Chapter 26: A Summing-Up
Sometimes in detail and sometimes in broad outline, we have now traced through twenty-five chapters the rise of the home defences from the trough where retrenchment left them after the First World War to the peak attained about the end of 1942. We have also noted their subsequent curtailment—partly offset by growing experience and improved equipment—in the interests of offensive action. We have watched their response to the threat of invasion or lesser raids by seaborne or airborne troops, and to the reality of bombardment by a variety of missiles. We have glanced—perhaps more briefly than the relevance of the subject to our theme may seem to warrant, since the war at sea is the province of other volumes in this series—at the struggle to maintain the sea communications linking an island kingdom with the outer world and one home port with another. What conclusions, if any, can be drawn from our account of events which brought to the people of Great Britain not only the most obvious threat to their security since the Spanish Armada appeared off Plymouth, but also the most poignant tribulations suffered by large numbers of them since the devastations wrought by the vast epidemics of the past?
In the first place, clearly any such conclusions can be only tentative. Military history is not an exact science; and military operations are frequently unscientific. Moreover, any judgement attempted at the present stage must needs be coloured by the deceptive glow which emanates from the live embers of controversy. When the fire has burnt out, when time has blurred an outline too sharply fretted with absorbing detail to reveal the essential structure, posterity—should the popular estimate of posterity’s sagacity prove just, and should posterity find leisure and inclination for such studies—may perhaps deliver a less partial verdict.
A further difficulty is that such an enquiry must either lead us beyond the limits assigned to the present volume, or ignore much that may seem relevant. Ultimately the state of the home defences before the war was governed by the views of statesmen whose deepest motives could not always be disclosed. To sift those motives is outside our province; to pass them over may mislead. If much that follows seems critical of those who shaped the national policy during the last years of peace, it should be remembered that the circumstances of the time left room for a sincere conviction that another great war,
irrespective of its outcome, might be disastrous to the interests of the nation and the Commonwealth. On that ground alone, the risk of unpreparedness might well seem more acceptable than that arising from any action thought likely to precipitate hostilities.
One thing is certain. If war, and the threat of war, found the national defences less than ready, the fault did not lie in any failure to consider the problems which those contingencies would bring. In the Committee of Imperial Defence and its sub-committees the country possessed a well-tried instrument for the discussion of such issues; and it is hard to think of any important aspect of readiness for war which was not in fact discussed by some part of that body between 1919 and 1939. Time and again, however, limitations imposed by governmental policy either robbed discussion of reality, or marred the implementation of conclusions reached. Some critics have argued that the leaders of the fighting services ought to have insisted, to the point of resignation, on greater readiness; but that, too, is an issue we are not called upon to consider. We need only recall that—mainly in consequence of such restrictions, although unresolved technical and professional issues also played some part—the failure of the disarmament policy in the ‘thirties found the air defences weak and the coast defences weaker; the country unable to maintain its traditional policy of keeping a possible aggressor at a distance by helping to secure the Low Countries; and the navy scarcely in a position to perform its customary tasks. There was still time to repair these weaknesses; but much of it was lost by the refusal of the Government, on financial grounds, to adopt the plan drawn up by its advisers. When war did come, the navy and the air defences, though still lacking much, were usefully strong; an Expeditionary Force was ready for despatch to the Continent, but the decision to send it had been so long delayed that friends and potential enemies alike may well have wondered whether we meant to fight at all; and the coast defences soon demanded such additions that their earlier neglect can scarcely be reckoned an economy.
We have said that virtually every major aspect of national defence received attention during the two decades which preceded the Second World War. It would, however, be too much to expect that, even where dangerous political assumptions did not militate against sound thinking, the conclusions reached by the Committee of Imperial Defence and the staffs of the fighting services should always have stood the test of practice. In so unpredictable a field, human liability to prejudice and error, financial and other barriers to realistic experiment, and perhaps reluctance to make trials which might prove misleading, were bound to produce some false assessments. For example, the notion that a potential disturber of the peace could be deterred by plans to build a British bomber force of 43, 70, 73 or
even 85 squadrons would doubtless have seemed less attractive to statesmen if professional opinion had not overestimated the results that bombing by methods then contemplated could achieve. When war came, experience soon showed that, even at its planned strength, the bomber force would not have been equal to all the tasks envisaged for it by the Air Staff. Ultimately bombing became a potent weapon of Allied strategy; but only after methods of navigation, target-finding and damage-assessment had been radically altered to meet conditions very different from those expected. Fortunately the claims made by extreme adherents of the bomber school were not allowed to check the growth of the purely defensive system which, in practice, alone prevented the enemy from gaining air superiority over southern England at the crucial moment.
Again, much pre-war thinking about the risks and possibilities of invasion may seem questionable in the light of subsequent experience. The assumption that invasion was unlikely while the Low Countries and the Channel ports remained in friendly or neutral hands was reasonable enough; the belief that, if it were attempted, the invader could be bombed or shelled to destruction by obsolete coast defences, an inexperienced bomber force and a navy not assured of adequate warning seems harder to justify. On the other hand—and notwithstanding the lesson of Norway—there was much in the argument that an invader, even if not intercepted, could be defeated by disruption of his communications. Yet we have seen that, when war came—and long before the Low Countries or the Channel ports were in German hands—the Government felt bound to revise their assessment of the risk and to approve new measures which, in turn, were found far short of apparent needs when Holland, Belgium and then France fell with unexpected swiftness. The reader may wonder, perhaps, how far implicit assumptions about the security of the Low Countries and the Channel ports were ever justified in view of facts apparent to many travellers, but not reflected in a grand strategy postulating stern resistance to a ruthless enemy by countries notoriously unwilling to commit themselves to war, or torn by social conflict.
Other examples of incomplete foresight are not lacking. If, in general, the effectiveness of bombing was overestimated, the threat which air attack would present to shipping, including naval vessels, was at times assessed too lightly. The dangers of submarine attack, with all its consequences for home defence, were obscured by undue confidence in a counter-measure which proved valuable but not invincible. Adequate arrangements for air reconnaissance and the interpretation of air photographs were not made until the eleventh hour or later. Maritime defence, in its twin aspects of trade defence and defence against invasion, called for special air units available
only in derisory numbers, or not at all, on the outbreak of hostilities. The dangers of air attack with incendiary bombs were painstakingly considered, but the special case of the building normally unoccupied at night seems unaccountably to have had less than its due share of attention. The Expeditionary Force’s need of fighter aircraft to clear a way for its tactical bombers and reconnaissance machines, if not overlooked, was at any rate so inadequately met that attempts to repair the omission threatened at one stage fatally to weaken the home front. Finally the events of 1940 revealed what seem manifest defects in the tactical and strategic doctrines on which the training and equipment of troops available for home defence were grounded. Admittedly the immediate causes of many shortages at home were the preference justly given to the Expeditionary Force, and the abandonment by that force of much of its equipment; but the very fact that, until a crisis seemed imminent, units not only deficient in anti-tank guns and modern field guns, and with little armour to support them, but generally lacking in mobility and inadequately schooled in offensive tactics, should apparently have been considered good enough for home defence, reveals the vastness of the gap between the threat which appeared in 1940, and previous estimates of the form that such a contingency might take.
Despite such lapses, the dominant emotion left by study of the multitudinous records which commemorate the work of countless staff officers, civil servants and others who laboured in the field of national defence between the wars is one of admiration for their skill and diligence. Often with little practical support from statesmen who begrudged the cost of testing or implementing their proposals, always with the knowledge that the bulk of their fellow-citizens, if aware of their activities, would be as ready to condemn them in peacetime for wasting the country’s time on academic issues as to upbraid them in wartime if those issues proved not to have been studied, they struggled manfully with material often baffling in its vagueness, toiling obscurely to distil an ounce of truth from a hogshead of hypothesis. That—to change the metaphor—they sometimes took the wrong path through the maze of assumption, misinformation, false inference and conjecture in which their feet were often set need not surprise us. The historian may feel it his duty to call attention to their lapses; the citizen may still be grateful that so much was done, and not a little astonished that so much was thought of. A similar tribute is due to many regimental officers, scientists and others whose labours in the field provided the staffs and committees with some of their best data. The public, generally critical of the work of the defence services in peacetime, little realises, perhaps, how much it owes to such experiments as those made with acoustic mirrors, which, if they led to no positive outcome, at least showed
that some better method of detecting the approach of unauthorised aircraft was required.
So much for a tentative judgement—framed, as it must be, in the light of after-knowledge, but tempered by an effort to discount factors which the authorities could not be expected to foresee—of some of the broader aspects of pre-war planning. It remains to recapitulate the salient events of the next few years, and to see what further lessons can be drawn from them. In such a review some repetition of points already made can scarcely be avoided.
