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The Extreme Daylight Savings Time of World War II

You think one hour is bad? Europe's clocks were in chaos during the 1940s.

Daylight at 6:00 p.m.! (Photo: lkaika/Public Domain).

Brew an extra strong cup of coffee: it’s daylight savings time! Across the U.S.—with the exceptions of Arizona and Hawaii—citizens are begrudgingly turning their clocks ahead one hour, trying to convince themselves that they won’t remember today’s timeshift-induced jetlag when they’re enjoying their sixth late-evening barbecue of the summer.

As annoying as many of us find the annual clock changes, it could be worse: during World War II, some governments battled time itself, changing their usual timekeeping practices to adapt to the war effort.

From 1940 to 1947, the United Kingdom was not on its usual Greenwich Mean Time (UTC+0) at any point in the year. When British Summer Time ended in 1940, the clocks weren’t put back an hour, so the country remained on UTC+1 until the following spring, when...the clocks were still put ahead an hour, to UTC+2.

The change meant that Britain stayed outside of its normal time zone through the remainder of World War II, with up to two hours of extra daylight at the end of the day. According to The Week, the government made the switch to support the war effort—extra evening daylight saved fuel and, during the Blitz, gave workers extra time to get home before the blackout began.

“Double Summertime,” as it was called, wasn’t entirely unpopular, and there’s been several attempts to return to it over the years. In 1968, the Labour government led by Harold Wilson attempted to return the country to Double Summertime; Parliament overwhelmingly voted to end the experiment in 1970, as the time changes meant parts of the country spent entire winter mornings in the dark.

These downsides came to the forefront again in 2011, when David Cameron proposed another reinstituting of Double Summertime. A BBC article published during the debate highlighted the extreme trade-offs of the system. In the summer, British citizens could enjoy daylight hours until after 10 p.m.; the northernmost point of Therso, Scotland would see the sun set at 11:27 p.m. on June 21, 2011. On the other hand? Therso’s winter sunrises would be delayed to 10:00 a.m. The morning darkness is no joke—a separate BBC article points out that the Scottish Highlands saw a net increase in morning accidents and injuries during the 1968-1971 experiment.

Injury statistics aside, going to work in the dark sounds extremely depressing.

The United Kingdom wasn’t the only country performing time experiments during the war. German-occupied territories, including Vichy France, operated on Double Summertime from 1940 to 1942, adopting “Central European Midsummer Time” (UTC+3). In 1945, Berlin and Soviet-occupied Germany went on Double Summertime for one summer, putting it in the same time zone as Moscow. Basically, time in Europe was extremely confusing for a while.

Americans experienced “War Time” from 1942 to 1945, but it didn’t involve forays into entirely new time zones. Instead, we simply went on permanent daylight savings time. Time magazine (of course), reported on the unpopularity of the change at the time, reporting from their archives for a 2015 article. Farmers were the most strenuous objectors, and while their concerns went unheeded, the unpopularity of the change was clear after the war. Until 1966, American states and municipalities could set time pretty much however they wanted, and Time recounts that immediately after the war, 32 states in the South and West had no Daylight Savings Time at all.

For now, we’ll probably spend every spring debating the merits of Daylight Savings Time. At least we can argue with each other while enjoying some late afternoon sun.