A Beautiful Englishwoman Prepares to Blast Nazis Out of the Sky

Englishwoman with the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division, which controlled the searchlight and gun batteries defending London.

An ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) ‘spotter’ at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site in Britain, December 1942. On her shoulder can be seen the badge of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division, which controlled the searchlight and gun batteries defending London. The ATS was established in September 1938, to provide for women volunteers to serve in non-combatant roles alongside the military. In 1941 it was fully incorporated into the British armed forces. As the war progressed conscription was introduced, and duties expanded from cooks, clerks and drivers to more varied and technical roles. The ATS reached a peak strength of 210,208 officers and other ranks in June 1943.

(Caption and photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Winston Churchill’s daughter, Mary, served on a Anti-Aircraft battery during parts of the war.

 

 

Underground Stations When Bombs Dropping

Taking shelter in the Underground stations wasn’t a great experience. Early in the Blitz there were few sanitary facilities and people who lived through the era often write about the stench of underground stations.

SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1568) Elephant and Castle London Underground Station Shelter: People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant and Castle tube station while taking shelter from German air raids during the London Blitz. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194638

 

While no more than 3% of Londoners used the tube stations as bomb shelters, photographs such as these became iconic images showing the determination of Londoners not to let the Nazis break their will.

SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1571) Elephant and Castle Underground Station Shelter: The station performs a dual wartime role: travellers enter a train while, in the foreground, other Londoners attempt to sleep. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194641

(The sign in the window to the right of the tube car door informs passengers that this is a non-smoking car. In 1940)

THE LONDON UNDERGROUND AS AIR RAID SHELTER, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 1677) One of London’s most popular shelters is that which is to be found in a section of the London underground system which has been converted by tearing up the tracks. The advertisements remain pasted on the wall. Hats and coats are hung on nails which have been driven in between the bricks on the wall. People sleep on the platform and on the space which was formerly the track, this part stretching fo… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205221918

This is probably a section of the Picadilly Line which was no longer in use when the war began.

THE LONDON UNDERGROUND AS AIR RAID SHELTER, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 1678) Shelterers sleep along the walls of the passageway leading from the lifts to the platform at a London Underground station, probably Aldwych, in November 1940. The shelterers lie on thin mattresses and suitcases have been used to partition off areas along the tunnel to provide some privacy for shelterers. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197856

P51 Mustang Saves Bomber Offensive

P51 to the Rescue

Lieutenant Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed ‘Tika IV’, during a bomber escort mission in 1944. (photograph and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

D-Day was not the Second Front.
The Anglo-American Strategic Bombing Offensive against Germany was the second front
d-day was the Third Front.
The First Front was the massive battle on the Eastern front between the Germans and the Soviets. 

 

Graves of German soldiers somewhere in Russia. (Bundesarchiv)

Because the Soviets killed over 80% of German soldiers killed in World War Two, something Stalin frequently pointed out to Churchill and FDR, the most important strategic goal of the Allies (the US and the British Empire) was to keep the Soviets in the war. The P-51 ended up playing an important role in this.

We absolutely had to think of a way to relive the intense German military power being unleashed on the Soviets by the Germans (who had a kill rate of one German soldier to 27 Soviet soldiers). The British had begun a small bombing campaign against Nazi Germany and its allies before America was in the war because there was no other way for the Brits to attack Germany.

Pilots of No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF in front of Hawker Hurricane Mk I at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 7 September 1940. (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Germans Bomb London and Other Cities Throughout the UK

From the late summer of 1940 to the early summer of 1941, the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other major British cities and ports in a savage campaign which killed more than 40,000 people in the UK, half of them in London. More than one million homes were destroyed. So, the British felt little remorse at bombing the Germans.

RAF Bomber Command took unacceptable casualties in daylight bombing and began bombing only at night. The US Army Air Force and the Bomber Barons were convinced that daylight bombing was the best way in spite of the British experience.

Boeing B-17F 42-29513. 346th Bombardment Squadron, 99th Bombardment Group

In our arrogance, the US believed that properly staged formations of B-17 Flying Fortress’s would be self-defending and wouldn’t need fighter cover. This assumption was proven to be completely wrong by the horrifying losses suffered during 1943 and early 1944 by the USAAF 8th Air Force flying from Great Britain.

Unfortunately, no fighter had the range to accompany American bombers all the way to Berlin and points east and then fly all the way back to Great Britain. Someone thought of drop tanks which were easy to make. However, there needed to be a rugged and fast heavy fighter to take on the German fighters over Germany.

What About the P51?

P-51D Mustang at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

American bombers finally accompanied by fighters for the entire flight

The P-51 had been a disappointment. It wasn’t fast enough. Someone thought of putting a Rolls Royce Merlin engine from a Spitfire on the airframe of a P-51. The rest is history. Fitted with drop tanks and the Merlin engine, the P-51 was able to provide fighter cover to American bombers all the way to Berlin and back. This allowed the bombing of Germany to continue and allowed American fighter to destroy the fighter arm of the German Air Force.

Every week, long before D-Day, General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, sent Stalin a book of photographs of German cities Americans had bombed. Churchill did likewise. As the Anglo-American bombing offensive took hold, the Russians felt the effects. German aircraft were withdrawn from Russia and most importantly, the famed German 88 artillery piece, anti-tank gun, and anti-aircraft gun were withdrawn in large numbers from the Eastern front to defend German cities.

P-51D cockpit in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

London Blackout Fashion for Use During Blitz

For fear the German Luftwaffe would be able to use the smallest pinprick of light as an aiming point, a blackout lasting from sunset till dawn was imposed on 1 September 1939 throughout the United Kingdom (with the exception of Northern Ireland).

For most people in the Great Britain this was the first tangible effect of the war and it had wide ranging effects from an increase in motor car collisions to large numbers of people being run down by trams to depression. For many months nothing actually happened but when the London Blitz began people were happy they had stocked up with various items.

BLACKOUT ACCESSORIES FOR SALE, SELFRIDGE’S, LONDON, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 66) A sales assistant, using a stuffed toy, demonstrates a blackout coat for dogs to a customer at Selfridge’s department store in London. The coat would make sure that the dog was visible to car drivers and pedestrians during the dark nights of the blackout. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197491

 

These photos of the era are fascinating since they show only well-to-do middle and upper middle class people shopping for blackout items at Selfridge’s. This was a high end department store with its flagship London store on Oxford Street where these posed photographs were taken. No allowance was given homeowners or renters to purchase blackout materials or paint.

BLACKOUT ACCESSORIES FOR SALE, SELFRIDGE’S, LONDON, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 75) A female shop assistant displays a white raincoat for use in the blackout. The colour of the fabric of the coat would mean that the wearer would be clearly visible to other pedestrians and to motorists in the dark streets of the blackout. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197497

 

It is difficult for us to picture what it would be like to live in a urban area such as London and once night fell, discover it was almost impossible to see anything. Literally. Unless there was moonlight, you could barely see your hand in front of your face. People tripped and fell constantly and many injured themselves badly. While the street curbs (kerbs to the Brits) were eventually painted white that didn’t help a lot.

Worse, in many areas the residential voltage was decreased by almost 50%. When you finally made it home from work, put up your blackout curtains and turned on the lights, they only burned dimly. You couldn’t see very well and even reading could be difficult.

The blackout was enforced by ubiquitous ARP (Air Raid Precaution) wardens who would issue you at summons if you were violating the very strict blackout regulations. This included the smallest chink of light from a blackout curtain improperly closed. 300,000 people throughout the UK were taken to court for committing blackout offenses. (source: Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 by Juliet Gardiner)

Gardiner also wrote that “Shopkeepers who transgressed the lighting regulations were made an example of…” and fines exceeding £50 were imposed on some at a time when a small car could be purchased for £120.

In the early 1930s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin declared “the bomber will always get through.” This turned out to be a statement as stupid as Stanley Baldwin. There was great fear among the authorities that the bombing of London, for instance, would reduce the citizens to panic, lunacy or lethargy. The government theorized that 600,000 people in London would have nervous breakdowns after one or two bombing raids and the city would be filled with gibbering idiots. It was though that even a small tonnage of bombs dropped by the Nazis would wreck London.

None of this turned out to be true. It is quite amazing the circumstances in which people are able to carry on.

BLACKOUT ACCESSORIES FOR SALE, SELFRIDGE’S, LONDON, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 68) A blackout walking stick on sale at Selfridge’s in London’s Oxford Street. The light in the tip of the walking stick would illuminate the ground sufficiently for the user to see more clearly in the blackout, and to make the user more visible to pedestrians and vehicles. These walking sticks sold for 14/6. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197493

 

The price of 14/6 translates for us Americans as 14 shillings, six pence. Until 1971, British currency was not on the decimal system. Instead it was based on 240 pence to one British pound (£). Twelve pence made a shilling and twenty shillings made a pound. There were a number of coins such as farthing, half a crown etc which were worth a certain number of pence.

An unskilled working man would be lucky to make £1 for a fifty hour week. So this walking stick would cost an entire weeks’ pay for a unskilled worker. Women made less.

The walking stick would cost about £40 pounds today which would be approximately US$51.00 dollars based on the exchange rate of of May 2017.

Slang for pound is “quid,” thought to come from the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” defined by Merriam-Webster as “something given or received for something else.”

“The derivation is interesting. According to Merriam-Webster, “In the early 16th century, a quid pro quo was something obtained from an apothecary. That’s because when quid pro quo was first used in English, it referred to the process of substituting one medicine for another—whether intentionally (and sometimes fraudulently) or accidentally.”

www.merriam-webster.com/quid pro quo

 

Terrorist Bomb Plot Foiled by Postage Due

36 packages of dynamite rigged as bombed were mailed to prominent US officials in April of 1919. Thought to be the work of anarchists although this was never proven. For various reasons none of the people the bombs were addressed to actually reached them.

Author and historian, Tim Weiner, writing in his Pulitzer Prize winning book,  Enemies: a History of the FBI,  says: “A postal clerk in New York found sixteen of them [dynamite bombs] on the postage due shelf; the bombers hadn’t used enough stamps.”

Britain Prepares for Life Under German Bombs

Life During the Blitz

(photographs and captions and article courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

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“A fire-watcher on duty at a factory in Upper Norwood, South London, 1944. German bombers usually dropped a combination of high explosive and incendiary bombs. Incendiaries would quickly start fierce fires unless they were extinguished immediately. To combat incendiaries, people were encouraged to volunteer as fire-watchers and to draw up rotas with their neighbours. Air raid wardens issued stirrup pumps and trained people how to use them. Factories and other work places also needed fire-watchers, and at the end of 1940, fire-watching duty became compulsory. D 17934.”

How Britain Prepared for Air Raids 

During the late 1930s, the British government began to prepare the civilian population for war.

As well as the widely expected and feared bombing raids, it was also thought that poison gas might be used against civilians. Gas masks were issued in 1938, and over 44 million had been distributed by the outbreak of war in September 1939.

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“Air raid wardens were issued with steel helmets. These helmets were similar to the steel helmets issued to soldiers in the First World War and protected the wearer from falling shrapnel or debris. Steel helmets were also issued to firefighters, police officers and other members of civil defence services, and soon became a recognisable symbol of authority.” (caption and photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The Air Raid Wardens Service was set up in 1937. Wardens were responsible for reporting incidents, reassuring the public and providing Air Raid Precautions (ARP) advice. They were also expected to extinguish small fires, administer first aid and investigate reports of unexploded bombs. The Women’s Voluntary Service was set up in 1938 to involve women in ARP.

The first air raid shelters were distributed in 1938. People without the outside space needed to put one up were encouraged to use communal shelters instead. The government was initially reluctant to allow London Underground stations to be used as shelters, although they were later forced to back down.

 

 

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From 1938, in response to fears that air attacks on Britain might include the use of poison gas, the entire British population was issued with gas masks. Most people received the standard civilian pattern respirator. Air raid wardens, by contrast, received a higher grade of respirator. This is a civilian duty respirator. Unlike the standard civilian model, it features separate glass eye pieces, an exhalation valve and could be adapted to accept a microphone. Although poison gas was never used against Britain during the Second World War, masks like this became another common symbol of wartime life. Though masks were potentially lifesaving pieces of equipment, they tended to make their wearers appear terrifyingly alien and dehumanised. (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

 

From 1 September 1939, ‘Blackout’ was enforced. Curtains, cardboard and paint were used to prevent light escaping from houses, offices, factories or shops, which might be used by enemy bombers to locate their targets. Householders could be fined if they did not comply.

Messengers, ambulance drivers, Heavy Rescue teams and firefighters all proved essential to ARP – from 1941 officially termed Civil Defence – especially during the height of the Blitz.

Almost 7,000 Civil Defence workers were killed during the war.”

 

 

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This is a stirrup pump and hose, used to put out small fires. It would be used by two people – one working the pump, which stands in a bucket of water, and a second holding the hose and nozzle, to point a jet of water onto the fire. During the Blitz incendiary (fire-starting) bombs were used in large numbers. A warden might be the first person to respond to an incendiary attack and would use a pump like this to fight the fire. Wardens would also train others in the use of stirrup pumps like these. (photo and caption courtesy Imperial War Museum)

 

 

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