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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, evocative and a great read, 30 April 2011
This review is from: First Blitz (Paperback)
If you (like me) thought that air raids on London in the First World War were all Zepplins - read and learn! There is a whole other story - of the Gothas and the frankly amazing Giants; and it is a story which also had a huge impact on the war in the air in the Second World War.
Hanson explains how the Germans' attacks on England progressed - from the Zeppelins, which were actually driven back relatively quickly by the backroom boys' invention of incendiary bullets (and tracer bullets invented by a scion of a firework dynasty!) to the rather touchy Gothas (each raid had a huge total of planes turn back owing to mechanical difficulties, and they lost more pilots owing to the difficulty of landing the blighters safely than to our air defences) to the enormous Giants (which had a 42 metre wingspan and were routinely taken for an entire formation of bombers) - and the Germans' desperate attempt to find a really good incendiary for "shock and awe" purposes - a quest which was answered just as it become too late to use it.
He also covers - often in the words of those who were present - the experiences of those who suffered in the raids in London and Kent. Some of his accounts in this manner of the raids are masterpieces of evocative writing - building from the tension of the first air raid warnings (and that is a story which is really unbelieveable - apparently we sent policemen on bikes round with little signs on their backs!!) to the rush to find what might be a safe hiding place - and the devasation wrought by the raids (many of which pierced the hiding places which people thought most secure).
One also sees how the Blitz spirit of the Second war was not innate to Londoners - when faced with raids for which the authorities had no plans, and no effective countermeasures, morale came perilously close to breaking - the parallels with the experience of the German public facing our use of carpet bombing in the second world war are striking (see for example On the Other Side: Letters to My Children from Germany 1940 -46).
And here it is particularly interesting to see what each side took away from the experience, and how they used it. The Germans having come close, but not close enough to their objective, did not focus on improving their technique, but largely abandoned the idea of routine bombing in their preparations for war, having to play catch up later. Meanwhile England prepared and equipped to bomb Germany - and to withstand and counteract any bombing plans of Germany's - thereby equipping us to win the Battle of Britain and to carry shock and awe into German heartlands to great effect. Of course the morality of all this on both sides is, to put it mildly, dubious, but the book does provide both a great read about a neglected aspect of the first world war and a very interesting backdrop to one aspect of the second war.
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Location: London

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