Baedeker Raids

The story of the historic towns and cities in Britain targeted by the German Air Force in Spring 1942

By Imperial War Museums

The remains of 25-36 Southernhay West, Exeter, Devon (1942-05-04/1942-06-25) by Margaret Tomlinson, National Buildings RecordHistoric England

In spring 1942, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) launched a series of destructive air raids against historic cities in Britain. Germany’s decision to target these ‘centres of culture’ was a response to the bombing of the country’s historic towns by the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The attacks on Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury became known as the 'Baedeker Raids’, named after the famous German-published travel guides by Karl Baedeker.

Nazi propagandist Baron Gustav Braun von Stumm said: ‘We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.’

Bomb damage in Exeter (1939/1945) by Ministry of Information Second World War Press Agency CollectionOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205028630

Exeter

'I was fire-watching at the laundry and suddenly heard these noises...I could see all these flares being dropped. You couldn't see the plane. and the next minute, all hell let loose. Bombs and incendiaries just coming down'.  - Norman Madden, eyewitness                             

Exeter in Wartime (1943) by Ministry of Information Photo Division official photographerOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196923

Exeter was the first British city to be bombed in the Baedeker Raids.

Starting on the night of 23/24 April 1942, the Luftwaffe attacked the cathedral city for two days with high explosives and incendiaries, killing over 70 people and wounding 55.

The German bombers targeted the city again on 3 May but Exeter Cathedral, despite being heavily-damaged, remained standing surrounded by the devastation.

Bomb damage in Exeter (1939/1945) by Ministry of Information Second World War Press Agency CollectionOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205028630

British civilian Wilfred Dymond was on fire-watching duty at Exeter Cathedral on 3/4 May, the ‘dreadful night’ when the building was badly damaged by the bombing.
‘It had been a gloriously sunny day. I’d been at all the services and in the afternoon I sat out in the cloisters and had a cup of tea before the evening service…And we had a feeling that something was going to happen. Well, it did.’

Bomb damage to the Cathedral Church of St Peter, Cathedral Close, Exeter, Devon (1942-05-04/1942-06-30) by Margaret Tomlinson, National Buildings RecordHistoric England

Wilfred Dymond remembered: ‘At round about half past one the sirens went. And that was the night when they really pasted the city. By the morning, pretty well the whole centre of the city and large sections of the suburbs were on fire and went on burning for three or four days because they couldn’t cope with it spreading.’


‘Those of us who were on duty were always anxious because we didn’t know when we got home whether we were going to find our people alive or not.’

Exeter Cathedral survived the war and its ruined St James’s Chapel was rebuilt.

No 1 Dix's Field, Exeter, Devon (1942-04-01/1942-05-02) by Margaret Tomlinson, National Buildings RecordHistoric England

Margaret Tomlinson was a photographer working for the National Buildings Record (NBR), which had been established in 1941 to record buildings and sites at risk during and after the Second World War. The NBR was a forerunner to what we now know as Historic England.

Tomlinson was commissioned to photograph buildings in Exeter. She captured the city’s heritage both before and after they were damaged as a result of the Baedeker Raids.

No 1 Dix's Field, Exeter, Devon (1942-05-04) by Margaret Tomlinson, National Buildings RecordHistoric England

Sometimes Tomlinson was unable to photograph an historic building before it was damaged. One of the NBR’s founders, John Summerson, wrote a reassuring message to her: ‘It is important in our job never to be in the slightest degree ruffled by the destruction of unrecorded buildings. The only thing to do is to plod on regardless of what happens.’

A view of bomb-damaged buildings in Henry Street, Bath (1942-05-02) by John Summerson, National Buildings RecordHistoric England

Bath

In two consecutive attacks on Bath on 25/26 and 26/27 April 1942, over 400 people were killed, communications badly affected and the city's railway put out of action.

Fire Blitz on Bath, 1942 (1942) by Wilfred Stanley HainesOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/11949

This oil painting by artist Wilfred Haines shows fires blazing across Bath during the raids in 1942. Haines was a fireman during the Second World War and was killed in 1944 by a V1 flying bomb in London.

The city was ill-prepared for an air raid on this scale and blast from high-explosive bombs did considerable damage to the city’s ancient buildings.

Royal Crescent from the allotments in Royal Victoria Park, Bath (1945) by RF Wills, National Buildings RecordHistoric England

Bath’s iconic Royal Crescent was damaged as well as other well-known landmarks, such as the Assembly Rooms.

Caley's chocolate factory in Norwich after a Luftwaffe raid (1942) by UnknownOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205370923

Norwich

'When we had the Blitz in 1942 that was terrible because next door where we lived and all-round, the area was just completely one mass of flames.' - John Fuller, eyewitness                                                                         

The Church of St Julian, St Julian's Alley, Norwich, Norfolk (1942-07-10) by Unknown photography, Ministry of WorksHistoric England

Norwich was raided on 27 April 1942 and again two nights later. Although Norwich had been blitzed before and had Air Raid Precautions provisions in place, these attacks cost the lives of over 200 people. Fortunately Norwich’s Norman cathedral and castle survived the raids but the historic St Julian's Church on King Street was almost completely destroyed.

The Home Front in Britain - Norwich (1939/1945) by Press agency photographerOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205022191

Another attempt to bomb Norwich was made during May but further serious damage was prevented either by a balloon barrage or a nearby decoy site. The final raid struck the city at the end of June. It left 14 dead and 11 injured.

Vertical aerial photograph of York Railway Station, York, North Yorkshire (1940/1947) by Royal Air ForceHistoric England

York

'That night of the Blitz we had planes come over and you could hear bombs being released - it seemed as though they were following the railway lines.' - Edwin Dales, eyewitness

Morrison shelter stands up to direct hit in Norwich (1942) by National Fire Service Photographer, Ministry of Information PhotographerOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202545

York was hit on 28-29 April 1942. Within the city 79 people were killed and 90 seriously injured. The raid lasted only an hour but heavy explosives and incendiaries caused significant damage, with the city's medieval Guildhall destroyed.

Many houses were also destroyed or badly damaged. This photograph shows one York resident standing amidst the remains of his home. Mr McGregor, his wife and their lodger were protected during the raid by their Morrison shelter, just visible under rubble to the right of the photograph.

Edwin Dales was a schoolboy in York during the raids.
He did not expect York to be hit by the German bombers. His father was a firewatcher and Edwin remembers him saying that ‘they wouldn’t touch York because of the Minster’.

Fortunately, York Minster, arguably one of Britain’s most famous cathedrals, survived the raids.

Air Raid Damage in York during the Second World War (1942)Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-photos-of-life-on-the-home-front-during-the-second-world-war

Other buildings were not so lucky, including the York Guildhall.

The area in which Edwin lived was also hit.

‘Every street was damaged, they were all terraced houses. They dropped incendiaries and everything.’

‘We were only young, we didn’t take it all in really. All we wanted was the siren to go, the all clear to go, after midnight so we didn’t have to go to school. If the all-clear went before midnight we had to go to school by ten o’clock.’

Air Raid Damage in Canterbury during the Second World War (1942) by Central PressOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-photos-of-life-on-the-home-front-during-the-second-world-war

Canterbury

'We looked over towards Canterbury and of course we could see the fires.' Ronald Clack, eyewitness.                                            Canterbury was targeted 31 May-1 June 1942. Many houses, shops and notable buildings such as the Corn Exchange and City Market, were destroyed in the raid. The bus depot, three churches and two schools were also destroyed. The city was attacked a total of three times in June, killing over 40 people and injuring a similar number.

Vertical aerial photograph of Canterbury, Kent (1942-06-03) by Royal Air ForceHistoric England

Ronald Clack, was serving with the 112th Field Regt, Royal Artillery and was posted to Saint Nicholas At Wade, a village not far from Canterbury.

‘We were in the flight path of the German bombers going to Canterbury and they were so low going over the top that we could almost see inside the cabins, very very low and they sounded – they sounded more like a lot of tin cans rattling than aeroplane engines – it was awful really - but they were all going off.’

‘I went into Canterbury the next day and I can’t remember exactly why I had to go there…But all the shops in the main street, they were pretty ‘olde worlde’. And all the beams, the old beams, were all smouldering. And it were pretty awful what they did.’

The aftermath of a Baedeker Raid, Cantebuery (1942) by National Fire Service Photographer, Ministry of Information PhotographerOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202546

This photograph taken in July 1942 shows the windows of a Marks & Spencer store being boarded up after a raid on the Whitefriars area of Canterbury.

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This photograph shows the Marks & Spencer store in Canterbury with its distinctive façade. After the Second World War, the area around the shop was rebuilt and is now a popular shopping centre.

The ruined Church of St George the Martyr, St George's Street, Canterbury, Kent (1942-06-18) by Ministry of WorksHistoric England

Other buildings in Canterbury were not so lucky - St George the Martyr, a church on St George’s Street was heavily damaged.

Baedeker Raid 1942 Memorial by Julie BrewerOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/48798

Part of the church still stands and displays a plaque commemorating the Baedeker Raids on Canterbury.

Credits: Story

Explore why cultural heritage is attacked during war and the ways we save, protect and restore what is targeted at What Remains, an exhibition at IWM London (5 July 2019 to 5 January 2020).

Created in in partnership with Historic England, it explores why cultural heritage is attacked during war.

Over 50 photographs, oral histories, objects and artworks will be on display, from both IWM and Historic England’s collections.

What Remains is part of Culture Under Attack, a free season of three exhibitions, live music, performances and talks at IWM London that explore how war threatens not just people’s lives, but also the things that help define us.

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