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

1 - 12 August 1940
1 August 1940. Near Turnhout, Belgium.

The men of 5th Royal Tank Regiment had been issued with the first batch of Valentine tanks just before the battles of May. There had been lots of problems with the tanks. Because of the rushed production, they were unreliable and because of the design, they were cramped. The first tanks off the production line had gone straight to 5RTR who felt they were being used to put the prototypes through their paces in action. In general, they had proven reasonable battle tanks, but suffered from falling between two stools. They were too slow to be cruisers and too lightly protected to be infantry tanks. Once they got used to them, 5RTR had grown happy enough with the Valentine, for all its faults.

Vickers-Armstrong had been fully informed of the problems and concerns that their new tanks had caused. They were now unloading a set of replacement tanks. Like the first lot, these were the first month’s production, literally just off the production line. Although there were only twelve, not quite enough for one squadron, it was hoped that 5RTR would put them through their paces and again give the company their feedback. As promised Vickers had produced a three-man turret by modifications to allow the addition of a loader to ease the duties of the commander. The turret’s side armour was reduced to save weight. It still had the 2-pdr gun, but the turret was certainly an improvement over the first one. It was also received an improved engine to give it slightly better power and speed. Vickers had also noted the comments about the size of hatches, and these tanks had been modified to give an extra few inches to each hatch.

The men had a tour of the new tanks and then took them out to put them through their paces. They did indeed find them improved, but the same problems existed in terms of reliability. The kind of craftsmanship practised by British workers (some joked that it was the ability to fit two things together which do not fit) meant that many man hours were spent by the Battalion’s fitters and mechanics trying to keep tanks on the road. While work was going on to improve mass production in Britain’s factories, there was still a long way to go. The tracks were a particular cause for swearing.

The other innovation, much debated among the gunners, was the decision to change the gun mounting. British tank crews had been trained to fire on the move. Therefore, the guns in British tanks were braced against the gunner’s shoulder, and he physically controlled the position of the gun as he fired. However, it was clear that firing on the move was a thing of the past. Despite the poor performance of the German 37mm anti-tank gun, German tactics for its employment were much better that the British tankers had expected.

As the 2-pdr’s HE shell was limited at best, the fact was that the tanks spent much more time fighting German anti-tank gun screens than they did panzers. This made the need for ‘one shot – one kill’ essential for the survival of the tank. The professionals who started the war had adequate training for firing on the move, but those who were currently training weren’t getting as much time as needed to learn the skill. The decision had been made to make the mount of the gun stable, to be traversed laterally and vertically by controls, rather than the gunner’s body. The fact that the tank should stop and fire was anathema to some commanders. It was said that Percy Hobart was furious, but as the future tanks were going to have larger guns, and the size of the Royal Armoured Corps increased, it was judged a necessary change.

2 August 1940. Hatfield.

Geoffrey De Havilland took the second prototype on its first flight, finding it to be everything the design team hoped for. The first prototype, W4050, had flown in June. Now the second, in a fighter configuration, was being tested to see if it had ironed out the teething troubles of the first prototype. Men from the Air Ministry watched and were delighted with the way in which the plane seemed to fulfil their expectations. It looked like there would be no need for a third prototype, so pre-production models were expected to be built next. If these proved themselves, the Air Ministry wanted mass production to begin as soon as possible.

3 August 1940. Ottawa. Canada.

Prime Minister McKenzie King: “So, we have two Infantry Divisions now in France and Belgium; the air training plan is going very well; and the RCN is expanding. The production of vehicles is ramping up along with mineral extraction and agriculture. Support for the war in Quebec is growing in the light of the French resistance to German aggression, and the bombing of Paris. The question now is, what more can Canada do?

Clarence Howe (Minister for Munitions and Supply): Obviously we can’t touch conscription, but perhaps we could do more to move to a complete war economy. So far, London hasn’t been overly directive in what they want from us, beyond what you’ve mentioned, and that scientific group that has come over.

James Ralston (Minister of National Defence): If the Quebecois are coming around, maybe we could get conscription, but I know you don’t want to fight that battle yet. Our third Division should be Armoured, but that raises the question of what tank we build. General Motor’s group in Britain, Vauxhall, have the contract for a new tank for next year. For myself, I would argue that three divisions should form a Canadian Corps, with Canadian leadership. That should mirror the ANZACs, and also, we should have a better say in its employment.

The Air Training Plan is going to be our major contribution in terms of investment and personnel. The training structure includes twelve elementary flying training schools, sixteen advanced or service flying training schools, ten air observer schools, ten bombing and gunnery schools, two air navigation schools and four wireless or radio training school. The number of training aircraft needed is estimated at 3500. That lot will cost a great deal of money, to be met by ourselves, with contributions from the British and to a lesser extent Australia and New Zealand. The British want to meet most of their cost in kind, supplying engines and such.

Most of our aircraft building facilities are making trainers. De Havilland, in Downsview, Ontario, are building Tiger Moth trainers at the moment. They are talking of expanding as they have a new twin engine plane that they’re going to start on soon. Noorduyn are making Havard trainers. Fairchild in Quebec are producing Cornells. Fairchild are also building Bristol Blenheims, though they call them Bolingbrokes. The Bolingbrooke has a duel use as trainers and patrol aircraft.

National Steel Car in Malton are currently making Lysander army cooperation planes, and sub-contracting for various other aircraft, especially Ansons and Hurricanes. We need the Ansons for multi-engine training. Canadian Associated Aircraft are building Hampdens for the RAF. The concentration on so many trainers is obviously to help the expansion of the Air Training Plan.

Prime Minister McKenzie King: So, we’ll be producing pilots, trucks and food. One Corps, seems fair, and there should be enough volunteers to keep them up to strength. We really need to have a voice within the Imperial General Staff, we must learn the lessons of the last lot. I’m meeting President Roosevelt later this month, there have been some initial talks about what kind of cooperation we can have regarding defence of North America. I certainly am keen on bringing the Americans further into the fold, without straining things with London too much.

3 August 1940. In the skies over Germany.

Sgt George 'Grumpy' Unwin and A Flight of 19 Squadron were on their first combat sortie since transitioning onto the Spitfire Mk II. It had felt as if the air war had calmed down a little over the last month or so, each side licking its wounds and rebuilding. Today four of the new Spitfire squadrons were flying top cover for a raid by Wellingtons of 3 Group of Bomber Command. The target for the Wellingtons was the airfield at Mönchengladbach. This had been bombed on numerous occasions, but it was still a target, as it is very difficult to close down an airfield permanently. The presence of such a large number of bombers on a daylight raid, was hopefully too tempting a target for the Me109s.

The RDF ground controller called out the arrival of the German defenders. The RAF’s continual attacks on German radars had left the Luftwaffe still at a distinct disadvantage against raids such as this. They were having to rely on ground observers for the most part. The German aircraft that attempted to intercept the RAF raid did so in a piecemeal fashion. With the much more advanced radars available to guide the Spitfires, Unwin and the other Spitfire pilots fell on the Me109s again and again, mostly before they got to the bombers.

Unwin’s squadron dived out of the sun onto a squadron of Bf109s that were still trying to climb to altitude before attacking the bombers. The arrival of the Spitfires, all armed with four 20mm canons, was a terrible surprise to the Luftwaffe pilots. Unwin scored his eleventh kill as the cannon shells hacked a Messerschmitt out of the sky. The Spitfires didn’t hang around. Having dived through the enemy formation they climbed back to their original height, ready for a second pass. Six Me109s and one Spitfire were tumbling to the earth, as the surviving German fighters attempted to reform.

Where Unwin’s Mk I Spitfire was at best a match for the Bf109, these Mk IIs now held a distinct advantage. This was an advantage which Unwin and his squadron mates made full use of. Another three Bf109s were shot down, and the survivors were all running as fast as they could for home. One more Spitfire was shot down and another damaged, but as 19 Squadron returned to base, 9 kills for 2 losses seemed like a good day’s work. Altogether the Germans lost 19 aircraft attacking the British raid, with another six damaged. Four Spitfires failed to return, and another four had various levels of damage. Five Wellingtons were lost, mostly to flak. The damage to the airfield was judged moderate. Later it became clear that the airfield had been abandoned, as the Luftwaffe had generally pulled back behind the Rhine.

4 August 1940. Seelin, France. RAF Forward airbase.

53 Squadron had all the surviving Blenheims in France bar one. 139 Squadron’s “C” for Charlie had been given a very specific task. The fight against the German radar had been one of the odd parts of the war. They had initially been “listening” for known frequencies of the various types of German radar, but it was obvious that the Germans were doing everything they could to change frequencies as much as possible to hamper this part of the RAF’s effort. When that became obvious at the end of May a new boffin with a different piece of equipment had arrived and “C” for Charlie had been the recipient.

Flight Lieutenant Paddy Green had been briefed on the importance of this bit of kit, and the importance of it never falling into enemy hands. He had been aggrieved to discover that as part of the installation a small explosive charge and fuse had been included that was to be used if the aircraft was in danger of being compromised. As the plane’s commander he wondered if putting live explosives into it, with all the attendant risks, wasn’t just asking for trouble.

What was worse was the observer, Bill Neville, who was assigned. He wasn’t RAF, but Fleet Air Arm, and he wasn’t very complementary about Crab Air, as he seemed to enjoy calling the RAF. But the man knew how to use the device, which he called Orange Crop. It swept the frequency band, and when it picked up a source it warbled, allowing Bill to identify it and locate it. He was then able to call in a flight of Hurribombers who would attack it. Bill mentioned that someone was working on a rocket that would be able to ride the beam back to its source, he called it a Shrike, but it seemed that it would be sometime before it would be ready. In the meantime, Paddy’s job was to fly the Blenheim well behind the Entente front line. They were always accompanied by one of the new Beaufighters with AI radar. While Bill listened for enemy radar on his receiver, it was becoming clearer that the Germans were emplacing their radars further back than before. The Blenheim, and Orange Crop, weren’t allowed to fly over German held territory. Some other plan was going to have to be dreamt up to seek out the German radar.

3 August 1940. John I. Thornycroft & Company. Woolston, Southampton.

Commander Paul Canter, former captain of HMS Active, leading the design team for the Ton class minesweeper, celebrated the Admiralty’s decision to commission their design. An initial order for ten were placed with Thornycroft and its group of fifteen smaller yards that would build the ships. With double mahogany hull planking, almost the entire vessel was to be constructed from light aluminium alloy and other materials with the lowest possible magnetic field to achieve optimum safety when sweeping for magnetic mines. They would be protected from pressure mines by their low displacement, and the threat of moored mines was greatly reduced by their shallow draught. To prevent potential damage caused by marine parasites, they would be fitted at first with a copper sheath.

Canter had a team trying to “invent” ‘Cascover’ nylon sheathing. DuPont had been approached by ICI for a license to make nylon for the British market, and work was being done on a whole lot of new chemicals and epoxies in various universities and factories. There weren’t enough chemistry degrees in the Bristol Group men to satisfy everyone, but all sorts of materials were being examined in great detail for a variety of uses.

The Ton class that Canter had captained earlier in his career, HMS Gavington, was powered by two Deltic diesel engines built in the 1950s by Napier & Sons. Three companies with experience of building diesel engines, Perkins, Mirrlees and L. Gardner & Sons had been working with the Bristol Group to make improved Diesel engines. These would have applications for all types of vehicles and ships. There were a number of diesel engines and generators in the Bristol Group, and many of the engineering officers had had plenty of experience on engines, including the Deltic. The design for the Ton Class had taken a Deltic clone as its proposed engine. There was a lack of torsional vibration in the Deltics that made them handy for mine sweeping vessels.

The upper works were as much as Canter and a few other officers and ratings who had served on Ton class ships remembered. It would be armed with a Bofors 40mm gun, and have the capacity to carry two Oerlikon 20mm guns, or other heavy machine guns for self-protection. While the Type 193 mine hunting sonar was still a long way from being developed, the new ships were designed with it in mind. Once it was developed, the Ton Class would be mine hunters as well as mine sweepers.

4 August 1940. Over Thames Estuary.

Pilot officer James Wilson, with Johnny Campbell working the Air Interception Radar were on the tail of yet another intruder attempting to lay mines in the shipping lanes into London. Over the last month this had been their nightly duty in B for Baker, their Bristol Beaufighter Nightfighter. The RAF Hampdens had been doing sterling work mining the German ports, and the Luftwaffe were trying to repay the compliment. The Germans had deployed both acoustic and magnetic mines, faster than they had in the Bristol Group’s experience, and while the Royal Navy was in a better position to counter them, it was thought better to prevent them being laid in the first place.

Wilson and Campbell, along with the rest of their squadron, were prepared every night to search for prey. The German intruders were mostly Ju-88s, a fast bomber. B for Baker had a speed advantage, but not by too much. The RAF nightfighters also had excellent radar coverage. HMS Bristol had been brought to the port of Felixstowe, where it was camouflaged by day and sailed at night to provide enhanced radar coverage for the lower North Sea. At least two Beaufighters would be on constant patrol, ready to be guided by Bristol’s control team.

The radio sparked to life, “Baker 1, we have custom for you, three bogies”, giving the bearing and height. Wilson acknowledged and swung the heavy fighter onto an intercept course, allowing the gentle dive to increase his speed for the interception. Campbell was scanning the AI radar ready to try to pick up the bogies. They generally found trying to locate an aircraft below them was beyond the radar’s capability. Relying on Bristol’s well practiced team to guide him, Wilson rapidly closed on the German aircraft. There was enough moonlight to give Wilson a visual sighting of the trailing aircraft. Campbell was struggling still to get a clear signal from among the general surface return. With the Ju-88 firmly in his sights, he opened fire with the four machine guns, and when they were on the target, added a two second burst from the four 20mm canons. The German bomber disintegrated, its port wing separating from the fuselage, and the rest spinning into the sea. “Splash one bogie”, Wilson reported.

The other two aircraft split up and went in opposite directions. Wilson followed the one that turned to port, applying full military power to try to overtake it. The German pilot took his plane down to wave top height and was running for his life. The Beaufighter closed the range steadily. More in hope than in expectation, Wilson fired a burst of machine gun bullets. The rear gunner in the Ju-88 must have reported this, because the German pilot began taking evasive actions, but as he was so low, he tipped the end of his wing into a wave and the whole aircraft cartwheeled, crashing to its demise. Wilson pulled up hard to avoid the wreckage, and to gain some height. “Splash second bogie, and I literally mean, ‘splash’” Wilson reported.

HMS Bristol’s air controller gave him an update on the position of the third bogie, but there was little chance of catching it now. He climbed to five thousand feet, checking his fuel state, Campbell relaxing somewhat from his radar screen. Wilson hoped to pick off the intruder as it exited the area, but he saw flashes of flak coming from the picket ships off Sheerness and a large explosion which looked a lot like a plane exploding. The kind of explosion where perhaps a shell had detonated one of the mines it was carrying. This was confirmed by Bristol control, the threat board read all clear, so Wilson took the Beaufighter up to ten thousand feet and took up a long racetrack pattern until it was time to return to base. Most nights nothing at all happened, so at least they would have some to report to the debriefing officer when they got back. Then bacon and eggs, and off to bed.

5 August 1940. The Admiralty. London.

Captain Hugo White, formerly captain of HMS Avenger, a type 21 Frigate, sat listening to the debate about whether or not to keep attempting to slip submarines into the Baltic. The first group of six had lost two and had one damaged. They had also stirred up a hornets nest. There was heavy increase in Kriegsmarine activity in the narrows around Denmark. A second group of four submarines had attempted to enter the Baltic not long after the first group left. However only one succeeded, two were lost and one more limped into Oslo damaged. The one that succeeded, HMS Sterlit, was now overdue.

White had commanded an Oberon class submarine, and been commander of Submarine Sea Training in his time. This knowledge and experience had stood him in good stead when he had become a frigate driver and expert in anti-submarine warfare. Seeing the problem from both sides helped and when asked for his opinion he suggested a very radical plan.

5 August 1940. Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London.

Captain James Weatherall, formerly of HMS Andromeda, sat with the senior staff as they talked about the changes that were planned to the training courses for Royal Navy Officers and ratings. Weatherall had passed out from Dartmouth in 1954, and had served in a number of capacities, including as Commander of Seamanship Training after the Cod wars with Iceland.

Weatherall compared the course that he had completed, a course that had evolved in the light of the Second World War, to the current course, that of 1940. It was clear that there was a lot of room for improvement. Some of the basics would be the same, no matter what era the training was taking place in, that was the easy bit. Officers being trained now, would have to deal with huge technological advances that were under development. These developments would transform anti-submarine warfare, the asdic they were used to was going to become sonar. In anti-aircraft warfare, the use of radar and missiles would have to be dealt with. In engineering, they would soon start to see not just steam plants, but gas turbines.

The Royal Navy was trying to manage a vastly expanded class size, made up of conscripts, rather than the volunteers they were used to. HMS Collingwood and HMS Raleigh had been opened in January 1940 as the Training Establishment for "hostilities only' ratings of the Seaman Branch. There were batches of about 1000 trainees joining every 3 weeks for a 10-week course. HMS Ganges, another shore establishment had to be taken over for this purpose. HMS King Alfred, had trained new officers from the pre-war Royal Navy Volunteer (Supplementary) Reserve (RNV(S)R). It was now providing training for the RNVR, a training course which consisted of the first two weeks at HMS King Alfred II, then six weeks at HMS King Alfred III and the final four weeks at Hove. Upon successful completion of the course, the men emerged as Temporary Acting Probationary Sub-Lieutenants and attended further training at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich before being posted operationally.

Weatherall had been appointed by the Oversight Committee to help guide the process of making sure that the officers and ratings being trained now, would be ready to face the future navy requirements. It was important that as much of the technical know-how of the future was disseminated as widely as possible, so that after the war was finished these men could be at the fore-front of the new industrial revolution that would come.

He had brought along three of his officers from Andromeda, Commanders Mike Cowley, David Watson and Lieutenant-Commander Mark Whyte. Cowley was the ship’s engineer and Watson was senior weapons officer. There were plenty of other jobs that these two men could have been doing, but Weatherall needed them here to implement some of the changes. The two Commanders had been commissioned from Dartmouth in the 1970s, by which time the course had changed again from Weatherall’s time. Mark Whyte was a ‘schoolie’, and he was brought along to work on the changes needed to the curriculum that the Royal Navy used in training, to make sure that the “new learning” was provided for them.

The “Schoolies” branch of the Royal Navy, which dealt with initial and on-going training, was expanding to meet the expansion of the wartime navy. Whyte, with Weatherall’s supervision, worked out a course at the University of Bristol, at which the advances in the physical sciences were taught. The cover story was that the Government had put together a secret committee of academics in the 1930’s, with the possibility of war looming, to advance British science. This secrecy was the reason that no academic articles had been published. The work of this committee, “The Bristol Group” was now to be used to win the war by beating the Germans scientifically, and to make Great Britain the world leader in science and industry.

Over the last six months every Bristol Group man with a degree, especially those with Masters, and there were a couple with Doctorates, had been fully debriefed by a teams of experts on what they knew. Some of the men had taken to calling this the “Manhattan Project” due to the explosive nature of forty years of scientific advances being dropped into academia. It would take some years to work through everything, but there was plenty of material to train the Schoolies in the basics. One effect of this was to increase the time of basic training. While the number of new ships being launched and commissioned was increasing, there was enough time to add a week to the various courses. This meant that when the new recruits, or cadet officers, went on to their specialised courses, they were better prepared. The production of little booklets to enable the schoolies to give lectures on all manner of subjects were a priority.

Mike Cowley and David Watson did a similar job with the engineering branch and executive branch respectively. Commander Cowley worked out of Keyham College. While most of the engineers would continue to work on steam plants, a certain percentage were given further training in gas turbines, these in turn would become instructors in due course. Watson worked with the staff at Greenwich, under the command of Captain John Davis to try to learn the lessons of naval warfare from what might and might not happen.

5 August 1940. The Admiralty. London.

Captain Steven Johnston, former captain of HMS Minerva, had been put into the committee looking at future building plans for the Royal Navy. Johnston had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the ships of the Royal Navy. His father had been a keen model builder and had shared his enthusiasm with his son. His father was currently commanding HMS Charleston, unaware that his future son was anxiously watching for any report on that particular ship.

The discussion this particular day was the 1941 and 1942 Naval Building Programme. The 1939 and 1940 Emergency War Programme had concentrated on destroyers and other escort vessels. In September 1939, at the outbreak of war, it was expected that 213 warships (264,000 tons) would be completed within a year. By July 1940 only 105 ships (130,000 tons) had been completed. The Ministry of Supply was keen on keeping the ability to build 1.2 million gross tons of merchant shipping per year, in addition to the naval programme. With the reduced threat of the German navy in general and its U-boats in particular, the Admiralty had a chance to consider what it needed in both the short and long term.

In the short term, the first thing identified was that it was crucial to improve the ship building industry itself. Too many builders suffered from general obsolescence. A survey had been done in February 1940 and found that in the shipyards' machine tools, heavy plant, especially cranes and power supplies, were generally deficient, and provisions for welding were very meagre. Most of the marine engineers worked with old machines; a large proportion were twenty to thirty years old, working at speeds in wartime for which they were not designed. The technical processes, especially in coppersmiths' and blacksmiths' shops, were slow and old-fashioned.

All these facts were well known both in the industry and in the Admiralty. The pressure of immediate production tasks had left the firms no time to do a comprehensive survey and undertake drastic reform. In any case, their capital resources wouldn’t enable them to embark on a wholesale reconstruction out of their own means. If the admiralty wanted better ships, they would to have to help the industry to get better. This would hopefully have the secondary effect of keeping Great Britain as a premier ship-building nation into the future.

A rolling programme of improvements were being implemented, with a large emphasis on welding techniques and tools. Prefabrication and assembly line style construction were being promoted, often resisted by the workforce. The need to maintain a balanced output was noted. Too much emphasis on one type of vessel all too often slowed rather than quickened production as bottlenecks were experienced. Engines, turbines, guns, fire control systems, damage control, electronics (especially with the decision to move to an AC system in future builds) were all areas where industry was still gearing up. These bottlenecks halted production while crucial equipment wasn’t available. This problem could only be dealt with by a well-planned and organised system. The number of conversions of older ships, as well as the vast increase in number of escorts ordered, had thrown the shipyards into a panic. While some of these escorts had been cancelled in the first few months of 1940, there were still many on the slips awaiting completion.

In the longer term the Admiralty had its “two power” target. This was the ability to take on two powers at the same time. Leaving aside the American fleet which was an unlikely foe, and presuming the cooperation of the French fleet in the Mediterranean, which balanced the Italian fleet, that left Germany and Japan. The Kriegsmarine had been sorely wounded in the first half of 1940. It was bottled up in the Baltic, and just the two battleships, Bismark and Tirpitz were thought of as a threat when they came into operation. The arrival of the first three King George V class battleships would keep the balance. The U-boat menace still had to be taken into account, even though it was currently curtailed. The Japanese were building up a powerful navy with a few very powerful battleships, but focussed on the aircraft carrier.

The five King George Vs had all been launched in 1940. The lead ship, KGV itself, would join the fleet in October, the rest would follow, two in 1941, two in 1942. With four Revenge and five Queen Elizabeth class battleships, three battlecruisers, and Nelson and Rodney, the battle line was currently very strong. Two Lion class battleships had been laid down in 1939, and work was continuing on them, though without haste. There was no chance that these would be delivered before 1943 at the earliest, and therefore changes to their design were being considered.

Firstly, knowing the Mark II 16-inch guns would be a bottleneck, the Admiralty was prepared to accept delivery of the two Lion Class battleships to be put back to 1944/5. The Bristol Group had supplied the information that HMS Rodney’s 16-inch guns had played a large part in the destruction of the Bismark in Bristol’s time line. They also took into account the decision of the Americans to go with 16-inch guns on their future battleships. This convinced the admirals that 16-inch guns was the right choice. HMS Lion and Temeraire would have a dual purpose secondary battery of 5.25 inch twin mounts and a large number of Bofors 40mm AAA. They would carry no aircraft, but room for a helicopter to land was considered. Improvements to their propulsion, bow and stern would give them at least 30 knots, though 33 knots was the goal. They would be designed to carry more fuel to extend their range, important if they were working in the Pacific.

Johnston, like the rest of the Bristol Group men, argued long and hard that the days of the battleship were over. The battleship admirals focussed on the intelligence that the Americans decided to recommission four of their battleships for service in the 1980s. Obviously this proved that the battleship still had a place in future warfare. The Admiralty wanted to end the current war with modern battleships. If the Revenge and Queen Elizabeth Classes were scrapped after the war, then five KGVs and two Lions would provide a gun line well into the sixties. Captain Johnston made a mental note to have a word with Alan Grose before Churchill would see these plans. If Churchill could be persuaded to cut the Lion Class down even to one, that would help.

The Illustrious class aircraft carriers: HMS Illustrious, Formidable, Victorious, Indomitable were all being brought into service as planned. HMS Victorious and Indomitable, joining the fleet in 1941, were being completed with only minor improvements so as not to delay their introduction. HMS Unicorn would act as depot ship as planned. HMS Implacable and Indefatigable, were being redesigned as transitional ships, proving the new ideas of angled flight deck, deck edge lift and steam catapults. They were due to be commissioned in 1943/4, and hopefully be ready for the first generation of jet aircraft. The decision was made that the Audacious class carriers wouldn’t be ordered. Instead, two Malta Class aircraft carriers would be laid down, one in 1941 and one in 1942. These should be delivered in 1944 and 1945. The Malta Class at 50000 tons would be the recipients of as much new technology in their construction and propulsion as possible. There would be an expectation that they would be in service for at least forty years.

As the Illustrious and Implacable Class carriers came into service, the older, smaller aircraft carriers (Argus, Furious and Glorious) would be decommissioned. Johnston noted that without the Lions, another Malta could be built, possibly two.

There were seven Rapana class MACs being converted. This hybrid of a tanker and aircraft carrier would be useful for convoy protection, but they were otherwise too limited, especially without hanger facilities. There were high hopes that the Wessex type helicopters, designed for ASW warfare would provide convoys with all the air cover they would need, especially as the U-boat menace was curtailed. Large merchant men would be far more easily adapted to carry helicopters than fixed wing aircraft, as RFA Olna showed.

The Admiralty still felt a need for light carriers to supplement the fleet carriers. The debate on this raged for some time. The argument came down to a choice between a 14000 tons Majestic Class and a 22000 tons Centaur Class. Those in favour of the Majestic Class argued that it could be built more quickly and cheaply, but were countered with the fact that they would have a limited service life. The Centaur Class was bigger, and more expensive, and with a longer service life be better value for money. This was countered with the fact that more Majestics could be built for the same price of the Centaurs. The decision was to propose building four Centaurs and two Maltas, which for the next forty years was considered the better investment. It was hoped that some of the Dominions might be interested in a Centaur Class ships. The recommendation was to lay down two in 1941, to be delivered in 1943/4, with another two in 1942 for delivery in 1944/5.

Johnston made another note to talk to Grose about. The French were building Richelieu class battleships, the Richelieu currently on her way to the Far East and the Jean Bart almost completed. They had just started two more, the Clemenceau and Gascogne, and were talking about two Alsace class ships, very like the Lions after those. The Joffre aircraft carrier was 20% built and the Painlevé was on order. It might be worth a conversation about building one of the Alsace (with appropriate modifications) for the Royal Navy instead of the Lion Class, if the battleship admirals were adamant. In exchange, British shipyards could build either a Centaur or Malta Class for the Marine National. His mind wondered to other ideas. Perhaps we could sell the French the last two Illustrious Class, in the hope of two more Centaurs in their place. He honestly didn’t think anyone would go for it, but it was another idea worth considering.

The program would see the building of seven cruisers per year. The current program of Dido, Fiji and Abdiel class cruisers could be succeeded by Tiger class ships in 1941 and 1942, if the design could be finalised. The plan for Destroyers was for them to be built at a rate of 16 per year. The current J, K, L, M and N Classes under construction or near completion might be succeeded by something akin to the Battle class destroyers in 1941 and 1942. The War Emergency Programme Destroyers (O, P, Q & R classes) that had been laid down, as far as possible, will be converted to Type 15 Frigates. Hunt class destroyer-escorts that have not yet been laid down should be cancelled. The current escort vessels, mostly Flower class corvettes, would be cancelled unless too far into construction. Many of these would become “gunboats” in the colonies rather than trying to shepherd convoys across the Atlantic, for which they were quite unsuited. Black Swan sloops under construction would be completed, but their convoy escort role would be taken over eventually by the Type 15 Frigates.

The Ton Class minesweeper production was confirmed, replacing the all the Bangor Class that haven’t been started. Johnston was happy to see Paul Canter’s work was coming to fruition. The Algerine Class would also be put into production.

There were a few new types of vessels that would also be ordered into production. The size of an amphibious landing like the D-Day described by the Bristol Group would be unlikely. Currently there was serious lack of any kind of specialised amphibious ships. Landing Ship Docks, based on HMS Fearless of the Falklands task force, and Logistic Landing Ships like Sir Galahad should be designed and built. It was envisioned that they would need enough ships to be able to land a division of troops ashore with all their equipment. The idea of a purpose-built commando carrier for Helicopter operations, would be given further consideration, perhaps based on the same model as the Unicorn.

The second group of vessels that were planned was an expansion of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. RFA Olna had opened the eyes of the Admiralty to what was called a Fleet Train. This hadn’t been seen as necessary, the Royal Navy was blessed with the provision of plenty of bases all over the world. The fact that replenishment vessels could keep the level of operations at a higher tempo for longer was understood as a force multiplier. So, with the help of the RFA officers and men who had served on various vessels, a number of designs would be drawn up. Large fleet tankers, fleet replenishment ships, store support ships, were some of the ideas that would need to be explored.

The Admiralty hoped that by 1944 the Royal Navy would be a modern, balanced fleet. The wartime expansion of the navy would not be as great as in the Bristol Group timeline, for they had already won the greatest battle of that war, the Battle of the Atlantic. It was now extremely unlikely to happen the way it had. War, if it were to break out in the Mediterranean and Pacific, would no doubt be very different to what the Bristol Group’s history looked like. There were plenty of men in Admiralty who wanted to make sure that the Royal Navy would still be the premier navy of the world in 1945 and beyond.

6 August 1940. HMS Dido. The Irish Sea.

The new 5.25-inch dual purpose guns were being tested on HMS Dido which was working up towards commission. These new weapons were being fitted on the Dido Class of cruisers and as the secondary armament in the KGV battleships. With an expected rate of fire of 10-12 rounds per minute, the reality was very different. The cramped conditions of the turret, the heavy weight of the shell and cartridge, and the fuze setter meant that at best seven or eight rounds were all the crews could manage.

The crews were rested after their exertions and a team of boffins appeared with a number of experimental shells. These were the first VT, or proximity fuzes, in artillery ammunition that Pye had been working on. The test involved barrage balloons from which were suspended various targets. The sailors manned their guns, with the new shells they were instructed to fire only one aimed shell per gun at 30 second intervals so that the boffins could note the effects. The first ten shells scored a 5% hit rate. The second ten was about the same, slightly better. The third ten was only about 2%. There were only twenty shells left, and the sailors manning the guns were asked to fire them as standard. So in three turrets, the six guns had one shell each. In less than ten seconds all the shells were fired off, with a 4% hit rate. To the sailors surprise, the boffins went away quite happy, they had learned a great deal in this test.

6 August 1940. Bletchley Park.

Commander Alastair Denniston, operational head of GC&CS at Bletchley Park explained what was happening to his superior. “Either the Germans are getting wise to us, or it could be just a coincidence, but it looks like they are all moving to a four rotor enigma. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is just a normal improvement cycle, but the fact that we have been reading their mail must have at least have occurred to them. We knew that this might happen, and we have had plans in place for just such a contingency. Realistically, we have to consider that we might be blind for at least a few weeks.”

As a consequence, a signal was sent all Entente units – “Possible enemy action expected. Highest readiness. Ends”

6 August 1940. Meaux, France

The flash message warning of possible enemy action meant that all the modified Spitfires of No. 212 (Photographic Reconnaissance) Squadron, were sent off to photograph the length and breadth of the German lines, looking for any sign of an impending attack. Two to three hours later they landed and their cameras were quickly processed to get the film to the Central Interpretation Unit, based in a chateaux on the outskirts of Paris.

The main CIU was back in Medmenham in England, but it took too long to get the film back to there and then bring the intelligence back to France. Some of the staff of photo interpreters were brought over to do their work in closer partnership with the Entente’s intelligence headquarters. Sarah Oliver was on duty when the film from 212 squadron’s flights arrived. Comparing the previous photographs with those that were just developed, the WAAF, like the rest of her team, looked for any changes that would provide the clues to German intentions.

For the last two months the remnant of Panzer Group Kleist had been regrouping and rebuilding near Koln. This had been under pretty constant aerial surveillance, and occasional air attack. Oliver compared the new and old photographs of this area first. If the Panzer force was on the move, then it be a sure sign that the Germans were up to something. Looking at the new photographs it was obvious that they had moved, so the next question was where? It was going to be a long day to track them down.

6 August 1940. Mons, Belgium.

20th Armoured Brigade (CO Evelyn Fanshawe) had been brought over to Belgium at the end of July with their mixture of new Valentines, A10s and A13mkII Cruiser tanks. The 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars (Valentines), and 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry (A10s & A13s) made up the Brigade. It was decided to add 20th Armoured Brigade to the First Army Tank Brigade (renamed as 11th Armoured Brigade, CO Douglas Pratt) to create the Second Armoured Division in Belgium. The infantry element, was to be provided by the 56th (London) Division, which gave up the 168th Brigade (OC Brigadier Guy Portman). This Brigade was the first to be fully equipped with the new Militant battle taxis and the 6-pdr anti-tank gun. 2nd Armoured Division, commanded by General Justice Tilly, had only had a few days together when the alert notice was given.

General Claude Auchinleck, the new commander of First Army decided that 2nd Armoured would replace 48th Division in I Corps. Newly promoted General Somerset would take 48th Division into GHQ reserve. 1st and 2nd Infantry Division, with 2nd Armoured Division would be a very strong Corps. General Auchinleck had high hopes for them. With the threat of ‘the balloon going up’ again, Auchinleck and Franklyn, (I Corps commander) decided to leave 2nd Armoured Division at Mons. If anything did happen, they were in a good position to come forward if they were needed.

General Tilly had been one of the chief instructors at Bovington before the war, and like Hobart, was a keen proponent of armoured warfare. He had read the reports on the fighting in May and he had spent a good amount of time talking to Douglas Pratt (OC 11th Armoured Brigade) who had been at the forefront of it. Tilly wanted to try out something which he described as quite German. 2nd Armoured Division was made up of five armoured battalions or regiments, one reconnaissance regiment (in light tanks), three infantry battalions, along with artillery (field, anti-tank and anti-aircraft), engineers and all the other support arms. He organised the division into “Battle Groups (BG).” Each group would have a mixture of tanks (including reconnaissance), infantry, artillery (all three types) and engineers. Tilly kept the traditional triangular structure. If fighting together, the Division would have three BGs, each the equivalent of a Brigade. Each Battle Group would likewise be made up of three battalion sized BGs, and these in turn would be made up of three or four squadron or company sized BGs.

The British army had very limited training in such a scheme, and so the first and most important job that Tilly had to master was getting the officers who would be fighting together to stop fighting among themselves. The keys to success were training and communications. The greater availability of radios helped with the later, though 48th Division felt aggrieved when they lost many of theirs to the new unit. For the former, training, training, training was the order of the day, and with a missing panzer group somewhere on the loose, Tilly worked himself and his men relentlessly.

7 August 1940. The Admiralty. London, England.

The Naval Air Service, or Fleet Air Arm as it liked to call itself, was still in transition. Having been handed back to the Royal Navy from the RAF in 1937, it had been starved of aircraft by the Air Ministry. Had it been handed back in 1934 as some had argued, its position would have been far stronger. However, that wasn’t what happened. The arrival of the Bristol group, with a good number of Fleet Air Arm personnel, had focused the minds of those in charge and led to this meeting, which was finalising its future orders of aircraft.

With three more Illustrious class carriers arriving in the fleet in fairly short order, with more carriers to follow in 1943, this meeting was to think through the aircraft that would provide the best air groups for the carriers. Currently Sea Hurricanes had been rushed into operation to replace the Gladiators that had formed the fighter squadrons. This was certainly an improvement over the biplanes, but still left a lot to be desired. The version of the SeaHurricane that were being produced were powered by Merlin 45 engines, carried four 20mm cannon armament, and all the accoutrements of a naval fighter. The feedback from pilots was favourable, but it wasn’t going to be the fighter of the future.

Just arrived in service were the first Fairey Fulmers, which had been designed as an interim fighter anyway. The Fulmers could prove useful as a reconnaissance aircraft, with its observer and long range. But as a fighter it was judged sadly lacking, despite the aerodynamic tweaks to give it better performance. Giving it a Griffon engine, like the Firefly might be an improvement, but it still didn’t look the part. The belief that Fleet Air Arm planes needed two crew to do the job had not been borne out. There were now better navigational aids available to help pilots return to the carrier. The size of the Fulmer was judged good for carrying radars of one kind or another. The trials with a Wellington AEW aircraft were being watched carefully by the Navy, and the Fulmer was being considered as a test bed to provide AEW for the carriers. The current order for 127 aircraft would be fulfilled, but not increased. Three Firefly prototypes were ordered from Fairey.

There was some debate about attempting to move to a Seafire. The new Mk II Spitfire was coming into service with the RAF could be adapted for carrier use. There were problems with the idea, the Spitfire's lack of range, coupled with a long nose and narrow, and flimsy, undercarriage, made it less than perfect for carrier use. Design work had been done on producing a folding wing version of the Spitfire in 1939 and early 1940. Westland and Cunliffe-Owen had been invited to look at doing this with the Mark II. It was clear that there was a need to plumb the aircraft to take drop tanks to extend its range. Modifications to the landing gear would have to made if it was ever going to be robust enough for flight deck operations. Some good work was being done with the Oleo pneumatic landing gear found in the Bristol Group's helicopters. This would be looked at to see if it was transferable to a SeaFire's undercarriage. If this went well, the consensus was that this should be produced to replace the Sea Hurricane. To equip the fighter squadrons through 1941 and into 1942 500 of the type would need to be ordered.

Hawker’s chief designer Sydney Cam was working on two new aircraft, one piston and one jet. The piston engined Tempest would replace the Hurribombers that had been doing such sterling work. The Tempest would have the Hercules III initially until the new Bristol Centaurus engines were available in 1941. It was felt that a radial engine was better for ground attack aircraft than the inline Merlins. The Sea Tempest would be evaluated, and hopefully be more like a Sea Fury when produced, so three prototypes were ordered for evaluation. If successful 200 of these would be ordered initially, growing to 600+ if it was a suitable replacement for the SeaFire.

Cam’s work on a Hunter, and a navalised SeaHunter, was dependant on Rolls Royce work on getting the Avon jet engine to a satisfactory level. There was no sign of this appearing until at least 1942, but hopefully when the Implacable and Indefatigable were commissioned there would jet aircraft for them to carry.

The Swordfish were the back bone of the 18 torpedo squadrons and were being upgraded with a more powerful engine, enclosed cockpit, ASW radar etc. These would serve until the Barracuda would be ready. The prototype had shown that there would have to some changes to it, including fitting the Merlin 45. Realistically it would need the Griffon engine to really give it the power it needed. The Barracuda would have three roles: the classic torpedo bomber, a submarine hunter, and the platform for a new anti-ship glide bomb that was being developed. 500 Barracudas would be needed.

The Skua was still being used as a dive bomber, and it had some limited success. The last Skua had been delivered in 1939. Retrofitting one of these with a bigger engine was attempted, but for little reward. To replace the Skua there were three British contenders. Hawker were promoting their Henley, though half-heartedly, their order books were already full. There was a new design from Boulton Paul which was basically a redesigned Defiant for carrier use and for dive bombing. Martin-Baker’s design, based around their MB2, which they called the Cormorant dive bomber, was also being looked at, using a Hercules engine. The French were experimenting with the LN42, powered by a Merlin 45, and that was a contender for the task too. Until a real contender came forward, the Skua would need to soldier on. Prototypes of the Boulton Paul, the Martin Baker and the LN42 were ordered for assessment.

8 August 1940. Central Interpretation Unit, Paris. France

The disappearance of Panzer Group Kleist had been the subject of all-out effort by intelligence, photoreconnaissance and photo-interpretation. Sarah Oliver, one of the WAAFs, finally made the breakthrough. One of the Spitfires from 212 Squadron had gone further afield as the search continued, and combination of good flying, good weather and good luck had found the panzers at Bergen training area near Celle. The photographs showed that they were involved in what looked like a large exercise. From this it was speculated, that having been rebuilt in the Koln area, they were now undergoing fresh training.

Further flights (at the cost of three lost Spitfires) managed to put some meat on to these bones. From what could be seen, the Panzers were nearly all IIIs and IVs, some IIs were found, but by the accompanying vehicles, probably only in reconnaissance units. There also seemed to be a lot more infantry around than would have been expected from just the Panzer and Motorised Infantry Divisions exercising together.

The order then went out to all Entente forces that they could reduce their threat level, and the RAF and AdA were asked about paying a visit to the exercise some night, just to help with its realism. The RAF’s own reconnaissance of the area suggested that there was very little likelihood of hitting anything significant. The Germans seemed not to be concentrated anywhere, almost as if they were expecting such an air raid. The RAF would prefer continuing attacks on enemy airfields and transport hubs. The AdA likewise didn’t feel it was a worthwhile target, and would continue to support the army along the Meuse and interdict German supplies moving to the front.

9 August 1940. Reusel. Holland.

Gun Sergeant John Foxwell and his team were running through the drills again. His brand new 25-pdr gun had been delivered two weeks ago, and every member of ‘C’ Troop 9/17 Battery, and indeed all of 7th Field Regiment were learning all about their new weapons. The other two 3rd Infantry Division’s RA regiments (3rd & 76th) had also received the new guns. The factories at home were producing over a hundred guns a month, with new factories being opened that number was about to rise to 200 per month. Each Infantry Division needed 72 of them, so the more that could be produced the better.

Foxwell, as the Gun Sergeant, was No 1, the detachment commander. No 2 operated the breech and rammed the shell. No 3 was the gun layer, No 4 loaded the brass cartridge propelling charge, No 5 brought the ammunition to the gun. No 6, Corporal Andy Kennedy, as second in command, was responsible for preparing the ammunition and operating the fuze indicator. Over the last few days, Foxwell had ran the drills with each member of the crew taking a different part, so that if anyone was unable to fulfil their assigned role, the gun could continue operating. They knew they could keep up the intense rate of fire (5 rpm) for a short time with five men, the rapid rate of fire (4rpm) with four. Once the crew was down to three, they would only manage a slow (2 rpm) rate. But each member of the crew could now act in each job, and Foxwell was happy with that.

Under normal circumstances though he had Gunner Adam Boyd in the No 5 role, as he was the biggest lad, and found carrying the ammunition least tiring. Gunner Bill Sinclair was normally No 2, as he was the most dexterous, he found opening the breech and ramming home the shell to be straightforward. Gunner Peter Walker (acting as No 3), who excelled as the gun layer but always struggled with the operating the breech for some reason. Gunner Roger Fleming (No 4) had a good rhythm going with Bill Sinclair, so that the shell and the charge were rammed home in jig time. Corporal Andy Kennedy was solid as a rock and had good hands for getting the fuzes set correctly. Altogether, Foxwell thought he probably had the best team in the battery, if not the Regiment.

His confidence in his men was soon to be put to the test. 3rd Division’s new artillery were going to have their first full Division live fire exercise. The plan was to move from their current position to another about a mile north, and then rain down hell on a large lake called Het Goorven. Interestingly they were accompanied by 17th Field Company Royal Engineers, who would be testing out some of their new equipment. They called them JCBs, though nobody could figure out what JCB stood for. It was a new kind of tractor with a loader scoop in the front and a backhoe at the back. The tractor itself was based on the David Brown Aircraft tractor, with a more powerful engine. It had an enclosed cab which was partly armoured.

At the appointed hour Foxwell supervised the hitching of the 25-pdr to the ammunition trailer (Trailer, Artillery, No 27), the driver reversed the Morris Quad 4x4 artillery tractor and the trailer was quickly hitched to the tractor, the crew jumped aboard and, keeping a proper distance from the other vehicles in the battery, followed Captain Riddel’s vehicle. When they reached the new battery position, while Foxwell and the crew were unhitching the gun and trailer, the Royal Engineers quickly dug out a gun position with the back hoe, smoothing out the soil with the front loader. Foxwell got the gun into position and he was the first in the battery to signal “ready to fire”. In due course, the target was announced, with range and bearing, then came the order: intense fire. Seventy-two guns barked in unison, corrections were given by the observer, and the Division’s guns fired off five rounds in a minute, before the order to cease fire was given.

The rush was then on to limber up again and move to a secondary position, once more prepared by the Engineers, and do it all again. This was done as efficiently as possible. When they had finished, they were given the all clear from the exercise, and a “well done” from the Divisional commander as well as the Regimental commander. Foxwell got the men onto to cleaning the gun and refilling the ready locker. They could rest and have a brew when the work was done to his satisfaction.

9 August 1940. Defence Committee of the War Cabinet. Whitehall. London

Winston Churchill: Gentlemen, the Third Lord of the Admiralty has presented the plans for the 1941 and 1942 building programme for the Royal Navy for our approval. What do you make of it Admiral Grose?

Vice-Admiral Alan Grose: Prime Minister a great deal of work has gone into it, and regarding the escort vessels and other smaller vessels it is fine. Regarding the Battle destroyers, I think that three or four flotillas a year would be better than two. Each of the new carriers will likely need at least one flotilla with it. As you know, the increase in aircraft carriers, both in number and in size will be the most important for our long term security. Having only two of a particular type of aircraft carrier is problematic because of the need for maintenance and refit cycles could leave you without an available carrier when you most need it. The two Centaurs and one Malta proposed for each of the two years is going to leave us short.

My advice, from experience, is that we should aim to have three Centaurs each of the two years, and in 1941 two Malta sized vessels, and one, but preferably two the following year. I realise that might seem excessive, but you need to think about Home fleet, the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean fleets and the East Indies. Four large carriers lets you have two or three at these stations at any one time, supported by at least one Centaur and either an Illustrious or Implacable. That gives the fleet commanders a potent defensive and, crucially, offensive capability.

Obviously something has to give, and as you know in my history the Lion class battleships were never built, it was clear by 1942 that building battleships would be irrelevant. We will soon have five modern KGVs that should have a service life of up to thirty years if we need them. These are all going to have vastly improved anti-aircraft weaponry, as well as excellent radar and fire control systems that will give them edge in any possible fight.

The Graf Spee and Royal Oak were lost to torpedoes without any warning. Give the navy a good balance of submarines, aircraft carriers protected by good ASW escorts, with a few battleships for command and control, heavy anti-aircraft weaponry and shore bombardment, and Britannia will continue to rule the waves for the foreseeable future.

Winston Churchill: What about the Vanguard? Surely it is worth proceeding with that, even two of them?

Grose: The question Prime Minister is about resources. While the 15-inch guns are lying around and that would hasten the building process, so much steel and labour would be put into a Vanguard, which would be better employed in destroyers and frigates. Why not put the 15-inch guns in Gibraltar, Malta and Singapore? That will raise the morale of those three crucial ports. If it was me, carry on working on the 16-inch guns for Lions, so that in 1944 or 1945, if it looks like we’ll have to make up for losses or replace some of the older battlewagons, then consider building the Lions or Vanguards then. Send the Hood off for a major refit and that will keep her going well into the 1950s.

Winston Churchill: You are asking for a great deal of faith in you, Admiral. If the Americans ask why we’ve stopped building battleships, when they have these massive Iowa class ships ordered, what should we tell them? ‘They are a waste of resources?’ The new Italian battleships, the Soviets are proposing new battleships, or these monstrous Japanese ships, even the French are still building battleships, but the Royal Navy, alone among the great naval powers, have ditched the queen of the seas!

Grose: Prime Minister may I remind you of the briefing papers you have been given of how history worked out regarding the demise of the battleship as the queen of the seas. The Italian battleships were attacked by biplanes from Royal Navy carriers and either sunk or withdrawn. The Japanese monsters were sunk by airpower alone. The American Pacific fleet was devastated by Japanese aircraft from carriers, who learned how to do it from us. The German fleet is already kaput, and the remnant are currently hiding in the Baltic. The Soviets can be bottled up easily. Even our own losses in heavies from my history – Barham and Royal Oak sunk by submarine launched torpedoes, Prince of Wales and Repulse sunk by air launched torpedoes, the monitor Terror sunk by damage caused by divebombers, only the Hood was sunk by direct fire from another ship, the Bismark. The main aircraft carriers that were lost, HMS Eagle, Courageous and Ark Royal were all down to submarines, Hermes to a Japanese air attack. Only HMS Glorious was lost to enemy surface action that was an appalling failure on the part of her Captain.

So we need good AAA on all vessels, good ASW protection for our heavies and carriers, and good aircraft to defend the carrier task forces. Concentrate on these three priorities and we’ll do well.

Churchill: I know, you’ve told me all this so many times, but there is just something about a battleship that nothing else can match.

First Sea Lord Dudley Pound: I love a battleship as much as the next man, Prime Minister, and it would seem that so do many of my colleagues, especially in the Third Sea Lord’s department. Perhaps Bruce Fraser felt he had to keep the battleship men happy after Reginald Henderson’s emphasis on carriers. However, I would agree with Grose, and leave the battleships off the list until 1943 or 1944, when we can look at them again. If were to lose a couple of the carriers, especially the newer ones, we’d be hamstrung. I would cancel the Lions and the Vanguard, and let’s have 6 Centaurs and 4 Malta class instead. Ditto, the Submarines, give me a fleet of Onyx diesel-electric boats, and nobody will be able to take us on. If the Americans say anything, just remind them that the Royal Navy is always at the cutting edge of development of naval warfare.

Churchill: Even I can see the writing on the wall. Let it be then, though don’t think I’ll forget about the battleships come 1943. As the First Sea Lord says, increase the carriers, submarines and destroyers, cancel the battleships altogether at this point and free up the slipways. We won’t cancel work on the 16-inch guns just in case. Go ahead also with the amphibious capability, I like the idea of these hovercraft thingies.

9 August 1940 Alfred Herbert Company (Machine Tool Manufacturer). Coventry.

Production Manager: Mr Herbert there’s a bit of a problem on the shop floor that you really ought to know about, sir.

Alfred Herbert (Chairman of the company): It’s about the women, isn’t it?

PM: Yes sir, it is. The chief shop steward has ordered the men to down tools until, and I quote, “the lassies go back to making tea and typing, which is all they’re good for”. Then he added some other things that were quite lewd and embarrassed the girls no end. They’ve walked out too, they’re not prepared to take that kind of smutty talk they said.

AH: That man’s a bloody communist too, so much for the rights of workers. Right, bring him in here, and we’ll have this out, one way or another. (Picks up telephone)…

Chief Shop Steward: “Mr Herbert, you will not be diluting the skilled workers in this plant with these unskilled women. How do you imagine an eight week course makes someone a “machinist”? Apprentices should learn the trade from the ground up and then become “skilled men.” These women are no more than scabs, brought in to break the union and bring wages down and your profits up.”

AH: Are you quite aware of the priority for getting these machine tools out to the tank manufacturers, so that our boys at the front can take on the Nazis? You realise, that if our order is not fulfilled on time, not only is there a financial penalty, but very serious questions will be asked about “sabotaging the war effort” and “supporting the enemy in time of war”?

CSS: This imperialist war is nothing more than a “get rich quick” scheme for capital; the workers are either called up as cannon fodder or stitched up to work longer hours for less pay.

AH: You know perfectly well that wages have increased since the war began, and the women are being paid as unskilled workers to keep your members happy. Now, either your members get back to work, and are civil and polite to our new members of staff, or we will have to explain this to the Controller General at the Ministry of Supply.

CSS: You go ahead and run to the government, my workers will not be diluted by a bunch of women.

AH: Very well, if that it is how it is, we shall leave it there, for the moment. (Picks up phone as CSS leaves).

10 August 1940. Alfred Herbert Company (Machine Tool Manufacturer). Coventry.

Tannoy announcement: All employees will report immediately to the cafeteria. I repeat, all employees to the cafeteria.

General hubbub falls to silence as Albert Herbert comes to raised dais along with a police officer and a man from the Ministry of supply.

AH: “Ladies and Gentlemen. This gentleman is from the Ministry of Supply and would like to say a few words.”

MofS: “Thank you Mr Herbert. As you know your current order for machine tools is to build turret lathes for new tanks. Due to the nature of this order, and its importance I have the pleasure of reading the following letter: “Hardly any part of our common organisation of war production had been more thoroughly and precisely examined than the question of machine tools. Adequate supplies of machine tools are central to the whole question of industrial supply, and no one can be engaged in munitions production for one day without feeling that they were the ganglion nerve centre of the whole supply. In consequence, it is the earnest desire of the whole nation for victory that compels us to urge you on to the highest level of productivity, allowing nothing to hinder our efforts. Once more the women of Britain, as they did in the last war, have rolled up their sleeves and taken their men’s places at the work bench to arm those men to overcome our foe. They deserve nothing but respect and honour for doing their duty to King and country, just as their husbands and sons are doing their duty on land, at sea and in the sky. I anticipate that their arrival in your factory will be one more step on the road to victory. Yours sincerely. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister.”

Some of the workers clapped and cheered, led by the new women workers, others, wondering why the chief and other senior shop stewards weren’t present, but a policeman was, kept their hands folded.

AH: The Prime Minister himself has taken a personal interest in our company, and had intimated a desire to visit us when the pressures of office allow. Now, on a more negative note, Sergeant Black is here to inform us of some important information.

Sergeant Black: Ladies and Gentlemen, it has come to the attention of His Majesty’s Constabulary that there have been certain acts of sabotage, and even allegations of treason among the workforce here. (Audible intake of breath from the assembly). A number of arrests were made early this morning and some of your co-workers are helping us with enquiries. We hope this will all be resolved very soon, and that these allegations have no grounds. However, the Home Office have instructed us that any acts that harm productivity in essential industries are to be investigated most seriously and any saboteurs or anyone found guilty of aiding or abetting the enemy is to feel the full force of the law. That is all.

AH: Thank you Sergeant, I don’t think you could have made that any clearer. Now, with the Prime Minister taking personal interest in us completing our order in full and on time, the board have decided that, should we complete our order in full and ahead of schedule, a bonus will be paid to every worker. It is therefore in all our best interests to integrate our new workers as quickly as possible so that our men can have the tanks they need to take Berlin. (Fairly enthusiastic cheering from the majority of workers).

10 August 1940. Ministry of Supply. London

Official 1: So, did the carrot and stick work at Herberts?
Official 2: It seems to have done. A few other arrests have been made at other firms for similar “crimes”. Whoever came up with the idea of having the Prime Minister write those standard letters was a genius.
Official 3: I heard it was one of those men from Bristol.
Official 1: Really? Remember, “Loose lips sink ships”, and careers. Now, with that mini-crisis over, how are we doing overall for machine tools?
Official 3: We’ve been around all the small and medium sized engineering firms and have managed to organise them to either take in sub-contact work, or supply directly to users. This should increase overall production of machine tools by 33%. The established firms like Herberts, Churchill-Redman, Adcock & Shipley are all at full stretch, and productivity should rise as more workers, like the women in Coventry, make up manpower shortfalls. Should we still call it manpower if women work there too?
Official 2: Don’t start trying to confuse us. Does a man-eating tiger only eat men?
Official 3: The American imports of the tools we ordered in 1939 are still not fully delivered. Part of the shortfall is the Americans not fulfilling their contracts.
Official 2: It looks like the yanks are using the tools we bought and paid for to expand their own increase in manufacturing. No doubt we’ll get them eventually, but it is hardly cricket.
Official 3: I thought they played baseball over there, not cricket.
Official 1: (rolls eyes) It seems the French are complaining too. The joint purchasing team in Washington are kicking up a fuss. We are on target to have made 62000 machine tools from September 39 to 1940, that’s more than at any other time in our history. The shortfalls come from the loss of the German imports and the lateness of the American imports. We should have received 33000 from America, but only half of that has arrived. The target for next year is 81000 to be produced here, with 32000 imported from America.
Official 2: The other problem is spare parts. If something goes wrong with the American machines, we have to import replacement parts from the USA, with all the inherent problems that entails. We should be looking at some of the companies to duplicate the American machines so that we can be less dependent.
Official 3: Certainly, there are American machines, and German ones, that none of our companies make, especially some very specialised equipment. Though we might not want to open ourselves to charges of breaching patents law.
Official 1: Don’t you know there’s a war on? I’d rather face American lawyers than Gestapo goons.

10 August 1940. Ministry of Supply. Shell Mex House, The Strand. London.

Official 1: The loss of Denmark and Holland has meant that our butter, bacon and egg imports have fallen dramatically. Butter is down about 45%, bacon 75% and fresh eggs about the same. We’ve also lost 25% of our fresh or preserved vegetables.
Official 2: Fresh, preserved and tinned fruit are all fine. Beef and Lamb too are fine, almost unaffected.
Official 1: That’s all very well, but we can’t have an English breakfast without bacon and eggs. The home front’s efforts to reduce consumption and increase supply will help, but we are going to have to get these proteins from somewhere else, and that probably means the USA, which means more dollars.
Official 2: Canada is already providing a great deal of our grains, might they be persuaded to go into the pig and poultry business? What about the Republic of Ireland? Their imports will be struggling too, how are they going to cope?
Official 1: Not really out concern. Now, what’s next?
Official 3: Timber is a huge problem. Pit props for the mines, railway sleepers and sawn softwood for construction came mostly from the Baltic. That is all gone. The Forestry Commission think we have enough timber resources to meet the shortfall, but that will need many more workers.
Official 1: Didn’t women work in forestry in the Great War?
Official 2: Yes, the Women’s Timber Service if I remember correctly. I think it may need to be resurrected. The problem with importing from Canada or wherever is the sheer bulk. If Norway could ship it from its ports, that might solve some of the problems, but I agree, home produced should be prioritised.
Official 1: Is it just me, or is the problem with prioritising everything, just mean that everything just gets done at the same rate?
Official 2: Iron ore is fine, Sweden, Tunis, Algeria, France and Norway are all continuing to meet our needs, we’re paying a bit more for Swedish ores, but it is better quality and selling it us means it’s not available to the Germans. Belgium and France are providing some iron and steel, which is helping our own shortfall, but the new foundries should be ready next year.
Official 1: How are negotiations with the Turks going for metal ores?
Official 2: I believe the phrase is ‘poorly’.
Official 3: Oil next. The Norwegian fleet of tankers, plus our own is keeping the movement of oil from the Middle East at normal rates. The Suez Canal and Mediterranean routes are fine, so there’s no problem there. In terms of refining, we’re increasing production of 100+ octane petrol, and we are more than adequately meeting the RAF’s needs. We are going to have to increase the supply of diesel for a lot of these new engines that are coming into production.
Official 2: At least that is less dollars. Now exports. We don’t want the balance to trade to get too out of kilter.
Official 1: The first problem is munitions. We were the largest exporter of munitions before the war, but now so much of it is being used for ourselves, that is going to count against us. Secondly coal, which is fine, our biggest customer, France, still is buying it up in increased quantities. Third consumer goods. This is going to be a problem as much of manufacturing gears up for war. We really need a couple of inventions that we can make easily and break into the American market. Whiskey, linen goods, and the usual things will find themselves squeezed if we aren’t careful.
Official 2: What’s that phrase Winston has been using? “We don’t want to win the war and lose the peace.”

10 August 1940. Ministry of Labour. London

Official 1: In summary, from June 1939 and June 1940 the employable population increase was by 926,000 workers, of whom rather more than half were women. In addition, about 625,000 persons previously unemployed were taken into industrial employment or into the Armed Forces. Now the Forces and civil defence have called up two million more, but there is still some unemployment, and more women ready to enter the workforce. The problems are not so much a labour shortage, as shortage of particularly skilled workers at specific industries.
Official 2: Am I right in thinking that 44% of men and 73% of women are still employed in group III industries?
Official 1: Yes, but that is changing slowly, last June it was 49% and 77% respectively. It has to be said that these industries and services are important for the well-being of the civilian population. The 4% move in men was to the munitions industries (engineering and chemical) and the other 1% to things like shipping, transport, mining, agriculture, public services, etc.
Official 3: There are still likely to be some problems. Although the reserved occupations have meant that essential workers haven’t been called up to the Armed Forces, there have been a number of volunteers who have gone to the forces. There are a couple of collieries in Yorkshire and South Wales that have been left short of workers because of this.
Official 2: The armed forces do need skilled men too, you know.
Official 3: True, but if we continue with our current planned expansion, we run the risk of labour shortages, if not next year, then certainly in 1942.
Official 1: I’ll speak to Mr Bevin and see if we can look at ways of preventing that before it happens. We may have to have a conscription of men and women into industry as well as the armed forces.
Official 2: You can’t send women down the pits.
Official 1: No, but without coal there’s no power, and if there’s no power, there’s no production, and if there’s no production, there’s no victory. Maybe we need a regiment of miners.
Official 3: The National Union of Mineworkers would love that! The other problem is in the electronics sector. There has already been a large expansion in this area, and it looks like this will carry on. There is a severe lack of trained people. Pye, Metropolitan Vickers and Cossor are all screaming for new recruits. Each of the companies have a training programme that give the new employees an introduction to electronics, but it may be that this is something we should get involved with. Call it a Government Retraining Scheme. If we take people coming to the workplace for the first time, have something like a two-month course. Courses on electronics, precision engineering, welding, and so on. It means that the companies can get people onto the production line faster.
Official 2: Not a bad idea, but who provides the training?
Official 3: We could ask the firms themselves. They obviously are having to do it in-house anyway, so if three of four companies provided a few trainers, they would also get the benefits of first choices of the new intake. Academia might help, we could ask the universities for some lecturers to do some of the theoretical stuff. Trigonometry for engineers, that kind of thing. It would have to be regional of course. An educated workforce will become more and more essential.
Official 1: I like the idea, put it down on paper and I’ll take it to Mr Bevin.
Official 2: Can we move on to farming? I got a memo from the Ministry of Supply who are worried about imports of timber and some foodstuffs. They are suggesting we reinstate the Women’s Timber Service. Just when you mentioned a regiment of miners, we will need women to work on farms and in forestry as well as industry. A women’s land army perhaps?
Official 1: Likewise, give me idea on paper and I’ll show it to Mr Bevin. That’s a good name for it, Women’s Land Army. I suppose we’ll have to call the Women’s Timber Service something more martial, Women’s Timber Corps? Something like that. They’ll probably just be known as Timber Jills or something daft. Is that everything? I believe Doris might have some biscuits with the tea today, let’s get on before they’re all gone.

10 August 1940. Luftwaffe Headquarters. Berlin. Germany.

Goring was something of a new man in the last few months. After his terrible mistake in May, and the humiliation he had received, along with the humiliation of his beloved Luftwaffe, he had pulled himself together somewhat. He had lost some weight, was avoiding his “medicines” and was feeling the better for it. A degree of the pomposity was still evident, but he was certainly more lucid and focused.

The latest figures of aircraft production were being discussed. Over all types, 650 aircraft were being built per month. But that was a total of 20 different types, from reconnaissance to seaplanes, bomber to fighters. Over 230 bombers and fighters per month were being produced by the factories. The majority of bombers were Ju88s (150) and fighters Bf109s (130). The Ju88s were also being produced as reconnaissance and heavy fighter variants. Me110s were still being produced, though mostly for a night-fighter role. 50 Stukas were being built per month, but only 32 Ju52 transport planes, nowhere near enough to make up the losses in May.

Losses for the campaign in May and since numbered over 2200 aircraft to all causes. Pilots and aircrew losses were also a major concern, the reserves were thinning down quite fast. New pilot training wasn’t keeping pace with the need for replacements. All too often newly trained pilots were being thrown into the fray without adequate experience and taking disproportionate losses.

In terms of new aircraft the Bf 109F was nearly ready for production, the first squadrons expected to receive it for evaluation and transition next month, it should roll out to most squadrons in January. The Fw190 was expected to enter production in June 1941, pre-production models were being tested and there was still some debate about the wing size. Hopes to replace the Me110 with the Me210 were proving to be a costly failure, the prototypes were displaying very poor, if not dangerous flight characteristics. Likewise, the Henschel 129 ground attack aircraft was proving to be less than desirable. The Fw 189 reconnaissance aircraft was about to enter production, for service in 1941. The Dornier Do215, a longer range reconnaissance aircraft was about to equip its first squadron. The long-range bomber, Heinkel He177 was having terrible problems that probably wouldn’t be ironed out until 1942. Jets were being worked on by BMW and Junkers but progress was slow, mostly because of a lack of specialised metals.

Goring listened to all this with a feeling of despondency. The British had improved their Spitfire so that it now had a clear advantage over the Bf109E, and even the F would struggle against it. They had taken the Hurricane, a mediocre fighter and turned it into an excellent ground attack aircraft. The French seemed to be improving too, though less quickly, but the American aircraft they were using were quite good. Udet seemed to get nothing right, the aircraft industry was hamstrung for various reasons, not least chopping and changing specifications, especially about dive bombing which was Udet’s answer to everything. Too many poor designs were being touted and wasting resources. After what had happened in May, he couldn’t lie to Hitler again, even to tell him what he wanted to hear.

Goring interrupted Udet who was attempting to show that the Luftwaffe’s progress was clear and in the right direction. Goring made some simple choices. First cancel all further production of the Me110, and cancel the Me210 completely. All that production was to be transferred to the Bf109 and they had better be ready to improve it again next year. The Fw190 looked like a good aircraft and should be put into production as soon as possible. It looked like it might do a job similar to the Hurribomber, so Focke-Wolf were to make a ground attack version as well as a fighter. The Henschel 129 would be cancelled and production made available for the Fw190. The Ju88 was to be primary bomber. The Heinkel 111 would continue in production for now, but they had better get the He177 fixed and ready as soon as possible. Stukas were a failure and so production should cease, the Fw190 would do the job. The lack of transport aircraft was critical. Since Junkers were concentrating on the Ju88s, Dornier would take over from Junkers and build Ju52s.

Goring got up and walked out the room, the staff shocked at the drastic measures that they had just been handed. Udet ran to catch up with Goring to try to speak to him, but Goring dismissed him, “Go and do what I have said.”

11 August 1940 RNAS Yeovilton.

Frank Halford (Chief designer, Napier & Sons) and his team of engineers did the final checks on their copy of the gnome turboprop engines that were mated for the first test flight of the new Westland Helicopter they were calling the Sussex. It was copied from the Wessex, but there were enough differences that it really deserved another name. Like the Wildcat that had flown in June, the Sussex was simpler and slightly smaller than the aircraft it was copied from. If everything went well, the production models would be more sophisticated, but this prototype was just the flying machine.

Two Wessex HU5 had arrived back on the Olna, one had been used to train new pilots for the Fleet Air Arm, the other had been dismantled to be the design blueprint for the new aircraft that were copying it. For today’s first flight the Wessex pilot, David Salter, with greater experience on the Wessex was the main stick and Harald Penrose, Westland’s chief test pilot was co-pilot. Although it had been thoroughly checked over by everybody, still Salter and Penrose did a full walk around as a final check, after all it was their lives at risk. Clambering over the aircraft they checked oil levels, hatches properly closed and so on. Having completed the procedure, they put on their helmets (something of a novelty to Penrose) and Salter climbed up into the cockpit. Sliding the door shut, he adjusted the height of the seat, strapped himself in and fiddled with the pedals. In front of him were an array of switches, knobs and dials, so flicking on the battery switch, he checked the microphones with Penrose. “How do you read, Harald?” “Loud and clear”, “Loud and clear also.” “Ground power in please.” The ground crew plugged the lead from the battery kit into the side of the Sussex, just below the exhaust pipe.

Salter’s hands and eyes ran over the switches on the central console, preparing the electrics for start-up. Next came the radio check, the whole flight was being recorded in case anything went wrong. Salter had a good look over every dial, running from left to right. Engine gauges, fuel flow meters, torque, the flight instruments. With a waggle of the two sticks, cyclic in the right hand and collective in the left, a good kick on both pedals, he was ready to start.

“Starting port”, “Roger”. He pressed the starter button down and held it. Beneath Penrose’s feet the engine wound up slowly, while it waited for ignition, the ignition unit crackers brought the engine to life with a roar from the port exhaust. He had his hand over the fuel cut off in case the temperature went too high, but it rose rapidly and then dropped back as the increased airflow cooled things down. Increasing the throttle slightly the generators come on line, and Salter called for the ground power to be unplugged. Checking all was well, he then repeated the procedure for the starboard engine under his own feet.

Circling his finger in the air to the ground crew, who checked around, as seeing all was clear, gave the same signal back. “Engaging rotors” Salter engaged the rotors by easing the rotor brake off, checking it was locked off. The starboard engine was now driving the four rotors, so he moved the speed select lever slowly forward, the blades sped up. As the rotors reached flying speed, he put the port engine into drive, and advanced that speed lever too. Tweaking both levers to balance the fuel flow to the Gnome engines which were now taking equal strain.

A full check of the hydraulic system followed, so they were ready to take the helicopter on its first flight. Calling out the final pre-flight checks, he prepared for launch with a final adjustment of the friction in the collective lever. “X-Ray Lima now lifting off”. Gently easing up the collective lever, pushing his left foot forward slowly, the cyclic stick was gently pulled slightly left and back. They could feel the undercarriage starting to lift as the blades took the strain. Using the controls, he felt for the balance needed to keep the aircraft pointed straight and to lift it vertically. The starboard wheel left the ground, followed by the port, finally the tail wheel, as a little extra power on the collective helped them rise about the ground. He eased off the power then and hovered at fifteen feet to check once again that all the systems were working well. Once it was clear that everything was working normally, he applied more power and increased height to 200 feet. It was at this point that the red warning light on the panel started to flash. The tail rotor failed.

Salter was well practiced on autorotation. Rather than trying to do anything about the system, he knew he had about one second to dump the collective lever to prevent the rotor blades dragging and losing their speed. As they started to descent rapidly, he eased back on the cyclic to raise the nose and try to slow the rate of descent, giving the blades a bit of extra momentum as the wind through them increased. About 10 feet from the ground, he hauled on the collective lever to use all the remaining momentum to cushion the landing. The Sussex weighed the best part of six tons, so “cushion” the landing was a relative concept.

As soon as the chopper was stationary, they both unbuckled and jumped out as quickly as they could. Penrose noted afterwards that Salter had, probably without thinking about it, switched off all the fuel and power switches during their descent. There was still the danger of fire, but the aircraft had been saved by Salters extensive training. Penrose was sure that if he had been the pilot, it would not have ended as well. Although they had practiced for such an emergency, Salter did things on instinct that Penrose would have to think about, therefore taking longer.

The undercarriage was completely broken, taking the brunt of the crash, but otherwise the Sussex’s damage was minimal. The investigation found that a link to the rear rotor had sheared, causing the failure. All the links would have to be checked again, but it was found that this one was a failure in the casting, fatally weakening the metal. The company who produced the metal castings would have to be reproached and would have to put far better quality control measures into place.

The Sussex project was grounded for a month, though testing of other systems was continued. Production would probably have to be delayed, but no one was surprised that there should be delays. It was important that when they were delivered that they would be fit for purpose.

(The descripting of helicopter flying and emergency procedures in this update is largely taken from the book “Scram!”, by Harry Benson, Preface Publishing, London 2012)

12 August 1940. Office of Charles Hopkins. “Director of Naval Land Equipment.”

“Miss Sinclair, please take a letter:

For the attention of the Prime Minister.

Naval Land Equipment, Report of Progress No 11.

Since the last progress report, No 10, dated 12 July 1940, I note that work on the Cultivator No 6 has been downgraded in priority from the highest to 1(b), and that the number of machines on order has been reduced to thirty-three, from 240.

The two types of earth moving machines, or moles, narrow (infantry) and wide (officer), are currently awaiting the delivery of essential parts. The successful test of April 17 this year proved the ability of the rig to cut a trench over three feet wide and three feet six inches deep, which the finished machines will increase to a depth of five feet and seven and a half feet wide, moving at half a mile an hour. Our hope of having full working prototype is currently meeting with two main problems.

Ruston-Bucyrus of Lincoln, the firm which is designing the machines, and building the cutting section of the mole are progressing very well. However, what is hampering progress most of all is the inability to get a proper supply of armour and engines. On approaching the steel foundries, the 1(b) classification of the work means that the armour we need is currently being prioritised for the tank manufacturers. If the machines are to be effective, they will need to be very heavily protected, much more than the current infantry tanks. But we cannot make progress towards a prototype without access to armour. Even efforts to make a light steel prototype are hampered by the lack of priority.

I visited Rolls-Royce in March to place an order for 200 marine versions of the Merlin engines by the end of the year, with another 20 to 40 spares for June 1941. They told me, in no uncertain terms, that all their output is currently spoken for, and they have no spare capacity. I have to say that I found their attitude towards this department quite abrasive, claiming that fulfilling our order would mean 200 fewer fighter aircraft.

Since then I have explored of the possibility of replacing the Merlins with Paxman-Ricardo diesels, but these will need two per machine, where the Merlins would be able to power them individually. With the reduction in the number of Cultivators on order, the production of 100 diesels of this size within the timeframe may be possible, but only if it is approved by the Ministry of Supply.

Ruston-Bucyrus estimate that each Cultivator will require 36000 components, 71 assemblies and over 250 suppliers, in addition to the 83 tons of steel needed for construction. With the increase in tank manufacture many of the suppliers who would produce these components for the Cultivators are currently being used for the production of tanks, and those we have spoken to say they do not have the ability to expand capacity to meet the orders we would like to put to them. Ruston-Bucyrus are also concerned that they will not have the necessary skilled workforce if subcontracting work has to be kept in house.

In summary, the downgrading of this project has made the possibility of completing the order for the spring of 1941 almost impossible to achieve. If these great machines of war are to break open the German defensive positions and clear the way for our infantry and tanks, then they will need to be given higher priority, which of course will interfere with the production of tanks and fighter aircraft.

I remain your humble servant,
Charles H Hopkins. Director of Naval Land Equipment.

Thank you Miss Sinclair, have that ready for review and signing by the end of the day, if you please. That is all.”
13 - 31 August 1940.
13 August 1940. RAF Dishforth. Yorkshire.

No 78 Squadron, part of Bomber Command’s No 4 Group, had been primarily used for the training of newly formed crews prior to posting on to operational squadrons. Over the few months that process had been stopped and the Whitley bombers had been traded in for Wellingtons. Having made the transition, the squadron was declared operational and tonight would be their first big raid.

No 4 Group had been in the thick of the fighting since May, and the arrival of a fresh squadron was greeted with relief. Part of their training was an attempt to increase the accuracy of their bombing. The Pathfinders from No 3 Group had been using a version of OBOE introduced in April. Now No 78 Squadron would be the new Pathfinder squadron for 4 Group. They were trialling a new type of ground mapping radar. While the historical H2S was known about, and although it was still being used by the RAF, the naval personnel were unfamiliar with it. What they did know was marine Type 978 navigational radar and the Blue Fox radar on the Sea Harriers, one of which was on the Olna. The radar technicians had been working with the team at Worth Matavers, the Ministry of Aircraft Production Research Establishment (MAPRE).

With the newly developed cavity magnetron and a great deal of trial and error, a working radar was produced and tested. Using the I band width, which the Harrier’s Blue Fox used, between 8-10 Htz, a 3cm wavelength, it proved as effective as what would have been known as the H2X system. No one seemed to know what H2S actually stood for, so this system was called type 301 radar.

Over the last week the crews of No 78 Squadron had been practicing over the east coast of Scotland and had very good bombing results, even on cloudly nights. Tonight, would be the first trial sortie over Germany, the target being Kreigsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven where the Tirpitz was being fitted out. With the particular shape of the fitting out basin and the other clearly visible waterfront, it was hoped that this target would show up clearly on the television type screen. As an exercise in precision bombing, the docks would be the target, but it was hoped that they might get a lucky hit on the Tirpitz. To maximise the damage all twelve aircraft were carrying two of the specially made 2000lb Armour Piercing bombs. These were 15-inch shells taken from Admiralty stocks and fitted out aerodynamically for dropping from aircraft.

It was thought that German air defences were still very primitive as attacks on German radar installations were a regular occurrence, so the small raid would hopefully find its target and withdraw before the Germans could mobilise any nightfighters. Six AI radar equipped Beaufighters would arrive over the target at the same time to give the bombers extra protection. There was very little that could be done about flak defences.

Flying over the North Sea at 15000 feet they followed the Oboe path that would bring them along the Frisian Island chain, which then showed up clearly on the type 301 radar picture. This allowed the navigators to descend to the attacking height of 6000 feet and turn south as they passed Wangerooge and up the Jade estuary to Wilhelmshaven.

The searchlights came on, trying to pinpoint the aircraft they could clearly hear, but the low cloud cover worked against them. Meanwhile the twelve Wellingtons were flying at 6000 feet in a very precise formation, four groups long of three aircraft wide, a little closer to one another than was completely comfortable for the pilots, but one that should provide the best hope of having a tight pattern of bombs.

With Flak shells bursting all around them the bomb aimers squeezed the release mechanism and twenty-four bombs fell to earth. The weight of the bombs meant that they penetrated down into the earth and concrete before exploding. While the explosive charges weren’t strong it was enough to produce big craters and seriously damage the infrastructure of the dockyard.

Only one bomb actually struck the Tirpitz. It hit the port forward secondary armament 15cm turret. Penetrating the 40mm top armour it destroyed the turret and badly damaged its mounting.

Behind the Wellingtons was a force of Hampdens which sowed the Jade estuary with magnetic mines, in the hope that if the decision was taken to move the Tirpitz that she would run into a mine and be further disabled.

Two Wellingtons were damaged by flak, one of which had to ditch in the North Sea. Part of the Beaufighters’ task was in the case of a 301 equipped bomber was lost the heavy fighter should attempt to make sure that the whole aircraft did not fall into enemy hands. The pilot of the Beaufighter circled the stricken aircraft, calling for an air-sea rescue boat to come and pick up the crew. Once he saw the bomber’s crew were safely removed from the bomber, he hastened it demise with a long burst of 2omm shells. In fact, the navigator of the Wellington was awarded a posthumous Air Force Medal for destroying the equipment as the plane was ditching. One Beaufighter shot down a Me110 that had been sent up to intercept, without radar of its own, it was a sitting duck for the Beaufighter pilot. A further two Hampdens failed to return to base.

Work on repairing the dockyard and Tirpitz would add a few extra months to its delivery date. It was decided to leave it where it was as the mining had been spotted and the Germans had no easy countermeasures for dealing with magnetic mines.

13 August 1940. Copenhagen. Denmark.

King Christian X rode his horse through the streets of his capital city, as he did every day. Without guards it was a sign of normalcy, and in some kind of way a sign of resistance. The people had been no great lovers of their king, but now something as simple as this, brought them consolation.

With the liberation of most of Belgium and parts of Holland had held out some hope that Denmark itself would be liberated. The loss of exports to Britain hurt the economy, and while the Germans were increasing their orders for Danish produce they were paying in Reichmarks rather than sterling. Danish farmers were also less inclined to work as hard to send off their produce to a country that had invaded and was occupying them.

So far Denmark had had very little damage from the war. The main place where there had been significant conflict was around the air base at Aalborg. Attempts to repair it and use it against Norway were hampered as it was regularly attacked from bases in Norway, whose air force recognised the danger of an airfield that close.

Norway had taken delivery of a number of new aircraft from the United States of America, these included Curtis Hawk 75s and Lockheed Hudsons (which the British had passed on to them). The Fleet Air Arm were also transitioning some squadrons through to support as much they could. What was making a difference was the arrival of some mobile radar units that allowed the Norwegian defences be better prepared for German attacks. Over the summer months a few satellite airstrips were prepared to provide the ability to disperse the aircraft better.

The remnant of the Danish Army/Navy Air Corps had fled first to Norway, then went to England for retraining, along with some Czechs and Poles. The Dutch and Belgians were flying over their home countries, and the Danes, Czechs and Poles were now flying over Norway mostly in Hurricanes. With the Spitfire Mk II now being produced a number of ex-RAF Spitfire Is were now becoming available. One Danish pilot flew his Spitfire, clearly marked in Danish colours across Copenhagen at low level to show his countrymen that the war continued. The fact that he was later reprimanded for pulling a stunt like that didn’t bother him too much.

The Luftwaffe had been so busy over Belgium and France that if very rarely attacked Norway anymore, expect if there were raids on Berlin or other German cities, and then revenge attacks were made. It was something of a stalemate over the Skagerrak.

14 August 1940. Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (MEXE). Christchurch, Dorset. England.

Colonel Thompson of the Royal Engineers had supervised the development of the Bailey Bridge and today was the trial of the first prototype, which was going to go over Mother Siller's Channel which cuts through the Stanpit Marshes at the confluence of the rivers Avon and Stour. The pieces of the flat truss bridge had been fabricated in Chepstow by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering, a firm already confident with welding techniques. Some of their engineers were here, along with 274th Field Company of the Royal Engineers. Belonging to the 9th Highland Division, a TA division that was still gearing up for war, this company had been chosen to see how an ordinary unit would cope with the new bridge. They had been trained on the Inglis bridge and it would be interesting to get their feedback on using this new bridge.

After a morning’s instruction from both civilian and military engineers, the 274th Field Company waited for the whistle that would signal their exercise. They very quickly got the hang of the way it was designed to be put together, urged on by their officers they also got into a simple rhythm. While it was heavy work in the sunshine the bridge took shape quickly enough. In two hours, they completed a 40-foot span. Looking at their achievement, they were clear that with practice, the time could be improved upon.

The men from the ministry of supply were suitably impressed and a contract for was placed immediately with Fairfields to produce this bridging equipment. A number of other companies would also be approached. To ensure the interchangeability of the parts, each company would build a bridge, to which the new parts were added, then the older parts dismantled, and sent off for delivery. Efforts were made to interest other countries in this British invention. The Dutch government in exile and the Belgians were particularly keen, since so many of their country’s bridges were already destroyed. The Dutch in fact had already made a significant investment in the design costs. In an unusual innovation, a couple of American Army engineers had been invited to Dorset for the prototype build. They were keen to have it, if a deal could be done to allow American firms to build it under license.

14 August 1940. Cherbourg. France.

Another convoy had arrived safely from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ships were now being unloaded both here and in St Nazaire. As well as grain and other foodstuffs, the main cargo was motor transport. The Ford and Chevrolet factories had been producing trucks at a prodigious rate for the last few months, and these ships carried the first batch. These Canadian Military Pattern trucks, built with right hand drive were in various forms, but the most important were the three-ton trucks. When the BEF had been mobilised and shipped to France it had taken up a great deal of its motor transport from civilian stocks, and so butchers’ and grocers’ trucks had received a coat of green paint and used by the army.

The CMP trucks, although built by the two rival firms, were in fact largely interchangeable. The three tonners were in both long and short wheel bases, and had good reliable engines. They also came in a variety of forms, such as general service, water and petrol tankers, artillery tractors and vehicle recovery (tow trucks). Members of the Royal Army Service Corps had been transported to the docks, and these helped the get the vehicles roadworthy. In due course they drove them off to their depots, with a very reasonable chance of arriving without breaking down, and that made them happy men. To make things even better each truck had carried a certain number of spare parts in it as it crossed the Atlantic, meaning that if anything did go wrong, the army would have parts to fix them.

15 August 1940. Flugplatz Maldegem. Belgium.

The roar of Merlin engines was well known at this forward airbase, and today two new squadrons of Spitfire IIs arrived to take up residence. It had been upgraded since May. Concrete had replaced the grass strips. Revetments were dotted around, and a light anti-aircraft regiment were present to defend it. The burnt out remains of some Hurricanes and Gladiators at the side of the airfield a constant reminder to be on guard against German air attacks.

No 1 and 2 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force had arrived in Greenock in May, and were among the first to be trained on the new Spitfires. Now declared operational, and renamed 401 and 402 squadrons, they were to be based here in Belgium. The Canadians, some of whom wore Eagle badges on their arms and aircraft, would be sharing this particular air field with a Belgian ground attack squadron flying Hurribombers.

More and more of the RAF’s infrastructure was being moved to France and Belgium, including elements of the Civilian Repair Operation. The earlier fighting had seen RAF squadrons departing their stations in England, fighting over France and Belgium, then landing back in England, where the planes would be repaired and maintained, before doing it all again the next day. With the stability of the front line, and the hope of advances, a number of Belgian airfields were improved to be able to move whole squadrons, with their ground crew forward.

Along with Maldegem, the RAF were also using Nivelles, Wevelgem and Sint-Denijs-Westrem for their Belgian Wing. This was made up of 8 squadrons of Spitfire IIs. Altogether things were improving for the RAF. Even before the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme would provide new pilots in the autumn, the monthly average of 200 new pilots a month at the start of the year had been increased to almost 300 by June. It still wasn’t quite enough, only the Canadian and Rhodesian graduates would make up the shortfall when they started to arrive in numbers.

Getting more pilots through the training programme hadn’t been easy. The severe winter weather had taken a toll on the days available for flying. A streamlined system was put in place, with new pilots being kept back in Britain out of the front-line squadrons to give them more experience in Operational Training Units. After further instruction by veterans who were being rested after a time on the front line. Once they had acquired enough hours on the aircraft, and shown improvements in tactics and better gunnery essential for combat, the new pilots were moved to squadrons as replacements for casualties.

The lull in the last couple of months had allowed the RAF to introduce the upgraded Spitfire. The Hurribomber now in production had the improved Merlin, and crucially better armoured protection from ground fire. Numbers for both these aircraft were building up again, but the aircraft production was greater than newly trained pilots, leading to an increase in available aircraft in reserve. To help with numbers the RAF accepted the transfer of three Polish Squadrons from the AdA.

The AdA had taken on only a tenth of the Polish pilots who had arrived before May, at that point their lack of aircraft was a liability. The 150 they had taken were given poor aircraft, but had shown willing to fight. The survivors were now moving to better aircraft. The others, many of whom had been bomber pilots had either been spread out in reserve squadrons or acting as ground crew. The Poles were keen to get into the fight and the RAF had aircraft that were available. There had been some resistance to the idea, some officers would have preferred to have allocated the Polish pilots among a number of RAF squadrons. But the Poles wanted to fight together, to be the seed of an independent Polish air force. This was granted, though they had to accept some RAF officers to help with communication, such as "Shut up! Silence - in Polish!"

17 August 1940. RAF Bichester. England.

The second prototype Halifax bomber was getting ready for its first flight. The first prototype had flown on 25 October 1939, but a series of changes were ordered for the second prototype. The first was for improved power. The original Merlin engine was replaced with the Hercules III, producing 1650 HP, which were now being built.

The wing had been expanded to 104 feet 2 inches, which increased the service ceiling. The fuselage had been stressed to allow it carry more fuel, extending its range. The tail rudder shape was changed to a rectangular shape as the first prototype had problems with directional stability. The overall length was increased by the fitting of a new nose, without a forward firing turret. The decision to reduce the aircraft’s defensive armament was the subject to much debate. The facility to place a single gun in the nose was added, but not on this prototype. There was also discussion about using a ventral turret, but it wasn’t felt that the bomber would be better protected and that the weight saving in speed and height would be better.

The main change was internal to its bomb bay. Its bomb load was still 12000lbs, but as originally designed, it wouldn’t take large diameter bombs. The wing bomb cells were removed to increase the fuel storage. The top turret had been removed so that the bomb bay could be deepened so that it could carry the proposed 4000lb cookie bomb satisfactorily.

Taking to the skies the second prototype out performed its predecessor dramatically, and the Air Ministry were confident enough in it to order 400.

17 August 1940 Ravenstein, The Netherlands.

Lieutenant Edward Kilbane, now commanding A Squadron, 5th Royal Innisikilling Dragoon Guards was watching the Germans on the far side of the river Meuse (known as the Mass in this part of the Netherlands). Accompanied by Sergeant McNaughton they had crept forward out of sight to this observation post and were examining the enemy positions through the set of binoculars he had taken off a German Reconnaissance officer back in May. The optics were much better than the ones he had been issued with, and he liked the idea of using them against their makers and former owners.

