The Blitz (9-7-40 – 9-8-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 8, 1940)


British Admit Heavy Damage; Hitler ‘Shoots The Works;’ Death Undetermined

The greatest air war in history raged Saturday, Saturday night, and into the early hours of today as the German air force, using every type of plane available, poured explosive death and destruction on London.


London –
The British admitted that fires had broken out all over the city and that the Nazis apparently are trying a win-or-lose onslaught in a mighty effort for a quick knockout of Britain. The British were successful in breaking up many of the enemy’s aerial formations, however, and brought down 65 enemy planes up to midnight, they claimed.

Berlin –
The Germans said the attack on London was the greatest ever made against any city, that “several thousand” planes participated, and that Germany had scored a colossal victory. They admitted they had met unexpected opposition from the British, however. Meantime, they also admitted, British planes had attacked Berlin heavily.

By Wallace Carroll, United Press Staff Writer

London, Sept. 8 –

Hour after hour, German planes in squadrons hundreds strong are bombing London this morning in what seems to be Adolf Hitler’s win-or-lose gamble to knock Britain out of the war.

It all started at 4:57 Saturday afternoon (11:57 a.m. ET).

At 3:30 a.m., the night-time of the raids passed the seven-hour mark and still the Germans came, dropping hundreds of high explosives and firebombs at regular intervals. The longest previous single alarm period had lasted seven hours and 40 minutes.

And London’s defenders still are fighting back, blow for blow, against the German challenge for air supremacy.

Berlin sources, however, described British air defenses as “pitifully useless” against the German attacks. The Nazis claimed that the British sent up few fighter planes, because of their losses yesterday, and that anti-aircraft fire was proved ineffective by the fact that German losses were extremely small in proportion to the large numbers of planes involved.

The light of parachute flares casts an eerie reflection over the great metropolis of London as I write this.

The jarring roar of explosive bombs rocks this area and that area constantly.

Anti-aircraft guns crash on and on, and British fighter planes zoom down upon the raiding squadrons.

Clouds of smoke roll up from fires set by the bombs, but London’s fire-fighters are working valiantly. By midnight, they had most of the big blazes under control.

In a midnight communiqué issued jointly by the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Home Security, it was said:

Enemy attacks have been repeated in the London area tonight and it is now apparent that the scale of his attacks on London has been the largest yet attempted. Our defenses actively engaged the enemy at all points and the several defense services are responding admirably to all calls being made upon them. The action proceeds and a further statement will be made in due course. No estimates of casualties are yet available.

Reports tabulated up to midnight showed 65 German planes shot down and 18 British fighters missing.

Damage was severe, especially in the slum and working class areas of London’s East End.

There were many, many fatalities and many, many more wounded.
In some districts, witnesses counted a German bomb in almost every block.

If the Germans were concentrating on any special region, it was the Thames area – the great waterway which is the artery of London, its banks jammed and crowded with huge warehouses, refrigerating plants, gas works, docks, quays, shipyards and heavy industries.

Over the Thames since the time of the first late afternoon attack the smoke hung so heavy that it seemed to be thicker, ever than a London fog – smoke from fires set by the hundreds of incendiary bombs, large and small, dropped by the German airmen.

Early this morning, word came from high government quarters admitting that what was described as “some severe local damage” had been caused.

But these quarters emphasized their belief that the damage was not serious so far as the whole national war effort was concerned – in fact, they said, the government feels the nation has been prepared ever since the outbreak of war to face much graver damage than has yet been done.

The Germans, it seemed certain, had thrown into the battle their best planes and their best pilots. Their new speedy four-engined bombers, only a few of which had previously been seen, started coming over in numbers. Ace pilots were guiding many of these machines.

Today is a day of national prayer. It is a day of prayer both in Great Britain and the United States. Many Britons will go to their churches later today and pray that the German threat can be parried and the way won through to ultimate victory.

The Germans, it was felt here this morning, are trying not only to raze legitimate military objectives – plants, docks and warehouses – but also to terrorize London’s civilian population.

They have succeeded in arousing fear and respect for their bombs, but there was no evidence that they had aroused terror.

Some residents of bombed areas were stunned. Many more were angry and cried for vengeance.

The attack was not limited entirely to London. The engineer of a train steaming toward London reported two Messerschmitts dived and machine-gunned him, but missed.

A vaudeville theater in London district was hit during the night raid.

British air experts said the Nazis were dropping bombs recklessly in an apparent effort to terrorize the capital, but also were using their crack pilots and new model planes (including four-engined bombers) for attacks on objectives along the smoke-covered Thames.

A direct hit was scored on a hospital in the London area, demolishing one section. Another bomb hit outside, breaking the gas and water mains.

The Air Ministry communiqué said:

The fiercest fighting raged from East London down to the Thames Estuary. In this area alone, over rooftops, factories, wharves and river flats at least 15 raiders were shot down. A Polish squadron gave the enemy their hardest blow. Their Hurricanes roared over London from the west and they met the enemy over East London. They drove then down the Thames Estuary sending 11 – eight of them heavy bombers and three Messerschmitt fighters – crashing to the earth. Heavy Dornier bombers with their crews of four or five men, sent to attempt the destruction of docks, suffered heavily. Ten of them crashed in the estuary or on the riverside. Hurricane pilots, on landing, spoke of “waves of German raiders” seen heading for London. One squadron which attacked broke up a bomber formation over Kent and saw 30 Heinkel 111’s and Dornier 17’s flying at 19,000 feet and escorted, as the pilot said, "by countless fighters, mostly Messerschmitt 109’s.

During one night alarm pedestrians in one London area flung themselves in the gutters as the threatening sound of falling bombs was heard. Many buses continued to run and some taxi drivers gave pedestrians free rides to the nearest public shelter.

The Ministry of Home Security said:

Information regarding casualties is not yet available.

Populace Tense, Angry

Millions of residents of the capital and suburbs watched tense and white-faced, or shook their fists angrily, as waves of German war planes streaked like silvery bugs out of a light haze and rained bombs on houses, stores and streets.

I watched the attacks from a tower high over London and saw bombs dropping over a wide stretch of the horizon. For each bomb, there was a flash and then – belatedly – I heard the “crump” of the explosion and saw smoke arise.

Had Been a Lull

There had been a 16-hour lull for London Friday night and early Saturday, during which German planers stabbed at coastal points in the southeast and southwest. But late Saturday afternoon the Nazi bombers began the new and great onslaught.

The first big attack, after a series of stabs at the south coast, began in the London zone at 4:57 p.m. (11:57 a.m. ET) and the fury of battle had hardly died out when a second attack – this time in darkness – was started at 8:30 p.m. All night and into the Sabbath morning, the attacks were unceasing.

Parachute flares were dropped by the German pilots. Then came the heavy thud of bomb explosions, clearly heard by persons in the center of London. Again and again the flares threw a garish glare across the sky and each time bombs dropped toward a target. Usually quick brilliant explosions and fires followed.

Screamer bombs were used by the attacking forces. Time bombs also were dropped, and residents of one London area were ordered to evacuate after a delayed action bomb was found nearby.

Up the Thames River they came, in groups of two or three, and then in units of 6 and 12, finally in waves of 50 each, striking at London from all directions.

Drop Countless Bombs

They dropped countless thousands of bombs – on an airdrome southeast of London along the Thames, one on a greyhound race track where more than 5,000 spectators were jammed, thousands upon thousands on London proper alone.

Once, when it appeared that the attack was dying out, a white-haired air raid warden pointed upward and yelled:

There they are!

Three white specks could be seen darting through a cloud bank. Behind them came three more specks, then 6 and 12, flying at about 20,000 feet.

The thunder of ground batteries began again and shells burst all around them. Then, from high above R.A.F. planes dived on the bombers.

