The Battle of Britain lasted from 10th July 1940 until the 30th October 1940 which was overlapped by the period of The Blitz. From the 7th September 1940 bombing raids on London, known as “The Blitz” began. With German invasion plans on hold, German Dictator Adolf Hitler turned his attention to destroying London in an attempt to force the British to come to peace terms. London was bombed systematically for 56 out of the following 57 days or nights. Whereas the Battle of Britain targeted mainly the airfields of fighter command on the south coast, the Blitz concentrated on London and other cities of Britain. The Blitz was an attack of continued night-time bombing operations on Britain when daylight attacks proved to be unsustainable. The Blitz ended on the 11th May 1941 as Germany shifted its focus toward the Soviet Union and the East. The Battle of Britain and the Blitz marked the first major defeat of Germany’ military forces when their operations failed to give Germany air superiority over Britain.
On the 15th September 1940 a large-scale raid was launched against London but the Luftwaffe suffered significant losses for very little gain. Gradually, by October 1940 the Luftwaffe began to attack with night-time raids to avoid defending RAF fighters.
The invasion of Britain was an uncoordinated venture by the German Luftwaffe, navy and infantry and consequently Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion indefinitely on the 17th September 1940.
On the 24th September 1940 King George VI inaugurated the George Cross in recognition of the bravery of his citizens during the Blitz. The King and Queen Elizabeth felt justified to face the people of the East End of London after Buckingham Palace had been bombed on the 10th and 13th September 1940. To boost the morale of their citizens the King and Queen continued to live in London during the Blitz and throughout the war. Because of the Queen’s morale boosting abilities Hitler considered her ‘to be the most dangerous woman in Europe’.
On the 14th October 1940 Balham underground station was hit by a 1400kg bomb causing the northbound tunnel to collapse. The station was one of many designated air raid shelters for civilians and this disaster resulted in the deaths of 65 people but over 400 civilians managed to escape to safety. In the blackout a double decker bus crashed into the crater caused on the road above, fortunately without any loss of life.
On the 21st October 1940 the city of Liverpool was raided by the Luftwaffe. The docks and ports of Liverpool and Birkenhead were the largest on the west coast of England and therefore attracted German bombing raids second only to raids on London.
On the night of the 24/25th October 1940 the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) conducted its first raid on Britain when their aircraft attacked Harwich and Felixstowe. Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini had insisted that the Regia Aeronautica be involved in the raids on Britain. Of the eighteen bombers involved in the raid, one crashed on take-off and three were lost on the return journey. Not all of the bombers found their targets but ten crews reported they were successful. The next major operation was on the 29th October 1940 when fifteen bombers escorted by fighters bombed Ramsgate. Five Italian aircraft suffered damage due to local anti-aircraft fire.
The most severe Luftwaffe raid was on the city of Coventry occurred on the 14th November 1940 when 13 German aircraft fitted with electronic navigational aids accurately dropped marker flares at 7.20 pm. Following bombers dropped high explosive and incendiary bombs and many fires spread out of control. With many utilities destroyed, the fire brigade were unable to control the fires. At approximately 8.00 pm Coventry Cathedral had been bombed and was on fire. The raid climaxed around midnight and by the time the all clear sounded at 6.15 pm over 4,000 homes were destroyed and approximately two thirds of the city’s building damaged. 568 people lost their lives with another 1,200 people injured.
On the 29th November 1940 the Luftwaffe launched a massive bombing raid on Liverpool. The worst single incident was when a building above an underground shelter in Durning Road, Edge Hill received a direct hit. The building collapsed killing 166 people and injuring many more who were sheltering in the basement.
On the following night, the 30th November 1940, the Luftwaffe launched a bombing raid on Southampton where the docks and the Supermarine factory at Woolston were the main targets. The Woolston factory was where the Supermarine Spitfire fighter was manufactured.
During the month of December 1940 bombing raids were exchanged between Britain and Germany. On the night of the 4th December 1940 approximately sixty German bombers attacked Birmingham. A week later, on the night of the 11th December 1940, two hundred and seventy eight German bombers launched the largest raid of the war on Birmingham. Apart from explosives, 2,500 incendiary bombs were dropped causing widespread fires in both the residential and industrial areas. Over five hundred people were either killed or seriously injured.
Manchester Cathedral, the Royal Exchange and the Free Trade Hall were among the many large buildings damaged when the Luftwaffe bombed Manchester on the 22nd/23rd and the 23rd/24th December 1940. A total of approximately 450 tons of high explosive bombs were dropped and approximately two thousand seven hundred people were killed or seriously injured on the two nights.