The first few months of war brought many threats to our sea communications, including the magnetic mine, the submarine and air attack. None of these was altogether unforeseen; but counter-measures to the magnetic mine had been crowded out by more urgent preoccupations, the seriousness of the problem of air attack on shipping had been recognised too late for full provision against it to be made in pre-war plans of air expansion, and the true extent of the underwater menace was not yet apparent. Personal skill and courage, readiness to experiment, refusal to be daunted by orthodox objections, and the navy’s accumulated technical experience, assisted by the enemy’s mistakes, all played their parts in overcoming the first danger. The other two were held in check but would soon recur in more acute form. Convoy escort made heavy demands on the relatively few ships and aircraft available for the purpose, and protection of coastwise shipping—whether by escort or otherwise—saddled the air defences with an unwelcome burden.
Another lesson soon learnt was that the Home Fleet’s principal base at Scapa Flow was not secure against air and submarine attack. Furthermore, the system of air reconnaissance devised before the war was found incapable of preventing excursions from the North Sea by German commerce-raiders. At the same time, attempts by British bombers to sink or damage German warships proved extremely disappointing. The consequences included temporary removal of the Home Fleet to less convenient stations; wide dispersal of Allied naval forces for the purpose of hunting down ships which had escaped our vigilance; and a new estimate of the chances of invasion.
The much-feared ‘knock-out blow’ from the air was not attempted by the Germans, who still hoped to reach an accommodation with this country, and whose aims would have been little forwarded by such a blow in the absence of plans to follow it up by military occupation. The air defences made good use of the respite to add to and improve their technical equipment; but the threat to coastwise shipping and home ports, including Scapa Flow, and the just claims of the growing Expeditionary Force in France to additional air support, compelled the Air Ministry to form new fighter squadrons at some detriment to their plans for expansion of Bomber Command.
Reports that the Luftwaffe contemplated additions to its anti-shipping force and extension of its activities to more distant waters provided further arguments for enlargement of the air defences. In the early part of 1940 the Air Staff sanctioned substantial additions to Fighter Command’s ground organization, and faced, with some dismay, a strong case for the creation of yet more fighter squadrons. Meanwhile the commander of the air defences, never doubting that sooner or later he would have to fight a major battle, was insistent in his demand that attention to his needs should not be prejudiced by the claims of a bomber force and an Expeditionary force which could do nothing to restore the country’s fortunes if he failed to win it.
The lesson of Norway for home defence was plain enough. Norwegian waters in early spring were a battleground which might have been expected to favour the Royal Navy, with its long tradition of expert seamanship and indifference to bad weather; yet Hitler was able to land troops in Norway, and supply them, in the teeth of superior Allied surface strength. The demonstration of German air power and its effects was formidable, but at least we had the satisfaction of knowing that the air defences of the United Kingdom were much stronger than those of Norway. Even so, the experience was a bitter draught for Britons schooled in the belief that control of the North Sea was their prerogative. The most important consequence was a change of government which assigned the leading place to a statesman uniquely qualified to strengthen and sustain the national will through much worse trials soon to come.
In May the Germans opened their offensive against France and the Low Countries. One by one, in swift succession, their remaining opponents on the European mainland were overwhelmed. In a few weeks Britain stood alone. The flower of the British Army, having narrowly escaped destruction at Dunkirk, was back in the United Kingdom; but the forces at home were woefully deficient in field guns, anti-tank guns, tanks and transport. To the ordinary citizen it might well seem that nothing could now stop the enemy from seizing the country almost when he pleased. The experts, recognising the physical magnitude of the task which faced the Germans, and observing that the British fighter force was undefeated, were more hopeful; but even they feared early landings which, if they stopped short of invasion, might well lead to it.
At this juncture the qualities which enabled the Prime Minister to instil into his countrymen something of his own courageous and defiant spirit were of incalculable value. A nation so led could not fail to resist to the utmost.
Meanwhile the Government had faced a stern choice between retention at home of enough fighter squadrons to give a reasonable chance of survival if the striking power of the Luftwaffe were turned
against this country, and compliance with a French request for ten more squadrons—over and above the equivalent of some seventeen already sent—to support a counter-attack by the Franco-British armies. Ministers were sympathetic to the claims of France; on the other hand fighters could contribute little to a counter-attack in the absence of the well-found tactical-bomber force which it would have been their business to support. It is, however, doubtful whether the last point was fully understood by all concerned. A warning from Air Chief Marshal Dowding that, even if no more squadrons went to France, continued losses at the existing rate would soon strip the better part of the fighter force of its equipment, followed by an eloquent reminder that, should the forces at home be too much weakened, defeat in France would entail the ‘final, complete and irremediable defeat of this country’, played the chief part in dissuading the Government from a useless sacrifice.
