It was a bright moonlit evening on the two nights of the 13th and 14th March 1941 when the first heavy concentration of German Luftwaffe raiders appeared over Clyde. Hundreds of incendiaries came falling from the sky like raindrops in a storm and thus stared many fires which were stoked by even more incendiaries and high explosives. It was said that the glare above the Clyde on these nights could be seen by British airmen patrolling above an Aberdeenshire aerodrome over 100 miles away. Three nights afterwards a German Luftwaffe Bomber pilot, broadcast on his exploits, spoke of the clearness of the night and said: “The multitude of ships in the river was tempting, but our orders were different.”
If their orders were to destroy the docks and shipyards, they most conspicuously failed. If they were deliberately aiming at men, women and children in their homes they were successful. In Glasgow and Clydebank some 40,000 houses were damaged on those two nights and the deaths in the area totalled over 528, with 617 people were seriously injured, and hundreds more injured by blast debris.
The Luftwaffe’s main targets in Clydebank were the armaments factory in the Singer Sewing Machine works, John Brown & Company’s shipyard, and Beardmore’s engine works. Singer’s lost a valuable stock of timber, other works suffered partial damage, but the engine works of Aitchison Blair were completely destroyed.
Whether by accident of where the first fires started, or for some other reason, Clydebank was attacked with the most savage fury. It is a small town with little more than 12,000 houses; on the morning after the second raid those which were undamaged could be counted on the figures of two hands. The deaths there were small in proportion to the damage and could have been much worse if it hadn’t been for the Anderson and surface shelters.
Such an attack as Clydebank experienced left Warden’s and Policemen to cope, often single-handed, with the bombed-out, the trapped, the bomb shocked, the injured and with uncountable fire bombs. In the official report they stated: “in many instances Wardens were cut off from all sources of authority and continued rendering valuable service on their own initiative by putting out incendiary bombs, helping the homeless and rendering first aid.” The same document dismisses the work of the rescue parties with two words “beyond praise.”
Sixty thousand people of Clyebank came out of their shelters or from battered homes, or gathered themselves together after their fire-bomb fighting, to find much of their burgh uninhabitable, many of its essential services interrupted, practically all its Rest Centres demolished, and its civic organisation for the time being cut to pieces.
Clydebank would carry on with its essential war work even if many of its people had to make their base elsewhere; but they were coming back to live in Clydebank just as soon as walls and a roof were there to cover them.
In his book Luftwaffe over Scotland: a history of German air attacks on Scotland, 1939-45, amateur historian Les Taylor qualified the Clydebank Blitz as "the most cataclysmic event" in war-time Scotland. He claims that while the raid on 13 March was not intended as a terror attack, it caused extensive damage because there was a lot of housing near the specific targets. But the bombing the following night was indeed a terror attack as it "was intended to crack morale and force the people to call for an end to the war. However, it had quite the opposite effect, strengthening resolve for the war in Scotland."
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