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The Us And The Destruction Of The British Empire


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#21 Redbeard

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1258 PM

Until WWII the main theme of British foreign politics, directly or indirectly, was expanding or defending the Empire.

 

At some time during WWII, starting with the fall of France in 1940 and completed with the fall of Singapore and Tobruk in 1942, it changed into a global fight against Nazism/Facism (and later Communism), but where Britain only played a secondary role. 

 

In this fight in  you could say that Britain de facto sacrificed her Empire in a process where USA was most "helpful". 

 

If Britain should have pursued an Imperial policy she should have made peace with Hitler in 1940 - ie Hitler get Europe, but we keep the Empire   - that would have been quite like what Britain did with Napoleon, when he was strongest, but Churchill and nobody really believing Hitler anymore prevented that. Churchill at that time probably hadn't thought about sacrificing the Empire, but British military disasters in 1941 and 1942 set the path.

 

It started with the failure to throw the Axis out of North Africa in 1941, which kept Italy in the war and prevented the Med as being the lifeline to SEA and India. As long as Singapore was on British hands you would still have good options for defending the European positions in SEA and thereafter taking the offensive vs. Japan, but that was of course changed by Singapores humiliating fall in Feburary 1942 and just to ram home the point - the fall of Tobruk a few weeks later. 

 

After this Britain really didn't have any realistic option for pursuing her own interests any longer, but had to rely more and more on persuading USA to be as pro-British as possible. Inside the context of fighting the Axis USA was as altruistic as can be expected of a Great/coming Super Power, and probably was served well by British strategic advice (Alanbrooke is IMHO is among the most important persons in recent human history), but USA had never promised to save the Empire - but probably made it a little easier for the British to give up, as they could expect a close relative to take over. Better let the Americans take over than the French, Germans or Russians!

 

If someone hadn't understood it in 1945 it was all made clear in 1956, when Britain and France tried to defend their overseas interests by preventing Nasser from taking control over the Suez canal - and used pulled away the carpet under the British and French.

 

The British officially gave up anything east of Suez and soon after also her African colonies. Nasser didn't really become a friend of America - to put it mildly - and in the decades after the Americans for serious started to pay for taking over global leadership - WWII was only the starting fee. 

 

At the end of the day I find it difficult to defend colonial Empires, but a historian like Nial Fergusson IMHO has a point when claiming that colonialism, especially in Africa, probably was abolished some decades too early, Where the British stayed for longest and most intense, like India and Malaya, they left a pretty substantial infrastructure and the former colonies had a decent chance of taking care of themselves. In contrast Africa was left with little more than sergents in the former colonial armies elevating themselves to rulers after 1960.

 

Nothing could have saved the Empires by 1956 (India was gone already BTW), and even if Hitler had bogged down in 1940 and "been taken care of" it would have taken substantial political reforms to keep them together and transform into some kind of Commonwealth - but they would have had intact economical ties - which if continued and not broken - would have made the world look very much different today. 


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#22 Ken Estes

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1300 PM

It should be remembered that the USA, at the table with the Treaty of Versailles and later, assisted in the break up of the empires of central Europe, and the Ottoman Empire, but left in place the far eastern empires of France and the Netherlands.  That didn't sit well with the Indochinese, who expected, in the same way that Yugoslavia was formed out of a motley collection of sub states, that a united Vietnam would be formed.  Then again the USA provided support, at least in word, to Ho Chi Min in the fight against the Japanese, only to find betrayal when the USA consented to the French resuming control in Indochina from late 1945.

 

It is apparent that a fear of communism was more important than anti-colonialism in the far east.

 

Indonesia, and the way that it was allowed to simply subsume West Papua / Irian jaya and East Timor is another aspect worth considering.

 

Not so fast,Doug. The US did not ratify the Versailles or the other treaties. The US Congress signed its own resolutions in 1921 formally ending hostilities with Germany and A-H.


Edited by Ken Estes, 14 July 2019 - 1331 PM.

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#23 Ken Estes

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1302 PM

 

Also a bit hard to say that the US actually had an empire. We had the Philippines but that was in the way out as well.

Plus the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii, IIRC?   

 

 

 

+ Guam, Panama Canal Zone


Edited by Ken Estes, 14 July 2019 - 1302 PM.

