Glasgow & West Scotland

Scotland's smaller air raids during World War Two

Campbeltown War Memorial Image copyright Scottish War Memorials Project

For a handful of older people in Campbeltown the date of 6 November 1940 may stir memories.

It was the day when a lone German aircraft bombed the town - badly damaging a hotel by the harbour and breaking the glass doors of the town's art deco cinema.

It was almost certainly a random attack on a simple target of opportunity with little military value.

But it was one of scores of small air raids which brought terror to towns across Scotland which probably never expected to find themselves under fire.

During the 1930s, there was a widespread assumption that the next war would involve massive air raids.

The presumption - perhaps inspired or at least reinforced by works of fiction such as HG Wells Things To Come - was that massive bombing campaigns would be conducted against cities and obvious military targets.

The risk of attacks on small towns was never discounted by planners - all parts of the country had air raid wardens and all civilians were issued with gas masks - but the presumption was that cities would suffer and that if other places found themselves in the firing line it would almost be bad luck, perhaps because bombs were dropped early by planes en route to a target. The village of Cardross near Helensburgh suffered badly during an attack on Greenock.

Come September 1939, children were evacuated from cities and other places which seemed to be under threat.

This autumn marks the 75th anniversary of the Blitz - the massive, almost nightly air raids on London and cities including Coventry and Manchester.

Image caption Clydebank was hit heavily during attacks in 1941

The largest air raids in Scotland were directed against Clydeside - especially Clydebank - in the spring of 1941 while Aberdeen was also bombed on many occasions.

But small, militarily insignificant, attacks on small towns are an important part of Scotland's wartime story.

According to Les Taylor, author of Luftwaffe Over Scotland, Peterhead was bombed 28 times during World War Two, Fraserburgh 23 times and Montrose 15.

In total, there were more than 500 German air raids on Scotland - ranging from single aircraft hit-and-runs, to mass bombings by 240 planes.

During the air war in Scotland, 2,500 people died and 8,000 were injured.

What may well have been the first random attack directed at civilians on the British mainland - rather than a military target such as Scapa Flow or the Rosyth docks - took place in Wick on 1 July 1940.

Several died in an unexpected attack on the harbour. Part of the bombsite was only finally redeveloped a few years ago.

So why did small Scottish towns - and indeed other small towns across Britain - suffer like this?

The invasion of Norway in spring 1940 was one factor. It made the east coast an easy target and led to more German planes operating in the North Sea and North Atlantic.

Another may simply have been the desire to cause terror amongst the civilian population.

Image copyright Scottish War Memorials Project
Image caption The names of those killed in the Campbeltown air raid are listed on the town's war memorial

These small raids were remembered locally - war memorials sometimes include the names of the local casualties - but can often be missed out of the story of the war.

Wartime censorship meant that these small raids were not directly reported in local or national newspapers - vague stories about, for example, "a town in the west of Scotland" appeared instead.

The only clue to the Campbeltown air raid in the next edition of the local newspaper was a report about a council meeting where there was a call for proper air raid shelters.

These small air raids are, inevitably, overshadowed by the narrative of the Blitz and Britain's fight for survival over the winter of 1940. But their sheer impact on so many communities where the population had probably felt a false sense of security tell their own story.

The psychological or emotional impact of small raids on sheltered communities may often have been quite disproportionate to the deaths or damage.