The bombing of Birmingham

The Luftwaffe strike at the Midlands

The Birmingham Blitz refers to the extensive aerial bombardment conducted by the Nazi German Luftwaffe on the city of Birmingham and its surrounding towns in central England.

This devastating campaign commenced on 9 August 1940 as a part of the larger Blitz, which was a critical component of the Battle of Britain, and persisted until 23 April 1943.

Birmingham, located in the Midlands region, held immense significance as a key industrial and manufacturing hub.

During this period, approximately 1,852 tons of bombs rained down on Birmingham, making it the third most heavily targeted city in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, following London and Liverpool.

A severely bomb damaged street in Aston Newtown, an inner city area of Birminghamjust to the north of the city centre. Although some debris has been cleared on this site, a large pile of timbers and some brick rubble can be clearly seen. Also visible to the right of the photograph are the twisted remains of several Anderson shelters. In the background, two of the terraced houses that are still standing have had the front wall stripped away by the blast, revealing the interior walls and floors.

Imperial War Museums (

Birmingham Blitz D 4126 - Birmingham Blitz - Wikipedia

The neighbouring Black Country towns, notably Dudley, Tipton, Smethwick, and West Bromwich, also experienced substantial bombing, resulting in numerous casualties.

Similar to the approach taken with other provincial cities subjected to Blitz attacks, the reporting of these bombings was kept intentionally understated. Wartime censorship protocols dictated that Birmingham was not explicitly named in contemporary news coverage of the attacks, and it was discreetly referred to as a "Midland Town." This precaution was taken to prevent the Germans from gauging the effectiveness of their air raids.

Heart of the Black Country

The history of Birmingham, England, leading up to the outbreak of World War II in 1939 is a tale of transformation from a small market town to an industrial powerhouse at the heart of the British Empire. Birmingham's journey can be divided into several key epochs that shaped its development.

Birmingham's origins can be traced back to the medieval period when it was a modest market town in the heart of England. Its name was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The town's early prosperity came from agriculture and local trade, but its true transformation began with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

Birmingham had firmly established itself as a hub for manufacturing, particularly in the production of jewellery, firearms, and metalware.

The 18th century saw Birmingham becoming a center for various skilled trades, particularly metalworking. The Lunar Society, a group of forward-thinking intellectuals and inventors, including James Watt and Matthew Boulton, met in Birmingham and played a pivotal role in driving technological advancements during this period.

By the early 19th century, Birmingham had firmly established itself as a hub for manufacturing, particularly in the production of jewellery, firearms, and metalware. The construction of the Birmingham Canal in 1769 and the arrival of the railways in the 1830s further boosted its industrial prominence by facilitating transportation.

Birmingham had earned its moniker as the "City of a Thousand Trades."

The city's population swelled as workers flocked to Birmingham's factories and workshops. This growth prompted urban development, leading to the expansion of the city's boundaries. It also spurred a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that gave birth to numerous inventions, including the first practical steam engine and the development of the gas streetlamp.

By the late 19th century, Birmingham had earned its moniker as the "City of a Thousand Trades." It was a hotbed of industry and commerce, with a diverse and multicultural population. Notably, Joseph Chamberlain, a prominent political figure, served as Mayor of Birmingham and played a pivotal role in local governance and national politics.

In the years leading up to 1939, Birmingham continued to thrive as a major industrial and manufacturing center, contributing significantly to Britain's economy. Its growth was characterized by the expansion of its transport network, the rise of the automotive industry (with brands like Austin and Rover), and the presence of renowned universities and cultural institutions.


After the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, Birmingham, as one of the major industrial and populous cities in the United Kingdom, underwent significant preparations to safeguard its residents, maintain essential services, and contribute to the war effort. These preparations were characterized by a combination of practical measures and a shared sense of resilience that defined Birmingham's response to the looming conflict.

Civil Defence: Birmingham established a robust civil defense system to protect its population. The city's residents enthusiastically volunteered for roles as Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens, first-aiders, and firewatchers. These dedicated individuals played a crucial role in safeguarding their fellow citizens. Birmingham's ARP teams were instrumental in responding to air raids, ensuring the blackout was enforced, and guiding residents to safety during bombing incidents. The city even had its own ARP band that played at local events to boost morale.

The city constructed a network of public air raid shelters

Air Raid Shelters: Birmingham took immediate steps to provide adequate shelter for its residents during air raids. The city constructed a network of public air raid shelters, including the iconic Aston Hippodrome, which was converted into an underground shelter. Additionally, reinforced basements in public buildings, like the Town Hall and the Council House, were designated as air raid shelters.

Evacuation: Birmingham participated in the nationwide evacuation effort known as Operation Pied Piper. Thousands of residents, especially children, were sent to the countryside to escape the anticipated air raids. Birmingham's children were dispatched to safer areas like Shropshire and Worcestershire. Although this separation from families was challenging, it was seen as a necessary precaution.

Blackout Measures: Birmingham enforced stringent blackout measures. Residents were required to cover their windows at night to prevent any light that could guide enemy aircraft. Even the smallest chink of light was considered a risk, and heavy penalties were imposed on those who violated blackout regulations.

Birmingham's fire brigades were equipped with state-of-the-art firefighting equipment

Emergency Services: The city bolstered its emergency services to respond effectively during air raids. Birmingham's fire brigades were equipped with state-of-the-art firefighting equipment, and additional volunteer firewatchers were trained to combat incendiary bomb fires. The ambulance services were expanded to deal with casualties.

Manufacturing for the War Effort: Birmingham's industrial capacity played a pivotal role in the war effort. The city's factories shifted production to support the military. The Longbridge plant, for instance, manufactured aircraft components and military vehicles, including tanks. The BSA factory, traditionally known for producing bicycles and firearms, transitioned to producing vital war materials.

Propaganda and Information: To keep the public informed and maintain morale, Birmingham launched extensive propaganda campaigns. These campaigns included posters, radio broadcasts, and pamphlets that emphasized the importance of wartime precautions and encouraged unity among residents. The "Keep Calm and Carry On" slogan, now iconic, originated during this period.

Food Rationing: Like the rest of the country, Birmingham implemented food rationing to ensure a fair distribution of limited resources. The city promoted self-sufficiency through initiatives like the "Dig for Victory" campaign, encouraging residents to grow their own food in allotments and gardens.

Birmingham Endures

The initial aerial assault on the city unfolded on August 9, 1940, when a lone aircraft dropped its bombs over Erdington. Tragically, this attack claimed one life and left six individuals injured. Just four days later, Castle Bromwich, home to an aircraft factory producing Spitfires, became the target. Eleven bombs struck their intended mark, resulting in significant destruction. This strike resulted in the loss of seven lives and left 41 people injured.

Subsequently, on August 25th and 26th, the city centre bore the brunt of an air raid that claimed the lives of 25 individuals. The old Market Hall in the Bull Ring was engulfed in flames ignited by incendiary bombs, causing severe damage.

Simultaneously, on that fateful day, the Birmingham Small Arms plant situated in Small Heath, the sole producer of service rifle barrels and principal aircraft machine guns, suffered its first bombing. This attack unleashed one high-explosive bomb and a deluge of incendiaries on the primary barrel mill.

Widespread destruction can be seen here in the Aston area after a Luftwaffe attack in 1940.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

In the following months, Birmingham endured a series of recurrent but relatively small-scale raids throughout August, September, October, and early November. The city center sustained substantial damage during the period spanning October 25th to 30th. Prominent landmarks such as Birmingham University, the Art Gallery, and the Town Hall were among the structures struck. The Council House's roof was marred by fire damage, and on the 29th of October, St. Philip's Cathedral faced severe fire devastation after an incendiary strike.

