When the Second World War began in 1939, women were just as ready to follow the example of the previous generation. The women of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 had served with distinction in the nursing profession, the ammunition producing factories, the land armies and many occupations normally performed by men. The women of the Second World War carried out similar roles but their labours were extended to include complex manufacturing of vital war equipment. They also included many women serving in the navy, army and air force mainly on administrative duties. Tedious though it might have been it was vitally important. This freed up the men to allow them to be involved with the military and home guard roles. Women were involved with the delivery of aircraft, and were agents for the resistance movements in occupied countries. Professional performers were also actively involved in entertaining the military both on home shores and overseas. In addition to all the tasks undertaken by the women they :
The women selected do not in any way detract from the sterling works of the multitude of women participating in the Second World War, who have not been mentioned.



The award of the British Empire Medal to driver Elizabeth Glen Booth of the Fleet Air Arm was the first gallantry medal awarded to a wren. She was on duty at the Crossaig Bombing Range near the Royal Naval Air Station Machrihaigh at Argyle & Bute, Scotland when a Swordfish aircraft crashed in flames. Wren Booth pulled the observer from the burning wreck and drove him to a doctor, but to no avail. She was presented with the medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
Mary Churchill was the youngest of the five children of Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine. Mary was born on the 15th September 1922 and was raised at the Churchill home at Chartwell in Kent. At the outbreak of war she worked for the Red Cross and the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS). In 1941 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), serving on mixed anti-aircraft batteries in London and Belgium. She rose to the rank of Junior Commander in the ATS, accompanying her father as aide-de-camp on several of his overseas journeys. One of her trips was the post-VE meeting at Potsdam where Churchill met Harry S. Trueman and Joseph Stalin. In 1945, in recognition of her meritorious military service she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). She married Christopher Soames in 1947 and they had five children. She led a full and active life and died aged 91 on the 11th May 2014.
Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, enrolled in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) on her eighteenth birthday the 21st April 1944. She was employed as a mechanic and driver and she took her duties seriously. Taking pride in her work she got her hands dirty in order to be called a mechanic. Every vehicle she worked on she learned to drive. On the 8th May 1945, VE day, Elizabeth and her sister Margaret were allowed to mingle with and join the crowds to take part in the victory celebrations.
Muriel Hall was born on the 24th September 1921 in Faversham in Kent. Her father died of illness in 1923 after surviving the Great War. She was sent to live with her grandparents who ran the local telephone exchange and lived only a few streets away. She lived with her grandparents until she was about 8 years old then moved to Maidstone to be with her mother who had remarried. Aged 16 she went to the Cromwell Hotel in London for an interview in the telephone exchange. She was asked to start immediately. At the outbreak of war she received her call up papers and was drafted straight into the Royal Signals as a telephonist. She spent most of the war attached to Headquarters, either the Southern, South Eastern or Scottish branch. However, Muriel was sent to a typing school to be taught teleprompting, typing and shorthand. The army also taught her how to use the teleprinter. Her experience of the teleprinter enabled her to join Reuters and she was based in Cabinet War Rooms. Muriel served in the Royal Signals Cabinet War Rooms for Reuters during the final year of the Second World War. Muriel’s words at the time were, “It was sad that it was spoilt for the King and Churchill. Someone in the USA broke the embargo that the war was over and therefore the announcement by Reuters had to be forwarded to all relevant parties”. The announcement was – “19.41 pm London Monday tomorrow will be VE day Europe full stop Churchill ET King will broadcast – Reuter”. Muriel was instructed to forward the message to all concerned by teleprinter that the “war in Europe was over”. She passed the message on and left her office at approximately 8.00 am on the 8th May 1945. After hearing that the Prime Minister Winston Churchill would be stating The King would be making a speech at 3.00 pm, she went home. She wasn’t permanently attached to Winston Churchill’s office, but whenever he needed anything typed, whom ever was available, would be seconded to his office. She took shorthand notes and his various letters etc. on a number of occasions. After the war Muriel and her husband Robert Belson, who she married in 1942, served in Malaya and she became a member of the Red Cross where she learnt to speak the language. Her husband worked as a head teacher in a local school, and he was transferred to Jamaica. Muriel went with him. After their tour of Jamaica was finished, Muriel and her husband came back to England in the late 1950s. She secured a position in the civil service until and remained until her retirement. Muriel died aged 89 in 2010.
Dubbed “Flying Nightingales” by the press, nursing orderlies of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) flew on RAF transport planes to evacuate the wounded from the Normandy battlefield. The Royal Air Force Air Ambulance Unit nurses were trained to treat broken bones, missing limbs, head injuries and burns. RAF Dakota aircraft were used to transport the nurses, stores and military to the battle area. Because of this the aircraft did not display the “Red Cross” sign, which they were entitled to, when they transported the wounded back to Britain. Most female medical and dental officers were commissioned into the RAF and held RAF ranks, whereas the Air Force nurses belonged to Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service. The WAAF was established in 1939 as the female auxiliary of the RAF and was discontinued in 1949, when it was renamed the Women’s Royal Air Force. Several members of the WAAF served with the Special Operations Executive during the war. During the course of its operations the WAAF had four Air Chief Commandants.
Dame Jane Trefusis Forbes, January 1939 to October 1943.
HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, October 1943 to August 1944.
Dame Mary Walsh, August 1944 to November 1946.
Dame Felicity Hanbury MBE, December 1946 to January 1949.
