12 September, 2010

Day 65 - Battle of Britain

The "popular" press majored on the overnight anti-aircraft barrage. Also reported was an attack on Buckingham Palace, front-page material but lower down, as the bomb had been delayed action, exploding in the small hours of Tuesday morning. The King and Queen had been away for the night and staff were safely in shelters, well away from the spot. No one was injured.

Thus, the Daily Express gave more space to the raids on barge concentrations, as indeed did the Guardian. This was a feature of British propaganda and a measure of its skill. Some bad news, or even the potentially frightening, was allowed – but it was offset with the counterpoint. In this manner, Hitler assembling his invasion forces was balanced by "RAF attacking". The effect was unremittingly upbeat.

In the main, it seemed to work: "In London, morale is particularly high: people are much more cheerful today", said Home Intelligence. The largely useless but noisy barrage had given Londoners great heart, an all-important sense that the nation was "fighting back". The Metropolitan Commissioner of Police also believed morale was holding up, stating: "My latest reports are that there is no sign of panic anywhere in the East End". Inhabitants were "shaken by continued lack of sleep" but there was no wish to evacuate and "no defeatist talk".

George Orwell did not entirely agree. This morning he had met a youth of about twenty, in dirty overalls, perhaps a garage hand. He had been very “embittered and defeatist” about the war and horrified about the destruction he had seen in South London. He said Churchill had visited the bombed area near the Elephant [and Castle] and at a spot where twenty out of twenty-two houses had been destroyed remarked that it "was not too bad". The youth had said, "I'd have wrung his bloody neck if he'd said it to me".

Part of the official propaganda technique was to contrast the London bombing with the RAF raids on Berlin. This aspect, the Daily Worker highlighted, complaining of "Heavy bombing on people of two capitals". The copy noted that "the huge civilian population of the two capital cities, London and Berlin, are suffering the most savage slaughter and destruction ever seen in the world …". The damage to Berlin, at that point though, was being grossly exaggerated – its time was to come.

On the back of Churchill's speech, the Manchester Guardian ramped up the invasion threat. With its lead item was an analysis from Brigadier General John Charteris: "the stage is set" and "the actors are ready", he wrote. However, Hitler had failed to secure mastery of the air. The tone was not at all alarmist. And bad weather over Europe held off air operations. The RAF ended up two fighters down, both lost through accidents, while the Luftwaffe lost six. None of these was attributed to combat operations.

The daily Home Intelligence report did not convey wholly complimentary news. The Prime Minister's speech was generally well received, it said, but not so enthusiastically as usual. Many people "having convinced themselves that the invasion is 'off' disliked being reminded of it again".

The Glasgow Herald had an article based on an AP report, datelined Constantinople. Hitler, it said, "may make another peace offer in the next few weeks". It would be made directly or may come through intermediaries, according to "several persons recently arrived from Germany". Hitler was extremely anxious to avoid another winter of war and a direct attack on England, "which he realised would be a risky enterprise". He still believed it was possible to defeat Britain as he had defeated France, by means of the double weapon of indiscriminate bombing coupled with intensive propaganda.

Bombarding British civilians "will be continued at all costs in the hope of undermining their morale". Then he would make another "generous gesture" and offer the possibility of peace, hoping to cause dissension among the politicians of Great Britain. And the Herald was not alone. A very similar story was published in the Daily Express, attributed to Reuters, so this was no random piece of gossip picked up by a single correspondent.

In a telegram which the German Foreign Office received this day, the chargĂ© d’affaires in Washington, Thomsen, referred to the "immense difficulties of life" in London, and quoted a New York Times correspondent who wondered "how long the nerves of a people can withstand this kind of bombardment".

In Germany, the war diary entry of the Naval Operations Staff for the day lamented: "[T]he air campaign is being conducted specifically as an air offensive without regard for the current requirements of naval warfare … the fact therefore remains that chances for the execution of the landing operations have remained uninfluenced by the effects of the intensified air offensive …". As far as the Kriegsmarine was concerned, the Luftwaffe was making no contribution to the preparations for Sealion. And without its full commitment, it was hard to see how any invasion could succeed.

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