have been badly handled, but they had kept most of the bombers safe.

The torpedo bombers were very professional and had done very well. The Skua pilots were good, but not quite as good as their Swordfish colleagues. If the observers were to be believed the convoy would have been seriously mangled. The ability of the Cardiff crew to manage so many aircraft was an issue. Once an improved radar was finished being fitted to the Ark Royal, and the crew trained to use it, it would hopefully make coordination better.

All things being even, for the first time three carriers had worked together like this had been promising. If only they had more time.

March 25 1940. 09:00hrs. HMNB Clyde. Planning Meeting.

Commander Andy Johnston had got to know most of the men in front of him through the “perishers” course. They were looking at using the skills they had been practicing to undertake one of the largest submarine deployments the Royal Navy had ever attempted. 22 British submarines, led by HMS Onyx, with three French and one Polish submarine would be sailing to intercept any German fleet attempting to invade Norway. They were looking at charts of known minefields, trying to decide how best to block the approaches that the Germans would take. It was probable that they would be able to pass secretly through Norwegian waters at night. A Royal Norwegian Navy officer was present at the planning meeting, but not in uniform. Four Norwegian B Class boats would be deployed within the Oslo Fjord, the other B class and A class boats would patrol smaller harbours.

The plan was to place four submarines on the approaches to the Oslo fjord, four at Kristiansand, four at Stavanger, four at Bergen and four at Trondheim. The rest, acting alone, would take up positions off the other main Norwegian ports. The north of Norway would be covered primarily by the surface fleet. One of the fundamental problems was opposing the German U boats, expected to be in the region of thirty boats. HMS Onyx had the task of destroying as many of these as possible. There would also be four sub-hunter groups which would try to clear the northern North Sea. This would be a chance to seriously damage the U boat fleet, potentially saving problems later in the war.

The Rear Admiral (Submarines) walked in and took the salute from the gathered men. “Sorry to interrupt, but I have just received orders from the Admiralty to make a change to the plan. HMS Onyx is considered too valuable to be put in such a dangerous position, and will not be taking part in this operation. Sorry, Andy, but that is an order, there is no wriggle room, as you would say.” Some of the other captains joined in commiserating with Commander Johnston, but most were in favour of the change of plans. They would now need to look at the plan afresh to see how they could disrupt the U boat force.

March 26 1940. 17:00hrs. HMS Ark Royal, west of Orkneys.

Two more days of exercises, including a night strike on Scapa Flow, had done marvels for cooperation. The admiral declared a Sunday and all the ships were standing down for make and mend. Four aircraft had been lost in accidents, though the crews of two of them were picked up by a destroyer. Rear Admiral Walls was sitting with Captain Mike Harris reviewing the exercise. This was Harris’ last meeting, he was going ashore and his Number One was taking command of the Cardiff. Despite all his protestations, his skills were needed elsewhere.

The Sea Hurricane was a huge help. The pilots from some of the other RNAS Sea Gladiator squadrons were currently on RAF stations familiarising themselves with the Hurricane, to make the transition to the new aircraft quicker, then would then need to be deck qualified, but it looked like he'd have a second Hurricane squadron ready in about a week's time. These would replace the RAF Gladiators on HMS Furious.

One part of the exercise that was worthy of more thought, and perhaps to be passed on to others was a pre-dawn raid on RAF Wick. Flying below radar coverage the combined air fleet had, according to the observers, destroyed most of the RAF squadron of Spitfires on the ground, even with the use of revetments. A couple of bombs would have destroyed the crew areas, killing many of the ground crew and pilots. The fuel and ammunition dumps would also have been hit. In other words the exercise was a complete success. Some aircraft would have been lost to ground fire, but otherwise it had gone exceedingly well. The RAF Station Chief was livid, a quantity of paint had been used to help mark where practice bombs fell, and that just cheered up the FAA men all the more.

27 March 1940. 14:00hrs. Sedan. France.

General Charles Huntziger commander of Second Army, surveyed the work being carried out from his vantage point high up in Chateaux Fort De Sedan overlooking the Meuse. Since the Prussian invasion of 1870 Sedan had played an important part in the psychology of the French Army. The surrender of Napoleon III still hurt, and so the intelligence that the Germans were once more considering an invasion through the Ardennes with Sedan as the focal point for crossing the Meuse was being taken seriously. Very little could be seen at this point in the day, much of the work was being carried out under the cover of darkness and heavily camouflaged during the day. Occasional Luftwaffe reconnaissance flights were always a worry that some sense of an increase in activity in the defences of Sedan would be discovered.

Huntziger and some of his senior staff officers had been on a tour from the Belgian border towards the Meuse to look over the ground that a possible German thrust would likely follow. Plans for the Cavalry Divisions to advance into this ground to slow such a thrust had been prepared and worked out in map exercises. Huntziger found that walking the ground was much more helpful than relying on maps, and so here he was out of uniform having reached the hill overlooking the last line of defence, the river Meuse. Copious notes had been taken about how best the Cavalry might slow down the Germans. Labour battalions had been assigned to this section and they had done a large amount to improving the defensive positions. Perhaps the most important part of this work had been sighting the artillery positions. Well-constructed bunkers protected the gunners and ammunition. The threat of aerial attack had been emphasised and so proper care of overhead protection had been looked at.

What bothered Huntziger more than anything was the inability to get the Belgian part of the plan sorted. The river Semois provided an excellent place to hold up the Germans, and the plan called for the French Cavalry Divisions to advance towards it. However any attempt to walk that ground had to be done clandestinely, as the Belgians were very aware of their neutrality. General Ley, the commander of the 2e Division de Chasseurs Ardennais, was sympathetic to the approaches that the French were making, and so a number of men of military bearing were taking early spring bicycling holidays in the area.

The other thing that bothered Huntziger was where the army boundary between his Second Army and Corap’s Ninth Army was drawn at the Ardennes Canal. Corap was complaining that his area of responsibility from Namur to Donchery was too long, inhibiting his ability to create any kind of depth to his defences with the forces at this disposal. Corap wanted Huntziger’s army to be responsible from the end of the Maginot line at Montmedy all the way to Revin. If Corap got is way, then Huntziger would have the same problem. With only five infantry divisions for about 55kms of front, the extra 40kms would leave him too spread out. He had a great deal of sympathy for Corap’s position, who had over 100kms of front with just 6 infantry and one motorised divisions. Both armies had two Light Cavalry Divisions (DLCs) and these were designated to move into Belgium as delaying forces. What High Command had agreed to was that both armies would be made up entirely of Category A Divisions, meaning that the men were already formed and currently in advanced training cycles.

While Blanchard’s First Army was in reserve to support Second and Ninth Armies, and that was a very strong force, Huntziger couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be better for four or five divisions to be removed from Fifth and Eighth armies behind the Maginot Line and given to himself and Corap, given the intelligence from the British about the direction of the German plan. In the meantime he surveyed the river and the town beyond. His commander of Engineers was reporting the progress on prepositioning landmines and demolition charges to channel and slow any German thrust. Whatever High Command decided, Huntziger was determined that Sedan would not fall as it had in 1870. Not under his watch.

28 March 1940. 15:00hrs. Entente Supreme War Council. London, England.

The meeting had been going well so far, both Reynaud and Churchill were satisfied with the progress that had been made. The French proposals for bombing the Soviet oil installations in support of the Finns had been quietly shelved, there was no way realistically that picking a fight with Stalin was a good idea at this point. The Finnish question was being resolved anyway. The British proposal to mine the Rhine was being strongly opposed by the French Minister of Defence, Daladier, so was also quietly dropped. What had been finalised was the Entente’s Expeditionary Force to Norway.

The British had 49th (West Riding) Division trained and ready for deployment, with the 52nd (Lowland) Division coming to readiness. The 1st Canadian Division was also on standby. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force plans for supporting the Norwegians were also well advanced. The French commitment would be the French 1st DLI (Light Infantry Division), two Alpine Divisions, 1st and 2nd DLCh (Light Rifle Division), the Polish Independent Podhale Rifle Brigade and a half brigade of French Foreign Legion, with a Battalion of Chars de Combat (BCC). The two Alpine Divisions were already on their way to Scotland from where they would sail to Trondheim and Narvik. The British 49th Division would sail to Stavanger and the 52nd Division would sail to Bergen. The role of these Divisions would primarily be to allow the Norwegian divisions to move south to defend Oslo. The French 1re DLI, with the BCC would go to Namsos, and would act as a mobile reserve for the Norwegian forces if the Nazis got a foothold in the south of the country. The Canadians would follow the 52nd Division to Bergen if necessary. The timings still had to be worked out, but everything was to be in place for 8 April at the latest. The logistical nightmare of supporting an expeditionary force was devolved to the planning staff of General Audet, the overall commander, and General Auchlinleck the commander of the British forces.

The agreement that neither country would make a separate peace deal with Germany was gladly approved. Much of the subsequent discussions were around the neutrality of the Belgians and Dutch. While some low level discussions had been able to go ahead, the fundamental problem of dealing with the potential German invasion in May, without Belgian and Dutch contributions was difficult. The overall plan of holding at the Escaut or Scheldt rivers, rather than the Dyle was agreed in principle, but there was an awareness that this would not be seen positively by either of the two neutral nations. However, unless they were prepared to allow the pre-positioning of Entente forces before the German invasion began, what they were hoping for was unrealistic.

Once the formal part of the meeting was over Paul Reynaud and Winston Churchill met together privately for a “getting to know one another” meal. It was the first time that Reynaud was introduced to the arrival of the Bristol Group and the reason for the confidence that the British had about the way things were likely to go in the next few months. The defects that had led to the collapse of France and the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk were talked over, and through the meetings and briefings the following day, Reynaud became a true believer in the cause of stopping the Nazis, whatever the cost.

29 March 1940. 11:00hrs. RAF Bombing Range, Pembrey, Wales.

A group of Air Ministry men with various boffins and a camera team were huddling together for warmth waiting for the Hurribombers to start their attack runs. For the last 9 weeks a group based in RAF St Athan had been trying to replicate the 2 inch rocket launcher that had been part of RFA Olna’s cargo, intended for Harriers in the South Atlantic. Most of what they needed was already existing, including 2 inch rockets, and so it was mostly a case of putting things together. However the folding fins on the rockets had been the stumbling block. A small company had been able make enough for a number of full tests of the ‘Microcell rocket pod’, and they were ready to increase production if they were effective. The sound of the Merlin raised the heads of the watchers and soon the Hurribomber came in at the five hundred foot level they had decided for the test. It would have to be lower in combat, but this was a low as they were prepared to go in case anything went wrong.

The range had had a number of wrecked vehicles and other targets set up. The pilot radioed that he was ready for his first run. There were two pods, one under each wing, each pod contained 36 rockets. The pilot’s controls had three settings. The first would fire a pair of rockets. The second would fire half the pod. The third would fire the whole pod. The ignition systems had been tested on the ground and seemed to work as specified. The pod itself was made from fibreglass and was designed to be single use.

Lining up on the targets the pilot muttered a small prayer under his breath and pressed the trigger at the first setting. A 10.75 pound rocket flew out from under each wing. The range on these rockets was between one and a half and two miles. The rocket motor fired for just over a second, the unfolded fins spun the missile to maintain trajectory. The warhead was only about 1lb and was designed for fragmentation. The two rockets worked successfully and both hit the target area.

On his second pass he used the second setting. This time 18 rockets sped away from under his wings. Three missiles were seen to have gone off course, but the rest detonated in the target area scattered over an area the size of several football pitches.

On his third pass, he used the second setting again, and the remaining rockets fired, bar one which failed to ignite. A further two rockets went haywire, but the rest hit the target.

A second Hurribomber now came to make its run, using the third setting for its two pods. The results were similar, a small percentage of rockets were seen to go off course, but the rest hit the target area covering a large area with shrapnel.

A third Hurribomber was carrying two of the new cluster bombs, these had already been tested, but this trial was to compare the two types of weapons. The cluster bombs worked as advertised and the results were similar, in that a large area was covered with shrapnel. The advantage of the cluster bomblet was that it was bigger than the warhead on the two inch rocket. The devastation in the target area was greater than that of the rockets. Production of the cluster bombs was to be increased. The advantage of firing from a distance however with the rockets was certainly worth pursuing. Work was to begin on using a larger rocket with a bigger warhead, perhaps using the existing three inch rocket, though each aircraft would have to carry fewer rockets.

The next aircraft to enter the range was one of the few Bristol Beauforts which had been manufactured with the Taurus engines. This one was carrying a 30mm Aden cannon found in the Olna’s inventory. The test flight was being used to check the vibration and range of the cannon in such a bomber. The Beaufort made several passes, and the test was considered very satisfactory. More work would need to be done however before the gun could go into production.

30 March 1940. 02:00hrs. Moscow. CCCP

The signing of the Peace Treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union was done with little formality. The negotiations had been going on for weeks, drawn out by the Soviets as they hoped to make a military breakthrough that would force the treaty to be much more on their terms. The stout Finnish defence had frustrated that, so that the agreement was a bit more in favour of the Finns than Molotov and Stalin wanted. However the bleeding of both armies was such that a peace deal was necessary.

The Finns agreed to hand over the region of Salla, and all of the territory that the Red Army occupied. The new borders would be the ceasefire line, which meant that the Mannerheim Line was lost to the Soviets, but the Interim Line, which the Finns still held meant that the city of Vilpuri remained part of Finland. Parts of the area north and east of Lake Lagoda became Soviet territory, all in all about 5% of the pre-war Finnish territory. That was enough for the Soviets to declare a great victory. They had made Leningrad safe and acquired more land. For the Finns, it was a hard pill to swallow, but the territorial integrity of the nation was mostly retained. Those parts that had been handed over to the Soviets had already been evacuated before the fighting, so very little of the population was lost. The cost in lives and treasure to the nation was appalling, but they still existed. They had fought the Russian bear to a standstill and that was a victory in itself. The ceasefire would come into effect at 11:00hrs local time. The Finnish parliament would have to ratify the treaty, but that was expected to go through with a large majority.

31 March 1940. 09:00hrs. Meeting of the Oversight Committee. London. England.

Let’s start with the army this month. We have the final production figures for February for some of the important stores for the army and preliminary figures for the first quarter of 1940. In February there were 129 tanks produced, 60 25-pdrs, 183 3.7-inch AA guns, 357 other guns including 2-pdrs, Bofors and others. 8722 rifles were produced. 1.3 million filled shells and 56.7 million rounds of small arms ammunition. The initial figures for the quarter should be 370 tanks, 174 25-pdrs, 455 AA guns, about 955 other guns. 25500 rifles, 3.7 million filled shells and 173 million small arms ammunition.

An Armoured Division needs 350 tanks, so First Armoured Division is almost fully equipped, and will be by the end of April. The rest of the tanks are in First Armoured Brigade with the BEF already in France. The breakdown of those tanks is 163 cruiser tanks, 102 infantry tanks, including the first Valentine, and 105 light tanks, which should be just about the last of those.

174 25-pdrs is enough to equip just over seven Field Regiments at 24 guns per Regiment, enough for two divisions. So hopefully the aim of having one Corps fully equipped with 25-pdrs by May should be well on track. The AA guns are enough for 19 Heavy AA Regiments, about half of which will be shipped to the BEF, the rest for defence of the nation. The numbers of Bofors for the Light AA Regiments is still too low, but that has been prioritised for the next quarter. There will be a decrease in the numbers of 2-pdr guns in the next quarter as the 6-pdr is put into production. The 250 2–pdrs produced will equip five anti-tank regiments. Enough rifles were produced to equip two and half divisions, that figure doesn’t include the numbers of reconditioned rifles coming in from stores. 7500 Bren and Vickers machine guns were manufactured, each Division’s War Establishment needs about 700, so that’s enough for 9 Divisions.

In terms of the new weapons, the Carl Gustav is now in full production. The first month’s figure is only 90, but as production ramps up that should reach about 400 per month. If anyone asks it is named in honour of General Mannerheim for his courageous defence of Finland. The Sterling sub-machine gun production is likewise gearing up, as is the bazooka. Small numbers were completed this month, but the companies involved are confident that they will be churning them out good style next month.

The aim by the beginning of May is for the BEF to have 15 fully equipped and trained divisions in France, hopefully rising to 18 by the beginning of June. Five of the six regular Divisions are already in France, and the 6th will be transferring from the Middle East. Of the first line Territorial Divisions, 44th (Home Counties) Division just sailed this morning to join 42nd, 48th, 50th, and 51st which are already there. That leaves 43rd, 53rd, 54th 55th and 56th to join in due course. 49th and 52nd are part of the Norwegian force at the moment. Three of the second line Territorial divisions (12th, 23rd and 46th Divisions) are in France acting as line of communication troops, while 9th, 15th, 18th, 38th, 45th, 47th, 59th, 60th and 66th Divisions are under construction.

So the BEF will consist of three Corps: currently I Corps (consisting of 1st, 2nd and 48th Divisions) and II Corps (3rd, 4th and 5th Division) are complete. III Corps will be 42nd and 44th and the Gurkha Division when it arrives. A fourth Corps, designated I Mechanised Corps is being formed with 1st Armoured, 50th and 51st Divisions. Its task will be to act as a mobile counter-attacking force. If all goes well in Norway then the 1st Canadian and 52nd Divisions will join the 6th Division to form IV Corps. The three Line of Communication Divisions 12th, 23rd and 46th Divisions are continuing their activities and training, with the aim of eventually becoming V Corps. With six Corps we can form two armies. That may not come into being until later on in May, depending on how things go.

After that the Dominion Divisions will start to arrive, if not needed in the Middle East. 6th and 7th Australian, with the New Zealand Division gives us the ANZACs. The 4th and 5th Indian Divisions will be available for either the Middle East or France depending on the Italians and a second Canadian Division gives us enough for another Corps. Add to that three of the First Line Territorials and we have enough for a third army. The second line territorials really won’t be ready until next spring, and at least three divisions of them will likely have to go to the Far East. We are also trying to bring back some of the regular battalions from India and replace them with some of the Territorials. If that works, then the First Line Territorial Divisions will be made stronger. General Dill has been doing that with the BEF divisions, swapping around some of the Battalions between the regular and territorial divisions to try to bring the Terriers up to scratch.

On top of the Territorial Infantry Divisions, a 2nd and 3rd Armoured Divisions are being formed, on top of the Armoured Division in the Middle East and the Cavalry Division. Of the 7 Anti-Aircraft Divisions that were formed last September two or three will end up in France. Altogether we are a long way from where we want to be, but we are certainly moving in the right direction. The “war school” for all the senior officers from Brigadiers up took place this month at Sandhurst. Let’s just say it was a steep learning curve. There are obviously some men just not suited for the role they have, and General Dill got to see that first hand. Others proved very talented, as you would expect, and so among others, Generals Brooke, Alexander and Montgomery are likely to be fact tracked from Divisional commanders to Corps commanders. The rest of the training program is being rolled out, and the levels of fitness and capability has certainly increased. War games with the French have been rubbing them up the wrong way, as it becomes clear that the French levels of preparedness is generally pretty shocking. They are getting better, but shocking nonetheless. Hopefully the report next month will be rosier. If not, and things kick off on 10 May as expected, then, well, we’ll just have to see.

The RAF now. Production of aircraft in February totalled 860, which was up from 802 the previous month. There were 91 medium bombers (down from 96), 75 light bombers (down 11), 177 single engined fighters (up 20), 31 reconnaissance aircraft (up 7), 25 for Fleet Air Arm (up 6) and 461 trainers (up 41). The preliminary figures for this month show a big increase, as expected. Provisionally that is 130 medium and 91 light bombers. 256 fighters, 37 reconnaissance, 32 naval and 535 trainers. So 1081 total. The production of some of the medium bombers such as Beauforts, Whitleys and Hampdens will be tailing off, while more Wellingtons are being made. The light bombers has seen the end of production of the Battle, Blenheims are up and we’re not far from seeing the first Beaufighters coming off the production line. The big jump in single seat fighters comes largely from Castle Bromwich, 27 Spitfires in February and 55 this month. Next month we’re hoping for between 75 and 80 Spitfires from them. The changeover from Battle production to Hurribomber is also part of that increase, next month we should see another jump in production of fighters, taking us well over the 300 per month mark.

What the raw figures don’t show is the levels of readiness, particularly in Fighter Command. The weather has been relatively poor, but the levels of training have been as high as they possibly can be. RAF Church Fenton near Leeds is the home of the Aggressor squadron. So far we don’t have much in the way of captured German aircraft, but we have some good pilots who are teaching dogfighting skills. Generally the frontline squadrons are enjoying the experience. They have been going through a fairly big change of mind-set: moving to the finger four formation, doing a lot of gunnery practice, sorting out procedures for being guided by RDF onto enemy formations. The squadrons in France have had the added pleasure of taking on the AdA. The problem as noted previously is that the Luftwaffe have combat experience in Spain and Poland, which our pilots haven’t. A lot of losses can hopefully be avoided by the changes to training and tactics that are being implemented. Thank God that we had Flight Lieutenant Robin Smith with us, and that the RAF have actually listened.

Bomber Command are also doing a lot of exercises, but the mind-set of moving from Strategic to Tactical bombing is a good deal harder for them. The various aids to navigation and more accurate bombing are being worked out, but in the meantime they are working very hard. A good part of the Hampden force is going to be helping with the Norwegian campaign in terms of mine laying. We are also expecting the Wellingtons to be available to support the Norwegians if that becomes necessary.

Let’s look at the Royal Navy now. The Norwegian campaign is going to be the focus for the next month. So Home Fleet have been gathering themselves for the efforts to come. A lot of maintenance and boiler cleaning have been going on. Generally everyone is pretty happy with the plans, but we all know what happens to plans when they come into contact with the enemy. There are still some who argue that the loss of Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Admiral Hipper at Ling Bank will mean that the Germans will change their plan significantly. However out intelligence is that everything points to the same fundamental plan, though the loss of those three ships makes their job much harder. We shall see.
The Norwegian Campaign
The Norwegian Campaign

1 April 1940. 09:00hrs. Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine, Berlin.

Generaladmiral Karl Donitz: Before we go into the meeting with the Fuhrer to discuss Weserübung, what progress has there been to discover how the English seem to know our every move?

After a general silence and staffers not making eye contact, the new chief of naval intelligence spoke. “We have had four members of our staff taken in by the Gestapo for questioning, including my predecessor. We do not know when, or if, they will be back. The cryptologists tell me that the new British Naval Code cannot be broken. The British and Allied Merchants Ships code however has not changed and we continue to read them. This gives us some insight to where the British escorts are, but we are deaf and blind otherwise.

The Luftwaffe have responded to our request for more aerial reconnaissance, but the British seem to be as successful against those aircraft as they have been against our U boats. The few times that one of the aircraft managed to return, the anchorage at Scapa Flow was empty. Not a single plane has returned from Loch Ewe or Rosyth. There have been a few garbled radio messages about rockets being fired at them, so we think the English have some kind of new anti-aircraft rocket. We knew they were working on them, but these seem effective. Maybe Goring will have something to say on that at the meeting.

Six more U boats were lost or are overdue in March, U43 and U22 to mines, U31 in port to an air raid. Gunther Prien’s U47, U2 and U49 were all trying to get close enough to the British naval bases to see if they could find out anything. None of them have returned or got off a signal, so we have no idea what the British are using. The BBC are reporting greater success against our U boats, but they are only talking about skill and effort, nothing about new weapons.

Donitz: And our own codes, could the British be reading Enigma?

Chief of the Naval General Staff, Admiral Otto Schniewind: I have had a review done by our own xB-Dienst, decryption service, and they could not imagine how anyone could break the Enigma code, at least not without a working one and the code books that accompany it. We have not lost such a machine, far as we know. So, it is highly unlikely that the British are reading our codes.

Donitz: Nevertheless, I want you to look at seeing if we can do something, just in case. With regards plans for Weserübung, I want absolute radio silence, nothing about it is to be transmitted. All orders must be given by hand, and signed for by the recipient. I want you all to make sure that we can rule out British code breaking. If they still interfere with the invasion force, the Gestapo will have more people to question.

Now, without the battleships and Admiral Hipper what changes have we made to our plans. I do not want the Fuhrer to be upset if we don’t have all contingencies accounted for.

2 April 1940. 10:00hrs. War Cabinet Room, Whitehall, London.

Commodore Alan Grose: Gentlemen in front of you is relevant data from the German Naval War Diary that Sub-Lieutenant Parker had brought back with us. The German navy have gone radio silent, though the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht are still using their enigmas. Our submarine force are moving towards their patrol areas. The four sub-hunting groups are going to sweep down the North Sea in front of them. If we can significantly damage the U boat fleet in the next couple of weeks, we will make a huge contribution to winning of this war. You’ll notice that nearly all the U boat fleet are being used, including the training fleet. Our aim is to sink at least 10 of them. That should put the fear of God into anyone setting sail in a U boat.

The Norwegians are on alert, though they are still trying to camouflage their readiness. The use of Quisling as a patsy is going well for them. One of the things we are strongly emphasising is that although in our time Weserübung was 9 April, there are already enough changes, like the sinking of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, along with the Hipper, to mean that the German plan could be very different from what we expect. We are trying to have as much air reconnaissance as possible to see if the German ships are where we expect them to be. But the Germans could go earlier or later.

The 49th (West Riding) Division have finished loading at Rosyth. They are due to sail tomorrow and put in at Stavanger during the night on April 4th. The first French convoy with the mountain troops will arrive the next day, hopefully. The French have decided to increase their contribution beyond that previously noted. They have now earmarked the Alpine troops as the 1re and 2e DLCh (Light Chasseurs Division), and a further Light Infantry Division (1re DLI) will be following. They are also bringing tanks, and other heavy equipment. The first convoys are due to land at Namsos and then others will head for Narvik.

The 52nd (Lowland) Division will be loaded and shipped to Bergen for arrival on the night of the 6th. They will act as the strategic reserve, allowing the Norwegians to bring most of their divisions into play against whatever German troops get ashore. We hope that the submarine force will be able to severely limit the amount of troops to put ashore, and if we sink enough transports, to make resupply extremely difficult. If worst comes to worst, the 1st Canadian Division will be transported to Narvik.

The Carrier task force, which will be heavily escorted, will aim to work with the Royal Norwegian Air Force to attack the German Transport aircraft. The three carriers are currently in Scapa Flow for fuelling and maintenance, they have been busy the last few days having flown off three RAF squadrons of Hurricanes to be based in Sola, near Stavanger. The other good news from the Norwegians is that they have managed to get all 19 of their Curtis P36 Hawks combat ready. The pilots from a Gladiator squadron are now training on them. If we can knock down a lot of Ju52s it will be a significant blow. Hopefully, if their paratroopers are mauled, it will affect their planning for the attacks on the Low Countries.

All in all we are quietly confident that Norway can hold. Problems will arise from the Luftwaffe once they are based in Denmark. The next 36 P36s for Norway are due for delivery in May, which will help, and hopefully let us bring our Hurricanes back home. If Norway does hold, we can bring the 52nd Division back home in due course to be available for France. The 49th Division will stay on until further notice.

The 15th Infantry Brigade are currently at sea and will land on the Faroes and Iceland when Denmark is attacked. King Christian has been a little less helpful than King Haakon, but we expect that he will ask us to “protect” Iceland and the Faroes once the Germans move. There is a threat though, in the shape of the Auxiliary Cruiser Atlantis which is somewhere near Iceland. HMS Barham is out of her refit and will join the Faroe/Iceland task force to give them heavy support. If we can get the Atlantis before it gets to the South Atlantic, so much the better, though it is secondary to the mission. Any questions?

3 April 1940. 15:00hrs. North Sea.

The Short Sunderland flying boat, N9046 had taken off from Invergordon in Scotland, and made its way over the North Sea heading towards a merchant convoy which it was to escort. Having made contact with the ships the pilot Flight Lieutenant Frank Phillips and his crew split their attention between scanning the skies for enemy aircraft, and for enemy submarines in the sea.

The eleven man crew settled down to a prospect of a long protection patrol. As the flying boat searched the sea away from the convoy one of the gunners shouted out that he could see two Junkers 88 flying low over the sea coming from the direction of the Norwegian coast. The German bombers and the flying boat circled each other warily. One of the German pilots obviously wished he was a fighter pilot as he suddenly came at the front of the flying boat with its two forward firing guns blazing. As the Junker came into the range of the Sunderland, the British gunners opened up with a brief burst from the machine guns that could be brought to bear. The German was taken by surprise at the sheer level of tracers that were heading towards it and swiftly turned away.

Four Junkers more slipped past the Sunderland and tried to bomb the convoy. The few anti-aircraft on the convoy attempted to fight them off. The convoy and its escort knew that they were in for a battle as their position was now known. It was only a matter of minutes when six more Ju88 appeared. Two of these headed towards the flying boat. Flt Lt Phillips reacted with the normal procedure for dealing with an attack. He took the flying boat down to sea level which would protect the vulnerable underbelly of the aircraft.

Both German bombers followed the flying boat down, once more attacking with all their weapons that could be brought to bear. The Sunderland gunners responded with controlled bursts as trained, well mostly. The two Germans felt that discretion was the better part of valour decided to pull out of the battle. The other four remaining Junkers decided to attack from astern. In the rear end Charlie position Cpl William Lillie in the rear turret kept a cool head and held his fire until one of the attackers were only 100 yards away, then he opened fire with the four .303 machine guns. The Ju-88 caught the full blast and burst into flames, plunging straight into the sea.

Switching his sights to the second bomber, Lillie fired a quick burst into its port engine. The German aircraft swerved away, smoke pouring from the stricken engine. Meanwhile the upper gunner called out a warning to the pilot to break left as he had seen two other Junkers attempt to bomb the flying boat. Flt Lt Phillips corkscrewed the enormous aircraft up into the sky and watched bombs harmlessly go by. The Germans decided to give the big British aircraft the respect it deserved and pulled out of any further combat. The flying boat had been severely damaged in the attacks and some of the crew were slightly injured. Flt Lt Phillips struggled the next two hours to maintain height with the damaged aircraft before landing safely at Invergordon.

4 April 1940. 21:00hrs. Stavanger. Norway.

The small British convoy arrived in Bokna Fjord and had dropped anchor off Ulsnes. Two British destroyers HMS Punjabi and Icarus, with three sloops (HMS Black Swan, Flamingo and Bittern) had shepherded six merchant men, which carried the 49th (West Riding) Division and their equipment. The anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Carlisle was also present to add its ability to defend the troops ashore. This light cruiser had a type 280 Radar as part of her equipment and it was felt that his would be crucial in the up-coming campaign. The Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Æger came out to meet the British ships, its commander Capitan Niels Larsen Bruun had brought a pilot to guide the British merchant ships into the harbour where the dockworkers were ready to unload them. The appropriate signals were exchanged between the warships and soon the first two ships were tied up alongside the jetty.

The men of 146th Infantry Brigade had been assigned to Sola airfield to make it as secure as possible. The Royal Artillery’s 82nd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 55th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, and 228 Field Company Royal Engineers were also assigned to that airfield. These units were the first off the troopships. Their equipment had been carried over the North Sea on specially chartered ships, whose loading and unloading had been carefully planned to make sure the men and material would be mated as quickly as possible. The Norwegian 8th Infantry Regiment, whose role was the defence of Stavanger and Sola had been notified that the reinforcements were due to arrive. Major-General Einar Liljedahl, who commanded the Norwegian 3rd Division, met his counter-part General Mackesay (OC 49th Division) and Brigadier Charles Philips (OC 146th Brigade) who had arrived on HMS Punjabi. The Norwegians already had guides ready to take the British units to their assigned positions.

The men of the 147th and 148th Infantry Brigades would follow off the ships and be used to support the Norwegian forces at the main ports around the south coast. Egersund, Kristiansand (and it airport at Kjevik), Lillesand and Arendal would each receive a reinforced Battalion. Since each Brigade were fully equipped they had their Royal Artillery Field Regiments and Royal Engineer Field Companies along with them. In addition to the 49th Division, the rest of the elements of the 6th Anti-Aircraft Brigade (56th Light Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment and 51st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment) were also transported to Stavanger and would be used to supplement the very limited Norwegian AAA forces. The plan remained to have each of the Norwegian Army Company assigned to these towns as the first line of defence, but to have the British units as a mobile reserve and counter-attacking force should the Germans get a foothold.

24th (Guards) Brigade had already sailed and were expected in Bergen in the early hours of the morning. From there they would be carried by train and become an extra support to the Norwegian Royal Guards Battalion. King George VI had offered King Haakon these men as part of his personal interest in supporting the freedom of the Norwegian people. The 1st Battalion Scots Guards were assigned to Kjeller Airport and 1st Battalion Irish Guards to Fornebu Airport where they would add to the Norwegian defenders. The 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers were unassigned but would remain in Oslo as a mobile reserve.

5 April 1940. 15:00hrs. Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine, Berlin.

There was confusion about the reports that were coming out of Norway. The German diplomats were reporting that a British invasion had taken place as British soldiers had been reported in various places and that British aircraft were present at least one aerodrome. There was no official word on anything untoward from Norwegian or British radio stations. The German supporting leader of the Nasjonal Samling party, Vidkun Quisling, was currently in Copenhagen giving the Germans the Norwegian defence plans and defence protocols. The few German spy rings in Norway wouldn’t be able to report for a day or two because of the way they passed on their information.

Despite Quisling’s assurances, it looked as if the Norwegians were mobilising their forces. Some units from their 6th Division in the far north of the country had been seen in Oslo, and from what could be gathered from reconnaissance flights and other means the Norwegian navy seemed to be on increased alert. For the planners of Operation Weserübung all of this complicated matters. However there was very little leeway for doing anything about it. The entire naval element of the plan used almost every resource at hand. There was very little that they could add, but all the troops for the operation would have to be informed that they were now more likely to be resisted than had been previously guessed. For the Wehrmacht that came as no great shock.

In his Headquarters in Hotel Esplanade in Hamburg, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst saw the same reports as the navy and spoke to his subordinates. All of the units taking part in the invasion of Norway were unbloodied, with the exception of the 3rd Mountain Division which had had limited exposure during the Polish campaign. The necessity for the assault troops to act with resolve and élan in the face of Norwegian opposition had to be communicated. There were some who believed that the Norwegian people would welcome their Aryan brothers with open arms. However this could not be counted upon, and so the troops had to be ready to fight hard and fast. The intelligence reports about the training and equipment of the Norwegian Army had also led to a growing confidence that they could be easily overcome. If British troops were in Norway, that could well cause greater difficulties.

For Generalleutnant Hans Geisler, commanding the Luftwaffe’s X Fliegerkorps, the information was also troubling but not too disturbing. He had more than enough aircraft to knock the Norwegians out of the sky. The Gloster Gladiators and some other British and American hand-me-downs were not going to threaten the power of the Luftwaffe. He decided not to pass on the information to Major Walther, commander of the 1st Parachute Regiment whose men were to be the first on the ground at the airfields. There was nothing much to be gained from the knowledge, they expected to have to make a fight for it. Nothing in the new information changed that.

6 April 1940. 09:00hrs. The North Sea.

Minerva Hunting Group.

HMS Minerva was again accompanied by two H class destroyers, Hero and Havoc, and two Grimsby class sloops, Leith and Aberdeen. Having worked together a number of times they were responsible for clearing the waters around the north of Scotland. It was thought that at least two, possibly 3 U boats were working the Pentland Firth area. In the early hours of the morning a Norwegian steamer, the Navarra, had been torpedoed west of Stromness. At first light a 201 Squadron Coastal Command Saro London flying boat from Sullom Voe had spotted the wreckage and life boats.

With a good starting position for the search, Minerva’s Lynx and the flying boat were chasing down possible locations for the U boat. The seas were rough and so the ships were working at reduced speeds. At 11am the sonar operator on HMS Minerva got a probable contact and the Lynx was directed to the area. After a short search with its dipping sonar the contact was positively identified as a submarine and the Lynx launched two Mark 46 torpedoes. The second destroyed the submarine. U59 was the first victim of the Norwegian Campaign.

Avenger Hunting Group.

The hunting group was made up the Type 21 and four E class destroyers, one of which, HMS Escapade, had been outfitted with an early Hedgehog. They were supported by Hudsons flying from RAF Leuchars. They were working to clear the North Sea between Peterhead and Stavanger. The four destroyers were in a line actively pinging away on their ASDICs. The Avenger was following them closely, its advanced sonar was able to pinpoint more accurately the returns. A contact was picked up and two of the destroyers were directed on to it, working together and using depth charges, U10 was forced to the surface, where some of the crew abandoned her before she sank to the depths.

5th Destroyer flotilla Hunting Group.

Made up of HMS Kashmir, Kelvin, and Kimberley, and supported by Ansons from RAF Dyce were searching for U boats to the south of Egersund. Following a report of a surfaced U boat from an Anson the three destroyers closed in it and attempted to destroy it with depth charges. U5, one of the early type IIA U boats succumbed to the attack.

U50 hit a mine north of Terschelling Island bringing German losses that day to four.

Admiral Forbes (C-in-C Home Fleet) in battleship HMS Rodney with the other battleships HMS Valiant and Warspite, the battlecruisers HMS Renown and Repulse, light cruisers HMS Sheffield and Penelope, accompanied by HMS Bristol departed Scapa Flow at 20:15hrs on 6th April. They were joined by the French destroyer Emile Bertin, the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Eskimo, Bedouin, Jupiter, Codrington, Griffin, Brazen, Escapade and Electra. The carrier task force of Ark Royal, Furious, and Hermes, with HMS Cardiff and Andromeda, accompanied by the cruisers, HMS Berwick and York, and light cruiser HMS Glasgow, destroyers HMS Afridi, Gurkha, Sikh, Mohawk, Zulu, Delight, Ashanti, Foxhound and Cossack, sailed at 22:30hrs on 6th April.

7 April 1940. 03:00hrs. Schillig Roads. North Sea.

The German naval forces for the Narvik and Trondheim occupations had put to sea from Wesermunde at the mouth of the River Weser and Cuxhaven. The group bound for Narvik was composed of destroyers Georg Thiele, which was the flagship of Commodore Bonte, Hans Ludeman, Hermann Kunne, Anton Schmidt, Diether Von Roeder, Wolfgang Zenker, Bern Von Arnim, Erich Koellner, Richard Beitzen and Erich Giese. Each destroyer carried 200 troops of the 139th Gebirgsjager Regiment (troops from 3rd Mountain Division).

The Trondheim Group was composed of heavy cruiser Blücher (replacing the lost Admiral Hipper) and destroyers Paul Jacobi, Theodor Riedel, Bruno Heinemann and Friedrich Eckholdt. These carried troops of the 138th Gebirgsjager Regiment. The Narvik Group and the Trondheim Group rendezvoused in Schillig Roads and proceeded north in company.

HMS Kimberley was torpedoed at first light. Struck twice, the ship sunk after a short time, survivors were picked up by HMS Kelvin, while HMS Kashmir attacked the submarine, without result.


A number of German steamers, Alster, Main, Barenfels, with the tanker Kattegat, had put into Kopervik on 6 April awaiting pilots. Norwegian Navy Destroyers Odin and Gyller, along with a number of sloops arrived and demanded to board the German ships to check for contraband. When the German ships refused, the Norwegians attempted to board the Alster. After an hour’s stand-off, the Norwegian boarding party was resisted by German soldiers, contrary to their standing orders. Machine gun fire was taken by both destroyers, which returned fire. They then proceeded to capture all four ships. The steamer Sao Paulo which was in Kristiansand was similarly boarded. The German soldiers and equipment that were found on board were paraded before members of the international press who had been brought from Oslo. The cover story was that they were bound for Iceland was undermined by the documents that were captured giving their orders for capturing Trondheim.

Submarines Thistle, Triad, Trident, Triton, Truant, Triumph, Seal, Porpoise, Sealion, Seawolf, Shark, Snapper, Sterlet, Sunfish, Sturgeon, Unity, Ursula, Spearfish, Swordfish, Clyde, Severn, Narwhal, the French Sybille, Amazone, Antiope, and Polish Orzel, were now in their patrol areas. Their orders were that from 12:00hrs on 7 April they were free to fire on any suspicious vessels.

Battle of Eigersunds Bank.

With the knowledge of when the German forces for northern Norway were due to depart and generally where they might be found, the British fleet commanded by Admiral Forbes had approached the area off the southwest coast of Norway. Guided by the search radars the British fleet approached the German ships in poor visibility in the early afternoon. The German radar noted that they were being approached by multiple vessels, but what kind and exactly how many was not known. With so many soldiers aboard each ship the admiral on board Blücher wanted to avoid the British fleet. Changing course to enter Norwegian waters, and if necessary make for Kristiansand, the German ships increased speed, despite the worsening weather.

Expecting such an eventuality, the battlecruiser Repulse, with the cruisers Sheffield, Penelope, Berwick and York, destroyers Eskimo, Punjabi, Bedouin, Jupiter, Codrington, Griffin, Brazen, Escapade and Electra, Sikh, Mohawk and Zulu, under the jamming protection of HMS Bristol approached from within Norwegian waters near Lindesnes lighthouse. Caught now between two superior forces, the German admiral was in a state of indecision for too long, radioing back to Germany for instructions. HMS Repulse opened fire at 12000 yards, then HMS Rodney, Valiant, Renown, and Warspite joined the battle within minutes. Very quickly the battle descended into a massacre. Seeing the swift destruction of the Blücher and eight destroyers, the remaining six, despite trying to run under a smoke screen, and all having received some damage, conscious of the troops they were carrying, struck their colours, and were taken as prizes.


The Norwegian Government announced that due to German infringements of its neutrality, and in view of their planned invasion, Norway is now in a state of war with Germany and formally asked Britain and France for support. The call for a general mobilisation was broadcast over the radio, confirming what had already been done surreptitiously.

8 April 1940. 10:00hrs. Berlin. Germany.

Hitler’s response to the Norwegian declaration of war was to order the Luftwaffe bombers to flatten the Norwegian capital. This would be an example of terror bombing which he hoped would change the minds of the Norwegian government, or at least bully them into submission. The announcement that the harbour defences of Oslo were the target was subsequently met with disbelief in neutral countries everywhere. The air raid on Oslo was mostly unchallenged. Norway had no radar coverage and the bombers managed to evade the Combat Air Patrol. One Heinkel 111 was brought down, but the damage had been done. A Norwegian Gladiator was shot down by a Me110, the pilot was killed.

Because Oslo’s buildings were largely of wooden construction, it meant that the damage to property was significant, as was the loss of life. The bombing and subsequent fires destroyed a large part of the historic city centre, killing nearly 600 people and making 55,000 others homeless.

The Luftwaffe were caught off guard with the changes imposed by the Fuhrer. The order to bomb Oslo had to take priority over the transport of the paratroopers. The paratroopers would have been happy to go early, but the planners feared that they would be left too long before the sea borne forces can relieve them. So the original timetable was adhered to, even though any possibility of surprise was now completely lost.

Attempts by Admiral Dönitz to persuade Hitler to call back the invasion forces, since surprise had been lost, fell on deaf ears. Hitler reiterated that all ships were to sail, even ahead of schedule, and if necessary, fight their way through.

The British, French and Polish submarines now entered into their game of life and death. The tanker Rio De Janeiro was sunk by the Polish submarine Orzel off Lillesand. HMS Trident sank the tanker Posidonia near Starven. HMS Triton and Sunfish lying in wait for the Oslo group off the Skaw, missed the Lutzow, but sank the torpedo boat Kondor. The steamer Kreta was severely damaged on the approach to Kristiansand by the French submarine Sybille. However HMS Unity was sunk by a German submarine chaser accompanying the Kristiansand group.

8 April 1940. 22:00hrs. Copenhagen. Denmark.

The German naval group that entered Copenhagen found themselves in running gunfights with Danish soldiers. However the overwhelming force of the Germans, and superior training, soon showed itself. The Danish forces were conscious of the civilian population all around them. Copenhagen fell within four hours. The king was taken prisoner after most of the palace guard had been killed defending the palace. A recorded message from King Christian had been broadcast as soon as German forces had crossed the border. All Danish ships were ordered to make their way to Britain and to work there until Denmark could be freed. A number of Danish ships had been loaded with various treasures, not least the Danish gold deposits, and certain important people and they had been ordered to sail early on 6 April.

The Germans tried to force King Christian to broadcast a recall and to order a general surrender. The King delayed as long as he could, but by noon on the 9th, with severe threats against the civilian population the King ordered the country to surrender.

On the border, the Jutland Division had set up a number of ambushes that caused some delays and significant casualties to the invading troops. Their 20mm canons were more than a match for the armoured cars that the German reconnaissance troops were equipped with. The Danes fell back in good order where possible, or surrendered only when they had no alternative.

The defenders of the airfield at Aalborg did manage to cause significant losses among the first paratroopers, and then withdrew having laid demolition charges that destroyed the infrastructure and cratered the runway. It would take the Luftwaffe almost two weeks to get it operational.

All units on the mainland had been ordered to fall back on the northern port of Hirtshals, even in the case of a general capitulation, where transports were prepared to take them into exile.

The German force that entered the port of Esbjerg was met with heavy fire from the shore and two gun boats. The landings were ultimately successful, but again at a higher cost that had been hoped.

8 April 1940. 17:00hrs. The North Sea.

The Royal Navy’s Home Fleet was at sea, and were in a strong position to savage the German fleet once and for all. Having ended the German attempt to occupy the north of Norway, the next German group the British wanted to intercept were bound for Bergen. One group of ships led by HMS Repulse, with HMS Bristol and the some cruisers and destroyers had split off from the main force as they had another target in mind.

The German force to secure Bergen consisted of the light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, with the training ship Bremse which had rendezvoused off Heligoland with torpedo boats Wolf, Leopard and the 1st S-Boat Flotilla including its parent ship Karl Peters. There were joined by S.19, S.21, S.22 and S.24 which departed Cuxhaven. These units were carrying two battalions of the 69th Infantry Division for the occupation of Bergen.

The British battleship division sailed to meet the Bergen bound group. Visibility was only about three miles and the Köln group had the advantage of speed. The torpedo boats Wolf and Leopard made an attack on the closest British destroyers, Escapade and Electra, to cover the movement of the rest of the German force. Both torpedo boats were sunk, but they took HMS Electra with them.

For the first time the German U boats were able to play a part in the operation. Four U boats were on station off Bergen. U60 and U62 were able to get off a spread of torpedoes towards the British battleships causing them to take evasive measures, which gave the German ships some time which they used to their advantage. HMS Valiant was hit by two torpedoes, but was able to withdraw towards Rosyth under her own steam. HMS Delight was not so fortunate, she had inadvertently got in the way of two torpedoes aimed at HMS Warspite and quickly floundered with heavy loss of life. U60 and U62 had doomed themselves as there were immediately engaged by HMS Andromeda’s Lynx helicopter and four Swordfish from HMS Hermes.

The Karl Peters was struck by a torpedo fired from one of the British destroyers as it tried to hold off the British, but the rest of the German naval forces were able to force their way into Bergen. The Norwegian garrison however was at full alert and the men of the 69th Infantry Division were soon is a desperate fight. The German ships fired indiscriminately on the town causing civilian deaths. The fact that the 52nd (Lowland) Division had arrived in Bergen the day before and were also in the area meant that that German soldiers were vastly outnumbered.

HMS Sheffield and Penelope, French destroyer Emile Bertin, with the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Eskimo, Bedouin, Jupiter, Codrington, Griffin decided to fight their way into Bergen.

HMS Penelope and Jupiter concentrated on Königsberg which was in the middle of the Byfjord. Königsberg had transferred the soldiers on board to some of the S-boats, but had taken three hits forward from the 21cm guns of the coastal battery at the Kvarven Fort. The hits caused severe flooding and fires in her boiler rooms that cut the ship's power. Adrift, and unable to maneuver, Königsberg had to drop anchor and so its crew were at a disadvantage. Penelope’s 6-inch guns soon laid into the stricken German ship, which without power found it difficult to bring its guns to bear on the manoeuvring British cruiser. HMS Jupiter lined up for a torpedo run and put three 21-inch torpedoes into the German cruiser’s side. She immediately began to roll over and her surviving crew threw themselves into the icy water.

The Bremse had also been hit by two shells from the Norwegian coastal battery, a spread of torpedoes from HMS Griffon doomed her. Meanwhile the rest of the British destroyers, HMS Eskimo, Bedouin and Codrington were in a knife fight with the S boat flotilla. A melee of torpedo attacks and evasive action filled the area until the last of the S boats were destroyed. Both HMS Eskimo and Codrington were struggling to stay afloat having been torpedoed.

The German cruiser Köln was tied up alongside the quays deploying the soldiers she had carried and trying to support them with her gunfire. So when the allied ships sailed into the battle, Köln was unable to move. HMS Sheffield, supported by the French destroyer Emile Bertin engaged the Köln at point blank range. HMS Sheffield took substantial damage, but sank the German ship at its moorings. The French destroyer was torpedoed by an S boat and had to beach itself.

The surviving German infantry seeing that they were cut off and facing heavy opposition eventually surrendered. However the town of Bergen was severely damaged by the ferocity of the fighting.

9 April 1940. 04:00hrs. South of Norway.

HMS Repulse, with HMS Bristol and some cruisers and destroyers were attempting to stop the German forces sailing to Kristiansand. There was thick fog which hindered visibility, but Bristol’s radar was sufficient for coordination.

On their way to Kristiansand they passed a group of four minesweepers carrying bicycle troops to Egersund. HMS Bristol herself engaged them with her 4.5 inch gun. M.1 and M.2 were destroyed without realising where the fire was coming from in the fog. The other two, M.9 and M.13 were making full speed and manoeuvring for all they were worth heading for the Norwegian coast. But the radar controlled gun was merciless, and both were hit, M.9 three times and M.13 twice. Dead in the water and ablaze, the crew and soldiers from both ships abandoned ship.

