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 Pre-War Air Raid Precautions

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Anglo-Norman
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PostSubject: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 10:56

The other day, on a random visit to the local Oxfam bookshop, I was lucky enough to pick up (for a mere £2.99) a copy of the snappily titled Air Raid Precautions Handbook No. 1: Personal Protection Against Gas (1st Edition).  It was published in by H.M. Stationary Office in 1936 and sold for 6d, and was one of a series on air raid precautions.  It offers advice of the types of gas and how it can be delivered, precautions against chemical attack, how to don different types of gas mask, treatment etc.  The book is in excellent condition, and tucked into the front were two typed sheets (not, it seems, issued with the book but seemingly contemporary): one a chart showing a simple breakdown of the main types of chemical weapon and how they can be delivered, the other a blank form to arrange an examination on Chemical Warfare (as an ARP Warden?)  The form gives the options of Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th of April, but no year - however, those dates match 1937.  It gives the choice of office as Lothbury, Threadneedle St and Lombard St, all  close to one another in the middle of London (I'm in Windsor).  I might contact the Imperial War Museum to ask if it means anything to them.

Anyway, this was obviously still three years before the Second World War broke out, in a period when it was believed peace with Germany could still be secured.  The introduction to the book offers the following reassurance:
Quote :
The measures for safeguarding the civil population against the effects of air attack which these Handbooks describe have become a necessary part of the defensive organisation of any country which is open to air attack.  The need for them is not related to any belief that war is imminent.

(My emphasis).  However, since the handbook was evidently issued for civilian use, did the Home Office, who were behind the volume, really believe there was no possibility of imminent war?  If there was no fear of war, it would certainly be a strange coincidence that they should have chosen to issue the book only a few months after Germany finally abandoned any pretence of sticking by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and its re-armament programme was reaching its peak!
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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 11:37

Germany had withdrawn from the League of Nations and the Geneva Disarmament conference in 1933 and only then, as I understand it, did Britain start to rearm, the first step being the establishment of committees to look into deficiencies in the British armed forces (which led to the development of new tanks and aircraft). On paper I think there was local civil defence planning still in existence since WW1 but it was certainly revitalised in 1935 with the formation of the new government department of Civil Defence. I imagine that, as well as being part of the overall, albeit rather slow, move to rearm, it was also a reflection of the public's reaction to events in the Spanish civil war (such as the bombing of Guernica in April 1937) and of the media such as HG Well's 'Things to Come' (1936).

I remember reading somewhere that even as late as 1938/39 Britain was still only very slowly building air-raid shelters for civillian use, partly because of the cost and objections of local civic authorities, but also because official thinking dithered over the irreconcilable problem that the best protection against HE explosive bombs was underground shelters while the best protection against poison gas was to remain above ground and find refuge in tall buildings. There was also I suspect a feeling that attempts at protecting the whole population from a sustained air attack would be largely futile: at outbreak of war in 1939 the authorities in were still talking about expecting something like 10,000 casualties within the first 72 hours if London was bombed.

When were gas masks issued to the population as a whole?

PS: I can answer that ... at the time of the Munich crisis (September 1938) the government immediately issued 35 million gas masks, and by September 1939 had issued a further 10 million ... enough for every adult and older child, but in September 1939 there was still no protection for under 5s and the best the official advice could give was to "wrap them tightly in a blanket". This deficiency was finally made good by the end of October 1939 with the issue of special "Mickey Mouse" masks for infants and "bags" for babies.
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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 12:07

A number of measures were inaugurated in the mid 1930s for a possible air war with Germany. The RAF Volunteer Reserve ( for NCO aircrew ) started in 1936. In the same year, Fighter, Bomber, Coastal and Training Commands came into being, while the development of "Shadow Factories", a plan to use car manufacturers as aircraft manufacturers, was underway.

The 1st and 2nd Anti -Aircraft Divisions ( both T.A. formations) were formed in December 1935.


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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 12:30

Map showing the establishment of Royal Observer Corps groups in the 1920s and 30s:

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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 13:11

Anglo-Norman wrote:

However, since the handbook was evidently issued for civilian use, did the Home Office, who were behind the volume, really believe there was no possibility of imminent war?  If there was no fear of war, it would certainly be a strange coincidence that they should have chosen to issue the book only a few months after Germany finally abandoned any pretence of sticking by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and its re-armament programme was reaching its peak!

I rather get the feeling that after 1935 the government and its military planners, while they might have been acutely worried about Britain's unpreparedness in the face of the very real possibility of war with Germany, tended to down-play these concerns for political and economic reasons. The population as a whole were still so appalled by the propsect of another war that they preferred to ignore the warning signs rather than face up to the looming reality. Rearmament and civil defence were not popular, vote-winning policies. Reflecting this, from 1935 onwards, first Stanley Baldwin, and then his successor Chamberlain, preferred to appease rather than confront the growing power of Hitler's Germany. So while nevertheless having to plan for the worst they were still publicly hoping for the best. Even several months into the war, as late as April 1940 and the disasterous action at Narvik, I get the impression that Chamberlain was still vainly hoping that some sort of peace could be achieved, and that all out war between Britain and Germany - including the bombing of British cities which still hadn't yet occurred - could all be avoided. (Of course if Halifax rather than Churchill had succeeded Chamberlain the war might well have been resolved, at least for the time being, in 1940).

Also, despite aerial bombing - both HE and sometimes poison gas - having been used by the Italians in Ethiopia, the Germans in Spain, the Japanese in China, and even the British themselves in Afganistan and Iraq, there was still a feeling in the 1930s that bombing cities wasn't really legal. Even after war had been declared, objections were raised in parliament against the proposed bombing of German cities by the RAF ... partly because it was thought the Germans might retailate in kind, but also, as some MPs pointed out, German factories were private property and their owners might sue. Accordingly there was also the hope that the Germans would come to the same conclusion and so they wouldn't be so beastly as to actually start bombing British cities (and of course Germany never did use poison gas).


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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 13:25

On the other hand, if Chamberlain and Daladier had been more resolute during the Sudeten Crisis;

The Oster Conspiracy:

wiki

The plot was organised and developed by Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) Hans Oster of the Abwehr; he drew into the conspiracy such people as Generaloberst (colonel general) Ludwig Beck (a former Chief of Army General Staff), Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch (Commander in Chief of the Army), Generaloberst Franz Halder(Chief of the Army General Staff), Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (Chief of the Abwehr), and Generalleutnant (lieutenant general) Erwin von Witzleben(Commander of the Berlin and Brandenburg Military District). First, Count Hans-Jürgen von Blumenthal would lead a storm party into the Reichkanzlei and kill Hitler. It would then be necessary to neutralise the Nazi Party apparatus in order to stop them from proceeding with the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which they believed would lead to a war that would ruin Germany.
In addition to these military figures, the conspirators also had contact with Secretary of State Ernst von Weizsäcker and the diplomats Theodor and Erich Kordt. Theodor Kordt was considered a vital contact with the British on whom the success of the plot depended; the conspirators needed strong British opposition to Hitler's seizure of the Sudetenland. However, Neville Chamberlain, apprehensive of the possibility of war, negotiated at length with Hitler and eventually conceded strategic areas of Czechoslovakia to him. This destroyed any chance of the plot succeeding, as Hitler was then seen in Germany as the "greatest statesman of all times at the moment of his greatest triumph", and the immediate risk of war had been neutralized.
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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Fri 02 Dec 2016, 19:43

Triceratops wrote:
On the other hand, if Chamberlain and Daladier had been more resolute during the Sudeten Crisis;

The Oster Conspiracy:

wiki

The plot was organised and developed by Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) Hans Oster of the Abwehr; he drew into the conspiracy such people as Generaloberst (colonel general) Ludwig Beck (a former Chief of Army General Staff), Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch (Commander in Chief of the Army), Generaloberst Franz Halder(Chief of the Army General Staff), Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (Chief of the Abwehr), and Generalleutnant (lieutenant general) Erwin von Witzleben(Commander of the Berlin and Brandenburg Military District). First, Count Hans-Jürgen von Blumenthal would lead a storm party into the Reichkanzlei and kill Hitler. It would then be necessary to neutralise the Nazi Party apparatus in order to stop them from proceeding with the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which they believed would lead to a war that would ruin Germany.
In addition to these military figures, the conspirators also had contact with Secretary of State Ernst von Weizsäcker and the diplomats Theodor and Erich Kordt. Theodor Kordt was considered a vital contact with the British on whom the success of the plot depended; the conspirators needed strong British opposition to Hitler's seizure of the Sudetenland. However, Neville Chamberlain, apprehensive of the possibility of war, negotiated at length with Hitler and eventually conceded strategic areas of Czechoslovakia to him. This destroyed any chance of the plot succeeding, as Hitler was then seen in Germany as the "greatest statesman of all times at the moment of his greatest triumph", and the immediate risk of war had been neutralized.


Yes, Triceratops, I mentioned it several times at the BBC board and when I said to the German contributor there that I estimated Oster above admiral Canaris it was the first time seemingly that he heard of Oster. It was also Oster, who informed the Dutch via the Dutch Sas that the Fall Gelb was imminent, as it in reality was at that very moment. But the Dutch didn't believe Sas and as the German invasion was postponed (as after the Maasmechelen incident) the Dutch were confirmed in their disbelief.

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Sun 12 Feb 2017, 21:15

Whilst sorting through some old letters, papers and photos that came from my parents' house, I've just come upon this ... an "Air Raid Precautions" certificate issued to my aunt after completion and examination following a "Course of Lectures in General Anti-Gas Measures". The certificate is dated 15 July 1938 but it states she attended these courses from 24 March '38 to 12 May '38. This is of course about the time of the German-Austrian Anschluss but is still some months before the Munich conference.


 
My aunt wasn't professionally involved in any aspect of civil defence - she was a typist working for the Dubarry Perfume Company (Brighton). She was involved with the St John Ambulance Brigade, although just as a local volunteer first-aider, and it was probably through the St Johns that she got this training. But the point is that months before Munich - and over a year before the civillian population as a whole were issued gas masks - local civil defence was already training ordinary civillans in anti-gas measures.
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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Tue 14 Feb 2017, 23:06

I recall my family getting a very silly looking red Micky Mouse gas mask for me, a tot. I gave some very serious thought about how it might save me from  bombs..... or perhaps by wearing it I might frighten away an enemy. I had heard in hushed tones that 'gas' had given Percy next door a dreadful cough but not when where or how. Did I have to wear it when I went next door? The rubbery smell  of this and the next one was awful. And when the bombs rained down I don't recall anyone ever wearing one but like a talisman we all carted them about.... until the cardboard box or string broke, anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Pre-War Air Raid Precautions   Wed 15 Feb 2017, 15:59

Cigarette card from 1938:



there was an entire set to collect:

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