November 1940 marked a harrowing chapter in Birmingham's history, as the city witnessed a succession of devastating air raids. Over the span of November 19th to 28th, approximately 800 lives were tragically lost, and a staggering 2,345 people suffered injuries. The onslaught left 20,000 civilians homeless, leaving an indelible mark on the city's collective memory.

Bomb damage to the Arcade, New Street, Birmingham after the raid on the 28th October 1940.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

On the very first night of the bombing, merely five days after the catastrophic assault on the nearby city of Coventry, Birmingham experienced its inaugural major air raid. Approximately 440 bombers descended upon the city, unleashing a devastating onslaught that claimed the lives of 450 individuals and inflicted severe injuries on 540 more. A staggering 400 tonnes of high explosives, including 18 parachute mines, rained down during this raid, marking it as the most brutal attack on Birmingham throughout the war.

The raid inflicted substantial damage on several factories, including the Lucas Industries and GEC works. The BSA factory, a significant industrial hub, suffered severe harm, resulting in a production standstill and the entrapment of hundreds of workers. Tragically, 53 employees lost their lives, with an additional 89 sustaining injuries, 30 of them of a grave nature. The interruption in rifle production, caused by these delays, notably weighed on Prime Minister Winston Churchill's mind as one of the most concerning outcomes of the Blitz's industrial damage.

Consequently, the Ministry of Supply and BSA swiftly initiated a process of production dispersion throughout Britain, utilizing the shadow factory scheme. For their courageous efforts in aiding the trapped workers, a member of the Home Guard and one of the company's electricians were later awarded the George Medal.

Members of the Auxiliary Fire Service putting the fire out in a bomber out building in Moseley Street.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

Mrs Louise Clarke recounts the experience of the Birmingham Blitz from her husband’s diary, first printed in the Evening Mail, August 1980.

(1) Birmingham's Blitz | Page 2 | Birmingham History Forum

The subsequent night saw the return of 200 bombers for another intense raid, showering the city with 118 tonnes of explosives and 9,500 incendiaries, leading to extensive damage. Notably, the primary bus depot in Hockley bore the brunt of the attack, resulting in the destruction or damage of 100 vehicles.

A third successive major raid unfolded on November 21st and 22nd. Over an extended eleven-hour period, a multitude of incendiaries rained down, sparking over 600 fires across the city. The bombing inflicted severe damage on the water supply system, leaving three-fifths of Birmingham without access to mains water. In response, firefighters resorted to drawing water from the city's canals, while fire brigades from various regions of the country were summoned to assist. Despite the daunting challenges, these combined efforts ultimately brought the fires under control.

Destroyed buildings in Smethwick, 4 miles (6 km) west of Birmingham city centre.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

Nonetheless, Birmingham's water supply remained in a precarious state, with only one-fifth of the usual quantity available, should another raid occur. This prompted the Regional Commissioner to express grave concern, stating, "Birmingham will burn down if the Luftwaffe comes again tonight." Fortunately, there was no further raid that night, allowing engineers the time needed to repair the damaged water mains.

On December 4th, approximately 60 bombers launched an assault on Birmingham. In the wake of this attack, the Witton tram depot suffered substantial damage. Just seven days later, on the night of December 11th, the city endured another significant raid, this time involving 278 bombers. This relentless onslaught marked the longest raid during the Blitz, lasting a gruelling 13 hours. Beyond the high-explosive ordnance, the raid unleashed around 25,000 incendiary devices upon the city, sparking widespread fires in both residential and industrial areas.

Tragically, 263 lives were lost, and 243 individuals suffered severe injuries.

The results of a Luftwaffe raid on October 1940 at Tony's Amusements, Hurst Street.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

In the aftermath of this destructive assault, all that remained of St. Thomas' Church on Bath Row were its elegant tower and classical west portico. The rest of the church was reduced to ruins. Today, these ruins comprise a significant part of St. Thomas' Peace Garden, serving as a public park dedicated to peace and a solemn memorial to all those who perished in armed conflicts.

The year 1941 bore witness to further heavy raids. On March 11th, 135 bombers descended upon the city, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake.

