36 Incredible Photos of Londoners during the Blitz in 1940 & 1941

The Blitz was a German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941, during the Second World War. The term was first used by the British press and originated from the term “Blitzkrieg”, the German word for ‘lightning war’.

The Germans conducted mass air attacks against industrial targets, towns, and cities, beginning with raids on London towards the end of the Battle of Britain in 1940 (a battle for daylight air superiority between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force over the United Kingdom). By September 1940, the Luftwaffe had lost the Battle of Britain and the German air fleets (Luftflotten) were ordered to attack London, to draw RAF Fighter Command into a battle of annihilation. Adolf Hitler and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, ordered the new policy on 6 September 1940. From 7 September 1940, London was systematically bombed by the Luftwaffe for 56 of the following 57 days and nights. Most notable was a large daylight attack against London on 15 September.

The Luftwaffe gradually decreased daylight operations in favour of night attacks to evade attacks by the RAF, and the Blitz became a night bombing campaign after October 1940. The Luftwaffe attacked the main Atlantic seaport of Liverpool in the Liverpool Blitz. The North Sea port of Hull, a convenient and easily found target or secondary target for bombers unable to locate their primary targets, suffered the Hull Blitz. The port cities of Bristol, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, Swansea, Belfast, and Glasgow were also bombed, as were the industrial centres of Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester and Sheffield. More than 40,000 civilians were killed by Luftwaffe bombing during the war, almost half of them in the capital, where more than a million houses were destroyed or damaged.

In early July 1940, the German High Command began planning Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. Bombing failed to demoralise the British into surrender or do much damage to the war economy; eight months of bombing never seriously hampered British war production, which continued to increase. The greatest effect was to force the British to disperse the production of aircraft and spare parts. British wartime studies concluded that cities generally took 10 to 15 days to recover when hit severely, but exceptions like Birmingham took three months.

The German air offensive failed because the Luftwaffe High Command (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, OKL) did not develop a methodical strategy for destroying British war industry. Poor intelligence about British industry and economic efficiency led to OKL concentrating on tactics rather than strategy. The bombing effort was diluted by attacks against several sets of industries instead of constant pressure on the most vital.

A milkman makes his deliveries through the ruins of the city. London. October 9, 1940.
In the aftermath of a bombing, smoke billows up behind the River Thames.
London. September 7, 1940.
A group of children sit on the rubble of what was once their home. London. September 1940.
Workers at the National Archives take a break from dodging bombs to play cricket while wearing gas masks. London. Circa 1940-1941.
Men browse the books among the ruins of the Holland House library shortly after it was destroyed by a bombing. London. October 23, 1940
Two children make their way into a bomb shelter. The boy is carrying a box with a gas mask inside. London. June or August 1940.
City life carries on in the ruins of London. Circa 1940-1941.
Children sit in front of a bomb shelter and try on new shoes donated by an American charity. London. 1941.
Children search for their books amid the ruins of their school. Coventry. April 10, 1941.
Two women smile happily as they scavenge what they can from the debris of their homes. London. 1940.
A young boy sits in the ruins of his home with a stuffed animal on his lap. London. 1941
Volunteers pour tea in an air raid shelter under a church. London. 1940.
Winston Churchill walks through the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. September 28, 1941.
A large family huddles together under a single blanket. London. Circa 1940-1945.
The wrecked shell of a bus shows what would’ve happened to anyone who stayed above ground through the bombings. Coventry. November 1940.
Inside the London subway system, which has been converted into an air raid shelter. London. 1940-1941.
A tight squeeze of bunk beds inside of a bomb shelter. London. 1940.
Londoners rest on the tracks of the subway system, waiting out another bombing. London. 1940.
A man in a bomb shelter hidden under a church plays piano to keep people’s spirits high. London. 1940.
Civilians in a bomb shelter knit and read the paper to pass the time while their homes are destroyed by German bombs. London. November 1940.
Underneath railway arches, Londoners waiting out a bombing raid settle into their makeshift mattresses and get ready for a long night. London. November 1940.
Firefighters struggle to put out the blazes left in the wake of a bombing. London. 1941.
The people of London make their way back above ground and go about their days, passing through the devastated ruins of their city. London. Circa 1940-1941.
Civilians watch calmly as the British Army runs a practice exercise for shooting down attacking bombers. London. August 1939.
A line of bunk beds sit in the London subway system. London. Circa 1940-1945.
A woman cooks a meal inside of the London subway system, waiting for the bombings to end. November 1940.
A young woman puts on the gramophone, letting a little music drown out the sounds of the falling bombs. London. 1940.
A restaurant stays open through the bombings by selling food in the basement. London. 1940.
Nurses in an air raid shelter give a woman first aid care. London. 1940.
A group of women knit and chat their way through the bombings while a man sets up a clock to add a little color to the dreary white of the bomb shelter.
London. 1940.
A shop stays open, treating their destroyed walls as nothing but a small hiccup in everyday business. London. Circa 1940-1945.
Underground, a woman fills up a kettle for tea. London. 1940.
Boys in a basement shelter play a game of cards to pass the time. London. 1940.
A young girl stands in the ruins of her home, the Union Jack waving above her head. London. January 1945.
A Mother’s Day service, held in the broken hull of Coventry Cathedral. May 13, 1945
A family sits outside of their ruined home while the men behind them sift through the rubble.London. Circa 1940-1941.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: