Berlin bombed for the first time

Bomb damage in Berlin following first British raid.
The damage to Berlin was not great but the demonstration that RAF bombers could hit Berlin proved that the Nazi regime\'s boasts to be false. In turn Hitler ordered retaliation against London, a decision that was to have a significant impact on the course of the air war over Britain.

After Luftwaffe planes had bombed London on the 24th August, probably by mistake or simply because they were unloading their bombs randomly in order to escape fighters, Churchill ordered the first deliberate bombing of the German capital.

William Shirer, the American war correspondent in Berlin, was still managing to produce independent journalism, although the censor was making his task increasingly difficult. He was preparing for his broadcast to the United States when the war arrived in Berlin for the first time:

Berlin, August 26, 1940

We had our first big air-raid of the war last night. The sirens sounded at twelve twenty a.m. and the all-clear came at three twenty-three a.m. For the first time British bombers came directly over the city, and they dropped bombs. The concentration of anti-aircraft fire was the greatest I’ve ever witnessed. It provided a magnifient, a terrible sight. And it was strangely ineffective. Not a plane was brought down; not one was even picked up by the searchlights, which flashed back and forth frantically across the skies throughout the night.

The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could happen. When this war began, Goring assured them it couldn’t. He boasted that no enemy planes could ever break through the outer and inner rings of the capital’s anti-aircraft defence. The Berliners are a naive and simple people. They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it.

Goring made matters worse by informing the population only three days ago that they need not go to their cellars when the sirens sounded, but only when they heard the flak going off near-by. The implication was that it would never go off. That made people sure that the British bombers, though they might penetrate to the suburbs, would never be able to get over the city proper. And then last night the guns all over the city suddenly began pounding and you could hear the British motors humming directly overhead, and from all reports there was a pell-mell, frightened rush to the cellars by the five millions people who live in this town.

I was at the Rundfunk writing my broadcast when the sirens sounded, and almost immediately the bark of the flak began. Oddly enough, a few minutes before, I had had an argument with the censor from the Propaganda Ministry as to whether it was possible to bomb Berlin. London had just been bombed. It was natural, I said, that the British should try to retaliate. He laughed. It was impossible, he said. There were too many anti-aircraft guns around Berlin.

I found it hard to concentrate on my script. The gunfire near the Rundfunk was particularly heavy and the window of my room rattled each time a battery fired or a bomb exploded. To add to the confusion, the air-wardens, in their fire-fighting overalls, kept racing through the building ordering everyone to the shelters. The wardens at the German radio are mostly porters and office boys and it was soon evident that they were making the most of their temporary authority. Most of the Germans on duty, however, appeared to lose little time in getting to the cellar.

See William L. Shirer: Berlin Diary: Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941

Bomb damaged house in Berlin
Suddenly it became apparent that no one was safe from the dangers of 'total war'.