Would Britain have been able to hold out against the Germans without their empire?

Mar 2016
1,193
Australia
#1
I'm referring to the Second World War here. In Niall Ferguson's Empire he mentions at one point how the only reason Britain was able to continue the war against the Germans was because of the vast pool of wealth, resources and manpower they were able to draw from their huge colonial empire, and that had Britain been only the British Isles, they would have been defeated by the Germans before the Soviets or Americans became involved in the war.

Is there any truth in this claim?
 
Jan 2015
3,320
Front Lines of the Pig War
#2
I'm referring to the Second World War here. In Niall Ferguson's Empire he mentions at one point how the only reason Britain was able to continue the war against the Germans was because of the vast pool of wealth, resources and manpower they were able to draw from their huge colonial empire, and that had Britain been only the British Isles, they would have been defeated by the Germans before the Soviets or Americans became involved in the war.

Is there any truth in this claim?
A difficult question, and hard to answer.
The strength of the Royal Navy anf RAF made it very difficult for the Nazis to beat Britain, which were built with the revenue and resources afforded by a large colonial empire, and in fact the large empire was the main reason to keep such a large navy
 
Jan 2015
3,320
Front Lines of the Pig War
#3
I'm referring to the Second World War here. In Niall Ferguson's Empire he mentions at one point how the only reason Britain was able to continue the war against the Germans was because of the vast pool of wealth, resources and manpower they were able to draw from their huge colonial empire, and that had Britain been only the British Isles, they would have been defeated by the Germans before the Soviets or Americans became involved in the war.

Is there any truth in this claim?
Technically he would be wrong, as Canada, Australia, NZ, and South Africa were self governing Dominions, not "colonies", so arguably not part of a colonial empire.
Also, if the resources of the British colonies were not under British control, they would still have great difficulty exporting their products, except with the British & Dominion merchant fleet, which was vastly larger than any other nations, and taking into account that the Axis were under blockade.
 
Jan 2015
3,320
Front Lines of the Pig War
#5
No. RAF would be short of manpower. Army couldn't sustain as many fronts. We'd have a smaller Navy. We'd have made peace after the French surrendered.
The colonies didn't supply much manpower to the RAF.
With no colonies in Asia there likely wouldn't have been a Pacific war, nor one in the middle east.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,296
#6
Technically he would be wrong, as Canada, Australia, NZ, and South Africa were self governing Dominions, not "colonies", so arguably not part of a colonial empire.
Also, if the resources of the British colonies were not under British control, they would still have great difficulty exporting their products, except with the British & Dominion merchant fleet, which was vastly larger than any other nations, and taking into account that the Axis were under blockade.
Empires are often composed of associated territories rather than centrally controlled regions. In fact, most people assume an Empire is nothing but a vast monolithic state, but the concept is defined as one state owed loyalty by others, thus the inclusion of dominions is perfectly satisfactory. However, in 1926 the actions of Balfour led to a declaration of the Commonwealth in which all dominions were equal in status with Britain. Although technically the Empire still existed, it was declining in relative importance to the new grouping. The London declaration in 1949 ended the pre-eminence of Britain in favour of equality and liberty, particularly in the light of India asserting independence, the core imperial territory.

I'm referring to the Second World War here. In Niall Ferguson's Empire he mentions at one point how the only reason Britain was able to continue the war against the Germans was because of the vast pool of wealth, resources and manpower they were able to draw from their huge colonial empire, and that had Britain been only the British Isles, they would have been defeated by the Germans before the Soviets or Americans became involved in the war.

Is there any truth in this claim?
Basically, yes. However that alone was not enough. The commercial and industrial support from America was also essential for British long term survival.
 
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Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,645
Eastern PA
#7
In the absence of a British Empire, the probability of a BEF in 1940 is probably very low. The defense treaty with Poland also is a low probability event.

Thus the British might not even been involved in European War of 1939.
 
Dec 2011
2,948
Late Cretaceous
#8
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan:

wiki:

The United Kingdom was considered an unsuitable location for air training, due to the possibility of enemy attack, the strain caused by wartime traffic at airfields and the unpredictable climate, so the plan called for the facilities in the Dominions to train British and each other's aircrews.
Negotiations regarding joint training, between the four governments concerned, took place in Ottawa during the first few months of the war. On 17 December 1939, they signed the Air Training Agreement – often referred to as the "Riverdale Agreement", after the UK representative at the negotiations, Lord Riverdale.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was viewed as an incredibly ambitious programme. The 1939 agreement stated that the training was to be similar to that of the RAF: three initial training schools, thirteen elementary flying training schools, sixteen service flying training schools, ten air observer schools, ten bombing and gunnery schools, two air navigation schools and four wireless schools were to be created.
The agreement called for the training of nearly 50,000 aircrew each year, for as long as necessary: 22,000 aircrew from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, air crews received elementary training in various Commonwealth countries before travelling to Canada for advanced courses. Training costs were to be divided between the four governments.
 
Feb 2016
4,357
Japan
#10
The colonies didn't supply much manpower to the RAF.
With no colonies in Asia there likely wouldn't have been a Pacific war, nor one in the middle east.
RAF was boosted by significant numbers of Australian, Canadian, and NZ pilots.
We were being ground down in BoB and the commonwealths pilots gave us much needed men.

Though no empire means a very tiny army. Maybe 6-8 Divisions maximum possibly as low as 4. So no war in Asia means not much. We wouldn't have had the troops any way. Our navy wouldn't be very big. We'd be militarily somewhere between the Netherlands and Spain.

With no empire we would have been a small military nation with little power projection. We'd have been not been able to withstand a German onslaught.
They'd have numerical and financial superiority.

Though I suppose it would depend on if we HAD an empire but it broke up
1) before WW1 in which case WW1 is a German victory and there's no WW2.
2) we win WW1 and the empire collapses peacefully but bitter and Aus/Can/NZ/India/S.Africa become republics and our ties are severed. In which case we'd be shedding soldiers and boats all through the 20s but might be left with a residual army that is still bigger than we need..
3) the empire never existed. After the AWI Canada joins USA, we get booted out of India in the 1780s too and retreat from all outposts. In which case it's likely we'd be fringe nation and a bit of an oddity. Trade with Europe but neither powerful or involved in her affairs. We'd be like a Sweden or Portugal. Only important in regional affairs. So WW1 might not even involve us but imagine Germany loses anyway and WW2 kicks off. Highly likely we stay neutral, even friendly with Germany and sell stuff to both sides. But if we were dragged into it. We'd have no financial muscle, a 10th of our manpower, no ships and no supply of tea .....