The Blitz

These raids were just a taste of what was to come. At 6pm on 24th November 1940 Bristol experienced its first Blitz. The raid lasted six hours and destroyed historic buildings, churches and a quarter of the medieval city, including the main shopping area which is known today as Castle Park. The city’s museum was destroyed. Historic buildings such as the Dutch House and St Peter’s Hospital were badly damaged. Most of Park Street and the Triangle were destroyed. Marsh Street, Union Street, St Nicholas Street, High Street, Bridge Street, Mary-le-Port Street, Wine Street, Castle Street, Union Street and Broadmead were all wiped out. Bombs were also dropped on Bedminster, Knowle, St. George and Clifton.

Two hundred and seven people were killed. One hunded and eighty seven were seriously injured. Over 10, 000 homes were damaged and 1, 400 people were made homeless.

Coventry, in the Midlands, had been badly bombed just 10 days before the Bristol Blitz. This raid had been widely reported in the newspapers. The government did not want to lower public morale. They choose not to make a major story of the bombing of Bristol and just reported that raids had hit ‘a town in the west’.

Just two weeks later, on December 2nd, Bristol city centre was bombed again. Four days later the bombers were back. During these two raids 256 people were killed and 229 people were injured. The Bishop’s Palace and the Children’s Hospital on St. Michael’s Hill were destroyed. Half of Portland Square was burned down and the ss. Bristol City was hit at Hill’s dockyard. Several other well known buildings were damaged including the Council House, Assize Court, the Corn Exchange and Merchant’s Hall.

On 16th December King George VI and Queen Mary came to visit the people of Bristol and boost morale. Christmas 1940 passed by without any raids but if people thought the New Year would bring change, they were wrong.

On 3rd January 1941 Bristol was hit by bombing yet again. The targets of this raid were the docks and Temple Meads railway station. Platforms 9 and 12 at the station were damaged and the booking office, telegraph office, refreshment room and clock tower were destroyed. Buildings in Queen Square, Welsh Back, Broad Quay, Nelson Street and Redcliffe Street were damaged. The Granary on Princes Wharf was completely destroyed. It had contained 8,000 tons of grain. The raid lasted nearly 12 hours and during it a 4,000lb bomb was dropped on Knowle. This bomb did not explode. The people of Bristol called the bomb Satan. It was made safe and was included in the 1945 London victory parade.

One hundred and forty nine people were killed that night and 133 people were injured.

On 16th March 1941 came another heavy raid. On this day 162 bombers attacked Avonmouth and the docks. Other areas of the city were also hit. Whitehall, Easton, Eastville, St. Pauls and Fishponds were among areas that were badly damaged. When the raid ended 257 people had died and 391 people had been injured.

This raid had a deep effect on the people of Bristol. The Mass Observation Unit noted that “People are getting worn out with the continual bombardment in a place where every bomb is a bomb somewhere quite near you and at you. The irregular, sporadic, sudden switching of heavy raids here has a strongly disturbing effect”.

And Bristol’s ordeal wasn’t over yet. On April 11th 1941 Bristol suffered its last major attack. This attack became known as the ‘Good Friday Raid’. Wave after wave of bombers dropped incendiary devices and high explosives. Again, areas around the docks including Prince Street, Canon’s Marsh and Queen Square were damaged. The Electricity Offices in Colston Avenue were destroyed and so was St Philip’s Bridge. The damage done to the bridge ended part of Bristol’s history that night. St Philip’s Bridge had carried the power for the tram network. With the bridge destroyed the trams could no longer run.

Bristol continued to be hit by small raids during 1942. In August of that year a lone German plane dropped a 500lb bomb on Broad Weir, in the center of the city. The bomb exploded damaging cars. The fuel from the cars spread to nearby buses and the buses caught fire. Forty five people were killed.

The last raid on Bristol was on May 15th 1944, in the south of the city. One man lost his life as he worked at a searchlight station trying to pick out German planes in the night sky.

Next: Blackout Blunders

Back to Bristol at War