Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 8

he Blitz (shortened from German 'Blitzkrieg', "lightning war") was the period of

sustained strategic bombing of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany during the Second
World War.
Between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941 there were major aerial raids (attacks in
which more than 100 tonnes of high explosives were dropped) on 16 British cities. Over a
period of 267 days (almost 37 weeks), London was attacked 71
times,Birmingham, Liverpool and Plymouth eight
times, Bristol six, Glasgow five, Southampton four, Portsmouth and Hull three, and there
was also at least one large raid on another eight cities.
[1]
This was a result of a rapid
escalation starting on 24 August 1940, when night bombers aiming for RAF airfields drifted
off course and accidentally destroyed several London homes, killing civilians, combined
with the UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill's immediate response of bombing Berlin on
the following night.
Starting on 7 September 1940, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive
nights.
[7]
More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than
40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London.
[4]
Ports and industrial centres
outside London were also heavily attacked. The major Atlantic sea port
of Liverpool was also heavily bombed, causing nearly 4,000 deaths within the Merseyside
area during the war.
[8][9]
The North Sea port of Hull, a convenient and easily found primary
and secondary target for bombers unable to locate their primary targets, was subjected to
86 raids
[10]
within the city boundaries during the war, with a conservative estimate of 1200
civilians killed and 95% of its housing stock destroyed or damaged.
[11][12]
Other ports
including Bristol, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, andSwansea were also
targeted, as were the industrial cities
of Birmingham, Belfast, Coventry, Glasgow, Manchester andSheffield. Birmingham and
Coventry were heavily targeted because of the Spitfire and tank factories in Birmingham
and the many munitions factories in Coventry; the city centre of Coventry was almost
completely destroyed.
The bombing did not achieve its intended goals of demoralising the British into surrender or
significantly damaging their war economy.
[13]
The eight months of bombing never seriously
hampered British production, and the war industries continued to operate and
expand.
[14]
The Blitz did not facilitate Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of
Britain. By May 1941 the threat of an invasion of Britain had passed, and Hitler's attention
had turned to Operation Barbarossa in the East. In comparison to the Allied bombing
campaign against Germany, the Blitz resulted in relatively few casualties; the
Britishbombing of Hamburg in July 1943 alone inflicted about 42,000 civilian casualties,
about the same as the entire Blitz.
Several reasons have been suggested for the failure of the German air offensive. The
Luftwaffe High Command (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, or OKL) failed to develop a
coherent long-term strategy for destroying Britain's war industries, frequently switching from
bombing one type of industry to another without exerting any sustained pressure on any
one of them. Neither was the Luftwaffe equipped to carry out a long-term strategic air
campaign, lacking among other things a heavy four-engined bomber, and its intelligence on
British industry and capabilities was poor. All of these shortcomings denied the Luftwaffe
the ability to make a strategic difference.
Contents
[hide]
1 Background
o 1.1 The Luftwaffe and strategic bombing
o 1.2 Hitler, Gring and air power
o 1.3 Battle of Britain
o 1.4 Change in strategy
2 Civilian defensive measures
o 2.1 Physical protection
2.1.1 Prewar preparations and fears
2.1.2 Communal shelters
2.1.3 No collapse of morale
o 2.2 Civilian mobilisation
3 Pre-war RAF strategy for night defence
o 3.1 Dowding and his opponents
o 3.2 Defence by offence
4 Technological battle
o 4.1 German navigation techniques
o 4.2 British counter measures
5 First phase
o 5.1 Loge and Seeschlange
o 5.2 Improvements in British defences
6 Second phase
o 6.1 Night attacks
o 6.2 Strategic or "terror" bombing
7 Final attacks
o 7.1 Directive 23: Gring and the Kriegsmarine
o 7.2 British ports
o 7.3 Potency of RAF night fighters
8 Aftermath and legacy
o 8.1 German losses
o 8.2 Effectiveness of bombing
o 8.3 RAF evaluation
o 8.4 Popular imagery and propaganda
o 8.5 Archive audio recordings
o 8.6 Use of bombsite rubble
o 8.7 Present-day
9 Tables
o 9.1 Bombing raid statistics
o 9.2 Sorties flown
10 See also
11 Notes
12 References
13 External links
Background[edit]
The Luftwaffe and strategic bombing[edit]
In the 1920s and 1930s, air power theorists Giulio Douhet and Billy Mitchell espoused the
idea that air forces could win wars by themselves, without a need for land and sea
fighting.
[15]
It was thought there was no defence against air attack, particularly at night.
Enemy industry, their seats of government, factories and communications could be
destroyed, effectively taking away their means to resist. It was also thought the bombing of
residential centres would cause a collapse of civilian will, which might have led to the
collapse of production and civil life. Democracies, where the populace was allowed to show
overt disapproval of the ruling government, were thought particularly vulnerable. This
thinking was prevalent in both the RAF and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF)
between the two World Wars. RAF Bomber Command's policy in particular would attempt
to achieve victory through the destruction of civilian will, communications and industry.
[16]

Within the Luftwaffe, there was a more muted view of strategic bombing. The OKL did not
oppose the strategic bombardment of enemy industries and or cities, and believed it could
greatly affect the balance of power on the battlefield in Germany's favour by disrupting
production and damaging civilian morale, but they did not believe that air power alone could
be decisive. Contrary to popular belief, the Luftwaffe did not have a systematic policy of
what became known as "terror bombing". Evidence suggests that the Luftwaffe did not
adopt an official bombing policy in which civilians became the primary target until 1942.
[17]

The vital industries and transportation centers that would be targeted for shutdown were
valid military targets. It could be claimed civilians were not to be targeted directly, but the
breakdown of production would affect their morale and will to fight. German legal scholars
of the 1930s carefully worked out guidelines for what type of bombing was permissible
under international law. While direct attacks against civilians were ruled out as "terror
bombing", the concept of attacking vital war industriesand probable heavy civilian
casualties and breakdown of civilian moralewas ruled as acceptable.
[18]



Walter Wever
Throughout the National Socialist era, until 1939, debate and discussion raged within
German military journals over the role of strategic bombardment. Some argued along the
lines of the British and Americans.
[19]
Walter Weverthe first Chief of the General Staff
championed strategic bombing and the building of appropriate aircraft for that purpose,
although he emphasised the importance of aviation in operational and tactical terms. Wever
outlined five key points to air strategy:
1. To destroy the enemy air force by bombing its bases and aircraft factories, and
defeating enemy air forces attacking German targets.
2. To prevent the movement of large enemy ground forces to the decisive areas by
destroying railways and roads, particularly bridges and tunnels, which are
indispensable for the movement and supply of forces
3. To support the operations of the army formations, independent of railways, i.e.,
armoured forces and motorised forces, by impeding the enemy advance and
participating directly in ground operations.
4. To support naval operations by attacking naval bases, protecting Germany's naval
bases and participating directly in naval battles
5. To paralyse the enemy armed forces by stopping production in the armaments
factories.
[20]

Wever argued that the Luftwaffe General Staff should not be solely educated in tactical and
operational matters. He argued they should be educated in grand strategy, war economics,
armament production, and the mentality of potential opponents (also known as mirror
imaging). Wever's vision was not realised; the General Staff studies in those subjects fell by
the wayside, and the Air Academies focused on tactics, technology, and operational
planning, rather than on independent strategic air offensives.
[21]

In 1936, Wever was killed in an air crash. The failure to implement his vision for the new
Luftwaffe was largely attributable to his immediate successors. Ex-Army personnel Albert
Kesselring and Hans-Jrgen Stumpff are usually blamed for the turning away from strategic
planning and focusing on close air support. However, it would seem the two most
prominent enthusiasts for the focus on ground-support operations (direct or indirect) were
actually Hugo Sperrle and Hans Jeschonnek. These men were long-time professional
airmen involved in German air services since early in their careers. The Luftwaffe was not
pressured into ground support operations because of pressure from the army, or because it
was led by ex-army personnel. It was instead a mission that suited the Luftwaffe's pre-
existing approach to warfare; a culture of joint inter-service operations, rather than
independent strategic air campaigns.
[22]

Hitler, Gring and air power[edit]


Hitler and Gring, March 1938
Hitler failed to pay as much attention to bombing the enemy as he did to protection from
enemy bombing although he had promoted the development of a bomber force in the
1930s and understood it was possible to use bombers for major strategic purposes. He told
the OKL in 1939 that ruthless employment of the Luftwaffe against the heart of the British
will to resist could and would follow when the moment was right. But he quickly developed
a lively scepticism toward strategic bombing, confirmed by the results of the Blitz. He
frequently complained of the Luftwaffe's inability to damage industries sufficiently, saying,
"The munitions industry cannot be interfered with effectively by air raids ... usually the
prescribed targets are not hit".
[23][24]

While the war was being planned Hitler never insisted upon the Luftwaffe planning a
strategic bombing campaign, and did not even give ample warning to the air staff that war
with Britain or even Russia was an imminent possibility. The amount of firm operational and
tactical preparation for a bombing campaign was minimal, largely because of the failure by
Hitler as supreme commander to insist upon such a commitment.
[23]

Ultimately, Hitler was trapped within his own vision of bombing as a terror weapon, formed
in the 1930s when he threatened smaller nations into accepting German rule rather than
submit to air bombardment. This fact had important implications. It showed the extent to
which Hitler personally mistook Allied strategy for one of morale breaking instead of one
ofeconomic warfare, with the collapse of morale as an additional bonus.
[25]
Hitler was much
more attracted to the political aspects of bombing. Where the mere threat of it had
produced diplomatic results in the 1930s, he expected that mere threat of German
retaliation to persuade the Allies to adopt a policy of moderation and not to begin a policy of
unrestricted bombing. His hope was for reasons of political prestige within Germany
itself that the German population would be protected from the Allied bombings. When
this proved impossible, he began to fear that popular feeling would turn against his regime,
and he redoubled efforts to mount a similar "terror offensive" against Britain in order to
produce a stalemate in which both sides would hesitate to use bombing at all.
[25]

A major problem in the managing of the Luftwaffe was Hermann Gring. Hitler believed the
Luftwaffe was "the most effective strategic weapon", and in reply to repeated requests from
the Kriegsmarine for control over aircraft insisted, "We should never have been able to hold
our own in this war if we had not had an undivided Luftwaffe".
[26]
Such principles made it
much harder to integrate the air force into the overall strategy and produced in Gring a
jealous and damaging defence of his "empire" while removing Hitler voluntarily from the
systematic direction of the Luftwaffe at either the strategic or operational level. When Hitler
tried to intervene more in the running of the air force later in the war, he was faced with a
political conflict of his own making between himself and Gring, which was not fully
resolved until the war was almost over.
[26]
In 1940 and 1941, Gring's refusal to cooperate
with the Kriegsmarine denied the Wehrmacht the chance to strangle British sea
communications, which might have had strategic or decisive effect in the war against the
British Empire.
[27]

The deliberate separation of the Luftwaffe from the rest of the military structure encouraged
the emergence of a major "communications gap" between Hitler and the Luftwaffe, which
other factors helped to exacerbate. For one thing, Gring's fear of Hitler led him to falsify or
misrepresent what information was available in the direction of an uncritical and over-
optimistic interpretation of air strength. When Gring decided against continuing the
original heavy bomber programme in 1937 his own explanation was that Hitler wanted to
know only how many bombers there were, not how many engines each had. In July 1939,
Gring arranged a display of the Luftwaffe's most advanced equipment at Rechlin, to give
the impression the air force was more prepared for a strategic air war than was actually the
case.
[28]

Battle of Britain[edit]
Main articles: Battle of Britain, Adlertag, The Hardest Day and Battle of Britain Day

RAF pilots with one of their Hawker Hurricanes, October 1940
Within hours of the UK and France declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the
RAF bombed German warships along the German coast at Wilhelmshaven. Thereafter
bombing operations were against ports and shipping and propaganda leaflet drops.
Operations were planned to minimize civilian casualties. From 15 May 1940 - the day
after the Luftwaffe destroyed the centre of Rotterdam - the RAF also carried out operations
east of the Rhine, attacking industrial and transportation targets. Operations were carried
out every night thereafter.
Although not specifically prepared to conduct independent strategic air operations against
an opponent, the Luftwaffe was expected to do so over Britain. From July until September
1940 the Luftwaffe attacked RAF Fighter Command to gain air superiority as a prelude to
invasion. This involved the bombing of English Channel convoys, ports, and RAF airfields
and supporting industries. Destroying RAF Fighter Command would allow the Germans to
gain control of the skies over the invasion area. It was supposed that RAF Bomber
Command, RAF Coastal Command, and the Royal Navy could not operate effectively
under conditions of German air superiority.
[29]

The Luftwaffe's poor intelligence meant that their aircraft were not always able to locate
their targets, and thus attacks on factories and airfields failed to achieve the desired results.
British fighter aircraft production continued at a rate surpassing Germany's by 2 to 1.
[30]
The
British produced 10,000 aircraft in 1940, in comparison to Germany's 8,000.
[31]
The
replacement of pilots and aircrew was more difficult. Both the RAF and Luftwaffe struggled
to replace manpower losses, though the Germans had larger reserves of trained aircrew.
The circumstances affected the Germans more than the British. Operating over home
territory, British flyers could fly again if they survived being shot down. German crews, even
if they survived, faced capture. Moreover, bombers had four to five crewmen on board,
representing a greater loss of manpower.
[32]
On 7 September, the Germans shifted away
from the destruction of the RAF's supporting structures. German intelligence suggested
Fighter Command was weakening, and an attack on London would force it into a final battle
of annihilation while compelling the British Government to surrender.
[33]

