This piece, with a timing dictated by Irish events, addresses “vast falsehood” created by Churchill that in 1940, Hitler wanted to invade Britain. Says Myers, quite bluntly, “he didn’t”. He actually admired the British Empire, with its inherent presumption of racial superiority.
Furthermore, says Myers, “We know from the diaries of Lord Halifax, the British foreign minister, that Hitler offered terms that did not involve German control of Britain. Churchill refused to allow these terms to be read to the cabinet, and they remain prudently concealed under the 100-year rule”.
“Instead, Churchill’s determination to keep Britain at war turned what had been merely a continental defeat of its army into the enduring myth that in 1940, Britain faced a war for national survival”.
Had I read such a few years ago, I would have been both scandalised and dismissive, but the experience of writing The Many Not The Few changed all that. I am at one with Myers that Hitler certainly did not wish to invade Britain and only permitted the assembly of an invasion fleet as a last resort. His main effort was directed at coercing the government to sue for peace.
But what is particularly refreshing about the Myers is that he looks at the technical detail of this the “invasion fleet” that the Nazis began to assemble in the summer of 1940 and concludes that it was no more capable of invading Britain than it was Hawaii. It was, he says, “war by illusion: its purpose was to get the British to the negotiating table”. He then writes:
This “fleet” consisted of 1,900 canal barges, only one- third of which were powered, to be towed cross-channel, in clusters of three, by just 380 tugs. These barges had tiny keels, blunt prows and small rudders, with just two feet of freeboard: the distance between the water and the top of the hull. They would have been swamped during even a direct crossing of the English Channel, a shallow and violent waterway linking the raging North Sea and Atlantic. But an invasion would not be direct. The barges, with their untrained crews, would be able to make only about three knots, from the three “invasion” centres: Rotterdam, Le Havre and Boulogne. These ports are, respectively, from any south-coast landing beaches, at best, 200 miles and 60 hours, 100 miles and 30 hours, and 50 miles and 15 hours, with seasick soldiers crammed into keel-less floundering barges without toilets or water. What army would be fit to fight after a journey like that? And then there’s the 55,000 horses that the Wehrmacht would need: its transport was still not mechanised.
This and much more, Myers uses to illustrate in practical terms, an assault on defended beaches was simply not a practical proposition, a conclusion which the Germans themselves had reached by mid-August, long before the fleet was supposed to have been launched.
When I was researching for my book, what particularly captured my interest was the mechanics of unloading the barges and the transports. As opposed to the D-Day landing craft which we used, in the summer of 1940, the barges were particularly cumbersome.
According to a detailed study by German author Peter Schenk, to place the ramps and unload vehicles required a team comprising an engineer NCO and four engineer troops, plus sixteen infantry – as the pictures illustrate, this is hardly something one could countenance on a defended beach.
Furthermore, the barges could only be unloaded on a falling tide, but it could be half an hour or so between beaching and the tide dropping enough for lorries to be put ashore. And then it would be eight hours or so before the tide returned and the barges could be refloated, making them perfect targets for shore defences.
As to the transport ships, trials indicated that it would take two days to offload their cargoes and deliver them to the beaches (the morning of S-Day plus 2). Only the first assault could be thus delivered and it would be S Day plus 4 before the remainder of the first wave, and the second wave, could be handled.
Myers, as do I, thus concludes that just about everything that people believed about Hitler’s intentions towards Britain in 1940 – and still believe today – was a myth created by Churchill, which he probably came to believe himself.
Consider all the facts above, Myers writes, and then consider how that myth has endured, despite them. Makes you wonder, no?