Tuesday, 17 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.

The Times, 17 September 1940, 4

Sunday wasn't just Fighter Command's day -- Bomber Command was also hard at work, bombing targets in Berlin and western Germany and along the invasion coast, sinking three ships and losing no aircraft. And not just Bomber Command, either: The Times prints a message from the Air Minister to Coastal Command (4):

I have been asked by the War Cabinet to convey to all squadrons of the Coastal Command their admiration of the skill and courage with which they have carried out the vital and arduous but often unspectacular tasks allotted to them, and of the enterprise and success with which in recent days they have struck at the harbours, shipping, and coastal defences of the enemy.

Of course this is buried at the bottom of the page, whereas Churchill's message to Fighter Command gets a spot at the top of the page, with much bigger headlines:

Yesterday eclipses all previous records of the Fighter Command. Aided by squadrons of their Czech and Polish comrades, using only a small proportion of their total strength, and under cloud conditions of some difficulty, they cut to rags and tatters three separate waves of murderous assault upon the civil population of their native land, inflicting a certain loss of 125 bombers and 53 fighters upon the enemy, to say nothing of probables and damaged, while themselves sustaining only a loss of 12 pilots and 25 machines.

These results exceed all expectations and give just and sober confidence in the approaching struggle.

It does seem appropriate that the solid but unspectacular Archie Sinclair should be given the task of commending Coastal Command, while flashy Winston gets to praise Fighter Command.

London was bombed again on Sunday night, from dusk till dawn:

Once more hospitals and churches were struck by high explosive bombs. But there had again during the night been the compensating noise of the protective guns around the capital; once more their thunder often eclipsed the noise of droning bombers and falling bombs. And as they streamed into the City to begin a new working week Londoners were still smiling and ready for whatever might be in store.

The author of this article adds an interesting detail, which might indicate a familiarity with the Italian air raids on Barcelona back in 1938:

At one point bombs dropping from a silent sky and then the noise of aeroplane engines as a machine raced away to an accompaniment of heavy gunfire suggested the use of the silent approach technique by one of the raiders.

The problem of conditions inside public shelters is now starting to concern the government. Not only are they overcrowded, but instead of being used for relatively short periods as originally envisaged, people are sleeping in them all through the night. The ministries of Home Security and Health have therefore set up a joint committee under Lord Horder's chairmanship to investigate 'the effect on the public health of the present use of public shelters'. This is no delaying tactic, however: the committee is expected to report 'within a few days'. Similarly rapid action is expected on the matter of 'making some use of the Tube railways for air-raid shelters without interference with the transport system'. Tube stations are already being used as shelters:

People are already beginning to resort to underground stations during air raids after having bought travel tickets.

But The Times makes the valid point that the Tube represents the safest and easiest way to get around during an air raid, so it's in the public's interest that shelterers don't impede trains.

Today's mailbag (not that The Times would ever use such a homely phrase) includes a letter from one L. B. Namier of 15, Gloucester Walk, W.8 (5). I think this is (later Sir) Lewis Namier, the historian (although W.8 is a bit far from Manchester University, he was writing on Sunday so perhaps he was in town for the weekend). Namier is outraged by the bombing of Buckingham Palace, which he sees as part of a pattern:

attacks against the persons of Sovereigns are a regular part of Hitler's technique, as witnessed by his systematic and persistent hunting down of King Haakon during the invasion Norway, his elaborate endeavours to capture Queen Wilhelmina and to sink the ship which carried her daughter and grand-children, and his unrelenting pursuit of the King of the Belgians.

This suggests that Hitler hopes to 'break the spirit of the monarchs' and/or 'the resistance of their peoples'.

The obvious psychological conclusion is that he himself would be greatly affected by such attentions to his person. Why not give them to him?

A debate via letter has started up about instituting reprisals, 'the policy of deliberate terrorization of civilians through bombardment' as F. W. Stokoe (a German literature specialist) of Comberton in Cambridgeshire puts it. He provides a list of objections to such a policy:

Practical.--(1) Ruthless bombardment of civilians is uncertain in its effect. It may cow some; in others, and probably the majority, it rouses hatred and determination and stiffens resistance [...] (2) The Germans could, and would, retort by intensified bombing of civilians here [...] (3) If this policy is openly adopted by both sides the suffering caused by the war will be enormously augmented [...] (4) If we adopted the proposed policy of wholesale murder we should rightly forfeit the sympathy of neutrals, and of decent men the world over.

Ethical.--(1) If we deliberately set ourselves the task of slaughtering the greatest possible number of civilians we reduce ourselves to the moral level of Nazi Germany, and our greatest asset in this war is lost [...] (2) At present our airmen have the right to regard themselves as clean and honourable fighters. If they are made the instruments of a policy of terrorization they will have been deprived of that right. (3) To put such a policy into effect would stain our honour ineffaceably. It would poison our minds with shame, and the minds of our enemies with inextinguishable hatred: and would go far to stultify the efforts of good men to create a saner world after the war.

By contrast, while Sydney Upton of Irchester doesn't quite advocate a full-blooded policy of reprisals, but asks how the German people are to learn that war brings no profit 'if the women and children of the Reich are always to be shielded from the worst horrors of war?'

