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The Western Allies’ Phoney War

The Western Allies’ Phoney War



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Upon hearing the sound of air raid sirens immediately following Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the people of Britain might have expected a fast descent into the all-pervading war that they were increasingly wary of.

France reluctantly entered the war that same day, as did Australia, New Zealand and India, whilst South Africa and Canada made declarations in the days following. This offered a great sense of hope to the Polish people that Allied intervention would help them repel the German invasion.

The British began planning for civilian evacuation in 1938.

Tragedy in Poland

To the relief of people huddled in shelters in Britain on 3 September, the sirens that were sounded turned out to be unnecessary. German inactivity over Britain was matched by Allied inactivity in Europe, however, and the optimism stimulated in Poland by the British and French announcements was found to be mistaken as the nation was engulfed within a month from the west and then the east (from the Soviets) despite a brave, but futile, resistance.

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Around 900,000 Polish soldiers were killed, injured or taken prisoner, whilst neither aggressor wasted time in committing atrocities and instigating deportations.

German troops paraded through Warsaw in front of their Führer.

France’s non-commitment

The French were unwilling to do more than dip their toes into German territory and their troops along the border began displaying ill-discipline as a result of the passiveness of the situation. With the British Expeditionary Force not seeing action until December, despite beginning to arrive in France in significant numbers from 4 September, the Allies effectively reneged on their promise to defend Polish sovereignty.

Even the RAF, which offered the possibility of engaging Germany without direct conflict, concentrated its efforts on waging a propaganda war by dropping leaflets over Germany.

Bombers Command loading up with leaflets ahead of a drop over Germany. This activity became known as the ‘confetti war.’

Naval warfare and the price of hesitance

The dearth of land-based and aerial engagements between the Allies and Germany was not mirrored at sea, however, as the Battle of the Atlantic, which would last as long as the war itself, was kick-started just hours after Chamberlain’s announcement.

Losses inflicted on the Royal Navy by German U-boats within the first few weeks of war shook Britain’s longstanding naval confidence, particularly when U-47 evaded the defences at Scapa Flow in October and sank the HMS Royal Oak.

An assassination attempt on Hitler in Munich on 8 November fed the Allies’ hope that the German people no longer had the stomach for Nazism or all-out war. The Führer was unperturbed, although a lack of sufficient resources and difficult flying conditions in November 1940 saw him forced to postpone his advance in the west.

As 1940 moved on and the Soviets finally forced Finland to sign for peace after the Winter War, Chamberlain refused to accept the need for a British presence in Scandinavia and, ever the appeaser, was loathe to drag neutral nations into war. Although the Royal Navy offered some resistance, Germany overran Norway and Denmark with troops in April 1940.

BEF troops amuse themselves playing football in France.

The start of the end of the Phoney War

The Allies’ inertia at the beginning of the war, particularly on the part of the French, undermined their military preparations and resulted in a lack of communication and cooperation between their armed services.

Intelligence obtained by the Allies in January 1940 had indicated that a German advance through the Low Countries was imminent at that time. The Allies concentrated on assembling their troops to defend Belgium, but this merely encouraged the Germans to reconsider their intentions.

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This resulted in Manstein devising his Sichelsnitt plan, which benefited from the element of surprise and would prove so effective in rapidly effecting the fall of France.


The etymological underworld of “phony”

That’s a topic we generally treat on Strong Language, where I recently published a piece dealing with some not unrelated matters in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Speaking of Shakespeare, be sure to swing by Shakespeare Confidential if you haven’t had a chance to recently. I’m six plays – and as many posts and more – into my yearlong effort to read the Bard’s complete works.

Now, more recently, Mitt Romney made his own headlines when he tried to take Trump to task with a very different p word: phony.

This epithet has something of an old-fashioned ring to it, no? The etymology of the word may quite literally bear this “ring” out, in a manner of speaking.

Is it real gold or a phony? Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Phony

On the origin of phony, and its earlier variant, phoney, lexicographer Eric Partridge is quite helpful. Phoney, Partridge observes:

meaning ‘counterfeit, spurious, pretended,’ was little known, outside of North America, before American journalists, late in 1939, began to speak of the ‘the phoney war’.

This Phoney War marked a period of relative inaction on the Western Front after the Allies declared war on Nazi Germany at the start of World War II.

Partridge goes on to dispute some phony etymologies of the word:

The word does not come from ‘funny business’, nor from telephone, nor yet from one Forney, an American jeweller specializing in imitation ware, but, via American phoney man, a peddler of imitation jewellery.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) agrees phony originates in colloquial American English, but first cites it in an 1893 reference to horse-racing slang , “‘phony’ bookmakers,” quoting The Chicago Tribune. The OED glosses them as “unofficial bookmakers issuing betting slips on which they do not intend to pay out.” From frontrunner to dark horse, US politics just can’t seem to unsaddle its many associations with horse-racing.

Back to Partridge. His entry on phoney continues, noting phoney man is:

from its original, the English fawney man, itself an adaption of the British fawney cove, one who practises ‘the fawney rig’ or ring-dropping trick, involving a gilt ring passed off as gold and first described by George Parker in A View of Society, 1781.

Cove is thieves’ cant for “fellow” or “chap,” the OED helps out. The dictionary also records Parker as the earliest evidence of this fawney rig. For a description of this con, the OED lets the 1823 edition of the famed Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue speak for itself:

Fawney rig, a common fraud thus practised:—a fellow drops a brass ring, double gilt, which he picks up before the party meant to be cheated, and to whom he disposes of it for less than its supposed, and ten times more than its real, value.

Imagine you’re strolling down the street when, suddenly, a nearby man drops a ring. He picks it up and says, “Hey, it’s a gold ring. It’s worth a lot, but I’ll tell you what. I’ll give it to you for half.” You, apparently, can’t turn down such a good deal for a luxury item and shell out your own gold for the fake gold. I can see someone peddling some knockoff jewelry when a customer’s in the market for it, but I’m having a hard time understanding the whole let’s-drop-a-ring-and-accost-this-random-stranger set-up to this scam.

The confidence man would drop a Lady’s purse containing a cheap ring and wait for someone to spot it. He would then pretend to notice at the same time and claim half the loot for sharing in the discovery. The confidence man or an accomplice would appraise the ring at three or four times its real value, and offer the dupe his half of the find for about double its actual value.

