Plans for the British Royal Family in the Event of a German Invasion (WWII)

What were the plans for the King, Queen, and the immediate Royal Family in the event of a German Invasion in 1940 (ca)?

Were they to be evacuated? If so, to where?

A rather cursory search I did suggest that there may have been a plan called the “Coates Mission” for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret (apparently they were to go to Canada).

Does anybody have any more info?

Thanks in advance!

Presumably they would have been evacuated by Royal Navy ships, probably with the Princesses on a different ship than the King. Most likely destination would have been Canada, with Gibralter as a possibility. But I don’t think there was ever any public discussion of any such plans. It would have sounded defeatist for the government to have announced plans for the Royal Family to run away, when the rest of the British population had no such option.

Note that the Duke of Windsor was sent to the Bahamas as Governor during WWII. People have suggested that one purpose of this was to have a member of the Royal family in a safe location, as a failsafe if the Germans did happen to overrun England and kill all the Royal Family (or a lucky bomb happened to do so). But others have suggested that this was done to get him out of the way, because his rather pro-german sentiments were becoming embarrassing to the British government at the time. It seems possible that both reasons played a part in this decision.

It’s not that much of a help, but I remember hearing when the Queen Mother died that her popularity among the British people was partly due to her refusal to be evacuated to Canada when London was bombed by German V2 missiles. She was quoted as saying, as a reply to proposals to evacuate her children, that her children would not leave without her, she would not leave without the King, and the King would not leave under any circumstances.

What would have happened in the event of an actual invasion is a different question, though; those quotations might have been part of war rhetorics; leaking out actual plans to evacuate the Royal Family would most likely have been regarding as defeatism.

The Duke of Windsor (the former Edward VIII) had already abdicated by then. This involved renouncing the throne for himself and any descendants. Although admittedly in the event of an invasion that decision might have been reversible.

The real reason for moving the Duke to the Bahamas was undoubtedly his pro-German sentiments, and particularly those of the Duchess, who had links with the German Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop.

Also, the line of succession to the throne contains hundreds of names, many of whom were already based outside the UK. There was no need to hold the Duke in reserve.

However, if you got far enough down the list, you reach German citizens, descended from Victoria, Princess Royal (Queen Victoria’s oldest child), and her oldest son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor. It would have be embarrassing, to say the least, if one of them had become monarch during the period 1939-1945.

IIRC, there were plans to evacuate the King, the Queen and the two princesses to Canada by Royal Navy warships. As t-bonham noted, this was kept very quiet so as not to hurt morale. Not sure whether George VI would have agreed to leave, or whether he would have insisted on remaining “at his post.” It would have been a dicey decision. Some monarchs who stayed in their countries after German invasion were seen as collaborating or lending legitimacy to the Nazis by doing so (Holland, maybe? Belgium?), and some who left were derided for running away. Dunno. Sometimes you just can’t win when you wear a crown.

Two related hijacks: A few years back my mom got teary when she heard a recording of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret’s radio message to displaced British children. She remembered it clearly from when she was little, especially Elizabeth’s prompting at the end: “Say goodnight, Margaret.”

In Len Deighton’s chilling alternative-history novel SS-GB, the King was captured by the Nazis after Operation Sea Lion and imprisoned in the Tower of London, but the Queen and the two princesses escaped to Canada, where they established a court in exile.

True, but in reality a British Government in exile would simply have passed whatever laws were necessary to transfer the crown to the first in line who was outside Nazi jurisdiction, and not German. It’s not as if there was no precedent. When George I became king in 1714 he was 58th in line, but the first 57 had been disqualified by the Government because they were Catholics.

Not that I’d rank this much higher than speculation, but in his book The Third World War, August 1985 author John Hackett, a British General, fought a war based on NATO scenarios.

One of the scenarios had Great Britain in danger. The Queen refused to leave, Prince Charles went to Canada, and other royals went to Australia.

Um . . . not really.

That was the plan, but the princesses were killed in carrying it out.

That and the King also had two younger brothers (one was killed in the war, the Duke of Kent), and a younger sister. And THEY also had children.

Most likely the royal family would have stayed in London at least up to the point of an actual invasion. If it looked like London might fall, they would have moved to a safer part of the UK like Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Evacuating them to Canada would have only been considered as a last resort if it looked like the Germans were going to take all of the British Isles.

I’ve read that the Germans anticipated the royal family remianing in London for at least the early days following an invasion. The Germans planned to drop a commando unit by glider directly on Buckingham Palace to capture the royal family during an invasion.

Interesting, but surely it would have been suicidal. I mean there must have been a permanently on-site, very high quality Royal guard. And they would have fought bravely. In addition, there must have been a way to quickly get the Royal Family into a secure bunker, or basement, or whatever at the moment the first warning was sounded.

BTW, how was the commando team to have evacuated themselves and the Royals from the palace and London, and thence to the German beach head?

Sounds like this plan would have been a German version of The Dirty Dozen.

As I recall (and admittedly it’s been years since I read this) the royal family actually had relatively limited protection - Buckingham Palace was guarded by a few dozen policemen. The German plan was to land a company or so of soldiers directly on the palace grounds and seize the palace by a coup de main. Then having seized the royal family, they planned on essentially holing up inside the palace (parts of which are relatively well fortified) until the German forces that were landing at the beaches occupied London (which was expected to be a matter of days). The assumption was that the presense of the royal family as hostages and the distraction of the German invasion forces would prevent the British from being able to use the kind of force necessary to successfully storm the palace.

Very interesting! Thanks.

Your spoiler is not how I recall it. IIRC, Det. Archer’s assured near the end of the book that the Queen and the two princesses have made it to safety. Now I’ll have to dig out my copy…

Yes, but, given that Hitler always saw the possibility of a Hohenzollern revival as a threat, that would have been no less embarrassing for him. And, just to complicate things further, although Prince Friedrich-Wilhelm, Wilhelm II’s son and the Hohenzollern claimant from 1941, was a Nazi, his son and heir, Prince Louis-Ferdinand, had impeccable anti-Nazi credentials and became tangentially involved in the aristocratic plotting against Hitler.

It is the Dutch Royal Family that provides the most interesting parallel, as, having taken refuge in Britain, Queen Wilhelmina stayed in London, but the heir to the throne, Princess Juliana, and her children later went on to Canada. In other words, this is similar to the arrangement that seems at least to have been considered for Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. It would also be rather absurd to claim in the case of the Dutch royals that they were ‘derided for running away’; Wilhelmina, the little old lady as the symbol of Dutch national identity enduring in exile, was hugely popular, a fact that continues to benefit the Dutch monarchy to this day.

(On the other hand, the King of Belgium, Leopold III, did surrender to the Germans, a fact that long complicated things for the post-war Belgian monarchy.)

What happened to the Danish royal family?

Good question.

Or the Belgian Royals, for that matter.

The Occupation of Denmark was very unique. Since the Danes surrendered after only a few hours of resistance and the Germans viewed them as fellow Aryans and trusted them to look after their own domestic affairs. Denmark maintained self-government (including holding a general election) until 1943. There are apocryphal tales of Christian X parading around wearing a yellow star or removing Nazi flags from government buildings.