Battle of Britain and the Blitz; the UK’s toughest fight?

The UK remembers those who died during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, both major events during World War II. Yet, should we do more to remember those killed from other countries?


What was the Battle of Britain?

A battle formation of airplanes in the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain; actually Battle of British skies

The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign ran from July 1940 – October 1940.

By summer of 1940 Germany had pushed British troops out of France. The Germans were preparing to invade Britain. There was just the small matter of taking out Britain’s defences.

First the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attempted to destroy British shipping centres. Then they targeted airfields used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF). German bomber aircraft were protected by smaller fighter planes.

Things did not look good for the British. At the beginning of the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe could call upon 2,600 aircraft, whereas the RAF only deployed 640 planes. Not good odds.


So, how did the British win?

Supermarine Spitfire Mark I was a British advantage in the Battle of Britain

Best of British; the Supermarine Spitfire Mark XVI

Clear communication, good organisation and newly designed planes gave Britain an advantage.

The speed and maneuverability of a British aircraft called the Spitfire made it superior to German fighter planes. Throughout the Battle of Britain more planes would be constructed and by the end the RAF outnumbered the German force. Tally ho, chaps!

By the end of the Battle of Britain, over 2,000 German airmen were killed, compared to 544 Brits.

Speaking of the Battle of Britain then prime minister Winston Churchill said “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Germany had failed to achieve air superiority and German leader Adolf Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain was postponed. However, Britain’s troubles were just beginning…


What started the Blitz?

The Blitz was an eight month German bombing campaign against major British cities. It lasted from September 1940 to May 1941. Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” in German.

During the Battle of Britain Adolf Hitler had given strict instructions that central London was not to be targeted by bombers. However, on August 24th 1940 German aircraft drifted from their intended military target on the outskirts of the city. Their bombs hit central London. Even if this was accidental, the British quickly responded by bombing the German capital Berlin in retaliation.

Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the Blitz, or would it have happened anyway? The damage to Berlin was slight, but Adolf Hitler stated “when the British Air Force … increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground.”

Frustrated by the attacks on Berlin and a failure to destroy the RAF, the Germans started targeting urban areas as well as military targets. On 7th September 1940 nearly 1,000 German planes targeted London in a daytime raid lasting nine hours.

The Blitz had begun.


“Lightning War”

This continued bombing of civilians in urban areas was a new type of warfare. London was bombed for 57 nights in a row. Other cities targeted included Coventry, Manchester and Birmingham.

A "spotter" watched the skies of London during the Blitz

The Blitz; On the lookout

As well as explosives, the German bombers dropped “firebombs”. These were especially dangerous, spreading fire quickly from building to building.

An attack on Coventry on 14 November 1940 left 75% of buildings destroyed.

For protection millions of children, mothers and hospital patients were moved out of cities to the safety of the countryside. For those in the cities a strict “blackout” policy was quickly enforced.

Windows and doors had to be covered with special material. Car headlights also had to be partly covered, reducing the amount of light exposed. This prevented the light providing German bombers with a target during the night.

In 1941, the number of attacks by the Luftwaffe decreased as Germany turned its focus to Russia. Britain had managed to survive the Blitz, but at a cost. Over the eight months around 43,000 British civilians were killed.


How does this compare to German losses in World War II?

Bomb damage from Hamburg's "blitz week" where American and British planes bombed it day and night

Bomb damage in Hamburg, which suffered it’s own “Blitz”

It’s natural that each country focuses on the deaths of its own citizens. But should we do more to educate ourselves on the losses sustained by other countries, especially if they were part of the same war?

The loss of British civilian life during the Blitz is undeniably tragic. Between 380 and 554 people died in the Coventry bombing, remembered as one of the worst attacks during the Blitz. Total casualties in London across the whole eight month period are estimated at around 28,556 people.

However bombings by Allied forces against Germany killed many more civilians.

British historian Professor Richard Overy mentions “the myth in Britain has been that we bombed military targets and Germans bombed civilian populations, but it is almost exactly the reverse”.


Bomb damage in the city of Dresden which was destroyed by firebombs

Firebombed; the wreckage in Dresden

Take the British attack on the German city of Hamburg in 1943. Around 42,600 Germans were killed in just one week.

To put that into context, that’s almost the same as the total number of British civilians killed during the entirety of the Blitz. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Similarly, around 25,000 people were killed in two days when the British bombed the city of Dresden.

10,000 people in the city of Kassal were killed in one night on October 22 1943.


In total it’s estimated 600,000 German civilians lost their lives as a result of bombings by allied forces.


Did the UK commit War Crimes?

The cenotaph in Whitehall, London which honours those who died during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz

We will remember them; the cenotaph in Whitehall, London

German historian Jörg Friedrich believes that the British bombings of towns during the end of World War II should be considered war crimes.

The controversial historian argues that these bombings served no military purpose as Germany was nearing surrender. Speaking to the Guardian Friedrich said “the bombing [of Kassal] left an entire generation traumatised. But it was never discussed.”

Speaking about the Blitz Winston Churchill called the bombings on the UK “cruel, wanton, indiscriminate”.

Can the same be said about Britain’s bombing of Germany later in the war?

Historian AC Grayling notes that among the bombs dropped on Germany “were time-delay devices, set to explode at intervals in the hours and days after a raid to disrupt ambulance, firefighting and rescue services.”


It is quite right that we commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during World War II. Yet this doesn’t mean we should forget those killed in other countries, and recognise our own actions in the conflict.


Blitz Learnings; fighters in the Battle of Britain and civilians during the Blitz showed great courage. However, we could do more to explore the impact of the war on other countries.

Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the bombings known as the Blitz? Were the later bombings of German towns justified?


Note on accuracy; we do our utmost to ensure our articles are accurate. This is difficult in this instance when various dates and numbers of those killed differ from source to source. Where we have quoted numbers we have linked to the relevant pages. If you wish to report any errors then please email

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What should a refugee look like?

Not what you expected?

In the last few months, hundreds of thousands of people have arrived in Europe seeking asylum. Most of them are coming from Syria, although the majority of people fleeing the civil conflict there have remained in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

A number of countries, including Britain, followed Germany’s example of pledging to accept tens of thousands of refugees. Other states, like Hungary, have been doing all they can to put people off coming.

The reaction from the European public has varied from thousands offering refugees their homes to arson attacks on asylum shelters.

Some people have been confused though. How do we know all these people are really refugees?

A group of young men take a selfie having landed on Lesbos

Is this what a refugee should look like?

To many people, this group of men taking a selfie having landed on Lesbos don’t look like typical refugees. Pictured in the Daily Mail, They look too well-fed, too well-dressed. Their iPads are way too charged.

Meme depicting large muscled men with text over-laid saying refugees?

This meme showing refugees as body-builders is making the rounds

A torrent of images and memes like this have flooded the web showing these men to be hulking body-builders. The problem with this meme, Vice tell us, is that these images are not actually of Syrian refugees and were not actually taken in Europe, but we’ll let that one slide.

Quite a few UK public figures have been asking the same question. In his column for the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens asked “You really think these crowds of tough young men chanting ‘Germany!’ in the heart of Budapest are ‘asylum-seekers’ or refugees’?

Boris Johnson commented in the Telegraph that the crowds of people trying to enter Germany “seem to be composed overwhelmingly of young, able-bodied men.”

The suggestion these two columnists are making is that these tough young men are not in fact refugees at all: They are economic migrants, attempting to slip illegally into Europe among the genuine refugees. They are not, the argument goes, fleeing war and persecution but simply looking for a more prosperous future. Basically – young strapping lads who want better jobs, not  refugees with rights to asylum,

That’s quite a big conclusion to draw from just looking at people. But looks can be deceiving.

How do we know a refugee when we see one? If these guys aren’t real refugees, then who is?

What does a refugee look like?

A refugee is a specific legal category, defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention as someone who:

“owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Type ‘refugee’ into Google images and you won’t be too surprised by what comes up. The people in the pictures are mostly women and children, shabbily dressed, and often quite dusty. These are the kinds of images we are used to seeing when we hear about refugees.

Refugees leaving Kosovo

Refugees from Kosovo.

This is why it is, to be fair, quite confusing when we see pictures like the well-built well-dressed young men taking a selfie with an iPad. They don’t seem too badly off…

However, young men are in very specific kinds of danger in a war zone. Military service of up to three years is mandatory for Syrians men aged 18.

Whether those who receive the draft do not support the regime or fear what will happen to them if captured by rebels, many have chosen to flee rather than stay and kill or be killed.

Four years into the civil war, these defections have left the Assad regime facing a manpower shortage, which only leads to further mandatory conscription, where the newly drafted can expect to be shipped to the front lines with little training.

Sanjayan Srikanthan, director of humanitarian policy at the International Rescue Committee told Buzzfeed : “There’s a common fear of being conscripted into fighting, regardless of which side that’s driving people to flee.”

