The Blitz: What would you have done when the bombs fell?

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1. Britain becomes a battleground

With World War Two entering its second year, Hitler stepped up his campaign against Britain. Civilians had already experienced rationing, blackouts, and grinding volunteer work. Now events were to take a terrifying turn as ordinary men and women found their lives at risk.

On 7 September 1940, the German air force launched a eight-month campaign that would rain explosives on 16 major British cities and many smaller towns. Homes were obliterated and historic centres destroyed. Daily life was now on the front line of battle where many people had to decide whether to leave or take their chances against the bombs.

2. The Blitz in numbers

The Blitz in Numbers

Even before the Blitz began, the British had a good idea of where bombs were likely to fall. Industrial cities and ports were the Luftwaffe's main targets. Many civilians were offered the chance to relocate to safer parts of the country. In some cities, 60% of children and other 'priority' civilians fled their homes at the beginning of the war. However, many of these returned home to take their chances as the conflict dragged on.

3. CLICKABLE: Where would you seek shelter?

The rising and falling wail of an air raid siren sounded when enemy aircraft were sighted in the area. It went on for two minutes. Civilians had to decide quickly where to go.

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Sirens came to dominate people's lives and could go off several times both day and night in cities like London and Liverpool. After the danger passed a continuous siren noise indicated the 'All Clear'. Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens would then help find and reunite families that had been separated by the bombing. Civilians would emerge to see what had been destroyed.

4. Civilians on the front line

The government was concerned that the bombing campaign would cause a collapse in morale. In response the Ministry of Information created propaganda films to bolster public opinion, such as this one featuring Mrs Barker from London...

The Spirit of the People, 1940, British Pathé.

However, while official reports described moments of public hysteria and panic during early raids they didn't lead to widespread defeatism as they had feared. Instead resilience increased as civilians adapted to the difficult and exhausting conditions. Public attitude surveys revealed many also took on a fatalistic attitude to cope with the continuous pressure of war.

5. How the Blitz reshaped our cities

Those who survived the Blitz had a chance to rebuild. Which projects were inspired by grand visions and which were driven by a need for quick solutions?


London suffered massive damage as the city was bombed for 57 consecutive nights.

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High-rise housing

The residential Barbican Estate was built on a bomb site in the City of London. The ‘brutalist’ structure was opened in 1969 and today houses 4,000 people.


Coventry was damaged so extensively that the Germans invented a verb - 'to Coventrate' - to describe a destructive aerial bombing.

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A new cathedral

Destroyed in November 1940, Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt next to the ruins between 1955 and 1962. The modernist design was picked through a competition.


As a production centre for aircraft and explosives, Bristol was a key target for the Luftwaffe.

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Prefabricated houses appeared in Bristol to ease the housing crisis. Intended to be temporary, the last ones were only cleared in 2014.

New York

US cities were out of reach of German bombers, but New York has a surprising Blitz connection.

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A new freeway

US cargo ships transported supplies from New York to Bristol. Blitz rubble was used as ballast for the return voyage and formed the foundations of FDR Drive.