Britain in the age of total war

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

Following the defeat of France, Britain stood alone against Hitler. It had no substantial allies, and for much of 1940 was under constant German air attack. Churchill was convinced that to surrender to the Nazis was the equivalent of enslavement and Hitler was unable to invade while the Royal Air Force was still intact. This meant that it was essential for Hitler to dispose of the RAF before he could get rid of Britain and go on to his initial plan to invade Russia.

Due to Britain being an island the only effective way to inflict damage was from the air as any other type of attack would be very difficult if not impossible. Because of this the Nazis composed what they called operation Sea lion. This was the need for the Germans to have control of the skies. Also Sir High Trenchard (Chief of Air Staff) and many others believed that bombers would always succeed, as there would be no defence against air attack on cities and it was estimated, by the committee of imperial defence in 1938, that Britain would suffer 1.8 million casualties in the first two months of the war. The destruction of the Guernica by Hitler’s Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War reinforced this belief. Also with their new Blitzkrieg attack that easily defeated France they seemed unstoppable. In addition to this by bombing and inflicting casualties and destroying homes peoples moral would be broken which in turn could lose support for Churchill.

During the Battle of Britain in July and August 1940 the Luftwaffe concentrated their attacks on shipping in the channel, radar installations, ports and most of all the bases of RAF fighter command, again this referred to operation sea lion as once the Nazis had knocked the RAF out of the sky and destroyed radar installations they could discretely enter enemy territory with out being noticed. This was damaging the RAF as by August 24th they were losing more machines than the Luftwaffe and their airfields were quickly becoming unusable.

Then on the evening of August 24th some 10 German bombers lost their way and mistakenly dropped bombs over London. This enraged Britain and in retaliation Britain bombed Berlin for the next four nights bombed Berlin. Hitler was infuriated by this as he had always boasted that Berlin would never be bombed. Because of this Hitler desperately wanted to bomb London, but it was still only planned to be targeted when invasion was imminent.

On the 3rd of September Nazi officials discussed a change of strategy. The idea of attacking London was becoming more and more tempting so RAF planes would defend it and they could be shot down. Also Hitler knew that by destroying homes, factories and inflicting casualties he would not only damage the British war effort but also try to force Britain to surrender as resistance looked futile. He attempted to break the morale of the British people so that they would force the government to come to terms with Hitler. In conjunction with this it could have lost popularity and support for Churchill. This was the main point when the Nazis decided to bomb London. However it was a big mistake made by the Nazis, as they did not fully realise how close they were to defeating the Royal Air Force.

This was a big decision as previously Hitler had refused to bomb British cities and made a statement on his polices of bombing Britain in his “War directive No 1”. He stated that, “in operations against England the task of the Air Force is to take measures to dislocate English imports, the armaments industry and the transports of troops to France” he also added that “the decision regarding attacks on London is to be left to me”

But the first great attack on London came on Saturday 7th September. This was called the “Black Saturday”. The British government thought that the invasion was imminent and gave out the code-name “Cromwell” to alert the armed forces. But again this change of tactic actually saved Fighter Command.

On Sunday 15th September the Luftwaffe launched a massive raid on London. Fighter Commander was now able to meet it with great numbers and lost only 26 aircraft (and 13 pilots) to the Luftwaffe’s 56 aircrafts. This was the turning point in the battle of Britain, as the Germans could not sustain their high losses.

The last daylight attack came on the 30th September. After this the Luftwaffe switched to nights attacks so they could be indiscriminate. This was the start of the Blitz.

2. Describe the effects of the Blitz on everyday life in Britain.

Due to the prolonged period of bombing of British cities during the Blitz, everyday life for the people living in the cities would have dramatically changed. The worst of these affected was London where 13,000 people were killed in 1940. Because of the substantial amount of houses being destroyed many would have found themselves homeless and with the devastating bombing there would be serious casualties. With people seeing their houses being destroyed and their loved ones being killed it would break moral and crush their spirits.

Along with the casualties and deaths being sustained by the bombing of the Luffwaffe many people were being killed at home by their fellow British citizens. During the Blitz the British government issued a law for people to “Blackout” this meant that all lights had to be extinguished in Britain. For example all streetlights were turned off and house curtains had to be celotaped up so no light could escape. People abided this rule very strictly because it was helping the war effort and also if they didn’t the ARP often gave out large fines for people who broke this law.

