World War II Air Campaign: Battle of Britain--the Blitz (September 1940-May 1941)


Figure 1.--These English children during World War II are collecting toys for the evacuee children.

Off-course German bombers accidentally bombed London on August 23-24, 1940. RAF Bomber Command on August 25-26 directed a small reprisal raid against Berlin. Hitler growing inpatient with the air battle and troubled by the losses of planes and crews was furious. A string believer in terror tactics, he was outraged that such attacks should be used against Germany. He called the British "night gangsters" and ordered an immediate change in Luftwaffe tactics. Rather than completing its offensive against the RAF infrastructure, Hitler ordered a "Blitz" on British cities which began in earnest on September 7. Goering was disturbed because the RAF resistance was making him look bad in frnt of Hitler. He had promissed an swift victory to his Führer. For the new phase of the battle he had brought his personal train to Pas-de-Calais to take charge from his Luftwaffe commanders. [Gilbert, p. 339.] (Goering was a fighter ace in World War I and Hitler had made him the Commander of the Luftwaffe. He had none of the training or technical capabilities of the highly professional Luftwaffe command.) The attack on September 7 included 300 bombers and 600 escorts. The target was the London docks, but the surronding residential area waslso heavily hit. The followup day a smaller attack on September 8 hit electrical power plants and railway stations. The 200 attackers were swarmed over by FAF fighters and 88 were shot down, devestating total. The attacks on London rather than the forward air fields in Kent and along the coast brought the Luftwaffe bombers in range of Lee Malory and 12 Group's big wing. This was a shock to Luftwaffe pilots who had been told that RAF Fighter Command had been reduced to less than 200 fighters. The Luftwaffe, however, kept coming. So did Bomber Command continue raids over Berlin. One report indicted that Goebbel's garden took a direct hit. [Gilbert, p. 340.] It was the London Blitz that is best rememberes with the image of fires around St. Pauls Cathedral, but the Luftwaffe targetted cities throughout Britain: Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Southampton, Swansea, and others. The Luftwaffe continued large scale raids. There were, for example 230 bombers and 700 fighters launched on September 15 and 56 were shot down. In general RAF losses were about half of the Luftwaffe losses and many of the RAF pilots bailed out unharmed while the shot down German pilots were lost to the Luftwaffe. The Blitz ws the most intense aerial bombing campaign seen to that time, far worst than the bombing of Republican cities in Spain, Rotterdam, or the Japanese bomving of Chinese cities. The change in tactics, however. proved to be a disastrous mistake. Hitler's oft repeated penchant for mindless violence was to cost the Luftwaffe dearly. (Strangely, Hitler's judgement during his rise to power and in the early military campaigns was to result in great victories. Beginning with stopping the Panzers before Dunkirk and this decission as well as countless other future decissions, Hitler's war directives were to seriously compromise the NAZI war effort.) The Luftwaffe's attacks wreaked havoc on civilians in London and major English cities, but the British did not crack. An estimated 42,000 civilians were killed. American newsman Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from London ("London calling ...") described Britain's valiant resistance to rapt American radio audiences, greatly affecting American attitides toward the Hitler and the NAZIs. With the Blitz, Fighter Command finally committed foreign squadrons (Candian, Czech, and Polish) that they had been unsure about. They were susosed to communicate in Enhlish in the air, but in the heat of battle that proved impossible. They proved to be some of the most gallant pilots in the FAF. While British cities burned, the RAF was given a respite, allowing its forward air bases to recover from the damage done in August. As a result the RAF was able to mount increasingly costly attacks on the German bomber fleets. The German offensive finally had to be broken off on September 16 because of mounting losses and deteriorating weather. The Luftwaffe had a achieved none of Hitler's goals. [Fest, p. 639.]

Evacuation

English children were evacuated from cities en masse when war broke out in September 1939. When the Luftwaffe did not launch bombinbg runs on England, most of the children returned home. With the fall of France and the initition of the Battle of Britain, the children were once again evacuated from the cities. Not all the city children were evacuated, but mot were.

British Bombing Raids

The unfolding of the Battle of Britain is somewhat different than often presented in popular histories. Many believe that the Blitz on London began because of a British attack on Berlin in September. In fact the British had begun attacks on Berlin, albeit with only small formations, before the August 25-26 raids that are often cited and there is considerable accuracy to the German claim that the Blitz was begun as a retalitory raid.

Civilian Casualties (July and August)

Luftwaffe attacks in July and August caused very few civiian casualties. This was in part because of the evacuations, but primarily because the Luftwaffe targeted the RAF airfields and other selected military facilities. With the exception of the Channel ports, London and other British cities were not targeted. Ambassador Kennedy reports that Churchill told him that 780 civilans had been killed. [J.P. Kennedy, September 2, 1940.] This was a small fraction of what the British had anticipated before the War. Tragically this was to change.

Errant Luftwaffe Attack (August 23-24)

Off-course German bombers accidentally bombed London (August 23-24). There were standing orders to avoid London. Hitler was still hopeful that the British could be induced to make peace. The Luftwaffe's target at the time was the RAF and they were focusing on FAF fields. The pilots were brought to Berlin and reprimanded.

British Retaliation: Berlin Raid (August 25-26)

The British immediately ordered a reprisal attack. This was not, however, as is sometimes portrayed, the first British raid on Berlin or other German cties. Attacking Germany at this stage of the War was a very difficult undertaking. The Luftwaffe was attacking Britain from air bases in occupied France close to England. Berlin was deep in Germany and on the outer limit of the range of existing RAF bombers. In addition, because of the German fighter defenses and the slowcspeed of the existing bombers, the British were forced to bomb at night. This meant that they could not target specific military targets, but could only bomb cities. Sometimes they could not even find the targetted cities. But it meant that when the cities were hit, the casualties would be mostly civilians. RAF Bomber Command directed a small reprisal raid against Berlin (August 25-26). The attack was of no military significance, but it enraged Hitler and Goering and embarassed Goebbels. Churchill writes, "The War Cabinent was much in the mood to hit back, to raise the stakes, and to defy the enemy. I was sure they were right, and believed that nothing impressed or disturbed Hitler so much as his realization of British wrath and will-power. In his heart he was one of our admirers." [Churchill, Finest, p. 342.] Chanberlain had at first ordered the the dropping of leaflets, the British were now prepared to fight the War with all the tools at their disposal. At the tome they were limited. The NAZIs who had bombed Warsaw and other Polish cities without concern for civilian casualties were outraged that German cities were targetted. Goebelles approved the released of images showing German civilian casualties.

Operation Sea Lion (September 3)

Hitler set the date of the start of Operation Sea Lion, the German invasion of England (September 3). The attack was scheduled for September 21. The invasion would have to come in September at the latest. The weather in the Fall and Winter would preclude amphibious operations. Military historians speculate on just how serious Hitler was about an invasion. The whole concept of amphibious operations scared him. The British Army by September would have had 3 months to recover from Dunkirk. Arm shipments from America and the output of British factories meant that the Whrmacht would have faced a very dufferent Britisg Army than they would hve encountered in June. The British rearmed and redeployed were a much more potent force.

Hitler Orders a Change in Tactics (September 4-5)

Hitler growing inpatient with the air battle and troubled by the losses of planes and crews was furious. A strong believer in terror tactics, he was outraged that the British should dare to stage such on Germany. Hitler speaking to a crowd of cheering supporters at the the Berlin Sports Palace threatened "I shall wipe out their cities." (September 4). ("Ich werde ihre Städte ausradieren.") Churchill took note and commented in his memoirs, "He tried his best.". [Churchill, Finest, p, 432.] Hitler called the British "night gangsters" and ordered an immediate change in Luftwaffe tactics. Rather than completing its offensive against the RAF infrastructure, Hitler ordered a "Blitz" on British cities--vegence attacks. Goering was disturbed because the RAF resistance was making him look bad in front of Hitler. He had promissed an swift victory to his Führer. Luftwaffe intelligence had seriously underestimated RAF fighter strength. Thus Goering believed that the British would be unable to resist much longer. For the new phase of the battle, the Luftwaffe Commander brought his personal train to Pas-de-Calais to take charge from his field commanders. [Gilbert, p. 339.] (Goering was a fighter ace in World War I and Hitler had made him the Commander of the Luftwaffe. He had none of the training or technical capabilities of the highly professional Luftwaffe command.) The day after his erlin Sports Palace speech, Hitler orders a new Luftwaffe offensive without limits on civilian casualties and targeting London.

London Targeted (September 7)

Goering believed that the RAF had been virtually destroyed and that the air battle was almost over. The Lufwaffe command was not at all comvinced, but dutifully implement Hitler's instructions. The Luftwaffe staged the first big attack on London (September 7). The attacking Luftwaffe force included 300 bombers and 600 escorts. The RAF was unprepared for the change in target and most of the attacking force reached London. The target was the London docks, but the surronding residential area was also heavily hit. he London docks had been built with homes nearby to make it easy for workers to get to war. London's East End burned. American Ambassador Kennedy sent a diplomatic dipsatch to President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull, "There's hell to pay here tonight." [J.P. Kennedy, September 6.] Both Hitler and Goering believed that this show of force would quickly break the will of the British to resist. Few East Enders had homes with cellars and there were no shelters for huge numbers of persons. Finally the Tube stations were opened up for people. The followup day a smaller attack on September 8 hit electrical power plants and railway stations. What was to follow was 65 days if incessent bombing. Ambassador Kennedy wrote is wife, "The last three nights have been simply hell. Last night I put on my steel helmet and went up on the roof of the Chancery and stayed up there until two o'clock in the morning watching the Germans come over in relsays every ten minutes and drop bombs, setting terrific fires. You could see the dome of St. Paul's silhoutted against a blaxzing inferno that the Germans kept adding to from time to time by flying over abnd dropping more bombs." [J.P. Kennedy, September 10.]

