While Douglas is recovering from surgery, he's asked me to re-post some articles to do with the history of the period May 8th through May 10th. No doubt we'll also remember May 1st, the day bin Laden was killed - The GateKeeper
As the years go by, or rather swish by for long lived people, it seems as if almost every day of the year becomes an anniversary of something or other. Saturday May 10th is no exception for people of my nationality and generation.
Many things have happened on May 10th over the centuries. Coming close to our time for example a feminist who had spirit guidance, Victoria Woodhull, ran for President of the United States on that day in 1872. Coming closer, Fred Astaire was born on May 10th 1899, and what actually may be significant because of the German talent for detail, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain on May 10th 1940. On the anniversary of that day in 1941, Londoners received an experience that none of the survivors have ever forgotten.
This day will always be remembered by those who were there or whose parents were there. But that group is gradually disappearing and I thought to put some of it on paper before I too disappear and have no chance to tell the story.
It is not an accident either that I am deliberately comparing the behavior of two groups of civilians, those of London in the Blitz who endured 57 consecutive days of bombing, when thousands of buildings and many thousands of people died, and the behavior of those in a country when two buildings only, were destroyed by hostile action, once.
The difference in behavior is due to the different programming used by the authorities. One was designed to produce defiance against awful odds, the other was designed to induce hysterical fear to enforce compliance with loss of freedom. Both succeeded.
I lived in London for over thirty of my first forty years, and that 2000 year old city will always be a special place for me. For the sake of those who are living in the fear deliberately induced by US administrations as a tool of control, I would like to share some of the story of Saturday May 10th 1941 and what happened in London on that day.
Let’s begin with an introduction to what was going on at the time. Much of this I knew at the time. Some of what I knew has turned out to be lies from the British government. Always happens in wartime. Specific data I have found since.
September 7th 1940 was the first day of the Blitz…350 German bombers escorted by 600 fighters came up the estuary of London’s river, the Thames. They were two miles high and the front of the attackers was twenty miles wide. The bombs began to fall at 5 p.m. all along the docks and the working class area in the East End of London. There was extensive damage and 430 known dead as night fell. At 8pm the fires guided in the second wave of bombers and another 400 people died.
War with Germany began officially on September 3rd 1939, a year before. The Civil Defense Corp was then 1.5 million strong. There was an organization of air raid wardens, auxiliary fire fighters and women ambulance drivers and reserve policeman.
The government had assumed that England would be attacked immediately, and based their estimates on how the German Luftwaffe had their practice run in the Spanish Civil War to help the Fascist dictator General Franco. Officialdom said that 800 German aircraft could easily drop 950 tons of high explosives per day on Britain. They calculated that in the first six months of air raids about 600,000 Britons would be killed and 1.2 million wounded. Plans were made secretly for the possible disposal of so many dead bodies.
But the Germans didn’t come. After a month or two of zero hostilities the Civil Defense people were being blamed in the press for being a bunch of busybodies interfering with the liberty of people by enforcing blackout rules. The numbers engaged in CD fell to 200,000 by the end of 1939.
In 1940 Holland and France fell and Hitler ruled all of Europe except for a couple of countries like Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy, where friendly Fascist dictators were already installed. Some 100,000 children who had returned to London from the places to which they had been evacuated, were re-evacuated at the fall of France. Now the Germans were less than thirty miles away across the English Channel. Their aircraft based in France had far fewer enemy territory miles to cross than the RAF planes which had to cross occupied Europe to get to Germany.
In August the Luftwaffe tried to destroy the Royal Air Force. On the 15th they launched their heaviest attack and 75 of their planes were shot down. I remember the screaming headlines claiming 182 kills. Truth is always the first casualty in war.( Remember the downright lies about Jessica Lynch during operation Iraqi Freedom.) On the 18th they tried again and were once more thrown back. On August 24th Portsmouth was bombed and there were a hundred deaths. London was bombed when many German bombers lost their way in the blackout, missed their oil refinery targets, and had to drop their bombs somewhere. London couldn’t be missed because the river Thames led through it.
Churchill demanded immediate retribution and on the 25th over forty R.A.F. bombers hit Berlin. The raid did nothing much except make Hitler angry because he had promised his people immunity from air attacks. Hitler had ordered that London be left unbombed until the invasion. The Luftwaffe then were to saturate London with bombs and “cause the population to flee from the city and block the roads.” This tactic was later used by the Allies against the town of Dresden in February 1945, except that the roads out of the city were bombed first to ensure maximum casualties; in that raid about 100,000 died. The Germans weren’t the only barbarians.
