Why did the British government decide to evacuate people from the cities?
When Hitler came to power in 1933, his main aims were to defy the Treaty of Versailles, reinstate German's military force and build a 'Greater Germany'. Britain and France saw this as threat. They were concerned about his foreign policies and Britain was thinking about evacuation as early as 1935.
Hitler grew in confidence and made his first move in rearming German's army and sent troops over Rhineland in 1936. Because of the Great Depression and the Abyssinian Crisis, he knew The League of Nations weren't ready to oppose him. His second move was to create an Anschluss with Austria in 1938. Britain and France protested, but did nothing-another example of appeasement.
In 1938, Hitler began a further conquest- he wanted German speaking people to unite and so he wanted to take control over Czechoslovakia. He called for a conference in Munich with Mussolini, the French Prime Minister and the British Prime Minister. It was agreed Hitler would take over Sudetenland-in return he would not make any territorial demands. But in March 1939, he broke his promise and invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia.
The Spanish Civil War (July 18, 1936-April 1, 1939) made it easier to see the division between Germany, Britain and the rest of the major European countries. Germany and Italy sided with the fascist Francisco Franco while Britain, France, Russia, United States and Belgium backed up the Republicans. In the end, the Republicans were forced to surrender. Germany was able to show its power after they successfully bombed Guernica in 1937. In this event, Britain was able to observe Germans military might and their technology. This is also why Britain decided on evacuation.
Hitler's intention was now clear to the Allies, especially after the Munich conference. After this event, Britain and France quickly proceeded in rearmament and promised to defend Poland if Germany was to attack.
Many people were still shaken from the horrors of WWI. Poisonous gases were released in the air such as mustard and chlorine gas. Mustard gas caused blisters, made the internal and external bleed and attacked the lung tubes. Chlorine was poisonous which destroyed the lung tissues. This is why Britain decided to distribute gas masks to the public.
One of the first precautions Britain took was to ensure people's safety. By 1939, 1.5 million Anderson bomb shelters had been distributed. In 1938, during the Munich conference, the first air-raid shelters were built. In August 1938, 38 million gas masks were issued to everyone. Britain knew Germany would use gas as one form of attack because the bombers were now advanced and previously Mussolini used gas in 1936 in Abyssinia. Conscription was introduced in April 1939. In July 1939, Black Out instructions were issued and introduced two days before the war. Britain did not want to take any chance of civilian injuries.
The government wanted to evacuate dependent people so their careers would be free to help out in the war efforts. 827,000 school children, 524,000 mothers and young children, 13,000 pregnant women, 103,000 teachers and 7,000 blind and disabled people were evacuated. By moving those people out of the danger zone would be safer and the preparation for the war would be more efficient. Teachers were evacuated to ensure Britain's future generation would not be deprived of education.
Evacuation started from 1st September to the 4th. Britain was divided into 3 zones: Evacuation zones, reception areas and neutral areas. Evacuation zones were the heavily industrialised areas very likely to be targeted by the Germans. Reception areas were the countryside where it was very unlikely to be targeted. Neutral areas were towns where they were likely to be bombed little to no chance, no one was allowed to evacuate or leave these areas.
Within the first weekend, 1.5 million people were successfully evacuated. Britain's whole transport was taken over for 4 days for evacuation. The government promoted evacuation using propaganda. The government used newspapers, posters, leaflets and messages in the radio to distribute these ideas.
During the start of the war till September next year, Britain was not directly attacked by Germany. This was known as the 'Phoney War'. Many people did not like the idea of being separated from their families and didn't find any reasons to stay apart. Therefore, people started returning to the cities by January 1940. This lasted until the battle of Dunkirk.
The Battle of Dunkirk was a major turning point in the war. Because the French troops had strong defences around its borders, Germany simply cut through Holland, Belgium and then France. The French troops and the British Expeditionary force were caught by surprise. This whole procedure took less than two months. On 10th May 1940, 340,000 British and French troops were forces to retreat. On 27th May, the British government put into action a plan called 'Operation Dynamo' to evacuate these soldiers using the Royal Navy and ships. The soldiers were rescued by all types of boats and ships. Churchill used this situation as to boost people's morals using propaganda. The rescue of the troops by small boats led to the phrase 'Dunkirk sprit'. The Germans were now already 36 miles across the channel.
The government started another wave of evacuation now that half of the evacuees had returned back to the cities. This time 1 million people were evacuated.
In June 1940, France surrendered to German attacks and Hitler began targeting Britain, 'Operation Sealion' and the Phoney war ended.
He did not see the Navy as a big threat like before. Instead the Luftwaffe began targeting the RAF. The RAF had better technology than the Luftwaffe. Because of Radar, the RAF chief could 'see' enemy aircraft before they attacked and the planed could get away before they arrived and the Hillary Squadron was able to find German aircrafts easily. By summer 1940, there were over 9,000 pilots in the RAF for approximately 5,000 aircraft, the majority of which were bombers.
The reasons for the victory of the RAF were that the British spitfires and Hurricanes were more maneuverable than the German Messerschmidts which only had enough fuels for 90 minutes of flying, the Germans failed to bomb the British radar stations, the Germans did not realize how close to defeat the RAF was in by September and were more worried about their own losses, British factories produced new planes quicker than Germans and the skills of the British pilots surpassed that of the Germans.
In 7th September 1940, heavy night bombing by the Germans began. Germany wanted to bomb Britain into giving up. This was known as the Blitz. For the next 76 nights, except 2nd November, London was heavily bombed.
The bombing started with the East End. Coventry suffered the most. On 14th September, 500,000kg of bomb was dropped in Coventry. The third of the city was destroyed and 4,000 people were killed. This lasted of 10 hours.
The other major cities which were bombed were Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton and Plymouth. Docks and industrialised areas suffered the most, railways and communication links were also bombed in Portsmouth.1000s of people slept in underground stations and the Blackout lasted until May 1945.
USA also helped out Britain during this time. While the RAF continued bombing Germany during the day, USA bombed Germany during the night.
The government used propaganda to boost people's morale, which made Britain more determined to win the war. The media was censored to only show the rescue services heroism and everyone's determination to carry on as normal and not the scenes of smashed housed and mutilated bodies.
By the time the Blitz ended in May 1941, 2.5 million people were made homeless, 43,000people were killed and 17,000 dies in air raids. More civilian were killed than British soldiers.
It was important to evacuate people because it would free people to work in the factories and war effort. More people were able to volunteer as in such services as air-raid wardens, auxiliary fire-fighters, Women's Voluntary Service and 250,000 men volunteered as 'Dad's Army'. Their work was important because it meant the army could concentrate on fighting the war in other parts of the world. The Germans also wanted to reduce Britain's population, evacuation made it harder to do this. Evacuation enabled to save 1.5 million people's lives and was an important tactic in winning the war. Evacuation was worth it, not only did it help save many people's lives, people started to realise the horrible conditions working class people had to face. This helped improve the Welfare State.