A natural target

As the national capital, with a population of over 8 million, the seat of national government and the home of the Royal Family - Buckingham Palace, London was by far the largest city in the United Kingdom and central to the British war effort. It therefore unsurprisingly a favourite target of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), particularly during the Blitz years of 1940-1941.

Located in the Southeast of England, London was within range of the Luftwaffe bombers stationed in occupied France and the River Thames which snaked its way through Central London, served as a handy navigational aid for any hostile aircraft attempting to find their way to its centre.

These air raids on London were conducted with the aim of causing death and destruction. A city's ability to support the nation's war effort is decreased when its infrastructure is damaged, and the raids that started on 7 September 1940 were no exception. There are gaps in the records, but between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941, almost 400 parachute mines and about 28,000 high explosive bombs were recorded as landing on Greater London.

A building on fire in Red Cross Street, Southwark, London during the Blitz.


The Luftwaffe over London

German Luftflotten (Air Fleets) Two and Three, with bases in northern France and the Low Countries, dispatched waves of twin-engined Heinkel HE111, Dornier Do17, and Junkers JU88 aircraft on London. In the first few months of the Blitz, the Luftwaffe dispatched an average of 200–300 bombers per raid, with some making numerous flights, against London and other British cities. From October 1940, this increased to over 400 in individual night raids, over 600 (London, 16–17 April 1941), and over 700. (London, 19-20 April 1941).

By day, they were escorted at ME109 fighters and ME110 fighter-bombers, but by night, they flew alone to the capital. During the so-called "Messerschmitt Month" in October and November 1940, ME109 fighters were assigned additional missions as fighter-bombers, flying during the day at higher altitudes to avoid detection and delivering 250kg (550lb) bombs on specific locations in London, notably Waterloo Railway Station. 

For daytime photo-reconnaissance, the Luftwaffe also employed numerous Junkers JU86P high-altitude bombers (with pressurised cabins for sorties up to 40,000 ft).

German Dornier DO-17 bombers over the River Thames during the Blitz.

The bombers used Knickebein ('crooked leg'), X-Gerat, and Y-Gerat on-board navigation aids to fly to the capital across Kent and Sussex or along the Thames Estuary. These systems, which were variations of the Lorenz navigation aid from before World War II, utilised strong directional radio beams sent from several places throughout occupied France.

Luftwaffe pathfinder bomber aircrew followed these beams as instructed by a radio tone on their headsets until they converged over London. The gleaming ribbon of the Thames served as a point of reference for the aircrews on moonlit nights as well. Navigation was simple during the most intense raids because the burning capital could be seen from sixty miles away in its scarlet light.

Map showing the positions of Knickebein transmitters in 1940.

User:Dahnielson - Wikimedia Commons

A German Heinkel He 111 medium bomber pictured flying over Belgium, September 1940. This aircraft is from Kampfgeschwader 53 (KG53) – a Luftwaffe (German air force) bomber wing known as the 'Legion Condor'. Based in Belgium with Luftflotten 2 (Air Fleet 2), KG53 carried out raids over Britain from July 1940 to May 1941.


Following the canisters of incendiary bombs, German pathfinder planes dropped parachute flares over London that illuminated entire streets. Incendiaries made up the largest majority of the bombs dropped during the Blitz. Up to 700 could fit on each German bomber. A mixture of Thermite (magnesium) and small 1 kg (2.2 lb) incendiaries were dispersed around the area when the canisters were discharged. These incendiaries burned upon impact. They burnt ferociously while lodged in roof regions that were sometimes inaccessible to firemen. The incendiary fires raging in the streets below served as a guide for the subsequent waves of bombers.

In addition to oil-incendiary bombs and highly lethal, 8-ft long 1,000kg (2,200lb) SC1800 parachute mines that drifted down aimlessly until their timer fuses went off, the bombers then dropped hundreds of high explosive bombs of varying power, ranging from 50kg (110lb) to 2,500kg (5,500lb) and including delayed-action types. Anti-personnel mines SD2 butterfly, weighing 2 kilogramme (4.4 lb), were also discharged onto London. 
(New 50kg (110lb) and 250kg (550lb) phosphorous incendiary bombs were dropped by Luftwaffe aircraft beginning in early 1944, during the "Little Blitz" period.) The German raiders raced back east over Essex and the Thames Estuary or south over Kent and Sussex after dropping their bomb loads and returning to their airfields in France and the Low Countries.

Rescue workers attend to a badly damaged bus in High Holborn, London, amid the damage caused by a Luftwaffe bombing raid during the Blitz.


Defending the skies

These effective strategies presented a serious danger to the capital's defences from the very beginning of the Blitz. The nighttime air defence of London had many flaws.  In the parks of the nation's capital and at strategic locations in the suburbs along the routes of the bombers, only 90 batteries of manually guided 3.7 inch, 4.5 inch, Vickers Mark VIII 3 inch, 2-pounder, and 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft (aka 'ack-ack' or AA) guns were available in September 1940.

