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Mass Bombing

Discussion in 'The Blitz' started by Jim, Oct 12, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    For nearly a year, between summer 1940 and spring 1941, the British were subjected to a sustained aerial assault. Gradually, however, people got used to the daily ordeal of bombing and, after a night spent huddled in a subterranean air-raid shelter, it was back to work and business as usual.
    The wail of the air-raid sirens ... the drone of enemy aircraft overhead ... the WHAM WHAM of the anti-aircraft batteries ... the crump of the bombs ... these were the Blitz sombre sound effects. Britons endured their first civilian bomb casualties in March 1940 as the German Luftwaffe attacked the huge Scapa Flow naval base, in the extreme north of Scotland. Larger bombing raids were mounted from July, at the outset of the Battle of Britain. But it was not until summers end that the Blitz proper began - a sustained aerial assault on selected cities, ports and industrial centres that lasted until May 1941. London, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Coventry, Manchester and Liverpool were among the key targets. Raids were made on the same areas for several nights running, to bring infernos of flames, smashed brickwork, splintered glass and black, asphyxiating smoke. In the chaos, entire streets simply vanished, burying mothers, fathers and children in the rubble.
    Nearly 2000 people were killed or wounded in London first night of the Blitz, Saturday, September 7, 1940. The brunt of the attack was borne by the East End where the docks were the important targets. Watching from central London, air-raid warden Barbara Nixon saw fire engines racing eastward, clanging their bells. A vast pink cloud turned angry red and blackened around the edges. From our vantage point it was remote and, from a spectacular point of view, beautiful. One had to force oneself to picture the misery and the havoc below in the most overcrowded area of London.

    Coventry after the massive raid of November 1940. The cities 19th century cathedral was destroyed and more than 1000 citizens were either killed or seriously injured.

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    At ground level the East Ends experience was eerily horrific. Len Jones, a teenager at the time, recalled the whole of King Street rising and falling, with shrapnel dancing off the cobbles: H. the suction and compression from the high-explosive blasts just pulled and pushed you. 00 you could actually feel your eyeballs being sucked out ... Bomb blast, people would learn, had weird effects: it could rip victims limb from limb, or leave them unharmed but stripped naked.
    On that first night in London the German planes kept on coming in waves, lured by a Thames aglow with blazing barges and flames reflected from the wharves. At Surrey Docks on the southern bank the heat was so intense that it blistered the paintwork of the fireboats on the opposite side of the river, and solid embers the size of footballs whirled away to start fresh fires elsewhere. Warehouses spilled blazing rum into the streets, causing paint drums to explode, and also spewed melting rubber that billowed with stinky, noxious fumes, while flaming sugar flowed in cataracts over the dockside to form fiery sheets on the waters surface. For the following 56 nights, London was to be bombed from dusk to dawn.

    Nor was London alone. The populations of the other great ports and cities knew similar terrors, and Coventry was subjected to a night of such annihilating ferocity that the Germans coined a new word: Coventrieren, to Coventrate. Wherever the bombs fell every-day life was violently disrupted. Mrs M. Price was a young bride working in the Midlands: The first morning I went in there was a bomb in the workshop. Another morning, on arriving in the centre of Birmingham to catch the tram, there were 18 fires blazing around us at the same time. Water from the fire hoses was flooding everywhere and fur coats were being swilled down the street. Cuthbert Douse recalls helping to dig his grandmother out of a house in the Glasgow area: We had to dig with our hands but her arm was jammed by the windowsill. I remember my father telling me to turn away because the only way to get her out was to pull. I’m afraid he pulled three of her fingers off getting her out of the debris.
    Even country districts suffered. The county of Kent south-east of the capital, was known as bomb alley because it lay on the flight path to London. People became used to the throb of enemy aircraft over quiet woods and villages and on one Kentish farm a single pasturage was scarred by 93 bomb holes - one of them 40ft (12.2m) across. The farmers son said: As a break from bombing we sometimes get machine-gunning. That is definitely not so healthy. We had just left off threshing the other day when one blighter came hurtling down to 150ft and sprayed us. We threw ourselves under a wagon just in time.

    Sometimes German bombers made mistakes and dropped their, bombs in entirely the wrong areas. At other times, returning from a raid, they would dump the remainder of their explosives at random in order to fly home with greater safety. Many bombs fell on suburbs. No one within any distance of a likely target could sleep entirely easy in their beds.
    On September 13, 1940, Buckingham Palace itself was bombed - an event that quickened feelings of solidarity among all classes. I’m glad we’ve been bombed, was the Queens famous remark. It makes me feel that I can look the East End in the face. Wreckage, however, blocked the way. I pushed a piece of board and saw a shaft of light. I thought the light was on in the room above, and was about to climb through to put it out when I suddenly realized that what I could see was the moon. The room above had been blown away. I made the gap in the wreckage a little larger and helped out the rest of my family. Had we stayed in bed instead of getting up when the siren sounded we should undoubtedly have been killed.
    In this same town a young father, Mr. Leonard Palmer, searched through the wreckage which was once his home for signs of his two little children. Little Molly, aged nine, and Len, aged six, were both dead, killed by a Nazi bomb.
    All that their father has left a re a few golden curls found among the debris and a teddy-bear the little boy took to bed with him. Mr. Palmer's four-month-old niece was also killed, and his wife, mother and father critically injured. As he stood outside his demolished home he said: I was standing at my front door when the first bomb fell. My wife was in the kitchen and suddenly the floor above fell on her. The kiddies were in bed, and were hurtled through the ceiling. They were killed almost immediately, and I dug frantically at the debris to free my wife.

