Leeds Blitz
Part of the Strategic bombing campaign of World War II

Directions to an ARP shelter at the University of Leeds
United Kingdom
Result Damage to Leeds infrastructure, main industrial targets remain intact
 United Kingdom  Germany

The Leeds Blitz comprised nine air raids on the city of Leeds by the Nazi German Luftwaffe. The heaviest raid took place on the night of 14/15 March 1941, affecting the city centre, Beeston,[1] Bramley[2] and Armley.[1][3] The city was subjected to other raids during the Second World War, but they were relatively minor; only the March 1941 raid caused widespread damage, including to the city's museum and its artefacts.


Leeds is a large city in the industrial heartland of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The county's largest city, much of the region's economic, administrative and industrial activities were centred on Leeds which was also an important rail hub. Many industrial manufacturers around the city such as Avro at RAF Yeadon (now Leeds Bradford Airport) which produced Lancaster bombers,[4] Kirkstall Forge,[5] Barnbow munitions works[6] and ROF Thorp Arch near Wetherby[7] adapted their output for war work providing likely raid targets. Leeds had taken precautions, including building many public air raid shelters and large water tanks to be used for fire-fighting in the event of incendiary devices being dropped.[8]

14–15 March raid

Spotter and predictor operators at a 4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun site in Leeds, 20 March 1941

Beginning just after 9 pm on Friday 14 March 1941, around 40 bombers took part in the raid on Leeds; in all 451 were over Britain that night.[9] Incendiary bombs were first dropped onto the city on the Friday night, later high explosive bombs were dropped on the Saturday.[10][11][12] Targets hit in the city centre included the Town Hall, the city's museum (then on Park Row), Leeds New station (now Leeds City station), the Kirkgate Markets, the Central Post Office, the Quarry Hill flats, the Hotel Metropole and the area now occupied by the Inner Ring Road.[13] Around 100 houses were destroyed, 4,600 sustained damage, and around 65 people were killed.[14][15]

Other nearby towns were also damaged in this raid. Huddersfield was damaged by bombers seeking the David Brown factory at Crosland Moor (at the time making parts for the Supermarine Spitfire), while central Castleford was also damaged by bombers seeking the Hickson and Welch chemical works and Ferrybridge power station.[16] In total 25 tons of bombs fell on Leeds during the raid, a quarter of the 100 tons often used as the threshold for a "major raid".[11][17] By comparison, that night in Glasgow 203 aircraft dropped 231 tons of high explosives, nearly ten times the amount dropped on Leeds, and 1,650 incendiary canisters, while in nearby Sheffield 117 aircraft dropped 83 tons of high explosives and 328 incendiary canisters.[18]

Owing to the censorship and secrecy during the war, the press did not mention Leeds by name after the raid, instead referring to it as a "North East Inland Town"; the frequent raids on Hull were often referred to as a raid on a "North East Coastal Town".[19] German sources from the time claim raids on Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Tilbury Docks, Plymouth and Southampton.[20]

The site of the former museum

Cultural losses

The bombing of the Leeds City Museum resulted in the losses of historic civic possessions[21] including the destruction of a mummy and a taxidermed tiger. Curator Herbert Ricketts described salvaging artefacts after the bombing as having "a dig in our own museum".[22][23] The museum's front, dating from 1821, was also damaged and had to be taken down.[24][25] A concrete front was built replacing the destroyed Victorian facade. The museum closed in 1965 and was moved to the central library on the Headrow. The museum was demolished in 1966 and the site is now occupied by the HSBC bank.[26] In 1999, the museum was moved from the library, and is now housed in the former Mechanics Institute on Millennium Square.

Other historic buildings were superficially damaged. At certain sites, such as the town hall, shrapnel damage is still evident.[27]

Fighter and ground defence

31st (North Midland) Anti-Aircraft Brigade was responsible for anti-aircraft defence of West Yorkshire,[28] and throughout the war years Leeds had anti-aircraft guns positioned throughout the city.[29] There were many RAF airfields to the east of the city in the Vale of York, while most were home to bomber command units, RAF Church Fenton was the base of a fighter squadron.[30][31] On the night of the main Leeds raid Junkers Ju 88 and Dornier Do 17 aircraft were shot down over Northern England, indicating these could have been the bombers used over Leeds.[32]

Unexploded bombs

Following the raids, unexploded bombs have been found in the city[33] including one in Potternewton Park in 2012.[34] Unexploded anti-aircraft shells have also been found to the south and east of the city.[35] Starting in September 1940, all unexploded bombs were to be logged in a detailed 'bomb diary', although the scheme was not at first initiated in Leeds.[36]

