Coventry became notable for being one of the first large scale raids on provincial cities and towns. It was the first where, outside London, there was widespread damage caused by a firestorm conflagration. Yet other cities would suffer comparable, if not worse damage. During the Southampton Blitz the city suffered similar casualties to Coventry but over a much longer period of time.
The 23rd of September was not the first time that Southampton had been bombed but it was the first major raid. It would not be the last. There was another huge raid on the 30th November which would bring such widespread devastation that there was no water to fight the fires, which burned out of control. German bomber pilots returning to hit the city again on the night of the 31st could see the flames as they crossed the French coast. There were over 1500 air raid alarms and 57 significant bombing raids on Southampton during the war.
Stella Green was eight years old at the time of the November 1940 raid:
Our house was on a hill overlooking Southampton. If “things were quiet” as my mother said, we went to bed in our own beds. Then, if the siren went, we had to get up and go to the shelter in the garden taking our little attaché cases. We were put to bed in the bunk beds. You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.
Read Stella Green’s full account on BBC People’s War.
A short documentary about the Blitz on Southampton during the Second World War, 20th June 1940 – 15th July 1944 is available on Vimeo..