The Blitz – Why were the major cities of Britain bombed in 1940-1941? Essay

1. Why were the major cities of Britain bombed in 1940-1941?

The major cities of Britain were bombed for many reasons as the bombing was supposed to have a wide range of effects.

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One was to terrorize civilians and destroy moral by making the British think victory was impossible against this German power. Another was to force the country into either submission or a state of forced peace, as the people could have forced the government to surrender if they felt threatened enough. A third was to cause panic! Hitler seemingly thought if the bombing was destructive enough it was result in mass riots, looting and hysteria! Blowing up people’s houses would leave so many homeless it was possible a mass state of panic and uncertainty would ensue.

The cities were also bombed to cause casualties (cities are the highest concentrations of people), and destroy buildings. This was always an aim, and was probably the best achieved. Cities, as I said, were the highest concentrations of people in the country. Because of this places were large groups of people would meet were shut down, as these were prime German targets. Also the German’s were trying to make ports inoperable and stop imports like food or munitions, with the possibility of forcing Britain into a state of starvation (stopping all supplies). All this would greatly demoralize and affect the British people, which was always a major reason for bombing.

Another reason was for revenge, it is now thought maybe Britain actually bombed German cities first. This would have meant that infact it was the British who first bombed a city to cause civilian casualties, therefore the German’s would retaliate to get the ‘debt’ paid back. They felt they deserved to bomb back the British cities. Also, after taking France it meant German bombers could fly from French airfields. Dramatically cutting distances and allowing attacks to cities as far north as Glasgow and Aberdeen, this was a strategic reason on helping bomb the British cities.

Originally also, the bombing of London could have been to help prepare/soften up Britain for Operation Sealion as it was tempting for Germany to try and quickly destroy the last resistance in the West. For Germany to truly be able to concentrate on gaining ‘Living Space’ in the East they needed to be sure that all rebellion in the West was dealt with. The German invasion plan involved the bombing of airfield’s, communications, factories, ports and finally cities. This would bring Britain to it’s knees to make a sea invasion possible. However, the plan was cancelled due to the British victory at the Battle of Britain. Night-time bomber raids were the only way to cause sufficient damage without losing planes, and this would not sustain an invasion.

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

The Blitz had many major effects on everyday life in Britain, both big and small. These were extremely varied.

There were two main types of bombs. These were explosives and incendiaries. Explosives could cause instant mass destruction, and if they hit a gas main the results were generally atrocious. Incendiaries were even more devastating, causing houses to be burnt to the ground. Although they didn’t cause instant deaths and big effects instantly, overall they had a much worse effect. They caused the firestorms that so badly affected London and other major cities such as Coventry and Liverpool. Houses in those days were highly flammable, and incendiaries would burn their way through layers, rows and streets of houses.

The Blitz caused thousands of deaths, infact there were more civilian deaths from May 1941 compared with the deaths of soldiers until D-Day. This meant many potential soldiers were lost during the bombing. Houses were destroyed, factories ruined (even if the solid, industrial equipment itself survived, the area would then lack workers anyway), industry was wrecked and ports ruined. 43,000 people died in the Blitz and 1 in every 6 houses was damaged.

People had to do many more jobs and were put under much harder strain during the Blitz. Wardens, workers, policemen and firemen, people who would work (probably in the munitions industry) during the day and then become a voluntary night-time worker during the bombing. This put a lot of pressure on people to always be prepared but it also meant everybody was relying on everyone else. This helped people to do their best, and hatred of what Germany was doing also helped. Shelters, very important during the Blitz, were another new thing in people’s lives. They had Anderson Shelters or used Underground Stations or Public Shelters (like the basement of large buildings, offices and shops etc.) A further difference was the food, especially when in shelters. People generally had to put up with rationed food, or very expensive food. All this was poorer quality than it had been and prices of normal food rocketed. This was due to the bombing of ports, which disrupted imports.

