What was the the Blitz?

Here are some facts and some pieces of key information about the Blitz, an important, yet terrifying part of World War 2.

What was the Blitz?

  • The ‘Blitz’ was a term used to describe the heavy bombing of London and other British cities during WW2

  • The attack on London by German bombers started on 7th September 1940 and it didn’t end until May 1941.
  • At one point during the Blitz, London was bombed for 57 nights in a row.
  • The word ‘Blitz’ comes from the German word blitzkrieg, meaning ‘lightning war’.

Did the people of Britain know that the Blitz was coming?

Yes, the people of Britain did expect to be bombed by German air raids.

The government did several things in preparation:

  • Everyone was given a gas mask. It was thought that the bombs might contain poisonous gas and the gas mask would protect the wearer from the deadly fumes.
  • Lots of city hospitals were cleared so that they were ready to treat people who had been injured in the air raids.
  • Thousands of cardboard coffins were produced.
  • Public air raid shelters were constructed and people built their own shelters in their gardens.
  • Some men and women were made wardens and given the job of letting people into the shelters when the bombing started.
  • Bags were filled with sand and piled up to protect buildings.
  • The Blackout was imposed on the British people (click here to learn more about The Blackout).

When did the Blitz start?

The first air raid was carried out in the daylight on 7th September 1940. Over 350 German bombers filled the skies over London, and they were protected by about 650 fighter planes.

Bombs were dropped on London’s docks destroying many building and causing massive fires. The bombing continued throughout the night.

The first day of the Blitz was called Black Saturday as 448 people were killed, many thousands were injured and many building were destroyed.

How did the British defend and protect themselves during air raids?

  • Anti-aircraft guns were used to defend London and large searchlights were used to help the gunners to see the planes in the night sky.
  • Barrage balloons were floated above the cities to force the bombers to drop their bombs from a higher altitude, making them less accurate.
  • The people of London started to use the London Underground as a giant air raid shelter. At first the government tried to stop this happening, but people forced their way in and, in the end, it became a way of life during the Blitz. About 60,000 slept in the underground tunnels, which soon became cramped and smelly. Volunteers sometimes handed out hot drinks to boost morale. Sometimes even the tunnels of the Underground weren’t safe from the German bombs. At least one station was hit directly, killing many of the Londoners who were sheltered inside.

Click here to find out more about air raid shelters and how their design changed during the Blitz.

How were people warned that an air raid was on its way?

When the first German bombers were spotted, a siren was started. This was incredibly loud and made a wailing noise. The siren was often called ‘Moaning Minnie’.

Air raid wardens used wooden rattles to warn people of danger and help to lead them towards the air raid shelters.

Apart from London, which other British cities were bombed by the Germans?

  • On 14th November 1940, Coventry was bombed by the Germans during the night time. The city centre was pretty much destroyed and Coventry Cathedral was ruined, along with 21 factories. 568 people lost their lives during the bombing of Coventry.
  • Other cities were bombed after Coventry. Bombs fell on Newcastle, Swansea, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Hull, Sheffield and Bristol, to name just a few.
  • After Southampton was bombed, fires were still burning two day later.

How many people were killed during the Blitz?

It is estimated that more than 30,000 people were killed during the Blitz, and many more were injured.

About 60% of London’s buildings were damaged or destroyed.

When did the Blitz come to an end?

The last air raid of the Blitz was in May 1941. The Germans had failed to break the will of the British people and had failed to significantly disrupt Britain’s industrial and military production. The German bombers were also needed in the German’s fight against the Russians.

Did Britain bomb Germany?

Yes. In fact, Germany sustained more damage and loss of life as a result of British air raids than Britain did from German air raids. The German city of Dresden, for example, was completely destroyed and thousands of the people who lived there burned to death in the fires that raged from building to building.

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