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.