Things were pretty quiet in this sector, a live and let live attitude had grown up between the troops on opposite sides of the river. That wasn’t to say that some idiot wouldn’t take it upon themselves to start sniping or starting something up, so Kilbane and McNaughton kept their heads down and their voices hushed. There was no great sign of any changes from the last time they had done this, perhaps some evidence of the Germans digging in deeper and it looked like they had done a bit of work with camouflage.

After marking everything they noted on a map, they made their way back to their own positions, where their light tanks were themselves heavily camouflaged. When they were out of sight of the enemy, they carried on the debate which seemed to be the topic of conversation throughout the army. McNaughton was of the opinion that having another phoney war wasn’t helping anyone but the Germans. They had been thrown back on their heels and it made no sense to stop here on this river. If the advance had carried on, they could well be on the Rhine by now.

Kilbane couldn’t help but agree that sitting here was frustrating. But he argued there were a number of issues that halting the advance was necessary. Logistics was a big part of it. There was a need to resupply the army that had moved further and further from its base of operations in France. It took longer for rations and ammunition, fuel and everything else to be brought forward. Supplies were now being built up in Belgium, so when the next big push kicked off, they have all they needed at hand. Secondly the French had taken a beating at Sedan, but had held on. Now that the Germans had taken the pressure off, the French were getting themselves sorted out, but it would probably take a while before they were ready to go on the offensive. Likewise, the Belgians were having to rebuild their army.

As for the BEF, as most of the men still called it, it was much stronger now. Auchinleck and Wilson the two new army commanders were in place now, and getting to know their units. The fact that there was now a full armoured division in each army, meant that when they did attack there would be a better armoured punch. More and more new equipment was arriving, they themselves had just got a better radio, were all signs that when they did attack it would be better coordinated and powerful.

McNaughton replied with the fact it was giving the Germans time to build up their stuff too. When the attack went in, it was likely that the Germans would be better organised, and probably better equipped, there wouldn’t be as many of the light panzers as there had been. Also, if they didn’t get going soon, it would soon be autumn, and that would just slow things down.

18 August 1940. Meeting of senior members of the OKH. Berlin. Germany.

Chief of the Naval General Staff, Admiral Otto Schniewind: So having moved to the four rotor system on our enigma we moved a number of units around, which should have been tempting targets for the British, but they didn’t bite.

Chief of the Wehrmacht General Staff, General Franz Halder: We moved an entire panzer corps and all we saw was increased reconnaissance by French and British planes until they found them.

Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff GeneralOberst Hans Jeschonnek: Likewise we made a number of changes and it seems that “the British Spy” wasn’t able to alert the RAF of them. Our own reconnaissance seemed to show an increased alert all along the Maas front from August 6th when we all started using the new enigma rotor. It would seem that Himmler was looking the wrong place all this time.

Halder: And too many good officers have died for no reason.

Schniewind: So, they were reading our codes after all. Do you think the new enigma will work for long?

Jeschonnek: My cryptographers say it is unbreakable. But they said that about the last one too.

Halder: We’ll have to replace Fritz Boetzel as director of OKW/Chiffrierabteilung. He should have had some idea that the enigma system wasn’t completely safe. I think his deputy was executed by Himmler’s goons. We’ll need to get someone better. Maybe from your department Otto, after all it was your lot that suspected the leak was here.

Schniewind: I’ll look into it and recommend someone later. But I’d be happier moving to a different system altogether. But that will take some research. Perhaps that should be the first order of business for the new director of OKW/Chi?

Jeschonnek: Now, who gets to tell the Fuhrer that we’ve found the spy, and that Himmler had killed a lot of innocent men?

19 August 1940. Singapore.

The arrival of the Entente Fleet was met with great fanfare. A fleet this large hadn’t been seen in East Indies waters for a very long time. HMS Ark Royal and Illustrious along with HMS Eagle flew off their air wings to do a fly past over the fleet then over Singapore itself. Next came the battleships in a line, HMS Nelson, Malaya, Richelieu, Strasbourg, with Repulse following. Then came the cruisers: 18th Cruiser Flotilla (HMS Aurora, Belfast, Edinburgh and Sheffield), with light cruisers Calypso and Caledon. The French 2nd Cruiser Division, Colbert, Duquense and Tourville, with the light cruisers Jean De Vienne and Marseillaise followed. The French 3rd Large Destroyer Division (Guepard, Valmy and Verdun) and the 2nd Destroyer Squadron’s Second Division (Fougueux, Frondeur and L’Adroit) followed the cruisers. The Royal Navy’s HMS Fame, Firedrake, Foresight, Fortune, Bedouin, Eskimo, Punjabi and Tartar brought up the rear.

To complete the review the RN’s East Indies’ 4th Cruiser squadron (HMS Gloucester, Manchester and Liverpool) and China Stations’ 5th Cruiser squadron (HMS Kent, Dorsetshire, Cornwall, and Birmingham) were joined by the French Indo-China station’s cruisers Suffren and Lamotte Picquett. These along with 21st Destroyer Flotilla welcomed the new arrivals.

After a decent run ashore, a series of gruelling exercises and flag flying visits were planned, taking the fleet to Saigon, Manila and Hong Kong.

After all the fanfare was over, in the next few days and weeks various other vessels arrived, some deliberately under the cover of darkness. The 4th Submarine Flotilla was already a strong force based between Singapore and Hong Kong. HMS Rorqual, Grampus, Regent, Rover, Parthian, Olympus, Proteus, Regulus, Rainbow, Phoenix, Perseus, Pandora, Odin, Otus and Orpheus were good long range patrol boats, but the O class were starting to show their age. Three new T class boats would replace the O class boats which would return to Home Fleet. There their crews would be used to man the new diesel-electric submarines that were being completed. It was planned that more of the improved T class and follow-on boats would be used in the East Indies fleet.

A few merchant ships arrived too. For the Royal Navy one had a consignment of Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns and mounts. These were destined for HMS Malaya. As she would become the East Indies flag ship, it was intended that the Singapore facilities should be able to upgrade her AAA ability. There were also some radar sets for both the Malaya and a couple of the cruisers. More Bofors and radars would be delivered as they became available. Another ship carried extra ammunition for the base, both for the ships and the shore batteries. These included a number of HE shells as well as AP. The survey that had been carried out of ammunition stocks had found some deterioration, and work was being done to prevent this from recurring.

The RAF were the recipients of the cargo of some of the other merchant vessels that arrived. With only 84 “first line” aircraft the need for such reinforcement was dire. One carried two squadron’s worth of crated Hurricanes that had been replaced in service by the newer models. Work would have to be done to them to make them fit for work in a tropical climate. Nos 11 and 34 Squadron would transition onto them from their Blenheims. There were also three of the new mobile radar stations. While this wouldn’t give much in the way of coverage beyond Singapore itself initially. It was felt important that the pilots of RAF Far East command should get practice in making ground-controlled interceptions. As 1941 progressed more of radar sets would arrive to provide an adequate early warning system, along with more single engine fighters. Among the passengers were some veteran pilots from the air war in France and Belgium. These men needed a rest, some recovering from injuries, but they would also be able to share some of the lessons with their new squadron mates. A number of Blenheim crews would go back with HMS Eagle to be trained on Beaufighters.

It was planned that when HMS Eagle returned to Home Fleet that she would leave most of her planes in Singapore to add to the air strength. While 18 Swordfish weren’t going to make a huge difference, the Swordfish were an improvement over the Vickers Wildebeests that two squadrons were equipped with. Once production was satisfactory, Beaufighters would start to replace the Blenheims in the other Far East Squadrons. With the increased production of Sunderland flying boats, some of these would start replacing the Short Singapores in Ceylon and Singapore in late 1940.

For the army a consignment of tanks arrived. Four Matilda IIs and four A10s, which had all been recovered from the battlefield and patched up, but not satisfactorily enough for going into action again. The plan was for the various infantry units to have tanks to work with, learning the techniques of cooperation. Likewise, their crews were made up of men who had been wounded, for whom the change to the Far East was judged to be beneficial. It was planned that an armoured brigade would be in place by June 1941.

As well as the tanks, there were also a battery’s worth of new 3.7inch anti-aircraft guns that would increase the defences of one of the new RAF bases. An anti-tank regiments worth of 2-pdrs were also delivered with some Royal Artillery instructors. One of the Indian Army’s battalions would have to learn how to use them, becoming an anti-tank regiment. Two more Indian Army Brigades (6th & 8th) were due to arrive in October, allowing the creation of a full Division. It still fell far short of the estimated minimum of three divisions that would be needed to defend the Malayan coastline. The Australian government was asking that one of the two divisions of the AIF currently in the Middle East, might be reassigned to Singapore. This was being considered, but the need for troops in Belgium and Holland was more keenly felt at the moment.

18 August 1940. Middle East Command. Egypt.

General Wavell thought very carefully how to phrase the next few lines in his letter to General Dill, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Since January he had lost the core of regular troops from his command, replaced by new, mostly green Indians, Australians and New Zealanders. Now he had lost Jumbo Wilson to Second Army, and he was feeling quite aggrieved, especially as the War Office wanted Wilson replaced by Bernard Freyberg. It was important that his letter didn’t convey exactly what he was feeling, the paper would probably combust if he did.

His argument was that the Italians, for all they didn’t look terribly aggressive at the moment, had very strong forces in both Libya and Abyssinia. The British forces in the Middle East should be an effective deterrent to such aggression. If Middle East Command was simply a training command that deterrent was less clear cut. Secondly the Middle East was not really a satisfactory place for training for a war on continental Europe. If Empire troops were to be brought from all corners of the world, would it not be better for them to be shipped directly to Britain or France where mating them with their equipment would be more straightforward?

Thirdly the situation with the RAF was becoming very difficult. Obviously, the losses in air crew at the front was a terrible cause for concern, but substituting experienced pilots and observers from Middle East Command for barely trained replacements meant that his command’s already weak air contingent was even weaker now. Fourthly, while Bernard Freyberg was a hero and fine man, he was too inexperienced to be given command of all British troops in Egypt. It would be better to leave him as Divisional commander of the New Zealanders and send out someone more experienced from Britain.

Wavell looked over what he had written to see if it could be phrased more delicately, but short of offering his resignation if Freyberg was appointed, there was little else he could say.

20 August 1940. War Office. London, England.

Official 1: So we’re agreed that 54th (East Anglian) Division, will join 43rd (Wessex) Division and the 2nd Canadian Division to become VII Corps?

Official 2: Yes, and that only leaves 55th (West Lancs) Division, as the last first line Territorial division. All the others are already in play.

Official 3: No, you’ve forgotten the Cavalry Division. They aren’t assigned anywhere.

Official 1: Well, what are we meant to do with them? The obvious thing is mechanise them, but we won’t have the tanks to do that for some time yet.

Official 2: Why not send them off to the Middle East?

Official 3: Wavell’s already at the end of his tether, as I understand it. If we transfer the ANZACs to Belgium, and replace them with a Cavalry Division, he’ll go through the roof.

Official 2: Wavell’s blood pressure isn’t our concern. We need three armies in Belgium, which is nine Corps, 27 Divisions, plus all the divisional troops. We so far have six Corps. O the two new Corps, VI are at Arras and will be operational in a month or so. VII Corps will be ready by November. The ANZACs joining in would make that a third army. Ready before Christmas.

Official 1: But there is no armoured Division in that army. How is the 3rd Armoured Division doing?

Official 3: It is proposed that it should be made up of the six Royal Tank Regiments which were converted from infantry territorials, so that would be: 21st Armoured Brigade: 40th (The King's) 41st (Oldham), and 42nd Royal Tank Regiments. Then 22nd Armoured Brigade: 43rd, 44th and 45th (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiments. So far, the lack of tanks is the hampering factor.

Official 2: They’ll need an infantry Brigade too, probably need to be one of the new Mechanised too.

Official 1: 6 Tank battalions will need the best part of 400 tanks. What’s the current tank production running at?

Official 3: Last month was the first where it got over 200. This month the same, next month should be 250, and that should rise again to about 350 by December. Two thirds will be Cruiser tanks and one third Infantry Tanks are the proportions for those figures.

Official 2: That’s not bad. Presuming that 21st Armoured Brigade are equipped with this month’s production, the 22nd Armoured Brigade should be equipped at the end of September. That means they should be deployable November.

Official 1: We still need Mechanised Infantry to round it out to an Armoured Division.

Official 3: Why not split up 55th (West Lancs) Division? They already were training as motorised infantry. If their brigades were mechanised then they could join 3rd and presumably 4th Armoured when it comes along?

Official 2: 56th Division is getting priority for all the armoured trucks at the moment, but it would be sensible to make 55th next in line. 4th Armoured Division will be who?

Official 1: Why not the Cavalry Division? If they get October and November’s tank production, then they will be ready to deploy in the new year.

Official 3: That is all presuming that the artillery and engineers are keeping pace with expansion. To say nothing of all the other equipment needed.

Official 2: The Territorials are coming on well. As each Territorial Division has its own assigned territorial gunners, engineers, transport etc. Like everything else it has been a rush getting them all equipped, but so far that has gone well.

Official 1: I suppose the next question is the second line territorials. There are twelve of them, though a few are already in Belgium.

Official 3: Yes, 15th, 23rd and 46th were line of communications troops, but have been mustered and equipped as V Corps under Alexander and seem to be doing well. We’ve earmarked 9th (Highland), 12th (Scottish) and 47th (London) as Line of Communications troops and they’re getting ready to move. They’ll fulfil their duties while continuing training and coming up to full strength equipment wise.

Official 2: Two of them, with 4th Armoured will presumably become VIII Corps, which should be the basis of 4th Army. I think we’re to get another Canadian Division, possibly armoured, and they’ll probably want to create a Canadian Corps, so there will have to be some readjustment in the future.

Official 1: I can see 4th Army being an Empire army. I Canadian Corps, ANZACs and an Indian Corps. Aussies, Maoris and Gurkhas, with some Canadian Scots bagpipers. That would be some combination!

Officials 2 & 3: (gulp)

20 August 1940. The Royal Palace. Bucharest. Romania.

Gheorghe Tătărescu, Prime Minister of Romania, entered the room and paid his respects to King Carol II. He was accompanied by Mihail Moruzov, the head of the Romanian Secret Service, who likewise honoured his king. King Carol listened to their report of the attempts to keep Romania out of the war, and not antagonise either side too much. Basically, King Carol was pro-Entente, and the Entente had guaranteed his country’s neutrality. With the Germans over the borders with Poland and the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia on one side. The Soviet Union being on the other side, he was somewhat hemmed in. While the continued fighting on the Western Front made it less likely that the Germans would invade, there was a fairly serious threat implied in the last missive he had received from Berlin.

The supply of oil products was of course the subject of this communication. In the first three months of 1940 the British and French had bought four times the amount of oil from Romania than had been supplied to Germany (428343 tons v 103821 tons). In March, the Germans had signed a new agreement for 130000 tons per month, at a slightly increased price. The British offered Romania credits to not to increase this amount. At the beginning of May, Herman Neubacher, the German chargé d’affairs in economic matters with the Romanian Legation, had attempted to renegotiate the price and quantity. The Romanians, claiming that they did not have the facility to increase the delivery, bought some time. Now however the latest communication from Berlin noted that each month there had been a shortfall in delivery of the agreed tonnage, and sought both an increase in delivery and a decrease in price, in fact, they were looking to half the price they paid. The oil would be paid for by armaments (mostly captured Polish equipment) for the Romanian army. The subsequent implied threat was not very subtle.

For the Romanians, the threat was taken seriously. There was no direct way for the Entente powers to come to their aid if the Germans did invade, and the Romanian army would struggle to resist for very long. With Turkey remaining neutral, an Entente military force would be unlikely to be able to enter the Black Sea to come to their aid that way. The nature of the war in the West was such that even with the best of intentions, very little aid would be available to help the Romanians hold out.

To add to their worries, King Carol had also received notification from Moscow that they wanted to take back the former Russian territories which had been given to Romania at the Treaty of Versailles, namely Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. The fact that both the German and Soviet communications had come within days of one another was understood to be part of the threat. Like Poland, if they resisted a German attack, they could well face a Soviet knife in the back too. It seemed that their ability to remain neutral was undermined by the presence of their oil industry. Without it they would probably be left alone.

To discuss these matters, the King ordered an aide to bring the British and French ambassadors into the meeting. Sir Reginald Hoare and Adrien Thierry were well known in the palace and by the Prime Minister. They were accompanied by their military attachés, who were clearly representing the SIS and Deuxième Bureau, both men knew Mihail Moruzov very well. Having paid their respects to King Carol, the quandary that the Romanians found themselves in was communicated quite clearly.

The situation was not unlike the Swedish problem with iron ore. The Romanians continued to ship oil to the Entente through the Black Sea. Britain and France were prepared to make a commercial deal to buy the entire spare Romanian output for above market value. Surely a neutral country would be better off selling its produce for a better price, in hard currency, which the Germans were less than willing to do. The only counter to the German threat, and here the two ambassadors were honest enough not to promise military aid, was to do again in 1940 what was done in 1916. At that point in the Great War, as part of the total blockade of Germany by the Western powers, 1600 oil derricks, 26 refineries, oil tanks and over 800000 tons of oil derivatives were destroyed. The Romanian government went along with this, and the German occupiers had to spend a great deal of effort to get production going again. However, in the post-war period the promised compensation wasn’t as forthcoming as Britain and France had agreed, eventually Romanian debt was cancelled in its place.

This time however, both Britain and France were in a better financial position than they had been in 1918. The ambassadors also presented letters from the main oil companies promising that they would take up the task of putting the Romanian oil industry back on its feet after any such destruction.

Moruzov was aware that a French mission, under Leon Wenger (an engineer who had worked with the British in 1916) and Captain Pierre Angot (Deuxième Bureau) had examined the Romanian oil industry. They had then formulated a complete plan for blocking traffic on the Danube to Germany (such as sinking a couple of concrete filled barges at the Iron Gate) and the destruction of the oil producing and refining capacity of Romania. Moruzov was also aware of the German Abwehr’s plans to form an “oil protection” detail to counter such a plan.

This was Romania’s only counter-threat. If the Germans (and/or Soviets) invaded, then Romania could follow a scorched earth policy that would make such an invasion counter-productive.

Hoare and Thierry’s Attachés also gave King Carol an up-to-date assessment of the war in France and Belgium and of the problems that the German failure to knock France out of the war quickly had caused. The fundamental weakness of Germany was its economy. It just wasn’t ready for an extended war. And the weakest point of the German economy was its lack of oil. If Romania would either stop selling oil altogether to Germany, or keep its levels below the 130000 tons needed per month, it would not be long until the whole German war machine came to a grinding halt.

King Carol, as a cousin of King George, and his half-Jewish mistress, were also offered asylum in Great Britain, or any of its territories, in the event of Romania falling under German domination. The King thanked the emissaries, and continued the discussions with his advisors alone.

21 August 1940. Office of First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound. Admiralty. London

Pound looked up from the report he was reading and looked at the author, Captain Hugo White, who later described the look as “withering”. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of Operation Catherine, by any chance?”

In fact most people in the Royal Navy in the 1980’s knew of Churchill’s “fantasy” of putting a strong fleet into the Baltic. He also knew that Pound had resisted it with every fibre of his being. “Actually, we studied the plan at Dartmouth, it was part of the curriculum.” Pound’s mouth was slightly agape for a moment or two while he processed that piece of information, “What exactly did you learn from that particular study?” White started to feel a little like a midshipman hauled up before the Captain to answer to some terrible crime.

“Operation Catherine was an example of an unrealistic solution to a particular problem. It also lacked specific objectives, it was going to try to do too many things, and by going after too many it would probably fail in all of them. It would have been disastrous if implemented. The use of air power over capital ships wasn’t understood in 1939, so even if the frankly unbelievable changes had been made to the three battleships, they simply would not have survived in the confined waters of the Baltic or its approaches. While it is good to have an offensive mind-set, this should not overwhelm reason.” White was quite pleased with his answer, he thought he had remembered the lessons quite well.

Pound saw the opening. “In that case, Captain White, perhaps you might assess your own plan with that in mind. First what exactly is the objective? Second, what cost do you suppose your plan will be in terms of ships and men? Third, how can you describe this plan as reasonable?”

White had spent some time in the plans department of the Admiralty, looking at defending the shipping lanes of the Atlantic from a vast host of Soviet submarines. He was no fool, and he knew it was important to communicate that to his new boss.

“Well Sir, firstly the objective is to degrade the German fleet to the point that it either cannot leave port or ceases to exist, in other words to own them. If we succeed in that objective then the Baltic will be part of the overall blockade of Germany. Secondly, the cost in lives and vessels is likely to heavy. Of the ten submarines we have tried to get into the Baltic, five have been lost and two damaged, only three were unscathed. My calculations are that our losses will be less than this, possibly 33% of submarines taking part, and the losses in aircraft might be similar.

Thirdly, the differences between Operation Catherine and this are multiple. The vessels we propose to use are designed for this very type of warfare, with all the advantages that brings, no turning battleships into turtles. This is pure offensive, sinking every German boat in range. In my history their U boats nearly strangled us and the battle of the Atlantic was a close-run thing. Operation Nelson will do unto them as they wish to do unto us.”

Pound leaned back in his chair. “I admire your enthusiasm, Captain, I really do. But this just seems too…radical.” “Sir, we have successfully put the German fleet on the back foot. If we can hit them one more time, a decisive blow in their backyard, then the Royal Navy will have taken the Kriegsmarine out of the war entirely, in less than a year, and a proportionately low cost.” White could feel his enthusiasm getting the better of him, so he deliberately took a few deep breaths. Pound could see that White’s plan was at least well developed and had merit. He also knew if Churchill got hold of it, it’d be an “action this day” order. “Operation Nelson, I see, a reference to Copenhagen?” White was ready for that one, “Yes, hopefully as successful and hard fought, but with a clear signal to withdraw at discretion.” “And I suppose any submarine officer who’s got a clue about this can’t wait to get into it?” White smiled slightly, “Yes sir, a bigger bunch of pirates never sailed the seven seas. I thought destroyer captains were aggressive, but the dolphins would be better called great white sharks.”

Pound turned to Vice Admiral Max Horton, commander of the Submarine fleet. “You took your submarine into the Baltic in the Great War, didn’t you Max?” “I did indeed sir, the old E9.” Pound nodded, one of the bars on the DSO ribbon Horton was wearing was awarded for that. Pound asked him, “So you agree with this plan, Max, do you think it will shorten the war?” “I think it could sink a lot of German ships, whether that will shorten the war, I’m not sure. My two concerns are mines and Sweden. A large part of the German defences relies on mines, and submarines don’t do well against mines. It would be better if we had the Onyx’s sophisticated mine avoidance sonar in our boats, but that’s too far off. Even with that, I believe the mines are thick enough at some points that there is no avoiding them.

The other question is Sweden. There is a real possibility of entering their territorial waters, and we don’t want to upset them. While I have no particular fears about their anti-submarine capacity, they’re probably even worse than the Germans, we can’t have our subs sinking neutral ships, causing all sorts of diplomatic repercussions.”

Pound turned to White, “So what do you say to that?” White had already had this discussion with Horton, “Regarding mines, there is little we could do. To clear paths we would need to bring surface ships, minesweepers, into a hostile environment. Then we would need bigger ships to protect the little ships and before you know it, we’re back of Operation Catherine. The Wellingtons with the magnetic mine exploders, the DWIs, from Coastal Command will try to knock off any magnetic mines. But otherwise, there isn’t much we can do. Obviously, the Fleet Air Arm and RAF will need to provide a lot of support, and while I’m sure of the FAA, crab air might be more of a problem.

As for Swedish neutrality, we’ll just have to order the captains to do their best. If they have any sense, when they see German ships being torpedoed all over the place, then they’ll stay away. A friendly word of warning that something is happening in their neighbourhood probably won’t go amiss.”

Pound frowned. The desire to do something made it very tempting to do anything. The choice was to do nothing, living with the idea that the Germans were boxed in the Baltic. Or risk the largest part of the submarine service to possibly remove them from the board entirely. White and Horton looked at one another, Pound was obviously giving it serious consideration. “Right. I’ve thought about it, and the answer’s ‘no’. If the German navy want to lock themselves away in the Baltic, they can wither there on the vine. By all means increase surveillance in the Skagerrak to make sure they don’t try to break out, but I don’t think we should try to break in. If you’re right about the Bismark coming out of Hamburg and heading for the Kiel Canal, then yes, that’s worth an attempt, but otherwise, no to Nelson. Sorry.”

23 August 1940. Air Ministry. London, England.

Official 1: There is a proposal here to transfer the defence of all airfields to the RAF: “In the light of German attacks on Norwegian and Danish airfields by paratroopers to capture them for enemy use, a force formed from the RAF, should have responsibility for the protection of their own airfields.”

Official 2: Does that include anti-aircraft artillery?

Official 1: No, just the physical defences from possible saboteurs, or paratroopers, or in case of invasion.

Official 3: Invasion? How on earth would the Germans manage that?

Official 2: I suppose the chaps in France and Belgium would be more worried about that kind of thing.

Official 1: Sounds like the War Office trying to shift some of their budget onto ours. If the RAF has to train ground pounders to look after our airfields that will cost us money rather than the army doing it for us.

Official 3: On the other hand, some of the regiments that are currently “defending” our airfields spend more time trying to chat up the WAAFs than anything else. I’m not sure just how well they’d manage if push came to shove.

Official 2: I suppose the RAF armoured car companies in the Middle East set a precedent.

Official 1: There’s precedent, and there’s taking liberties.

Official 2: I suppose having RAF men with the right attitude looking after our aircraft makes more sense, at least they could be trained to understand priorities in terms of air operations.

Official 3: For the new drafts of men we can’t place in technical schemes or such like, could be trained in infantry skills and having gone through an RAF induction they would be RAF-minded.

Official 1: But some ground pounder would need to train them up to the appropriate level.

Official 2: If they’re going to be taken seriously, they’ll need to have a training course better than the infantry. Why not use the Royal Marines, at least they have an idea of what it is like being an auxiliary of the brown jobs?

Official 3: If it has to be the brown jobs, maybe the brigade of Guards?

Official 1: The Marines provide defence of naval ports and such, they at least would have a clue for that kind of thing.

Official 2: Do you mean ask them to do an improved marine course, without the boat bits?

Official 3: I suppose so. I still think we should start thinking about AA defence too, maybe light AA initially.

Official 1: We could put that into our recommendation. Now what shall we call this outfit?

Official 2: The Defenders of the RAF?

Official 3: The RAF Defence Regiment?

Official 1: Maybe just the RAF Regiment?

Official 2: That sounds about right.

Official 1: Right you are, The RAF Regiment.

25 August 1940. Castle Bromwich. Birmingham. England.

Man from the Air Ministry: So all the bombs missed?

Manager: Yes the nearest fell about 500 yards away. But it was a bit of a close-run thing. A fair bit of production was lost in the night shift with the workers taking cover in the shelters. Even after the ‘all clear’, it took a while to get everybody back to work. Some of the women were quite frightened.

Man from the Air Ministry: Yours wasn’t the only one. There were raids on Rolls Royce’s Derby plant and Supermarine in Southampton too. No direct hits anywhere. We think the Germans lost six or seven planes in the raid here, and a good few in the other places too. Though how they got so close during the night is a worry.

Manager: Do you think there’s somebody shining a light or making some other kind of signal for them?

Man from the Air Ministry: It can’t be ruled out, and I believe the police are investigating that possibility. The Army are bringing another anti-aircraft battery and searchlight unit to add to what’s already here. The night fighter squadrons are also going on higher alert, one is probably going to be brought back from France.

Manager: They said before the war that the bomber will always get through, I just never thought they would get through to here.

Man from the Air Ministry: Well, to be honest, I think they’re getting pretty desperate. They’ve seen your Spitfires in operation and want to stop them being built. It is almost a complement.

Manager: They keep that compliment to themselves. Anyway, I suppose you want the latest figures?

Man from the Air Ministry: Yes actually, that’s why I came. The changeover to the Mark II in May took you down a good bit. But June and July’s numbers please, and the expectation for August.

Manager: Well, June was 45, it was lower because we were still getting up to speed in the first week. Then July was 62, and subject to more raids, we’re on course for 66 in August.

Man from the Air Ministry: I remember when Lord Nuffield promised we’d have sixty a week from here! We really need you to get to over 100 per month as quickly as possible. To help with that we’ll keep the Mark II exactly as it is until the Mark III is ready for production. No changing of specs or tweaking this or that. Just build them as fast as you can. Now there’s another thing. The RAF have been complaining that there’s a shortage of spare parts. We need you to increase aircraft production, but don’t do it artificially by reducing the production of spare parts, otherwise they’ll have to cannibalise some fighters to keep others in the air.

Manager: Well, that’s a change. All we’ve been getting pressure on was production of finished aircraft. If you want the full range of spares, it will affect the monthly total, maybe as much as 10%. If you want us to get to over 100 aircraft a month, I can’t see that happening until January. We’ve been increasing the workforce, and that is going well, but there is still the occasional hiccup while we’re waiting for deliveries from sub-contractors.

Man from the Air Ministry: Some of my colleagues are dealing with that as we speak.

Manager: Are there any contingencies for dispersal if there are more raids?

Man from the Air Ministry: I can’t see the Luftwaffe taking the kind of losses they did last night for long. I don’t think we have to worry overmuch at this stage. As for dispersal, for here, there’s not really much of a plan at the moment. But we’ve brought forward a lot of new capacity in the south of England to increase production. These are spread out and being brought to two new assembly factories at Salisbury and Trowbridge. If the Eastleigh plant in Southampton is damaged, these will be the dispersal centres, with another at Reading if need be.

Manager: Well, I suppose I ought to get back to work.

Man from the Air Ministry: Pass on a ‘well done’ to your workforce, they deserve it. But, please add a ‘Let’s do even better’.

26 August 1940. RAF Bentley Priory.

Air Marshall Hugh Dowding: That’s two nights running there have been large raids. All aimed at our aircraft industry. What have we learned?

Air Vice Marshall Sholto Douglas: We picked up the German beams coming from Cleves and near the Danish border, just as predicted.

Professor R V Jones: We added the counter measures which meant that all the bombs missed the targets. Though I think there were some civilian casualties?

Dowding: I’m afraid so, but that is the German’s fault entirely, please do not take any burden upon yourself. Most of their bombs fell on farmland.

Douglas: We have four night-fighter squadrons, 600, 604, 219, and 29. The first three are all on a mix of Beaufighters and Blenheims and they brought down twenty Heinkels the first night and fifteen last night. Nearly all by the Beaufighters in those squadrons. You can see the difference, 29 Squadron are still in Blenheims and only got one and two. As far as we can tell, four enemy bombers were brought down by AA fire. That means that 42 bombers were shot down out of something like 400, which is going to hurt Fat Herman pretty hard. We lost three, one Beaufighter and two Blenheims, but these seem to have been accidents rather than enemy action.

Jones: We’ve been trying to get the AA guns radar controlled but that is progressing too slowly. We just can’t produce enough radar sets fast enough. Also, the proximity fuzes will help with that, but while Pye is making good progress we won’t see mass production for some time.

Dowding: The Beaufighter really is a godsend. I believe 29 Squadron are due to transition next. The high success rate seems to be down to having two bites at the cherry, attacking on the way to the target and again as Jerry was withdrawing. A Flight Lieutenant John Cunningham of 604 squadron got three himself. We must keep an eye on him. The fact that they went for the Midlands and Southampton helped extend their time in range.

Douglas: I think the fact that the transition to the Beaufighters has been done by flights, rather than taking the whole squadron out at any one time, certainly helped. By the end of September all four squadrons will completely on Beaus.

Dowding: We will need a good few more squadrons of them too, if Jerry keeps trying night attacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempts to do to London what he did to Paris. We must keep the pain threshold too high for him. I sincerely hope they don’t go back to daylight bombing. So many of our home-based squadrons are full of new, untried, pilots, or worse, are at below par manning levels. We really need more pilots.

Douglas: The first class of the Air Training Plan have got their wings in Canada and are being shipped over to join OTUs in September. We should see an improvement shortly.

Jones: I thought the Poles and Danes and others were helping?

Dowding: Yes, they are. But if the Luftwaffe are starting to go on the offensive again, we can be sure that our casualty rate will increase.

Late August-early September 1940. South and East China Seas.

The Entente Fleet had sailed up from Singapore and conducted exercises off French Indo-China. The French warships entering Saigon with great fanfare. After a suitable run ashore, the fleet had sailed to Hong Kong, where the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, along with 5th Battalion of 2nd Punjab regiment practiced reinforcing the Hong Kong garrison. The Hong Kong Brigade was made up of 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, 2nd Bn Middlesex Regiment, 1st Kumoan Rifles, 19th Hyderabad Regiment. The two newly arrived Battalions were used to test the defences of the Gin Drinkers Line of defences. Progress was watched very carefully from a distance by the local Japanese occupation troops, who noted the difficulty that the attackers had. The close cooperation with the naval aircraft working off the three carriers was also rehearsed.

While these exercises were taking place the troop ships that had brought the two battalions sailed to Shanghai with a strong naval presence. It had been decided that the two regular battalions (1st Seaforth Highlanders & 2nd East Surrey), along with all other military personnel, would be withdrawn from the Shanghai International Settlement. The French troops would also be withdrawn and redeployed to Indochina.

The Americans, on being informed of, this decided to keep the Marine Corps detachment where it was. The offer to European settlers in Shanghai to be relocated away from the Sino-Japanese war was only taken up by a small number. The two British battalions would join the Hong Kong Brigade, along with 5th Battalion of 2nd Punjab Regiment to create a Kowloon Brigade. Plans to upgrade the anti-aircraft regiments and artillery were in place and more reinforcements would arrive over the next year. Likewise, the RAF would also improve its position as things in Malaya improved.

From Hong Kong the fleet sailed south to fly the flag in the Philippines. The American Asiatic Fleet sailed out to exercise with the Entente Fleet, treating it as if it were an invasion fleet. Admiral Hart’s defence plan relied on using his submarines to whittle down the invasion fleet. They found the British anti-submarine defences stronger than they presumed, and the presence of the Swordfish flying from the three carriers further hampered submarine operations. The three carriers also provided air cover for the fleet from Filipino/American Army Air Force assets flying from Clark Air Force Base. A force of Martin B10s from 20th Bomb Squadron, escorted by 3rd Pursuit Squadron’s P26 Peashooters, attempted to intercept the Entente Fleet but found themselves outclassed by the Fulmars and Sea Hurricanes of HMS Illustrious and Ark Royal.

The exercises continued for a few days with the Americans sorely outclassed, a full report of which was sent back urgently to Washington. During the run ashore the Gordon Highlanders with French and Royal Marines provided an opposition force that also showed up glaring deficiencies in the preparedness of the Filipino and American forces.

Leaving the Philippines, the Entente fleet sailed south to exercise with the Dutch East Indies forces. Reinforced by some elements of the fleet that had escaped from home waters when the Germans invaded, the Dutch fleet put up a creditable performance, particularly its submarine force. The weakness of the Dutch airpower was manifest, and the Dutch were looking at improving this as quickly as they could.

The Entente Fleet then sailed back to Singapore. HMS Malaya (which became the Flagship) was accepted as part of the East Indies fleet along with three cruisers (Aurora, Belfast and Calypso) and four destroyers (Foresight, Fortune, Bedouin, Eskimo). HMS Illustrious and Ark Royal, with the majority of the fleet, set sail for home. They would make a morale boosting visit to Australia and then cross the Pacific via the Hawaiian Islands and the Panama Canal. HMS Illustrious would return to Singapore after exercising with the American Pacific fleet at Honolulu. Meanwhile HMS Eagle, with a small escort would make a quicker journey back through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea for home and a much-needed refit.

29 August 1940. Meaux-Esbly Airbase.

Groupes de Chasse de Nuit GCN III/l and II/4, equipped with Potez 631s had been struggling against the Luftwaffe night attacks. While they had practiced some Ground Controlled Interceptions, they had never really mastered it. The plane itself was, like the RAF’s Blenheim nightfighter variant, not really suitable for the role. It was quite slow and was armed only with two forward firing machine guns. On the few occasions when an interception had taken place, the German bombers had been peppered with machine guns bullets, but never actually shot down. The plan to replace the two machine guns with 20mm canons was progressing, and some were having a further six machine guns added in pods under their wings.

Today the French pilots were being shown the Beaufighter with a mark IV AI radar and heavy armament. Only two flights of Beaufighters were available in Belgium and France, and they had been far more successful than the French. Bristol could hardly produce enough Beaufighters for the RAF, so the chance of the French buying some was remote. Building the radar was possible and a spare was being fitted to a Potez for trials. Coupled with further efforts at GCI, it was hoped to put a larger dent in the Luftwaffe efforts.

30 August 1940. Aérodrome Cuers-Pierrefeu.

The French had ordered 81 G36As (Grumman F4Fs) for their two new carriers (Joffre and Painlevé). Having been delivered they were now assembled and armed with 6x 7.5mm machine guns. The Aéronavale squadrons, once they had familiarised themselves with the new type, would take them into battle.

Pierre Lacroix, commander of all Aeronavale Fighter squadrons decided to be the first to take the new aircraft for its test flight. He walked around the aircraft. It was blunt nosed, square tipped and reminded Lacroix of an angry bee.

He strapped himself in, noting it was only a lap belt, a full safety harness would be better. As he increased speed along the runway and took off, he was conscious of having to correct a severe swing, something which would need to be looked at, especially if it repeated itself on landing. For fifteen minutes he put it through its paces. He found her tough, fiery and a beautiful little aeroplane. Its maximum speed was just a little above 500km/h. On landing Lacroix found the same swing. He had a word with the ground crew about it. One of them suggested making changes to the tail wheel that would bring the rudder into the slipstream which would help cure the swing. Along with the recommendation for adding a shoulder harness to the lap belt, he was happy to start showing his men how to make the most of this new fighter. It was going to be a long time till they would be flying off carriers, but there were plenty of Luftwaffe aircraft to battle with, and this G36 would be an improvement over most of the aircraft that the French Fleet Air Arm were used to.

31 August 1940. Bletchley Park. England.

Commander Alastair Denniston: The extra rotor hadn’t caused quite as much of a fuss as we had feared.

Alan Turing: Only because we expected they would do it and already had worked on a bombe to overcome it.

Denniston: The problem now is that there is a worryingly high degree of care being taken by the users to avoid the kind of mistakes that gave us access previously.

Turing: Yes, but the computing power that we now have is overcoming that. My own problem with this, is that if they think we have the ability to read their mail they will either go to a completely new system that we won’t be able to break, or use the system to feed us false information.

Denniston: It does seem that our giving a general alert when they changed the system seemed to warn them that something was up.

Chief Petty Officer Bill Mars (formerly of HMS Bristol): We have to use the Ultra system again. That means very few people have access to the intelligence. We have to allow some things to happen that if we took action would let them know that we know. We put better reconnaissance assets over the things we do want to attack so that they presume that is where the information we are getting is coming from. I think there was some statistical system for working out what would appear coincidental and what would give the impression that we knew something specific.

Turing: I can do that analysis easily.

Denniston: I need to take this to No 10 and let them know. But at least we’re reading the traffic again.

31 August 1940. Charleroi.

André-Gaston Prételat, the new French First Army Group was standing with General Henri Giraud, commander of French Seventh Army, watching as General Picard’s 1st Light Mechanised Division (1re DLM) exercising against the reconstructed 2nd Light Cavalry Division (2 DLC). Giraud had changed things around after the advance on Brussels in May. In the last couple of months French industry had increased production of armoured vehicles. While most of them were still suffering from the same faults identified in earlier models, the fact was that most of the losses in May been made up for.

The four Light Cavalry Divisions had slowed the German advance through the Ardennes in May and had paid dearly doing so. The remnants of the four DLCs had been reorganised into two, the First and Second. 1re DLC had been assigned to First Army, while 2e DLC had been given to 7th Army. Both DLCs now had two Armoured Car regiments, the Panhard 178s were effective reconnaissance vehicles.

The armoured regiments of Seventh Army were receiving all the new Renault R40s and Somua 40s, making them the best equipped in the French order of battle. Part of the reason for this exercise was to make sure that the integration of the new chars was well advanced as well as rehearsing for the counter-attack. Seventh Army now consisted of First Motorised Corps: 25th Motorised Infantry Division (25e DIM) and First Light Mechanised Division (1re DLM). 16th Motorised Corps consisted of 9e DIM and 21e DIM.

21e DIM had been an infantry division in May, but had been motorised over the last few months. As part of its reorganisation, it had integrated the Char Brigade (GBC 510) with its 90 R40s. One of its Infantry Regiments (48e) had also been equipped with the Lorraine VBCP (Véhicule Blindé de Chasseurs Portés or Armoured Personnel Carrier). This experiment, to have three infantry regiments with integral armour was being examined as a way forward. The Seventh Army’s reserve of two infantry Divisions (4e and 60e) were still having to march as there weren’t enough trucks for them. The 2e DLC provided the reconnaissance capability for the army.

First Army had likewise been changed somewhat. The 3e and 5e North African Infantry Divisons (DINAs) had been reassigned to Second Army. It now consisted of III Corps (2e DLM (80 S35s and 80 H39s) and 1re DIM), IV Corps (3e DLM (80 S35s and 80 H39s) and 15e DIM) and V Corps (1re DCr and 12e DIM). 1re DCr (Division Cuirassee) had 70 Char B1s and 90 H35s. With only one integral Infantry Battalion it had been linked with 12e DIM to provide the Corps with a better mix of chars and infantry. The units under direct Army command were 1re DLC as the reconnaissance unit, with the 32e DI and GBC 515 (45 H35s and 45 R35s) as Army reserves.

The formation of two further DCrs (2e and 3e) were continuing but the number of chars required still fell short of the expected table of organisation and equipment. These were still part of the GQG reserves based at Chalons-sur-Marne. It was hoped that by Spring 1941 these would be the core of a new army.

Prételat asked Giraud the all-important question, “Are they ready?” “Oui!” was the answer. Prételat nodded, “They’d better be.”
1 - 7 September 1940
1 September 1940.

The RAF’s bomber command had done its best over the last few months to keep a balance between attacking German units and building up its strength. Number 1 and 2 Groups had become the tactical air force completely based in France and Belgium, originally called the Advanced Air Striking Force. 1 Group consisted of ten squadrons of Hurribombers, having changed from Battles before May. 2 Group, which had started 1940 as Blenheim squadrons were now also all Hurribombers. They were expecting to start to transition to Beaufighters as they became available, but for now all ten squadrons were in the single seat fighter/bombers. The five army cooperation squadrons which had started out with Lysanders, now were equipped also with equipped with Hurribombers. The twenty-five squadrons provided 400 aircraft, though many of its pilots fresh from OTUs. More than half of these Hurribombers were the improved version, with a better protection against flak damage, the increased power of the Merlin 45 engine helping carry the heavier weight of aircraft and increased stores.

Bomber Commands No 3 & 4 Groups were both fully equipped with Wellingtons, providing 20 squadrons between them, with around 75% availability. No 5 Group, had been reduced to five squadrons flying Hampdens, but were due to transition to Halifaxes from November, if all went well with the prototypes and pre-production models.

Fighter Command in France and Belgium, known as 14 Group under Keith Park, was now wholly equipped with Spitfires, well over half of which were new Mk IIs. Made up of the original 9 BEF Air component fighter squadrons and 11 Group’s 21 squadrons, all thirty squadrons were nearly at full strength. Back in Britain 12 and 13 Groups were all Hurricane squadrons, and were fully equipped. 12 Group which was covering the South East and London was in the strongest position. 13 Group covering the Midlands were understrength in combat ready pilots, though there were enough Hurricanes in each squadron. 10 Group in the South West was little more than an Operational Training Unit, currently transitioning to Spitfires. The plan for Fighter Command to have 9 Group for North West England and 14 Group for Northern Scotland had been put on hold. Instead, the Fleet Air Arm covered the North of England and Scotland, and they had been largely left alone and so were building up their strength, some flights taking a turn further south for combat experience.

The Armée de L’Air’s situation was more complicated than the RAF. In May they had 989 fighters available (a further 1136 unavailable for various reasons). Half of these were MS406 or Bloch 152s which struggled to match the Bf109s of the Luftwaffe. At the beginning of September however most of the issues (and in some cases officers) who had hampered the AdA’s fighting ability had been removed. Dewoitine 520s were being delivered at about 60 per month and now twelve squadrons (including two Polish) were equipped with these. There were ten squadrons of Curtis 75s and the first two of Hawk 81A-1s were now operational. The three Marine Aviation squadrons of Grumman 36s would soon join them. Many of MS406s had been replaced with the updated and improved MS410s, and they formed six squadrons. The Bloch 152s had remained at 8 squadrons. In all only 38 squadrons of fighters, but these were all in tip top condition, very high availability and the pilots highly motivated. Many of the other fifty AdA fighter squadrons in quiet areas were either transitioning to new types or with low availability and few combat-ready pilots. They were however improving with time.

The most common aircraft in the bomber/observation squadrons was the Potez 63.11, which was still being produced in good quantities. In May almost 50 Air Observation Squadrons had been equipped with these, though most only had an average of five aircraft per unit. Originally intended simply as observation aircraft the sheer number of them in service saw then being used as ground attack aircraft for which they were largely ill-suited. A great many had been withdrawn from the front line to free up their experienced pilots for better aircraft, just as the RAF had done with their Battles. Each French Army had one full squadron on call with machine guns and light bombs for close support. The Breguet 693 had done better in the close support role, though with heavy losses. There were now 150 in operational squadrons. The main light/medium bomber squadrons consisted of LeO 45s and Amiot 354s, each with 120 aircraft available. The American Martin 167 and Douglas DB-7s contributed another two hundred aircraft between them. The tactical offensive arm of the AdA could call on 600 aircraft of various types. Once more there were many more obsolete bombers that were still on the books, but the focus was on bringing more useful aircraft to the fight. In France and Belgium, the AdA were fielding a little over 1200 front-line aircraft, and the RAF another thousand. Luftwaffe strength had been rebuilt over the same period. Over the battlefield they would be fairly matched in numbers of available aircraft.

The Luftwaffe’s rebuilding had also been done over the previous three months. In the heavy fighting of May, and subsequently the Luftwaffe had lost 2339 aircraft destroyed or damaged to all causes. In the period of June to August the factories had produced a total of 1730 replacement aircraft and over 400 damaged aircraft had been returned to squadrons. While their numbers had been rebuilt, the fighter wings had been spread out. A large proportion of the Me110s, which had been found wanting in the aerial battles, were now on defensive duties for both day and night over Berlin and along the Baltic coast guarding against attacks from Norway and across the North Sea. The attempts to use the bomber force over the last couple of weeks at night had hurt the He111 squadrons. But production had been focusing more on Ju88s. There were 1300 bombers in the inventory, with 1100 single seat fighters. The Ju87s were also being looked at in terms of their usefulness, as they had proven too vulnerable in contested airspace. The numbers of losses of aircrew had also hurt the Luftwaffe very seriously. While their replacements were available from reserves, this had left the reserve very much depleted.

Night of 1st/2nd September 1940.

In airfields all over France, Belgium and southern England ground crew had been working feverishly to prepare for a maximum effort. The Photoreconnaissance Spitfires had been at a maximum effort for some time, French reconnaissance squadrons had also been hard at work. A clear list of targets had been organised and distributed to the appropriate squadrons. Planners had worked out timings, fuel and bomb loads. The armourers prepared the ordinance, navigators checked and double checked their maps and routes. Some pilots tried to sleep or at least rest. Before dawn more and more aircraft took to the air to overwhelm any German resistance with sheer numbers.

The first raid to leave the airfields of England were the twenty squadrons of Wellingtons from Bomber Command. Just over 2oo Wellingtons, using the full gamut of bombing aids, concentrated on Bremen, especially the Focke-Wolf aircraft factory. In fact, only about 20 Wellingtons managed to actually hit the factory, but they destroyed a number of buildings and an assembly shop, other buildings were seriously damaged. 12 Wellingtons out of the 200 failed to return.

The main target were thirty German airfields, primarily the fighter bases. Some were in range of the RAF’s Hurribombers, but most weren’t. These were therefore targeted by the AdA’s twin engine bombers. Cluster bombs were the ordinance of choice for the initial raids. It was felt that blanketing the areas would be the most effective way to cause the most damage. It had been planned that each of the thirty targets would get at least three visits on the first day. To strip the Luftwaffe of its fighters would make the rest of the task that much easier. As well as the bombers a large number of Entente fighter squadrons were also going to be in the air, hoping to protect the bombers as far as possible, and to overwhelm any German fighters that did manage to get airborne.

The Luftwaffe had learned the lessons of May and their aircraft were well dispersed. The photoreconnaissance had been looking for other things though. Fuel and ammunition dumps, the accommodation areas, storage areas, maintenance and servicing areas were all noted, as were Flak sites. The aircraft who were hitting the airfields had been rehearsing over other Entente airfields to try to figure out the best routes to cause the maximum damage at the minimal cost. A number of aircraft were lost in accidents in this phase, low level flying being a particular skill that had to be practised, but deadly if it went wrong. There had been some discussion about the best time to hit the German airfields. The decision was to hit them at 7.45am. The ritual of a dawn patrol to protect the airfield at this vulnerable time was part and parcel of the Luftwaffe practice, as it was in most air forces. It was thought by 7.45am the aircraft would have returned to base for refuelling, giving the attackers a better chance of catching the defenders out.

To attack the German airfields 637 bombers and fighter bombers, with 231 fighters covering them, took off. The various squadrons and wings that were attacking had decided what their best approach was. Some approached at high or medium level, identified the target and then dove down to tree top level to attack. Others did the whole mission at low level. Whichever way they felt the best way to complete the mission was left up to them, as long as they did the job they had been assigned. As well as the fighter bases there were three other specific targets which were given to the best squadrons. The headquarters of Luftflotte 2 and 3 had been identified from various sources, not least Ultra, and these were targeted to try to decapitate the leadership. The other target was a large depot of Petrol, Oil and Lubricants that served the various airbases.

At all of these targets, mostly at the same time, the French and British aircraft swooped in and dropped their deadly loads. A few of the raids were extraordinarily successful, and a few were complete failures, but most fell between the two extremes. Altogether in the first wave 28 aircraft were lost. The Second wave arrived at 9.30am and the third wave at 12.15pm. The losses continued to mount, overall, losses ran at 10%, 86 aircraft were lost. The effect on the Luftwaffe, especially for the fighter squadrons however was debilitating. While only 48 Me109s were destroyed on the ground, their ability to sustain operations was severely hampered. The Spitfires, using drop tanks to increase their range and endurance, took a heavy toll of the fighters that took off, 115 were shot down.

2 September 1940. France.

A massive artillery bombardment rocked the German positions opposite the Maginot Line at St Avold in Lorraine. The Germans had been aware of a great deal of movement and preparations, so the sudden bombardment was not as much of a surprise as it might have been. The AdA committed a large force of aircraft to extend the bombardment beyond the reaches of the French artillery.

The defenders of the Westwall were confident that an attack on their positions around Saarbrucken would easily be fended off, but as the day wore on and the level of bombardment continued their confidence waned. The French bombers seemed to be able to identify and attack the weaknesses of an unfinished defensive position, and command posts were particularly heavily hurt. It seemed that the ill-fated Saar Offensive of 1939 was being re-run, and this time, it seemed that the French were taking it seriously.

The Wehrmacht First Army’s commander Erwin Von Witzleben gave the order for his command to come to full alert, and he informed Army Group C’s General Von Leeb that his forces were under attack by “a substantial force”. Von Leeb, like the rest of the German forces was aware that a large air attack on the Luftwaffe’s bases was ongoing, and so it seemed that the Entente were about to go on the offensive. Von Leeb passed on the information to OKH in Berlin that there was activity on the Saar front.

At the OKH this information fitted into the picture that reconnaissance and radio interceptions had been compiling. Since the end of offensive actions in the Sedan area, the French Army had been licking its wounds and it had redeployed its strongest army, First Army to the area around Metz. At the same time, Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies, (French Army Group 2) had been very active in exercises. These two things seemed to suggest that the French were planning to make an offensive in this area. Perhaps not a place that the Germans would pick, but it fitted the French mind-set. In the North, the British and Belgians, with the Free Dutch forces had been active and it was possible that they would try to take another bite out of occupied Holland. There had been a lot of low-level resistance to 18th Army, nothing violent, but plenty of non-cooperation and other things that signalled warnings of impending action. Amsterdam was awash with rumours of a liberation force. The last piece of the picture was that the French Seventh army, with its high proportion of mechanised forces had just finished large exercises and was now designated as the reserve force, taking over from First Army.

The Wehrmacht was put on full alert. Transport orders to the mobile reserves put them on notice to reinforce 18th Army in Holland and First Army in the Saarland.

In the late afternoon another large air raid took place. Made up of the French squadrons of Martin 167 and Douglas DB-7s, with a strong escort of Dewoitine 520s, the target was the Messerschmitt factory at Augsburg-Haunstettin. With the losses in the morning to fighter air bases in the vicinity, the Luftwaffe had to rely mainly on its Flak to protect the factory. The daylight raid, on a clear day, brought the French bombers to site of the factory, and their bombing accuracy was hindered by the antiaircraft defences, but nonetheless enough bombs hit the assembly plant that production was disrupted.

In the mid-afternoon XII Corps of French Fifth Army started to advance against the German positions that they had occupied since the counter-offensive in October 1939. The advance was slow and deliberate. Supported by R35 tanks of the GBC 501 the 16e Infantry Division made slow, but steady progress. The German 60th Infantry Division defending the sector were happy enough to withdraw slowly, falling back towards the German border and the Westwall.

Night of 2/3 September 1940.

With the losses to the fighter squadrons the Luftwaffe commanders decided not to attempt daylight raids with the bomber force. Using Knickebein, a large force of Ju88s attacked the probable assembly areas for the French Fifth Army around Metz. While some casualties were taken the effect of the raid was minimal. This was in contrast to Bomber Command’s Wellingtons who concentrated an attack on the railway hub at Cologne. The concentrated their efforts on the east bank of the river, in an attempt to avoid the Cathedral and other significant buildings. A raid of 170 aircraft inevitably meant bombs were spread throughout the city, causing many civilian deaths. The damage to the rail network was considerable, which slowed the reinforcement of the west bank forces over the next week.

3 September 1940. 02:00hrs. River Maas between Gennep and Cuijk.

The sound of aircraft engines high above them gave the platoon commanded by Lieutenant Gold, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles), a little cover as they paddled across the river. He hoped the German sentries would be looking up to the sky rather than seeing the black shapes of the assault boats that were trying to cover the 130-yard span of the river. The Nepalese riflemen had done this a number of times as part of their aggressive patrolling at other points on this river and others. Tonight, they were the tip of the spear.

Jemadar Maniraj Thapa, the Viceroy Commissioned Officer, was in the next boat, and he glanced around at the progress they had made. In another few moments they would reach the enemy bank. As soon as the front of the boat began to scrape the bank the men scrambled out as quickly and quietly as they could. Thapa and Gold had considered the presence of trip wires or mines that would threaten this moment, so before the boats had set off a group of the strongest swimmers in the Regiment had preceded them to disable any booby traps in the immediate vicinity of where the boats were to land. It seemed, for the moment, that they had been successful.

For a full three minutes no shots were fired. Working only with their khukuris the Gurkhas had taken the listening and observation posts of the Germans by total surprise. A hooded torch signalled back across the river for the next wave to set out. Gold met Thapa in a German bunker, three dead Germans sprawled around. Thapa nodded, and started getting the men ready for the next phase. Suddenly a flare went up, followed quickly by German cries of “Alarm”. The Gurkhas now only had moments to close with the enemy in the first line of resistance. Grenades started to go off, rifles and bren guns opened up, with the tearing sounds of MG 34s replying.

As the sounds of battle increased, the noise of a freight train over their heads told them that the British artillery had begun the work of suppressing the German artillery, even before they could open fire. Shouting their war cries the Gurkhas fell upon the German defenders. The Gurkha Division had come to do battle, and the Germans of 216 Infantry Division didn’t know what hit them.

3 September 1940. ‘C’ Troop 9/17 Battery, 7th Field Regiment Royal Artillery.

Gun Sergeant John Foxwell’s 25-pdr team had fired at the intense rate for three minutes, fifteen rounds fired. They had increased range and were now on rapid fire for another three minutes, a further twelve rounds. They upped their range again and fired at four rounds per minute for another three minutes. Then it was time to move to their secondary position. The whole of First Army’s artillery arm was doing the same. Some regiments were on counter battery fire, but 7th Field Regiment, and most of the 25-pdr regiments were creating a wall of steel for I and III Corps to cross the river and advance.

When they arrived at the secondary position, Captain Riddel called out the new fire plan and soon the guns started firing again, once more starting with 5 rounds per minute intense fire.

3 September 1940. 03:00hrs Sint Anthonis

Lieutenant John Gilbert and Sergeant Willie Strachan sat in the caravan and watched their screens intently. Theirs was one of the first of a new kind of gun-laying radar (GL Mk. II). Officially attached to 1st Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment to track enemy aircraft and guide the Bofors 40mm guns, however tonight they were playing a different role. They had practiced this over and over again, until they were competent and confident. Near them was a battery of 25-pdrs who would be available for the fire missions they would identify. A Heavy Machine company was also attached to the unit, but situated closer to the river, so they would be able to use indirect fire against enemy positions.

It was known that radar could pick up mortar rounds in flight, neither Gilbert nor Strachan completely understood the science, but they could recognise the parabolic trajectory and ,with a simple computing device, work out where it originated from. The trick was to do it quickly enough for the artillery battery to be able to zero in on the position and try to either destroy, or at least suppress, the German mortar positions.

The Germans were liberal in their use of mortars, and since many of them would be used to disrupt the river crossing this counter-measure was deemed a priority. The first two hours had been exhausting, as the Germans employed so many mortars. Gradually it became obvious that their efforts were being rewarded as the numbers of incoming mortar rounds diminished.

3 September 1940. Dawn.

In the hope that the previous day’s attacks of the Luftwaffe fighter wings would hamper any attempts to hinder them, the ground attack aircraft joined the fray at first light. As well as the primary support for the river crossing, there were a few squadrons who had been tasked with hunting down trains. Both air forces would have preferred to attack the bridges over the Rhine, but the bombs capable of destroying the bridges, the planes large enough to carry the bombs, and the accuracy needed to hit the bridges were absent. The bridges were also well protected by Flak batteries that would make such a mission suicidal. The only alternative was to stop the German rail network by attacking trains whenever they could be found.

The foothold won by the Gurkhas was being reinforced, and expanded. The village of Millsbeek was taken. The distance from the Meuse to the Rhine at this point is only about 20 miles, and the Germans had created as good a defensive position as they could. The 216th Infantry Division’s commander, Generalleutnant Hermann Böttcher, had 17000 men defending in depth. He had been completely taken by surprise by this attack, especially as the previous months this had been a quiet sector, with Belgian troops opposite. Where the British had come from was a mystery. The rumours of the knife wielding Gurkhas had the Heer worried. There was something visceral in the threat of these fighters which had the Germans on edge. The fact that so many of their mortar teams seemed to be so accurately targeted was also worrying.

The Royal Engineers had the task of rafting as much as they could across the river. One of the priorities was to get some Matilda IIs across. Knowing the weakness of the German anti-tank guns, these tanks would provide the infantry with the support they needed. They also needed some flail tanks as the Germans had created plenty of mine fields to create killing zones. The assault engineers had man-handled some Viper units across the river, the explosive filled hoses, fired with a rocket, would detonate to create a cleared path.

Another anti-mine device that was being used for the first time after extensive tests over the last six months was an adapted cluster bomb, with a Fuel Air Explosive. Each bomb contained three containers filled with about 100lbs of liquid ethylene oxide, these when dropped separated and slowed by parachute. On hitting the ground, they ruptured, the ethylene oxide forming a vapour cloud which was detonated by delayed action igniters, creating an overpressure over an area of a large area and detonating the pressure mines.

The Hurribombers had to be quite accurate with these cluster bombs, dropping them from a height of 600 meters for maximum effect. It was discovered that these bombs were not only effective against the minefields they were designed to defeat, but also against dugouts and other defensive structures. One of the ordinance artificers on HMS Cardiff had worked with the US Marine Corps on an exchange and had some knowledge of the American CBU-72, which along with the information in Jane’s Military Vehicles and Ground Support Equipment, was enough for Prime Minister Churchill to order it into production.

As the Gurkhas extended their foothold, one battalion moved northwards, rolling up the river defence from the flank. As they did so, the second Brigade were able to make their way across the river, further extending the bridgehead. The Royal Engineers had assembled four ferries which carried over the first Matilda IIs to aid progress. 274th Field Company of the Royal Engineers were preparing the first bridge. The decision had been made to use the prototype Bailey Bridge which had been successfully trialled the previous month, and since this company had the most experience on it, they had been sent to build it under the most arduous conditions.

A debate had raged for the last few months among the commanders and planners. There were some who argued that much of the new equipment, such as Bailey Bridges and Fuel Air Explosives were still in their infancy, and if the attack was held until spring 1941, most of these new weapons would be in more plentiful supply. The winter would also give the French and British time to build up their forces so that there would a much larger force to attack the Germans. On the other hand, there were those who worried about ceding the initiative to the Germans. If the Germans were allowed to increase their forces it would be very difficult to counter them. The Bristol Groups knowledge that by June 1941 the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union with 104 infantry, 19 panzer and 15 motorized infantry divisions, with over 3000 panzers, it was essential to do as much harm as possible to them.

This compromise was agreed, that a limited late summer offensive would be undertaken, the objective being to get to the west bank of the Rhine, and hold there over the winter, so that a spring offensive would start from there. The other advantage of this plan was that it would put the Ruhr, with all its industry, under the guns of the Entente, with all the disruption that would cause.

The Maas-Waalkanaal was the demarcation line between the German Eighteenth and Sixth Army. At 09:00hrs the Entente First Army (former Norway & Zeeland forces) began their bombardment. This preceded the Royal Marines assault crossing of the river to the west of Nijmegen. With the Gurkhas to the East of the city, it was hoped that this combined attack would force the Germans to withdraw back across the Rhine/Waal. Free Dutch forces accompanied the Royal Marines, the Belgians provided much of the artillery and engineering support in this sector. The Polish forces had been strengthened and these would push through the Royal Marines once established the bridgehead.

To the OKH in Berlin news of this strengthened their belief that the main thrust was an attack to liberate Holland, starting with Nijmegen. In reply, the movement order to the mobile reserves to support 18th Army were confirmed. The French attack towards the Saar had continued in the morning, more ground being gained in a systematic and planned way. The progress was slow, but steady, and so reinforcements would arrive long before there would great need for them. Von Reichenau was sure that his Sixth Army was secure enough for the moment, and he had reserves on hand, if the British showed any threat of moving towards the German border. Von Kuchler, commanding 18th Army was just as confident, even if Nijmegen fell, his primary defensive positions were on the Waal River. However, as a large part of his army were spread out on occupation duties, the promise of reserves arriving was reassuring.

The Luftwaffe’s bomber force attempted to attack the British forces threatening Nijmegen. They were met with stiff resistance. The attacks on the fighter force the previous day meant that of the more than a thousand single seat fighters (Bf 109s for the most part) only half could be put in the air at one time. The losses to ground crew, and to ready fuel dumps, had slowed the pace of operations drastically. The information coming back to Berlin was that it was going to take some time for the fighter force to recover. To add to their woes, the two attacks on the command posts of Luftflotte 2 and 3 had killed a number of staff officers making planning and coordination difficult. Ulrich Grauert, commanding I Fliegerkorps, had survived the raid and worked tirelessly to get as many of his aircraft into the attack as he could.

At 10:00hrs, 60 Ju88s, with twenty Bf 109s escorting, attempted to bomb the west bank of the Meuse at Cuijk. Back in April and May, the British had used the basic radars that the army had with them to form a basic chain home system, enhanced with one modern system located in Laon. Over the previous two months this basic system had been inproved with the arrival of the Gun Laying Mk II radar. This was the first of the new centimetric radars with the cavity magnetron. It already had proved its usefulness for detecting mortar rounds in flight, but now it reverted to its primary role of directing the guns of the light and heavy anti-aircraft regiments of the Royal Artillery.

By the time the German raid reached the Meuse they had already been jumped by three squadrons of Spitfires, losing eight Bf109s and six Ju88s to the cannons of the British fighters. They now flew into a well-controlled anti-aircraft barrage. The 3.7-inch guns opened up first.

The BEF had 300 heavy and 350 light AA guns in May, now there were over 600 heavy (3.7 inch) and 800 light (mostly Bofors 40mm) AA guns. A high proportion of these were in the area and so the Ju88s found themselves blanketed by accurate flak. Another 8 machines fell to earth, most of the rest dumped their bombs and exited the area as quickly as they could. Another run in with Spitfires meant that another six Ju88s didn’t make it home. Four Spitfires were lost to enemy action.

As the morning progressed, the Polish forces followed the Royal Marines across the river and made steady progress. Getting some Renault D2 chars from 19 BCC over the river supported the infantry. The German anti-tank guns proved largely ineffective against these heavily armoured chars. The German 256th Infantry Division, who were opposing the attack, held their ground as best they could. The Poles and Marines continued to advance, making inroads into the German positions.

3 September 1940. Hurribomber C for Charlie. Over the German/Dutch border.

Pilot Officer John Blair led a flight of four Hurribombers flying a search pattern over the main railway line coming into Holland. The tell-tale smoke from the engine gave them the target to zero in on. Two aircraft remained high to cover their mates, while Blair and his wingman descended to attack the train. As they fell on it like hawks, Blair saw that the train was made up of both passenger carriages and flat beds which looked like they were carrying panzers. Blair’s aircraft was armed with rockets. Over the last few months, the warhead based on the 25-pdr shell, had been developed to be more effective, and Blair and his squadron had become proficient using it. Blair fired off his eight rockets and they straddled the train. Then he walked his 20mm cannons into the locomotive as he was pulling up. He obviously hit it as a great gust of steam vented. His wingman was a little more successful with his rockets, it impacted on one passenger carriages destroying it, while the others impacted close enough to knock the rest of the train off the tracks and peppered the other carriages.

As they climbed back to altitude, the other pair took their place and since the target was now stationary, they made a better strafing run causing more casualties among the troops being carried to the front and four Panzer IVs were never going to join battle.

3 September 1940. Nijmegen. The Netherlands.

The German Division responsible for the defence of the area between the Maas and the Waal to the west of Nijmegen was consistently being pushed back. When the Germans troops attempted to counterattack, they were either hampered by air attack, accurate artillery fire, or simply stubborn resistance by the Royal Marines and Poles.

In the light of this, the German Commanding Officer recognised that the attack on his position was becoming dangerously effective, making the position untenable. He gave orders that the majority of his troops begin to withdraw across the river Maas during the night. Infantry Regiment 309 was given the task of acting as rear guard.

However in doing so he caused General Von Reichenau, commander of Sixth Army problems. The 205th Infantry Division, part of IX Corps, were holding in front of the Gurkha attack, to the east of Nijmegen. The withdrawal of their neighbouring Division would mean that they would have to worry about their flank at the Maas-Waalkanaal. Von Reichenau ordered the 15th Infantry Division to move into Nijmegen and support that flank. The rear guard, 309th Regiment would still fall back towards the canal, but wait for the 15th Infantry Division to be in place. In addition to this, the commander of Sixth Army also ordered General Wager to prepare his XXVII Corps to counterattack the British flank as they continued to advance towards Nijmegen.

With the Gurkha Division now completely across the river Meuse the engineers were ready to start building the first Bailey bridge under combat conditions. Royal Artillery anti-aircraft regiments started setting up their guns on both sides of the river to provide the cover that would be necessary to protect the bridge from enemy attack. 125th Brigade of 42nd (East Lancs) Division started crossing the river, along with a squadron of Matilda IIs to push the Germans back in the direction of Kleve.

3-4 September 1940.

All of the air forces had a busy night as they attempted to support their ground forces and impede their enemy. Once more the Wellingtons of 3 and 4 Groups of Bomber Command concentrated on the German rail network, attempting to hamper the movement of German reinforcements. They concentrated their efforts on the area to the south of Duisburg between the Ruhr and Rhine. While some damage was done to the rail infrastructure, this was more by good luck than good management. The RAF’s Beaufighter night fighter squadron based in Belgium was very busy as the Luftwaffe attempted to bomb the British army assembly areas near Eindhoven. Each of the 12 operative night fighters claimed at least one enemy bomber, not all of which were credited to them.

The AdA once more visited the German airfields, concentrating on the fields around Frankfurt. While some fighter bases were revisited, there were a number of attacks on the bomber bases. The bombing focused once more on the ground infrastructure attempting to hamper the Luftwaffe’s ability to maintain high tempo operations. The next few days would see whether or not they were successful in this objective.

The Luftwaffe meantime were struggling to put up night fighters, there were Me110 squadrons designated for this task, but without an operative radar system they were generally flying wasteful standing patrols, and after the attacks on Bremen, Koln and Augsburg, many of squadrons were based around German cities. A few French aircraft were brought down, mostly by flak or accidents.

For the Luftwaffe, while a number of bombing attacks were sent out during the night, the main effort would be a dawn attack on the British crossing points around Nijmegen.

4 September 1940. The Netherlands.

By supreme effort the Luftwaffe put up a major raid. The fighter squadrons particularly were at full stretch to give the bombers as great an escort as possible. 150 Bf109s were flying cover for a force of 130 Dorniers and Ju88s that set out with the intention of bombing the river crossings. With plenty of warning from the radar, the RAF’s Spitfire squadrons were already at altitude. A number of Hurribomber squadrons had also lifted off to support the Spitfires. The Hurribombers, armed only with their cannons, would concentrate on the bombers, while the Spitfires would take on the fighters.

Near the bridgeheads, the anti-aircraft gunners would have a free fire zone. The Spitfires and Bf109s quickly got into a fur ball of twisting and turning aircraft. Two squadrons of Spitfires got among the Ju88s, while the Hurribombers tangled with the Dorniers. As the RAF disengaged approaching the free fire zone, too many Luftwaffe bombers had already ditched their bombs to give them greater speed to avoid the fighters. Many more, faced with a wall of flak did likewise, so that the river crossings were largely untouched, except for one ferry. This was destroyed when a Ju88 crashed into it having been struck by 40mm shells from a Bofors gun. A few near misses was all that the Luftwaffe were able to claim for their efforts. The Bailey Bridge was in full operation, with elements of the 42nd Division crossing as quickly as possible.

The butcher’s bill for the Luftwaffe was the loss of 12 Bf109s shot down and a further eight that returned to base damaged. The Dorniers suffered the most in the attack, of the 48 that set out, eight were lost and a further eight were damaged. Of the 82 Ju88s nine were shot down, and another six returned damaged. The RAF lost four Spitfires and six Hurribombers, with the same number suffering battle damage.

As the Poles and Royal Marines advanced towards Nijmegen, they found the German infantry fighting hard for every meter. The Poles also discovered that the Germans had left large numbers of booby traps and mines that slowed their progress. Elements of the First Free Dutch division had crossed the river during the night and were advancing west from the foothold towards Horssen. Like the Polish division, they were slowed as much by lethal traps than by enemy action. The French 60e Infantry Division were due to cross the river after the Dutch Division, to take over the fight from the exhausted Poles and Royal Marines. The 49th (West Riding) Division would follow the 60e Division over the river and take over from the Dutch to keep up the attack’s momentum.

To the east of Nijmegen, the Gurkha Division’s third Brigade were ready to assault Groesbeek. The German 348th Infantry Regiment thought they were well prepared for the attack. What they hadn’t envisioned was the use of Fuel Air Explosives. Expecting that the approaches to the town would be heavily mined, two flights of Hurribombers were tasked with clearing the ground ahead of the Gurkhas.

As the planes approached, the forward air controller giving them directions, to prevent any friendly fire on the Gurkhas, advised the dropping of the FAEs further ahead of the Gurkhas than was really necessary. This meant that instead of detonating above the probable minefields, they actually went off above the German main line of resistance. Almost as soon as the detonations happened the officers had the Gurkhas up and heading for the German positions. There were some casualties caused by mines, but with the additional use of Vipers and two flail tanks, the majority of the 6th Gurkha Rifles were able to get among the German defenders before they could recover from the devastation wrought by the aerial attack. By 10:00hrs, Groesbeek was firmly in the hands of the Gurkhas. Two counter attacks were repulsed with both sides taking heavy casualties.

The town of Kleve marked the northern end of the Siegfried Line. While efforts, over the last couple of months, to improve the defences had been undertaken, it still consisted primarily as a serious of concrete pillboxes. The 42nd Division’s objective was to capture Kleve, and they would have to contend with this obstacle. The 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers were the first to confront these defences. The men had sung about “hanging out their washing on the Siegfried Line”. They found that the Germans, who were defending their home soil, were not going to make it easy for the British.

Although it had been issued with it as an anti-tank weapon, the Fusiliers made prodigal use of their Carl Gustav launchers. They found that the HEAT warhead was effective against all sorts of armour, including reinforced concrete. Coupled with rifle grenades and effective forward artillery spotters, the Fusiliers began to make progress.

The British advance at this point only had eight Matilda IIs with them, but these lacked an adequate HE round. The 2-pdr was less useful than the co-axial machine gun. The tanks continued to prove their invulnerability to the German 37mm anti-tank guns, except at close range or hits to their tracks, sides or rear. The Luftwaffe Flak units were grouped further back, so there weren’t many 88mm guns available to be used in an anti-tank mode. The approach taken through the Klever Reichswald did hamper the tanks, as did tank ditches and other obstructions, but by the afternoon progress was reported to 42nd Division’s commander.

126th Brigade crossed the river and joined the advance. The men of the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment were bloodied in a German counterattack. This caused consternation and some significant casualties. ‘B’ Company’s commander, Captain William Trollope, was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for gallantry. He led his company in a flanking attack, but died of wounds after single handedly destroying a German machine gun position that had held up their counter attack.

OKH in Berlin were in a quandary about what to do with the Panzer Divisions that were moving forward to reinforce the 18th and 6th Armies. The 9th Panzer Division were going to re-join 18th Army. 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions had been assigned to 6th Army. Each Panzer Division was made up of one panzer regiment, each of two battalions. Each Battalion was made up of 15 Panzer IIs, 34 Panzer IIIs and 10 Panzer IVs. In additions each Panzer Division had three battalions of motorised infantry, as well as the normal complement of artillery and support troops.

General Von Kuchler (18th Army) ordered 9th Panzer Division to take up a position between Arnhem and Doetinchem. As the trains carrying this division were coming under concerted attack by the Hurribombers, the decision was made to make all of the journeys at night. General Von Reichenau (6th Army) gave orders for 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions to cross the river at Duisburg and then hold at Krefeld. Fulfilling this order was delayed because of the damage to the railways caused by bomber command.

4 September 1940. Saar Front.

The French 5th Army attack was now being led by 35e Division, supported by GBC 508’s Renault-35s. They were in amongst the Siegfried Line defences at the Saar River. As things got more difficult for them, General Dentz (XII Corps) asked for support from the AdA. The AdA had taken delivery of some cluster and FAE munitions from the British, and these were used to mixed effect. Even so, by evening the French were fully in control of the west bank of the River Saar. Crossing the river however would be a challenge.

Once the defences at the Saar were breached, the French knew that the second belt of defences dotted the Hunsrück, a series of highlands extending eastward almost to the Rhine, forming a natural barrier to the heart of Germany. In this rugged terrain, the second belt required fewer anti-tank obstacles. The greatest concentration of individual defences was clustered around roads, railroads and trails leading into the hills. The Hünsruck belt contained more positions for heavy artillery and held more command bunkers. The third Westwall defensive band was 20 kilometers farther east and consisted of scattered bunkers and concrete emplacements around existing military installations at Landstuhl and Ramstein. This band constituted the last defence before Kaiserslautern, and then the road to Worms and the Rhine would be open.

General Bourret, commanding 5th Army, ordered VIII Corps to prepare to assault the river at Volklingen, while XII Corps would attempt to cross the Saar at Saarbrucken.

4-5 September 1940.

The Wellingtons of RAF Bomber Command concentrated their attack on the town of Goch, aiming to disrupt any German attempt during the night to bring forward troops that would be in a position to counterattack 42nd Division’s flank. The AdA concentrated on Trier, their objective to damage the railway line that was bringing reinforcements, including Panzer Divisions to the Saar Front. The night time bombing accuracy left a lot to be desired and many civilians were killed in the random bombing. Luftwaffe bombers once more attempted to attack the British river crossings around Nijmegen, without much success, and took some losses from the radar assisted flak as well as the Beaufighter nightfighter squadron.

5 September 1940. The Netherlands.

During the night the 44th (Home Counties) Division had started across the Bailey Bridge and the other two complete pontoon bridges over the River Maas. The Royal Engineers had excelled themselves getting all three bridges across the river, as well as running a number of ferries.

The Gurkha Division was running out of steam as they approached Nijmegen. 15th Infantry Division were seasoned troops and were using the increasingly built-up area to good effect. While 42nd Division was continuing to try to batter its way through the Siegfried Line towards Kleve. 133rd Brigade, made up of three battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment, had the lead in 44th Division’s aim for the Rhine at the Dutch town of Milligen Aan De Rijn. The West Kents of 132nd Brigade would support them. The aim was to find the gap between the German 15th and 205th Infantry Divisions and exploit it.

As soon as III Corps were across the river, I Corps, led by the tanks of the 2nd Armoured Division, were next in line. Already much of 4th Bn RTR (11th Armoured Brigade) were already across, providing the Matilda IIs that were supporting III Corps. Two of General Tilly’s Battle Groups would be next to get across the river. The first, made up of A13MkIIs of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry. Accompanied by 1st Battalion London Rifle Brigade, in their new Militant battle taxis, they would head south to try to roll up the German river defences from the flank. A second battle group, consisting of the Valentines of 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars with 1st Battalion London Scottish, would aim for Goch. The third Battle Group, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry (in A10 tanks) and 1st Battalion Queen’s Westminsters would be in reserve, ready to exploit any breakthrough.

First Entente Army were ready to begin the new day with fresh impetus. The French 60e Infantry Division were curling around Nijmegen, into which the German defenders had withdrawn. The Polish troops and Royal Marines had been replaced on the front line by the 49th (West Riding) Division. They were continuing the advance towards the Waal, expecting to reach it before darkness. To their left, the First Free Dutch Division were extending the liberated part of the Netherlands westwards towards Beneden-Leeuwin.

A new crossing of the River Mass was made by 1re and 2e DLCh. The 1re DLCh crossed between Hedel and Ammerzoden, while 2e DLCh crossed near Genderen. The German 18th Army had flooded large areas of this part of Gelderland, so while it was lightly defended, the two French Divisions found their progress limited by the terrain. The lack of amphibious vehicles was being felt very strongly. Various types were being assessed and trialled, but the need for the kind of vehicles like Buffalo LVTs and DUKWs described by the Bristol Group was reinforced by this part of the fighting. It was hoped that something would be available for the spring offensive planned for 1941, but the French light Divisions needed them now rather then.

5 September 1940. Antwerp.

A small convoy of ships had docked during the night. The men had disembarked and making their way to the muster points. The First Norwegian Division had come to repay the support that the British and French had given earlier in the year. They would join the First Entente Army. First, they would spend some time in southern Holland exercising and getting used to the multinational system that was being used.

Since their full mobilisation in Spring the Norwegian army had come on leaps and bounds. They had reintroduced NCOs and had increased their training. Most of their training was defensive in nature, and the First Norwegian Division would need a great deal of work before it was ready for the front. There were other weaknesses that would have to be taken into consideration. One was the lack of modern machine guns and artillery pieces. Another was the logistical nightmare of yet another type of ammunition for their rifles. The Division had almost no motor transport, and only a few armoured cars. Nonetheless their arrival was a boost for morale and another propaganda coup, especially aimed at the American market.

5 September 1940. Reichswald, Germany.

Corporal John Bain looked down the sights of his SMLE rifle, waiting for another glimpse of his quarry. He had taken up some of the pressure on the trigger, and as the top of the helmet appeared, Bain squeezed off a round, rewarded with a coal scuttle helmet flying through the air. James McNaught, the Bren gunner opened up, as did the rest of third section. Second section of 2nd platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry, moved forward under the covering fire. The men rushed about ten yards then dropped down and started firing. At this Bain and his section picked themselves up and ran forward, bent almost double through the trees. Throwing themselves down they started firing and first section moved forward.

A German MG34 answered the Scottish regiment’s fire, bullets whacking into trees and sending a cloud of leaves and twigs flying. By the cries of pain, at least one member of first section had been injured. As the rest of the section started firing, it must have been the Bren gunner who was hit, as only rifles started to fire. McNaught fired off a long burst before getting up and running forward. Once more the MG34 sought them out between the trees and the undergrowth.

As Bain lay panting and reloading his rifle, he became aware of the sound of mortar rounds coming, and they sounded like they would be close. He hunkered down as much as he could into the earth, making himself as small as possible. The German mortars exploded among the trees as well as the earth, and the metal shrapnel was reinforced with shards and splinters of wood. Bain felt the sting of needle-sharp pinpricks around his thigh and hip. When he looked at himself, he saw that his battledress trousers were covered in splinters, some of which had jagged him, though not seriously. A fleeting memory of his mother picking out skelfs from his fingers with a needle passed through his mind, before he picked himself up and ran forward again.

Pretty sure he was close enough now, Bain pulled the pin out of a hand grenade and threw it forward with all his might, shouting out the warning “Grenade” as he did so. He heard the Platoon Sergeant calling out “Intae them, Lads!” so once more he picked himself up and with his rifle at point, tipped with the 12-inch bayonet, he rushed forward. Leaping over a log palisade he fell among three Germans. He noted that two were dead and thrust his whole body forward driving the bayonet into the third man, who was desperately working the bolt on his rifle. Bain felt the bayonet scrape off bone and the German slumped forward. Without thinking, Bain twisted the bayonet and started with withdraw it, his training in Maryhill Barracks coming to the fore.

Taking stock of his situation, Bain started calling out the names of his section to try and figure out where everyone was. The firing had lessened now, and Bain raised his head over the rear of the German position. He was able to get his men together in the former German positions. All of the men had cuts and bruises, but no one was seriously injured, which seemed something of a miracle. Leaving McNaught and the men to prepare for a counter attack, he ran over to the Platoon Sergeant to report the situation and check what was to happen next.

The first section had borne the brunt of casualties, two dead and three more seriously wounded. Second section had one killed and two injured. Sergeant Norman Baker would have to break up the rest of first section and add them to the other two sections. He left Bain with 3rd section while he would take over 2nd section. They were going to have to work as a two-section platoon, but the main thing was to get ready for the inevitable counter attack. Bain rejoined his section, lit a cigarette, and went into automatic pilot getting them sorted out. Another 100 yards of the Reichswald was now in British hands.

5 September 1940. Helden, The Netherlands.

Major Gautier sat beside his Sumoa 35, drawing heavily on his Gauloises. His driver and radio operator were once again tightening a bolt or something technical. For the last few days Gautier had been dealing with all the paperwork associated with forty five chars, all the men and everything that would keep them going when the attack came. The last attack had been fairly exciting, this one looked like it would be even more so. He picked a piece of tobacco off his tongue and spat.

He knew the plan had merit. He knew his part, and the part of the whole 510e Brigade de Chars in it. It all depended on everyone else doing their part. If the infantry, the engineers, all did their jobs. If the Boche didn’t upset things too much. Then he, and his chars could do their job. As long as the driver could get the thing running, and keep it going. He took a last drag of the cigarette, and threw away the stub. He walked over to his char to see how his crew were getting on.

5 September 1940. Nijmegen. The Netherlands.

Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm von Chappuis, (CO 15th Infantry Division) looked around his headquarters, which in a cellar of a church, was actually quite roomy. The British had not generally bombed Nijmegen or even shelled it so far. Being out of sight from the ubiquitous Jabos, which were causing his artillery so much grief, was necessary. His men were well dug in and, for the moment, holding the terrible enemy at bay. For months, rumours of what these Gurkhas did to unlucky Germans had swirled around the German troops. Since they had crossed the river, the German troops who had faced and survived their encounters with the small men from far away, spoke of them with a mixture of fear and admiration.

The remaining troops of 18th Army on his right, those who hadn’t fallen back over the river, had been pushed into the suburbs of Nijmegen. The French seemed to be shepherding them that way rather than pursuing them. Looking at his map, von Chappuis saw that as one of his many problems. His flank along the river would inevitably be broken, leaving his division isolated in the town. With the only resupply coming across the pontoon bridges over the Waal, these bridges so vulnerable, were also his Division’s only way out of Nijmegen.

So far, the RAF had been leaving these bridges alone, as if they planned to try to capture them. Staring at the map, von Chappuis couldn’t understand what the British and French were doing. Leaving an intact infantry division on this side of the river made no sense. They obviously didn’t want to harm the civilian population much, hence the lack of bombing and shelling. He considered having one of his battalions to attempt a counterattack against the Gurkhas, but decided against it, let them come to us he thought.

5 September 1940. The Netherlands.

The first A13MkIIs of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, with 1st Battalion London Rifle Brigade following, started to cross the bridges across the river under the cover of darkness. Once they had crossed, the travelled through carefully guided routes towards the positions of the 2nd Battalion of the Buffs. This was the furthest advanced unit on the southern front line. The tank commanders were shown to their jump off positions. The RAF began a raid to suppress the German defences along the bank of the river. Much of these defences were in heavily forested areas and it wouldn’t be clear what effect the raid had until the tanks and men attacked in the morning. Throughout the night various raids were conducted by the opposing forces, none of them doing significant damage to their enemies.

6 September 1940. The Netherlands.

The artillery barrage came as a surprise to the men of the 19th and 14th Infantry Divisions opposite Venlo. All the focus over the last few days had been north of them where the British had crossed the Meuse. Such a storm of fire and steel fell on their positions, a great deal of it very accurate, could only mean that it was now their turn.

The steel barrage protected the assault craft of the British Second Army’s V Corps spearheaded this third crossing of the Meuse. For Harold Alexander’s Corps this was their first big test. 2nd Bn Queen’s Royal Regiment (35th Brigade, 12th Division) had rehearsed this river crossing for weeks. The high quality of the artillery barrage mostly protected the infantry as they crossed the river in the early morning mist. The 262nd Field Company of the Royal Engineers providing the engineering support needed for a successful attack. The regular soldiers of the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Royals managed to establish a decent foothold at the hamlet of Hasselt. A hasty counterattack by units from the German 19th Infantry Division was repulsed. The Territorial soldiers of 5th and 6th Battalions Queens Royals followed 2nd Battalion across the river. Their objective was to expand the bridgehead between Velden and Lomm. 36th Brigade would be the next formation follow them across the river, with the objective of taking the town of Straelen.

No sooner had General Von Reichenau been informed of this second attempt to cross the Meuse by the British, than word arrived from the vicinity of Maastricht that the French 7th Army was also attempting a crossing of both the Meuse and the Julianna Canal. Von Reichenau immediately could see that his army was in serious trouble if these attempts succeded.

His Panzer reserves were up towards the British Bridgehead between Kleve and Goch. They were due to lead a properly prepared counterattack. With the news of the other crossings to their south, the panzers would now be vulnerable on their flanks. The British had managed to get him to commit his reserves. Even if the counterattack was successful, of which there was no guarantee, he didn’t have enough to be able to counter the other two crossings. He might have no choice to withdraw across the Rhine. If he did that, then 4th Army to his south would have nothing on their flank. If the French successfully got across the river and canal, it looked like they were aiming at the demarcation line between the two German armies. He picked up the telephone to speak to General Von Bock, commander of Army Group B.

6 September 1940. The Netherlands.

The original Entente plan had been for all four armies to attack simultaneously on September 3. The planners had seen that there was a lack of suitable assault boats, especially in the French 7th and 1st Entente Armies. The Belgian army, and even the civilian population, had been asked to provide as many boats as possible to make up the deficit.

The French 7th Army attack was at two points. The first was just south of Maasmechelen, at a bend in the river, the assault aimed between Stein and Elsloo. The second crossing was just north of Maasmechelen, with the objective of capturing Urmond. The 21e Infantry Division was responsible for the northern attack, with Lt-Col Menon’s 137e Regiment taking the lead. Their initial assault was unsuccessful, with heavy casualties among first three companies. It was only when R-35s from 9th Battalion de Chars came to the water’s edge and provided direct fire support that the second attempt to cross the river was successful.

