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Famous British Battles of the 20th Century

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Britain was involved in two world wars as well as other smaller wars such as at the Falklands. As such, there were numerous famous battles that involved the British Army, and of course the Royal Navy. These are a few of the famous British Battles of the 20th Century.

Battle of Amiens

This was perhaps the decisive battle of the First World War. Germany’s advances in 1918 had seemingly left Britain and its allies on the verge of defeat, but their victory at the Second Battle of the Marne was enough to halt the German advance. At the Battle of Amiens Britain and its allies were ready to defeat the German army, and they did just that in a battle that went some way to ensuring victory for the Entente in the war.

At Amiens the British would provide hundreds of aircraft and tanks for the battle. These would be combined with their infantry to provide greater infantry support. Although the tank was slow, it mowed over German lines, and their aircraft provided further air support for British and French troops on the ground. British, Canadian and Australian armies of the British Empire all advanced, and thousands of German troops surrendered. It was a great victory for Britain and its allies, and months later the war would end.

Battle of El Alamein

The North Africa Campaign was Britain’s primary front from 1940 to 1943. It was here that the British and Commonwealth troops had been at war with the Italian Empire, as well as the Germans, in a campaign that neither side had won by 1942. The victory of the Afrika Korps at Gazala was a notable one, but nonetheless Britain was still expecting further reinforcements and a shakeup of the Allied officers in North Africa provided some fresh inspiration for their troops.

Battle of El-Alamein
The Battle of El Alamein was one that won the Allies in the North Africa Campaign in late 1942. With further Allied reinforcements expected, Rommel had to take Suez sooner rather than later, so the Afrika Korps made a final advance towards El Alamein. However, the British had amassed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to meet the German advance, as well as a large number of tanks.  Outnumbered, and with increasing losses, the Afrika Korps withdrew from El Alamein and would surrender in Tunisia during 1943.[1]

Battle of Jutland

The largest naval battle in the history of the Royal Navy was the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. The Imperial German Navy was ready for further surface fleet action with the Royal Navy in 1916, and two large fleets of German warships met Britain’s Grand Fleet off the coast of Jutland. Admiral Scheer expected to wipe out most of the Grand Fleet and undermine Britain’s economic blockade with this operation. Certainly, Germany’s dreadnoughts did hold their own and sank a greater tonnage of the Royal Navy’s warships. However, they had losses of their own; and only their torpedoes could save their fleet from greater losses during the battle.

After the Imperial German Navy withdrew from Jutland, Germany had something to celebrate. However, the Grand Fleet had not been wiped out by the Germans and still remained intact. In this respect, the Imperial German Navy had not sunk enough of Britain’s battleships to ensure a decisive victory.

Battle of Taranto

One of the Royal Navy’s most notable naval victories in the Mediterranean Campaign of the 1940s was the Battle of Taranto. The Italians had a sizable navy in the Mediterranean, but the Royal Navy still had one trump card: the aircraft carrier. To wipe out warships of the Italian navy, the Royal Navy planned an airstrike targeting the Italian naval base of Taranto. It was here that British aircraft launched from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious bombed three Italian battleships in shallow water. As the harbor was shallow this was not enough to sink them, but the Italian battleships required fairly extensive repairs.[2] This was also one of the first naval battles to include an aircraft carrier.

Battle of Singapore

This was a famous battle, but was no victory for the British and Commonwealth armies in Singapore. In actual fact, Britain was soundly beaten by the Japanese at the Battle of Singapore. Before the battle the Japanese had wiped out the British naval presence along the Malay coast, and swiftly advanced into Singapore as the British divisions broke up and dispersed across Singapore. When the Japanese had surrounded their army, about 60,000 British troops surrendered to the Japanese army. As such, it is more famous as one of the most notable military defeats of the British army.

The Battle of River Plate

This is a fairly famous naval battle that has had its own film. It was the first naval battle of WW2 involving the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and cruisers of the Royal Navy. In this respect, it was only a small naval battle and no ships were actually lost during the battle itself. However, both the German and British ships were hit during the battle and the Graf Spee withdrew to the Uruguayan port of Montevideo.

What happened at Montevideo was not strictly a part of the battle, but remains linked to it as the cruisers that had met the ship in battle waited for the battleship to leave port. With the Uruguayans stating that ship could not remain in port, the Graf Spee left the port soon after it arrived and was scuttled by its captain. Luck may have favored the British in this battle, but was still a famous victory for the Royal Navy.

These are a few of the most famous British battles of the 20th century. The battles remain among the more famous in British military history, and involved hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors of the British Army and Royal Navy.

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Bibliography

  1. "Second Battle of El Alamein ." WW2 Database. 29/10/2015 <Web >
  2. "Attack on Taranto." WW2 Database. 29/10/2015 <Web >

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