Britains Greatest Battles

The National Army Museum are running an online exhibition asking what are the greatest British battles;

Exploring 400 years of British Army history, from the English Civil War to the current conflict in Afghanistan, this exhibition gives you the key facts, describes the impact and looks at the legacy of 20 of Britain’s greatest battles. We are asking you to decide which of these was the greatest engagement ever fought.

Click the image to visit and take part

A collection of images from the exhibition are also on their Facebook page





About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

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February 16, 2013 6:44 pm

“what are the greatest British battles;” – I think you’ll find that’s LAND battles. Otherwise, I vote for The Battle of the Atlantic :-D

February 16, 2013 7:01 pm

Agree with WiseApe – Trafalgar isn’t going to go down a storm with that lot either.

Peter Elliott
February 16, 2013 7:08 pm

Not sure I’m totally comfortable with the tone of some of this coverage. Warfare is a tragic business whatever the scale of the historical impact or the heroism of the individuals involved.

“Next to a battle lost, the greatest misfortune is a battle gained” – said the Duke of Wellington. And he should know.

Red Trousers
February 16, 2013 7:32 pm

Playing fields of Eton, for those who think the orificers are important?

Or Brecon on a cold Wednesday February evening, where our best corporals learn their trade, before exporting it globally. Forestry block B, looking out over the valley and with that challenging line of sight range estimation problem.

Brecon of course first established as a Roman cavalry camp for taming the rebellious Welsh (after 2,000 years, we have to report failure). But there is a well-known Tom Jones song, to the tune of “Men of Harlech” which you can sing with your troop in the back of a Bedford going to the ranges:

Men of Harlech, stop complaining, Wales was built for troops to train in, and it’s always f**king raining, Welsh girls have big tits”

(etc, etc, for lots of verses, most unprintable and involving perversions I would not draw attention to, but enough to consume a journey from Tidworth up the 303 to Bisley)

February 16, 2013 8:19 pm

Surely it was this;

P.S. Welcome back RT.

February 16, 2013 8:54 pm

Granted it’s a bit more than 400 years ago, but I’d suggest Agincourt (1415).
And if we remove the ‘Land’ restriction the answer’s obvious – the Battle of Britain. (dives for the air raid shelter – incoming!)

Red Trousers
February 16, 2013 9:09 pm

@ Neil,

I think you are right. B of B was existential, to our country. If we had not won, goodness knows, but probably a German invasion, and Captain Mainwaring to the fore, which would not have been too hopeful for us. I’m not often generous to the Kevins, but they did a jolly good job of work there.

There’s also the much-less remarked Channel battle of MTBs and E-boats, from 40-44. Nightly derring-do by brave matelots on both sides, all while actually trying to avoid each other, and get up close and personal with submarines (our team) and RN Frigates (their team). You also have to acknowledge the bravery of the German E-Boat sailors, “Go and find an English frigate that out-guns you in every dimension, and attack it”. They did this nightly for 4 years.

February 16, 2013 9:46 pm


Just been reading about the Hundred Years War and their is also a documentary series about it on BBC4 at the moment.

Most people remember something about Agincourt (largely down to Shakespeare I guess) but everyone always forgets Crecy and Poitiers and that the three together represent a trilogy of decisive and rather bloody victories spread across the war.

February 16, 2013 9:51 pm

“B of B was existential, to our country.”


It was essentially a reconnaissance in force.

“Will the door fall in? No it hasn’t, will it fall in now? Still hasn’t? Well fuck it then let’s do Russia like we planned.”

February 16, 2013 9:55 pm

Waterloo or Blenheim

As the outcome proved these battles were decisive and enduring. France has played an incredible bit part role since. That is not to knock France but much of it’s success since has been by being on the right side.

Red Trousers
February 16, 2013 9:58 pm



B of B was strategically a good idea by the German air force to force Britain to the negotiating table in a poor position, but then balls’ed up by the civvies Hitler and Goering changing the targeting plan at the wrong moment. Hardly a recce in force.

(There’s a visceral part of me that objects to the concept of a “recce in force”. That’s not a military success story. Either sneak in and sneak out and get your information without leaving handprints, without being noticed like proper recce soldiers can achieve, or charge in with lots of ammo, the artillery going balls out and, and so clout the fuckers fucking hard when they are not expecting it. Don’t ever dribble, in a Clausewitzian sense.)

February 16, 2013 10:11 pm

Army: Waterloo and Naesby
Navy: Atlantic and Trafalgar
Air Force: BoB

Then again, the smaller engagements are often overlooked but have a vital significance, for example the defense of Malta in WW2, the blockade of the french navy in port during the Napoleonic wars…

Naturally, a subject to be debated; though many don’t often think of engagements of the past 50 years… nor that they seldom fit into such groups as I have used.
Home soil may not be threatened directly, but that doesn’t lessen the ‘greatness’ (silly word to apply to warfare) of the event. For example, the Army’s units in the Korean war and the SAS’s own war against the against the IRA

February 16, 2013 10:13 pm

B of B was an exercise in exploitation. So far they had had fortune on their side and their first reverse was Britain not immediately throwing in the towel.

Now from my reading of the sources the Hun were schizophrenic about the whole Sea Lion thing but in fact Hitler, when it came down to it, decided it was worth a little punt at air superiority and nothing more.

If the Germans had been serious about the B of B they’d have built up their forces and continued the fight for a year or so. Instead it was a case of we’ll have a go and see what happens, if the door falls in then the green light is on, but if it doesn’t we’re not too fussed because we can screen them and crack on with the East and with any luck they’ll throw in the towel if we keep up the pressure.

It was nothing more than a probe writ large, an attempt at exploitation or to shoe horn in a phrase, a kind of reconnaissance in force. Partly it was to apply pressure and bring us up to the negotiating table but the sources seem to show that Hitler was game if the pre-conditions could be met within strict timelines that made it all, in reality, an exploitation event.

February 16, 2013 10:18 pm

The trouble with the BoB is that it could be argued that the German’s lost it more than we won it. Beyond our planes shooting their planes down and their planes shooting down our planes there is a lot, perhaps too much, speculation on the why’s and wherefore’s of the campaign. Easy to contrive a myth for the populous (whose grasp on events was tenuous) eager for a victory after a year of defeat. Even easier when the enemy sits a cross 20 odd miles of sea, in Autumn, and you have sea control.

February 16, 2013 10:22 pm

Thanks for that, I’ll check the BBC4 schedule. I’ve been interested in the battle of Agincourt ever since I saw a one man production of it at the Royal Exchange Manchester, as a kid in the 1970s.
Saw a re-enactment of Agincourt (amongst other things) at the Festival of History at Kelmarsh, 2009 I think, it was very impressive. Shame King Henry V messed up his speech when his horse decided to pirouette! And it was a pity the ‘French’ were so heavily outnumbered; still, who wants to be on the losing side?! Also the English archers advancing to collect their first volley of arrows so they could have another go was a bit suspect. The kids and myself loved the spectacle anyway and the effort put in by the re-enactors was very impressive.

Red Trousers
February 16, 2013 10:25 pm


I think you are wrong, in that Hitler in 39/40 still thought he could take Britain out of the strategic game (by forcing surrender and a negotiated peace), and that Stalin was his biggest future problem. But, it’s a big subject, and I’m not the expert.

Still, throwing his entire air force at us is hardly a recce in force. It’s a full on assault.

February 16, 2013 10:30 pm

From what I have read, I think the truth lies between @Phil and @RT’s opinion. Quite rightly, the former made the point that Hitler had no previous interest in invading the UK; he spent quite a lot of time trying to negotiate a grand bargain with us where we would stay out of Europe while he concentrated on his “lebensraum” in Eastern Europe and western Russia. Equally, I suspect the likes of Raeder, Goering and elements of OKH wanted to give it a try, but were defeated in effect by the lack of pre war preparation for amphibious landings. Once it became clear that the RAF was not defeated and the means of forcing a landing were lacking before 41, Hitler basically said “sod you, we’re off to Russia”.

If we had lost the BOB, I’m sure Hitler would have reconsidered. We didn’t thankfully, so he called it off.

February 16, 2013 10:38 pm


I’m not saying that was not one track of his strategy. To frighten us into suing for peace.

But, he was also serious enough about having a crack if his preconditions for the operation were met. Either way he expected either a quick plea for a negotiated settlement which he was more than willing to come to; or a rotten door to fall in and the Luftwaffe gain air supremacy and close the Channel to the RN. He was keeping his options open but what is obvious is that whilst we differentiate the B of B in German eyes it was the continued exploitation of the Battle for France.

When I say reconnaissance in force I mean Hitler gave the green light to hit us with the Luftwaffe partly to try and frighten us into suing for peace and partly (and this is where the recce in force or probe analogy comes in) to see what happened.

You can’t escape from the conclusion, looking at the primary sources, that Hitler kept an open mind whether or not Sea Lion was feasible and he issued directives to earnestly plan for it. That said he was not stupid enough to try it in anything other than completely favourable conditions and the B of B was set in motion partly to see if those conditions could be bought about. There was no intention to continue the Battle on the part of the Germans if there was no peace and the door was sturdier than thought.

February 16, 2013 11:08 pm

Hitler told the armed services no war before 1943.

Red Trousers
February 16, 2013 11:15 pm

One of those “what if” history questions that I find fascinating.

What if Britain had agreed a peace with Hitler in early 40? Quite within the bounds of possibility.

Hitler, not having to watch his back on the channel coast or have most of his TA deployed to France on internal security duties, gets another half million men and lots more armour to the eastern front. Could have made things a bit different.

He should also have really twisted Franco’s arm to allow a couple of divisions free passage down to La Linea, in order to take out Gibraltar . Would have made a world of difference to British and American access to the Med throughout the war, closing off southern France and Italy, and probably changed the outcome of the whole desert campaign. Barking mad oversight by Hitler, I think.

February 16, 2013 11:16 pm


I know what you’re trying to say. Nowadays everybody is led to believe that victory for the Luftwaffe and the undertaking of Sea Lion weren’t just linked by cause and effect but were actually two vital milestones in some long thought out grand plan.

Whilst certain individuals such as Goering clearly saw victory in the air as a crucial turning point in the war (largely due to personnel pride over ‘his’ Luftwaffe) German strategy in the broad sense was actually far more responsive to events and caught off balance by a sudden victory over France.

Whilst clearly more than just recon the German aerial assault was probably driven by the hopes of a negotiated peace with the UK first, curiosity over the strength of our defences second and a vague hope of Sea Lion being feasible third.

Events/decisions regarding the Battle of Britain and Sea Lion indicate that Hitler hadn’t completely lost the plot in 1940. Flash-forward to 1944/45 and he would have probably ranted and raved non-stop until an invasion was undertaken, regardless of how suicidal it may have been.

February 16, 2013 11:22 pm

@Red Trousers

‘Could have made things a bit different’

Considering how far the Whermacht had advanced and how desperate the situation was for the Red Army by the winter of 1941 I’m inclined to agree.

February 16, 2013 11:27 pm

“Could have made things a bit different.”

Not if there was not the logistical capacity to utilise them. As far as I have read German logistical capacity was beyond maxed out for Barbarossa with the force structure they had.

Railways can’t be laid overnight and lorries can only shuttle so much.

February 16, 2013 11:36 pm


Sounds like a good show, even with the minor faults!

I remember seeing another programme about Agincourt years ago which said that archery pretty much became compulsory in England at around that time, with lots of other sports being banned to try and produce a large amount of high quality archers, seems to have worked!

Another thing I found fascinating was the shift in soldier and battlefield culture around this time. I’ve heard it argued that the centuries old chivalric traditions of the knights essentially died when archers and longbows became the modern core of English Army. These guys were skilled but with little or no aristocratic blood and heritage. Mercy and capturing for ransom were replaced by calculated slaughter at a distance. The shift from ‘decent’ and ‘honourable’ knights to this kind of cold brutality apparently horrified English and French society at the time.

It’s also been said that English Longbows in the Hundred Years War weren’t rivalled again until the invention of the Gatling gun for sheer efficiency of accurate and sustained fire!

Maybe you have heard all this already, just thought id share the stuff I find interesting but isn’t often talked about where the battles concerned.

February 17, 2013 1:57 am

If losing battles count as turning points, I got one.


Chuck Hill
February 17, 2013 2:37 am

Something I found interesting was that while the size of the German army continued to increase from 1941 to 1944, and the number of Axis troop on the Eastern front remained about the same, about 4 million, the number of German troops on the eastern front actually declined after the initial push. The difference was made up by allied troops.

February 17, 2013 3:03 am


I tend to agree with you on RiF. It’s a US concept, on the one hand it’s the interesting notion of recce by MBT, on the other, as praticised in the woods overlooking the South China Sea it was what I would call ‘aggressive patrolling’, US wasn’t much good at that either, but I guess you can blame flawed tactics in a conscript army.

February 17, 2013 5:48 am

They don’t use MBTs for recce in force, the wagons of choice then were the old M-113s and currently the M-3 cav vehicle. It makes a bit of sense if you think in terms of the composition of army defences, most defending units are infantry, whose ability to hurt armour is much less than that of an armour unit which are usually held in reserve, unless you’re unlucky enough to stumble onto a pure AT fireteam, and those support units are also as rare and held in reserve too against an armour push.

This means firepower-wise, they are only faced with section level AT weaponry, i.e LAW/Armbrust/MAW, and these are terrible weapons against targets moving laterally.

I’d even go as far as to rate the danger to these scout units as less than that of LSV equiped scout raiders, at least they are proof against small calibre rounds, a single SAW burst at a LSV and you’re in a lot of pain, and both are almost about as likely to stumble onto the enemy by accident.

Red Trousers
February 17, 2013 6:06 am

Recce by MBT? Oh, good God.

Proper recce is done on your belly, not dressed in 70 tons of metal. But it is more of a way of thinking. Don’t try to bump into things to discover if they are there, rather have a think about the likelihood of them being there in advance, and invest your precious soldiers only in those few areas where they can gain most information, despite any danger. If you want merely surveillance and not intelligence, you can always task the Kevins and one of their planes, or these days, a UAV.

There’s also the US concept of “recce by fire”. Basically, shooting at bushes to see if they shoot back.

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 6:46 am

I am not 100% certain the Germans really thought Sea Lion was feasible. Their “assault craft” were unsuitable. They had limited anti shipping capability from the air. No anti shipping torpedo capability whatsoever and as the Norwegian campaign proved they had to drop hundreds of bombs to sink 1 Destroyer. People often look at what happened to force Z and then transport that capability to the Channel.

Repulse and POW were both hit by over 5 Torpedoes launched by veteran Japanese crews flying Torpedo Bombers, a capability that the Germans did not have.

Given the number of craft up to frigate size gathered to oppose the Invasion, the lack of anti shipping capability of the Luftwaffe and the unsuitability of the “barges” to be used I believe the invasion would have been a failure regardless of the air campaign and would have been a massacre given the excellent performance of the RAF.

The army were obviously not overly worried as they were sending tanks to North Africa at the time.

February 17, 2013 7:22 am

APATS Africa is a different story, if they lost Africa, there goes the fuel, which was why it was also another critical area for the British, not an “I’m not worried” indicator.

I do think he could have had the UK, if Hitler could actually focus on one thing instead of getting so distracted. My suspicions lie in that he thought oil was more important to future ops than securing his western flank, considering the “Atlantic Wall” that was built in place, so he redirected his attention to Africa and later the Caucus oilfields. Material minded warfare?

And of course there were all the low level resistance groups in the countries he conquered. Though for that I suspect he delegated so not sure how distracting it really was.

RT, I’m with you on the sneaky recce, just trying to see the other side’s POV too. Putting yourself in the other side’s shoes and seeing how he sees things is always a good skill in intel and planning. The better to predict his actions.

Red Trousers
February 17, 2013 7:55 am

There’s a whole new debate: would Op Sea lion have worked (as we know of the capabilities of both sides)?

I’m doubtful.

To put a bit of context on. It took the Allies a couple of years to work up for D Day, 100s of thousand of men, all sorts of specialist beach landing gear developed especially. It seems a bit of a mental stretch to think that the Germans could have done the opposite at next to no notice and with no amphibious capability, with half of the forces and no prior training.

Assuming it would not have worked, would Hitler have taken it on the chin and still gone on to Barbarossa?

February 17, 2013 9:20 am

RT, it would really depend on the point I made above, “Was it material warfare?” If the German industry and war machine was fuel starved by the stalemate in N.Africa and the inability to control the oilfields, there are going to be very few sources to tap as a counterbalance, the most prominent one would be the Caucus oilfields. Which was one of the targets of Babarosa in the first place.

People tend to see the attack on Russia as insanity, backbiting or greed, but what if the reason was simpler? Desperation? If the oil needed for the heavily mechanised German army was running out, it might have been an attack of desperation to feed their war machine. The timing would be about right too, May 1941 was when the Afrikacorp got bogged down at Tobruk. June was when the USSR got attacked.

John Hartley
February 17, 2013 9:24 am

What would have happened if Hitler had offered the return of Gascony & Ponthieu to England in return for full peace in July 1940? He would have been free to attack Russia without fighting on 2 fronts.
Also Italy would have been better off staying neutral like Franco.
Perhaps we should go back to the future for the next battles, ie only fight for profit (what are the 21st C equivalent of Spanish treasure gallions?).

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 9:33 am


An interesting point. I never realised that prior to 1939 Mexico supplied 50% of Germanies oil requirements. Good article at the link.

February 17, 2013 10:11 am

JH, oil tankers.

February 17, 2013 10:20 am

I think its worth remembering the British army and the south coast defences of Britain in 1940 were hardly comparable to the Atlantic wall and the wehrmacht in 1944.

Fluffy Thoughts
February 17, 2013 10:26 am

What would have happened if Hitler had offered the return of Gascony & Ponthieu to England in return for full peace in July 1940?

England had already given-up on European posessions, otherwise we would have kept Hanover and The Netherlands. Our goal was to keep Europe divided (hence our current machinations in Brussels).

Agincourt (incl. Crecy and Poitiers)

Those battles – as I posited at the DT web-site a few weeks ago – were not British fought. The English with – maybe reluctant support from – Wales and Ireland fought against France (which was allied to the Scots).

Historically England raised ‘regiments’ under lordship: Cromwell “created” the British Army via the “New Model Army”. His English Commenwealth – England, Ireland and Scotland – marks the creation of a British polity and a British Army.

On battles: They no longer exist in the historical sense. One-day conflicts turn into chess-like strategy challenges. Look at Mali and the inability for the French to project outwith support.

Obviously the web-site upthread is Army-centric; I’d place Monmouth’s glourious campaigns above anything achieved in the modern era. When considering the other services:

Royal Navy:

Let us down against the Dutch and the French during the Septics Revolutionary War. Finest victory – following the a defeat at Coronel – must be the Battle of the Falklands (1914).

Royal Air Force:

The BoB is huge, but what would have happened if we had lost Malta?


Sadly, following post-imperial guilt, many of the gallant efforts of the SE-Asia battlefront are forgotten. One wonders if Churchill had ignored Italy and had sent Alexander to India how the war would have turned out….

February 17, 2013 10:32 am

Fluffy, badly. The oilfields in Italian hands were needed badly, India, while economically valuable tradewise, does not drive the industrial machine as well as oil producers. Though there WERE actions in India against the Japanese.

Mark, exactly. I suspect they thought the UK could keep, being contained like that, for later.

February 17, 2013 10:33 am

1. I’m not saying the B of B conforms to some multi-bulleted point list definition of a “recce in force” that is sat in some Staff Officers handbook. I’m using it as an analogy for throwing most of the Luftwaffe at the RAF to essentially see what happens.

2. The Germans by and large did believe Sea Lion would succeed, IF, and massive IF, the preconditions of air and sea control were gained, and the tides and weather were right. Now it is those pre-conditions that the High Command was worried might not be achieved but I do think that they thought Sea Lion stood a good chance of success if they could achieve it.

Hindsight shows us that it was only going to happen if Germany had concentrated on us and we had been the focus of their strategic effort – which we were not. They not unreasonably assumed we could be screened and left for dead.

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 10:46 am

@ Mark
“I think it’s worth remembering the British army and the south coast defences of Britain in 1940 were hardly comparable to the Atlantic wall and the Wehrmacht in 1944”

That is true but in order for us to put 170k troops over the beaches in the first wave, support elements included.

3 Airborne Divisions deployed in over 800 transports and gilder towing aircraft.

1200 naval vessels in direct support including 2 15 inch gun Battleships and 15 Cruisers for NGS. The whole Operation being screened against Kriegsmarine involvement by the whole of Home Fleet.

Over 1000 bombers flew missions in support of the landings on d day and 5,000 fighters insured air supremacy.

In excess of 4,000 transports and landing craft were used. Specialist landing craft were available and training had been conducted.

We also had operational surprise.

Now the Germans were going to attempt a crossing without air supremacy, in the face of 800 MTB/MGB/armed launches and 100 launches without the ability to screen the landing or obtain sea control.

They had over 2,000 river barges but less than half of them were powered and they would struggle to achieve operational surprise.

February 17, 2013 10:56 am


Containing the UK, essentially leaving us for dead wasn’t a terrible plan…The UK was of almost no threat and in a desperately weakened state in 1940, so it was reasonable for the Germans to think they could turn their attention away for a year and finish the job later on, if we hadn’t of already surrendered by then. It all depended on them keeping to a timetable and destroying the USSR as quickly as possible.

Of course in reality a year in the East became a struggle to the death and Italy proved to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot in dismantling our position in the Middle East.

Peter Elliott
February 17, 2013 11:07 am

Alexander was C in C when the Anglo-Indian army was driven out of Burma and back to India in 1942. Not his fault – the resources he inherited to defend Rangoon were grossly inadequate to the task. He was then withdrawn from there before taking over Middle East Command in Cairo. So he could in theory have stayed on in India.

But it is doubtful if he, or anyone else, would have done a better job than Slim. After Alexander went Slim was promoted first from divisional to corps and ultimately to army command, and he was largely responsible for the successful defence of India and ultimate British victory in Burma.

Now it is arguable that Slim could have taken the offensive earlier if he had been given more resources in 1943 – but it was always accepted that the Far East command was the lowest priority for the British, coming after Europe and Africa. 14th Army was explicitly told it had to draw most of its reosurces from British India. The fact that they wrere so successful in doing so was down to some brilliant improvisation.

They were short of just about everything but, for instance, compensated for a lack of parachute silk by creating “jute-chutes” (effectively out of sackcloth) which were ‘good enough’ for airdropping supplies. They had insufficent hardcore and asphelt for road building, so created monsoon resisitant supply roads out of jute and pitch. TD could do a whole article on the military engineering and logistics of the 14th Army. There’s some great stuff in there.

“One wonders if Churchill had ignored Italy and had sent Alexander to India how the war would have turned out….”

February 17, 2013 11:08 am

Maybe someone could further elaborate, but I’m pretty sure a large-scale and intricate war game was conducted in the 1970s to determine the outcome of Sea Lion if it had gone ahead. The game involved surviving military planners from both sides and used all of the information and resources available at the time, without any hindsight to make it as realistic as possible.

They concluded that the Germans could have probably made a lodgement on the south coast, albeit with large casualties, but that the British home fleet would have reached the channel after a few days and devastated the German supply lines. Even if the Luftwaffe had destroyed RAF fighter command their air superiority wouldn’t have swung the campaign in the Germans favour.

Of course it was only a simulation, but I think most analysts and commentators drew the conclusion that at most Sea Lion could have been an initially partial success but couldn’t have been exploited to defeat and occupy Britain in the long-run.

February 17, 2013 11:08 am

“Now the Germans were going to attempt a crossing without air supremacy,”

No they weren’t. Air supremacy was a clear and unequivocal precondition for the invasion. In hindsight we know they weren’t going to get it but at the time the door seemed wide open just like we thought the door was wide open in mid September 1944.

February 17, 2013 11:10 am


I’m not suggesting it was going to be easy it may have gone badly but we were in much disarray that summer of 1940.
I don’t think he would have needed to land as many troops as we did to gain a foot hold in Britain had he achieved air supremacy.

This maybe a myth but did hitler not say England is not our natural enemy. I think he was using the Luftwaffe to gain air supremacy in order to try for peace with Britain he hated the Russians this was his ultimate downfall. Had he maintained peace with Russia it may have been a much longer war for us.

February 17, 2013 11:15 am

“I don’t think he would have needed to land as many troops as we did to gain a foot hold in Britain had he achieved air supremacy.”

The British Army was not in that much of a state. It still existed and in many cases the kit it needed was sitting around waiting for the blokes to get re-organised to meet up with it.

We were certainly in no condition to mount anything other than local offensives but we were certainly capable of dying in place and conducting local actions to fight off any invaders. And every single days delay meant the Army was getting stronger and stronger.

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 11:17 am


My post was in response to Marks point about the Atlantic wall being more formidable than our defences. I was not suggesting they would actually try it. If you read Hitlers 4 pre requisites for the Invasion it becomes blatantly obvious that the German forces were never going to achieve all 4.


Given the Luftwaffes inability to successfully engage RN shipping and the amount of vessels we had to fling at them then I do not think they would have gotten many troops ashore at all regardless of air supremacy.

February 17, 2013 11:35 am


In the world at war series it mentioned the only fully equipped division in England was Canadian. This gives a flavour

Peter Elliott
February 17, 2013 11:38 am


Not fully convinced about the Luftwaffe’s anti-ship capabilities.

Look at how many ships we had sunk of damaged in the Med in 1941, particularly surrounding the defence and evacuation from Crete.

Although the RN was successful in preventing amphibious landings on Crete they could not hold station long enough to mount an effective blockade on the German forces that had first arrived by air.

February 17, 2013 11:44 am

“In the world at war series it mentioned the only fully equipped division in England was Canadian. This gives a flavour”

I know but the defensive situation still favoured the British. Dug in defensive troops fighting on internal lines with combat experience of fighting the Germans versus an attacking force that could not get the 3:1 ratio needed to give a convincing prospect of success fighting as light infantry with their supply line tenuous at best even if the Navy and RAF were unable to enter the Channel.

The main bits were there: organisation, structure, experience and good supply lines – the only real deficiency was kit and that was being made good at a very fast pace. Not to mention the fact that once the Germans revealed their hand the kit in the country would have been concentrated rather than dispersed as it was.

Peter Elliott
February 17, 2013 11:44 am

Details from wiki:

“Attacks by German planes, mainly Ju-87 and Ju-88, destroyed three British cruisers (Gloucester, Fiji and Calcutta) and six destroyers (Kelly, Greyhound, Kashmir, Hereward, Imperial and Juno). Damage to the aircraft carrier Formidable, battleships Warspite and Barham, destroyers Kelvin and Nubian, and cruisers Ajax, Dido, Orion, and Perth kept these ships out of action for months.”

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 12:00 pm

@Peter Elliot

Not fully convinced about the Luftwaffe’s anti-ship capabilities.

Look at how many ships we had sunk of damaged in the Med in 1941, particularly surrounding the defence and evacuation from Crete.

Yes but look at what the Ships were doing and the positions they had to hold as escorts to a convoy or as a blocking force. That made them far easier targets and the number of bombs used per ship sunk was still very high.

In WW2 the RN lost 13 Capital Ships (including 3 escort Carriers) none to aircraft bombs. We lost 28 Cruisers, 7 to AC bombs and 120 Destroyers (not including Escort destroyers) 30 by AC bombs, these mostly at Dunkirk and Crete, where they had less room to mvre.

I do not believe the Luftwaffe had the ability to engage 700 or 800 MTB/MGB/Armed launches and up to 100 DD and Sloop/Frigates in time to prevent carnage amongst the 2000 odd barges they would be trying to protect.

There would of course have been casualties but if the invasion flottilla was sunk then the sacrifice would have been worthwhile.

February 17, 2013 12:06 pm

Everybody’s piled in on this overnight!

@Challenger – Re: Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt – Yes the results were pleasing, but were they decisive? Had we lost either of them, would we all be speaking French and eating horse meat now? Er….

@Neil – “And it was a pity the ‘French’ were so heavily outnumbered…” – There’s a French historian who claims that this was actually the case at Agincourt – I refuse to remember his name on principal.

@Neil and RT and mike – According to The Phoenix Think Tank the BoB was a victory for the RN. Who are we to argue with the PTT?

“British battles.” Blenheim. Waterloo. Normandy. British battles?

“Barking mad oversight by Hitler, I think” – Well, he was probably mad, y’know ;-)

If we’re playing “what if” scenarios, one of my favourites has always been: What if Hitler hadn’t declared war on the US after Pearl Harbour?

Edit: Of course, had the army not randomly chosen 1600 as the starting point and gone from just 12 years earlier, there’d be no arguments about the most decisive British battle ever. Right up there with Salamis. :-D

Peter Elliott
February 17, 2013 12:49 pm


Its not just the ship losses but the mission kills.

Barham, Warspite and Formidable were capital ships which were knocked out of operations in the Eastern Med by luftwaffe bombing.

Not arguing that the Luftwaffe could have successfully defended the invasion barges from the RN – but not happy either with the suggestion that the luftwaffe lacked the capability to engage ships.

The only reason the RN did as well as it did at Crete, and suffered accordingly, was becuase Cunningham overruled his subordinates and kept sending them back to re-engage despite the heavy losses from being bombed.

Given the totemic significance of the Home Fleet there would have been a strong ‘force proection’ lobby that would have sought to protect the RN from the losses that a major battle in the channel would have entailed. They would probably have been overruled in turn – but its not clear cut how quickly or how completely an invasion fleet could have been destroyed by the RN.

February 17, 2013 1:00 pm

The thing is the Navy had mass and it existed to be expended in the defence of the realm. And it was going to be going up against river barges and a slack handful or E boats and destroyers. Whilst a ship could still power and steer, let alone train its weapons, it would have been a deadly threat to the German invasion force.

If the sorties were combined with RAF air cover then they’d have probably done enough damage to cripple the German effort, especially if the fighters were ordered to attack the Ju87s at all costs.

The troops on the beach are going to have enough ammunition for a few hours of combat and that is it. They would need a constant re-supply, it doesn’t take a genius to engage a German unit on the ground to begin exhausting its ammo and then sortie the Navy and RAF to disrupt the re-supply and then delivering the coup de grace.

The Germans needed complete and utter control of the Channel.

Peter Elliott
February 17, 2013 1:16 pm


What you say is right.

The speculation I was addressing envisaged the Luftwaffe having won the BoB and the RN having to defeat the invasion without air cover. Which would have been much messier but probably ultimately successful – albeit at great cost to the ships and crews.

February 17, 2013 1:21 pm

It would take a massive logistical effort to sustain a cross channel attack. I really don’t see how it could work long term, but I can see it as part of a plan to ramp up pressure to bring the UK to the negotiating table, ala BoB writ large. Only thing was that Hitler probably thought the UK was a problem that would keep. With the defeats of Asia, Africa and Europe on their minds, an invasion of the Home Islands would almost be unbearable pressure.

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 1:22 pm


The home fleet would in all probability not have sortied from Scapa initially, the fightinmg would be done by the hundreds of MTB/MGB and launches supported Frigates/Destroyers/Corvettes/Sloops and armed Trawlers. Mission kill the barges and whoever is in them, as Phil points out as long as you have power and can man a gun/fire a torpedo you can cause carnage.

February 17, 2013 1:26 pm

Laying mines and u boats were also part of the German plan. The naval loses would have been high and the knock on effect that may have had in other operations is hard to tell.

February 17, 2013 1:33 pm

Was thinking of mines too, but still will not change the end equation. The German army was always armour heavy, infantry low, an amphibious op cross a water body best done by infantry would really reduce their advantages. They’ll have a bit of advantage in experienced Fallschirmjägers, but in the end, unless they get a secure line of supplies, they’ll run dry.

Anyway, we’re off topic.

I’d put Dunkirk for preserving the EF as a fighting force and Kohima/Imphal for bottling up the Japs so that the UK could concentrate on Africa and for sheer tenacity despite being outnumbered.

All Politicians are the Same
February 17, 2013 1:50 pm


It would have been like something from centuries ago. Basically flush any torps you have starigh at the barges and follow them in. Once you are in amongst them kill them with every gun, depth charge and grenade you have onboard. As long as you are in amongst the barges mines/U boats and aircraft are useless. Without commiting capital ships the Germans had less than 10 cruisers and Destroyers to screen the invasion flotilla and although exact E boat numbers are hard to come by, it is known they had less than 12 operational in the Channel by the end of 1940.
It would have been a target rich environment.

February 17, 2013 2:01 pm

APATs, screw weapons, just ramming the buggers would cause chaos out of proportion to the size of your force. Airburst timed shells from AA guns fired on a flat trajectory would wreck havoc. There is a very slim chance a night crossing might give better odds given the tech then, but as a lot of us mentioned, it’s not a winning strategy in the end. The RN has to be massively reduced or neutralised before you can try this.

February 17, 2013 5:41 pm

Not sure, what they want. If they ask for the biggest accomplishment, then Normandy and Somme falls flat out. If they call for greatest numbers involved, then they are top 1 and 2.

I think, Waterloo as the singlemost pattern for british policy and fighting in 400 years and for its strategic relevance should get the vote.

If only british troops were to be involved, then Quebec stands out. Major amphibious operation, great story of commanding officers dying on the battlefield, touch-and-go affair.

February 17, 2013 6:27 pm

1) For sea mines to be truly effective they have to be laid in fields and accurately placed. To do this requires an element of sea control. The laying of “tactical” fields was an option from fast mine layers. But these were large ships and the ability to use such also requires an element of sea control. Guess which side had lots of minefields? It is easier to mass air power for an attack than it is to sustain air power for the defence of a convoy. Britain was still heavily dependent on coastal trade for “internal” supply even with the large railway network of the time.

2) I think some of us are forgetting that German success in 1940 was more due to violence of action and divisive leadership than physical superiority. The French had more better armoured and armed tanks than the Germans whose supply lines were heavily dependent on horses. What wins the days with armour is how its employed, operating inside the enemies OODA loop. For example GW1 tank war was won as much by use 3C as it was by 120mm and Chobam armour. Then there is the 3 to 1 advantage to dislodge an enemy. Really the idea that the Germans could land a few tanks in Kent and pick up where the left on the other side of the Channel is wrong. The only way the Germans could have carried the day is shock. Just the idea that they were here causing hysteria in government. It wouldn’t have been the first time a superior position was lost just because the side holding it lost the will. That the Germans pulled off the same trick in the East was due to surprise and shock in the USSR general staff that had been weakened by the Stalinist purge. We all know what happened once geography came into play and the trick’s facade fell away. Germany’s position as a land power was limited by geography. Either by out moat or the USSR’s vast strategic depth. Armies can only go so far.

3) The RN got through the early anti-air war by sheer weight of numbers. Not enough cannon and powered amounts were the problems. Even though this shortfall had been brought to the Admiralty’s attention in the mid-1930s. That the day could have been lost due to lack of spending on naval hardware is not surprising.

February 17, 2013 7:08 pm

Regarding BoB,

This all stems back to Dunkirk. Hitlers desired position was to crush the BEF and then come to peace terms (at least for now) that would let him pivot back against Russia. Stupidly – and thankfully for us – that idiot Goering told Hitler that he could force the surrender/destruction of the BEF with the Luftwaffe, which led Hitler to rein in the dogs somewhat and start shifting resources East. With the escape from Dunkirk we foiled the first stage of their plans.

But while the BEF managed to get most of its men out, it left a significant amount of heavy equipment and stores behind on the continent. That was the more pressing issue for us.

So if memory serves me (stop laughing at the back) Hitler now turned to his generals and asked about the feasability of an invasion. To which the reply was that without almost complete control of the skies, then the out look was fairly bleak.

Now let’s say the Germans had managed to rustle up air superiority, what could they have really done with it? Well it’s probably not a long shot to suggest that they would have gone after the Royal Navy in force. What effect would a concentrated air campaign have had?

Your guess is as good as mine. Medium level bombing runs on Naval bases? Mine dropping operations around the harbour entrances? Assemble a small flotilla at each end of their crossing point near Calais. Mine off the flanks, and then go for it with a combined naval/air assualt?

I’m glad they didn’t get the chance to try, let’s put it that way.

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 17, 2013 7:16 pm

The Boyne secured the future of the United Kingdom, Blenheim established it as a major European Power, Quebec and Plassey made the Empire, Waterloo created the “Concert of Europe”, the Siege of Delhi saved the Empire, Mons “held the line” at the key moment and allowed the victories achieved in 1918, Dunkirk prevented defeat and El Alamein turned the tide…

February 17, 2013 10:56 pm

Ref -Operation Sea Lion
Had a look quick look on the excellent Royal Navy History Site –

I found this four part series on the make of the RN’S home commands post Dunkirk – Page 2 deals with Nore Command and Page 3 with Portsmouth and Western Approaches Commands. You come to realise just how big the RN was at home never mind around the world. And that the Kreigsmarine which were down to an operational fleet of just One Heavy Cruiser, Two Light Cruisers and Four Destroyers after the Norway Campaign. The odds would have been stacked hopelessly against the Kreigsmarine.

Also found this about the Sea Lion Wargame at Wiki –

And this further link –

Ref. Greatest Battles

IMHO, whether it be at Agincourt (or Azincourt to give its proper name), Waterloo, the Somme, El Alamein or in Helmand. We are fortunate that time and time again over the past 1000 years, these islands have and continues, to produce outstanding people who serve in our Armed Forces.

February 18, 2013 5:06 am


If we’re talking about battles ashore (and the linked website is, so I’ll put my Dark Blue FC scarf back in the drawer) that’s a good list of yours. I would front-load with Naesby for helping to cement the standing army, both as an institution and as an Army of Parliament, and swap Mons (enormous emotional and tactical importance, but not as much *individual* strategic importance, which I tend to think belongs to the whole Belgian/British run along the seaward flank of Von Kluck’s advance) and put in First Ypres instead (Wipers really did seal the Germans into a war of attrition, one that despite drive and brilliance they were going to have an exceedingly hard time winning.)

Good to see the mention of Blenheim, we tend to forget that it may have mattered more in strategic terms (heresy!) than Waterloo. It ended a sixty-year period in which the French scarcely ever lost a major land battle (except to themselves during the Fronde.) It prevented a run of the 1805 Austerlitz campaign a hundred years early with who knows what consequences. And it cemented (but for some side-swapping in the 1740s-50s, later sorted) the Anglo-Germanic (Dutch included)-Hapsburg coalition that finally beat France down in their bid to become the dominant European power.

Quebec, Plassey, and Delhi simply don’t get the attention they ought, even with historical remove from (sometimes deserved) imperial guilt. They were hugely important in the course of British and global history and tend to get lost behind the white-hatted, feel-good triumphs like Waterloo and Alamein.

Also, I would just take this gadfly-ish opportunity to point out that, colonial triumphs aside, these were very rarely “British” victories in a pure form. British troops and British generalship formed a linchpin, but generally in the leadership role (I will, however, stand up and harrumph for leadership rather than “contributory”) of diverse forces. Blenheim? The Netherlands had a bigger army in those days (second-largest in Europe and it pretty well bankrupted them), the Hapsburgs were there in force under Eugene w/ “little Germanies” in tow. Waterloo? Despite the thin-red-line-washing of the Victorian era, the Allied force was half Prussian, and a quarter Dutch and other Germans (without the KGL, how does the day go?) This is not to denigrate the red-coated and red-trousered — quite the opposite, and it ought to go a ways to remind us that, 1940 aside, the French were a pretty fearsome and often successful opponent (ever wonder why the Spanish Succession after Marlborough’s dismissal and the War of the Austrian Succession in the 1740s don’t get talked about much? The French were winning. Likewise a certain Revolution across the Atlantic, in which the only really successful anglophone commanders on the other side were Benedict Arnold and Nathaniel Greene.) But for those who fear a drop in the Army’s size and scale, I’d say following the model of Marlborough’s and Wellington’s campaigns (or North Africa, if one grants the Dominions and Free Insert Country Here Forces a separate identity) is very much a way forward. Concentrate on what they did — competent command, training up allies, specialist skill sets, a dogged will never to give on their part of the line — and it would probably serve well.

February 18, 2013 6:35 am

Also, in re: bewaring battles and their dividends, despite Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, we lost the Hundred Years’ War in the end. (Well, the first one. Won the second — against absolutist France — and the UK did an awful lot to win the third — against the absolutist “isms” of Germany and the Sovs — though it cost Britain’s top-tier power status in a good cause.) Worth paying attention to campaigns and strategies instead.

February 18, 2013 8:01 am

With the benefit of hindsight I suggest Sedgemoor was the most politically important battle since 1066.

The other issue is the world before and after c. 1900. Before that battles lasted a day (ignoring sieges) afterwards the one day battle was history.

Deja Vu
February 18, 2013 8:42 am

@GNB You certainly put forward a good short list for the Greatest British Battle fought by Redcoats/Tommies etc.

Is not the tradition of Parliamentary Control of The Army dating back to the Bill of Rights the decisively great British battle. As a result, strategy was driven by national interest and Treasury stinginess, not the interest of the Commanders and General Staffs, whose lust for glory did so much damage to the other European powers.

February 18, 2013 10:22 am

I think it’s about the pictures, innit ?

Not the tedious arguing among war-wonks over whether Jutland was in fact a mighty victory/defeat or Dunkirk a cunning ruse.

Wait long enough and some revisionista historian with a TV series will tell us we got it wrong all these years whatever we thought before…

Check out the faces of the survivors in the Glosters in the post-Imjin River photo. Priceless

February 18, 2013 1:11 pm

Great battles do not always give victories, even defeats can have winning long term consequences that are beneficial

February 19, 2013 2:05 am

@ RT

“What if Britain had agreed a peace with Hitler in early 40? Quite within the bounds of possibility.

Hitler, not having to watch his back on the channel coast or have most of his TA deployed to France on internal security duties, gets another half million men and lots more armour to the eastern front. Could have made things a bit different.”

I have often thought the same. I think an even more significant impact of British involvement was the Greek campaign which while a failure cost the Germans a critical six weeks in their attack on the USSR. Its guess work but with the extra time and men not to mention the extra material the Germans would have been able to import with out our blockade then I would have seen the Germans winning the battle for Moscow and likely the entire eastern campaign. I think others over look the absolutely pivotal roll the UK played in WWII and there is little doubt in my mind the Nazi’s would have won in the end with out British opposition.

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 19, 2013 3:02 pm

@RT & Martin – “Come the whole world against us and we shall shock them” – In the final analysis we won the War by declining to lose when common sense insisted that we already had – by looking for places to fight as opposed to places to run (whilst actively planning to fight on at sea from Canada if necessary) – by holding the line until first Russia and then the USA were forced more or less reluctantly into a War they would have preferred to avoid – and alongside our Canadian Brothers-in-arms taking three out of five D-Day Beaches, and providing much of the Naval and Air Cover on that remarkable day…

Not a bad epitaph for a small wet island with an adventurous spirit…and it’s inevitable offspring overseas…

February 19, 2013 5:05 pm


This is a game we can all play.

WW2 a war we could have stopped.
WW2 a war we could have won in 1939.
WW2 a war we should have been preparing for in 1937.
WW2 A war the economics of which are fascinating because all the available work on productive capacity, populations and economics are concerned, once jerry had failed to ‘bowl us out of the war in 1940, and invasion was never a serious threat, then he had lost the war.

The German quartermaster general was clear that you could not supply from Germany a line that would end up at the ural/volga line. Udel committed suicide partly because he could do the maths..

In fact our performance in combat in WW2 largley sucked (sorry mum, sorry grandad). Appart mostly from some over blown popskies private army dareing do. It took an Ok General – Monty, and serious numerical and logistic superirority before we started to win. Russia and the US won WW2. The US was already tooling up in 1938- 39 to fight Germany without us (designing bombers and ships for the job).

Most inportant battle ever fought by british troops- Hastings- or Waterloo.

February 19, 2013 5:46 pm

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t fought WW1. We would still probably building lots of lovely Dreadnoughts. Gosh, what a lovely thought.

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 19, 2013 6:10 pm

@IXION – A little puzzled, as I was referring to events that happened not those that didn’t – my point is that had we not refused to lose in the summer of 1940 despite our (admittedly lamentable) performance, the USSR would have struggled to survive the onslaught in 1941 in any recognisable form and whatever preparations the US were making their war would have been in the Pacific against Japan – they would not have been involved with Europe at all, because the Third Reich would have been pretty much unassailable…and we would have been pre-occupied with holding the Empire and would have absented ourselves from Europe for a generation.

The event that happened was that Britain and the Empire “held the line” for a year between June 1940 and June 1941…and did so in such a way that weakened Barbarossa, perhaps critically…and kept alive a European War that an East Coast and Eurocentric US Elite could join over the heads of the overwhelming majority of their own population…

And finally, I have no idea what would have happened if we had not done so beyond being quite clear that despite our sometimes overbearing Cousins might say, the British would not have been speaking German – that moment passed when Seelowe was abandoned.

However an outcome with most of Europe to the Volga speaking German, and most of the Pacific and much of China speaking Japanese could not be ruled out.

I am perfectly well aware that we could not have beaten the Axis without Soviet numbers and US logistics…but by October of 1940 Britain and the Empire had already prevailed in existential terms against them and their misguided Soviet collaborators…with the benefit of really quite limited and very expensive US support.

My point was that the War would have played out differently and probably rather worse for most of the world had we not held the line for that crucial year…

As to Military as opposed Political issues, all the powers involved performed badly some of the time – even the Wehrmacht – all of them got better – and in the end logistics, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness probably made more difference than soldiering.

February 19, 2013 6:16 pm

@X – I was once remonstrated with by a woman for suggesting that we should have sided with Germany in WW1, if only to finally wipe France off the map. Literally. “Oh no,” she said, “We couldn’t fight on the side of those horrible Germans!” I tried to point out that, at the time, the Germans were no more horrible than anyone else, German royal family, Saxon heritage, etc. But all to no avail. Sigh. What an opportunity missed.

Oh dear, am I being politically incorrect? They’re our staunch allies now, y’know.

@Ixion – the troops at Hastings were English, not British, and lots of foreigners at Waterloo. Had we lost at Waterloo I really don’t think it would have made much difference to Britain – back to business as usual, really. Blockade, swap the odd overseas possession, raid the ports, sink the odd French and/or Spanish fleet, bankroll foreign armies, exile Napoleon…

February 19, 2013 6:40 pm

@ Wise Ape

Um….what? I am still dreaming of all those Dreadnoughts…….

February 19, 2013 7:55 pm

I’d suggest that some of the battles on the Eastern front during the Napoleonic war were some of our greatest battles, as France was distracted repeatedly and bloodied without having to spill a single drop of British blood, Diplomacy and money being the weapons we brought to bear in those battles?

February 19, 2013 8:05 pm


Agreed wrt the strategic role of Waterloo, which was (so far as the battle itself goes) thoroughly overblown by the Victorians. It was fitting, since Napoleon had to be finished on land, that Wellington and the core of his Spanish veterans were in on the kill (and on that count, it would’ve been karmically more appropriate for the Austrians, rather than the Prussians, to provide the German contingent despite Blucher’s zeal.) But if that day had been lost it still would’ve slowed down the French advance, both the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian forces would have made fighting retreats to further attrit them, and the eastern Powers would’ve mobilized in a trice. (So perhaps what Waterloo did do, actually, was both unleash Prussian expansionism as the ex-Confederation of the Rhine was picked over at the Congress, and prevent a long-term Russian presence West of Poland to keep the French down?) On those grounds, as I think I said somewhere on the first page, Blenheim mattered more as a “strategic moment.” But the sentimental value of Waterloo, and its currency in the postwar talks (sticking at anti-French warfare the longest and claiming the kill) were both immense, out of proportion to the direct effect of the victory, or rather the cost if it had gone the other way.

February 19, 2013 8:08 pm


Of course — and you probably know this — most of the strategic debates and plans developed by the Royal Navy (not just by Fisher and his proteges but in general) during the ferment of the 1890s, later to be pointed at one-armed Billy and his very Prussian uniform fetish (“I like your naval officers”: I’m sure you do, Your Highness…), were developed to counter the French, especially the Jeune Ecole swarm-tactic plans to try and hobble the strategic artery through to the Canal.

February 19, 2013 11:01 pm

My grandmother died, aged ninety-nine and a half, six years ago but was still remarkably lucid remembering her experiences in WWII, and the general mood of the time also. Her recollection was that in summer 1940 most people assumed that the war was as good as over, the government would sue for peace – we’d lost but heigh-ho – in other words, it was thought the invasion fleet was more of a threat than a viable force.

It was only Churchill’s “We shall fight them on the beaches…” speech which made people sit up and think “…actually, we CAN win this.”

