The Blitz: September 1940 - May 1941

On 13th August, 1940, of the 1,485 German aircraft which crossed the English Channel that day, forty-five were shot down, for the loss of only thirteen British fighters. The Germans were surprised by the skill of the British pilots who opposed them. Almost all the German aircrew were killed or captured where they parachuted or crash-landed; only seven British pilots were killed, the rest crash-landing or parachuting to safety on British soil. Two days later, 75 German aircraft were shot down, for a British loss of 34. However, the following day, the Luftwaffe managed to destroy 47 aircraft on the ground at 14 airfields in southern England. In the first ten days of the German attacks, a hundred British aircraft were destroyed on the ground. General Hastings Ismay, Churchill's Chief of Staff, watched that day's events in the Operation Room of No. 11 Group Fighter Command, later recalled: "There had been heavy fighting throughout the afternoon; and at one moment every single squadron in the group was engaged; there was nothing in reserve, and the map table showed new waves of attackers crossing the coast. I felt sick with fear." (1)

The Royal Air Force was desperately short of both aircraft and trained pilots. Between 1st and 18th August the RAF lost 208 fighters and 106 pilots. The second half of the month saw even heavier losses and wastage now outstripped the production of new aircraft and the training of pilots to fly them. Those British pilots that did survive suffered from combat fatigue. In the last week of August, almost a fifth of the RAF's fighter pilots were either killed or wounded. Recently trained and therefore inexperienced men had to be sent to the front-line squadrons, which reduced operational effectiveness. The result was rising losses against the more experienced German pilots. (2)

Bombing of Civilians

Britain appeared to be at the verge of losing the Battle of Britain. Once the RAF had lost control of British air-space, Adolf Hitler would have been in a position to launch Operation Sea Lion, the land invasion of Britain. Churchill decided to try and get Hitler to change his main target of destroying aircraft and airfields. Britain had a policy of using aerial bombing only against military targets and against infrastructure such as ports and railways of direct military importance as it wanted to reduce civilian casualties. (3)

Winston Churchill decided to change this policy and on 25th August 1940, Churchill ordered a RAF raid on Berlin and 95 aircraft were dispatched to bomb Tempelhof Airport and Siemensstadt, both based near the centre of the city. Ten civilians were killed. While the damage was slight, the psychological effect on Hitler was greater. A few days later he made a speech where he told a party rally: "When the British Air Force drops two or three or four thousand kilograms of bombs, then we will in one night drop 150, 230, 300 or 400 thousand kilograms... When they declare that they will increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground." (4) Hitler now rescinded an order forbidding attacks on civilian targets and fell into the trap created by Churchill. The Luftwaffe now shifted the target from British airfields and air defences to British cities. (5)

Some members of the government were very worried about this new strategy. Several reports had been commissioned about the possible impact of targeted air-raids on British civilians. It was calculated that 3,500 tons of bombs would be dropped in the first twenty-four hours. By the time the all-clear sounded, 58,000 Londoners would have been killed. Each ton of bombs would cause fifty casualties, a third of which would be fatal. (6) According to another report, the first week of serious air raids on the capital would leave some 66,000 Londoners dead and another 134,000 seriously injured. (7)

Many, including the Committee of Imperial Defence, anticipated that the maintenance of public order would pose the greatest problem. It was suggested that the first raids would generate mass panic and Londoners would emerge from their shelters and take part in widespread and destructive rioting. The government therefore decided that a large part of the Territorial Army should not be sent abroad but held in reserve to preserve law and order at home. (8)

Reputable scientists offered alarming statistics. John Haldane, warned that the sound wave from a bomb would "literally flatten out everything in front" of it. Those within range not immediately killed would be permanently disabled, their eardrums would burst inward and people would be "deafened for life". The Mental Health Emergency Committee agreed, reporting in 1939 that psychiatric casualties were likely to exceed physical injuries by three to one, while three or four million people would succumb to hysteria. (9)

This information created mass panic amongst the wealthy and over 5,000 people fled in the few days leading up to the war. This included three Conservative Party MPs. One of these was Captain Alex Cunningham-Reid, the MP for St. Marylebone, who took his family to Canada. (10) After he returned in 1943 he was physically attacked by another MP, Oliver Locker-Lampson, a leading figure in the struggle against fascism. "He (Locker-Lampson) ran whirling his arms around his head and struck me in the chest. I retaliated by hitting him on the head. He went down on his knees. I helped him up and by that time other members had gotten between us". Cunningham-Reid later admitted that Locker-Lampson had accused him of leaving London during the Blitz. (11)

Churchill asked the Home Office to prepare a Bill to allow the seats of those MPs who left the country without government permission for more than six months to be declared vacant. When this was discussed at the home policy committee, Ernest Bevin argued that the MPs should be stripped of their British citizenship. However, when the war cabinet discussed the issue later that day, they agreed that introducing such a Bill would create too much undesirable publicity and alert the public to the facts that MPs had been fleeing the country. (12)

7th September, 1940

Saturday 7th September, 1940, was a warm day with an almost cloudless sky. But soon after four in the afternoon the sky darkened as 300 German bombers and 600 escorting fighters arrived over London. Sector Controllers looked up anxiously, reluctant to commit their planes to battle until the raiders split up to make for their allocated airfield targets. Fighter Command No. 11 under Keith Park did not intercept the bombers in large numbers, thus masking their true strength. An off duty fire officer in Dulwich "saw something that made him jump up and hurriedly struggle into his uniform. The sky was filled with an ever-darkening rash of black dots that he realised were planes in numbers he had never seen before - and they were all making for the East End." (13)

The Luftwaffe was heading for the Royal Victoria Docks and the Surrey Docks that were situated on the U-shaped bend of the Thames round the Isle of Dogs, and was unmistakable from the air. (14) Barbara Nixon, an actress who was a volunteer ARP warden in Finsbury, later recalled that although four miles away she could see that the people in "the East End were getting it... we could see the miniature silver planes circling round and round the target area in such perfect formation that they looked like a children's toy model of flying boats or chair-o-planes at a fair... Presently we saw a white cloud rising; it looked like a huge evening cumulus, but it grew steadily, billowing outwards and always upwards... The cloud grew to such a size that we gasped incredulously; there could not ever in history have been so gigantic a fire." (15)

Cyril Demarne, an officer in the Fire Service, later commented: "Columns of fire pumps, five hundred of them ordered to West Ham alone, sped eastwards to attend fires in ships and warehouses, sugar refineries, soap works, tar distilleries, chemical works, timber stacks, paint and varnish works, the humble little homes of workers and hundreds of other fires that, in peace time, would have made headline news. Two hundred and fifty acres of tall timber sacks blazed out of control in the Surrey Commercial Docks; the rum quay buildings of the West India Docks, alight from end to end, gushed blazing spirit from their doors." (16)

The Fire Service had difficulty in dealing with the large number of fires that had been started by the bombing raid. Calls went out for additional fire engines. Over a thousand were being used in the dock area alone. West Ham Fire Brigade asked for another 500. They came from all over London, and from as far away as Birmingham and Bristol. Over 300 pumps were fighting one blaze. The fire officer at the Surrey Commercial Docks called central officer: "Send all the bloody pumps you've got. The whole bloody world's on fire." (17)

Another major target was the Beckton Gasworks, the largest in Europe, which supplied central London, was badly damaged. Rumours quickly spread that the enveloping sulphurous smell meant that the Germans had dropped mustard-gas canisters. Acrid black smoke came from the bombed warehouse of the Silvertown rubber factory. "Molten tar from another factory flowed across the North Woolwich Road, bogging down fire engines, ambulances and Civil Defence vehicles... An army of rats swarmed from a soap factory in Silvertown. A grain warehouse was on fire too - and when a large quantity of wheat burns, as the fireman found, it leaves a sticky residue that was in danger of pulling off their boots." (18)

Three children sit in front of their remains of their home in the East End (September, 1940)
Three children sit in front of their remains of their home in the East End

An underground shelter in Shoreditch suffered a direct hit and over forty people were killed: "Children sleeping in perambulators and mothers with babies in their arms were killed when a bomb exploded on a crowded shelter in an East London district during Saturday night's raids. By what is described as 'a million-to-one chance' the bomb fell directly on to a ventilator shaft measuring only about three feet by one foot. It was the only vulnerable place in a powerfully protected underground shelter accommodating over 1,000 people. The rest of the roof is well protected by three feet of brickwork, earth, and other defences, but over the ventilator shaft there were only corrugated iron sheets. The bomb fell just as scores of families were settling down in the shelter to sleep there for the night. Three or four roof-support pillars were torn down and about fourteen people were killed and some forty injured. In one family three children were killed, but their parents escaped. Although explosions could be heard in all directions and the scene was illuminated by the glow of the East End fires civil defence workers laboured fearlessly among the wreckage seeking the wounded, carrying them to safer places, and attending to their wounds before the ambulances arrived." (19)

Soon after 6 p.m. the All Clear went, and stunned East Enders emerged from public shelters. They discovered that the Fire Brigade was having terrible difficulty controlling over 40 major fires. Water pipes and gas mains were shattered by explosions and telephone cables were severed. Communication between the fire services and Civil Defence was kept going only by the courage of motor-bike dispatch riders or teenage messenger boys on bikes painted yellow and with a tin hat and an armband to identify them. Driving through tunnels of fire, and dodging unexploded bombs to carry messages from fire crews to control rooms. (20)

Just after 8 p.m., 250 German bombers came back and using the fires below as a marker, dropped 330 tons of high-explosives and 440 incendiary canisters. The docks were the principal target, but many bombs fell on the residential areas around them resulting in 448 Londoners were killed and another 1,600 were seriously injured. The government had miscalculated the effect of the first great air raid on London. The prediction had been there would be many more deaths. However, they under-estimated the number of houses that would be destroyed. It has been claimed that 35 times as many civilians were made homeless as were killed. (21) At precisely 8.07 that evening, as the air bombardment was at its height, the code word "Cromwell" was sent to military units throughout Britain. The code's message was "the German invasion of Britain was about to begin." (22)

Winston Churchill visits the East End (September, 1940)
Winston Churchill visits the East End (September, 1940)

The docks of Bermondsey and West Ham were pulverised and the destruction fanned out to Stepney, Whitechapel, Poplar, Bow and Shoreditch. The next morning, Winston Churchill paid a visit to the East End, where he and General Hastings Ismay, his chief of staff discovered the seriousness of the situation. "Fires were still raging all over the place, some of the larger buildings were mere skeletons, and many of the smaller houses had been reduced to heaps of rubble... Our first stop was an air-raid shelter in which about forty persons had been killed." Ismay pointed out that someone in the crowd shouted: "Good old Winnie. We thought you'd come and see us. We can take it. Give it to them back." Churchill broke down and one old woman said: "You see he really cares; he's crying". (23)

Anti-Aircraft Guns

The main criticism made by civilians after the first day of the Blitz was a lack of response from the British armed forces. Violet Regan, the wife of a member of the Heavy Rescue Squad in Millwall, reported: "We had depended on anti-aircraft guns... and apart from a solitary salvo loosed at the beginning of the raids, no gun had been shot in our defence... we felt like sitting ducks and no mistake." (24)

There were seven anti-aircraft (or ack-ack after the noise the guns made) divisions, but there was a grave shortage of weapons. Only half the heavy and a third of the light guns that had been considered essential before the war were in place. Most of these guns had been deployed to guard airfields during the Battle of Britain and so on 7th September, London was being defended by only 264 anti-aircraft guns. (25) The men often lacked the skills needed to operate these anti-aircraft guns. One report suggested that most training consisted of "so-called silent practice inside a drill hall." (26)

A 3.7-inch gun on a travelling carriage (1940)
A 3.7-inch detachment at battle practice (1940)

General Frederick Pile, commander-in-chief of the Anti-Aircraft Command, realised that "something must be done immediately" and "within twenty-four hours... reinforcements from all over the country were on their way to London and within forty-eight hours the number of guns had been doubled". Pile instructed "that every gun was to fire every possible round... every unseen target must be engaged without waiting to identify the aircraft as hostile". It was only on 10th September, the fourth night of the Blitz, men, many of whom had only just finished training, were ready to protect London. They were firing blind and "few bursts can have got anywhere near the target" since the tactic was to throw a enormous barrage of time-fused shells in front of a bomber formation and just hope that some of the planes would fly into it. (27)

It was pointed out: "It isn't easy to shoot down a plane with an anti-aircraft gun...In stead of sitting still, the target is moving at anything up to 300 m.p.h. with the ability to alter course left or right, up or down. If the target is flying high it may take 20 or 30 seconds for the shell to reach it, and the gun must be laid a corresponding distance ahead. Moreover the range must be determined so that the fuse can be set, and above all, this must be done continuously so that the gun is always laid in the right direction. When you are ready to fire, the plane, though its engines sound immediately overhead, is actually two miles away. And to hit it with a shell at that great height the gunners may have to aim at a point two miles farther still. Then, if the raider does not alter course or height, as it naturally does when under fire, the climbing shell and the bomber will meet. In other words the raider, which is heard overhead at the Crystal Palace, is in fact at that moment over Dulwich; and the shell which is fired at the Crystal Palace must go to Parliament Square to hit it." (28)

It was estimated that it took a lot of shells to bring down a German aircraft. However, coming as it did after three nights of the Luftwaffe having an almost uninterrupted passage to their targets, the non-stop barrage, seems to have forced the bombers to fly higher and even some to turn back. General Pile admitted that the anti-aircraft guns were not effective but it was important as "it bucked people up tremendously" and those Londoners sheltering from the raid could feel some confidence that there was, at last, some semblance of a battle. (29)

A 3.7-inch gun on a travelling carriage (1940)
A 3.7-inch gun on a travelling carriage (1940)

During September, 1940, AA batteries fired 260,000 rounds of heavy ammunition. It is estimated that it brought down only one aircraft for every 30,000 shells fired. This dropped to 11,000 in October and by January 1941 the experience gained by the operators, had reduced this figure to 4,000. Another reason was the establishment of a chain of radar warning stations. Once these had been integrated with operational control rooms to plot the movements of bombers and fighters and linked to radio direction of fighter squadrons, Britain had an effective defence system. (30)

As the commander-in-chief of the Anti-Aircraft Command pointed out: "Anti-aircraft guns take a little time to become effective after they have been moved to new positions. Telephone lines have to be laid, gun positions levelled, the warning system co-ordinated and so on." (31) Although official claims that 45 per cent of raiders were forced to turn back by anti-aircraft fire was not true and was merely government propaganda. German aircraft were forced to fly "higher as a result of the barrage, but since this made it more likely that the bombs would miss docks or railway stations and hit civilian homes instead, the advantage to the average citizen was not immediately noticeable." (32)

