16th November 1940.
In the aftermath of the bombing of Coventry a red glow could be seen over 20 miles away, after 500 tons of high explosive had rained down on the city.
Today in 1940, two days after the blitz on the city, it was condemned by the Daily Herald, as the ‘foulest deed that Hitler had ever ordained’.
It went on ‘Have no scruples about military objectives. Kill men, kill women, kill children. Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! Heil Hitler, Heil bloodshed! Heil pain’!
A reporter in approaching from Rugby said he encountered refugees with prams, luggage, rugs, anything they could salve from their homes.
Yet within five days most of the city’s twenty-one key war factories were back in full production. ‘Some of the factories were just covered in tarpaulins’ wrote Jack Jones Transport and General Workers’ Union organiser in Coventry. The ‘only heating would be from coke braziers yet they stuck at the machines day and night, twelve hours at a time, seven days a week’.
The destruction of Coventry resulting from Hitler’s decision to divert air resources to regional cities was code-named Moonlight Sonata.
100 acres of the city were destroyed, including the medieval cathedral, and all the more devastating for its impact on such a relatively, small, compact city. A local councillor later said that ‘virtual dictatorship under local control had been the only way to deal with the chaos’.(1)
Use of neighbouring fire brigades was hampered owing to lack of uniformity in hose connections, a difficulty which the National Fire Service (NFS) was to rectify (2).
The attack on Coventry came with early use of new bombing aids, including The Beam System (X-Great), two years in advance of Britain, and ‘Pathfinders’ which pin-pointed targets by the use of flares.
Mass Observation recorded the widely used phrases, ‘Coventry is finished’ and ‘Coventry is dead’. Also that there were open signs of hysteria, terror, neurosis and observed that, ‘women seen to cry, scream, tremble, faint and attack firemen’, and noted the ‘air of complete desolation and depression’.(3)
Five days later it was Birmingham’s turn where there were even more casualties, 1353, and more sustained bombing, but played down by the authorities owing to morale considerations.
Later bombing hit Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Cardiff, Bristol, Tyneside and all the major ports, some notably Plymouth, long after the main offensive had ceased.
(1) Post-war at the Nuremberg trials Goering had said: ‘I decided on Coventry because there the most targets could be hit within the smallest area.’
(2) Founded on 18th August, 1941.
(3) Anthropologist, Tom Harrisson had founded Mass Observation in 1937 in conjunction with the Ministry of Information. It recorded everyday personal details of the war, with many diaries kept under its auspices.
Ref: Daily Herald. 16.11.1940.
Ref: ebay.co.uk/daily-herald-november-16th-1940/Pic Image.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry/Pic Images.