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Docklands and the Blitz

The Blitz: Why did it start?
The first night: Black Saturday
The bombing escalates
Hitler's final push: The 'Little Blitz'
Aftermath of destruction
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The bombing escalates

Heavyweight bombardment

Clearing bomb damage South Molton Road
View full size imageClearing bomb damage on South Molton Road in Canning Town. © NMM

The frequency of air raids rapidly increased. London was bombed every day from 7 September until 2 November 1940.

The German Air Force dropped more than 5000 tons of high explosives on the capital in 24 nights in September alone.

Demolished Silvertown rubber factory.
View full size imageThe ruins of Silvertown Rubber Factory, September 1940. © NMM

The port districts were devastated. People living there listened to the bombs falling, never knowing what their street would look like when they came out of the shelters.

They could never be sure that their route to work had not changed, or even that their place of work would still be standing when the all-clear siren was sounded.

South Hallsville School showing bomb damage.
View full size image South Hallsville School, September 1940. © NMM

School tragedy

One of the worst incidents of the Blitz occurred in September 1940 at South Hallsville School in Canning Town.

Several hundred people made homeless by the bombing had gathered at the school to await evacuation to safety. The school suffered a direct hit and 73 people, mostly women and children, were killed.

Winter campaign

Royal Naval College: The Admiral President's House demolished.
View full size imageThe Admiral President's House demolished. © NMM
The bombing continued into the winter of 1940. One of the heaviest attacks came on 8/9 December when a raid by 400 bombers killed 250 and injured more than 600.

Over 3000 incendiaries were dropped and 1700 fires started. There was damage to Westminster Abbey, the Port of London Authority Building and the Royal Naval College. This image shows the damage sustained to the Admiral President's House at the college.

The Second Great Fire

Bomb damage in East End.
View full size image Bomb damage in the East End. © NMM

On 29 December 1940, 275 years after the Great Fire of London, a two-hour German attack started 1500 fires throughout London.

Only 136 bombers were involved, but it was a windy night, and the raid's focus on the small area of the City made it dangerous.

The Fire Brigade and the Auxiliary Fire Services worked around the clock during what became known as the Second Fire of London.

Rescue workers survey damage caused by Second World War bombing raids.
View full size imageRescue workers amongst the ruins. © NMM

As many as 450 million litres (100 million gallons) of water were used in a period of just 24 hours in the attempt to put out the fires. More than 1000 fires were started in the centre of the city itself.

Although few people lived in the City, the firestorm still resulted in 163 deaths and widespread damage was done to offices and shops. The Guildhall was burned out, Paternoster Road was destroyed and Christchurch Newgate and five other Wren churches were gutted.

Damage to Grange Mill Tannery.
View full size imageDamage to Grange Mill Tannery, belonging to Barrow, Hepburn and Gale Ltd., May 1941. © NMM

End of the Blitz

The main air campaign against London lasted until May 1941. In that month there was a change in the direction of the German war effort towards the Soviet Union.

The last night of the Blitz (and the worst) was on 10 May 1941. More than 500 planes dropped over 700 tons of high explosives and incendiaries. The human cost of the raid was nearly 1500 people killed and 1800 seriously injured.

Over 11,000 homes were damaged and many commercial premises destroyed. This photograph is of the ruined Grange Mill Tannery in Bermondsey.  

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Port of London Authority (PLA)

Find out more
StoriesDefending the East End
Dealing with the Blitz
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
GalleriesGrowing up in the Blitz
Children in London during the second world war.
Fact fileWinston Churchill
Wartime Prime Minister
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Related Images 145 Images
Related Sound 5 Sound
Related Fact file 3 Fact file
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