Hitler believed that by targeting civilians he could force the British to surrender. However, though the Luftwaffe pounded Britain’s cities, with Portsmouth among the worst hit, the bulldog spirit of the nation merely made the population more determined to resist Nazi aggression.
The blitz is the subject in the fourth volume of our exclusive new series of books called World War II, the first part of which is available free tomorrow.
Bombing of civilians was felt by both sides to be inherently barbaric, even though the Germans had destroyed the Basque town of Guernica in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War.
Hitler was reluctant to authorise attacks on cities but that all changed when the Allies and Axis powers realised that daylight bombing raids of strategic and military targets were costing too many planes.
One of those strategic targets was Portsmouth dockyard, and the city suffered its first raid on July 11, 1940.
However, it was the night of August 24/25 which changed the whole pattern of strategic bombing.
German bomber crews mistakenly dropped their bombs on Harrow, near London, and the British war cabinet agreed unanimously that a retaliatory raid should be made on Berlin.
It stunned the Germans and on September 7, 1940, the Luftwaffe launched its first air attack on London. It started at 5pm and lasting until dawn the next day, 625 bombers pounded London’s docks.
Four days later prime minister Winston Churchill said: ‘Hitler expects to terrorise and cow the people of this mighty city. Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of Londoners.’
The book says that historians now believe the decision to switch the weight of the Luftwaffe’s attacks from RAF airfields to London and other major cities like Portsmouth was a mistake and one that probably cost the Germans any chance of ultimate victory.