OK, the purse vehicle makes it a little more believable, and I’m sure there were many variations on the swindle. Still, the crime dictionary, observes:

Although the ruse sounds implausible today, one London jewelry shop specializing in bogus gold rings did substantial business as a fawney factory.

OK, returning to Partridge, who concludes:

The key-word is the British underworld fawney, a finger-ring, a word brought to England by Irish confidence tricksters and deriving from the synonymous Irish fáinne. It was probably the Irish who introduced the word into the United States.

Indeed Irish for “ring,” fáinne, some argue, is from an Indo-European root that also put anus on Latin’s finger (and yes, that place we associated with pulling fingers). Today, someone wearing the ring-shaped Fáinne pin is displaying they’re not being phony about the Irish language – unless it’s a phony Fáinne.

While many etymologists suspect this origin of phoney is genuine, we still not absolutely certain of its truth. If it is true, the spelling of phoney, using ph– for f-, must be influenced by spelling of the Greek-based phone, I imagine. My speculation fits the historical timeline: phone, short for telephone, is recorded by 1880, while phone, as a speech sound in linguistic circles, is documented a little earlier.

And phony‘s passage from Irish to British and American English also generally matches with the Irish diaspora – though I, as a person of Irish descent who is soon moving to Dublin, must take umbrage at the aspersions phony’s origins casts on the Irish.

Phony, referring to a fraud, may well originate in a fraud. From his hotel in Vegas to his many wins on the campaign trail, Trump, no doubt, likes the gold. But trying to take him down with brass may not work, if his recent reference to yet another p word is any measure.


How would the Western Allies have fought the Axis without the USSR?

And politically FDR simply can't afford to spend the back half of 1943 and all of 1944 building up for a cross-channel invasion. 1944 is a presidential election year, and if November comes around and the US isn't either in France or the Philippines then FDR is going to get massacred. He needs the US to be visibly on the offensive somewhere in the year leading up to the election, and (once North Africa and Sicily have fallen), Japan is a much easier target in that timeframe than Germany or Italy.

Julian mentioned in a thread a couple of weeks ago that IOTL by 1943/1944 German pilots were getting half the training time US and British pilots because of fuel shortages. (And in the same thread he also mentions that fuel shortages affected their operational capacity.)

How much different would cancelling operation Barbarossa make on WW2

Thus in a timeline where there is no Nazi-Soviet war, the Nazis will have a lot more planes in Western Europe, and they will have better trained pilots. And while I have no doubt that the US and UK air forces will still inevitably grind the Luftwaffe down, I don't see how it can be done in time to enable an invasion of France in 1944. (The Allies have to expect much stiffer resistance to D-Day ITTL than IOTL since the Nazis will be able to have the elite of their army in France rather than off in Russia, which means that even more than IOTL it is essential that the Allies have air superiority if not air supremacy over France before trying to invade)

And that leads us back to the prior point. Politically, FDR needs the US to be on the offensive somewhere between Sicily and November 1944. France can't be invaded until the Luftwaffe is suppressed. Italy is an even worse option than France (worst terrain for attacking, much further from the Allied bases in Britain, and knocking Italy out of the war isn't a war winner.) And the Balkans or Norway are even worse options than Italy. (Even worse terrain for attacking than Italy and even further from Allied bases.) Which makes Japan the logical target. Rolling back the Japanese will show the American people that the US is on the offensive and making progress towards winning the war. And it can be done while still deploying most of the army to the UK to prepare for Overlord. (We know this because IOTL the US was able to successfully fight the New Guinea and Philippines Campaigns even while fighting in Italy and building up for Overlord.)

So maybe FDR will still officially be committed to "Germany First" with the majority of US resources going to the European Theater. But there's no way he isn't sending enough ground troops to the Pacific to at least take back the Philippines, and the main US offensives in late 1943 and 1944 will be in the Pacific.

Because in late 1943 there is no immediate need for those troops in Britain if Overlord can't be launched until 1945, whereas there is a need for them in the Pacific. (And again the Allies sent those troops to the Pacific IOTL, so why wouldn't they send them ITTL when there is even less immediate need for those troops in Europe?)

I think it was due to a combination of increased fuel usage due to active large scale combat operations on the Eastern Front and the lack of fuel imports from the Soviets. (IIRC the Allies didn't really start hammering German fuel production until 1944, and per Julian the Germans were already having a shortage of fuel for training pilots by 1943.)

In 1944 FDR won by a solid (but hardly spectacular) margin after the US had successfully landed in France, was in the process of liberating the Philippines, and had the Soviets as an ally. In a timeline where none of those three factors applies, and indeed where US forces haven't made any meaningful advance in the entire year before the election, the election is going to be a lot more difficult. (IOTL there was no question the US was winning by November 1944. In a timeline where the US has not advanced against either Germany or Japan for over a year, the war will look like it is stalemated.)

And FDR is hardly electorally bulletproof if the war does not appear to be progressing well. The Democrats got slaughtered in the 1942 midterm elections (losing 8 senate seats and 45 house seats) because the war did not appear to be progressing. (And this despite the fact that the US had clobbered the Japanese at Midway and was able to launch Operation Torch just days after the election.) Why do you think the voters would be any more forgiving to FDR in 1944 than they were to his party in 1942 if the US hasn't made any progress in either Europe or the Pacific for the entire year before the election?

Garrison

This is more of a hypothetical than an actual, legit AH scenario but I didn't know where else to ask.

Operation Barbarossa was the largest land invasion in human history with 150 German divisions and three million German troops, with the number further increased using forces from Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, and even some from Vichy France and Spanish volunteers courtesy of Franco, which added up to nearly four million troops, took part in a full scale invasion of the Soviet Union for their resources and land. This ended up backfiring tremendously, and while some say it was a dumb idea doomed to failure from the start, to me it was more due to bad decisions made during this campaign that enabled the Soviets to last as long as they did with help from western support, allowing them to fight back and push the counter offensive. Keep in mind that Germany almost won the Battle of Stalingrad but Hitler gave bad orders and overruled his more competent generals that screwed them over.

That being said, the Soviets would've been content to leave well enough alone had Germany not bothered them, leaving us an interesting thought: How would the Western Allies deal with the Axis Powers without the Soviets help?

Not having the USSR would change how the war was fought completely, and it would mean far more western casualties at the very least. Those three million German troops, 150 divisions and almost one million other Axis forces wouldn't have been dedicated to holding the Eastern Front, which means they could instead use it to hold the West, North Africa and so on, while having much more vast resources at their disposal since they didn't have to expend them out east. D-Day, played the same way, would've been a complete and utter failure because the Germans would totally overwhelm the Allies with their numbers and weapons. In OTL, it only barely worked, even against a Germany that was losing the Eastern Front by that point.

