World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

The Bombing of Britain's Cities 

From unknown Sources

The Blitz on London 1940 

The Blitz was the sustained bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 6 September 1940 and 10 May 1941,during the Second World War. The Blitz hit many towns and cities across the country, but it began with the bombing of London. By the end of May 1941, over 43,000 civilians, half of them in London, had been killed by bombing and more than a million houses were destroyed or damaged in London alone.

The Battle of Britain began in July 1940. From July to September, the Luftwaffe frontally attacked Royal Air Force Fighter Command to gain air superiority as a prelude to invasion. This involved the bombing of fighter airfields to destroy Fighter Command's ability to combat an invasion. Simultaneous attacks on the aircraft industry were carried out to prevent the British replacing their losses, but these were ineffective; changes introduced by Lord Beaverbrook ramped up the efficiency of fighter production markedly.

During a raid on Thames Haven, on 24 August, some German aircraft (one commanded by Rudolf Hallensleben strayed over London and dropped bombs in the east and northeast parts of the city, It is not known with certainty whether this was a navigational 'bungle' or a direct result of anti-Knickebein measures.

The incident prompted the British to mount a retaliatory raid on Berlin the next night with bombs falling in Kreuzberg and Wedding (a locality in the borough of Mitte, in Berlin) causing 10 deaths. Hitler was said to be furious, and on 5 September, he issued a directive "for disruptive attacks on the population and air defences of major British cities, including London, by day and night". The Luftwaffe began day and night attacks on British cities, concentrating on London. This relieved the pressure on the RAF's airfields.


Prior to the beginning of the Blitz, dire predictions were made about the number of people who would be killed by a German bombing campaign. A report by the Ministry of Health commissioned in spring 1939, calculated that during the first six months of aerial bombardment there would be 600,000 people killed and 1.2 million injured. This proved to be greatly over-estimated because it was based upon faulty assumptions about the number of German bombers available and the average number of casualties caused by each bomb. However, it led to the mass evacuation of around 650,000 children to the countryside.

However, it led to the mass evacuation of around 650,000 children to the countryside. However, it led to the mass evacuation of around 650,000 children to the countryside.

Following the 76 (apart from one night - 2nd November - too cloudy for bombing) consecutive days/nights raids on London (between 7th  September and 22November),  this came on the 29th of December: The "Second Great Fire of London" became a synonym for one of the most vicious air raids of the London Blitz over the nights of 29 December/30 December 1940. The raid and the subsequent fire destroyed an area believed to be greater than that of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

Around 1500 fires were set, including three major infernos which led to causing a firestorm. The largest continuous area of Blitz destruction anywhere in Britain occurred on this night, which stretched  from Islington to the  edge of St Paul's Churchyard.


The Disaster at Balhan Tube (Subway) Station 

During the Second World War, Balham was one of many deep tube stations designated for use as a civilian air raid shelter. At 20:02 on 14 October 1940, a 1400 kg semi-armour piercing fragmentation bomb fell on the road above the northern end of the platform tunnels, causing a large crater into which a bus then crashed. The northbound platform tunnel partially collapsed and was filled with earth and water from the fractured water mains and sewers above, which also flowed through the cross-passages into the southbound platform tunnel, with the flooding and debris reaching to within 100 yards of Clapham South. according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), sixty-six people in the station were killed - although some sources report 68 - and more than seventy injured. The damage at track level closed the line to traffic between Tooting Bec and Clapham Common, but was repaired rapidly with the closed section and station being reopened on 12 January 1941. 

In October 2000 a memorial plaque was placed in the station ticket hall commemorating this event. It stated that 64 lives were lost, which differed from the CWGC register at the time, and other sources. On 14 October 2010 this was replaced with a new plaque commemorating the event, but without giving the number of fatalities. 


The Attack on Sheffield

The 12th of December Raid

The yellow alert was received at 6.15pm followed by the purple alert at 6.45pm, then red alert at 7pm. The raid was made by three main groups of aircraft tavelling from northern France. 13 Heinkel 111s from Kampfgruppe 100, the German Pathfinder unit arrived over Sheffield at 7.41 p.m. and dropped 16 SC50 high explosive bombs, 1,009 B1 E1 ZA incendiaries and 10,080 B1 E1 incendiaries. The first incendiaries were dropped over Norton Lees and Gleadless.