This number was quickly raised to 264, and their loud bombardments raised the spirits of Londoners. However, the anti-aircraft response was generally ineffective, despite attempts to intercept made by Bristol Blenheim, radar-arrayed Bristol Beaufighter, and Boulton Paul Defiant night-fighters. German bombers only lost 1.5% of their night bombers in 1940–1941. There were not enough AA batteries, and their range predictors were inaccurate. Anti-aircraft rounds that were falling into the streets of London detonated or fell unexploded, inflicting deaths on civilians and diverting valuable bomb disposal team resources.

A Bristol Blenheim IV RAF 40Sqn being armed at Wyton Cambridgeshire.

Imperial War Museum

The German bombers were forced to fly at greater altitudes, further impairing their ability to target the enemy, due to the powerful barrages, which were effective up to about 20,000 feet and accompanied by manually powered and subsequently electrically directed searchlights.

Steel cables were used to tether thousands of barrage balloons, which were used to scare off German aircraft that were flying low over British cities, ports, and factories.

In many city centres, static water tanks were built as a backup source for fire pumps during air strikes.

A crowd watches a barrage balloon being raised over the Tower of London.

Large smoke canisters were also kept in reserve in case an invasion was confirmed in order to protect Britain's cities and towns from air attack. Churchill's Assistant Director of Intelligence, Dr. R.V. Jones, taught the British how to use their own radio countermeasures to interfere with the German bomber Knickebein's navigational aids, leading to the infamous "Battle of the Beams."

With the introduction of radar-controlled guns, proximity fuse shells, and new anti-aircraft rocket batteries starting in 1943, the nation's AA defences significantly strengthened.

The Luftwaffe pilots had maps in September 1940 that marked which places in London to intentionally bomb and which ones to avoid (primarily based on the street addresses of neutral embassies). The latter featured formal government buildings (several in Westminster), the ports, important transportation hubs (railway termini), and the City of London (banking and economy). This precision component stopped in the late 1940s and early 1941. London was chosen as a "area target" for a night-time, high-altitude strike.

Contemporary map detailing the areas attacked by the Luftwaffe in September 1940.

The War Over Britain 1939-45: Battle of Britain - 7 September 1940 (airwargreatbritain.blogspot.com)

Black Saturday

The Luftwaffe bombings started in July 1940, but 'Black Saturday' later that year signalled the beginning of the actual Blitz. On September 7, 1940, 348 German bombers reportedly assaulted London with the help of 617 fighter aircraft. The Royal Docks and other strategically significant locations, including Woolwich Arsenal, were bombarded with about 1000 bombs and other burning weapons. In East and West Ham alone, 166 individuals lost their lives, while close to 500 people died overall in London.

Inspecting the damage done to the road after an air raid, Elephant & Castle, South London, 7 September 1940.

Royston Leonard / Mediadrumworld.com

Since the East End of London was now a primary target for approaching Luftwaffe attacks, many kids in the city had to be evacuated to homes across the country in an effort to keep them safe from the Blitz.

Within weeks of the first bombing raid being carried out in London, the attacks changed to night-time bombing raids, which increased the unpredictability and anxiety for those on the receiving end. This was a purposeful psychological tool as well as a physical act of destruction.

And with the Docklands being situated next to the distinctive, winding Thames River, the darkness of the night proved less of a challenge for navigation. The Luftwaffe pilots simply had to follow the course of the river – often handily reflecting the moon on clear nights – to their targets.

Office blocks ablaze on Fetter Lane in London during the height of the Blitz

Damage to St Thomas's Hospital

Despite the continued attacks from the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, St Thomas’s hospital continued to operate throughout. It received a direct hit from a bomb in the early hours of 9th September 1940 and was then hit again on the 13th and 15th of September. In December 1940, the hospital was also hit by incendiary devices during a Luftwaffe raid. Further damage occurred the following year in April and May 1941.

In the face of huge amounts of bomb damage, both Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals remained opened throughout the war, treating casualties from across London. The photo shows a huge gap where St Thomas’ Hospital buildings once stood, revealing the Houses of Parliament on the opposite side of the river. Ten staff at St Thomas’ lost their lives in the bombings on 8th & 9th September 1940., though amazingly no patients were killed.


Members of staff were sadly killed, and the buildings and equipment received damage. Temporary accommodation had to be set up and beds reallocated for patients with others having to be evacuated to other hospitals. Despite these challenges though, the hospital remained fully opening and functioning.

The debris of St Thomas's Hospital the morning after receiving a direct hit during the Blitz, in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. 

Fox Photos/Getty Images

Bomb damage at St Thomas' Hospital in September 1940.


The hospital received a morale-boosting visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 27 September 1940 and three hospital staff were awarded the George Medal: Dr H R B Norman, resident physician, P B Maling, medical student, and H E Frewer, assistant clerk of works, for their actions in rescuing casualties trapped after a high explosive bomb hit the hospital on12th April 1941.


