Who Started the Blitz?
Between 1940 and 1945, sixty-one German cities with a total population of 25 millions were destroyed or devastated in a bombing campaign initiated by the British government. Destruction on this scale had no other purpose than the indiscriminate mass murder of as many German people as possible quite regardless of their civilian status. It led to retaliatory bombing resulting in 60,000 British dead and 86,000 injured.
‘It is one of the greatest triumphs of modern emotional engineering that, in spite of the plain facts of the case which could never be disguised or even materially distorted, the British public, throughout the Blitz Period (1940-1941), remained convinced that the entire responsibility for their sufferings rested on the German leaders.’ Advance to Barbarism, F.J.P. Veale.
‘It may be Inconvenient History but England rather than Germany initiated the murderous slaughter of bombing civilians thus bringing about retaliation. Chamberlain conceded that it was “absolutely contrary to International law.” It began in 1940 and Churchill believed it held the secret of victory. He was convinced that raids of sufficient intensity could destroy Germany’s morale, and so his War Cabinet planned a campaign that abandoned the accepted practice of attacking the enemy’s armed forces and, instead made civilians the primary target. Night after night, RAF bombers in ever increasing numbers struck throughout Germany, usually at working class housing, because it was more densely packed.’ The Peoples’ War, Angus Calder. London, Jonathan Cape, 1969.*
‘Hitler only undertook the bombing of British civilian targets reluctantly three months after the RAF had commenced bombing German civilian targets. Hitler would have been willing at any time to stop the slaughter. Hitler was genuinely anxious to reach with Britain an agreement confining the action of aircraft to battle zones... Retaliation was certain if we carried the war into Germany... there was a reasonable possibility that our capital and industrial centres would not have been attacked if we had continued to refrain from attacking those of Germany... We began to bomb objectives on the German mainland before the Germans began to bomb objectives on the British mainland... Because we were doubtful about the psychological effect of propagandist distortion of the truth that it was we who started the strategic bombing offensive, we have shrunk from giving our great decision of May 11th, 1940, the publicity it deserves.’ J.M. Spaight, CB, CBE, Principal Secretary to the Air Ministry, Bombing Vindicated.
‘If the Royal Air Force raided the Ruhr, destroying oil plants with its more accurately placed bombs and urban property with those that went astray, the outcry for retaliation against Britain might prove too strong for the German generals to resist. Indeed, Hitler himself would probably head the clamour. The attack on the Ruhr, in other words, was an informal invitation to the Luftwaffe to bomb London.’ The Royal Air Force, 1939-1945, The Fight at Odds, p. 122. Denis Richards, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
|High Street, Düren, June 1946. Shown is Victor Gollancz|
The eminent British war historian and strategist Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart declared that by this strategy victory had been achieved “through practising the most uncivilised means of warfare that the world had known since the Mongol invasions” (The Evolution of Warfare. 1946, p. 75).It was “absolutely contrary to international law” (Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain).
‘The inhabitants of Coventry, for example, continued to imagine that their sufferings were due to the innate villainy of Adolf Hitler without a suspicion that a decision, splendid or otherwise, of the British War Cabinet, was the decisive factor in the case.’ F.J.P. Veale, Advance to Barbarism, p. 169.
‘I am in full agreement [with terror bombing]. I am all for the bombing of working class areas in German cities. I am a Cromwellian – I believe in “slaying in the name of the Lord!”’ Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary for Air.
‘They [the British Air Chiefs] argued that the desired result, of reducing German industrial production, would be more readily achieved if the homes of the workers in the factories were destroyed; if the workers were kept busy arranging for the burial of their wives and children, output might reasonably be expected to fall... It was concentrated on working class houses because, as Professor Lindemann maintained, a higher percentage of bloodshed per ton of explosives dropped could be expected from bombing houses built close together, rather than by bombing higher class houses surrounded by gardens.’ Advance to Barbarism, F.J.P. Veale.
