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Firemen at work in London
Firemen at work in bomb damaged street in London
Photograph courtesy U.S. National Archives, photo no. NWDNS-306-NT-901C


On September 7, 1940, Luftwaffe strategy changed from the destruction of the RAF to the destruction of London itself. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, his plans for invasion thwarted by the RAF, believed that Britain would beg for peace after London was leveled by German bombs. But Londoners were undaunted. They called their ordeal the Blitz--irreverent slang, derived from “blitzkrieg”--lightning war.

For 57 consecutive nights hundreds of bombers dropped high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city. The heaviest raid against London came on the night of May 10, 1941, when bombs and fires killed 1,212 persons, seriously injured another 1,769, and severely damaged the House of Commons.

About 170,000 people a night took shelter in the stations of London’s subway, the Underground. Others huddled in corrugated-iron shelters half-buried in backyards. For those without yards there were steel boxes, placed in the middle of a room and strong enough to protect people even if the building collapsed.

By mid-October some 250,000 Londoners had been bombed out of their homes. But London continued to function as a capital city and the command center of the war.

The cost of survival: 40,553 killed--18,629 men, 16,201 women, 5,028 children, and 695 whose charred remains were “unclassified.” Another 46,850 people were seriously injured.

Block after block of homes, offices, warehouses, and shops were turned into rubble. Thousands lost their possessions of a lifetime. But London’s spirit never faltered, a spirit perhaps best expressed by chalked words found on thousands of boarded-up shop windows during the Blitz: BUSINESS AS USUAL.


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