7 September 1940: the Blitz begins

After failing to take out Britain’s fighter command in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe changed tactics. It decided it would terrorise Britain’s population into submission.

And so on this day in 1940, it began an eight-month campaign of bombing Britain’s main cities. 350 bombers crossed the channel and headed for London, where they dropped 300 tonnes of explosives.

Day and night (mainly night) the bombs fell. On that first night, almost 2,000 people were killed or wounded. Within a month, 6,000 were dead, and by the end of the campaign, 40,000 had lost their lives.

In total, London was attacked 71 times. But it wasn’t just the capital that suffered. Other cities were targeted too, most famously Coventry, laid to waste on 14 November. The ten-hour raid was the biggest the world had ever seen.

Despite the danger, the Queen Mother spent her days in London (though her nights were spent in the relative safety of Windsor Castle) and took many trips to the East End to survey the damage and lift the spirits of the people.

And on 13 September, Buckingham Palace was hit. The bomb “hurtled past us and exploded with a tremendous crash in the quadrangle”, wrote the Queen Mother. “I am glad we have been bombed”, she said. “Now we can look the East End in the eye.”

Though people today talk about the Blitz spirit, it wasn’t all stiff upper lips and making do. It led to a big rise in crime, and made a lot of wrong ‘uns wealthy.

Career criminal Billy Hill was one. “Money was easy, he said. “The villains were loaded with dough and we were all busy”.

Britain’s wartime black market “was the most fantastic side of civilian life in wartime”, said Hill. “Make no mistake. It cost Britain millions of pounds. I didn’t merely make use of the black market. I fed it.”

The Blitz finally ended in May 1941, when the bombers headed east to concentrate on softening up Russia for invasion.

  • Christopher Fradd

    You have got the year wrong. The Blitz started in 1940, not 1941.

    • johnmortl

      Getting the year wrong is nothing compared to the sanitized version, implying that the Germans started bombing civilian populations first when in fact the British started bombing German civilian centres First. The Germans had restricted there bombing to strategic targets until their patients ran out after mounting civilian casualties from their being intentionally targeted by British bomber command. Only then,to the delight of Churchill, did the Germans retaliate in kind. The strategy of goading German retaliation was that it would anger the population and prod it out of complacency into supporting the war effort as Roosevelt did with Pearl Harbor in 1941.

      • Robert Hemple

        I understood a German squadron needed to ditch their bombs because they couldn’t find their military target. The squadron leader asked his navigator if they were away from any cities. Due to a navigational error the navigator responded that they were over countryside. But in fact they were over London (it was under blackout).. Churchill retaliated the next night with a raid on Berlin and the rest is history. This incident is re-enacted in the 1969 movie “The Battle of Britain “. I have always wondered what the fate of the Squadron Leader and his navigator who were summoned to Berlin for violating Hitlers order not to bomb civilian areas.

        • johnmortl

          Hollywood movie, I get it.

  • Christopher, you are quite right. Heinous blunder.