Nearer Kristiansand the fog cleared. The German ships, light cruiser Karlsruhe, torpedo boats Luchs, Seeadler, Grief the 2nd S-Boat Flotilla (S.7, S.8, S.17, S.30, S.31, S.32 and S.33) with their parent ship Tsingtau were carrying one battalion of the 310th Infantry Regiment. The German plan was to try to use deception to enter the harbour, sending a message in Norwegian code that they were French ships coming to reinforce them. The Norwegian naval forces in the harbour, as well as the harbour defences were well prepared, but the German force that tried to enter had been badly mauled already.

HMS Repulse, Berwick and York had outranged the Karlsruhe and had destroyed her. The torpedo and S boats had tried to make a concerted torpedo attack on the British ships but were engaged by the guns of the British destroyers. HMS Brazen, was hit by two torpedoes and had to be scuttled. Racing away from the Royal Navy ships brought them into the path of the Norwegians. Kristiansand’s harbour defences finished off the Luchs, the last surviving torpedo boat.

The clearing of the weather brought a different danger for the Repulse group, now quite far into the Skagerrak. One of the RAF Hurricane squadrons at Sola Airfield was meant to provide air-cover, but all the British and Norwegian aircraft were engaged with the Luftwaffe to prevent the capture of the airfield by paratroopers. A formation of Ju88s from the 30th bomber wing was being tracked by Bristol’s air search radar. Guided onto the British ships by the desperate radio messages from the Kristiansand Group the Ju88s were fast approaching. Making best speed for the North Sea, HMS Bristol’s Sea Dart was brought into use. Bristol was carrying the full forty rounds of Sea Darts, and had to use 12 of them in quick succession. 9 Ju88s were destroyed, but three managed somehow to escape. One quick thinking observer had managed to take a photograph of the British ships, and the Germans were confronted with a grainy, out of focus photograph of a type of vessel, and a capability, they had no idea about.

The air battle over the Repulse group was part of a far larger battle. The Luftwaffe were delivering large number of parachutists to various airfield. Their escorts were primarily Me110s, Me109s being too short ranged without the use of the damaged Danish airfields. The P36 Hawks, Hurricanes and Sea Hurricanes attempted to strip the Ju52s of their fighter cover. This would allow the Norwegian Gladiators and Defiants to attack the transports. The airfield at Sola, near Stavanger was successfully defended, largely with the help of the radar available on HMS Carlisle. The Ju52s were seriously impacted, losing half their number. The Fallschirmjäger fought as hard as they could, but the Norwegian defenders, with British back up, were too well prepared. It took almost two days fighting before the last German was captured, but they were finally overcome.

In Oslo things were more difficult. Most of the transports were able to drop their loads before they were intercepted. The Ju52 squadrons took significant losses on their way home which would impact on the rate of resupply and reinforcement. The German paratroopers were able to shut the airfields completely. The Norwegian ground forces were under great pressure and found that their static positions were vulnerable to the Fallschirmjäger’s superior tactics and mobility. If it hadn’t been for the presence of the Scots and Irish Guards the airfields would likely have been captured. Numbers however began to count, and the difficulty of resupplying the Germans meant that the Germans were soon running out of ammunition. It was 12 April before the airfields were fully operational, but because they was in range of German bombers, they were rarely used initially.

The Kristiansand air drop was a complete disaster, a Defiant squadron managed to intercept the Ju52s on their way to the landing zone, so that only three sticks of paratroopers were able to be dropped correctly, the defenders soon rounded these men up and took them into captivity.

The Norwegian air force defenders were reinforced by a large part of the Danish Air Force. While its planes were mostly obsolete, their pilots were well trained. This would become important in the days ahead.

The Oslo bound group of German attackers would have to run the gauntlet of submarines and fixed defences of the Oslo Fjord. The heavy cruiser Lützow, light cruiser Emden, three torpedo boats and eight minesweepers with 2,000 troops were subject to three torpedo attacks, which had only managed to sink one of the torpedo boats, Kondor. Once they entered the restricted waters of the fjord, Norwegian A2 and A3 managed to sink two of the minesweepers. German minesweepers R.20 and R.24 landed troops at Rauoy, and R.22 and R.23 at Bolaerne. However, when R.17 and R.21 attempted to landed troops at Horten, the Norwegian minelayer Olav Trygvasson and minesweeper Rauma sank R.17 and damaged torpedo boat Albatross and motor minesweeper R.21. Norwegian patrol boat Pol III, in a suicidal manner, attacked the German ships but was soon destroyed by Lützow’s heavy guns.

The fortifications at Drobak and Kaholm opened fire with their eight and eleven inch guns and two torpedoes from the Kaholm fortification sunk the Emden and damaged the Lützow, which withdrew in the face of Norwegian fire. This put it back in the path of the submarines which had reloaded their tubes. Its luck continued and it managed to evade all of them, though more of the minesweepers were less fortunate.

With the failure to land troops in any numbers, coupled with the losses among the paratroopers, Admiral Donitz at the Kriegsmarine HQ cancelled the sailings of the follow on forces. There weren’t enough surface vessels to escort them and there was no way that they could be put ashore against an active Norwegian defence. The Lützow was ordered back to Copenhagen. Its luck finally ran out thanks to the RAF. A flight of Wellingtons had been loaded with magnetic mines which were dropped in the Great Belt area of Denmark to hinder follow up forces sailing from the Baltic ports. The heavy cruiser sailed over one of these mines which, when it exploded, blew off its bow. It was towed backwards into Kiel.

Admiral Donitz’s meeting with Adolf Hitler to inform him of the situation was best described as difficult, and Donitz joined Raeder on the retired list. The Kriegsmarine would find it difficult to ever have the ear of the Fuhrer again.

Unfortunately in the days following things didn’t improve for the German navy. As the main British surface fleet withdrew, the two sub hunting groups based around HMS Avenger and Minerva redoubled their efforts, partly because the carrier group were remaining closer to the Norwegian coast supporting the Norwegian air force. HMS Andromeda also joined in the hunt. U57 was the first to be lost. As HMS Valiant was limping home the flying boats from Sullom Voe escorting her spotted a periscope and two escorting destroyers were directed onto it, and with the new style depth charges U57 was lost with all hands.

As the carrier force closed on Stavanger four submarines were pursued actively. Two of the two of the older, smaller submarines U4 and U6 were sunk. U17 was pursued and ran aground. U52 was the first submarine which found its demise through the use of the new ASV equipped Swordfish from HMS Furious. Having had its periscope spotted by the radar, another Swordfish carrying depth charges attacked and managed to sink it.

10 April 1940. 09:00hrs. Torshavn, Faroe Islands.

HMS Suffolk, along with two destroyers, HMS Kipling and HMS Juno were escorting the ships carrying the British infantry to the Faroes. On arrival at Torshavn harbour the Danish Prefect of the Islands Carl Hilbert, and Kristian Djurhuus, president of the Faroese parliament, met with the captain of the Suffolk, along with Colonel Sandall, who would act as military commander of the occupation forces. An emergency meeting of the parliament debated the letter from King Christian asking the Faroese to accept the British forces as protectors, until Denmark was once again free. There was a move by some in the parliament to declare independence, though this was defeated. A battalion of the Green Howards was put ashore along with Royal Engineers. They would spend most of the summer building an airfield at Vagar.

Sailing on from the Faroes the task force was joined by HMS Barham and her escorting destroyers. There was no chance of catching the German raider Atlantis which was already making her way south. The Icelandic parliament listened to King Christian’s letter asking them to accept British troops until liberation. There was a strong debate, one side for joining Britain as an ally, the other for maintaining the neutrality. The fact that the Germans hadn’t respected Danish or Norwegian neutrality was noted, and the decision was made, with a small majority, to accept British protection, but Icelanders would not become belligerents, unless they volunteered for Free Danish forces. When the British task force arrived in Reykjavík it was welcomed. The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the York and Lancaster Regiment’s battalions took up positions to repulse any attempted invasion. While such an invasion was highly unlikely, the soldiers busied themselves improving Icelandic infrastructure.

11 April 1940. 11:00hrs. Loch Ewe. Scotland.

HMS Argus, the training carrier, was attempting a side by side refuelling for the first time from the side of RFA Olna. A number of changes to the carrier had had to be made to make the attempt possible, and an extraordinary amount of safety training had been delivered. If they could make this happen it would be a step towards allowing the frontline carriers to have the ability to have future Replenishment At Sea capability. A number of people from the shipbuilding companies that were building the new carriers were present to see what was required so that the adaptations could be integrated as quickly as possible.

Also present in Loch Ewe was RFA Cedardale (A380), a Dale-class fleet tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. It had been given the equipment to enable side by side refuelling. The crew of RFA Olna were supervising the men they had trained and were happy at the progress that had been made. Once HMS Argus had practised the manoeuvres alongside RFA Olna, they would then go through the same procedures with RFA Cedardale. Having spent the morning working at making the links while stationary to get both crews accustomed to the process, in the afternoon they began to work at joining up while underway. By the end of the day the exercises were judged to have been successful and while work would continue, plans were made to make the changes necessary to all the RFA oilers.

12 April 1940. 10:00hrs. RCAF Station Hamilton. Canada.

The Harvard pilot felt the beads of sweat form on his brow. He began to feel the turbulence that came from the Whitley bomber that he was approaching from behind and below. His Harvard had been modified with a probe at the end of each wing. The Whitley was trailing a hose with a drogue at the end of it. The idea was simple enough, and the crews were all very experienced pilots, but this encounter in the air went against every safety lesson they had ever learned.

Speaking constantly to the operator in what had been the Whitley’s rear gunner position the pilot of the Harvard was able to attach to the drogue at the third attempt. This was a dry run, no fuel was transferred, but they would attempt the whole thing again the next day. Alan Cobham, listening to the radio chatter on the ground, was delighted with the progress that had been made so far. His earlier system of a looped hose system was nowhere as efficient as this new probe and drogue system. He looked forward to seeing how to develop it. The probes on the end of the wings was chosen to keep the hose as far from the propeller as possible. Though the system caused weight issues, it was the only place they could safely put it.

13 April 1940. 15:00hrs. RAF St Athan, Wales.

The Infra-Red seeker for the AIM 9L Sidewinder lay on the table having been examined by the collection of boffins brought down from Oxford University. Alongside it was set of night vision goggles which had to be prised from the hands of one of the Lynx pilots who had “acquired” it before sailing south. The boffins had been “brainstorming” (a word they had quickly adopted) the various things that could come out of research into this area. They had been told that the Germans were working on a system already to use on tanks. The ability to have some kind of night fighting capability was very high on the agenda of modern ideas that the army wanted. If the boffins could create something workable the army would be delighted. John Logie Baird had been brought on board, as his experience with the “Noctovisor” gave them a starting place. So a prototype system was being tested in a darkened portion of the hut. A small searchlight had been adapted to project infrared waves, and a receptor using cathode ray tube was able to clearly see a man walking in the dark. It was a successful test, and held out great hope for the army.

14 April 1940. 17:00hrs. BEF Headquarters. Arras, France.

General Alan Brooke: “Wavell won’t be happy with losing 6th Division from the Middle East, but with the Canadians and the 52nd Lowland coming direct from Norway that gives us another regular Corps, which will be designated IV Corps. Add that to the Mechanised Corps of 1st Armoured Division, 50th and 51st Divisions, we are beginning to see the foundation of a second British army. First Army will be made up of the three corps already here, so by 10 May we should be in a strong position, numbers wise. That presumes that the Germans won’t come earlier than predicted, and that is a big presumption.

The 12th, 23rd and 46th Divisions are working up well, and should be able to be formed as a Corps, rather than Lines of Communications troops, sometime in May, they will be V Corps. The Gurkha division will be arriving shortly at Liverpool, and should be ready to be deployed later in May. They and two of the territorial divisions at home which should be fighting fit by then, will be called VI Corps when they arrive. So we should have a 7 Corps army by late May. 2nd Armoured Division won’t be ready and equipped until later in the summer. The artillery situation is improving, but still too weak for my liking. There seems to be a lot of old Great War guns appearing. There just aren’t enough 25 pounders for everyone. But at least the ammunition stocks are very healthy.

The French are still a long way from being ready, but they are improving. Air Vice Marshall Evill tells me that the recent exercises have gone much better, the Armee de l’Air are starting to look as if they might have some fight in them. I’ve been meeting with General Gamelin and we have been talking about communications. I think we are getting somewhere about the use of radios, so we should be able to keep in touch, though there are still serious weaknesses within the French command system. Their infantry divisions have been doing some training in mobile warfare, and their mechanised brigades are working at coordination with artillery and air support.

With the Dyle plan shelved Gamelin is looking at how to make best use of the mobile forces at his disposal. Giraud’s 7th Army is now no longer tasked with heading for Breda, which is a relief. At the moment the plan is for it to be held at St Quentin as a central reserve. That puts us basically as the left flank. So we’ve made it clear to the Belgians that we won’t be advancing any further than the River Escaut or Schelde (as some people call it). Hopefully that will give them somewhere to fall back to. I Corps will go furthest north to link with the Belgians south of Ghent. II Corps will have the central section and III Corps will have the southern section, tied into Blanchard’s First Army. I Mechanised Corps will be our mobile Reserve. IV and V Corps will be our strategic reserve when they are in place.

Huntzinger’s Second Army and Corap’s Ninth Army are the two French armies on which the main sickle cut will fall, if the German’s don’t change their plan. They are taking the danger of an Ardennes thrust seriously and making good progress on defences at Sedan. When the balloon goes up, the four Light Cavalry Divisions will advance to support the Belgian Chasseurs Ardennais. Hopefully that will throw another spanner in the German works. The longer the delay in the Ardennes the less likely they can beat us.

Our own air force is starting to look like it is making progress. There is now a whole wing of Spitfires defending the airfields and main supply dumps. Though I hear the RAF command at home are pretty upset. The Hurricanes are all now upgraded and the pilots are confident of their new tactics. We also have a flight of the new Blenheim night fighters, which will rise to a squadron over the next couple of weeks. The bombers for tactical bombing are some squadrons of Blenheims and Wellingtons. The Combat Air Support, as Leigh-Mallory calls it, is made up to Hurribombers, and these “Forward Air Controllers” are settling in alongside the artillery fire support teams.

15 April 1940. RAF Mildenhall, Headquarters of 3 Bomber Group.

AVM John Baldwin, AOC 3 Group: “Well Gentlemen, all these night exercises are paying off I think. Last night’s attack against the targets were very successful, except for 99 Squadron who had an equipment failure. We will have another shot tonight, and then we will be ready for the operational call, which I am expecting at the end of the month. Let’s look at these new things.

The radio direction device, OBOE, seemed to work well. The pathfinders were able to follow the line and got the signal to drop the marker flares right on target, the bombers following were able to put a coverage of bombs on target. The after report says 50% fell within 1000 yards.

The formation for dropping the bombs means that we were able to carpet the area very well, and that should destroy the majority of the target in one go. Now, the mix of bombs. Each 12 aircraft will carry between them four large blast bombs, twenty four of the bundles of mines to hamper recovery, and the rest will have normal 500lb bombs. The boffins say that if that lot falls on target, it won’t recover for a while, and that is what we need.

So, let’s see how the exercise goes tonight, and then we will be another step towards being ready for the real thing.

16 April 1940. 14:00hrs. North Sea. West of Stavanger.

The three Royal Navy aircraft carriers were once again on station having withdrawn to Sullom Voe for refuelling. A replacement squadron of Sea Hurricanes had been flown on to replace losses, and the Skuas were primarily being used for fleet defence, while the Hurricanes protected the Norwegian forces and cities. HMS Andromeda was acting as goal keeper with her Sea Wolf system, otherwise all the other vessels were from the 1940 fleet.

A German Ar 196 floatplane managed to get off a sighting of the carrier fleet while attempting to hide amongst the clouds to avoid the Skuas which were trying to bring it down. The Luftwaffe were still smarting from their losses, and the chance to get a shot at the British carriers was very tempting. The force that set off from Luftwaffe bases consisted of two squadrons of He111s, one of Ju88s and two of Me11os acting as escorts. Flying over Denmark they approached the fleet from the south. The Skuas that were acting as the Combat Air Patrol were vectored onto the oncoming bombers, but were bounced by the escorting Me110s. Each of the three carriers launched off the ready aircraft and made best speed northwards. The two anti-aircraft cruisers and some of the destroyers put themselves between the carriers and the bombers. HMS Andromeda cleared for action and the Sea Wolf operator was ready to be the last line of defence.

The Sea Hurricanes who were responding to an air raid on Kristiansand were recalled, but would not arrive in time. The bravery of the Skua pilots in attacking the superior force was unquestionable, but the quality of their aircraft for this mission was less than they deserved. 16 Skuas attacked the Germans, all but two were lost, but only managed to shoot down two Me110s and one He111, though they damaged a number of others and disrupted to Heinkel’s attacks.

As the German aircraft broke through the defending fighters the Navy’s anti-aircraft artillery opened up on them. Despite the improvements made over the last few months, the AA still wasn’t strong enough to do much more than put off attacks, only two aircraft were shot down and a few more were damaged. The Ju88s made a diving attack on the carriers, and now the Sea Wolf was put to good use, The Andromeda had a single launcher with six missiles and each of these were fired, accounting for five Ju88s which were aiming for HMS Ark Royal. The others however pressed their attack and managed to score hits on HMS Hermes which stopped it dead, with serious fires. The Heinkels dropped their loads, but they were sufficiently broken up to not add any further hits, though a great deal of twisting and turning was needed by the Royal Navy ships and a few took a soaking from near misses.

The Sea Hurricanes arrived on scene as the remaining German aircraft were turning for home, adding another three He111s and two Me110s to the losses. On HMS Hermes however things were not looking good. While damage control was doing their best, they were hampered by the loss of power, making the fire-fighting pumps useless. Captain Hutton ordered the crew to abandon ship, two destroyers coming as close as they could to help fight the fire and take off the crew. Once the crew was off, one of the destroyers finished off the Hermes with torpedoes.

17 April 1940. 12:00hrs. Oversight Committee, Whitehall. London. England.

So to sum up, the Norwegian campaign cost the Germans 11 U boats, which brings their losses since January to 27, which is about half their fleet. Since the war began their surface fleet has lost the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Admiral Hipper, Graf Spee, Blücher, Koln, Konigsberg, Emden, Karlsruhe. We aren’t sure what will happen with the Lützow. In addition over the last couple of weeks they have lost 16 destroyers, and lots of smaller torpedo and S boats. The Bismark, Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Prince Eugen, Leipzig, Nurnberg, are what they have left. We have no idea if they will continue with the Graf Zepplin and the other carriers. If Adolf is true to form then he will be less than keen on all things naval. Our own losses were pretty light considering, though the loss of HMS Hermes is a bit of a blow. So Britannia rules the waves!

They have taken losses in terms of their army. A parachute regiment is pretty much finished. Third Mountain Division is gutted. Two other infantry divisions have taken losses. But four divisions that should be in Norway are now available for France. The air battles are still going on. We think that about 150 Ju52s have been shot down along with about forty bombers believed to have been brought down. The canon armed Hurricanes are certainly proving their worth. The Me110s are faring badly against single-engined fighters, and we believe about twenty-five have been destroyed.

We’ve lost 8 Sea Hurricanes, 20 Hurricanes, 10 Skuas and 8 Swordfish. Numbers of pilots lost isn’t as high, though it is bad enough. The Norwegian air force have been pretty badly mauled. They only have about 6 P36s left, the Gladiators and Defiants are almost used up. The Danish pilots who have arrived will be a big help. We’ve been pleading with the Americans to speed up delivery of the next lot of fighters. Dowding is adamant that we can’t afford to send anything else to Norway as well as France. Production figures for Spitfires is still increasing, Castle Bromwich managed 62 in March.

The Hurribombers are coming along fine. One factory is now concentrating on Sea Hurricanes, and we could probably transfer some of these to Norway after we’ve made up our losses. We’ve suggested that the Danes come here to be trained on them before they’re thrown into the fight. Obviously the more damage we can do to the Luftwaffe now, the better. We can’t spare a modern radar, but we have tried to pry a couple of army sets loose to send to them. We’re looking at making a Wellington into an Airborne Early Warning aircraft, but that is still in the early stages.

Now looking to future in France. The First Armoured Division are taking delivery Matilda IIs as fast as Vulcan can produce them, which unfortunately isn’t fast enough. We have worked with Vickers on the A9, so there enough of them for the Queen’s Bays to have them. There are also enough A10s for the Kings Dragoon Guards, the 9th Kings Royal Lancers are still using Vickers mark VI fortunately they are for reconnaissance, so 2nd Armoured Brigade is complete. The first Valentines have been arriving, they aren’t brilliant, but some of the basic problems like track links and so on have been looked at. 3rd Armoured (Heavy) Brigade is made up of 2 and 3RTR which have the Matilda IIs and 5RTR will have the Valentines. The First Support Group’s two rifle battalions, with integral anti-tank and anti-aircraft forces are all at the best strength we can make them. So First Armoured will be shipped to France starting on the 18th, and should be fully deployed on the 30th April. All extra tanks will be shipped to the 1st Armoured Brigade in France. They’ve been working with the 51st and 50th Divisions to create what is being called 1st Mechanised Corps. It isn’t much against so many panzer divisions, but it is the absolute best we have been able to do in the time frame.

The BEF is as well trained as we can hope for. Leigh-Mallory is doing a good job on close air support. We have been working with the French on their tank tactics. Some of the new anti-tank weapons have arrived in theatre, but still too slowly. The fighter controllers tell us that the system is now working quite well. When the Germans come, we should do better than we are supposed to do, and hopefully we’ll do enough. So with the failure of Norway, do you think Hitler will come early?
18 - 30 April 1940.
18 April 1940. 15:00hrs. No. 212 (Photographic Reconnaissance) Squadron, near Meaux. France.

The Spitfire taxied to a halt and the ground crew rushed over. Two of them opened up the camera unit and loaded it onto a car and it was rushed to the photographic hut for development. The other ground crew helped the pilot out of the cramped cockpit. He had been in the air for over three hours. The plane had proved itself capable of avoiding trouble, its speed being its greatest assest. A dedicated controller at the radar control at Laon had kept an eye on it, warning the pilot if any other aircraft had looked as if it were on an intercept course. Once the pilot was out of the plane it was towed to a camouflaged revetment.

In the photographic hut, the technicians got to work developing the film. In due course a number of copies went to various places. A Lysander carried a set to Arras to the BEF HQ intelligence office. Another Lysander took a set of copies back to London. A motorcycle rider took yet another set to the intelligence department of the French headquarters.

These had been the first set of photographs for three days, due to low cloud cover. This set would be a good chance to see what changes were taking place in the dispositions of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe.

19 April 1940. 08:00hrs. Near Lille, France.

Sergeant Banks hefted his new Sterling submachine gun and once again the magazine caught on his equipment. He was pretty happy with it as a weapon, he’d had pretty good training on it, and he could see the value of such a weapon in close quarter fighting. However, he really missed the heft of his SMLE, and wondered if having a different weapon would draw attention to the one who carried it. The Jocks of second platoon, “C” company of the 1st Battalion, The King's Own Scottish Borderers, of the 9th Brigade, of the Third Division, of II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force were about as well trained and prepared as they could possibly be, their commanding General, Bernard Montgomery was well known for this.

The Sterling was an example of new things that were appearing, not so much in terms of equipment, the Sterling was the only thing, but in terms of training. The Battalion were just finished a series of exercises with a tank unit, looking at how to face tank attacks. There was a greater flexibility now in holding positions, rather than lines. The Hedgehog of mutually supporting positions; the number of times in the exercise that not only artillery, but also air support was made available; reminded Banks of what the army had been doing at the end of the Great War, rather than the digging of trenches that might otherwise have occupied them over the winter. He wondered if someone had been looking at the German attack on Poland and were trying to learn some lessons. Whatever it was, it felt good, morale was high, and the promise of substantial reinforcements to the BEF over the next few weeks was comforting. Now, if he could figure out how to carry this Sterling without it catching everything all the time…

20 April 1940. 09:00hrs. HQ, Third Division, II Corps, BEF. Phalmenpin, France.

Major General Bernard Montgomery was looking at the map with the new positions that he and his Division would move to in the event of a German attack. At least it wasn’t as far as the river Dyle, which had been the previous plan, this time it was only as far the Escaut, or Schelde, as it was called locally in Flanders. Third Division would be holding the river line from the south of the railway through the town of Oudenaarde or Audenarde, to the canal that runs to Kortryk. Thankfully there weren’t many bridges in this sector, though the three that were would have to be blown. Otherwise it looked like the kind of place that could be held pretty well.

To his north in Oudenaarde would be I Corps’ Second Division. He made a mental note to have a word with Henry Loyd about tying up the divisional boundaries. To his south would be Dudley Johnson’s Fourth Division. He would need to have a word with him too. He looked at the wider picture on the map. Belgium would be once again be mostly in German hands following this plan. At least the Dyle would have given more of Belgium a chance to not be occupied. Also, there wasn’t a lot of room to fall back either, if they had to abandon the Escaut, the only thing behind them was the channel at Dunkirk. He made a note to talk to the transport officer about roads and lines of communication.

21 April 1940. 10:00hrs. Abbeville. France.

Lance corporal Duncan MacDonald, Support Company, 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, put down the Boys anti-tank rifle. The target was burning fiercely and his team were patting him on the back. This was the first time he had fired the new rifle grenade. The range was nothing like the normal rifle round, but it certainly had a bigger punch. The idea was that the Boys would normally be able to deal the armour of the Panzer I and II. But against the bigger Panzer IIIs and IVs, as well as the Czech made Panzer 38, it would need something more powerful. So an outsized rifle grenade with a bigger ‘shaped charge’ warhead had been issue. It was designed to be used in the same way as the normal rifle grenades that went with the SMLE, but it was much bigger and packed a greater punch, though at a much closer range than McDonald really wanted to be to those tanks. That was the only live round they’d been given. A blank practice round, the same size and weight was given so that the whole section could learn to aim it accurately.

Then Private Iain McGregor stepped up to range. He had been chosen to try the new M79 grenade launcher. With a variety of HEAT, smoke and anti-personnel rounds, the first one hundred of these had been delivered and given to the 50th and 51st Divisions. The shotgun manufacturer had subcontracted to various competitors and was now producing fifty a week. The target was set about 400 yards distant, and McGregor was an experienced shooter, and so his first round was bang on target and the smoke round worked as advertised.

General Fortune of the 51st Division and General Q Martel of the 50th Division had been watching the demonstration and were discussing the way in which their role as a “mechanised” force was playing out. Both Divisions were fully motorised, and over the last month they had been exercising in mobile warfare. Martel had been involved in the planning for the battle of Cambrai in the Great War and had studied armoured warfare intently. There were other changes in their Divisions. Their support companies had all been assigned more universal carriers, making the mortar and heavy machine gun as mobile as they could be. Their Royal Artillery field regiments were all re-equipped with the 25 pounder gun, towed by Morris Quads.

What pleased the generals most was the improved type and number of radios. During the exercises the ability to use the radio was highly advantageous. The 51st Highlanders had been using Gaelic speakers to make most of the transmissions which had flummoxed the opposing side, who were listening in. A few Scots were overhead to remark that the Tyneside accent was just as inscrutable, and any German trying to decipher that would in for a hard job. Another addition to the battalion command posts was a French liaison officer, who would hopefully make intercommunication between the allies much easier.

General Roger Evans, GOC of 1st Armoured had flown over the previous day with his staff to complete the transfer of his Division to France. Fortune and Martel were on their way to see him and talk over the need for an effective use of his tanks, and how their infantry would support them. 1st Armoured Division Support Group’s anti-tank regiment would be the first equipped with the new Carl Gustav recoilless rifles, mounted on adapted universal carriers. These would provide a significant punch.

However before that meeting could take place Major General Roger Evans, who was absorbed in a conversation with his chief of staff, didn’t see the staff car reversing. It crashed into him, breaking his leg. As he was carried off to the hospital, a signal was sent to London requesting the urgent reassignment of Major General Percy Hobart from the inactive list, to take command of 1st Armoured Division.

22 April 1940. 17:00hrs. 10 Downing St. London. England.

Memo to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
From Chief of Secret Intelligence Service.

Sir, Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, has been executed by the Gestapo for “treason”. In addition three senior figures in the Kriegsmarine intelligence section have also been hung. We have strong suspicions that the head of both the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht intelligence groups have also been arrested, though we don’t know if they have been executed. We believe that the Gestapo have used this “spy hunt” as an excuse to bring all intelligence work under their control, the phrase “politically suspect” has been used for the other intelligence services.

We cannot know what difference this will make in the long term to the strength and ability of the German intelligence services, though it should be in a state of upheaval in the short term. The Gestapo are known for their brutish behaviour rather than their skill, and we hope that their mind-set of protecting the regime will spread to the professional intelligence types, making their work less threatening to us. However we do have to concede that this is speculation and hope rather than anything concrete, only time will tell.

We are continuing to send messages to “our agents” and are concentrating now on creating suspicion that we have spies in the Wehrmacht. We know that they know that we have the Aufmarschanweisung N°2. Unfortunately we don’t have a fly on the wall of the planning meetings to see if they will keep to the plan we expect, or whether the failure in Norway and the spy hunt will make them want to change it to something else again.

The Germans have not changed their use of enigma and we are making great progress in the speed of our decryption. We know already from the Luftwaffe that preparations for operations are well underway, and our best guess is that the attack will happen before May 10, possibly as early as May 1. We suggest that all forces should be on imminent alert from April 28th.

23 April 1940. Oslo. Norway.

General Ruge: The last German holdouts on Rauoy surrendered yesterday, so there are now no living German forces left on Norwegian soil. The chance of another invasion happening is judged “unlikely”, though the bombing of our cities and facilities is causing great distress and dislocation. The Air Force is seriously depleted, but the imminent arrival of the shipment of new fighter planes from America, along with the Sea Hurricanes from Britain will mean that we will be able to get our fighter squadrons back up to full strength.

The satellite airfields and the use of camouflage and protected revetments has meant that our losses on the ground are now very small. The RAF have played an enormous part in our survival, and they have taken heavy losses, as has the Fleet Air Arm. With help from the Royal Navy and the British army we are now attempting to get a limited RDF capability, so at least we will be able to meet air raids more effectively, without the need for standing Combat Air Patrols.

The Luftwaffe has lost significant numbers of aircraft and aircrew. Our best judgement is that they have lost about 35 Me110s, 75 bombers, 45 reconnaissance types, and 180 Ju52s. There has been a definite lowering of numbers of attacks, and numbers of aircraft taking part. The change is that the captured airfields in Denmark are now operational and we are starting to see Me109s and even some Ju87s attacking us. The chances are that this will become a battle of attrition.

The question we need to answer is how best to hit back. Our own bomber force is non-existent. The RAF might want to base bombers here, but their own bomber force is quite weak. They have been talking about staging raids, so flying from England, refuelling here, then flying on to bomb targets in Germany, and repeating the refuelling here before flying home. To enable that we will have to expand our airfields’ runways and fuel storage.

The British have withdrawn their 52nd Division, though the 49th Division are going to stay. Their engineers have been most helpful with the airfield construction. Our own six divisions are now able to stand down to a lower level of readiness. We have sent a delegation to America to try to buy tanks, artillery and small arms, as well as aircraft to re-equip our army. We would have bought British, but all their production is going into their own army, which is understandable.

We also have the best part of a Danish Division who have passed through Sweden. They are keen to continue the fight. The British have suggested that they might garrison the Faroes and Iceland, allowing the British troops be redeployed, and that is being seriously considered. Though there are many of the Danes who want to carry the fight to the Germans, and so want to volunteer for the British army if they can. Likewise, I’m told there are many Poles who want to fight with the British, the RAF already have two squadrons worth of pilots made up of Czechs and Poles. They might be stationed here in Norway, though from what I can tell, the need in France is considered to be a priority.

23rd April 1940. 11:00hrs. Stockholm, Sweden.

The Norwegian ambassador was brought in to Per Hansson’s office and asked if he would take some refreshment. The ambassador was happy to drink a cup of tea with the Swedish Prime Minister, anxious to discover the purpose of this meeting.

Hansson brought the conversation around to the situation regarding the bombing of Oslo and the failed German invasion. The Norwegian Ambassador was able to give an update on the current, somewhat perilous situation regarding the air war and the civilian casualties. Hansson nodded in sympathy. “Between the Soviet’s invasion of Finland, and the German attempt to invade your country, we find ourselves somewhat surrounded. We have a large, but underequipped army, an air force which is extremely limited. Our navy is the exception, it guards our Baltic coast well. With the occupation of Denmark and the Skagerrak a war zone, we are unable to export goods directly into the North Sea.

The German’s buy large quantities of iron ore from us, but during the winter it will be difficult to ship to them over a potentially frozen Baltic. We have been informed, understandably, by your government that we cannot continue to export our ore through Narvik to the Germans. We worry about our import of oil, rubber, coal, food and other essentials. Therefore we are caught in a quandary. If we stop trading with Germany, we may find ourselves subject to an invasion, and that would threaten you too. If we continue trading with Germany, we may find ourselves threatened by the British. We wish to maintain our neutrality, though that didn’t go well for you or the Danes. We do not wish to be occupied either by the Germans or the British.

So, I wonder if you might ask your government, and through it, your allies, whether we might be able to trade through the North Sea at Narvik and other Norwegian ports. In return we would wish to have an assurance that if the Germans or the Soviets attack us, then we will be in receipt of the kind of support that your government received from the British and French. We would further wish the aid of the British and French to support our desire to buy American weapons and aircraft to strengthen our neutrality. We would also like to know if the German order for iron ore and other minerals was no longer being shipped there, would there be another buyer?

I would appreciate that these questions might be considered swiftly and confidentially. As a sign of good faith, any of your aircraft that are in any kind of trouble and land at our airfields will not be interned, but refuelled and returned to you, at your earliest convenience.

The Norwegian ambassador finished his cup of tea and made his way to consult with his government.

24 April 1940. 15:00hrs. Headquarters of the Armée de L’Air.

Commander in Chief: So, in the recent exercises our squadrons have done better, but why is it that the British sortie rate is much higher than ours?

Air-Operations Chief: The RAF were quite complimentary about our showing in this last set of exercises. But you are right to highlight our deficiency in available aircraft, it has improved by more than fifty percent, since last month, but the level of maintenance is still very poor in some squadrons. A number of base commanders have been relieved of command, and their replacements warned to improve matters significantly.

(New) Supply and Maintenance Chief: There is a total of 210 squadrons technically available. Of these, twenty-one fighter, forty-four bomber, six reconnaissance, and eleven reserve observation squadrons are fully organized but are in the process of reequipping or are working up to full readiness. We currently have 128 actually operational. For the fighters, 8 squadrons have the Curtis 75A, with 80% availability. 18 squadrons of MS 406, with a 75% availability. 18 squadrons of Bloch MB 152s. Their readiness is only 60% as six of those squadrons have just been reequipped, we expect readiness to rise to 80% in the next two weeks. The ten Dewoitine 520 squadrons will not be completely ready for another two weeks, only two are currently active. The other fighter squadrons are mostly flying obsolete aircraft and they are not in the expected combat area, their pilots will be used as replacements.

Regarding bombers, we still have 8 squadrons of Amiot 143Ms. There are only 4 squadrons of the Farman 222; 18 squadrons of LeO 451s; 4 squadrons of Amiot 354s and ten of Breguet 693s. 16 squadrons are reequipping with American Martin 167Fs and Douglas DB7Fs. We have been working very hard on availability and now are generally at an average of 55%, up from the 25% starting point.

Our reconnaissance Bloch 174s have been working with the British Spitfires and we have been getting good reconnaissance photography. This was at a cost of having to retire eight senior officers who did not seem to think this was important. The observation squadrons are mostly equipped with Potez 63.11, which are bit like the British Lysanders, not really the best plane for the job. We generally are keeping them out of the conflict area, again keeping their pilots as replacements.

Air-Operations Chief: You asked for 1000 fighters, we are just short of that. However all pilots have been flying almost nonstop and are well prepared. Our bombers have been working hard at tactical bombing and are well on their way to being proficient. We have worked well with the British early warning system, and we are confident that we can intercept enemy aircraft in a timely fashion. The Breguet 693 squadrons have been working with the British “Close Air Support” system, and there are now AdA liaisons with most army units to integrate air support to army manoeuvres. The lack of radios have hampered this, but we recently have had a delivery of new radio sets which have been issued to these “Forward Air Controllers” and they seem to work well.

Commander in Chief: Good. I want maximum alertness from the 28th of April. The British are going to start taking the fight to the Germans, and we must be prepared for the air war to begin in earnest soon.

25 April 1940. 09:00hrs. Dieppe, France

The First Canadian Division was sorting itself out as it came off the ferries. The sergeants were chivvying up their men. The officers were getting their orders and sorting out where each company and platoon were to go. It looked like confusion reigned, but very quickly order came from chaos and the troops departed to their rally points. A similar event was happening at Marseille as the 6th Division arrived from Egypt and got on trains to take them north. The 52nd Division were already in the Corps area around Bethune having arrived directly from Norway.

26 April 1940. 09:00hrs. Marseille. France.

Fast Convoys to Port Said from India and further afield had brought the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions, the Gurkha Division, and the second wave of Australians and New Zealanders over the past month. Due to the nature of the ANZAC forces, which were still in need of urgent training and equipping with modern weaponry, they remained in Egypt and Palestine. The Fifth Indian Division, which was a regular Indian Army unit, likewise remained in Egypt, replacing the 6th Division which had shipped across the Mediterranean to Marseille and onwards towards Rennes.

The need for increasing the capacity of the BEF in France were seen as crucial and so the Gurkha Division, instead of being shipped to Liverpool as planned, along with the 4th Indian Divisions were unloaded in Marseille and were immediately put on trains to take the 4th Indian Division to the main British base marshalling yard at Rennes. The 4th Indian Division would be the professional nucleus of VI Corps. It would be joined later in May by the 38th (Welsh) Infantry Division and the 1st London Division, though to save confusion it would be renamed the 56th (London) Division. These would act in the first instance as Line of Communication troops. The 4th Indian Division would be considered part of the GHQ reserve in case things went very badly.

The Gurkhas were entrained to take them directly to join III Corps’ 42nd and 44th Divisions, so that the Corps would be three divisions strong. The Gurkhas were a light infantry division, with little in the way of integrated artillery and other resources. General Dill, who had served in India, was so delighted to have them that he made some GHQ units available to them, bringing them up to strength.

General Sir John Dill, Commander of the BEF meanwhile was in London, at a meeting with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Ironside, who was outlining the new command structure with the reinforced BEF. The three Corps of the BEF that were under Dill’s control would now be known as First Army. The plan to move to hold the Escaut line was reiterated. Not knowing if the Germans would change their plan from what the Bristol Group men knew meant that holding the majority of the infantry in place was sensible. Dill would be designated commander of First Army, made up of I, II and III Corps.

A Second British Army would be constituted eventually with First Mechanised Corps (1st Armoured, 50th & 51st Div), IV Corps (1st Canadians, 6th & 52nd Div) and V Corps (12th, 23rd and 46th Div). Ironside was keen that General Alan Brooke should command this, but there was some question about seniority. Dill, who had come to rely on Brooke, was also keen that this should happen. Obviously it would have to go to Churchill, but no one doubted that it should be acceptable to the Prime Minister. With Brooke leaving command of II Corps, on his suggestion, General Bernard Montgomery would take over II Corps and he would be replaced in turn by General Kenneth Anderson who would take command of 3rd Division.

If Brooke got the job, then he would need to sort out his Corps commanders, but their suggestions would be that the Corps commander for 1st Mechanised would be Q Martel, with 50th Division being taken over by Brigadier Ramsden. IV Corps could be either the Canadian Andrew McNaughton or Richard O’Connor from 6th Division, who was felt to have a bit more “get up and go”. V Corps, which was still some way off being fully prepared might do well under Harold Alexander, if he would be prepared to give up 1st Division.

Dill was also given the good news that tank production totals meant that 1st Armoured was now fully equipped and that First Army Tank Brigade would have an increase in Matilda IIs from the current 23 to 48. The Matilda Is of 7RTR would be replaced by these. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was better. He was also promised some Valentines and A13 cruisers when they were available.

All they could hope for now was that the Germans would delay as long as possible to allow British and French strength to grow.

27 April 1940. 10:00hrs. RAF Bombing Range, Pembrey, Wales.

A Royal Navy Unrotated Projectile mounting had been fixed on the site. Some men from Pye had been doing some final tinkering with the warheads on the rockets. Navy ratings took the rockets down to the mounting and loaded it. Instead of the aerial mines that the rocket usually carried, these had been modified to take the prototype proximity fuse and a simple flare warhead to see where it fired. A Fairey Battle was called by radio to pass through the test area at 1000 feet. The first rocket was fired in the direction of the Battle, but failed to detonate. On the second pass a second rocket also failed to explode. However on the next three passes the flares were successfully lit close enough to the Battle, for the observer/radio operator to be disciplined for cursing over an open microphone. Of the ten test firings, four were successful. Having done this at low tide a number of very unhappy navy ratings were sent out over the sands to collect the unexploded rockets. There was enough data for the Pye engineers to go back and improve the prototype.

April 28 1940. 11:00hrs. B for Baker, Blenheim IV light bomber, 139 Squadron. France.

Pilot officer James Wilson was muttering curses under his breath as the boffin in the navigators position kept calling out course changes. “Left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit” wasn’t normal RAF language. The boffin was crouched over an oscillograph which was tuned into 2.5 to 2.3 meters (120 to 130 MHz), the frequency used by the German Freya system.

Wilson was flying at 1000ft along the Franco-German border, in easy range of a radar installation over the border. A number of Blenheims had been adapted to carry the equipment that would be able to guide the bomber to the Freya installation. The plan was that once over the target a flight of four Blenheims would drop the new cluster bombs hopefully destroying the radar system. This was the last flight with the boffin, who was making final calibrations. Wilson’s normal navigator/bomb aimer had been undergoing training on the equipment and once it was finely tuned they would be practising night attacks. The real thing wouldn’t be long after that.

29 April 1940. French First Army Group HQ. Clermont. France.

Meeting of General Billotte, commander First Army Group with the commanders of First, Second, Seventh and Ninth Armies.

Billotte: So you still aren’t convinced about De Gaulle’s theory about armoured warfare?

Giraud (7e Army): The man is a martinet. I remember him being hard headed at the École de Geurre and I see no reason to change that view. Anyway, if the English are to be believed we won’t have time to do any more than we already have. I have grouped the First and Sixteenth Corps units, so we have one of the most potent forces on the battlefield. The 1er DLM, with two motorised infantry divisions are a match for pretty much anything on the battlefield, especially since you have added the 1er DCR. As you requested we have swapped around Cuirassier and Dragoon regiments with Third army so that my tanks are nearly all S0mua S35s, with some AMR 35s in the reconnaissance units and Char-B1s in heavy groups. The Char-B1s have been trained to concentrate on using their howitzer, especially with the improved APHE shells. The commanders have been training to fight the tank, only using the 47mm gun as a last resort.

The exercises with the British were good for morale, I think our tanks are better, though we still lack enough radios. Again we have swapped around tanks with various units behind the Maginot line, and so we probably have the best available. We have scoured the land to find enough vehicles that can be used as tank transporters, which should help mobility.

As to our use, keeping us at Saint-Quentin allow us to swing north to reinforce at the Gembloux gap if the Boche come that way, or to counter any breakthrough from the Ardennes. I believe that you are using the British 1st Mechanised Corps in a similar fashion at Cambrai. I have been talking to Percy Hobart, and he is as pig headed as De Gaulle, though I like Martel, I think I can work with him.

Billotte: So tell me what you have being doing to prepare for an armoured thrust through the Ardennes?

Huntziger (2e Army): We have been quietly reinforcing and preparing defences. We have been keeping movement to night-time and using as much camouflage as we can to make it look like we are still weak. The AdA have been playing cat and mouse with the German reconnaissance planes, so that they shouldn’t be too aware that we are particularly prepared in this area. The artillery have been particularly active preparing positions and working out fire plans. We have put some of our best units in the line at Sedan, and have swapped out some of the army reserve units with other, stronger, units from the Maginot sector.

Our defence begins at the river Semois over the border in Belgium. General Ley, the commander of the 2e Division de Chasseurs Ardennais, has been most helpful. They plan to ambush any German attack and keep pulling back. They have agreed that in the event of a German invasion then the Second Light Cavalry Division will advance to take up pre-prepared positions at Bouillon. The Fifth DLC will advance from Douzy further into Belgium, to support the Belgians at Neufchateaux. These can then fight and delay any German advance.

Corap (9e Army): Likewise. We have begged, borrowed and stolen every anti-tank gun we can find and so have been able to create a real defence in depth.
Huntziger: My First and Fourth DLCs will likewise advance, the First to Saint-Hubert, the Fourth to Chiney. These will back up the First Belgian Division de Chasseurs Ardennais, and then gradually fall back towards Dinant and Monthermie. We have a liaison from the AdA in each of our Headquarters and the air plan for bombing the roads in Belgium are well advanced. If we have control of the air, then I cannot see any reason for the Germans to be able to breakthrough our positions, except after a long hard fight. If the Germans come through the Ardennes they will regret it.

Blanchard (1re Army): And if the Boche do break through at any point my Army will be lying in wait for them. Like General Giraud, we have swapped char battalions around so that most of my force are using a minimum number of char types, which makes the logistics easier. Once we are committed to the fight, I believe that we will be able to mount a very effective counter-punch.

29 April 1940. 10:00hrs. Reichskanzlei, Berlin. Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in attendance.

Hitler had summoned the OKW to his office in Berlin to sort out, once and for all, the next move of the German armed forces. Since the disaster at Norway, and the subsequent purges, there had been complete mayhem in the upper echelons of the Nazi Regime. Himmler had used the Gestapo’s investigation into possible spies to bring the Abwehr under his control. The Kriegsmarine was now headed by Admiral Alfred Saalwächter, whose work in the invasion of Denmark was the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable experience. Goring had his eye on taking the navy under his wing, as Himmler had the Abwehr. At this point both were biding their time.

Walther von Brauchitsch, commander-in-chief of the army, was talking quietly to Halder, the Chief of Staff. Both of them had had very uncomfortable “informal chats” with senior Gestapo figures, and the knowledge that a whole plan for the invasion of France and the Low Countries had conveniently fallen into the hands of the Belgians earlier in the year had thrown a pall of suspicion over them.

Called to attention, the members of the OKW rose as the Fuhrer entered the room. He seemed to be in a better mood than he had been over the last few weeks. Striding to the map table that had been laid out before the meeting, he addressed the gathering.

“Himmler has given me his personal pledge that any and all traitors have been dealt with and that there is no way that the British or French, or anyone else for that matter, can possibly know our plans.” He paused and looked directly at Himmler. Himmler, somewhat paled by the way it was put, nodded.

“Goring has assured me that the aerial battles over southern Norway are going well, and that the rest of his command are ready and able to meet any new challenge.” Goring gave a broad smile, clicked his heels and bowed.

“Von Brauchitsch has given his report that the Wehrmacht preparations for Case Yellow are now in a state of near readiness. The one small advantage of the Norwegian catastrophe is that some extra infantry divisions and their supplies are available for use elsewhere.”

“We have reports that the British and French are rapidly reinforcing in France, and that the readiness level in both the Dutch and Belgian forces have been increased. I believe therefore that we can suffer no more delays. I believe in our panzer troops, and in the genius of our plan. I accept the changes proposed by Jodl in the light of the failure of the airborne elements in Norway and Denmark. With all that in mind, I want X-Day to be one week from today, 6 May, to begin before first light.

I expect that we will have a hard fight, but our destiny is clear. This shall be like 1870 again, and I look forward to sight-seeing in Paris. Now get to it, and no excuses.”

General Keitel coughed politely to gain the Fuhrer’s attention. To the question, “what is it, general?” he replied that while he shared the Fuhrer’s confidence in the army, there was still a very big risk in the plan. Therefore, he opposed the invasions and understood that this might be a cause for his resignation, which he was happy to give. The Fuhrer dismissed the rest of those attending the meeting, to have a personal conversation with the head of the OKW.

30 April 1940. 18:00hrs. Oversight Committee. Whitehall. London, England.

Commodore Alan Grose: Well gentlemen, we have to assume that Adolf is going to go a bit earlier than he did the last time. We expect that the plan will still be as we suspect Case Yellow. I believe that the French are much better prepared, though there are some doubts about the Belgians and Dutch. They just won’t let us move forward until the Germans actually go.

Regarding the Dutch. The warnings that they were receiving through their military attaché in Berlin from the Abwehr have ceased, we think that Hans Oster may have been caught up in the Gestapo net. They do seem to believe us, but are still hoping that the Germans might only attack Belgium through the Limburg province and leave the rest of the country alone. They feel the loss of Maastricht for the rest of the country is as good a deal as they are likely to get.

A flotilla of motor gun boats are ready to go to their aid in the various estuaries. We have three destroyers ready with Royal Marines to support them, or to disable their harbours and blow up oil tanks if necessary. The offer to evacuate the Royal Family and their gold and diamond reserves has been made. We also have offered asylum to many of their people and especially the Jewish community. The Philips electronics company have plans to get most of their people, and families out. Shell and some other companies likewise are making plans to flee if the country cannot hold. In all reality we cannot offer too much more in the way of help. The Fleet Air Arm have offered their Sea Hurricanes and Fulmers to defend Scotland and the North of England, which would let Dowding move more of his squadrons south. But the range to Holland is too long for the Spitfires and Hurricanes to be able to linger long. We might be able to fly in a squadron or two to be based near Amsterdam, but we’ll need to see how that goes.

