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QGE

German Invasion of the UK 1914?

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QGE

Was a German invasion of the UK even a remote possibility in August 1914? I suspect they were too busy fighting on all fronts.

 

At the time, the last incursion of the UK's coastline was French landings at Fishguard in 1797 (incidentally the only British Battle Honour that relates to a place in the UK) and prior to that the  Raid on the Medway by the Dutch in 1667. Apart from the 1903 scaremongering "Riddle of the Sands" by Erskine Childers (one time British soldier in the HAC, author, journalist, idealist, politician, Sinn Fein sympathiser and gun-runner,  ultimately executed by the Irish Free State). 

 

M

Edited by QGE

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Moonraker

I think not a possibility in August 1914. But following German advances into France, fears must have grown, and contingency plans were developed as the war proceeded.

 

But there were fears of an invasion. As early as  28 October, 1914,  elements of the First Canadian Contingent on Salisbury Plain were placed on alert to move to the South Coast after rumours of a German invasion. William Le Queux's The Invasion of 1910, which was serialized in the Daily Mail in 1906. In 1903 The Times argued that there was an unreality about using large, open spaces such as Salisbury Plain and the Berkshire Downs to practise counter-invasion measures. Manoeuvres there did not simulate attempts to repel an invasion force on the coast, and the troops were unable to use 'the close country of England [which] … is a natural defence'. 

 

Moonraker

 

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voltaire60

  To echo Moonraker- there appears to have been some fear that at least a raid in strength was possible given the despatch of London units for coastal defence pretty pronto after the outbreak of war.

 

  (PS- The French also probably landed c.1797-ish on the Rame Peninsula just inside Cornwall and on the eastern side of Plymouth Sound. Before the construction of the Breakwater, winds could often pin RN in the Hamoaze for weeks. Thus, pilots from Cawsand (on the Rame Peninsula) had a lucrative trade as pilots up the Cornish coast when the weather was a bit dodgy. When my GG Uncle Dick's cottage in Cawsand was renovated c.1970 after his death, a French cannonball was found embedded in the wall.)

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Medaler

German invasion in 1914? I think the RN would have had something to say about that.

 

On the off chance that the Germans had gained control of a port near enough to launch such an enterprise, they could never have kept an invasion force supplied with the RN standing in the way. Shelling the east coast on a "hit and run" mission was one thing, but an actual invasion was a completely different kettle of fish.

 

The nearest they came to an invasion actually mirrored what the French had tried in 1798, ie promoting and aiding insurrection in Ireland.

 

The other thought of course is that Germany had planned to wage war on 2 fronts, but had recognised in their planning that they didn't have the manpower to achieve a rapid victory on both of those fronts simultaneously. It was planned as a "quick dash to Paris" to knock out the French, followed by a redeployment of substantial elements from that same military resource to beat the Russians. Their first priority was the fall of France, their second was to beat the Russians. At best, any invasion of Britain could only have become an option after both of those 2 things had been achieved.

 

Mike

Edited by Medaler

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kenf48

The Military Correspondent of the Times discussed the possibility and the need to be prepared in an editorial piece on 15 October  1914 concluding that for reasons already mentioned an attack on the British Isles was one of the most difficult imaginable, however any lack of success on land might provoke just such an attack and he warned against being lulled into a false sense of security due to the navy and called for preparations to be made.

 

It is perhaps worth mentioning such pieces were not published without approval of the War Office often at the highest level.

 

Ken

 

 

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Medaler
52 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

 

 

It is perhaps worth mentioning such pieces were not published without approval of the War Office often at the highest level.

 

Ken

 

 

 

Would these be the same government officials who, a generation later, decided that the railings on our front wall were urgently needed to make more Spitfires?

 

Mike

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Derek Black
2 hours ago, Medaler said:

 

Would these be the same government officials who, a generation later, decided that the railings on our front wall were urgently needed to make more Spitfires?

 

Mike


Only for the majority of them to be cast into the depths of the sea or a landfill site.
But at least people felt good about their imagined contribution.....

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QGE

My thoughts:

 

1. The Germans did not have the logistic capabilities to launch an invasion of England

2. The RN was a major factor

3. It suited the UK Govt to perpetuate the fear of an imagined invasion in order to spur recruiting. Note TF recruiting was nearly as strong as that for the New Armies, suggesting around half the men enlisting were more focused on Home Defence.

4. The Propaganda Bureau (formed in Sep 1914) played a major part in encouraging this fear

5.  A form of 'false news' (to use a modern expression) was used to maintain focus 

6. The idea that it would be 'all over by Christmas' and the idea of a German invasion seem to rather conflict. 

 

MG

Edited by QGE

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michaeldr

Kitchener was certainly worried about the possibility of a German invasion
His memorandum on this dated 20 October 1914 [Cabinet papers: 37/121] is reproduced in Gilbert's 'Winston S Churchill, Vol. III, Companion, Part I' -see pages 206/8
This is part of what K had to say at that time:

 

59c4c46660690_KitchenerOct1914onposofinvasion.jpg.bf4ce25962b227af99c23963a81f4650.jpg

Edited by michaeldr
to correct date/typo

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Nick Keyes

Worth reading 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' by John Buchan, published 1915, a novel about German espionage prior to a projected invasion; and Erskine Childers 'The Riddle of the Sands', published 1903, a novel covering similar ground.  Both authors were in close touch with British government people.

Edited by Nick Keyes
Punctuation

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Uncle George

"The one deterrent that they have always felt would have made an invasion impossible -  our fleet." 

 

Was this not the thinking behind WSC's comment that Jellicoe was "the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon"?

Edited by Uncle George

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michaeldr

It is worth reading the whole of K's memorandum to understand the worries here and perhaps even to go back a little further to have a clearer idea of the situation as it was seen as this time

 

On the 18th WSC submitted a memorandum 'Note on Mining' pointing out the Admiralty's 'partial and limited reliance' on this method of warfare

 

On the 19th K had written to WSC to suggest that “If it is not advisable to lay mines, would it not be a good thing to have some of the more powerful modern ships from the grand fleet in the Eastern ports, so that they could act quickly in case of emergency in the North Sea or Channel.”

 

Unimpressed by WSC's reply, K returned to the subject in his memorandum of the 20th quoted in my previous post and in its earlier paragraphs K has the following:

“We are now aware that, owing to the activities of the German offensive by submarines at sea, our first line of defence, with the exception of small craft, cannot be available in the North Sea for 30 hours from the time of a landing of a German force on our shores or the bombardment by heavy guns of our coast defences, and this period of time may be further extended as the activity and unrestrained enterprise of the German submarines become further developed. There is nothing to lead us to think that they have reached the limit of their operations.”

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QGE

Did anyone in the RN think a German invasion was remotely feasible? 

 

Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence in "Supreme Command 1914-1918 Vol I Chapter XX "Home Defence" page 212 -

 

"Before the War the inquiries of the Committee of Imperial Defence into the question of invasion had resulted in certain broad conclusions. So long as our naval supremacy was assured, invasion was deemed impossible....when war broke out no responsible person believed that at the moment there was the smallest risk of invasion...."

 

"Asquith summed up the view of the Committee of Imperial Defence on the question of invasion succinctly in his diary for October 7th: "Everybody knew that nothing of the kind was likely to occur at present which is just as well as during the next fortnight we shall have fewer regular troops in the country than has ever happened before"......

 

.... Kitchener however - perhaps because he was less informed than some of his colleagues about the difficulties of overseas expeditions to  a Power not posessing general command of the sea - was never quite comfortable on the subject. Asquith mentions in his diary for October 21st that the Cabinet "had rather an interesting discussion on home defence and the possibility of invasion, which preoccupies the mind of Kitchener". I had many conversations with Kitchener on the subject ad can bear out that he was anxious, not about the immediate present, but about the position if things went seriously wrong in France

 

.It was not as though troops were being kept at home which might have been better employed in fighting on the Continent. At one time in October 1914 there were only four Battalions of regular troops in the country..."

 

Hankey then discusses the possibility of large scale raids by Germany and the requirements to defend against this.  He also goes into some detail of the mining operations along the Eastern coast and the constant patrolling by the RN. 

