It is only 80 years ago when Londoners were wondering where the next bomb would fall. Targeting towns and cities with bombing raids was a strategic decision during the second world war, aimed at disrupting supply chains and undermining citizen morale. From September 1940, London took a horrific pounding from the sky. Yet, when did the last bomb fall on the UK capital?
The last bomb to fall in London was on March 27th, 1945 (source). The bomb hit a block of flats in the densely populated area of Stepney in the East End of London. The flats were struck by a V2 rocket, one of the two forms of flying bombs Germany turned to toward the end of the war.
Thousands of civilians lost their lives in London during bombing raids. In this article, I shall explore the early days of the blitz and the continued terror brought to the streets of London by the V1 and V2 rockets. This background to the bombing of London will then bring us to that fateful day in Stepney and the last bomb to fall on London.
See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The First Bombs Fall on London
London may have been many miles from the battlefields of Europe, but the city was not to be spared. From September 1940 through to May 1941, Londoners braced themselves nightly for bombing raids. Known as the Blitz, thousands of metric tons of bombs fell on London, killing over 20,000 civilians.
Germany had already targeted London, bombing the docklands in July 1940.
However, September 7th, 1940 marked the start of a bombing campaign whose intensity changed the face of London forever. This day is remembered in London history as Black Saturday.
After a daytime attack on the docks, around 300 bombers returned that night to strike across the city. On this first day of the Blitz, over 400 people were killed, with another 1,600 injured (source).
Black Saturday marked the start of a precarious time for Londoners. Where would the next bombs strike? Who would be the unlucky souls to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Who would return from their overnight shelter to find their homes destroyed?
The following video provides a look at that first night of the blitz as well as offering witness testimony.
The Germans soon abandoned daytime bombing raids, preferring to strike under the cover of darkness. Many famous landmarks were hit, including:
- Buckingham Palace
- Tower of London
- Houses of Parliament
- Westminster Abbey
- Royal Palladium
- British Museum
- Holland House
- Guildhall art gallery
Toward the middle of 1941, Hitler was focusing his attention on the invasion of the Soviet Union. This required resources and many of the planes attacking Britain were redeployed to the Eastern front. This saw the period referred to as the Blitz come to a welcome end in May 1941.
However, in the interim period, the intensity of the bombings was unrelenting.
The last major raid was carried out on the night of the 10th and 11th of May, 1941.
This was a horrific signing-off message. Around 500 German planes attacked London, setting ablaze 700 acres of the city. Over 1,300 lost their lives that night, with a further 12,000 losing their homes.
Other Cities Targeted
Of course, it was not just London that was targeted by the Luftwaffe. Cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham were bombed in August 1940, a month before the start of the Blitz in London.
The aim of bombing provincial cities was the same; to erode the morale of the citizens while destroying key supply factories, dockyards and naval bases. The following is a sample of the destruction that was reeked outside London through German bombing raids.
Liverpool was a key dock during the Battle of the Atlantic. The city was consistently targeted, with the residential areas surrounding the docks taking a good deal of the brunt of the raids.
During the first eight days of May 1941, Liverpool took a particularly brutal pounding. In that period, 1,900 Liverpudlians lost their lives, while 70,000 were made homeless
Perhaps one of the most well-known of the bombing targets outside of London. Coventry was an important manufacturer and producer of armaments for the war effort.
The heaviest bombing raid came in November 1940, resulting in 568 deaths and one-third of the city’s houses becoming uninhabitable. Anyone visiting Coventry today can not but be moved by the atmospheric remains of the bombed medieval cathedral.
German bombing raids affected all parts of the UK. However, Belfast hoped they would be out of reach of the German bombers. Unfortunately, it was a forlorn hope.
The docks and surrounding areas were bombed in April 1941, resulting in the loss of nearly 750 lives. Similar to the East End of London and other cities with docks and shipbuilding facilities, residential areas surrounding the docks were badly affected.
Bristol was also targeted by the Luftwaffe for its docks and factories. The city was no stranger to air raids, but the one that struck Bristol on November 24th, 1940 was of ferocious intensity. For six hours German bombers dropped high explosive bombs and incendiaries down onto Bristol.
Over 200 were killed and many of Bristol’s prized historical buildings were destroyed. Nearly 1.300 people lost their lives in bombing raids on the city.
The Baby Blitz
Although the intense bombing of the blitz ended in May 1941, London had not seen the end of bombing raids. For a couple of years the capital was still subject to raids, but nothing like the scale seen during the months of the blitz.
However, come early 1944, the frequency of the raids was to increase again. This saw Operation Steinbock, a German campaign launched as a response to the allied bombing of Berlin. It would prove to be the last major German bomber campaign, and hence why it is also dubbed the last blitz.
Between January and May 1944, this new blitz targeted several cities including London. The attacks on London began on January 22nd, 1944. The majority of the bombs were incendiaries that caused wide-scale damage to properties and buildings. However, around 1,500 people were killed, with Westminster one of the areas repeatedly struck.
