Albert Dock and the Battle of the Atlantic

Naval ships in the Albert Dock in the 1930s

Naval reserve squadron of sloops moored alongside 'C' block of warehouses in the Albert Dock in the mid 1930s 

The Merseyside Maritime Museum is housed in block 'D' of the Albert Dock warehouses.  Like most of Liverpool’s docks, The Albert Dock and surrounding area had an important wartime role during the Battle of the Atlantic:

Home to Corvettes

Plaque at Albert Dock commemorating the presence of Royal Navy escort ships in Liverpool during the Second World War 'HMS Campanula' recorded in the Albert Dock register leaving Albert Dock during the Second World War Nicholas Monsarrat on the bridge of 'HMS Campanula'

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The Albert Dock provided berths and maintenance workshops for Flower Class Corvettes, tasked with protecting the convoys responsible for maintaining the vital supply link of food and materials with the USA.

One of the Corvettes housed at the Albert Dock was 'HMS Campanula', the ship of Nicholas Monsarrat. Monsarrat used his time aboard 'HMS Campanula' as the inspiration for his famous 1951 novel 'The Cruel Sea', set aboard the fictional Corvette 'HMS Compass Rose'.  Monsarrat referred to the Albert Dock in his 1942 book 'HM Corvette', saying 

"At our usual base there is one small dock, nicknamed ‘The Garage’ that has become Corvette Headquarters.  At the end of a convoy it is crammed with ships; and this recurrent association, and the chance of exchanging visits, is remarkably pleasant, particularly at the end of a trip which may have been rough in one way or another."    

Bomb damage

Like the rest of the dock system, the area around Albert Dock was targeted by bombers of the German Airforce (Luftwaffe).  

Luftwaffe map showing part of Liverpool's docks, Albert Dock and Salthouse Dock are just in shot on the right Uniform jacket and hat belonging to Lieutenant-Commander Leonard Hill, DSC and Bar. 'Liverpool Docks during the Blitz' by John Hamilton.  This dramatic artwork depicts a bombing attack made on Liverpool's docks on the night of 2nd May, 1941, the same night Nicholas Monsarrat witnessed mines falling in Albert Dock.  The painting looks north from the entrance to Albert Dock towards Canning half-tide Dock, with the Port of Liverpool building in the background. Bomb damage sustained by the Albert Dock warehouses during the Second World War.  The damage was left for decades, this picture was taken in 1982.

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On display in the Battle of the Atlantic gallery is the uniform jacket and hat of Lieutenant-Commander Leonard Hill, DSC and Bar, of the Minesweeping Service, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.  During an air raid two large 'parachute mines' (magnetic sea mines dropped by parachute) landed in Canning Dock near to Albert Dock.  Hill, with one other man, took a rowing boat and found them by picking up the cords of the parachutes with a non-magnetic grapple.  He then succeeded in making them safe by exploding a small charge in their close proximity.

The bombing of Liverpool and its docks reached a peak during May 1941 and the Liverpool Blitz.  On the night of 2 May 1941 Nicholas Monsarrat was on 'HMS Campanula' in Albert Dock when he witnessed the dropping of three large mines: 

"Campanula herself came nearest to dissolution from a huge land-mine which, floating down by parachute and silhouetted impressively against this bomber’s moon, fell into the dock-basin with a gentle splash about twenty yards astern of us.  Not knowing what sort of activity could touch this sneaky weapon off – it might be noise, electrical interference, temperature change, a certain pattern of vibration, or the simple lapse of time – we closed down everything we had, from bilge pumps to the radio set, and, moving on tiptoe and talking in whispers, pulled ourselves out of the neighbourhood with our own strong arms."
From 'Life is a Four-Letter Word. Volume 2: Breaking Out', by Nicholas Monsarrat, 1970

Other usage during the Second World War

Albert Dock was also used to store landing craft for the D-Day landings.  The nearby Dock Traffic Office (recently renamed the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building) was used as an anti-aircraft instruction centre for merchant seamen. Salthouse Dock was home to 'HMS Eaglet', a converted First World War sloop that acted as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief for Western approaches. 'Eaglet' acted as a storehouse for WRNS serving at Western Approaches and as a gunnery training school.