On August 28th RAF raids killed a number of Berliners. Hitler retaliated with four raids on Liverpool and then his strategy changed.
Since August 24th the Germans had focused bombing on the RAF Fighter Command. Six of the seven sector stations had been skillfully bombed into uselessness. The RAF was actually at its last gasp. By September 4th the RAF had lost 300 aircraft and 100 pilots. Factories couldn’t replace the planes quickly, and the new pilots were inexperienced.
If the attack on the RAF had gone on for another week the Battle of Britain would have been won by Germany, and that would have been that. Another occupied country, belligerent for sure, but occupied.
Meanwhile the Luftwaffe knew that they were really hurting the RAF but didn’t know the real extent of the damage they were doing. And they too were losing aircraft. In two weeks the RAF had shot down 100 of their twin engined bombers and 200 fighters. Many others had limped back to base with extensive damage.
A blitz on London would satisfy both Hitler’s pride and the Luftwaffe’s need for revenge. Hitler would have retribution on London, and the Luftwaffe, in overwhelming numbers could finish off the RAF as they tried to protect the city. It was a plan.
The invasion plans of the Germans depended on their navy predicting that September 21st was the last day when weather conditions would allow a seaborne invasion of Britain. Failing that, the next window was spring of 1941.
Hitler gave permission for the start of major raids on London and the 800 square miles of planes that took off on September 7th was the start of the London Blitz.
By September 11th hundreds of people were dead and the East end was in ruins. But the mood was defiance, not fear. Hitler extended the deadline and the raids continued. The pivotal day was September 15th when more than fifty planes were shot down on their way to bomb London. It wasn’t the numbers that were significant, they were a small fraction of the attacking force, it was the fact that the Luftwaffe had been told that the RAF was in its death throes, and from the Luftwaffe’s point of view that certainly wasn’t so. Two days later Hitler postponed the invasion.
Daylight raids continued to the end of the month. The Germans missed yet another opportunity. They began to bomb the West End of London, which had not been touched before. This had infuriated the working people of the East End. If they had continued to hit only the poor people in the East End, while leaving the rich free to carry on as usual, there could easily have been an uprising of the very angry East Enders, possibly a revolution. But by hitting the rich as well they balanced things out, to some degree.
And they were trying to destroy historic buildings that meant a lot to the British psyche. If they could turn icons like St. Paul’s cathedral or Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace into a heap of rubble they reckoned it would sap the morale. Remember what happened here without continuous bombing day after day, when just two iconic buildings were destroyed. Actually on September 12th a 2000 pound bomb did hit St.Paul’s but it didn’t explode.
Another factor that those without actual experience of hostile action in their own back yard could not take into account is the way the rich react when in danger. Places like Chelsea and Westminster were very wealthy areas of London.
People from these areas began to flee to the countryside as soon as the bombing began. At first the poorer people who did not have the resources to pick up and run, made fun of the cowardly rich. But the mood changed to resentment and later to hatred when they realized that those deserted houses had water rates that weren’t paid. So the water in those areas was cut off. When other people in the area were hit by incendiary bombs they could not fight the fires because there was no water available.
Poor people in Katrina know this feeling because the wealthy had fled the floods, the poor had the problems we all heard about. And in both East London and Katrina, when their houses were destroyed, the poor had nowhere else to go, unlike the rich.
Many Londoners in my generation still reflexively despise and resent the rich, which of course keeps them poor. They don’t want to be like people whom they despise or detest and subconsciously work to make that so.
My first college was in King’s Road Chelsea, made famous by the Beatles, so I know about the amazing wealth embedded in the area. By May 1940 the population of Chelsea had dropped from 57,000 to 36,000 and was still falling. In the really rich area of Bedford Square thirteen of the forty five world famous houses were already on sale. Their wealthy owners had gone to funk holes in the country, where people with big estates took them in, for a price.
In October the night raids began. Every day Londoners went to their 9-5 jobs, came home and were the targets of bombers in the evening and night. The first night without a raid was November 3rd and its filthy, foggy, weather was too much even for the Luftwaffe.
The American ambassador notified the US government that Britain couldn’t survive much longer. And Time magazine here ran an article called “The Legacy of Britain,” as if it were already past history.
On November 14th the Luftwaffe fire bombed the city of Coventry with incendiaries and over the next few months did the same thing to most large ports and cities. London was hit again on December 29th when the city was firebombed and 163 people were killed. I can remember looking south east at night in the Welsh blackout, and seeing, over the mountains what looked what looked like a fiery sunset in the wrong direction of the compass. It was the port city of Cardiff, burning. The December 29th raid brought the London totals since September 7th to 13,339 dead and 51,693 wounded, many seriously.
The Coventry raid gave Churchill a terrible moral dilemma. The British had recently broken what the Germans thought was their unbreakable code with the help of people who could do the London Times crossword puzzle in ten minutes or less. He knew that the raid was coming but could not tactically increase the city defenses because that would tell the Germans that their code was broken. He had to let the city be fire bombed and the magnificent Coventry cathedral was totally destroyed.
He remembered Coventry apparently when the bombing of Dresden came on the agenda later on in the war in 1945. As First Lord of the Admiralty in the First World War he was the one who gave orders for the destroyers to stop escorting the liner Lusitania, on the assumption that if the Lusitania were to be torpedoed, (it was) then Americans would be forced to consider entering the war because of the Americans who were on board. He was as ruthless as his adversaries.
His friend, President Roosevelt did the same thing by ignoring warnings about Pearl Harbor, to bring America into the Second World War.
People were used to hearing about babies and children being killed, not to mention over 80,000 pets, and everyone picking their way through the broken glass to get to work every day, had seen air raid wardens with wheelbarrows picking up bits and pieces of people in the streets and taking them to a central place where medical people would try to identify at least the gender, and that wasn’t always possible either. Of the 43,000 who died in the Blitz on British towns 537 could not be identified. Death was taken as commonplace and people lived for the day knowing they may never see the morrow.
January saw another heavy attack and then a little peace until March 8th when 125 aircraft dropped their bombs on London, as did 94 planes next day. Back they came on the 15th and 19th and then on April 16th 685 bombers made a desert of stone chips across London. About a thousand people were killed. Then on the 19th came a raid with 712 planes as a reprisal for a raid on Berlin. About 1,200 were killed. By now the totals were 16,000 dead with over 23,000 seriously wounded and thousands more just reported as wounded.
Paradoxically the continuous bombing night after night had been easier to deal with. At least it was predictable. London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights. But the March and April raids had been much heavier and at intervals. The not knowing when they would come again was fraying a lot of nerves that had been strong before.
In May Hitler had changed plans from invading Britain to taking over Russia and its oil fields in the Ukraine. Every modern war has been about oil in the final analysis. For a week the Luftwaffe smashed different cities; Liverpool, Glasgow and Hull had their turn. But on May 8th the RAF retaliated and about 400 bombers attacked Bremen and Hamburg and inflicted nearly a hundred casualties in Hamburg. That made Hitler very incensed and three weeks after the last heavy raid on Britain he ordered a huge attack on London. The man put in charge was Feldmarschall Sperrle.
Near to my home in ancient Streatham, a suburb of London mentioned in William the Conqueror’s tax survey in 1086, was an old town named Croydon where I eventually began teaching some years later. It distributed a little newspaper called the Croydon Advertiser. America is full of such little publications like the PennySavers.
I’m quoting an interesting thing from it, interesting to astrologers and lovers of pyramids, that is. A speaker at a religious meeting said this, and was quoted in the paper just over a year after that May:
“It is well over a year ago that a speaker in a religious meeting in Croydon gave May 11th 1941 as a critical day in the experience of this nation. His forecast was based on prophecy derived from an interpretation of measurements in the interior of the Great Pyramid, according to which May 11th represented either the entrance or the exit of a Second Low Passage that leads into the terminal space known as the King’s Chamber. Whatever May 11th or any other day may bring, let us be found steadfast in adversity and modest in triumph.”
I haven’t found reader response to this piece of stuff. But it’s interesting in the light of what actually happened on May 10th that made May 11th different.
As I said before, Sperrle was the Feldmarschall ordered to bomb London. He had advised Göering and others to ensure the destruction of the RAF before targeting British cities. His strategically impeccable viewpoint had been ignored, he didn’t count as one of the in-group, and he took out his anger on the British population.
