The Robot Bomb Campaign
CASUALTIES, DAMAGE AND COUNTER-MEASURES
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered in the House of Commons, London, July 6, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 580-586.
I CONSIDER the Government were right in not giving a great deal of information about the flying bomb until we knew more about it and were able to measure its effect. The newspapers have in an admirable manner helped the Government in this, and I express my thanks to them. The time has come, however, when a fuller account is required, and a wider field of discussion should be opened. In my view such discussion is no longer hampered by the general interest.
I would at the same time enjoin upon the House and upon the public outside to watch their step in anything they say, because of a thing which might not strike one as being harmful at all might give some information to the enemy which would be of use to him and a detriment to us.
Still a very wide field of discussion will he open henceforward.
Let me say at the outset it would be a mistake to underrate the serious character of this particular form of attack. Certainly it never has been underrated in the secret circles of the Government.
On the contrary, up to the present time, the views we formed of the force and extent of the danger were considerably in excess of what actually happened. The probability of such an attack has, among other things, been under continual, intense study and examination for a long time.
During the early months of 1943 we received through our many varied intelligence sources vague reports that the Germans were developing a new long-range weapon with which they proposed to bombard London.
At first our information led us to believe a rocket weapon would be used. Just over a year ago the Chiefs of Staff proposed to me that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Supply should be charged with the duty of studying all intelligence as it came in, reporting what truth, if any, there were in these reports and advising the Chiefs of Staff and War Cabinet as to counter-measures.
Long before this time, the Home Secretary, whose vigilance has been unceasing, had begun strengthening street shelters generally. And he now intensified this work so these shelters are by no means ill-adapted to withstand the blast effect of the bombs at present being used.
The House will realize the enemy took all possible precautions to conceal his designs from us. Notwithstanding, as a result of the searching investigations by agents and air reconnaissance we, by July, 1942, succeeded in locating at Peenemuende on the Baltic the main experiment station both of the flying bomb and the long-range rocket.
In August last the full strength of the Bomber Command was sent out to attack these installations. The raids were costly on account of the great distance to Germany which had to be taken, and very great damage was done to the enemy and his affairs, and a number of key German scientists, including the head scientist, who all were dwelling together in a so-called Strength Through Joy establishment, were killed.
These raids delayed by many months the development and bringing into action of both these weapons. About this time we also located at Watten in the Pas-de-Calais area the first of the large structures which appeared to be connected with the firing of the long-range rocket. This site was very heavily attacked as long ago as September, and has been under continuous treatment since by the heaviest weapons carried by the British and American Air Forces.
We also carried out a most thorough air reconnaissance of the whole of northwest France and Belgium. This was an immense task, not without its cost, but in result we discovered in October last that in addition to large structures of the Watten type other structures in greater number were being erected all along the French coast between Le Havre and Calais.
I meditated at the time whether I should make a statement to the House in secret session on the subject, but, on the whole, everything being in such a hypothetical condition, I thought I might cause needless alarm, that we had better proceed step by step until I had greater assurance as to what I could say.
The reconnaissance we carried out was an immense task, but it yielded very important information. We found eventually about 100 of these rather smaller sites all along the French coast between Le Havre and Calais being erected, and we concluded they would be firing points for a jet-propelled projectile which was smaller than the rocket to which our thoughts had at first been turned. All these 100 firing points were continually bombed since last December and every one of them destroyed by the RAF, with the whole-hearted assistance of growing United States airpower.
If it had not been for our bombing operations in France and Germany and the counter-preparations in which we indulged, the bombardment of London would no doubt have started perhaps six months earlier and on a very much heavier scale.
Under the pressure of our counter-measures the enemy, who felt among other impulses the need of having something to boast about and to carry on the war of nerves in order to steady the neutrals and satellites and assuage his own public opinion, developed a new series of prefabricated structures which could rapidly be assembled and well camouflaged, especially during periods of cloudy weather.
It is from these comparatively light, very rapidly erected structures that the present attack is being made.
What is the scale of this attack?
The hundred firing sites which were destroyed, assuming the enemy production of missiles was adequate, could have delivered a vastly greater discharge of high explosives on London than those which we have now.
