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Portsmouth Blitz 70th anniversary remembered

Grove Road
By the end of the war over 80,000 properties had been damaged

Seventy years ago it was Portsmouth's turn to endure the horrors of the wartime Blitz.

On January 10, 300 German bombers set their targets on the city, unleashing a deadly combination of high explosive bombs and incendiary devices.

Eight hours later, nearly 600 civilians lay dead or injured. It was the worst attack on the city during the war and changed the face of Portsmouth forever.

As the home of the Royal Navy, it was no surprise that Portsmouth was targeted by the Nazis.

But civilians bore the brunt of the attacks - for those who survived, that night will never be forgotten.

"Gone completely"

Mapping the Portsmouth Blitz

After an afternoon at the cinema, teenager Irene Murphy arrived at her home in North Street to the sound of an air raid siren.

Later a massive explosion threw her across the nearby flat she was sheltering in - the family house was "gone completely".

Dick Stacey found himself on Portsdown Hill watching the bombs drop before attempting to return to the Royal Marines' barracks.

He witnessed the destruction of many familiar buildings including the Hippodrome theatre, Clarence Pier and the iconic Guildhall.

Shopping streets like Kings Road and much 18th and 19th century housing were reduced to rubble.

Dick Stacey
Dick Stacey was based at the Royal Marines barracks in Portsmouth

Dick Stacey said: "You could feel the heat - it was like a cauldron."

Historian Dr John Stedman said the aim was to demoralise the civilian population as much as hit military targets.

He said: "They were trying to terrorise the population and disrupt wartime production by stopping people being able to go to work."

Dolly Aslett, in her twenties during the Blitz, recalled: "All we could hear was the guns going and the bombs dropping. The sound of the planes was terrible."

Irene Murphy said: "You know the bombs have dropped because the place really shakes.

"If your house was gone, it was gone. You took from your house whatever you could take. People looked after one another."

Morning after

After eight hours, the bombing stopped suddenly.

The civilians who spent the night huddled in basements, stairwells, and home-made Anderson Shelters emerged to see a transformed landscape.

Residential street
Residential streets alongside military establishments were hit by the bombs

With the town devastated, people tended to the casualties while others salvaged what belongings and furniture they could from the remains of their houses - some pushing all their remaining possessions in prams.

Those who were able to turn up for work faced discovering the fate of friends and colleagues who had been casualties of the bombing.

However Portsmouth's morale was not broken - Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the city in February 1941.

As survivor Dick Stacey said: "Portsmouth had the guts taken out of it, but the spirit of the people living there remained."

More on the Portsmouth Blitz on Inside Out, Monday, 10 January 1930 GMT on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

Archive photos courtesy Portsmouth News.

Audio slideshow: Blitz memories
24 Nov 10 |  History
Southampton remembers Blitz bombs
30 Nov 10 |  History



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