The Blitz on Provincial Cities: Individual Cities (November 1940 - April 1941)

Figure 1.--Strategic bombing was a new aspect of warfare. Many believed that bombing a city would force a couuntry to surrender. Hitler may have thought this as well, but perhaps foremost in his thining is to destroy anyone who opossed him. And even at the end of the War he was obsessed with destroying enemy cities, including Warsaw, Paris, and above all London. The Blitz demonstrated that the Germans could destroy British houses, but the operations wore down the Luftwaffe, it had no signoficant impact on the British military capacity. And this occurred at the same time the panning began for Barbarossa, acampaign in which the Luftwaffe would be sorely needed. The impact of the Blitz was very different than expected. Before the War Britain had a strong pacifist movement. Even the Government was unwilliing to vigorously procecute the War. And with the fall of France, many were ready to make peace. After the Bliz, the British were all in and determkined to fight the War out to the bitter end. The other impact was the impact that newreel coverage had on American public opinion. Americans began to realize te absolute rutkessmess of Hitler and the NAZIs and that left unchecked, that could eventually be American cities on the receiving end of German bombs. The press caption here read, "Passed by the censor. Bombing scenes in a Midland town -- salvaging their belongings: Associated press photo shows youngsters salvaging what they can of their belonings from a house wrecked during the large-scale bombing attack by Nazi planes on a Midland town." The photograph is undated, but could hve been taken any time during late-1940 and early-1941 while the U.S. Congress was debating Lend Leaase. The town is not isentified. The British wanted the Amerucans to see what the Germans were doing, but not so as to let the Germans see the results were in individual cities.

It was the London Blitz that is best rememberes with the image of fires around St. Pauls Cathedral, but the Luftwaffe targetted cities throughout Britain. Various cities in the southeast and along the Channel were hit in the early phases of the Battle of Britain. Other British cities to the notyh and west were not hit because they were beyond thecreach if Luftwaffe fighter coverage. After the London daylight Blitz failed (September 1940), German tactics chhanged and they adopted night-bombing. Operating at night, the Luftwaffe bombers did not need fighter coverage. Thus after hammering London, the raids were extended to provincial cities (November 1940). Some of the hardest hit cities were: Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Southampton, Swansea, and others. Included in the raids were what Churchill called "the sole life-line by the Mersey and the Clyde" by this he meant the key ports of Liverpool and Glasgow where the Atlantic convoys were bringing in supplies and arms from America and the Dominions. Thanfully because of the distance, these northern cities were particularly difficult targets for the Luftwaffe without a sizeable force of long-range heavy bombers. The Luftwaffe continued large scale raids. There were, for example 230 bombers and 700 fighters launched on September 15 and 56 were shot down. In general RAF losses were about half of the Luftwaffe losses and many of the RAF pilots bailed out unharmed while the shot down German pilots were lost to the Luftwaffe. The Blitz was the most intense aerial bombing campaign seen to that time, far worst than the bombing of Republican cities in Spain, Rotterdam, or the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities. In 1940 it was British cities that were burning, but that would soon change. German cities like Hamburg and Dresden would feel the consequences ofvthe lesson taught by the Luftwaffe. In those two cities alone over 100,000, most inocent civiluans, would pay the consequences of Hitler's punishment raids. There were major attacks on British cities throughout the furst half of 1941. Here the major goal was to devestate British cities. It was not just London. Every important British city was targeted. The center of Conventry was destroyed in a night. About 100 acres of the city center were destroyed, including the renowned cathedral. Bristol was especially heavily damaged. Gradually the Luftwaffe raids tappered off as Hitler shifted his forces east to prepare for Barbarossa.


Blackburn is a city in the Industrial Midlands close to Birmingham. A Blackburn reader tells us, "Blackburn had four air raids and the places that were bombed were not important miltarily.


Bristol (November 1940-April 1941)

Bristol was one of the principal ports for convoys arriving through the Western approaches. It wa a difficult target for the Luftwaffe for the preliminary daylight phases because fighters could not cover the bombers as they could for raids on southeastern England. Once the battle plan becanme night bombing, Bristol became a target. Bristol's turn came 10 days after the devestating attack on Coventry (November 14). Luftwaffe bombers began to hit Bristol at 6:00 pm (November 24). They would return again and again in an effort to destoy the port. The fir raid lasted 6 hours as several waves of bombers hit the city. It is not clear just what targets was assigned the bombers, but the boms fell on the city center rather than the docks. The Germans destroyed historic buildings, chirches, and the museum. The results wre niot as devestating as Coventry, but auarter of the historic medieval city was destroyed. This included the main shopping area which is now called Castle Park. The casualties included 207 killed and 187 severely injured. An estimated 10,000 homes were danmaged, although only 1,400 people were made homeless. The Government seeking to maintain morale did not permit detailed reporting as had occurred in Conventry. The RAF at the time was just beginning to develop night fighter capability. Thus lossess were limited, although bombing at night, hitting targets beyond a city was veery difficult. The Germans bombed the city center again (December 2) and returned agaun (December 6). Casualties from the two raids included 256 people killed and 229 people injured. King George VI and Queen Mary visited the city to boost morale (December 16). Christmas 1940 passed by without any new Luftwaffe raids, but the Germans had not forgotten about Bristol. Just after News Yeras, the Luftwaffe hit Bristol again (January 3). The targets were the docks and Temple Meads railway station. There was extensive damage to both. The Granary on Princes Wharf was destroyed along with 8,000 tons of grain. An important product brought to Britain by the convoys was grain from America and Canada because Britain was not self-sufficient in food production. The raid went on for 12 hours. After the raid, the people of Bristol found an unexploded 4,000lb bomb was dropped on Knowle. They named it Satan. Actually ager number of smaller bombs, especially incendiaries, did more damage. After the War, Satan featured in the 1945 London victory parade. Casualties included 149 people killed and 133 people injured. The Germans next raided Avonmouth and the docks again along with various other areas of the city (March 16). Casualties included 257 people killed and 391 people injured. The Luftwaffe attacked with 162 bombers (March 16). The last major raid was the Good Friday Raid (April 11). Several waves of bombers hit the city. This time the Germans dropped large numbers of incendiaries. The docksere hit again along with the city center. Historic St. Philip’s Bridge was destroyed. Because the Bridge carried the power for the tram network, this put the city trams out of commission. With the Germans beginning the final stages of preparations for Barbarossa, most Luftwaffe forces in France were shifted east. This was the end of the Blitz for Bristol. The Germans as a matter of strategy continued nusisance raids (1942). A single Luftwaffe bombr dropped a 500 lb bomb on Broad Weir in the city center. A number of carswere destroyed and leaking fuel spread to several busses. Casualties totaled 45 people killed, mostly in the busses. The final raid came just before D-Day (May 15. 1944. One man in the south of the city was killed working at a searchlight station. After D-Day, the Germans lost their airbases in France. Bristol was beyond the range of the V-1s and V-2s which hit London (1944).

Coventy (November 1940)

The Luftwaffe at first concentrated on London. Unable to break London, Hitler turnred to other British cities. London was such a large city, that Goering concluded that even a sustained attack could not bring a decisive result. He hoped that larger attacks on smaller cities might be more decisise. [Churchill, p. 376.] The Luftwaffe in mid-November extended its night raids outside of London. Hitler was always anxious to teach his enemies a lesson. A British air raid on Munich on the night of the anniversary celebration for his abortive beer hall putch enfuriated him. Hitler who had destoyed Warsaw did not think it civilized that his enemies should bomb German cities. Retribution was a night strike on Conventry with 500 bombers (November 14). The target was the factories around Coventry. The raid was one of the most notorious and significant of the War. The attack November 14-15 on Coventry was especially severe. Coventry is located in the industrial Midlands north of London. It was a city of about 1000,000 inhabitants and had Britain's largest machine tool works and thus an important part of the British war effort. Britain's air craft production in particular was concentrated in Coventry and Burminghan. The British had advanced notice of the raid. The Luftwaffe was notoriously carelous about the use of the Enigma machines. The attack is a subject of debate among historians. Some historians report Ultra code breakers intercepted radio communications ordering the attack from Luftwaffe headquarters on November 12. Such was the importance of Ultra, neither the civilian population or the RAF was warned of the attack.[Cave-Brown] Other historians dispute this charge. Apparently the British did conclude that the Luftwaffe was preparing a major attack. They were unable, however, to learn the specufic target. The British did launch attacks on German bases, but in 1940 there capability was limited. The British only learned tht target was Coventry 4 hours before the attack. This came as a result of the so called battle of the beams. RAF intelligence detected Luftwaffe navigational beams intersecting at Coventry. With only four hours notice, there was no way of even attempting an evacuation of the city. The Luftwaffe code named the attack Operation Moonlight Sonata. The Luftwaffe deployed 509 Heinkel mombers. It was a moonlit night and the Luftwaffe bombers easily found the city. Finding and attacking bombers at night was a very difficult undertaking at this stage of the War. The raid did extensive damage to the Coventry war plants, but the center of the historic old city had been destroyed. Estimates suggest that 60,000 of the 75,000 buildings in the city center were destroyed. Dr. Goebels coined a new word--" Koventrieren " meaning to Coventrate or totaly obliterate an entire city. It was a word they would soon need. There were 564 people killed at Coventry, high for the time, but modest given the damage. So many fires were created that a "fire storm" was created. Air Marshall Harris, not yet assigned to Bomber Command later expalain that the raid taught RAF planners the potential impact of starting "so many fires at the same time". [Gilbert, p. 352.] This would be later put to work on German cities. The aftermath in 1940, however, was a destroyed city and the biggest mass funeral in British history. The attack was not, however, the decisive result Goering sought. Aircraft production was not seriously interupted. In less than a week the restoraion of city life was well underway. [Churchill, p. 377.]



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Created: 2:09 AM 1/1/2014
Last updated: 2:10 AM 1/1/2014