DUNKIRK AND THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
1) WHY WAS BRITAIN ABLE TO WIN THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN?
In the summer of 1940, the RAF stood alone against the might of the Luftwaffe for aerial supremacy over Britain. Britain was able to win the battle of Britain due to a number of factors; however, the most important reason is that of the error made by Hitler on the 7th of September to change the targets of the Luftwaffe away from aerial bases and to towns and cities. This alone, did not result in the success of Britain in the Battle, other important long term factors such as Britain being an island and RADAR brought considerable triumph as well.
Britain was an island, this meant that the Blitzkrieg tactic that enabled Germany to plough through Belgium and France, which relied on close coordination between ground troops and the air force, had to be altered. Germany could no longer use its ground and air forces as one unit of destruction. Britain also had a world renowned Navy, this allowed supplies from the USA and other countries to be protected and imported in to enable Britain to keep up the continual aerial defence of Britain as under the supervision of the Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook, resupply and maintenance became a national priority. Britain also had the “home advantage” this meant that pilots could bail out of their planes then rejoin their company again so less pilots needed to be trained, however, German pilots were taken as prisoners of war. All of these long term factors gave Britain the upper hand before the Battle had even started.
Though the Luftwaffe had nearly double the amount of aircraft as the British, however, there were plenty of indications that the Luftwaffe might face problems in controlling the skies over Britain. Firstly, the Luftwaffe had limited range and was operating from bases some way from Dunkirk, as they underestimated how bigger obstacle the channel was, making the German bombers very vulnerable to the most modern RAF fighters, such as the Spitfire which was an easy match for the ME109, the German bomber's escorts, as it was faster and a lot more manoeuvrable so won more “dogfights”. The German Bombers, therefore were left extremely vulnerable, if their escorts got caught up in dogfights they became easy targets, the “junkers” also carried a limited supply of bombs so did not cause as much damage as the Germans would of hoped for. The Germans also underestimated the strength of the RAF on the ground, the RAF had a well-organised and extensive air defence system. The British were far from underestimating their opponents, in fact the overestimated them, the invention of RADAR enabled RAF pilots to get into the air quickly and intercept bombers before they had their chance to drop their loads. This was vital in reducing the damage of the Luftwaffe on Britain and more importantly the morale of the British people to continue the defence of their homeland.
However, I think the most important reason, was that British tactics were also far greater thought out then Germanys. Air Marshall Dowding proved to be very masterful in command, he had resisted demands by Churchill to send his fighter reserve to France, holding it back for the defence of the UK, and refused to commit it in large numbers to defending sea convoys. Both decisions were subsequently proved to have been good ones. On the other hand Reichsmarschall Hermann Göering, head of the Luftwaffe, ordered his force to draw the RAF into battle by attacking coastal convoys and bombing radar stations along the south coast, installations of the British aircraft industry, and RAF airfields. The dilution of this effort in retaliation for the bombing of Berlin, was the principal reason why the Luftwaffe eventually lost the battle, as it allowed the RAF to recover when it was near collapse.
2) STUDY SOURCE A. DO YOU AGREE WITH THIS INTERPRATATION OD DUNKIRK? USE THE SOURCE AND KNOWLEDGE FROM YOUR STUDIES TO EXPLAIN YOUR ANSWER.
Source A is a painting by Sir Charles Cunning depicting the evacuation of Dunkirk. The source is accurate in showing the bigger naval vessels waiting out to see, as they could not get as close to the beach, which was why the smaller boats to ferry to the soldiers were used, as shown in the painting. The painting shows the soldiers waiting in lines to be rescued and maintain discipline as bombs are falling down, this is inaccurate as many soldier fled to safety behind bunkers and even buried themselves in the sand to avoid the onslaught of the aerial assault. The loss life at Dunkirk is also not shown as at Dunkirk over 40% of the French army was lost with over 80% of its equipment so this source is a rather sanitised view. However, the source gives us the impression that large numbers of soldiers were evacuated from he beaches this is accurate as over 330,000 soldiers were evacuated by boat from Dunkirk as the source shows.
Sir Charles Cundall was the official government war artist this limits the usefulness of the source as he would have been paid to show the evacuation as a success to it would heighten the morale back at home by glorifying the part the British played, this leads to an element of bias. The source could definitely not have been painted the picture whilst the evacuation was in progress, so the picture would have been created from eye witness accounts this means it could lack some accuracy.
I partially agree with the impression source A gives but it can only be taken as an impression and not as fact. This is the due to the provenance, which comprimises the validity of the source as it was painted for the purpose of propaganda, because of this, the painting may of been glorified to keep up the morale of the British public. Subsequently, I do agree that the source is accurate to a historian wanting to know what the government wanted the public to believe about the evacuation of Dunkirk.
