The Rise and Fall of an Infamous Marxist Icon
by Chris Oakley
Summary: In the previous twelve episodes of this series we traced Adolf Hitler’s conversion to Marxism; his rise to the leadership of the German Communist Party and then of Germany itself; his role in the Communist victory in the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of armed conflict between the German People’s Republic and the Anglo-French alliance; his conquest of France; his Soviet partner Joseph Stalin’s decision to go to war with Japan in the summer of 1938; the Japanese army’s invasion of Siberia; Japan’s first tentative steps towards establishing an alliance alliance with the United States; the assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini in March of 1940, and the British armed forces’ efforts to reinforce Britain’s frontier defenses against the threat of Communist invasion. In this chapter we’ll look back on the Volksluftkorps’ bombing campaign against Great Britain in the spring and summer of 1940.
The first warning the RAF had of the impending Communist air offensive against Great Britain came on April 28th, 1940 when the radar station at Ventnor picked up approximately two dozen hostile inbounds crossing the English Channel from France’s Normandy coast. The inbounds’ course and speed suggested they were German aircraft preparing to attack targets on British soil, and while no one could say with any certainty just what those targets were, the mere fact of the inbounds’ presence in British airspace was enough to prompt RAF Fighter Command to scramble air defense squadrons to confront the intruders.
Fighter Command’s caution proved well-founded-- the intruders were quickly identified as Stuka dive bombers, escorted by a flight of Messerschmitt 109s. If their point of origin and flight path wasn’t proof enough of their aggressive intent, the red star-&-white circle Volksluftkorps insignia on their wings was a definite giveaway to RAF fighter pilots. While one group of RAF planes took on the Stukas, the other group engaged the Messerschmitts; what ensued was the opening salvo in a long and bloody air war whose outcome would have a massive impact not only on the outcome of the war between the Western powers and the Communist bloc but also on the futures of Britain and Germany.
Within hours of that initial confrontation, swarms of additional Volksluftkorps bombers and attack aircraft were detected approaching the British coast, and thousands of civilians hastened to get to air raid shelters before German bombs started raining down on their homes and offices. It was Rote Blitzentag-- Red Lightning Day, the beginning of the air campaign that the German Communists hoped would terrify the British government into capitulating to Berlin.
But to the amazement of Hitler and his top Volksluftkorps wing commanders, Britain would not cave in. Indeed, the day after the first German air raids on southeastern England British prime minister Winston Churchill made a defiant speech before the House of Commons promising the DDVR chancellor that Britain would resist the Communist bloc to the last man. "We will fight them on the beaches," he told the cheering MPs, "and in the streets... we will never surrender." And lest anyone doubt he was ready to back up his words with actions, it should be noted that he had fully loaded Thompson submachine guns stashed in his office up at 10 Downing Street so he could fight the Communist invaders personally should worst come to worst.
Nor was Churchill alone in his defiant sentiments. Even before the Territorial Army and the Royal Navy started fortifying Britain’s coast against the expected German invasion, groups of civilian volunteers who were colloquially known as "Home Guardsmen" had been stockpiling just about every kind of weapon one could imagine from kitchen knives to 12-gauge shotguns with the determination to make the Communists pay through the nose for every acre of land they occupied once the invasion began. The Guardsmen might have cut a comical figure as they drilled in front of the newsreel cameras in tweed suits and overalls, but their purpose was deadly serious: they meant to kill every German or Soviet soldier they came across. Their mindset was epitomized by a Yorkshire hog butcher who told the BBC just after the first German air attack on southern England: "If the Boches try and land here, we won’t half carve ‘em up when they step out of those rowboats onto the beach."
The same attitude prevailed among the Territorial Army troops who were entrusted with defending Britain’s southern coastline. A sergeant with an infantry unit stationed near Dover succinctly told the men under his command: "Kill the Reds wherever you find them-- with your rifles, with your knives, with your hands and teeth." The fine art of making and using Molotov cocktails enjoyed something of a renaissance among British citizens, including some who under ordinary circumstances wouldn’t have even contemplated engaging such action.
Even at Buckingham Palace, members of the royal family’s household staff were preparing homemade bombs in anticipation of having to mount a guerrilla attack on the Communist invaders should they reach the palace gates. They had little expectation of stopping the Volksarmee or even of slowing it down for long, but they hoped their improvised weaponry might give their employers sufficient time to flee to safety should worst come to worst.
In any case the Hitler-Stalin coalition’s hope for Britain’s meek submission to the might of Communism were doomed to disappointment. So, for that matter, was Hitler’s hope of conquering Great Britain...
