A natural target

Hull (officially titled Kingston-upon-Hull) is an important port in the Yorkshire region of England.

Due to its industry, port facilities and location on the East coast of England, it was a natural target for the German bombers, once the Luftwaffe started to expand from its bombing raids on the capital, London.


A 1930's map of Hull in which several of the dock areas - targets for the Luftwaffe - can be seen,

The first attacks

The city had first been bombed in June 1940, although these initial attacks were less intense than later ones, with fewer aircraft involved. By the end of the year, approximately 20 raids had taken place killing 12 people.

A bombing raid on the oil depot east of Hull at Saltend ruptured fuel tanks causing a huge fire which was only put under control due to the brave actions of two firemen: Jack Owen, and Clifford Turner; and three Saltend workers: George Archibald Howe, George Samuel Sewell, and William Sigsworth. Each were awarded a well-deserved George Medal for their actions.

Troops of 9th Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, helping to clear bomb damage in Hull.

Imperial War Museum

The 'Hull Blitz'

The Hull Blitz was a frightening experience for the north-east. As a thriving industrial centre, Hull boasted a large dockyard, and was situated on the vast Humber estuary. Locals knew about the Zeppelin raids of the First World War and so were aware of the threat posed by German bombers.

Zeppelin L9 which bombed Hull in 1915.


In 1915, Zeppelin L9 had to divert away from its original London target due to bad weather and bombed Hull instead. It dropped 13 explosive and 50 incendiary bombs, killing 24 people and destroying 40 houses. So outraged were the citizens of Hull, that the incident led to angry mobs attacking what they believed to be German owned businesses in the area.

Newspaper article about Fire-Bombs on North-East Town from Hull Daily Mail 1940.

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Hull children carrying their belongings on their backs following an air raid on the city on July 19, 1941


Picture shows a mobile canteen, serving tea to the local people of Hull during World War Two on May 9, 1941.


The Hull Blitz lasted from 7 to 9 May 1941 (although there were other air raids on Hull before and after these dates.)  The air raids were composed of clusters and single incendiaries as well as oil bombs and high explosives. During this period, 25,000 bombs were dropped on the docklands area. There were also raids in Manchester and Birmingham.

Searching the rubble at De la pole avenu after the air raid of May 7th 1941.

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The destructive power of the bombs should not be underestimated: Here a car had been lifted several feet into the air and deposited in a heap. May 1941.

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According to Terry Geraghty's book “A North East Town” the following bombs were dropped on Hull the on May 7 and 8:

  • 10 clusters of incendiaries
  • 45 x 50 kilo bombs
  • 47 x 250 kilo bombs
  • 6 x 500k kilo bombs
  • 26 x 1000 kilo parachute mines
  • 2 1000 kilo G. Mines

The Blitz was part of a wider bombing campaign conducted by Nazi Germany. It targeted the United Kingdom's populated areas, dockyards, and factories. In addition to industrial areas, the Germans also hit the city itself. 

The Eagle Mills burn after one of the two nights of massive German bombing which constituted the Hull blitz of May 1941.


These reports, written by Mr. William Morris, Assoc. AT. Inst. C.E., F.S.I., City Engineer &
Surveyor, in June 1941, records incidents which took place over the two nights and
details how the City Engineer’s Rescue, Demolition and Repair Services responded to the
vast challenges that faced them.


Residents looking through their blown out window during the Hull Blitz. They are smiling through the trauma of the devastation. Picture taken on May 9, 1941.


The bombings in Hull killed about 1,200 people and left over 152,000 homeless out of a population of approximately 320,000 at the beginning of the war. They destroyed 3 million square feet of factory space and smashed twenty-seven churches. The city had approximately 92,000 houses at the time of the attacks, but fewer than 6,000 remained unharmed. By 1941 an estimated third of the population were leaving the city at night.

Hull was the most severely damaged British city or town during the Second World War. Despite this, the city managed to continue to function despite suffering massive damage.

Bomb damage in Mulgrave Street, off Cleveland Street, Hull, after a German raid on July 18th 1941. The street took a direct hit from a bomb, obliterating houses and tragically killing Bernard and Doris Catterick, both in their 20s, who had married in Sutton only a month earlier.


Timeline of attacks

Hull was the most severely damaged British city or town during the Second World War, with 95 percent of houses damaged. Pictured are firefighters of the Auxiliary Fire Service on duty after a hard night among the smouldering ruins of houses on Newbridge Road, damaged in an air raid on July 19, 1941.


February 1941: Several attacks resulted in multiple casualties, with around 20 people killed.

13th - 14th March:  Major raids took place on the nights of the 13/14, 14/15, and 18/19. The first large night attack targeted the River Hull corridor with damage to paint businesses in Stoneferry;

14th - 15th March: A night attack on St Andrew's Dock. A nearby public shelter in Bean Street was hit by a parachute mine causing multiple deaths.

18th - 19th March: A major night raid lasting six hours which resulted in nearly 100 deaths as bombs were dropped over a wide area of Hull, concentrating on the River Hull corridor, with many bombs also causing damage west of the river.

31st March - 1st April: The city centre was targeted with parachute mines.

15th - 16th April 1941: A major attack taking place on the 15/16th focused on Alexandra Dock, additionally a parachute mine hit a public shelter resulting in over 4 deaths.

Broken windows but still smiling.

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Flooding of Hull's Ferensway shelters, posted by the Hull Daily Mail on 11 January 1939. Although public shelters provided an invaluable protection to populations of cities during the Blitz (and later bombing campaigns), they often could be cold, damp, unsanitary - and in the case of Hull's Ferensway shelters - prone to flooding. 

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Firemen tackling a fire at the badly damaged Pioneer milk bar in Jameson Street in 1941.


25th – 27th April: Further mine attacks took place and six people were killed by a mine hitting the Gipsyville estate.

3rd – 9th May (includes the period known as the 'Hull Blitz'): Docks and city centre became the target. Two major attacks took place on the nights between 7 and 9 May, each lasting around 5–6 hours, the bombing included high explosives, parachute mines, and extensive use of incendiary bombs.

During these bombing raids many notable buildings were damaged or destroyed: The department stores of Hammonds, Edwin Davis, and Thornton-Varley as well as other buildings in the commercial centre.

The Riverside Quay in the docks areas was destroyed by fire, with the bombs also sparking off major fires in the timber storage around the Hedon Road area – the wood providing ample fuel for the fires to build and spread.

The Rank Flour Mill was also hit as was the Corporation bus depot, and the buildings of the Hull Corporation telephone system.

More than 400 people perished in this period of the bombing attesting to the intensity and seriousness of the German efforts to subdue the city.

The aftermath of an air raid on Hull on March 21, 1941. The business sign of G E Burroughs printers, still just about hands above the doorway, as the rescue services work through the ruins that are all around. The whole place has been flattened.


Alfred Gelder Street in the city centre with extensive damage to The Head Post Office in July 1941.


The entrance of House of Fraser (the Hammonds store) on the corner of Jameson Street and South Street after it was hit by bombs during 7-8th May 1941.


The Fire Boat - used by The Hull Fire Brigade to put out the city fires by sending in water from a boat in nearby water. The officer in the picture is named as Chief Goodrich. Picture taken on 1 March 1941.


May – July: With the German invasion of Russia, the pressure on Hull (and other British cities) eases slightly with only sporadic bombing attacks on Hull during this Period.  

18th - 19th July: A major night attack on east Hull and the Victoria Dock. Reckitt's (Dansom Lane) and the East Hull gas works were also badly damaged, killing around 140 people.

Minor attacks continued approximately monthly until the end of the year, with serious bombing in the early morning of 18th August and the night of 31st August - 1st September.

Hull would suffer further attacks in the following years up until the end of the war and although casualties and damage was caused, they failed to reach the intensity of the attacks in 1941, even with heavier bombs being used by Luftwaffe aircraft.

The Meat Market, Lowgate, May 1941.

The Shell Mex building

On the night of March 31, 1941, a landmine was dropped on the Shell Mex building, Ferensway, killing civilians huddled in an air raid shelter. The victims included a mother, 38-year-old Susan Wood and her three children Joyce, 14, Geoffrey, 11, and Mavis, 7.

A severely damaged Shell Mex Building after a Luftwaffe raid. It was later restored after the war. 

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They died along with a police officer, PC Garton, who had been helping people into the shelter, a 44-year-old firewatcher called Bramwell Butler, and a Mr and Mrs Jennison, of nearby Pearson Street. However, it was perhaps a mark of the times that the majority of space in the press was given over to another victim, a local dignitary called Dr David Diamond, the deputy medical officer for Hull.

Despite the damage, the Shell Mex building was saved, and still stands today (behind the more modern job centre at the junction with Spring Bank) with little to remind people of the tragedy that once struck there.

