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Harrowing destruction, limited military impact: The Blitz, 80 years on

Issued on: 06/09/2020 – 17:35

On September 7, 1940, the Luftwaffe launched the Blitz, starting wit..

Issued on:

On September 7, 1940, the Luftwaffe launched the Blitz, starting with an aerial attack aimed mainly at the Port of London. The Nazi bombing campaign against Britain killed some 43,000 civilians, with raids on cities across the country lasting until May 1941. However, the Blitz did not achieve any military objectives or break British morale, failing to diminish the UK as a thorn in Adolf Hitlers side.

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When the Blitz started in September 1940, the Battle of Britain, which had been launched three months earlier, was drawing to a close before ending in October. It had become increasingly clear to the Nazis that the Royal Air Force was defeating the Luftwaffe in the skies.

Still, the bombing of British cities went ahead – even though it had been planned as part of Operation Sea Lion, the Nazi invasion of the UK that would soon be shelved amid the Germans defeat in the Battle of Britain and would never to take place.

In addition to the tens of thousands of civilians killed, more than two million homes were destroyed, 60 percent of them in London. The capital was the major target, but industrial centres such as Coventry, Birmingham and Sheffield, and port cities including Portsmouth, Glasgow and Belfast were also victims of the Blitz, as the press dubbed it using the German word for “lightning”.

The damage to Coventry in the West Midlands was particularly horrifying. Coventry Cathedral – a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece; one of the jewels in the crown of the Anglican Church – was reduced to ruins. Its roofless remains still stand as a testament to the pity of war.

This destruction contrasts with the negligible impact of the bombing on the outcome of the war, with minimal damage to the UKs strategic infrastructure. By and large the British people kept calm and carried on.

Eighty years on, FRANCE 24 discussed the Blitz with Richard Overy, professor of history at Exeter University and author of a variety of books on modern history, in particular the Second World War, including The Bombing War and Why the Allies Won.

Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, September 1940. © Wikimedia Creative Commons

What motivated Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring to launch the air raids on the UK?

When they sent the Luftwaffe to Britain on September 7, they hadnt worked out the entire campaign; they hadnt thought about the Blitz as it was going to become. In fact, the September 7 attack was really part of the preparation for Sea Lion; a big air attack against London a week or so before Sea Lion had been planned in order to disrupt government administration, attack trade and shipping, and so on. So the idea was the launch a large shock attack against London, and then the invasion would take place about a week or 10 days later. But its often been misinterpreted, as if it was revenge for attacks by British bombers on Berlin.

How did the Blitz develop into a campaign that lasted several months?

The German invasion of Britain of course didnt take place. They hadnt defeated the RAF and Hitler realised it and postponed Sea Lion, finally cancelling it the following year, but he wanted to put pressure on Britain so he demanded a blockade campaign. Bombing was directed mainly at British ports and shipping, and the hope was that they could put pressure on Britain as its trade supplies would decline and the Churchill government would seek some kind of compromise with Hitler. But Hitler was always very iffy about it; he never had any confidence that the Luftwaffe could actually deliver what he wanted. So the invasion couldnt take place but Hitler wanted to keep going at Britain, and the only way he could think of doing it was by intensifying the blockade in the hope that that would be decisive.

It was only when it had become clear, by November, that the bombing had not achieved anything that Hitler decided that he was going to turn against the Soviet Union, and he would do that because it would put pressure on Britain and would also – the idea was – give Germany resources it could then use to turn against Britain and the United States at a later date.

A German Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber flying over Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London at the start of the Luftwaffe's raids on September 7, 1940.
A German Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber flying over Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London at the start of the Luftwaffe's raids on September 7, 1940. © Wikimedia Creative Commons

How extensive was the damage the Blitz caused?

The physical damage was much less than what the Luftwaffe had hoped for – and it indicated how weak the German bomber arm was. It had a relatively small force, not capable of carrying heavy loads of bombs. It very soon lost the ability to navigate accurately, its navigation being intercepted. In German pilots bugged conversations, they would talk to each other and say: “Whats the use? We simply couldnt bomb accurately; we didnt know what it was they wanted us to do.”

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.


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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".


Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42


This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.


Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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