Honorary tablet. During the war this tablet hung at the White Heart pub near the Boggin Hill airfield - then a distant suburb of London. At that time it was a tradition, that all the pubs located in the vicinity of the airfields maintained such tablets where victorious fighters were leaving their signatures.



On 15 September in the morning at Adolf Hitler's headquarters were present the highest commanders of the German armed forces - Field-Marshals Walther von Brauchitsch and Wilhelm Keitel, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, and General Alfred Jodl. Brauchitsch reported the state of readiness of the land forces: the Army Group A under the command of Gerd von Rundstedt (after the French campaign he too received the Field-Marshal's baton and the traditional monetary gratification - 250 thousand reichsmarks) had  completed concentration on the Atlantic coast. All that was needed was a dark night now. Grand Admiral Raeder came to his aid: the most suitable is the night from 23 to 24 September. Hitler made his final decision: the landing was to take place in 10 days, on 24 September 1940.

On that day the first wave of the planned 330,000 men embarked on 170 ships, and the gigantic armada set off for the shores of England. In favourable weather conditions, and under the cover of darkness, the ships reached the landing sectors. Rundstedt was lucky: although at half past twelve British torpedo boats spotted the invading forces, opened fire, and sank two minesweepers, their report was not immediately forwarded to the Admiralty. A similar message came in during the previous night, and the local command got hell of a bashing for rising a false alarm.

It was not until 4 a.m. that the chiefs of staffs of the British armed forces had learnt the news: the Germans are coming! Generals hesitated to wake up the prime-minister though. Another half an hour was wasted before the coded signal "Cromwell" was radioed, and the head of the government was informed what had happened. Yet, nobody could propose any sensible way of acting. What about the church bells? asked someone, producing the only laugh of the conference, and it was agreed that these could be rung when any area seemed directly threatened, but not before.

First reports were quite accommodating: only few airborne units had landed on the British soil. The First Lord of the Admiralty decided that there was no reason to engage the navy. Therefore, the BBC morning news at 9 a.m. were rather cautious: they said that few enemy units had approached the coast and landed some troops around Dover; the enemy suffered heavy casualties. Yet, the coastal zone had to be evacuated for the safety of the civilian population.

Meanwhile Rundstedt, in his headquarters on the shores of the English Channel, had a different picture of the events: elements of 9 divisions landed between Folkestone and Rottingdean near Brighton. In addition, the 7th Airborne Division landed at Lympne to take the airfield, and advanced on Dover. The 17th Infantry Division successfully landed on the coast, and the 35th Infantry Division captured Dymchurch and Littlestone. However, the commander of the 16th Army, General Ernst Busch, did not think that his army achieved the objectives of the first day of the invasion. There were some troubles on his left wing: on the famous battlefield of Hastings the Devonshire Infantry and the Somerset Light Infantry Regiments delivered unexpectedly hard resistance. On the other hand, the commander of the 9th Army, General Adolf Strauß reported to Rundstedt that on the left wing his army succeeded in taking the bridgeheads.

A patient reader, who has come to this point, may exclaim: so the invasion of Great Britain has indeed happened?! The operation Seelöwe was carried out successfully in defiance of what we were taught at school? Or the author, alas, has succumbed to so fashionable recently "alternative history", which offers a falsified "re-evaluation of the historical experience"? Nothing of that sort! The author did not get doped by the "alternative history". The invasion of the British Isles had never taken place. No Nazi invader had ever set his foot on the British soil. But...

The opening picture of the hypothetical outcome of the operation Seelöwe is not entirely fictional either. It has been inspired by Norman Longmate, a British writer, and a former army officer, who wrote a book, based on available archive materials. Longmate decided to collect the source materials and consult with specialists. His effort resulted in a book, which issued from the thesis that had Hitler decided about the invasion in 1940, England would have been occupied just like many other European countries. And though Longmate wrote about fictitious events, he did not invent them, but "drove" from the documents of the British and German staffs.

So, let us continue the story of what would have happened, if Britain had fallen...

The coastal batteries opened fire at the invading forces, but their fire was inefficient - the rising sun blinded the artillerymen, and exhaustion of ammunition soon silenced them for good. Within hours of the landings, which overwhelmed the beach defenders, reserve formations were despatched to Kent. Although there were 25 divisions in the United Kingdom, only 17 of them were fully equipped, and only three were based in Kent, however the defence plan relied on the use of mobile reserves and armoured and mechanised brigades were committed as soon as the main landings were identified. Meanwhile the air battle raged; the Luftwaffe flew 1200 fighter and 800 bomber sorties before the noon. The Royal Air Force (RAF) even threw in training planes hastily armed with bombs, but the Luftwaffe, after the victorious outcome of the Battle of Britain, possessed the unchallenged command of the air.

On 16 September the Germans had still not captured a major port, but they started driving for Folkestone. Their forces had consolidated on the bridgeheads, where they had amassed 200,000 troops. Shipping unloading on the beaches suffered heavy losses from RAF bombing raids and then further losses at their ports in France. Yet the Royal Navy did not dare to approach the English Channel, literally stuffed with mines and German light naval forces. After all its main forces were kept in the north where a diversionary German naval sortie from Norway was completely destroyed, but other sorties inflicted losses on the shipping and menaced the coasts of Scotland. The air reconnaissance showed a German build-up in Cherbourg and some forces so badly needed in south-east forces were diverted to the south-west. The 22nd Airborne Division landed successfully at Lympne, although long range artillery fire directed by a stay-behind commando group interdicted the runways.

The Germans were ready to battle British counter-attacks. Yet, the commander-in-chief of the British Home Forces, Gen. Alan Brooke, had no clear vision of the German design. It was obvious, that the invading forces wanted to capture London, but how? Where the main effort would be driven? From the Dover - Hastings area, or contrary - from the western bridgeheads?

The first British counter-attacks by the 42nd Division, supported by an armoured brigade halted the German 34th Division in its drive on Hastings. The 7th Armoured Division was having difficulties with extensive anti-tank obstacles and assault teams armed with sticky bombs and other makeshift anti-tank means. Despite of the losses and lousy progress of the first landing wave the German army and air forces commanders were jubilant and urged preparations for landing of the forces of the second wave with heavy equipment.

On 17 September the Germans had finally taken Newhaven. The Australian division deployed in the vicinity counter-attacked fiercely all the night, but failed to retake the port from the enemy superior in numbers and equipment. Also the New Zealand division that arrived at Folkestone was instantly attacked in the rear by the 22nd Division and fell back on Dover having lost 35% casualties. The Germans now had 10 divisions ashore, but in many cases they were incomplete and waiting for their second echelon to arrive by night. The weather was unsuitable for the barges however, and the decision to sail was referred up the chain of command. However the Germans made good progress towards Dover and towards Canterbury. At night the second wave made the crossing from Calais, Dunkirk and Le Havre.

On 18-22 September the British had engaged all the forces they possessed in incessant counter-attacks on the German positions along the whole front. Particularly fierce fights broke out in the historic fields of Hastings where in 1066 landed the invading army of William the Conqueror. The Germans, having engaged their last reserves there, nearly collapsed, but the situation was saved by reinforcements that arrived just in time in Folkestone. However the port had been so badly damaged that they could only unload two landing crafts at a time. This delayed the moment when the invaders had finally overcome the British defence.

On 23 September, as more airborne troops were engaged in fights, as well as the Germans captured Rye and the influx of reinforcements and supplies became steady, the invaders began their advance into England. The 16th Army was driving from Kent via Reigate and Rochester directly to London. The 9th Army, having captured Portsmouth and Southampton, was moving to Oxford and St.Albans with the design to outflank the British capital from the west. The 6th Army, which made an auxiliary landing farther in the west, took Portland and Bristol, and was driving to Gloucester. They did not encounter any serious resistance; only the cadets of the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy tried to halt the advanced armoured troops with bayonets and bottles with inflammable liquids.

On 1 October, in order to relieve the northern front, Brooke ordered to counter-attack in the west, destroy the enemy on the bridgeheads, retake Newhaven, and cut the landing forces from supplies and reinforcements. The counter-attack had to be driven by the well-equipped 1st Armoured Division supported by composite infantry units. The operation commenced on 2 October, and from the onset instilled Brooke with optimism - the British threw the Germans back and reached outskirts of Newhaven.

However, the Germans realised the danger of the British design, and on 4 October Rundstedt assumed direct command of the operations, crossed the Channel, and established his headquarters on the British coast, in a little town of St.Leonard. German units conducted active defence, forcing the British to regroup. Brooke decided about pulling them out beyond the Thames. Officers at Rundstedt's headquarters jeered: Withdrawal was one operation at which the British generals were expert.

Ten days passed in pursuit after retreating British troops, and on the fateful day of 14 October - the anniversary of the battle of Hastings - Rundstedt launched the second offensive aimed at crushing British forces' grouping in southern England. The core of the 16th Army crossed the Thames at Wallingford; three infantry divisions secured bridgeheads for two armoured ones. The commender of one of them, Major-General Erwin Rommel, had decided to advance to London.

The British forces failed to stop the invaders. Cadets of the famous Royal Military Academy Sandhurst fought gallantly, but were rolled by the tanks. In the morning of 15 October the front was broken, and evacuation of London began. On 16 October the king left London for Edinburgh.

On 18 October von Rundstedt moved farther to the north, according to Brauchitsch's plan, leaving London in the rears. On 19 October the situation was hopeless; German motorcyclists were spotted around the Buckingham Palace, and machine-gun fire could be heard in the Regent's Park. In the evening the prime-minister committed suicide; the commander-in-chief was reported dead earlier. When the commander of the advanced unit of the 16th Army arrived in 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British prime-minister, he did not find anybody there. Few senior officers, captured at the Whitehall, said they had not been authorized to sign the act of surrender. Nobody could do it - the king left London, prime-minister and commander-in-chief were dead, the whereabouts of the chiefs of staffs of the forces were unknown.

Finally, there was brought some old, retired Brigadier, who agreed to order the garrison of London to surrender. That tragic news was radio-broadcast the same evening, as the swastika flag fluttered over the Big Ben. The Gestapo and SS was already making arrests among the people deemed dangerous for the occupation régime.

With the Wehrmacht troops having reached the line Gloucester - St.Albans - Maldon the invasion of the British Isles was effectively concluded. The Germans launched the pursuit after the defeated enemy. Crowds of soldiers and civilians were fleeing to the north seeking any shelter, authority and military organization, but there were none. Gossips, spread by panic and hitlerite agents, multiplied the dimensions of the disaster. Nobody knew for sure what the fates of the prime-minister and the royal family were. Contradictory news said they were dead, or captured by the enemy, or they fled to Canada, or were organizing guerrilla in the mountains of Scotland...

One must admit that the picture, painted by Norman Longmate, testifies to his low opinion about the defensive potential of his own country. I would never take a risk of doing anything similar, but apparently it is acceptable in England. Longmate maintained that the operation Seelöwe would have gone precisely the way he described, and he is supported in his claims by respectable military historians, like Basil Collier, Richard Wade, Alun Arthur Gwynne Jones, Lord Chalfont, and others. Yet, while one may argue about the outcome of a hypothetical battle on the southern shores of England, there are no doubts about what would be the consequences of England's military defeat. That is why only eight chapters of Longmate's books are completely fictional. The first four chapters describe German and British pre-invasion manoeuvering; the last chapter describe in an entirely non-fictional way what the German occupation would have been like, by reference to captured documents and by the record of how the Germans actually behaved in other countries, especially the one small corner of Britain they did occupy, the Channel Islands. [Longmate N. (1974).]

The question of what would have happened should the Royal Air Force had lost the Battle of Britain ever since 1940 absorbed minds of the senior officers from both sides of the firing line. Eventually, in 1970, in Great Britain a war-game was staged, which utilized every, even the smallest one, piece of data related to the Battle of Britain. To process that amount of data there was used the most modern computer equipment of the time; it filled a whole large room! A number of generals and admirals, British as well as their former enemies, and now allies in the NATO, had attended the war-game. The results astonished them all. They proved that in 1940 Great Britain could be defeated in the course of a relatively moderated military effort. Hence the bigger significance of the air battles in the summer 1940 waged in the British skies.

It was not until 38 years after the Battle of Britain that the museum dedicated to that important chapter of the Second World War was opened in Hendon. The founders of the museum had fully recognized and honoured the engagement in the battle and sacrifice of blood at that crucial historic moment. It is not without significance, that the building of the museum was possible thanks to the spontaneous initiative of the living veterans of the battle, the families of the fallen and diseased ones, as well as to volunteer offerings of individuals, corporations and organizations. The museum was officially opened on 28 November 1978 by Queen Mother Elizabeth, the widow of King George VI, who in those critical days of 1940 did not abandon London. It has its reflection in the exhibition: the king's modest RAF uniform, photographs of his frequent visits to the devastated boroughs and photographs of the Buckingham Palace damaged by the bombs. The ceremony was hosted by the legendary Canadian pilot Sir Douglas Bader, who lost both legs to the war but remained in active service. He too has his modest corner among numerous exhibits.

Unlike anywhere else in the world, the British musea are spectacular places. Instead of boring rows of dusted glass cases full of mute artefacts, they offer a genuine touch of living history. The museum in Hendon is not an exception. The most remarkable there is certainly the collection of original aircraft; not only each type, but each plane, has its own, often sensational, history. There is a wreckage of a Hawker Hurricane half-dug in the sand at the entry. It was shot down on 31 August 1940, at the peak of the air fights, and it was not until 1973 that it was discovered. There is also a twin-engine Bristol Blenheim, the first British aircraft to attack Germany on 3 September 1939, as well as the only existing Bolton-Paul Defiant, with the revolving machine-gun turret and Polish insignia, since it served in the Polish Squadron 307. Visitors are encouraged to climb the exhibits, to sit in the cockpit of a fighter plane, lay their hands on the controls, and look through the machine-gun cross-hair...

The exhibition would not be complete without less exciting, but no less important models of the elements of the anti-air defence, reconstructed with a meticulous precision: an air-raid shelter, a radar station, a ground observation post, a searchlight emplacement, a battery of anti-aircraft guns... On the galleries there is the operating room of the Fighter Command No.11 Group of Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, as it was moved from his wartime bunker at Uxbridge. That group was one of the five groups created for the defence of the British Isles, and subordinated to the commander-in-chief of the Fighter Command at Stanmore, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding - the hero of the Battle of Britain. The No.11 Group was covering south-east England and London, and bore the biggest burden of the air fights. The table in the middle of the room features a big map of the English Channel. Movable blocks and arrows indicate the current position and movements of own and enemy squadrons. Along the walls there are lists of group's squadrons grouped by airfields. Numbers and letters indicate numbers and types of aircraft, and coloured lights indicate their status: taking off, approaching, engaged, coming back, landing, refuelling or resting. There is also information concerning the fuel, ammunition, weather... For short - everything a commanding officer needs to know in order to exercise his powers efficiently. This is what enabled such an efficient operation of those few fighters.

These are not the exhibits, though, which determine the immeasurable educational values of the museum. Its founders - in line with the famous Churchill's appraisal of the battle, featured right in front of the entrance: "Never before, in the field of human conflicts, so much was owed by so many to so few" - decided to emphasize the human factor, the patriotism and determination of the defenders, way less numerous than their enemy, and of many nationalities, united in the struggle with the fascist menace. There is no room in a brief article to extract, from the emotionless abundance of materials, documents and databases, a complete and thorough analysis of the human factor in the Battle of Britain. Let me just present a small summary of forces and casualties to visualize, without annoying comparisons and lectures, the scale of the human involvement in the battle:

nationality pilots killed [%]

British 1,792 334 19
Polish 141 29 21
New Zealand 94 11 12
Canadian 89 20 23
Czech and Slovak 87 7 8
Belgian 24 6 25
South African 22 9 41
Australian 21 14 67
French 13

Irish 8

other 66 10 17

Total: 2,357

total killed: 440 19
total wounded: 450
Total casualties: 890 38

The results of the 1970 war-game made the British look at many aspects of the Battle of Britain in different light. They sparked animated discussions in the media, which did not spare critical words to the people responsible for such a state of the matters in 1940 (for example The Daily Telegraph No.497 of 17 May 1974). They also became the basis for the novel Operation Sea Lion, written by Richard Cox, as well as the 1972 BBC feature film Sealion: What Might Have Been... For the needs of that film the permission was obtained to hoist the swastika flag on the Houses of the Parliament. And that was the only case that the Nazi flag waved over London as a bizarre farewell to the dreams of the world domination.