poole in the second world war
a brief history of what is still there to this day
A Brief Overview Of British Defences And Situation In 1940
So what were the British defences in the 1940? Well to understand that you have to think about Britain's situation. When war had been declared on September the 1st 1939 the British expeditionary force had been sent to the continent to help with the defence of France and the low countries. However once they arrived almost nothing happened. The French did launch a small offensive known as the Saar Offensive into Germany but this was just a propaganda move. Supposedly about 40 divisions were going to take part in the attack. Few did and even fewer actually crossed the border. Once they had crossed the undefended border they stopped almost immediately. They did for a short time hold a small section of German territory but they were soon driven back on the 17th October by a German counter offensive. After that the line's remained relatively silent, apart from the odd Luftwaffe plane flying over. The French had been very unprepared for war and predicted a year or even more before they would be able to make any real move against the Germans. The Germans themselves were not in a brilliant position. The invasion of Poland had succeeded but at great cost. The attack had been badly co-ordinated, and a third of their troops had become casualties, and that was with the help of the Soviet Union. It was undeniable that mistakes had been made and a great many lessons learned. Hitler ordered shortly after Poland surrendered that plans be made up to invade France and thus complete what the Kaiser had failed to do 21 years before. His generals had other ideas though. They did not want to start a war with France as they feared that it would end the same way as in 1918. With this in mind they drew up a plan that was almost identical to the one devised in 1914, and thus hoping that Hitler would consider the plan too dangerous and back down. The plan was to attack across the low countries and destroy the allied armies in battle. In other words a plan for disaster. How ever one general had other ideas. His name was Heinz Guderian. He is often known today as the father of blitzkrieg. Although this is not strictly correct he did a great deal to help to develop the tactic. Guderian came up with a very different plan. His idea was to stage a secondary attack on the low countries, with a much larger main force attacking though the Ardennes forest, right where the British and French armies met, and also an area of land considered impassable to tanks.  
This was a very risky plan. The forces leading the attack would be armoured divisions. The whole operation, like blitzkrieg in general, would rely on speed. If the forces in the Ardennes could break though the French lines and cross the Danube before the allied forces in the low countries could redeploy then the Germans would be able to advance to the coast with almost nothing stopping them, and surround the allied armies. This was almost certainly far to much to hope for, but it was a plan that could succeed. Hitler liked the plan and the date for invasion was set as May 10th 1940.  
 
When the German troops moved across the border and into the low countries the French and allies assumed this to be the main attack and moved their forces forwards to take up lines in Holland and Belgium. This would turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes of the war. A few weeks later the French high command started to get reports of a large German force massing in the Ardennes. Maurice Gamelin, the supreme French Commander, dismissed these reports. This decision is on the list of some of the worst decisions of the second world war. The Germans promptly attacked driving the small force in the region back. They soon took several major cities and crossed the Danube under heavy fire. The French president Albert Lebrun famously called Winston Churchill, saying we've lost the battle. This is often considered a very defeatist thing to say to Churchill especially as the Germans were yet to advance any great distance into France. Yet he did guess the outcome of the battle. Several counter attacks were made including one by a colonel, soon to be general, Charles de Gaulle. However these attacks were badly co-ordinated and often with little or no air support. The German army raced to the coast and encircled the allied armies. It now became clear that an escape plan was in order. It was code named Operation Dynamo. This was to be the now famous Dunkirk evacuation. It was originally hoped that more than one port could be used for the evacuation but it was not to be. Amazingly shortly before the evacuation Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, convinced Hitler to stop the panzers advance and let the Luftwaffe destroy the allied pocket. This would prove to be one of the most famous decisions made by Hitler that would prove that he was completely incapable of making effective military decisions.  
Operation Dynamo was put into effect with every ship available being sent over to help with the evacuation. Luck was to be on the allied side. The weather on the week of the evacuation was especially bad for bombing - low cloud obscured most of the targets. Also after bombing the dock facilities and all of the supplies in port, most of the buildings caught fire sending huge plumes of smoke into the sky, further helping to hide the escaping forces. Amazingly the royal navy and all the other boats that took part in the evacuation managed to rescue 340,000 troops, this was how ever to the loss of almost all of the army's equipment. Most soldiers only came back with their rifles if that. Nearly all of the British army's heavy artillery and tanks were left behind. This was one of the only successes in what turned out to be one of the biggest military disasters in history. 
 
The French continued fighting for a few weeks, but soon surrendered signing the Armistice of 22 June 1940 in the same railway carriage that they made the Germans sign in in 1918. This would prove to be a humiliating defeat. France was split into two different countries. One was the occupied zone controlled by the Germans, the other was Vichy France commanded by a German puppet government lead by Philippe Pétain. 
 
The British defences 
One of the first things that Churchill did after the French surrender was to launch Operation Catapult the plan to eliminate the French fleet in Algeria. The British Mediterranean fleet was dispatched and on the 3 July in the Battle of Mers-el-Kébir the French fleet was attacked. The operation was a complete success. The British sank a battleship and damaged five other ships for a British loss of five aircraft shot down and two crewmen killed.  
With the German army just across the channel the British high command was forced to plan for an invasion. One of the first things to be done was the setting up of the home guard. Made up of the old and the very young the home guard was a interesting move of desperation and a good example of Britain's move towards total war. At first some units were armed with only old French rifles that were completely jammed and could only be used for drill. This led to an array of improvisation both big and small. The unit made up of the members of a golf club went around on horses and used golf clubs as weapons. The overall effectiveness of the home guard is very debatable. 
 
The head of home forces at that time was Edmund Ironside. A interesting character who had started his military career back in the Boer war. He laid out a static style of defences which is what this web site is about. The plan was based on stop lines.