At 2:36am in the morning of 29th April 1942, around 40 German bombers crossed the coast of England between Flamborough Head and Hornsea heading for York to commence what is known in Yorkshire at The York Blitz. The German aircraft soon reached the City, and in the following 90 minutes they dropped over 84 tonnes of high explosive and incendiary bombs, which set York ablaze.
Many homes in the Clifton / Bootham areas were set alight by incendiaries followed closely by 500lb high explosive bombs. The oldest medieval Guildhall in Britain was set alight and gutted as was St Martin le Grand Church in Coney Street – its ruins remain to this day.
York Railway Station was heavily damaged including the incoming Kings Cross to Edinburgh train, which was struck and set alight at 2:53am as it arrived at Platform 9, packed with soldiers and other service personnel.
Rowntrees Factory in North Street burned to the ground and Clifton Aerodrome (now Clifton Moor Shopping Centre) was badly damaged as were St Peter’s, Queen Anne’s, Nunthorpe, Bar Convent and Bootham schools. Estimates say 9,500 buildings were destroyed or damaged – a third of all homes in York. Over 300 men, women and children were killed or injured.
The Baedeker Raids
Following months of intensive aerial attacks by the German Luftwaffe against English cities and ports including London, Coventry, Hull, Sheffield, Birmingham and Liverpool, the Royal Air Force attacked the relatively undefended Baltic ports of Germany. Lubeck was attacked on March 29th 1942 followed shortly afterwards by Rostock. The Nazi’s believed these targets to have little strategic value and despite being heavily committed to their attack on the Soviet Union, they began to plan retaliatory raids against “soft targets” in Britain.
Known as Baedeker Raids after the famous German tourism guide to places of historic interest, attacks were carried out against Exeter, Great Yarmouth Norwich, Bath, Cambridge, Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Canterbury and York.
York Acquitted Itself Well
During the attack on York, over 1000 Air-Raid Precaution; Civil Defence; National Fire Service; WRVS; St John’s Ambulance and Royal Observer Corps volunteers took up their stations alongside the City’s Police, Fire and Ambulance Services. Many were killed or injured at their posts that night. They were assisted by services from towns such as Malton and Hull.
Many more local residents and off-duty Army, Navy and RAF personnel helped to stamp out the fires and dig people out of the ruins. Despite the horrific loss of life and destruction the City had pulled together and acquitted themselves well with many acts of bravery and heroism.
Ian Reed 2016.