Belfast Blitz Luftwaffe interview

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by skyhawk, Sep 12, 2009.

  1. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    And this from the other point of view

    BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | Belfast blitz
    In the fourth and final part of our special series remembering WWII, BBC Newsline talks to John Potter who saw the aftermath of a German raid first hand.

    John was on the first train that could get into Belfast after the raid on the 4 May 1941.

    This train arrived three days later and as they pulled into York Street station the sight of burning train carriages gave an idea of the punishment the city had taken.

    John kept a diary as he explored the city, he carefully sketched out a map showing the damage inflicted.

    As John made his way to the docks to catch a ship to Liverpool he remembers seeing HMS Furious, an aircraft carrier with all her anti aircraft guns still trained towards the skies.

    We heard, obviously we heard, in Portstewart that there had been a terrible raid on Belfast. There was a heavy er, censorship, though we didn't know the details and we didn't know then that in fact it was the worst air raid, from the point of view of casualties, of any city in the United Kingdom outside London.

    Coming down into Belfast as we entered York Street we er, the train travelled through, on either side, carriages that had been burnt out. York Street Station itself was badly damaged: the old hotel there was completely gutted. There was damage to the Station itself. Erm, my brother went off to get a taxi, the taxis were still running and I stood outside York Street station and looked at the scene as it was and it was an extraordinary sight. The whole of one side of York Street pretty well, had been destroyed. The old flax spinning mill was totally destroyed. There were Army lorries carrying people to and fro because there were no buses or trams running.

    We eventually got a taxi and went to the em, dockside to where the ships were running from. We saw straight away that the wharf where the Liverpool boat was used to run from had been destroyed by fire, was completely burnt out. We left our luggage there and then we walked around the centre of Belfast.

    And streets that we knew, we had known all our lives were, hardly recognisable. Particularly High Street: the upper half of High Street and all the buildings between there and Waring Street, was almost totally destroyed.

    We walked here, were we are now, and the fires were still burning, they were smouldering and the fireman was still damping down the flames and we had to step over hoses.

    We walked up around the Cathedral - both sides of the Cathedral, all the buildings were destroyed. We walked along Royal Avenue - there had been a bomb opposite the Belfast Telegraph offices. We walked up Castle Street and a particular toy shop that we always used, that had been destroyed. Well, we walked around and we saw what was happening and the streets were roped off, the police wouldn't let us go through - top half of High Street was completely destroyed.

    Then in the evening we went to get on board the ship, the [?]Haitian boat, and we sailed on down the Lagan, and then we could see the extent of which, from the German point of view, the raid had been successful in that there were considerable damage in Harland and Wolff's, and in Short and Harland's.

    The was a ship sunk, er, lying still the upper decks above water, but it had sunk. Er, the fuselage factory which was just beside the channel - that had been totally destroyed, er, not in that air raid - in the first air raid - and 50 Stirling bombers, the fuselages of 50 Stirling bombers had been destroyed. Erm, cranes had toppled and you could see from the boat an awful lot of damage had been done in Short and Harland's and Harland and Wolff's.

    And so we sailed down. The anti aircraft guns were ready in position, though there were far too few of them. The aircraft carrier Furious which just happened to be in Belfast and formed the great part of the anti-aircraft defences, that had its guns facing up into the air, ready for another raid. We had taken on about a dozen coffins which presumably were people from the Army being taken back home.

    From the first raid, in 16th April people had been leaving Belfast at night-time and going up into the hills and then coming back in when the night had passed. So there weren't all that many around in Belfast - they got out - remember this was evening and the boat was sailing in the evening. Each night they would get their most precious belongings and they would just go out to Cavehill, Castlereagh, Gilnahirk, Glengormley, anywhere - Falls Park - anywhere where there was an open space, they stayed the night. The farmers gave them space in their barns, but when that space ran out they actually slept in the open, in the hedges.

    People say that the bombers mistook the Belfast Waterworks as the Docks. And the first bombs fell on Carlisle Circus, Cavehill Road, Antrim Road, Crumlin Road, and then the following aircraft, seeing the fires there, bombed that area. So the first - that big air raid, erm - there wasn't that much damage done to strategic targets, but there were a terrible number of people killed.

    They used landmines, about 76 landmines, which floated down on a parachute and if they touched anything on the way down like a tall building, or a church spire, they went off and the effect was devastating and the little mill houses - the working-class people's houses - they just collapsed like packs of cards.

    Even to this day you couldn't say exactly just how many people were killed but the quoted figure was 745 and as I said, that was the worst of any one air raid outside London.