It has been claimed that on some occasions the barrage above London was so intense that as many civilians were killed and injured by shrapnel and unexploded shells as by enemy action. A survey was carried out after one raid and it was discovered that six people were killed by shell splinters; four wounded by a shell in Enfield; a sailor severely injured by a shell splinter in Gipsy Hill; two civilians killed by another shell elsewhere; one man killed and two injured by a shell which hit a wall in Battersea; and two more killed in Tooting." (33)

Barrage Balloons

In 1938 the RAF Balloon Command was established to protect cities and key targets such as industrial areas, ports and harbours. The main objective was to prevent low fights and pinpoint bombing by the Luftwaffe. This forced them to fly higher and into the range of concentrated anti-aircraft fire - anti-aircraft guns could not traverse fast enough to attack aircraft flying at low altitude and high speed. These silver-coloured barrage balloons, were 66 feet long and 30 feet high, filled with 20,000 cubic feet of hydrogen and tethered to the ground by steel cables. By the middle of 1940 there were 1,400 balloons, a third of them over the London area. (34)

These large serene and beautiful shapes were to stay poised over British cities for the rest of the war. The journalist, James L. Hodson, described them as "shinning silver in the sun, or turning pink or golden or shades of blue in the varied lights from dawn to evening, their cable singing some kind of tune, maybe, in a high wind, and just occasionally, the balloon itself, if something has gone wrong, turning over and over like a playful porpoise or, again, lashing about with the fury of a wounded whale." (35)

Laura Knight, Barrage Balloon (August, 1942)
Laura Knight, Barrage Balloon (August, 1942)

Each balloon was moored to a wagon by a cable. These cables were strong enough to destroy any aircraft colliding with them. On the wagon was a winch that enabled the men of Balloon Command to control the height of the barrage balloon. It has been claimed that in the first months of war, the balloons inspired an irrational sense of immunity among civilians. This was encouraged by an early propaganda film, The Lion Has Wings (1939), which depicted a mass raid Luftwaffe bombers turning back in fear and confusion at the sight of Britain's terrifying balloon barrage. (36)

As Ada Ryder pointed out, these balloons were difficult to control: "The balloon could behave very dangerously, and the weather was the number-one enemy. In high winds we had to 'storm bed' it; that was, to bring it down to the concrete base and anchor it with concrete blocks, each one weighing fifty-six pounds. The nose had always to be in the wind, otherwise it would break away, dragging thousands of feet of steel cable with it. That cable was lethal. The corporal would stand on site, eight of us each by a concrete block, and at her command we'd all move together about six inches at a time. The wind would be howling, rain and hail lashing us, and it would take about two hours to get the balloon into wind. We'd just finish, all tired out, and the wind would change, so out we'd go again. It wasn't funny, I'll tell you, in tin hat, pyjamas, greatcoat over the top, and big boots on our bare feet! Sometimes we were machine-gunned trying to fly the balloon as a raid came in." (37)

Cartoon of a barrage balloon in May, 1940
Cartoon of a barrage balloon in May, 1940

Barrage balloons were fairly easy to destroy but they did have their successes. "One Saturday we were clearing up the billet when the crackle of machine guns and cannon guns was heard. The men grabbed their rifles and dashed out to the Balloon site. The sky was full of AA shell bursts while machine guns were going off everywhere. Several balloons were coming down in flames, ours included. The next balloon to us was being hauled down just as fast as the winch could pull it. It was about 800 feet off the ground when one of the Messerschmitt 109s decided that he would try and get it. He swept over our heads and brought it down all right. But as he turned and banked away to sea again he seemed to be standing still in the air for a few seconds. The range was about 700 feet. The NCO yelled 'Fire!' Everyone pumped as many rounds as he could into it. The plane kept straight on with his dive out to sea, while a thin trail of smoke poured out from behind. When we last saw it, it was going down behind a breakwater out to sea. We did not stand about wondering if we had got it as we had a new balloon to inflate and fly. It was when we had finished this and had the balloon barrage up again that we leant we had been given the credit for shooting down a Messerschmitt 109." (38)

The record for Balloon Command was not very good. During six years of war balloon barrages brought down approximately 100 aircraft, yet three-quarters of these were Allied planes. Just 24 German aircraft are known to be victims of these balloons. They were also dangerous to civilians on the ground. On 13th June, a Heinkel He III struck a balloon cable over Newport, and plunged into a built-up area, killing two children. In October, an exploding barrage balloon killed two firemen in Lambeth. However, they undoubtedly boosted civilian morale, and would later bring down 278 VI flying bombs. (39)

On 8th September, 1940, 200 German bombers attacked London's electricity power stations and railway lines. This time Fighter Command fully engaged the enemy and 88 German aircraft were shot down, for British losses of 21. The Luftwaffe made its last great effort on 15th September. The British government reported that 185 German aircraft had been destroyed. The true figure was 56 but both sides were guilty of exaggerating the number of aircraft that had been shot down. (40)

After these two days of heavy bombing frightened and homeless people in London trekked out to the open spaces outside the city. Several thousands "trudged off to Epping and sat down in the forest" where camps were set up for them. A local Tory councillor, confronted with the idea that the homeless should be compulsorily billeted there, commented: "I will not have these people billeted on our people". (41) As Angus Calder has pointed out: "Even now, when the need for evacuation was obvious enough, some of the well-to-do people of the suburbs and countryside still revealed the bleak class hatred which had underlain the first response to evacuation a year before." (42)

Anderson Shelters

In 1939 Sir John Anderson, the Home Secretary and the Minister of Home Security, commissioned the engineer, William Patterson, to design a small and cheap shelter that could be erected in people's gardens. (43) Within a few months nearly one and a half million of these Anderson Shelters were distributed to people living in areas expected to be bombed by the Luftwaffe. Anderson shelters were given free to poor people. Men who earned more than £5 a week could buy one for £7. The main problem was that under a quarter of the public had no gardens. Made from six curved sheets bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end, and measuring 6ft 6in by 4ft 6in (1.95m by 1.35m) the shelter could accommodate six people. These shelters were half buried in the ground with earth heaped on top. The entrance was protected by a steel shield and an earthen blast wall. (44)

People who did not like going into their Anderson shelters. "We had an Anderson shelter in the garden. You were supposed to go into your Anderson shelter every night. I used to take my knitting. I used to knit all night. I was too frightened to go to sleep. You got into the habit of not sleeping. I've never slept properly since. It was just a bunk bed. I did not bother to get undressed. It was cold and damp in the shelter. I was all on my own because my husband was in the army. You would go nights and nights and nothing happened." (45)

A family entering an Anderson Shelter
A family entering an Anderson Shelter

A persistent problem was damp. The shelters often flooded after a rainstorm, and it was unwise to leave bedding there. As they were usually sited at the end of the garden when the alert went families had a trek through a dark and often muddy garden carrying supplies for the night. Heating was another major problem. Oil and paraffin heaters were not recommended since if knocked over they could start a fire, and in a confined space such appliances used up oxygen, while electricity could short-circuit in the damp. However, one of the main disadvantages of the shelter is that they did not shut out the terrifying din of explosives and falling masonry. In fact, the metal shelters magnified the noise. This problem was eventually recognised by the authorities and one borough issued 140,000 pairs of earplugs free to its citizens. (46)

Some people adapted their Anderson shelters to give them extra protection: "I think that a dugout is fairly safe if the people inside are a foot or two below the general surface of the ground. A bomb would have to fall right on it to make sure of killing the occupants. But so many of the Andersons I have seen in London are practically on the surface with the soil piled round them and very little on top: not enough to stop a bullet. Our Anderson is in a bank of clay and the top of it is several feet below the high ground at the back. (47)

Public Air-Raid Shelters

Before the war started the government made money available for materials for local authorities to build public outdoor shelter, although they had to foot the bill for the construction costs. New buildings had to incorporate spaces for shelters, and employers with a workforce of fifty or more in a designated target area were obliged to provide shelter accommodation for their employees (they would receive government funding to help pay for this). Once war started the government urged local authorities to provide purpose-built public shelters, above ground heavily protected brick and concrete constructions capable of holding up to fifty people. Progress was slow and by the time of the Blitz of the 27.5 million people living in areas likely to be attacked, only 17.5 million had been provided with some sort of shelter, domestic or public. (48)

Barbara Nixon, an air-raid warden in London later wrote: "It is now generally admitted that during September 1940 the shelter conditions were appalling. In many boroughs there were only flimsy surface shelters, with no light, no seats, no lavatories, and insufficient numbers even of these; or railway arches and basements that gave an impression of safety, but had only a few inches of brick overhead, or were rotten shells of buildings with thin roofs and floors... In our borough... we had two capacious shelters under business firms, which held three or four hundred, also fifteen small sub-surface concrete ones in which fifty people could sit upright on narrow wooden benches along the wall. But they were poorly ventilated, and only two out of the nine that came in my province could pretend to be dry." (49)

Many people sheltered under railway arches. One of the most popular was Tilbury railway arch in Stepney. The borough council made it into a public shelter for 3,000 people. However, it is claimed that as many as 16,000 used it on some nights. It was visited by many journalists and Negley Farson found its "vital, impulsive life... inspiring". (50) Harold Scott agreed and described how "a girl in a scarlet cloak danced wildly to the cheers of an enthusiastic audience; a party of Negro sailors sang spirituals while someone played the accordion." (51)

Mickey Davies and the Spitalfield Shelter

Another popular shelter was the Spitalfield Shelter in Stepney. The London Fruit & Wool Exchange was opposite Christ Church in Spitalfields. Built in 1929, as well as having a grand wood-panelled auction room seating 900, it had a maze of basement tunnels that could be used as an underground shelter. (52)

Mickey Davies was an optician but on 13th September, 1940, his business was destroyed by a bomb. Mickey, with time on his hands, decided he would organize the Spitalfield Shelter. Although designed for 2,500 people, some days over 5,000 crammed into the shelter. "The heat of the cellar", Davies wrote, "became literally hardly bearable. A steady stream of semi-conscious or unconscious people was passed towards the doorway." It was a chaotic situation and Davies inspired his fellow shelterers to create their own order. A shelter committee was democratically elected and Davies became chief shelter marshal. (53)

Mickey Davies addressing people in the shelter (1940)
Mickey Davies addressing people in the shelter (1940)

As Steve Hunnisett has pointed out: "To begin with, conditions were appalling, with almost non-existent sanitation, no proper bedding (people initially slept upon bags of rubbish) and minimal lighting. The floors soon became awash with urine, faeces and other filth. Mickey Davies was appalled by what he found and by the apparent lack of interest, or at best, will from the authorities to get things better organised. Davies was highly intelligent and more importantly, a superb organiser and he quickly became invaluable to the shelterers and a thorn in the side of the local authority in his efforts to improve the conditions for those using the shelter." (54)

Mickey Davies only 4 feet 6 inches tall, became known as "Mickey Midget". (55) The Daily Mirror reported: "In charge of one of London's biggest shelters is a dwarf - a little man who has performed wonders during the air raids and whose judgement is never questioned by any of the 2,000 shelterers whose safety is under his supervision." (56) Joseph Westwood, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, was very impressed when he Mickey and told an audience in Edinburgh: "I wish you could have met Mickey. He is a dwarf. But in mind and spirit he is a giant. He is lord of one of the biggest shelters in London. Two thousand shelterers elected him chief shelter marshal." (57)

Mickey Davies talks to a woman in the shelter (1941)
Mickey Davies talks to a woman in the shelter (1941)

J. B. Priestley wrote about people like Mickey Davies who emerged as leaders during the Second World War: "It so happens that this war, whether those at present in authority like it or not, has to be fought as a citizen's war... They are a new type, what might be called the organized militant citizen. And the whole circumstances of their war-time favour of a sharply democratic outlook. Men and women with a gift for leadership now turn up in unexpected places. The new ordeals blast away the old shams. Britain, which in the years immediately before this war was rapidly losing such democratic virtues as it possessed, is now being bombed and burned into democracy." (58)

There is evidence that members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) were involved in organising people in air-raid shelters. Euan Wallace, a Conservative Party cabinet minister, wrote: "There is little doubt that the Daily Worker and the Communist Party are taking the opportunity of creating trouble." (59) Ritchie Calder argued in his book, Carry on London (1941) that "Mickey's form of common sense community socialism" was seen by some as "Communism". When told that there were "Communists" amongst the Shelter Committee, he replied that "There may be bigamists amongst them for all I care!" (60)

Mickey Davies in Stepney (1941)
Mickey Davies in Stepney (1941)

The poor sanitation in Mickey's Shelter increased the risk of disease and infection. "Mickey set up first aid and medical units, and raise money to equip a dispensary. He even persuaded stretcher bearers and others to come in on their off duty times to minister to the sick and injured." (61) Davis also persuaded Marks and Spencers to install a canteen. When the leading American politician, Wendell Willkie, visited London during the Blitz, he was taken to "Mickey's Shelter as a showplace of British democracy." (62) His daughter has pointed out that his shelter was "visited by people from American ex-Presidents to Clementine Churchill (all signed his visitors' book)." (63)

The Communist Party of Great Britain

The most expensive London hotels and restaurants provided secure underground accommodation for their customers. Some restaurants provided camp beds in their cellars. The Dorchester Hotel, which was considered to be secure because of its reinforced-concrete structure, turned its basement gymnasium into an air-raid dormitory. Lady Diana Cooper felt "quite secure" spending time "with all that was most distinguished in London society, including members of the government such as Lord Halifax. (64)

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was very active in London. Phil Piratin, a Communist councillor in Stepney, became an ARP warden. He was also active in converting pre-war East End tenants' associations into Shelter Committees to keep up the battle for deep shelters and to press for better facilities in public surface shelters. As the government did not respond quickly enough members of the CPGB decided to take direct action against The Savoy Hotel had turned its underground banqueting hall as a shelter for its customers. (65)

As the government did not respond quickly enough members of the CPGB decided to take direct action. Piratin decided to lead a party of seventy of the borough's residents to the Savoy to demand access to its shelter. "We decided what was good enough for the Savoy Hotel parasites was reasonably good enough for Stepney workers and their families. We had an idea that the hotel management would not see eye to eye with this so we organised an invasion without their consent." (66)

On 15th September, 1940, about a hundred East Enders, rushed on the hotel after the air-raid sirens sounded and occupied the shelter. However, the protesters were soon removed. (67) The government became worried about public order and one of its junior ministers wrote in his diary: "Everyone is worried about the feeling in the East End... There is much bitterness. It is said that even the King and Queen were booed the other day when they visited the destroyed." (68)

Communist shop-stewards threatened to go on strike if their employers did not provide deep shelters. The CPGB newspaper, The Daily Worker, claimed: "The shelter policy of the government is not just a history of incompetence and neglect, it is a calculated class policy... A determination not to provide protection because profit is placed before human lives... the bankruptcy of the government's shelter policy is plain for all to see... safe in their own luxury shelters the ruling class must be forced to give way." (69)

The News Chronicle, Daily Mail and Evening Standard. also became involved in the campaign to force the government to build more public shelters. The authorities remained opposed and ARP lecturers were instructed to point out the dangers. "What happens if the doors get blocked? asked a warden in the Mile End Road. "Then people won't be able to get up from the bowels of the earth and will just have to remain there with RIP written on top." (70)

Underground Stations

The government decided that it did not like deep shelters such as tube stations because they feared that once people entered them they would be reluctant to come back above ground and continue normal life. Before the Blitz started, the government ordered London Transport not to allow people to use the tube stations as shelters. Underground station staff found, however, that it was impossible to stop people entering and setting up their own primitive camps below ground. Churchill's private secretary, John Colville, wrote in his diary that although the Prime Minister was happy to use a disused underground station as a refuge himself, he was "thinking on authoritarian lines about shelters and talks about forcibly preventing people from going into the underground." (71)

Londoners huddle in Aldwych Tube underground station (1940)
Londoners huddle in Aldwych Tube underground station (1940)

The public ignored government instructions about using the underground as a public shelter. They were dry, warm, well lit and the raids were inaudible. In October, 1940, Herbert Morrison, was appointed as Home Secretary and he changed government policy. A short branch line to Aldwych station was closed and given over to the public. Three disused stations were specially opened to the public. An uncompleted extension running from Liverpool Street under the East End became one vast shelter holding about ten thousand. Some seventy-nine stations in Greater London became shelters, and by the end of September, 1940, around 177,000 people were sleeping in the Underground system. (72)

Evelyn Rose was one of those who used underground stations but did not enjoy the experience: "If you were out and a bombing raid took place you would make for the nearest shelter. The tube stations were considered to be very safe. I did not like using them myself. The stench was unbearable. The smell was so bad I don't know how people did not die from suffocation. So many bodies and no fresh air coming in. People would go to the tube stations long before it got dark because they wanted to make sure that they reserved their space. There were a lot of arguments amongst people over that." (73)

Tube stations were not as safe as people believed. A high explosive bomb could penetrate up to fifty feet through solid ground. When a small bomb scored a direct hit on the Marble Arch subway, filled with shelterers, on 17th September, 1940, its blast ripped the white tiles off the walls as it burst and made them deadly projectiles killing twenty people. On 7th October, seven people were killed and thirty-three at Trafalgar Square station when an explosion caused the concrete and steel casing over an escalator to collapse. The next day nineteen were killed and fifty-two injured at Bounds Green station. (74)

The most destructive incident was on 14th October, at Balham station, when a 1400 kg fragmentation bomb fell on the road above the northern end of the platform tunnels, creating a large crater into which a double decker bus then crashed. The northbound platform tunnel partially collapsed and was filled with earth and water from the fractured water mains and sewers above. Although more than 400 managed to escape, 68 people died in the disaster, including the stationmaster, the ticket-office clerk and two porters. Many drowned as water and sewage from burst mains poured in, soon reaching a depth of three feet. (75)

Bombing of Balham station (14th October, 1940)
Bombing of Balham station (14th October, 1940)

Despite these tragedies people continued to shelter in underground stations. An account in the South London Press described the scene at the Elephant and Castle tube station: "From the platforms to the entrance to the platform was one incumbent mass of humanity.... it took me a quarter of an hour to get from the station entrance to the platform. Even in the darkened booking hall I stumbled over huddled bodies, bodies that were no safer from bombs than if they had lain in the gutters of the silent streets outside. Going down the stairs I saw mothers feeding infants at the breast. Little girls and boys lay across their parents' bodies because there was no room on the winding stairs. Hundreds of men and women were partially undressed, while small boys and girls slumbered in the foetid atmosphere absolutely naked... On the platform, when a train came in, it had to be stopped in a tunnel while police and porters went along pushing in the feet and arms which overhung the line. The sleepers hardly stirred as the train rumbled slowly in." (76)

Queues started to form outside tube stations as early as ten in the morning - only a couple of hours after people had left the underground. There was a thriving black market trade in pitches selling for as much as 2s 6d. The only solution was some form of ticketing. Printed reservation tickets were issued by shelter marshals and wardens appointed by the various local authorities in whose borough the tube stations were located, though roughly 10 per cent of the accommodation was unallocated so people who found themselves in the area in the event of a raid could use it. (77)

Bernard Kops, aged 14 at the time, spent a large amount of time in underground stations in 1940. "We were underground people... The soldiers forced us to get into trains, to go further up the line. Liverpool Street was the closest geographically and umbilically, was the most popular. So we were forced to move on and we tried the next station along the Central Line, and then the next and the next... I would scoot out of the train ahead of the family and under the legs of people... and I bagged any space I could along the platform. The family followed and we pitched our tent, then we unravelled and unwound and relaxed.... Here we were back on the trot wandering again, involved in a new exodus - the Jews of the East End, who had left their homes and gone into the exile of the underground." (78)

In early 1941 local councils were authorised to provide waterborne sanitation in large shelters, including chemical toilets. Changes were made to those underground stations that were closed to trains. The walls were whitewashed, the lighting improved, the track was boarded over and 200 three-tier bunks were installed, improved lavatory facilities replaced the original buckets, and a system of tickets was introduced to provide a bunk or reserved floor space for regular shelterers. Westminster Library donated 2,000 books and educational lectures were arranged to take place on the underground platforms. (79)

Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) gave a series of concerts throughout the winter; there were film shows and Shakespearean plays. The London County Council ran classes on a wide variety of different subjects. People also organised their own entertainment including quizzes and sing-songs. One night the people sheltering at Marble Arch tube station were treated to an impromptu concert by Glenn Miller and his band, who had been practising in a nearby theatre when the air raid siren was sounded. (80)

The Impact of the Blitz

During the first couple of days of the Blitz some 600 East Enders who had been bombed out of their homes were taken to a temporary rest centre housed in South Hallsville primary school in Canning Town. They were told to wait for buses to take them out of the area. The buses never arrived and on 9th September, 1940, another German raid took place. South Hallsville received a direct hit and the roof caved in, crushing people under slabs of concrete, burying them under layers of bricks. It was later reported that of the 370 people killed that night, the council claimed 73 were in the primary school. The people were buried in a mass grave. However the locals reckoned nearly 200 had died, and believed that more than a hundred still lay incarcerated in the site the authorities concreted over. (81)

In Stepney, four out of ten houses had been destroyed or damaged by 11th November 1940. After six weeks of bombing, some 250,000 people in London had been made homeless. Of these 25,000 were still in the rest centres, and only 7,000 had been rehoused by official action. The authorities requisitioned houses that had been abandoned by the wealthy who had gone to live in the countryside or had fled the country. Attempts to billet East Enders in deserted mansions created unhappiness. It was reported that homeless people from West Ham found it hard to adjust to life in the better-off parts of London. (82)

In February, 1941, it was announced that public shelters were available for 1,400,000 people in the London region, and domestic shelters for 4,500,000. This still left about one Londoner in five "unprotected". In March 1941 it was decided that all the brick surface shelters made without cement should be demolished at Government expense. By the autumn of that year, most of the dampness in the remaining shelters had been countered. (83)

Ellen Wilkinson was made responsible for air raid shelters and was instrumental in the introduction of the Morrison Shelter in March 1941. Named after the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, the shelters were made of very heavy steel and could be put in the living room and used as a table. One wire side lifted up for people to crawl underneath and get inside. Morrison shelters were fairly large and provided sleeping space for two or three people. This shelter was suitable for flats and houses without gardens. (84)

"By the way, did you remember to feed the canary?"Cartoon showing a Morrison shelter in May, 1941
"By the way, did you remember to feed the canary?" (May, 1941)

Four-fifths of all bombs dropped during the Blitz were high explosives. They were made of thin steel to maximise the effect of the blast, and varied greatly in size. Some had a cardboard tube like an organ pipe attached. These emitted an eerie whistling sound as the bomb plunged to earth and were expressly designed to terrify the civilian population. The smallest and most common were the 110lb bombs, There was also the 2,200lb bomb, nicknamed "Hermann" (named after the portly Hermann Goring). Then there was the "Satan" (4,000lb) and the largest bomb dropped on Britain was the "Max" that weighed 5,500lb. (85)

Parachute bombs were very effective. Since they floated down and did not penetrate the ground, the damage they caused was widespread. Designed to smash through modern pre stressed-concrete industrial buildings in residential areas. Philip Ziegler, the author of London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) has pointed out "as soon as one was seen falling, people would begin to move towards it: partly, perhaps, because they mistook the mine for a descending German pilot who needed to be lynched or apprehended; more probably because they wanted the silk of the parachute to make skirts or dresses." (86)

Incendiary bombs were small, but were very dangerous, as they could start fierce fires where they fell unless they were extinguished immediately with sand or water. Thermite magnesium incendiaries were about eighteen inches long and only weighed around two pounds each, so thousands could be carried by a single plane. When ignited by a small impact fuse, the magnesium alloy would burn for ten minutes at a temperature that would melt steel, and metal particles would be thrown as far as fifty feet. (87)

Drinking tea during the Blitz (June 1941)
Drinking tea during the Blitz (June 1941)

It has been claimed that in the first week of the war over 400,000 pets were destroyed. The RSPCA reported that their ovens "could not burn the bodies fast enough". The Animal Defence League started a scheme for evacuating pets, and other pet owners responded to advertisements in the press, and found that the going rate was roughly ten shillings a week for an average-sized dog. During the Blitz animals were not allowed to enter tube stations or public shelters. This resulted in large number of cats and dogs being put down. (88)

One air raid warden pointed out: "Some families tried to take their dogs with them into shelters, and were heartbroken when we had to insist on turning them out. For childless couples and single people, their dog was often their child. But it could not not be allowed. Apart from hygienic reasons, an animals's reactions to a nearby bomb burst are unpredictable, and it was not safe... Fortunately, the majority of dogs had been evacuated or destroyed, but sometimes one would howl for hours in an empty house, thereby adding considerably to our nervous discomfort." (89)

Some people kept their dogs and claimed that their superior hearing acted as a personalised alert system as they heard enemy aircraft before the sirens wailed. However, inevitably animals were killed in the raids, injured or abandoned, or ran off. By the end of 1940 a feral colony of homeless and dispossessed cats was to be found roaming bomb sites scavenging for food. (90)

People working in munitions factories were not allowed to leave the premises when they heard the air-raid sirens. Muriel Simkin later recalled: "We had to wait until the second alarm before we were allowed to go to the shelter. The first bell was a warning they were coming. The second was when they were overhead. They did not want any time wasted. The planes might have gone straight past and the factory would have stopped for nothing. Sometimes the Germans would drop their bombs before the second bell went. On one occasion a bomb hit the factory before we were given permission to go to the shelter. The paint department went up. I saw several people flying through the air and I just ran home. I was suffering from shock. I was suspended for six weeks without pay. They would have been saved if they had been allowed to go after the first alarm. It was a terrible job but we had no option. We all had to do war work. We were risking our lives in the same way as the soldiers were." (91)

One of the roles of the air raid wardens was to deal with casualties before doctors and nurses arrived. Barbara Nixon later described her reaction to the first air-raid she encountered: "As the blast of air reached me I left my saddle and sailed through the air... The tin hat on my shoulder took the impact, and as I stood up I was mildly surprised to find that I was not hurt in the least... The damage was thirty yards away, but the corner building, which had diverted some of the blast from me, was still standing. At four in the afternoon there would certainly be casualties. Now I would know whether I was going to be of any use as a warden or not, and I wanted to postpone the knowledge. I dared not run... I was not let down lightly... In the middle of the street lay the remains of a baby. It had been blown clean through the window and had burst on striking the roadway. To my intense relief, pitiful and horrible as it was, I was not nauseated, and found a torn piece of curtain in which to wrap it." (92)

A nurse from Hampstead explained what it was like after a bombing raid: "On arrival we were told that there were a number of trapped people and several dead... Demolition Squad asked doctor and me to stand by as they were trying to reach a woman (trapped by legs) in in a lavatory. She was quite cheerful, and kept up a conversation with the men and also spoke to me. I did not see her, and she had not been rescued when I left at 0700 hours. Screams were also coming from debris nearby; men were working to release trapped people... We were then called to a heap of debris where a girl was trapped. While taking a short cut with Anne and Sarah, who tripped over a body; this was a female who was decapitated and disembowelled. We helped to put her on a stretcher and then went on to the trapped girl - who was too ill to give her name... The girl remained conscious, but was in pain and was very brave. As I came out of the whole I noticed the back part of a body in a green skirt under the above girl's trapped legs and told demolition men. The demolition men then unearthed a girl's hand (not the girl in the green skirt). The men made a hole and the girl made noises - I gave them a rubber tube which the girl was able to put into her mouth to help her to breathe. Fires started to break out under this debris and the firemen were ordered to keep it down with a gentle flow of water." (93)

Father John Groser

During the war, Father John Groser, the priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Watney Street, in Stepney, became one of the main spokesman for the people suffering from the results of the Blitz. His biographer points out that he "displayed characteristically heroic care for his people and wrote scathingly about the arrangements made for East Enders. In 1940, he broke into an official food store and distributed rations to homeless people and organised buses to take them to safety. He was involved in the creation of a railway arch air-raid shelter in Watney Street." (94)

Ritchie Calder, the author of Carry on London (1941), has pointed out that he Father John Groser often "took the law into his own hands" and carried out a series of illegal acts: "He smashed open a local food depot. He lit a bonfire outside his church and fed the hungry. There wasn't a cabinet minister or an official who would have dared to stand in his way or to challenge this 'illicit' act.... He broke open a block of flats. He put them in. He got hold of furniture by hook or by crook, he got the electricity, gas and water supply turned on, and he brought them food." (95)

Hannen Swaffer arranged for William Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, the press baron and member of the War Cabinet to meet Father Groser. "It was a terrible story we told Beaverbrook - how scores of thousands of people were still enduring conditions comparable with those in Flanders. While approximately 100,000 are homeless, or living in wrecked houses, many have to walk over eight miles, from centre to centre, in the vain hope of obtaining relief from their sufferings!" (96)

