The Sheffield Blitz

The centre of Sheffield on fire

The centre of Sheffield ablaze during the first major major bombing raid to hit the city on the night of 12-13th December.

The Sheffield Blitz was probably inevitable. It was really only a question of time before before the Luftwaffe turned their attention to the steel making centre in the north of England. German planes had been seen over the city since August, most making reconnaissance flights, although there had been the occasional bomb as well.

The first of two major attacks on Sheffield took place on the night of 12th-13th December 1940. A cold, clear moonlit night provided ideal conditions for the bombers, with the roofs of many buildings white with frost.

Marian Senior’s family was one of those who had a lucky escape, much depended on the initiative of people who were able to look after themselves:

At the time of the Blitz I was 10 years old and lived with my parents at 122 Upper Hanover St.

My Dad was a very resourceful man and a highly qualified electrician, and our Anderson Shelter was well installed and comfortably fitted out with bunks, electricity and other comforts so we were well prepared when the sirens were sounded on that fateful night.

It was during the early part of the evening the bombs were dropping, thudding and exploding, when our next door neighbours, two maiden ladies who had a severely ill, bedfast mother and could not be moved, came out of their back door and called “Mr Senior your house is on fire!!!”
So Dad quickly opened the shelter door and rushed into the house to discover an incendiary bomb lodged in the house roof. He quickly climbed into the loft kicked the burning bomb through the bedroom ceiling, put out the flames in the roof and clambered down to tackle the bomb which had set the bed on fire.

He put it out with the sand we had on the landing then turned his attention to the burning bed, extinguishing this as best he could. When he was satisfied all was safe he went back into the area under the roof and made sure anything burning was put out.

Only then was he satisfied that he could return to us in the shelter, which he did with the news our home was safe but with a gaping hole in the roof, which we had for many months – it being war time there was neither the manpower nor materials to have it repaired.

The Sheffield Blitz left irremovable memories of that terrible night but the one memory I will always remember was when my Dad became one of the many unsung heroes and prevented us from being amongst the many left homeless in the wake of enemy action.

Just one of several memories recorded by the BBC on the 70th anniversary.

Many others were not so fortunate. The Luftwaffe missed the main steel making areas but hit the commercial centre of the city, as well as residential areas close to the centre.

Fate decided who lived or died. A basement in a substantial building must have seemed like a relatively safe option for those who had been out on the town when the raid started. It was not to be.

It was only in the morning that an attempt could be made to investigate the pile of rubble that had formerly been the Marples Hotel. At a quarter to midnight on the 12th a bomb had penetrated the building before exploding in the middle of the store, above the ground floor. It was known that there were many people sheltering in the basement but not thought that any could have survived.

As the digging continued throughout the 13th some seventy bodies were recovered, although the final death toll was never firmly established. Miraculously seven men were found alive, trapped in a separate compartment of the basement. It was the largest single incident in the city. This raid, and a follow up on the night of 15th/16th, killed 668 civilians and 25 servicemen, injured more than 1,500 others and left a tenth of the city’s population homeless.

See also the story of the death of local benefactor George Lawrence who died after insisting that he visit the workers at his razor blade factory. He travelled into the burning town with a supply of food but died alongside many of them when the shelter took a direct hit.

Sheffield.

54. An attack lasting nearly nine hours was made on the night of the 12th-13th and was concentrated mainly on the centre, north-west and south-east of the City. Although over 200 incidents were reported, the main Steel Valley largely escaped, and only four cases of substantial damage have been reported. The attack on the night of the 15th-16th lasted three hours, and was mainly in the east and east centre; many factories were hit, but only nine of these suffered substantial damage.

55. The effect on war production has not been serious, except indirectly through damage to public utilities. The Neepsend Gas Works’ were severely damaged, and this, together with many broken mains, resulted in extensive failure of gas supplies. Electricity was not so badly affected, but the water distribution system in three of the city’s zones of supply suffered considerable damage, and it has been necessary to supply them from carts.

56 Transport was badly disorganised and many roads and main-line railways were temporarily blocked. A start has been made in restoring tram routes for munition workers, but it will be some time before trams run through the centre of the city.

57. The material damage caused was extensive, particularly in the central commercial part of the city, where numerous fires were started.

As was often the case in large air raids it was not possible to identify many of the dead. Sometimes it was many months before the fate of those “missing” was discovered.

Sheffield Blitz

The Sheffield Star dated 7th July 1941.

For mor stories from the Pitsmoor area of Sheffield see Chris Hobbs.

Sheffield Blitz

Another view of the burning centre of Sheffield.

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