The City Square incident

The City Square in Hull was the site of the prominent Prudential Tower and also the site of a communal shelter. On the night of May 8/9 during a Luftwaffe raid, the square took a direct hit, causing significant casualties and immense destruction.

Among the dead were Frederick, Catherine, Barbara and Frederick Henry Wallis, of the Punch Hotel, who had headed over to the communal shelter. While no official notification occurred, shortly afterwards friends, families, and customers of the hotel, posted obituaries ominously stating that they had been killed by ‘enemy action’.

The Prudential Tower after the raid on Queen Victoria Square.

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The unfortunate landlord of the Punch hotel, fearing that the shelter in his own building would flood, encouraged his staff members to head to the communal shelter instead – with tragic consequences.

Shortly afterwards, a myth sprung up that the bodies had been left buried in the basement. This was untrue though as during the night, they had been quietly removed and transported to the morgue. The Prudential tower itself was pulled down shortly afterwards for safety reasons, due to the damage it had taken in the bombing.


The anti-aircraft and searchlight defences which defended Hull were part of the 39th Anti-Aircraft Brigade – part of the Humber Gun Zone. The sheer size and frequency of some of the German attack meant they struggled to defend the city against the onslaught. They diligently – along with the RAF night fighters from Kirton in Kindsey – stuck to the task though and scored the occasional success: on 8/9 May, Gunner Maycock in a searchlight detachment from 40th (Sherwood Foresters) Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery, aboard a river barge named Clem, brought down a low-flying Heinkel He 111 bomber with a light machine gun.

An Anti-Aircraft gun crew in Hull.

The AFS save the day.

On 7 May 1941, Hull's main railway station was heavily bombed. But an AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) team were able to save the station and the adjacent Royal Station Hotel. AFS member Launcelot Ballan was on her way to the station when the bombing started.

When she arrived, she found the roof of the station on fire and she and other railway workers worked together to stop the fire spreading. Walter Finlayson, the Divisional Officer of the AFS, described the bombing, commenting that the enemy aircraft dived directly over the station.

An AFS volunteer in training.

The AFS – along with railways workers – continued to battle the fires despite the difficult and hazardous conditions. Thanks to water tanks close to the station, they were able to extinguish the fire in the Third Class Buffet. Finlayson was convinced that had they not done so, both the station and the Royal Station Hotel would have been completely destroyed.

The Inspector leading the AFS team, Staff Officer Thomas Rumsey was awarded the British Empire Medal for his leadership of his team that night. He was quick to praise his “excellent crew” stating that they all worked “like Trojans” and “it would be totally unfair to name any officer individually.” Although volunteers, they had all proved their worth that night.

Saving Wilberforce House

Wilberforce House was the birthplace of Willian Wilberforce, a leading figure in the struggle to abolish the slave trade in the UK. Recognising its significance, this 17th century building had been bought by the Hull City Corporation in 1903 and turned into a museum. However, the German bombing raid left it in a perilous position, almost completely surrounded by flames. Leading Fireman Wilfred Charles Clark who had arrived at the scene, observed "severe fires raging in five warehouses" on either side of the narrow High Street.

Wilberforce House pictured today.


John Colletta, recipient of the George Cross.


Fortunately, an Auxiliary Fire Service volunteer (and full-time milkman) 30-year-old John Colletta, was on hand and his brave actions resulted in the Wilberforce House being saved.

His quick thinking in dousing the walls of Wilberforce House with water, thus preventing it from heating up and catching fire, helped save it.

All the more impressive when considering his calm and decisive actions too place in the middle of an utterly chaotic and nightmarish scenario.

Hull Royal Infirmary

Another significant building damaged during the Hull Blitz in May 1941, was the Royal Infirmary which had been hit by several firebombs. Despite the ensuing chaos, the hospital staff quickly moved the patients to safety, relocating them to the lower floors, before then turning their attention to the pressing matter of the fires started by the bombs.


The Yorkshire Post accurately described the ongoing mayhem:


A Bombed Building at Hull Royal Infirmary, 1941.

© Hull History Centre

Despite the obvious danger, the staff diligently worked throughout the night, tirelessly using stirrup pumps and buckets to douse the fires and save the building from burning down, saving not just the bricks and mortar construction, but the patients sheltering within.

A hospital official, Mr Bernard Sylvester, later praised the “splendid efforts” of the staff, stating in the Yorkshire Post newspaper that:


A nurse standing on a temporary roof over a bomb-damaged children's ward at Hull Royal Infirmary.

