Maritime Tales – Bomb Blitz

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In the early 1950s we spent our holidays at Llandonna, Anglesey, and locals would describe seeing Liverpool burning 50 miles away across the sea during the Blitz. Whenever I look at this spectacular painting I am reminded of the vivid stories and how even distant communities felt involved. The Liverpool Blitz brought the Battle of the Atlantic home to everyone when German bombing raids cost thousands of lives and brought huge amounts of destruction. Although the docks were the main targets, enormous damage was caused to city and residential areas on both sides of the River Mersey. Four thousand people were killed and a similar number seriously injured. Ten thousand homes were completely destroyed and 184,000 damaged – some 70,000 people were made homeless.

The Luftwaffe launched more than 68 bombing raids on Merseyside between July 1940 and January 1942. The worst occurred during the May Blitz of 1941 when very heavy raids took place on each of the first seven days of the month. Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Battle of the Atlantic gallery features a dramatic illuminated display based on The Enemy Raid May 3rd 1941 painted by George Grainger Smith, with lights mimicking falling bombs.

The view shows Liverpool ablaze during a night raid, huge flames flickering behind the silhouettes of waterfront buildings. Smith painted the view from his Wallasey home and brilliantly captures the enormity of the devastation. The original painting is in the Walker Art Gallery collection.

A Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photograph and briefing sheet, both dated September 1939 at the start of the war, were for a raid on Liverpool’s north docks. The intended target was Canada Dry Dock, considered by the Germans to be large enough for an aircraft carrier or heavy cruiser – Fur Flug zeug-trager u. schwere Kreuzer, as the briefing sheet says. Canada Dry Dock escaped destruction and remains an important facility in the Port of Liverpool. In the past it accommodated some of the great Cunarders such as the Mauretania and the ill-fated Lusitania. The dock was used for constructing pontoons for the new Liverpool Cruise Liner Terminal.

More recently the Royal fleet Auxiliary vessel and Falklands War veteran Sir Percivale was scrapped there. A live German 250 kg bomb lay in a Liverpool suburb for half a century before it was discovered and made safe. This was one of thousands of high-explosive bombs dropped on Merseyside by German aircraft. The bomb was found by workmen laying sewers 20 ft underground at the junction of Queens Drive and Stanley Park Avenue, Walton, in February 1990. A British bomb of a similar size and type is on display. 

Lead image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post & Echo