Between July 1940 and the end of May 1944, the city suffered sixty-seven air raids, in which 1,320 high explosive bombs, 38,000 incendiaries and thirty-eight huge parachute mines were dropped. 930 people were killed, and as many as 10 per cent of the city's 63,000 homes were destroyed.
The Cathedral from the Ruins in the High Street, 1941. Portsmouth City Museum and Records Office
117 people died in one of the worst raids, on 24 August 1940, including eight children watching a matinee in the Prince’s Theatre. In the Dockyard, a direct hit on an underground vault being used as an air raid shelter near the Block Mills killed twenty-six workers and injured many more.
St. Thomas' Street, Portsmouth 1941 Portsmouth City Museum and Records Office
On 8 March 1941, a parachute mine fell directly on to one of the 250-ton dockyard cranes, where it remained dangling from its parachute, banging against the capstan machinery on the dockside beneath it, a lucky escape for the cruiser HMS Berwick which was in dock alongside. Two days later, on 10 March, a bomb hit an air raid shelter in the Royal Navy Torpedo School, HMS Vernon, (now Gunwharf Quays shopping centre), killing twenty-five men. This was the last of the heavy attacks, although nuisance raids and later ‘flying bomb’ attacks plagued the city until almost the end of the war.
It’s also worth mentioning that some ordnance is nearly 500 years old. During the Mary Rose excavation both wrought iron and cast bronze guns were discovered. Some of these were loaded with their shot and even the powder. But luckily the 437 year old powder was no longer active when found.
Nick Hewitt, Head of Heritage Development, The National Museum of the Royal Navy.
Many thanks to Portsmouth City Museum for providing us with the images from paintings which are currently on display at Portsmouth City Museum as part of the Edward King: a life in art exhibition which is open display until Spring 2017.