7.1 The Kinetic Threat to Britain
The conclusion concerning the decisions about to be taken in this 2020 Strategic Defence Review is that for the fourth time in 110 years Britain faces an existential threat, this time from Russia and China combined. This is a kinetic threat that could by 2025-27 risk the very survival of the nation if the lamentable condition of our armed forces is allowed to continue. The problem is compounded by the Revolutions in Military Affairs occurring as I write that are changing the face of the battlefield both today and in the future. It is imperative that this 2020 Review recognises the magnitude of the threat and rapidly expands Britain's defence forces. As a result of the long lead times in weapon construction and force optimisation, to be at full strength in five years time we must start now. This is Britain’s 'now or never moment'.
7.2 The Lesson From Our History
As we today face a 'now or never moment', it is appropriate that we return to another such moment that defined Britain and preserved her sovereign status. It was the one that allowed Britain to survive and win the Battle of Britain 80 years ago in the summer of 1940. It was the moment Churchill decided to keep fighting the Nazis instead of surrendering as so many of his cabinet were in favour of. Then, Britain faced a battle for its very survival in the skies to hold back what was until then an invincible and unstoppable force. The magnitude of this victory, a result of Churchill's decision to fight, was perfectly summed up by the immortal words "never in the field of human conflict had so much been owed by so many to so few". But, this does beg the question; who were the few? The obvious answer is that they were the RAFs fighter pilots, of which some 550 gave their lives in the battle. Indeed, these pilots are quite rightly recognised. But there are lessons from this story of an even smaller number of critical people, that due to their foresight and belief, had built the RAF into a machine that was able to resist the German attacks.
7.3 The Event that Marked The Road to War
The story started in March 1936 when Germany marched into the Rhineland without resistance from France, Britain, America or Russia. This then triggered almost instantaneous rearmament in Britain. The air ministry, under huge public pressure to protect the British population from air attack, created Fighter Command in May 1936. The Invasion of the Rhineland was the signal that Britain faced a 'now or never moment' back in 1936. Today, our 'now or never moment' was triggered by the annexation of Hong Kong as outlined in Appendix VIII The Strategic and Geopolitical Parallels Between China’s First Island Chain and Hitler’s Siegfried Line and Lessons from Hitler’s Four Year Plan allied to China Today.
7.4 Strong Visionary Leadership
German annexation catalysed the first of 'the few' into action. Among the initial international voices of opposition was Winston Churchill who became increasingly outspoken as to the threat that Germany represented, and the inability of Chamberlin's government to meet the growing challenge, grew. As such he became the public focus for increased levels of concern, pressuring the complacent Chamberlin's government into rearmament and demanding sufficient national funding to do so. Today, in Britain there is no politician acting in the role of Churchill, but we do have an abundance of Chamberlin-type energy, the kind that denies the obvious threat. Without political leadership to act as a focus for public concern it is impossible to mobilise the nation in its own defence. The only hope is that Boris Johnson and Mr Cummings become aware of the magnitude of the threat we face and choose to respond appropriately. The consequences of failing to do so I have outlined in my article WHEN DETERRENCE FAILS PART 2: THE POLITICALLY FORGOTTEN VALUE OF DETERRENCE.
7.5 Exceptional Military Leadership with Technical and Strategic Vision
Next came the appointment of Hugh Dowding as the leader of Fighter Command. He was a remarkable individual who had fought in the skies of WW1 above the Western Front and was the Air Member for Research and Development (1935–36). This granted him a unique understanding of new technologies such as radar and its ability to create the first multi-layered air defence system that would ultimately save Britain. With this vision, he shaped the RAF into a machine that was second to none. By the summer of 1940 it was just, and I do mean just, about ready to face the German onslaught. Crucially, on top of creating the fighter defence system Dowding also knew how to lead it. Dowding was the personification of right-brained leadership and encouraged similar qualities in his officers. The best example was his exceptional number two, Keith Park.
Park commanded 11 Group in the battle. This group controlled the South Eastern sector, effectively making it the front line. Park was a maverick, gifted, innovative commander whom the air ministry despised. Following the Battle of Britain the Air Ministry sought to see him diminished with a sequence of impossible postings. First, they placed him in command of fighter training. He increased pilot output by multiples, much to the chagrin of his superiors. Next, they sent him to Malta where they thought he was sure to fail. Instead, he masterminded the defence of the island against impossible odds.
Notably, Dowding was not a politician. He was blunt to the point of abrupt when expressing his views up the chain of command. This was the quality that saved his squadrons from being squandered in the Battle of France. For today's armed forces to transform into an integrated force capable of meeting future threats the RAF requires senior leaders of all three main services who expound the qualities of Hugh Dowding. However, the highly politicized military structure of today is such that in all probability it has filtered out such qualities in its senior officers.
7.6 Innovative Weapons Development
During the Battle of Britain there were 32 squadrons of Hurricanes and 19 squadrons of Spitfires. Whilst the hurricane was a capable fighter able to take on the bombers and out-turn the Bf 109's, without the Spitfires to tackle the Bf 109's on superior terms the outcome of the battle would have been very different. The story of the Spitfire's development is informative; it was designed by the visionary RJ Mitchell as a short-range interceptor with an innovative elliptical wing and flush rivets on a light aluminium airframe and skin. This gave it a very high combat speed. However, if it had not been for private funding from a lady who believed that war was coming, the Spitfire would never have flown. Today, Britain's future weapons need innovative design and funding coupled with accelerated production programs to bring them into service by 2025.
7.7 The Final Analysis
The sobering thing about the Battle of Britain is that despite all that was done and achieved by RAF fighter command, in the end the battle was lost by the Germans via a directive from Hitler after the bombing of Berlin that German bombers shifted their targets from RAF bases to England's cities. However, if the government had acted more decisively in 1936 to rearm, perhaps RAF Fighter Command would have been at a much higher strength level. Perhaps this could have been a level that meant victory in the air over Britain would have been assured whatever the Germans did.
So, the question for the UK government as we approach this 'now or never moment' is do we wish to become exposed to the lottery of war through failed deterrence?