At around 9.30 p.m. a stick of bombs fell on Campo Lane and Vicar Lane, demolishing the West end of the Cathedral. At about 10.50 p.m. a 500 kg bomb fell on and destroyed the C&A building across from the Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. At 11.44 p.m., The Marples Hotel itself received a direct hit. Approximately 70 bodies were recovered from the rubble. This was the single biggest loss of life in the attacks. Most of the bombs on this night fell on the City Centre or on residential districts -  the raid lasting until at 4am.

At around 9.30 p.m. a stick of bombs fell on Campo Lane and Vicar Lane, demolishing the West end of the Cathedral. At about 10.50 p.m. a 500 kg bomb fell on and destroyed the C&A building across from the Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. At 11.44 p.m., The Marples Hotel itself received a direct hit. Approximately 70 bodies were recovered from the rubble. This was the single biggest loss of life in the attacks. Most of the bombs on this night fell on the City Centre or on residential districts -  the raid lasting until at 4am.

The 15th December Attack

The second attack saw the first use of a new German policy for their pathfinders. High Explosive bombs were no longer carried but were replaced by incendiaries. On this night the pathfinder force was made up of 16 Heinkel 111s that dropped 11,520 B1 E1 incendiaries between 7 p.m. and 7.50 p.m. The 15 large and numerous small fires started were visible from 90 miles away.

The raid finished at 10.15 p.m. On this occasion, several steelworks received hits including Hadfields, Brown Bayleys and Steel, Peech and Tozer Ltd. However, the damage was not serious enough to stem production.

Aftermath

Overall, more than 660 people were killed, 1,500 injured and 40,000 made homeless. 3,000 homes were demolished with a further 3,000 badly damaged. A total of 78,000 homes received damage. Six George Medals were awarded to citizens of Sheffield for their bravery during the raids. 134 victims of the raids were buried in a communal grave in City Road Cemetery.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the city soon after the raids to inspect the damage and boost morale amongst survivors. Winston Churchill also visited, speaking through loudspeakers to a 20,000 strong crowd in Town Hall Square and giving his signature 'V' for 'Victory' V sign


                              The Attack on Coventry

Although there had been previous smaller raids on Coventry, during the Battle of Britain in July and August 1940 which killed a few dozen people, much fewer than the those in cities such as London and Birmingham, the raid that began on of 14 November 1940 was the worst to hit Coventry during the war. It was carried out by 515 German bombers. The attack, was meant to destroy Coventry's factories and, although it was clear that damage to the rest of the city, including monuments and residential areas, would be substantial. The initial wave of 13 specially modified aircraft, were equipped with X-Gerät navigational devices, which accurately dropped marker flares

The first wave of follow-up bombers dropped high explosive bombs, knocking out the utilities (the water supply, electricity network and gas mains) and causing craters in the roads, making it difficult for the fire engines to reach fires. The follow-up waves dropped a combination of high explosive and incendiary bombs. There were two types of incendiary bomb: those made of magnesium and those made of petroleum. The high explosive bombs and the larger air-mines were not only designed to hamper the Coventry fire brigade, they were also intended to damage roofs, making it easier for the incendiary bombs to fall into buildings and ignite them.

At around 20:00, Coventry Cathedral was set on fire for the first time, but other direct hits followed and soon new fires in the cathedral, accelerated by firestorm, were out of control. Fires were started in nearly every street in the city centre. A direct hit on the fire brigade headquarters made it difficult to send fire fighters to the most dangerous blazes first. The Germans had intended that the water mains would be damaged by high explosives so that there was not enough water to tackle the fires. The raid continued until 06:15 on the morning of 15 November.

In one night, more than 4,000 homes in Coventry were destroyed, along with around three quarters of the city's factories. There was hardly an undamaged building in the city centre. Approximately 600 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.

Each bomber flew several sorties over the target, returning to base in France to rearm, thus the attack was spread over several hours, and there were lulls in the raid when fire fighters and rescuers could reorganise and evacuate civilians.

The raid destroyed or damaged about 60,000 buildings in the centre of Coventry, and is known to have killed 568 civilians. During the raid, the Germans dropped about 500 tonnes of high explosives, including 50 parachute air-mines, of which 20 were incendiary petroleum mines, and 36,000 incendiary bombs.

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Attack on Hull 

The Northern English port city of Kingston upon Hull, is almost invariably referred to as Hull. Air raids began in Hull on 19 June 1940 and continued until 1945; the city spent more than 1,000 hours under alert.

Hull was the most severely bombed British city or town apart from London during the Second World War, with 86,715 buildings damaged and 95 percent of houses damaged or destroyed. Of a population of approximately 320,000 at the beginning of the war, approximately 192,000 were made homeless as a result of bomb destruction or damage. Much of the city centre was completely destroyed and heavy damage was inflicted on residential areas, industry, the railways and the docks. Despite the damage and heavy casualties, the port continued to function throughout the war.


The city was an obvious target for Luftwaffe bombing because of its importance as a port and industrial centre. Being on the east coast, at the convergence of two rivers and with readily identifiable docks in the city centre, it was also a relatively easy target. As a result it suffered heavy bombing from May 1941 to July 1943, and sporadic attacks thereafter until the end of the war. It endured the first daylight raid of the war and the last piloted air raid. Approximately 1,200 people were killed and 3,000 injured in air raids.

Contemporary radio and newspaper reports did not identify Hull by name, but referred to it as a "North-East" town or "northern coastal town" to avoid giving tactical information of damage to the enemy. Consequently, it is only in more recent years that Hull has been recognised as one of the most severely bombed places in Britain. Hull often took bombing meant for more inland places, or from German aircraft fleeing down the Humber to the open sea after failing to find Sheffield, Leeds or other northern towns, the victims of pilots who needed to dump their bombs. The difference between Royal Air Force crews returning from bombing raids over Germany, and German crews returning to their bases, is that pilots of the RAF had strictly observed dump zones in the North Sea and English Channel, where pilots could unload unused bombs with minimum risk. 

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Liverpool Blitz 

The Liverpool Blitz was the heavy and sustained bombing of the city of Liverpool and its surrounding area, in the United Kingdom, during the Second World War by the German Luftwaffe

Liverpool, Bootle and Wirral were the most heavily bombed areas of the country outside London, due to their importance to the British war effort. The government was desperate to hide from the Germans just how much damage they had wreaked on the ports and so reports on the bombing of the area were kept low-key. Over 4,000 residents lost their lives during the blitz, dwarfing the number of casualties sustained in other bombed industrial areas such as Birmingham and Coventry. This death toll was second only to London, which suffered 30,000 deaths by the end of the war.

 

Liverpool, Bootle and the Wallasey Pool were strategically very important locations during the Second World War. The large port on the River Mersey, on the North West coast of England, had for many years been the United Kingdom's main link with USA destinations and this would prove to be a key part in the British participation in the Battle of the Atlantic. As well as providing anchorage for naval ships from many nations, the Mersey's ports and dockers would handle over 90% of all the war material brought into Britain from abroad, with some 75 million tons passing through its 11 miles (18 km) of quays.

The Christmas Blitz

The first major air raids began towards the end of 1940 against Liverpool and Wirral, with over 300 casualties sustained to air raids by the end of the year. 365 people were killed between 20 – 22 December often due to direct hits on air raid shelters; for example one shelter in Durning Road was destroyed with the loss of 166 lives and in the north of the city in the early hours of 29 November 1940, 40 died when a bomb struck railway arches on Bentinck Street, where local people were sheltering.

The bombing decreased in severity after the New Year.

 

The May Attack

The first bomb landed upon Wallasey, Wirral, at 22:15 on 1 May.The peak of the bombing occurred from 1 – 7 May 1941. It involved 681 Luftwaffe bombers; 2,315 high explosive bombs and 119 other explosives such as incendiaries were dropped. Half of the docks were put out of action inflicting 2,895 casualties and left many more homeless.

One incident on 3 May involved the SS Malakand, berthed in the Huskisson Dock, which was set alight by a barrage balloon that had drifted free and had caught upon the ships upper works. Despite valiant efforts by the fire brigade to extinguish the flames, the fire spread to the ship's cargo of 1,000 tons of bombs which exploded. The blast destroyed the dock itself and caused a huge amount of damage to the surrounding quays. The explosion was so violent that some pieces of the ship's hull plating were blasted into a park over 1 mile (1.6 km) away; casualties were few.

