The Effect of Bombing Berlin

 Posted by on 26 June 2013 at 10:00 am  Foreign Policy, Military, World War 2
Jun 262013

Here’s an fascinating little story from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (available in paperback, kindle, and audible). It’s from pages 777-8.

And then suddenly Goering made his second tactical error, this one comparable in its consequences to Hitler’s calling off the armored attack on Dunkirk on May 24. It saved the battered, reeling R.A.F. and marked one of the major turning points of history’s first great battle in the air.

With the British fighter defense suffering losses in the air and on the ground which it could not for long sustain, the Luftwaffe switched its attack on September 7 to massive night bombings of London. The R.A.F. fighters were reprieved.

What had bappened in the German camp to cause this change in tactics which was destined to prove so fatal to the ambitions of Hitler and Goering?

The answer is full of irony.

To begin with, there was a minor navigational error by the pilots of a dozen German bombers on the night of August 23. Directed to drop their loads on aircraft factories and oil tanks on the outskirts of London, they missed their mark and dropped bombs on the center of the capital, blowing up some homes and killing some civilians. The British thought it was deliberate and as retaliation bombed Berlin the next evening.

It didn’t amount to much. There was a dense cloud cover over Berlin that night and only about half of the eighty-one R.A.F. bombers dispatched found the target. Material damage was negligible. But the effect on German morale was tremendous. For this was the first time that bombs had ever fallen on Berlin.

The Berliners are stunned [I wrote in my diary the next day, August 26]. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn’t … They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it.

Berlin was well defended by two great rings of antiaircraft and for three hours while the visiting bombers droned above the clouds, which prevented the hundreds of searchlight batteries from picking them up, the flak fire was the most intense I had ever seen. But not a single plane was brought down. The British also dropped a few leaflets saying that “the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does.”

This was good propaganda, but the thud of exploding bombs was better. The R.A.F. came over in greater force on the night of August 28-29 and, as I noted in my diary, “for the first time killed Germans in the capital of the Reich.” The official count was ten killed and twenty-nine wounded. The Nazi bigwigs were outraged. Goebbels, who had ordered the press to publish only a few lines on the first attack, now gave instructions to cry out at the “brutality” of the British flyers in attacking the defenseless women and children of Berlin. Most of the capital’s dailies carried the same headline: COWARDLY BRITISH ATTACK. Two nights later, after the third raid, the headlines read: BRITISH AIR PIRATES OVER BERLIN!

The main effect of a week of constant British night bombings [I wrote in my diary on September 1] has been to spread great disillusionment among the people and sow doubt in their minds … Actually the bombings have not been very deadly.

That story, of course, made me think of John Lewis’ excellent book, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History, available in hardcover and kindle.

Spitfire 944

 Posted by on 13 June 2013 at 2:00 pm  History, World War 2
Jun 132013

This is just an amazing short documentary about the video taken of a successful crash landing of a reconnaissance pilot in World War 2. These pilots flew into Germany to photograph sites… unarmed and unescorted. Wow.

Technology in War

 Posted by on 17 April 2013 at 2:00 pm  Technology, World War 2
Apr 172013

Last week, I posed the following interesting question to Paul, then posted it to Facebook:

What technology was known to the Allies during World War 2 — that likely would have helped them win the war faster (or with less damage or casualties) — but that was not used?

The question occurred to me while listening to Max Hastings’ excellent history of World War 2 — Inferno. Hastings says that the Germans had radar but never made good use of it, as the British did during the Battle of Britain.

Paul and I couldn’t think of any stellar examples, but I thought that y’all of the interwebs might have some suggestions.

The Holocaust, Everywhere

 Posted by on 18 March 2013 at 12:40 pm  Ethics, Holocaust, Politics, World War 2
Mar 182013

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking:

Thirteen years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe.

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.

The knowledge of these camps is not merely important to fill out the historical record. The existence of so many camps calls into doubt the claims made by so many Germans after the war that they were ignorant of what the monstrous evils of the Third Reich:

Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”

In my readings on the Holocaust, survivors and soldiers often report that the Nazis suddenly vanished after Germany’s surrender: everyone claimed that they were secretly opposed to the Nazis, even long-time party members. Yeah, right. Based on what I’ve read, the Germans (and the peoples of occupied nations) had ample reason to believe that Germany was inflicting terrible evils on some people, particularly the Jews. They might not have known the particulars, but if they didn’t imagine something abysmal, that’s only because they refused to think about such unpleasant matters, time and again.

