World War 2 Air Raid Shelters: Facts and Information

Several different types of air raid shelters were used by the people of Britain during the Blitz of World War 2. Some of these shelters made use of structures and underground spaces which already existed, and some of the shelters were constructed from scratch.

Here are some details about some of the different types.

Cellars and Basement

  • Cellars were used as very effective underground bomb shelters. Unfortunately, compared to other European countries, very few houses in Britain had cellers – they were only built in large houses and older properties.
  • The basements of public buildings such as schools, hospitals, and the basements of businesses were used as shelters during the Blitz. The basements offered underground protection from bombs, but there was the risk of heavy machinery falling on top of the shelter if the site was hit.

Railway Arches and the Underground

  • Railway arches, constructed of brick, offered good protection from falling bombs and they were certainly used as air raid shelters in the Blitz. The only problem was that railway lines were sometimes targeted by the Germans in bombing raids.
  • The Government was against people sheltering in the Underground tunnels during air raids. They thought that disease would spread (due to the small number of toilets in some stations), people would fall on the tube lines and that people might be tempted to never leave the safety of the tunnels. All of these arguments were proved wrong and Londoners took matters into their own hands by forcing their way into the Underground stations.
  • The Government changed its views on this type of shelter and started fitting out Underground stations with bunks, first aid kits and chemical toilets.
  • Underground stations were not completely safe as bomb shelters – they were still vulnerable to a direct hit.
  • It is estimated that over 170,000 people used the London Underground as an air raid shelter during the Blitz.

Other Tunnels and Caves

Throughout Britain during the Blitz, people were making use of any underground spaces as a means of sheltering from the German bombs. Naturally forming caves and tunnels under castles, palaces and other historical buildings were frequently used.

Street Communal Shelters

  • The Government started a a programme of building street communal shelters in March 1940. These shelters were to be constructed by private builders (under the supervision of Government inspectors and surveyors).
  • The shelters were built with thick brick walls and a reinforced concrete roof.
  • They could house about 50 people.
  • Many street communal shelters were built.
  • Unfortunately, the shelters didn’t perform very well in air raids. The brick walls were often shaken down allowing the concrete roof to fall on those inside.
  • Improved designs were introduced, but public confidence in the communal shelters had been lost.
  • The trend moved towards individuals building shelters on their own property with materials supplied by the Government.

Anderson Shelters and Morrison Shelters

  • Anderson shelters were designed to house six people.
  • They used curved and straight panels of galvanised corrugated steel, and they performed really well in bomb tests.
  • Over 3 million Anderson shelters were put up all over Britain. They were free to all families who earned less than £250 a year.

Click the link to find out more facts about Anderson Shelters.

  • The Morrison shelter was essentially a reinforced metal dining room table that a family could sleep under during the nighttime air raids.
  • It was not designed to offer protection against a direct hit, but it was very effective at sheltering people from bomb blasts and falling debris. One study of bomb damaged houses showed that more than 80% of those sheltering in correctly positioned and constructed Morrison shelters survived without major injury.

Click the link to find out more facts about Morrison Shelters.

If you want to find out more about World War 2, please visit our WW2 links page.

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