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29 October 2014
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The Belfast Blitz

The period of the next full moon from the 7th to the 16th of April, may well bring our turn.

Belfast Blitz

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In the spring of 1940 the Second World War was being waged largely on the western front. The German Army overran Denmark and Norway at the beginning of April; a month later they swept over the Netherlands and Belguim, then the Wehrmacht forged through the Ardennes reaching Paris in June.

Map of EuropeThis spectacular western advance by the Third Reich brought Northern Ireland well within the range of German bombers. From the summer of 1940 the Luftwaffe began inflicting devasting attacks on British cities.

Yet, the Northern Ireland government did almost nothing to protect the people. In May 1940, the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Edmond Warnock, resigned commenting that:

"the government has been slack, dilatory and apathetic."

Despite such criticism, the Northern Ireland government continued to do little but wait for Westminister to pick up the bill for measures to protect Belfast. Even when the Ministry of Home Affairs was informed by defence experts that Belfast was a certain Luftwaffe target nothing was done.

The city had no fighter squadrons, no balloon barrage and only twenty anti-aircraft guns when the war began. There were only four public air-raid shelters, made of sandbags, located at the City Hall, together with underground toilets at Shaftesbury Square and Donegal Square North. Not a single shelter was provided anywhere else in Northern Ireland.

We now know that a Luftwaffe reconnaissance mission on 30 November 1940 brought back photographs of suitable targets in Belfast. These included:

    • "Die Werft Harland and Wolff Ltd
    • die Tankskelle Conns Water
    • das Flugzeugwerk Short and Harland
    • das Kraftwerk Belfast
    • die Grossmuhle Rank & Co
    • das Wasserwerk Belfast
    • die Kasernlagen Victoria Barracks"

The entire city of Belfast, the Germans discovered, was defended by only seven anti-aircraft batteries. In short, Belfast was the most undefended city in the United Kingdom.

On March 24 1941, John McDermott, Minister for Security, wrote to the Prime Minister, John Andrews expressing his concerns that Belfast was so poorly protected.

"Up to now we have escaped attack. So had Clydeside until recently. Clydeside got its blitz during the period of the last moon. There (is) ground for thinking that the ... enemy could not easily reach Belfast in force except during a period of moonlight. The period of the next moon from say the 7th to the 16th of April may well bring our turn."

Unfortunately, McDermott was proved right. On 7th April 1941 Belfast suffered the first of three air raids.

Click here to see a timeline of the raids...

 

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