The first German attack on London was an accident. On the night of August 24, 1940, Luftwaffe bombers drifted off course and instead dropped their bombs on the center of London destroying several homes and killing civilians. Public outrage followed, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, believing it was a deliberate attack, ordered Berlin to be bombed the next evening.
The Germans were utterly stunned by the British air-attack on Hitler's capital. It was the first time bombs had ever fallen on Berlin. Germans had been repeatedly assured that it could never happen.
Beginning on September 7, 1940, and for a total of 57 consecutive nights, London was bombed. Up to that point, the Luftwaffe had targeted Royal Air Force airfields and support installations and had nearly destroyed the entire British air defense system. Switching to an all-out attack on British cities gave the RAF a desperately needed break and the opportunity to rebuild damaged airfields, train new pilots and repair aircraft. "It was," Churchill later wrote, "therefore with a sense of relief that Fighter Command felt the German attack turn on to London..."
Hitler's intention was to break the morale of the British people so that they would pressure Churchill into negotiating. However, the bombing had the opposite effect, bringing the English people together to face a common enemy. People became determined to hold out indefinitely against the Nazi onslaught. "Business as usual," could be seen everywhere written in chalk on boarded- up shop windows.
By the end of 1940, German air raids had killed 15,000 British civilians. In London, on the night of December 29/30, the Germans dropped incendiaries resulting in a fire storm that devastated the area between St. Paul's Cathedral and the Guildhall, destroying several historic churches. Other famous landmarks damaged during the Blitz included Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Chamber of the House of Commons. The Blitz climaxed in May of 1941, leaving 375,000 Londoners homeless.
The RAF, utilized the newly developed radar technology to track and plot the course of German bombers from the moment they took off from bases in Europe. RAF fighter planes were then dispatched to attack the incoming bombers. As a result, the Luftwaffe never gained air supremacy over England, a vital prerequisite to a land invasion. Hitler indefinitely postponed invasion of England, in favor of an attack on the USSR. The Blitz came to an end as Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe transferred to eastern Europe in preparation for the invasion of the USSR. In all, 18,000 tons of high explosives had been dropped on England during eight months of the Blitz. A total of 18,629 men, 16,201 women, and 5,028 children were killed along with 695 unidentified charred bodies.