Liverpool’s ‘May Blitz’

The devastation in Liverpool docks after the ammunition ship 'Malakand' blew up after catching fire on the night of 3rd May 1941.

Merseyside and Liverpool were bombed every night of the first week of May with over 1750 people being killed. The worst single night was the 3rd/4th when an estimated 850 people were killed. The ammunition ship Malakand, being loaded with 1,000 tons of munitions caught the flames from nearby burning warehouses. Desperate attempts were made to control the fire but she blew up hours after the ‘All Clear’ was sounded on the 4th, killing four fire fighters. The fire continued for another 72 hours.

Ena Barker was nine years old when she lived through the Liverpool Blitz:

I remember going to school each morning carrying my gas mask on my back at all times, in case the Germans dropped gas onto us. We had to get home early and have our tea, as the sirens would sound most nights around 6 o’clock, then planes would come. We would go down into the cellar or under the stairs; we even went under the table sometimes. Mother didn’t like going into the air raid shelter as she always said she had a bad feeling about them.

One morning I went to school and when I got there it was just a pile of rubble. You never knew just what you would find after a raid, sometimes there were no houses left, just piles of stones and rubbish.

Our school was bombed and I remember we were not allowed to go home; we had to sit in what had been the school yard with our pencils and paper, until we were found another school to go to.

We had to keep moving houses as we kept getting bombed. I remember one night Lewis’s store being hit and watching from the door of our house as firemen climbed up long ladders trying to put out the enormous flames. One night we had a lucky escape when a shelter near us was bombed and everyone inside it was killed.

Each night in Liverpool the searchlights would light up the sky searching for the German bombers. There were silver coloured barrage balloons in front of King George’s Hall, huge on the ground, but when they let the ropes go and they went up into the sky they looked very small.

A lot of children were evacuated to the countryside, but my mother would not let me go and decided to move back to Nelson. She went working in the mill weaving. She would work there from early morning until teatime, then rush home and after tea go back to work on munitions until 10 pm.

BBC People’s war

For many more pictures see Liverpool Blitz 70

Merseyside.

The cumulative effect of seven successive nights’ bombing has not been fully assessed, but it is known that extensive damage has been done to docks, railways, all utility services, and to private property.

Heavy salvage operations are entailed by ships sunk in the docks, and in some cases dock gates are unusable owing to lack of electric power.

The railway system to the docks was badly affected by actual damage and by unexploded bombs, and sections of the Dockyard Overhead Railways were destroyed. Many roads near the docks were blocked by craters or debris and in Bootle two important bridges were smashed.

Considerable damage by fire was done to dockyard buildings and the offices of the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board were destroyed.

From the Home Security Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/16/23

American Lease And Lend food being eaten in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Uk, 1941 Three children eat American cheese sandwiches at an emergency feeding centre in Liverpool. Behind them, a man can be seen cooking at a Soyer boiler or field cooker.

American Lease And Lend food being eaten in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Uk, 1941
Three children eat American cheese sandwiches at an emergency feeding centre in Liverpool. Behind them, a man can be seen cooking at a Soyer boiler or field cooker.

The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, making a speech (in warehouse setting) to merchant ships' crews and dockers at Liverpool, in which he thanked his listeners for their part in helping win the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the Prime Minister's public engagements during his visit to Manchester and Merseyside between 25 and 26 April 1941.

The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, making a speech (in warehouse setting) to merchant ships’ crews and dockers at Liverpool, in which he thanked his listeners for their part in helping win the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the Prime Minister’s public engagements during his visit to Manchester and Merseyside between 25 and 26 April 1941.

Mrs Cripps, daughter-in-law of Mr Leonard Cripps, serves American baked ham to feed dockyard workers in a marquee being used as an emergency feeding centre on the outskirts of Liverpool.

Mrs Cripps, daughter-in-law of Mr Leonard Cripps, serves American baked ham to feed dockyard workers in a marquee being used as an emergency feeding centre on the outskirts of Liverpool.

A demolition worker in Liverpool sucks a raw American egg as he rests on a wheelbarrow next to a smouldering fire.

A demolition worker in Liverpool sucks a raw American egg as he rests on a wheelbarrow next to a smouldering fire.

Vertical aerial view from 1,800 feet of the waterfront from the Pier Head to the Albert Dock, and of the city east to Derby Square, showing the extensive bomb damage to the commercial centre. The shell of the burnt out customs shed is visible left centre.

Vertical aerial view from 1,800 feet of the waterfront from the Pier Head to the Albert Dock, and of the city east to Derby Square, showing the extensive bomb damage to the commercial centre. The shell of the burnt out customs shed is visible left centre.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

abby b February 2, 2014 at 9:01 pm

brilliant article used it for my homework really useful thanks

beth edwards November 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Dad applied to join RAF but refused as he was in ‘reserved occupation’ he became APR warden instead. Just as well or I might not be here! I had to visit Radium Institute in Liverpool 1, Myrtle Street, as a child & remember the scenes of devastation in town, so much damage. (only to the buildings, not the Liverpool spirit)!

Naseem August 14, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Just wondering if anyone knows about a ship that came from south Asia and was bombed my paternal and maternal uncle were on that ship they came from India to help fight please respond if anyone knows anything

Editor May 18, 2013 at 7:36 am

Many thanks Steve, as of May 2013 I have replaced it with some more recently available photographs.

Steve Schremmer May 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm

The video is no longer at that YouTube link.

David Shaw December 14, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I served my engineering apprenticeship with a company based across the road called Charles Howson, and I remember a ships plate from the Malakand in their reception which fascinated me.

charlotte monroe May 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Really interesting article- Liverpool looks so different now!

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