7

1940, July 10 to September 7, was the part of the Battle of Britain before the Blitz. In other words, it was the part where the Luftwaffe primarily focused on airfields, factories, and if I'm not mistaken, major ports.

I would like to know how many tons of bombs the Luftwaffe dropped all over Britain during this time?

(I do not want to include the Blitz, starting on September 7, because the Luftwaffe switched targets to mass area bombing, primarily targeting housing. If you're interested in just the Blitz, I did find this article which says 50k tons of HE bombs and 110k tons of incendiary bombs were dropped from September to May.)

I did also stumble across this archived letter which claims that Germany dropped a total of 74,172 tons of bombs on Britain. But it does not explicitly give a time range for that. The context of the letter seems to indicate that it was for the whole war, but in that case 74k tons seems impossibly low.

Besides those two things, I did not find any numbers to answer my question during my internet searches.

  • You might be able to find a precise estimate for London during that time frame using this data source. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 13 '17 at 12:41
  • @DenisdeBernardy Unfortunately that map and dataset only includes bombs from the Blitz onwards (Sep 7 and on). – DrZ214 Sep 14 '17 at 0:07
  • As the British government only started collecting data in September 1940, you are probably only going to find a rough estimate at best - unless the Germans kept records. – Lars Bosteen Sep 14 '17 at 12:25
  • @LarsBosteen That seems curious to me. Do you have a source saying that Britain did not collect data until Sep 1940? Why would they not do so? Estimates are okay as long as they're based on average German sorties per week, average number of bombers in the sortie, and typical bombload carried per bomber. I have to hope that British or German records for that exist somewhere. – DrZ214 Sep 14 '17 at 14:01
  • 3
    @DrZ214. Check this link: nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/… – Lars Bosteen Sep 14 '17 at 14:05
5

I have a partial answer, from the Air Historical Branch's narrative account of the battle. This was written in 1943-44, so as to set down an account while memories were fresh and documents readily available. It was a primary source for the British official history of the battle, and many subsequent authors, but was not published in its own right until 2000.

It has the German figures for what they tried to drop for August, September and October, in Appendix 32, and in Appendix 17, the weight of bombs dropped on London for each day of September. The book reckons that the documents these are based on are reliable for German plans, but take no account of bombers shot down, bombs dropped in the sea, and so on. They are in metric tons.

  • August: 2,548 tons of HE bombs, 165 tons of incendiaries.
  • September: 8,909 tons of HE bombs, 429 tons of incendiaries.
  • October: 9,057 tons of HE bombs, 253 tons of incendiaries.

Yes, this is quite a small scale of bombing compared to Allied bombing later in the war. The Luftwaffe really wasn't organised or equipped for strategic bombing. It is not clear why there are no figures for June or July, but there are references to parts of the records of the German Air Fleets being lost, which would have been the primary source for them.

If the figures for incendiaries seem low, that is likely because of an easy error to make when reading Luftwaffe statistics. They reported HE bombs in metric tons, and incendiaries in terms of "containers." Those held 36 incendiaries, each weighing 1kg. The number of containers of incendiaries is of the same order as the number of tons of HE bombs, and it is easy to mistake it for the number of tons of incendiaries. The number of containers for the three months in question is:

  • August: 4,596.
  • September: 11,926.
  • October: 7,021.

Addendum: It seems very possible that the British did not try to compile detailed figures for bombs dropped or estimates of their weight. In a heavily bombed urban area, it can be very hard to distinguish the effects of several explosions. At the other end of the scale, many bombs fell in the countryside, doing no harm apart from craters in fields.

The British do not seem to have regarded the bombing on land during June and July as very significant. Richard Overy's The Battle of Britain, a short volume of insightful analysis, reckons that the main effect of those raids was to provide training for both sides' air forces. The British gained more, because they gained experience with the operation of the air defence system they had been training with, while the Germans were attempting to learn strategic bombing from scratch, having been previously trained as an army support force.

The Battle of Britain, T.C.G. James, Frank Cass Publishers, 2000. Crown Copyright.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.