Climax of the Luftwaffe Daylight Campaign (September 15)

The massive Luftwaffe attacks climaxed the daylight campaign. The main target was thevLondon docks. RAF fighters destroyedf almost one quarter (57) of the attacking German bomber force. This date has since been designated Battle of Britain Day. The Battle of Britain would shift from a daylight campain targeting RAF Fighter Command into a nighttime campaign targeting British cities and civilians. This meant that a NAZI invasion was no longer eminent. With the Royal Navy in the Channel and the RAF in tact, Operation Sea Lion was no longer possible. Hitler fid not formally postpone Operation Sea Lion until the following month (October 12).

12 Group's Big Wing

The change in Luftwaffe strategy at first caught the RAF off guard. The British quickly adjusted for the defense of London. In contrast to other Luftwaffe terror attacks, London was not an unprotected target. The attacks on London rather than the forward RAF air fields in Kent and along the coast brought the Luftwaffe bombers in range of Lee Malory and 12 Group's Big Wing which had not been weakened by previous Luftwaffe attacks. This was a shock to Luftwaffe pilots who had been told that RAF Fighter Command had been reduced to less than 200 fighters. Not only did the attacks on London bring th Luftwaffe within range, but the longer flight times to London meant that Luftwaffe fighters had little fuel with which to engage the RAF fighters.

Bomber Command

The RAF's Bomber Command continued small-scale raids over Berlin. One report indicted that Goebbel's garden took a direct hit. [Gilbert, p. 340.] Bomber command did not yet have, however, the strength to mount a major bombing campaign against Germany. Nor were they equipped with the new Lancaster long range heavy bombers that would be used in the upcoming campaign against Germany. The raids were, however, helpful for British morale as well as to prepare Bomberv Command for the future campaign against Germamy when the Lancasters became available in numbers.

Edward R. Murrow

American newsman Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from London, "This is London calling ....". He vividly described Britain's valiant resistance to rapt American radio audiences, greatly affecting American attitides toward the Hitler and the NAZIs. When war broke out in Europe, Murrow moved to London. He began his London broadcasts with the phrase for which he would become famous, "This is London calling ...." When the Blitz began, many of Murrow's broadcasts to America were punctuated by the sounds of air raid sirens or bomb explosions--bringing the War into American living rooms. The CBS offices and the BBC studios where Murrow broadcasted from were bombed. Murrow at least once, broadcasted from a roof during a bombing raid while bombs were falling so he could provide Americans a realistic eye witness account. Murrow published some of his 1939-40 broadcasts in 1941. [Murrow]

London

London was not just any city. It was the capital of an empire that governed about a quater of the world an spanned the globe. It was a major financial center and also a city that played a major role in art, fashion, science, and industry. NAZI triumphs had until June had been relatovely small coyntries and cities unfamilar to most Americans. This changed with German troops marched down the Champs-Elysée and Hitler danced in front of the Eifel Tower (June 1940). Paris was an iconic city. Americans were shocked, even isolationists in Congress and American attitudes and policies began to change. London was also an iconic city. The British spoke English and had connections with America beyond any other city. Whether they thought it through or not, most Americans instively knew that if London could be bombed, the same kind of brutality could be visited on New York and other American cities. A radio would bring the brutality of the NAZI attacks into American homes night after night. While not obvious at the time, it was ikn those same American living rooms that Britain's future would be decided. London was not only an iconic city--it was also very large, one of the largest city of the world, in both population and area. London did not have skyscrapers like New York. Instead of up, London grew out. The size of the city made it a very diffivult target for the Luftwaffe. It meant that a very large area would have to be bombed. And the Luftwffe would have to do it with medium bombers--meaning bombers swith relatively small payloads. And London was not a Channel port or RAF fields in Kent. This meant that the bombers had longer to go and the fighters would have a relatively short time over London before they would begin to run short of fuel. There were some stratehic targets in London such as the docks. But more than anyrging London was a city of homes without major industrial plants. Thus Hitler had essentially committed a valuable military assett (the Luftwaffe) to destroy London homes--an assett of little strategic importance.

