World War II Air Campaign: Battle of Britain--the Blitz on Provincial Cities (November 1940-May 1941)


Figure 1.--The Germans began using a new word--" Koventrieren " meaning to Coventrate or totaly demolish. It was a word they would soon need in Germany. Gobbels would call such attacks barbaric--when the bombs fell on German cities. Churchill had to make an agonizing decesion when the Ultra code breakers ast Bldchy Park picked up dvanced infirmation of the raid. Here Coventry children search for books and other items in their bombed out school.

The critical phase of the Luftwaffe onslaught ended in September. The Lutwaffe eventually was forced to shift to nightime raids. Night bombing made it impossible to hit actually military and industrial targets, only cities could be targetted. The Germans would later rail agains similar raids on theie cities saying that they were babaric and war crimes. We see not such quams when they are boming other countries. Hitler was still not convinced that the bombing would not force the British sue for terms. "He told an Italian visitor pn October 14, 1940, "Let's wait and see what London looks like 2 or 3 months from now. If I cannot invade them, at least I can destroy the whole of their industry. [Gilbert, p. 345.] Hitler was always anxious to teach his enemies a lesson. A British air raid on Munich on the night of the aniversary celebration for his abortive beer hall putch enfuruated him. Retribution was a night strike on Conventry with 500 bombers (November 14). The target was the factories around Coventry. The raid was one of the most notorious and significant of the War. The raid did extensive damage to war plants, but the center of the gistoric old city had been destroyed. Estimates suggest that 60,000 of the 75,000 buildings in the city center were killed. The Germans began using a new word--" Koventrieren " meaning to Coventrate or totaly demolish. It was a word they would soon need in Germany. There were 564 people killed at Coventry, high for the time, but modest given the damage. So many fires were created that a "fire storm" was created. Air Marshall Harris, not yet assigned to Bomber Command later expalain that the raid taught RAF planners the starting "so many fires at the same time". [Gilbert, p. 352.] In 1940 it was British cities that were burning, but that would soon change. German cities like Hamburg and Dresden would feel the consequences ofvthe lesson taught by the Luftwaffe. In those two cuties 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 rnowned cathedral. Bristol was especially heavily damaged. The fourth phase lasted for several months. It was conducted at night. The German raids declined substantially in 1942 as growing Allied air power made it increasingly costly. The Luftwaffe was also receiving ever greater demands to support the badly streached Wehrmacht in the Eastern campaign Russia as well as the North African campaign. They also had to contend with British air campaign against Germany, given new life with the arrival of the Avro Lancanster--one of the great bombers of the War.

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.]

Night Raids

The critical phase of the Luftwaffe onslaught ended in September. The Lutwaffe eventually was forced to shift to nightime raids. Finding and intercepting attacking forces even with the radar available in 1940 was difficult enough during the day. Intercepting them and shooting attacking bombers down at night was not feasible in 1940. Thus the Luftwaffe could attack at night with minimal losses. Night bombing, however, made it virtually impossible for the Luftwaffe to hit actually military and industrail targets, only cities could be targetted. Hitler was still not convinced that the bombing would not force the British sue for terms. "He told an Italian visitor pn October 14, 1940, "Let's wait and see what London looks like 2 or 3 months from now. If I cannot invade them, at least I can destroy the whole of their industry. [Gilbert, p. 345.]

Change in Luftwaffe Tactics (November 3)

The Luftwaffe during September and October ponded London daily. Finally the Germans decided on another change in tactics. London for the first time in 2 months was not attacked (November 3). Rather the Luftwaffe was preparing a new assault. London remained the principal target, but attacks would now be dispersed throughout Britain to cripple the country's industrial centers. The Luftwaffe was installing and training crews to use new navigational equipment. Teams were trained to hit high priority targets, such as the Rolls-Royce aircraft engine plant at Hillington, Glasgow. These deep penetration raids were at the outer range of the Luftwaffe bombers and navigation was a difficult problem. Hitler by this time had given up on invading Britain, but hope to break the country by bombing cities and stangling Britain through te U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic. [Churchill, p. 376.]

Battle of the Beams ( Knickebein )

The Battle of the Beams it one of the less reported efforts of World war II. The British also refer to it as the Wizzard War. The battle of the beams began with the British Chain Home Radar system that played a key role in the British success in German attempts to destroy the RAF on the ground and intercepting attacking Luftwaffe forces. The Germans badly erred in not fully appreciating the importance of radar. [Brown] Actually the Germans were also developing radar, which in some ways was more advanced than British radar. The Luftwaffe as the attacking force initially attached less importance to it. What the Luftwaffe did focus on was electronic navigational systems. This becme especially important for them when they launched the Battle of Britain. Navigating over southeastern England during the early phases of the battle was enough of a challenge for Lufrwaffe bombers. London was a relatively easy target because of its size and the Thames which coukd be seen even at night led right to the East end docks. Attempting to find targets north of London at night was much more difficult, especially in cloudy weather which was common over England. The Germans developed a system "X-Geraet (X-Device)" which could tell navigators tuned to beams from French stations if thgey were on or off course and which direction to correct. The British soon learned of this and developed measures to jam or to decoy the bombers off course. These developments and counter measures continued when the Allies took the offensive in the air war and launched the stratehic bombing campaign over northern Europe. [Bell]

Individual Provincial Cities (November 1940-April 1941)

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. Various cities in the southeast and along the Channel were hit in the early phases of the Battle of Britain. Other British cities to the notyh and west were not hit because they were beyondd thecreach if Luftwaffe fighter coverage. After the London daylight Blitz failed (September 1940), German tactics chhanged and they adopted night-bombing. Operating at night, the Luftwaffe bombers did not need fighter coverage. Thus after hammering London, the raids were extended to provincial cities (November 1940). Some of the hardest hit cities were: 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 ofvthe 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 the furst half of 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. Gradually the Luftwaffe raids tappered off as Hitler shifted his fiorces east to prepare for Barbarossa.

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.

End of the Blitz (May 1941)

Gradually as Winter set in, the German attacks declined in intensity and become less frequent. The last major raid was staged May 10, 1941. It was a show of strength. The Luftwafe was being shifted east in preparation for Operation Barbarossa--the invasion of the Soviet Union. The fourth phase lasted for several months. It had been conducted at night. The German raids declined substantially in 1942 as growing Allied air power made it increasingly costly. The Luftwaffe was also receiving ever greater demands to support the badly streached Wehrmacht in the Eastern campaign Russia as well as the North African campaign. They also had to contend with British air campaign against Germany, given new life with the arrival of the Avro Lancanster--one of the great bombers of the War.

Sources

Bell, Trudy E. "Electrotechnology In World War II: It Was The Driver And The Driven", IEEE Spectrum (August 1987).

Brown, Louis. A Radar History of World War II (IOP Publishing, 1999).

Cave-Brown, Anthony. Bodyguard of Lies.

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

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.






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Created: 12:38 AM 8/14/2004
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