Britain At War: Wednesday, 9th April 1941
By April 9th, 1941 the war was still very much a European one rather than a world one, even if combatants from many different parts of the world were slowly being drawn in. Though memories of Neville Chamberlain waving the Munich Peace Agreement remain in the air, autumn 1938 has been consigned to history, alongside, of course, any thought of peace in anyone’s time in Britain. Russia is still two full months away from being invaded by Germany on June 22nd. A Germany, incidentally, whom they’re still in a ten-year non-aggression pact with.
On this day in April, German forces are busily attacking positions in Greece and Yugoslavia but are also plotting to invade Russia, having put an elaborate deception plan in place called Operation Harpune designed to convince the Russians that they are instead planning on finally invading Britain.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, some in America are still championing isolation, even as the winds of war are forming on its Pacific horizon. President Roosevelt has given Britain a life-line, less than a month before, on March 11th, by enacting the Lend-Lease Policy. Ominously though, on April 10th, the day after Winston Churchill would cite the sales of arms to Britain as a ‘sword of retributive justice’ in the House of Commons, America would take one step closer to becoming entangled in the European conflict itself, when the US Navy ship Niblack would fire the United States’ first rounds in anger against a German U-Boat, whilst defending a convoy under its protection (the same day a Joint Resolution of Congress reaffirms the Monroe Doctrine).
It is interesting to note on that very day before this attack, the American Ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, would telegram Roosevelt informing of Grew’s belief that Japan would go to war with America, just at the moment Japan was indeed entering into full stage planning for an attack.
Eight months later, on December 7th, they would bomb the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbour: and America would be at war with Japan. But also, bizarrely, with Germany at the same time, who would declare war on America four days after the Japanese attack.
If we step back in time to April 1941 once again, what we still have is a clash of the established British Empire colliding against a new up and coming empire: The Third Reich. By April 9th, this clash has endured for seventeen long months, and whilst it has seen Britain and her Commonwealth allies pitted in mortal combat against Germany and the other Axis nations in various theatres of war, it is still a distinctly Anglo-German war, albeit one that is slowly engulfing the world due to the Reich’s need for Lebensraum and the ensuing logistical demands that would be necessary to expand, maintain and defend it.
But as we draw closer to the events of that day, four days before Easter Sunday on the morning of Wednesday, April 9th, 1941, it has only been nine months since the bedraggled British Expeditionary Forces had retreated back home from the beaches of Dunkirk. France had fallen, Hitler signing their surrender in the same train car which Germany had done at the end of the Great War. The RAF fought bravely in the following months during the Battle of Britain. Staving off invasion and buying Britain valuable time to rearm, the consequence of this Battle, would see the Luftwaffe turning its attention away from attempting to destroy the RAF and onto blitzing Britain’s cities, killing almost forty thousand civilians in the seven months alone.
As terrible as this is, more importantly, Britain, an importer of almost seventy per cent of its food, is slowly being strangled by the German Wolfpack out at sea in the Atlantic. So, while the Battle of Britain may have been won in the summer and autumn of 1940, the Battle of the Atlantic is still unfolding. By the end of 1940 alone, 728,000 tons of food making its way to Britain had been lost, sunk by German submarine activity, and it is looking like unless Britain can take measures to turn the tide, the war might be lost.
April 1941 is a pivotal moment in world history because, after this month, the world would never be the same again.