Far be it from me to suggest that we should retaliate on the German people in the way of the Huns. But could not those people be made to know what hurried evacuation of their homes in any weather and the complete destruction of their cities, towns, and villages really means? Surely some means to bring about this most desirable end and punish more severely the German people can be found?

Why, yes. Yes, it can.

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4 thoughts on “Tuesday, 17 September 1940

  1. Her Name Was SS.

    On This Day

    17 September 1940

    On this day we remember the loss of our relatives Thomas David Newberry and James Greenway fellow crew members and Captain William Thomas Care of the SS.Tregenna. We further remember: Ships of The British Merchant Navy Captains, Crew and loved ones. Including the lesser well known, yet not forgotten.

    Her name was SS: She was a lady of the waves, named Daybreak, Tregenna, Dudley Rose, City of Beneras, Crown Arun etc, whatever her title she was not designed intentionally to face enemy action. She was generally a Steamship born or rather built to serve her masters, carry safely her crew, passengers and cargo and supply a Nation. Those who sailed upon her, leaving families and loved ones ashore, at home, behind them and often during conflict alone and forever. Many that promised to remember them, are here no more, re-united possibly as time has gone by. The ships, travelers and crews, sail on in a different world now and loved ones hopefully passage eternally with those brave men and voyagers once more.

    It was a hard way to earn a crust, especially during Wartime, with so many vessels seeking safe haven. With often her journeys end, not reached and a final resting place, the Ocean bed and no known grave but the sea, for the men, women and boys or children that sailed these graceful steel ladies. “We must remember them all”. The many that survived attacks by those that would do them harm, haunted forever by the sights and sounds of ships and fellow men of the sea becoming extinct in such a horrible way and those that escaped the hunters time and time again, with no thought of giving in will always remember “These men that died to save us all”.

    We, as an island race, are steeped in Maritime history and owe so much to so many, the Merchant Navy have until recently seemed to be the forgotten service, the backbone of our country’s Navy, yet a distant relative when the honours are bestowed. These good men worked for a living, for bread and butter and maybe a love of the sea, others just to work, as times were hard. Whatever reason seamen sail, they expect at some time to go home. Faced with the hardships of life at sea, many would be deterred from such a life. To sail knowing that any voyage could be the last, facing war time dangers and a watery grave, did not deter these brave men and our Maritime life line was kept open by these sailors from many homes and ports.

    Many sail what can be a “Cruel Sea”, not always in times of conflict, we ask that our God will “Bless this Ship and all who Sail In Her” at a launch and many pray for a safe voyage and early return for vessels leaving harbour. All ships and crew from liners to fishing vessels, rowing boat to super tanker, require safe passage, a flag to fly under and protection from danger. Safe harbour to rest in and when tragedy occurs a lifeboat to help them. We pray for the safety, support those that may rescue and ask our god to guide and protect. But we must also remember, LEST WE FORGET.

    In Memory of :Those Good Men and the women and children, still not Home From The Sea and those of all lost from this world with “No Known Grave but the Sea”. We shall Remember Them.

  2. On This Day : 17 September 1940

    Her Name Was “City of Benares”, “Tregenna”, “Crown Arun”.

    ATLANTIC OCEAN: U-boat U-48 torpedoes and sinks the SS City of Benares, killing 77 British children and 248 crew en-route to Canada. The ship, part of convoy OB-213, had departed Liverpool, England, for Montreal and Quebec City, Canada, on 13 September carrying 199 passengers, 90 of which were children. The children are being transported to Canada as part of a government program. A few hours after the RN escort had withdrawn, the ship is torpedoed at 56.48N, 21.15W. The torpedo hits the ship on the port side and she sinks after a short time. Only 57 passengers, including 13 children, are rescued. Immediately after the sinking, the British government ceases the transportation of children to Canada and South Africa.

    U?65 sank SS Tregenna in Convoy HX?71.
    U?99 sank SS Crown Arun.

    “They Have No Grave Above The Waves”.

    17th September 1940 (World War II) saw the sinking a British passenger liner, Her Name Was “S.S. City of Benares”, by a German submarine. 90 children on board were being carried to safety in Canada. The S.S. City of Benares, with 406 crew and passengers aboard, was 630 miles out in the North Atlantic on September 17, 1940, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. As the Benares sank, passengers and crew abandoned ship in the stormy waters. Those who made it into lifeboats faced gale-force winds and icy waters a "recipe for hypothermia." With the nearest help 300 miles away, the survivors faced long odds. Despite frequent heroism, many drowned or died of overexposure before the HMS Hurricane arrived and rescued 108 survivors. In its search, the Hurricane missed Lifeboat 12, and its passengers endured eight more harrowing days on the open sea before being rescued. In all, only 13 of the 90 children survived.

    We further remember CHARNOCK, Ernest, Ordinary Signalman, C/JX 171107, (Eaglet, O/P), MPK and MARSHALL, George, Petty Officer Telegraphist, D/JX 132113, (Eaglet, O/P), MPK Previously recorded as perishing on board “Tregenna” have now been correctly remembered with “Benares”

    'SS Crown Arun' (2,372t) cargo ship, from Gaspe, Quebec, Canada to Hull with a cargo of pitprops, was sunk by U 99 in the North-western Approaches. No Casualties.


    “We Shall Remember Them”

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