3) “DUNKIRK WAS A GREAT DELIVERENCE AND A GREAT DISASTER.” (AJP TAYLOR). IS THERE SUFFICIENT EVINDENCE IN SOURCES A TO G TO SUPPORT THIS INTERPRETATION? USE THE SOURCES AND YOUR KNOWLEDGE FROM YOUR STUDIES TO EXPLAIN YOUR ANSWER.
Sources A-E are all primary sources produced at the time of the evacuation. Sources B and C are photos which means they can be construed to be accurate, however, they do not give the whole story of the evacuation as they are only a picture of one moment, in one area of the beach, so can be misinterpreted. Historians have created sources F and G, in order to produce a balanced view of Dunkirk to educate the reader, the balanced view is lacking in some sources.
Source A is a contemporary painting of the events of Dunkirk, therefore, cannot be assumed to be reliable as a painting is only the artist's individual impression of events. Consequently, due to the painting being commissioned by the British government, the source is biased and will include spin which suited the political environment of the time. This is why Dunkirk is shown to be a great “deliverance” as the BEF is prevailing against the onslaught of the German aerial attacks. Source D is also very similar, it puts a very positive spin on the evacuation. Anthony Eden, the war minister, says even though the British Expeditionary Force had lost a lot of men and equipment they have “gained immeasurably in experience of warfare and self-confidence.” This “spirit” is the “vital weapon of the army.” Even though the British lost more men and equipment, Eden, continues to tell the public that the BEF have come out on top and that Dunkirk has the lead to the “guarantee of final victory”; “deliverance”. The source is unreliable as Eden could not have said that Dunkirk was a “disaster” as then the public would become disheartened and may stop helping in the war effort.
Source B is a photograph of a section of Beach with soldiers in regimented lines, soldier's seemingly un-panicked, maintaining discipline showing Dunkirk as“deliverance”. However, this source is only of one small section of beach when there were no German aircraft attacking; when they did, soldiers would often take flight to the sand dunes for cover in fright. This desperation is exhibited in Source C showing a soldier who is shooting at planes in the sky in vein with a rifle, showing Dunkirk as a “disaster” as the BEF were ill-equipped to defend themselves, however, the fact that the BEF are shooting at a plane with a rifle shows great determination and bravery; “deliverance”. Both Sources, have been produced for propaganda purposes, to keep morale at home by showing the BEF as determined (Source C) and disciplined (source B) this affects the reliability of sources, they only provide a snapshot of events in that one place at that one exact time.
Source E is from a British newspaper, the source is accurate in some ways, telling us that "tens of thousands safely home already" and "An armada of ships - all sizes, all shapes - were used for crossing the channel". However, it gives a very one sided view as it is full of honour and pride and describes the British expeditionary force as “unbeatable” but does not mention how many people and equipment was lost. As the source is from a newspaper you may expect it to be accurate as a newspaper is meant to inform the reader, however, censorship may have played its part in the report in order to keep the morale of the public high. This source is still quite useful because it gives a lot of information, which is accurate, but is still not adequate enough to agree with the interpretation of Dunkirk found in the quote.
Sources F and G give very balanced views of the Evacuation of Dunkirk. Source F was written by A.J.P Taylor; in this source he gives evidence to support his interpretation that "Dunkirk was a great deliverance and a great disaster". He gives both positive and negative aspects if the evacuation, he states that the operation “succeeded beyond all expectations and that almost “the entire B.E.F were saved”, the “deliverance”, however, it also tells us that the BEF lost “virtually” all its “equipment” and many other things like planes and boats were destroyed, the “disaster”. He uses facts the back these up so the source is accurate. Source G also gives positive and negative aspects of the evacuation. Richard Holmes says that the “evacuation would be a miracle”, and talks about the anticipation of defeat but he also talks about the great determination troops and sailors had, he talks to eye witnesses to back up his view and gives a very reliable and accurate description of the events. Both source were produced after the evacuation, this means they would have no political motive and were produced to educate the reader/viewer so therefore are likely to be reliable and accurate. Both sources view Dunkirk as a disaster and deliverance and use key facts to back this up. Therefore the interpretation of AJP Taylor is accurate using these two sources.
Due to the provenance of sources A-E no valid conclusions can be drawn from them so we are not able to use them to prove AJP Taylor's interpretation, however, they are still useful for telling us ,for example, what the government wanted the public to believe about the evacuation. Source A-G give much more balanced views of Dunkirk giving us both positive and negative views, subsequently, I am able to agree qwith AJP interpretation.