What I predict is that the Western Allies would've had to fight a much longer, much more grueling war, without the Soviets to divert so much focus away from them. The US would likely have over a million deaths, rather than "just" over 400,000, in this case. The Western Allies might take the Soviets' place as the ones who have to outlast the Germans through sheer extensive warfare. Sounds like fun! Not.

But that's just some general guesses. How do you imagine the Western Allies fighting the Axis without the Soviets' help?

Veiovis

The same way as it did in OTL: by starving its conquests. Not having the western Soviet Union and being able to demobilize a bunch of superflous infantry/draft less manpower from the fields is probably a wash, if not beneficial. Its not like those areas were super useful after the initial bounty, which was mostly eaten by the troops themselves.

Assuming the Soviets don't straight up continue to sell their stuff at a mark up to them, that is.

Garrison

The same way as it did in OTL: by starving its conquests. Not having the western Soviet Union and being able to demobilize a bunch of superflous infantry/draft less manpower from the fields is probably a wash, if not beneficial. Its not like those areas were super useful after the initial bounty, which was mostly eaten by the troops themselves.

Assuming the Soviets don't straight up continue to sell their stuff at a mark up to them, that is.

Crowbar Six

Crowbar Six

The UK Tube Alloys project was more advanced than Manhattan until well into 1943, what was hampering the UK was they simply didn't have the engineering/financial resources to construct all the industrial plant to produce U235.

I also don't think that the US would have balked at fighting the Germans, the way they fought the war might change over time.

Grey Wolf

So, this scenario is no Barbarossa but Japan still attacks the US at Pearl Harbour?

BUT Germany is not going to be sitting around doing nothing for half a year.

AND we need to look at the whole Yugoslavia and Greece situation, without imminent Barbarossa

Pjmidd

Grey Wolf

Nbcman

The same way as it did in OTL: by starving its conquests. Not having the western Soviet Union and being able to demobilize a bunch of superflous infantry/draft less manpower from the fields is probably a wash, if not beneficial. Its not like those areas were super useful after the initial bounty, which was mostly eaten by the troops themselves.

Assuming the Soviets don't straight up continue to sell their stuff at a mark up to them, that is.

Look More Closely Later

This is more of a hypothetical than an actual, legit AH scenario but I didn't know where else to ask.

Operation Barbarossa was the largest land invasion in human history with 150 German divisions and three million German troops, with the number further increased using forces from Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, and even some from Vichy France and Spanish volunteers courtesy of Franco, which added up to nearly four million troops, took part in a full scale invasion of the Soviet Union for their resources and land. This ended up backfiring tremendously, and while some say it was a dumb idea doomed to failure from the start, to me it was more due to bad decisions made during this campaign that enabled the Soviets to last as long as they did with help from western support, allowing them to fight back and push the counter offensive. Keep in mind that Germany almost won the Battle of Stalingrad but Hitler gave bad orders and overruled his more competent generals that screwed them over.

That being said, the Soviets would've been content to leave well enough alone had Germany not bothered them, leaving us an interesting thought: How would the Western Allies deal with the Axis Powers without the Soviets help?

Not having the USSR would change how the war was fought completely, and it would mean far more western casualties at the very least. Those three million German troops, 150 divisions and almost one million other Axis forces wouldn't have been dedicated to holding the Eastern Front, which means they could instead use it to hold the West, North Africa and so on, while having much more vast resources at their disposal since they didn't have to expend them out east. D-Day, played the same way, would've been a complete and utter failure because the Germans would totally overwhelm the Allies with their numbers and weapons. In OTL, it only barely worked, even against a Germany that was losing the Eastern Front by that point.

What I predict is that the Western Allies would've had to fight a much longer, much more grueling war, without the Soviets to divert so much focus away from them. The US would likely have over a million deaths, rather than "just" over 400,000, in this case. The Western Allies might take the Soviets' place as the ones who have to outlast the Germans through sheer extensive warfare. Sounds like fun! Not.

But that's just some general guesses. How do you imagine the Western Allies fighting the Axis without the Soviets' help?

There aren't any 'western allies' in mid-1941, pre-Barbarossa - there's Charles de Gaulle and the Dutch holdouts out of reach of Italy and Germany in the Dutch East Indies and the collapsing British Empire.
And if Italy and Germany decide to concentrate on 'kill the British Empire' (optionally with Russian help if they can interest Stalin in a part-share in India, which they at least pretended to try to get him in on in the original timeline) then the British Empire is going to collapse a lot faster than in the original timeline.
Okay, that leaves Germany and Italy with the problem of Charles de Gaulle (plus Dutch holdouts they can't get at and who can't get at them) and a nagging feeling that didn't they promise their followers to do something about communism, but then again, the leaders of Germany and Italy don't strike me as the types to have attacks of conscience about anything much.

Edit:
There seems to me a certain tragic comedy to a scenario where Roosevelt discovers in late 1941 after the fall of Egypt and conquest of the Middle-East and British capitulation that the only hope he has for fighting Italy and Germany is by backing Charles de Gaulle.


The Western Allies’ Phoney War - History

By Michael Hull

Within hours of the entry of Great Britain and France into World War II on September 3, 1939, the British liner SS Athenia was sunk by a German U-boat off the northwestern coast of Ireland, with the loss of 112 dead, including 28 American citizens.
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The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was torpedoed by a U-boat off the southwestern English coast on September 17 with the loss of 515 lives the venerable, 29,150-ton battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk at anchor in the British Home Fleet base at Scapa Flow, Scotland, early on October 14, and the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled just outside the harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay, on December 17, after the Battle of the River Plate. As German auxiliary cruisers and U-boats made their presence known, hostilities started on the high seas from the war’s beginning.

In Britain, after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had quietly and sadly announced the declaration of war at 11:15 on that sunny Sunday morning, it seemed to his listeners that peril was upon them already. Half an hour after the BBC broadcast, air raid sirens wailed across London and the southeastern counties. “There was not the slightest sign of panic,” reported one London newspaper. “The air-raid wardens repeated the warning on their whistles, and the people proceeded at once in the most orderly fashion to their shelters. Auxiliary firemen put on their uniforms in readiness for any emergency.”

