SS Patria

The SS Patria had over 1800 Jewish refugees on board when she was the victim of a Jewish bomb plot.

The SS Patria sinking in sight of land - 267 people died when the ship went down rapidly following the explosion.

The small minority of Jewish refugees who succeeded in escaping from Nazi occupied Europe had a hard time finding refuge. Many sought to make their way to Palestine, which at the time operated under a British Mandate. British policy was to strictly limit immigration into Palestine, not wanting to provoke Arab unrest.

Three ships carrying mainly Austrian, Polish and Czech Jewish refugees were permitted to leave by the Nazi regime. They were intercepted by the Royal Navy and held in the port of Haifa. Around 1800 refugees were transferred to the old French liner the SS Patria, with the intention of making the refugees proceed on to Mauritius.

On the 25th November 1940 a bomb was placed on the SS Patria in attempt to prevent it leaving. Unfortunately, when the bomb exploded, it proved to be a great deal more powerful than needed to simply disable the old ship – and she sank within 15 minutes. It was estimated that 267 people lost their lives, including 50 of the mainly British crew.

Munia Mandor who had planted the bomb on behalf of the Haganah, the Jewish resistance group, did not reveal his role until the 1950s when he claimed:

There was never any intent to cause the ship to sink. The British would have used this against the Jewish population and show it as an act of sabotage against the war effort.





Hugh Dowding is retired from the RAF

Hugh Dowding, official portrait

Yet the reserved uncharismatic, Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was not popular amongst the higher echelons of the RAF. Some argued that he was not a sufficiently personable leader and should be spending more time visiting the front line Squadrons. There was no evidence that any fighter Squadron needed any form of inspiration – but this was just an alternative view of military leadership.




First night of Southampton Blitz

Ruined Southampton street after the blitz

You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.




Condor Base at Bordeaux bombed

Wellington night bomber, moonlit flight 1940

On the night of the 22nd/23rd twenty-four heavy bombers attacked the aerodrome at Bordeaux; twenty-nine tons of high explosive and two thousand eight hundred incendiaries were dropped. The attack appears to have been most successful. Direct hits were obtained on hangars and barrack blocks, and many aircraft on the aerodrome were seen to be on fire. The hangars on the south-west side of the aerodrome were completely burnt out.




Night Bombing of Britain intensifies

A Heinkel He III Bomber undergoing maintenance using a captured RAF airfield crane, November 1940.

During the week the enemy made a greater number of long-range nightbomber sorties than during any other week of the war. On the 19th/20th. approximately 500 aircraft were employed; this is the highest number recorded in operations on any night against this country. Attacks also showed greater concentration, and on the nights of the 14th/15th, 15th/16th and 19/20th heavy attacks were made on Coventry, London and Birmingham respectively; 350 aircraft attacked Coventry, under ideal weather conditions, and 340 were used against Birmingham.




German ‘E Boat’ sunk off Southwold

A German 'Schnellboot' or fast boat is loaded with torpedoes - they were called 'E' boats by the British.

Prisoners stated that their vessel was hit on the port side seven or eight times. “S 38” attempted to escape, tried to lay a smoke screen but, owing to the damaged steering-gear, could only go round in a curve. One engine was put out of action and a fire started in the fuel tank. Some men jumped overboard immediately the fire broke out. A seaman ran aft with the intention of dropping depth charges in the course of the pursuing destroyer, but a burst of machine-gun fire from the British discouraged this attempt.




Leicester hit by the Blitz

Bomb damage in Leicester following the raid of 19th November 1940.

Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting (I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant’s footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive!




Churchill cheered by Greek success

A stick of bombs falls on the port of Valona in Italian occupied Albania. RAF bombers were contributing to the Greek counterattack against the Italians.

During the past week the force of the Italian attack on Greece has been stemmed, and the Greeks have been able to advance along the whole front. The principal opposition to their advance has been from the air, and dive-bombing and machine-gunning has considerably retarded their progress.




Operation White ends in disaster

Hurricane aircraft

Operation White sought to bring the aircraft carrier HMS Argus within close enough distance of the island for twelve RAF hurricanes to be flown off to make their way to Malta. The advice to Admiral Somerville was that the 400 miles was within their range and in due course the planes, escorted by two Fleet Air Arm Skua aircraft, took off. Eight of them were lost making the journey.




Greek Army push Italian invaders back

Greek Army soldiers advancing against the Italians 1940-1941.

We woke up very early and marched for 11 hours; now we are getting ready to move again. My clothes are still damp. It is an exhausting march again; we are climbing 1,000 m to the village of Fourka.

Along the way, for the first time, I saw a dead Italian soldier and my hair stood on end. I thought of his parents, his brothers and sisters, his wife, who were all waiting for him while he lay flung on a mountainside in Epirus, to complete the part of the unknown soldier.

It is possible that we might meet the same fate.