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Existence of a real German threat

LAURENCE REES: Was Britain in 1940 at risk from a German invasion?

ANDREW ROBERTS: I don’t think the Germans were going to be able to invade successfully in 1940. I think that the actual plans needed to get an army across the channel, even in the event that the RAF was neutralised for a long enough period, were just not in place. There weren’t enough of those flat bottom boats, they weren’t particularly sea worthy and if the Royal Navy had got amongst them there would have been a massacre. And even when they landed it isn’t automatically certain that they would have been able just to capture London. One looks at some of the cities that have fought back against the Nazis, obviously primarily Stalingrad, and you can see that it would have been a real mouthful for Hitler to have managed to dominate Britain. That said it would not have even come to that had Lord Halifax made some kind of a peace, it wouldn’t have even been necessary. But what would have happened, I believe, is that if Hitler had been successful in Russia he would then have turned on us and we would have had nobody to help or support us.

LAURENCE REES: Does Churchill believe in 1940 that there’s any real possibility of an invasion? Because he’s saying there is with all of that stuff about fighting on the beaches and so on?

ANDREW ROBERTS:  Fight on the beaches comes in June and at that stage, yes, it is perfectly possible that Churchill genuinely believes that there’s a chance of Britain being invaded. By October, by the time Hitler has himself put out his directive which cancels Operation Sea Lion or at least puts it on hold, Churchill finds out about it via Bletchley and so it’s very much Churchill acting up the dangers of invasion. You’ve got to remember we’ve still got the Blitz well into 1941 and so it’s very much in the interests of national unity and high morale to feel that there is still a likelihood of being invaded if we don’t all hold together. This doesn’t prevent strikes, even in Spitfire producing factories in 1940, but that’s another issue.

LAURENCE REES: But essentially then, from October onwards Churchill is pretending there’s a risk of invasion in order to keep morale up, but also to safeguard his own position?

ANDREW ROBERTS: Churchill is definitely exaggerating the chances of an invasion in the late period from the autumn onwards in 1940 but to what extent that’s a personal political position I’m not sure. I don’t think it is particularly, because by that stage he is also safe politically, even if there was no direct invasion threat. When one thinks of the disasters that overcome us in later on, in Greece and elsewhere, they don’t actually lead to genuine calls for Churchill’s resignation. No, I think it’s much more a case of wanting to take all the massive advantages to the nation of having this terror over our heads all the time.