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#24 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1329 PM

Re Redbeard's excellent post (which I'm only not quoting because of length), I still think it's surprising that Britain didn't negotiate peace in 1940, since their strategic options were so limited and most people didn't understand at the time that Germany was run by a genocidal death cult. Thank God that Churchill was such a weird guy...


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#25 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1349 PM

I largely agree with Redbeard, except I think the point when we became dependent on US intervention was much earlier. If say June 1940. Yes, Churchill was THAT forward thinking. And yes, we were THAT badly off.

I don't believe the Americans killed the Empire. Kicked it when it was down? Yes. And it was boneheaded not to realise (for 2 decades!) that when it and the French one retreated, the US would need to step in. It's the schism in America's Empire. They don't want it, they even refuse to recognise it s an Empire.Which is why they are losing it.

Just wait till China gets it.
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#26 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1352 PM

Re Redbeard's excellent post (which I'm only not quoting because of length), I still think it's surprising that Britain didn't negotiate peace in 1940, since their strategic options were so limited and most people didn't understand at the time that Germany was run by a genocidal death cult. Thank God that Churchill was such a weird guy...


I think Churchill had Hitler weighed up. Personally, whilst there was concern, there was no way we could throw in the towel. You can never negotiate when you are losing.
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#27 RETAC21

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1354 PM

Until WWII the main theme of British foreign politics, directly or indirectly, was expanding or defending the Empire.

 

At some time during WWII, starting with the fall of France in 1940 and completed with the fall of Singapore and Tobruk in 1942, it changed into a global fight against Nazism/Facism (and later Communism), but where Britain only played a secondary role. 

 

In this fight in  you could say that Britain de facto sacrificed her Empire in a process where USA was most "helpful". 

 

If Britain should have pursued an Imperial policy she should have made peace with Hitler in 1940 - ie Hitler get Europe, but we keep the Empire   - that would have been quite like what Britain did with Napoleon, when he was strongest, but Churchill and nobody really believing Hitler anymore prevented that. Churchill at that time probably hadn't thought about sacrificing the Empire, but British military disasters in 1941 and 1942 set the path.

 

It started with the failure to throw the Axis out of North Africa in 1941, which kept Italy in the war and prevented the Med as being the lifeline to SEA and India. As long as Singapore was on British hands you would still have good options for defending the European positions in SEA and thereafter taking the offensive vs. Japan, but that was of course changed by Singapores humiliating fall in Feburary 1942 and just to ram home the point - the fall of Tobruk a few weeks later. 

 

After this Britain really didn't have any realistic option for pursuing her own interests any longer, but had to rely more and more on persuading USA to be as pro-British as possible. Inside the context of fighting the Axis USA was as altruistic as can be expected of a Great/coming Super Power, and probably was served well by British strategic advice (Alanbrooke is IMHO is among the most important persons in recent human history), but USA had never promised to save the Empire - but probably made it a little easier for the British to give up, as they could expect a close relative to take over. Better let the Americans take over than the French, Germans or Russians!

 

If someone hadn't understood it in 1945 it was all made clear in 1956, when Britain and France tried to defend their overseas interests by preventing Nasser from taking control over the Suez canal - and used pulled away the carpet under the British and French.

 

The British officially gave up anything east of Suez and soon after also her African colonies. Nasser didn't really become a friend of America - to put it mildly - and in the decades after the Americans for serious started to pay for taking over global leadership - WWII was only the starting fee. 

 

At the end of the day I find it difficult to defend colonial Empires, but a historian like Nial Fergusson IMHO has a point when claiming that colonialism, especially in Africa, probably was abolished some decades too early, Where the British stayed for longest and most intense, like India and Malaya, they left a pretty substantial infrastructure and the former colonies had a decent chance of taking care of themselves. In contrast Africa was left with little more than sergents in the former colonial armies elevating themselves to rulers after 1960.

 

Nothing could have saved the Empires by 1956 (India was gone already BTW), and even if Hitler had bogged down in 1940 and "been taken care of" it would have taken substantial political reforms to keep them together and transform into some kind of Commonwealth - but they would have had intact economical ties - which if continued and not broken - would have made the world look very much different today. 

 

I don't quite agree, while the British empire could be seen to be at its maximum in the 1920s it was already breaking at the seams, as Indian nationalism clued up that armed rebellions weren't going to work but continuous conflict would.

 

Ireland was the first piece that broke away because England (which was the heart of the empire) was bled by WW1, but India's position was already recognised as non sustainable.

