By Peter Salcombe of Oxfordshire Home Guard

IN May and June 1940, in spite of the fear of imminent invasion, there was little chance it would happen.

In order to cross the Channel, the German army would have had to rely on sea-going barges and boats of all sorts: bringing these together alone would take time.

Added to that, it was imperative to invade in the summer, as storms in the channel over winter would have made it far too risky: July, August or possibly September were the likely dates.

The first problem for the Germans was that there were just not enough transports available: this would force Hitler to reduce the number of landings, making success more difficult.

The next problem was the Royal Navy: Britain had one of the world's most powerful fleets, and if British warships had got in amongst the transports, the losses would have been horrendous.

To prevent this, the invasion area would have been protected by mines, U boats, warships and aircraft. Perhaps most important was control of the air over the landing grounds.

The victory of the RAF in the Battle of Britain showed any invasion would be impossible and ended the threat.

But what if the Luftwaffe had succeeded?

During the summer of 1940, British industry had done an amazing job of turning to the production of weapons and equipment for the regular forces – they still had a way to go, but they were getting there.

Even the Home Guard were now receiving weapons from the United States – perhaps only one rifle between three men, but there were Molotov petrol bombs and a variety of other homemade weapons as well.

The months had also been well spent in the construction of defences: across the country, anti-tank ditches had been dug, concrete pillboxes constructed, strong points prepared.

The Home Guard's job was simple: as well as sending information, they were to hold up the enemy as long as possible.

It may sound a ridiculous idea to pit poorly-armed civilians against the best trained and equipped army in the world, but they were never expected to win, only delay.

Every town, every village, every river crossing, every road junction would be defended: the Home Guard were everywhere, including Bicester.

In total they numbered more than a million-and-a-half. Nor were they untrained civilians: many of these men were old soldiers from the Great War – they knew how to shoot and they knew how to fight.

In many cases, they would be more experienced than the men they were going to face.

Instead of breaking through the British lines as they had done in France, the German army would have had to fight for every mile of road.

A Home Guard unit might only hold them up for half an hour, but just down the road would be another unit and behind them another, for mile after mile.

The survivors of each beaten unit would join up with the next, and so on. German casualties would gradually mount, valuable vehicles would be lost or damaged, and meanwhile all German replacements would have to come across the Channel.

Eventually, the regular British army would counter attack, with members of the Home Guard units acting as local guides.

Who would have won?

Who can say? But there is a suggestion that the sheer numbers of the Home Guard were one of the reasons that Hitler, who was already planning the invasion of Russia, decided not to invade.

He simply could not afford to have his army bogged down in a long war in Britain or the losses that the RAF would have inflicted on the Luftwaffe.

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