Out best guess is that the Germans won’t use the airborne forces quite as much since their failure in Norway. However they might still try for bridges and other coup de mains. Our RAF friends have been advising the Dutch airforce about protecting their airfields. However the Dutch have little in the way of AAA. They have looked at what happened to Oslo, and the threat to Copenhagen of terror bombing, and it is terrorising them. We’ve tried to make clear that the Nazi regime will do much worse if they occupy them, but they are still living in the land of wishful thinking.

As for the Belgians. We’ve tried to make it clear that the Germans will be moving too fast for us to be able to really support them, unless they let us in early. They are almost getting to that point, but they still don’t want to “antagonise” the Germans! The generals we’ve been liaising with have been fine, just the politicians are the problem.

There really is no way the Belgians can stop the Germans with what they have. They can slow them down at the various river lines, then, like the last war withdraw into their fortress Antwerp and along the coastline into France. We will have their southern flank along the Escaut. There have been long discussions with the French and the Belgians about what to do with the Gembloux Gap. Blanchard’s First Army is France’s strongest, most mobile force. If they attempt to close the Gap they might be able to stop the panzers, but whether their communications or tactics will be enough is questionable. Our best plan is probably to let the German panzers through, then trap them in a pocket. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The Belgian airforce have had some help. Their Hurricanes have had the same updates to their propellers etc. as our own have. The lack of radar is a real problem. There is a suggestion that we put HMS Cardiff into the port of Antwerp or possibly Zeebrugge to use it as a command and control vessel. Her gun and Sea Dart would give her limited protection, but she is far too valuable to put in harm’s way.

Alan Grose looked around the room, seeing that most of those assembled with happy enough with his assessment. “Just as an aside, I’m told the French have had a word with Luxembourg. I don’t imagine much will come from it, but if they blow a couple of bridges, anything at all to slow down the Germans, then that is as much as we can hope for.

Now, I know that not everyone agrees with this, but I really urge you to begin the air war as soon as possible. While that will mean that our own forces will be subject to air attack too, there are two reasons why I think this is essential. The first is to take the initiative. Part of the problem in our history was that the Luftwaffe attacked and caught a lot of our aircraft on the ground, and so we were always behind the curve. By doing unto them what they intend to do unto us we might to able to even up the air war. The second reason is the more we can demoralise the Germans the better.

Part of their victory in my history is that they won the psychological war, they convinced us, and the French that there were invincible. With the failure in Norway, we need to reinforce the idea that the Germans were just lucky that they managed to conquer Poland so quickly, and now their luck has run out. If they start looking at the skies wondering why they only see British and French planes, then they’ll begin to wonder how they’ll be able to break through anywhere if their “flying artillery” isn’t available.

We had a big job to convince Bomber Command to have this tactical idea, and they’ve been training hard for the night attacks. We have managed to get some of the navigational aids up and running. There is high confidence that the early attacks will be pretty successful. After that it is in the hands of the gods. Therefore I recommend that we begin the bombing campaign in the early hours of May 3rd.

There was a lively discussion when Grose sat down, not least among the representatives of the RAF. At the end of the discussion, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “Thank you all for your thoughts, I think the reasons Commodore Grose gives are conclusive, and so I want orders given for Operation Black Buck to begin as planned. Make sure that our forces and the French are warned to prepare for air raids. I will make contact with the Belgians again and plead with them to “antagonise” the Germans. Likewise the Dutch, we can’t offer them much, but if they are able to defend themselves as effectively as they can, then that is all we can hope for.
1 - 7 May 1940.
1 May 1940. 09:00hrs. BEF Headquarters. Arras. France.

All the senior officers of the British Expeditionary force were gathered for a briefing. The senior intelligence officer was reminding everyone of the current plan of movement to the Escaut line. The German Order of Battle had been examined. Their expected tactics had been examined. There was a discussion about holding the BEF so far back, letting the French and Belgians to do most of the fighting. Brooke answered this reminding them that the recent additions which brought the BEF up to two armies haven’t had as much time to work together as they’d all like. So First Army will hold the defensive line, while Second Army, which was still just two Corps strong, (V Corps still wasn’t fully equipped and trained) would be available as the mobile counterattack force. The delay in the German attack had allowed another thirty tanks to be delivered to the First Army Tank Brigade making it more powerful. The Vickers Mark VI light tanks were now only used for reconnaissance, there were plenty of them, and against German infantry would be useful enough.

A final reminder to prepare for air attacks was given. The BEF had 300 heavy and 350 light AA guns, with more arriving with the new divisions. However it was the fighters of the RAF that they would relying on for the most part. Churchill had persuaded Dowding that the defence of British airspace began with keeping the Germans as far from Channel as possible. Therefore Keith Park’s 11th Group had been tasked with supporting the Air Component and Advanced Air Striking Force. The plan was that a number of squadrons would fly into French airfields and fly from them, to be refuelled and rearmed, as needed, but then to return to airfields in Southern England for maintenance and damage repair. Dowding had taken up the FAA’s offer of covering the north, allowing 10, 12 and 13 Groups to cover England. Without the increase in Spitfire production over the last two months, there would have been no way to convince Dowding to allow this. The ten squadrons of Hurribombers had now replaced all the Battles in France, though there were still four squadrons of Blenheims. The five Lysander equipped army cooperation squadrons were still vulnerable, but there was nothing else that could replace them. The Wellingtons of No 3 Group of Bomber Command were also tasked with tactical bombing.

As the meeting of senior officers broke up with the urgent request to make sure that every vehicle was in tip-top condition for the movement, that every man in their command was fully aware of the plan and their part in it.

2 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Near Cambrai. Temporary HQ of First Armoured Division.

General Percy Hobart was almost pulling out his hair in frustration. In each and every exercise the commander of The Queen’s Bays, Lieutenant Colonel George Fanshawe had allowed his squadrons to chase retreating “enemy” tanks right into an anti-tank gun ambush. The Cavalry mentality of “Tally Ho” was causing the loss of too many tanks. Hobart wished that, like the panzer troops they’d be facing, his men were all new soldiers who were trained to fight as tankers, not a cavalry who really wanted their horses back! However, he had to deal with reality. The heavy regiments, both Royal Tank Regiment men, were fine, but he really needed to get a grip on the light regiments before they wasted their tanks and crews on stupid charges. He had brought over a lot of his old command from the Western Desert Force, and they at least were well trained in Hobart’s way of thinking. It was certainly helping, but Hobart knew he needed more time.

The A9s, A10s and A13s were proving hard work for maintenance, their tracks especially prone to breakage, but their crews were doing their best, and with the tank transporters carrying them when needed, it was also making a difference. The Matilda IIs and Valentines were also working up, some of the early Valentines were particularly weak, but the RTR men were happy enough. The slow speed of these infantry tanks was a matter of some concern for the ability to be used against the faster German panzers. For the last couple of days they had been working with the Tynesiders and Highlanders in the two motorised divisions, and there was plenty of joking going on.

The other two pieces of good news for the tankers was that the two pounder gun now had the ability to shoot 40mm HE shells, which would help against the German anti-tank gun positions, though there weren't quite enough to go around, each tank only got five. A new batch should be delivered from the factory before too long. The second piece of good news was that a delivery of the new Pye radios had been received and were quickly being fitted and tested, so that communications between the tanks, and with their commanders was much improved.

The Carden Loyd carriers mounting Carl Gustavs were joined by a variety of bodged up adaptations to mount mortars, heavy machine guns, infantry carriers and command vehicles. The distribution of fuel and ammunition tenders for divisional resupply was heavily dependent on wheeled vehicles. A few enterprising Royal Army Service Corps and Ordinance Corps units had adapted some lorries to mount various machine gun combinations to give some kind of integrated anti-air defence. A quick lesson on aircraft recognition was ordered to try to avoid too much friendly fire.

2-3 May 1940. Various RAF bases in England and France.

The armourers were loading the Wellingtons and Whitleys with their bomb loads. A lot of discussion and argument had been put into the mixture of the load for maximum impact. Because there was no way of knowing where each and every aircraft would drop their loads they all carried one 1000lb general purpose bomb. Nearly every forged bomb in the inventory would be dropped that night. It wasn’t clear how destructive these would be to concrete runways since they were being dropped from fairly low level, but cratering the runway wasn’t the most important concern. The ammunition and fuel storage tanks were a higher priority. The large numbers of various smaller bombs were hoped to destroy aircraft, hangers, and kill personnel. Each aircraft also carried a mine dispenser. This carried twenty four mines that had a parachute to enable them to be scattered, hindering recovery.

In the planes themselves the electricians were checking the equipment, especially on the OBOE equipped pathfinders. The mechanics were double checking the engines, nothing was being left to chance on any of the 168 strong force. Meanwhile in the ops rooms the aircrew were receiving a final briefings with the latest photos taken by the Spitfire PR1s. Four German airfields would each be visited by four squadrons of British bombers.

B for Baker, Blenheim IV light bomber, 139 Squadron. Bethenville, France.

Pilot officer James Wilson, with Johnny Campbell, his navigator/bomb aimer, were making a final inspection of their Blenheim before their flight. The ground crew had been putting the finishing touches to the plane. The thing that they were particularly keen on looking at was the attachment of the cluster bomb. The bomb bay doors had been removed to enable them to carry this “experimental BL755” bomb. They had flown with it earlier to see how it affected the flight profile. It caused a bit of extra turbulence, but nothing to be overly concerned with. Three other Blenheims were carrying the same kind of bombs, while the rest of the squadron were carrying more conventional loads. Each flight would target a different radar site.

When they climbed aboard and ran up the engines, Campbell checked over his oscillograph and gave a thumbs up. The runway was lit up and the 12 Blenheims climbed into the air, forming up they reached 2500 feet and headed east towards the German border.

In the early hours of the morning of 3 May the RAF was about to bring the Phoney War to an end.

OBOE Station No 2: Mouse.

Part of a complex system, the operators had been training with the bombers of No 3 and 5 Groups over the last two months and had got to a high level of professionalism. These particular operators were ready to mark the bombing release point over the Luftwaffe airfield at Bönninghardt. Similar stations were working on the other three targets.

B for Baker, Blenheim IV light bomber, 139 Squadron, over Belgium.

Campbell was getting a good signal on his equipment guiding the flight of four bombers to the Freya radar station. They were now descending to 1000 feet and ready make a hard right turn to bring them over the station. They were trying to make sure that the German operators wouldn’t be spooked with a direct approach and turn off their set before the bombers reached them. The Bristol Group men who had been advising on this part of the operation knew that the chances of the Germans suspecting that the British would home in on their radar signals was remote, but nonetheless it was important for the subsequent part of the operations to destroy as much of the radar coverage as they possibly could in the first attack.

A few searchlights began to reach into the sky as the German air defence network came alive with the various tracks they were following. Much of this was haphazard, over the last month a number of small groups of bombers had flown over Belgium and turned around before they crossed into German airspace or just afterwards, keeping the Germans awake and generally annoying them. Tonight however all twenty four Blenheims bore in on their six targets. The take-offs had been staggered so that the attacks would happen at roughly the same time, and now at 1am the planes approached the German positions.

Campbell called out corrections for Wilson to make as they roared in towards the radar system, which remained on, broadcasting its signal, allowing the bomber to home in on it. Some tracer from anti-aircraft guns started being fired in the direction of the Blenheims, and this rose in intensity as the bombers neared the target. The rearmost Blenheim was hit in its port wing, its pilot was unable to control the dive and it slammed into the ground.

Campbell’s voice was rising as the range dropped, his voice carried over the RT to the other bombers who were to drop their loads on his command. “500, 300, 100, now, now, now.” The BL755 dropped away from the aircraft and began deploying its sub munitions. The other two Blenheims dropped their loads and the three aircraft broke for home. One of the following Blenheims took some damage from the bomblets which were exploding in front of it. It did however manage to make it home, though the navigator was injured by fragments. The bomblets began to explode all over the area destroying the equipment, personnel and vehicles that made up the Freya station. Some of the local flak weapons were also damaged. The Freya station was off the air. In a few minutes a large gap appeared in radar coverage all along German’s western border as five of the six stations were successfully destroyed. The sixth, the furthest south, had been switched off for maintenance after the bombers had taken off and was therefore not attacked.

A for Apple, Wellington Bomber. 149 Squadron. Over Belgium.

Flying the pathfinder mission, squadron leader Bert Thatcher was concentrating on following the directions of the navigator whose equipment gave either dots or long dashes if the plane was deviating from the path of the OBOE radio signal. The previous month’s exercises had shown that this aid to accuracy was about the best that could be humanly devised at this stage of the war. Thatcher was confident that his team of A for Apple would drop the marker flares right over Bönninghardt. Once the flares were dropped he would circle the area getting as much information about the squadron’s accuracy as he could, and renewing the marking flares as needed. They were flying at only five thousand feet, much lower than he would like, bringing them into easy flak range. However, any higher and the bombs wouldn’t be concentrated enough to make a big enough impact on the target.

Bönninghardt was the home of three Jagdgeschwaders, JG 20, 26 and 51, more than 120 ME109s. If these were seriously harmed, then the air war would be much better for the Entente forces. 149 Squadron was among the first to pass through the gap in the German radar picture, was the most northerly of the targets, the exit route would take them over Holland and back to East Anglia. It had been a fairly long flight, and now the target was nearer. Some tracer started appearing as the air defences woke up to the threat. The important issue now was for the heading to be correct and the navigator called out the corrections. Bomb bay doors were opened and on the signal the marker flares were dropped, destroying the night vision of many on the ground. Eleven Wellingtons of 149 squadron, in their relatively tight formation dropped their loads as instructed and made off for the Dutch border as quickly as they could. Another 36 Wellingtons followed from three more Squadrons adding to the devastation below.

Bönninghardt was a grass field so the 1000 pound bombs made huge craters. Thatcher noted secondary explosions and fires that looked as is a fuel dump had been hit. The Me109s were spread over a fairly extensive dispersal site, and so although only twenty were actually destroyed, another thirty two were damaged. What Thatcher couldn’t see was that one of the Wellingtons had managed to drop its whole load on the tented accommodation site, killing many pilots and ground crew.

One Wellington was hit by ground fire and crashed, killing the whole crew. Three others received damage, but managed to return home.

In a short time the other three airfields were attacked. Dusseldorf with LG 1 and KG77, (about 70 HE111s, 70 JU88s and 78 DO17s); Köln-Ostheim with StG 2 and 76, (with 80 JU87s); Köln-Butzweilerhof (80 Ju87s). Dusseldorf was considered the least affected, in retrospect more aircraft should have been tasked with this largest target. However 12 He111s, 8 Ju88s and 9 Do17s were completely destroyed and damage to another forty two aircraft was reported. The main fuel and ammunition dumps were missed, as were the accommodation areas. The main runway did receive significant cratering. The Stukas at Köln-Ostheim were badly hit, more than half their number were destroyed, and many more damaged as they were not properly dispersed. The main bomb dump was destroyed and that caused more collateral damage. Köln-Butzweilerhof was the least successful as the marker flares were off target, only a few Wellingtons managed to hit the airfield causing minimal damage. However the civilians who lived nearby were the unfortunate recipients of this miss. Over 150 people were killed and many more injured.

Of the Wellingtons and Whitleys which attacked these three airfields, nine were lost and a further thirteen sustained some damage.

At 4am German forces were still trying to fight fires, hampered by the landmines. Then the air raid sirens began to wail again. The four wings (Nos. 79, 81, 82 and 83) of No 2 Group of Bomber Command in Blenheims followed on from the Wellingtons, using the fires as a guide for bombing, each wing going for one of the targets. They had flown to France on the 2nd May, refuelled and were now adding to the destruction caused by No 3 Group. The flak gunners were still on alert and the Blenheims had a harder time of it. The civilian casualties in Koln grew as more bombs were dropped in the vicinity of the airfields, likewise in Dusseldorf. The accuracy of these bombers left a great deal to be desired, but they managed to destroy another eighteen German aircraft and damage thirty two more. Eleven Blenheims were lost, 12% of those that took part in the raid, a further eight were damaged.

Before dawn, all over France British and French fighters took to the skies, ready for the Luftwaffe’s response. All airfields were on alert, gunners stood at their posts, camouflage and dispersal of aircraft was heightened. The WAAFs were standing by their map tables, waiting for the reports from the radar chain. The air war had begun.

3 May 1940. 06:00hrs. Near Laon, France

The filter room remained quiet. A heavier than usual dawn patrol of German fighters could be seen on radar over their bases, but there was no clouds of German bombers rising to hit back. The senior controllers weren’t terribly surprised, and so some squadrons of fighters were directed to land, ready for another sortie later. It would take some time for the Luftwaffe to work through their losses, plan an attack and get the planes ready. Two days before they were due to attack France and the Low Countries, many would be undergoing maintenance checks, and so availability would be limited. A couple of wing commanders were enjoying a cigarette wondering what Göring’s face would be like when he was told of air raids on his airfields. Both agreed that they wouldn’t want to be the aide that told him.

3 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Reich Air Ministry. Berlin.

The unfortunate aide was breaking the news to Göring, who was not happy at having being woken up. Göring got angrier and angrier as the aide gave the numbers of dead and wounded, of planes destroyed and damaged. Göring was about to give the order to hit back with everything, when they were interrupted by a phone call from the Fuhrer who was even more furious than Göring, focused as he was on the civilian deaths. Paris and London were to be struck in revenge that very day. Göring aware that strategic bombing wasn’t one of the Luftwaffe’s strong points tried to argue that the bombers should hit back at the airfields in France, but Hitler was in no mood for compromise. The British and French should learn what the people of Oslo had learned.

From the Air Ministry the order went out to all available Luftflotten, before this day was ended, London and Paris should be burning.

3 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Near Laon, France.

The radar operators began seeing large numbers of aircraft gathering over Trier. The bomber squadrons of Luftflotte 3 had rushed to put together a plan for attacking Paris, and now they were waiting for their fighter escorts to arrive. While not at full strength a very large part of the four groups in the bomber force had taken to the skies, 145 He111s, 76 Ju88s, 84 Do17s. Escorts of 40 Me110s and 115 Me109s arrived to join the air armada.

They began to move west over Luxembourg, though the squadrons got somewhat strung out. Very quickly it became clear that the whole bomber force was not going to individual airfields, but they were on a clear course for Paris. The French and British fighter squadrons were vectored onto German bomber force. For the next three hours, all the way to Paris and all the way back to the German border there was a huge air battle.

The French fighter squadrons were almost suicidal in their attacks, they had seen the photographs of Oslo after the German bombing, and their capital city was now to be the target of the same kind of terror bombing. The work that had been done over the last couple of months in working with the radar operators, coupled with the tactics they had been working on gave them some advantages. The most important lesson, but often ignored in the heat of battle, was to avoid getting into dog fights with German fighters, as the German pilots tended to have the benefits of combat experience from the Spanish civil war as well as their campaign in Poland.

Keith Park had allocated his 11 Group Spitfire squadrons to try to decouple the fighter escorts from the bombers, the French Dewoitine 520 squadrons joined in them in this and these efforts were generally successful. Hurricane, Curtis 75A and Bloch 152 squadrons concentrated on the bombers.

By 18:30hrs most of the aircraft had returned to base. The Luftwaffe had managed to drop 320 tons of bombs on Paris, mostly in the centre, this caused massive loss of life and property; the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Arrondissements taking the heaviest damage. A huge pall of smoke hung over the city.

In the process the Germans had lost (including damaged beyond repair), 74 aircraft (27 He111s, 9 Ju88s, 11 Do17s, 17 Me110s and 10 Me109s) with a further 31 which had received some damage. The British losses were 5 Spitfires and 9 Hurricanes, (8 pilots were saved). The French lost 4 D520s, 7 Curtis 75s, and 11 Bloch 152s (11 pilots were saved). A further 22 aircraft had sustained some damage, mostly light.

The attack by Luftflotte 2 against London was a much smaller affair in comparison, mostly because of the damage that had been done at Dusseldorf. 86 He111s escorted by 22 Me110s flew over the channel. Picked up by the Chain Home system 8 squadrons (1 Spitfire, 7 Hurricane) were scrambled to meet them as they made landfall over Margate. None of the Heinkels were able to drop their bombs on London as most of them dropped their loads to lighten the aircraft as they sought to escape from the RAF fighters. 15 He111s and 8 Me110s were destroyed, very few returned without some bullet holes. One Hurricane and Spitfire were lost and four were damaged. On the ground a few casualties among the civilian population were caused by the German bombs, but no serious damage was recorded.

In France as the air battle was dying down the French bomber force was ordered to repay the Germans for the damage done to Paris. 8 squadrons of LeO 451s and 6 of Breguet 693s took off from their bases to attack Frankfurt, Berlin being beyond their range. They were escorted by 38 Morane 406s. By doing so they pulled away a substantial part of the Luftwaffe’s home defence fighters down on themselves, losing 34 of the 176 aircraft that took part, very little damage was done to Frankfurt itself. The advantage of this for the British was that forty Hurribombers, escorted by 20 Hurricanes flew low aiming to hit the German airfields as their own aircraft came in to land. This proved highly effective, particularly as the German command system was concentrating on the French bombers. Another 8 He111s, 5 Ju88s, 7 Do17s and 7 Me109s were caught on the ground. Four Hurribombers were lost, mostly to ground fire, along with 3 escorting Hurricanes.

As 3 May 1940 drew to a close, 232 German aircraft of various types had been destroyed, for a loss of 99 Entente aircraft. As night fell the ground crews were busily patching up damaged aircraft and finishing maintenance on others. In Paris firefighters worked to control the flames, hospitals were almost overwhelmed with casualties. The French government met in an emergency session, expressing their fury at the damage caused to their capital.

4 May 1940. 02:00hrs. Over Germany.

The RAF plan for the second night was similar to the previous night, with the adapted Blenheims attacking the Freya radar units and then the Wellingtons of No 3 Group and No 4 Group Whitleys attacking airfields. However a number of issues had arisen the previous day. The Belgians and Dutch had both protested the over flight of their countries by British aircraft, and seeing the damage done to Paris their protests were quite strong. The Germans received a similar protest from the neutral nations, but somewhat more muted.

Secondly the attack was to be aimed at Luftflotte 3 airfields around Frankfurt, and since these had been in operation over Paris, it was felt that this would be an important task, though far more dangerous than the previous night. It was decided therefore to concentrate on just two targets for the bombers, rather than the four previously planned. Lachen-Speyerdorf and Darmstadt-Griesheim were chosen as they were Me109 bases. The wearing down of the German fighter fleet was considered a priority.

Four flights of Blenheims went first to attack the southern line of Freya stations, and two were successful, widening the gap in German radar coverage. None of the other stations had been repaired. The OBOE signals led the two groups of eight squadrons to their targets, both pathfinders flares were on target and the destruction of the two airfields was highly effective, thirty seven Me109s were written off and another sixteen damaged. The aircrew took serious casualties, as well as the fuel storage being destroyed. Both JG52 and JG53 were rendered combat ineffective, further weakening Luftflotte 3. RAF losses were three Blenheims, seven Wellingtons (including one of the pathfinders) and four Whitleys.

4 May 1940. 06:00hrs. Over Germany.

The Luftwaffe high command had managed to persuade Goring and Hitler that the plan to attack airfields in France was more important than hitting Paris again. The decision to hold off the ground assault on Belgium and Holland until the planned 6 May was reassessed, with a decision to go a day earlier, on 5 May instead. As the sun was rising the aircraft of Luftflotte 2 and 3 took off and headed for a variety of airfields. The bombers went in at low levels for accurate bombing, the fighters high to pounce on any defenders.

The defenders however were expecting a large German attack, the possibility of it being Paris again was considered, but the radar warning picture looked much more like the kind of strike on airfields that had been expected. Despite the losses of yesterday the AdA and RAF were still in good heart. They had imagined that they had shot down many more German aircraft than they really had, just as the Germans thought they had done. But the Entente pilots knew that they had certainly come off better than their enemy. Now they were defending their own airfields and had enough warning time to climb to a good height.

The main radar picture at Laon was manned by Bristol Group men, it was their equipment and they were the best trained on it. The information was passed intelligently and quickly to the sector controllers, who passed on the vectors to their pilots to engage the Germans. Like yesterday the Spitfires and D520 were high and ready to engage the Me109s. Unlike yesterday the lesson about not engaging in dog fighting had been learned from experience. They would bounce the enemy and then use their speed to get away and reform for another pass. Their planes could hold their own against the Me109s, but the “boom and zoom” tactic seemed to work best.

All day each side flew over 1000 sorties, the Entente just in fighters alone. The British and French having the better of the engagements. The two attacks on German fighter bases had weakened the numbers of available Me109s; of 609 sorties these claimed over two hundred kills. In reality Entente losses were 58, with another thirty damaged to some extent. Like the previous day the Entente pilots who bailed out fell among friends, and many uninjured pilots were returned to the fray the next day. The German fighters however suffered another 15% loss rate, 92 aircraft were lost, all their pilots killed or captured. A further twenty two returned to base damaged.

The Me110 fleet in particular was found wanting. The loss rate was nearer 22%, as they stayed closer to the bombers and found that the Hurricanes and Curtis 75s out classed them significantly. The bomber fleet didn’t do too badly, just a 7% loss (28), mostly to fighters, but some to ground fire. Their bombing was fairly ineffective, the airfields were well enough defended and very little material losses were incurred, except at Senon where the RAF’s 2 Squadron Lysanders were hard hit, losing eight on the ground. Altogether at twenty airfields, seventeen aircraft, mostly bombers and reconnaissance planes were destroyed on the ground.

After their losses the previous day the French bombers stayed out of the way, they would be needed when the tanks began to roll. Four Squadrons of Hurribombers, again with a strong escort followed the retreating German aircraft, this didn’t work quite as well as the previous day, but another nineteen German aircraft were destroyed and more damaged. The losses among the escorting Hurricanes was six and the Hurribombers lost another eight.

One matter had immediate consequences. A flight of 4 Belgian Hurricanes were attacked by mistake by German Me109s over the Belgian town of Rochefort, two of the Hurricanes being shot down and the other two damaged before the German pilots realised their mistake.

Conscious of the warnings that had been received about the intent of the Germans, and having seen what happened to Oslo and Paris, a group of middle ranking Flemish army officers attempted to take control of the government, hoping to ask the Germans for terms, becoming a protectorate, allowing free passage through their territory, to prevent Belgium from being devastated as it had been in the Great War. A battle broke out in Brussels at the King’s palace between the guards and the rebellious soldiers. Similar fights happened at the Government buildings, including army headquarters, and the main radio station. This did fall into the hands of the usurpers and an appeal for German support was broadcast.

Loyalist troops did eventually regain control of the radio station and King Leopold addressed the nation. Explaining the attempted coup he called on the nation to unite to keep Belgian independence, even if it had to pay as high a price as it did twenty six years earlier. Recalling the spirit of his father, King Albert, he urged every Belgian to stand united in the face of aggression. Now he asked their friends the British and French to come to their aid, and called on the Dutch to likewise join them against the threat of Fascism.

The whole attempted coup d’état lasted just four hours, but it had an incredible effect on Belgian morale. Already prepared for a German invasion, each and every unit redoubled its watchfulness and preparedness. There was some distraction as there was a fear of fifth columnists and German infiltrators, and a number of other Flemish officers were questioned as to their relationship with the traitors.

Both Germany and the Entente powers had been invited into Belgium, and now the race was on.

In Brussels in the late evening on May 4 a meeting took place in office of the Minister of Foreign affairs. Present were the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Justice, the Principal Private Secretary, and the Secretary of the King, the Military Attorney-General. In view of the attempted coup, the intelligence from the British and the air battles over the last couple of days, the decision was taken to order all bridges over the Meuse and the Albert Canal to be blown up at midnight to prevent any attempt of the Germans to capture them either by direct assault or by airborne forces as had been tried in Denmark and Norway. Contact with the British and French forces hoping they would change their mind about staying on the Escaut line, instead of moving forward to the Dyle line. They also asked for reinforcements from the RAF, knowing that their own small air force would not be in a position to prevent German air supremacy. Finally they made contact with the Dutch government to see what they were planning to do, especially in the light of blowing many of the bridges that were part of the links between the two countries.

4 May 1940. The Hague.

The cabinet had been meeting almost continually over the last three days, ever since they were informed by the British that their aircraft would by necessity have to pass over Dutch airspace in pursuit of their attacks on the Luftwaffe. They had read in horror the devastation caused to Paris, which had joined Warsaw and Oslo as victims of Nazi terror bombing. They had been almost paralysed as the intelligence that the British had shared with them about the proposed German plan to conquer them. The commander in chief reminded them of the fundamental weaknesses of the armed forces and the size of the borders that would have to be defended. One part of the government hoped for a similar outcome to the Great War, where Germany had honoured Dutch neutrality, even contemplating the loss of Limburg province to save the rest of the nation. Another part of the government, the larger part, had seen how the Germans had treated other “neutral” countries, and had no doubt that the intelligence from the British was true. The question of what to do was debated long and hard.

All leave had been cancelled and the Dutch army was on full alert, all bridges were primed for destruction and the engineers only waited for the order to blow them. All airfields had their defences strengthened and any parachutists would have a hard time of it. The police had a list of possible traitors and fifth columnists and were ready to swoop them up. The army plan was considered sensible, and a shipment of artillery from America had arrived just the previous week making up something of the shortfall in that respect. The guns that had been ordered from German firms were for some reason behind schedule in delivery and an urgent order for artillery pieces from America was placed. All that America could provide was M1897A4, American built French 75mm guns, but at least these weren’t worn out Great War veterans, but built after 1918. They were less than perfect, but the Dutch need was urgent, and something was better than nothing.

They had been following events in Belgium with great interest and mounting fear. The radio address of King Leopold had told them what their neighbours intended, and at 11pm the cabinet were made aware of the Belgian plan to destroy their bridges to prevent them falling into German hands at midnight. By a majority of votes the Dutch government decided to do the same, so at little later than the Belgians, at 1am the bridges that would be of immediate use to the Germans were to be destroyed. While no offensive action was to be taken against German forces, the police were ordered to sweep up those who were a threat to the safety of the state. A call was made to Great Britain and France for any and all aid to be given, especially in the provision of fighter support. Further an urgent appeal was made to the other great neutral nation, the United States of America, to stand no longer idle in the face of naked aggression, but to lend their strength to the allied cause.

4 May 1940. OKH (German Army High Command). Berlin.

The early attacks by the RAF against Luftwaffe assets had thrown some doubt on the question of whether British spy continued to give away their secrets. But so far no effort had been made to counter the preparations of the Wehrmacht for their invasion of the Low Countries and France. The plan for the main panzer force to break through the Ardennes had remained unchanged, though some fear had been expressed as to whether the French had reinforced that sector. Little in the way of air reconnaissance had been successful, but the forces were certainly strong enough to overcome French resistance. After the failure of using airborne forces in Norway, and the casualties even where they had been relatively successful in Denmark had led to a fundamental change in the plan for Belgium and France. Glider borne troops would still attempt to seize key bridges and choke points, but the ambitious use of the 7th Airborne Division and the 22nd Airlanding Division in Holland had been radically scaled back. While General Student had made his objections clear, the main body of the force would be used as infantry, and the whole Dutch invasion force had been reinforced by three of the divisions that should have been conquering Norway.

As the minutes ticked off towards 03:00hrs on May 5 1940 final preparations for the invasions were made. News that the bridges along the frontier with Belgium and Holland had been destroyed filtered through, leaving a sinking feeling in the stomachs of many German commanders.

May 5 1940. 03:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

Major Jottrand was on the roof of his fortress. He had come up earlier to watch the destruction of the bridges. All of the fort was on high alert, fully manned. The warnings about an attack from the air had led to a platoon of regular troops being assigned to prepare to defend this weak point. Jottrand had been sceptical of this idea, but the direct order was clear, and so here he was before dawn sharing a coffee with the lieutenant in charge of the position. Jottrand was impressed by the young Lieutenant’s disposition of his four squads and their light machine guns. He had requested some kind of stakes to be prepared to damage gliders if they tried to land on the roof, but they weren’t yet in place.

The sound of aircraft engines reached them through the darkness, although they seemed distant, the Lieutenant called his men to full alertness and politely asked Jottrand if he might consider returning to his command post. Jottrand finished his coffee and made his way to the armoured door that led into the fortress. As he was closing it behind him he heard the light machine guns and rifles of the platoon opening up. He quickly locked the door and ran to his command post. Thirty minutes later his telephone rang, the senior platoon sergeant rang him from the roof position to say that the Germans were now all dead or captured. The Lieutenant was dead, and could he send medical aid as many of his men were injured, but the roof of the fort was secure, for the moment. Jottrand called for the medical teams to attend the wounded, and sent up another of the regular platoons to replace the casualties and keep manning the position. In the meantime he was directing the guns of the fort on the advancing German ground units who were approaching the canal.

5 May 1940. 04:00hrs. A Border Post, Franco-Belgian Border.

2nd Lieutenant Woods was bemused by the Belgian customs officer who was repeating the request for passports and letters of transit. The officer in the KOSB who had stepped down from the leading truck, was attempting, in his best schoolboy French to explain that the whole of the British army was behind him and that they were coming to rescue them from the German invasion. Sergeant Banks took in the situation and moved over to the Lieutenant and whispered to him, they two of them moved out of the road and at Bank’s signal the RASC driver in the leading truck floored the accelerator and smashed the wooden pole that marked the border. The Belgian customs officer had moved smartly enough to get out of the way, and was now heading towards the telephone to report this infraction of Belgian neutrality. Woods and Banks jumped on a lorry and headed east through the Belgian country side.

5 May 1940. 05:00hrs. Over Holland.

Oberst Martin Fiebig, commander of KG4 flew his He111, his bombers had made their turn back towards Holland having overflown them heading west, as if towards England. Now they were approaching the Dutch airfields that were their primary targets. Fieberg’s own target was naval airfield at De Kooy. The German bombers attacked it, taking the defenders by surprise by coming in from the east. One squadron of Fokker D-XXIs had been warming their engines since 3am and had taken off before dawn in case such an attack happened. The airfield was mostly a training field, and so many of the older biplanes, which weren’t seen as being crucial hadn’t been protected. Destroying 35 aircraft, most of them trainers, as the German bombers were clearing the area, Fiebig’s aircraft was hit by ground fire, causing the crew to have to bail out. It was one of four that were shot down, the others by the fighters. Fiebig became a Dutch prisoner of war.

Another group of bombers from KG 4 bombed Amsterdam-Schiphol, where the Dutch medium bombers (Fokker TV) were based, with another squadron of D-XXIs and both squadrons were also in the air. The eight TVs encountered the German bombers and shot down two of them with their nose mounted 20mm autocannons. The fighters also managed to down two He111s, though three fighters and two TVs were lost, as well as three unserviceable aircraft on the ground.

The Hague airfields were targeted by the third wing of KG 4, which along with their fighter escorts from JG 26, destroyed half of the 21 defending fighters, but themselves lost ten bombers and nine fighters. The most successful attack by the Luftwaffe was the attack on Bergen, near Alkmaar, where one fighter squadron 4th JaVA lost more than half of its Fokker G1 twin-engined fighters before they could take off.

The problem for the Dutch pilots was finding somewhere to set down as most airfields had been bombed to a greater or lesser extent. Three landing strips had been constructed that the Germans didn’t know about at Middenmeer, Ruigenhoek and Buiksloot, and the latter became the home of the single engined fighters. Middenmeer became the home of the G1s and Ruigenhoek hosted most of the other reconnaissance and light bombers including the Douglas DB8As. All the main airfields were almost continually under German attack.

Later in the morning a wing of Hurricanes from 10 Group of Fighter Command were assigned to assist the Belgian and Dutch sectors, a squadron arriving in Buiksloot to make up for some of the losses that had been incurred.

5 May 1940. 06:00hrs. Over Belgium.

The Luftwaffe units which had responsibility for destroying the Belgian Air Force (AéMI) had been seriously depleted over the last two nights by RAF attacks. However there was still enough bombers and fighters to attack the main Belgian airbases at Brusthem, Neerhespen, Schaffen-Diest, Nivelles and Belesle. The problem for the Germans was that the RAF was now involved in the fight over Belgium, defending the BEF as it moved forward. From their bases around Seclin, six squadrons, three each of Spitfires and Hurricanes, were vectored onto the German raids. These were joined by Belgian Fiat CR.42s and Hurricanes and so, while thirty five allied aircraft were destroyed, either on the ground or in the air, 17 He111s, 6 Ju88s, 11 Do17s, 9 Me110s and 8 Me109s were lost.

The most serious loss to the Luftwaffe however was among the Ju52s. The transport aircraft had been dropping gliders and paratroops at various bridges and chokepoints in Belgium and Holland. The allied aircraft and AAA were able to bring down 75 of the slow moving transports.

The Belgians began to remove their air assets to the west of the country, allowing them to join the British and French forces. The fighter wing from 10 Group arrived in the morning and with the exception of the squadron in the Netherlands mostly joined the RAF forces between Lille and Douai.

5 May 1940. 07:00hrs.

In General der Kavallerie Kurt Feldt’s Headquarters the initial reports of his 1. Kavallerie-Division’s advance was pleasing. The Dutch forward positions, the O-line, been abandoned quickly, and while a few bridges were blown and a few casualties had been taken, things were going well for the advancing Germans. Behind this forward position a slightly reinforced delaying defence-line [Q-line] was encountered. Again his forces had to fight a number of actions against determined rear guards, and the occasional ambush, but with his artillery and mobility, his men were making progress. One bleak spot was that his armoured train was unable to advance as the Dutch had destroyed the railway bridge before it could be captured. By 5pm his forces were holding positions from Groningen to Hoogeveen. The defending Dutch had been falling back in good order towards the main defensive position (Wonsline) in front of the fortress of Kornwerderzand which protected the Afsluitdike, the only northerly approach to Fortress Amsterdam.

5 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Army Group A Headquarters.

The early movement of Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt’s troops through Luxembourg towards southern Belgium was going according to plan. The few border obstacles in Luxembourg were removed, and while a few shots had been exchanged, progress was fine so far. Most of the units there were in position to prevent French attacks from the Maginot line, on the left wing of the advance. A few bridging companies were near the front of the march, and so the few bridges that had been blown were replaced quickly. By the end of the day most of Luxembourg would be in German hands, and next it would be Belgium. The Luftwaffe reports were that a number of French reconnaissance flights had been shot down, but so far there was no reason to believe the plan had been compromised.

5 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Ardennes.

The French Second DLC (Division Légère de Cavalerie) advanced prepared positions at Bouillon, while 5e DLC advanced to support the Second Belgian Division de Chasseurs Ardennais at Neufchateaux. The First and Fourth DLCs likewise advanced into Belgium, the First to Saint-Hubert, the Fourth to Ciney. These would back up the First Belgian Division de Chasseurs Ardennais, and then gradually fall back towards Dinant and Monthermie. These French and Belgian Divisions had been tasked with delaying the German advance as long as possible. The French Light Cavalry divisions had been reinforced with extra anti-tank units and all their tanks had the longer L/35 37 mm SA38 gun with a much improved anti-tank capability (30 mm penetration at 1,000 m).

The First Panzer Division, led by Kirchner advanced to Bodange where they were held up by 5th company of the First Chasseurs Ardennais Regiment. Bodange was a difficult position to attack and the Belgians were in a strong position. The German advance troops of the 1st motorcycle Battalion advanced on foot, but ran into a patrol which removed the element of surprise. As they tried to approach Dondage at 12:50hrs they came under Belgian fire. Repeated infantry attacks were unable to overcome the defenders. A small bridge near Martelange was found by the Germans and they were able to bring up some light 75mm guns, but these made no impression. It was only when four 88mm guns were brought forward that they were able to destroy Belgian positions. An attack then by the 1st Rifle Regiment entered into house to house fighting and the Belgian resistance was overpowered at 19.30hrs. However, when engineers began to build a replacement bridge over the Sauer River they ran into a minefield, so the first vehicles couldn’t cross the bridge until 21.15hrs. A single Belgian company had held up an entire Panzer Division for 8 hours.

Our defence begins at the river Semois over the border in Belgium. General Ley, the commander of the 2e Division de Chasseurs Ardennais, has been most helpful. They plan to ambush any German attack and keep pulling back. They have agreed that in the event of a German invasion then the Second Light Cavalry Division will advance to take up pre-prepared positions at Bouillon. The Fifth DLC will advance from Douzy further into Belgium, to support the Belgians at Neufchateaux. These can then fight and delay any German advance.

5 May 1940. 15:00hrs. River Escaut.

Sergeant Banks got the Jocks in his platoon off the lorries and ready to start preparing their defences. The captain had given Lieutenant Woods the sector, and now the sergeants and corporals were checking lines of fire and where the best places to dig in. They had a good few hours of daylight left, and so they could get on before getting something to eat and a rest. The Belgians were holding at the front, and so the BEF had enough time to dig in well.

5 May 1940. 18:00hrs. Headquarters of 18th Army.

Georg von Küchler was reading the reports from the commander of X Corps in the centre of his area of responsibility. They were to break through the Ijsseline of Dutch resistance. The force had been increased by the inclusion 181st Division should have been in Norway. The progress had been delayed by the early destruction of the bridges. An armoured train had been destroyed at Westervoort, the SS stormtoopers had eventually overcome the Dutch defenders in the early afternoon, but it took time to create bridges for the rest of the infantry from 207 Infantry Division to follow on. The SS had to pause at Arnhem until the afternoon, so that Wageningen, the next objective wasn’t reached until late in the evening. The advanced had also been held at Apeldoornse Kanaal, in the Bronkhorst/Brummen area two attempts to cross the river had been repulsed and the Germans had to move to Zutphen where a crossing was finally achieved after heavy bombardment and low ammunition finally forced the Dutch to withdraw.

Von Küchler knew that the Dutch wanted to hold the line for 24 hours to allow the Grebbeline to be fully manned. For the most part this had been accomplished. The German forces were taking casualties, but more worrying was the lack of bridging equipment, and the 9th Panzer Division had priority further south and it would be the next day before the bridging would be in place. A request for more engineering assets was requested from OKH.

In the southern area of his command the crossings had been accomplished but at heavy losses, the Dutch put up an incredible fight, but had withdrawn back to the Peel-Raam position. If today had been a hard fight, tomorrow would be worse.

5 May 1940. 19:00hrs. Headquarters of 6th Army.

Walther von Reichenau read the reports from his subordinates. With the abject failure of the airborne forces to capture Eben Emael, and the Dutch and Belgians ensuring the destruction of all the bridges before they could be captured, the timetable was in tatters. The main Panzer force wasn’t able to cross the Maas or the Albert Canal on the first day, and it could well be that it would take another few days. The siege artillery was being brought up to take out Eben Emael the old fashioned way. It would be in range to begin bombardment at dawn on the 6th. Most of his forces were far enough back to be out of range of the Belgian fortress’ guns.

While none of the bridges had been captured his stormtroopers had successfully crossed the Julianna Canal and Mass north of Maastricht and the engineers were working speedily to put over pontoon bridges for the tanks and logistical tail to get across. The problem was the traffic jams that were all the way back to the Rhine. He had ordered 4th Panzers to move north and circle around so that they would assault the Albert canal from the Dutch side of the border. He expected it would be a hard fight, but the Belgians would crumble eventually under the sheer weight of numbers.

He read all this in the knowledge that this was all an elaborate decoy from the main thrust through the Ardennes. So if his timetable was off, it would just allow the British and French more time to move into Belgium, so that the sickle cut would create lovely big prison for them all. He called for his chief of staff, Friedrich Paulus to come in and help him draft the orders for the next day.

5 May 1940.23:00hrs. RAF Headquarters.

The air situation was fluid. Very few bombing missions had been undertaken during the day as the front line was still relatively fixed and German air defences would not have had to move much, so rather than attack where the Germans were strong, they would wait till their columns were strung out. The exception would be the Wellington bomber force which again would follow OBOE signals to German airfields. Between the losses during the day and another night’s bombing, it was hoped that the Luftwaffe’s ability to control the air over the battlefield would be further eroded.

Some squadrons from 11 Group of Fighter Command had flown back to their airfields in southern England in the evening to allow some maintenance and damage repairs to be completed. The Spitfires and Hurricanes were considered to be coping well, though the all machine gun armament was less effective than the French and German fighters which carried cannons. The Spitfire MkII would resolve this, but the Hurribombers had had the first call on the 20mm guns.

The Belgian and Dutch air space was now an issue, especially as there was no radar coverage. Even if there was there had been coverage, no pilots would have had training in coordinating with ground controllers. There was a suggestion to withdraw these squadrons and let them be retrained and possibly re-equipped, but this would be politically impossible. However there were plenty of trained pilots who could be used as replacements and the French were offering aircraft for them.

6 May 1940. 03:00hrs. Dusseldorf. Germany.

The whole of 3 and 5 Group’s remaining Wellingtons and Whitleys were concentrated on Dusseldorf, the home of IV. Fliegerkorps. At 03:00hrs eighty six Wellingtons and forty-two Whitleys dropped their bombs with startling accuracy, almost 30% of the bombs fell within the confines of the airfield. The main repair and maintenance area was particularly hard hit, 10 He111s, 6 Ju88s and 9 Do17s which were being worked on were completely destroyed, but the loss of many ground crew was even more important for the long term effectiveness of the air corps. A further 18 aircraft were seriously damaged. One of the main fuel dumps was burnt out. Six Wellingtons and three Whitleys were lost to various causes.

Just before dawn a squadron of Blenheims and two of Hurribombers made a low strike pass over Mönchengladbach, the base for three squadrons of Me109s of Jagdfliegerführer 2. The eight planes that were readying for take-off were all destroyed, a further six were destroyed and five more damaged. One stick of bombs from a Blenheim hit the mess area, killing and wounding a significant number of pilots and ground personnel. Three Blenheims and two Hurribombers were lost to ground fire or target fixation.

The French sent off two squadrons of Breguet 690s to attack the German columns travelling through Luxembourg. They were escorted by four squadrons of Bloch 152s. The size of the escort was felt by the French commanders to be more than adequate, but Luftflotte 3 who were shielding the panzer army advance, were still strong. The Me109s tore into the six French squadrons. The Bloch pilots did relatively well against their German opponents, but they were outnumbered and out-classed. Eleven Blochs were shot down, five more damaged. Six Breguets were also shot down, they never even got to the roads they were aiming for. The AdA had to reconsider their tactics after two disastrous raids.

In the meantime after their attacks on Dutch and Belgian airfields the previous day, the Luftwaffe targeted the airfields in France used by the RAF and AdA. They were expected and the Spitfires and D520s were waiting to fall on them. Most of the Luftwaffe aircraft used were Ju88s and Me109s. The speed of the Ju88s was a factor in their survival, only four were lost to ground fire, though they damage they were able to do was limited. Only three Lysanders and two damaged Hurricanes were destroyed, though a fuel dump was destroyed and casualties among the ground crew were inflicted at Peronne. In the French sector a similar lack of success by the bombers was noted, though again a few damaged and outdated aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The air war between the fighters was a more even match. The Entente fighters came off at a slightly better than 2:3 loss ratio. Though the difference in the loss of pilots was significantly different, the uninjured Entente pilots being able to re-join their squadrons, whereas German pilots became POWs.

May 6 1940. 07:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

Major Jottrand felt the whole place shudder as the first of the big German shells fell on the fortress. He had read of the siege of Liege and Namur in the Great War, and many lessons from that experience had been built into Eben Emael. His orders were to hold and cause as much trouble for the Germans as possible. The information he had received was that he would be up against the Super-Heavy Artillery Battery 810, armed with 35.5 cm Haubitze M1 howitzers. The Germans also had a number of railway guns that they would be bringing against him. His own 122mm gun had a range of 17.5km, and wouldn’t be able to counter the German guns. He put in a request for an airstrike against the German batteries. The whole place shuddered again and another round fell on Block B.II.

6 May 1940. 09:00hrs. French Delaying Line. Neufchateau.

2nd Panzer Regiment was attempting to skirt Neufchateau to the south. At Coustemont the main line of resistance was encountered. The reinforced 60th Reconnaissance Battalion was holding the river line, but the Germans broke through at 10.30hrs. Instead of wheeling north toward Neufchateau, disregarding the threat to its flanks it pushed on into the heart of the French positions. At 12:30hrs the Germans arrived at Petitvoir, 4 km west of Neufchateau, the command post of the 11 Cuirassier Regiment, with elements of the 15th Light Mechanised Brigade and 78th Artillery Regiment. The sudden appearance of the Germans, and some Panzer IVs firing into the valley from the heights of Warmifontaine began to spread panic in the village.

Colonel Evain, in command of this sector, very quickly got his forces together. A battery of artillery had been overrun by the Panzers, but he was in a strong enough position, and as long as they held their nerve, there was no need to withdraw. He had four H35 tanks at hand and these were able to destroy a few of the Panzer IIs, giving heart to the French troops. He was able to get a radio message through to the 5th Armoured Car Regiment, who sent a squadron of Panhard 178 armoured cars which were able to take the Panzer Regiment in the flank, causing them to withdraw from Petitvoir.

First Panzer Regiment, which had been at the bridge at Bodange when the attack had started had now reached the breach at Coustemont and were prepared to leapfrog 2nd Panzer Regiment, but they encountered a reinforcing French unit and had to fight their way through. Sheer numbers managed to enable them to link with the stalled 2nd regiment. These were followed by 3rd Battalion of 1st Rifle Regiment and now the whole German force wheeled to force their way to Neufchateau. Colonel Evain was now confronted with superior German numbers which were working together. His own covering forces were spread out, so he gave orders to fall back to Bertrix. Fourth company of First Chasseurs Ardennais Regiment were blowing up as many roads and making as much mischief as they could. Neufchateau itself the scene of a few fire fights, though the Belgian forces mostly tried to protect the civilian population by fighting away from built up areas. It took until darkness fell for the German forces to take the city. This delay allowed the French and Belgians to prepare the next line of defence. The German idea was that they should capture Neufchateau by the end of the first day, but it was now the end of the second day. Their timetable was in tatters.

