Thursday, 9 March 2017

Bombs Over Glasgow On The Night Of The Clydebank Blitz

I recently read a book about Scottish war artists. Although there wasn't a picture of it, the book mentioned a painting called "Bomb Crater, Knightswood" by Ian Fleming, painted after the Clydebank blitz. I spent my teenage years in Knightswood in Glasgow and although I knew that huge parts of Clydebank had been flattened during the war, I really had no idea which areas of Glasgow had been bombed. So I decided to have a look about for any remaining signs of war damage.


Clydebank Blitz


Over two nights on the 13th and 14th of March 1941, Clydebank suffered intense attack from the Luftwaffe as they tried to destroy shipbuilding and industrial targets in the town. Afterwards only seven of the 12,000 houses in the town were left undamaged, with 4,000 completely destroyed and a similar number severely damaged. Remarkably the industrial sites survived relatively unscathed and were soon able to return to full production. However the number of people made homeless who had to move away and the civilian casualties caused long-lasting hardship to the residents of the town. On those two nights numerous targets in nearby Glasgow were also bombed, with a greater loss of life but spread across a wider area. According to official figures (which some feel may be an underestimate) the two nights of bombing led to the deaths of 528 people in Clydebank and a further 650 in Glasgow.

The main targets in Clydebank were the Singer Sewing Machine factory, which had switched to munitions production during the war, John Brown's Shipyard and Beardmore's engine works. My great-uncle Andy worked in John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank. Travelling daily from his home in the Gorbals, he was 14 years old when he started working in the yards as a "bilge boy" on the construction of HMS Hood. This work involved holding a candle, and going down with a bucket to the lowest parts of the ship to collect dropped rivets and tools. Work in the shipyards paid much better than many other industries and he was paid 30 shillings for this. At the time of the Russian revolution he remembered tossing his bunnet into the air when he and other workers celebrated the news from Moscow (he remembered it because he lost his bunnet that day). On the day of the armistice in 1918 everyone was sent home from the shipyard at 11am, except the gatekeepers. Oblivious to all of this, as he was working deep in the lowest parts of the ships, he emerged later to find the shipyard like a ghost town, and had to walk home to the Gorbals, as there were no buses then running. He later became an engineer and for two years during the depression of the 1930s was entirely unable to find any work. As war approached, shipbuilding picked up again and he was back to work in John Brown's. He was still working when I joined a march through Glasgow, in my pram, to support him and his co-workers in the UCS work-in in the early 1970s, and he retired when the work-in ended in victory.

He was working nightshift in John Brown's Shipyard on the night of the blitz, spending most of the time in underground shelters. He found it difficult to comprehend the total devastation he witnessed walking home towards Glasgow through the rubble that first morning after the bombing. I was only a child when he told me these stories, but the memories of the Clydebank blitz never left him.

Records of bombs landing on Jellicoe Street north of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Dalmuir  opposite the engine works
The highest density of bombing on those nights was over Clydebank. The map above shows the bombs that landed around Jellicoe Street in Clydebank. One family in this street suffered particularly when 14 members of the Rocks family, at number 78, died in the bombing.

Just before 9pm on the 13th of March the first German aircraft were spotted coming up the Clyde. The first wave usually dropped incendiary bombs to start fires and guide subsequent planes carrying bombs with move explosive power. Early in the first night of bombing in Clydebank the incendiary bombs ignited the timber store at Singers factory and Yoker distillery began burning furiously. By the next morning it was as if the whole town was on fire. My wife's grandad was a coalminer in Fife and he remembers looking west from Lochgelly that evening and knowing something awful was happening, as he could see the horizon glowing.

Photograph taken from Great Western Road/ The Boulevard on the night of 13th March 1941 with Clydebank ablaze. The Singer tower can be seen in the centre of the picture

Glasgow during the Clydebank Blitz - 13th March 1941


An Anderson shelter on display at the People's Palace, Glasgow. In wartime it would have been covered in earth.
Glasgow had always been identified as vulnerable to German attack, and with its high concentration of heavy industry was expected to be a target. Anderson shelters could be built in gardens in leafy Knightswood and Mosspark (and many were still standing as garden sheds when I was a kid), but the densely populated, tightly packed tenements in the city meant that bombs landing here could cause many casualties. Communal shelters were built in some streets and back courts. Other tenements had to make do with "strutted close-mouths", wooden beams put up to try to make a safe area from potential collapse of the building above. This was in the days before closes had doors, leaving residents huddling together through the night, exposed to the elements in event of an air raid (a concern that was raised in Parliament at the time).

Ian Fleming. Shelters in a tenement lane, Glasgow
As well as the shipyards of Clydebank, other targets that the Germans had identified were the oil depot at Old Kilpatrick, the many shipyards in Glasgow, industries in Parkhead and Springburn, Port Dundas power station and, as you can see in the German reconnaissance photograph below, Dawsholm gas works, and rubber and chemical factories along the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal. It was realised that a bomb damaging the canal could cause extensive flooding and several emergency "Stop Locks" were built. These could be closed to reduce this risk in the event of damage to the canal. The remnants of one of these can still be seen at the Stockingfield Junction, above Lochburn Road.

Emergency Stop Lock on the Forth and Clyde Canal
German Luftwaffe reconnaissance photograph over Wyndford and Maryhill, with potential bombing targets highlighted
Reports of incendiary devices landing on Clydebank started to arrive around 9pm on the 13th of March 1941. Bombs were soon reported falling on Drumchapel and High Knightswood just north of Great Western Road. This has often led to the suggestion that many German pilots were mistaking the long, wide Great Western Road, glinting in the moonlight, for the River Clyde or the Forth and Clyde Canal, and were dropping their bombs on these residential areas in error, missing the industrial targets to the south.

Shortly after the first bombs fell on Clydebank a "parachute landmine" exploded in the playground at Bankhead School in Knightswood. The school was used as an ARP station, home to the Auxilliary Fire Service and a first aid post. Parachute mines were designed to explode upon landing, spreading the force of their blast wider than bombs that buried themselves in the ground and they caused much of the damage across Glasgow that night. Thirty nine people were killed by this explosion at Bankhead School, including two "boy messengers". Bankhead Primary School was re-opened after the war. When her family were moved to Drumchapel from the Gorbals in the late 1950s, my mum spent her primary 6 and primary 7 years at Bankhead Primary.

Bankhead School before the war
Wartime painting by Ian Fleming. "Bomb Crater, Knightswood" with the typical housing of this area visible in the background
Memorial in Bankhead Primary School to those who died there that night
The German airmen recorded anti-aircraft fire started at 9.35pm. Anti-aircraft guns were located up and down the Clyde coast, in Glasgow at Kings Park and Carmunnock on the southside, at Station Road in Bearsden and out near Khyber Pass in what is now Mugdock Park. You can still see the structures where these guns stood in Mugdock Park, and look down towards the Clyde. My granny spent her army years during the war working in an anti-aircraft gun unit at Portishead near Bristol and told me what her days there were like. As well as concentrating on targeting the enemy aircraft, the gunners were themselves a target. When she wasn't on duty, my granny can recall sleeping in the nearby Nissen hut with dirt and shrapnel, thrown up by German bombs, peppering the roof through the night.

Anti-aircraft gun emplacement above Glasgow in Mugdock Park
Anti-aircraft gun operation room in Mugdock Par,k which received information and passed targeting details to the gunners. Officers and women from the ATS (like my granny) worked in these bunkers, as women were not allowed to actually fire the guns
One of four gun emplacement, surrounded by ammunition stores, above the River Clyde in Mugdock Park
By 11pm extra fire engines were being called in to Clydebank to deal with the fires now blazing there from Kirkintilloch, Motherwell, Helensburgh and Coatbridge. Before midnight in Glasgow, bombs had also landed in Govan and at the junction of Radnor Street and Argyle Street. The St Enoch Free Church building that stood at the gushet where Old Dumbarton Road and Argyle Street meet later had to be pulled down due to the bomb damage. For many years this became the site of a BP garage stood there, before recently giving way to a block of student flats.

Former site of the St Enoch's United Free Church, at the corner of Old Dumbarton Road and Argyle Street in Glasgow
Two mines had landed in Kelvingrove Park. One of them landed on Kelvin Way near the bridge over the River Kelvin, damaging the statues there (a plaque records the subsequent repairs) and also blew out windows at Glasgow University and Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The statues at the northern end of the bridge were damaged, allegorical sculptures which represent Peace and War, Philosophy and Inspiration. The exploding landmine blew these sculptures into the River Kelvin where they lay until 1949. It wasn't until a hot spell in 1995 made the river levels in the Kelvin fall very low that a passerby spotted a missing arm from one of the sculptures, that had lay in the water for over 50 years. This newspaper report confirms that satisfied with the earlier 1951 repair, the city council did not plan to re-attach the original arm.
Statues on Kelvin Way which were damaged by a German bomb. These figures represent "Peace" and "War"
Statues on Kelvin Way which were damaged by a German bomb. These figures represent "Philosophy" and "Inspiration". Many windows in Glasgow University, visible in the distance here, were smashed by the explosion
Plaque marking the repair to these statues in 1951
At 11.30pm a landmine and five bombs landed in Partick on Sandy Road, Hayburn Street, Dumbarton Road and on Peel Street, where the most extensive damage occurred. On Peel Street the tenements on the western side of the street opposite the West of Scotland Cricket Club were destroyed. When the buildings collapsed here 50 people lost their lives and survivors were being pulled from the rubble for days. In several other spots nearby modern flats standing amongst the old tenements show where bomb damaged buildings had to be pulled down.

Few old tenements still stand down the west side of Peel Street, most were destroyed by bombs in 1941
Just before midnight a parachute mine lands on offices at Yarrow's shipyard in Yoker, collapsing an underground shelter below. 200 men are trapped inside and 67 of them die. Many tenements in the neighbouring streets of Scotstoun and Yoker were also being hit around this time. A mine landed on shelters between Earl Street and Dumbarton Roan, killing 66 people. In Hyndland a bomb landed at Queensborough Gardens and mines fell on Dudley Drive, Airlie Street and Turnberry Road. On Dudley Drive numbers 8, 10 and 12 collapsed and across the road numbers 7 and 9 later had to be demolished. 36 people died here and 21 were injured. You can see the difference where the gaps on Dudley Drive were filled after the war with red sandstone tenements. 

8-12 Dudley Drive, 36 people died when a landmine landed on the tenement here, rebuilt in the 1950s
7 and 9 Dudley Drive, demolished due to bomb damage and later re-built
On the southside of Glasgow bombs and mines landed in Chapel Lane in the Gorbals, the Co-op warehouse on Morrison Street and nearby on McLure and McIntosh's knitwear factory on Florence Street (known after its owners, as the "Twomax").

On Govan Road, where a petrol station now sits in a gap site near to the Clyde Tunnel roundabout, three tenements were destroyed by a parachute bomb aimed at Stephens Linthouse shipyard across the road. 69 people died in this attack.

Petrol station on Govan Road at site of bombing which destroyed three tenements
Bomb disposal officers successfully defuse an unexploded land mine which fell on Glasgow
The destructive power that these parachute mines had was made clear when one landed between a tram and the tenements on Nelson Street, at the junction with Centre Street in Tradeston. 110 people died from this blast (pictured below) including three French sailors on the other side of the Clyde, on the Broomielaw. Eleven of those that died were on the tram from which twenty people were rescued, remarkable given the damage that occurred here which you can see in the picture below. Many more people were injured in the collapsed buildings surrounding this, or trapped in underground shelters. This was the worst loss of life in any single incident during a bombing raid on Scotland during the war.

A parachute mine lands between a tram and the adjacent tenements on Nelson Street, Glasgow
Junction of Centre Street and Nelson Street today. The destruction started by the Luftwaffe in 1941 was completed by Glasgow City town planners in the 1960s with this formerly bustling area being a jumble of run down warehouses to this day 
A parachute mine lands on Queen Margaret Road at the junction with Queen Margaret Drive and Wilton Street. The BBC building across the River Kelvin was thought to be the intended target. If you look at the red sandstone tenements here, just west of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's "Sixty Steps", you can see that the mine caused the complete destruction of the last block in the road, which was rebuilt in the 1950s. Damage from the mine can be seen still on the nearby bridge over the Kelvin. A second mine which fell on 84 Kelvin Drive, at Clouston Street (at that time The Aberholme Hotel), crashed through the roof with its parachute still attached, but did not explode.

Tenements on Queen Margaret Road, the original tenement in the foreground and the later replacement in the distance of the tenement destroyed by German bombing
Queen Margaret Bridge shows signs of damage from the landmine which destroyed the tenement building across the road
Shortly after the bombing stopped in Clydebank, the last bomb of the night fell on Glenburn Street in Maryhill at 5.35am. Those buildings in Clydebank which had not collapsed with the intense bombing there during the night, all seemed to be on fire as day dawned. 

The Polish destroyer ORP Piorun (meaning Thunderbolt) was in John Brown's Shipyard for repairs on the night of the German bombing of the town. During the raid the commander of the ship, Eugeniusz Plawski, got his men to direct fire from the ships guns towards the German aircraft overhead. It is believed that this may have steered some planes away from dropping their bombs over the yards. For their bravery there is a memorial to the Polish crew of the ship in Clydebank's Solidarity Plaza. Eight weeks after that night during the Clydebank Blitz the ORP Piorun was among the ships hunting the Bismarck, and the first to spot her. Until support arrived, the captain had his ship charge at the Bismarck alone sending radio messages to make sure that she knew it was a Polish ship was attacking them.
Solidarity Plaza in Clydebank, dedicated to the sailors of O.R.P. Piorun, "defenders of Clydebank".


The Second Night - 14th March 1941


With rescues still ongoing among the rubble in Clydebank and Glasgow, when darkness fell the following night the air raid sirens sounded again. The first bomb of the night fell just before 9pm, again north of Great Western Road in Drumchapel destroying the post office. Soon afterwards bombs were falling again on Clydebank and in Drumchapel, near the train station. 

Ian Fleming . Blitz Maryhill, Kilmun Street
Just before midnight two mines fell on Maryhill. The first exploded in a field by Duncruin Street and the second on the tenements of Kilmun Street. Kilmun Street runs off Maryhill Road, just behind St Mary's Primary School. The collapse of the buildings here led to the deaths of 83 people. Rescuers coming to the area reported that Maryhill Road was increasingly covered in broken glass the nearer they got to the site. The local school was the designated first aid post in the area, but was also damaged by the blast, with many windows broken. Whilst rescues carried on through the night in the rubble, as seen in Ian Fleming's painting below, many survivors were gathered together down at the tram depot on Celtic Street.

Ian Fleming. Rescue Party, Kilmun Street 1942
Kilmun Street in Maryhill lies empty today
Street sign at Cumlodden Drive/ Kilmun Street junction
Elsewhere on the Clydeside that night ships were damaged by bombs falling on Dalmuir Basin, Princes Dock in Glasgow and at Denny's Shipyard in Dumbarton. A mine also exploded in the Clyde at the mouth of the River Cart, beaching a tug. The Old Kilpatrick oil tanks, which were still ablaze from the previous night's attack, were bombed again. Two mines landed on the Clydebridge Iron Works in Cambuslang, but didn't explode. Other bombs caused minor damage at Sheildhall Power Station and at Sheildhall Wharf and Stephen's Shipyard.

Firdon Crescent next to Drumchapel train station was hit, bombs landed in Knghtswood at the junction between Waldemar Road and Chaplet Avenue, on Alderman Road and on Lincoln Avenue at the junction with Archerhill Road (I lived in the high flats here for 10 years, oblivious to this fact). Six people were killed in Knightswood that night and six houses destroyed. Great Western Road was closed at Drumry when a bomb left a huge crater in the road here.

In Bridgeton a parachute mine destroyed a tenement on Allan Street. This started a fire at the nearby methylated spirit works and 600 people here lost their homes. Other planes appeared to be dumping their bombs before returning to Germany or had been completely disorientated in their targetting, as this night bombs also fell in Drymen, Blanefield, Fintry, Neilston and Barrhead. 27 bombs fell on Erskine Hospital, home to disabled veterans of the first World War, presumably intended for the nearby munitions works in Bishopton. Four bombs fell on the Isle of Bute in the hills behind Rothesay, and one "fell three miles west of Sannox Bay on the Isle of Arran".

At 6.15am the all clear was sounded in Clydebank, a town which over two days had been flattened.

Edward Ardizzone. Bombed Out (Glasgow) 1941
The civilian population of Glasgow and Clydebank were the ones that suffered during the German bombing attacks on the Clydeside. The shipyards and many other industries in the city suffered relatively little damage from bombing. Terror and demoralisation of civilian populations by bombing has been argued as part of the justification of such attacks as much as any military advantage gained, or shock and awe, to use the modern vernacular.

