Clyde shipyards and HMS Sussex bombed

HMS Sussex at anchor in the Clyde.

HMS Sussex at anchor in the Clyde.


During the night of the 17th/18th H.M.S. Sussex which was completing a refit in the Clyde and was lying alongside at the time, was hit by a bomb during an enemy air attack. A serious fire broke out necessitating the flooding of magazines. She is now resting on the bottom aft and the fire is out. Casualties were 12 wounded, 3 seriously.\' War Cabinet report - TNA CAB 66/12/11

Hitler’s decision to turn to ‘terror’ bombing, after he was frustrated by the failure of the Luftwaffe to subdue the RAF, was not confined to London. The great cities of Britain would soon all see the devastation of the Blitz. There was a mixture of objectives, as well as hoping to bring Britain to the negotiating table, by terrorising her population, there was the intention to destroy strategic targets including aircraft and ship building. The huge Clyde shipbuilding area outside Glasgow was an obvious target.

Peter Petts, a nineteen year old Able Seaman on HMS Sussex describes how the bomb hit:

It went through the lower and platform decks and burst in the engine room near oil fuel tanks. Four members of the crew were killed, and twelve others died later of wounds. The lower deck at that point was destroyed, fire and bilge pumps were put out of action, the fuel tanks caught fire and flames were soon spreading fore and aft. But the worst part was the fact that all the magazines were full of ammunition, torpedoes, shells and depth charges, as well as eight torpedoes in the tubes on the upper deck. If the fire reached the magazines, a large part of Glasgow would have been threatend with death and destruction.

The crew that was on board that night started to fight the fire, but due to the lack of the fire and bilge pumps as well as the thick black oil fuel smoke, we were struggling. However, the Fire Brigade soon arrived and we, the Navy lads, were glad to have some help. We got more than that. They took over and soon had pumps going and water being sprayed just where it was required in the fire.

I was ordered to help the firemen by guiding them around the ship and assisting with the hoses. It was a long, dirty and scary night. The plates were buckling with the intense heat and black slippery oil was everywhere.

Quite a few, including Navy men, were sent to the Western Infirmary with severe burns. It was then noticed that the torpedoes in the tubes were getting very hot and would probably explode with the heat. Although we tried to pull them out it was a hopeless task, and all we could do was to spray them with water to keep them cool!

It was then that the Fire Chief called for the Vehicle Ferry to be used as a fireboat, and they manned it with fire engines. She arrived about 5.30 a.m. on the 19th, and soon had sixteen powerful water jets playing on the “Sussex”.

It was not until the 19th, 23 hours after the bomb had hit, that the fire was brought under control and the ship was sunk alongside the wall so that she was flooded to extinguish the blaze and prevent any explosion of the ammunition.

I believe it was in the early hours of the morning that some of the tenements and a Children’s Hospital were evacuated, but strange to tell, the story of the “Sussex” being nearly destroyed in the heart of Glasgow was kept secret ’til long after the war had ended. Even we Navy Lads were told “not to discuss it”, so we didn’t.

Read his full account at Our Glasgow Story

See also John Milloy’s account at Our Glasgow Story, a schoolboy at the time, he felt compelled to get a closer look – evidently efforts to evacuate the area were not very thorough.

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: