The Blitz was London's most traumatic episode of intense aerial bombing during the Second World War. Taking its name from the German word 'Blitzkrieg' (lightening war), the Blitz in London lasted from 7 September 1940 to 10 May 1941.
The Blitz followed a change of strategy on the part of the German air force. The first outbreak of aerial warfare had occurred in July 1940, when thousands of German planes were sent across the Channel to attack air bases in England. The plan was to destroy the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) in preparation for the invasion of Britain. The British won the resulting 'Battle of Britain' and, in mid-August 1940, German bombers began to target British cities including Coventry, Manchester, Birmingham and London. The attacks were intended to destroy morale, and targeted civilian as well as industrial or military targets.
The East End of London, the industrial centre of the city, was a key target. By the morning after the first night of the Blitz, more than 300 tonnes of bombs had been dropped on London, 430 Londoners had been killed and 1,600 were injured. London was bombed almost every night for the next 11 weeks.
During the raids, Londoners sought shelter in the deep Underground stations.The shelters were organised, and included toilets, washing facilities, and wooden bunk beds built on the platforms and in tunnels. Refreshments were also arranged, such as the Refreshment Special Tube train that ran each night.
As well as explosives, the planes dropped firebombs.These were particularly dangerous in the older parts of the city where buildings were close together and fire spread quickly. The worst night of firebombs was 29 December 1940, when the City of London was targeted. By good fortune and the efforts of dozens of volunteers, St Paul's Cathedral survived intact. However, the Houses of Parliament were damaged on the last night of the Blitz. Altogether, millions of incendiaries and some 40,000 high explosives were dropped on London.
In total 1.4 million homes- one third of London's housing stock- were damaged or destroyed in the Blitz.Electricity, gas and water supplies were disrupted. Around 20,000 civilians died and thousands more were injured. The impact on civilian morale in London was severe.Some Londoners later recalled that things were close to breaking point: the daily bombings and sleepless nights took their toll. Looting from bombed shops and empty houses was rife. However, the general mood of perseverance became known as the Blitz Spirit.
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