Mapping the Southampton Blitz 70 years on

Damage to Ordnance Survey's London Road building

Damage to Ordnance Survey’s London Road building

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Blitz, and whilst for some people the word might be almost synonymous with the bombing of London, many other towns and cities across the country also suffered terribly from Luftwaffe attacks.

One of those was Southampton. As an important dockyard on the south coast of England, home of the Supermarine factory and birthplace of the Spitfire, it was a prime target.

During the nights of 30 November and 1 December 1940, the Southampton Blitz reached its climax as the city came under sustained attack. Hundreds of tonnes of bombs were dropped during the two nights, whilst on 30 November alone some 634 individual properties were left ablaze – including our then head office on London Road.

A report by the Ministry of Food describes how the resulting destruction “equalled anything so far in aerial attack on this country” but even so, it is very hard to now comprehend the scale of the damage, let alone the impact it had on the people who lived through it.

So with the help of The National Archives and Southampton City Council, we’ve built a map using OS OpenSpace that pinpoints where 712 of the bombs fell based on records from the time. We hope that by seeing the bomb sites overlaid on modern mapping, it will help people better relate to the scale of the damage and the courage and suffering of those who lived through it.

You can clearly see the heavy concentration of direct hits around the docks and industrial areas in Woolston and Itchen, as well as the city centre itself.

We’ve also included images of some of the original documents from 1940 that recount the raids and damage that was done. Within them you can read about how our offices were destroyed; the fear for patients in South Hants Hospital; the affect the raids had on food supplies; and a report by a man working for Southern Railway who travelled from Salisbury to Southampton during the raid.

To read them, simply click on the green markers shown on the map, whilst the red markers indicate each bomb impact site. We hope you find it interesting – I certainly found the research fascinating.

In terms of the damage to the Ordnance Survey offices, thankfully no one was killed, but many valuable documents were destroyed including height survey records; drawings for the New Popular One Inch map series and almost all Object Name Books, which recorded the place and feature names published on the maps of England and Wales.

Perhaps the most precious object lost was the 3 foot Theodolite of 1787 made by Jesse Ramsden and used in the scientific triangulation survey from the Greenwich Observatory to the Kent Coast in 1787-88 by Major General William Roy – the precursor to the founding of Ordnance Survey in 1791.

Tonight, Ordnance Survey staff will be at the commemorative service at St Mary’s Church, Southampton, a place which was gutted by fire during the Blitz, to remember the events of 1940 and those who gave their lives for our freedom.

UPDATE: Quite a few people have asked me to make a version of the map available for download, so here it is. It should be high enough resolution to be enlarged to around A2 size.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *