Did the US really save Britain's arse in WWII?

Note: My knowledge of WWII history is fuzzy, so please help to combat my ignorance.

Poland: Overrun. France: Surrendered. Italy: Wimps.

But Britain never surrendered. Is that really due so much to their alliance with the US? I mean, the Germans were bombing British civilians. People were living with that kind of fear, and many of them didn’t live with it very long. Plus, Britain is an island, and they knew the Germans wouldn’t be able to simply push over a border to get to them. So did they really need us that much?

With Britain, you must look at the integrity of the shipping and its ability to keep the home fires burning. Unrestricted German U-Boat warfare reduced British shipping to crude convoys, always under attack from the wolfpacks the Nazis had surrounding Great Britain. The Brits could sink the Bismarck, but killing U-Boats was another matter and more complex.

Second, who did the UK have to trade with? Nobody else was friendly to the Brits, and as their colonies were falling to Imperial Japan (in the Orient) and the Afrikakorps (in North Africa). That leaves the US, and the US had the Lend-Lease program officially, with unofficial practices such as sending experienced pilots along with aircraft to train the RAF and Americans heading to Canada to join up under false pretenses. That makes the US an ally of the Brits in my book, both officially and on the sly, and with Roosevelt in office we would have entered the war on the side of the Brits one way or another. If the Japanese hadn’t obliged us at Pearl, I’m sure we could have found a U-Boat to sink one of our own in the North Sea.

So the UK depended on the US even before the US was in the war, and the UK certainly benefitted from our industrial might and trained soldiers after '41.

Meaning in no way to diminish Britain’s heroic efforts in WWII, I think the answer is that Britain would have fallen without American help. Starting with Lend-Lease and other material support before the U.S. joined the war, we provided the tools for Britain to defend itself. Further, I don’t think Britain had the resources to take the offensive agianst Germany. I suppose that an argument could be made that the British could have held out until Soviet strength made itself felt, but even the Soviets relied heavily on U.S.-provided supplies.

The British most likely would have never surrendered, even if the US hadn’t backed them. Like the Japanese, the British hadn’t been invaded for hundreds of years. So if the US had stayed out of the fight, and the Germans had managed to land troops on British soil, the Nazi’s would have had a very rough time of things, unless they had dropped an atomic bomb on London, the Brits no doubt would have fought the Germans in a manner similar to IRA in Northern Ireland.

Of course, there was no way that the US would have stayed out of that war. Too many Americans have English ancestry for that to happen, and if footage had gotten out showing the Nazi flag being flown from the Parliment building, the US would have had no trouble mobilizing her forces to go to war.

Yes, but Britain saved the U.S.'s ass in World War III.

Your knowledge must be REALLY fuzzy if you think Italy’s wimpiness is relevant to this question. Italy was Germany’s ally.

I’m not going to provide a cite right now, but I’ve read several times that Winston Churchill had related that winning or losing the Battle of the Atlantic (i.e., being able to get supplies and war materials from the U.S. past the Nazi submarines) was the only aspect of the war that truly scared him. I think he thought U.S. participation was vital.

Not that the Brits were easy pickings; Germany would have paid a bloody price to even purchase beachheads. But Britain was effectively cut off from almost everywhere except North America.

And I wouldn’t say saved Britain’s ass (I’m American), either. I’d say we came up with a hose for our neighbor to fight his house fire.

Oh, had the Nazis ever invaded the UK, they would have faced a task more daunting than the French in French Indochina or the Soviets in Afghanistan. The Nazis would have subverted all official systems to their own ends (all that didn’t self-destruct), but I don’t think they would even have been able to take Churchill alive.

It might make for an interesting alternate history, but I doubt its likelyhood. Roosevelt was an immensely popular president who could have overridden the America of the time’s systemic Fascism to help the British. When a powerhouse like Roosevelt’s Administration decides to go to war, a country ends up at war.