6 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Waregem, Belgium. II Corps Headquarters.

General Bernard Montgomery was getting reports from each of his divisional commanders about the process of making the Escaut line as impenetrable as possible. The lessons of Poland and other places was that fixed lines of defence were vulnerable, and so the Corps was putting together a flexible defensive plan which would attempt to mitigate the mobility of the Germans. The Third, Fourth and Fifth Divisions that made up the Corps were all regular divisions. During the build up over the winter some of the regular battalion had been swapped and replaced with reserves or Territorial Units, while the Regulars boosted the Territorial Divisions. All in all II Corps was in good form.

The thing that was being discussed was the best use of the Corps’ three anti-tank regiments with their two pounder guns. 150 guns looked like a lot on paper, but on the ground they had to cover it seemed less than adequate. In addition each infantry battalion in the Corps (a total of 24) had 22 anti-tank rifles. The new anti-tank grenades had arrived, but they were very short range. A new rocket weapon which had the bizarre name of ‘Bazooka’ had started making an appearance. There were only six so far in the whole Corps area, though more were promised. Fifth Division only had two brigades and so they would get first call on improved weapons. There was also a lot of improved ammunition for the mortars.

The defensive plan that had been worked out was to form mutually supporting boxes, which would have all round defences. Each of these would be able to support itself for a period of time, even if surrounded, and it was hoped that the Germans moving between the boxes would find themselves in crossfire. Fifth Division would act as the Corps’ reserve and would be as mobile as possible. When the boxes were fixed, a certain percentage of the Bren Carriers would be added to Fifth Division’s strength as a counter attacking force.

Montgomery was also keen that as much reconnaissance should be done to the front, and rear of their positions. They had all been soldiers long enough to know that just as you finish digging a good position you normally got orders to move. So he wanted his subordinates as familiar as possible with the ground they might be fighting on.

6 May 1940. 12:00hrs. RAF Tangmere. Fighter Interception Unit.

Squadron Leader George Chamberlain walked around the snub nosed Bristol Beaufighter which had just been delivered for evaluation. It looked like a strange creature compared with the Blenheims they were normally flying at night. But the Beaufighter had the latest Airborne Interception Radar fitted, and had four cannons in the lower fuselage. It would be faster than the Blenheim, and certainly packed a bigger punch.

The men from Bristol Aviation who had delivered it were singing its praises, but Chamberlain would make his own mind up. Calling over Sergeant Leyland, who had been trained on the new radar set, he had decided the best way to find out about a plane was to fly the thing. He told Leyland to get ready, take off would be in thirty minutes. He spoke to the ground crew who were getting tips from the manufacturers, and they would have the plane fuelled and armed ready to go.

“Stop comparing it to the Blenheim” he kept telling himself as he climbed in. The Bristol Aviation pilot was talking him through the cockpit and some of the quirks he might like to know about. With that in mind, he asked Leyland and wait till he had done a couple of circuits, then he would take him up, no point in killing two trained men if he could avoid it. The Bristol pilot suggested he come along, and Chamberlain agreed after some thought. So the first time the Bristol pilot warmed it up and took off, did a couple of circuits of the airfield, then brought it in to land. Chamberlain watched and took in as much information as he could. It was his turn and so he wound her up to taxi to the end of the runway. Straightening up he applied power and felt a huge difference to the Blenheim, releasing the brakes he was off down the runway like a shot. The tail lifted, and gently pulling back on the stick the Beaufighter roared into the air.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” he thought as he completed a few circuits, pushing the envelope a bit to see how the plane behaved. He brought her back down to earth with a gentle bounce, and rolled to a stop. Leyland jumped in replacing the Bristol pilot. He got the AI mark IV warmed up and off they went. Another pilot in a Blenheim had agreed to act as a target, and climbing to 10000 feet the interception game began. It was tempting to cheat a little, but Leyland never looked up from his screen, soon he had a contact and accurately brought Chamberlain directly behind and below the Blenheim. If this had been a German bomber its flight over England would have come to a sudden fiery crunchy stop.

On arrival back at Tangmere, he gave his report to the station commander. This Beaufighter was an excellent aircraft, and subject to more trials, should be brought into service as quickly as possible.

6 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Munster. Headquarters of Luftflotte 2.

General Kesselring had called a meeting with his subordinates. General Keller of IV. Fliegerkorps was at the meeting with Wolfram Von Richtofen, commander of VIII. Fliegerkorps and Colonel Döring, commander of Jagdfliegerführer 2. Between them, before the RAF raids had begun, they had 913 bombers (644 serviceable) and 462 fighters (313 serviceable). Meeting in the knowledge of their losses, they were conscious that their ability to maintain the pace of operations was becoming seriously threatened. They had lost 159 bombers and 69 fighters, and leaving 754 (453 serviceable) bombers and 393 (236 serviceable) fighters. A loss rate of over 20% in three days. Göring was not prepared to listen to any excuses, his power and prestige in the Nazi High Command was on the line, and he was still being ebullient about the Luftwaffe successes, denying the true cost to his command.

Kesselring was aware that Göring would probably fire him for the way things were going, but he was conscious that his successor would be in an even worse position. So he wanted to try to sort out the mess he found himself in while he still could. The commanders put together their fundamental problems and their options. With regards the night time bombing of airfields by the RAF a few ideas were talked about. The accuracy of the British bombers was uncanny, and so there would have to be an investigation into what they were using. The dispersal of planes and the defence of airfields was a priority. The attack on London had been pointless, and although they had done well against the Belgian and Dutch airfields, only the Ju88s had managed to get through to the French airfields with any success.

The arrival of large numbers of Spitfires and other British aircraft had balanced the equation, and they were all surprised at the quality as well as quantity of the British and French fighters. But their pilots were telling them that the Entente air forces were suffering terribly too, and so if the Luftflotte could cut down their losses on the ground, then the victory was still in their grasp. Kesserling would look at trying to bring in some reinforcements from elsewhere, if he could persuade Göring to release them from somewhere else.

6 May 1940. 14:00hrs. United States of America.

The reports and photographs of Paris burning in all the newspapers had struck a chord in the American psyche, which Warsaw and Oslo hadn’t. French consulates were inundated with men volunteering to join the French army. The state governor of Louisiana, Earl Long, offered support for the setting up of a “Lafayette Brigade,” which like the Lincoln Brigade of the Spanish Civil War, would volunteer to serve in France to fight the Nazis. A sizeable number of volunteers crossed the border into Canada to offer their services to the Canadian army and Air Force, since the First Canadian Division was already in France. There were enough experienced pilots who, though the Empire Training Scheme were shipped in due course to England where they would be formed into an Eagle Squadron.

6 May 1940. 15:00hrs. The Netherlands.

The surviving Dutch forces that had fought the Germans at the Maas in the south of the country had pulled back to the Peel-Raam line, which had been strengthened the previous day. In the far north they were falling back to the Wonsline, and the German forces were not strong enough to break through there. In the centre, the Dutch forces were strongly holding the Grebbeline. The German advance was steady, but the paucity of river crossings was slowing the ability to reinforce and keep supplies moving. Advancing to these two defensive positions was slowed further by occasional ambushes and rear guard forces, making the crossing of even small waterways difficult.

In the afternoon a raid by the Dutch light bomber force, escorted by Dutch fighters and RAF Hurricanes attempted to interdict the supply chain. They didn’t attempt to destroy bridges or ferries, as they didn’t think their bombing could be accurate enough and that they would tend to be more heavily guarded by AAA, and so they concentrated on the areas behind crossing points trying to sow further confusion in the German logistical chain. The horse drawn nature of the German infantry divisions made them susceptible to these type of attacks. The Douglas DB8As and Fokker TVs performed well, though they lost six aircraft to ground fire and other causes. The fighter escort was surprised at the lack of effort made by the Luftwaffe to counter them. In fact only four Me109s attempted to attack the Dutch aircraft and withdrew when they saw they were so heavily outnumbered. Some of the fighters expended their ammo before returning to base on German formations as targets of opportunity.

Arriving in Hook of Holland was a flotilla of Royal Navy motor gun boats ready to go to the aid of the Dutch in the various estuaries. Three RN destroyers carrying 600 Royal Marines sailed into Flushing to support the Dutch defenders of Walcheren. They escorted two cargo ships with an improvised unit of Royal Artillery gunners with Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns and four batteries of 25 pounder guns. The Royal Marines had been fully equipped with the new anti-tank weapons and small arms.

Also arriving was the newly raised French naval 68e Division d'Infanterie. The French had originally planned on sending the whole 7th Army, but since the Breda option had been taken off the agenda, sending a division to show some support for the Dutch was as much as they were prepared to do. The Dutch were less than impressed, as the main concern was obviously to support the Belgian position at Antwerp.

6 May 1940. 17:00hrs. RAF airfield. Vitry. France.

A photoreconnaissance Spitfire had managed to make a run over the area of Maastricht and Aachen and the photographs of the traffic jams were just too tempting a target. The Dutch attack in the afternoon had done well, and now the Hurribombers were to be unleashed. Five squadrons, half the available squadrons, a total of 49 available aircraft were to fly in three groups. Each aircraft was carrying two cluster bombs. They would be escorted by forty Spitfires and forty Hurricanes.

Taking off the Hurribombers stayed at low level, while the Spitfires climbed to 30000 feet, while the Hurricanes took up position at around 15000 feet. Like the Dutch attacks earlier they were somewhat surprised at the lack of German response, only twenty Me109s attempted interceptions, four Hurricanes, five Hurribombers and a Spitfire were lost altogether to fighters, groundfire and accidents.

The first of the three groups hit the roads around Gulpen. The first four Hurribombers targeted the flak units that were present. The eight cluster bombs managed to kill a battery of 3.7 cm Flak 37s. The pilots had been training for this kind of mission and their practice paid off. Once the flak had been dealt with the other aircraft concentrated on the supply column. At the end of the attack a German infantry brigade would not be receiving its allocated resupply.

The second group of Hurribombers had been tasked with hitting the German heavy artillery unit that was firing on Eben Emael. The attack was a success, while the bomblets made little impression on the guns themselves, the artillerymen took terrible casualties, also ready ammunition cooked off, and some of that did damage three of the guns. The third group struck at the road leading into Sitard. One of the Hurribombers was lost here as it flew into the explosion of an ammunition wagon that the previous plane’s bomblets had detonated. The road was left littered with dead and dying horses, fiercely burning wagons and the remains of an infantry battalion which had taken cover off the road, but were covered by cluster bombs.

In the late evening a second attempt by the French AdA attempted to bomb the roads being used by the Germans in Luxembourg. This time three bomber squadrons were escorted by six fighter squadrons. While the fighters lost 12 of their number, the bombers successfully bombed at Mersch, delaying the advance of 10th Panzer Division as the road had to be cleared of burning vehicles.

6 May 1940. 18:00hrs. Mons, Belgium.

The Belgian King Leopold III with his senior military advisor General van Overstraeten, had requested a meeting with the Entente to resolve the problem of what the Belgian army were trying to achieve. The French Defence minister Édouard Daladier with General Gamelin, represented the French. Prime Minister Churchill and General Edmund Ironside represented the British.

The Belgians had been told repeatedly since January that the main German thrust was expected to come through the Ardennes, and that the invasion of Holland and the movement of Army Group B was a trap, which the British and French forces had no intention of falling into. Army Group B was acting like a red cape in a bull fight, distracting from the sword of Army Group A. This was not a surprise to the Belgian government who ever since they had the German plans from the Mechelen Incident had suspected as much.

The Belgians were therefore left with a conundrum. They would be unable to hold the Germans at bay for very long, and if the Entente forces wouldn’t be coming forward to support them, what could the Belgians do alone? The Entente had made it clear that if the Belgians didn’t allow them to move forward into Belgian territory before the German attack, then they would be limited to trying to make the Eschaut line as strong as possible. Here, unlike the Dyle line, there was no Gembloux gap to undermine their defences.

Hard as it was for the Belgians to accept, the Escaut line was far as the BEF and French were prepared to advance. It would be well-nigh impossible to hold the Gembloux gap and so the continuous line that they were seeking to hold was Antwerp – Ghent – Oudenaarde – Tournai – Mons – Charleroi - Namur. This would become the net to entrap Army Group B. With the French 7th Army at Saint-Quentin and the British Second Army at Cambrai they would be able to fall on the left flank of Army Group B when it ran up against the Escaut line.

The main concern for the Entente would be to keep the Belgian army as intact as possible. If the five Regular Corps of the Belgian army were able to withdraw in good order towards Antwerp, then the reconquest of Belgian was much more probable. If the Liege and Namur positions could hold out, preventing a German retreat in that direction, then they could engineer a situation where the German 6th Army would be caught in a Kesselschlacht, a cauldron battle.

Leopold was less than enthusiastic about this plan, as once again his country would be the scene of major battles, as it had in the Great War, and generally under occupation. However the British and French were adamant that the main German danger was their panzer armies, which at that very moment were advancing through southern Belgium and Luxembourg.

The Belgian 7th Infantry division still held the main positions on the Maas and Albert Canals. The German pressure was increasing from the north, and there was some doubt how much longer they could hold.

There was a potential gap between the bottom of the Dutch Peel-Raam line and Belgian line at the Albert Canal. The Belgians and Dutch had struggled to come to an agreement about the gap, and the British and French urged the Belgian King to advance some of his forces to make contact with the Dutch, hoping that some kind of contact with the Dutch forces could be maintained, even if they fell back to the Waterline. The Dutch attitude towards military cooperation before the German invasion hadn’t been easy. Now they were screaming for help, help that the British and French could not realistically provide. However, if the Belgian army was prepared to trade territory for time, the German forces would find themselves in a losing position. King Leopold agreed to look at whether this might be something that could be done.

6 May 1940. 19:00hrs German Bridge over the Maas. 6 May 1940.

The pontoon bridge had taken some time to complete and infantry units had raced over to keep up the momentum, they wanted to be in position to attack the Peel-Raam line as soon as possible. However they needed artillery support and soon the bridge was taking a greater weight than was good for it. As the first of the heavy guns were due to cross, the senior engineering officer was explaining that this type of bridge was not suitable for the Sd.Kfz.9 half-track towing a 24 cm Kanone 3. The Artillery officer however was clear that he had to get his unit into the fight as quickly as possible. One battery of 105mm guns had passed over without incident, but the heavy artillery was another matter. The driver of the first vehicle took his time and made it successfully across the river. The second however broke through the wooden planking on top of the bridge, sticking fast. For twelve hours it blocked traffic over this section of the Maas.

6 May 1940. 20:00hrs. 9th Panzer Division HQ.

Alfred von Hubicki’s 9th Panzer Division saw themselves as being different, firstly they were Austrians, joining the Wehrmacht after the Anschluss. Secondly they were the weakest of the Panzer units, there were only 141 tanks in their understrength Panzer Regiment. Thirdly they were the only Panzer unit in the 18th Army. Their task was to capture the Netherlands, while most of the rest of the Panzer corps were trying to win glory cutting through France. They were different, and they liked being different.

Yesterday had been a day of sitting around waiting. The destruction of the bridges meant that their “lightening war” was anything but. They had to wait for the engineers to build alternative crossing points, and then the 254th and 256th Infantry Divisions had to get over the bridges. So it was this morning before the Panzers were across the river and ready to move off. In the original plan they would be racing to link with paratroopers, but that aspect had been cancelled. Hubicki wasn’t surprised, that kind of operation was just asking for trouble. His Division’s job now was to wait for the infantry to break through the Peel-Raam Line, and then his tanks could race through and exploit it.

So far, the infantry were not doing so well. The Dutch were fighting like men possessed. All the clever notions for breaking through, using armoured trains for example, hadn’t worked. Now it was old fashioned artillery barrages, infantry attacks, and so far to no avail. Even the much vaunted Luftwaffe were noticeable by their absence. The Dutch air force however had made an appearance and Hubicki was glad he’d got his tanks across the river when he had. There were still plumes of smoke coming from where the logistics tail had been bombed.

Holland seemed like a wet place to an Austrian. His tanks couldn’t manoeuvre very well because much of the land was flooded in front of the Dutch line. Those few places it wasn’t flooded, were well defended and there was still another water obstacle to cross, and that needed engineers to build bridges. He was beginning to wish he’d brought a book to read, this could take some time.

6 May 1940. 21:00hrs. Dutch General Headquarters.

General Winkelman was a happier man than he would have thought, since his country had been invaded. First of all the predicted airborne landings hadn’t happened, and so many of his best forces defending bridges and airfields were not in contact with the enemy. With his interior lines secure, he could be more flexible.

His original idea of holding the Peel-Raam Line, just for one day, but pulling back most of his infantry to the Waal-Ligne line on the first night had proved unnecessary. The border forces on the Maas had done better than expected and the bridges were all down. Pressure at places like Mill and Helenaveen was increasing, but so far, the line was holding. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Germans managed to break through, but he had his Light Division ready to plug gaps, and cover a withdrawal.

Even the Belgians had become reasonable and were screening the southern edge of the line, north of their Albert Canal line. This was definitely the weak spot, and so his Third Army Corps would have to be ready to fall back behind the Ligne. Keeping his main forces complete, even within the national redoubt, would at least give them the possibility to counter attack at some point.

The arrival of the British and French at Flushing meant that the Dutch forces there could be available further forward in North Brabant. He wrote orders for them to make a start on digging in behind the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal, so that when the Peel-Raam line was broken his men would have an intermediate position to withdraw to.

Likewise the Grebbe Line was holding well, though there were signs that the Germans might be trying to turn its southern flank. If possible he’s like another day or two before pulling back to the Water Line, but circumstances would dictate that.

Lastly in the far north there was little to be done except hold the Wons line, which shouldn’t be a problem.

6 May 1940. 22:00hrs. 4th Panzer Division. Heavy Reconnaissance Company.

Hauptman Willi Schmidt had just about given up finding a way around or through the Belgian defences. He had already lost one of his halftracks to a Belgian anti-tank gun that had been too well concealed. He had gradually been moving west parallel to the Albert Canal, probing for a weak spot. Now his radio operator handed the handset to him. His first platoon were at Beverlo and had come under attack from the Belgian armoured car. Two dead, three wounded and one halftrack destroyed. The Belgians had pulled back. Schmidt cursed at the loss, the fact it was an armoured car was interesting. Was it a stay behind unit, or was there a bridge somewhere? He ordered his driver to get back on the road and head in that direction. He filled in the Major over the radio on the move, heading for Leopoldsburg. The Major ordered him to get some rest, it could wait till the next morning, but Schmidt ignored him, there was still time, as he popped another pill.
7 - 8 May 1940
7 May 1940. 04:00hrs. Over Germany.

Number 3 Group of Bomber Command had been on continuous ops now for the last five nights and the men and the planes were getting tired. While losses had been “light” everyone had lost friends, the group had been together for a few years. They had been told that their work, and therefore sacrifice, had been crucial, that the losses in Luftwaffe squadrons were crippling. Tonight’s mission, Böblingen, was yet another fighter station, though it was near Stuttgart, and so they had flown to French airfields near Nancy and now were flying over the German border. To enable this operation new cat and mouse transmitters for OBOE had had to be established in France. There was a degree of dubiety about the accuracy of these, but this was an important target. For attacks against the German advance through the Ardennes, the 80 Me109s were a big threat to the day bombers.

The Germans had set up a number of flak traps around the airfields of Luftflotte 2, but most of the Flak Corps of Luftflotte 3 was protecting the army in the Ardennes. Böblingen was not that well protected, and the Wellingtons were now very experienced in this type of attack. The German fighters were being prepared for their dawn flights when the air raid siren went off. Some of the hangers were lit up, which made the task of the Master Bomber in the Pathfinder much easier. Dropping the flares accurately led to a very successful bombing run by the 69 Wellingtons that were following.

One squadron of Wellingtons was designated to try out dropping cluster bombs, and so once the main strike had happened, the last twelve bombers flying at only 1000 feet dropped 100 cluster bombs. More than anything else that had gone before, this rain of bomblets effectively closed the airfield for three days. Fuel dumps, accommodation areas, even slit trenches where men were taking cover were all badly hit. The losses of fighters was also impressive, twenty seven destroyed outright and another fifteen damaged.

7 May 1940. 06:00hrs. Over Luxembourg.

The Armée de L’Air were making an all-out effort today. 10 squadrons of LeO 451s; 2 squadrons of Amiot 354s and 7 of Breguet 693s would be joined for the first time by the first four squadrons equipped with American Martin 167Fs and four with the Douglas DB7Fs. Two hundred and forty bombers altogether were serviceable. They would be escorted by just about every available fighter of all types. The chief of staff had put together a fairly elaborate plan for coordination, but when he had presented it to the rest of staff it was simplified. The Breguets would go in first with some of the British cluster bombs and attempt to target the flak. Eight squadrons of the LeO 451s would be next. 2 squadrons would each target one of the four roads that the Germans were using through Luxembourg. A fair number of photoreconnaissance planes had been shot down trying to get that information, but having it, the French were determined to make the most of it. The Amiots, Martins and Douglas would likewise target different parts of these roads. Finally the last two squadrons of LeO 451s would follow on to be guided to concentrations identified by air controllers flying in Bloch 174s.

And so it was that just as the morning mist was clearing from the valleys the drone of aircraft engines began to reverberate over the hills. The attack on Böblingen in the early morning had been part of the coordination, so that the Luftwaffe’s ability to cover the roads with fighters was significantly hampered. Just over 400 fighters were set to sweep the sky clear. The Curtis 75s and Dewoitine 520s provided top cover while the MS 406s and Bloch MB 152s stayed lower to protect the bombers.

The crews of the Breguet 693 squadrons had the hardest job, and paid the highest price. They did manage to suppress the German Flak to some extent, but this aspect of the raids was judged too high a price for the results. Of these 65 aircraft, 28 failed to return to base, and those that did were mostly damaged to some extent. The survivors recognised that their forward firing canon was actually more valuable in this mission than the cluster bombs.

The LeO 451s were best suited for medium level attacks, but attacking roads meant they had to fly lower, but their accuracy was good and the road on both sides of Ettelbruck, along with many German trucks, and a number of tanks was hardest hit. The northernmost road at Holzthum had the least damage, as the Flak here was still mostly complete. The other two received medium damage. 12 LeOs were lost.

The Amiots, Martins and Douglas were flown by the least experienced pilots, only recently having been equipped with these bombers. However they generally did well, cratering the roads in various places and adding to the losses among the second echelon moving forward. Their losses were fairly light, six aircraft failing to return, although at least two of these losses were due to collisions.

The Bloch 174s had noticed a few petrol dumps and they called in the last two squadrons of LeOs to concentrate on these. Four such dumps were fired by the French planes, and these LeOs only suffered two losses. One Bloch 174 was shot down. The fighters had done their job well, though against limited opposition, and the MS 406s all made passes with their guns adding to the carnage below. Altogether only fifteen French fighters were lost, to four Me109s and eight Me110s.

7 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Ham. Belgium.

Hauptman Willi Schmidt, commanding 4th Panzer Division’s Heavy Reconnaissance Company was cursing his own stupidity. If he had pushed on a bit harder last night they might have made it to this bridge over the canal. But in daylight, as soon as the Belgians saw them coming they had blown it. He was now at Ham and as frustrated as he had ever felt. He got out the map again and tried to figure out what the Belgians were playing at. Why hadn’t this bridge at Beringen been blown earlier, and why were Belgian cavalry units running around north of the main defence line? He would head up to Olmen and see if there was a way across this other canal, the Dessel Kwaadmechelen. The whole thing was going to hell in a hand basket.

7 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

One of the 122mm guns fired, and Major Jottrand looked up from reading the overnight reports. The British air raid had been partially successful, so the Fortress was being hit less often, but it was still being hit occasionally. Its own heavy artillery was keeping up a steady rate of fire which was keeping the German army at bay. Between Eben Emael and Liege the Germans approach to the Maas was limited by these heavy guns. There had been no further attempt to assault the fortress, Jottrand expected that no such attack would happen until their heavy artillery had destroyed most of the fortress. At the current rate of fire, that would take a while. Probably longer than it would take for his own guns to run out of ammunition.

His garrison’s water and food supplies were also enough for a lengthy siege. If the Germans broke through somewhere the he could expect some of the local troops to join the garrison, and that would be a bit more of a problem. The last communique with HQ was to expect to hold out for at least a week, perhaps even a month if possible. Jottrand decided to have a walk around and get a sense of the morale of his men.

7 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Cambrai, France. HQ of British First Armoured Division.

General Percy Hobart was feeling much happier with his forces than he had a few days earlier. A lot of work had been done since the end of the last exercise. Every vehicle was as primed and ready as it could be. Even the quantity of spare parts was rising. Every tank gunner had enough live fire practice. The tank crews knew each other’s jobs well enough. Some of the A9s and A10s were still less than reliable, but they were being treated with kid’s gloves. The A9s, which had a crew of six, was felt to be less than perfect, so it was decided not to man the two front machine gun turrets. One was being removed and a radio fitted along with armour being applied at a slope to offer better protection. The new Valentines were also popular with their crews, though the two man turret was a drawback.

Now if the Belgians could hold for another week or so, Hobart had great hopes that his Division could give a very good account of itself.

7 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Albert Canal, Belgium.

General von Gablenz, Commander of the Wehrmacht 7th Infantry Division, was watching the assault through binoculars. He had chosen this particular stretch at Heusden for the attempt to cross the Albert Canal as it was slightly narrower here. His artillery had been pounding away since dawn. There had even been a Stuka attack an hour earlier. Now the area was wreathed in a smoke screen. Men from the assault company were racing across the canal in rubber dinghies. Heavy machine gun fire covered them as they paddled for all they were worth. A battery of artillery had been brought up as close as possible and had been using direct fire on known Belgian positions.

The first men reached the far side and jumped onto the shore. Machine gun teams set up to support the company as it spread out. A second company was paddling across and the Belgian return fire seemed to be diminishing. Von Gablenz was almost holding his breath as he watched to second company join the first and move forward into the smoke. He could see the occasional man going down wounded or dead, but the attack went on. Mortars were firing off smoke rounds to keep the cover going. A Belgian barrage hit about 200 meters to the right, if it had been accurate it would have thrown the whole attack into danger, but the third company were across the canal and the bridgehead was expanded. Engineers were already across with the second wave, and they were working with ropes to get a simple ferry system up and running. The rest of the battalion were gathering on the bank ready to start crossing when the sound of aircraft engines could be heard.

Looking up Von Gablenz was surprised to see biplanes, someone told him later they were Fairy Foxes. A flight of four were machine gunning both sides of the canal and they dropped eight bombs. The bombs were well placed to hit both sides of the canal, and at least two machine guns were silenced. A lot of tracer reached out to the biplanes and one withdrew trailing smoke. The attack by the Belgian aircraft was followed by a more accurate artillery barrage. This one hit the mortar platoon which allowed the wind to start clearing the smoke.

The Engineers were almost ready to get the first ferry across the water when the assault troops were seen to be pushed back against the bank of the canal. A Belgian counter attack was in full flow and the bridgehead wasn’t strong enough to resist it. More and more German troops became casualties, and the engineers were in a too exposed position. The ropes went slack and the men on the ferry attempted to pull themselves across. German artillery fire had slackened off too, and it seemed that they too had been the victims of an air raid. Von Gablenz was cursing vociferously. A few Panzers moved closer to the bank and took the Belgians under fire, which allowed the assault troops to rally. The men on the ferry arrived on the far bank and were able to shift the momentum.

The ferry was hauled back across and another company were loaded aboard. The whole thing had taken less than 30 minutes, but again the Germans were across the Albert Canal. Engineers with great valour got a second lot of ropes across and the second ferry was up and running. The surviving mortar and artillery men were back to hitting the Belgians with High Explosive and smoke rounds. One of the panzers exploded as it was hit by a 47mm anti-tank round. The Belgians were trying to pinch off the assault from both flanks. More of the German MG34s were engaged suppressing the Belgian fire. Von Gablenz heard his forward air controller calling for a Stuka attack, but hearing they were unavailable. He seized the handset and identifying himself demanded Luftwaffe support. The Luftwaffe officer told him in no uncertain terms that since the Stukas which hadn’t been shot down were currently refuelling and being rearmed, they were unavailable and when they became available, he would have first call on them.

He asked his radio man to connect him to the artillery commander. The depute artillery man explained that the last Belgian air attack had killed the commander, and he was just now able to get most of the surviving batteries back into action. One of the problems he faced was that the Storch who had been correcting the fall of shot was no longer answering radio calls. Von Gablenz had no option but to tell him to get on with it.

As the two ferries crossed the canal, it felt as if the two companies would swing the battle Germany’s way. At that moment, the Belgian artillery spoke again hitting one of the ferries directly, throwing everyone into the water, living and dead. The second made it ashore, and again the empty vessel was pulled back over. The smoke screen was more or less back at full intensity, so another company attempted to cross in more rubber boats. They could hear the difference between the Belgian and Germany machine guns, and it seemed the MG34s had the upper hand. As the German troops achieved the far bank, they were able to halt the flanking attacks, with tank support from the near bank.

More engineers now rushed forward with the hope of getting started on a pontoon bridge. Belgian fire was diminishing as the surviving ferry brought more and more German troops into the fight. A third ferry was rigged and one of the Panzer IIs rolled onto it. When it reached the far shore there was a delay until they could get it ashore, and when it raced forward to support the assault it too was disabled by the 47mm gun, still out of sight. The two ferries were able to get a second battalion across the canal. The bridgehead was being expanded step by bloody step. The Engineers got the pontoons in place and soon a steady stream of German troops crossed onto the Belgian side.

Another Belgian air raid attempted to interrupt the proceedings. This time the Foxes were completely incapable of getting their bombs onto the German positions, and two of them were shot out of the sky. Another battalion had now made it over and the engineers were making good progress with the temporary bridge. Von Gablenz sent the signal to 6th Army HQ, a bridgehead over the Canal was theirs, and was ready to be exploited.

It had taken 48 hours, but the Albert Canal line had been breached. The Belgian 4th Division had no reserves left to counter attack. To their right the Belgian 7th Division had to fall back towards Hasselt, then Eben Emael.

7 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Koetshette. Luxembourg.

The supply officer was watching as the cans of petrol were collected by the panzer crews as they drove slowly past. There wasn’t enough time in the schedule for them to actually stop, so they stacked the cans on their deck and would refuel at their next stop, dropping off the empty cans at a dump to be refilled later.

The sound of aircraft was heard, and soon some Flak batteries started shooting. The supply troops quickly pulled over the camouflage netting, while the tanks tried to get off the road and among the trees. Explosions started further up the road, and very quickly came closer. Four aircraft flew over very fast, the cluster bombs they dropped spread among the trees as well as on the road. The petrol dump began to burn. A few tanks that weren’t covered were hit by 20mm canon fire. But it was the burning fuel on the decks of the tanks that was a big threat.

Another delay.

7 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Saint-Hubert, Belgium.

The French 1re DLC had been in and around Saint-Hubert for 24 hours when they first encountered the German 2nd Panzer Division. The Chasseurs Ardennais had held the Panzers up at Bastogne the day before, destroying a number of tanks and halftracks with their 47mm guns. As the panzers were about to outflank them, the Belgians had pulled back northwards to Noville. The delaying tactics were working well. Some German infantry had to be left to protect against a flank attack.

As the German reconnaissance troops arrived at the river Ourthe, the French sappers blew the bridges, though the river was fordable by most armoured vehicles. The French 46/1 (mot) Sapper-Miner Company had laid a number of mine fields that caught the Germans off guard, and the French divisional artillery covered these fields. As the 3rd Panzer Regiment deployed to cross the valley, the Hotchkiss H39s of the 1re Cuirassier Regiment, 2e Cavalry Brigade took the Panzers under fire from well concealed positions. As they pulled back the Panzers gave chase, only to find themselves under the sights of the 47mm anti-tank guns of the 75e RATTT (Régiment d'Artillerie Tractée Tous Terrains).

As the Panzers tried to deal with this threat, their motorised infantry had been brought forward and as they got out of their vehicles, they came under accurate artillery fire from the French Divisional 105mm guns. The time it took to get the assault under way allowed the anti-tank guns to be pulled back, and still covered by the H39s. Between the Belgians the day before and this French ambush, the 3rd Panzer Regiment was now seriously depleted. The French and Belgians had a penchant for knocking out commander’s tanks, and so the units were being directed by less and less senior officers, leading to more mistakes. Major-General Rudolf Veiel ordered the 4th Panzer Regiment to take over leading the Division.

7 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Bertrix. Belgium.

First Panzer Division had spent the night in Neufchateau and were now heading for Bertrix, where the French and Belgians had regrouped. The French Colonel Evain had learned hard lessons the day before, and this time his positions at Bertix were far better integrated. The Chasseurs Ardennais had been annoying the Germans all morning. Roads were cratered, bridges and culverts were blown up and trees were felled. Many ambushes were conducted and mines were liberally sown. The Belgians then disappeared back into the forests.

2nd Panzer Regiment were leading, their motorised infantry integrated with the tanks because of the need to clear the road so many times. The country between Neufchateau and Bertrix was fairly open and rolling. Most of Evain’s anti-tank guns were only 25mm and lacked the range to take on the Germans at any distance. So Evian used his artillery as his primary weapon. He had set out his reconnaissance elements is such a way that whichever line of advance the Germans employed, the artillery spotters would be able to call down fire.

At various points French tanks would engage the Germans at range, then withdraw onto their anti-tank screen. As the afternoon wore on more and more German vehicles were left burning along the roads and fields. French losses grew as the day continued, but they certainly had the better ratio of losses. By 17:00hrs the Germans reached the outskirts of Bertrix. The French forces had intended to hold the line at the small river Rau and withdraw during the night, but a company of Panzer IIs had taken a track through the forest and had managed to flank the French position. Evain ordered the withdrawal sooner than he intended, but again for the Germans what might have been a morning's march, had taken most of the day and eaten into the numbers of tanks and infantry that were the tip of the spear.

To make matters worse for the Panzers, in the first successful operation of its kind, a French Air Force officer called in an air strike on the Panzer positions. While only six Martin 167Fs actually attacked, their accuracy was very good, and so the 2nd Panzer regiment, like its sister formation, 1st Panzer regiment, was further weakened.

7 May 1940. 14:00hrs. Beringen, Belgium.

The Belgian Colonel was on the phone to General Headquarters. The German crossing near Heusden was rapidly expanding. The Colonel had used all his reserves in the main counterattack, and now he was desperately trying to prevent his line being rolled up. His men were fighting bravely, but there was a limit to what bravery could achieve. He was looking for the Corps reserves to be thrown in, or even one of the cavalry division to plug the gap at Genenbos.

General Joseph Beernaert, commander of the Belgian 2nd Cavalry Division was given the task to try to close the breach, or if not, to cover the retreat of the 7th Division. General Daumerie of that Division was trying to plan an organised withdrawal of his troops to keep a shoulder on each side of the breach. Beernaert was promised maximum air support, from the surviving Belgian air force and from the RAF. So far very few German tanks were across the canal. The 1er Régiment de Guides would assault the Germans from the direction of Paal, and the 2e Régiment de Lanciers would attack from Lummen, though it would be 4pm before the troops would be in position. The 3e Régiment de Lanciers would be held in reserve.

General Daumerie, of 7th Division had got permission to use his reserves to try to hold the Germans in place until the Cavalry could attack. So as the Germans got more and more men onto the southern bank, they were still under fire, the Belgians had not collapsed. As much artillery fire as possible was being brought on the German positions, and likewise, seeing the possibility of a break out the Germans had brought forward more of their artillery to support what was already present. This was important as the Divisional artillery had burned through most of their stocks, especially of smoke shells.

At 14:00hrs the Stukas made another appearance and disrupted the movement of the 1er Régiment de Guides, as well as causing some casualties among the motorcycle battalion. Three Stukas were lost, one to ground fire and the other two to Hurricanes. By 4pm the German 7th Infantry Division had managed to get almost 3000 men over the canal. They hadn’t been able to make much forward progress, just over two kilometres. At 15:30hrs the Belgian Air Force’s squadron of Battles attacked the bridgehead, and seven of the nine planes were lost. It looked like one pilot deliberately crashed his damaged plane onto the pontoon bridge which all their bombs had failed to destroy. They were escorted by two flights of Gladiators and four of these strafed the German soldiers waiting to cross. At 15:45hrs another attack by Foxes was launched, again at a high cost, six of the twelve were shot down. However this raid did manage to hit two batteries of artillery reducing their effectiveness.

At 16:00hrs the Belgian artillery opened up in a sustained barrage. Under this barrage the 2nd Cavalry Division began its counter attack. The 2e Régiment de Lanciers were led by their T15s, their 13.2 mm turret machine guns cutting through the German defenders. Just after 16:00hrs the RAF added their weight to the attack. Blenheims dropped cluster bombs around the crossing point, losing three aircraft in the process, but doing serious harm to the Flak batteries. But it was the canon armed Hurribombers that started to make the real difference. Once their cluster bombs had done their damage, eight planes made a number of passes, which along with the Belgian barrage, had put the German infantry under tremendous pressure. As the Belgian Cavalry troops advanced, the German problem of resupply grew. The best efforts of the Engineers had been undone by the cluster bombs.

The Belgian advance continued, a few of the T15s were lost to German anti-tank guns, but the Belgians were making progress, and casualties were growing on both sides. The German had nowhere to withdraw to, and they knew that crossing this defence line was crucial. The Belgians knew that if this breach was allowed to expand, then the whole country could be lost. The Belgian 7th Division’s reserves moved up to support the Cavalry coming from Paal. T13s led the way and soon managed to unseat the German defensive position, leading to a confused position, some Germans were forced to surrender as their ammunition ran out, others fell back towards the canal. At 17:30hrs another raid by Blenheims and Hurribombers, broke the Germans. The last of the Germans on the Belgian side of the canal surrendered at 21:00hrs. The Belgian line had been restored, but at a high cost.

7 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Reims. France. HQ RAF Advance Air Striking Force.

The senior RAF officers were reviewing the last four days actions. Overall the situation was just about satisfactory. The arrival of 11 Group had expanded the Air component of the BEF, known now as 14 Group. The wing from 10 Group of Fighter Command for Belgium and Holland had taken some of the pressure off them. The Hurribombers were doing well in their task, and the Blenheims too, but losses were running at over 10%, and so operational tempos would have to be scaled back soon. On the other hand, they were glad they weren’t the Luftwaffe who must be really suffering.

The next concern was the target list. With the French attack on the Ardennes this morning, the Hurribombers would go in this afternoon, and hopefully the French would manage another attack in the evening. The Belgian and Dutch bombers would have to keep up the pressure in their own sectors for the moment. If and when the Germans broke through then the RAF would concentrate on that sector, leaving the French to support their own troops.

The good news was that another two former Battle squadrons had completed their conversion to Hurribombers, and that would go some way to making up for the losses. Keith Park was particularly keen to see that his Spitfire squadrons’ primary task, the defence of the airfields wasn’t forgotten. By flying escort to bombing mission pilots could be lost over enemy lines, and he wanted to make sure his Spitfire pilots were protected as well as possible. The point of a “fighter-bomber” like the Hurribomber was that it should be able to protect itself to some degree.

7 May 1940. 16:00hrs. Lommel, Belgium.

Hauptman Willi Schmidt, CO of 4th Panzer Division’s Heavy Reconnaissance Company was too excited to feel his tiredness. He had travelled all the way along the canal, finding no crossing points, now he was at Lommel and his units were racing all over the place. He had found a gap between the Belgians and Dutch, with a strong chance to turn to Dutch Peel-Ram Line. But that was 18th Army’s problem.

His own Division was more interested in getting behind the Belgian position. The bridges here hadn’t been blown, he had no idea why, but he had troops at the crossing points making sure that no belated attempts would succeed. The locks at Herentals looked like a good place to attempt a crossing, one of his motorcycle teams were reporting back from there.

Generalleutnant Ludwig Ritter von Radlmeier (4th Panzer Division’s CO) received the report from Schmidt with delight. At last his men could get a proper run at things. They’d been in support of the 7th Infantry Division’s attempt to cross the canal the day before. But now he could use his best weapon, speed, to try to get through the Belgian defence and get on with the war. He started dictating orders to get his Division moving, there was still enough daylight left to be in position to assault the Albert Canal Line next morning.

7 May 1940. 17:00hrs. Ansbach. Headquarters of KG II, Luftflotte 3.

Only three out of eight Do17s had returned from their reconnaissance over France in the morning. However one of the bases being used by the RAF’s 3 Group Wellingtons in France had been identified. The Intelligence staff had taken the fact that the British had bombed so far into Germany in the early hours of the morning meant that the chances of them being based out of France much higher. So it proved.

The Do17s of Luftflotte 3, KGII had fairly light losses, and so 68 were prepped and ready for an evening attack on Nancy-Ochey. The base was the normal home of Zone Headquarters for the Zone d'Opérations Aériennes Est. A squadron each of Potez 63.11 and Curtis 75s were based here, but two squadrons of Wellingtons were being prepped for another night raid. The German bombers were escorted by Me110s of II/ZG 26.

There was a breakdown in communication among the French, so the radar warning wasn’t passed on in time to get most of the fighters up to defend the airfield, only 4 Hawks were on CAP. These managed to shoot down one each of the Me110s and Do17s for the loss of two of their own. But it wasn’t enough to disrupt the air raid, and since the airfield didn’t have enough space for proper dispersal, 10 Wellingtons and four Potez were destroyed on the ground, and a further 8 Wellingtons were damaged. As KG II returned however they were attacked another three times by various French fighters, losing another four Do17s and two Me110s. The RAF had had a taste of their own medicine.

7 May 1940. 18:00hrs. Escaut River. Belgium.

Private Cartwright was brewing up for his squad and telling them about his encounter with some Gurkhas from III Corps. He had been back at the Quarter Master collecting rations, when a platoon of the Nepalese warriors had marched past. He was trying to describe their knives, when Sergeant Banks stopped by. Banks had served in the North West Frontier, and was familiar with the Gurkhas. He started telling some of the stories of the fighting ability of the Gurkhas and their Khukuri blades. The Jocks were happy that they were on their side.

7 May 1940. 19:00hrs. Bapaume, France. HQ Second British Army.

General Alan Brooke had just returned from a full meeting of his two Corps commanders. First Mechanised Corps (1st Armoured, 50 & 51 Div) and IV Corps (1st Canadians, 6 & 52 Div) were now declared fully operational. Brooke was happy with that. His third Corps V Corps (12th, 23rd and 46th Div) was still not ready, another two or three weeks if all went well. The Belgians and Dutch were still holding their defensive lines, but that couldn’t last forever, but the longer they did the better. The French were in contact the Germans in the Ardennes, and so far that was fine. Every day the BEF grew stronger, the new equipment was fine, but it was more artillery pieces and more ammunition for them, that gladdened his gunner’s heart.

7 May 1940. 20:00hrs. Fauvillers. Belgium.

Heinz Guderian looked at his map interpreting the information he’d received from Generals Kirchner and Veiel. Despite all his instructions that they needed to be at the Meuse on day three of the attack, it was now the end of day two and both Panzer Divisions were seriously depleted, and nowhere near the Meuse. He had planned for the French and Belgian resistance, but this seemed excessive. Tomorrow he’d have to cross La Semoy at Bouillon, but looking at the forces available to him, they would struggle to overwhelm the French positions.

The tip of his spear, the First and Second Panzer Divisions had been blunted by the Belgians and French. Tenth Panzer Division with the Grossdeutschland Infantry had been affected by the French air raids, which slowed and weakened them. The most obvious thing to do was to take these units off the road, and let the 2nd Echelon, Panzerkorps Reinhardt to move through and hit the French with the full force of 6th Panzer Division and two Motorised Infantry Divisions. They would need the infantry to force a crossing of La Semoy, never mind the Meuse. There was enough strength left between his own three Panzer Divisions to back up this attack, and along with the 3rd Echelon, with the 8th Panzer Division and another Motorised infantry division, to exploit the breakthrough. All this was of course based on the premise that his lines of communication would be protected by the Luftwaffe, and the three raids today, if repeated tomorrow, would be more or less fatal.

7 May 1940. 21:00hrs. OKH Headquarters. Berlin. Germany.

Franz Halder, the Chief of Staff, read the reports from von Rundstedt’s Army Group A, with a heavy heart. The French and Belgians are doing much better than the war games gave them credit for. Looking at the situation map if felt that the gamble wasn’t going to pay off. The idea that the Entente had prior knowledge of the plan was still around. The British and French didn’t seem to be moving too far into Belgium. Even if a breakthrough could be made near Sedan, the strongest French armies, First and Seventh, were intact and in position to crush whatever German advance was most successful.

The Luftwaffe were still claiming great air victories, and a strong position. He would need to have a chat with his opposite number at the OKL, as Göring’s numbers just didn’t add up. The Luftwaffe support was an essential part of the plan to get across the Meuse. If they weren’t able to deliver on their promise, the Heer really needed to know. The air cover for the roads through the Ardennes didn’t seem as strong as it should be, too much damage had been done, and too many delays had been caused by French and British raids.

Halder really didn’t like what he was seeing.

7 May 1940. 22:00hrs. Panningen. The Netherlands.

In Alfred von Hubicki’s 9th Panzer Division Headquarters word of the gap between the Belgians and Dutch had reached him in the late afternoon, and his orders had got the majority of his tanks on the road to swing round south of Weert. His own reconnaissance troops were telling him that the Zuid-Willamsvaart was vulnerable at Bocholt. One of his tank battalions with a motorised infantry Battalion were getting into position and would try a night assault, which was not one of their strengths. However they’d been sitting around too much, this would give them the chance of create a foothold which could be exploited in the morning. The other panzer battalion and the rest of the motorised infantry would exploit towards Eindhoven and the rest for Breda.

7 May 1940. 23:00hrs. Bocholt. Belgium.

Captain Hermann Goossens was the commanding Dutch officer and he had always felt more than a little uncomfortable being on Belgian soil, although 500m didn’t seem too far from the border. This was the very southern edge of the Peel-Raam line, and the Belgians were supposedly covering the ground between the Zuid-Willamsvaart canal, the Bocholt-Herentals canal and their main line of defence at the Albert Canal. He had spoken a few times to the local Belgian commander, a reserve Major from the local reserve company. But they didn’t seem to have much in the way of men or equipment. Goossens was preparing to withdraw his men back towards the Water Line, which was a good 40kms away. He had managed to commandeer a number of civilian vehicles to aid in covering that distance. The Germans had been busy on the other side of the canal most of the afternoon, and Goossens was pretty sure they’d try to force a crossing the next morning.

When the flares went off, it took Goossens and his men off guard. The pillboxes only had a sentry in each one, most of the men were organising themselves on the vehicles. In the glare of the light movement was spotted across the canal, the sentries in two of the pillboxes opened fire with their rifles. Tracers from two MG 34s started tearing over the heads of the Dutch soldiers. Goossens knew that if he tried to get his men off the vehicles they’d never be in position to hold the Germans back. He ordered the drivers to take the company up the road, he stayed behind to set the charges on the bridge. It was already raised, but instead of allowing it to be captured and lowered, it had been rigged with explosives to put it beyond use. As he ran forward he drew fire from the Germans and was wounded in the leg. He continued to crawl towards the pillbox where the fuse was set. The sentry in the pillbox was cowering below the loophole as his Captain dragged himself in. He set the fuse, but a section of German infantry had managed to get across using some ladders. They immediately ran to the bridge and removed the wires. Groossen was captured along with three of his men. The 9th Panzer Division had turned the flank of the Peel-Raam Line.

7 May 1940. 24:00hrs. The Peel-Raam Line. Holland.

The order to fall back to the Water Line under the cover of darkness had arrived in the late evening. Officers were organising lines of march and whatever transport they could. Other officers were sorting out the rear guard and as many booby traps and other parting gifts for the Germans that they could. Some of the local reservists volunteered to stay behind, it was their own homes they were defending. They were left with instructions not to play the hero. They should make the Germans believe that the Line was fully manned, and if the Germans attack to put up a token resistance and either melt away home, or surrender promptly. The Light Division would play a role in holding up the progress of the Germans to allow the main body of troops to make it back to the Water Line. However with 9th Panzer Division rolling up the line from the south, and knowing this by radio, the infantry Divisions of 18th Army probed the line extensively, finding that the Dutch were in the process of retreating.

The retreat was a mixed affair. Some Dutch troops threw away their weapons and uniforms and went home. Other units were caught by pursuing Germans, or intercepted by the Panzers coming up from the south. Other units made their way to Tilburg and Den Bosch without incident. The Light Division played its part effectively in some places and less so in others. It would take two days for everything to settle down with the Dutch strong behind their traditional defensive screen. But a third of Dutch forces from the Peel-Raam Line weren’t able to join them. The withdrawal from the Grebbe Line on the other hand went like clockwork.

One aspect of the withdrawal that was noted in various quarters was the steadfastness of the Dutch population. Very few people became internal refugees. In the day beforehand a number of important people were collected by the police and brought to Fortress Holland. These included scientists, essential workers, and people who would be under threat from German occupation forces. There was also a sustained campaign of vandalism and sabotage to factories and other resources that might be put to use to support the Germans.

The main Philips factory in Eindhoven had been moved, lock, stock and barrel, over the previous two days and much of it sailed under Royal Navy protection to the shadow factories in England. A few other companies had done the same, and machine tools, blueprints, research material and other essentials were removed before they could fall into enemy hands. In a similar fashion a great deal of the country’s rich and powerful removed themselves and much of their assets and capital with them. It wasn’t quite a scorched earth policy, but Holland would not simply become an adjunct to the Reich.

8 May 1940. 03:00hrs. Aachen. Germany.

The Whitleys of Bomber Command’s Number 4 Group had been well used over the last few days. This group had the most pre-war experience of night bombing, and so their skills had been necessary for the operation to attack the German airbases.

