aviation in World War 2

bomber tactics
the Blitz
bombing of Coventry
bombing in the Bristol area
Combined Bomber (CBO)
Bomber Command
the Dambusters
bombing of Hamburg
1000 bomber raids
bombing of Dresden
bombing of Nuremberg
the Schweinfurt raids
German Night Fighters
the Pathfinders
Soviet bombing raids
Pearl Harbour
the Doolittle raid
the B-17 and B-29
fire bombing raids on Japan
Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

the Blitz

The Blitz began as the daylight battle of Britain was nearing its climax and at a time when the invasion of the UK, for which the battle was a necessary preliminary, was still on the German agenda. For the Germans, who never committed more than a third of their twin-engined bomber force to daylight raids during the battle of Britain, it was first an extension of the battle-in that they wanted to destroy British aircraft factories and thus deny the RAF the reinforcements it required-and then a war of attrition when they failed to achieve the necessary air superiority to launch SEALION.

If an invasion was not immediately possible, then surely, German planners surmised, the UK could be bombed into submission by destroying its means of communication and supply as well as its armaments factories and, if necessary, by terrorizing its citizens.

However, despite Hitler's directive of 5 September 'for disruptive attacks on the population and air defences of major British cities, including London, by day and night', the primary objective of the Luftwaffe remained to destroy the RAF and the factories that sustained it. But now that London was a legitimate target it was decided that Air Fleet 2, stationed in the Low Countries, would carry out daylight raids on the Capital's infrastructure- in fact, it participated in the night raids as well-while Air Fleet 3, based in France, would attack at night 'until the docks and all supply- and power-sources of the city have been annihilated'. But by October, when it became apparent that the battle of Britain had been lost, the attacks became increasingly a matter of inflicting terror and exhaustion in the ebbing hope that British morale would collapse.

rescuing civilians in London

From the British point of view the raids were simply terror tactics and were presented as such by war correspondents and propaganda to an increasingly sympathetic American public. At first there was little the British could do to oppose them. At that time few of the defending antiaircraft (A-A) batteries were equipped with fire-control radar: searchlights were rarely effective at altitudes greater than 3,600 m. (12,000 ft.); few night-fighters were fitted with Al (airborne interception) radar; and ground controlled interception radar (GCI). which tracked incoming aircraft overland, was still being developed. It was, therefore, unusual for a raider to be seen by the defenders and rare for one to be shot down.

Though counter-measures were already being taken against the radio beams by which the bombers were directed to their there was initially a lack of coherence in the defences. There were preliminary raids elsewhere-Birmingham was attacked on 25/26 August, Liverpool on the nights of 28-31 August and 4-6 September-before London was attacked on 7 September 1940, the date normally associated with the start of the Blitz. Only 92 guns were available to defend the city. The fire control system for these failed miserably (as did the night-fighter squadrons) and for three nights the city was pounded with hardly a gun being fired in retaliation. However, General Frederick Pile, C-in-C of Anti-Aircraft Command, quickly doubled the number of guns and on the night of 11 September the gunners were allowed to fire at will.

The huge barrage of A-A fire that resulted, accompanied by a blaze of searchlights, heartened the civilian population and drove the attackers to a more respectful height, but otherwise had little effect.

In this opening phase of the Blitz, which lasted until mid November, an average of 200 raiders, including Italian aircraft based in Belgium, bombed London each night except one, and to these attacks were added daylight raids by fighter-bombers, and by single bombers attacking targets of opportunity on cloudy days. The one on 7 September began in the afternoon when 300 bombers, escorted by 600 fighters, attacked in two waves. The docks were the main target, but many of the bombs fell on surrounding residential areas. That night another 180 bombers converged on the capital and altogether 430 Londoners were killed and some 1,600 seriously injured.

Central London after a night of German bombing

An even heavier attack took place on the capital on the night of 15 October while others were mounted against Birmingham and Bristol. It was a bright moonlight night and the 400 bombers began their attack at 2040, continuing through until 0440 the following morning.

The railway system was hit particularly hard, with many of the terminals being put out of action; Becton gas works, Battersea Power Station, and the BBC headquarters at Portland Place were also hit; three large water mains were fractured and there was widespread damage to residential areas. More than 900 fires were reported, six of which were 'major' and nine 'serious'. The RAF sent up 41 fighters but only one Heinkel was shot down. By Mid November, when the bombers switched temporarily to attack provincial cities such as Coventry, Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, and Plymouth, the Germans had dropped over 13,000 tons of high explosive bombs on London and nearly one million incendiaries with the loss rate to themselves of less than 1%. Between mid-November and the end of February 1941, fourteen attacks were mounted on ports, nine on industrial inland targets, and eight on London, while in January Cardiff, Portsmouth, and Avonmouth became targets for the first time. However, although these raids cost the Luftwaffe only 75 aircraft, the German High Command was becoming increasing critical of what was being achieved. Grand Admiral breeder persuaded Hitler to issue a directive on 6 February that gave attacks on ports the highest priority, and from 19 February to 12 May 46 raids were mounted against Plymouth, Portsmouth, Bristol and Avonmouth, Swansea, Merseyside, Belfast, Clydeside, Hull, Sunderland, and Newcastle, while only seven were directed against London, Birmingham, Coventry, and Nottingham. Initially, German losses were again minimal, but by May-when the Blitz began to peter out as German bomber squadrons were withdrawn to take part in the German invasion of the USSR - British night defences had been much improved as the highly effective Beaufighter had become operational and more A-A guns and searchlights were radar controlled. Fitted with the latest version of Al radar, the Beaufighter could now be guided on to targets by GCI sets that worked effectively.

The Blitz caused enormous damage to the country's infrastructure and housing stock, cost the lives of more than 43,000 civilians (a further 139,000 were injured), and tied up precious human and material resources. All this was achieved by the Luftwaffe for the loss of about 600 bombers, or about 1.5% of the sorties flown; and a sizeable proportion of those had been wrecked in landing accidents caused by bad weather. But it did not seriously impair British aircraft production and notably failed to bring the UK to its knees, just as a second Blitz failed to do in 1944.