During WWII, an intense German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom lasted eight months and became known as the Blitz. The Luftwaffe attacked London and other cities across Britain, damaging and destroying many buildings and leading to 40,000 civilian deaths. Newspapers across Britain chronicled this historical time, and you can explore our updated collection of UK papers to see history unfold as it happened. This year, we’ve added more than 25 million new pages of UK content to our archives. We’ve combed through these pages to bring you just a few stories from the Blitz.
The Blitz began on the afternoon of September 7, 1940, when German planes appeared over London, dropping bombs and incendiary devices that started massive fires. The bombing campaign was in retaliation for a nighttime air raid on Berlin. In moments, London was transformed from a thriving city into chaos and destruction. One bomb fell directly down an East End bomb shelter ventilator shaft where a thousand people had gathered to seek refuge after the air raid sirens sounded. The Liverpool Daily Post reported on agonizing screams as children and mothers with babies in their arms perished. Nearby, government officials urged displaced residents to seek shelter in an elementary school. The Essex Newsman reported that on September 10, 1940, a German bomb flattened the school, killing 600 civilians.
London’s underground Tube stations sheltered many during the Blitz. Initially, officials discouraged residents from seeking refuge in Tube stations, worried that it could cripple transportation or that residents might feel too vulnerable to return to the surface. Eventually, the government acquiesced, and Tube stations saved thousands of lives. The Birmingham Gazette published this photo of a baby in an improvised crib sleeping in a Tube station.
London was not the only city targeted by German bombers. Cities including Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton, and Coventry also endured attacks. In Coventry, bombs reduced the old city centre to rubble. A beloved medieval cathedral known as St. Michael’s was also destroyed. King George VI arrived in Coventry to survey the damage and is said to have wept as he saw the ruins of the church. Incendiary bombs created a conflagration, and one resident recalled being pursued down the street by a knee-high river of boiling butter from a fire at a nearby dairy. Like many other British citizens, Coventry’s residents remained united, defiant, and resilient. In 1950, on the 10th anniversary of the bombings, the Coventry Standard published first-hand accounts of the Blitz. The stories reflected the courage and tenacity of residents.
Do you have ancestors that experienced the Blitz? Explore our UK papers to read more stories from the Blitz on Newspapers.com™ today.