Bombs on Belfast, Part 3

The first deliberate raid took place on the night of 7 April. (Some authors count this as the second raid of four). It targeted the docks but neighbouring residential areas were also hit. William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw”), whose links with Francis Stuart have been fully documented , announced in radio broadcasts from Hamburg that there would be “Easter eggs for Belfast”. Stuart and Joyce  came from similar backgrounds as “Anglo-Irishmen”, from Protestant or at least non-Catholic backgrounds who had attended school in England. In Germany, Stuart served an apprenticeship to prove his usefulness to the Germans by inter alia writing scripts for Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts. Finally, in August 1941, the Germans gave Stuart a broadcasting slot for himself, with the broadcasts aimed at Ireland whereas those of Lord Haw-Haw’s had been directed at Britain.
On Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, the first attack was against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives were dropped. Initially it was thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal were being repaired. However this attack was not an error, although the myth that it was persists today. When incendiaries were dropped and the city burned, the water pressure was too low for firefighting. Wholesale destruction of the civilian population by terror tactics was a Nazi objective, and destruction of the water supply an essential preliminary.

By 6am, within two hours of the request for assistance, 71 firemen with 13 fire tenders from Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire were on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. In each station volunteers were asked for, as it was beyond their normal duties. In every instance, all volunteered. They remained for three days, until they were sent back by the Northern Ireland government. By then 250 fire men from Clydeside had arrived.

Taoiseach Eamon De Valera formally protested to Berlin. He followed up with his “they are our people” speech, made in Castlebar, County Mayo, on Sunday 20th April 1941 (Quoted in the Dundalk Democrat dated Saturday April 26 1941): “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”

Initial German radio broadcasts celebrated the raid. A Luftwaffe pilot gave this description “We were in exceptional good humour knowing that we were going for a new target, one of England’s last hiding places. Wherever Churchill is hiding his war material we will go … Belfast is as worthy a target as Coventry, Birmingham, Bristol or Glasgow.” William Joyce “Lord Haw-Haw” announced that “The Führer will give you time to bury your dead before the next attack … Tuesday was only a sample.”

However Belfast was not mentioned again by the Nazis. After the war, instructions from Joseph Goebbels ordering it not to be mentioned were discovered. It would appear that Adolf Hitler, in view of de Valera’s negative reaction, was concerned that de Valera, and the Irish American politicians he controlled, might encourage the United States to enter the war.

To be continued

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