AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS ORGANIZATION: United Kingdom. World War II. Experience of German strategic bombing during World War I led to studies in the years after the war on the vulnerability of the United Kingdom to air attack.  Starting in 1924 the Air Staff provided estimates to the Air Raid Precautions subcommittee of the Home Office that indicated the outcome of an attack by a hypothetical continental adversary in the first few hours of a future war.  The 1924 forecast was based on a French attack, as France was the only nation with a bomber force capable of sustained attacks on London; by 1937 the forecast shifted to the Luftwaffe as the primary threat.

Table 1-1.  Projected Air Attacks Against London

Date Hypothetical Enemy Initial Attack Initial Casualties Sustained Attack Sustained Casualties
1924 France 450 tons of bombs in first few hours

3,800 killed

twice that number injured

first month 25,000 killed
1937 Germany 600 tons a day 30,000 casualties 600 tons a day in the first weeks

66,000 killed a week

134,000 injured a week

1938 Germany a single massive strike of 3,500 tons the first day ... 175,000 casualties ... or 700 tons daily average for first two weeks 245,000 casualties a week
1940 Germany 950 tons a day 47,500 casualties 950 tons a day 332,500 casualties a week

These projections were based on extrapolations from World War I data that suggested every ton on bombs dropped resulted in 50 casualties.  The underlying scenario used for the calculations was an initial assault soon after the initiation of hostilities by the entire enemy air force, followed by a sustained bombing campaign of high explosive, incendiary, and gas bombs.  The outcome was a terrorized population which would rapidly loose the will to fight. There was a general assumption that defenses would be relatively ineffective and that the bomber attack would always get through to cause significant damage.  In addition, there was a general appreciation that chemical warfare would be a component of any air campaign.

A variety of projections were developed based on these scenarios.  Professor J. B. S. Haldane forecasted refugees being strafed as they attempt to flee, resulting in the arterial roads being blocked.  As a result he suggested that the roads be reserved for buses protected by fighter aircraft.  Professor Haldane's estimates were that a 500 aircraft raid would result in 20,000 casualties and that an opening raid on London would result in 100,000 deaths.

The Home Office identified a requirement for an estimated 20,000,000 square feet of seasoned lumber per month for coffins; mass burials and even mass dumping of bodies in the English Channel were also considered.  The Ministry of Health identified a requirement for 2,800,000 hospital beds.  In 1939 the Mental Health Emergency Committee predicted a ratio of 3 psychiatric casualties to 1 physical casualty.  Insurance estimates reached 25,000 Pounds Sterling per bomb, with an estimate of 550,000,000 Pounds Sterling worth of property damage in the first 3 weeks of the war - approximately 5 percent of the total value of property nationwide.

In 1935 the Baldwin government approved a budget allocation of 100,000 Pounds Sterling to initiate air raid precautions planning, and the Air Raid Precautions Department was established in the Home Office.  Initial planning identified requirements for expanded fire service capabilities, evacuation, passive protection measures for chemical and conventional bombing attacks, and the establishment of a supporting organization.  The Warden Service was activated in April 1937, and by mid 1938 had over 200,000 men and women enrolled (against an estimated 400,000 Warden requirement).  The December 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act assigned responsibility for introducing air raid measures at the local authority level.

During the Munich crisis, the Air Raid Precautions organization was placed on standby.  This resulted in an increase in volunteers, but the long period of the Phony War resulted in a rapid drop in credibility of the service among the general public, and members were seen as draft dodgers or grown men playing at games.  The German attack on France and the evacuation at Dunkirk rapidly changed perspectives.       

The United Kingdom's air raid precautions organization was based on the theory that civil defense is a war fought at the neighborhood level. Assistance for people in a neighborhood hit by an attack should come from their neighbors. If the damage caused by an air raid was so large that neighborhood resources were unable to meet the needs, resources could be brought in from other areas to operate under the control of the local organization. At the bottom of the structure was the local Wardens' Post, theoretically sited to provide control for an area inhabited by approximately 500 people. In a major city, such as London, this resulted in a distribution of approximately 10 Wardens' Posts per square mile. Wardens' Posts reported to a District, and the District to a Borough. At the Borough level, the chief executive became the Air Raid Precautions Controller and civil government officers filled the key civil defense staff positions. Boroughs reported to a Group Headquarters, and the Groups to a Region.

Twelve Regional Headquarters divided the country into regions capable of independent action in their assigned areas (see Table 1). The regional structure was adopted based on lessons learned from the General Strike of 1926, and using the same regions established during that event. Each Region was administered by a Regional Commissioner, who served as the senior civil defense official for the geographical area and was empowered to act as the chief government official if the Region was isolated due to air raids or invasion. The senior official at each subordinate level of organization was termed the Air Raid Precautions Controller.

Table 1-2. Civil Defence Regions As Of March 1941

Number Region Name Control Centre Other Towns/Cities Counties
1 Northern Newcastle

Berwick on Tweed

Middlesborough

Northumberland

County Durham

Yorkshire - North Riding

2 North Eastern Leeds

York

Hull

Sheffield

Yorkshire - East Riding

Yorkshire - West Riding

3 North Midland Nottingham

Lincoln

Derby

Lincolnshire

Rutland

Northamptonshire

Leicestershire

Derbyshire

Nottinghamshire

4 Eastern Cambridge

Norwich

Lowestoff

Ipswich

Bedford

Chelmsford

Southend

Norfolk

Suffolk

Cambridgeshire

Huntingdonshire

Bedfordshire

Essex

Hertfordshire

5 London London Croydon

Middlesex

... parts of Surrey, Kent, Essex, and Hertfordshire

6 Southern Reading

Oxford

Southampton

Portsmouth

Bournemouth

Buckinghamshire

Oxfordshire

Berkshire

Hampshire

Dorset

7 South Western Bristol

Penzance

Plymouth

Exeter

Weston Super Mare

Bath

Avonmouth

Gloucester

Cornwall

Devon

Somerset

Wiltshire

Gloucestershire

8 Wales Cardiff

Swansea

Denbigh

Ruthin

Anglesey

Breconshire

Caernarvonshire

Cardiganshire

Carmarthenshire

Denbighshire

Flintshire

Glamorgan

Merionethshire

Monmouthshire

Montgomeryshire

Pembrokeshire

Radnorshire

9 Midland Birmingham

Coventry

Shrewsbury

Herefordhsire

Worcestershire

Warwickshire

Staffordshire

Shropshire

10 North Western Manchester

Chester

Liverpool

Preston

Barrow in Furness

Carlisle

Cheshire

Lancashire

Westmorland

Cumberland

... may have included northwest corner of Derbyshire

11 Scotland Edinburgh

Glasgow

Dumfries

Aberdeenshire

Forfarshire

Argyllshire

Ayrshire

Banfshire

Berwickshire

Buteshire

Caithness

Clackmannshire

Dumfries-shire

East Lothian

Fife

Inverness-shire

Kincardineshire

Kinross-shire

Kirkcudbrightshire

Lanarkshire

Midlothian

Morayshire

Nairnshire

Orkney Islands

Peebles-shire

Perthshire

Renfrewshire

Ross and Cromarty

Roxburghshire

Selkirkshire

Shetland Islands

Stirlingshire

Sutherland

West Lothian

Wigtownshire

12 South Eastern Tunbridge Wells

Chatham

Margate

Canterbury

Dover

Folkestone

Hastings

Brighton

Kent

Surrey

Sussex

In practice, the system structure responded as follows:

(1) An incident occurred that caused damage and required response.

(2) The local Air Raid Warden detected the incident and ran to his Wardens' Post to make a report.

(3) The Wardens' Post reported the incident to the Control Center, and, if a fire had been ignited, to the Fire Control.  Telephone clerks received the calls and passed them to the Control Center officers.  Each incident was plotted on a map with a colored pin, allowing rapid assessment of the bombing situation.  When telephone communications failed, messages were delivered by dispatch riders, bicyclists, or runners.

(4) Fire Control dispatched fire appliances from Fire Stations to the scene.

(5) The Control Center dispatched (a) stretcher parties from the First Aid Depot to treat minor injuries, (b) ambulances, and (c) heavy rescue teams.  Each incident report generated an initial dispatch of one first aid party and one rescue party.  As follow-up reports were received, additional parties were dispatched from the depots by telephone.

(6) The Control Center maintained records of the resources dispatched to the incident.  Tally boards how many parties from each response service were committed, on standby for immediate response, or were in reserve. 

(7) An Incident Officer assumed command of the incident on scene; his communications capability was provided by messengers.

(8) Firefighters suppressed structural fires, and heavy rescue personnel accessed and freed trapped people.

(9) Initial patient care was provided by a First Aid Party, composed of four trained first-aiders and a driver, and eventually supplemented in the later days of the Blitz by an on-call incident doctor.   Litter patients were moved first by stretcher parties and then by ambulance, and minor injuries by automobile, to the First Aid Post for treatment by doctors and nurses. A First Aid Post was a fixed facility staffed by a physician, nurse, and nursing auxiliaries,  and served approximately 15,000 people.  Mobile first aid posts provided a deployable capability to meet specific incident needs, were set-up in the street near the incident location to provide care, and could be augmented by on-call incident physicians.

If a local area suffered extensive damage, the Control Center could request assistance. This process worked as follows:

(1) Control Center requested assistance from Regional Headquarters.

(2) Regional Headquarters contacted a Control Center in an area that had not suffered damage.

(3) Second Control Center dispatched resources to a Reinforcement Camp located on the periphery of the raided area.

(4) Resources were transferred at the Camp to the control of the first Control Center and were dispatched to incidents as required.

Sources:
Ramsey, Winston G., editor, The Blitz: Then and Now, Volume 1, London, United Kingdom, Battle of Britain Prints International, 1987. "Air Raid Precautions 1924-1939," location http://www.fortunecity.co.uk/meltingpot/oxford/330/arp/arp1.html, accessed 28 August 2001. Spender, Stephen, Citizens in War - And After, London, United Kingdom, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1945. United Kingdom, British Information Services, Front Line: The Official Story of the Civil Defense of Britain, New York, New York, United States of America, The MacMillan Company, 1943.

Entry 0101 - updated 9 September 2003