Casualties at St Thomas’s Hospital

  • Dr J C Campbell (House Surgeon)
  • Miss Doucet (Physiotherapist)
  • Mss S Dunn (Physiotherapist)
  • Miss S Durham (Physiotherapist)
  • Miss K M Forbes (Student Nurse)
  • Miss G Lockyer (Physiotherapist)
  • Miss H M Richardson (Nursing Auxiliary)
  • Dr P B Spilsbury (House Surgeon)
  • Miss B Mortimer-Thomas (Physiotherapist)
  • Miss C G Walker (Student Nurse)
  • Robert Tanner (Auxiliary Firefighter)
  • Evan Morgan Jones (Auxiliary Firefighter)

The first mines

German aircraft dropped parachute mines on London for the first time on September 17, 1940. The navy and armed forces were totally unprepared as parachute mines, originally designed to be dropped at sea and blow-up ships, had never been deployed intentionally on land.

The mines had a timer with a 21-second delay, which was intended to cause them to detonate nearby. Parachute mines frequently caused miles of collateral damage since the ground was unable to withstand the stress of the explosion. Because of the widespread fear of these weapons, often known as "landmines," Churchill forbade any mention of them in the British press.

A parachute mine in the garden of a house which fortunately for the occupants, did not explode.

Bomb damage in Deptford. Rescue workers can be seen clearing the site.


57 nights

London was bombed 57 nights in a row. No 24-hour period between Black Saturday and 2nd December passed without at least one "alert," as the alarms came to be known, and most often much more. There were more than 350 alerts from the beginning of the Blitz until November 30, and nine were registered on three different occasions.

London's tranquilly was only preserved by bomb or siren on the nights of November 3 and 28 during this time. After the first week of September, large-scale night-time bombing continued, but smaller groups crossed the border in waves instead of the daytime mass attacks that had cost the Luftwaffe so much during the Battle of Britain.

Forces with up to 400 aircraft occasionally crossed the coast during the day, dispersed into smaller groups, and a few of the aircraft managed to breach London's outer defences.

Auxiliary Fire Service recruitment poster.

All sizes | AFS, London Blitz | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

The Record Office in London, lit by flames ignited by a German air raid in 1940.


Air raid damage, including the twisted remains of a double-decker city bus, in the City of London on 10th September 1940.

AP Photo

The blown-out shell of a bus and the charred remains of motor cars are pictured on Portman Street in Marylebone, Central London, as a police officer and soldier inspect the aftermath of a devastating German air raid on 19th September, 1940.

Royston Leonard

Mannequins litter the pavement outside the John Lewis department store on London’s Oxford Street after an air raid in September 1940.

Imperial War Museum

Bomb disposal

In just the first three weeks of September 1940, bomb disposal personnel had to deal with almost 2,000 unexploded bombs. A baptism of fire also took place for the Fire Service and Auxiliary Fire Service. Many structures were beyond repair. 

In September 1940, auxiliary fireman Philip Henderson recalled battling a fire in West Ham ineffectively while the bombs were still falling:


Lieutenant R Davies defuses an unexploded bomb in the grounds of the German Hospital, London, 25 November 1941. He commanded the bomb disposal unit responsible for saving St Paul’s in September 1940


A London building ablaze during the Blitz, 1940.

William Vandivert—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Thousands of men and women volunteered or were recruited to be fire watchers. Incendiary bombs could be extinguished with water or sand if they were found quickly enough.

https://historicengland.org.uk/ © IWM 

Attacks on the underground

It was a disastrous night for both London and London Transport on October 14–15, 1940. The thirty-eighth day of the London Blitz saw the most people killed on the London Underground in one day as a result of direct enemy action throughout the whole War.

Sixty-Eight people were killed when a 1,400 kg bomb detonated at roughly 8 p.m. on October 14 at Balham Underground station SW12 (Northern Line). (By the end of the war in 1945, London Transport reported a total of 9,000 distinct incidences of property damage across the city and the deaths of 181 staff members.)

The disaster at Balham Underground station which killed 68 people.

Balham tube station after a German air raid, 1940 - Rare Historical Photos

High explosive and incendiary bombs (HE and IB) damaged both Blackfriars and Mansion House underground stations on Monday, October 14, 1940, at 19:35. Two 500 kg bombs detonated at 20:28, 60 feet (18 metres) above the Central line between Queens Road (now Queensway) and Lancaster Gate stations, 50 feet (15 metres) apart, on Bayswater Road. Only minor damage was done to the tunnels, and there was no disruption of traffic.

A wrecked Humber car on Pall Mall, London after an air raid during the London Blitz, 15th October 1940.

Central Press/Getty Images​

A German raid smashed this hall in an undisclosed London district, on 16th October 1940.

AP Photo

On the west side of Camden Town underground station, at 20:57, a 250 kg bomb detonated, destroying a portion of the structure, and damaging and obstructing the top of the escalators. Five persons were killed instantly or suffered injuries that led to their deaths at the time when they were taking cover from the air raid on the platforms and at the top of the escalators. Five LPTB employees and about fifteen members of the general public suffered injuries. 

