The heavy activity reported during the night of 14/15 continued well into the early hours of today. (RAF Wireless Intelligence Service, W/T Intelligence and Air Activity Summary No. 438)
By morning the RAF was estimating that the Luftwaffe had mounted 300 sorties against Coventry. There had been widespread outbreaks of fire and the Post Office Telephone Exchange was hit and had to be abandoned, seriously disrupting communications. As stated above, the Anti-Aircraft Operations Room had been struck but continued to function, no casualties had been reported among the gun crews and all guns remained in action throughout the raid. At 06.36 hrs. Balloon Command reported that it had lost contact with its Coventry squadrons and was sending a despatch rider but so far as was known the barrage had been maintained.
At the time the number of casualties had not been determined but was thought to be around 600. It was clear from the reports reaching the Air Ministry that the city’s infrastructure had suffered extensive damage including to the main Post Office, the Central Police Station and hospitals while “gas, water and electric services … are practically at a standstill.” Among the factories hit had been Courtaulds (manmade fibres) and Sterling Metals while the Alfred Herbert machine tools plant was gutted. The mediaeval cathedral was reduced to a shell. As would soon become clear, things were much worse. The scale of the devastation was discussed in a conference chaired by Sholto Douglas at the Air Ministry:
The conference agreed that there is no object in withholding publication of the fact that Coventry was the target of last night’s enemy operations, but [we] should ensure that reports of damage are ‘damped down’ as much as possible.
Nevertheless, Coventry became a byword for devastation and was discussed among CSDIC’s German prisoners:
Coventry was the last big affair. There were thousands killed. They’ve not been able to count them all yet. If we carry out a few more attacks like that they’ll soon get weary here. (Pilot captured 24/25 November)
What are they saying about Coventry? (Pilot captured 22 October)
They’re admitting to 1,000 dead, so there are definitely 3,000 and 60% of the factories are done for. (Observer captured 7 December)
Oberleutnant Dietrich-Hermann von Buttlar-Brandenfels of I./KG 53 was able to judge for himself:
I took off on 16 November at [18.10 GMT] for a nuisance raid on Coventry. As I got nearer I saw a bright glow out ahead to port, establishing soon after that it was due to fires. I had us turn toward the fires and soon completely clearly I saw the city which I identified impeccably as Coventry from the canal, the horseshoe-shaped body of water to the east [Coombe Pool] and the shape and location of the fires. Especially the fires, their focal points and the areas of shadow gave the same image as on the operation of 14 November. Granted there were no longer any high-flaring flames to be seen, however one still saw the billowing smoke and the picture of a self-consuming fire. To assist, I dropped my incendiaries (16 x BSK) into the city and the SC 1000 on a further run-in. Fresh fires were unleashed by the incendiaries which were still visible on the return flight for as long as the cloud cover allowed.
By way of a personal impression, I’d like to add that the city gave the impression of being completely dead. I encountered no opposition.
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