Government, public and total war (1915–40)
in Supreme emergency
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This chapter considers the evolution of the mindset behind the strategic bombing campaign of the Second World War. Drawing on Baldwin’s famous 1932 dictum ‘the bomber will always get through’, it considers the evolution of political recognition that ‘… no power on earth … can protect [citizens] from being bombed …’ and traces this back to the experiences of First World War Zeppelin and Gotha bombing raids on London. In responding to them, the British government expressed aversion to reprisals against German towns and cities, but did retaliate surreptitiously. Early air power theorists (and fiction and cinema) envisaged wars dominated by strategic bombing of cities, factories and populations, rather than trench warfare. The relative merits of strategic bombing (of civilians and cities) and ‘traditional’ warfare (against armies and navies) dominated UK strategic debate between the wars, and influenced the evolution of Royal Air Force doctrine, but the Second World War provided the strategic impetus to develop technology to realise these capabilities. By 1943 the UK and USA had refined the ability to wield the destructive power of bombing foreshadowed during the Spanish Civil and Sino-Japanese wars in the 1930s.

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Supreme emergency

How Britain lives with the Bomb


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