Although World War 1 saw Zeppelin raids nothing
during those four years of war would compare to what the civilians
and cities would face in World War 2. World War 2 will be marked
by the death of hundreds of thousands of people through terror
bombing, and cities levelled to dust and rubble. Britain would
endure the Blitz, Germany would be laid waste through Allied bombing
raids, and the Japanese would be brought to the edge of destruction
by intensive American bombing.
The Zeppelin raids of World War 1 were remembered,
and at the outbreak of World War 2 governments and civilians feared,
and expected, enemy bombing raids. Immediate evacuation of children
was organized, and everyone was issued with gas masks for fear
of attacks from deadly gas. Civilians were instructed in air raid
drills and the positioning of air raid shelters. But the war entered
into a surreal period known as the 'Phoney War', and the expected
raids did not come.
In the beginning of the War bomber crews on both
sides were ordered to avoid civilian targets, and only target
military installations. The RAF would concentrate on German ships
or even drop propaganda leaflets over Germany. The Luftwaffe acted
as support to the German army that employed Hitler's 'Blitzkrieg'
tactics. Both sides did not want to escalate the war, one side
fearing that such actions as bombing civilians and cities would
give reason for the other side to do the same.
It would be in Poland where the first signs and
effects of widespread bombing could be found. When Hitler crushed
Poland Warsaw refused to surrender. In Hitler's eyes this turned
Warsaw from a civilian target to a legitimate military target,
and for 10 days the people of Warsaw endured consistent bombing
before surrendering to the Nazis.
Hitler's major offensive in the west saw more
destruction from the Luftwaffe. When the Nazis invaded Holland
the Dutch were surprised and caught off guard, then retreated
to protect its major cities. Again when Rotterdam did not surrender
it was destroyed by German bombers. This act saw the RAF re-evaluate
its bombing missions, which now targeted German industrial factories
that supplied the Nazi war machine, but they would still not target
civilians and cities.
After the fall of France the invasion of Britain
was Hitler's next target. The Luftwaffe would spearhead 'Operation
Sealion' by defeating the RAF, which would leave control of the
skies over England in control of the Luftwaffe, and this would
allow 'Operation Sealion' to proceed without opposition from the
skies. The Luftwaffe targeted RAF air fields and installations
in its attempt to destroy the RAF. Day raids proved costly to
the Luftwaffe as their fighter escorts could only stay over English
soil for twenty minutes. When the bombers lost their escort the
RAF could pick them off one by one.
The Luftwaffe changed its tactics to night flying,
but this in itself caused navigation problems in finding their
intended target. Hitler had ordered no terror bombing on British
cities without his direct order. It was one night raid that a
mistake by a Nazi bomber dropped its bombs on London, this would
be the trigger for the Blitz. Churchill ordered the RAF to bomb
Berlin the following night in retribution. The British raids shocked
the German people, and Goering had stated that no bombs would
fall on German cities. Fearing civil unrest from the shocked German
public, Hitler ordered the systematic bombing of British cities,
especially London, as retribution for the raid.
On 7th September 1940, the Luftwaffe started
its raids on the British people, and for nearly three months in
succession the cities of of Britain suffered night after night
of air terror. With the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle
of Britain Hitler cancelled his plans for invading Britain. Instead
he looked east and concentrated on his plans to invade the Soviet
But the Nazis still continued to bomb British
cites, which was an attempt to pound the British people into submission.
While the cities were being destroyed the people would seek safety
in air raid shelters. Later, ignoring orders from the government,
swarms of people would seek sanctuary in the network of the Underground
stations (subway) below London, and so the government relented.
During the day Londoners would
try and go about their normal activities, but by night they lived
a living nightmare that was signalled by the eerie sound of the
air raid siren warning them of incoming Nazi bombers. On 12th
November 1940, Winston Churchill paid tribute to Neville Chamberlain
who had recently died. Churchill said : "If he grieved at
all, it was that he could not be a spectator of our victory; but
I think he died with the comfort of knowing that his country had,
at least, turned the corner." (The
During the Blitz the British wanted to hit the
Nazi's on other fronts, but after the success in North Africa,
gains had been lost and the British pushed back. Attempts to gain
a foothold on mainland Europe in the Balkans also failed. Both
Greece and former Yugoslavia joined the Allies, but to no avail.
The Nazi's invaded and occupied, with Greece falling within three
weeks. Also the strategic island of Crete in the east Mediterranean
fell into Nazi hands.
On 10th May the Nazi's unleashed its most devastating
attack on London, with more than 3000 people killed or injured
in this one raid alone. All in all over 40,000 people perished
in the Blitz.
This would be the lowest point in the war for
Britain, ending a year of disappointment and defeat under Churchill's
year long leadership. Not only were the people of England alone
in the dark, but Britain itself had been alone since the fall
of France in June 1940, and was very much alone in the dark.
While people asked how long Britain could endure
this, Hitler turned his focus eastward and the vast lands of the
Soviet Union. Conflict with the communist state was only a matter
of time, and the time had come. The Nazi attack on the Soviet
Union in the summer of 1941 would be the turning point of the
war. Britain would no longer be alone against Hitler, and by the
end of 1941 the long awaited entrance of the United States of
America and her industrial might, would be also be an ally to
But the Blitz would not be forgotten, and the
memories of the Blitz would be an incentive for the RAF and Allied
forces, that would continue to pulverize Germany until the final
surrender in 1945.