The blackout became the most dramatic, visible and eerie of all wartime Britain’s civil defence measures, but one that led to increased crime, thousands of deaths and almost a million prosecutions
Today, ‘light pollution’ means that all of Britain’s cities can be clearly seen from space as areas displaying a bright, tell-tale glow. However, in 1939, lights went out across the nation – and would not pierce the veil of the blackout for another five years. Such was its widespread consequences, said official civil defence historian Terence O’Brien, that the blackout “transformed conditions of life more thoroughly than any other single feature of the war”.
Although the Luftwaffe had at that time the world’s most sophisticated electronic beam navigation systems, its bomber crews still relied on visual targeting. So, at the start of 1938, the Air Defence Research Council conducted several blackout experiments in Midlands cities, to see the efficacy of dousing all lights, in a bid to hide conurbations at night and hinder enemy bombers.