When I was a boy, I went on day trips to all of the large cities around the Midlands, as central England is called. Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and of course, Coventry—the latter being of Lady Godiva fame. They were big, exciting places, and easier to get to than the seaside.
In those days, there were ample spots to park a car, even the city centre. In part, that was because few English people owned cars. Mostly, it was because large tracts of the downtown cores had been turned into parking lots—the buildings having been cleared away in 1940-41, courtesy of the Luftwaffe.
This week in the war, the night of 14/15 November 1940 created a new verb in the German language: koventrieren, ‘to conventrate’, meaning to utterly destroy a target by bombing from the air. The term was coined by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The Luftwaffe’s Luftflotte 3 launched a devastating raid against Coventry that night. Over five hundred citizens perished and many more were wounded.
The raid was the first to combine high explosives (to crater roadways and destroy utilities such as water mains) followed by incendaries to cause fires. It was also the first to use pathfinder aircraft in conjunction with the Luftwaffe’s new X-Gerät electronic navigation system (which replaced the more primitive Knickebein). British scientists had not yet mastered the required electronic countermeasures, and had calculated the modulating frequency incorrectly. The result was that the Luftwaffe bombers could find the city, even in the dark.
Coventry was a centre for the arms production and for the manufacture of aircraft. One third of the city’s factory were destroyed and many more were damaged.
Coventry lost its magnificent medieval cathedral that night.
The story would be repeated throughout much of Europe. The cross of nails (shown left) is displayed in the ruins of Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (shown right). The nails were taken from the wreckage of Coventry Cathedral. The City of Coventry is twinned with the City of Dresden in Germany.
As for modern-day Coventry: The city was the first in England to introduce the North American concept of a shopping mall. Called ‘The Precinct’, it is located in the heart of downtown and is shown in the photograph below. The nooks and crannies and winding alleyways of Lady Godiva’s day are no longer there. But perhaps she would still be willing to ride across the overpasses and broad sidewalks of The Precinct.