I played the leader of a terrorist organisation in the Divided Land megagame. Divided Land was about the situation in Palestine in 1947, we played from March through to an agreement on partition in August 1947. We then made plans on what would happen when the agreement came into force at 00:01 on 1st January 1948. Predictably there was an Arab invasion….
I was cast as Menachem Begin, the leader of Irgun and a future Prime Minister of Israel. Begin described himself as a terrorist in his autobiography, he made no bones about ensuring a viable Jewish state in the land of Israel. Irgun were extremists, they wanted all of the biblical lands of Israel, including Judea and Samaria (including some of present day Jordan). Begin also blamed the British for not rescuing Jews from the Holocaust by failing to grant visas in sufficient numbers before the war, and failing to act to interdict the railways carrying Jews to be murdered by the Nazis.
Irgun were a breakaway faction and outside the Jewish assembly. The British had a price on Begin’s head of £25,000 (about the same as the US offered for bin Laden). So Irgun are on the outside and hiding. But there are a lot of angry Jews who agree with the view of never again will Jews rely on others for their protection, nor for retaliation against wrongs to the Jewish people.
We started with a brief discussion on policy. We decided that we needed to keep up the pressure on the British, and that we only needed to act against the Arabs in retaliation to attacks on Jews. We had 15 active cells of about 20 people (we recruited women as well as men). We could afford to run half of these every fortnight to give people time to rest between operations. We also needed to find arms and money to sustain operations.
In March 1947 we ran a campaign of bank robberies and also a planned kidnapping of a British Staff officer. The first campaign wasn’t without setbacks, we did do some banks, but some of our guys got arrested. The second was better, we netted an Intelligence Corps Colonel. We decided to pass him on to the Palmach for interrogation because we didn’t have that skillset.
It was about this point that the Jordanians approached us off the record. Through back channels we agreed to work against the Grand Mufti in return for arms and other support. I was suspicious, but the arms were supplied without strings and I had wanted to kill the Grand Mufti anyway.
The British decided almost immediately to reinforce Palestine and started to make arrangements to bring in a Mechanised Brigade. I left my partner in crime to arrange some weapons smuggling from Europe while I went off into Gaza to blow up the railway line and lay an ambush for the repair crews. My thought process here was that if we ambushed them it would increase the impact and make the British deploy more troops on protecting very long lines of communication.
Surprisingly I wasn’t the only one acting against the railway in Gaza. Adherents of the Grand Mufti were also doing the same thing a couple of miles up the track. It also turned out that there were no immediate repair attempts.
I went to see Dunkirk with my 11 year old son last week. I’d read some reviews beforehand and chose the IMAX version. It’s an amazing movie that I think will bear watching again. I’ll try to avoid spoilers.
The movie focuses on three stories, one on Land (over a week), one on the Sea (a day) and in the Air (an hour). The three stories are very personal perspectives and are interwoven, coming together near the end of the movie.
There’s no overview, or explanation of how the British and French Armies ended up at Dunkirk. We never see the Germans, other than a couple of ME109s, a Heinkel bomber and a flight of Stukas.
There’s also almost no blood and definitely no gore. Nolan is on record as saying that he consciously avoided effects that distracted viewers from the story. Throughout the Dunkirk movie men are shot and blown up, but the casualties are very much people lying around and not the bloody lumps of meat we’ve got used to seeing since Saving Private Ryan.
Dunkirk on Land
The key viewpoint is an unnamed private soldier played by Harry Styles. He soon collects a couple of friends while on the beach. There’s very little dialogue, the story speaks of the desperation and the frantic attempts to escape. What dialogue there is keeps to the point, and there are no explanations.
The soldiers first attempt to get a ship is through picking up a wounded man on a stretcher. They’ve seen that the wounded are getting priority, and when some stretcher bearers are killed in a Stuka attack Styles and his friend pick up the wounded man and run down the mole. They make the ship, but are ordered back off to collect more wounded.
Each further attempt to escape meets with obstacles, they end up on a destroyer which is promptly torpedoed. They get back to the beach for another go. We’re left in suspense on whether or not they will escape.
Dunkirk by Sea
This strand follows one of the small boats from Devon. The crew are a father and his two sons. The youngest is 15 and jumps on as the boat pulls away. En route they pass the stern of a sunken ship with a shivering second lieutenant sitting on it. The stricken 2Lt clearly had a bad case of battle fatigue as they would have called it then. Not surprisingly given what he’d have gone through. It’s very well treated.
The little ship passes more and more evidence of the scale of the evacuation as it sails to Dunkirk. As it gets closer the smoke and fire on the horizon becomes clearer, and air attacks on other ships get seen.
Dunkirk in the Air
Probably the more spectacular element is the air component. This shows a flight of three spitfires setting out on a combat air patrol over the evacuation routes. In the first scene they’re in we get a pilot pov dogfight where a ME109 goes down. Then the triumphant pilot gets shot out of the sky without even seeing his attacker.
Several more dogfights occur, and eventually we see the little ship under the spitfires as the threads are tied together.
The last part of the air component is the most spectacular. A fantastically well shot descent without fuel, and some frantic hand cranking of undercarriage, to land on the beach.
What this aspect of the movie does tell us is that the RAF were there and that they made a difference, even if they weren’t often seen from the beaches.
Mass mobilisation for a world war level conflict would need the country to repeat what it did for WW1 & WW2.
Discussion I’ve read on twitter amongst those interested and knowledgable about defence (a mixture of serving officers, military historians and political observers) suggests that Britain has a real problem with the level of defence spending and decaying of capability for mass mobilisation to support a world war level conflict.
Years of small wars on the back of the 1990s ‘peace dividend’ has prevented major equipment changes. The British Army is still using many of the same armoured vehicles that it had in 1989. They’ve had internal upgrades, and improved control systems. The lighter vehicles have fared better because there were urgent operational requirements for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Britain was in a similar state to now in the early 30s. After WW1 we didn’t want to go to war again. The army was small and didn’t have any of their kit replaced. With few exceptions in 1933, when Hitler came to power, the British Army was using the same kit that it had ended the world war with in 1918. The recognition of the nazi threat lead to an abandoning of the ten year rule (where we funded our armed forces on the assumption there would be no major war for at least ten years).
Appeasement was a policy not of keeping Hitler happy, but of buying us time to re-equip and expand our armed forces in preparation for mass mobilisation. Through the late thirties a massive programme of expansion and re-equipment went on. In 1938 Britain spent 7.4% of GDP on Defence , which is three and a half times what we are spending now. This doubled in 1939 to 15.3% – not all of which was after the declaration of war in September. By 1941 it was above 50% and it stayed there for the duration.
The nazis were seen as an existential threat, so the public were willing to support mass mobilisation for world war two and accept the sacrifice of additional taxes to pay for the war. Income tax doubled from a basic rate of 25%, which is similar to the current level. I think it would be fair to say that Britain could only afford mass mobilisation for world war three if we could see an existential threat to the country.
Without an existential threat, today we could field one armoured Division with air and naval support. We can’t move it anywhere in a hurry without hiring civilian cargo vessels. Against certain countries that division would be an annoyance, but it certainly wouldn’t stop them doing what they wanted, just impose a stiff price.
Once it was destroyed, we’d be at their mercy. Either that or we’d be strongly considering our nuclear options. That said, anything that caused us to commit the 21st century British Expeditionary Force would almost certainly trigger the NATO mutual defence clauses. So there would be more than just the UK involved.
What does 2% Buy in Defence?
Britain is signed up to the NATO commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on Defence. Through some accounting adjustments we spend almost exactly 2% including some overseas aid. The actual defence budget of £38bn for MoD is likely to be about 1.9% of GDP this year. Almost 40% of that is spent on acquiring equipment, notably the aircraft carriers, trident submarines and F-35s. Between these three huge ticket items there isn’t much capital left.
As at 1 April 2016, the British Army had a trained strength of 79,750 regular personnel and 23,030 reserves, lower than it has ever been since before the start of the 20th Century. The Royal Navy and RAF both had slightly over 32k each, for a total armed forces trained strength of 168k personnel (very few of whom are reserves).
MOD reported that in 2015-16 it spent the following on each of the services:
You’ll notice that the totals don’t add up to the whole Defence budget, but that’s because I’ve left out the civilian elements and the long-term strategic acquisitions.
Mass Mobilisation of Our Armed Forces
There’s two ways to look at this, one is a simple uprating of what we currently have by the amount of extra money we might be able to spend and decide whether that would be effective. The other is to look at what we might need and then see if we can afford it.
For either of these tests you need to have an adversary in mind. When you get into it, quality and will to fight affect the answer. It’s not completely about raw numbers. Maybe someone somewhere has done the work to compare the economic strengths of warring powers and what that tells you about outcomes. I doubt it’s clear cut that the bigger economy always wins, but as a general rule it works.
What could we afford?
Britain is currently the 5th biggest spender on Defence worldwide, and our economy is 5th or 6th dependent on currency fluctuations and Brexit impacts. So there aren’t many countries that ought to be able to scare us, even if we can’t field enough troops to round up their military.
The UK GDP in 2016 is around £1.9 trillion. During WW2 we spent over 50% of GDP on the war effort. We taxed people more, borrowed heavily, and the economy also grew significantly from the war expenditure. I’m not sure that we could quite get to 55% on Defence, we’d still have the welfare state to fund, albeit some of it could be diverted to the war effort. We could also up the total tax share from around 37% (according to Treasury’s analysis the public sector spent £713bn in 2015-16) to match that WW2 55%. That could bring Defence spending to 20% of GDP.