Norma Lodge was qualified in maths and physics when she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) determined to do anything but office work. As an experiment to assess her ability to take on a job that was normally operated by men she was trained as a radio location mechanic. She was posted to Charminster in Dorset where she learnt about faults and all forms of maintenance of the tracking systems on anti-aircraft sites. The work was classified as highly secret and very complicated. She was one of the first women admitted into the newly formed Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME).
Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya was a Soviet tank driver and mechanic who fought on the Eastern Front against the Nazi German army. After her husband was killed in 1941 Mariya sold her possessions to donate a tank to the war effort and requested she be allowed to drive it. She donated and drove a T-34 medium tank, which she named “Fighting Girlfriend”. Mariya proved her ability and bravery in battle and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. She was killed in action, aged 38, in 1944 and was posthumously made a Hero of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union’s highest award for bravery during combat. She was the first of the few female tank drivers to be awarded this honour.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper in the Red Army and credited with 309 kills. She is regarded as one of the top military snipers of all time and the most successful female sniper in history. When Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the 24year old Lyudmila was studying history at Kiev University. She volunteered and was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division. As her kill rate increased she was promoted until June 1942 when Lieutenant Pavlichenko was wounded and her confirmed kills were recorded as being 309 including 36 enemy snipers. She was withdrawn from combat after recovery from her wounds, and sent to Canada and the United States for a publicity visit. She was the first Soviet citizen to have an audience with the U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lyudmila was later invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to tour America and relating her experiences. Her tour was a total success. Back in the Soviet Union she never returned to combat but trained Soviet snipers until the end of the war. She returned to university after the war to complete her education and began a career as a historian. Lyudmila died on the 1oth October 1974 aged 58.
Corporal Daphne Pearson was the first Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) member to be awarded the George Cross. The medal is the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross for gallantry and “acts of the greatest heroism or for the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger” not in the face of the enemy. This applies to members of the British armed forces and to British civilians. An aircraft crash-landed near her WAAF quarters at Dettling in Kent on the 31st May 1940 and Daphne ran over to help get the crew free from the burning wreckage, despite knowing there was at least one loaded bomb. One officer had been killed, two airmen were slightly injured and the pilot had serious injuries. She released him from the aircraft, administered first aid next to the wreckage, released his parachute and managed to get him away from the plane. When they were about 30 yards away a 120 lb bomb exploded and she threw herself over the pilot to protect him from the blast and splinters. On the 31st January 1941 she was presented the George Cross by King George VI. Daphne was born in Christchurch, Dorset on the 25th May 1911. As her father was a vicar in the church she moved with her parents onto the Isle of Wight. She joined the WAAF as a medical officer at the outbreak of the war in 1939. A month after her courageous action she was commissioned as a section officer and for the remainder of the war she served mainly in recruitment. She became the assistant governor of a women’s borstal after demobilisation in 1946. She then worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Daphne emigrated to Australia after a visit in 1969 where worked as a horticulturist. She attended reunions of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association until her death in Melbourne in 2000 aged 89.
When the Great War ended Flora Sandes, the only English lady to have served in the trenches, continued to serve in the Serbian Army until finally being demobilised in 1921 with the rank of Second Lieutenant. She had been awarded Serbia’s highest decoration the Kara George Star. After demobilisation she travelled the world before marrying ex Russian artillery colonel Yurie Yudenitch in May 1927. They eventually moved to Belgrade in Yugoslavia. As an officer in the Serbian army she was eligible for recall into the service and when Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 she once again became a soldier aged 65 years. Following the unconditional surrender of Yugoslavia Flora, evading the approaching Germans, was smuggled away in her uniform in a lorry which was evacuating the wounded to a German controlled military hospital in Belgrade. With help she obtained women’s clothes, changed into them and walked out of the hospital dressed as a woman not a soldier. She made her way back to their home and stayed with Yurie looking after him as he had been very ill until June 1941 when they were arrested by the Gestapo. They were separated, but were released and re-united after a few weeks due to Yurie’s ill health. With food scarce and Yuri needing constant nursing it soon became apparent he was dying. He died and was buried in Belgrade Cemetery and Flora stayed on in Belgrade until the end of the war. She supplemented her income by giving English lessons, after which the RAF flew her home and she settled in Woodbridge in Suffolk. She was still planning to travel when she died in Ipswich Hospital on the 24th November 1956 aged 80 years old.
Beatrice Shilling was a British aeronautical engineer and motor racer who was born in Waterlooville in Hampshire on 8th March 1909. Prior to the war she received a Master of Service Degree in Mechanical Engineering. Before and during the war she was employed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) as a scientific officer. During the Battle of Britain in 1940 serious problems occurred in both Hurricane and Spitfire fighters as their carburettors would flood performing a nose-dive. This frequently caused the engine to stall during a critical part of a dog fight in aerial combat. Beatrice devised the RAE restrictor which limited the flow of fuel into the carburettor and prevented it flooding. The restrictor was a brass thimble which had a hole in the centre and could be fitted to the carburettor without having to take the aircraft out of service. The pilots were delighted with the restrictor as it gave them the opportunity to partake in the aerial battles unrestricted by a possible stalled engine. After the war Beatrice continued at the RAE until her retirement in 1969. She worked on various projects including the Blue Streak missile. She and her husband were keen motor cycle racers and later progressed to racing cars, where they performed all their own tuning and maintenance. She was 81 years old when she died ibn 1990.