The bombers, shifting into single file information, wheeled swiftly across the sky, searching for their targets.

Then they began to unload.

One explosion after another was visible on the horizon, starting at the left and leading toward the right. A sheet of flame burst from a distant rooftop.

The white-haired warden shook his fist at the sky.

“Wait until our boys really go after Berlin,” he yelled into the terrific din of aerial battle. “Then you won’t be so proud.”

He turned to those near him and added:

I never before in my life felt a vicious hate or that two wrongs make a right. But I hope we bomb the hell out of them.

"There Go Spitfires!"

He turned back to the sky, watching as did millions of other persons in the metropolitan area.

Look! There go the Spitfires at them.

And down from the clouds shot British planes, diving and wheeling among the bombers, breaking up their formations.

Crowds on the London street corners during the late Saturday afternoon attacks could see occasional German planes hurtling toward the earth and some German pilots bailing out, floating slowly to the earth.

At a suburban railroad station, a United Press correspondent saw a large number of pilots descending by parachute after a series of terrific dogfights overhead.

Three Main Waves

Two terrific explosions shook the air raid shelter near the station soon after the station master had shouted a warning that sent passengers scurrying for shelter.

There were at least three main waves of attacking planes that set off a staccato series of explosions as dozens of bombs rained downward. The crack of anti-aircraft guns and the whine of fighting planes in steep dives was deafening.

Clouds of smoke – some from planes that had been shot down – drifted into the sky. At one time the anti-aircraft gunfire ceased like magic and British fighters high overhead plunged in sickening dives toward the German bombers. Many persons reported seeing German planes fall.

Crowds Watch Battle

Looking down from the tower to the streets of London, I saw groups of a dozen or more persons on many corners, twisting their necks to follow the fighting in the sky. As the battle swung over the city, many of them scattered toward air raid shelters.

One of the German planes in file overhead slowly turned on its side and dived toward a target, streaking nearer and nearer as the crowd ran.

“Get under cover!” an air raid warden shouted. His men scattered to doorways, still watching the bombers.

Another bomber turned gracefully from the file of planes and roared earthward. Then another and another, each with a wild screaming sound. “Stukas!” the throngs yelled.

Firemen Race Down Street

Two fire engines raced down the street. A third followed.

The streets were crowded, despite the roar of planes overhead. Even women and children seemed to be taking the biggest air raid of the war in the spirit of a football game.

“There’s a dozen over us,” one street-corner spectator yelled to persons peering from office windows.

There’s a barrage all around them…now they’re running away.

There was a lull and then another shout:

There’s dozens of German planes coming. One’s going down in flames. I see a parachute…they’re leaving now.

The Pittsburgh Press (September 9, 1940)


City Digs Out, Still Defiant After Horrible Weekend Of Death, Destruction

By Joe Alex Morris, United Press Foreign News Editor

Adolf Hitler’s blitzkrieg attempt to pulverize London’s war machine was answered today by intense British bombardment of the big port of Hamburg and German bases along the French coast.

While Royal Air Force squadrons battered at bases from which the Germans might attempt invasion of the British Isles, and started huge fires in the Hamburg docks, unfavorable weather caused a “temporary” lull in mass aerial attacks on the British capital. The day’s first air alarm in the capital came at 5:10 p.m. (12:10 p.m. ET) and lasted an hour and a quarter.

A survey indicated that no serous damage had been added to the toll taken Saturday and Sunday. There was some belief that the Germans had found it too difficult to penetrate British defenses in strength and that they might be returning to their earlier tactics of quick, sharp, brief attacks.

The German bombing of the London and southeast districts of England – directed by Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering on the French coast – was regarded a possible attempt to crumble British defenses, especially in the air, before an attempted invasion.

British Attempt To Attack Berlin Beaten Off, Germans Claim

Some German sources claimed mastery of the air over the British Isles and the official German news agency said British defenses were weaker.

