30 Rare Photos of Bomb Shelters From World War II and Beyond
In the early 1960s at the start of the Cold War, History reminds us John F. Kennedy sent a startling letter to Americans who subscribed to Life magazine. The letter explained that the U.S. government would no longer ignore the possibility of nuclear war, and Kennedy further said the protections offered to the community would get a serious boost. A national survey was then put out to find all public buildings that could potentially turn into nuclear fallout shelters.
The Cold War was the time of the bomb shelter boom, but people worldwide were creating their own defenses way earlier in World War II. Here are photos from that time and the decades that followed.
1. 1939: A man decorates his shelter
- Anderson shelters in the late ’30s were commonly in residents’ yards.
World War II was just beginning in 1939 — so the year prior, Mashable explains people were prepping for possible air raids. It was understood at the time that those who had the best chance of survival were in the suburbs, too, as urban dwellers wouldn’t have many options for places to go. For that reason, Sir John Anderson, who was in charge of air-raid preparations in Britain, designed the Anderson shelter.
Here, you can see one resident working on making his shelter all his own. It’s also in his yard, which was very commonplace.
Next: Rooftop gardens were also seen often.
2. 1939: Plants are grown atop shelters
- Residents with Anderson shelters held contests for who had the prettiest one.
The Anderson shelters of the ’30s were made from corrugated metal and around 6 feet tall. The idea here was that families could fit inside them during an emergency situation — though it’d undoubtedly be a tight fit. Mashable notes they were only around 6.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide. When buried, they were about 4 feet underground, and their rooves were covered with soil. As you can see here, many chose to plant vegetation on their rooftops as well.
Next: This is where urban residents had to go for shelter in ’39.
3. 1939: Public shelters pop up in London
- German bombs were killing tens of thousands of London residents during WWII.
Not every resident at the time had a garden or a lawn to put a shelter in, of course. So for urban residents, Mashable notes communal shelters, like the one seen here, were often used.
PRI notes London was a particularly dangerous place during WWII due to German attacks that killed tens of thousands. For this reason, many who lived in the city took refuge in underground train stations. The government also became involved and launched a plan to build air raid shelters that could hold thousands at a time.
Next: Building shelters became a communal event.
4. 1939: 2 women try out the height of their shelter
- Many residents hid in their shelters each night in case of a raid.
It seems to build and maintain bomb shelters became something of a community event in the late ’30s to ’40s. In this photo, two women are helping each other get the height of their shelter just right to protect them from German air raids. And Mashable notes some residents of London at the time recall going into their shelters each night for their own protection in case of a bombing.
Next: A small girl finds a truly unique structure.
5. 1939: A little girl finds an air-raid shelter entrance
- Some underground shelters were over a hundred steps below the entrance.
It seems not all bomb shelter entrances looked alike at the time. While many had plentiful signage near large entrances, it appeared some actually looked like this from the outside. Here, you can see a small girl next to a huge capsule entrance that would lead to an underground space capable of holding thousands. To get to the shelter could be quite a descent from the top, too, as some were over a hundred steps deep, says PRI.
Next: Families remain in high-spirits entering the ’40s.
6. 1940: Thumbs-up on a bomb shelter
- This family was warned of a delayed-action bomb in the area at the time the photo was taken.
WWII was undoubtedly a nerve-wracking time for all, but creating safe spaces became the ultimate past time for some. Here, one family sits atop their air raid shelter (likely an Anderson shelter judging from its location), and they’re giving the camera a thumbs-up. When the photo was taken, a warden had warned them of a delayed-action bomb found near them in London — but they certainly look as if they feel safe in their shelter.
Next: Not every bomb shelter was outdoors.
7. 1940: Cleaning up an indoor shelter
- A first look at new and innovative indoor shelters
Not every air raid shelter was outdoors when the ’40s began. And at this point, many families were looking for a more comfortable alternative to the Anderson shelter, as the backyard option still exposed them to the elements for hours at a time. Here, we see one woman adjusting a bed in her small indoor shelter. It looks as if this one is created out of the same corrugated metal as the others seen at the time, too — though fitting an entire family doesn’t seem possible.
Next: Another look at the Anderson shelter in its natural setting
8. 1940: An Anderson shelter looks natural with the family’s clothesline
- Anderson shelters protected families by warping instead of collapsing.
