Post-blogging 1940: final thoughts and conclusions

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.

I've now finished my (somewhat piecemeal) post-blogging of the Blitz. It's time to step back and see if there is anything to made of the whole thing.

I'll start with the things I wish I'd done differently. I had intended to use a greater diversity of sources, especially the Popular Newspapers during World War II microfilm collection, which includes the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror along with some Sunday papers. I only managed to do this for the period around the bombing of Coventry. You can see from there that these papers were much more visceral, shall we say, in their reactions to German air raids than the more staid Times, Manchester Guardian or even the Daily Mail. My coverage of the Mail anyway ends after early October so that meant much of the last few rounds of post-blogging relied on the old standbys of The Times and the Guardian, and was less interesting because of it. (Though fewer sources did make them easier to write, not unimportant given I was trying to get each day's post up before midnight!) The exception was for the Clydeside blitz, where I used only a single source, the Glasgow Herald. My aim there was to try and see how the local press covered its own blitz, rather than just taking in the usual views from London (or Manchester). But I think it might have been more valuable had I contrasted the Herald's coverage with, say, The Times, to see if there were differences or whether they in fact were similar (whether because of censorship, the pressure of events or conformity to now-established stereotypes of how blitzes went).

Another problem with post-blogging is one of its virtues (at least the way I do it). I intentionally avoid giving much context (other than embedded links, usually to Wikipedia), referring to future events or correcting false statements. In fact, when I came to write the posts I tried to do it in as fresh a way as possible, without reading ahead or working out what wartime events were going to fall within my time-frames. My aim here was to gain (and hopefully convey) a sense of how readers at the time might have reacted, what they thought were the most important or most interesting stories. (Obviously I have a broad familiarity with the chronology of the war, and couldn't help foreshadowing the invasion of Crete, for example, even though this was not given much weight at the time. But I also made it a rule that I would always begin with whatever was making headlines that day, whether or not it was what I would think was the biggest or most interesting story. This way at least the starting point of each post didn't much reflect my own biases.) That works as narrative (and the posts usually did end up as small narratives themselves, while other themes emerged over several posts). But does it work as history? That is, unless I assume that my readers are as aware of the context as I am and/or are assiduous in following the links, isn't there a risk of misleading them?

But there were positives too (at least for me), things I learned. The portrayal of the Blitz changed over time. As you might expect, it became more perfunctory. Well, perfunctory is not quite right, or fair. More that being bombed, even very heavily, became almost routine. There was death, there was pain, but people knew what to expect (or at least the press did). It was, in a way, old news. London's last heavy blitz was the worst of all, but it quickly faded from the news, unlike (say) the raid on Coventry. Bomber Command's own attacks on German cities, while still faithfully reported, were also given less emphasis. Much of that must be due to the fact that in late 1940, the air was the about the only battlefield left for Britain. By the spring of 1941 that had changed: North Africa began to see more fighting, the war against the U-boat had became critical, Abyssinia was liberated, and British and Commonwealth forces were ejected from Greece and then Crete. (And then there was Hess.) It might be that Bomber Command was never so important for British morale as it was in the autumn and winter of 1940, as ineffectual as it was in objective terms.

The related question of reprisal bombing -- whether to bomb German civilians in retaliation for the bombing of British civilians -- was debated much less in this latter part of the Blitz (the period after Coventry being one exception). Why is an interesting question. Was it because the bombing had become so routine that it did not arouse the same passionate responses as before? Or had the message from politicians and airmen, that bombing anything other than strictly military objectives was a waste of effort, convinced the public? Or perhaps the increasing efficacy of air defences against the night bomber meant that people felt safer? The demand for reprisals is little understood, it seems to me (or, at least by me).

Finally, one thing my last set of post-blog-posts showed was that the end of the Blitz was fuzzy. We conventionally say that it ended with the big raid on London of 10 May 1941. However, it seems that nobody thought that at the time: at least, nobody whose views were aired in The Times/Guardian/Observer. I had planned to keep writing posts until someone piped up and said, 'Hey, what happened to all the bombing?' but more than a week later there was nothing of the kind. The joint Air Ministry/Home Office communiqués did show that German air activity over Britain dropped to a very low level, but  nobody seems to have picked up on this. Partly this may have been the assumption that the Blitz was going to continue for the duration: it might vary in intensity, daylight bombing might begin again, and an invasion seemed likely at some point; but if the only way Britain could strike directly at Germany was by air, the converse was true too. So the Luftwaffe would keep pounding away at London and elsewhere. And indeed, even in the week or so after the last London blitz, an air raid on Birmingham was reported in the press. We know now that the bulk of the Luftwaffe's bomber forces in the west were being transferred to the east, but that was invisible to the British public at the time. I'd say that a general realisation that the Blitz was over wouldn't have occurred until late June, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. And even then there was always the possibility of a second Blitz (indeed, that's what the Baedeker raids, the Little Blitz and especially the V-1/V-2 offensives were). So even if Cabinet knew that 'the long 1940' was finally over, it was wise to keep civil defences at the ready and the public prepared for the return of the bombers.

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