Primary History

World War 2: Scotland's Blitz

  • Scotland's Blitz

    When people talk about 'the Blitz', they often mean the air raids on London or Coventry. But lots of other places in the UK were bombed during World War II. Scotland came under attack from German bombers. Glasgow and the Clyde, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee were bombed as well as towns and cities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Why was Scotland bombed?

    Scotland had factories, coal mines, engineering works and shipyards. These industries were important to the war effort. Scotland's industrial areas were important targets for German bombers. German planes flew across the North Sea to drop bombs on Scotland.

    Glasgow had many factories. There were shipyards along the River Clyde and cargo ships gathered in the river to form convoys.

    Many people in industrial areas lived near their workplaces. When factories and shipyards were bombed during Scotland's Blitz, hundreds of people were killed. Many more were left homeless.

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  • The Clydebank Blitz

    The town of Clydebank, not far from Glasgow, had shipyards and ammunition factories making bullets and bombs. One big factory made aircraft engines. Most of the people who worked in the shipyards and factories lived in tenement flats nearby.

    Over two nights on 13/14 March 1941 about 400 German planes dropped bombs on Clydebank. RAF fighters shot down two German bombers. Even so more than 1,000 bombs fell on Clydebank.

    528 people were killed and over 600 injured on Clydebank over the two nights. Many fires were started by incendiary bombs. About 4,000 homes were destroyed. More than 40,000 people were made homeless.

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  • The Polish warship Piorun

    The ORP Piorun ('Thunderbolt' in Polish) was a Polish navy warship. The ship had been built on the Clyde for the Royal Navy. It was given to the Polish navy in 1940. Many Poles had come to Britain to help fight the war.

    When the German bombers attacked Clydebank, Piorun was being repaired in the John Brown shipyard, the most famous shipyard on the Clyde. The warship's crew fired its guns at the bombers to defend the town. Near Clydebank Town Hall in Solidarity Plaza is a memorial plaque to those brave Polish sailors.

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  • Raids on Greenock

    On 6/7 May 1941 about 50 German planes bombed Greenock. 280 people were killed and 1,200 people were injured. Cars drove through the town with loudspeakers to tell people where to go for help and shelter. Some people were covered with soot and dust from the fires started by incendiary bombs.

    Fire fighters came from as far as Edinburgh. Sailors from ships in the Clyde also helped fight the fires. Three firemen were awarded the George Medal for their bravery during the Greenock Blitz.

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  • The Aberdeen Blitz

    Aberdeen on Scotland's east coast was another target. German bombers flew across the North Sea from Norway.

    On the night of 21 April 1943 between 40 and 50 bombers flew over Aberdeen. In this surprise attack 98 civilians and 27 soldiers were killed. Around 10,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. Low-flying German planes fired their machine guns at people in the streets.

    The German bombers flew so low that many bombs did not explode. 'UXBs' or unexploded bombs were very dangerous. Bomb disposal teams had to 'defuse' the bomb to stop it blowing up.

    The 1943 raid was so swift that all the bombers got away. But in an earlier raid in July 1940 a German bomber was shot down by an RAF fighter. It crashed onto a new ice rink!

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Did you know?
  • At Clydebank some of the bomb craters (holes) were 20 feet deep!

  • Aberdeen had so many air raids it earned the nickname 'Siren City'.

  • The Polish ship ORP Piorun was first named HMS Nerissa and ended as HMS Noble.

  • The glare from the Clydebank fires was seen 100 miles away.

  • Outside Greenock, a 'decoy fire' tricked German planes into bombing fields not factories

  • One of the factories set on fire at Greenock made whisky!

  • During air raids, boys ran messages on foot or on bikes.

  • Firefighters tackling fire-bombs hosed one another down.

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A to D

air raid
An attack by planes dropping bombs.
air raid drill
Practice for what to do in air raid, such as going to the shelter.
air raid shelter
A building to protect people from bombs.
Countries (including Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the USA) who joined forces to fight the Axis Powers.
Small plot of land for growing vegetables.
atomic bomb
Weapon first used in 1945 when two bombs were dropped on Japan, killing more than 100,000 people.
Axis Powers
Germany, Japan, Italy and other countries that were allies in World War 2.
Wartime ban on street lights and other lights at night.
German air raids, from a German word 'blitzkrieg' which means 'lightning war'.
British Empire
Countries ruled by Britain.
Controlling what people say or write.
People not in the armed forces.
Civil Defence
A network of civilian volunteers who assisted in the war effort by helping in air raids and rescuing people from bombed buildings.
Group of friendly countries almost all of which were once part of the British Empire.
concentration camp
Prison where Jews and other prisoners were kept by the Nazis.
Slip of paper marked or torn out of a ration book.
6 June 1944, the date Allied forces landed in Normandy, France.
department store
Large shop selling different things in different departments.

E to G

Someone who was evacuated, moved from a danger area to a safer place.
Places where things are made.
The Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and other services.
Frank,Anne (1929-1945)
A German Jewish girl who spent two years hiding from the Nazis in a house in Holland. Her wartime diary was published after the war.
gas mask
Face mask to protect people against poison gas.
general election
Vote to choose Members of Parliament, and a new government.
George Medal
A medal awarded for gallantry not directly in the face of the enemy.
Machine for playing music records.

H to L

Hitler, Adolf (1889-1945)
Leader of Nazi Germany.
Mass murder of Jews and other people by the Nazis.
host family
People who took in evacuees to live with them.
Attacked and taken over by an enemy.
People who follow the religion of Judaism.
To free from an enemy's control.

M to O

military uniform
Clothing worn by soldiers, sailors and airmen.
To do with the navy or warships.
A fight between ships at sea.
Short for National Socialist Party (in Germany), a follower of Hitler was also called a Nazi.
Taken over by enemy forces.

P to S

prime minister
Leader of the government of Britain.
prisoners of war
Soldiers captured by the other side.
Controlling news media (such as radio) to show your side in the best way.
Controlling the supply of food, clothes, petrol and other things.
A person forced to leave their home, often by war.
A list of names. In WW2 people had to register with shops before they could use their ration books there.
Fighting back in an occupied country, for example by refusing to help the enemy.
scrap metal
Waste metal such as old cooking pans.
Machine that made a wailing noise as a warning when enemy planes were seen.
A catchy phrase or saying.
Soviet Union
Country made up of Russia and other states that are now independent.
steam train
A train pulled by a locomotive burning coal.
stirrup pump
Small hand pump for squirting water to put out fires.

T to Z

A short message sent by phone, then printed out and delivered.
London's Tube rail system.
United Nations
Organization set up in 1945 by the Allies to work for world peace.
People who don't eat meat.
war crime
Mass murder or cruel treatment of people during a war.
Wooden board with ridges, for scrubbing dirty clothes on.