The Blitz and how it started
The Blitz refers to the strategic bombing campaign conducted by the Germans against London and other cities in England from September of 1940 through May of 1941, targeting populated areas, factories and dock yards.
The first German attack on London actually occurred by accident. On the night of August 24, 1940, Luftwaffe bombers aiming for military targets on the outskirts of London drifted off course and instead dropped their bombs on the center of London destroying several homes and killing civilians. Amid the public outrage that followed, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, believing it was a deliberate attack, ordered Berlin to be bombed the next evening.
About 40 British bombers managed to reach Berlin and inflicted minimal property damage. However, the Germans were utterly stunned by the British air-attack on Hitler's capital. It was the first time bombs had ever fallen on Berlin. Making matters worse, they had been repeatedly assured by Luftwaffe Chief, Hermann Göring, that it could never happen. A second British bombing raid on the night of August 28/29 resulted in Germans killed on the ground. Two nights later, a third attack occurred.
German nerves were frayed. The Nazis were outraged. In a speech delivered on September 4, Hitler threatened, "...When the British Air Force drops two or three or four thousand kilograms of bombs, then we will in one night drop 150-, 230-, 300- or 400,000 kilograms. When they declare that they will increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground. We will stop the handiwork of those night air pirates, so help us God!"
Beginning on September 7, 1940, and for a total of 57 consecutive nights, London was bombed. The decision to wage a massive bombing campaign against London and other English cities would prove to be one of the most fateful of the war. Up to that point, the Luftwaffe had targeted Royal Air Force airfields and support installations and had nearly destroyed the entire British air defense system. Switching to an all-out attack on British cities gave RAF Fighter Command a desperately needed break and the opportunity to rebuild damaged airfields, train new pilots and repair aircraft. "It was," Churchill later wrote, "therefore with a sense of relief that Fighter Command felt the German attack turn on to London..."
The bombing raids were hell. High explosives tore at everything, many were killed instantly, and others were crushed by falling rubble. To many Londoners, it seemed that the whole world was on fire. Bombers came in wave after wave, and London barely had time to catch its breath. Fighters were scrambled to deal with the threat, but there were just too few of them and just too many bombers. The drone of the planes overhead became a familiar sound over the ensuing days. It instilled fear in the people, but it also drew a steadfastness in them, to stand their ground and never give in. Nearly 2,000 people were killed or wounded in that first night, and by the end of 1940, over 13,339 Londoners were dead.
Eyewitness accounts of London during the Blitz have proved to be both tragic and awe-inspiring. One tragic event from October 13, 1940 was when a group of people hearing the air raid sirens took to a public shelter in the basement of a five story block of flats. A bomb struck a direct hit on the building; the rubble trapping them in the basement. The water and sewage pipes were ruptured and the people trapped there drowned as rescue teams struggled to get to them. Eleven days later, 154 bodies were recovered. Tragic accounts like that were common all over London during the Blitz. The bombs of the Blitz fell on a daily basis, to the point where they almost became routine. When people heard the air raid sirens, they would head for the Tube stations, public shelters, or even the Anderson shelters that many people had in their backyards. These were essentially corrugated tin boxes that would never have survived a direct hit. In many instances, people would just hide under their kitchen tables wait until the planes had passed, and then get on with whatever it was they had being doing before they had been so rudely interrupted!
On top of all this, the conditions people were forced to live in were terrible. Rationing had been started in January 1940. The whole country was also under what had been called the blackout, so there were to be no lights visible at night. People put up special curtains in their homes, which prevented light from inside the house being seen outside. It was designed to prevent enemy bombers from being able to pick out their targets. Those failing to comply could be fined heavily! People were living their everyday lives among the carnage, the rubble, the dead, the smell, the vermin, and risk of disease. All of this surely must have been terrible, but people just got on with it and made the best of a bad situation.
Thousands were made homeless. Four million homes in Britain were damaged and 200,000 completely destroyed. Despite this, people simply carried on. "Rough and ready" signs were put up in what was left of shop windows saying they were open for business as usual.
Hitler expects to terrorise and cow the people of this mighty city…. Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners
Winston Churchill, broadcast 11th September 1940
On 30th August 1940, the German News Bureau announced to London "The attacks of our Luftwaffe are only a prelude. The decisive blow is about to fall."
For once, the German propaganda machine spoke the truth. At 4.56pm on the fine, late summer afternoon of Saturday September 7th, London's air-raid sirens, later to be known less than affectionately as "Moaning Minnies", announced the arrival of 375 German bombers and supporting fighters. They came up the Thames to London from the sea and set the London docks ablaze.
As darkness fell, the fires burnt fiercely all over East London, and illuminated the efforts of a London Fire Brigade that was to have no rest for almost two months. This was the beginning of the London Blitz, and the only mass daylight raid of a campaign of terror that was characterized by the undaunted spirit of the civilian population. Although the daylight bombers were gone by 6pm that evening, the fires were still burning fiercely when the night raiders arrived to inflict more damage at 8.10pm.
The raid lasted until 4.30am. Seemingly endless sticks of incendiary bombs and high explosive rained down. By dawn London had nine major conflagrations: huge spreading areas of flame, nineteen fires that would normally have called for thirty pumps or more, forty ten-pump fires, and nearly a thousand lesser fires, any one of which would have made the front pages in peace time. Thousands of houses in the inner suburbs along the Thames were destroyed or damaged in one night. Some 430 men, women and children were killed and 1,600 were seriously injured.
The next night, the German bombers came again, this time attacking the ancient square mile of the City of London, financial capital of the world, as well as the London docks. For nine and a half hours 200 bombers droned overhead, causing no less than twelve fires, putting the railway network to the South of London out of action and destroying hundreds of houses. A further 412 civilians were killed, and 747 were seriously injured.
On Monday night, 370 were killed and 1,400 injured. On Tuesday a similarly frightening trail of destruction was left by another mighty raid. But on Wednesday London began to fight back, as the anti-aircraft batteries in the middle of the great sprawling city opened up with their reassuring racket. No aircraft were destroyed, but casualties were fewer and damage reduced.
Every single night for the rest of September the bombers came, the fires burned, and the death toll mounted. By the end of the month, 5,730 people had been killed and nearly 10,000 badly injured. Roads were cratered, telephone systems crippled, gas mains fractured, electricity supplies destroyed. Hospitals all over Greater London were damaged, some severely.
By the end of November 1940, 12,696 civilians in the London area had died, about 20,000 had been seriously injured, and approximately 36,000 bombs had fallen on England's capital. After November, the German Command realized that the strategy of total destruction and the crushing of Britain's will, simply could not work, and the pattern of bombing became more widespread, though no less destructive.
There were great fire raids on the City of London in December, and more raids in January 1941, but the force of the London Blitz was for the time being spent. Across Britain, the raids continued until May 1941, by which time 40,000 British civilians had been killed, 46,000 had been seriously injured, and over a million homes had been destroyed or damaged. In the Battle of Britain and the Blitz combined, the Luftwaffe had lost 2,400 aircraft, without achieving any of its objectives.
The BLITZ started on September 7th 1940 and continued to 11th May 1941.
By May 1941, 43,000 had been killed across Britain and 1.4 million had
been made homeless.