Photoreconnaissance evidence showed there was a heavy concentration of the German army between Koln and Aachen. The Whitleys were tasked with attempting to disrupt this. To improve their chances as much as possible two master bombers from 3 Group would lead the Whitleys and mark the targets for them. They identified the roads and railway on the edge of Aachen as the primary target. There would likely be civilian casualties, but there wasn’t any simple solutions to that.

The six squadrons put up the maximum number of planes available, sixty-two and guided by the two Wellingtons they arrived over the target area in a loose formation. The simple expedient of providing tail gunners with hooded torches which they flashed every five minutes had kept the bombers together.

Like 3 Group’s Wellingtons, the actual bombing took place at a lower level than they were used to and the marker flares were dropped accurately. Each plane carried 12 250lb and 2 500lb bombs. Their targets included both railways and roads and the degree of accuracy meant that a number of German supply units suffered various levels of interdiction. As the Whitleys returned home they passed over a flak trap and lost nine aircraft, with more damaged.

8 May 1940 04:00hrs. Köln-Butzweilerhof. Germany.

The bombing of this airfield the first night had been less than accurate, and 3 Group sent four squadrons, thirty-eight Wellingtons, to attempt to hit the Stukas that were based there. OBOE worked well and a successful raid left 10 Stukas destroyed and another 8 damaged. Two Wellingtons failed to return to base.

8 May 1940. 05:00hrs. Wiesbaden-Erbenheim. Germany.

The other target that 3 Group attempted to hit was this Me109 base. The losses at Nancy earlier in the day meant that only 18 Wellingtons were available, and while their accuracy was good, the Luftwaffe had been getting better at dispersal, so only 5 Me109s were destroyed, though a few more were damaged. Very little damage was done otherwise. All the Wellingtons returned to base in England, though five had some damage.

Bomber Command decided that 3 Group should be rested after this raid, to give them time to build up their strength and train new crews. The master bombers would join 5 Group for further attacks.

8 May 1940. 06.00hrs. Bastogne. Belgium.

The Armée de L’Air’s losses the day before in their attacks on German forces in Luxembourg had been heavy. So for this first sortie of the day they could only put up 160 bombers of various types. The town of Bastogne was identified as being on the path of one of the main German supply routes. The bombers targeted the main roads, with the result that a number of Belgian civilians were killed. German Flak was well emplaced, and as the French aircraft tended to arrive in small packets, their bombing wasn’t concentrated. However a number of German supply units were hampered and it added to the delays significantly.

The Luftwaffe managed to have a strong standing patrol over the Ardennes in preparation for the expected French attack. The French fighters escorting the bombers gave a good account of themselves again. Altogether twelve French bombers and eight fighters were lost for six Me109s and four Me11os.

The AdA decided to focus their MS 406 squadrons in the ground attack mode, they had shown their ability to do this the day before. Sixty of these fighters concentrated on the area around Neufchateau. For the German columns these fighter attacks were more of a problem than being bombed. The fighter pilots strafed roads with their machine guns and 2omm canons. The Flak had problems countering them too as they flew low and fast. The few times they were intercepted the French fighter pilots reverted to their training. Four MS406s were shot down and another two collided. Two more Me109s were lost.

For the whole of the day there was a running air battle over the Ardennes region. British Blenheims and Hurribombers concentrated on the northern movement of Hoth’s XV Corps, with 5th Panzer Division’s line of march being hit a number of times. The French bombers and fighters returned to three and four times. Losses declined as the day progressed as the Luftwaffe struggled to keep the number of fighters needed in the air. By the end of the day the AdA had flown almost 850 sorties. Their losses were 67 of all types for all causes. The Germans lost 24 fighters.

The Luftwaffe’s bombers were active themselves all day supporting the break-throughs in Holland and Belgium. However they found the RAF fighters along with the remnants of the Dutch and Belgian air forces ready and waiting for them. The decision had been made to bring HMS Cardiff with her radar into the area of the southern North Sea, working out of Felixstowe. Four squadrons of Spitfires were familiar enough with the ground control system that the Luftwaffe pilots began to believe there were many more British fighters in the area than there actually were, as nearly every time they arrived over a target, they were bounced by Spitfires and other fighters.

Each squadron of Spitfires was linked to another squadron, usually Hurricanes, who followed their lead. This caused the Luftwaffe no end of problems. The worst case was a group of 12 Stukas over Herentals of which only two survived. Their Me109 escorts had been drawn away by the Spitfires, allowing a Hurricane squadron to fall on the Stukas. Luftflotte 2 losses for the day ran to fifty-three aircraft of all types. The RAF lost 6 Spitfires and 7 Hurricanes. The Belgians and Dutch lost 14 of various types.

For the Luftwaffe this was a very different experience from Poland where they had total air supremacy. In this case neither side had total control of the air, but the Entente was certainly gaining the upper hand, mostly because of the use of radar. The losses among the Luftwaffe were becoming critical in various areas. The fighter pilots were having to fly far too many sorties, and were paying a heavy price. A small number of Luftwaffe pilots were chalking up multiple kills, becoming Aces many times over. But the majority of pilots were starting to feel under pressure, especially as they were obviously not getting the upper hand. In addition their airfields could be bombed at night, which added to their discomfort.

The French and the British, on the other hand, were able to rotate some of their fighter squadrons out of the fight, giving them time in quiet sectors to rest and rebuild. The French fighter squadrons were actually growing, despite the losses, as more and more of those 21 squadrons that had been converting to new types began to be fed into the battle. While at the end of April only a few Dewoitine 520 squadrons were available, this had risen to eight. Another twelve squadrons of fighters had been rushed into the battle from the conversion process, mostly flying Curtis 75s. The RAF’s 11 Group’s squadrons were able to fly back to their main bases in the evening, allowing the maintenance to be conducted at night, and the pilots to get a good night’s sleep. The production of Spitfires was still increasing, and so replacement fighters were available.

Park and Dowding had a meeting to discuss replacement pilots. Dowding had had it made clear to him by Churchill that the fight in France and the Low Countries was where the fight was now, and that Fighter Command should be supporting the BEF and their allies with as many resources as possible. Holding squadrons back “just in case” was more likely to lead to defeat than victory. The German idea of the concentration of forces was to be copied and bettered. The threat to the home islands was limited, and so Dowding agreed to allow the 11 Group squadrons to be replaced with 12 and 13 Group squadrons when they needed to be rested. This would also allow more pilots to get some combat experience.

8 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Herentals. Belgium.

With the help of the Reconnaissance motorcycle troops, Hauptman Hans Marks, commander of 1st Company, 4th Rifle Regiment of 4th Panzer Division had a clear idea of the Belgian defences at this point of the Albert Canal at Herentals. His company, leading the rest of the regiment had been able to get close to the locks over the Bocholt-Herentals canal. Troops from the 3rd Panzers were demonstrating to the east, which was distracting the Belgians. Marks had placed Private Georg Küng, the best shot in the company, in an oversight position and when he started sniping, the first platoon would rush the locks. They had found various ladders and planks of wood that could be used to cross the narrowest points.

A shot rang out from the sniper’s position and without hesitation first platoon raced forward. At that point six of the Machine Gun Company’s MG 34s opened up with suppressive fire. Grenades flashed within two of the pillboxes as they fell to the German assault. Second platoon then raced over the makeshift crossings and surged forward, through First platoon who were mopping up and attempting to swing the foot bridge over. Achieving this, the rest of the company crossed and ran as fast as they could to reach the bridge over the Albert Canal.

The whole of the Wehrmacht’s XVI Corps artillery began to pound the Belgian side of the canal. Smoke was mixed with High Explosive to give the assault infantry cover as they got into position to launch the attack. As Mark’s company raced forward they saw that the bridge was not yet blown, and they ran straight onto it, waiting every second for the explosion that would take their lives. They didn't realise that a direct hit had destroyed the pillbox where the fuse was to be activated. As they spread out, Marks got a radio message back to say that they had an intact bridge.

As they were running forward, the Bridging Company were throwing a simple light bridge over the lock, and within half an hour the first of the Panzer IIs were able to cross. These rolled straight down and over the main bridge. Three were knocked out by anti-tank guns, but soon these defensive positions were being overrun by the infantry. More and more tanks made it over, the Belgians having little to stop them with. The Bridging Company were able to get a more substantial bridge across the first canal and soon the heavier Panzer IIIs and IVs were getting across and into the Belgian positions.

2nd Company of the 4th Rifle Regiment moved east rolling up the Belgians, with the support of four panzers. They reached the locks at Olen, where 3rd Panzers were ready to make a crossing. With the Germans in control on both sides of the Canal it didn’t take too long for another crossing to be erected. By noon, two Panzer divisions were crossing in strength, and the Belgians could do nothing about it.

8 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Ciney. Belgium.

The last couple of days had been something of a nightmare for 7th Panzer Division. From the moment they entered Belgium, passing St Vith, the movement had been dogged by persistent Belgian delaying tactics. The hit and run characteristic of the Chasseurs Ardennais attacks had been a constant thorn in the side of the Germans who were trying to get to the Meuse at Dinant. The previous night they had successfully crossed the river Ourthe and were now approaching Ciney, where they were expecting to find a French Cavalry Division.

66th Panzer Battalion, under command of Major Rudolf Sieckenius was the lead formation in Czech made Panzer 38ts. As they were nearing Marche they were ambushed. Four tanks were knocked out, including the command tank of a popular company commander. As the Germans broke the ambush and flanked the French infantry and anti-tank gunners, the French surrendered en masse. They were members of the 2nd Algerian Spahi Regiment. Their white Lieutenant was wounded and as they were rounded up, there was a dispute which broke out, the Military Police were concentrating on keeping traffic moving and did not to be loaded down with prisoners. The Panzer men obviously couldn’t send men back. Before the debate could continue, the sound of machine guns broke the deadlock, all the French colonial soldiers were killed, and the panzer men carried on their advance.

The French 4th DLC was made up of the 4th Cavalry Brigade and the 14th Light Mechanised Brigade which was equipped with 6 squadrons of the latest Panhard armoured cars and 14 H35 tanks. General Barbe had decided to use the 14th LMB as aggressively as possible. They had the best equipment, and the 14th Dragoon regiment had new American 6 wheeled vehicles that gave them superior mobility. The area between Marche-en-Fammene and Ciney was fairly rolling country and suited for mobility warfare. The result was a rolling battle between the 7th Panzer Division and 14th LMB with losses substantial on both sides. At the end of the day the French had lost 20% of their personnel and 50% of their vehicles. However 7th Panzers had also been badly mauled. The three Panzer battalions had to be folded into two, the Panzer I and IIs being particularly hard hit. The two Rifle Regiments hadn’t come off too badly, but the motorcycle battalion was down to one effective company. The 37th Reconnaissance Battalion, under command of Major Erdmann, had found that the French Armoured Cars did much better than theirs, and Major Erdmann was killed in action.

As they approached Ciney, where the 4th Cavalry Brigade was waiting for them, 7th PD was already hurting. The French resistance was eventually broken, but at a high cost. The P38ts had been reduced by a third, only 60 left operational. The Panzer IVs had made the difference, but six of these had been destroyed as well, a quarter of the total. Their break through happened because General Rommel had come up and personally directed the lead tank where to go, but he was wounded in the leg by a French machine gun.

The 4th DLC had more or less ceased to exist as a force. But they had done what they had been asked to do: To delay the German approach to the Meuse at Dinant and to blunt the tip of the German spear. 7th Panzer Division was badly hurt, and General Hoth decided to break it up, giving its effective strength to the 2nd Infantry (Motorised) Division and to make up for losses in the 5th Panzer Division. 7th PD’s commander, Erwin Rommel, was among the wounded who were shipped back to German hospitals.

8 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Brussels. Belgium.

The news that the Germans had broken through the Albert Canal Line was met with a degree of despair. The Cavalry Division which had rolled back the previous day’s incursion was not in a position to do anything about this. King Leopold gave orders for the rest of the II Corps to withdraw behind the Dyle line, though that would be a temporary expedient, they would need to withdraw back to Antwerp and the Eschaut line. The king mentally cursed the French and British for staying as far back as they were. Once more Leuven and Brussels would fall to German occupation, and there was little that could be done about it. The losses to the Belgian air force the day before meant that there was very little to slow the German advance, though the RAF was making some efforts to defend against Luftwaffe support for the two panzer divisions, which were heading at speed for Mechelen and Aarschot.

8 May 1940. 10:00hrs. The Hague. The Netherlands.

The withdrawal to the Water Line was going fine in the northern sector, but the Germans were pressing hard at the heels of the Dutch troops withdrawing from the Peel-Raam Line. All other Dutch forces had been strengthening the Water line for the past few days and it was now the best it could be. The few remaining fighters and bombers were being assisted by the RAF, but in a limited way, the air battle over Belgium was the British priority. A great deal of the country was now under German occupation, but the army was more or less intact and still fighting.

In Zeeland, in the south of the country the French naval division and the British Royal Marines were being reinforced by some Dutch forces that weren’t able to withdraw back to the Water Line. These forces weren’t strong enough to mount an attack on the German flank, but they were keeping some German troops occupied with guarding that flank.

8 May 1940. 11:00hrs. London. England.

The Oversight Committee were meeting with Prime Minister Churchill and the War Cabinet. Churchill was under some pressure from the Belgians and Dutch to do more, but along with the French he was clear what the German plan was, and that dissipating his forces would be counter-productive, but he was still conscious of wanting to do something. So the meeting was looking at other possibilities. The Royal Navy was the only service who were not wholly committed to the fight on the Continent. The Admiralty reminded the meeting that a certain help was being provided in the form of the Royal Marines, Motor Gun Boats and the protective fleet around HMS Cardiff. Churchill wondered if a couple of the R class battleships might close with the Dutch coast to provide naval gunfire support. The big guns firing from Rotterdam and possibly Antwerp would give the Germans a large headache. The Admiral blanched somewhat at this proposal.

The situation in Norway was now quite quiet. Occasional air raids were the only issue, and the Norwegian Air Force, along with the Danish and RAF squadrons were well placed to defend Oslo. There was the possibility of withdrawing the 49th (West Riding) Division and sending them to Holland, but with the situation still being fluid, it seemed better to leave them where they were. What could be done, and it would please the French, would be to stage an air raid on Berlin from the Norwegian air fields. The French hadn’t made much use of any of their Farman 222 four engined bombers squadrons, the range to Berlin being too far from their bases. But if they flew to England, and then to Norway, and perhaps joined by the Hampdens of Bomber Command’s 5 Group, then some revenge for the attack on Paris could be meted out.

The other alternative that was looked as was taking one of the three Divisions that were being brought up to strength to form V Corps. The 12th, 23rd and 46th Divisions were still a few weeks away from full readiness, but one of them could join the Dutch. Alternatively the 4th Indian Division could be shipped. It was pointed out that the Dutch army was still quite strong behind their Water Line, and a ‘half baked’ infantry division would be little or no help at all, and the Indians were needed to provide a strong basis for VI Corps when it came into being. There were a few regular battalions however in England that were preparing to go over to France, and some of these could perhaps be sent to Holland, though sending them to support the Royal Marines at Flushing would make more sense.

The possible use of the Hampdens to attack Berlin did raise another matter, which was their sowing of mines which was bottling up the German fleet, especially their U Boats. There had been no sinking’s of merchant ships by submarines for over a week. It was understood from Ultra intercepts that the German Navy was in so much disfavour that they were staying in port, their losses had been so high. The pressure mines had been particularly successful. Withdrawing the Hampdens from this effort could lead to an increase in U boat activity, and that would need to be taken into account. Over the last couple of nights one squadron of Hampdens had successfully sowed mines in the Rhine, which was interfering with barge traffic.

Another part of the agenda for the meeting was the increased production levels in war material. The numbers of aircraft being produced were above the loss rates for Spitfires, Hurribombers and Wellingtons. The production of tanks was also going well, and it was hoped that the second armoured division would be fully equipped by the end of the summer, and that most of its tanks would be Valentines. The supply of 25 pounders for the artillery was continuing, and that the nearly the whole of Second Army would be equipped with these. The 6 pounder anti-tank gun prototypes were undergoing tests, and if all went well, these would start replacing the 2 pounders later in the year.

The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was now on a work up cruise. The Fulmars that should have been part of her air wing were currently based in Scotland and the north of England providing protection from the Luftwaffe. So HMS Ark Royal’s air wing was being transferred over the new carrier and that will let HMS Ark Royal go in for a refit. A new upgraded radar set and improved anti-aircraft protection would be the main part of that refit.

A number of patents had been registered in America and quite a few companies were now producing electrical goods, both consumer and military, the consumer products being sold in America was covering some of the cost of the military acquisitions. The main thing that was being mass produced was penicillin. This and some of the other 1980s antibiotics and other medicines had a duel use for both civil and military purposes, and a couple of the big American pharmaceutical companies were happy to pay for licences to manufacture them.

Some of the Fairey Battles that had been withdrawn from service were shipped to the various Empire Training Scheme bases to increase the number of planes available to practise on. Two squadrons worth were shipped to Egypt to replace some older aircraft used by the RAF in the Middle East. While obsolete in Europe they were considered to be good enough against any Italian threat in North or East Africa. Two squadron worth of Sea Hurricanes were also shipped aboard HMS Argus to replace the Sea Gladiators on HMS Glorious and on Malta.

Around the Empire things were going well. In the Middle East the 5th Indian Division and the growing number of Australians and New Zealanders were continuing to train heavily. The New Zealander Brigade had been put onto Malta with some of the Indians just in case any Italians were of a mind to invade. A further Indian Brigade was due in the next week to arrive in Kenya for use in East Africa, and the African Regiments were all in advanced training. It was hoped to have an East African Division ready for deployment in 6 months. The Indian army were now well into an expansion, with many thousands of volunteers now learning some basic drill. The need for uniforms and other equipment was being sourced locally. In Singapore and Burma, Indian Army reinforcements had arrived and were now training extensively in the jungles.

The Canadian Second Division was well on its way to readiness and was expected to be shipped to England in June 1940. A third Canadian Division had been activated in March, and it would not be available for some time. The Canadians were looking at the possibility of outfitting this third Division as an armoured force. Vickers were in discussions with various companies, including Canadian Pacific Railway to construct improved Valentine tanks in its Angus shop in Montreal; General Motors would supply its engine. The Montreal Locomotive Works were also approached to provide a twenty-five pounder self-propelled gun. The Royal Canadian Navy was also expanding, and there were a good number of pilots and other aircrew being trained.

The Australians and New Zealanders were also increasing their armies. They were hampered more by a lack of equipment more than anything else. The possibility of moving the next three brigades (2 Australian, 1 New Zealand) straight to Britain and let them do the rest of their training and equipping there was being seriously looked at. South Africa was concentrating on the air force, though a Brigade of troops would be ready to join Middle East Command before long.

All in all the Empire was going to be force to be reckoned with in 1941.

8 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Paris. France.

The numbers killed by the German air raid had been reckoned at 8476 killed and over 20000 wounded. The fires had raged for two days, and that had been part of the reason for the high casualties. Over 70000 people had been made homeless. There was a national outrage at the Germans and a huge desire to revenge these losses. Pressure mounted on the Government to bring the two best armies, the First and Seventh into the fight, especially to do as much of the fighting as possible in Belgium, rather than on home soil. The Second and Ninth Armies were well placed on the Meuse to hold the Germans, and the First Army was the main reserve for these two in case the Germans did break out. The Seventh Army, along with the BEF’s Second Army were the mobile reserve for the fight in Belgium. But this plan was too secret to share with the people at this stage.

So far only three Light Cavalry Divisions had been in contact with the Germans and had given a good account of themselves, but they were now broken. The next test would be for the defenders at Bouillon. The armies holding the Maginot line were very confident and while the German Army Group C had been demonstrating in front of them, they knew there was no real danger from that direction. There was no sign of danger from the Italian Front either, though that army was at a high state of readiness. Troops from along the Spanish frontier were being moved closer to Paris in case they would be needed as part of the strategic reserve.

The AdA was hurting from the losses it had sustained, but was still very much in the fight. The aircraft factories were replacing losses very quickly, and pilots from squadrons with obsolete aircraft were being trained on the new types. It wasn’t clear how long the current level of operations would be able to be maintained, but the commanders were confident that the Luftwaffe would break before they did. The French navy was mostly intact and had sent some vessels to help the Royal Navy in the North Sea, keeping the lines to Norway open.

8 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Rome. Italy.

Mussolini was relieved when the German ambassador finally left. It had been something of a fraught meeting, with the ambassador trying to get Mussolini to declare war and invade the South of France. Mussolini had been told in no uncertain terms that Hitler would look very kindly on such an act, and very critically if no such declaration of war was forthcoming.

Mussolini was keen to increase the glory of Italy, but his assessment of the balance of forces in France was that the Germans might not have the upper hand. The failure to take Norway and the slowness of the campaign in the west was not as impressive as the fall of Poland. The French and British armies seemed strong enough, and attacking the south of France wouldn’t draw too much away from the main fighting in the northeast.

Mussolini decided to wait and see. If the Germans could take Paris, then probably the Italians should join in. If not, then he would bide his time and see what other opportunities presented themselves.

8 May 1940. 14:00hrs. Washington DC. USA.

President Roosevelt was glad when his wife had gone back to the residence and left him to look over the reports from Europe. Eleanor was still up in arms about the bombing of Paris, and if she were president, America would already be at war with “those Nazi thugs”. Roosevelt knew it was a bit more complicated than that, but it did help his desire to get the country on to something more like a war footing. He was due in a week’s time to address a joint session of Congress, and an appeal for increased funding would go down well, he thought. Churchill had talked about America being “the arsenal of democracy” which he liked, and was trying to work that into his speech.

He was also looking at signing into law a bill for increasing the size of the Navy, and a selective training and service act was also being considered. These measures should bring the American forces up to a better standard.

The French military had a large shopping list, which American companies were happy to take the business, Roosevelt wanted to go further than the current cash and carry system, but there was still too much opposition in Congress, even despite the Luftwaffe’s best efforts.

8 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Bouillon. Belgium.

Guderian’s decision to pull his first echelon off the road and allow Panzerkorps Reinhardt to move through to attack at Bouillon was causing further traffic problems and delays. The General had come up to the front himself to see what the state of things were. The losses to the three panzer divisions were serious, but each one he spoke to was keen to get on with it and get to grips with the French properly.

Panzerkorps Reinhardt consisted of 6th Panzer Division and two Motorised Infantry Divisions, 2nd and 29th. The problem for them to follow Guderian’s orders was that their line of march was also being used by various infantry divisions who were almost acting as rivals in the march rather than keeping to their own poorer roads. The consequence was chaos. Reinhardt had to race around on a motorcycle to get undesignated units off his road. Coupled with regular air attacks, the German army was moving like treacle rather than a well-oiled machine. Guderian and Reinhardt managed to make contact and seeing how things were going, Guderian decided to get his first echelon back in the fight. 10th Panzers who were on the southernmost road, would attack and cross the River Semois.

The surviving forces of the French 5e DLC had been withdrawing during the night, but instead of going straight back down the road to Bouillon, they had been ordered to break right and left, making for Herbeumont or Paliseul. The Germans realised this and therefore had to have an eye of their flanks. The reason for the French lateral movement was that the road into Bouillon was covered by the 2e DLC.

The French commanding General had placed his four reconnaissance groups in a screen about 4kms from Bouillon, mostly at the top of the escarpment that then descended into Bouillon. With a couple of days to prepare, he had mined as much as he could of the approaches, hence the need for 5th DLC not to withdraw towards him. The important mission for the reconnaissance groups was to act as forward artillery controllers. He had managed to acquire an extra two 105mm and two 75mm batteries to double his Divisional total. These had preregistered aiming points on roads, crossroads and possible assembly points.

As the morning had passed and Reinhardt still hadn’t appeared, the Tenth Panzer Division with the Grossdeutschland Infantry had had it drummed into them that speed was the most important thing, they sent out their reconnaissance units and began to follow them.

Led by the 7th Panzer Regiment they began the descent into the valley of the Semois River. The reconnaissance troops had warned of the mines, and so engineers began sweeping. These minefields were covered by French artillery which caused the engineers casualties. With the roads covered, the German infantry started to infiltrate though the forest. While the hill was steep, there were only a few impassable places. The problem was a lack of heavy equipment, but the infiltration tactics allowed a number of machine guns to start firing on French positions behind the river.

Meanwhile the German artillery had started to counter the French fire. The French artillery controllers were still hidden and in radio contact, so the French were in a better position to hit them first. The second problem for the German artillery was the lack of shells. A great deal of the ammunition was back in the traffic jam and so most German guns really only had their ready ammunition, 50 rounds per battery, or 12 rounds per tube. The third, and final problem for the Germans was that the French had brought up the 2nd (Heavy) Battery, 4th Battalion, 110th Artillery Regiment with 155mm guns emplaced sixteen kilometres to the south next to the Sedan railway station.

With the artillery having to pull back, the German attack on the River Semois was already in trouble. The Grossdeutschland Infantry continued to infiltrate through the trees. The bridges had all been blown, and the French troops were well dug in. There were a few points where the river was crossable, and at various places small groups of Germans managed to make it to the far side, but the French were well emplaced and the stormtroopers found it hard going. An urgent request for air support was put through and in the afternoon, large raid by Stukas was unleashed on the French positions. The raid gave the Germans the cover they needed to bring forward their tanks, which were able to give the infantry more cover.

The First Company of the 7th Panzer Regiment forced a crossing over a ford about 300m downstream from the blasted northern bridge. With the end of the air raid, the French artillery started up again, but this time they weren’t as organised or accurate. Under the cover of the tanks, the stormtroopers’ tactics began to tell on the French infantry, who tended to be too static in their defence. Another two companies of tanks managed to get across the ford and widen the breach. The French had been aware of the ford and so had prepared a trap. As more and more German forces crossed the river, the French had placed some of their best anti-tank guns which started to take a toll of the German tanks. Having stalled the enemy, now the mobile reserves began to counterattack. The H35 tanks and armoured cars began to swing the battle back the way of the French. The French artillery also got itself reorganised after the air attack. Soon the way over the river was bracketed by 75mm shells.

The Germans were unable to advance, and the only way back was through an artillery barrage. The battle turned completely with the arrival of four Char-B1 heavy tanks. The Germans had absolutely nothing to counter these with, and soon the remnants of the break-through unit broke and ran. The French still held Bouillon at 16:00hrs, when another attempt by the Luftwaffe was made to break the deadlock. This time however, a force of French fighters broke up the raid and shot down five of the Ju87s.

As the evening progressed more German artillery started to be available, and so General Schaal, commander of 10th Panzers ordered another attack, this time to the east to the town. After a proper artillery barrage, the 69th Rifle Regiment were able to get across, with tank support, and again to probe the French defences. This part of the line was held by 5e Cuirassiers Regiment. The German artillery had managed to destroy the main command post, killing the senior officers and breaking the field telephone lines, which caused some confusion, and a delay to the counter attack. This gave the Germans more time to be organised, and so when the attack came, it was met with fierce German resistance.

The French were using their armoured cars here, and the German Panzer IIs and IIIs were more able to deal with them than the French tanks in Bouillon. The failure of the counter attack, with greater German advance was becoming a real threat to the stability of the French position. When informed that units of 2nd Panzer Division had also managed to cross the Semois further west at Mouzaive, the Commanding officer of 2e DLC, General Berniquet, gave orders for his force to begin to withdraw towards Sedan. For the Germans, to have breached this final line before the Meuse was very important, though it took most of the night and the next morning to be able to build a military bridge so that the rest of the Panzer Corps was able to cross and follow the retreating French forces.

May 8 1940. 16:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

Major Jottrand was looking once more at the damage that had been done by the heavy German artillery. Maastricht II housing three 75mm guns had been hit a number of times by the German siege artillery, killing and injuring thirty of the Belgian defenders. This was the beginning of the fourth day of the siege, and during the night a variety of 7th Division troops had joined the defenders of Eben Emael, though the majority went into Liege itself.

The Germans poured through the breach at Herentals and had taken Mechelen and Aarschot, putting Leuven and Brussels at risk. The Belgian army was falling back in disarray towards the Dyle Line, but that was weak and soon they’d have to join the BEF behind the Eschaut Line. So far the line from Liege to Namur was intact, and was now prepared for an all-round defence. Jottrand could only look after his own place, and that surprisingly still felt quite secure.

May 8 1940. 17:00hrs. Army Headquarters. The Hague. The Netherlands.

General Winkelman listened to the evening briefing with a certain degree of satisfaction. The Germans had launched their attack a full three days ago, and the border infantry companies and the troops on the various lines had done very well, and now the main force of the Dutch army was well positioned behind the Water Line. The German army were hot on the heels of those forces still withdrawing from the Peel-Raam Line, but, he had every confidence that the situation would soon settle down to a siege of Fortress Holland.

They had lost contact with Belgian troops, so that there was a large gap between the two nations’ armies, but that wasn’t unexpected. The Germans were moving in that gap, and the French and British forces in Zeeland would soon be in contact with the enemy.

Looking at the intelligence estimates of the German forces attacking Holland, it seemed that it was only one Army, the 18th, and only one Panzer Division. Winkelman felt something akin to anger that his nation’s survival was seen by the Germans as almost a sideshow. Well, he thought, this sideshow had teeth, and he intended to sink them into the German invaders as far as he could.

May 8 1940. 18:00hrs. Reichskanzlei, Berlin. Germany.

Walther von Brauchitsch, commander-in-chief of the army, was listening to Halder, the Chief of Staff as he gave a briefing of the updated positions of the army in Holland and Belgium. The fact that they had just crossed into France was the subject of very close scrutiny from the Fuhrer. The timetable had stated that the attack on the Meuse at Sedan should happen on the third day of the invasion, and that was obviously not happening. The forward forces were not too far, just 15 kilometers from Sedan, having broken through the last main river defence line before the main line of French resistance.

Casualties among the leading panzer divisions in the Ardennes had been heavier than allowed for, but not beyond the worst case scenarios. Göring was flustered when confronted about the lack of air cover for the army’s advance. He began to bluster, making promises of greater effort, and bragging of the terrible losses that the French and English air forces were suffering. Hitler silenced him, making it very clear that the next day as the attack on Sedan happened, the Luftwaffe had better put everything into supporting the army, or there would be consequences.

The good news in Holland and the breakthrough in Belgium was enough to keep the senior officers of the Reich satisfied that the plan was going well. Brauchitsch knew however that the main French and British armies still hadn’t come into play, and that the next two days would be the days that would decide whether this would be a Poland or a Norway.
9 - 10 May
9 May 1940. 03:00hrs. The Ardennes. Belgium.

Darkness had fallen and all along the main roads the traffic jam stretched all the way back through Luxemburg into Germany still. 32 Caudrons C.174s of the Polish Warsaw Squadron, the Groupe de Chasse Polonais I/145, stationed at the Mions airfield, were undertaking a little night flying exercise. Their French station commander didn’t realise that they were going hunting for Germans. Working from the principle that that many vehicles would likely have to use some kind of light to make their way along the roads, the Polish pilots had loaded up their lightweight fighters with a variety of flares that could be used to help target the convoys once they had switched off their lights.

Flying to 8000 feet they did indeed see a long line of lights snaking off in the distance. As they approached the road, the first four pilots cut their engines and glided down, their wooden aircraft not able to be heard above the noise of the vehicles engines. As the first flares were lit, confusing many drivers, and destroying night vision for many Germans, the next section of aircraft dived down strafing the road with their machine guns. The fires of the burning vehicles was bright enough for the next section of eight planes to continue the strafing, which in turn enabled the next section and so on, until all the Polish aircraft had expended all their ammunition. Thirty aircraft returned to Mions, two having crashed through target fixation. They loaded up with more ammunition and fuel and took off again to continue the destruction. The German 2nd Motorised Infantry Division had taken the brunt of the Polish fury.

The Whitleys of Bomber Command’s Number 4 Group, with their Wellington Master Bombers were once again tasked with attacking advancing German troops, using OBOE to increase accuracy. The German town of Geilenkirchen was chosen as a main road junction passed through it. There was also a Luftwaffe base in the area, which would be a secondary target. The maximum effort had put 46 aircraft over the target, and, as with the previous night, extensive damage was done to the roads, and the logistical units that were using it. An ammunition convoy was particularly hard hit, which caused a great deal of collateral damage in the town itself. Only 8 aircraft bombed the airfield, and damage there was minimal. Three bombers failed to return to base.

At airfields all over the battle area, ground crews worked feverishly to get as many aircraft ready for the next morning, which was promising to be a decisive day.

9 May 1940. 06:00hrs.The Franco-Belgian Border.

General Major-General Berniquet, commander of 2e Light Cavalry Division was arrested when he reported back at Huntziger’s headquarters. It was expected that his Division would have been able to hold the Germans at the river Semois for longer than a day. His deputy was promoted and given the task to making the area between Bouillon and Sedan as dangerous for the Germans as they could.

Before dawn the pillboxes along the border, especially those disguised at forest homes were reinforced. The remaining tanks and armoured cars were concentrated at Givonne. The officers gave their men instructions to write on the sides of their tanks the war cry of Verdun, “Ils ne passeront pas!” The 12 Char B1s attached to the Division were emplaced as strongpoints, with companies of troops digging in around them. Other troops, usually mounted on horses disappeared into the forests to act as flank guards, or to fall on the flanks of the Germans.

9 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Saint-Menges Blockhouse. France.

Three kilometres north of Saint Menges on the road from Sugny, a huge demolition crater had been blown in the fork in the road. Covering this was a blockhouse camouflaged as a forest home. On the other side of the road was one of the Char B1s. The 3e (motorised) Dragoon Regiment had a battalion of infantry with a battery of 47mm anti-tank guns supporting the blockhouse.

At 06:00hrs the reconnaissance unit of a mixed panzer brigade from 2nd Panzer Division came upon the position and quickly withdrew leaving a burning half-track and a few dead and wounded on the road. Twenty minutes later a panzer company of Panzer IIs tried a frontal assault, hoping to scare off the defenders. However it was they who withdrew leaving six burning tanks. An attempt a few minutes later to flank the French position ran into the Char B1 which was placed for just such a manoeuvre. Again the French caused the Germans to withdraw leaving more burning vehicles, this time including some Panzer IIIs. The combination of 75mm and 45mm canons were giving the German’s a hard time. A brief artillery barrage bracketed the French position causing a few casualties. This was followed by an infantry attack under the cover of smoke. The French Dragoon’s light machine guns, supporting the heavy weapons in the blockhouse, soon broke up this attempt.

It was now 08.30hrs and the Germans paused to bring up reinforcements. The French commander took the opportunity to redeploy some of his men, covering what had been discovered to be blind spots and defilades. He was also able to call down an artillery fire mission on the German assembly area, which delayed the next German assault. It was 10:00hrs before a combined infantry and tank assault, with Panzer IV’s 75mm canons covering the infantry’s advance. Despite the thicker armour, three Panzer IV’s were destroyed. The blockhouse had been seriously damaged by the HE shells from the German tanks. The captain in charge was wounded and ordered his men to move back and join the Dragoons. Seeing the danger the commander of the French heavy tank moved forward, impervious to all German rounds, it slowly ground its way forward, with a company of the Dragoons in support. The Germans had no answer and fell back in the face of the crawling monster.

At 12:00hrs, there was no sign of a further German assault in this sector. Reconnaissance units were spread out trying to find another way towards the Meuse.

9 May 1940. 08:00hrs. La Hatrelle Pillbox. France.

1500m northeast of Fleigneux, La Hatrelle pillbox was well camouflaged along a defile which was heavily mined, so that it could only be engaged by Panzers advancing individually. To get into position they would be completely exposed along the forward slope, within the range of the 75mm anti-tank gun in the pillbox. From early morning German troops from a mixed brigade from 10th Panzer Division tried every possible approach to destroying this strongpoint. Like St Menges they found themselves more and more frustrated as everything they tried failed, often with heavy casualties. They managed to get one Panzer III around behind the pillbox, driving down a steep slope between the dense trees. Unfortunately it had a mechanical breakdown and had to be abandoned.

Progress was only made when the Germans brought up an 88mm flak gun which began to reduce the block house with direct fire. The troops assigned to supporting this strongpoint were from the 18e Chasseur à Cheval Regiment. Seeing the danger from the German flak gun, a company counterattacked the German positions. This French regiment had twice won two commendation during the Great War, and this day they added the Ardennes to their battle flag. While the casualties were high, the Germans were forced to withdraw back along the road to Bouillon.

By noon the German engineers had managed to erect a military bridge over the Semois at Bouillon, and so more panzers were able to make their way towards the French border and then the Meuse at Sedan. There were slowed by the holdups in front of them. However as the German forces were reinforced more attempts were made to break through this line of block houses. As it wasn’t a chain of integrated fortifications, and more and more breaches were made by stormtrooper tactics. The position of the 2e DLC became less and less tenable. It was at this point that the French tanks made their counter attack from Givonne. There were two squadrons of H35 tanks, (25 tanks), four Char B1s and 12 armoured cars. This force was supported by motorised infantry in trucks and well covered with divisional artillery.

All morning there had been an extraordinary aerial battle going on over their heads. Göring had made it plane to the commander of Luftflotte 3 that a maximum effort had to be made to support the army’s advance and attack on Sedan. A very complex plan of continuous raids had been worked out, hoping that the constant presence of the German bombers would break the French will to resist. The only problem was that the plan had been made in the days before the losses in aircraft gutted the squadrons. However a maximum effort was made. Likewise the French AdA had also been suffering over the last few days, and faced with the large German effort they put as many fighters over the Ardennes as they could.

As the tanks of the 2e DLC set off thirty fighters (mostly Bloch 152s) from various squadrons were providing them with air cover. In addition two squadrons of Bloch 174 reconnaissance bombers and one of Potez 63.11s were assigned to support the attack.

The French troops were aware that they and their colleagues had been retreating for the last few days, as cavalrymen it felt good to be advancing and as the afternoon progressed they were making good progress. The German forces were in a difficult position. They being forced back towards their only bridge. They were also under almost constant air attack which they weren’t used to. Their flak was taking a toll on the French bombers, especially the Potez 63, but they were nonetheless being constantly harassed.

The French advanced from Givonne to La Chappelle and then re-crossed the Belgian border, the Germans falling back before them. The Panzer I and IIs were easy meat for the French tanks, and although they were terribly slow, the Char B1s were brought forward whenever the Germans got an anti-tank defence sorted, over running these with ease. The French managed to advance all the way to high ground overlooking Bouillon, and were able to bring fire down on the military bridge, and causing panic in the town. A further heavy barrage of French artillery, including the heavy guns at Sedan caused great damage.

The losses among the French however had been mounting, and so they decided to withdraw, particularly as their flanks were in the air. At that point the Luftwaffe also got their act together and managed a heavy raid of Stukas and Ju88s. The attack managed to make the French decision to withdraw a necessity, as the losses among the infantry’s vehicles was high, and so the remaining tanks withdrew at their stately pace with sections of infantry clinging to their backs. The losses among both the AdA and Luftwaffe were considerable, running at over 15% of the aircraft taking part. The Stukas and Potez 63.11s coming off worse.

One unintended but significant event of this counter attack was the injury to General Guderian. He was in Bouillon at the Panorama Hotel, where he was setting up his Corps headquarters. An engineer convoy, heavily laden with explosives, was hit by the French barrage. A tremendous detonation shook the hotel, throwing Guderian to the floor, a hunting trophy, a gigantic wild boar’s head, fell off the wall, hitting Guderian and breaking his arm and two ribs. When news of this reached the Belgian Ardennes Chasseurs after the war, the boar’s head, already part their coat of arms, took on an even greater pride, taking a Corps commander out of the fight at a most significant moment was a cause of great joy.

9 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Ciney. Belgium.

Hoth’s XV Corps, 2nd Infantry (Motorised) Division and 5th Panzer Division had integrated the remains of 7th Panzers and advanced past Ciney. General Von Hartleib-Walsporn, commander of the 5th Panzers despatched an advance element under Oberst Werner, commander of the 31st Panzer Regiment to chase the French 5th DLC back towards the Meuse, which was only 20kms away. Armoured reconnaissance forces went to Dinant where the bridges already had been blown. At Yvoir an armoured car got onto the bridge before it was blown by a mortally wounded 1st Lieutenant de Wispelaere. A motorcycle reconnaissance patrol found the weir at Houx undamaged. They carefully crossed the slippery feature onto the island undisturbed. Sheltering there in the trees for a short time, they then crossed over a lock catwalk, the first Germans to cross the river Meuse, following in the footsteps of their fathers who had made a similar crossing in August 1914. Radio messages were sent back to the Divisional command post and every unit rushed to Houx.

The French for the last few months had been discussing what to do if the English spy in the Nazi regime was right and that the Germans would make their main attempt through the Ardennes. The plan had been for Corap’s Ninth Army to have responsibility for a long section of the front from Namur to Sedan. This would entail a forward march into Belgium once the German’s attacked. Working on Great War thinking, this would give them the best part of two weeks to move and prepare defences. However the information from the British had caused a re-examination of this plan.

If the main danger was in the Ardennes, it would be better if Huntziger’s Second Army was responsible for the area from the end of the Maginot Line at Montmedy to Revin, and for Corap’s army to concentrate on the area from Revin to Namur. This would give each army a more equal area to cover, and allow them to defend in depth. However Corap only had one motorised Infantry Division, the 5e DIM. So in March and April some changes were made to allow more transport to be assigned to the 18e, 22e, 53e and 4e North African Divisions from various other infantry divisions behind the Maginot Line, whose marches would be much shorter. The various lorries and other vehicles were mostly in poor condition, but it speeded up the movement forward to the Meuse in Belgium.

By the end of May 5th or early on May 6th the Ninth Army’s infantry was in place, the lorries then going back and forth bringing forward more stores and other necessities. For three days the II Corps had been preparing their positions south of Namur to Annevoie Castle, 5e DIM at the southern end of the Corps area. XI Corps protected from there to Dinant, with 18e Infantry Division linking with the 5e DIM at the Corps boundary. Colonel Tiele’s 66e Infantry regiment were dug in behind the railway line that followed the river’s course at Houx. As the German reconnaissance troops moved forward, reaching the railway line, they were quickly taken prisoner.

Corap had prepared his ground as well as he could. The Infantry Divisions would provide a crust along the river line, supported by the local Belgians forces. Behind them at Onhaye he had kept his main tank force, the Groupe de Bataillons de Chars 518 (GBC 518) with 90 R35s and 63 FT-17s. While the FT-17s wouldn’t be too much use against tanks, as mobile pillboxes they would help against German infantry. He had decided to keep the tanks together as one large unit, rather than spreading them thinly with the infantry. The 3e Brigade of Spahis would provide mobile infantry support to the GBC.

In addition the survivors of the two Light Cavalry Divisions which had passed back over the river at Dinant and Yvoir before the bridges were blown were further back in Florennes resting. They had been merged into one unit, and would provide a further mobile reserve. Corap had taken the two French DLC’s artillery units to add to the Corps and Army level artillery that would be available to whichever Infantry Division would need it most.

Oberst Werner’s 31st Panzer Regiment started arriving a Houx to find that there were units of 13th and 14th Rifle Regiments ready to attempt to cross the weir, but they lacked heavy weapons support. Werner’s tanks would be able to provide this and fanned out to cover the infantry who would only be able to cross in single file. There had been no more word from the reconnaissance unit which had crossed earlier, but nor had there been any gunfire. So in the evening light the first of the German infantry men started off across the weir. At that moment all hell broke loose.

Colonel Tiele had set up his heavy weapons company on a rocky escarpment that overlooked the weir and island. As the German infantry broke cover his heavy machine guns and mortars raked the area. The German tanks, especially the Panzer IVs with their 75mm HE guns returned fire, trying to suppress the French guns. The first ranging shell from a French battery fell, and an artillery spotter on the hill called out the corrections, soon hundreds of shells were falling amongst the German troops and tanks. The German after action reported that “the dead are floating in the water, the wounded desperately cling to the lock gates. They call for help but nobody can help them”. The soldiers who managed to run the gauntlet of fire and reached the island, when attempting to force the locks, were then subject to direct and accurate rifle and light machine gun fire from well prepared positions behind the railway line.

The best efforts of his tank gunners couldn’t neutralise the French on the hill opposite, and so Werner ordered the German forces to withdraw until their own artillery could arrive and cover them. More than fifty Germans were killed or missing, three tanks had been damaged and abandoned due to the barrage. As the night fell, the Germans licked their wounds, and sent more reconnaissance troops to discover any other way across the river.

9 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Brussels. Belgium

Hauptman Willi Schmidt, commander of 4th Panzer Division’s Heavy Reconnaissance Company, was still alive, and that was more than could be said for much of his company, which was little more than a platoon now. The Belgians didn’t seem to realise that they were beaten and every turn in the road or minor bridge was almost held like a strongpoint. His Company, for it was still called that, was now racing down a street in the centre of Brussels heading for the Brussels-Charleroi Canal to see if they could cross it here at Anderlecht. For the most part the Belgians hadn’t been firing within the city out of concern for the civilian population, but Schmidt and his men kept a wary eye on roof tops and windows, intersections and anywhere else an ambush might be lurking. The rest of the Division were further back trying to work their way around the city rather than travel through it. The 14th Infantry Division were going to “capture” Brussels and were currently assembling to make a grand entrance.

Schmidt’s halftrack screeched to a halt, once more they found a bridge that had already been blown up. He was beginning to wonder how much explosives the Belgians had, and was there any left after destroying so much of their infrastructure? Consulting his guide book, the only map he had, he ordered the driver to follow the road south, and following the path of the canal, there must one bridge in this land that was still intact.

May 9 1940. 11:00hrs. St Vith. Belgium..

Pilot officer James Wilson took off in B for Baker, a Blenheim IV light bomber, belonging to 139 Squadron RAF for yet another mission. There weren’t many of the original squadron pilots and aircrew left, too many failed to return from too many missions. The Blenheim squadrons were particularly vulnerable to both ground fire and particularly to German fighters, though they had been seeing fewer of these recently.

The early attacks against German radar had only lasted a few nights, there hadn’t been any radar emissions over the next few missions, and so all the specialised equipment had been removed and his plane was back to normal. Today’s mission was yet another attempt to wear down the German logistical tail that was stretched out through the roads of the Ardennes. A sign of how many of these missions were being undertaken was that there weren’t as many cluster bombs, they were using mostly 40lb bombs.

Today’s target was St Vith in Belgium, he was in company of three other Blenheims and they had been told that some Hurribombers would also be attacking the same target. Some Hurricanes would be around somewhere as an escort. Johnny Campbell, his navigator/bomb aimer was calling out course corrections. After an hour they descended to 500 feet approaching from the north. Wilson opened the throttle fully and tried to jink through some of the flak that started to reach out to them. Campbell was trying to keep an eye on the target and tried to keep Wilson on the right track. A line of horse drawn vehicles was trying desperately to get off the road, and Campbell was able to drop his load of bombs to cause maximum damage, as they turned away they felt a series of strikes against their plane. Campbell went back past Wilson to look down the fuselage and grabbing a fire extinguisher began to tackle the fire that the anti-aircraft shells had caused.

Wilson pulled the nose up to gain some height in case they needed to bail out, but Campbell was able to tell him he had the fire under control. The howl of the wind and the rattle of the controls told Wilson that the plane was badly damaged and so he aimed for allied territory and tried to nurse the bomber home. Campbell got back to the map table to work out a course for home when the other two surviving Blenheims from the squadron re-joined them. C for Charlie had been shot down, so now the three survivors limped home. It would be the last flight for B for Baker, the damage was too great to be repaired. Wilson knew he’d been riding his luck, and when the Squadron Leader sent himself and Campbell back to Britain to train on a new aircraft, he’d never felt so relieved.

9 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Waregem, Belgium.

Bernard Montgomery in Forward Headquarters of the BEF’s II Corps was meeting with the RAF liaison officer. The latest reconnaissance photos and the news from the Belgians were before them. The expectation was that the Germans should start arriving at the Eschaut Line the day after next and Montgomery was keen to get all his ducks in a row. The artillery plan was in place, and Montgomery wanted to be clear on what air power would be available, both to defend against Luftwaffe attacks and to attack the German advance.

The RAF was beginning to struggle with the pace of operations. The peacetime preparations were found to have been inadequate and while there was still some flexibility, if things continued at the current pace it couldn’t be guaranteed that there would be as much air cover that the army wanted. Some of the air cooperation Lysander squadrons had been withdrawn from France and their pilots were being retrained on Hurribombers, which would make a difference, but not in the short term.

Montgomery was clear on the need for integrated planning, and so at Corps meetings the RAF liaison was part and parcel of the planning. The issue that Montgomery wanted clarified was just what exactly the liaison officer would be able to call on that would be specifically allocated to II Corps. He didn’t want to find that out of the blue “his” fighters were off somewhere else defending someone else, while his own men were under Stuka attack. Likewise for ground attack, what exactly would he be able to rely on? The wing commander was somewhat evasive in his answers, which Montgomery pounced on. Obviously he’d need to have a chat with Leigh-Mallory, since it seemed he was the only one that could give him the answers he was looking for.

9 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Escaut River. Belgium.

Sergeant Banks was cleaning his SMLE rifle. He’d decided to swap his Sterling submachine gun with the platoon’s 2 inch mortar man. He certainly found it easier to carry than Banks had, and Banks preferred the heft of the rifle. Warning had come down through the chain of command that the Germans had overcome the Belgian defences and were now in possession of Brussels, only thirty odd miles away. The lads would be facing the Germans the day after tomorrow, though from what he’d seen of them so far, he wouldn’t be surprised if first contact was tomorrow sometime.

