Operation Millennium was the RAF's first 'thousand bomber raid', on Cologne on the night of 30 May 1942. By making a maximum effort and by using aircraft and aircrews from training units (since the Admiralty did not consent to the diversion of Coastal Command aircraft), Air Vice-Marshal Harris was able to scrounge a total of 1047 bombers, more than twice the usual number Bomber Command alone was able to field on any given night. While the intention was certainly to hurt Germany and to try out new tactics, Millennium was mostly a propaganda operation — hence the otherwise arbitrary choice of the magic thousand. Since the heavy April raids on Lübeck and Rostock had gained very favourable press coverage, Harris wanted to follow up with a very big show indeed. So while I wasn't able to do the full post-blog of Millennium (or rather the second round of Baedeker raids which it provoked), here I will at least scan the British press reaction to see how successful Harris was in achieving his domestic objectives.
Most papers carried the news on 1 June 1942 (I think evening papers had it the day before). The biggest headline may have been from the Daily Mirror (above), which splashed the following across its front page:
Where the Mirror got this figure of 1500 is anyone's guess; no other paper appears to have used it. Even if the diversionary raids elsewhere that night are included the total is still under 1200 (and in fact these numbers represent sorties, the number of aircraft which actually reached Cologne was under 900). The article itself claimed that the raid was 'the greatest concentration of planes ever sent to a single target area', and included the 'biggest planes in service [...] great weight-carriers, taking far heavier bombs than ever the Luftwaffe dropped here'. The leading article on page 3 followed up this line of argument, saying that the raid must have made Goering 'realise what air power means in the hands of a resolute people who, having "taken it" unblenched, are now in a position to "give it" with compound interest':
The greatest air raid in history is not an end. It is a beginning. And whatever 'reprisal' to the Cologne catastrophe may be in store for us, we can face the future with confidence, because we know that at last we have the strength, as well as the will, to organise an air offensive against the enemy which will shake him to his very foundations.
The Times took a similar line in one of its leading articles, entitled 'Reaping the Whirlwind' (5):
The Germans are now learning in their own homes and their own cities something of the loss and suffering which they have inflicted upon the civilian populations of other lands. Ever since they loosed war upon the world two and a half years ago they have boasted of the havoc wrought by the Luftwaffe and of the terror it inspired. They have gloated over what they did to Warsaw, Rotterdam, and Belgrade. They even made films of some of their greatest crimes for the delectation of patriotic Germans [...] Now that the striking power is passing from the Luftwaffe to the R.A.F. Germany will begin to realize the folly she committed in entrusting her destinies to him [Hitler] and his comrades in crime.
The Cologne raid was 'the herald of what Germany will receive, city by city, from now on' (1) — Churchill. 'Let him have it — right on the chin' — Harris.
The Daily Express put this simple, but effective, graphic on its front page, one thousand stars 'to enable you to realise the vastness of the air armada that flew against Cologne on the eve of "Flaming June" (for Germany)':
Basil Cardew reported on the same page that the raid was concentrated into only 90 minutes; bombers 'arrived and bombed at the rate of one every six seconds. The bombs fell at the rate of nearly 3½ tons a minute [...] the sky was as busy as Piccadilly-circus'. Again there is the theme of Britain doing what Germany promised:
So it was the Royal Air Force and not the Luftwaffe which carried into actuality the most blood-curdling threats ever made by Goering — of sending 1,000 bombers in a single night to attack a town.
The Express devoted its whole editorial column to the raid, 'the biggest single air enterprise undertaken by any country in this war' (2):
But it is still only a start of the offensive against Germany that Mr. Churchill has promised.
Britain's power to raid is still growing, still being organised. America has still to add her strength to the nightly punch from British airfields.
Although it says the 'bomber boys' are paving the way for the 'tank boys' who will follow, the Express actually comes close to predicting a knock-out blow from the air, noting that Harris 'claims that if he could put a thousand bombers a night over Germany he could knock the taste for war out of the German people' and asking 'How many more chances will Germany offer these Nazis' who fail in their promises to defend their people against bombing?
Alongside its full report on the raid, the Manchester Guardian examined overseas reactions: it created 'the most favourable impression' in Russia, and 'The average American could not be better pleased' (5). But it also relays German radio reports on the experience of the bombed people. One woman said:
When we heard the air-raid alarm we went down to the cellar, where we found other tenants of the flats. A little later I was going upstairs to fetch something from my flat when a bomb struck the building. I was buried under wreckage and did not know how to get out as fires soon started on all sides. I shouted for help and was eventually dug out by a member of the Hitler Youth.
The other dailies didn't risk engaging the empathy of readers by describing
the raid's effects in such personal, and for many, familiar, terms. The Guardian also quoted German radio's explanation of British motives:
Because of the great defeat suffered by the Allies in the battle of Kharkov, Churchill saw it fit to give orders to the R.A.F. to renew the terror raids against the civilian population and against historic buildings, churches, and hospitals.
As well as the threat of retaliation for Cologne made by another German broadcaster:
The British public will have Churchill to thank for it. Churchill is invited to continue his raids on the largest scale within his power. Time will show who can go to the greater length in that type of warfare which he has initiated.
I will look at that retaliation in a future post, but first I'll look at the reactions to Millennium in the provincial press.
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. Terms and conditions beyond the scope of this license may be available at airminded.org.