 

As a proxy for the UK's ability to defend its shores one might look at the deployment of the regular battalions. At the outbreak of the War there were 84 regular battalions stationed in the UK  and another 74 stationed overseas. If we look at the disembarkation dates of the first 6 Divisions (The UK's commitment to the French in pre-war planning) starting Aug 1914, the last Battalion to disembark was on 12th September 1914 exactly a month after the first battalion disembarked.  In addition there were four battalions of the 19th Inf Bde  plus two regular  battalions on the Lines of Communications: Total 78 regular battalions leaving just six regular battalions (equivalent to half a Division) in the UK. ...some 93% of the UK based Regular Battalions were in France within a month. 

 

It is worth remembering that Kitchener believed it would take at least 6 months for the TF to complete its training. 

 

Over time the overseas battalions would arrive in the UK, however as soon as the battalions arrived in the UK they were being shipped out to France. 7th and 8th Div disembarking on 7th Oct 1914 ( only a month after the 6th Div)  and 5th-7th Nov 1914 respectively.   Mixed in these formations were some UK based battalions. Add to this the Meerut Division and the Lahore Division (ex Sirhind Brigade) which included 6 more British Battalions, and the fact that the TF were beginning to stream overseas to relieve Garrisons. The 42nd East Lancs Div passed the Indian Army Corps in the middle of the Mediterranean. which further reduced the remaining regular battalions to 4  - as mentioned by Hankey.  At best the defence of the UK was propped up by a handful of Regular Battalions and rather a large number of poorly trained and equipped TF Battalions...which suggests to me that the fears of invasion were not particularly strong and that Strategy was dominated by engaging the Germans in France and Flanders throughout 1914. 

 

MG

 

 

Edited by QGE
typos

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Neill Gilhooley

Beckett in 'A Nation in Arms' records that the Committee of Imperial Defence in October 1908 and April 1914 had recommended the retention of two of the regular six divisions against the possibility of invasion.

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QGE
2 minutes ago, Neill Gilhooley said:

Beckett in 'A Nation in Arms' records that the Committee of Imperial Defence in October 1908 and April 1914 had recommended the retention of two of the regular six divisions against the possibility of invasion.

 

The fact that all 6 Divisions were in France by 12th September only  a month after the first British troops disembarked might suggest that the fears expressed in 1908 and Apr 1914  were not matched in Sep 1914. 

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Neill Gilhooley

I quite agree.

I think this is from Military Operations, the Germans also held back IX Reserve Corps, in Schleswig-Holstein, against the possibility of a British amphibious landing. In turn the War Office had, before the war, planned for the possibility of landing on the Baltic coast.

That would have been an improbable plan.

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Uncle George

Lloyd George's thoughts on this, from his 'War Memoirs':

 

" ... I have never entertained such a fear ... "

 

image.jpg

Edited by Uncle George

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Uncle George

Sir William Robertson devotes some time to this matter in his 1921 autobiography:

 

" I always replied ... to those who argued against the practicability of invasion that it was for the Admiralty to give a reasonable - not necessarily an absolute - guarantee, which would be acceptable to the Government,  that they could in all circumstances prevent a hostile landing ... During the time that I was Director of Military Training I do not remember that the Admiralty ever saw their way definitely to give the guarantee - and their hesitation was easy to understand ... "

 

See from page 186:

 

https://archive.org/stream/cu31924028003436#page/n215/mode/2up

 

image.jpg

image.jpg

 

image.jpg

Edited by Uncle George

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QGE

Ref Sir William Robertson... his observation that only four Divisions made it to France and two were held back - this lasted just a few days. The last of the first four Divisions disembarked on 16th Aug and the first units of 4th Div (the fifth Division to disembark) disembarked on the 23rd Aug 1914 and famously caught up with Smith Dorrien's II Corps at Le Cateau.. ...I make that a gap of just 8 days. ..and the first units of 6th Div (the sixth Division to land) disembarked 16 days after that. The fears were short-lived. 

 

I don't doubt that the Committee was divided, but my sense is that if there were concerns they didn't last long. The Committee realised pretty soon they would be in for the long haul viz "three years or the duration" terms of engagement for Kitchener's Army. By propagating and perpetuating fears about an invasion would have the happy consequence of spurring recruiting. 

 

MG

Edited by QGE

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CGM

There is a very detailed book, Can Germany Invade England? by Colonel H. B. Hanna, First published October 1912.

 

CONTENTS

CHAPTER         
I.    
GREAT BRITAN'S STRATEGICAL POSITION AND SOURCES OF DEFENSIVE STRENGTH.
II.    
STRENGTH AND DISPOSITION IN EUROPEAN WATERS OF THE ENGLISH AND GERMAN FLEETS
III.    
THE INVASION SCARE 
IV.    
CONSTITUTION OF INVADING FORCE: TRANSPORT AND SUPPLY 
V.    
THE SHIPPING PROBLEM 
VI.    
MOBILISATION: CONCENTRATION: EMBARKATION 
VII.    
VOYAGE: DISEMBARKATION: AND—AFTER
VIII.    
CONCLUSION
INDEX 

______

 

I particularly like chapter lV, which includes:

 

True, the men who have found satisfaction in terrifying themselves and others with visions of 150,000 German soldiers landing on our coast one day, and marching on London the next, never have made any allowance for non-combatants, nor for carts and wagons, nor for horses to draw them; yet non-combatants and carts and wagons have to accompany every army, and, without them, it can neither march, nor fight, nor live.

 

Ninety-six thousand non-combatants to 150,000 troops is not too large a proportion when one remembers all the duties that they have to fulfil. Think of the eighteen bearer-companies, three to each Army Corps, and of the attendants in the forty-eight field hospitals, and the clerks and the telegraphists and the store-keepers, and the surgeons and their assistants, and the veterinary surgeons, and the mechanics and the bakers, and officers' servants, and to all these and many others, falling under headings too numerous to enumerate, add the drivers of the 13,200 vehicles, some, two-horse carts needing only one man to look after them, but some would be wagons with four and six horses, calling for two or three men's care; and as for the vehicles, hear what General Bronsart von Schellendorff, whose teaching is, as we know, the last word in military science, has to say about them:

 

"This apparently enormous number of vehicles is unavoidable, if the troops are to be kept supplied with all they need. The transport with the troops and the ammunition columns[12] enable the troops to be ready for battle. The telegraph carts, pontoons, tool carts, etc., increase their efficiency; the field bakery, supply and transport columns, assure their being fed under difficulties; the wagons of the medical units are required for the sick and wounded, and allow of the erection of field hospitals."[13]

 

But the scaremongers, who have not allowed for non-combatants and vehicles to carry an Army's supplies, nor yet for the supplies themselves, are not likely to have considered such trifles as telegraphs and tools and hospital wagons. In their dark dreams the enemy is to live on the country, carry his commandeered food and forage in carts provided and horsed by the inhabitants, and either use our hospital wagons and hospitals, or have no sick and wounded to impede their triumphant advance, all the casualties being, presumably, on our side.

 

 

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Can_Germany_Invade_England%3F/Chapter1

______

 

Colonel H. B. Hanna died in 1914, so did not live to see how true or otherwise, his book proved to be. 

 

 

Edited by CGM

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Medaler
On 9/22/2017 at 14:49, CGM said:

There is a very detailed book, Can Germany Invade England? by Colonel H. B. Hanna, First published October 1912.

 

 

 

 

 

There is another point too. Even if the Germans could have dashed 150,000 men across the Channel without Jellicoe noticing, sooner or later they would have run out of ammunition without establishing a "safe corridor" across that allowed for replenishment. The RN would, I am sure, have sacrificed every surface vessel that they had to prevent such a corridor being established. Jutland may have been fought 2 years early, and in a different location, but the result would have been the same.

 

We managed to establish a safe corridor to keep our army supplied in Europe. Whilst the Germans disrupted things occasionally, that supply route was always kept open.

 

Regards,

Mike

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CGM

The book is packed with facts and figures which consider the whole logistics of a possible invasion, most of which I don't have the knowledge to consider and agree or disagree with, but something like this excerpt, from chapter VII, I can understand:

 

It is evident that the first point on which a German Government desirous of invading England must make up its mind, is the place where its army shall land. London, of course, will be its objective, for only by seizing the centre of Great Britain's life can it hope to paralyse British resistance; therefore, the nearer to London that landing place, the better.

