36 Photos Of The Blitz That Captures The Enduring Spirit Of The British
For eight long months between September 1940 and May 1941, the people of Britain lived under a hail of bombs.
It was called the Blitz: a constant, unceasing bombardment of British cities by Nazi planes. It was Adolf Hitler and Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring's attempt to force the United Kingdom's exit from World War II — not just by killing soldiers, but by teaching civilians to live in constant terror.
During the worst stretch of the Blitz, bombs rained down on London for 56 out of 57 days. There was nothing more than a single day of calm to break up the constant devastation of explosions that left people homeless and children orphaned.
For the people who lived through it all, it was a struggle to survive – not just in body, but in mind. By the end of the bombing campaign, at least 40,000 British civilians were left dead while in London alone, one million homes were destroyed.
The British government's great fear wasn't just that their people would be killed, it was that they would panic. They feared that the Blitz would make the people lose hope and give up.
"[Hitler] hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's booming voice told the people over the radio. "Little does he know the spirit of the British nation."
Winston Churchill tours Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed and mostly destroyed during the Coventry Blitz of November 1940.
In response, 4 million were evacuated to the country, while those who stayed behind were set up with bomb shelters in their backyards or ushered underground. The London subway system was converted into a massive bomb shelter and became a new home to hundreds of thousands of people during the Blitz.
The subways became almost like a second, underground London. They were a place where people played cards, joined knitting circles, met with neighbors, and ate their meals while playing music to drown out the sound of the earth overhead shaking under the impact of German bombs.
But despite the constant barrage of bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe, the people of Britain didn't panic. Reportedly, only a couple dozen people out of the millions in the London area ended up "shell-shocked." Many ultimately learned to carry on their lives as if falling bombs were as ordinary as rainfall. As American General Raymond E. Lee, caught in the middle of the Blitz and awestruck by the British people's courage, commented, "These people are staunch to the bone and won't quit."
The photos above, taken during the Blitz, bear out Lee's words. Photos like these started being spread throughout the country in order to keep spirits high as the war raged on, bolstering the British spirit of the men and women who would keep calm and carry on. In the end, the Nazi offensive failed and the United Kingdom remained a bulwark against Hitler's forces — in large part because of the courageous spirit of the British people.
After this look at the Blitz, find out how Britain hit back at the Germans with these intense photographs of the Dresden bombing. Then, see how the Dunkirk evacuation unfolded.