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”
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.
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.