On 25 August 1940, the RAF launched its first raid on Berlin in retaliation for the German bombing of London the previous day.
Photo: A fateful picture of an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley taking off for a night sortie in June 1940. It later went missing during a raid on Germany on 17/18 of that month. RAF Bomber Command had an exceptionally high casualty rate, as did the Luftwaffe bomber crews. (IWM CH251)
Britain bombs Berlin, then Germany retaliates.
Richard Holmes explains how the bombing campaigns escalated. He also interviews Ernst Wedding, an ex-German bomber pilot, about the war in the sky.
Richard Holmes describes the change in bombing strategy that escalated the war to new heights.
Richard Holmes describes the change in strategy that escalated the war to new heights. Following the German bombing of London, Churchill decided to retaliate by bombing Berlin.
Jonathan Dimbleby describes the 1940 bombing campaigns.
Jonathan Dimbleby describes the Allied and Axis bombing campaigns in 1940 and 1941.
Germany bombs Central London
On the evening of 24 August the Luftwaffe, whilst targeting London's docks, also dropped bombs on the city's financial heart and Oxford Street in the West End. This was probably not intentional, as it was in defiance of Hitler's strict instructions that central London should not be attacked. Winston Churchill was outraged and, 24 hours later, RAF Bomber Command retaliated.
British bombers met with ferocious anti-aircraft fire
Berlin was just in range for British bombers. It could only be bombed at night during the summer when days were longer and skies clear, making it riskier for the pilots. However, on the evening of 25 August, a force of over 70 Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys, Handley Page Hampdens and Vickers Wellingtons set out for Berlin. Their principal targets were armament factories in the north of the city and Tempelhof Airport.
The ferocity of German anti-aircraft fire in Berlin forced the RAF to fly too high to aim their bombs accurately. The bombs consequently landed on fields, woods and some residential areas. Damage was slight and no-one was killed, but it was an embarrassment to Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, who had boasted Berlin would never be bombed. The Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was photographed inspecting the damage in a Berlin street.
American journalist William Shirer, who was based in Berlin, noted in his diary that, "The concentration of anti-aircraft fire was the greatest I've ever witnessed. It provided a magnificent, a terrible sight. And it was strangely ineffective. Not a plane was brought down!".
Hitler promises to raze British cities
Further British raids on the German capital in the following weeks caused light damage. However, on 4 September Hitler promised the crowd at a Berlin rally: "When the British air force drops two or three or four thousand kilograms of bombs, then we will in one night drop 150, 230, 300 or 400 thousand kilograms - we will raze their cities to the ground". The Blitz was about to begin.