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Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

They stood, delivered

July 21, 2000

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Sixty years ago at this time of year, the "tight little island" headquartered in London represented the only entity preventing Nazi Germany from dominating all of Europe as we know it. England was the last bastion of "our way" of life. The free world will never be able to show enough gratitude to Great Britain for the noble, gallant and courageous feats it accomplished in standing up to the Germans at a time when the United States was still pondering policies and procedures.

The recent television mini-series, "Finest Hour," chronicles just how closely the Germans came at various times to altering history in a terrible way. The British had been chased off The Continent at Dunkirk in the spring of 1940 as France folded. There were growing fears that a Nazi invasion of Britain was only weeks, perhaps even days, away. British leader Winston Churchill was doing his best to rally his nation, despite efforts by fellow officials to sue for peace. There was a ghastly, grim outlook not only for England but for the entire world.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany had invaded Poland. By Sept. 28, Poland had been partitioned by Germany and the Soviet Union, at the time a Nazi ally. The Soviet Union invaded Finland on Nov. 30, 1939. In April 1940, Denmark and Norway were in German hands and on May 10 Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and after the Dunkirk evacuation of more than 300,000 British troops, the Germans entered an undefended Paris on June 14.

Then began the Germans' concentration on bringing England to its knees with an invasion and a takeover to produce this particular "final solution."

But with Churchill as the key figure, the proud British decided "we do not want them over here." They prepared to fight on the beaches, in the streets, anywhere they had to operate to make the Germans at least pay dearly for a conquest. An invasion was a virtual given.

Adolf Hitler had decided that the best way to soften up the British for Operation Sealion, the invasion, was to wipe out England's air power. The English Channel provided major transit problems for the Germans and they knew an invasion could not be carried out effectively unless the air arm of the enemy was nullified.

Air chief Hermann Goering boasted to Hitler that he could do the job, quickly, and so began a horrendous aerial assault to put Air Command out of commission. Britain was under-equipped, undermanned and had precious few experienced pilots. Often the English were outnumbered three to one as fighters left the runways to counter the German air armada. But somehow those precious few got the job done and broke the back of the Goering forces to the point they were unable to contemplate an invasion. As Churchill pointed out so dramatically, much was owed by so many to very few as the British somehow managed to down Germans by a two to one margin.

Furious over the events, Hitler began the air bombing blitz of Britain, mainly London, in September. But again the British rose to the challenge and survived to continue their resistance.

All the while, the United States, Canada and the rest of the world remained uncertain until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. But remember that by then, the British had been at war with Germany since the fall of 1939 and had gone through horrible poundings throughout 1940 and 1941.

Eventually, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, breaking the German-Soviet alliance and suffering massive losses as a result. And then the United States got into the hostilities and helped swing the tide against Germany and Japan. Before it was over, 292,131 Americans were killed in combat, 115,185 died of non-battle wounds or illnesses, and 670,846 were wounded in action.

It takes no great intelligence to realize that little Britain never could have won World War II against the Germans without gigantic assistance from the United States and the Soviet Union. But as "Finest Hour" concluded, England refused to lose in 1939, 1940 and 1941.

England cannot be praised enough for its marvelous record in some of the darkest times in human history.

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