The USA entered the European theatre following Hitler’s unbelievable declaration of war in December, 1941. Over the next two years, huge numbers of American troops entered Britain. Dwight D Eisenhower became Supreme Commander in Chief of Allied Forces, December 1943, ending British military independence. Churchill rightly believed national pride was irrelevant. Only the USA had sufficient military power to invade Europe, though Britain provided hugely important assistance. Britain’s military independence ended for excellent reasons and it took Churchill’s political courage to do it.
Germany invaded western Europe on the 10th May 1940 with the evacuation of Dunkirk beginning on the 26th... The British, along with the French and Belgium armies, were defeated in sixteen days. The evacuation of Dunkirk is a catalogue of stupendous courage, phenomenal planning, technical expertise and assistance from the German High Command. If the German High Command hadn’t been consumed with hubris, the defeated armies would have been stranded. Instead of this, 338,226 troops were evacuated, of which 140,000 were Belgian and French soldiers.
On 4th June Churchill made a momentous speech about the defeat, which set the tone of British defiance (see addendum). Churchill recognised the crucial importance of ‘the New World’ who’d be ultimately decisive in the struggle against Germany. His relationship with Roosevelt didn’t produce an immediate military commitment but Lend Lease strengthened Britain’s ability to successfully continue the defensive war. Churchill’s strategy depended on the USA. Hitler’s declaration of war, December, 1941, fulfilled Churchill’s dreams of an integrated alliance between Britain and the USA.
The USA was the world’s greatest industrial country and once it was geared to a wartime economy its productive capacity was amazing. They also had a young population. Their armed forces outstripped every other country. By 1943 the US army had eight million men in it2 with a further three million in the navy. When Eisenhower became Supreme C-in-C the USA had more soldiers in Britain than the British did.
Eisenhower’s new command brought British armed forces under his command: in Britain. Churchill repaired the army’s wounded feelings by creating four Field Marshals during 1944.3 The British army was now an auxiliary force. This is vividly illustrated by the D Day landings, the prelude to the liberation of Europe. The USA’s commitment was 156,000 troops at Omaha and Utah beaches. The British landed 61,000 troops on their beaches.
The Germans were caught between two sledgehammers: the USA and the Soviet Union from summer 1944. That they held out as long as they did says a great deal about the Wehrmacht’s excellence. Regardless of military prowess, the logistics of the conflict meant they were only prolonging the inevitable. As Voltaire cynically said, “God is always on the side of the big battalions.” By May 1945, Germany was crushed, giving rise to further tensions between Eisenhower and his British colleagues. This was especially the case with Montgomery, who claimed the German surrender for himself at Luneburg Heath, 4th May. His action was deemed improper and the Germans surrendered again at Rheims to a member of Eisenhower’s staff.4 The Soviets wouldn’t accept this and so the definitive surrender occurred in Berlin on the following day, the 8th May, which was designated VE Day.
Britain’s catastrophic defeat in 1940 wasn’t total in the way that France was defeated for example. Nonetheless Britain was incapable of doing more than surviving in the face of an overwhelming enemy. Churchill recognised that only an alliance with the USA could provide the military muscle to land a telling blow on the Germans. Hitler’s lunatic rush of blood to the head meant the British alliance with the USA happened in December 1941. A fully committed USA, coupled with Britain in the west and the Soviet Union in the east, meant there could only be one outcome. The Allied victory created two superpowers with Britain in the second division, where we’ve been ever since.
Addendum: Churchill’s speech 4th June 1940
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. For the entire speech go to: https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1940-the-finest-hour/we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches/
1 https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/churchills-first-world-war After the Gallipoli fiasco he had to resign but was promoted in 1917 as minister for munitions.
2 To put this into a British perspective at its peak the army had three million men in it in 1945.
3 That the Field Marshals were promoted in alphabetical order (Alanbrooke, Alexander, Montgomery and Wilson) at three monthly intervals during 1944 might reflect Churchill’s famous wit.
4 Hitler’s suicide occurred on the 30th April. The surrender of the Germans in 1945 illustrated the tensions between Montgomery and Eisenhower. Montgomery accepted the German surrender on 4th May but the official surrender happened in Rheims at the Supreme Headquarters of Eisenhower. He didn’t accept it personally but delegated Bedell Smith, his chief of staff.
This anecdote illustrates the quasi-amateurism of the final days of Nazi Germany.