Once the 137e Regiment had gained the foothold, 68e Infantry Regiment then had a most difficult job. First, they would have to cross the river Meuse under the protection of 137e Regiment. Then carrying or dragging their assault craft some 500m, prepare to cross the Julianna Canal. This second stage had been planned to happen very quickly. The difficulties of the 137e Regiment meant that it was delayed. 21e DI’s commander, Brigadier-General Lanquetot, decided to it would be best to consolidate the area between the two water ways first, before attempting to cross the second obstacle.

South of Maasmechelen, the 9th DIM (Motorised Infantry Division) was given the task to crossing the river first. Colonel Barbe’s 13e Infantry Regiment lead the assault. The area chosen for this attack had previously been used by the Germans for their own bridges. While these bridges had been destroyed, the area was still heavily fortified. The French plan of attack was sound, but the German resistance was just too strong, and 13e Regiment took severe casualties, including Colonel Barbe, who was killed. Once more, it took the arrival of a number of chars giving direct fire support, before the second attempt could be undertaken. This second attempt, led by the 95e Infantry Regiment, was eventually successful. The 95e Regiment was meant to follow 13e Regiment, and then to tackle the canal crossing immediately. Instead, they had to consolidate the area between the waterways instead.

The bridging companies of the 7th Army got to work, and despite on-going German artillery bombardment, successfully erected a bridge and some ferries at each of the crossing points. The attempt to cross the canal would take place the next day, so during the night some R-35s were rafted over to support those attacks.

6 September 1940. Near Goch. Germany.

3rd Panzer Division looked quite different after its experiences in May and June. The single panzer Regiment, 5th Pz Reg, had two battalions. Each of these was made up of 15 Panzer IIs, 34 Panzer IIIs and 10 Panzer IVs. The Panzer Is had gone completely and the Panzer IIs were only used by the reconnaissance forces. They were confident that with the heavier panzers that they would be able to prove themselves in a way they hadn’t managed in May.

Their reconnaissance units had identified the area they wanted to counterattack the British advance and throw them back across the river. They had used the cover of darkness to move forward, and were promised a strong Luftwaffe cover for their counter attack. At first light, the artillery opened up and the tanks and infantry rolled forward.

Their quarry was the newly arrived elements of the 2nd Armoured Division. The fact that the Panzer Division attacked came as no great surprise. 67th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery had deployed to protect the 1st Bn London Rifle Brigade. The A13MkII Cruisers of 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry were themselves ready to strike. The 67th Anti-tank regiment had been the first issued with the new 6-pdr anti-tank gun. They had been busy over last few months becoming proficient with it. When the first Panzer IIIs came into view the order to open fire was given when the German panzers were still at 1600 yards, a much greater distance than the 2-pdr had been able to do.

Not realising that the British were using a new gun, the Germans attempted to close the distance quickly, but more and more of their panzers were knocked out. The Panzer III was still using the same 37mm gun as in May/June, and they proved once more that they were under-gunned. Once the German panzers had been halted, the Yeomanry’s Cruiser tanks moved forward to push the Germans back further. They had been well warned not to allow themselves to be drawn into the German anti-tank guns. The British tanks’ advance was slow but steady. In contrast to the Royal Artillery’s 6-pdrs, the A13’s 2-pdr tank gun was much less capable. It was still effective enough against the Panzer IIIs. 5th Panzer Regiment’s first battalion had lost 6 Panzer IIs, 15 Panzer IIIs and 4 Panzer IVs, for no gain. The battle continued.

September 6 1940. River Waal

The Hallamshire Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment finally reached the south bank of the River Waal at Deest. Their progress had been slowed by the flooding and booby-trapping of the area. These efforts by the Germans had hampered the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division’s progress. The French 60e DI had reached the Maas-Waal Canal, trapping the Germans in Nijmegen. 68e DI and First Free Dutch Division were to the British Division’s left. The two French light Divisions were still working towards the Waal through the flooded areas in the last part of Gelderland and North Brabant south of the Waal. All the units of First Entente Army were constantly under fire from the German 18th Army artillery positions north of the River Waal.

In Nijmegen itself the Germans settled in for a siege, though neither the French nor the Gurkhas did much more than aggressive patrolling, concerned for the civilian population. The Entente forces seemed happy enough to hold the German division in place.

42nd Division continued to batter their way through the Siegfried Line. Although the defences were incomplete, they were still effective enough to make the progress of the East Lancs Division painful and slow. The presence of the Matilda II Infantry Tanks and the Matilda I flail tanks made progress possible at all. A few A9CS tanks had to be assigned to support the Division, as the 2-pdr on the Matilda II, despite the improved HE shells, were still too weak to deal with many of the German positions.

The town of Kleve was now only a few miles from the front line. The British were progressing through the third and final line of resistance. The German troops, fighting on home soil, still weren’t giving up easily. 44th Division’s progress on 42nd Division’s left flank was also slow but steady. Their line of advance more heavily forested, which made the use of tanks problematical. The liberal use of Carl Gustav rounds worried the British quartermasters. It worried the Germans in their pill boxes more. II Corps, (3rd, 4th and 5th Infantry Divisions) were readying themselves to cross the river and take over the fight from III Corps as they tired.

6 September 1940. The Saar Front.

French VIII Corps to begin to assault the river Saar at Volklingen, while XII Corps crossed the river at Saarbrucken. The German positions, often concealed in factories or smelting plants, put up a stiff resistance, and the French suffered heavy losses among the assault troops as they crossed the river. With great tenacity, the French units continued their methodical advance. The attack at Voltlingen was led by the 50e Infantry Regiment under the command of Lt-Col Roger le Clerc. Their sacrifices opened the way for the rest of the 24e DI to begin to work on the flanks of the German positions. The engineers succeeded in getting the 21e BCC into the fight by means of rafting the 45 R-35 chars across the river in record time. Once the chars arrived, the French troops were able to gain a good foothold on the eastern bank of the river. With the crossing successful, even after a number of counterattacks, the Germans had no choice but to fall back to the second line of the Westwall in the Hunsruck Belt.

6 September 1940. Berlin, Germany.

The OKH watched with consternation the changes to the map that showed five Entente Armies crossing the River Meuse. Von Bock, commanding the Army Group responsible for the area, was brought in to brief his superiors. He explained that all his alternatives were fraught with problems.

The 18th Army in the Netherlands would be safe enough behind the Maas, just a slither of Holland would be lost. He judged that Sixth Army was unlikely to hold the Rhineland, and that would make the position of Fourth Army also untenable. In his opinion, taking into account the French attack in the Saar area, which was also making slow, but steadily progress, the logical position would be to withdraw all forces behind the Rhine. When the Fuhrer heard this he was furious. No little effort had gone into the construction of the Westwall to protect the west bank of the Rhine. Now it seemed that the Generals were considering simply abandoning it, almost without a fight.

Pointing at the map, Von Bock noted that the largest part of Army Group A was tied up along the Meuse line south of Namur. These men were holding the gains made through the Ardennes at such a cost. If the French crossing of the Meuse, which seemed to aimed at Aachen, could actually turn south and hit Von Rundstedt’s men in the flank. Coupled with the French moving north from the Saar, a double encirclement could put Army Group A’s three armies into a pocket.

Hitler countered that the German infantry divisions in Army Group B were still in reasonable fighting order. XVI Panzer Corps, (3rd and 4th Panzer Division, 20th Motorised Infantry Division) were currently counterattacking the British towards Kleve and were strong enough to throw them back across the river. He could see that the French crossing south of them meant that their flank was endangered. But much of 4th Army were sitting about rather than forcing the French back. He noted that the other Panzer Corps, formerly known as Panzer Group Kliest, were preparing to counter the French in the Saar region. It would be possible to turn these around to reinforce Aachen, even though that would take a couple of days.

Pointing at the map, Hitler noted that primary reserves, especially Second Army, were close to the Rhine and were in a position to cross the river to reinforce the Sixth Army. The OKH reserves, Ninth Army, were also available, though none one dared to interrupt the Fuhrer by mentioning that Ninth Army was a long way from being battle ready.

Turning to Goring, Hitler wondered what the Luftwaffe were going to do. Control of the air seemed to have been lost, meaning that troop movements, especially by rail had become dangerous. Göring, after his earlier troubles with the Fuhrer, told him he was doing everything he could to get his air force back on the offensive. He tried to explain that the British and French raids on his airfields had seriously impacted both readiness and availability for his aircraft. The losses in aircrew had also been heavy. His protestations that the Entente must be suffering as badly, won him no friends. Explaining that the nuisance raids on Berlin from Norway, as well as those on other cities, meant he had to keep back a number of crucial fighter squadrons that would be better employed over the front line.

Adolph Hitler had always had an uncomfortable relationship with his senior Army commanders, and they seemed to him almost mutinous as he watched them as they listened to Goring. Guderian’s plan to win a quick victory had turned sour. The fact was that the Wehrmacht hadn’t even done as well as the Kaiser’s army in 1914. Using the excuse that this had been the result of a traitor, rather than recognising their own codes had been broken was no excuse.

British and French troops were now on German soil! What was worse was it seemed they had the initiative, if not the upper hand. The Fuhrer, listening as his Generals blamed everyone by themselves for their failures, considered making himself supreme commander. This would mean that he would have complete control, not having to keep a bunch of over-rated Prussians in charge. Hitler knew enough about military coups to know that his position might not last as long as he needed.

When he spoke again, somewhat more calmly, he appealed to the army’s skill in counterattacking. First, he suggested bringing Kliest’s old Panzer Group back north. If they could join with XVI Panzer Corps, they could smash the French forces in front of Aachen. He proposed putting General Guderian in command of it, to redeem himself. General Rommel, now recovered from his injury in May, would take over Kleist’s Corps. Adding a Panzer Army to Fourth and Second Armies, would be enough to send the French packing. Once the French were back across the river, the victorious armies would roll up the British from the south and send them scurrying home. Victory could be achieved, if the German soldier’s fighting spirit could be harnessed and Sixth Army hold on long enough to allow the counter attack time to succeed.

Both Army Group Commanders, Von Bock and Von Rundstedt made a show of agreeing heartedly with the Fuhrer’s plan. This was enough for Von Brauchitsch and Halder to know that they could either agree with the plan, insane as it was, or find themselves at Himmler’s disposal. To cover themselves for when the plan failed, they insisted that absolute secrecy was required and that the Luftwaffe needed to regain command of the air. When Hitler nodded his agreement, the General Staff got to work on making the idea a reality.

7 September 1940. Germany.

Once more the Wellington bombers of 3 and 4 Group were concentrated on the supply lines to the German forces in the Rhineland. The target was Dusseldorf’s rail network. Although well marked by the pathfinder squadron, the accuracy of the bombing was woeful. Some bombs did fall on the assigned targets, though not enough to achieve the objective. The indiscriminate bombing of the Dusseldorf led to a heavy civilian death toll, which Goebbels used as a propaganda tool. The terror bombing of the city was a rallying cry to the Heer, whose defence of the Fatherland, was the defence of their own families and loved ones.

Bomber Command had gone through a massive change after the arrival of the Bristol Group. The senior group of officers led by Chief of the Air Staff, Cyril Newall and Commander in Chief Bomber Command Charles Portal were not convinced about the need to move away from strategic bombing. The view of the history of Bomber Command from 1982 led to a great deal of soul searching throughout the RAF. Newall and Portal both resigned, unable to make the changes necessary. Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt was appointed Chief of the Air Staff and Richard Peirse was promoted to C-in-C Bomber Command. Both of these men were prepared to accept the necessity of weaning the RAF off its strategic ideology and towards a more cooperative role with the army and Royal Navy. Arthur Tedder had been promoted to take over the newly created Tactical Command, with Leigh-Mallory as his deputy. These two had been working effectively to continue to improve close air support. Frederick Bowhill was setting up Transport Command, while Joubert de la Fertétook over from him as C-in-C Coastal Command.

Despite the technological improvements, night bombing was still proving to be more miss than hit. The only alternative was using the Wellingtons in daylight raids. Dowding, in Fighter Command, was doubtful that he would be able to provide enough fighters to escort them in daylight, especially as the Spitfire wasn’t long-ranged. The fighter squadrons were doing well in air combat, but the loss of pilots was a constant worry. If called on to escort bombers over German positions, any pilot losses would be total, being killed or becoming POWs. Peirse was conscious that his own men were being severely strained, for what seemed to be too little a result.

Until there enough Beaufighters and Mosquitos for Tactical Command they were going to have to rely on Hurribombers. While aircraft production continued to replace the downed or damaged aircraft, the flight schools, both at home and in the empire were still not providing enough men to replace the losses. All in all, the RAF was reaching breaking point, as was the French AdA, and while the thought that the Luftwaffe was in even greater trouble helped, for weary men in weary machines, it was cold comfort.

7 September 1941. The Netherlands.

General Béthouart, commanding the First Entente Army, looked at his watch, waiting for the artillery to open up. It had taken a few days, but during the night his reconnaissance forces had reached the bank of the Waal River. He had sought permission to attempt an attack across the river hoping to bounce the Germans back towards the Rhine between Arnhem and Rotterdam. However General André-Gaston Prételat had refused, there were a number of problems, not least the number of boats available. Béthouart accepted this, but there was nothing that said he couldn’t soften up the German defences in the meantime. The artillery barrage began exactly on time.

Milligen Aan De Rijn, Dutch/German border.

Brigadier John Utterson-Kelso, CO 131st Brigade of 44th Division, looked at his watch, waiting for the artillery to commence firing. The other two Brigades had made good progress in the last two days. The objective of Milligen Aan De Rijn was now in sight. The 2nd Battalion the Buffs were due to follow the creeping barrage and complete the movement to the river. The German 205th Infantry Division had performed well but they were almost cut in two. Infantry Regiment 335 were falling back toward Nijmegen, while IR 353 fell back towards Kleve. Which left IR358 holding the ground that the Buffs were attempting to take from them. At the appointed moment the Divisional artillery opened fire, the 57th, 58th and 65th Field Regiments of the Royal Artillery let loose their storm of steel, which the Buffs followed off, approaching as close as they dared to the fire.

Utterson-Kelso had a bee in his bonnet about small unit tactics. His experience with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the Great War, from platoon commander to battalion commander, had convinced him that his men had to make the best use of fire and movement. He was sure the professional soldiers of the Buffs would be up to the job. He had done his best to impose the combined arms lessons of the last phase of the fighting in 1918. Utterson-Kelso had brought together the artillery plan, got a squadron of Matilda IIs attached, and had a firm promise of support of the RAF from the Forward Air Controller. All of this should make sure that his objective could be achieved with the minimal loss. He was in the habit of taking notes at moments like this. His pet project was to write a training manual to improve the effectiveness of the men under his command. In this case, his plans and admonitions worked, in less than an hour after the beginning of the barrage, the British army was on the west bank of the Rhine.

North of Venlo. The Netherlands.

General Harold Alexander crossed over the pontoon bridge over the River Meuse to get a feel for the situation at the front. His V Corps had led the crossing yesterday. 12th Division had done well, reaching the outskirts of Straelen the previous night. General Curtis’ 46th Division had followed on, but had got bogged down defending against German counterattacks that had become more and more aggressive during the day. 23rd Division were now making their way across the river to move through the exhausted 12th Division. No matter how many times Alexander had reiterated the need for an aggressive attitude, it seemed that too many of the officers of the Territorial units didn’t have it in them. The soldiers themselves were more than able, but the quality of the leadership, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired. He entered General Curtis’ command post just as Brigadier John Gawthorpe, commander of 137th Brigade was trying to explain why he hadn’t come anywhere near achieving his objectives.

Alexander stood silently while Curtis relieved Gawthrope on the spot. Alexander offered Brigadier James Fea from his staff to take over 137th Brigade, which Curtis accepted. The Corps commander and divisional commander bent over the map together to look at what could be done. They decided to bring the reserve brigade, 139th, forward, and have elements of the First Armoured Division support the attack. Alexander put a call through to Corps HQ to bring the whole Corps artillery to bear on the objective, and requested army support too. He also spoke to the RAF liaison to make sure that there would be enough close air support during the attack. If V Corps didn’t expand the bridgehead quickly enough, the follow-on forces, especially the 1st Mechanised Corps, wouldn’t be able to break out and continue to press towards the Rhine.

It took far too long to make the adjustments. When the Sherwood Foresters and the Leicestershire Regiments put in their attack the Germans had already reinforced their own positions. Despite the artillery support the British troops couldn’t make enough progress. By early evening 4th Panzer Division made a counter attack from Geldern into the flank of 46th Division, which almost broke through to the bridges. It was only the presence and skill of a forward artillery observer calling corrections from a Lysander circling above the battlefield that finally halted the German advance. The arrival of 3rd Bn RTR’s Matilda IIs sealed the breech and started to roll the Germans back. Elements of 23rd Division supported them until nightfall when the fighting died down.

Sittard, The Netherlands.

During the night the engineering companies of the 21e and 4e Infantry Divisions had created a number of crossings over the Meuse so that by dawn’s early light, when the artillery opened up on the German positions across the canal, the 9e Char Battalion’s 45 Renault R-35’s were on hand to add their direct fire across the water. As the 48e Infantry Regiment made the assault the support from the chars suppressed the German defenders enough for the French infantry to established themselves on the far bank. Immediately behind the assault troops, the engineers worked under fire, to put together the ferries needed to bring the chars across to support them. Casualties among the French infantry and engineers came mostly from German artillery. The arrival of a squadron of Breguet 693 to support the crossing, concentrated on this threat and soon the German artillery was diminished. Most of the German guns were horse drawn, hindering their ability to reposition quickly enough. The French artillery were also able to inflict damage with counter-battery fire. Groups of horses were often targeted as part of the destruction of German artillery and supply units. A lot of RAF and AdA pilots, especially those who’d grown up around horses, how they would live with themselves for the number of horses they were destroying.

As the morning wore on the 48e Regiment was reinforced by the 68e Regiment. 4e Infantry Division were due to cross the river and canal next, to expand the bridgehead. The R-35 chars had been designed as infantry support tanks and in this role they worked very well. Their frontal armour gave them good protection from the German 37mm anti-tank guns, while their own 37mm short barrelled guns had an effective HE shell suitable for dealing with German positions. By mid-afternoon French troops had reached the outskirts of Sittard. Here they dug in to prepare for the expected German counter-attack. The expanded bridgehead allowed the engineers to get a bridge constructed over the canal to add to that over the Meuse. This allowed 4e Division and the rest of GBC 510 to prepare to receive whatever the Germans would throw at them.

South of Maasmechelen, The Netherlands.

The 95e Regiment of the 9e DIM were just as well prepared for the morning assault across the canal as their colleagues to the north of them. Elements of the 1re DLM’s 4e Cuirassier Regiment had crossed over the Meuse during the night. This was meant to be the first unit to be equipped with the new Somua 40s. Delays in production meant they were still in S35s. The Divisional engineers had put together a number rafts to carry the chars. These would be launched as quickly as possible after the infantry cleared the opposite bank. Immediately after the first chars had been ferried across, the next to cross would be the GRCA (Reconnaissance Group of the Army Corps). This unit had a specific objective, the ridge at Sweikhuizen, which overlooked the entire area.

At the appointed hour, the artillery opened up and the men, under the cover of a smoke screen, pushed off in their assault craft. The French army brought everything they had to bear: direct and indirect fire came from machine guns, mortars, rifle grenades, all adding to the cacophony of the artillery. The assault troops paddled with all their might to cross the canal as quickly as possible. A number of boats were destroyed and the men thrown into the water. Enough of the boats made it the far shore, the assault troops found themselves fighting hand to hand among the German defensive positions. The engineers’ efforts meant that the first four S35’s arrived to join the fray. Two were stopped by mines, but the other two tipped the balance in favour of the French. Behind them, more and more units crossed the river, then the canal. The chars and the infantry worked their way towards linking with 21e Division to create a unified front and an expanded bridgehead.
The 2e GRCA followed the leading elements of 4e Cuirassier Regiment across both water obstacles. Commanded by Major Lestoquoi it was a strong, highly mobile group. Their orders were clear: To gain the high ground and hold it. The vehicles in the group were a mixed bag: Hotchiss H35s, AMR 35s, Panhard 178 armoured cars, requisitioned Citroen cars for units without enough motorcycles. The heavy weapons units found these very useful to transport them. Another four S35s from 4e Cuirassier Regiment, took the lead and smashed through the German lines opening the way for Lestoquoi’s group to begin their race to the high ground. Many of these reconnaissance troops had been involved in the relief of Eben Emael, they knew how to make their way through enemy lines, and they were carrying a lot of extra ammunition.

The breakthrough was achieved, but with a heavy cost in casualties. The rest of the battle group pushed their way up the hill, destroying a number of German artillery batteries as they did so. Lestoquoi’s men established themselves in defensive positions and prepared for the inevitable counter attack. Back at the river and canal, the lessening of German artillery fire, allowed more troops and vehicles to get across to extend the bridgehead. The connecting of 9e DIM with 4e Infantry Division on the outskirts of Sittard was achieved before sunset.

Saar Front

The progress of the 5e Army continued slowly. The Germans held positions until they were no longer tenable and then fell back. The French took their time, they had a good artillery plan in place and were using their chars sensibly. There were still too many casualties, the German mortars made sure of that.

As the day wore on, both VIII and XII Corps were now across the river, supported by GBC 508 and elements of GBC 501. VIII Corps was led by 31e Division d’Infanterie Alpine (DIA) working through the German positions in the hills. 30e DIA led XII Corps attacks. In the rugged terrain the German Hünsruck second belt required fewer anti-tank obstacles. It did however have a greater concentration of individual defences clustered around roads, railroads and trails leading into the hills. The Hünsruck belt also contained more positions for heavy artillery and held more command bunkers.

When the decision had been made to withdraw the Panzer forces back towards the Rhineland, it left First Army without the capacity to mount an overwhelming counterattack. Realistically, any attack by panzers would have been over worse roads than that of the Ardennes. Erwin Von Witzleben, commander of the German First Army, was confident that he could trade of ground for time. The French attacked methodically, and therefore, slowly. His infantry divisions were well able to make the French even slower and bleed them heavily. First Army also possessed a strong artillery arm, including some very heavy guns. These were on hand in case the army had had to attack the Maginot Line positions. With the focus on the fighting between the Meuse and the Rhine, First Army knew that it was very poorly supported by the Luftwaffe. Moving troops around was a matter of careful thought and planning to avoid the AdA.

Kaiserslautern, Germany.

General Guderian had fully recovered from his injuries caused when the mounted head of a boar fell off the wall in the room that was his HQ in Bouillon. He had been given command of the 1st Panzer Army, formerly known as the Kleist Group. The army consisted of two Panzer Corps: I Corps, (6th, 7th and 8th Pz Div, 13th and 20th (Mot) Division). This was now under the commanded of General Erwin Rommel, who had also recovered from his injuries incurred in May. II Panzer Corps, (1st, 2nd and 10th Pz Div, 2nd and 29th (Mot) Divisions) was still commanded by General Hoth. Due to the losses during the attack over the Ardennes, 5th Panzer Division had been reduced to a training unit. The other Panzer Divisions (3rd, 4th and 9th) remained with Army Group B.

Having made the rail journey south to Kaiserslautern to prepare to attack the French, Guderian received orders countermanding the previous set. He now had to get his army back on trains and return to Aachen to counter the Entente armies that had crossed the Meuse. This was easier said than done. The RAF and the AdA had been systematically attacking the rail network, with roving fighter-bombers whose sole purpose was to hunt down and attack trains. Already two trains had been attacked on the journey south, so going back only presented the enemy air forces with more target practice. The Luftwaffe liaison officer to 1st Panzer Army was less than helpful, making no promises of fighter cover. At least, Guderian thought, he wasn’t making promises that wouldn’t be kept. The men of the army were now busy re-loading the trains that they’d just unloaded. Once loaded, they would make the journey under the cover of darkness. The Panzerwaffe had a lot to prove, and they weren’t going to be able to do so until they got into the fight.
8 - 11 September 1940
8 September 1940. Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The arrival of the Panzer divisions in Kaiserslautern the previous day had been noted by reconnaissance aircraft of the AdA. The decision was made to bring as much of the French air force as possible to bear on this target.

The Potez 63.11 reconnaissance fleet had been heavily used, but their surviving crews were alive because they were good or, at least, were lucky. Ten of these aircraft would go in first to radio up to date information, followed by thirty LeO 451s, twenty Breguet 695s, twenty-four Amiot 354s and twelve Glenn-Martin 167s. The whole group would be escorted by over 100 fighters, including the operational debut of two squadrons of Curtis Hawk 81A-1s.

The fact that the Panzer Army had to get back on trains made them vulnerable to the French aircraft. The integral anti-aircraft batteries were emplaced to protect the panzers and trains and these were the targets for the Breguet fighter bombers, fitted with extra canons and carrying cluster bombs. The Breguets would be followed in by the medium bombers. The Luftwaffe had actually, despite their limitations, assigned two squadrons of Bf 109s to patrol over the area to protect the Panzer Divisions. The French pilots in the Curtis Hawk 81A-1s found themselves almost evenly matched with the Bf 109s at the lower altitude where these particular dogfights took place, so for the most part the French bombers were able to go about their business without too much interference.

The Breguets, with their Pratt & Whitney SB4G Twin Wasp Junior engines, did well in their assigned role, making life for the Flak batteries hot and difficult. The medium bombers were dropping general purpose bombs. The effect of all the bombing, which was relatively accurate, was to destroy a few locomotives and cause moderate damage among three Panzer Regiments. In all twelve French planes failed to return to base.

The RAF had gone back to general bombing of German positions. One Bomber Group concentrated on the area between Kleve and Goch. Another bombed Geldern hoping to catch 4th Panzer Division. The bombers’ efforts were mixed. Some German units were caught in the open during movements, but most of the bombs dropped did little or no damage, and seven Wellingtons were lost. Coming from the opposite direction, the Luftwaffe’s efforts concentrated on the Entente bridgeheads. As previously, the presence of radar equipped Beaufighters as well radar controlled anti-aircraft batteries, made their task very difficult. All the bridges over the Meuse survived the attack unscathed. Of the 170 Luftwaffe bombers that took off, eight failed to return to base, but a further 20 returned with light to heavy damage.


The Jocks of second platoon, “C” company, 1st Battalion, KOSB waited for the artillery to lift. Platoon Sergeant Major Banks had his whistle ready, though the men hardly needed to be told when to move. The artillery barrage started to creep forward. A troop of Valentines lurched forward and the Jocks fell in behind them, using their bulk to protect them as much as possible. Their objective was Wardhausen, where the Spoykanal (Kleve-Alter Rhine canal) began. The land was heavily farmed and the German positions were well concealed. An MG34 opened up, its bright tracers ricocheting off the tank’s armour. A couple of men, only partly behind the tank went down injured. Banks, and all the other NCOs, urged the men on and to stay under cover. The Valentine gunner responded by targeting the machine gun nest with a couple of the weak HE rounds and the co-axial machine gun.

The furthest Valentine on the left ran over a mine destroying its left track. The men behind the tank came under concentrated rifle fire from concealed positions. The other Valentines halted, unsure if they were now in a minefield, stopping the whole advance. A Matilda flail tank came forward and began to beat a path through the fields, the Valentines, one behind another, following behind. This narrowed the advance, so Banks ordered his platoon to move forward in rushes which the rest of the company also fanned out to do. The Valentines, although in a straight line, used the co-axial machine guns give as much covering fire to the infantry as possible. Just short of a hedge line, tanks deployed once more into a line.

Banks was directing the 2-inch mortar team, when the sound of incoming artillery made him throw himself to the ground. The German gunners obviously had the area mapped and the storm of shrapnel tore into the British positions. Curled into a ball, making himself as little as possible, Banks felt himself being thrown up and down onto the earth by the shockwaves. Almost as quickly as it began, it ended. Banks, ears ringing, but otherwise unhurt, got to his feet. He started sprinting around to each small group of his men. While calling for stretcher-bearers for the wounded was important, it was crucial to get the Bren gunners back into the fight. Knowing how the Germans went about things, that barrage would be followed up by a counterattack, and Banks needed his men to be ready for it.

Satisfied that he had done all he could, Banks sent a runner to find the Company OC to give him a situation report (one dead, three wounded) and request instructions. Sergeant Cartwright called out “Enemy to the front!” The men responded quickly with Bren and rifle fire. Sergeant Banks made his way back to the mortar team, getting their weapon to bear on the approaching Germans. At least one man in every section was designated as a grenadier, rifle grenades were added to the platoon’s fire power. The German attack seemed to stall, which coincided with one of the Valentines, stripped of much of its external equipment by near misses, moved forward. Banks got his men up and moving forward.

The combined pressure on the Germans paid off. The Battalion’s carrier platoon had made a move on the left flank. Banks saw a number of white cloths starting to appear above German positions. The Jocks only had a few words of German between them, with much gesticulating and miming, groups of Germans were covered as they moved towards the British positions with their hands up. The Jocks weren’t keen on showing themselves too soon. There had been rumours of diehard Nazis using surrendering troops as cover for firing on Entente troops. Sergeant Banks ordered a few of his men, including some of the lightly wounded, to shepherd the POWs back toward Battalion HQ. Some Royal Engineers checked the area for booby traps and mines. Once the engineers waved them forward, the surviving Valentines and Jocks moved forward. Orders from the Battalion were given to dig in, expecting another German counter attack. As the afternoon dragged on it had failed to materialise, much to the relief and surprise of the men.

4th Division had also been on the attack alongside 3rd Division. 12th Brigade had managed to capture the high ground around Kleve, allowing the 11th Brigade to move into the town. At about the same time elements of 2nd Armoured Division and 1st Infantry Division had surrounded Goch. The German commander, General Wäger, realising that he had no other choice, ordered a general withdrawal towards a line running from Kalkar, through Uedem to Weeze. 3rd Panzer Division did their best to cover the withdrawal of the infantry regiments, but as usual, found themselves vulnerable to marauding Hurribombers.

Rheinberg, Germany.

General von Reichenau couldn’t help worrying. It was true that most of his units were more or less back to full strength after the fighting in May and June. The numbers had been made up with replacements who were short of experience. Sixth Army just wasn’t as strong as it had been. It had already been bested once by the British, and now, again, they seemed they would be unable to hold their ground. There were plenty of excuses for this, the main one being the RAF who seemed to rule the skies. It was just as well that the British were much slower in attack than the German army.

IV Corps were still holding the British Second Army between Geldern and Kempen. Looking at the map, the British Second Army had the option of either turning north to link with the British First Army, or south and link with the French 7th Army. He felt this was the less likely option, but it put him in a quandary. XI Corps was currently facing the French, but if the British chose to turn south, the Corps would be sandwiched between the two Entente armies. von Reichenau consulted again with General von Bock. The Fuhrer Directive for the great counter-attack was all very well, by Sixth Army had a lot to do before it could be launched.

General Victor Von Schwedler, commander of IV Corps, knew that he had bettered the British yesterday. The attack by 4th Panzer Division had come as close as possible to cutting off the bridgehead. Unfortunately, when the panzers had run out of steam, the British First Armoured Division had chased them back to Vorst. IV Corps HQ began to get reports from the commander of 18th Division that they were facing a serious attack with tanks, supported by infantry in armoured vehicles, and that their positions were under intense pressure. Von Schwedler requested Von Reichenau for army reserves, to support him. He was informed that 61st Division would be realised to IV Corps command and would begin to arrive in the afternoon.

General Cranz, commanding 18th Division, felt as if he were reliving a nightmare. In the fighting in May, his Division had come up against the French and had been gutted for its efforts. Most of the men under his command hadn’t been part of that horror. Even so, once again they were trying to pick off tanks with 37mm guns that simply bounced off the armour of the British panzers just as they had off the French. The men who had lived through the battles in Belgium were re-living that nightmare.

All the efforts of 18th Division might slow the British but they just couldn’t seem to halt the juggernaut. More and more of the troops found reasons to withdraw from their positions prematurely. Many more surrendered after only a brief resistance. 18th Division, quite simply, fell apart. That was an opportunity that General Hobart wanted to take the most advantage of. Troops from 51st Highland Division and tanks of First Armoured Division, stormed through the crumbling German positions and arrived in Geldern. This threw the entire German logistical tail into mass confusion.

Elements of 4th Panzer Division attempted to counterattack, but found themselves vulnerable to the array of British anti-tank weapons, not least the Carl Gustav which they seemed to have in abundance. To make matters worse, 61st Division as it came forward was subject to constant attack, first by Hurribombers, then by British artillery. The leading elements of 61st Division were met by the A13MkII Cruiser Tanks of the Queens Bays, and men of the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade. German units attempted to intervene as best they could, and there were fights between British and German units all day. 61st Division hadn’t been able to shore up the remains of 18th Division and the British now had the upper hand. 35th Division, the other part of Von Schwedler’s IV Corps, with the collapse of 18th Division, found their right flank in the air, and had to withdraw in the direction of Kempen.

General ‘Q’ Martel, commander of the 1st Mechanised Corps, could see the same opportunity as Hobart. Martel gave permission for General Hobart to exploit the breakthrough and cause mayhem in the German rear areas. When Hobart got his orders, he rubbed his hands in glee. This was what he had always argued was the point of Armoured Divisions. Rather than turning north or south to link with either the British First or French Seventh Armies, he ordered his units to make for Rheinburg, thus causing as much havoc as possible. He had 1st Armoured Division, accompanied by 51st Division, which was fully motorised, and mostly in some kind of armoured vehicle. 50th Division was due to cross the river and complete the Mechanised Corps’ strength. The rest of Second Army, Alexander’s V Corps, and Richard O’Connor’s IV Corps, had orders to move north and make contact with First Army.

Sittard, The Netherlands.

One of the problems facing the Germans defending against French 7e Army was that they had chosen to attack the boundary between Army Groups A and B. The French had split the German Sixth Army (Joachim Kortsfleisch XI Corps) to the north and Fourth Army (Walter Heitz’s VIII Corps) to the south.

When the French reconnaissance group took the heights at Sweikhuizen they managed to break the link between these two German forces. The S35 chars of the 4e Cuirassier had managed to link with the GRCA, which made driving them off the hill too difficult for the German forces to achieve. 1re DLM smashed through the German positions south of Sittard, and crossed the German border towards Gangelt.

Supported by 25e DIM, the French chars of 1re DLM blazed a trail forcing an ever wider gap between the two German armies. A concerted effort by the German 14th Division from the North and 8th Division from the South to pinch off the French was a failure. The presence of almost 80 S35s and 80 H35s was too formidable a force for the infantry to be able to master. General Picard, commander of 1re DLM, saw the chance, and set his face towards Geilenkirchen.

Once relieved, resupplied and reinforced, Major Lestoquoi’s 2e GRCA, set off to cause more trouble. The objective was the Luftwaffe base on the road to Geilenkirchen. This had been heavily bombed and was believed to be out of commission. Another column consisting of 6e Cuirassiers, a unit made up of 0f P178 armoured cars, along with the 38th Infantry Regiment, the men carried in a variety of trucks, went off in the direction of Heinsberg.

General Heitz and General Kortzfleisch both contacted their superiors looking for support and orders. General von Reichenau had nothing to offer Kortzfleish, his army was being torn in two by the British. General Von Kluge, commander of Fourth Army was in a better position. He ordered two reserve divisions, 211th and 263rd Divisions to Heerlen and Alsdorf. There they would dig in and wait for the Panzer Army to arrive, this would throw the French back. How long these Divisions would take to arrive and prepare would depend on how much interference there would be from the RAF and AdA.

Von Reichenau also requested support. The OKH agreed to send two Divisions from Second Army. The 44th and 46th Divisions were released to 6th Army Command and began to make their way to Moers and Krefeld. Once there, they would prevent the 7e Army from fleeing north in the face of Guderian’s 1st Panzer Army.

Nijmegen. The Netherlands.

The Belgian forces, rebuilding and training during these last few months weren’t contributing much of their forces to the current attack. It was planned that as the Entente forces freed Dutch territory, and occupied German territory, Belgian Divisions would take over occupation duties. This would allow the British and French troops to either rest or continue to advance. The Dutch government in London continued to push for an attack against the German 18th Army and liberate more of the country. A specific concern was Nijmegen, still occupied by the German 15th Division. The decision not to directly attack the city was well understood, and appreciated. Nonetheless it was a major city, whose freedom was greatly desired and would be a great boost to Dutch morale. The commander of the Free Dutch forces, Rear Admiral Hendrik Van Der Stad, approached Nijmegen under a flag of truce. Brought to the HQ of Generalleutnant von Chappuis, (CO 15th Infantry Division), the Dutch officer offered him very honourable terms.

Chappuis received the offer graciously. He knew that he was tying down two Entente Divisions. While he was losing men and resupply was difficult, he was generally in a solid position. He was under increasing pressure from the army commander to be more aggressive, to attempt to take pressure off the other sections of Sixth Army. Chappuis knew that either act would have consequences for the survival of himself and his men. Asking for time to consider the offer and consult with his subordinates, Van Der Stad went back to Entente Lines, agreeing to extend the truce for 24 hours. Under the cover of night, Chappuis put into effect the plan to evacuate the city and take his command back across the river. Their leaving meant that the early morning patrols of the Gurkhas only found civilians emerging from their cellars. When the first Gurkha troops came into view, the Germans blew their bridges to prevent their capture.

GQG. (Supreme Headquarters)

As supreme commander of the Entente, Alphonse Georges had been watching the fighting over the last five days develop. Prételat’s plan to throw the German army back to the Rhine before the onset of winter was working well. The Saar offensive was always going to be something of a side-show, but Georges Blanchard’s Army Group was the main event. Blanchard was now requesting the use of his old command, French 1re Army, to exploit the successes of the 7e Army. Coupled with the progress of the two British and combined Entente armies, there was good reason to agree to the request.

Prételat had kept 1re Army as his reserve force. It was currently positioned near Reims, chosen because from there, it could move quickly either towards the Saar or the Rhineland, depending on which was more successful attack. 1re Army was also France’s most powerful army. With the Panzer Divisions still a threat, Georges wanted to keep it ready in case the Germans attacked again in an unexpected way.

All the information available to Georges was that the Panzer Divisions were on their way to Aachen. The arrival there of a strong panzer force threatened the southern flank of 7e Army. 1re Army, now commanded by General Bruneau, had been in the bruising counterattack against the Germans around Sedan. The Division was a formidable mechanised force. It consisted of III Corps (2e DLM (80 S35s and 80 H39s) and 1re DIM), IV Corps (3e DLM (80 S35s and 80 H39s) and 15e DIM) and V Corps (1re DCr (70 Char B1s and 90 H35s) and 12e DIM). In addition to the three Corps, 1re Army had 1re DLC as the reconnaissance unit, and 32e DI and GBC 515 (45 H35s and 45 R35s) as Army reserves.

General Bruneau had not let their time in reserve go to waste. As many chars as possible now had improved radios, and they had participated in some exercises whose sole purpose was to hone the communications at all levels of the army. Bruneau had also led the senior officers of the Army in a thorough review of their tactics and the lessons learned from the fighting in May and June. All in all, 1re Army was likely to be the most powerful unit on the battlefield, and Georges gave permission to put the Division under Blanchard’s control.

9 September 1940. Hurribomber C for Charlie. Over Germany.

Squadron Leader John Blair led four flights, each of four Hurribombers, flying a racetrack pattern over the British 2nd Army. A few days ago, he had been a flight leader, and now he was Squadron Leader. He knew that was not so much because of his skills and leadership that he had been promoted. The fact was he was still alive, while others, perhaps better qualified, were now dead.

Innovation had been the order of the day since February. While the rockets they’d been using for the last month or so had been fairly successful, today it was something new. The Squadron had been stood down two days ago while the rocket rails were removed from under the wings of the aircraft. In their place, two 40mm Vickers ‘S’ guns been fitted. The pilots had been given the first day off, but the second day had been become a crash course in the new weapons. Disappointingly, each gun only had 15 rounds. They were told that 40mm HE rounds packed enough of a punch to harm soft skinned vehicles, horses and hopefully locomotives and railway cars. They might not do too well against tanks, except on the top armour.

When the pilots were told that six of the eight .303 machine guns had been removed, it did not go down well. They were told that the two guns carried much more ammunition than normal, with an emphasis on tracer rounds. As before they were to use the machine guns to bring the target fully in the sights of the S guns, then be careful not to fire off all 15 rounds at once.

The Squadron had two hours on a firing range to test out the new guns, and the pilots could see the improved accuracy of the guns over the rockets, which frankly could go almost anywhere. Two hours wasn’t long to train on a new weapon, but it was all they had. The movement of the Panzer Army had meant that every Hurribomber available had to be used.

Squadron Leader Blair received confirmation that a squadron of Spitfires were up high to protect them. They hadn’t seen much of the Luftwaffe the last few weeks, but it was always a fear that they would be jumped by Bf 109s, especially with only two machine guns for self-protection. Blair acknowledged a radio message giving him a new heading and a set of coordinates. A reconnaissance plane had spotted a column moving and Blair’s squadron was tasked with destroying it. Dismissing the disappointment that it wasn’t a train, he passed on the message to his squadron, and checked with the Spitfire Leader that they would accompany them. When assured of this, Blair turned to the given heading and prepared himself mentally for the coming attack. Two of his sections split off to approach the coordinates from a different direction, hopefully splitting any flak.

Yellow Flight leader called ‘tally-ho’, a column of dust was spotted at the right place. With the fluidity of the front line, Blair was keen to check that the target was indeed the enemy. He got confirmation from a Forward Air Controller in a Lysander that had called in the target. It wasn’t panzers, but it was part of an infantry division retreating. All the flight leaders had done this before, though five of the pilots in the squadron were about to get their first taste of close air support.

As they dived down from two thousand feet, Blair wondered about getting the same kind of sirens the Stukas had, just to add to the terror that was obviously scattering the ant-like figures in front of him. He had to focus and his eyes were drawn to an artillery battery, the men desperately trying to get the horses off the road. Blair squeezed the machine gun trigger, walking the tracer towards his target, then adding the two 40mm cannons to the stream of death. After a count of three he ceased fire and pulled up on the stick and banked to his left.

Craning his neck round, Blair could see two more of his flight walking their shells through the Germans. Climbing back up to two thousand feet, he watched as the other two flights poured fire into scattered German column. When they cleared, he led his flight once more into a dive. He had spotted was a stand of trees that figures had run into, presumably for cover. This was his target for his second strafing run. He pulled up, and banked to the right this time. A couple of secondary explosions told him he had hit something useful.

As he climbed Blair took stock. One large burning patch marked the demise of one his squadron, probably target fixated. There had been little more than desultory rifle fire against them. He thought about one more pass, there was probably five more 40mm rounds left in each of the guns. It looked like the Germans were too well scattered to be worth his while. Calling his squadron to follow him, he reported in and received a well done from the Forward Air Controller. As they climbed back to medium altitude, there was a bit too much excited chatter from the pilots, so he called for radio discipline.

Kempen, Germany.

General Hans Reinhard, commander of 35th Infantry Division was very dead, a 40mm shell had destroyed his vehicle and his body. Most of his staff, a large part of his artillery train and too much of the Division’s logistical support were also dead, injured or dealing with the aftermath of the attack. 20th Guards Brigade (23rd Division), had been harrying the retreating Germans got word of the air strike from 1st Lothian and Borders Yeomanry, the Divisions reconnaissance Regiment. A troop of Vickers Mk VI tanks saw that what had been an orderly falling back, had now become the potential for a rout.

23rd Division had a rare unit for the British Army, 8th Bn, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. This was a motorcycle battalion, equipped with eleven scout cars, ninety-nine motor-cycle combinations (side-car) and forty-three motor-cycles. Other armies used this type of force in a cavalry role, but the British army had never known exactly what to do with them, now they came into their own. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Jones, was a keen huntsman and he could imagine his hounds with their tails up at the smell of the quarry. Giving brief orders to his company commanders to converge on Kempen, he blew his horn and started his charge. Under normal circumstances this should have been a disaster. Luckily for Jones and his men, 35th Division was a shadow of its former self, with its command structure was dead or confused. ‘Jones’ Charge’, as later Regimental Histories called it, succeeded. The fact that 2nd Battalion Irish Guards and the light tanks of the Lothian and Borders Yeomanry were close on their heels, gave the charge the weight necessary to eliminate 35th Division as a fighting force.

When news of the German disaster reached General ‘Jumbo’ Wilson’s HQ, (CO 2nd Army) he couldn’t believe his luck. Richard O’Connor’s IV Corps was in position to exploit what was essentially a huge gap in the German line. When informed, O’Connor wasted no time. 1st Canadian Division were closest and the first to react to the new situation. General McNaughton gave his leading Brigades the objective of moving south to Nettetal. O’Connor ordered 52nd (Lowland) Division to follow the Canadians and support them. O’Connor ordered 6th Division to hold in place. He needed to make sure that his northern flank was secure.

General Wilson then ordered General Alexander to get his V Corps moving as quickly as possible to expand the gap that the Canadian and Lowland Divisions were creating. Informed by Wilson of what was going on, Martel’s 1st Mechanised Corps were ordered to continue what they were doing. Hobart’s 1st Armoured Division was continuing towards Rheinberg, foiling every German attempt to hold a line. 51st Highland Division adapted their line of advance towards Kamp-Lintfort, with 50th Division prepared to meet any German counter attacks. It was entirely possible that British Second Army would stand on the banks of the Rhine before the day was done.

Goch, Germany.

2nd Armoured Division’s battlegroup of 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry (A10s) and 1st Bn Queen’s Westminsters Rifles, began their attack. With the 1st Guards Brigade of 1st Division following them. The objective was Weeze. It was only about six miles, but the going was limited by the presence of the river Niers on the left and the smaller Kendal on the right. The A10 tanks of the Yeomanry were vulnerable to the German 37mm anti-tank gun and it was believed that elements of 3rd Panzer Division were still in the area. This meant that the British advance was measured and careful. A second battlegroup made up of 7 RTR (in A13s) and 1st Bn, London Scottish advanced alongside on the east bank of the river Niers, with Uedem as their objective.

15th/19th King's Royal Hussars were the reconnaissance force for the Armoured Division. Having ‘acquired’ a number of Dingo scout vehicles to supplement their light tanks and universal carriers, the Hussars led off the advance, probing for German positions and probable ambush points. They were in constant contact with the artillery, calling down barrages on suspected enemy positions. As they moved forward, they found that the Germans had already withdrawn to a line between Weeze and Uedem. With this intelligence, the two battlegroups were able to move forward at a reasonable pace.

It wasn’t long before the fact that elements of 3rd Panzer Division were in fact still in the area. An attack by 5th Panzer Regiment’s second battalion led to a fairly intense tank battle. Because of the vulnerabilities of the armour on the British cruiser tanks the Yeomanry fought a withdrawing action. This was the opposite of what the Germans had hoped for. Chasing the A10 tanks brough the Panzers into range of the 6-pdr guns of the anti-tank regiment. The German panzer troops weren’t as surprised by the new British guns as previously. The losses among the panzers weren’t too bad, and they quickly withdrew. The British tanks followed the panzers, themselves being aware they wanted to avoid running into the German anti-tank guns. Of the thirty panzers that had taken part ten were destroyed (including four Panzer IVs) none of them recoverable as the ground was held by the British. The Yeomanry lost 8 A10s and five Vickers MkVI light tanks in the fighting. Ten more British tanks had various mechanical casualties, and these had to be withdrawn to be fixed.

The German positions between Weeze and Uedem weren’t very well prepared. Once it had been identified, the Royal Artillery began a barrage under the cover of which, the Queen’s Westminsters and London Scottish, in their Militant armoured lorries, moved forward. Getting as close to the German positions as the barrage lifted meant that the British infantry attacked with a suddenness that took the defenders by surprise. Four A10CS tanks gave the infantry direct fire support, so that any German position that offered strong resistance quickly became untenable.

Kleve, Germany.

South of Kleve, General Dempsey’s 5th Division, with support from 4 RTR’s Matilda IIs were advancing on Kalkar. The 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders were leading the advance, the Pipe Major playing the Highlander’s March on the pipes. This was irritated a company of the 2nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, part of the Corps’ heavy machine gun support, who were accompanying the Highlanders.

An Army Cooperation Lysander was in the air, the forward artillery controller aboard, looking for targets for the Divisional guns. A troop of 12th Royal Lancers were acting as reconnaissance scouts out ahead in Vickers Mk VI light tanks. There were plenty of woods and river courses where ambushes could be sprung from, small villages and farmhouses that could be turned into fortresses. The progress of the British forces was therefore cautious. Anything that looked suspicious got hit by artillery shells, followed up by mortars and heavy machine guns. Only then the infantry went forward to clear it, with the mortars and HMGs ready to begin firing again if the infantry met resistance.

This heavy expenditure of ammunition was preferred to the expenditure of the lives of the infantry. On a number of occasions, a German ambush was sprung successfully, and casualties were inflicted. The thoroughness of the British advance, and the security offered by the Matilda IIs, meant that by the time the main line of German resistance was discovered, 2nd Bn, Royal Scots Fusiliers, had moved through the Seaforths and it was them who pressed home the attack. A couple of Hurribombers attacked the German artillery positions when they revealed themselves, meaning that the Royal Scots managed to penetrate the German line.

This penetration meant that General Wäger, (CO XXVII Corps) was forced to order a withdrawal. There was no real option to but to pull his men back eastwards, they couldn’t continue to hold the British as they pushed south, and so he ordered his forces to withdraw towards Xanten.

Geilenkirchen, Germany.

The French 7e Army’s advance continued. 6e Cuirassiers, with 38e Infantry Regiment, continued to make for Heinsberg. The armoured cars proved that, while excellent for reconnaissance, against a prepared enemy they were too vulnerable. The German 19th Division had been preparing for an attack and the French found themselves unable to make any headway. Once 18e Dragoon Regiment arrived, with S35s and H35s, they were able to blast their way through the prepared German positions. Breaking through was costly the numbers of chars disabled and destroyed but it meant that the French could push on to Heinsberg. The 95e Infantry Regiment supported the 18e Dragoons, the rest of the 9e DIM following.

4e Cuirassiers, supported by the 25e DIM, came up against the German 28th Division, and forced them to withdraw back towards Geilenkirchen. Here the Germans were joined by 87th Infantry Division who were already preparing to defend the town. In addition, 267th Infantry Division had moved into positions to the east of the town where the Westwall was being rapidly strengthened.

Major Lestoquoi’s reinforced 2e GRCA approached the Luftwaffe base on the road to Geilenkirchen, which although abandoned by the Luftwaffe, was still held by German troops. Among the French vehicles were 20 H35s, fifteen of which had made the journey successfully. The speed of the French advance had taken the defenders off guard, and the combination of the armour of the chars and the speed of the armoured cars meant their mobility overcame the static nature of the defences. Some two hundred Germans were taken into captivity.

The final element of 7e Army involved in the days fighting was 48e Infantry Regiment. This was one of the few equipped with Lorraine VBCP (Véhicule Blindé de Chasseurs Portés or Armoured Personnel Carrier) supported by R40 Chars of GBC 510, as well as 74e Motorised Artillery Regiment. had also come forward, their objective was to make an attempt to break through the German positions between Heinsberg and Geilenskirchen. The Germans had reinforced the area with two infantry divisions, so that the attempt failed, with heavy French casualties.

8 September 1940. Vauxhall Motors test area, Luton Hoo Stately Home. England.

The first mild steel Comet prototype reversed off the transporter. The Meteor engine had begun life as a Merlin, but was stripped of its supercharger, reduction gear, and other equipment removed from its camshaft for simpler construction. It was provided with cast pistons, and de-rated to around 600 bhp running on much lower-octane gasoline. Once in full production the engine’s light alloy components would be replaced with steel components. The turret, carrying a 6-pdr gun, hadn’t been finished in time for the test. Rather than cancelling the test altogether there was still the need for the engineers, to test the engine and the suspension.

The expected total weight of the tank was 32 tons, so the designers had doubled up the strengthened springs on all the road wheel stations and incorporated shock absorbers on all but the central suspension units on both sides. Longer suspension arms would hopefully give the crew a more comfortable ride. Weights were added to the hull to give it something more like its final weight.

The driver was asked to drive the vehicle as fast as possible over a half-mile course, which would be timed. Robotham noted that the sharp bend at the end of the course and wondered if the tank would be able to negotiate the bend. The driver revved up the tank and obeyed his orders and went flat out around the course. He was unable to make the turn and the tank went straight on, knocked down a telegraph pole and plunged into a wood. Fortunately, the driver wasn’t injured when he was finally able to stop it. The recorder in the tank registered its maximum speed at 50mph. A serious of tests were prepared, including the ability to change the engine in the field. A team of Royal Armoured Corps mechanics had been involved in the design stage to make sure the tank would be as user-friendly as possible. If all went well the first six pre-production models would be ready for testing before the end of the year.

8 September 1940. Sydney, Australia.

The aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and Ark Royal, with the British and French battleships HMS Nelson and Richelieu, HMS Repulse, with the accompanying cruisers and destroyers sailed out of Sydney Harbour having had a very successful morale boosting tour. The Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies had made a radio broadcast to the nation from deck of HMS Illustrious in which he announced that the Royal Australian Navy had placed an order for an aircraft carrier from Vickers-Armstrong as part the expansion of the Royal Australian Navy. HMS Indomitable, currently being fitted out in Barrow-in-Furness, would be commissioned as HMAS Melbourne. As part of the deal, the British firm would support Australian shipbuilding at Cockatoo Island, which has the contract to build four escort destroyers for the new aircraft carrier. The negotiations for this had suited the Royal Navy as it meant that a second modern aircraft carrier would be permanently based in the Pacific.

Menzies then announced the creation of an Australian Fleet Air Arm. This would include carrier based aircraft, as well as having responsibility for the fleet’s amphibians and coastal protection aircraft. The first squadron would be equipped with Sunderland Flying Boats. No.10 Squadron RAAF were currently flying these based in Plymouth in England, and this squadron would be reassigned to Singapore where they would help establish the first RAN FAA squadron. A number of volunteers from the first class of pilots and navigators from the Commonwealth Air Training Plan were shipping out with the fleet to be trained on Fulmers, Sea Hurricanes and Swordfish on HMS Illustrious. RAN personnel also went aboard to learn the ropes of operating an aircraft carrier. It was hoped that the crew and air wing would be trained and ready for the arrival of HMS Melbourne in late 1941, speeding up its operational debut. Although not publicly announced, the Australian Government had opted for the Seafire as the carrier’s fighter. The Torpedo/Bomber/Reconnaissance aircraft would be Griffon powered Barracudas.

HMS Repulse and the Richelieu, with fast escorts, separated from the rest of the fleet to make a few stops in New Zealand and the South Pacific before re-joining the rest of the fleet at Panama.

9-11 September 1940. The Battle of Valkenburg

The advantage for the French was the presence of aerial reconnaissance. The Luftwaffe’s ability to penetrate the Entente defences was flimsy at best. The arrival of the Panzer Army at Aachen was well known to the French. A concerted effort to bomb the railways and the form up areas around that city had taken place all night. The Germans on the other hand were completely unaware of the arrival of the French First Army. Guderian’s plan to hit the French Seventh Army from the south ran into General Blanchard’s plan to knock the Germans behind the Rhine.

General Rommel’s I Panzer Corps (6th, 7th and 8th Panzers with 13th and 20th (Mot) Division) were the first to arrive off the trains the previous evening and had suffered some losses on the journey. Rommel was keen to get to grips with the French and to get clear of the area of Aachen. This would allow Hoth’s Corps to arrive and deploy. Rommel ordered his units to drive immediately to Gulpen as they came off the trains and organise themselves there.

All three of Rommel’s panzer divisions were equipped with Czech built Panzer 38(T). All the Panzer 35(T) that had been part of 6th Panzer Division had been lost or were too difficult to maintain. These Panzer 38(T) replaced Panzer IIIs as the medium panzers in these three divisions. Each Division with one Panzer Regiment of two battalions of 15 Panzer IIs, 35 Panzer 38(T) and 10 Panzer IVs.

7th Panzer Division was first to move off and made the 9-mile journey to Wittem, while pushing forward its reconnaissance battalion towards the Valkenburg. 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions followed along the road. The three Panzer Divisions, with a nominal strength of 360 panzers, due to aerial attacks and normal maintenance problems, had less than 320 panzers operational. The integral Motorised Infantry battalions of the Panzer Divisions were all present, but the two Motorised Infantry Divisions were making their way by road, allowing the railways to be used by the Panzers. It would be another two days before they would be able to join the fight.

An aerial battle was raging above Aachen, the Luftwaffe doing everything in their waning power to protect the arrival of the Panzers. With the provision of radar, the AdA and the RAF were able to bring larger formations of fighters together at appropriate times to win local air superiority when their bombers and fighter bombers were in action. The Entente troops on the ground were aware that there wasn’t as much air support during the battle as they had become used to.

The French First (1re) Army had started to arrive by train in Genk the day before. They followed the 7e Army’s path over the Meuse at Maasmechelen, led by the 1re DLC (Light Cavalry Division) and followed by V Corps (1re DCr and 12e DIM). As they arrived, 7e Army was re-organising itself in preparation to attack the German West Wall fortifications.

The opening shots of the battle took place between elements of the 1re DLC and the German 28th Infantry Division. The Germans’ positions were largely behind the river Guel, with the 83rd Infantry Regiment in an advanced positions on higher ground. The 44th Artillery Regiment were in support of this position. The 2e RAM (Armoured Car Regiment) were pushing forward looking for gaps in the German positions in their Panhard 178s and H35s. The German infantry, who were lying in wait, showed that armoured cars were very vulnerable to the PAK 37s of the anti-tank platoon. Once contact was made the troops of the 5e RDP (Mechanised Dragoon Regiment) came forward in their Citroën-Kégresse P 19 halftracks. French artillery was called on the German positions. This allowed the French infantry to begin to advance in an attempt to push the Germans back. The strength of the German position, with artillery support of its own was too strong for the light French force.

The other Brigade of 1re DLC managed to find a gap between the forward units of the 8th and 28th Infantry Divisions. This probe led to the decision to bring 84th Infantry Regiment of 8th Division back behind the river Guel to save them from being cut off. The German positions revealed by reconnaissance were noted and passed back to the main force. Knowing the area where the two German divisions were joined was always helpful. This information became secondary as aerial reconnaissance showing the movement of the panzer divisions caught the attention of the French Generals.

General Bruneau ordered 1re DLC to hold in place, screening the arrival of 1re DCr. 14e and 21e Infantry Divisions were ordered to dig in and prepare for an attack by the German panzer force. 7e Army’s Commander, when informed of the potential threat to their southern flank, all units were ordered to hold in place, except GBC 510 which was ordered to redeploy to support the infantry divisions. Elements of 1re DLM began to concentrate getting ready to meet a German attack.

General Rommel pored over the maps with his staff looking for the best way to hit the French in the rear. The information that the French were reinforcing with what appeared to be a cavalry division in front of Fourth Army, was concerning. Rommel planned a hasty strike, before the French could react. He ordered 7th Panzer Division to take the road from Gulpen via Cadier en Keer towards Maastricht. This would bring them into a position attack north through Meerssen with the canal on their left. With the two Motorised Divisions unavailable, 8th Infantry Division was called on support 7th Panzer Division. Rommel gave orders that 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions, once ready, would take the road to Valkenburg, from there they were to push north towards Nuth. The 28th Infantry Division would provide infantry support. Informing Guderian of his plan, he requested that Hoth’s Corps conform to his Corps movement. If Hoth moved north from Aachen to attack towards Heerlen, Rommel was of the opinion that six panzer divisions would be more than enough to smash the French 7e Army.

7th Panzer Division took three hours to arrive and sort themselves out at Gulpen. The artillery of Fourth Army’s VIII Corps had to be tied into Rommel’s plan and fuel topped off before the attack could begin. By mid-afternoon Rommel’s Corps was ready and the artillery plan went into operation. Guderian had agreed with Rommel’s judgement and Hoth’s panzers would join the fight as soon as they could get off the trains and away from Aachen. As this movement would likely be hampered by air attacks, no exact time for their arrival and attack could be given.

General Baron, commanding 1re DCr had looked at the same maps as Rommel and knew what he would do in his opponent’s position. He gave orders for two of his char battalions (28e and 25e) to take up positions Moorveld, on the road between Maastricht and Sittard. The mix of 35 B1s and 45 R39s would have time to create a strong position to hold the Germans there. Infantry support would come from 14e DI initially, and be reinforced with the arrival 12e DIM. On the left flank he ordered his other two battalions, 37e and 26e, with the same mix of chars, to take up positions at Schimmert. These would be supported by 152e Regiment of 14e Division and be reinforced by the 8e Regiment Zouaves of 12e DIM when they arrived.

The German artillery combining Fourth Army’s VIII Corps, 8th and 28th Divisions as that of the Panzer Corps’ three divisions which had arrived, put up a highly creditable barrage. When the German reconnaissance units moved forward they found themselves jousting with their opposite numbers from 1re DLC. The French troops, having already been in action that morning had to take on a Germans force which were fresh. The Panzer Reconnaissance Regiments and the French cavalry units each tried to do their jobs, the French to screen the main force behind them, the Germans to find a clear way through.

Eventually the main force of 7th Panzer Division slammed into the 31e Infantry regiment’s positions. The French Regiment had anti-char units, a mixture of 25mm and 47mm guns from 14e Division’s Artillery Regiment. These guns took a heavy toll on the reconnaissance regiment’s Panzer IIs and half-tracks. The Panzer 38(T) and Panzer IVs weren’t as vulnerable when they closed, but there progress against dug in infantry with anti-tank guns proved difficult. The German motorised infantry Regiment constantly tried to work around French positions. More often than not, this led to the withdrawal of the French infantry. These moves were covered by the surviving cavalry chars and armoured cars of 1re DLC, so that the Germans couldn’t take advantage. Darkness falling brought an end the fighting, the panzer forces withdrew into laagers to resupply.

6th Panzer Division did somewhat better in the centre of the advance. Their opponents, 83e Infantry Regiment weren’t as well dug in as 31e IR. This had made them vulnerable to the German artillery barrage which had further weakened the French Regiment. They were only able to put up minor resistance as they pulled back. One panzer battalion of 6th Panzer Division took the road towards Klein Haasdal, while the other went towards Aalbeek. This brought them directly onto the 1re DCr Demi-Brigade of Chars which had arrived in Schimmert at almost the same time. The presence of the Char B1s, unsuspected by German Intelligence, came as a shock to the panzer units. The first few panzers that were destroyed were thought to have been lost to anti-tank guns. Further artillery support was requested from 6th Panzer Division’s artillery regiment, which was followed up by a motorised infantry Battalion attempting to flank the presumed French emplacements.

The arrival on the scene of the H39s, which began forcing the German infantry back, brought about a toe-to-toe battle between the evenly matched Panzer 38(T)s and H39s. The superior German command and control gave the panzers the advantage, with the H39s forced to pull back. This brought the chasing panzers right onto the superior firepower of the Char B1s. More and more Panzer 38(T)s and Panzer IVs were being hit, disabled or destroyed with very little they could do in reply. Various attempts to flank the French were met by well positioned anti-tank guns or H39s still able to fight. The other Panzer Battalion, which had taken the road to Aalbeek, once contacted, turned west and started to hit the French forces on their flank. Here the German panzers had the upper hand, their mobility causing the French to have to halt and redeploy. This always took longer for the French to achieve than it did the Germans, with the effect of blunting the French advance, and saving much of the other Battalion.

Once darkness fell, the panzers withdrew to find their supply vehicles to refuel and rearm. The German infantry threw up a serious of defensive positions. A number of damaged or abandoned panzers were able to be recovered, but 6th Panzer Division had lost about a quarter of its strength.

8th Panzer Division’s attack, following a railway line north, found the gap that Rommel had been hoping for. Only light French reconnaissance forces were in their way until they reached Wijnandsrade, less than a mile short of their objective of Nuth. Here, 152e Infantry Regiment who were well dug in and, conscious of the danger a German breakthrough would pose, held out determinedly. When forced to, the French troops gave up ground, but not before taking a toll of the German attackers. As 152e Regiment fought their way back to Nuth, behind them, elements of 21e Division and 106e Motorised Infantry Regiment moved up to hold the town. It was only arrival of darkness that prevented a catastrophic breach in the French lines. Rommel informed Guderian at the end of the day of his positions, and reiterated that with Hoth’s Corp moving north alongside his Corps, they would be able to exploit the weakness of the French position discovered by 8th Panzer Division.

All night a maximum effort was made by the AdA to hamper the arrival of Hoth’s Panzer Corps. Aachen burned as the road and rail network were targeted. The French were also rushing forward their two DLMs to be in position for the morning. The air raids made German progress of forming up the Panzer Divisions and getting them onto the road towards Heerlen was delayed. It was well into the morning before 1st Panzer Division was ready join the fray.

The presence of French armoured forces had been a nasty surprise the day before. While it had been expected that 7e Army had at least one Armoured Division, there seemed to be more French tanks than Rommel had expected. 8th Panzer Division, following a strong barrage against Nuth, began to push forward again. With this being the most likely point for breakthrough, Rommel instructed 6th and 7th Panzer Divisions to be prepared to reinforce 8th Panzer Division. It would take time for these two Divisions to move to be in a position to exploit 8th Panzer Division’s breakthrough. For once the Luftwaffe managed to gain a temporary control of the air, and the combined weight of air attack, artillery and the flexibility of the German tactics put the French positions at Nuth in great danger.

3e DLM and 15e DIM, had moved forward during the night, but they hadn’t much time to prepare for 8th Panzer Division’s attack. The French infantry, unlike the British, had fewer effective anti-tank weapons. The infantry did have rifle grenades, with HEAT warheads, but they relied mostly on their towed anti-tank guns. The damage done by the Luftwaffe and German artillery, had disrupted the French infantry’s defensive plan. 8th Panzer Divisions’ integral infantry regiments forced an opening for the panzers to exploit. As groups of French infantry streamed back past them, 3e DLM’s 1re Cuirassiers Regiment was arriving. This French regiment operational strength was 35 S35s and 36 H39s. 8th Panzer Division fielded 65 Panzer 38(T)s, 20 Panzer IVs, with some Panzer IIs in the reconnaissance force. When these two forces clashed, the French chars had the advantage of armour and good guns. The German Panzers had better speed and their tank tactics worked better. The Germans consistently worked together, using their superior mobility to overcome the French advantages.

By the time that 6th Panzer Division arrived at the scene of the battle, they found large number of tanks from both sides burning or abandoned. 8th Panzer Division had forced 1re Cuirassiers Regiment to fall back, but at a high cost to themselves. Just as 6th Panzer Division moved forward to take up the momentum gained by 8th Panzer Division, they ran into 134e Infantry Regiment. This unit had been untouched by the earlier air raids and artillery barrages, and had taken advantage of good ground to position itself in. They had also made best use of the time gained by their comrades in 1re Cuirassiers. As the lead battalion of 6th Panzers came up the road, they were subject to concentrated artillery barrage which stripped the Panzers of their infantry support. Hung up by the 47mm anti-tank guns of 15e DIM, they found themselves taking steady casualties without enough room to manoeuvre.

It was at this point that 2e Cuirassiers, with the operational strength of 70 chars, rolled into the flank of the already weakened 6th Panzer Division from the direction of Spaubeek. Without room to make best use of their tactics, the heavy armour and effective guns of the French chars cut through the German panzers. Those who could, retreated back, hoping to join 8th Panzer Division, whose survivors were licking their wounds. The French chars drove forward relentlessly.

7th Panzer Division found itself having to go on the defensive as the remains of 6th and 8th Panzer retreated. 15e DIM’s 2e Cuirassiers Regiment, supported by 11e Dragoons (52 H35s), pushed forward. The effectiveness of the French armour against the German 37mm guns was proven once again, causing the Panzer Corps real problems. General Rommel had come forward and personally directed the fire of a battery of field guns and associated anti-aircraft guns to try to stop the French. The arrival of the AdA added to the German’s woes, two squadrons of Breguet 693s made a couple of passes, Rommel narrowly escaped with his life, but the German line held, at least for the moment.

1st Panzer Division, the first of Hoth’s Corps to arrive, finally arrived at Heerlen, with the plan of pushing further into the southern flank of 7e Army. With Rommel’s Panzer Corps in trouble, Guderian gave them orders to hold where they were. They would need the other two Panzer Divisions, 2nd and 10th, and the Motorised Infantry Divisions to arrive. The French were proving more powerful than believed, which was confirmed when signal intelligence was able to tell Guderian that French 1re Army had arrived at much the same time as his own Panzer Army. This was a very different position from that which had been expected. Throwing a Panzer army into the flank of 7e Army was one thing, going head-to-head with the heaviest French Armoured Army was a recipe for disaster.

General Bruneau saw the possibilities ahead of his 1re Army. If General De La Laurencie’s III Corps’ turned south towards Valkenburg, preceded by the remaining heavy chars of 1re DCr, they could well break through the German VIII Corps. If they managed that, then they might be able to cut through and press on Aachen, catching the remaining panzers in a pocket. He began to issue orders.

Later in the day, 8e Regiment Zouaves and 150e Motorised Infantry Regiment accompanied the chars of the 1re DCr as they began to move south, followed by the rest of III Corps. 1re DCr still had 45 B1s and 54 H35s operational, its own reconnaissance elements were reinforced by surviving elements of 1re DLC. The French Divisional and Corps level artillery prepared the way for the attack. The German infantry units were pushed back, with almost no way of countering the B1s, and during the night withdrew to form another line of resistance.

General Guderian was conscious that his remaining panzers were just about all that the Reich had left. The Panzer Army had been caught without good intelligence and came up against a force at least as strong as itself. It was important to try to save what he had left. 8th and 10th Panzer Divisions once they joined 1st Panzer Division would stop in place. As soon as 13th Motorised Infantry Division arrived, they would be pushed forward and onto the frontline. This Division, with whatever infantry units found locally, would attempt to hold the French around Heerlen. The rest of Hoth’s Panzer Corps would fall back to the German border behind the Westwall. As the other motorised divisions of the Panzer Army arrived, they would reinforce the Westwall defences. This would make Hoth’s Corps, and whatever survived of Rommel Corps, a mobile reserve.

The OKH, looking at the disaster that Rommel had led his Corps into, agreed to Guderian’s plan. They also drew up orders to Fourth, Twelfth and Sixteenth Armies to prepare to withdraw back to the German border and Westwall. If the French were able to link their attacks in the Rhineland and the Saarland, all three armies would be in a cauldron. The Staff examined the problem of trying to get everything back through the Ardennes, on the heavily damaged roads, especially if the weather was to take a turn for the worse, as was forecast. At least a break in the weather would provide some respite from aerial attacks.

Rommel’s disaster also ultimately sealed the fate of the panzer arm. The great pre-war theory of Lightning War, ‘Blitzkrieg’ hadn’t been borne out. The Infantry Generals hoped that the panzer formations would be broken up to support the infantry divisions, which was obviously what the British and French were doing so successfully. It seemed that the British and French use of heavily armoured panzers, while slower than the German panzers, had proved far more effective on the battlefield. Only the Panzer IV had given a consistently good account of itself, even that with its short 75mm gun was in obvious need of replacement.

Over the last two days the British had continued their push to the Rhine, driving more and more of Sixth Army’s units back across the river. The British were on the west bank of the Rhine from Nijmegen to Xanten, and their progress seemed unstoppable. The German generals still thought that the British and French attacks were very slow and cumbersome, even so, German infantry found themselves constantly out-gunned and under aerial attack. Morale was slipping fast, and the British found themselves passing greater numbers of German POWs back to the Belgians who were following their progress. The progress of the French in Saarland continued slowly, with mounting casualties on both sides.

The advance of 1re DCr with 12e Dim had got off to a good start. Reaching the river Guel at Broekhem they came under direct fire from the German positions on the ridge behind the river. The German 49th Infantry Regiment, backed up by the Divisional artillery was in a good position. The Zouaves thought of themselves as having a certain panache in attack. Under the cover of the direct fire of the chars and a hastily organised smoke screen, Lt-Col Anzemberger had two of his companies make an attempt to push the Germans off the ridge. They managed to cross the river, but were caught in cross fire from German machine gunners. A B1 char moved forward to provide closer support, and its 75mm gun managed to clear two of the machine gun nests, despite this, the momentum had been lost. The char was disabled by direct hits from mortar shells.

Rather than attempting another frontal assault, the local French commander decided to redirect his chars to follow the the railway line that ran parallel to the river. This brought them to the gap between 7th and 49th Infantry Regiments. The H35s led the way, Zouave infantry running alongside them using their bulk for shelter from the German fire coming from the ridgeline. The Germans threw everything at them, but the French continued to make progress, and started to roll up the German flank. German 83rd Infantry Regiment was the Divisional reserve and were sent forward to counterattack. This Regiment had been weakened in the fighting the previous day. Despite their best efforts the attack wasn’t successful and they were forced back by the presence of the French chars. The failure of the counterattack allowed the rest of the French chars and infantry to pushed through the valley, getting behind the German positions. As this unfolded, those German units which, could hastily evacuated. The breach in the German lines now endangered their positions in the whole area.

IIIe Corps advanced towards Maastricht led by 13e Dragoons in S35s, supported by the 1re Regiment from 1e DIM. Another battalion of H35s providing flank cover to the advance. 8th Infantry Division, was the German force they came up against. Elements of this German Division had been bloodied the day before. As their resistance stiffened, French heavy artillery, directed by a forward observer, was able to put a strong, accurate barrage on the German positions. When the French chars arrived, the German 28th Infantry Regiment put up only a desultory defence before withdrawing, back towards 38th Infantry regiment, which was acting as the Divisional reserve.

The lack of effective anti-tank guns against the heavily armoured French chars was dispiriting. Losses among the French infantry mounted, but the presence of mostly invulnerable chars began to overwhelm the German defenders.

The French main force found themselves following the same road that the German 7th Panzer Division had used early the previous day. This brought the German position along the ridge in jeopardy of being bypassed and cut off. Throughout VIII Corps, the order was given to pull back first towards Gulpen, then back to the Westwall positions in front of Aachen. This order came too late for many of German units, leading to a substantial part of 8th Infantry Division falling into captivity.

While most of IIIe Corps continued to advance in the general direction of Aachen, a secondary force headed straight to Maastricht. The Germans had abandoned the town and the inhabitants rejoiced at their liberation. Control of Maastricht made it possible for the Belgian Army to come forward to begin to try to establish bridges across the water. Once these were in place, it would make the reinforcement and resupply of the French army much simpler.

Darkness was setting in when the French troops arrived at Valkenburg. There were now two paths available for General Blanchard. On one hand, his forces continue continue south towards Liege, perhaps onto Namur, which would fully open up the Meuse. This would mean having to take on the rest of German Fourth Army. On the other hand, and much more appealing was to begin battering through the Westwall defences, breakthrough to Aachen, which would open up the road to Duren and onto the Rhine at Cologne.

11 September 1940. Royal Ordinance Factory Nottingham.

ROF Nottingham had been in full production since 193t, producing a variety of different artillery pieces. The workforce had been expanded so that the factory was in operation twenty-fours a day.

The the first BL 5.5-inch medium artillery piece from the new production line was completed, six months ahead of schedule. This gun was designed to replace the Great War era 6-inch howitzers still used in the Royal Artillery medium batteries. It was expected that the production line would eventually provide sixty of these guns per month, enough for three regiments.

In other parts of the factory and local industry the question of providing mobility to artillery units was being experimented with. The Bofors 40mm Anti-Aircraft Gun, another of ROF Nottingham’s staples, had been mated with a Morris Commercial four-wheel drive, better known as the Quad Artillery Tractor. The experiment was to provide a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. Initial test vehicles were proving successful, though modifications would be needed before production could begin.

The idea of doing the same with the 5.5-inch gun, to create a self-propelled gun, would need a strong tank hull, the new Comet being the most likely candidate. The Royal Horse Artillery were also hoping that this chassis would be suitable for a self-propelled 25-pdr. Experiments with the Valentine chassis found it to be too small. English Electric were promoting a version based on the A13Mk II hull. Drawings, based on pictures from a 1981 copy of Jane’s Armour and Artillery book of the Sexton had been provided to English Electric as an idea to consider. The A13MkII’s hull was shorter than the Ram chassis in the picture, so fitting the 25-pdr would be a bit of a squeeze. The Royal Artillery were keen on having something sooner rather than later to work with the mechanised divisions, so compromises would have to be made.

11 September 1940. Paris, France.

The Renault Company’s design to replace the char D2, which they named the G1R, had been proposed in May, with drawing submitted and agreed to, with the order for five prototypes to be built for testing. The wooden mock-up had also been examined, showing that the paper designs were accurate. This tank was designed with a torsion bar suspension powered by a 350hp engine. A V12 KGM powerplant, producing 550hp was being actively considered if it could be delivered on time. Renault had designed the char with 60mm of cast armour, armed with a high power APX 75mm in the turret, and the tank was expected to weigh about 35 tonnes. The ample feedback from active units about the limitations of the current chars had been taken into account by Renault. They had accepted the need for a three-man turret, allowing the commander to command; for the char to have adequate radio communications; and were doing their best to make the char mechanically reliable. This last might be difficult to achieve with so many innovative elements, but it was taken seriously.

The 60mm cast armour had been tested against captured German anti-tank guns, including an 88mm flak gun. The sloped design gave it a reasonable chance of defeating the majority of German weapons, though it was still vulnerable to the 88mm gun.

Once the prototypes were built, they would put through a rigorous testing regime. Even before this, Renault was given an order for 500 chars, to be put into full production as quickly as possible.

11 September 1940. OKH forward Headquarters. Rodert. Germany.

The senior commanders had to consider the consequences of the failure of the Panzer Army hit the flank of 7e Army, coupled with the unexpected arrival the French 1re Army. The whole situation west of the Rhine was too fragile for comfort. Chief of the Wehrmacht General Staff, General Franz Halder wanted the previous night’s precautionary order to withdraw behind the Rhine to be implemented. In this he had the support of the majority of the Generals concerned. The exception was General List (CO Twelfth Army) who strongly disagreed. Having this discussion in the presence of the Fuhrer led to a rant. The Generals had become well used to these rants, those who dared raise their eyes from their boots, glanced at one another in embarrassment. General Halder was the focus of this particular rant, which was even more deprecating than normal.

Walther von Brauchitsch, commander-in-chief of the army, cleared his throat loudly. This was something of a shock to the Fuhrer, as normally his ranting cowed his audience. Hitler stopped in mid-sentence, and looked over at his army commander. Von Brauchitsch reiterated the reasons for wanting to pull the main force behind the Rhine, especially as the panzer forces hadn’t been able to counteract the Entente armoured forces. He reminded the Fuhrer that as head of state and supreme commander, he had appointed this command staff to advise him. He noted, calmly that the Fuhrer’s proposition that no unit should giving up any ground, fighting to the last bullet and the last man, seemed brave, even Wagnerian. As it was his job to militarily advise the Fuhrer, he had to say that such an order would be disastrous. Von Brauchitsch told Hitler that if he insisted of this order being given, then the Fuhrer would need to appoint a new commander, as he would have no option but to resign. He also felt that he had to warn the Fuhrer that he probably wouldn’t be the only General to do so.

Hitler was used to bullying his way through things, using the force of his personality to get what he wanted. Von Brauchitsch had never once stood up to him before, so he was taken by surprise. Hitler realised he was faced with a situation worse than he had started with in 1933. Then, the occupation of the Rhineland by French, British and Belgian forces after the Great War until 1930 had been a terrible humiliation. The remilitarisation of the Rhineland in 1936 had been a large part of his appeal to the German people. He shuddered to think of the “Black Shame”, the French colonial troops running loose among the womenfolk. Hitler could see clearly that if the Entente forces occupied the west side of the Rhine, it put the Ruhr region under threat, and without the industry of the Ruhr, there was no chance of victory. The fact that his Generals were proposing abandoning so much of the Reich, and in fact condemning all of it, gave him only one choice.

Hitler, very calmly refused Von Brauchitsch’s resignation. Instead, he had him arrested by his SS guards and demanded the resignation of any other general who wasn’t prepared to ask the Wehrmacht to defend their Reich and their Volk. Halder, the Chief of Staff, walked over to join Von Brauchitsch. One by one, General after General walked over to join their comrades. Hitler stood speechless at the treachery that unfolded before him. A full quarter of his General Staff had just disobeyed the very man that they had vowed unconditional obedience to.

The traitors were led away by Hitler’s SS guards. Hitler immediately appointed General Von Rundstedt as the new Commander-in-Chief, informing him quietly that he would do the job himself if Von Rundstedt failed. As General Von Bock, (CO Army Group B), was amongst those marched away, Hitler appointed Dollmann from Seventh Army to replace him. General List (CO Twelfth Army), whose opposition to Halder’s plan, had made him rise in Hitler’s opinion, appointed him to succeed Von Rundstedt as commander of Army Group A. General Reichenau (CO Sixth Army) was replaced by General Von Paulus, his chief of staff. Hitler made it clear to Von Paulus that retreat behind the Rhine was not an option. He had the strictest orders for his men stand and fight, to the last bullet, to the last man. Von Paulus nodded that he understood.

Hitler ordered the shocked remaining Staff of OKH to plan how they would stop the French and British. The Fuhrer then left to deal with the traitors. Von Rundstedt, gave the staff a few minutes to take stock, then began conferring with the surviving generals to work out a plan.

12 September 1940. Rheinberg. Germany.

General Alan Brooke fixed his binoculars on the river Rhine and then followed the path of it along to where the artillery were stonking German positions south of Moers. After a few moments, hearing the determined coughs of one of his aides, he took his eyes off the conflict and turned them back to the meeting he was having with his Army and Corps commanders. British First and Second Army had joined forces a couple of days ago and were continuing to push the Germans out of the Rhineland, rolling up the Westwall from the north.

The two army commanders, Claude Auchinleck and Jumbo Wilson had done well. Their slow and steady style wasn’t going to win any awards for verve or dash, but with the tools at their disposal it was probably the best that could be done. Two of Auchinleck’s three Corps commanders, Harold Franklyn (I Corps), and Augustus Thorne (III Corps) were new and had proven to be good choices. The other one, Bernard Montgomery (II Corps) had been in the job longer and continued to do well. Wilson’s Second Army Corps commanders, Q Martel (1st Mech), Richard O’Connor (IV Corps) and Harold Alexander (V Corps) were now very experienced and good at their jobs. Over the past week a number of officers at all levels, who hadn’t been good at their jobs had been replaced.

For this strategy meeting the senior RAF commanders were present, including Air Marshall Arthur Barratt, overall commander of the RAF on the continent. He had with him AVM Keith Park and Trafford Leigh-Mallory, representing 14 Group and Tactical Air Command respectively. Brooke knew that Park and Leigh-Mallory didn’t get along terribly well, so he began by acknowledging the role the two men’s commands had played in the success of the army. Barratt thanked him, but warned that the current levels of losses were unsustainable, especially among the Hurribomber squadrons. He explained that the problem wasn’t with aircraft, these were being built or repaired quickly enough. Pilot losses were much more difficult to replace. The Empire Training Scheme would soon make a huge difference, but until those newly trained pilots arrived, it would be impossible to keep up the current level of support to the army.

The only reason they had been able to give the levels of support up until now was because many of the navigators and air gunners on the old Battle Squadrons had been retrained as pilots. Leigh-Mallory spoke briefly about the improvements to the Hurribomber, which were going to make it a bit more survivable and carry a better payload. The first squadrons equipped with two Vickers S 40mm guns had been deployed ahead of schedule. The arrival of Beaufighter Squadrons in any strength wouldn’t happen before spring. Once he had finished Keith Park gave a brief overview of the air situation from his perspective. He noted that Bomber Command had done a brilliant job against Luftwaffe bases. Göring’s men were struggling to recover from these attacks. The Squadrons equipped with the Mark II Spitfire, which was proving to be a very effective fighter were doing well. Park had to point out that if the Luftwaffe attempted to attack the south of England, they’d find it pretty easy. The majority of British fighter strength was currently in France.

A number of the army commanders wanted to reinforce Brooke’s praise of the RAF. They gave examples of the support their men had received. The army was particularly appreciative of the new weapons being used in support, especially cluster bombs, Fuel Air Explosives and napalm. Brooke let the back slapping go on for a few minutes, it was important to acknowledge the cooperation that had been achieved. Then Brooke moved onto the next item on the agenda. The latest intelligence was that the Germans were going to fight on in the Rhineland. The French had done well to blunt the panzer attack and were in a good position to threaten Aachen. The main problem was that there was still a gap of 30 to 40 miles between the British and French armies east of the Meuse. General Blanchard’s plan called for the two British armies to continue to progress south on the west bank of the Rhine. This would roll up the Westwall from the flank. The French 7th Army, instead of pushing north to meet the British, would concentrate on breaching the Westwall.

General Montgomery proposed that instead of continuing to batter their heads against the Germans, why not make a crossing over the Rhine now, while they still had a couple of good weeks of weather. If the British crossed the Rhine, at Wesel for example, and threatened the Ruhr, then the Germans would have no choice but to withdraw the rest of their forces. Since the plan was to cross the Rhine anyway next Spring, why not now? This led to a lengthy discussion about logistics. The Quarter-Master General, Wilfred Lindsell was adamant that there was no way such an attack could be supported. There were only so many bridges across the Meuse and the ground which had been fought over this last week would make it impossible to be able to bring forward enough stores to support such an attempt. All the planning, including for bridging equipment and assault craft was geared for April 1941, to go any sooner risked creating a bridgehead too far and too soon.

Harold Alexander, whose V Corps had been heavily engaged in the fighting, noted that his men were now tired. He used the image of the two British Armies as a left and right hook on a boxer. One should swing and hits the foe, then as it runs out of steam, the other army would swing, keeping up a constant pressure in the Germans. Going by the numbers of prisoners being taken, it looked like the German army wasn’t far from breaking. If the French 1re and 7e Army did the same to the south, there was no way the Germans could withstand it. This idea seemed to resonate with the other commanders and Brooke sensed a consensus. He made a mental note to give Montgomery a big chunk of the planning to do for the Rhine crossing.

Once agreement had been reached on the strategy, Brooke led the discussion towards actual planning for what would happen next and what to do about it. Afterwards, he would need to write to General Dill, telling him that the formation of a Third British Army should be of the highest priority.

On receiving this letter, General Dill recommended to the War Cabinet that to complete the Third Army the Anzac Corps should be dispatched from Middle East Command and brought to France. Once arrived and were fully trained and equipped they would join British VI Corps. This Corps was already in France, (4th (Indian) Division, 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, 56th (London) Infantry Division). VII Corps, (2nd Canadians, 43rd (Wessex) Division and 3rd Armoured Division), might be combat effective by the spring, giving the Third Army three Corps. Brooke had mentioned Montgomery as a possible Army Commander, and Dill was happy to take the recommendation. There were some of planners in the War Office who wondered how Montgomery would get on with the mixture of Canadians, Indians, Australians and New Zealanders in his army.

11 September 1940. The West Nova Scotia Regiment.

Lance Corporal John Warren wasn’t conscious that General Brooke had been looking at the same artillery barrage as he was. Warren was more concerned with waiting for the barrage to start moving forward, then he and his mates would follow in its wake. He hefted his rifle and double checked the bayonet was securely fixed. Before he knew it, the Lieutenant’s whistle blew. Warren picked himself up and, keeping himself as small as possible, moved forward. He did look around to check that the other three men in his Bren gun squad were with him.

The chance of a round falling short, or even just shrapnel from ahead, played in his mind. “Lean on the barrage” was what he had been taught, and he knew that the Canadians in 1918 (the year he was born) had been considered one of the best assault units on the Western Front. Twenty-two years later they were doing exactly what their fathers and uncles had done, with only a few changes in their equipment.

The barrage lifted completely, now it was a mad dash to get to the German positions before they could get their act together. He found himself running for his life, his arms and legs pumping. He started to hear the zip of bullets passing close. He jumped into a shell hole, still steaming from the impact of the shell. His gunner and the two others joined him. He did a quick look to get an idea of where the German fire was coming from, and noticed that most of the platoon had done the same as himself. Warren had a fair idea of where the Bren gun should be aimed at, which he pointed out, the gunner acknowledging and squirming into position. As if by magic the four Bren guns in the platoon opened up at almost the same moment. As the first magazine was emptied, Warren and his number four, popped up and fired off ten rounds rapid fire. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the progress of the rifle squads which were using the covering fire to leapfrog forward.