 

The add ins of WW1 were more porblematic than it was worth with Iraq rebelling and Palestine being a continuous thorn.

 

Japan accelerated things in the Far East, but without India, the remaining colonies were not worth a war after a World War. That does away with the value of Egypt and the most valuable colonies in Africa are already semi-independent so leaving Kenya, Nigeria, etc. is not that hard. Economic decline vs the US eventually reduced the dependency on the motherland of the "white" colonies, and that only left a few islands, etc.


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#28 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1401 PM

They were trying to figure how to give India Dominion status as early as the mid 30s. They demurred, partly for reasons that became self evident in partition. There were no good options.
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#29 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1403 PM

 

Re Redbeard's excellent post (which I'm only not quoting because of length), I still think it's surprising that Britain didn't negotiate peace in 1940, since their strategic options were so limited and most people didn't understand at the time that Germany was run by a genocidal death cult. Thank God that Churchill was such a weird guy...


I think Churchill had Hitler weighed up. Personally, whilst there was concern, there was no way we could throw in the towel. You can never negotiate when you are losing.

 

 

IMHO it was just Churchill being an ornery drunken asshole. (The fact that he was, saved Western civilization, but still).


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#30 Redbeard

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1411 PM

Until WWII the main theme of British foreign politics, directly or indirectly, was expanding or defending the Empire.

 

At some time during WWII, starting with the fall of France in 1940 and completed with the fall of Singapore and Tobruk in 1942, it changed into a global fight against Nazism/Facism (and later Communism), but where Britain only played a secondary role. 

 

In this fight in  you could say that Britain de facto sacrificed her Empire in a process where USA was most "helpful". 

 

If Britain should have pursued an Imperial policy she should have made peace with Hitler in 1940 - ie Hitler get Europe, but we keep the Empire   - that would have been quite like what Britain did with Napoleon, when he was strongest, but Churchill and nobody really believing Hitler anymore prevented that. Churchill at that time probably hadn't thought about sacrificing the Empire, but British military disasters in 1941 and 1942 set the path.

 

It started with the failure to throw the Axis out of North Africa in 1941, which kept Italy in the war and prevented the Med as being the lifeline to SEA and India. As long as Singapore was on British hands you would still have good options for defending the European positions in SEA and thereafter taking the offensive vs. Japan, but that was of course changed by Singapores humiliating fall in Feburary 1942 and just to ram home the point - the fall of Tobruk a few weeks later. 

 

After this Britain really didn't have any realistic option for pursuing her own interests any longer, but had to rely more and more on persuading USA to be as pro-British as possible. Inside the context of fighting the Axis USA was as altruistic as can be expected of a Great/coming Super Power, and probably was served well by British strategic advice (Alanbrooke is IMHO is among the most important persons in recent human history), but USA had never promised to save the Empire - but probably made it a little easier for the British to give up, as they could expect a close relative to take over. Better let the Americans take over than the French, Germans or Russians!

 

If someone hadn't understood it in 1945 it was all made clear in 1956, when Britain and France tried to defend their overseas interests by preventing Nasser from taking control over the Suez canal - and used pulled away the carpet under the British and French.

 

The British officially gave up anything east of Suez and soon after also her African colonies. Nasser didn't really become a friend of America - to put it mildly - and in the decades after the Americans for serious started to pay for taking over global leadership - WWII was only the starting fee. 

 

At the end of the day I find it difficult to defend colonial Empires, but a historian like Nial Fergusson IMHO has a point when claiming that colonialism, especially in Africa, probably was abolished some decades too early, Where the British stayed for longest and most intense, like India and Malaya, they left a pretty substantial infrastructure and the former colonies had a decent chance of taking care of themselves. In contrast Africa was left with little more than sergents in the former colonial armies elevating themselves to rulers after 1960.

 

Nothing could have saved the Empires by 1956 (India was gone already BTW), and even if Hitler had bogged down in 1940 and "been taken care of" it would have taken substantial political reforms to keep them together and transform into some kind of Commonwealth - but they would have had intact economical ties - which if continued and not broken - would have made the world look very much different today. 


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#31 Markus Becker

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1415 PM

Re Redbeard's excellent post (which I'm only not quoting because of length), I still think it's surprising that Britain didn't negotiate peace in 1940, since their strategic options were so limited and most people didn't understand at the time that Germany was run by a genocidal death cult. Thank God that Churchill was such a weird guy...


