The “Blitz”, shortened from the German blitzkrieg, lightning war, was the period of sustained strategic bombing of the United Kingdom by Germany during World War II. It began on September 7, 1940 and continued to May 21, 1941. The September 7th attack “… also marked the real beginning of a new phase of the air war over Britain and in that sense was a turning point in the conflict … The great London raid … was both the forerunner of, and the first step in, the Night Blitz, which was to affect many cities and towns, villages and hamlets across Britain during the following nine months.” ( The Night Blitz 1940 – 1941 by John Ray )
As to why this intensified Blitz occurred September 7th and not earlier, there has been some discussion. The first German attack on London actually took place by accident. On the night of August 24, 1940, Luftwaffe bombers aiming for military targets on the outskirts of London, drifted off course and dropped their bombs on the centre of London, destroying several homes and killing civilians. Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed it was a deliberate attack and ordered that Berlin was to be bombed the following evening. It may be that the September 7 Blitz was in retaliation. Many historians believe that this “… changed the course and eventual outcome of the Second World War. ” ( The Blitz Then and Now ed. W.G. Ramsey )
Initially, day and night raids took place, but as German daylight losses continued to be very high, there was a change to predominantly night raids by long range bombers with minor fighter bomber strikes during daylight hours. Indeed, starting on September 7 and for a total of 57 consecutive nights, London was bombed. Hitler’s intention was to break the moral of the British people so they would pressure Churchill into negotiating; however, it had the opposite effect, bringing the British people closer together to face their common enemy. They were determined to hold out. ” Business as usual ” could be seen everywhere written in chalk on boarded-up shop windows.
Many took shelter during these raids. Denis Bateman was a Telegraph boy during the Blitz. In 1985, he recalled, ” Each night the family would go into the Anderson shelter in the back garden when the sirens began their banshee wail. Comments such as ‘Here we go again’ and ‘They’re early tonight’ were made … we entered the small entrance and went down the three or four wooden steps to sit or lie in our usual places. I can still remember the earthy smell that pervaded everything, for the shelter was covered with earth for extra protection. By the light of a small oil or hurricane lamp we drank tea from thermos flasks, perhaps munched a sandwich and attempted to read or, in the case of the women, knit … ” He goes on to describe an October night when ” … a section of a block of tall flats situated at one end of the road in which we lived was brought crashing to the ground by the impact of an aerial torpedo at the flats’ base. Some 150 people were killed here and the disaster … was made worse by the torpedo hitting the entrance to a public air raid shelter. The explosion fractured the gas and water mains, asphyxiating or drowning most of those not already killed by the blast … In the same month the docks were attacked and the sky was lit by the flames of the burning sugar refineries – a frightening sight to a 12-year-old boy. This decided my father to send my mother and me to the country, so we went to stay with my sister’s in-laws … until my 14th birthday … ”
We invite you to come into the Museum Library this week to have a closer look at some of our books and artefacts that reflect this time in history.