History Wars World War II

The first British air raid on Berlin was perfectly timed

Logan Nye Avatar
Bombing of Berlin
Bombing of Berlin.

Picture the scene. It’s a posh office of the senior Nazi official Joachim von Ribbentrop. He’s there, sipping drinks with his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov. It’s been one year since the two negotiated a nonaggression pact that resulted in the invasions of Poland, the Low Countries and France. Von Ribbentrop, riding high on the Third Reich’s quick success in recent invasions, is explaining how Britain will quickly fall, as well.

And that’s when the explosions start. The explosion being from British bombs. That British planes were dropping. On Berlin. During their first air raid on the city. Coincidentally at that exact moment.

Had to be awkward for Ribbentrop. But, you know, Nazi. So screw him.

Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1938.

How it happened

Molotov and Ribbentrop represented very tense allied countries. They had a secret nonaggression pact, and their leaders had divvied up a little of Europe between them, but they were natural enemies.

Soviet Premier Josef Stalin was a…hold on, it’s in my notes somewhere. I hope I’m pronouncing this right, “Communist.” And Nazi Fuhrer/murderer/fad mustache ruiner Adolf Hitler hated communists. The Bolsheviks were one of his favorite punching bags in his speeches calling for violence against political enemies.

So why did they become allies at all? Stalin knew that his military was not ready for a fight with a resurgent Germany in 1939, and he seemed to think that he could literally buy time by trading natural resources with Hitler. Potentially, he could buy all the time.

This wasn’t a crazy idea at the time, by the way. Germany lacked a lot of industrial inputs crucial for industrialized warfare, especially petroleum. Britain quickly blockaded Germany after the 1940 invasions. So, by August 1940, Germany was getting most of its oil from Russia. An invasion would threaten that and so would never… Anyway, story for another day. So the Soviet Union cautiously negotiated with Germany, even as it swallowed Western Europe.

A work party clears rubble from an air raid on Berlin, 13 October 1940.

August 1940 and the first air raid

So the 1939 meetings led to the nonaggression pact, and the two men met again in 1940. Ribbentrop was trying to convince Molotov that the Nazi success across Europe was a done deal.

These were the early stages of negotiations that would continue in October and November: Germany wanted control of essentially all of Europe and was laying the groundwork to try and pressure the Soviet Union into focusing its influence in Iran and India, instead. A key point was that, since Germany would hold most of the territory when Britain fell, it was basically a fait accompli, anyway.

Probably safe to assume that Ribbentrop’s allegation that Britain was basically dead was undermined when British bombs started punctuating the conversation.

Ribbentrop and the Nazis were wrong that Britain would soon be conquered. Germany never was able to assemble the necessary forces and expertise for a cross-channel invasion. But the raids on Berlin soon faltered and stopped. In the months after that first, August 25, 1940 raid, the Royal Air Force would hit Berlin only occasionally. But by the fall of 1941, the raids had essentially stopped and would not resume until January 1943.

By that point, the Soviet Union was on Britain’s side after Hitler turned out to be a traitorous worm who invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Who knew that trusting a fascist who decried communists could turn out so badly for communists?