This Day In History: Hitler Orders The Bombing Of Coventry (1940)

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Hitler on this day in history personally ordered a vicious air attack on the English city of Coventry. The attack took place in the aftermath of the Battle of Britain when it became clear that the Luftwaffe would not get the better of the RAF and their legendary Spitfires. Hitler during the Battle of Britain had ordered the Luftwaffe to deliberately target civilian targets in England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. This was another example of a terror tactic used by the Nazis to intimidate their enemies into surrender. Hitler had used a similar tactic in Rotterdam and Warsaw and would later use it also in Belgrade.

Hitler had ordered the attack in retaliation for the RAF’s bombing of Munch. He had felt personaly humiliated by the attack. Hitler was about to give his usual speech to the Nazi faithful in Munich on the anniversary of the Munich Putsch in 1923.  The RAF attacked a railway yard and depot during this raid. Hitler saw it as a personal slight, as the raid forced him to end his speech in Much early and he wanted to teach the British a lesson. He decided to reduce Coventry to rubble.

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Children in the rubble of their school

The Luftwaffe send several squadrons of bombers to the city and dropped hundreds of tons of high explosives. Coventry was selected because it was a key industrial center and produced arms and munitions in large amounts for the British armed forces. Hitler wanted Coventry to be made an example of: and the Luftwaffe carried out his orders with grim and brutal efficiency.  Some 450 German bombers were involved in the raid. The German bombers killed hundreds of civilians that terrible night. Many women and children were among the dead. The Luftwaffe’s bombs destroyed thousands of buildings and devastated much of the city, including its Cathedral.  It has been estimated that some 50,00 buildings were damaged or ruined. The raid left thousands of civilians homeless. Much of the destruction was caused by the Luftwaffe’s use of incendiary bombs that caused firestorms throughout the city.  The Germans defended the attack by pointing to the fact that some thirty war factories were destroyed in the raid, however, the bombing had been indiscriminate and civilians were deliberately targeted by the Germans.

The raid was deemed a success by the Luftwaffe and Hitler was impressed by the results. The verb  “Koventrieren” (to Coventrate)  was used to describe an attack that reduced a target to rubble. Coventry became a byword for the brutality of war during and after the WW II. The city was to be bombed repeatedly in the war. After the war the city was rebuilt and so too was its Cathedral. The rebuilding of the Cathedral became the symbol of the city’s re-birth after the horrors of the war years.

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