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"It was frosty and there was a harvest moon."
November 14, 2010 9:20 AM   Subscribe

The Coventry Blitz was seventy years ago today. The German Luftwaffe, in an operation they codenamed "Moonlight Sonata", bombed the city for over eleven hours, killing 600, injuring a thousand, and damaging or destroying over 43,000 homes -- just over half of the existing housing stock. The raid was so devastating that Joseph Goebbels later used the term Coventriert ("Coventrated") to describe a particularly satisfactory level of destruction.

Popular legend has it that Winston Churchill knew about the bombing in advance, but failed to warn Coventry for fear of jeopardizing the Enigma code-breaking activities at Bletchely Park. This assertion is frequently repeated, but modern Churchill scholars disagree.

The BBC has put together 70 Stories for 70 Years, an interactive map giving access to "stories and memories from those who lived through that life-changing night." One survivor decided this year to meet with his German counterparts, survivors of the Dresden bombing.

Another (partial) survivor of sorts, the 14th century gothic cathedral, was left as it was after the bombing.
posted by tractorfeed (35 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post.
posted by rodgerd at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2010


One survivor decided this year to meet with his German counterparts, survivors of the Dresden bombing

600 dead in Coventry vs. 22,000-25,000 dead in Dresden (original estimates of 250,000 are now considered inaccurate) hardly seems a fair comparison, but it's good that there can be reconciliation among the survivors even at this late stage.
posted by briank at 9:52 AM on November 14, 2010


We gave Hamburg quite the hammering too.
posted by Artw at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


We gave Hamburg quite the hammering too.

Indeed. Dresden got the attention because that original quarter-million estimate was on par with the estimates from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bombing of Hamburg was much worse. Not to dismiss the extent of the physical destruction of Coventry, but we certainly more than paid the Germans back for the Blitz.
posted by briank at 10:19 AM on November 14, 2010


When I look at old photochrom pictures in the Library of Congress digital collection and see all the beautiful old cities before they were bombed I get so sad about all the beauty that was turned into rubble.
Indeed Coventry. But also Nürenberg, Köln before after, Rotterdam before after, etc ...
posted by joost de vries at 10:22 AM on November 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Great post.

600 dead in Coventry vs. 22,000-25,000 dead in Dresden (original estimates of 250,000 are now considered inaccurate) hardly seems a fair comparison

You want to talk unfair comparisons? How about 10 million civilians murdered by Germany in concentration camps in World War II? Remind me. How many civilians did the British kill in concentration camps in World War II?
posted by cjets at 10:32 AM on November 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Joost, I've always been impressed by this photo of post-bombardment Rotterdam.

It was presumably taken after the war, so all the debris has been removed and so the empty space and how few structures remain are especially striking.

X marks City Hall (Coolsingel), and you can make out the "White House" toward the top left, near the foot of the old Willemsbrug bridge.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:37 AM on November 14, 2010


We gave Hamburg quite the hammering too.
posted by Artw


I'm not in any way equating a comparatively trivial loss that was a consequence of that, but there was a school of fugue composition known as the Hamburg Circle, that championed invertible counterpoint at the tenth (3rd.) This was a kind of hyper-modern culmination in the evolution of the fugue form, and included new analyses of the other fugue forms to date, with most activity happening in the 1660s and 1670s.

All of this work was recorded in the "Sweelinck theory manuscripts," housed at the Hamburg Stadsbibliothek. That was the only repository for the documents, that would be of great interest even today. All gone, destroyed in the bombing raids.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Great scott, yes.
Btw that picture of the Witte huis is one of those photochroms from the library of congress collection.
posted by joost de vries at 10:49 AM on November 14, 2010



When I look at old photochrom pictures in the Library of Congress digital collection and see all the beautiful old cities before they were bombed I get so sad about all the beauty that was turned into rubble.
Indeed Coventry. But also Nürenberg, Köln before after, Rotterdam before after, etc ...




I lived in Köln for about 15 years. This is an amazing link to photos of Köln (in German) both before and after the war, as well as current.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 11:14 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2010


There is also this on the iPlayer if you are in the UK: Coventry Blitz: Out of the Ashes.
posted by srboisvert at 12:12 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


600 really is astonishingly low, given the amount of damage. And of course Coeventry is no Hamburg, but it's not small either. It makes me wonder what there difference was.

The lack of a deliberately executed firestorm probably had something to do with it.
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on November 14, 2010


In addition to this, the bombing of Coventry certainly cannot be considered an isolated incident regarding behaviour of a non-military character. In 1942 the Germans carried out a particularly cynical series of attacks that became known as the Baedeker raids, which specifically targeted places of historical merit listed in their Baedeker guide book - targets which they acknowledged were of no strategic military importance.
Pfft, I lost interest in the article after that. "Strategic" air bombing of civilians in ww2 was performed with much greater zeal by the Allies than the Germans. Once they realized it was remarkably ineffective at harming industrial production rates, internal bureaucratic struggles redirected the effort under the guise that it would "hurt enemy morale". Having access to a lot more bombers and fighters over time, the Allies killed between 4 and 5 times more civilians that way.

From the wiki:
On 14 February 1942, Directive No. 22 was issued to Bomber Command. Bombing was to be "focused on the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular of the industrial workers." Factories were no longer targets.[123]
posted by pmv at 3:03 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


That would be the work of Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris. They built a statue of him, you know.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on November 14, 2010


When I look at old photochrom pictures in the Library of Congress digital collection and see all the beautiful old cities before they were bombed I get so sad about all the beauty that was turned into rubble.
Indeed Coventry. But also Nürenberg, Köln before after, Rotterdam before after, etc ...
posted by joost de vries at 7:22 PM on November 14


and Warsaw, simply wiped off the face of the earth.
posted by ruelle at 4:27 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've heard this many times and I've never understood it: how could bombing be so ineffective in disrupting production? Large factories are easy to spot from the air, thousands of tons of bombs must cause a lot of problems for the production lines.. Was it the matter of hiding / moving factories around, having good AA batteries concentrated near factories, something else?
posted by rainy at 4:32 PM on November 14, 2010


I've heard this many times and I've never understood it: how could bombing be so ineffective in disrupting production? Large factories are easy to spot from the air, thousands of tons of bombs must cause a lot of problems for the production lines.. Was it the matter of hiding / moving factories around, having good AA batteries concentrated near factories, something else?

It turns out that high altitude unguided bombing is extremely inaccurate. Compounding this was the RAF switchover to bombing at night, which made it easier for the bombers to make it through, but made it more difficult to identify targets. Even when a factory was hit, machine tools were found to be surprisingly difficult to destroy using bombs.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


cjets: "How many civilians did the British kill in concentration camps in World War II"

Not so many, especially compared the tens of millions killed during the genocides and famines of the 19th century within the British Empire.

Trying to draw or refute moral equivalence through raw numbers is mainly a mug's game.
posted by meehawl at 6:47 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


07/11/1940
The Royal Air Force attacks the Krupp munition works in Essen.
08/11/1940
RAF bomb Munich shortly after Hitler appears there.
11/11/1940
Italian aircraft attack Thames Estuary with little success: first and last Italian air attack on Britain.
14/11/1940 The Luftwaffe launches 449 bombers in a heavy night attack against the major manufacturing city of Coventry, dropping around 400 tons of bombs causing severe damage to industrial and civilian installations. The city centre is badly damaged, with 21 factories being destroyed and the cathedral wrecked but for its spire. The raid kills or injures 1,419 people and makes thousands homeless. A new word is created in both the English and German languages, 'Coventrate' and 'Coventrieren', meaning the physical and psychological destruction of a city.
posted by clavdivs at 7:17 PM on November 14, 2010


or
leave the bomber, take the cannoli.
posted by clavdivs at 7:22 PM on November 14, 2010


good thread.
Churchill knew this was coming it is common knowledge. why? to protect the code.
why? because the code was everything. Freidman was at BP at the time and the germans most likely knew this and suspected enigma was compromised. Plain texting:'Bomb Coventry' would be a sure way to find out if someone was intercepting your signals. I take Stephensons account to be accurate. If Churchill warned the people, the greatest offense instrument the allies had at that time would have lost. As Stephenson said: "Churchill chose wormwood".

my uncle bombed four German cities and never spoke of how many he may have killed. He told me his targets were industrial and the bombadeer (si sp) was so good he missed a school.....Ironically when anairman was shot down, the Luftwaffe often saved the downed air- crew from the people ripping them to shreads. Of course a bounty was involved, but thier was a weird espirt de corp amongst Airforces. My point is that captured radiomen were of interest because they may let slip something in between a smoke, wasser und swartzbrot. (sic fuckin sp)

The intersting part is that the germans had forms for interrogating prisoners based on rank, crew, air group etc., they even had his name. How the fuck is that possible. Sgt Shultz google that? (rant)
the point is intelligence was everything when it came to strategic planning in ww2.

they had his name is that just odd. He recalled the the first inter..i think i mentioned this one already...oh, the nazi comes and says: So sgt naught i see you are from "schcago". your a tough guy, a real Luftgangster. He replied he dated grezy thumbs daughter and Louis was a neighbour, you let me use the phone and we can clear this up.".....BITTZ goes th buzzer under the desk..."next prisoner"

crickets
posted by clavdivs at 8:16 PM on November 14, 2010


For what it's worth, it's only the British night raids that were so ineffective that they ended up not aiming at all. Thanks to the Norton bomb sight, daylight raids, and eventually the P-51, American bombing was accurate enough to have an impact on production the British raids didn't. Even still, factories would be back on line in weeks. Because of this, and the need for air superiority during the D-Day landings, the Americans turned to tactics that were aimed at grinding the Luftwaffe down by baiting them into attacking long range bomber formations protected by P-51 squadrons which were deadly against German aircraft.

