The Blitz on Provincial Cities: Coventry (November 14-15, 1940)

Figure 1.--Coventry was shattered by the Luftwaffe attack. The bombing created a fire storm that obliterated the center of the historic city. The Luftwaffe used incendiaries as seondary armament and did not fully understrand their potential. This acquainted RAF Bomber Command which like the Luftwaffe at the time was wedded to high explosives with the potential of incendiary attacks. Bomber Command would use this tactic to devestating effect on German cities. Another outcome of the Coventry raid was the speed with which even a bomb devestated city could be brought back to life.

The Luftwaffe at first concentrated on London. Unable to break London, Hitler turnred to other British cities. London was such a large city, that Goering concluded that even a sustained attack could not bring a decisive result. He hoped that larger attacks on smaller cities might be more decisise. [Churchill, p. 376.] The Luftwaffe in mid-November extended its night raids outside of London. Hitler was always anxious to teach his enemies a lesson. A British air raid on Munich on the night of the aniversary celebration for his abortive beer hall putch enfuriated him. Hitler who had destoyed Warsaw did not think it civilized that his enemies should bomb German cities. Retribution was a night strike on Conventry with 500 bombers (November 14). The target was the factories around Coventry. The raid was one of the most notorious and significant of the War. The attack November 14-15 on Coventry was especially severe. Coventry is located in the industrial Midlands north of London. It was a city of about 1000,000 inhabitants and had Britain's largest machine tool works and thus an important part of the British war effort. Britain's air craft production in particular was concentrated in Coventry and Burminghan. The British had advanced notice of the raid. The Luftwaffe was notoriously carelous about the use of the Enigma machines. The attack is a subject of debate among historians. Some historians report Ultra code breakers intercepted radio communications ordering the attack from Luftwaffe headquarters on November 12. Such was the importance of Ultra, neither the civilian population or the RAF was warned of the attack.[Cave-Brown] Other historians dispute this charge. Apparently the British did conclude that the Luftwaffe was preparing a major attack. They were unable, however, to learn the specufic target. The British did launch attacks on German bases, but in 1940 there capability was limited. The British only learned tht target was Coventry 4 hours before the attack. This came as a result of the so called battle of the beams. RAF intelligence detected Luftwaffe navigational beams intersecting at Coventry. With only four hours notice, there was no way of even attempting an evacuation of the city. The Luftwaffe code named the attack Operation Moonlight Sonata. The Luftwaffe deployed 509 Heinkel mombers. It was a moonlit night and the Luftwaffe bombers easily found the city. Finding and attacking bombers at night was a very difficult undertaking at this stage of the War. The raid did extensive damage to the Coventry war plants, but the center of the historic old city had been destroyed. Estimates suggest that 60,000 of the 75,000 buildings in the city center were destroyed. Dr. Goebels coined a new word--" Koventrieren " meaning to Coventrate or totaly obliterate an entire city. It was a word they would soon need. There were 564 people killed at Coventry, high for the time, but modest given the damage. So many fires were created that a "fire storm" was created. Air Marshall Harris, not yet assigned to Bomber Command later expalain that the raid taught RAF planners the potential impact of starting "so many fires at the same time". [Gilbert, p. 352.] This would be later put to work on German cities. The aftermath in 1940, however, was a destroyed city and the biggest mass funeral in British history. The attack was not, however, the decisive result Goering sought. Aircraft production was not seriously interupted. In less than a week the restoraion of city life was well underway. [Churchill, p. 377.]


Cave-Brown, Anthony. Bodyguard of Lies.

Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1949), 751p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.


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Created: 5:31 PM 9/30/2005
Last updated: 5:31 PM 9/30/2005