Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First night of the Blitz 1940: "The symphony of war"

On this day 70 years ago, the Blitz of London began. On that night, Germany began what would be the first of 57 nights of continuous bombing, in an effort to bring England to her knees in World War 2.
Service at St Paul's to remember the Blitz 70 years on

Pilots, firefighters, nurses and ambulance workers who battled through the bombing raids of the Blitz came together at St Paul's Cathedral to commemorate the ordeal.

A service at St Paul's marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the raids.

Thousands of people across the UK were killed and injured in the raids by German forces in 1940 and 1941.

The Dean of St Paul's described the cathedral as "a national icon of defiance and hope amidst conflict".

The City of London Salute celebrated those who worked to protect Britons.

The Dean, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, told some 2,500 people who had gathered for the ceremony: "As we stand in this building, which itself stood as a national icon of defiance and hope amidst conflict and uncertainty, we pray for all those who hold memories of a campaign which protected this island from invasion.

"We give thanks for the bravery and service of the members of the Royal Air Force as well as those who supported them from the land, especially for those who gave of their time to protect the life and heritage of our homes and cities. (more, with many great links, here)

Produced by the British Government in October 1940, 'London Can Take It' is narrated by American journalist Quentin Reynolds and pays tribute to London and its people during the Blitz on the capital.

The film's huge impact at the time, especially in the USA, makes it historically one of the most important of the Ministry of Information's wartime films.

Watch more historic footage from our Film Archive or get creative in our Editor's Room at http://www.learningcurve.gov.uk/focus... (here)

One source puts the number of civilians killed that first night at almost 1,500, with casualties at over 1,600.

Winston Churchill gave a great speech following that first night of bombing, and you can listen to it here. Within that short speech, Churchill made it clear that Britain would never be cowed by the 'monstrous...product of evil..."

1940: London blitzed by German bombers

The German air force has unleashed a wave of heavy bombing raids on London, killing hundreds of civilians and injuring many more.

The Ministry of Home Security said the scale of the attacks was the largest the Germans had yet attempted.

"Our defences have actively engaged the enemy at all points," said a communiqué issued this evening.

"The civil defence services are responding admirably to all calls that are being made upon them."

A five-storey building, housing civilians, had been hit and there were a number of civilians trapped beneath the debris
The first raids came towards the end of the afternoon, and were concentrated on the densely populated East End, along the river by London's docks.

About 300 bombers attacked the city for over an hour and a half. The entire docklands area seemed to be ablaze as hundreds of fires lit up the sky.

Once darkness fell, the fires could be seen more than 10 miles away, and it is believed that the light guided a second wave of German bombers which began coming over at about 2030 BST (1930 GMT).

The night bombing lasted over eight hours, shaking the city with the deafening noise of hundreds of bombs falling so close together there was hardly a pause between them.

One bomb exploded on a crowded air raid shelter in an East London district.(BBC here)


Of course, this was before my time, but all of my family took active roles in WW2, both on the frontlines and on the home front.
Blitz 70th anniversary: Night of fire that heralded a new kind of war London Blitz:
7 September 1940 was the first day of the German bombardment of London that lasted 76 consecutive nights

Cd-2 St. Pauls Blitz
St Paul's cathedral in London during the blitz in World War II. Credit: Popperfoto

It was late in the afternoon of an early September Saturday 70 years ago when the German bombers came, flying low, in formation, up the Thames, their engines roaring as they headed for London to start eight months of bombing the capital.

"It was the most amazing, impressive, riveting sight," wrote Colin Perry, a lad cycling that afternoon on Chipstead Hill, Surrey, in a memoir years later. "Directly above me were literally hundreds of planes … the sky was full of them. Bombers hemmed in with fighters, like bees around their queen, like destroyers round the battleship, so came Jerry."

Mavis Fabling, now 80, remembers that afternoon of 7 September 1940 just as clearly. She said: "I can still remember it very vividly. We lived in Abbey Wood, three miles from Woolwich Arsenal. My mother was baking in the kitchen, I was playing outside and my father was digging in the garden. Suddenly he rushed inside. He'd seen the planes overhead. 'Quick, quick, quick, get into the air raid shelter.' We ran down into the shelter in our garden.

"There were awfully frightening sounds, of bombs dropping and then there was one ghastly, thunderous sound. It was a direct hit on our neighbour's shelter. They were all killed, the whole family, except the father who was out. My mother had taken his wife shopping the day before to buy clothes at the Co-op. I can remember looking out of the window at the coffins being brought out and my mother very distressed.

"Then my father got the car from his work and took us down to my grandfather's house in Kent and I can remember looking back out of the window and seeing the sky glowing red behind us."

The records of the London fire brigade for that day, now kept in the metropolitan archives office in Clerkenwell, tell the story of the first major raid of the blitz in meticulous and sober detail. Neatly typed official green slips record each incident and a separate bound volume lists all the fires attended. (Follow this link to go read those records, and find many more stories of the heroic civilians.)

Thousands of children were evacuated from London - and other big cities across England - as part of Operation Pied Piper.


