The explosion of the SS Malakand
It was the strategic importance of the docks which made Liverpool such an important target for the Luftwaffe. Liverpool was the main port for convoys crossing the Atlantic from the free world.
Throughout the Second World War, the Mersey was full of all kinds of ships, both military and merchant. Vital food supplies came into Britain through Liverpool so if the port could be closed, Britain might starve. As well as bombs, mines were parachuted into the Mersey to disrupt shipping. These, as well as unexploded bombs, caused great disruption long after the bombers had left Merseyside’s skies.
Built in 1919, the SS Malakand cargo liner was part of the Brocklebank shipping line, named after the Malakand area of the Indian sub-continent.
On the worst night of the Blitz on Liverpool, 3rd May 1941, SS Malakand, loaded with a thousand tons of munitions, caught fire, blew up and obliterated the Huskisson Dock. It is thought that a drifting barrage balloon landed on the deck and burst into flames.
Pieces of the ship were blasted over two miles away causing even further damage to the Overhead Railway. Half the docks were temporarily put out of action as a result of the destruction caused by the blast. Thousands of dockworkers, troops and volunteers were involved in the clear up. Miraculously, considering the size of the blast, only four people were killed.
The Remains of SS Malakand.
By the end of the 1941 Blitz, 69 out of 144 cargo berths were closed. There were serious losses of ships, food and fuel. Had the May bombing continued for just a few more nights, the docks could have been totally disabled.