I am no economist, as my bank manager will confirm, but there is no denying that economics is a huge factor in warfare if not always the decisive one as, for example, the truly 'David and Goliath' struggle for Vietnam proved when a peasant army on bicycles humbled the mighty United States of America. But then again, surely you do not need a degree in economics to judge that the Japanese in 1941 were stark, raving bonkers when they did the equivalent of the skinny, little guy kicking sand in the face of a sleeping Charles Atlas! Even so, it was a long, hard slog that took a couple of atom bombs to bring to a conclusion.
I raise this somewhat abstruse subject because I have been somewhat startled by Mr. James Holland in his latest book(*) on WWII. Hitherto, without really thinking about it, I had assumed that Britain was, so to speak, the skinny, little guy being kicked by a huge Germanic Charles Atlas and that it was entirely due to British pluck (and a certain amount of crafty guile) that saw us through to victory. Not entirely so, according to Mr. Holland writing on the situation in 1939.
For all [Hitler's] talk of Britain and France bluffing, the one who was really doing so was Hitler. The carefully orchestrated parades, the even more carefully managed showreels of German troops and tanks and skies thick with aircraft, were, to a very large extent, a projection of military might rather than a representative of the reality. Germany was by no means ready for all-out war. It did not have enough tanks, vehicles or trained soldiers and certainly not enough natural resources to carry out anything more than a short, sharp campaign against a massively inferior enemy: Germany possessed little iron ore, no oil, no copper, tungsten, bauxite or rubber, and, crucially, did not have enough land, sufficiently farmed, to fulfil the food requirements of both the population and the massive military. Few, if any, nations had access to all the resources needed for war-making, but unlike Britain and France, Germany's merchant fleet was small and access to global resources was limited.
Meanwhile, for all the concerns of men like Churchill and Général George, the disparity in air power was not as great as they feared. In Britain, aircraft production was almost on a par with that of Germany; monthly British output was 662 aircraft compared with 691 in Germany. France was one of the leading powers in the world and had a sizeable standing army, with the administration and infrastructure in place to mobilise more than a hundred divisions in a matter of days should it come to war.
It was true that Britain's army was small by comparison, but it was growing rapidly. Within the Royal Navy and the Air Force, rearmament had been going on since 1935, and Britain now had the world's first fully co-ordinated air defence system. It also had the world's largest Navy by some margin and stood at the centre of the biggest global trading network the world had ever seen. It was rich - the richest country in Europe, even after the depression - had the kind of access to resources Germany could only dream of, and it was, and had been for some time, the world's largest armaments exporter. With its Empire and Dominions, it also had access to an unprecedented amount of manpower. In almost every way, Britain was better equipped for a major conflict than Germany.
Hmmmn, so there goes the myth of 'plucky little Britain'! The fact is that we should have wiped the floor with them - but we didn't, in fact, in 1940 the German army wiped the floor with us! Of course, you could say that there-in lies the difference between the 'operational' and the 'strategic'. Yes, the Germans chased us out of France but that was only 'round one' and the fight was scheduled for 15 rounds!
Even so, it's worth wondering why we were quite so dismal and useless in those early days? Part of the answer lies in that fine old tradition of utter uselessness that is now, after several centuries, almost an honourable tradition in the higher ranks of the British army. It takes a long war to rid ourselves of the ninnies at the top and replace them with men of intelligence. But also there is, I suggest, another factor. We Brits are just not that warlike! We go through the motions from time to time and a few men are killed and wounded and a few flags are waved but full on militarism simply does not flow through our bloodstream in the same way that it does in other countries. You only have to compare our most important annual military parade, the Trooping of the Colour, which reduces 'militarism' to the level of toy soldiers! Then compare that with the gross pomp and circumstance of the ludicrous parades organised by 'Vlad the Impaler' or 'Kim Il Suks' (or whatever his name is) in North Korea. Just like Hitler they will end up believing their own circus-contrived agit-prop - and that's when the trouble will start.
(*) The War in the West: Germany Ascendant 1939-1941