The Blitz

gigatos | June 11, 2022


The Blitz (from the German Blitz) is the term for the sustained bombing raids on the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany that took place between 1940 and 1941 during World War II. These bombings of industrial targets and civilian centers began with heavy attacks on London on September 7, 1940, during what would later become known as the Battle of Britain. At that time, Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring”s plans to destroy the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to enable an invasion of Britain were failing and, in response to an RAF attack on Berlin, which in turn was provoked by an accidental German bombing of London, they changed their tactics to a sustained bombing of civilian targets.

Between September 7, 1940 and May 21, 1941, sixteen British cities were attacked with at least 100 long tons of explosives. In a period of 267 days, London was attacked 71 times, Birmingham, Liverpool and Plymouth eight times, Bristol six, Glasgow five, Southampton four, Portsmouth and Hull three, and at least one heavy attack was made on eight other cities. This was the product of a rapid escalation that began on August 24, 1940, when Luftwaffe bombers targeting RAF airfields went off course and accidentally destroyed several London homes, killing several civilians. This was compounded by the vindictive bombing of Berlin that Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, ordered the following night.

From the following September 7, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. More than a million homes were destroyed and an estimated 40,000 civilians lost their lives, almost half of them in London. The ports and industrial centers of that city were also attacked, and the main Atlantic Ocean port of Liverpool was bombed, causing almost 4,000 deaths in the Merseyside area during the war. Similarly, the main Atlantic Ocean port of Liverpool was bombed, resulting in almost 4,000 deaths in the Merseyside area during the war, while the North Sea port of Hull, a convenient and easily identifiable target or secondary target for bombers unable to find their primary targets, was the target of 86 attacks during the war, with an estimated 1,200 civilians killed and 95 percent of their homes destroyed or damaged. Other ports, such as Bristol, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton and Swansea were also bombed, as were the industrial cities of Birmingham, Belfast, Coventry, Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield. Birmingham and Coventry were chosen because of the Spitfire and tank factories in Birmingham and the many munitions factories in Coventry. Of the latter, its center was practically destroyed, as well as its cathedral.

However, the bombing failed to demoralize the British into surrender or at least to produce significant damage to the war economy. The eight months of bombing never hampered British production and the war industries continued to operate and expand. The Blitz was authorized only when the Luftwaffe failed to achieve the preconditions for the launch, in 1940, of Operation Sea Lion, the German plan to invade Britain. By May 1941, the threat of invasion was over, and Hitler”s attention turned to Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. Compared to other bombing campaigns against Germany, the Blitz caused few casualties. The British bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 led to the deaths of 42,000 civilians, almost as many as the Blitz.

Various reasons have been proposed for the defeat of the German offensive. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe did not develop a strategy for the destruction of British industries. Instead of maintaining pressure on any one of them, it frequently switched from one type of industry to another. In addition, the Luftwaffe also lacked adequate equipment to carry out strategic bombing. The lack of heavy bombers and poor intelligence information on British industry prevented it from asserting itself.

After the fall of France, the Battle of Britain (not entirely correct translation of the Battle of Britain, as it affected much of Great Britain) began in July 1940. From July to September, the Luftwaffe attacked Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters head-on to gain air superiority as a prelude to the invasion. This included bombing military airfields to nullify the RAF”s ability to fight an invasion. The British Fighter Command suffered heavy losses, but also inflicted heavy damage on the Luftwaffe.

The RAF came much closer to defeat than was publicly admitted at the time, and had the Luftwaffe persisted, it would have achieved air superiority. The Germans overestimated the RAF”s strength and believed that they first needed to destroy strategic installations such as aircraft factories and arsenals, thus eliminating the required replacements. In late August 1940, before the date usually associated with the start of the Blitz, the Luftwaffe attacked industrial targets in Birmingham and Liverpool.

During a raid over the Thames Estuary on August 24, 1940, some German bombers strayed over London and dropped their bombs on the east and northeast of the city, on Bethnal Green, Hackney, Islington, Tottenham and Finchley. Despite the apologies offered by the Germans, indicating that it was a mistake, the British launched a retaliatory raid the following night, reaching Berlin, after which the British High Command proudly reported that they had bombed the capital of the Third Reich. Following this, Hitler flew into a rage and on September 5 ordered the Luftwaffe to carry out attacks on major British cities, including London, both day and night. This new strategy allowed the RAF to recover by ceasing attacks on its bases and focusing on civilian targets, in what is recognized as one of the biggest mistakes of the Nazi military campaign.

The first air raids were directed against the port of London, in the East End. The damage was severe, with the September 7 raid consisting of 300 bombers escorted by 600 fighters. Another 180 bombers attacked that night. Many of the bombs aimed at the docks fell on nearby residential areas, killing 436 Londoners and injuring 1600 more.