A bomb crater in the pavement near the Cenotaph in Whitehall. October 1940

Central Press/Getty Image

Although they later resumed between Archway and High Barnet and Golders Green to Edgware, services between Euston and Moorgate and between Strand (now Charing Cross) and Golders Green/High Barnet were temporarily discontinued. 

Services between Strand, Edgware, and High Barnet resumed at 22:06; those between Moorgate and Euston restarted at 22:55. Only the station structure was damaged, therefore there was little to no disruption of traffic through this crucial junction on the Northern line.

Mrs Bowley, the wife of a school caretaker, shakes the hand of her rescuer, Johnny Driscoll of an A.R.P. rescue team, as she is carried away on a stretcher. Bowley had been trapped in the wreckage of an air raid shelter for thirteen hours after a German bombing raid on London, 17th October 1940.

Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The upper side of the inverted triangle of land on which Camden Town station is located, Dewsbury Terrace, is where a second bomb hit at 21:07, but this did not inflict any additional damage to the Underground.

In the south, a bomb exploded almost simultaneously and destroyed a four-story building 200 metres north of Mornington Crescent station and nearly covered the Northern line tunnels but did not seriously damage them.

High Holborn - the morning of 8th October 1940. Looking across the entrance to Chancery Lane underground station. The junction with Grays Inn Road would be just out-of-frame to the right. 

At 21:30, a 500-kilogram bomb detonated across the Piccadilly line 91 metres (or 100 yards) south of Holloway Road station. Despite services being extended to Covent Garden at 23:53, all current were off between Hyde Park Corner and Wood Green, with eastbound service reversing at Hyde Park Corner. Later, it was found that both tunnels had sections that were fractured and partially filled with clay for around 60 feet (18 metres). 

Although there was limited water ingress, low-tension cables were burned through, and the current rail was moved "a considerable length." Traffic resumed two days after the 18th of October when repairs were completed on the 3rd. Oxford Circus station was closed at 21:50 due to flooding.

At 23:59, a HE struck the London Passenger Transport Board's buildings at 55 Broadway, which is situated above St. James's Park station, and caused fire to the west wing.

Bomb damage at Camden Underground station.


The following working conditions were recorded at 08:00 on the 15th: "Information generally is very incomplete. The HQ of the Board, 55 Broadway, were reported hit by an HE; considerable fire started. No details yet"

Closed Trafalgar Square underground station on the Bakerloo line.

  • Trains headed north reversed at Queens Park, and services from Canons Park to Stanmore were suspended.

Non-exploding Bombs

  • Services between Stanmore and Wembley have been halted at Canons Park 09/10.
  • Woodside Park services were halted on April 10.
  • Trains at Golders Green Depot on October 11th cannot be stabled in yards.
  • No interference with Neasden Depot 13/10

25th October 1940, A Bus stuck in a bomb crater in a London street, the front wheels became locked in the hole and the vehicle had to be hauled out.

Air-raid damage at Holloway Road Underground station. Bomb damaged rolling stock can be seen in the foreground and midground, with one freight car pointing down into a water-logged ditch and another car lying on its side. Debris is strewn on the ground and men are working on some partially buried track.

Topical Press  https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

Church House, St. James's Church, Piccadilly, the Carlton Club, Pall Mall, the Treasury Gardens, 10 Downing Street, and Lowndes Street SW1 were among the City of Westminster structures that were also damaged that evening.

The BBC takes a hit

On the 15th October, a bomb is dropped on Broadcasting House, the crash being heard on a BBC news broadcast. Bruce Belfrage, the presenter and demonstrating the mantra of 'keep calm and carry on', simply paused before continuing with his report.

People's life was anchored on the nine o'clock BBC newscast every night. During raids, broadcasts were interrupted, and the eerie fading of the radio was a precursor to an oncoming attack.

Although the BBC was regarded with trust, it was frequently criticised. The Ministry of Information would accuse it of trivialising the suffering of the victims if it described a violent raid as light. Or it could be charged with needlessly frightening parents whose children had been evacuated if it reported on a rural raid.

Bruce Belfrage in the studio at Broadcasting House.


Mr. and Mrs. Steptow and their two daughters were buried beneath the debris of their house in the London area when a bomb fell at 2.40 a.m. on Wednesday morning, 9th November 1940.

It was believed by wardens that the people had gone to shelter in the underground, until tapping was heard from the imprisoned people. Rescuers at once got to work and at 1.30 p.m. yesterday, Friday. Mrs. Steptow and her two daughters were rescued. Mr. Steptow was killed when the bomb fell. Rescue workers working to free the trapped people,

AP Photo

Fire Service personnel working feverishly to remove victims under the debris of Invicta Road School.

Memory Lane Prints ♥ Licensed Images, Artwork and Photos (mediastorehouse.co.uk)

On 14th November 1940, Invicta Road School near Blackheath Standard, was being used as an Auxiliary Fire Station when it was destroyed by a Parachute Mine killing 12 firemen and 2 civilians. 

Londoners shelter from air raids in an underground station during World War II, 1940. 