After a few minutes, the “all-clear” sirens sounded, and several hours later the Air Ministry announced that the warning had been given because an unidentified aircraft was observed approaching the south coast.

Allied Inaction

The British people found themselves at war again only two decades after the end of the bloody 1914-1918 conflict. Chamberlain’s brief announcement stunned them, but did not come as a shock. What did surprise them was the period of relative calm that followed. Except for the naval actions, the brutal German invasion of Poland, and the Finnish people’s epic struggle against Soviet invaders, World War II got off to a slow start. Elsewhere in Western Europe there came an uncanny seven months of military inactivity that lasted until the Nazi invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940.

This bizarre period was dubbed the “Phony War” by American correspondents, referring to the lack of any offensive action by the British and French. Within weeks, the phrase had become commonplace in Britain and around the world. To some Britons, it was the “Bore War” to Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, it was the “Twilight War” to the French it was “La Drole de Guerre” (joke war) and to the Germans it was “Sitzkrieg” (sit-down war).

Great Britain and France had honored their August 25, 1939, treaty with Poland by declaring war against Germany, but the two nations were not sufficiently prepared to fulfill their obligation and lend military support to the Poles. In fact, they did little to distract Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler during the five weeks his forces took to complete their Polish campaign. Meanwhile, 800,000 Red Army troops had invaded Poland from the east in flagrant disregard for supposed Moscow-Warsaw peace treaties.

Inevitably, after a heroic but futile struggle, Poland was defeated by September 29. And still the Western Allies made no move against Germany.

The Strategy Behind the Phony War

The reason for the relative lack of action was strategic. For the military planners on both sides, the key problem was the fact that the Franco-German border was the most heavily fortified strip of land in the world. On the French side, running northward from the Swiss border to Montmedy, stretched the Maginot Line, a string of concrete and steel underground forts and artillery emplacements impervious to both shells and bombs. Behind this line, the French and British began lethargic mobilization. Along Germany’s western border, the Siegfried Line (West Wall) was a complex mesh of concrete obstacles and interlocking zones of fire several miles deep. Supporting mobile troops had been stripped to a minimum to the benefit of the Polish front. Both opposing lines of defense were impregnable, and both sides knew it.

Along the Allied and enemy defense lines, soldiers stood tensely by their big guns and waited while observers peered through binoculars and telescopes for any sign of activity. All were ready for action, but there was none.

The formidable French Army under General Maurice Gamelin was locked into a defensive posture, and no attempt was made to shell Germany’s industrialized Saar region, which was well within range of French artillery. While the German Army was preoccupied with vanquishing the hapless Poles, a strong Allied thrust could have broken through and conceivably ended Hitler’s grandiose scheme of global conquest. Instead, the only overt move was a tentative probe by Gamelin toward the German defenses around Saarbrucken. There, it was reported that captured enemy soldiers did not know that France and Britain were at war with their country. The inactivity undermined the morale of the French Army, which worsened when the fighting started in earnest in the spring of 1940.

In the early months of the Phony War, French government officials considered invading Germany by way of Belgium, striking a knockout blow at the Ruhr Valley, the industrial heartland of the enemy war machine. But the British vetoed the idea when Belgium announced its neutrality. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government ruled out any move that would violate a nation’s neutrality. The French also proposed fanciful schemes for fighting in southeastern Europe and bombing Russian oil wells in the Caucasus, but reason prevailed.

So, the Allies relied on a policy of naval blockade (instituted by Britain just after the outbreak of war), economic strangulation, and defensive fortification to exhaust German strength.

Maintaining watch toward German positions, a French soldier occupies an underground position on the Maginot Line during the Phony War. The line was built at great expense to France but was of little value against mobile German divisions when the shooting war began. Note the cache of hand grenades at center.

Cautious Chamberlain’s Cross-Channel Corps

The British leaders were as hesitant as those in France. In the first month of the war, 160,000 men and 24,000 tanks and assorted transport of General Sir John V. Gort’s British Expeditionary Force had crossed the English Channel to support the French. But the BEF found its offensive operations confined to patrolling in the Arras-Lille area during the Phony War.

The small but professional BEF went to France with confidence and cheery songs, but it was not trained, supplied, or equipped for full-scale combat. Like the French Army, it was not ready for the kind of lightning onslaught the Poles had faced. The British Matilda infantry tanks, thick-skinned but under-gunned, would prove no match for panzers. The Royal Tank Corps crews were half-trained, and their tanks lacked radios and even armor-piercing ammunition.

Air raids on British cities were feared, but many politicians in Whitehall were still dominated by peacetime attitudes. When it was suggested to Sir Kingsley Wood, the secretary of state for air, on September 5, 1939, that British bombers set Germany’s Black Forest alight, he vetoed the idea on the grounds that it would conflict with the spirit of the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions governing the conduct of war.

“There was no question,” said Wood, “of our bombing even the munitions works at Essen, which were private property.” Royal Air Force planes were dispatched to attack German shipping at Wilhelmshaven, but no bombs were dropped on German territory while Chamberlain was prime minister. Initially, RAF air crews were ordered not to bomb German-held airfields, but only to machine-gun them.

Winston Churchill’s War

At the Admiralty, Churchill was frustrated by the lack of offensive activity. He suggested floating air-dropped fluvial mines down the River Rhine (Operation Royal Marine), but the French Supreme War Council adamantly opposed it. Prime Minister Edouard Daladier told Churchill that the “president of the republic himself had intervened, and that no aggressive action must be taken which might only draw reprisals upon France.”

It was generally believed that Hitler would have no scruples about breaching a neutral country, and a German assault through Belgium—as had happened in 1914—was expected sooner or later. But the Western Allies were confident that they could block such a threat on a line running from the port of Antwerp to Dinant in the Ardennes Forest region. It was predicted, therefore, that the new conflict would settle down to a grim attritional stalemate, as in the early months of World War I.

Germany’s Phony Front

The Phony War was not created by the Allies alone it was also encouraged by the Germans. The first bombs dropped on Britain fell on the remote Shetland Islands on November 13, 1939, but it was not until the following month that the British suffered their first service fatality in France (while leading a patrol, Corporal Thomas W. Priday was killed on December 9). In contrast, 50,000 British servicemen had been lost during the first three months of World War I. It was not until March 16, 1940, that the first British civilian was killed, during an air raid on Scapa Flow.

