“Britain has no permanent enemies and constant friends, it has only permanent interests,” this is not known by whom and when the spoken phrase became, however, a winged one. One of the clearest examples of such a policy is Operation Dynamo (evacuation of British troops under Dunkerque on May 26 - June 4 of 1940). Less known to the general public are the numerous Dunkirks of the British expeditionary forces in other regions of Europe during that war, as well as the fact that such a Dynamo could have happened even in the First World War.
Remember the scene from the old Soviet film “Peter the First”, telling about the behavior of the English squadron during the battle of the Russian and Swedish fleets at Grengam (1720 year)? Then the Swedes called the British to his aid, and the British agreed to come as allies. So, the English admiral is sitting at the table, richly laden with dishes and drinks, and they report to him about the course of the battle. First, everything: "It is not clear who overcomes." Then they report definitely: “Russians are winning!” Then the commander of the English squadron, without interrupting the meal, gives the command: "We are lifting the anchor, we are going to England" and adds: "We have fulfilled our duty, gentlemen."
The scene of the film, shot on the eve of the Second World War, turned out to be downright prophecy: in the outbreak of war, the British often behaved exactly as this admiral. But there was nothing supernatural about this insight of Vladimir Petrov and Nikolai Leshchenko. Britain has always acted in such a way that as long as possible itself to stay away from the fight, and then reap the benefits of victory.
In principle, of course, everyone would like to do this, but in England this was somehow more dramatic.
From the beginning of the 18th century, when (during the war for the Spanish inheritance 1701-1714), for the first time England intervened actively in continental politics, its main principle was always “balance of power”. This meant that Britain was not interested in a single state dominating on the mainland of Europe. Against him, England, always acting mainly in money, tried to make a coalition. During the whole of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, France was the main enemy of Britain in Europe and a competitor in the ocean spaces and colonies. When Napoleon was defeated by the forces of the continental coalition, it seemed that France was over. In the middle of the XIX century, England, together with France, came out against Russia, which, as seen from foggy Albion, gained too much power in Europe and the Middle East.
Until now, the plot connected with the participation of England in the creation of the German Empire at the end of the 19th century, 60, was little explored, at least in Russia. The fact that Britain could not support the rise of Prussia at that time is obvious. After the Crimean War 1853-1856 and, especially, the wars of France and Piedmont against Austria for the unification of Italy 1859, the Second French Empire became clearly the strongest state on the continent. In the growing Prussia, England could not fail to see the natural counterweight to the dangerously elevated France. In the rout of France in 1870-1871 and the formation of the German Empire, Prussia did not encounter any obstacles on the part of England (as well as Russia, by the way). This then a single Germany could cause trouble in England. But at that time it was more important for the British "lion" to strike with someone else's hands ... to his ally - France.
The forces of Britain was to prevent the First World War. In forces, but not in interests.
It was known that Germany could attack France only through the territory of Belgium. To do this, the Kaiser had to decide to violate the internationally guaranteed, in particular, by the same Britain, the neutrality of this small country. So, at the height of the crisis caused by the fatal shots in Sarajevo, there were signals sent from London to Berlin through all diplomatic channels: England would not fight because of the disturbed neutrality of Belgium. 3 August 1914, Germany, preempting France, obliged (but not in a hurry) to enter the war on the side of Russia, itself declared war on the Third Republic. The next morning, German troops invaded Belgium. On the same day in Berlin like a bolt from the blue: England declared war on Germany. So Germany was involved in combat with a mighty coalition led by the "mistress of the seas" in order to be defeated.
Of course, joining the war posed a great risk to Britain. It was not yet known how strong the continental allies of England would be, especially France, which was attacked by Germany. And so, in the summer of 1914, the “dress rehearsal” of the dunkers ’flight was almost complete. In fact, it was even carried out, with the exception of the actual evacuation of the British troops.
A small British land army consisting of four infantry and one cavalry divisions arrived at the front in northern France by the twentieth of August 1914. The commander of the English army, General French, had an order from the Minister of War, Kitchener, to act independently and not to obey even the operational attitude of the French commander in chief. Interaction with the French armies was accomplished only by mutual agreement, and for the English commander the recommendations of his Majesty's government should have been of priority importance.
After the very first attacks to which the British were subjected by the Germans, French ordered his army to retreat. Later the British army was involved in the general retreat of the French front. 30 August French reported to London that he was losing faith in the ability of the French to successfully defend themselves and that, in his opinion, the best solution would be to prepare for loading the English army on ships for returning home. At the same time, General French, whose troops acted on the extreme left flank of the French location, disregarding the orders of Commander-in-Chief General Joffrey, quickly began to withdraw his army beyond the Seine, opening the way for the Germans to Paris.
It is not known how all this would end if Minister of War Kitchener did not show energy these days. September 1, 1914 he personally arrived at the front. After long negotiations, he managed to convince French not to rush to evacuate and not to withdraw his army from the front. In the following days, the French launched a counterattack on the open flank of the Germans by a new army, concentrated in the Paris area, which largely determined the victory of the Allies in historical battle on the Marne (another important factor in the victory was the removal of two and a half corps by the Germans on the eve of the battle and their sending to the Eastern Front to eliminate the Russian threat to East Prussia). In the course of this battle, the British, who ceased to retreat and even went on the counterattack, suddenly found themselves ... an extensive gap in the German front. Having coped with surprise, the British rushed there, which also contributed to the ultimate success of the Allies.
