Recollections of The Homefront in Lancashire


Last updated: 25 May 2017

German HE-111 Heinkel - the main bomber used during the air raids on Manchester. Later used to air launch the V1 Flying Bombs (doodlebugs) against Manchester on Christmas Eve, 1944.

In the early summer of 1940 the German Luftwaffe commenced an air campaign designed to destroy the RAF airfields and airplane building facilities as a prelude to invasion (Operation Sea Lion) -- the Battle of Britain had begun! In the late summer and early autumn of 1940 the Nazi government revised its tactics -- it announced that the bomber attacks were now to be directed at civilian population centers (London to be the prime target) and strategic cities -- the air raid Blitz had started! The first major air raids were directed at London and other cities in the south and southwest -- Portsmouth, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, et al. However, it didn't take long for the Luftwaffe to start bombing other major industrial cities -- Coventry, Birmingham, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield, Liverpool, etc. -- and Manchester (and its environs), the industrial heart of East Lancashire, which is located some 29 miles south of my home town of Burnley.

Manchester Air Raids

The first Manchester air raids were relatively light (one was actually a propaganda leaflet drop) but gained in intensity during October and November. Then on 22-24 December 1940 the city experienced a monumental air raid and one of the most intense incendiary bomb attacks of the war resulting in a fire storm engulfing the center of the city. The spectacular fires that lit up the night skies over Manchester could be clearly seen from the moors south of my home.

My home town only sustained hits from a few bombs during the war. One night in early May of 1941 bombs impacted several hundred yards from my house. The next morning I went to the bomb drop location to see what had happened. One crater was concealed from view by a hedge row and the gate to the path across the field was being guarded by Police and Wardens who barred access to all except residents of the nearby houses. One of the guards was my uncle Jim Howarth who was an Air Raid Warden - he let me pass and I was able to gather some shrapnel for souvenirs. We had some air raid warnings (mostly at night) during the early years of the war but they diminished in frequency after 1941. Most of my experiences with air raids were in Manchester during 1941 when I journeyed there with my mother to take food and other essentials to one of her sisters who lived in Salford.

Just about a week after D-Day the news media announced that a new kind of pilot less flying bomb was being used to attack London (the first actually fell on London 13 June 1944). It didn't take long before they were given an unofficial name: "Doodlebugs". Initial reports were that they were very fast, carried a huge explosive charge, sounded like a small motorcycle driven at a steady speed and that the engine cut out before it dived to the ground ("you can count to ten before the bang").

Official Diagram picture - V1 Fieseler Fi 103 Flying Bomb

On Christmas Eve 1944, a large formation of specially configured HE-111 Heinkel bombers of I/KG53 squadron, flying over the North Sea offshore from Yorkshire, launched 45 V1 Flying Bombs (Doodlebugs) aimed at Manchester 31 of which reached the target area. Fifteen fell at various locations in the city, the remainder impacting in surrounding towns and sparsely populated outlying areas. Contemporay BBC Report relating to the Doodlebug attack on Manchester One hit a row of terrace houses in nearby Oldham killing 37 people, including some evacuees from London, and seriously wounding many others. The blast damaged hundreds of nearby homes. Six people died when one landed on a house in Chapel Street, Tottington. One V1 that impacted near the town of Oswaldtwistle carried a load of propaganda leaflets. Leaflets from these V1s were also found at Brindle, near Manchester and Huddersfield, Yorkshire. An errant V1 impacted in a farmer's field at Gregson Lane near Bamber Bridge just outside the town of Preston. This crash site has recently been examined and recorded by the Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team (V1 Gregson Lane 24.12.1944). This V1 raid was a rude Christmas Eve shock for people in the Manchester area, for local officials had been hinting that the danger from air raids was was pretty much over for us in the North. D-Day had heightened the expectation that the war was winding down, besides, the unexpected V1 raids had been directed against London. Certainly no one expected Doodlebugs chugging across Lancashire skies during that Christmas of 1944! This V1 raid on Manchester occurred exactly four years after the first major Air Raid on the city -- the horrendous fire storm Blitz of Christmas 1940.

Evidently a large number of V1s were loaded with propaganda leaflets. This subject is covered in meticulous detail by Herbert A. Friedman in his Web page article The German V1 Rocket Leaflet Campaign. This fascinating article explains how the leaflets were stored, secured and dispersed and includes an impressive number of V1 related photographic images and numerous actual propaganda leaflet reproductions. It is also a treasure trove of V1 Flying Bomb information. The British government was pretty secretive about V1 impact sites for they did not want the Germans to know the number of those that reached the target area and exactly where they had fallen.

Aircraft crashes in east Lancashire

Boulton Paul "Defiant"

There was a horrendous mid-air aircraft collision over Blackpool in August 1941. I was on a wartime holiday there celebrating my birthday and had just alighted from a tram near Blackpool Tower after visiting the South Shore Pleasure Beach when there was a tremendous explosion above -- what turned out to be a mid-air collision between a Botha observation aircraft and a Boulton Paul "Defiant" fighter involved in training exercises. The main fuselage section of the Botha crashed into the crowded Blackpool Central Railway Station causing an enormous amount of destruction. Numerous holiday makers and Station staff were killed by the impact and the ensuing conflagration. The tail section broke away and impacted in the sea just off-shore and an engine fell into a town street. The "Defiant" crashed into a private home destroying it but sparing the occupants. All crew members of both aircraft perished. This crash is chronicled at:

Mid-Air collision of Boulton Paul "Defiant" A/C No. N1745 and Botha A/C No. L6509 at Blackpool, 27 August 1941

An aircraft crash occurred in the Burnley area in mid-war. In 1942 an American P38 (Lockheed Lightning) fighter, which was was part of a flight of several on a training exercise, crashed in the woods near Cliviger. A school mate and I got to the crash location before the Police and Home Guard arrived to cordon it off. This crash is chronicled at:

Crash of P-38 A/C No. 41-7669 - Cliviger, near Burnley - 1st September 1942

Another crash occurred in the Burnley area toward the end of the war. In the late afternoon of Monday, 19 February, 1945 an American B24 Liberator bomber crashed on the moors just outside Burnley (Black Hameldon). This crash is chronicled at:

Crash of B-24 Liberator A/C No. 42-50668 - Black Hameldon, near Burnley - 19th February 1945

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