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Friday 23rd August 1940

Messerscmitt at Barkers Pool.jpg

This is an ongoing piece of research; feel free to get in touch through the Contact Us page if you can help.

Main page photograph shows a Messerschmitt 109 plane which was shot down over the south of England in 1940.  It toured the country as a means of raising money, and made an appearance in Stocksbridge, behind the Friendship Hotel.  This photograph was taken at Barker's Pool in Sheffield.

Despite the steelworks in the valley bottom, Stocksbridge pretty much escaped being bombed during WW2.  There was just one night when several bombs were dropped on one area of the town, but no one was hurt, although several buildings were damaged. 


For years, I was unable to find any definite date for this event, or how many bombs were dropped that night.  I looked at all the eyewitness accounts I could find, and spoke to a few people too, but no one could agree on the exact date.  The dates put forward for the bombs falling on Stocksbridge were 23rd August 1940 (which was a Friday) or 23rd August 1941 (a Saturday, probably a misprint). [1] The other dates were 12/13 or 15/16 December 1940, which were the dates of the Sheffield Blitz.  Local man Arnold Palmer produced several disks of local history photos, and on one of these he wrote quite specifically that Stocksbridge was bombed at 2.05am on the 23rd August 1940, which was a Friday.   

[1] This date seemed very unlikely anyway.  The height of the Blitz outside of London was in early 1941, before the bulk of the Luftwaffe was withdrawn in preparation for the invasion of Russia.  After the end of 1941, most German raids were hit and run nuisance raids on a small scale as the Germans simply didn’t have the planes and because our own night fighters had by then been equipped with airborne radar and were very formidable. I am told that it would be asking a lot of a German medium bomber crew to fly in broad daylight over England after early 1941; it would be more like a suicide mission by then. To penetrate as far as Sheffield at least part of the mission would have been at night, so the long summer days of August are pushing at this time. It had to be a medium bomber (Junkers 88, Heinkel 111 or Dornier 215/217) because they had no others with both the range and capacity for 5 to 8 bombs.


Finally, in April 2022, I noticed that the Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Gazette had become available online, at Findmypast and the British Newspaper Archive.  The article that proved the date was printed on the front page on Saturday 31 August 1940. 


“An enemy plane dropped several bombs in a raid on a north-eastern district [sic] early last Friday morning [23rd August].  Most of the bombs fell in fields and open ground, but there was slight damage to property.  No casualties were caused by the bombs, the only personal injury being to a workman who hurt his ankle while hurrying to an air raid shelter.

Several of the bombs which fell into hillside fields did no damage, although they dropped not far from farm buildings.  There was not the slightest panic among the occupiers of the farm.  According to one eye witness the plane, after diving to drop these bombs, climbed rapidly and dived again after which more bombs were heard to fall.

One of these left a crater in a hillside.  Another struck some outbuildings near a road, and a shop was demolished by a direct hit.  At one point where a bomb fell on the footpath the stone wall of a nearby house was cracked, but a gas lamp not far from where the bomb dropped was not damaged and remained alight.

Flagstones were piled up against houses by other bombs and the windows of a club were broken.  The largest bomb which fell clear of buildings on open ground left a crater 40’ wide and 20’ deep.

A.R.P. Get Full Marks.

The efficiency of the local police and A.R.P. services was admirably demonstrated as a sequel to the raid.  Volunteers from every post in the district were quickly on the job, and all services sent their required quotas of men and women who were able to put into practical use the training which they have been steadily acquiring since the outbreak of war.  The spirit of the local residents remained quite unaffected by the raid.  People took the disturbance philosophically, and some splendid work was put in by the civil defence workers who were able to show their mettle in something like emergency conditions.  One woman who was being helped from a house near where a bomb had fallen was heard to say, “Ay lad, ah’m goin’ ter faint.”  Her husband’s terse reply was, “Nay lass, be b--- British.”  Thus admonished the good woman did not faint.”


This article confirmed just about everything that I had found out about the bombs during my research.  The town is not named, but that was common practice.  Stocksbridge became “a north-eastern district” [sic].  Other raids reported in the newspaper also did not name specific places – using terms such as “a north Midlands town,” a “N.E. town” and “villages in the north-east.”


The location of the reported bomb drops matches most of what was known, with the exception that the bomb which dropped on the steelworks (Siemens) was not mentioned.  This was also not unusual – it would be classified information.  The steelworks would be classed as a strategic industry, and reporting on the bomb damage would be subject to censorship. The press often reported some bomb strikes very accurately in order to give credibility to a report where they omitted some that hit certain targets.  