So, with so many Anderson shelters around, were any of them actually effective? Though it’s hard to believe these homemade contraptions could really protect residents, they were surprisingly good. Mashable notes the walls could warp and not collapse in the case of an explosion. Concrete bunkers, which also existed at the time, would often fall in this case. It’s no wonder over 2 million of Anderson’s creations were erected over time.
Next: For those working in gardens, this is how they protected themselves.
9. 1940: Digging trenches for garden workers
- Trenches were dug to protect gardeners during air raids.
If you’re a beer lover, you’re certainly familiar with hops — and Mashable notes it actually became quite an important crop for Europe between 1900 and 1949. By the ’50s, mechanized harvesting machines started replacing hop farmers. But during the threat of bombing raids during the ’40s, the hop farmers had to find some way of protecting themselves while picking their crop.
Here, you can see men digging trenches near gardens. The trenches were used as makeshift protection against any raidings that may happen while farmers were in the fields.
Next: Some shelters were erected right in the middle of the road.
10. 1941: Shelters in the middle of the street
- These street shelters were made with bricks and tin or concrete roofs.
Garden too small for an Anderson shelter? City residents who needed to take quick refuge could now just head for the streets by 1941. Pictured here is a street in London lined with smaller, brick-built air raid shelters meant to accommodate those who couldn’t have one on their own property. They couldn’t necessarily hold thousands like some other underground bunkers, but in times of trouble, it gave British residents a place to go.
Next: A new kind of shelter is introduced in 1941.
11. 1941: Morrison shelters make their appearance
- Residents could construct their own Morrison shelter using the “kit of parts” it came with.
Out with the old and in with the new was the name of the game in the early ’40s. The threat of war waged on as the Morrison shelter was introduced to the public. BBC notes the shelter was named after Herbert Morrison, the minister of home security at the time.
Essentially, this shelter was a steel table with mesh panels around all four sides. There was an entry door through one of the side panels for those hiding to get in and out of.
Next: This bomb-proof building likely has serious reinforcements.
12. 1941: A blast-proof brick building
- The UK’s Air Raid Precautions, or ARP, were responsible for building this structure.
Here’s another example of a brick building that was also allegedly blast-proof back in the early ’40s. As you can see, it’s brick — but it’s likely also reinforced with metal or concrete frames.
Interestingly enough, brick started to fall out of favor when it came to British architecture directly after WWII. BBC notes the British were rebuilding with cheaper materials that could be constructed much faster. For this reason, there were many more metal frames and concrete coatings with no frills or designs to make up for the buildings that were destroyed.
Next: Another look inside the underground.
13. 1942: A man takes a stretcher through a war shelter
- Thousands would gather every night in the London Underground for hours before reemerging.
Here’s another look inside of the intense network of air raid shelters that existed in London during the early ’40s. As you can see, the network was so expansive that signage was necessary to direct the thousands of residents to where they needed to go. This particular shelter is in the underground railway stations, which proved to be an effective use of the space.
Next: The Morrison table shelter gets an expansion.
14. 1942: A new, two-tier Morrison shelter is built
- A demand for a more spacious home shelter resulted in this creation.
It was never as popular as the Anderson, but the Morrison provided immediate security for families worried about air raids in the early ’40s. BBC explains the average Morrison could squeeze around three adults, three kids, and a dog relatively easily — but families were craving more space. For this reason, the two-tier Morrison was created. The width and length were the same dimensions as the original, one user noted to BBC, but the height reached over 4 feet.
Next: This photo shows how massive some of the public shelters were.
15. 1942: Public shelters that could hold 8,000
- The Blitz in ’40 and ’41 had everyone in London on edge during the following years.
The network of deep underground tunnels continued well into the early ’40s, especially following the Blitz — the bombing campaign Germany set against London in ’40 and ’41. Here’s another example of a shelter at the time, which was said to hold up to 8,000 residents at once and was over 100 feet underground. You can see that the long corridors were also marked with names, and there were stations set for food and water, too.
Next: Even the local YMCA was turned into a shelter.
16. 1942: Boys relaxing in an air raid shelter that was once a YMCA
- The atmosphere in air raid shelters was often festive with music and loud singalongs.
It seems no shelter was too small or obscure to be turned into temporary housing for some. In this instance, three young boys are bunked one on top of the other in a converted YMCA. It seems odd — but considering how London was using all their available resources to protect themselves from German bombers, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that this building was also repurposed.
Next: It wasn’t just London that was prepared for the worst.
17. 1945: Expansive air raid shelters in Germany
- This bunker served as a command center for Hitler’s troops.
The Germans may have executed the Blitz, but they also had extensive air raid shelters of their own. The Independent notes this gigantic bunker protected thousands of Nazis in Aachen, Germany. And back in 2013, it seems activists had to fight to keep the dilapidated building standing.
As campaigner Hermann Tücks said, “There’s no doubt about its historical value. The bunker was the German army’s nerve center in one of the most bitter battles for a city ever fought.”
Next: This shelter became one of the most well-known in London.
18. 1950: A British shelter that can house 4,000
- Caribbean migrants and visitors going to the Festival of Britain housed here as well.
When discussing extensive shelters in London, it’s certainly worth mentioning the Clapham South deep shelter that could house over 4,000. The London Transport Museum explains it originally opened back in 1944 and spans over a mile in passageways. PRI notes Clapham was known for its fun atmosphere (there was a wide range of people staying here, after all) — and it was also known for its high pricing of a cup of tea, which was twice as expensive as tea found at ground level.
Next: Sweden was creating large-scale shelters by 1955.
19. 1955: Bomb shelter construction for up to 20,000
- Sweden has 65,000 fallout shelters.
After the threat of overhead raids in World War II, a new type of bomb became the new fear during the years of the Cold War. Nuclear weaponry caused many to start creating fallout shelters in the event of a global disaster. And The Local notes Sweden, of all places, is actually covered with them.
Here, this underground construction shows what would soon become a nuclear bomb shelter for the Swedish. Even today, citizens are busily making more shelters to protect them from such catastrophic events.
Next: This ’60s illustration shows a happy family in a bomb shelter.
20. 1960: An illustration of the ideal bomb shelter
- Personal fallout shelters were urged for all American families to have in the ’60s.
Back in the ’30s and ’40s, families were creating bomb shelters on their own accord. But the threat of nuclear warfare in the ’60s introduced families to advertisements depicting what every household should have waiting for them underground in case their lives were threatened.
Here, you can see the ads showing the calm and pleasant demeanor of the family in their bunker. They also have plenty of living space and entertainment, like books and a record player. Only then do you notice the picture is actually of all three of them underground.
Next: Another building that could protect people in the event of nuclear warfare.
21. 1960: Blast and air-proof buildings to protect from nuclear war
- The Royal Observer Corps had over 1,500 posts throughout the U.K.
The BBC notes Royal Observer Corps volunteers were responsible for measuring radioactive fallout and nuclear blast waves in the event of an explosion. And the U.K. also ordered over 1,500 monitoring posts and 31 larger headquarters and control centers to be built for the ROC between 1956 and 1965.
Here, a Royal Observer Corps headquarters is seen — and it’s blast-proof with an air-proof entrance. The site was shut down in the ’90s once the Cold War ended.
Next: A new type of home bomb shelter
22. 1962: A bomb shelter for 6
- Suburban homes in the ’60s were encouraged to have their own nuclear fallout shelters.
Like the Anderson shelter from the ’40s, new backyard shelters were cropping up as the Cold War waged on. In this photo, a two-unit igloo-like structure can be seen behind one U.S. home. These were the type of shelters recommended for nuclear protection by the U.S. Civil Defense Office at the time, as two connected igloos were made from steel.
Next: A Vietnamese man seeks shelter from the U.S.
23. 1967: The Vietnamese seek refuge
- Underground networks of tunnels were created by Communist guerrilla troops in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War called for shelters to be made for protection against U.S. bombings. And History notes Communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong were responsible for digging a network of underground tunnels for housing troops, preparing surprise attacks, and holding storage supplies. The U.S. and South Vietnamese trained some soldiers to be “tunnel rats” so they could find booby traps and enemy troops before they were attacked.
We can’t say for sure if the man in the photo is part of one of the guerrilla troops — but he is taking shelter in an underground tunnel for protection against U.S. air raids.
Next: Children in Israel seek shelter from bombings in the ’70s.
24. 1972: Israeli children climb their shelter
- Israel is still dealing with terror attacks and bombings.
Since Israel’s war for independence in the ’40s, it’s been an uphill battle for the country and its citizens. Here, Israeli schoolchildren are running up the roof of their bomb shelter to seek safety inside. And CNN reminds us during this time in the ’70s, Egypt and Israel had some seriously bad blood. By 1973, Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur War that involved countless air strikes against the Israeli people.
Next: A family gets comfortable in their nuclear shelter.
25. 1980: A five-day trial for the nuclear shelter
- The perception of safety may have been more important to the public than the grim reality of nuclear war.
The threat of nuclear war loomed heavily over the U.S. into the ’80s, and shelters were being tested for their comfort and effectiveness. Here, a family is trying out a shelter during a five-day trial — and it appears to be relatively spacious.
Interestingly enough, Timeline notes these structures probably wouldn’t have actually protected anyone in the event of real nuclear warfare. “But the Cold War was all about perception, and deception, and this was one lie a lot of people were more than happy to believe.”
Next: The ’80s shelters were stocked with supplies.
26. 1981: 2 weeks worth of food in the shelter
- It was recommended to have enough supplies to last you two weeks in your bunker.
Not only did citizens across the U.S. and U.K. have shelters in mind in the event of nuclear warfare, but they also had all the necessary supplies. Daily Mail Online explains the U.K. government even provided a pamphlet during the ’80s called Protect and Survive to give guidance. The pamphlet recommended having enough drinking water and food to feed yourself and your family for 14 days. It also suggested having a portable radio, as it would be “your only link with the outside world.”
Next: More happy faces in the ’80s bunkers.
27. 1981: Nuclear shelters get the stamp of government approval
- Protect and Survive pamphlets explained what you should do if someone you’re with dies in your shelter.
In addition to food and water, there were plenty of other supplies that the government recommended citizens keep in their bunkers. Daily Mail Online explains fallout shelters should have also had cutlery, bottle openers, and portable stoves and fuel for the kitchen. As for sleeping and other habits, bedding, sleeping bags, warm clothing, and buckets for going to the bathroom were encouraged.
The government-approved pamphlets explained what to do if someone dies, too. You were supposed to place the body in a separate room, cover it, and attach something to identify the person.
Next: This Northern Irish bunker was built in 1990.
27. 1990: A nuclear bunker in Northern Ireland that can house 235
- You could purchase this bunker in 2016 for over a half million dollars.
The Irish were no strangers to nuclear bunkers, either — and the one seen here was actually constructed in 1990. It was built for a crowd of 235 people and has kitchens, dorms, and decontamination chambers in the event of an attack. Since 1955, the U.K. built around 1,600 nuclear monitoring posts, and this stood as one of them.
Oddly enough, you could actually purchase this bunker for over $600,000 back in 2016.
Next: Today, some countries heavily depend on their shelters.
28. 2014: Makeshift bomb shelters are still used
- Tension in Ukraine started in 2014 and continues well into 2018.
There’s been serious conflict in the easternmost regions of Ukraine between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels since 2014, Bloomberg reports. And though regular talks are happening between Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France, breakthroughs are still distant — and citizens are still dying.
Here, one elderly man is outside of his makeshift bomb shelter in 2014. So far, the conflict has killed over 10,000.
Next: The inside of a modern Ukrainian shelter.
29. 2014: More modern shelters found in Ukraine
- One company saw a huge increase in bomb shelter sales in 2015.
CNBC gives more startling statistics regarding the conflict in Ukraine: By 2015, 1.3 million citizens were displaced and nearly a million had fled the country altogether. For those who stayed, making or buying mobile bomb shelters became commonplace. In fact, one Estonian company saw a huge boost in sales for their lightweight plastic shelters when the conflicts began.
Here, another woman in 2014 is seen inside her bomb shelter in Ukraine. She seems to have created her own makeshift shelter and has all of her essentials by her side.
Next: You can still visit old bomb shelters today.
30. 2016: Visit bomb-proof shelters from the early 1900s
- Visit London to see the underground railway Winston Churchill took refuge in.
Not only can you visit a bomb shelter from the early 1900s — but you can visit Winston Churchill’s private Blitz bunker that he personally took refuge in. Down Street station was operational between 1907 and 1932, but after that, it was Churchill’s primary place of protection during WWII. BBC notes the London Transport Museum is running tours of the site. Certain passageways, like the Clapham South’s shelter that went way underground, would also be available to explore on the tour.
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