Why were the major cities of Britain bombed by the Germans in 1940-41

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Last updated: November 7, 2019

After the fall of France, as a prelude to Hitler’s main ambition of destroying Russia, Hitler began to attack Britain. In order to do this, however, he had to destroy the RAF, in what was named ‘Operation Sealion.’ Hitler decided the most effective way to do this would be to destroy the fleet on the ground, so the Luftwaffe began to bomb ports, airfields and RADAR stations. However, on the 7th of September 1940, Hitler unexpectedly changed his tactics by ordering an end to daylight attacks on RAF airfields to night-time attacks on London.

The reason cited for this sudden change is that Hitler wanted to incite fear in the minds of the British Isles. Eventually, the Germans believed, this would cause the people to revolt against the government for fear of their lives.Hitler attempted to achieve these aims through Luftwaffe bombing raids on civilian areas in London. This meant a huge number of casualties, something Hitler thought would break the British. It is hard to keep supporting the government when they brought you into a war where your home – and all your personal possessions were destroyed.

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At one point, it appeared his plan was working, as some people fled the city by night, only to return the next morning to work. This did not cause the British people to succumb, however – in fact it did quite the opposite. Many were even more determined to win the war after going through the atrocities of the Blitz.Apart from bombing civilian areas, the Luftwaffe also targeted industrial areas of Britain – factories, train lines etc. The reasoning behind this was that if Britain’s infrastructure was ruined, Britain could not maintain the war effort. It was this combination of fear and destruction of infrastructure that the Nazis hoped Britain’s government would succumb to, and surrender.In summary, the reason the Germans bombed British cities was to put pressure on the people – psychologically reducing their resistance as a prelude to invasion. This was achieved through brute force – an attempt to pound the Brits into submission by breaking the British will.

This damage to morale was intended to make the people put pressure on the Government, and cause them to surrender.The whole reason the Germans wanted Britain to surrender was so they could concentrate their attack on Russia, and achieve one of Hitler’s overriding aims: get some ‘breathing space’ for the German people – something he could not achieve whilst fighting a war on two fronts.Describe the effects of the Blitz on everyday life in BritainEveryday life in an urban area was severely affected by the German bombing campaign, from waking up and walking through the rubble and detritus of your neighbour’s house (or indeed your own) to work, to being shaken awake in the middle of the night (in your home, your Anderson shelter, a London Underground station or the countryside) by another near miss. Most industrial areas and sea ports in Britain were targeted, causing widespread fear and hysteria amongst some sections of the population. As a result of this many inner-city children were evacuated to rural countryside, certainly a major change in their day-to-day lives.

Various areas of Britain were hit by the bombing – an estimated 250 tonnes of explosive fell on London alone every day during one 30-day period in September 1940(approximately the same as the total number of bombs dropped on Britain throughout the First World War per day). This Blitz killed meant 13,000 Londoners were killed in 1940 – by the summer of 1941 43,000 Britons lay dead as a result of the bombings.Coventry, Canterbury, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Manchester, Sheffield and Belfast were the areas most heavily hit by the night-time bombings, although every single major town and city in England was hit at some point in the war. In Coventry four thousand people were killed in the space of ten hours in a precision bombing attack. One-third of the city was damaged in the attack.Many people began what was known as ‘trekking’ in an attempt to avoid the danger.

This entailed travelling to the countryside every night, sleeping rough, and then returning in the morning as normal when the skies were clear – a marked change from daily life before the war. Even those who chose to remain at home faced regular disruptions however, as they were visited by ARP (Air Raid Precaution) wardens, whose job was to inspect blackout, check every house for a ‘safe room’ (containing a pump and a bucket of sand as well as shelter and proper blackout), and co-ordinate response and rescue on affected households during the raids themselves.At first these wardens were treated as intruders, or ‘nosy parkers,’ but as the war went on they were accepted as a necessary part of the fight against Hitler. One in six were women, many of whom had to juggle their ARP responsibilities with household life – a time-consuming task indeed.Terror and frenzy became a regular feature of night time, as those who chose not to trek spent the night in either an Anderson or Morrison shelter.

This period was especially hard for inner-city parents, as the likelihood was that their child had been evacuated and was now living with complete strangers in the countryside. Many people would be especially on edge after too many sleepless nights, the constant booming of bombs adding to the anxiety and stress of wartime Britain.Overall, the Blitz had a huge impact on the everyday lives of those unfortunate enough to be living in urban areas affected by the bombing.

Despite the wave of fear that swept the country, there was not a hint of surrender – in fact, many people were more determined to win as a result of the stress of circumstance. On top of this, there were strict government regulations to uphold, many with a maximum sentence of jail time, as well as families being torn apart by death and evacuation. Blitzed life was most certainly different in most aspects than peacetime life.In what ways did the British Government attempt to hide the effect of the Blitz from the people of Britain?Right from the onset of the war, Churchill realised that keeping morale high would mean more support for the war, therefore a greater chance of winning it.

He also knew in order to achieve this he would have to counter German propaganda. The most efficient way he could do this was through censorship of the media – propaganda and counter-propaganda.In order for the government to be able to process and verify the vast amounts of information contained in the media, a new ministry was formed – the Ministry of Information. Its job was to screen all newspapers, films and television programs before they went out to the general public, and decide what was fit for viewing and what needed to be censored.One large area of censorship was photography, examples of which are Sources B and C in the coursework booklet. Source B, showing dead schoolgirls at Catford Girl’s School, London, would almost definitely have been disapproved and vetoed by the Ministry, as it would have been deemed to cause panic and lower morale amongst the people. Source C, however, would have been paraded whenever and wherever possible, as it shows ordinary bombed citizens ‘just getting on with it.

‘ This was the sort of photography that would grace the pages of newspapers, deemed as ‘morale raising.’The newspapers themselves were heavily censored in terms of what they could and couldn’t report on. For instance, whereas a report highlighting the courage and determination of the people (with accompanying photograph) – such as Source E on page 17 in the ‘Britain in the Age of Total War 1939-45’ book (an extract from a letter detailing aid from the WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service]) – could be freely testified, any report containing news of losses, or indeed any negativity or cynicism would have been censored.

It was believed that in doing so, mass hysteria on the streets of major towns and cities was being avoided.Other key areas included radio and cinema, both essential in maintaining morale. By 1945 more than ten million people owned a ‘wireless’ (radio). Reaching a wide audience was critical the government, especially as they had to counter broadcasts made by William Joyce aka ‘Lord Haw Haw,’ an American-born Nazi sympathiser whose show on Radio Hamburg mocked the British war effort.

Before the main feature in cinemas, short Ministry of Information films were shown encouraging and advising people – ‘Dig for Victory!’ a famous example.In summary, the governments plan to hide the Blitz from the people had two fronts – an ironic reflection of the actual war situation. On one front, newspapers and other media were censored by the Ministry of Information, protecting the people from panic and despair, and on the other front releasing propaganda and counter-propaganda through radio and cinema, to keep morale at an optimum height.

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