VE Day 60 Years: Both Sides Of The Air War - Norwich In World War Two

By Jayna Makwana | 01 May 2005
shows a black and white photograph of an old brick building in a town centre with sandbags around its base

The Guildhall during WWII - with sandbag protection. © the Plunkett's Photographs Of Old Norwich

Even though Norwich today may seem like an untouched and picturesque city tucked away in the middle of rural Norfolk, it was not spared from the tragic events of the Second World War (1939-1945).

Throughout the war the city of Norwich suffered many air attacks, including nuisance raids when single aeroplanes machine-gunned people as they left work. Approximately 340 people were killed during attacks on Norwich during World War Two and over 1,000 people were injured.

There were some strategic objectives for the Luftwaffe - most notably the Riverside factory of Boulton and Paul Ltd, which was very much involved in the war effort - producing aircraft, glider components and even building armaments factories across the country.

During July and August 1940 ten workers were killed and 68 injured in an air-raid, which destroyed the box-making and sheet-metal shops as well as the printing department, canteen and boardroom.

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Just some of the damage wrought by the bombing raids in residential areas. © the Plunketts.

Of the 35,000 houses in the city in 1939 more than 2,000 were destroyed and another 2,600 were seriously damaged in raids during World War Two. Fewer than 5,000 escaped without any damage whatsoever.

A two-metre square map illustrating the approximate location of all the 50, 250, 500 and 1000 pound bombs dropped on Norwich was produced by the City Council shortly after the war. It used to be in the public foyer of City Hall until concerns about its accuracy were raised.

The bombs are identified by coloured stickers and although some of these have dropped off over time or have been unintentionally moved by the public as they brushed past - or for fun, it is reasonably accurate to within a 100m radius and gives a general overview of the bombing of Norwich.

Today the map resides on the second floor of St Giles House but we have reproduced it to give you an idea of the destruction wrought by the Luftwaffe during World War Two.

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Norwich City Council Map showing (via a series of blue dots) some of the major areas of bomb damage. © Norwich City Council.

The most destructive and notorious attacks on the city were known as the Baedeker Blitz, during which Norwich was heavily bombed in April 1942. It was one of a series of raids on historic English cities.

The British Air Marshal Arthur Harris was appointed Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command on February 22, 1942. He believed in bombing as a means of taking the fight to the enemy and even of winning the war. As the air campaign progressed Harris' focus moved from attacking industrial targets to assaulting whole cities.

On the night of March 28, a 234-bomber raid dropped high explosives on the Baltic Port of Lübeck’s Old Town, which was largely composed of wooden buildings. The bombing and the subsequent fire caused 1000 deaths and massive destruction.

An infuriated Hitler ordered a counter attack against historic British towns. These towns included Exeter, Bath, York, Canterbury and Norwich. Luftwaffe bombers arrived over Norwich on the nights of April 27 and 29, 1942, and thousands of buildings were destroyed along with many lives lost.

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Norwich Drill Hall © The Plunketts.

Norwich was a city chosen for its charm, hence the name Baedeker Blitz, Baedeker being the producers of tourist guidebooks in Germany to the most picturesque English towns and cities.

In Norwich, Bond's, a local department store, now operating as John Lewis, was one of the buildings and businesses affected by the Baedeker Blitz. Hundreds of buildings were burnt to the ground.

Remarkably, the owner Ernest Bond was in business again within 3 days of the bombing, selling what he could salvage from his damaged stock. He bought a fleet of disused buses and put them in the car park and used them as shops. Once rebuilt later that decade, Bond's decided to go upmarket and has been ever since.

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The postwar rebuilding of Curls' Department store in Oxford Place. © the Plunketts.

Of the many fine churches in Norwich, it was sadly one of the oldest that was destroyed during the Baedeker Blitz.

St Julian’s Church in the centre of the city on Kings Street was a Saxon church and one of the first to be built in the city. It was in the 14th century that Julian arrived, took on the name of the saint to whom the church was dedicated and became an anchoress – a religious recluse.

It is during this time she famously wrote The Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman. The book describes Christ’s passion and crucifixion in graphic detail and discusses the warmth and caring of Christ’s love.

During the Baedeker Blitz St Julian’s had almost everything except its north wall and porch completely annihilated by a high explosive bomb.

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St Julian's Church pictured in 1946. © the Plunketts.