M. McNeill/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Heavy Rescue Squad worker, London, 1940.

Blitz — George Rodger (georgerodgerphotographs.com)

Decorating the hoardings of damaged shopfronts on Oxford Street, London, during the Blitz 1940.

Blitz — George Rodger (georgerodgerphotographs.com)

The Second Fire of London

On the night of December 29–30, 1940, the city was hit by some 100,000 bombs, the majority of which were small incendiary bombs. 136 bombers were sent by the Germans to the city.

Compared to the raids on November 15 or December 8, fewer incendiaries were dropped. The raid was concentrated in an area of the city that was home to numerous non-residential structures, including churches, office buildings, and warehouses.

The Fire Watchers Order of September 1940 applied to workplaces with at least 30 people, warehouses with an area of 50,000 cubic feet (1,400 m3), and sawmills or lumber yards with more than 50,000 cubic feet of timber, however many of these were locked and were not covered by the order.

Ludgate circus after the Luftwaffe raid on the night of the 29th December.

Getty images

The German raid was to include an initial attack led by a specialist Pathfinder Squadron, followed by the first wave of bombers with mostly incendiary bombs and some high explosives to set the City ablaze, followed by the second wave of bombers with high explosive bombs much later in the evening.

The Faraday building on Queen Victoria Street, which served as a hub for the London Telephony system as well as for worldwide telephony circuits, was one of the primary strategic targets.

Other obvious targets included train stations, rails, and bridges over the Thames.

The Pathfinder squadron's job was to discover the target using a beam radio system, in which radio signals sent from the continent would guide a plane to its objective with a change in the signal where beams crossed signalling a crucial geographic spot to begin the attack.

The Pathfinder Squadron's aircraft travelled through the countryside in the area between the coast and south London, and as they got closer to Mitcham, the signal altered to show them where a precisely calculated course and timing would take them straight to the heart of London.

Thanks to this strategy, the dense layers of cloud below could not prevent the accurate bombing. The Pathfinders' mission was to ignite flames that the larger bomber force would then observe and head towards.


Flames shoot up into the night lighting up the skyline at Tower Hill on the night of the attack.

St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London. A firebomb fell on the night of 29th December 1940 which pierced the roof and gutted the interior. This shows the remains of the church in March 1941.

It was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of London in 1953, using Wren's surviving walls, it was rededicated in 1957 and it is still in use

Bedford Lemere © Historic England

The bombers released the incendiary bomb-containment canisters at the predetermined time. The canisters then burst open as they descended, scattering individual bombs over a broad area. 

The waves of the main bomber force then began to approach, each carrying a canister of incendiary bombs and a number of high-explosive bombs. However, when dropped in such vast numbers, it only needed a few of these relatively small devices to ignite fires in difficult-to-reach places that might swiftly spiral out of control.

When water was most required, there was a very low tide on the River Thames that evening, and three, 36-inch, and twelve other major mains were damaged.

Mud obstructed the hoses and pumps that drew water from the river, making it hard to operate fire boats.

Around three hundred pumps were operating in and around the City by eight o'clock, attempting to draw water from all accessible sources and lowering the overall pressure in the process.

Debris lies strewn on the street as a fire tears through a building in Cheapside, East London, 

Herbert Mason

Another of the issues with large-scale incendiary bombings on London - a city that had many buildings that included wood in their construction - was that so many buildings could have been saved if there had been a Fire Watch on duty, or if the building were open for access. Members of the Watch high up on St. Paul's Cathedral observed numerous incidents where an incendiary fell on a building's roof and smouldered before the heat caused a fire to start

By late evening, the neighbourhoods around St. Paul's Cathedral were on fire and allegedly as bright as day due to the fires' intense lighting. Ave Maria Lane, a short street connecting Amen Court and Ludgate Hill, was on fire and fire crews were working in pairs to put out the flames. The constant threat of explosions, bombings, and the structural breakdown of the burning buildings causing a catastrophic collapse into the street make it difficult for two guys and a hose to control a long stretch of burning structures.


Smouldering buildings show the aftermath of the Luftwaffe raid on the City with the dome of St Paul's Cathedral - miraculously untouched - looming in the background. 

The entire length of Newgate St is ablaze on the night of the raid.

Herbert Mason

Sandbags, a stirrup pump, and a small amount of water were sufficient to contain an incendiary bomb immediately after landing. However, after a while, when the magnesium coating had ignited, temperatures reached extremely high levels, and anything flammable within the bomb's range would catch fire and spread very quickly.

Many fires could have been put out right away if other buildings had hired staff to keep an eye on the roofs. Even if a bomb might be seen on the roof, getting inside was difficult because it was the weekend, and many buildings were shut and secured.

The size of the fires the L.F.B. (London Fire Brigade) had to put out and the amount of resources required were enormous. According to the regional L.F.B record for the evening,

  • Six conflagrations required 100 pumps apiece, and
  • 28 fires each required more than 30 pumps.
  • twenty pumps needed for 51 fires
  • 1,286 fires had one pump apiece, while 101 needed 10 pumps each.

To assist in putting out the fires in the centre of the City, pumps from other parts of London and the surrounding areas were used. That night, there were eventually about 2,300 pumps in operation. (There were just 1,850 pumps in use throughout all of Great Britain before to the war. On that particular night, the City alone had far more than this in use.

The view from the roof of St Paul's Cathedral towards the Old Bailey after the second Great Fire of London

Late in the evening, the All Clear was issued even though large areas of the City were on fire. By 8 a.m. on the morning of the 30th, after a long night, the situation had been brought under control. However, numerous fires had continued to burn but had not spread.

German plans were for additional waves of bombers to attack with high explosive bombs that would have devastated the city after the initial waves of aircraft dropped incendiaries. This posed a very serious risk to both firefighters and the equipment they were using to put out the fires. In the late afternoon, the order was made to stop the waves of bombers with high explosive bombs since the weather above France had been becoming worse and the grass runways were turning into mud.

A scene of devastation in the city after the raid on the night of the 29th December 1940.


The Thames' tide also swung, and the resuming water gave the numerous pumps battling the fires for the rest of the night the resources they desperately needed.

That evening, an estimated 24,000 incendiary bombs hit London. The harm that a single out-of-control fire could produce was compounded by the potential effects of each bomb and was given additional force by the wind that blew through the City. On the morning of the following Monday, scenes of destruction greeted workers as they arrived back in the City. There are still fires blazing, and there is firefighting equipment and debris in the streets.

Fire crews hose down the smouldering Post Office at Newgate the morning after the Luftwaffe raid.

The night assaults on London continued into 1941, and January 10–11 witnessed particularly strong attacks. The Mansion House (the residence of the lord mayor of London) and the Bank of England narrowly escaped destruction when a bomb dropped exactly between them, leaving a massive crater. 

Camden, London. A view of the bombed remains of the church of St John the Evangelist in Red Lion Square. It was consecrated in 1878 but was damaged by the blitz in 1941.

https://images.historicenglandservices.org.uk/ Herbert Felton

Bow Street

A huge fruit warehouse in Bow Street, WC2, was struck on January 11 by a high explosive device, probably of the armor-piercing or delayed-action variety. The bomb exploded in the basement shelter after crashing through five levels. The entire structure, which was near to the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden Market, collapsed into the shelter.

The rescue teams were hampered by gas pockets caused by the tearing open of a coal gas main. Rescue personnel soon entered the warehouse remnants, but there was no way to reach the shelter below (housing around thirteen occupants from nearby dwellings). Additionally trapped in the debris were twelve ARP men who were on duty.

Bomb Map: Bow Street

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Four ARP wardens were escorted out of the basement emergency exit and into safety. When an ARP officer was blown out of a small steel shelter on one of the top stories, it was discovered that he had made a lucky escape. He had been shielded from harm by this, and he had also been extracted alive.

Debris blocked entrance to the remainder of the warehouse, and the broken gas line continued to leak. The warehouse's burned-out timbers caught fire as a result of more incendiaries that fell on the scene. Despite attempts from the basements of the adjacent buildings, it expanded out of control and stopped further rescue operations. Rescue efforts were put on hold while the area was rendered secure.

Twenty remains were discovered among the warehouse's wreckage a few days later. The initial blast had killed them instantly.

The damage after a blast hit Foyles bookshop during the Blitz. Books can be seen strewn across the floor.

Fire crew tackling a blaze following an air raid, at Taylors Great Central Depository in St Georges Road, Southwark, on 31 January 1941.

The Luftwaffe resumed in full force on February 17 after a brief respite. Numerous high-explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped, with little material damage but numerous fatalities as a result. On March 19, there was another significant attack, which resulted in the destruction or significant damage of hundreds of homes, businesses, churches, six hospitals, and other public structures.

Firemen tackle a serious fire during the Blitz, 12 February 1941. The area to the left of the pub appears to be completely ablaze. 

Outbreaks of looting

During the attack on 8 March 1941, the Café de Paris in London was bombed. One of the more negative aspects of the Blitz reared its head when looters descended on the scene. Sifting through the destruction, thieves removed rings from people's fingers, unclasped necklaces, and rummaged through handbags for compacts.

The flipside of the "Blitz spirit" that was largely whispered and unrecognised was looting. Some robbers chased bombs. As the explosives dropped during a raid, they would crowd the target area and break storefront windows. The network of thieves would also disseminate information about damaged homes where valuable items might be found. From smouldering wreckage and traumatised people, trinkets, underwear, and food were stolen. There were 2,763 looting prosecutions in 1941, and 163 of the defendants were female.

Damage to a clothes shop in London's West End.


Riles Road, Plaistow, East London Bomb damage. 19 March 1941.


Admiralty Arch

Between The Mall and Trafalgar Square lies Admiralty Arch, which King Edward VII dedicated to his mother Queen Victoria. It was created by architect Sir Aston Webb and constructed in 1911, one year after the demise of King Edward VII.