Father Groser was interviewed by The People newspaper. "He (Groser) had huddled with them through nights of terror under dripping railway arches dimly lit by hurricane lamps, watched the stolid men play draughts together, and the shivering ill-clad women sharing their tea and bread with others less fortunate comforting the aged, the sick, and the poor worried mothers with too many babies." (97)

It has been claimed that Father John Groser led the way in persuading the different churches to work together during the war: "Other clergymen, Anglican and Nonconformist, rose spectacularly to the occasion in the East End, and asserted their leadership in almost uncontrollable conditions. Such practical witness to a humane faith made the divisions between the denominations seem more than ever absurd, and the bombing provoked acts of mutual friendship between the churches which exceeded the hopes of those who had worked for inter-denominational co-operation between the wars: a service in the biggest of all Tube shelters, for instance, in which a Roman Catholic priest, a rabbi, a Nonconformist minister, a Salvationist and the Anglican Bishop of London all took part." (98)

Between 7th September and 13th November 1940, London was the main, almost the exclusive, target of the German raiders - 27,500 high explosive bombs and innumerable incendiaries were dropped. An average of 160 bombers attacked nightly; a figure reduced by bad weather on 2nd November, the only raid-free night of the whole period. The worst night was on 15th October when 410 raiders dropped 538 tons of high explosive bombs, killing 400 people. Throughout this period the authorities made steady but slow progress in defending the civilian population. (99)


The Germans had been working on a new system that would improve the accuracy of its bombing raids. This project, named "Knickebein" involved beams from two radio stations on the Continent that could be arranged to intersect over any target in the midlands or southern England, and would guide bombers "blind" to it. The British learnt of this method and countered it effectively by deflecting or jamming the beams. The Germans revised their methods and "Kampfgruppe" was used as a "pathfinder" force, employing a different radio guide to set a target area on fire with incendiaries so that the rest of the bombers could steer for the flames. The British could also have jammed this device if one British scientist had not made an error of calculation. (100)

On 14th November, 1940, Coventry was the first city attacked with this new method. "The raiders first fired the medieval centre, crowned by its beautiful cathedral, which was gutted. They then poured hundred of tons into the city, in an attack which lasted for ten hours. Approaching one-third of the city's houses were made uninhabitable, over half its buses were damaged or wrecked, and six out of seven telephone lines were put out of action. All the main railway lines passing through the city were blocked. A hundred acres of the city centre were destroyed. Five hundred and fifty-four people were killed, eight hundred and sixty-five seriously wounded." (101)

Coventry was a relatively small and compact town with a population of 213,000 people. One observer reported: "There were more open signs of hysteria, terror, neurosis, observed in one evening than during the whole of the past two months together in all areas. Women were seen to cry, to scream, to tremble all over, to faint in the street, to attack a fireman, and so on... There were several signs of suppressed panic as darkness approached. In two cases people were seen fighting to get on to cars, which they thought would take them out into the country, though in fact, as the drivers insisted, the cars were going just up the road to the garage." (102)

Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production and Ernest Brown, the Minister of Health, visited Coventry the following morning. Local officials complained that there had been no fighter or anti-aircraft defences and that the German planes had been allowed to fly over the city for hour after hour while they systematically destroyed it. Morrison attempted to control the release of information on the raid. The censorship policy was to delay reports of raids for several days and then in general not to release the names of localities bombed in order not to give the Germans information on the results of their raids. (103)

Germany knew that the British government would try to stop the public from discovering details of this raid. William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) therefore broadcasted the news: "Coventry is, as you might know, the most important place in England for the manufacture of aeroplane motors and such like. One bright night about 500 German aeroplanes flew over Coventry. They dropped about 1,000,000 lbs. of bombs. If you have any imagination at all you can imagine what kind of a hell they let loose in Coventry that night. Swedish and American papers say that nothing has happened that can be used as a comparison. It was formidable, the worst hell that mankind can imagine. And that went on almost the whole night through. When dawn came there was nothing left but one pile of rubbish. The factories were gone altogether. Coventry will manufacture no more engines for months and months to come. It was the heaviest blow for British industry. Even Americans express their doubts after Coventry, as to whether England can last much longer." (104)

Other Targets

Between September 1940 and May 1941, the Luftwaffe made 127 large-scale night raids. Of these, 71 were targeted on London. Other places bombed included Exeter (19), Liverpool (8), Birmingham (8), Plymouth (8), Bristol (6), Glasgow (5), Southampton (4), Hull (3), Manchester (3) and Portsmouth (3). The first German air raid on Exeter took place on 7th August 1940. A further 18 raids were made against the city over the next 18 months, mostly hit-and-run raids by lone raiders. (105)

Southampton, with a population of 180,000, suffered very badly from air-raids. At first its docks and factories were targeted. On 23rd November, 1940, the German aircraft attacked the city centre with 77 people being killed. A week later, Southampton was "Coventrated". A local man reported: "Every second or two, the town was shaken to its foundations. The air was a whirling frenzy; hot blasts swept the streets... To one who watched from high ground in a suburb, it looked as if "the town had become a blazing furnace in which every living thing seemed doomed to perish." (106)

On 30th November, 1940, Southampton's main telephone exchange was demolished and its water mains were wrecked. The next night, with the fireman, either dead, injured or exhausted, the bombers came back. Firefighters arrived from 75 other districts. It was reported that apart from the ancient Bargate, "the central portion of the town had largely vanished... Nothing remained that was not wilting, wasted or warped... Such walls as remained standing were wet and dripping." A 137 people lost their lives and nearly 250 had been seriously injured in two days bombing. (107)

Cyril Garbett, the Bishop of Winchester, visited the city on 1st December. He found "the people broken in spirit after the sleepless and awful nights. Everyone who can do so is leaving the town... Everywhere I saw men and women carrying suitcases or bundles, the children clutching some precious doll or toy, struggling to get anywhere out of Southampton. For the time, morale has collapsed. I went from parish to parish and everywhere there was fear." (108)

It was several weeks before water and gas supplies were restored. A report at the end of December showed that only a fraction of the population was sleeping in the city. By February, 1941, most facilities were now back to normal, but public transport stopped at seven p.m., and most cinemas, cafes and restaurants which had not been bombed also closed early. The better-off had moved out of Southampton. The attitude of those who stayed on was summed up by one working-class woman who said, "I don't think they will come back, there's nothing to bomb now, is there?" (109)

On the 13th and 14th, February, 1941, Clydebank, had a two-night blitz of classic ferocity. The shelters in the town were either of the infamous brick surface type, or strutted closes, "often no more than the roughly protected entrance passage to a block of crowded, murky tenement dwellings into which the occupants could throng together when the time came." After this raid all but seven of Clydebank's 12,000 houses were damaged, and 35,000 of its 47,000 inhabitants were made homeless. Over the two days 528 civilians were killed and over 617 people were seriously injured. "Its night population dropped to two thousand, as the overwhelmingly working-class population took to the moors." (110)


During the Blitz some two million houses (60 per cent of these in London) were destroyed by 46,000 tons of high explosive and 110,000 incendiary bombs. In the central London area, only one house out of ten escaped damage of some kind. Over 32,000 civilians were killed and 87,000 were seriously injured during the Blitz. Of those killed, the majority lived in London. Until half-way through the Second World War, more women and children in Britain had been killed than soldiers. (111)