It remained in a derelict state for nearly a decade and although it was entirely rebuilt, financial restraints have prevented the church being built back to its full former glory.

Today the church is beautifully quaint and remarkably small. At the back of the church there is a visual display of the history of the church including pictures of the bomb damage during the Second World War.

For more pictures of pre and post-war photography of Norwich visit the Plunkett's Photographs of Old Norwich website. This excellent site also boasts a detailed section on the bombing of the city during World War Two.

For a harrowing account of the destruction and grief that the Norwich people had to encounter during and after the Baedeker Blitz, visit the useful and informative website of the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News that have emotional and very personal accounts of the Second World War.

The Baedeker raids started nearly 200 fires, killed or wounded 850 and damaged thousands of houses but the Cathedral, the Town Hall and St Peter Mancroft remained remarkably intact.

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An air raid shelter in Chapel Field Gardens circa 1939. © The Plunketts.

By the time of the Baedeker raids, Norwich may have been viewed by the Germans as a picturesque city in a tourist guide, but the surrounding countryside was of huge strategic importance. Many airfields and radar stations were established on the flat plains of Norfolk and Suffolk.

One such place was at RAF Neatishead. Just a few miles from the city near Horning, the base was established as a forward radar station in 1935 and played a role in both overseas and home operations in World War Two.

Still operational as a base today, RAF Neatishead includes the Royal Airforce Defence Radar Museum

, which features a Battle of Britain operations room and an accurate recreation of a 1942 CGI Operations Room. The museum also holds pictures taken of Norwich by the Luftwaffe prior to the Baedeker raids and a 'civilians at war' exhibit.
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The museum at Neatishead features a recreation of a wartime operations room. © RAF Air Defecne Radar Museum.

When talking about air operations in East Anglia there was one presence that made a lasting impression during World War Two. The US Eighth Airforce were stationed in the area from 1942 onwards - a real yank invasion, which many residents of Norfolk will remember. More than 6,700 young Americans based in the various airbases in the region lost their lives in the line of duty during World War Two.

Some of the bases of the Eighth Airforce were surprisingly close to the city. Station 123 was situated at Horsham St Faiths (Norwich Airport, as it known today and home to the City of Norwich Aviation Museum) and was literally in the suburbs of Norwich whilst at Rackheath, Station 145 was just five miles north of the city.

At Long Stratton, Hardwick Airfield was the base for the U.S.A.A.F 93rd Bomb Group and is now home to a the 93rd Bomb Group Museum and memorial.

Other bases were located at Hethel and Attlebridge whilst further afield, Duxford alternated between British and American forces and was operated by the Eighth Air Force between summer 1943 and winter 1944. Today it is a museum operated by the Imperial War Museum and is a good place to see some of the aircraft of the period.

shows a colour photograph of a wartime American bomber crew stood infront of a B24 Liberator bomber.

Norwich Forum is the location for the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library. © Tony North.

You can also find out about the war from the perspective of the American servicemen stationed in Norfolk with a visit to the Second Air Division Memorial Library in Norwich Forum. The library is the culmination of an idea formulated by members and leaders of the Second Air Division which had begun with fund raising efforts before the end of the war in 1945.

The Second Air Division flew the B-24 Liberator and the function of the library is to provide a memorial not only for those men who lost their lives flying them but also as a celebration for the ones who survived. It also recognises the bond of friendship that was formed with the people of East Anglia during these difficult times.

It tells the story of the bases and the work of the Second Air Division including the current use of the bases today. It also keeps the names of all 6,700 men killed on a Roll of Honour kept within the memorial area of the library.

The aim is to make the collection as complete as possible. There is also a special collection, at the Norfolk Record Office, of personal diaries, original documents, maps, photographs and other items connected with the Second Division.

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The Norfolk Regimental Museum, situated below Norwich Castle has a display relating to the regiment's exploits during World War Two. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.

One final location in the city that throws further light on the contribution of local people during World War Two is at the .

In the Second World War five soldiers from the Norfolks (more than from any other British regiment) were awarded the Victoria Cross during the Burma and Normandy campaigns. You can discover these stories and look at some of the items brought back from World War Two by members of the regiment at the museum.

Visit the main 24 Hour Museum 'World War Two - 60 Years' index page to find out about Their Past Your Future Events and to explore World War Two-related resources - including trails, features, news and reviews.

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This commemorative trail section was funded by the Big Lottery Fund through MLA.