The Easter Tuesday Belfast Blitz


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The Easter Tuesday Belfast Blitz

Documentary about the bombing of Belfast on Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941. The 180 German Luftwaffe bombers arriving from France found the city woefully ill-prepared for attack.


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Transcript


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BRASS BAND PLAYS "ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT"

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The sky was clearing in Belfast on Easter Tuesday, 15th April 1941,

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as 180 German bombers took off from aerodromes in Northern France.

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Flying over Cherbourg and Cardigan Bay,

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the raiders dropped to 7,000ft as they approached the Ards Peninsula.

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At 10.40pm, the sirens in Belfast began to wail.

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AIR-RAID SIRENS

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The elite pathfinder squadron Kampfgruppe 100

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led in the first wave of bombers.

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Casting intense light, hundreds of flares drifted down.

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Incendiaries and explosives followed,

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including 76 land mines.

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Designed to rend apart the reinforced concrete

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and steel of factories, they floated down on silky green parachutes

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over the congested housing north of the city centre.

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Perhaps the Belfast Waterworks at the foot of the Cave Hill

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had been mistaken for the harbour.

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The result was a fearful carnage in the New Lodge, the Lower Shankill

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and the Antrim Road.

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In the Ulster Hall,

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the popular singer Delia Murphy kept singing through the raid.

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Some of her audience were later forced to take refuge

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and shelter in Percy Street,

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When a parachute mine fell next to it, 30 people were killed.

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HMS Furious was the only vessel in port

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to add to the anti-aircraft barrage,

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but she sheared loose from the recoil of her guns.

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At 1.45am, a bomb wrecked the central telephone exchange.

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All contact with Britain

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and Belfast's anti-aircraft operations control room was cut off.

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The defending guns on the ground now fell silent

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for fear of shooting down the RAF's Hurricane fighters, which,

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with cruel irony, had been withdrawn shortly before by Fighter Command.

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For another two hours,

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the Luftwaffe attacked Belfast completely unopposed.

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Around 145 fires now raged in the city.

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Just as the auxiliary fire service arrived to fight the great infernos

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sweeping across the Antrim Road, the water pressure fell away.

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The mains had been cracked in 30 places.

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At 4.35am, a plea for help was telegrammed to Dublin.

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Eamon de Valera, the Taoiseach, was awakened.

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He agreed without hesitation to send aid.

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Fire engines from Dublin, Dun Laoghaire,

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Drogheda and Dundalk spread northwards.

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Horrified at the carnage,

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John Smith, Belfast's chief fire officer, was found beneath a table

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in Chichester Street fire station weeping and refusing to come out.

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At 4.55am on 16th April, the all-clear sounded.

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The writer Joseph Tomelty remembered...

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The sky was clearing in Belfast on Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, as 180 German bombers took off from aerodromes in northern France. The pilots were in high spirits: 'We were in exceptional good humour knowing that we were going for 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.' The city was woefully ill-prepared for attack, and the Luftwaffe bombed Belfast almost completely unopposed. At one point the chief fire officer was found beneath a table in Chichester Street fire station, weeping and refusing to come out. An eye witness recalled: 'The sky was red, pure red. You would have thought that someone had set fire to the world.'.