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Ships' searchlight tribute to victims of Plymouth's Blitz

Sailors clear rubble after the raid on Plymouth of March 20-21 1941
23 April 2021
A ‘cathedral of light’ will fill the night sky over Plymouth on Monday as warships join locals in commemorating the city’s darkest hour.

The searchlights and spotlights of every warship in Plymouth Naval Base and Plymouth Sound, including those of visiting vessels such as the USS Carter Hall and San Antonio, will turn skywards – just as beams of light swept the skies trying to trap German bombers for anti-aircraft gunners.

They will turn on their lights at 9pm for 30 minutes. The city’s inhabitants are encouraged to join in by standing on their doorsteps and aiming torchlight beams into the sky.

Earlier in the day, Naval base commander Commodore Peter Coulson will join Naval personnel and employees from dockyard support and engineering firm Babcock in holding a service of commemoration on the memorial steps near Central Office Block No.3 for those killed in the bombings.

It’s part of a series of events city-wide commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Blitz and reminding present-day Plymothians of the sacrifices made by the wartime generation, and how the face of the city was changed forever.

Due to its naval base and industry, Plymouth was subjected to nearly 60 air raids in World War 2, killing 1,172 inhabitants and destroying the heart of the city, including more than two dozen schools, 41 churches (the ruins of Charles Church were left as a permanent memorial) and the main shopping streets. In addition, 3,754 homes were flattened and five times that figure damaged.

Although raids continued sporadically into 1944, the city suffered its heaviest battering during the late winter and early spring of 1941, which is why the city is marking ‘Blitz 80’ now.

Most of the damage – and deaths – were inflicted during the raids of March 20-21 and April 22-24 and 28-29 1941.

Many of Plymouth’s landmarks were obliterated during the March raid, while one of the heaviest losses of life was suffered on April 22-23 when a civic air raid shelter in Portland Square suffered a direct hit, killing all but three of the 79 souls sheltering within.

The city’s pounding famously features in Noel Coward’s wartime naval epic In Which We Serve and sailors from the naval base were heavily engaged in the initial clearing-up operations after major raids, clearing rubble, filling in bomb craters.

For more details of anniversary events, see

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