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The Bath Blitz of 25 and 26 April 1942 on Bath, Somerset, was one of the series of Vergeltungsangriffe ("retaliatory raids") of the Baedeker Blitz raids by the Nazi Luftwaffe air force on English cities,[1] in response to the bombing of Lübeck during the night from 28 to 29 March 1942 during World War II.

Background

In March 1942, Britain’s RAF Bomber Command, as part of a new policy of Area Bombing, achieved its first successful attack on the North German port of Lübeck. Britain had been unable to match the Luftwaffe’s strength, but until 1942 both sides had attacked legitimate military targets. Lübeck did manufacture armaments and the port was used for supplying the German armies in Northern Russia. These industrial areas, however, were far from the tightly packed medieval city centre where the Royal Air Force offensive resulted in extensive damage. Although Lübeck was a ‘soft’ target, its destruction boosted Allied morale and seriously hurt the German High Command.[1]

Baedeker Blitz

Baedeker's Great Britain guide for 1937

The Baedeker Blitz were conducted by the Nazi Luftwaffe Luftflotte 3 in two periods between April and June 1942. They targeted strategically relatively unimportant but picturesque cities in England. The cities were reputedly selected from the German Baedeker Tourist Guide to Britain, meeting the criterion of having been awarded three stars (for their historical significance), hence the English name for the raids. Baron Gustav Braun von Stumm, a German propagandist is reported to have said on 24 April 1942 following the first attack, "We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide."[2]

The cities attacked were:[2]

  • First period
    • Exeter (23 and 24 April; 3 May)
    • Bath (25 and 26 April)
    • Norwich (27 and 29 April)
    • York (29 April)[3][4]

Across all the raids on these five cities a total of 1,637 civilians were killed and 1,760 injured, and over 50,000 houses were destroyed.[5]

Over the weekend of 25–27 April 1942, Bath suffered three raids, from 80 Luftwaffe planes which took off from Nazi occupied northern France.[1]

As the city sirens wailed few people took cover, even when the first pathfinder flares fell the people of Bath still believed the attack was destined for nearby Bristol. During the previous four months Bristol had been hit almost every night, and so the people of Bath did not expect the bombs to fall on them.[6]

The first raid struck just before 11 pm on the Saturday night and lasted until 1 am. The enemy aircraft then returned to France, refuelled, rearmed and returned at 4.35 am. Bath was still ablaze from the first raid, making it easier for the German bombers to pick out their targets. The third raid, which only lasted two hours but caused extensive damage, arrived in the early hours of Monday morning. The bombers flew low to drop their high explosives and incendiaries and then returned to rake the streets with machine-gun fire.[6]

417 people were killed, another 1,000 injured. Over 19,000 buildings were affected, of which 1,100 were seriously damaged or destroyed including 218 of architectural or historic interest.[1][6] Houses in the Royal Crescent, Circus and Paragon were destroyed and the Assembly Rooms burnt out.[1][7] A 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) high explosive bomb landed on the south side of Queen Square, resulting in houses on the south side being damaged.[1] The Francis Hotel lost 24 metres (79 ft) of its hotel frontage, and most of the buildings on the square suffered some level of shrapnel damage. Casualties on the Square were low considering the devastation, with the majority of hotel guests and staff having taken shelter in the hotel's basement.[1]

The buildings have subsequently been restored, although there are still some signs of the bombing.[1][8]

Post script

Willi Schludecker at the 25 April 2008 memorial service in Bath with his remembrance wreath

After the raid, an air-raid shelter was provided for Queen Square occupants in the then private central garden. In 1948, the residents gave the garden to the people of Bath with the intention it would become a memorial to the victims of the enemy attacks. Today the square plays host to a variety of community activities including the Jane Austen Festival and the annual Bath Boules Tournament.[1]

Willi Schludecker, 87, who flew more than 120 sorties for the Luftwaffe, including the Bath Blitz, travelled to UK as part of Bath's annual remembrance service on Friday 25 April 2008.[9]

On 17 June 2010, at the age of 90, Willi Schludecker died in a hospital in Cologne.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Spence, Cathryn (2012). Bath in the Blitz: Then and Now. Stroud: The History Press. pp. 55. ISBN 9780752466392. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Grayling p. 51
  3. Taylor, Kessler, Eric, Leo (1986). The York blitz, 1942: the Baedeker raid on York, April 29th, 1942. William Sessions. 
  4. "York Air Raids". http://yorkairraids.wordpress.com/category/history/. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  5. Grayling p.52
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Warren, Jim. "Bath Blitz Memorial Project". http://www.bathblitz.org/. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  7. "Royal Crescent History: The Day Bombs fell on Bath". Royal Crescent Society, Bath. Archived from the original on 31 January 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080131165322/http%3A//www.royalcrescentbath.com/HistoryRoyalCrescent%25202.htm. Retrieved 9 December 2007. 
  8. "Royal Crescent History: The Day Bombs fell on Bath". Royal Crescent Society, Bath. http://www.royalcrescentbath.com/HistoryRoyalCrescent%202.htm#The_Day_Bombs_fell_on_Bath. Retrieved 9 December 2007. 
  9. "Luftwaffe pilot sorry for bombing". BBC News. 23 April 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2010

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