The decision to change strategy is sometimes claimed as a major mistake by
the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL). It is argued that persisting with attacks on RAF
airfields might have won air superiority for the Luftwaffe.
[34]
Others argue that the Luftwaffe
made little impression on Fighter Command in the last week of August and first week of
September and that the shift in strategy was not decisive.
[35]
It has also been argued that it
was doubtful the Luftwaffe could have won air superiority before the "weather window"
began to deteriorate in October.
[36][37]
It was also possible, if RAF losses became severe,
that they could pull out to the north, wait for the German invasion, then redeploy southward
again.
[37]
Other historians argue that the outcome of the air battle was irrelevant; the
massive numerical superiority of British naval forces and the inherent weakness of
the Kriegsmarine would have made the projected German invasion, Unternehmen
Seelwe (Operation Sea Lion), a disaster with or without German air superiority.
[38]

Change in strategy[edit]
Regardless of the ability of the Luftwaffe to win air superiority, Adolf Hitler was frustrated
that it was not happening quickly enough. With no sign of the RAF weakening, and
Luftwaffe air fleets (Luftflotten) taking punishing losses, the OKL was keen for a change in
strategy. To reduce losses further, a change in strategy was also favoured to take place at
night, to give the bombers greater protection under cover of darkness.
[39][b]
On 4 September
1940, in a long address at the Sportspalast, Hitler declared: "And should the Royal Air
Force drop two thousand, or three thousand [kilograms ...] then we will now drop [...]
300,000, 400,000, yes one million kilograms in a single night. And should they declare they
will greatly increase their attacks on our cities, then we will erase their cities."
It was decided to focus on bombing Britain's industrial cities in daylight to begin with. The
main focus of the bombing operations was against the city of London. The first major raid in
this regard took place on 7 September. On 15 September, on a date known as the Battle of
Britain Day, a large-scale raid was launched in daylight, but suffered significant loss for no
lasting gain. Although there were a few large air battles fought in daylight later in the month
and into October, the Luftwaffe switched its main effort to night attacks in order to reduce
losses. This became official policy on 7 October. The air campaign soon got underway
against London and other British cities. However, the Luftwaffe faced limitations. Its
aircraftDornier Do 17, Junkers Ju 88, and Heinkel He 111swere capable of carrying out
strategic missions,
[41]
but were incapable of doing greater damage because of bomb-load
limitations.
[42]
The Luftwaffe's decision in the interwar period to concentrate on medium
bombers can be attributed to several reasons: Hitler did not intend or foresee a war with
Britain in 1939; the OKL believed a medium bomber could carry out strategic missions just
as well as a heavy bomber force; and Germany did not possess the resources or technical
ability to produce four-engined bombers before the war.
[43]

Although it had equipment capable of doing serious damage, the problem for the Luftwaffe
was its unclear strategy and poor intelligence. OKL had not been informed that Britain was
to be considered a potential opponent until early 1938. It had no time to gather reliable
intelligence on Britain's industries. Moreover, OKL could not settle on an appropriate
strategy. German planners had to decide whether the Luftwaffe should deliver the weight of
its attacks against a specific segment of British industry such as aircraft factories, or
against a system of interrelated industries such as Britain's import and distribution network,
or even in a blow aimed at breaking the morale of the British population.
[44]
The Luftwaffe's
strategy became increasingly aimless over the winter of 19401941.
[45]
Disputes among the
OKL staff revolved more around tactics than strategy.
[46]
This method condemned the
offensive over Britain to failure before it began.
[47]

In an operational capacity, limitations in weapons technology and quick British reactions
were making it more difficult to achieve strategic effect. Attacking ports, shipping and
imports as well as disrupting rail traffic in the surrounding areas, especially the distribution
of coal, an important fuel in all industrial economies of the Second World War, would net a
positive result. However, the use of delayed-action bombs, while initially very effective,
gradually had less impact, partly because they failed to detonate.
[c]
Moreover, the British
had anticipated the change in strategy and dispersed its production facilities making them
less vulnerable to a concentrated attack. Regional commissioners were given
plenipotentiary powers to restore communications and organise the distribution of supplies
to keep the war economy moving.
[48]