The First Night
From the beginning of the Second World War, Clydeside as a whole
prepared itself for the expected onslaught and Clydebank,
independent and proud, did too. Many felt that the town's
industrial profile marked it as prime target, although some
believed that the iron in the mountains surrounding Clydeside would
interfere with the compasses of aircraft, making reliable target
At 9 pm on the clear frosty evening of Thursday the 13 March,
beneath the light of a full moon, the eerie wail of sirens echoed
through the Clyde valley. As the sirens faded, within minutes they
were replaced by the drone of heavily-laden bombers.
In the darkness 3,000 metres above, Luftwaffe crews in labouring
Heinkels of the elite KGr 100 Bomber Group gazed down on a city in
"blackout". However, the silver waters of the Clyde estuary, the
river, canal and docks reflected the glare of the full moon. In
their aircraft, bomb aimers gazed at neatly-folded night maps
coloured deep magenta and green and pinpointed targets far below
with ease. The formation spread to mark their targets; bombs and
incendiaries rained down and as the citizens of Clydebank scuttled
to safety, their town began to burn.
Two burned-out Corporation trams on Dumbarton Road near Pattison
Street in Dalmuir, in the aftermath of the Blitz in March
The first bombs were small - 50 kg high explosive, oil bombs and
incendiaries, with the intention of starting fires to act as a
beacon for the main force, already en route from bases in France,
Holland, Denmark and Germany. According to German records, on the
first night the Luftwaffe dropped 1,630 containers of 1 kg
incendiary bombs. Each container weighed 70-250 kg; a total of
105,300 bombs. Made of magnesium alloy with a filling of "Thermite"
and ignited by an impact fuse, they burned fiercely with a heat
sufficient to melt steel. Dropped in a variety of containers
designed to open as they fell, bombs could be spread in patterns
with devastating efficiency.
The first blazes began at Yoker Distillery to the east of the
town, and in the 40 acres that comprised Singer's timber yard,
which was stocked full. Set on a hill above the town to the
northwest, Auchentoshan Distillery was blasted, setting ablaze a
warehouse containing the equivalent of 1 million bottles of whisky.
From the resulting inferno, whisky poured into the nearby burn
creating a line of fire that stretched to the Clyde.
Schools and churches fell easy prey to the hail of incendiaries.
Three oil tanks were bombed and one set on fire at Dalnotter, close
to Auchentoshan. In every street a fire had taken hold. The "Holy
City," so called because its flat-roofed houses resembled Jerusalem
from afar, was ablaze from end to end. The town, now an inferno,
beckoned the incoming formations and the heavy bombs and parachute
mines began to fall.
Such was the intensity of the raid that the emergency services
were overwhelmed. Communications were badly interrupted by a direct
hit on the control centre; fire-fighting and rescue units toiled
independently against hopeless odds. A bomb, leaving a crater 30
feet wide by 20 feet deep, severed the town water main in the early
hours of the raid and cut fire-fighting supplies. Immediate
assistance from neighbouring services was made impossible by the
craters and collapsed buildings which blocked the Burgh's
Hardly a single street in the Burgh was without a fatal
casualty. Second Avenue had the highest number of deaths - eighty -
when a parachute mine ripped the face off 150 yards of terraced
housing. Whole families were wiped out as tenement buildings
collapsed, crushing the occupants who had sought shelter in lower
floors and closes.
It soon became apparent that the battle to defeat the inferno
had been lost, through damage to fire appliances and equipment and
to the sheer scale of the bombardment. In rest centres, medical
supplies were exhausted quickly. The burned and broken were
attended to in horrendous conditions with anything available. For
nine hours, wave after wave of bombers mercilessly pounded the
town. Into the night, the deaths and destruction mounted. Dawn
broke, the all clear sounded, and Clydebank's shocked citizens
emerged from their shelters into an unrecognisable smashed and
The Burgh was evacuated. 48,000 refugees were set adrift and
spread afar, many never to return. Clydebank was still burning that
evening, when the bombers returned to a near deserted town to
complete their task. When the drone of the last bomber had faded,
528 lay dead and over 617 had been seriously injured. Many hundreds
more were wounded by shards of exploded glass.
Clydebank suffered a massive loss of housing; 4,000 were
completely destroyed, 4,500 were severely damaged and 3,500
suffered serious to mild damage. Only seven houses out of a total
stock of 12,000 remained intact. Many large schools and churches
Industrial targets received directs hits or severe blast and
incendiary damage; Beardmore, the Royal Ordnance Factory, John
Brown's Clydebank Shipyard, Arnott Young, Rothesay Dock, D & J
Tullis and the Singer Factory. The massive Singer timber yard was
destroyed. At the primary target, the Admiralty oil storage depot
at Dalnottar, eleven huge tanks had been destroyed, others severely
damaged. Countless millions of gallons of fuel were lost and the
resulting inferno blazed for two weeks. When the site was finally
cleared, ninety-six bomb craters were counted.
There can be no doubt that the Clydebank Blitz succeeded in
causing massive dislocation and hardship to the population. That
was part of its design. But Clydebank people were no stranger to
hardship, as those acquainted with the town's history will know.
Importantly, the psychological effect was the exact opposite of
what was intended. Rather than divide the community and throw it
into frenzied panic, it strengthened and immeasurably hardened the
people's resolve to survive and resist.
There was, however, a lingering anger, tinged with sadness. The
once close-knit communities passionately desired to be reunited.
This never happened. Ties were severed, many thousands drifted;
time passed and people began to make new lives elsewhere. Many
still bear the mental and physical scars; all have vivid
recollections. The consequences of the Blitzing of Clydebank were
as far-reaching in time as they were in effect.
Page last update:
04 July 2012