A retrospective judgement of the perils of the summer of 1940 is bound to differ in some respects from the contemporary view. We know to-day that virtually no preparations for a landing in this country were made by the Germans before July; and that the plan drawn up by the German Army in that month had to be radically altered before it was grudgingly accepted by the German Navy. This knowledge was not shared by contemporary observers. We also know that a successful landing was held by the enemy to be impossible unless the Luftwaffe could first win a major triumph in the air. That was, indeed, a reasonable assumption at the time; but not all British strategists were satisfied that other possibilities could be excluded. An attempted landing might not follow, but accompany, a bid for air superiority; and certainly that course might reasonably have been expected to appeal to an enemy who had shown himself willing to take risks in the interests of surprise. Thus it is understandable that some things were done during those months of trial which might have been safely left till later, or perhaps not done at all.
On the whole, however, it can scarcely be said that the precautions taken by the Government were excessive. The response to a hypothetical situation of a leader notoriously guided by intuition must needs be unpredictable; but nothing in the evidence leads us to suppose that Hitler would not have carried out the invasion plan if the stipulated air superiority had been achieved. For the Germans the crucial period began at the end of the first week in September, after the premature abandonment of attacks on sector-stations; and the historian has no reason to dissent from the prevailing view that the decisive factor was the series of actions fought by Air Vice-Marshal Park on the 15th of that month. The reception given to German bombers and escorting fighters on that day can have left the enemy with little room for illusions fostered by partial success on the
7th, 11th and 14th. Two days later an adverse verdict by the Führer, ending a period of hesitation, cost him his chance of landing on the one remaining day before October when moon and tide were favourable.
Thus the forecast of the Chiefs of Staff that survival might well turn on the air defences, and especially on the fighter force, proved justified. The deliverance was due largely to the skill and gallantry of fighter-pilots, the excellence of their machines, the hard-won achievements of anti-aircraft gunners often handicapped by poor equipment, and the devotion to duty of countless soldiers, airmen, and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the Auxiliary Territorial Service and other organisations which contributed patient labour or special knowledge. But these alone would not have ensured success. The great strength of the air defences lay in the ability of group commanders and controllers to draw conclusions from an early-warning system based essentially on radar. Had the system been less efficient, had its predictions proved less reliable, or too obscure for swift interpretation at times when every moment counted, the rest might have gone for very little. Accordingly we shall not be far wrong if we conclude that radar was possibly the best investment ever made by a British government.
Against the night attacks of September 1940, to May 1941, the air defences proved less effective. But the decision to give first place to measures of defence not specially applicable to night fighting was deliberately taken and was surely sound. The night ‘Blitz’ caused much hardship and injury to life and property; the day attacks of 1940, if not effectively repelled, would have brought disaster. Moreover, any substantial neglect of the ‘chain home’ radar stations in favour of the special devices designed to counter the night-bomber would have entailed weaknesses in the early-warning system fatal at all hours. As it was, the ineffectiveness of the night defences was no more than relative. If they failed to bring down many bombers while the offensive was at its peak, they did much to mar the accuracy of the attack by forcing the enemy to fly at awkward heights. Antiaircraft guns, balloons and, to a smaller extent, night-fighters, all contributed to this tendency; and a combination of decoy-fires and counter-measures to German radio beams also saved much property and many lives by leading bombers away from their allotted targets.
