The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz

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Official histories concluded that the mental health of a nation may have improved, while panic was rare. British air doctrine, since Hugh Trenchard had commanded the Royal Flying Corps — , stressed offence as the best means of defence. To prevent German formations from hitting targets in Britain, Bomber Command would destroy Luftwaffe aircraft on their bases, aircraft in their factories and fuel reserves by attacking oil plants. This philosophy proved impractical as Bomber Command lacked the technology and equipment necessary for mass night operations, resources having been diverted to Fighter Command in the mids and it took until to catch up.

Dowding agreed air defence would require some offensive action and that fighters could not defend Britain alone. The attitude of the Air Ministry was in contrast to the experiences of the First World War when German bombers caused physical and psychological damage out of all proportion to their numbers. Many people aged 35 or over remembered the bombing and greeted the threat of more with great trepidation. From —, German raids had diminished against countermeasures which demonstrated defence against night air raids was possible. The difficulty RAF bombers had in night navigation and target finding, led the British to believe that it would be the same for German bomber crews.

There was also a mentality in all air forces that flying by day would obviate the need for night operations and their inherent disadvantages. Hugh Dowding , Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command, defeated the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, but preparing day fighter defences left little for night air defence.

When the Luftwaffe struck at British cities for the first time on 7 September , a number of civic and political leaders were worried by Dowding's apparent lack of reaction to the new crisis.

This week in the War, 5–11 May 1941: London Blitz, the night of 10/11 May 1941

Dowding was summoned on 17 October, to explain the poor state of the night defences and the supposed but ultimately successful "failure" of his daytime strategy. The failure to prepare adequate night air defences was undeniable but it was not the responsibility of the AOC Fighter Command to dictate the disposal of resources. The general neglect of the RAF until the late spurt in , left few resources for night air defence and the Government, through the Air Ministry and other civil and military institutions was responsible for policy.

Before the war, the Chamberlain government stated that night defence from air attack should not take up much of the national effort. This led the British to develop countermeasures, which became known as the Battle of the Beams. Two aerials at ground stations were rotated so that their beams converged over the target. The German bombers would fly along either beam until they picked up the signal from the other beam. When a continuous sound was heard from the second beam the crew knew they were above the target and dropped their bombs.

Ground transmitters sent pulses at a rate of per minute. Three cross-beams intersected the beam along which the He was flying. The first cross-beam alerted the bomb-aimer, who activated a bombing clock when the second cross-beam was reached. When the third cross-beam was reached the bomb aimer activated a third trigger, which stopped the first hand of the clock, with the second hand continuing. When the second hand re-aligned with the first, the bombs were released.

The clock mechanism was co-ordinated with the distances of the intersecting beams from the target so the target was directly below when the bombs were released. The pilot flew along an approach beam, monitored by a ground controller. Signals from the station were retransmitted by the bomber's equipment, which allowed the distance the bomber had travelled along the beam to be measured precisely. Direction-finding checks also enabled the controller to keep the pilot on course.

The crew would be ordered to drop their bombs either by a code word from the ground controller or at the conclusion of the signal transmissions which would stop. In June , a German prisoner of war was overheard boasting that the British would never find the Knickebein , even though it was under their noses. Jones , who started a search which discovered that Luftwaffe Lorenz receivers were more than blind-landing devices.

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Soon a beam was traced to Derby which had been mentioned in Luftwaffe transmissions. The first jamming operations were carried out using requisitioned hospital electrocautery machines. The production of false radio navigation signals by re-transmitting the originals became known as Meaconing using masking beacons meacons.


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German beacons operated on the medium-frequency band and the signals involved a two-letter Morse identifier followed by a lengthy time-lapse which enabled the Luftwaffe crews to determine the signal's bearing. The meacon system involved separate locations for a receiver with a directional aerial and a transmitter.

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The receipt of the German signal by the receiver was duly passed to the transmitter, the signal to be repeated. The action did not guarantee automatic success. If the German bomber flew closer to its own beam than the meacon then the former signal would come through the stronger on the direction finder.

The reverse would apply only if the meacon were closer. It was to be some months before an effective night-fighter force would be ready, and anti-aircraft defences only became adequate after the Blitz was over, so ruses were created to lure German bombers away from their targets. Throughout , dummy airfields were prepared, good enough to stand up to skilled observation. An unknown number of bombs fell on these diversionary "Starfish" targets. For industrial areas, fires and lighting were simulated. It was decided to recreate normal residential street lighting, and in non-essential areas, lighting to recreate heavy industrial targets.

In those sites, carbon arc lamps were used to simulate the flash of tram cables. Red lamps were used to simulate blast furnaces and locomotive fireboxes.

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Reflections made by factory skylights were created by placing lights under angled wooden panels. The fake fires could only begin when the bombing started over an adjacent target and its effects were brought under control. Too early and the chances of success receded; too late and the real conflagration at the target would exceed the diversionary fires.

Another innovation was the boiler fire. These units were fed from two adjacent tanks containing oil and water. The oil-fed fires were then injected with water from time to time; the flashes produced were similar to those of the German C and C Flammbomben. The hope was that, if it could deceive German bombardiers, it would draw more bombers away from the real target.

The first deliberate air raids on London were mainly aimed at the Port of London , causing severe damage. Loge continued for 57 nights. Initially the change in strategy caught the RAF off-guard and caused extensive damage and civilian casualties. Some , gross tons of shipping was damaged in the Thames Estuary and 1, civilians were casualties.

Loge had cost the Luftwaffe 41 aircraft; 14 bombers, 16 Messerschmitt Bf s , seven Messerschmitt Bf s and four reconnaissance aircraft. On 9 September OKL appeared to be backing two strategies. Its round-the-clock bombing of London was an immediate attempt to force the British government to capitulate, but it was also striking at Britain's vital sea communications to achieve a victory through siege.

Although the weather was poor, heavy raids took place that afternoon on the London suburbs and the airfield at Farnborough. Fighter Command lost 17 fighters and six pilots.

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Over the next few days weather was poor and the next main effort would not be made until 15 September On 15 September the Luftwaffe made two large daylight attacks on London along the Thames Estuary, targeting the docks and rail communications in the city. Its hope was to destroy its targets and draw the RAF into defending them, allowing the Luftwaffe to destroy their fighters in large numbers, thereby achieving an air superiority.

The first attack merely damaged the rail network for three days, [99] and the second attack failed altogether. The Luftwaffe lost 18 percent of the bombers sent on the operations that day, and failed to gain air superiority. On 17 September he postponed Operation Sea Lion as it turned out, indefinitely rather than gamble Germany's newly gained military prestige on a risky cross-Channel operation, particularly in the face of a sceptical Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.

Blitz - The Bombing of Coventry - November 1940

In the last days of the battle, the bombers became lures in an attempt to draw the RAF into combat with German fighters. But their operations were to no avail; the worsening weather and unsustainable attrition in daylight gave OKL an excuse to switch to night attacks on 7 October.

On 14 October, the heaviest night attack to date saw German bombers from Luftflotte 3 hit London. Around people were killed and another 2, injured. British anti-aircraft defences General Frederick Alfred Pile fired 8, rounds and shot down only two bombers. Five main rail lines were cut in London and rolling stock damaged.

Loge continued during October. Little tonnage was dropped on Fighter Command airfields; Bomber Command airfields were hit instead. Luftwaffe policy at this point was primarily to continue progressive attacks on London, chiefly by night attack; second, to interfere with production in the vast industrial arms factories of the West Midlands , again chiefly by night attack; and third to disrupt plants and factories during the day by means of fighter-bombers. Kesselring, commanding Luftflotte 2, was ordered to send 50 sorties per night against London and attack eastern harbours in daylight.

Sperrle, commanding Luftflotte 3, was ordered to dispatch sorties per night including against the West Midlands. Seeschlange would be carried out by Fliegerkorps X 10th Air Corps which concentrated on mining operations against shipping. It also took part in the bombing over Britain. The mines' ability to destroy entire streets earned them respect in Britain, but several fell unexploded into British hands allowing counter-measures to be developed which damaged the German anti-shipping campaign.

Outside the capital, there had been widespread harassing activity by single aircraft, as well as fairly strong diversionary attacks on Birmingham, Coventry and Liverpool, but no major raids. The London docks and railways communications had taken a heavy pounding, and much damage had been done to the railway system outside. In September, there had been no less than hits on railways in Great Britain, and at one period, between 5, and 6, wagons were standing idle from the effect of delayed action bombs.