World War II Air Campaign: Air Raid Precautions (ARP)


Figure 1.--Here we have an ARP messenger boy, notice the M in his helmet and ARP pin on his lapel. You can tell by the way he wears his helmet that he was not cowed by the Luftwaffe. The photograph was probably taken in 1940, but we are not sure just where. Source: Imperial War Museum.

The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was the British civil defense organisation. It was established long before World War II and the Battle of Britain. Britain was bombed by the Germans in World war I, by both bombers and Zephins. The attacks had been of no strategic importance, but the civilans were terrified. Britain was building a strategic bombing force to prepare a massive aerial assault on Germany in 1919. The War ended, however, before the campaign was launched (1918). And after the War with improvements in aviation, it became obvious that aerial bombardment could devastate whole cities. Italian military theorist Giulio Douhet published a work on future air warfare that proved highly influential (1921). One memorable phrase reached the public conciousness, "the bomber will always get through". [Douhet] He proved to be correct. The British Government as a result established the Air Raid Precautions organization (1924). The German bpmbing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War made it clear that the German Luftwaffe was prepared to bomb cities. The British Air Ministry believed that a German bombing campaign woukd be devestating and predicted a million casualties and the destruction of London. And Britain almost went to war with Germany over Czechoslovakia (1938). The Government believed that poison gas would be a part of the German asault and ordered gas masks for civilians. No effort was made to build deep shelters, although home shelters were devised. The 1939 Hailey Conference concluded that providing deep shelters would lead to workers staying underground rather than working (1939). The ARP braced for a German attack during the Munich Crisis so when war did come, they were ready. The ARP took on the task of issuing gas masks, pre-fabricated air-raid shelters (Anderson and Morrison shelters), setting up public shelters, and the maintenance of the blackout. The ARP also helped in the rescue effort after air raids and other attacks, and some women became ARP Ambulance Attendants whose job was to help administer first aid to casualties, search for survivors, and in many grim instances, help recover bodies, sometimes those of their own colleagues. ARP Wardens patrolled assigned city neigborhoods to make sure that every home was blacked out. The iniitial Luf\twaffe campaign was a daylight campaign against the RAF. When this failed and increasing losses forced the Luftwaffe to shift to night-time bombing, the black out became very important. Boys served as ARP messengers. The effectiveness of the German aerial bombardment campaign proved less than anticipated. There was substabtial property damage and civilian casuakltues, but far less than anticipated. And the Luftwaffe did not significantly impair the British war econonomy. This was because the Luftwaffe was a tactical force and the RAF exacted a heavy toll on the slow-moving bombers. After the British withstood the Blitz, Hitler shifted the Luftwaffe east to prepare fvor Barbarossa (1941). The morale of the British people remained high througiout the Blitz. The ARP headquarters was at Baylis House in Slough, Buckinghamshire. The Goverment created the Civil Defence Service (1941) which took over the ARP responsibilities and organization. Even so, the public continued to refer to civil defense as the ARP throughout the War. The ARP was formally disbanded (1946).

Establishment

The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was the British civil defense organisation. It was established long before World War II and the Battle of Britain. Britain was bombed by the Germans in World war I, by both bombers and Zephins. The attacks had been of no strategic importance, but the civilans were terrified. Britain was building a strategic bombing force to prepare a massive aerial assault on Germany in 1919. The War ended (1918), however, before the Allied bombing campaign was launched (1919). Even with World War I technology it would have been hugely destructive for Germany. Allied armies would have entered Germany, resulting in the kind of destruction visted on Belgium and northern France. And by 1919, American industrial production would have kicked in add to the Allied arsenals.

Inter-War Concerns

And after the War with improvements in aviation, it became obvious that aerial bombardment could devastate whole cities. Italian military theorist Giulio Douhet published a work on future air warfare that proved highly influential (1921). One memorable phrase reached the public conciousness, "the bomber will always get through". [Douhet] He proved to be correct. The British Government as a result established the Air Raid Precautions organization (1924). The German bpmbing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War made it clear that the German Luftwaffe was prepared to bomb cities. The British Air Ministry believed that a German bombing campaign would be devestating and predicted a million casualties and the destruction of London.

Preliminary Steps

Britain almost went to war with Germany over Czechoslovakia (1938). The Government believed that poison gas would be a part of the German asault and ordered gas masks for civilians. No effort was made to build deep shelters, although home shelters were devised. The 1939 Hailey Conference concluded that providing deep shelters would lead to workers staying underground rather than working (1939).

School Air Raid Drills

We are not sure about the beaucratic dimensions of school air raid percautions. We do not know if this wa overseen by the ARP or the Ministry of Education. Perhaps it was a copperative venture. Nor do we know the time line involved. Presumbably some unit drew up guidelines for the schools. And then each school had to develop its own plan, kidentifying for example the strongest structures and most secure shelter area. One night think that someone fom the ARP or Ministry of Education would then assess the plan or provide trchnical engineering assistance to each headmaster/head teacher. But we do not know if this occurred. Perhaps readers will know more. Nor are we sure when the schools began holding drills to train the children how to react when an air raid sireen sounded. We suspect that there was sone rilling during the Munich Crisis (September 1938), but this needed to be confirmed. There was some optimism when Chamberlain returned from Mjnich and announced that he had achieved 'peace in our time'. The public was related and this probably affected school preparations. Only 6 months latr, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia (March 1939). From that point it was clear to even Chamberlain that war was coming. What occurred at the schools we are not sure. As it was close to the end of the chool year, thee may not have been air raid drills instututed, but this needs to be confirmed. By the time school began (September 1939), war had been declard. The first order of business, at leat in the cities was evacuating the children. This was up to the parents, but many of the students in city schools were evacuated. This was done primarily through the schools. The evacuee children reported to school and then were bussed or were marched to the train stations. Once the children were evacuated, the schools got down to the buiness of drilling the children. This occured at both the city schools and the small towns and vullages that hosted the children. Of course the efforts at the city schools were much more intense as the cities became the primary targets of the Luftwaffe. What we do know a great deal about is what whent on inthe schools to train the children how to react in case of an air raid.

The ARP in the Blitz

The ARP braced for a German attack during the Munich Crisis so when war did come, they were ready. The Luftwaffe did not come when war was declared (September 3). Calculating that the Allies would not declare war, Kitler through the full force of the Luftwaffe on Poland, a counry with only a small, lrgely obsolete air force and bvitually no civil defense preoparations. The Allies refained from major air attacks in Gemany, fearing Luftwaffe reprisals. The ARP took on the task of issuing gas masks, pre-fabricated air-raid shelters (Anderson and Morrison shelters), setting up public shelters, and the maintenance of the blackout. The ARP also helped in the rescue effort after air raids and other attacks, and some women became ARP Ambulance Attendants whose job was to help administer first aid to casualties, search for survivors, and in many grim instances, help recover bodies, sometimes those of their own colleagues. ARP Wardens patrolled assigned city neigborhoods to make sure that every home was blacked out. The iniitial Lufwaffe campaign was a daylight campaign against the RAF. When this failed and increasing losses forced the Luftwaffe to shift to night-time bombing, the black out became very important. Boys served as ARP messengers. The effectiveness of the German aerial bombardment campaign proved less than anticipated. There was substabtial property damage and civilian casuakltues, but far less than anticipated. And the Luftwaffe did not significantly impair the British war econonomy. This was because the Luftwaffe was a tactical force and the RAF exacted a heavy toll on the slow-moving bombers. After the British withstood the Blitz, Hitler shifted the Luftwaffe east to prepare fvor Barbarossa (1941). The morale of the British people remained high througiout the Blitz. The ARP headquarters was at Baylis House in Slough, Buckinghamshire.

Civil Defense Service (1941-45)

The Goverment created the Civil Defence Service (1941) which took over the ARP responsibilities and organization. Even so, the public continued to refer to civil defense as the ARP throughout the War. The ARP was formally disbanded (1946).

Sources

Douhet, Giulio. Command of the Air (1921).






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Created: 2:43 AM 3/2/2011
Last updated: 8:13 AM 1/13/2014