Birmingham Blitz

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The Bull Ring area after heavy bombing

The Birmingham Blitz was the heavy bombing by the Nazi German Luftwaffe of the city of Birmingham and surrounding towns in the United Kingdom. Beginning on 9 August 1940 and ending on 23 April 1943. Situated in the Midlands, Birmingham, England's second largest city after London, is an important industrial and manufacturing location. In total around 1,852 tons of bombs were dropped on Birmingham making it the third most heavily bombed city in the United Kingdom in World War II, behind only London, and Liverpool.[1]

There was also significant bombing of towns in the neighbouring Black Country, particularly in Dudley, Tipton and West Bromwich, where there were hundreds of casualties.

Like with most provincial cities bombed during the Blitz, reports of the bombing were kept low key. Wartime censorship meant that Birmingham was not mentioned by name in contemporary news reports about the bombing, being referred to instead as a "Midland Town". This was done in order to keep the Germans from knowing the outcome of their raids.[2]

Damage[edit]

Overall, there were 365 air raid alerts, and 77 actual air raids on Birmingham, eight of which were classified as major (in which at least 100 tons of bombs were dropped).[1][3] Official figures state that 5,129 high explosive bombs and 48 parachute mines landed on the city, along with many thousands of incendiary bombs. Of the high explosive bombs, around one fifth failed to detonate and one third of the parachute mines were left suspended after the parachute cords became caught in various obstacles such as trees.[4] In total, 2,241 people were killed, and 3,010 seriously injured. A further 3,682 sustained lesser injuries. 12,391 houses, 302 factories and 239 other buildings were destroyed, with many more damaged.[5]

Timeline of events[edit]

The first small air raid on the city took place on 9 August 1940, carried out by a single aircraft which dropped its bombs on Erdington. One person was killed, and six injured.[4] On 13 August the aircraft factory in Castle Bromwich which produced Spitfires was attacked. Eleven bombs hit the main target causing significant damage. 7 people were killed, and 41 injured.[6][7] On 25/26 August the roof and interior of the old Market Hall in the Bull Ring was destroyed after being set ablaze by incendiary bombs.[7] Completed in 1835, it remained as an empty shell after the war and was used for small exhibitions and open markets. It was eventually bulldozed in the 1960s with the Bull Ring redevelopment.

A severely bomb damaged street in Aston Newtown.

Regular small raids followed over August, September, October and early November, with many attacks on the city-centre. Among the buildings hit were Birmingham University, the Art Gallery and the Town Hall. The Council House and St Philip's Cathedral were damaged by incendiaries.[8]

In November 1940, a series of heavy air raids on Birmingham took place. Between the 19th and 28th of that month around 800 people were killed and 2,345 injured, with 20,000 civilians made homeless.[9]

On 19 November, just five days after the devastating attack on nearby Coventry, the first major air raid was launched against Birmingham, when around 440 bombers attacked the city, killing 450 people and badly injuring 540. Around 400 tonnes of high explosives were dropped during the raid, including 18 parachute mines.[8][7] The raid turned out to be the most severe attack on Birmingham in the course of the war. A number of factories were badly damaged in the raid, including the Lucas Industries and GEC works. The Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) factory was badly damaged, causing loss of production and trapping hundreds of workers. 53 employees were killed, 89 were injured, 30 of them seriously, and rifle production was halted for three months. A member of the Home Guard and one of the company's electricians were later awarded the George Medal for their bravery in helping the trapped workers.[10]

A ruined factory building.

The following night the bombers returned for another heavy raid, dropping 118 tonnes of explosives and 9,500 incendiaries, causing widespread damage. The main bus depot in Hockley was among the buildings hit, destroying or damaging 100 vehicles.[8]

A third consecutive major raid followed on 21/22 November. During this eleven hour raid, large numbers of incendiaries were dropped, starting over 600 fires. The water supply system was badly damaged by bombs, causing three fifths of the city to lose mains water supply, firefighters therefore had to draw water from the city's canals. Supporting fire brigades from across the country were drafted in to help, and the fires were eventually brought under control.[9] Nevertheless, Birmingham's water supply remained in a critical state, only one fifth of the normal quantity would have been available if there had been another raid, leading the Regional Commissioner to comment "Birmingham will burn down if the Luftwaffe comes again tonight." Fortunately, there wasn't another raid that night, and this gave engineers time to repair the water mains.[11]

Around 60 bombers attacked Birmingham on 4 December. The Witton tram depot was badly damaged in this raid. One week later, on the night of 11 December another major raid involving 278 bombers was launched against the city. This was the longest raid of the Blitz lasting for 13 hours. Apart from explosives, around 25,000 incendiaries were dropped during the raid, causing widespread fires in both residential and industrial areas.[8] 263 people were killed and 243 badly injured.[2] All but the fine tower and classical west portico of St Thomas' Church on Bath Row was destroyed in the raid. The ruins of which now form part of St. Thomas' Peace Garden, a public park designated as a monument to peace and a memorial to all those killed in armed conflict.

New Street after bombing

Further heavy raids followed in 1941, on 11 March, 135 bombers attacked the city. Birmingham was subjected to a two night assault on 9 and 10 April. In the first of these, 235 bombers dropped 280 tonnes of explosives and 40,000 incendiaries, concentrated on the city-centre. The Bull Ring, New Street, High Street, and Dale End all suffered heavy damage. Other areas including Small Heath, Aston and Nechells, also suffered heavy damage. On the second night, 245 bombers dropped 245 tonnes of explosives and 43,000 incendiaries. Causing major damage in Solihull, Hall Green and Erdington.[12]

On the night of 16 May, another large raid caused damage to the Wolseley Motors factory, and the ICI factory. Although a navigation error meant that most of the bombers dropped their bombs on nearby Nuneaton by mistake.[12]

Black Country[edit]

The neighbouring Black Country area also suffered from air raids from the Luftwaffe aiming for targets there and in Birmingham, although there was less damage and fewer casualties in the Black Country than in Birmingham. These included a string of air raids on Wolverhampton in 1941 and 1942.[13] West Bromwich suffered its heaviest raid on 19 November 1940, when Birmingham also suffered a heavy raid, with more than 50 fatalities, mainly around the town centre. Several houses were wrecked by bombs in the Tantany and Stone Cross areas of the town, but there were no deaths.[14] Dudley was bombed on the same night as West Bromwich, with the 10 fatalities all occurring in the Oakham area of the town, when a landmine ripped into a section of council houses. Another bomb in the town centre demolished a public house and caused damage to buildings including a church and a department store, but nobody was injured. There were also a number of fatalities in nearby Tipton in the blitz that night, with several more deaths occurring in the Great Bridge area of the town in May 1941 when a bomb landed on a public house, with the area's final fatalities occurring in August 1941 when four more people were killed by a landmine which dropped on the new Tividale Hall estate in Dudley.

Important industrial targets[edit]

Name Location Production
Aerodrome Factory Castle Bromwich 1,200+ Spitfires & Lancasters
Austin "Shadow Factory" Longbridge 2,866 Fairey Battles, Hurricanes, Stirlings & Lancasters
Austin Works Longbridge 500 Military Vehicles/week
Rover Solihull Bristol Hercules Engines
Fisher and Ludlow Birmingham Lancaster Wings, Shell Casings, Bombs
Reynold Birmingham Spitfire Wing Spars, Light Alloy Tubing
GEC Birmingham Plastic Components
SU Carburettors Birmingham Aero-carburettors
Birmingham Small Arms Factory Birmingham Rifles, sten guns (100% of all made)

Other targets included: Dunlop, Chance Brothers, Lucas, Metro-Cammell, Morris Commercial, British Timken, Hudson's Whistles and the Monitor Radio Company.

The Tree of Life memorial dedicated to the victims of the Blitz in Birmingham. Sculpted by Lorenzo Quinn, it was unveiled in the Bull Ring by Councillor John Hood on 8 October 2005.

Memorial[edit]

On 8 October 2005 a memorial sculpture, named 'The Tree of Life' sculpted by Lorenzo Quinn, dedicated to the victims of the Blitz was unveiled adjacent to St Martin’s Church.[15]

Aftermath[edit]

The massive bomb damage on civilian housing in Birmingham contributed to the development of many large council estates across the city for some 20 years after the Second World War. These neighbourhoods included Castle Vale and Chelmsley Wood. Another major factor in the construction of these new properties was to replace the 19th century slums in the inner city areas.

Some of the bomb-damaged inner city areas such as Ladywood and Highgate were redeveloped with modern housing after the war, although these were mostly less densely populated than before.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ray 1996, p. 264.
  2. ^ a b Gardiner 2010, p. 166.
  3. ^ "Slide #5". Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Asoociation. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Birmingham City Council Department of Planning and Architecture (February 1995). "Architecture & Austerity - Birmingham 1940-1950". Birmingham City Council. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  5. ^ Cherry, Gordon E. (1994), Birmingham: a study in geography, history, and planning, Belhaven world cities series, Chichester: Wiley, ISBN 0-471-94900-0
  6. ^ Ray 1996, p. 93.
  7. ^ a b c "1940 - Diary of a Birmingham Schoolboy". brianwilliams.org.uk. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d Ray 1996, p. 165.
  9. ^ a b Ray 1996, p. 166.
  10. ^ Gardiner 2010, p. 208.
  11. ^ Gardiner 2010, p. 209.
  12. ^ a b Ray 1996, p. 225.
  13. ^ www.localhistories.org/wolverhampton.html
  14. ^ www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk
  15. ^ "The Tree of Life unveiled". BBC news. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 

Bibliography[edit]

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