Monday, September 5, 2016

September 7, 1940: The Blitz Begins

Saturday 7 September 1940

7 September 1940 The Blitz
Fires on the docks light up ships. London dockyards, 7 September 1940. (AP Photo).

Battle of Britain: While "The Blitz" is often used as a sort of generic synonym for the Battle of Britain. In fact, it is a separate, though related, affair. The Battle of Britain often is assigned the start date of 10 July 1940 and involves air and naval attacks on all parts of Great Britain. The Blitz, by which we mean focused Luftwaffe attacks on London, begins only on 7 September 1940 (though with preliminary attacks commencing as early as 22 August 1940). This is known as the start of "Phase III" of the Battle of Britain, a joint day/night offensive against London that lasts for several weeks.

The British government has issued the code word "Cromwell" to all of its commands. This means that an invasion is expected on short notice. All local British forces are placed on high alert. At the main base of Scapa Flow, the fleet is brought to 1-hour's notice, and the crews of the destroyers are kept at action stations throughout the night. HMS Repulse leads a patrol out of Scapa Flow headed for Iceland.

7 September 1940 The Blitz
The Surrey Commercial Dock, London. 7 September 1940. (AP Photo/Staff/Worth).
The Blitz: After his big broadcast speech on the evening of the 6th announcing the Luftwaffe's change in strategy, listened to by many in England as well (those who understand German, anyway), Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering assembles his cronies at Cap Blanc Nez. From there, they can watch the armada of Luftwaffe planes heading for England. Perhaps to accommodate his schedule, the bombers get a late start. It isn't until almost noontime that any activity occurs, and this only by Bf 109s acting as fighter bombers. There's no hurry, the battle is won already anyway - according to the Reichsmarschall.

These first Messerschmitts drop their loads on RAF Hawkinge and Dover. The RAF sends up No. 66 Squadron, but it basically just monitors the attack and does little to intervene. It loses two planes to mechanical difficulties - a sign of the strain that the RAF has been under. They crash-land on the way back to base.

Early in the afternoon, the bombers finally get in the air and head across toward London. They are from Kesselring's Luftflotte 2 and Stumpf's Luftflotte 5 (KG 26 and 30 transferred south from Norway). The British radar stations pick them up at 15:40 and follow them across the Channel. It is a raid of about 1100 aircraft which includes almost 400 medium bombers, about 200 Bf 110s carrying bombs, and an escort of 650 Bf 109s.

The bombers cross the coastline and then break up into different formations, as usual. Typically in the past, this has meant attacks on separate airfields. Fighter Command reacts accordingly, getting fighters into the air over their own stations. However, this time they all head south toward London. Even now, Air Vice Marshal Keith Park at 11 Group assumes that the targets are airfields, and he plans his fighter defenses accordingly. Park gets 20 Squadrons into the air over the airfields and the Thames estuary. Leigh-Mallory at 12 Group has plenty of time to assemble his "Big Wing," but they still are assembling when the Luftwaffe appears over London.

The first bombs drop on the southern side of the Thames, around the entrance to London's dockland and the docks near Woolwich Arsenal. Bombing accuracy is good, as the weather is fine and the RAF fighters are elsewhere. The Harland & Wolff shipbuilding factory, a munitions factory at Woolwich, the Queen Victoria docks, the King George V docks, the Royal Albert Docks, the Millwall docks, the Wapping docks, the St. Katherine's Docks, and the entire surrounding area is hit with devastating effect. The Woolwich Arsenal blows up after its stored gunpowder ignites. Several ships in port are hit, with several sinking and almost two dozen damaged. The entire area is dry due to the late-summer heat, and soon everything is on fire. The fires rage close to London Bridge, but it is spared.

7 September 1940 The Blitz
Dornier Do 17 bombers over London, 7 September 1940.
The East End then gets hit. This is a mixed residential/commercial area. Areas hit include Canning Town, East Ham, West Ham, Poplar, Silvertown, Stratford, Wapping, and Whitechapel. The Germans use incendiary bombs that work well on the dry wood of the buildings in the slums around these areas. The East End docks are hit over and over and soon are a massive blaze.

The RAF reacts, but as the first wave of bombers leaves, another arrives. This time, Leigh-Mallory's "Big Wing" is ready, but they get mixed up with the bombers that have already dropped their loads and are scurrying back to France. Thus, the fighter defense does little to prevent further raids on London.

The attacks continue after dark. At 20:22, another wave of about 250 bombers crosses the Kent coastline, this one from Sperrle's Luftflotte 3. Unescorted, they head straight for the burning docklands along the Thames, which serve as a beacon visible for miles. They drop a further 333 tons of bombs and 13,000 incendiaries.

7 September 1940 The Blitz gun camera footage
A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Flying Officer T Nowierski. Ahead is a formation of Dornier Do 17Zs of KG3 south-west of London at approximately 5.45 pm on 7 September 1940. Tracer bullets from the intercepting Spitfires can be seen traveling towards the enemy aircraft which are heading back to their base after bombing East London and the docks.
Goering makes another broadcast to the German people in the evening. The day's losses in the air favor the RAF - about 40-50 Luftwaffe losses versus around 25-30 British fighters (figures vary wildly by source) - but the Blitz is now a reality. There are 430-448 civilian deaths, 1337 other serious casualties, serious damage to the industry, and countless people made homeless.

The RAF airfields and other installations, though, are largely untouched and get a chance to begin recovering from the against them in recent weeks. Deadly as the day has been, it is the beginning of the RAF's recovery, much like a cancer patient receiving his or her first chemotherapy. It also is the first day of the rot that begins eating away at the Luftwaffe's substance.

There are many acts of heroism during this first day of the Blitz. Albert Ernest Dolphin, a porter at the Emergency Hospital, South Eastern Hospital, New Cross, London saves the life of a nurse when a wall begins to fall on her, costing his own. He posthumously earns the George Cross, a civilian award equivalent to the Victoria Cross. He is listed on a memorial mural in Lewisham Shopping Centre, a true hero of the Battle of Britain.

The Luftwaffe once again loses a number of valuable pilots, including a number of aces. The German fighter pilots blame this on having to act as escorts to the bombers. The fighters are much slower than the bombers, and it takes continual effort to remain above them and to mimic their movements.

Kommodore Major Mölders of JG 51 downs a Spitfire over London for his 34th victory, the most in the Luftwaffe. Oblt. Helmut Wick of 6./JG 2 gains his 25th victory by shooting down a Spitfire. Major Hannes Trautloft of Stab./JG 54 gets his seventh victory, a Hurricane over Maidstone. Numerous other pilots get multiple victories during the day, as the Experten improve with a daily dose of practice.

Oblt. Gordon Gollob joins II,/JG 3 on the Kanalfront after a stint at Rechlin.

Oblt. Helmut Lent joins the night fighter unit at Deelen, Holland, 6,/NJG 1.

7 September 1940 The Blitz
The mills at the Victories Docks (below at left) show damage wrought by the Luftwaffe attacks of 7 September 1940. (AP Photo).
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command, no doubt reacting to the advisory about an invasion likely within three days that the government issued on 6 September, focuses most of its attention on the Channel ports. They are full of barges assembled for the cross-channel invasion. These raids are raised to heroic proportions in the later collection of stories in the book "Their Finest Hour." The crews get much satisfaction watching their bombs drop amongst the barges and watching pieces of them fly into the air. Other attacks are made on the Ruhr industrial valley, such as on the Krupps factory.

Battle of the Atlantic: It is a bad day for the British at sea. The Germans try out new wolfpack tactics that pay quick dividends.

U-boat U-65 (Kapitänleutnant Hans-Gerrit von Stockhausen), having alerted U-47 (Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien) to the location of Convoy SC 2 about 80 miles west of Malin Head in the Outer Hebrides, gets to watch as Kplt Prien works his magic. Beginning in the early morning hours, he insinuates U-47 within the convoy on the surface and then has his pick of targets. This tactic, extremely bold, negates the advantage that the British escorts have with their ASDIC (sonar) equipment. Of course, it also leaves the submarine vulnerable to surface fire, but in the massive confusion caused by his attack, Prien is able to make a clean getaway.

