“Dunkirk” film: What if Hitler had Launched an Invasion?

“Dunkirk” film: What if Hitler had Launched an Invasion?

Inva­sion in 1940? Tim­o­thy Egan pos­es a thought­ful ques­tion in The New York Times. What if Hitler, not hes­i­tat­ing after Dunkirk, had rapid­ly launched an inva­sion of Britain?
In con­vey­ing the movie Dunkirk‘s impor­tance, Egan’s first para­graph is a much bet­ter intro­duc­tion than the film provides:
For more than a thou­sand years, the tribes of Europe have stared into the gun-met­al-gray chop of the Eng­lish Chan­nel and thought of con­quest. “We have six cen­turies of insults to avenge,” said Napoleon. I was just there, on the same spring week when the great bedrag­gled scraps of the French and British armies were cor­nered for slaugh­ter by the Nazi war machine 77 years ago.
[The film is an] inti­mate look at what Win­ston Churchill called “a colos­sal mil­i­tary dis­as­ter”… minds oth­er­wise gone soft by the heart­less cur­rent gov­ern­ing poli­cies of the Unit­ed States can turn to a day when big­ger minds guid­ed West­ern democracies.

That is a good cri­tique of the Dunkirk movie’s lapses—as far as it goes​. Egan doesn’t say that view­ers of the film receive no insight to those “big­ger minds.” Aside from Churchill, they ranged from Admi­ral Ram­say in his Dover bunker to the valiant women tele­phon­ists, among the last off the beach­es, whom we nev­er see.

Invasion 1940

invasionThe best book to con­tem­plate a Nazi inva­sion is Nor­man Longmate’s If Britain Had Fall­en, first pub­lished in 1972 but recent­ly repub­lished and avail­able from Ama­zon. It includes this “night­mare scenario”:

Lat­er that after­noon with the Ger­mans already in Trafal­gar Square and advanc­ing down White­hall to take their posi­tion in the rear, the ene­my unit advanc­ing across St. James’s Park made their final charge. Sev­er­al of those in the Down­ing Street posi­tion were already dead…and at last the Bren ceased its chat­ter, its last mag­a­zine emptied.

Churchill reluc­tant­ly aban­doned the machine-gun, drew his pis­tol and with great sat­is­fac­tion, for it was a noto­ri­ous­ly inac­cu­rate weapon, shot dead the first Ger­man to reach the foot of the steps. As two more rushed for­ward, cov­ered by a third in the dis­tance, Win­ston Churchill moved out of the shel­ter of the sand­bags, as if per­son­al­ly to bar the way up Down­ing Street. A Ger­man NCO, run­ning up to find the cause of the unex­pect­ed hold-up, recog­nised him and shout­ed to the sol­diers not to shoot, but he was too late. A burst of bul­lets from a machine-car­bine caught the Prime Min­is­ter full in the chest. He died instant­ly, his back to Down­ing Street, his face toward the ene­my, his pis­tol still in his hand.

Longmate’s thriller

This chill­ing inva­sion scene is the crux of Nor­man Longmate’s book. His “what if” sto­ry of a suc­cess­ful Ger­man inva­sion in 1940 is thor­ough­ly believ­able, thus all the more fright­en­ing. If Britain Had Fall­en is based on a BBC tele­vi­sion film of the same name.

It is not the first book to con­tem­plate a Ger­man inva­sion and occu­pa­tion of the British Isles. The first was Ersk­ine Childers’ The Rid­dle of the Sands (1903). Saki (H.H. Munro) wrote When William Came (1913). C.S. Forester penned a short sto­ry, If Hitler had Invad­ed Eng­land (1967). But pre­vi­ous works cov­ered just one phase of the subject—preparations, land­ings, cam­paigns. Long­mate cov­ers them all, togeth­er with his fan­cied outcome.

The first four (fac­tu­al) chap­ters describe German/British pre-inva­sion maneu­ver­ing. The last thir­teen are believ­able fic­tion: what the Ger­man occu­pa­tion would have been like. Long­mate refers  to cap­tured doc­u­ments and how the Ger­mans actu­al­ly behaved in con­quered lands. One of these was the small cor­ner of Britain they actu­al­ly did occu­py, the Chan­nel Islands.


Goering’s “right decision”

The plot hinges on what was in fact the key to RAF vic­to­ry in the Bat­tle of Britain. This was Her­mann Goer­ing’s deci­sion switch from mil­i­tary tar­gets and bomb open cities. In this book, Goer­ing behaves in the oppo­site way.

The Luftwaffe’s orders were deci­sive.  Knock out the radar sta­tions. Then attack the for­ward air­fields, fight­er sta­tions, sec­tor and group headquarters:

Every bomb and every bul­let was to be aimed at an Air Force tar­get. The renewed attack on the radar chain took Fight­er Com­mand by sur­prise and soon omi­nous gaps were appear­ing on the plot­ting boards at 11 Group Head­quar­ters at Uxbridge and at Fight­er Com­mand at Bent­ley Pri­o­ry, Stanmore…And, final proof that the RAF was los­ing the bat­tle, the Stu­ka dive-bombers again flew far inland and got safe­ly home.

Long­mate next refers to Ger­man doc­u­ments and plans for “Oper­a­tion Sea Lion.” “S-Day” is 24 Sep­tem­ber 1940, in the small hours under a bright moon. Land­ings are made from Dover to Lyme Reg­is. Swarms of Messer­schmitts and Junkers 88s range the skies at will. Rapid­ly, the Wehrma­cht seals off the Ken­tish coast and estab­lish­es a line from Mar­gate to Brighton. Soon the entire penin­su­la from Wool­wich to Southamp­ton is occu­pied. The Roy­al Fam­i­ly reluc­tant­ly leaves London—followed by the Down­ing Street scene described above.


Longmate’s scary book ends in excru­ci­at­ing detail. Of course Gestapo rounds up Jews. The fas­cist Sir Oswald Mosley is asked to be Britain’s Quis­ling. I won’t spoil the rest: What hap­pens to the King and the gov­ern­ment? What would Amer­i­ca have done in the event? Would Cana­da and Aus­tralia have come to the res­cue? How would the British have dealt with occu­pa­tion? Would they feel hos­tile toward the resis­tance fight­ers? Would the depor­ta­tion of friends, the swasti­ka fly­ing from Buck­ing­ham Palace, incite docil­i­ty or resis­tance? Get a copy and find out. This is a non-essen­tial but thought-pro­vok­ing addi­tion to the Churchill library.

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