The Blitz is the name given to the bombing of British cities between September 1940 and May 1941. The objective of the Blitz in World War Two was to destroy the morale of the civilian population. German for “lightning war”, the Blitz devastated many British cities.
Before World War II, most nations condemned targeting civilians in bombing raids. As the war went on, the nations at war expanded their bombing targets from military to industrial ones, then to workers' houses, and finally to entire cities and their civilian populations.
The Germans had lost the Battle of Britain by September 1940 - Hitler’s first setback in the war. Hitler targeted the civilian population in an attempt to destroy the morale of the British population. The attacks began on 7 September 1940 and continued until May 1941.
London was the main target of the raids. At the start of the campaign, the government was concerned that people would refuse to leave underground stations if they were used for shelters, so they chained the doors during raids. However, faced with unrelenting pressure, the government opened up the stations to civilians. Communal shelters were used by one seventh of London residents.
Will, an ARP (Air-Raid Precautions) warden and schoolteacher, lived in Leytonstone, London, during the war. In a letter to his brother in Wales he describes the first weeks of the Blitz:
“I must confess that the long weary hours of waiting and listening through the night, quite alone in the house with not a soul to talk to, are very trying, but I am profoundly glad that Rube and the kiddies are away. This is no place for women and children. Many folk have packed up and left here recently and I don’t blame them. Nearly all the main-line and suburban stations are closed. However, the biggest nuisance is the inability to shop, get a bath, haircut or go to church without being disturbed by the raids.”
To start with the government underestimated the potential use of the underground stations. Use of the underground as a shelter peaked on 27 September 1940, when 177,000 people across London sought safety in the stations.
The Luftwaffe managed to get to London relatively easily despite the blackouts thanks to the Thames, which they followed to the East End’s docks.
The government attempted to boost morale during this time through different forms of media. Faced with little other option, people developed a “wartime spirit” to boost morale during the Blitz. Civilians coped surprisingly well in the face of bombings. Contrary to expectations, the number of suicides dropped and drunkenness declined during the war years.
The Blitz had killed 43,000 by May 1941 and made homeless 1.4 million people. Many of Britain’s cities were attacked, including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.
The Royal Observer Corps played an important part in defending Britain by informing the authorities of impending attacks. Searchlights, anti-aircraft guns and early warning systems were all used to defend cities as well.
After a raid, the Air Raid Precautions wardens and emergency services scrambled to deal with the fires and damage caused by the bombs.
In response to the bombing of civilians, Britain launched a bombing campaign against Germany.
The Blitz on Britain ended in May 1941 when Hitler moved his attention onto Russia and Operation Barbarossa.
See also: The Impact of the Blitz on London
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