Liverpool is a city on the rise and visitors flock to the city to enjoy the redeveloped waterfront, Beatles history and Premier League football. One of the less-known attractions in Liverpool is beneath the city’s streets and is the third chapter in my Days Out Underground book. The Western Approaches is a fabulous way to spend a few hours, getting to the heart of an key operation in World War II. We’re used to this kind of historical attraction being in London, so to find an operation room like this in the north of England – perfectly preserved – is a real treat.
Everything to see at the Western Approaches is below street level, so you head down a slope and negotiate some stairs straight away. Signs inform you when you’re passing through the thick, reinforced wall and ceiling into the protected bunker. The level of preservation in the Western Approaches control centre is astonishing. It’s almost like you’re walking into a film set, but this is the real thing. After the war, this place was sealed up and left as it was, keeping the operations frozen in time for school groups and families to marvel at.
The entire monitoring operation at Western Approaches was dependent on radio transmissions passing sensitive information in and out. This relaying of secrets was driven by electricity and some of the first things to look at are associated with the power supply. But Liverpool was one of the worst hit cities during the German bombing raids and the city’s electricity source was not always guaranteed. Planners made it a priority to provide a back-up generator and, with a huge amount of irony, used a diesel-powered engine seized from a German U-boat for this purpose.
Visitors are free to wander around the Western Approaches HQ at their leisure, reading the many information boards to get a better idea of what life was like beneath war-torn Liverpool. Access was not always this straight-forward, though. Signs posted on doors restricted entrance to many areas, while other painted instructions insist on ‘silence’. During the war there was not just the one checkpoint looking at identification papers, but several placed all over the building. This allowed a closer look at the movement of staff and, crucially, controlled who was going in and out of the Operations Room. The key cupboard was strictly monitored, and guards took their role very seriously. The whole aim of security at Western Approaches was to make sure classified information remained secret. Staff at the time knew how data collected in these underground passages could affect thousands of lives out to sea and influence the fate of millions on land.
Next time you’re bound for Merseyside, factor in some time to get underground in Liverpool and find out how the battle of the Atlantic was fought beneath the city’s streets.
Nearby Underground Days Out you may well enjoy…