Exeter air raid - a look back at the bombing during World War Two

The World War Two bomb found in Exeter.

The World War Two bomb found in Exeter. - Credit: Picture: Devon and Cornwall Police

Delving into the past with Chris Hallam

One night, around eighty years ago, a German plane flying high above Exeter dropped a 2,200lb (1,000kg) bomb onto the city below.

We know a lot about the bombing of Exeter during the Second World War. However, we don’t know on what day this specific day this particular plane was in flight or who its crew were.

It can be safely assumed the crew were male and German. Aside from that, we can only speculate. We do not know if they got through the whole war or even that particular mission.

They may have survived, returned home and lived to a ripe old age, perhaps living long enough to see their own country reunited in the early 1990s.

Although as they must have born close to or over one hundred years ago, we can probably (although, even then, not absolutely definitely) assume that they are dead by now.

They flew on behalf of the most evil regime the world has ever known, the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler which was comprehensively defeated in 1945.

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There were nineteen raids on Exeter during the Second World War, killing 265 people, seriously injuring over one hundred more and injuring over 600 others to a lesser extent.

More than 7,000 devices were dropped. Around one in twenty houses were destroyed and the city was changed forever. Although Exeter genuinely did have some strategic significance, most of the raids are classed as part of the ‘Baedeker Offensive’ launched as revenge for a British raid on the German city of Lubeck.

The campaign was devised as a bid to crush civilian morale by devastating cities deemed of cultural value. The German high command are said to have referred to the popular series of Baedeker series of travel guides first published in the 19th century to help identify which cities to target.

No one would, of course, condone these actions today. At the same time, it is likely the German crew were young men hoping to get home safe that night and ultimately be reunited one day with their loved ones.

In this respect, they were much the same as the Allied pilots were as they themselves flew raids and dropped bombs on German cities at the same time.

Anyway, as it happens, this particular bomb did not go off that day. Although they had other more pressing things to think about that night, the crew on the plane would doubtless have been astonished to learn the bomb would not actually explode until the year 2021.

From men on the Moon to the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic, life has been transformed almost beyond all recognition in the decades since.

I do not, of course, wish to make light of the aftermath of the Exeter bomb explosion which I am fully aware has caused problems for many people.

The large bomb was discovered on an allotment on Glenthorne Road in the city on Friday 26th February. More than 2,600 households and University of Exeter halls of residence were evacuated as a result, many at very short notice.

The bomb itself was destroyed in a large but controlled explosion, shortly before 6.15pm on the following evening. I, myself, heard the noise of the explosion from my own back garden which is around three miles from where the explosion occurred.

I suspect the wind might have been blowing in the wrong direction as to me, the sound of the bomb registered only as a distant crack. Other people, further away from the scene of the explosion, seem to have heard it both more loudly and more clearly. Some people reportedly heard the bang from more than five miles (8km) away.

At any rate, I can only wish all the best to all those who have suffered damage to their homes and property or in any other way been inconvenienced by the aftermath of this unexpected discovery.

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