7th June 1940. The Last Stand: ‘Arm Yourselves, And Be Ye Men of valour.’
Churchill’s exhortation in May 1940, the month Colonel Colin Gubbins founded the top secret Auxiliary Units, which were prepared for a last stand in case of invasion, after the disaster of Dunkirk.
It was the sentiment of the words: ‘Very Well, Alone’ which accompanied Today’s David Low cartoon in the London, Evening Standard, in 1940. (1)
In fact the only fully-armed infantry divisions standing between London and a German invasion were Canadian.
It has been said that Hitler’s decision to order the Panzers to halt on May 24th and the 48 hours delay in the advance to the coast at Dunkirk, was decisive for the eventual Allied victory.
On the 22nd Lord Gort realising that he was in danger of being encircled, began to pull units towards Dunkirk. The French did likewise.
Meanwhile German troops had been issued with English phrase books in preparation for invasion: by July, Hitler had postponed the attack, until the next full moon-more breathing space!
Meanwhile in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, the King practised rifle shooting, as both he and Churchill, headed a list of targets for elimination, as ‘obstacles to peace’, should invasion succeed.
The Queen, it appears had refused to flee to Canada with her daughters, as 13,000 women and children had done so already.
Two thousand barges were ready across the Channel, and 20% of the England was under some form of military control. Preparations had frenetically been afoot for some time and hundreds of miles of concrete defences and pill-boxes, were built around London and the industrial centres. The countryside and beaches were swathed in barbed wire.
The little known civilian, Secret Auxiliary Units were also set up as an organisation, ready to sabotage any invasion plans. 5000 were enrolled and 500 secret underground bunkers were built.
Having sealed-orders and supplies for only a fortnight, they were trained in silent killing, which included any ‘Locals’ deemed a risk, which included the Chief Constable who knew, and had recruited, them.
‘Dead letter’ pick-ups were organised with secret information hidden in tennis balls and dropped down drainpipes. Innocent looking teenage girls in the community were organised. One vicar had a radio under his altar.(2)
Mass adult evacuation, never a favourite option in view of the adverse affect on morale, was opposed, as it had been in 1914; also the less civilian movement left military supply routes clear.
After Dunkirk, we were saved by three things: Hitler stopped his advance on the 24th May, fifteen miles short of Dunkirk, to allow the infantry to consolidate behind the tanks. Also a furious storm grounded the Luftwaffe on the 28th of the month.
Finally a calm settled over the Channel for several days, miraculously enabling us to withdraw a quarter of a million men.
Two final unknowns regarding invasion: first the Home Fleet was waiting up north for orders to intercept, and, at the last trump, General Alanbrooke (CIGS) and Churchill were willing to use gas.
(1) Towards the end of 1940 Cecil King, owner of the Daily Mirror, lunched with the Director of Statistics at the War Office, who confided that the Dunkirk episode was far worse than Fleet Street had ever realised.
(2) Most went to their graves without revealing anything.
Ref: johnclare.net for Image by Low.
Ref: wikipedia.org/Images of anti-invasion sites.
Ref: BBC Broadcast 19.5.1940. Churchill.