by Author | November 7th, 2010

Note: The following is fiction, although much of it is based on historical fact…

On the evening of Friday 20th September 1940, General Sir Alan Brooke, Commander in Chief British Home Forces, went to bed hoping that he was past the danger point. Two weeks before he had sent out an order to put Southern and Eastern Commands on high-alert for a potential invasion, having received intelligence that suggested the Germans would attempt their operation during the middle two weeks of the month. When the code-word ‘Cromwell’ was issued, it was interpreted in many different ways by various formations and units.

The major British field formations understood that it was essentially an order to come to the shortest possible readiness to move and to maintain an extra vigilant watch within their areas of responsibility. Many minor units and in particular, the Home Guard, thought that the codeword meant Britain was about to be invaded, or had already been. Thus, there was a certain amount of confusion around the country, and in the ensuing chaos of hastily laid mines, snap road-blocks and over-excitement, a number of people were accidentally killed or injured by trigger happy and/or nervous soldiers and Home Guardsmen.

The confusion had persisted for around 24 hours, before everyone finally settled down. After two weeks on alert, the initial enthusiasm had drained away and most units were bored, tired, and ready for a stand down. As the minutes of 20th September ticked away, Brooke weighed up the odds and decided that the general alert would be cancelled at dawn the next day.

During this fortnight of worry, the Luftwaffe’s attacks had continued unabated, although the 20th September itself was a fairly quiet day in terms of the Battle of Britain. That did not particularly alarm the British, as it was normal for the Luftwaffe to ‘take their foot off the gas’ once a week or so, in order to rest crews and refit aircraft. Nobody noticed that the only German aircraft spotted at all during the 19th/20th September had been Dornier 17s, with no sign of the distinctive Heinkel 111s or Junkers 88s. In fact, every 111 and 88 that was available was conducting a short notice, tightly scheduled airfield hopping move to airfields in Denmark, Norway, and to those on the Dutch and German coasts.

In the North Atlantic, a full five days went by without a single British merchant ship being sunk. After a summer of heavy shipping losses, nobody in the Admiralty thought anything awry at the sudden break from U-Boat attacks. Most of those who actually noticed the absence of attacks put it down to good fortune and merely contented themselves with a sigh of relief that they had been given a few days grace from the never-ending torrent of bad news. The reality was however, that every U-Boat the Kriegsmarine could scrape together was now concentrating in the North Sea, ready to form one of the biggest hunting packs ever.

As the shadows lengthened in Scapa Flow on the 20th, HMS Furious, along with two cruisers and three destroyers, weighed anchor and slipped out of harbour, their destination the icy waters off Norway, from where they would launch air strikes against shore based enemy targets. Fortuitously for the British, the departure of this force was missed by the Germans during a narrow gap between air reconnaissance and the arrival off Orkney of the first U-Boats.

More next week…

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Seelöwe Nord is the online home of Andy Johnson, a war fiction novelist. Seelöwe Nord is a war novel that tells the alternative history of Operation Sealion, the proposed German invasion of Britain in 1940. Followed by Thunder in May, and the recently released Crucible of Fate, the trilogy of War Fiction remains a popular read within the genre.

Andy has also started to publish small Leadership and Management Booklets drawing from his extensive experience across many sectors and industries, both military and civilian, the first of which is entitled Captains of the Gate and is now available for download on eReaders directly from Amazon.