World War II Air Campaign: End of the Battle of Britain (May 1941)


Figure 1.--Not all the children in London and the East End were evacuated. And after the evacuation, many of the children began returning home. Most were home by Christmas. Thus by the time of the Blitz, many if not most of the children wwre back home. Some were evacuated again, but this time many children resisted being separated from theur parents. Here are East End children getting a hot meal at their school during December 1941. (Notice the school desks with ink well holes and pencil rails.) Notice the children are wearing their winter clothing. I am guessing that because of the War there was a coal shortage and the school boilers did not work. Source: Library of Congress ( LC2062)

Gradually as Winter 1940-41 set in, the German attacks declined in intensity and frequency. The fourth phase of the Battle of Britain had lasted for several months. It had been conducted at night. The RAF's growing strength meant that it was too costly for the Luftwaffe to attempt 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 were very klimited in 1942-43. 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 and possible to as target Luftwaffe bases in France. The British air campaign against Germany was given new life with the arrival of the Avro Lancanster--one of the great bombers of the War. In addition, the Americans began building their air forces in Britain in 1942. Because of the way the Blitz ended, neither the Axis or the Allies preceived the full impact of the NAZI defeat. And the newspaper headlines were soon full of reports on the titanic battles being 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 throughout 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.

Raids Decline

Gradually as Winter 1940-41 set in, the German attacks declined in intensity and become less frequent. Weather of course had a huge impact on air operations given the state of aviation technology. The winter weather impaired Luftwaffe operations. The fourth phase of the Battle of Britain had lasted for several months. It was the longest phase of the battle, about two-thirds of the duration of the battle. Civiklians suffered dearky, but for the nation it was the least dangerous. With Operation Sea Lion postponed, the country's survival was no longer in question. And the British Army was rapidkly being rermed. After September, the Luftwaffe raids were conducted at night. The RAF's strength meant that it was too costly to attempt day-light raids.

Last Major Raid (May 1941)

The last major Luftwaffe raid was staged May 10, 1941. It was a final show of strength on the part of the Luftwaffe. It was meant to leave notice, if Londoners had any doubt, of the Luftwaffe's capability. It proved to be London's deadliest night of the Blitz. The Luftwaffe targetted the hear of London. The Luftwaffe mounted one of its heaviest raids of the War. A force of 507 planes dropped 711 tons of bombs, including 86,173 incendiaries. The focused on a small part of the sprawling city--the hear of London containing many of Britain's most treasured land marks. The raid left the city near collapse. The water mains were shattered leaving the fire fighters unable to fight many blazes. The Germans ignited more than 2,000 fires, destroyed 11,000 homes, and killed or wounded more than 3,000 Londoners. Many important historic buildings were destroyed or severly damaged, including the British Museum, Houses of Parliament, Holborn Theater and St. James's Palace. [Mortimer] St. Paul's which had been a symbol of defiance throughout the Blitz was almost lost. What Londoners did not know the next day as they viewed their devestated city was this was the last major raid of the Blitz and the Luftwaffe was shifting the bulk of its forces east.

The Luftwaffe Shifts East

Hitler had often said that fighting a two-front war had doomed Germany during World War I and was determined to avoid a similar mistake. British resistance during the Battle of Britiain changed his mind. Somehow he convinced himself that the easiest way to defeat the British was a short summer campaign in the Soviet Union. He had confidence in his military leadership. With the Soviets defeated, Britain he insisted would have to come to terms. Of course, the fact that the East was his major goal fronm tghe beginning was another factor. The Blitz is often dated as ending with the devestating May 10 raid on London. Even before this, the Luftwaffe had begin shifting east to prepare on the assult on the Soviet Union. Wehrmacht land forces which required more time to move were shifted east even earlier. This was nioted by the Sioviets. Hitler concocted excuses which Stalin accepted. The shift east was obvious to the British, not only because the Blitz ended, but because of the Ultra decrypts produced at Bletchly Park. Both Churchill and Roosevelt alerted Stalin (without revealing the Ultra secret), but the ever-suspicious Stalin dismissed the reports. It seems difficult to believe, but Stalin decided to trust Hitler more than Churchill and Roosevelt. He convinced himself that the British and the Americans were trying to draw him into war with the Germans that he would have to fight alone. The NKVD also reported German preparation, but Stalin dismissed them as well. The early Luftwaffe campaigns had been conducted primarily from well prepared air fields in the Reich or occupied France. Barbarossa was different. The Luftwaffe would launch Barbarossa from less developed air fields in occupied Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. From the beginning, logistics would be a major problem. The Luftwaffe played a major role in preparing for Barbarossa, over-flying the border areas to gather intelligence on the Red AirFiorce abd Red Army dispositions. Stalin was informed of the overflights, but ordered his border forces not to fire on the German planes. Luftflotte 1 under Alfred Keller was assigned to Army Group North. Luftflotte 2 under Albert Kesselring was assigned to Arnmy Group Center. Luftflotte 4 under Alexander Löhr was assigned to Army Group South. Luftflotte 5 under Hans-Jürgen Stumpff supported the more limited operations from Norway.