Not that surprising. Between January 33 and April 39 Hitler made it very clear that he wasn't trustworthy at all.
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#32 Murph

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1422 PM

Good point Redbeard.  I cannot disagree with your theory.


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#33 Murph

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1423 PM

 

The blood letting of the WWI trenches killed off a generation of Edwardian gentlemen who might have saved the Empire.  The British Empire should have let the French and Germans battle it out, and stayed out of it.

Wouldn't work. We would end up with the German HSF in Belgium, ready to pounce from the other side of th English channel. That was no more acceptable in 1914, than it was in 1940.

 

Point taken, because Kaiser Willy II was not right in the head.


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#34 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1433 PM

To be fair, that was probably the English side coming out.:D
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#35 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1508 PM

Re Redbeard's excellent post (which I'm only not quoting because of length), I still think it's surprising that Britain didn't negotiate peace in 1940, since their strategic options were so limited and most people didn't understand at the time that Germany was run by a genocidal death cult. Thank God that Churchill was such a weird guy...

Not that surprising. Between January 33 and April 39 Hitler made it very clear that he wasn't trustworthy at all.

Yeah but Britain had zero ways to win the war after the fall of France. I still think that Churchills defiance was contradictory to all logic, which makes it more impressive.
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#36 Markus Becker

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1545 PM

Likewise Germany had no way of defeating the UK. Ok, that was not clear until after the end of the BoB though.

Edited by Markus Becker, 14 July 2019 - 1546 PM.

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#37 Redbeard

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1606 PM

I largely agree with Redbeard, except I think the point when we became dependent on US intervention was much earlier. If say June 1940. Yes, Churchill was THAT forward thinking. And yes, we were THAT badly off.

I don't believe the Americans killed the Empire. Kicked it when it was down? Yes. And it was boneheaded not to realise (for 2 decades!) that when it and the French one retreated, the US would need to step in. It's the schism in America's Empire. They don't want it, they even refuse to recognise it s an Empire.Which is why they are losing it.

Just wait till China gets it.

We usually view Britain as she was after WWII - the victorious but bruised and worn out boxer hardly capable of raising his arm. But I'll claim that Britain and her empire was anything but clapped out before 1942. In 1941 Britain alone, not including the Empire, produced more than the combined Axis and the Empire by a solid factor also outweighed the Axis in population. 

 

In the Interwar years the costs of policing the Empire had been drastically reduced as modern items like planes, telegraph and motor vehicles were introduced. Economical prospects were good.

 

Politically the challenges of course were huge, but I'll claim that it didn't matter that much how and by who the colonies were ruled - as long as they mainly traded with Britain. 

 

WWII after 1941 simply deleted the old British economical order as all resources were focused on the war, and most spent in Europe - on top of the loss of prestige through humiliating military defeats and physical contact being cut. In Our Time Line (OTL) the old Imperial economical order was replaced by USA and quite symbolically old core parts of the Empire changed their currencies from £ to $. In an Alternative Time Line (ATL), where Britain and France knock out Hitler in 1940 (not that unlikely IMHO) the old Imperial economical order will continue - no matter how things are arranged with the colonies. USA will still be a huge economical power and a serious rival, but both her political and economical attention will be focused mainly on South America and increasingly Asia. Japan will be in for a hard time in the next decades.

 

"Peace" might not last that long however, as Stalin is left alone to finish his huge military expansion programme. By 1942 or 43 he will have 500 Divisions with tens of thousands of modern tanks ready to be unleashed (but will still be short of trucks and canned beef - early Soviet units, even those with an intact ToE - vaporised surprisingly fast in combat). This will bring some very bad hair days in continental Europe (business as usual) , but will not threaten the Empires like OTL WWII. On the contrary it will bring a good chance for the Empires and USA to focus together on once and for all getting rid of those cocky commies spreading silly ideas in the colonies and even in our backyard...


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#38 Murph

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Posted 14 July 2019 - 1845 PM

I still wonder what might have happened if the whole generation of Edwardians had not been slaughtered during the Great War?  Or if cooler heads had prevailed and mobilization had been stopped before it went too far?  Or was the clash inevitable in the long run?  Also would Lloyd George have become PM and introduced the Socialist downward slide, or would he have remained a back bencher while the Tories/Conservatives ruled?  


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#39 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 15 July 2019 - 0201 AM

 

 

Re Redbeard's excellent post (which I'm only not quoting because of length), I still think it's surprising that Britain didn't negotiate peace in 1940, since their strategic options were so limited and most people didn't understand at the time that Germany was run by a genocidal death cult. Thank God that Churchill was such a weird guy...