 

This conclusion points to the south coast of England, but the Straits of Dover bar the way, for whatever our despondent prophets may be pleased to predict, German naval authorities will never trust so implicitly to the carelessness and stupidity of ours, as to dare to send an enormous fleet of transports, escorted by all Germany's warships, through a passage only twenty-four miles wide. We may be fools, but it is part of the alarmist creed that the Germans are not, so our south coast may be reckoned as safe from attack.

 

The east coast of Scotland and the east coast of England north of the Wash, as too far from London, must also be ruled out, and we have, therefore, to find a landing-place for our invaders between the Wash and the Straits of Dover.

Of the southern part of this district. Lieutenant Dewar tells us that "the estuaries and flats of the Thames have been used by some novel-writers for landing troops, but it is doubtful whether any one else would use them for this purpose. The approach to the small rivers is difficult, and Sheerness and Harwich, with their quota of torpedo craft a couple of hours off, would loom over any attempt in that area."[1]

 

This verdict, and it is one that every experienced officer, naval or military, will confirm, further limits our choice to the portion of the coast lying between the Witham, on the north side of the Wash, and the Stour, along which " there are beaches and small harbours such as Yarmouth suitable enough, but still rather too close to Harwich to be comfortable."[2]

 

I doubt the epithet suitable really applying to any of the harbours, for they all lie up shallow rivers difficult to navigate even by small ships at low water, inaccessible to large vessels at all states of the tide, and as all experienced embarkation officers will agree with Lieutenant Dewar that "it is very doubtful whether a force of any size would ever attempt to land on a beach,"[3] it follows that the German Government, at the very outset, must have found itself impaled on the horns of a dilemma, since its choice lay between a suitable harbour which it could not discover, and an open beach on which no experienced officer would counsel it to land its troops; and even if a suitable harbour could have been found, there was the probability that it would be so defended with mines as to render a rapid coup de main almost impossible.[4]

 

It looks, therefore, as if Germany's plans for an invasion of England must be lying in a pigeon-hole with the word impracticable written large across it; but to help a timid and easily deceived British public to realise to the full the folly of its fears, we will assume that German naval officers have given their voice in favour of landing on a beach, and do our best to find one suitable to the purpose............

it continues

 

CGM

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CGM

To accommodate 246,000 men, 78,000 horses, 864 guns, 13,200 vehicles, such a beach must be, at least, from 12 to 15 miles long; it should have a firm sandy bottom, plentiful supplies of good water at intervals along its whole length, and it should be in the vicinity of a good-sized town, the larger the better, where fresh food and labour, skilled and unskilled, and the hundred and one things that an army, cut off from its own country, would soon find itself in need of, could be procured, and where the sick and wounded could be properly housed—in a word, a town fitted to serve as a base for subsequent land operations.

There should also be a strong position at a convenient distance from the beach, the occupation of which would give some security to the army, whilst engaged in the complicated process of landing.

 

Now, no beach on the east coast of England answers to this description; but a German army corps on the march, with its first and second lines of transport, stretches 32 miles[5]; consequently each army corps would require a road to itself,[6] and what our invaders must discover is not one beach fifteen miles long, but six beaches two and a half miles long, each possessing all the attributes detailed above, and, in addition, good anchorage in deep water,"for, no matter what may be the advantages offered on shore, unless there is good anchorage and deep water near shore, no place can be deemed a good one for the disembarkation of an army."[7]

 

Assuming that these six suitable landing places exist, we will now turn to the consideration of the difficulties that will be met with in the attempt to reach them.............

 

It continues with weather, fog etc.

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rolt968

I have certainly seen detailed civilian contingency plans.

The driving of all livestock away from the coastal area, evacuation of women and children and so on. This in Eastern Scotland.  Presumably someone was taking the threat seriously.

RM

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gmac101

In the  early 70's British and German generals "war gamed" the invasion of the UK by Nazi Germany.  The Germans lost despite the percieved weakness of the British Army in 1940 post Dunkirk the German Navy was never strong enough to hold the channel open long enough to re-supply the invasion force.  Would it have been any different in 1914?    

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