During 1939 events in Europe made war increasingly likely. Britain, Northern Ireland and Éire reacted in very different ways to the threat of war.

What was Britain's response?

For most of the 1930s Britain followed a policy of appeasement towards Germany, but from 1935 onwards it also began preparations for war.

Armed forces

Illustration showing how Britain organised its armed forces

The armed forces were improved because a military report in 1935 said the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) were inadequate.

  • Conscription was introduced in April 1939.
  • A new secret weapon, radar, was extended to protect a wider area of the country.
  • The RAF was reorganised into Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command. The number of squadrons increased from six to twenty-six by 1939.
  • New ships were commissioned for the Royal Navy.
  • Air Raid Protection (ARP) force was set up.
  • Anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and barrage balloons were deployed in an effort to prevent aerial bombing.

Civilian defences

Illustration showing civilian defences in Northern Ireland during World War 2

Once war began, increasingly frantic efforts were made to improve Britain's defences.

  • 400,000 Anderson shelters were ordered.
  • Gas masks were distributed.
  • Evacuation of women and children from cities was planned.
  • Arrangements for government control of food supplies, transport and industry were drawn up.
  • Factories introduced shift working so weapons could be produced around the clock.
  • There was a huge drive to recycle scrap metal.
  • 500,000 rifles were obtained from the USA.
  • A civil defence force, the Local Defence Volunteers, later renamed the Home Guard, was created in 1940.