‘If the Invader Comes’: An Evaluation of the Readiness of the British Army in the South-East of England to Repel a German Invasion between June and September 1940

Skan, Jonathan (2022) ‘If the Invader Comes’: An Evaluation of the Readiness of the British Army in the South-East of England to Repel a German Invasion between June and September 1940. Doctoral thesis, University of Buckingham.

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Despite the extensive historiography of all aspects of Great Britain’s military operations in 1940, the question as to how well prepared the Army was to resist an invasion in the late summer of that year remains under-explored. To rectify this omission, this study has assessed the fighting capability of the specific front-line formations of the Home Forces that would have been tasked with repelling an invasion of Kent and Sussex in September 1940. This has been done through the lens of the modern British Army’s ‘Model of Fighting Power’. The Model’s framework has enabled an assessment of morale, leadership, manpower, training, equipment and fighting doctrine. This has been combined with an analysis of the capability of the Royal Air Force to provide adequate tactical air support over the countryside of the south-east of England – at a time when Fighter Command was fully occupied fighting The Battle of Britain. The results show that the true fighting capability of these front-line Army formations in September 1940, be they the General Headquarters (GHQ) Reserve (positioned well back from the coastline) or the troops defending Kent and Sussex, was far lower than has previously been acknowledged. Morale within those formations was ‘mixed’ as the invasion crisis peaked, as was the overall quality of their senior commanders – few of whom had commanded formations in battle. Furthermore, key weapons such as anti-tank guns remained in short supply, whilst transportation continued to be a challenge (given the losses in France) and tanks that could be described as ‘modern’ were still relatively thin on the ground. Furthermore, despite a major training effort in the summer of 1940, the ability of these forces to conduct the (relatively new) fighting doctrine of mobile combined arms warfare was less than it needed to be. In short, the GHQ Reserve would have struggled to conduct the type of large-scale counter-attacks demanded by the Commander-in-Chief Home Forces, Lieutenant General Sir Alan Brooke. In addition, the ability of the Royal Air Force to provide the tactical air support such counter-attacks would have required is shown to have been extremely limited. In truth the Army was being asked to fight in a way it was not yet capable of doing - something that became all too apparent during the two major combined arms anti-invasion exercises that Brooke organised in 1941. Finally, down in Kent and Sussex, Brooke’s edict that the linear defensive positions constructed by his predecessor, Lieutenant-General Sir Edmund Ironside, should be deprioritised, was only partially adhered to by the formations within XII Corps. Furthermore, his aim of freeing up local forces to counter-attack an invader risked being undermined by their limited mobility and by the construction of an extensive mosaic of new ‘all-round’ defensive positions across the two counties, partly driven by local civilian defence authorities that would, have tied down front-line troops even more. The idea that these positions could have been defended by either the Local Defence Volunteers or ‘static’ troops is shown to have been unrealistic at the time. Thus, the view (often stated in the historiography) that Brooke was a significant upgrade on Ironside at the helm of the Home Forces as the invasion crisis reached its peak seems misplaced, even though he went on to be an outstanding Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Crucially, the notion (implied by the Government) that, in the event of an invasion, the Army would have repelled a significant German beachhead in September 1940 is shown to have been even more optimistic than many have hitherto thought. Sadly, the defects in the British Army that had been exposed so cruelly in Norway and then in France were a long way from being resolved by the time the invasion crisis peaked.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Home forces ; Second world war ; Royal Air Force ; General Headquarters Reserve ; Lieutenant General Sir Alan Brooke
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > History and History of Art
Depositing User: Rachel Pollard
Date Deposited: 27 Mar 2023 14:25
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2023 14:25
URI: http://bear.buckingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/587

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