Photo story

The Manchester Blitz

In late autumn 1940, the Blitz spread beyond London to Britain's other major towns and cities. Many were the locations of major war industries. However, it was often their compact commercial centres and residential areas that were most badly affected by air raids.

Manchester, in the north-west of England, was hit by two nights of air raids in December 1940. These are often referred to as the 'Christmas Blitz'.

As a result of these raids, an estimated 684 people died and more than 2,000 were injured.

Here are 5 other facts about the Manchester Blitz.

  • 1. Manchester's industries made it a target for German bombers

    Avro Lancaster bombers nearing completion at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory, Woodford, Cheshire.
    Avro Lancaster bombers nearing completion at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory, Woodford, Cheshire.
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    Manchester and the surrounding area was a major centre of industry during the Second World War. Many large firms were concentrated in the Trafford Park area, making it an important target for German bombers. Major producers included the aircraft manufacturer A V Roe which produced Manchester and Lancaster bombers. Ford also employed 17,000 workers making aero engines in a huge new factory complex. During the air raids on 22-24 December 1940, the Metropolitan-Vickers works in Mosley Road was just one of the area's factories to be badly damaged. In a later raid on Trafford Park in March 1941, Manchester United's Old Trafford football ground was hit by a bomb and put out of action until 1949.

  • 2. Manchester was raided on two consecutive nights

    Buildings in Manchester Piccadilly on fire after German air raids in December 1940.
    Buildings in Manchester Piccadilly on fire after German air raids in December 1940.
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    Manchester was attacked by German bombers on the night of 22-23 December and again the following night, 23-24 December. The pattern of hitting cities on consecutive nights was a tactic increasingly used by the Luftwaffe to inflict maximum disruption and destruction on its targets. On the first night of raids, 272 tons of high explosive bombs were dropped. The following night another 195 tons of high explosives hit the city. Almost 2,000 incendiaries were also dropped on the city across the two nights. One side of Manchester Piccadilly, as shown in this photograph, was almost completely destroyed in the raids.

  • 3. Manchester experienced its first air raid in September 1940

    Bomb damage in central Manchester. The Royal Exchange (on the left) suffered a direct hit in the December air raids.
    Bomb damage in central Manchester. The Royal Exchange (on the left) suffered a direct hit in the December air raids.
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    Manchester suffered its worst air raids during December 1940 but it experienced smaller raids at other times too, including one in June 1941 after the worst of the Blitz was thought to be over. The city had three major attacks during the whole of the main period of the Blitz (September 1940 to May 1941). A major attack was classified as one in which 100 tons or more of high explosive bombs were dropped on an identified target. In total, more than 578 tons of high explosive bombs were aimed at Manchester. This still only made it the eleventh most heavily raided area in Britain. Neighbouring Liverpool and Birkenhead suffered 8 major attacks, making it the second most blitzed area.

  • 4. Many buildings were destroyed by fires started by incendiary bombs

    Fire fighters tackle fires burning in Manchester during an air raid on 23-24 December.
    Fire fighters tackle fires burning in Manchester during an air raid on 23-24 December.
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    During the air raids on 22-24 December, 600 fires were started by incendiary bombs over the two nights. Blocks of commercial and warehouse premises – as shown in this photograph – were particularly badly hit, with many completely burnt out. Unfortunately, many of Manchester's 3,500 full and part-time fire fighters and Civil Defence workers had not returned from Liverpool where they had been sent several days before to help fight fires caused by air raids there.

  • 5. Train stations were damaged and major routes into the city were blocked

    The smoking ruins of Manchester's Exchange station after air raids in December 1940.
    The smoking ruins of Manchester's Exchange station after air raids in December 1940.
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    The city's infrastructure was badly affected by the air raids in December 1940. Both of the city's main railway stations were hit, as was the bus station. Two of the main roads in the city, Deansgate and Oxford Road, were blocked by debris from damaged buildings, bomb craters and unexploded bombs (UXBs). A whole section of the city centre had to be cordoned off. Water supplies were affected and electricity was rationed.

You can discover the personal stories of people who lived through the Blitz - in Manchester and the rest of the country - in our exhibition Horrible Histories®: Blitzed Brits  at IWM North.