As is often the case, once I had finally worked out the date, someone sent me an extract from the Paragon Newsletter (Autumn 2004), published by the Stocksbridge History Society, in which a man called Harland M. Thickett had written about a diary he had kept whilst at school.  One of his entries confirmed this date … “when Stocksbridge was bombed on August 23rd 1940, in what now seems a remarkably accurate attack, it was seen as exciting rather than frightening … ‘Seamans (sic) hit.  Springmill hit.  Crater 15’ deep, 30’ wide.  Shop at bottom of Park wrecked.  At night went to see crater and got souvenirs.’  These were bomb splinters, to be hoarded for years …”


Britain had declared war on Germany just over a year ago, on the 3rd September 1939, and the first attack on Sheffield came on the 18th August 1940, five days before Stocksbridge was hit.  Bombs were dropped on Blackbrook Road, although there were no casualties.  There was an air raid centered on Sheaf Street on the 29th August 1940 which killed four people.  The Coventry blitz occurred on the 14th November 1940.


The bombs fell on Stocksbridge seven weeks before the main attacks on Sheffield, which took place on the nights of 12/13th and 15/16th December 1940.  On these dates over 330 German aircraft are believed to have attacked the city, dropping 355 tonnes of high explosives and over 16,000 incendiary canisters.  The take-cover warning was sounded at 7pm, with the most intense period of bombing being between 10.30pm and 2.15am.  The All-Clear wasn’t sounded until 4.15am.  The main industrial part of the city was largely defended that night by a covering of fog, but many areas of Sheffield were hit, including the town centre.  Almost 700 people were killed during these air raids. 134 were buried in a mass grave at the City Road Cemetery, now the site of a memorial garden. 


The bombs which fell on Stocksbridge were dropped around the Horner House area, with one falling on the hillside behind the Works.  The general consensus seems to be that Stocksbridge wasn’t the target, and that these bombs were perhaps jettisoned at the end of a raid elsewhere and were not specifically aimed at the steelworks. 


Various theories have been put forward over the years as to why this raid occurred.  Mostly it was thought that these were late releases from aircraft that had been aiming for other targets and needed to lighten their aircraft for height and speed before the long haul back to Germany.  The plane had perhaps got detached from its formation, got lost, or was aiming for the reservoirs; Underbank / Midhope reservoirs were marked on German maps as a turning point for the planes for their run back towards Sheffield.


A newly discovered eyewitness account by Fred Harrison casts a different light on this event, as does the passage of time and evolving research into the German offensives.  Fred’s account is provided later in this article, but in it he speculates that the plane must have seen a flash of flame from one of the Siemens furnaces when it was reversed, and it was this that caused the pilot to jettison his bombs. [1]  It is possible that the pilot could also have seen the tipping of slag and the glow from molten metal as well as the tapping of furnaces, because, for many steelworks, normal production would not have ceased unless there was an air-raid warning.  Only one person locally reported a warning, and he could have been mistaken.  


Presumably all steelworks worked in similar ways during the war, although I have been unable to find anything specific to Stocksbridge.  Its products were in high demand, and production still went on around the clock.  At Shotton (in Flintshire), metal sheets were used at night to black out the buildings, and the roasting temperatures and airless conditions inside were described as “hot as hell and as black as Hades.”  Whenever an enemy aircraft was spotted heading for Deeside, an early warning was received, and furnace tapping was delayed to avoid the glare of molten steel which was usually visible for miles. [2]


The plane that bombed Stocksbridge was probably returning from a “tip-and-run nuisance raid” on Hull or Bradford, although there were many such raids all over the country.


Nuisance raids were designed to stretch the defences of the whole of Britain in an attempt to stop our defensive guns and aircraft being sent south, which was where the main Battle of Britain campaign was at its height (it officially began on the 10th July 1940).  Hitler could not give the go ahead for the invasion of Britain unless the Germans achieved air supremacy over southern Britain within the next week or so.  Fred’s account of the light from the steelworks furnace is very revealing; a flare from a furnace would have been like a beacon to a passing German aircraft and may well be the reason why the bombs were dropped.  The bomb pattern is consistent with a single aircraft attacking the Works as a target of opportunity; a single bomb load dropped on one run, guided by a flash of light from the Works; a string of bombs straddling the works either side and managing to hit one part of it.  The pilot was lucky to hit it at all, with just a single flash of light to aim for.  Flying at night, in a blackout situation, with decoy lights, guns, search lights and all manner of other things to “bend” its navigation beams, to achieve an accurate hit on the steelworks would have been more by luck than judgement.  Actually achieving at least one hit on the Works could be deemed a fairly accurate attack by the standards of the day.  


Stocksbridge was very fortunate not to attract the attentions of the far heavier and more lethal raids on Sheffield that took place the following December. 


Hull was an easy target for the Germans because it was on a coastal estuary.  Between 9pm on the 22nd August and 1am on the 23rd, enemy aircraft were plotted at many places including Harrogate, York, Hull, Middlesbrough and Bradford. [3]  Bradford was easily found by following the Humber for most of the way.  These attacks consisted of either sole raiders or a single flight of aircraft.  If planes were spotted in those areas until 1am, then Arnold Palmer’s report of the Stocksbridge raid occurring at 2.05am would tie in with a plane being on its way home, with bombs in reserve for random opportunities.  It does seem the most likely scenario that some escaped light from the steelworks attracted a passing single raider, who released one bomb load on the source of light as a target of opportunity, as it would be clearly indicative of a steelworks. [4]


The previous assumptions about aircraft heading for turning points over the Moors are not correct, because those turning points would not have been allocated until the raids on Sheffield were planned in the following December. 


According to the newspaper report, one eyewitness stated that the plane, “after diving to drop these bombs, climbed rapidly and dived again after which more bombs were heard to fall.”  This is probably incorrect – and none of the reports I have read mention this.  The probable explanation would be that the plane was flying with its two engines de-synchronised to confuse the pre-radar sound locators that the British had been using for early warning.  The effect on the ground would be for a witness to hear a throbbing and change in engine notes which could easily be confused with thinking the plane was flying higher and then lower as the engine note changed.  It was not the norm for a plane to make individual diving attacks to release a couple of bombs at a time; rather, all the bombs would be released together when their systems indicated they were over the target.  By making two separate diving attacks the pilot would be putting himself further behind and away from the rest of his formation, risking more time over the target area.  In blackout it is unlikely that he would have been able to see the results of his first dive other than an explosion (which could affect his night vision) and, even if he had been able to see that his first attack had missed its target, the chances of getting another bomb so near the first after diving, climbing and circling back around to the same area again would have been very slim.


The Air Ministry’s War Room Daily Report covered the period up to 0600 on the 23rd August and it noted that by night, enemy activity had been on a much larger scale and more widespread than it had been, and that the activity had continued throughout the hours of darkness.  Raids consisted entirely of single aircraft, which confirms that just one plane dropped the bombs on Stocksbridge.  “Between 2100 hours and 0100 hours, enemy aircraft visited Aberdeen, Pontefract district, Hampshire, Bristol and South Wales and a convoy off Kinnaird’s Head … Raids were also plotted in the Bradford, Hull and Middlesbrough areas.  Later one raid of three aircraft flew over North Wales towards Liverpool and Manchester.”  The Enemy Air Force Operations entry for 22nd August highlighted the increase in the number of bombing raids during the night, mentioning raids on Middlesbrough, Hull and the Midlands among others. [5]  This is repeated in the book “The Blitz Then and Now Volume 1” which also adds that at 0125 a further attack was made on Manston RAF Station.  At 0200 the industrial area between Sheffield and Huddersfield was visited.  At 0310 Harrow was attacked - approximately 230 enemy aircraft were in operation.”  This same source notes that from August 19 to 23 there was heavy cloud over Britain and although the Luftwaffe managed to carry out many individual sorties, it was unable to attack in strength. [6]


Another report covering the period 0900 hours 22 August 1940 to 0900 hours 23 August 1940 stated that five high explosive bombs were dropped at 0201 hours on the morning of 23 August 1940 on Bolsterstone, Stocksbridge.  This report set out the distance of key points from the location where the bombs were dropped:

* 1½ miles north-east of Samuel Fox & Co STOCKSBRIDGE Production: Fabrication Factory Component Parts & Coking Plant.

* ¾ mile south of Sheffield Corporation Reservoir, BROMHEAD.

* ¾ mile south-east of Sheffield Corporation Reservoir, MORE HALL.

* 2 miles north-west of Underbank Reservoir, Sheffield Corporation.

NOTE: these don’t correspond to the locations of the Stocksbridge bombs that we know about [7]


The RAF’s Air Historical Branch has a folder covering raids on Sheffield, which mentions attacks on 10/11 September 1940; 12/13 and 15/16 December 1940 [the Blitz]; 15/16 January 1941; 4/5 and 15 February 1941.  Oddly, there is no mention of the bombs dropped early on the morning of 23 August 1940, although Stocksbridge was not at that time part of Sheffield.

The following week, on the 7th September, the local newspapers reported that the War was “Not Too Bad.”  In what was intended to be an upbeat article, the report said that although some people had suffered terrifying experiences, the general impression was that “the bark of this blitzkrieg is worse than its bite.”  The bombs that had been unleashed on the country had not been the biggest or the noisiest, nor were there a concentration of them, and they didn’t make the row that had been expected, nor the holes.  The fire services and untrained householders were proving they could cope well with the incendiaries, and there was a “far greater margin of survival than most people expected.”   Bombs that seemed to be coming from overhead were landing miles away, and even when they wrecked dwellings, little injury was being done to the occupants who were in them.  The writer did admit that the ordeal was “very severe for most women and for people with weak nerves,” but overall the bombing was not [yet] the ferocious experience that most people were led to expect.  Unfortunately, the devastation of the Blitz was just around the corner.


I suspect that now the date and time has been narrowed down it would be possible for someone with access to the right database to narrow down which German squadrons were flying that night and possibly even to find details of the crew, if the squadron records survived the war. Their post operation de-briefing would show what they thought they had attacked rather than what they actually attacked. One database of German aircraft did not record any that were lost that night, so the crew probably got home safely.  At that time Britain’s night defences were lamentably weak, our night fighters totally useless in the dark and our anti-aircraft guns were fired as much as for the sake of keeping British moral up than in the hope of actually hitting a bomber.  The Germans lost more planes from landing accidents than from RAF / anti-aircraft action at night.  The press certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to print that at the time! 


[1] In a Siemens furnace, the exhaust gases are pumped into a chamber containing bricks, where heat is transferred from the gases to the bricks.  The flow of the furnace is then reversed, so that fuel and air pass through this chamber and are heated by the bricks.  The furnace can then reach temperatures high enough to melt steel.



[4] Note: because the raids happened on the night of the 22nd and the very early morning of the 23rd, the records often list them as the 22nd.

[5] Air Ministry War Room Daily Report Summary no. 400; from the RAF’s Air Historical Branch

[6] Ramsey, Winston G. (ed), The Blitz Then and Now volume 1, Battle of Britain Prints International 1987.  p231

[7] Key Points Intelligence Branch, Ministry of Home Security; Home Office Damage Appreciation Report which was sent to the Air Ministry.  From the RAF’s Air Historical Branch


I have collated this information from published accounts, interviews and newspaper articles.  The eyewitness accounts were recorded many decades after the event, and people’s memories differed.   Only one person reported hearing an air-raid siren. 

PLEASE NOTE: I may well be mistaken about some of this – please get in touch if you think so!


There were two cottages behind the farm (further away from the main road).  I am told that one bomb destroyed a pigsty, and a large boulder was blown onto the roof of the second cottage (the one slightly away from the farm) by the blast.   Jack Branston wrote in his book History of Stocksbridge that an outhouse which Amos Ridal had built as a stable and a carriage house was partly demolished – this could be the same building.  The bottom part of this outhouse was of double stone, whilst the upper one was of single stone; the upper part collapsed, but the lower part remained firm.  Joe and Lizzie Raynor & their three daughters Jean, Joyce & Kathleen lived in one of the cottages behind Horner House Farm and the other one was occupied by Mrs Portman. 

2.  BOTTOM OF PARK DRIVE - one or two bombs here

There seems to be some confusion as to exactly what happened at the bottom of Park Drive but there could have been two bombs dropped here.  The fact that The Lodge was damaged and subsequently demolished is well known, but it is unclear whether if suffered a direct hit or collateral damage.  Some, but not all, of the eyewitness accounts mention another building at the bottom of Park Drive, a wooden second-hand furniture store belonging to Mr. Len Moxon.  It was destroyed, and he had to close his business as a result.  This was on the opposite side of the road to The Lodge and can just be seen on old photos.  Old OS maps show a building on the opposite corner of Park Drive.  The Lodge, which belonged to Councillor Percy Schofield, “concertinaed,” but no one was hurt.  It wouldn’t have needed to be a direct hit because the blast effect from a few yards away could have caused the irreparable structural damage.  It is possible that two bombs fell here, one on the shop and one on the Lodge, but I can’t be sure.  One bomb could have fallen between the two buildings but caused more damage to the wooden structure than the stone built one.  Two bombs falling so close together from one release is not impossible.   I believe that the Lodge was originally one house but was later converted into two dwellings. [1]  


[1] Sheffield Daily Telegraph 1 June 1912; Notice of Auction at The Friendship Hotel: Lot 1: Dwelling-house, garden and outbuildings known as “Stocksbridge Hall” with the grounds called “the Park”, just over 8 acres, now in the occupation of Samuel Fox and Co., Ltd., or their under-tenant, together with the two cottages (formerly the Lodge) in the occupations of Cyril Dibb and Ernest Broomhead.


Mr & Mrs. Lee lived at 238 Spring Mill Terrace.  A bomb fell next to the house, which luckily failed to explode.  Reports of one dropping between Spring Mill Terrace and Bessemer Terrace are the same one.  Number 238 was the first house in the row after the gap between the end house of Bessemer Terrace, no. 237. [1]  Henry and Louisa Lee were the maternal grandparents of Royce Lowe.  He was living there at the time, along with his parents, and would have been just over a year old.  What is odd is that this was never mentioned to him when he was growing up, although he knew about the bomb which hit the melting shop.  How different this could have been if that bomb had exploded.  Henry Lee had married Louisa Jackson in 1883 and they lived at 238 Spring Mill Terrace from about 1893.   Henry worked in the Siemens as a labourer, and both had started work when they were eleven years old.  They celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary (60 years) on Christmas Day 1943.  Henry was 80 years old and his wife was 77.  Louisa was married at 17 and had six children, all of whom grew up in that house.


[1] Worked out from the order of the houses on the 1939 Register and later confirmed by Royce Lowe.


One bomb dropped in the Works’ scrap yard and showered metal and bolts through the glass sky lights of the Victory Club onto the billiard tables.  This was adjacent to the Spring Mill – across the railway line from the Victory Club.  Some reports of a bomb falling on the Spring Mill are probably referring to this bomb.  Audrey Moxon’s account tells how she had been moved by her parents from Hull, which was being heavily bombed, to Stocksbridge, which they had thought would be safer.   She went to live with her uncle, Mr. Smith, who was the steward at the Victory Club.  The bombs fell not long after her arrival; she recalled that here was no warning, no air-raid siren, just the sound of the enemy plane followed by explosions and the sound of breaking glass.  Alice Broomhead (nee Liles) lived close to the Victory Club.  She was newly married (she had married Jack Broomhead in the September Quarter of 1939) and recalled how the “commotion” had woken her and her husband up.  They were living at 690 Manchester Road when the bombs dropped; this was an end of terrace house very close to the Victory Club (on the same side of the road) in the area known as the Rocher.   She recalled how the next day many people went to look at the craters and the damage, and that windows as far away as Woolley Road were broken. 


Some reports tell of a bomb being dropped down the chimney in the Siemens department, whilst others refer to it being dropped in the Siemens open hearth melting shop into an empty mould which splintered, causing a Mr. Trail to suffer from shock.  The Siemens dept was just behind the Spring Mill and in front of the melting shop.  I am told that if a bomb had fallen down a chimney, then this would have caused a lot more damage because they were brick built.  The trajectory of a falling bomb is not vertical as it reflects the speed and forward movement of the aircraft at the time of bomb release – say 250mph- so it is very unlikely that a bomb fell vertically down a chimney; through the wall of the chimney on the way down, perhaps, but not straight down the chimney.

The theory of the moulds would have caused much less actual damage as the moulds were cast iron and very heavy; they are square and some 3” thick in the wall on average and would take some shifting. A bomb could have shattered one mould or caused shrapnel to fly about.  Given the detail about Mr. Trail, it seems likely that the mould theory is probably the correct one.  This seems to be confirmed by a story told to me by Andrew Ward, who was told a story by Horace Dawson, a crane driver in the newly-opened electric melting shop.  Horace lived at 5 Unwin Street, Penistone.  During the War, Horace had an escape rope in the cab. During the bombing raid, he related how one bomb came through the roof and landed directly into an empty ingot mold. This was very lucky as it directed the blast back up to the roof.  Andrew adds that the two electric arc furnaces in No. 3 Melting Shop, S and H furnace, were made by Siemens Germany; one had been commissioned before the War, but the engineers were sent home once war was declared. Therefore, the contract was not completed, and the bill was not paid. Following on from this, Lord Haw Haw [1], in his propaganda radio broadcasts said they had not forgotten the “Fox in the Valley” - hence the air raids.  The shell that dropped in the ingot mould was in the Electric Steel Department, later called No. 3 Melting Shop, which was where Horace Dawson was a Crane Driver.  S and H Electric Arc Furnaces also flash as the electrodes strike (not just the Siemens furnaces)


[1] William Joyce, better known to the British public as “Lord Haw-Haw,” betrayed his country by broadcasting anti-British propaganda on behalf of Nazi Germany.  He was captured and tried for treason, and executed by hanging on the 3rd January 1946.  His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the grounds of the prison where he had been held.