But Tuckerfan, I don’t think IRA tactics would work that well against SS Stormtroopers. Look at what happened after the assassination of Heydrich. The SS exterminated hundreds of innocent people in retaliation. How could IRA style terrorists function if their families are murdered rounded up and killed?

Fighting to the last man is all very well, but I imagine that the Germans would have been only too happy to oblige.

Well, the British operations would have been more sophisticated than what the IRA has done. The British were planning on what to do if the Germans ever invaded. The Germans might have been happy to round up the families of terrorists, but they wouldn’t have had an easy time with it, not with every man, woman, and child in Britian out for German blood. Besides, the Germans found out after a while, that soldiers ordered to execute women and children don’t function very well after a while. (One of the reasons why the Germans switched to the “industrial” method of killing Jews in the concentration camps.)

Faced with the British and the Soviets, both fighting to the death, would have undermined the Germans sooner or later. Most likely, the Soviets would have rolled westward and taken much more than just Eastern Europe.

Actually, if any single nation can be most credited with causing the end of Nazi Germany, it would have to be the USSR, based on their policy of gladly sending wave after wave of men into suicidal attacks.



D’oh! I should have clarified that a little more. I know Italy was allied with Germany. What I meant was, (and again, my impression) that Italy was wimpish compared to Germany, and wouldn’t have been a worthy opponent if they’d decided to be an opponent. Somewhere along the line, German soldiers started making snide remarks about Italian soldiers moving their insignia to the backs of their uniforms because they were retreating so much. My point was that none of those three countries were anything to scare the Nazis.


That’s what I was thinking: not that we didn’t do anything for Britain, but rather that some people were overestimating the value of our contribution.

In all fairness, it is probably correct to say that the U.S.'s support was the trump that ensured Britain’s survival. Without their support, it is probable (but perhaps not certain) that Britain would have fallen.

It’s important not to forget that a lot of Africa, strategic locations in the Mediterranean (including Malta, which became one of the most important bases for undermining Axis control of Africa and the Med.), India and much of the Middle East was still under British/Allied control, and was never conquered by the Axis. Australia and Canada had more than enough natural resources, although insufficient industry, to support the British Empire’s war effort. Britain still had two South Pacific fleets at the end of 1941 (although with only a few modern capital ships), so it’s not like they were yet on their last legs. Australian, Dutch and British ships supported the USN in the Pacific throughout the entire war (even providing naval bombardment to aid U.S. Marine landings, such as Iwo Jima).

The Axis forces made enough strategic mistakes that victory was by no means guarenteed even without the U.S.'s participation. Germany turning on Russia, the Italian Navy failing to neutralize British Mediterranean bases, Axis forces in Africa failing to take Somaliland, the Suez, the Sudan and Kenya, and the Luftwaffe’s inability to finish off the RAF in the Battle of Britain all conspired to make Axis victory less certain.

Regardless of whether or not the U.S.'s support made the difference between victory and defeat, there is no question that it shortened the war by years, and saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives. And given the devastation and collapse of the British Empire in the aftermath of a shorter WWII, perhaps it is safe to say that the U.S. saved Britain regardless of whether you believe Britain could have taken the battlefield without them.

I’m no historian, but it seems to me that the cooperationamong the Allies in breaking the Enigma code was important.

What if Hitler had NOT attacked the USSR? Stalin was busy with his own slaughters, and probably would not have minded Adolph’s.

If Hitler had concentrated his offensive on GB, I have no doubt that it would have fallen rather quickly. The only reason that it lasted until 1941 was the US supply of simply everything - weapons, ammo, oil, even fabric and food - remember, GB is a rather barren island, and once cut off from the continent, had no source for much of anything - had the US actually maintained neutrality (and there was a bit of anti-war sentiment in the US at the time) GB would have been overrun.

“Fighting to the last man” may sound heroic, but:

  1. You can’t stop a Pantzer with a farm implement.
  2. Guns are of little use if you have no ammo.

But Hitler did attack the USSR. It seems to me that when the air war in Britain wasn’t as successful as he hoped, Hitler lost interest in the west. His original aim was always to expand in the east. Read Mein Kampf.

