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The Liverpool Blitz of May 1941 leaves buildings ablaze in the city centre - Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix
The Liverpool Blitz of May 1941 leaves buildings ablaze in the city centre - Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix

National History

Ship’s anchor blasted more than a mile away by explosion in Liverpool Blitz

The official Luftwaffe order of battle for the raid on Liverpool and Birkenhead on Saturday May 3rd 1941 makes stark reading.

  • Total aircraft assigned to Merseyside: 298 bombers
  • Attack commenced: 2200hrs
  • Payload dropped: 363 tonnes of high explosive, 49,706 incendiaries
  • Attack height: 1000 metres for pathfinders to drop marker flares
  • Attack concentration point: Docks and warehouses on the east bank of the Mersey
  • Ships destroyed: Europa, Elstree Grange, a tug, six barges. The Malakand on fire and blew up

These were the cold facts behind the most deadly night of bombing and destruction Liverpool has ever witnessed.

A Royal Observer Corps Centre plots aircraft movements in November 1943 while passing key information to the RAF - Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix
A Royal Observer Corps Centre plots aircraft movements in November 1943 while passing key information to the RAF – Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix

Toward the end of the attack, Luftwaffe aircrews reported that part of the east bank was engulfed in one continuous fire, extending an estimated six kilometers.

And that was only one night of the seven-day Liverpool Blitz stretching from May 1st to May 8th 1941.

The order of battle states that at 044hrs on Sunday May 4th there was a huge explosion sending flames more than 500 metres into the sky.

Timings vary, particularly since the UK moved to British Double Summer Time the same night. But the blast could have been the SS Malakand, moored in Huskisson Branch Dock No. 2. It was loaded with 1,000 tons of bombs.

A cargo liner built in 1919 for the Brocklebank Line, she was named after the Malakand area of the Indian subcontinent.

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Salvage attempts are under way after a massive explosion destroyed the SS Malakand and part of No.2 Dock in Liverpool in May 1941 - Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix
Salvage attempts are under way after a massive explosion destroyed the SS Malakand and part of No.2 Dock in Liverpool in May 1941 – Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix

It is believed that flames from nearby dock sheds spread to the ship. Four people were killed and debris from the Malakand’s hull plating was strewn for more than two miles.

Such was the force of the explosion that the Malakand’s two-ton anchor stock landed next to Bootle General Hospital on Derby Road – more than 1.5 miles away!

Fire crews struggled to contain the blaze which took more than 70 hours to burn out. Most of Huskisson Dock was destroyed and the Malakand was left a mangled wreck.

Although the greater part of the dock was rebuilt after the war, Branch Dock No. 2 was filled in and is now the site of a timber yard.

Cunard liners regularly used Huskisson Dock up to the 1960s. It also handled general bulk cargoes from Cunard cargo ships like the SS Scythia.

The picture was very different back in the first week of May 1941. More than 2,315 high explosive bombs were dropped on Merseyside by 681 Luftwaffe aircraft during the seven-day Blitz.

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The shell of Lewis’s Liverpool department store viewed from the Adelphi Hotel, May 1941 - Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix
The shell of Lewis’s Liverpool department store viewed from the Adelphi Hotel, May 1941 – Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix

Around 120 incendiary bombs also fell on the city and docks, putting 69 out of 144 cargo berths out of action.

More than 1,900 were killed in the raids with 1,450 seriously wounded. Around 70,000 were made homeless.

Liverpool, the largest port on the west coast, ended up being the most heavily bombed area outside London.

Blacklers department store in Elliot Street damaged by Luftwaffe bombs, Liverpool, May 1941 - Source: Liverpool and Merseyside Then and Now, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix
Blacklers department store in Elliot Street damaged by Luftwaffe bombs, Liverpool, May 1941 – Source: Liverpool and Merseyside Then and Now, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix

So important was Merseyside to the war effort that the government kept damage reports deliberately low key. They tried hard to hide the true level of destruction from the Germans.

Liverpool Museum was reduced to a shell on the night of May 3rd while fire crews fought more than 400 blazes around the city.

At the height of the May Blitz, 9,000 workers from outside Liverpool along with 2,700 soldiers were drafted in to clear debris and make buildings safe.

Churches suffered extensive damage. St Michael’s Church in Pitt Street, at the heart of Liverpool’s Chinese community, was hit repeatedly.

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A high explosive bomb damaged many stained glass windows in Liverpool Cathedral while another landed on the front steps without detonating.

St Luke’s Church in Bold Place was gutted. Its ruin stands today as a permanent memorial of the May Blitz and the undying wartime spirit of Merseyside.

An Anderson shelter correctly covered in earth in September 1939 to protect against the Blitz - Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix
An Anderson shelter correctly covered in earth in September 1939 to protect against the Blitz – Source: The Home Front: Britain 1939-45, iNostalgia Publishing/Mirrorpix

The Home Front, Britain 1939-45 is available on Amazon.

Written By

Former daily newspaper editor and group editorial director for leading national media brands, Malcolm is a regular contributor to the iNostalgia National History with a love for our national heritage.

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