In The Line Of Fire
During the Second World War Brighton, Hove and towns along the South Coast were particularly vulnerable to attack by German bombers and would have been in the front line in the event of invasion.
Once hostilities began, air raid precautions and coastal defences were quickly implemented.
The people of Kemptown were hit hard in the war with Brighton’s worst loss of life from a single bombing raid.
During the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, dogfights between RAF fighters and the aircraft of the German Luftwaffe became a common sight across the Sussex skies. Many of the RAF fighters would have been based at nearby Tangmere airfield near Chichester.
On Saturday September 14 1940 a German Dornier bomber had been separated from the rest of its squadron and was being chased by a Spitfire fighter plane. The German pilot dropped his entire payload in a bid to gain more speed over his pursuer and 20 100-pound bombs fell on the Edward Street and Upper Rock Gardens area, two of which hit the busy Odeon Cinema. A total of 52 people, including many children, were killed.
The German bombing campaign struck Brighton many times. On May 25 1943 a squadron on 24 Focke Wulf 190 fighter-bombers targeted the town.
David Rowland, local historian and author of a book on the events, ‘Out of the Blue’, was there to witness the raid:
“It was the biggest raid regarding damage done. The raid at Kemptown was the worst for casualties,” said David.
“I got machine gunned by one of those aircraft,” he recounted. “It [the bullets] crossed within a few yards of us and we ran across the road. The bullets hit the road.”
The London Road Viaduct was hit and badly damaged in the raid. A bomb bounced off the road and then went in and out of a house’s windows, slid across a floor before exploding at the bottom of one of the viaduct’s supporting piers.
The explosion destroyed the pier and two arches, leaving the railway line hanging in the air. It was quickly patched up and trains were able to cross again within a week of the raid.
Around 11 tons of explosives were dropped in total and the raid killed 24 people and injured 130. It also made more than 150 homes uninhabitable and set the Black Rock Gasworks on fire.
During the whole war there were 198 air raid deaths in the Brighton area, with a further 357 people seriously injured and 433 slightly injured from the bombing.