Friday, 4 May 2012

The IRA and the German blitz

Sinn Fein councillor Tom Hartley is reported in the Belfast Telegraph (4 May) as saying: 'The restoration of the Blitz plot at Milltown Cemetery by the NI War Memorial is a reminder of the terrible loss of over a thousand Belfast citizens in April and May 1941.'

It is right that we remember the loss of life inflicted by German bombers on the city of Belfast but there is one aspect of the German attacks that is often overlooked, especially by Irish republicans, and that is the way in which the IRA assisted the Nazis in carrying out that terrible onslaught.
During the 2nd World War the factories and shipyards of Belfast made an important contribution to the war effort and so it was inevitable that the city would become a target for the Nazis.  On 30 November 1940 a single German plane flew over Belfast.  It took high definition aerial photographs of the city and completed its task unobserved.  Those photographs were put to use by the Germans as they planned to bomb the city.  The plans were completed by the following spring and the German Luftwaffe bombed Belfast in April and May 1941.  The Luftwaffe did terrible damage to the city and around 1,000 people were killed.
On the night of 7 and 8 April a small squadron of German planes raided the Belfast docks.  They completely destroyed the Harland & Wolff fuselage factory, reduced a major timber yard to ashes and delivered a damaging blow to the docks.  Thirteen people were killed and one German plane was shot down over the sea.

The Luftwaffe returned on the night of Easter Tuesday 15 April and 180 German bombers dropped 203 metric tons of bombs and 800 firebomb canisters on Belfast.  The bombing continued until 5 am in the morning and the north of the city suffered most.  At least 900 people were killed, around 1,500 were injured and fifty-five thousand homes were damaged.  No other city in the United Kingdom, except London, lost so many lives in one air raid.  The same night two parachute bombs were dropped on Londonderry and they killed fifteen people, while five people were killed in Newtownards when the Germans bombed the airport.

There was another attack on the night of Sunday 4 May and 200 German bombers attacked the city over three and a half hours, dropping 95,992 incendiaries and 207 metric tons of explosives.  On that night the docks area and the city centre were hit hardest and 191 people were killed.  Two thirds of Harland & Wolff’s premises were destroyed and four ships were sunk in the harbour.  By this time more than half of the houses in Belfast were destroyed or badly damaged and Belfast was headline news in the German newspapers.

The final German attack came on the next night, 5 and 6 May, when three German bombers attacked east Belfast and fourteen people were killed in Ravenscroft Avenue. 

Former IRA man: 'we helped the Nazis'
There is evidence to suggest that the IRA had provided the Nazis with information about targets in Belfast.  Senator Sam McAughtry, an RAF veteran of the Battle of Britain and later a senator in Eire, stated in 1997 that a former IRA activist confessed to him that the IRA helped Hitler bomb Belfast.  The IRA activist said that he gathered intelligence information about vulnerable targets before and after the Germans carried out the four bombing raids in 1941 and also reported on damage caused in the blitz.

McAughtry said that at the time of the confession the former IRA man was elderly and refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.  Nevertheless there is no reason to doubt his testimony. 
[Sunday Telegraph 12 October 1997]

IRA report identified targets for the Nazis
After the bombing raids on Belfast, the IRA produced a fourteen page survey of the damage caused by the German Luftwaffe and provided information and advice for the Nazis. 
The typescript IRA document was entitled Comprehensive Military Report on Belfast and was ‘issued by the DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE in cooperation with the MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER of NORTHERN COMMAND’.  It came to light on 20 October 1941 when Helena Kelly, an IRA courier, was arrested in Dublin and the document was found in her handbag.   It appears not to have reached the hands of the Germans but was clearly intended for the Nazis.
The IRA report gave a detailed account of the damage caused by the Luftwaffe and identified targets that had escaped destruction.  There was also a map on which the IRA had marked ‘the remaining and most outstanding objects of military significance, as yet unblitzed by the Luftwaffe’.  The IRA suggested that if these objectives were ‘bombed by the Luftwaffe as thoroughly as the other areas in recent raids’, Belfast would ‘be rendered a negative quantity in Britain’s war effort’.
The report contained a diagram of the Short & Harland aircraft factory, a plan of Sydenham aerodrome, details on the British army, the names and addresses of British officers, and a scheme for sabotaging the Belfast telephone system.  The map also showed RUC police barracks and it was commented by the IRA that ‘in this occupied area, they are really a military rather than a civilian force’.
A ‘special note’ from the IRA explained: ’Re the symbol coloured light blue, it may be noted that the road thus marked, is the Fall’s (sic) Road, the chief site of Nationalism, while the square is the Prison, where some 300 to 400 Irish Republican soldiers are imprisoned.’  The message from the IRA for the Nazis was very clear, even though it was not explicitly stated: please come back and finish off bombing Belfast but do not bomb our people and our prisoners.  This shows the innate sectarianism of the IRA, which was encouraging the Nazis to bomb Protestant areas of the city but not the main Roman Catholic area in west Belfast.
Just months after the terror of the Belfast blitz in April 1941, the IRA was calling for another blitz, while attempting to spare nationalist communities.

Other documents seized by the Eire police early in 1942 were deciphered the following year and revealed attempts by the IRA Northern Command to pass on to the Nazis information about ‘the arrival of Americans at Derry’ and the ‘construction by the Eire authorities of an aerodrome at Limerick’. 
[Spying on Ireland p 123; British Spies and Irish Rebels: British Intelligence and Ireland, 1916-1945 p 397]

Throughout the 2nd World War the IRA collaborated with the Nazis and their assistance for the Luftwaffe was part of that collaboration.  Perhaps in future when members of Sinn Fein speak about the war and about the Blitz they will acknowledge that there was collusion and collaboration between Irish republicanism and German fascism.

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