Operation Moonlight Sonata: The German Raid on Coventry, by Allan Kurki, Praeger Publishers, Westport, Conn., 1995, $49.95.
On the night of November 14-15, 1940, German bombers struck Coventry, England, unleashing what has been described as the most concentrated and destructive raid on Great Britain during World War II.
A photograph taken of the Coventry cathedral, St. Michael’s, became one of the most famous pictures of the war and a symbol of German ruthlessness. The destruction was so great that the Germans coined a word, “Coventrized,” to describe something they had destroyed. One of the most popularly held beliefs about the raid is that Prime Minster Winston Churchill and British Intelligence knew about it well in advance but did nothing to protect the city for fear of tipping off the Germans that their secret Enigma code had been broken.
That belief is challenged in Operation Moonlight Sonata: The German Raid on Coventry, by Allan Kurki. Kurki believes the Enigma code story is a myth. There were Enigma intercepts prior to the raid, but Kurki contends the information gleaned from them was spotty and never specifically identified when the raid would occur or that Coventry was the prime target. Kurki also notes that Churchill, en route to Oxfordshire on the afternoon of the raid, returned to London after reading his latest intelligence intercepts. A good indication, Kurki believes, that Churchill thought London was the target.
The initial destruction was great. Approximately 100 acres of the city were destroyed, 568 people were killed, 1,256 were injured, and 20,000 dwellings were either destroyed or suffered major damage. The lack of a significant follow-up raid allowed the British an opportunity to recover, and within days the city of Coventry was again producing armaments.
Readers who are looking for a book that captures the drama and horror of the German raid will have to look elsewhere. But anyone interested in a scholarly review of the facts will be well served by Operation Moonlight Sonata. Jim Skeen