However, based on this new research, perhaps the Germans (and others) were not even as ignorant of those particulars as we might have imagined. The evasion of one person can be dangerous, if not deadly. The mass evasion of a whole people… nothing good will ever come from that.

Alliance with the Soviets in World War II

 Posted by on 5 February 2013 at 10:00 am  Communism, History, World War 2
Feb 052013

I posted these remarks on World War II to Facebook yesterday. The ensuing comments were quite interesting, so I thought I’d share my initial remarks here too.

Now that I’ve gotten to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” I have a question… I’ve heard various people (of the non-interventionist bent) claim that Britain, France, and the United States should not have allied with Soviet Russia. Undoubtedly, even if that alliance was necessary to win the war, turning over eastern Europe to the Soviets at the end of the war was a major, major evil. (The alliance did not necessitate that, from what I’ve read. Instead, FDR appeased the Soviets as much as Chamberlain did Hitler.)

I’ve also heard such people say that we should have allowed the Nazis and the Soviets to destroy each other. But what does that mean? It seems to mean that when Germany attacked Russia, the Allies should have left Russia to fight its own war, without any coordination with them.

In that case, given how close Hitler came to Moscow, wouldn’t it be very likely that he would have defeated Russia, such that the Allies would have faced a much, much greater threat from Hitler — perhaps an undefeatable threat — even with help from the United States?

I’m sure that I’ll come to my own answers as the narrative progresses, but I still want to understand this “we should not have allied with the Soviets” view better. Right now, it seems wildly unrealistic to me.

I’m enjoying The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (paperback, kindle, or audible) so much more than I thought I would. It’s an intensely detailed history. I’ve seen some people criticize it as “journalistic,” but I vastly prefer such fact-rich histories to those light on facts but heavy on interpretation. When the author draws conclusions, I want those conclusions to be overwhelmingly supported by the evidence drawn from primary sources.

To be clear, I don’t merely dislike interpretation-heavy histories when the underlying ideology is, say, pro-Marxist. Such histories are so unreliable as to be useless. Rather, I dislike any interpretation-heavy histories — even when the underlying ideology is Objectivist. I don’t trust anyone to come to conclusions for me, even when we share the same basic philosophic principles. While I’d be interested to hear what an Objectivist historian would say, ultimately, I want to make my own integrations and draw my own conclusions. I’ve got my own brain, and I’m not interested in any convenient pre-packaged history.

Perhaps my college years in St. Louis rubbed off on me. I’m a one-woman “Show Me State” … and darn proud of it too!

Oct 232012

In last Friday’s Philosophy in Action Newsletter, I recommended three books on the Holocaust that I’ve read recently. I thought I’d post those recommendations here, with a reminder that you can get the special offer of a free 30-day trial subscription with Audible at

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading — or rather, listening to — books on the Third Reich and the Holocaust.  I’m particularly interested in personal narratives: I want to know what it was like to live through that inhuman era, including the warning signs available to ordinary people of the coming disaster.

It’s difficult but rewarding reading.  I’m not just acquiring knowledge: I’m honoring the victims of the Third Reich by listening to their stories.

Here, I’ll just recommend three books:

Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche (Amazon & Audible)

I’d strongly recommend this book as a from-the-ground overview of the Holocaust.  It focuses on people’s experiences of the Third Reich — drawing heavily on letters and journals — against the background of major political and military events.  It’s also an excellent intellectual history: it looks deeply at the ideology and goals of the Nazis, in order to make sense of their actions.  (Thanks to this book, I understand that so much better than ever before now.)  It includes thoughtful discussions of the moral culpability of ordinary Germans too.

Night by Elie Wiesel (Amazon and Audible

This was a painfully poetic personal narrative — and it’s a classic for good reason.  It’s short, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith (Amazon and Audible)

I just finished listening to this book yesterday morning.  It consists of small stories told by Holocaust survivors, organized chronologically and topically, with the narrator providing an overarching context.  In the audiobook, the stories are just segments of the interviews, and they’re often so much more emotionally moving as a result.  I couldn’t stop listening.

Except on occasion, I won’t be replicating these tidbits from the Newsletter blog posts or elsewhere, so if you’d like to see it, be sure to subscribe. By doing so, you’ll receive weekly announcements of upcoming broadcasts, posted podcasts, and exclusive tidbits of advice.

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