From Phoney War to total war

For the first six months of the war, there was little fighting in the West, as the German military concentrated on their invasion and campaign in Poland. This period is often called the ‘Phoney War’.

In April 1940, the German military invaded Norway and Denmark using Blitzkrieg. British forces, sent to assist, were unable to hold back the German forces who continued to push southwards into the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

The German tactic of Blitzkrieg, using air power, armoured tanks and a combination of brute force, speed and surprise was extremely difficult to defend against.

In May 1940, faced with the failure of appeasement and increasing criticism, Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister. Winston Churchill led a coalition government for the rest of the war.

The following few months were a testing period as the Netherlands, Belgium and France all fell to the Nazis.

The evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, at the end of May 1940 showed the strength of the Nazi war machine. The fact so many were saved to fight another day meant the defeat was actually seen as an important victory.

France surrendered on 22 June 1940. Hitler then turned his attention to invading Britain which now stood alone fighting against Germany.

July to October 1940

The Battle of Britain took place in the skies as Hitler attempted to gain air supremacy before launching an invasion. The Royal Air Force (RAF) resisted the Luftwaffe because of its use of radar, the superiority of the British aircrafts and, luckily, some German mistakes. Churchill praised the pilots in August 1940, saying, Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.

September 1940

The Luftwaffe changed its plan and began bombing British cities, particularly London. This became known as the Blitz, from the German Blitzkrieg. Its aim was to break morale and destroy industry to force Britain to surrender. By the autumn of 1940 it was clear that the war would affect all civilians, not just those involved in combat. This was ‘total war’.

Men in WWII era clothing form a large queue.
British males enlisting, 1940