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Still, the looting would be dressed up as buying: ‘I shall despatch to Belgium, Holland and France a number of special purchasers who will be authorised to buy up practically everything they find in the high class shops and stores; all this I shall put in the show windows so that the German people can have it’. ‘It must all be done in one swoop – out with the stocks and over to us’.32 Austria’s National Bank yielded up 345 million Reichsmarks in gold and foreign exchange reserves, and in the country as a whole, Germany grabbed a foreign exchange boost of 782 million Reichsmarks. This pirate raid pushed Hungary’s dependence on Greater Germany’s exports from 26 to 44 per cent. Just as handy was the shift in the share of Yugoslavia’s exports going to Germany from 32 to 43 per cent. These new facts on the ground helped Germany get better trade treaties with its neighbours.33 While collaborators dreamed of a united Europe of Fascist states, Germany was only interested in exploiting the occupied powers, appropriating in 1943 40-50 per cent of French industrial output, for example.34 Looking on from Chicago, the Marxist Paul Mattick pointed out the limits of European unification under German domination: ‘the interests of the diverse ruling classes in the various European nations prevents a European unification by agreement’.
Germany, Poland, Italy, France and England:
I am addressing this urgent appeal to every government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities.1 On 14 May 1940 during the invasion of Holland, Germany sent an ultimatum threatening the destruction of Rotterdam if there was no surrender. Before the Dutch could agree, the bombardment went ahead with fifty Heinkel Bombers. Nine hundred people were killed and the city centre burned, fuelled by oil from a margarine factory.2 The British Cabinet seized on the opportunity of the Rotterdam bombing to break the injunction against attack civilian targets in Germany. Permanent Under-Secretary Cadogan wrote in his diary ‘Cabinet this morning decided to start bombing Ruhr’, adding ‘Now the total war begins’.3 On 24 May 1940 Hitler announced that the Luftwaffe would give ‘an annihilating reprisal for English attacks on the Ruhr’ – but no attack was ordered. In June, the RAF bombed Genoa and Milan in Italy, and Muster, Wertheim and Dusseldorf – where they returned for a second raid just as people were coming out of their shelters. German secret service opinion polls reported ‘strong hatred against England’ and ‘calls time and time again for revenge’.
Instead Hitler made a speech calling for peace with Britain – ‘I see no reason that should compel us to continue this war’. Hitler appealed as one imperialist to another, that he did not want to attack Britain: ‘A great world empire will be destroyed, a world empire which it was never my intention to destroy or damage’. Of course, the Chancellor expected a free hand to attack civilians in Poland and Holland – but his anxiety about all-out war with Britain was real. Churchill, though, owed his position to the war policy and could not pull back without losing his one last chance of leading the country. When the Luftwaffe dropped copies of Hitler’s ‘final appeal’ for peace on English towns, the RAF replied by bombing civilian targets in Wismar, Bremen, Hamburg, Pinneberg, Paderborn, Hagen, Bochum, Schwerin, Wilhelmscaven and Kassel in July.4 ‘It has now been decided that the primary objective of your operations should now be focussed on the morale of the enemy civilian population and, in particular, of industrial workers,’ said Chief of Air Staff Charles Portal, September 1941.5 The following February Arthur Harris of Bomber Command carried Portal’s policy through. Harris’s doctrine was that aerial bombardment would break enemy morale, right back to the attacks in Iraq in the 1920s, when he recommended ‘one 250-pound or 500-pound bomb in each village that speaks out of turn’, adding: ‘the only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand’.6 On 7 May 1942 the Cabinet in London told Bomber Command to destroy fifty-eight of Germany’s largest urban centres, with the euphemistic goal of ‘dehousing’ 22 million people.7 On 28 July 1942 ‘Bomber’ Harris made a threatening broadcast to Germany We are going to scourge the Third Reich from end to end … we are bombing Germany city by city and ever more terribly, in order to make it impossible for you to go on with the war. That is our objective. We shall pursue it remorselessly Harris went on I will speak to you frankly about whether we bomb single military targets or whole cities. Obviously we prefer to hit factories, shipyards and railways. It damages Hitler’s war machine most. But those people who work in these plants live close to them.
Therefore, we hit your houses and you.8 Indeed, Harris explained that the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive should be unambiguously stated as ‘the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilised community life throughout Germany’. Harris made it clear that it was not his aim to destroy old people, women and children, because, being unproductive citizens they were a drain on Germany’s ‘means and capacity to wage war’. Rather, the target was ‘any civilian who produces more than enough to maintain himself’, that is the working class.9 Annihilating the German working class from the air was what the British did in the place of waging a real war on the ground. Aerial bombardment was a substitute for sending in the troops. Under pressure from Stalin over the lack of a Second Front, Churchill said he ‘hoped to shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city’. ‘That would not be bad’, Stalin said back.10 Charles Portal hoped to drop 1.25 million tons of bombs on Germany between 1943 and 1944. ‘Twenty five million Germans would be rendered homeless, 900,000 would be killed and one million seriously injured’. In the event Portal overreached himself: Britain dropped only 675,000 tons of bombs on Germany throughout the war. By 1943 100,000 civilians were killed.11 Russian troops prepare to burn the bodies of the Dresden dead At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 a joint strategy for bombing Germany was agreed between Britain and America with the goal of smashing industry and ‘undermining the morale of the German people to the point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened’. In 1945 the bombing campaign was ramped up taking 1,023 lives every day, nearly ten times as many as in 1944. By the end of the war half a million people had been killed by the Allied raids on Germany.12 Over the night of 13 and 14th February 1945 the RAF and the USAAF launched attacks on two German cities Darmstadt and Dresden. In Darmstadt the 877 tons of bombs set a firestorm. More would have escaped after the raid had ended, but just south of the Darmstadt rail station a munitions truck was set on fire and its shells kept on firing into the air, making people think the raid was still on. The cellar-shelters offered protection from bomb debris, but when the firestorm overtook them, people were trapped inside, suffocated and scorched.
One tenth of all the people of Darmstadt, 12,300 people died that night.13 The same tonnage was dropped on Dresden around ten in the evening on the 13th in a fan that covered three quarters of the old town, again setting a firestorm which sent a plume of smoke into the sky a mile high. But this time Bomber Command planned a second strike, which followed three hours later, as people were struggling out of their shelters. Lancaster bombers dropped 1,800 tons of explosives on Dresden starting just after one in the morning of the 14th. They used the same fan formation, with its point starting at the old town but this time spreading into the suburbs to catch those fleeing the first raid. Tens of thousands had fled from the first raid in the ‘Great Garden’ park and the banks of the Elbe, and also by the main railway station. These refuges were targets in the second raid. Forty thousand people were killed in Dresden.14 Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris gathered photos of the wreckage of German cities in blue scrapbooks, copies of which he sent to Churchill, Buckingham Palace, and Marshall Stalin.15 ‘Often in life, there is no clear choice between absolute right and absolute wrong’
said Archbishop Cyril Garbett of York, wringing his hands:
Frequently the choice has to be made between the lesser of two evils, and it is a lesser evil to bomb a war-loving Germany than to sacrifice the lives of our fellow countrymen who long for peace, and to delay delivering millions now held in slavery.16 The United States Air Force had its own survey of the impact of strategic bombing, with a vast team of statisticians, planners and economists poring over aerial photographs and interviewing leading Nazi industrialists. The survey was led by John K. Galbraith, who
summed up his findings later on:
Attacks on factories that made such seemingly crucial components as ball bearings, and even attacks on aircraft plants, were sadly useless. With plant and machinery relocation and more determined management, fighter aircraft production actually increased in early 1944 after major bombing.17 German morale was actually boosted by the great bombing raids on cities and even by the losses to the Red Army - all of which let the Nazis pose as defenders of the nation.18 The Strategic Bombing Survey was heavily doctored by the US Air Force to hide its findings and its author blocked from a number of teaching jobs.
Just as Britain and America bombed Germany, Germany bombed Britain.
‘The Londoner, proud Cockney, became a warrior’ during the Blitz. ‘“London can take it” became the common man’s cry’. At least that is what popular historian Arthur Mee wrote about the Blitz. But ‘We can take it’ was not an innocent remark, it is a line from a Ministry of Information film, London Can Take It. An American reporter Quentin Reynolds wrote the script: ‘I can assure you, there is no panic, no fear, no despair in London Town … London can take it’.
Curiously, Reynolds tried out this line first in Germany, not London, when he was a reporter there for Colliers Weekly Magazine between 1933 and 1940. ‘Trained to take it’ was first an article about German preparedness for a British bombing campaign.
In the Ministry of Information, public attitudes were polled in expectation of a collapse in morale. Among the elite the view that Britain would lose the war was widespread, and many had already relocated to Canada and America, where senior civil servants were advised to send their families. But among the public, the expected collapse in morale did not happen.
When it did not, the government and the Ministry of Information reacted the other way, reading great fortitude into the doughty Cockneys. ‘We can take it!’ was the formulation of that response, an act of ventriloquism, where the establishment assumed the right to speak for the people.
As a slogan, ‘We can take it’ evoked pride. But it also heaped shame on anyone who raised doubts. ‘The trouble with you people is – you can’t take it’, Ernest Bevin told Communist shop stewards in Coventry on 14 November 1940, scornfully. Coventry was the most intensively bombed of all British cities.
Put in the mouths of Londoners, ‘we can take it’ rings hollow – they did not have any choice in the matter. And though the Ministry of Information was impressed by the lack of panic, tens of thousands of people tramped off into the Kent countryside during the first raids, without any real direction. On 3 March 1943, 173 people were killed in a panic crush on the steps of the Bethnal Green underground station, though no bombs fell on East London that night. Nina Masel, reporting for the Mass Observation project described the bombings of 7
September 1940 as ‘unplanned hysteria’:
The press versions of life going on normally in the East End are grotesque. There was no bread, no milk, no electricity, no gas, no telephones … The press version of people’s smiling jollity and fun are a gross exaggeration.
Pointedly, 29 890 Londoners could not ‘take it’, but were killed outright, with a further 50 000 seriously injured; 116 000 houses were destroyed outright, and 288 000 badly damaged. A third of the Port of London Authority’s warehouses were destroyed. The considerable industrial workforce in Finsbury never recovered from the bombing of its factories and workshops and the City of London lost 40 per cent of its industrial workers – part of the reason that today both are non-industrial districts. Between 1938 and 1947 London’s population fell by 20 per cent to 3 245 000. The London boroughs most hit by the blitz suffered the greatest population loss: Bermondsey, Finsbury and Southwark each lost 38 per cent of their population, Poplar, Shoreditch and the City lost about 45 per cent and Stepney lost over half. London did not ‘take it’ but was substantially depopulated and destroyed by the blitz, to be re-invented as the Greater London conurbation after the war.