The German Blitz on London, 1940—1941

rescued from collapsed building

This smiling girl, dirtied but apparently not injured, was assisted across a London street on October 23, 1940, after she was rescued from the debris of a building damaged by a bomb attack in a German daylight raid. (AP Photo)

Nazi Germany’s air force conducted a massive terror bombing campaign against London in what as know as “the Blitz.” 

Beginning on 7 September 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed London fifty-seven nights in a row. By the time the Blitz ended in May of 1941, London had been bombed seventy-one times. German bombs destroyed or damaged more than a million homes in Metropolitan London and killed more than 20,000 Londoners.

 

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A shopkeeper in London displays famous British stiff upper lip by chalking “business as usual” on a piece of what appears to be corrugated paper or tin on the front of his shop. The windows have been blown out by a concussion wave from a bomb blast nearby. The two men in helmets are from the Air Raid Precaution (ARP), a largely voluntary group of Air Raid wardens. They would have been a familiar sight to Londoners during the war. (photo courtesy of AP)

Determined to show the world they would not succumb to Hitler, Londoners carried on in spite of all the destruction. Photographs such as the one above show their spirit of defiance which won them sympathy throughout the free world. And while many Londoners did carry on no matter what the Luftwaffe did, a goodly portion of those with the financial means decamped to hotels in provincial cities to get away from the bombing.

Those who stayed suffered from a loss of sleep, of energy. People displayed nervous symptoms of various sorts, drank a lot and were very scared. Yet there was a feeling during the Blitz that “we are all in this together” which united Londoners of all classes. That feeling did not outlast the Blitz.

Even during the bombing, however, class barriers remained strong. While shelters were theoretically open to anyone, that was not the case in actual practice. So, as you might imagine, there was a great difference in spending nights in the bomb shelters of the Savoy or the Dorchester, than spending them on cement platforms in tube stations–which often smelt like latrines.

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Firemen spray water on damaged buildings, near London Bridge, in the City of London on September 9, 1940, after a recent set of weekend air raids. (AP Photo)

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/