“Clydeside has been blitzed. But the spirit of the people is Clyde-built.”

This was Harry Primrose, Scotland’s Civil Defence Commissioner, speaking about the victims of the Luftwaffe's bombing of Glasgow and Clydebank in March 1941.

“I have never seen men and women behave with such courage,” he added.

A second war with Germany was expected from the mid-1930s and civil defence planning pre-dated  the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939.

Preparations for the war were in place in Glasgow, around Scotland and across the UK. From 1935, Glasgow had an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Committee making plans to cope with with air attacks on the city.  

A Chief Air Raid Warden was appointed in 1937 and volunteer air-raid wardens and decontamination (gas) squads started training.  The police, fire and medical services also started training, particularly to cope with gas. 

There was an exhibition in the MacLellan galleries on Sauchiehall Street to tell the public how they should protect themselves against gas, and how to build shelters   By the end of 1937, more than 7000 people in Glasgow were considered to be fully trained in air-raid precautions.

In 1938 there were more exhibitions for the public and there were tests of blackout restrictions.  Explosive and gas bomb warnings were tested so that people would recognise the different signals. 

Glasgow Times: Bomb damage on Kilmun StreetBomb damage on Kilmun Street (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

All kinds of rescue equipment and emergency rations were stored all over the city.  Gas masks were issued to the civilian population and plans made for evacuation. By August 1939 there were also plans for for local undertakers and cemeteries to deal with large numbers of bodies.

Eighty-three large electric warning systems were placed around the city.  Large numbers of shelters were also sited all over the city following the outbreak of war, but provision was patchy. Some shelters built by profiteering building firms were found to be sub-standard.

By 1942, there was a variety of air-raid accommodation for 835,000 people.  

Glasgow Times: Air raid sheltersAir raid shelters (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

There were steel Anderson shelters, indoor Morrison shelters, reinforced tenement closes and basements, brick shelters, public trenches and tunnels and finally  large communal shelters for factories, schools and parks.

Glasgow Times: Patrick Dollan inspecting air raid sheltersPatrick Dollan inspecting air raid shelters (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Glasgow did not suffer the intense air raids during 1940 experienced by many large English cities, but Clydeside was an important target for the Germans.

Shortly after the start of the war, a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft took aerial views of Clydeside’s major industrial centres. Alexander Stephen & Sons shipyard is marked for special attention, as are the shipyard of Barclay, Curle & Co, King George V Dock, and the Rolls-Royce aircraft engine works on the Hillington Industrial Estate.

The shipyards and other industries along the river were targeted by German bombers during air raids in 1940-1943, with the most serious and destructive attacks occurring in the spring and summer of 1941.

Any complacency disappeared with the intense bombing raids on the nights of March 13/14 and 14/15, 1941, when an estimated 250 German bombers attacked Clydeside targets and caused extensive damage and heavy casualties.

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On those dates, Luftwaffe bombers raided Clydeside and inflicted casualties in various industrial centres.

Glasgow suffered the highest number of fatalities (about 650), but in proportion to its population of about 50,000 the burgh of Clydebank suffered the worst. According to an official count in 1942 the Clydebank raids killed 528 people and seriously injured 617, compared to totals of 1200 people, and 1100 in the whole of Clydeside. 

The raids became popularly known as the "Clydebank Blitz" because of the scale of devastation in the town. However, more people were killed in Glasgow where the damage was spread over a wider area. In the worst single incident, 110 people died when a landmine exploded between a tram and a tenement in Nelson Street.

Tenements were destroyed in Kilmun Street, with eighty-three deaths. Eighty workers were killed in a direct hit on their shelter at Yarrow's Shipyard. In Peel Street, Partick, fifty people died when their tenements were bombed.

The last raid on Glasgow was on the night of March 23, 1943, when the main casualty was Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Queen’s Park Church, which was completely destroyed.