Little Bits of History

The Blitz

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2015
Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940*

Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940*

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 –

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 3, 2012

Bethnal Green in calmer times

March 3, 1943: During the bombing of London, 173 people are crushed to death at Bethnal Green. London’s underground railroad system, which began construction in 1854, was a way to link travelers from the City of London with outlying train systems. An Act of Parliament was passed but funding was scarce. Work began in 1860 and the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863. The first tube lines opened in 1890. More railways were added over time. The Bethnal Green station was still under construction in 1943 and was used as an air raid shelter.

London was bombed intermittently throughout World War II. There were bursts of attacks by the German Luftwaffe. The Blitz of London from September 1940 through May 1941 had caused 43,000 civilian deaths and over a million houses were destroyed. While devastating to Londoners, it was a strategic defeat for the Germans. By 1943 response to air raid sirens was routine. RAF bombers had carried out heavy raids over Berlin on March 1. The retaliatory air strike came and at 8:17 PM the air raid sirens went off. Used to the drill, an orderly group headed for the underground and safety. Within ten minutes, already 1,500 people were safely below street level.

It was a rainy night. People were streaming toward the station and the stairway acted as a natural bottleneck. The stairs became slick from rain-wet feet. There was no handrail yet installed – the station wasn’t yet finished and there was a shortage of funds and metal due to the war. At 8:27 PM a new, unidentified, and terrifying sound split the night. The crowd surged forward, toward the safety of the underground. A woman (possibly carrying a baby, reports vary) tripped on the stairs. As she stumbled forward, other were knocked off their feet. Within 15 seconds, 300 people were crushed in the stairwell. There were 173 dead, 69 of them children.

The terrifying noise was coming from only a few hundred yards away. New anti-aircraft guns fired 60 salvos from Victoria Park. Although reported in the papers the next day, the location of the tragedy was not given. There was a concern about morale in the region. The true cause of the disaster is no more clear today than it was when it happened. Several factors led to the panicky response. Those listed above along with a dearth of supervision in the form of metropolitan or air raid police have been cited. Whatever the reason, it was the largest civilian loss during the war. The largest loss from a wartime bomb occurred at Balham where 68 people were killed.

It made our hair stand up in panic fear. – Sophocles

I have seen soldiers panic at the first sight of battle, and a wounded squire pulling arrows out from his wound to fight and save his dying horse. Nobility is not a birth right but is defined by one’s action. – Kevin Costner

Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination. – Christian Nevell Bovee

Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation. – Vannevar Bush

Also on this day:

Vincent van Gogh – In 1853, Vincent van Gogh was born.
Football – No, Soccer – In 1891, the Penalty Spot Kick was created.
Comstock Law – In 1873, The Comstock Law was enacted in the US.