Of course it’s not just about conscription. This all comes on top of the barrel-bombing and airstrikes which Syrian civilians, men and women, rich and poor, young and old, have found themselves in the middle of, and which have left many Syrian towns and cities completely destroyed.

Strapping young lads, or fighting-age men as they are sometimes referred to, might not look like stereotypical helpless refugees. But it is precisely because they are young, fit and male that they face conscription. This, on top of barrel-bombing or fear of the police, is why they choose to leave.

We cannot know who is a real refugee and who isn’t just by looking at them. You do not have to look helpless in order to be in need of help.

But should we be focusing so hard on who is and isn’t a refugee in the first place?

High profile players like Al Jazeera and UNHCR have led the way in insisting that the thousands of people arriving in Europe are refugees and not migrants.

UNHCR poster "Refugee or Migrant (C) Andrew McConnell

The UNHCR was among the leading organisations against using the word migrant

The argument behind this was that the word migrant had become a dehumanising label that allowed governments to keep people out rather than let them in.

The groundswell that followed of European citizens insisting their leaders take their fair share of refugees was proof of how powerful a difference the word refugee made.

However, insisting that we call them refugees did not solve the primary problem of migrants being dehumanised.

On the contrary, it has given politicians and the media a licence to distinguish between crowds of people to pinpoint who was worthy of Europe’s help (the refugees) and who was not (tough young male migrants who were supposedly only posing as refugees).

Is this what happens when we start talking about two different kinds of people? In practice, the difference between a migrant and a refugee is often barely recognisable: Both are leaving intolerable situations.

What does a refugee look like? Explained: Anyone can find themselves in a situation where they have to seek asylum from war or persecution. We are used to picturing refugees as poor and desperate women and children, but war puts young able-bodied men in specific kinds of danger, like being drafted into the army of a regime they no longer support. However – this exercise of sorting between who is and isn’t a refugee can be dangerous. This is because it suggests that refugees’ lives are worth more than those of migrants.  

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In light of Amazon: 9 to 5 work is dead now anyway


An article about Amazon’s working conditions makes us analyse the modern working world as we know it. 


What’s the story?

Amazon's head office front door. New York Times Amazon Report: 9 to 5 is dead now anyway

9 to 5 is dead: Amazon’s working conditions have been criticised

Everyone is talking about a New York Times article: “Inside Amazon: Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace”. It describes what it’s like working at the retail giant. Apparently the bosses at Amazon are conducting an “experiment” into how far they can push their workers. Employees describe working 80 hour weeks. They are pressured into working nights and weekends. There is a total lack of work/life balance. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos says the Amazon described is “not the Amazon I know”. Right or wrong, the report has got people thinking whether the “9 to 5” working day is a thing of the past.


Working 9 to 5? At Amazon it’s more like 24/7

Large amounts of the NYT article detail the long hours Amazon employees are expected to work. Workers sometimes receive emails in the middle of the night, and are then pestered to answer by text. This seems to sound familiar though? 

Bankers, lawyers, doctors and service industry workers are just some examples of employees expected to work late, or start early. Banking website Wall Street Oasis reports that employees at banks like Rothschild, Barclays and Citigroup work over 70 hours a week on average. The Telegraph reported last year that junior doctors were working 100 hour weeks. These are all professions which have been around a long, long time.

Amazon warehouse. Vox news say things are a lot worse for Blue collar workers. New York Times Amazon Report: 9 to 5 is dead now anyway

Amazon’s warehouse workers definitely don’t work 9 to 5. Why didn’t the New York Times write about this?

So, maybe the viewpoint that “9 to 5 is dead” isn’t so new after all.

Vox News argued that the NYT article focuses on “white collar” workers. Think: office working professionals. Vox claims workers in Amazon warehouses have it a lot worse.  They face tough working conditions, low pay and a constant threat of dismissal. They have less chance of finding employment elsewhere than the “white collar” professionals. However, once the warehouse workers clock off, it’s unlikely their bosses will email them asking them to finish a piece of work. So, at least that’s something.

The NYT report compares how Amazon, Google and Facebook manage their workers. Google and Facebook motivate their staff with rewards (gym passes, meals, sleep pods). Amazon “offers no pretence that catering to employees is a priority”. Who is to say which is better? Amazon is currently worth around $175 billion.  

