Tuesday, 3 September 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.

Times, 3 September 1940, 4

Yesterday was another big day for aerial warfare (these headlines are from The Times, 4). Six hundred and fifty German aircraft attacked RAF aerodromes in south-east England; forty-six were shot down and the raids repulsed. Only thirteen British aircraft were lost. London had more air-raid warnings during the day but suffered nothing worse than that.

As of today, Britain has been at war for a year. The first leading article marks this anniversary with a sweeping survey of the war to date. In many ways it has been a surprising war:

Popular anticipation pictured war primarily in terms of universal and indiscriminate destruction of cities and centres of industry by a rain of bombs from the air. That horror was not inflicted on the major combatants in the early stages, and, now that it is being in some degree attempted, we can see that, where the defence is adequately equipped, the destructive possibilities of aerial bombardment have been exaggerated.

Casualties have been surprisingly low in all forms of warfare, compared with the last war, and so 'our material resources are substantially intact'. Of course, there have been a series of strategic disasters, Poland, Denmark and Norway, Holland and Belgium, all culminating in 'the mighty scythe of the German mechanized attack [which] ... in three weeks' active war laid the proud [French] Republic in the dust'. Defeat for the British empire loomed as well. But two events have changed 'the whole aspect and temper of the war'. One was Dunkirk, which saved '365,000 men' and provided the core of 'the largest body of trained troops that has ever been assembled for the defence of our islands'. And, of course,

The second great event was the air battle fought over England from the early days of August, in which our fighters inflicted a decisive defeat on greatly superior numbers. We now know for certain that, when our rising production has given us a numerical parity, as it will do within a known time, our attacking forces of bombers, already doing heavy damage, will become irresistible.

Beyond these material facts there is a 'spiritual' dimension to the war, the fight for 'the ultimate verities that govern the life of men in association' and against 'the falsehoods of the Nazi creed'. The Empire has rallied to the cause, even India which is itself 'rent with internal dissension'. Britain has become an 'island sanctuary' for exiles from 'half a dozen ravaged lands' who continue 'the fight for freedom'. And 'Most significant of all' is America's turn from isolation to full support for the Allies' cause. Americans realise that the values for which Britain is fighting are their values too.

The world of to-day is one; and when this war has destroyed the tyrants it will be necessary for all the free peoples to remould it together.

And it is true; something has changed in the United States. On page four, a speech by President Roosevelt -- who is seeking reelection for a third term in two months' time -- at Newfound Gap, Tennessee, is quoted:

"I am asking," he said, "for absolute national unity to defend the American way of life against the greatest attack ever launched against the freedom of the individual, which is nearer to the Americas than ever before."

He added that if 'we are not prepared to give all we have and are to preserve Christian civilization, then our own land will be headed for destruction'. The heads of the two trade union federations, the AFL and the CIO, both issued statements for Labor Day pledging full support for the national defence programme (though the former rather less reservedly so than the latter, which warned that 'the enemies of labour were resuming their attacks under the guise of promoting national defence'). On page 3 it is reported that Roosevelt's call-up of 60,000 National Guardsmen for a full year's training 'is without precedent in the peace-time history of the United States', and yet is 'only the vanguard in the proposed Army expansion'.

Finally, there is a follow-up (2) to an earlier Times article on the 'Noise of the Siren', which led several hundred readers to write in with their own views on air-raid sirens.

Most of them simply record their opinion that the noise is mournful, disturbing, distressing, horrible, depressing, disheartening, dismal, or hideous.

A London doctor worries about the 'damage caused by the impact of these hideous noises on the sensitive nerve organs of millions of human beings'. There are some, though, who like the siren's sound or wish it was louder: sometimes it can be hard to pick up against the background noises (as in North London, where one reader lives near three hills and finds that the 'faint sirens are insufficient to be distinguished' from 'the whines of accelerators'). A woman from Welbeck Street confesses that she is quite partial to 'the exultant screech that will not be checked'. But perhaps she would have liked this suggestion, from an inhabitant of Tolleshunt d'Arcy in Essex, who said that the current siren made her feel 'all cobbley-wobbley': 'Do make the Government give us something like "Hush-a-by baby."'

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