Initially, the Phony War gave Hitler time to finish the Polish campaign undisturbed. Although he then wanted to attack westward before the end of 1939, the German High Command, which included several conspirators against him, lacked such enthusiasm. Some high-ranking German officers did not think the Wehrmacht was ready for such an offensive, and General Alfred Jodl, the chief of operations, believed that the war would die a natural death if the Germans kept quiet in the West. It was mainly bad weather, rather than Hitler’s opponents, that allowed the Phony War to continue through the winter of 1939-1940, one of the coldest and most severe on record.

Wavering by the erratic Nazi leader also contributed to the Phony War’s inactivity. In a major speech to the Reichstag on October 6, Hitler spoke of his desire for peace with France and Britain and claimed that up until then he had done nothing more than try to correct the unjust 1919 Versailles peace treaty. He said he had no war aims against France or Britain and blamed the present state of affairs on “warmongers” like Churchill. The Führer’s dream had been for Germany to rule Europe and for the British Empire to rule the rest of the world.

Hitler suggested calling a conference to resolve remaining differences, but Prime Ministers Daladier and Chamberlain swiftly rejected the offer. The latter said that to consider such terms would be to forgive Germany for its aggressions. On October 9, the Führer issued a directive with a simple message: “Should it become evident in the near future that England, and, under her influence, France also, are not disposed to bring the war to an end, I have decided, without further loss of time, to go over to the offensive.”

Preparing For War

Meanwhile, the defense-minded British and French converted their factories to war production and waited for something to happen. The September 3, 1939, declaration of war had not come as a complete surprise, but the period of relative calm that followed did. The French, for the most part, carried on with their normal lives and entrusted their fate to their army, almost the equal of the Wehrmacht, and the Maginot Line. The British put their faith in the RAF and the Royal Navy, which ruled the seas.

In Britain, where several steps had been taken in the event of air attacks, the initial determination of the civilian population changed to boredom, bewilderment, and resentment at disruptions in daily life. Blackout regulations were enforced, children were evacuated to the countryside from cities threatened with air raids, and food, clothing, gasoline, and other necessities were severely rationed. Queues outside grocery stores soon became a regular sight on the streets of cities, towns, and villages. More emergency laws were enacted in the first two weeks of World War II than had been passed during the first year of World War I.

After drifting through the unfortunate appeasement era, British leaders had awakened in the late 1930s to the increasing threat of militant fascism, particularly the powerful German war machine. Some retaliatory plans were put in place before the outbreak of war. In July 1939, Parliament introduced the conscription of young men into the reserves. As soon as war was declared, the scope of conscription was expanded dramatically, with all men aged 19 to 40 made liable for full-time war service.

Within weeks, it was announced that women would also be conscripted—not for the firing line, but to free men for uniformed service. As they had done in World War I, the nation’s eligible females would work on farms, drive trucks, ambulances, buses, and even trains, and toil on assembly lines in aircraft and munitions plants. A government poster of the time exhorted, “Women of Britain, come into the factories.”

French border guards inspect a sign from inside Germany. Hostile gunfire was a rare occurrence as both sides went about their business until Hitler launched his assault on France and the Low Countries on May 10, 1940.

Fear from the Air

As far as the war threat was concerned, most Britons were sure that the first German attacks would come from the air. They knew only too well what had happened in 1937, when German planes devastated the Spanish town of Guernica inflicting massive casualties in less than an hour of concentrated bombing. Since then, Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring had been proudly showing off his air force at shows and displays.

By 1939, Göring’s air force was widely regarded as the finest in the world. But Britain, which had created the world’s first independent air force in 1918, was proud of the RAF and considered it a match for the Luftwaffe. So, in 1939 a flag-waving film, The Lion Has Wings, starring Ralph Richardson and Merle Oberon, was released in a bid to encourage the British public. It was well received, but most citizens still feared that within hours of a declaration of war the skies would be darkened by German bombers.

Reflecting a measure of official foresight, community air raid shelters had already been constructed in many British cities and towns, and families with gardens were encouraged to build their own shelters, using plans and equipment supplied by local councils. People without backyards were advised to take shelter in cellars, under sturdy tables, or beneath stairways in the event of air raids.

Daily life was affected by the rounding up of foreign nationals to sift out Germans and potential spies, and a billeting system whereby families with spare rooms were required to accommodate factory workers, officials, or servicemen who needed to stay away from home. The most famous example of billeting was the evacuation of three and a half million women and children to safe rural areas, away from major cities likely to be targeted by the Luftwaffe.

The evacuations started from London in August 1939. Many children whose parents were in the services or engaged in war work had to set forth on their own, shepherded by social workers or volunteers. Poignant scenes were played out on the platforms of urban railway stations as crowds of small boys and girls, nervously clutching bundles of possessions, boarded trains that would take them to new lives in Devon, Yorkshire, or Scotland.

But the expected bombing raids did not materialize in the early weeks of the war the Luftwaffe was kept busy bombing Poland and preparing for a coming ground support role.

Although German planes did not fly over Britain in large numbers during the Phony War, the blackout was strictly enforced. It was expected that the enemy bombers would come at night, so street lights were switched off and thick curtains went up in British homes to deprive enemy air crews of beacons. A light showing from a window could be seen clearly from 20,000 feet up. Nothing short of complete blackness could frustrate the bombers.

Helmeted air raid wardens patrolled the streets by foot or bicycle nightly to make sure that no lights were visible. Anyone guilty of allowing a chink of light to escape received a stern reprimand. Railway stations, trains, and buses were unlit, and the headlights on cars, trucks, and other vehicles painted black until only a slit of light showed.

The blackout caused petty irritations among the British public and also dangers. The London Daily Telegraph reported on September 18, 1939, “Sir Philip Game, Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, takes a grave view of the accident figures for the first 10 days of the blackout. During that period, 38 people were killed and 975 injured in road accidents in the London area, compared with eight killed and 316 injured in the preceding 10 days.” On January 15, 1940, the government announced that twice as many people had been accidentally killed in accidents during the blackout as by German bombs.

Bolstering British Defense

While the country was not yet fully engaged in hostilities, many defensive measures were taken in the early weeks of the Phony War. Royal Navy battleships and cruisers patrolled the sea lanes, RAF fighters and bombers stood ready, the Army intensified recruiting and training, and the Territorial Army (militia) was brought up to full strength and then doubled. Long columns of tanks, field guns, trucks, personnel carriers, and Bren gun carriers became common sights on highways and country lanes as maneuvers were staged across the rolling heathlands of southern and southwestern England.

