Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign against American "Neutrality" in World War II

By Nicholas John Cull | Go to book overview

4
"London Can Take It": British Propaganda and the Blitz, September to December 1940

A bomb has its limitations; it can only destroy buildings and kill people. It cannot kill the unconquerable courage and spirit of the people of London. London can take it.

Quentin Reynolds, October 19401

On the afternoon of September 7, 1940, approximately 200 German bombers took off from airfields in Belgium and Northern France. They assumed formation over the English Channel and set course for London. That night, and for the fifty-seven nights that followed, the Luftwaffe pounded the capital without mercy. Many German bombs found their mark. The Surrey Docks erupted into flames, drawing the raiders to London's densely populated East End. Firemen struggled to contain the blaze, but it seemed to them that "the whole bloody world" was on fire. The scale of the attack carried an obvious message. The War Cabinet issued the "invasion imminent" signal and then waited. But the invasion never came, and London held firm. On September 10, London hit back. As the Germans approached, searchlights swept across the darkness, and anti-aircraft batteries began to fire. Londoners heard this noise--their noise--and took heart. But the raids continued unabated, by night and day. It was going to be a long campaign. 2

London had long feared the German bombardment, but Churchill had come to attach considerable hopes to the attack. He believed that the bombing of British cities could bring the United States into the war. Roosevelt had said as much to the King in 1939. By mid-August 1940, however, the Prime Minister's anticipation had bubbled over into impatience. Charles de Gaulle caught him cursing the Germans for staying away. Churchill explained that "the bombing of Oxford,

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