69 years ago: the Portsmouth Blitz (pt 1)

69 years ago tonight saw the largest air raid launched on Portsmouth by the Luftwaffe, during the Blitz.

The Luftwaffe had for a long time identified a number of key targets in Portsmouth: the Naval Dockyard, the Airport and Airspeed Works, Fratton Goods Yard, Vospers Shipbuilders, Naval and Army Barracks throughout the city and across the harbour in Gosport. There are numerous German target maps and aerial photographs in the Local Studies Collection at Portsmouth Central Library.

Until January 1941 Portsmouth has escaped relatively lightly and only received several railds from the Luftwaffe (although my Granddad can remember seeing a Heinkel Bomber flying so low that he could see the Pilot’s blonde hair). Whereas cities such as London and Coventry were bombed frequently in the autumn and winter of 1940 and 1941.

Portsmouth was prepared for the raid, however. Prior to war Air Raid Precuations had been established, and a range of shelters, from Morrison shelters in living rooms, Anderson shelters in back gardens, communal conrete shelters, to the large civic shelters carved out of Portsdown Hill. The Police and Fire Services were also well prepared, and blackout restrictions were in place as in the rest of Britain. There were a number of Anti-Aircrcraft positions, including on Southsea Common and on Portsdown Hill.

The Luftwaffe Bombers were flying from bases in Northern France, and were guided by the Knickebein Naviation system. They followed radio beams emitted from two points on mainland europe, set to intersect over the target. In this care, it was set over Southsea Common. Reportedly they also used the white chalkpits of Portsdown Hill as a Navigation aid. Portsmouth was a much easier target to find, given its location right on the coast, and required no inland navigation.

The Germans were aware of specific targets of value, but did not possess the accuracy to bomb pinpoint targets. By bombing a broader area they not only had a chance of damaging targets, but also causing civilian casualties and damage. This, it was hoped, would crack morale, as it had in bombing raids on Warsaw and Rotterdam earlier in the war.

Tomorrow: counting the cost of the 10-11 January 1941 air raid



Filed under Local History, social history, World War Two

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