Ambulance duty during the Hull Blitz

When the road was cleared we took the dead, each with a printed form attached to them, saying where they were found, to Alber Ave Mortuary. The injured, who had been given morphine, and the letter ‘M’ marked on their foreheads to say so, we took to the Western General Hospital on Anlaby Road, and laid them on the floor on their stretchers.

The search for survivors after one of the numerous raids on Hull.

The north eastern port of Hull was a frequent target for air raids but suffered one of its worst attacks on the night of the 7th May. Over 300 explosive bombs fell whilst incendiary bombs started around 800 fires. R. Peat wrote a diary of his experiences during the blitz, first as a Boy Scout cycle messenger, then as an assistant at a First Aid post:

The sirens sounded and although I went straight to the First Aid Post the sky was red with fires before I arrived. My name was put on the blackboard to go out with the first ambulance. We could see we were in for a terrible night. The first call came for us to go near the side of the Riverside Quay. On leaving the Post I was told there would be no fire engines available.

I set off at great speed and was joined by my Divisional Officer. As we neared the docks we could hear a bomb getting nearer and nearer but neither of us wanted to be the first to lay down but the decision was made for us by the bomb. The dock was blazing from end to end and we found a public shelter had been hit.

Police Constable No. 902 hung his oil lamp on a tree and took our names. We were told to wear our goggles. The full length of the street was blazing. The ambulances became blocked in the street so it was decided to remove casualties to another public shelter nearby.

On one journey the street was covered in fire bombs and I flung myself in the shelter doorway and others doing so lay on top of me. Looking up I saw for the first time some children on bunks round the side of the walls although they must have known the people we laid on the floor of the shelter they hadn’t made a sound … We were so jammed in the entrance to the shelter the policeman blew his whistle for others to help us. I was then given a message to take to control asking for more rescue parties.

When the road was cleared we took the dead, each with a printed form attached to them, saying where they were found, to Alber Ave Mortuary. The injured, who had been given morphine, and the letter ‘M’ marked on their foreheads to say so, we took to the Western General Hospital on Anlaby Road, and laid them on the floor on their stretchers. They would be seen by a doctor if a bed became available, would be washed, but most were eventually transported by buses fitted out with beds to Driffield or Beverley Base Hospitals…

Heroes of Hull has more details of this raid.

Liverpool’s ‘May Blitz’

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.

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.

Plymouth bombed yet again

It is natural that after five such raids the people should be somewhat shaken, but the movement of population from the city is regarded as reasonably well in hand, and the problem is being largely solved by the provision of rail tickets for would-be evacuees, and by the evacuation of children from specified areas.

A Naval bomb disposal unit deals with an unexploded bomb during the Plymouth blitz.

Plymouth was just one of the major port cities that suffered repeat visits from the Luftwaffe during March and April. Despite attempts to lure the bombers to target fires in the open country outside the city, it was hit very badly again:

On the 29th/30th April Plymouth and Devonport were again attacked, and, although the raid was on a larger scale than any of its predecessors, it began with inaccurate, bombing in open country North of the city, where wood-fires at Mount Edgcumbe were heavily bombed. It was comparatively late in the raid before the enemy found his targets, and the attack did not therefore seem so heavy as some of its predecessors.

The raid lasted nearly four hours, and, though its effects cannot yet be fully assessed, it is clear that, after all that the city and its environs have lately been through, this raid struck a heavy blow. The main weight of attack was felt at Keyham and Milehouse, between Plymouth and Devonport.

High explosives seem to have predominated over incendiary attack, and only 20 fires were reported. Fires were started in Milehouse, at a Devonport gasholder and once again at the Tor Point oil cisterns. In addition to areas of military importance, the city’s civilian life seems again to have suffered severely, and a shopping centre at Mutley, rendered more important by the destruction done elsewhere in earlier raids, was damaged in this one. Residential districts suffered severely, the worst damage of this kind being reported from the Beacon Park and Hartley areas. The fires were all brought under control during the morning. Casualties cannot yet be accurately estimated.

