The Battle of Britain may just have ended with the RAF and its allies victorious, but the Luftwaffe was still capable of mounting large scale raids on targets throughout Britain. On November 14 1940 some 500 German bombers were despatched to attack the industrial city of Coventry , a target for its munitions factories and metal-working plants, but hit also according to German propaganda in revenge for the British bombing of Munich.
At 19:20 the first planes, 13 Pathfinders fitted with new radio-guidance equipment, dropped flares to mark the target for those following. The raid would only end at dawn the next day, by which time much of the city had been destroyed. Horrific though the attack was, there is no doubting it was in the clichéd phrase ruthlessly efficient: high explosives were dropped after the flares; some air-detonated devices intended to damage roofs thus opening buildings to incendiary bombs; some ground ordinance which took out the water mains and power, making it extremely difficult to fight the fires set by those incendiaries, and cratering roads in the city hampering movement. More than 30,000 incendiary bombs were dropped in the raid, German planes returning to France to take further bomb-loads on board and return to their terrible task.
The firestorm that swept through Coventry, and the high explosives, destroyed tens of thousands of buildings including homes, as factories and houses were jumbled together there. Two mass burials took place before the month was out. Given the intensity of the firestorm in places, the effects of high-explosives, and the confusion of wartime, an accurate count of the dead was impossible: it is probable more than 500 were killed, and perhaps as many as 1,000.
Coventry’s 14th-century Cathedral was damaged beyond repair by the fire. Its roofless skeleton remains beside Basil Spence’s new building, consecrated in 1962, the dramatic contrast of old and new telling the story of Coventry’s near destruction and renaissance.
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