Bomber in the City, 1943

The appearance of a Short Stirling Bomber near St Paul's Cathedral prompts Roger Hudson to recall the Wings for Victory campaign.

It is the beginning of the Wings for Victory campaign in March 1943 to raise money for warplanes. A Short Stirling bomber has been brought in pieces and then reassembled on a bomb site to the east of St Paul’s Cathedral and there is an Avro Lancaster in Trafalgar Square, too. The high point of the City of London’s effort is a parade and march past the Lord Mayor, the biggest since 1939, with contingents from the three services and men of the merchant marine. At the end there are various-sized bombs on trolleys, including a blockbuster with ‘Hitler’s Easter Egg’ chalked on its side. At Trafalgar Square 1,300 carrier pigeons are released with messages for savings committees throughout the country.

There had been a War Weapons Week in 1940 to replace armaments lost at Dunkirk, a Warship Week in 1942, as well as a Spitfire and a Tanks for Attack Week and, of course, there was always Dig for Victory. Now most towns were to devote the first week of May to Wings for Victory. Targets were set for counties and then divided up between urban and rural district councils. The Yorkshire town of Settle’s target was £150,000, enough for three Sunderland flying boats, though its final total was £223,000. For every target achieved, the Air Ministry awarded a white plastic plaque featuring a nude St Michael the Archangel brandishing his sword at a three-headed Lucifer, while the planes were named after the town or county which had raised the money. Plastic was an exotic novelty in 1943.

The campaign came as a timely distraction as, early in March, there had been a horrific incident when a mother and child, part of a crowd going down some steps into an air raid shelter in Bethnal Green, fell over near the bottom and a mass of other people were then brought down, resulting in 173 being crushed to death. On May 16th church bells had been rung across the country to celebrate the final expulsion of the Germans from North Africa, while the Dambusters Raid took place the next day. This was part of the Battle of the Ruhr, a turning point in the bomber offensive, with 34,000 tons of bombs dropped between March and July, badly disrupting the German armaments minister Albert Speer’s industrial war effort. Yet although the campaign meant there was no increase in the output of German planes between July and March 1944, their night-fighters became highly effective, shooting down most of the 1,047 British bombers that failed to return between November and March. More than the equivalent of the whole front line of Bomber Command had been destroyed in those five months. The funds raised by Wings for Victory were an important morale booster, though it could not compensate for lost aircrew.

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