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Bristol Chronicles 1939 - 1945 | by brizzle born and bred
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Bristol Chronicles 1939 - 1945

1940 - Hitler claims Bristol has been completely destroyed following a night of intensive bombing on November 2 in which 5.000 incendiary and 10.000 high explosive bombs are dropped on the centre of the old city. On November 24, the entire area that is now Castle Park is destroyed in a bombing raid. During World War Two 1,299 people in Bristol are killed by German bombing. About 3,000 buildings are destroyed and 90,000 are damaged.


1941- The infamous Good Friday air raids on Bristol see more destruction in the centre of the city plus major damage to Knowle, Hotwells and Filton.The last air raid on Bristol is on April 25, 1941, when Brislington, Bedminster and Knowle are badly hit. Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits the devastated city on April 12,1941 and is booed by crowds amid rumours that the city’s air defences are not being properly managed.


timeline Bristol Blitzed


The Second World War involved the entire nation. For the first time war with another state brought the civilian population into direct contact with the enemy on the Home Front, and people found themselves participating in the defence of their city.


Bristol’s civil defence involved the creation of volunteer forces of air raid wardens, street fire guards and, in case of a land invasion by the Germans, local platoons of an auxiliary force — at first known as the Local Defence Volunteers; it soon became better known as the Home Guard. Voluntary medical services such as St John’s Ambulance Brigade and the British Red Cross Society also played a major role in attending to the wounded. Civilians, therefore, found themselves working alongside the armed forces, the police and full-time fire brigade in the defence of the city.


But everyone in Bristol — as in other large cities — was a target as the Germans attempted to destroy civilian morale by night-time bombing of English cities during the bleak winter of 1940/1.


The announcement by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, on 3 September 1939 that a state of war existed between Britain and Germany at first made little difference to most Bristolians.


Street lighting was extinguished and motor cars forbidden to use their headlamps, which led to an increase in road accidents and of people falling into the docks, but there was no immediate German attack. This was the period of the ‘Phoney War’.


Hitler had been taken unawares by his own success and had made no preparations for the invasion of England. Throughout the ensuing months the strengthening of air defences which had begun in 1937 continued: anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and barrage balloons were deployed around the city.


The fear of a gas attack had resulted in the general issue of gas masks in late 1938; they had to be carried at all times and drills on their use were regularly carried out. Surface air-raid shelters were built and Anderson shelters — named after Sir John Anderson, the Home Secretary were issued free to those with an income below £250 a year.


Bristol’s civil defence was co-ordinated by the ARP based in Broadmead, and the backbone of the ARP was the wardens’ service , which was under the direct control of the Chief Constable.


The first air raid in the Bristol area occurred on 25 June 1940 when the Luftwaffe bombed St Phillips, St Pauls, St James and Brislington although they were actually aiming to destroy the works of the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton.


There was little major damage although five people lost their lives. Several other relatively minor attacks occurred through the summer of 1940, but a serious attack on the aircraft factories at Filton took place on the morning of 25 September.


One Heinkel bomber was brought down by anti-aircraft guns at Portishead the first of only two enemy aircraft brought down by Bristol’s anti-aircraft guns during the war. The other raiders reached Filton and within forty-five seconds had wrought major damage to the plant: ninety-one employees of the Bristol Aeroplane Company were killed and the development of the Bristol Beaufighter, a new fighter plane, was delayed.


With unsustainable losses being suffered during daylight attacks on Britain in mid-October 1940, the Luftwaffe turned to the night bombing of cities, and Bristol suffered its first major raid on 24 November, a Sunday evening. From about 7.00 pm until midnight 134 German aircraft dropped high explosive bombs and incendiaries on Bristol.


Fire raged across the city, lighting up the sky and betraying the position of Bristol to enemy air crews from up to 50 miles away. Seventy-seven fire brigades were sent into the city to assist the Bristol force in fighting the fires. The next morning, shattered and dazed, Bristolians walked through the ruins of once-familiar streets filled with the acrid smell of burning, masses of broken glass and the melancholy drip of water.


