Help! Send Guns
by John Marshall
It wasn't all that long ago, now that I think about it. The event happened within my lifetime. I guess to most folks that would make it a really long time ago, because it happened before most of them were born. Most politicians today can't remember it, and more's the pity, because history has a way of repeating itself.
Take yourself back to the year 1940. Hitler had launched his blitzkrieg hordes across most of Europe, and occupied France. The Nazi juggernaut paused and stood poised on the shores of the English Channel. On a clear day, you could see the white cliffs of Dover. The Luftwaffe owned the skies and German soldiers were toasting their victories with French wine in sidewalk cafes in Paris. Hitler danced a jig as the French signed the documents of their capitulation in the same little railroad car that saw the formal end of World War I.
On July 16 of that year, Hitler sent a top-secret directive to his military leaders: “Since England, despite her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign of willingness to come to terms, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary to carry out, a landing operation against her. The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English motherland as a base for carrying on the war against Germany, and if necessary, to occupy the country completely.”
The code name for this operation was “Sea Lion.” It didn't take much in the way of military intelligence to surmise that this was to be an attack by sea against the British, for whom the national symbol had always been the Lion. The distance wasn?t long. It was just 25 miles across the English Channel. The invasion plans called for landing as many as 250,000 Wehrmacht soldiers on the southern shores of England, on a 200-mile front stretching from Ramsgate, east of Dover, to Lyme Bay, west of the Isle of Wight. Landing places were to include Brighton, Folkestone, and Pevensey, the exact landing site chosen by William the Conqueror for his successful invasion in 1066. Some of the landings would be airborne, with elite Fallschirmjager troops creating panic while three huge waves of troops secured beachheads to push inland and cut off London from the rest of the country.
And the best part of the plan was this: the British people were, for the most part, defenseless. Decades of a culture that taught that guns were bad and should be eschewed had taken their toll. About the only guns extant in England were fowling pieces owned by the privileged gentry. The only tools available for the average British subject to defend his country were broomsticks, spades, and pitchforks. In other words, much like it is today in that country. What to do? Here was the most invincible arm of all time massed across the Channel, ready and willing to invade, rape and pillage a defenseless British populace.
Fast forward to the present. Several weeks ago, I had ordered via e-Bay a collection of magazines from the 1930s and 1940s to use for research on articles and a book I am writing. Included among these musty periodicals was the November 1940 issue of The American Rifleman, then as now the official journal of the National Rifle Association of America. Unlike our brothers in England, Americans were then truly a “nation of riflemen.” The articles and advertisements in the Rifleman showed intense interest in the ownership of firearms and their employment for sport, hunting, and defense. I was absorbed in the marvelous mix of firearms and shooting accessories available at that time (and the incredible prices!). Then, turning to the page just opposite the table of contents, I came face to face with an incredible lesson in history that should never be forgotten.
Here, in bold capital print, emblazoned across the page, were the words “SEND A GUN TO DEFEND A BRITISH HOME.” The appeal went on: “British civilians, faced with threat of invasion, desperately need arms for the defense of their homes.” Appealed for were pistols, rifles, revolvers, shotguns and binoculars. In short, from Britain to America: “Help! Send any arms you can spare, because we haven't a prayer without them when and if we are invaded!”
The full-page ad has a lesson that is clear: Men and women without firearms are defenseless subjects of their government, and at the mercy of any armed opponent. Men and women with firearms are not subjects, but citizens. Citizens who can stand proudly and ably against any foe, foreign or domestic.
By the way, Americans did respond, with thousands of firearms and binoculars, freely and without hope of the return of their goods. We were, and thank heavens, still are the “arsenal of democracy.” And let it ever be so. The postscript to the story is that exactly none of these freely-sent arms were ever returned to their rightful owners. Most were melted as scrap after the war by a British Government that was too blind to see the object lesson.
The rest of the story, of course, is that Hitler needed command of the skies over Britain before an invasion could be launched. The invention and use of radar enabled the few planes of the Royal Air Force to concentrate on incoming waves of aircraft. Angered by a retaliatory attack by the British on Berlin, Hitler re-directed his air attacks to the populace of London, ignoring the strategic radar installations. And so, the “few” of the RAF managed to keep the Luftwaffe at bay and forestall any further plans for invasion. England became the staging arena for the fully-armed Americans and the British, many armed with American weapons, to launch their own attack across the English Channel. June 6, 1944 was D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, and it was the beginning of the end for the Nazis.
Things could have ended very differently if operation “Sea Lion” had been carried out successfully. There is no doubt that the defenseless British population would have become mincemeat in the face of such a formidable, armed-to-the-teeth foe. The English appeal to America for arms is a lesson that we, and the British, should never forget. Read the ad yourself. And the next time some idiot tells you we would all be better off without guns, reflect on this bit of history. If America ever had to appeal for arms to defend itself, exactly to whom would we turn?
© 2003 “The Blue Press” - Dillon Precision - December 2003
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