Foreign Squandrons

With the Blitz, Fighter Command finally committed foreign squadrons (Candian, Czech, and Polish) that they had been unsure about. They were susosed to communicate in Enhlish in the air, but in the heat of battle that proved impossible. They proved to be some of the most gallant pilots in the RAF.

The RAF

While British cities burned, the RAF was given a respite, allowing its forward air bases to recover from the damage done in August. As a result the RAF was able to mount increasingly costly attacks on the German bomber fleets.

Luftwaffe Losses

With the Lufwaffe attacks on their forward bases suspended, the RAF rapidly regrouped and Lee Mlalory's 12 Group now in the fight, the Luftwaffe experienced much greater losses than when it had been primarily targetting RAF forward bases. The Luftwaffe in previous engagements hadcfaced obsolete aircraft and destroyed large numbers of opposing aircraft on the ground. Hitler launched World War II with the best equipped and trained airforce in the world. Having failed to destroy the RAF with a surprisec attack, he now faced a cometing air force wuth mokdern aircraft and as a result of the campaign, pilots which matched the Luftwaffe in competence. This came as a shock to Goering who had assured Hitler that the RAF was virtually destroyed. September 15 was an especially bad day for the Luftwaffe. The Germans finally had to breakoff the daylight offensive (September 16) because of mounting losses and deteriorating weather. The Luftwaffe had paid a heavy price, but achieved none of Hitler's goals. [Fest, p. 639.] It was the Luftwaffe and Hitler's first important defeat. It was especially notable because it was in part a failure of technology and tactics--two of the essential components of modern warfare. This might have given a more calculating leader caution before taking on another opponent--especially the Soviet Union. Hitler was, howver, unphased.

Luftwaffe Night Attacks

The Luftwaffe continued night attacks through the end of November. During that time there was not a single night without a raid. The Luftwaff directed raiding forces averaging about 200 attacked London every night but one between mid-September and mid-November. Almost all were German, but the Italians partcipated with bases in Belgium as well. The Germans were able to sucessfully target London even in the dark with a system of difrectional radio beams. The Luftwaffe by switching to night attacks was able to persue the campaign against Britain with only mininal casualties. But in doing so it could not hit precise targets like RAF airfields or aircraft plants. They could find and hit cities. However months of pounding British cities brought little real military gains for the Germans. This was in part because of Luftwaffe bombing tactics. The Luftwaffe used both incendiaries and high explosives. The incendiaries proved far more damaging than the high explosives because of the devestating fires they started. The Luftwaffe high command, however, was devoted the big-bang of high exposives. This was a tendency in Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force as well. The German night attacks did educate the British on the devestating fire storms that could be created by incendiaries. A tactic that they would use in attacks on German cities.

British Defenses

The RAF did not yet have an effective night fighter force. This there was no way of stoping the waves of Luftwaffe bombers. Few British anti-aircraft guns had fire-control systems. The low-powered searchlights were normally ineffective at altitudes above 3,600 m (12,000 ft). The chain-home radar network alerted the British to incoming raids, but could not track the raiders once they crossed the Channel. During the initial day attacks, a spotter system tracked the raiders, but this was not possible at might. When the raids on London began (September 7), only only 92 guns were available to defend London. General Frederick Pile, the Commander-in-Chief of Anti-Aircraft Command quickly reorganized London's defenses, dubling the anti-aircraft defenses by September 11. Gun units were given authority to fire at will. Civiliand found the anti-aircraft guns conforting, but few Luftwaffe planes were shot down.

Night Raids

After the substantial losses in Sptember, the LUftwaffe shifted to night raids. A Luftwaffe force of 449 bombers targets the manufacturing city of Coventry, causing severe damage to industrial and civilian installations (November 14). The Germans announc that during November thzt the Luftwaffe dropped 7,455 tons of bombs on Britain. The Luftwaffe estimated that the British dropped only 475 tons during the same period. The Luftwaffe devastated Birmingham (Decemeber 11). , 1940: December 12, 1940: In England, Sheffield suffers heavy Luftwaffe raids.

