November 14, 1940: Coventry, England is the target for the German Luftwaffe. Blitzkrieg is the German word for “lightning war” and the term was used during World War II although shortened to The Blitz. It was a series of strategic bombings of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany. Coventry was the target several times as they were an industrial city making war materials. At the beginning of the war, there were around 240,000 people living there and many worked in the plants which made cars, bicycles, plane engines, and most importantly to the Germans, munitions. During World War I, Coventry Ordnance Works was one of the leading manufacturers of British munitions. There had been 17 smaller air raids between August and October 1940. During these three months, about 198 bombs were dropped and 178 people were killed and another 680 were injured.
On this date, the most devastating Blitz took place. There were 515 German bombers from Luftflotte 3 darkening the skies over Coventry. The attack was codenamed Operation Mondscheinsonate or Moonlight Sonata. The main goal of the Germans was to destroy the factories and infrastructure but collateral damage to the rest of the city including residential areas and monuments was considered to be acceptable. At 7.20 PM, the initial planes, 13 specially modified Heinkel He 111s, dropped marker flares. The two sides were fighting the Battle of the Beams and on this date, the British were unable to disrupt the dropping of the signal bombs.
After the flares came a wave of high explosive bombs which took out the local utilities and cratered the main roads which made it difficult for firefighters to respond to the ensuing fires. The fires were intense as the next wave of bombers dropped incendiary bombs with the purpose of making life difficult for the fire brigades and to damage roofs so that buildings might be destroyed by fire. On the ground, the British were operating 24 anti-aircraft guns firing 3.7 inch shells and another dozen 40 mm Bofors. The British fired over 6,700 rounds and only managed to bring down one German plane. Around 8 PM, Coventry Cathedral caught fire after being hit with an incendiary bomb. The first hit and resulting fire were brought under control, but subsequent fires due to continued bombing proved too much and the cathedral was nearly destroyed.
There were over 200 fires in the city raging through the night. Most of them were in the city center. Telephones had been crippled by the initial bombing runs and made communications even more difficult. Water mains had been destroyed making fire control more difficult. The bombing reached its highest peak around midnight. More than 4,300 homes were destroyed and about ⅔ of the city’s buildings were damaged. One-third of the city’s factories were destroyed. There were about 568 people killed with 863 more badly injured. There were another 393 people who had lesser injuries. The technique of serial types of bombing runs was new and the Allies would later adopt them. The city was rebuilt (and attacked again). Today, nearly 340,000 people call it home.
Coventry … was therefore, in terms of what little law existed on the subject, a legitimate target for aerial bombing. – Frederick Taylor
Coventry was adequately concentrated in point of space [to start a firestorm], but all the same there was little concentration in point of time. – Arthur Harris
Ultra [intercepted German messages] never mentioned Coventry… Churchill, so far from pondering whether to save Coventry or safeguard Ultra, was under the impression that the raid was to be on London. – Peter Calvocoressi
Enigma signals to the X-beam stations were not broken in time. – RV Jones
Also on this day: Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
The Big Barbecue – In 1957, a Mafia meeting was held in Apalachin, New York.
Sugar and Spice – In 1997, Reena Virk was murdered.
Crash – In 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed in West Virginia.
Seeing Red – In 1967, a patent for a laser was given to Theodore Maiman.
* “Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940” by GoShow – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coventry_Cathedral_after_the_air_raid_in_1940.jpg#/media/File:Coventry_Cathedral_after_the_air_raid_in_1940.jpg