Churchill & the Bombing of Coventry

Churchill & the Bombing of Coventry

The Wei­der His­to­ry Group replied to a query. “Did Churchill allow Coven­try to be burned to pro­tect his secret intel­li­gence?” Their answer was some­what equivocal:

There cer­tain­ly have been a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent accounts, even sup­pos­ed­ly by eye­wit­ness­es, that con­tra­dict each oth­er as to how much Win­ston Churchill had learned from the Boni­face (lat­er Ultra) decoders as to the main tar­get for the Ger­man “Moon­light Sonata” air raid on the Mid­lands in Novem­ber 1940, and when did he ascer­tain it. Whether he mis­took it for a feint, with Lon­don the actu­al tar­get, of whether he knew of Coven­try and left it to its fate rather than com­pro­mise Britain’s abil­i­ty to crack the Ger­man Enig­ma codes seems to depend on one’s feel­ings toward Churchill.…

Not quite robust enough. Churchill nei­ther “mis­took” Coven­try for a feint, nor left Coven­try to its fate. To believe he “let Coven­try burn” does not depend on your “feel­ings toward Churchill.” It depends on whether you know the facts.

The facts are that Churchill, leav­ing for the coun­try that night, read a despatch in his car. It pre­dict­ed a heavy raid upon Lon­don, not Coven­try. The PM deter­mined not to spend the night in safe­ty while the cap­i­tal was under attack. He turned around and went back to Down­ing Street. Also, when the truth was known, RAF fight­ers were mus­tered to defend Coven­try. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it was too lit­tle and too late.

More WW2 Myths

The largest sec­tion of Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty exam­ines World War II: the lead­ing source of Churchill myths. Did an actor deliv­er his broad­casts? Was Coven­try bombed to pro­tect his sources of intel­li­gence? Was Churchill against the Sec­ond Front in France? Did he exac­er­bate the Ben­gal famine, destroy Monte Cassi­no abbey, refuse to bomb Auschwitz or feed the oppressed in occu­pied Europe? No. But no World War II canard is more per­sis­tent than the sto­ry that Churchill fire­bombed Dres­den in hatred and revenge for Germany’s bomb­ing of Coven­try. That one has been around for over fifty years.

See also “Nashville (6) The Myth of Dres­den and ‘Revenge Firebombing.'”

2 thoughts on “Churchill & the Bombing of Coventry

  1. Sad­ly, you’re prob­a­bly right; I’ve encoun­tered my share. In some ways he was a prod­uct of his time and it’s a fea­ture of the web and 24/7 news to mag­ni­fy faults. William Man­ches­ter wrote: “One of the virtues of Churchill was that he always had sec­ond thoughts, and they usu­al­ly improved as he went along. It was part of his pat­tern of response to any polit­i­cal issue that while his ear­ly reac­tions were often emo­tion­al, and even unwor­thy of him, they were usu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed by rea­son and gen­eros­i­ty.” His virtues and faults were on a grand scale. But the for­mer out­weighed the latter.

  2. Whether you accept that Churchill “let Coven­try burn” does not depend on your “feel­ings toward Churchill.” It depends on whether you know the facts. QUITE RIGHT. But of course many people’s views of Churchill are col­ored by their pol­i­tics. They like to paint him as ruth­less. So they LIKE the “Coven­try Calum­ny.” So he won the war he say; was he real­ly any bet­ter than Hitler or Mus­soli­ni (whom he praised?). The answer is this. There is no com­par­i­son. Churchill was a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed leader who even lost elec­tions now and then with­out liq­ui­dat­ing his oppo­nents. Was Churchill prac­ti­cal­ly per­fect in every way? Of course not. But he was a humane and decent per­son who cared about the British peo­ple and who did every­thing in his pow­er to keep them safe and free. And we, who were not under the guns and bombs, also derive a very great ben­e­fit that Mr. Churchill kept aloft the torch of free­dom in 1940-1941.

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