1. The attackers and defenders

Between June 1940 and May 1944 the Luftwaffe are known to have lost 96 aircraft, with others suffering various degrees of damage during operations against targets in the Bristol area. This resulted in the death of at least 240 German airmen, with a further 60 being injured. Nevertheless, many of the bombers reached their objectives and according to German figures compiled in 1944 Bristol was the fourth most heavily bombed city in the country during the period August 1940 to June 1941, with only London, Liverpool, and Birmingham receiving more attention, while Coventry, synonymous in Britain with widespread destruction, was in seventh place.

To counter the raids a complex air defence system was established containing a number of diverse but integrated elements. Although an attack on the city could involve defensive operations taking place within an area extending from the Continent to South Wales, this account confines itself mainly to the provisions made in and around the Bristol Gun Defended Area, which steadily increased in size until it stretched from Weston super Mare to Bath.

Throughout the war the formation with the overall responsibility for the air defence of the United Kingdom was the Royal Air Force's Fighter Command which operated the fighter aircraft and coastal radar stations. Also under their operational control were the Observer Corps, RAF Balloon Command, and the Army's Anti-Aircraft Command. In addition decoy sites and a radio countermeasures organisation were provided under the auspices of the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Home Security was responsible for the static smoke screens operated by the Army, while the Army and Royal Navy had specialist units available for dealing with unexploded bombs and aerial mines.

The military defenders of the Bristol area, whose courage resulted in the award of a George Cross, a George Medal and a Military Medal, however, escaped with remarkably few fatalities. RAF casualties amounted to three pilots killed whilst intercepting raids directed at the city, with a further six local barrage balloon operators loosing their lives as a result of enemy air attacks. In addition the Army, which fired a total of 59,745 heavy anti-aircraft shells and 451 'Z' rockets in the Bristol Gun Defended Area, lost two searchlight operators, five anti-aircraft gunners, and three bomb disposal technicians.

Although in Britain during the Second World War it was the task of the military to try to prevent enemy bombers from reaching their objectives, once a raid had commenced it was the responsibility of various civil organisations to mitigate the worst effects of the bombing by forestalling demoralization, countering disorder and panic, limiting damage and helping people to survive. The bodies charged with this task were the police forces, fire brigades and the Air Raid Precautions services or, as they all became officially termed, on September 2nd 1941, the Civil Defence General Service.

During the dark days of 1940/41 all the civilian uniformed services were under terrific pressure, none more so than the fire fighters who lost 29 men tackling the conflagrations in Bristol, while the Wardens' Service, also suffered 29 members killed in service as a result of enemy action, plus a further 134 seriously wounded. The city's Rescue Parties were also kept very busy and during the raids received 482 calls, rescued 697 people and extricated 833 bodies from demolished buildings, their courage and tenacity helping Bristol's Civil Defence Services to earn a total of four George Medals, one OBE, five MBE's, ten BEM's and eleven Commendations for Brave Conduct in Civil Defence.

In spite of having been initially raised to defend Bristol in the event of a German invasion, during the 'Blitz on Bristol' the city's Home Guard, a force which at its peak numbered some 13,500 volunteers of all ranks, rendered very valuable service to the civil authorities. For this work they received a commendation from the Regional Commissioner, the battalions having assisted the police and fire service in directing traffic and fighting fires, acted as guides to fire brigades brought in from outside the city, taken part in rescue work, and removed casualties.

NOTE: Casualty figures for Bristol are those quoted by the Bristol ARP Control Diary. For more complete figures see the section on Fatalities in the Greater Bristol Area.