No other city in the United kingdom, save London, had lost so many of her citizens in one night’s raid. No other city, except possibly Liverpool, ever did.
That afternoon it’s unlikely anyone noticed the lone German reconnaissance plane flying high overhead, a harbinger of things to come in the relaxed city below enjoying the Easter holiday. Just hours away in occupied Europe, the winds of war were turning in our direction as more than two hundred planes prepared for take off on runways in France and the lowlands of Holland. Pilots anxiously awaited the signal to go, their target that fateful night, Belfast.
The advancing bombers were made up of Heinkel 111s, Junkers 88s and Dorniers. The Junkers alone could carry in excess of a 3,000-pound bomb load. City sirens began wailing shortly after ten thirty that evening. Having experienced the danger of bombing a week earlier, people now took the sirens seriously and scrambled to find shelter. The bombers approached the city from the north, sweeping in low between the Divis and Black Mountains. The first wave dropped flares across the city, lighting up the intended targets. They were relentlessly followed by wave after wave of bombers. The air was suddenly filled with incendiaries, high explosives and mines. The shipyards put up a huge smokescreen, attempting to disguise their location. A Royal Naval cruiser, repairing in the yard, joined the defence of the city, her guns blazing into the night. All night and into the early dawn the bombs rained down. The Germans methodically razed factories, mills, and homes. Telephone communications were knocked out and gas supplies were cut off as fires erupted. Leaking gas mains sent towering flames shooting high into the sky. The local fire brigades were soon overwhelmed, with water pressure too weak to stem the blazing inferno. Desperate calls for help went out across the Province.
Thirteen brigades from Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Dundalk and Drogeda raced north to answer the call. The brave men from the south were unprepared for the destruction confronting them. They worked tirelessly and with grim determination, but lacking the necessary wartime equipment, they were finally withdrawn. There was also the risk of a fatality, which could cause serious difficulties for the neutral Government of Eire.
The first photo to the right is where the Percy Street school once stood. On the night of the raid people from the adjourning streets gather there as a place to shelter. The building took a direct hit and over 60 souls lost their lives. Our house was just two streets away on Northumberland St. Fortunately my father decided we were safer staying in our own home. If you look carefully at the middle three photos, you will see the Clock Tower in each shot, before the blitz, and in the utter destruction the morning after the raid. Finally the third photo show the area cleaned up and the city at work again.
In the aftermath of the bombing authorities and citizens were busy clearing away the destruction and rubble, tending the wounded and burying the dead. Altogether almost 900 had died with another 1500 injured, 400 of them seriously. The city quickly ran out of coffins and to ease the situation the corpses were taken to St Georges Market and the Falls Road Baths. There was a constant stream of people lining up to identify missing loved ones.
The raids continued through the month of April and ended on the 4th May when the Germans either intentionally or by error bombed the neutral city of Dublin. No major damage,but some house were destroyed and 38 people killed. Hitlers government apologized and promised to repay the damages. Of course they never did, the West German Government in 1956 did make some restitution.
Memories of such catastrophic proportions seem never to fade. For many years after the blitz I recall people still speaking of those frightening times. For a more detailed account of the Belfast Blitz I recommend my book “Lily & Me”
God Bless and keep reading