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[06 SEP 00] HERITAGE OPEN DAYS FACTFILE
20 Things You Should Know About...
The Blitz In Coventry
BY COVENTRY AND WARWICKSHIRE PROMOTIONS

The Nazi bombing raid of 14 November 1940 changed the face of Coventry forever, with the cathedral being destroyed. Some things you might not know about that day.

  • The air raid on Coventry on the night of November 14, 1940 was the single most concentrated attack on a British city in World War II.

  • Afterwards, Nazi propagandists coined a new word in German - Coventrieren, to raze a city to the ground.

  • Codenamed Moonlight Sonata, the raid lasted for11 hours and involved nearly 500 Luftwaffe bombers, gathered from airfields all over occupied Europe.

  • The aim was to knock out Coventry as a major centre for war production. It was said, too, that Hitler ordered the raid as revenge for an RAF attack on Munich.

  • 14 November was a brilliant moonlit night, so bright that traffic could move around on the roads without lights.

  • The Luftwaffe dropped 500 tons of high explosive, 30,000 incendiaries and 50 land mines. It was also trying out a new weapon, the exploding incendiary.

  • Coventry lost not only its great mediaeval church of St Michael's, the only English cathedral to be destroyed in the Second World War, but its central library and market hall, hundreds of shops and public buildings and 16th century Palace Yard, where James II had once held court.

  • The smell and heat of the burning city reached into the cockpits of the German bombers, 6000 feet above.

  • More than 43,000 homes, just over half the city's housing stock, were damaged or destroyed in the raid.

  • The fire at the city's huge Daimler works was one of the biggest of the war in Britain. Up to 150 high explosive bombs and 3000 incendiaries turned 15 acres of factory buildings into a raging inferno.

  • At midday next day in Coventry, it was as warm as spring and almost dark because of the effects of the firestorms.

  • King George VI is said to have wept as he stood in the ruins of the burned-out cathedral, surveying the destruction.

  • The people of the city too were traumatised. Hundreds wandered the streets in a daze and little children were seen trying to burrow their way through solid brick walls to escape the terrifying noise.

  • But amidst the horror there were lighter moments. One of the city's three statues of Peeping Tom was blown out of its niche in a high building and lay in the street, where shocked passers-by mistook it for a human corpse in the blackout.

  • One man recalled being pursued down a street by a knee-high river of boiling butter from a nearby blazing dairy.

  • At one point during the night an abandoned tram was blown clean over a house into a garden. It landed with its windows still intact.

  • The official death toll from the night was 554, but the real figure could have been much higher, with many unaccounted for.

  • As help poured in next day, demolition crews had to be prevented from pulling down the cathedral tower. They didn't realise it had been leaning for at least a hundred years.

  • On the day of the mass funerals, fighter patrols were sent up into the skies above the city. It was thought the Germans might try to bomb the cemetery.

  • Yet by 1947 Coventry had adopted its first German twin city, Kiel. Dresden followed, in 1956. The ruined cathedral now stands for international peace and reconciliation.
      

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