Entertainment was ended, so people could no longer go to the theatre, the cinema or watch television. Everybody had a radio, and it became extremely popular as it was the only regular source of entertainment. The cinema was later used for news stories and dispersing information to the general public. However, unfortunately, theatres were also sometimes used as emergency morgues after large bombing runs.

Blackout had a big effect on people’s lives. During the Blitz, numbers of night-time accidents trebled as street lights were out and cars drove with strong filters. Lack of visibility caused many problems and made life much harder, it meant people had to apply extra work to keep everything dark. Also, many people fled and some were evacuated during the Blitz. A large number of people left cities altogether, not just moving out to the suburbs but many moving far into the countryside. Some children were taken abroad to America and Canada, and rich people and families also went abroad for safety.

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

The British government attempted to hide the effects of the Blitz in many ways. They used the media and stories that went around to control what people knew about what was actually happening, and also about how well the British were coping. The government censored everything, they had to control what people knew to stop the things Hitler wanted like panic, looting, hysteria and loss of moral.

When bombing started after the phony war, the government stopped most entertainment. Cinemas and theatres were closed and the quantity of radio was cut-down. One reason for this was to stop large amounts of people meeting together as this prevented high numbers of deaths, due to cinemas and theatres being easy targets. This meant people were less social, and they were obviously occupied by the war, so word traveled slower. However there were still rumors and news did still travel.

One example of censorship is a case late on in the war when Germany was testing its first ICBM (inter-continental ballistic missile) in 1944. German’s V2 blew up in central London from a direct hit, the explosion was huge. However, to stop worries spreading and decrease fears, as some did think this was an ICBM, the following morning every newspaper reported ‘Large explosives hit central gas main in London’. In this way the attack was explained and people didn’t know what had truly happened, and any panic or confusion was controlled and stopped.

Another example was in 1941 during the Blitz, when a German bomber struggling to return after a failed daytime raid, decided to lighten its load by dropping it’s remaining bombs. Upon seeing a small town nearby with a railway running through, it dropped its payload straight onto the railway line in the town. Next to the railway line however was the primary school, and most of the bombs landed right on it. All the children in three classrooms died. However, no one in the next town along the road ever found out and other children in the town were told their friends had been evacuated. This was the extent of the censorship in Britain, so that moral was not lost during the bombing.

A further example of government censorship was in London in 1940. The British Army were experimenting with new rockets and missiles, and one test which failed caused a missile to hit the East End of London. As there was only one missile the damage was insignificant, but the shock and surprise of this ‘attack’ without any warning or siren and without any visible airplanes caused such instant panic that the crowd rushing into the underground shelter in the area resulted in many being crushed to death. Such was the hysteria from this accident that the government could not admit it was their own fault, and the radio broadcast following the event reported ‘A rogue bomber, immediately shot down, causes havoc in London’.

Churchill’s speeches, and posters urging people to rally together, were also of great importance. His speeches were listened to by everyone and brought the nation together. He helped to unite the people of Britain, and gave them a belief that the British could win the war. They stopped people getting demoralized and painted a perfect picture of the war. There were also posters telling people to ‘keep mum’ which was a way of stopping word spreading too fast.

A further example of censorship and protecting the knowledge of the general public was the fact that when bombing was really bad, area’s where cordoned off to stop those badly affected from leaving and spreading their demoralized spirits with others. It also stopped anyone from outside coming in, so they could not see the devastation.

The government used cinemas during the Blitz to portray news of the war to the public. However the news was extremely slanted and bias, as it was censored and often produced by the government. All the ‘actors’ were very hard-faced, they claimed that everything was ok and everyone involved was coping well. Any clips of London, for example, were of St. Paul’s standing strong and resolute and people all helping in the war effort. There were also films showing that seemingly every town was still standing strong, as though nowhere had been affected.

Occasionally when the truth did come out it involved a cool, calm news-reporter walking through a bombed area or a firestorm as though nothing had happened and everything was running smoothly. The reporting was such that you did not doubt the fact that everyone was coping and everything was under control. Therefore it seemed that even the worst hit places weren’t truly damaged.

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