All Politicians are the Same
February 19, 2013 11:48 pm


Funnily enough my Grandad who sis till with us at the tender old age of 95 likes to say that people never even considered that we would lose. He worked in the dockyards up in Scotland and love to spin dits about the RN at the time but he continually says that the people he knew never considered defeat a possibility.
Mind you he was probably talking about people like his Brother who was flying Mossies and his Dad and Uncle who had both fought through the entirety of WW1 and were disgusted that they were not allowed to sign on again and kill more Jerries. Having to console themselves with being in the local home guard which bore little resemblance to dads army being full of 40 something veterans of WW1, mostly in various battalions of the Royal Scots who had seen action at Gallipioli and on the Western front and could still make a Lee Enfield do an impression of a machine gun :)

Brian Black
February 21, 2013 10:09 am

For their strategic impact at the time and their historical legacy, Plassey (1757) and Quiberon Bay (1759).
British dominance in India, and the region, could be said to begin with Plassey. And the naval battle of Quiberon Bay (French Atlantic coast) cut off New France and effectively established Britain’s dominance in North America.
For all the quibling about battles with Hitler, Britain entered the two world wars as an imperial superpower – but this position was built upon the outcome of battles fought during the Seven Years War (the other First World War). Without the Empire, Britain’s role in the wars of the early 20th century would have been very different indeed.

February 21, 2013 10:15 am

Heres a random thought:-

1) How about Salamanca or one of the other battles ion spain- they taught us that a british army (including a shedload of Irish, Portugese, and spanish could beat the Napolionic french in a land battle…

2) Blenheim, has to be a contender, Its a bit difficult really becsue we so often fought with allies on actaul battle fields, not just in joint campaigns.

3) Chris B has a point about Eastern battles in several campaigns. We have tended to join land campaigns after an awfull lot of other peoples blood has been spilt. (2/3rds of Germanies weakened forces in 1944 were committed to the Russian front at the time of Normandy).

4) How about Amiens August 1918.

5) Either that we start talking about Clive in India…

6) My money for what it’s worth is on Quebec.

Just random thoughts.

February 21, 2013 10:15 am

one further suggestion


Gloomy Northern Boy
February 21, 2013 4:52 pm

@IXION – My first effort included Blenheim, Plassey, Quebec, and 1918 (for which read Amiens) – but I preferred Mons to the Marne…however I started with the Boyne because it finally finished the Civil Wars in favour of representative as opposed to monarchical Government…

I also included Waterloo, Siege of Delhi, Dunkirk and El Alamein.

My emphasis as you will see was on critical turning points which had both military and political traction…

February 21, 2013 5:55 pm

You get a house point for Civil Wars… :)

……but loose it for saying representative. Sorry. :(

The Civil Wars were about the Middle Class finally deposing the Ruling/Upper Class as the power in society. Nothing about equality. Any ideas about expanding suffrage or equality were soon snuffed out. All the Common Man did during the Civil Wars was die for his betters.

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 21, 2013 6:51 pm

@X – I used the term “representative” as opposed to “democratic” advisedly. The Parliamentary class had embraced Cromwell’s “plain russet-coated Captains” for at least a hundred years before the Civil War broke out; they dominated the Commons, and worked with the aristocracy in the Lords – and the processes of change leading to that could be traced back to the Fifteenth Century Parliaments of Edward IV. The war was a fundamental disagreement between two parties both comprising Gentlemen-Farmers, Gentry and Noblemen – one of which asserted the primacy of the Crown absolutely, the other of which asserted the primacy of the Crown (only) in Parliament – and who also disagreed pretty fundamentally about matters of religious conscience. The most notable Peer on the Parliamentary strength was obviously the Earl of Essex, but he was one of a group of 25 (a pretty significant number within the Lords at that time).

What was secured at the Boyne was the triumph of that group, and the right of all the classes they were drawn from to be represented – the Peers directly in the lords, the Gentry by electing some from amongst their number to sit as MPs in the Commons; and thus it continued until 1832 when rather more of you were admitted to the franchise.

As to democratic ideas, although widely advanced by the Diggers and Levellers and widely rehearsed at the Putney Debates, they were indeed crushed by Cromwell and his faction after a series of Mutinies between 1647 and 1649…

Democratic, clearly not…representative of a coalition of classes from the Peers down to the “middling sort” certainly yes.

Be a bit of a surprise to Whig Oligarchs throughout the eighteenth century and Tory Peers up to and including the Earl of Derby (died 1896, PM three times)to learn that they were deposed quite that early as well..!

February 21, 2013 6:52 pm


Well you would say that being Middle Class… ;)

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 21, 2013 7:03 pm

@X …worse…I read History at University here and in the USA…

February 21, 2013 7:12 pm


Um. But at least they spell History in the same way. :)

EDIT: I note you are not denying being Middle Class which means you will be one of the first up against the wall when the revolution comes. That is if the People’s Council can agree a price with BAE about building the wall….

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 21, 2013 7:28 pm

@X – Northern Grammar School Boy from a long line of the same – and the family had sufficient property to vote before the Great Reform Act…classic background for a Leveller, Jacobin, Bolshevik or Maoist Ring-leader in fact…and I know a “Salt of the Earth Builder Chap” who does walls…so just watch your step you revisionist swine!

February 21, 2013 7:37 pm

@ GNB said “revisionist swine”

Google “ann hughes” and “english civil war”. She once called me a “revisionist” too. :)

February 21, 2013 7:39 pm

Agree with APATS and RT about BoB and Seeloewe. It doesn’t change the fact that the latter was a massive faint. And as bad as the campaign in Greece was, the mentioned 5 or 6 weeks made Germans late for Moscow. And that battle’s outcome was determined the day before Hitler invaded Poland. Namely Zhukov surrounding the invading Japanese and then routing them to the last man. Japan looked South, not North, and only thus was the decisive counter-offensive possible with the Siberian army deployed at the gates of Moscow while Stalin ‘s evacuation train was warming up…the rest is history.
– but I guess we can’t simply name ‘decisive to be ‘greatest’ just like that?

Gloomy Northern Boy
February 21, 2013 7:46 pm

@X – On the Civil Wars, or another subject? Actually, is there another subject?

February 21, 2013 7:50 pm


On the Civil Wars. She isn’t that tall so I wasn’t too scared even and I call always have made a break for it using the exit at the top of the lecture theatre. Giving the title professor to somebody turns them into monsters. True. :)

EDIT: Um. But I was scared enough to avoid Early Modern modules………

February 21, 2013 8:39 pm
John Hartley
February 21, 2013 10:39 pm

Well I fear a WW1 style war by accident around 2017 ( a decade after the start of the credit crunch).

February 21, 2013 10:58 pm

Blenheim has got to be up there somewhere, but perhaps that is because i have a fondness for Marlborough.

February 21, 2013 11:49 pm

Not sure really where to post this and I am sure that TD community has seen but just in case:-

See, Facebook is good for something ……

It seems that the public’s view of the military (at least the common soldier/sailor/air …ahem person/Marine) is not too bad.

Apologies for posting out of topic.

February 22, 2013 10:46 am


Sorry In fact I did not realise the ‘rules’ allowed for the civil war battles.

IT HAS to be Marston Moor or Naseby

The first was the first really big pitched battle the parliamentarians won, the second the one that in effect broke the royalist army.

(BTW I know you know this, not trying to teach grandma to suck eggs),