Sunday, 8 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.

Observer, 8 September 1940, 7

'[T]he great daylight attack on London' (7) yesterday evening came at an awkward time for the Observer. It was too late to do the opinion page over, and so it features editor J. L. Garvin's thoughts on the destroyer deal and the battle of wills between Hitler and Churchill. So there is less than half a page on 'London's biggest daylight raid of the war', and much of that space is filled by official communiques. Here's the statement put out by the Air Ministry and Ministry of Home Security last night:

"Late this afternoon enemy aircraft in large numbers crossed the coast of Kent and approached the London area. They were heavily engaged by our fighters and A.A. guns, but a number of them succeeded in penetrating to the industrial area of East London.

"As a result of these attacks fire were caused among the industrial targets in this area.

"Damage was done to the lighting and other public services, and some dislocation of communications was caused.

"Attacks have also been directed against the docks.

"Information as to casualties is not yet available. Bombs were also dropped on an industrial installation on the north bank of the Thames estuary, causing fires.

"Reports received up to 8 p.m. show that twenty-one enemy aircraft, sixteen of them bombers, have been shot down by our fighters in the course of these attacks.

"Five of our fighters are missing."

And this is the German side of the story, as reported by Bremen radio.

"A bomber squadron reports having attacked the harbour and docks of London with all flights.

"Hits were secured on Silvertown Dock; fires caused in fuel depots nearby and several warehouses collapsed.

"Strong fighter defence was encountered before reaching London, but there was less resistance over the city itself. A neighbouring squadron attacked objectives to the north-east.

"Heavy clouds of smoke were observed over Albert Dock and gas works of Beckton.

"Every bomber took over 2,000 kilogrammes of explosives, and one million kilogrammes (about 10 tons) of metal has descended upon London during the last few hours," it adds.

A communique of the 'German High Command' was read out at 9.15pm, which described the attack on London as a reprisal for the RAF raids on Berlin, and added:

"There is a continuous cloud of smoke stretching from the heart of the City to the mouth of the Thames.

"According to reports received up to now thirty-one enemy planes have been shot down. Six of our planes are missing.

But this was a battle being fought over the heads of the Observer's journalists, and so they could and did produce their own copy:

Over a London bathed in sunshine one picked out the shapes of bombers escorted by fighters, and saw white puffs from our A.A. guns.

Then came the crash of bombs, the crackle of machine-gun fire, and, above all, the boom of anti-aircraft guns. Steeply diving R.A.F. fighters set the air quivering.

But even this inferno above them did not disturb the amazing equanimity of Londoners. Dozens of people stood in the streets watching the battle.

Yet bomb explosions were almost as rapid as A.A. fire. In a minute twenty-five were counted in one [area alone?]


Wave after wave approached the outskirts and the sky was filled with bursting shells and glinting planes.

Then for minutes which seemed endless the sky was clear. The raid had been smashed by the barrage and the fighters.

London, "grim and gay," a day after Mr. Churchill had forecast harder air fighting, had felt and seen Goering's vicious assault, and still laughed, and went on watching football matches.

There's no analysis of what this dramatic turn of events in the air war means. That will presumably be a job for tomorrow's newspapers.

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