1. Why use this guide?
This research guide will help you to find air raid reports, bomb census maps and sometimes photographs of bomb damage sustained during air raids in the Second World War.
The information relates mostly to damage to domestic, industrial and commercial properties in London but also covers the rest of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
You might also find it useful to look at the Bomb Sight project which is mapping the London WW2 bomb census.
2. Essential information
In September 1940 the government started to collect and collate information relating to damage sustained during bombing raids. This was known as the 'bomb census'. Initially, only information relating to London, Birmingham and Liverpool was collated but by September 1941 the bomb census had been extended to cover the rest of the UK.
Its purpose was to provide the government with a complete picture of air raid patterns, types of weapon used and the damage caused - in particular to strategic services and installations such as railways, shipyards, factories and public utilities. The Ministry of Home Security divided the UK into 12 civil defence regions and information about bomb damage was coordinated through these regions.
1. Northern (HQ Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
2. North Eastern (HQ Leeds)
3. North Midland (HQ Nottingham)
4. Eastern (HQ Cambridge)
6. Southern (HQ Reading)
7. South Western (HQ Bristol)
8. Wales (HQ Cardiff)
9. Midland (HQ Birmingham)
10. North Western (HQ Manchester)
11. Scotland (HQ Edinburgh)
12. South Eastern (HQ Tunbridge Wells)
London (region 5) was sub-divided into groups and further sub-divided by borough. If you visit The National Archives you can see a list of the groups, and the boroughs that were in them, at the start of the paper catalogue list for record series HO 198.
Northern Ireland seems to have been outside the regional structure, but The National Archives does hold a small number of records relating to bomb damage in Northern Ireland.
3. How was the bomb census information gathered?
Information was gathered locally by police, air raid wardens and military personnel. They noted where, when and what types of bombs had fallen during an air raid and passed this on to the Ministry of Home Security Bomb Census Organisation where regional technical officers plotted the positions of the bombs onto maps.
These bomb plots along with the information gathered locally were passed to the Ministry of Home Security Research and Experiments Branch.
The information was digested, summarised and sometimes collated with intelligence from other sources. The reports were distributed to the Cabinet, Air Ministry, local authorities and to government departments with responsibility for civil defence.
4. Key sources at The National Archives
The three most useful series of records are:
- bomb census papers, particularly BC4 forms, in HO 198
- bomb census maps in HO 193
- air raid damage files in HO 192
4.1 Bomb census reports HO 198
The BC4 report forms which were completed by the Research and Experiments Branch of the Ministry of Home Security can be found in record series HO 198. They show the following information:
- date and time that the bomb fell
- type and size of bomb
- whether the bomb exploded
- brief description of damage caused including the size of crater
- information on air raid warnings
- casualty statistics
The BC4 form is often accompanied by a sketch map showing features such as the road layout, and the point of impact of the bomb. There is often also a traced copy of a section of a map which has been marked to show where a bomb fell. The map sheet reference is normally written on the BC4 form and/or the accompanying tracing.
The files in HO 198 are organised according to the type of bomb that fell (piloted aircraft, V1, V2), then by civil defence region and then by date of the air raid. London (Region 5) is further divided into groups between 1940 and 1942.
The bombs in each raid are numbered in sequence, both on the BC4 form and on the bomb census maps in HO 193.
The different types of bombs are covered by the following file ranges within HO 108:
- those dropped from piloted aircraft HO 198/1-73
- V1 flying bombs HO 198/74-102
- V2 long range rockets HO 198/103-109
4.2 Bomb census maps HO 193
The National Archives has maps and tracings for all of the London Civil Defence Region, but far fewer for provincial towns and cities. For London, The National Archives holds tracings that show where bombs fell, but does not have the underlying printed map.
To find maps for a specific area you can do a keyword search (see paragraph 5). To find maps relating to specific types of bombs focus on the file ranges as follows:
- piloted aircraft in London raids: HO 193/1-11, HO 193/15-40 and HO 193/84-87
- piloted aircraft in provincial raids: HO 193/55-67 and HO 193/73-81
- V1 flying bombs: HO 193/48-50
- V1 tracings to use with maps: HO 193/69-71
- V2 long range rocket maps: HO 193/48-50
- V2 tracings to use with maps: HO 193/72
The printed catalogue available in the reading rooms at The National Archives gives more precise descriptions of the maps available than Discovery, our online catalogue provides. A key to the London map sheet numbering is also available in the reading rooms.
