The British Empire and its effect on Plymouth

Devonport Dockyards on Fire

Devonport Dockyards were a natural target for the German Luftwaffe. The city could be approached from the sea and so avoid anti-aircraft fire and observation from the land. Plymouth Sound and the River Tamar made it very easy for German bombers to locate their target even at night as long as there was a moon to reflect off the water. Until the building of RAF Harrowbeer, there was no close airfield for high speed RAF planes to intercept German bombers (RAF Roborough flew old Gladiators only.)

Ships would tend to try and get in and out of Devonport during the daylight hours in order to minimise the risk from night time bombing but ships needing repairs or refitting would remain longer in dock and so offer more targets for the Luftwaffe. However, at least ships in dock could add their own Anti-Aircraft guns to the AA fire from land based assets.

Unlike the city itself, the Dockyards were less in danger to the incendiary bombs as there was less kindling, wood and soft furnishing to ignite and sustain fires. Furthermore, the dockyard had their own dedicated fire fighting crews on hand to extinguish fires. Obviously fires did break it if they hit stores and high explosive bombs still took their toll.

Empire in Your Backyard: Plymouth Article

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by Stephen Luscombe