...and then the Vickers factory in Sheffield provided 1,100 tonnes of armour for the Normandy invasion to finish off the Germans
The Battle of Britain? It could only have been won by Attercliffe
In the Battle of Britain, the only factory in the British Isles big enough to forge crankshafts for Spitfires was the English Steel Corporation’s Vickers Works in Brightside Lane.
The steam-powered hammer there weighed over 200 tonnes and produced 84 stampings every shift.
If just one German air-raid had hit the factory, the production of Spitfire engines would have stopped.
Day by day, week by week, with only eight young men per shift, changing over every day, the odds were very long against them.
The German big bombers had immense power. But our little Spitfires could win in the dogfights because of their bulletproof plating and the superb training of our airmen.
Practically every Spitfire that took part in the battle was fitted with protective plates made in Sheffield.
On top of that, we made the toughest tanks in the world. Over 1,100 tonnes of armour for the Normandy invasion came from Vickers.
The little Spitfires could zoom-in and shoot down a German plane and be back again on the ground inside 50 minutes. They had to do it because that’s when the fuel in their tanks ran out.
Later on, it was Vickers who forged more than two dozen 10-tonne bouncing bombs for the Dambusters grand-slam raid to finish off the Germans.
But they were given no medals at all. The designer, Mr B.N. Wallace CBE, was paraded, but, as usual, the mucky men and women from mucky Sheffield got nowt. It was the bouncing bombs which forced the Germans to surrender in May. The unbelievable sequel to this was much later, when Sheffield Council pulled down the factories on Brightside Lane which had housed all this industrial might and had contributed to victory. Hardly a line has been written about it or a museum exhibition devoted to it.
The bombing of Sheffield was blacked out by the BBC and the government for 20 years, before the true story was actually revealed.
The Liverpool docks were devastated by 60 different attacks, but nothing was mentioned by the BBC who insisted on calling it “North West England”. Sheffield was heavily bombed too, but the news of the two raids was deliberately sanitised and ludicrously distorted and confused.
Pictures of shops and demolished city centre pubs like The Marples were eventually highlighted to show the holocaust of civilian victims. After the first Sheffield bombings, on Thursday, December 12, 1940, newspapers were allowed to show a few pictures of Fitzalan Square and the Marples Hotel where 70 mainly young people were buried alive at 11.14pm. Only 14 bodies could be identified. 3,000 homes in Sheffield were demolished and another 3,000 needed major repairs, but the ‘Ministry of Information’ blotted it out with headlines of ‘Slight Damage’.
The bombs which hit Attercliffe on the Sunday night, December 15, were totally different to the ones that hit the city centre.
The Germans went in for carpet-bombing. The 70-year-old terraced slum houses next to the big war factories were set alight with very small incendiary bombs and street after street was left with crumbled walls and piled up charred furniture.
Hitler’s idea was to starve out the skilled workers around Attercliffe until they had no homes to keep off the winter. To cheer us up, four years later, our Dambuster planes blasted open the dams which poured their water all over the German towns below and which virtually ended World War Two and let our troops march into Berlin.
What a good job Britain had Attercliffe to look after it.
Spitfires, Sheffield winning the Battle of Britain and the night the Germans tried to bomb our city to bits. It can only be day three of our serialisation of Joe Ashton’s new book ‘Joe Blow’. In it the former Bassetlaw MP of 33 years describes life growing up in Attercliffe in the ‘Hungry Thirties’ – the pain, the laughter and the deprivation. To get a copy of his book, £12, call The Star office on 0114 2521299 – £1.50 from every sale will go to the Salvation Army
Interview by Martin Smith