The Blitz was not a single event. It was a World War II ordeal by fire and bombing that lasted from September 1940 until May 1941. It was a collective experience suffered by the whole of the United Kingdom – but London, the capital, bore the brunt. The Blitz – short for Blitzkrieg, Hitler’s ‘Lightning War’ – began as the aerial Battle of Britain ended, taking with it the threat of imminent German invasion. Its first phase saw London bombed for 57 consecutive nights as Hitler sought to fragment civilian support for the government by destroying morale. The first raid alone, on London’s docklands and East End, killed 430 and seriously injured another 1,600. Instead of crumbling, Londoners picked themselves up and united in outrage behind Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As the winter passed, other cities came to share their resolve to resist at all costs. The Blitz just grew worse.
Londoners accustomed themselves to extreme deprivation, cramming into underground stations and basements to escape the hellish conditions outside. Their slogan, to be seen freshly chalked each morning on still-flaming wreckage from the nightly raids, was ‘Business as usual’. The Blitz just grew worse.
December 29 1940 was worst of all. In that single night, incendiary bombs started 1,400 separate fires, six of which were officially classed as ‘conflagrations’. The City of London blazed. The 17th century Guildhall was reduced to blackened walls and many historic churches and buildings were damaged or destroyed along with five major railway stations, nine hospitals,
16 underground stations, the two principal telephone and telegraph exchanges and St Paul’s Cathedral.
Still The Blitz grew worse. Raids by 500 and 700 German bombers were frequent. The death and destruction spiraled, but Britain’s cities never flinched.
The resilience of Londoners, especially, has passed into legend.
When was the Blitz on London: September 7 1940 to May 10 1941
Where was the Blitz on London: London and every major city and port in the UK
What was the Blitz on London death toll: In London, over 20,000 people died in The Blitz. In each of the two fires of December 29 and May 10, roughly 1,500 were killed and 1,800 seriously hurt; 300,000 houses were destroyed in London, and fire-damaged public and historic buildings included the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.
You should know: The London Blitz may be the perfect demonstration of the adage ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
It forged unbreakable loyalties between strangers and tempered an indomitable collective will to beat Hitler. Recordings of wartime broadcasts by Ed Murrow, an American newsman who stayed at his post voluntarily to report The Blitz for US radio, give an indication of what Londoners experienced. His calm, measured appraisal of raids belies the fact that he never took cover, preferring to see and hear exactly what was going on, and to record the courage of Londoners under fire.