Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Another failure: Blitz

Starfish decoy control bunker

A Second World War bombing decoy site at Stockwood. It was built in 1940 as a 'Permanent Starfish' site to deflect enemy bombing from the city of Bristol. In 1942 a 'QL' decoy was added to the site as part of the 'C-series' of civil decoys to protect the Lysaght steelworks in Bristol. The 'Starfish' decoy operated by lighting a series of controlled fires during an air raid to replicate an urban area targeted by bombs. The 'QL' decoy featured a display of lights to simulate an active factory site. The site is referenced as being in use up until 1943, but could have been in use throughout the duration of the war. Stockwood was one of eight civil bombing decoys for Bristol, and one of six 'Starfish' sites.

Late 1940 and early 1941 saw a second British failure. London and many other port and industrial cities were to be bombed with near impunity by the Germans. One reason the Germans could bomb successfully while the British could not was that as well as using electronic navigation aids they were operating from bases not in Germany, but in France and the Low Countries. The other reason was that air defences hardly worked at all. The means of defence were many and varied, including guns, barrage balloons, rockets, aerial mines and more. One of the least known was the extensive system of decoys to mislead bombers, a very large programme in which major towns and cities and industrial and military installations were shadowed by various types of decoy, the most common of which simulated burning towns. They drew off 2,000 tons of bombs, perhaps some 5 per cent of those dropped. The Stockwood decoy, a small set-up which blazed away during raids on Bristol, hoping to confuse German bombers as they approached from the south-east, is credited as one of the more successful ones. Indeed, it is not impossible that the decoys were the most successful form of air defence during the Blitz.

Despite huge investments in fighters and lesser investment in radar, as well as anti-aircraft artillery, barrage balloons and other measures like proximity fuzes, illumination of the skies and rockets, the German bomber got through. The simple tactic of bombing at night rendered the great British air defence system essentially inoperative. This was a matter of some import. More British civilians died during the Blitz than British soldiers in the Battle of France. Yet the German Blitz, while more successful than the British bomber attacks on Germany of 1940–41, did not live up to the horror stories painted by many (including Churchill) in the 1930s; nor indeed to later accounts of the Blitz’s destructiveness.

The reasons for this British failure are difficult to grasp since radar could see in the dark. The problem was that during the Blitz radars could not yet be used to direct fighters sufficiently closely to bombers to attack them; nor could they yet be used to direct gunfire accurately enough.

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