May Blitz

Docks and city

Ruins

The bombing of Merseyside reached its peak in the seven-night blitz of 1-7 May 1941. This was the most concentrated series of air attacks on any British city area outside London during the war.

The May Blitz on Merseyside was one of the last series of big raids on Britain before the German invasion of Russia. It involved 681 bombers in all. They dropped about 870 tonnes of high explosive bombs and over 112,000 incendiaries (firebombs). This was the last major air assault on Merseyside during the war. It caused massive damage to the city centre, the port and the entire area:

  • half of the Liverpool docks put out of action
  • 500 roads closed to traffic
  • railways and tram lines badly damaged
  • over 700 water mains and 80 sewers damaged
  • gas, electricity and telephone services badly damaged
  • 400 fires attended by the fire brigade on the night of 3 and 4 May alone
  • 9,000 workers from outside the city and 2,700 troops helped to remove debris from streets
"It's burning over a wide area down there. The town itself must have suffered immense hits."
Robert Gotz, German bomber crew observer, May 3-4, 1941

Residential

remains of a bombed house

© Merseyside Police

Although the docks and city centre were the main targets of the May Blitz, residential areas also suffered enormous damage. Nearly one third of the houses in Liverpool were damaged or destroyed. Worst hit was Bootle, a small town outside the city boundaries but next to the port's biggest docks. Already heavily bombed in earlier raids, Bootle only had about 15% of its houses left after the May Blitz.

Over 1450 people were killed in Liverpool and 250 in Bootle. Many more were seriously injured.

  • 1,453 people killed in Liverpool, 257 in Bootle, 28 in Birkenhead, 3 in Wallasey.
  • 1,065 seriously injured in Liverpool, 26 in Bootle, 44 in Birkenhead, 19 in Wallasey
  • 4,400 houses destroyed in Liverpool, 16,400 seriously damaged, 45,500 slightly damaged
  • 51,000 people made homeless in Liverpool, 25,000 in Bootle
"Kirkdale is for the time being practically finished, almost wiped out"
Rev Leslie A Thomas, St Aidan's Vicarage, Liverpool (28 May 1941)

Blitz spirit

On Merseyside, as in other blitzed areas, the bombing was sometimes so bad that people did lose heart. Many criticised the authorities for failing to protect them. Many also felt that news reports unfairly played down events on Merseyside compared with other places. However, the people of Merseyside refused to give up.

'"I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see ... the spirit of an unconquered people."
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, May 1941
clearing up after bomb damage