The Crux of the War

Manchester Guardian – 14 September 1940

The attack on London continues, as was to be expected. One objective at a time is the method of Hitler and for the present the sought-for end is damage and disorganisation to the daily life of the capital city. But that can hardly be an end in itself. The special purpose of the Prime Minister's grave and measured words of yesterday evening was to put the ordeal of London against the background of the whole fortune of this vast struggle for the future of mankind. That struggle now hangs wholly on the courage and resources that are centred in this island: on this country's continued integrity depend campaigns that will later take shape round other shores and seas.

Mr Churchill gave the first open statement of how nearly our defences are threatened. The very way in which the term "reprisal" was so freely used last week-end by the highest sources of information on the German side as an explanation for the opening of the attack on London bore something of a warning note; the first principle of those who would learn from an enemy is that he would never tell you advance of the purpose of a coming attack. Yesterday Mr Churchill spoke frankly of barges and motorcraft that have been making their way from German ports as far down the Channel as the coast of Brittany, of troops concentrated in Northern France, and of similar signs of readiness for attack as far away as Norway (where the Fleet Air Arm, it will have been noticed, has lately accounted for certain "supply vessels"). The weather waits, a moon which may be reckoned on to serve the harvest hopes of the Führer rises higher and higher: there is a brief chance before the closing days of this month to spring the ultimate test of the defences of this island.

Whether the test will come we do not know. It has been understood that Hitler's pans for the invasion of the Low Countries were at full readiness in the middle of last November and again in mid-January: the hammer was cocked but for some reason the trigger was not pulled until May. He may think he is ready for England now, even though he lacks command of the sea and air. But he may think again before launching an assault which, when beaten off, would surely spell his ruin. Nevertheless, this gambler's chances can hardly improve with keeping until next year. Mr Churchill did well to warn us of a vaster background that the random brutality of the supposed "reprisal" against London.

Göring has said that he is striking at the heart of the British Empire in obedience to instructions from his all-powerful and inspired Führer. With German navigators ill-trained in night bombing (and, no doubt, with no specific orders to be overnice in the placing of their bombs that involves a hideous and haphazard ordeal for many parts of the vast target that is offered by the London area. But there are real grounds for assuming that the new target is an experiment of necessity rather than free choice. For Göring's real enemy and therefore the true target is not the heart of the British Empire but the RAF.

Consider what it did to Germany during the month of August. Eighty-four named objectives – railway depots, oil refineries, aerodromes, dockyards, power installations, munition works, and aeroplane engine works all the way from the French coast to Berlin itself – were raided 185 times. Berlin itself, on which no bombs were ever to fall, had four attacks, the railway nerve centre of Hann fourteen, and Hamburg's docks and oil tanks were taken as a matter of course. These were the attacks which the inspired but genuinely aggrieved Führer described in his speech of last week as "bombs on civilian residential quarters, on farms and villages". They inflicted grave and important damage on Germany's war effort, and at all costs it was necessary to interfere with them. From Göring's point of view,

And very properly in the scale of immediate relative values, the attacks on convoys in the Channel could go hang: RAF aerodromes and ports in the South-east of this island must be sought out and crippled. So began the great inland and coastal assaults of mid-August, daylight raids of great persistence but with altogether disproportionate losses to the attackers. Yet the ports continued to function and the RAF fighters remained as formidable over this country as the bombers over Germany. Saturday saw the attack definitely transferred to London.

Yet the bitter destruction of life and dwellings in East London, whether they be treated as "reprisal" or as a preliminary to invasion are less of an answer to the RAF than the unavailing assaults on aerodromes. When the German approach London in daylight and in mass formations they pay as heavily as ever, and not for one night has the battering of Germany and the Channel assembly ports been interrupted since the attack on London began. On Sunday the Germans said that our bombers had been unable to reach Berlin: on Monday night the Neuköln gasworks in that city were effectively bombed as well as the old objectives along the coast and at railway junctions.

On Tuesday night, "Potsdam station was repeatedly hit with heavy bombs and several hundred incendiaries," a successful stroke of dislocation the effects of which will be felt far beyond Berlin. The attack on London has been launched with nothing approaching the mastery of the air to support it; every night sees blows of much greater military significance struck over a far wider range of Germany's war machine. The Luftwaffe may have the numbers but its numbers are outfought.

Yet, as Mr Churchill said yesterday evening, mastery of the air over this island is at the moment "the crux of the war". Göring has not got it, any more than he had at Dunkirk in May, in order to support whatever plans his Führer may have for an invasion. And neither fires behind St Paul's nor bombs on Buckingham Palace will bring it any nearer in a military sense.

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