#VEDay75: How Sheffield’s steel industry depended on gas to help win the Battle of Britain


Spitfires and Hurricanes are icons of the Second World War – they were crucial to winning the battle for air supremacy over southern England in 1940, otherwise known as the Battle of Britain.

Production en masse of these important aircraft hinged on the output of Vickers steel works in Sheffield, which in turn relied heavily on a constant supply of gas to fuel its furnaces.

In the first two years of the war, there was only one 15-ton drop hammer available in the whole country for turning out crankshafts, at the required rate, to make Spitfires and Hurricanes.

And, in spite of massive damage caused by German bombs to gasworks and pipelines, the Sheffield and District Gas Company amazingly kept gas flowing at all times to this furnace. This meant the drop hammer could operate seven days a week, in 16-hour shifts, making 168 crankshafts every day.

And it wasn’t just aircraft which relied on Sheffield’s steel. As historian Compton Mackenzie writes:

“Not a Battleship could have put to sea, not a plane could have been made airborne, not a tank could have taken to the field if Sheffield’s steel had not produced in immense quantities … the Sheffield and District Gas Company can fairly claim that Sheffield could not have done what Sheffield did without the help of gas.”

We’ve worked with Professor Russell Thomas, chairman of the history panel of the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers, to produce this special series of stories for #VEDay75.

Most of the images that will appear on these pages are reproduced with kind permission of the National Grid Gas Archive, Warrington.


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