After German boasts that Berlin was too well protected to be bombed, there was shock when the RAF did hit the German capital for the first time on August 25th. The raid, and those on subsequent nights, provoked a significant change in strategy in the air offensive against Britain.
Until now the bombing had been confined to broadly military targets, with the emphasis on airfields and aircraft factories. Hitler had expressly forbidden ‘Terror raids’ on Britain or the bombing of London. He had long hoped that he could somehow arrange a peace with Britain, its conquest had never been part of his long term objectives, he really wanted to turn his attention East.
The prolonged air battles were not bringing the RAF to heel. Perhaps general bombing of the civilian population might produce a less obstinate Britain.
This was not the whole story – the Nazi regime also felt compelled to simply respond to the insult of having its own heartland bombed, as Hitler made abundantly clear in his speech of 4th September:
It is a wonderful thing to see our nation at war, in its fully disciplined state. This is exactly what we are experiencing at this time, as Mr Churchill is demonstrating to us the aerial night attacks he has concocted. He is not doing this because these air raids might be particularly effective, but because his Air Force cannot fly over German territory in daylight.
Whereas German aviators and German planes fly over English soil daily, there is hardly a single Englishman who comes across the North Sea in daytime. They therefore come during the night – and as you know, release their bombs indiscriminately and without any plan on to residential areas, farmhouses and villages. Wherever they see a sign of light, a bomb is dropped on it.
For three months past, I have not ordered any answer to be given; thinking that they would stop this nonsensical behaviour. Mr Churchill has taken this to be a sign of our weakness.
You will understand that we shall now give a reply, night for night, and with increasing force. And if the British Air Force drops two, three or four thousand kilos of bombs, then we will drop 150,000, 180,000, 230,000, 300,000 or 400,000 kilos, or more, in one night. If they declare that they will attack our cities on a large scale, we will erase theirs! We will put a stop to the game of these night-pirates, as God is our witness.
The hour will come when one or the other will crumble, and that one will not be National Socialist Germany. I have already carried through such a struggle once in my life, up to the final consequences, and this then led to the collapse of the enemy who is now sitting these in England on Europe’s last island.
German newsreel footage of Heinkel III bomber fleet engaging with RAF fighters over Britain: