Coventry, an important engineering and armaments-producing centre, was raided on 14-15 November 1940. German bombers dropped 503 tons of high explosive and 881 incendiary canisters (containing 30,000 bombs) on the city. Five hundred and fifty-four people were killed and 850 seriously injured. The medieval Cathedral was gutted by fire and only its walls and spire remained standing. A new verb coventrieren – 'to Coventrate' - was used by the Germans to describe the level of destruction.
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The 'Blitz' – from the German term Blitzkrieg (lightning war) - was the sustained campaign of aerial bombing attacks on British towns and cities carried out by the Luftwaffe from September 1940 until May 1941.
Sporadic bombing raids had begun in summer 1940 during the Battle of Britain. These attacks were aimed at airfields, aircraft factories and communication centres in an attempt to defeat the RAF – a prerequisite for the planned German invasion.
But on Saturday 7 September, the Luftwaffe attacked London with 320 bombers escorted by 600 fighters. The raid lasted from 5pm until 4.30am the following morning. Four hundred and thirty Londoners were killed and 1,600 injured. London was then bombed for 57 consecutive nights, and often during daytime too. 7 September, or ‘Black Saturday’, marked the beginning of the Blitz.
From mid November, major provincial cities were also being targeted. On 14-15 November, a devastating raid was launched against Coventry. Birmingham, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Plymouth were also bombed.
1941 saw another wave of attacks, primarily against ports. In May, Liverpool suffered a week of almost nightly raids. Belfast and Clydeside were badly hit. Plymouth was raided again, and east coast towns and cities were targeted.
London continued to experience regular attacks and on 10-11 May 1941 was hit by the biggest raid yet. German bombers dropped 711 tons of high explosive and 2,393 incendiaries, and 1,436 civilians were killed. However, this proved to be the last major raid until January 1943.
In nine months of Blitz, over 43,500 civilians were killed.
A panoramic photograph of Liverpool, showing the extent of bomb damage in the city. The Liver Building can be seen just to the right of centre, and the River Mersey is just visible to the left of the photograph. The city's docks made it a target for German bombers. During the first eight days of May 1941, Merseyside was bombed almost every night. One thousand nine hundred people were killed, 1,450 seriously wounded and 70,000 made homeless.
Bombed Out, 1941, by Edward Ardizzone. After returning to the UK from France in spring 1940, War Artist Edward Ardizzone spent time in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh recording the aftermath of air raids. This drawing, which dates from April 1941, shows a scene in Glasgow. Over 1,000 people were killed and 55,000 people were made homeless by raids on Clydeside in March and April.
Shoppers among bomb-damaged buildings in the centre of Plymouth, October 1943. Plymouth was hit by intermittent small-scale bombing raids throughout 1940. Its docks and naval base made it a major target, and in March and April 1941, Plymouth and neighbouring Devonport suffered a series of devastating raids. More than 900 people were killed and 40,000 were made homeless. The extent of destruction in the city is evident in this photograph dating from 1943, showing shoppers among piles of rubble and makeshift stalls.
Buildings burning in Manchester after a German air raid on the night of 23 December 1940. The heaviest raids on Manchester took place on consecutive nights 22-23 and 23-24 December. The Free Trade Hall, Smithfield Market and St Anne's Church were destroyed. Deansgate and Oxford Road were blocked with debris and unexploded bombs. Many of the city's firemen and civil defence workers had not yet returned from Liverpool, which had been hit on 20 December. Fires still burning in Liverpool from that raid also helped illuminate the bombers' path to Manchester.
Troops of 9th Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, helping to clear bomb damage in Hull, July 1941. The North-East of England was targeted during early 1941. The vital east coast port of Hull suffered a serious raid on 31 March and then was hit again on 7-8 May. A total of 279 civilians were killed and 550 injured. Thirty thousand houses were destroyed. Hull was bombed again in June after the worst of the Blitz was thought to be over. This was the fiftieth raid to hit the city.
George Cross awarded to Lieutenant Robert Davies Royal Engineers, September 1940. Lieutenant Robert Davies was awarded the George Cross for helping to disable an unexploded bomb near St Paul's Cathedral on 11-12 September 1940. It took Davies and his colleagues three days to remove the bomb, while working near blazing gas mains and live electrical cables. The George Cross was a new award for 'outstanding valour' on the home front introduced by King George VI in September 1940. Davies was its second recipient.
decorations and awards
A House Collapsing on Two Firemen, Shoe Lane, London, EC4, 1940, by Leonard Rosoman. The artist Leonard Rosoman joined the Auxiliary Fire Service shortly before the outbreak of war. This painting is based on a real incident which he witnessed while on duty during the London Blitz. The painting was exhibited in the Firemen Artists exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1941. Rosoman continued to serve as a fireman until April 1945 when he was appointed as an official war artist with the British Pacific fleet.
St Clement Dane's Church on Fire after being Bombed, 1941, by Henry Carr. On 10 May 1941, London suffered its most destructive raid yet. The full moon helped guide the bombers and a low tide and burst water mains meant that firefighters struggled to contain more than 2,000 fires across the city. Significant buildings damaged included the War Office, the British Museum, the Houses of Parliament, Mansion House and Westminster Abbey. St Clement Dane's was just one of London's historic churches damaged or destroyed in the Blitz.
A Town Destroyed, Poplar, 1941, by John Minton. During the first month of the Blitz in September 1940, air raids killed 5,730 Londoners. More than 9,000 were seriously injured. The raids on 7-8 September, known as 'Black Saturday', devastated the densely populated East End of London. In the districts of the Isle of Dogs, Stepney, Bermondsey, Wapping, Poplar and Woolwich, very few buildings were left intact. The artist John Minton explored this desolation in a number of works from this period.