Eighty years ago 'Bert' Harris turns Huns into Vandals



Hitler was enraged at the success of RAF Bomber Command under the new forceful leadership of 'Bert' Harris as demonstrated in the  raids on the mediaeval Hansa ports of Lübeck and Rostock, which had been devastatingly destructive albeit of little military benefit. He ordered a resumption of air raids on Britain that had been almost discontinued as the Russian campaign absorbed German air strength. The British cities targeted were of historical and cultural, but trivial industrial or military, value. The campaign was known as the Baedecker raids from the tourist guide of the day, but propaganda minister Goebbels was annoyed at the indiscretion which revealed the nature of the plan and insisted they be known as 'reprisal raids': hardly an elevating mission. Exeter, the historic county town of Devon was the first target. Perhaps unconsciously, Harris had realised the RAF's mission as enunciated by its founding spirit Lord Trenchard of a tit-for-tat bombing campaign. To dedicated Trenchardians the assault on the morale of the bombed population was a war-winning mission in itself; in reality the value lay in luring the Germans into operations which imposed attrition on resources that were already too small for their vast strategic task.

Hitler put an end to the last shreds of pretence that anything but his own will mattered. He summoned the Reichstag for what proved to be its last ever sitting. Here it passed a decree ackowledging that Hitler was the supreme ruler of the nation, the Nazi party and its armed forces. He was also designated as the highest legal authority, removing the last possible, albeit token, restraint on his actions. All rules and precedents were explicitly discarded in favour of his decision alone. Insofar as it had any real purpose, the point of the decree was deeply secret: it legalized the wholesale murder of Jews which was already under way.

The small handful of MPs openly sceptical of the Churchill government mounted a token rear-guard action against the introduction of rationing of domestic fuel under the leadership  of Sir John Wardlaw-Milne, former dependable pro-appeasement hack and now standard-bearer of the still powerful Chamberlainite sentiment in the Conservative party. The challenge had no practical effect but it was a reminder of the challenges Churchill faced domestically at the low point of British military fortunes. Rationing was a simple and inevitable palliative to the vastly more difficult problem of increasing production from Britain's ill-managed and under-manned coal mines. The government took another step towards full control of the industry with the proposal for a National Coal Board, which was ultimately to become the vehicle for full state ownership of the mines.

French general Henri Giraud staged a daring escape from Königstein castle,  POW camp for high value prisoners. He reached Vichy France to the enormous embarassment of its government who could neither bow to German demands to return him to captivity nor accept his urgings for greater resistance to the occupiers. He had been assisted in his escape by the British SOE but he caught the eye of the Americans as a possible alternative leader for the Free French to General de Gaulle, whom they found too right wing. 


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