So, in 1914, evacuation was avoided. But in 1940-1941. the British had to perform this operation more than once.
There is an extensive literature about the Dunkirk flight. The overall picture, which is restored fairly reliably, is characterized by two main features. First: the German command had the most favorable opportunity to completely crush the British pressed to the sea. However, for some reason, the Germans gave the British a chance to evacuate manpower to their home island. As for the reasons, then Hitler did not make a secret out of them to his closest circle. He never hid anything at all that he was not interested in a victory over England, but an alliance with her. Judging by the reaction of its employees to the "stop order" under Dunkirk, they fully shared the idea of the Fuhrer. Miraculously, the surviving British soldiers were supposed to bring home the fear of the invincible steel columns of the Wehrmacht. This Fuhrer miscalculated.
The second feature: the evacuation of the British took place under the guise of French and (at first) Belgian troops. The bridgehead, on which there were two French, English and Belgian armies, was cut off on May 20, 1940. May 24th German Tanks were already 15 km from Dunkirk, while the bulk of the British troops were still 70-100 km from this evacuation base. On May 27, the Belgian king signed an act of surrender to his army. Subsequently, this act of his was often regarded as a “betrayal” (and the flight of the English army is not a betrayal ?!). But nothing was ready for the evacuation of the Belgian army, and the king did not want to shed the blood of his soldiers so that the British could safely sail to his island. The French, to the end, covered the British landing on ships, apparently believing that after the evacuation they would land somewhere else in France and take part in the defense of their country from a common enemy. Together with 250 thousand British, 90 thousand French were evacuated. The remaining 150 thousand Frenchmen, who were on the bridgehead, were abandoned by the British allies to their fate and were forced to capitulate on June 4, 1940.
Simultaneously with the evacuation of Dunkirk, a similar drama unfolded in the North of Europe. Since December 1939, the British and French commanders have been preparing landings in Norway to prevent the German invasion, and also to assist Finland in the war against the USSR. But they did not have time, and therefore the landing in Norway was a response to the landing of the German troops that had already taken place there on April 9 on April 1940.
13-14 April, the British landed their troops at the ports of Namsos and Ondalsnes and launched a concentric offensive from two sides to Norway’s second largest city, Trondheim, previously captured by the Germans. However, after being subjected to German air strikes, they stopped and began to depart. April 30 the British were evacuated from Ondalsnes, and 2 May from Namsos. Norwegian troops, of course, nobody evacuated anywhere, and they surrendered to the mercy of the winner.
On the same days, British and French troops landed in the Narvik area in northern Norway. 28 May 1940, the Germans surrendered to the enemy Narvik for a few days so that he could freely evacuate from Norway through this port. June 8 loading on ships in Narvik has been completed.
The most symbolic at the initial stage of World War II was the participation of British troops in the hostilities in Greece.
The British Corps, which included Australian and New Zealand units, landed in Greece in the spring of 1941. He took up positions ... deep in the rear of the Greek troops north of Mount Olympus. When the 9 of April of the 1941 of the year was followed by the German invasion of Greece from Bulgarian territory, the next retreat epic of the British forces began, trying to escape from contact with the enemy. Already on April 10, the British withdrew from their original positions south of Olympus. 15 April was followed by a new relocation - this time to Thermopylae. Meanwhile, the German columns freely entered the exposed rear of the Greek armies. 21 April, the Greek command signed a surrender. The British did not linger on the favorable Thermopil position and 23 of April began loading ships in Piraeus.
Nowhere in Greece did the British render the Germans serious resistance. However, the behavior of the Germans, too, was "gentlemanly": covering the British positions from the flanks, they never sought to surround the enemy, each time leaving him ways to retreat. The German command understood that its British colleagues were no less concerned about the early cessation of hostilities. So why shed excess blood? 27 April 1941, the units of the Wehrmacht entered Athens without a fight, from where the last British ship sailed shortly before.
Only in Crete, where the evacuation by sea, due to the absolute domination of the Luftwaffe in the air, was hampered, the British forces (and then the New Zealanders, and not the natives of the metropolis) had a somewhat more stubborn resistance to the Germans. True, the fact that the British command in general left the grouping of its troops on Crete was a consequence of a strategic miscalculation: it did not expect the Germans to try to seize the island solely by airborne units. The landing began on 20 May 1941. And on May 26, the New Zealand commander, General Freyberg, reported upward that the situation was hopeless in his opinion.
It was not a loss, nor was the Germans seizing key points. According to the commander, “the nerves of even the most elite soldiers could not withstand the continuous air raids for several days.”
Therefore 27 May, he received permission to evacuate. At this time, German landings in some places of Crete were still fighting hard, being surrounded by the enemy from all sides. The order of the English command brought an unexpected relief in their position. Due to the reasons mentioned above, only half of the British garrison of the island was able to sail from Crete.
Of course, it is impossible to blame the British leaders for the fact that in all circumstances they sought, first of all, not to substitute their armed forces for destruction by the enemy and in every way tried to avoid not only hopeless, but also risky situations. However, all these episodes of 1914 and 1940-1941. serve as a sufficient basis for the actions of those politicians who avoided a military-political alliance with England, due to any obligations. In particular, this concerns the actions of the Soviet leadership in the autumn of 1939.