Guiding during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic

Bombed – but not forgotten

The London Blitz came to an end on 11 May 1941. To mark this 80th anniversary, Mr Londoner explores some of the final reminders of the capital’s darkest hour.

On the night of 10-11 May 1941, London was on the receiving end of one of the very worst air raids of the Blitz. That night, Nazi bombers dropped 711 high-explosive devices and 2,393 incendiary bombs over the city. The attack killed 1,436 people.

Christ Church Spitalfields was badly damaged in the Blitz. Its overgrown graveyard wasa popular spot for lovers during the blackout. @Meetmrlondoner

Southwark Bridge, 1940.

 

You can still see the remains of blitzed buildings among the riverbank rubble at Wapping Wall @Meetmrlondoner

This terrible event, however, also marked the end of the Blitz. London had been bombed continued for 56 out 57 nights, between 7 September 1940 and 11 May 1941. The end came when Adolf Hitler turned German attentions east, to fight the Soviet Union. The Blitz, like the attack on Russia, had been a strategic blunder for the Nazis. By focussing on civilian targets – and away from military ones like vital airbases – Hitler allowed the Royal Air Force to re-build, re-arm and re-group.

St Paul’s Survives: Herbert Mason’s photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral taken on 29/30 December 1940.

 

Observer Corps aircraft spotter on the roof of a building in London during the Battle of Britain, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. Source: National Archives and Records Administration

The term Blitz is derived from the German word blitzkrieg, meaning lightning war. It was an apt description. A total of over 50,000 tonnes of high-explosives were dropped on the city, together with over one million incendiary devices during this eight-month period. Over 20 thousand Londoners died and great swathes of the city were reduced to rubble. Over a million properties were destroyed and one in six Londoners became homeless. The docks and the nearby City of London especially bore the brunt. Landmarks across the capital, however, including the House of Commons, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace received direct hits.

The remains of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace were revealed after two Blitz-damaged warehouses were pulled down after the Second Worl War @Meetmrlondoner.

 

A wartime deep-level shelter, Tottenham Court Road, @Meetmrlondoner.

 

The Victorian portico is all that remains of the former Neo-Gothic church of St Mary’s Newington. @Meetmrlondoner

 

The Blitz was the first of three separate phases of Nazi attack on London. The so-called Baby Blitz followed between January and May 1944, albeit with far fewer casualties (about 1,500 Londoners died and 3,000 were badly injured). Operation Steinbock, as it was known to the Nazis, resulted in significant losses for the Luftwaffe, which saw 330 aircraft destroyed. This also helped further deplete its ability to defend Nazi-occupied France when the D-Day landings were launched in June of the same year.

New Zealender Air Marshall Sir Keith Park was ‘the Defender of London’, Waterloo Place, St James’s @Meetmrlondoner

 

Home Guard units – of men who were unable to join the regualr forces – were deployed across wartime Britain. Re-enactors, Brookland Museum, 2015, @Meetmrlondoner

 

Winston Churchill ran the war from the (allegedly bomb-proof) Cabinet War Rooms under Whitehall @Meetmrelondoner.

Just a few days after D-Day, fresh hell was inflicted on the metropolis by Hitler’s last-ditch secret weapons, the V1 and V2 rockets, the predecessors of short-range ballistic weapons and cruise missiles. The rocket bomb attacks claimed a further 1,800 lives across southern Britain. According to UK Parliamentary statistics, throughout the UK, over 70,000 civilian lives were lost to enemy action between 1940 and 1945.

The Maunsell Fort sea defences were built off the Kent coast to defend SE England against the German Airforce. @Meetmrlondoner, 2013.

 

Incredibly, there’s still a blitzed building in Frith Street, Soho. @Meetmrlondoner

 

V for Victory. Peckham Rye ties. @Meetmrlondoner

Almost all traces of this traumatic chapter in London’s history have been lost with 80 years of town planning, re-development and regeneration. However, Mr Londoner took to his bike during lockdown to mark the anniversary, seeking out some of the few surviving – and perhaps surprising – reminders of one of the most traumatic episodes in our capital’s story. These pictures help tell that story.

Look hard enough and you can still make out the wartime camouflage on Stoke Newington Town Hall. @Meetmrlondoner.

Featured image: Wren’s Christchurch Greyfriars was built after the Great Fire and lost in the Blitz. @Meetmrlondoner

 

About the author:

Mr Londoner, a keen photographer, is writer, broadcaster and former museum director Antony Robbins.