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November 2012 Edition
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A view of London in 1940, with damage from German bombing raids.

Workers clear debris from the lot where a home once stood, London, 1940.
The air raids by German Luftwaffe planes on English cities and towns in 1940 and 1941—attacks known collectively and famously as the Blitz—were terrifying, but they failed in their key aims: namely, to demoralize the British people, and to destroy the UK’s war economy. London, not surprisingly, suffered the brunt of the Blitz: More than a million London houses were ruined or badly damaged, and more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the city alone. (Roughly 40,000 civilians were killed in the whole of England.)

These LIFE magazine colour photos were taken in London during the war, in tribute to the spirit of Britons who would not be cowed.

“These were the times,” Churchill wrote in his war memoirs,  "when the English, and particularly the Londoners, who had the place of honor, were seen at their best. Grim and gay, dogged and serviceable, with the confidence of an unconquered people in their bones, they adapted themselves to this strange new life [of the Blitz], with all its terrors, with all its jolts and jars.”

“Away across the Atlantic,” Churchill wrote, “the prolonged bombardment of London, and later of other cities and sea-ports, aroused a wave of sympathy in the United States, stronger than any ever felt before or since in the English-speaking world. Passion flamed in American hearts, and in none more than in the heart of President Roosevelt. I could feel the glow of millions of men and women eager to share the suffering, burning to strike a blow. As many Americans as could get passage came, bringing whatever gifts they could, and their respect, reverence, deep love and comradeship were very inspiring. However, this was only September, and we had many months before us of this curious existence.”

“I felt,” Churchill recalled, “with a spasm of mental pain, a deep sense of the strain and suffering that was being borne throughout the world’s largest capital city. How long would it go on? How much more would they have to bear? What were the limits of their vitality? What effects would their exhaustion have upon our productive war-making power?”

“To the Prussians of modern Berlin,” LIFE wrote in January 1941, at the height of the Blitz, “old London is a hated symbol of all that makes Englishman superior people. For six months the Nazis bombed the British capital, by day and by night, without more than denting it. On the night of December 29, they tried to set fire to it. In that one night German bombers dropped an estimated 10,000 two-pound incendiary bombs.”

“All the painfully-gathered German experience was expressed on this occasion,” Churchill wrote of an infamous raid in late December, 1940. “It was an incendiary classic. The weight of the attack was concentrated upon the City of London itself. It was timed to meet the dead-low-water hour. The water-mains were broken at the outset by very heavy high-explosive parachute-mines. Nearly fifteen hundred fires had to be fought. The damage to railway stations and docks was serious. Eight [Christopher] Wren churches were destroyed or damaged.”

“The Guildhall was smitten by fire and blast,” Churchill recalled almost a decade later, in 1949, “and St. Paul’s Cathedral was only saved by heroic exertions. A void of ruin at the very center of the British world gapes upon us to this day. But when the King and Queen visited the scene they were received with enthusiasm far exceeding any Royal festival.”

“The Germans,” wrote LIFE in 1941, before America entered the war, “are said to be greatly puzzled over London’s willingness to take continual punishment without so much as a thought to surrender. The British, they think, are licked and refuse to accept the fact. But the British are not by any means licked and if, in the end, they win the war it will be due in no small way to the magnificent way in which the people of London are standing up to the siege.”

Ref: LIFE Magazine

Damage in London during The Blitz, 1940.

Britons work a "victory garden" in the midst of World War II, 1940.

A London building ablaze during the Blitz, 1940.

A London Civil Defense Rescue crew helps remove 
injured and dead civilians from destroyed buildings.

A London bus rests in a massive crater left by a German bomb, 1940.

London, 1940.

London smolders, 1940.

A view of London after a German air raid, 1940.

A man sits on a park bench in London, reading a book, 1940; 
a moored "barrage balloon" is visible in the background, 
while a second one soars high in the distance.

Respite, Hyde Park, 1944.

Life goes on in London, despite the destruction 
caused by German air raids, 1941.

Outside of London during World War II, 1940s.

AS YOU WERE. . . ~ November 2012

XM607 - Falklands' Most Daring Raid

On 30 April 1982, the RAF launched a secret mission: to fly a Vulcan bomber to the Falkland Islands and bomb Port Stanley's runway, putting it out of action for Argentine fighter jets. The safety of the British Task Force depended on its success.

However, the RAF could only get a single plane - a crumbling, Cold War-era Vulcan - 8000 miles south to the Falklands, because just one bomber needed an aerial fleet of 13 Victor tanker planes to refuel it throughout the 16-hour round-trip. At the time it was the longest-range bombing mission in history.

From start to finish, the seemingly impossible mission was a comedy of errors, held together by pluck and ingenuity.

On the brink of being scrapped, only three of the ageing nuclear bombers could be fitted out for war, one to fly the mission and two in reserve. Crucial spare parts were scavenged from museums and scrap yards - one vital component had been serving as an ashtray in the Officers' Mess.

In just three weeks, the Vulcan crews had to learn air-to-air refuelling, which they hadn't done for 20 years, and conventional bombing, which they hadn't done for 10 years either.

The RAF scoured the country for Second World War iron bombs, and complex refuelling calculations were done the night before on a £5 pocket calculator.

With a plan stretched to the limit and the RAF's hopes riding on just one Vulcan, the mission was flown on a knife-edge: fraught with mechanical failures, unreliable navigation, electrical storms and lack of fuel.

Of the 21 bombs the Vulcan dropped, only one found its target. But it was enough to change the outcome of the war.

Astonishingly, this great feat has been downplayed into near obscurity by history, but this documentary brings it back to life, providing a thrilling and uncharacteristically upbeat account from the Falklands War: the Dambusters for the 1980s generation.

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