The Luftwaffe, while larger and better equipped than the Japanese airforces, ultimately ended up suffering from the same type of problem. As American manufacturing began to result in advantages in both numbers and technology, the losses inflicted caused an irreparable drain on skilled pilots and ultimately this combined with resource and manufacturing shortfalls, was eventually the downfall of both units.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:31 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I look at old photochrom pictures in the Library of Congress digital collection and see all the beautiful old cities before they were bombed I get so sad about all the beauty that was turned into rubble.
Indeed Coventry. But also Nürenberg, Köln before after, Rotterdam before after, etc ...


Unlike Frankfurt, Nuremberg was rebuilt to look much like it did before the bombing, at least the part within the city walls. The Heilig Geist Spital looks identical, for example.
posted by cmonkey at 1:27 AM on November 15, 2010


Did they ever find the Bishop's bird stump?
posted by Kabanos at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Exactly what I was wondering, word for word.
posted by Evilspork at 11:51 AM on November 15, 2010


Dammit Kabanos, I came in here to ask that! It's all this post is missing.
posted by andraste at 1:57 PM on November 15, 2010


I spent nearly a week in Dresden recently. I was invited there as a guest of a festival, and as a Brit, I must say that being there was an odd experience. Actually, I had a great time I loved the place and everyone was there was wonderful, but all the time I was there I was quite aware that the reconstructed buildings are black for a very good reason. After feeling odd for a while about this, I was struck by the fact that Germany and Britain are totally different countries to the ones that bombed the shit out of each other during WWII (not to mention WWI). Our values are totally different, and we find the kind of things that were done in our name (i.e. Nazi Germany, or The British Empire) appalling. If there is something to be learnt, that's it. For me, Dresden's blackened buildings are a symbol of that.
posted by ob at 2:32 PM on November 15, 2010


As American manufacturing began to result in advantages in both numbers and technology, the losses inflicted caused an irreparable drain on skilled pilots and ultimately this combined with resource and manufacturing shortfalls, was eventually the downfall of both units.

This is accurate expect it was the atom bomb that stopped the Japanese, The Japanese had limited resources but planes by 1945 was not one of them. Pilots were a problem but the strategic shift from offensive to defensive tactics led to shorter training. The Japanese had a fuel shortage yet made fuel from pine needles and tomatoes as i recall. They would just replace the ruined engine after one flight.

all wars cause drain on resources, it is how one adapts that is interesting. IMO.

to counter, american air crews on the B-17 had 10 crew memebers. This was reduced to 9 after staggering allied losses between 43-44'
posted by clavdivs at 4:26 PM on November 15, 2010


That's awesome cmonkey. I'm glad I was wrong about that.
I was 8 when I was in Nuremberg so I don't recall personally.
I did a quick google about the Heilig Geist Spital but did not read very well.
Sounds like I should revisit Nuremberg.

I was struck by the fact that Germany and Britain are totally different countries to the ones that bombed the shit out of each other during WWII (not to mention WWI). Our values are totally different, and we find the kind of things that were done in our name (i.e. Nazi Germany, or The British Empire) appalling.

ob, I totally agree with that sentiment.
posted by joost de vries at 7:45 PM on November 15, 2010


I was referring to the downfall of the Japanese and German air forces, specifically in the case of the Japanese the total abandonment of any sort of actual tactics in favor of kamikaze, but your point is well taken. The Japanese weren't going to surrender simply due to resource shortages, that much was made evident from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.

Those staggering losses taken by the 8th US Airforce were in large part caused deliberately by the meatgrinder tactics I mentioned above. I believe that the completion rate for a 25 mission tour was something like 30%.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:33 PM on November 16, 2010


Trying to draw or refute moral equivalence through raw numbers is mainly a mug's game.

Then why are you playing it?
posted by cjets at 4:38 PM on November 16, 2010


cjets: "Then why are you playing it"

To demonstrate its absurdity. We could keep jumping backwards to greater or lesser purges and cleansings. Nobody's hands are clean here.
posted by meehawl at 7:41 PM on November 16, 2010


Thank god air war was a well-thought out strategy, and not a criminal waste of time.
posted by lazenby at 3:50 AM on November 17, 2010


It's easy in retrospect to say that the air war was a criminal waste (and easier to say of the British under Tedder, probably) but it's worth placing it in the larger context of the war. When strategic bombing started, there was no such thing as a foregone conclusion. Had the landings at Sicily been a repetition of Gallipoli, the landings at Normandy would've been delayed if not canceled altogether. Had the mission to destroy the Luftwaffe failed, the invasion fleet could have been sunk in the English Channel which would have represented a substantial blow to the Allied effort to liberate Europe.

War is by definition a terrible act in a terrible time.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2010


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