Britain in the age of Total War

Between 1940 and 1941 several major cities were bombed by the Germans for a number of reasons, it led up to this back in 1938. Were Britain and France had promised to defend Poland and Romania, but Hitler still attacked Poland without Britain stepping in. Britain had prepared Britain’s defences in case Germany bombed, but for 6 months Germany didn’t bomb them. This was called the Phoney war because neither side attacked each other which were likely to happen between them.

Germany had captured France later on and drove the British and French forces out of France in Dunkirk, where the British and French were successfully evacuated out of France away from the huge advancing German army.

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Now Hitler had control of France next he wanted to get Britain out of the war. He couldn’t march his army into Britain using the Blitzkrieg tactics which were successful in defeating Poland because it was an Island, also he couldn’t launch a land invasion because the English channel was swarming with British naval ships so he tried to capture Britain using the air were he sent his air force into Britain where the Battle Of Britain began. But the Battle of Britain was a failure and Hitler’s air force was no match for the RAF.

Hitler’s next strategy was to bomb the major cities of Britain like London and industry cities. His planes would sweep quickly into Britain past air defences bomb a target and get out quickly. One reason for this was to break people’s morale and turn the British people to make the government surrender. Bombing would make people angry, a feeling of panic, fear and depression. There would also be casualties which would also be a blow because a lot of people were going to be soldiers in the war or actually help with the war effort in some way and people dying would be a cause for fear, panic, and depression. Telephone poles would be damaged breaking communication across the country, electricity and gas mains would be damaged to houses all these things would cause a blow to morale and a feeling of panic.

Military targets were also bombed like train stations, docks which would have carried food into the country eventually causing rationing which would make people panic. Also food and Military supplies would not be able to reach some soldiers fighting in Africa and across Europe. Factories were also a common target because if bombed it would slow down production of supplies for a couple of days.

Famous Buildings were bombed for instance Buckingham Palace which would be a blow to morale and give a sense of panic. This tactic of bombing was good there was a low risk of lives being lost for the Germans and it did a lot of damage to the people of Britain.


During the Blitz peoples lifestyles changed considerably. People experienced evacuation, Rationing and homelessness.

During the early months of the war people mostly children had been evacuated away from the major cities which were liable to being bombed. Children were put with a new family some were exploited and treated badly. But some developed socially, like children from rough inner city areas saw the countryside for the first time in their lives; some stayed with wealthy families and saw a whole new way of life that they did not know existed. Comfortable people learnt about the conditions in the city and voted for politicians to stop poverty inner city areas benefiting the poor. Mothers of children being evacuated would be freed up and would no longer worry about their children because they were in a safe place.

The bombing of docks prevented foreign foods from entering Britain so rationing was introduced quite soon into the war. Because there was fewer foods available families had to make do with bland meals e.g. rice. Other than food other things were in short supply. Coal which was in short supply had to be rationed also so in baths tubs only a certain amount of water was allowed to be used because coal was used to heat the water. People were encouraged to grow crops in their back gardens for more food. Rationing was made worse for smaller families than larger ones because there were fewer ration books to enable them to get food. Soap couldn’t be wasted so people were advised to look after soaps so they would last longer. Because of rationing peoples health gradually got better because there were less fatty foods available. Poor Peoples life styles actually got better there was more food for them because of the rationing and the wages went up. Rationing though caused a black market to flourish where rich people could buy as much food as they wanted for a higher price. Fuel supply went down and prices went up so people ended up not using their car all through the War.

All through the war people saw people die, houses destroyed people becoming homeless. For instance in each week of September 1940, 40,000 to 50,000 people lost their homes. In the following November 4500 people were killed or injured. People became so terrified they left Britain, or left the city each night into the countryside to sleep. Everywhere there was a feeling of panic, fear and depression, but people in streets worked together and got to know each other, even the Catholics and Protestants in Belfast worked together. People showed Braveness and Valour.

Because of the air raids people had to find shelter. Most households were encouraged to build Anderson shelters which were provided, in their back gardens. People who didn’t have back garden were provided with Morison shelters which could be put in their houses usually under the stairs. A well prepared house would include a shelter, sandbags propped up against windows to shield it from bomb blasts, sealed doors and fireplaces preventing gas entering the house and the doorway being shielded by earth-filled soap boxes and pale fencing. Every house had to have Blackout curtains inside to prevent light shining out at enemy aircrafts. If this was not done a fine would be made by the ARP wardens (Air Raid Protection).


During the war the British government controlled information to maintain morale, to support the war effort and provide important information and instructions. The Ministry of Information told people the news and reported successes and ignored failures in the war. In the newspapers and the BBC, casualty figures were not to be told to the public because this would blow the morale across Britain. The press and BBC also didn’t show any information that would be helpful to the enemy. Films and Documentaries were checked also for any enemy useful information. Newspapers were closely controlled in case there was reference to panic and hysteria which would be removed. So in order to check this, journalist’s articles and photos which may contain large numbers of casualties had to be submitted to the censor before being printed or transmitted. But most newspapers censored themselves, reporting bomb damages or military defeats but did so in encouragement not being downhearted. On the other hand, victories were celebrated enthusiastically to boost morale. Some newspapers were banned e.g. The Daily worker in 1941 which claimed that that bosses were gaining from the war while the workers were making all the sacrifices.

The BBC radio censored itself and played a key role in informing the public and helping to keep up morale. The BBC had turned Dunkirk into a military disaster into a morale boosting triumph by telling the public that hundreds of brave men in little boats had saved the British and French soldiers, when it was really the royal navy who evacuated the soldiers and the bloody and chaotic struggle to get to the boats was not told. Entertainment was used to get people to forget about the war, even the army were entertained by stage stars e.g. Vera Lynn who sang to them. Great film, radio and stage stars boosted the morale of the British people. Films were used to make people continue the fight and comedy programmes were made to make fun at Hitler, the Germans and the British, to boost morale.

The government used propaganda e.g. Posters which were used to encourage people to conserve food, fuel and to beware of enemy spies to help the war effort. Film posters showed films related to the war to boost morale, to send a paratactic message, even newsreels before a film boosted morale. Winston Churchill was regarded as a great wartime leader however newspapers, newsreels and the BBC reported him as an almost legendary figure. Winston Churchill made heroic speeches to stir up people’s enthusiasm and determination to win the war. To find out what morale was like out in Britain the government observed peoples conversations in bars, shops, post offices and other public places and then writing a report of what they heard people say. These reports were analysed by the government to suggest the morale of people and what methods to maintain it.