Monday, March 9, 2015

‘Baby Blitz’

In April 1942, following the British raid on Lübeck, he had ordered the beginning of ‘terror raids’ on Britain. For many months, however, he lacked the means to undertake them to any effect. Meanwhile the rapidly intensifying Anglo-American raids on German towns and cities, during which - in 1943 - up to 70 per cent of high-explosive bombs and 90 per cent of incendiaries fell on residential areas - had created a widespread popular desire for retaliation, not in order to wreak revenge on the British but in order to force them to bring the destruction to a halt.

Propaganda Minister Goebbels was particularly exercised by the effects of the raids on popular morale. If Göring (‘a disaster’ in Goebbels’s view) had failed to provide adequate protection against the raids, then something needed to be done to convince people that the regime had not failed altogether. Somewhat callously, Hitler initially took the view that the destruction offered the opportunity for urban improvement (‘From the aesthetic viewpoint,’ he opined, ‘the towns do not present all that good a picture. Most industrial cities are badly laid out, fusty and abominably built. Here, the British air raids will give us space’).  Nevertheless, he too became increasingly angered by the destruction, and declared that ‘the British will stop only if their cities are destroyed ... Terror is broken by terror.’

Characteristically, Goebbels favoured bombing the parts of British cities ‘where the plutocrats live’. To demand this degree of precision, however, was clearly unrealistic. Moreover, the German air force had no four-engined bombers, no high-altitude bombers, and no specialized night-bombers. Senior officers were delaying production of new models by demanding that they should be capable of dive-bombing enemy infantry and tanks. Göring declared in September 1942 that Germany’s lack of long-distance bombers made him ‘weep’. Nevertheless, the air force scraped together some 440 bombers, mostly older models like the Ju88, for a raid on London on the night of 21 - 2 January 1944, derisively nicknamed the ‘Baby Blitz’ by the British. About 60 per cent of the 475 tons of bombs carried as payload were incendiaries: this was to be a retaliatory raid, causing maximum damage to the English capital city’s housing stock. In the event, however, only 30 tons fell on the target, and indeed only half the bombs managed to hit the English mainland at all. Another raid a week later was no better. More than 100 planes suffered mechanical problems and had to turn back. Half the new Heinkel 177s were lost, four of them when their engines caught fire. The machine still had not been properly tried and tested. Hitler called it a ‘crap machine ... probably the worst machine that was ever produced’. Two dozen or so further raids followed on a variety of targets from Portsmouth to Torquay, each involving around 200 aircraft, until losses and mechanical failures reduced the numbers to little more than 100 towards the end of the campaign, in April and May 1944.

The damage done was not very significant. Except in the successful raids on London on 18, 20 and 24 February and 21 March 1944, most bombs failed to reach their target, and the total tonnage dropped was tiny compared to what was hitting Germany. Long before the offensive came to an end in May 1944, it was clear that something new was required. A range of ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder-weapons’ was under development already. Hitler and Goebbels held out the promise that these would soon reverse the fortunes of war and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Loss rate average for the Jan, Feb and March:
LW - 5.6% (134 lost, 2380 sorties)
BC - 4.07%(796 lost, 19572 sorties)

This is 'failed to return' and does not include a/c written off because of battle damage and crashed on return.

Note the LW flew ~12% of the number of RAF BC sorties.

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