The Blitz: Luftwaffe Attack on London (December 29, 1940)


Figure 1.--

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 President 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 was 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 while 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.

Hitler and Barbarossa (December 18)

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. Thus he made tghe most momentous decesion of his life, to invade the Soviet Union (December 18). He issued Directive No. 21, ordering plans for the preparation of Operation Barbarossa, the attack against the Soviet Union, to be submitted by May 15, 1941. He knew full well that Germany had lost World war I because it had been forced to fight a two-front war. He thus 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.

Planning

Hitler from Berlin ordered one of the most devestating air attacks of the War.

The Attack (December 29)

The Luftwaffe attack was 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. When darkness fell this lull avruptly ebnded. Heinkel and Dornier bombers renewed the attack--the 125th Luftwaffee attack on London. It proved to be the most devestating of the Blitz for the City of London. Luftwaffe aircrews after only a few minutes counted 54 major fires ragingbin the city below them. 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. Daily Mail chief photographer Herbert Mason who was firewatching on the roof of the newspaper’s offices ­between Fleet Street and the Thames, snapped the image. 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 and 120 tons of high exposive bombs. A London newspaper published a banner hedline, 'Is Tht the Best You Can Do, Adolf?' (We are still trying to track down whuich paper hadc this headline. We believe it was the Daily Msil. Wecthin it ran after the December 29 attack, but that also needs to be confirmed.)

London Response

In London the British people defiantly stood up to the worst the Luftwadde could do. The Luftwaffe utterly destroyed a square mile of central London. This was not just any square mile, it was the heart of the city with some of some of Britain's greatest landmarks and treasures. Amazingly only 163 people were killed.

Roosevelt Fireside Chat

In Washington President Roosevelt took an inprecedented step for a neutral nation--he pledged America's industrial might to save Britain and defeat the NAZIs. Accross the Atlantic while 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. President Roosevelt first used the term "Arsenal of Denocracy" on December 29, 1940 in one of his Fireside Chats, radio boradcasts, to the American people. He expalined the importance of supplying the people of Europe, at the time primarily Britain with the "implements of war". He said that the United States "must be the great arsenal of democracy". At the time he delivered the speech, the only nation left fighting the NAZIs was the British. The NAZIs in a with apparent ease had had defeated both counties that had dared ippose them and neutral nations that stood in their way (Czecheslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France). Other nations had been cowed into submission.

Assessment

It was Hitler who made the greatest impression on December 29 with the devestating attack on London. It is the fotditude of the British people who stood as a shining sct of bravery against NAZI tyranny that we now remember. But despite the grevious damage inflicted, the Luftwaffe attack on London was of not great military significance. The significant action on that day was President Roosevelt's pledge of the might of American industry to create a great arsenal of democracy. And fleets of American and British bombers would soon be devestating Germany cities, wreking the kind of damage that Hitler had hoped could be inlicted on Britain.

Sources

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.

Johnson, David. The London Blitz : The City Ablaze, December 29, 1940 (1981).






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Created: 2:51 AM 12/26/2006
Last updated: 3:16 AM 8/15/2012