When the Luftwaffe had helped the Franco regime in Spain’s Civil War they had used different strategies to find by experiment which did the most damage to property, people and morale. Sperrle had experimented with dropping incendiary bombs and then dropping high explosive bombs on the emergency crews battling the flames. But sometimes the high explosive bombs blasted out whole streets and helped the defenders by making fire breaks that the flames could not jump.
He finally found that the maximum damage could often be done by starting with high explosives to make the fire watchers and auxiliaries take cover and then blanketing the area with incendiary bombs that set the unguarded offices, docks and warehouses on fire, and then another wave of bombers with high explosive bombs to drop on the raging fires below and to damage the water supply and cause havoc among the auxiliaries and firefighters working without water.
And one other point that New Yorkers and their granite based city need to understand. London is built mainly on blue clay. So hundreds of powerful, delayed action bombs with time sensitive fuses buried themselves twenty to thirty feet below the surface and waited for the bomb disposal people to set off the clockwork mechanism that would explode the bomb at a time known only to the pilots of the planes. There are still many unexploded bombs beneath the surface of London, particularly in the Thames, and those digging foundations for new buildings still have to be very alert. A dredger brought one up recently when repairing a bridge over the Thames.
Back to Sperrle. His latest orders gave him access to the extra 500 bomber planes based in Poland. He organized the raid to cover the three major areas of London that could be noted by following the Thames. The Germans had invented an ingenious radio beam system by which the navigators could guide the pilots unerringly along a broadcast beam that was intercepted by another beam when they were exactly at the correct bombing distance from their targets.
In London that evening it was a normal sort of wartime Saturday evening. The Brits were on summertime, the clocks had been put forward and blackout wasn’t obligatory until just after 10 p.m. The concert halls, clubs and theatres were full in the West End. People like Noel Coward and Max Miller were entertaining full houses. The Palladium, known to many Americans, was featuring England’s favorite singer, Vera Lynn, the Sweetheart of the Forces.
You may have heard her extraordinary voice at the end of the movie Dr. Strangelove. As atomic bombs are going off all over the world she is on the sound track singing her greatest hit, “We’ll meet again, don’t where, don’t know when, But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” Very poignant for people with sons and daughters in the forces. I still tear up when I hear it. All my many uncles and several aunts were in the forces. Her first American hit was Number One on the hit parade in 1952 with ‘Auf Wiedersehne, Sweetheart.’
One of the best concert halls in the world, the Queen’s Hall, famous for its amazing acoustics, was filled with concert goers listening to Malcolm Sargent conducting the Royal Choral Society performing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In this piece the Angel sings “Farewell, but not for ever. Be brave and patient, swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here, and I will come and wake thee on the morrow.” Prophetic words.
That afternoon the two strongest soccer teams in the country, Arsenal and Preston had slugged it out in front of 40,000 fans for the Cup Final at Wembley stadium.
There had been no raids since April 11th but this night there was a full moon and the RAF expected it to be what they called a ‘fighter night.’ But to Londoners it was an ordinary Saturday night. And it was coincidentally, maybe, exactly a year since Hitler’s bugaboo Churchill came into office. Hitler’s astrologer would probably have noticed that.
The Germans meanwhile had been preparing the first wave of 370 aircraft. For the sake of those whose only experience of hostility in their own country was the Twin Towers incident I should give a brief review of what was to come out of the night sky onto the helpless civilian population below.
In 1941 the German bombs ranged in weight from 50 kilograms to a monster 1800 kilograms, called Satan by the bomb disposal crews below. A kilogram in American is 2.2 pounds.
The HE (high explosive) bombs came in two types, thin cased (SC in German) and thick cased (SD in German) The SC’s were 55% by weight of high explosives, the basic bomb. Some had a special ring on the nose to prevent them penetrating the ground. That produced the maximum blast effect on the surface. When the first Satan was dropped in April 1941 a man half a mile away was knocked out by the blast.
The SD bombs were 35% weight high explosive, semi armor piercing and could, and did spread shrapnel pieces over a radius of 1000 meters at rifle bullet velocity , in American, that radius is close to 1080 yards.
Most of the bombers carried many bombs of less than 1000 kilograms. The Heinkels had eight bomb chutes. Each one normally carried one 250 kilogram bomb and four 50 kilogram bombs. The forty bombs were all attached nose up. The fins were modified in a couple of ways, rather important to the people below.
Some had little cardboard organ pipes fastened to them. When the bomb was falling at hundreds of miles an hour these pipes made a terrible scream that varied in pitch as it approached the target. Anyone still living from the Blitz has that scream embedded in their psyche. The troops at Dunkirk had already experienced this psychological warfare when the Junkers 87B Stuka dive bombers dived at their targets with sirens in the wheel spats making a higher and higher screaming noise as the plane came closer.
A tactical reason for the screamers was to cover the sound of delayed action high explosive bombs hitting the ground. These would then explode any time up to 4 days later, often causing terrible damage to people clearing away debris from bombs that had covered the embedded delayed action bomb. The raid wasn’t over when it stopped.
Other bombs had their fins festooned with incendiary bombs that dropped away when the bomb fell and added to the chaos below. The bigger bombs had up to six panels of incendiary bombs, each panel holding six bombs. As the bomb fell the panels automatically detached one by one and made a trail of fires below.
Many of the first group of bombers carried nothing but incendiaries in their eight bomb chutes. These were Heinkels and Junkers flown by the best pilots in the Luftwaffe, the Pathfinders. Each incendiary Heinkel carried 1,152 incendiary bombs in chutes. The bomb aimer had only to push a button and the 32 canisters of bombs would drop automatically, one for every 50 meters the plane traveled.
So when the last one left the plane the crew knew they had started a strip of fires 1600 meters long (close to a mile) on the ground. These fires then lit up the target area for those bombers that followed with high explosives and more incendiaries.
I had better have a word or two about incendiary bombs since this country has had no such experience to use as a perspective. The German incendiary bomb at that time weighed a couple of pounds. When it was ignited by contact with something it flamed at a temperature of 2,500 degrees Centigrade for about fifty seconds as the chemicals inside produced oxygen for the flame. Then it continued to burn for about twenty minutes at a temperature of 1300 degrees Centigrade.
In one incident a man with an army steel helmet took it off and dropped it on an incendiary. The helmet went red hot, then white hot, then disintegrated. To make things more difficult for bomb disposal people who might put them out with sandbags and then unscrew the fuse box to take out the phosphorus and magnesium, one out of every dozen or so had an anti personnel explosive charge that could take off a hand or a face.
In London that night, in the blackout, the sirens began at 11 p.m. Everybody could recognize the sound of the German planes. I can still recall the sound. The anti-aircraft guns had sound detectors that only worked when continuous and identical engine noises were picked up. The German pilots always had one engine running slightly faster than the other.
The difference made a special uneven drone that dogs, cats and people could identify, but the guns could not. Our cat could hear the bombers or the sirens from the next town minutes before our local sirens went off. Pets like him were the canary in the mine for many people, who didn’t even think about the air raid shelter until the cat or dog told them to go.
By midnight, with over 2000 big fires going, it looked as if all London was on fire. And another 180 heavy bombers were already on their way to the well lit targets, with another 100 about thirty minutes behind. It was an all night raid.
Firemen everywhere were short of water as the high explosive bombs began to sheer water mains up to thirty inches wide. Blazing broken gas mains aided to the confusion. Amidst the shrapnel and the inadequate numbers of fire pumps hundreds of deeds of real heroism occurred as people had to make split second judgments about which fire was the priority of the moment, while being bombed.
And that night the incendiaries set 2,154 fires, nine of which were officially labeled ‘conflagrations, which means out of control. Twenty were ‘major fires,’ requiring at least thirty pumps to prevent them becoming conflagrations. And the pumps supplying the hoses had to be kept running for as many hours as water was available. And thereby hangs the story of London’s most famous fire fighter, a woman.
Twenty two year old Bobbie Tanner was a driver of a gasoline truck. She was carrying about 150 gallons of it in two gallon cans. If it had been hit by an incendiary she would have evaporated. Her job was to fill the water pump engines when they ran low on gasoline. She did this at night, during the raids, when the engines were so hot that the firemen could light their cigarettes on them. She did this when incendiary bombs were raining down out of the sky.
She used a square funnel and poured the gasoline in by hand from the cans. If one drop had fallen on the red hot engine that would have been the end. Shaking hands were not allowed. Fear was not allowed. Hysterics were not allowed. She worked all that terrible night, truckload after truckload, when over 86,000 incendiaries fell on London. She didn’t spill a drop. Her calmness in great danger saved many buildings and many lives. Just part of the job.
When the tabloids tried to make her out to be just a girl next door type heroine she told them that her hobbies were hunting and shooting. That didn’t go down well with the story they wanted. They said her hobby was knitting, something she had never done. The reverse lying occurred with Jessica Lynch, the Pentagon spinners making her out to be a female Rambo, when she hadn’t actually picked up a gun.
But Bobbie symbolized something else besides courage. Every country has a caste system, the élite, the upper class, middle class and lower class. In America it’s based on money. In England at that time it was based on family connections, schools and old money.
Bobbie Tanner came from very well-off people. Some of her family were very good friends with Royalty. She had hunted on Crown lands. At twelve she was sent to France to learn French. At seventeen she was in Germany where her uncle was naval attaché, in 1936, the year of the famous Berlin Olympic Games. That was produced to show the world how civilized and modern Germany was. A similar thing is happened last year with the Chinese and Beijing.
In 1937 she was living the life of a well-off country girl. She was well educated, well traveled and hunted and rode for pleasure. When war was declared she drove to London to offer her services to the fire fighting department. She had a car, therefore she wasn’t working class.
She had expected to be posted to high toned places like Chelsea, or Kensington or Westminster. She was posted to the East End dock area in Bermondsey. Maybe the officer in charge of her posting resented the rich and privileged, a reflex of so many poor people. She rose above it.
Social barriers evaporated during the Blitz whenever personal contact occurred. Everyone still in London knew that they were all in the same boat. Anyone you met could be in pieces in a wheelbarrow within 24 hours. People connected as humans, not as upper class and lower class, and they did it in the NOW. The fireman saving the house of a Lord in Bedford Square wasn’t in the same social class but both were equal as far as a German bomb was concerned, and they both knew that. As the 16 year old character in Matrix Revolutions said, “The machines don’t care how old I am.”
Stories like Bonnie’s were legion during that night. London was burning out of control when the next wave of high explosive bombers came over at 2 a.m. Bombs fell at the rate of over a dozen tons per square mile. Hundreds of centuries old historic buildings, and landmarks were damaged or destroyed. The House of Commons was destroyed. Famous libraries were burned. Ancient cemeteries, centuries old, scattered their dead all over some areas as heavy duty bombs blew them apart.
The Palladium was not destroyed, but next morning, right above the stage where Vera Lynn had sung the night before, was hanging a 1000 kilogram parachute mine that broke through the roof. Its parachute caught in the beams. It had been a very close thing. When the naval bomb disposal people defused it in the morning everyone in the show had a piece of the chute silk as a souvenir. These land mines were actually enormously powerful naval sea mines with parachutes on them, which is why the naval people were the experts to defuse them.
My mother was at the window one day during a daylight raid, when a parachute mine drifted into view heading down straight for our street. Knowing that it would obliterate everything in the street she thought she would watch it all the way down. Taking cover would be useless, so why not be interested? As it came to about twenty feet above the roofs of our row houses, a gust of wind, probably from another bomb exploding nearby, lifted it up and over, to land about two streets behind. A whole block was razed.
It was this kind of attitude that the German High Command could not understand. People were supposed to give up when there was no hope against overwhelming odds, and when everything they held dear was being destroyed before their eyes. But that line of action seems to have escaped the notice of the obtuse British people for many centuries.
They were like that legendary American, John Paul Jones whose ship was on fire and sinking. The British asked him if he wanted to surrender. “I have not yet begun to fight,” was his reply. Churchill the defiant, was the John Paul Jones to Hitler for the British people who had no voice.
Incidentally, the house from which my mother watched the mine was eventually hit by a V1 flying bomb years later and became a heap of smoking bricks. She was on air warden duty that day and like many others in Streatham came home to find no home.
Queen’s Hall was totally destroyed on May 10th. When the night crew tried to put out the incendiaries their water supply was suddenly cut off by a bomb hitting a water main. They could only watch as the building became an inferno, the organ pipes melted and the roof collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of priceless, irreplaceable, musical instruments were burned; many world famous violins and cellos made by Stradivarius, Amati and Guarnerius were just ashes. In all the debris only one cymbal remained intact.
By 8 p.m. the next day over 1,000 acres of London were still without water, and hundreds of the over 2000 fires started the night before were still burning. People walked past burning buildings on the way to church, if they could negotiate the debris in the roads. Over 150,000 families had no gas or electricity.
