This is an example of keeping an eye on journals that we may not necessarily look at. I would not normally have looked at Labour History Review because my research interests have meant I have never chosen to peruse its pages. However, on Thursday while have a quick look at new journals in the library at the National Archives at Kew I picked it up (This was helped by the fact that it’s contents was printed on its front cover rather than inside or on the back as with many journals). I was drawn to it as I noticed a familiar name to all military historians, Professor Richard Overy. A closer look revealed that this is a special issues based on papers delivered at a workshop held in the School of Historical Studies at the University of University in March 2010, sponsored jointly by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and by the Labour and Society Research Group. The articles follow the theme of bombing and labour in Europe during the Second World War. Many of the contributors have been involved in the AHRC funded project at the University of Exeter, ‘Bombing, States and Peoples in Western Europe, 1940-1945’ that is now starting to produce some important publications.
Claudia Baldoli and Matt Perry, ‘Bombing and Labour in Western Europe, from 1940 to 1945’
Richard Overy, ‘‘The Weak Link’? The Perception of the German Working Class by RAF Bomber Command, 1940–1945’
During the Second World War the German urban working class became a deliberate object of attack by RAF Bomber Command, resulting in more than three hundred thousand deaths. This article examines the evolution of bombing strategy during the war to show why workers were targeted and the assumptions that lay behind it. The emphasis on breaking morale was one motive but it became clear that expectations of a possible workers’ revolt in Germany were fanciful and by 1944 any prospect of using the bombing of working-class districts as a political objective was largely abandoned. Instead, bombing working-class areas became part of the strategy of economic warfare. Calculations were made based on the British experience of the Blitz to show that destruction of housing, amenities and services, and a high casualty rate, was a surer way of reducing productivity than attacking individual factories. Bomber Command maintained this strategic objective throughout the war, while veiling its deliberate attack on civilians from the wider public. By 1944 the attacks had reduced productivity, but did not prevent the German economy from functioning until almost the end of the war.
Ralf Blank, ‘The Battle of the Ruhr, 1943: Aerial Warfare against an Industrial Region’
The Battle of the Ruhr – beginning in March 1943 – provided a crucial opening to the real battle for the skies over Germany. This article will examine the character of this battle and its implications for the administration of the region, propaganda, and public opinion. The raids challenged Goebbels’s propaganda assertions about the inability of the RAF and the US air force to damage targets inside Germany and therefore required strategies of counter-propaganda. These initially focused on the anticipation of newly developed weapons of retaliation. The levels of destruction in this centre of heavy industry with its concentrations of industrial workers also implied administration and organizational responses that required a co-ordinated effort on the part of business, government, and party. Not least the Battle of the Ruhr sharply posed the issues of air-raid protection and evacuation. The Battle of the Ruhr therefore attains a great significance allowing the identification of longer-term social, military, and political processes that developed as the bombing of Germany intensified.
Matt Perry, ‘Bombing Billancourt: Labour Agency and the Limitations of the Public Opinion Model of Wartime France’
This article examines the bombing of the Renault Billancourt factory on 3 March 1942. Despite sporadic RAF bombing of France since defeat in June 1940, this was a significant raid because it initiated the RAF’s new intensified bombing campaign against France, which targeted areas that were disproportionately working-class because of the priority of hitting industry and the rail network. The article takes issue with propaganda and public opinion as the dominant conceptual paradigm through which to understand the reception of the raid and, for that matter, attitudes in wartime France more generally. Using clandestine propaganda, prefectoral reports and diaries, this article identifies labour agency and a cognitive process operating in the Parisian suburban workers’ districts through modes of communication such as rumour, speculation about the course of the war, recriminations against the authorities and popular scepticism of official propaganda.
Claudia Baldoli, ‘Bombing the FIAT: Allied Raids, Workers’ Strikes, and the Italian Resistance’
This article examines the impact of Anglo-American air raids on the FIAT workers between the end of 1942 and the liberation of Turin in April 1945. One of the most bombed cities in Italy, Turin was also the country’s most important industrial centre. Following the first ‘area bombing’ raids on the city and its industries, the Turinese working class initiated strike movements that extended beyond the surrounding region – first in March 1943 and again in March 1944. Workers’ protest was not in isolation, but connected with discontent within civil society at the incapacity of the Fascist regime to protect the population from bombing. This research, based on a variety of archival sources found in national archives in Italy and the UK, as well as in local archives in Turin and Milan, suggests correlations between the Allied bombing of Turin, the FIAT workers’ strikes, the collapse of the Italian home front, and the start of the Resistance.
Jill Stephenson, ‘Bombing and Rural Society in Württemberg’
The Allied bombing of the German countryside was much less frequent and less damaging than the bombing of German towns and cities. Yet bombs did fall on rural areas, causing death and destruction. Before 1944, most of the bombing of the countryside was inadvertent, but nonetheless fatal for individuals – including foreign workers and urban evacuees – and destructive of land, buildings, and animals. Villages might suffer collateral damage when a nearby town was targeted, or they might be the recipients of jettisoned bombs from aircraft returning to base. There was also intentional bombing. Some villages were forced to play host to a decoy installation which became a target, and some were a target as the location of a communications link or the relocation of an industrial concern. In 1944 and 1945, villages, which tended to have neither anti-aircraft defences nor air-raid shelters, increasingly became easy targets. Thus agricultural work was disrupted, with the killing of farm workers and damage to fields, farm buildings, and animals.
Helen Jones, ‘Civil Defence in Britain, 1938–1945: Friendship during Wartime and the Formation of a Work-based Identity’
This article challenges historians’ concentration on national, class, and gender identities in wartime. It argues that those civilians recruited to work in air raids, as Air Raid Wardens and in the Auxiliary Fire Service, developed an intimacy within each group born of conflict, training, socializing, discussing, and experiencing danger together in a confined and identifiable space. They enjoyed a close bond of friendship that helped create a particular identity within the group and with the wider public and the geographical space in which they worked. Analysing the ways in which this identity was formed is crucial for an understanding of the relationships between air raids, work, and identity.
The Second World War had a central role in the history of Britain’s Labour Party. The experience culminated in the party’s success in the 1945 general election, a victory that was held to have been the result of its concentration on domestic policy planning and in promising the public a welfarist post-war settlement. It has almost been assumed that Labour was not involved in the strategic or operational conduct of the war, including what was the first, became the longest-standing, and has remained the most controversial, aspect of Britain’s waging of war: strategic, area, or ‘obliteration’ bombing. The disposition of what some maintained was – or should be – an internationalist party of working people towards the mass killing of civilians has not formally been considered before: whether the party approved of the policy or how far it merely had other (it may have felt) more-pressing priorities. Such an examination illustrates ‘labourism’ in the war and in its ambivalence towards Europe and Europeans also, perhaps, afterwards.