8. The Blitz

Posted: February 10, 2011 in World War 2
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The London Blitz began on Saturday, September 7th, 1940, when the Luftwaffe shifted its focus from the RAF airfields it had been attacking & began bombing civilian London instead. On September 4th, in a major address at the Berlin Sportpalast, Hitler had excoriated the British for bombing Berlin & declared that the Germans would retaliate. “If the British air force drops 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 kilograms of bombs,” the Führer told a wildly applauding crowd, “then we shall now in a single night drop 150,000, 180,000 & 320,000 kilograms of bombs & more.” Three days later, Hitler made good on his threat.

The Luftwaffe’s September 7th raid began in the late afternoon with the dropping of incendiary bombs. These munitions lit fires that, in turn, gave directional guidance to the squadrons of Heinkel & Dornier bombers that followed & pounded London all night. The all-clear wasn’t sounded until four-fifty the next morning.

Although British censors kept specific details of the bomb damage out of the press, the destruction was obviously extensive, especially in the East End, where most of London’s port facilities were located. Many of the bombs fell on dockworkers’ homes, killing several hundred. Nevertheless, this change in German strategy proved to be a costly mistake. Frustrated with the slow pace of the battle of Britain, Hitler & Luftwaffe chief Göring had concluded that savaging civilian targets would pressure the British public into compelling their leaders to sue for peace. Instead, the terror bombing merely deepened British resolve, & far worse, gave something of a reprieve to the hard-pressed RAF, whose losses had been nearing a critical point.

Whether or not continued bombing of the RAF bases would have won the Battle of Britain is a debatable matter; it quickly became clear; however, that the bombing of civilian targets – targets of questionable strategic value – wasn’t going to win anything, at least not in the short term. Two heavy German raids on September 15th, for example, resulted in such damaging losses for the Luftwaffe that Hitler & Göring decided that their efforts to destroy RAF Fighter Command had failed. Without air supremacy, of course, there could be no invasion, so on September 17th, Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion indefinitely. The bombing of London continued; however, & in November Göring extended the campaign to Coventry & other cities in the industrial Midlands.

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