Did Churchill know about Coventry?

9/27/2012 • Ask Mr. History

Dear Mr. History,

I’ve read a lot of books regarding WWII and there are various versions of exactly what happened regarding the City of Coventry, England during the early years of the war. Some books profess that WSC knew ahead of time that it was to bombed via Ultra but did not alert anyone in the interests of conserving this superior source of intelligence. Some books say that he did not know. Please relate to me your opinion.


Jeffrey C. Apparius
Bremerton, WA

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Apparius:

There certainly have been a variety of different accounts, even supposedly by eyewitnesses, that contradict each other as to how much Winston Churchill had learned from the Boniface (later Ultra) decoders as to the main target for the German "Moonlight Sonata" air raid on the Midlands in November 1940, and when did he ascertain it. Whether he mistook it for a feint, with London the actual target, of whether he knew of Coventry and left it to its fate rather than compromise Britain’s ability to crack the German Enigma codes seems to depend on one’s feelings toward Churchill, one’s political agenda, or simply one’s obsession with conspiracy theory. Given the fact that the British had acted on information to counter German moves earlier, and given the fact that both the Enigma and Ultra codes were changing on a regular basis make me more inclined to give Churchill the benefit of the doubt. But in an endlessly debated case like this, let’s face it—if you don’t want to believe that, you won’t.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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