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Air Raids on the Hartlepools in World War II


In the Second World War, the twin towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool were both victims of German air raids. Air raids on the Hartlepools took place between June 1940 and March 1943. Seventy people were killed during that time, including the first Civil Defence worker to be killed by enemy action. The two towns were both centres of heavy industry, such as shipbuilding, engineering, steelworks, and boilermaking which made them prime targets. The north-east coast of England is also near enough to Germany for it to be possible to fly a plane across the North Sea, drop explosives on a target and return home before running short of fuel.

There were forty-three raids on the two towns in total with seventy deaths, forty-eight at West Hartlepool and twenty-two at Hartlepool. Although the aim was to destroy any industry which would help the British war effort, the bombs hit houses, shops, and other buildings such as factories, churches and hotels.

The people of the Hartlepools had many warnings which did not result in a raid on the towns. West Hartlepool had 480 warnings, but there were only thirty-six raids where bombs were dropped. Many of the raids happened during night hours, and were usually carried out during the favourable weather of the summer months.

ARP (Air Raid Precautions) in the Hartlepools

ARP was initially formed before the start of the war in 1935. Preparations for protecting civilians were already in hand before the outbreak of war. By September 1938 ARP had seventy trained wardens in West Hartlepool. A few months after the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939 the number had increased to 1500. There was a similar growth in the number of wardens in Hartlepool. ARP arrangements were thus already in place by the summer of 1940, when the raids started. The first British civil defence worker to be killed by enemy action died in West Hartlepool on 19th June, 1940. He was John Punton, aged fifty-four. He was directing other people towards the nearest air raid shelter, when a bomb fell nearby and he was killed in the blast.

Bomb damage in West Hartlepool

5745 buildings were damaged at West Hartlepool. 251 were damaged twice, nine damaged more than twice. More than a hundred buildings were completely demolished. These included the Yorkshire Penny Bank, three hotels and the offices of the West Hartlepool Greyhound Stadium.

Only seven raids caused serious damage or casualties. Three raids caused thirty-eight of the deaths. On night of 19th August 1941 twenty-three people were killed when a large mine fell in back Houghton Street and Elwick Road, also causing much property damage. There were also five people seriously injured and sixty-five slightly injured. On the night of August 29th and 30th 1940, Pilgrim Street and Hilda Street were hit. One man, three women and three children died when nineteen houses were demolished.

Bomb damage in Hartlepool

Two raids accounted for all but one of the twenty-two fatalities in Hartlepool. On 12th  May 1941 a “stick” of bombs fell across the Headland. One fell in Lumley Square, killing twelve people, including all the members of one family. The previous year, on 13th Sept 1940, a man was killed near an air raid shelter at West View. There were 9 members of the same family killed in one raid on Union Road on the Central Estate.The family was the Johnson Family . All killed on the 12th December1942.

The names of those killed from the family are;

William Johnson (Husband/Father)

Amy Johnson (Wife/Mother)

Stanley Johnson (Son to William and Amy)

William Johnson (Son to William and Amy, husband of Lily)

Lilly Johnson (Daughter-in-law, wife of William)

Amy (Daughter of William and Amy)

Ruby (Daughter William and Amy, wife to Samuel Lawrence)

Samuel Lawrence (son-in law, husband to Ruby)

Kelvin (baby of Samuel and Ruby)


The people of the Hartlepools’ extended ordeal

During July, August, September and October 1940 there were air raid warnings every day and night, sometimes several times a day lasting several hours. In total, there were 147 alerts (warnings) at that time – twenty-two in July, thirty in August, forty-four in September and fifty-one in October.

On 12th to 13th July 1940 there was an attack on Graythorp, William Gray’s ship repair yard. It consisted of 100-150 incendiaries (bombs which were intended to cause further fires) within a radius of half a mile.

Between 23rd August and 16th September 1940 there were air raid warnings every day, and six actual attacks. Between 25th and 30th August there were five attacks on successive nights. During this time, on 25th August, thirteen HEs (High explosives) were dropped in the area of the Steelworks. The following night the same area was targeted, but more damage was done to people’s homes than nearby industrial plant.

Conclusion – “Will we have visitors?”

During the time of the air raids, the people of both towns bore up bravely under their prolonged ordeal. Charles Cowley, reporter for the Northern Daily Mail said, ”throughout many exacting months the nightly query was invariably “Will we have visitors”?”

After 1943 the focus of the war moved away from the Hartlepools, though the south of England continued to be bombed. The Germans had by that time begun to develop the V1 and V2 bombs, (the latter was a rocket propelled bomb) neither of which needed a manned plane to deliver them. The first V1 landed on London in June 1944.

Despite the best efforts of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, the Hartlepools continued to help the war effort. Local firms continued with ship building, repairs, engine making and other heavy industrial jobs.

For many years after the end of the war there were bomb sites in many places around both towns. The scars of the air raids largely disappeared in the 1960s when West Hartlepool underwent extensive redevelopment.

The war in Europe ended on 7th May, 1945 when the German troops surrendered. The following day was named VE Day (Victory in Europe).

From a series of articles from the Northern Daily Mail, 1945

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