History

People in Coventry walk to work past smouldering piles of rubble after a bombing raid in 1940.

The Blitz

September 1940-May 1941

The Blitz was Nazi Germany's sustained aerial bombing campaign against Britain in World War Two. The raids killed 43,000 civilians and lasted for eight months, petering out when Hitler began to focus on his plans for Russian invasion in May 1941.


Photo: People in Coventry walk to work past smouldering piles of rubble after a bombing raid in 1940. (Getty Images)

Introduction

People in Coventry walk to work past smouldering piles of rubble after a bombing raid in 1940. The Blitz

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More information about: The Blitz

Blitz, the German word for 'lightning', was applied by the British press to the tempest of heavy and frequent bombing raids carried out over Britain in 1940 and 1941. This concentrated, direct bombing of industrial targets and civilian centres began with heavy raids on London on 7 September 1940 during what became known as the Battle of Britain. Hitler and Hermann Goering's plans to destroy the Royal Air Force ahead of an invasion of Britain were failing and, also in response to a RAF raid on Berlin, they changed their tactics to the sustained bombing of civilian targets.

'Softening up' the Brits

The scale of the attack rapidly escalated. In September alone, the Luftwaffe - the German air force - dropped 5,300 tonnes of high explosives on the capital in just 24 nights. In their efforts to 'soften up' the British population and to destroy morale before the planned invasion, German planes extended their targets to include the major coastal ports and centres of production and supply.

Coventry

The infamous bombing of Coventry on 14 November 1940 brought an even more terrifying twist to the campaign. Five hundred German bombers dropped 500 tonnes of high explosives and nearly 900 incendiary bombs on the city in ten hours of relentless bombardment. This tactic was emulated on an even greater scale by the RAF in their attacks on German cities.

Taking cover

The British population had been warned in September 1939 that air attacks on cities were likely and civil defence preparations had been started some time before, both on a national and a local level. Those with gardens built simple corrugated steel Anderson shelters, covered over by earth. Larger civic shelters built of brick and concrete were erected in British towns and a blackout was rigorously enforced after darkness.

The night raids became so frequent that they were practically continuous. Many people who were tired of repeatedly interrupting their sleep to go back and forth to the street shelters virtually took up residence in them. This gave rise to a new spirit of solidarity and community.

Londoners took what seemed to them an obvious and sensible solution to the problem and moved down into the Tube stations in their thousands. At first, this was actively discouraged by the government. However, this popular action held sway and it was a common sight for a traveller on the Underground in wartime London to pass through a station crowded with the sleeping bodies of men, women and children and their belongings.

A brief respite

The main air offensive against British cities diminished after May 1941, with the change of direction of the German war machine towards Russia. However, sporadic and lethal raids, using increasingly larger bombs, continued for several more years. The 'Baedeker' raids in 1942 targeted historic cities including Canterbury, York and Exeter, and the V1 and supersonic V2 rockets deployed between 1944 and 1945 killed nearly 9,000 civilians.

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