World War II British Military Forces

World War II British military forces
Figure 1.--

The British military forces were the only ones to engage Axis forces throughout World War II. They played key roles in the defeat of both Germany and Italy, although the contribution to the Pacific war was more limited, it wa not unimportant thereas well. British forces were bolstered by both Commonwealth as well as foreign (Czech, Jewish, and Polish) units. Free French units generally fought as part of American command. Cananadian forces were especially important. After Dunkirk, the only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. British units fought the War with American supplies and equipment and after Pearl Harbor in close cooperation with the United States, arguavly the cloest and mot important military alliance in history. Britain's most important service was the Royal Navy, often referred to as the Senior Srvice. As in World War I, however, the Royal Navy could only made its force felt if the Germans were stopped in the early phase of the War. The Royal Navy was reduced from World War I suceeded in keeping the sea lanes open and help disuade the Germans from invading until America came into the War. The Royal Air Force (RAF) of course delivered the first major defeat to the Germans and ensured that Britain would continue the struggle (September 1940). RAF Bomber Command after the Fall of France became the major force by which the ritish could being the war home to Germany. The British Army was the first Allied force to master Blitzkrieg and defeated the Afrika Koros at El Alemain (October 1942). An under appreciated appreciated factor in assessing the British military contribution to the War was the degree to which the United States Arny brnefitted from the association with their British conterparts. After the fall of France, Britain no longer had the capability of winning the war on its own, only with America was this possible. In addituon to the three principal services was the Home Guard.

Royal Navy

Britain's most important service was the Royal Navy, often referred to as the Senior Service. As in World War I, however, the Royal Navy could only made its force felt if the Germans were stopped in the early phase of the War. The Royal Navy was reduced from World War I suceeded in keeping the sea lanes open and help disuade the Germans from invading until America came into the War. Since Trafalgar (1805), the Royal Navy had dominated the seas with a naval force more than powerful than any other two coutries. Britain, after World War I, had to make a major decesion on naval policy. Unable to win a naval armns race with America, the British widely decided to accept parity. The Washigton Naval Limitations Treaties gave American and Britain the right to build the largest navies because of their need for a two-ocean navy (1922). Both Britain and America retired ships. Britain was severely damaged economically by World War I. Domestic priorities during the 1920s impeded efforts to build new ships. Britain did not build the new ships permitted under the Washington Naval Treaties. They also did not upgrade Battle Cruisers like HMS Hood by armoring the decks. They did work on an air arm. The Depression caused further problems. Britain was forced off the gold standard (1931). The Invergordon Mutiny resulted from a proposed 25 percent pay cut which was eventually moderated to 10 percent. The Second London Naval Treaty of 1935 failed to halt the naval arms race. Britain was more concerned with NAZI Germany than Japan and engotisted the Anglo-German Naval treaty (1935). The increasing menance of NAZI Germany finally forced the rearmament of the Royal Navy. The Admiralty primarly focusedd on bsattleships, in part because planners did not think U-boats were a threat. In addition to new construction several existing old battleships, battlecruisers and heavy cruisers were reconstructed, and anti-aircraft weaponry improved. New technologies such as sonar (ASDIC), radar (Huff-Duff), and hydrophones were developed. The Fleet Air Arm was reintroduced (1937). The Royal Navy did not appreciate the German U-boat threat thinking eroniously that Asdac (Sonar) had made sunmarines obsolete. Thus the Anglo-German Naval Treaty (1935) allowed the Germans to build U-boats. The Royal Navy began construction of the King George V-class battleships and several aircraft carriers, including Ark Royal. They did not, however, build modern carrier aircraft. Well into the War, British carriers were still using the Fairy biplanes. The Royal Navy that entered World War II was a fraction of the force with which they entered World War I, but it did not face a Germany with a large surface fleet as it did in World War I. Thanfully for Britain, Japan did not enter the War when Germany and the Soviet Union began the War (September 1939). And when Japan launched the Pacific War, it did so only by bringing the United States with its powerful navy and industrial capacity into the War. In the interim, the Royal Navy would have to slug it out with the Italians in the Mediterranean.