And in my own town some thieves had broken into the Streatham Vale post office and walked away with the safe holding 1800 pounds worth of money orders. The Home Guard was out in force trying to prevent looting. As happened after Katrina there was looting everywhere.
People are people. When the have-nots lost their homes, and all they possessed, they were not going to be too fussy about breaking into a damaged grocery store to get food for the baby, or a jewelry store to get funds to tide them over.
Some thefts were amazing. A whole set of bells were stolen from a church for example. Of course the opposite occurred. People would find caches of money in bombed buildings on their way to work through temporary pathways through the debris and would hand the money over to the town hall or the police.
On that Sunday much of London was at a standstill. Over 950 major roads were closed to traffic. Craters had left nearly 600 roads looking like a First World War No Man’s Land. Over 300 were impassable because of craters or buildings about to fall on them. Over sixty were impassable because of unexploded bombs. Only two bridges across the Thames were usable.
No buses could run on Monday. In the town of Croydon, before mentioned, some 113 buses had been destroyed. Major gas stations had been destroyed which was one reason thousands of homes were without gas.
Our own home experienced the surprise that many Londoners had when they turned on their gas stove and water spurted out. Bombs were equal opportunity destroyers. They destroyed water mains and gas mains alike, and some water mains pushed water under pressure into the broken gas mains.
A major factory that the Germans were trying for was not hit; Woolwich Royal Arsenal, the biggest arms manufacturer in the country. The night shift workers were mostly women, and when the bombs started falling they headed for the shelters at a brisk walk. Like a football team here, every worker had a large number on their working clothes. Anybody who ran was noticed and fired at once. Nobody is ever allowed to run at the Arsenal.
What an American was most likely to notice was that over 200 main telephone cables were not working. About 80% of outgoing cables were damaged. No just picking up the phone and getting in touch. That's why I smile when people here think that in an emergency all they need do is pick up the phone. There may not be any phones working.
Water wagons began to deliver water to streets because so many water mains were broken, about a hundred of which were over a foot in diameter. What the officials were afraid of was typhoid.
I remember the typhoid outbreak in Croydon in 1937 when over forty people died of the disease as a sewer pipe leaked into a water main. Since many filtration plants had been smashed or damaged by the bombing there was a danger of sewage filtering into the main water supply. The taste of the water in London that time was like drinking from a newly chlorinated swimming pool, but there were no cases of typhoid during the Blitz And in five days most of London had its water again. And typhoid could have killed more people than the bombs if it had taken hold, so many hospitals had been destroyed by fire.
After four days the Civil Defense began spraying chlorine carriers over the debris to cover the stench of the un-recovered dead bodies still underneath. A reflection of that other day in 1665 when London was devastated by bubonic plague, and the smell was perceptible on the South Coast.
Over 11,000 houses were beyond repair. Over 12,000 people were homeless. Some 1800 had been seriously wounded and over 1400 people were added to the list of deaths due to the Blitz. Months later people were still dying when unexploded bombs were disturbed by the clearing away of debris.
One very highly regarded group had their HQ blown up during the raid. It was the Salvation Army and was their 200th building destroyed in raids. Every veteran soldier I met praised the ‘Sally Ann’ as they called it.
No matter how fierce the hand to hand or tank to tank battle had been, or how many bombs were falling, the Salvation Army lads and lasses were Johnny on the spot with tea, sandwiches and encouragement, usually long before the Red Cross or other official bodies. As their Lord said, “By their deeds ye shall know them,” and many battle weary veterans knew their deeds.
The good ending to the story is that in 1963 they had a new HQ right back in Queen Victoria Street where General Booth had founded them in 1881.Tradition counts for something.
There was only one other raid that year on the 16th of May, and it wasn’t on London, and by June the following year everyone took it for granted that the bombing was over. Hitler had not been able to break the British morale, and London was recovering. But many officials have since said that if the Germans had continued with just a few more raids like that one, matters could have become very different.
They were right on the verge of winning several times with their U-boats, (two weeks of food left in the country) their bombing of RAF airfields, (six out of seven sectors destroyed) and the bombing of British cities. They always stopped just before the victory point.
A major icon of Britain was the sound of the chimes of Big Ben announcing the news broadcasts of the BBC. It means much more to my generation than the sound of the National Anthem. It was the Voice of London.