Operation Barbarossa (June 1941)

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 NAZI invasion launched the most massive and destructive military campaign in history. The Luftwaffe had played key roles in the early NAZI victories because they were fought on relatively small battlefields (Poland, France, and Greece) where the Luftwaffe could focus its strength. Barbarossa in the East was fought over such an extensive battlefield that it could not have the same impact as in the West. And German did not have the industrial capacity to build an air force that was required by a mission on the scale of Barbarossa.

Luftwaffe Capability

The Luftwaffe was never again able to mount major raids against Britain with conventional aircraft on the scalke of the 1940-41 Blitz. Raids declined sharply after May 1941. The Luftwaffe was unable to focus on Britain as it had in 1940-41. The staggering extent of operations on the Easter Front created massive demands that the Luftwaffe could not meet. And there were demands from North Africa as well as the increasing need 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. Unbeknownst to the NAZIs was that at the time of the Battle of Britin, the British had already began to outproduce Germany in aircraft. And with Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union and the declaration of war on America, Germany by 1942 was only producing a fraction of what the Allies were producing. This meant that the Allies would soon be able to take the air war to the skies over the Reich.

British Raids on Germany (1942)

The British air campaign against Germany, given new life with the arrival of the Avro Lancanster--one of the great bombers of the War. The character of the air war changed in 1942. While Bomber Command had proven largely ineffective in the first two years of the War, this changed in 1942 as the new Lancasters appeared in numbers. America entered the War at the end of 1941, but the British carried the bulk of the air war in 1942 while the 8th Air Force was building its forces in Britain. The basic change in the air war came with the British attacks on Lübeck and Rostock. The British, learming from the Luftwaffe employed incendiaries which largely destoyed both cities. Now German civilians were experencing the War and the destruction of their cities. While there were military targets in both cities, the larger purpose was essentially to completely destroy the cities. Hitler was infuriated at the British raids and ordered the so-called Baedeker Raids which while damaging the target British towns, actually adveresly affected the German war effort. The NAZIs with the Luftwaffe seversly streached on far-fling battlefields, no longer had the capability of matching the growing strength of Bomber Command. The British followed with the first 1,000 bomber raid which devestated Cologne. Bomber Command was unable to repeat the Cologne raid, but by the end of the year, the number of bombers and air crews had grown and the American 8th Air Force was ready to enter the fight.

Baedeker Blitz (April and June 1942)

The Baedeker Blitz was a series of Luftwaffe raids mounted in mid-1942 as reprisals for Bomber Command's raid on Lübeck (March 28-29). Lübeck was a historic port city, one of the Hanseatic League cities, with relatively limited military significance. The buildings were mostly wooden and large areas of thecity was destroyed. The Baedeker raids were designed to hit historic British cities. Luftwaffe Luftflotte 3 conducted the raids in two periods (April and June 1942). The raids had almost no military significance. The Germans selected the targets using the German Baedeker Tourist Guide book. The German chose Bath, Canterbury, Exeter, Norwich, and York. The Luftwaffe targeted historic cathedrals and public buildings. The raids were notable for the limited force that the Luftwaffe was able to devote to it. It was also notable because 1942 was the year that the War was decided on the Eastern Front. The use of the Luftwaffe's limited resources to attack cathedrals abd historic buildings was a misguided effort on the part of the NAZIs. Luftflotte 3 sustained substantial losses on these raids. The military situation ny mid-1942 forced the Luftwaffe to discontine the raids. After the Baedeker raids and the withdrawl of Luftflotte 3, the Luftwaffe could only mount small-scale hit-and-run raids on British coastal towns.

America and the Blitz

Many Brits asked during the Blitz where the Americans were. After the fall of France, Britain's only hope was in fact bringing America into the War. Churchill takks about Britain fighting on alone, but in fact Britain was nevere completely alone. Most Americans when the War broke out were determined to stay out of the War, giving rise to a substantial political opposition to President Roosevelt's efforts to help Britain. The ruthlessness of the NAZI Blitz had an important impact on American opinions. And when Britain ran out of resources to buy equipment and supplies in America, President Roosevelt's Lend Lease Program essentially provide the British War Office a blanl check. This meant that the RAF's victory made it impossible for Hitler to create a British Vichy. President Roosevelt went so far as to commit the U.S. Navy to a shooting war in the North Atlantic to help keep Britain's life lines open. But it was American diplomacy that played the key role. The Axis in 1941 held the military balance of power. Had the Japanese joined the NAZIs in Barbaross, almost certrainly the Soviet Union would have collapsed. The Japanese choese to instead attack America. There were a range of reasons for this decesion, but central to it was American diplomatic steps to force Japan to end its war in China. The Japanese instead chose war and attacked the Pacific Fleet at Pear Harbor (December 7, 1941). Hitler 3 days latr declared war on America. Thus within a few months after the end of the Blitz, Britain was not only not alone, but a part of a massive new Allied effort.

American Build-up

In addition, the Americans began building its air forces in Britain in 1942. Within weeks of Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), American air commanders were in Britain preparing for the creation of the 8th Air Force. There were huge tasks to be accomplished. Bases had to be located and built. Planes had ti be built and crews trained and then transported to Britain. These activities continued all through 1942. The first tentative American raids did not take place for months and were relatively small, limited range raids in the occupied Lowlands and France (August 1942). For 1942 it wa up for Bomber Command to take the war to Germany.

Significance of the British Victory

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. HG Wells writes, "The battle which was to come ranks with Marathon and Salamis among those which changed history and saved a civilization. Had Britain not resisted, or had it been conquered, it is not difficult to estimate what would have followed." [Wells, p. 978.] The Battle of Britain was compared to other campaigns a rather small operation, but in many ways the key battle of World War II. RAF Fighter Command began the battle with only 656 operational fighters. Churchill was not exagerating when he said, "Never in the history of human conflict was so much owed to so few by so many." The significance of the Battle of Britain was at the time was not fully appreciated. Even after the success of the RAF in staving off invation, Hitler still controlled virtually all of Western Europe and it was the startling German successes that still dominated headlines. Britain continued to be bombed and soon the Wehrmacht would launch the titalic struggle with the Soviet Union with another series of spectacular successes. The Luftwaffe was bloodied over Britain, but not seriously damaged. What did occur was the Germans experienced not only superiot tactics, but for the first time an opponent was able to match German technology. Even more importantly, the British scored a not fully appreciated stategic victory. Hitler's strategy was based on destroying his opponents quickly before they could unite and produce modern armaments. He succed with Poland, France, and the small countries of Western Europe (Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxenburg). In the skies over southern England victory over Britain and perhaps victory in the War were within Hitler's grasp. Brtains's survival meant that it would not be a short war, but a longer struggle in which superior Allied resources could gradually be brought to force on Germany. The failure to defeat Britain meant that he would have a dangerous enemy in the west when he launched his invasion of the Soviet Union. It also mean that America would have time to rearm and a key ally when it entered the war. If Britain had fallen, not only could Germany focused the full force of its arms on a single ememu, but America would have had no European bases from which it could strike at Germany.

The Children

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 storng as Christmas 1941 approached.

Sources

Mortimer, Gavin. The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941.







CIH -- WW II







Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Battle of Britain phase page]
[Return to Main Battle of Britain page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[About Us]
[Aftermath] [Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]




Created: 9:12 PM 2/10/2007
Last updated: 7:22 PM 8/5/2011