Clydebank represented a vital part of Scotland’s wartime production in World War Two. Well known for its crucial role in the manufacture of ships and munitions, the town had long been a potential target for a Nazi attack. Tragically, as well being home to Scottish industry, Clydebank also housed hundreds of innocent families who would ultimately be killed in the crossfire of war.

Over the course of two separate raids on the nights of 13 and 14 March 1941, a total of 439 German bombers dropped hundreds of tons of bombs and in excess of a thousand incendiary containers on Clydebank.

Despite being unprepared for such an onslaught, the RAF and anti-aircraft gunners fought valiantly to defend the town and brought down two German aircraft in the process. It is also reported that the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun (which was receiving repairs at John Brown’s shipyard at the time) managed to supply an admirable volley of supporting fire to the British forces. The resulting decimation on Clydebank was, however, still profound.

Fires blazed on for weeks and just eight houses (out of some 12,000) still stood once the dust had settled. A number of industrial targets were also damaged in the raids, including Singer's timber yards, Yoker Distillery and Old Kilpatrick's oil depot, although some accounts suggest that after swift repairs were conducted a few facilities were able to restore pre-raid levels of productivity.

The cost to human life was even more pronounced and heart-wrenching. Official reports state that in Clydebank alone, 528 people perished with a further 617 left seriously injured. The death toll for the whole of Clydeside stood even greater at over 1,000 deaths and a similar number were seriously injured. As a result many historians have declared the Clydebank Blitz to be one of the most catastrophic events in Scottish wartime history.

While Clydebank was largely rebuilt after the Second World War, many families who lost loved ones in the bombing still bear the scars. As such it is vitally important at this time that we commemorate the men, woman and children who suffered and died on those awful days in 1941.

Recent Covid restrictions mean that the official full Remembrance ceremony will not take place until October, although some smaller commemorative events will still be held in March. This is set to include the laying of wreaths and the revealing of a new plaque.

West Dumbartonshire Council have also commissioned the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) to produce and record some commemorative music to mark the occasion, helping to ensure that the memory of those lost to the Clydebank Blitz lives on through song.

Words: Harris Cumming

Images: West Dunbartonshire Council Arts and Heritage