The Andrews Sisters were an American close harmony singing group consisting of LaVerne, Maxine and Patricia who were brought up in Minneapolis. They started their career singing with various dance bands and touring in vaudeville. In 1937 radio broadcasts brought them national attention. During the Second World War they entertained Allied forces in America, Africa and Italy. They performed in munition factories, hospitals, Coast Guard bases as well as Army, Navy and Marine bases. They encouraged U.S. citizens to purchase war bonds and helped out at California’s Hollywood Canteen. The Hollywood Canteen was a welcome retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their time to sing and dance for the soldiers, sailors and marines They often did the same in New York’s Stage Door Canteen. They were dubbed as the “Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service” and possibly their most well-known song was “Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)”. Patty (Patricia) seceded to break away from the trio in 1951 and re-united in 1956 but by the Rock n Roll was the fashion and they soon faded from the limelight.
Marlene Dietrich was a German actress and singer who held both German and American citizenship. Until 1930, aged 29, she acted on stage and in silent films when she moved to the United States. She starred in numerous American films and was approached in 1938 by members of the Nazi Party to return to Germany. She refused the offer as in 1937 she had applied for U.S. citizenship and in 1939 she renounced her German Citizenship and became an American citizen. After America entered the war Marlene toured the U.S. to entertain the troops and sell war bonds. She performed foe allied troops in Algeria, Italy, Britain and France. One of her most famous songs was Lili “Marlene” which was a favourite of both sides of the conflict. For her wartime efforts she was awarded the American Medal of Freedom and the French Légion d’honneur.
Phyllis Dixey was an English entertainer who specialised in singing, dancing and recitals. She was 25 years old when the Second World War broke out and prior to the war she was a singer in variety shoes in Britain. During the war she joined Entertainments National Services Association (ENSA) and entertained the British forces. ENSA was affectionately known as “Every Night Something Awful”. She sang, recited and posed in naked shows for them, which proved to be very popular. In 1942 she formed her own company of girls and rented the Whitehall Theatre in London to put on s striptease review called the Whitehall Follies. She was known as the “Queen of Striptease”, for she considered her exotic shows were artistic. She stayed at the Whitehall for the next five years while providing the Peek-a-boo reviews. After the war her shows were not fashionable and she was forced to close down and leave the stage. She ended up bankrupt and died from cancer in 1964 aged 50.
Dame Gracie Fields, DBE, was an English actress, singer and comedienne and star of both cinema and music hall. Gracie was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for “services to entertainment” in 1938. Seven months before her death in 1978, she was invested a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II. During the 1930s she was involved with many charities but in 1939 she became seriously ill with cancer, from which she suffered a breakdown. Just prior to the start of the war she moved to Capri to recuperate. While she was recovering from her cancer surgery the Second World War began and she signed up to ENSA in order to entertain the troops. Gracie travelled to France where she performed her concerts, and visited America in order to advertise for war bonds in aid of the Navy League and Spitfire Fund. She occasionally returned to Britain in order to perform in factories and army camps around the country. Travelling as far as New Guinea she performed many times for Allied troops and in late 1945 she toured the South Pacific Islands. After the war she continued her career less actively and spent her latter years on the Isle of Capri Italy.
Dame Vera Lynn is widely known as “The Forces’ Sweetheart”. During the Second World War she toured Egypt, India and Burma as part of ENSA giving outdoor concerts for the troops. Vera was born on the 20th March 1917 and was already a star as a singer, songwriter and actress before the war. The songs most associated with her are We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and There’ll Always be an England. In 1941 Vera began her own radio programme where she sent messages to troops serving abroad and performed songs most requested by the soldiers. At the end of the war she continued her show-business career and also became involved with charity work. She was awarded the British War Medal 1939 – 1945 and the Burma Star. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1969 for services to the Royal Air force Association and other charities. In the 1975 Birthday Honours she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for charitable services. She has been awarded with many honours for services to entertainment and charity.
Edith Piaf was a French vocalist, songwriter, cabaret performer and film actress who was born in Paris in December 1915. During the German occupation she performed in a famous nightclub close to the Paris Gestapo headquarters. Deemed to be a traitor as German personnel attended some of her performances. Her name was cleared by André Brigard, a member of the resistance. She was instrumental in helping a number of prisoners to escape and it is reputed she performed several times at prisoner of war camps in Germany. In December 1944 she appeared on stage for the Allied forces in Marseille. She died aged 47 on the 10th October 1963 in the French Riviera and is buried in her hometown of Paris.
Anne Shelton OBE is remembered for her radio broadcasts and personal visits to military bases throughout Britain. Her radio programme “Calling Malta” was broadcast from 1942 to 1947 and she sang inspirational songs for all soldiers. Her radio programmes were primarily for troops overseas and her concerts were for troops stationed in Britain. She was invited in 1944 by American band leader Glen Miller to sing with him and his orchestra in his show in France. As she had a prior commitments she had to decline the offer. Sadly Glen Miller died when his plane disappeared on his way over to France. His orchestra was scheduled to follow on another flight. Anne was a popular English vocalist who was born in November 1923 and was singing on the radio by the age of 12 and had a recording contract by the age of 15. After the war she continued her singing career an in 1990 was awarded the OBE for her work with the “Not Forgotten Association”. She performed at charity and anniversary events until her death on the 31st July 1994.
Jo Stafford was an American solo singer who entertained soldiers stationed in the U.S. Her wistful singing voice reminded servicemen and women of the American home front. Affectionately known as “GI Jo”, she performed with the United Service Organisations (USO) during the course of the Second World War, but does not appear to have served overseas. However, her recordings were broadcast extensively on the American Forces radio and also in some military hospitals after lights-out. She continued with the USO when the Korean War was being fought. Jo was born in California in 1917 and was singing from an early age and progressed to become a popular solo singer. Her involvement with servicemen led to an interest in military history of which she acquired a sound knowledge. She went into semi-retirement in 1959 and finally retiring in 1975. She died aged 90 in July 2008.



The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was formed in September 1939 as an aid to the Royal Air Force (RAF), but not an integral part. The object was free up RAF pilots for combat duties, and consequently women pilots were employed to deliver aircraft from the manufacturing factories to airfields all over the country. Most of the women who served were from fairly wealthy backgrounds who had been able to obtain a flying licence prior to the war and were therefore qualified to fly these aircraft but not on combat missions. After initial reluctance they were accepted by the RAF, especially later in the war when they began to deliver four engine bombers.
During the course of the Second World War the ATA employed 168 women and 1,152 male pilots.
Below are some of the women of the ATA.
Lettice Curtis was born on the 1st February 1915 at Denbury in Devon and was the daughter of barrister Lord of the Manor of Denbury. She was educated at Benenden School and St. Hilda’s College, Oxford where she studied mathematics. She also excelled at sports and represented the university in lacrosse as well as being the captain of the universities women’s lawn tennis and fencing teams. She learned to fly in 1937 where she earned a B-class licence. In July 1940 she became one of the first women to join the British ATA and remained there until the organisation was closed down on the 30th November 1945. Lettice graduated to fly all wartime aircraft and was one of the first dozen women to qualify to fly four engined heavy bombers. She was the first woman pilot to deliver an Avro Lancaster bomber and she also delivered the Handley Page Halifax and the Short Sterling bombers. She flew continuously throughout the war delivering all types of aircraft through all weather conditions to various destinations. Having flown over ninety different types of aircraft she was introduced to the US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on the 26th October 1942 as the first woman pilot to be trained on four engine bombers. At the end of the war her final ATA rank was as First Officer. Post-war she became a technician, flight development engineer and flight test observer at various aircraft establishments. Lettice took an active part in British air racing and was a founder member of the British Women’s Pilot’s Association. She qualified to fly helicopters in October 1992 but voluntarily gave up flying in 1995. Lettice died at the age of 99 on the 21st July 2014.
Mary Ellis was a pioneering aviator and woman pilot in the ATA delivering aircraft from factories to squadrons in the Second World War. She was a pilot who overcame public disapproval to fly hundreds of Spitfires, Hurricanes and heavy bombers to the front line during the Second World War. She joined the ATA in 1941, after Britain allowed women to fly military aircraft. Mary Ellis, whose maiden name was Wilkins, was born on the 2nd February 1917 and lived on a farm in Oxfordshire. She grew up with her five siblings close to a Royal Air Force (RAF) station. She took her first flying lesson when she was a teenager at a nearby flying club. After hearing a radio advertisement seeking female pilots she joined the ATA in 1941. The decision to allow women to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes during the war was met with widespread resistance in Britain. Eventually the female aviators proved they were up to the job and they were accepted by the RAF especially later in the war when they began to deliver four engine bombers. By the end of the war Mary had spent more than 1,100 hours flying dozens of different types of aircraft, including 400 Spitfires and 47 Wellington and numerous Lancaster bombers. She held the ATA rank of First Officer. After the war she was invited to the join the RAF and was alleged to be one of the first women to fly the Meteor jet fighter. She went on to work as a private pilot for a wealthy businessman, who bought Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight, where Mary was appointed manager in 1950. She married a fellow pilot, Don Ellis, in 1961 and they lived close to Sandown Airport. Her husband died in 2009 and Mary died aged 101 in 2018.
Amy Johnson was flying an Airspeed Oxford from Prestwick via Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford for the ATA on the 5th January 1941. There were extreme weather conditions and she went badly off course. She bailed out of the aircraft when the plane reportedly ran out of fuel. The aircraft crashed into the Thames estuary near Herne Bay. Her parachute was spotted coming down by the crew of HMS Haselmere who went to her rescue, but there was a heavy sea which was intensely cold. Despite the efforts of the Haselmere commander to rescue her, Amy Johnson died in the water and her body was never found. As a member of the ATA with no known grave she is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. Amy was born in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire on the 1st July 1903. She was from a wealthy family and finished her education at the University of Sheffield. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. Amy worked as a secretary to a London solicitor and was introduced to flying as a hobby. She gained her pilot’s “A” licence on the 6th July 1929 and later that year she obtained her ground engineer’s “C” licence, the first woman to do so. She purchased a second-hand de Havilland DH60 Gypsy Moth with the funds her father had supplied. In 1930 she flew solo from England to Australia where she achieved worldwide acclaim. With co-pilot Jack Humphreys she flew from London to Japan via Moscow and Siberia in record time in a de Havilland DH80 Puss Moth. She married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison in July 1933 and they flew on many record breaking flights together. In 1938 she divorced her husband reverted back to her maiden name. In 1940 Amy joined the newly formed ATA and rose to the rank of First Officer. Her former husband also flew for the ATA throughout the war.
Although not part of the ATA, Hanna Reitsch was one of the best known German test pilots of the Third Reich. She was playing her part in the war effort all be it on the side of the enemy. She was born into an upper-middle-class family on the 29th March 1912 in Hirschberg, Silesia. She developed her fascination for flying at an early age, and she began flight training in 1932 at the School of Gliding in Grunau. Hannah enrolled in a German Air Mail amateur flying school for powered flight whilst a medical student in Berlin. In 1933, she left medical school to become a fulltime glider pilot/instructor at Hamburg in Baden-Wüttenberg. During this period she set an unofficial endurance record for women at eleven hours and twenty minutes. By the time she was drafted into the Luftwaffe In 1937 she had test flown many gliders both in Germany and overseas. She became the first female helicopter pilot, flying the first fully controllable helicopter, the Focker-Achgelis Fa61 for which she received the Military Flying Medal. During the Second World War she received the Iron Cross, Second Class, from Hitler on the 28th March 1941 for her involvement with the test flights of the Junkers Ju87 Stuker and Dornier Do17 bomber projects. Among the many of Germany’s latest designs Hannah was asked to fly was the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt ME162 Komet in 1942. She was awarded the Iron Cross First Class following a crash landing on her fifth flight. The crash left her badly injured for which she spent five months in hospital. She was involved with the experiments on manned flights of the V1 Rockets in 1944, but these plans were never implemented. During the final days of the war she flew from Gatau Airport to an improvised airstrip near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in order to meet up with Adolf Hitler. She flew the same plane, which was the last one out of Berlin, out of the same airstrip and the advancing Russians attempted to shoot the plane down. The Russians were afraid Hitler was attempting to escape, but Hannah succeeded in getting the aircraft away safely. Hannah and her passenger were soon captured and interviewed by U.S. military officers. She was part of a team of scientists who researched and tested fifty two different German aircraft and she was to provide valuable information regarding piloting in general. She was held for eighteen months and after her release she settled in Frankfurt. She continued flying until her death on the 24th August 1979 from an apparent heart attack. There was speculation she may have taken the cyanide pill she had been given by Hitler but it has never been proven. Hannah had never been married. Royal Naval pilot Captain Eric Brown who had assisted the U.S. intelligence when she was interviewed after her capture, referred to her as “the expert of experts.”


