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Britain Since the 1930s

by Mandy Barrow
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The Blitz

An air raid siren will play automatically on this page.

It was dangerous living in a big city during the war. Cities were the target of enemy aircraft that flew over at night and dropped bombs.

At 4:56pm on 7 September 1940, the air raid sirens wailed as the German Air Force, the luftwaffe, launched a massive raid on London. Over 350 bombers flew across the Channel from airfields in France and dropped 300 tonnes of bombs on the docks and streets of the East End of London.

Buildings destroyed
The bombs destroyed many buildings burying mother, fathers and children in the rubble

The enemy attacks from the Luftwaffe (the German air force) were called Air Raids.

What was the Blitz?

The heavy and frequent bombing attacks on London and other cities was known as the 'Blitz'. Night after night, from September 1940 until May 1941, German bombers attacked British cities, ports and industrial areas.

London was bombed ever day and night, bar one, for 11 weeks. One third of London was destroyed.

The bombs destroyed many buildings

Back to the topWhat does 'Blitz' mean?

Blitz is a shorten form of the German word 'Blitzkrieg' (lightning war).

When did the Blitz start?

On the 7th September, 1940 the German air force changed its strategy of bombing the British air force (Battle of Britain) and began to concentrate on bombing London. Nearly 2,000 people were killed or wounded in London's first night of the Blitz.


During the first month, German Air Force dropped 5,300 tons of high explosives on London in just 24 nights.

When did air raids take place?

Most air raids happened at night.

How were people warned that an air raid was about to take place?

Air Raid Sirens

People were warned of a likely air raid by loud sirens, positioned in different parts of towns and cities. During the blitz, they became an almost daily part of life.

The sirens made a very loud and long signal or warning sound. For an alert, the siren sound pitch rose and fell alternately. The All Clear was a continuous sound from the siren. Not every alert brought a raid, and sometimes raids happened when no alert had sounded.

When people heard the siren they would stop what they were doing and make for a shelter.

When you hear the warning take cover at once. Remember that most of the injuries in an air raid are caused not by direct hits by bombs but by flying fragments of debris or by bits of shells. Stay under cover until you hear the sirens sounding continuously for two minutes on the same note which is the signal "Raiders Passed".
Air Raid Warnings 1939

What other cities were bombed?

blizOther cities and towns were also heavily bombed, including Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton, Plymouth, Birmingham, Coventry and Liverpool.

One devastating raid on Coventry in November 1940 was the biggest air-raid the world had ever seen. 4,330 homes were destroyed and 554 people killed. At one point during the night 200 separate fires burned in the city.

Back to the topHow many people died during the World War Two Blitz in Britain?

During the Blitz 32,000 civilians were killed and 87,000 were seriously injured.


Two million houses (60 per cent of these in London) were destroyed in the Blitz.

What type of bombs were dropped?

Different types of bombs were dropped from the enemy planes. There were:

  • H.E. (High Explosive) bombs of various weights;
  • Incendiary Bombs, also termed Fire Bombs as they caused fires. and
  • Oil Bombs.

One in every ten bombs that fell was a 'dud'. which meant that it did not explode on impact. But some bombs had a delayed action fuse, which meant they could go off at any time. This meant that it was almost impossible to tell which bombs were which. People had to be evacuated until the bombs had been made safe.

Unexploded bomb

From 1944, two new types of weapons were used, which had a rocket type of propulsion to launch a war head. They were known as flying bombs.

  1. The V1 ( Doodlebug) - They had no pilot and made a droning noise. As soon as the droning noise stopped people had 15 seconds to escape from the powerful blast that followed. Many V1's fell short into the sea, others fell in the countryside. Almost 9,250 V1's were fired against London, but less than 2,500 reached their target. About 2,000 were destroyed by anti-aircraft gunfire; 2,000 by fighter planes, and almost 300 by barrage balloons. The first doodlebug exploded in Swanscombe in Kent.
  2. The V2 - The V2's arrived without any warning sound. They also flew very fast and high up in the air; much too high to be shot down by the anti-aircraft guns of fighter aircraft.

A destroyed houseHow did people protect themselves from the bombs during an air raid?

Air Raid Shelters were built. To help prevent the Germans from seeing where the towns were, a blackout was rigorously enforced after darkness. This meant that all sources of light had to be blacked out.

What was life like during the Blitz?

Life was very hard during the Blitz and frightening too. London, in particular was very bad as it was bombed nearly every night. People in London spent most nights sleeping in Air Raid Shelters.

No one within any distance of a likely target such as a big city could sleep entirely easy in their beds. Sometimes German bombers made mistakes and dropped their bombs in entirely the wrong areas. At other times, returning from a raid, they would dump the remainder of their explosives at random in order to fly home in greater safety. Many bombs fell on the areas around the cities and in the Kent countryside, known as 'bomb alley' because it lay on the flight path to London.

It was difficult to move around at night time due to the Blackout and the problems it causes.

Families were separated with children being in evacuated.

Food and clothing were rationed and hard to get hold of because of shops being bombed.

How did the government try to protect cities from being bombed?

Barrage balloons were put up to force the german planes to fly higher – so their bombing would be less accurate. The Barrage balloons were tethered by steel cables strong enough to destroy any aircraft which flew into them.

Barrage ballon over Tower Bridge

Redsands Fort

To stop enemy bombers finding their way up the Thames estuary, in 1943 the army built Redsands Fort, a group of anti-aircraft platforms off the Kent coast.

Redsands Fort
Redsands Fort

Close up of on of the platforms

When did the blitz end?

The Blitz ended in mid-May 1941, when much of the German air force was sent east to prepare for the invasion of Russia.

What next?

The next big air attacks came from the terrifying V-1 and V-2 attacks. These were flying bombs (doodlebugs) catapulted into the air from camouflaged launched sites in northern, Occupied Europe.


Further information

Images of the London Blitz (pictures)

Cabinet War Rooms 1

Cabinet War Rooms 2

A War time home (BBC)
Have a look around a home and see if you can spot ways people protected themselves during the blitz.

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