Tempest Road, where Harrison was sheltering during the raid

Cultural influences

The Tony Harrison poem "Shrapnel" relates to the raid on Beeston and the possibility of an act of heroism on the part of the bomber crews given the number of bombs falling on Cross Flats Park in Beeston as well as comparing the bombing to the bombings of 7 July in London, of which two of the perpetrators came from Leeds.[37][38] Harrison, at the time a child, was sheltering in the cellar of a house on Tempest Road in Beeston.[39]

See also


  1. ^ a b "West Riding ARP map". Google Maps. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Bramley in the years 1935 to 1941". FrancisFrith. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Model Road". Leodis.net. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  4. ^ "Avro Aircraft Factory Leeds". On-Magazine. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  5. ^ "History of Kirkstall Forge". docstoc. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Leeds – A Manufacturing City During War Time". Culture 24. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  7. ^ "Thorp Arch Estate History". Thorp Arch Estate. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Static Water Supply". Leodis.net. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  9. ^ "WWII Leeds bombing raid recalled". Yorkshire Evening Post. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  10. ^ "Leeds' Worst WWII Blitz". BBC. paragraphs 1–3. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Leeds' darkest night – The Quarter Blitz". West Yorkshire Archives Service. 14 March 2011. paragraph 3. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  12. ^ "WWII Leeds bombing raid recalled". Yorkshire Evening Post. paragraph 16. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  13. ^ "Leeds' Worst WWII Blitz". BBC News. paragraphs 4 & 10. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  14. ^ "Leeds' Worst WWII Blitz". BBC News. paragraphs 12–13. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  15. ^ "Leeds' darkest night – The Quarter Blitz". West Yorkshire Archives Service. 14 March 2011. paragraph 5. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  16. ^ "Leeds' darkest night – The Quarter Blitz". West Yorkshire Archives Service. 14 March 2011. paragraph 8.
  17. ^ "Leeds' darkest night – The Quarter Blitz". West Yorkshire Archives Service. 14 March 2011. paragraph 9.
  18. ^ "The Defence of the United Kingdom". Basil Collier.
  19. ^ "Leeds in WWII – Bombs and Air Raids". My Learning. paragraph 4. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  20. ^ "Leeds in WWII – Bombs and Air Raids". My Learning. paragraph 5. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  21. ^ "a photographic archive of Leeds – Display". Leodis. 15 March 1941. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  22. ^ "Ancient Cypriot Art in Leeds" (Press cutting). Tag Archives. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  23. ^ https://maps.google.co.uk/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=213440443617908386220.00049ae601cd196324bf6 Report on bomb damage (image two)
  24. ^ "Museum, View following air raid". Leodis. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  25. ^ "Leeds' Worst WWII Blitz". BBC News. 13 March 2011. paragraphs 14–16. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  26. ^ "a photographic archive of Leeds – Display". Leodis. 4 January 1942. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  27. ^ "WWII Bomb Damage | Flickr – Condivisione di foto!". Flickr.com. 23 October 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  28. ^ 10 AA Division at Royal Artillery 1939–45 Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ "Share your secrets, share your city". SecretLeeds. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  30. ^ "History 2: World War 2". Rafchurchfenton.org.uk. 10 August 1940. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  31. ^ "RAF Church Fenton". Forces War Records. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  32. ^ Ripley, Roy; Pears, Brian. "Thursday, 13th/Friday, 14th March 1941 N558". North-East Diary 1939–1945. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  33. ^ "West Riding ARP Bomb map, 14th/15th March 1941". unknown. turquoise markers. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  34. ^ Robinson, Stuart (8 March 2012). "Unexploded 'bomb' found by offenders in Leeds park VIDEO – Top Stories". Yorkshire Evening Post. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  35. ^ "West Riding ARP Bomb map, 14th/15th March 1941". unknown. yellow markers. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  36. ^ "The Defence of the United Kingdom, Chapter XVII The Night Offensive Against British Industry and Communications". Basil Collier. 281. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  37. ^ "Dislocations of Culture in Tony Harrison's 'Sharpnel'". Literature and History (Volume 20, Number 2 / Autumn 2011): 68–82. 2011. ISSN 2050-4594.
  38. ^ Jaggi, Maya. "Interview: Tony Harrison". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  39. ^ "Bombs Over Beeston". BBC News. Retrieved 27 August 2013.