Other sources of funding:
The Welfare budget The UK spends about £250bn on welfare, over a third of our public expenditure. Most of it is on pensions and disability, neither of which would reduce as a result of a world war. We do spend £3bn of it on unemployment benefits, and another £27bn on Housing Benefit, both of which might come down a little if there was mass mobilisation. We could perhaps squeeze 0.1% of GDP out of the UK welfare budget.
The NHS At £162bn annually this is the next largest chunk of public expenditure. At best some of the NHS will become defence medical assets, and the people will transfer to support those we’ve mobilised. Not to mention the inevitable casualties. In practice we’d probably need to spend more on the NHS, or make some really tough choices about priorities.
Borrowing – in 2015-16 we spent £45bn on debt interest. If we borrowed enough to capitalise the interest for the duration of the war then we could add this amount to Defence budget.
Efficiency Gains If the rest of government was asked to cut around 10% of their budgets then we could perhaps add another 3% of GDP to the war budget.
So where does all this get us to? About twelve times the current defence budget, so we could significantly increase the size of our armed forces. On a straight multiple that would give us about two million all ranks from mass mobilisation. However I expect more of them would go into the army than either the RN or RAF for the simple reason that it will take longer to produce ships and aircraft to support that level of expansion than it would to produce army equipment.
Britain’s approach to World Wars
Historically we have form. Britain doesn’t maintain its armed forces between major wars. We keep a training cadre and enough to cope with the various small wars we get involved in. When the big war happens we do mass mobilisation of reserves and recruit anyone we can find. Typically it takes 18 months for us to form the million plus citizen armies we need to stand alongside our allies.
Many people (especially civilian politicians and voters) probably consider the idea of a major war very unlikely. We felt the same in the 1920s. Further, they probably also consider that if one did start that it would go nuclear (or find a diplomatic peace) well before we could train and equip the recruits to expand our armed forces. During the Cold War this was almost certainly true.
What it means is that we’ve given up on necessary infrastructure to do mass mobilisation. We’ve stopped building military aircraft and tanks in the UK. We’d also struggle with a lot of other equipment, like small arms. Our wider manufacturing base is also shot, so the scope for repurposing factories to scale up production is also limited.
As an example, the British Army writes off small arms on a 10 to 15 year period. That means that normal production will be about a tenth of the current size of the armed forces need. So if everyone needs a rifle then we need 200k rifles for the regular and reserve. Let’s say we have a factory that makes 20k rifles a year, just to replace worn out stocks. When you scale up your armed forces through mass mobilisation to 2 million trained personnel then you suddenly need to build 1.8m extra rifles in under six months, and increase replacement levels to cover expected losses from accidents and combat.
We’d also need to find plant, machinery and skilled people to set up factories to produce gun barrels, armour, heavy vehicles, jet engines, aircraft and the complex electronics that make them all work. We’ve got some capacity just now, but it’s all based on small orders delivered over a decade and sharing with other states.
Unlike WW2 the UK doesn’t have broad manufacturing capacity that can be diverted to war production. The UK economy is dominated by service industries, mainly banking. Manufacturing accounts for less than 10% of the UK economy (compared to almost 80% from services).
The extra kit would be a 50% growth in total manufacturing capacity, more like 10-15 times in the specific industries that could produce it. There would also need to be a massive upgrade to chemical & electronics plants to produce military ordnance. It would need to do this almost overnight, we’d need more kit for training people, never mind fighting a war.
There’s room in the British economy for a significant increase in military spending if we faced an existential threat. There’s no political will to spend more than the 2% we’ve committed to via NATO.
The UK doesn’t have the economic base to support significantly increasing manufacturing to equip a scaled up armed force. Nor do we appear to have sufficient spare kit in stock.
Overall, I’d say that we’d need at least a couple of years run up to mass mobilisation. If it ever happens then I hope we get that long. In the meantime, we could do with investing in our manufacturing base. That would make it easier to gear up, and also grow our economy. A strong economy is a better indicator of strength than defence spending.
Davis became a Gurkha officers almost straight out of school in WW2. A Child At Arms should be on reading lists for junior officers and anyone involved in military policy. It compares well to Sydney Jary’s 18 Platoon, which was held up as an excellent example of a platoon commander’s war by the British Army.
A Child At Arms – review
In A Child At Arms Patrick Davis gives a his imperfect memory of his time in the army. Davis came straight out of school into officer training, and volunteered to join the Gurkhas in the Far East. At the age of 19 he joined 4/8th Gurkhas at Kohima just as they were withdrawn to rest.
Davis is very honest in his account. He accepts that memory is imperfect, and even though he kept a journal sporadically during his service he doesn’t recall things he wrote at the time, and other times he has memories that conflict with the notes. This honesty extends to his emotional commentary on how he felt about things.
Serving as the Battalion Intelligence Officer he lead a lot of patrols. He pinpoints the day when he’d finally got beyond what he could cope with and no longer had enthusiasm for taking risks or anything beyond coming back home safely. Despite this he carried on, and went on to become a Company 2ic and then Company Commander just before the end of the war.
The move to the front, and the rebuilding of the battalion is well described, especially the getting to know his Gurkhas and their personalities. Davis gives a good insight into learning Gurkhali and his limitations with it. He also paints a great picture of the men he served with, without presaging their fates.
The patrols, the battles and the country are all written with care. The situations clear, even when confused by the fog if war. Davis gives us only his perspective, he doesn’t try and tell the bits he didn’t see, or can’t remember. There’s just enough context, and a few sketch maps, so that we can follow him through the campaign.
I’ve read many first hand accounts from men that went to war. I don’t recall any being quite this honest, although a few others have mentioned their mental health, not enough do. For that reason alone it should be read widely. On top of that, there aren’t many of these accounts in English from the war in the Far East. So there are more reasons to read it.
I was recommended Dominion by a couple of friends after my review of the TV version of SS-GB. Dominion is a huge tome, it’s 700 pages long, and my first thought was that it probably needed some more editing. However I found it an easy and compelling read. Sansom’s style is more descriptive than others I’ve read, but the extra detail adds to the flavour of the story. The title has multiple interpretations. Britain is a Dominion of nazi Germany, the key protagonist works for the Colonial Office liaising with the Dominions.
Dominion – the review
Dominion takes a far more believable point of departure for its alternate history than SS-GB does. In Dominion Lord Halifax takes over from Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940. Without Churchill the UK also makes peace with Germany in 1940. By the time Dominion is set in 1952 we have a much different Britain, it was never bombed and there is no rationing. Yet we’ve slid into being an authoritarian state with a fascist as Home Secretary in a coalition government. Rigged elections have driven Churchill, Attlee and Bevan underground.
There are several intertwined threads in the story, which gradually come together into the final scene in the book. They’re woven skillfully together in a manner that still leaves room for some surprises when each of the joins come.
I particularly liked the way the key antagonist is written, it would have been so easy to have made him a stereotype bully boy Gestapo thug. Instead he’s a frail human, lost and alone with his twin brother dead on the Russian steppe and his wife left him and taken their son away. Inspector Hoth uses his intelligence and cunning to catch Jews and ship them off, before coming to the UK to try and catch our protagonists. He’s way more sympathetic than the British Special Branch sidekick he picks up, which makes him all the scarier.
The main characters are all different, yet well observed to feel very real. They have more than one dimension to them. More than stereotypes. The central characters are pre-war university friends thrown together by circumstances. Two are civil servants and spying for the Resistance. The third (Frank Muncaster) is a scientist working at Birmingham University with a brother working for the US Government who gets sectioned after an argument with his brother.
David, one of the principal point of view characters, is a grammar school boy weighed down by the hopes of his family. After university, where he roomed with Muncaster, he joins the colonial office. There’s a brief spell in the army in 1939-40 where he serves in the Norway campaign. After the peace he returns to the Colonial Office. We find him ten years later married to Sarah, the daughter of an active pacifist. Both are still mourning the loss of their young son. David also carries secrets, and bitterness about the Nazi influence on Britain. There’s a marriage in trouble alongside the weightier affairs of state. All of this colours what happens.
Story line – no spoilers
The story revolves around helping Frank escape from the Germans with his terrible secret intact. His brother has been working on the atomic bomb for the American government. Frank has learnt something that would make it easier for others to practically?build their own bomb.
There are two parallel attempts to get Frank out of the mental hospital that he’s been placed in. One by the resistance and the other by the Germans. The Germans are constrained by the niceties of Britain being notionally independent.
If you are a fan of alternative history this is definitely a must read. There’s a stack of research underpinning the book, and I didn’t spot anything that felt wrong to me.
Is Archer of the Yard just doing his civil police job or is he a Nazi collaborator?
I have a fascination with the moral dilemma of being a collaborator or changing sides in civil wars and occupations. None more so than the situation that Archer of the Yard finds himself in with SS-GB.
Let’s unpack Archer’s moral dilemma a little, and see whether we think he’s just doing the job, or whether he’s facilitating the worst excesses of Nazism by being a collaborator.
Archer as Loyal Policeman
The oath of a constable hasn’t changed much over the centuries. It’s had an update earlier this century to add fairness, but essentially it’s the same as the oath of office Archer would have taken when he joined the Met Police.