‘One of the most unhealthy features of the bombing offensive was that the War Cabinet – and in particular the Secretary for Air, Archibald Sinclair (now Lord Thurso), felt it necessary to repudiate publicly the orders which they themselves had given to Bomber Command.’ R.H.S. Crossman, MP, Labour Minister of Housing. Sunday Telegraph, 1 October 1961.
By weight, more bombs were dropped on the city of Berlin than were released on the whole of Great Britain during the entire war.
All German towns and cities above 50,000 population were from 50% to 80% destroyed. Hamburg was totally destroyed and 70,000 civilians died in the most appalling circumstances whilst Cologne was likewise turned into a moon-scape. As Hamburg burned the winds feeding the three mile high flames reached twice hurricane speed to exceed 150 miles per hour. Trees three feet in diameter on the outskirts of the city were sucked from the ground by the supernatural forces of these winds and hurled miles into the city-inferno, as were vehicles, men, women and children.
‘What we want to do in addition to the horrors of fire is to bring the masonry crashing down on the Boche, to kill Boche and to terrify Boche’ ‘Bomber’ Butch Harris, quoted in the Sunday Times, 10 January 1993.
The strafing of columns of refugees by both American and British fighter planes was par for the course: “it is said that these [zoo] animals and terrified groups of refugees were machine-gunned as they tried to escape across the Grosser Garten by low-flying planes and that many bodies riddled by bullets were found later in this park” (Der Tod von Dresden, Axel Rodenberger, 25 February 1951). In Dresden, “even the huddled remnants of a children’s’ choir were machine-gunned in a street bordering a park” (David Irving, The Destruction of Dresden). “I think we shall live to rue the day we did this, and that it [the bombing of Dresden] will stand for all time as a blot on our escutcheon” (Richard Stokes, M.P.).
‘... the long suppressed story of the worst massacre in the history of the world. The devastation of Dresden in February, 1945, was one of those crimes against humanity whose authors would have been arraigned at Nuremberg if that court had not been perverted. Rt. Hon. Richard. H.S. Crossman, MP, Labour Government Minister.
‘Its horror is revealed in the howling and raging of the firestorms, the hellish noise of exploding bombs and the death cries of martyred human beings as well as the big silence after the raids. Speech is impotent to portray the measure of the horror, which shook the people for ten days and nights and the traces of which were written indelibly on the face of the city and its inhabitants. No flight of imagination will ever succeed in measuring and describing the gruesome scenes of horror in the many buried air shelters. Posterity can only bow its head in honour of the fate of these innocents, sacrificed by the murderous lust of a sadistic enemy.’ The Police President of Hamburg.
‘Three-hundred times as many people died in Hamburg during the ten-day blitz as died in Coventry during the entire course of the war... Not even Hiroshima and Nagasaki, suffering the smashing blows of nuclear explosions, could match the utter hell of Hamburg.’ Martin Caidin, The Night Hamburg Died, Ballantyne Books, NY, 1960.
‘Of the children these dreadful nights, what can be said? Their fright became horror and then panic when their tiny minds became capable of grasping the fact that their parents could no longer help them in their distress. They lost their reason and an overwhelming terror took over. Their world had become the shrieking centre of an erupting volcano from which there could be no physical escape. Nothing that hell offered could be feared more.
‘By the hand of man they became creatures, human in form but not in mind. Strangled noises hissed from them as they staggered pitifully through the streets in which tar and asphalt ran as streams. Some of these tiny creatures ran several hundred feet. Others managed only twenty, maybe ten feet. Their shoes caught fire and then their feet. The lower parts of their legs became flickering sticks of flame. Here were Joans of Arcs... thousands of them. All who had perished unjustly on the fires of the Middle Ages were as nothing when compared with what was happening that night.
‘The sounds of many were unintelligible and undoubtedly many more called for their parents from whom they were parted by death or by accident. They grasped their tortured limbs, their tiny burning legs until they were no longer able to stand or run. And then they would crash to the ground where they would writhe in the bubbling tar until death released them from their physical misery.’ Martin Caidin.
