It’s a story that has been told many times before, but the airing of a new TV series has seen it resurface: Hitler loved Blackpool so much he spared it from the wrath of the Luftwaffe and planned to turn it into his own personal holiday destination.
But is it true? Did the Nazi leader really want to land his stormtroopers in Stanley Park before parading them down the Prom following an invasion of Britain?
And if it isn’t, then just why did the resort, which played a major part in the Second World War effort, emerge largely unscathed?
Where better to start than to ask Elaine Smith from Blackpool Civic Trust, who moved to the resort as a 10-year-old in 1945, and said even then the story of the Führer’s soft spot for the town was widely circulated, having been passed down to her by her mother.
“I was not the only one told this,” she said. “It was just something that went around at the time.”
Elaine admits there is ‘nothing to substantiate’ the tale, but believes the theory is given weight by the fact that Hitler’s Blitzkrieg largely left the Fylde coast alone. The town had four operational airfields during the war and was a key factor in training new recruits for the RAF.
I was not the only one told this
At the same time, it was a relatively safe haven for evacuees and tourists, home to the Free Polish Air Force during its exile, while the Vickers factory at Squires Gate churned out hundreds of Wellington bombers, which carried out night time raids on key Germany cities and targeted submarines.
“You would have thought Blackpool would be a primary target,” Elaine said. “It does not make any sense for Hitler not to bomb it.”
But in his book Blackpool At War, local historian John Ellis said the resort was a ‘risky’ place to target because its location meant being accompanied by fighter planes was ‘virtually impossible’.
And although the town’s air defences were lighter than the larger cities, and would have found it ‘very hard to defend itself against a substantial aerial attack’, the Germans may not have realised its importance.
“Or it may simply be that Hitler’s ‘people’s playground’ was supposed to be left unscathed,” he teased.
The true answer may actually be a little more boring than the romantic notion of Hitler longing to take a elevator trip up the Tower with girlfriend Eva Braun, according to John Coombes from the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Team Visitor Centre at Blackpool Airport.
Because after suffering heavy losses during the Battle of Britain, the Germans had few long-range bombers, and heading to the north west – which meant flying around the coast or across the country – was a ‘suicide mission’, he said.
“The bombers were not designed for flying hundreds of miles at high altitude,” he said. “The problem with bombing the west coast was having to fly across land, or up the Channel, taking a right at Cornwall, and going past Wales.
“It was a long way home if you had been rumbled, and we had a good radar system.”
The Germans, who had their resources tied up on the eastern front learnt that the hard way in October 1940 when a lone JU88, believed to be lost, was shot down shortly after dropping its bombs over Church Road in St Annes.
A relatively low total of around 140 bombs and 1,100 incendiary devices were dropped on the Fylde coast during the war, and only three raids in death.
The worst came on September 11, 1940, when eight people were killed in Seed Street – where Sainsbury’s is now – after another lost bomber followed a train as it approached Blackpool North station and dropped its payload indiscriminately.
“Blackpool just wasn’t worth committing resources to,” John added, unlike the likes of Manchester, Birmingham, and London, with the capital alone bearing the brunt of 30,000 bombs in just a three month period.
The wider area’s relative isolation also saw nuclear power plant Sellafield built further up the west coast, while Warton hosted the United States Army Air Force and processed thousands of aircraft, also playing a vital role in the aerial bombardment on D-Day.
But all that doesn’t explain why, in recent years, the long-standing fable of Hitler’s adoration for the Golden Mile has become a seemingly unwavering truth.
That appears to go back to 2009 when Michael Cole, a publisher based in York bought a large number of Second World War maps from Germany. To publicise his newly-gotten wares, he contacted the press, and was interviewed by a Gazette reporter.
Speaking at the time, the now 75-year-old described the documents as having ‘immense historic significance’, while Elaine said in the same article she’d ‘heard Hitler intended to use Blackpool as his personal playground’.
In the days that followed, several national newspapers picked up the story and ran with it, turning a childhood tale into gospel and verse, and turning a myth into fact by using the maps as evidence, even though there was no concrete link between the two.
What was a story about wartime maps and a trip down memory lane became distorted, with one headline stating: “Adolf Hitler saved Blackpool from Blitz because he wanted it as a personal playground.”
Another added: “Why Hitler told Luftwaffe: Blackpool must be spared.”
A third said: “Hitler’s plans to turn Blackpool into Nazi report come to light.”
But speaking to The Gazette from his home this week, Mr Cole said: “Nobody has ever found any documented evidence that this is what Hitler wanted.
“Even though lots of people have furthered the myth, it’s just that in my opinion.”
Mr Cole still has original Nazi maps of Blackpool for sale, and said they were copied from the RAC or AA in the 1930s and given to high-ranking military men to prepare for the invasion, which was codenamed Operation Sealion.
He sells them for £12 a piece, and joked: “They are not scarce, rare, or unusual. If they were important maps showing Hitler wanted to save Blackpool, I would be selling them for far more.”
Elaine added: “I started it off quite by accident. A reporter rang me just as I was about to go out. He called because this man had found these plans.
“I said there was nothing to substantiate it but it was a local myth to explain why Hitler didn’t bomb Blackpool. The next day, my son rang and asked, ‘Have you seen page four of the paper?’”
The stories from 2009 have been regurgitated in recent days by the media, given fresh relevance by the airing of the BBC’s Sunday night drama SS-GB, which imagines what life would have been like in 1940s London if the Germans had indeed invaded.
But the claims appear to be as fictional as the big-budget programme though, ultimately, we will never really know whether Operation Sealion would have resulted in a OAP Hitler tucking into fish and chips on the Prom or enjoying a game of bingo in Coral Island.