He’d been round the Jocks in the Platoon and found them in good order. The last few days had been well used making good defensive positions, and with clear lines of fire and of withdrawal if necessary. The Belgians were good soldiers, and they’d fought well. His own men were good, but mostly inexperienced. Their equipment was good, and improving, a few new rifle grenades that could take on tanks had been issued, and even a few of those drainpipes, or “Bazooka,” which was as stupid a name for something that he’d ever heard. The 2inch and 3inch mortars had got some new rounds, including a smoke round which could well be very handy.

9 May 1940. 14:00hrs. Bapaume, France. HQ Second British Army.

Alan Brooke was serving tea to General Dill, commander of First British Army, and still technically CinC of the BEF. Dill had been watching the progress of the 1st Mechanised Corps and was congratulating Brooke heartily for the work that had been done, and particularly praising the Corp’s commander Q Martel. IV Corp’s Commanding Officer Richard O’Connor was also subject to some praise for the way he’d brought his three divisions together so quickly.

What both generals were aware of was that Percy Hobart and Richard O’Connell had brought a lot of their old friends and subordinates from Middle East Command. The First Armoured Division was particularly full of men who had seen a bit of the sun. The question of how General Wavell must be feeling seeing the cream of his pre-war regulars being transferred to France, leaving him with a whole bunch of underequipped and undertrained units from Indian and Australia was on their mind. As long as Mussolini didn’t do anything stupid the British Army might get away with it. Otherwise the situation in Egypt could go badly

The real test facing the BEF was just a short time away, and the two Army commanders were confident of their plans. Now it was a question if the Germans could be relied upon to do just do what the British generals hoped they’d do, everything would be fine.

9 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Avelgem, Belgium.

Gun Sergeant John Foxwell, ‘C’ Troop 9/17 Battery, 7th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, was checking over the gun pit before the inspection. His was No. 4 gun on the left of the troop, the other three spread out to his right at about 25-yard intervals. The gun itself was an 18/25-pdr Mk1, a converted 18-pdr, with the barrel bored out to accept the new 25-pdr shell, propelled by a charge that could be varied according to the range and type of target, with a maximum range of 11800 yards (6.75 miles). His uncle, who’d been a gunner in the Great War, would have been pretty familiar with it, the main external change being the old cartwheels replaced with pneumatic tyres. The limber was open for inspection, and the articulated six-wheeled tractor was camouflaged nearby.

They had just returned to these positions, supporting 3 Division, from a French artillery range where they’d had a chance to have some live fire exercise. One of the innovations that they’d been practising was firing all the regiment’s 24 guns through the medium of a wireless net, with an observer watching the fall of shot, and correcting, they had demonstrated a good degree of accuracy and it was potent weapon. They had also got a collective “well done” from the new Divisional Commander, General Kenneth Anderson.

The Battery Commander, Major Smythe-Osbourne, with the Battery Captain Richard Riddell, made their rounds, just like a peacetime Saturday morning parade. Sergeant Foxwell and his six man team were congratulated on their turn out. When they had finished the inspection the gunners were gathered together for the Battery Commander to address them all. Again congratulating them on their recent exercise and this morning’s turnout, he informed them that the Germans had broken through the Belgian defences and that Brussels would likely fall today. In that case, they could expect the arrival of German forces within the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. All of their training would now be put into operation. He wanted them to double check everything, from personal equipment to making every effort to conceal the battery from enemy aircraft. He expressed his confidence in their ability and urged them to follow their training, everything else would take care of itself.

Foxwell looked at the faces of his gun team and saw a mixed reaction of fear and resignation. He’d need to have a word with each of them individually. He also wanted to have a word about ammunition supply with the quartermaster. If the action was going to be as hot as he thought it might be, their ready ammo wouldn’t last for long, then they’d need to fuse the shells, and that would slow down the rate of fire. Now, if they could just get a head start…

9 May 1940.16:00hrs. Cambrai. France.

Major Reeves, commander of B Squadron, 3 Royal Tank Regiment, 1st Armoured Division, had just finished an inspection and Sergeant Tom “Ginger” May climbed off Corfu, a Matilda II. The last few weeks had been hectic, getting these new tanks delivered to the depot, then being shipped over to France. Since they had arrived they had been on almost constant exercises. The Divisional commander, Percy Hobart, had been a complete pain, insisting on training, and more training. And if the training wasn’t in the tank, there were lectures and talks on the best tactics, camouflage, loads of things. They had just come back from a live fire exercise, and Tich Kemp the gunner had got to fire off one of the new HE shells. It wasn’t the most exciting explosion in the world, but if it was aimed at an anti-tank gun, then it would be effective enough, and miles better than what they’d had previously, which was nothing. Socker Heath, the driver was going to be tinkering with the engine again, there was a “funny noise” that he was trying to chase down, and Jimmy Cornwell, the loader was giving him a hand. Ginger May was heading to the Sergeant’s mess to see what the news was, or at least what rumours were floating around.

He was joined by “Tubby” Ballard, his Matilda, Crete, had thrown a track during the exercise and so he had only just arrived back on the back of the Scammel Pioneer tank transporter. He was a Sergeant in dire need of a beer, and like May, was keen to find out what the news was. As they entered the tent, they found a few men sitting around talking about the news that Brussels had fallen. That made them just over 70 miles away. May picked up a bottle of beer, then decided to leave it down and head back to Corfu and see how Heath was getting on with that “funny noise”. On the way he met Tiny White, the Regimental quartermaster sergeant, so he took the chance to ask him if he could get a few extra HE shells for the 2-pdr, he didn’t think that five would be enough.

9 May 1940. 17:00hrs. Épinoy. France.

Corporal Peter MacDonald jumped out of the carrier with the strange Carl Gustav recoilless rifle mounted on it. They had had a 2-pdr anti-tank gun, which they used to tow behind the carrier, but now they had this beast. MacDonald was sure that he would be as deaf as a post before this war was over. However he had been impressed at the way the thing destroyed an old tractor they had been using for target practise. It didn’t have the range of his old 2-pdr, but they’d been firing the blank rounds out to a fair range against stationary targets, but against a moving tank, they’d want to be closer. The mounting on the carrier gave them the flexibility to fire and move much more quickly. They could also easily dismount the weapon and use it in places the carrier couldn’t go.

His team were well used to serving together. His driver was Harry Drummond, was from Dornoch. His number two, who loaded the beast, Willie Knox, hailed from Golspie; and George McPhail, who covered them with his rifle and carried the spare round, was a Glaswegian. How he ended up in the Seaforth Highlanders was anyone’s guess. MacDonald himself was from Thurso, and longed to get home to his wife and see their new baby that’d been born after they deployed to France.

Their training had been thorough, and they were sure of what of they’d be able to do. It just seemed like it had been a long winter and spring. McPhail came running up, “Brussels has fallen” he was shouting, or at least that’s what MacDonald thought he was saying; when he got excited, McPhail’s accent was impossible to decipher. Right, thought MacDonald, we’d better organise a hot meal, we don’t know when there’ll be the chance of another one.

10 May 1940. 01:00hrs. Kristiansand. Norway.

The sound of aero-engines diminished as the last of the bombers flew south towards Germany. In the afternoon the three main airfields in Norway had played host to 44 Hampdens of Bomber Command’s 5 Group, 20 Wellingtons (including 2 master bombers) from 3 Group and 18 French Farman 222 four engine bombers. They had flown from bases in Scotland in the morning, and refuelled in Norway. Now they were on their way to Berlin. The Farmans were each carrying eight 500lb bombs, the Hampdens had four and the Wellingtons had six 500lb bombs. The Farmans were going to be at almost the edge of their range, the Hampdens and Wellingtons were a little better off, at 7 hours it was a much longer flight than they were used to.

10 May 1940. 03:00hrs. Berlin, Germany.

The sound of air raid sirens woke many people from their sleep, but fewer moved to designated shelters than should have done. Searchlights scanned the skies, and the boom of anti-aircraft artillery was heard. The steady drone of engines increased, and then came the whistle of bombs, followed by the crumps of the explosions. The 82 bombers scattered 440 bombs over a large area of the city. The night raid had nothing like the impact that Paris had experienced a week earlier, though psychologically the German people were stunned that their capital had been vulnerable to this terror attack. A little under 200 people were killed, and more than 600 were injured. Among the buildings that were damaged were schools, churches and one hospital. Hitler wasn’t in the city at the time, and no major government buildings were hit, though windows were broken all over the city. When the Fuhrer called Göring to account later that day, while no one else was present in the room, but the screaming could be heard at some distance, and it was prolonged.

10 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Stavanger. Norway.

The pilots were exhausted as they climbed down from their bombers, which were quickly being dispersed, they would be refuelled later. Six had failed to return. While the crews grabbed some sleep, the multinational group of fighter pilots who defended Norway, were either flying Combat Air Patrols, or ready to do so. The danger of the bombers being caught on the ground was a real fear, and as soon as the pilots got some rest, they were due to take off to return to Scotland at 13:00hrs. A photoreconnaissance Spitfire made a pass over Berlin later in the morning, and while the bombing hadn’t been too accurate, the fact that so many parts of the city had been hit, even if lightly in some cases, it certainly would give the German people something to think (and worry) about.

10 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Meerbeke. Belgium.

Hauptman Willi Schmidt, commanding 4th Panzer Division’s Heavy Reconnaissance Company, watched through his binoculars the Belgians fleeing westwards. Their attempt to hold a line at the river Dyle had failed miserably. With the fall of Brussels yesterday the whole northern part of the line was untenable. Furthermore the 3rd Panzer Division had rolled south from Leuven and blown past the few defenders between Gembloux and Wavre. They had stopped briefly in the night and were now pushing forward from Genappe through Nivelles to Soignies. The 20th (Mot) Infantry Division were doing their best to keep up and to the south of this advance, shielding the left flank from an attack by the French from their border fortifications.

Meanwhile his own 4th Panzers had skirted the south of Brussels and were now advancing from Waterloo, via Halle towards Ninove. The Belgians he was watching were heading in that direction, presumably for the “safety” of the Escaut Line. The thing was that he felt he was being watched to. Swinging his binoculars around he realised that there was someone doing the same job he was. Looking intently he began to make out the outline of a tank which was hiding among some trees. It was quite tall, a light tank, reconnaissance job, but unless he was very much mistaken that was a British Vickers. Now that was very interesting. If the British reconnaissance were here, about 25 miles from the river Schelde, (or the Escaut the French called it) then the intelligence was probably right. The British army, now that would be interesting.

10 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Ninove. Belgium.

2nd Lieutenant Edward Kilbane, commander of A Squadron, 5th Royal Innisikilling Dragoon Guards, was watching the Belgian troops streaming back to the river Dender. They looked pretty well beaten. Some had obviously dropped their weapons and were more of a mob than an army. A Belgian Brigade had put together some basic defences around the bridges and locks of the Dender, but all the troops retreating from the Dyle were being sent straight back to Ghent or Antwerp, where hopefully they might be re-equipped and rested. He remembered that he wasn’t here to watch the retreating Belgians, so he scanned the area behind them looking for the first signs of the Germans. There, just to the right of that wood, that looked very much like the front of one of those German half-tracks. He realised that he was probably looking at his opposite number, another reconnaissance specialist. He consulted his map, “That is just 25 miles from our positions, I’d better get this information back,” he thought.

10 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Laon, France.

In the filter room the tracks of the Luftwaffe squadrons were being tracked. The expectation was that they would be heading either to the Sedan area or possibly for Belgium, and certainly Sedan was the more likely going by the tracks so far. The alerts to fighter stations were already being communicated. What was clear from the radar picture was that it was a large raid, as large as they had seen since the raid on Paris the week before.

That morning 208 fighters of the AdA were serviceable in the North East Zone. The RAF could contribute another 164 immediately. The first of German squadrons were passing over the border area, and the radar operator cursed, “They’re going for Paris again!”

One of the planes that had failed to return to Norway was one of the Farman 222s which had been hit by AAA and had crashed near Berlin. When informed, that it was a French aircraft that had bombed Berlin, Hitler had ordered Göring to flatten Paris. There was no way that Göring could argue that his air fleet was all but exhausted and the need to support the army was a priority. Berlin had been bombed, and someone was going to pay.

Göring gave his orders to Kesselring and Sperrle to concentrate all their efforts that day to Paris, and he wouldn’t listen to their complaints. To Göring’s fury, Kesselring simply resigned, rather than carry out these orders. Göring ordered that he was to be arrested immediately and court-martialled. Kesselring’s Chief of Staff Wilhelm Speidel was given command, he too was prepared to resign. Wanting to protect his friend, Kesselring persauded him to do as Göring said. And so it was that the combined squadrons of Luftflotte 2 and 3 were heading for Paris in another daylight raid. At the same time X Fliegerkorps were to flatten Oslo in retaliation for the use of Norwegian bases to make this raid.

Luftwaffe losses on the ground and in the air had reduced their ability to put up as large a number of bombers as Hitler and Göring would have thought. Between the two air fleets, even with replacement planes coming from the factories, though replacement aircrew were much more of a bottleneck, they were only able to put up 222 bombers. Knowing the losses among the Me110s, these squadrons were left to provide air cover over their Reich. The Me109 squadrons were suffering badly, from exhaustion as much as losses, and so the bombers were escorted by only 180 fighters.

As had happened the previous week, the bombers, with their close escorts were attacked almost constantly over France and on their way back. Even the Polish squadron of Caudrons C.174s were thrown into the desperate battle. The number of defending fighters was almost equal to the total attacking force, but many of them were to hit the attackers twice, once on the way to Paris, then on their way home. The losses of German aircraft ran to 24% in bombers, (21 He111s, 17 Ju88s, 16 Do17s) and 18% of fighters, (33 Me109s). The French lost 33 fighters, and the RAF another 22, a loss rate of 15%. With the air battle happening over France the losses to aircrew amongst the Germans was proportionately higher.

The accuracy of the German bombers was much less effective, as the French fighters were attacking them even over the city itself, so many of the bombers dropped their bombs as near Paris as they could and retreated as quickly as they could. Nonetheless the citizens of Paris were once more the victims of this bombing, 345 were killed and 779 were injured. One bomber managed to drop its load over the Eiffel Tower, one of the bombs hit the structure below the top tier and caused the top to lean over at a drunken angle. A film crew were able to capture the moment and within a short time, in cinemas all over the world, the view of this broken icon became a propaganda victory for the French.

Over Oslo things, if anything, went worse for the bombers and fighters flying from Denmark. Having expected a response to the raid, the fighters over the south of Norway inflicted terrible losses on an already weak X Fliegerkorps. Of the total of 112 aircraft that attacked, 28 failed to return, fully 25%. It was at a considerable cost to the Norwegian air force, which lost most of its replacement Curtis 75s, putting them back to square one.

Later that evening when Göring was given the day’s losses he was immediately flown back to his hunting lodge in East Prussia, he really did not want to see the Fuhrer any time soon.

In the days after the raid on Paris, the question of why Sperrle and Speidel hadn’t followed orders and sent every available bomber and fighter was asked. Their answer to the Gestapo was to do with serviceability, though privately knowing the losses the previous week, they were concerned with being able to carry on supporting the army, especially where it would need their help to force the Meuse.

10 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Koblenz, Germany.

In the Headquarters of Army Group A, General Gerd von Rundstedt, with his Chief of Staff (Gen Lt Georg von Sodenstern) was meeting with his Army Commanders: 4th Army commanded by Generaloberst Günther von Kluge; 12th Army (General Wilhelm List); 16th Army (General Ernst Busch) and Panzer Group "Kleist" under Paul von Kleist. List and Busch were pretty angry at the way things were going. Large parts of their commands hadn’t even crossed the border into Luxembourg, never mind Belgium. Kleist’s panzer divisions were mostly at the Meuse, though there were now stopped as they were informed that the Luftwaffe wasn’t available today to support them. Von Kluge’s infantry were strung out through Belgium and had been on the receiving end of far too many bombing attacks from French and RAF aircraft.

The old argument was about to rerun, the one where the infantry men made it clear that their troops were the only ones who could force river crossings, so the Panzers should be held back so that once the infantry had made the hole, the Panzers, like the cavalry of old could exploit the hole in the enemy lines. This idea of Manstein of putting the panzers first was being proven to be wrong headed. This was an argument that von Rundstedt had heard often enough, but now he was beginning to be persuaded by it. The French and Belgians had put up a better fight in the Ardennes than he had expected, and their air forces were taking a heavy toll on a poor network of roads. Kluge and Kleist were still convinced that the Panzer fist breaking through was a strong argument, but they were both looking at the losses in their panzer divisions and wondering if the Ardennes was going to be the graveyard of the Panzer forces.

Rather than replaying the old arguments von Rundstedt was more concerned about how they were going to cross the Meuse. First it would be necessary for the artillery to have priority in getting to the front. Second engineers and bridging equipment would have second priority. Third the Luftwaffe would have to get their act together, both in terms of Flak and fighter cover. Fourth, III Corps from List’s 12th Army would be made available to Kleist whose Panzer Corps was lightest on infantry.

The integral infantry in Kluge and Kleist’s Corps would have to do their best, but if after 48 hours they hadn’t succeeded then other means would have to be looked at. What was strange was the Army Group B, which was meant to the cloak which hid their dagger, was now doing very well, so perhaps by concentrating French focus on Sedan, then Von Bock’s men would become the dagger to the French heart.

10 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Middenmeer. Holland.

The three remaining airstrips being used by the Dutch Air Force, Middenmeer, Ruigenhoek and Buiksloot had all received some attention from the Luftwaffe, but they were still operational. They were however reduced to only 8 serviceable Fokker D.XXIs and 6 Fokker G.1 fighters. They could muster a total of 12 bombers, 4 Fokker TVs, 3 Douglas DB-8A-3Ns, 3 Fokker C.X and 2 Fokker C.Vs. In addition 8 Koolhoven F.K.51 biplane scouts had somehow survived and continued to be used for artillery liaison duties. A squadron of RAF Hurricanes continued to be based at Middenmeer. When word came that most of the Luftwaffe were occupied elsewhere, the commander of the Dutch Army Aviation Brigade decided that it would be a good chance to land a blow on the Germans who were besieging his country. He looked at the River Maas crossing at Zutphen and decided that the bridge there was worth a throw of the dice. The RAF squadron agreed to provide a Combat Air Patrol over the airfields while the 26 fighters and bombers of the Army Aviation Brigade tried to destroy the German crossing.

The efforts of the aircraft centred on getting the 3 Douglas Bombers a clear go at the bridge structure. The three surviving pilots had proven themselves both lucky and accurate, so the T.Vs, C.X and C.Vs flew in fast and low to concentrate on the Flak batteries protecting the bridge. In this they were fairly effective and as the Douglas peeled off into their shallow dives the amount of the flak they received was much diminished, especially as some D.XXIs strafed the surviving batteries during their dives, keeping German heads down. Two of the aircraft hit the shore on either side of the bridge, which caused many casualties. It was the third that destroyed the bridge, it was hit by flak and the pilot guided his dying plane right on the centre of the structure, where it blew up along with its bomb, putting the bridge completely out of commission. It wasn’t realised initially, but the second Douglas had hit the stock of bridging repair equipment that was stored too close to the target. So this line of communication for the German army was out of action for 18 hours. The pilot of the third Douglas was awarded the highest Dutch award for valour, the Militaire Willemsorde, posthumously.

The raid had cost the Dutch another 8 aircraft, three D.XXIs, three C.Xs, a C.V and the Douglas.

10 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Vitry. France.

The Hurribomber squadrons were suffering along with everyone else in the air war. Maximum effort had been the name of the game for a full week. Today was no exception, though this time there would be no escort as the fighters were all defending Paris. So one squadron didn’t carry bombs, but would act as the escort the other three squadrons would pack the punch, though only five aircraft carried cluster bombs, the rest were armed with 200lb bombs, four of each. Two aircraft had an experimental 3-inch rocket launcher under each wing. Carrying four rockets on each wing, the rockets were tipped with a 60lb warhead. The pilots had been assured that these had been tested and were perfectly safe. Their range was about a mile, and were aimed and fired using the normal gun sight. The trigger mechanism only allowed all eight to be fired at the same time. They were designed to attack an area rather than individual targets, so accuracy wasn’t expected to be too high, and their effectiveness would be as much against morale as actual vehicles. The pilots were sceptical about that, unless they meant their own morale firing the bloody things.

The target was the advancing 3rd Panzer Division near Seneffe. There was a canal crossing there that was holding up the advance, and so they might be concentrated enough for the bombing to make a difference. The thirty RAF planes took off, 12 protecting the other 18. The pilots of the 12 acting as fighter cover had only received minimal training on air to air combat, as they were all trained on Battles before the war. Thankfully they were not called to use their minimal skills, as once again the Luftwaffe were noticeable by their absence. The 18 Hurribombers had had a great deal of experience in this type of attack over the previous week, and the first six (including those with the cluster bombs) concentrated on any Flak batteries. The next six, coming from another direction bombed along the length of the road leading to the bridge. The two with rockets came next and attempted to hit the crossing itself, the first was wildly inaccurate, destroying an empty field, but the second got lucky and its salvo bracketed the area. The final four dropped their bombs in the same area. Finally all 18 made a second pass strafing anything they could spot. For the 3rd Panzers, a large part of their Pioneer Battalion was all but wiped out, they also lost parts of their heavy machine gun company, though only four Panzer IIs were destroyed, most of the tanks had already crossed the canal. The wrecks of four Hurribombers were left burning as the rest returned to base.

May 10 1940. 14:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

Major Jottrand was in Block B.1 beside the machine gunner. An attempt by the Germans to infiltrate men during the night had met with disaster. They crossed the canal in rubber boats, but when attempting to climb onto the fort itself, one of the soldiers fell into the water, the splash had alerted the sentries who set off flares. The Germans were quickly brought under machine gun fire and the main party withdrew out of sight. The six surviving Germans, all wounded to some degree, were brought into the fort and treated in the medical facility.

Jottrand was now checking the entrance way, presuming that there must be more enemy troops waiting to rush the building. There was no sign of life that could be seen. So he ordered to the fortress to return to a slightly lower level of alert. He made his way then to the infirmary to interview the German prisoners. He found them angry at having been forced to make a suicidal attempt to overcome the fort. It seemed that the Germans were getting desperate. At that point another large German shell fell on the fortress, it was back to business as normal.

10 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Supreme Headquarters of the French Army. Vincennes. France.

General Gamelin and Billotte were discussing the request from General Giraud to begin to close the net of the German Army Group B. His main mobile units of Seventh Army had moved from Saint-Quentin to Hirson and he wanted permission to move forward to Charleroi in Belgium. At the same time General Brooke would move his British Second Army from Cambrai to Mons. The French 7th Army would cut off the Germans while the British would slam into their flank. Each of these moves were about 40 miles, so they agreed that the move should happen today, the Germans should have put their head far enough into the noose by tomorrow. Orders giving permission to both commanders were communicated immediately.

They then looked at the situation in the Ardennes. Blanchard’s First Army was still sitting around Rethel ready to confront any break through. The Second and Ninth armies were still on the Meuse. After yesterday’s counterattack to Bouillon had exhausted the light Cavalry divisions, so it was now the main infantry Divisions that would take the brunt of the German attempts to cross the river. Gamelin and Billotte were a little more concerned about the northern section near Dinant after the attempt at Houx yesterday. They had to trust Corap, and with the 7th Army moving forward there was a strong force that could be brought into support him if it proved necessary.

10 May 1940. 16:00hrs. Cambrai. France.

At the temporary HQ of First Armoured Division, General Percy Hobart got his orders to move and he wasted no time putting into effect the road march orders. The RASC tank transporters were ready to pick up the tanks and take them to Mons. There were some senior NCOs and officers who remembered the last time the Tommies had marched to Mons in 1914. The question was whether the outcome this time would be different.

10 May 1940. 17:00hrs. Near Cambrai, France.

Sergeant Ginger May, B Squadron, 3 Royal Tank Regiment, was guiding Socker Heath as he drove Corfu, their Matilda onto the transporter. They’d done this enough that they were becoming fairly confident. As Heath switched off the engine, the crew started tying it down with chains. Heath jumped down from the driver’s compartment to join in. “At least doing this will save the old girl forty miles worth of travel, the transmission is still worth a watching. Don’t want her breaking down before we get there. That’d just be embarrassing."

10 May 1940. 18:00hrs. Épinoy. France.

Corporal Peter MacDonald, Anti-tank platoon, 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, 51st Highland Division, was checking the way that the gear had been loaded onto the carrier. The whole area was chock-a-block with men and equipment loading onto lorries and carriers. The buzz very positive. When he thought no one was watching he took the photograph of his wife and child out his breast pocket to look at it and remind himself why he had to stay safe. His thoughts were interrupted by McPhail shouting, “come oan Corp, or ye’ll miss the bus.” Or at least that what he thought he said. As MacDonald climbed aboard he saw his brother, Duncan on the back a lorry, they waved at each other, as his carrier joined the stream of vehicles.

10 May 1940. 19:00hrs. River Meuse at Sedan. France.

The first German reconnaissance troops reached the Meuse at Nouvion-sur-Meuse in the forenoon. After the French counter-attack yesterday most the German forces had fallen back to Bouillon, it had taken some time for bridge there to be repaired and once again the reconnaissance units were trying to find where the French were weak. Von Kliest had chosen this area at Flize for the main crossing, and with Guderian still being treated for his injuries, his depute was not in a position to argue with his commander. As units from First Panzer Division led the way back over the same ground as yesterday they found the going much easier. Huntziger had pulled all his forces back across the river, all crossings were blown and his men were prepared for whatever the Germans would throw at them.

General Kirchner was keen to attempt what they had been exercising over the winter, a direct assault across the river without giving the French too long to prepare. He set the time for the assault at 18:00hrs. More and more of his division arrived piecemeal, and while having been reduced in number over the last few days, they were still keen to show the world what the Panzer Division could do. With Von Kliest’s orders being followed, the Divisional artillery arrived along with the engineers. First and Second Rifle Regiments, reinforced by troops from the Second Panzer Division, moved into positions to begin to attempt the crossing. Their commanders asked for clarification from Kirchner as the approaches to the river at this point was lacking cover, just getting the river would be a problem if the French were able to bring artillery down on them. Kirchner, who’d already brought the problem to the attention of Von Kliest, reaffirmed that this was the point that had been chosen.

The Luftwaffe who were meant to support the crossing had been busy attacking Paris and suffering terribly in the process. The exception were the Stukas of Luftflotte 3, and these remaining 67 aircraft duly appeared at the Meuse at 17:30hrs ready to suppress the French defenders. While most of the French AdA’s fighters had been involved in the defence of Paris, there were enough fighters which had enough time to refuel and rearm, and these were sent to the area. The German fighters however had had a much worse time of it, and so the Stukas were escorted by Me110s, the only fighters available. When the French pilots in their Curtis 75s saw their opposition, they fell on them like the Hawks their planes were sometimes called. The effect on the Stuka pilots was devastating, fully half of their number were shot down, the Me110s faired almost as badly, losing 22 of their number. The French squadrons returned to base having lost ten fighters, though four pilots were recovered.

The French soldiers were aware of the aerial battle above them, and for the most part the Stuka attacks were unsuccessful. The German troops however saw things very differently. They were now relying on their own artillery alone, and that didn’t seem like too much at the moment. Sure enough as they broke cover carrying their assault boats the ground around them exploded with French artillery. To make matters worse the leading elements found the last few hundred meters beside the river had been sown with mines. There was no shortage of bravery among the German soldiers, but they knew that they were solidly beaten, and began to fall back to their starting positions. By 20:00hrs it was all over, a couple of company’s worth of troops lay dead and dying, not a single boat had made it across the river. They would have to try something different tomorrow.

10 May 1940. 20:00hrs. Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

In 9th Panzer Division Headquarters General Alfred von Hubicki was proud of his men, they had kept up the pressure on the retreating Dutch troops, and had managed to capture many of them. However, his men weren’t marines, and it was marines that would be needed now. He had just read the report of this reconnaissance group which had reached the remains of the Moerdijk to Dordrecht bridge. In the original plan paratroopers were supposed to have captured this on both sides, but with the losses in Norway and Denmark that part of the plan had been shelved. Hubicki was relieved, as it had taken more time to reach here than had been allowed in the old plan, the paratroopers wouldn’t have had much of a hope. It would just have been a bridge too far, as most of his problems were replacing bridges that had been blown before they could be captured.

Now his troops were on one side of the Waal and the Dutch were safe in their fortress, and unless someone back in Germany had an amphibious fleet, Hubicki could see no easy way to get across. In the meantime there were rumours of French and even British troops down towards Antwerp. He began to write orders to keep his men heading west, the infantry can sit in front of rivers and look at their Dutch neighbours.

10 May 1940. 21:00hrs. Houx. Belgium.

5th Panzer Division’s commander, General Von Hartleib-Walsporn had arrived in the area of Houx where the crossing the day before had been repulsed. He was receiving the reports of his reconnaissance patrols who had been looking for a weak point in the French defence of the Meuse. There was nothing obvious, in fact the reconnaissance patrols had been taking casualties wherever they went. An aerial reconnaissance mission by a pair of Storches had reiterated the problem, the French were well dug in and they seemed to have a depth to their positions.

The general was conscious that his men had had a rough time getting to the river. So he ordered his forces to concentrate in Loyers. He would wait till the infantry divisions caught up with their artillery. There was no point in throwing away more lives. So the teeth of Hoth’s XV Corps spent most of 10 May at rest waiting for the rest of the troops to catch up. At 20:00hrs, when Herman Hoth came forward, he relieved Hartleib-Walsporn of his command, for timidity. 5th Panzers would now be commanded by Joachim Lemelson. Lemelson was left in no doubt of his commander’s wishes for a break through the next day, “no matter what the cost is.”
11 May 1940
11 May 1940. 01:00hrs. Bouillon, Belgium.

The RAF’s Whitleys and Wellingtons were once again in the air, the target for tonight was Bouillon in Belgium, where a large part of the Guderian’s Panzer Corps was passing through. To enable some degree of accuracy, the 173e RALGP (French heavy artillery equipped with canons 220 L17) had fired off a barrage, so that the Pathfinders in the leading bombers would have a clear sighting. These pathfinders dropped flares which helped most of the aircraft to drop their bombs within a few miles. Civilian casualties among the Belgians couldn’t be avoided, but although the bridge escaped undamaged, there were losses among the German forces, and once more valuable time had to be given to fixing the road. The cost was five British bombers from all causes.

At dawn a follow up raid by French bombers hit the same place causing further casualties and delays. For a large part of the day the French bomber squadrons focussed on the road leading to Sedan from Bouillon and the road from Neufchateau to Bouillon. At 15:00hrs a LeO 451 managed to destroy the bridge, once more causing the German transport plan to come to a grinding halt. The French bomber force, after a week, was now becoming more proficient, though once more losses were running at between 5 and 8% of sorties.

11 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Bizencourt. Belgium.

The advance through Belgium was beginning to feel more like the Polish campaign for the motorcycle battalion of 3rd Panzer Division. There had been some real problems, the Belgians had fought well, but now they broken through the crust of the defences, the motorcycles were ranging far and wide and finding little or no opposition. There were now approaching the river Schelde. Here they expected to meet the British and see what kind of opposition they would be. The intelligence men had told them that they expected the British troops to be Territorials, partly trained amateurs. So they were pretty confident that their speed and training would possibly enable them to capture a bridge.

2nd Lieutenant Gold was consulting with Jemadar Maniraj Thapa. Their platoon were on a patrol about a mile in front of the main line at the River Eschaut. The day he had been commissioned into the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) was the proudest day of Gold’s life. Jemadar Thapa was probably the most patient and experienced Viceroy Commissioned Officer in the battalion and he made no facial reaction to the new Lieutenant’s attempts at speaking his language. The platoon was taking a ten minute break and were sitting among some trees. Gold and Thapa were consulting their map tracing out the next part of their patrol, when they heard the growing sound of motorcycles. The rest of the men heard it too and were soon in concealment and fully alert.

Thapa moved swiftly along the men checking their line of fire, especially the Bren gunners. Gold knew better than to try to change things, so he let the experienced VCO get on with his preparations. Gold himself swallowed nervously and pulled his revolver out of his holster. Thapa rejoined him and expressed confidence in the men’s positions. The only question was whether the Germans would carry on past them, and what strength there were in. A total of twelve motorcycles roared up the road, then slowed to turn into a farm opposite the trees. Eight of the motorcycles had side cars, so twenty Germans surrounded the farm buildings. Four of them broke through the door of the farmhouse, the sound of the screams from the lady of the house reached the ears of the Gurkhas.

Gold saw the look in Thapa’s eyes, and he gave the order to go and get them. Thapa nodded and stalked off. Within minutes two Bren guns started chattering death at the closest Germans, some of whom were standing in the courtyard eating and drinking wine taken from the farmhouse. Some of the Germans went down immediately, but most were quick to drop into cover and begin to return fire. Soon the branches above the heads of the Bren gunners and some riflemen were being shaken by passing bullets and a shower of leaves and splinters were falling on the men. What the Germans didn’t notice was that two sections of Gurkhas had stealthily worked their way around the flanks and, following grenades being thrown, charged the German troops with a mixture of screamed war-cry, fixed bayonets and drawn Khukuris. Rifleman Lalbahadur Gurung was among the first to reach the German positions and alone accounted for an MG34 gunner and loader with his Khukuri. Two of the Germans inside the house were the last to die, bayoneted in the hand to hand fighting, the other two fell to their knees begging for their lives.

Gold found a number of documents and maps among the corpses, he also had his men pick up a number of the German submachine guns to bring back to the intelligence men. They found the farmer and his wife alive, but the man had obviously been beaten. Two of the Nepalese men very gently lifted him onto a makeshift stretcher, and forcing the two prisoners to carry it, the patrol returned to the main line of defence with news of the closeness of the German forward units.

11 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Sedan. France.

During the night 1st Panzer Division’s artillery had arrived in dribs and drabs, and General Kirchner had ordered them to concentrate at the Meuse River loop south of Gaulier. It was here that his division had prepared during a war game in Koblenz on 21 March. His chief of staff, Wenck had a twenty-five copies of the drafted Divisional order, even the time of 10:00hrs was the same. With the failure of the Stukas the day before, it was crucial for the Luftwaffe to support the Wehrmacht today. Sperrle and Speidel, commanders of the two Luftflottes, were keen to have their aircraft do what they were trained for. A maximum effort was to be made, though what had been maximum was reducing every day.

In the original plan 2nd Panzers and 10th Panzers would attempt a crossing at the same time to the right and left of 1st Panzers. Although all three Divisions had suffered significant losses, Guderian, who had returned to the front with his arm in a sling, was keen to try to force a crossing. If they failed the Infantry Divisions would take over and the panzer force would become little more than a strategic reserve.

Von Richthofen’s Close Support Air Corps (VIII.Fliergerkorps) had mostly been employed in Holland and Belgium, and now were the main force to support the troops. A total of 160 bombers, 45 Stukas, 150 fighters began at 07:30hrs to bomb the French positions. The concentration of so many aircraft in what was a small area enabled the fighters to concentrate. French fighters who were fed into the battle piecemeal found themselves constantly outnumbered, and so unable to seriously affect the bombing.

The French however were not completely without anti-aircraft artillery. There were Hotchkiss 25mm and 20mm Oerlikons and Schneider 75mms. There weren’t enough to go around, but some effort had been made to defend this particular section of the front. The Luftwaffe therefore found they didn’t get things their own way. Their losses were only about 5%, losing 8 bombers, 4 Stukas and 6 fighters, some to ground fire and some to the attempts of the AdA.

For the French soldiers, the effect of the air raids were terrifying. While little damage was caused to reinforced concrete emplacements, infantry in slit trenches were vulnerable to the psychological effects as much as the physical effects of the bombing. The bombers tended to come in waves, and there were few gaps between one lot of bombs falling and the next lot. The demoralising effect on some troops was apparent when the German artillery took up the barrage whole platoons began to break and run. All the telecommunication cables between bunkers and command were cut, paralysing the response of the Divisional Commander of 13th Infantry Division. Part of X Corps, the 13th & 14th Infantry Divisions had been swapped with the 55th Division and 3rd North African Division. There were both Active Divisions and were assigned to this suspect area. The breakdown in communications however had been allowed for, and the French troops had been familiarising themselves with these positions for a month. Two labour battalions had been assigned to this section and they had done a large amount to improving the defensive positions. Perhaps the most important part of this work had been sighting the artillery positions. Well-constructed bunkers protected the gunners and ammunition. The guns themselves were emplaced with as much protection and camouflage as possible. False guns positions were also created in the hope of attracting German bombs away from the true positions.

On the German side 1st Panzer Division had been allocated the 43rd Assault Engineer Battalion and surviving elements of the Grossdeutschland regiment. The crossing of the river was to take place on the northern edge of Sedan at the Pont Neuf bridge. Despite the best efforts of the Luftwaffe all the French bunkers at this point were still manned and ready. The first two attempts to cross the river in rubber boats failed even before they got to the river. A Panzer IV was brought up to fire directly at Bunker 211, but its 75mm shells made no impression. It was only when an 88mm flak gun was brought into position that they were able to penetrate the bunker. A third attempt to force a crossing was again foiled, but it took them some time to realise that the French had a concealed bunker in the embankment that provided flanking fire, and was not visible from the German side. Once it had been noted and destroyed then the 7th Company of Grossdeutschland made it over the river and began to storm the Pont Neuf and Cimetiere stongpoints. Again they found themselves in a cross fire that ate away at their number. The 6th Company arrived, and the two company commanders conferred. The remains of 7th Company would provide a base of fire to allow 6th Company who would manoeuvre to get around these strong points. Using cover provided by shell holes they managed to overcome the Cimetiere position with grenades and satchel charges. However the French defenders of Pont Neuf were a harder nut to crack. It was only with 8th Company added their weight to the assault this part of the river defence was overwhelmed. 5th Company now crossed the river. 6th and 7th Companies were little more than platoons, so they were joined to 5th and 8th Company.

5th Company pushed forward along the western edge of Sedan until fire from more French bunkers stopped it at the Donchery-Sedan road. A six port pillbox (bunker 104) was 200 meters south of them, and there was an approach along the side of an orchard. However bunker 104 was covered by Bunker 7 bis, which they hadn’t seen, about 250 meters behind it and to the right. So as the first platoon made a diversionary attack, they came under cross fire from three machine guns and suffered terribly. A second platoon attempted to close with the further bunker and eventually were able to get close enough to it to use grenades. Once the machine guns were silenced, a third platoon closed with bunker 104 and managed to silence it. No sooner than they regrouped, they once again came under fire, this time from a location they couldn’t identify. Eventually Bunker 7 ter, under a barn was identified, and once again the bravery and élan of the German troops was shown in the way they used the ground to silence this second line of resistance bunker. However it had cost 5th Company dearly.

8th Company went eastwards towards the railway station. Unlike its sister company facing bunker complexes, most of the fighting in this part of Sedan was house to house. These houses had been hard hit by the Luftwaffe, and so piles of rubble and cellars often became battlefields, as the German soldiers sought to widen their perimeter. The French company commander had enjoined his men to ambush and retreat, so that is some ways it was a battle of wits. The Germans generally coped better with this type of fighting than the French did, but there were two bunkers that blocked their path to the station, Bunker 312 and 307 that were mutually supporting. Using the ruins of the houses a small group of men, led by a sergeant, got to a blind spot at 312 and were about to drop grenades through a gun port, when they were attacked in the rear by some of the defenders who had exited the bunker to face just such a threat. The company commander and most of the platoon leaders were already dead, the senior surviving sergeant, realising the way back was just as dangerous as the way forward, gathered the remaining strength, and with two MG 34s providing cover, was able to close with bunker 312 and silence it with grenades. His own life however was part of the cost, and so the remaining men 8th Company, surrendered when confronted with a French counterattacking force.

Gunther Korthals led his two platoons of 3rd Company 43rd Assault Engineer Battalion straight off the road and onto the assault boats that the First Rifle Regiment were ferrying troops across at Gaulier. The riflemen had crossed the river after Bunker 306 and 305 had been neutralised by tank and direct artillery fire. The troops had then pushed south to take the crossroads south of Castle Bellevue, where Napoleon III had capitulated to Prussian King Wilhelm I on 2 September 1870. Although they managed to cut the road the chateau strongpoint around Bunker 103 was still holding out, as was the Frenois centre of resistance.

Korthals men were specialists in attacking bunkers. They were well practised and carried flamethrowers and shaped charges along with the rest of their equipment. Arriving on the scene with his men, he was unable to locate the senior officer of the First Rifle Regiment (who was in fact mortally wounded). He decided to attack without any delay. Moving to the west, into the area where 2nd Panzer Division were attempting to cross at Donchery, he found himself approaching bunkers protecting that part of the river from the rear. Using smoke candles he blinded the defenders and then was able to knock them out. This assistance was appreciated by 2nd Panzers who had a number of wrecks of tanks on the opposite bank where they had been destroyed as they were hauling rubber boats down to the river.

Part of the French preparations for this battle had been the training of “flying columns”, some platoons who were not detailed inside bunkers, but whose job it was to defend the bunkers from just such a threat as Korthals men were becoming. Lieutenant Nonet was leading one such platoon and soon was in a firefight with the German engineers beside an artillery casement, with two 75mm guns that were preventing 2nd Panzers from making any progress in crossing the river. Taken by surprise Korthals men responded quickly and their MG 34 soon had Nonet’s men seeking cover. A stalemate between the two sides was evident, which Korthal knew would be to his men’s ultimate detriment. Picking up his submachine gun, he attempted to flank the French soldiers, and had managed to close with them, but a French sergeant, a veteran of 1918 recognised storm-trooper tactics and got his men to plaster Korthals and his men with hand grenades. Korthal’s death brought the German effort to an end. The survivors gave themselves up and were marched out of the area. One of the Germans, carrying a flame thrower however was shot after he tried to surrender. Although he hadn’t used the weapons, the use of smoke candles earlier had been mistaken for this terrible weapon.

With the failure to open up a breech in the French positions, the soldiers of First Rifle Regiment, who had been in almost constant combat since Bodange on 5 May, began to dig in to get some cover from the French fire that was coming at them from various angles. They had only managed a kilometre, but were now completely bogged down.

11 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Pont-Maugis-Wadelincourt Sector. France.

The French artillery officer watched through his binoculars the German movement in the village of Bazeilles on the opposite bank of the river. He had seen a convoy of German trucks entering the village and immediately called in a fire mission on the coordinates. With continual guidance from the observer, a devastating barrage destroyed the majority of the 96 rubber boats that the German engineers had brought forward.

The next target was a counter battery strike. A German artillery unit was setting up on the hill at La Moncelle. Once more the observer passed on the coordinates and corrected the fire, so that 10th Panzer Division’s limited artillery support, was now even more limited.

The 86th Rifle Regiment’s commander Oberst Wolfgang Fischer was determined to attack in conjunction with 1st Panzers, but his journey over the roads had strung out his command, the few surviving rubber boats were ready to go, but he had almost 800m of open ground before he made it to the river, and all the French bunkers were intact. A couple of Panzer IVs had come forward to provide direct fire, but these had been knocked out. Giving the command, his troops manhandled the boats and began to make their way to the river. This was immediately obvious to the French observer who again used his radio to break the German advance. Between the barrages, the Germans were also under direct fire from many machine gun positions. The final straw was when a group of 49th Panzer Engineer Battalion, led by Sergeant Walter Rubarth ran into a minefield near the river and were killed to a man. Fischer himself was dead, as were most of the officers who were leading from the front. But seeing the mines explode was enough to make the rest of infantry men drop the remaining boats and retire to the relative safety of Bazeilles. 10th Panzer Division would not be crossing the Meuse today.

11 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Mont-de-l'Enclus. Belgium.

2nd Lieutenant Edward Kilbane, commanding A Squadron, 5th Royal Innisikilling Dragoon Guards had an excellent view from the turret of his Vickers light tank over the valley that the Germans were expected to use to approach the Escaut Line. The first German troops had entered Ronse earlier in the morning, and now he was watching for their advance. His tank, with a few other vehicles were well back and concealed in a forested area. They had been designated as a “stay behind” unit, with a radio to act as the eyes of the Division just a few kilometres away to his rear. A Royal Artillery Observer had his maps laid out ready to call in coordinates for barrages. Kilbane had one troop of four tanks with him, and there was a platoon of infantry from the Royal Ulster Rifles to provide security. Though the best security in this case would be to stay of sight.

Kilbane’s attention was drawn to movement near the church at Russeignies, and that looked like his opposite number again.

Hauptman Willi Schmidt, Heavy Reconnaissance Company, 4th Panzer Division, felt once again that he was being watched. He had climbed the steeple of the church to get a clear view of what was around him, but his sixth sense was making him wary of being under observation himself. His binoculars scanned the area, and he looked at the terrain wondering where he would set himself up for an observation point. The obvious place was in the trees up at the top of that hill, but you would need to be some kind of amateur to put yourself in the most obvious position.

But that was where he’d have to go next. If the British had put an artillery observer up there, it would cause all sorts of trouble. As he exited the Church he got back in his half-track and called in a radio report, the area was clear, but was going to investigate hill 175.

2nd Lieutenant Edward Kilbane watched the motorcycles with their outriders and the half-tracks make their way towards his position. His mouth felt quite dry as he asked the Royal Ulster Rifle’s sergeant for his thoughts on the matter. Sergeant McMillan was perched on the back of the tank watching the progress of the German reconnaissance unit. “They look as if they’re heading for that spot the artillery man wanted to use. If they carry on to there, my lads will be able to brass them up no end. If that tank of yours over on the right could swing its guns to cover that wee bit of road there at the bend, which should put their flank totally out on a limb. My Boys rifle man swears by these new grenades of his, so yon half-track would be a goner in no time. But the orders are to avoid contact, so will we keep them in our sights and only open fire if they spot us… Sir?” “That seems very sensible, Sergeant, maybe you should take up position on Sergeant McNaughton’s tank, and if you start firing, then that’ll be the signal for everyone else. Does that sound fair enough, Sergeant?” “Aye, fair enough, sir.” Sergeant McMillan jumped off the tank and started passing the word for what was about to happen. He got to the position where Corporal Fleming was already attaching one of the new HEAT rounds to the end of the Boys rifle. He didn’t have to be told twice to keep his head down, but he really hoped he’d get the chance to fire one of these things, to see if actually did what they’d been told it would.

Hauptman Willi Schmidt was having a really bad feeling about this hill. He was still sure someone was watching him, but when they’d got to the point he thought he’d find someone, there was nothing there. Now, he thought to himself, where would I go? He stood up on the engine compartment of his half-track to get a better view when he saw a large projectile coming straight at him. He jumped off to the side as the sound of bullets whizzed by, followed quickly by the crump of an explosion as his half-track seemed to expand then disintegrate.

The sound of heavy machine gun fire and the impact of bullets on men and machinery filled his ears, along with the screams of men hit by high velocity bullets. Raising his head to try to get an idea of what was happening, he saw movement of Khaki figures through the trees, and realised that the British were exactly where he would have been. His command ceased to exist as the last half-track was riddled with .50 caliber bullets as it reversed down the slope. He hadn’t even had time to cock his machine pistol when a large man, with a very long bayonet on the end of his rifle was about to spear him. “Nein, Nein!” he shouted, and raised his hands above his head. Seven of his men were taken alive by the suddenness of the ambush. A further four were wounded, and a British medic was trying to put a bandage on one of them already. The rest were all dead, most of them still in their vehicles. A number of British soldiers were trying to put out fires, but were failing miserably.

Kilbane walked over to where the German prisoners were surrounded by bayonets. Sergeant McMillan was explaining that one of the German motorcycle men had spotted the tank through the camouflage and was about to give a warning when McMillan had shot him, then the rest of the platoon had opened up and it was all over before any of the Germans could respond. One rifleman had a wounded arm, which had probably been caused by someone behind him, rather than a German. Kilbane thanked the sergeant and asked him to start getting the men ready to move, they’d need to change position pretty quickly. Looking at the Germans, Kilbane spotted the officer’s uniform and saluted, in halting German he tried to explain that they were prisoners and would be well treated. Schmidt spoke English quite well and thanked his opposite number, and grudgingly congratulated him on the ambush. He was particularly interested in what had taken out his half-track, he hadn’t seen the likes of that kind of weapon before. Kilbane wasn’t about to give away any secrets, so he just went back to organising the move to the secondary location, and to try figure out what to do with his captives, especially the injured ones.

11 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Donchery. France.

2nd Panzer division had been given the most difficult task. The traffic jam had delayed their approach to the Meuse, and the Luftwaffe attack was well over before the Division was even in a position to attack. Their initial movement had been curtailed by flanking fire from Bunker 103 and 210 which had destroyed panzers that were towing assault boats to the river. When the French Bunker 210 had been neutralised, Oberst Hans Koelitz ordered his 2nd Rifle Regiment to once again attempt a crossing. The French positions were a strong bulwark, and even with direct fire from German tanks and 88mm Flak guns, the French were able to pour down fire. The fortress artillery from Charleville-Mezieres area was also available to the defenders, and other than a few German infantry who swam the river, and were taken prisoner for their troubles, the 2nd Division were totally unable to make any progress.

11 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Avelgem, Belgium. ‘

Gun Sergeant John Foxwell, C’ Troop 9/17 Battery, 7th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, got the order to fire, and his gun joined the other twenty three of the Regiment's guns barking in unison. The fire mission had been radioed in from a forward observer and corrections were made quickly. It was a hot day and most of the men were either bare chested or only wearing a vest. Through the sweat of keeping the gun firing and on target, Foxwell became aware that the mission was lasting for longer than usual. He was concerned that the rate of fire would begin to decline as the ready ammunition from the limber was being used up quickly. Almost as he thought this, the order for cease fire came. Then it was a mad rush to get the gun limbered up and to get everything moving to the second location.

As the tractor got moving, he counted up that his gun alone had fired fifty six shells, and if all twenty four guns had done the same, then someone downrange would have a very bad headache.