Yes, there are first person accounts by some of those children from different cities, who were evacuated:

Surviving World War Two: The Bristol Evacuees

By David Garmston
Last updated 2009-11-05

Photograph showing Ray Chaffey who is on the right

The evacuation of children from cities to the countryside during World War Two was traumatic for many of them. David Garmston tells the stories of some of those sent away from their families to live with strangers.

Sad parting

Ray Chaffey's father kissed him goodbye and gave him his final instructions. No matter what happened he must look after his little sister and not be separated from her. Sixty years on from that emotional parting at a railway station in Bristol, Ray has been remembering the war when he was sent away as an evacuee. He was only eight years old and did not want to go. He would rather the family stayed together, even died together, than face a future with strangers.

Ray and his sister joined hundreds on the train that was taking them into the safety of the countryside. He remembers they were both wearing new Burberry raincoats. At Ilfracombe, they were taken to a hall and the locals arrived to pick which children would stay with them. 'I was hoping that a nice looking lady walking through the hall would chose us but she walked right past. Soon there were children getting up from the floor and walking off with complete strangers.'

The room steadily emptied while Ray and his sister patiently waited for someone to take them. Eventually a woman announced that she would take the little blonde girl.

However, Ray knew his duty. I stood up and said to her: 'You'll have to take both of us.' The woman told him not to be silly. However, Ray insisted and held onto his sister for grim death. Finally the woman gave up.

Later that afternoon, a 13 year old girl picked them out and took them home to a two up two down cottage occupied by a married couple and their five children. The exhausted evacuees shared beds with the other brothers and sisters. They were safe, but far from home and far from happy.

Ray Chaffey is now 68 but the memories of those war time years are as sharp as ever. It is clear that thousands of children who were evacuated in the war are still living with the psychological consequences of a traumatic parting.


Places of safety

Photograph of Christine Marsh, a  Bristol evacuee

Bristol evacuee Christine Marsh ©

Two months earlier, there had been a daytime raid on the aircraft works on the outskirts of Bristol. The factory was near the large new public housing estates in Filton and Horfield. They were home to thousands of children and they were effectively in the front line.

In those days, there was no talk of 'smart bombs' and 'collateral damage'. The only way to avoid seeing children killed was to move them. Other cities had already evacuated youngsters to safety, and now it was decided that Bristol was also no place for children.

The plans were put into action. Speed, safety and efficiency were the requirements. Perhaps, the nightly explosions of falling bombs had de-sensitised the authorities about the feelings of children. Everybody believed that they were working in the children's best interests but many of the children thought that they were being abandoned.

It seems incredible now that four-year-olds were sent off to stay with strangers - for what could be years at a time. The trauma has never been properly assessed, but it is now becoming clear that some of those young lives were seriously blighted.

"... many of the children thought they were being abandoned..."

Much more here.

By the end of May 1941, over 43,000 civilians, half of them in London, had been killed by bombing and more than a million houses destroyed or damaged in London alone.

London was not the only city to suffer Luftwaffe bombing during the Blitz. Other important military and industrial centres, such as Aberdeen, Barrow-in-Furness, Belfast, Bootle, Birkenhead, Wallasey, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Clydebank, Coventry, Exeter, Glasgow, Greenock, Sheffield, Swansea, Liverpool , Hull (Hull was the most heavily bombed city after London with 85% of its buildings being destroyed or affected), Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Nottingham, Brighton, Eastbourne, Sunderland, and Southampton, suffered heavy air raids and high numbers of casualties. Birmingham and Coventry were very badly affected with the Spitfire and Tank plant being based in Birmingham and many other munitions factories in Coventry. Coventry was almost totally destroyed.

Smaller bombing raids were made on Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, Exeter, and Bath. Oxford was not bombed because Adolf Hitler wanted it to be his capital; Blackpool also escaped heavy bomb damage as Hitler wanted to use it for his entertainment. Hitler's aim was to destroy British civilian and government morale.

Its intended goal of demoralizing the British into surrender unachieved..(Wiki here)

(c) Magnum Photos
LONDON—An elderly couple refuses to move from a badly bombed parish, 1940.
© George Rodger / Magnum Photos (source for this and many more pictures, here)

The bombing of London continued for 57 consecutive nights. While it caused devastation in that city, it meant that the grinding pressure was taken off the RAF. The British were soon recovered from the Losses received over the previous months and had quickly gained the upper hand over the Luftwaffe, destroying some 380 aircraft for a loss of just 178 of their own. The bravery and tenacity of the RAF pilots prompted Churchill to utter perhaps his most famous words ; ‘Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.’

As mentioned, the German switch of objective from British fighter bases to mass daylight raids on London lost them the Battle of Britain. But the human cost to Londoners was enormous. What follows are diary excerpts from a survivor of the Blitz:

“Shortly after we’d gone to bed there was a violent explosion as a thousand pound bomb landed about a quarter of a mile away. . . the next morning we learned that London was still standing. Miles of East End houses had been destroyed, however, and thousands of people were homeless. . . Germany’s main aim was to spread alarm and despondency by knocking out all the saloons and pubs. . . a bomb landed in the middle of the street and there was a shower of glass and debris from the houses on either side. The whistles blew and A.R.P workers and special police deputies were on the job almost immediately.”

Despite the chaos that was being rained down on their city, Londoner’s were determined to carry on life as usual. The diary account continues . . .

“ The next morning the sky was blue and innocent. If you hadn’t seen the craters and the wreckage, you might have thought that you dreamt it. Traffic was normal, the shops were full, old ladies sunned themselves in the park, and soldiers and their girlfriends strolled down Piccadilly Square arm in arm. I lunched at the Berkeley restaurant. Suddenly there was a bang. The room shook as a time-bomb exploded a few blocks away. A pretty girl in a saucy hat turned to the young army subaltern with her, and said, in a voice that rang across the restaurant: “Did you drop something.”(More here)

Edward R Murrow reported from London.

American radio journalist Edward R. Murrow was stationed in London at the time of the Blitz, and he provided live radio broadcasts to the United States as the bombings were taking place. This form of immediate live news broadcasting from a theatre of war had never been experienced by radio audiences before, and Murrow's London broadcasts made him a radio celebrity, launching his career. His broadcasts were enormously important in prompting the sympathy and support of the American people for Britain's resistance to Nazi aggression. (here)

(source) There is another great audio clip - with videos which I don't know how to download- of Murrow here.

There is a list of all the major sites in London destroyed during the Blitz here.

The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date. From July 1940 coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed the Luftwaffe also targeted aircraft factories and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing tactics.

The failure of Germany to achieve its objectives of destroying Britain's air defences, or forcing Britain to negotiate an armistice or an outright surrender, is considered its first major defeat and one of the crucial turning points in the war. If Germany had gained air superiority, Adolf Hitler might have launched Operation Sea Lion, an amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain. (here)

By necessity, this is but a thumbnail sketch of London and England during those dark days. All of England rallied together, as our brave RAF answered the bombing of England with many bombing missions over Germany.

The switch from the tactical objective of eliminating the RAF to the strategic objective of pounding the British into surrender was not a task the Luftwaffe was well prepared for. Unlike the other major combatants in World War II, the Germans did not develop a heavy bomber for strategic operations....


...the Americans and the British had developed “heavies” — four-engined, heavily gunned aircraft that could fly great distances to attack the enemy at home. The Allies believed that the heavies were capable of winning a war alone. The fighter aircraft were a secondary adjunct to the bombers. ...

Bomber Command started daylight operations early in the war. Until London was bombed in September 1940, RAF planes dropped leaflets. Even these raids had high losses, and the RAF switched to night raids early on. After the Germans bombed London, retaliatory raids on German targets embarrassed Hermann Goering, who had promised that Germany would never be bombed. The first targets for the RAF were the submarine bases at Lübeck and Rostock in September 1940. Precision bombing required daylight, and the losses were so high that the British did not wish to sacrifice their expensive aircraft. Harris himself admitted that a large force sustaining five percent losses could not remain operational for longer that a few months. Unlike the prophets between the wars who promised high accuracy and a war-winning weapon, the RAF was lucky to achieve bomb drops within five miles of their targets. Random damage to schools, houses, hospitals and nonmilitary targets were given much press by the Germans.


The ideology surrounding bombers prevailed in the West. Starting in 1942, Harris organized massive raids involving all the resources the RAF could muster. The “1000-plane raids” were as much publicity stunt as they were actual military operations. If Britain, standing alone against Germany, had the audacity to send in massive numbers of aircraft, she could be seen as still fighting back. Before the Americans arrived in large numbers Harris mounted the first 1000-plane raid against Cologne on May 30, 1942. Harris had to pull students out of bomber training programs and fly every aircraft, even damaged and obsolete ones, to get 1158 aircraft into the air. During the briefing, the planners claimed that even with 1000 planes over Cologne, aircraft collision was not a threat and only two aircraft were expected to be lost. One aircrew officer raised his hand and asked, “Have they determined which two serial numbers will collide, Sir?” Everyone laughed, as much out of nervousness as humor.

The raid was devastating to Cologne. 600 acres were destroyed by 1500 tons of high explosives. 500 people died and 4,000 were injured. 13,000 homes were destroyed. Other 1000-plane raids were mounted the next few weeks. The raids marked a major shift from precision to area bombing. The first success for heavy bombing, the thousand-plane raids formed the core doctrine of the RAF for the rest of the war: large masses of aircraft bombing large areas by night. (a fascinating, lengthy, insight into RAF doctrine of the era, here)


Today, seventy years on, I celebrate the brave men and women who fought against the evil rampaging across the land during World War 2. Then, as now, freedom for all of us won the day, because of the dedication of many allied countries coming together as one.

For as long as we remember and honour our past history, and our heroes, there'll always be an England, because of the brave.


Lest we forget, freedom is NOT free.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"There will always be an England." I do so hope that is right. So much is happening there that is sad to see. The videos were equal parts sad and inspirational. Was that the Queen Mum in several scenes? She had guts, didn't she?