by Brian Grafton
Even before the fall of France, the Air Ministry met to create policy and
directives for the coming battle. They were geared to an obvious end: to defeat
enemy intentions in the immediate future. For Fighter Command, the requirement
was clear: defend against the air assault that was imminent. For Bomber
Command, the directives of June 20 were two-fold: medium bombers were to attack
shipping, troop build-up and enemy airfields; 'heavies' were to focus upon
enemy aircraft production. Other targets were indicated as well, and
mine-laying ops ('gardening', in RAF slang), as opportunity arose.
For medium bombers, read Blenheims: the remnants of the 10 Battle squadrons
assigned to AASF were re-entered on the strength of Bomber Command, but the
aircrews were retrained for Wellingtons, while the Fairey Battles themselves
were largely turned over to Training Command.
The Blenheims were directed to operate only under the cover of cloud if
unescorted, and their loss rate remained low under these conditions. When they
were attacked by fighters, however, their loss rate soared.
Over the course of the summer, the directives received by Bomber Command would
change with astonishing rapidity as new threats were perceived or new targets
gained priority. July 4 brought a concentration on shipping targets; July 13
called for renewed assaults on aircraft production. In truth, Bomber Command
was largely on the defensive, countering enemy moves, though as the summer
stretched on the attacks on oil, aircraft factories and warships continued.
Much of this activity was ineffective, and 'heavies' were losing more aircrew
than were lost to the enemy as a result of their bombing.
The major turning point of the summer occurred when, after jettisoned German
bombs fell on London, Churchill demanded a raid on Berlin in retaliation. To
this point, Hitler had been firm in his refusal to allow Luftwaffe bombing of
London. But the accidental or misdirected release of bombs on cities and towns
was not that unusual despite prohibitions. Nevertheless, on the night of 25/26
August, Bomber Command conducted its first raid on Berlin.
As a raid, it was a failure. Berlin was shrouded in cloud and most of the bombs
missed the city: there were only two recorded injuries resulting from the
attack. Goering was humiliated by the raid, however, and Hitler was outraged,
particularly when a further raid occurred on the last night of August. On
September 7, the Luftwaffe was given the geen light and London came under
bomber attack: 'the Blitz' had begun.
At about the same time, the build-up of invasion barges was accelerating, and
Bomber Command, with Coastal Command, was directed against the barges, troop
assembly areas and other critical targets such as the Dortmund-Ems aqueduct. By
September 21, Blenheims, Hampdens and Battles had destroyed just enough barges
(about one-eighth the almost 1900 assembled) to discourage the Wehrmacht from
attempting an invasion on the timetable first given by Hitler on 16 July. In
effect, the invasion threat was over. The aerial assault on London would
continue, and would spread to other British cities over the next eight months.
The Battle of the Atlantic would continue (in the U-boats' favour) for the next
two years. Allied troops would face the see-saw of North Africa, defeat in
Greece and Crete, and humiliation in the Far East. The fall of Singapore would
signal the end of empire. But for the moment, England was unconquered.
. The Battles were to return to active duty at least
once more, during the concentrated assault on invasion barges during the middle
. 'The Blitz' became almost proprietary to the British, signifying the
German bombing of British cities, and a wonderful new verb, "to blitz", entered
the language. A Londoner whose home was destroyed by bombs would say he was
"blitzed". London was to be hit for 76 consecutive nights (with one exception,
in early November) during the autumn and winter of 1940, but German attacks on
London and other cities would continue into the late spring of 1941. Those
living in other cities, who didn't feel the weight of assault as London did,
would mark events by the date of attack, as this comment from a Liverpool
mother shows: "Our Pat, she was born in the [sic.] March, 1941, just before the
May Blitz." (Pete Grafton, You, You and You, p. 32).
Bomber Command written by
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