Consequences

Luftwaffe analysts were correct that they were hitting Britain much more powerfully that RAF Bomber Command was hiiting Germany. The consequences of the Blitz were, however, much more important than the tonages of bombs dropped. Bomber Command strikes had caused Hitler to change Luftwaffe tactics at a critical point in the campaign. The British attacks were also noted by the Soviets. The Soviets as a result of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (1939) were essentially allies with the two countries engaging in a series of brazen agressions. The Pact required negotiations to reach agreement on the sephres of influences. There were disagreements ober Finland, the Baltics, and the Balkans, especially Romania where the Ploesti oil fields were vital to the NAZIs. There were also details about exchanges of war materials and equipment. We know that Hitler was frustrated havung to deal with the Soviets on an equal footing. He was concerned about Finland, Romania (Ploesti), and the equipment the Soviets were demanding in exchange for the delivery of raw materials. Soviet foreign minister Molotov visited Berlin to discuss these iddues (November 12). A British air raid foces Molotov and Ribentrop into a bomb helter. Ribentrop to improve the German bargaining pwer tells Molotov that the British are near defeat. Molotov asks Ribentrop why if the British are defeated that they are sitting in a bomb shelter. We know that these negotiations frustrated Hitler. He told his Finnish ally General Mannerheim that the Soviets were using the war with Britain to threaten Polesti and to extort high prices for raw materials delivered. Thus he had no option, but to invade the Soviet Union. A further consequence was the impact on America. The radio reports and movie newsreels of the Blitz were widely heard and seen by American voters all through the 1940 election campaign. The Isolations hope to defeat President Roosevelt. It is difficult to assess the impact on the election, but is diffoicult not to believe that it was a factor in the President's election victory (November 1940) and the growing public support for Britain. Americans still did not want to go to war, but they were willing to support Roosevelt's steadily escalating efforts to support Britain.

Devestating London Attack (December 29, 1940)

One of the key days of the War was December 29 because of events in Berlin, London, and Washington. Hitler from Berlin ordered one of the most devestating air attacks of the War and in London the British people defiantly stood up to the worst the Luftwadde could do. In Washington Presudent Roosevelt took an inprecedented step for a neutral nation--he pledged America's industrial might to save Britain and defeat the NAZIs. Hitler was increasingly focused on the East. He had decided that Britain would hold out as long as the Soviets were a potentially ally. He was also irritated with barganing with the Soviets over the delivery of strategic raw materials, especially petroleum. He ordered a powerful attack on the heart of London in a hope that the British could still be knocked out of the War by burning London to the ground. The attack would be one of the most terrible nights London would endure during the War. [Gaskin] Londoners had begun to relax somewhat because the Luftwaffe attacks on the days before the attack had begun to decline in intensity. The Luftwaffe began with incendiaries followed up by high explosive bombs. For 5 hours 136 bombers plastered the area around St. Paul's Cathedral. One of the War's iconic photographs emerged from the raid--St. Paul's standing defiantly against a sea of fire. In fact The Cathedral stood while the city around it burned. Weather conditions forced the Liuftwaffe to cancel a followup attack. Given the situation at the time in London, a follow up raid would have created a devestating fire storm that would have consumed a much larger area of the city. The Luftwaffe dropped 24,000 incendiaries, 120 tons of high exposive bombs, and utterly destroyed a square mile of central London. Amazingly only 163 people were killed. Accross the Atlantic wjile London was burning, President Roosevelt delivered one of his most important Fire Side Chats--the Arsenal of Democracy address which was the genesis of Lend Lease.

Experiences

One little girl in besieged London at the time remembers the evening ritual of putting up the blackout curtains. She had almost frgotten her father who was stationed ith the RAF in India. She recalls her cozy bed which was in a Morrison shelter in the livingroom which doubled as a playhouse during the day. Her mother often joined her, but if the sireens went, her mother grabbed her, wrapped a blanket around her, and made for the underground shelter in front of the house. She realized now that her mother much have been frightened, but didn't show it at the time. The shelter was partitioned. Men and boys slept on oneside and women and girls on the other. "My mother and I slept head to head, her hand protectively reaching up to hold mine." They heard the bommbs. There was a wining sound, an eerie silence, and finally an explosion. Even today after 60 years the smell of a damp basement brings back memories of her childhood and the shelters. [Roessner]

A reader writes, "I still remember that December Blitz (mostly of fire bombs) --- I lived on Newman St. W.1 and was able to see the red flames from the fires. I walked with a friend toward St.Paul's. We could read our newpapers by the light from the sky (red). We got right to the Church. The fires were raging AROUND the church, but at that time there was no damage to the Church itself. We were eventually ordered by fire fighters to leave the area. You know the Germans are very methodical. We noted that if a bomb had not fallen within 15 minutes of the sirens starting then 'our area' would not be bombed that night. That December night the sires sounded VERY EARLY - about 4pm. Generally it was 10pm when the sirens sounded. The ALL CLEAR sounded that night about midnight. After that night we thought of leaving London -- and did so right after the last German raid on London. Then Hitler invaded Russia --- and we went to Esher, Surrey for the rest of the War. [Williams]