Plymouth has rallied with vigour from all attacks. It is natural that after five such raids the people should be somewhat shaken, but the movement of population from the city is regarded as reasonably well in hand, and the problem is being largely solved by the provision of rail tickets for would-be evacuees, and by the evacuation of children from specified areas.

From the Home Security Report for the week.

Joyse Prowse was 14 at the time:

My mother said to me after the worst night, ‘Come on, we’ll walk to town to see what damage they’ve done,’ so we walked to the end of Ebrington Street and stood at ‘Burton’s Corner’ and saw nothing but smouldering rubble, hundreds of fireman and hoses. They said, ‘You can’t go any further.’ We didn’t intend to anyway, we just stood, Mother crying her eyes out. I’d never seen mother cry before. She was heart broken.

Read the whole story at BBC People’s War

Low level bombing attack on Ijmuiden

On two successive days formations of Blenheims attacked the iron and steel works at Ijmuiden, some of the aircraft coming down to 100 feet; direct hits were obtained on buildings which were seen to be severely damaged; the power house, ships and barges in the docks and a railway bridge were also attacked.

One of the dramatic photographs taken during the low level attack on Ijmuiden
with bombs falling centre frame.

On two successive days formations of Blenheims attacked the iron and steel works at Ijmuiden, some of the aircraft coming down to 100 feet; direct hits were obtained on buildings which were seen to be severely damaged; the power house, ships and barges in the docks and a railway bridge were also attacked. Other aircraft, unable to locate shipping, bombed military objectives in France and Denmark; some successful results were obtained, including direct hits on two goods trains at Vemb and a bridge under construction near Ringkobing.

From the Air Situation Report for the week.

 

Undated image of another low level attack in the area, against shipping.
Low level oblique taken during an attack on an enemy convoy off the Dutch coast by Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No, 2 Group. Eight vessels sailing between Ijmuiden and the Hague were intercepted by aircraft drawn from Nos. 105 and 139 Squadrons RAF. Although hits were scored on the ships, 3 Blenheims were shot down and 2 crash-landed on return to their base. Here, bombs can be seen narrowly missing MV DELAWARE, a Danish-registered vessel as aircraft attack at low level. The photograph was taken from the mid-upper gun turret of another Blenheim.

 

 

The Morrison Shelter is introduced

As the bombs stirred the ground and the shrapnel clattered down the road we fought a quiet battle of cunning for the bedclothes. Feet touched faces, arms swung across chests, elbows elbowed; snores bubbled and spluttered to be silenced by ostensibly accidental blows; fragments of wild dream-talk escaped from the depths of our private lives. Enmity was closer to the surface during those caged nights than at any other time in our well-mannered lives.

The Morrison shelter was an indoor cage that was designed to protect the occupants from masonry and debris if the house was hit by a bomb.

During March 1941 the Morrison shelter, named after the Home Secretary, was introduced. This was an indoor alternative to the Anderson Shelter, the corrugated iron construction that was half buried in people’s gardens. Derek Lambert describes how this new shelter at first appeared to be a more comfortable option:

When the first savagery of the night attacks faded we left the cupboard under the stairs and moved into a Morrison shelter.

This was a large metal cage a little higher than a dinner table. It had a hefty iron frame with a sheet steel ceiling screwed together with chunky nuts and bolts. Underneath was a crude wire mattress. It was massive and angular and filled the dining room except for a space in front of the fire.

It became part of the house, a foundation almost; we slept in it and on it, we ate from it, we played in it. When the siren sounded we were supposed to dive inside and put up steel mesh around the sides. Thus, according to the theorists, we were protected from falling masonry by the frame and steel ceiling and from flying rubble by the mesh cage.

When the Germans resumed the destruction of such military targets as schools, shops, houses and sleeping cows we spent all night in the shelter. …

As the bombs stirred the ground and the shrapnel clattered down the road we fought a quiet battle of cunning for the bedclothes. Feet touched faces, arms swung across chests, elbows elbowed; snores bubbled and spluttered to be silenced by ostensibly accidental blows; fragments of wild dream-talk escaped from the depths of our private lives. Enmity was closer to the surface during those caged nights than at any other time in our well-mannered lives.

The system collapsed after a few weeks. White-faced, shadow-eyed, we decided that for the sake of health and happiness two of us would have to evacuate the shelter. For the next few months my parents slept on top of it while I rolled and stretched and crawled and sometimes slept beneath. When the next lull in the bombing came we crept back to our beds.

See Derek Lambert : The sheltered days – Growing up in the war

The Plymouth Blitz

The next morning I had to walk from Freedom Fields to our bungalow in Granby Barracks in Devonport, and it took me three and a half hours. I was walking over the top of houses and things, and the flames were meeting over the streets, and people were crying ‘Oh my sons gone, my daughters gone’. It was just terrible to hear it. You would just try and comfort them some way or another. When I got home, low and behold Mummy’s bungalow was flat.

Damage at Millbay Station, Plymouth during the Blitz.

Plymouth was subject to a very heavy raid on the 20th March 1941 and again on the 21st. Noel Hall was a probationary nurse at the Freedom Fields Hospital in Plymouth, she later recalled the impact of the bombing raids on the patients:

In the hospitals we nurses had to get up and fix the blackout material of the windows every night. At Freedom Fields we had the children’s ward, maternity block, medicine, surgery, ear nose and throat, and we had four, if not six, geriatric blocks. And those poor dears used to scream. I know one night, I was going up to the top floor, and it was three stories high, up all these big stone steps like the infirmaries were years ago.

And Matron stood up there, I remember she was very tall and thin, and she was shaking in her shoes poor dear. And she was stood there, and I could hear them screaming out, and I said ‘I’d better go on’ and she said ‘Now, they’ve had their day, you stay here.’ I said ‘No matron, I couldn’t live with it’ and I went to the end of the ward, and just outside comes screaming down a bomb. The poor old dears were so frightened, but what could you do with two hundred odd people, all bedridden, some of them blind? You did your best – that is all you could do.

… the next morning I had to walk from Freedom Fields to our bungalow in Granby Barracks in Devonport, and it took me three and a half hours. I was walking over the top of houses and things, and the flames were meeting over the streets, and people were crying ‘Oh my sons gone, my daughters gone’. It was just terrible to hear it. You would just try and comfort them some way or another. When I got home, low and behold Mummy’s bungalow was flat. The family were in the air raid shelter, and two armour-piercing bombs went underneath the shelter, and hadn’t gone off. When Daddy climbed out, that was the first time a cigarette went near his mouth. He never smoked, but they made him. He lost his speech — he’d watched this happen, and nothing blew up. Just my sister was hurt, burnt on the back of her leg from the phosphorous.

My sister, who was burnt, she died in the end from a subarachnoid haemorrhage. I think it was all due to phosphorus that got into her blood. She never got rid of it. I think it affected her whole body; she was never the same character after it. She died young, leaving a young son. Her poor husband had been a prisoner of war of the Germans for four years, and he suffered terribly.

Read her full account at BBC People’s War. Derek Tait has many more pictures of the Plymouth Blitz on Flickr.

Plymouth blitz
Sailors help to clear up after Plymouth Blitz of 21 March 1941 – Bluejackets filling in a crater made by a large bomb.
The Norwegian sailors who helped in the clearing up of “blitzed” Plymouth, receiving well deserved refreshment.
Only the day before Plymouth had enjoyed a Royal visit. Visit of their Majesties The King and Queen to Western Approaches Command, Plymouth. 20 March 1941. HM The Queen talking to girls who work in the dockyard.

Clydebank counts the cost

I don’t think it was a successful operation as far as the Germans were concerned, for when you think of the massive amount of bombs dropped there was very little damage done to the war effort industries like the Shipyards and munitions factories along the Clyde. I don’t think the ships being built were seriously damaged and Singers, which was a massive munitions factory and a very big target only sustained the woodyard fire.

One view of the devastation to the residential areas of Clydeside.
One view of the devastation to the residential areas of Clydebank.

