In September 1939, war broke out between the UK and Germany, the beginning of World War Two. England was ill prepared for war, unlike the Germans who had been building a huge, strong army up for many years. In the summer of 1940, German dictator Adolf Hitler decided to invade Britain. His plan was to take control of the English Channel by destroying the RAF and then to send German troops into Britain to take control.
Daily life: Damaged residential neighbourhood
In July, Hitler put his plan into operation. The German Luftwaffe began making daily bombing raids on British ships, ports, radar stations, airfields and aircraft factories. This became known as the Battle of Britain. The Royal Air Force took to the skies and there were many battles between British and German planes over the Channel and South Coast. Although British losses were high, German losses were higher, and at the beginning of September Hitler decided to try a new tactic.
Bombing of London taken from above
The Blitz was the sustained bombing of the UK between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941. The Blitz hit many towns and cities across the country, but it began with the bombing of London for 76 consecutive nights. By the end of May 1941, over 43,000 civilians, half of them in London, had been killed by bombing and more than a million houses destroyed or damaged in London alone.
Firefighters in street after night raid in 1941
The intended goal of bombing the British into surrender was not achieved, so the Blitz did little to demoralize the public. By May 1941, the imminent threat of an invasion of Britain had passed and the Germans never again managed to bomb Britain on such a large scale; instead they carried out smaller attacks throughout the war, taking the civilian death toll to 51,509 from bombing.
The first mass air raid on London, September 7, 1940, showing the scene in London’s dock area as Tower Bridge stands out against a background of smoke and fires
In 1944, the development of pilotless V1 and V2 rocket bombs enabled Germany to again attack London with weapons launched from the European continent. In total, the V weapons killed 8,938 civilians in London and the south-east.
People and their daily lives in bomb-torn London
Make no mistake, this must have been absolute terror for those on the ground as high explosive bombs whistled through the night sky down upon them, yet the people showed a spirit none would have thought possible beforehand.
Three children left homeless by the random bombs of German night raiders, outside the wreckage of their home
This unrelenting firestorm of hate and anger over 76 consecutive nights at the start of the Blitz bombings must have been a nightmare that none today could truly imagine. Fires and destruction, death and serious injury were all around yet still the public remained unbowed, refusing to be cowed by this overwhelming show of force.
There have been countless testimonials to the courage shown by all involved in this horrific time of senseless destruction, but perhaps extra special mention should go to the firefighters, many of whom lost their lives in the battle against incendiary damage. Many nights London, and indeed other cities, would have been ablaze, reminiscent of the great fire 300 years earlier.
The everyday hazards of London streets
It would be impossible to tell the full story of the Blitz in one short story: the indomitable courage of the people; the unspoken bravery of all those who tried desperately to help the injured, the homeless, the lost. But one thing surely must stand out above all else. The people of Great Britain would not lie down and take the pasting without a fight, and however overwhelming the odds, however impossible a favourable outcome seemed, they refused to surrender their dignity.
Big Ben as Londoners might have seen it
We all have a secure future today because of the sacrifices made by our forebears during these terrible years of war and destruction. What they gave on our behalf can never be repaid, for here was an entire generation of truly selfless people who were determined to secure a peaceful future for their grandchildren. The Blitz itself was an awful scar on history, but the courage of those who lived through it is a guiding light for the future. We have so much to be thankful for.