Civilians

The people of London and other British cities paid a terrible price for defying Hitler. The first Luftwaffe attack on London killed 430 citizens and severely wounded another 1,600 people (September 7). The primry target had been the London docks which became the British target most heavily bombed by the Germans. Worker housing was located close to the docks and thus heavily hit in the attacks. The Luftwaffe struck London for the next 57 concecutive days. Many but not all of the children were evacuated again. Most of the adults had to stick it out. Air raid shelters had not been prepared for the entire population. The Government made materials availavle at low cost ti build Anderson shelters in back gardens (backyards). Others had to find what ever shelter was available. Many left their homes in the evening and and took shelter in warehouse basements. Others sought shelter in the Tube (underground/subway) stations. The Government at first discouraged this. The people slept on makeshift beds amid primitive conditions with no privacy and poor sanitation facilities. The Luftwaffe returbed the following day and another 412 perople were killed (September 8). The Luftwaffe overall conducted 127 important raids on British cities from September 1940 to May 1941. Over half of these raids or 71 raids were on London. The Luftwaffe extended attacks to other British cities: Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool (the main port where American and Dominion supplies were arriving), Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sheffield, and Southampton. The Germans suceeded in destroying 60 percent of the homes in London. Overall they destroyed 2.0 million homes, about 0.4 million in London. Casualties totaled 60,000 killed and 87,000 badly injured. More than half of the preople killed were Londoners. The population of central London was reduced 25 percent. In the ininital phase of the War, the German killed more women and children than British soldiers and sailors.

Boys and the Blitz

London when the Blitz began was full of kids. While most of the children had been evacuated when the war began, most had been brought home by Christmas. Thus when the Blitz began, Londin was full of kids. For the boys there was a mixture of fear and excitement. A British reader tells us, "You can see in the last poster that many boys wanted to stay in the cities and help the war effort, but according to my relatives, they were often a "bloody nuisance". Parents after the Blitz began wanted them back safe and sound in the countryside!" Bonbsites were very dangerous places. Weakened walls could cabe in. There was unexploded bombs and ordinance everywhere. Boys loved to hunt war itens like shrapnell, shells, and other war memorabilia. There was also all kinds of valuables in the ruins. Keeping the children out of harms way was a major concern. Our readers says, "It seems odd that I often played on a real bombsite as a boy - left over from the war twenty years before and the worst I got was grazed knees and a nail through my foot once.Mum could soon patch that up (and issue dire warnings about not playing in "dangerous" places) but how different it must have been when the bombs were actually falling and the worrries of Mums back then."

Battle of the Atlantic: Port Raids (February-May 1941)

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder persuaded Hitler to shift the focus of the Luftwaffe bombing campaign to attacking British ports in support of the Kriegsmarine's Battle of the Atlantic (February 1941). This represented an astonishing shift un Hitler's military thinking. At the onset of the War the Luftwaffe was considering to be NAZI Germany's war-winning advantage. Huge resources were devoted to building the world's most powerful airforce. Relatively limited resources were devoted to the Navy and especially the U-boat service. But bow Hitler was ordering the vaunted Lufwaffe which had failed him to support the U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic. Hitler issued a directive ordering the Luftwaffe to focus on ports (February 6). Priority targets were Plymouth, Portsmouth, Bristol and Avonmouth, Swansea, Merseyside, Belfast, Clydebank, Hull, Sunderland, and Newcastle. The Luftwaffe mounted 46 raids on those ports (February 19-May 12). In ontrast only seven raids hit London, Birmingham, Coventry, and Nottingham during that period.

End of the Blitz (May 1941)

Gradually as Winter 1940-41 set in, the German attacks declined in intensity and become less frequent. The fourth phase of the Nattle of Britain had lasted for several months. It had been conducted at night. The RAF's strength meant that it was too costly to attemp day light raids. The last major Luftwaffe raid was staged May 10, 1941. It was a final show of strength. Preparations for Operation Barbarossa, the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union, were by May highly advanced. Much of the Wehrmacht had already been transferred east. The Luftwafe was also being shifted east for Barbarossa. The Luftwaffe was never again able to mount major raids against Britain with conventgional aircraft. Raids declined sharply in 1942. The Luftwaffe was unable to focus on Britain as it had in 1940-41. The staggering extent of operations on the Easter Front created staggering demands that the Luftwaffe could not meet. And there were demands from North Africa as well as increasing demands to protect German cities from Allied air raids. Allied air power made it increasingly costly for the Luftwaffe to attempt raids as well as targetted Luftwaffe bases in France. The British air campaign against Germany, given new life with the arrival of the Avro Lancanster--one of the great bombers of the War. In addition, the Americans began building its air forces in Britain in 1942. Because of the way the Blitz ended, it was not fully perceived at the time, either by the Axis or the Allies, the full impact of the NAZI defeat. And the handlines were soon full of reports on the titanic battles waged in the East. Not all the children were evacuated from London and the other cities. Even the hard hit East End had children all through the Blitz. And as the raids subsided, parents began bringing the children home. The desire to reunite families became especially strong as Christmas 1941 approached.

