Coventry had long been a centre of industry and manufacture prior to the outbreak of World War II. Weaving and Watchmaking giving way to transport industries such as Bicycle, Motorcycle, Car and Aeroplane manufacture. By the time the second world war has broken out, Coventry was home to companies such as Daimler, Dunlop, GEC, Humber and Armstrong Whitworth. These companies played a pivotal role in the manufacture of War time machinery ranging from Cars through to Aeroplane engines and parts. The fact that these industries were so important to the war effort made the City vulnerable to aerial attack.
This map highlights the how the City Centre was very much centred around industry in the pre-war years. As you can see there are several large manufacturing plants including Triumph, Motor Cycle Works and Singer Works to name but a few.
These factories produced goods such as Wheel disks, brakes, armament parts, engine parts and aeroplane parts and it is thought that Coventry was identified as a probable target prior to the increasingly inevitable outbreak of WW2 during the 1930’s.
Although Coventry had been subject to a number of earlier raids, they were no sign of the devastation to that was to come on the night of November the 14th 1940. During that night, 515 German Bombers belonging to Luftflotte 3 (air fleet 3) took part in Operation Mondscheinsonate , which translates as Operation Moonlight Sonata. The Air Raid siren first sounded at 19:10. The raid started at 19.20 and at 20:00 Coventry Cathedral was set alight by the first on many incendiary devices that were dropped upon it. This first fire was extinguished , however , with over 200 fires burning within the City , the fire service were soon overwhelmed. The Luftwaffe also dropped mines on the City, with the aim to make the roads impossible to pass, hampering the efforts of the Cities fire serves and defence forces.
The number of people killed during the raid has never been officially confirmed with figure of around 500 people, with several hundred more injured. 4300 homes were destroyed and a large proportion of the City Centre was reduced to rubble. The fact that not more were killed or injured could be attributed to the fact that it was estimated around 50,000-100,000 people had vacated the City, frightened by the earlier raids that took place between August -October 1940. It could also be argued that the damage to the Cathedral and City may have been less intense had there been more locals around to help with extinguishing the incendiary devices that were dropped. Reverend G. W. Clitheroe wrote in his book Coventry Under Fire, that a “very many fires” could have been avoided that night had fewer people chosen to “flee” the City. I myself find this a rather uncharitable point of view, I know that I would do what I felt best for my family, not the City, A decision that most likely was made by many Coventrians at the time. You could however argue that the view of Clitheroe is a very British one, Keep calm and carry on!
Hitler’s plan to bomb the people into submission could well have worked. Many reports were made on the morning after of people ambling around in a confused and dazed way, shell shocked by the nights events. The City as they knew had become un-recognisable. Their homes lost, loved ones perished, work places demolished, indeed their whole lives turned upside down. They could be forgiven if they were to hold up their hands and surrender.
This image was taken in Jordan Well in the aftermath of the night, the row of building’s on the left are where the Herbert Gallery and Coventry University Hub now stands. You can see people dressed in the their work clothes, the road way partially cleared. Rather than subduing the population, the raid had the opposite effect. The Population become more resolute to stand up in the face of opposition. Builders came into the area from around the country, helping in the effort to return peoples homes to a liveable space again.
Buildings that were lost during the raid:
This list was found at http://www.historiccoventry.co.uk/blitz/damage.php . The original list was published on page 45 of “The City We Loved” in 1942.
|Whitefriar’s Gateway in Court Yard of London Road Institution||Severe damage|
|St. John’s Hospital (the Old Grammar School)||Fairly extensive damage to roof|
|Coventry Priory (Coventry Catheral Ruins)||Slight damage|
|St. Mary’s Hall||Severe damage to roof and structure|
|Portions of City Wall at or near:
Upper Well Street
Severe damage in centre of Lady Herbert’s Garden
Severe damage to Whitefriar’s Gate
|Chapel of St. James, Spon End||Severe damage at rear|
|The Cathedral||Burnt out – Spire and walls remain|
|Christ Church (Greyfriar’s Church)||Burnt out – Spire and walls remain|
|Kirby House, Little Park Street||Slight damage|
|Cheylesmore Manor House||Slight damage|
|The Charterhouse, London Road||Walls, roof and windows damaged|
|Bond’s Hospital||Slight damage|
|Old Bablake School||Severe damage to one building, not extensive to remainder|
|St. John’s Church, Bablake||Damage to windows and roof|
|Holy Trinity Church||Damage to windows and roof|
|Medieval Cellars, Jordan Well||Buildings above destroyed – cellar damaged|
|Medieval Building, Much Park Street||Parts of walls only remain|
|Ford’s Hospital and Queen Anne House on adjoining site||Part destroyed – severe damage|
|22 Bayley Lane||No serious damage|
|Priory Row, No. 11, and others||Burnt out – walls remain|
|Nos. 111, 112, 113 Gosford Street||Top storey of No. 111 destroyed, extensive damage to remainder|
|Nos. 7 and 10 Much Park Street||Slight damage to roof, etc.|
|Group of houses, Little Park Street, Nos. 84, 85, 86, 91 and Court 20||Severe damage|
|Fennell’s Music Shop, Spon Street||Slight damage|
|Palace Yard||Completely destroyed|
Images from the aftermath of Operation Moonlight Sonata: