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70 years on, London commemorates surviving the 'blitz'

The 70th anniversary of the start of the Nazi 'Blitz' on England today was commemorated near St. Paul's Cathedral, which survived the bombing campaign as much of the city around it was reduced to rubble.

By Staff writer / September 7, 2010

Veterans march past St Paul's Cathedral as a World War II Lancaster bomber flies overhead, after a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Blitz, in central London, September 7.

Andrew Winning/Reuters

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London

The 70th anniversary of the day Nazi bombs dropped on London, starting the "blitz" that rocked English cities, was marked with veterans’ memorials and a Spitfire fighter plane parked at the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose towering dome survived months of aerial attacks that marked a new era in warfare.

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Hitler’s air campaign, designed to psychologically devastate Britain before a planned naval and land attack on the island nation, began with 364 Luftwaffe bombers at tea time on Sept. 7, 1940, and lasted until May 1941. At one point, the Luftwaffe hit London 76 nights in a row.

The blitz killed 48,000 Londoners and wounded more than 71,000, but is remembered here for a spirit of resolve and endurance that thwarted Nazi plans, and impressed a US public deeply skeptical of joining a second Europe-wide war.

“I believe that without the spirit of Londoners at this time, we would have given in,” says Cyril Bridge, a Royal Air Force veteran outside St. Paul’s in a jacket replete with medals. Remembering Sept. 7 1940 he said, “I had never seen the sky so full of aircraft: German bombers, fighters, Spitfires trying to take them down. I suppose I was a little afraid.”

Understanding the blitz

World War II has libraries devoted to it. Yet this 70th anniversary shows the blitz isn’t exhausted as a research topic. There are new books on diaries of Londoners living in the blitz, an exhibit on how civil and fire brigades managed, documentaries on the bombings of other cities like Birmingham, Plymouth, and Bristol – even works reappraising (again) Winston Churchill's leadership.

Mainly, the blitz was the first sustained use of one of modern warfare's most destructive weapons – the aerial bomb – to cow a civilian population into submission and destroy industry.

For this reason, the blitz “isn’t somewhat meaningful, it is completely meaningful,” says Michael Evans, at St. Paul’s with a group of war archive enthusiasts. “People will never forget. We have a certain pride in surviving. We may not talk about it, and the younger generation doesn’t know much about it. The area we are standing in was wiped out. Only St. Paul’s remained.”

Accounts

Author Francis Beckett's new history “Firefighters and the Blitz,” published here today, and other accounts by Angus Calder and Juliet Gardiner show that British authorities were worried about 600,000 casualties but hadn’t counted on the number of refugees created. There was great public anger at the British Home office, as well as at Adolf Hitler.

The blitz was a time of great heroism and sharing – but also unscrupulous looters roaming the city. Most remembrances are of fires that swept through the city and of the “red skies” at night.

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