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15 October 2014
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Hate Your Enemies?

by Roy Cartwright

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Contributed by 
Roy Cartwright
Location of story: 
South London
Article ID: 
A7025744
Contributed on: 
16 November 2005

The only direct hit sustained by our home was not a bomb but the nosecap of an anti-aircraft shell which crashed through my bedroom ceiling. I was not in the room at the time, but had quite a fright when I returned to it — in the dark because the blackout curtains had not been drawn. First there was the crunching of plaster underfoot, the I saw the sky through the hole. Someone came with a torch and shone it round until we saw THE THING and wondered whether it would explode; but that would not happen.
Anti-aircraft fire could be as dangerous to people on the ground as bombs, and it contributed by far most of the noise during an air raid. Nobody would go out of doors without a steel helmet as protection against falling shrapnel. When we played a football match the two teams would first form a line across one end of the pitch and walk slowly to the other end, eyes down, looking for any shrapnel which might severely damage anyone who fell on it.

As I lay awake through a heavy and continuous barrage I found myself feeling sorry for the crews of the bombers I heard flying through it, even though they were enemies. I tried to visualise them, thinking, ‘Those men want to kill people; they’ll be happy if they kill me’. Yet I did not feel hatred for them, or feel that they hated me. I was proud to consider myself patriotic, and thought of them as doing what they believed to be their patriotic duty; so we had feelings in common

Later, at the height of the V1 and V2 bombardment, I again listened to the drone of bombers overhead. It seemed incessant; it was not the sound of German bombers, but of our own going to and from their mass raids on German cities. It frightened me.
I prayed for the bomber crews, but I prayed more for the people who would suffer under their bombs. I asked myself, What this war was doing to us, that we were prepared to kill defenceless people in this way?’
There were misgivings expressed at the time and very many more since, about whether these raids were right, strategically or morally. I believed at the time and still believe, that the decision to mount them, though it amounted to using terror as a strategy was made honestly and not with thoughts of vengeance uppermost..
But I hated the war that made us do it.

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Message 1 - Allied bombing of Germany

Posted on: 16 November 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Roy

You raise some important points about bombing, but before discussing them, are you seriously saying that "Anti-aircraft fire could be as dangerous to people on the ground as bombs"? That falling shrapnel, essentially chunks of inert metal weighing a few ounces could be as dangerous as HE bombs, land mines, and incendiary devices?

You ask rhetorically " whether these raids were right, strategically or morally", and the way you set the question invites the response 'no, they were not'. Splitting your question, strategically they were of the very greatest importance. Thousands, yes thousands, of 88mm anti-aircraft guns were stuck in defensive roles in Germany which would otherwise have been deployed on both the Russian and Western fronts. The 88mm gun was multi-purpose and a formidable anti-tank gun. This is what Albert Speer, the German Armaments minister said about this:

"Our heaviest expense was in fact the elaborate defensive measures. In the Reich and in the western theatres of war the barrels of ten thousand antiaircraft guns were pointed at the sky. The same guns could well have been deployed in Russia against tanks and other ground targets. Had it not been for this new front, the air front over Germany, our defensive strength against tanks would have been about doubled, as far as equipment was concerned. Moreover, the antiaircraft force tied down hundreds of thousands of young soldiers. A third of the optical industry was busy producing gunsights for the flak batteries. About half of the electronics industry was engaged in producing radar and communications networks for the defence against bombing. Simply because of this, in spite of the high level of the German electronics and optical industries, the supply of our frontline troops with modern equipment remained far behind that of the Western armies."

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the strategic and sustained bombing of Germany shortened the war and indirectly saved the lives of countless Allied soldiers. But this wasn't the only aspect. Due to bombing, particularly the raids on Schweinfurt, German production of ball-bearings was reduced down to 38%. The Germans were forced back to using ball-baring stock reserved for repair parts. This badly affected the entire armaments industry.

The moral issue is quite different and here I must admit to personal bias. I remember being extraordinarily happy when I heard bombers droning overhead in northern Italy en route to bomb Germany and bitterly disappointed on nights of inclement weather when I could hear none. I was but a teenager, but as far as I remember, this was a common feeling at the time. But then again, perhaps my memory is playing tricks.

Regards,
Peter

 

Message 2 - Allied bombing of Germany

Posted on: 16 November 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter, of course, if quite right in his example of the 88mm guns being used to defend the Riech from our bombers - we in the Tanks were grateful that they were not used against us as we had little defence against them.
It was not unusual to lose six Churchill Tanks in as many minutes to one 88mm gun - with three against us as at Coriano Ridge - we had very little chance of coming out of that area in one piece, as we lost five out of six, in very short order.
The Bomber force has calculated that they lost some 55,000 members - it is not known how many Tank Crews were lost but I would hazard a guess it was more than 30% of the Infantry losses,we were also just above teen age when we were introduced to this gun !
We had nothing comparable to the 88mm until the 17 pounder and the converted 3.7 AA gun,were introduced in penny packets late in the war.

regards
tomcan

 

Message 3 - Allied bombing of Germany

Posted on: 17 November 2005 by Roy Cartwright

Dear Peter,

Re shrapnel: the probability of being hit by shrapnel was much greater — it fell over a far larger area; and some chunks could be quite large, as my nosecap was.
The consequences, however, were usually much less, though not negligible; and precautions could be taken against them. It’s a question of defining and assessing risk.

I didn’t intend to raise questions about the bombing of Germany, merely to show that I was aware of them; so I won’t be drawn on that one.

Regards,
Roy

 

Message 4 - Allied bombing of Germany

Posted on: 17 November 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Roy

The probability of being hit by shrapnel was much less. People simply didn't go wandering about during an air raid.

You say that you 'didn’t intend to raise questions about the bombing of Germany'. But you in fact did when you said 'I asked myself, What this war was doing to us, that we were prepared to kill defenceless people in this way?’ There were misgivings expressed at the time and very many more since, about whether these raids were right, strategically or morally' adding 'though it amounted to using terror as a strategy was made honestly and not with thoughts of vengeance uppermost'.

Vengeance? Of course there was vengeance. That is nothing to be ashamed of in wanting, demanding, and securing vengeance. Consider Churchill's great speech of 14 July 1941. It is known as the 'Do your worst - and we will do our best' speech. Here is a ringing extract from it, dripping with vengeance, in terms worthy of Shakespeare. Churchill is talking about bombing:

"We ask no favours of the enemy. We seek from them no compunction. On the contrary, if tonight the people of London were asked to cast their vote whether a convention should be entered into to stop the bombing of all cities, the overwhelming majority would cry, 'No, we will mete out to the Germans the measure, and more than the measure, that they have meted out to us'. The people of London with one voice would say to Hitler: 'You have committed every crime under the sun. Where you have been the least resisted there you have been most brutal. It was you who began indiscriminate bombing. We remember Warsaw in the very first few days of the war. We remember Rotterdam. We have been newly reminded of your habits by the hideous massacre of Belgrade. We know too well the bestial assault you are making on the Russian people, to whom our hearts go out in their valiant struggle. We will have no truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst - and we will do our best.' Perhaps it may be our turn soon; perhaps it may be our turn now."

I think that Churchill had his finger on the pulse of the nation.

Regards,
Peter

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