A major part of the naval history of the Second World War was the Battle of the Atlantic. Included in this theatre of war was the North Sea. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945.
The Battle of the Atlantic started at the beginning of the Second World War with the sinking of the British passenger liner SS Athenia by a German submarine.
The British government announced the re-introduction of the convoy system for merchant ships and a full scale blockade on German shipping on the 8th September 1939.
On the 17th September 1939 the Aircraft Carrier HMS Courageous was torpedoed and sunk by a patrolling German submarine off the coast of Ireland.
In Scapa Flow on the 14th October 1939 the British battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk by German submarine U-47.
Germany launched the first air attack on British territory on the16th October 1939. Cruisers HMS Southampton and Edinburgh together with destroyer HMS Mohawk were damaged at their anchorage in the Firth of Forth.
German U-boats and the Luftwaffe began to attack the Thames estuary on 20th November 1939.
Damaged German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was forced into the port of Montevideo in Uruguay following an engagement with the British fleet. Graf Spee was required to leave within seventy-two hours and her captain scuttled her on the River Plate estuary on the 17th December 1939.
The British fleet were defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Heligoland Bight on the 18th December 1939.
1940 (January to July)
On the 20th January 1940 HMS Exmouth was sunk north of Scotland whilst escorting merchant ship Cyprian Prince. Exmouth was torpedoed by German U-boat U-44 and sank with the loss of all hands and the Cyprian Prince sailed away without attempting to pick up any survivors.
West of Portugal unescorted Greek merchant ship Ekatontarchos Dracoulis was hit by a torpedo fired from German U-boat U-44 on the 21st January 1940. The crew abandoned ship and U-44 left the area before the vessel sank.
On the 15th February 1940, Hitler ordered unrestricted U-boat warfare against the Allies on supplies transported across the Atlantic.
During an air raid on the 16th March 1940 thirty-two Junkers Ju-88 dive bombers attacked the Royal Naval Base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.
The Battle for Narvik began on the 10th April 1940 when a flotilla of five British destroyers, led by Commander Bernard Warburton-Lee, entered the harbour of Narvik under the cover of heavy snow. In the surprise attack they sank two German destroyers and six merchant ships and damaged another destroyer. Five additional German destroyers joined in the engagement and fired at Warburton-Lee’s HMS Hardy knocking out his forward guns and the ships bridge. Most of the officers were killed and Warburton-Lee sustained a severe head wound. Although seriously wounded Paymaster Lieutenant G.H. Stannard took command of Hardy and ordered the ship to be grounded and abandoned. Shortly after being brought ashore Warburton-Lee died and for his actions he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Two British destroyers were sunk including Hardy with another damaged and the remaining destroyers withdrew from the harbour. On the 13th April 1940 a total of eleven British ships arrived to find the German destroyers stranded through lack of fuel and ammunition. The ensuing battle saw all German destroyers sunk or scuttled and the only vessel to survive was the U-boat U-51.
By the 25th May 1940 Allied troops had been pushed back to the beaches at Dunkirk and a flotilla of small boats managed to evacuate over 300,000 British and French troops to England by the 3rd June 1940.
Operation Dynamo was finally completed on the 3rd June 1940 where 335,000 soldiers evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches. Britain declared this was a triumph out of tragic defeat. On the following day, the 4th June 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a great speech where he promised to defend our native island home by fighting on the beaches, landing grounds, streets and hills and that “we shall never surrender”.
Travelling through the Norwegian Sea British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and two British destroyers were sunk by German battleship Scharnhorst on 8th June 1940.
Similar to the evacuation from Dunkirk, 150.000 Allied troops were evacuated from ports of North West France by the Royal Navy between the 15th and 25th June1940, code-named Operation Aerial.
On the 17th June 1940, Cunard liner RMS Lancastria had not long left the port of St. Nazaire when she was spotted by German bombers who proceeded to bomb her. The liner had been pressed into service as a troopship with a full complement of personnel and stores. When the liner sank approximately 4000 men, women and children lost their lives.



British politician Winston Churchill and American General John Pershing stated, at the end of the Great War, that we would have to fight this war again in twenty years hence. They were both right but for different reasons. Churchill was concerned that the financial constraints would impose terrible hardship on the German nation and lead to a harsher form of administration. Pershing believed if Germany did not surrender unconditionally on German soil they would not consider themselves to have been defeated. It was to be a different type of warfare and would last six years instead of four years as did the Great War.
The Opposing Armies
Britain was totally unprepared for war. The British Army of 1939 was a volunteer army with limited conscription only being introduced in early 1939. Full conscription was brought in after the declaration of war with Germany. During the early years of the Second World War the British Army suffered defeat in almost every theatre of war in which it was deployed. However, by 1943 the British had begun to take on an offensive role. The German Army were the land forces component of the Wehrmacht, (the regular German Armed Forces) from 1935. Included in the Wehrmacht were the Kriegsmarine (Navy) and the Luftwaffe (Air Force). The German military had battle experience whilst participating in the Spanish Civil War. They developed the Great War lightning-fast war or Blitzkrieg to occupy their enemies territories.
Naval Power
At the beginning of the Second World War the Royal Navy was still the strongest navy in the world, both in numbers of ships and naval bases across the globe. During the course of the war the US Navy expanded rapidly as America was forced into a war on two front on the seas, the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. By the end of the war the US Navy was larger than any other navy in the world. The main German naval expansion was the submarine. It was realised that only a strong U-boat flotilla would have any hope of Germany winning a naval war. During the Great War some seven hundred allied escort vessels had been occupied defending against a maximum of sixty U-boats deployed at any one time. Throughout the Second World War when allied shipping losses soared, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill confided that the U-boat threat was the only thing that seriously worried him .
Power in the Air
At the outbreak of the war, the Luftwaffe had four times the number of aircraft as the Royal Air Force (RAF). Both sides had been developing aircraft during the Inter-War Period, but after Adolf Hitler came to power, Germany had been aggressively building and acquiring an effective air-force. Germany had another advantage because of the battle hardened Luftwaffe pilots who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. On the other hand, Britain was desperately trying to appease Hitler, until eventually the British government began to realise the potential danger and began the expansion of the RAF. Germany and Britain continued aircraft development during the course of the Second World War.
The Great War established the validity of the tank concept and Britain and France were the leaders in tank design. Between the two world wars, many nations needed to have tanks but only a few had the industrial resources to design and build them. The early lead was gradually lost to the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent Nazi Germany during the course of the 1930’s. Other European countries and America followed by designing and adapting their own versions of the tank. For much of the Second World War, the British Army was saddled with a succession of tanks that ranged from the bad to just adequate. Some were rushed into service too quickly and proved to be unreliable. Others spent too long in development or only achieved a degree of usefulness after numerous modifications. Nearly all were under-gunned and most lacked the armour to resist anti-tank weapons. However, Nazi Germany developed numerous tank designs during the Second World War. In addition to their own designs, Germany employed and adapted various captured and foreign-built tanks. By doing this they saw their tanks grow from “tiny 5 ton packages to 100 ton monsters.”
As far as the artillery was concerned it would take five years to complete what was needed in terms of new equipment plus the training and formation of gun crews. At the beginning of the war the Royal Artillery modernised a large number of vintage guns from the Great War. Over 60% were lost in France when the British Army were to retreat and evacuate from Dunkirk. German artillery was considered to be useful but behind the times, because it was really a perfection of the Great War artillery. Despite all this their artillery was probably one of the most lethal weapons the Germans had, with the assorted variation of the 105mm and 150mm being the most common.
Reparation Payments from Germany for the Great War
With the exception of the Hitler era Germany fulfilled her obligation to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and paid the reparation bill in full on the 3rd October 2010. The settlement closed the final chapter on the Great War that had shaped the twentieth century. The reparation payments had bankrupted Germany in the 1920s and the emerging Nazi Party seized on the public resentment of the deep sense of injustice of the 1919 treaty. Foreign bonds had been issued to Germany in 1924 and 1930 allowing them the chance to raise the cash, plus the interest, required to fulfil the reparation demands the allies made after the Great War. As Germany was deemed to be the perpetrator of the Great War they bore the sole responsibility for the war and were forced to pay crippling reparations.



On 1st March 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered Plan ‘Z’ to be instigated. Plan ‘Z’ was the name given to the planned re-equipment and expansion of the existing Kriegsmarine (German Navy). The fleet was meant to challenge the naval power of Britain, and was to be completed by 1948.The plan called for a fleet of ten battleships and four aircraft carriers which were intended to engage the Royal Navy in battle. This force would be supplemented with numerous long-range cruisers that would attack British shipping. A small force of U-boats was also to be included in this fleet.

On the 15th March 1939 the German Wehrmacht occupied Czechoslovakia. German annexation of Czechoslovakia’s northern and western border had begun in 1938. Adolf Hitler’s pretext for this action was the alleged privations suffered by the ethnic German population living in the region. Although the Czechs had warmly welcomed the Germans when they had previously entered the Sudetenland, they stood silently in despair when the Nazis entered Prague. Having annexed the Sudetenland, Hitler’s next ambition was the conquest of Czechoslovakia. As Czechoslovakia was a major manufacturer of machine-guns, tanks and artillery, Hitler recognised the importance of occupying Czechoslovakia. By his annexation, Germany had gained over 2,000 field guns, 464 tanks and 500 anti-aircraft artillery pieces. Together with 43,000 machine-guns, over 1,000,000 rifle and pistols and about a billion rounds of ammunition, Germany had sufficient weaponry to arm approximately half of the Wehrmacht.

