The Battle of Bamber Bridge was an outbreak of racial violence and mutiny that began in the evening of 24 June 1943 among American servicemen stationed in the British village of Bamber Bridge, Lancashire. Coming just days after the 1943 Detroit race riot.
The incident was sparked by the attempted arrest by white Military Police (MPs) of several black soldiers from the racially segregated 1511th Quartermaster Truck regiment in the Ye Old Hob Inn public house.
In the following hours, the situation was further inflamed by the arrival of more military police armed with machine guns, and the response of black soldiers who raided the armoury and armed themselves with rifles. A firefight broke out, and continued until the early hours of 25 June. The fight left one soldier dead and several MPs and soldiers injured. A court martial after the event convicted 32 soldiers of mutiny and related crimes, but put blame on poor leadership and racist attitudes among the MPs.
On 20 June, 1943, an estimated 100,000 black civilians travelled from Detroit city to the Belle Isle on the Detroit river to relax in the 90 degree heat. Rumours began to spread of a black woman and her baby being murdered, which quickly led to tensions and later fighting on the way back to the city.
The rioting tragically resulted in 25 black people dead, 17 shot by the police, and riots quickly spread to Texas, Massa, Ohio, Harlem and 4,000 miles to North West England. Bamber Bridge had been the headquarters for the 1511th Quartermaster Truck regiment for several months, and many of the American black soldiers would socialise in Preston.
On the evening of Thursday, June 24 1943, several black GIs decided to stay in Bamber Bridge and drink in thatched pub the Olde Hob Inn. At 10 pm, the drinkers in the pub jeered as closing time was announced, the atmosphere already tense between the GIs from the news of the riots in Detroit. Military Police passing by attempted to arrest one GI in the pub, resulting in a backlash from other drinkers.
A British soldier asked: “Why do you want to arrest them? They are doing nothing wrong.” However, they then attempted to arrest several more GIs between the pub and Adams Hall, their base. The result ended up in a GI being shot and injured. Three Military Police vehicles set it off again at midnight after a brief calm period, by returning to the base armed with a machine gun. The word was spread from the gates to the several hundred soldiers inside, who broke into storerooms for weapons and ammunition.
They smashed through the gates and headed into Bamber Bridge, where they launched an attack on all Military Police and vehicles. British civilians watched as their quiet town erupted in violence and gunfire, forcing many to hide indoors away from the chaos. The Military Police set up a road block and again tried to arrest the disorderly GIs. Local policeman alleged that the Military Police ambushed the GIs by trapping them in the road with machine guns. One GI was shot and died several days later. More than 20 men were found guilty and charges included resisting arrest and illegal possession of rifles. Sentences ranged from three months to 15 years, but most soldiers had these reduced and were serving again within a year.