Military Consequences

The change in tactics, however, proved to be a disastrous mistake. Hitler's oft repeated penchant for mindless violence was to cost the Luftwaffe dearly. (Strangely, Hitler's judgement during his rise to power and in the early military campaigns was to result in great victories. Beginning with stopping the Panzers before Dunkirk and this decission as well as countless other future decissions, Hitler's war directives were to seriously compromise the NAZI war effort.) The Luftwaffe's attacks wreaked havoc on civilians in London and major English cities, but the British did not crack. An estimated 42,000 civilians were killed.

Children

Children were evacuated from London and other major English cities at the outbreak of the War. This was done very quickly and was one of the fastest movement of population ever reported. The evacuation was, however, not mandatory. Very substantial numbers of children as well as the elderly and hospital patienrs were evacuated, but many children remained in London. The reason that many children were present when the Blitz comenced that by the time of the fall of France (June 1940), many of the children had returned. The Government had expected the NAZIs to begin bombing with the outbreak of war. Instead of course the NAZIs focused on Poland and nothing happened on the Western Front. The pressed dubed it the Ohonywar or Sitzkrieg. The evacuated children were of course anxious to come home and their parents missed them. As a resilt by the time that the NAZIs struck in the west, many of the children were back home. I believe when the Luftwaffe began bombing London (September 1940) that another evacuation was organized, but I do not have the details at this time. There was a third wave of evacuations when the Germans began their V-1 and V-2 attacks on London (June 1944).

Other British Cities

Unable to break London, Hitler turnred to other British cities. It was the London Blitz that is best rememberes with the image of fires around St. Pauls Cathedral, but the Luftwaffe targetted cities throughout Britain: Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Southampton, Swansea, and others. Included in the raids were what Churchill called "the sole life-line by the Mersey and the Clyde" by this he meant the key ports of Liverpool and Glasgow where the Atlantic convoys were bringing in supplies and arms from America and the Dominions. Thanfully because of the distance, these northern cities were particularly difficult targets for the Luftwaffe without a sizeable force of long-range heavy bombers. The Luftwaffe continued large scale raids. There were, for example 230 bombers and 700 fighters launched on September 15 and 56 were shot down. In general RAF losses were about half of the Luftwaffe losses and many of the RAF pilots bailed out unharmed while the shot down German pilots were lost to the Luftwaffe. The Blitz was the most intense aerial bombing campaign seen to that time, far worst than the bombing of Republican cities in Spain, Rotterdam, or the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities. In 1940 it was British cities that were burning, but that would soon change. German cities like Hamburg and Dresden would feel the consequences of the lesson taught by the Luftwaffe. In those two cities alone over 100,000, most inocent civiluans, would pay the consequences of Hitler's punishment raids. There were major attacks on British cities throughout 1941. Here the major goal was to devestate British cities. It was not just London. Every important British city was targeted. The center of Conventry was destroyed in a night. About 100 acres of the city center were destroyed, including the renowned cathedral. Bristol was especially heavily damaged.

