Myths of Manchester: Hitler & The Midland Hotel

Legend has it that Hitler was enamoured with Manchester's Midland Hotel.

By Ben Brown | 23 April 2020

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In fact, he was so enamoured with the beauty of the building that it has been claimed he planned to set it up as a base of operations in the city and thus ordered the Luftwaffe to avoid bombing it during the Blitz.

This claim has reverberated throughout pretty much most literature written about the hotel since, but is it actually true? Well, let’s find out.

Operation Sea Lion

First off I think it’s important to give you a little bit of background on what Hitler’s plans were for Britain in 1940, a plan that was known at the time as Operation Sea Lion.

With most of Western Europe swiftly defeated using the brand-new Blitzkrieg (lightning war) form of combat, and with a rather embarrassing retreat from Dunkirk as a result, Hitler’s thoughts swiftly moved on to how he could conquer (or at least subdue) us troublesome Brits.

Operation Sea Lion was thus created, a plan that Hitler actually hoped he wouldn’t have to implement, due mostly to the difficulty in landing and gaining a foothold on our lovely isle.

The hope from the German High Command was to press the British government into a peace agreement both with the sheer force of odds against them and both sea and air superiority over the Channel.

As we now know, neither the peace treaty nor the invasion ever happened, but Operation Sea Lion was both efficient and detailed in its creation – and many things are known about what the Nazi’s intended to do once they landed.

One thing they didn’t plan very well was the invasion of the North of the country however, as they intended to only really occupy the South, leaving the North in a sort of Vichy France limbo situation.

It’s likely that if these plans were successful then further plans for us Northerners would have arisen though – but most likely failed because we’re hard as nails up here.

The Midland Hotel

So where does The Midland Hotel fit in? Well, from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t. At all. But lots of people claim it does.

The story goes that once the South had been invaded, the German forces would have quickly pushed North, both on land, in the air and importantly (for later in this article) over sea.

They would have wanted to establish Manchester as a key administrative centre, with the Town Hall commandeered and The Midland set to be a key location for the high-ranking Nazi elite – including the Fuhrer himself of course.

That’s the story anyway. But as soon as you start delving into the details, it seems that this may all just be absolute pig-swill – probably invented by some rather enthusiastic Mancunian looking to steal some thunder from other cities in the UK.

In fact, the whole of the UK was to be separated into 6 military-economic commands, with headquarters in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow and Dublin, with overall command being orchestrated from Winston Churchill’s ancestral home – Blenheim Palace.

Manchester isn’t really mentioned at all here, indicating that it probably wasn’t very high up on the list of important cities to control.

Of course, Manchester was certainly high-up on the list of places to bomb during the Blitz, mostly due to the high munitions and war-effort industry areas around Salford Quays and Trafford Park.

Many of Manchester’s buildings were smashed during Luftwaffe bombing, including the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Cathedral, Piccadilly Gardens and the impressive Free Trade Hall further down from the Midland on Peter Street.

The part where I think this myth comes from though is here. A few major landmarks escaped unscathed including the Town Hall, the Central Library and the Midland, with a ‘theory’ about why this happened coming from an anonymous American Intelligence officer who claimed to have uncovered papers indicating Hitler wished to set up his headquarters in the Midland and thus ordered the Luftwaffe to avoid the area at all cost.

Personally I find this very hard to believe. And historians most certainly agree. Not only have these ‘papers’ ever actually been seen by anyone since, but I think it also vastly overestimates the accuracy of the Luftwaffe bombing, a process which can only really be described as ‘scatty’ due to the fact that it involved just unloading vast quantities of explosives on an area from a very high altitude.

To tell a pilot to MISS a small area in the city would be like telling a rhino to avoid a particular blade of grass on the ground underneath as it craps it’s guts out in total darkness.

So it seems highly unlikely that The Midland Hotel was ever ear-marked personally by Hitler to be saved so he could put his feet up with Eva and Blondi in the penthouse. It’s a rather nice story for the Midland though – one to add to their Rolls & Royce meeting (which may not actually be true either actually!)

There’s no denying that the building itself is stunning, and the hotel is certainly up there as one of the most impressive and elegant in the city. I’d also highly suggest a visit to The French restaurant too – which has been snatching up awards quicker than Hitler himself was snatching up countries in Europe during 1940.

Rochdale & Blackpool?

That’s not where this bit ends though. Oh no. Word also likes to fly around that Hitler wanted to set up a base of operations in the Town Hall of Rochdale no less, as well as hold Blackpool Tower as a symbol of Nazi superiority and as a neat little bookmark to the invasion of Paris and the Swastika flying above the Eiffel Tower.

Again, these claims are a little outlandish – especially the Rochdale Town Hall one. Legend has it that Hitler admired it so much that he wanted to dismantle it brick-by-brick and send it over to be part of the proposed new capital city of the Third Reich – Germania.

Image: Tim Green

Again – there’s very little (or no evidence if I want to be truthful) to confirm this – but it’s a nice story all the same.

What about Blackpool Tower? Well I suppose it would have been a great propaganda moment for the Nazi’s, and the city was well-known at the time as a fantastic holiday destination – so it may be that Hitler may have utilised the resort as much as possible.

But the difficulties in actually getting landing craft and boats there, in waters that were heavily patrolled by a vastly superior Royal Navy pretty much will have rendered the whole idea impossible.

From what we know now of history, none of this happened. After the Battle of Britain Hitler turned his attention to the Russians on the Eastern front with his idiotic Operation Barbarossa and he made biggest mistake of his life.

It was only 4 years later whole Red Army was pushing his forces back towards Berlin while us plucky Brits (with a little help from the Yanks) were pushing the other way.

If only he’d not bothered with the whole thing he could have enjoyed a nice visit to the Midland on a Bank Holiday, taken a donkey ride on the beach at Blackpool and then headed to Rochdale for… actually forget Rochdale. Not worth it.