Then, on April 9th and 10th, Birmingham was subjected to two relentless bombardments. In the first of these, 235 bombers dropped a staggering 280 tonnes of explosives and 40,000 incendiaries, concentrating their assault on the city center..

Air raids on Birmingham on the nights of 9th and 10th April 1941. Firefighters attending the scene of destroyed buildings at the Bull Ring

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

Exterior view showing the damage to building of slaughtermen and ham curers W.H. Smart in Wrentham Street, April 1941.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

Interior view of the Prince of Wales theatre in central Birmingham showing the damage caused by the air raid on the night of 9th April.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

Iconic areas like the Bull Ring, New Street, High Street, and Dale End sustained severe damage. St. Martin in the Bull Ring was also harmed, while the Prince of Wales Theatre and Midland Arcade faced complete destruction.

Other districts, including Small Heath, Aston, and Nechells, shared in the heavy toll of damage. On the second night, 245 bombers delivered 245 tonnes of explosives and 43,000 incendiaries, inflicting significant damage on Solihull, Hall Green, and Erdington.

These two April raids resulted in a devastating tally of 1,121 casualties

Interior view of St Martin's church in Birmingham during the Second World War following the air raid of 9th April 1941.

Birmingham during the Blitz - Birmingham Live (

A close up of a section of Birmingham showing the locations of bomb strikes. Blue circle 2 indicates where a high explosive hit and badly damaged 4 houses. Blue circle 3 shows where high explosives were dropped on Perry Barr park.

(1) Map Of W W2 Bombing | Birmingham History Forum

The eastern end of New Street in Birmingham, England, looking East, in April 1941 after Luftwaffe bombing damage to the northern side of New Street and part of High Street. The destroyed building on the street corner was formerly the Midland Arcade. The Times Furnishing building can clearly be seen standing undamaged amongst the ruins of the surrounding buildings.

New St 1941 - Birmingham Blitz - Wikipedia

On the night of May 16th, another sizable raid caused harm to the Wolseley Motors factory and the ICI factory. However, a navigation error led most of the bombers to mistakenly drop their bombs on nearby Nuneaton instead.

The final major raid targeting Birmingham occurred on July 27, 1942, with approximately 60 to 70 bombers unleashing their attack on the city.

The ultimate air raid to touch the city's skies transpired on April 23, 1943, resulting in just two bombs falling on Bordesley Green, causing minor injuries.

The city's last air raid siren echoed through the streets on May 15, 1944, marking the end of this challenging chapter in Birmingham's history.

A close up of the bomb damage inflicted on the the area around Tillingham Street.

(1) Map Of W W2 Bombing | Birmingham History Forum

Contemporary map highlighting the widespread damage Birmingham suffered during the Blitz.

(1) Map Of W W2 Bombing | Birmingham History Forum


In summary, Birmingham experienced a total of 365 air raid alerts and endured 77 actual air raids, including eight major ones characterized by the release of at least 100 tons of bombs. Official records indicate that the city was subjected to 5,129 high explosive bombs and 48 parachute mines, in addition to numerous incendiary bombs.

Remarkably, about one fifth of the high explosive bombs failed to detonate, and one third of the parachute mines remained suspended, their cords entangled in various obstacles such as trees.

These devastating attacks resulted in a toll of 2,241 fatalities, with an additional 3,010 individuals suffering severe injuries.

Another 3,682 people sustained lesser injuries during this period. The destructive impact extended to the demolition of 12,391 houses, 302 factories, and 239 other structures, while countless more endured varying degrees of damage.


The massive bomb damage on civilian housing in Birmingham contributed to the development of many large council estates across the city for some 20 years after the Second World War. These neighbourhoods included Castle Vale and Chelmsley Wood. Another major factor in the construction of these new properties was to replace the 19th century slums in the inner city areas.

Some of the bomb-damaged inner city areas such as Ladywood and Highgate were redeveloped with modern housing after the war, although these were mostly less densely populated than before.