Burt London said that despite about 600 dead and more than 2,000 seriously wounded and vast damage in the metropolitan district, the nation’s fighting spirit and the ability to fight back continued unimpaired.

Berlin admitted that the Royal Air Force again had attempted to attack the German capital, but claimed that the bombers had been beaten off.

The British Air Ministry reported that Hamburg had been under concentrated air bombardment “by a large force” of bombers for three hours and that Hamm in Germany and Ostend in Belgium were raided.

There was little effort in London to minimize the terrific toll in damage and lives taken by the German air blitzkrieg, which started Saturday afternoon.

The Air Ministry significantly warned that the worst was yet to come.

Describing September as “a very critical month in the war,” the ministry said the German attackers have “not yet reached the top note of their crescendo.”

The belief was general that as the German air attack mounted to new heights it would be accompanied or followed by the first actual attempt to invade the British Isles since the time of William the Conqueror.

There were indications that the British were holding in reserve air squadrons against that desperate hour. The Air Ministry spoke of reserve fliers apparently being held back for the decisive encounter and it was stated that Britain’s new secret fighters and bombers have not yet been put into service despite hints by Germany that Germany is using its latest aircraft in the “all out” attempt against England.

London Fires Still Smoldering, Bodies Lie In Smashed Houses

The damage to London was evident today. Workers walked miles to their offices, shops and factories this morning. The arterial transport systems appeared to be functioning only intermittently.

Workers passed fires still smoldering, especially in the vast East End industrial, slum and working class area. Streets were littered with debris of glass, brick and mortar. Bodies still lie in some smashed houses and tenements. Rescue crews had been working without respite for 36 hours.

Over the city hung the acrid smoke of the great fires set in the dock and oil reservoir areas along the Thames, where Saturday the biggest fire since the London fire of the 17th century lighted the sky so brilliantly that persons read newspapers in the “black-out” streets.

In the devastated areas London bobbies patrolled the ruins with rifles – an event almost as sensational in its implications as if the Tower of London had been turned upside down. London policemen never go armed on their beats. A nightstick is the most lethal weapon many veterans have handled since they joined the service.

The exact extent of the damage to Britain’s vital industrial and defense establishments was not revealed in London. Berlin claimed that the Woolwich arsenal, on the south bank of the Thames, had been hit, as well as massive factories, docks, shipyards, warehouses and oil reservoirs along the Thames.

In Deptford and Bromley, in the London East End, the Germans claimed, water works, gas works and a great pumping station had been put out of commission.

The London reports mentioned the bombing of “public and mercantile buildings” and said that two world famous museums were hit. Two hospitals and a nursing home were blasted, as was a great public air raid shelter in the heart of the metropolis.

Bombs fell in the center of London and in all residential areas. One bomb fell outside the plant of a metropolitan London newspaper and others fell in the vicinity of Fleet St., badly delaying newspaper publication this morning. Another hit an Embassy of a “European power” and there was admitted damage to railway lines.

The bombing last night was not so heavy as that of Saturday night, but was said officially to have been just as destructive as the first attack.

A German radio report claimed that “super-bombers” capable of wreaking destruction within a 1,600-foot radius had been employed, but authorized German quarters denied this assertion, contending that such bomb damage could not be confined to “military targets.”

The death toll of Saturday night’s raid, as officially announced, was 306. Other reports had it higher than 400. The injured were said officially to number 1337. Sunday’s toll had not yet been completed officially.

This morning the London Stock Exchange, the Bank of England and the great fiscal and commercial institutions of “The City” – London’s Wall Street – opened for business as usual. But it was considered notable that the London censor passed reports indicating that the question of removal to emergency quarters had at least been mentioned.

Berlin claimed that the attack would go on and on until Britain was beaten to the ground.

The blitzkrieg made activity in other war or war-troubled areas appear puny by comparison. Rome asserted that the offensive on Britain had passed from the phase of “armed reconnaissance” into that of mass bombing, and that it would be followed by invasion. It was hinted that Italian planes are participating in the attack.