After the initial Volksluftkorps attacks on British soil, Hugh Dowding grimly warned Churchill it was only a matter of time before German planes started going after shipping convoys in the English Channel-- and two weeks after Rote Blitzentag, the RAF Fighter Command C-in-C’s dire warning was borne out when squadrons of Stukas began bombing British merchant ships out in the open sea. Since the British economy depends to a considerable degree on the imports and exports carried by her merchant fleet, the use of these Stukas in an anti-ship role had the potential to cut Britain off at the knees if properly applied.
Fortunately for the Western cause, however, Hitler’s notoriously mercurial nature soon reared its head and the DDVR chancellor ordered a change in tactics just as the bombing raids on merchant shipping were starting to pay off. Over the objections of his top dive-bomber wing commanders, he directed the Stukas to switch from merchant ship raids to attacks on coastal cities and villages. Not that the merchant ships were entirely safe: they still had the Volksmarine’s cruisers, U-boats, and destroyers to contend with once they left port.
One other important consequence of Hitler’s decision was to once and for all expose the Stuka’s shortcomings as a combat plane. Until the Volksluftkorps commenced its bombing offensive against the British Isles, the Stuka had been viewed as a formidable-- in the eyes of some people, invincible --weapon in the German arsenal; however, that belief was shattered when RAF fighters started knocking Stukas out of the sky in droves. The Stuka had not been designed for close-quarter dogfights, and its fixed undercarriage made it an easy target for Hurricane and Spitfire pilots. The Heinkels and Dorniers that comprised the bulk of the Volksluftkorps’ multi-engine bomber fleet were also highly vulnerable to RAF fighters; besides being slow, their defensive armament was poor and the armor plating around their gas tanks was, at best, inadequate. Hugh Dowding would later be moved to quip that the remarkable thing was not that these bombers were being shot down in such large numbers, it was that they managed to get off the ground in the first place.
But the damage the bombers did to British cities was hardly a joke. London in particular was a frequent target for their wrath; starting on Rote Blitzentag and continuing until mid-August of 1940, the Volksluftkorps flew air raids against the British capital at least three times a day.1 On one particularly harrowing day in early June of 1940, the Germans bombed London ten times in twelve hours. London’s fire brigade and ambulance drivers were kept busy around the clock by the daily DDVR air assault on their city. There were many in London who felt their city was being singled out, and they might not have been entirely wrong on that score-- when the original operational plans for Fall Rote Adler2 were first drawn up, Volksluftkorps commander-in-chief Heinrich Stuckart had put the British capital at the top of his list of major cities to be targeted for terror raids by his bomber force.
Perhaps the surest sign of Hitler’s lust to break the British people in general and Londoners in particular came on June 16th, 1940 when 500-plus Volksluftkorps bombers took off from airfields in northern France to mount an incendiary strike on the heart of London. The targets that were to be hit in the attack included the House of Commons, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the British Museum. Hitler explicitly said to his bomber crews they should "burn London to cinders, then burn the cinders". And they came perilously close to accomplishing that aim; in spite of the heavy casualties the bomber force sustained at the hands of British air defenses, the attackers managed to reach the city and set off one of the biggest blazes London had seen since the Great Fire of 1666. It was during this attack that Winston Churchill nearly perished when a bomb struck the Cabinet War Room. The royal family drew national headlines-- and praise --for selflessly pitching in to aid London fire brigade officers in evacuating Buckingham Palace when a pair of 1000-kg bombs detonated in the vicinity of the servants’ quarters.
If Hitler had thought the London fire raid would shatter the morale of British citizens, he would soon be proved wrong in the most emphatic way possible. Two days after the attack, Churchill convened a special session of his war cabinet and asked for their opinion on whether the RAF should be given the go-ahead to mount a major bombing raid against Berlin. Their response was quick and unanimous: the strike on the German capital should proceed without any further delay.
On June 20th, just four days after the Volksluftkorps’ 500-plane raid on London, RAF Bomber Command made its first major air strike against Berlin. Timing their attack to catch the German fighters while those fighters were still on the ground, the British bombers hit the city just as dawn was breaking; while the physical damage to Berlin was less extensive than Churchill or his top air commanders would have liked, the psychological shock to the German Communists’ morale was devastating. For years Heinrich Stuckart had been boasting about the invulnerability of the German People’s Republic to air attack, and in one fell swoop the British had turned his boast to ashes.
The Berlin raid saw the Hitler-Stuckart relationship begin to change permanently for the worse. Hitler was outraged that Stuckart’s vaunted fighter defense network was been caught with its pants down and blamed his old comrade for the casualties incurred in the British air attack; Stuckart in turn took Hitler’s criticism of his fighter defense corps as a personal insult. The quarreling between them would gradually poison nearly every aspect of German air operations as the war went on, and by the time Operation Red Eagle was finally terminated in early September of 1940 it was also threatening to cause a schism in the ranks of the KPD’s inner circle.
One other problem hampering the Volksluftkorps’ efforts to bomb Britain into submission was the limited range of the Bf109 fighters whose job was to escort the bombers to and from their targets. These fighters, operating dozens or even hundreds of miles from their home bases with inadequate fuel capacity, could only fly half an hour or so in British airspace before they had to flee back across the English Channel; by contrast, RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes had the advantage of being close to their home airfields and could quickly refuel and reload before taking off again to confront the Communist air armada. A German pilot who had the bad luck to get shot down over British soil would usually wind up in a POW camp-- assuming he hadn’t first been lynched by vengeful civilians or fried to a crisp in his burning plane as it death spiraled towards an explosive crash-landing. His British counterpart, on the other hand, could usually manage to get back into action pretty fast unless he were incapacitated or dead. RAF mechanics were extremely good at patching up aircraft, and British factories were working prodigiously day and night to turn out replacements for those planes which couldn’t be patched.
By the beginning of August two things were crystal clear to most objective observers: (1) that Germany was losing the battle for control of Britain’s skies and (2) that a winner-take-all showdown between the RAF and the Volksluftkorps would happen sooner or later above one of Britain’s major cities....
...and that showdown finally came on August 21st, 1940 in what would be the final major Communist air raid on London before Case Red Lion was called off. A Volksluftkorps strike force comprising 470 bombers and 320 fighters assembled off the French coast just after 6:00 AM London time; waiting for them on the other side of the Channel was a massive picket line of RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes assembled on orders from Air Vice- Marshal Dowding, who’d been tipped off to the impending raid by Fighter Command’s intelligence section the night before.
The first wave of bombers had just reached the London city limits when the picket line swung into action, pouncing on the bombers and their fighter escorts like sharks in a feeding frenzy. At almost the exact same instant, British anti-aircraft batteries opened fire on the second wave of German planes, and from that moment on both attackers and defenders would get first-hand proof of the veracity of Napoleon’s famous adage "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy." The compactly arranged German bomber formations disintegrated under the combined pressure of the RAF fighters assaulting them from the sky and the AA guns blasting them to pieces from the ground.
Conversely by the same token, Spitfire and Hurricane pilots found themselves occasionally swapping jobs; a Spitfire might have to break off its pursuit of a Bf109 to take out a Heinkel that was threatening the London docks, or a Hurricane might have the good luck to get the drop on a German fighter and blast it out of the skies before the German pilot had time to notice the British plane was there.
Around 8:30 AM the surviving German planes regrouped and made a desperate sprint for the English coast, pursued by Dowding’s Hurricanes and Spitfires; they were also harassed by Gloster Sea Gladiators of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm who’d been on coastal patrol at the time of the German attack and were now assigned to help eliminate any stragglers who’d eluded the RAF the first time around. This stage of the battle saw the last air combat kill ever scored by a British biplane in Europe when a Sea Gladiator managed to pick off a Bf109 that had been seriously hurt by ack-ack fire near Dover.
Of the 790 planes that had been dispatched from German-occupied France and Holland at the start of the attack, less than 200 survived to return to their home airbases; of those 200, only slightly more than eighty were still flyable-- and even those needed extensive repair jobs before being sent back into action. For all intents and purposes, the RAF had won what historians now refer to as "the Battle of Britain". On September 2nd, 1940 Adolf Hitler ordered that Operation Red Eagle be terminated effective the next day and Operation Red Lion postponed until late May or early June of 1941.
However, it was readily apparent to all but the most die-hard Marxist fanatic that German troops could never hope to land on British soil now. As Winston Churchill aptly put it, this wasn’t the end of the war with the German-Soviet alliance, or even the beginning of the end, but it was the end of the beginning. True, most of Europe was still controlled by the Communists either directly or through the auspices of regimes which were subservient to the Communist bloc or even directly allied with it, but the tide in Europe had at last started to turn in the West’s favor...
To Be Continued
 One such raid nearly claimed the life of Winston Churchill when a Heinkel bomber crew scored a lucky hit on the Cabinet War Room. Fortunately for the British government, Churchill had adjourned to another room when the bombs struck.
 “Case Red Eagle”, the official code name for the German Communist air offensive against Great Britain(see Part 11).