Monday, March 9, 2015

Führerdirektiv 16

On 16 July, Hitler promulgated his Führerdirektiv 16, which announced his decision to 'prepare and if necessary carry out' an invasion with the aim of eliminating England as a base for war against Germany. The priority accorded to the Royal Navy and coastal defences as targets was re-stated, and an intensive mining campaign began in the Firth of Forth, and in the Humber and Thames estuaries. The rest of the target list drawn up soon proved to be out-of-date and ill researched. Areas of operation were allocated to the three Luftflotten facing England, with Luftflotte 5 taking targets north of a line running from the Humber to Carlisle, and with Luftflotte 3 taking the area west of a line running from the eastern edge of the Isle of Wight up to Carlisle. Luftflotte 2 took the rest of the country. But while 16 July was a big day from an administrative point of view, poor weather ensured that it was relatively quiet.

Adolf Hitler made his famous 'appeal for reason' on 19 July, genuinely hoping that Britain might accept an 'honourable peace'. During his speech he said that 'If this struggle continues, it can only end in the annihilation of one of us. Mr Churchill thinks it will be Germany. I know it will be Britain. I am not the vanquished begging for mercy. I speak as a victor. I see no reason why this war should go on. We would like to avert the sacrifices which must claim millions.' He took the opportunity to elevate Goring to the unique new rank of Reichsmarschall.

Sunday 21 July was relatively quiet, and learning from the previous day's experience, Fighter Command provided the convoys with strong escorts. Thunderstorms in the afternoon did little to help Fighter Command, and did a great deal to damage the strength of Balloon Command, one of whose detachments lost six balloons in a single 30-minute period that day. Fighter Command lost one Hurricane in combat, and two more were damaged, but shot down six enemy aircraft. Goring called Milch and his three Luftflotte commanders to Karinhall, where he outlined his instructions for the air campaign which would prepare the way for Hitler's invasion of Britain, re-emphasising the need to attack the Royal Navy and seal-up its ports (including Plymouth, Portland, Portsmouth and Dover) by mining, and thus preventing the navy from interfering with the progress of the German invasion fleet.

The British Government finally responded to Hitler's 19 July appeal on 22 July, in a speech by Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary. It was a remarkable speech, which usefully summed up the general attitude in the country at large to Hitler at this stage of the war.

Many of you will have read two days ago the speech in which Herr Hitler summoned Great Britain to capitulate to his will. I will not waste your time by dealing with his distortion of almost every main event since the War began. He says he has no desire to destroy the British Empire, but there was in his speech no suggestion that peace must be based on justice, no word of recognition that the other nations of Europe had any right to self-determination, the principle which he has so often invoked for Germans. His only appeal was to the base instinct of fear, and his only arguments were threats. Hitler has now made it plain that he is preparing to direct the whole weight of German might against this country. That is why in every part of Britain there is only one spirit, a spirit of indomitable resolution. Nor has anyone any doubt that if Hitler were to succeed it would be the end, for many beside ourselves, of all those things which make life living. We realise that the struggle may cost us everything, but just because the things we are defending are worth any sacrifice it is a noble privilege to be the defenders of things so precious. We never wanted the War; certainly no-one here wants the War to go on for a day longer than is necessary. But we shall not stop fighting until freedom, for ourselves and others, is secure.

By 31 July, Hitler was beginning to realise that a decisive victory against Britain would not be easy, and some advisers were already pointing out that even if it could be achieved, the loss of her empire would primarily benefit Japan and the USA. Hitler was reported to have started saying that Russia's destruction 'must be made part of the struggle against England; with Russia smashed, England's hope would be shattered.'

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