As these riflemen opened fire, it was time to get moving again. As one, the four men got themselves out of the shell hole and started running as fast as they could. Warren noticed the sparkle of some explosions ahead. This meant that the Company’s mortars must have got themselves into action. Again, his team threw themselves into another shell hole and repeated the whole process. This time when he looked up, he could see hand grenades being thrown, which meant they must be close to the German positions now. Once more they raced forward, this time it wasn’t a shell hole they landed in, but a German trench. Without hesitation he thrust his bayonet into a German uniform, only becoming aware that the enemy was already dead as he withdrew it. The remains of an MG34 team were lying around, killed either by a mortar shell or hand grenade.

His number two looked over the German machine gun and found it still working. There were a couple of tins of ammunition, so Warren slung his rifle and swung the captured machine gun around. It had a much higher rate of fire than the Bren gun. There was something satisfying about firing German ammunition at the German secondary positions. His number four found a German luger pistol, which he stuffed in his pack, souvenirs like that would be worth something to the artillery or supply guys later.

The artillery had started up again, another wall of smoke and fire. The Lieutenant, lightly wounded, and the Platoon Sergeant dashed round the platoon and got them ready move. Warren had fired off two belts of ammunition, the barrel of the German machine gun was done. He threw it down into the bottom of the hole, along with its former owners, got his rifle ready, and prepared himself to do it all over again.
12 - 17 September 1940
12 September 1940. 2e DLC. Germany.

While the battle of Valkenburg had been going on, the French 7e Army had held in place, some units had swung around to protect its southern flank. The Division had used the last few days to bring up supplies before the assault began on the Westwall fortifications. 2e DLC had been reconstituted from the remains of the 2e and 5e DLCs, after the fighting the Ardennes in May. All the horses had gone, the Brigade of Cavalry was now a BLM, (Light Mechanised Brigade) making two in the division. General Giraud had given Major-General Berniquet’s Division the task of scouting the German defences of the Westwall, and if possible, to detach a unit link up with the British army to the north.

Berniquet had sent 12e Light Motorised Brigade (Brigadier-General Gastey) up the east side of Meuse, in the direction of Roermond. Generally, they found that the Germans had mostly abandoned this part of Holland and had withdrawn behind the border and the Westwall fortifications. The 15e BLM (Colonel Evain) had the more difficult task of charting the fortifications and looking for weaknesses.

An opportunity was spotted at the Rur (German) or Roer (Dutch) river. The Westwall had been expanded north of this river from Brüggen to Kleve, known as the Geldern Emplacement. However, the Aachen-Saar part of the Westwall hadn’t been linked to this northern extension. Instead, a number of ditches and other obstacles had been dug. When Colonel Evain’s men found this, they pushed through on foot as much as they could. The DLC was very limited in its bridging equipment, just two light bridges per brigade, and limited engineering support. Near Vlodrop in Holland, with some help from the local Dutch population, the French found a gap in the German lines.

The German IX Corps, (30th and 56th Divisions) had been pulled apart as they tried to face the British from the north and the French from the south. The discovery of 5e Armoured Car Regiment among the rear echelons of the German troops meant that the commanding General Hermann Geyer gave orders for his two divisions to withdraw eastwards, towards Viersen and Mönchengladbach. By doing so he opened the way for a link between the French 7e Army and British Second Army.

13 September. Port Twefik. Egypt.

Two troopships were tied up alongside the docks. Men of three battalions of the 3rd Brigade of the South African Division disembarked. 3rd Brigade (1st Imperial Light Horse, 1st Rand Light Infantry, 1st Royal Durban Light Infantry), was set to join the rest of the 1st South African Division in Egypt.

The arrival of these troops was another example of untrained and under-equipped force that was assigned to General Wavell’s command. All too often, much to his concern and disappointment, once the training and equipping was complete, the units would be sent off to Europe. The two Australian divisions and the New Zealand Division were likely to be the next to be moved, at least that was the rumour. In fact by the end of September the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions and the 2nd New Zealanders were delivered to by ship to Marseilles, and then by train to Rennes.

At least the South Africans would be less likely to be removed from Middle East Command. General Smuts had managed to get agreement for the South Africans to serve throughout Africa, but hadn’t been able to persuade the Government to allow to serve beyond Africa, despite his best efforts. If the loss of the three ANZAC Divisions was confirmed, this would put more pressure on the remaining forces. First Cavalry Division was trying to both mechanise and help with policing in Palestine.

5th Indian Infantry Division, still short of its three British Battalions, was based on Malta. There were two proposals to bring the Division up to strength. Either a third Indian brigade, could be attached, which would be unusual. Or, three of Wavell’s regular battalions in the Suez could join the Fifth Indian Division. The idea was that these three British Battalions would be replaced by Indian Brigade moved from Kenya.

1st African Division in Kenya was close to operational. Their readiness would allow the Indian Brigade in Kenya to be transferred to Malta or to Suez. 2nd African Division was fully recruited, but still undergoing basic training in East Africa. In Nigeria, 1st West African Division, with a second planned, was in the early stages of formation. The hope was that an African Corps would be formed from these divisions, and they were earmarked for Burma and Malaya in 1941.

In India, the expansion of the Indian army was continuing. The 6th and 7th Indian Divisions, would be ready for deployment by the end of the year. These two Divisions were earmarked to join the 8th Indian Division in Singapore, creating an Indian Corps. The 1st Indian Armoured Division was at a very early stage of development. Recruits to this Division were being given an education in all things mechanical, but the number of vehicles they had to train on were limited. The Canadians had promised a consignment of Ford and GMC truck chassis which Tata Steel would take to create armoured vehicles from. These Indian Pattern armoured carriers would be the backbone of the armoured fighting vehicles. The South Africans, whose General Motors subsidiary, along with Holden in Australia, were linked into Vauxhall’s contract for making Comet tanks in 1941, and these would supply their own needs and that of the Indian Army.

12 September 1940. Firth of Clyde. Scotland.

Many Royal Navy destroyers and escort vessels had been fitted with the Hedgehog system which was linked to the basic ASDIC system that they already carried. This had proven quite successful. Ever since the Bristol Group had arrived, it had been a priority to recreate the Squid system to succeed the Hedgehog system. The actual weapon itself, a mortar system, was fairly straightforward to construct. It had taken six months of hard work but a fully working model had been established on shore and thoroughly tested. The difficult part had been in creating the ASDIC Type 144, 145 and 147 which would be able to search for submarines in terms of range, bearing and depth.

Because of the priority put on getting the Squid system into operation, just about everybody who’d ever had experience with it on the Bristol Group ships, and many of the sonar experts, had been working on it. HMS Ambuscade had been chosen to be the test vehicle for the upgraded ASDIC and, eventually, the prototype anti-submarine mortar. The destroyer had been undergoing an extensive refit when the Bristol Group had arrived, and it had been noted that historically this was the ship that had the original Squid prototype fitted. The same reasons for making this particular ship the trials ship for the new system seemed appropriate.

The mortar installations would take the place of the ‘A’ and ‘Y’ mounts of the 4.7-inch guns, but it was inside her superstructure and front hull that the real changes had been made. The mortars hadn’t been fitted yet, but the ship had arrived at the Underwater Research Department, which was based on the Clyde at Fairlie.

A “gloom room” had been created below the ship’s bridge. The system needed three operators and a control officer to work together. For the first trial run, the room was packed with other specialists, who had to push out some of the interested on-lookers to have enough room to act. HMS Tribune, a T class submarine, was playing the quarry. Two simple trials were run to make sure the new ASDIC equipment was properly calibrated. Then the destroyer and the submarine played cat and mouse for the rest of the day. The first full test was considered a success with the submarine’s range, bearing and depth being monitored with increasing frequency. The next trial would happen once the mortar system was in place, which was expected to be complete by November.

2 September 1940. Langley, Berkshire.

Philip Lucas, Hawker’s chief test pilot walked around the aircraft once more. He had flown the first Typhoon prototype back in February, but Sydney Camm had been working of redesigning the whole aircraft with the help of the Bristol Group information. The wing shape had been thinned and smoothed to make the most of the advantages of laminar flow. The engine had changed from the cancelled Napier Sabre to a Bristol Centaurus. Roy Fedden at Bristol had been working flat out to get an airworthy Centaurus to this point. The engine was still some way off being ready for full scale production, but Fedden had managed to create a number of pre-production models with flight tests such as this in mind. With the design intended as a ground attack aircraft from the outset, it was planned that the production aircraft would have four 20mm canons in the wings and the ability to carry up to two thousand pounds of external stores.

Lucas had seen drawings and photographs of the various Hawker planes, and this one looked a bit more like a Tempest than a Typhoon, though some of the lines of the Fury were evident too. This was Camm’s first aircraft made with all the modern techniques. With his regular insistence on making it as user-friendly as possible, access panels allowing for easier maintenance had been part of the design from the beginning. As Lucas finished his walk around, checking that everything was in place, he once more had a quick word with the crew chief and then got himself settled in the cockpit. They had gone through the taxiing tests previously and so Lucas set himself to take the second Typhoon prototype through a simple 15 minute flight.

Lucas taxied to the end of the runway and started to run the engine up to full power in preparation for take-off, but he became aware that it didn’t sound right. Looking at the dials he was starting to get some red warning lights. He immediately killed the fuel line and the switched off the engine. Noticing that a fire had already started, he unclipped himself as quickly as possible and, thanking his lucky stars that he hadn’t closed the canopy, jumped out onto the wing and then down onto the ground. He kept running even as the fire engine arrived. It seemed that the Centaurus wasn’t quite as ready as was hoped.

14 September 1940. Saar Front.

The French 5e army was exhausted from its efforts. All three Corps had expended themselves in their advance against the German Westwall. They had more or less cleared the Hansruck belt, and they were approaching the towns of Neunkirchen and Homburg, which were their next objective. As Supreme Commander, General Alphonse Georges had been following the slow progress in the Saar front closely. The more and more desperate appeals from General Bourret, commander of 5e Army, for support, hadn’t gone unheard.

Georges had designated units from GQG reserves to replace the 5e Army’s depleted forces. It was a slight gamble, but with the progress in the northeast, a pretty safe bet. 2e DCr was the most powerful force committed, with 70 B1s and 90 H39s. This would be accompanied by 3e DIM (Motorised Infantry Division), creating a mobile force, 1re Groupment Cuirasse under General Kellar. The surviving elements of the GBCs in Fifth Army would further strengthen this force. The exhausted VIII and XII Corps would be replaced by XXI and XXII Corps (4eDI, 10eDI, 1re DINA (North African DI), 5e DIC (Colonial ID). 5e Army’s two Alpine infantry divisions would be swapped with 64e and 66e DIAs from the Army of the Alps.

The designated forces had been arriving over the last week, and under the cover of darkness the tired 5e Army men were being replaced by the fresh troops. It was hoped that much of this swapping of units would pass unnoticed by the Germans.

The German First Army wasn't as lucky as 5e Army. General Von Witzleben had been carefully managing his command so that troops could be rested. He didn’t have the luxury of fresh troops to put into the line. The border and garrison troops had already been overcome or withdrawn. XII Corps, (75th, 252nd, 258th Divisions) were holding the line along the river Blies.

Before dawn on 14 September the French artillery barrage began, concentrating on the defences in front of Neunkirchen and Homburg. At first light the AdA pounded the German lines of communication and the German artillery positions. Colonel Jacob, commanding 5e Regiment Moroccan Tirailleurs, led his men onto the German positions in front of Neunkirchen just behind the artillery barrage. Although he was killed, his men managed to storm through the defences and into the town. The northern part of the German line was breached, and the rest of the 1re DINA poured through. General Libaud sent word to General Kellar that he could move 1re Groupment Cuirasse through the breach his men had created.

September 15 1940. The New York Times.

“Final Roll-Calls on Draft Bill”

Despite the intervention of President Roosevelt personally to support it, the Burke-Wadsworth Act failed to pass. In the House 165-191, with 141 Democrats and 24 Republicans in favor; 77 Democrats, 114 Republicans, and 4 others against. In the Senate the vote was 35-41 with 33 Democrats and 2 Republicans in favor, 20 Democrats, 19 Republicans, and 2 others against.

Under the Selective Training and Service Act, all American males between twenty-one and thirty-six years of age would have to have registered for the draft. President Roosevelt, despite his promise that there will be no involvement in foreign wars if he is re-elected, argued that this Bill was necessary because of the dangerous times we are living in.

In response to the failure of the Bill in Congress, the President said he was disappointed. He insisted that it would leave America vulnerable to the threats that are growing in both the East and the West. The Republican candidate for President, Thomas Dewey’s reacted to the defeat of the Bill. He said “If America was truly not going to have any involvement in foreign wars, then why should there be a ‘peace draft?’”

It was clear from the various speeches in both houses that the successes of the French and British in their fight against the Nazis had changed the outlook of the war in Europe. To the opponents of the Bill it was clear that America should not need to be drawn into the conflict in the way it had in 1917. The apparent success of the British navy to protect the sea lanes from the U-boat threat was another reason that there was no need to prepare for the worst.

To make matters worse for President Roosevelt, the latest opinion poll from Gallup put Dewey some nine points ahead, 49% to 40%. Despite his lack of foreign policy background, Dewey outstrips Roosevelt and the President’s attempt to win a third term is looking less likely.

Sunday 15 September 1940. Hawaii. 7.55am

In the morning hours of a sunny Sunday morning the United States Pacific Fleet was coming awake, getting ready for another day’s work. The sound of approaching aircraft began to interfere with the normal morning routine, and down through the main part of Battleship Row a procession of biplane torpedo bombers flew low and slow, two of them streaming large Royal Navy battle ensigns. Above them in formation were dive-bombers and fighters. As the fly past of over seventy aircraft proceeded from the harbour to the Army Air Corps bases the Americans knew they had finally found the Entente fleet that had been eluding them for the last few days.

Later in the day that Entente fleet sailed into Pearl Harbour, led by the aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and Ark Royal, their aircraft safely aboard. These were followed by the British and French battleships HMS Nelson and Richelieu, with the battlecruiser HMS Repulse which had re-joined the fleet earlier than expected. The Cruisers and Destroyers followed them into the harbour.

Admiral Kimmel was there to greet Admiral Sir James Somerville who commanded the Entente fleet. Kimmel and many of his senior staff were invited aboard HMS Illustrious, the flagship, for some refreshments. The talk turned quickly to fruitless search for the Entente Fleet by the Americans. The numbers of long-range search aircraft, even with the addition of two air wings from Saratoga and Enterprise, had been insufficient to find the Entente fleet. Somerville explained that they thought an approach from the northwest would provide the best way of putting on their air display to surprise the Americans. Adding the American Navy’s surprise had been the unexpected arrival of MN Richelieu and HMS Repulse from the southeast, having departed Tahiti. The expectation, or presumption, was that these two ships were heading directly for Panama. Another surprise that the Entente fleet had sprung was that its ships were accompanied by an oil tanker. Somerville explained that the Royal Navy had been experimenting with “replenishment at sea” and that the tanker had sailed independently from Singapore to replenish their bunkers after their circuitous route from Sydney.

As in the Philippines, the Entente Fleet spent the next week exercising with the US Pacific Fleet. The two British aircraft carriers spent most of their time going up against the American carriers, each attempting to get the better of the others. The Fulmers and Sea Hurricanes outclassed the American F2F and F3Fs. This was helped by the fact that some Fleet Air Arm pilots had combat experience over Norway had passed this experience on to their colleagues. The Skuas and Fulmars acting as dive-bombers, with the Swordfish torpedo bombers, were put up against the Devastators, Vindicators and Helldivers of the Americans. All six types were all due to be replaced over the next few years, so other than the Hurricanes, there wasn’t a huge gap in ability. Some Buffaloes came off worse in air-to-air combat, while the first Wildcats, which hadn’t yet reached operational deployment, were found adequate but not outstanding.

A certain amount of cross decking took place. The USN personnel who’d come aboard the British ships were impressed by radar control and, even better, the wardrooms which weren’t dry like the American ships. The British were impressed by the American ability to get large airstrikes organised, and took advantage of the quantity and quality of the food. The American lack of advanced radar, used by the British to find and fix their quarry, as well as defending against attacks, was a highlighted.

The most enjoyable part of the exercise for the pilots of both countries was going up against the battleships, whose anti-aircraft defences were found to be deficient. The Americans were also surprised by the effectiveness of the anti-submarine capacity of the Royal Navy, and the British dropped large hints about the problems that the American torpedoes might have.

At the end of the exercises HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal parted company. HMS Illustrious would return to Singapore, HMS Ark Royal would return home via the Panama Canal along with the battleships and battlecruiser.

Not long after the departure of the Entente Fleet, a meeting of senior American Admirals took place in San Francisco. The discussions were to examine the joint exercises and the weaknesses that the Entente Fleet had exposed in the defences of the Philippines and Hawaii. They also looked at the program for replacing their carrier aircraft, with particular attention to the Wildcat, the new Douglas SDB and Grumman’s TDB. Work on Vaught’s XF4U was also examined to see when it might become available.

15 September 1940. German Embassy, Tokyo.

The two men collapsed into chairs, loosening ties and gladly taking the drinks their aide had prepared for them.

Heinrich Stahmer (Foreign Ministry Official): Well, that news will not go down well in Berlin!

Eugen Ott (Ambassador): I was sure they would agree. They’ve been quite positive until now.

HS: I’m sure if we could get another meeting with Konoe himself, we could get this overturned.

EO: I think the fact that we haven’t been able to get a meeting with Konoe is a sign that this is coming from his office.

HS: The problem isn’t with Konoe, he just doesn’t want to back a losing horse. The problem is at home and the invasion of the Fatherland.

EO: Who would have thought the French would have done so well? That Entente naval display off Saigon and Singapore didn’t help. The idea of a southern strategy seems to be on hold.

HS: One of the aides let slip something about waiting to see what happens in November.

EO: They think Dewey will give them a better deal than Roosevelt?

HS: Maybe. I think they hope that Dewey will be like Hoover, and think that China is not worth a war.

EO: Well, it would seem that any chance of the Japanese joining us seems remote. With Mussolini reneging on his deal, Von Ribbentrop isn’t doing too well. I just hope that Stalin doesn’t get cold feet.

HS: I suppose we’d better send a cable to Berlin, what do you think?

EO: We’ll need to be very careful how we phrase it. By the way, if we can finish before 7pm that would be helpful. There’s a German businessman here in Tokyo I’d like you to meet. He has invited us for a meal tonight. I think you’ll like him, his name is Richard Sorge.

15 September 1940. North Sea.

The Kriegsmarine had been very quiet over the last couple of months, with little or no attempt to break out of the Baltic. That decision was partly made to protect what was left of the German fleet. Partly it was due to the widespread sowing of magnetic and pressure mines by the RAF. This made any attempt to break out much more difficult.

Over the last week, photoreconnaissance had noted more activity than previously. To Naval Intelligence it looked like the U-boat arm was about to attempt to surge a number of boats into the North Sea. Aerial reconnaissance from Norway had confirmed the presence of numerous mine sweepers at work on both sides of the Danish coast. The planners at the Admiralty were trying to guess the German plan as they didn’t seem to be using their Enigma machines to pass on orders.

In response, Home Fleet had come out in force. HMS Minerva’s sub hunting group were positioned off Kristiansand ready to intercept any U-boats that came through the Skagerrak. HMS Andromeda’s group were north of Heligoland ready to pounce on any U-Boats who set off from the west of Denmark. HMS Glorious was at sea, carrying a squadron of Swordfish for ASW work. The carrier also had as many Sea Hurricanes as she could carry to provide a combat air patrol over the fleet in case the Luftwaffe decided to get involved. HMS Warspite and Renown with escorts were present just in case there was a need for heavy guns.

The Entente submarine fleet had also put to sea. A line of submarines was in and around Danish waters watching and waiting. For the first time in a many months HMS Onyx had been allowed into harm’s way. Intelligence thought there was an outside chance that the U-boat surge might be a cover for an attempt to get the Bismarck out of Hamburg and into the Baltic. The normal path, through the Kiel Canal, had been heavily mined with both magnetic and pressure mines. It was hoped that this would force the battleship to take the long way around Denmark.

If that was the case, HMS Onyx had the best chance of intercepting Bismarck. The efforts of the RAF to blockade the German sea lanes with mines, also had an impact on the Royal Navy too. HMS Swordfish and HMS Ursula were working with HMS Onyx, using a form of underwater telephone known as Gertrude. This system worked by voices being heterodyned to a high pitch for acoustic transmission through water.

Putting HMS Onyx so far into enemy territory was just too great a risk, no matter the prize. What HMS Onyx could do, would be to lead the other two submarines past Heligoland, and then they would be on their own, following a bearing to potentially intercept the Bismarck. HMS Urusla had the most dangerous role, attempting to get into the Elbe near the Brunsbüttel Roads, the entrance to the Kiel Canal. HMS Swordfish would take up position as near the island of Trischen as it could. Both submarines had been fitted with a simple aerial that could be raised like the periscope so they could radio any sightings reports, without putting themselves in too much danger. They were also fitted with a buoy that could be detached and transmit a simple signal.

On the night of 14 September a major German mine clearing effort was made out of the Elbe, with a number of motorised barges being used as suicidal mine clearers. Then there came the Sperrbrecher, ships that had been purposely designed to break their way through minefields. Following these was a flotilla of Räumbotte, actual mine-clearers. Once these had cleared a lane, eight U-boats exited the Kiel Canal into the Elbe. The U-boats would attempt to beat a path for the Bismarck to follow. The U-boats had been able to make the passage successfully. The number of ships which hadn’t been successful, but sunk in and on the approach to the Canal now would make it impossible for the Bismarck to get through.

The Luftwaffe provided a number of squadrons of Me110s to prevent the RAF sowing more mines and these provided aircover for the U-boats and the Bismarck. The same night a similar effort was made in the Kattegat and twelve U-boats with a number of Elbing torpedo boats and Schnellboots followed a flotilla of Sperrbrecher and Räumbotte out into the Skagerrak.

On its way out of the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, the Bismarck collided with its bow tug, the Atlantik, but neither suffered any damage. The progress up the Elbe was stately, with the crew at action stations. By the time she reached the Brunsbüttel Roads four barges had been sunk by mines and two Sperrbrecher had pulled off to the side having been holed by mines.

HMS Ursula’s hydrophone operator had been calling out the movement of what was going on before him. The captain listened, trying to figure out his best move. He had six torpedoes loaded, but knew if he fired them, he would give away his position and endanger the ship. His orders were very clear, only to fire if he was certain he had a very good chance of hitting the Bismarck, otherwise he was to report the progress of the battleship. At 19:00hrs the Bismarck passed his position, but it was beyond the range of his Mark VIII torpedoes. He ordered the radio mast raised to make a transmission of the information.

All contact with HMS Swordfish had been lost and it was suspected that she was the victim of a mine. A distant explosion and sounds of breaking up had been picked up by HMS Onyx the previous night. Unlike the hydrophone operator in the Ursula, the equipment in the Onyx was able to give the Captain a pretty clear picture of what was going on. The radio was used to report the passage of the U-boats, one of which had passed very close. The quietness of HMS Onyx meant the German submarine had no idea that another such a vessel was in the area. The sound of the tugs and the Bismarck became clearer. Unlike HMS Ursula, HMS Onyx had Tigerfish torpedoes loaded. With their range, and the ability to guide them onto the target, HMS Onyx had the means to sink the Bismarck. Possibly without giving away its position. In the dead of night, the chances of seeing any torpedo tracks would be remote.

Commander John Mulholland, who in his previous role had been the chief weapons officer of HMS Onyx, probably had the most experience of these temperamental torpedoes than anyone else alive. He had loaded six Tigerfish, which he felt would guarantee him at least one hit. When fired, two torpedoes dipped and broke their guidance wires. The other four were guided toward the target at the relatively low speed of 24 knots. In the hushed control room, it was reported that another torpedo had malfunctioned, leaving only three still on target. As the torpedoes came closer to the Bismarck their own active acquisition and homing took over and they accelerated to 35 knots. The first blew one of the tugs out of the water as it crossed under it. The second torpedo did as it was designed. The 750lb Torpex warhead blew up under Dora, the rearmost turret. The third and last Tigerfish blew up seconds later, almost exactly directly under the centre of a Sperrbrecher that had, like the tug, got in the way.

The detonation under the turret meant that the last quarter of the ship began to tear itself off from the rest of the hull. The damage control officers realised quickly that they were facing an impossible task. At that point, priority became saving the crew, and the call to abandon ship was given. The surviving tugs and other escorting vessels came along side to start taking the crew off.

Seven minutes later a second explosion happened nearer the front of the ship. Mulholland had reloaded the tubes, and without the clear sound of the ship sinking had fired off another two Tigerfish torpedoes, to finish the job. The damage now was terminal, the rear of the ship was twisted completely off and starting sinking very quickly. Another tug had been obliterated in the second explosion, along with over two hundred men it had taken off. The Bismarck’s bow had now been severed and the whole ship began to slide under the waves at an increasing pace. The sound of the sinking was now incontrovertible and Mulholland ordered HMS Onyx to get underway. Creeping away at only three knots, as silently as it could, reversing the course it had followed in.

The Bismarck’s demise took with it over five hundred souls, both from its own crew and from the other vessels which had been struck by the torpedoes. A group of submarine chasers attempted to find the culprit, but the extraordinary range of the Tigerfish meant they were always looking the wrong place. A black night for the Kreigsmarine was just getting started.

HMS Andromeda, the Leander class frigate, received HMS Onyx’s communication about the eight U-boats that were on their way. Her hunting group consisted of five ships, all with the latest ASDIC and hedgehog systems. Working on the principle that the U-boats would be surfaced at night, the search radar was powered up, hunting for the German boats. Andromeda’s Lynx helicopter, armed with four Sea Skua missiles, was further south, using their Sea Spray radar to find their quarry. The confused nature of the German breakout, with all the different types of vessels, meant that there was a reluctance to fire without first having positively identified the target. The U-boats were very clearly the only target that mattered now that the Bismarck had been sunk.

HMS Andromeda didn’t have a gun, just Exocets and Seawolf. As the German surface ships came into range, the Weapons Officer on HMS Andromeda gave the two Tribal destroyers, HMS Mashona and HMS Matabele, and two Black Swan sloops, HMS Erne and HMS Flamingo, the range and bearing of the German ships. Aided by the use of the newly arrived Snowflake rockets, the German surface vessels were positively identified, and the guns of the destroyers and sloops opened fire.

In Andromeda’s Lynx the pilot, Larry Jeram-Croft, was distracted by the pyrotechnics, but Bill Bates, his observer was glued to the Sea Spray display. He was able to positively identify the returns he was getting as U-boats, “Target acquired, range nine miles, radar locked on, good heading, launching one.” He reached over and pushed the red button on the launch panel. The missile streaked away.

If the U-boats started to submerge due to the battle to their north, this would reduce the amount of time that the Lynx could engage them on the surface. Following the reflected radar energy, the Sea Skua missile hit U61 at the base of the conning tower. The 62-pound fragmentation warhead detonated, dooming the Type IIc and its crew of twenty-four men, to a watery grave.

Jeram-Croft had changed position after the first missile was fired, while Bates kept the first missile locked on its target. U43 was designated for the second missile. This Type IX boat was a much bigger target than the Type IIc, and was slower to dive. The missile hit the hull of the boat, behind the conning tower. The Sea Skua penetrated the outer hull and then exploded as designed. The superheated fragments of the warhead sliced through the pressure hull and some of the compressed air bottles. A serious fire broke out and Captain Ambrosius, seeing the danger, ordered the crew to abandon ship, thirty-three of the crew survived.

As soon as the missile left the launch rail, Jeram-Croft flew the Lynx to a third position, once more keeping the Sea Spray radar within the sector angles so as not to break the link between missile and radar. Bates locked onto a third target, U30, a Type VIIA U-Boat, the first missile failed, and so Bates attempted to hit it with the last Sea Skua missile. This time there was no mistake, the missile impacted on the side of the conning tower as it was diving, opening it up to the sea as the submarine continued to dive, a dive it could never recover from.

The return to HMS Andromeda, by a circuitous route to avoid the firefight that was going on between the surface vessels, at low level, was enough to exhaust the pilot. As they touched down onto the ship, the Lynx was tied down. The team refuelled and rearmed the helicopter, with two torpedoes, while the pilot and observer gave a briefing to the ship’s No 1, while trying to grab some hot tea. The Jimmy was able to tell his helicopter crew that the German surface ships had turned away, except those stopped and burning having been hit by gunfire. He also noted that HMS Andromeda had successfully fired off two Exocets at two larger German ships, which had been destroyed. Adding the Lynx’s three U-Boats, HMS Andromeda’s tally for the war so far was climbing fast. All too soon, Jeram-Croft and Bates were back on board the Lynx, going through the starting proceedures, getting ready for the next round.

In the Skagerrak, where HMS Minerva’s sub hunting group was operating, the picture the radar operators were dealing with was extremely complex. As well as the approaching German surface threats, there was also a complicated aerial picture. There were friendlies, six Norwegian He 115s and 12 Swordfish of 814 Squadron. This was HMS Minerva’s aerial support. The radar showed that the Luftwaffe had put up two Küstenfligerstaffeln of He 115 torpedo bombers, unfortunately, the same kind of aircraft that the Norwegians were using. An urgent request for the Norwegians to exit the area was made to prevent any mix up.

HMS Minerva’s Lynx helicopter had worked its way round behind the main surface units. It dropped 4.5inch flares to backlight the German ships, allowing the gunners on the Royal Navy destroyers and sloops to engage them. Once the flares had been launched, the Lynx went hunting for submarines. It managed two fatal hits on U-Boats with Sea Skua missiles before the rest of the U-boats submerged.

When the British ships opened fire on the backlit German ships, the Elbing torpedo boats and Schnellboots made a heroic concerted attack on the RN ships. Altogether they fired off more than thirty torpedoes at the five British ships in HMS Minerva’s group. The efforts of these five ships made to evade the torpedoes were extreme. HMS Minerva survived only because the captain of HMS Fearless deliberately sacrificed his ship, putting it between the path of the torpedoes and the priceless Leander class Frigate. Commander Kevin Harkness was later awarded a posthumous DSO for his action. HMS Fearless, hit by two torpedoes sank quickly, only six men surviving from the ship’s company. HMS Hastings and HMS Arabis were also lost to torpedoes and sunk; the only other survivor was HMS Whitehall which had miraculously threaded its way between the torpedoes. HMS Minerva and Whitehall withdrew at flank speed. The pilot of the Lynx helicopter barely made it back to Norway before his fuel ran out.

The desperate radio signals from HMS Minerva for support brought a response from the Swordfish of 814 Squadron. Four aircraft, equipped with ASV radar, guided the rest of the squadron to the German ships. Choosing to concentrate on the Type 35 Torpedo boats, this kind of night time attack had been part of the aircrew’s training and they made the most of it. The German ships, about 600 tons each, were poorly equipped with anti-aircraft weapons and two of them were sunk by torpedoes launched from the Swordfish. One Swordfish was slightly damaged but returned safely to Norway.

The remaining German surface ships, having performed their duties, as far as they could, turned for home. From what could be gathered by the Intelligence Officers on HMS Glorious, up to 15 U-boats were unaccounted for. HMS Glorious’ 825 Squadron’s Swordfish, HMS Avenger’s hunting group, and ASV equipped Sunderlands from Coastal Command began to comb the North Sea for any sign of the U-Boats. HMS Andromeda’s group soon added her considerable assets to the hunt. All these meant that the Royal Navy had enough destroyers and sloops, with the latest ASDIC/hedgehog combinations, that any chance for the U-boats to break out into the Atlantic and threaten the convoys was remote.

The next four days were a time of intense activity. HMS Warspite and Renown returned to Scapa, their heavy firepower unneeded. This freed up some more escort vessels to take part in the search and destroy mission. Not everything went in the Royal Navy’s favour. Two destroyers were sunk by torpedo attack, four more ships, including a cruiser, were damaged either by torpedoes or ramming.

U-boats were never designed to spend long underwater. Their captains worked out that the British aircraft had some kind of method for tracking them. Within a very short time of surfacing, an aircraft would appear in the area. The U-boat was then forced to dive or run the risk of being attacked on the surface. The U-Boat crews found the persistence and almost preternatural ability of the British to track them terrifying.

Between homing torpedoes from the Lynx helicopters; torpedoes and bombs from the Swordfish; depth charges from Sunderlands and Ansons; hedgehogs and fast sinking depth charges from surface ships; and mines on the approaches to their bases, the U-boats were picked off one by one. Three submarines were declared missing, presumed lost, having simply run out of air because they were unable to surface.

The last five Type IX U-boats of the Kriegsmarine were all sunk (U37, U38, U39, U40, U42). Two of the newest Type IXB, U103 and U104, pressed into service before their training was completed were also lost, as was U100, a new Type VII. Only seven U-boats made it back to port, meaning thirteen were lost out of twenty which had sailed. Along with the loss of the Bismarck and numerous surface vessels, any hope that the Kriegsmarine would play a role in the future of the war was clearly over. When the Royal Navy fleet returned to port, the King ordered the Fleet to “Splice the Mainbrace”. Coastal Command squadrons involved, found themselves recipients of a number of bottles of spirits to share in the sense of victory.

15 - 17 September 1940. Saar Front.

General Kellar’s 1re Groupment Cuirasse had moved up during the night to Neunkirchen, where the 1re DINA had been expanding their breach in the German positions. The commander of 2e DCr, General Bruche sent Major Cornic’s 14e BCC, with 40 H39s, supported by Lt-Col Guy’s 51e RI to Bexbach. This was the furthest point of the advance of the 27e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens. Cornic and Guy’s orders were to exploit the breakthrough and aim for Waldmohr, where the river Glan was the next obstacle. If the 6e GRDI (Divisional reconnaissance group) could find a crossing point, and the men of the 51e could hold it, then Cornic’s chars would be able to strike through the German rear areas.

With the breach in his line at Neunkirchen, General Schroth (CO German XII Corps), ordered his reserves, 75th Infantry Division, to counterattack the French colonial troops. This German counterattack unfortunately coincided with the arrival of Major Girier’s 8e BCC (30 B1 bis). This unit had been ordered to cooperate with 67e RI, the objective to work along the river Blies hitting the German 252nd and 258th Divisions in the flank. The German 75th Division, without panzer support, and only 37mm anti-tank guns, as so often since May, found themselves at a severe disadvantage against the French chars. Unable to stop the heavy chars, the German infantry went from attack to a fighting withdrawal.

Bruche seeing an opportunity, sent his second H39 char battalion, 27e BCC (CO Major Aubert) to attempt to get behind the German divisions. Aubert’s chars were supported by the 2re DCr’s own integral infantry unit, 17e BCP (Motorised Chasseurs Battalion, CO Major Mahuet). Bruche held his fourth and last battalion 15e BCC (Major Bourgin 30 B1 bis) in reserve.

The AdA played a key role in this exploitation. The Potez 63.11s of GAO 546, the reconnaissance squadron for 2e DCr, provided the French artillery sufficient forward observation to help with counter-battery fire. Three battalions of 105mm guns of 309e RATTT (Motorised Artillery Regiment) added their fire power to XXI Corps (109e RALH Horse Heavy Artillery Regiment) 105mm and 155mm guns. The Infantry Divisions added their 75mms to the deadly barrage. The AdA’s aerial reconnaissance was something that the German Luftwaffe was unable to match. There were sufficient French fighters over the battlefield to prevent them. With control of the air, and the German artillery supressed, the French troops and chars were able to make excellent progress.

6e GRDI was a formidable force in itself. Equipped with four platoons of three Panhard 178 armoured cars; four platoons of five AMC Schneider P 16 half-tracks; the anti-tank platoon consisted of four Renault AMR 35 ZT-3s. Just under one thousand men were carried in a mixture of motorcycles, civilian cars, chenillettes, and trucks. Backed up by the Battalion of H39s and an Infantry Regiment, with two batteries of 75mm guns attached, it was even more formidable. The leading elements covered the five miles to the River Glan in 30 minutes, and were guided by a Potez 63.11 to what appeared to be a ford in the river. The unexpected arrival of armoured cars caught the German platoon guarding the section of the river by surprise, allowing the French to establish a bridgehead on the east side of the river.

Eventually word of this got back to the German First Army headquarters. General Von Witzleben when told that there was a strong force of French panzers in XII Corps’ rear area, ordered his reserves, General Von Arnim’s 95th Division, forward to meet the threat. Von Witzleben knew that there was only one more weak band of pillboxes between the French and Kaiserslautern. The French had to be stopped at all costs. Witzleben gave permission for Schroth’s XII Corps to fall back and reinforce the last element of the Westwall.

This order came too late for the men of 252nd Infantry Division who were already caught in a pincer. Major Aubert’s 27e BCC had met up with elements of 10e DI, which had broken through the German defences north of Homburg. Only 258th ID of XII Corps was able to fall back, under the cover of the Pfaelzer Forest.

The GRDI group, known as the Dufour Groupement after its commander, was finding itself under sustained fire from the final belt of the Westwall, causing mounting casualties. The reconnaissance troops fanned out looking for gaps in the German prepared defences and found a number of such gaps. Major Cornic’s H39s began to exploit these. The arrival of the first elements of 95th Infantry Division complicated the French efforts. The pilot of the Potez 63.11 who had directed the Durfour group to the ford, saw the movement of the German reinforcements. He was able to call a timely air attack by a squadron of Breguet 693s which hit the German artillery train. This weakened the German force before they could even get into position.

French chars rolled through the German infantry units, leaving them for the infantry who were following. Instead, the H39s concentrated on getting among the German logistical tail between the Westwall belt and Kaiserslautern. What had begun as a concern amongst the German officers, now became a real fear. Among the rear echelon troops, this fear turned into outright panic. The regular appearance of French fighter aircraft strafing roads for targets of opportunity, further complicated First Army’s position.

General Bourret, (CO 5e Army) on the other hand was aware that his forces had the advantage. He contacted General Georges, supreme commander, to inform him of his progress. Bourret expressed his concern about the danger to his unprotected flanks. General Georges asked General Requin, (CO 4e Army), to implement the plan to advance from the Maginot Line towards Trier, between the rivers Moselle and Nahe, as soon as possible.

Requin gave orders for 1re Polish Infantry Division, with IX Corps and GBC 502 (Char Brigade, 2 battalions of 45 R35s) to assault the Westwall between Saarlouis and Merzig. The assault, after initial failures, was able to make progress across the river, into the teeth of the static units of the Westwall.

General Bourret, to support Requin, ordered the surviving R35s of 508e GBCs to move from the bridgehead at Volklingen, to threaten the German flank holding up 4e Army. General Von Geyer und Schweppenburg’s XXIV Corp was now facing an attack from two directions, and wasn’t in a position to support the rest of First Army. General Boehm-Tettelbach’s XXXVII Corps was strung out along the rest of the Westwall facing the Maginot Line. Since neither of these Corps could send any help, General Von Leeb agreed to Witzleben’s request that two of Army Group C’s reserve divisions (94th and 98th) should be attached to First Army.

16 September 1940. The Hague. The Netherlands. Office of the Reichkommisar.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart chaired the meeting as Reichkommisar. In attendance were Hans Albin Rauter, Generalkommissar für das Sicherheitswesen (General Commissioner for Security); Anton Mussert, head of the NSB (Dutch Nazi Party); General Von Kuchler (Commander of 18th Army, Army of Occupation); along with senior Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, and other staff.

Rauter had asked for the meeting to discuss the response to the growing levels of resistance to the occupation. Initially, the Dutch people had made little or no overt resistance. With the success of the Entente Powers, including the liberation of parts of Holland, most recently Maastricht, there was a growing problem for the German troops and security services. While it was mostly non-violent, there was widespread graffiti. Orange, the national colour, was on display in all sorts of places. Materials that were likely to be used by the Germans became unobtainable, hidden or destroyed by Dutch citizens. Off-duty German soldiers found themselves unable to mix with the local population. Bars or restaurants that served Germans were often targeted by arsonists or looters. Papers and pamphlets appeared from underground presses denouncing collaborators and urging greater resistance. Urged on by Queen Wilhelmina on regular broadcasts by the BBC, the people were refusing to cooperate with German orders. For example, when all civil servants were required to complete an “Aryan Attestation” detailing their religious and ethnic ancestry, very few complied.

The most serious cases of resistance took three forms. The first was outright armed attacks on isolated German troops or vehicles. These attacks were presumed to be the work of Dutch soldiers who were hiding amongst the population. While German casualties were few, there was a growing unease amongst the occupying forces. The second was the hiding of people who would otherwise be arrested. People were tipped off that they were to be arrested. Anyone who were likely to be arrested by the Gestapo, went into hiding before the arrest could be made. Thirdly, levels of sabotage against transport and food stocks were increasing. The German army was having to have more troops on patrol rather than preparing for the inevitable Entente push. The suspicion was that many Dutch people were spying for the Entente, but there was very little that could be done about it.

Seyss-Inquart had been trying to persuade the Dutch, that as fellow Aryans, this was not an occupation. He argued that it was a joining in the great crusade to save the white race from the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to rule the world. This argument was severely undermined as the SS. This organisation had suffered disproportionate casualties in the conquering of Holland in May. Now they were carrying out reprisal killings for any acts of resistance, even minor ones. The hatred of these tactics was swelling the resistance rather than deterring it. Von Kuchler, whose men were bearing the majority of the burden of policing the occupied territory, expressed his concern that he didn’t have a big enough force to do two things. The army was either to be spread out in penny packets on policing duties, or, where he needed them along the Rhine to stop the Entente.

Mussert and the NSB had been taking advantage of the new found freedom of action to settle old scores. They were particularly keen on destroying the Dutch Communist Party, who they identified as their greatest threat. They were trying to recruit volunteers to join the SS, hoping eventually to have a Dutch SS unit, preferably about a Brigade in strength. However, they were finding themselves targeted for reprisals. Many a NSB man got home to find the windows in his home broken, or his wife crying because she hadn’t been able to buy groceries or having people threaten her.

The Luftwaffe liaison complained that attempts to repair Dutch airfields was being hampered by difficulty in getting civilians onto work teams. Even when they managed to get a team together, they were doing as little work as they could get away with. This was also the experience of the Army’s Engineers in their attempts to repair bridges and dykes. All it took was someone to mention “unexploded bomb/mine” and work was suspended. Very few factories were working due to various types of sabotage, and essential workers seemed to be very prone to the flu. All in all, Holland was a mess and the men around the table knew it. Rauter and Mussart were in no doubt about what needed to be done. The others kept their opinion to themselves. If Rauter’s plan was implemented, most of them thought it would lead to an even worse situation.

17 September 1940. Dusseldorf. Germany.

General Von Paulus looked up from his papers as three men in long black leather coats pushed their way into his office. His aide was being held at gunpoint by a fourth member of the Gestapo. Throwing down a folded paper on his desk, the senior Gestapo agent informed him that this was an arrest warrant for cowardice in the face of the enemy, he was under arrest and would be taken immediately for trial.

Von Paulus opened the document and saw that it was signed by Adolf Hitler himself. He blanched at the thought of what was in store for himself, but was glad that he had got the majority of his men across the Rhine, to safety. As he was taken to a staff car, he replayed the last few days in his head. When General Reichenau had been arrested Von Paulus had taken over command of Sixth Army. Despite the best efforts of the men, the British Second Army and French 7e Army had made contact with each other on the 13 September. Since then, the writing was very clearly on the wall.

There was no way for Sixth Army to hold back three armies. Von Paulus had given the order to start a fighting withdrawal to the Rhine at Neuss, and from there to cross the bridges over to Dusseldorf. He had received a very irate phone call from the Fuhrer the day before. He had been told, in no uncertain terms, that Sixth Army had to hold its ground, to the last bullet and the last man. Knowing full well the consequences of following such an order, and the probable outcome if he didn’t, he hastened the withdrawal to save as much of his army as he could.

A couple of cloudy days helped, making enemy aerial reconnaissance difficult, but he had got the lion’s share of his army back across the Rhine. Two of his divisions, 7th and 31st had held the line valiantly allowing the majority to get away. A British attempt to capture one of the bridges, meant that the survivors of the two divisions were stranded when all the bridges were blown. Before doing what he did, Von Paulus had informed General Kluge of 4th Army. That army’s northern flank would be threatened by Sixth Army’s withdrawal, so Kluge had been able to re-orientate his forces so that he could hold the line from Aachen to Cologne.

The “trial” didn’t last very long, he’d already been condemned by the Fuhrer. He was hung outside the Nazi Party Headquarters in Dusseldorf, with a sign around his neck, bearing his crime, “cowardice in the face of the enemy.”
17 September - 1 October 1940
17 September 1940. Headquarters Army Group A.

General List finally got off the telephone having conferred with General von Rundstedt. The last few days had been hectic. List had had to take over the reins of the Army Group A. This was made up of consisting of Fourth, Twelfth and Sixteenth Armies, altogether with 32 Infantry Divisions in 9 Corps, and Army Reserves. During the fighting around Sedan in May and June all these Divisions had been involved to a greater or lesser extent, their losses mostly made up with newly trained troops. Spread along the river Meuse from Liege to Virton, the Army Group was the largest part of the Wehrmacht not in full contact with the enemy.

List called in his staff and told them that von Rundstedt had agreed to the plan he suggested. He then ordered the staff to send out the orders instructing each Army, Corps and Divisional commander with their instructions and timetable. If the French and British were to be defeated, there was only one way to do it. The Wehrmacht had to bring them to battle and let the superiority of the German fighting soldier show itself in a decisive fashion. Now, if the low cloud and rain would continue to keep the enemy aircraft grounded, the plan had a good chance of working.

17 September 1940. Twelfth Army Headquarters.

The dispatch rider handed the package of orders over to General Curt Haase personally. He had taken command over the army when List had been promoted. He tore open the package, and with his staff gathered, he announced, “Operation Doppelkopf starts in twenty-four hours. Get the word out to all units. We move. Let’s go.” His staff started looking for dispatch riders to get the message out to his subordinates.

18 September 1940. Rhineland.

The collapse of the German pocket on the west bank of the river Rhine opposite Dusseldorf, with the escape of many of Sixth Army’s men, meant more than just a death sentence for General Von Paulus. For the French 7e, British First and Second Armies it meant that they had another victory under their belt. The Germans had left a great deal of equipment behind, concentrating on getting their soldiers out. The last few days had been a time of carefully picking through the abandoned area (the threat of mines or booby-traps a real danger). The three armies reorganised themselves, they would have to start moving south to find the next German line of resistance, which was believed to be provided by the German Fourth Army.

A couple of days of heavy rain and overcast skies over the continent had provided the pilots of the Entente air forces time to rest, while the ground crew managed to catch up with maintenance of the aircraft. The women of the ATF waited for the weather to clear sufficiently to fly in replacement aircraft, while fresh drafts of pilots arrived to take up places in the squadrons based in France and Belgium. Fuel and bombs were brought forward to replenish that which had been expended previously.

Behind the British forces more Belgian troops were arriving to occupy the German towns and villages that had been captured. The German civilian population were described by one battlefield correspondent as “sullen and uncooperative.” It was only 1926 when the Belgian army had withdrawn its occupation forces from this same area.

The French 7e Army and 1re Army spent a few days regrouping after the epic battle with the German Panzer Corps. While not back to full strength, the two armies remained a potent force. Their objective was to attempt to break through the Westwall defenses and take Aachen. These plans however were rescinded as it became clear that the German Twelfth Army were on the move. A lack of clear reconnaissance left the French General Staff ignorant of the German intentions.

18 September 1940.

The first element of Operation Doppelkopf was an attempt by the Luftwaffe to attack Entente airfields. The Luftwaffe had put together as large a force as it had fielded for some time, maintaining tight security as it did so. The poor weather of the last few days was set to moderate slightly, giving the attempt to make a low level attack the necessary weather.

It had become obvious to the Luftwaffe technical staff that the Entente had must of made improvements to their radar. The British had been deliberately targeting any German radar installation that switched on. From this was deduced that they were able to track such emissions. A team of German scientists had been working on a similar scheme to discover the British radar frequency. A pair of Heinkel 111s had been equipped with the first models of detector gear, and had successfully mapped the line of British radars. Although they could where radars were emitting, they were still ignorant of the command and control system. In Loan, the futuristic Type 965M from HMS Penelope, was on a completely different frequency, and therefore had been missed by the German aircraft.

With the radar positions marked on their maps, a Zerstörer-Geschwaderof of Bf 110s were tasked with attacking the installations. This was a designed as a low-level attack, which was only partly successful for a number of reasons. Firstly, the radar sites were well protected with anti-aircraft guns. Secondly, the army moved the sites on a regular basis just in case Germans did try to blind the radar coverage. Thirdly, the various elements of the radar equipment were camouflaged and dispersed, with dummy units used to draw attacks away from the real units. Fourthly, the Germans didn’t realise that the filter room in Loan was the really important part of the system. While the loss of a number of radar units to the Bf 110s was significant, it wasn’t critical.

Ninety aircraft attacked ten radar sites. Seven of these were damaged to a greater or lesser extent, two wrecked completely. Ten Bf 110s were lost to various causes, and a further six returned with significant damage. In Laon the filter station was picking up not only the attacks on its radar sites, but also mounting activity behind the Rhine. A warning was sent out to all RAF and AdA stations to be prepared. Where possible, ready alert aircraft were ordered to scramble and gain height. Otherwise, expect an incoming air raid.

When the main attack arrived, the Luftwaffe concentrated on fifteen airfields. The Luftwaffe had struggled to get photographic reconnaissance of the airfields in France and Belgium, so often their intelligence was out of date. What had been major fields had been run down, and what had been satellite fields had been expanded. Although German attacks on airfields had been rare, the threat had always been taken into account. Dispersal of aircraft, as well as camouflage, decoys, and anti-air defences had all been standard operating procedure. Without regular attacks on the airfields, some station commanders hadn’t been as thorough as they should have been.

On most airfields, fighters or bombers, no longer fit to fly, were parked in such a way as to attract enemy attention. A secondary role was to give false numbers if seen by enemy reconnaissance. Like the radar sites, the airfields were also very well protected by antiaircraft batteries. The rain over the last few days had made grass strips somewhat muddy, some aircraft were not able to get airborne in time. Sixty Spitfires and a similar number of Dewoitine 520s were in the air when the Luftwaffe arrived. Most were not in a position to be able to engage the Luftwaffe aircraft until they were on their way home.

The Luftwaffe put over 500 aircraft in the sky. As well as the ninety Bf 110s hitting the radar sites, 160 Bf 109s were providing escort to the bombers. 110 He111s, 62 Do17s and 92 Ju88s made up the main force. The RAF airfields in France that were targeted were at Bethenville (103 squadron Hurribombers); Senon (2 Squadron, Lysanders); Seclin (85 & 87 Squadrons, Spitfires); Vitry (607 & 615 squadrons, Spitfires); Bertangles (50 Wing, Army Cooperation, Lysanders and Hurribombers); Courcelles (52 Wing, 53 & 59 Squadrons, Hurribombers); Athies (70 Wing, 18 & 57 squadrons Hurribombers). In Belgium Nivelles, Wevelgem, both Spitfire stations, were attacked. The AdA had six airfields which were targets.

In the French sector, Villeneuve was hardest hit, with 26 MS 406s destroyed and a further 16 damaged. The station commander was later tried for dereliction of duty and executed. Two more stations received moderate damage, 15 Potez 63.11s and 8 Curtis Hawk 75s destroyed with a further nine aircraft of various types damaged. The other stations lost a total of eight aircraft destroyed (five Potez 63.11s and three Bloch 152s) and twelve damaged.

The two Belgian fields received a heavy pounding, with 18 Spitfires lost on the ground and another six shot down. A further twelve were damaged. At Athies 9 Hurribombers were destroyed and six damaged. Senon and Bertangles had losses of six Lysanders, three Hurribombers with a further five aircraft damaged. Seclin, Bethenville, Vitry, Courcelles, were only lightly damaged, a total loss of six Hurribombers and two Spitfires on the ground, with a total of nine other aircraft taking damage. By the time the German raiders were back over their own line, the RAF had lost seven more Spitfires in aerial combat, while 18 Dewoitine 520s were shot down. In total 132 Entente aircraft were destroyed, but only 21 pilots were killed and 8 seriously injured. A further 69 aircraft received damage, most of these could be repaired or stripped for spares. Forty decoy aircraft were also destroyed.

For the Luftwaffe it was a costly morning. Due to the secrecy of the attack, four bombers were lost to ground fire from their own side, as the German anti-aircraft had got used to the idea that anything flying was an enemy. The Bf 109s that took on the AdA’s Dewoitine 520s came off on more or less a 1:1 ratio, losing 17, however those which took on the Spitfires lost on a 2:1 ratio, losing 25 aircraft. The anti-aircraft gunners claimed many bombers, but the figure was later put at eighteen lost to ground fire. On their way home, the Spitfires and Dewoitines managed to shoot down a further 22 bombers. The total loss of 107 aircraft, with 37 more damaged, was very high for the damage inflicted on the RAF and AdA. Because their losses happened over France and Belgium, any surviving German aircrew who managed to bail out or crash land, were captured.

Overall the German attack was at best a pyrrhic victory. The losses to French and British aircraft were made up quickly from reserves, while the Luftwaffe’s loss of pilots and other aircrew hurt more significantly. The numbers of aircraft being produced from German factories would eventually replace the losses, but the French and British combined factory output was much greater.

18 September 1940.

When the order to implement Operation Doppelkopf arrived at the headquarters of XXXX Corps, Army Group A’s reserve force, General Strumme’s men were already prepared to move. The four divisions (4th, 6th, 9th and 33rd) would move north from their positions behind the river Ourthe, to reinforce Fourth Army’s VIII Corps between Liege and Aachen. The road march would take them between four and five hours. A careful road plan had been worked out to speed their progress, but since most of the divisional transport was horse powered, their ability to move quickly was limited.

The situation for the other Corps in the Twelfth Army was somewhat more complicated, but amounted to a game of leapfrog. Part of XVIII Corps (First Mountain Division, 25th Division) would take over the positions along the Meuse Front between Liege and Namur. The other part (5th, 21st Division) would take over XXXX Corps positions behind the Ourthe. In VI Corps’ 16th Division would hold the Meuse line between Namur and Givet, while 24th Division fell back to the Ourthe. In III Corps 3rd Division would stay in place between Givet and Bouillon, while 23rd Division would fall back. Once the second phase of the operation was underway, the divisions holding the Meuse line would fall back behind the Rhine. In phase three, the Divisions holding the Ourthe line, would also move back behind the Rhine.

The Divisions holding the Meuse Line were having to spread themselves very thinly, but needed to keep the French and Belgians believing that they were still a strong force.

The Sixteenth Army followed a similar pattern. The army reserves, 26th, 52nd, 71st and 73rd Divisions were all marching toward Trier through Luxembourg. These Divisions would reinforce First Army as it resisted the French attack through Saarland. The three Corps of Sixteenth Army would each leave one division coving its whole front, while the other divisions would fall back to secondary defensive positions. As long as the French Second and Ninth Armies didn’t react, the OKH believed they could pull this withdrawal off, and present it as counter punches to the north and south of the Ardennes bulge.

For many German soldiers the fact that they were marching back over the same roads that they advanced along in May. Morale was lowered by the realisation that they had failed to break the French lines. While the men had been told that they were attacking the flanks of the French, they were in no doubt that they had not done as well as their fathers and uncles in the Great War. To make matters worse they were under sporadic attacks from the air by British and French Jabos, their own Luftwaffe absent. Mutterings among the rank and file about “corporals running the show” grew stronger, it seemed that the Fuhrer wasn’t filling his men with a sense of invincibility.

18-19 September 1940

As the Entente photoreconnaissance aircraft started to bring back their film, the movement of the German armies became clearer. The hold order that had been given to the French First and Seventh armies was being debated. General Prételat argued that his chars had the distinct advantage over the German Infantry Divisions and that mobility was the key to victory. Prételat’s two army commanders, Bruneau and Giroud agreed with him, and wanted the chance to get in amongst the German infantry. Their argument was that three DLMs and a DCr, over four hundred available chars, were more than a match for four infantry divisions in a stand-up fight. This was especially true as the German 37mm anti-tank guns had previously proven themselves largely ineffective.

Bruneau (1re Army) was keen to attack down the east bank of the Meuse from Maastricht towards Liege. He would then be in a position to either carry on towards Namur, or swing east and catch the Germans in the rear. Giroud (7e Army) was confident that his army could break the Germans and encircle Aachen, cutting off a large part of the German Fourth Army. If the two British armies continued to press the rest of that German army, it was possible that the Rhine, all the way to Cologne, would be theirs for the taking.

Georges knew that although the German panzer force had been mauled, it still had the potential to be a potent force for counter attacking. He was also conscious that 5e Army’s flank would be vulnerable to an attack from the direction of Trier. The advance of elements of General Requin’s 4e Army would certainly help to deflect that threat, but it was still a worry.

General Conde, (CO 3e Army) manning the Maginot fortifications, interjected with a plan to push forward from Longwy towards Luxemburg City. Seeing the way the mobile units had been successful, he had two GBCs, his reserve counter-attacking force. Conde wanted to use them like a DLM, accompanied by his army’s GRCAs and GRDIs, and 1re Brigade of Spahis. Backed up by two Infantry Divisions, this would be a formidable force to push into Luxemburg. If it was true that the Germans were weakening their front against the Maginot Line, this 3e Army push would be strong enough force not only to upset the German plan, but also help liberate another country from the German occupation. General Corap and Huntziger’s 9e and 2e Armies had borne the brunt of the fighting in May and June, and strength were not in a position to go on the offensive yet, in any more than a token way, much to their disappointment.

General Georges was pleasantly surprised at his Generals’ aggression. It stood in great contrast to the pre-war mind-set that had prevailed. This made him realise that that was his reason for wanting to stop and let the Germans come to him. So, he gave permission for the attacks to go ahead, and prayed it was the right decision.

19 September 1940. Saar Front.

The First Polish Infantry Regiment led 4th Army’s advance towards Lebach, supported by a company of H35 chars from 20e Char Battalion. The static defences that they had broken through were replaced by a much more difficult task. No sooner would one German position be engaged, than the attacking troops would be hit on their flank, perhaps only by one MG34 team, but it was enough to slow the forward momentum. Then, as usual for the German army, they counterattacked with great ferocity.

Major Mille, (CO 20e Char Battalion) wanted to use his Hotchkiss chars in the best way possible. Although they were slow and lightly armed, they were well protected. He ordered his char commanders to use their vehicles as moving walls, allowing the infantry to advance in the shadow of them, protected from the machine gun fire. This method was less successful against the German mortars. The SA 18 gun in the char, while useless against panzers, had a good enough HE round to make life for German machine gunners difficult. With this close support the pace of the infantry improved.

When the light began to fade in the evening the Polish division had advanced seven miles, with the follow-on forces of IX Corps expanding the gap in the German lines. The 45e DI worked along the east bank of the Moselle, rolling up the German positions from their flank, stopping at Merzig by nightfall.

Having breached the final elements of the Westwall, the Dufour Group (made up of elements of 2e DCr and 3e DIM) concentrated again on advancing towards Kaiserlautern. Facing parts of three German infantry divisions they had to grind their way towards Landstuhl, which the French reached by the evening of 20 September. The rest of the 1re Group Cuirasse followed on, and the main force of armoured vehicles would be ready to take over in the morning. They were just about 9 miles from Kaiserlautern, and General Keller was convinced they would arrive there by the evening of 22 September.

19 - 21 September. Rhineland.

The British First and Second armies continued to move into the areas opposite Dusseldorf, where the remnants of German Sixth Army had escaped to across the Rhine. British progress was deliberately slow, allowing their logistical support to catch up. The road network had taken quite a beating and so the Royal Engineers were having to repair damage inflicted by the Royal Artillery and the Royal Air Force. The Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps provided a great deal of the labour that made the roads usable for the transport of the Royal Army Service Corps and the Royal Army Ordinance Corps to get the bully beef and bullets forward.

The slow advance also allowed the Belgians to take over and occupy the captured territory. The Belgians were under very strict rules, some of which they found difficult. They were instructed to be as polite and helpful as possible. Any overbearing or derogatory talk or action was to be reported, and the culprits harshly dealt with. The exception was for members of the Nazi Party. Anybody who was a member of the party, especially if they held public office, were to stripped of their office and held for investigation. The civilian population were invited to denounce them (including anonymously) for any crimes of corruption or the maltreatment of people, including the Jewish population. While there was no death penalty imposed yet, serious crimes were to punished by forced labour and/or banishment.

As the forward elements of First Army began to close on the German positions behind the river Erft, General Auchinleck designated II Corp to make the assault. I Corps would follow through. III Corps, weakened after the initial attacks at the Meuse, received the full strength 48th Division from Army Reserve. The severely depleted Gurkha Division went into Reserve. Gurkha replacements would take time to arrive from the Indian Division in Malta, and more were on their way from India.

Jumbo Wilson’s Second Army had more ground to cover, and some large towns to pacify. When First Army’s attack on Erft began to stall, the plan was for I Mechanised Corps to attack the area towards Bedburg. It was believed that this was where the German II and V Corps met. Wilson expected that his attack would start in two or three days.

General Giraud (CO 7e Army), having sorted out his flank with Wilson’s First Army, wanted to try to get in behind Aachen. When General Georges had agreed to let loose the dogs of war, he unleashed his mobile forces. 1re DLM and 25e DIM aimed directly at Jülich, while 9e DIM and the reinforced 2e GRCA aimed for Alsdorf.

Bruneau’s 1re Army aimed directly at Aachen. The British commanders, especially Brooke tried to warn them to avoid fighting within a city. This advice was ignored.

22 September 1940. Aachen.

General Fessmann, (CO 267th Division) was commander of “Festung Aachen” as he’d been told the Fuhrer called it. He’d tried his best to move most of the civilian population out of the city, and had been largely successful in this, despite the efforts of the Nazi Party officials. These, led by Gauleiter Josef Grohe, had attempted to force the men of the town into a militia, which he took to calling “Volksstrum”. Fessmann had argued long and hard against it, the last thing he needed was old men and boys running around with guns. The solution to his problem came from one of his junior officers, “if they don’t have guns, they won’t be much use.” His men took the drafts of civilians from the Nazi Party officials and marched them off to a site out of the city “for training”. Lacking spare weapons to give them, they released the civilians and sent them on their way towards the Rhine.

As far as he could ascertain the French 1re Army that had smashed the Panzer Corps was heading straight for him. The city had been the victim of air raids against the railway, but it was largely intact. Ernst Fessmann had been the first commander of 3rd Panzer Division, before his retirement in 1937. He knew something about armoured warfare, and was surprised that the French seemed set on bringing their panzers into the city. It was not the natural environment for armoured vehicles, and that gave his men an advantage. It was a pity the city wasn’t more badly damaged; piles of rubble would help pull the panzers into killing zones. The French artillery would probably soon change that. Knowing the French panzers frontal armour was too strong, it would be better to attack them from the flanks and from above. He got his regiment commanders together and they looked at the best way to defend a built-up area against panzers.

22 September 1940. Wellington G for George.

Sergeant George (Curly) Copeland was not a happy man. As rear gunner in a Wellington he was used to flying at night, and here he was in bright sunlight, feeling like there was a great target painted on the plane. His two .303 machine guns felt a bit like pop guns. There was talk of getting a new turret with either four guns, or even two 20mm cannon. He would believe it when he saw it. What made him most angry was that they had been told that there would be an escort of Spitfires for this daylight raid. He hadn’t seen a single one of them all day. So here he was, hanging out on a limb, scanning the sky with a terrible sinking feeling in his stomach.

Curly was ready to call out corkscrew instructions to the pilot, but that made more sense at night than it did in the daylight. Especially as there were three squadrons of Wellingtons flying in formation. With thirty-two aircraft around, if everyone started taking extreme defensive manoeuvres it would be a recipe for disaster. If they flew straight and level, the only protection against German fighters was his two guns and two more at the front. At the start of the war, the Wellington had a waist gunner, but him and his two machine guns, had been taken out to ‘save some weight’. Doing so, left the aircraft vulnerable to beam attacks. Curly had heard about the new American bomber they were calling the “flying fortress”, well, if that was a fortress this Wellington was a target.

With his eyes constantly scanning the sky for anything that might pose a threat, he kept a particular (shaded) eye on the sun. “Beware the hun in the sun” was still as true today as it had been in the last lot. He had one ear of the little amount of chat over the intercom, just occasional updates from the observer/nose gunner, Bill Combs, a New Zealander. The radio operator, Ted Court, also occasionally passed on a message, but the pilot, Squadron Leader John Stephens, generally ran a tight ship and didn’t want too much chatter.

Curly saw something glint, and screwed up his eyes to focus on it. The pit in his stomach opened wider, it was indeed a fighter. He called it out over the intercom, and swung his guns in the right direction. He saw another glint, he called out that there were more bogies. As the fighter closed, and to his eyes, looked as if it was heading straight for him, he identified it as a Bf 109. It was still a bit out of range, but he opened up the guns anyway. As it grew larger in his sights, it suddenly exploded! Then the shape and shadow of a Spitfire flashed across his turret. He let out a mighty yell, scaring the rest of the crew no end. The escort had obviously been up high, so Curly, reluctantly, took back all he’d been saying about them.

The daylight bombing raid had been a gamble, especially after the losses to the Spitfire squadrons the day before. The improvements in bombing accuracy for the bombers against the Luftwaffe airfields, and the chance to further weaken the Luftwaffe by forcing their fighters to attack the bombers, against a strong escort were seen as worth the risk.

22 September 1940. Aachen

13e Dragoon Regiment, part of 2e DLM, 1re Army, (CO Lt-Col Juin De Baisse) was down to 28 effective Somua 35s from its book strength of 45. Some losses from the previous battles had been repaired and returned to the unit. Most were complete write-offs. There were no new replacement vehicles, which was worrying. De Baisse was told it was because the new chars were all being used in creating new Division Cuirasses, but it smelt fishy to his nose. The Dragoon Regiment were still working with 1re Regiment, and he had formed a good relationship with their Colonel Curnier. When they had got their orders for a frontal attack on Aachen they had both expressed their unhappiness to attack in such a manner. They tried to suggest other ideas, but their Corps commander General De La Laurencie wouldn’t hear of it. They had spent a few hours with their officers trying to work out the best way to tackle the mission.

The method they devised was to split up the chars with the infantry. Some of his old cavalry officers weren’t happy with this idea, but was the only way they could see it working. A platoon of infantry would work their way forward, the guns on the char covering them. Each char would have a part of a squad for close protection, and someone to pass on instructions to the char commander. First, they had to get there, so they waited for the B1 bis of 1re DCr to open the way through the Westwall fortifications. They waited the whole day.

22 September 1940. Linnich

Major Sergent’s 22e BCC (Char Battalion) had been given the honour of leading 7e Army’s attack. He had 32 operational R35s instead of the full complement of 45, and they had seen a fair amount of wear and tear over the last few months. He’d lost a lot of good commanders, often because of the lack of radios. Having to expose themselves to enemy fire to communicate with the rest of their chars was a waste. He himself had been pretty lucky. His scalp had been opened up by some sniper’s near miss, it still hurt. If he wasn’t careful in the turret and bashed his head against something, blood would start flowing again.

The artillery barrage lifted a few seconds later than planned and his chars were on the move. 48e Infantry Regiment kept up with the chars as best they could. Sergent had ordered his char commanders to make sure they didn’t get too far ahead of the infantry. Most of them had heeded, but he noticed one squadron that seemed to have put their foot down and had zoomed off by themselves. He got on the radio to tell them to stop and wait for the infantry to catch up. Before the message could be sent, two of those chars were pouring smoke into the sky. Sergent couldn’t see where the Germans were firing from. He put out a general warning and reminded everyone to advance with the infantry. Then he had to retune the radio to try to make contact with the artillery. While his head was down over the radio, he missed another three of his chars being destroyed. Eventually he got through to Colonel Rauget’s command post and asked for divisional artillery support, checking his map, he read out the map reference.

Coming back up out of the turret, to look around he saw that things were going to hell. Six of his chars were now burning and it looked like the infantry had gone to ground. The French artillery made it worse, falling short. He desperately called out corrections over the radio. Whoever was in those woods on his flank knew what they were doing. This time he saw the flash just as another char was disabled. That gun had to be an 88mm, it was picking off his chars too easily. He called down to the driver to try to get them into a firing position. He went back into the turret to change the radio again to talk to his chars, the artillery now seemed to be falling correctly. Once he had informed them of his plan, he concentrated on using the coaxial machine gun, trying to lay down covering fire. Two more chars were lost before the treeline was being blanketed with HE shells from the chars’ 37mm guns.

When he got to the area the Germans had obviously pulled back. He saw one enemy gun which had been destroyed, but it wasn’t an 88mm as he had suspected. It was a German 75mm artillery piece, which they must have been using in direct fire mode. They also must have some kind of armour piercing round, because the strikes on his chars didn’t look like HE rounds. If the Germans had a sight they could use on an artillery piece and an effective AP round, then this was going to be much harder. He got back in the turret and got back on the radio again, someone would need to know this.

22 September 1940. Saar Front.

The German 95th Infantry Division, (CO General Sixt Von Arnim) was defending Landstuhl against the French advance. The General had deployed his forces very effectively. The French chars began to bog down as the use of the German artillery assets were used effectively. The German artillery had been issued with number of the new sights, allowing field pieces to be used in direct fire mode, and they were used to good effect. Landstuhl was a garrison town and the men of the division were prepared to make a courageous stand, especially since they knew that there was very little behind them to stop the French getting to Rhine at Worms.

General Keller, who had been convinced his French troops would arrive at Kaiserlautern by the evening of the 22 September, had to reassess his timetable, as Landstuhl still wasn’t in his hands after a day’s heavy fighting.

23 September 1940. GQG. Near Paris. France

General Georges was getting more worried about the lack of progress over the last couple of days. Casualties were mounting in all his attacking armies. 1re Army were being ground down in Aachen, the British warning to avoid combat in built up areas now making sense. 7e Army were likewise finding the going hard, the German forces, reinforced by the troop movements of a couple of days ago, were fighting surprisingly well. It seemed that the surviving panzers had been integrated into the infantry divisions, and were acting as the main counterattacking forces.

The British First Army’s attack on the River Erft had been beaten back. 4e and 5e Armies advance in Saarland was also bogged down. It was becoming clear from photoreconnaissance that the main German armies were pulling out of the Ardennes. Their positions at the Meuse were weakening daily. General Conde’s 3e Army were taking longer to get their attacking force on the move, perhaps they’d been behind the Maginot Line too long. Both Generals Corap and Huntziger were keen to push their limited reserves over the river to "encourage" the German withdrawal. Georges was of a mind to allow this, but perhaps starting in a day or two. By then, hopefully, the Germans would have weakened their lines even further. The only armies not yet engaged was the First Entente Army on the Waal in Holland, and the British Second Army who were due to attack at dawn on 24 September.

There was some political pressure on him to attempt a crossing of the Waal, to attack the German 18th Army and liberate more of Holland, even just the area between the Waal and the Nederrijn. General Béthouart was keen to do this and had a good plan to achieve it. While General Georges was minded to allow it, but thought it would be best to coordinate it with the attempts of the 3e, 9e and 2e Army’s assaults on the Meuse. If General Wilson’s attack the next day was to go well, then three more attacks in different places would put the German High Command into a vice. A vice that would be tightened by each move of the Entente armies.

24 September 1940. Germany.

Sergeant Iain McGregor still carried his M79 Grenade Launcher. 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 51st Highland Division had been through a lot since May. A lot of good men and friends had been lost. Their replacements had been good men as well, though all too many of them were dead or wounded as well. The replacements of the replacements were trying to settle in. McGregor was looking over at Tommy Christie, the only other survivor from their original section. Christie, had earned two stripes, and now commanded the platoon’s Carl Gustav anti-tank team. McGregor had two squads. One was a normal Bren gun squad. The second carried the extra punch, his M79, a LAW, or bazooka as the men called it and extra grenades. Everyone was carrying extra ammo for the Bren and an assortment of mortar and other bombs.

The darkness was starting to lift, and the sound of artillery fire intensified. Soon they’d be off once more. The news from around the front was that the Germans were putting up a stiff resistance, so this was going to be a hard fight, though McGregor couldn’t remember an easy fight.

Captain Peter Smith had become commander of “Nero” Squadron, 2RTR. His Matilda II was new, the last one finally succumbing to the heavy wear it had taken. All too many of his tanks, and men were new. The heavy wear on the tanks nothing compared to the persistence of the Germans attempt to kill them. Smith had lost count of the number of times the armour had saved his life. He, so far, had barely a scratch. All too many of his friends, at least those living, would have wounds and burns that they would carry through their lives. Smith heard the artillery picking up its barrage, it would soon to time to go into battle once again. He’d never been particularly religious before the war, but now he muttered a prayer, anything that might help him and his men get through another attack.

At H-Hour the artillery barrage lifted its curtain of fire, and the men and tanks of 51st Highland Division and the First Armoured Division pushed off from their positions around Titz (a name which had amused the men no end), with the objective of Bedburg (though to men it was Bedbugs). German V Corps had been through the mill at the hands of the French 7e Army for last couple of days. II Corps behind the river Erft had thrown back the British First Army, but at great cost to themselves.

This new attack, aimed directly at the border between the two German Corps was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Between the barrage, which had included both British and French artillery, and then a strong attack by Hurribombers, the already weakened Germans lost their usual fighting integrity. The arrival of the Matilda II’s which better able to deal with the German anti-tank guns was morale sapping. The British infantry assault Companies, travelling in a variety of armoured vehicles, were among the German positions almost as soon as the artillery barrage had lifted.

Captain Smith’s Nero Squadron found themselves among the German artillery lines before they knew it. Smith couldn’t have told anyone what had happened to the German positions in front of the artillery. It was all a blur of movement and machine gun fire. The 2-pdr had only fired a few times. The job of keeping Nero Squadron together, calling out for artillery fire, watching for anti-tank guns had just about overwhelmed him. The German guns had taken a toll on his Squadron, there was at least one troop of burning Matilda IIs behind him. But he called the rest of the Squadron to halt. They needed to check where the infantry was, and be prepared in case there was a counter-attack.

The 10th Royal Hussars, equipped with A10s, were finally able to do what they had always hoped for a chance to do. They broke into the country behind the German positions and, accompanied by 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade in Bren and Cavalry carriers, they started sowing destruction and confusion among the German rear positions.

5 RTR’s Valentines, working with 154 Brigade (Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) managed to get across the River Erft near Bergheim. This took them into II Corp’s rear area, throwing the Germans into a panic. The British tanks and troops then make best speed toward the Rhine via Pulheim. They deliberately avoided getting into major fights with what appeared to be significant German defensive positions. This went against the grain, moving without their flanks and rear properly protected. By choosing instead to by-pass these, leaving them to either whither on the vine or be dealt with follow on infantry forces, they progressed much more quickly to the objective.

For the German civilians in towns and villages the arrival of the British, accompanied with the skirl of the bagpipes, retreated to their cellars and knew defeat had come to them once again. As the tanks and men pressed on, shooting up any supply units they passed, it seemed like nothing they had ever dreamt of since the beginning of the war.

The road to Cologne suddenly seemed opened. Seeing the opportunity, General Q Martel got the 50th (Northumbrian) Division moving, exploiting the gap that the Highlanders had opened up. The Northumbrians were directed towards Duren, to hopefully unseat the Germans facing the French 7e Army. Wilson ordered IV Corps (6th, 52nd and 1st Canadian Divisions) were also ordered to move forward. Their orders were to head towards Cologne itself, if they could take a bridge then they should. But even just being in Cologne would block that line of retreat for the German forces.

It began to feel that log-jam was cleared. The British mobile forces made more progress into their rear areas, even capturing intact the Headquarters of 32nd Infantry Division. The ability to control the German Fourth Army units began to slip from General Von Kluge’s hands. If the British got to Cologne, then its bridges would have to be blown to prevent them from crossing the river. Without those bridges then Fourth and Twelfth Army’s lines of communications were going to be in great danger.

The pressure from the French armies wasn’t letting up. As the day progressed and new of the British break though reached them, the French pressed more determinately. The whole position west of the Rhine in danger. XXXX Corps’ four divisions were all fully committed to the defensive battle, unable to mount a counter-attack in strength., The panzers had been attached, in penny packets, among the infantry divisions. A few local counterattacks by ad-hoc groups were made. British control of the air over the battlefield made these ultimately ineffective. Von Kluge picked up the phone to contact General List, commander of Army Group A. This was a conversation he really didn’t want to have.

By late afternoon the Canadians had reached Frechen, effectively cutting the road from Aachen to Cologne. Here they dug in expecting to have to face counterattacks from any direction. 6th Infantry Division found itself in Kerpen, and like the Canadians dug in with an all-round defence. 52nd (Lowland) Division protected the route south to the Canadian and 6th Division’s positions.

With the movement of 50th Division in their rear, the Germans facing the French 7e Army had to readjust their positions. This was exactly what the French had been waiting for. 1re DLM’s 4e Cuirassier’s S35s were able to take advantage of German 10th Infantry Division’s discomfort to break through, destroying the few Panzer IIIs that attempted to hit them in the flank. 6e Cuirassiers, the deep reconnaissance regiment with their Panhard 178s, then took advantage of the difficulties that the Northumbrians had created. The French and British, unknown to each other were in a race to reach Duren first. The French won the race, but only by an hour. The arrival of the British troops was much appreciated, the likelihood of a strong counterattack worried the French commander. 50th Division had much better anti-tank weapons, and the infantry were well equipped for digging in.

The commander of 251st Infantry Division in Jullich realised he was completely surrounded. On orders from Von Kluge, he reorganised his positions so that he could defend from any angle of attack. In doing so, his left flank lost contact with the right flank of 9th Infantry Division. As this division were primarily manning the Westwall defences, they were vulnerable to attacks from the rear. The French 9e DIM, with the reinforced 2e GRCA, reached Alsdorf by the evening. Aachen’s rear was now threatened, and the two divisions within the city had no choice but to hunker down into a siege mentality.

As the night fell, the British had provided the key that unlocked the Rhineland, the French kicked in the door and the German defence fragmented.

25 - 26 September 1940.

General Georges, as news of the previous day’s breakthrough was confirmed, got in touch with Generals Conde, Corap and Huntziger. He gave them the order to implement their plans to cross the Meuse and begin to take back the Ardennes.

At Longwy, General Conde’s two Char Brigades had begun exercising with 1re Brigade of Spahis. Many of the men were undertrained. The casualties in the 2e and 9e Armies had pulled some of the most experienced char crews away from quiet sectors to replace losses. While General Conde wanted to use the GBCs like a DLM, that wasn’t how they’d been trained. It would be another twenty-four hours before they would be ready to push into Luxemburg. Until then the Army’s artillery would begin to grind down whatever German forces faced them. The 3e Army’s GRCAs and GRDIs, were given permission to begin probing for weak spots. The two Infantry Divisions which would support the mobile GBCs and Spahis also prepared themselves to move.

General Huntziger had given 7e DIC (Colonial Infantry Division) and 71e DI the task to assault at Mouzon in the direction of Carignan. They would be supported by the FCM 36s of 4e and 7e BCCs once they could be rafted across the river. General Corap’s attack force, 5e DIM and 32e BCC would attack from Houx, north of Dinant, with the objective of Spontin. Like General Conde, these two attacks wouldn’t be ready until the next day.

General Von Kluge and his staff had spent the night trying to make sense of what had happened the previous day and to plan for the day ahead, though he knew that the Entente had the initiative, and there was very little Fourth and Twelfth Armies could do about it. General List, safe behind the Rhine, reiterated the objectives of Operation Doppelkopf. Twelfth and Sixteenth Armies, currently holding the line at the River Meuse, had to be brought back so that they either bolster the Westwall or counterattack the French armies.

With this in mind Von Kluge ordered the 5th and 21st Divisions, currently at the River Ourthe were to move towards Aachen. 25th Division would fall back from the Meuse to the Ourthe, leaving First Mountain Division to hold the Meuse line by itself. Leaving 6th and 13th Divisions holding the next part of the Meuse line, three divisions (23rd, 24th and 25th Divisions) would move to the Ourthe. These three Divisions would prepare to follow 5th and 21st Divisions to bolster the Westwall near Aachen. If this proved impossible, the three Divisions were to evacuate Belgium and head for the Rhine at Remagen. Sixteenth Army would follow a similar procedure, falling back towards Trier, then the Rhine at Mainz or Koblenz. In all these movements the Divisions had to make sure to look as if they threatening the French Fourth Army on the south of the Moselle.

When in the afternoon of 26 September, the French forces forced a crossing of the Meuse at the threee points they found only limited resistance. The remaining German divisions were too thinly spread to do any more than offer token resistance. The news that the French were now capable of pressing the withdrawing forces, focused the mind somewhat. General Curt Haase, commanding Twelfth Army, knew that he had to get his men behind the Rhine, it was the only logical place where they could make a proper defence. He sent out dispatch riders with orders for the commanding general of each division, stating the current situation and ordering them to make for the bridges over the Rhine. These written orders would later be evidence in his court martial leading to his death, but Haase’s actions saved the majority of his army.

In the area that the British armies were working, General Alan Brooke ordered Auchinleck to release his Second Armoured Division to Wilson’s Second Army on a temporary basis. This armoured Division got moving in the afternoon, and were set to support 50th Division. First Armoured Division, with 51st Division had reached the Rhine opposite Leverkusen, trapping the rest of German II Corps in a pocket. A concerted effort to withdraw the trapped soldiers was undertaken using barges. The arrival of Hurribombers began to take a heavy toll on men and barges, which was abandoned until after dark. Q Martel ordered his mobile forces to continue south, leaving the Germans for Second Army’s infantry to deal with.

The new objective for Second Army was Wesseling, between Cologne and Bonn. The strictest orders to avoid entering into Cologne itself were issued. The Canadian and 6th Division were to throw a cordon around the city itself, while the 52nd Division continued to block any German attempts to cut off the British thrust. Wilson now brought his V Corps into the fight. General Alexander’s men were to follow into the positions that O’Connor’s IV Corps were moving from. Alexander would have to be very careful to coordinate with the French Seventh Army as there would be competition for the roads going south.

In the evening of 26 September, it seemed to General Prételat that the French 1re Army had the German Fourth Army in a headlock. 7e Army was a hook that was tearing open the back of the Westwall defensive position. The British had suddenly become like a rapier stabbing into the guts the German army west of the Rhine. Cutting Aachen off from Cologne was going to put the German Twelfth army into an impossible situation. The AdA had spent the day bombing the roads of the Ardennes once again, this time on Germans heading east instead of west. Altogether it looked like the plan to clear the Germans west of the Rhine was working.

The chances of catching most of the German army in a pocket was very unlikely, the mobile forces just weren’t capable of doing that. Simply forcing the Germans to retreat behind the Rhine was good enough. The spring campaign of 1941 would hopefully have a more mature and seasoned Entente force. For now, Prételat wanted the German Fourth and Twelfth Armies to go the way of the Sixth Army: defeated and their remnants behind the Rhine.

27 September 1940. Germany.

Corporal Iain McGregor checked his squad. Another German attack had been repulsed, but at least two of his men were too close to a mortar round for comfort. When he arrived, he found his worst fears confirmed. One of the men was completely dead, the other was mostly dead. He called out for stretcher-bearers. When the medics arrived, they did a quick check on the man. There was nothing that could be done except inject him with a couple of morphine vials to ease his passing. McGregor took the identity tags of both men. In McGregor and Christie’s sections that made two dead and one wounded. They reckoned that the Germans had lost more than ten killed, more wounded and captured. The Carl Gustav team had taken out a Panzer III. Orders arrived that the company would be moving out in an hour, it was time to get the men ready.

Captain Smith’s Nero Squadron had lost four Matilda IIs, two permanently. The Germans had been using their 88mm anti-aircraft guns in anti-tank role, and not even the thick armour of the Matilda II could stop an 88m shell. The other tanks would need to be taken in hand by the Light Aid Detachment. The mechanical breakdowns were beyond the crews’ own ability to fix the problems.

Orders came over the radio that his tanks were to get on the move again. The objective was Wesseling, which it took Smith a few moments to find on his map. They would have to swing out past the suburbs of Cologne to get there. The tanks had been refuelled and rearmed, and the squadron was supported by the Seaforth Highlanders. Other than the never-ending bagpipes, they’d got along together very well in the past. He stopped briefly to take a picture of the Rhine before they moved off, that’s one for the grandchildren he thought.

27 September 1940. Düren, Germany.

The situation in Düren overnight had been tense. As expected the French troops had been assaulted for most of the morning by a desperate German counterattack. Towards late morning this seemed to have petered out. The French commander decided to push on, to finish the encirclement of Aachen.

General Ramsden, (CO 50th Division), had orders to move his force to Zülpich, once 12th Division relieved them in Düren. The arrival of 12th Division was slower than expected, which meant that the majority of the 50th division remained in place. Ramsden, beginning to worry about missing an opportunity decided to send Brigadier Churchill’s 151st Brigade, towards Zülpich as a “reconnaissance in force”. The Brigade was made up of three battalions of the Durham Light Infantry, along with a squadron of A9 tanks (Queen’s Bays) in support as well a troop of 1st East Riding Yeomanry light tanks for reconnaissance. An Artillery and Forward Air Controller were part of the Brigade’s HQ, to call for support if it was needed.

Churchill’s Brigade made the 12 mile journey without any serious trouble. They occasionally came across a Wehrmacht unit, but with surprise on their side, these encounters tended to be one sided. The DLI had taken to the role of mechanised infantry with great enthusiasm and innovation. They had adapted their universal carriers to carry a variety of heavy weapons and they seemed to have “liberated” a large number of German MG34s.

When 6th Battalion ran into a regiment of German soldiers from the 21st Division, just to the west of Zülpich, the German commander was convinced from the rate of fire that they were facing a much larger force than they actually were. When this was reported, it set off a panic in Twelfth Army’s Headquarters. If a Division sized force was holding the crossroads at Zülpich, this would be fatal. All elements of 21st Division were then given the task of recapturing the crossroads, which was an important east-west route.

The defence of Zülpich became an epic piece of the Durham Light Infantry’s illustrious history. Against vastly superior numbers, the territorials held onto the crossroads, inflicting unsustainable casualties on the German attackers. The Forward Air Controller played a major role in this victory. He managed to bring the power of RAF Hurribombers to bear, often on just the right moment, even when the two forces were almost at hand to hand fighting distance. The artillery liaison was able to call on the guns of both 72nd and 74th Field Regiments of the Royal Artillery. The gunners also played an important role in breaking up the German assaults. However, it was the infantry, with their tenacity and bravery that held off the Germans. The rest of 50th Division began arriving in the late evening. An attack on the German flank by the Green Howards finished off any hope of regaining the crossroads.

At Army Group A Headquarters, General List found himself in a hopeless position. The speed of the British advance had placed Fourth and Twelfth Armies in real jeopardy. Th fact that French forces across the Meuse at the Ardennes, while not yet critical, made the Doppelkopf plan redundant. If List ordered a general withdrawal to the Rhine, he would be signing his own death warrant. If he didn’t, he was signing the death warrant of three German armies, possibly of the Reich itself. List was a brave man, his own life or the life of the Reich, was not really a decision that needed any thought. He gave the order for all of Army Group A to withdraw behind the Rhine with all possible haste. When his order was acknowledged by each army in turn, he then went into his office and shot himself.

When 32nd Division’s Headquarters had been captured intact on 24 September, Military Intelligence people quickly took possession of the Engima machine and current settings. These were immediately communicated to Bletchley Park. When General List orders were sent out, it was almost simultaneously translated and fed back to the Entente commanders.

28-30 September 1940

Sixteenth Army was in the best position to follow List’s last order. Their path back to the Rhine through Luxembourg was not under threat. VII Corps’ 36th Infantry Division was lost as a cohesive unit due to fighting as the rear-guard against French 2e Army’s attack. The rest of Sixteenth Army marched its weary way back over the roads of Luxembourg. This time they were able to do so without the traffic jams they’d experienced in May. Casualties were inflicted by attacks by the AdA, keeping the pressure on them, making the march a painful and harried one. The German troops crossed the Rhine at Koblenz. The Eiffel Region of the Westwall continued to be manned, even after the infantry divisions had passed. This was to slow the French chase, and keep up the idea that List’s plan was a redeployment rather than retreat.

