As a Russian dictator flexes his muscles against the western world, Londoners are living under a cloud of fear, terrified that at any minute, the city could be pummeled by a foreign foe.
Coming from a country with an infamous nuclear arsenal and a devastating legion of highly-trained soldiers, the threat sent chills down the spines of the capital.
And as one of Europe’s leading cities and home to 13 per cent of the entire UK population, London would almost certainly be one of the first on Putin’s ‘hit list’.
This is not the first time the UK has faced a threat from overseas. The country rallied together with the famous ‘Blitz spirit’ against attacks from Nazi Germany in the 1940s, and later prepared for shadowy conflict in the face of the Cold War.
But while some threats to the UK’s shores remain unchanged for the past century,Brits would now have to adapt to fight on a series of new fronts, including heightened firepower, cyber attacks and the murky world of AI.
But those living in the capital should fight the urge to shelter in London Underground stations, as many are so close to ground level, they could instead lead to more deaths.
Nick Cooper, author of London Underground at War, says: ‘If you are in a tube station and hit directly, let’s face it you are f***ed.
‘Because the stations are made from bricks and concrete, if they or any buildings directly on top are hit, it will collapse in on itself and crush everyone inside.’
Those sheltering in Tube stations near water works could even be at risk of drowning, as seen in 1940 when 67 people were killed after a bomb hit Balham station.
The surrounding sewage system was also hit, flooding the remains of the bunker and the bomb crater.
Some stations sit just five metres below the ground, and some lines – including the Circle, District and Hammersmith lines – run in the open, rendering them totally ineffective as shelters.
‘If there was a bomb coming I would be heading straight to Hampstead station which runs down to 58.5 metres below the ground,’ Mr Cooper says.
But for the safest defence against aerial bombs, Anderson shelters – which are made of iron and sat in people’s gardens during the World War II – are the best way to go, but the government will need to help households build them.
‘Because they are made from iron, Anderson shelters bend when impacted rather than shatter,’ Mr Cooper explains.
During World War II, more than three million children were evacuated from London and other cities in ‘Operation Pied Piper’ to help protect them from air raids.
But if the UK were to join another war, Londoners would probably not be encouraged to leave the capital.
If anything, adults and children would be encouraged to stay so they could not only keep the city running, but to stop mass migration from clogging up the rest of the UK.
Dr Martin Farr, a senior history lecturer an Newcastle University, says: ‘In the case of aerial bombing, which was seen in the 1940s, it made sense to send youngsters to the countryside.
‘But there were were no state sponsored evacuations during the 1980s and the threat of being nuked.
‘In fact, people were actively being encouraged to stay in their homes and go in the cupboard under the staircase.’
Keeping the city functioning will also be a top priority of the government, with major services needing to remain open to keep Britain ticking.
Mr Cooper says: ‘There is of course a lot of governmental and financial work done in London, but even things like transport and manufacturing just have to keep going.
‘During the First and Second World Wars, officials also didn’t want people to be scared of going about their lives in the city, so it was so important to keep Londoners going about their normal routine.’
However the return of a rationing system is much more likely, as the population has already seen a similar policy during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sudden urge to panic-buy essentials meant supermarket shelves were stripped of toilet roll, canned food and dried pasta, forcing chains to place limits on how much customers could buy at once.
Dr Farr says: ‘No one knew what was going on in the lead up and during lockdown so people’s gut instinct was to hoard.
‘During the war, people were handed out these rationing booklets to limit what they could get to make sure just enough was able to go around for everybody.’
But fresh conflict brings an added risk to the UK — as since the 1940s we have become less self-sufficient in producing our own resources, including food.
‘All it will take for us is to be blockaded and we risk people starving,’ Dr Farr says.
‘In past wars, everyone was encouraged to grow their own vegetables and to not let a single patch of their garden go to waste.
‘But we don’t have much self-reliance anymore, and if a war were to break out the government will need to push the message of not letting anything go to waste.’
The UK is already vulnerable to cyber attacks, a threat highlighted with North Korea’s hacking of the NHS in 2017, and the targeting of the British Library’s data base just last year.
Russia has form for using cyber attacks within their conflicts — the National Cyber Security Centre has credited the nation for being behind an operation targeting a communications company used by the Ukrainian military, just hours before the country was invaded in Feburary 2022.
And now the UK’s population has been warned our reliance on technology and smart phones could lead to our downfall.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden even told Britain to stock up on candles and battery-powered radios in December in case the country’s power services are brought down.
‘We are already relying on smart phones in times of war, with the government trialing an emergency alert on our devices which could replace traditional air raid sirens,’ Dr Farr explains.
‘And if communication goes down, what then? It will be a massive hindrance to us, it how we get our news and how we talk to people.
‘We even use them to pay for things, so it is so important people start thinking of buying warm up radios and even newspapers more to try and break out of that reliance a bit.’
The Royal Family famously showed they were ‘doing their bit’ during World War II, with a young Princess Elizabeth joining the Auxiliary Transport Service and working hard with ‘regular’ people.
But although they were often seen in London, the family spent most of the war in the relative safety of Windsor — where the late Queen and Prince Phillip spent much of the pandemic.
And if war comes to Britain’s shores again history is likely to repeat itself, with the royals leaving the capital behind to take cover in the countryside.
‘It did appear the family were living the shared experience of the public, especially after they were pictured standing next to a crater outside Buckingham Palace,’ Dr Farr says.
‘But in reality they only came into the capital for official duties, and it is likely they will do this again to help maintain their image, especially as Buckingham Palace will be quite the bomb target.’
As not every man was fit to fight in World War II, many were recruited into the Home Guard, which held the last line of defence against German invasion.
But they also helped keep order while air raid sirens rang out and the streets turned black to deter approaching bombers.
However it is unlikely the government will want to adopt anything similar, as the usefulness of the rag-tag militia is still being debated.
Dr Farr says: ‘I doubt we will see another scheme like that come into place, especially as we have such a strong police force to keep things orderly at home.
‘People aren’t entirely sure how effective the Home Guard actually was as well, so I can imagine adults will either be encouraged to fight, or to keep to their normal, working routines.’
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