The UK remembers those who died during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, both major events during World War II. Yet, should we do more to remember those killed from other countries?
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign ran from July 1940 – October 1940.
By summer of 1940 Germany had pushed British troops out of France. The Germans were preparing to invade Britain. There was just the small matter of taking out Britain’s defences.
First the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attempted to destroy British shipping centres. Then they targeted airfields used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF). German bomber aircraft were protected by smaller fighter planes.
Things did not look good for the British. At the beginning of the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe could call upon 2,600 aircraft, whereas the RAF only deployed 640 planes. Not good odds.
Clear communication, good organisation and newly designed planes gave Britain an advantage.
The speed and maneuverability of a British aircraft called the Spitfire made it superior to German fighter planes. Throughout the Battle of Britain more planes would be constructed and by the end the RAF outnumbered the German force. Tally ho, chaps!
By the end of the Battle of Britain, over 2,000 German airmen were killed, compared to 544 Brits.
Speaking of the Battle of Britain then prime minister Winston Churchill said “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Germany had failed to achieve air superiority and German leader Adolf Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain was postponed. However, Britain’s troubles were just beginning…
The Blitz was an eight month German bombing campaign against major British cities. It lasted from September 1940 to May 1941. Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” in German.
During the Battle of Britain Adolf Hitler had given strict instructions that central London was not to be targeted by bombers. However, on August 24th 1940 German aircraft drifted from their intended military target on the outskirts of the city. Their bombs hit central London. Even if this was accidental, the British quickly responded by bombing the German capital Berlin in retaliation.
Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the Blitz, or would it have happened anyway? The damage to Berlin was slight, but Adolf Hitler stated “when the British Air Force … increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground.”
Frustrated by the attacks on Berlin and a failure to destroy the RAF, the Germans started targeting urban areas as well as military targets. On 7th September 1940 nearly 1,000 German planes targeted London in a daytime raid lasting nine hours.
The Blitz had begun.
This continued bombing of civilians in urban areas was a new type of warfare. London was bombed for 57 nights in a row. Other cities targeted included Coventry, Manchester and Birmingham.
As well as explosives, the German bombers dropped “firebombs”. These were especially dangerous, spreading fire quickly from building to building.
An attack on Coventry on 14 November 1940 left 75% of buildings destroyed.
For protection millions of children, mothers and hospital patients were moved out of cities to the safety of the countryside. For those in the cities a strict “blackout” policy was quickly enforced.
Windows and doors had to be covered with special material. Car headlights also had to be partly covered, reducing the amount of light exposed. This prevented the light providing German bombers with a target during the night.
In 1941, the number of attacks by the Luftwaffe decreased as Germany turned its focus to Russia. Britain had managed to survive the Blitz, but at a cost. Over the eight months around 43,000 British civilians were killed.
It’s natural that each country focuses on the deaths of its own citizens. But should we do more to educate ourselves on the losses sustained by other countries, especially if they were part of the same war?
The loss of British civilian life during the Blitz is undeniably tragic. Between 380 and 554 people died in the Coventry bombing, remembered as one of the worst attacks during the Blitz. Total casualties in London across the whole eight month period are estimated at around 28,556 people.
However bombings by Allied forces against Germany killed many more civilians.
British historian Professor Richard Overy mentions “the myth in Britain has been that we bombed military targets and Germans bombed civilian populations, but it is almost exactly the reverse”.
Take the British attack on the German city of Hamburg in 1943. Around 42,600 Germans were killed in just one week.
To put that into context, that’s almost the same as the total number of British civilians killed during the entirety of the Blitz. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Similarly, around 25,000 people were killed in two days when the British bombed the city of Dresden.
10,000 people in the city of Kassal were killed in one night on October 22 1943.
In total it’s estimated 600,000 German civilians lost their lives as a result of bombings by allied forces.
German historian Jörg Friedrich believes that the British bombings of towns during the end of World War II should be considered war crimes.
The controversial historian argues that these bombings served no military purpose as Germany was nearing surrender. Speaking to the Guardian Friedrich said “the bombing [of Kassal] left an entire generation traumatised. But it was never discussed.”
Speaking about the Blitz Winston Churchill called the bombings on the UK “cruel, wanton, indiscriminate”.
Can the same be said about Britain’s bombing of Germany later in the war?
Historian AC Grayling notes that among the bombs dropped on Germany “were time-delay devices, set to explode at intervals in the hours and days after a raid to disrupt ambulance, firefighting and rescue services.”
It is quite right that we commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during World War II. Yet this doesn’t mean we should forget those killed in other countries, and recognise our own actions in the conflict.
Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the bombings known as the Blitz? Were the later bombings of German towns justified?
Note on accuracy; we do our utmost to ensure our articles are accurate. This is difficult in this instance when various dates and numbers of those killed differ from source to source. Where we have quoted numbers we have linked to the relevant pages. If you wish to report any errors then please email firstname.lastname@example.org