Angus Calder argues that: "The Luftwaffe effected a much overdue programme of slum clearance; after the war, Stepney and Poplar were replanned on the basis of four people living where ten had lived before... Before the war, psychologists had speculated gloomily that bombing would cause an enormous increase in mental disturbances and illnesses; it was even suggested that mental cases might outnumber physical casualties by two or three to one... But the war led to no great increase in neurotic illness in Britain, none, at least, which could be measured in the usual ways. There was no indication of any increase in insanity, and the number of suicides fell, while drunkenness statistics dropped by more than a half between 1939 and 1942." (112)

Between 1939 and 1945 the German air force dropped an estimated 64,393 tons of bombs on Britain, killing 63,635 and injuring approximately 211,000. (This compares to the 264,443 British servicemen and 30,248 merchant seamen who were killed). Around 50% of these casualties came from the period of the Blitz. Overall, air raids on Britain signally failed to live up to pre-war government fears, with each ton of bombs killing or injuring an average of four and a half people. (113)


(1) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 118

(2) Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (1990) page 133

(3) Anthony Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified? (2006) page 24

(4) Adolf Hitler, speech in Berlin (4th September, 1940)

(5) Norman Moss, Nineteen Weeks: America, Britain and the Fateful Summer of 1940 (2004) page 295

(6) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) page 11

(7) Stuart Hylton, Reporting the Blitz (2012) page 47

(8) James Hayward, Myths & Legends of the Second World War (2003) page 86

(9) Constance Fitzgibbon, The Blitz (1957) page 7

(10) Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (1990) page 145

(11) Alex Cunningham-Reid, statement in the House of Commons (30th July, 1943)

(12) Cabinet minutes (16th July, 1940)

(13) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 333

(14) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 163

(15) Barbara M. Nixon, Raiders Overhead (1943) pages 12 and 13

(16) Cyril Demarne, The London Blitz: A Fireman's Tale (1991) page 18

(17) Aylmer Firebrace, Fire Service Memories (1949) page 16

(18) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) pages 334-335

(19) The Manchester Guardian (9th September, 1940)

(20) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 336

(21) Peter Stansky, The First Day of the Blitz (2007) page 121

(22) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 123

(23) Hastings Ismay, The Memoirs of General Lord Ismay (1960) pages183-184

(24) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 34

(25) Basil Collier, The Defence of the United Kingdom (1957) page 238

(26) Stuart Hylton, Reporting the Blitz (2012) page 47

(27) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 341

(28) Quoted in A Roof Over Britain, The Official History of the AA Defences (1943) page 6

(29) Frederick Pile, Ack-Ack: Britain's Defence Against Air Attack in the Second World War (1949) pages 130-134

(30) Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (1990) pages 128

(31) Basil Collier, The Defence of the United Kingdom (1957) page 238

(32) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) pages 117-118

(33) James Hayward, Myths & Legends of the Second World War (2003) page 99

(34) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 8

(35) James L. Hodson, Before Daybreak (1941) page 90

(36) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 55

(37) Ada Ryder, interviewed in Women Who Went to War (1988)

(38) Quoted in A Roof Over Britain, The Official History of the AA Defences (1943) page 63

(39) Winston G. Ramsey, The Blitz: Then and Now (1987) page 95

(40) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 608

(41) Richard Titmuss, Problems of Social Policy: History of the Second World War (1950) page 257

(42) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 166

(43) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 556

(44) Angus Calder, The People's War: Britain 1939-45 (1969) pages 179-180

(45) Muriel Simkin, Voices from the Past: The Blitz (1987) page 6

(46) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 369

(47) Herbert Bush, Mass Observation Archive (5th October, 1942)

(48) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) pages 54-57

(49) Barbara M. Nixon, Raiders Overhead (1943) page 40

(50) Negley Farson, Bombers Moon (1941) page 88

(51) Harold Scott, Your Obedient Servant (1959) page 129

(52) Mickey the Midget (2nd March, 2012)

(53) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 183

(54) Steve Hunnisett, Lilliput, The Blitz and Mickey the Midget (21st March, 2016)

(55) Mike Brooke, The Docklands and East London Advertiser (5th February 2013)

(56) The Daily Mirror (8th February, 1941)

(57) Aberdeen Press and Journal (8th February, 1941)

(58) J. B. Priestley, Out of the People (1941)

(59) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) page 168

(60) Steve Hunnisett, Lilliput, The Blitz and Mickey the Midget (21st March, 2016)

(61) Mike Brooke, Mickey Davis at the Fruit & Wool Exchange (6th March, 2012)

(62) Ritchie Calder, Carry on London (1941) pages 39-42

(63) Steve Hunnisett, Lilliput, The Blitz and Mickey the Midget (21st March, 2016)

(64) Lady Diana Cooper, Trumpets from the Steep (1960) page 60

(65) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 81

(66) Phil Piratin, Our Flag Stays Red (1948) page 73

(67) Constance Fitzgibbon, The Blitz (1957) pages 158-159

(68) Harold Nicholson, diary entry (17th September, 1940)

(69) The Daily Worker (7th September, 1940)

(70) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) page 99

(71) John Colville, diary entry (12th October, 1940)

(72) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 166

(73) Evelyn Rose, Voices from the Past: The Blitz (1987) page 4

(74) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 94

(75) Troy Lennon, The Daily Telegraph (13th October, 2015)

(76) South London Press (1st October 1940)

(77) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 381

(78) Bernard Kops, The World is a Wedding (1963) pages 68-69

(79) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 379

(80) John Gregg, The Shelter of the Tubes (2001) page 63

(81) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 340

(82) Emily Doreen Idle, War over West Ham: A Study of Community Adjustment (1943) page 123

(83) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 187

(84) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 61

(85) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 342

(86) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) page 125

(87) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 105

(88) Norman Longmate, How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life During the Second World War (1971) page 216

(89) Barbara M. Nixon, Raiders Overhead (1943) page 42

(90) Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (2004) page 383

(91) Muriel Simkin, Voices from the Past: The Blitz (1987) page 6

(92) Barbara M. Nixon, Raiders Overhead (1943) page 26

(93) Hampstead at War (1947) pages 11-12

(94) Patrick Comerford, Remembering Father John Groser (1890-1966), once the best-known priest in the East End (20th November, 2016)

(95) Ritchie Calder, Carry on London (1941) page 65

(96) Hannen Swaffer, The Daily Herald (2nd October, 1940)

(97) R. S. Buchanan, The People (15th December, 1940)

(98) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 482

(99) Philip Ziegler, London at War: 1939-1945 (1995) page 118

(100) Ronald W. Clark, The Rise of the Boffins (1962) page 120

(101) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 203

(102) Report on the impact of the bombing of Coventry (18th November, 1940)

(103) Bernard Donoughue, Herbert Morrison: Portrait of a Politician (2001) pages 291-292

(104) William Joyce, Germany Calling (22nd November, 1940)

(105) Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz (2010) page 273

(106) Bernard Knowles, Southampton - the English Gateway (1951) page 154

(107) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 217

(108) Charles Smyth, Cyril Forster Garbett (1959) pages 264-265

(109) Bernard Knowles, Southampton - the English Gateway (1951) pages 163-178

(110) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 210

(111) Elizabeth-Anne Wheal & Stephen Pope, The MacMillan Dictionary of the Second World War (1989) page 61

(112) Angus Calder, The People's War (1969) page 223

(113) James Hayward, Myths & Legends of the Second World War (2003) page 88

John Simkin