British defenses were weak. Few of its antiaircraft guns had fire control systems, and the not-too-powerful search lights were usually ineffective at altitudes above 3600 meters. Few fighter aircraft were capable of operating at night, and ground-based radar was limited in range and performance. During the first raid, only 92 antiaircraft guns were available to defend London. The city”s defenses were quickly reorganized by General Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief, Anti-Aircraft Command, and by September 11, twice as many guns were ready with orders to fire at will.

The resulting barrage of fire was much more impressive, which boosted civilian morale, and although it had little effect on the attackers, to some extent it made them more apprehensive, dropping their bombs in haste, since the flak was visible to the bomber crews.

From November 1940 to February 1941, the Luftwaffe attacked industrial and port cities. Targets included Coventry, Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Swindon, Plymouth, Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, Portsmouth, and Avonmouth. During this period, fourteen attacks were directed against ports, nine against industrial targets, and eight against London. Oxford was not bombed as Hitler had reserved it as the capital of the Nazi-occupied United Kingdom.

Probably the most devastating of these attacks, in terms of material destruction, occurred on the morning of December 29, in what has come to be called the Second Great Fire of London, in which an unscathed St. Paul”s Cathedral emerged amidst smoldering ruins of buildings. This image, captured in a photograph, became an icon of London”s resistance.

British defenses remained weak, and German losses were sustainable, losing only 75 aircraft in those four months. The Oberkommando des Heeres, the German High Command, began to question the objectives of the campaign. With the RAF intact, an invasion of England was not possible. Preparations then began for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, which, in Hitler”s eyes, had a higher priority than reducing the United Kingdom.

In February 1941, Admiral Erich Raeder persuaded Hitler to attack British ports to support the Kriegsmarine in the Battle of the Atlantic. Hitler gave orders on February 6 for the Luftwaffe to concentrate its attacks on ports, mainly Plymouth, Portsmouth, Bristol and Avonmouth, Swansea, Liverpool, Belfast, Clydebank, Kingston upon Hull, Sunderland, and Newcastle upon Tyne. Forty-six attacks were organized on these cities between February 19 and May 12, with only seven directed against London, Birmingham, Coventry, and Nottingham.

At that time, the targets were both civilian and industrial, and the raids were intended to provoke terror in the population. British defenses were much improved by this time.

The Bristol Beaufighter, a twin-engine radar-equipped heavy fighter, proved effective against bombers, aided by ground-based radars, which guided night fighters to their targets. An increasing number of anti-aircraft guns and search lights were radar-controlled, increasing accuracy. From the beginning of 1941 Luftwaffe losses increased (28 in January, 124 in May). With the imminent invasion of the Soviet Union requiring the transfer of air power to the East, the Blitz ended in May 1941.

A final major attack took place over London on May 10, where numerous important buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the British Museum, the Palace of Westminster and St. James”s Palace.

The Baedeker Blitz was a series of raids conducted from April 1942 in retaliation for the RAF bombing of the historic German city of Lübeck. The Baedeker raids targeted strategically unimportant cities such as Bath, Canterbury, Exeter, Norwich and York. Churches and other public buildings were often the targets of these raids, in an attempt to undermine civilian morale. Baedeker is the name of a German tourist guide, which awarded three stars to places worth visiting. This guidebook seemed to be the one that unintentionally marked British targets by rating them with three stars, hence the name of this Blitz.

The Germans failed in their goal of defeating the United Kingdom, or at least invading it. There was previously a widespread belief in the theory that a massive aerial bombardment would sap the morale of the population to the point of governmental collapse. Hitler had predicted that the working class would be incited against the ruling rich class to carry out a revolution, but he was wrong. However, the Queen”s visits to London”s East End were not well liked by the population, in fact she was booed on occasion. After some minor damage to Buckingham Palace, the Queen was said to have expressed that she could then “look the East End in the face”.

For the British, that the Germans were able to inflict so much damage so cheaply was an undeniable failure. The country was grossly under-equipped to cope with a strategic bombing campaign, and the number of air raid shelters was far below what was required, forcing the London authorities to use about 80 London Underground stations to shelter some 177 000 people. In contrast, the Germans made a much better (though ultimately ineffective) effort to protect their population against later Allied bombing, perhaps learning from British mistakes.

The British resisted the Blitz. Great improvements were made to their defenses during its development. Propaganda was also employed, feeding back the stoicism of the British people with films such as London Can Take It, made by Humphrey Jennings.

American radio journalist Edward R. Murrow was stationed in London during the Blitz, and made live broadcasts to the United States during the Blitz. Live broadcasts from a war front had never been heard by any radio listener before those made by Murrow. His broadcasts were enormously important in increasing the sympathy of the American people for British resistance to Nazi aggression.


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