On the 20th March 1939, Germany issued an oral ultimatum to Lithuania demanding that the Klaipeda Region be given up or the Wehrmacht would invade Lithuania. The Klaipeda Region had been detached from Germany at the end of the Great War. After years of rising tension between Germany and Lithuania, the demand was expected. The ultimatum was issued just five days after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Of the four signatories of the 1924 Klaipeda Convention, which guaranteed Lithuanian protection, Britain and France followed a policy of appeasement, while Italy and Japan openly supported Germany. Lithuania was forced to accept the ultimatum on the 22nd March 1939. For Germany it was the last territorial acquisition before the Second World War and for Europe it was a further escalation in pre-war tensions.

Following Adolf Hitler’s demands to return the Free City of Danzig (Gdansk) region of Poland to Germany, negotiations began on the 21st March 1939. Poland refused to agree to the demands. Germany began to move troop concentrations along the Polish border. On the 31st March 1939 in response to Nazi Germany’s Danzig demands and defiance of the Munich Agreement together with the occupation of Czechoslovakia, Britain and France pledged their support to assure Poland of her independence. Britain and France were not ready for war, and they needed time to properly re-arm and were determined to gain that time at any price. However, Polish leaders were not aware that the guarantee would not give additional support in the form of immediate military assistance.

The German-Romanian Treaty was signed in Bucharest on the 23rd March 1939. The German and Romanian governments signed the treaty for the “Development of Economic Relations between the Two Countries”, establishing German control over most aspects of the Romanian economy. The treaty had the effect of forcing Romania to join the Axis Powers because it had become a “German dependency” state.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain drafted the British guarantee of Poland’s independence on the 30th March 1939, after making it clear that an attack would not be tolerated. This guarantee was in response to Nazi Germany’s defiance of the Munich Agreement and the occupation of Czechoslovakia. On the 6th April 1939, during a visit to London by the Polish Foreign Minister, it was agreed to formalise the assurance as an Anglo-Polish military alliance. That assurance was extended on the 13th April 1939 to Greece and Romania following Italy’s invasion of Albania.

The Spanish Civil War ended when General Francisco Franco proclaimed victory in a radio speech on the 1st April 1939. The last of the Republican forces, made up of mainly relatively urban left wing leaning citizens and supported by anarchists and communists, were forced into unconditional surrender. Franco was the leader of the Nationalist Party, consisting largely of Catholic aristocratic citizens, who had led his nation through four years of civil war. After the end of the war, there were harsh reprisals against Franco’s former enemies. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and at least 30,000 executed. Many others were put to forced labour, building railways, draining swamps and digging canals.

On the 3rd April 1939, Germany started planning the invasion of Poland known as “Fall Weiss”. The German military High Command finalised its operational orders on the 15th June 1939 and the invasion commenced on the 1st September 1939, precipitating the Second World War.

The Italian invasion of Albania was a brief military campaign by the Kingdom of Italy against the Albanian Kingdom between the 7th to the 12th April 1939. Albania had long been of considerable strategic importance to Italy as it allowed the Italian navy to have control of the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. It also provided Italy with a beachhead in the Balkans. The conflict was a result of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s imperialistic policies. King Zog I was forced into exile when Albania was over-run and the country was made part of the Italian Empire.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter Adolf Hitler on the 14th April 1939 with a request that a fear of a new world war conflict be averted by discussion and negotiation. He was aware that Hitler had repeatedly stated Germany had no desire for war, but Roosevelt required assurance that Germany would not attack or invade any other European nation. The United States would be willing to participate in an effort to bring world peace. Hitler’s reply on the 28th April 1939 that the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 heaped many injustices upon the German people. He pointed out that he had brought Germany into full employment by building a new infra-structure and restored some previously lost territories back to Germany. The reports that Germany intended to attack Poland, were a “mere invention by the international press”, which had led Poland to make an agreement with England. Hitler considered this to be a breaking of the Polish-German non-aggression pact, which was signed in 1934, was therefore no longer in existence. Hitler had not really answered Roosevelt’s question of whether he had finished with aggression and would he carry out his plan to attack Poland.

On the 18th April 1939, Russia’s President Joseph Stalin proposed an anti-Nazi alliance with Britain and France. Such an agreement could have changed the course of 20th century history. Stalin proposed moving a million Russian troops complete with supplies and weapons to the German border providing Polish objections be overcome to allow the Red Army crossing its territory. Britain and France would only enter into negotiations but were not authorised to commit to binding deals. However, on the 21st August 1939 the French made a desperate attempt to revive the talks but they were rebuffed as secret Soviet-Nazi talks were well advanced.

On the 26th April 1939, Britain reintroduced conscription. At long last, the British policy of appeasement was being abandoned. Despite this, Hitler firmly believed that there would be no retaliation from Britain and France if he attacked Poland.

On the 28th April 1939, Adolf Hitler denounced the Anglo-German Naval Agreement which had been signed in 1935. His excuse was that the British “guarantee” of Polish independence was part of the encirclement policy of Germany and to prevent the emergence of a new naval treaty. The Germans began refusing to share information about their shipbuilding which they considered to be justification of Hitler’s ordering the implication of Plan Z on the 1st March 1939.

