The London Blitz
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
-Winston Churchill, June 1940.
The London Blitz occurred on the 7ths of September to 21st of May 1941. During this time, Nazi Germany strategically bombed the United Kingdom in 15 British cities. Large cities being the target to break civilians morale. During these 36 weeks, London was attached by far the most out of these cities. These series of attacks were put into motion when Nazi bombers aimed to destroy airfields, missed their target and struck a London residential area.
German Bomber flying over London, 1940
September 1, 1939-World War ll begins
October 10. 1939-British government declines Hitler’s peace offer
July. 10 1940-Beginning of the Battle of Britain
August 9, 1941-Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt sign the Atlantic Charter
December 5, 1941-Attack on Pearl Harbor
May 7, 1945-German surrenders
Impact on Civilians
London was bombed 57 consecutive nights. Nine million people were living in London. Over this time a million houses were destroyed, and over 40,000 civilians were killed. Space in shelters was limited due to the expense and time to build.
During the air raids, civilians slept in the London Underground stations. These stations were still kept operational for commuter transportation. Lee Phillips, 80, of Bloomsbury, London, took shelter in one of these make-shift underground shelters.
“ They were the early days, so the spirit was quite good. We got on fairly well together and mucked in together. Once the Museum station had been made habitable, we went down there. The lift shaft was the washing facilities and toilets. If the bombs were dropping, you could hear the bombs echo down the lift shaft.”
Reginald Willis recounts a near miss he had during the Blitz:
“During the Blitz, I was part of the support team at Kenley Airdrome, looking after the aircraft. I was 21 when I was nearly killed when a bomb went off across the road from me. I was courting my wife at the time. I had been visiting her house when I had to leave to go and meet a friend at Thornton Heath Ponds. When the bomb hit the glass from shop windows didn’t shatter but blew apart as it flew towards me. I immediately ducked down to get away. I was left shaking but I wasn’t afraid. I don’t remember the blast from that bomb, but I still remember the shrapnel bombs and the metal flying all over the place; when it hit the wall it was a bright star.”
Child and Warden wearing gas masks, London, 1941
Citizens taking shelter during the shelter in The Tube
The Germans strategically planned where they would be bombing. They focused on areas that, with it’s absences, would bring down the civilian’s moral. This included food stocks, public utilities and factories. Over the course of the raids, the bombing became indiscriminate, attacking without regard to civilians. Also different ammunition was being used, including incendiary and high explosives. The homes of industrial workers were deliberately targeted.
Children made homeless be The Blitz
Betty Popkiss joined the St. John Ambulance in Coventry. She later won the George Medal for her actions on October 19,
“It was a frightening time – the start of saturation bombing of munitions and engineering works in Coventry. I had just become a St John Ambulance volunteer. It was my first job after leaving Barr’s Hill Girls Grammar School and that night I called into the air precaution post that stood in Hen Lane, Holbrooks. As our post was only round the corner from where we lived, I used to call in most evenings and see what was going on.
The bombing that night began with a shower of slow-burning incendiaries. We all ran around putting them out with sand and earth. A man ran up and told me one was smoldering on his roof. He asked me if we could get a ladder and go up into his loft before the house caught fire. I hated heights and was really nervous, but between us we managed to put out the flames with the help of a bucket and a stirrup pump.”
She goes on to account her effort to save a family from a demolished building,
“As I ran, I looked ahead and realized a bomb had made an almost a direct hit on an Anderson shelter. As I got near, I realized our neighbors, the Worthington family, were all trapped inside. Instinctively, I started digging into the rubble with my bare hands. It was too slow to work like that and I frantically looked round for something to use. Remarkably, I found a spade lying near by. I remember hearing moans from inside. There was no shouting, no screams.
A young boy on a bike appeared in the street and as I looked up I noticed the kitchen door of the family’s house had been blown open. I shouted to him “go upstairs and get some blankets” – but he was upset and didn’t want to go into somebody else’s house. I can still see his frightened face. I told him “just go and do it” – then other people started arriving to help. We all worked together, fumbling around in the dark with only light from the shells exploding overhead.”
Civilians participated actively in the protection of their city. Unemployed were drafted into different Corps, and were charged with the task of cleaning and salvaging. The Auxiliary Fire Service had 138,000 personnel by July 1939.
The bombing ceased on May 21st, 1941. In a 6-month period, 750,000 tons of rubble from London was transported to make runways for airfields in East Anglia. Also debris from the bombsites were used to make US Air Force bases in England.
City center following a November air raid, 1940
Fireman trying to extinguish burning buildings
After the attacks had ceased, it began the time of reconstruction. The docks, residential and historic parts of the city had all been destroyed. With the death toll at 40,000, the city embraced the evacuees coming back home from the safety of the countryside. The Blitz had not worked in breaking peoples morale and the city was determined to begin rebuilding, but supplies were scarce.
The government put several plans into action in attempts to get the city back on its feet. One of these actions was the Greater London Play (1944) which was designed to be a blueprint for the new city, as well as relocating some of the Londoners the other areas of Britain. Then, there was The New Towns Act (1946) which provided eight new settlements.
In the 1950s the city worked tirelessly to restore the important sea ports that had been destroyed. And in 1951 the Festival of Britain was held as a proclamation that the city had recovered.
By: Hannah Clark and Taylor Moyer