Not that surprising. Between January 33 and April 39 Hitler made it very clear that he wasn't trustworthy at all.

Yeah but Britain had zero ways to win the war after the fall of France. I still think that Churchills defiance was contradictory to all logic, which makes it more impressive.

 

 

I think we did, we understood that if the war went on, inevitably America could be drawn in. The Soviet Union, for us at least, was just a bonus.

 

I accept it probably didnt look that simple in 1940, but as Churchill said, the Americans will always do the right thing after trying everything else. The trick was to create time for them to try everything else. :D


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#40 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 15 July 2019 - 0209 AM

 

I largely agree with Redbeard, except I think the point when we became dependent on US intervention was much earlier. If say June 1940. Yes, Churchill was THAT forward thinking. And yes, we were THAT badly off.

I don't believe the Americans killed the Empire. Kicked it when it was down? Yes. And it was boneheaded not to realise (for 2 decades!) that when it and the French one retreated, the US would need to step in. It's the schism in America's Empire. They don't want it, they even refuse to recognise it s an Empire.Which is why they are losing it.

Just wait till China gets it.

We usually view Britain as she was after WWII - the victorious but bruised and worn out boxer hardly capable of raising his arm. But I'll claim that Britain and her empire was anything but clapped out before 1942. In 1941 Britain alone, not including the Empire, produced more than the combined Axis and the Empire by a solid factor also outweighed the Axis in population. 

 

In the Interwar years the costs of policing the Empire had been drastically reduced as modern items like planes, telegraph and motor vehicles were introduced. Economical prospects were good.

 

Politically the challenges of course were huge, but I'll claim that it didn't matter that much how and by who the colonies were ruled - as long as they mainly traded with Britain. 

 

WWII after 1941 simply deleted the old British economical order as all resources were focused on the war, and most spent in Europe - on top of the loss of prestige through humiliating military defeats and physical contact being cut. In Our Time Line (OTL) the old Imperial economical order was replaced by USA and quite symbolically old core parts of the Empire changed their currencies from £ to $. In an Alternative Time Line (ATL), where Britain and France knock out Hitler in 1940 (not that unlikely IMHO) the old Imperial economical order will continue - no matter how things are arranged with the colonies. USA will still be a huge economical power and a serious rival, but both her political and economical attention will be focused mainly on South America and increasingly Asia. Japan will be in for a hard time in the next decades.

 

"Peace" might not last that long however, as Stalin is left alone to finish his huge military expansion programme. By 1942 or 43 he will have 500 Divisions with tens of thousands of modern tanks ready to be unleashed (but will still be short of trucks and canned beef - early Soviet units, even those with an intact ToE - vaporised surprisingly fast in combat). This will bring some very bad hair days in continental Europe (business as usual) , but will not threaten the Empires like OTL WWII. On the contrary it will bring a good chance for the Empires and USA to focus together on once and for all getting rid of those cocky commies spreading silly ideas in the colonies and even in our backyard...

 

 

 In 1940, we had nothing left but the Empire and the RAF. The Empire was arming, but all we had in 1940 was a Canadian Division that was in good shape defending the south coast. By 1942, we were in much better shape, but clearly the presence of the US in the War effort meant they were increasingly doing the heavy lifting. Not entirely of course, I dont think D Day would have been remotely achievable in 1944 without the Royal Navy. By the time we were established in Europe again, we were sliding into the back seat, inevitably. So rather than a straight line, I see our strategic ability and political influence as something of a roller coaster ride. It was important in different ways at different times. I dont think we really became a political irrelevance till 1945.

 

And you are right, we were outproducing them. In tanks, astonishingly, and we buried them in aircraft too. I dont think this aspect of Britains contribution to the war gets nearly enough coverage.

 

Its funny, reading PK Dicks 'The man in the High Castle', in one alternate timeline he writes, Britain and America go to war after WW2. Its not clear why, but presumably the issues of America wanting access to the Imperial market still exist. And that is a problem with the alternate timeline. America wanted markets to dig itself out from the wall street crash. WW2 inevitably dumped them in its lap, but what happens if the 2 Empires still exist and try blocking those pesky American's? I think there would inevitably have been conflict from it. And America would have had less ability to win it, because it never had the excuse of WW2 to rearm.


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