First, U-47 targets 5155-ton British sugar freighter Neptunian. After missing with two torpedoes at 03:36 and 03:45, Prien scores a hit at 04:04. The ship capsizes seven minutes later. All 36 aboard perish.

7 September 1940 cargo ship Neptunian
The Neptunian sinks on 7 September 1940.
Rather than disperse, a planned maneuver at times of attack, the convoy resorts to zig-zagging. This makes Prien's job more difficult, but he keeps at it.

Next, Prien targets 5303-ton British freighter José de Larrinaga, which is carrying scrap metal and linseed oil. This ship has the same name as a ship sunk by U-boats in 1917, and it meets the same fate. Torpedoed at 05:15, it breaks in two after eleven minutes. All 40 crew perish.

U-47 then torpedoes and sinks 5155-ton Norwegian wheat freighter Gro at 05:33. This ship also has the same name as a ship sunk in 1917, and also meets the same fate. This ship also breaks in two and sinks within ten minutes. Eleven of the crew perish, 21 others escape in a lifeboat and are picked up by another freighter on the 10th

With daylight approaching, Prien then makes a clean getaway with over 15,000 tons more of shipping under his belt. However, the gathering wolfpack is not done with Convoy SC 2 just yet.

German S-boats S-33 and S-36 torpedo and sink 5799-ton Dutch freighter Stad Alkmaar just east of Lowestoft, Suffolk. The ship is traveling with Convoy FS 273. Some sources say that everybody survives, others that 14 crew perish.

The Luftwaffe attacks on the docks of London catch a number of ships there. While only a few are sunk (and later refloated), about 20 others are damaged.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks British 6007-ton special purposes vessel HMS Inkosi at the Royal Albert Dock in London. The Inkosi is a converted refrigerated ship. Sinking in shallow water, she can be salvaged.

The Luftwaffe also bombs and sinks 5985-ton special purposes ship HMS Inanda at the Royal Albert Dock in London. Sinking in shallow water, she can be salvaged.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks British tug Beckton at the Beckton Gas Works in London.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 7906-ton Dutch freighter Abbekerk in London. Sunk in shallow water, she can be salvaged and repaired. This is just one incident in an eventful war for the Abbekerk.

British trawler Salacon hits a mine and sinks about 6 miles southeast of Spurn Point, Yorkshire. Four men survive, while eight others perish.

British 687 ton armed yacht HMY Rhodora collides with 505-ton cargo ship Ngatira in the Bristol Channel near Cardiff and sinks.

Kriegsmarine patrol boat Niendorf hits a mine and sinks off the Pas de Calais.

British naval trawler HMT Abronia, in use as a minesweeper, sinks in the River Thames for unknown reasons. There are five deaths. Sinking in shallow water, she can be salvaged.

7 September 1940 The Blitz
A crater at Elephant & Castle made on 7 September 1940. (AP Photo).
Battle of the Mediterranean: At Malta, there is a large raid on Grand Harbour at 12:30 that is very accurate. It targets Vittoriosa and the dock area nearby. The raid is conducted by 11 SM 79 bombers escorted by 24 CR 42 biplane fighters. There are four civilian deaths, a mother and her three young children of ages 1-5. The Italians lose one or two bombers, with two defending Hurricanes damaged.

A bomb sinks the tug HMT Hellespont at Surgery Wharf, Sheer Bastion, but is salvageable. Other vessels also are badly damaged. Some civilian workers dig an unexploded bomb out of the Dockyard canteen at great risk to themselves and carry it away from the area, which it would have destroyed. Overall, it is one of the most effective Italian raids to date.

Bulgarian/Romanian Relations: The two kingdoms sign the Treaty of Craiova. Under this treaty, Romania cedes the southern part of Dobruja ("the Quadrilateral") and the two countries agree on a population exchange. All of the major powers on both sides approve the treaty. This treaty forces 110,000 Romanians to move from Southern to Northern Dobruja and other parts of Bulgaria. Meanwhile, 65,000 Bulgarians leave Northern Dobruja for Southern Dobruja. This "corrects" the territorial adjustments made after World War I and makes both parts of Dobruja more ethnically cohesive - ethnic diversity is not seen as a positive at this time and place.

German Government: Not everybody in the German government wishes to invade England, and that includes many in the uppermost echelons of power. Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, who knows Hitler's thinking on the matter, has a conversation about this with his Geopolitik "guru" Karl Ernst Haushofer. He rhetorically asks:
The Fuehrer never wanted to batter the empire to pieces, nor does he want to now.  Is there nobody in Britain willing to make peace?
At the moment, no, there is nobody in Britain interested in peace while Hitler remains in power and Germany occupies France and Poland. This conversation foreshadows later developments with Hess. It also suggests that Hitler himself still fervently hopes to make some kind of deal with Great Britain.

For his part, Haushofer has a (half) Jewish wife and (as presumed under the Nuremberg Laws) Jewish children, but he is a committed German or at least a loyal servant to the state. Hess confers special protections upon Haushofer's family due to their friendship and Haushofer's services to the Reich (which include promoting a military alliance with Japan). Haushofer is one of those shadowy "behind the scenes" movers and shakers who are absent from most history texts but make an impact.

German Military: First flight of the huge six-engine Blohm & Voss BV 222 "Viking" flying boat, with pilot Flugkapitaen Helmut Rodig at the stick. It can carry up to 92 passengers at 239 mph (385 km/hr), the largest load in the Luftwaffe at the time.

US Military: Destroyer USS Hilary P. Jones (DD 427, Lt. Commander Sherman R. Clark) is commissioned.

Romania: Former King Carol II makes good his escape from Romania as Iron Guard members take potshots at his train. He heads through Yugoslavia for his ultimate destination, Switzerland, where his fortune (the national treasury) is at his sole disposal.

Paraguay: After President Marshal Jose Felix Estigarribia perishes in a plane crash during a tour of the Paraguayan interior, he is succeeded by Colonel Higinio Morínigo.

Vichy France: The Petain government continues its arrests of former leaders during the Battle of France. Today, it takes into custody Édouard Daladier, Paul Reynaud and Maurice Gamelin. They are interned at Château de Chazeron for the time being.

7 September 1940 The Blitz
Dornier Do 17 KG76 over West Ham, London, September 7, 1940.
September 1940

September 1, 1940: RAF's Horrible Weekend
September 2, 1940: German Troopship Sunk
September 3, 1940: Destroyers for Bases
September 4, 1940: Enter Antonescu
September 5, 1940: Stukas Over Malta
September 6, 1940: The Luftwaffe Peaks
September 7, 1940: The Blitz Begins
September 8, 1940: Codeword Cromwell
September 9, 1940: Italians Attack Egypt
September 10, 1940: Hitler Postpones Sealion
September 11, 1940: British Confusion at Gibraltar
September 12, 1940: Warsaw Ghetto Approved
September 13, 1940: Zeros Attack!
September 14, 1940: The Draft Is Back
September 15, 1940: Battle of Britain Day
September 16, 1940: italians Take Sidi Barrani
September 17, 1940: Sealion Kaputt
September 18, 1940: City of Benares Incident
September 19, 1940: Disperse the Barges
September 20, 1940: A Wolfpack Gathers
September 21, 1940: Wolfpack Strikes Convoy HX-72
September 22, 1940: Vietnam War Begins
September 23, 1940: Operation Menace Begins
September 24, 1940: Dakar Fights Back
September 25, 1940: Filton Raid
September 26, 1940: Axis Time
September 27, 1940: Graveney Marsh Battle
September 28, 1940: Radio Belgique Begins
September 29, 1940: Brocklesby Collision
September 30, 1940: Operation Lena


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