How Ready was Britain for War?

Could Britain have repulsed 'Operation Sealion' in September 1940?


In Sept 1940, Hitler was hoping to launch his invasion (Operation Sealion).


Could Britain have stopped him if he had decided to invade?   The easy answer is ‘hardly at all’.   There is a story (probably apocryphal) that the stretch of coast earmarked by Hitler for his main invasion attack was guarded by a Home Guard platoon with a machine gun!





Some things were done, though often in a flawed way:

  1. Evacuation HAD been done (3 Sept) – though many children came back at Christmas, when nothing seemed to be happening.

  2. Air Raid Precautions were enforced from the beginning – Blackout/ barrage balloons/ gas masks/ yellow pillar boxes sandbags.   1 million coffins were made.

  3. Rationing had started (petrol 22 Sep 1939 ) and was soon extended to butter, sugar and bacon, paper and meat.   There were salvage campaigns after Jan 1940.   Lord Woolton was appointed in April 1940.   But the Women’s Land Army was only begun in Oct 1939 – AND they needed training.   In May 1940, the Emergency Powers Act gave the government the power to move workers into essential industries and the Essential Works Order introduced conscription to vital industries in March 1941. 

  4. Air defences were quite good and well-prepared – radar had been invented (1935), Dowding had been appointed and he reorganised Fighter Command (1937), the Hurricane (1935) and Spitfire (1936) had been developed – BUT there were still only small numbers of planes, and Beaverbrook was not put in charge of aircraft production until May 1940.

  5. The Home Guard had been formed, but they did not get weapons until late in the war – farmers lent them shotguns etc.   The Home Guard were not quite the joke of Dad’s Army, but they could not have stopped the Nazi Army.

  6. Ministry of Information organised propaganda from Jan 1940 on – eg ‘Careless Talk costs lives’ campaign.

  7. The Military Training Act was passed in May 1939 but 2 million men aged 20–27 were only called up to join the armed forces in Jan 1940 – and they needed training.

  8. The KEY event was the appointment of Churchill ( 10 May 1940 ) – the whole war machine moved up a number of gears.



Also there were some things that just had not been/could not be addressed at all:

  1. Militarily, little had been achieved – eg dropping leaflets on Germany: Wow!/ the BEF had been sent to France, but only 158,000 men/ and there had been spectacular defeats in Norway and at Dunkirk .

  2. U-boats – the convoy system had been started 15 Sep 1939 , but supply ships were not properly defended because there were not enough battleships.  Decoding of Enigma/ sonar and adequate protection did not happen until 1942.

  3. During the Phoney War many of the regulations had been forgotten, and the ‘war mentally’ of the British people had relaxed.   (This changed with Dunkirk and Churchill, May 1940).




You must know about:

The Phoney War

The Battle of Britain


Battle of the Atlantic