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The Blitz – German Bombing of Britain in WWII

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The Blitz was the bombing of Great Britain by Germany from September 7, 1940, to May 10, 1941, as part of the Battle of Britain. Although the Blitz was directed to many cities throughout the country, it began with the bombing of London for 57 consecutive nights. By the end of May 1941, more than 40,000 civilians, half of them in London, had been killed as a result of the bombings. A large number of houses in London were destroyed or damaged.

London was not the only city that was bombed strategically. Other important military and industrial centers; such as Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Hull, Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Nottingham, Brighton, and Southampton; also had heavy air raids and suffered a large number of casualties. Hitler’s goal was the destruction of English industry and the removal of England from the war.

Luftwaffe and Strategic Bombing

The Luftwaffe was more reserved about strategic bombing. The High Command of the Luftwaffe did not oppose the bombing of cities and factories of enemies and believed that this could significantly change the balance of forces towards Germany, because it hindered production and destroyed civil society; but the military leaders did not believe that the air force itself could have a decisive influence on the outcome of the war. Contrary to popular belief, the Luftwaffe did not adhere to the so-called “air terror” policy. Until 1942, the Luftwaffe did not adopt a bombing policy in which civilians would be the main target.

Vital production and transport centers were military targets. It can be argued that civilians should not have been directly attacked, but the disruption of production should have affected their morale and will to fight. German strategists of the 1930s carefully developed the principles that establish what types of bombing would be consistent with international law. Direct attacks on civilians were considered “air terror”, but the attack of important military industrial plants, which could entail civilian casualties, was considered acceptable.

Debates raged in the German military command about the role of strategic bombing. Some called for the bombardment of defense lines of the British and Americans. The Luftwaffe changed its original mission. Instead of conducting independent operations, the commanders preferred to act together with other types of troops.

Air Force

In the 1930s, Hitler failed to pay the same attention to the strategy of bombing the enemy as he paid to defense against enemy bombing, although he contributed to the development of aviation and understood that bombers could be used for strategic purposes. However, he quickly became an ardent skeptic of strategic bombing, especially after the Blitz’s results. He often complained about the Luftwaffe’s inability to seriously damage military production.

While planning military campaigns, Hitler did not insist on using the Luftwaffe for strategic bombing campaigns, and he never gave the headquarters concrete instructions on the need to prepare for a war with Britain or the USSR.

Hitler adopted the strategy of bombing as a means of destroying the morale of British society. Hitler was attracted to political aspects of bombing. According to the results of the 1930s, he expected that the threat of retaliation from the Germans would convince his opponents not to pursue a policy of unlimited bombing of Germany. He hoped, relying on the political prestige of Germany, that the German population would be protected from bombing. When this didn’t happen, he began to pursue a policy of terror against Britain in order to obtain a situation in which both sides would stop using the air force for bombing campaigns.

Bombing

On the night of August 25, 1940, ten German aircraft, having lost course, mistakenly dropped bombs on the outskirts of London. In response to this, on the night of 25 to 26 August 1940, British aircraft bombed Berlin. Until September 7, seven raids were made on the German capital.

The most massive bombing of London occurred on September 7, when more than 300 bombers attacked in the evening and 250 attacked at night. By the morning of September 8, 430 London residents were killed, and the Luftwaffe issued a press release in which it stated that over a thousand tons of bombs had been dropped on London within 24 hours. In total, in September 1940, 7,320 tons of bombs were dropped on South England, of which 6,224 tons were dropped on London.

December 29 was the most massive raid in the area of the city of London. Many buildings were destroyed. On this night, about 8,000 Londoners were killed. On May 10, 1941, the last powerful air raid on London occurred. There were 2,000 fires, five docks were severely damaged, 3,000 people were killed and wounded. During this raid, the parliament building was severely damaged.

In total, during the London blitz, more than 43,000 people were killed and about 1.4 million people lost their homes. The main blow fell on the east end of London, where the main factories and port docks were located. In addition, Berlin hoped that the bombing of the East End, with its poor population, would split English society.

Civil Defense

As early as 1938, Londoners began to be taught how to shelter during an air attack. Subway stations and cellars of churches were equipped with bomb shelters. By the early summer of 1940, the British authorities had decided to evacuate children from potentially targeted large cities.

Sources:

  • Juliet Gardiner : The Blitz: The British Under Attack
  • Carol Harris: Blitz Diary: Life Under Fire in World War II
  • Corum, James. he Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918-1940
  • Cox, Sebastian. The Battle of Britain
  • Tom Harrisson : Living through the Blitz
  • Montgomery-Hyde, H. British Air Policy Between the Wars
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