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1939 to 1945

British pilot in Spitfire flies above England to repel Nazi invasion

In the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain rages over the south of England and the Channel. Outnumbered Royal Air Force pilots out fly and outfight the Luftwaffe to prevent the invasion of Britain. Supported by maintenance crews and newly invented radar, they are "the Few" – "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," says Churchill. Below them in the Channel, the destroyers and battleships of the Royal Navy form another line of defence, protected by the RAF. On the ground I Canadian Corps stands between the German Army and London.

Photo: world-war-2-planes.com »


Brits defeat an evil empire, fighting first alone and then side by side with their Allies.


For years Winston Churchill has warned of the Nazi menace, and has been ignored:

"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."

Nazi Germany invades Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. A dark tyranny spreads across Europe. The Brits fight on alone. Winston Churchill, their extraordinary Prime Minister, leads them. See Going Through Hell, Part 3

British children sit in the ruins of their London home, bombed by the Nazis during the Blitz

London is bombed. In a row of terraced houses, one is a hole; another is a pile of bricks, the third shows a hand poking out of rubble – small fingers – a child’s hand. 

Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives 306-NT-3163V

Firemen work tirelessly to put the fires caused by Nazi bombing during the Blitz

London burns. The House of Commons is bombed into ruins.

Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives 306-NT-901-19

Churchill declares, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." Standing with Britain are the people of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

London firemen work tirelessly to put out the flames of London bombed by the Nazis

Old and young respond, joining the armed forces or serving at home. According to W.F. Deedes,
writing in the TELEGRAPH, "Thousands of men and boys without weapons rushed forward to fight the prospective German invaders" in the Home Guard ( Dad’s Army)
". . .Pikes and pitchforks, old shotguns and carving knives lashed on to poles were pressed into service. The Home Guard shares many of the soldier’s hazards and all the risks of civilian life from bombing."

Photo Credit: U.S.National Archives, 306-NT-901-19

The dome of St Paul rises above the fiery smoke of London during bombing by the Nazis

Germany bombs London, Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast, and Glasgow. St. Paul, symbol of British spirit, survives the German Blitz, and the Brits rise to the tremendous challenge of defeating the Nazis.

Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives, 306-NT-3173V

RAF pilots right after landing during World War II

British reconnaissance pilots, just returned from a mission over France, report on German troops to an Air Intelligence Liaison Officer .

Photo: Celia Dibblee Packe
Her father, Edward Packe, the AILO, is on the right.
Packe served in both world wars.


George VI and the Queen

George VI was a genuinely shy but energetic monarch, a good shot, and an honest and faithful king. Supported by a loving wife, Queen Elizabeth, and his daughters, he served at the forefront of Britain's struggle to defeat Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

In the first terrible year of the war, as disaster followed disaster, the king invited Winston Churchill to form a Government.

Bombs fell on London but the king and queen continued to live in Buckingham Palace (their daughters lived at Windsor) until the palace — virtually unprotected — was bombed on 9 September 1940. The queen famously observed:

‘I'm glad we've been bombed. We can now look the East End in the face’.

The king and queen made morale-boosting visits to bombed towns, cities, and factories. He was pretty insouciant while bombs were dropping. Ducking into a bomb shelter during an air raid, he had a cup of tea with those who were there.

He created the George Cross and George Medal to pay tribute to heroic civilians, whom he had observed during and following air raids. He met weekly with Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the course of the war, gave unstinting support to the people and government of the United States after they had entered the war, and beginning in 1943 visited camps and battlefields. He honoured the people of Malta and the people of Stalingrad for their heroism.

The king visited each of the D-day assault forces, and was keen to go with them. Persuaded that he should not because important resources would have to be deflected to protect him, he broadcast to the British people on the evening of D-day, visited the Normandy beaches on 19 June and was with his troops in Italy from 23 July until 3 August. His brother, the duke of Kent, was killed on active service in a plane accident in 1942.

Like his people, George VI had a 'see-it-through' attitude.


On board ship in the Atlantic in August, 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt make known the principles guiding Britain and America:
  • First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;

  • Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

  • Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

  • Fourth, they will endeavour, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;

  • Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security;

  • Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;

  • Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;

  • Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.

The Atlantic Charter will lead to the founding of the United Nations, which seemed like a good idea at the time.


Alan Turing and his Cambridge and Oxford mathematicians and Classical scholars are essential to war efforts as they crack the codes of the Nazi Enigma machine, which set all the Nazis' secret war codes.

Early in the war, Polish heroes brought an Enigma machine they had captured to England, which allowed Turing and his associates to crack the machine, and decode up to 8,500 messages a day in a desperate effort to save Allied shipping from U-Boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In 1942 Germans add a fourth code-setting wheel to the Enigma machine and an electric current to swap pairs of letters. When the Royal Navy captures a German submarine with its vital codebooks, Bletchley Park exposes the secrets of this new Enigma machine as well. The ideas developed by these brainy Brits while cracking codes will prove crucial to the development of the modern computer.

Nazis destroy Warsaw Ghetto, and send Jewish people to their deaths

In 1943 the Germans destroy the Warsaw Ghetto as part of their Final Solution to kill every Jewish man, woman, and child.

U.S. National Archives, 238-NT-282

Brits oppose the Axis Powers that include Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan in Europe, the jungles of the Far East, the icy waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic, and the deserts of Africa. They fight side by side with American and Dominion Allies – Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, and South Africans. As the war goes global, the Allies will include Russians, Free French, Poles, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Chinese, and the remarkable Nepalese Gurkhas, whom Brits call "the bravest of the brave".

The Allies launch D-Day to liberate Europe. They battle to restore freedom, and to end the murderous horrors of the Fascist regimes.

World War II extends from the desperate rescue of the British Army at Dunkirk to the dark and icy struggle to keep supply boats afloat on the Atlantic so Britain did not starve; from the extraordinary and often unseen sacrifice of RAF pilots in the air to the Eight Army in the deserts of North Africa and Allied troops on the landing beaches of Europe.

Four hundred thousand British men and women die in action during World War II. Three hundred thousand are wounded. Sixty thousand British civilians perish. All told, the Allies lose an estimated 12 million people. Civilian casualties around the world reach 50 million.

British women who served in the Army, Navy, and

World War II is won with the help of British women who pitch in at farms and factories, and serve in the fire brigades, the WACs (Women's Army Corps), WAAFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force), ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service – the future Queen Elizabeth II serves in the ATS), and the WRENs (Women's Royal Naval Service). No job is too difficult, dangerous, or dirty.

Photo: tội cá độ bóng đá qua mạngNational Maritime Museum

Young Canadians celebrate the end of World War II

On May 8, 1945, people all around the world – this photo was taken in Canada – celebrate the end of World War II.

Photo Credit: tội cá độ bóng đá qua mạngCanadian Broadcasting Corporation


American Vet at Normandy Beach grave of the Captain who saved his life

U.S. veteran pays tribute to his Captain, who died during the Normandy Invasion.

Photo: jplank1807


PLEASE NOTE: If anyone has a photo of the British Army or Navy during World War II that is copyright free, and available for use, we would be very glad to put it up in this section, and to credit the owner.



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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass