Under the Bombs: The German Home Front, 1942-1945. – Review

Under the Bombs: The German Home Front, 1942-1945. – Review – book review

David Clay Large

Under the Bombs: The German Home Front, 1942-1945. By Earl R. Beck. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999. Pg. xi, 252. $18.00.)

In 1939, Reich Air Marshal Hermann Goring brashly declared that he would change his name to “Meier” if any enemy aircraft penetrated German air space and attacked the Reich’s cities. Subsequent events afforded the German people plenty of opportunity to remind the marshal of his promise. British air raids on German cities began as early as August 1940, though in the first years of the war the attacks were not terribly effective due to strong German defenses and technical deficiencies on the part of the raiders. Matters changed substantially in spring 1942, when the British began launching enormous nighttime raids aimed at destroying the major cities and towns of the Nazi Reich. The British were joined in early 1943 by the Americans, who bombed Germany by day. For the remainder of the war, Germany would experience only brief respites from the around-the-dock raids that gradually reduced many of its larger cities to ruins.

Earl R. Beck’s Under the Bombs examines the plight of the German civilian population as the war was brought home to them with a vengeance from 1942 onward. He is primarily interested in matters of morale, in determining how ordinary people coped with the physical and psychological horrors of “total war.” Making effective use of personal diaries, situation reports by the SS Sicherheitsdienst (security agency), assessments by local government agents, and the records of court cases, he traces the slow but steady decline of popular support for the Nazi regime and its military crusade. Although Allied bombs constituted the greatest horror that the civilian population had to face, Beck points out quite rightly that there were other sources of grievance, including chronic shortages of food and heating fuel; an influx of foreign workers, many of them from the east; and, in the last year of the war, a drastic curtailment of cultural diversions. Yet, in the end, of course, Germany’s home front did not cave in under the relentless bombing, as many Allied strategists had hoped it would. Germany still had to be invaded by land, which increased substantially the physical devastation and loss of life incurred by the Reich. Beck invests his study with a certain admiration for the pluck and tenacity of the German people during this ordeal, and, in passing, he poses the unanswerable question of how the American populace, having never experienced an air war in their homeland, might hold up under a similar onslaught.

Written in a strong and lucid narrative prose, Under the Bombs is based on a thorough grounding in the relevant archival sources and secondary works (save the ones that have appeared since this book’s first publication back in 1986). Although somewhat dated due to the appearance of the more recent studies, Beck’s work is the most vivid account available of what it was actually like to live under the bombings. His study does for the civilian experience on the home front during World War II what John Keegan’s classic, The Face of Battle (1976) does for the plight of the common foot soldier on the historic battlefields of Europe.

David Clay Large Montana State University

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