Twelfth Army were falling back to the bridges over the Rhine at Bonn and Remagen. The main line of retreat was through the Hurtgen forest. With the destruction of 21st Division attacking Zülpich, 5th Infantry Division had the task of holding the line between Monschau to Euskirchen by themselves. 23rd, 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions passed through 5th Division to reach the east bank of the Rhine in a more or less complete state.

As they retreated, attempting to slow the new French attack in the Ardenned, 3rd Infantry Division lost most of its heavy equipment, including its artillery train. The infantry, less vulnerable on the roads, managed to cross the Rhine during the night of 29 September. 16th Division was less fortunate, their retreat was cut off by a strong French thrust south from Aachen. Many men from 16th Division did make it to the Rhine, but they could no longer be described as a fighting force. The First Mountain Division, also acting as the rear-guard was mostly captured, having held up the French push over the Meuse for longer than should have been considered possible.

Fourth Army which was holding the Dutch-Belgian border positions, Liege and Aachen made various attempts to break off and get back to the Rhine. Of the eleven divisions that made up Fourth Army, none of them made it across the Rhine. Individual soldiers and small groups did manage to cross the river, but as a fighting formation, Fourth Army ceased to exist. The final surrender of the garrisons in Aachen and Liege was negotiated on 29 September, and all resistance in the Rhineland ceased on 30 September. British tanks reached the west bank of the Rhine at Remagen only to see the Ludendorff Bridge blown to pieces before their eyes.

List’s order for Army Group A to pull back left First Army in the Saarland in a exposed position. The Eiffel region wasn’t yet under too much pressure, but the French attack on Kaiserlautern was pressing XXIV Corps, forcing them back. Eventually General Von Rundstedt gave the order for the First Army to withdraw behind the Rhine. The German line would contiguous along the Rhine. This took a few days to complete but First Army remained a complete force. General Von Witzleben won the respect of many on both sides by the manner of his fighting withdrawal.

1 October 1940. Germany.

At the first meeting of the OKH, the Fuhrer was incoherent with rage, blaming everyone for the failure. Despite their best efforts the General could not persuade him of military need to save most of the army. In his mind, the soldiers of the Reich should have died in place, fighting to the last man and the last bullet. His diatribe was his worst yet, shouting himself hoarse.

Perhaps in a flash of insight, or simply his political sixth sense kicking in, he suddenly stopped. These men he was berating had the power to overthrow him and the Nazi party. He wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that a number of conversations along those very lines had taken place. He also recognised that the threat was twofold. The first was from the Army who might want to make peace with the Entente, while it was still possible. The second was from the Party. Goring’s position was weakened by his Luftwaffe’s failure. Himmler’s position had been weakened by failure to find the real cause of the Entente’s knowledge of the invasion plans. Despite this, Himmler still had control of the State Security apparatus, which gave him his real power base. Martin Bormann and Rudolph Hess were less of a threat, but might be used as puppets for someone else.

So Adolph Hitler did what he always did: he decided to play one off against the other. He ordered that there should be a full accounting of the failure of the French campaign. He gave Himmler’s Gestapo the duty of investigating the failures of the Army. The lessons of that failure had to be learned before the expected spring offensive. The Luftwaffe would be investigated by Reinhard Heydrich’s Reich Main Security Office. It was hardly necessary, but the Kriegsmarine, which had more or less ceased to exist, would be investigated by Otto Thierack’s Justice Ministry.

Fritz Todt’s ministry of munitions would be investigated to discover why there were so many failures in the Wehrmacht’s equipment, especially against panzers. This was to be full inquiry, making sure they had the right weapons as quickly as possible. Goring would review the process of how Himmler’s organisation had dealt with the failures in intelligence and security that had the Case Yellow plan an open book to the French and British. The only aspect of the Government left out of all this was the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. He was given the task of preparing the German Volk for the profound struggle that lay ahead of them.

In London, in a quiet room in the Admiralty, there was a rare meeting of the Bristol Group commanding officers who still thought of each other with their original ranks: Bristol: Capt Alan Grose; Cardiff: Capt Mike Harris; Avenger: Capt Hugo White; Active: Cdr Paul Canter; Andromeda: Capt James Weatherall; Minerva: Cmdr S Johnston; Penelope, Cmdr Peter Rickard; RFA Olna: Capt James (Bill) Bailey. A toast was raised to all the progress that had been made, and then they got down to the business at hand, planning the next phase of the war.

End of Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion Book 1.
Last edited:
Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion. Book 2. 1-13 October 1940
Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion. Book 2.

1 October 1940. London, England.

In a quiet room in the Admiralty, there was a rare meeting of the Bristol Group commanding officers. They still thought of each other with their original ranks: Bristol: Capt Alan Grose; Cardiff: Capt Mike Harris; Avenger: Capt Hugo White; Active: Cdr Paul Canter; Andromeda: Capt James Weatherall; Minerva: Cmdr S Johnston; Penelope, Cmdr Peter Rickard; RFA Olna: Capt James (Bill) Bailey. A toast was raised to all the progress that had been made, and then they got down to the business at hand, reviewing progress and thinking about what needed to happen next.

Since it had been so long since their last meeting Alan Grose asked each of his commanders (he still had that feeling that these men were “his”), to give a summary of what they had been doing.

Grose began. “It would seem that I have become the Prime Minister’s personal oracle. The successes we’ve had up until now have been to a great extent because of our knowledge of what should have happened. The problem is since the German failure in May, that knowledge is now used up. We are now in a very different war to the one we know about. The PM is looking at a very different future from ours. Winston is asking questions about the Soviet Union, knowing that our Cold War is the consequence of this war. With Mussolini sitting on the fence, and mixed signals coming from Tokyo, there is some doubt what the future holds. Without the war in the Mediterranean and the possibility that the Japanese won’t pursue a “southern strategy”, I’m afraid that this particular oracle is going to be less helpful as time goes on.”

Mike Harris, formerly of HMS Cardiff: “As you know I’ve ended up working mostly with the pongoes as the result of my knowledge of the history of Operation Dynamo. Knowing something of the events that led to the brilliant naval operation that pulled the army off the beaches of Dunkirk, has outlived its usefulness. Now that the army are sitting on the Rhine, like Alan, my foresight is fading fast.”

Hugo White, formerly of HMS Active: “My future has ended up being my past. I’m back here at the Admiralty in the plans department. Our plan has worked a treat: the Kriegsmarine is on the ropes, and the battle of the Atlantic has been won before it even began. We are starting to look at ways of neutralising the Imperial Japanese Navy as effectively as we did with the Kriegsmarine. Interestingly, there is some evidence of deterrence already working there. The chat we’re decrypting is that the strengthening of our fleet at Singapore is giving them pause for thought. With no great threat in home waters anymore, we are looking at moving more of heavies to Singapore. The same with the Mediterranean. Benito has gone very quiet, and between our fleet in Alexandria and the Marine Nationale, the Italians are likely to stay that way.”

Paul Canter (HMS Active): “Well, the Ton class mine sweeper has been my baby and we’ve laid down the first three. I’ll continue to busy with that for the foreseeable future. I’m afraid mine warfare is going to continue to be a threat to the sea lanes, no matter what. We’re in the process of attempting to recreate Cascover, the nylon sheeting to replace copper, and progress is slow on that. I’m pleased to say that the “Deltic” diesel clone is ready, Perkins have been most helpful. A Type 193 sonar, to make them into Minehunters, is the gold standard we’re aiming for, but that’s still a distant dream.”

James Weatherall (HMS Andromeda): “The Training program is my remit. We’ve made a good start, but there are two problems holding us up. The first is inertia, ‘but we’ve always done it this way’. Thankfully that isn’t too great a problem to get around, there’s been a lot of careers taking new paths this year. The second is training the trainers. We’ve got a good number of our former shipmates who are working their socks off, but the gap in education is extraordinary. The engineering degrees that our guys have compared to what is coming out of the current universities is night and day. If I had a wish, it would be to create our own university to retrain university lecturers! The progress made from 1940 to 1980 is enormous, trying to communicate that is a herculean task. Once we retrain the university lecturers, we’re going to have to deal with schools, primary and secondary. Somehow, science has to go from being Cinderella to Prince Charming in schools. Anyway, that’s my rant over!”

Steven Johnston (HMS Minerva): “I’m afraid I’ve been landed with the hi-tech stuff. Like James, the gap we’ve got to cross is enormous. It seems that my life is split into three areas. The first is codes and computing. We’ve been doing really well at Bletchley Park, mechanical computers are doing wonders. Moving from there to the kind of stuff in Cardiff’s AAW suite is going to take a long time. We’ve made some modifications to the Typex machines that our forces are using, to make them even better. Against German, Italian and Japanese codes we have plenty of progress. We’re working on the American codes, though their machine is pretty good. Against the Soviets, with their one-time pads, there’s almost no hope of breaking them.

The second area is the area of miniature valves and early transistors. The priority is proximity fuzes, and Pye have made great progress with those. They are getting good results from the various tests. Regarding radar, with the introduction of both the cavity magnetron and travelling wave tubes, we’re getting to the point of having late 40’s technology. After that, a jump to 1960’s is probably easier, if all goes well. Once we sorted out the parabolic receivers, then the Air Interception radar for night fighters has proven itself. The electronics for an AWAC Wellington or Halifax is coming along nicely. The miniaturisation of radar equipment will mean that most surface vessels, and indeed submarines, will have radar systems.

Sorry, I’m going on a bit, but the third area is lasers and infra-red. The idea of having Paveway bombs has the RAF drooling. The army’s wet dream is for night fighting equipment, particularly on tanks. We have a bunch of excellent people with their noses to the grindstone, and making some progress.”

Peter Rickard (HMS Penelope): “I’ve been training the downtimers the techniques of Anti-Submarine Warfare. With Hedgehog on many of the ships now, and with Squid coming along, we’ve got an effective ASW capability. Coupled with plenty of Sunderlands in Coastal Command the U-boat threat has been minimised! The U-boats are stuck in the Baltic, and as far as photo-reconnaissance and intelligence can tell, they aren’t being built, at least not in the numbers we should expect.

My nice tan tells you that I’m just back from the Med, bringing the Mediterranean fleet up to speed. We put them through their paces against our own and the French subs. We still have to be on guard against the Italians, who have over 100 submarines. The idea of manned torpedoes was a bit of shock to them. The Soviets has the world’s biggest submarine fleet, some things never change. We need to keep up progress in AS Warfare, even if at them moment they don’t offer much of a threat. The Japanese submarine fleet is a bit of weird collection. but I’ll be off to Singapore soonish to work with the Far East fleet. Lucky me!”

Andy Johnston (HMS Onyx). “I’ve been running the perisher course for the dolphins, and that has been going well. As well as that we’ve been looking a modifying the current subs that are being built and looking at the next generation, including better batteries and sonar. A couple of my former crew mates are doing a lot of teaching on underwater acoustics as well as oceanography and hydrography. I’m supervising that, and everything else submarine related.”

Bill Bailey (RFA Olna). “Unlike you warriors, my logistical experience is being used heavily. We’ve done a lot of good work on Replenishment At Sea. The recent trip around the Pacific proved the worth of what we’ve been doing. We’ve been concentrating on the carriers, since they need their own oil and aviation fuel supplied. I believe the Home Fleet oilers will all soon be qualified in both wet and dry RAS. Getting the battleship drivers to cooperate is taking longer than it should. They’re too used to just turning back to home base for resupply. As you would expect the destroyer Captains and other escorts are taking to it like ducks to water. We haven’t done too much work in heavy weather, so this winter will be interesting from that point of view.

In addition, I wear two other hats. The first is shipbuilding methods. To build something the size of RFA Olna is a big jump in capability. We’ve picked one yard, Hawthorne Leslie on Tyneside, where Olna was built, to gear them up for this kind of work. There are another five or six firms who are investing in this. The plan is to prove the methods in one place, and hopefully that should revolutionise the ship building industry as a whole. The second hat is containerisation and pallets. We are working with a consortium on this. Liverpool Port Authority, Great Western Railways and some road haulage firms have clubbed together to look at the civilian implications. The army’s RASC and RAOC are doing most the experimentation. There will be resistance no doubt from various factions, but I’m hopeful that we can make logistics easier.”

Alan Grose: “Thanks everyone, it is amazing how much has been done. The Prime Minister’s asked me to once more pass on his appreciation of the work that you and your teams are doing. Now, the reason I wanted this meeting with you all specifically is this…”

“All things being equal we should hopefully see the downfall of the Nazi Regime within the year. Winning the war will necessarily involve us winning the peace. As I see it, there are large numbers of consequences that will have to be examined, and I wanted your input specifically. There are a couple of working groups that have been set up, and some of our junior officers are involved in those. However, as senior officers I’d like your perspective too, and especially to see if there is a consensus among us about going forward.

So I wrote down a list, and in no particular order: What does a post war Germany look like? The massive destruction of their cities and infrastructure by 1945 isn’t going to be as bad as it might be, but a lot of reconstruction will be necessary. Because they have attacked France in 1870, 1914 and 1940 the French are adamant that Germany has to be broken up. Do we recommend splitting it up, as it was before 1870? Or more like the West and East German model we are used to? What about East Prussia and a link to the rest of Germany and what does that mean for Poland.

Do we insist of the Soviet withdrawal to their 1939 border, to recreate that Poland, and perhaps more pertinently, how could we make Stalin do that if that’s what we decide? Then there’s the Baltic States and Finland, as well as the fundamental problem of the Soviet regime. We’ve always said we want to avoid ending this war with another Cold War, or worse.

Europe is another big debate. Once they’re liberated, what happens to Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria and Czechoslovakia’s borders? On the other side of that coin is the Entente side of Europe. Do we recommend some kind of proto-EEC and NATO? If a free trade association between the victorious powers is established, what about their colonies? Right now, there’s a lot of goodwill with Norway, Belgium, the Free Danes and the Dutch too. We also seem to be getting along very well with La Belle France at the moment. Would some kind of economic/military community be desirable and what is needed to make it work?

I mentioned colonies. There is growing disquiet in the offices of the Secretaries of State for the Dominions, Colonies, and especially India. Our experience of decolonisation, frankly, is the stuff of nightmares for them. There is a very strong head of steam being built up about the Empire, and that is not going to be kept quiet much longer. So far, the prosecution of the war has kept that on the back burner, but big decisions will have to be made.

Regarding the Dominions which are currently Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, with India soon to be one. South Africa and apartheid is one problem. India is just a minefield. Then there are the other colonies, without the circumstances that led to rapid decolonisation in our history, should we be preparing them for independence over a longer period? Places like Gibraltar, Malta and Singapore, what are our recommendations? If we do enter a kind of EEC, how does that affect the Imperial Tariff system?

Another question is our relationship with Uncle Sam. It is looking more and more likely that FDR won’t be re-elected in November. If Dewey wins, and the USA keeps an isolationist stand, how does that affect us? Obviously, we’re being much more careful to buy as little as we can from them, keeping our balance of trade as favourable as we can. The French are spending dollars like it is going out of fashion, but they can’t keep that up forever. Without the impetus of the war, what does that do to the American economy? They are currently a sleeping giant, and look to keep on sleeping for the moment.

Which leads us onto Japan. As has been mentioned there seems some debate about the future direction of Japanese ambitions. What is our view of the war in China? There’s currently a three-way fight between the Japs, Mao and Chiang Kai-shek. Do we take sides, or let them get on with it? In terms of trade, will the Americans put economic sanctions on the Japanese? Dewey isn’t talking about it, and they haven’t occupied Vietnam, I mean, Indo-China. Without the American sanctions Japan could be on a very different path. We should never underestimate the power of stupidity, but surely even the most hawkish parts of the army won’t be arguing for a Southern Strategy.

There are a few other things we need to think about. There’s Jewish migration to Palestine and the State of Israel to consider. Nearer home, the shape of our post-war Britain. There’s no Beveridge Report yet. What do we say about the Welfare State and the NHS? Then there’s industrial relations and plans for economic prosperity that will come along for discussion too. All issues which as senior naval officers we’ve been advised in the past to stay clear of the politics of such matters. Gentlemen, we need to turn our attention to geopolitics and national politics. All of which will make the job we’ve done up until now seem like a breeze.

1 October 1940. MEE, Farnborough. England.

Two mild steel prototypes of the Comet tank reversed off their transporters. Unlike previous tests of the hull and mechanics, these were complete with turrets, though not yet armed. The decision to producing the Comet armed with the 6-pdr gun, even though it’s HE round was fairly anaemic, had been taken. A close support version, using the 3.7 in (94 mm) howitzer was still being discussed. It was argued that each troop of four Comets could have one CS Comet and three with 6-pdrs, the opposite of the late war with one Firefly and three with 75mm guns. The French were still pressing for their new APX 75mm tank gun to be considered. This choice would provide compatibility of ammunition in the Entente.

The Mechanisation Experimental Establishment was where men from the Royal Armoured Corps, including a number of veterans, had developed a number of tests that would show up any problems in the design and build of a tank. By putting the new tank through its paces, testing them almost to destruction, was an important step in its development. Once tested, the reports would list all the things that would need to be fixed for the pre-production models. It was expected that those would be ready at the end of December for their tests. Eventually the reports from these tests were generally positive, but there were still corrections that would need to be made.

There were four other types of armoured vehicles being tested. The A13 Mark II Cruiser was due to be phased out once the Comet was put into production. Nuffield Mechanisation and Aero Ltd wanted to be keep its own products in competition. Two vehicles were based on the A13’s hull, including the Liberty engine. The first had its turret removed and its hull had been built up to provide protection for a squad of infantry. They were calling this a ‘Kangaroo’. The army were hoping for a proper Armoured Personnel Carrier with a rear door system, but there was merit in this attempt. The second also didn’t have a turret, the hull had been built up into an armoured box. Into this a six-pounder gun had been mounted with limited traverse. Billed as a tank destroyer, a concept which the army weren’t keen on, but there was potential for exports.

The third vehicle was an interesting effort from Vulcan. They were calling it the Matilda III. It was basically up-graded Matilda II. Using the new Meteor engine, the hull had been increased in size to take a larger turret ring. This particular turret was designed to take the 3.7 in (94 mm) howitzer used on close support tanks. Vulcan also suggested that it could be redesigned to take the 25-pdr. Like its predecessor, the Matilda III was designed purely as a heavy infantry tank. The armour was slightly increased, though Vulcan had made great efforts to make it easier and cheaper to build than the Matilda II. The army were keen to have just one type of ‘universal’ tank, but if they did want an infantry tank, this was an attractive proposition.

The fourth vehicle was the VBCP 39L. Based on the Lorraine 37L, an armoured replenishment vehicle, the 39L was a tracked APC. It was created by raising the cargo bay and providing it with armour and room for six men, it came with a trailer, the same height and armour, which was towed carrying another six men. The passenger sections were open topped, though there were plans for a roofed version. The Lorraine Company were open to the possibility of opening a factory in Britain, or at least granting a license for them to be produced for the British army. The army were underwhelmed by the design. They weren’t happy with the tractor/trailer style, and even if it was fitted with a different engine to make it more powerful, the engine was still in the wrong place. They really wanted a vehicle with the engine at the front so that the crew compartment at the rear would be uninterrupted. Some of the most senior officers had seen pictures of M113s or FV432s and that was exactly what they were looking for.

1 October 1940. Hatfield, England.

Geoffrey de Havilland Jr had one more test to complete before he brought the prototype Mosquito fighter-bomber into land at Hatfield. The earlier flights of each of the prototypes had shown up some problems with buffeting and vibrations, but the changes to the nacelles and other pieces of work seemed to have solved these problems. Piloting this prototype gave de Havilland a sense of why everyone was keen on getting this aircraft into production.

Looking around he saw the Spitfire circling at 6000ft that was part of the final test. He flew the Mosquito to take position on the Spitfire’s wing, talking to the pilot over the R/T. They arranged their speed to match, and when instructed to by observers on the ground, both pilots pushed their throttles to full military power. In a drag race in the sky the Mosquito pulled away from the smaller aircraft, outpacing it by over thirty miles an hour.

As the Mosquito taxied to a halt, de Havilland saw a number of people waiting for him. With the aircraft secure, he joined the various RAF, Air Ministry and other people to receive their congratulations. The man from the Air Ministry handed de Havilland an envelope, it contained an initial order for 500 machines, twenty trainers, thirty in a photo-reconnaissance variant, 150 as an unarmed fast bomber and 300 as a fighter-bomber. In their conversation afterwards the Air Ministry had been busy looking at various furniture makers around High Wycombe to help with subcontracting parts for the aircraft. They were determined to get this aircraft into full production as quickly as possible, and de Havilland thought the first production aircraft would be ready in the New Year.

1 October 1940. Office of Joachim Von Ribbentrop. Berlin.

Von Ribbentorp: “No! They can’t do this. Have you checked with Count Ciano?”
Aide: “It was the Count who delivered it, minister.”
VR: “Where is he now?”
Aide: “I believe he returned to the embassy.”
VR: “The Fuhrer is going to be livid.”
Aide: “Quite possibly minister!”
VR: “They can’t do this to me! Not now. Not with both the Spanish and the Japanese just having refused to join us. Now the Italians are ‘regretfully withdrawing from the Pact of Steel.’ All we have left is the Soviets, God help us!”
Aide: “Yes, minister, God help us!”

1 October 1940. John I Thornycroft & Co, Woolston, Southampton.

The new look Assault Landing Craft was being put through its paces under the watchful eye of a Major of the Royal Marines. The simple expedient of moving the pilot’s steering position, and the light machine-gun position, to the rear of the vessel, allowed a wider ramp to be fitted at the front. The bow was redesigned so the ramp could be increased from 4 foot 6 inches to eight feet exactly. The Royal Marines who had tested disembarking from both the original Assault Landing Craft and this new one, found that they were able to get clear of the landing craft much more quickly.

The removal of the armoured doors behind the ramp meant that another bottleneck was removed. The ramp was strengthened and extended in length so that it protruded above the level of the sides of the LCA. The protection and longer reach of the ramp was an improvement. It was also a test bed for a new Perkins diesel engine that increased the power available, allowing a few extra knots, and extending its range.

The widening of the ramp also allowed the ALC, with the central bench removed, to be able to carry a universal carrier. While a larger Landing Craft Vehicle was also being built, the ability of the LCA to take the ubiquitous carrier, gave the Marines a certain flexibility that they thought would be helpful.

1 October 1940. Arras, France.

British VI Corps, (4th (Indian) Division, 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, 56th (London) Infantry Division) had been concentrated near Arras so that they could exercise together at a Corps level. General Noel Irwin had been appointed to command this Corps, promoted from 2nd Division. Irwin, who’d been born in India, and had some experience of working with Indian troops, was considered by Brooke to be the best fit for this Corps command. Irwin had also served as Chief Instructor at Sandhurst. With the increased emphasis on the need for consistent training throughout the army, Irwin had made sure that this was taken very seriously at every level in the Corps. VI Corps had been the first recipient of the Militant armoured lorries. Designed to get the men as close to the enemy as possible behind a bombardment, all the troops had put a great deal of effort into learning how to make the best use of these ‘battle taxis’.

The series of exercises at Corps level, some of which were held jointly with the French army, had come to a successful completion. The Corps experienced a visit from His Majesty King George VI, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. VI Corps was officially declared operational by the King, to General Alan Brooke’s delight. The first assignment of VI Corps was to take over part of the front on the Rhine. Irwin’s VI Corps would replace Montgomery’s II Corps, allowing them to rest and reorganise.

The two Australian and one New Zealand divisions that made up the ANZAC Corps were in the process of being shipped to France and arriving at Rennes. Here they would receive new equipment. Once that was completed, they would then move to Arras for more Corps level training. Once declared operational, they would join VI Corps to create British Third Army. The third Corps of that army, VII Corps (43rd (Wessex) division, 3rd Armoured Division, 2nd Canadian Division) would take the ANZACs place at Rennes, then follow them to Arras.

The numbers of casualties among First and Second Armies in the fighting since May, led to the decision to break up the 54th (East Anglian) Division and to use its men as battle replacements. Plans to create other new Divisions had been put on hold, the men currently being trained would mostly likely be needed as replacements.

3rd Armoured Division was being created from six Battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment. These had been territorial infantry battalions which had been converted into tank crews. There would be three Brigades in the Division: 21st Armoured Brigade: (40th (The King's), 41st (Oldham), and 42nd Royal Tank Regiment); 22nd Armoured Brigade (43rd, 44th and 45th (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiment); 164th Infantry Brigade. All of these RTR Battalions were still in the process of receiving their tanks, a process which had been slowed by the need to replaces losses in the other two Armoured Divisions. It was expected that they wouldn’t be deployed to France until December at the earliest, more likely January. 43rd Division and 2nd Canadian Division were in England completing their basic training. All three Divisions would be shipped to France, first to Rennes and then Arras, before joining the other two Corps in Third Army.

1 October 1940. London, England.

To bring this meeting of the Oversight Committee to order, may I start with an apology that we are delayed a day. It was felt that the situation on the Rhine had to come to some kind of conclusion. Since all of us around this table were involved in that victory in one way or another, I believe we can start with giving ourselves a well deserved pat on the back.

First on the Agenda: The Royal Navy. In summary, Britannia rules the waves. (Cries of Hear! Hear!). Seriously the progress that has been made against the Kriegsmarine in a year is extraordinary. For all intents and purposes the enemy’s fleet amounts to little more than a Baltic Sea Coast Guard. While complacency should have no place among us, the U-boat threat has certainly been minimised. We have lost no merchant shipping to submarine attack since April, though there are still losses to mines, despite our best efforts. There are four North Sea sub-hunting flotillas making sure that no U-boats sneak out, and I do have to mention the sterling support of our Norwegian allies in this work.

The German surface fleet’s largest assets now consist of the Admiral Scheer, Leipzig and Nurnberg. The latest photoreconnaissance shows Tirpitz and Prince Eugen are still in their fitting out docks. One of our chief analysts is of the certain opinion that work has stopped on them, but we have no confirmation of that. It looks as if the carrier, Graf Zepplin, is being stripped in Gotenhafen. Signals intelligence says that Hitler has decided to do away with the German navy and the reconnaissance seems to support that position.

With the successes we have achieved, it has been decided that both HMS Minerva and HMS Avenger will be withdrawn from active service. As well as freeing up most of their crew for other duties, mostly in the training programme, the two ships give a great deal more than they are currently doing. HMS Minerva will become a training ship, allowing familiarisation with some of the future equipment of the Navy. HMS Avenger will be broken up for her assets. Having another two Tynes and two Olympus turbines to play with will be of great help in various places. HMS Cardiff is currently in Rosyth for an overhaul. She has been very busy and needs some repairs and the crew needs a rest. HMS Bristol, which had just completed an overhaul, is operating off Holland helping with radar coverage. HMS Andromeda, with the Sea Wolf system, continues to act alongside the Home Fleet carriers. Two Lynx helicopters are now based on HMS Ark Royal as part of her anti-submarine screen.

Over the last eight months, the propulsion system that we took off HMS Penelope, the Y-100 steam turbine machinery, has been very carefully looked at for the next generation of escort ships. Babcock and Willcox are sure they can recreate it, and English Electric have been working on the steam turbines. With the number of vessels currently under construction and expected to join the fleet, we don’t expect to build a new class of vessels for at least a year. Design work on new classes of ships is being undertaken.

HMS King George V is being commissioned tomorrow. I suppose some of us wish we were there for that. She has been equipped HMS Active’s Type 912 radar, tied into her gun control system. Some changes to her layout and superstructure were necessary to fit the equipment. The only other major change was to remove the seaplanes and their equipment. The space freed up will allow increased numbers of Bofors anti-aircraft guns to be carried. A number of extra diesel generators have been installed for various things. Damage control exercises have shown up a few things that will need to be worked on before she joins the fleet in December. As planned, HMS Royal Sovereign will be brought into the reserve fleet and her crew will be assigned to HMS Duke of York.

HMS Formidable will join the fleet at about the same time in December as the KGV. Her air wing will consist of Sea Hurricanes, Skuas and Swordfish. HMS Formidable is equipped with HMS Penelope’s Type 992Q radar, a great improvement over what she was meant to have. I have to say that I’ll be glad to see her. The loss of HMS Hermes meant we’ve only had HMS Ark Royal and Furious with Home Fleet. HMS Eagle is currently in refit, having travelled back from Singapore. HMS Illustrious is in the South China Sea. HMS Glorious and Furious will need time in dock before long, so having a new carrier will be most appreciated.

While we are on the subject of the carriers, progress on SeaFires is coming along. These will replace the SeaHurricanes in due course. Swordfish will carry on as the main torpedo bomber until the Griffon powered Barracuda arrives. This will also replace the Skua in the dive bomber role.

The building program for cruisers, destroyers and other vessels is progressing well. Without the threat of unrestricted submarine warfare, we can go about sorting out our needs without a panic. The low losses we have suffered has also helped. We are particularly keen to see what the improvements to the submarines will result in. The development of the Ton class minesweeper has been speedy. We should start to see them next year.

With regards amphibious operations. The exercises in the Mediterranean with HMS Glenearn, the first Landing Craft Infantry (Large) conversion went well. Another five ships are being converted. HMS Glengyle and Glenroy are nearly ready. HMS Breconshire, Queen Emma and Princess Beatrix (the last two being Dutch ships) will take another few of months. The changes to the Assault Landing Craft are being tested, even as we speak, and all things going well, will be produced quickly. If the Royal Marines want to go ashore somewhere in the spring, these six LCIs will give them that capability. There is a strong body of opinion that HMS Eagle should be made ready to become the first Helicopter carrier. The Royal Marines would like that capability as part of their plan for enveloping a beachhead.

Regarding a Landing Ship (Dock). We’ve looked at the designs of HMS Fearless and Intrepid, and design work is at an advanced stage. The plan to convert two train ferries (Daffodil and Princess Iris) to launch landing craft has been quashed. Their main role of going between Dover and Calais or Dunkirk is too important.

Hawthorne Leslie are just about to launch the first Landing Craft (Tank). This has been designed to take carry four tanks. Another dozen are under construction, which would mean we could put 48 tanks ashore at the same time. The current Mechanised Landing Craft are being used until these are ready. These themselves be replaced by an improved version that Thornycroft have designed.

Next on the agenda is the army. The second phase of the war in Europe has gone much better than we hoped. Having stopped the Germans in May, we have managed to push them back behind the Rhine in September! Phase three is due to take place in April, when we will force a crossing of the Rhine. Currently the Rhine-line is quiet, and we are taking advantage of this to allow the infantry divisions to rest and recuperate. It is expected that there will be a rolling leave programme over the winter to allow the troops at least a week at home.

The expenditure of munitions was higher than planned for. An all-out effort is being made on bringing stocks up to what will be necessary for phase three. The munitions factories are working twenty-fours a day. The shadow factories have been coming on line quicker than originally planned. The 25-pdr seems to be the worst offender in expending ammunition above the expected amount, but we won’t begrudge the artillery for their support of the infantry.

Production of ammunition in August was, 1,366,000 filled shells (all types); 70, 500,000 rounds of small arms. During August we produced of 203 tanks; 193 25-pdrs; 135 3.7 inch AA guns, 349 other guns (211 6-pdrs and 138 Bofors 40mm), 8919 Brens and almost 15000 SMLEs; 8779 wheeled vehicles for the army. We expect that the September figures will be similar for most things, except the tank figures, which should rise by another 25%. We in the situation of both trying to replace our losses and expand the army, and it is the latter that is slowed because of it.

The new tank, the Comet, is being tested. We expect pre-production machines will be ready by December and full production will hopefully start quickly after that. If we can get three months’ worth of production before we cross the Rhine that should give us at least one armoured division’s worth, even if it is still working up to operational condition. A Self-Propelled Gun, Anti-Aircraft platform, AVRE and APC based on the Comet hull are all following, but more slowly.

We need to focus on the assault across the Rhine. Experiments with DD (Duplex Drive) tanks to swim across the river, have been taking place at the Brent reservoir. We’ve so far lost two tanks, though thankfully no crew. The ability to do it is there, it is just a case of trial and error. The other “hovercraft” idea is going well, a prototype is nearing completion. The problem is that the old Merlin III engines lying around, which were going to be used on these are actually turning into Meteors for the Comet. Stores of bridging equipment are being built up again. We have put great efforts into getting production of Bailey Bridges increased as much as possible. So many of our stocks of bridges have had to be used getting us to the Rhine, that getting enough for phase three is problematic.

The Royal Signals Corps reports a general improvement in both the availability of and the quality of radios amongst the BEF. Pye and Philips are producing the radios, and if companies could get medals, then those two deserve a VC. They really have been going above and beyond for us. These two companies have also been making improvements to army’s gun-laying radars, which is exciting the Royal Artillery.

By the beginning of April, we plan to have three full armies, made up of 27 Divisions, three of which are Armoured Divisions. We hope they will be ready to break into the heart of Germany.

Next on the Agenda is the RAF. Losses to the fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons have been high. At various points in the last month it looked like we could be in serious trouble regarding pilot numbers. The first full class of graduates from the Air Training Scheme in Canada arrived by sea, and are now in Operational Training Units. The Air Ministry hope there will be a bit of a lull over the winter to let us build up strength. Monthly production of aircraft continues to grow. In August we added 460 fighters/fighter-bombers, 130 light bombers (mostly Beaufighters). 160 Wellingtons are being built monthly and over 500 trainers. We are confident that our efforts are out-producing the Germans. Their losses, from all intelligence sources, have been put at much higher than ours. But they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Bomber Command, along with the French AdA, are going to focus their attention on two main targets over the winter months: aircraft production and synthetic oil plants. When the French captured Saarbrucken they captured documents that identify synthetic oil plants as a major source of their fuel requirements. Hopefully we can damage that to some extent.

Three new types, Halifax heavy bomber, Mosquito light bomber and the Mustang fighter are all expected to enter squadron service next year. The Griffon powered Spitfire and a replacement for the Hurribomber are going to take a bit longer. Blackburn have a prototype transport aircraft using Hercules engines, though they really want Centaurus or turbo-props. The other heavy bomber, the Lancaster is still in its early days, we’ll rely on the Halifax until it comes along.

Eyes Only.

Report to Oversight Committee from Royal Aircraft Establishment re jet propulsion.

The arrival at RAF St Athans of the Working Group to achieve jet propulsion brought together some of the finest minds and engineers in the country. The working group took possession of a Rolls Royce Pegasus (turbofan), Gnome (turboshaft), marine Tyne (turboprop) and marine Olympus (turbojet) engines. As well as these four engines, the Working Group had access to many other books and information, not least the experienced engineers from the Bristol Group. We were therefore well placed to make significant progress.

While the complexities of the engines were being examined and tested, a consortium of Rolls Royce, Napier and Hawker Siddeley built a testing site and factory beside the RAF field. It was recognised that facilities to manufacture the jets, as that becomes feasible, while maintaining security, couldn’t wait for the experiments to be completed.

Frank Whittle and his team from Power Jets Ltd were disappointed to see that their centrifugal compressor system was not represented in the future engines. Instead, all four engines followed the path of Alan Griffith into axial-flow jets. The first decision that had to be made was whether to continue to help Power Jets improve their W2 engine into a Welland, Derwent or Nene type. The argument made in favour of this was these types would be suitable for export to friendly nations. The decision focused on the need to produce suitable aircraft for the war effort. It was felt the Olympus engine was too complex to use as a first model. It did however have roots in what had been known as the Avon engine. The size and power of the Avon would be about right for the first generation of jet aircraft. To his credit, Frank Whittle and his team applied themselves and their experience fully to the task at hand. Subsequently an agreement in principle was made to develop the W2 into a Nene type when time allowed. The potential to be an export success, and it could be used by the intelligence services as a security cover for the main work.

While some work, especially on metallurgy, would be done together, the three firms would each concentrate on different engine types. The design team from Napier, which had been working on the now cancelled Sabre engine, was led by Frank Halford and Harry Ricardo. These concentrated on the turboshaft and turboprop Gnome and Tyne engines.

The Gnome engine proved to the first to be reproduced. Halford and Ricardo took the design route of making an exact copy of the engine. By stripping the engine down to its constituent parts, then copying them exactly, and putting it altogether again, they managed to get working engines much more quickly. The numbers of Royal Navy personnel, who between them had years of experience servicing these engines in Wessex and Lynx helicopters, made this exercise even more straightforward. The Gnome was the most common engine brought back, so it also had the most spares. The main problem that held back the team was the computerised fuel system which couldn’t be replicated. Cloned Gnome engines are now in production and are being fitted the Wildcat and Sussex helicopters.

Rolls Royce’s team, led by Cyril Lovesey and Stanley Hooker, took the lead on the turbojet. L.B. Pfeil from Special Metals Corporation concentrated on trying to get suitable high temperature alloys and has been most helpful. Having studied all four engines, they decided to work on a more basic engine that would be roughly the equivalent to the Rolls Royce Avon. The team managed to get a working prototype which was run on July 16 1940. After two hours of testing, it had a catastrophic failure. The accident was carefully investigated and its cause had nothing to do with the design, but was a failure of materials, specifically lubricants.

The second prototype, with improved materials, which began testing on August 23 1940. So far it has completed two hundred hours of testing and has exceeded the 6500lbs of thrust requirement. A third prototype suitable for aerial testing was then built. This was installed on a Wellington test bed aircraft, and its first flight took place on September 25 1940. The test was judged successful, the Wellington took off and landed under its own power, but the jet ran for two hours during the flight without incident. At one point in the flight, it supplied the only thrust for the aircraft, making the Wellington Britain’s first jet powered aircraft. Even though if it only lasted a few minutes!

A fourth prototype, a replica of the third, is now being mated with an aircraft designed by Sydney Camm. It isn’t yet the full Hunter design, but simply a test bed aircraft for the engine. Camm hopes that the information from this test aircraft will give important input into the Hunter’s final design. It is expected that taxiing trials will begin in October, followed by a first flight, all being well, in November. Pre-production models of the Avon jet will be built at the same time and full production can begin when these have been properly tested. The first full prototype Hunter with an Avon jet, producing 8000lbs of thrust, is expected to fly in the summer of 1941.

As progress has been made on the Gnome engine, Napier’s team is now looking at the more complex Tyne engine as a turboprop. This would achieve even great power than the Gnome. The marine version they have doesn’t lend itself to the exact copy method they already used. They currently working on a first prototype and expect the first running of it in November 1940.

The Pegasus engine, with its turbofan technology will be looked at in greater detail once the Rolls Royce team are satisfied with the Avon. There is some interest in making a simplified version, similar to the Orpheus engine from which it is developed, giving between 4 and 5000lb thrust it might prove useful for something like a jet trainer/light fighter. Progress on such an engine will only happen once the Avon is fully developed.

1 October 1940. Halifax, Canada.

The SS Arandora Star tied up alongside the pier. Her cargo was 1299 German Prisoners of War, mostly officers and NCOs. 200 guards were on hand to shepherd their flock to the train station. A number of trains were needed to carry the Germans to their destination. POW camp Number XX had been built at Gravenhust, Ontario, a journey of 1000 miles.

The Germans had been well treated, even the most ardent Nazi could find nothing to complain about under the Geneva Conventions. As they disembarked in Halifax, it was obvious that a convoy was gathering for departure. The Germans were left in no doubt that Britain’s Dominions were coming to their aid. As the POWs boarded their trains, they received some coffee and sandwiches from a group of local volunteers. This was the same group which had provided refreshments for the Canadian troops which had arrived in the same trains the Germans were boarding. These Canadian soldiers were due to board SS Arandora Star to travel to Britain.

Many an English-speaking German was told by one of the kind ladies, “Never mind dear, the war will be over soon and you can go home.” As they travelled on the train, wondering at the vastness of the land, they wondered if perhaps the women were right. How could they hope to defeat such a people, who lived in such a land.

2 October 1940. Rome, Italy.

Sir Percy Loraine and André François-Poncet were shown into the office of Gian Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister. Since the ending of the “Pact of Steel” both the British and the French ambassadors had been trying to get this meeting with Ciano. After the initial pleasantries Ciano got down to business.

“By ending our “Pact of Steel” with Herr Hitler we are finding ourselves in something of a predicament. As you know, we have been importing coal from Germany since you imposed the blockade on us in March of this year. Since we have decided to become “non-aligned” the Germans have ended their agreement to supply coal and now we find ourselves short, which will have a terrible impact on our people when the winter comes.

“I have asked you here to request that your governments might reconsider the blockade that you have imposed and allow us to buy and ship coal from whatever source we can find. Perhaps your own coal companies might like to bid for a contract?

“Let us be honest. The levels of expenditure on our military are unsustainable. We entered out agreement with Herr Hitler on the expectation that no war would happen until 1942 at the earliest. We then found ourselves allied to an untrustworthy regime. When he declared war on you, we did not. Since then, you have noticed that our entire military has been confined to barracks, we have made no moves that could possibly be thought of as hostile.

“We have no quarrel with either of your governments, and we have no further territorial ambitions in Europe or in Africa. We desire simply to live in peace with all our neighbours. That being so, I ask that you take this message back to your governments in the hope that we can normalise our relations with your two great countries.”

Both Loraine and François-Poncet were somewhat taken aback. They had expected some change in rhetoric, but the admission of weakness surprised them. If Italy wanted to be a neutral nation, it would relieve the pressure on the Middle East Command of the British and the Mediterranean fleets of both the British and French. The continued occupation of East Africa was a problem the British would have to face in due course, as would the occupation of Albania. The very clear signal they had received was that Hitler had been isolated. Using the image that General Wavell coined, Mussolini had decided to put on his dressing gown and walk back down the stairs of the diving board instead of jumping in.

3 October 1940. Kummersdorf. Wehrmacht Weapons Proving Grounds. Germany.

The first production versions of the new 5 cm Pak (Panzerabwehrkanone) 38 (L/60) had been brought to Kummersdorf for field testing. A team who had been using the 37mm Pak 36 were familiarised with the new weapon. It didn’t take them long to get used to it. Hulks of Entente tanks were available for target practice. The basic anti-tank round, while an improvement on the 37mm round, still struggled to make an impression on some of the strongest armour of the French and British tanks. The team were then given a few of the experimental Hartkernmunition. This APCR (Armour Piercing Composite Rigid) projectile had a core of Tungsten. It did successfully penetrate the B1 bis and Matilda IIs’ front armour. The team were delighted with the results. They were less happy when informed that the number of these rounds would be limited, Tungsten was in short supply, and needed for other things.

A third type of ammunition was also given to them to try. Going back to Pak 36, they were issued with a Stielgranate 40. This was a HEAT (High Explosive Anti Tank) round which loaded onto the barrel of the gun, like a rifle grenade. Its range was very poor, only 300m at best, but it was capable of destroying any of the Entente tanks. The team’s loader explained that, since he would have to go to the front of the gun to put it onto the barrel, he would be out of the cover of the shield. This would make him very vulnerable loading the weapon. In discussions, the team thought the HEAT round would work best in an ambush situation, though reloading would still be dangerous. The one major advantage was it gave the Pak 36 the capability of destroying any tank, something it currently wasn’t able to do.

Another HEAT round was on trial. Designed for the Panzer IV’s short-barreled 75mm gun, it was found to improve that panzer’s anti-tank capability. A long barreled 75mm gun for the Panzer IV and the Panzer III was being developed, but the new round would help until the new gun was ready.

Other types of anti-tank weaponry were being examined. A captured Carl Gustav had been tested, and its HEAT round was very impressive. Army intelligence couldn’t understand why this weapon had escaped their notice, and struggled to understand the Scandinavian name it was given. The British bazooka and a variety of British and French rifle grenades were also examined. Dr Erich Von Holt of WASAG had proposed a design for a similar bazooka style weapon, but using a larger projectile. There was no doubt that the Carl Gustav was the best of the Entente anti-tank weapons. Gustloff-Werke – Waffenwerk Suhl were given an order to deliver an initial 600 weapons. The decision was also made for a heavier rifle grenade, with a HEAT warhead, to be designed for the Panzerbüchse 39 anti-tank rifles.

5 October 1940. Oslo. Norway.

The arrival of King George VI and Prime Minister Churchill in the Norwegian capital was met with great fanfare. King Haakon and his government rolled out the red carpet for their British friends. The British contingent had sailed into Bergen on board HMS Renown, accompanied by HMS Ark Royal and various escorts. The royal party then travelled by train to the capital, enjoying the spectacular views afforded by following this route.

Cheering crowds met them wherever they went. Together with the Norwegian King and government they took part in a thanksgiving service in Oslo’s Cathedral, the Domkirche. Bishop Eivind Berggrav led prayers of thanksgiving for the help Norway had received from its friends in Britain and France, and included prayers of sorrow for the loss of so many lives during the attempted invasion. There were also prayers for a speedy victory and a lasting peace.

It wasn’t obvious to the population generally, but above them a formidable aerial umbrella had been established over the city. To prevent any Luftwaffe attempt to interfere with the royal visit the Norwegian Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm and a couple of visiting squadrons of the RAF were flying standing patrols. The Luftwaffe had not been terribly active over Oslo in the last couple of months. The strengthening of the Norwegian Air Force, with the help of the Free Danish Air Force, had made German attacks costly.

The population did get a little experience of the air armada overhead, thanks to a fly past of Norwegian and British aircraft as the Kings and Prime Ministers were coming out of the Cathedral. A march past by elements of the Norwegian, Danish, French and British armed forces showed the solidarity of the Entente. King Haakon made a speech to the crowds and servicemen, and this was followed by a brief address by King George. He mentioned that when touring Belgium and France he had met some of the men of 1st Norwegian Division. He also acknowledged the work of the Norwegian navy and merchant navy. The British King’s speech was met with approval by the crowds, for its brevity, as well as its content.

The dignitaries paid a visit to some of the rebuilding work, repairing the damage done by Hitler’s terror bombing. Some of the people who had been victims of that bombing, as well as firemen and others who had struggled heroically during the bombing were presented to the two Kings. King George and his party also visited a number of locations where British forces were working. A radar installation, an airfield and some anti-aircraft gunners were all visited.

Prime Minister Churchill had a long meeting with Johan Nygaardsvold, the Norwegian Prime Minister, and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halvdan Koht. Churchill was keen to strengthen the ties between the two nations. The Norwegians had some five hundred of its young men either in England or Canada learning to fly for the RNoAF. Norway had been the recipient of some of Britain’s cast-off aircraft, and he was keen to win orders for the new Spitfires and other aircraft that were coming off the production line. Norway had been buying aircraft from wherever they could, especially the United States, and it was hoped now that production levels were high enough that they would buy British. A week later a contract was signed between the Royal Norwegian Air Force and Supermarine to buy four squadrons worth of Spitfire IIs, and with Hawker to buy the same number of Hurribombers.

The strong Norwegian naval tradition, both military and merchant, was another area that the two countries shared. A good number of escort vessels were currently building on Britain’s slipways, probably too many for its own needs. Churchill was keen to sell some of these to the Norwegian navy, and he found a positive response in his counterpart. Contracts for a number of submarines and other vessels were also awarded in due course.

The Norwegian army was never going to expand dramatically but orders for 25-pdrs for the artillery and 6-pdrs as anti-tank guns were made. The French were also keen on promoting their wares, and the Norwegians had chosen to buy Somua 40s to equip a tank battalion. Norway had one division in Belgium training with the First Entente Army. Churchill was keen for a second Norwegian Division to be prepared to support the liberation of Denmark when that became possible. Various other pieces of business were also done around the Royal visit. The trade between the two countries, for the most part safe to cross the North Sea, would be of benefit to both nations.

It was the post-war situation that was the subject of much discussion. Sweden retained its neutrality, and continued to sell iron ore to both the Entente and to Germany. After the submarine attacks in the Baltic in July, Swedish registered vessels wouldn’t transport ore through the Baltic. The export of ore to the Entente came through the port of Narvik. The British and French were interested in investing in improvements to the railway that carried the ore from Sweden to Norway. They had an eye on the possible need to deal with the Soviets in the future, and having better infrastructure in that part of the world was attractive. The British Government were keen to hear the Norwegian take on the situation in Finland and to explore what might happen once the focus on Germany was lifted somewhat. No firm plans were made but the discussions, including some conducted secretly with certain Finns, continued for the next few months.

On a separate note, Prime Minister Churchill informed the Norwegians that there was very strong evidence that there was a lot of oil and gas under the North Sea. The technology wasn’t yet available to exploit that, but Churchill and Nygaardsvold agreed in principle to work together when extraction could be made profitable. Profitability was not likely for many years due to the current price of oil. A start could be made to see if there was indeed oil and gas, and what technology would be needed to extract it.

6 October 1940. Northwood. Headquarters of Coastal Command. England.

Joubert de la Ferté, Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command, had taken over from Frederick Bowhill. At that point the situation looked fairly bleak. There were only three Sunderland squadrons which had the range to work in the Western Approaches. Two squadrons of Hudsons also were tasked with this role. There were ten squadrons of Ansons, the backbone of the Command, but these were of limited use. Most were based on the east coast for work in the North Sea. For attacking enemy ships, Coastal Command had two squadrons of obsolete Vildebeest bi-planes in the torpedo role. There were four other squadrons of flying boats, the Saro London and the Supermarine Stranraer, which was a danger to its crew.

As of the beginning of October, de la Ferté was able to report that his command had expanded. The Sunderland squadrons had risen to five, with another two under conversion. The Hudson squadrons had also increased, but only to three. A fourth squadron which was due to convert found that their aircraft had been sent to Norway. The new Saro Lerwicks, due to replace the Stranraers, were currently grounded due to a poor safety record. It was obvious that these had to go the same way as the Stranraers. These had all been retired, to the delight of the crews. Many of these crews were currently training on the Sunderlands.

The Vildebeest squadrons were now flying Beauforts, with the promise of Beaufighters in the torpedo role to come. The Londons and the Ansons carried on. The Londons would all eventually be replaced by Sunderlands, especially when the improved version came along. de la Ferté hoped that the Anson squadrons would convert to Wellingtons, if they could be pried from Bomber Command’s hands.

To de la Ferté, the main difference he could report was the changed strategic position that Coastal Command found itself in. With victory over the Kriegsmarine seemingly secure, the defence of the coasts and commerce of Britain seemed assured. The down side to this was that he was now under some pressure to shrink, rather than expand his command. One Sunderland squadron was to be sent to Singapore, where the RAAF would take it over. Two squadrons of Ansons were working with Training Command on over-water navigation, and it was entirely possible that another two would go the same way. He wanted to make it clear that if he had the right aircraft, then the number of squadrons could fall, to some extent. It would take time for the Sunderlands, and their successors to appear.

Joubert de la Ferté believed that even in peacetime Coastal Command needed ten or twelve squadrons of Sunderlands, especially with improved longer range. He also knew that two, possibly three offensive torpedo squadrons of Beauforts or Beaufighters were required. Added to this, four or five squadrons of Wellingtons would allow Coastal Command to do its job properly. Now, if he could have two squadrons of photoreconnaissance Spitfires, then they could do it just about perfectly.

7 October 1940. Todt Organisation Central Office. Berlin. Germany.

Fritz Todt, returned from a meeting with the Fuhrer, had called together his department heads. With the Entente forces all along the west bank of the River Rhine a great deal of industrial out-put had been lost. Two synthetic oil facilities were the most crucial losses, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Just about the whole of the Reich’s industry was now in range of both enemy artillery and air raids. So far, damage had been light, he guessed that the Entente had probably fired off most of their munitions and were catching their breath and resupplying.

Intelligence from reconnaissance and assets still in the Rhineland, showed that the British, Belgians and French were spending a lot of effort in repairing the road and rail network. The fact that their own air forces had destroyed so much of it was something of an irony. Once they fixed the transport links, it was entirely possible that some of their super-heavy guns would to be brought forward to attack targets in the Ruhr valley.

Todt’s organisation has therefore been given the essential task of re-locating as much of the war production to the east as was physically possible. What was impossible to move, would have to be replicated. What could be moved would have to have the infrastructure put in place, and that would include workers. When Todt said that the Fuhrer expected them to do all this without any loss in production output, his team were incredulous.

Todt told them it got worse. The loss of the Westwall, with all the work that had gone into it, was bad enough. The Fuhrer demanded a new, impenetrable, wall along the east bank of the Rhine. The whole length of the Rhine would need defences built in preparation for the expected spring offensive by the Entente forces. Organisation Todt would be responsible for this as well as for the job of moving industry to less vulnerable places.

The only good news was that the army would provide a large amount of the manpower to create “Rheinwall.” The fact that all this work would have to take place within the easy reach of the Entente’s artillery and airpower, was going to be a problem. In addition to the army, compulsory service of the manpower of Poland, Denmark and Czechoslovakia, would boost the size of the organisation.

Todt told them that they would need to start on a list of what Ruhr industries could be moved and which to prioritise. Once they had that list, then they would need to look at what could be created elsewhere, and how to go about that. Todt’s team got down to business, though without any enthusiasm.

7 October 1940. Paris. France.

General François d'Astier de La Vigerie had been appointed General Chief of Staff of the AdA, taking over from General Vuillemin. Commanding air operations in the northern sector he had proven himself both flexible and able to cooperate well with the RAF. General Robert Odic was appointed as his deputy and, along with their RAF counterparts, they were looking at the continuation of the air war.

Defensively the situation was now looking very good. Over the months the improved British Chain Home radar system had been extended into Belgium and France. The initial sector station in Laon had been expanded, so that from Antwerp to Strasbourg there was an integrated air defence system. The RAF and the Belgian Air Force operated from the channel to Charleroi, then the AdA controlled the airspace south. The Spitfires and the Hurricanes had done well against their Luftwaffe opponents, and now most of the RAF squadrons were flying Spitfire IIs. The AdA’s fighter groups were still a mix of fighter types, with the Dewoitine 520s now making up the greater number of squadrons. The Bloch 152s were the second largest number of aircraft in forward squadron service. Most of the surviving Morane 406s and Curtis 75A-3s were either in the quieter southern sector or being used for advanced pilot training. Two new American built aircraft, the Curtis P-40 and the Grumman F4Fs, were now appearing in service in the AdA and Aeronautique Navale squadrons.

Offensively the discussion fell into two categories. The first was tactical bombing. The effectiveness of this had been proven beyond a doubt over the last few months. With the ground war having reached the Rhine, a deliberate pause had been made to allow the tactical squadrons to rest and rebuild. Some captured German airfields were being repaired in the hope that at least some of these squadrons could be forward based. It was decided that the main targets in Germany for these tactical squadrons would be communications: road, rail and river traffic. Paralysing the German state would be their priority.

The second category was strategic bombing. While most of the “bomber will always get through” mentality had been weeded out, there were still some who harboured the idea that the bomber could win the war. Part of the meeting concentrated on examining what some called “silver bullets”. The idea was that if one thing that could be concentrated on and destroyed, that would bring everything else to a halt in the German economy. Ball bearings, oil production, electricity generation, steel and chemicals were all debated as to what would be best to focus on. Others argued that aircraft and tank production should be the priority targets. Others again thought that the defensive positions being prepared east of the Rhine should be targeted before the spring offensive.

It wasn’t just a question of what should be targeted, but also what bombers were available and capable. The British relied almost exclusively on the Wellington, the only bomber it had been producing since February. The surviving Whitleys were going to training squadrons and the Hampdens would give way to the Halifax in due course. The RAF could field two and a half groups of Wellingtons, twenty-five squadrons worth, with some 300 aircraft.

The AdA’s bomber force still had two squadrons of Farman 222s their only four engine bombers. These were still doing the regular trip of flying to Norway and then bombing Berlin by night, but their losses were wearing them down quickly. The Lioré et Olivier LeO 451 and Amiot 354 squadrons were the backbone of the AdA’s bomber fleet. American built Martin 167Fs and Douglas DB-7Fs had proven their value. The French Government had ordered 250 Martins and 550 Douglas, which were still being delivered. Like the Wellington, all these bombers were medium bombers and carried a limited bomb load of between 1200 to 2000kgs. Without the capacity to carry heavy bomb loads, the chances of doing enough damage to a target without multiple trips was remote.

The British had shared with their French allies the basic systems for improving night bombing. Called Gee and Oboe, they were versions of the German Knickebein and X-Gerät systems. With the short distances involved to the Ruhr it was expected that good accuracy could be achieved. The quality and types of bombs available to both countries was another issue, with the need to build more effective bombs. The British shared information about a new 2000lb bomb had been designed. The bomb would dig deep into the ground before exploding, it was hoped that this would be effective against large targets. They were also experimenting with a bomb load consisting of blast bomb dropped with incendiaries. The blast would open up buildings, allowing the incendiaries to do more internal damage.

It was obvious to everyone that there was no ‘silver bullet’. Doing as much damage to the Ruhr industrial area was central to the strategy. As both Britain and France were bringing in their large, railway mounted guns to attack the area, a list of targets beyond artillery range was drawn up and distributed to the various commands.

The French were keen to continue a certain level of “terror bombing” after the destruction visited on Paris. They also preferred to hit the factories that produced Luftwaffe aircraft, to keep on top of the German ability to wrest back control of the skies. The British favoured oil, electricity and chemical production targets. The two air forces agreed to each concentrate their efforts on the Ruhr first, and other targets when the opportunity arose.

8 October 1940. Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot.

Platoon Sergeant Banks found Lieutenant Woods in a room, sitting up and reading. Banks was back in Aldershot on a course for Platoon Commanders. He had some free time which he used to visit his old platoon leader who was recovering from a wound received in June. They were delighted to see one another and Banks was able to bring Woods up to date with all the news from the regiment and the platoon. Unfortunately, Banks felt he was the bearer of bad news as all too many of their men had been killed or, like the lieutenant, wounded.

Woods had recovered well, his collarbone well healed, and he was just waiting for his discharge from the hospital. After a period of leave he would take up a staff position. His fitness level wouldn’t allow him back into the field again. They started to talk about the position of the army and its great success, but conscious of the dangers of the next phase, crossing the Rhine and working through Germany towards Berlin.

They talked some more about the arrival, just in time, of some of the new weapons that had appeared and the way in which the army seemed to be going. There were rumours that General Montgomery would be leaving their Corps to become commander of the Third Army. He had started off as their divisional commander, so his rise was little short of meteoric. Woods tried to persuade Banks to look at receiving a commission. Banks reminded his old Lieutenant of the necessity of a young officer having an experienced sergeant to “guide” him. They reminisced some more before a nurse came and shooed Banks along. The two men parted, each grateful to the other in more ways than one.

9 October 1940. RAF Brize Norton. England.

Frederick Bowhill’s task of setting up Transport Command was made all the more difficult because he had to bring together a number of different organisations. The Air Transport Auxiliary, King’s Flight, Liaison squadrons, and some elements of Army Cooperation, as well as No 24 Squadron, the main RAF transport squadron based at RAF Kenley. All these organisations had their own self-identity which they weren’t happy to lose.

Another problem Bowhill faced was the extraordinary number of different airframes, often civilian types, pressed into RAF service. Over the last couple of months since taking up his new role he had a team making a full inventory of all that he was responsible for. The types of aircraft identified included Lysanders, Dragon Rapides, Envoys, Petrels, Harrows, Bombays, Flamingos and Valentias. The roles each had and were capable of was another list. This was the first time anyone had tried to coordinate this element of RAF work.

While they worked on the list, Bowhill made a tour around the various airfields to meet and talk to “his men and women”. In each place he clarified just exactly what the role of Transport Command entailed, this had to be clear to everybody in the whole RAF organisation. Transport Command was not limited to the UK, Bowhill also had units spread around the Middle East, India and the Far East. Everyone one of these areas had needs that were all very unique to their role.

The tradition in the RAF was that most stations would have one or two aircraft which were used for “general duties” and were often whichever type was to hand. Bowhill decided very early that there was nothing wrong with that system in principle and was keen to let that be. Many of the “odds and ends” types of ex-civilian aircraft would end up being used for this purpose.

There were very specific needs that his Command had been created to deal with. First was the need for long-range transport, carrying both passengers and freight. The size of the Empire and Commonwealth meant that an aircraft with long range was essential. BOAC maintained their Empire routes, either with flying boats, or Albatross and Ensigns aircraft. The need for military types to be able to carry greater numbers of passengers or heavier loads was part of Bowhill’s equation.

Secondly there was a need for a medium range general transport aircraft. Some people were arguing for buying the American Douglas DC3. The Douglas Company was preparing a version of for military use. The War Office were considering creating an airborne force which would need troop carriers and glider tugs. Whichever aircraft was chosen for medium range, would have to be able to fulfil this role. Thirdly were the light transport/liaison aircraft, currently being filled by Lysanders and Dragon Rapides.

Once Bowhill had sorted through the list of types, he had been able to put proposals to the Air Ministry of what he felt Transport Command needed. This had resulted in Air Ministry Specifications for each of these three types: C.1/40 for the light aircraft; C.2/40 for the medium; and C.3/40 for the long range aircraft.

C.1/40 was a replacement for the Westland Lysanders. Two companies offered already existing aircraft to meet the specification. For the Aerial Observation Post aircraft Taylorcraft Austers had been tested in this role and found to be very good at it. While an American design, Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) Ltd, was in a position to build them in their factory in Leicestershire. Miles Aircraft offered their Messenger as an alternative.

C.2/40 had three contenders. Bristol had responded with an aircraft they were calling the Freighter. This was a revamp of the Bombay aircraft currently in service. An improved version of the Bombay’s wing, designed for two Hercules engines, would lift a square section fuselage, accessed by clamshell doors at the front. With a range of just over 800 miles it was judged too short legged for the medium range, but had potential for other duties. It also had the advantage of being able to be produced in a short time frame.

Blackburn offered what they called the Beverley. It was designed to have four Hercules engines, possible Centaurus when they became available. This was part of their planning to include the possibility of expansion in mind, including having turbo-props as these became available. With the large interior space accessed from the rear, it was a very large aircraft, with a good range and speed. The question of when it might be able to be delivered was more of a problem, as it was still in the early design phase, and Bowhill wanted something sooner rather than later.

A third contender was De Havilland’s Canadian division, which offered what it called the Caribou. When someone from the Bristol Group saw the drawings he noted that it looked more like Fairchild C123 than a Caribou. It was later discovered that it was indeed a copy of that design from the Bristol Group’s Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. It was clear that someone wanted to move the RAF in the direction of a C130 Hercules.

C.3/40 had responses from two companies. Armstrong Whitworth, had offered an upgraded Ensign. This was currently used by BOAC, was clearly underpowered. The new design, the Ensign II, powered by four Hercules III engines, would give it the kind of power and range it currently lacked. It would be able to carry 12000lb of cargo or over fifty troops. Since the company was no longer producing Whitley bombers, and other than the engines, the aircraft was much the same as the current version, it could be put into production rapidly. The second aircraft design, called the Argosy, was presented as the next generation Ensign. Powered by turbo-props when they became available, the Argosy would have the preferred tail ramp design. It would however be at least a year before a prototype might be ready.

Handley Page whose H.P.42 design was a very successful bi-plane used by Imperial Airways. Although the company was concentrating on developing the Halifax bomber, they produced plans for a four-engine aircraft they called the Hastings. It would fulfil both the range and capacity requirements of C.3/40.

While it wasn’t Bowhill’s decision to make, his own recommendations were for the Air Ministry take up the Ensign II for the long-range role. The De Havilland Caribou was the best fit for the medium range specification in his opinion. The Auster was his preference in the light role. He further recommended that the Hastings should be explored as a second-generation aircraft to replace the Ensign II. The Beverley design had potential and he thought it should be explored at least to prototype stage. The fear that De Havilland couldn’t produce the Caribou in a reasonable time frame, made him suggest that Bristol’s Freighter should also be developed to a prototype for testing.

10 October 1940. Toulouse-Blagnac Airfield. France.

Back in June, Air Production Minister Laurent Eynac had invited Arsenal, Bloch and Breguet to look at improving some of their prototypes using either the Merlin 45 or the Bristol II, both of which were now being built in France. The question was not whether the British engines gave the prototypes better performance, but which aircraft would be put into production.

Arsenal’s VG 40 was fitted with the Merlin 45, producing 1515hp at combat power. Due to centre of gravity issues, changes had been made to the airframe and wings, which now carried four 20mm canons. Bloch presented the MB157, fitted with the Hercules II, producing 1375hp. While there were substantial changes to the MB 152s that were currently serving, it retained enough of the basic structure to make it possible to produce it quickly. A captured Bf109 had been brought along to measure the two fighters against their putative opponent. Along with the German aircraft, a Dewoitine 520 and a Curtis P40 were also available for evaluating the prototypes.

The VG 40’s performance proved superior to the Bf109 and to the Curtis P40, its maximum speed was clocked at 388mph. This vastly outpaced the Dewoitine and its armament was also better. The VG 40 was designed as a light fighter and there was some question over its survivability in combat. The MB157 did very well, but it was its performance at altitude that won it most plaudits. It reached over 410mph at 25000 feet, which outperformed anything else at that point. Both the companies were given orders for ten pre-production models, with the possibility that these two aircraft was take over from the Dewoitine and MB152s currently in production.

The third aircraft that was due to be tested was Breguet's Bre.697, fitted with two Hercules II engines. This was hoped to become the heavy fighter/ground attack aircraft like the British Beaufighter. The company, despite all its efforts, found that existing airframe was just not capable of taking the doubling of power from the two engines. There hadn’t been time to build, let alone finish designing the new aircraft. Instead, they had brought along a wooden mock-up of what it might look like. Eynac wondered if it wouldn’t be better just asking Bristol for a license to build the Beaufighter in France.

10 October 1940. Châlons-sur-Marne, France.

The French premier Edouard Daladier took the salute as the 3e Division Cuirassée drove past the reviewing stand. Accompanied by most of the senior officers of the French army, they were marking the operational commissioning of France’s third heavy armoured division. B1 bis and H39s rolled past, thankfully there had been enough rain to prevent clouds of dust, but not enough to create too much mud.

The division consisted for four battalions of chars, two each of B1 bis and H39s. Unlike the previous two heavy divisions this had a larger infantry component, a full regiment of motorised chasseurs. It also had its own integral reconnaissance group (GRDC), equipped with the first Gendron AM39 armoured cars. The other difference between this Division, and the previous two DCrs, was the addition of a second motorised artillery regiment. The first heavy regiment had two battalions of 105mm howitzers and one of 155mm. The second regiment had three battalions of 75mm guns. The fighting in the Saar region by 2e DCr had shown up the need for stronger integrated artillery. The engineers were also strengthened by the addition of a bridging company, the absence of this had been noted as a weakness in the previous fighting.

After the march past, Daladier and the other guests were invited to a luncheon. Daladier was keen to get a sense of how the army were coping, moving from a defensive to offensive mindset. He had made a mental note that the average age of generals seemed to have dropped considerably. Many of those gathered had been colonels, even Majors, in April and May, now were wearing a generals uniform.

Daladier found that the success of foiling the German attack, and then throwing it back had done wonders for morale. He listened carefully as the generals discussed how mobile warfare was to be conducted and what would be the necessary structures to enable it.

A Fourth DCr was currently being formed in Reims. Its progress was slow, as many of the chars it was due to receive had to be used as battle replacements in the other two DCrs. With 90 B1 bis and 70 H39s each DCr was a potent force. The three DLMs (Light Mechanised Divisions) had performed very well and there were another three that were currently being created. Equipped with 80 H35s and 80 S35s, they too were very impressive units. The consensus was that they lacked an integral infantry unit. Many of the generals remarked how much more balanced the 3e DCr seemed with a full regiment of infantry. There was also a feeling that the motorised infantry could do with some kind of armour protection, to allow them to accompany the chars much more closely.

There were another 24 Char Battalions (BCC Battalion de Char de Combat), spread out through the army. That would be enough to create an extra 8 DLMs, over above the 6 currently available or being created. One officer, Colonel De Gaulle had managed to get Daladier into a corner and was explaining his own theory. Having been commander of chars in Firth Army, De Gaulle proposed merging each DLM with a DIMs (Motorised Infantry Divisions).

This new division would consist of one Brigade of Chars, (2 BCCs or 80 chars of the same type); a deep reconnaissance regiment with armoured cars; two motorised Infantry Regiments and two Artillery Regiments. Some of the officers listening were amazed. When he had begun to talk, they expected him to keep banging the same drum he had been banging for years. Before the war De Gaulle had called for the formation of divisions modelled on the German Panzer Divisions. Between their failure, and his experience in the Saar offensive, had changed his mind, something his colleagues would never have guessed possible.

The Mechanised Divisions, as he called them, would have the flexibility that the current DLMs and DCrs didn’t have. What De Gaulle said was that the army were proposing 4 DCrs, 6 DLMs and 12 DIMs, with numerous BCCs spread through the infantry divisions. Instead, without changing the numbers, the army could create 28 DMs, as well keeping as the four DCrs, altogether a much more balanced force. Daladier took note of the Colonel’s name, he would want to have a longer conversation with his advisors about this idea.

11 October 1940. Athens. Greece.

General Ioannis Metaxas and his military commanders pored over a map of the border area between Greece and Albania. The Italians had occupied Albania the previous year, attempting to emulate Hitler’s annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Mussolini had threatened Greece with a similar fate. Since then, the Italians had been much quieter, especially after Hitler’s failures in Norway and France. King Zog of Albania had visited King George II of Greece, talking together about the liberation of Albania. Metaxas was less interested in Albania, but was keen on getting back the Dodecanese islands back from the Italians, especially Rhodes. Whenever he looked at a map, he pondered the threat of the Bulgarians from the north.

Just as the French had built the Maginot Line, and the Germans had their Westwall, Greece had been building the Metaxas line. With it, the Greek army was confident of their ability to resist any incursion from Bulgaria. The border with Albania was relatively straightforward to defend, due to the geography. There was an open border with Yugoslavia and relations with Prince Paul were good. Like Gheorghe Tătărescu, Prime Minister of Romania, Prince Paul was trying to keep the neutrality of his country. Resisting Hitler’s attempts to bring them into the German sphere. Romania, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Greece were all being courted by the French and British. Keeping the Balkans out of the hands of the Germans was their main concern, but they were hoping that the current neutrality would be a friendly to the Entente.

The British Ambassador had been keen to express His Majesty’s Government’s desire for Italy to remain uninvolved in the ongoing fighting in Europe. He had been urging the Greeks to sit tight behind their defences, leaving Albania alone for the moment. If the fight against Hitler continued as it was going, then there would be a reckoning afterwards, and the Entente’s friends would be remembered.

Alexander Papagos, Chief of the General Staff, had been asked for a report of the situation of the armed forces, and, as the King asked the question, what was the possibility of successfully driving the Italians out of Albania? Papagos had been working hard at modernising the armed forces, within the limits of his means.

The Royal Hellenic Air Force was a mixture of Polish, British and French planes. Blenheims and Battles formed the light bomber squadrons, while PLZ P.24s made up most of the fighters. An order for 25 Bloch MB151s and 24 Potez 633s from France had been delayed. The French Ambassador assured Papagos that the order would be fulfilled in full, and indeed, the first eight of each aircraft had been delivered. The possibility of increasing the numbers of MB151s, to be able to replace the PLZ P.24s was still being negotiated. The other possible source for new aircraft was America, and Grumman F4Fs had been ordered, though these wouldn't be delivered until at least April 1941.

An approach had been made to the British to buy some more of the Blenheims and Battles. These had withdrawn from front line service, and a deal for twenty of each had been agreed. The attempt to buy Hurricanes and Hurribombers had come to nothing as all these were needed by the RAF. Delivery of the forty light bombers had already begun, and would be completed at the end of November. Of particular help to the Greeks, these aircraft were delivered with a few pilots with combat experience. All of them were recovering from injury, and not yet cleared for combat. They were fit enough to help train the RHAF pilots, and hopefully improve their readiness.

The British had also sold a regiment’s worth of surplus 2-pdr anti-tank guns. These were being replaced by 6-pdrs in the British army, and would make a good addition to the Greek defensive posture. The 2-pdr would be capable of destroying any Italian tanks that they might have to face. The Greeks had also received four hundred Boys anti-tank rifles (with ammunition), giving the Hellenic army a very reasonable anti-tank capability.

The Greek infantry was armed with the 6.5mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer M1903/14 rifle, which they had bought from Austria and then from Italy. Neither of these sources were now available. The British military attaché suggested that they might ask the Americans for stocks of Great War vintage Enfields in .30-06. That would mean changing calibre, a not inconsiderable inconvenience, but the British knew they had the advantage of being readily available.

The French had sold Greece sixty FT-17 chars that had been withdrawn from service. Although they were well worn, they had been shipped with plenty of spares. It gave the Greeks some armoured vehicles cheaply and quickly. An armoured regiment of the Cavalry Division was now being trained. The lack of anti-aircraft weapons was also being looked at, with discussions with both Bofors and Oerlikon progressing well at giving the armed forces the ability to defend themselves against aerial attack.

The Royal Hellenic Navy was mostly an obsolete fleet, but had taken part in exercises with both the Royal Navy and Marine National’s Mediterranean fleets. These exercises had been done in full view of the Italians, who took it to mean that the Greeks could rely for help from these two powerful fleets. Both Britain and France were offering to build new or sell refurbished vessels to the Greeks. The Greeks were particularly keen on getting their hands on some of the new British Motor Gun Boats and Motor Torpedo Boats that they had been shown.

With these improvements, General Papagos hoped that the Italians would realise that conquering Greece wouldn’t be a walkover. Metaxas and the rest of the High Command went back to the maps looking at how they would approach the invasion of Albania if they so inclined to do it.
12 - 31 October 1940
12 October 1940. Moscow. CCCP.

Comrade Beria waited to be summoned into Stalin’s office. There was always a queasy feeling in his stomach at this point. He was sure of what the meeting was about, but sometimes “the boss” would bring up something totally unexpected. Then Beria would have to extemporise, and he didn’t like doing that. The secretary came out of the room and motioned for Beria to go in.

Josef Stalin was sitting behind his desk “reading” some papers, making Beria wait, until looking up, as if surprised by his NKVD visitor’s presence.

“So, Comrade, I see from your latest report from England that the British and French expect to finish off the Fascists in Germany next year. I wouldn’t have thought you needed a spy network to work that out.” Beria started to worry, Stalin wasn’t usually as abrupt as this. He stuck to his script. “Comrade Leader, the information that we have been getting from England has been triple checked. Our people are all in good positions and they are sending us excellent intelligence.” Stalin contemplated him for a moment or two in silence, while Beria resisted the urge to fidget.

Stalin said, “I have been talking to Timoshenko. He wants us to do nothing, but build more tanks and modernise the army. What do you think?” Beria knew he was on thin ice. Timoshenko had taken over the Red Army and finally defeated the Finns. He had that in his favour. But on the other hand, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box. If Stalin was quoting him, it was likely it was because he disagreed with him. “Modernising the army is the army’s constant concern,” Beria started, “but the army is but a tool of the Party. The concerns of the Party always have to come first.” It wasn’t pretty, but Beria reckoned he was on safe enough ground by sticking to the Party.

Stalin seemed to concede the point, “In that case what do you make of Mikoyan’s idea that we should invade the rest of Poland in the spring, while Hitler is facing the British and French at the Rhine?” Beria sought to answer the question with another question. “What did Timoshenko say?” “I told you, he wants to sit on his arse and modernise the army!” Beria saw the opportunity, “So he doesn’t think the army is up to it?”

“He wouldn’t be quite as honest as that, I think he is worried that we might have to go up against the capitalists.” Stalin’s reply gave the game away. If the CCCP stabbed Hitler in the back, where would that put them in regards to the Entente Powers, who were obviously stronger than suspected. Once more Beria opened out the discussion. “What about Molotov, what does he think?”

Stalin got up from behind the desk, he obviously was getting uncomfortable. “Molotov thinks we’d be better just cutting Hitler off from the supplies we’re sending him. It seems that the little Fascist is getting desperate. He is offering us all sorts of things for more oil. No hard cash, just more machine tools and the like. Molotov thinks he’s already beaten, but just hasn’t realised it yet.” Beria ran through in his mind what he had been hearing from his people in Germany, which if he was honest, wasn’t much. There was no way he was going to be being honest with Stalin about this. “The GRU might have other information of a more military nature. There is certainly a lot of talk about getting rid of Hitler and the Nazis. It is possible that the German army could approach the Entente for terms.” Beria knew he was guessing, but it was an educated guess.

Stalin looked at him again for a few moments, as if weighing what he was hearing. “What do your British people say about how that would be received?” Beria struggled to keep his poker face straight; that was exactly what he’s been hoping to be asked. Now he could show off a little. “Our main source has been sending us some very good material about that very discussion.

“The Capitalists would rather have a negotiated peace than to try to cross the Rhine with all the casualties that would cost. But they want rid of fascism, and won’t talk to the Germans unless the Nazi regime is gone. Some war-mongers want to eviscerate Germany altogether, they probably believe there’s a profit to be made. They certainly don’t like the idea of taking us on.

“If we took East Prussia, along with the Baltic States, that would be one thing. Taking a good chunk of Poland, even all the way to the Oder, would certainly help spread the workers’ paradise to all those areas. It would also bring Hungry and Romania into our sphere of influence. If we sat on the Oder, Germany would never be in a position to threaten the Rodina again.” Stalin looked surprised by Beria’s statement. This was proposing going much further than anyone else had suggested, all the way to the Oder!

12/13 October 1940. Over Germany.

Bomber Command had had a couple of weeks to catch its breath and to replace losses to squadrons. Number 3 Group had seen the most action, and there were plenty of squadrons whose personnel were almost entirely different from those in May. The Group’s eight squadrons of Wellingtons were now back up to over 100 available aircraft. They were going back to night attacks, to what some called their ‘proper role’ of strategic bombing. For tonight’s raid they would be joined by four squadrons from Number 4 Group flying Whitleys, providing a raid numbering 140 aircraft. There was an experiment happening too. The bombers would be accompanied by a squadron of Beaufighters in their night-fighter role. These would attempt to intercept any German night-fighters. The Beaufighters would not be near the bomber stream for fear of being shot at by the Wellington’s gunners. The target chosen gave the Beaufighters the advantage of radar led Ground Control Interception. This was at the edge of the range, but would be good enough to put the Beaufighters close enough to the German night-fighters to allow them to engage with their own on-board Air Interception radar.

Consideration had been given to making these attacks in daylight, with a heavy escort of fighters. While it hadn’t been ruled out, the attempt to bomb by night was considered to be safer for the aircrew. They had proven a fairly good accuracy on airfield attacks at night, and the oil plant was certainly as large a target. After the casualties in Oslo and Paris, the civilians living around the plant would just have to take their chances with inaccurate bombing, though they weren’t being deliberately targeted.

The target for tonight was the Nordstern synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen. 140 aircraft would have only a limited effect on it, even if they all managed to hit the target. This would be the first raid to use of the new 4000lb Cookie Bomb, designed to cause most of its damage with blast. The rest of the bomb load were 4lb incendiary bombs carried in a 250lb small bomb container. It was hoped that this combination would have the greatest impact on what should be a fairly combustible target. The Wellingtons had gone through a modification process to carry the Cookie, though all new aircraft were coming off the production line already modified.

The Pathfinders had been flying various training exercises to try to improve their skills. The job of helping the rest of the bombers hit the target meant that the poor people of South Wales had had to endure some sleepless nights. There was enough likeness to the Ruhr for it to have been chosen to practise dropping various coloured flares from various heights.

The previous two nights there had been a full “dress rehearsal” on a bombing range in North Wales. The boffins were fairly confident that one good raid could reduce oil production to some extent, and if followed up, perhaps do serious damage. They had a list of eight similar targets in the Ruhr area. If these were destroyed, or at least severely damaged, it should have a significant effect on the German economy.

At various bases in eastern England the roar of engines disturbed the people around the airfields as the planes took off on their night mission. Photoreconnaissance had shown where the Germans had sited flak batteries, and the bombers followed a circuitous route to avoid as many of these as they could. The previous night a squadron of Blenheims had targeted any German radar signals, though this was getting harder as the Germans tried various countermeasures. Two radars however had been destroyed and this made the job of the German defenders more difficult, as most of the approach to the Ruhr was over Entente held territory.

The Pathfinders had studied the target assiduously and their plan to mark the target was effective. The bombers that followed were judged quite effective. 10% of bombs fell within the area of the oil plant itself, and another 10% in the immediate area. The rest were scattered and they did cause a great deal of damage and loss of life to the city of Gelsenkirchen. As for the oil plant itself, a number of fires took hold and these proved difficult to get under control. Production was stopped all the next day. The Todt organisation estimated that production would fall by 15% until full repairs could be undertaken.

13 October 1940. Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering. Chepstow.

Man from the Ministry of Supply: Mr Kennedy, let me begin by saying just how happy we are with the production of Bailey Bridges so far.

Managing Director: I’m glad to hear it. I wondered when I saw you were coming if there was a problem?

MoS: No problem at all. As you know, the contract we have with you is for the equivalent of two miles of bridging. Well, the army don’t think that will be anything like enough. They want lots more, at least double, if not triple. There are some very big rivers in Belgium and Holland that need new bridges. There will be even more once we get into Germany. The Belgians and the French are also looking at buying this type of bridging equipment. So, there are two things. First, are you in a position to increase production?

MD: Realistically, not really. Our workforce is doing well in terms of productivity, but to increase production we would need to open another factory and train up a whole new workforce. What was the second thing?

MoS: I believe that we would be interested in helping you get that second factory up and running. The second thing, how would you feel about bringing in some other companies that could sub-contract your work. Obviously, the bridge needs interchangeability, and so any subcontracting would have to be double checked that all of the pieces are exactly right. We have identified some other manufacturing companies that could, with help from both of us, increase production to the levels that the army needs.

MD: If you are going to double or triple the contract, that would be the only way forward. Our people will need be involved to help the other companies set up their new lines, and that will add to the costs.

MoS: I think the pricing of the contract will take into account the work that would be necessary to fulfil it. Perhaps your people could work out a price. Someone else from the ministry will come and thrash out the terms of the contract with you.

MD: Happy to oblige.

14 October 1940. AEC Company, Southall, Middlesex.

The Militant armoured lorries were rolling off the production line at a good rate. Work had been done in the design department looking at an armoured car with the same chassis and engine. The company had invited a number of senior army officers and people from the Ministry to Supply to look at the three prototypes of this vehicle.

The first was a straightforward armoured car, the turret was the same as the Valentine three-man turret, carrying the 2-pdr gun. The company were quick to point out that they had designed the vehicle with a large enough turret ring, so it would be able to take the Comet’s turret with the 6-pdr when it was ready.

The second was an anti-aircraft version. Boulton Paul had been working on an improved version of its turret which had been on the Defiant fighter. Instead of four .303 Browning machine guns, this carried two 20mm Oerlikons. AEC and Boulton Paul had collaborated to create this armoured version that would fit on the basic Matador chassis. It still wasn’t perfected, but the potential was clearly there.

The third was designed as a command vehicle, again using the Valentine turret. Instead of the 2-pdr gun it was fitted with a single Oerlikon, which still gave the vehicle a substantial punch, but it had room for extra radios. This would make it useful for artillery spotters or Forward Air Controllers.

One of the army officers, who had served in an armoured car regiment in the Middle East, immediately saw the potential for this type of vehicle in the desert. Being cheaper to produce than a tank, it could provide an alternative to tanks in some parts of the world. The fact that it shared the same mechanics with the artillery tractors and Militant battle taxis made it an attractive proposition. AEC were also aware that it might be a winner in the export market. The Ministry of Supply followed up the meeting, ordering eighteen pre-production models for evaluation, six of each three versions.

15 October 1940. Breezand, Walcheren Island, Holland.

Captain Joshua Reynolds, Royal Engineers, signed the papers handing over to the RAF the completed new RDF site. The Chain Home system that protected the east coast of Britain was being replicated on the continent. Though replicated was perhaps the wrong word. The basic CH radar, AMES Type 1, had been replaced with a larger, more powerful Type 7. The peak power of the transmitter was 80 to 100 KW, the pulse length 3, 5 or 8 microseconds and the pulse recurrence frequency variable between 300 pps and 540 pps. A spark-gap common T and R switch was used. The frequency used was 209 MHz. The aerial was different too. No longer were they using towering masts. The aerial rotated through 360° up to 8 rpm. Altogether a much more advanced and capable radar.

All of the equipment that went with the site needed to be as well camouflaged as possible. An anti-aircraft battery was sited nearby to provide some protection. Reynold’s company had spent the best part of a week working on this site. They had built an Operations Building, a Radar Well with the aerial mounted over it. By handing it over to the RAF, their team of technicians were now able to calibrate the whole thing and get it ready to become operational.

The positioning of this particular site was the most westerly of the chain. Looking up the coast to occupied Holland and able to cover out over the North Sea. This was one of a series of these sites following the line of the Belgian border down the Meuse, into France. Each radar could pick up a bomber at 20000ft, 90 miles away. Other low-level radars were further forward with the army. These mobile Gun Laying Radars were mostly associated with anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries, but had RAF contingents working with them. The interconnectedness of all these radar systems was a very high priority. The central command and control system that had been located at Laon was now replicated. There was one site in Namur in the north and another at Nancy in the south.

The radar command and control worked with both the RAF and the Army’s Anti-Aircraft Divisions. Seven of these Royal Artillery TA Anti-Aircraft Divisions, which included Royal Engineer’s searchlight units, had been established just before the war began. Formed to protect Britain from aerial attack, they found themselves under-employed over the last year.

Three of these Divisions had been redeployed to Belgium and France, supplementing the regulars in the BEF. Another one was already in Norway. As they arrived, they had taken over the defence of the rear areas of the BEF, especially of the airfields. This allowed the regular anti-aircraft regiments to be concentrated forward, protecting the army itself. The decrease in Luftwaffe activity, coupled with the greater effectiveness of the RAF interception, both day and night, meant that currently there were no plans to further increase the numbers of AA Divisions.

Another consequence of the Luftwaffe being unable to mount effective raids on Britain had consequences for Balloon Command. The effectiveness of the barrage balloon was judged as negligible and the manpower could be put to better use in other aspects of war-fighting. Only the original No. 30 (Balloon Barrage) Group was retained and continued to have balloons over the London area for the purposes of morale. This freed up many Auxiliary Airforce Squadrons who were given other duties and responsibilities. While the retraining of these men in their new roles would take some time, they could find their way into frontline squadrons much more quickly than raw recruits.

16 October 1940. Warsaw, Poland. Extract from the diary of Adam Czerniaków:

Fischer’s proclamation about the ghetto was published two days ago. The boundaries for the ghetto do not correspond with the plan that was handed to me. There are so many who are having to move out of the ghetto, but it looks as if the numbers moving in will be at least the same. So, 30% of the population of the city will be living in less than 3% of its area. Legions of Jews from Praga are trekking to Warsaw, their pushcarts filled with pitiful junk to add to the numbers. All day, people arrived, the whole council have been trying to fix so many problems. Finding room for everybody is a nightmare, Bart is almost dead with exhaustion. We have no idea how many people will eventually have to live in this area, but already there are fears of disease spreading. There is also a fear of what level of food will be let into the ghetto, already the ration is so small. I can’t get a true answer from the Chief of the Food Office. Major Hohenauer informed me that we are to provide 800 workers for “other duties”, it isn’t clear where these are to go, or what they are to do.

17 October 1940. Inglewood, California. USA

Sgt George 'Grumpy' Unwin climbed into the new aircraft to take it for a test flight. Grumpy was being rested from front line action. His tally now stood at 14 kills, and he would in due course be part of the combat training of new pilots. But first he had been flown to California to put the new Mustang aircraft through its paces.

Ordered in January, Dutch Kindelberger’s North American Aviation Company had rolled out the first prototype in July and it had flown for the first time in August. The contract between Rolls Royce and Packhard to build Merlin engines had been signed in March, but Packhard were still some way from producing the first engines. A shipment of sixty Merlin 45s had been delivered to North American to enable the first batch of aircraft to be built.

Unwin was testing one of these pre-production models. Being familiar with the Spitfire using the same engine, it was hoped by the RAF that this aircraft, with its large fuel capacity, would be a useful addition to the Spitfire fleet, especially for longer range escort duties and for the Far East.

Unwin had spent the last couple of days being familiarised with the new aircraft, and Vance Breeze, the test pilot had talked him through the aircraft’s controls. He walked around the aircraft with his ground crew from No 19 Squadron. The RAF had sent them along to familiarise themselves with the new aircraft. A couple of Company representatives were also part of the group, keen to answer their questions and promote their product. As he sat in the cockpit, Unwin became aware of the spaciousness of it compared to the Spitfire. The bubble canopy allowed him excellent all-round vision. This particular aircraft was still unarmed, therefore somewhat lighter than it would otherwise be.