    Belfast was totally unprepared, disgracefully so. The authorities, the City Commissioners and Stormont Government were woefully complacent about the chances of an air in Belfast and, everything was inadequate - inadequate anti-aircraft guns, er, no night fighters. The air raid shelters - there were only enough for 25% of the population and they were very poorly designed and liable to collapse which several of them did. The air precautions: the wardens were under-strength, the fire service was under strength.
    No, Belfast was disgracefully unprepared for an air raid.

    :poppy:Remembering Volunteer BETTY BURLEIGH W/39496, Auxiliary Territorial Service who died age 21 between 15 April 1941 and 16 April 1941
    Daughter of William and Mary Burleigh, of Florencecourt.
    Remembered with honour KILLESHER CHURCH OF IRELAND CHURCHYARD:poppy:
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    This is a fasinating interview with Gerhardt Becker a Luftwaffe bomber pilot who took part in the Belfast Blitz and recalls his experiences.


    BBC NEWS | UK | Northern Ireland | Belfast Blitz

    Transcription of the translated interview for those unable to access.

    In 1941 I was a Luftwaffe Oberleutnant based in Northern France and from there with my airwing, Hindenburg No. 1, I flew two missions to Belfast.

    We didn't know there was so many people wounded.

    The target was attacked as a military target but with the bad weather, it was hard to make out the target and I assume that also very many bombs fell on residential areas.

    The next mission, I was definitely one of the first over the target and as I flew in there was no great defence because there were not a great many aircraft over the target at that point. And then naturally as I was over the target, I did pick up flak but I have no sense of exactly how weak or how strong it was, later on, because every bit of flak you get is

    I flew in at 5,500 to 6000 metres I throttled back the engines so that I wouldn't be so easy for the searchlights to pick me up and then, with reduced power dropped to about 5000 metres and then I released my bombs over the target. Then I gave the engines full power and was very quickly out over the sea, so that the flak couldn't get me.

    In Belfast I believe that my attacks were on target. Of course naturally some of the bombs fell in the water, but key targets were hit.

    We didn't have a mission to attack the city of Belfast but the port. These targets in the good weather were clearly visible. At least on the second mission which I flew, if bombs fell on the city, we didn't know it and it wasn't intentional.

    We were soldiers and soldiers must do their duty and England had declared war on us. We didn't want to fight a war with England and England had attacked our cities.

    A war is the worst thing that can happen to Mankind.

    A test pilot who is now over ninety years old was asked about his life, and he had this to say: "The past doesn't change, it's just over."

    Bit peculiar to think that my grandfather was most likely taking a shot at this man and his mates...
  5. Warren F

    Warren F Junior Member

    Weird, I get a message saying "Cannot Play Media:Sorry, this media is not available in your territory" I,e never had this problem before. Any ideas?
    I.m in western canada.
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Warren....The BBC has a block on all their video footage outside of the UK due to 'outsiders' not paying for a TV licence.
  7. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

    Thanks for posting transcript. I have some luftwaffe target files from the raids. i will hunt them out and put on later.
  8. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Interesting reading taken from both points of view.

  9. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

    Luftwaffe target files for Belfast:-


    On this photo "B" is RAF Sydenham now Belfast city airport.


    As well as 245 squadron at Aldergrove there were 2 squadrons of Battles based here at the time , 88 and 226 sqns.

    Below is an account fromF/Sgt Bailes 88 sqn:-
    In January 1941 Sgt Cameron and I disembarked at Larne Northern Ireland after a long and tedious rail and sea journey via Stranraer. He Was posted to 226 Squadron, I to 88 Squadron. Both were Fairey Battle squadrons recovering at Belfast Harbour Airport, Sydenham from their mauling by the Luftwaffe in France with the BEF.

    My billet turned out to be the front bedroom of a newly built semi-detached house on the Newtownards Road about two miles from Belfast city centre. My room mates were 'Chobby' Milne, a fresh faced Geordie lad and Nig Sturdee DFM. dark and saturnine. Both were regulars who had only recently exchanged their brass winged bullet AG sleeve badges for a brevet and sergeant's stripes. Both were most welcoming and helpful.

    RAF Sydenham airfield was located right on Belfast Harbour separated from Harland and Wolff's shipyard by a small creek. 88's Battles were dispersed around the seaward perimeter, 226's aircraft on the landward side. In addition were about twenty four Handley page Herefords, Hampdens with Napier air cooled engines which were u/s and never flew. We flew two daily patrols at dawn and dusk: North Patrol along the Antrim coast past Giant's causeway and Rathlin Island as far as Londonderry and South Patrol along the coast past the mountains of Mourne to Carlingford Loch. Net bombs were carried, our function was to spot secret landings by the enemy or IRA.