As far as the question is concerned. US logistic support was essential and so was help in combatting the U boats. As far as the land war was concerned, it seems to me that the German Army was essentially destroyed in the east. I can’t find a cite right now, but several years ago the Los Angeles Times ran a breakdown of German casualties and 2/3 of them were on the eastern front.

The Brits had a relatively simple and painless alternative to fighting - signing a truce with Germany and remaining a neutral in the German-USSR conflict. It was E Europe Hitler wanted.

The reason Churchill is revered is that he refused to consider this and concentrated on convincing/shaming/whatever the US into joining in and tilting the balance.

The allies couldn’t have defeated Hitler without the US, but it’s not strictly true to say the US “saved” Britain. It’s true to say the US (UK, Canada, etc) “saved” occupied W Europe from Nazism.

The “could the Nazis have invaded Britain” scenario has been debated to death over on the newsgroup soc.history.what-if, as well as sci.military.naval and a few million more.

Its generally agreed upon that the Germans could not have staged an effective invasion of the UK given a “point of departure” (from the historical outcome) later than 1938. The Germans really had no clue whatsoever about how to do a cross-channel invasion, and the plans they cooked up for Sealion were just utterly insane.

Now, what’s much more likely is that the German U-Boats strangle the supply lines to the UK. Everyone gets very hungry, they look at Winston, realize he’s got a few pounds on him, eat him, and then sign a humiliating peace with the Nazis.

So why didn’t they sign? I’m not sure I disagree with Churchill.

This is where I’m coming from. I’ve read quite a lot about the Third Reich. Not about the Holocaust. Not about the war and military strategy. Just Hitler and the Party. Based on this, I believe that it was necessary for as many people as possible to oppose Hitler. The fact that he “only” wanted Eastern Europe would still not have served Britain well. Churchill may have been thinking Germany = bad and Germany swallowing up most of the continent = very, very bad indeed.


That sounds pretty right.

There is no doubt that the USA saved the rest of the world, let alone Britain, in WW2. Britain was broke by mid 1941 and could not afford to buy any weapons, food or other resources. Without Lend Lease, even Churchill would have been forced to make peace with Germany. You can’t fight a war if you have no weapons.

Lend Lease made US resources available to the UK. In 1941 US destroyers were escorting convoys in the Atlantic and attacking German U-boats. IIRC a US destroyer was sunk by a U-boat. My WAG is that Roosevelt would rather pay Britain to fight the war than actually get involved. I reckon he thought that the Japanese would back down and the US would watch from the sidelines as the UK & USSR ground down Germany between them.

Japan, by attacking instead of backing down, got the US into the war and made the war shorter. Shorter? You ask. How? Easy, the USA turned itself from a peacetime to a wartime economy, putting all of its resources into fighting a war rather than just some, and making US manpower available. As an active ally and the largest, the US could now direct the war rather than let Britain do it its own way. As an ally, the US had the industrial resources to build liberty ships, to supply tanks, trucks, transport (especially) and combat aircraft to all of its allies. It also had the scientific resources to develop the later, more complex radars (major radar inventions were invented in Britain) and to build the A-bomb (with a lot of British physicists). Britain could do all of these, but not together and on the scale to fight a war.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the key campaign but it was badly managed by the UK. Too many long range aircraft went to Bomber Command, where they dropped bombs on Germany, usually missing anything worth bombing, not enough to Coastal Command where, even if the aircraft never saw a U-boat, being seen by a U-boat kept it (the U-boat) underwater and unable to attack a convoy. Generally speaking, not enough resources were put into winning the Battle of the Atlantic, which is why it took until 1943. For all Churchill’s comments, he bears responsibility for not overriding the “bomber barons” and ensuring resources were correctly allocated.

And a final point. Convoys were vital. Unescorted ships are easy targets. Sticking them in a convoy, they act as live bait, drawing the U-boats towards the escorts who are the best equipped ships for dealing with them. Convoys sank U-boats. U-boats sank unescorted ships.