Scotlands History

World War II (1939-45)

The Scots played an important role in the Allied victory - from the battlefields of North Africa to life on the home front.

As Britain prepared for war, the heavy industries of the Clyde produced ships, guns, engines and munitions. Six weeks into World War II, the first shots of the air war over Britain were fired above the Firth of Forth as Scots pilots battled the Luftwaffe.

The HMS Royal Oak at Scapa Flow and the SS Athenia were sunk by Nazi U-boats. Hundreds of lives were lost.

Scots children were evacuated as people waited for the bombing to begin. The Luftwaffe bombed Clydebank, Glasgow, Greenock, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee - thousands of civilians died and tens of thousands of men, women and children were made homeless.

Members of the Polish army, navy and air force, stationed in Scotland, fired on the Nazi bombers and fought in the Battle of Britain.

While Scots men fought in the skies, and on the land and the seas, the Women’s Land Army and Scottish schoolchildren helped to bring in the harvest and potato crop. Women worked in factories, in the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS), Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). 10,000 women at the Rolls-Royce factory at Hillington built the Merlin engines that powered Spitfires and Lancaster Bombers.

Hitler’s deputy, Rudolph Hess, crash landed his Messerschmitt in a field at Eaglesham. Hess parachuted to the ground and was captured by a local ploughman.

Scots spearheaded the formation of the SAS, the Dig for Victory campaign and the Anderson Air Raid Shelters. Commandos trained in Scotland and the D-Day Landings were rehearsed on various Scots shorelines including Eigg, Rhum, Loch Fyne, Kentra Bay, the Moray Firth and Arran.
  • Image of The SS Athenia
  • Black and white photograph showing members of 453 Squadron air defence
Click on the image to view a larger version.

Know your allies

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