The Arch was protected during the Blitz by its own ARP detachment made up of Great War veterans and members of three different London clubs.

One of four high explosive bombs dropped nearby during the night raid of April 16–17, 1941, struck the top of the Arch, causing significant damage.

Damage to Admiralty Arch, April 1941.

Copyright Westminster City Archives

ARP Message Form, Amiralty Arch, 17 April 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

At 3.50 am on April 17, 1941, Civil Defence officials started an inquiry into an incident at 55 Whitehall because they thought a high explosive bomb had struck the neighbourhood. Twenty minutes later, a notification stating that 55 Whitehall had not been harmed by the explosion contrary to earlier reports was delivered to the Report Centre. Instead, the Admiralty's front, directly across from No. 55, had been struck.

Bomb Map: Admiralty Arch

Copyright Westminster City Archives

The Report Center didn't confirm that the earlier allegations were erroneous until 7.40 am on that day. In actuality, two bombs had exploded in the Admiralty's main hall, one hitting the top of the Admiralty Arch and the other the Cambridge Enclosure. People were evacuated from the Cambridge Enclosure, and the Mall was shut down.

There were no casualties in this incident.

London Necropolis Railway

The London Necropolis Company (LNC) built a railway line in November 1854 to transport bodies and mourners between London and the LNC's recently established Brookwood Cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey, which is located 23 miles (37 km) southwest of London. The LNC hoped to obtain a monopoly on London's burial business, and Brookwood Cemetery, at the time the largest cemetery in the world, was built to be large enough to house all of London's deaths for generations to come. The cemetery was dependent on the recently developed railway to connect it to the city because it had been purposefully constructed far enough away from London to never be influenced by urban growth.

Aftermath of the bombing of the London Necropolis Railway's buildings in London, night of April 16–17 1941.

Southern Railway Photographic Unit

The neighbouring Thames bridges and Waterloo station were prime targets for Luftwaffe bombers during the Blitz, and the station had multiple near-misses during 1940–1941. The Necropolis station was unharmed throughout the initial stages of the bombing campaign, despite the fact that there were many delays in the Necropolis train service as a result of enemy activity on the line. 

One of the final significant air raids on London occurred the night of April 16–17, 1941, saw the Waterloo region frequently hit by bombs. However, the terminal building itself was unharmed. Only the rolling equipment berthed in the Necropolis siding and the railway viaduct connecting it to the main line sustained damage.

A train hangs dangerously over damaged track after a Luftwaffe bombing raid.


Further attacks

There was a brief lull before a large-scale series of night attacks on April 7 that included certain targets in the London region. On April 16, at 9:00 PM and lasting until 5:00 AM, an onslaught even more ferocious and indiscriminate than those of the previous autumn was launched.

It is claimed that 500 aircraft flew over in waves, dropping an estimated 450 tonnes of bombs on the city.

Queens Cinema, Forest Gate, East London. Bomb damage. 29 April 1941.


The death toll exceeded 1,000, and the destruction was more extensive than ever before. Three nights later (April 19–20), London was once more the target of a seven-hour raid, and a significant number of people died, particularly among firefighters and A.R.P. employees.

Nurses collecting blankets from beds at St Peter's Hospital in Stepney, East London. 19 April 1941. St Peter's was one of four hospitals damaged in the raid.

Royston Leonard

On May 10-11, 1941, more than 500 aircraft launched an attack against London that resulted in the highest nightly casualty count. Over 700 tonnes of heavy explosives and more than 80 tonnes of incendiaries were dropped during this single night.

Belgrave Road

Three bombs exploded at 1.21 a.m. on May 11, 1941, on Belgrave Road SW1, close to the intersection of Gillingham Street and Eccelston Square. A 50 kilogramme HE bomb detonated as the first one in front of 1 Eccleston Square. Fortunately, there were no casualties despite the fact that it damaged the vaults underneath the pavement.

The gas main was one of many nearby utilities that was harmed. The home at the intersection of Eccelston Square and Belgrave Road sustained significant damage; the porch was completely destroyed, the wall facing Belgrave Road was broken inward, and the cornice was severely harmed.

At the intersection of Gillingham Street and Belgrave Road, next to the hotel, was where the second bomb, a 100kg HE, detonated. This bomb did not inflict significant damage, but it did result in 7 deaths—one ARP Warden and six hotel guests. The hotel's doors, windows, and ceilings were all broken. The largest bomb, a 500kg HE that was dropped next to 24 Belgrave Road but did not detonate, was the third one.

Fires across London

That evening, more than 2,000 fires were lit in 61 different London boroughs. The city's 700 acres were devastated by fire. There were around 1,300 fatalities, 1,600 serious injuries, and 12,000 people who lost their homes.

The British Museum, Westminster Abbey, and the House of Commons all sustained significant damage, and The Temple was nearly completely destroyed. St. Clement Danes Church, Strand, Queen's Hall, Langham Place, St. James's Palace, Piccadilly, Eaton Square, Park Lane, St. Martin's Lane, Pimlico, and portions of Soho, Mayfair, and Knightsbridge were all damaged in the raid.

