10 October, 2010

Day 93 - Battle of Britain

Churchill assuming the leadership of the Conservative Party, succeeding Chamberlain, is given some considerable coverage in British newspapers, although not high profile - as can be seen from the morning's Manchester Guardian. The long-term political ramifications of this are profound. Churchill has vastly strengthened his power base.

There are also some reports of the TUC conference, which is addressed by Ernest Bevin. He appeals for "the last ounce of energy" to build up "overwhelming forces" to defeat Hitler. He doesn't get that "last ounce", or anything like it. There is another war being played out, one which will continue long after Hitler is dead. Nevertheless, the Guardian (and others) find the ramifications of the decision to reopen the Burma Road of greatest interest. Such is the inevitability of the bombing that it has become routine.

The media is having difficulty maintaining interest, although the censor may be having an influence.  Reports have the feel of going through the motions, as most of the papers lead on other matters. The announcement that the US fleet is to be brought up to full strength is another issue which seems to get a higher profile than domestic war news, while the Daily Mirror (left) features Moscow-US relations as it front-page lead.

As to the air war, Mason finds it difficult to ascribe to German daylight tactics any other purpose than that of creating nuisance and fatigue among British pilots. If that is the aim, then it is largely successful, although it also takes its toll of German men and machines.

Here, we have seen the word "attrition" creep into a number of reports. In that context, there is the broader effect on the British population to consider - and the effect which the Germans believe they might be having, the two being somewhat different and divergent. Reich propaganda minister Göbells notes that the RAF yesterday mounted heavy air raids on Bremen. "In return," he writes in his diary, "we attack London without pause day and night. And to considerable effect". Göbells really believes this. Our Luftwaffe's losses, he states, have been heavily exaggerated (which, indeed, they have). He continues:
It goes without saying that the losses among squadrons against England have been considerable. In all, including all those destroyed in accidents during training, we lost fewer than 700 aircraft in September. And we produced 1800. That is quite a tolerable ratio. Losses have been kept within normal bounds even for aircrew. Against this we must set the English losses and the devastation in their country. Just now there are dramatic reports of this from London. If these are true, all hell must be loose over there ...
Inevitably, the reality is different. For sure, the 24 hour bombing is having an unsettling effect. But the daylight raids, spread over 700 square miles or more, are generally insignificant in terms of the damage they cause (relative to the mass raids) to be anything more than a nuisance. And the population is coming to terms with the nightly raids. More to the point, the Civil Defence services (as they are to be called) are getting the measure of the beast, especially the fire services.

The first twenty-two days and nights of the London raids have been the most testing, during which they and their regional and other reinforcements have attended nearly 10,000 fires. The nightly total exceeded 1,000 on three nights and the total on other nights fluctuated between 40 and 950. As the last aircraft had departed on the first night of the Blitz, there had been nine conflagrations, nineteen fires that would normally have called for thirty pumps or more, forty ten-pump fires, and nearly a thousand lesser blazes, a score of which would have made front-page headlines in peace time.

But in October, the attack has not been so heavy - even if the total still reaches 7,500 with nearly 2,000 of them on two nights. But, in the entire month, there are no conflagrations and only twelve fires of more than thirty pumps. If, like fractious children, the Germans are seeking to be the centre of attention, on this day they have failed and, as time progresses, the impact of the assault is diminishing. For today, the great Battle of Britain is little more than "noises off".

Almost completely unregarded by the major players and the media of both sides, though, the small-scale naval war goes on, with its steady toll of casualties. HM Patrol craft Girl Mary is the latest. She is sunk in the Firth of Forth by a mine. Two of the crew are lost and the skipper is seriously wounded. The British steamer Till (367grt) is also damaged on a mine

COMMENT: Battle of Britain thread