Soldiers guarded installations and key junctions, concrete pillboxes sprouted on hills and roadsides, antiaircraft guns were emplaced in parks and on golf courses, barrage balloons were hoisted to foil enemy planes, fire watchers kept nightly vigil on city rooftops, sandbags were piled around public buildings, and Army gun crews and volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps stood watch along the coastlines.

The shooting war was still far off, yet there were many reminders for Britons that harder times were coming, sooner or later. Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented his first war budget, and the rationing of meat, bacon, butter, and sugar followed. In France, the government announced that Friday would be a “meatless day” and that no beef, veal or mutton would be sold on Mondays or Tuesdays. The need for rationing was a result of the naval actions in the Atlantic, where German U-boats and surface raiders preyed increasingly on Allied merchant shipping. In October 1939, the shipping losses were 196,000 tons in November, 51,600 tons, and in December, 189,900 tons. The British had begun the convoy system on September 7, but the losses would continue to mount until halfway through the war.

Despite rationing hardships, blackout irritations, and the fear of air raids and possible invasion, the British generally tried to stay cheerful and optimistic with newspaper cartoons, music hall songs, and jokes poking fun at “Herr Schickelgruber” (Hitler). The people’s morale was lifted as growing numbers of fighting men from the far-flung dominions rallied to help defend the motherland. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa sent contingents, Indian troops joined the BEF in France, and 7,500 men—all volunteers—of the 1st Canadian Division arrived in England just before Christmas 1939. They would be followed by soldiers, airmen, and sailors from France, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and Poland.

A Christmas Blackout and a Looming New Year

As their first wartime Christmas neared, Britons prepared for a merry respite, realizing that worse times lay ahead. They cheerily hung up stockings, decorated trees, sang carols, and made ready to feast on traditional roast turkey or goose, heavy fruit puddings, and mince pies. But outside, the holiday was muted. Blackout regulations meant that store window displays were unlit by night and obscured with anti-blast tape by day. Because of the defense budget, money was tight, taxes were up, and prices had increased on sugar, beer, whiskey, tobacco, and cigarettes.

Most of Britain and much of Western Europe was carpeted in deep snow, and that December was cold. An eight-mile stretch of the River Thames froze, and London’s Serpentine Swimming Club was forced to postpone its Christmas morning handicap.

British leaders had agreed that a radioed yuletide message from the monarch would boost the people’s morale, so, at 3 pm on Christmas Day, the shy, gentle King George VI spoke hesitantly into two large microphones at his estate in the village of Sandringham, Norfolk.

“A new year is at hand,” he declared. “We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle, we shall remain undaunted…. May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

The speech stirred all who heard it. Listeners huddling around living room radio sets applauded, and many veterans stood to attention while the king spoke.

Across the English Channel, men of the BEF sang Christmas carols, played soccer, sipped wine with French families, enjoyed chocolates and cigarettes sent by the royal family, and cheered visiting Prime Minister Chamberlain. In front of the Maginot Line between the Rhine and the River Moselle, soldiers numbly fingered their Bren guns in chilly dugouts, waiting. And the Phony War continued.

The Phony War Ends, Norway Falls

Meanwhile, shipping losses mounted in the Atlantic, and Field Marshal Carl Mannerheim’s Finnish Army—outnumbered and outgunned—battled on against the Soviet armies. Mounted on skis and sweeping out of the snow-clad forests, the hardy Finns ambushed and outmaneuvered Soviet armor and infantry columns and repeatedly turned back enemy offensives. But promised French and British support did not arrive, and the defenders were eventually overwhelmed and forced to sign a treaty with Russia in mid-March 1940. The Finns had lost 25,000 dead and 45,000 wounded.

Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini met at the Brenner Pass on March 18, and the latter said he was ready to join Germany and its allies in the war against France and Britain. Ten days later, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council decided to make a formal agreement that neither would seek a separate peace. It was decided to mine Norwegian coastal waters and, if necessary, to send a military expedition there. Hitler had decided in February to occupy neutral Norway and use its North Sea ports.

So, early on the morning of April 9, the Phony War came to an abrupt end when five German divisions led by Col. Gen. Niklaus von Falkenhorst landed at Oslo, Kristiansand, Bergen, Trondheim, and Narvik. Airborne troops and a powerful naval armada supported the invasion. Simultaneously, two German divisions invaded neutral Denmark and captured the capital, Copenhagen, within 12 hours.

The Germans succeeded brilliantly in getting their forces ashore in Norway and in seizing and holding the strategic Stavanger airport. As more ports fell quickly to the invaders, King Haakon VII and his government managed to escape while British battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and cruiser transports rushed reinforcements to Norway. Contingents of British and French troops 13,000 strong— including British Commandos and French mountain infantry—landed at Namsos and Andalsnes to support the Norwegian Army, a largely militia force.

The Allied units fought gallantly against superior odds, but they were poorly equipped and led, uncoordinated, and had little or no air support. They tried to recapture Trondheim but were defeated, and by May 3 central Norway was in German hands. The focus of the fighting then shifted to Narvik, where the German Navy had suffered severe defeats at the hands of the British. The Allies managed to recapture the northern port but were withdrawn on June 7 as a result of the German successes in France. The staunch Norwegians continued to resist the Nazi invaders until June 9.

When the British and French pulled out, they took King Haakon, his ministers, and many Norwegian troops with them. Sailing from Tromso to England aboard the cruiser HMS Devonshire, the monarch set up a Free Norwegian government in London while his soldiers joined the growing legion of exiled patriots there.

The ill-fated Norwegian campaign had resulted in a stormy debate in the British House of Commons on May 7-8, the resignation of the principled but broken Chamberlain, and the appointment of Churchill as prime minister on May 10. That same day, powerful German army groups under Generals Gerd von Rundstedt, Fedor von Bock, and Ritter von Leeb started their lightning “blitzkrieg” offensive into Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France.

Western Europe found itself engulfed in a shooting war, and the Phony War was now just a curious memory.


The Battle for the Saar

Even the relatively calm ‘Western Front’ still saw combat in the conflict’s opening weeks.