4.3 Air raid damage files HO 192
Some air raid incidents were followed up with a more detailed investigation. These files are in HO 192. There are over 1,000 files containing reports on specific towns or London boroughs which typically contain:
- BC4 forms
- detailed technical report on the effects of the bomb and the extent of damage caused
- analysis of the size and type of bomb, especially if new
- plans of buildings showing damage
Other files in this series include general analysis of bomb damage and its effects on industry, transport and public utilities, and some transcripts of interrogation of enemy personnel. If you want to browse the records in HO 192 relating to a specific civil defence region, the relevant file ranges are as follows:
1. Northern HO 192/75-128
2. North Eastern HO 192/129-163
3. North Midland HO 192/164-199
4. Eastern HO 192/200-327
5. London HO 192/328-809
6. Southern HO 192/810-861
7. South Western HO 192/862-923
8. Wales HO 192/924-931
9. Midland HO 192/932-946
10. North Western HO 192/947-956
11. Scotland HO 192/957-961
12. South Eastern HO 192/962-1094
For Northern Ireland, search our catalogue as described below.
5. Searching Discovery, our catalogue
You can search our catalogue to find files that are of specific interest to you.
Follow the tips below to focus your search:
- search using a civil defence region or group number, map sheet number, the name of a town, a London borough or a keyword such as 'factory' or 'shipyard'
- restrict your search to the record series HO 198, HO 193 and/or HO 192
- enter a date range if you can
6. Finding names of casualties
BC4 forms give the number of casualties in an incident categorised as killed (K); seriously injured (S/I); or lightly injured (L/I) but do not give their names. If you know the name of someone killed by a bomb you can search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Click on 'Debt of Honour Register'. Remember to try variations of a name. For example, Bert may be listed as Albert, Bill as William, and so on.
Otherwise, the library of The National Archives has a copy of Civilian war dead Roll of Honour 1939-1945 published by the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), which is available to consult with no need for an appointment.
The volumes are arranged by county and borough and include the full name of the casualty, their age, names of parents and/or spouse and when and where they were injured and died. Sometimes the injury occurred at domestic address but the casualty died later in hospital.
If you can't visit The National Archives it may be worth searching online for 'civilian war dead' by county or London borough, as some details have been transcribed and put online by individuals, or on websites such as Genuki.
7. National Fire Service and Air Raid Precautions
For the first two years of the war, fires were dealt with by locally run Auxiliary Fire Services staffed by men who were unable to serve in the armed forces. In 1941 these were replaced with the National Fire Service (NFS).
Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was established well before the war, but the number of wardens and their responsibilities increased from 1939 onwards. ARP wardens had various responsibilities including
- making sure no lights were visible during the 'blackout'
- issuing gas masks and air raid shelters
- searching for survivors after bombing raids
- recording information about size and location of bombs and related damage
Personnel records for the NFS and ARP have not survived.
Search our catalogue for surviving policy files and other records relating to central government oversight of the two services.
8. Wider context
The Key Points Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Home Security compiled and distributed information about damage to factories, public utilities, service establishments and buildings of national importance. These reports are in HO 201.
The files include general assessments and reviews of the enemy attacks on key points and of various defence measures. The weekly reports summarise the kind of damage and the effect on production. The daily damage reports give the same information in tabular format.
HO 315 contains a set of map tracings relating specifically to key points.
Two other useful summary reports that look at all enemy action over a given period are the Home Security daily intelligence reports, compiled in the Home Security War Room for senior officials, the Minister and the Cabinet in HO 203, and the daily and weekly appraisals of raids and damage for the use within government in HO 202.
9. Records in other archives
Some London Borough archives and other local archives hold records created locally, such as incident maps and registers or ARP wardens' logs.
You can search Access to Archives (A2A) using keywords such as 'bomb damage' in the search box to find out what is held at other archives. Alternatively, you can use the ARCHON directory to find contact details for local archives.
London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) holds the London County Council bomb damage maps and other records relating to bombing incidents in London
The Imperial War Museum has many personal reminiscences, both written and oral, from civilians and civil defence workers as well as photographs of air raid damage.
There are many archives in private and commercial hands. Companies and organisations often have information about their wartime experience. This can be as varied as St Paul's Cathedral archives or the archives of the Brentham Garden Suburb in West London.
10. Further reading and useful online sources
Useful online sources relating to Second World War bombing include:
Bomb Sight - includes digitised images of selected Bomb Census maps in HO 193/1 and HO 193/13
The West End at War - based mainly on sources from Westminster City Archives
Basil Collier, Official History of the Second World War: The defence of the United Kingdom (HMSO 1957)
Peter Doyle, ARP and Civil Defence in the Second World War (Shire 2010)
Norman Longmate, The Doodlebugs: the Story of the Flying-Bombs (Hutchinson 1981)
Norman Longmate, Hitler's Rockets: the Story of the V-2s (Hutchinson 1985)
Terence Henry O'Brien, Official History of the Second World War: Civil defence (HMSO 1955)
Bob Ogley, Doodlebugs and Rockets: the Battle of the Flying Bombs (Froglets 1992) - focuses on the V weapons that fell on South East London.
Alfred Price, Blitz on Britain, 1939-1945 (Sutton 2000) - examines the different phases of the bombing attacks of Britain.
Ann Saunders (ed), The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 (London Topographical Society 2005) - includes a very useful introduction by Robin Woolven.
Neil Wallington, Firemen at War, The Work of London's Firefighters in the Second World War (Jeremy Mills 2007)