The Battles of Khalkhyn Hol were a series of engagements beginning on the 11th May 1939 and lasted until the 16th September 1939. The battles were fought along the Soviet-Japanese border with the participants being the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Japan and Manchukuo. Mongolia was a communist state allied with the Soviet Union, and Manchukuo was a puppet state of Japan. There was dispute about the border between Manchukuo and Mongolia called the Khalkhyn Hol which resulted in skirmishes between the two sides. By the 31st August 1939, Japanese forces were nearly totally destroyed after having the Soviet army completely encircling them. The Soviet Union and Japan agreed to a cease-fire which was effective on the 16th September 1939 allowing Russia to proceed with the invasion of Poland on the 17th September 1939.

On the 22nd May 1939, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany signed a military and political alliance known as the “Pact of Steel”. Originally the pact drafted a three way military alliance between Japan, Italy and Germany. While Japan wanted the pact to be aimed at the Soviet Union, Italy and Germany wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France. The pact was signed without Japan due to this disagreement. With Italy’s resources stretched to capacity, many Italians believed Italy’s alliance with Germany would provide time to regroup. Influenced by Adolf Hitler, discrimination policies against the Jews in Italy was instituted by Benito Mussolini.

The Focke Wulf Fw 190 made its first flight on the 1st June 1939, which alongside the Messerschmitt Bf 109 became the backbone of Luftwaffe’s Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force). The Fw 190 was a German was a single seater, single engine fighter aircraft which was widely used in the Second World War. It had a twin-row fourteen cylinder radial engine which enabled it to lift larger loads allowing it to also be used as a day fighter, ground attack aircraft, fighter-bomber and occasionally night-fighter. The Fw 190 began operational flying over France in August 1941, and it soon became apparent that it proved to be superior to the RAF Spitfire. The ability to out-turn the Fw 190 was the Spitfire’s only advantage, with the German fighter having greater firepower and superior manoeuvrability especially at low to medium altitude.

The Tientsin Incident began on the 14th June 1939 when the Japanese blockaded the British concession in Tientsin, China (modern day Tianjin). The British Royal Navy and the British Foreign Office reported on the 26th June 1939 the only way to break the Japanese blockade was by deploying warships to the area. However, given the current tensions with Germany, such a deployment would not be advisable. To appease the Japanese, on the 20th August 1939 despite protest from the Chinese government, the British handed over four Chinese nationals to the Japanese. The four men had been accused of killing a pro-Japanese Chinese collaborationist and were eventually executed by the Japanese. The Tientsin Incident marked the beginning of a pattern in which Japan would seek confrontation with Western powers backing the Chinese. This practise would ultimately end with Japan going to war with the United States of America and Britain in December 1941.

On the 17th June 1939, the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish governments rejected an offer from the German government to negotiate a mutual non-aggression pact. The German offer was spurred by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s suggestion that Germany’s neighbours felt threatened by aggression. These states also announced their opposition to a joint Anglo-French-Soviet guarantee of the independence of the Baltic States. The Nordic foreign ministers discussed the German offer at length, but agreed to remain aloof from all commitments to rival power groups. Relations between the Finns and the Soviets began to cool, especially as the Soviet delegation to the League of Nations blocked League approval for the fortifications of the Aaland Islands. The Danish government was the only Scandinavian power to accept the German offer.

The Einstein-Szilard letter was a letter written by Leó Szilárd and signed by Albert Einstein that was sent to the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the 2nd August 1939. Szilárd was a Hungarian physicist, who was living in the United States at the time, had been a student of Einstein, a German-Jewish physicist who had immigrated to America when Adolf Hitler came to power. The letter warned that Germany might develop atomic bombs and suggested that the United States should start its own nuclear programme. Roosevelt took heed of the advice and prompted the action which eventually resulted in the Manhattan Project developing the first atomic bomb. The discovery of uranium fission in December 1938 was reported in the 6th January 1939 issue of Die Naturwissenschaften. Lise Meitner, a Jewish Austrian-Swedish physicist, correctly identified the process as nuclear fission which was reported on the 11th February 1939 issue of Nature.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which was signed in Moscow on the 23rd August 1939. The signatories were foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and Vyacheslav Molotov of the Soviet Union. The pact provided a written guarantee of non-belligerence by each party to the other and a secret protocol that divided the territories of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Romania into German and Soviet hands. They both anticipated “territorial and political rearrangement” of these countries. The Soviet Union had wanted good relations with Germany for years and was pleased to see that Germany embraced the same ideas.

The Germans, prompted by the British, issued one last diplomatic ultimatum to Poland on the 30th August 1939 stating they were willing to commence negotiations about the Polish Corridor. This was not in Hitler’s previous demands which was only for the restoration of Danzig. The ultimatum was that a Polish representative with the power to sign an agreement had to arrive in Berlin the following day. In the meantime Germany would draw up a set of proposals for consideration. On the night of the 30/31st August 1939 the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop read the proposals to the British Ambassador, who requested a copy for the transmission to the Polish government. Ribbentrop refused the request on the grounds that the Polish representative had failed to arrive by midnight Ribbentrop interpreted this as bring Poland had rejected Germany’s offer and negotiations with Poland came to an end.

On the 31st August 1939, Hitler signed the order for an assault on Poland. The Germans staged a phony raid on a German radio station at Gleiwitz and were able to blame the Polish for the “unprovoked attack”, giving the Germans the excuse they needed to invade Poland.

Without declaring war, Germany invaded Poland on the 1st September 1939. The co-ordinated air and land attack was conducted with such brutal efficiency that “blitzkrieg” became a feared offensive tactic. The inter-war period ended with the invasion which initiated the start of the Second World War.