Within the general area of Clydeside it was the town of Clydebank that bore the brunt of the the raids of the 13th and 14th. 528 people were killed and over 1000 seriously injured. But only 7 houses out of 12,000 were undamaged, the majority either destroyed or so badly damaged they could not be repaired – 48,000 people had been made homeless. The community of the town never recovered, it was years before any significant rebuilding took place and many people never returned. Artist Tom McKendrick researched the impact of the blitz and the aftermath on local residents:

It was terrible to see the town that you lived and grew up in disappear in two nights – they should have rebuilt the place to give the people a chance … they had paid dearly

See The Clydebank Blitz.

At the time the government’s initial assessment was more concerned with industrial production:

Clydeside.

Whilst docks and shipbuilding yards were hit, the main effect on industry was indirectly caused by the heavy damage to the industrial dwelling area of Clydebank.

Of the Docks damaged, Rothesay Dock suffered most severely. Of the shipbuilding yards damaged, Aitcheson Blair’s will require complete reconstruction, whilst at John Brown’s the sawmill was badly damaged by fire and there was considerable damage to shops, but little to ships under construction. At Yarrow and Co.’s works, although the material damage was less, a direct hit on a shelterkilled 80 shipyard workers.

Singer Manufacturing Co.’s works also suffered extensively from fire; and at the R.N. oil fuel depot at Dalnottar eighteen oil cisterns were burnt out or seriously damaged.

The general damage to public services and industrial dwellings was less severe in Glasgow than in Clydebank, where there are very few houses fit for occupation, and where gas, water and electricity failed. Some 10,000 persons were officially evacuated and 15,000 left of their own accord, comprising half the industrial population. Water has however been restored to the principal industrial concerns and such houses as are habitable, and restoration of the electricity supply is nearing completion.

From the weekly Home Security Situation Report, 19th March 1941, see TNA 66/15/38. More detailed contemporary assessments of the damage to industry and casualty figures, from the Scottish National Archives and local newspapers, can be found at at the Glasgow City Council.

Clydeside bombed again

I remember walking along the canal bank with the moon shining brightly once again and lighting up the pathway we could plainly see many fires still burning, a perfect target for the Germans. Then the sirens started up, their wailing sound warning us that the bombers were on their way once more. Some people lay under hedges at the side of the road but we kept on walking towards the open ground.

Fires burning fiercely at the height of the bombing of Clydseside, seen from the hills outside the town.

Mary Haggerty was 22 years old in 1941, she had endured the terrifying ordeal of the first night of the the Clydeside Blitz.

Soon it would be night again and with it the Luftwaffe would return to finish the job they started the night before. We didn’t know where to go but knew we had to get away from the tenement buildings that had taken a terrible pounding. I thought that if another bomb falls on our street all the buildings will collapse, for there was a massive crack running all the way up our close to the top flat.

We decided to spend the night up on the hills north of the town. We walked along the road to the hills, meeting other people who were as likeminded as us, as on the previous night everyone in Clydebank had been taken by surprise being caught in picture houses, dance halls or out on the streets and decided to get out of town.

I remember walking along the canal bank with the moon shining brightly once again and lighting up the pathway we could plainly see many fires still burning, a perfect target for the Germans. Then the sirens started up, their wailing sound warning us that the bombers were on their way once more. Some people lay under hedges at the side of the road but we kept on walking towards the open ground. Agnes was carrying a white blanket under her arm and my father said “you’d better put that blanket out of sight, Agnes, if you don’t want a bomb to hit you”.

We came across a stone hut which must have been a shelter for cattle. Well this was our shelter for the night and we were glad of it. I remember it was very noisy, as we were quite near an Ack-Ack battery and the guns were firing all night. The night seemed endless but at last we realised that the guns had stopped and the “all clear” was sounding.

We started our journey home, walking down onto the Great Western Rd. where we had to be careful where we walked as it was full of large craters. I noticed that the park which ran alongside was also peppered with bomb craters. Later on I heard that the bombers had, in the moonlight, mistaken the wide road for the waters of the Clyde. If this was true, and I think it was, then this saved us from a massive knockout blow. If all the bombs that fell on the Great Western Rd. had landed on the town there wouldn’t have been a house left standing and the casualty rate would have been horrendous.

Read Mary Cairn’s (nee Haggerty) full account of the Clydeside blitz on BBC People War.

