“People shelter and sleep on the platform and on the train tracks, in Aldwych Underground Station, London, after sirens sounded to warn of German bombing raids, on October 8, 1940.”
October 8th would have been at the height of the Blitz, which is considered to have started just over a month prior, so this is day 31 of nightly raids on London. A total of 71 raids on the city would happen over the 8 month period considered to be “The Blitz”, with about 20,000 killed in the city – about half of the total 40,000 civilians killed in the UK during the period.
Although Germany had shown no inherent compulsion against bombing civilian population centers, not only in their bombing of Warsaw the year prior, and Rotterdam earlier in the year, but also with the Condor Legion in Spain in the 1930s, it is thought that the beginning of the bombing of London started by accident when a flight of He 111s dropped their load over the city by accident on August 24th, having limited visibility in the night and screwed up navigation. The RAF returned the favor over Berlin the next night, leading Hitler and Goering to retaliate against London. Although the bombings of London began that August, it wasn’t until September 7th, when the first of 57 consecutive night raids on London commenced, that “the Blitz” is considered to have started.
The beginning of the Blitz coincided with the Battle of Britain, and the shift by the Luftwaffe from the bombing of military installations to population centers is considered by some to be an important factor in the RAF’s triumph over the Germans in the fall of ’40.
Children who were injured by the Zeppelin air raids on London during World War 1, receive treatment in hospital; ca. 1915
The campaign against England started in January 1915 using airships. From then until the end of World War I the German Navy and Army Air Services mounted over 50 bombing raids on the United Kingdom. These were generally referred to as “Zeppelin raids”: although both Zeppelin and Schütte-Lanz airships were used, the Zeppelin company was much better known and was responsible for producing the vast majority of the airships used. Weather conditions and night flying conditions made airship navigation and therefore bombing accuracy difficult. Bombs were often dropped miles off target (one raid on London actually bombed Hull) and accurate targeting of military installations was impossible. The civilian casualties made the Zeppelins an object of hatred, and they were widely dubbed “baby-killers”. With the development of effective defensive measures the airship raids became increasingly hazardous, and in 1917 the airships were largely replaced by aeroplanes. (From Wikipedia)
A very good recent documentary on this subject which was originally aired as “Attack of the Zeppelins” in Britain: Zeppelin Terror Attack – PBS Nova
This bombing was so complete that most people died not from the bombs but from suffocation as the city-wide fire used up all the oxygen from the air.
“…one of the air raid precautions the city had taken was to remove the thick cellar walls between rows of buildings, and replace them with thin partitions that could be knocked through in an emergency. The idea was that, as one building collapsed or filled with smoke, those using the basement as a shelter could knock the walls down and run into adjoining buildings. With the city on fire everywhere, those fleeing from one burning cellar simply ran into another, with the result that thousands of bodies were found piled up in houses at the end of city blocks…” (Source)
People so often forget Dresden when they discuss the horrors of WWII. I guess with the horror of the atomic bomb and the Holocaust the simple firebombing of a town is somewhat less horrific to discuss but the devastation caused there was nearly unimaginable.
“It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe …
… fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.”
— Lothar Metzger, survivor.
Kazimiera Mika, a 10 year-old Polish girl, crying over her older sister’s body. (She was killed during a German air raid while working in a field outside Warsaw, Poland); September, 1939.
Every time you hear: “USA, USA!” (or whatever your countries name is), think of this…
Photographer Julien Bryan described the scene:
“As we drove by a small field at the edge of town we were just a few minutes too late to witness a tragic event, the most incredible of all. Seven women had been digging potatoes in a field. There was no flour in their district, and they were desperate for food. Suddenly two German planes appeared from nowhere and dropped two bombs only two hundred yards away on a small home. Two women in the house were killed. The potato diggers dropped flat upon the ground, hoping to be unnoticed. After the bombers had gone, the women returned to their work. They had to have food.
But the Nazi fliers were not satisfied with their work. In a few minutes they came back and swooped down to within two hundred feet of the ground, this time raking the field with machine-gun fire. Two of the seven women were killed. The other five escaped somehow.
While I was photographing the bodies, a little ten-year old girl came running up and stood transfixed by one of the dead. The woman was her older sister. The child had never before seen death and couldn’t understand why her sister would not speak to her… The child looked at us in bewilderment. I threw my arm about her and held her tightly, trying to comfort her. She cried. So did I and the two Polish officers who were with me…”
In September 1959 Julien Bryan wrote more about it in Look magazine:
In the offices of the Express, that child, Kazimiera Mika, now 30, and I were reunited. I asked her if she remembered anything of that tragic day in the potato field. “I should,” she replied quietly. “It was the day I lost my sister, the day I first saw death, and the first time I met a foreigner – you.” Today, Kazimiera is married to a Warsaw streetcar motorman. They have a 12-year-old girl and a boy, 9, and the family lives in a 1 1/2-room apartment, typical of the overcrowded conditions of war-racked Poland. She is a charwoman at a medical school (she told me her biggest regret is that her education ended when the war began), and all of the $75 earned each month by her husband and herself goes for food. Kazimiera and her husband, like most Poles, supplement their income with odd jobs, and are sometimes forced to sell a piece of furniture for extra money. But they celebrated my visit to their home with that rare treat, a dinner with meat.
This is but one case of attacking civilians in war – this hits us so hard because we know the story and can relate to it emotionally.
Now think of the millions of people killed over the years in millions of acts just like this one – and just how horrific a person is to think bombing of civilians is an acceptable practice.
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori.