ADVANCED HIGHER HISTORY
Holy Cross High School
PREPARATIONS FOR WAR
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How well prepared was Britain for war in 1939?
The British Army in 1939 was a small, professional force. It was supported by the Territorial Army. At the outbreak of war the British Expeditionary Force dispatched to France was 12 divisions in size. This was from a total force of 50 full and part-time divisions. In addition to the forces of the British Army, also consider the size of the forces that the British army could draw on from the dominions and British colonies. These included a number of divisions from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand along with a large armed force of approximately 200,000 stationed on the Indian sub-continent. In terms of immediate preparedness this force was relatively small compared with the forces of other major combatants. The fully trained professional army was limited in size and it would take some time for troops from the dominions to reach Europe. The size of the army is only one indicator of military readiness for war, however. The machinery used by these forces also needs to be considered. The British forces had the advantage of having a fully motorised system of troop movement. This enabled relatively fast deployment of forces (The Wehrmacht were not entirely motorised at this stage). British artillery pieces were of high quality, a British 25 pound artillery piece was particularly accurate and successful in destroying enemy tanks, for example. However the armed vehicles of the British army at the time do not compare particularly favourably with those of their opponents. Tanks such as the 'Matilda' were difficult to destroy but lacked the manoeuvrability to engage in rapid attacks. Other armed vehicles, such as the tanks initially deployed into Northern Africa, had insufficient armour and suffered at the hands of an experienced Panzer commander. Other equipment included the Lee Enfield 303 rifle, the 'Tommy gun' which was a semi automatic sub-machine gun and the Sten gun. There were some problems with the reliability of some of these weapons, the Mark 2 Sten gun has been noted as being susceptible to jamming. However this gun could be easily dismantled and concealed which made it an ideal weapon to provide to resistance forces throughout Europe. The rifles and semi automatic weapons were supported by use of the 40lb Vickers 303 heavy machine gun which was extremely accurate and fired over 400 rounds per minute. The RAF in 1939 consisted of 135 squadrons. This comprised 74 bomber and 24 fighter squadrons. In addition to the 'fighting' wing of the RAF there were a number of army support squadrons, reconnaissance squadrons and torpedo bombers. These were assisted by an Auxiliary airforce of some 19 squadrons. Throughout 1939 preparations were made for a possible air war. This included large exercises in Southern France and practice blackouts in parts of England. By the outbreak of war, radar had been fitted to a number of Bleinheim bombers. This increased the chances of the bombers finding their target and provided early warning of enemy attacks. The on plane radar was supported by two systems of Radar detection. Chain Home and Chain Home Low were two networks of Radar station built along the south coast of England in the mid to late 1930's. Chain Home could detect formations of aircraft flying over the coast of France. This enabled the RAF to scramble fighter squadrons to intercept bomber formations and would allow the RAF to counter any Luftwaffe movements in the event of an attack on Northern France, the Low Countries or Britain. Chain Home Low provided radar coverage against low flying aircraft. The development of this system of Radar (there were 21 Chain Home...