Hull History Centre


From Hull, almost 38,000 kids were evacuated. Children were evacuated from rural East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire as well as to Lancashire, Norfolk, Northumberland, Leicester, and other locations. Whole secondary schools were moved, such as Hymers College, which had students in Market Weighton and Pocklington, and Newland High School, which went to Bridlington and later Malton. But many students stayed in the city, and most evacuees started coming back from the end of 1942 on.

A group of young evacuee's walking through Barrow upon Humber.

Hull Daily Mail

The National Radiator Company Ltd.'s Hull works, which were used to manufacture munitions during World War One and were designated as a Gewehr- und Kleinmunitionsfabrik ("rifle and small munitions factory") on German bombing maps, were an oddity of the bombing campaign; not a single German bomb fell on the works throughout the entire war. Later, records taken into custody revealed that it was the intended target of a raid in April 1941.

A bomb disposal unit pictured on June 1, 1941 with an unexploded bomb found in Craven Street, Hull.


His Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their visit to Hull. The Queen Mother is pictured meeting women during a walkabout in August 1941.


When a parachute landmine weighing 1,600 lbs. struck the former National Picture Theatre in 1941, the whole rear end of the auditorium was destroyed. The building was classified in 2007 as a result of the building's shell remaining undeveloped and unmolested for sixty years and becoming one of the last visible bomb sites in Britain.

The bomb damaged former National Picture Theatre.

Jerome Ellerby


A globe-shaped sculpture in Paragon Street in Hull city centre displays a pattern of metallic ash tree leaves ringing the memorial that bear the names of the victims of German raids during the Second World War.

Donations to the Hull People's Memorial charity, which runs a store and a small museum in Whitefriagate, were used to pay for it.


Charity chairman Alan Brigham said: "The Hull People’s Memorial has been raised to commemorate the citizens of Kingston upon Hull and commemorate those who died in the city during the raids by German aircraft during World Wars One and Two. Hull received so much attention that it was the second most heavily bombed place in the UK, after London, in both wars. Pro-rata,

Hull also suffered more devastation than anywhere else in the country and was second only to Malta across the whole of the British Commonwealth.

Most of the truth of the suffering of Hull and its people has been hidden away for decades due to reporting restrictions imposed by the Churchill cabinet, some of which are still in force today."

The 'Dodgy Dossier'

It has been alleged that British Prime minister Winston Churchill's ruthless tactic of carpet-bombing German cities may have been influenced by a top-secret "dodgy dossier" from World War II that was based on a psychological study of adults and children in Hull during the Blitz.

The secret report – which has been sealed since 1941- and contains psychological specialists' results from a study in which 40 experts spoke with 700 individuals and every schoolchild between the ages of 10 and 14 was asked to write an essay about their experience during the Blitz.

A stern-faced Prime Minister Winston Churchill (left), with the Lord Mayor and Sheriff, viewing air raid damage in Hull, November 1941.


Assessing the breaking point of a civilian population subjected to widespread "area bombing" was the goal. However, evidence suggests that the results were purposefully manipulated, according to historian Professor David Atkinson, to convince Churchill to favour area bombing.

Churchill was given information that led him to assume that enormous bombing strikes could truly wipe out a community rather than learning of the great fortitude and bravery of the people of Hull.

Professor Atkinson, from the University of Hull – stated: “One of the people who designed it, Solly Zuckermann, in his autobiography in 1976, snuck out a note about his findings and he said, actually what’s happening in Hull, the people are resilient, collectively the city and its infrastructure is resilient; there’s been no significant sign of the city about to break.”

He said: “Every single child in Hull between the age of 10 and 14 was tasked with writing an essay on the title of what I did in the air raids. So these kids wrote all these essays which were taken off to be coded and analysed for words like terror, fear, shaking, screaming, whatever, to try to work out at what point would the kids be about to crack.”

Frederick Lindemann, Churchill's chief scientific adviser and a German native, brought the findings to him. What specifically happened at that time may never be known. However, Professor Atkinson contends that Lindemann was very selective in what he told his master without actually lying. The most crucial thing was proof that the bombs had destroyed homes, as this was meant to be extremely detrimental to public morale.

Prof Atkinson stated: “It may have been that Lindemann had the report in front of him, and he said to Churchill, here are the key points, and he picked out the ones that said, well, look, one ton of bombs kills four people and it de-houses another 140, and the de-housing is the thing that really severely affects morale within the city. So, the notion is that de-housing the German population would severely damage German morale and therefore crack their resistance.”

Further reading









Hull History Centre









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Professor Atkinson, University of Hull



Jerome Ellerby