Remembering the Manchester Blitz (22—24 December 1940)

Between August 1940 and May 1941, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) inflicted heavy and frequent bombing attacks on British cities, ports, and industrial areas. The campaign became known as the ‘blitz’: a term first used by the British press and a shortening of the German blitzkrieg (‘lightening war’).

At first, aerial raids took place during daylight hours. In October 1940, however, the Luftwaffe switched its methods to night attacks. As an important inland port and manufacturing centre, the city of Manchester, together with the nearby industrial estate in Trafford Park, were both prime targets.

While the Manchester-area endured a number of bombing raids throughout the autumn of 1940, the most devastating attack took place in the days immediately preceding Christmas.

From 22—24 December, the Luftwaffe executed an aerial assault over the course of two, consecutive evenings, in an effort to maximize both the damage and disruption to their targets. With nearly 450 bombers dropping 467 tons of explosives and 1925 incendiary bombs, this event would become known as the ‘Manchester Blitz’ or ‘Christmas Blitz’. Along with destroying countless buildings and blocking major access points to the city, the attack took an estimated 684 lives and left more than 2,000 injured.

 

Snapshots from the Trafford Local Studies Centre Collection

It is now known from the Luftwaffe records recovered after the war that local Ordnance Survey maps were used in the research and identification of critical targets and access routes throughout the region. While Trafford Park was a primary target, over the course of the December 1940 attack, hundreds of German bombs fell wide of their mark and hit the surrounding areas of Stretford and Old Trafford. Indeed, Stretford experienced its most severe bomb damage during the two nights of the aerial raid.

 

101-121 Davyhulme Road, Stretford, bombed by German planes 23rd December 1940

101-121 Davyhulme Road, Stretford, bombed by German planes on 23 December 1940. Image courtesy of Alan Morrison. Trafford Local Studies Centre Collection, cat. ref. TL5093.

In the early hours of Monday 23rd December, two HE [high explosive] bombs hit Metrovicks, setting off the well-known factory ‘buzzer’. We heard and felt the shock explosions which we guessed to be land mines. They were actually big, cylindrical sea mines dropped by parachute, horrible things which blew up as soon as they touched a building. A bright orange and greenish light from burning warehouses and chemicals blanketed the whole of the sky to the north. Stretford, Old Trafford and Hulme seemed to be having the worst of it.

- J. Grenville Atherton, Home to Stay: Stretford in the Second World War

 

In 1948, Stretford Cemetery's civilian memorial was unveiled to the public. Comprised of a panelled stone wall, the memorial bears the following inscription:

This garden is dedicated to the memory of the residents of Stretford, also seventeen unidentified persons who lost their lives through enemy action in December 1940 and were interred here. May they rest in peace.

Civilian War Memorial in Stretford Cemetery

Civilian War Memorial in Stretford Cemetery. Trafford Local Studies Centre Collection, cat. ref. TL3113.

The villages and towns surrounding both Altrincham and Timperley also experienced a high level of damage throughout the December attack. 

My father and I stood at our front gate watching the sky all lit up by the fires over Manchester when a very loud bang went off a lot nearer home and sometime later it started to “snow”. Except, it wasn’t snow, but sweet wrappers, as a bomb had hit Long’s Toffee Works in nearby Broadheath and scattered the wrappers to the wind.

- Mr C. Gatenby (Timperley resident), WW2 People's War

 

Bomb damage to Charter Road, Altrincham on 23 December 1940.

Bomb damage to Charter Road, Altrincham, on 23 December 1940. Trafford Local Studies Centre Collection, cat. ref. TL3677.

Bomb damage to a house at the corner of Oakfield Road and Moss Lane, Altrincham

Bomb damage to Oakfield Road, Altrincham. Trafford Local Studies Centre Collection, cat. ref. TL0101. Altrincham's most devastating attack occurred when high explosive (HE) bombs fell both on houses and a sweet shop at the corner of Oakfield Road and Moss Lane, killing 14 people.

Memorial garden at corner of Oakfield Road, Altrincham to commemorate the 14 civilians who died at this location during a bomb attack on 23 December 1940

The Memorial garden on the corner of Oakfield Road and Moss Lane, the site of the bombing. Photograph by P.Jones, December 2020

Memorial plaque commemorating 14 civilians who died when a German H.E. bomb landed on the corner of Oakfield Road, demolishing several houses on both Oakfield Road and Moss Lane, Altrincham, 23 December 1940.

The plaque commemorates the 14 civiians who died when a German bomb landed on the corner of Oakfield Road, demolishing several houses on both Oakfield Road and Moss Lane on 23 December 1940. Photograph by P. Jones, December 2020.

Sale’s worst night of bombing also occurred on 23 December 1940. Ashton on Mersey, Carrington, and the district of Urmston were amongst other Trafford areas attacked that night.

    

I was four years old when my Father had to move to Manchester to undertake work in support of the war effort. He was an expert in laminated timber used in the construction of aeroplane propellers and the structural frames for mosquitos and gliders. We moved as a family to live in Urmston, Manchester. When the sirens went at night, as they frequently did, we left our beds, dressed in ‘siren suits’ a one piece zipped up suit over our pyjamas and slept under a metal shelter beneath the table. One particular night the Air Raid wardens called at the house and would not let anyone stay inside and we all had to go to the air-raid shelter at the end of the road. I recall many loud explosions accompanied by blasts of air passing through the shelter. Next morning while we were sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast our next door neighbour dashed into the house and said we had to get out quickly because we had a time bomb in our back garden. My response was to go and see what it looked like and I was most disappointed that I was not allowed to do so! I remember my parents hastily packing bags and we left in a taxi for the railway station with the intention of travelling back to our home in the Northeast. This was either Christmas Eve or the day before and my major concern was that Father Christmas might not know where to find us.

- Peter Ellis, WW2 People's War

 

Sources

Robert Nicholls, Trafford Park The First Hundred Years 

Graham Phythian, Blitz Britain; Manchester and Salford

Jeremy Kerr, World War 2 graves at Stretford cemetery

BBC, WW2 People’s War

J.G.Atherton, Home to Stay: Stretford in the Second World War

George Cogswell, http://www.greatermanchesterblitzvictims.co.uk/

Altrincham Bowdon & Hale Guardian (27th October 1944). 'First Full story of the 1940-41 blitz'

Trafford Lifetimes

Remembering the Manchester Blitz (22—24 December 1940)