London Underground Saved Thousands During Blitz

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a welcome sight to Londoners during the Blitz—- mainly heavy night bombing of London by Nazi Germany.

When someone is bombing you from the air then you instinctively want to get as far underground as you can and during the Nazi blitz on London the London subway system known unofficially as “the tube” and officially as the London Underground provided a safe place during the bombing. However, not all London Underground stations were very deep since they had been built by “cut and cover” method. This usually involved tearing up a street digging to the minimum depth required, putting in the concrete pieces of the tunnel then covering the “cut” with excavated soil.

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ARP warden looks over children sleeping in hammocks in the underground. ARP was the abbreviation of “Air Raid Precautions,” the government’s umbrella organization which organized a series of services to help people during and after German bombing raids. (The Italian Air Force also joined their German allies several times in bombing London).

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Playing cards to pass the time. What the photographs don’t show is the stench and dirt.

At the beginning of the Blitz few Underground Stations had sanitary facilities to handle hundreds and hundreds of people. Chemical toilets were hastily installed but that wasn’t a panacea. Most tube stations smelled like public latrines and were filthy. Rats were a common site and mosquitoes and other bugs flourished in the warm environment. All of these problems were addressed but it took time and money and only later in the war were the Underground stations capable of handling huge crowds and providing them with bathrooms, etc.

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In this photograph taken in the Piccadilly Underground station men and women have commandeered the passenger cars themselves and are using them as dormitories–albeit very uncomfortable.

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The lack of comforts in the early days is captured by this photograph of a platform in the Piccadilly Circus underground station. People are sleeping crammed together while others are just sitting on the dirty concrete platform. One of the reasons the platforms were dirty was the inability of London Transport cleaning crews to clean the platforms at night because of all the people. 

Memoirs from the era typically mention the stench of the tube stations and the smelled of diapers or nappies suddenly filled by a scared child. That stank. People copulated and those around them looked away. Life-threatening events tended to increase sexual desire among people. It wasn’t a great experience and isn’t something most people of the time remembered very fondly. While photographs of Londoners sheltering in the tube stations became an iconic part of the history of the war, less then 5% of the population sheltered in the tube stations during air raids. Others sheltered in place or went elsewhere.

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Safe from bombs but hardly an ideal environment. Water for cleaning yourself was not available in the Underground stations in the first months of the Blitz.

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Happy Londoners in posed photo showing them receiving refreshments after the “all clear” has sounded. The woman with her arm around one of her children in the left side of the photo appears to be wearing trousers which would have been very unusual in that era.

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German Blitz on London

The Germans complained when the British and later the Americans bombed Nazi Germany. These photographs are examples of what the Nazis did to London early in the war with their bombs. The Nazi blitz on London killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Payback is a bitch.

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boy clutching teddy bear amid ruins after a German raid on London

 

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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspecting bomb damage in London,  September 1940. (Photo courtesy of BBC/Getty Images)

From the BBC World War Two History Site

the link is here: BBC World War Two History Site

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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 & caption)

“On 7 September 1940, the Luftwaffe unleashed a merciless bombing campaign against London and Britain’s major cities. Instead of breaking morale, however, the raids only galvanised the will of the British people for the rest of the war.”

Hitler targets London

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A Nazi Heinkel He 111 bomber flies over London in the autumn of 1940. The Thames River runs through the image. (AP Photo/British Official Photo)

On 4 September Hitler, frustrated by the RAF’s superiority over the Luftwaffe and enraged by its bombing of German cities, vowed to destroy the British capital and the spirit of its people.

In response, the Luftwaffe shifted its focus from attacking RAF Fighter Command’s bases and communications networks to bombing Britain’s cities. Hermann Goering, the Head of the Luftwaffe, had severely lost face over both the bombing of Berlin, and his force’s failure to defeat the RAF. He hoped that the intense bombing of British cities would both destroy public morale and draw the remaining RAF fighters into battle and annihilation.

The bombing begins

 

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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)

After a preliminary raid on 5 September, the bombing started proper on the afternoon of the 7th. Almost 1,000 German aircraft – over 300 bombers escorted by 600 fighters – crossed the Channel. It was the largest collection of aircraft ever seen. Fighter Command had not expected raids on London, but now attempted to intercept the waves of bombers. A huge dogfight developed over London and the Thames Estuary.

