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It was on February 7, 1941, that ‘Combined Operations’ moved to Derby House at Exchange Flags in Liverpool because German aircraft and U-boats were attacking ships travelling in from the continent.
The department, Western Approaches Command, monitored the rectangular area of the Atlantic Ocean lying to the west of the British Isles (the Western Approaches), and it meant the city became an important and strategic city in the Second World War, aiding the Allied victory.
You were once required to sign the Official Secrets Act to enter the building, now (Covid permitting) it’s open for visitors to explore the labyrinth of rooms and offices.
1. Frozen in time! The Operations Room has remained exactly how as it was left when the doors were closed on August 15, 1945.
2. A bunker was built below Derby House, which became known locally as the ‘Citadel’ or ‘Fortress’ due to the extensive reinforced concrete protection given to the basement. It was bomb-proof and gas-proof, with a seven-foot thick concrete roof and three-foot deep concrete walls, containing 100 rooms and covering 55,000 square feet.
3. The bunker was the workplace for more than 300 people who often slept there during shifts, which means there are sleeping quarters, offices and secret rooms to explore.
4. The first room visitors enter is known as the Road to War Room. It highlights events following the First World War and leading to the Second World War, and provides background on the move of Western Approaches HQ from Plymouth to Liverpool.
5. The RAF and Royal Navy Cabins are in the Operations Room with three steps leading to each cabin. At the back of the Naval cabin is a staircase to the next floor and to the right is a guard sentry point and a desk with a key cabinet featuring an original pin-up girl poster still on the inside.
6. The Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines worked together in the bunker to monitor enemy convoys and ‘wolf packs’ of submarines, which threatened to destroy Britain in the earliest stages of the war. They pin-pointed enemy locations on a huge map – total accuracy was necessary to enable the Royal Navy to contact and destroy the enemy.
7. The strategy employed in the bunker played a huge part in the victory of the Battle of the Atlantic, enabling us to successfully import supplies into wartime Britain from America and Canada. Victory in the Battle of the Atlantic was essential for Britain to survive; the invasion of Europe in 1944, which instigated the beginning of the end for Germany, couldn’t have happened if the U-Boats threat had prevailed.
8. Although it wasn’t originally sited here, in the Battery Corridor there’s a Second World War film projector which is believed to have been used by Winston Churchill to watch war footage.
9. Western Approaches contains a Cypher Room, from where top-secret information was passed to Bletchley Park, the English country house and estate in Milton Keynes that became the main centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War.
10. There’s a street scene which is a recreation of a 1940s street based on original shops of the time. Visitors can go into the shops, pick up war time recipes and look through the windows at photographs of Blitzed Liverpool.
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