Focke Wulf factory bombed

At Bremen, the Focke Wulf airframe factory was heavily attacked, and a long building burst into flames; a hit with a 1,000-lb. bomb was registered in the middle of this target and a terrific explosion ensued. Good fires were also reported to be burning in the industrial area of the town.

One of the photographic interpretation reports made following the Focke Wulf raid. An unarmed Spitfire from the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit overflew the site at high altitude on the 15th to get this image. Most of the damage noted is to individual buildings but a series of craters are indicated with '8' and the hole in the factory roof at '10' was measured at 45 feet across.

Following Churchill’s directive giving top priority to the Battle of the Atlantic, Bomber Command switched attention to targets that furthered this cause. These included the aircraft factory producing the Condor aircraft that were proving such a menace to merchant shipping:

The reduction in the scale of our night bombing is accounted for by the unsuitable weather conditions which prevailed during most of the week. Full advantage, however, was taken of the improvement which occurred on the night of the 12th/13th March, and 258 bombers were despatched, including Stirling, Halifax and Manchester aircraft. The main targets were in Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg.

A feature of the attack on Berlin was the number of large size bombs which were dropped; these included 10 of 1,900 lbs. and 7 of 1,000 lbs. Most bombs fell in the target area, causing a great many fires. At Bremen, the Focke Wulf airframe factory was heavily attacked, and a long building burst into flames; a hit with a 1,000-lb. bomb was registered in the middle of this target and a terrific explosion ensued. Good fires were also reported to be burning in the industrial area of the town.

Nearly seventy other aircraft concentrated their attack on the Blohm and Voss shipbuilding yards at Hamburg, where large fires were started, and a smaller number bombed the industrial areas. During these raids our aircraft were subjected to intense A.A. fire and searchlight dazzle.

From the Air Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/15/31

Bombing of Brest continues

After three consecutive attacks on a lighter scale, over 60 aircraft bombed the docks at Brest on the 24th/25th, and though intense A.A. and searchlight activity hindered accurate observation, many bombs were seen to fall in the dock area and tb straddle the estimated position of the Hipper class cruiser.

Tracer from German anti-aircraft gun fire (flak) vividly depicted in a vertical aerial photograph taken over the Port Militaire, Brest, France, during a night raid, possibly that of 4/5 January 1941.
Tracer from German anti-aircraft gun fire (flak) vividly depicted in a vertical aerial photograph taken over the Port Militaire, Brest, France, during a night raid, possibly that of 4/5 January 1941.

The French port of Brest was now one of the most heavily bombed towns in the whole of Europe, it was one of the top targets for both Bomber Command and Coastal Command, and the subject of routinephotographic reconnaissance. The dry dock was being used by the Germans for the repair of its capital ships, and there was a Hipper class cruiser in dock. As a consequence Brest was also becoming a well defended town, with a ring of Anti Aircraft batteries surrounding it. They would claim many British aircrew.

The twin engined Avro Manchester bomber was not a success, the Vulture engines were unreliable. However its development led directly to the four engined Lancaster with Merlin engines.

Night bombing operations were undertaken on six nights. After three consecutive attacks on a lighter scale, over 60 aircraft bombed the docks at Brest on the 24th/25th, and though intense A.A. and searchlight activity hindered accurate observation, many bombs were seen to fall in the dock area and to straddle the estimated position of the Hipper class cruiser.

Equally heavy attacks were made on the following nights on the industrial centres of Dusseldorf and Cologne. On the latter, 77 tons of H.E. and 16,500 incendiaries were dropped. Our new Manchester bombers took part in these raids for the first time. Earlier in the week, 24 Wellingtons started many large fires in the dock and industrial areas of Wilhelmshaven. Harassing attacks both by bombers and fighters have been made on more than 25 enemy aerodromes, and several night bombers were attacked and severely damaged if not destroyed. Boulogne, Calais and other Channel ports have also been attacked and extensive damage done to the dock ell16cLS.

Leaflet raids over France, Holland and Germany have continued, and during the week over one and a quarter million leaflets have been released from free balloons.

From the Air Situation Report for the week.