History Today eBook: The Second World War

Britain's Finest Hour or Hitler's Greatest Hoax

Christopher Ray argues that Hitler's high-profile plan for invading Britain was a blind: his main intention was to fool Stalin into believing he was safe.

The period between the fall of France, in June 1940, and the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941, presents a complex, confusing military and diplomatic scene that is difficult to analyse. Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union has, therefore, been the subject of a continued debate that centres on whether it should be regarded as the natural consequence of his foreign policy or simply the result of overconfidence and poorly chosen alternatives. The general consensus among historians appears to be that Hitler had lost the initiative during this period and, unable to finish Britain, while fearful of growing Russian power and the possibility of an American intervention, cast about to find a means of regaining the momentum vital to Germany's expansion and the survival of the Nazi state. Out of this grew a 'peripheral strategy' and an attempt to create a 'continental blot' that would drive Britain out of the war and make Germany's strategic position unassailable. Only when this failed was he forced, for the lack of any alternative, to turn his attention towards the Soviet Union.

Yet such an explanation suffers in two very important areas. First, it fails to consider the character of Hitler himself and his role as a prime-mover rather than a prisoner of circumstance. Second, it simply fails to explain the known facts.

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