Such are the candid recollections of a generation who joked about the number of years they went before seeing a packet of sugar, let alone a banana, it is easy to forget that Adolf Hitler’s air campaign of the 1940s brought death and destruction to Britain on a nightly basis. Hitler hoped to bombard Britain until her resolve wilted. The Blitz – or Blitzkrieg, meaning ‘lightning war’ – was visited upon British industrial towns by Hermann Göring’s Luftwaffe.
London was bombed for 57 consecutive days. Glasgow ; Clydebank ; Greenock ; Belfast ; Plymouth ; Portsmouth ; Southampton : all were targeted repeatedly in an effort to stop shipbuilding and heavy industry crucial to the war effort. Bristol ; Birmingham ; Manchester ; Hull ; Liverpool : the Luftwaffe’s campaign was comprehensive.
It had become apparent that aerial supremacy would be key to protecting Britain from the threat of invasion. In the years preluding the Second World War, the rearmament of the British Royal Air Force would prove to have been wise beyond all doubt. As early as 1939, Britain began a programme of building air-raid shelters and exercising blackouts after dark. Sporadic raids had commenced since the summer of 1940; Royal Air Force bases were targeted in particular, so too areas in London. But there was a steady escalation in the intensity of the Luftwaffe’s visits. After losing many aircraft from ground fire, the Luftwaffe ceased day raids, preferring to arrive at night, when Britain’s defence forces on the ground could only use spotlights in the hope of picking their targets.
The Blitz was Hitler’s spectacular for Britain. It was incessant. The drone of aircraft and the accompanying yowl of the air-raid siren accompanied every sleepless night in Britain. From the 7th September 1940 to the 10th May 1941, the Germans sent up to 500 bombers a night. London was devastated. The London Underground became a de facto bomb shelter – the safety of which was doubtful, as fatal attacks on Balham Station proved. The German bombers would drop incendiary bombs, using fire as a guiding night-light. If the original intention of the Blitz was to target military supply routes; it had took an inordinate toll on Britain’s civilian population. Over a million people were injured in the Blitz; with as many as 43,000 dying, 20,000 in London alone.
Britain returned the Blitz in kind. Outraged by the civilian death toll, British bombers attacked Berlin and Dresden. In 1945, nearing the end of the war, Dresden, in particular, was razed. Coventry was among the worst hit in Britain, throughout the course of the blitz, 1,200 died. On 14th November 1940, over 5000 tonnes of explosives were dropped on the city in a ten-hour attack. While the raids persisted, Britain became better equipped to defend her cities. Radar improved. So too spotlights. Anti-aircraft weaponry began to reduce the success of the German campaigns. As the Blitz neared it’s final phase, Britain’s sea ports were targeted.
After 10th May 1941, with the British failing to yield, Hitler abandoned the Blitz in favour for sporadic attacks, and training his air offensive on Russians.
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