- Contributed by
- John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443
- People in story:
- John Absolon
- Location of story:
- Sough East England 1940
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 January 2004
People may remember in 1914 the "Miracle of the Marne" when taxis and buses were used to carry French troops to the frontline to stop the German advance.
In late May 1940 my unit which was due to go to France was redeployed in south-east England. The detachment all 10 of us were deployed near Bolney in Sussex just North of Brighton. We had the standard S/L equipment, 90cm searchlight, sound locator, Lister generator, Lewis Gun (WW 1 light machine-gun) and each with a rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition. We waited while the news got worse and worse and the evacuation of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk and other ports started. It was obvious that, apart from the successful attack by 50 (Northumbrian) Division at Arras where they reached their objective but the French did not.The whole of the guns, supplies and equipment of the Expeditionary force was lost and the men were lucky to get back with their lives and rifles. There have been millions of words written about the "Miracle of Dunkirk" perhaps it was a miracle! .
But what was going to happen now? On June 4th Winston Churchill made his famous speech "we shall fight on the beaches," but who would be fighting on the beaches? At this stage I must point out that this is a view from the bottom looking up,as a 17 year old ( from the 1st June) in charge of a Lewis gun.
All was quiet, the sun shone, and we helped the local farmer with his hay.Two or three days later the O C Section arrived with a London taxi, complete with driver, and we were informed that we were now mobile troops. ( For those that may not know ,the London taxi was a specially designed vehicle. The driver sat in a little cab,on his left was a platform for luggage, in the back the hood could be folded down. Over the top of the driver was a luggage rack.) The Lewis gun was mounted on the luggage rack to fire forward over the driver's head. During the day we carried out patrols and apart from the local LDV,who were just forming, the country appeared quite normal with very little movement.We met our next nearest “mobile” patrol which was about two miles away, apart from that nothing. There was a rumour that some New Zealand troops were in the area but we didn’t see them.. Our orders were to attack parachutists and drive to the “sound of battle”. We were also to form a concealed position so that the men left guarding the equipment could destroy it and move to a hidden position and attack lines of communication. So we waited and waited and nothing happened. We had won. “ The Battle for Britain “ The Germans gave Britain a victory without a fight when they went off chasing beaten troops and dusting off old railway carriages. And, in my opinion,The Germans had Lost the War from that moment.A few days later a relieved taxi driver went back to London. Probably to tow a fire trailer
Now , in hindsight, I will explain my reasons for making that statement. Believing in air power the Germans forgot the main rules of war that have existed from the start of time, and still exist today.
“Always closely follow a beaten enemy.” So why didn’t the German army “bounce” the Channel?
The British Navy? On April 10th 1940 British Blackburn Skua dive- bombers sunk the first major warship by air power alone,the German cruiser Konigsberg . What chance had the Navy against dive- bombers in the close waters of the Channel? The Royal Air Force ? German intelligence services estimated that the fighters stationed in south-east England at about 200.Totally under estimated but they (The Germans) didn’t know that. There were at least three airfields on the south-east coast of Kent the Germans could capture and then attack ports from the rear..Against what opposition?
Availability and capability? Under a year later the Germans launched a successful air assault on Crete. That division must have been available in June 1940. In July 1941 the Germans launched an attack on Russia from the Baltic to the Crimea. All those forces could not have been produced in less than 12 months. The German army was said to have been the finest European army ever produced.
Did the Germans think that Britain would surrender? The Germans did in 1918.when the allies approached the German frontiers.
“Boot on the ground” the only way to hold territory is physical presence (no different from Iraq today) aircraft cannot hold ground, they can prepare it for occupation as the Navy can but they cannot hold it. When the Germans decided they had to get air superiority before making a sea assault they lost the war. Did they have air superiority? Yes,over parts of south-east England,but only when they were there. The Royal Air Force retired to airfields just south of London, Biggin Hill, Kenley, Croydon and other fields. I have seen 100 plus German bomber aircraft flying in formation at about 8000ft over the Kent Surrey border completely unmolested but all they did was make a noise and drop bombs on open fields. No gain in that.
Then why did he not come? The Germans had the finest military force Europe has ever seen. But, mistakenly, they seemed to believe in the” Myth of Air Power.” Or did they believe Britain could be ignored? To totally miss-quote Winston Churchill in the House of Commons “Gentleman the opposition is in front of me, but the enemy is behind” and this is what Hitler failed to realise when he turned to the East.
Probably he also thought that the devious British may have had something up their sleeves and he wasn’t going to take a chance. Winston Churchill’s speech on the fourth of June might have actually frightened him. After all we have always been known to be the Masters of Deception He fell for it again in June 1944 among other times.
Five long years and millions of dead, but the Axis lost the war early in June 1940,unfortunately, it took all that time to prove it. They are many” ifs and buts” to World War II but the Allies had to do what they did to complete the job.
Air power, in a misguided way, went a long way towards winning the war by preparing the ground so that the “Boot” could occupy it and destroy the evil. Perhaps it (air power) is a fearsome extension of the Roman Pila.(a short spear designed to bend on impact so that it couldn’t be thrown back)
“The Myth of Air Power” Just a thought for the100 years of powered heavier than air flight. The first bomb dropped on civilians in open towns was in January 1915 just about twelve years later.
So I didn’t drive to the sound of battle in a London taxi.
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