“The Phoney War” October 1939 - April 1940

After the initial terror of the Polish campaign, everyone expected heavy combat, like the summer of 1914. The British Expeditionary Force landed in France, British children were sent to Canada or the countryside; At various times, neutral Belgium and Holland braced for invasion.

The heavy combat in France did not immediately materialize. Instead, the warring nations settled into a lull in fighting. The British press dubbed it the “sitzkrieg” — the expected terror of Total War had not yet emerged. Overlooked was the hot war in the Atlantic. British merchantmen were fighting for their lives to keep Britain supplied with resources.

What was happening was futile attempts by both sides to negotiate an end to the war that would not embarrass either side. Germany reached out to the Allies through Holland. Since the British held that Germany should recall her forces from Poland, there was not much leeway for either side to get out with a favorable position to both sides.

Underscoring the U-boat menace was the swift and silent entry into Scapa Flow of U-47, commanded by Günther Prien on October 14, 1939. Prien slipped past sunken ships and chains that were used as antisubmarine nets, and sank the HMS Royal Oak with heavy loss of life. Hitler personally decorated Prien.