To serve the King and “…to the best of my power cause the peace to be kept and preserved, and prevent all offences against the persons and properties of His Majesty’s subjects…”
That’s the core of the constable’s oath. He’s promising to uphold the law and keep the peace. The constable is doing it on behalf of the King, but his duty is to the law.
Unlike soldiers, who promise loyalty to the King, his heirs and successors and the officers appointed above them, there is no explicit duty to serve the King or government. In fact this independence of the constabulary to uphold the law, against the government if need be, sets them apart.
Archer has no oath of loyalty that says he must oppose the Germans. In staying in his job and catching criminals he’s displaying his loyalty to his country’s law.
Archer as a Collaborator
The niceties of law and oaths of office aside, Archer is working with Germans. For some this alone marks Archer as a Collaborator. We see this in the comments and attitudes of many of the other characters. Even his son asks this.
The mere fact if having a German boss is compounded when Dr Huth arrives. Archer is seen in company of SS troops, often rounding up people and taking them away. Despite his best efforts wherever he goes the SS follow and arrest people. Even at his son’s school a master and several older boys are taken in for questioning.
Archer, his son and household directly benefit from him keeping his job. As well as pay he gets extra rations and has access to a car.
While in the job he gets to influence what the Germans are doing. His influence is low, but not nonexistent. He facilitates the escape of his erstwhile secretary and also turns a blind eye to other resistance activity. Where he can he frustrates the occupation forces in small ways.
Archer isn’t stupid. He’s well aware of how others see him. He knows there are people that would kill him given an opportunity. When he talks to the press he stresses the apolitical nature of his work and non involvement in doing the Germans dirty work.
Archer has seen the Germans at first hand. He’s met the SS and Gestapo that chase the resistance, they work in the building next door. He knows that they are brutal and inhuman. Archer is also aware that they’re the people that would replace him and his colleagues if they quit.
There’s also the fact that the war is pretty much over. There isn’t a prospect of the US launching a cross-atlantic assault to free Britain. The only real hope Britain might have is that the Germans decide to go home in a couple of years having installed a friendly puppet government. That’s the point Britain might restore itself the way Germany did after WW1.
In the meantime Archer believes that staying in post and maintaining the standards and forms of the prewar ways is the best hope to enable return. Giving up and letting the Germans take over will lead to anarchy, brutality and many avoidable British deaths.
He might be wrong. He might be dragged into helping the Germans with their brutality and rounding up of British patriots.
That’s Archer’s dilemma. Be thought a collaborator but prevent a more excessive regime, or escape and let the excesses happen.
SS-GB has a lot of elements that I enjoy. It’s an alternative history, it’s a police procedural, it has espionage/intelligence aspects and it’s set during WW2. It also has another element that fascinates me. When do you remain loyal and when should you change sides? I was always going to watch this programme.
The story is set in 1941, fourteen months after a successful German Invasion of Britain. In the opening shots we are treated to some odd sights, British landmarks draped in nazi red banners with black swastikas. This includes the houses of parliament and a bombed out Buckingham Palace. The first scene is a spitfire in RAF roundels flying low over Westminster and landing in the Mall. A BBC broadcast tells us that the last remaining spitfire is being given to the Soviets in a friendship pact. A British resistance fighter then steps out of a hut and shoots the German pilot before being taken prisoner.
The main protagonist of SS-GB is Detective Superintendent Archer of the Metropolitan Police. A career police officer, with a degree in modern languages (and fluent German), he works under German direction in civil policing. We first see him relaxing with his mistress, a secretary from his own division.
Archer and his Sergeant are called to investigate a murder. The police cordon has a backdrop of nazi posters and german soldiers conducting a checkpoint sweep in the street. The victim has been shot, and clues are found at the scene. Archer suspects the victim’s home was a resistance safe house. While he looks out the window he spots a woman in pale pink leaving. She’s a stark contrast to the rest of the people we’ve seen, all in dark and drab colours.
Archer races out of the house in pursuit of the lady in pink. He spots her entering a cafe and follows her in. She is an American journalist from the New York Post. A little too highly connected for the dodgy underworld place the body was found.
With a clear black market connection to the German military Archer turns over the case to the Germans to deal with. Here we get a glimpse of the inter-service rivalries that plagued Nazi Germany. The case is claimed from the Luftwaffe (one of their men was the connection) by the SS (because of the resistance connection) and is then dropped back into Archer’s lap. This last is the cause for concern as an SS Colonel Dr Huth is sent from Himmler’s private office to oversee Archer and his investigation. This scares Archer’s german boss because he can’t see the internal politics.
Archer is a conflicted character. We see this in his interactions with the other British characters, including his Sergeant, his son and his erstwhile mistress/secretary.
Ostensibly Archer is working for the Germans. That’s certainly how many see it, he gets questioned that way by the press and also by several others during the course of the episode. His retort is that he works to uphold the law and there is nothing political in what he does, nor will there ever be. The murder investigation, or rather his political oversight by Huth, seems to erode that.
He isn’t a nazi. He’s clear at several points that he serves law. Where references to the resistance come up he largely ignores them. He doesn’t seem keen to turn them in, and doesn’t turn over all the evidence when he passes the case on to the Luftwaffe. One of the key scenes for this is when his son and the son of his housekeeper question him from the back of the car as he’s taking them to school. He shows that he is being careful in how he deals with the nazis, and that he expects them to go home one day. When they do he wants to restore things to how they used to be. He carries on with his day job because he thinks that’s the best way to achieve that.
On the other hand, Archer knows better than to openly defy the nazis. Those that do end up dead or deported. There are plenty of background clues about this. His dealings with the germans are correct and perfunctory. He answers the questions that he is asked with only enough detail to satisfy. He does what he is told to do.
I enjoyed the first episode. It was a good scene setter, and introduced the main characters well. I’ll be watching the rest of it to see if it lives up to the promise. It will also be interesting to see if the BBC have gone further than Deighton did, or if they’ve changed anything.
Anyway my role was to keep an eye on the British war cabinet and ensure that they stayed suitably strategic and global while still providing input to the player teams at Command and Corps level. The game needs some player induced friction from the top, especially when Churchill has a wizard wheeze and send a Division Commander one of his famed ACTION THIS DAY notes.
The structure of the megagame was in two parts. From arrival until 1230 was a planning session simulating July and August 1940. Following that the German invasion lands in early September, and the game moves to 12 hour turns every 40 minutes or so.
Don’t Panic Political Game
The political game started pretty much on arrival for the players, before even the plenary briefing. I had a stack of laminated political event cards to throw in if the war cabinet looked less busy or was spending too much time in the details of the military game. I also had a panic track to keep score of how well the war was going for Britain and how the war cabinet were contributing to that. The panic track was on a 100 point scale and started at 50. Every 10 points the British got a modifier to their supply state depending on the direction of travel.
At the very start of the game I put some ground rules down for the war cabinet players.
There needed to be an official record of all decisions by the war cabinet
All decisions had to be by consensus, effectively giving everyone present a veto if they were uncomfortable with the direction
Collective responsibility applied to decisions, failure to abide by that would lose them political capital
Decisions that were unpopular or against advice required political capital to be spent (which was sometimes returned if the outcome was good)
Actions that were carried out by other players needed to be communicated by a war cabinet player to the appropriate person to make it happen
There were some interesting discussions at Cabinet, (I have retained the minutes and will make them available over on Milmud). To start with there was a discussion about the Royal Family. Should they be dispersed or remain in the UK. It was decided that at the very least the King should be seen to remain until the last sensible moment. Other members, especially the two Princesses, would be kept away from likely invasion landing areas and removed from the country if things started to go badly.
The Royal Navy
The next major debate was on the Royal Navy. Sadly Admiral Pound seemed to be asleep for much of this, which would have been OK had it not been for the consequences following the decision to move most of the fleet from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth. The Cabinet Secretary made a number of interjections to the debate and attempted to put context on the importance of keeping the Kriegsmarine bottled up and the disastrous consequences should the Germans get capital ships in amongst the supply convoys. The politicians in the war cabinet were concerned about the fact that it would take the capital ships at least 24 hours to respond to an invasion across the Channel from Scapa Flow and they couldn’t be sure how well the RAF and army would be able to defend against seaborne assault without naval assistance.
As it turned out (and I listened in to the three way debate with the German Admiral Lutyens) the threat wasn’t as clear to the Germans as it looked to me. Lutyens waited before committing to action, and even then didn’t commit all his resources to breaking out into the Atlantic. Lutyens concern was, rightly for him, that the end result for the Kriegsmarine was likely to be loss of all vessels that they put in the Atlantic. What Lutyens either didn’t seem to realise was that this was potentially a game winning move for the Germans. His fleet unchecked in the Atlantic caused supply difficulties for the British. It also increased the panic track by 3 points every turn.
Once the German fleet was out it created all sorts of bother for the war cabinet. They debated moving Force H out Gibraltar, and more Cabinet Secretary intervention was required to ensure the war cabinet was properly advised. It was about that point that the Italians started their offensive in North Africa…
The Germans invaded on a fairly narrow front, about 40km, in the Brighton to Portsmouth area. A planning failure (they didn’t follow the orders they’d been given) meant that they didn’t have enough transport units in the first wave, so they couldn’t move supplies inland. This limited the operating radius of the landed troops to about 8km from the beach. Also the Germans sent armour in the first wave, but couldn’t unload any of it without a port (which was clear in the briefings).