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7 September 1940 view along the River Thames in London towards smoke rising from the London docks after an air raid during the Blitz. (US National Archives)

 

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Author Charles McCain: “I took this photo looking aft from World War Two museum ship HMS Belfast, anchored in the Thames in November of 2014.”

Convinced that the German invasion of Britain was imminent, the country was put on the highest alert. Signals of impending invasion went out – the code word “Cromwell” was sent to military units and church bells rang.

London during The Blitz (7)

A scene in central London, the morning after a bomb raid. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images). 1940

Some of the German bombs did fall on their intended target of the docks, but many fell on the residential areas around them. Substantial parts of East and South-East London were devastated, 430 civilians were killed and 1600 seriously injured. Firestorms ravaged the city, acting as beacons for the second wave of bombers that evening.

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill prepares to broadcast to the Great Britain and the Empire (Imperial War Museum)

After the raids Winston Churchill shared the public’s fury and defiantly announced: “He [Hitler] has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe”.

Bombing continues for the next 76 nights

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People shelter and sleep on the platform and on the train tracks, in Aldwych Underground Station, London, after sirens sounded to warn of German bombing raids, on October 8, 1940. (AP Photo)

Although no-one knew at the time, this was the beginning of the Blitz. With the exception of one night, when the weather was bad, the bombing continued for the next 76 nights consecutively, with daytime raids as well. Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton were also targeted.

Now that the Luftwaffe’s resources were directed into bombing civilians, Fighter Command had an opportunity to repair its infrastructure and attack anew. As well as their own lives, the pilots were now battling to protect their homes and loved ones all over the country.

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Eisenhower Explains Operation Torch

American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation 'Torch', November 1942. A 12661 Part of ADMIRALTY OFFICIAL COLLECTION Hudson, F A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer

American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation ‘Torch’, November 1942. 

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Admiralty Official Collection. Photograph by Lt. F.A. Hudson, Royal Navy official photographer)

Wrote General Eisenhower after the war:

“The situation was vague, the amount of resources unknown, the final objective indeterminate and the only firm factor in the whole business [were] our instructions to attack.”

 

Everything about Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, was a muddle. The Americans and the British had only a vague idea of what they were doing. Training and rehearsal had been minimal across the board. The Allies had very little experience in amphibious landings and those they had attempted heretofore had not worked.
With only scant training, young sailors found themselves dumped aboard warships for the first time in their lives. Army soldiers had never trained for this type of assault and many had not yet received even the rudiments of combat training. The only trained amphibious force in the US military were the US Marines but they were consumed by the war in the Pacific.

Inter-allied communications were inadequate. Merchant ships carrying important cargo or troops were not adequately protected from air attack which everyone seems to have forgotten about. Few of the merchant ships were combat loaded. Planning was hurried, inadequate and in the classic military phrase, the Allied invasion known as Torch can be characterized as “order, counter-order, disorder.”

The Anglo-American forces prevailed largely because of the actions of the British Royal Navy and US Navy warships. Both navies performed at a high standard given how haphazard the entire affair was. Captains took initiative and closed the beaches to fire at French shore batteries and/or machine guns firing on Allied troops. Heavy ships moved in to provide cover for destroyers being targeted by coastal batteries and undertook the barrages themselves.

(This type of gunfire support from Allied naval ships was also critical during the Normandy landings. On occasion, Allied destroyers were so close they were dueling with German artillery batteries).

 

General Eisenhower’s postwar summation of Torch is apt: “The situation was vague, the amount of resources unknown, the final objective indeterminate and the only firm factor in the whole business [were] our instructions to attack.”

 

 

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Hitler Describes America

“What is America anyway but millionaires, beauty queens, stupid records, and Hollywood?” Hitler to Putzi Hanfstaengl.

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beauty queens at the Olympic Club in San Francisco circa 1939

(photo courtesy of San Francisco Examiner Photographic Archive)

“What is America anyway but millionaires, beauty queens, stupid records, and Hollywood?” Hitler to Putzi Hanfstaengl.

source: The Eagle and the Swastika by James V. Compton

Hitler declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941. By mid-March 1945, American and British troops and British Commonwealth troops had crossed the Rhine river, the key geographical barrier in western Germany.

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