5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Blitz

Some essential facts on the German attack plan which brought World War Two to British civilians with devastating effect.

The Blitz

From Churchill's Bodyguard: Surviving The Blitz - The Prime Minister surveying bomb damage.

Beginning on 7 September 1940, the Nazis embarked on an air raid attack strategy that would cause carnage across Britain. Over the course of 267 days London was attacked a staggering 71 times, while Birmingham, Plymouth, and many other British cities also bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe.

Black and white images of wrecked cities, and the haunting sounds of air raid warnings, are still embedded in the British psyche all these years later. But here are some fascinating facts about the Blitz you may not have known...

1. "WE CAN TAKE IT"

Of the 71 air raids on London, 57 occurred on consecutive nights. Yet, despite the daily threat of death and destruction, the resilient British spirit was unwavering. An American witness wrote:

These people are staunch to the bone and won't quit. The British are stronger and in a better position than they were at its beginning

City officials had originally anticipated panic, opening up numerous psychiatric clinics to treat bomb shock victims, but they were soon closed due to a lack of patients. Indeed, this chapter of World War Two gave birth to inspiring catchphrases, including the blunt "We can take it". However, contrary to popular belief, the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster - despite being designed in 1939 - was never actually distributed during the Blitz.

2. SEXUAL REVOLUTION

With the reality that they could be bombed tomorrow, many Britons adopted a live-for-the-moment attitude. Recalling the Blitz in London, the celebrated dandy Quentin Crisp likened the city to a "paved double bed" - and many other witnesses recall plentiful, thrilling, and unashamed liaisons too. As well as the constant threat of death, there were many of other factors that contributed to the liberal sexual activity: long blackouts, air-raid shelters, evacuated children, and of course, absent husbands. However, most witnesses agree this secret sexual awakening helped boost morale.

3. COVENTRIEREN

One of the most vicious single attacks during the Blitz occurred in Coventry. On the night of 14 November 1940, bombs rained down on the motor-manufacturing city, destroying homes, businesses, and major landmarks - most notably St. Michael's Cathedral. Hundreds of civilians were killed by the onslaught, and such was the catastrophic damage, the Nazis adopted, actually coined, a new word, "Coventrieren", which meant razing a city to the ground. However, after Britain and the US had bombed German cities, it was quickly deemed inappropriate.

4. LONDON ZOO

It wasn't just the British people that had to prepare for an attack - London Zoo's menagerie of animals had to brace themselves too. The most expensive animals, including four chimps and three Asian elephants were all evacuated, while venomous snakes and spiders were destroyed for fear they could escape. However many animals remained at the zoo, and scarce supplies made feeding them difficult.

Pelicans were plied with fish oil-coated meat, mealworms were bred for mammals, and tonnes of acorns were delivered for the monkeys - thanks to a radio ad asking Brits to gather them. Incredibly, London Zoo remained open for business as usual, despite receiving its fair share of damage. The worst incident occurred on 27 September 1940, when several powerful bombs were dropped on the site. All the animals miraculously survived, and a handful even escaped - including a zebra that was apprehended on its way to Camden Town.

5. THE UNDERGROUND

When the sirens sounded, people would take cover in public shelters, personal garden shelters, or the spaces under their stairs. Citizens of the nation's capital had the best public shelter of all - the London Underground. It may sound surprising to us now, but the government wasn't particularly happy about civilians camping down there at first. But the politicians soon saw the logic, and even equipped a number of stations with beds. In total, around 150,000 people headed to the Underground each night during the Blitz, a little more certain that they'd wake up in the morning.