To help things further along the RAF got air superiority over the channel fairly rapidly, and unlike the Royal Navy, sank a significant proportion of the invasion fleet. The Royal Navy frankly didn’t know whether or not it was coming or going. The army reacted as fast as it could to the landings, but was hampered by a combination of shortage of supplies, rail capacity and their organic speed of movement. Mainly the army was a bit further East than the German landing spot. About this time the Royal Navy lost a battleship to a combination of mines and u-boats, this didn’t help panic levels even though the cabinet suppressed the news.
The panic track went into overdrive at this point, and the war cabinet got quite panicky. Their reaction helped things, although not as much as the RAF shooting down dozens of Luftwaffe and sinking about half of the German transport fleet. About two days into the invasion the front stabilised and the Germans largely became unable to land more troops or supplies. They also stopped making progress inland too. The Royal Navy lost a cruiser in the Channel too, damaging the two German Capital ships and driving them off to Brest.
All through this time I was also throwing political events at the war cabinet, making them worry about the Soviets, Japanese, Italians and the Americans, as well as domestic issues. Churchill spoke to President Roosevelt and Lord Halifax spoke to the Irish foreign minister, neither with any real success, although FDR was sympathetic.
Gradually the British Army started to get a grip of the situation (largely after Churchill personally gripped the senior officers). The RAF helped this with carefully targetted bombing of German Divisional HQs and supply dumps. In Portsmouth the Royal Marines held out although surrounded, aided by naval gunfire support over open sights. Even the Press (10 issues over the afternoon) finally became pro-British with the headline news from an anonymous German commander that their situation was hopeless.
Next week’s megagame Don’t Panic is an alternative history megagame about the German Invasion of Britain in 1940. It’s a popular what if and makes an interesting game for us British because the playing area is familiar to us from our everyday lives. At least it is familiar if you live in the South East. The megagame handbook has the village I live in centred in the combat example. German panzers occupy Redhill, the nearest town.
So could a German Invasion of Britain in 1940 have worked?
The answer is yes provided the Germans could have kept the Royal Navy and the RAF away from their invasion fleet and also managed to find enough suitable craft for moving an army across the channel. They also need to be able to sustain the landed army and reinforce it faster than the British can send reinforcements to fight them.
Personally I think that this is too much of a tall order for the Germans. They have no real appreciation of naval warfare. Nor do they have any joint planning staff. What allows the Allies to launch successful amphibious assaults later in the war is a combination of joint planning and lots of practice on a small scale before they tried bigger stuff. Even then Dieppe shows how hard it is to assault a lightly defended small port with armour.
The Kriegsmarine is smaller than the RN home fleet by an order of magnitude. Even if the German capital ships break into the Atlantic for commerce raiding the RN still has sufficient destroyer and lighter craft to wreak havoc in the channel.
The other major issue that the Kriegsmarine have is that they don’t have the tradition and corporate memory of the Royal Navy. So their skill level is confined to submarines and small to medium surface fighting vessels.
They’ve got no assault landing capability and no naval air. They also don’t have the same expansion capability the army had. So there isn’t the manpower available to them to suddenly crew loads of invasion barges. Those last need to be taken up from trade, which will have a negative impact on the German economy. So the Kriegsmarine doesn’t have the capacity to support a German invasion of Britiain in 1940.
At best the Luftwaffe has parity with the RAF. However Britain is outbuilding the Germans in aircraft. As time passes the RAF grows in strength. Also lost RAF pilots tend to land in friendly territory and so get back in the air rapidly. Luftwaffe pilots tend to get lost in hostile space and become POWs.
The Luftwaffe is an asset in one way though. It exists to support the advance of the German Army. So if concentrated on that it can help the advance, however the liaison is in 1917 levels of planned support. It cannot be called off or amended once the planes are in the air. So only limited value in supporting a German invasion of Britiain in 1940.
That said, for the invasion to be successful the Luftwaffe needs air superiority over the invasion route and beaches. This is doable, but not guaranteed to be lasting. It also needs to keep the RN at bay. I think the Luftwaffe vs RAF is the crucial battle. If the RAF win (and a draw counts as a win) then the Germans can’t invade Britain. If the Luftwaffe win then the Germans have a chance, but only a chance.
The German Army is good, experienced and tested in both Poland and the West. So it should outclass the British Army man for man on average. The better British units will be better than the average Germans. The key issue though is numbers, and logistics. The British will have the best of both of these.
So if the Luftwaffe do an excellent job and keep the RAF and the Royal Navy at bay then the Kriegsmarine could put the German Army ashore. Once ashore the most likely outcome is that after hard fighting in the South East the Germans get defeated once additional British reinforcements arrive. The Germans will have a slower build up and their supply situation will be poorer than the British.
The hope for the Germans is for a collapse of civilian or political morale in the week after the German invasion. Any more than a week and the entire British Army will be against them. British military successes are likely to restore faith.
This is where the megagame Don’t Panic will be exploring the what if of the German invasion. I’m really looking forward to it.
The next megagame I’m going to is Don’t Panic a what if scenario on Operation Sealion, the planned German invasion of Britain in the autumn of 1940. I’m going to be the British Control. So no playing for me. However that doesn’t mean that I can’t look at how I would plan the Operation Sealion invasion myself.
Firstly we need to get into the nazi mindset. They’re essentially divide and conquer gamblers with no medium term view. They have an innate belief in their own superiority and on the inevitability of their eventual victory.
The other interesting thing is that the German General Staff see crossing the Channel as simply a large scale river crossing. To them it’s like crossing the Rhine, only a bit wider. This affects their thinking and probably explains why they didn’t ever attempt it. As they planned it, the obstacles just multiplied.
Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no signs of being ready to come to an understanding, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, to carry it out.
The aim of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the prosecution of the war against Germany and, if necessary, to occupy it completely.
The German army has been victorious, sweeping all before it. All of continental Europe from Poland to the Pyrenees is under German control. Only Britain stands alone against Germany. The British army has been defeated in Europe and has left most of its first line equipment behind.
By mid August 1940 the panzer divisions will have been refitted, casualties either returned from hospital or been replaced. The luftwaffe is established in the French and Belgian airfields. The Kriegsmarine has assembled lots of barges ready for crossing the Channel.
In Britain the beach defences are being strengthened. However, the Briitsh Army is still short of transport and heavy equipment. The situation is so desperate that the British government has even called up old men and boys into a ‘Home Guard’. Weapons are so short that some of the Home Guard are armed with pikes.
Broadly the German invasion force can expect parity in numbers with the British in the invasion area. There is a qualitative advantage in terms of equipment and experience. The campaigns in Poland and the West have proved that beyond doubt. Operation Sealion is expected to follow the same pattern as the previous campaigns.
Hitler requires a speedy end to the war. German industry is short of manpower and the army needs to release skilled men soon. Operation Sealion is intended to bring the war to a speedy end.
Considerations for Operation Sealion
Broad vs Narrow Front
Normally military strategy suggests concentration of force. As an attacker you have a choice where you attack. A defender on the other hand has to spread out to cover all possible avenues of approach.
The British can be expected to rapidly deploy their remaining mobile reserve, including an armoured division, against any landing. This could tip the balance before strong enough German forces are ashore. The speed of response is likely to be slower if they cannot be sure where our schwerpunkt is located. Multiple landing points will aid this.
We need to capture a port as early as possible to enable unloading panzer forces. Once panzers are set free in England we can be assured of victory.
Both of these point to a strategy of attacking multiple small ports to ensure that at least one is captured rapidly.
We also need forward airfields to help the Luftwaffe support ground forces. It will also enable air landing troops to be brought in. This will speed up the force build up and make it harder for the British to defeat us in detail before we can join up.
This leads to the selection of ports. RAF bases at Marston and Tangmere have recently been abandoned and are in close proximity to ports. Similarly Dover has two airfields in close proximity and the castle is a major threat to our use of the channel.
Causing Civilian Panic
Fleeing civilians are useful to the German success. They cause bottlenecks that stop the enemy bringing up reinforcements. They also adversely affect morale. This latter is important politically as well as militarily. We need the British Government to sue for peace. The faster this happens the better.
Effective ways of reducing civilian morale are:
airborne troops behind the main lines (even if only rumoured);
tank breakthroughs, especially if accompanied with pictures at iconic places for the newspapers and cinema news reels;
sinking of supply ships so that rationing is tightened;
terror bombing of cities, especially London and other industrial centres.
Operation Sealion requires a rapid buildup with simultaneous action at sea and in the air to split or slow the British response is required to give time for a foothold to be established in England. This will maximise political pressure and ensure military victory.
Operation Sealion’s broad strategic goals must be to get a foothold, rapidly expand it and encourage the political opposition in the UK. Ways to do this are
surge the Kriegsmarine into the Atlantic for commerce raiding (apart from the bits directly needed for supporting the invasion)
use a u-boat screen to stop the RN getting in amongst the invasion fleet.
select four small ports across the Kent and Sussex coast for direct seaborne assault supported from the air. Put a battalion of paras on the closest airfield to the selected beaches
reinforce success with air landed troops on the captured airfields and tanks into the captured ports
transfer luftwaffe units to the captured airfields as rapidly as possible to increase loiter time and range
collect up the paras as soon as possible for a second drop on London or wherever intelligence suggests Churchill or the Royal Family are hiding out.