30 July, 2010

Day 21 - Battle of Britain

Unusually, the account of the previous day's air action is relegated to the back page of the Daily Express, despite newspapers having been given permission to name the location of the fighting.

The newspaper has a staff reporter watching the battle and, in another development, he goes way beyond basic censorship - which entails omitting militarily sensitive information. He crosses the line into propaganda, deliberately lying about events. "I saw how bad the bombers' aim was," he says. "Ships in the harbour had bombs scattered around them, but they were not hit. Five trawlers had narrow escape."

With thick, black smoke pouring from the stricken Sandhurst, no one within miles could have been unaware that the Luftwaffe had scored a hit, not counting the sinking of the SS Grondland and the patrol yacht Gulzar.

In Germany, planning for operation Sealion is now coming to a crux. The Naval Staff, reviewing the current state of naval preparations and the probably future rate of progress, conclude that operation Sealion cannot be carried out before 15 September. But by that time, according to Hitler, the main operation should already have been completed because of the bad weather to be expected in the latter half of the month.

In a comprehensive memorandum, the Staff sets out detailed reasons why, in effect, it thinks the operation will fail. Not least, the right combination of moon phasing and tides, to allow for the Army's requirement that a landing be made at dawn, falls at the end of September, when long spells of fine weather can no longer be expected. Even if the transportation of the first wave should succeed through exceptionally fine weather, there could be no guarantee that further waves would be successfully transported.

The reasons are logical, and damning, making it clear beyond peradventure that an invasion attempt would amount to suicide. Thus, the Naval Operations Division feels it has to recommend that the invasion be postponed until the following year.

However, crucially, it suggests that the preparations should continue on the basis that the unrestricted air warfare together with naval measures "should cause the enemy to negotiate with the Führer on the latter's terms." In the event of that not occurring, the question of the invasion should arise in May 1941. Despite all that, though, Führer HQ sends a signal to C-in-C Air Force ordering that preparations for "the great offensive" by the Luftwaffe are to be "accelerated to the utmost" so that the operation can begin within 12 hours of the issue of the executive command.

The official response to the Navy's analysis is to be made tomorrow and, meanwhile, the war goes on. While the previous day had been fair, this Tuesday is marked by unsettled weather, low cloud and drizzle. Flying, therefore, is heavily restricted. Nevertheless, before noon, the Luftwaffe is out hunting on the Channel and North Sea, with a group of Ju 88s (type pictured above) attacking a convoy off the Suffolk coast - but without success.

Overnight, the Bay of Liverpool is mined heavily. Bombing in ten separate areas in Wales is reported and He 111s visit the Filton aircraft factory and the oil tanks at Avonmouth. On the other side of the country, bombs are dropped on Hull, with some damage to shops.

For Hull, it is by no means the first time it has been targeted. The first raid is on 19 June and raids are to continue until 1945, making it the most severely bombed British city or town of the wa, after London. The city spends more than 1,000 hours under alert, suffering 86,715 buildings damaged and 95 percent of houses damaged or destroyed.

Of a population of around 320,000 at the beginning of the war, approximately 192,000 are made homeless as a result of bomb destruction or damage. Much of the city centre is completely destroyed and heavy damage is inflicted on residential areas, industry, the railways and the docks. Despite the damage and heavy casualties, the port continue to function throughout the war.

The city is an obvious target for the Luftwaffe because of its importance as a port and industrial centre. Being on the east coast, at the confluence of two rivers and with readily identifiable docks in the city centre, it was also a relatively easy target to find. As a result it was to suffer heavy bombing from May 1941 to July 1943, and sporadic attacks thereafter until the end of the war. It endured the first daylight raid of the war and the last piloted air raid. Close to 1,200 people were killed and 3,000 injured.

Despite the relaxation on naming Dover, radio and newspaper reporters are not allowed to identify Hull by name. They refer to it as a "North-East" town or "northern coastal town".

Consequently, it is only in more recent years that Hull has been recognised as one of the most severely bombed places in Britain. The city often took bombing meant for more inland places, or from German aircraft fleeing down the Humber to the open sea after failing to find Sheffield, Leeds or other northern towns, the victims of pilots who needed to dump their bombs.

Back in the dog end of July though, the weather dominates the day. Yet despite the low cloud and drizzle, Fighter Command flies 688 sorties. This is without loss, against five Germans claimed, including an He 111 off Montrose and an Me 110 off Southwold. Bomber Command loses one Blenheim, with two of its three crew killed, the pilot taken prisoner.

The RAF is meanwhile asserting that its night bombing of Germany is "most effective" and is worrying the German High Command. Intelligence reports, it says, indicates that its raids are causing serious damage. The Germans are stated to be considerably worried by them, and our delayed action bombs are particularly unpopular.

As to the strategic implications of those raids - the whole nation is getting a tutorial on the effect of bombing on national morale and industrial production, with the lesson frequency about to intensify. The RAF chiefs, however, seem to be out of the room.

Of significant strategic interest though, a six-column advertisement appears in New York newspapers, sponsored by "The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies". Headlined "Between us and Hitler stands the British fleet", it urges the US government to sell to the British at least 60 "over-age" destroyers, vitally needed to make up losses and because the Royal Navy is having to take over patrol duties in the Mediterranean formerly carried out by the French.

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