11 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Sedan. France.

The German assault had stalled completely. The only Germans who were still on the west bank of the Meuse were men of the Grossdeutchland regiment and some from the First Rifle Regiment who had followed them across the river.

A battalion of French troops, with the support of four Char B1s were the counterattacking force in the sector, and in the middle of the morning, they rolled forward to unseat the Germans from their shell scrapes and other hastily organised defences. With the total supremacy of the French artillery any attempt to cross the river was now doomed to failure, and so the Germans were fast running out of ammunition and hope. With the arrival of the French tanks there was nothing that could be done. Some Germans swam back over the river, but the remnant were forced to surrender.

Guderian’s gamble had failed, dramatically.

11 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Charleroi. Belgium

9e Bataillon de Chars de Combat under Major Gautier consisted of 45 Somoa S-35s and he was currently sitting on top of his turret smoking a cigarette while his driver and radio operator were tightening a bolt or something technical. Gautier was not too impressed with his char. There was no way he could see how things were going as unlike everybody else’s chars there was no copula on this one. To save money they had just used the same one man turret on this S35 as was on the Char B1 bis. He was supposed to load and fire the 47mm gun, and control the rest of the Battalion, all well cooped up in an airless hunk of cast metal. And, to make matters worse, it was always breaking down, like now for example. Certainly it was a bit of an improvement on the Renault R-35s he was more used to, but the limitations were still evident.

The driver called up to him that the tank was fixed. Gautier drew a last drag from his cigarette, threw it away, and climbed back into the tank. Onwards, ever onwards, he thought, until we break down again.

11 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Escaut River. Belgium.

Sergeant Banks had called the platoon to stand to, and quickly enough, even quickly enough to please the sergeant, though he’s never admit it, the men were in their slit trenches ready for anything. The sound of outgoing artillery over their heads was more than enough warning that this wasn’t an exercise. So far they could see nothing in front of them. There had been the sound of firing and some fires on Hill 175 about two hours earlier, which probably meant the reconnaissance units were in contact.

Now is was a case of waiting and wondering. Some of the men spent the time checking and rechecking their equipment, others moved their lips in silent prayer. A great many were desperate for a smoke, but they had been warned not to give away their positions, under any circumstances. Banks was satisfied with this position, it was sell sited, and with two Vickers heavy machine guns covering the ground across the river, which looked more like a canal, and the platoon mortar section had plenty of time to work out fire patterns and ranges. If they had to defend this place, they could do so comfortably, at least for a while.

2nd Lieutenant Woods dropped into his position. At least he’s had the good sense to use the covered approach and give a quick warning to expect him. He still found the sergeant’s bayonet poised “just in case”. “Everything alright Sir?” he enquired. “Yes, sergeant, just got word from Company that the artillery was plastering the lead elements of 4th Panzer Division, and that the artillery chaps have being doing a good job, it looks like they hit them pretty hard. We can expect their artillery before too long, and they could try a direct assault immediately, rather than waiting. So, if you see any rubber boats, you might like to sink them Sergeant.” “Fair enough Sir. Are you going back to the platoon HQ position now sir?” “I suppose I should sergeant, righto, see you later.” As the Lieutenant boosted himself out the trench and back towards his proper position, Private Cartwright, who was sharing the position, raised his eyebrows. “Artillery, Sarge?” At that moment the sound of incoming rounds, had the sergeant shouting out a warning to take cover, and so the men of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers made themselves as small as possible in the bottom of their trenches.

11 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Dinant, Belgium.

Part of General Hoth’s XV Corps, 5th Panzer's Joachim Lemelson was meeting with 2nd Infantry (Mot) Divisional Commander Paul Bader. The delay yesterday had been useful in that the whole of the Corps had now assembled, and the two commanders were once again looking at forcing a crossing near Dinant. There would be no Luftwaffe support as Guderian’s Corps had first call. They would need to concentrate their artillery fire and have their engineers ready to ferry as many men and as much equipment as possible. With the situation at Houx being assessed as unlikely to succeed the decision was made to concentrate on Leffe, where a footbridge had been blocked by the Belgians. By concentrating the Infantry Division, along with all the Corps artillery in a small area, with the Panzers providing cover it was hoped that the chances of making a successful crossing were as good here as anywhere else.

In the early hours of the morning before dawn as much work was done as possible to assemble the men and equipment. Just before dawn the German artillery began their barrage. The engineers had rigged up all the Corp’s smoke generators, and even before first light these were providing a thick pall over the river, so thick, that many of the German troops chose to wear gas masks. After five minutes of bombardment the French artillery began to fire back, indiscriminately targeting the east bank of the river and probable battery positions. The German assault troops began to paddle across the river in their boats, with tanks providing direct heavy fire at the opposite bank.

The Belgian and French defenders had a number of concealed bunkers that provided flanking fire, and as the German boats came into their line of fire, the fusillade mowed down most of the first company that reached the far shore. The smoke screen now proved a double edged sword, as it made it difficult for the bunkers to be identified and attacked from the other shore. Once again the Germans made use of their Flak 88mm guns in direct fire support and one by one the bunkers were silenced.

A second company tried again to gain a foothold on the western bank. This time they were more successful at landing, but soon found themselves caught in a murderous crossfire from both flanks, and aimed down on their heads from the hill overlooking the road. German tanks and other weapons again tried to provide them with as much covering fire as they could, and even the artillery attempted dangerously close fire patterns to help the Germans infantry and engineers make progress. A third company was fed across the river to reinforce their colleagues, but a French barrage made short work of their boats as they tried to cross the river.

General Bader knew that the only way his men could force the river was by concentration of force, and with all arms cooperation, so the rest of the Battalion, followed by another Battalion were fed into the mincer. Their toehold on the west bank became a foothold by 10:00hrs.

7th Rifle Regiment were the next to cross, the 5th Infantry Regiment having led the way. The men of the 7th, having lost their parent 7th Panzer Division were determined to show what the Panzer troops were capable of and with the engineers having managed to complete a cable ferry with several pontoons, they arrived in good order with the aim of clearing the slope in front of them and thereby widening the breach. Their arrival on the west bank coincided with the first main French counterattack.

The counterattack was preceded by an air attack by French LeO 451s that flew at an almost suicidal height along the river. Five of them were brought down in flames by the concentrated Flak, but those that did successfully bomb, although they missed the pontoon ferry, did hit three artillery batteries, which had an extremely detrimental effect on the level of artillery support the 7th Rifle Regiment needed.

The French counterattack was led by the 4th North African Division. The men of the Division were convinced that some of their reconnaissance units which had been further forward in the Ardennes, had been massacred by German units. Their desire to close with the Germans was therefore very strong, and with a few light tanks they began to probe the German positions. The Germans hadn’t yet managed to bring forward anti-tank guns, and while the French tanks were eventually destroyed by German Panzer IIIs on the east bank, the infantry had no easy way to stop them.

The fighting became desperate, in many places hand to hand. The Germans, knowing how much it had cost to gain this foothold, were desperately hanging on, though the diminishment of their artillery support couldn’t have come at a worse time. The North Africans were fighting for the revenge of their friends, and to throw back this crossing before it became too established. Losses on both sides were horrendous, but the French could be reinforced much more easily than the Germans, which proved decisive. But 16:00hrs, the west bank of the river was once more in French hands.

The cost to the Germans had been the total dismemberment of two regiments, almost 5000 men killed, missing or captured. The French and Belgian casualties were bad, the best part of 18oo men were killed, and many more wounded. But as both sides looked at their day, the French were more satisfied, as they had held their ground. Lemelson and Bader met with Hoth to decide what to do next. Among their losses were the majority of engineering equipment for river assaults. There was no way that could be made good quickly.

11 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Waregem, Belgium.

General Montgomery in the Forward Headquarters of BEF’s II Corps watched the picture unfold on the map in front of him. 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions were heading directly for the BEF positions on the Eschaut. 4th Panzers seemed to be aiming at his II Corps and 3rd Panzers were south of them heading to Tournai. From aerial reconnaissance, 20th (Mot) Infantry Division were further back still providing a flank guard against the French border positions. It looked like the trap was about ready to spring.

The first artillery exchanges had been underway now hours, and it seemed the BEF’s artillery was much heavier than the Panzer Divisions’ and that would show, especially with the well-practised forward observers calling the shots. He mentally shook his head at the German generalship, having tanks running forward like this without proper flanks and complete lack of infantry support. What on earth were they thinking? He called over the RAF liaison, wanting to get this over and done with as quickly as possible.

11 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Pont-a-Celles. Belgium.

Major Laureux, Chief of Staff of the 9th DIM (Motorised Infantry Division) part of XVI Corps stood at Pont-a-Celles watching the 30th Motorised Artillery regiment crossing northwards. He had spent some time working out the order of march for the units, and had had to come forward to the bridge to unblock a hold up caused by Colonel Barbe insisting that his 13th Infantry Regiment should take precedence over the artillery. Major Laureux was well used to Barbe’s ways and was able to smooth his ruffled feathers with a few soothing words and a gentle reminder of the General’s concern to get the Division into the fight as soon as possible. As soon as the last of these 75mm guns were across the bridge, Barbe’s Infantry would be following.
Laureux was somewhat amused that Barbe was so keen to get to grips with the Boche. He hadn’t showed quite as much enthusiasm in the exercises with the British some months ago. Perhaps the Colonel’s dressing down by General Giraud himself after that debacle had concentrated Barbe’s mind. Sure enough, as the last of the guns went onto the bridge, there was Barbe standing in the back of his staff car waving his men on, his cries of “forward to glory” were somehow less effective over the noise all the engines of the lorries carrying the troops forward.

Laureux was pleased to see the Division moving smoothly, now he had to get back to HQ and have a word with Captain Maillard the Officer Commanding the Divisional Transport to make sure that he had got the note about bringing up more 75mm ammunition for the guns, as quickly as possible.

11 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Mons, Belgium.

Sergeant Ginger May was sitting in the turret of Corfu, his Matilda II, one of tanks belonging to B Squadron, 3 Royal Tank Regiment. 1st Armoured Division. The approach to the bridge from the assembly point was pretty straightforward, but knowing what Socker Heath his driver was like, he wanted to make sure that his higher vantage point would give him plenty of warning of anything that might throw a track or cause the engine to blow up, or any of the other things that Socker worried about.

May glanced around him at the rest of the squadron and all the other vehicles that were moving up the road that in August 1914 the BEF had advanced and retreated on. The bridge over the canal he was to cross was one of six that were being used, and he was pleased to see a few Bofors mounts off the road a bit, providing anti-air cover. Over the sound of the tank’s engine he heard a louder roar, and above him, flying in the same direction were four Hurribombers at low level. “Good on you, Crab Air,” he thought, “Go and get them, and don’t feel you have to leave any for us either.”

Lance corporal Duncan MacDonald was riding in his Bren gun Carrier with his Boys rifle ready beside him. 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. 51st Highland Division were on their way to war. He was looking at the other three men in the carrier, and thinking about the way things had changed over the last few months. He had the new anti-tank grenades, McGregor had the M79 grenade launcher, and they had two of these Sterling submachine guns, as well as the Bren and one rifle. The amount of fire power just in this one half section had more than doubled since they came to France in the winter. Then there was his brother Peter in the anti-tank platoon whose fancy new Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon was something to behold. He was wondering how all of a sudden the army had started issuing brand new kit, stuff he’d never even heard about in the last few years. His carrier raced past one of the Matilda IIs and he felt pretty confident, especially when four of the Hurribombers flew overhead, pretty confident indeed.

Pilot Officer John Blair, flying Hurribomber C for Charlie, was partly conscious of the British tanks and units passing below him, but he was focused more on keeping half an eye on the formation, and a whole eye on the sky above him, checking for enemy fighters. They hadn’t seen much of the Luftwaffe this last couple of days, but his days flying a Battle, and before that a Hawker Hind, had left him with an appropriate fear of being jumped. The target for this sortie was the small town of Jurbise where German columns had been passing. He was carrying two 500lb bombs and a full load for his canons and .303 guns. He was missing the cluster bombs that they’d been using at the start of the fighting, though if he never had to attack another German airbase he be happy never to see a cluster bomb again.

The Section leader called out a course correction and the four aircraft banked. Red three and four would approach from another direction and they broke off. There was the railway line they would follow into the town where the road would be to the north, and sure enough, he felt the tightness in his belly as the first bursts of flak and tracers started in his direction. He saw a line of trucks and depressed the trigger, when the bullet strikes started to hit the trucks he depressed it all the way and the 20mm canon shells started to cause havoc. He pulled up into a steep climb and released the bombs in an attempt to lob them at the next bunch of lorries. He felt the gravity pull at him as he broke hard right to get away from the explosions. The Section leader, Red 1 called out a warning, so he reversed the turn. A Bf109 was stalking them, and for the briefest of moments Blair was able to get a full burst off against it. He missed completely but the tracers must have spooked the German pilot who took evasive manoeuvres. Blair got back with his leader. Red 1 managed to get on the tail of the Bf109 and caught him with a few strikes, as the German broke off he flew right through Blair’s sights, and even he couldn’t miss. The German fighter hit the ground in a fireball. Red 4 spotted the other Bf109 heading away, he obviously didn’t think these were going to be easy pickings.

Red 1 called for them to head home, that was enough excitement for one day. Blair breathed a sigh of relief, all those years training as a bomber pilot, and he had actually shot down another plane! He couldn’t believe it.

11 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Thuin, Belgium.

General Henri Giraud had just returned to French 7e Army Forward HQ, from visiting his divisional commanders. He had been concerned that they should remember the need for speed in their objectives. The plan was as straightforward as possible. Ier Corps, which was the 1re Light Mechanised Division and 25e Motorised Division would move forward from behind the River Sambre at Charleroi towards Gembloux, then swing via Warve back to Brussels, cutting the German 6th Army off from its follow on forces. The XVIe Corps, which consisted of 9e Motorised Division with GBC 510 (Groupe de Bataillons de Chars) was to move north along the eastern bank of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal. Between the two Corps it was expected that the Panzer Corp's logistical tail would be encircled.

The infantry divisions (21e, 60e, and 68e) would swing up to put their shoulder to the German advance, with the hope that in due course the Albert Canal line would be re-established, liberating most of Belgium. The Belgian troops between Antwerp and Ghent would advance towards Brussels to meet Ier Corps, though the timing of this would be crucial. That would leave the BEF to reduce the German pocket in front of the Eschaut line.

One extra part of the plan was to send Colonel Beauchesne with a strongly reinforced reconnaissance group to Liege to lift the siege on Eben Emael. Giraud watched as his staff members started moving little flags on his map, his army was on the move.

11 May 1940. 14:00hrs. Valenciennes, France.

General Alan Brooke was watching a Black Redstart balancing along a wall, jumping to catch insects, he was allowing the distraction to calm his frayed nerves. In the Great War he had been an artillery man, he had seen his share of war. But sending off his Mechanised Corps into battle today was almost too much to contemplate, so many men and so much danger. He had seen the confidence in the faces of the commanders and some of the troops he had spoken too, he wished he could share it. Things were much better than they had been a couple of months ago, even a few weeks ago, but had no doubt that their enemy would be no pushover. The bird flew off, and so he turned into the school that was the HQ, and exuding an air of confidence gathered his staff to start monitoring the progress of the battle.

11 May 1940. 14:00hrs. Jurbise, Belgium

Corporal Peter MacDonald (2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. 51st Highland Division) watched the dead bodies and destroyed vehicles pass as his carrier raced through Jurbise. The poor wretches had been caught by the RAF, and the horrors were all around him. The anti-tank platoon were racing forward towards Lens. The rest of the Battalion were following, and he had seen some of the new Valentine tanks heading in the same direction. He was only a corporal, and the extent of his war was in this carrier, so he didn’t know what was happening elsewhere, but he knew well enough that the chances were good that his fancy new weapon would soon be fired in anger.

The platoon commander gave directions by standing up in his carrier and motioning with his right hand for the platoon to come off the road and head over to the railway line about 250 yards to their right. There was little or no cover here, the whole place was just a lot of fields, though there was a small stream here and some larger bushes and shrubs that would just conceal their carriers.

Harry Drummond brought the carrier to a standstill, McPhail and Knox jumped out and started gathering some of the foliage to blend them into the surroundings. MacDonald made his way over to the Lieutenant’s carrier to see what the plan was. At that point four Vickers light tanks from the Division’s reconnaissance unit raced up the road towards Lens. Lieutenant Campbell quickly explained the plan. If the troop of light tanks found Germans in Lens they would hare back along this road, and any German tanks or vehicles that pursued them would be the platoon’s target. Once the platoon had fired off a couple of rounds, they would withdraw back to Jurbise, at best speed, where the rest of the battalion, supported by Valentines of 5th Royal Tank Regiment, would be waiting.

The Lieutenant’s briefing was interrupted by the sound of machine guns firing, followed by a sharp crack. Looking over, MacDonald could see that one of the four Vickers tanks was burning, so without the need of much of a pep talk from the company commander, MacDonald raced back to his carrier, where he found his team in place, and a round in the Carl Gustav, courtesy of Knox.

Three Vickers were reversing down the road, it seemed to MacDonald that they were travelling faster in reverse than they had been advancing. A second Vickers brewed up, and so MacDonald turned his attention back to the village in front of him. Sometimes he wished he had a pair of binoculars at moments like this, but McPhail, for all his faults, had eyes like a hawk. “Twa Hun tanks, Corp, aboot five hunner yards.” MacDonald followed McPhail’s pointed finger, and realised he was talking about two tanks that had broken cover and were coming his way. MacDonald put some cotton wool in his ears, and lined up the Carl Gustav on the right hand tank, which he identified as a Panzer II. He looked over at the carrier on his left and made hand signals to the effect that he would go for the tank on the right, and that Corporal Sutherland should take the one on the left. Sutherland gave a thumbs up in agreement.

The Panzers were getting closer, and if he still had his 2 pounder gun, he’s have opened up already, but the CG was best at pretty close range. Just another few yards, and he’d have a perfect shot. Through the cotton wool he became aware that Sutherland had fired his shot, and the explosion short of the Panzer showed that he had gone too soon. Sutherland’s carrier shot back out of cover and the MacDonald could see the turret of the Panzer swing around to bring its guns to bear. Now. He pulled the trigger and with an enormous concussion the 84mm projectile went unerringly towards the target. The enormous explosion literally tore the Panzer II to pieces. This was followed closely by the destruction of the second tank, hit by the Lieutenant’s weapon.

Drummond didn’t need any encouragement to put the carrier in reverse and start racing back towards Jurbise. In the middle of the field, they did a fast turn so that he could see where he was going, and within moments they were back with the rest of the battalion. McPhail was slapping his back and tell MacDonald that he’d “blown the f### out of that tank”, or at least that what’s MacDonald thought he said.

Lieutenant Don Ricketts of 5 RTR was looking though his binoculars watching the carriers of the anti-tank platoon race back to this position. He had watched the troop of Vickers light tanks come under fire. He was really pleased with his Valentine tank, though having to act as loader while trying to fight the tank was a pain. He had already loaded the 2 pounder gun with an armour piercing round, so he was able to watch for a target to give to the gunner. The explosions that had knocked out the two panzers had been something to behold. The remains were burning fiercely, and he felt a pang of sympathy for the crews, who would have had no chance to bail out, he hoped they’d died quickly.

His eyes were drawn to movement. He could see a group of Panzer I and IIs making their ways over the fields. He keyed his microphone to alert the squadron, “enemy to the front, 700 yards and closing.” He then looked down into the turret to make sure that Tommy Langdon, his gunner was had seen them. Ricketts could feel the turret swivel to lay on the German tanks. At 500 yards, he gave the order to fire, and the guns of eight Valentine tanks barked. The German light tanks had no chance against these shells, and one by one they were knocked out.

Ricketts had reloaded the gun, and was now able to look out the top of his turret, seeing the enemy burning, he keyed his mike again, and ordered his squadron to advance, the carriers of the Seaforths joined them as the advanced towards Lens, with burning Germans tanks falling behind them as they progressed as a stately pace.

As they approached the built up area, Ricketts felt his tank shudder, a German PAK 36 had hit his front armour and bounced off. He ducked back into the turret, pulling out the armour piercing round, he replaced it with one of the few HE rounds, and shouted to Langdon to get the bloody thing. He pulled himself back up so he could look out the top of the turret. There, he saw it, just past the trees on the left side of the road. He ducked down to check that Langdon had seen it. He hadn’t, so Ricketts had to direct him onto it. Langdon saw it when the PAK fire again, hitting the tank to their left, hitting a track and stopping it. The turret turned and Langdon fired. The HE shell didn’t have much of a charge to it, but it was enough to knock the PAK 36 over.

Corporal Peter MacDonald passed the remains of the Panzer II he had destroyed. He wished he had more time to examine the damage his Charlie G had done, but that was a tank that couldn’t be described as anything more than a pile of junk now. The Valentines and the Battalion were about to enter Lens, and he could see that the Germans were leaving pretty hurriedly. This was pretty flat country, MacDonald imagined that the farmers around here must do pretty well. He brought his focus back to the task in hand. The Lieutenant was once again signalling for them to break off to the right. Drummond followed the carrier in front, which suddenly blossomed in flames, McPhail swore as his mouth hit the front of the compartment when Drummond broke suddenly and swerved off to the right. MacDonald saw the shape of a Panzer III behind a barn, so he slapped Drummond’s helmet to get his attention. MacDonald had stalked deer on the Laird’s estate back home, and now he felt was doing a mechanised stalk. Guiding Drummond to a suitable place, Knox had already got another 84mm projectile into the CG, and now MacDonald was confident that he would have a shot, in five, four, three, two, one, NOW! Once again the concussion from the weapon discharging assaulted his senses.

The explosion was just short, and Knox was already bunging another round into the CG. He felt his shoulder being slapped to let him know the weapon was ready. The Panzer III was reversing out of its position, and MacDonald, without conscious thought, led it slightly, this time there was no mistake and the tank was destroyed. Looking up, he could see that McPhail was spitting out broken teeth and blood. He said something, but this time MacDonald couldn’t make out a word.

Rickett’s Valentine was still advancing. That seemed to be one of those sword and shield things they had been warned about. German tanks withdrawing, bringing the British tanks onto the anti-tank gun positions, then the tanks attacking from the flank. This time, the plan had failed pretty miserably. The PAK 36s hadn’t made much of an impression on the armour of the Valentines, though two were stuck with broken tracks. When the Panzer IIIs had come from the right, the Seaforths had managed to hit a few of them, then Ricketts had got second troop to confront the remainder and the surviving German tanks were retreating as fast as they could. Unfortunately his Valentines wouldn’t be able to catch up with them at that speed. But in his first tank on tank engagement, the Royal Tank Regiment had come out on top, and that felt pretty good.

11 May 1940. 15:00hrs. Brussels. Belgium.

Walther von Reichenau, in 6th Army Headquarters, didn’t like what he was hearing from his southern flank. Hoepner’s Corps had got ahead of the rest of the army and were starting to hit the British forces at the Eschaut Line. Meanwhile IV, IX and XI Corps were strung out from Hasselt to Nivelles, eight Infantry Divisions were moving at a marching pace. Indeed some of them had only left Germany itself the day before yesterday. As the progressed their commanders were detaching units left, right and centre to occupy areas that had been bypassed by Hoepner’s Panzers.

XVI Panzer Corps would have to be halted. There was no way that they’d be able to knock the British out of their prepared positions. The Dyle Line would have been different, they could have outflanked that, but this Eschaut line was a different matter altogether. Von Reichenau called in his chief of staff, Friedrich Paulus, they’d have to get a message through to Hoepner as quickly as possible, otherwise he could find himself cut off and fighting a cauldron battle.

11 May 1940 16:00hrs. Ath. Belgium.

Ludwig von Radlmeier (OC 4th Panzer Division) read the message again from von Reichenau ordering him to stop his Division in place, not to assault the Eschaut Line and wait for the infantry Divisions to catch up with him. He was also warned that his left flank was in danger. He and his chief of staff consulted the map. Schützen-Regiment 12 was deploying to assault the river and Panzer Regiment 35 were in support, though they’d been hit badly by British artillery. Panzer Regiment 36 could be turned through 90 degrees to face south, if that was the way the British were coming. Orders for this were sent out immediately. Radlmeier was keen to let his infantry try to cross the river, but an order was an order, and while he didn’t like it, there wasn’t much he could do about it. Facing the British in an open field, that would be an interesting experience.

11 May 1940. 16:00hrs. Mons. Belgium.

General Percy Hobart (OC First Armoured Division) listened to the radio reports from his various units as they progressed from Mons towards Soignies. All was going well so far. Certainly the RAF were playing their part with both reconnaissance and close air support, and it looked like Jerry was getting ready for an action south of Ath. Well, if they are all dressed and ready for a dance, we can’t exactly let them hang around like wallflowers, he thought. He called over his signals officer to get a message to Crocker’s Third (Heavy) armoured brigade to make their axis of advance through Jurbise and Lens towards Ath. He also informed McCreery’s Second brigade to watch the right flank and be ready to swing around towards Ath to support Crocker. He copied this to Q Martel, the Corps commander who acknowledged and would send 152nd Brigade from the 51st Highlanders Division to support this movement.

11 May 1940. 16:00hrs. Lens. Belgium.

Lance corporal Duncan MacDonald (2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. 51st Highland Division) dismounted from the Bren gun Carrier with his Boys rifle already loaded with a rifle grenade. Private McGregor had the M79 grenade launcher and they were supporting A Company who were clearing out the town. Moving forward the first two men in the platoon were cut down by a burst of fire from a German machine gun. McGregor moved forward to get into a position to put a grenade on the enemy position, but the range was too great. MacDonald then came up and got instructions from the platoon sergeant. With Private Tommy Christie carrying the reloads and armed with a Sterling submachine gun, they broke through the door of a house and made their way upstairs. Staying well back from the window they were still able to see the German position. MacDonald got his rifle into position and judged the range. Readying himself for the kick he squeezed the trigger, the projectile flew off through the broken window and exploded on the wall just below the machine gun position. The blast blew a hole in the wall and destroyed the machine gun and its crew. As soon as the explosion happened, the platoon moved forward, another street cleared. MacDonald and Christie returned down the stairs out onto the street.

With the town of Lens now completely in British hands, the rest of the Division moved forward and 153rd Brigade moved to take the lead with 3RTR support.

11 May 1940 17:00hrs. Soignies. Belgium

The Queen’s Bays commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel George Fanshawe was reading the orders that had come from Q Martel, the Corps Commander. The journey to Soignies had been straightforward. His A9 tanks had been behaving themselves, only two had fallen out of the march through mechanicals. There had been a few fire fights with elements of the German army, and a column of supply trucks had been captured when they had taken the town. Now it seemed that the Germans were increasing resistance in front of 3 Armoured Brigade south of Ath. Martel wanted him to head now for Ghislenghien via Silly and to take the Germans on their flank.

The Bays were supporting 25th Brigade of 50th Division, and the Battalion commander of the Royal Irish Fusiliers was nearby. Fanshawe approached him to check if he had received similar orders. He had, so they agreed that somebody was obviously on the ball back at HQ for a change. Looking at their maps it was about 10 miles to Silly. So Fanshawe ordered his reconnaissance squadron to go on ahead and check the ground. Some of the German trucks were carrying fuel, so they were distributing this amongst the tanks and carriers, while admiring the cans that the fuel was stored in, much better than the flimsies they were used to. One RASC sergeant noted that similar cans were starting to appear in rear areas, but there wasn’t enough of them to go around yet.

The two commanders worked out their way forward, they had been working for a couple of months together, and so they knew what the best order of march was, and so within forty minutes of receiving the orders, with all his fuel tanks topped up the column moved off to the northwest.

The reconnaissance squadron was led by Lieutenant Paul Moore who was worrying about the small village of Masi that he was approaching. Pulling his Vickers light tank off the road under some trees he examined the place through his binoculars. Sergeant Lawson joined him by climbing up beside the turret. “Something wrong, sir?” he enquired. Moore had been in the regiment for four years, and he was well used to these types of missions, though usually after an exercise you’d go back to the Mess and have a nice dinner and a drink whether you had been “killed” or not. This time his gut was telling him something. “Not wrong, sergeant, just fishy.” He tried to explain that something didn’t feel right, though he couldn’t explain it. The sergeant had been with him for the last couple of years and trusted and respected him.

“I think Sergeant, we should go across country here and there, (he pointed in the directions he meant) you take the left and I’ll take the right, we’ll go round and see if my suspicions are correct.” The sergeant nodded and returned to his vehicle. Moore dropped down into the turret to have a word with his gunner and driver. With that done he ordered the driver to take them out to the right and try to use as much cover as he could to move around to the north of the village. Rolling over a wheat field the driver came to the end of whatever cover was available, then with put his foot down and made best possible speed for the farm buildings about 300 yards ahead. The gunner saw movement and opened up with the .50 Vickers machine gun, though with the tank going so fast it was almost impossible to be accurate. Moore saw the flashes of tracer coming towards him, and he ordered the driver to reverse back down the slope. He had seen at least one Panzer III and one 37mm anti-tank gun. That was more than enough. He was on the radio trying to make a report as the driver threw the tank around to make it as difficult a target as possible. As they were nearing cover their luck ran out. There would be no meal in a Mess tonight.

On receipt of the contact report, which was cut short, Fanshawe requested artillery support, and air support if it was available. The 72nd Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery reported ready to engage at the coordinates at the crossroads at Masi. A Forward Air Controller in a Lysander would be in position in about five minutes to direct the fire. Fanshawe sent A troop along with B company of the Fusiliers along a farm road that went off to the north, about half a mile short of Masi. They would attempt to get round behind the village. B Troop and C Company would try to swing over to the left of where Lieutenant Moore’s tank was burning and approach from the south. The rest of the unit would go straight up the middle when the artillery barrage would cover their approach. The sound of the spotter plane reached them and when the first shell landed, Fanshawe was ready to move.

The 25-pdrs shells hit the German positions hard, keeping their heads down. The A9s pushed forward over the fields accompanied by carriers loaded with more infantry that they should have. As the artillery barrage stopped the battalion mortars opened fire, and included smoke among their rounds. The assault coming from three directions fell on German defenders before they were able to recover from the barrage. A company sized force, with six panzers were rolled up quickly, mostly captured, though a quite a few were killed by the machine guns on the A9s and Bren gun carriers.

11 May 1940. 17:00hrs. Geraarsbergen. Belgium.

As commander of XVI Corps, General Hoepner’s response to 6th Army’s orders had been to order all units to take up an all-round defensive posture. It was the very opposite of what they had trained for, but he had every confidence in his men’s abilities, especially among the junior officers who would be able to make the most of whatever situation they found themselves in. He was concerned however that his line of supply was threatened. He got on the radio to General Von Wiktorin of 20th (Motorised) Division and started giving orders. He needed to make sure he didn’t lose contact with the rest of the Army.

11 May 1940. 18:00hrs. Bapaume, France.

General Alan Brooke was with Q Martel looking at the picture as it was emerging. The fairly swift advance was slowing dramatically as the Germans began to take on a defensive posture. Brooke was quietly satisfied that at least he had the initiative, not just responding to the German’s moves. The French advance seemed at little more leisurely, but 9e Motorised Infantry Division had reached the outskirts of Nivelles, and had been meeting resistance exclusively from infantry units. That probably meant that the two panzer divisions were in the British sector of operations. Now, how to keep the initiative, which would be the thing that would win this.

11 May 1940. 18:00hrs. Halle. Belgium.

General Von Wiktorin (OC 20th (Motorised) Division) felt as if he had lost control of his Division, or at least what was left of it. He had tried to keep them together, guarding the left flank of the Panzer Divisions, but they had been getting more and more strung out. The RAF attacks weren’t helping matters at all, and his Luftwaffe liaison was worse than useless. The strong French and British attacks from the south had hit his men hard and they were falling back. Some of the panzers used by the enemy seemed mostly impervious to the PAK 36. Now he was being ordered by Hoepner to make sure he retained a link back to IV Corps.

One of his staff rushed in to tell him that strong French forces had taken the military bridge over the canal at Ronquières, so he was indeed cut off from IV Corps. “Send out orders for 69th Regiment to concentrate at…Braine-le-Comte,” pointing at the map. The staff officer pointed out that British troops were already at Soignies, only a few miles away. Wiktorin felt the eyes of his staff on him, wondering if he was up to the job. “Right”, he said, “we’ll concentrate here, the 69th at Engheim and the 76th at Tubize. That way we can keep the road back to Brussels open.” The staff officers left the tent to start sending out the orders. His Chief of Staff quietly coughed. “Hans, what is it?” he asked. The Chief of Staff was as concerned as he was, their battalions were strung out, and mostly unable to support each other. Ordering them all back was a recipe for disaster. Wiktorin nodded, “But what else can I do? They have caught us fair and square, all we can hope for now is to hold out and let the rest of the infantry come forward to get us out of this trap. We will also need tank support, get onto Hoepner and see what he can send us.”

11 May 1940. 19:00hrs. Bruges. Belgium

General Sir John Dill was meeting with the Belgian King Leopold III and his senior military advisor General van Overstraeten. They had been watching the movement of pins on the map as the French and British counter attack went in. The question was of timing. It was important for the Belgians to break out of their positions between Antwerp and Ghent to make for Brussels, at the same time that the French 7th Army made it there, cutting off as much of the German 6th Army as possible. The Belgians had been less than enthusiastic about this plan, arguing that their men had been fighting, almost completely without support since 5 May, some of their best divisions had been destroyed, and now they were expected to attack a superior force. Dill, much to the chagrin of his Corps Commanders had already promised that when the Belgians attacked he would support them with a substantial part of the Royal Armoured Corps and 1st Division, the British tanks making up for the shortfall in Belgian mobile punch.

Mollified by this offer, the king and his van Overstraeten were now trying to time how long it would take for the French First Corps to make the journey. To Gembloux, just over 15 miles, had taken them most of the day so far. So, if that remained their pace, it looked like it would take another day to Warve, then probably a third to Leuven. At that kind of pace, if the Belgians and British made for Mechelen, then to Leuven to link up with the French it should encircle some of the German 6th Army.

Most of the Belgian I Corps, 1st, 4th and 7th Divisions were themselves under siege from Liege to Namur. V and VI Corps were the two Corps that had been designated for the attack, the reservists had been training hard and were keen to liberate their country. The two Cavalry Divisions had been more or less destroyed, so the six Belgian Divisions were un-motorised. The British 1st Division would provide mobility and the tanks would provide the punch. The rest of British I Corps were prepared to move up if needs be.

11 May 1940. 19:00hrs. Gembloux. Belgium.

The advance of the French First Light Mechanised Division (DLM) to Gembloux had taken most of the day as they were advancing against the German IV Corps line of march. The German infantry were not equipped to stop the French tanks, their anti-tank guns were only able to disable the French tanks at close range and from the side or rear. However they put up a stiff resistance, slowing the French forces down considerably. On the other hand their resistance was futile, as the French tanks forced their way through the defences and so the numbers of German casualties grew, as did the number of prisoners that were captured. The German 18th Infantry Division, which was the unfortunate unit to meet the French tanks, had successfully slowed the French down, but they were unable to stop them, but at the cost of the Division no longer being able to take part in the war.

By the time the French reached Gembloux it was getting dark, so they spent the night there. This pause gave the German 35th Infantry Division time to dig in, ready to receive the French attack the next day. Walther von Reichenau’s orders to all his forces was the same. The red cape that was to distract attention away from the dagger in the Ardennes was now the subject of an attack. The 6th Army was now on the defensive.

11 May 1940. 19:00hrs. Saint-Georges-sur-Meuse. Belgium.

Colonel Beauchesne’s Group of reconnaissance troops and vehicles, the Eben Emael Relief Group, had an easier time moving towards Liege. The area along the Meuse between Namur and Liege was still under the control of the Belgian army, and while there had been some probes from the Germans no major attack had materialised.

Near Heron a battle broke out between armoured cars of the German 18th Infantry Division’s reconnaissance company with the 12th GRDI (Groupe de Reconnaissance de Division d'Infanterie), the French had the better of the encounter, and so the Group continued its advance. With the main assault further west, the Germans weren’t in a position to do much more. By the evening they had reached Saint-Georges-sur-Meuse, where they paused and regrouped.

11 May 1940. 20:00hrs. Ronquières, Belgium.

9e DIM (Motorised Infantry Division) had advanced to Nivelles and the 510e BCC had cut off the bridge over the canal at Ronquières, trapping, as hoped, a large part of the logistical tail for the XVI Panzer Corps. Behind them the three French infantry Divisions (21e, 60e, and 68e) were moving forward to support and solidify the advances.

As the 11th May drew to a close the battle for France and Belgium had been raging from Sedan to Antwerp. The first major counter-offensive had begun, and while it had been a hard day for all sides, the German forces had suffered more than the Allies. All over the battlefields men tried to get some sleep, knowing that the next day would be even worse than today. In military hospitals and aid stations doctors and nurses had no respite, working through the night to patch up the wounded, and try to alleviate some of the suffering. Members of the Royal Army Medical Corps were somewhat better equipped than their allies and enemies. Over the previous four months the vast majority of doctors had been on “refresher courses” and were shown various life-saving techniques that were new to them, but seemed to offer greater survival and recovery rates.

While there wasn’t a great deal in the way of new medicines, there was on hand blood for transfusions. A programme of donating blood from the civilian population had been encouraged, and over the last couple of months most of the soldiers had themselves given a pint of blood, during which time their blood type was tested and a badge detailing their blood group was to be worn on their uniform at all times. The Army Blood Supply Depot in Bristol had opened an auxiliary depot in France, to allow quicker resupply, a great deal of work had gone into providing refrigeration units, providing the army medical service with fresh blood. A new acid-citrate-dextrose (ACD) solution was added, which reduced the volume of anticoagulant, permitting transfusions of greater volumes of blood and allowed longer term storage.

11 May 1940. 21:00hrs. Rethel. France

General Blanchard knew that he had the best army in the whole of the French order of battle, and here they were still sitting waiting. The Germans had invaded a week before, and still his men were sitting around, waiting. He was aware that Giraud, Corap and Huntziger’s armies were all committed, but for this most powerful force to be nothing more than a strategic reserve was nonsense. He picked up the phone, he’d try again to get Billotte to let him unleash his dogs of war.

May 11 1940. 22:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

Major Jottrand read the message again, a French force was on its way to lift the siege, it could be expected either tomorrow or the day after. His men had held the fortress for a full six days, and while more and more of the casements and guns had been put out of action, the Germans still had to make a large detour to get around the fortress and that was satisfactory enough. If the French came, and hopefully the Belgians afterwards, he could rest easy. However the bunker vibrated again as yet another heavy German shell impacted on the fortress. He would need to go and see what the damage was. 24 to 48 hours until relieved, that was possible, he hoped.
12 - 13 May 1940
12 May 1940. 04:00hrs. Sittard. Germany.

The RAF’s bombers were once more guided by radio and the target for the bombing was the border town of Sittard. It had been identified as one of the main routes being used by the German army to bring forward supplies and follow on troops. The Wellingtons of 3 Group and the Whitleys of 4 Group were joined by the Hampdens of 5 Group in an all-out effort. The objective was to carpet bomb the road network from the Julianna canal and Maas (Meuse) river crossings to the town. The area however was very well protected by flak batteries which were fully manned and ready when the medium bombers arrived.

The master bombers marked the target, but the way in which the bombers had to approach to bomb made them effectively made the bombers very vulnerable to the flak gunners. Of the 146 bombers that attacked, 15 were shot down or had to be scrapped because of battle damage. Among those who were lost was 5 Group’s commander, Arthur Harris, who had joined the raid “to get a feel for this type of operation.” The Hampden he was flying in was hit by flak and crashed, killing all on board. Once again the losses in the bombers were considered too high, and more thought was given to making best use of the dwindling force. Some in the air ministry complained that their bomber force was only being used as a tactical rather than strategic role, and that the bombers should be reducing the enemy’s factories rather than “making potholes in roads.” Prime Minister Churchill, when asked to allow the bombers to have time to regroup, responding negatively, “everybody fights, nobody quits” was his answer.

German losses on the ground weren’t heavy, though one of the bridges was damaged and that once again slowed the progress forward of the German forces.

Before dawn the weary pilots and ground crew of the Luftwaffe, AdA and RAF once more got their planes ready for another day. Over Sedan and the surrounding area was where the aerial battle was most intensive. The bomber forces of the Luftwaffe and AdA wanted to interdict their enemy’s ground forces, and their fighters to protect their own bombers and shoot down the enemies. By the end of the day, at great cost, the French had gained local control of the sky. Luftwaffe squadrons had been ground down by attacks on their bases and the two major raids on Paris. While replacement aircraft and aircrew were being brought forward, the losses were still higher. The French supply of new aircraft was keeping up with their losses, and their policy, like the RAF to take squadrons that had been badly handled out of the fighting area to give them a chance to refit and regroup meant that the surviving pilots weren’t being completely overwhelmed. The fact the new French aircraft tended to be better types was also helping.

The RAF was focussing more on the battle over Belgium, and to a lesser extent, Holland. The close air support squadrons were being ground down by attrition, but the pilots had some confidence in their aircraft and their mission. They weren’t losing whole squadrons in one go, and the fact they had some chance of defending themselves against German fighters was good for morale. The Spitfire squadrons were particularly pleased with themselves, they had the measure of the Bf109, and were conscious that their ratio of kills versus losses was around 2:1. The initial few days had seen squadrons “commuting” from their bases in England to forward bases in France, and then returning in late evening for their planes to be serviced and made ready for the next day. As the tempo of operations increased this became more difficult to sustain. It became more common for squadrons to be rotated with home based squadrons of 12 and 13 Group every couple of days. This depleted the number of available aircraft to defend Britain, but the Luftwaffe were not in a position to take advantage.

The photoreconnaissance Spitfires had been heavily used, and although there were now two Squadrons worth of planes, the number of sorties that were being flown was taking a greater toll on men and machines. Only six had been lost to enemy action, which was testimony to their speed and agility, but the constant appetite for updated intelligence was voracious. Some of these aircraft joined the commute back to England for major servicing. The increasing air dominance was having a positive impact on the army cooperation Lysander squadrons. With a lesser threat from German fighters, they were more able to do their job of local reconnaissance and as a platform for artillery spotters.

The most disproportionate losses for the RAF were among the Blenheim Squadrons. These had been in the thick of the fight and had done as well as they could, but the limitations of the aircraft had been shown up. The decision was made to withdraw the surviving aircrew as soon as possible. The first of the Bristol Beaufighters were becoming available for a night fighter squadron, which would be followed by a fighter/bomber type and it was decided to retrain the rest of the Blenheim boys on the new type as it became available. Their combat experience would be invaluable for training the new men coming through training onto Squadron service.

12 May 1940. 07:00hrs. Panningen. The Netherlands.

Yesterday had been a bit of a surprise. Alfred von Hubicki’s 9th Panzer Division troops had moved along the area between the south of the Dutch Water Line and north of the Belgian defences at Antwerp in two columns. The northern column’s reconnaissance troops, passing Tilburg to Breda started running into French soldiers, which was unexpected. As the panzers pushed forward, the French gave ground falling back towards Roosendaal. The southern column passed Turnhout heading for the northern bank of the Albert Canal and River Schelde at Antwerp. Here they were in contact with Belgian forces, mostly local reservists, but as they neared Antwerp they came under fire from the bunkers defending this part of Belgium and the anti-tank ditch was too great an obstacle to deal with. The southern column was therefore ordered to make for Hoogerheide and attempt to take the South Beveland, cutting off Antwerp from the sea. The French captured prisoners turned out to be Naval Infantry, were falling back towards the canal, which slowed both German columns, finally halting last night at the small town of Essen, which some of the troops from the German city of Essen were less than complimentary about.

Now Hubicke was ready to force the issue, and he had reintegrated his two columns to make a fast push for the canal while the French were disorganised. However the Germans were unprepared for two surprises. The first, as they approached Hoogerheide, it wasn’t French naval infantry they encountered but Royal Marines. These men were equipped with some of the latest British weapons, such as the Carl Gustav and improved mortars. The level of British artillery added to the surprise. So as the panzer regiments approached the canal, their casualties mounted, especially among the tanks. Having fought through to the canal itself, the Marines falling back methodically, the British 25-pdrs were joined by the 15 inch guns of HMS Revenge and Resolution which were in the Schelde lying off Terneuzen. During the 18 minute bombardment, the two battleships fired 240 15-inch shells between them.

The dazed survivors wandered back towards Essen, the Austrian Panzer Division was in no fit state for anything, and wouldn’t be for some considerable time.

12 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Avelgem, Belgium.

Gun Sergeant John Foxwell (‘C’ Troop 9/17 Battery, 7th Field Regiment Royal Artillery) was slightly surprised to himself back in his original gun pit. They had moved around four or five locations yesterday, and now they were back where they started. He hoped the Germans hadn’t marked their maps with this position on it. The range that was being called out was almost at the very edge of their capacity. The limber had been restocked last night and his team were well ready to bring a storm of steel down on the heads of the Germans. As best as he could make out the panzers that had been threatening their positions yesterday were now taking up defensive positions, and that the First Mechanised Corps were attacking them from the south.

The Battery commander signalled to open fire. Once again the well-oiled machine sprang into action, the 24 guns speaking as one, death and destruction on their way to the German positions.

In “G” for George a Lysander belonging to 26 Squadron RAF, was flying an Army Cooperation mission with Lieutenant William Monaghan, a Royal Artillery Forward Observer, who was conscious of not wanting to be sick, as the Lysander bucked and weaved. He had been on the radio calling in an artillery strike on a concentration of German troops, when the pilot, Pilot Officer Alec Buchanan, started taking evasive action. Monaghan hadn’t seen anything, but Buchanan had been spooked by something, hence the aerobatics.

As the plane started to even out, Monaghan once more had a view of where the barrage had torn into the German positions. Monaghan called in the cease fire to the artillery regiment. Buchanan was still spooked and wanted to move to another area. Monaghan wanted to linger a little longer, there was another wooded area that looked like good cover. It was. The flak 38, a 20mm anti-aircraft canon had been tracking the Lysander for a couple of minutes. Just before they had opened fire, the observation plane had thrown itself all over the sky, spoiling the gunners aim. But now it was back to level flight, and within range. The whole 20 round magazine was emptied at the British plane, which was hit and crashed and burned.

12 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Lens, Belgium.

2RTR had in its Headquarters Squadron six A9CS tanks. The close support tanks carried a Great War era 3.7 inches (94 mm) howitzer in the turret instead of the 2-pdr. The standard ammunition load was 40 rounds smoke, and a few HE shells, though over the last months the load had reversed, with HE shells now being the majority. With the new smoke rounds for mortars available, the doctrine of needing these tanks to create a smoke screen was less important. However, having the ability to put a good sized HE round downrange, especially since the 2-pdr’s round was less powerful than desired, made these six tanks quite useful. There had been some misgivings about splitting them up and providing them to infantry battalions but as the fighting nears Lens showed, they proved their worth.

The Germans hadn’t had too long to prepare defences, but those they had created were effective, and as the day wore on British casualties mounted. The 1st Battalion, the Black Watch were mounting an attack on Chievres, supported mostly by Matilda IIs of A Squadron 2RTR they were held up by sustained artillery fire and some Flak 88mm guns that an enterprising officer had experimented using against the Infantry Tanks. A couple of tanks had been immobilised, and it was taking too long to get the Royal Artillery set up to support them. Using the cover of one of the immobilised Matildas, Sergeant Trevor King manoeuvred his A9CS tank into a firing position. With six rounds he was able to break up the German resistance, allowing the Black Watch to move forward and seize the village.

12 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Dendermonde, Belgium.

Brigadier Pratt (OC 4 Royal Tank Regiment, First Armoured Brigade) was in company with the Belgian Commanding officer of 12th Division as they began their push towards Mechelen. There was a little difficulty in communication as Pratt spoke no French, and the Belgian officer was Flemish. A junior Belgian Lieutenant had been found who provided a bridge of language between the two officers. His job was made easier because General Vandeput was delighted to be supporting the Matilda II tanks, and Pratt was happy that the Belgian was happy.

As they had pushed off from Dendermonde there was very little German resistance, and they were making good progress, although at little more than a walking pace. Pratt knew that the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards weren’t too far away if they encountered something stronger than the Belgians might not want to face. They expected it to take between six and seven hours to reach their objective. As the morning wore on progress continued at the stately pace demanded by the infantry tanks. The RAF had provided a brace of Lysanders to offer forward reconnaissance, in addition to the Vickers light tanks of the 1st Light Armoured Reconnaissance Brigade, which were ranging out ahead of them.

At Buggenhout forward elements started to find more solid German resistance. Pratt was pleased to see Vandeput’s men prepared to accompany 1st Troop of C Squadron of 4th RTR as they rolled over the German positions that collapsed quickly in the face of the British tanks. The 2-pdr guns new HE ammunition was used to good effect against the few PAK 38s. Vandeput’s Division were quick to provide flank guards as the Armoured Brigade continued to advance.

12 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Vicennes, Paris. France.

General Gamelin at Grand Quartier Général, was being briefed by General Billotte on the progress of the 7th Army as it moved to encircle the German 6th Army. Yesterday Giraud’s men had made progress on their three thrusts. Colonel Beauchesne’s group were closing on Liege and Eben Emael, though this was more of a morale booster than of real military significance.

XVIe Corps was approaching Waterloo from the direction of Nivelles, and was finding the resistance of the Germans increasing. Gamelin smiled inwardly at the reality of another French army attacking Prussians here, at least time perfidious Albion was on the French side, and not the other way round. Ier Corps was having a harder time as it approached Warve from the direction of Gembloux. The German line of march from Hasselt meant that whenever 1er DLM made progress against the Germans, for example the 35th Infantry Division which had taken all morning to overwhelm, their flanks were constantly under threat. The 7th Army’s infantry divisions were following up and providing flank protection, but they were travelling too slowly. The methodical nature of the French army’s advance had the disadvantage of the time it took before the forward momentum could be renewed. Billotte had every expectation that Warve would be in French hands by nightfall.

