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Liverpool Blitz: The Western Approaches

German U-boats, surface warships and aircraft were attacking Allied ships as they carried vital supplies to and from Britain. It was the responsibility of the Western Approaches command centre to ensure that those ships reached their destinations.

A page from a bombing targets book
A page from a German bombing targets book showing Brunswick dock grain silo
(larger version, opens new window)

The base had originally been in Plymouth, but once France fell to the Germans and London was effectively closed to ships, it became necessary to move the command centre further north to the Atlantic coast of the country. Liverpool, the largest and most central west-coast port on the British mainland, was the ideal location.

A North Atlantic Convoy with air escort
A North Atlantic Convoy with air escort

The new command centre was built beneath Derby House, a large office block on Water Street in the heart of Liverpool. Over 1000 RAF and Royal Navy staff, mainly Wrens, lived and worked in the bomb and gas proof basement. They plotted the movement of enemy and Allied ships and submarines on huge maps, constantly analysing new intelligence and weather reports. Analysts who would telephone RAF and Royal Navy bases and ships with exact updates overlooked this operations floor. There was also a hotline telephone (in a booth) direct to the War Cabinet. Like the hotline booth the cipher room, from where secret codes were sent and deciphered, was guarded when in use.

There were over 100 rooms of accommodation in the 55,000 sq ft centre, with senior officers sleeping very close to their offices. There was even a sunray treatment room for people working long hours underground.

An event run by Lewis'
The Liverpool branch of Lewis' ran a number of events to raise funds for a new Services Club.
© Lewis's Stores Ltd. This image is featured with the kind permission of Lewis's Store Liverpool

During the war the Commander-in-Chief of Western Approaches, based in Liverpool, controlled naval staff and ships from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, France, Holland, Norway, Belgium, Greece, USA, India and South Africa.

The event for which the Western Approaches is probably best remembered was the sinking of the famous German battleship, Bismarck on 27th May 1941.

Activity

Visit the Western Approaches headquarters in Liverpool city centre
http://www.visitliverpool.com/displayproduct.asp?productkey=8328

Or take a virtual tour

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