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.
Nazi propagandists coined a new word in German - Coventrieren, to
raze a city to the ground.
Moonlight Sonata, the raid lasted for11 hours and involved nearly
500 Luftwaffe bombers, gathered from airfields all over occupied
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.
November was a brilliant moonlit night, so bright that traffic
could move around on the roads without lights.
Luftwaffe dropped 500 tons of high explosive, 30,000 incendiaries
and 50 land mines. It was also trying out a new weapon, the
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
smell and heat of the burning city reached into the cockpits of
the German bombers, 6000 feet above.
than 43,000 homes, just over half the city's housing stock, were
damaged or destroyed in the raid.
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
midday next day in Coventry, it was as warm as spring and almost
dark because of the effects of the firestorms.
George VI is said to have wept as he stood in the ruins of the
burned-out cathedral, surveying the destruction.
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
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.
man recalled being pursued down a street by a knee-high river of
boiling butter from a nearby blazing dairy.
one point during the night an abandoned tram was blown clean over
a house into a garden. It landed with its windows still intact.
official death toll from the night was 554, but the real figure
could have been much higher, with many unaccounted for.
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.
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.
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.