The blackout was done so the German bombers were unable to determine where Britain was and they just had to drop their bombs where they approximately thought it was. The main reason for all the deaths were that car headlights were taped up but because of this deaths on the roads increased and many were killed, later a slit was made so at least some light was able to escape and the road was semi visible. Although the blackout may have saved precious lives from bombing but many lives were lost due to road accidents. Also living in the city would have become very eerie, as there would have been complete darkness almost like the city was uninhabited.

Living conditions would have also changed for people living in cities because many people would have fled their houses out of fear of being bombed and lived in air raid shelters. Apart from Morrison shelters that people could have in their back gardens the government also provided public air raid stations in the underground stations. Many people turn to this and thousands lived in the underground alongside one another. But because people were now living in such big numbers so close each other infection and sickness spread.

Many children were evacuated from London, Birmingham, Liverpool and many other large cities, as there was such a high chance they were going to be bombed, and took refuge in rural communities. This lead to large sections of the nation getting to know each other. As children’s state of heath living in the cities was poor when they moved to the countries the families there lived much healthier lives so their health also improved.

Rationing was also introduced in January 1940 and gradually extended as the war went on. Food was the min item rationed but petrol, clothing and furniture was also rationed. Rationing had two aims. To make supplies of food go as far as possible as Britain was not producing enough food to feed its population and to make sure the people that really needed food got it.

For this a special council was set up and calculated how much nutrition peopled needed and then they were issued with the required amount. For example pregnant women and children received more. As food like meats, fats, cheese, butter, eggs and sweets were rationed and thing such as bread, potatoes and vegetables were not; people’s health improved, as they could no longer eat fatty food and had to eat more vegetables. However, this was not all good as many people found this extremely boring so this had an effect on people’s morale.

Both rationing and evacuations affected women much more that men as the women had to cope with them and it was the women who had to try to come up with imaginative ways of cooking with the same limited foods to try and restore some morale.

During the Blitz the role of women changed and they flooded into the work force as many men were out fighting, and for the first time women were permitted into pubs on their own. Also some women did voluntary work mainly for the ARP.[JA1]

It was also rumoured that the Germans targeted women and when they were bombing they mainly wanted to hit the women because it was easily seen (Winston Churchill even made a speech about it) that the housewives of Britain kept the morale up and enabled the country to survive Hitler’s attempts to force Britain to surrender. In addition to this with the women being housewives, keeping a job and perhaps doing voluntary work would have been a tremendous strain and would have been exhausted.

Many things that people would have taken for granted would have maybe been disturbed due to the bombing. Water and gas pipes could be damaged leading to people not being able to wash their things e.g. clothes, dishes and themselves and not being able to cook meals or warm their house. Also without electricity they would also be without their radio (the wireless), which was there, main source of input in the countries war effort and was also a type of entertainment.

With the wireless out of use people would go father a field to cure their boredom but for precautions the government shut down most types of entertainment as they could be exploited by Germany. For example beaches were mined and bared wire was put around them. This was because if Germany launched an invasion they would have to come through a beach as Britain is an island. This would have bought time for Britain if Germany ever did launch a surprise invasion. The government also shut down places were large crowds would gather.

The did not want Germany to easily kill a large group of people. Cinemas were the main cause of large groups and these were all shut down. The only problem was the cinema was a place were the government had previously given information on the war to the people and unfortunately this added to the peoples boredom which broke morale as everything around the people would be going wrong because of the war. This shows that even though stopping large groups to gather had its disadvantages the government didn’t want to give the Germans any chances to hurt a lot of people.

With all the disruptions from the bombing problems with transport arose because the underground was used for an air raid shelter trains were stopped and if you owned a car (only middle and upper class) you would not be able to run it as petrol had been rationed. So it would be hard if not impossible to go long distance either to work or to visit relatives and friends.

Although all the things like being bored due to no entertainment and eating the same food night after night should have broken the morale it did not and morale remained high and Londoners showed resilience and heroism. The only dark side to this was that crime broke out and with less police, as they would have more important matters to deal with, and with the blackout people thought they could get away with stealing and vandalism.

3. In what ways did the British government attempt to hide the effects of the Blitz from the people in Britain?

During the Blitz the British government attempted to hide the devastating effects from the British people and minimised information that reached civilians and the armed forces. The governments knew it was very important to impose censorship and publish propaganda, as this would ensure that people obeyed regulations set by the government while also keeping the morale of the people high. A Ministry of Information was set up, as it had been during World War I, they controlled the news. They were also the ones produced films to warn people about possible dangers. Often about air raids and carrying their gas masks.

The Ministry of Information also made documentaries about British places and factories these were meant to make people aware of what they were fighting for. They showed the positive side of British people. They also used feature films to inform people and keep up the morale. Some of the most famous feature films during the war were “F for Freddie”, which told the story of a bombing mission over Germany, and “Went the Day well?” this told the imaginary story of an invasion of Britain which was defeated by a village community. These films not only lifted morale but also educated the people, as throughout the films there were clues about how to spot Germans. Although these two films were very popular the most famous was “Henry V”. Made by Laurence Oliver in 944 it featured the battle of Agincourt in 1945 when a large French army was defeated by a relatively small British army. This was intended to show people that no matter the odds that Britain would always win the war.

The government dramatically disguised the real effects of bombing people. During the Blitz newspapers were censored and there is plenty of evidence that shows that the effects were far more devastating than the newspapers let on. Most reports were jolly and encouraging and they only published stories of people being brave and standing up to the effects of the Blitz. Stories and photographs of large numbers of casualties were not published. For example photographs of Balham Underground Station after it had been bombed were not published until after the war.

Apart from disguising British downfalls the government also largely exaggerated on successes. An example of this was on 15th September 1940 when after a massive daylight raid on London the BBC announced that the official figures of German planes that had been shot down was 180 when n reality the number was closer to 60. People believed this, as the BBC was there only main source of information. This helped the government maintain morale.

The government realised that if the war was going to be won they had to get people to change their ways. Mainly because things were not going to be as available from now on. For example many foods would need to be rationed and many materials and clothing would have to be reused. The government released a series of propaganda campaigns to try and persuade people to be more careful, but not only about food and materials. For example posters with the title “Careless talk costs lives” these warned people not to talk about the war in public as German spies could be listening. Many of the adverts and posters were aimed at housewives. The government released the “Dig for Victory” campaign. This encouraged women to grow their own vegetables. Although this did create problems of how women were to cook tasty and interesting meals with limited rations.

Also another reason for the British government to release propaganda was to counter any German Propaganda. For example the radio (the wireless) in peoples houses could pick up broadcasts from overseas therefore could pick up German broadcasts. Sometimes picked up was “Law Haw Haw” he was broadcasting to the British public making comments about how the British were losing the war and how the Germans were shooting down so many British pilots. This was meant to break morale of people. So this didn’t effect people’s morale, which in conjunction might effect the war effort, the British government released posters, films and Radio broadcasts to thwart “Law Haw Haw” attempts and again raise British morale.

The role of entertainment was very important and the government had realised this. They knew it wasn’t going to win the war but that it would let people forget about the war and the griminess of life and was vital to keep their sprits up. Although radio and cinema played an important role many other types of entertainment also played important roles. Comedians like ITMA (It’s that man again) and many singers were very important and made their reputations during the war. For example singer, Vera Lynn, who went out and sang to soldiers in the Army, Navy and Air Force was known as the “Forces sweetheart”. Also classical music’s popularity rose during the war and people gathered to listen to concerts by Dame Myra Hess, a famous pianist. The BBC was the government’s main way of maintain morale and also provided the means of communicating with the people who occupied Europe. Because of the war the BBC changed and by the end of the war it was a national institute.

The Prime minister during the war was Winston Churchill. His forceful and personality made it easy to believe him. He was very talented at writing and delivering heroic speeches, which were broadcasted on the BBC to help increase peoples enthusiasm and determination to win the war. Churchill had some very important ideas that helped keep up people’s morale. Two of his most important ideas that Churchill had were “all in it together” and “total war”. “Total war” meant that every person in the country was playing an active part in the war. It wasn’t all down to the government and the armed forces. Putting up with and living with the rationing and the blackouts was a way for everyone to help. Also Churchill wanted people to feel that everyone was “all in it together”. This had a powerful effect on people as they felt they were making a valuable contribution to the war effort no matter what they were doing.

The government’s efforts of propaganda and censorship show how they controlled information and turn horrific events into things to be proud of. This kept the morale of the people high and may have been one of the things that help the war effort, which lead Britain to victory in the war.

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