The November14th Coventry Blitz

Facts about the Coventry Blitz, Copyright Maurice Rattigan

Reproduced by Jane Hewitt with kind permission from the author

Table of Contents

The German code name was "Mondscheinsonate" - Moonlight Sonata.

Double British Summer Time was introduced for the duration of the war and on November 14th British Summer Time (BST) was in force and the sun set at 17-11 hrs. The moon rose at 17-18 hrs and set at 08-17hrs.The precise time of the full moon was 03-23 on 15th November.

On November 4th a captured German pilot revealed there was to be a heavy raid on either Birmingham or Coventry between 15th and 20th November with all available Luftwaffe bombers taking part.

On November 12th, Wing Commander G.W.P. Grant, Air Intelligence, sent a "most secret" memo to the Director of Home Operations indicating the possibility of a major raid, code named Moonlight Sonata, with no indication of the target or date. Air Commodore D.F.Stevenson, who was the Director of Home Operations, gave instructions for a plan (Operation Coldwater) to be prepared to counter the attack. Operation instructions were given to all R.A.F. commands at 03-00 hrs on November 14th and to Combined Operations at 04-21hrs.

By 15-00hrs on the 14th we had detected that the Knickebein direction beam indicated that Coventry would be the target and Operation Coldwater was set up. 43 R.A.F. bombers were despatched to German airfields in northern France including Rosendail, St.Leger, Gravelenes, Beauvais, Lille, Etaples and Ameins and a squadron of Coastal Command bombed the Kgr100 Pathfinder base at Vannes. The radio beacon sites were also attacked. 30 bombers also attacked Berlin, dropping 17 tons which included 4,000 incendiary and 6 1,500 lb land mines.

The R.A.F. lost 12 aircraft comprising 6 Whitley, 2 Wellington, and 4 Hampden bombers. Jamming of the Knickebein beacon frequency of 2,000 cycles was tried unsuccessfully for we assumed it to be 1,500 cycles.

The Defences

A balloon barrage circled the city manned by R.A.F. personnel. It consisted of 56 balloons, 32 from 916 Squadron and 24 from 917 Squadron, plus 8 others that had been brought in at short notice. They were flown at 7000 feet or lower. 7000 feet was the maximum height with a worthwhile cable. To fly any higher would have required a thinner, and less inadequate cable.

Balloons were often shot down by the enemy and bad weather was also to blame for losses. In a London thunderstorm on 15th September 1939, 78 were destroyed.

Coventry was protected by 32 3.7" and 8 3" anti-aircraft guns but Lt/Col Lawrence said that he only had 24 heavy ack ack guns that night. In addition there were 12 mobile 40mm Bofors brought in late that afternoon. These were "The Travelling Circus" which toured the Midlands setting up where air raids were expected. (When I came home from school about 4.30 pm there was one stationed on Whitley Common.)

Thumbnail of Blitz bomb damage. Click to view the image full size.

Sketch showing Blitz bomb damage.
(Click the thumbnail to view full size.)

6,700 A.A. shells were fired that night. The 4 gun battery at Binley fired 1,391. 121 RAF night fighters were engaged comprising 10 Beaufighters, 39 Blenheims, 22 Defiants, 45 Hurricanes, 1 Spitfire and 4 Gloster Gladiator bi-planes.11 sightings reported with 2 engagements and 1 enemy aircraft was reported to have been damaged. The enemy lost one plane. It was a Dornier 17, serial number 2892 and it was shot down by A.A. fire at Preswold Hall, Burton on the Wold, Loughborough. The 4 man crew were killed and are buried at Loughborough Cemetery.

Searchlights surrounded the area manned by the R.A.F. 90cm dia and 150cm dia of the carbon arc type in which two electrodes closed to give an high density spark. The 90cm searchlight gave off 210 million candle power. They were spaced at 3,500 yards apart and used mobile generators. Sound detectors were utilised by the Searchlight and A.A. units but some German pilots ran their engines out of synch to confuse the detectors.

The civilian Observer Corp were used as an early warning system and claimed it could predict an aircraft flying at 20,000 ft within 10 percent of error. The city was also covered by a smoke screen generated by smoke canisters operated by the army Pioneer Corp. To my recollection the drum was about 24" in diameter by 24" high with an 8" diameter chimney 4 feet tall covered by a cowl. They were filled with a petrol paraffin mixture which give off dense black smoke and it had an obnoxious smell which, along with the smoke, penetrated nearby houses. (I speak from personal experience as these smoke canisters were stationed along London Road only a few yards away from our home at 8 Shortley Road.) I can't recall whether the smoke screen was operating at the time of the November 14th raid.

Nationally, dummy airfields and factories were created in open countryside, and decoy fires, codename "Starfish", were also tried, the first being for a raid on Bristol on December 2nd 1940. The Air Raid Precautions (A.R.P.) system was set up in Coventry on 17th March 1937 with 412 Air Raid Wardens covering 6 zones. (A.R.P. was later renamed Civil Defence.) There was also a Messenger Service, a Rescue Service and First Aid Posts were also established to supplement the Ambulance Service. Specials were also recruited for the Police Department.

To compliment the regular Fire Service, Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.) units were established in all areas of the city, works Fire Brigades were formed by all major companies and street Fire Watcher rotas were implemented. The Home Guard also gave valuable assistance. The Women’s Voluntary Service (W.V.S.) heroically gave succour to the emergency services supplying much needed refreshments.

(Compiled by Maurice Rattigan from information obtained from the Local Studies Section of the Coventry Central Library and from information researched from "Operation Moonlight Sonata", published 1995 by Allan W. Kirki, who obtained much of the German information from Bundesarchiv, Freiburg.)

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