‘Men, women and children too, ran hysterically, falling and stumbling, getting up, tripping and falling again, rolling over and over. Most of them managed to regain their feet and made it to the water. But many of them never made it and were left behind, their feet drumming in blinding pain on the overheated pavements amidst the rubble, until there came one last convulsing shudder from the smoking “thing” on the ground, and then no further movement.’ Martin Caidin, The Night Hamburg Died.
‘Phosphorous burns were not infrequent.’ U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.
‘Phosphorous was used “because of its demonstrated ability to depress the morale of the Germans.”’ Official British source.
‘Even the senseless and highly culture-destroying terror acts, against for example, Lubeck and Dresden, carried out by the Allied pilots, should have been investigated and brought before a proper court of justice.’ Major General H. Bratt, Royal Swedish Army.*
‘A nation which spreads over another a sheet of inevitably deadly gases or eradicates entire cities from the earth by the explosion of atomic bombs, does not have the right to judge anyone for war crimes; it has already committed the greatest atrocity equal to no other atrocity; it has killed – amidst unspeakable torments – hundreds of thousands of innocent people.’ Hon. Lydio Machado Bandeira de Mello, Professor of Criminal Law; author of more than 40 works on law/philosophy.*
‘As for crimes against humanity, those governments which ordered the destruction of German cities, thereby destroying irreplaceable cultural values and making burning torches out of women and children, should also have stood before the bar of justice.’ Hon. Jaan Lattik. Estonian statesman, diplomat and historian.*
From Michael Walsh, Witness to History, Historical Review Press 1996. Edited, with additions marked * by the National Journal. Photographs from Victor Gollancz, In Darkest Germany, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London 1947.
LETTER TO PBS
Dr. A.R. WESSERLE
16 March 1981
Rarely have I come across a television broadcast more vicious in intent and more warped in execution than your recent “Blitz on Britain.” As a survivor of the mass air raid executed against my native city of Prague, Bohemia, on the Christian Holy Day of Palm Sunday, 1945, by the Anglo-American strategic bomber force – a raid that maimed or murdered thousands a few seconds before the conclusion of the Second World War – I say this:
1. There can be no comparison between the brutality of the Anglo-American bomber offensive, on one hand, and the minimality of the German-Italian efforts, on the other.
As the commander of the British strategic air offensive, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris shows in his Bomber Offensive (Macmillan, New York, 1947), 23 German cities had more than 60 percent of their built-up area destroyed; 46 had half of it destroyed. 31 communities had more than 500 acres obliterated: Berlin, 6427 acres: Hamburg, 6200 acres; Duesseldorf, 2003; Cologne (through air attack), 1994. By contrast, the three favorite targets of the Luftwaffe: London, Plymouth and Coventry, had 600 acres, 400, and just over 100 acres destroyed.
2. Anglo-American strategic bombers, according to official sources of the West German government in 1962, dropped 2,690,000 metric tons of bombs on Continental Europe; 1,350,000 tons were dropped on Germany within its 1937 boundaries; 180,000 tons on Austria and the Balkans; 590,000 tons on France; 370,000 tons on Italy; and 200,000 tons on miscellaneous targets such as Bohemia, Slovakia and Poland. By contrast, Germany dropped a total of 74,172 tons of bombs as well as V-1 and V-2 rockets and “buzz bombs” on Britain – five percent of what the Anglo-Saxons rained down on Germany.
The Federal German Government has established the minimum count – not an estimate – of 635,000 German civilians were killed in France, Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Czecheslovakia, and elsewhere.
3. Both Germany and Britain initiated air raids on naval and military targets as of 3 September 1939. However, when the British attacks on port installations in Northern Germany ended in disaster, with a devastating majority of bombers downed – the Battle of the German Bight – Britain switched over to less costly night air raids on civilian targets such as Berlin and the Ruhr industrial region. By contrast, Germany replied in kind only in the winter months of 1940/41, a year later.
