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15 October 2014
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The Coventry Raid.

by JohnFlanagan

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People in story: 
James, Henry, Flanagan
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17 October 2004

My late Father James Flanagan Told me this story many times as a youth, and i wish now I had paid more attention to detail!

It is not a long story, nor in the context of other peoples stories of World War Two is it very exiting, but it is the one thing that sticks in my mind about somthing that happened to a member of our family during the conflict.

At the time of this story our family lived in the East End of London. My Father worked for a sweet manufacturer, this company I believe was Trebor ?

My dad was a delivery boy, and on the 14th of november 1940, he and a driver were to take a vehicle load to Coventry!

The roads and indeed the vehicles were not as they are today, and after the long drive from London they knew they would not make their destination before the end of the working day!

They decided to stop the van on the outskirts of Coventry and also to save some money on "Digs" they got some food and then retired to sleep in the van.

That night of the 14-15 November 1940 would go down in history for the bombing raid on Coventry and the secrecy surrounding the breaking of the Enigma code that could have evacuated the City !

Most people were unaware at that time of the work of the Code Breakers at Bletchley Park, My Dad and the driver were! They were also unbelievably unaware of one of the worst bombing raids of the war so far! They slept soundly through it all in their van, only to awake to the devistation the next morning!

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Message 1 - The Coventry Raid.

Posted on: 17 October 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear JohnFlanagan

Your father was indeed lucky and I enjoyed reading your account of his journey to Coventry.

However, "the secrecy surrounding the breaking of the Enigma code that could have evacuated the City" is one of the enduring myths of WW2. The story goes that the decision was left to Churchill who decided to sacrifice Coventry for the sake of keeping the Enigma code-breaking secret. The story is quite untrue.

After the war, the story was given a renewed lease of life in Chapter 2 of "Bodyguard of Lies" by Anthony Cave Brown, published in 1976, when Enigma was still wrapped in secrecy, who said "It was a tragic decision for Churchil to have to make".

But this was completely and totally refuted in "Code Breakers - The Inside Story of Bletchley Park", edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp (themselves top Bletchley Park officials), Oxford University Press, 1993, where the actual top surviving code-breakers at Bletchley Park first gave their full story. In that book, Stuart Milner-Barry says "There was a story, which can still be heard from time to time, that it was known that Coventry was to be the target for a devastating raid, and that Churchill forbade any special precautions for fear of giving away the all important secret that we were reading the Enigma. What Churchill would have done had he been confronted with this terrible dilemma I have, of course, no idea. But it so happens that we did not know the target for that night until it was too late; in fact, as I remember, we were expecting a very heavy raid on London". And at page 253, Peter Gray Lucas records that "On the afternoon of 14 November 1940 the signal read 'ANGRIFF [attack] KORN', but the computers [i.e., the operatives] could not guess at the time and did not learn until later that KORN was the code-word for Coventry".

The story is also refuted in "Battle of Wits - The complete story of codebreaking in World War II" by Stephen Budiansky (Viking, 2000) at page 181: "The false but still repeated story that Churchill knew in advance of the devastating raid on Coventry planned for the night of November 14, 1940 ... credits Enigma intelligence with far more than it was providing at the time. ... The intelligence that was available to Churchill on the fourteenth, particularaly beam bearings detected late in the day, convinced him that London was indeed the target, and he even canceled a planned trip out of town, explaining to an aide when he arrived back at Downing Street that he was not going to spend a peaceful evening in the country while the metropolis was under attack. Churchill was actually scanning the skies impatiently from the roof of the Air Ministry, waiting for the German bombers to appear, when the attack on Coventry began a hundred miles away".

Kind regards,



Message 2 - The Coventry Raid.

Posted on: 17 October 2004 by JohnFlanagan

Many thanks for your interest in my dads little story and for your interesting and detailed info.

I suppose that it could be said that in a way it was dad's unwillingness to spend money on lodgings that night that perhaps saved his life?

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Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Coventry and Warwickshire Category
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