When most people talk about London being bombed, they are talking about the German terror attacks of WWII, but London has a unique history of being bombed from 1867. The author has produced a very readable account of this long history of bomb attacks on Londoners. It is a truly comprehensive account that considers the impact on one of the world’s greatest cities, much recommended.
NAME: London Bombed, Blitzed and Blown UP, The British Capital Under Attack Since 1867
AUTHOR: Ian Jones MBE
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, frontline
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, World War One, First World War, The Great War, World War Two, Second World War, WWII, Fenian, Irish Republicans, Suffragettes, anarchists, German air forces, aerial bombing, IED, firebombs, explosives, threats, targets, technology, defences, bomb disposal, Islamic extremists, Arab terrorists, intelligence services
DESCRIPTION: When most people talk about London being bombed, they are talking about the German terror attacks of WWII, but London has a unique history of being bombed from 1867. The author has produced a very readable account of this long history of bomb attacks on Londoners. It is a truly comprehensive account that considers the impact on one of the world’s greatest cities, much recommended.
Gunpowder revolutionised warfare in the Middle Ages and it also revolutionised attacks on ordinary people by those prepared to apply terror to political ends. In that sense, explosives were used in London before 1867. The most famous attempt was when a Roman Catholic conspiracy planned to blow up King James I and Parliament. Gunpowder was also used or attempted as propellant for the assassin’s gun. However, these were isolated attacks that usually failed. An assassin attempted to shoot Elizabeth I at prayer but the pistol appears not to have been loaded correctly. The most recent serious attempt was on the life of Queen Victoria. In these cases, the target was the Head of State. From 1867, London began to suffer from bombers who considered all Londoners as potential targets.
Irish Republicans made the first serious bombing attack in 1867 and their objective was to use explosives as terror weapons in the hope of creating fear in the public that would turn into pressure on the Government to agree to Irish home rule. In each decade since the 1860s, London has suffered a series of bombings. Mainly from the Irish Republicans, but also from anarchists, and even the women campaigning for voting rights.
WWI and WWII saw significant terror bombing by the Germans, who hoped to break the British will to resist the German military. The second German attempt concluded with the use of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. After those attacks ended, the Irish Republicans recommenced their terror attacks. As the Irish terrorists stopped their bombing campaigns, others took to bombing and there appears to be no end in sight as new extremists emerge and try to use explosives where their arguments have failed.
The author is a former Explosive Officer who worked for the Counter Terrorism Command of the Metropolitan Police and his book is the first to attempt a truly comprehensive history of terror bombing in and on London. In the past, a number of authors have produced well-researched accounts of some bombing campaigns, their work has been partial and covered bombing of other parts of Great Britain in addition to London. For the most part, they have been historians, rather than explosives specialists, with a primary interest in covering a slice of history. Here, the author has appreciated that the bombing campaigns in total have been unique to London. German and Japanese cities did suffer greatly during WWII, but as part of a single conflict which their national leaders had instigated. Their terror campaigns triggered retaliation in a form that can only be waged by a military force and were to end with the war.
Effective photo-plate sections complement the text. The author has dealt well with the background to campaigns, the devices employed and the response to the technology of terror. He has demonstrated that all of the attacks have essentially failed, because they did not break the will of Londoners. Great courage was shown by those tasked with countering the threats, but at least equal courage was evidenced by Londoners as a whole as they continued to live and work through and after the attacks.
Since 1867, there have been two very different forms of attack. Attacks by Irish Republicans and other extremist terrorists are broadly similar and difficult to counter. Unlike a conventional war between nations, there is not a simple to identify target for a direct response. The terrorists are hiding amongst an innocent population. Proportionately they are few in number, but potential targets are many. That leaves two basic responses open to the defenders. First, it is necessary to establish a team of explosives specialists who can attempt to disarm any device which is identified before it has exploded. This is very dangerous work and is a special arms race, as bomb disposal teams attempt to learn the patterns and technology being used by the terrorists, and the terrorists attempt to introduce new functionality, specifically to attack the disposal teams At the same time, a counter terrorism organization has to be established to build a picture of an illusive enemy and then target the bombers. It takes some time to set up a new operation against a new group of terrorists, but eventually it can become highly effective and remove the threats. In London’s unique history of being bombed, there have been many sources of attack, and each poses new challenges as the counter terror teams learn about the new enemy and search out the vulnerabilities that they can focus on.
The German terror attacks fall into a different category because the enemy is easily identified. That makes it possible to plan a similar but even more effective campaign against the perpetrator. In WWI, the air attacks on London by airships and land planes achieved some significant damage but it was really a taste of what was to come in the next war. On the ground, bomb disposal was again a key element of the defences, but it was also practical to develop anti-aircraft guns, obstructions, and fighter aircraft. The enemy had to reach London and that provided an alarm before they reached the target. People could take shelter and defences could prepare to fire back. Then, it was possible to plan counter attacks on German targets. In WWI, although the Germans deliberately targeted housing and hospitals, British bombing campaigns, largely by the Royal Naval Air Service, were directed at military installations, ports and airship hangers. There was some collateral damage, but overwhelmingly the damage was to military assets. The RNAS had also planned a mass attack by carrier aircraft against the German High Seas Fleet in port, but the formation of the RAF was to halt that impressive plan, which was dusted down in WWII and used against the Italian Fleet in port.
Where German attacks on London in WWI had been more of an inconvenience, WWII was to see an enormous escalation. London became the most heavily bombed city in the world in 1940. The obvious battle was between the German bombers and the defences of guns and aircraft, but the critical battle was between bomb disposal teams and the German bomb designers. This was a hard fought battle that took the lives of many bomb disposal engineers as German designers included booby trap fuses and other approaches that were intended to take out the men trying to defuse the bomb.
By 1942, the battle against German aircraft was being won and the number of massed attacks diminished, leaving only small hit and run raids. Then, just as it seemed London was safe, the German V1 and V2 weapons began to arrive. The V1 could be countered by anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft because it was essentially an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that operated at relatively low altitude and could be caught by in service fighters. The V2 was a very different proposition. If it was not successfully attacked during launch, there was no defence and the one ton warhead would arrive ahead of its sound wave.
This book contains and enormous amount of information on the bombing attacks that London has suffered, and continues to face, and it is unlikely to be bettered.