The Belfast Blitz
For years before WWII Northern Ireland had been little attended to by the Westminster government, its own government headed until his death in 1940 by Lord Craigavon who by common consent was non compos mentis at the end of his life, then by the septuagenarian John Miller Andrews, equally unfit. With a drunk who refused to answer correspondence as head of the Home Affairs Ministry as well there was an appalling lack of leadership and preparation in Belfast . Few shelters were built; very few children had been evacuated; a mere 22 anti-aircraft guns guarded the city, which was easily found from the air by following Belfast Lough. Belfast was an important industrial hub in the war effort, with Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff especially important targets. Northern Ireland’s capital was a disaster waiting to happen.
After some earlier probing and reconnaissance raids, the Germans prepared a mass attack. Some 200 bombers left Northern France on the Tuesday after Easter, April 15 1941. The first warnings were given in Belfast a little after 10.30 at night. First the Germans attacked the city waterworks, making fire-fighting later on almost impossible without water pressure in the system. Then they hit the main population centres, and the industrial sites of greatest significance.
In all the Germans dropped more than 200 tonnes of explosive before the last planes left at 5.00am the following day, plus almost 100,000 incendiaries. The population had not been prepared for an attack, and many were killed running for their lives. The death toll approached 1,000; almost a quarter of the housing stock was destroyed or made unusable. One horrific event caused a great many of the casualties, a gasworks explosion creating a vacuum that suffocated those in the area nearby.
The one bright spot to come from the attack was the brief unity of the Irish peoples, Protestants mixing with Catholics to fight fires and search the ruins, de Valera sending help in the form of fire crews and protesting to the Germans. But this was scant consolation for the appalling suffering of a capital city left totally exposed to the Nazi raid by its inadequate governors.
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From cyril thompson on 12th April 2011
I found your article interesting. EXCEPT The Belfast Gasworks was not hit.I was Health and Safety Advisor with Belfast Gas Department when it closed. Records show NO bombs hit the gasworks. The germans built the large MAN gasholder in 1936 and it turned out to be a very important pointer to other parts of Belfast. German airforce maps at the end of the war were more accurate than the British and were actually used by the fire service in the early 60s. The area that would have been affected would have been Donegall Pass and the Markets area. There were no knowns bombs in that area. the nearest being in Ormeau Park.
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