Sheffield at War: WWII

One of the things I love about England is how connected the country is to its wartime history. Last year for Remembrance Day, I researched and wrote about the city of Nottingham during the First World War. It was my home for my first year in England, and now that it’s my second year in the country, I decided to research the Second World War and how it effected my new home city, Sheffield.

I found it much harder to find “timeline” style information, as I had used to format my post last year, so instead I’m going to write about four topics that stand out when reading about Sheffield during World War II:

1. The Mi Amigo Plane Crash
2. Britain’s second-largest POW camp
3. Industrial Output
4. The Sheffield Blitz

The ‘Mi Amigo’ Plane Crash


‘Mi Amigo’ was a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber operating out of an American air force base in Chelveston, Northamptonshire. On the 22nd of February, 1944, the plane was damaged by enemy aircraft during a bombing mission over Nazi-occupied Denmark. Unable to make it back to their base, the plane crashed into Endcliffe Park in south-western Sheffield (less than a mile from where I live!). The crash was into the trees on the park’s hillside and exploded on impact, avoiding a group of children playing in the field nearby. All ten airmen were killed, and they were honoured posthumously for choosing to sacrifice themselves, rather than crash into the park and risk the lives of the children playing below.

The crew of ‘Mi Amigo’. The pilot, 23-year-old Lt John Kriegshauser, can be seen in the front row, far left. (Photo courtesy of Sheffield County Council via American Air Museum in Britain)
The crew of ‘Mi Amigo’

In the months after the crash, children would collect and trade pieces of metal and debris. One of the children who witnessed the crash, Tony Foulds, is now in his 80s, and maintains the memorial that has been built at the site of the crash. I visited the memorial site earlier this week, and it is beautiful. Children were playing in the fields nearby, as they did when the plane crashed 76 years ago. It made it feel very real.
For more information on the crash, check out this article.

Lodge Moor Camp

Remains of Britain's largest prisoner of war camp uncovered by  archaeologists - Latest - News - The University of Sheffield

West of Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District, was the Lodge Moor Prisoner of War Camp. Initially known as the Redmires Camp, the land was used as a training camp for the Sheffield City Battalion for the majority of World War I, and was briefly used as a P.O.W. camp towards the end of the war. One of the most important POWs that stayed at this camp was German Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was named Hitler’s successor as head of state after his suicide in 1945. He was released from the camp after faking mental illness in order to avoid prosecution for war crimes.

At the beginning of WWII, Redmires Camp was renamed Lodge Moor Camp, also known as Prisoner of War Camp 17. Germans who were captured during the war were held long-term in the camp, classified based on their allegiance to the Nazi party. Italians and Ukrainians were also held at the camp. In line with the unfortunate reality of many Prisoner of War camps, the conditions that prisoners faced were dire – overcrowding was the biggest issue, with the camp housing 11 000 people at its peak in 1944.
The camp was decomissioned after the war, and is now a popular site for dog walkers. In 2019, the University of Sheffield’s archeology department began excavation on the site, and more info on the site and excavation can be found here.

Industrial Output

Sheffield’s history is closely tied to industry, gaining the nickname “Steel City” for its steel manufacturing, which dates back to 1740. Described as a “vital cog in the Allied war effort”, Sheffield’s factories needed to be at peak output to keep up with wartime demands. For the first 18 months of the war, Sheffield was home to the only factory capable of producing a vital part of the iconic Spitfire plane, as well as 18″ armour-piercing rounds.
As the men who worked in these factories went off to fight, women stepped up to replace them in the vital role of wartime industry.

Women working in Sheffield's factories helped with the war effort.
Women working in one of Sheffield’s many factories

Though men were initially reluctant to welcome women into the factories, they eventually relied on the contributions of women as more men were called away to fight. Kathleen Roberts, one of the ‘Women of Steel’, as these women are now remembered, remembers how “We’d replaced the men who’d gone into the Forces and we were doing all manner of things that you wouldn’t think a woman could do”. There is no official number of women who worked in the factories, it is well within the hundreds, possibly in the thousands. It was laborious and dangerous work dealing with molten steel, and injuries and burns were common. “There were a lot of awful injuries in the factories but these women kept on working because they knew how important it was. They did eight to 12 hour shifts and worked six days a week, and that was their life for six years.” More of Kathleen’s memories from her time as a Steelworker can be found here. Many of the memories that the women have of their time in the steelworks was of close camaraderie and sisterhood, and it’s beautiful to read about. After the war, there was little thanks for the women who worked in the factories, as men returned from war and needed back the jobs that were considered rightfully theirs.
The beautiful Women of Steel statue now found beside Sheffield’s City Hall was erected in 2016 after a lengthy campaign to celebrate the women who had such a vital contribution to the war effort.


The Sheffield Blitz

As a major industrial city, Sheffield expected to be a target for repeated bombing attacks from the Germans. This repeated bombing never came to pass, but the city was hit hard in the Sheffield Blitz of 1940, in a series of bombings that devastated the city.
December 12th and 15th saw bombs drop over the city during Operation Schmelztiegel (known in English as Operation Crucible), which was meant to target the factories responsible for wartime production. Documents uncovered after the war showed eight major factories as primary targets, including Atlas Steelworks and Meadowhall Ironworks. However, the majority of the damage to the city was in residential and commercial areas, and areas of industrial output were relatively undamaged.

Dwelling Houses, Ravencarr Road, air raid damage

The two nights of bombings left over 660 people dead, 1 500 injured, and over 40 000 people homeless. 3 000 homes were completely demolished, 3 000 irreperably damaged, and a further 78 000 buildings sustained some form of damage, including City Hall and the Central Library which still bear scars from the Blitz. Devonshire Green, a park near city centre, used to be high-density housing, but was flattened by bombs and never rebuilt. The Moor – a traditional market and shopping street – also sustained major damage. It is speculated that the Moor was mistaken for Attercliffe Road (the major road connecting industrial facilities northeast of the city), which could be why much of the bombing focused on the city centre.

One of the most notable incidents of the Blitz was the collapse of the Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. The posh hotel was in a 7-story Victorian building with a large network of cellar tunnels. On the first night of the Blitz (Dec. 12th), incendiary bombs started fires throughout the city, and many people sought refuge in the basement of the hotel as a makeshift air raid shelter. At approximately 11:45pm, a bomb fell through the already-damaged hotel, detonating near ground level, and collapsing the main floor into the cellar. 70 people were confirmed killed, and there were only five confirmed survivors. It is rumoured that there are still bodies under the site where the building used to be.

Marples Hotel - Blitz | Sheffield, War photography, Steel city

I have always loved researching and reading about history, and I think there’s something extra special about living in a country where so many things happened and have left scars and stories in the city I currently call home. Stories like the Mi Amigo crash and the collapse of the Marples hotel don’t have much impact on a large scale, but are local stories worth remembering and reflecting upon.

Although there were no ceremonies or memorial services this year, I hope that you took the two minutes at 11:/11/11 to reflect on the people who made so many sacrifices and left us with so many stories. Lest We Forget.



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