Only a skeleton structure of charred wood remained of the Dutch House; St Peter’s Hospital, the jewel in the crown of Bristol’s old timber framed buildings, was gone and the Upper Arcade between The Horsefair and St James Barton was destroyed; several medieval churches were badly damaged — St Peter’s church, St Nicholas church, St Mary-le-Port church — although their towers all survived; several almshouses were also destroyed.


Most of the shops in Wine Street and Castle Street were wiped out and Mary-le-Port Street was totally destroyed; there was also extensive damage in Victoria Street, Redcliff Street and Thomas Street. Clifton also suffered extensive damage:


St Andrew’s, the parish church, was bombed — although again the tower survived — only to be demolished in 1954. Queens Road, Park Street and Park Row saw extensive damage: the Prince’s Theatre was destroyed; so too was the Museum and part of the Art Gallery.


There was also damage to the University, including the Great Hall, and Lennards premises on Queens Road was reduced to a pile of rubble. Houses in Bedminster, Knowle and St George were also bombed. The official casualty list included 200 people killed, 163 seriously injured and 526 slightly hurt.


The assertion in a German newspaper, however, that Bristol had been wiped out as a major industrial centre was a huge exaggeration, but the scale of the damage revealed how vulnerable the city was to air attack.


The Luftwaffe exploited the inadequacy of Bristol’s air defences over the following months, with bad winter weather the city’s only effective defence. The next major raid occurred just over a week later, on the night of 2 December, when 167 fires broke out across the city: the Bishop’s Palace was destroyed, 156 people were killed and another 149 were seriously injured.


The third large air raid took place on the evening of 6 December, and again caused damage to buildings in the centre as well as several industrial sites, including Parnall’s aircraft works at Barton Hill.


This raid killed 100 people and seriously injured eighty. The New Year began with a large-scale attack by 178 aircraft, which lasted nearly all night. Temple Meads railway station and the City Docks suffered much damage; the Corporation Granary on Princes Wharf was destroyed and St Augustine-the-Less was badly damaged.


This was also one of the coldest nights of the year, and fire-fighters and other units had to combat the fires in biting cold and ice. Avonmouth was attacked on 16 January but worsening weather then forced a halt for a while, and the next major raid was not until 16 March. This raid, by 167 aircraft, hit parts of the centre which had previously escaped, and also caused extensive damage in the industrial suburbs of East Bristol; as a result, the casualties were higher on this night than at any time during the war: 257 were killed and 391 were injured.


Another raid took place on 9 April and then the last large-scale raid took place on 11 April — the so-called Good Friday raid when 153 German bombers attacked the city, causing extensive damage in areas close to the City Docks and also resulting in the destruction of Cheltenham Road public library and Colston Girl’s School opposite.


The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was on his way to Bristol when the Good Friday raid took place, and had to delay his arrival until it was over. As Churchill toured the bomb-scarred city he was booed by some Bristolians who blamed the government for their predicament. Morale was at an all-time low after so much death and destruction during a bitterly cold winter.


That Bristol suffered there can be no doubt; the Germans reckoned Bristol was the fourth most bombed city in England. Until September 1941 the enemy killed more civilians than combatants in England, and although morale in Bristol held out — just — many people suffered from considerable stress during the blitz.


From the spring of 1941 the Germans began to turn their attention towards Russia and the heavy raids stopped. There were a few sporadic attacks during the summer of 1941, but they were mainly small-scale affairs. In August 1942 a single bomb from a Junkers 86R flying largely undetected at high altitude fell on Broad Weir, killing forty-five people.


The following year passed without a single raid and the final attack by the Luftwaffe on Bristol occurred on 14 May 1944. In over seventy raids on the city 1,250 people were killed, 3,000 were injured and 89,000 properties were destroyed or damaged, but Bristol survived, and industrial production increased through the war years.


In May 1945 the people of Bristol celebrated victory and turned to the task of rebuilding the city.


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Taken on October 17, 2009