There were four parts to the test flights. First a number of take-off and landings to get used to the aircraft. Secondly testing the speed and manoeuvrability at various heights. Thirdly a mock combat with a USAAF P40 for comparison. Finally, an endurance flight to examine this part of the aircraft’s capability. Unwin got the aircraft started up and taxied over to the runway to begin the first part of the procedure. Breeze was in the control tower talking him through the various things to look out for. Unwin, when he was ready, pushed the throttle forward and was soon in the air.

Later on the following day as he climbed out of the cockpit, somewhat exhausted by the long flight, the last of the four tests, his summary was “Brilliant, just brilliant!”

18 October 1940. Committee of Scientific and Industrial Research. Oxford. England.

Chairman: Thank you gentlemen. Now the next point on the agenda is welding. The arrival of various sets of welding equipment aboard the ships and their operators has been headed up by the British Oxygen Company. Mr Buchanan is here, perhaps you might give us an idea of where things are now?

Mr Buchanan. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Representatives from the main companies that make welding equipment were brought together on January 15th in Keyham College. Demonstrations of both MIG and TIG welding techniques were demonstrated. In the month that followed, we were able to examine a variety of different uses for these techniques, on various pieces of equipment. As you can imagine the benefits of these advances were immediately seized upon. Four men from the Bristol Group then set up a training course for welders from various firms, as well as the forces. The first class of sixty men, themselves all experienced welders, were trained to become trainers. Starting in February, this was an intensive course that lasted six months, so they completed their training in August. A second intake of 60 men started in April and are just finishing their training currently. A new class starts every two months and has sixty places. Following the methods of their own training course, each of these men, will then replicate it in their own factories.

The patents for both methods of welding have been registered in both Britain and America. The Quasi-Arc Company has taken the lead in producing MIG (Metal Inert Gas) equipment. Murex are concentrating on TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) units. By copying the equipment that came with the ships we’ve been able to get them into production quickly.

All the aircraft manufacturers have had welders on the training course for the TIG process. All the companies have grasped the advantages of being able to use this. Hawker, with its subsidiaries, and Bristol, now have a two-week training course for their experienced welders, four weeks for new workers. Murex have set up a line for producing their machines, and so we should start to see a greater use of welding in the building of planes over the next six months.

The use of MIG welding for steel is being looked at by just about everybody. We have focused on the companies who will be making the Comet tank. This is to be the first all welded tank. Shipbuilding companies are extremely interested and are putting significant investment in training and tools. They are being hampered by problems with the older trades who see this new method as a threat to their working practices.

Now, problems. The most significant problem is with increasing the production of the necessary gases. This makes the new processes more expensive in the short term. My own company, BOC, is working very hard to provide as much shielding gases, especially Argon as we can. While MIG can cope with carbon dioxide, TIG needs Argon and Helium. Production of those two gases is starting from a fairly low base.

The second problem is simply the man power. With only four qualified instructors, using the limited Bristol Group equipment, it is just taking a long time to get enough people trained up. Obviously if more of the trained operators from the ships were added it they would need to use the new equipment, this would increase the ability to get the new processes rolled out, but I’m told that no more men are available.

The third problem is the production of generators. Everyone wants generators like those they’ve seen on the Bristol ships. That is causing a log-jam. Too many companies are expanding their operations and chasing experienced workers and raw materials. Perkins, Mirrlees and L. Gardner & Sons have been heroic in getting as much done as they can. There are seven or eight smallish firms in various places who are jumping on the bandwagon, but there are issues of quality control in their work. Hopefully as time goes on this will improved, but at the moment, there just aren’t enough generators being manufactured.

I think that covers where we’ve got to, Mr Chairman.

Mr Chairman: Thank you Mr Buchanan for that, are there any questions for him? No, well the next item on the agenda was mentioned there in passing. Productivity. Mr Healy is going to update us. The floor is yours Mr Healy.

19 October 1940. Ringway Airport, Manchester. England.

Two Manchester prototypes were in various stages of disassembly in the hanger. Avro had been told in January that further work on the Vulture powered aircraft was to be cancelled. They were promised an improved contract if they could rebuild it as a bomber powered by four Rolls Royce Merlins. Roy Chadwick had been shown some drawings of an artist’s impression of what that plane might look like. The design team had been working on creating an improved Manchester, which the Air Ministry insisted on calling a Lancaster. There were a couple of other ‘suggestions’ from the Air Ministry’s specification. One of which was for changes to the armament. The new Boulton Paul turret with two Hispano 20mm cannons should replace the front and rear turrets. The dorsal turret would be removed altogether.

Two of the Manchester prototypes had been cannibalised to create a Lancaster prototype. It carried the four Merlin engines in a “power-egg” unit. It had a much bigger wing and redesigned tail. It looked a lot more like the artist’s impression. In fact, Chadwick felt a little guilty as one of the drawings he had been shown was an entire cutaway drawing with over 200 parts noted. He felt that the artist should at least be named as part of the design team. The Air Ministry told him that it wouldn’t be necessary, as the fundamental design was an improved Manchester rather than something totally new. Chadwick’s team were going over everything once more, as the Avro 683, or Lancaster, was wheeled out to be presented to the Air Ministry and a number of RAF officers.

The prototype would be ready to start taxiing trials shortly and the first flight was expected in November. Avro, whose production lines for the Manchester had been ready, had been working on getting the new jigs set up. If it got the go ahead, the Lancaster could be in full production sometime in 1941. How long before it would be in squadron service was something beyond Avro’s control.

20 October 1940. Fort Knox. Kentucky.

General Adna Chaffee: “So what you’re telling me is that the Ordnance Board think that this (he stabbed his thumb at the wooden mock up behind him) is what America needs in the way of tanks?”
Charles Bonesteel: “Yes. Ten foot high, 30mm of armour, a 75mm gun in the side sponson and a 37mm gun in the turret. It reminds me a little of the French B1 bis, though not as heavily armoured and much, much taller.”
Chaffee: “’As high as the tower of Babel’, one limey called it. They say it needs to have at least 50mm of armour. They expect the Germans to move to a 50mm gun, or even a 75mm in their tanks over the winter.”
Bonesteel: “The problem seems to be the Ordnance board don’t want to spend anything on a tank that might not go to war. Left to their own devices, they’d stay with the M2 light and medium tanks and maybe look at the M6 heavy tank.”
Chaffee: “Did they even read the reports from our guys with the French and Limeys? The M2 light tank isn’t any better than the Panzer I or II. The M2 medium would stop the Germans alright, they’d die laughing at it! The heavy tank idea is worth exploring, after the way the Matilda IIs and B1 bis did. But we need something useful. Did they see the design of the Renault G1 or the British Comet? There’s word that the Soviets also have a new tank under development. If we do go to war, then it’d better be against the Italians or the Japs. At least then we might have a chance against their tanks.”
Bonesteel: “The whole point of Dewey’s campaign is that we shouldn’t go to war, after all the Europeans don’t seem to need us. President Roosevelt is struggling to counter that argument.”
Chaffee: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”

21 October 1940. Plymouth. England.

The arrival of HMS Glenearn from the Mediterranean was the final piece of the jigsaw that completed the Royal Marine Division. 101 and 102 Brigades Royal Marines had been part of the First Entente Army in the fighting to liberate the south of Holland. The two Brigades had been returned to Plymouth to be formed, along with 103 Brigade, into the Royal Marine Division, under the command of Major General Robert Sturges.

A Royal Marine brigade was about half the size of an army brigade, still the decision had to be made to fill out the ranks of the Royal Marine Division by increasing the numbers of "Hostilities Only" recruits. With the expansion of 104 (Training Brigade), and by removing fifty percent of the Sea Service Marines from Home Fleet, the three Brigades were are full strength.

As well as the three Brigades for the Division, the Royal Marines had had to expand to create another two Marine Naval Base Defense Organisation. One for the Mediterranean and one for the Far East were needed.

The coastal artillery brigade and the Anti-Aircraft Brigades had been raided to help with the formation of the RM Division’s integral artillery and AA units. Some of the coastal artillery men had been retrained on the 25-pdrs along with men from the Sea Service as the RM Field Regiment. An anti-tank regiment equipped with 6-pdrs and Carl Gustavs was in training. The RM Light AA Regiment was equipped with Bofors 40mm guns. To all these elements of the RM Division would be added the 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment. This would be made up of two batteries, each of four troops of four Valentine DD tanks. These 32 tanks would hopefully be joined by another Support Regiment in due course.

18 RM Battalion were being equipped with universal carriers and some armoured cars as the Division’s reconnaissance force. Volunteers from the throughout the Royal Marine organisation had been formed into 19 Battalion. This was still highly secretive, but it was the beginning of an ‘airmobile’ battalion. The new helicopters currently under development would be their equipment.

While the Royal Marine Division was considered a light division by the army, for its role of spearheading an amphibious landing it was considered more than adequate.
In a ceremony at HMS Drake the new Division received its new Colours, and put on its new Green Beret for the first time. The young Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, attended the ceremony with their father, King George.

Night of the 21/22 October. Over the Ruhr.

The flaming comet of a Me110 fell from the sky. Flight Lieutenant John Cunningham of 604 squadron felt a little sorry for the two men he’d killed. The German night fighters had a hard job. They were guided towards the British bombers by radio instructions, then they used either the searchlights, or ambient light, to attempt to intercept the Wellingtons.

The Wellingtons were taking losses from the Anti-Aircraft Artillery. This seemed concentrated in the vicinity of the synthetic oil plants that the RAF were targeting. As well as Gelsenkirchen, the RAF had targeted Scholven, Kamen, Holten and Dortmund. The planners had argued about the best way to interrupt the flow of oil products to the German war machine. Would it be better to go back to the same plant a number of times to attempt to damage it beyond repair? Or to try to do some damage to more plants?

The decision to follow the second path was influenced by the fear of the Germans would be able to focus their defensive efforts if the bombers were returning to the same target night after night. The fact that the targets were all in the Ruhr area meant the German efforts to defend them was still quite concentrated.

It was becoming clear that the daytime low level attacks by ground attack aircraft that was actually doing the greatest harm to the German economy. These attacks were focused on transport networks: trains, barges, road transport were all being targeted by Entente planes flying from Belgium and France. Most traffic was now halted during the day, all movement done under the cover of darkness, something that interfered with every aspect of life.

23 October 1940. New York. USA.

The Entente fleet sailed past the Statue of Liberty, with the aircraft from HMS Ark Royal flying above them. The exercises with the American Atlantic fleet completed, the British and French ships were making their last port visit before sailing to Halifax in Canada. From there they would act as the escort to a large convoy sailing to Britain and France.

The American press had been following this fleet’s progress with some interest. The deficiencies of the United States Navy, both in the Pacific and Atlantic fleets, had been touted in some newspapers which favoured the re-election of President Roosevelt. The call to expand and improve the Navy was one of Roosevelt strategies for victory in the election. The fact that the Entente Fleet had usually bested the Americans in exercises underline the need for improvement and expansion. Articles were published explaining how the carrier-based Fleet Air Arm prevented American submarines to close with the heavy ships. While still highly classified, the Americans had got some idea of its capabilities on HMS Renown and Ark Royal.

In those newspapers which backed Dewey’s campaign for President, the reporting was different. Here focus was on the obvious Entente ability to defend themselves, without the need for American intervention. The Republicans were happy to see American companies sell material to the combatant nations on a cash and carry basis. The idea of spending a great deal of money on expanding the American forces was greeted with suspicion. Britain and France seemed to have things well in hand. The arrival of a powerful fleet, while a war was going on, was a clear sign that the sea lanes were safe, and that the passage of neutral ships was hindered only by minefields. With the Japanese bogged down in a war in China, and the Germans obviously close to collapse, America was free from any need to rearm.

With only a few weeks left before the election, the opinion polls showed that Dewey was closing the gap with the president who was going for an unprecedented third term. Dewey was making a great deal of the President’s age and infirmity. Some thought this a dirty tactic, but it was gaining traction.

24th October 1940. Opposite Emmerich. On the Rhine.

The 4th Battalion, 11th Sikh Regiment still thought of themselves as the 36th Sikhs. The regiment had valiantly defended the signalling relay post at Saragarhi against the repeated onslaught of approximately 11,000 tribesmen. Theirs was the only Regiment in which each member had been awarded the Order of Merit. They were unique in the annals of Indian military history. Being true to their salt they were now on the banks of the River Rhine, watching the German attempts on the far side to create defensive positions.

At the observation post, the Royal Artillery Captain got himself as comfortable as he could. He waited for the first shell to land for ranging. He’d called in the coordinates for the heavy railway guns to drop their loads of the unsuspecting Germans busily creating their new lines across the river.

Railway bridges over the Meuse had been rebuilt, allowing three 13.5-inch guns to brought into firing range over the Rhine. Known as Gladiator, Piece Maker and Scene Shifter, the Royal Marine Siege Regiment had brought them into the fight. The main focus of their work would be around the Ruhr, but they were using this quieter section of the front to work up fully.

The first 1400lb shell fell in the river itself, about fifty yards short of the German side. The Captain called out the correction over the radio, and the second shell was about 250 yards long. Once more the correction was called, and the next shell impacted directly on a concrete dug-out, destroying it utterly. For the next twenty minutes the three guns wiped out most of the progress that the Todt Organisation had made over the last month or so.

Once the three railway guns ceased fire, the 4th Indian Division’s artillery took up the barrage. This was the Division’s first combined effort in anger. Although the barrage only lasted five minutes, the Sikhs in the front of the line were impressed by the weight of fire from behind them. When the German artillery began to answer, two flights of Hurribombers, which had been waiting for them to unmask themselves, fell on them with cluster munitions. The fact that the German units were horse drawn made their losses much higher as they were too slow changing position.

24 October 1940. Breda, Holland.

The First Entente Army had begun life as the force sent to support Norway. With the failure of that invasion, they had been shipped to the Netherlands to protect the approaches to Antwerp. The army had undergone a number of changes over the last couple of months.

The overall commander was still the Dutch Admiral Van Der Stad, but General Beaufrère, formerly commanding the 68th DI had replaced General Béthouart as his deputy. The two DLCh (Light Chasseurs Divisions) divisions, had returned to France. Their mountain training would be of more use there than in the flat country of Holland. In their place 23e Infantry Division had arrived, and along with 60e and 68e DI formed a French Corps.

The Polish Independent Podhale Rifle Brigade had been reinforced with other Polish units to create 3e Polish Infantry Division (3DIP). The Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion had been joined by other Foreign Legion units become a full division (1re DLE). The second Corps was completed by the British 49th (West Riding) Division.

The third Corps was made up of the First Norwegian Division, First Free Dutch Division and First Free Danish Divisions. None of these were fully prepared for combat, they were training hard especially in forced river crossings. III Corps were in reserve but exercising continually. The only armoured force was supplied French GBC (Groupe Battalion de Chars) consisting of Renault D2 chars.

The French I Corps (23e, 60e & 68e) was in Belgium where they were helping the Belgian IV, V and VI Corps to increase their readiness for the next phase of the war. II Corps, (Poles, Foreign Legion, British 49th Divisions) were holding the front line along the river Waal.

Another element of Entente Army was currently in England where they were working on amphibious operations. French 1re Light Infantry Division (DLI) and the Royal Marine Division would have this specialised role.

Colonel Lebecque was responsible for Entente Army’s logistical needs. The vast majority of the army used French equipment which made some of his life easier. He had tried to persuade Admiral Van Der Stad to replace the British 49th Division with the 1re DLI. That would mean that two Corps would be completely French in equipment. The political desire for a truly Entente force overrode his trouble, though it was taken seriously. The Norwegian, Danish and Dutch troop were using a variety of different types of weapons and rifle calibres. It was his sincere hope that these units would be used solely as reserves, as keeping them supplied with the correct supplies while in combat would be extremely difficult.

25 October 1940. Near Brussels, Belgium.

The Belgian government knew their army was in dire need of replacement rifle. The Danes, Norwegians and Dutch were also all in the market for a new rifle. British too had expressed an openness, when the war was over, to replace the venerable .303 bullet and the bolt action rifle. Dieudonné Saive, chief designer of Fabrique Nationale, had been working on his new FAL (Fusil Automatique Légère), which was now ready for testing.

His preference was to have it chambered for a 7mm x 49, which had shown itself to be an excellent round. The test rifles had been chambered for 7.5mm x 54 version, the standard French round. The French were in the process of changing over to the MAS-36 rifle and were not currently in the market for a new rifle. The French were financially and politically committed to their 7.5mm. The French were providing the lion’s share of the infantry forces facing the Germans, it was obvious that there was no chance of the smaller Entente powers going with anything but the French round.

The French were very interested in FN’s MAG (Mitrailleuse d'Appui Général) which Dieudonné Saive had also designed. Like the FAL, this could be was produced in both calibers, and tests showed it clearly better with the 7mm x 49, but would likely have to be produced in French 7.5mm. Once the testing was completed, the FAL and MAG were chosen by the Belgian government to equip their army. The compromise of using the French 7.5mm had to be made, with the Dutch, Danes and Norwegians agreeing to use the same weapons with their Divisions in the Entente Army.

The agreement that was reached was that FN would produce enough of these weapons, both the FAL and MAG for the First Entente Army to enable the use of a standard round throughout the army. The fact that the agreement included the two British Divisions (49th and Royal Marines) to be so equipped was enough to win the agreement of the Belgians, Dutch, Danes and Norwegians. The quid pro quo was the adoption of the British 81mm mortar, the Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon and the six pounder anti-tank gun as the standard weapons for the First Entente Army. It was clear that if the First Entente Army were to prove these weapons in combat, then it was possible that the rest of the armies would follow suit.

26 October 1940 RAF West Raynham, Norfolk.

No. 81 Wing, (Nos. 90 and 101 squadrons) were the first squadrons to receive the new Beaufighter ground attack version. The first tranche of Beaufighters had been fitted as Night Fighters. With production ramping up in Weston-super-Mare, No 81 Wing had traded in its Blenheims for the Beaufighters and were now ready for operational deployment.

The Pilots and Navigators had been flying the new aircraft for a month or so and had begun to get used to the differences from one type to the other. Two crews however had been killed, one in a landing accident and one while low-flying in the Welsh hills. Overall, the crews were impressed with the new aircraft, there was a feeling that there was a much better chance of making it home in one of these than in the Blenheim.

Flight Lieutenant Hughie Edwards, back in the squadron after an earlier accident, was leading a flight of four Beaufighters in their first Rhubarb over occupied Holland. Two other flights, the rest of the Squadron, were on parallel courses. There was a complex of railway and canal traffic around Hengelo that would give the new aircraft its first blood. There was also a squadron of Spitfires high up in case the Luftwaffe decided to come out and play, though had been less and less common over the last month or so.

Edwards had led his flight down to low level just after they cleared the Dutch coast, and they flew as low as they dared, the danger of power and telephone lines, constantly on their minds. The route they had chosen would bring them to Hengelo from the north, picking up the railway and canal at Daarlerveen, past Almelo. The Dutch resistance had been providing the British with up to date information about the location of German flak batteries and troop concentrations. This information was part of the reason for the route that Edwards was following.

On the run in there were very few targets to pick on, but as they cleared Almelo and followed the railway south, they soon came upon a train. The flat-bed car with the four barreled flak gun in front of the locomotive was the first target. Edwards walked the six machine guns along the tracks and then the four 20mm canons joined to destroy the flak gun and the locomotive. Edwards felt the whole aircraft drop speed as all the guns spoke. With the train now at a standstill, two of the Beaufighters peeled off and came back in on the target from the side. They were each carrying eight 60lb rockets and these were used to great effect largely destroying the rest of the rolling stock and their contents. One of the wagons was obviously carrying ammunition as it exploded with great ferocity, giving the pilot of Red 3 a terrible scare as he flew through the debris.

Forming up the four aircraft flew on, if the resistance was right then the supplies for a German division had just gone up in smoke. The next target was the marshalling yard in Hengelo itself. Edward’s flight arrived a few moments after Yellow flight which was clearing out to the west. Edwards fired off his rockets, as did his wingman, and once again the rolling stock that was present was the main target. Blue flight were carrying 250lb bombs and they would attempt to destroy as much of the railway switching as possible.

Edwards led his flight along the Twentekanaal expending much of the rest of their ammunition on any canal boats that they passed. At Zutphen they managed to walk their fire over a number of coal boats, and then climbed to altitude to return to base in Norfolk. Of the twelve aircraft that had set off, one from Blue flight, failed to return, its wingman said he saw it run into power lines. The others all had a few holes, but Red 3 discovered that the underside of the fuselage was studded with shrapnel from the exploding goods wagon.

27 October 1940. Aachen, Germany.

The former Gauleiter of Aachen/Koln Josef Grohé; the Nazi district leader Alfons Schaller and Günter Heym had all been captured by the French in September. Attempting to get across the Rhine back to the Reich, their rowing boat had been spotted by a patrol who waited for whoever was going to use it. The arrest of these senior Nazi officials had been widely publicised. A number of people came forward with information that these men in particular, and some others not in custody, had played a significant role in the prosecution of the Jewish community in the area. Specifically these three were responsible for the destruction of property and the deaths of a number of the Jewish community during the period known as Kristalnacht. They were also accused of other crimes, but the evidence around the deaths of four Jewish men in November 1938, was strongest.

The three were shipped off to a prison in France along with other Nazi officials and German troops that were accused of war crimes. There would be an accounting when the war would be brought to a successful conclusion.

28 October 1940. Augsburg, Germany.

The air raid sirens wailed once again and the workers at the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW) (Bavarian Aircraft Works) left the production line and headed for the shelters. These shelters had been increased in numbers and protection as the French AdA had been paying regular visits to the factory. As the workers made their way, the sound of the flak batteries opening fire, put a spring in their step and the pace towards the shelters quickened.

The German soldiers manning the smoke machines stood back as clouds of smoke drifted towards the area of the factory to try to mask it from the French bombardiers. The Luftwaffe had put considerable effort into the flak defences, the BFW factory was one of the best protected areas in Germany. The French had bombed from various heights, and so the flak was layered. Being only 300 miles from major French airfields, the factory was well within the range of many different types of French bombers.

Today the French had sent eighty LeO 451s, with sixty Grumman G-36As escorting them. These fighters were flown by Aeronavale pilots, and their American built fighters’ advantage of good range allowed them to accompany the bombers all the way to the target and back. The Luftwaffe’s attempts to intercept the AdA attack consisted of four squadrons of Bf 109s which attacked at various points, in a piecemeal fashion. These attacks were then outnumbered by the Grumman fighters. Three LeOs and six G-36As were lost to enemy action, the Germans losses in the air were fourteen Bf 109s.

The German attempts to conceal the factory and the level of flak gave the French some difficulty in properly hitting the factory. Only twenty bombs actually fell on the German factory. Six incomplete bf 109s were destroyed in the raid, and production was once again slowed. It would now take even longer to replace the fourteen Bf 109s lost defending the factory.

29 October 1940. Rosyth. Scotland.

HMS King George V sailed under the Forth Rail Bridge and tied up alongside the Rosyth Naval Base for the fitting of her outer propellers, strengthening her rudder and to complete installation of armament and radar fit. Her departure from the Tyne had been delayed for a couple of weeks while work was done to try to rectify some of the problems with the main batteries. Clearances and link mechanisms had been looked at, it would take full firing practice to see what problems remained. While the Bristol Group didn’t know the exact cause of these problems, just knowing there were problems with the loading mechanisms meant that work could be done to prevent them.

Another reason for the delay in KGV’s departure from the Tyne had been the works necessary to use the radar suite from HMS Penelope: a Type 965 air, Type 993 surface and Type 978 piloting radar. The creation of a “gloom room”, with adequate electrical supply, had caused a few headaches coming as late in the build as they did. The antennae that had to be added to the superstructure had also been something of a headache for the builders. HMS Penelope’s Type 903 radar, the Medium Range Mark 3 Fire Control System was also added, it would have to be tested to see if it could be used with the 5.25 inch secondary armament.

Other changes to the new battleship had been mostly in anti-aircraft armament. The planned Unrotated Projectiles had not been fitted. The removal of the catapult and aircraft facilities from the centre of the ship had allowed the space to mount eight 8-barrelled 2 pdr pom-pom, with the associated Mark IV director. The Type 282 radars for this director were still being hand built. The pom-poms had been chosen over the 40mm Bofors guns due to supply issues, but it was hoped to replace the ‘Chicago Pianos’ eventually. A number of Oerlikon 20mm guns were also due to be added to the ship in various places, as they became available.

It was expected that the work to be done at Rosyth would keep Britain’s newest battleship tied up until at least December. At which time she would undergo “First of Class” and builders acceptance trials, test her systems and do work-up trials. Since the destruction of most of the German surface fleet, there was no rush to complete these, and the KGV was expected to begin full active service in the new year.

30 October 1940. Debert, Nova Scotia. Canada.

Major General Ernest Sansom returned the salutes of his three brigade commanders. The 7th, 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades of the Canadian Active Service force had been concentrating in Debret over the last few weeks and Sansom now had the majority of his division present, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. They were slated for going over to Europe in time for the expected Spring offensive in 1941. Currently however they were in no fit state to go anywhere, and Sansom had called this meeting to get his senior staff together to work out a training plan. The 8th Brigade were the last to arrive, as they had mustered at Camp Sussex in New Brunswick, but now they were present, the whole division could start working together.

Sansom had been informed that the intention for this Division was that it was to be a mechanised division, with the expectation that one of the Brigades was likely to be exchanged for an armoured brigade when this became available. The 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade had been formed on 13 August 1940, comprising the Fort Garry Horse, the 1st Canadian Mechanized Cavalry Regiment, The Ontario Regiment, and The Three Rivers Regiment. These were currently at Camp Borden, Ontario.

So far, they had almost no armoured vehicles, just a few light tanks and universal carriers. The CPR Angus shops in Montreal were working at producing the Valentine tank, the first of which would start appearing from the production line in December. The Canadian government had ordered 448 of these to equip the armoured brigade.

Sansom had been shown a number of Canadian Military Pattern truck designs that his men would be getting to “mechanise” them. The most likely version was known as the C15TA, which was an armoured truck, which would take an eight-man section, though one of them would have to be able to drive. He had also been shown Ford’s concept of the Windsor carrier, based on the universal carrier, extended with an extra bogie. Ford in Canada had been invited to build the universal carrier, but felt that the changes they were proposing would make it better, Sansom was inclined to agree. It was still open topped, as was the C15TA, but the tracked vehicle would have particular advantages. He would have a word with his superiors, but how much weight his voice would carry was unknown.

In the meantime the reality of a training program had to be worked out. Sansom had requested that some combat veterans from 1st Canadian division might be made available to help with the realism of the training, and he was expecting the arrival of some men recovering from wounds to arrive at Debret over the next week or two. What they did have were plenty of written accounts and reflections that some of troops had been asked to provide. There were a few issues that Sansom wanted to start working on as soon as possible. It was clear from the fighting in Belgium and Germany that artillery and air support were crucial to the success of the Entente forces so far. He wanted to try to build the skills of communications and calling in fire support as widely as possible. The 12th, 13th and 14th Field Regiments RCA were his divisional artillery asset and Sansom was keen to have them integrated into all the divisional planning.

Phase 1 of the training program was physical fitness, weapon training, squad tactics, then moving up to platoon, company, battalion, brigade and divisional tactics. A number of trucks would be hard used as stand-ins for the armoured vehicles they hoped to have before too long. Sansom also requested that a final decision about the replacement of one of his brigades with a tank brigade would be communicated to him as quickly as possible. In the meantime, he’d keep an eye on the three brigades to see which one was the weakest if he did have to swap one out.

31 October 1940. Oversight Committee. Whitehall, London.

So, it has been a busy month, let’s recap where we are. Senior Service first.

The move of the KGV to Rosyth has been done and she is putting on the last of her bells and whistles. It is hoped that the work done to the guns will help alleviate the problems but we’ll only know for sure once she has her work up cruise. Royal Sovereign was detached from the Mediterranean fleet in August, and made her very slow way back to Portsmouth. Her boilers were in a terrible state. Her crew will mostly transfer to the Duke of York. The idea of putting her into reserve has been put on hold, and instead she will be used initially as a training ship. HMS Warspite has gone to the Mediterranean to replace the Tiddley Quid.

The Queen Elizabeth is nearly finished her modernisation, and will move to Rosyth when the KGV leaves. The Queen Elizabeth has had some modifications since January. The removal of her Walrus seaplanes has meant that more accommodation has been put in for the expanded crew. She’s also due to get some 2-pdr pom poms when they are available. The twin 4.5 inch guns look like the business, and I believe that there will be a general decision that this will be the gun of choice for the Navy. A little work is being done to look at designing various turrets up to and including the Mark V. The Mark 8 with the 55 Calibre muzzle, is a bit too far down the line.

HMS Valiant’s repairs from the torpedo damage in April are also nearing completion and the opportunity to upgrade her radar and anti-aircraft suite. HMS Rodney’s repairs were completed quickly and she is now back to full operational status. HMS Nelson and Repulse, with HMS Ark Royal will be back next month from their world tour. When HMS Repulse is back, then Hood will take Queen Elizabeth’s place in the Dockyard in Portsmouth for a complete overhaul.

The work on HMS Hood will follow the proposal made in December 1938 to carry out an extensive reconstruction. The main machinery will be replaced, the air facilities will be deleted. We expect this work will take a few years, but the rebuild should give her an extended life. That will leave Repulse as the only battlecruiser that hasn’t been completely overhauled, but the decision about what to do with her won’t be made for some years. Renown has been doing sterling work with Home Fleet over the last few months, she might go into the Med next, which means she’s closer to the Pacific if need be. Once again the question about the long term investment in Hood and Repulse have been asked, but the Admiralty is convinced it is worth it.

So the battlewagons currently are: Home Fleet: HMS Rodney, Barham, Resolution with Renown and Hood. Mediterranean: HMS Warspite, Revenge, and Ramillies. East Indies: HMS Malaya. The KGV, Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, Nelson and Repulse will all be available to the fleet in the next couple of months. We’ll lose Hood for a couple of years and Royal Sovereign into training/reserve.

The excellent news is that our theory that all work had stopped on Tirpitz was wrong, in fact it seems that they are dismantling her. So, Home Fleet looks like it will have few major surface threats to worry about. There shouldn’t be any need to put battleships on convoy duties, which should ease the burden. HMS Resolution and Revenge did a cracking job in shore bombardment in Holland and we’ve learned a lot from that.

Next then, aircraft carriers. HMS Illustrious is in the East Indies, Ark Royal will be back with us soon, and she is slated for the Mediterranean when she’s ready. HMS Furious is currently Mediterranean Fleet’s only carrier. HMS Argus and Glorious are with Home Fleet. HMS Eagle is still undergoing a refit since she returned for the Far East. HMS Argus continues primarily as the training carrier, though she’s been used a few times to ferry aircraft. With most of the Fleet Air Arm defending Scotland and the North of England, we’ve been able to build up the squadrons’ strength and experience. HMS Formidable is going through her acceptance trials and will be joining Home Fleet next month as planned. Like HMS Illustrious, we did as much improving as possible since January, so she’ll be a great asset when she comes.

HMS Victorious is due to join the fleet in May 1941, but that will probably slip a little with some of the changes we’ve made. HMS Indomitable, or HMAS Melbourne as she’ll be known, will head for her new home around November of 1941. The Captain of HMS Illustrious, it seems, feels his ship is being overrun by Aussies who are learning the ropes. HMS Victorious will be followed by Unicorn, in her maintenance role, then HMS Implacable and Indefatigable, sometime in late 1943 if all goes well. The Malta class design is being worked on and will hopefully be laid down in 1941, ready to join the fleet in 1944/5.

The MAC conversion, MV Acavus, has proven a successful conversion, and Royal Dutch Shell have kindly offered the other tankers in the Rapana class for similar conversions. Three of them are currently being adapted. They will each have four Swordfish and the option of one or two Sea Hurricanes. Once the Sussex helicopters are in full production these will replace the Swordfish. All nine tankers will be converted and will fulfil the escort carrier role until the Centaur Light Fleet Carriers come along, hopefully in 1943/44. The Pretoria Castle and some other armed merchantmen will also be converted to MAC ships. While the U-boat threat has been minimised, we want to try to avoid being complacent. When we have the Sussex, then simpler conversions to Merchant vessels can be done to carry the helicopters.

Since out meeting last month, Cunliffe-Owen at Eastleigh have been continuing to work with some Spitfires to make them into SeaFires. Supermarine are helping them look at ways to making them carrier friendly, especially with folding wings. It is looking more and more likely that Cunliffe-Owen will have to build them from scratch, if they’re going to make them robust enough for carrier operations. In the meantime, the current line-up of Sea Hurricanes, Fulmars, Skuas and Swordfish will be the normal aircraft complement. The SeaFire will replace the Hurricanes. Fulmars will be retained for their long-range scout value. The Barracuda is due to fly in December, with the Griffon engine. Rolls Royce has been magnificent, the improvements to the Merlin, working on the jets, and still to get the Griffon up and running has been outstanding. The Barracuda will replace both the Skua and Swordfish.

We have welcomed HMS Dido, Phoebe, Bonaventure, Naiad so far this year, and another seven Dido-Class cruisers to come. Fiji, Nigeria and Kenya are commissioned, with another eight Crown Colonies-Class cruisers to follow. The four Abdiel fast minelayers will all be commissioned next year. The addition of better anti-aircraft guns and better radar is being built in to all the cruisers. All of this means that the Cruiser force will be very healthy. If things continue to go well, some of the older cruisers will be put in reserve and their crews move onto the new ships. The future of Cruisers is being looked at. We’ve seen what designs like the Tiger class look like and it has led to a fairly heated debate in the Admiralty about this class of ship. It is being suggested that we don’t order any more than are already under construction and that we look at doing mid-life refits to give us an extended life for what we already have, otherwise the Tiger class will be next.

Destroyers now. All the Tribal, J, K, L, M & N class and Hunt destroyers that were ordered before December 1939 are either with the fleet or on their way, some improvements are being built in if we got there early enough. As time goes on, they’ll get whatever upgrades we can give them, but for the moment those in service are being well used. There has been a fair amount of discussion regarding the follow-on classes of destroyer. The decision has been taken to go with the description of what the Battle class destroyers should be capable of. Even if war with Japan doesn’t happen as it might, we’ll still need capable destroyers in the Far East.

The debate around destroyers and frigates continues. Fully laden HMS Bristol displaces over 7100 tonnes, about the same size as a Leander class light cruiser. The Type 42 destroyer Cardiff displaces 4000t, in contrast to a typical destroyer which displace 1900t fully loaded. The frigates Avenger and Active displaced 3200 tonnes, the Leanders are around 3000 tonnes, and have no real equivalents in the navy. A Weapon class destroyer would be just under 3000t fully laden, a Battle about the same as the Type 21 Frigates. The compliment for a Battle is expected to be between 280 and 300, a Leander are around 260, whereas the Type 21 is 177. We’ve looked at the way in which ships have evolved and some are keen to jump a few steps, others don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

The question is now about convoy protection. Firstly, how long do we keep the convoy system if we can keep the U-boats bottled up in the Baltic as they are now? The Hunt “escort destroyers”, Flower class coastal escorts and the Black Swan ocean escorts that were ordered and laid down before the Bristol Group arrived are all being completed with modifications where possible. It seems clear that the decision not to increase these orders, expect for the Black Swan, has proven to be the correct choice. The equipment meant for the second batch of Hunts has been swapped over to the Black Swans. These will have either the Hedgehog or Squid as part of their armament. Any excess Flower class that won’t be needed can be turned into gunboats or patrol vessels for various places.

We are now looking at a design which is going to be able to deal with faster submarines in the future. The O and P class emergency programme destroyers could be built as something like the Type 15 frigates, which would give us sixteen of these. However, the problem may be that we have too many destroyers and escorts being built, especially if the sea war is already as good as won, at least in the Atlantic. Although blade cutting for turbines has been prioritised it is still a bottleneck, as are anti-aircraft guns in particular and guns generally.

The other huge problem is the lack of draughtsmen. We just can’t bring along lots of new designs, because we don’t have enough people to do the work, even pulling together from all the shipbuilding firms. While we have descriptions of future ships, and some photographs and so on, we don’t have blueprints. So ,we have to be very careful that this bottleneck doesn’t become too much of a problem.

The diesel engines that are now going into full production with various companies are holding out great promise. These will be used not only for the small vessels like minesweepers, MTBs and landing craft, but we are looking at greater use in all sorts of ships. A Flower, a Black Swan and an Algerine are being fitted with diesels in various configurations to see if they will be satisfactory instead of turbines. HMS Adventure, the cruiser minelayer, was fitted with the new diesels as a test bed to see how they go with a much larger vessel.

It is clear that the Battle of the Atlantic skewed the way in which the Navy developed, and then post-war austerity skewed it another way. We are trying to find a balance between what we need and what is a reasonable cost. The army and air force are doing most of the heavy lifting now, so the battle of the Treasury will have to be fought as usual. The other obvious need is to improve the mine countermeasures with the Ton class (which will be built instead of Bangors), supplemented by the larger Algerine class.

Improvements to the submarines continue to be made. Work on a type to follow the improved T class is trying to learn as much as possible from Onyx. We can’t see this being ready for building until 1942 at the earliest. The passive sonar itself is the work of many years.

The amphibious warfare vessels for the Royal Marines, are currently conversions like HMS Glenearn, Landing Craft Infantry (Large) and will do the job in the short term. The Misoa, Tasajera and Bachaquero are all at various stages of conversion into Tank Landing Ships, and we are assured that they will be ready for April. Hawthorne Leslie have launched the first purpose-built Tank Landing Craft, and it is currently being fitted out. The landing craft are coming along nicely. There are still problems with the hovercraft however. The experiments with old Merlins proved the concept, but realistically it needs turboprops, and all the Gnomes are going into helicopters. So, we won’t see hovercraft in operation for some considerable time.

Now the army. The fighting along the Rhine front is quieting down. There were a number of artillery duels, which tended to end in our favour. The Wehrmacht seem to have pulled back further and are currently regrouping. The RAF and the AdA, bless their cotton socks, pretty much have command of the air, and so the German transport network is being given very close attention. From our intelligence sources we are hearing cries of pain from the destruction of new equipment before it arrives with the army. Obviously, they are moving a lot of things at night, but that has its own problems.

First and Second Army are more or less back up to full strength as replacements of both men and material make their way forward. There are going to be some changes once Third Army is created, which is due to happen in November.

The first thing that the fighting has taught us is that the make-up of Armoured Divisions needs to change. Up until now 1st and 2nd Armoured Divisions have been two armoured brigades (six tank regiments) and one short infantry brigade. Experience over the last five months has been that this is too tank heavy. With all the different types of tanks it has been a bit of a headache for keeping them supplied with spare parts etc. General Tilly’s Battle Group model has been judged an improvement over what went before, but still not quite right.

Therefore an Armoured Division will now consist of one armoured brigade (3 Armoured Regiments), a mechanised infantry brigade, with divisional artillery, engineers etc. This means that 1st Armoured Division will consist of 2nd Armoured Brigade (The Queen's Bays, 9th Queen's Royal Lancers and 10th Royal Hussars). Each of these regiments will have the cruiser A13mkIV. Their Infantry Brigade will be 30th Brigade (1st and 2nd Battalion the King's Royal Rifle Corps, 1st Battalion the Rifle Brigade). This Brigade has been receiving the C15TA armoured truck, as well as having more universal carriers. The current Divisional artillery and other units will remain with them. 1st Armoured Division continues to be part of I Mechanised Corps.

Third Tank Brigade, (2, 3 and 5RTR) are all on Matilda IIs. This will an independent Armoured Brigade to be part of Second Army’s resources. Jumbo Wilson can use them with III or IV Corps as he sees fit.

2nd Armoured Division will consist of 20th Armoured Brigade (The 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars (Valentines), and 1st and 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry (A13s)) with 168th Brigade in Militants. That gives Auchinleck 11th Tank Brigade (4, 7 and 8 RTR all in Valentines) as an independent tank brigade.

3rd Armoured Division will be made up of 21st Tank Brigade: (40th (The King's) 41st (Oldham), and 42nd Royal Tank Regiments). They will have the 164th Brigade as their infantry. These guys have been training hard and will be the first to receive the Comet tanks from January. Third Army will also have 22nd Armoured Brigade: 43rd, 44th and 45th (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiments, also with Comets in due course.

It was suggested using the other three tank brigades as the basis of another three armoured divisions, but there aren’t currently enough artillery and engineers for three whole divisions. Since they all have heavy tanks, it is presumed they’ll work with infantry divisions. Once the Comets are in big enough numbers then the cruisers will be replaced first, then the Matildas. 4th Armoured Division is being formed from the Cavalry Division.

Regarding artillery, the production of 25-pdrs for the field regiments, 6-pdrs for the anti-tank regiments and 40mm Bofors for the anti-air regiments are all progressing well. The new units are all being equipped with these, and other units are upgrading as and when they can. It is envisaged by March that the majority of forces for the crossing of the Rhine will have the best equipment possible.

Some of the “funnies” are coming along well. The “swimming tank” or DD Valentine is being prepared for the Royal Marines. Nuffield Mechanisation and Aero Ltd have been trying to find a niche for themselves and the Crusader, although it wasn’t chosen as the tank, has been adapted to a few other roles. There are two types of anti-aircraft tanks, one with a Bofors and one with twin Oerlikons. There is a bridge-layer version, an AVRE version, and a flail version. We hope these will be relatively temporary until the Comet chassis can be produced in big enough numbers to provide these variants. We decided not to go with the Crusader chassis for the Priest with the 25-pdr, but we’ll wait for the Comet chassis for that. We will however take the Kangaroo version, as it is ready to be produced.

The Royal Engineers have been particularly busy repairing the lines of communications through Belgium and southern Holland, with great help from the Belgians. We have seen the progress by the arrival of the railway guns. The production of Bailey Bridges is continuing to increase. The question that is currently being looked at is about being able to cross the Rhine and then build suitable bridges to maintain the progress. An amphibious truck, similar to the DUKW, is being trialled by Bedford, based on their new QL four wheel drive. It generally is doing well in trials, it only sank twice. They are confident that the order for 300 can be produced by mid-March. Because of its use, primarily for river crossings, rather than over the sea and beach means that it can be a fairly simple design.

Thornycroft and Vickers have been working to produce a Landing Vehicle Tracked, or Water Buffalo. They’ve gone back to the drive train of the Vickers Mk VI light tank, but the engine is proving too underpowered. They are looking at a diesel to give it a bit more oomph. We aren’t looking at huge numbers, around 300 for the assault groups. The thing that is really coming along are outboard motors for assault craft. British Seagull were given a couple of examples off the Bristol Group’s Rigid Inflatable Boats, and they are copying them to give the first wave assault craft the best possible speed across the river. The quiet outboard, off the Onyx for special forces, is also being looked at for copying as well. The RIBs in themselves are of great interest to various people, but that is another story.

The expectation is that the crossing of the Rhine will also be the first use of the new helicopter borne forces. In place of parachutists, the aim is to drop a brigade sized force behind enemy lines to capture bridges over the river Issel. Like Operation Varsity this will happen after the initial river assault had gone in, so that the airmobile forces won’t be in a Bridge Too Far scenario. The Sussex helos are designed to carry twelve troops, with the wildcats carrying six. A hundred of each type are on order and they will equip 1st Airmobile Brigade. The Army Air Corps which has been established for this, much to the chagrin of some in the Air Ministry, is made up of volunteers from the Army Cooperation Squadrons of the RAF and other regiments.

There is an intense training of helicopter pilots going on for both the RN and the AAC, and these along with the helos will be in place for a dress rehearsal exercise in March. The three battalions that make up the Airmobile are 15th Infantry Brigade which have been brought back from the Faroes and Iceland. 1st Green Howards, 1st Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and 1st York and Lancaster Regiments are all taking to their new role like ducks to water. The Danish Free Forces have taken over garrison duties in the Faroes and Iceland.

The French have bought the license to manufacture the M79 grenade launcher, and they love it. The principle of the High-Low projection system was well enough known by some of the Bristol Group men who had worked on the Limbo system. It proved fairly easy to reverse engineer it, and after that the shotgun manufacturers were able to get it into production quickly enough for May. The French have set up a couple of companies to make it and they expect it to be in full use with front line divisions by April. Interestingly they are also putting a large order for FN’s MAG (Mitrailleuse d'Appui Général) in 7.5mm. They want it to replace their M1914 Hotchkiss in 8mm. They had considered replacing their FM 24/29 light machine guns, but it seems, that like our Bren gun, the squad weapon has a different role from the German MG34. However, their decision to stick with the 7.5mm has disappointed the Belgians, and some of our people. While we haven’t any plans for changing from the .303 until after the war, there was growing agreement towards the intermediate round. More on that in the future.

For the Belgians, the good news is that their factory for producing Valentine tanks is almost ready and they expect the first tank to roll off the production line in December. They expect to have at least one heavy armoured brigade as part of their cavalry division by April. Currently they have three Corps doing occupation duties in Germany. They’ll have a further two Corps ready for the attack across the Rhine in April.

Our production figures for tanks and guns continues to do well. Production of ammunition in September was, 1,310,000 filled shells (all types); 87.8 million rounds of small arms. During September we produced of 249 tanks, most of the increase is in Valentines; 196 25-pdrs; 148 3.7 inch AA guns; 210 6-pdrs; 133 Bofors 40mm; 8676 SMLEs; just over 600 each of Brens and Sterlings; 370 Carl Gustavs, with 13000 rounds. 440 2 inch mortars and 200 87mm mortars. Also there have been 8444 wheeled vehicles made for the army, as well as 448 carriers. We expect that the October figures in all categories will be similar, though the tank figure should go up slightly, then a bigger jump in November and December when the Comet finally goes into production.

The Boys anti-tank rifle has stopped production, they are being phased out from active service. Between the Carl Gustav and the LAW, the Boys is no longer necessary, and in fact is no longer effective. Some will go to India and the rest we can sell abroad. That frees up some capacity at Birmingham Small Arms factory at Small Heath. The shadow factories are nearly all at full production. Therefore, we can expect that our armies will be fully equipped. One issue we will have to consider is the growing size of the Indian army. While some of their equipment is being provided locally,

The ANZAC Corps and VI Corps (4th (Indian) Division, 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, and 56th (London) Infantry Division) have started working together as the nucleus of Third Army. The third Corps of that army, VII Corps, (43rd (Wessex) division, 3rd Armoured Division and the 2nd Canadian Division) will join them in the new year.

Next, the RAF. Fighter Command is beginning to beef up again. Things were looking pretty ugly there for a while, but there have been fewer sorties this month and that has allowed a bit of breathing space for everyone. Castle Bromwich managed 70 Spitfires in September, with 151 from Supermarine, Westland managed 30, Boulton Paul gave us 35. Altogether 286 Spitfire IIs were built last month, and the Civilian Repair Organisation brought back another 44 that had been damaged. So, 330 Spitfires and 115 Hurricanes for fighter command last month, which is excellent. 10 Group has transitioned onto Spitfires and is swapping squadrons with 12 Group, covering the South East. The South West has been pretty quiet and is a good sector to allow squadrons to get used to their new aircraft. 13 Group, covering the Midlands is still being used to work up the new pilots that have been coming through the various training programs, it is a bit like a big Operational Training Unit. A number of the older Spitfires are finding their way to this sector to give pilots a chance to get some hours on Spitfires. All of which means that the pilots and squadrons of 14 Group in France and Belgium have been able to be taken out of the line for a rest. The North of England and Scotland is still being covered by the Fleet Air Arm, though as the RAF strength increases that will change.

Tactical Command, or 1 and 2 Groups of Bomber Command as they used to be, have got their first Beaufighter wing in action. There were 210 Beaufighters and Hurribombers built in September. That keeps the 25 squadrons at full strength, though without the three squadrons worth of Polish pilots who transferred from the AdA, that would be a very different story. They have been keeping themselves busy by attacking the German road, rail and canal systems. This seems to be doing the job we hoped, just making life very difficult across the Rhine. As well as this the Belgian and Dutch squadrons have been building up and that adds another five squadrons to our ground attack capability.

The rest of Bomber Command has been focusing on the Ruhr, especially the synthetic oil plants. We are seeing some dislocation of German industry, they are obviously trying to move some production further east, away from the Ruhr, and from what we can tell, that is having an impact of production figures generally. The AdA have focused more on aircraft factories, and it looks as if the Messerschmitt factory has been particularly badly damaged. They will be going after the Focke-Wolf factory next, hopefully delaying the Fw190 from its service debut.

Our concentration on Wellingtons means that production was 166 of these last month. The Halifax is coming on stream, the first 16 have been completed and some of the Hampden squadrons are currently converting to these four engined bombers for their debut in January, or more likely February. De Havilland tells us the Mosquito production line will open two weeks earlier than planned, in December, all going well. We should see the first operational squadron in early summer.

We can expect the winter weather to slow air operations, and the arrival of more classes from the training schools at home and abroad, along with good continued production level, we will see an increase in RAF squadrons in the new year.

Coastal Command squadrons continue the conversion to Sunderlands, and generally things are looking fairly positive. The North Sea is well covered between ourselves and the Norwegians. The French have about a squadron’s worth of seaplanes for long range patrol, and these are keeping up their efforts.

Transport Command’s recommendation for its aircraft has been approved. Armstrong Whitworth will build thirty Ensign II, with Hercules engines for the long-range role. The De Havilland Canadian division’s Caribou (based on the Fairchild C123) and the Bristol Freighter are both being funded for prototypes, and the winner of that competition will be built for the medium range role. The Auster has been chosen in the light role. Handley Page’s Hastings is also to be developed further, looking at the future to replace the Ensign II. Blackburn’s Beverley will also get some development money, but it may be more suited for Commonwealth air forces, its rough strip capability could be very useful.

The RAF Regiment is coming together, the first few squadrons of troops are currently being trained by the Royal Marines, and they should be operational in the summer of 1941. Each squadron will consist of 185 men (including five officers). Squadrons will consist of a Headquarters Flight, three Rifle Flights, an Air-Defence Flight, and an Armoured-Car Flight. As this comes along, we can see good number of troops currently looking after airfields becoming available for other duties.

We can look now at some of the other projects that have been underway. Progress over the past month has been made by Pye with the proximity fuze. The tests on rockets were very positive, on the 5.25 inch gun less so. Pye are hopeful that we might see something very practical within a reasonable time-frame. Interestingly, at the very beginning of the process they said it would take at least a year. So, if we begin to see something in January or February then they will have been true to their word. They have been asked to keep the 3.7 inch AA gun in mind as it is the most common anti-aircraft gun with the army. If they can do that, then hopefully the Navy’s 4-inch, 4.5-inch and 4.7-inch guns will also be able to benefit. We’d love to see it in the 40mm for the Bofors, but that will take a while longer.

The other progress that we can reflect on is the arrival of useful centimetric radar. Taffy Bowen and the Clarendon Laboratory have been wonderful in getting us the kind of war winning kit we need. A great deal of help came from a couple of Chief Petty Officers who kept them on track and away from some dead ends. The Air Defence Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), have been getting companies like GEC, British Thomson-Houston, Ekco, Plessey, Decca, the Gramophone Company, and Cossor, producing good radars for all needs. While it would be lovely to have some big American company’s production capacity, there is a growing production base, and some work is being done with Phillips and a couple of French companies. The Canadian National Electric Company are producing cavity magnetrons to go with Research Enterprises Ltd’s work in producing more radar sets in Canada.

In other technological advances an infra-red system for tanks is being trialled by the army. It uses a near-infrared spotlight and special lenses to give both the commander and the gunner a reasonable chance to see a target in the dark. A smaller pack for a sniper is also being prepared for trial, though the power source is what is holding it back. Work on passive systems and on an effective IR seeker for an air-to-air missile is still much further down the road.

The Bristol Group brought back a fair amount of kit to use as a basis for research and we’re starting to see some results from it. However, there is thirty to forty years of research and development built into the kit we’re looking at and just dealing with the theoretical stuff is putting heads in a spin. The best and the brightest minds from every university and R&D establishment have been drafted into the process and we are on the cusp of a great leap forward in science and technology
November 1940
1 November 1940. Canberra, Australia.

Chief of the General Staff, General Vernon Sturdee gave his assessment of the current state of the Australian army to Prime Minister Robert Menzies and his Cabinet. 6th and 7th Division were currently in Arras, along with the New Zealand Division, forming the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and were shortly to become part of the British Third Army. At home the 8th and 9th Divisions were still primarily paper formations. Both Menzies and Sturdee were privy to the Bristol Group secret and were aware that without the fall of France in June 1940, the number of volunteers for the 2nd AIF was much lower than it should have been. The 100000 who had volunteered in June, July and August in the Bristol Group’s universe, was only 35000 in their reality. While that was enough for one division and its supporting arms, it wouldn’t be enough for more.

On the 28 June Menzies had received a telegram from London asking that a division of Australian troops might be sent to Malaya to reinforce the Indian troops already there. There was a recognition that this might not be possible, as it would have to be equipped from the Militia resources, leaving home defence even weaker. Sturdee’s position on reinforcing Malaya was very strong, but his fear was it would meet the same fate as the 8th Division had met in the Bristol Group’s universe. It was clear that French Indo-China, and even the Dutch East Indies, were stronger than they might have been if Hitler had been successful, and so the Japanese threat remained “remote”. That remoteness however was not the same as absent. Sturdee was keen on providing a strong deterrent.

The Department of Munitions expected Australian industry to go from 15200 people involved in munitions production to ten times as many, 150000 in munitions and associated industry. In the meantime, any Australian army unit would be equipped as their fathers and uncles had been at Gallipoli. The exception would be, like the 6th and 7th, they went to Europe and got British equipment. Until the indigenous arms industry was up to the task, they would have to rely on the mother country.

On the other hand, the RAAF were fully involved in the Empire Air Training Scheme, with 23674 volunteers having signed up since September. The RAN had 8000 new volunteers, and some of these were even now working with HMS Illustrious in Singapore in preparation for an Australian carrier. If Australia was to make the most of its resources, both military and economic, it would have to be clear what its objectives and needs were.

The imminent commitment of 6th and 7th Divisions on the Western Front had focused their minds on what exactly they were doing. There was strong public approval for the 2nd Australian Imperial Force, and in general for the expansion of the military. However, Australians fighting in the Western Front was too reminiscent of the last war. There was a deep unease about the Pacific and Japanese militarism, particularly over the on-going war in China. While the Entente fleet visit had helped, as had the strengthening and improvement of the situation in Malaya, Australians knew that their focus was much closer to home than the Rhine.

Sturdee wanted the 8th Division to be properly trained and equipped, and having them in a forward position for the defence of Australia in Malaya made sense, especially if it had a deterrent effect on Japanese expansionist thinking. The idea of an armoured division, or even a Brigade, to follow on in 1941 was also very attractive. 26th Brigade of 7th Division had been looking at becoming a tank brigade, giving the ANZACs a better punch in Europe. If 8th Division went to Malaya with a strong tank presence, all the better to make the Japanese think twice. If it were possible to encourage more volunteers, a 9th Division being available to support the Dutch in the DEA was attractive.

Sturdee also wanted to make sure that the RAAF would be there to support them. The arrival of the Bristol Aircraft Company to set up a Beaufighter factory, meant that along with the Commonwealth Aircraft Company (CAC) and De Havilland, Australia would be in a position to have the capacity to build suitable aircraft. De Havilland were building Tiger Moths for initial training. CAC were providing Wirraways for advanced training. If they had Bristol Beaufighters for ground attack, night fighters and possibly even for torpedo attacks, this would give the RAAF a strong offensive capacity. The head of the RAAF wanted a few squadrons of the new North American Mustangs as a fighter, which would have the kind of range needed in South East Asia. CAC were already in negotiations with North American to assemble Mustangs in Melbourne, and if Australia ordered at least three squadrons worth, about 100 airframes, that would certainly sweeten the deal.

Menzies wondered if there would be traction working with India and New Zealand at cooperating as much as possible. For example, the Owen submachine gun was being considered for production. If it was adopted by the New Zealanders and Indians as well as the AIF, rather than waiting for supplies of Sterlings coming from England, that would make sense economically as well as militarily. In the same way some of the India pattern vehicles that Tata were producing would suit the Australians very well. Hawker were setting up aircraft support and assembly with their Hindustan subsidiary. If they were producing Hurribombers, then a deal might be done in exchange for providing Beaufighters for the Indian Air Force. In terms of shipping, it seemed sensible for the Dominions in the East to work together, especially if they were to fight together against the Japanese if deterrence failed. Sturdee added Thailand to the mix, suggesting that they too might be interested in strengthening themselves, adding another imponderable to Japan’s decision-making process.

In terms of exports of wool, meat and wheat, the safe passage of the merchant fleet was crucial, and this needed to continue as an important part of Australia’s economy. The increase in manufacturing was also important for growth, as well as the war effort. The third area that Menzies and others were also looking at was an increase in the mining industry. There were rich deposits of nickel, uranium, coal, iron ore and many other commodities that were needed in a world war, and afterwards. It was important that Australia’s contribution to the Empire’s fight was not just in men, but in the sinews of war. The management of the labour force was necessary to make sure that there would be enough workers to keep Australia at the forefront of fulfilling its own needs and the needs of the rest of the Empire.

2 November 1940. Wellington, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Peter Fraser arrived late for the meeting, but that didn’t surprise anyone, they would have been surprised if he had been on time. The War Cabinet had a number of points to cover on the agenda, but they had no great hope that Fraser would stick to the agenda.

As Fraser took his place, the produced a piece of paper, “I see that the armed forces currently have 33,490 at home and 26,980 overseas, making a grand total of 60,470. The lion’s share of those overseas are in France as part of the ANZACs. I am reliably informed that 60000 men is 12% of the male labour force. There is still some slack in the labour force, still some unemployment and the chance for more women to come into the work force. However, if we increase the size of our military too far, we could start to see problems. I’ve had a chat with John Duigan, the CGS, and while it is important to keep up a stream of replacements for the boys in France, we aren’t going to be able to form another full division for service overseas.”

“Churchill wants us to do our best regarding the Air Force, and a lot of our boys are flying in the RAF as we speak, some have been killed already as you know. The first batch through the Empire Training Scheme has arrived in Liverpool, and the second lot are in Canada. Recruitment for the RNZAF, especially for ground crew will continue, and most of these boys will go overseas. As will the Navy reserves.”

“Canberra has been grousing about Singapore, and I see their point. It would be good to be in a position to do something, but I reckon we’ve got a year before the Japs might become a problem. With any luck Hitler will have been taken care of by then, so the ANZACs might be available to go to Malaya, but we’ll need to see about that. The other thing Canberra has been going on about is working more closely together on equipment for our troops here at home, and possibly overseas. I’ve asked Duigan to look at their proposals, most of which seem reasonable.”

“We’ve had word that there is a joint British and French naval task force working on the New Zealand to Panama sea lanes. Achilles is joining them. That blasted Nazi Black Raider is thought to be working around that area and they navy have every intention of stopping her once and for all. So hopefully that will deal with that. Otherwise, the sea lanes are open for business, and our ability to export our produce continues. The British have asked us to make up some of the losses of imports with the occupation of Denmark, and so the pig farmers are happy, as is the dairy industry. We also hope to see an increase in vegetable production and so what do you think about making farming an essential industry?”

3 November 1940. Homberg, occupied Germany.

2nd Battalion, Irish Guards were holding the line opposite Duisburg on the Rhine, and generally things were quiet, there was a general live and let live attitude. Sergeant Fredrick Armstrong however was getting more and more annoyed at a particular German officer, who at the same time and same place every day for a week, had examined the Guards positions through binoculars. It was nothing but a bit of cheek the way he was carrying on, and it seemed he knew he was out of effective range of the SMLE he didn’t seem to give a hoot about his own protection. Armstrong had been trying to work out what to do about it, and yesterday he had got an idea.

The Battalion had been issued with the new Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon before they moved up to the line, and in an inspection the Platoon Lieutenant had noticed that one the carriers still had a Boys rifle in it. The fact that it hadn’t been handed in when the changeover to the new equipment led to a guardsman being put on a charge. Armstrong, had his flash of inspiration and requested permission to take the offending weapon. The Lieutenant gave permission, asking no questions. Armstrong had been trained on the Boys, and remembered that the manual said that the extreme range was 7000 yards, just shy of five miles. He didn’t anywhere as much as that, but he reckoned it would do the job.

The rest of the day Armstrong had worked with the weapon to get himself ready for his sniping session. By the time he’d fired off ten rounds his shoulder felt as if it was black and blue. However, he was confident that he could hit a man-sized target at the requisite range. Under the cover of darkness, he and his spotter got into a good firing position, well concealed, and tried to get as comfortable as possible. The morning dawned he felt himself stiffening up, and desperate for a cigarette.

The German officer was nothing, if not punctual, and sure enough he took up his position beside a burned out building and started to sweep his binoculars along the eastern bank where the Guards had their positions. Armstrong wondered if the German saw the flash as the Boys rifle bucked against his shoulder. The recoil hurt like blazes, and probably caused the miss. His spotter, Lance Corporal George Stewart, who was watching through binoculars, saw the German officer look at the impact on the wall behind him, and Stewart tried to describe the look of horror on the German’s face, before he threw himself on the ground and crawled away, never to be seen in that sector again.

Armstrong and Stewart silently left their position and made their way back to the platoon HQ, ready to hand in the Boys rifle and the remaining ammunition. The Lieutenant listened to their report and commended the pair of them. In his report he added that the idea of using the Boys rifle as a long-range sniper rifle was unrealistic, though the idea of a long-range sniper rifle was worth considering.

4 November 1940. RAF Eastleigh, Nairobi. Kenya.

James Kanagi was about to make history. He had eleven hours and fifteen minutes in the Tiger Moth, and he had just landed with Pilot Officer Cullin, completing the Flight Commander’s test. Kanagi was about to jump out of the plane, when he was instructed to take off again and complete his first solo flight. Excited at the prospect, but conscious that there was a great deal of interest in his career, he took a moment or two to collect himself and go through all he had learned over the last couple of months.

The take-off was incredibly smooth, and he had been told to make three circuits of the airfield and then land. On the second circuit he had a second or two to simply enjoy the moment and how far he had come. At the Central Training School at Kabaa, Fr McNamara had hoped that James might think about the priesthood, but James had other ambitions for himself and his family. When he had seen the report in the press that the RAF was recruiting Africans, even as pilots, he had put together several letters of recommendation and had made his way to the recruiting office. Knowing full well the way in which Africans were looked on by the colonial powers, James was fully prepared to be treated without respect, even with hostility, and so it had proven. The first three months of basic training had been horrendous, of the six Kenyans who had joined the class, four had left. But James desired above all else to be a pilot and he stoically endured the humiliations and bullying he experienced.

It was clear that he had to be better than the white applicants and recruits if he was to make any progress, and time after time he proved that internal intelligence, strength and courage that the priests and teachers had seen in him at school. The fear that he would be streamed into the ground-crew training rather than pilot training was nearly realised. The commanding officer of the Empire Training School had been contacted by his old Head Teacher, and some enquiries from the press, which persuaded the CO to give him a fair try. For this he would be eternally grateful to Fr McNamara who obviously made it happen. Now, here he was flying the Tiger Moth, the first black Kenyan to make a solo flight, and like everything he did, it would have to be perfect.

A few panicky moments passed as he was caught in a crosswind on the approach to the landing strip, but he touched down safely, and carefully taxied the aircraft to its allotted area. Climbing out of the aircraft a photographer took his photo, this was indeed a historic moment, and someone in the RAF understood that. It would still be some time before James Kanagi would pass out as a Sergeant Pilot and join an active squadron, but he was on his way.

5 November 1940. The Royal Palace. Bucharest. Romania.

King Carol II: What do you think the outcome of the American election will be?

Gheorghe Tătărescu, Prime Minister of Romania: All the opinion polls say that it is too close to call, though most people seem to think that Roosevelt will win, but not comfortably.

Mihail Moruzov, the head of the Romanian Secret Service: Dewey’s campaign has been relentless against Roosevelt’s ‘unprecedented’ third term as president, and it seems have some traction. But I agree with the Prime Minister, it will likely be Roosevelt.

Mihail Manoilescu, Romanian Foreign Minister: Roosevelt has had to promise "not send American boys into any foreign wars." Dewey has made a lot of this promise. I believe it will be closer than people think, one poll puts Dewey at 53% when asked who would keep America out of a European war.

King Carol II: Will it make any difference to us either way?

Gheorghe Tătărescu: I believe not, your majesty. Both contenders have been pushing for less foreign involvement. I would imagine that Dewey would struggle to find us on a map!

Mihail Moruzov: Is Romania near Rome, they might ask!

King Carol II: Now, what about Hungary?

Mihail Moruzov: There has been some movement of their army towards the border with Transylvania, and my information is that if negotiations break down, they are prepared to invade.

Mihail Manoilescu: The negotiations have taken an interesting turn of late. It seems the Germans are more desperate for our oil than they were previously.

Mihail Moruzov: That makes sense, it seems that the English attacks on the synthetic oil plants are taking a great toll on the German economy than they want to admit.

Mihail Manoilescu: If we supply more oil to Hitler, I am led to believe, then Germany will put pressure on Hungary to respect our borders.

Mihail Moruzov: Hungary is also a little worried of what might happen to them if Britain and France beat Hitler next year. There might be a price to be paid if they try to bite a piece off of us. So, selling a little more oil to Hitler to keep Hungary on its leash could be worth it.

Gheorghe Tătărescu: That might be a wise move, your Majesty. The French ambassador dropped a hint to me that such a move would be seen in Paris and London as a “reasonable strategy” of self-defence.

King Carol II: Very well, see what the minimum extra amount would be satisfactory. And Stalin? What is he doing?

Mihail Moruzov: He seems to have become very quiet. The failure of the Germans and what looks like their defeat seems to have put him on a losing side. The Capitalists are doing much better than the dialectic should allow. Beria seems to have fallen from grace a little, he is still around, but seems to be having less access to his Boss. As far as my sources can tell, the Red Army is undergoing a lot of training, and it looks like they are putting some defensive work into eastern Poland, as if they want to hold the gains they already made.

Mihail Manoilescu: The last time I saw the Soviet ambassador he made no mention of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina for a change. The British and French seem to worry Comrade Stalin. His gains by working with Hitler could well become losses if the Entente arrive on the Vistula at the end of the summer.

Gheorghe Tătărescu: Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey are all keen on maintaining the peace in the Balkans, even Italy is keeping its head down. I suggest talking with their governments and trying to keep a united front for peace and prosperity. Stalin and Hitler would love to divide us all up between them, but Hitler isn’t in a position to do it, and it seems you don’t want to anger the Entente at this point.

King Carol II: Certainly, there is no harm in talking to them. But let us keep it quiet. Everybody wants to get something back they lost at Versailles. If we can keep the peace until Hitler is gone, we may yet come through this unharmed.

6 November 1940. RAF St Athan. Wales.

Squadron Leader Robin Smith, formerly a Harrier pilot of No 1 Squadron, was the only trained fast jet pilot in the world. The fact that jets were on their way meant that pilots had to be trained on them. Smith had had to sit down and work out what his own training had involved and how that could be replicated. He had been working with Bill Humble, Hawker’s test pilot. Humble would be the first to fly the E28/39, something that Smith had been forbidden from doing, he was considered too important. Progress on the prototype Hunter was going well, and Humble would the test pilot for that too.

The development of the E28/39 was to provide information to help Camm and the other aircraft designers with the problems of developing a jet aircraft. It was also giving Humble and Smith a chance to work out some of the issues that pilots would need to take into account.

The problem that Smith identified was his transition from propellers to jet was done from the Bristol Bulldog to the Hunting Percival Jet Provost, with some experience on the Folland Gnat. These were two seat trainers which didn’t currently exist. The plans for a Hawker Hunter two-seat trainer were on the drawing board, with Smith’s input. He had also argued for some kind of jet trainer, which would have a secondary role as ground attack or light fighter. This would need something like an Orpheus engine, which would be looked at when the Avon was fully developed.

Until such times as the jets were available, the need to prepare pilots was taking up Smith’s time. Part of his job since arriving back had been to share as much of his knowledge on everything he had learned. Preparing the RAF for jet aircraft was Smith’s main work now. He had a degree of excitement about the role he was undertaking. With Jane’s All the World Aircraft, and a few other books, he had the chance to suggest a way forward for the RAF that would keep them at the cutting edge of aircraft development and be the premier air force in the world for decades to come. But first he had to work out how to get the pilots trained.

7 November 1940. New York Times Leader.

President-Elect Dewey this morning made the trip to Philadelphia to thank the people of Pennsylvania for handing him victory over FDR. The recount that took place there gave Dewey the 36 Electoral votes that took him past the 266 winning post. President Roosevelt, having conceded after the Pennsylvania recount, finished with 257 to Dewey’s 274, electoral votes. In the popular vote Dewey just scrapped through with 49.38% share against FDR’s 48.87%.

What made the difference? Over the last three weeks District Attorney Dewey’s message against setting the precedent of a third term presidency won greater support, not only from Republicans, but increasing from Democrats in Congress too. Dewey’s promise of a Constitutional Amendment to prevent someone becoming a three term president caught the imagination and focused the race on this constitutional question, even more than the economy and foreign policy. Vice President Garner’s ire at being replaced on the ticket, and indeed not being able to run for president himself, led him to express support for such a Constitutional Amendment which began some internecine fighting among the Democratic Party. The addition of Henry Wallace as FDR’s running mate exacerbated this, it seemed to be an error in judgment by the party machine. This split the Democratic vote in key constituencies, especially in the cities, where Roosevelt could have expected stronger support.

While amongst blue-collar workers the Great Depression was still thought of as the fault of Big Business, the fact that Dewey’s background in law protected him somewhat from being tarred with that brush as the Republican candidate. His approval ratings rose among the working class as he promised to maintain large parts of the New Deal legacy. This, together with his “Keep America Safe” slogan, appealed to those who saw FDR’s “Arsenal of Democracy” approach the top of a slippery slope towards entanglement in foreign wars. Dewey’s attack on the president’s encouragement of “cash and carry” arms sales to France, among others, meant that the Army and especially the Army Airforce was equipped with obsolete weapons, while some of the best aircraft were being exported. The recent exercises with the Entente fleet had shown up glaring deficiencies in the Navy too. While Grumman were exporting their latest fighter to France, the Navy were flying biplanes off their carriers. Keeping America Safe meant having a well-equipped and trained Army and Navy, with the National Guard also receiving new equipment. It seemed that the European democracies were well enough able to take care of themselves, without the need for American to become their arsenal.

While Dewey’s lack of political experience could have played against him, especially in contrast to FDR’s wealth of experience, his friend Edward R Murrow’s support on the radio played well to the American audience. Dewey was presented as young and vigorous, his aim to reduce unemployment had caught the public imagination with the slogan “America’s not working”. Dewey’s ability to publicize his message through Radio and the Press won him many plaudits, the term “media-savvy” that was coined for him certainly rings true, Dewey of course credits his father’s newspaper background for helping with this.

What has upset many commentators is that Dewey’s victory seems to go against the conventional wisdom, as the economy is recovering and growing the incumbent should have the edge over the challenger. Perhaps if Garner had run this might have held true, but perhaps the most telling slogan of the whole election campaign was Murrow’s throw-away remark that the election was about choosing a president, not crowning a king. If FDR could run for a third term, was there anything to stop him in 1944 running for a fourth, or indeed become president for life? The world is a dangerous place, and America appreciates what the president has done for these last eight years, but George Washington’s precedent should stand. Eight years is enough for any president, no matter how good they are.

8 November 1940. Düren, occupied Germany.

The men of the 38e Infantry Regiment, part of the 21e Motorised Division went through the process of handing in their MAS model 1936 bolt action rifles. As each weapon was cleared and checked, the soldiers then made their way to the area where they were issued their new semi-automatic MAS model 1940 rifles. Non-Commissioned Officers and various others in the regiment were issued with the MAS 38 Pistolet Mitrailleur, or submachine gun.

For the soldiers who were now trained on the new rifle it was very different to what they were used to. The sergeants who had come to the regiment to teach them the use of their new weapon were quick to point out the dangers of relying on the safety catch, something that none of the soldiers has experience of. French soldiers had been trained to carry their rifles without a loaded chamber. They would automatically close the bolt of their weapon on an empty chamber with a loaded magazine. They would have to learn how to use their new semi-automatic rifle safely. As the sergeant reiterated on a number of occasions the men were not to rely on the safety catch – they were the safety catch for their weapon and had to think like that.

The MAS 40 used a traditional hammer, unlike the hammerless rifles they were used to, it was needed for the gas power to actuate it. The design that had been finalised had a ten-round magazine. Part of their training with the new rifle involved learning how to make sure the magazine didn’t drop from the well from mishandling. The magazine could be topped off with single rounds or stripper clips. The process of stripping and cleaning the new rifles were repeated and repeated until the troops could do it blindfolded and quickly enough to satisfy their trainers.

It was on the firing range that the troops began to appreciate what their new rifle would do for them in terms of rate of fire. This would have consequences for them in terms of carrying extra ammunition, but it was recognised that this would be a price worth paying. The fact that the rifle also came equipped with the sights for the LG38 rifle grenade that were part and parcel of the small unit tactics they were used was immediately recognised as being very valuable. Coupled with the increased numbers of the MAS PM38 meant that a section of infantry could now put down a substantially increased amount of fire power.

The MAS plant in St Etienne had now been producing 5000 of these new semi-automatic rifles per month since May, and after the DIMs were fully equipped and trained on them, the Infantry Divisions would follow on. The objective was that all first line Divisions would be equipped with them by the spring offensive, with the rest of the army following on as production allowed.

9 November 1940. RAF St Athan, Wales.

Bill Humble had been chosen to pilot the experimental jet fighter with the designation E28/39. Sydney Camm’s design for the Hunter was still a work in progress and the flight trials of this prototype were crucial in providing the data needed to allow him to make sure the design was everything the RAF desired.

Robin Smith, Bill Humble and the team had spent the last few days going through everything, especially safety procedures. The aircraft had been on taxiing tests for the best part of a month, and those had gone well. Humble had been part of those tests, but the opportunity to make the first full flight filled him with excitement. He walked all around the aircraft, pulling and pushing, making sure everything looked as if it was in the right place, ready to do the right thing.

The plan was to take the aircraft up and do some very simple manoeuvres. A brace of Spitfires acted as the chase planes and carried cameras to record the flight. Humble had been fully briefed by other test pilots in what to do and what to say over the radio. As he settled himself into the cockpit he was as confident as he could be, even with all the safety crews around with fire extinguishers at the ready.

Fully ready, he went through the start-up checklist and before long he was sitting at the end of the runway with permission to make the first full British jet flight. Applying full power to the Avon jet it felt to him that the aircraft was waiting to be liberated from the earth, and releasing the brakes it surged forward, as he called out the speed, he could feel the nose beginning to lift, and as he pulled back on the stick the jet flew straight and level. Retracting the undercarriage, he went through the various turns and climbs that were part of the flight plan, keeping up a running commentary as he did so.

One of the important parts of the test flight was to get a note of its speed. Fritz Wendel had set the current FAI Flight Airspeed Record in April 1939 at 469.220 mph. While there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Humble would break that today, the margin was what they were interested in. The first time he flew the distance he was just over 550 mph, but that was just a test run. With full power on the third run he was timed at 607.388 mph. The team was in no doubt that the improved Avon that would go into the production models would easily surpass this. The specification called for 650 mph, but Hawker’s team were confident that the Hunter would have the capacity to be a 700mph fighter as the power plant kept improving.

This last speed test completed Humble’s planned flight and he brought the aircraft into land. While there was great excitement at what had been achieved, there were a number of issues that they would have to look at in the debriefing. However, all in all, there was a very satisfied, and relieved team, that evening.

10 November 1940. Stratford, Connecticut, USA.

Rex Beisel, Vaught’s chief designer along with his team read the revised requirements from the US Navy for his XF4U-1. Following the early flight testing there were already a number of changes that would have to be made. Full power dive tests had caused damage to various surfaces which had to be redesigned. There were issues with spin recovery and with low-speed handling characteristics. These problems were particularly dangerous for an aircraft flying off carriers. Beisel and his team were already well advanced in fixing these as far as they could, but these new requirements were going to cause major work on the design.

The Navy wanted heavier armament, they specified six .50 machine guns in the wings. It was clear from the fighting in Europe that rifle calibre machine guns, even eight of them, were less effective in bringing down other planes. While the British were moving to 2omm canons, the US Navy was happy enough with the .50 calibre, and six were considered more than adequate. They also wanted better protection for the pilot and for the oil tank, which wasn’t unreasonable. For Beisel and his team it caused a number of problems.

As designed, the XF4U-1 carried leading edge fuel tanks in the wings. These fuel tanks would have to be displaced by the guns and the ammunition for them. As the Navy wouldn’t accept any shortening of range, a new fuel tank would have to be fitted in the fuselage. This would affect the centre of gravity, and the only solution Beisel could think of currently was to move the cockpit further back towards the tail. That would affect the pilot’s forward view, which was already poor. Between everything Beisel could see the weight of the aircraft increasing dramatically. The team’s discussion focused on how they could go about the changes and how long the changes would delay the plane’s entry into service.

11 November 1940. Menin Gate. Ypres. Belgium.

This Armistice Day had felt very strange throughout the western front, as the soldiers of Britain and its Empire alongside the Belgians and French once more confronted the soldiers of Germany. At 11:00hrs the guns had fallen silent along the front, while the troops “stood to”. At 12:00hrs every gun that could be brought to bear on German positions, opened fire for what became known as a “mad minute.”

Regiments not on the front line, organised trips to some of the Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries, where some soldiers found the graves of their fathers and uncles or their names memorialised in lists of the missing. Some of the older men remembered comrades whom they had served alongside. The poignancy of the moment was felt throughout the army, an army that was felt it was completing the work of the last 100 days of the war in 1918. This time the army wanted to push all the way to Berlin, if only to make sure that their own sons and nephews would not have to do this once again in another twenty years.

The ranks of soldiers, chosen from every regiment in the British Army on the Continent, stood to attention at Menin Gate as the Last Post was blown at 8pm. It wasn’t clear when this war would come to a close. Prime Minister Churchill spoke on the radio about victory in Europe and the liberation of all those countries occupied by the Nazis as being the only goal that was acceptable.

12 November 1940. House of Commons, London.

Speaker of the House: Order, order. The Prime Minister.

Winston Churchill: It is my sad duty to inform the house that the Right Honorable Member for Birmingham Edgbaston, and former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain died on Saturday after a short illness.

“Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged…

Herr Hitler protests with frantic words and gestures that he has only desired peace. What do these ravings and outpourings count for before the silence of Neville Chamberlain’s tomb? Long, hard, and hazardous years lie before us, but at least we enter upon them united and with clean hearts…

He was, like his father and his brother Austen before him, a famous Member of the House of Commons, and we here assembled this morning, members of all parties, without a single exception, feel that we do ourselves and our country honour in saluting the memory of one whom Disraeli would have called “an English worthy…”
(Quoted from “Their Finest Hour” The Second World War Volume 3. Winston Churchill. 1949. Electronic Version by Rosetta Books LLC New York 2013.)

13 November 1940. Ottawa, Canada

Prime Minister McKenzie King: I’ve had very interesting conversations with Robert Menzies, Peter Fraser and General Smuts over the last couple of weeks and Churchill has agreed to a Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in January in South Africa. India and Rhodesia will also be represented, as will most of the colonies to some extent. There are lots of points for the agenda, quite obviously the conduct of the war will be a big part of it. The question of the post-war world will also be discussed, both from the point of view of the Commonwealth and Empire, and in wider terms with Europe and the United States.

James Ilsley (Finance Minister): Regarding the US, what have you heard?

King: At this point we really don’t know what line Dewey will take when he takes up office in January. So far, the word is that there will be little change, as the election was so close. Certainly, we’ve been assured that the agreement with Roosevelt at Ogdensburg will be honoured. That comes as no real surprise, any attack on Canada would be automatically considered a threat to the US. The fact that cooperation and coordination taking place is sensible, even to the isolationists. Where are we Clarence?

Clarence Howe (Minister for Munitions and Supply): As far as our own forces are concerned, expansion continues as planned. The third infantry division for overseas duty is coming together well, with orders for the armoured brigade under way. The two divisions already in Belgium and Germany are fully equipped and ready. The numbers of volunteers continue to be satisfactory.

The RCAF has been concentrating on the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme. The first and second classes have already sailed for the UK and the third class are about to join them. We expect to graduate 550 pilots this year, about half that number of navigators and air gunners/wireless operators. The first Australians and New Zealanders are completing their advanced training programmes now and are included in the overall numbers. Next year, all going well, we should train about 7000 pilots and the same numbers of navigators and air gunners. The arrival of the Fairey Battles back in May and June made a big difference. We are still a bit short of Harvards and Ansons, but these are now being locally produced and so the continued expansion of the scheme is on track.

Lastly is the RCN. The expansion to a war time force is going well, with a number of frigates and corvettes now under construction for the navy. The Atlantic continues to be quiet, there weren’t any losses last month to enemy action on ships sailing from Canada. Though there are problems with mines around the UK approaches. We expect the navy by mid-1941 to have expanded from 7 warships to about thirty, most of which will be employed in convoy protection. There have been approaches made from the Admiralty in London about us taking on an aircraft carrier, like the Australians are. There is some interest in this from the RCN, but that is likely to be a few years down the line before it comes to anything.

James Ilsley (Finance Minister): The passing of the first Billion Dollar Budget has room for all three services to expand as planned, though I’m not sure we can financially afford to become the world’s fourth largest navy or Air Force. From the point of view of trade, we have increased exports to Britain and France, especially of wheat and other agricultural goods. This coupled with all the trucks and everything else we’re sending overseas puts us in a strong position. Our imports, particularly from the US, are a bit more worrying. We’ve increased the amount of petroleum and steel we import, though coal is still coming from England which is a relief. We’ve put a 10% tax on imports on everything outside the Empire preference zone. The numbers of American tourists this year was down markedly. It seems the fact that we are a country “at war” seemed to have put a lot of them off. That has had some impact on our currency reserves. Gold mining is increasing which is helping. Taxes have increased and the war bond drive is well underway. Unemployment is falling dramatically, and so I believe we are in a fairly strong position, even with the help we have been giving London.

King: Good. The next thing on the agenda is the arrival of the science team to begin work on Tube Alloys. Let’s look at this….

14 November 1940. Office of Joachim Von Ribbentrop. Berlin.

Von Ribbentrop: Molotov is impossible!

Aide: Impossible, Minister?

VR: Completely. Stalin, it seems, wants a free hand in Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Dardanelles and Bosporus. Molotov presents it all as spheres of influence, but with the current situation in the west, he knows that we have nothing to counter him with. And as for increasing oil and other imports he is giving us nothing but excuses.

Aide: Would such a threat not push the Turks into the Entente’s arms? I believe Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece have all been in talks of one sort or another.

VR: It would seem they have and if Turkey joins in that conversation, then Hungary and Bulgaria would start appealing to us for help.

Aide: Which we are not in a position to offer currently!

VR: Which is why the Führer is on tenterhooks. If Stalin starts putting pressure on our eastern flank, then there is no way the Wehrmacht will be able to cope. They have already weakened the forces in Poland to some degree. There is hardly any Luftwaffe presence either. We could potentially find ourselves squeezed between the Oder and the Rhine.

Aide: Losing East Prussia would be too terrible to contemplate.

VR: If we are not very careful, East Prussia wouldn’t be the only thing we’d lose. We all thought Versailles was bad. But if Paris gets it way, we could see ourselves back to pre-1870 borders!

Aide: What can be done?

VR: Good question, Hans, good question.

15 November 1940. Warsaw, Poland. Extract from the diary of Adam Czerniaków

The wall around the Ghetto is complete. 3 meters high and topped with barbed wire, with the threat that anyone crossing it will be shot on sight! Major Hohenauer wants another 800 workers by tomorrow. Complaining that on the current rations, no one is fit for heavy labour elicits no response. The cold is starting to bite, getting anything to burn will become a bigger and bigger problem. Every day there is a collection of corpses, the fact is that we are going to need more than one wagon before long. So far, we have been spared an epidemic, but as everyone gets thinner, hungrier and colder that won’t last.

16 November 1940. Cairo, Egypt.

General Wavell watched the conclusion of the game. The South African Division was now complete and just finished their first divisional exercise, with a couple of British Battalions playing the opposing forces. At the end of the exercise a game of rugby had been organised with the South African team, calling themselves the Springboks had trounced the scratch British team 59-6. Wavell wondered if the Anzacs had still been part of his command what a rugby tournament between them would have been like. It was a bit of light relief in the unremitting problem of trying to keep his forces in some kind of military order.

The South African division were as raw as could be. If the game was rugby rather than war, they’d be fine, but up against serious opposition it would be a close run thing. There was no lack of spirit, but they just weren’t used to working in such large units. The Indian units were better, at least they’d been on active service on the Northwest frontier, so they had a notion of soldiering under fire would be like. Like the South Africans, anything above Battalion level was new to them. Working with artillery, tanks and aircraft was something they were having to learn from scratch.

The cavalry division was due to be mechanised, whenever tanks became available, and no doubt as soon as they were, they’d be off to Germany. Thank God the Italians are acting as meek as lambs. And thank God the South Africans were only for service in Africa, at least Brooke wouldn’t be able to suck them up into his growing army.

The good news was that the 7th Armoured Brigade had received some more cruisers and even a few infantry tanks. The First African Division in Kenya were doing well, and if the Italians did become aggressive, the Empire forces in Kenya and Sudan were looking healthy enough. However, intelligence seemed to be suggesting that some of the Italians best units were being withdrawn back to Italy. London suggested that Mussolini was either worried that Germany would turn on them, or cynically, that they might invade Austria if Germany was collapsing.

Malta was looking as secure as the Bank of England. Bill Slim’s men had made the island pretty impregnable, and it was well prepared for a siege. The only lack on it was the RAF, which was understandable in the light of the fighting over Germany. The Fleet Air Arm had stepped up and had some of their new Sea Hurricanes between Malta and HMS Furious. HMS Ark Royal would join the Mediterranean fleet sometime in the near future, so if the Italians did get up to something, Admiral Cunningham would have sufficient forces along with the Marine National to keep the Italians bottled up.

The Cavalry Division had taken over in Palestine, and things there were as quiet as they ever got. Although they were a Territorial Division, Wavell had great confidence in John Clark, their commanding General, and he seemed to be working well, especially in Trans-Jordan. It seemed he was also working well with the French in Syria and Lebanon, at least better than the Australians had. The information about pro-Nazis in Palestine and Iraq had been acted upon, and there were two good Indian Brigades in Iraq, with Clark’s cavalry able to reinforce them. Wavell’s intelligence men thought the problems had been nipped in the bud, but in the Middle East you could never be sure where the next problem was likely to come from.

As the officers were entertained in the mess after the rugby game, Wavell was noticeably relaxed. It seemed that things weren’t too bad, all things considered.

17 November 1940. Dublin, Ireland.

Malcolm MacDonald (British Minister of Health, envoy from British Government): Thank you Mr De Valera for your very kind welcome.

Eamon De Valera (Taioseach of Eire): What can we do for you Mr MacDonald, surely there isn’t a health crisis we need to know about?

MMD: Thankfully not, Mr De Valera, as you know I have been asked by His Majesty’s Government to seek some clarity on your neutrality position.

DeV: Well, we are neutral in this emergency. So, what exactly needs to be clarified?

MMD: We are very conscious of the ongoing support we are receiving from you in things like meteorology. We appreciate the efforts on intelligence cooperation, including picking up German agents, even if on an informal basis. We also recognise the great numbers of your citizens who have volunteered to join the British forces, including members of your own Defence Forces.

DeV: You mean the deserters?

MMD: Deserters? Perhaps there would be a way of compensating your Defence Force for their service overseas? That would be one of the questions we would like to examine a little further. We fully appreciate your neutrality and have no desire to undermine it in any way. However, perhaps there are ways we could cooperate that would not make you feel uncomfortable.

DeV: Go on, I’m listening.

MMD: The Trade Agreement that we made that ended our trade war obviously continues, and thanks to the Royal Navy, your merchant marine continues to plough the world’s trade routes safely. Like our own people, your rationing is at healthy levels. Your farmers are still able to export their excess produce safely across the Irish Sea, and continue to import coal and other goods from us.

DeV: Indeed, nothing much has changed.

MMD: A great deal has changed. The threat of Nazi Germany is diminishing all the time, and we hope will be gone completely before too long. We are endeavouring to strengthen our ties with the rest of the Commonwealth. There is a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in January in South Africa, to which you have been invited.

DeV: I already sent in my apologies. We aren’t yet a Republic, but we would certainly like to be.

MMD: I understand, but your presence would still be very welcome. I am here to say to you above all that during this conflict we would value your friendship and as part of that we would like to offer you as much mutual support as you are prepared to give and accept. At some point, when peace has been re-established, His Majesty’s Government would like to look again at the whole situation regarding Ireland.

DeV: Including the end of partition?

MMD: At this point, we don’t want to rule anything in or out. The attacks on Coventry and London by the IRA before you implemented the Offences Against the State Act last year were very worrying. As your intelligence people know, we are fully aware of the death of Sean Russell in Germany and of the activities of other members of the IRA. Again, we are very conscious and grateful for your work at mitigating the threat from them. However, while at the moment they are weak, the prospect of a terrorist campaign both on the mainland and in the north would be something we would like to avoid.

DeV: A partitioned Ireland is always going to be the cause of friction and violence.

MMD: We are aware of the problem and we have a number of questions that will have to be put to the people and leadership of Northern Ireland. But they will also likely have a number of problems with certain aspects of Éire. A lasting solution may involve a greater degree of compromise than either side is comfortable with.

DeV: Compromise is something that I am familiar with. A lasting solution would be something we would be interested in.

MMD: As would we all. Winning a war is one thing, but winning a peace is another thing entirely.

18 November 1940. Kummersdorf. Wehrmacht Weapons Proving Grounds.

The Panzer III Ausf. G had been upgraded with a new 50 mm KwK 38 L42 gun which was hopefully going to supply the requisite firepower against the British and French panzers. It also incorporated much-needed additional bolted armour on the frontal glacis, and the rear plates. These 30 mm plates gave a total of 60 mm of frontal protection. The sides were still 30 mm thick. The top speed and range decreased because of the additional weight. The additional armour would certainly cause problems for the British 2-pdr anti-tank gun, but not against the HEAT rounds of the Carl Gustav. Against the French 47mm guns it was thought it would be adequate.

Work on a long barreled 75mm gun for the Panzer IV was continuing, but still at an early stage. As the Panzer troops took the upgraded panzer through its paces, they couldn’t help but wonder what advances the British and French were making in their own panzers. The beating they had taken from the Entente forces had robbed them of some of their confidence. The way they were being trained, to be used in a purely infantry support role, had further removed them from the sense of being the elite arm of the Heer. Now it felt that their panzers would be used as little more than mobile pillboxes, but that was the nature of a defensive war. It was fair to say that morale was not high, but least here, they were out of range of the Jabos.

19 November 1940. Loire near Tours, France.

This particular spot had been chosen because the river here was about as broad as the Rhine. A number of French officers and engineers had been to Britain to look at what the British were developing for the assault across the Rhine. Design engineers from various French companies had been to Bedford Trucks to look at their amphibious truck. Citroen was confident that they could adapt their T45 trucks in a similar fashion. The men from Bedford were doubtful as the T45 wasn’t four-wheel drive, but that was a matter for the French government. Their own inclination was to suggest Latil’s M7 Z1, with its six-wheel drive, as a better bet for conversion.

Latil had taken Bedford’s advice and created an effective amphibious truck which did well in the exercises. Citroen hadn’t, and while it crossed the river safely it couldn’t get up the far bank. The argument that suitable ramps could be created by engineers didn’t overcome the objections. Latil was in a position to be able to put their vehicle into production quickly, and the French army wanted five hundred of them. Until bridges could be created across the Rhine, they would need to rely on these trucks to keep the assault divisions supplied.

Vickers had finally been able to produce a Landing Vehicle Tracked, or Water Buffalo. Vickers had dusted off their amphibious tanks both the L1E3 and the older A4E12, and had managed to use the L1E3 as the basis for an open topped amphibious vehicle that could carry a full squad of troops. Vickers were demonstrating it to the French, who hadn’t been working on such a vehicle. The hull was surrounded by aluminium floats, filled with kapok, to provide buoyancy. Two marine propellers, shrouded in steering cowls, were fitted at the back, but driven by shafts from the front sprockets. It wasn’t armoured to any great extent, but the thickness of the floatation material provided some protection to small arms. The fact that it was based on the Mark VI light tank, which not long gone out of production meant that it could built quickly. The French generals saw the potential, and recommended the purchase of enough for at least one division.

Renault had been working with Vickers to learn how to make their R4o chars have the same Duplex Drive as the Valentine. Three R40s had been adapted for this exercise and two of them successfully crossed the river. The third sank, though its crew were all safe. When the char was recovered the problem was found to be due to human error. 100 R35s would be adapted to DD status, while also being upgraded to the R39 modification.

The whole exercise, a division making an opposed assault across the river, was notable for another reason. The French made use of their Groupe d’Infanterie de l’Air, now a battalion’s worth, who were dropped behind the defenders. The exercise showed up a number of difficulties, not least the lack of appropriate aircraft to drop them. If the exercise had been live, the paratroopers would have been badly handled, but there was plenty of lessons learned.

20 November 1940. Southampton. England.

The Queen Mary was due to set sail for New York in a few hours and the docks were busy with last minute preparations before she cast off. The first-class passengers milled around, either complaining at the reduction in standards since the last time they had sailed on her, or sitting in the bar, complaining that she just wasn’t the same ship.

While Cunard had done their best to reinstate the firs- class area of the ship, her more recent use as a troop ship couldn’t entirely be erased, hence the griping by those who had booked their passage to America. Many of the very richest people had chosen to fly on the Pan Am clipper which had left that afternoon, but on board the Queen Mary was a large enough group who had happy memories of previous transatlantic crossings.

Out of view of the first-class passengers, some of the lower decks carried a variety of people: some refugees, some POWs, some wounded Canadians being repatriated. The ship was in fact very light, well under her capacity, and the captain hoped to have a shot at extending the ship’s record Blue Riband time for crossing the Atlantic, even though they could expect fairly rough seas in the passage.

Sitting at the bar, some business men were comparing notes about their trips to Britain. John Ross Ewing III was a Texan whose company supported the oil industry. He had been in the north of England at the Heysham Aviation Fuel Works. The British had set this up to make 100 octane fuel for their aircraft. The people working for ICI and Shell had been very professional. Ewing’s firm made some of the equipment they needed, and it looked like his company would get the contract for other British facilities in Trinidad and Persia if he could fulfil his contract in full and on time. While Lancashire wasn’t Texas, he certainly had nothing much to complain about.

The second man was from New York, John Wilson, a senior vice-president of IBM. He had come to try to win orders from the British government for his company’s punch card systems. While he had been received well and very politely, it was also made clear to him, in no uncertain terms, that his business was not wanted. He had also received a very odd warning that the IBM subsidiary in Germany, Dehomag, was aiding the Nazi regime. Their equipment was being used to implement Nazi racial policies regarding Jews and other groups. He was warned that if they were not very careful, they would be liable for aiding crimes against humanity.

The third man was from California, a sales executive from Consolidated Aircraft. He had hoped to encourage the Air Ministry to invest in their heavy bomber, the XB-24, which the French had ordered. Like the IBM man, he had been received well, but they were quite happy with their own home-grown bombers like the Halifax that was about to enter service. Nor were they interested in reconsidering buying PBY seaplanes as the Sunderlands and forthcoming Seafords were more than adequate for the task. During the conversation with his fellow travellers, he noted the difference his company had faced since January. Up until December of 1939 there were British delegations around regularly, looking to buy up almost anything that could fly. Now, American companies were coming cap in hand to London, and meeting the same polite, but firm, “thanks, but no thanks.”

As the ship sailed, the three of them continued to sit in the bar, and noticed a solitary figure, drinking heavily. He was soon recognised as Joe Kennedy, the US Ambassador to the Court of St James. The rumour was that he had been recalled for discussions by the State Department. It seemed that he had made himself hugely unpopular in London. While it would take some months for President-Elect Dewey to appoint a new ambassador, the old one would be cooling his heels in D.C.

21 November 1940. Firth of Clyde. Scotland.

The captains of the merchant vessels waiting in the Clyde to join the convoy had been called to a meeting with the commodore in charge of the naval escort. Most of the merchant marine sailors had been through this process before, and waited expectantly for the briefing. As well as the British flagged vessels, there were two Norwegian ships, a Danish vessel and a Dutch liner. The British ships were carrying a variety of goods for the American market. There was whiskey, fine linens, fine china and other luxury goods, including the last bespoke Rolls Royce cars that would be produced until the end of the hostilities. While a greater part of the British economy was geared up for war, the decision to retain some sectors, with a high export value, had been taken to help with the balance of trade.

The Royal Navy commodore kept the good news to last. Along with the escort group the convoy would be accompanied by MV Acavus, a converted Merchant Aircraft Carrier. It was carrying four Swordfish, all with hand-built ASV radars, which would provide the convoy with air cover, along with one Sea Hurricane. While no convoy had been attacked by German U-boats in some time, and such an attack was judged unlikely, the fact that the convoy was being well defended by the Royal Navy was a relief to the merchant mariners.

The importance given to this convoy by the Royal Navy was the presence of the Dutch liner, the Westernland. It was carrying members of the Dutch Royal family, a substantial part of the Dutch gold reserve and an important proportion of the Amsterdam diamond business community. There were some Shell executives who were carrying plans for adapting some of their oil gas output to 100 octane fuel in Aruba in the Dutch West Indies, and then to do the same in Dutch East Indies. On its lower decks it carried a battalion of Dutch troops and some pilots and ground crew. The Dutch provided three of the escort vessels and the Swordfish were supplied by 860 Squadron, was made up of Dutch volunteers. Unlike the British, the Dutch were still relying on American aircraft and weapons which their gold would pay for. The links between the New York and Amsterdam diamond trade before the war would be strengthened with the arrival of part of the Dutch contingent.

The Dutch troops were all combat veterans and would carry on to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, along with new American equipment to train and enhance the forces already there. They had ordered a dozen M2A3 tanks and 40 75mm MI pack howitzers, along with substantial numbers of small arms and ammunition. The Dutch also expected to take delivery of two squadrons worth of Brewster Buffaloes. The pilots and ground crew on board would be trained on these aircraft and then help build up the air force in the DEI. Three of the Dutch escorts would also carry on, with the Westerland, through the Panama Canal to strengthen the Dutch fleet in the Dutch East Indies. MV Acavus would continue with them, acting as a plane carrier for the new Brewster aircraft. The transfer of the four ASV equipped Swordfish to the Dutch Royal Air Force would be completed, and along with some Consolidated PBYs, were expected to greatly strengthen the protection of the Dutch colony.

22 November 1940. Rover Works, Helen St., Coventry.

Maurice Wilks and the captain from the Royal Army Service Corps looked over the pre-production model of the new four-wheel drive utility vehicle that Wilks had “designed” for the forces. He had been given the task back in January, when he’d been approached by the Ministry of Supply with some drawings and mock-up “photos” of what they were looking for. The specification was for both an 88 inch and a 109-inch wheelbase, four-wheel drive vehicle with a powerful enough engine. Both of these models would then be adapted for the many and various uses they would fill.

While the universal carrier would remain the primary vehicle in its class, a four-wheeled utility vehicle was recognised as being very useful. Part of the discussions about the new vehicle, already named Land Rover by the Ministry of Supply, was the type of engine. Rover had proposed using their current 1.6l petrol engine from their Rover P3 car, which had provided some of the other mechanicals for the Land Rover.

This was judged too weak and the Ministry of Supply wanted to use the Ford V8 that was used by the universal carrier. Rover knew that this would likely cause cooling problems, and so three prototypes with different engines had been built and tested. The first had Rover’s 1.6l engine, the second had Morris’ commercial 6 cylinder petrol engine producing 96 HP, the third was powered by the Daimler 6-cyl 2.5l was used in the Dingo. The Daimler engine was judged better and chosen to be used for the first orders. Rover was working on improving their own engines to provide a suitable alternative, including a diesel engine. The aim of a 72 HP engine was the goal, which would be around a 2.25l capacity engine. The Ministry of Supply was happy to allow them to do so, as long as it didn’t impact on their other war work.

Having looked it over, the two men got into it and drove off down to the army’s testing range where it would be put through its paces. Rover was ready to put it into full production at their Coventry plant as soon as they got the go ahead.

23 November 1940. Le Harve. France

The arrival of SS Normandie was greeted with little fanfare. Her great days of carrying the great and the good were mostly over. The Layfette Brigade which disembarked off the ship were American volunteers who had signed up after the Nazi terror bombing of Paris in May. An arrangement had been by the French that these American volunteers would serve as an independent brigade within the French Foreign Legion. They would now go off to complete their training under Foreign Legion instruction.

24 November 1940. Saigon. French Indo-China.

French Indochina’s governor general Georges Catroux received the Japanese ambassador with all due respect. The ambassador had noted that the guard of honour was particularly well turned out, and that the French troops were metropolitan troops, not colonial troops. If he had dug a little deeper, he would have noticed that they were all combat veterans from the fighting at Sedan. They had been transferred for both a rest and to give the local troops the benefit of their experience.

The Japanese ambassador found himself somewhat embarrassed. His government had insisted that he request that the French stop all cargoes and other support that was being unloaded in French Indochina and being transferred to the Chinese nationalist forces by rail from the French harbours. Catroux had a notion that this was the reason for the visit. Unfortunately for the Japanese, they had little or nothing to pressure the French with. The request was made with the greatest politeness by the Japanese ambassador, and refused with all due grace.

After tea was served, Catroux and the ambassador talked a little about the way in which the war was going in Europe and in China. Both men were accomplished diplomats, each giving away only what they wanted to, and recognizing what the other was giving away. After it was all over Catroux wrote a very interesting cable to Paris, which would be shared with the British and Dutch.

25 - 30 November 1940. Hubei Province. China.

Li Zongren, the Nationalist Chinese General, whose spies had warned him of a Japanese build up, had his 5th War Area alerted and sure enough the Japanese attacked in five different columns. While they had success in some areas, their attacks in others were less successful. The Chinese had a fair notion of what the Japanese objectives would be and had planned their dispositions accordingly.

Over the next few days the fighting went back and forth, until 28 November the Japanese had withdrawn and the Chinese had reoccupied their original positions. For the next two days the Chinese advanced and the Japanese had to withdraw further. The arrival of Japanese airpower tilted the balance and so the Chinese advance withered on the vine.

Li Zongren called his forces off, having given the Japanese a bloody nose, their losses were counted as around 13000 killed and wounded. Chiang Kai-Shek was delighted that the Japanese attempt to give their newly back Wang Ching-Wei regime a victory had backfired on them.

The Generalissimo had secretly negotiated the delivery of several shiploads of captured German weapons from Europe. These were due to arrive in Haiphong shortly, and with this boost in material, including a number of Panzer I and IIs would strengthen his forces over the winter considerably.

27 November 1940. Pacific Ocean

HMNZS Achilles had launched her Walrus aircraft to closely investigate a ship, suspiciously like the Black Raider, the Orion, last of the German commerce raiders. Sailing with the New Zealand Shipping Company liner, Rangitane, Achilles was confident that their paths would cross. Despite the best efforts of their camouflage, under the scrutiny of the amphibian aircraft, it was clear that this indeed was the quarry they were seeking.

Kurt Weyher, captain of the Orion, knew that the game was up and ordered his men to attempt to shoot down the aircraft, which swiftly withdrew as the antiaircraft guns came into view. The Orion’s guns matched the range of the 6-inch guns of the Leander class cruiser, but the dedicated warship had all the advantages, not least its speed. Captain Barnes ordered his ship to make revolutions for 30 knots and to open fire as soon as the German ship came into range. The four forward guns opened fire at maximum elevation and were short, the second volley was still short, but by much less and on the correct line. The third volley once more missed, but at 30 knots the distance was closing quickly. The first German shots were long, as they misjudged the speed of the cruiser. Achilles fourth volley straddled the Orion, and Barnes ordered a course correction to bring the rear turrets into action. The course correction again made the German shells miss, while a hit on the Orion was noted from the first full broadside.

As the distance closed the Germans managed on hit on the New Zealand ship. The gunnery on HMNZS Achilles soon had the German raider on fire in several places. Her boilers, already overburdened by her lengthy cruise, were struggling to keep the ship moving. Within minutes, Orion’s second in command gave the order to abandon ship, the captain having been killed when the bridge received a direct hit. When Barnes saw that the Germans had ceased fire and were swinging out the surviving boats, he ordered the guns to cease fire. The cruiser kept up its oversight, knowing that the Orion had the ability to fire torpedoes. The German ship was now completely ablaze from stem to stern and listing heavily. Barnes ordered his ship to close and begin rescue operations. By the time all the surviving German crew and some of their prisoners had been picked up, the Orion sank, taking 180 of her crew and thirty prisoners with her.

HMNZS Achilles collected its aircraft and made its way to Auckland, crammed with prisoners. She had received only three hits in total, none of them particularly serious, but she would need some time in dock to make repairs. For her part, the Rangitane carried on her way towards the Panama Canal to complete her journey safely.

28 November 1940. Freetown. Sierra Leone.

Two convoys were preparing to leave the harbour, SL 57 and SL 57 (slow). The first convoy was escorted by armed merchant cruiser Canton, with three destroyers, Vanquisher, Viscount and Winchelsea. There was also the sloop Bridgewater and the anti-submarine trawler Bengali. The second, slower convoy was accompanied by the destroyers HMS Amazon and Whitehall, with the corvettes Crocus and Heartsease, with the anti-submarine trawler Spaniard.

HMS Canton would carry on to Glasgow to be turned into a troopship. With the reduction in both the Kriegsmarine surface fleet and U-boat threat, the numbers of armed merchant ships were less essential to the war effort. Over the course of the next year some of the over 50 ships would have their adaptations removed and either be returned to trade or to act as troopships, depot ships and Landing Ship Infantry.

The Royal Navy had a number of other ships whose futures were under reconsideration. HMS Pegasus, formerly the Ark Royal, a seaplane tender, had been considered to be turned into a fighter catapult ship. The plan had been to carry three Fulmer fighters that could be catapulted to defend a convoy.The problem would be if out of reach of land, the planes would have to ditch and the pilot picked up from the sea, if he survived the ditching. Without the danger of Nazi long range aircraft threatening convoys this role was no longer being planned for. It was currently tending the seaplanes of Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, and it could continue in that role.

HMS Albatross was another seaplane tender, currently working with Walrus flying boats at Freetown, Sierra Leone. These amphibians were due to be replaced with Sunderlands as these became available. Albatross was considered to be re-fitted as a Landing Ship Engineering. Her workspaces would be adapted to provide support and repair to smaller vessels, especially landing craft. However, her job was currently important and she would be left to get on with it in the meantime.

29 November 1940. India. Office of the Viceroy.

Senior Civil Servant: Your Lordship might wish to know that Subhas Chandra Bose has begun a hunger strike in prison.

Lord Linlithgow, Viceroy of India: I believe that this was predicted?

SCS: Yes, sir. His arrest for leading the protest against the memorial to the victims of the Black Hole of Calcutta put him in jail, the expectation is that he will continue with his protest indefinitely.

LL: We don’t want to make a martyr of him, should we consider moving him to a house arrest?

SCS: I got the impression from Nehru that the Congress Party wouldn’t be terribly sorry if he were no longer in the picture. Certainly, news of the hunger strike is running more in Bengal than in the rest of the country, but his movement isn’t proving to be too dangerous.

LL: Let the strike run its course for a few days and see how it goes. If needs be we can leak the transcript of his meeting with the “Abwehr agent.” That should put the cat among the pigeons.

SCS: Very well, sir. Now, your meetings with Mr Nehru and Mr Jinnah this afternoon. Is there anything you want to go over beforehand, sir?

LL: What do you expect their reactions will be to these strange new London proposals?

SCS: Firstly, the fact that the negotiations have started again is well received. I get the impression that Nehru’s objections will be more for public consumption than anything else. I think the timetable proposed for Dominion status as part of the road to independence, is quicker than the Congress Party people hoped for, and the promised investment will certainly sweeten the deal. They are still put out at your “unilateral declaration of war” as they call it last year. But they have been making noises about returning to the local government councils. The proposals to strengthen these local governments is certainly helping to motivate this.

LL: And Jinnah?

SCS: That is a bit more difficult to say. His call for a Two Nation solution is still in its early stages, in that although it is declared publicly, it isn’t set in stone in the details. The question of federation, including the princely states, is open, and it will be interesting if there is a level of federation that would be acceptable to all parties.

LL: Well, the fact that talks are happening is something. I imagine that this is going to take a very long time. But talking is better than the alternatives.

30 November 1940. Whitehall, London. Meeting of Oversight Committee.

Since our last monthly meeting HMS Nelson, Repulse and Ark Royal have arrived back safely and are all undergoing refits after their long voyages. Improvements to their radar suite are being added while they are in dock. HMS KGV and Queen Elizabeth are nearing the end of their respective works at Rosyth and Portsmouth. HMS KGV will join Home Fleet at Scapa in the next week or two, then Queen Elizabeth will move to Rosyth for finishing her fitting out. HMS Hood will replace her in Portsmouth for the full rebuild that was agreed last month. HMS Valiant’s repairs are complete and she and HMS Formidable have been added to Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, for working up trials. HMS Glorious will be heading for an overhaul when HMS Ark Royal is finished her refit.

The war at sea has been very quiet this last month, only three merchant men have been the victims of mines. We have lost a couple of trawlers and other mine clearing vessels. The new Ton class ships are on their way that will help enormously. The good news is that the Luftwaffe’s ability to drop mines at night has been costly for them, as the night fighter squadrons have increased in size and capability. Mines are beginning to feel more of a nuisance than a threat. Likewise, there have been no U-boats spotted anywhere other than the Baltic, and even then, photo reconnaissance of German ports looks like there is a serious cut back to all naval building. It looks as if Hitler needs the steel for tanks more than for ships.

Our latest report of the German economy is encouraging. The dislocation of the Ruhr’s heavy industry due to it being under the gun, means that steel and coal production have been badly affected, and with the likely loss of Swedish ore imports over the frozen Baltic, that will only get worse. The RAF’s attacks on the major synthetic oil plants seems to be very effective, there are real problems being reported by the Luftwaffe about availability of fuel for training missions. We’ve picked up a lot of information from the Romanians and Russians about the Nazi’s frantic efforts to increase imports of oil. The Romanians, bless their cotton socks, are being difficult, and so it seems is Comrade Stalin. By the sound of things from intercepts, relations between our favourite dictators are growing ever more strained.

There also seems to have been a problem with the German harvest figures this year too. Despite the use of some slave workers from the Jewish Ghettos, they haven’t had enough manpower to bring in the harvest, and they are struggling to buy food elsewhere. It seems that the Reichsmark doesn’t have much value, and our experts tell us that the German foreign currency and gold reserves are either exhausted, or very close to being so. That, along with the RAF and AdA’s attacks on the road and rail network, means that the German people are likely to have a very cold and hungry winter.

On the other hand, our own situation is looking pretty healthy. Our Dollar reserves are depleted, but are enough to keep us going, which is down to two things. Firstly, we’ve only been buying essentials from the Americans, much of the empire trade system is still working fine, thanks to the Royal Navy. Most of our imports are still coming from the Sterling zone. Secondly, our exports haven’t reduced as much as they might have done if things had gone worse in France back in May. We are running a trade deficit with the United States, but at a manageable level.

In terms of our own food production and imports, the rationing levels are fairly generous and there are still some things that aren’t rationed at all. The loss of food imports from Denmark and other parts of occupied Europe are starting to be made up, either by increased production at home, or with help from the Dominions. In many ways our civilian population are in a much better position that what might have been. Air raids are minimal, and so we aren’t losing production days either by damage or fear. With the sense of an improving situation in Europe, all the indicators of public opinion are quite positive.

In terms of production, October figures were 255 tanks, 234 25-pdrs and 60 5.5 inch guns for the Royal Artillery, 142 3.7 inch AA guns, 451 other guns (mostly 6-pdrs and Bofors), 5197 SMLEs, 620 Brens and 650 Sterlings. The output of mortars and Carl Gustavs are slightly increased over last month, 390 CGs, with 15000 rounds, 445 2 inch and 230 87mm mortars. The Royal Ordinance Factories have increased production again, 1498000 filled shells of all types, 83.8 millions of small arms. Finally, 8154 wheeled vehicles of various types. That list doesn’t include what has come from Canada or the other Dominions.

We have been working of the principle of a 36 Division army by mid-1941, originally growing to 55 divisions in 1942. 36 Divisions is still the primary aim, of which 8, or preferably 10 will be armoured, in other words four full armies of three corps of three divisions. Expansion to 45 rather than 55 Divisions is being considered, but that depends a lot on what happens next. This does not include the Dominion and Empire Divisions for Europe, which will consist of 3 Canadian, two Australian, one New Zealand and eventually six Indian divisions. We will still be junior partners compared to the French, but two army groups is nonetheless a significant contribution.

Aircraft production last month was 1419 in total. 17 Halifaxes, 167 Wellingtons, 154 Beaufighters, 469 fighters (330 Spitfires, 139 Hurribombers), 18 reconnaissance types, 69 Sea Hurricanes or other naval types and 525 trainers. The arrivals of the new pilots and aircrew coming from Canada has helped alleviate the shortage of pilots, as has the expanded training course at home. The expansion of the RAF is well underway, now that losses have been made up for.

Bomber Command started the war with 55 squadrons, 39 of which were active. Fighter Command in September 1939 had 36 squadrons, mostly Hurricanes, with a few Spitfires but also including Gladiators, Defiants and Blenheims. The Army Cooperation Group consisted of 13 squadrons, mostly flying Lysanders. Just over a year later, currently Bomber command has three active groups (3, 4 and 5), which are currently flying 46 squadrons, the majority of which are equipped with Wellingtons. They also have sixteen more squadrons undergoing training, including those switching to new types. Fighter Command, which is becoming a majority Spitfire II force, is now at 65 squadrons. Tactical Command has 40 Squadrons, mostly Hurribombers, but with increasing numbers of Beaufighters. Coastal Command has grown to 25 squadrons, a large number of which are equipped with Sunderlands, which has increased its capability enormously. Transport Command is still in its infancy, Balloon Command has shrunk dramatically, and Training Command expanded exponentially. Very little has been done to improve things numerically in the Middle or Far East. The current plan is to move these squadrons to new types and increase the quality of those commands, while allowing for a numerical increase later, if judged necessary.

The Army Air Corps has had a busy month and the Sussex and Wildcat helicopter production lines are now up and running, and we can expect the first couple of squadrons to be operational before the end of the year. The Royal Engineers, along with the Belgians and French engineers, have done a great job on the lines of communications from the Channel to the Rhine. Many bridges have been re-built, and both road and rail links are repaired, in fact mostly improved. The army continues to train and prepare for the next phase of the war. Cooperation with the French and Belgians continues to go well, and we have every hope that it will continue in that fashion.
December 1940
1 December 1940. Valetta, Malta

Pilot Officer John McDonald glanced down at the harbour area as he overflew it on his way back to base. In the winter sunshine it looked busy and peaceful. If he looked harder, he would have been able to see that he was being tracked by a number of anti-aircraft batteries, but it was probably best that he didn’t think about that. McDonald had done his share of fighting back in May and June, until he’d had to bail out of a flaming Hurricane. The doctors had done a terrific job of mending his broken leg, and his skin was healing nicely now from the burns. Sometimes he would wake up in the night streaming with sweat as his dreams took him back to that moment, but even these were fading a bit.

When he’d been declared fit for flying again, he’d been posted to 112 Squadron on Malta. A few of the pilots who had been wounded in action were being sent to squadrons such as these, in the Mediterranean and Far East to pass on the lessons learned from their combat experience. Some of the pilots from these overseas squadrons were transferred back to Blighty to front line squadrons. 112 Squadron on Malta had received a shipment of Hurricanes that were no longer being used as first line fighters, in fact all of them had been patched up to some extent. But compared to the Gladiators they had started with it was certainly an improvement. These particular aircraft had also received the new universal wings, so they were armed with four canons, a big improvement over the eight machine guns he’d faced Heinkels with. It hadn’t stopped him getting two kills, but with canons, that would probably been more like four kills.

The disadvantage, from McDonald’s point of view, was that they were expected to learn to do some air support for the infantry, as well as be ready for air to air engagements. That was the sortie he was returning from. He and his wingman had been shooting up targets on a range on the eastern side of the island. A Forward Air Controller, who was obviously still learning his job, had called them in, and if it hadn’t been for McDonald’s good eyesight, they would have shot up an artillery battery of the Indian army. Once the FAC had sorted out his map coordinates and compass directions, they had done it again, and this time it worked out well. Thankfully they had time here to do this kind of learning, if the Indian Division went to France, as was expected, their FACs would need to be a lot better.

McDonald radioed the airbase to get permission to land, which was given. On the approach he noted the work that had been done to the airfield. While it couldn’t be totally camouflaged, it was difficult enough to pick out revetments and defences. Any low-level raider would struggle to make too much damage on a single pass, unless they were really lucky. The couple of times the squadron had tested the defences in such an exercise, they had been impressed. It was to protect their planes and lives that the work had gone into improving the airfield, and they could see the benefits. It was the radar that made the greatest difference. Two Hurricanes were constantly on ready alert, ready to take off and intercept any inbound bogies. There was no real threat of a German attack, and not much chance of an Italian one either. But it was war time, and every RAF base in the world had been under strict instructions to be ready for anything. Some of the old hands griped a bit, but the scars on McDonald’s hands and face were a reminder of the reality of war, even on a nice winter’s day in Malta.

2 December 1940. Singapore.

Captain Peter Rickard, formerly captain of HMS Penelope, stood on the bridge of HMS Malaya watching the harbour and its defences recede as HMS Highlander steamed past to begin the fleet exercise. During its fitting out Highlander had been fitted with Hedgehog and improved ASDIC, as well as having her load of depth charges increased. She had arrived in Singapore the previous week on her first operational deployment, carrying Rickard and some of his staff to work up the Royal Navy’s ships in the China station. They had spent a couple of weeks in November working out of Ceylon with the East Indies fleet. There wasn’t a great deal to be accomplished there, as very few of the ships based there had anything more than primitive anti-submarine capability. Two sloops were due to be refitted when enough Hedgehog and ASDIC equipment became available, though it was likely that they would have to sail back to Britain, or at least to Alexandria, for the refit to take place.

A merchant ship with the most recent convoy, had brought equipment, with some dockyard experts, to Singapore to fit anti-submarine weapons to some of the destroyers and sloops there. Two destroyers, HMS Foresight and Fortune, along with the sloop HMS Falmouth received the full Hedgehog system, as did HMAS Vampire. Two of the older destroyers, HMS Tenedos and HMS Scout had their ASDIC improved and were fitted with HuffDuff. Four surface and air radar sets had been fitted to the cruisers Liverpool, Birmingham, Dorsetshire and the French cruiser Suffren. These improvements, along with the ASV equipped Swordfish on Illustrious and the Australian Sunderland squadron, improved the anti-submarine capability of the China Station fleet considerably.

Rickard had put together all the information he had on the Japanese submarine fleet, which was fairly sketchy. Their preference for attacking warships, rather than merchant vessels, meant that the escorts to the heavy fleet units would have to be on their guard. Generally Japanese submarines were slower than U-boats and lacked the ability to dive deeply, these weaknesses would be in the Entente’s favour. However, their Long Lance torpedoes were a substantial threat. He and his team, along with some of the newly arrived RN submarine commanders, had spent the last week in conference with as many of the ship’s commanders and their staff imparting as much experience, information and tactics as they could. They had plotted a number of war games to illustrate the lessons, and now the fleet wide exercise was beginning.

In a sense the exercise was straightforward. HMS Malaya and HMS Illustrious, along with a large percentage of the surface fleet, including MN Suffren, would sail from Singapore to Saigon. Along the way the RN submarines of 4th Submarine Flotilla would attempt to intercept them. To keep it interesting the RAF would also attempt to attack the fleet from the air. The rules of engagement were worked out in detail, including ways of imitating the range of Long Lance torpedoes, and now there was little to do except get on with it. Rickard pulled his attention away from the diminishing coast and back to the situation at hand.

For the next six days the experience was mixed. Two ships had to return to Singapore after colliding with one another causing damage that would need time in the dockyard. Three aircraft from HMS Illustrious were lost through accidents. The overall result was judged successful. The submarines had generally found it difficult to intercept the fleet when it was at full speed. The effectiveness of the Swordfish equipped with ASV from HMS Illustrious reinforced what was already known. The submariners did claim a number of kills, from ambush positions.

3 December 1940. Luton, England

Vauxhall Motors, as the design parent and primary manufacturer of the Comet tank, had stopped its car production in February. Its workforce had either been through an intensive period of retraining on welding skills or, if not critical, been transferred to Vulcan to help increase the numbers of Matilda IIs being built. The workforce was now ready to begin production of the new Comet tank. With subcontractors, Broom & Wade, Charles Roberts, Dennis, Newton Chambers, and Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Ltd., they were putting a tank from design to production in less than a year, which was unheard of. However, there had been a great deal of work done on each and every component during the trials period to make sure that the pre-production examples would need very little change to the production run. This work had included men seconded from the Royal Armoured Corps, including some veterans of the fighting earlier in the year, as well as people from Vickers and other companies with more experience building tanks.

The previous eight months had also seen a number of changes to the local area. Pre-war tanks had often been limited in size because there were parts of the railway network that limited the width of anything being transported. Some of these bottlenecks had been identified and either rectified or bypassed so that the line carrying the finished tanks from Luton could go directly to Catterick or Bovington, the Royal Armoured Corps depots. From those depots the railway lines to sea ports had been improved for the tanks to be sent overseas. A branch line had been built close to the Luton factory so that the finished tanks could go directly from the production line onto flatcars for delivery.

General Motors, the parent company, had been involved from a very early stage, as it was hoped that its other companies in Canada and Australia, and possibly South Africa, would be able to take up production of this new tank. The headquarters in Detroit were trying to interest the United States Army or Marine Corps in the tank too, but were not getting much support from the American government. As part of their interest, GM had sent some of its best production managers to support Vauxhall in maximising their productivity.

The last of the eight complete pre-production models rolled off the production line, three full weeks ahead of schedule. The first four of them equipped with the 6-pdr gun, which would be the main armament for Comet, these were now at Bovington being put through their paces. One was a self-propelled gun with a 25-pdr in a design that looked a lot like photographs of the Canadian built Sexton. This had been handed over to the Royal Artillery who were trialling it on Salisbury Plain. The Royal Engineers had received an AVRE version, a tank recovery vehicle, including an A-frame crane for lifting out tank engines. They were waiting for flame thrower and bridge laying versions to come. The seventh was an armoured personnel carrier. This consisted of the chassis of the tank with a raised box in which two squads of infantry could be carried, though they would have to exit from the sides, as the engine at the rear of the tank chassis prevented the use of rear doors. There was the option of mounting either a Bren gun or another machine gun for the tank commander to use to cover the dismounting troops. The last pre-production model, rolling out today, carried a 40mm Bofors gun in an open turret as a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun or SPAAG.

Once the SPAAG was manoeuvred onto a flat car and covered with tarpaulin, and the train set off, the workforce were rewarded with a concert run by ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) with Vera Lynn as the headline act. She showcased some new songs which went down very well. Dancing Queen, written by some unknown Swedes, Memories by a Mr Lloyd-Weber and Endless Love by a Mr L Ritchie. The last was sung as a duet with Al Bowlly with the Henry Hall band and the whole concert was broadcast live on the BBC.

4 December 1940. Gibraltar. Office of the Governor.

General Clive Liddell received his visitors with every curtesy. Since taking up the post he had tried to make the Rock as secure as possible, including the repatriation of many of the service personnel’s families and most of the civilian population. Liddell feared that if the fortress was to come under heavy attack, the 22000 civilians would be horribly vulnerable. With London’s blessing in late 1939, Liddell had managed to evacuate as many of the civilian population as he could. There were currently more than 13000 civilians in Casablanca, and a smaller number in London. While the threat to the island remained, at least in theory, Liddell was coming under great pressure to allow the civilians to be able to return home. So far, the Rock had been untouched in the war. The British Government had been getting very strong signals from Spain that their neutrality in the war was becoming less and less pro-Axis. The only other possible belligerent, Italy, was as quiet as a mouse, and looked like remaining that way. The idea that Germany had the ability to project its power as far as Gibraltar was laughable.

The work on extending the runway to over 1550 yards had been underway for some time, and Liddell had overseen improvements in other aspects of the Rock’s defence. There was a plan to bring and site two turrets with 15-inch guns from a decommissioned battleship to provide an almost Singapore-like defensive posture. Force H of the Royal Navy was using Gibraltar as its base. The Fleet Air Arm used Gibraltar’s airfield to base some aircraft to be available for aircraft carriers working with Force H. These consisted of a flight each of Swordfish, Fulmars, Skuas and lately SeaHurricanes. No 202 Squadron RAF had also been reinforced.

82nd Heavy AA Regiment, Royal Artillery had arrived in July 1940 with 16 x 3.7 inch guns, 8 x 40mm Bofors AA guns and a radar, along with the 3rd Searchlight Battery, Royal Artillery. More recently a "Special Detachment" of No. 1 Tunnelling Company, Royal Canadian Engineers had arrived to expand the tunnels in the rock to increase its defensive potential. The two infantry battalions of the garrison had received extra weapons including some more machine guns, mortars and anti-tank weapons. It was thought likely that a third infantry battalion would follow, dependent on the way things would go with the war in Germany.

Liddell’s visitors were local councillors who thought they were once again here to press him to allow the return of the civilians. What they didn’t expect was the change in attitude that they found. First of all, they were delighted to be informed that the return of the civilian population would be carried out as quickly as possible. There was a proviso that if the threat to the island increased from whatever quarter, it was likely that another evacuation would be considered. Liddell had been getting instructions from London that wanted to look at the long-term future of the Rock of Gibraltar. Currently it was a Crown Colony and like Singapore and Malta it was proposed that this status would change to a Crown Dependency. This would give these three crucial British territories the same legal standing as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. While it wasn’t full integration into the United Kingdom, it potentially gave Gibraltar a lasting settlement that would benefit both sides of the agreement. Other places like the Falklands, parts of Cyprus, some of the Indian Ocean islands, were also being considered for this settlement.

The argument that was going on in Britain about this was to do about citizenship for these Crown Dependencies. While the population of Gibraltar was less than 50000 and Malta’s was 269000, Singapore’s population was 775000, and primarily Asian. There were some who were worried about that Chinese population in Singapore having the right to come and live in Great Britain. There were those who argued for offering citizenship to some, depending on race. The issues about race were becoming more and more heated in British political circles. This had the potential to derail these proposals, but the future shape of the Empire and Commonwealth was beginning to take shape in the minds of at least some of those in government.

5 December 1940. RAF Mildenhall. England.

The crew wearily climbed out of their Wellington, exhausted by the flight. The ground crew swept into action looking over their aircraft, noting the need for some patches over damage. That would need to be done before getting started on preparing the bomber to go out again that night. The flight crew piled into a car and were driven to the debriefing hut, where they picked up mugs of steaming sweet tea and made their way to the table where the officer would take down their description of the night’s action.

The pilot began the well-worn phrases, took off at such and such a time, rendezvoused with the rest of the flight at whatever altitude, flew to forward base in Belgium near Antwerp. Refuelled and then took off again. The navigator talked through the route they had taken, course corrections, identified markers. The bomb aimer (as observers were increasingly known as), talked about the time over target, the colour of the flares that marked the target and the release of the bombs. The rear gunner spoke about the detonations of the bombs and their presumed accuracy. They all talked about the nightfighter that seemingly had come out of nowhere and fired a short burst into the middle of the ship. No one was injured, and thankfully the bombs had gone, so the holes were just that, holes. The rear gunner hadn’t even seen what kind of aircraft it was, never mind fire at it.

Then there was the flak belt over the Frisian Islands, where they saw C for Charlie buy it, nobody saw parachutes, there wouldn’t have been time, she just blew up. The crew described being caught in the searchlight. The gut-wrenching spiralling manoeuvres to break the lock. The new holes from shrapnel from the flak. Flying at low level over Holland, feet wet, then feet dry again. Coming back to base. Was it true that G for George was overdue? No one had seen him, maybe that nighfighter was successful after all.

Dismissed by the intelligence officer, the crew made their way to the Mess, got some breakfast, and finally made it back to their bunks, to fall into disturbed dreams, until it was time to do it all over again.


The fire brigade had got the last of the fires under control, and finally some of the staff would be able to get into the factory and see what the damage was. The cursed RAF seemed to have done their job far too well this time. The whole of the main building had collapsed, probably weakened by the blasts, but it was fire bombs that had really done for it. They would have to sift through the rubble, not for survivors, no one could survive that inferno. They would need to sift through it to find any machine tools that could be salvaged. Or anything else that could be salvaged. Perhaps drawings and plans might have survived if they were locked away in safes, as long as the safes were as fire proof as they claimed to be.

One of the hangers had also collapsed, all the FW190 prototypes would have gone with it and a Condor too. That was unfortunate, but not fatal. But there were twenty pre-production models under construction at various stages. And that was in the main building, all that progress and work, destroyed. A cry went up as one of the air raid shelters was found to have taken a direct hit. A frantic search to see if there were any survivors, but there were none. The plant manager was sitting on some rubble crying. Some of the design team had been in there, perhaps even Herr Tank himself, though it would take some time for anyone to be able to be identified from in there.

The Todt organization people turned up, the plans to move the factory to a new site had been under discussion, but the Ruhr had priority. There wasn’t much left to move now, just what they could salvage from the wreckage. Any hope of getting the FW190 into production by early 1941 had gone. There were a couple of the early pre-production models with the Luftwaffe for evaluation. Other than that, Focke Wulf was out of business, for months at least.

6 December 1940. Exercise area east of Shetland.

Eric “Winkle” Brown sat in his SeaHurricane, feeling the pins and needles in his bottom from a long flight. 802 Squadron had been assigned to the brand new HMS Formidable. They had been based at Donibristle in Fife, defending Rosyth and Edinburgh from any possible Luftwaffe attacks, but now that the aircraft carrier was working up, it was time to join it. For a couple of weeks before, they had been based at Cambeltown, a desolate, cheerless place. Flying out to the Clyde, the squadron were qualifying for deck landing on HMS Argus, the training carrier, steaming up and down south of Arran. With ten successful landings, including two at night, the squadron had flown to Wick and from there they were now approaching their new home. The squadron was missing two pilots who had failed to land successfully, one killed when on ditching, his SeaHurricane had acted like a submarine. The other one was in hospital, he’d been luckier, having been pulled out the Firth of Clyde by a trawler after splashing down.

The flight leader, “Sheepy” Lamb and “Winkle” Brown were the third pair to approach the ship. First, they had to do a circuit and dummy deck landing, which Winkle didn’t want to bother about, he was impatient to get there and get it over with. It took about a quarter of an hour to pick up the ship, heading into the wind, ready to receive them, affirmative and carrier flags flying. She looked much bigger than the Argus had, as she moved through the solid sea, pushing her arrow of white ahead of her.

Winkle had to circle the ship and watch Sheepy make the first approach, worse than ever, he wanted to get down and make his first pass at the deck. He saw Sheepy turn and head for the stern. He had been on HMS Ark Royal, so landing on this deck would have felt much easier than on the much smaller Argus’. From Winkle’s vantage point Sheepy seemed to float in with incredible slowness, feather-light. There was no impression of his being snatched out of the air, which is what it seems like from deck level. Winkle saw him touch, catch the second wire, and roll to a stop. The flight-deck crew pushed him back, unhooked him, he was ranged aft, and went off down the deck. It was Winkle’s turn.

He had his normal experience, whatever he had been feeling beforehand, he suddenly was filled with calm of intense concentration. When he came to make his approach to HMS Formidable’s deck, when he was committed, he wasn’t scared anymore, though he still lacked some patience.

They had been briefed that they could come in any way they chose. Some had decided to make an exploratory pass first, without putting their hook down. They would watch the batman’s directions, take a wave-off, or any number of wave offs if they wanted. But Winkle could not wait. He lowered his wheels and hook right away, flew round until he was between three and four hundred feet dead astern of the ship, and came straight in.

He throttled back. When he was doing seventy-five knots, the deck landing speed, aware of the harsh stalling characteristics of the SeaHurricane, he held her at constant rate of descent towards the looming deck. He watched the batsman guiding him in, and as he was over the rundown, he was given the sign to cut. He pulled back the throttle lever, there was a bump. He was down and had caught the first wire. Elation surged through him. The batsman jumped up onto the wing, and shouted “That wasn’t bad, a bit off the centre line.”

His plane was trundled back and lined up for a test take off, without using the catapult. He opened up the throttle against the brakes, the signal flag fell, and he let go the brakes. The aircraft surged down the deck at full power. Wheels still firmly on the deck, he was airborne over the bows without losing an inch in height.

It is said that your first landing is either your best or your worst. Winkle was lucky with his. While he had been doing the practice landings on Argus, and now even more on the larger deck, he became more and more able to concentrate on the finer details of what he was doing, finding himself striving to study and perfect the technique of it, to do it with some finesse. He saw the potential artistry of it.

Adapted from "Wings on my sleeve" by Captain Eric Brown, A Weidenfeld & Nicholson ebook 2006. In memory of Eric "Winkle" Brown. RIP

7 December 1940. Langley, Berkshire. England.

Philip Lucas, Hawker’s chief test pilot walked around the aircraft once more. Since the failure of the Centaurus engine in the revised Typhoon’s first prototype in September, Bristol had been working on it to make it less likely to melt or go on fire. This particular engine had been run successfully for over 100 hours. The second prototype’s flights in October had been instructive, it had shown up a number of problems, and so a number of changes had been made to this third prototype, which Hawker was hoping would be considered as a pre-production model. Lucas again was struck that this aircraft looked pretty sleek, without the chin radiator of the original first prototype due to the use of the Centaurus rather than Sabre engine. ‘If it looks right, it will fly right’ he thought as he climbed into the cockpit.

Lucas went through all the usual procedures and check lists as he prepared to take this new aircraft into the sky. There was a lot of interest in this plane, the RAF really wanted it to replace the Hurricanes and Hurribombers, and the Fleet Air Arm hoped it would be better than the SeaFire they were waiting for. It was an extremely fast piston engine plane, possibly the last of its kind before the jet age arrived. This would give Britain a tremendous edge, and so there was a lot riding on Hawker having got this right.

As he sat at the end of the runway, he had a flashback to the last time he had sat there and the fire that had broken out in the engine. This time the engine roared healthily as he took it up to full power, feeling the strain on the brakes, this plane really wanted to get airborne, so he let it go, releasing the brakes, she surged forward, the big engine’s torque giving her a vicious swing to starboard. Lucas had to work the rudder as hard as he could to keep her relatively straight, point one of the issues to be noted. Once she was airborne, he cranked up the undercarriage and zipped up to 10000 feet. The speed was exhilarating, Lucas had flown a Hurricane earlier in the day, and the feeling was so different. He started going through the various aerobatic manoeuvres to test the airframe, and she responded like a thoroughbred.

The last test of the day was to put her into a dive, a lot of information about compressibility had become known over the last year, and Lucas wanted to check how this fast aircraft would cope as he pushed the speed up. There were issues that would need to be looked at, but Lucas was aware that they were more like modifications than changes.

When he had landed his gave his initial report to both Hawker’s people and the Air Ministry, who were happy to give the go ahead to produce, with modifications, 600 Typhoons. The man from the Admiralty wanted two pre-production models to be navalised for evaluation as a carrier aircraft. The Hawker team felt that Langley was the right place to put the Typhoon into production. That would allow them to prepare the factory at Brooklands for the jets when they were ready to be produced. Hurricanes and Hurribombers built by Gloster would continue to be produced as there were a number of countries that wanted to buy them.

8 December 1940. Bangkok, Thailand.

Plaek Phibunsongkhram (known simply as Phibun) welcomed the British, Dutch and French delegations to the conference on the future of South East Asia. As well as the Thais there were representatives from the Unfederated Malay States, the Straits Settlements, though many of these were thought to be little more than British puppets. Likewise, the French and Dutch brought along “representatives” of the local populations including the kings of Cambodia and Laos.

Over the last few months Philbun and his government had been courted by the Entente powers, as well as by the Japanese. While he had great admiration for Adolf Hitler, indeed there were German troops who had been training his own army, the fact that the Nazis were obviously in trouble had given him pause. The arrival of battleships to both Singapore and Saigon, as well as the obvious strengthening of the British position in both Singapore and indeed the Malayan peninsula as a whole, even with the war going on in Europe, made him aware that while they were distracted, they had not completely taken their eye off the situation.

Phibun’s desire was to prevent his country from being squeezed. It was caught between a number of elephants, and as a mouse, it was in danger of being trampled. The Japanese were talking a lot about Asia for the Asians, but Philbun was in little doubt that given the chance, it would be Asia for the Japanese if they got their way. The Americans were distant, they didn’t like his Fascist like style of government, so the British and French would need to be dealt with, the Dutch were less of a problem.

Thailand’s main concern was with parts of its historic territory that the French still occupied. While a number of provinces had been returned in 1938, there was a lot more, in fact everything up to the Mekong, which Philbun wanted back. The French were aware that the Thais had been upgrading their army and air force, while their own local forces, unlike the British, were still a backwater. Some in the French government, aware of what happened in the Bristol Group’s history, were keen not to let their empire disintegrate the way it had in that time line. Work had been done at looking at the positives and negatives of pulling back to a border based on the Mekong, what would be gained and what would be lost. It was becoming clearer that with improved relations with the Thais, their position in holding Indo-China would be enhanced. This would however dismember Cambodia, leaving them problems with King Sisowath, as well as parts of Laos which King Sisavang Vong would have something to say about.

The British had both the Burmese and Malay borders with Thailand. Burma and Siam had a history of going to war with one another, but the Thais weren’t as bothered with that border, as long as there was peace. The border between Thailand and the Malay States was a bigger concern for the British. There were a lot of Malay speakers in what was now southern Thailand, and a better, shorter border with Thailand was desirable, as indeed was a strong Thailand. As for the Malay states, with the exception of Singapore itself, having them come together on the road to a friendly, commonwealth independent future was attractive. Regarding Sumatra, which the Dutch controlled, there was a large Malay population, and the future security of Malaya would be strongly enhanced with its southern border secure.

A retired General in Cambridge had come up with the idea of the Malay States and Straits Settlements, Pattani and Sumatra make up the Malay speaking Co-dominion of Malaya. The Netherlands and British Empire would get favoured trading terms (no nationalisation of their properties, no trade tariffs). The British would maintain Singapore as a sovereign area, in fact it was proposed to make it a Crown Dependency. Allied forces would remain to defend Malaya’s borders for the duration of the current hostilities. Malaya would enjoy the guarantee of sovereignty of both the Netherlands and Britain, although Malay forces are expected to build up and make use of allied training and equipment. The British delegation were keeping this under their hat to see what kind of reaction the Thais, and others, would make of such a suggestion.

On the island of Borneo, the Kingdom of Sarawak was ruled by the White Rajah, almost as a personal fiefdom of the Brooke family. Brunei’s oil fields made it important, but it was very small Sultanate. North Borneo was run by the North Borneo Chartered Company. While there a minority of ethnic Malays, the largest part of the population wasn't. The rest of Borneo was run by the Dutch. If swapping the British holdings on Borneo was the price for Sumatra being part of Malaya, His Majesty's Government could be persuaded, as long as the Dutch Government’s settlement of the future of the DEI was equally as enlightened.

Like the British and French there were those in the Dutch government in exile who were looking at the post-war settlement and ways to deal with the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch were keen to create something like a Commonwealth that would see any independent nations still on friendly terms with its former rulers. The state of Indonesia was not a desirable entity as it was in the other 1982, especially from the point of view of the Australians. Canberra was very interested in what would happen to the Dutch East Indies. That explained why there was also an Australian and New Zealand delegation at the conference. It had been felt that their presence was important as it was their northern border that was being discussed, and at least some of the burden of defending the area would fall on them.

The Portuguese holdings in Timor would also have to be taken into account, but that was another matter altogether, as was the situation in New Guinea. It was hoped that if the European powers could agree on ways to move things forward, then the whole region could become a peaceful and prosperous place.

The whole situation was a bit embarrassing. If there was to be a realistic defence against a possible Japanese invasion, some people were arguing that a great deal of work and money would have to go into creating airfields and increasing the numbers of troops. The principle was of course to prevent it happening at all with deterrence. If that failed, the next plan was to intercept any invasion fleet by the Royal Navy and the Marine National. In the unlikely event that failed, the European powers would need to prevent the Japanese from gaining air superiority if the ground forces were to have much of chance to stop the invasions. The kinds of places Japanese forces were likely to attack were well known, and these could be prepared for defence at a reasonably low cost. Preventing the Japanese conquest of the European colonies would give the Entente powers a better chance of transitioning the colonies to a better political future.

The conference was due to last a week. It would be a very interesting experiment.

9 December 1940. A restaurant in Berlin, Germany.

General 1: So how were things in Holland? I heard you had a close shave.
General 2: If it wasn’t for my driver’s reflexes, we’d be chopped meat. The British Jabos are a constant menace. They also seem to know when our movements are happening, which is a sign that the local population have not welcomed us as liberators.
General 1: You surprise me, our fellow Aryans not seeing the benefits of being part of the Thousand Year Reich!
General 2: Keep your voice down, Hans! You don’t want to be overheard.
General 1: (Leans forward) Do you really think there are many here in Berlin who still believe that this will last 1000 years? The Reich will be lucky if it lasts 100 days, never mind a thousand years.
General 2: The Gestapo have ears everywhere.
General 1: The Gestapo have problems of their own. Himmler’s failure to find the traitor, the British spy, is having consequences. There’s almost a war between the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst. The Abwehr has been gutted, and so what the French and British are up to is a mystery.
General 2: It seems entirely clear that they preparing to cross the Rhine. The only question is where, when and in what force.
General 1: Some of us ran a serious of wargames, not once could we win. Not one game could we win, not unless the entire British and French general staff went completely mad. Not without the Luftwaffe winning back command of the air. (Lowers his voice) Not with Adolf Hitler in overall command.
General 2: Careful!
General 1: He didn’t listen when everyone told him we weren’t ready. Nothing since Poland has anything gone right. Norway killed the Kriegsmarine. He used Manstein’s plan to kill the panzers in the Ardennes. Time and time again he let fat Goring away with murder. The fact that the British seemed to know everything we would do, and yet for Himmler’s puffing and panting, nothing is achieved except good patriotic people are disappeared. I am afraid that Corporal is as far up the command chain that man should have gone.
General 2: Hans! Remember you took an oath.
General 1: What, you don’t agree?
General 2: Are you trying to entrap me?
General 1: Of course not. We’ve been friends for how many years? We’re professional soldiers. We’ve led out men into battle and were bettered, through no fault of our own. Those rockets that killed our panzers, why did we not know about them? You saw those submachine guns with the curved magazines, where did they come from? New English panzers that we had no information about. The RAF and French suddenly take on the Luftwaffe and win. To say nothing of their penetration into the highest levels of our secrets. How could we attack when we didn’t know what we were going up against? It was a criminal to put our men into that meat grinder.
General 2: Things went right for the Tommies, it could easily have gone the other way. Things could have gone right for us and we would be eating this meal in Paris.
General 1: Next year some Tommy Generals will be sitting here, eating a meal, while we’re in a stockade.
General 2: So, you think we can’t win? What should we do then, seek a peace settlement? Do you honestly think the French are ever going to just forgive and forget we invaded again?
General 1: There is no way the French or the British are going to offer us a peace deal, not with the corporal in charge, and probably not with any of his friends either.
General 2: Are you suggesting what I think you are?
General 1: There has been some chat among friends about what might make a difference to the future of the Fatherland. But, only among friends.
General 2: We’ve been friends for a long-time. Are you asking me to join this chat?
General 1: I would be interested in your opinion, perhaps a few others might be too.
General 2: I would need to think about it. My wife, my children…
General 1: If the British and French armies fight their way over the Rhine and fight their way through every village and town between there and Berlin, how many of the women and children of the Fatherland will lose their lives?
General 2: I’m not suggesting it, but even if there was a change of government, are you sure the British and French would make peace? What would they leave of the country? Will we be back to having black soldiers raping our young women in the name of occupation?
General 1: I don’t know. I can’t imagine the Tommies would be keen to pay the blood price for taking the ruins of Berlin as Goebbels suggests they would have to. The French too, they’d be happier behind their precious Maginot Line drinking wine, than storming through Bavaria. I think the Americans might like to play the peacemaker, this new president of theirs doesn’t want the war to continue, it is bad for trade.
General 2: Hans, let me think about it for a day or two. What you’re suggesting is something so radical that I can’t just agree. I need some time to think.
General 1: Fine, two days, but in meantime, this conversation never happened, just two old friends swapping war stories, yes?
General 2: Of course.

10 December 1940. Bentley Priory. Fighter Command HQ. England.

Air Marshall Hugh Dowding looked around at his Fighter Group commanders as they gave their reports. Keith Park was a tall, energetic and friendly New Zealander. His 14 Group was based completely in France and Belgium. Here he had 30 of the best fighter squadrons, all now equipped with the latest model of Spitfire. It had borne the brunt of the fighting since May, and it had done well. Moving the support structures over the channel had been a logistical nightmare, but it was done now. Some people had still been calling Park’s Group the Air Component of the BEF, but calling it 14 Group had reminded everyone that it was still part of Fighter Command. There was now a desire to merge it with the tactical air force to create an Expeditionary Air Force, though that was being resisted by Park, strongly backed by Dowding. Taking advantage of the slowing down of fighter operations over the front had allowed most of Park's squadrons to have a rest period and some leave.

Quentin Brand a genial South African had taken over 12 Group, which had moved south to cover London and the South East. This Group had taken over responsibility for the South West and so also included 10 Group. His squadrons were also in Spitfires, though mostly the original with eight machine guns. He also had two squadrons of Beaufighter night fighters. On a regular basis Brand’s squadrons were called to provide support and cover for Park, and the two cooperated very well. The South West of England was very quiet sector. The eight squadrons there were all flying new Spitfires, each of these were in the last stages of preparation for replacing tired squadrons from 14 Group.

Richard Saul, Dublin born, commanded 13 Group, covering the Midlands and East Anglia. Over the last couple of months this group had been strengthening. However, most of this Group were still flying Hurricanes. They also had the majority of the newest graduates from the flying schools. The Red Flag exercises were based out of RAF Church Fenton near Leeds. This was also the home of the Aggressor squadron, which now had a number of captured and repaired Bf109s for RAF pilots to practice against. Saul excelled at training up his squadrons, and since 13 Group seemed almost like an Operational Training Group, he was the best man for that job.

Malcolm Henderson, a dour Scot who’d lost a leg in the Great War, was taking over the newly formed 9 Group. The North and Scotland had been under the care of the Fleet Air Arm. 9 Group were in the process of replacing them as squadrons became available. The two sector stations of RAF Usworth and Acklington were now once more served by RAF squadrons. Scotland was still being looked after by the Navy, but there hadn’t been an air raid for them to deal with. Another six RAF squadrons were needed to complete 9 Group, which Dowding believed would be available in the new year.

As each of the Group commanders gave their reports, Dowding took the temperature of his subordinates. Despite all the strain of the summer, Park was still full of confidence. He had seen some terrible losses under his command, but he had proven to be a clever defensive tactician. Brand and Park worked well together, and proved a good team. Saul was solid and able. Henderson would be fine for the job he had to do, and he was working well with the Navy. All in all, the situation of his command was looking brighter. The process of moving from Hurricanes to Spitfires was coming along, depending on the output from the factories. From the early model of Spitfire to the current Mark II was also going well, there weren’t too many squadrons of the eight .303 armed Spitfires left, and they would be transiting over as the new fighters became available.

The purpose of this meeting was to look at the future distribution of the upcoming aircraft. The first production North American Mustangs were expected to be delivered in January. The reports from California were very positive, and its extraordinary range gave it something the Spitfire couldn’t match. Three Hurricane squadrons were due to transition to the Mustang. The plan was to use these to escort bomber squadrons in daylight raids. The initial three squadrons would be barely adequate for this role. There was also a desire to get these fighters out to the Far East where the vast distances would suit their long range. The decision was made to put into East Anglia in 13 Group so they could liaise with Bomber Command who had a strong presence there.

Fighter Command had been told there was going to be a delay in getting the Griffon powered Spitfire into production. Rolls Royce were finding it difficult to get the two-stage supercharger work with the engine to give the aircraft the required performance at altitude. The feeling in the Air Ministry was to get it right first time. The superiority of the current mark of Spitfire was sufficient for the moment. That being the case the programme of replacing Hurricane squadrons with Spitfires would continue and the commanders of the groups talked through the priorities.

The Beaufighter night fighters was the next topic. 14 Group now had two squadrons of this excellent plane, and 12 Group had the other two. A fifth squadron was due to be available in the next few weeks, and it was decided to add it to 14 Group. The training of observers to use the Air Interception Radar was slowing down availability, but compared to what they had been doing beforehand, it was a great leap forward. The Mosquito would be the next night fighter, but not until March at least. It was clear that Fighter Command wouldn’t be getting any other kind of Mosquito, and even then, the Beaufighter would probably remain the main type until late in 1941.

Dowding was pleased that his subordinates were happy. He’d fought tooth and nail against moving 11 Group over to the Continent back in May. If things had gone badly, his remit to defend Britain would have been almost impossible without those squadrons. But things had gone well, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply had done wonders with the aircraft manufacturers. Although far too many pilots had been killed or injured, Britain itself was pretty safe from enemy attack from the air. In fact, if he lost 14 Group altogether from Fighter Command, as some were proposing, the other groups over the winter would get to the point that he could be confident of doing what his country was asking of him.

11 December 1940. Stockholm.

Alex Hambro: Thank you for meeting with me. Can I recommend the coffee, it will heat you up.
Eljas Erkko: Some coffee would be appreciated. I am curious why you wanted this meeting here, and not in the embassy?
AH: We aren’t sure who is watching movement in and out of embassies or anywhere else, so taking this hotel room gives us some assurance that our meeting will not be noted by anyone.
EE: So why the secrecy, it isn’t as if there hasn’t been contact between our two governments.
AH: Yes, but there are some issues that are best dealt with on an unofficial level.
EE: Very well, what would you like to discuss?
AH: As no doubt you are aware, the longevity of Hitler’s 1000 year Reich is under discussion. We, with our allies, are keen to see it last the shortest possible time. We believe that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is likely to be reneged on, by Comrade Stalin. We understand that he has made clear to Hitler, that his continued economic support to the Nazis requires a free hand in Finland, the Baltic States and various other places.
EE: You “understand” this, how?
AH: Let us just say that we have some excellent and impeccable sources.
EE: As good as you seem to have with the Nazis?
AH: We are very happy with the quality and quantity of our sources.
EE: So, Stalin wants a “free hand in Finland.” It seems from our point of view that that is already the case. Do you believe he is going to try to take the whole country?
AH: We aren’t seeing much evidence of that from a military point of view. The concentration of Soviet forces seems to be aimed more towards the remnant of Poland than anywhere else.
EE: You think he may try to stab Hitler in the back?
AH: Would that be an unreasonable assumption?
EE: Obviously not. But again, what do you want to say to us?
AH: You know of our desire to help you in the Winter War, and while for all too obvious reasons, we weren’t able to give you all the help we wanted to. You know also of the covert support we have been providing over the last nine months, as well as the overt help with food and other commodities being delivered. We believe that General Mannerheim is happy with the arrival of some of our shipments of captured German weapons.
EE: He is indeed, and would welcome much more.
AH: As you can imagine we have been careful to try to avoid being in a situation of fighting both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. We are not confident that we will be able to continue with that policy. We want to express to you that our war aims are becoming clearer. Hitler’s annexation of territory cannot be allowed to stand. We would like to see a post war world where the borders of countries would be restored to what they were before totalitarian aggression removed them.
EE: Totalitarian aggression, not just Nazi aggression?
AH: Preciously.
EE: That is very interesting. But guarantees have been made before, for all the good they did us.
AH: I can understand your doubts. But you might have a word with the Norwegians, they are aware of our desire to help. To be perfectly frank, we aren’t keen on going toe to toe with the Red Army, but we hope it might not come to that. If the French and British armies are successfully standing on the Vistula, then Comrade Stalin will have a decision to make. To try to hold on to territory that was gained through cooperation with the defeated Nazis, or to return to previously settled borders.
EE: And if he chooses to call your bluff?
AH: An excellent question, but I dispute your premise. Who says it is a bluff?
EE: (Aghast) You would march all the way to Moscow? The last time the French did that it didn’t end so well.
AH: The future of the Soviet Union, like that of the Reich, is dependent on many factors, not least the choices of its leadership. Stalin isn’t delusional, he knows that his army struggled terribly against you. Do you believe that he has much confidence in his generals? We’ve being seeing more purges and “re-structuring” since March.
EE: We’ve noticed the same things. I suppose there is something you want from us, this isn’t just pure philanthropy on your part?
AH: There is something we’re interested in specifically. The Soviets use one-time pads for their ciphers. If by any chance such a thing came into your possession, we would be very interested in a copy of it.
EE: I’m not sure that we have anything like that, but I will certainly ask in the appropriate circles. I’m surprised that is what you want if you already have good intelligence. But anyway, that is all you want?
AH: There can never be enough intelligence. With regards to anything else, perhaps you might want to respond to a Norwegian invitation for a cup of coffee, there may be something worthwhile in doing so, other than a nice hot drink.

12 December 1940. Foreign Office. London.

The Civil Servant interrupted Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, just as he was packing up for the day. “I’m sorry, Sir, but this cable as just arrived and I believe you’ll want to see it immediately.” Eden took the cable and read it, “Well, that is no great surprise. I cannot understand why the man did not take medical treatment.” The Civil Servant nodded, “It seems that as a Christian Scientist he felt he couldn’t.” Eden sighed, “Even so, it seems to have been an odd choice. However, his death does open up an opportunity. I will need an appointment with the PM, as soon as possible, I presume he will have had a copy of this?” Eden asked the Civil Servant. “Yes, Sir, he will have it in his box tonight,” was the reply. “In that case, phone through to Number 10 and let him know that I need to meet with him. Otherwise, he’ll be hunting for me.

“I take it we have a number of options to replace Lothian in Washington?” The Civil Servant replied, “Yes, Sir, there are a number of names that have been muted. Lord Halifax is at the top of the list.” Eden nodded, “I imagine so, any other names I should read up on?” The Civil Servant averted his eyes as he said, “Some people suggest that the Duke of Windsor might like the move from the Bahamas.” Eden coughed slightly, “Any other sensible names?” Making eye contact again, “Not really, Sir, the Viscount is probably the best choice, if he will take the post.”

Eden raised an eyebrow, “I detect a hesitancy there. What do you mean ‘if he will take the post’?” The Civil Servant cleared his throat. “There seems to be a question regarding the direction of His Majesty’s Government’s approach to the United States. With the unknown of a Dewey presidency, and here I quote, ‘the surprising coolness’ towards the Americans, it seems the Viscount, and some others, aren’t quite clear where this is all going.”

Eden sat down again. “I thought it was clear, that we want to continue on good terms with our American cousins, but avoid becoming too far in their debt. We certainly don’t know where Dewey will take things, but we are hopeful that we will be able to maintain a good working relationship with him. I was sure Lord Halifax was clear on this. However, if we do offer him the post, we’ll need to sit him down with Winston and myself and make sure we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.” The Civil Servant bowed slightly, “Yes Mr Secretary. I will go and phone number 10 at once.”

13 December 1940. Buenos Aires, Argentina

President Ortiz, having taken ill after his election, had passed on his responsibilities to his Vice-President Ramon Castillo. Over the last six weeks however he was starting to feel much better. In October the British Embassy had contacted his doctor to say that a British pharmaceutical company had been developing a drug to alleviate the problems of Diabetes, and while it was still experimental, His Majesty’s Government were offering this drug to President Ortiz in the hope that it would help him.

The doctor had received a full briefing of the benefits and possible side-effects of the drug, and access to the research material. It came recommended by Professor Harry Himsworth who was part of the development team. The doctor had talked it through with Ortiz, and they had decided together that it was worth the risk. So, the doctor had been injecting Ortiz with insulin for the last eight weeks and along with changes to his diet and exercise, he was getting better and better.

Now he was meeting with some of his party and advisors to see about bringing the powers of the presidency back from the Vice-President’s office. The feeling in the room was that Castillo’s strong emphasis a neutrality with an anti-British bias was understandable from an internal point of view. Getting the British out was one of Argentina’s constant desires, and there was a large German immigrant population.

In the light of the fighting in Europe, the failure of German arms and the safe passage of the world’s sea trade, that anti-British bias was unhelpful from an external point of view. Ortiz, like most of the country, leaned more the other way anyway, he felt that good relations with the British were desirable. The idea of making the economy less reliant on exports to Britain would be good, but as a source of foreign currency it was an important part of the economy. There was a consensus that some investment was needed to grow the manufacturing sector of the economy to make Argentina less dependent on imports of finished goods.

There was no question of Argentina declaring war on Germany, their neutrality during the Great War was a good precedent. However, making that neutrality at the very least even-handed was agreed, which would suit Britain. The discussion moved on to the fact that a number of Argentinian citizens of either British or German parentage had left the country to become combatants was discussed, though there was felt to be no reason to stop this. In fact, it seemed that the RAF was of a mind to create an Argentinian squadron with the increasing numbers of volunteers. There seemed to be less Germans going, though there had been before the war a general call for Volksdeutsch to return to the Fatherland. Some had taken up that call, but it seemed that the numbers were quite small.

The question then moved on to the process of dealing with Castillo. A couple of lawyers gave their opinion that since the handover of power was due to health reasons, and since Ortiz hadn’t formally resigned, getting the powers back should be straightforward, as long as Ortiz could show evidence of his physical progress towards health. On the other hand, there was a feeling among the party leaders that it could cause trouble, including with the army. Therefore, the process would have to powers transferred back to the presidency would have to be done carefully.

14 December 1940. Arras, France.

The men of the ANZAC Corps returned to their billets at the end of the exercise. They were frozen, wet and dirty from a week in the field in terrible weather. The Divisional Mobile Bath Units had been well warned to make sure there was enough hot water for the men to clean up. Likewise, the provision of hot meals was ordered, even if the quality of the cooking was a constant complaint of the Australian troops. The field hospitals, which had played an important part in the field exercise, had a number of real casualties, a few serious due to accidents, but a larger number of trench foot and other consequences of the cold weather.

In the warm and comfortable Headquarters the Generals reviewed the exercise with General Montgomery, who was acting as British Third Army’s commander, until this role was confirmed. Overall, the feeling was that the exercise had gone very well. The fully equipped Corps had gone through most of the manoeuvres without any problems. The first of the two problems that had come up was the lack of experience of both Forward Air Controllers and Artillery observers. If the exercise had been real, hundreds of casualties would have resulted from friendly fire incidents. This was a constant problem throughout the army as the systems were organised and refined. A steep learning curve had to be undertaken, and the newly raised divisions, whether from the Dominions or from the British Isles, were struggling to catch up. Much of the expertise in Artillery observation learned by the end of the Great War was having to be re-learned, and calling in air strikes was a fairly new experience. The arrival of large quantities of orange-coloured panels to be attached to the top of all Entente vehicles to aid the pilots in identification of friend and foe was helping, but until the FACs and FAOs were sufficiently trained there was always the risk of “friendly fire” incidents.

The second of the two problems was illustrated with cooperation with tanks. The 3rd Armoured Brigade had provided the tank support for the exercise, and the RTR men had complained that all too often the junior officers of the ANZACs didn’t know how to make best use of them, or worse, not protect them from the enemy force’s anti-tank weapons. The lessons of the exercise would obviously have to be drummed into all ranks, but it was clear that the level of competence of junior officers left a great deal to be desired. The rundown of the size of the army after the Great War had obviously left its mark. Montgomery was of a mind to ask Brooke for a loan of some of his battle hardened officers and NCOs from II Corps to visit the new divisions in Third Army to share their experience and knowledge. Even doing this wouldn’t be entirely sufficient. The Corps would probably need time on the Rhine Line to get some practical experience of being under fire.

Aside from these problems, there was much to be pleased with. The competence shown on the firing ranges with all weapons was very high, Montgomery was particularly pleased with the Royal Australian Artillery, whose mastery of the new 25-pdrs was excellent. The anti-tank regiments were all equipped with 6-pdrs, in addition each infantry company had an anti-tank section with Carl Gustavs and bazookas. Individual marksmanship was also very high and Montgomery had also been impressed by the ANZAC’s morale, even in the poor weather. General Blamey had been confirmed as Commander of the ANZACs, with Freyberg as his deputy. Montgomery had spent enough time with them over the exercise to be confident of their abilities, and his ability to get on with them.

15 December 1940. Cyprus.

The Cyprus Regiment had been formed back in February 1940 and had plenty of volunteers. As well as the infantry and artillery, there were other support units such as transport, including a Mule transport company, mechanics and medical. Part of Wavell’s Middle East Command, some Indian troops had been on the island as part of the garrison, but these had been withdrawn, and now the Regiment itself was responsible for the defence of the island, with support from both Naval and Royal Air Force units. The island wasn’t in any danger, and there were plenty of volunteers who wanted to take a greater part in the war. Some had already volunteered for the RAF and Royal Navy, but there were many in the regiment who were keen to be posted overseas. The Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet frequently visited, and it was a popular place to visit and have a run ashore.

Along with Malta the question of Cyprus’ future was under consideration in London. It was currently a Crown Colony, and the future division between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots was something that London wanted to avoid. The fact that for the Bristol Group in 1982 that there were still active RAF stations reinforced the long-term strategic value of the island. One school of thought was suggesting that Cyprus could become a Crown Dependency as was proposed for Singapore, Malta and Gibraltar. The idea of offering the island to Greece was frowned upon as this would cause the very problems with the Turkish minority that they were trying to avoid. The third suggestion was to make Cyprus a Dominion and seek to make it into an independent nation in its own right when the time was right. The weakness of this proposal was how to judge “when the time was right.”

While these questions would not be resolved until the greater question of the defeat of Nazi Germany had been achieved, the Governor of Cyprus, William Battershill, was instructed to undertake a secret survey of the three options and give his recommendation to the Colonial Office by June 1941. His predecessor, Herbert Palmer had also been asked to write a paper on his recommendations regarding Cyprus.

16 December 1940. San Francisco. USA.

MV Acavus’ deck was packed with its own Swordfish and twelve Brewster Buffaloes, while a chartered American vessel carried more in crates in its hold. The Dutch had ordered these aircraft along with plenty of spares, as well as their guns and plenty of ammunition. The Dutch pilots, like those going out to the Far East from the RAF tended to be men recovering from injuries, not quite ready to face the onslaught of the Western Front, but well enough to fly, and with some combat experience. The pilots and ground crew had disembarked in New York and had been the guests of the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation in New York, where they had taken delivery of their F2As and had a few days to familiarise themselves with the aircraft.

Generally the Dutch pilots were less than impressed with the aircraft, and they had found that the company were somewhat disorganised, with the order not yet fully complete. The ground crew were happy enough however as the plane seemed robust enough and it had an ease of maintenance. The thing that there were happy with was that Brewster had crated the aircraft in such a way that they would be relatively easy to put them back together once they arrived in the Dutch East Indies. With the permission of the Americans twelve of the pilots were allowed to fly their aircraft across country to help them gain some hours on the aircraft. Four F2As were being flown to the west coast by US Navy fliers and so they would guide the Dutch pilots on the journey, while the rest of the crated aircraft and the ground crew would travel by train to San Francisco, where they would be loaded onto the ships.

This overland flight had gone smoothly enough, with the Dutch pilots enjoying the hospitality of a number of USN and USAAF bases on the way, where their combat experience was of great interest to the American pilots. The planes that had been flown out were stowed on the flight deck of MV Acavus, while the crates were loaded onto a freighter. The small Dutch convoy now set out under the Golden Gate Bridge on the last part of its journey to the Dutch East Indies.

17 December 1940. Paris, France.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood and his new French counterpart, René Pleven, the Finance Minister met in Pleven’s office. Pleven had recently returned from Washington where he had been part of the mission to buy American aircraft for the AdA. Reynaud and Churchill were keen to try to work out ways of the two countries working together, and this meeting was part of that process. Pleven had been concerned at the way in which France had been spending its foreign currency reserves, and when Reynaud had had this brought to his attention called Pleven back and gave him the job of Finance Minister.

Wood, a Conservative, hadn’t met Pleven before this meeting and was concerned about what kind of man he was and how they would get along. Wood, had been in the job longer and was attempting to run as tight a ship as possible, despite everyone wanting to spend money as if it were going out of fashion in wartime. He was relieved that, just as his briefing paper had prepared him, he found someone just as concerned for the long-term well-being of the economy as well as defeating Hitler’s Germany. Wood was also relieved that Pleven, having worked in Britain and America spoke excellent English.

There were many points on the agenda for the two men to get through, with their aides, but over a coffee break the conversation widened out to their vision of a post-war Europe. Pleven wasn’t privy to the Bristol Group Secret, but he began to speak about the way in which the industrial cooperation between Britain and France, along with their colonies, was a model that was worth looking at in a post-war world. It was absolutely clear from his time in Washington that the United States was a sleeping giant, and already had the capacity to dominate the world economy in a way that neither Britain nor France could ever hope to compete with.

Wood reminded Pleven of the contribution of the British Dominions so far and that of Norway, and to a lesser extent Belgium and Holland. If such a European effort were able to continue, then the Commonwealth of Nations would be a worldwide effort. Pleven warmed to the theme. If, once the Germans were knocked back out of Holland, the British, French, Belgian and Dutch empires continued to cooperate, and didn’t go back to competing with one another, it would be the basis of an extremely powerful bloc. Wood’s conservatism was wary of words like blocs and so on. He certainly saw the benefit to free and open markets, and some degree of economic cooperation. Any sense of political integration was not something that he would see as being attractive and said so.

The other question that then Pleven took up was what to do about the other European powers. The stink of fascism still hung around Italy, Spain and Portugal. Would there be anything to gain from integrating these countries into some kind of economic community? Again, Wood was very negative about it. The types of economies of these southern European countries, and indeed he would add Ireland to that mix, was far too agriculturally based. The need for a democratic government would also have to be essential. The advantage of the northern countries, and here he could see Norway, Sweden and possibly Finland being involved was a greater degree of industrialization. The big question of course would be the position of a post-war Germany, or Germanies, in this equation. A free Austria might be involved, the Czechs perhaps, but how far east would you want to go, would you include Poland, Romania?

Pleven became conscious that he hadn’t completely thought things through, and that Wood’s approach had much merit. He wondered if this could be something that they might return to at another time, when he’d had some more time to think about things. Wood was happy to oblige. Wood was privy to the Bristol Group Secret and was aware of the movement towards the EEC in the post-war world. An economic community was one thing, but the desire among some French and Germans towards a European Union, even with its own currency, was something he would oppose till his dying breath. However, a European Free Trade Association was something that was particularly attractive. This would be important if the colonial powers were to continue their relationships with the empires or commonwealths.

18 December 1940. Jerusalem. Palestine.

Harold MacMichael, High Commissioner of the British Mandate of Palestine and Leslie Hoare-Belisha, former Secretary of State for War, sat down to discuss “the Jewish Problem.” MacMichael knew that Churchill had voted against the proposals in the White Paper on the future of the Palestine Mandate in May 1939. The fact that the whole question of Jewish immigration was back on the agenda wasn’t a complete surprise, and at least they were consulting him. Hoare-Belisha had been appointed by Winston Churchill as a minister without portfolio to seek a way forward both in the Mandate and in the world. The fact that such a high profile Jewish politician should have this role caused consternation among many. The Arab population’s leaders in Palestine had already visited MacMichael with their objections. Hoare-Belisha’s visit had a degree of secrecy around it in case there was trouble.

The news that the Jewish population in Poland was being confined to Ghettos was making worldwide headlines. The BBC World Service had been running a regular update on the anti-Semitic actions of the Nazi regime. The Jewish population in New York had been pivotal in that city and State’s election of Dewey as president, bankrolling his campaign very heavily. He had made very strong speeches against the “ghastly treatment” of Europe’s Jewish population. This was strongly supported by the Dutch Jews who had fled the possible consequences of the occupation of their country. The fact that it seemed that Hitler was partly bankrolling his war by the seizure of Jewish businesses and property, had also been widely publicised.

Hoare-Belisha had been to Washington and had met with Dewey to give him an idea of what the British government was thinking about. One striking effect from that meeting and a subsequent meeting with Cordell Hull was the removal of Breckinridge Long as an Assistant Secretary of State. Long’s order that the offer of visas to Jews seeking safety in America was to be hindered, was overturned. Instead American consulates were ordered to make every effort to assist European Jews, especially those with useful skills, to make their way to the United States.

The London Conference in 1939 had been an attempt to map out the future of the British Mandate and to begin to organise the political structures in Palestine. It was generally felt to be a failure, with the rejection of its proposals completely by the Arabs, and mostly by the Jewish side. The White Paper that followed the conference had proposed that the Mandate would allow 75000 Jewish immigrants over five years, and MacMichael had worked out which parts of the land could be sold to the Jewish immigrants, and what could only be sold between Arabs.

MacMichael had also been instructed that due to the emergency in Europe, Jewish attempts at illegal immigration was to be dealt with as if they were legal. This had caused his relations with the Jewish population to improve, but had made things much more difficult with the Palestinian Arabs. There had been very little violence, and the fact that it had been Australian troops working with the police over the previous few months had made some difference. The Cavalry Division was a different kettle of fish, and it wasn’t yet clear what level of violence might occur among the Arabs if the numbers of Jews continued to increase.

The question that was unanswerable was what level of Jewish immigration might arise. The 3.3 million Jews of Poland were a great concern. With the current persecution, once the Nazis were defeated, would the Jewish population be able to go back to their old lives, or would they seek to leave Poland? If so, where would be likely want to go? It was clear that the land of Palestine in terms of fertility and water access was going to be the main limiting factor to population. It was also clear that the Palestinian Arabs’ rights had to be upheld in any solution. A mass immigration to Palestine could be catastrophic, for immigrants and inhabitants. There was some evidence that the land could be improved, and that with investment a higher population could be sustained. Hoare-Belisha had made that a priority, to look for ways to increase investment in the infrastructure of Palestine.

The Dominions were another area where Hoare-Belisha was trying to make progress in opening them up to Jewish immigration. The Canadians and New Zealanders were resistant to any substantial increase of immigration of European Jews, though smaller increases were being considered. Australia and South Africa were more open to the idea, though like the United States there were looking more to skilled and talented people as the target for their efforts. Britain itself was going through a process of examining the reality of the levels of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the country.

There had been a number of books and articles written challenging the reality of racism, especially in view of the way these attitudes had been taken to the extreme by Hitler and his regime. There was a growing link between defeating Nazism and the worldview that underpinned it. It wasn’t quite clear what effect this would have on future immigration policy, but the long-held views on accepting those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum was being reinforced in most of the newspapers.

Regarding the Palestinian Arabs, the problems identified by the Peel Commission and reaffirmed after the London Conference, were complex. If a two-state solution was to be implemented, it was estimated that 225000 Arabs would have to be moved. The problem of creating a poor and landless class would have far reaching consequences if it was implemented. There wasn’t the same international support for the Palestinian Arabs and so raising the funds to improve their land with irrigation and other improvements would be much more difficult. If the Peel Commission’s partition of the land was to take place, the probability was that the Arab state would be incapable of being financially self-sufficient.

A number of Arab leaders, including those of the Arab Higher Committee, who had been pro-German, were no longer in leadership positions. Some had been arrested and tried, those guilty of sponsoring acts of violence had been exiled to a new prison at Goose Green on the Falkland Islands. That prison was being filled with various undesirable persons from all over the Empire. People being sent there were talked about as going off to count penguins.

The rest of the Arab leadership in Palestine were generally quite fearful of the way things were going between the British and the Jews, the appointment of Hoare-Belisha being of particular concern. The dedication to the promise of an independent Arab state had been made during the Great War to gain Arab support against the Ottomans. This was every bit as central to their thinking among the Arabs, as full implementation of the Balfour Declaration was for the Jewish leadership. MacMichael was of the opinion that the two promises were incompatible. He prided himself on his even-handedness, but he felt that the Jewish groups were being promoted from London, and that the Arabs were being ignored. He’s made this clear to Hoare-Belisha, who, to his credit, had taken it seriously.

It was obvious that solutions like the plan for Uganda or even Tasmania were never going to gain support from the Jewish leadership. Hoare-Belisha’s meetings with Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion had confirmed that they wanted a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. The grudging Jewish support for the two-state solution was definitely seen as a stepping stone to creating a proper Jewish state. While Hoare-Belisha had some great sympathy for this view, none of the possible outcomes of the establishment of a State of Israel would make for a lasting peaceful Middle East. While not privy to the Bristol Group secret, he was presented with a paper outlining a possible future that involved wars in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982.

Because of the freedom that Churchill had given him to explore options, Hoare-Belisha had talks in Paris with various French government personnel. Part of the Arab’s anger stemmed from the Sykes-Picot Agreement that split the former Ottoman territories between the British and French, something they felt went against Britain’s Great War promises. One idea for a Jewish Homeland that would increase the area available to Jewish settlement would be to take in parts of southern Lebanon, as far as Tyre. The French reaction was unenthusiastic, it would cause them the same kind of trouble with the Arabs as Britain was having in Palestine.

Hoare-Belisha had also visited the Vatican and had talks with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione. The Vatican’s interest focused largely on the freedom to visit the Holy Places and on the Arab Christians in the Holy Land. A proposal for Jerusalem, and the Holy Places, to be under international supervision, allowing access to all the places of pilgrimage for Christians, Jews and Muslims would be acceptable to the Vatican Hoare-Belisha found. On the future of the British Mandate, Maglione suggested a Swiss Canton solution might be worth exploring. Having a federal government, with power shared proportionately between Arab and Jew, but having each Canton with strong internal rights, might be a way forward. It was certainly another model to explore and Hoare-Belisha came away from the meeting much more positive than he imagined.

As the discussion between MacMichael and Hoare-Belisha continued, it became clearer that the incompatibility of the promises made to the Jews and to the Arabs would find no easy solution. If the Jewish population grew to around 750000 and the Arab Palestinian population continued to grow as quickly as it was with immigration from the surrounding Arab countries, then there would inevitably be conflict. The question of limiting Arab immigration was problematic as they were being drawn by the economic successes of the Jewish settlements. The option of changing the borders with Transjordan to give more of the Jordan valley to increase the available area for settlement was also discussed as a possibility. Both men knew the discussion would go on and on. There were no easy solutions and it was questionable whether there were any solutions at all.

19 December 1940. Kummersdorf. Wehrmacht Weapons Proving Grounds.

The Panzerjäger I, a Panzer I chasis which mounted a Czech made 4.7cm Pak(t) gun ran through its paces. Four anti-tank Battalions had been involved in the fighting from June onwards, and the 47mm gun had proved much more effective than the normal German 37mm. Alkett were producing as many as they could, the limiting factor being the availability of the guns.

Alongside this battle-proven, but still vulnerable vehicle was a new vehicle, provisionally called a Panzerjäger II. This Panzer II chassis mounted the new long barreled 5 cm Pak (Panzerabwehrkanone) 38 (L/60). Like its smaller brother, the Panzerjäger II suffered from using not much more armour than the shield that that usually came with the towed anti-tank version. This offered very little protection to the crew, whose commander had to put his head above the shield to see, making him vulnerable. A viewing slit in the shield was suggested from some of the soldiers who viewed the exercise. They also wanted to level of protection to be increased, as the crew were vulnerable to near misses and air burst shells.

