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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 in the United Kingdom. Beginning on 9 August 1940 and ending on 23 April 1943. Situated in the Midlands, Birmingham, England's second 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]

Damage[edit | edit source]

Overall, there were eight major air raids on Birmingham (raids which dropped at least 100 tons of bombs) and many smaller ones.[1] Official figures state that 5,129 high explosive bombs and 48 parachute mines landed on the city, although there are no figures for the number of incendiary bombs that were dropped. 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.[2] 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.[3]

At the out break of war Birmingham, along with industrial centres, were considered to at risk from paratroop assault; consequently citizens were asked to be on guard for parachutes. However, because people of that era were not used to seeing many planes and had certainly never seen a parachute, mistakes were made. In particular, in Small Heath the German bombers were after the B.S.A. site and dropped incendiaries; these incendiaries were attached to parachutes and came down by the score. This obviously caused mass panic, not for the bombs but because everyone thought they were paratroopers.

A severely bomb damaged street in Aston

The first fatality of the bombing in Birmingham was a soldier in Erdington, home on leave from his unit. That night, eight bombs were dropped by a single German plane. It is believed the intended target was Fort Dunlop or Bromford Tubular Rolling Mills.

On 25 August 1940, the roof and interior of the old Market Hall in the Bull Ring was destroyed by an incendiary attack. 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.

Just as it had in the First World War, the Birmingham Small Arms Company turned itself over to the war effort, becoming a key supplier for the British military and therefore, an important strategic target for the Luftwaffe. The factory was bombed several times, the worst air raid being on 19 November 1940 did the most damage, causing loss of production and trapping hundreds of workers. Two BSA night-shift electricians, Alf Stevens and Alf Goodwin, helped rescue their fellow workers. Alf Stevens was awarded the George Medal for his selfless acts of bravery in the rescue and Alf Goodwin was awarded the British Empire Medal. Workers involved in the works Civil Defence were brought in to help search for and clear bodies to get the plant back into production. The net effect of the November raids was to destroy machine shops in the four-storey 1915 building, the original 1863 gunsmiths' building and nearby buildings; 53 employees were killed, 89 were injured, 30 of them seriously and rifle production was halted for three months. The raid turned out to be the most devastating attack on Birmingham in the course of the war. It was six weeks before the last of the bodies was recovered from the site.

New Street after bombing

On the night of 23 November a bomb hit a viaduct which brought water from the Elan Valley Reservoirs in Wales. Birmingham's water supply was cut off, so lakes and canals were drained nearly dry to fill the tenders of the fire engines. The Royal Engineers were on high alert to start blowing up buildings to create firebreaks if a firestorm started, as that would have been the only way to have stopped the city burning out of control. Men worked night and day to repair the viaduct in just 5 days.

The night of 11 December 1940 was the longest raid of the Blitz when 200 German Bombers pounded Birmingham for 13 hours. During this raid all but the fine tower and classical west portico of St Thomas' Church on Bath Row was destroyed. 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.

The aerodrome factory, in Castle Bromwich, which produced 59% of all Spitfires which flew in the war, was also damaged by bombing and it was thought production would have to stop for repairs to made, both to the building and also equipment. However, word had spread and off duty workers started to drift in to repair machinery and make temporary repairs to the fabric of the building making it safe and water-proof. This allowed those actually at work to carry on, albeit at reduced speed. At the end of their shift they then took over the repair work of the factory; those they replaced then "clocked" on for their shift. Some went for two days without sleep, purely for the war effort. The nights of 9 and 10 April 1941 saw over 650 bombs and thousands of incendiaries fall on the city centre destroying the Prince of Wales Theatre, and much of New Street and High Street.

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.

The neighbouring Black Country area also suffered from air raids from the Luftwaffe aiming for targets there and in Birmingham. These included a string of air raids on Wolverhampton in 1941 and 1942 [1]. West Bromwich suffered its heaviest raid on 19 November 1940 with more than 50 fatalities, mainly around the town centre.[2]. Dudley was bombed on the same night as West Bromwich, with the 10 fatalities all occurring in the Oakham area of the town.

Important industrial targets[edit | edit source]

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.

Memorial[edit | edit source]

On 8 October 2005 a memorial sculpture named 'The Tree of Life' sculpted by Lorenzo Quinn was unveiled adjacent to St Martin’s Church.[4]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

The massive bomb damage on civilian housing in Birmingham led[citation needed] to the development of many large housing estates across the city for some 20 years after the Second World War. These neighbourhoods included Castle Vale and Chelmsley Wood. Some of the bomb-damaged inner city areas such as Ladywood and Highgate were redeveloped with modern housing after the war.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Ray, John, "The Night Blitz", Cassel & Co 1996, ISBN 0-304-35676-X pp. 264
  2. Birmingham City Council Department of Planning and Architecture (February 1995). "Architecture & Austerity - Birmingham 1940-1950". Birmingham City Council. http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/ELibrary?E_LIBRARY_ID=61&a=1080741348832. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  3. Cherry, Gordon E. (1994), Birmingham: a study in geography, history, and planning, Belhaven world cities series, Chichester: Wiley, ISBN 0-471-94900-0
  4. "The Tree of Life unveiled". BBC news. http://www.bbc.co.uk/birmingham/content/articles/2005/10/10/tree_of_life_unveiled_feature.shtml. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  • The Story of Erdington - From Sleepy Hamlet to Thriving Suburb, Douglas V. Jones, 1989, Westwood Press (ISBN 0-948025-05-0)

External links[edit | edit source]


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