The war over Southampton
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.
Bombed house in
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
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.