I think it only just to the British and American Air Forces to record the delay and diminution in the scale of the attack to which we are now exposed by their untiring and relentless efforts.
Now the new series of firing points, like the first, has been heavily and continuously attacked for several months past. As new sites are constructed, or existing ones repaired, our bombing attacks are repeated. Every effort is made to destroy the structures, also to scatter the working parties and deal with other matters concerned with the smooth running of this system of attack.
The total weight of bombs so far dropped on flying bomb and rocket targets in France and Germany, including Peenemuende and other places, has -now reached about 50,000 tons. The number of reconnaissance flights now totals many thousands.
The scrutiny and interpretation of the tens of thousands of air photographs obtained for this purpose alone has been a stupendous task discharged by the air reconnaissance and photographic interpretation unit of the RAF. Now, these efforts have been exacting to both sides, friend and foe, and a quite considerable proportion of our flying power has been diverted for months from other forms of offensive activity. The Germans, for their part, had to sacrifice a good deal of manufacturing strength which could have increased their fighter and bomber forces working in conjunction with their hard-pressed armies on other fronts.
There had, in fact, been in progress for more than a year past an unseen battle into which great resources had been poured by both sides. This invisible battle has now flashed into the open and we shall be able, indeed obliged, to watch its progress at fairly close quarters.
To the blood-curdling threats German propaganda has been making in order to keep up the spirits of their people and their satellites there has been added the most absurd claims about the results of the first use of this secret weapon.
I will minimize nothing, I assure the House, but I think it right to correct these absurdities by giving some actual facts, knowledge of which, though they may not be known to the enemy, will do him very little good.
It is yet to be tested who suffered and will suffer the mostin that process.
In my opinion and in the opinion of my advisers, between 100 and 150 flying bombs, each weighing about a ton, are being discharged daily and have been so discharged for the last fortnight or so from firing points in France. Considering the modest weight and small penetrating power of these bombs, the damage they have done by blast effect has been extensive. It cannot, of course, be at all compared to the terrific destruction by fire and high explosives with which we have been assaulting Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and scores of other German cities, the war-manufacturing points of Germany. This form of attack, no doubt, is of trying character, worrisome character, because it is being spread out over the whole twenty-four hours, and the people have just got to get used to that.
Everyone must go about his duty, his business, whatever it may be, to his work—every man or woman—then, when the long day is done, they should seek the safest shelter they can find and forget their cares in well-earned sleep. We must neither underrate nor exaggerate. In all, up to 6 A. M. this morning, about 2,750 flying bombs have been discharged from launching stations along the French coast, A very large proportion of these either failed to cross the Channel or have been shot down or destroyed by various methods, including great deployment of batteries, aircraft and balloons which have been very rapidly placed.
Well, the batteries move to any position as they are required and they take up their position rapidly. But once on the site, great improvements can be made in electrical connections and so forth, and the air force, confronted with the somewhat novel problem for chasing a projectile, found a new method every day.
Therefore, as I say, a very large proportion of those discharged from the other side has been shot down or destroyed by various methods.
In some cases shooting them down means they explode on the ground. Therefore, the places where they should be shot down are better chosen where a successful hit does not mean an explosion in a built-up area.
I am very careful to be vague about the areas. The weather, however, during the month of June has been unfavorable to us for every purpose. In Normandy, it robbed us of a great part of the use of our immense superiorities. These battles we are gaining in Normandy are being won without the extraordinary, overwhelming and exceptional aid of the vast air force we collected for the purpose. But when the weather improves these great new reinforcements will come into play. Here in Britain bad weather made more difficult the work of the batteries and aircraft.
It also reduced the blows we are striking at every available opportunity at launching stations or suspicious points on the other side of the Channel, Nevertheless, the House, I think, will be favorably surprised to learn that the total number of flying bombs launched from the enemies' stations have killed almost exactly one person per bomb—a very remarkable fact—and it has kept pace roughly week by week. The actual figures up to 6 o'clock this morning were 2,754 flying bombs launched, 2,752 fatal casualties sustained.
I am bound to say I was surprised when, some time ago, I saw these figures. The number of dead may be somewhat increased by those who die in hospitals from injuries received. Besides these, there have been substantially larger numbers injured and many minor injuries have been caused by splinters and glass. Special warning of this danger has been issued by the Ministries of Home Security and Health, and in giving wide publicity co recommendations for reducing these risks, the newspapers also have rendered a useful service.
As this battle—for such it is—may be a somewhat lengthy affair, I do not propose to withhold the number of casualties. I will give the number because I believe exaggerated rumors and claims by the enemy are more harmful than facts. We now are giving the casualties up to date, and thereafter they will be given in the usual form at monthly intervals by the Minister of Home Security.
The total number of injured who have been detained in hospitals is about 8,000. This number does not include those with minor injuries dealt with at first-aid posts and the out-patients departments of hospitals and not needing to be detained in hospitals even for a single day.
Of those detained in hospitals, a large proportion have in fact been discharged after a few days. Here let me say the casualty first aid service of Greater London is working admirably. This machine has been well tested in the past and it has been continually reviewed and kept up to date. It proved in the light of experience not at all strained beyond its capacity, and naturally we draw from other parts of the country which are not affected to strengthen the central machine.
So far as hospital accommodations are concerned, we were prepared for so many more casualties in the battle of Normandy than actually occurred so far, that we have for the present a considerable immediate margin of reserve to which to disperse patients.
The injured are speedily transferred to hospitals in safe districts, and I am glad to say that penicillin, which up to now had to be restricted to military use, will be available for treatment of all flying bomb casualties.
Here I must say a word about our American friends and allies in London.
From the highest official to the ordinary soldier whom one meets, they have in every way made common cause with us and have been forthcoming as helpers, with assistance of every kind. No one can visit a bomb site where an explosion recently has taken place and fail to see how very quickly they are upon the scene to give a helping hand to anyone in distress.
The same is true of the great headquarters under General Eisenhower, where they are conducting this great battle, where apart from that, every conceivable assistance is given to out forces and aid services. It will be another tie, I think, between our two people mat they should see some of what we go through in London and take a generous part in facing its burden.
A very high proportion of these casualties I have mentioned—a little over 10,000—are severe or mortal and have fallen upon London, which presents to the enemy—now I have mentioned it the phrase southern England passes out of currency—a target eighteen miles wide and I believe over twenty miles deep.
It therefore is the unique target of the world for the use of a weapon of such proved inaccuracy. The flying bomb is a weapon literally and essentially indiscriminate in its nature, purpose and effect. The introduction by the Germans of such a weapon obviously raises some grave questions upon which I do not propose to touch today.
Slight repairs to buildings are being done as quickly as possible as a temporary measure. There usually are rough protective repairs to roofs and windows. A large force of building workers is engaged in this work, copious reinforcements having been and are being brought in from the provinces by the Ministry of Labor and are arriving here daily. Repairs to a very large number of near-by houses already have been carried out.
But there are areas where blast damage is at present somewhat ahead of our growing repair pool. This will be remedied as time goes on. As to evacuation, as I have said, every one must remain at their post and discharge their daily duties. This House will be affronted if any suggestion were made to it that it should change its venue from London. Here we began the war and here we will see it ended.
We are not, however, discouraging people who have no essential work to do from leaving London at their own expense if they feel inclined to do so by arrangements they make. In fact, they assist our affairs by taking such action. We do not want more people in London than are required for business purposes, peace or war.
For people of small means, not engaged in war work, who wish to leave, registers have been opened and arrangements will be made for their transfer as speedily as possible to safe areas.
Children already are being sent, if the parents wish, out of the danger areas, which by no means are exclusively confined to the metropolis, which is the bomb highway over which all robots pass before reaching that point in southern England which I ventured to particularize.
Children are being sent at the parents' wishes out of the danger areas, and in all cases mothers with small children, or pregnant women, will be given full facilities by the State.
We do not propose to separate mother from child except by her wish. Terrible things happened the last time. Mothers were separated from children of 2 and 3 years of age and after a period, when they had saved up money and got time to see them, the children hardly knew them.
I hope now with our growing strength and facilities for organization we shall be able to say to a mother with three or four children:
"If you wish to leave, arrangements will be made to take you into the country with your children. If you wish them to go and you stay here with your husband or at your job, well, then, arrangements can be made to suit that too."
We do not consider that the scale attack under which we are threatened justifies governmental compulsion in any case, In order to speed these arrangements the Minister of War Transport, Lord Leathers has arranged that the railways shall provide a larger service of trains from London stations.
All these matters and many others are reviewed daily or almost daily, certainly whenever necessary by the Civil Defense Committee over which the Minister of Home Security has so long presided.
He has presided over it since the dark days when he took over the care of London especially, which he knew so well in the old original blitz.
Upon this committee sit either the heads or representatives of every single department concerned. Then the War Cabinet is always available to confirm any decision which involves high policy. There is no delay.
These matters are settled with the very greatest speed. Very great power is given this committee and questions about what I might -call the social side of the flying bomb, the social reactions, should be addressed to the Minister of Home Security, who will either answer them himself, or the Minister of Health, who has a great sphere of responsibility, If care were taken a good many questions could be asked, I think, but the House would wish all members to check up beforehand. A perfectly innocent and proper question might have some connection which might tell the enemy more than we need to do.
After all, the Germans keep a very large intelligence service. They are always spying about trying to find out everything they can. They have a large industry of this kind, and really we should leave them something to do.
But I can conceive of lots of questions that could well be discussed here, and if there were some particular kind of questions we wanted to talk over amongst ourselves, such a procedure is always available to the House.
I am not going to attempt to parade to the House the many difficult questions which have to be settled, but 1 have mentioned a great many of them. I think we can with confidence leave our civilian organizations to do their work under the watchful supervision of the House of Commons. We have machinery on which the Government can rely to keep in close touch with people and the contingencies of the populations affected, from whom we welcome helpful suggestions.
We can have great trust in our civil organizations, for they have great experience and they have handled machinery which stood far greater strains than this.
On the operational side, a special committee has been set up to review and advise upon counter-measures, both offensive and defensive, to deal with the flying bomb. This committee consists of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply as chairman, and he is assisted by Air Marshal Hill, in charge of ADGB; by General Pile, our competent commander of the Anti-Aircraft Command since the beginning of the war; by the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and by representatives of the Deputy Allied Commander, Air Marshal Tedder.
This committee have at their disposal a great number of able scientists and engineers, who are studying from the technical standpoint the improvement oi our counter-measures. This committee reports to me personally and to the Chiefs of Staff and finally to the War Cabinet. It is indeed an organization very competent to give quick decisions.
From all authorities the House will ask: What oi the future? Is this attack going to get worse or going to he beaten like the magnetic mine was beaten; like die attempted destruction of Britain by the airplane was beaten; like the U-boat campaign was beaten; or will new developments, on the other hand, of a far more formidable character come upon us?
Will the rocket bomb come? Will improved explosives come with greater ranges, vaster speed, larger warheads? Will these come upon us? 1 can give no guaranty any of these evils will be entirely prevented before the time comes, as come it will, when the soil from which these attacks are launched has been finally liberated from the enemy's grip.
Meanwhile, I can only say that when I visited various scenes of bomb explosions Saturday there was only one man of many hundreds I saw who asked a question. The question was "What are you going to do about it?"
I replied, "Everything in human power, and we have never failed yet." He seemed contented with this reply, and that is the only promise I can make yet.
I must, however, make it perfectly plain. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding on this point, that we shall not allow the battle operations in Normandy, nor the attacks we are making against special targets in Germany to suffer. They come first. We must fit in our own domestic arrangements into the general scheme of war operations.
There can be no question of allowing the slightest weakening of the battle in order to diminish in scale the injuries which, though they may inflict grievous suffering on many people and change to some extent the normal and regular life and industry of London, will never stand between the British nation and their duty in the van of a victorious and avenging world.
It may be a comfort to some to feel that they are sharing in no small degree the perils of our soldiers overseas, and that the blows which fall on them diminish others which in other forms would have smitten our fighting men and their allies. But, anyhow, I am sure of one thing: That London will never be conquered, will never fall, and that her renown, triumphing over every ordeal, will long shine among men.