Saturday, 31 August 1940

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Blitz of 1940-41 and the Baedeker Blitz of 1942. See here and here for introductions to the series, and here, here and here for conclusions.

Saturday is the day that the new New Statesman and Nation comes out. (The Spectator comes out on Friday, but I missed that yesterday. Not to worry; there's always next week.) It's a 'week-end review', not a newspaper, but inevitably has much commentary on the war, generally from a left-wing perspective. Indeed, this week it opens (197) with an editorial comment (probably by Kingsley Martin) entitled 'The war in the air'. This war is evolving, from mass daylight raids to small night raids:

GERMAN tactics have changed once more. Blitzkrieg methods were no proving too costly in relation to the results achieved, and the Nazi High Command has decided to follow the example of our own raids on Germany, operating chiefly at night and using only small formations.

Martin admits that this change has been effective, mainly due to the 'wearisome length of the air-raid warnings'.

By our own experience we are beginning to have some experience of what the people of Germany have been enduring for many weeks. Even if we discount official optimism, there is no doubt the damage done by the Germans is small in comparison with that caused by our own airmen, with their far greater experience of night-flying. In this type of warfare it is we who took the initiative, and the Nazis are as yet but clumsy imitators.

(No comment.) He goes on to suggest that the present German tactics are more suited to 'a long war of attrition than to a campaign designed to finish off the enemy by a single decisive blow', though the danger of invasion won't pass until 'the equinoctial tides in the middle of September are over'.

All the more reason to deal now with certain defects in 'the methods of maintaining civilian health and morale'. The first problem is that of air-raid warnings: the present system 'has not proved satisfactory'. Martin blames this largely on the Air Ministry, which ultimately decides when warnings are to be issued:

If an air-raid warden or a Home Guard sees a bomb drop or a German aeroplane overhead that is not sufficient for the Air Ministry: the incident simply has not occurred, if it has not been seen by its own people. This departmental nonsense should stop at once, if public confidence in the sirens is not to be destroyed.

Next Martin criticises the practice of 'veiling civilian casualties under a curtain of empty phrases'. For example,

During a raid on a S.E. coast town a bomb was dropped on a football match was in progress between the Army and the Navy, and many of the players were killed. The Broadcast communique made light of the casualties, thereby infuriating not only the civilians who were watching but members of the Services as well.

Telling the public about this incident could not possibly have assisted the enemy in any way.

The British people can "take it": what they cannot stand is being taken in.

Finally, there is the question of shelters. The Andersons have proved a success, in fact they are 'far better than the surface shelters now being erected'. But what will happen when the weather turns and heavy rains begin? The public needs some guidance on how to maintain their shelters and keep them warm.

We also believe that in certain key factories the possibilities of deep shelters, where workers can sleep if need be, should again be considered.

The previous politicisation of deep shelters (referring to the prewar agitation by Communists for public deep shelters, which has recently been revived) should be set aside, since 'the provision of adequate security for the population is now a vital part of our war strategy'.

Failure here may produce not only disastrous epidemics but a mood of defeatism.

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