Why were British Civilians affected by World War 2

Topic: EnvironmentNatural Disasters
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Last updated: November 15, 2019

World War 2 drastically impacted British Civilians significantly more than previous conflicts. There was no trench warfare, stalemate or battle of attrition but contrary it entailed a war of movement with the development of a lightening war (Blitzkrieg). Strategic aerial bombardment claimed the lives of around 60, 595 British civilians compared to the approximately 1,400 civilians that had died in just over 100 air raids on Britain by German Zeppelins and Gotha bombers in World War 1. Furthermore 827,000 Schoolchildren and their teachers, 524,000 Mothers with children under five and 12,000 pregnant women were evacuated.The main explanations for this drastic affect on civilians were; the changing tactics of Hitler, the development of aircraft and motorised transport, the government, propaganda, the economy and the need for support from women. Civilians were even affected before the outbreak of the war for example when Chamberlain returned from Bad Godesberg in September 1938, 38 million gas masks were issued.

Furthermore civil defence services were set up for instance; the ARP Warden Service (formed in March 1937), the Auxiliary Fire Service (formed in January 1938), the Women’s Voluntary Services for ARP (formed in June 1938).The civil defence services were crucial as they encouraged and pressured civilians into having a big impact in the war effort. During the blitz, London was bombed for 76 days in a row from the 7th September 1940 until May 1941 and this had a direct and lethal impact on the everyday city civilian.

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The changing tactics of Hitler in World War 2 affected civilians immensely. This view can be supported by the fact that by the end of November 1940, 12,696 civilians in the London area had died, about 20,000 had been seriously injured, and approximately 36,000 bombs had fallen on England’s capital.This was due to the decision to change tactics rather than following through the Battle of Britain. Hitler assumed that the Battle of Britain and his plan to eliminate the RAF were failing, so in September 1940 he ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb London and other major cities. The Blitz on Britain was intended to damage British Civilians morale and cause them to put pressure on the Government to surrender. As consequence of Hitler changing tactics civilians were more at risk and the government recognised this and prepared to protect them (through issuing gas masks, evacuation, air-raid sirens, Anderson shelters, enforcing blackouts etc).

Owing to the consequences of the changing tactics of Hitler in World War 2, civilians were brought into the war and directly influenced. The development of aircraft and motorised transport was crucial as it impacted the risk to civilians as the attacks were faster and more lethal. This was of significance because air attacks could be more specific and targeted; furthermore the planes could fly for longer so therefore more damage could be inflicted on civilians. The development of aircraft and motorised transport gave Hitler the ability to change tactics and bomb strategically to directly impinge on civilians lives.For example V1 and V2 weapons were used towards the end of World War two in the second Blitz on London and other civilian targets.

About 1000 V2’s were fired at Britain before their launch sites were overrun by the advancing Allies, consequently killing or wounding about 115,000 people. Advanced aircraft and motorised transport also contributed to the straightforward invasion of Poland and France as the new technology enabled the German army to advance rapidly. Nevertheless advanced British radar detectors by means of early warning technology could spot an invading enemy up to 17 miles which and warn the civilians with air raid sirens.However overall the development of aircraft and motorised transport put the civilians in more danger and the government recognised this and took action. As British civilians were at great risk the government felt responsible to take control and create a number of strategies and plans to defend the public.

Due to the changing tactics of Hitler combined with the development of aircraft and motorised transport the life of a regular British civilian was in jeopardy. The government decided to create a range of strategies and defence plans that were necessary for the war effort and would reassure the British public.For example; rationing was introduced at the beginning of 1940, around 3. 5 million people, mainly children experienced evacuation and civil defence units were started. Since the government’s realised a direct and escalating attack on British civilians seeming inevitable, they took a leading role in ensuring that civilians would be able to survive the effects of the conflict by introducing precautions such as issuing gas masks, building Anderson shelters and enforcing blackouts.

Even before the outbreak of war Air raid precautions had began (1938); 100,000 air raid wardens and 60,000 auxiliary firemen had been recruited.This was owing to the Air Ministry who had forecasted that Britain would be exposed to sudden air attacks that would cause high civilian casualties and mass destruction. This shows that British civilians were affected even prior to World War 2 due to the government taking control and enforcing plans and strategies to defend the public. The vast economic effects of war had severe effects on civilians. War disrupted the economy enormously; this was caused by money and resources being diverted into military equipment and supplies.This created shortages that impacted civilians, food and fuel became rationed and propaganda campaigns were set up by the government to ensure that civilians would be able to survive the effects of the conflict for example the ‘Dig for victory’ campaign that was started in October 1939 and called for every man and woman to keep an allotment.

Rationing was introduced in January 1940 because the Germans tried to cut off supplies of food and other goods by using submarines to attack many of the ships that brought food to Britain.Before the war, Britain imported 55 million tons of food, a month after the war had started this figure had dropped to 12 million. This was due to the fact that in 1939 more than half the food eaten in Britain came from overseas so was limited on out breaking of the war. Rationing could be viewed as affecting civilians as it last for fourteen years and carried on for nine years after the end of the war until midnight on 4 July 1954, when restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat and bacon were lifted.

The government used propaganda and enforced clothing and food rationing to try to support the economy. By 1943 over a million tons of vegetables were being grown in civilian’s gardens and allotments. The economic effects of war hit the civilians firmly and adjusted their lifestyle a great deal. Propaganda was produced to influence the civilians to help the economy function.

The government needed propaganda to; boost morale, sustain the war effort, enforce the dislike of Germans and uphold the economy.Citizens were urged to not waste food, turn gardens into allotments, save bath water, recycle unwanted metal goods, repair clothes instead of buying new ones… etc. The British government used propaganda to put across the idea that the combined efforts of the British civilians would make a difference.

Propaganda posters were very different to those of the previous war that had been focused on recruitment and the shunning of conscientious objectors, they had more specific aims for example the evacuation poster “Don’t do it, Mother- Leave the children where they are” and the “Dig for victory” campaigns.Propaganda influenced the civilians in World War 2 and affected their choices and lifestyle because the government needed support from the home front for the economy and war to function. As a result of the British government desperately needing war support, women were employed in essential work, drastically altering their role in society. This was due to the fact that Britain was alone without any strong allies therefore the government needed all the support they could get to stop the almost inevitable German invasion, so they turned to women.In December 1941 the National Service Act making the conscription of women legal was passed.

Civilians were affected by the social change of women working in organisations such as the WLA (Women’s land army), WVS (Women’s Voluntary service) WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service). Some civilians were disturbed by the change in women’s nature and place in society as women became more valued in society as they were playing a very important role in essential work for a successful war.World War 2 significantly influenced British civilians as it demonstrated women’s value to the general public and gave women independence. In conclusion civilians were impacted significantly in World War 2 due to a variety of reasons; the changing tactics of Hitler, the development of aircraft and motorised transport, the government, propaganda, the economy and the need for support from women. As a consequence many civilians felt the fatal affects of the war with around 1 million houses in Britain destroyed or severely damaged and approximately 40,000 civilians killed.The development of aircraft and motorised transport as well as the economy are the most important grounds why civilians were affected in World War 2.

Without advanced aircraft, strategic bombardment wouldn’t have been possible and Hitler wouldn’t have been able to change his tactics and directly attack civilians. The war caused disruption to the economy and consequently the home front was impacted by rationing, propaganda, shortages of food and supplies as well as money.

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