    An eye-witness of the battle which ended in the destruction of the bomber in Cambridgeshire said: I heard the sound of machine-gun firing and, looking out of the window, saw tracer bullets flying through the sky. I could not see anything of our planes, but they must have been there all right, for Jerry in the glare of searchlights, began to hurtle towards the earth with tracer bullets still pouring from his rear guns. The searchlights followed it in its fall and kept it in view until it crashed to earth with a terrific explosion which could be heard over a radius of many miles. I heard it clearly and was told later that the plane had fallen about 5 miles away.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Taking Cover

    The East End suffered the most. In the early days, thousands fled nightly to makeshift camps in the woodlands of Epping Forest, just north-east of the city; others took shelter in Chislehurst Caves, some ancient chalk tunnels south-east of London. Yet more found refuge in the Tilbury shelter, a subterranean goods yard in Stepney in the very heart of the East End, where as many as 16,000 people huddled together in a seething mass and filthy condition. People slept under railway arches. London’s Underground stations were invaded by huge crowds seeking safety.
    Gradually, though, people got used to the nightly ordeals of the bombings. Shops and offices closed early to allow the staff time to get home and make their arrangements before the sirens sounded. The next morning, with the scent of smoke and brick-dust still hanging in the air, the tired shop-girls and red eyed clerks were back at work. Dazed families whose homes had been destroyed were cared for in so-called Rest Centres, sited in school buildings and church halls and staffed mostly by volunteers. Homeless, exhausted and sometimes in long-term shock, the dispossessed might stay there for weeks, having nowhere else to go. Still, for the mass of the people it was business as usual. Don’t tell me. I’ve got a bomb story too, read a lapel badge widely worn at the time.

    Office workers in London, 1940; pick their way through the debris after a raid. To make up for lost sleep they took naps continually, even in the lift going up to my floor, someone reported.

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    The Blitz on London entered its final phase in May 1941 with a raid that left a third of the capitals streets impassable and 155,000 families without gas, water or electricity. Thereafter the attacks eased off, but occasional raids continued to affect different parts of the country. In 1942 the
    Luftwaffe launched an offensive against Britain’s historic cities, particularly Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury. They were nicknamed Baedeker raids from the assumption that the famous tourist guidebooks had been consulted when the list of targets was drawn up. Though the damage was slight by the standards of the Blitz, the raids brought grief and concern to many families who had thought themselves safe from any danger of bombardment.
    And in 1944, the population of London and the surrounding region would know new terrors in the form of V-1 and V-2 attacks.

    During three weeks in September 1940 about 10,000 high explosive bombs were dropped on the London region. On October 10th St Paul's Cathedral received a direct hit but the bomb destroyed only the high altar.

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    Risk And Reward​


    There was a sensation when a parachute bomb smashed through the roof of the London Palladium to dangle, still live, in the wings. It was a naval officer who defused it. He was rewarded with free tickets to the Palladium for life.
     
  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The London Underground at War

    When the bombs began to rain down on London, many people turned to the Underground system as a place of refuge. The Government was at first reluctant to allow the use of tube stations as shelters, partly because officials were worried that civilians might succumb to a deep shelter mentality and vanish underground, giving up on the war effort. But there was nothing to prevent anyone buying a 11 /2d ticket (the cheapest fare) and waiting out a raid.
    People started going down as early as 1l.30am to claim a pitch for the night. By the time of the five o'clock rush hour tube users had to step between rows of men, women and children who ate, drank, read the papers, fed their babies or slept in what one reporter has dubbed the most extraordinary mass picnic the world has ever known.

    Tube dwellers sleep in Londons crowded platform of the Underground station at the Elephant & Castle.

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    To keep working platforms clear, transport officials painted two white lines, 4ft and 8ft (1.2m and 2.4m) respectively, from the platforms edge. Tube-dwellers were not supposed to cross the 8ft line before 7.30pm. Then the barrier was moved to the 4ft line until lO.30pm when the trains stopped running, the electric current was turned off and people were even able to sleep on the track. At the height of the Blitz the stations were sheltering 177,000 people every night in very unwholesome conditions. Mosquitoes and lice thrived among the huddled figures. Nor were the tube stations as safe as many believed. In the worst accident, at Balham, about 680 shelters fell victim to a bomb that made a direct hit, burying many in the rubble.
     

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