The Bombing Campaign against Hitler's Third Reich

King George VI (with stick) inspecting a British squadron deployed to France, December 6, 1939. Wikimedia

2. The phony war including the dropping of propaganda leaflets by the RAF

Though March 1940, the RAF and the French Air Force did little other than fly occasional missions, often simply dropping propaganda leaflets. Hitler forbade the bombing of British ships in port. “The guiding principle must be not to provoke the initiation of aerial warfare on the part of Germany”, directed the Fuhrer. In February 1940 British destroyers attacked the German tanker Altmark, violating Norwegian neutrality. In response, the Luftwaffe attacked the British fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow on March 16. Damage was light, though one civilian was killed. The British responded by bombing a German airbase.

The strategic air war against the Third Reich really began after the invasion of France and the Low Countries in May. Rotterdam was heavily bombed in the attack, with heavy civilian casualties, though British propaganda deliberately inflated the number. The civilian losses suffered by the Dutch justified retaliatory attacks on Germany by their British allies, according to the strategic thinkers in the RAF’s Bomber Command. Authority to strike targets east of the Rhine River was given. The hope was the attacks would force the Luftwaffe to divert aircraft away from the front in France. Targets in the Ruhr Valley were selected. The long and bloody strategic bombing campaign against Hitler’s Reich began even as France was falling to the Germans.