Army

The British rmy at the tome of World War II was small, but the only fully mechanized army in exitence. As in World War I, the British Expeditionry Force (BEF) joined the French in an effort to stop the Germans. Only this time they were alredy in France. The BEF rushed north to save Belgium and the Netherlands. Both countries reliedn their neutrality to dave them. Thus there were no pre-War planning with the Allies. The German invasion of the Netherlands was a feint. The main German blow fell in the Ardennes and in days the Germans reached the Channel, cutting off the The BEF and best French divisions. It was the British who inented the tnk and mastered World War I aerial warfare, but it was the Germans who put it together in Blittzkrieg. Only by the narrowest of Margins did the trapped British and French armoes rscape at Dunkirrk. After Dunkirk, the only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. British units fought the War with American supplies and equipment and after Pearl Harbor in close cooperation with the United States, arguably the cloest and most important military alliance in history. The British Army was the first Allied force to master Blitzkrieg and defeated the Afrika Koros at El Alemain (October 1942). An under appreciated appreciated factor in assessing the British military contribution to the War was the degree to which the United States Arny brnefitted from the association with their British conterparts. After the fall of France, Britain no longer had the capability of winning the war on its own, only with America was this possible.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force (RAF) of course delivered the first major defeat to the Germans and ensured that Britain would continue the struggle (September 1940). RAF Bomber Command after the Fall of France became the major force by which the British could being the war home to Germany. The British Royal Air Force almost entered World War II with biplanes. The Royal Navy did--the Fairy Swordfish. The Hawker Huricane was an effective fighter, but was outclassed by the Luftwaffe ME-109. The Spitfire arrived just in time to play a decisive role in the Battle of Britain. The full significance of the Battle of Britain was not dully undrstood until later in the War. Air Marshall Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris when he was appointed to lead the RAF's Bomber Command stated that the Germans began the War with the unrealistic assumption that they would bomb enememy cities, but German cities would not be bombed. The British at the time were outproducing the Germans. As the War progressed, much of the British aircraft production was devoted to the construction of bombers. Unable to contest land campaigns with the Wehrmacht and smarting from the Blitz, the British decided to focus on a strategic bombing campaign. The sinstrment of tht compaign would be Harris' Bomber Command. The British relied on American production for much of its fighter and virtually all of its reconisance and cargo aircraft. American aircraft factories were supplying the British from the onset of the War and this only increased after Amerca entered the War. The effectvennes of the Anglo-American alliance showed in the ultimate propeller fighter of the War--the North American P-51 Mustang. It was an Amercan air frame married with the Rolls Royce Melin engine. It was the long range fighter which destroyed the Luftwaffe in the skies over northern Europe.

Home Guard

The Home Guard (HG) was a voluntary World War II auxillery of the British Army. The original name was the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). After months of inaction, the Germans launched their massive Western Offensive (May 10, 1940). On the same day Winston Churchill became primeminister and reorganized the cabinet. Churchill's new Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, in a radio speech to the nation asked for volunteers (May 14). 'We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance [that an invasion would be repelled] doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the Local Defence Volunteers. This name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniforms and will be armed. In order to volunteer, what you have to do is give your name at your local police station, and then, when we want you, we will let you know ...' Within 2 weeks the British Expeditionary Force was defeated and barely escaped destruction at Dunkirk. While most in a small miracle made in back across the Channel, they were forced to leave their vehicles and weapons behind. The core of the British Army which would fight the Germans, however was saved. And it looked like the Home Guard and largely disarmed British Army would face an invasion by a well-armed German force. The only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. The response to Eden's request was immediate and overwealming. The Government expected about 150,000 men to volunteer. Within 24 hours of Eden's radio the broadcast, 250,000 men had put in their names. By the end of the month, there were 300,000-400,000 volnteers. HG units with a mottly collection of small arms were soon drilling all over the country. And by the next month there were 1.5 million volunteers. Churchill as the Battle of Brutain was shaping up decided that LDV was a rather uninspiring term and ordered the name changed to the Home Guard (July 1940). After the regular Army was rearmed, the HG began to receive modern weapons as well. The HG rolls peaked at 1.8 million (March 1943). The rools, however, never fell below 1 million men untul it was disbanded. The HG was ordered to stand down (December 3, 1944). The HG became officially an inactive reserve unit. It was finally disbanded (December 31, 1945).







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Created: 7:06 AM 7/7/2010
Last updated: 7:06 AM 7/7/2010