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Why Were The Major Cities of Britain Bombed by the Germans in 1940-41

During the summer of 1940, British civilians were involved for the first time in a full scale war since the English Civil War. Ludendorf’s theory of total war saw every civilian opposed to your side as a potential soldier and therefore, a target. This, along with the fact that precision bombs (e.g.:- laser guided smart bombs) hadn’t been invented, meant that there was a large amount of civilian casualties on the British home front.By 1940, the German forces had quickly swept through Europe. Within a few months of the start of the war, they dominated Europe. Surely the British would see that they had no chance and would surrender to the Nazis. However, Churchill’s speech stating that Britain would never surrender and would fight the Nazis to the last man put paid to any notions Hitler had of making peace. If Britain wouldn’t surrender, Hitler had no choice but to try and take Britain by force. He codenamed the invasion of Britain ‘Operation Sea Lion’.Previously, Hitler had used his ‘Blitzkrieg’ (lightning war) tactics to conquer Europe. This involved tanks attacking the enemy, taking care of their fortifications and providing cover for the foot troopers.However, Hitler could not immediately use these tactics against Britain. Britain had the natural defense of being an island and for Hitler’s tactics to be of any use, the country needed have a border with one of his occupied countries. He would have been able to use Blitzkrieg tactics, but only after he had succeeded in capturing a beachhead on the South coast of Britain. If Britain were not an island nation, Hitler surely would have conquered it as easily as he had the rest of Europe.For Operation Sea Lion to succeed, the RAF needed to be destroyed. If Hitler held air supremacy over British skies, he could easily cripple the British army and air force. The first targets the Germans attacked were British radar stations and airfields. These raids saw the radar stations and airfields being badly damaged and twenty-two British planes being destroyed. For the RAF, this was a huge blow.The German bombing of Britain’s major cities mainly targeted industry. This included cities with shipyards (mainly London, Liverpool, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton as this would tie in with the second phase of Operation Sea Lion, to destroy the Royal Navy), cities with many factories (mainly London, Manchester and Sheffield to prevent important supplies such as guns and aircraft from being produced) and those with large populations, particularly of workers (famously Coventry and Birmingham). While Coventry and Birmingham obviously had a few factories, they were not targeted for this reason.The RAF was now on the verge of destruction; some say only twenty-four hours away from being completely wiped out. However, the German Air Marshal Herman Goering did not realise this and switched the bombing target to the English capital city London. This gave the RAF time to rest and to repair it’s radar stations and aircraft. Had Goering not made this mistake, Britain would surely have been conquered like the rest of Europe.Hitler guessed that the British workers were poised on the brink of revolution as they were fed up with the war and the prospect of being bombed into submission by the German Luftwaffe night after night. He thought that to push them over the edge, he’d mount a huge air assault on the populous worker cities of Coventry and Birmingham. Although in times of war, strikes were made illegal, if the British Government didn’t have it’s workers on it’s side, they might as well admit defeat.The German attack on the cities of Coventry and Birmingham was codenamed ‘Operation Moonlight Sonata’. The reason it was codenamed this was because it was planned to be staged on the night of the full moon between the 15th and the 20th of November 1940.To the Germans, the raid would not be considered an unnecessary attack on innocent civilians. Ludendorf’s theory of total war, as I mentioned earlier dictated that these civilians were all potential soldiers, making them perfectly acceptable to target. Such attitude was seen in the German bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica. Before the war, the Germans had attacked this town unprovoked as a means of testing their new methods of bombing. They specifically targeted civilians and concentrated the attack on the crowded city centre.There were three main reasons behind the German bombing of Coventry and Birmingham. They were firstly, to bring the workers to rebellion. Secondly, to strike terror into the hearts of British civilians – that no-one, not even those far away from industrial centres, would be safe from the German terror bombing. Finally, as revenge for the British bombing of the German capital Berlin. Goering had boasted early in the war that Berlin could never be bombed. Britain, seizing the opportunity, carried out a small bombing raid on Berlin which offered no strategic benefits, only as a means of bloodying Goerning’s nose. This obviously anger Goering greatly, leaving him to plot revenge upon the British. As a result of this, Operation Moonlight Sonata was launched against Coventry and Birmingham.This raid was a huge blow to the working population. It resulted in 506 casualties and 432 people being seriously injured. It also made about 3,000 people homeless. This obviously demoralised the workers greatly, which was a serious worry to the government. To raise their morale, the Home Secretary, the Minister of Aircraft Production and even King George VI visited the town, encouraging the citizens to rebuild the city as quickly as possible and announced that arrangements had been made to evacuate 10,000 people from the city. However, morale was raised so much that in the end, only 300 people had left. While many people had been killed and injured, this was a huge psychological victory over Hitler as it proved that he could not crush the British civilians’ spirits. His attack had achieved the opposite of what he had endeavoured to do by raising the morale of the workers who, by now, were nowhere near the brink of revolution.To conclude with, the four main reasons behind the German bombing of British cities in 1940 were firstly, to destroy the British industry that was keeping the British Army, Navy and Air Force in play. Secondly, to destroy British dockyards to tie in with the second phase of Operation Sea Lion. Thirdly, to frighten and demoralise the people of Britain (hence the phrase ‘Terror Bombing’), particularly the workers, into not working or even rebellion. Finally, as a means of revenge for the British bombing of Berlin.

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