During the summer and autumn of 1940, while his group commanders were busy with the daylight battle, Air Chief Marshal Dowding devoted much of his time to development of the special devices needed by fighters and anti-aircraft guns for dealing with the night bomber. His successor, Air Marshal Douglas, inherited a task which Dowding was forced to leave unfinished. Success, in the form of substantial losses inflicted on the attackers, remained elusive until
the ‘Blitz’ was almost over; thereafter night raids cost the enemy casualties which, though not prohibitive, limited him to favourable conditions and profoundly influenced his choice of targets. The ‘Baedeker’ raids of 1942, with the series of night attacks which followed in 1943, not only emphasised the protective value of antiaircraft guns and balloon-barrages; they also showed how restricted was the class of objective which the German bomber force could now afford to tackle. Raids on London and other well-defended targets were indeed still made from time to time; but on most of these occasions either they were not pressed home, or casualties suffered by the attackers were uncomfortably heavy. Finally, in the ‘Baby Blitz’ of 1944, the defences inflicted punishment which brought the German striking force in the west to the verge of bankruptcy on the eve of the Allied landing in Normandy. Daylight ‘tip-and-run’ attacks in 1942 and 1943 set problems which taxed the ingenuity of the defenders and were never altogether solved; but such blows, aimed chiefly at seaside towns, were not, and could never have become, a major threat to the security of the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile the Government faced attempts to disrupt the country’s sea communications by submarine and air attacks on shipping, accompanied at one stage by the raids on West Coast ports, and the general disturbance of distribution and supply, entailed by the closing phase of the ‘Blitz’. The convoy system, already modified to meet conditions arising from the fall of France, now met a severe test. For home defence in the narrower sense which alone concerns us here, the most important issue after the security of the West Coast ports and the Port of London was the protection of coastwise convoys; for without this traffic a great part of the population would have gone short of commodities whose aggregate weight and bulk exceeded the capacity of roads and railways alone to carry. A fifteen-fold increase in the number of fighter sorties flown for the protection of shipping near the coast over the period November 1940, to June 1941, was followed by a marked decline in the number of ships sunk in daylight; but the problem of protection at night proved more stubborn. In any case the task imposed on the fighter force long spells of uneventful flying, which were uneconomic inasmuch as they made few demands on the initiative and high performance which the training of its pilots and the design of its machines envisaged. Although the patrols were certainly not wasted, the disproportionate amount of flying-time which they consumed lends some support to the argument of certain German officers that their superiors failed to grasp the opportunity which enlargement of their anti-shipping operations offered them. In the outcome, air attacks on coastwise convoys dwindled markedly as the Fuhrer and his circle grew increasingly preoccupied with the campaign on the Eastern
Front; and by 1943 the commander of the Luftwaffe’s anti-shipping forces in the west could complain, with some justification, that lack of support from above was depriving him of golden chances.
Effectively the threat of invasion was removed in October 1940, when the enemy was forced to conclude that the postponements of September—to say nothing of the Luftwaffe’s failure to win air superiority—had made a landing that year impossible. Revival of the project in the spring or early summer of 1941 was not ruled out, at any rate ostensibly. But by January, at the latest, Hitler’s eyes were firmly fixed on Russia, whose subjugation would seem on the evidence of his published statements always to have been his main ambition. Within a few weeks of opening their attack in June the Germans were clearly so embroiled on the new front that an immediate invasion of the United Kingdom could be discounted. Failing to achieve their aims that summer, the German Army and the Luftwaffe suffered unexpected hardships during the ensuing winter; and when, in the following spring and summer, their hope of a swift advance to the Caucasus likewise faded, it was a fair assumption that large-scale landings in this country need not be expected for at least some twelve or eighteen months to come. Thereafter troops in the United Kingdom found themselves increasingly concerned with preparations for campaigns elsewhere, and particularly in making ready for the Allied assault on ‘Fortress Europe’.
Apart from the ever-present threat to our sea communications, not only in home waters but in almost every quarter of the globe, the United Kingdom still faced the risk of air attack and of bombardment with new weapons. Night attacks on this country by orthodox bomber forces in 1943 accomplished little; and although the Luftwaffe resolved to try once more with the ‘Baby Blitz’ of 1944, it was natural that, as the desire to retaliate for Allied air attacks on German cities and factories grew more insistent, the enemy should turn with quickening hope to the newer instruments of long-range bombardment which his technicians and scientists were striving to perfect.
Alike to the strategist and to the humanitarian, the flying bomb must seem repugnant by virtue of an imprecision which made it suitably only for indiscriminate attacks on large centres of population such as London; even so, its ingenuity, simplicity and ease of manufacture compel reluctant admiration. For many reasons, the weapon failed to redeem more than a small part of its promise. In the first place, surprise was not secured, largely because of the skill of Allied photographic interpreters and the pertinacity of Allied secret agents, some of whom risked their lives repeatedly with little or no thought of personal gain. Thus the authorities were ready with a plan of defence, admittedly incommensurate with the situation which
developed, but susceptible of rapid modification and enlargement under the orders of a commander prompt to act and willing to shoulder responsibility for his decisions. Secondly, a defect unforeseen (and perhaps scarcely foreseeable) by the designers of the weapon reduced its speed and made if far more vulnerable than had been expected. Thirdly, the introduction of the missile was delayed by difficulties of development and production, augmented by certain fortuitous effects of the Allied air offensive against German industry. A programme of bombing expressly designed to hamper the completion of launching-sites for the bomb was successful inasmuch as it led to the abandonment of the sites; but this gain was offset by the enemy’s early decision to build and use sites of another kind, which were not attacked until the flying-bomb campaign was under way. Had the weapon been ready earlier the enemy would not only have reaped such benefits as might have arisen from its use while the finishing touches were being put to Allied preparations to land in Normandy, but would probably have lost fewer bombs to the defences. The American-made radar set, the SCR 584, which helped the anti-aircraft guns to do such good work from July onwards, did not begin to reach this country until the end of June, and probably its arrival could not in any circumstances have been much accelerated. As it was, nearly two-fifths of the bombs launched by the Germans were brought down by anti-aircraft fire, fighters or balloons, and fewer than a quarter reached Greater London.
The A-4 rocket was a much more complex and expensive weapon. Some thirteen years of close experiment with long-range rockets preceded its introduction to active service in 1944; and even then its performance proved far from satisfactory. Of 1,403 rockets directed at this country, 288 failed to arrive within sight of our shores; and of 1,359 aimed at a point in Central London, only 517 descended within the huge area of the London Civil Defence Region. The poverty of these results was due almost wholly to technical defects or imperfect aiming; for effectively the only direct counter-measures taken by ourselves consisted of armed reconnaissance and bombing, which cannot have had much influence on the accuracy of the enemy’s fire except insofar as they may have affected the second of these factors. Attempted destruction of the missiles by anti-aircraft fire was indeed suggested, but—perhaps regrettably from the point of view of technical interest—was not sanctioned by the Government in view of unpromising scientific estimates of the prospects of success. Even so, it would be quite wrong to conclude that the A-4 rocket was a weapon to which the Allies had no answer. On the contrary, the air superiority which they commanded gave them the power of intervening effectively against the storage sites which the enemy would have needed to sustain a scale of attack substantially larger
than he in fact attempted. In the absence of such objectives, and while the rocket-offensive remained the hand-to-mouth affair which it always was, they would not have been justified in diverting much of their air effort from other tasks, perhaps at the cost of prolonging the war for days or weeks, and thus incurring casualties much heavier than those inflicted by the relatively few rockets fired with success. Or so at least the authorities maintained; and, although it may still be argued that a bigger effort against such objectives as offered themselves would have been worth making, it is fair to add that some of those whose immediate responsibilities led them to press most strongly for a bigger effort agreed afterwards that there was much to be said on the other side.
The termination of the flying-bomb and long-range rocket offensives in March 1945, brought to the inhabitants of these islands relief from an ordeal so prolonged that at times an existence free from bombardment, or the immediate threat of it, had seemed hard to imagine. For years past no part of the population had been immune from the fear that death and destruction might suddenly shatter the accustomed order of home or work-place, parting a mother from her children or leaving a man to eke out the remainder of his days as a helpless cripple. Some corners of the kingdom had indeed been more exposed than others; Londoners in particular, enduring a much greater weight of bombing than any other city, and bearing the brunt of the V-1 and V-2 offensives, were at an obvious disadvantage. But no-one was quite safe, and all knew it.
Much has been written about the fortitude with which these dangers were borne; and perhaps to later generations, accustomed to the idea, if not to the reality, of more destructive weapons than any hitherto used against this country, some of it may seem exaggerated. The fact remains that the hardships (and not least the discomforts) of life under constant or intermittent fire were met with remarkable stoicism, and on the whole with remarkable cheerfulness, by men and women deprived of the traditional comfort of comradeship in arms, and often alternating laborious days with almost sleepless nights. The prediction of some publicists that subjection to air attack would soon lead ordinary men and women to urge their governments to sue for peace at any price was completely falsified. Much was due, no doubt, to confidence in the growing power of the air defences to hold the threat in check, and of Bomber Command to discomfit the opponent; much to the knowledge that an omnipresent Civil Defence service could be relied upon for speedy aid and succour; much to the wisdom of a governmental policy which did not seek to ignore or understate the hardships of the time, but to alleviate them where it could, and in any case to foster a spirit which would make them bearable. But the common man is yet entitled to
his word of praise. To allegations that more resolute statesmanship on the part of one British government or another while the issue of peace or war was yet in the balance might have averted a calamity whose effects are still felt in almost every European country, it has been retorted that popular feeling during the years of crisis was opposed to the measures which alone could have strengthened our diplomacy; but it cannot be said that, when faced with the consequences, the people of Britain were found wanting.