When September 7, 1940 to May 10, 1941

Where Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Who German Luftwaffe under Air Marshal Hermann Goering (1893–1946) versus the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command under Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding (1882–1970) and after November 1940 Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Fighter Command William Sholto Douglas (1893–1969)

Why The Luftwaffe’s preceding operation, the Battle of Britain (June–October 1940), had not brought the Royal Air Force to its knees, nor had it caused the British government to inquire into armistice terms as French leaders had done in June 1940. The Blitz (German, “lightning”) was German punishment for Britain’s refusal to surrender.

What The Blitz was the Luftwaffe’s sustained strategic bombing of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Ninety thousand sorties were flown, and over 60,000 tons of bombs were dropped on British targets. For 57 nights straight, 200 or more German bombers dropped high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the British capital, London, targeting the “Square Mile,” the heart of the city. Across the coun­try many civilian and industrial targets faced similar onslaughts—Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Coventry, and Glasgow to name a few. More than one million London residences were destroyed or damaged, and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London. (By contrast the Allied bomb­ing raid on just one German city, the large port and industrial center of Hamburg, during the last week of July 1943 (Operation Gomorrah) killed 42,600 civilians, wounded 37,000, and practically leveled the city.)

Outcome Great Britain “stood alone” during these bleak eight months of the Blitz: The United States would not enter the war against Germany until December 1941. The Blitz never achieved its intended goals of either demoralizing British political and military leaders into capitu­lation or significantly damaging the country’s economy to continue the war. Hitler tabled his planned amphibious and aerial invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion. By the time the last bombs had fallen on London on May 10, 1941, in a particularly savage climax to the Blitz (507 aircraft dropped 711 tons of bombs, killing or wounding more than 3,000 people), the invasion threat had passed, and Hitler’s attention was directed east­wards to the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). But an undefeated Britain in the West meant Hitler would be facing a war on two fronts come the following month, June 1941. Heavy losses over Britain of skilled Luftwaffe aircrews (by one German account, nearly 7,700) and aircraft (more than 3,000) were keenly felt on the Eastern Front.

First Day of the London Blitz, September 7, 1940