Bootle, to the north of the city, suffered heavy damage and loss of life. Over 6,500 homes in Liverpool were completely demolished by bombing and a further 190,000 damaged.

Today one of the most vivid symbols of the Liverpool Blitz is the burnt outer shell of St Luke's Church, located in the city centre, which was destroyed by an incendiary bomb on 5 May 1941. The church was gutted during the firebombing but remained standing and, in its prominent position in the city, was a stark reminder of what Liverpool and the surrounding area had endured. It eventually became a garden of remembrance to commemorate the thousands of local men, women and children who died as a result of the bombing of their city and region. Other architectural casualties of the Blitz included the Custom House, Bluecoat Chambers, and Liverpool Museum. However, many buildings were restored after the War, while the Custom House was unnecessarily demolished.

Those dark days had also been illuminated, too, by bright flashes of heroism. Heroism such as was displayed by a group of ten LMS railwaymen who, heedlessly, took their lives into their hands when, on the night of May 3, an ammunition train in a siding at Clubmoor was set alight. A 34 year old goods guard, George Roberts GM , was later awarded the George Medal in recognition of the leading part which he played in this heroic mass life saving affair, All along the train wagons were exploding, but the men calmly uncoupled the rear section before the flames had spread to it and shunted it out of danger. 34 year old John Guinan, though officially off duty, rushed from his home in nearby Witton Road to the scene of the disaster, and continued uncoupling wagons despite repeated and violent explosions. Signalman Peter Stringer also displayed remarkable courage for, after being blown from his signal-box, he went grimly back to it to get on with the dangerous and complicated job of shunting.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in May 1941 said after visiting Liverpool and the surrounding area, "I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see ... the spirit of an unconquered people."

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Blitz on Birmingham

The Birmingham Blitz was the heavy bombing by the Nazi German Luftwaffe of the city of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, beginning on 9 August 1940 and ending on 23 April 1943. Overall, around 2,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Birmingham making it the fourth most heavily bombed city in the United Kingdom in World War II, behind only London, Hull and Liverpool.

Situated in the Midlands, Birmingham is an important industrial and manufacturing location and is also heavily populated, being the UK's second largest city. 2,241 people were killed, and 3,010 seriously injured. A further 3,682 sustained lesser injuries. 12,391 houses, 302 factories and 239 other buildings were destroyed, with many more damaged. Overall, around 2,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Birmingham making it the third most heavily bombed city in the United Kingdom in World War II. Official figures state that 5,129 high explosive bombs and 48 parachute mines landed on the city, although there are no figures for the number of incendiary bombs that were dropped. Of the high explosive bombs, around one fifth failed to detonate and one third of the parachute mines were left suspended after the parachute cords became caught in various obstacles such as trees.

The first fatality of the bombing in Birmingham was a soldier in Erdington, home on leave from his unit. That night, eight bombs were dropped by a single German plane. It is believed the intended target was Fort Dunlop or Bromford Tubular Rolling Mills.

 

Important industrial targets



Name

Location

Production

Aerodrome Factory

Castle Bromwich

1,200+ Spitfires & Lancasters

Austin "Shadow Factory"

Longbridge

2,866 Fairey Battles, Hurricanes, Stirlings & Lancasters

Austin Works

Longbridge

500 Military Vehicles/week

Rover

Solihull

Bristol Hercules Engines

Fisher and Ludlow

Birmingham

Lancaster Wings, Shell Casings, Bombs

Reynold

Birmingham

Spitfire Wing Space, Light Alloy Tubing

GEC

Birmingham

Plastic Components

SU Carburettors

Birmingham

Aero-carburettors

Birmingham Small Arms Factory

Birmingham

Rifles

Other targets included: Dunlop, Lucas, Metro-Cammell, Morris Commercial, British Timken, Hudson's Whistles and the Monitor Radio Company.

Aftermath

The massive bomb damage on civilian housing in Birmingham led to the development of many large housing estates across the city for some 20 years after the Second World War. These neighbourhoods included Castle Vale and Chelmsley Wood. Some of the bomb-damaged inner city areas such as Ladywood and Highgate were redeveloped with modern housing after the war.