Wednesday, 2 October 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, 2 October 1940

The Times reports (4) that Monday night's raids on Germany included one on the railway yards at Mannheim, where aircrew reported seeing 'a terrific explosion, "the biggest we have seen on any raid so far"' after dropping their bombs; and a long raid on Berlin:

An Air Ministry News Bulletin says that the West power station in Berlin, badly damaged in previous raids, was clearly identified by flares, and a few minutes after the first stick had fallen there was a large explosion and numerous fires marked the success of the attack. The Klingenberg power station was also heavily bombed. Railways were hit, and a factory was set alight.

By contrast, damage caused by German bombers that same night included: houses around a famous square in Central London', a 'girls' prepratory school, in use as a stretcher party station', a laundry, a church hall, shops, a number of houses, and, in 'an industrial town in the East Midlands', a factory (though the fires were quickly put out) and three pubs (2). In daylight attacks on London yesterday, the Luftwaffe did even less damage. A solitary early morning raider, a Ju 88, machine-gunned a train as it was pulling out of a station in 'a populous area south-east of London', though there were no casualties. It then proceeded to fly over nearby streets and machine-gun them:

One local resident said: -- "The bomber swooped right down and raked the streets with heavy machine-gun fire. No one was hit, for the only person in the street was a milkman, and he saved his life by dashing for the shelter of a house. Every bottle in the front of the milk van was smashed by bullets. The horse had a remarkable escape."

A Hurricane shot down a lone bomber in Surrey shortly afterwards, which may have been the same machine.

The leading article in The Times today is entitled 'The Air Battle'. It summarises the losses on both sides in September -- probably around 3000 German airmen and less than 160 British. Its first conclusion is:

the enemy, far from sapping the strength of the R.A.F., has been quite unable to prevent its steady growth. He may still hope for better results [...] but both he and his Italian jackal have indirectly admitted defeat by the effort that is now being made to explain that a long war is inevitable.

Turning to the night raids, admittedly there is as no answer to them; the anti-aircraft barrage is a partial one at best and there is as yet no way for fighters to become as effective at night as they are during the day. Still the defenders are not out of ideas yet, and

our defences, both moral and material, have been sufficient to prevent the enemy from gaining any strategical success [...] The second conclusion therefore from the events of the month is that, without denying the widespread personal sufferings caused by night bombing, this form of attack has done nothing whatever to improve the enemy's prospects of victory.

The battles over Britain have 'so naturally and so extensively absorbed public attention that their proper place' in the wider airpower picture is easy to misjudge. Nearly every night British bombers have been attacking targets in Germany and along the invasion coast:

the consensus of reports is that by so doing they have materially contributed both to the frustration of any project of invading these islands and to the lowering of efficiency of the German war machine.

It is these attacks on the invasion ports, along with the RAF's successes in air defence, which 'explain why the date of the projected invasion has so often been postponed'. And then there are the aerial battles with the Italian air force, which though much less spectacular than those closer to home have been, if anything, won even more convincingly by Britain. Indeed the Germans may be tempted to give up a losing game and reinforce Italian airpower instead.

We shall not have achieved mastery in the air until the enemy has been beaten on both fronts; but at least the month of September has seen his air power by day well beaten on one of them.

So The Times also is declaring victory over the Luftwaffe, if more equivocally than either the Daily Mail or the Manchester Guardian.

On the matter of reprisals, D. A. Alexander of Bristol suggests that 'In abstaining from reprisals perhaps we tie our hands'. In support he quotes Paradise Lost:

Yet half his strength He put not forth, but checked
His thunder in mid volley; for He meant
Not to destroy, but root them out of Heaven.

The quote seems to me to be contrary to the sense of Alexander's introduction, but then I'm no Milton scholar.

Wickham Steed asks, 'Is an enemy people's spirit of resistance a military objective or not?' and immediately answers himself: 'Unquestionably it is'. On the one hand, 'indiscriminate reprisals' might not achieve this, and on the other, 'many of our people feel conscientious objections' to this course. So he endorses Major Cazalet's idea of giving warnings that certain cities should be evacuated before being 'destroyed'. Accompanied by a 'political offensive', this might have 'considerable' results.

Major R. F. K. Goldsmith uses Churchill's own words to argue against reprisals. He quotes a paper the Prime Minister wrote in October 1917 while Minister of Munitions:

All attacks on communications or bases should have their relation to the main battle. It is not reasonable to speak of an air offensive as if it were going to finish the war by itself. It is improbable that any terrorization of the civilian population which could be achieved by air attack would compel the Government of a great nation to surrender. Familiarity with bombardment, a good system of dug-outs or shelters, a strong control by police and military authorities, should be sufficient to preserve the national fighting power unimpaired. In our own case we have seen the combative spirit of the people roused, and not quelled, by the German air raids. Nothing that we have learnt of the capacity of the German population to endure suffering justifies us in assuming that they could be cowed into submission by such methods, or, indeed, that they would not be rendered more desperately resolved by them. Therefore our air offensive should consistently be directed at striking at the bases and communications upon whose structure the fighting power of his armies and his fleets of the sea and of the air depends. Any injury which comes to the civil population from this process of attack must be regarded as incidental and inevitable.

Goldsmith gives as his source Appendix IV of the appendices volume of H. A. Jones, The War in the Air, part of the official history of the last war.

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