Memories were still so painful of the destructive raids carried out by Luftwaffe
PUBLISHED: 16:17 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:17 05 May 2015
The sense of release and relief prompted by the announcement of victory over Germany was heightened by the still raw memories, particulary in Norwich, of the destruction wrought by the Luftwaffe air raids. DEREK JAMES reports on the nights when the skies brought devastation to the city.
As the British strategy of taking the war to Germany through ever greater bombing raids intensified, the Luftwaffe High Command looked for ways to strike back... and reached for Baedeker’s Guide to Britain to do so.
Those preparing the tourist book had visited Norwich in the 1930s, taking a note of “all points of interest”. They had singled out Norwich, along with other ancient cities, as a place of great historical interest.
And it was for this heritage and cultural significance - rather than any military value - that the Germans now identified Norwich, and a host of other British cities, as a target.
The Luftwaffe bombers came to Norwich at the end of April 1942 and while the cathedral, the castle, the Guildhall and City Hall, survived many of the bombs fell on residential streets, bringing much death and destruction. There had been raids before which had claimed many lives but none on this scale.
It was approaching midnight on a moonlit spring evening and the people of Norwich were preparing for bed. In the previous months they had been a lull in enemy action over the city. Some were starting to ignore the sirens warning of danger.
On the night of April 27 they did so at their peril. The shadow of death was being cast over the city.
The deep rhythmic note of powerful engines in the sky was the signal that between 25 and 30 planes were heading towards Norwich. Parachute flares lit up the sky, people ran for the shelters, the bombs were screaming as they fell on the city setting it on fire.
There was little defence. For more than two hours the Luftwaffe pounded the city. Rows of houses were blown up along with churches, factories and shops. It was estimated later around 185 heavy bombs were dropped.
It was said that during the first raid 68 men, 78 women, 24 children and four servicemen were killed that night. Around 600 others had been injured – many with appalling injuries. Hundreds more were homeless.
The destitute and the bereaved, grief-stricken and bewildered began queuing for help at the centres dotted around the city. More than 14,000 emergency ration cards were issued, Some were left with just the clothes they stood up in.
Smoke was still rising from the city when, after one night of peace, the bombers returned to cause more misery, heartache and devastation.
This time there was some attempt at defending the city but the anti-aircraft fire was no match for the army in the sky which dropped an estimated 112 high explosive bombs with more incendiaries this time. Although this attack didn’t last as long as the previous one, it was just as deadly and some said it caused more damage.
During the second attack it was reported that 24 men, 31 women and four children lost their lives, Once again many more were injured, thousands made homeless.
In his book Assault Upon Norwich, city father Ralph Mottram, wrote: “Those of us who drove through the blazing streets had an unpleasant reminder of old days of Ypres and Armentieres in the First World War.
“The light of flames flickering through jagged gaps in familiar walls, and reflected in pools of water, the crunch of broken glass and plaster beneath wheels and feet, the roar of conflagration and the shouted orders and warnings were ominously reminiscent,” he said.
The city was smouldering. Water shortages handicapped the fire-fighting. Electricity and has services were hit. The emergency and relief services were working at full pace...but they did a wonderful job helping people who were at their wit’s end.
Men were away fighting the war and many women were left to cope on their own with small children and nowhere to live.
At nights a steady stream of people could be seen pushing prams, barrows or home-made carts, containing what possessions they had left, out of the city to sleep in the fields and ditches.
Vans equipped with loudspeakers toured the city giving people advice about boiling water and where they could get help and appealing for the able-bodied to stay at their posts.
A proud city was down but not out...the attacks failed to break the spirit of the people. In fact it did the opposite. They were more determined than ever to win the war but more people would lose their lives and their homes before victory finally came more than three years later.
During the war more there were 2,082 houses destroyed, 2,652 badly damaged while 25,662 were “moderately” damaged in Norwich during the raids over the city.
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