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Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Southampton Blitz 70th anniversary remembered

St Mary's Church

"The bombing and the noise was horrifying," recalls Don Robertson who was a toddler when Southampton endured its darkest hour.

The fiercest German air raid of World War II took place on 30 November 1940 and has become known as the "Southampton Blitz".

The then town was a key target for the Luftwaffe bombers - not only was it the UK's main military port, but the vital Spitfire fighter aircraft were being manufactured at the Supermarine factory at Woolston.

Historian Jake Simpkin, who is leading commemorative walks for the 70th anniversary, said: "The idea was to knock Southampton out. Hitler knew it had to be annihilated if it could be."

Fire storm

Raids began with flares and incendiaries to set buildings alight, which then acted as beacons to guide in more bombers laden with high explosives.

Southampton's medieval vaults
Southampton's medieval vaults were used as air raid shelters

At the height of the raids, more than 600 buildings were alight at once, and it was said the glow from the burning could be seen in Cherbourg in northern France.

Meanwhile Southampton residents huddled together in back garden Anderson shelters or the medieval vaults - including Castle Vault - where more than 200 people spent anxious night as the raids continued outside.

But the shelters could not always guarantee safety. Earlier in November, 14 children were killed at an art class at the civic centre.

Holyrood and St Mary's churches were among seven places of worship hit. Much of the high street was destroyed and a bomb fell on the Dell, Southampton FC's former football ground, leaving an 18-foot crater in the Milton Road penalty area.

Don Robertson was a two-year-old at the time of the raids. He has memories of being in a shelter with his brother, grandfather and "all our stuff in a wheelbarrow".

He said: "You would see the flashes of the bombs, hear the sirens, the searchlights, I remember that very vividly."

Southampton ceremony
The 70th anniversary of the Blitz is being commemorated

"It was terrifying, seeing your parents panic-stricken - these things leave an indelible mark on you".

Commemoration

In all the attacks, 630 people died, over 2,000 were wounded, and more than 3,000 buildings were completely destroyed.

Seventy years on, the city has been re-built, but the legacy of winter of 1940 is being remembered this week.

A commemorative service is being held at St Mary's church, which lost its roof in the bombing.

Rector of the Parish of Southampton Julian Davies said it was important to remember those involved in the defence of the town.

"It's a time for the city to reflect, a time for healing as we remember the traumas of the past."

Listen to Southampton's Darkest Hour at 1900 GMT on Tuesday, 30 November on 96.1FM BBC Radio Solent and BBC iPlayer - available for 7 days.




SEE ALSO
Blitz interactive bomb site map
30 Nov 10 |  History
Audio slideshow: Blitz memories
24 Nov 10 |  History

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