    Additionally we carried out training flights, solo cross -countries and practiced bombing at a range on
    Lough Neagh. The flights over the western Isles of Scotland were breathtakingly beautiful Inland. I remember an exercise in Army co-operation when I had to detect WIT transmissions from artillery units, back-tune the transmitter to the receiver and make contact, all this at a fairly Iow altitude.
    If we felt far from the Blitz we were soon awakened. One night the sirens went and Belfast was pounded. Returning to our room we found it full of broken glass when a miss had shattered the front windows. Across the road the Victorian house used as a Sergeant's Mess was damaged and a drunken Station :Warrant Officer lay amongst the broken bottles. On the airfield, our aircraft, R. whose compass we had swung the previous day was a charred wreck.

    The locals asked why we had naf taken off to attack the Heinkel 111 raiders. We felt let down by our obsolete under armed and under powered aircraft but in July came the news that we were to move to NO#2 Group in Norfolk and re-equip with Blenheim MkIV twin engine bombers.

    88 Squadron would later return to Northern Ireland flying Bostons based from RAF Long Kesh.

    This is a photo of RAF Sydenham taken just before the war in 1938


    52 Squadron Battles at RAF Sydenham


    dbf, Heimbrent and RJL like this.
  10. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    "You must spread some reputation around before giving some to Skyhawk again".
    Excellent stuff Robert :)
    Thank you .
    Drew5233 likes this.
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to skyhawk again.
    Thanks for the account and the aerial photos.

    Looking at it, my Dad lived about a mile due south of Queen's Island.
    He well remembers watching what he euphemistically termed the fireworks from his attic room window, the shrapnel from the flak landing on the roof and making an awful racket. His Dad was WOII RA stationed at Orangefield.

    Dad was an apprentice at Harland & Wolff and they weren't allowed back in to work until the area had been searched for and cleared of devices. Dad also remembers the aircraft carrier, which had left harbour by the time he got back to work.

    One worker in the yard returned to work later "with a face like a waffle iron" He had been returning home, had walked round the corner into his street when a bomb exploded. A boot scraper from someone's doorstep hit him. The grid-work design was still visible on the man's face after he had been released from hospital.

    My husband's grand aunt was working with ATS in Belfast. She was apparently, an ambulance driver. The family story is that she went into a building to get a man out and was killed herself.

    Attached Files:

  12. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

    Thanks James :)
  13. RJL

    RJL Senior Member

    Rep points gladly given. Truely brilliant historical documents.
  14. RJL

    RJL Senior Member

    My husband's grand aunt was working with ATS in Belfast. She was apparently, an ambulance driver. The family story is that she went into a building to get a man out and was killed herself.

    Diane, I've noticed a few ATS burials in Belfast City. Is your husband's aunt one of them?

    Talking of Blitz casualties, anytime I'm in Milltown cemetery I always pause by this grave. The inscription grabbed my curiosity and when I investigated I found the story even more poignant.

    I checked and his young daughter was, indeed, on the CWGC civilian register but sadly so was William McGennity's wife and 16 month od son. All killed at home in Holmdene Gardens Belfast.

    Attached Files:

    dbf likes this.
  15. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi Robert,
    Thanks for checking. Not in Belfast - her details are in post #2. I was told by my father-in-law that her remains were returned home to Fermanagh. She was the youngest child of the family. I have been once to her grave but years ago; the original cross has since been replaced by a cwgc headstone. I have lost photos of both markers unfortunately.


    That is a very sad case indeed - I don't wonder why you pause there. Would you mind posting the pictures & details on the RUR thread I started under Unit Histories?

    It would be much appreciated.

  16. skyhawk

    skyhawk Senior Member

    Hi dbf and thanks for your account of your dads and great aunt's stories. My Grandfather also worked at the shipyard and conveyed his experiencies of the blitz to me while he was still alive.
    Thanks for posting and best regards skyhawk.
  17. RJL

    RJL Senior Member

    No problem Diane. Will do.
  18. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  19. ww2ni

    ww2ni Senior Member

    Skyhawk this is really interesting and got be digging in my research.
    The photograph of Belfast where you refer to Belfast City Airport got me thinking.

    Letter A is marked as "Hauphtkraftwerk" however this is East Twin Island where there were 3 guns and fixed defences manned by 175 and 176 LAA Batteries Royal Artillery.

    There is a plan of the Site in the book "Defending The North" by Bill Clements.

    Thanks for sharing.

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