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Southampton's Blitz

The war over Southampton

[669] 3 Cobden Avenue

magnify Bombed house in Cobden Avenue
Southampton suffered badly from large-scale air raids during World War Two. As a large port city on the south coast, it was an important strategic target for the German air force (Luftwaffe). There were fifty seven attacks in all, but nerves were frayed by over 1,500 alarms. According to A.R.P. (Air Raid Precaution Department) reports over 2,300 bombs were dropped amounting to over 470 tonnes of high explosives. Over 30,000 incendiary devices were dropped on the city. Nearly 45,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, with most of the city's High Street being hit. There were reports that the glow of Southampton burning could be seen from as far away as Cherbourg on the North coast of France. Nazi publicity declared in propaganda that the city had been left a smoking ruin. 

Of the 57 Air Raids, by far the worst were on 23rd and 30th November and 1st December and these attacks are generally referred to as Southamptonton's Blitz. The last casualties of air raids in the city were in a small raid on the suburbs of the city in May 1941. The last major raid of over 50 bombers was in June 1942, after that the worst was over. There were occasional single bombs and in July 1943 the only two flying bombs to land on the city were the last to fall in the area.

There were reports of German aircraft strafing the streets with machine gun fire, and although the docks were an important strategic target inevitably it was civilians that suffered. The war over Southampton eventually left 630 civilians dead, 898 seriously injured and nearly a thousand with slight wounds. 

[3419] Bombed art gallery

magnify Art Gallery after bombing
One of the most tragic stories from the war in Southampton relates to a bomb landing on the Arts Block in the Civic Centre where children were having a lesson. At 2.45 pm on 6th November 1940, twelve bombs fell on Southampton. One of them, carrying 500lbs of explosives dropped directly on the art school. Not all the children had gone to the air raid shelter, but in the end this made very little difference. The bomb tore right through the roof and floors and exploded inside the basement where children were hiding. Fourteen children died inside the shelter, unable to get out or raise help. Only one of the children hiding in the shelter survived to tell the horrific tale. In Andrew Bissell’s book ‘Children of Southampton’s Blitz’ the survivor recalls ‘There was noise and screaming all around me. Just total chaos and confusion’. The memorial to the right of the Art Gallery steps in Southampton Civic centre records the memories of those that survived the day when twelve bombs fell, ‘Like a ladder from the sky’. Over thirty people were killed by this bomb alone.

The raids on Southampton left it utterly changed. The city centre was forever altered and many landmarks were lost. The docks and Woolston’s Supermarine works were the main targets and the reason why Southampton was such a major focus for attack when the German attention strayed from London. The consequences of these attacks are still very visible around Southampton today.


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