How close was Germany to defeating Britain?

10/2/2012 • Ask Mr. History

How close was Germany to bringing Great Britain to its knees in WW2? Clay Blair seems to refute the belief Britain was about to fall. Taking into account all the setbacks that Doenitz had, was it not possible that Churchill used it as an excuse to gain Roosevelt’s sympathy?


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Dear Rob,

In early September 1940 Germany was probably as close as it would ever come to conquering Britain. In spite of the losses it had afflicted, the Royal Air Force was close to exhaustion, between aircraft lost, airfields bombed, shot-up aircraft withdrawn for repairs and literally exhausted airmen rotated to quieter sectors—with Britain’s ability to replace those losses falling behind all that cumulative attrition. At the same time one had one of the top U.S. diplomats to London, Joseph Kennedy, not only writing off Britain’s prospects of survival, but actually applauding its imminent downfall (sentiments not shared by his son John). The bombing of London and other cities from that month on never achieved the “terror” factor Adolf Hitler sought, but it did give the RAF the reprieve it needed in the nick of time. The concurrent German effort to blockade Britain by sea is more problematic—it started out with too few U-boats and as they grew in numbers, so did the escorts and anti-submarine measures to counter them—but there is no disputing the Battle of Britain as a tipping point in the war.




Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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