Walls marked by shrapnel at the former bath house in Clydebank

Other bombing raids


The first attack on Glasgow was in July 1940, and the last air-raid was in March 1943. The worst bombing was the nights which I have described above, but further major bombing raids occurred in Glasgow and Clydebank in April and May 1941. The raids in May again led to extensive bombing in Glasgow, but the main target was Greenock. Despite the shipyards and Beardmore diesel works there being the target, again it was the civilian population that bore the brunt of the attack. On the night of May 6th 1941 in Greenock 10,000 homes were damaged, 280 people killed and 1200 injured.

Rescuers among the rubble of a Glasgow tenement destroyed by German bombing
Another incidents of note in Glasgow during the war was the sinking of HMS Sussex, bombed whilst in Yorkhill Quay for repairs. In September 1940, a bomb struck her fuel tanks and the ship caught fire and was sunk, later to be salvaged and repaired. Also in 1940 Merkland Street subway station (now called Partick Station) was hit by a bomb and closed for several months. Apparently if you know where to look in the tunnel between Partick and Govan stations you can see the repairs that had to be carried out.

Deanston Drive in Shawlands was struck by bombs in an attack later in the war, putting pay to the mischievous rumour in Glasgow at the time that Hitler's mother must have come from Shawlands, as it always seemed to be missed during bombing raids. There is apparently shrapnel damage visible in some of the tenement walls near here.

Queens Park UP Church, Glasgow
Queens Park UP Church on Langside Avenue, one of the most impressive buildings designed by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in March 1943, and the ruins flattened.

In the Barrowlands area, a bomb destroyed the tenement at the junction of Kent Street and London Road where Rossi's Cafe once stood.

In the city centre bombs landed in September 1940, destroying buildings just north of the City Chambers on Martha Street and North Frederick Street. Also the two modern buildings at the end of Ingram Street at the junction with Queen Street were replacements for bomb damaged buildings, the one at the corner south of Ingram Street destroyed by a bomb, and the building across the road damaged by the same explosion.

Queen Street at Ingram Street
There are maps in the Mitchell Library which record many of the bombs which landed on Glasgow, but nobody has pulled this information all together for the city in an online map, the way people have done for Clydebank or London. The maps record bombs which landed between 1940 and 1943 in Dalmarnock, Shettleston, Bridgeton, Calton, Garngad, Hutcesontown, Tradeston and Plantation. Destroyed houses are noted on Boyd Street, Govanhill, Crow Road, Anniesland and either side of Victoria Park in Scotstoun on Eastcote Avenue and Lime Street.

Old houses on the left, new on the right, replacing bomb damaged houses on Crow Road
Further west on the map the areas coloured in as war damage become more extensive. From isolated detonations in Maryhill and Kelvindale, to more widespread damage in Knightswood, Drumchapel, Drumry, Garscadden and Yoker. In areas with sparser housing the casualties were fewer, but wherever a parachute mine landed on an area of more densely populated tenements, a single blast caused significant deaths. 

Map of Glasgow war damage, Mitchell Library

As contemporary newspaper reports were so heavily censored they do not contain a useful record of the hardships faced by cities targeted by bombers. Looking back at newspapers of the time they talk vaguely about "a Clydeside town" being bombed, or talking about heroic rescues from the rubble, avoiding any details which may have proved useful to the enemy. From the start it was clear that the attacks on 13th and 14th of March were being called a "blitz", as can be seen in this article below from the Daily Record, on March 27th 1941. The article here about the "Clyde Air Raid Distress Fund" mentions that a German bomb fragment was reported to have had the word "Dollan" on it (aimed at the prominent Lord Provost of the city, Patrick Dollan.) In response an RAF Sergeant advised the Record that he had carved "Let Glasgow Flourish" on a bomb he had since dropped on a German town. Tit-for-tat that continued through the war, and does rather omit the "by the preaching of the word" second half of St Mungo's quote that makes up the city motto.

Daily Record 27 March 1941 alludes to the bombing of Glasgow and Clydebank
As the number of people still living who were alive in Glasgow during World War Two becomes smaller each year, these events fade from living memory. It is therefore important to hear their stories in order to learn from the events of the past. 


Much of the info from this blog came from the following sources...



1 comment:

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