We’ll pick up chronologically right after the last, and take a brief look at the story of The Blitz.
The British knew the bombs were coming.
With Hitler’s forces just across the Channel, attacks were inevitable.
They had taken early precautions, evacuating around 800,000 mothers and children from cities in September of 1939, but when the threat did not immediately materialize, many returned to their homes.
About a year later, on September 7th, 1940, Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe shifted its attacks from RAF facilities to civilian centers. Attacks changed from daylight runs with specific targets, to night attacks on the massive population of London.
The people endured continuous bombing raids every night until November 3.
For the first three nights, London’s few anti-aircraft guns remained silent in the hopes that their pilots would be able to engage the Luftwaffe craft successfully.
Night fighting…didn’t go as well as hoped. On September 10th the guns opened up. Winston Churchill reflected,
“This roaring cannonade did not do much harm to the enemy, but gave enormous satisfaction to the population. Everyone was cheered by the feeling that we were hitting back. From that time onward the batteries fired regularly, and of course practice, ingenuity, and grinding need steadily improved the shooting.” (From his memoir Their Finest Hour, pg 343)
Air raid sirens (sometimes) warned the citizenry of incoming attacks- the sound became almost commonplace. Mr. Churchill also recorded his memories of watching people vacating the streets at the sound of one, “except for long queues of very tired, pale people, waiting for the last bus that would run.”
The government provided families individual shelters free of charge or for low cost. The Anderson Shelter was made of corrugated metal and could be buried in the garden. The metal Morrison Shelter could fit in place of a dining table. These protected their occupants from debris or shrapnel. They could not withstand a direct hit.
Others found public shelters or slept in the Tube beneath the city. Still others remained in their homes or workplaces when the alarms sounded, carrying on in spite of it all.
Different types of bombs brought different types of danger and damage. Time bombs and regular bombs that did not explode on impact necessitated the forming of unexploded bomb (U.X.B.) disposal squads. This tense, dangerous work left its mark.
“In writing about our hard times, we are apt to overuse the word “grim.” It should have been reserved for the U.X.B. disposal squads.” (Churchill 362)
October’s full moon brought another horror- 70,000 incendiary bombs dropped along with the regular load of explosives. Rather than taking cover, the people of London were encouraged to head to the roofs. They organized fire-watchers and fire-services to combat the destruction.
On November 3 the London air raid sirens remained silent for the first time in nearly two months. The Luftwaffe had changed focus again, dispersing their targets to various industrial centers.
Coventry suffered their blitz on November 14th. Six hundred tons of high-explosives as well as incendiary bombs dropped, killing four hundred people and seriously injuring many others.
Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Liverpool…the list of cities struck by German bombs grew.
On December 29th the Germans planned another assault on London to correspond with the low tide. Having also destroyed the water-mains, they rained incendiary bombs over London, starting nearly fifteen hundred fires.
The bombings slowed by May of 1941, as Hitler turned his attention towards attacking Russia.
These painful eight months left tremendous damage to property and homes, 43,000 civilians dead, and Great Britain’s resolve undiminished.
Of course, the end of the ‘official’ Blitz did not signal the end of bombings. The Allies and Axis traded explosives of increasing power throughout the war, to tremendous loss of military and civilian life. Mr. Churchill reflected,
“Certainly the enemy got it all back in good measure, pressed down and running over. Alas for poor humanity!” (pg. 349)
NEXT TIME: It may take me a while to get my research lined up as fall is a busy time, but I’m planning on the next history article to visit the campaigns in North Africa. I hope you’ll come along!
OH, WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
This is a recording of a rather wonderful speech Winston Churchill gave during this time- worth a listen if you’ve got five minutes.
If you are interested in more detail on this period from people who have studied it much longer than I have, the following sites might be of interest.
General information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/the_blitz
Memories of people who LIVED it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/categories/c1161/
Information on Anderson/Morrison shelters: http://www.andersonshelters.org.uk/