In order to take pressure of its beleaguered Polish allies, France launched an offensive into Germany on Sept. 7. With the bulk of the Wehrmacht fighting in the east, only a small force was left behind to man Hitler’s defences along the Rhine. France committed 11 infantry divisions to the operation it hoped to eventually send 40 into action. The assault force encountered token resistance and succeeded in pushing eight kilometres (five miles) into Germany’s Saarland along a 30-kilometre front. [5]

A dozen cities soon fell to the Allies. But after nine days, the advance stopped before hitting the formidable Siegfried Line. As Allied commanders vacillated over what to do next, German troops fresh from their triumph in Poland arrived to mount a counter attack. On Oct. 16, they struck in force. The French occupiers crumpled under the onslaught and within 24 hours had pulled back to the cover of the Maginot Line. Germany lost 200 troops in the push France suffered 10 times as many dead.


Then the real war began

Despite the fact that no significant front was created between Germany and Western Allies, some fights took place. On 10 May 1940, eight months after Britain and France had declared war on Germany, German troops marched into Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, marking the end of the Phoney War.

Belgian soldiers surrender to German troops at the bridge at Veldwezelt, 11 May 1940. A day after taking Eben-Emael fortress and a day after the Phoney War ended (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-061-017 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)

German troops inspecting Maginot Line after capitulation of France in 1940 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-0363 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia)


It might be a mistake to call the Dieppe Raid a mistake. Fiasco seems a more appropriate term. The Royal Navy refused to commit capital ships with their heavy guns to provide gunfire support, mindful of German air superiority over the area of the raid. The Germans were aware of the coming attack, having been informed by French and British agents and spies. The troops committed were inadequate to the purpose of their mission, which was to seize a German port intact and hold it for a period of time determined by the tide tables, in order to discover if an invasion of France through a port was feasible at the time.

The landing force of just over 6,000 men, 5,000 of them Canadian (another 4,000 troops never made it ashore) lost over 3,600, a casualty rate of 60%. The Royal Navy lost a destroyer and 33 badly needed landing craft. The Royal Air Force lost over 100 aircraft, compared to under 50 losses by the opposing Luftwaffe. The landing troops were able to remain ashore for only about ten hours before the Royal Navy withdrew those they could, leaving the rest to be killed or become prisoners of war. Besides giving the Germans a tremendous propaganda opportunity, the Dieppe raid proved that the Allies were a long way from being ready to sustain an invasion of Europe, despite the continuing prodding of the Soviets that it was only a matter of resolve.


Cold Phoney War

April 4, 1940, the British began mining Norwegian waters on the grounds that Norwegians could not prevent the Germans from using their waters for military operations.

April 9, 1940, the Third Reich launches Operation Weserübung to invade Denmark and Norway, whose neutrality was suspicious.

Seeing the Germans as the aggressors, the Norwegian government allies itself with the Allies and tries to coordinate the Norwegian resistance with the British.

In the following days, the Allies manage to prevent the German attacks on Trondheim and Narvik and recapture Bergen from the Germans. The Germans manage to control Oslo, Stavanger and the southern coast of Norway. The Norwegian government relocates to Trondheim.

With Central and Northern Norway under Allied control (and ruled by an allied Norwegian government), and southern Norway plus Denmark in German hands, Sweden's neutrality was tested. The Swedish government knew, however, that they would very likely become a new battleground.

The battleground was, however, diplomatic, with both Nazi Germany and the Allies trying to bring both Sweden and Finland to their respective sides.

The Norwegian campaign proved a few facts to the Nazis, one of the main ones being British naval superiority. This eventually leads Hitler to consider a peace agreement with Britain rather than an invasion across the Channel.

This did not, however, stop German plans to invade the Netherlands, Belgium and France, plans that lead to the French surrendering in June 22, 1940. The British evacuation of Dunkirk tested Chamberlain's leadership.

There was no Battle of Britain as Hitler pursued a negotiated settlement with the United Kingdom rather than a costly invasion. Diplomatic channels were kept open in Portugal.

The lack of direct military action between the United Kingdom and the Third Reich after the surrender of France is considered a continuation of the earlier Phoney War.

The Netherlands, Luxemburg and the Flemish part of Belgium was annexed by the Reich. French speaking Belgium was ceded to Vichy France in exchange for Alsase-Lorraine.

The focus was again centered on the Baltic. In June 1940, the Soviet Union attacked Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Finnish government secretly negotiated with Norway and the United Kingdom to grant full Allied support in a continuation war against the Soviet Union.

The continuation war started in March, 1941, just one year after the armistice of the Winter War.

Germany kept neutrality in the Finnish-Soviet conflict. While sympathetic to the Finnish cause, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact permitted no aggression between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. On the other hand, they would not ally with the Bolsheviks to attack a nominal common enemy: the British.

British-Japanese negotiations begin. Britain would provide oil to the Japanese in exchage for Japanese respect of British, Free French, and American interests in China, and the opening of a front against the Soviet Union.

U.S. President Roosevelt was not happy with this British-Japanese agreement, but kept their nominal neutrality and thanked the British for including American interests in the pact.

In August, 1941, the Japanese attacked Soviet territory and declared war on the Soviet Union. A massive Soviet air strike left Japan crippled.

The 25th December, 1941, the Germans and the British reached a secret agreement: a non-aggression pact between Great Britain and Germany, provided that Germany would attack the Soviet Union in the spring of 1942. This was not a peace agreement, just a suspension of hostilities. Any peace agreement for the British would require Germany to return to 1938 borders.

At war against Finland and Japan, both parties supported by Britain, the Soviet Union is attacked by the Third Reich on April 12, 1942. This attack takes Stalin by surprise and, by late June, the Germans have reached Moscow and the Soviet government has moved to the Urals.

Britain supported a nationalistic government for Russia. Finland and Japan pretended territorial claims. The Third Reich wanted to submit the Slavs into slavery and the annihilation of the Soviet regime, but understood that the allies would not concur with all those goals. In October, 1942, a pro-allied nationalistic regime was set in St Petersburg (who dropped the name Leningrad) and this new regime reached agreements with Finland, Britain and Germany to grant their existence and fight the Soviets. The new Russian regime would allow the Germans to occupy most of the russian territory provided that they would retire of Russia proper once the Soviets were defeated. With "Russia proper", the Russian government did not included Poland or Ukraine, but included most of White Russia.

In the following months, the Russian nationalist government became very pro-Nazi, committing troops to fight the Soviets. Once the Finnish situation was clear, and the Russian government granted pre 1939 Finnish borders plus East Karelia and Kola as part of Finland, the British focused on the Asian front of the Soviet War.

