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Hitler recognised Manchester’s importance to the British war economy as a port and industrial centre. After heavy and sustained attacks on Liverpool and Birkenhead, Manchester was targeted for its first major raid of the war, on the night of December 22/23, 1940. Taking part in the raid were 121 aircraft of Luftflotte 2, and 149 aircraft of Luftflotte 3 – they dropped 272 tons of high explosive and 1,032 canisters of incendiary bombs that were designed to start as many fires as possible. Follow-up waves of bombers then dropped high-explosive bombs into the fires, blasting the city to pieces. Manchester had never before experienced devastation on such a scale. The city's civil defence services were overstretched, as many units had helped in Liverpool the night before. Central areas of the city, as well as Salford and Stretford, were badly damaged, with many fires burning into the next day – thereby guiding the raiders to their target the following night.
In the second attack, on the night of December 23/24, 171 aircraft of Luftflotte 3 dropped another 195 tons of high explosive and 893 canisters of incendiaries.
Of the famous buildings in the centre of Manchester, the following were severely damaged: Free Trade Hall; Victoria Buildings; Rates Office; Cross Street Chapel; the cathedral; Chetham's Hospital; Masonic Temple; Corn Exchange; St. Anne's Church; City Hall; Smithfield Market and the Gaiety Theatre.
Salford was very seriously damaged by the bombing. It has been estimated that over 400 fires were started there and over 8,000 homes damaged or destroyed. In all, 215 people were killed and 910 wounded in Salford.
If you are interested in reading more about the bombing of British cities, click here for details of how to visit the Department of Printed Books.
Civil Defence, by Terence O'Brien (pub. HMSO and Longmans, London, 1955)
Front Line 1940-41: the Official Story of the Civil Defence of Britain (pub. HMSO, London, 1942)
The Blitz Then and Now (3 vols.), edited by Winston G. Ramsey (pub. Battle of Britain Prints International, London, 1987-1990) ISBN 0-900913-45-2; 0-900913-54-1; 0-900913-58-4
Our Blitz: Red Sky over Manchester (pub. Kemsley Newspapers, Manchester, [1944?])