Observers indubitably British, such as the late Labour Minister Crossman, the scientist and writer C.P. Snow, and the Earl of Birkenhead, have demonstrated that it was not Germany but Britain that, after May, 1940, unleashed an official policy of unrestricted and unlimited raids on civilian populations under its new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and his science advisor, Dr. Lindemann. Professor Lindemann, the later Viscount Cherwell, coolly calculated that, by using a force of 10,000 heavy bombers to attack and destroy the 58 largest German cities, one-third of the population of Germany would be “de-housed.” The assumption, of course, also was that out of those 25-27 million homeless at least ten percent – 2.5 to 3 million people – would be killed. On this score alone, Winston Churchill and his advisors deserve to rank among the maddest mass murderers in history. In fact, as West German records show, 131 German towns were hit by heavy strategic raids. Only the courage of the Luftwaffe pilots, the effectiveness of the air defense network and the strength of the fire fighting organization worked together to prevent a bloodbath to the extent envisioned by the Prime Minister.
4. Blood baths did occur when conditions were right.
When the Anglo-American bombing policy reached its first grand climax in a raid on Hamburg that stretched over several days and nights in July, 1943, a minimum of 40,000 to 50,000 civilians burned to death.
With the defensive power of the Reich worn down in the second half of 1944 and in 1945, the Anglo-Saxons indulged in ever more massive extermination raids against Europe. Communities of little or no military value, even if attacked previously, were now pulverized, preferably under conditions of the utmost horror. Christian holy days, and dates and sites of famous art festivals were select occasions for raids. Many of the most beautiful cities of Europe and the world were systematically pounded into nothingness, often during the last weeks of the war, among them: Wuerzburg, Hildesheim, Darmstadt, Kassel, Nuremberg, Braunschweig. Little Pforzheim in south-west Germany had 17,000 people killed. Dresden, one of the great art centers and in 1945 a refuge for perhaps a million civilians, was decimated with the loss of at least 100,000 souls. Europe from Monte Cassino to Luebeck and Rostock on the Baltic, from Caen and Lisieux in France to Pilsen, Prague, Bruenn, Budapest and Bucharest reeled under the barbaric blows of the bombers.
5. Nor did the extermination raids stop with Europe.
Cigar-chomping General Curtis LeMay demonstrated in. the Far East that record kills could be achieved without resort to atomic weapons. By applying the lessons learned in Europe to the wooden architecture of the Asian mainland and Japan he raised “fire storms” which surpassed even those of Hamburg, Pforzheim and Dresden. Mass raids by superheavy B-29 bombers against Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe and particularly, Tokyo-Yokohama, resulted in a minimum harvest of 125,000 to 150,000 kills per raid. More than 1.2 million Japanese civilians were killed through bombing. Millions of others fell victim to it, from Mukden, Manchuria, to Rangoon, Burma.
It goes without saying that LeMay and his colleagues could not have carried out their campaigns of mass annihilation without the backing of the highest political leaders in the land. In fact, the United States Government had placed orders for the immediate development of four-engined, superheavy, very-long-range bombers (the XB 15, the B-17, the XB 19, the B-24 and the B-29) starting in 1934.
Thus, the Roosevelt Administration had begun to lay plans for offensive, strategic, global war back in 1933, the year of its inception. With the later exception of Britain, none of the other “large” powers followed suit: neither France, Italy and Germany, nor Soviet Russia and Japan the latter with extensive holdings in the Pacific.
These are sobering facts. PBS, with its record of fine programming, has much to lose if it insists on presenting biased reports such as “Blitz on Britain” or “UXB.” If you care to tap the unplumbed depths of sentimentality, envy and hatred, start a comic strip. In the meantime, we’ll change channels.
Give poor Alistair Cooke, who has been mightily discomfited of late, a much-needed respite.
Andreas R. Wesserle, Letter to PBS, Journal for Historical Review, Vol. 2, no. 4 (Winter 1981), p. 381.