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Whole crews sometimes died as buildings collapsed on them: some of these heroes are commemorated today by having streets in the East End named after them. Gavin Mortimer concentrates on one night: the particularly savage raids of May to reveal what it was like to experience The Blitz. Based on interviews with survivors, his gripping minute-by-minute account recaptures a time when the very survival of this country hung in the balance. Gavin Mortimer was born in London 34 years ago.

As a freelance journalist he has contributed articles to a diverse range of magazines and newspapers, including the Observer, the Guardian, History Monthly and Esquire. Visit Seller's Storefront.

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Tracking is available at extra cost, please enquire, but these costs will be considerably higher than our advertised rates. List this Seller's Books. Payment Methods accepted by seller. In the last days of the battle, the bombers became lures in an attempt to draw the RAF into combat with German fighters. But their operations were to no avail; the worsening weather and unsustainable attrition in daylight gave the OKL an excuse to switch to night attacks on 7 October. On 14 October, the heaviest night attack to date saw German bombers from Luftflotte 3 hit London. Around people were killed and another 2, injured.

British anti-aircraft defences General Frederick Alfred Pile fired 8, rounds and shot down only two bombers. Five main rail lines were cut in London and rolling stock damaged.


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Loge continued during October. Little tonnage was dropped on Fighter Command airfields; Bomber Command airfields were hit instead. Luftwaffe policy at this point was primarily to continue progressive attacks on London, chiefly by night attack; second, to interfere with production in the vast industrial arms factories of the West Midlands , again chiefly by night attack; and third to disrupt plants and factories during the day by means of fighter-bombers.

Kesselring, commanding Luftflotte 2, was ordered to send 50 sorties per night against London and attack eastern harbours in daylight.

The Blitz : London's Longest Night 1/2

Sperrle, commanding Luftflotte 3, was ordered to dispatch sorties per night including against the West Midlands. Seeschlange would be carried out by Fliegerkorps X 10th Air Corps which concentrated on mining operations against shipping. It also took part in the bombing over Britain. The mines' ability to destroy entire streets earned them respect in Britain, but several fell unexploded into British hands allowing counter-measures to be developed which damaged the German anti-shipping campaign.

Outside the capital, there had been widespread harassing activity by single aircraft, as well as fairly strong diversionary attacks on Birmingham, Coventry and Liverpool, but no major raids. The London docks and railways communications had taken a heavy pounding, and much damage had been done to the railway system outside.

In September, there had been no less than hits on railways in Great Britain, and at one period, between 5, and 6, wagons were standing idle from the effect of delayed action bombs. But the great bulk of the traffic went on; and Londoners—though they glanced apprehensively each morning at the list of closed stretches of line displayed at their local station, or made strange detours round back streets in the buses—still got to work.

For all the destruction of life and property, the observers sent out by the Ministry of Home Security failed to discover the slightest sign of a break in morale. More than 13, civilians had been killed, and almost 20, injured, in September and October alone, [] but the death toll was much less than expected. In late , Churchill credited the shelters. Wartime observers perceived the bombing as indiscriminate. American observer Ralph Ingersoll reported the bombing was inaccurate and did not hit targets of military value, but destroyed the surrounding areas.

Ingersol wrote that Battersea Power Station , one of the largest landmarks in London, received only a minor hit. The British government grew anxious about the delays and disruption of supplies during the month. Reports suggested the attacks blocked the movement of coal to the Greater London regions and urgent repairs were required.

The London Underground rail system was also affected; high explosive bombs damaged the tunnels rendering some unsafe. British night air defences were in a poor state.

Few fighter aircraft were able to operate at night. Ground-based radar was limited, and airborne radar and RAF night fighters were generally ineffective. The difference this made to the effectiveness of air defences is questionable. The British were still one-third below the establishment of heavy anti-aircraft artillery AAA or ack-ack in May , with only 2, weapons available. Dowding had to rely on night fighters.

From to , the most successful night-fighter was the Boulton Paul Defiant ; its four squadrons shot down more enemy aircraft than any other type. Over several months, the 20, shells spent per raider shot down in September , was reduced to 4, in January and to 2, shells in February Airborne Interception radar AI was unreliable.

The heavy fighting in the Battle of Britain had eaten up most of Fighter Command's resources, so there was little investment in night fighting. Bombers were flown with airborne search lights out of desperation but to little avail. Douglas set about introducing more squadrons and dispersing the few GL sets to create a carpet effect in the southern counties. Still, in February , there remained only seven squadrons with 87 pilots, under half the required strength.

By the height of the Blitz, they were becoming more successful. The number of contacts and combats rose in , from 44 and two in 48 sorties in January , to and 74 in May sorties. But even in May, 67 per cent of the sorties were visual cat's-eye missions. Curiously, while 43 per cent of the contacts in May were by visual sightings, they accounted for 61 percent of the combats.

Yet when compared with Luftwaffe daylight operations, there was a sharp decline in German losses to one per cent. If a vigilant bomber crew could spot the fighter first, they had a decent chance of evading it. Nevertheless, it was radar that proved to be the critical weapon in the night battles over Britain from this point onward. Dowding had introduced the concept of airborne radar and encouraged its usage. Eventually it would become a success. By 16 February , this had grown to 12; with five equipped, or partially equipped with Beaufighters spread over five Groups.

From November to February , the Luftwaffe shifted its strategy and attacked other industrial cities. The next night, a large force hit Coventry.

Only one bomber was lost, to anti-aircraft fire, despite the RAF flying night sorties. No follow up raids were made, as OKL underestimated the British power of recovery as Bomber Command would do over Germany from — The concentration had been achieved by accident.

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By the end of November, 1, bombers were available for night raids. An average of were able to strike per night.

In December, only 11 major and five heavy attacks were made. Probably the most devastating attack occurred on the evening of 29 December, when German aircraft attacked the City of London itself with incendiary and high explosive bombs, causing a firestorm that has been called the Second Great Fire of London.

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At , it released the first of 10, fire bombs, eventually amounting to dropped per minute. Not all of the Luftwaffe effort was made against inland cities. Port cities were also attacked to try to disrupt trade and sea communications. In January, Swansea was bombed four times, very heavily. On 17 January around bombers dropped a high concentration of incendiaries, some 32, in all.

The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941

The main damage was inflicted on the commercial and domestic areas. Four days later tons was dropped including 60, incendiaries. In Portsmouth Southsea and Gosport waves of bombers destroyed vast swaths of the city with 40, incendiaries. Warehouses, rail lines and houses were destroyed and damaged, but the docks were largely untouched.

Seven major and eight heavy attacks were flown, but the weather made it difficult to keep up the pressure. Still, at Southampton , attacks were so effective morale did give way briefly with civilian authorities leading people en masse out of the city.