Journalist Sara Robinson notes that research in the 1980s found that working  60 or 70 hour weeks resulted in short-term gains. However, “increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output.” So, regularly getting employees to work longer once they’ve done their 40 hours is “a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits.” Back to the drawing board then. Perhaps we should just see the Amazon article as an insight to a successful (if divisive) company. We are talking about THE leading tech company in the world, right?


Work hard, play hard, work harder seems to just be the norm now

While Amazon is being criticised for its working practices, working harder and longer seems to be the norm for many companies. Other tech companies especially seem to be joining Amazon in demanding more from their workers. Innovation is key, and falling behind is not an option.

An office cubicle wall with post it notes for productivity. New York Times Amazon Report:9 to 5 is dead now anyway

Amazon may have it wrong. Working more than 9 to 5 may not make you more productive

Just how much of our lives do we spend working? According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the UK average working week is 39.2 hours per week. France introduced a 35 hour working week in 2000. However in 2011, it was reported that French workers were putting in 39.5 hours on average. Mon Dieu!

At 46.7 hours per week on average it would seem the USA works more hours than most European countries. Yet Asian countries work more hours than America. Is it productive? There are many ways to measure how productive a country is. One way is to divide a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the number of hours worked. GDP is the monetary value of all goods and services produced in the country. With us so far?

The ONS say Britain isn’t doing too well in this area. British productivity is 17% less than the average of other developed G7 countries. The G7 contains Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA. This “productivity gap” is the widest it’s been in 20 years. Ouch.

The latest statistics say the average Brit works 1,669 hours a year. This is more than France at 1,489 hours and Germany at 1,363 hours. So, we are working longer hours, but producing less. Germany works fewer hours on average, yet they are producing more than us. In fact the UK produces 30% less per hour than Germany and France. Very poor form chaps.

One of the main problems with working out productivity is there is so, so much data to look at. Even when you find what you’re looking for, it will soon be out of date. When researching this article we found that many sources containing average working hours and productivity figure seemed to contradict one another.

The bottom line: a country’s efficiency isn’t just to do with how many hours they work. But it seems the UK has something to prove when it comes to productivity. Increasing working hours may not be the answer.


If 9 to 5 is dead, what’s the new trend?

Millennials are those born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s. They are the new workforce, and research says that compared to previous generations, they have a different approach to work.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 To kick off our prep work for the Global Youth Summit, the ITU hosted special one-day MILLENNIALS JAM WORKSHOP at its ICT Discover Center, with an exclusive and select group of 40 entrepreneurial young people. The objective of this unique one-day event is to crowd-source a more detailed framework for the Summit where approximately 25,000 young people will input their ideas for the post-2015 global development agenda. ITU/Rowan Farrell New York Times Amazon Report: 9 to 5 is dead now anyway

Be your own boss: Millennials are ditching 9 to 5 to start their own businesses

The Intelligence Group is a research company focusing on young people. Forbes reports on The Intelligence Group who found that Millennials want to feel their work matters. They want flexibility in their work schedule. They want “to invest in a place where they can make a difference, preferably a place that itself makes a difference.”

Job website Timewise says that 14.1 million Brits want flexibility in their work schedule. But when looking at 3.5 million job adverts they saw that only 6% offered flexibility and a good salary. London was the worst. Does this mean the UK is following the Amazon style of work: long hours and little flexibility? If so, the Millennials don’t seem too fussed. Self-employment and freelancing is on the rise.

Millennials were either studying or entering work at the time of the financial crisis. Perhaps this means they see a job differently to previous generations: not for life, but an opportunity to learn new skill sets and build a network of contacts.

According to research by the Kauffman Foundation over half of 18 to 34s want to start their own business. They are adept at working remotely – from home, in coffee shops or “hot desking”. They also want to work in collaborative environments. This is potentially why so many companies are replacing offices and cubicles in the workplace for an open plan design. Advertising agency Grey even created a “Millennials only” section to their office.

Millennials want flexibility and to work remotely. Don’t make the mistake of calling them lazy though. A separate study found that 89% of Millennials admit to checking work emails “out of hours”. Though, with 9 to 5 seemingly out the window, is there such thing as out of hours anymore?

By 2020, around 40% of the US workforce will be made up of Millennials. Eventually bosses will need to adapt to the needs of this generation. Let’s start by busting the myth working longer makes you more productive.


Learnings: 9 to 5 is dead

It’s time to start embracing change, and with that in mind let’s be specific about what we are crucifying Amazon for. Feeling like you’re working too hard? Sharing this post will definitely make you feel better.


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