Monday, 27 April 1942

Yorkshire Post, 27 April 1942, 1

Just at the moment, this war seems mainly to be an air war. The main news today is that Rostock has been bombed for the third night in a row. In addition Stirling bombers carried out a low-level raid on the Skoda works in Czechoslovakia, and six targets in northern France were were attacked by bombers with strong fighter escorts. As the Yorkshire Post reports on its front page:

ROSTOCK has become symbolic of our new air offensive. On Saturday night and yesterday morning the harbour and aircraft works were attacked for the third successive night, by a strong force of bombers, with great results. That was not all. The famous Skoda armament works in Czechoslovakia were the target for the R.A.F. on an all-round flight of 1,400 miles.

Yesterday more attacking flights crossed the Channel for various destinations in this great opening of the Allied offensive.

The damage done to German war production by the Rostock raids is confidently predicted to be enormous:

The Heinkel aircraft factory would turn out many squadrons per week in an effort to overcome the Luftwaffe's shortage of fights. The factory is now a heap of ruins. The shipyard is badly damaged and the Neptune submarine construction slips are broken up [...] The output must have ceased. The attack was heavier than at Luebeck, where production has entirely stopped.

A German communique claimed that Friday night's attack on Rostock was 'directed against residential districts'; of the one on Saturday night the German News Agency said that 'There was considerable damage to houses and losses in dead and injured' (Manchester Guardian, 5).

This offensive combined with the RAF's attacks on the coast of occupied France is forcing Germany 'into depleting the Luftwaffe strength in Russia':

Our air initiative is imposing defence on the enemy and may impose limitations of a serious nature on Hitler's coming blow at Russia.

The Guardian's air correspondent detects a significant weakening of Germany's air defences. The operations over France are like a reverse Battle of Britain, only the British are losing far fewer aircraft, which 'shows plainly that the German intercepter-fighter is insufficient to combat the powerful British forces'. So too the 'small ratio of losses' suffered by Bomber Command in the Rostock raids 'points to a similar dwindling strength of the Luftwaffe in Germany herself'. With its 'commitments on Germany's Eastern front and in Libya' the Luftwaffe is being stretched too thin.

'WE are opening a second front in the West', says the leading article in the Yorkshire Post today (2), 'a second front in the air'. What are the broader effects of the RAF air campaign against Germany? In his big speech yesterday, Hitler gave himself supreme legal powers 'which set him above the law courts and place every German citizen completely at his mercy' (Daily Express, 1). 'At such a time', he said, 'no one is entitled to talk of his rights. Today only duties exist'. There will be no more holidays. Lenient judges will be dismissed. Guy Eden, political correspondent for the Express, believes Hitler has had 'to display the iron hand' like this largely because of Bomber Command:

Smashing air raids on German towns -- so heavy that it was not thought prudent to conceal from the German people the damage done -- has increased depression and discontent.

RAF air raids are also given by Morley Richards as one reason for the renewed German peace feelers rumoured to have been put out in Stockholm and Ankara in recent weeks.

Daily Express, 27 April 1942, 3

Further testimony to the effect which Bomber Command is believed to be having on the war comes from the way it has been enlisted in the Express's anti-waste campaign. The objective is 'to save ten million tons of coal, without rationing' (3). On this 'Fuel Front', people are being encouraged to share their neighbours fires for warmth rather than start their own, or go to bed half an hour earlier each night. Another example is that 'Mothers are going to appoint one of their children "Family Light Switcher-off"'. To remind people to switch off lights and heaters when not needed the Express has provided some little labels to stick above their light switches, with slogans (sent in by readers) such as 'WASTE delays victory' and 'Careless GAS helps the enemy'. The one shown above reads:

LUBECK'S lights are out 40%
WHAT ABOUT YOURS?

This is a reference to the 40% of L├╝beck's old town which was destroyed by Bomber Command last month.

But otherwise, apart from a RAF 'offensive' in the Middle East (including a night raid on Benghazi harbour) which the Times reports (3), most of the running in the air war seems to be being made by the Axis. Unusually, after the string of raids on unnamed southwest towns in recent days (and there was another one yesterday just before dawn, which did 'Considerable damage' in a working class area, along with another town in the west of England and one in Scotland's northeast, where a four-year-old girl was killed; Guardian, 5, and a fighter-bomber attack on a south coast town) today's papers have a named target to focus on. As the Daily Mirror's back page headline screams (8):

BATH GUNNED BY HUNS IN NIGHT BLITZ

BATH, quiet residential city, home of invalids and evacuees, suffered heavily as Luftwaffe dive bombers roared down on Saturday night and early yesterday releasing bombs on churches, historic buildings and houses.

The former mayoress of Bath, Mrs J. L. Langworthy, was one of the victims; she was due to marry on Wednesday next. (Her trousseau was also destroyed.) A nine-year-old boy tunnelled to freedom from the ruins of his home while singing jazz songs. Four churches were hit and a row of Georgian terraces destroyed; 'loss of life is feared' after hits on shelters and houses.

Why Bath? Berlin radio claimed that 'high British staffs are stationed' there, but it also described the attacks as 'continuous reprisal raids' for the bombing of 'residential quarters, cultural monuments and welfare establishments in old German towns'. That Bath was attacked in reprisal is commonly accepted (though the Yorkshire Post calls it a 'Spite Raid', 1). Montague Lacey in the Daily Express sees the Bath blitz as Hitler's attempt to create maximum terror with limited means (1):

1. -- He did not expect the old watering place to be so well defended as an industrial city.
2. -- He went after a city with many evacuees, hoping that his blow would resound through England.
3. -- He selected a small, compact city with the idea that there the limited number of bombers he could spare would do most damage.

In fact he counted on causing massacre in a city unprepared.

In fact, though admittedly 'Casualties are rather heavy' Lacey contends that both civil and air defences did well. That's reassuring, as it must be difficult for be prepared for air raids when they so rarely come these days, the more so in a town with little experience of bombing. (The Yorkshire Post, 5, reports that 'Yorkshire Towns Will Stand a Blitz').

The bombing doesn't end there. There's a litany of air raids: German air raids on besieged Leningrad; Japanese air raids on Darwin (where eight out of twenty-four bombers were shot down), Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi in the Solomons. 'Malta and Corregidor, the two most-blitzed islands in the world, have exchanged messages telling of their defiance and hope' (Express, 1). According to the Times's Mandalay correspondent (4):

To-day many of the cities, towns, and villages of Burma are blasted by Japanese bombs. Misery and desolation have spread through lower and central Burma, while the shadows of war ever lengthen over the country.

Refugees -- and now they are not only Indians -- stream along the road leading out of the country, taking with them only the barest necessities.

It's a bomber's war.

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4 thoughts on “Monday, 27 April 1942

  1. One interesting perspective on the Bath raids that April comes in The Last Fighting Tommy, pp 168-176 in my paperback edition. Not so much for the details in the description but because the author, Harry Patch, a plumber and volunteer fireman in WW2, was the last man who had fought in the Great War trenches when he died in 2009 at the age of 111.

    His Guardian obituary says publishing his book (co-written with Richard van Emden) at the age of 109 made him the oldest first-time author ever. (The pic at that Guardian link was taken the month before he died and he still looked in pretty good shape).

  2. Post author

    Thanks — I did read the other day that he was in civil defence during WWII but didn’t connect it with Bath! A remarkable life, but then again not so much: many men followed similar trajectories. He just managed to survive it longer than anyone else.

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