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Derby House: Western Approaches Command Centre

people looking at large map on wall

Western Approaches Command Centre. Admiral Horton, Commander in Chief, Western Approaches is at the foot of the ladder.
Image copyright Imperial War Museum

In 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided that Plymouth was no longer suitable as the headquarters of Western Approaches Command. It was too vulnerable to German air raids and too distant from main convoy ports and routes.

In 1941 the new Command Headquarters was set up in Liverpool, the main and most central convoy port. It was based in Derby House, a new office block behind Liverpool's town hall. Its massive basement was bomb and gas-proof. At this 'Area Combined Headquarters' the RAF and the Royal Navy worked on joint Atlantic operations. Overall control was given to the naval Commander-in-Chief. It was from this underground nerve centre that the day-to-day strategy of the battle was directed. It was known by staff as 'The Citadel' or 'The Dungeon'.

A huge wall map of the North Atlantic dominated the Operations Room at Derby House. On another wall was a map of the waters around Britain. These maps were constantly updated with information from air reconnaissance, convoy reports and secret intelligence.

Western Approaches Tactical Unit

In January 1942 Captain Gilbert Roberts established the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU). It was based on the top floor of the Exchange Building close to Derby House. Roberts and his team studied U-boat tactics and developed effective counter-measures. During the war over 5,000 Allied navy officers attended six-day training courses on anti-U-boat tactics there. The unit greatly improved the performance of escort groups in the Atlantic battle.

Woman in uniform writing on chalk board

A WREN updates reports on enemy submarine activity.
Image copyright Imperial War Museum


The Western Approaches Command Centre is now a museum (Liverpool War Museum) and can be visited. Please note that it is not part of the National Museums Liverpool group.