Romania, a former ally for both the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, was also invaded by the Reich, which partitioned Romania between Reich allies Hungary and Bulgaria. Hungary took most of Transylvania, Bulgaria took central and western Wallachia and the Reich took control of Moldavia, eastern Wallachia and northern Transylvania.

By August, 1943, all Russians west of the Urals, plus several Russian provinces in the East had recognized the nationalistic Russian government. Germany kept their promise to withdraw from Russia proper and signed a treaty with nationalistic Russia. This was to be known as the Treaty of St Petersburg. By this time, most of continental Europe was under direct Nazi control (v.g. Poland), controlled by a Nazi ally (v.g. France, Italy, Russia) or Neutral (v.g. Sweden, Switzerland, Spain). The only three exceptions were allied Finland, Norway (northern), and Greece. Officially annexed by the Reich were Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine.

In July 1944, the Soviet Union surrendered to the Russian nationalists and the Japanese. Unwillingly the Russian nationalists recognized several Japanese claims on Asian Russia, but kept Vladivostok.

A rebellion in Yugoslavia threatened to overturn Yugoslavian Nazi-friendly government in August. The Reich invaded Yugoslavia in support to the government and annexed Slovenia. By this time the Reich had access to the North Sea, the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

In 1946, the United Kingdom recognized the pro-German governments of France (Vichy), Yugoslavia and Slovakia. (Russia, Hungary, and Italy had been previously recognized.) Britain did not recognized the annexation of Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark or Ukraine. Negotiations began for Germany to withdraw from southern Norway.

In 1948, the capital of France returned to Paris and the French government began negotiations with Free France.

In 1950, the Third Reich returned southern Norway to the Kingdom of Norway in exchange of a non-aggression pact. Norway formally left the Allies, but kept ties with Finland and the United Kingdom.

In 1955, Charles de Gaulle, former leader of Free France, was elected president of France, and withdrew France from its alliance with Germany. De Gaul and Hitler signed a peace and cooperation agreement. De Gaul also recognized the independence of Belgium.

In 1963, the German Führer, Adolf Hitler died.

In 1979, internal conflicts led to a civil war in the Third Reich, which ended in 1986 when the governors of Bavaria, Lower Saxony, the Netherlands and Prussia declared the end of the Third Reich and banned the National-Socialist party. Soon Denmark, Galicia, Moldavia, Poland, and Ukraine declared their independence, with no opposition.

The Netherlands, which declared its independence, also granted the independence of Luxembourg and Flemish Belgium.

In January, 1987, the new government of Germany signed a peace treaty with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This officially ended the Second Great War.


The Phoney War (The World Exhaled)


The Phoney War was the continuing state of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition existing after the Global War (1939–1945), primarily between the Germany and its satellite states, and the powers of the Western world, particularly the British Empire. Although the primary participants' military forces never officially clashed directly, they expressed the conflict through military coalitions, strategic conventional force deployments, extensive aid to states deemed vulnerable, proxy wars, espionage, propaganda, a nuclear arms race, and economic and technological competitions, such as the Race to Space.

Despite being allies against the People's Union during the Global War, and having the most powerful military forces among peer nations, Germany and Great Britain disagreed about the configuration of the post-war world while occupying most of Europe and Asia. Germany created the Bloc of Eastern Europe (BEE) with the eastern European countries it occupied, annexing some into the German Empire and maintaining others as satellite states, some of which were later consolidated as the Budapest Pact (1955–1991). The British Empire and some western European countries established containment of monarchism as a defensive policy, establishing alliances such as WETO (Western European Treaty Organization) to that end.


Several such countries also coordinated the Greater Asian Recovery Plan, especially in Japan, which Germany opposed. Elsewhere, in Latin America, Africa, and southern Asia, Germany assisted and helped foster revolutions for monarchies, opposed by several Western countries and their regional allies some they attempted to roll back, with mixed results. Some countries aligned with WETO and the Budapest Pact, and others formed the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Phoney War featured periods of relative calm and of international high tension – the Moscow Blockade (1948–1949), The Greek-Yugoslav War (1950–1953), the Moscow Crisis of 1961, the Indian War (1959–1975), the Irish Missile Crisis (1962), the German-Turkish War (1979–1989), and the Red Alert WETO exercises in November 1983. Both sides sought detente to relieve political tensions and deter direct military attack, which would probably guarantee their mutual assured destruction with nuclear weapons.

In the 1980s, the British Empire increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the German Empire, at a time when the nation was already suffering economic stagnation. In the late 1980s, German leader Walter Scheel introduced the liberalizing reforms of Neuordnug ("reconstruction", "reorganization", 1987) and Offenheit ("openness", ca. 1985). The Phoney War ended after the German Empire collapsed in 1991, leaving the British Empire as the dominant military power, and the German Federation possessing most of the Empires nuclear arsenal. The Phoney War and its events have had a significant impact on the world today, and it is commonly referred to in popular culture.


Why didn’t Poland’s allies defend it?

Why did Poland’s allies fail to come to its defense September 1939? England was preparing for war and knew Hitler was going to attack her.

The main reason for the Western Allies’ failure to adequately assist Poland in September 1939 was their complete miscalculation of both Germany’s and Poland’s strategies and their respective abilities to implement them. Both Britain’s and France’s war planners had anticipated the Poles holding out for two or three months—while Poland’s own commanders expected to do so for six. Even though the Germans did not employ the perfected all-out Blitzkrieg that they used to such dramatic effect in May–June 1940, their invasion plan was sufficient to overturn those expectations, aided by a Polish strategy of defending its western industrial region rather than falling back on more defensive river barriers, for fear that losing those regions would discourage the Western Allies from committing themselves—and in consequence having large parts of its army cut off and destroyed.

The principal Western attempt to divert some of the 85 percent of German forces involved in Poland was a French offensive into the Saar region. Launched on September 7, it penetrated 5 miles into a 15-mile wide area by the 10th, at which point the French stopped and resumed a defensive posture, having not compelled the Germans to withdraw any significant units from Poland. Britain, meanwhile, seemed more intent on naval matters, especially after the sinking of the liner Athenia on September 4, with great loss of life. On September 17 the Royal Navy lost its first warship when U-29 torpedoed and sank the aircraft carrier Courageous—a psychologically devastating blow. That same day also saw the ultimate blow to any Polish hopes of resisting the Germans when the Soviet Union declared war and its troops poured in from the east.

Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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