The third vehicle tried to merge the idea of the Panzerjäger with that of the StuG. Based on the reliable Panzer 38(t) chassis it resembled the StuG, fully enclosed and with a low silhouette, but armed with the new long barreled 5 cm Pak 38 (L/60). The designers called it a Jagdpanzer. There were a number of issues with it that would have to be resolved, but it was obviously far better than the Panzerjäger II. Five improved prototypes were ordered. The need to keep producing the Panzer 38(t) for the Panzer divisions was a problem and so there was some doubt as to it being put into production. On the other hand, it was argued that three of these vehicles could be produced at the same price as two of the Panzer 38(t) with their turret. Unlike the Panzer III, the 38(t)’s turret was unsuitable to be up-gunned to the 5 cm KwK 38. This Jagdpanzer could solve the problem of giving it the punch needed against the Entente panzers.

Two other vehicles were also being tested. The losses to the artillery arm during the fighting earlier in the year, due to the slowness of their horse drawn mobility had been terrible. The need for being able to move the artillery quickly had been looked at after the Polish campaign. That had resulted in Alkett producing the 15 cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B. This was a 15cm artillery field piece fitted on the top of a Panzer I chassis, to create a “self-propelled gun”. Thirty of these had served with the Panzer Divisions and had generally been fairly successful on the battlefield, though the Panzer I chassis limited the space available for carrying ammunition.

The new vehicles used the Czech made Panzer 38(t) chassis but carried different guns in different configurations. The first used the same 15cm field piece as Alkett’s first Self-propelled gun. On the Czech made chassis there was more room for the crew and some supply of ammunition, though it would still need other vehicles to carry a greater supply. Here some of the German veterans noted the absence of a vehicle like the British Universal Carrier or the French UE Chenillette, a small armoured vehicle that could be used for resupply. The proposal to use some Panzer Is for this was being considered by the OKH. The artillery exercise with the new self-propelled gun was considered a success, however the need to keep producing the Panzer 38(t) for the Panzer divisions was such that only 30 of these new self-propelled guns would be ordered. The original based on the Panzer I chassis was to be produced in greater numbers instead.

The second vehicle was an alternative to the successful Sturmgeschütz III. The original had been produced by Daimler-Benz and based on the Panzer III chassis, armed with the low-velocity 75 mm StuK 37 L/24 gun that was also used on the Panzer IV. This had proven successful as an infantry support vehicle and the need for such a vehicle had been proven. The vehicle on trial today was the same as the StuG III except it was on the chassis of the Panzer 38(t) instead of the Panzer III. While the prototype did very well on trials, the decision was made to have Alkett continue with production of the StuG III Aus B at the current rate of about 25 per month.

20 December 1940. The Kremlin, Moscow, CCCP.

Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria carried two manila folders into Stalin’s office. He was stunned to find Filipp Ivanovich Golikov already in the room. Golikov was the head of the GRU, responsible for military intelligence, as well as being Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The two men hated one another. Stalin was reading through a sheaf of papers that presumably Golikov had brought him. Beria and Golikova shot each other looks that could kill, which is what they really desired to do to one another.

“Ah, Lavrentiy Pavlovich, you are here at last!” Stalin put down the papers and started the process of emptying and refilling his pipe. Beria stomach churned at the use of his first and patronal names. Stalin didn’t usually use these, except in private. To use them in front of his rival felt dangerous. “Comrade Golikov had just been filling me in on some very interesting information about the position of the fascists and their Capitalist enemies.” Beria responded quickly, “I’m sure that Comrade Golikov’s information is accurate and up to date.” Stalin, sucked on his pipe a little before blowing out a mouthful of smoke. “Accurate and up to date? That is a very interesting way of putting it.” Beria had his NKVD men all through the GRU operation, to make sure that he always knew as much as Golikov did. He guessed that much of what was in the papers Stalin had read, Beria had in one of his two folders.

“It seems that the Capitalist air forces are causing the German economy enormous problems, not least in the output of the weapons of war. Aircraft, tank and gun production are all down, and it seems the Germans are struggling to recover from the beating they’ve already taken.” Beria handed over one of the folders with much the same information, “I can confirm that, here is the assessment of my people in Germany.” Stalin opened the folder and spent a few moments reading through the information, occasionally comparing it to the one already on his desk. He leaned back in his chair and started trying to relight his pipe. This was a well-used ruse to make his subordinates uncomfortable. While Beria was well used to it, it was the unexplained presence of Golikov was unsettling him most. He just didn’t know why his rival was present, and not knowing was killing him.

Stalin had got his pipe puffing large quantities of smoke, and continued, “Comrade Golikov has brought me some other information which is very interesting. It seems that the British are building another tank as well as the one you have shown us already. It seems a very different type from the one you have produced pictures of.” Beria’s stomach flipped. How did the GRU have access to British military secrets that the NKVD didn’t? Worse, why had his plants in the GRU not let him know this?

Stalin handed him some photos that Golikov had brought with him. It showed a tank with five track wheels, and sloped armour, its turret had, according to the notes a 6-pdr gun. The pictures that the NKVD spies had were of an upgraded Matilda, which were being called a Matilda III by the British. The GRU photo noted that this tank was known as a Comet. It was more like a cruiser tank than an infantry tank. Beria didn’t know a great deal about tanks, but he tried his best. “It looks as if the British are making two tanks like our KV and T34, a heavy and lighter version. It is good that Comrade Golikov had brought this to our attention, it seems that his organisation is doing its job.” Golikov didn’t say anything. Stalin asked the question Beria had hoped wouldn’t be asked, but was already going through his head. “What else do we not know?”

Beria knew that there was a good chance that there was plenty he didn’t know, but he was confident in his British spy rings. The fact that the GRU had someone else he didn’t know about was surprising, but not shattering. Since GRU focused on military matters, he shouldn’t be surprised, but it did make him want to check over the information coming from England. “I am sure that there are some areas where our information is not very strong, but we have good and well-placed sources in various aspects of the British government and industry.” Stalin seemed fairly satisfied with Beria’s answer, while Golikov tried to hide his disappointment that Beria seemed to be getting away with it.

“What is in the other folder?” Stalin’s question took him a little by surprise, he had almost forgotten it. “Comrade General Secretary, it is some information regarding the Rodina…” he glanced sideways at Golikov, and Stalin took the hint. “Comrade Golikov, thank you for bringing this information to my attention, I am sure there are other matters to occupy you attention.” With this dismissal from Stalin, Golikov picked up his uniform hat and after bringing himself to attention, made his way to the door. Beria watched him go, looking daggers at his back, and resolving to have another look at Comrade Golikov’s file to see if he had missed something to use against him. The thought of wreaking revenge on his rival was interrupted by Stalin’s impatient cough. “Yes, Comrade Secretary General, we have been noting an upsurge in anti-Soviet activity in Ukraine and among the Muslims in Turkmenistan. We have cracked down on all those involved, but interestingly under interrogation it seems that the root of the unrest is coming from outside, and it seems that it is the English who are attempting to ferment trouble for us.” “The English?” Stalin leaned forward as Beria laid out what he had brought in the second manila folder.

21 December 1940. Southwick House. Near Portsmouth. England.

Captain Peter Rickard had come up with the idea. It was now over a year since the ships of the Bristol Group had travelled back in time from 1982 to 1939. Rickard’s own ship, HMS Penelope, a Leander class frigate, had been broken down for study at the very beginning of their arrival. His crew, like most of the men on the nine ships, were spread throughout the country involved in various ways bringing their knowledge and experience to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Some men still worked together, but on the whole crews hadn’t seen each other since they arrived in Greenock from Loch Ewe. Christmas leave was going to be a difficult time for everyone, especially the married men, bringing the loss they had endured back to the forefront of their minds. So, Rickard had arranged that the Navy would take over Southwick House outside Portsmouth for two weeks over Christmas and the New Year. With a great deal of work, it had been kitted it out with as much 1980’s stuff as he could beg, borrow and steal. The Special Branch were fit to be tied, bringing together so many of the Bristol Men together in one place, was a security nightmare.

It was made clear to Special Branch that this was to be made to happen, so they had put together a cover story and employed enough attractive and discreet barmaids and other female company for the men. A sound system had been rigged up and the men arrived to a variety of music they had otherwise left behind. Despite rationing, an adequate amount of beer and spirits had been laid on, which to the men of the 1940’s seemed excessive. Over the days leading up to Christmas, though for others, leading up to New Year, men of the Royal Navy arrived by various means of transport in Portsmouth and were bussed up to the stately home.

Reunited with old shipmates and pals, the men started to relax and unwind. No longer having to maintain the façade of 1940’s language and behaviour, the atmosphere began to get fairly rowdy. A few drunken fights broke out, and quite a few men got very melancholy as they drank. For most of the men it was cathartic, dancing and drinking and letting their hair down. During the day there were film shows of films they had brought back, and they had the premier of an Ealing Comedy, adapted from a video of The Ladykillers that had made the journey with the ships.

Attempts to make food that would appeal to their 1980’s tastes were hit and miss, though the idea of pizza was spreading through the country, becoming quite popular in various towns near military facilities. There were a number of doctors and padres around, during the day, if anyone wanted to talk with someone, but each night was set for a blow out of epic proportions. On Christmas Day, and again on New Year’s Day, a proper dinner was made for the men.

The whole exercise cost a fair amount of money, but it was considered well spent, especially by those who had participated. Interestingly there were a number of the men who chose not to take up the offer. There had been a number of romances which blossomed where possible, and some of the Bristol Men had found themselves sweethearts that they wanted to spend their leave with. Others had been “adopted” by families of new shipmates and were happy enough to spend their leave having a 1940 Christmas. For those who chose not to come to Southwick House, extra ration cards had been issued to them, which made them very popular houseguests for those they visited. Special Branch were concerned with these relationships, but for some of the men, life in Britain in 1940 was attractive enough, and the idea of the “nostalgia” for 1982 was fading in the hearts of some.
January 1941.
3 January 1941. Fort George, near Inverness. Scotland.

Major Iain Murray, Scots Guards, tried to get some blood flowing back through his feet and toes. A night exercise in freezing temperatures was never easy, and Murray had gotten a little out of shape. Since trying to join his Regiment in the Falklands by hitching a ride on RFA Olna, Murray had been the British Army’s dedicated ‘futurist’.

The previous year had involved setting up a training program that had revolutionised the way the British soldier and officer was prepared for battle. That training, as well as changes to the way Communications, Command and Control were handled had played a crucial part in stopping the Germans.

Murray had spent most of the year near Sandhurst where he’d become the advisor to the army on just about everything. Some of his ideas were slow at being implemented, changing an army’s way of doing things was never easy. The army had managed to hold the Germans, and throw them back to the Rhine. The next phase was the most difficult, to cross the Rhine and take Berlin.

Coming back to Fort George was part of the preparations. Instead of infantrymen undergoing the battle school, this particular exercise had been for every Battalion Commander and Staff Officer all the way up to Major-Generals in First Army. Having spent a full day and night in the field, the war games were about to begin. The idea behind this was to make the men making the decisions have to deal with the consequences of tiredness and strain. This war game would be no cushy pushing around flags on a map table, but a serious of scenarios that would need the commanders to be flexible and clear-thinking. There was an emphasis on communications, especially on giving orders to subordinates. Tired men make mistakes, and Murray’s team of trainers had plenty of ideas to make the war game as realistic as possible.

It was going to be a long week, and then they would do it all again with Second Army, and then Third Army. What Murray was particularly looking forward was doing it with the most senior officers, the Corps and Army Commanders and their staffs. Their week would be the last in January, hopefully there would be a fresh snowfall to welcome them.

5 January 1941. 10 Downing Street. London. England.

Prime Minister Churchill poured himself and his guest a large brandy, then sat down and got his cigar lit. Rear Admiral Alan Grose sipped the brandy appreciatively. The two men started to reminisce. It had been a year ago exactly that Churchill had been flown onto HMS Bristol in Loch Ewe in a Wessex, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. It had been a year which had seen a complete change in fortunes for Britain and France from the history that Grose and the Bristol Group men knew.

The naval war had ended almost before it had begun. The Kriegsmarine surface fleet had all but ceased to exist after their failed Norwegian campaign. The U-boat fleet likewise had taken severe losses and were fundamentally bottled up in the Baltic. All progress at building a fleet by the Germans had been halted, the need of steel for tanks was taking precedence. The commerce raiders were all sunk and there was little likelihood of any more ships managing to break the blockade of Germany. The attempts to mine the approaches to British harbours was given up as a lost cause by the Luftwaffe because of losses to RAF night fighters. No merchant ship had been lost to enemy action for three full months, and the ending of the convoy system was planned for the beginning of February, with some exceptions.

The Italians hadn’t declared war and their main fleet elements were confined to harbour, not wanting to worry the Royal Navy or the Marine National. The Mediterranean was peaceful and looked increasingly likely to remain that way. A certain strengthening of Singapore and the Far East fleet had taken place and more was due to happen in the summer, in collaboration with the French who would also be sending fleet assets to Indochina. The Japanese were continuing their war in China and the possibility of them attempting to strike southwards was still a real possibility.

In the meantime the Royal Navy was continuing to be strengthened both in number and in ability. In December 1940 the KGV had joined Home Fleet and HMS Prince of Wales was undergoing sea trials currently. Of the other three battleships of the class, Duke of York was due to be commissioned in the summer of 1941, with Anson and Howe in 1942. HMS Queen Elizabeth and Valiant are also back in the fleet, adding themselves to Home Fleet’s HMS KGV, Rodney, Nelson, Barham, Resolution, Repulse and Renown. HMS Hood was beginning a rebuild in Portsmouth. In the Mediterranean were HMS Warspite, Revenge, and Ramillies. In the East Indies HMS Malaya. The only losses in battleships of the war so far were Royal Oak sunk by a U-boat in Scapa Flow, and Royal Sovereign which had been put in reserve as a training ship. Revenge and Ramillies were scheduled to return from the Mediterranean and be replaced there by HMS KGV and Repulse. HMS Nelson, Queen Elizabeth and Renown were all slated for the Far East, as would the Duke of York when she was commissioned. When HMS Duke of York and Anson were commissioned then HMS Revenge and Ramillies would go into reserve, freeing up their crews for the new battleships.

With regards aircraft carriers, HMS Illustrious and Formidable had joined the fleet since last January. Formidable was with Home Fleet, Illustrious was in the Far East. HMS Ark Royal was preparing to sail to the Mediterranean to replace HMS Furious. HMS Glorious and Eagle with Home Fleet have been taking turns undergoing refits and upgrades. Argus continued as the training carrier, occasionally acting as a plane ferry. HMS Victorious was due to join the fleet in the summer, and HMAS Melbourne (formerly Indomitable) was expected to sail for Australia in November. HMS Courageous and Hermes had been the two carriers lost since the beginning of the war. Another three, Unicorn, Implacable and Indefatigable were all still under construction, due for delivery in 1942 and 1943. In addition, a number of MAC ships had been converted and were in operation, or under conversion. The next class of fleet and light carriers was still under discussion and design.

It was in the carrier air wings that the improvements were striking. SeaHurricanes and Fulmars had replaced SeaGladiators, with Seafires being developed, the first full squadron being readied to join HMS Victorious. The venerable Swordfish had been improved, many now equipped with ASV radars. Griffon powered Barracudas were planned to replace the Swordfish, the first flights of the new aircraft having gone well. These would also replace the last of the Skuas on operations. For antisubmarine warfare the Sussex helicopters were being readied, the first full Fleet Air Arm squadron was currently training on them. The pilots of the Fleet Air Arm had been providing cover in Scotland and the north of England, so they had had plenty of time honing their skills, a good few had some kills under their belts.

In terms of cruisers, destroyers and escort vessels, with so few lost, each ship that was commissioned added to the size of the fleet. Where possible improvements to anti-air and anti-submarine weapons were made, and more and more ships sprouted radar antennae. Likewise, the submarine fleet was being re-examined in the light of HMS Onyx, with improvements to ships under construction made as far as possible, and new types planned. It was in lots of small ways that big changes were being felt. Every ship and crew had been trained in new damage control techniques and new equipment was being acquired and fitted as quickly as it could be produced. The training of officers and ratings had been overhauled, preparing them for the future. The levels of technical training in particular was an exponential increase. With new propulsion systems planned, the increase in electronics and the advent of missile systems there was a great deal of work to be done. There was a feeling in the admiralty that the pre-eminence of the Royal Navy was assured for years to come.

The German invasion of Norway was a costly failure, making that nation part of the Entente, with its navy and merchant marine now working closely with the British and French. The Danish navy and merchant marine, as well as those of the Dutch, had escaped from under the noses of their German occupiers and were also still in the fight, as were some Free Polish ships. The Royal Navy and the French Marine National had successfully kept the sea lanes open and world trade continued to flow.

The only lasting success of German arms had been the occupation of Poland and Denmark. They still controlled large parts of Holland, but Belgium had been fought over and freed. The foreknowledge of the German plan for the invasion of France and the Low Countries had enabled the French, with British, Belgian and Dutch help, to thwart that plan, and even to throw the Germans all the way back behind the Rhine. The Entente forces were now building up for a spring offensive, with the Germans hampered by large parts of their economy under direct attack by both artillery and air raids. They were further restricted by the destruction of their synthetic oil manufacturing and the lessening of the amount of oil being imported from Romania. With the Baltic frozen imports of Swedish iron ore were also stopped currently.

Before Chamberlin resigned because of ill-health and Churchill had become Prime Minister, Lord Beaverbrook had begun the changes to the Ministry of Air Production that increased the production of Spitfires. This, with other changes, including the RAF to taking the initiative against the Luftwaffe, had meant the air war had gone much more in favour of the Entente. Belgian and Dutch squadrons continued to play their part in the fight, and the AdA had just enough changes to allow it to play a much better part in the fighting. Without control of the skies, the German army had suffered, especially in the limited road network of the Ardennes.

The BEF had received some new weapons and training, and it had given a good account of itself. The production of tanks had been another area of prioritisation, that meant that the First Armoured Division had taken the field fully equipped, supplementing the Tank Brigade already in France. The BEF was now growing to three armies, 24 motorised Divisions and three armoured Divisions. The deficit of equipment that should have occurred because of Dunkirk, never arose, and so Britain didn’t have to buy as much with its dollar reserve, keeping that for essentials.

Churchill, with the information of what happened with the end of the Empire, was now determined not to repeat the mistakes of history, to find ways to make of it a true commonwealth. The Cold War experience on the Bristol Group men had alerted Churchill to the needs of having a post-war settlement that would try to avoid a situation with opposing armed camps just waiting for World War Three to break out. How they were going to accomplish all this was currently under discussion in the corridors of power. All of that would have to wait however until the Nazi regime had been destroyed completely.

10 January 1941. RAF Bombing Range, Pembrey, Wales.

One of the weapon systems that had come back with the Bristol Group was Sea Cat. In 1982 it was becoming obsolete, but as a point defence system it had a lot of merits in 1941. The system was originally designed to replace the Bofors system that would struggle against jet aircraft. As radar guided Bofors systems were still being developed this was a jump. The difference was the Sea Cat could take the new proximity fuze, while making it small enough for the 40mm Bofors shells was proving difficult. The army were particularly interested in a land version, known as Tiger Cat to supplement their light anti-aircraft regiments.

There had been a number of problems trying to get this missile system ready. Every aspect of it had to be created, but there were plenty of artificers from the Bristol Group who knew the Sea Cat system inside out. The radio control element was well known, the Royal Navy used a system called Queen Bee for controlling a Tiger Moth for gunnery practice. Miniaturising it enough to be transportable had taken some months work. Copying the missile itself was another level of complexity. The proximity fuze that Pye had been perfecting was probably the most straightforward part. The job of making the radio receiver and the electro-mechanical pack which controlled the movable wings that controlled the pitch and direction fit the missile was another problem all while keeping the weight down. The rocket motor itself had to be adapted from other rockets already in service to create the two stages necessary to give the Tiger Cat enough range.

The turntables for both the director unit and launcher unit were another part of the puzzle, but these had been relatively easily put together. In general, the launcher unit was easy enough to copy from the Sea Cat systems, however the director unit’s workings were once again the work of many months to replicate. With a lot of work, and a fair amount of sweat, the whole thing was ready for a full test. It was altogether a larger system than the uptime Tiger Cat, but there were plans to make the production model a bit more streamlined, if it got the go ahead. Today’s test would play a large part in that decision.

The Airspeed Queen Wasp was the target aircraft, which was being used for the live fire test. The team who’d put together the system had chosen a Chief Petty Officer from HMS Penelope who had the most experience on the Sea Cat. The first part of the exercise was a live fire of three inert missiles at towed targets, with the process of reloading being demonstrated. Once the live missiles were loaded the Queen Wasp was directed onto the range, controlled is if to make a dive-bombing attack on a bridge. For an experienced CPO, who trained to take down jets, the target was so slow, and while jinking a little, on a fairly straight course, that he almost missed with the first missile. He managed a last second adjustment that brought the proximity fuze into range, the lightweight aircraft taking enough damage to bring it down. It was a less than stellar performance, but satisfactory enough for the top brass who were watching it. The go ahead to make four pre-production examples was given, with the probability that it would go into full production if further testing proved successful. As an after note, the report by the pilot of the tow plane of having a missile approaching at high speed was “very disconcerting” underscored the value of such a weapon system. It was likely that the vast majority of Royal Artillery Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments would be equipped with Bofors guns, however there was a feeling that very high value structures, such as bridges, would benefit from this point defence system. It was also likely to be a successful export to allies in due course, the investment being likely to pay off.

10 January 1941. RAF Bombing Range, Pembrey, Wales.

The second test that was conducted was by a Beaufighter with two of the newly produced Aden 30mm cannon in the nose. The work that had been done by the Royal Ordinance Factory, Maltby in copying the original that had arrived on RFA Olna, was finally in full production. This was the final airborne test of the new set up with quick change magazines for a faster turnaround between sorties. A test to carry three of the weapons had been fairly disastrous, so two of the cannons seemed to be the best fit. This particular Beaufighter was a ground attack version. It had been discovered that putting the cannons into a night-fighter played havoc with the Air Interception radar.

The Beaufighter pilot was a veteran of this type of strafing run, and the targets were chewed up in a very satisfactory way. The test included returning to base and being rearmed for a second sweep of the range, once again it was judged to be a success. The Aden equipped variant would be known as the Beaufighter Mark III. Between four machine guns, two Adens and the ability to carry either rockets or other ordinance, it was considered to be a very effective ground attack aircraft.

The third test was a Hurribomber armed with one .303 machine gun in each wing, along with an Aden 30mm cannon. The machine guns, using tracer gave the pilot the indication of when to use the cannons, aiding accuracy. One suggestion had been to house the canons in a gondola type arrangement under the wing, but the thickness of the wing was sufficient, with some adaptation, to carry the cannon. In this case the tests were less than satisfactory. The test pilot expressed a preference for the hitting power of four 20mm cannons, with slightly more ammunition than the Adens provided. It was proposed that no changes were made to the Hurribombers in the meantime.

The fourth test the new stable mate of the Hurribomber, the new Centaurus powered Hawker Typhoon, which looked a lot more like a Tempest II or Sea Fury than the original Typhoon. The flying tests had been going on for a month or so, and today was the first live fire exercise. Equipped with four Hispano 20mm cannons, an improved version with a higher rate of fire, though some loss of muzzle velocity. The Aden canon was a good deal heavier than the Hispano which had worried the designers of the laminar flow wing, this being their first attempt at it. They had decided to play safe and used the new improved Hispano. The Typhoon had hardened points for drop tanks or bombs or rockets, in this case it carried two 500lb bombs. The pilot misjudged the aim point and his bombs went long, but otherwise firing the cannons went smoothly and so the test was also reckoned a success.

The fifth and final test were two gunship versions of the Wildcat helicopter. The Wildcat was a simplified Lynx, which for the army was designed to carry a squad of infantry. The navy’s version would be equipped for anti-submarine warfare. The first army version had two Aden cannons fixed, one on either side of the fuselage at the end of a stub wing. Most of the cabin was taken up with ammunition, with a crewman in position to reload the cannons. When it had originally been designed the Hispano 20mm canon had been suggested, however it was felt that this would put the gunship too close to enemy positions and therefore be too vulnerable. When it became clear that the Aden would be available it meant that this version was more viable.

The second version carried the heavier Vickers S Gun, a 40mm gun. With the same armament layout as the Aden version, the guns were equipped with 15 round drums, again with a crewman as the loader. The guns were thought to have a better chance against armoured vehicles, though there was a High Explosive shell provided too. This was had been the original design, it was thought it would have the ability to provide powerful enough support for other helicopters making their way into and out of landing zones. Normal Wildcats would carry a machine gun, they were being issued with adapted BESA machine guns, as were used in tanks, to provide some level of extra firepower in the vulnerable parts of their flight. This was one advantage of having large stocks of captured German ammunition.

Both gunships went through their paces, and both the Aden and the S Gun had their own strengths. The temptation was to have both types as part of the force, but for logistics it was felt having one type would be better. The choice between the fast firing Aden and the more powerful punch of the S Gun came down on the side of the S Gun. The nature of the air assault troops was that they were lightly armed, and so having the heavier gun in support appealed, especially if they came up against heavier German tanks.

15 January 1941. No. 212 (Photographic Reconnaissance) Squadron, near Meaux.

The new aircraft made a perfect three-point landing and taxied over to the revetment, following the guide car. Most of the personnel from the airfield had watched the aircraft come in and when the twin Merlins were switched off there were plenty of very interested people ready to swarm all over the Mosquito.

Mosquito W4051 was the first of the “wooden wonders” to enter into service. The bomber and fighter versions were still a few months away from their operational debut, but the first 20 production models were all being fitted out in this photo-reconnaissance variant. The Spitfires that had been fulfilling this role had been taking losses and it was hoped that the extra speed of the Mosquito would protect the crew better.

In this particular aircraft the camera set up was a K8AB fitted with a 12in lens mounted forward of the aircraft; a split vertical pair of F52 cameras mounted behind the wing; and an F24 oblique camera mounted on the port side. The split vertical cameras were installed so each camera was at slightly different angle, this would then give double the photographic coverage. To obtain stereo imagery coverage of a target area, each camera had to produce a run of images with an overlap of 60% between the frames. The F52 36in focal length camera flying at a height of 35,000 feet would give a lateral coverage of 3 miles.

The first few missions showed up a few defects. Firstly the cameras had been mounted on a steel frame, but this caused vibration and reduced the quality of the photographs. The fitters at the airfield replaced the steel frames with wooden ones and this solved the problem. Secondly the first aircraft had short engine nacelles and short span (19 ft 5.5 in) tailplanes. Its engine cowlings incorporated integrated exhaust manifolds which, after a relatively brief flight time, had a troublesome habit of burning and blistering the cowling panels. This deficiency would have to be dealt with in the later production models.

This particular model was using Merlin 45s, which gave it a top speed just over 400mph, and a ceiling of around 34,000 feet. Improvements to the Merlin’s supercharger were being worked on to give the aircraft more speed and more altitude. The improved Merlins, which would be known as Merlin 65s, would be ready in a few months, until then the Mosquito would become everything it was hoped it might be.

There were still a level of testing and familiarisation to be undergone before the aircraft was let loose over Germany, but it had got the tired men of No.212 Squadron excited, and that was something.

20 January 1941. Washington DC. United States of America.

My fellow Americans. I am profoundly moved by the trust you have placed in me. I deeply feel the responsibility that goes with this great office at this great hour of our nation’s history. In accordance with the Republican form of our government, you have laid on me the highest duty to which an American can be called. With the help of God, I will be worthy of the trust.

To you, the American people, I make these pledges. As of today, your government has a cabinet of the ablest men and women to be found in America. The members of the cabinet will expect and receive the full delegation of the powers of their office. They are well capable of fulfilling their office, experienced in their fields and young enough to do it.

God had endowed America with such blessings to fit her for a great role in the world. We can only play that role if we are strong and healthy and vigorous as nature has intended. This must be a land where every person has a fair chance to work and get ahead. Never again can free Americans face the spectre of long-continued, mass unemployment. I pledge that full employment will be the first objective of national policy. Last year 10 million Americans were unemployed. However, we will not go to war to get rid of this problem. This too I pledge.

The capacity of American business and American industry to bring growth to our country must be released from all curtailment and restriction. It is through business and industry that most of us make our living. I pledge that this government will do all in its power to free American businesses to be as competitive as possible. Even if this means that we have to look again at the Neutrality Act. Our European friends are at the throats of the evil Nazi regime. Yet our industry has one arm tied behind its back when it tries to win contracts. If we are to allow our industries to be the best in the world, they have to be allowed to do what they do best.

The world is a dangerous place. The Japanese are attempting to subjugate the people of China. The Nazi’s attempt to take over Europe has thankfully been thrown back, and yet the peoples of Poland, Denmark and large parts of Holland remain under their terrible jackboots. The Jewish people are being persecuted by the anti-Semites that call themselves a government. The Communist regime in Russia occupies part of Poland, and takes a terrible toll on its own citizens. In a dangerous world we must be prepared to defend ourselves, but I pledge to the mothers and fathers of America, I will not send your sons overseas to fight. We will continue to support our oldest ally, France, and all those who stand against Fascist aggression. However, unless our country is directly attacked or threatened, we will not join this war, not by stealth, not by trickery.

The world is a dangerous place, but the United States of America, a strong and confident America, is a beacon of light in the darkness of war. However, before we could ever think of intervening in the affairs of other countries, we have our problems at home that must come first. A nation where everyone can make a better life for themselves and their families. A nation which is free and which stands for freedom. A nation where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the goal and objective of each man, woman and child. Today, I pledge to you, the American people, I will work tirelessly to make sure that nothing stands in your way to achieve this. So, help me God.

27 January 1941. Salisbury Plain. England.

The darkness was not accompanied by silence. Instead, the roar of tank engines, the clatter of tracks and the conversation of men filled the night air. For the best part of a year a team of scientists and technicians, including such luminaries as John Logie Baird, had been working on some kind of night vision equipment. Baird’s Noctovisor had been a starting point, along with the material brought back with the Bristol Group. As well as the infrared seeker from a Sidewinder and a set of night vision goggles, two of the ships had English Electric Valves Pyroelectric Tube, the Navy’s Thermal Imager used as part of their shipboard fire-fighting kit. There were a variety of other devices, some made by Rank Pullin, which had been sent south to be used by the Task Force.

The team had joined an Admiralty group that were already working on infrared technology. The Tizzard Committee in 1935 sanctioned the start of work on a receiving system into the far infra-red spectrum for the detection of heat from enemy aircraft. It was considered that heat energy would come not just from the engine but also as aerodynamic heating from the wings and fuselage, so even screening the engine would not hide the presence of an aircraft. By April 1937 an airborne detector had been made and tested, plans for an image converter were in hand to view intruding aircraft. But infra-red was not the only option under consideration, there were bitter personal clashes within the Tizard Committee, and so all efforts were put into radar.

However, the Admiralty continued to stimulate research, but this time into near infra-red. In 1938 there was a requirement for the development of image converter tubes that could be incorporated into telescopes for signalling, beacons for clandestine operations, friend or foe recognition etc., rather than a need for an observation system. A simple glass converter tube was devised that when supplied with at least 3,000 volts allowed a photosensitive cathode to glow when infra-red energy hit the cathode. The tube was designated RG4. The image was green and inverted but this was corrected by the lens system.

The main participants were the Admiralty Research Laboratories at Teddington who had been working with The Gramophone Co Ltd at Hayes who manufactured the image converter tubes and viewers. The glass for the filters was manufactured by Spintex Glass Co. who supplied The Gramophone Co Ltd, to make the filters for the viewers. The arrival of all the kit from the Bristol Group had got those who had been working on it very, very excited. They had learned a lot from all the devices, but coming up with a workable system that could be easily manufactured had been a big challenge.

While the thought of a thermal imager was seen as the most useful system, the chances of getting a working system quickly enough was going to take much too long. The industrial processes just didn’t exist to create the kind of image intensifiers of the simplest of the systems, even less so the so-called second generation that would need fibre optic technology. The Night Observation Device, nicknamed TWIGGY (it was more compact that previous versions) was seen as the preferred outcome, having a range of 2500m under starlight conditions. The Mercury Cadmium Telluride breakthrough of the 1950s was now being researched at a number of universities.

Until such a breakthrough could be replicated it was decided to make something that was useful. The original system that was developed by the Admiralty was used mostly for night driving, rather than for offensive weaponry. The idea of a using a searchlight, with an infrared filter over it, and a separate device to “see” what the infrared light picked up had been a tried and tested method, well known to the Bristol Group. It was envisioned that this technology could be used for warfare at night, the chances of it being detected by similar German systems was considered highly unlikely, at least initially.

The best use for such a weapon was also discussed. A sniper application was an obvious use, though there would be limited range. The other use, the one that was being trialled this particular evening was one of the new Comet tanks. A large searchlight with the appropriate IR filter, had been placed on the mantle of the tank. The driver, gunner and the commander had sights that enabled them to see what the searchlight illuminated. In each case the receiver had been jury-rigged with something that resembled pieces of Meccano to hold them in place.

The tank went through a series of tests to examine the usefulness of the adaptations. The results were mixed. For the driver, the infrared searchlight did not help him at all, as it was focused too far away. It was clear that if infrared was going to be used for driving at night, the tank would need IR headlights. The commander of the tank saw the potential, but the equipment was bulky and had too narrow a focus. A commander needed not only to look for targets, but also for threats. The gunner’s feedback was also mixed. In general, for finding targets it was fine, but the magnification that he was used to in his aiming sight was far less effective under infrared conditions, and therefore could have a limiting effect on accuracy. The other general point was that the extra voltage necessary for all the IR kit meant that the engine had to be kept at a particular level of revs. In terms of a general battlefield situation, this wasn’t necessarily seen as problem, but it could be one if any kind of stealth was to be applied.

After the exercise there were a few other ideas that were passed around. The Royal Marines were keen to have the system, the potential of having at least part of a beach assault in darkness could be very useful. If some landing craft had the system it might help with navigation towards the beach. The Army Air Corps were interested in it for their helicopter gunships. The Royal Army Service Corps were interested in the night driving application for convoys. The Royal Engineers saw the potential for some facility to do some of their work at night. It was also felt that some kind of warning sensor would be useful in case the Germans were using infrared too. So, work continued on improving the applications, and some simple systems were ordered as pre-production models before a larger order was made.

29 January 1941. Durban, South Africa.

The meeting of the leaders of the Empire and Commonwealth nations was concluded with a banquet in the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The gathering over the past few days had been partly social and partly official business.

A lot of back room meetings, bi-lateral and multi-lateral had taken place about the future relationships between the mother country and the Dominions, colonies and dependencies. Though in many ways the relationships within the Empire were every bit the subject of much discussion, especially what to do about India.

The Prime Ministers of the “white Dominions” had a particular meeting with Churchill. The Canadian forces had already been bloodied, but the ANZACs were about to join them. McKenzie King, Robert Menzies, Peter Fraser and Churchill, along with their senior military advisors discussed the use of their troops in the forthcoming attack across the Rhine into Germany. The third Canadian Division had not yet arrived in England, but King was asking for a Canadian Corps to be created when it did, especially as one Brigade of this third division was training to be an armoured brigade. General Alan Brooke, commanding the BEF in France was consulted and was not opposed in principle, though there were some Corps level units missing from the Canadian order of battle that would have to be made up by British troops in the meantime. The other problem was that 1st and 2nd Canadian divisions had already been training for their objectives on the Rhine crossing. To create a Canadian Corps would entail having to upset the planning for at least two Corps, therefore King was persuaded that the Canadian Corps would be created when there was a suitable time and the 3rd Canadian Division was ready. General McNaughton was slated to become the Corps commander.

The southern African colonies question was also the subject of much talk. General Smuts of South Africa and Godfrey Huggins of Southern Rhodesia had the largest number of white residents in their countries and were the most advanced economically. The British had various other protectorates and colonies in Southern Africa: Basutoland (Lesotho), Swaziland, Bechuanaland (Botswana), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Nyasaland (Malawi), including some they had taken over from the Germans after the Great War: South West Africa (Namiba) and Tanganyika (Tanzania). This meant that many questions had to be discussed.

The British Colonies Office had made a proposal that all these southern African colonies and protectorates would have greater cooperation among themselves. This would take the form of a customs union, a common external tariff, currency, and postage. The proposal also dealt with common services in transport and communications, research, and education. To enable this there was to be a South African High Commission that would coordinate this, though how exactly this would work with the Dominion of South Africa was still to be worked out.

The long-term hope was to move to a Canadian or Australian model of federalism. The Union of South Africa was a unitary government of the previous provinces. The proposal would be to revert to each of these to having their own elected parliaments under an overall Federal Government, which would continue as a Dominion. Unlike the Quebecois who were a substantial minority in Canada, the Boers were a slight majority of white settlers in Southern Africa. By bringing together the larger number of English-speaking settlers, especially in South Rhodesia, together in a larger union, it was hoped that this would prevent the rise to power of the Nationalist Party in South Africa and the application of their proposed apartheid laws.

The “Native Policy” was a matter of great debate and disagreement. The proposals from the Colonial Office were that the notion of Commonwealth should be extended to the native population. In other words, that they were not people to be exploited, but protected citizens, with rights to property and land. For some this was explosive. Godfrey Huggins was of the opinion that the relationship of whites to blacks was that of rider to horse. The horse was to be cared for, and not harmed, but its purpose was to serve the rider and do the rider’s bidding. This was a very different way of thinking from that which was emanating from London. The wish for a larger Union of Southern Africa was hampered as there was no way that large parts of the white population would support this if it was linked to “native rights”. This opposition found some support from the Australians whose aboriginal people were treated as flora and fauna rather than human beings. The racist views, including those of many in London, were being challenged, but the firm entrenchment of such a worldview was going to be the matter of decades of work to overcome it.

The upshot of all this argument was the acceptance of a united High Commission for Bechuanaland, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland, which would have the suggest customs union and other areas of commonality. Swaziland and Basutoland, surrounded as they were by the territory of South Africa would continue under their current arrangements for the foreseeable future. Tanganyika would join a similar United High Commission of East Africa with Kenya and Uganda along with Zanzibar, though this would still be ruled by the Sultan.

Having this threat of ‘Native Rights’, as it was seen, had brought Smuts and Huggins closer together. Although South Rhodesia had voted against becoming part of the Union of South Africa in a referendum in the 1920s, the idea of a federal system was enough to get them talking about it again. Smuts was aware that giving greater power to the Orange River and Transvaal states might cause problems, but if the Union was six provinces or states, including South West Africa and South Rhodesia, then in a federal system, they were perhaps less likely to come to the kind of power that London feared, a fear that Smuts himself and his United Party, shared.

The problems of southern Africa however were a walk in the park compared with the Indian subcontinent. Initially Churchill was opposed to even talking about independence for India, until he was given a copy of “Freedom At Midnight” by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins to read. The horrors that followed partition of India and Pakistan kept the Prime Minister awake at night, and he was converted to the idea of doing everything to prevent this coming to pass. There was a plan to release an adapted version of this book as a novel of “alternative history.” It was still under discussion as whether or not it would have the opposite effect it might be hoped for.

The one advantage that the British had because of the Bristol Group was that they were in a position to make much better decisions. If things like the Bengal famine could be avoided and generally the lives of the people of India could be improved as much as possible, then some of the pressures that led to the relatively abrupt withdrawal of British rule could be avoided. By arresting the leadership of the Congress Party in 1942 over the “Quit India” campaign and imprisoning them until 1945, the British had allowed Jinnah’s Muslim party to grow stronger with its call for a separate Pakistan. By avoiding this mistake, it was hoped that a settlement might not lead to the creation of three separate states eventually.

One of the most important problems was the way in which the Indian army was dealt with. The system within the Empire was that if Indian troops served outside India, the country in which they served was responsible for paying for them. At the end of the Bristol Group’s Second World War, Britain owed India several billion pounds, partly because of the contribution of Indian forces in the various theatres of the war.

There were a number of Indian Brigades that had been sent to Singapore, the Persian Gulf, the East Africa and Burma as part of the normal planning. These Brigades would increase to a division each, which had already happened in Singapore where the 8th Indian Division was already at full strength. The East African Division had already replaced the Indian Brigade in Sudan, which was to join the 5th Indian Division to bring it up to full strength as it moved from Middle East Command to the BEF. The ability of the British Malay and Persian possessions to pay for these Indian troops helped. If the cost of the exponential expansion of the Indian Army from the other history could be avoided, or even some of that money could be invested in other development projects, so much the better.

The proposed road to Dominion status by 1945, along with the option that all ties with Britain could be cut and total independence could be achieved with a variety of safeguards had already been floated. Ghandi, with some in the Congress Party, thought of this as some kind of weakness and were attempting to promote a “just go now” response. However, there were cooler heads in the Congress Party that saw that this was a genuine attempt to hand over power in a controlled and systematic way.

There were some in the Congress Party who could see that that Ghandi, while hugely popular, and a very astute political organiser, could be a hindrance as well as a help. His vision of an India was clearly caught up in his Brahmanist view of the world. The idea that he was promoting “swadeshi”, local self-sufficiency, was seen by many in Congress, especially those on the left politically, such as Nehru, who would rather promote central planning and socialism, as being problematic.

Ghandi avoided as much as he could talking about what an independent India would look like, but focused on achieving independence. If anything, his view of India was not a nation-state but a confederation of self-governing, self-reliant, self-employed people living in village communities, deriving their right livelihood from the products of their homesteads, which was as near anarchy as anyone could imagine. Within the Congress Party this was very much a tiny minority view, and a great deal of thought went into the side-lining of Ghandi.

There was a large conservative right wing of the Congress party, composed often by India’s upper-class elites, which opposed the current Congress leader Abul Kalam Azad’s socialism. The conservative wing, believing in the free market and minimal governmental intervention, were keen on the proposals of a very loose federal system and a weak central government for an India as a Dominion.

On the other hand, Nehru, Azad and the socialists were keener on a strong central secular government with much weaker provincial governments. The Princely States were another problem. Nehru was completely opposed to their continued existence, there was no place for the “divine right of kings” in his view. The idea of a federal government that allowed these princely states to continue to act as they wished was anathema to Nehru. The Princes themselves were of a mind to support the status quo, as they had treaties with London that would necessarily have to be rescinded if they were to become states or provinces within an independent India. This would certainly would give them a far less attractive settlement than they had with London currently.

There had also been a clear instruction from London that under no circumstances was there to be any attempt to increase antagonism between Hindu and Moslem as part of any “divide and rule” strategy. A great deal of thought was going on to discuss how the provinces and principalities could deal with religious minorities. This is a lot harder than it sounded. Nehru’s concept of a secular state that recognised the rights of all to freely practise their religion was an attractive idea, but much harder to implement in reality, especially in areas where there were large majorities of a particular religion. There were loud calls from the Anglican Church to make sure that the rights of the Christian minorities would be protected.

The proposals for transfer of power were quite radical. Following the principles of the Indianisation of the Army and the Indian Civil Service, there was to be a transition period where British people in power were to mentor Indians to learn their role and then continue as advisors while the new Indian people 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.

A Constitutional Committee was to be formed to write a constitution for the new state when it came into being, and there was immense wrangling about who would be part of that committee. The Australian justice Owen Dixon was appointed as chair of the committee. His own atheism and antitheism to all religion would eventually undermine his efforts, but he was able to form the committee of a wide and respected representation.
February 1941
1 February 1941. John I. Thornycroft & Company. Woolston, Southampton.

HMS Gavinton, the first of the new Ton Class of minesweepers was launched with greater fanfare than was usual for small ships. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had made the journey to Southampton to be at the launch. Though, as was traditional, it was a lady who did the launching, and so his wife, Clementine named the ship Gavinton and invoked God’s blessing on her and all who were to sail in her.

After the launch, over lunch the Prime Minister congratulated the design team for getting the ship from concept, through design, to launching within a year. The ship would need some months for fitting out before she could be commissioned into the navy and begin her career. When she did so, the Royal Navy would take a minimum fifteen year jump in capability in minesweeping. The possibility of moving on to becoming true mine-hunters was still some time away, but early trials of a Type 193 sonar system that could identify mines on the sea floor were showing early promise. The Ton class had been designed with space to fit such a system when it became available.

Commander Paul Canter had played a key part in the design team as formerly captain of HMS Active, and before that HMS Gavinton a Ton Class minesweeper that led to the new ship having this particular name. Canter received his promotion from the Prime Minister, making him a full Captain. He would continue to be part of the mine warfare working group which was concerned with both the defence against mines and their offensive use. The early magnetic and pressure mines that had caused the bottling up of the Kriegsmarine in the Baltic were being improved and RAF Hampdens were still flying “gardening” missions to keep it that way. An acoustic mine was also now part of the armoury, and these three types, both moored and laid on the sea bed were all that were being deployed. Some of the defensive minefields that had been laid in late 1939 and early 1940 were now being cleared systematically as it was felt they were no longer needed, and indeed thought of as a waste of resources.

Ultra intercepts from the Kriegsmarine revealed that the pressure mines in particular were causing them great difficulty, all movement through the Kiel Canal was stopped and the situation on Helgoland was becoming untenable due to the inability to resupply it except by air. Some of the new types of mine were being supplied to the Norwegians who were using a combination of submarines and air drops to lay them to cause the Germans as much trouble as they could.

3 February 1941. Linton-on-Ouse. Yorkshire.

Leonard Cheshire strapped himself into his Halifax. He already had completed one operational tour on Whitleys in 102 squadron, including winning a DSO for bringing back a badly damaged aircraft. He’d volunteered for a second tour and had transferred to 35 Squadron to be part of the first four engine bomber squadron. For the last three months they had been learning everything they could about their new aircraft. Cheshire had joined the squadron later than some, who had taken the first few pre-production and production models through their paces. The four Bristol Hercules engines were producing 1615hp each, and the 104-foot wingspan gave its best cruising speed of 215mph at 20000ft, though it could go to 23000ft if necessary. Its fuselage bomb bay had been designed to take the larger bombs that were under development, and the wing bays had been redesigned as fuel tanks.

The full squadron of twelve aircraft had been on a number of exercises, both day and night. Since it only had a four .303 gun Boulton Paul type E turret in the rear, if the aircraft were to fly in daylight missions it would need very strong support from fighter escorts. A wing of the North American Mustangs were designated for this role, but were still, like 35 Squadron working up. For night raids two of the aircraft had Type 301 radars fitted, which would act as pathfinders for the rest of the squadron, Cheshire’s aircraft being one of them.

Cheshire had made some suggestions to remove excess weight from the aircraft to give it a bit more height and a bit more speed, even stripping off a layer of paint for an extra 5mph. As he brought the aircraft to the end of the runway and powered it up for take-off he felt the sensation of power surge through him, this was a very different beast from the Whitley he had been used to. His bomb load for tonight for instance was just about double what he’d regularly carried. He was carrying two 4000lb High Capacity “Cookies” with the rest of the bombload made up of incendiaries. The G.W. Railway Company had produced the Cookies, and they had been successfully tested and trialled. All of the twelve Halifaxes had the same bomb load, and the target for tonight was the synthetic oil plant at Leuna near Leipzig. This had been attacked by Wellingtons once before, but from the photoreconnaissance results the raid had been judged to be poor. The decision to use the Type 301 radar equipped planes had been debated long and hard, but it was hoped that this one raid would do enough damage to this major plant to be worth the risk. A shaped charged device had been attached to the radar to be fired in the event that the aircraft might be lost and fall into enemy hands.

The RAF and the AdA had a number of raids planned for this particular night which it was hoped would cause the defenders plenty of headaches. There was a small raid on Berlin that was flying from Norway; two hundred Wellingtons were attacking Paderborn, where some of the Panzer units were thought to be. The French were also paying a visit to Wildflecken in Bavaria, which was another place that the panzer units were thought to be rebuilding. It was hoped that amidst all this activity a raid by twelve aircraft, at a much higher altitude, would be overlooked. It was expected that there would be plenty of flak in the area, synthetic oil plants had become some of the best protected pieces of German industry. The range of the Halifax gave the squadron some flexibility in their route to and from the target, with the possibility of returning to airfields in France to refuel if necessary.

As the Halifax took off, Cheshire raised the undercarriage and took instructions from the navigator to bring him onto the correct heading. It would take the best part of twenty-five minutes to climb to 20000ft, flying up over Hull and out over the North Sea past Grimsby. The squadron leader, with the other Type 301 Halifax, had led the first six aircraft off five minutes previously. Cheshire and the other five were taking a slightly different route, but timed to bomb within a minute of the first flight. By coming from two directions, it was hoped to split the flak defences sufficiently. The complex was right beside the Saale River, which hopefully would give the Type 301 operator a clear enough picture to bomb with, even if there was cloud cover.

Cheshire had noted that there was some kind of hand-held calculating device being used by the planners of the raid. When the Cookies were being trialled a great deal of effort had gone into working out the characteristics of its flight, and these figures had been taken into account for the bomb aimers to help with their calculations. Adding airspeed, wind speed, altitude and everything else was a mathematical nightmare. It seemed that some boffin had come up with a simple machine that could make the calculations much quicker and more accurately than a man with pencil and a slide rule. There only seemed to be one of the “calculators” on the base, and it was kept very secure, Cheshire wasn’t entirely sure that he should know about it. However, it fitted into a pattern he had noticed.

On the Whitley, his observer (bomb aimer was a new title) used a Great War vintage Course Setting Bomb Sight. These new Halifaxes were fitted with two versions of bombsights, one called the Mark XIV and on the Type 301 aircraft, the Stabilized Automatic Bomb Sight. The second was more difficult to build, though both bombsights were considered good pieces of kit once the bomb aimer had been well trained on them. A boffin called Patrick Blackett, with some help, had developed a mechanical calculator, which was linked to the bombsight itself. The calculator included instruments that automatically input altitude, airspeed and heading, eliminating manual setting of these values. In general use, the bomb aimer simply dialled in estimates for the wind direction and speed, and set a dial to select the type of bomb being used, everything from that point on was entirely automated. On the SABS tachymetric precision bombsight, the mechanical computer was even more complex, able to calculate and automatically release the bombs. As the name suggested it also had a stabilizing platform added, moving the whole automated bomb sighting system, and had the capacity to send instructions to the pilot with a direction indicator in the cockpit.

When No 35 squadron had been reformed from No 17 Operational Training Unit, a certain amount of cherry-picking of competent aircrew from other squadrons had been noted. Since the Halifaxes would need Type 301 operators, and since they were the first to get the operational SABS and Mark XIV bombsights, they were got the choice of some of the best bomb aimers in Bomber Command, even from some from the Pathfinder squadrons. For the previous three months they had been flying almost continual training operations over bombing ranges to hone their skills. Cheshire and his crew now had almost four hundred hours on the Halifax. While these had all been training hours, it felt even more intensive than the operational tour he had completed. The work had paid off however, with the results of their bombing accuracy now sufficiently good to attempt to attack a particular target with just the squadron and do enough damage to it.

As the bombers approached occupied Holland, they climbed another two thousand feet to give any flak gunners a more difficult task, then descended back to 20000ft which the Halifax coped better with. The continual attempts by the RAF to prevent the Germans building any kind of working radar system was continuing, so Cheshire’s flight picked their way through areas where the German defences were weakest. A few night-fighting Beaufighters had ranged ahead and to the flanks of 35 Squadron doing their best to give the bombers some protection from any German night fighters.

As they approached Hannover, the Steinhuder Meer showed up clearly on the Type 301 system and the navigator called out the new bearing for Cheshire to follow. About fifteen minutes away from the target, Cheshire opened the valves to bring compressed air to the bombsight to get the gyroscopes working. The bomb aimer switched on the stabilizer platform, waiting for the gyros to reach their full speed. As they approached the target, the Type 301 operator gave an accurate reading of the altitude. The navigator gave the air speed, the wind speed and drift. These were the variables that the bomb aimer dialled into the calculator. The river showed up clearly on the H2S system guiding Cheshire onto the target, and there was enough moonlight for the bomb aimer to get a view of the target. He used the range control wheel to rotate the reflector sight to point towards the synthetic oil plant. The bomb aimer roughly centred the sight, throwing the change-over switch which made the sight rotating to track the target. They were now on the bomb run proper. A few searchlights were searching for the bombers, and flak bursts were obvious, though it seemed lighter than expected.

The flight engineer was keeping an eye out for the other flight of bombers, while Cheshire and his co-pilot concentrated on flying the aircraft as instructed by the display that showed what corrections he had to make to keep straight on to the target. As any drift became apparent the bomb aimer would fine tune the range control wheel, bringing it back in line with the target. The SABS multiplied the error angles by four times before sending it to the pilot’s display. Cheshire, by chasing the dial automatically overcorrected the heading bringing him back onto the proper line. With the bomb bay doors opened, the target was further illuminated by explosions from the bombs dropped by the other six Halifaxes.

Before they had set off, the settings for the bomb types and trail had been set, and within the sight a cam was set to a fixed angle. This cam carried several electrical contacts. As the bomber approached the target, a metal ridge attached to the sight rotation shaft depressed the first contact, turning on the drop timing lights. Further motion on the cam caused the bombs to release. The other five Halifaxes, with their less complex sights aimed for the same place that Cheshire’s bombs had fallen. With the bombs gone and the doors of the bomb bay closing Cheshire threw the aircraft into a tight turn to get them out of the area as quickly as possible. The tail gunner called out that there were plenty of secondary explosions and that there was a large fire burning. One of the following Halifaxes was caught in a searchlight beam and had to take an extreme corkscrew manoeuvres to get out of the light.

As the bombers began the long journey home, one of them was having difficulty with its engines and decided to turn southwest to make for France and an alternative airfield. It never made it, and there was some debate as to whether it was lost due to mechanical failure or there was the possibility it was lost to either enemy action or a friendly fire incident. This turned out to be the most likely outcome when the investigation was concluded. A French night fighter claimed to have downed an enemy plane between Frankfurt and Mannheim, which would have been the route the Halifax would have taken.

After a long flight, mostly uneventful, the squadron landed back at Linton-on-Ouse for a debriefing and breakfast. Later in the day a photoreconnaissance aircraft got some photographs of the oil plant which showed a major fire still burning. It was a few days later that they finally got an idea of how accurate they had been. Of the twelve bombers that dropped Cookies, two had hit the plant itself and that this had set off the fire in the stored oil products. The other ten bombers had hit within a half mile of the plant causing mixed damage to the surrounding area. One unknown effect was that a water main had been broken which hampered the fire-fighting efforts of the Germans. The lack of spare parts of the installation meant that its output fell dramatically for five months, and never got back to full production, especially since it was hit by two further bombing missions in the next couple of months.

4 February 1941. Sydney Harbour. Australia.

The 81,000-ton Queen Mary, Britain's largest liner rode in Sydney Harbour, off Bradley's Head, site of Taronga Park Zoo. Relatives and friends of the men aboard her, and sightseers from city and country, crowded rowing boats, yachts, launches, and ferries, and massed at vantage points around the harbour when the Queen Mary, accompanied by the 45,000-ton Aquitania and the Dutch liner Nieuw Amsterdam (36,000 tons) put out to sea escorted by the Australian cruiser Hobart. The convoy as a whole (Mauretania was sailing from Melbourne and would join them in Freemantle) lifted approximately 12,000 members of the 2nd A.I.F. Their cheers mingled with those of many thousands of spectators ashore and afloat, the toots of ferries and tugboats, the screams of sirens, and the big bass of the Queen Mary's foghorn as the convoy steamed down the harbour and through the Heads.

Although efforts had been made to keep the destination of the troops, known as "Elbow Force", as secret as possible, the embarkation two days previously had become a great public occasion. Crates marked "Elbow Force, Singapore"; which had been waiting to be loaded on the ship, were among the factors which robbed security precautions of much of their effect. The largest part of the 8th Australian Infantry Division was sailing for Malaya. Here they would join the 8th Indian Infantry Division who already in place. Along with the six British Battalions, and one Malay Battalion, this brought the total to 25 Battalions, which was just short of the number thought to be the number necessary for the defence of Malaya and Borneo.

Among the units that had boarded the Aquitania were the newly qualified pilots and ground crew of three RAAF fighter squadrons. It would be a few months before their aircraft would be delivered from the United States, as the first batch of North American Mustangs were all being delivered to the RAF in England. The second batch of sixty aircraft were due for delivery to Malaya in April. In the meantime, they would use Hurricanes that had been withdrawn from service over Europe. Two RAF squadrons who were already using these around Singapore, and the Indian Air Force’s 1st Squadron, which had finished a tour of operations in England, were due to join them, also flying Hurricanes. The addition of the three RAAF squadrons would improve the air situation and it was hoped that once they were equipped with Mustangs, the situation would be transformed.

The deal between the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and North American to assemble Mustangs in Melbourne had been agreed, though the production line wouldn’t open until much later in 1941, in the meantime they would have to be supplied from Inglewood, California. Bristol’s factory to produce Beaufighters (rather than the Beauforts originally planned) was in the process of assembling aircraft from parts shipped out, the first of which would be delivered in June. There were two RAF Blenheim squadrons in Malaya that were due to transition onto Beaufighters, but these aircraft were in great demand in Europe. It was expected that they would have to wait until the DAP Beaufighters became available. Two RAAF squadrons were also preparing to take delivery of these in due course. The Hawker Hindustan factory in Bangalore was expected to assemble their first Hurribombers in July, and the Indian Air Force and RAF were cooperating to get two squadrons of these operational by November 1941 at the latest.

10 February 1941. Saumur. France.

The newly minted General Charles De Gaulle watched as his new Division paraded at the end of its first full exercise. The 1re Division Mécanique had been created, at De Gaulle’s suggestion. It consisted of a BCC (Brigade of Chars), with 80 of the new Somua 40s in two battalions. Ahead of the chars the armoured cars and other vehicles of the deep reconnaissance regiment, 14e Cuirassier Regiment. This was the first regiment fully equipped with the AM 39 Gendron, also made by Somua. The two infantry regiments (249e and 255e) were entirely motorised, mostly in trucks, but each regiment had one assault company which were equipped with Lorraine VBCP 38L armoured personnel carriers. Each of the soldiers were carrying the semi-automatic MAS model 1940 rifle. Non-Commissioned Officers and various others in the regiment were issued with the MAS 38 Pistolet Mitrailleur, or submachine gun. The squad weapon was the FM 24/29, and the grenadiers had a Brandt version of the M79 grenade launcher in addition to their normal rifle grenades.

The two artillery regiments passed the review stand, towing 75mm and 105mm guns, like most French artillery regiments. These regiments (319e & 320e) had all terrain tractors, the guns were new and the gun crews had been training hard. The divisional anti-tank battalion were equipped with 47mm guns, though there were others who would be using a 57mm gun, a license built version of the British 6-pdr. These were generally being issued to units that had previously been using the 25mm anti-tank gun. De Gaulle watched as the anti-aircraft battery went by. Here he felt a pang of regret, the battery was still only armed with the Hotchkiss 25mm autocannon, and even these were towed. There had been some people looking at installing the gun on the back of a truck, to at least make it more mobile, but even so, it was one of the glaring weak points of this new division. There was a detachment who were meant to coordinate with the AdA, though that hadn’t gone well during the exercise, and De Gaulle had torn a strip off the captain in charge. But if the Luftwaffe got itself together, then his integrated anti-aircraft unit wouldn’t be a lot of help.

The three companies of Sapeurs-Mineurs went by next, followed by the bridging company. This particular lot of engineers had done well in the exercise, and De Gaulle had great confidence in them, personally thanking their commander in front of the rest of the divisional officers. Among the new equipment they had were two mine clearance vehicles based on H35 chars with a charrue (plough) on the front that should move mines out of the way. The idea was attractive, and some of the Somua 40 char commanders were looking at welding some supports onto their own chars to add a charrue if it became necessary.

The radio and communications group drove past next, De Gaulle happy to see that there were no longer pigeon carriers among them. If there had been one single change to the French army in the last six months it was the availability and use of radio communications. All new chars were equipped with them, many older ones were receiving them as fast as they could be produced, and men trained in their use. Many radios were made in America, it was one of the products that the French government had decided they needed to spend their remaining dollar reserves on. A large part of the exercise that had just completed was about command and control as the various elements of the Division went about their various objectives. Having a greater flexibility in attack was something that the French army was having to learn, and there were plenty of senior officers who just couldn’t cope. Men who had started the war as Lieutenants were now Captains, many Generals and Colonels, even highly decorated ones from the Great War, were now in non-combat roles.

All in all De Gaulle was satisfied with the progress that had been made, and was keen to get to grips with the Boche. There were another eleven of these divisions being formed from a mixture of infantry divisions, with BCCs, the DLMs and the remnants of the Cavalry Divisions. These twelve divisions, along with the four heavy armoured divisions, the DCrs, would form the breakthrough punch into Germany.

15 February 1941. Vickers-Armstrong. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. England.

HMS Victorious, with help from tugs, slipped out of her moorings and under her own power began to make her way out to the North Sea. Without the emergency work on escort vessels, the shipyard had managed to finish the carrier a few weeks early, even with the changes made since the previous January. There were two fundamental changes that had been made to the ship. The first was fitting her with four turbo- and four diesel-driven generators of 400 kW capacity apiece, increasing the electrical power of the ship. This was necessary as there was an increased radar suite (including an Aircraft Direction Room) and changes to damage control systems. The second major change was the removal of the aerodynamic ‘round down’ of the flight deck. This was replaced with an extended, flush deck, providing a greater ability to operate a deck park for aircraft.

There was still lots of work to be done fitting her out, but there was a place ready for her at Rosyth. This would include the increase in her anti-aircraft defensive armament. The addition of a third Illustrious Class aircraft carrier to the Royal Navy’s fleet in addition to the other carriers put the fleet in a very positive position. It was likely that Victorious, once she was worked up, with her SeaFires and Barracuda squadrons, would join the Duke of York, Nelson, Queen Elizabeth and Renown in sailing to Singapore to join Illustrious and Malaya.

HMAS Melbourne, at Barrow-in-Furness, was also ahead of schedule, and was due to head for Rosyth in June for contractor’s trials and commissioning. Members of her Australian crew had arrived from their experience working on HMS Illustrious to begin working with a Royal Navy crew to get to the point of being able to crew her completely.

The expansion of the RAN, to include enough escorts for the aircraft carrier was under consideration. At the beginning of the war the RAN consisted of the heavy cruisers Canberra and Australia, the light cruisers Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Adelaide. The destroyers Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager, Stuart and Waterhen, and the sloops Swan and Yarra. Four escort destroyers were being built in Australia, including at Cockatoo Island. A serious of Bathurst corvettes were also under construction or planned. In the meantime, four H-Class destroyers were to be transferred to the RAN, these were originally built for the Brazilian Navy, Havelock, Highlander, Hurricane and Hesperus. Unlike Highlander which had Hedgehog and improved ASDIC fitted as an ASW expert, the other three were refitted for anti-aircraft duties. One of the torpedo tubes had been removed and in the centre of the ship two twin 40mm Bofors guns were fitted on Hazemeyer tri-axially stabilized mountings. All four of the 4.7 inch guns were replaced with 4 inch guns on High Angle/Low Angle Mark XX single mounts. Some Oerlikon 20mm guns would also be fitted as they became available.

The Fleet Air Arm squadrons 800, 827, 831 and 880 were working up in SeaFires and Fulmers. The Griffon powered Barracudas would slightly longer to come into service, as Fairey Aviation struggled to get them into full production. To man the squadrons they had brought in as many Royal Australian Navy pilots as they could from other FAA squadrons, as well as having drafts from the Empire Air Training Scheme. These squadrons would be transferred to the Australian Fleet Air Arm, when the Melbourne was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy.

16 February 1941. Lisbon, Portugal.

Walford Selby, as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Portuguese Republic, walked into the office of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar. They had met often and had very friendly relations, as did the two countries, sharing the 600 year old Anglo-Portuguese Alliance.

Portuguese non-belligerence since the war had begun had been supported by British policy, partly out of fear that Franco would throw his lot in with his fellow fascists. Hitler and Mussolini had been big supporters of Franco which had helped him win the Spanish Civil War. There had been some pressure from Berlin for the Spanish to support Hitler now, especially against the French. Over the last few months there had been some quiet background diplomatic moves where Franco had assured France that Spain would remain neutral. This had allowed the French to move some of their forces from the Spanish border to fight the Germans.

Salazar and Franco had signed an agreement, known as the Iberian Pact, which supported one another’s neutrality. As Berlin’s appeals had become more and more strident, the Treaty of Friendship and Non-Aggression had been reaffirmed. With The Entente forces poised on the Rhine, all threats of invasion of the Iberian Peninsula were obviously off the table and it was becoming clear that while they weren’t liberal democracies, Portugal and Spain had far more to gain from a neutrality leaning towards the Entente, than against them.

Walford Selby’s meeting was in reference to the agreement that had been made in August 1939 that the Portuguese armed forces would have British help to re-arm and modernize its forces. In the recent meetings in Bangkok and Durban, the proximity of Portuguese colonies to the British territories had been a source of worry. If the Portuguese couldn’t defend their colonies against foreign aggression, this would impart the security of the British Empire and Dominions. The principal concern was Portuguese Timor in the Far East. The Portuguese forces there were not very strong and if the Empire of Japan got a foothold there it would threaten northern Australia. There was also the question of Macau, which like Hong Kong would be very difficult to defend against a Japanese incursion, whether they accepted Portuguese neutrality or not.

In addition to this, British thinking about the status of India was complicated by the presence of Portuguese India: Goa, Dadra and Diu. Selby had been briefed from London that there was no expectation that Portugal would change its view of pluricontinentalism, that it was a unified nation-state spread over various continents. Salazar’s view of the world, and especially of Portugal’s colonies, wouldn’t be changed, but getting him to think about their future defence was important. So, Selby had three issues to put before Salazar for his consideration.

Firstly the current Portuguese air force was extremely small and using obsolete aircraft. With the expansion of the pilot training in both the UK and in the Empire, the RAF were happy to provide training for Portuguese pilots. With regards upgrading their aircraft, it was possible that some Hurricanes might be available for purchase. In return the British hoped that the forces on Portuguese Timor would be strengthened. Britain was prepared to offer troopships to move Portuguese forces from either Europe or Mozambique to East Timor. They were also prepared to provide support for training of these forces to improve their readiness.

Secondly, and here there was the need for the British of mediate since relations between Portugal and the Dutch was best described as “cool”. While the Dutch were strengthening their holdings in the East Indies, they were in danger of being flanked if the Japanese took over Portuguese East Timor. This was considered a real threat as the Japanese semi-governmental Nan’yō Kōhatsu development company, with the secret sponsorship of the Imperial Japanese Navy, invested heavily in a joint-venture with the primary plantation company of Portuguese Timor, SAPT. The joint-venture effectively controlled imports and exports into the island by the mid-1930s and the extension of Japanese interests greatly concerned the British, Dutch and Australian authorities. The possibility of the Japanese using Timor as a Trojan horse had to be avoided. So, Salazar was asked to give assurances that his colony would not become a threat to those around him.

Thirdly, the British were very interested in the outcome of the meeting between Franco of Spain and Mussolini of Italy which had taken place a few days previously. While a great deal had been intercepted and translated through Bletchley Park, the British were particularly interested in what seemed to be a turn towards the Entente, something they knew that Mussolini was interested in. If Franco was also so-minded that would make substantial differences to British and French dispositions. One of the strategic minerals that Franco was selling to Germany was tungsten, Britain was already buying all the Portuguese output. Shelby asked Salazar to make an offer for the British to buy the whole Spanish export of this mineral, at a better price than the Germans were paying. In return a deal on oil imports might be done through Dutch Shell.

In Shelby’s report to London later that night it seemed that it had been a very successful meeting, with Salazar being very positive about all three suggestions.

18 February 1941. 7th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. Olen, Belgium.

John Foxwell had been promoted to Warrant Officer III and was now Troop Sergeant Major. The Regiment had undergone a change of organisation. Instead of two batteries of twelve guns, split into three troops of four guns, the new style regiment had three batteries of two troops of four guns. It was still 24 guns, but it had increased the number of officers and, like Foxwell, more NCOs (from 28 officers and 555 other ranks, the 1941 organisation increased this to 36 & 634). The system they had used in the fighting from May until September 1940 had been found wanting. The exception had been General Montgomery’s Third Division, which included 7th Field Regiment. Montgomery had insisted that his three Artillery Regiments acted primarily as a 72 gun battery for the division. This had proven particularly effective, unlike other divisions, who had found that the lines of fire and fire control systems were too complicated, which made them difficult to learn and too slow in operation. A lot of what had been learned by the end of the Great War was having to be relearned.

The new system was being worked out in the current Army sized exercise which included a live fire element. At first confusion had reigned as officers in new roles struggled to find their feet, but that was the purpose of the exercise. When it came to doing it for real, practice should make perfect. Foxwell’s troop had been in the field for four days and the new men were starting to complain. The others, who had been through the battles in Belgium and Germany, were quick enough to put them right about having nothing much to complain about.

Foxwell himself found his new role extremely challenging. He was responsible to the Troop Commander for the discipline of the men. Like himself Captain Musker was newly promoted from Lieutenant and Gun Position Officer to Captain and Troop Commander. Many of the other sergeants like Foxwell, who had been gun commanders during the fighting, had been promoted, some moving on to new regiments to leaven them with experience. Foxwell had been pleased to stay where he was and his relationship with the new sergeants was critical, as they were learning the ropes too. Foxwell’s experience and professionalism, as well as his fairness, set him up as a good Sergeant Major.

There was a fair amount of banter going on between the men in each of the gun sections and troops. Like the rest of the British army, they spent most of their time together in the bizarre black humour of throwing dire insults at each other, especially at the lack of civilisation from wherever in the British Isles they happened to be from. Foxwell knew that things were really bad if this was absent, and from what he’d heard going round the gun positions over the last hour of so, the men were in a pretty good state, even if they were cold, dirty and hungry. While the men weren’t as clean as a depot sergeant major would be happy with, the guns were, as was their own essential kit. The amount of rain and mud they had been working in would be a problem at any time, but Foxwell was happy to report to Captain Charles Musker that the Troop was ready for the next phase of the exercise. At that point of course, the heavens opened and another heavy downpour of rain soaked them. “At least it isn’t snowing,” thought Foxwell. But that was still to come.

19 February 1941. Donibristle, Fife, Scotland.

800 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm were the first to receive Seafires from the Cunliffe-Owen factory in Eastleigh. Given the fundamentally different operating conditions that the Seafires would have to deal with, compared with the RAF’s Spitfire, these aircraft had been through a serious of design and construction changes. Rather than simply “navalising” a Spitfire, adding a tail hook etc., these aircraft had been built from the ground up as Seafires, which incorporated some major changes.

Knowing that the undercarriage was going to be a major issue, the French had provided one of their American made G-36A, known to the Americans as the Wildcat, for examination. Between this, and whatever information could be gleaned from the Bristol group, the company had come up with a more robust undercarriage. Using longer oleos and a lower rebound ratio, as well other modifications it was hoped that the Seafire would be able to cope better with heavier landings. This improved undercarriage had implications for the wings, but since they were having to develop a new wing which could fold, these adaptations were achievable.

It was the new wing that caused the major headaches. As well as being able to fold, it had to retain its structural integrity, no easy task in such a tightly engineered wing. The beefed-up undercarriage, the weight of the cannons, with their ammunition, the leading edge fuel tanks, the plumbing to take extra fuel tanks, all caused headaches as the designers tried to square this particular circle. In the end it proved impossible to add the hydraulics that would give it the ability to raise and lower the wing by its own power, and so this would have to be done manually. One of the adaptations that had to be made from the first attempts at a new wing, was to solve the problem of the disturbed airflow that came from the folding joints that caused unexpected instability. New seals along the joints went some way towards a fix, but not completely.

In addition to the new wings, and its problems, changes to strengthen the fuselage and fit the tail hook had caused centre of gravity problems, one of the test aircraft had been lost because of this very problem. Another modification that was recommended was to shorten the propeller slightly, by about two inches, just to give the Seafire a little more clearance, along with slightly lengthened undercarriage. With a cut down rear fuselage and a teardrop canopy, all in all the Seafire and the Spitfire were beginning to look a bit more like cousins than siblings.

Nothing very much could be done about the lack of vision along the front of the aircraft, even with the new canopy. Part of 800 Squadron’s task was to develop best practice for landing the Seafire. The airfield at Donibristle was equipped with arrestor gear and was used to transition onto carrier flight operations. The pilots had been using a few old repaired Spitfires to gain hours on this new type, so when the Seafires began to trickle in, the squadron would make the change as quickly as possible.

The pilots generally found the Seafire, which was heavier than the Spitfires they had got used to was a good deal slower. It really needed the Griffon engine, but there were problems getting this into production, the Barracudas had priority for these and they had to make do with what they had. Flying against the SeaHurricane and the French G-36A, the Seafire performed the best of the three. Drop tanks would be needed to give it the legs necessary for carrier operations, but these too were being supplied. With Hawker’s Tempest and the possibility of carrier-based jets in the not too distant future, it was recognised that the Seafire would be more than adequate for the foreseeable future. As long the pilots could get up to a very good level of competence on it. The pilots of 800 Squadron were happy to do so, the alternative was flying Fulmers, as they waited for HMS Victorious to be ready for them to go to sea.

20 February 1941. Department of State. Washington DC. USA.

Claire L. Chennault had waited for this meeting for some time. The excuse of the change of administration had delayed the meeting, but even then, there was some question about who would take the meeting, and what America’s position on support for China might be. Chennault had been sent by Madame Chiang to get American support to build up a Chinese air force. President Roosevelt had been keen to help, but during the campaign President Dewey had been less than clear about what he intended to do.

The under-secretary of State finally called Chennault into his office and offered him coffee, which was politely refused. Chennault had been cooling his heels for long enough, and he really wanted to get on with the business at hand. Some of the out-going administration, who had been very sympathetic to the Chinese cause had been attempting to prevail on their successors to continue their policy, but it wasn’t going well. There was a lot of sympathetic noises, but not much more. The under-secretary asked Chennault what exactly he was looking for. Chennault swallowed back his anger. If the under-secretary had read the letters he had written, he would know that the Chinese Republic was looking to defend itself from Japanese aggression, particularly from the constant attacks by Japanese aircraft. Chennault had been asked by Madame Chiang, to seek help from the American government for two things. Firstly, to guarantee Bank of China loans, so that secondly the Chinese could buy Curtiss-Wright aircraft, and pay salaries to volunteer pilots and ground crew.

Chennault explained that the Japanese air force was running riot over all the free Chinese cities within range, and there was no defence for the civilian population. The Rape of Nanking was only one of the horrors that was being played out on the Chinese people, and America was in the position to help. Curtiss-Wright were prepared to supply the aircraft if the contract were given. Chennault showed the under-secretary a letter from Burdette Wright, the Vice-President of the company, promising the aircraft. The under-secretary read the letter, and then excused himself from the room for a few minutes. When he came back the conversation didn’t get very far before they were interrupted by his secretary who called him out of the room again. This happened one more time, at which point Chennault was furious.

When he came back in, the under-secretary apologised for the interruptions, but he had made a few phone calls to check things, and that was him getting information back. Firstly, the Federal Bank was not in a position to guarantee Chinese loans. If it did that it would also have to back British and French loans, and there was some concern over this. Secondly, the War Department had informed him that the French orders for Curtiss Model 81A-1, which were not yet delivered, were expected to be honoured. If not, then there would be penalties for Curtiss-Wright. If the company were prepared to open another assembly line for the Chinese to provide the more advanced P-40D, as the letter suggested, then the Army Air Corps would be very interested, since their order for the aircraft was only slowly being fulfilled.

Chennault felt the fight going out of him. While there was sympathy for the Chinese and their situation, Dewey’s administration was quite steadfast in their electoral promises not to get involved in foreign wars. The phone on the under-secretary’s desk rang again, and this time he took the call in the office. The call was fairly one sided, the under-secretary simply saying “yes” and “I understand” a few times. When he hung up the phone, he explained that the call had been in reference to asking for volunteers from Army or Navy for pilots or ground crew. The legal advice of the American government was that if an American citizen volunteered to become a mercenary, then said citizen would lose their American citizenship and passport. They would be able to reapply for citizenship on returning to America, but that was all they expect. Chennault hung his head. There would be few, if any, who would volunteer under those conditions. He did ask about those who had gone to Europe to fight with the British and French, and it seemed that the same rule would apply to them too.

The final parting shot of the meeting was the reassurance that the Dewey was committed to peace, and was writing to all governments currently at war to offer to mediate a peace settlement, and bring the wars to an end. Chennault walked away from the meeting as quickly as possible. He couldn’t wait to get back to China.

21 February 1941. Salisbury Plain. England.

3rd Armoured Division consisted of the 21st Armoured Brigade: 40th (The King's) 41st (Oldham), and 42nd Royal Tank Regiments with the 164th Brigade providing the infantry element (9th Battalion, King's Regiment (Liverpool) 4th Battalion, 5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment).

The delivery of the Comet tanks had been slower than expected, and the hope that the Division would be over the channel and integrated with the rest of the British Third Army was taking longer than expected. This was the end of the final exercise to declare the Division operational. It was also the first full exercise with the changed Armoured Division structure of a single Armoured brigade and infantry Brigade. The Division was commanded by General Richard McCreery, who’d done well with 2nd Armoured Brigade in Belgium.

The exercise had begun badly, which had led to the removal of Brigadier Guy Drake-Brockman as commander of 21st Amoured Brigade. He had put the unit together successfully, but it became obvious that he wasn’t the right kind of officer to lead men into battle. His place was taken by Reginald Naesmyth, who had a much better idea of the use of tanks in combat.

There was a great deal of interest from Whitehall about the utility of the Comet tank during the exercise, as it was new and had a fairly rushed genesis. Overall, the picture was good, there had been some thrown tracks and a few breakdowns, but none of these breakdowns were the result of any design problems. The men who crewed the tanks were impressed with it, and so were the men who serviced the tanks. It was generally thought of as being the equal to the German Panzer IV, though with the 6-pdr gun, better armed. The debate between those who wanted a better HE capability and those who wanted a better anti-tank capability continued unabated. A number of experienced officers and NCOs had been drafted into the Brigade, some of whom had gone to war in Vickers light tanks, these men in particular to could see the potential of the new tank.

The Infantry element of the Division was designated as “mechanised”. They were equipped with a mixture of the Canadian built C15TA armoured truck and improved Loyd carriers. The Tracked Personnel Carrier was based on the basic Loyd carrier, but with built up sides to give some protection to the eight man section it carried. Dennis Brothers was building these carriers at their factory in Guildford. It still wasn’t the dedicated Armoured Personnel Carrier that the army wanted, but it was able to keep up with the tanks. The full APC based on the Comet chassis was being built by Ruston-Bucyrus, but the numbers they were producing was still too few to equip a full brigade.

The 11th and 12th (Honourable Artillery Company) Regiments, Royal Horse Artillery was the first to be equipped with twenty-four each of the new “Sexton” self-propelled artillery vehicles. Like the rest of the Division, they were getting used to their new kit. Generally they were proving to be happy with what they were getting used to. The last regiment was the 104th (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment, RHA, but these were still using towed 25-pdrs. The anti-tank regiment, 70th A/T Rgt RA, was armed with 6-pdrs, usually towed by Loyd carriers.

Having defended London against potential Luftwaffe attacks the 86th (HAC) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment had left their heavy guns behind, and had been re-equipped with the new SPAAG (self-propelled anti-aircraft guns), the Comet chassis with Bofors 40mm. 24 of these vehicles now provided the Division with mobile cover from aerial attacks. While the aim was to have them in each battery of eight, there were only enough specialised vehicles for one in the regiment to provide a mobile radar unit which could be set up in a relatively short time.

The rest of the divisional troops, engineers, signalers, medics, military police, RASC, RAOC, were in a mix of vehicles, some armoured, some tracked, but mostly in wheeled vehicles without protection. As the tail of the Division they weren’t meant to be too far into harm’s way, but whatever bodges could be done to make them more capable of defending themselves was certainly carried out.

As the exercise came to its conclusion, General Montgomery, General Officer Commanding Third Army went round the various units and congratulated them on their successful exercise and wished them God-speed as they were to cross over into Belgium after a final few days leave. Privately Montgomery and McCreery had a long conversation about the areas of weakness that had been obvious in the exercise that would need to be put right before the spring offensive and Third Army’s combat debut.

22 February 1941. OKW. Berlin. Germany.

Since September the enquiry into the failure of Plan Yellow, and the subsequent Entente invasion of Germany, had been carried out in typical Gestapo style. There were far too many generals who had been “interrogated” because of perceived failures. Yet for the majority of the Heer the failure was not that of the German soldier, but either a spy that had placed their plan into the hands of their enemies, or, less often voiced, failure of the command structure. The Luftwaffe had undergone a similar ravaging by Reinhard Heydrich’s Reich Main Security Office. The question of who guards the guards was being asked. Goring had been tasked with chasing down the British spy, but nothing was turned up, though a number of suspects were killed in the process, many of them innocent, others who had been working for the Soviets.

By and large Hitler’s normal system of playing various people and organisations against one another had worked to his benefit, but it had a detrimental effect on morale at all levels of the military. This was most notable as General Von Rundstedt gave his assessment of the current situation of the German army and its preparations to defend the Rhine from an Entente crossing. The losses in men and material that had taken place in France and Belgium were slowly being made up. But the constant bombing by British and French aircraft had impacted severely with deliveries of panzers and other important assets. Too many of the best men and officers had lost their lives, and the men now making up the bulk of the army were well trained, but still green. There was a feeling of failure that pervaded the army. The Panzer forces, who had such belief in themselves after Poland, now wondered at their raison d’etre. The infantry arm had integrated a high proportion of the panzers into their divisions, the remaining panzer divisions were held back to be a counter-attacking force to where the British and French would cross the river Rhine.

The situation of the Luftwaffe was no better. The losses from the previous May had been horrendous, and despite their best efforts trying to regain control of the air from the RAF and AdA they were failing to do so. French and British aircraft roamed over the towns and cities of the Reich with almost impunity. The transport network was the primary target, but the destruction of so much of the synthetic oil production meant that the provision of fuel for training had been cut back. If there was one thing that the RAF seemed to sniff out was any movement of fuel convoys. There was a few squadrons of Hurribombers and Beaufighters whose sole purpose it seemed was to destroy fuel bowsers whenever they were on move. The fact that the British had identified one of the Reich’s particular economic weaknesses and was exploiting it for all they were worth was a yet another indication of how deeply they were exploiting their infiltration of the state. A few attempts to use fuel movements as the bait in a trap had been largely unsuccessful, or the British had turned up with an overwhelming force of Spitfires to turn the trap on its head.

General Von Rundstedt’s intelligence people had identified a limited number of places where the Entente were likely to force a crossing over the Rhine. However, there was other intelligence, some of it very good, that an amphibious operation was being planned to liberate Denmark. There were some in the OKW who felt this was a red herring, but the Fuhrer himself was convinced that this was a likely threat. That meant that some of Von Rundstedt’s best units were being held back to prevent an invasion of Denmark, and therefore the Reich. The Todt organisation’s efforts to build a new defensive line east of the Rhine was under constant fire, especially from the heaviest British and French railway guns. Even with slave labour this effort was far behind schedule, which added to Von Rundstedt’s fears of being able to successfully contain an Entente crossing of the Rhine.

While civilians were not the primary target of either the aerial or artillery attacks, the number of casualties among the civilian population was increasing, and despite Goebbels’ best efforts, there was mounting discontent with the war, and since British and French radio propaganda couldn’t be completely curtailed. The call for an end to the war (and therefore of the Nazi State, since that was the primary condition for a peace settlement) was growing. The Gestapo were cracking down on dissent, but there was a feeling in the country that was a dam that was fit to burst.

As for Hitler himself, those closest to him saw a change in him. It seemed that his temper tantrums were getting worse, “chewing the carpet” had become all too readily his first reaction to bad news. This coupled with an increased shaking of his hands, and the occasional twitch were signs that all was not well with Adolf Hitler. The fact that Von Rundstedt’s negative assessment of the current situation had been voiced, was more than enough to set Hitler off on a torrent of abuse. Most of those who gave reports in the presence of the Fuhrer dressed them up as positively as they could, the truth was often silenced, a victim of the fear of being dressed down by a ranting Fuhrer. There were all too many bright and capable officers either reassigned, or even dead, who had dared to speak the truth in the Fuhrer’s presence. His tantrums were often followed by a period of despondency, in which he struggled to do or say anything.

Von Rundstedt was no coward and stood his ground in front of an increasingly hysterical Hitler. The SS guards tightened their grips on their weapons, suspicious that some of the generals wouldn’t be above sacrificing themselves if they could kill Hitler. Over the last four months at least three assassination attempts had been foiled. The Fuhrer’s guard were constantly vigilant against any such attempt on his life, and who his enemies were was becoming less obvious. Seeing Von Rundstedt standing up to him and taking the abuse somehow made Hitler even madder. He was used to people backing down or somehow being diminished in his presence, but that was not the case here. Von Rundstedt was dismissed as chief of staff, his place would be taken by Hitler himself. Only he could save the Reich, only his manifest destiny could bring the thousand year Reich to the glories that should be its by right.

At the end of the meeting, as the generals made their way out of the building, nothing much was said, it didn’t need to be.

24 February 1941. The Netherlands.

The growing unhappiness in occupied Holland was brought to a head. There had been pogroms against the Jews living throughout the country, particularly in Amsterdam by the Nazis. While a large number of the Jewish community had been evacuated, a substantial proportion had opted to stay. The Nazis had cordoned off a Ghetto in Amsterdam and some 400 Jews had been taken for use as slave labour. All political parties had been banned, and all other groups were meant to be “Nazified”. The Communist Party, which was still strong enough to organise, with support from the government in exile, put together a serious of efforts to hamper and undermine the German position as fully as possible.

The German authorities had no idea where it started, or who organised it, but all over the country workers failed to show up for work, starting with the tram drivers. Some people called it a general strike, but to the Germans it was simply another sign that their control over the occupied territory was limited, and declining. The hopes that their fellow Aryans would welcome them had long been extinguished. The levels of small-scale resistance were annoying but this had taken things to a whole new level. When word arrived that a similar strike was happening in Denmark too, it became obvious that this was coordinated from London. Sure enough, the BBC were reporting the success of this act of non-cooperation in the two occupied countries.

The Gestapo went to pick up “the usual suspects”: union leaders, known opponents of the regime. There were collaborators who fingered some of the ringleaders, but these Nazi supporters often found that they came home to find their homes on fire, windows broken or covered in graffiti. Often when the Gestapo broke down doors, they found that their quarry had been forewarned and had already gone to ground. There were some arrests, and some were shot “resisting arrest”. Despite all these efforts, the general strike went on for two more days. On the last morning the Nazis executed over 100 hostages, including at least fifty Jews.

The Germans had already tried to jam BBC signals but had limited success, and the idea of confiscating radios from every home was just too difficult to accomplish. There were still very few acts of overt violence by the resistance movement, they were more likely to call in German movements for the RAF or the Free Dutch Air Force to attack. Though minor sabotage was becoming more common, to the extent that the German 18th Army were being forced to take a much more “occupation” role than to prepare for the expected spring offensive.

28 February 1941. Bagdad. Iraq.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had travelled to Bagdad, but found that supporters of the Germans were thinner on the ground than he had been led to believe. The Golden Square that he expected to meet were four Colonels, but three of them (Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh, Kamil Shabib, and Fahmi Said) had all lost their positions for one reason or another. Shabib, who had commanded the First Infantry Division had been killed in a road traffic accident. Colonel al-Sabbagh, commander of the Third Infantry Division had been arrested over missing funds and was currently in jail. Fahmi Said, who commanded the Independent Mechanised Brigade had been reassigned to a staff job. The last of the so called “Golden Square”, Colonel Mahmud Salman commanded the Iraqi Air Force. Grand Mufti and Salman’s meeting took place in what they thought was a secure location. The fact that British intelligence had microphones recording the conversation meant it wasn’t as secure as they believed.

The recording of the conversation was mostly boring, as it quickly became apparent that both men were dejected. Any hopes they may have had of throwing off the yoke of British domination in the Middle East was nothing more than a pipe dream. British Intelligence got the names of a number of other pro-Axis officers to take action on, but generally it was concluded that neither of these men were any real threat to the British position. The decision to continue the light surveillance on both men to see if any other possible conspirators could be identified.

Rashid Ali, the other main person of interest as a threat to the Iraqi status quo, was missing. It was suggested that he had got wind of British interest in him and he had fled, probably to Ankara in Turkey. There were others who suspected that he had met with an “unfortunate accident” which happened all too commonly to people who opposed of the British backed regime. The very fact that he was no longer in any position of influence or power was satisfactory enough to the authorities.