Hitler’s bombers failed to affect the accuracy of the famous timepiece. But when damage to the face was being repaired a workman dropped his hammer into the movement and the clock stopped for the first time during the war. We call that ironic.
So, in summary, London endured seventy one major air raids, a major raid is one in which over 100 tons of high explosive bombs are dropped. Incendiaries and minor raids didn’t count. Some 18,200 tons of those high explosives killed 20,000 civilians and wounded or seriously wounded over 72,500 more.
And people with high foreheads working in desks far away in air conditioned offices still wonder what would have happened to the rest of the world if London had fallen, and Britain had surrendered.
It did not, because the destruction of the most loved buildings, ancestral and family homes, churches, hospitals, landmarks and monuments had brought about a new feeling of hatred for those responsible for that barbaric behavior, and a determination to make them pay in kind. The energy of hatred produced the endurance and determination needed to continue, whatever the odds.
Americans are experiencing the same thing now when their troops and equipment are damaging, destroying or defacing buildings and monuments, not centuries but millennia old, in a 4000 year old culture they don’t understand, in the cradle of human civilization in Iraq. The current generations in Iraq will never forget or forgive. A karmic debt indeed.
Much later, towards the very end of the war, Hitler launched his amazing jet propelled, winged V1, 2000 pound, flying bombs with speeds of around 400 mph, and V2 rockets towards London. The flying bombs fell wherever they ran out of fuel and my town of Streatham was right in the fly path of those bombs. Fifty-five landed in the town and produced blitz like damage, including in my case total annihilation of one home and a roof off a second.
People just kept doing what they were doing while they could still hear the distinctive phut, phut, of the bomb’s jet engine. As soon as it stopped making the noise they took cover and came out again after the explosion. But everyone knew that it was a final gesture of someone on the verge of losing, and took it in their stride as just something else to get over.
I had my first experience of flying when a V2 rocket missed London and hit nearby in Hertford. The blast lifted me off my feet and many yards down the street. As I landed I heard the sound of the rocket coming down. The rocket traveled faster than sound and got to earth before the noise of its descent. Rather eerie.
Now, the people in Oregon who rushed into bomb shelters just because two buildings in New York, a couple of thousand miles away were destroyed, come from the same sturdy stock as those hundreds of thousands in Europe, who withstood continuous bombing from the Germans or the Allies, and survived armies in the millions trampling through their countries.
It would be like people in Turkey, 2000 miles away taking cover because London was bombed. The American soldiers abroad endured the same horrors as the other soldiers with similar heroism. What happened to the civilians?
If your great-great-great grandmother was traveling across the prairie in a Conestoga Wagon she didn’t faint when she first saw herds of bison 20miles long and 10 miles wide. She just wondered if they were edible. She didn’t need smelling salts when one Indian arrow thudded into the frame of the wagon. Just setting out towards the unknown West was an act of great heroism.
What was it that produced hysteria in the descendants of such courageous pioneers, the current American civilians, over what, in comparison to other people’s war experiences, was a minor incident, two buildings, once only, and a few thousand casualties?
Every year since 1995 there have been more than 36,000 deaths due to traffic accidents in the USA. Every year there are over 120,000 deaths due to medical errors. We all live with these statistics. We all drive and go to the doctor in spite of real risks. What made the difference?
It was the way the then current administration took deliberate advantage of it to induce such fear through the compliant media that people were willing to give up their very hard won rights just to feel safe, when the real danger was actually minimal.
The results we see around us now in the bankruptcy of the country and the terrible financial state of the middle class. Billions of dollars have poured into the coffers of various corporations and we are no safer than we were.
How did it happen? Fear generation is the path every dictator has taken throughout history. Hitler’s Minister of War, Head of the Luftwaffe, Field Marshall Hermann Göering, a WWI ace pilot, summed up the procedure that always works just before he was tried at Nuremberg. He said this:
“It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
It looks as if the previous President’s advisors knew about this system, even if it was beyond his reading level. It was ruthlessly applied. The media went along with the system to keep the peace and gain benefits. Any voice of reason or truth was shouted down with accusations of being unpatriotic. The Pentagon now treats the public as the enemy. And the TV besotted public has gone along with the deceit, and has believed lies that no fearless or rational person would have believed for a second.
And as Herr Göering’s spell-binding leader, Adolf Hitler said, “How fortunate for governments that people do not think.” Maybe we had better start doing that, and pretty damned quick.