Firemen in action in Central London after another night bombing raid by the Luftwaffe.

Royston Leonard / Mediadrumworld.com

Elsewhere, parts of the East End, the City of London, Marylebone, Waterloo, Holborn (home to the British Museum), King's Cross, Lincoln's Inn, and Gray's Inn, Chelsea, Lambeth Palace, St. Thomas' Hospital, the Tower of London, Paddington, Kensington, Hammersmith, Elephant and Castle, Nunhead, Peckham, Bermondsey, Greenwich, and Hackney were also all hit by bombs.

The Brighton Road bus garage after the bombing raid which killed seven men.

Bob Ogley

Dozens of bombs struck Thornton Heath, Upper Norwood, Addiscombe and parts of South Croydon - with two huge explosives crashing into the bus garage.

When the bombs hit shortly before 11pm, most of the buses had been refilled with petrol after returning to the station for the night - meaning a fire quickly spread throughout the building, tragically killing seven men.

Major disruptions were caused to London's transportation system, including the temporary closure of four bridges over the Thames and all but one mainline railroad station. Around, 700 acres of the capital were burnt down or demolished in the bombing.

May 1941: The interior of Westminster Abbey after a German bombing raid.

Getty Images

Number 23 Queen Victoria Street, City of London, collapsing in flames on Sunday 11 May 1941

© City of London London Metropolitan Archives.

3rd May 1941: Severe bomb damage in London's Leicester Square caused by German air raids.

Getty Images

A blaze in the Negretti and Zambra building at Holborn Circus, London, after a German bombing raid, 1941 - despite the surrounding damage the statue was untouched.

Getty Images

London Palladium

A parachute mine struck the London Palladium on May 10, 1941, but it didn't explode because it got stuck in the rafters above the stage. 

A Royal Navy bomb disposal crew was requested since it was a mine, and Sub Lieutenant Graham Maurice Wright and Able Seaman William Bevan were dispatched to deal with it.

Wright climbed a perilous ladder and tethered himself to a beam so he could operate with both hands. Bevan held a torch for him while he cut through another beam blocking the mine's fuse.

The remains of a parachute mine which fell to the rear of Bishopsgate Police Station. The parachute from the mine at the London Palladium ‘disappeared’ as silk was in short supply

© City of London London Metropolitan Archives.

The self-destruct device could not be activated thanks to a "gag" applied by Wright, but the moment he touched the fuse, it started to whirr.

Fortunately, the mine did not explode as the two men climbed down onto the stage.  They went back to the mine and made it safe despite the fact that they knew it could explode at any moment.

The George Medal was awarded to both men for their deeds.

Three children are pictured sat on the rumble which had been their home after an overnight German bombardment destroyed the building in East London.

Royston Leonard / Mediadrumworld.com

A tea canteen for bombed civilians, London, 1940.

Blitz — George Rodger (georgerodgerphotographs.com)


Hospitals, nightclubs, churches, museums, streets with shops and residences, theatres, public places, schools, monuments, newspaper offices, embassies, and the London Zoo were all bombed. The mansions of Mayfair, the opulent apartments of Kensington, and Buckingham Palace itself—which was attacked four times—fared little better than some of the poorer and more congested outlying regions, which were also severely damaged.

German planes had dropped more than 18,000 tonnes of high-explosive bombs on the capital by the middle of May 1941.  However, as he attempted to obtain direct American entry into the war, Prime Minister Churchill believed that the city could withstand significant punishment (perhaps for years).

In May 1941. Hitler was increasingly turning his attention towards the east, as the Nazi leader put the finishing touches to his plan to invade the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa began, diverting numerous German aircraft from strikes on Britain. The entire country exhaled in relief.

Although Luftwaffe bombers continued to target British towns, the quantity and severity of their strikes significantly decreased between mid-May 1941 and late January 1944.

The ‘Blitz’ had ended.

A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940, reading a book titled "The History of London."

AP Photo

Further reading

The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941.

Bomb Sight is making the maps available to citizen researchers, academics and students. They will be able to explore where the bombs fell and to discover memories and photographs from the period.

The project has scanned original 1940s bomb census maps, geo-referenced the maps and digitally captured the geographical locations of all the falling bombs recorded on the original map.



Royston Leonard / Mediadrumworld.com




AP Photo



AP Photo/Staff/Worth

New York Times Paris Bureau Collection

Imperial War Museum


Dundee Courier', 13 May 1941

Hull Daily Mail', 6 August 1941

© City of London London Metropolitan Archives.



Southern Railway Photographic Unit



Britannica Book of the Year, Lawrence H. Dawson


Greg Buzwell

William Vandivert—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images



  1. McNeill/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Getty Images




Herbert Felton






Copyright Westminster City Archives


Bedford Lemere

© Historic England






London Fire Brigade / Mary Evans Picture Library / Caters News










A fascinating map points out where every bomb was dropped on Croydon during The Blitz - Croydon Advertiser

Bob Ogley