WW II - Battle over Britain

Portsmouth and the Blitz

July 1940 - July 1944

The three major raids on Portsmouth

Portsmouth's Coventry - 10th January 1941

Bombfall GIS

GIS showing HE bomb patterns for the January 10th 1941 raid.

The Hampshire Telegraph titled the night of the 10th January 1941 the “Night of Terror” (E.C.B., 1945). At around 7pm the German Luftwaffe attacked Portsmouth for the first time that night in a raid lasting two hours, only to return again a couple of hours later. Nearly 300 raiders dropped a total of 25,000 incendiaries and hundreds of high explosive bombs which damaged the city to an extent no one could have imagined. Not only did 170 people lose their lives and over 400 get injured, the city also lost six of its churches and its three major shopping centres in Kings Road, Palmerston Road and Commercial Road. The entry in the Records of the Corporation (p. 183) suggests that the leading German pilot “knew the city well (…) [as] the first stick of bombs fell on the Electricity Station and put the City in total darkness”. Another direct hit by an incendiary on the Guildhall further supported that suggestion and until after the war the Guildhall remained an empty shell as its interior burnt out entirely. The enormous amount of incendiaries and the difficulty the fire fighters experienced due to fractured water mains meant the city was a blaze (Jenkins, 1986).

Commercial Road GIS

GIS showing the area of Commercial Road before (1937) and after (1952) the war.

According to the News supplement Blitz of Portsmouth (1991a) the “blood-red glow” could be seen from the coast of France. It not only illuminated the Isle of Wight and the pitch black Solent, but also the city itself when the German bombers returned at around 11.30pm for another two hours of intensive bombing. Former Police Fireman Herbert Wallace remembers standing on the roof of one of the shops in Commercial Road during that raid looking at what appeared to be a “sea of flame” all around him and seeing “the whole of Landport on fire” (Blitz of Portsmouth, 1991a).

The second Blitz - 10th March 1941

Bombfall GIS

GIS showing HE bomb patterns for the March 10-11th 1941 raid.

Two months later the second Blitz took place on the night of 10-11th March. Although serious damage was caused by the thousands of incendiaries and hundreds of high explosive bombs, the city coped rather well with the attack and the next day still went about its usual business as far as possible. The Records of the Corporation (pp. 186-187) mention large numbers of auxiliary fire service reinforcements having been brought into the city to help with the clearing up and securing the damaged houses. That night over a thousand people were rendered homeless, 93 were killed and over 250 injured. Although technically not part of the second Blitz, the attacks on Portsmouth continued the following day, 11th March, when another couple of thousand incendiaries and hundreds of HE bombs were dropped over the city.

The third Blitz - 27th April 1941

Bombfall GIS

GIS showing the combined HE bomb patterns for all three Blitz raids in 1941.

The third and last of the Blitz raids commenced on the 27th April with numerous mines, incendiaries and HE bombs being dropped. The raid caused wide spread damage all over the city and especially in the Dockyards. The Royal Hospital was hit and the town station, post office and Kingston Prison were damaged. Businesses and private landowners in an estimated two-thirds of the city and all over Portsea Island were affected by this raid (Blanchard, n.d., pp. 189-190). The main railway line got damaged, over 100 people lost their lives and almost 300 were injured. Although the last of the Blitz raids, the City still had to bear 20 further raids in the months and years to come until the war came to an end. War-time Lady Mayoress Margaret Daley has vivid memories of Portsmouth during the Blitz and sums up the spirit of Portsmouth's people saying “It was a time when you could be proud of Portsmouth, and we had an absolutely wonderful crowd in the city” (Blitz of Portsmouth, 1991a).