Bombing Civilians

The issue of bombing civilians is more complicated than it would at first seem. In the aftermath of World War II it was generally assumed that it was the NAZIs who conducted terror bombing of civilians. While the NAZIs did in fact conduct terror bombing, some authors point out that the much larger bombing campaigns targeting civilians were conducted by the Allies. The British used the term "area bombing", but in essence British ara bombing and NAZI terror bombing was essentially the same. America entered the War with the entention of a "precission" daylight campaign, but given the limitations of World war II bombing technology, the different between British area bombing and American percession bombing was not always readily apparent to the German civilians. The question becomes why was it not the NAZIs with Hitler's penchant for war and ruthless terror who championed strategic bombing. Here the answer is simple. Germany did not have the industrial capacity to build both a tactical and strategic air force. Hitler initially listened to his military commanders who concluded with considerable vision that a tactical force was the most important of the two. Germany's tactical airforce allowed the NAZIs to occupy neigboring countries putting German cities initially outside the range of enemy bombers. As a result you have the rathercstartling paradox of Hitler calling the British war criminals because of the British raids on German cities. While Hitler was accurate that Bomber Command bombed German cities before the Luftwaffe bombed British cities. Both Hitler and some German historians have mentioned this and it is correct. Hitler's desire to avoid a strategic bombing was good tactics and reflected the fact that Germany did not have a strategic bombing force. Of course what he did not mention was it was the NAZIs who began bombing civilians. They did this at the very outset of the War. The Germans bombed Polish cities, especially Warsaw (September 1939) and of course Britain and France were allied with Poland. Hitler had the idea that he could abandon all constraints of civilized conduct in the East and some German historians seem to fool this line of thought by failing to mention Poland when discussing the air war. Hitler's comments about bombing civilians were of course war propaganda. And his willingness to avoid bombing in the West only extended as far as Western Europe acquiesed to his demands. We have no information about his true thoughts on the subject. Obviously he had no real concern about civilians. We also know that he wanted an armistace with the British so he could focus on Russia. He was willing to offer the British more than the French Armistace which created Vichy. Thus he had no desire to bomb British cities. He saw cthe British as a people with racial value. We also know that the Luftwaffe had not rejected strategic bombing, they simply deferred it. Had Britain not acquiesed to German domination of Europe, there would have eventually been a NAZI strategic bombing campaign targeting Britain. It is true that the British began strastegic bombing force, but only after Hitler had demostrated what he was capable of in Poland.

Thames Estuary

The Thames Estuary is also referred to as Thames Mouth. It is where the River Thames meets and mixed with the waters of the North Sea. It is a comolex system and not easy to dfine, The head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Island on the Essex coast is commonly sited as the western boundary. The eastern boundary has been defined as a line drawn from North Foreland in Kent via the Kentish Knock lighthouse to Harwich in Essex. The characteristic estuarine sandbanks reach. The estuary has a tidal movement of about 4 metres. The estuary is one of the largest of the about 170 such inlets along the British coast. It is a major shipping lane because it leads from the North Sea to London and other ports along the way (Medway Ports of Sheerness, Chatham and Thamesport). As the Battle of Britain shifted to night raids, the Germans had to deal with navigational problems. This was especially the case when Bruitish countermeasures undid the Luftwaffe beam sytems. London proved to be one of the easiest targets to find. The Germans only had to fly aling the coat and find the Thames Estuary which was eay because of it size was virtually impossible to miss. Then it was just a matter of following the Thames right to London. On moonlit nights the Thames was a virtual beacon that could be easily followed (without complicated navigation or electonic beans) directly to London. The British as a result built Radar, airfields, and anti-aircraft batteries along the estuary to stop them. The The Red Sands Fort is still there in the shallow waters of the Estuary and quite a tourist attraction. They were built to protect the coastal sea lanes and were essentially of two designs. Red Sands, Shivering Sands and Great Nore were built by the Army. The originally consisted of seven separate towers, each set on four concrete legs sunk in the sand which supporting a steel structure rising 100 ft above sea level. They were connected by narrow catwalks. Thecomplex was made up of five gun towers, a searchlight tower and a control tower. The seven towers of Red Sands were sited six miles off Minster, Isle of Sheppey (July 23 - September 3, 1943). The forts were designed to accomodate various guns to deal with both enemy aircraft and E-boats. By thectime they were built, however, both threats were declining, although London remained a tempting target for raiders. The initial armament include two 4.5" guns mounted on the main decks, four Lewis machine guns, and two Bofors 40mm guns on the upper deck. The central tower supporting a radar dish. The military abandoned them after the War and never dusmanttled them.

Sources

Cave-Brown, Anthony. Bodyguard of Lies.

Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1949), 751p.

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.

Gaskin, Margaret. Blitz: The Story of December 29, 1940. This is a wonderful account focusing on thevpeople of London and how they stood up to the Luftwaffe on perhaps the city's worst day of the War.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Kennedy, Joseph P. Sr. "Diary entry, September 2, 1940. In Amanda Smith, ed. Hostage to Fortune (Viking: 2001), 764p.

Kennedy, Joseph P. Sr. "Diplomatic Dispatch, September 6, 1940. In Amanda Smith, ed. Hostage to Fortune (Viking: 2001), 764p. I believe Kenndy may have been using Zuku or Washington, D.C. time and the message was sent September 7 in London.

Kennedy, Joseph P. Sr. "Letter to Rose Kennedy, September 10, 1940. In Amanda Smith, ed. Hostage to Fortune (Viking: 2001), 764p.

Murrow, Edward R. This Is London.

Roessner, Jill. "In an out of air raid shelters," The Washington Post May 28, 2004, p. W11.

Williams, Roy. E-mail message, May 29, 2008. Roy had been act the Actor's Orphanage.






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Created: June 11, 2003
Last updated: 8:40 AM 5/14/2012