London sustained another large German air raid on the 29th/30th December 1940 with the bombing in the St. Paul’s Cathedral area of the city. Twenty nine incendiary bombs fell on the dome of the Cathedral and one burnt through the lead covered wooden dome. The bombs fell outward and landed on the stone gallery below and the fire was soon extinguished as was the fire in the dome. The scene was captured on the iconic photograph where the Cathedral was shown surrounded by thick black smoke which was called “St. Paul’s Survives”. Approximately six hundred and fifty people were killed or injured that night.
On the 1st January 1941 the previous night’s bombing raid on London revealed damage or destruction to the Old Bailey, the Guildhall and eight of Christopher Wren’ churches.
19th, 20th and 21st February 1941 was when the German Luftwaffe attacked Swansea in their “Three Night’s Blitz”. Seeing Swansea as a legitimate target the bombers were aiming for the docks, the port and the oil refinery. A large part of the city centre was severely damaged with the loss of 230 civilians and a further 409 being injured. The Germans were hoping to cripple coal supplies and to destroy the civilian and emergency service morale. To boost the morale of the citizens the King, Queen and Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Swansea.
London was bombed on the 8th March 1941 and Buckingham Palace was hit but did not sustain any major damage. Thousands of incendiary and hundreds of high explosive bombs were dropped on Portsmouth on the 10th March 1941. Glasgow was attacked on the 13th & 14th March 1941 and Portsmouth Docks and Devonport were subjected to a series of devastating raids from the 19th March 1941. Over 4,000 Luftwaffe aircraft were engaged in the bombing raids of March 1941.
April 1941 was the month when the Blitz was concentrated on British Cities.
Bristol and Avonmouth suffered heavy German air attacks on the 3rd, 4th, 7th and 11th April 1941. Effectively the Blitz of Bristol had ended on the 11th April 1941. Coventry also suffered two heavy raids by German bombers on the 8th/9th and the 10th/11th April 1941. Major damage and destruction was caused to some factories, central police station, Coventry Hospital and churches. Birmingham had Luftwaffe raids on the 9th and 10th April 1941 where the Bull Ring, the Prince of Wales Theatre and the Midlands Arcade were badly damaged or destroyed. The surrounding areas also received considerable damage. Belfast had two separate raids on the night of 7th/8th April 1941 and the 16th April 1941. The first raid was to test Belfast’s defences but the second was a large scale raid on the dockyard area where aircraft carrier HMS Furious was slightly damaged while having a refit. With the exception of London the raid was the cause of the greatest loss of life in any one night. The Luftwaffe returned to London on the 19th April 1941 and many major public buildings were hit and damaged. The raid on London proved to be one of the heaviest of the war with regards to the loss of civilians and homes. On the 24th April 1941 the communal air-raid shelter at the Portland Square in the city of Plymouth took a direct hit. Seventy-six people were killed and just three people survived. However, the Royal Dockyards at HMNB Devonport was the main target for the Luftwaffe.
Liverpool was subjected to a seven night bombing campaign from the 1st/7th May 1941. Sixty nine berths in the docks out of one hundred and forty four were put out of action and Liverpool Cathedral damaged. Thousands of houses were destroyed or damaged making Liverpool the most heavily bombed area of Britain with the exception of London. There were four separate raids by the Luftwaffe on Belfast. Two in April 1941 and the next two in May 1941. The raids in May took place on the 4th/5th May 1941 and the 5th /6th May 1941. Over the four separate raids 6,300 homes were demolished or badly damaged and another 50,000 required repairing. Nottingham was attacked on the 7th/8th May 1941 but the attack was intended for the Rolls-Royce Plant at Derby. The British had produced a counter-measure for the German radio navigation system known as the “X-Gerät Beam”. Damage to Nottingham was minimal with many bombs falling on open farmland. The final large raid on London was on the 10th/11th May 1941 and the House of Commons was damaged. However, Hull, Liverpool Belfast and Glasgow were also targeted. The Blitz of Britain ended as Germany shifted its focus toward the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe lost 2,400 aircraft without achieving any of its objectives during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz combined. The casualties were over 86,000 people killed or seriously injured during the Blitz and over one million homes destroyed or damaged. Finally British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when visiting Liverpool at the end of the Blitz stated, “I see the damage done by the enemy attacks but I also see the spirit of an unconquered nation”. A child of the Liverpool Blitz Mrs. Dorothy Laycock, at a later date, summed it up by saying: – “They tried to wipe us off the face of the earth. They nearly did but didn’t quite, did they?”