Time line of events
30th November 1940 German planes fly over Belfast
on a reconnaissance mission and gathered intelligence
on perspective targets.
The results of the photographs taken were the following targets.
Die Kasernenlagen Victoria Barracks
Das Wasserwerk Belfast
Die Werft Harland & Wolff Ltd
Die Tankstelle Conns Water
Das Flugzeuwerk Short & Harland
Das Kraftwerk Belfast
Die Grossmühle Rank & Co
The first bombing raid
On the evening of the Monday 7th April 1941
15 German bombers believed to have been from the Kampfgruppe 26 path finder’s left their airfield in Northern Holland
near the town of Soesterberg.
Their primary target was Dumbarton Scotland with secondary targets being Liverpool or Newcastle weather conditions permitting. However the targets allocated were not accessible
and they diverted to Belfast.
They arrived over Belfast dropping their pay load from 7000 feet with accuracy on the Belfast docks area with hits on Harland & Wolff as well as Pollock Dock and an aircraft construction shed at Shorts. The pay load consisted of 2lb incendiary bombs, high explosive and parachute mines.
A dozen people were killed on that first air raid
from Axis Bombing.
2 of those killed that night were known to be members
of the part-time Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS).
6 others were killed when a building collapsed.
1 other person lost their life that night which brought the total to 13, it was that of a soldier who was manning an Anti-Aircraft gun when it misfired exploding killing him and wounding others at the Balmoral Show Grounds.
It was believed that the RAF shot down 1 German Heinkell Bomber over Downpatrick.
The German pilots remarked on their return on how undefended the City of Belfast had been.
The second bombing raid
On the evening of Easter Tuesday 15th April 1941
between 1030 & 1040pm the air raid sirens sounded
Approx 180 to 200 German bombers had left their airfields in France and had been sited on route to Belfast which for the first time during the War had became their primary target using the code word “ETAPPE”
It is estimated that they dropped approx 200 tonnes of high explosives on the City that evening killing close to a 1000 people and injuring another 1500 people of which 400 seriously. With over half the houses in Belfast being damaged it left more than 100,000 without homes. Most of the damage to civilian areas ranged from the Whitewell Road in the North of the City
and to the Woodvale in the West.
With hospital and city morgues being stretched to the limit the dead were taking to the Public baths both at the City and Peters Hill,
as well as St Georges Market.
It took a number of days before the completion of identification could take place.
The unidentified and remains of others were then buried in mass graves both at Milltown and City cemeteries.
At the time people believed that the Germans mistakenly dropped their bombs on civilian housing, no one even contemplated that the bombing could have been deliberate. They believed that the Germans mistook the water works for Belfast Lough, but new information has lead to that myth being dispelled.
The first wave of bombers were carrying high explosive bombs mostly delayed land mines with parachutes followed by 96,000 incendiary bombs being released over the City. It is now believed that the water works was an intended target and that the idea was to take out the water supplies before dropping the fire bombs.
It is also documented that Belfast had insufficient Anti-Aircraft cover with only 22 Anti-Aircraft Guns in place and some of these only had training ammunition.
However only 7 of the 22 Anti-aircraft guns returned fire that night and ceased fire at 1am due to the risk of possibly shooting down some of our own fighters.
Belfast also only had 1 fighter squadron based at RAF Aldergrove in the home defence role and it was not equipped for night fighting.
It is now known that the fighters never scrambled and did not take to the air leaving Belfast defenceless in its hour of need. Communications between the batteries and
the Home Defence Headquarters were down due
to a direct hit on the telephone exchange.
Between the hours of 1 and 3 the German bombers wreaked havoc on the ship yards and Shorts unhindered.
Belfast also had no form of smoke screening used during clear skies and full moons to hinder German bombers from locating targets.
It was also without search light batteries.
There were a few barrage balloons but in insufficient numbers to hinder the German Bombers.
The only communication that could be used was by way of the phone line from Belfast to Dublin via the rail service.
Help was requested from the south to tackle the huge fires burning in Belfast which could be seen as far as Dublin.
Even though the South of Ireland was neutral during World War 2, The President of Ireland Eamon De Velara sent every available fire crew 71 men and 13 appliances to help extinguish the blazes and they remained here for 3 days without rest.
They were relieved by fire crews from the Clyde Scotland and Liverpool England.
WW2 in Ireland was referred to as the Emergency.
The third bombing raid
Sunday 4/5th May 1941 at 1am
It was only 3 weeks after the Easter Tuesday Blitz that the Air Raid Sirens screamed out again over Belfast. It was also a clear night when approx 200 Luftwaffe Bombers could be seen over Lurgan heading in the direction of Belfast.
An eye witness told me that he was just a boy at the time, now an old man he remarked on how low they were flying as he could see the Luftwaffe pilot’s badges on the jacket.
He was awoken in the early hours of the 5th May 1941 by the sound of the German diesel engines there could be no mistake they were very distinctive.
The German Bombers yet again dropped their deadly pay load with accuracy on the Harbour Estate and Queens Island.
The Belfast ship yard and Shorts workers living in housing located close to the work place suffered the brunt of this attack with
191 people losing their lives.
Other bombs that fell short of their intended target landed with devastating effect around the Cities Centre.
It was not till after 4 in the morning when the all clear could be heard and Belfast could start to deal with the consequences of another successful attack by the Germans.
The fourth and final bombing raid
6th May 1941
A German reconnaissance plane was spotted over the City during the day of the 6th May 1941 probably confirming the damage that was dealt the night before.
However later on that night 2 German Bombers which were believed to be on route to bomb Glasgow diverted due to bad weather as in the first attack on Belfast.
There cargo yet again Land mines which fell short of the shipyard killing another 14 people in East Belfast.
This was also to be the final attack on Belfast during the War.
The death toll had risen to well over a thousand people and half of the housing damaged and heavy damage to the docks.
Northern Ireland and specifically Belfast’s contribution
to the War effort from its ship building,
to its aircraft manufacturing,
the factories which were converted to munitions works
and of course not forgetting the textile industries
which made us a defiant target for the
Nazi War Machine
However the one thing that Adolf Hitler
and the Nazi War Machine
did not for see was that the Belfast Blitz
of April & May 1941 would:
For the first time probably in the history of this Isle
unite the people as it did against one common foe.
As quoted in the Irish Times 17th April 1941
“Humanity knows no borders, no politics, no differences of religious belief. Yesterday for once the people of Ireland were united under the shadow of a national blow. Has it taken bursting bombs to remind the people of this little country that they have common tradition, a common genius and a common home? Yesterday the hand of good-fellowship was reached across the Border. Men from the South worked with men from the North in the universal cause of the relief of suffering.”
We often here of the speeches of Sir Winston Churchill
But I would like to quote here the speech made by
Eamon De Valera President of Ireland after the Belfast Blitz.
“In the past, and probably in the present, too, a number of them did not see eye to eye with us politically, but they are our people–we are one and the same people–and their sorrows in the present instance are also our sorrows; and I want to say to them that any help we can give to them in the present time we will give to them whole-heartedly, believing that were the circumstances reversed they would also give us their help whole-heartedly …”
The Second World War at one stage was all one sided
the Axis powers had control of most of Europe and
at one stage threatened the very existence of this nation.
The men and women who served this country
not just in the forces but in the factories
and on the land prevented it from becoming a Nazi regime
and does any one really believe that Hitler and
the Nazi War Machine would have stopped at
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So to all those people who helped in any small way,
we as a nation should remember and
thank them for their contribution.