The news that the British and Belgians kicked off their attack towards Mechelen confirmed the Entente plan was going well. If things continued in this way, the trap should close tomorrow somewhere around Leuven, possibly the next day.

The two Generals considered once again Blanchard’s request to allow his First Army to join the fight. As the main strategic reserve they were in agreement that they needed him to stay where he was. The morning had been quiet at Sedan and Dinant, the Germans were obviously licking their wounds after the last couple of days, and while Corap and Huntziger were both confident about holding their line, there was always the possibility that the Germans could surprise them. Therefore Blanchard would have to remain where he was. At least he was keen to get into the fight. That was something.

12 May 1940. 12:00hrs. OKH Headquarters. Berlin.Germany.

In preparation for the meeting of the OKW later that evening, Franz Halder, the Chief of Staff was reading the reports and as he did so had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was becoming clearer that the warnings that the Reich wouldn’t be ready for war in 1939 were accurate. Success in Poland and Denmark was now the only bright spot. The failure in Norway was now being followed by failure in Belgium and France, for all intents and purposes. The grand thrust through the Ardennes had been parried, and now it looked like there was going to be a slogging match to replay the battle of Verdun all over again. The slowed progress of both 6th and 18th Armies in Belgium and Holland meant that their bluff had been called, it was now a case of making the best of a bad situation. Halder was looking particularly at the losses to the Panzer and Motorised Infantry Divisions, once they were gone, all that was left was an army not dissimilar to the Kaiser’s army of 1914.

Von Rundstedt’s Army Group A was still making its way through the Ardennes, harried by French air attacks. Panzer Group Kliest had been hardest hit, and while tank losses weren’t high, but their infantry elements were seriously impacted. The French were simply too well prepared for the attempt to bounce a river crossing. XIV Motorised Corps was now moving up, though Halder had doubts that this would be the best unit to achieve any kind of breakthrough. He would need to recommend that the whole of Kliest’s group be withdrawn, or at least sidelined, and that List’s 12th Army’s infantry Corps force a crossing of the Meuse, then let the remainder of Kliest’s Group exploit the breakthrough, as the Generals had been arguing all along.

It seemed to Halder that it was best that Manstein wasn’t around, as his grand idea was as without merit as Halder had initially thought. The main problem with leaving it to List, was that it would be another couple of days before his army would be in position and ready to make the assault. All the time, the French would be strengthening and reinforcing their own positions.

12 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Mons, Belgium.

In First Armoured Division’s HQ General Percy Hobart was pretty sure that the largest tank battle ever was about to kick off. His Division was up against two Panzer Divisions, and the way things were looking they were about to hit him as hard as they could. Discounting the Panzer Is with their machine guns, even the Panzer IIs, which only had a 20mm canon; up against his Matildas and Valentines, the main opponents would be the Panzer IIIs and IVs, though the cruiser tanks would be vulnerable even to the Panzer IIs. His intelligence men told him that around 80 Panzer IIIs and 50 Panzer IVs between the two divisions, possibly less due to losses and mechanical breakdowns. There would be about 400 of the light panzers. Meanwhile Hobart was advancing with the best part of 1oo Matilda IIs, 50 Valentines, 50 each of A9 and A10 cruisers, there were a further fifty odd Vickers mark VI light tanks for reconnaissance. All his infantry and cruiser tanks had the 2-pdr gun that should be able to knock out the German tanks. All in all, although technically outnumbered, he was pretty confident that he had the means to do the job. Along with the motorised Divisions, which had a solid anti-tank capability, Hobart was able to report to Q Martel, Corps commander and Brooke, Army Commander that the decisive tank battle was about to get underway.

12 May 1940. 14:00hrs. Ath, Belgium.

With the German 20th (Mot) Division concentrating on Enghien and Tubize, General Hoepner began to redeploy his Panzer Divisions to face the threat coming from their south at their flank and rear. 3 and 4 Panzer Divisions had been probing the Eschaut Line looking for a weak point, but now with the British and French advance they would have to leave that threat where it was, hoping the British wouldn’t come out from their defensive positions, as the Panzers turned to face the British armour.

The main part of 3 Panzer Division was concentrated around Leuze-en-Hainaut and 4 Panzers were at Ronse. With the British advancing towards Ath from Lens, and Ghislenghien from Soignies, his supply route was being cut, and unless he could knock the British back, there would be hell to pay. It was already difficult as his Panzer Corps seemed all too often to be without air-cover. In fact the British seemed to have a monopoly of that, so getting them moving and able to hit the British would be difficult. He got the orders out and was now waiting for the attacks to go in.

The order to advance rearwards caused some consternation among the staff of 3rd Panzer Division, but they soon got to work sorting it out. The Fifth and Sixth Panzer Regiments, with integral infantry from 3 Rifle Regiment and artillery would retrace their steps moving to Beloeil, crossing the canal there and then punching into the British Flank. Ninety minutes later the first of the units started off and reached the canal in the middle of the afternoon. Their crossings were still in German hands and the majority of the fighting vehicles and troops got across before the RAF could seriously impede their advance.

4th Panzer Division’s Commander Johann Stever’s reaction was frustration. His forward units had been under heavy artillery fire and just to disengage and withdraw seemed to undermine the efforts his men and had made to get here. Nonetheless he got his staff working on the problem, and shortly afterwards units were returning along the roads and tracks they had used previously. His main objective was to get back across the Blaton Canal at Ath before the British reached it. His troops were less lucky than the 3rd Panzers, the RAF Hurribombers paid considerable attention to his troop movement. While many soft-skinned vehicles were lost, time was lost as well. It was well into the evening before the main body was able to cross the canal.

At 16:00hrs the first reconnaissance elements of 3rd Panzers met their opposite numbers from 1st Armoured Division. The Vickers Mk 6s of the 9th Kings Royal Lancers, along with some of the carriers of the 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade, were confronted with half-tracks and a couple of armoured cars. The Rifle Brigade, like the rest of the 1st Support Group, had been issued with Carl Gustavs and improved rifle grenades, so they came off best from the encounter. A group of Panzer Is were supporting the reconnaissance platoon, and so the British started to back away, allowing the Germans to come on. The warning from the Lancers, allowed the 101st light anti-tank regiment to deploy along with the rest of the Rifles. Realising that this would likely be a German line of advance, Brigadier J. H. Crocker, of Third Armoured Brigade, began to align his forces to meet a thrust from the direction of Beloeil. 3 RTR Matida IIs were ordered to Vaudignies, and these would be supported by 2nd Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps (2KRRC). 2RTR was still involved in the fight for Ath itself. 5 RTR with its Valentines were more to the east at Brugelette, along with 153rd Brigade. Crocker informed them of what was going on, but left them where they were.

3RTR had been doing well so far, and were almost a full strength, only five Matilda IIs had fallen out of the march and were being worked on by their crews and mechanics. The rest trundled into and around Vaudignies by 17:00hrs. 2KRRC were supplemented by 8th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (8ASH) and the 51st Anti-tank Regiment, with its 2-pdrs. This was good farming country, with scattered farms and hamlets, visibility was good in all directions. Crocker felt that the slowness of the tanks suited them better for defensive work in this kind of area, and so he handed responsibility for this force over to Lt-Col “Reggie” Keller, to protect the flank in whichever way he thought best in the circumstances.

Keller decided that the 2KRRC were responsible for the area from Vaudignies westwards towards Ladeuze. The 8ASH would protect the area southwards towards Neufmaison. Each battalion were given two batteries of 2-pdrs, the HQ group going with the Argylls, which were weaker in Carl Gustavs. Keller wanted to keep his tanks together as much as possible, though he distributed his A9CS tanks to the infantry battalions, three each, along with a couple of Vickers Mk6 to give them machine gun support. He kept the three squadrons of Matilda IIs at Vaudignies, so they could move to support whichever direction was more threatened. The Recce Troop of 3RTR consisted of 10 Daimler Dingos and these spread out to cover all approaches to give warning. An RAF Lysander appeared with the Artillery Observer to bring the Divisional artillery to bear.

It is only about 4 miles from the canal crossing to Vaudignies. The Fifth Panzer Regiment moved up the road to Ladeuze, the first battalion leading, with a battalion of Rifle Regiment 3, following the course of the canal, so that their left flank was protected. The second panzer Battalion was in reserve. The Sixth Panzer Regiment in a more easterly direction towards Neufmaison, with the other battalion of the Rifle Regiment 3. The two Panzer battalions followed a similar procedure.

“Sergeant Bill Close brought his binoculars up to his eyes as he stood in his Dingo. He was in a good position beside a farm building, which gave him, and his driver Billy Barlow, pretty good cover. “Oh Christ, Billy, they’re Germans! I can see the black crosses on their tanks.” There was a flash, a bang and something rasped noisily overhead. Another flash, bang, r-r-r-rasp was followed by a solid bump some way behind. Having being standing, Close sat down quickly, he realised that he was under fire, “Let’s get out of here. Quick!” The Dingo was well suited for its role, and Barlow threw it into reverse, as bullets cracked on the farm buildings, ramming home the personal nature of the affair, Close thought to himself, “My God, it’s me they’re trying to kill – me!” Billy Barlow remained unruffled, he reversed coolly and deliberately until they were at right angles to the ditch that ran alongside the road, then bumped over it into a field of half-grown crops. Fear was replaced by anger in Close, the Dingo didn’t have a radio, so they had to get back to report what they had seen. “Get going, Billy!” They bumped over the field, soil flying all around them, as were the machine gun bullets. A shallow valley provided some shelter and they fled up it.”
(Mostly taken from Bill Close’s own memoirs, “Tank Commander: From the Fall of France to the defeat of Germany”, first published in 2002 by Dell & Bredon as “A View from the Turret”)

When they got back to the leading company of the 2KRRC and reported in, it wasn’t long before a couple of Panzer Is put in an appearance. They opened fire on the Dingo that was still running. Two tyres were shot out, and Barlow and Close abandoned it taking shelter with the Riflemen. They had their Bren gun and were soon ready to return fire. The Lieutenant had other ideas however. He ordered them to get back on foot and confirm their sighting with the Battalion commander. There was a bang from beside them as one of the 2-pdrs got off a shot that knocked out one of the Panzers. Close needed no further invitation, and picking up the Bren, he and Barlow started making their way back towards the Battalion HQ. The increasing sound of battle followed them.

It took them ten minutes for them to find the HQ, where their contact report was somewhat surplus, as two companies were now fully engaged with the Panzers and their infantry. They were then ordered to report back to their own unit. Once more hefting the Bren gun, they headed in the direction of Vaudignies. On arrival there, they found their sergeant-major who was not happy at the loss of one of his Dingos. He assigned the pair of them to the defence of the HQ.

As the Panzers advanced onto the 2KRRC positions they found themselves being hurt by well emplaced anti-tank guns, and some kind of new weapon that was tearing tanks apart. The infantry however knew their business well and were able to infiltrate the British positions, causing a general withdrawal under a strong artillery barrage. The Panzers were ready to exploit this movement, racing forward. The British were withdrawing in good order under the artillery support. As the Panzers advanced they found themselves face to face with two squadrons of Matilda IIs, whose 2-pdrs took a serious toll on the German tanks. The British tanks were covering the infantry’s retreat and having knocked out twelve Panzer IIs and four Panzer IIIs, they began to withdraw following the infantry. One Matilda had a track blown off, the crew killed whilst dismounting. Another withdrew with its turret jammed by a strike on the join with the turret ring. These were the only two casualties despite more than forty strikes being noted on their frontal armour.

As the Matilda’s pulled back, the acting German commander saw the chance to get around to hit them on their side armour. He ordered the surviving Medium Company tanks, Panzer IIIs and IVs to turn right and take the retreating tanks from the side. This proved unfortunate, as the 2KRRC’s carrier platoon, each carrier with either a Carl Gustav or Boys Rifle with a HEAT grenade were covering this particular flank. Two more Panzer IIIs were destroyed, as were three Panzer IVs, including the acting commander’s. Without his leadership the German attack stalled.

Seeing this, Major Moss, commanding the 2KRRC’s, persuaded Captain Hartwell of B Squadron to advance and knock the Germans back the way they had come. With most to the heavier tanks destroyed, and the lighter Panzer I and IIs ineffective against the lumbering British beasts, the Germans began to withdraw back south towards the canal crossing. After a mile the British halted, allowing the Germans to fall back. The speed of the Matilda IIs wasn’t enough to keep up with the withdrawing enemy, and they had been trained not to run onto German anti-tank gun traps. The Fifth Panzer Regiment’s first Panzer battalion had left fifteen Panzer Is, twelve Panzer IIs, six Panzer IIIs and four Panzer IVs on the battlefield, which was about half their strength, along with the best part of a company of infantry, dead or wounded.

There was some debate about renewing the attack with the second panzer battalion. The British had control of the field of battle and so all the knocked out tanks were irretrievable at this point. The commander of the second battalion was prepared to attack, but if the British tanks were still there, there was no real chance of success. They would see how the other Regiment got on and be prepared to follow up if they were successful.

The Sixth Panzer Regiment’s second panzer Battalion advanced towards Neufmaison, accompanied by their infantry. Some reconnaissance armoured cars were out in front probing for the British positions. Unlike the 2KRRC, the 8th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was a territorial unit, and it wasn’t quite as well prepared to meet the enemy. There had been some problems with the placement of the anti-tank guns; the Battalion Commander, Lt.Col Paterson hadn’t taken the advice of the anti-tank gun Regiment’s battery commander. This meant there was a gap in coverage between two of the companies. Most of the men in the Battalion were from the Kintyre peninsula, they were strong on unit cohesion, but weak in experience, and while well trained, they weren’t regulars.

As the Germans assaulted their positions the men put up a spirited defence, but the German regulars saw the deficiencies in the defensive posture and were quickly able to exploit it. The Highlanders were split open and the rolled up quickly, many were captured, but all too many were killed, some in a last ditch bayonet charge.

The breakthrough allowed the Germans to move in the direction of Herchies, another four miles east. The first panzer battalion moved through the second battalion, allowing them to continue to roll up the Scots. Their casualties had been quite light, only three Panzer Is and one Panzer II had been destroyed by the anti-tank guns.

When Colonel Keller got this information he quickly contacted Brigadier Crocker to let him know the situation and what he proposed doing about it. Crocker got on the radio to the commander of 2RTR to be prepared to return down the road to Jubrise. Keller had one squadron of Matilda IIs in reserve, and he was able to contact 1st Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, working with the Divisional Cavalry, 9th Kings Royal Lancers, which was providing a screen on the left flank that the Germans were now coming from. These two units would threaten the German flank from the south, and C Squadron 3RTR, along with a company of 2KRRC, would attempt to pinch off the Germans. Meanwhile the promise of air support would arrive “in about an hour”, and the Divisional Artillery would concentrate on this German movement, as quickly as possible.

General Q Martel was at Nimy, beside the Canal near Mons. When he was informed by Crocker of what was happening, he realised he was only about 7 miles from Herchies, and so he added the Corps’ reserve, 151st Brigade, three battalions of the Durham Light Infantry under the command of Brigadier J Churchill to make haste to scene of the battle. While they were all territorials, Martel had been impressed by them during exercises, and he had every confidence in them. He ordered them to form a roadblock between Jubrise and Erbisoeul. This would give time for elements of 51st Division to come back down the road from Lens.

It was now 19:00hrs, and the light was starting to fade. The Rifle Brigade’s carrier platoon that had encountered the German reconnaissance troops earlier, accompanied by a squadron of Vickers Mk 6 from the Lancers began a series of hit and run attacks on the southern flanks of the German advance. They would creep within range of their Carl Gustavs, destroy three or four panzers and withdraw. A Squadron of Hurribombers also attacked from the east, dropping their cluster bombs and 500lb bombs to disable the infantry’s vehicles. The aircraft also strafed the road meaning that a number of Panzer I and IIs fell victim to the 20mm cannon fire on their weak top armour. Three Hurribombers were lost in this engagement.

Eight Matilda IIs of C Squadron rolled down the road towards Neufmaison, accompanied by B Company of 2KRRC in their carriers. In this case the Germans were waiting for them, catching them in an effective ambush. The PAK 36s and Panzer III’s 37mm guns at close range, and from the side, with the Panzer IV’s 75mm eventually managed to knock out the British tanks. The Panzer IIs were able to destroy a number of carriers, the survivors pulled back as quickly as they could, leaving too many of their fellows burning. All eight Matilda IIs were destroyed, for a loss of eight PAK 36 teams, seven Panzer IIs, six Panzer IIIs and two Panzer IVs.

The arrival of elements of 4th Panzer Division at Ath in the evening coincided with an attempt by 2nd Armoured Brigade to overcome the German resistance. The A10s of the 10th Royal Hussars had not had a happy afternoon, despite all the tender loving care given them, the best part of a squadron were back along the road waiting for various repairs. They had taken over from the Queen’s Bays, and were working with 4th Battalion, The Green Howards, as they approached Ath from Ghislenghien. One of the advantages of this cruiser tank was the turret had room for the commander to command, as the gunner and loader worked the gun, the commander was able to fight the tank. Although the light was fading the first approach to the outskirts of Ath was made with the dash, but none of the speed, of a cavalry charge. Aware that the Panzers were approaching, the commander wanted to take the crossings over the canal before the Germans could make use of them. A barrage preceded them, but the first elements of the medium panzer company were already in the town. As the cruiser tanks approached they came under fire from the front and the flank. The A10 had extra armour bolted onto the front and sides of the hull, and this saved many of the tankers lives. Not all however, the side of the turret was vulnerable to the 37mm guns of the German tanks and ant-tank guns. The 2-pdrs were put to good use, and the Hussars gave as good as they got. Seeing that they wouldn’t be able to capture the town and the crossings before nightfall, the British commander ordered his men to pull back to Meslin-L’Eveque where they dug in. The Panzers had had a rough day from aerial attack, and were glad to get their vehicles across the canal, to pick up what fuel and ammunition they could, and to get ready to push forward in the morning.

May 12 1940. 20:00hrs. Fortress of Eben Emael. Belgium.

Major Jottrand was on top of the fortress with his binoculars watching the approach of Colonel Beauchesne’s Group of reconnaissance troops and vehicles. The relief force, such as it was, had reached Liege a little after 17:00hrs, where they were greeted with much rejoicing. They had then broken through the thin crust of German troops to “relieve the brave defenders of Eben Emael.” The only problem was that the heavy German artillery was on the far side of the Meuse and still perfectly capable of reducing the fortress and the light forces that had arrived. Jottrand now had very little in the way of heavy ammunition, and many of the guns were out of action. He had held out for over a week, and while physically his command was unlikely to be overwhelmed by ground forces for some time to come, he was of a mind to withdraw his men back to Liege.

Colonel Beauchesne however had different orders for him, confirmed by radio with Belgian Army HQ. There was to be a counterattack to seal up the Albert Canal once again, trapping the German army. Eben Emael was an important aspect of this plan. Although his offensive capacity was reduced by the loss of some of his gun cupolas, it was important that this strategic position was maintained. Beauchesne’s forces would retire to Liege, from where they would continue to act as a mobile force threatening the flanks and rear of the German 6th Army.

Jottrand was glad that many of the 7th Division troops that were becoming a drain on his resources would be going with the French, bringing him back to his normal garrison, with some extra infantry in case the Germans made another attempt to storm them. The relief of Eben Emael would last for one night. However the siege would go on.

May 12 1940. 21:00hrs. Reichskanzlei, Berlin. Germany.

To the gathered men of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Walther von Brauchitsch, commander-in-chief of the army, tried to put the best gloss on the situation as he could. The Führer looked pale, and there seemed to be a twitch at his right eye. In views of the losses to the panzer troops at Sedan, he proposed Halder’s compromise, allowing the infantry of 12th Army to force the crossing, and which would allow the panzer troops to do what they were best at, exploiting a breakthrough. He also wanted permission to withdraw 6th Army to Brussels to prevent any chance of them being encircled.

Adolph Hitler contemplated the map for a few moments. Treachery was his first theme, someone had obviously sold the plan to the British, and Himmler swallowed nervously at being reminded that he had assured everyone that the traitor had been dealt with. Further also questioned the Generals, were they too worried about taking casualties, and so had failed to act aggressively and decisively? He confirmed that Hartleib-Walsporn, formerly of 5th Panzers, who had been relieved by Hoth, was to be made an example of. His failure was to be made known to all Generals, and the public. He wanted Manstein back, it was him who had sowed the seed of the plan in the Führer’s mind originally, and he was the kind of General that these new panzer formations needed. Let him replace Kleist if that is what it would take to get the job done. Halder and von Brauchitsch exchanged glances at this, they were not happy with this at all.

Hitler continued. As for 6th Army, not one step backwards. There was more than enough strength to best the British and French, and if von Reichenau wasn’t able to fight, make his Chief of Staff, Paulus, commander. And he wanted the Dutch finished, kaput, gone, they should have been overwhelmed days ago. No excuses.

As for Göring and the Luftwaffe. Raeder and Donitz had failed, now his own deputy had failed him. He didn’t even have the decency to stay at his post or explain himself, and that was unforgiveable. Running back to his house when he should have been resolving the problem, or at least show some guts. Twice he had refused to return to his post. Twice he had claimed he was too sick to come to Berlin. Hitler had never felt as let down as he did now, and from his most trusted aide. There had to be a reckoning, even for a friend. Hitler turned to Himmler and gave orders to arrest Göring and bring him back to face charges of cowardice. Himmler assured him that he would sent his best men to fulfil the orders.

13 May 1940. 05:00hrs. Rominten. East Prussia.

The Reichsjägerhof was Göring's hunting lodge at Rominten in East Prussia was known as "Emmyhall" after his second wife. His security detail of Luftwaffe troops were alerted to the sound of vehicles approaching the gate of the estate. The Captain of the Guard stood in the middle of the road with a red lantern, which he waved to bring the convoy to a halt. When it did, a senior officer of the Gestapo approached him, ordering him to open up the gate, as Hermann Göring was to be brought back to Berlin to face charges of treason.

Hermann Göring was in a deep sleep, and it took a great deal of effort to wake him. He had almost to be carried to the plane back to Berlin. He kept repeating, “They have betrayed me, they have betrayed me.”

13 May 1940. 06:00hrs. Ath, Belgium.

The hours of darkness had not been a time of rest. Forces had been marshalled and refuelled, defences had been dug, plans had been drawn up, maintenance and gun cleaning had kept the men on both sides occupied. Generals Hobart and Martel had met and reviewed what could be done to knock the two Panzer Divisions down to size. The plan they decided on was to have the two remaining 3RTR squadrons continue their advance south to Beloeil, cutting 3rd Panzers off at the canal. The Rifle Brigade battalion would support this, by attacking north from their blocking positions at Bois de Stambruge. 2RTR would attack south aiming at Herchies from Lens. This would be supported by 152nd Brigade’s Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders. Between these two pincers, with the Durham Light Infantry acting as the anvil for these two hammers to fall onto it was hoped that 3rd Panzers would be reduced.

Meanwhile 5RTR’s Valentines, supported by 153rd Brigade’s Black Watch and Gordon Highlanders, would advance north to Ath. They would then be able to support the cruisers of the Queen’s Bays and Royal Hussars, with 25th Brigade’s Essex Regiment, Irish Fusiliers and Queen’s Royal Regiment bottling up 4th Panzers in Ath.

Their RAF liaison assured them of maximum effort from the surviving Hurribomber squadrons. There would also be a strong force of fighters to protect the troops from attempts by the Luftwaffe to interfere.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The frustration of the previous day’s march under the cosh of aerial attack had made Johann Stever, commander of 4th Panzer bombard his Corps and Army Commanders with imprecations against the Luftwaffe, and all three had been tearing strips off their Luftwaffe liaisons. The upshot of all this, along with news of the arrest of Göring, had brought Wilhelm Speidel the commander of Luftflotte 2 to give orders for an above maximum effort to support the panzers. The scene was set for yet another great aerial battle above the skies of Belgium.

While Martel and Hobart had been planning, so had Stever (4th PD) and Horst Stumpff (3rd PD) along with Hoepner, the Corps commander. It had taken some fancy flying and hair raising landings by some Storch pilots to get the three together and back again to their units during the night.

The spent some time discussing their experiences with the British forces, particularly their tanks and anti-tank weapons, to which they didn’t seem to have any answer. Hoepner knew that coordination and concentration of forces was the only way to resolve the situation, especially as without resupply the two divisions would soon be sitting ducks. The objective therefore was to join together and with their combined forces there would be nothing the British could do about it. They chose the Belgian airfield at Chievres as a midway point between the two positions to be the rendezvous position. From there they would fight their way to Enghien and be reunited with 20th (Mot) Division, and the supply line through Brussels.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The dawn chorus of 13 May was the roar of artillery. 1st Mechanised Corp’s artillery had been allocated six of the Royal Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery regiments that were equipped with the new 25-pdr, along with two medium regiments with the new 4.5 inch howitzer, the whole of the army’s inventory of this type of gun. This firepower was put to good use. Panzer Divisions, on the other hand, were lightly equipped with artillery, and had limited supplies of shells, and so the advantage in the artillery duel was with the British.

13 May 1940. 07:0hrs. Lens. Belgium.

Lance Corporal Duncan MacDonald (2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 51st Highland Division) held onto the side of the Bren gun Carrier as it bounced over the field. This was all familiar ground, they had fought here just two days ago, and now he was taking the same positions as the Germans had. Looking down he counted again the fact that he only had two grenades for his Boys rifle. After that it would be back onto the .55 round. Private McGregor had the M79 grenade launcher, but likewise only had a few rounds left for it. As they turned into cover at the end of the field, MacDonald caught sight of his brother, Peter whose anti-tank company was digging furiously to create some cover for themselves. The brothers waved to one another. Both had thoughts of home and family, and hoped that they would have time to talk with one another later.

The Cameron Highlanders began to stream back through their lines, wounded men being carried by comrades. Private Tommy Christie paused from digging a foxhole as a couple of Camerons passed by. “Dig it deeper, Jimmy,” one of them called, “the f####rs are right behind us, and they don’t want to stop for anything.” Christie threw the man his canteen, and when it was returned with thanks, he looked over at MacDonald. Duncan shrugged his shoulders, and continued to dig in. The revving of engines had a very different tone from their own carriers, the sergeants called out “Stand to!” as if anyone needed to be told. MacDonald had a rifle grenade all ready to fire, and one more beside him. Beside that he had five rounds for the Boys. He knew that if he used those, they were in serious trouble.

Peter MacDonald had a final look around at his position. His Carl Gustav was all set up, and he had a good line of fire to his front. Drummond and McPhail were in the carrier about fifty yards behind him, ready to pick Knox and himself up as they withdrew. The CG was loaded and ready, and Knox had one more 84mm projectile ready to reload. He only had this because four rounds had been redistributed among the anti-tank platoon when one of the teams had been caught by machine gun fire yesterday. Two shots, that was his lot. His hearing was still suffering, and Knox patted him on the shoulder and mouthed the words, “Stand to!” MacDonald nodded, he was ready.

Bren gunners cocked their guns, riflemen checked their safeties, and fixed their bayonets. The two Vickers heavy machine gunners pulled back their cocking handles. The Seaforths were as ready as they would ever be.

The first Panzer II they saw was pumping 20mm rounds into a Bren gun carrier that been acting as rear guard as the rest of the Camerons withdrew. The range was still too long, and once again Peter MacDonald missed his 2-pdr gun, which could have taken out the panzer. It would need to some a good bit closer to hit it with a CG round. The carrier was burning fiercely as the panzer pushed past it, a Panzer I accompanying it hosed down some running figures with its machine guns. Once more MacDonald clenched his fist in rage, “just come a little closer”, he thought.

The panzers seemed like metallic monsters, rolling forward as if they were smelling for prey, pushing forward, one covering for another. A third and fourth appeared through the smoke from the burning carrier. Figures in grey appeared alongside them, keeping mostly to the rear of the tanks, using their bulk as protection. The panzers came closer, still warily nosing forward, ready to pounce on anyone that was hiding from them. A rifle grenade traced an arc towards the leading tank and fell short. There was a roaring of engines, and the rattle of machine gun fire towards the spot when an unfortunate Highlander paid the ultimate price for his lack of patience, his whole squad went with him, torn apart by cannon and machine gun fire.

The rest of the company now opened fire, some of the German soldiers were killed, but most went to ground and started returning fire. The four panzers were now aware of the Scots positions and were concentrating their fire on where they had seen muzzle flashes. Finally the panzers came into effective range and MacDonald fired off his 84mm projectile. Without waiting to see if it hit the panzer, while still shrouded by the smoke from the launch, he and Knox were changing position as fast and as low as they could, knowing full well that their position would very quickly come under fire. Their aim had been accurate and another Panzer II was opened up like a tin can.

MacDonald reached their fall back position, and expected Knox to jump in on top of him, but he never came. When MacDonald looked back, he could see his friend lying prone on the grass. It was then that he became conscious of pain, and looking down saw that he too had been hit by the same burst of machine gun fire that had killed Knox. He was bleeding profusely from his side. He called out for a stretcher bearer, but no one came. He tried to open up his medical dressing kit, but the loss of blood was weakening him too quickly. He lay back and thought of home, and of his wee lassie that would never meet her father.

Two of the other panzers had also been struck, one totally destroyed, the other had been hit by a rifle grenade on the road wheels, its track in pieces, but the machine gunner was still in the turret firing away. The fourth was backing away as quickly as possible, the surviving German infantry going with it. Another HEAT rifle grenade reached out to the damaged tank, silencing the gun.

13 May 1940. 08:00hrs. Lens, Belgium.

Lieutenant Peter Smith of A troop, “Nero” Squadron 2RTR, watched the movement of some panzers ahead of him, not quite a mile away. He immediately sent a radio report, and signalled to the other four tanks to move forward to take advantage of a dip in the fields ahead that would give them a hull down position. Troops from 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders were working with them, so Smith jumped down from his tank to speak to their Captain, organising their positions. The reports were that the Germans were attacking north, rather than east which had been expected. So Smith expected the Germans to come to him, which was much better. A Company of the 4th Seaforths was led by Captain Fraser MacMillan, and he was happy to distribute his men to support the tanks and be ready to take on any German infantry who came their way.

He went round his other tanks, checking with his sergeants about zones of fire and so on, and what the signals would be if they were to advance or retreat. Satisfied that everyone was on the same page, he returned to his tank. Listening to the griping from the driver and loader, he knew that things were fine in the tank. He’d be more worried if they didn’t say anything.

With his elbows on the turret roof he surveyed the ground ahead again, and movement caught his eye. About half a mile now, there were panzers moving, it looked like about a company’s worth, he felt the turret turn, the gunner obviously had already spotted them. In fact the gunner had been following them through his sights for a good few minutes. Smith swithered about going down into the turret and closing the hatch, but he wanted to see as much as he could, for as long as he could. The gunner asked permission to fire. The Germans were well within range of the 2-pdr, at just under 1000 yards, but Smith wanted them a bit closer. He told the gunner to open up at about 500 yards, and to take out the Panzer III first. The gunner grunted, letting Smith know that he knew to do that anyway. Smith found himself smiling.

A single artillery shell detonated just behind the company of panzers, and it was quickly followed by an accurate barrage. Someone was obviously on the ball in calling down a barrage on this movement of German forces. From the blasts came twelve panzers at full speed, eight were Panzer Is, three Panzer IIs and a solitary Panzer III. The gunner noted that the range was now 500 yards and Smith yelled, “Fire!”

The armour piercing round hit the Panzer III at the driver’s position, and the panzer immediately stopped. Smith saw the hatches being thrown open and as the crew bailed out a Bren gun opened fire on them from his left. He saw one of the Germans slump down, but the other two managed to get to the rear of their stricken panzer. He called out directions on a Panzer II, again the gunner grunted he was already on it. When the loader called, “Up”, the gunner shouted, “Away”, and once more the 2-pdr barked. The speed of the panzer saved it, and Smith could hear the gunner curse. The turret traversed, and once again the gun barked, and this time the panzer slewed to the right, hit on the right drive wheel. Once again the loader and driver worked in unison, and hitting a stationary target was much easier. The Panzer II brewed up. Smith didn’t see anyone get out. He also noted that the other three tanks had had successes, and that the remaining six panzers were reversing backwards, trying to get away as quickly as they could. The gunner tried a longer range shot, but once again the panzer he was aiming at survived unscathed.

The squadron commander came on the radio to order an advance, and so Lieutenant Smith gave the agreed signal to the other three tanks and the infantry to move forward. As they passed the burning German tanks, Smith could see that the two tankers were still cowering behind their knocked out panzer. He noted that as they were marched off as prisoners by a squad of Highlanders, they were shaking their heads at the look of his Matilda II.

When they reached the point where the artillery barrage had happened, they found the remains of another two Panzer Is and quite a few dead infantry. Smith looked anxiously through his binoculars. He knew that although his tank was pretty invulnerable, there were still plenty of things that could leave him in the same positions as those corpses behind him. At that very moment he felt the whole tank ringing with a shot that failed to penetrate, but ricocheted off the gun mantle. Smith wasn’t conscious of how quickly he dropped down into the turret and closed the hatch above him, but it was quick enough to draw another curse from the gunner.

The battle to the south of Ath continued all morning. It became clear very quickly that any chance of breaking through the attacking British forces to reach Chievres was impossible. General Stumpff gave a general order to proceed as best they could to Enghein and join 20th (Mot) Division there, which would put them back into the German supply line through Brussels. It was a distance of about 15 miles as the crow flies, but there would have to be a great deal of movement around British forces to reach their objective. Stumpff recognised the danger he faced of being encircled as so he ordered that the priority was to save as much as they could, but that speed was of the essence. A fair amount of equipment would have to be abandoned, including a number of tanks whose repairs would take too long. While on paper his Division had 240 panzers, after yesterday’s losses, only 222 were actually serviceable.

The sheer numbers of German tanks and other vehicles was an unstoppable wedge that broke through the British positions between Lens and Jubrise. The Matilda IIs were too slow to be able to effectively cut off the German push, though as the morning turned to afternoon the Durham Light Infantry and Seaforth Highlanders joined up just north of Jubrise. This effectively closed the pocket on a large proportion of the German second echelon troops, and large numbers of prisoners were taken. The movement east for the panzers themselves had not been without cost, a further fourteen panzers had been destroyed, and ten more had to be abandoned for various reasons. Most of the losses were among the Panzer I and IIs, though they were down to 31 Panzer IIIs and 19 Panzer IVs, with 66 Pz I, 82 Pz II, at total 198 tanks.

4th Panzer Division had been aided by substantial help from the Luftwaffe. All of the complaints overnight had led to a good effort to support the panzer troops as much as possible. For once there was a lack of air cover from the RAF, and so the German bombers were able to attack, almost unmolested, at least for the first hour or so. One raid by Stukas caught an assembly point causing casualties and confusion among the 25th Brigade at Meslin-L’Eveque. This allowed Stever’s Division a good head start.

Up against the British Cruiser tanks the 37mm guns on the Panzer IIIs did well, though the 2-pdrs on the A9s and A10s gave as good as they got. The two British cavalry regiments threw themselves at the attacking panzers and took a heavy toll on them, but at substantial cost to themselves. It was only when the southern-most units of the panzer division ran into the 5RTR in their new Valentine tanks that things started going very wrong. There were only 34 Valentines that could be coaxed into the fight that morning, but the panzers found them extremely difficult to counter. Panzer losses quickly grew, but like 3rd Panzer Division their level of leadership in smaller units paid dividends. With Hoepner’s blessing, 4th Panzers also turned eastwards to make for Enghein. Losses were higher in 4th Panzer Division, especially among their medium tanks, and although they had 308 panzers at the beginning of the day, (down from 343 the previous day) only 267 joined their comrades at Enghein, and like 3rd Panzer Division, their support units and infantry were hardest hit.

Examining the figures later General Alan Brooke was relatively satisfied. Over 100 panzers had been destroyed or fallen into British hands in two days fighting. There was still a substantial enemy panzer force out there at Enghein, but they had been severely weakened with the capture of much of their second echelon troops. The mechanics and logistical tail were essential for keeping a Panzer Division mobile, and without them, and their experience and training, Hoepner would have a harder time of it. On the British side losses of tanks was in the region of 55, mostly cruisers, with more undergoing repairs. First Armoured Division was still intact, though weakened, and although losses among the two Mechanised Divisions were heavy, they still were functioning.

It all now depended on whether the French could link up with the Belgian and British forces to entrap the majority of the German Sixth Army.

13 May 1940. 09:00hrs. Charleroi. Belgium.

As commander of Ier Corps General Sciard had overseen the advance into Belgium and with any luck the capture of Warve today. The hope had been to occupy the town yesterday, but the resistance of German forces was making it very difficult. From captured prisoners Sciard had learned that the German’s had orders to hold in place. 1er DLM had been battling hard against solidifying German positions. Brigadier-General Claudel Picard’s chars had been making terrific progress, but they had constantly to watch their flanks, and while waiting for the infantry units to catch up and take their positions in support, the Germans were redeploying and digging in again, so that every hamlet and crossroads became a battlefield.

Picard had requested permission to use his mobility to push up and around the German infantry divisions, allowing the 7th Army’s infantry Divisions to follow in his wake taking on the better emplaced German forces. He particularly wanted to avoid fighting in towns, as he had lost too many chars in the restricted streets to German ambushes. Sciard had been reading the reports of what had happened to the Panzer Divisions who had got too far ahead of their infantry support, and so refused Picard’s enterprising request.

25e Motorised Division’s commander, General Molinie needed to be told to get his men moving faster, supporting Picard. Sciard sent for a motorcycle dispatch rider, and while he was waiting, he wrote out orders for both Generals orders for their attack on Warve, and what to do afterwards.

13 May 1940. 10:00hrs. Waterloo. Belgium.

The thump of German artillery had dogged them for the last hour. Lt-Col Taitot of GBC 510 was convinced that the Germans must have an artillery spotter on top of the Lion’s Mound, it was the only place that would have the kind of visibility needed to have his unit under such sustained bombardment. He finally managed to get hold of Colonel Givres, commanding the 9e Division’s artillery. He requested a bombardment of the Mound to allow his tanks to move forward without the constant attention of the German artillery. Givres was happy to comply, an ancestor had been on the field of Waterloo serving Napoleon, so damaging this symbol of French defeat would be a pleasure. He turned to his subordinates and gave the requisite orders. He then cheerfully got his binoculars trained on the Mound, waiting to see the damage his guns would do, he particularly wanted to see the Lion itself knocked off its perch. For a few minutes he enjoyed his unit’s handiwork. If any Germans were on top of that hill, they would have found the last few minutes quite unpleasant, unlike himself who had found it very pleasing.

Taitot’s chars, supported by Grelot’s 95e Infantry Regiment took advantage of the French barrage to make an attempt to make some progress against the Germans. The 9e BCC R-35 chars had been designed for this very kind of work. There were no enemy tanks for its short 37mm gun to deal with, between their HE rounds and machine guns they plodded onwards, the 43mm armour almost impervious to the standard German anti-tank gun. The French infantry advanced behind the chars, German resistance collapsing in the face of the unstoppable force. The German soldiers fell back in the direction of Brussels.

13 May 1940. 11:00hrs. Mechelen. Belgium.

7 Royal Tank Regiment was the only RTR battalion in France with cruiser tanks. It had been hoped that they would receive the new Valentines, but there were barely enough of these to equip 5RTR, so 7 RTR had received the whole inventory of A13 cruiser tanks. A few had the thicker armour of the mark II, but most were mark I’s. The tanks had been in the hands of the RTR since early April, and the men had been working on them, and with them for four weeks, giving them some confidence in them. Their engine was the Nuffield Liberty engine, but the early models, with the lighter armour were pretty speedy. The standard 2-pdr gun suffered the usual problem of not having a good enough HE round, though the hybrid 2-pdr/Bofors 40mm HE round was better than what they had had. Even with these limitations, at least it could be considered a tank, unlike the Vickers Mk6 they had been using previously.

They were now approaching Mechelen, supported by 1st Battalion The King's Shropshire Light Infantry (1KSLI). It had been found over the last day or so that it was best to use regular British units to make the forward movements, and allow the more numerous, but less able Belgian conscripts, to follow up and provide troops to protect the flanks and rear of the forward units. Progress to Mechelen had been better today, German units were generally pulling back towards Brussels, allowing the British a clearer path around the north of the city.

The same problems that had the confronted the Germans a few days earlier were now haunting the British, a lack of bridges. There were three separate water obstacles in their path. Each one would likely be defended, but they were relying heavily on their bridging companies to make it possible for them to progress further. Thankfully one strong aspect of the Belgian army was that they were well equipped with bridging equipment, knowing that destroying bridges was a bit part of their defensive strategy, they would also have to replace these in due course. So along with 7RTR and the 1KSLI, there was a brigade level bridging unit of the Belgian army.

As they approached Heffen, and the first canalised river, the Zenne, the forward artillery commander in a Lysander noticed that a bridge was still intact. He therefore directed the artillery onto the eastern bank, and added a smoke screen for good measure. The Vickers Mk6 of the reconnaissance unit, the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, raced forward to try to take possession of it. Much to their surprise (and relief) the bridge didn’t explode underneath them. When the carrier platoon from the 1KSLI arrived to reinforce them, they discovered that the Germans had abandoned their positions. A local Belgian gendarme came out of hiding and informed them that at the sight of the advancing troops, the Germans had packed up and left. They had rigged the bridge with explosives, but these had failed. When Royal Engineers came forward to make the bridge safe they discovered that someone had either removed the detonator wire from the explosives themselves or had failed to put it in. Whether this had been sabotage or incompetence was a mystery. However it allowed the Belgian Bridging unit to complete a second bridge, so that the movement eastwards could be speeded up.

Progress to the Leuven-Dyle canal at Battel was swift though there was no such luck with the bridge here, it was in pieces. Once again an artillery barrage hit the eastern bank and the tanks and infantry moved forward. The German resistance was quickly brought under fire. Using the narrowness of a lock over the canal a platoon of Shropshires made it across the river and took the German positions from the flank. Soon the Belgians were putting a crossing over the lock, and the British tanks were back on the road. The river Dyle was next to be crossed.

13 May 1940. 12:00hrs. Nouzonville. France.

The combined artillery of the 29th (Mot) Infantry Division (48 guns) and 8th Panzer Division (24 105mm guns) had opened fire at 05:00hrs. The defenders of this area were the 102nd Fortress Division reinforced with the 1st Machine Gun Battalion of the 52nd Colonial Demi-Brigade, made up partly of Indochinese troops. While the main casement that protected the river crossing (the bridge having been blown on 11 May) was the primary target for the German artillery, it was mostly impervious to the German guns. The other French units weren’t as well protected and suffered casualties from the bombardment.

Using the houses on the east bank for cover the troops of the 15th (Mot) Regiment had brought their assault boats close to the river. The barrage continued, very well controlled, and while it was still dark enough, coupled with a smoke screen being generated, the first company managed to get across the river without being spotted. The company commander urged his men forward, overwhelming the first line of French defences. The second company were less lucky getting across the river, the French machine gunners, now alerted laid down barrage fire over the river, and a number of boats, and their crews were destroyed. The first company however were continuing to make progress. As reinforcements reached them they were fed into the attack. The Battalion commander on the east bank, seeing the way that things were going ordered the third company to cross the river a few hundred metres further south. The First Company turned their advance southwards to cover this new crossing point. A number of Panzer IVs came to the river bank to add their 75mm direct fire support. Casualties were taken but fewer than the second company. With the best part of a battalion now across the river, the French discovered the danger of remaining in their fixed defences. The German infantry worked quickly to roll up the French positions, using grenades and shaped charges that some assault engineers had brought over.

The dense wooded area was difficult to defend, and attack. By mid-morning however the Germans were in control of much of the west bank, some isolated French positions were still holding out. The second battalion was able to be shipped across to put up a defensive screen against a French counter attack. Meanwhile the Pioneer battalions worked to build a bridge, the need to get the panzers over as quickly as possible was one of the lessons that been learned over the last few days. Meanwhile more and more infantry crossed the river, by the afternoon the last of the French positions had been eliminated.

13 May 1940. 13:00hrs. Monthermé. France.

At 5am the combined artillery of 6th Panzers and 13th (Motorised) Infantry Division began their bombardment of French positions in and around Monthermé. These guns were reinforced by XIV Corps artillery assets. These had suffered somewhat from the attention of the French Air Force, but still brought heavier artillery to the barrage.

The approach to Monthermé was very difficult, the River Meuse snakes through a gorge at this point. The road down to the river was so steep that the rubber boats had to be taken down in half-tracks, they couldn’t be manhandled otherwise. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Rifle Regiment of 6th Panzer Division, supported by one of the tank battalions made a successful crossing of the river. However Monthermé is at the tip of a spit of land surrounded by the river. The 2nd Battalion of 42nd Colonial Infantry regiment, which held the peninsula fell back towards the blocking position at the southern end which was equipped with concrete pillboxes dug into the rocks and armoured copulas. The 102nd Fortress Division responsible for this area was a regular, almost considered elite division and very well trained and led. So although the Germans had crossed the river they were bottled up and could not break out.

Werner Kempf, commander of 6th Panzer Division knew that if his men did not make progress then they would be reduced to support troops for infantry divisions, and so he urged on his men to greater efforts. Assault engineers with flamethrowers and shaped charges made another effort on the French fixed defences and wore them down, at great cost in lives of the attacking force.

Back at the river the engineers were using pontoons to float panzers across. Although the terrain at the French blocking position made tank use difficult, the 75mm guns on the Panzer IVs proved themselves most useful. The engineers then started working a pontoon bridge.

Between the assault engineers and the close support tanks a break out from the peninsula was accomplished just before 20:00hrs. Very few French defenders were taken prisoner, most died at their posts, often horribly. The surviving German assault troops were also exhausted, and the Second Battalion of the Rifle Regiment took over from them.

As darkness fell two river crossings had been successfully achieved and bridges were being thrown over the river as quickly as possible.

13 May 1940. 14:00hrs. RAF Mildenhall, England.

British bomber crews were exhausted. In constant action since the night of the 2/3 May, sustaining losses every night, the question of how much longer this could be sustained was being asked. AVM John Baldwin, AOC 3 Group drove up to the 3 Bomber Group Headquarters building and sent word to have all senior officers in for a full briefing at 15:00hrs.

There was a sense of expectancy about the meeting, as normally the target for tonight would have been known by now and planning for it well under way. When Baldwin had been called up to London he had been told to put all planning on hold until after his meeting. Now the Squadron commanders and other senior officers were on tenterhooks, wondering what the change of plan was.

Baldwin gave a summary of the ground situation in France and Belgium as of that morning. He also gave his officers numbers of available fighters and bombers, British and French in the sector, there was an audible intake of breath at the numbers.

“Basically the French and 14 Group are struggling, as are we. We know that the Luftwaffe are in worse position than we are, but they were bigger to begin with, and so we must expect that they will continue to have an influence on the ground war. But as you can see on the map, the ground war is pretty fluid, but things are going fairly well for our side. It won’t take much however for things to go pear shaped pretty quickly. And that, Gentlemen, is the purpose of this briefing. Despite OBOE and everything else, the question about how well our night bombing of German logistical routes has been going is being questioned. The latest reconnaissance photos of Aachen and Sittard show that we have been hitting those lines of communications, but not quite as accurately as we would hope.”

“Therefore we are to change to daylight bombing, and to do so in a ‘tactical manner.’ (Hubbub in the room) Yes, I know this is a huge change. The assessment of the Ministry is that French bomber daylight losses are mostly coming from ground fire rather than fighter interception. That with effective fighter escorts the losses in daylight should not be greater than we are already experiencing in night raids. (Hubbub in the room) I know. The men in the Ministry aren’t flying these and there is no way they can possibly know this, but that is what they have decided.”

“Tonight therefore, your crews get an uninterrupted sleep. At first light all our Wellingtons will take off and gather over Dover. The whole Group will then be joined by our fighter escort from 12 Group, and proceed over the Channel. Hurribombers from 14 Group will then lead us towards our target, which is likely to be north east of Brussels, here at Kampenhout. Though that may change depending on how quickly things change on the ground. The plan is to have a concentrated bombing raid on a German position, followed up quickly by our ground forces to overwhelm them while they are still reeling. We will then return to base, and the Hampdens of 5 Group will do the same later in the morning, and then the Whitleys of 4 Group in the afternoon. Someone talked about laying a carpet of bombs for our men to walk over the Germans on. If needs be we should be ready to do a second sortie in the late afternoon.”

“When you break this news to your men there are three things I want you to emphasize. First, the job we have been doing up to now has been outstanding. The Luftwaffe have never really recovered from the raids on their airfields the first few nights. Secondly, what is important is that we defeat the Nazis as quickly as possible. While this isn’t a ‘strategic’ target, it is a target, the German army, and that is worth dropping some bombs on. Thirdly, everyone has to do their job to their utmost best. Bomb aimers have to remember that our troops and other friendlies will be in the area, so check and double check the aim points. We will need to rely on the gunners to defend against fighter attack if our fighters can’t hold them off. Pilots will need to keep strict formation so that our bombing is concentrated enough and that the gunners can provide the best protection possible. You have also received document with the various radio frequencies and target marker colours to distribute to your men.”

As the briefing broke up and the officers made their way back to their own squadrons, every one of them was wondering why the tactics were changed now, and how it would be over Belgium in daylight.

May 13 1940. 23:00hrs. Amsterdam. The Netherlands.

The Dutch army had been struggling behind their defences. The Water Line had been conceived over a hundred years previously. While efforts had been made to improve it, it was still rudiment