The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Author:Erik Larson
Language: eng
Format: epub, azw3, mobi
Publisher: Crown
Published: 2020-02-24T16:00:00+00:00


Our Special Source

ENGLAND’S WEATHER DEGRADED. GALES RAKED the landscape and roiled the surrounding seas, making an amphibious landing by German forces seem less and less likely. Fragments of intelligence from Bletchley Park—which Air Ministry officials referred to only as “our special source”—suggested that Hitler might have postponed his planned Operation Sea Lion. Yet the Luftwaffe continued to pummel London with nightly raids, and now appeared to be expanding its range of targets elsewhere in England. Clearly something new was afoot, and the implications were troubling. London had shown itself able to withstand nightly attack, but how would the rest of the country fare, as more and more civilians were killed or injured and bombed from their homes?

The details of the Luftwaffe’s new campaign were starting to come into focus. On Tuesday, November 12, intelligence officers listened in as a newly captured German airman conversed with another prisoner in a room fitted with a hidden microphone. “He believes,” the officers reported, “that riots have broken out in London and that Buckingham Palace has been stormed and that ‘Hermann’ ”—a reference to Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring—“thinks the psychological moment has come for a colossal raid to take place between the 15th and the 20th of this month at the full moon and that Coventry and Birmingham will be the towns attacked.”

The scenario described by the prisoner was chilling. For this raid, the Luftwaffe planned to deploy every available bomber and use every navigational beam. The planes would carry fifty-kilogram (110-pound) “shrieking” bombs. The prisoner, according to the report, said the bombers were to concentrate on destroying working-class neighborhoods, where the populace was believed to be on the verge of revolt.

The report cautioned that the new prisoner might not be very reliable, and recommended that his remarks be treated with circumspection. What had prompted air intelligence to relay them now, the report said, was its receipt that afternoon of information from the special source that indicated the Germans were planning “a gigantic raid,” code-named Moonlight Sonata. The special source believed the target was not Coventry or Birmingham but, rather, London. The attack would likely take place three days hence, on Friday, November 15, when the moon was full, and would involve up to eighteen hundred German aircraft, including bombers from KGr 100, the elite fire-starter unit, whose incendiaries would further light the target. One indication of the singular importance of the raid was the fact that Göring himself planned to direct the operation.

If all this was true, it raised the specter of the massive knock-out raid—Churchill’s aerial “banquet”—that civil defense officials had expected and feared ever since the start of the war.

The Air Ministry circulated a “minute sheet,” on which officials offered their thoughts about the bits of intelligence known thus far. In an entry marked “MOST SECRET,” an RAF wing commander wrote that the exact date of the raid would probably be signaled by a flight in the afternoon by bombers from KGr 100; their goal would be to check on


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