Saturday, 14 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.

Let's try to get a sense of the bigger picture through the various editorial pages of four newspapers published today. What is the meaning of the air raids? Will there be an invasion? What are the Germans trying to do? What does the future hold?

Start with the New Statesman and Nation (249). Quoting Churchill, it entitles its leading article 'A very important week':

THE fantastic climax seems to have arrived. Flat-bottomed barges and merchant ships are creeping round from German and Dutch ports to prepared harbours in the north of France; large numbers of German troops stand ready to sail. No doubt there are also air liners waiting to drop men on the countryside. No detail, no surprise will be overlooked. We may expect Germans in British battle-dress; we must be ready for parachutists and possibly gas. If the invasion comes, which seems, as Mr. Churchill suggested, probable, but not at all certain, it will be accompanied by more intense raids on docks and shipping, and on aerodromes and communications of all sorts. Efforts will be made to drive civilians on to the roads.

Britain's defences are far better now than they were after the French collapse in June. The RAF in particular provides hope that the Germans will be forced to put off the invasion for want of air superiority. The New Statesman is glad that 'the authorities [...] are carefully explaining that to bomb Berlin is no protection against invasion', as those favouring reprisals seem to think. Of the 'intensified air attacks on London',

No doubt the destruction of morale is one aim, but the lowering of production through loss of sleep and loss of time is more important and the dislocation of communications and, above all, the destruction of the docks, and even more significant objectives. So far the main result has been to convince the mass of people that they are indeed "in this war" whatever they think of the past policies of Governments and the absurdities of international anarchy in which we live.

Indeed, everyone today is too 'sufficiently educated about the world' to believe that the war can 'be decided by a mere bombing match between ourselves and the Germans'.

The Nazis will not collapse because the R.A.F. sets fire to the Reichstag; they have done that themselves before now. It will have no more effect in Germany than a German bomb outside Buckingham Palace has on Britain. The common people must be assured, by facts as well as words, that we are fighting the common man's battle.

The Manchester Guardian agrees that events are moving 'Toward climax' (6). Italy is preparing to attack British forces in Egypt, possibly timed to coincide with a German invasion of Britain itself, as indicated by the concentration of troops and ships across the Channel (possibly including 'fast motor-boats [...] with the aim of landing a force to hold ground until heavier equipment can be ferried across'). The RAF has switched its priorities:

It is true that military targets in Berlin are being sought in reply to the German slaughter of civilians in London. But we have not been hearing so much in the last few days of raids on German factories, though they are still made, or of flights across the Alps. Instead we are visiting night after night the harbours under German control from Hamburg to Brest. Calais and Boulogne are constantly attacked. It is because the moment of attempted invasion seems near, because the armament is ready, and this week is one of moonlight and high tides about dawn.

The raids on London are part of this plan. If Germany was planning for a long war it would bomb more selectively, choosing industrial targets.

Instead her aim seems to be to throw the huge population of London into a turmoil which will occupy our Government's mind even when invasion is tried. She mistakes our people's spirit, but her purpose is plain.

There's no sign that the Luftwaffe is winning 'command of the skies', but the possibility of 'the sudden appearance of great new reserves to support invasion when it comes' cannot be ruled out. The Guardian is clearly very exercised about the Egyptian situation, as it returns to the impending Italian offensive in the second half of the leading article. Egypt is important not only as a link to the Empire, but also as a gateway to 'the oil which Germany cannot for long do without'. The threat of such a 'double assault', on Britain and on Egypt, is 'the greatest challenge we have ever faced'. But 'we shall stand firm'.

The Times gives its leading article today the aggressive title 'Britain strikes back' (5).

The losses, dangers, and inconveniences of persistent bombing during the past week -- the ruined and burning buildings, the closed streets, and interrupted communications -- should have served to quicken the imagination of the people of London and to give them some idea of what many parts of Germany have had to endure for several months past.

Of course, there is an important difference: the RAF's bombs 'have been less widely distributed' since they have been concentrated with 'both care and skill' upon 'military objectives.

But, as a result, those areas which have been attacked at all have suffered from a sustained intensity of bombardment such as no part of Great Britain has known. Britain is plainly very far from being a beleaguered and helpless island, incapable of striking back.

There then follows a long precis of the targets of British bombers since the start of the war: docks, aerodromes, aircraft factories, railway yards, the Black Forest ('the ammunition dumps concealed beneath the trees explode furiously as the flames spread', though unfortunately the weather is not dry enough for the 'terror of general and uncontrollable forest fire'). And the invasion forces in the Channel ports have been 'exposed to devastating onslaught'. This leads The Times to wax historical:

the crowded shipping in Calais suffered a visitation of incendiary bombs that must recall the destruction wrought in the same harbour by the fireships of HOWARD and DRAKE in 1588.

The troopships waiting in the Channel ports to invade England on that historic occasion were never able to put to sea. We cannot yet say that their successors have been prevented from embarking on so great a gamble -- magnificent, glorious, and successful as has been the prowess of the R.A.F. in weakening the force of the blow before it can be delivered. But there is universal confidence that the aes triplex of the Services is ready for any assault that may come.

Last of all is the Daily Mail (2). Its (much pithier) editorial comments are mostly devoted to the King's bravery in refusing to leave London after he was 'singled out for attack' in yesterday's raids. It then turns to 'A week of raids', claiming that an 'avowed aim' of the attack on London is 'to drive people out of the British capital and clog up the roads and highways of the country':

This object has failed dismally. London has gone through a week of intensive day and night raids, but it carries on. The roads and highways may be obstructed in places, but they are unclogged by fear-stricken people. There are no armies of refugees streaming out into the fields.

London's life goes on. It helps to know that Hitler has been stung into his 'vicious' attacks on London by 'the crippling blows rained on his military machine by the bombers of the R.A.F.'.

We have learned not only that we can "take it," but that we can "give it." It is better to give than to receive.

Can any generalisations be drawn from these editorial opinions? All are confident of victory. None would give much comfort to Hitler, were he to read them. But there does seem to be a difference in emphasis: the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian seem to focus more on the defensive side of things -- invasion and being air-raided -- whereas The Times is much interested in the offensive -- air-raiding. The Daily Mail's editorial section is too brief to be a comparable gauge, and it does talk about London's raids, but it is certainly offensive in spirit. Respectively (and a little anachronistically), these newspapers are left, centre-left, centre-right and right in terms of political orientation, so this is perhaps suggestive of a left-right dichotomy.

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