Residents to be given glimpse into terror and destruction of biggest Blitz air raid in Portsmouth for 80-year anniversary

PEOPLE will be given a glimpse into the terror and destruction caused during the biggest air raid on Portsmouth during the Blitz in the Second World War to mark the 80 year anniversary of that fateful occasion this Saturday.

By Steve Deeks
Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 4:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 4:32 pm

During the Nazi onslaught, which saw thousands of bombs dropped between 5pm on January 10, 1941, and into the early hours of January 11, large parts of the city were transformed into ‘smoking ruins’.

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The blitzkrieg attack saw 172 people killed and hundreds more injured or made homeless during the city’s darkest hour.

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Sailors clearing debris from the remains of the Hippodrome, Commercial Road

Overall during the Blitz, 930 people were killed in Portsmouth and 2,837 were injured. Over 6,000 properties were destroyed.

Despite not being able to hold a traditional-style event amid the latest coronavirus lockdown, Portsmouth City Council has arranged several digital activities to mark the occasion.

These include developing an interactive map allowing residents to see exactly where all of the bombs during the Blitz landed in and around the city.

Entries from the air raid controller's log book from the night of January 10-11 will be posted on social media at the exact time they happened along with eyewitness accounts.

The Hard, Portsea

A video from the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, councillor Rob Wood, will recite the message shared by his predecessor Sir Denis Daley to the people of Portsmouth shortly after the raid.

In his message, Sir Denis said: ‘We are bruised, but we are not daunted, and we are still as determined as ever to stand side by side with other cities who have felt the blast of the enemy, and we shall, with them, persevere with an unflagging spirit towards a conclusive and decisive victory.’

The council also hopes to illuminate the clock tower of the Guildhall – one of the few parts of the building to remain standing after the raid.

Councillor Steve Pitt, deputy leader of the council, said: ‘This is a very different anniversary to the kind we have had in previous years, but we felt it important to reflect and remember a very significant event in the city's history; especially with the current restrictions and ongoing impact of Covid-19.

The Guildhall in the Blitz, January 10, 1941

‘The eyewitness accounts and log book entries for the evening provide an insight into the timeline of the air raid, but it is the interactive map and the extensive locations of bomb sites between 1941 and 1944 that is so startling.’

Sheila Duce lived in Eastney during the raid. She said: ‘You heard the screaming of the bombs coming down and the awful explosions, and you were just so thankful you know, that it wasn't on top of us.’

John Stedman, records manager at Portsmouth History Centre and author of Portsmouth Reborn: Destruction and Reconstruction 1939-1974, said: ‘The bombing on the night of January 10/11, 1941, was Portsmouth's grimmest experience in a long and terrible war, changing the face of the city dramatically and suddenly.

‘The survivors found large parts of Portsea, Landport and Southsea were smoking ruins. The Guildhall, six churches, a hospital, three cinemas and most of the Commercial Road, King's Road and Palmerston Road shopping centres were all damaged by the raid.’

Winston Churchill and The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Denis Daley touring Palmerston Road in Southsea after the blitz of January 1941

Activities to mark the 80th anniversary of the air raid will be shared on Portsmouth City Museum and Portsmouth Libraries Facebook and Twitter platforms this week and into the weekend.

Residents wanting to explore the sites where the bombs fell are encouraged to do so safely within current Covid-19 restrictions.

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Portsmouth Guilhall after the Blitz
The Central Hotel was wrecked during the blitz of January 10/11, 1941. The Halifax Building Society building to the left survived.
Handleys Corner - which became Debenhams - in Southsea after the blitz of 1941
Fifth Street from St Mary’s Road after the blitz of January 10, 1941. Picture: The News archive.