Flying Bombs – A New Terror
By May 1944, the German High Command decided that Operation Steinbock was not working and called off the bombing raids. However, they soon had another card up their sleeve, an equally terrifying one. Germany was ready to unleash its flying bombs on London.
|Length||8 meters||14 meters|
|Wingspan||6 meters||3.56 meters|
|Weight||2,300 kg||12,500 kg|
|Propellant||Pulse jet engine||Liquid fuel engine|
|Range||240 km||320 km|
|Warhead||850 kg||1,000 kg|
|First strikes on London||June 1944||September 1944|
On June 13th, 1944 the first V1 rocket struck Mile End in the East End of London. The East End had been viewed as target A for the Germans due to the docklands. This first V1 attack killed eight people and was the start of a new and ultimately final phase in the bombing of London.
These flying bombs were a new terror for Londoners to face. Over 2,300 V1 bombs hit London, resulting in thousands of casualties. They were a response to the recent D-Day landings and were termed Hitler’s vengeance weapons.
To the British, they were called Doodlebugs or Buzz bombs after the noise they made in flight. Each guided missile was set at a predetermined distance. At that point, the engines cut and the flying bomb dropped straight down. The terror of watching the flight of a V1 above and then the telling silence is unimaginable to most.
The only positive in the V1 design was these missiles flew in straight lines. This made them easier to intercept and destroy. Therefore, thankfully many V1 rockets never reached their intended target. However, those which did get through wreaked horrendous damage.
Unfortunately, the upgraded model, the V2, contained none of the flaws of the V1. Instead of flying straight across the Channel, the V2 acted like a modern-day rocket. Their trajectory was up toward outer space before falling on its target while traveling at a speed faster than sound.
There was no defense against these new flying bombs. The first you knew of their presence was when it exploded on impact. A V2 could destroy around 600 homes in one blast. The V2 upped the terror ante at a time when you would have thought that was not possible.
The first V2 bombs struck London in September 1944. Across Britain, the flying bombs resulted in over 9,000 casualties among the civilian population. It is estimated that over 2,700 civilians were killed in London during the V2 campaign.
The flying bombs were Hitler’s last attempt to undermine the morale within Britain, even while allied forces made advances on mainland Europe. Eventually, the terrifying V2 campaign ground to a halt in early 1945 as the allies overran the missile launch sites.
It was a V2 that proved to be the final bomb to strike London during the second world war. As had so often been the case during the preceding years, the East End of London was the unfortunate victim.
Here is a fascinating youtube video I found of original footage of V2 rockets in testing and in action:
The Final Bomb to Strike London
The last bomb to fall on London descended at supersonic speed, its victims killed without any warning. This was on March 27th, 1945, when a V2 rocket struck Vallance Road in Stepney in East London. It marked the end of the bombing of London, but it was also one of the deadliest V2 strikes.
Vallance Road has since gained notoriety for another reason. This is where the infamous Kray twins spent their childhood, their family moving into 178 Vallance Road in 1938 when the twins were five years old. They were evacuated to Suffolk during the war but returned after a year to Bethnal Green.
The East End of London was often targeted during the Blitz to disrupt supplies through the nearby docks. Areas like Vallance Road were densely populated and vulnerable to heavy casualties when bombed. During the blitz, residents could take shelter when the air raid sirens sounded. The V2 offered no such warning.
The final bomb to strike London killed 134 people. It was one of the highest fatalities from a V2 strike. The rocket struck a tenement block called Hughes Mansions with a hideously devastating impact. As well as those killed, the bomb left a further 49 people seriously injured.
Many of the dead were Jewish residents, living in Hughes Mansions having fled persecution in Europe. Of the 134 who died that day, 120 were Jewish. It was the second-worst V2 strike in London in terms of fatalities.
The high fatality figure may well be down to the time of the day. The V2 hit Hughes Mansions at 7.21 am, just as families were having breakfast and preparing for the day ahead. They had no chance. The blast destroyed two five-story blocks and left a huge crater measuring 30 ft by 10 ft.
A Royal Visit
Present-day Vallance Road is much changed from the 1940s. The Hughes Mansions flats were originally built in 1929 and named after a councilor who was a member of the local housing committee. 60 of the 90-plus flats within the blocks were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable following the blast.
The flats were never rebuilt, and there is little to trace where they once stood. A children’s playground sits in what once was the Hughes Mansions courtyard, surrounded by more modern apartment blocks.
However, a plaque sits on a small section of grass to mark the spot where the buildings once stood and to remember the 134 lives lost that day.
A V2 struck Orpington in Kent later on the same day with one fatality, the last missile to hit Britain during the war. Seven weeks later the country was celebrating the official end of the war. Londoners could finally rest easy that the last bombs had fallen on their city.
In October 1945, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Vallance Road to witness the destruction caused by the explosive force of a single V2 rocket.