Plotting The Blitz - Exploring Bomb Census Maps

By Richard Moss | 10 June 2005 | Updated: 07 October 2013
shows a section of map with various markers on it

This detail of a hastily plotted Bomb Census Map records some of the destruction wrought by bombing in central London during the Blitz. © National Archives.

To keep track of the bombing of British cities during World War Two the Ministry of Home Security embarked on a Bomb Census Survey to provide a complete picture of raids across Britain so that an assessment could be made of raid patterns, types of weapon used and the consequent damage.

The bomb census began in September 1940, in London, Birmingham and Liverpool and by September 1941 it had spread to cover the whole of the UK.

shows a large map of London

Bomb Census Maps could be either a record of a single raid or, like this map of central London, a record of a two week period of bombing activity. © National Archives.

Regional technical officers of the Ministry of Home Security Bomb Census Organisation co-ordinated the collection of information in the field by local Civil Defence staff, and staff of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) such as Air Raid Wardens and the Police.

Of particular interest were railways, shipyards, factories and other public works and utilities considered to be of strategic importance to the war effort.

Regional technical officers based in a network of War Rooms situated at the heart of the 12 Civil Defence regions of England, together wth HQs in Edinburgh and Cardiff plotted the positions of the bombs onto maps and digested and summarised the information and sometimes collated it with intelligence from other sources.

The reports were then distributed to the Cabinet, Air Ministry, local authorities and to relevant government departments with specific responsibility for Civil Defence.

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A tracing from a raid in Manchester. © National Archives.

Some of the bombing raids were plotted directly onto maps whilst others were tracings - plotted on tracing paper over a map. Other sources of information were sometimes added - including reports from ARP wardens and occasionally interrogation reports from captured Luftwaffe aircrew shot down during the course of the raids.

Today both the tracings and maps are held at the National Archives as well as in local archives and although their quality varies they provide a fascinating insight into the damage caused by Luftwaffe bombing raids during WWII.

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The Blitz comes to Brighton - plotted between 1942 and 1944. © National Archives.

For a handy guide on how to acess and use the Bomb Census maps and resources held by the National Archives visit their website.

See bombsight.org to visit the The Bomb Sight project, an ineractive website that maps the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941.

You might also like:

London East End: Walthamstow Bomb Map Dating From 18 – 19 April 1944

Central London - A Bomb Map Plotting Activity Over A Two Week Period During The Height Of The London Blitz

Brislington, Bristol: A Bomb Map Showing April And August 1942

Bomb Census Manchester: A Single Raid On Chorlton

Bomb Census Liverpool: A Heavy Night Of Bombing

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