Air combat over the Channel at Dover

The Junkers 87 ‘Stuka’ dive bomber was vulnerable to attack and invariably had fighter protection, in this case the Me 109.

Following an ‘air battle’ RAF pilots completed a combat report describing in considerable detail their engagement with the enemy. The cumulative intelligence gained from such reports, about the relative performance of aircraft, tactics, weaponry etc, was immensely valuable. For the pilots these reports represented their claims to ‘kills’ so it was important that they presented as much information as possible that might corroborate or support their claim. It is therefore in the official records that we have some of the most vivid accounts of the air war that now began in earnest over Britain. Pilot Officer Jack Hamar was a Hurricane pilot with 151 Squadron who went to intercept Stuka bombers attacking a shipping convoy off Eastbourne, in the English channel:

At 1500 hours the Squadron was ordered off from Rochford to intercept E/As [Enemy Aircraft] south of Dover. At approximately 1520 hours, when the Squadron was almost over Dover, a bunch of Me 109s were sighted about 5,000 feet above our formation, in which I was flying Red Two.

As it looked as though the E/A were about to attack us, the leader ordered our defensive line astern tactics. As we turned sharply to port, two Me 109s were seen diving to attack the last aircraft in our formation. ‘Milna Leader’ attacked the leading Me 109 and I the second.

I turned inside the E/A, which had pulled up into a steep left hand climbing turn. I closed rapidly and opened fire at about 250 yards with a 45° deflection shot. The E/A seemed to falter and straightened out into a dive. I placed myself dead astern at about 50 yards.

I opened fire, closing to almost no distance. I saw a large explosion just in front of the pilot and a large amount of white smoke poured from the E/A, which by this time was climbing steeply.

I was then forced to break away quickly due to fire from the rear, lost sight of the E/A and therefore did not see it crash. This action was also witnessed by Flying Officer Forster.

TNA Air 50

The combat was witnessed by a BBC radio reporter, standing on the cliffs of Dover. Charles Gardner gave a live running commentary that was later to become famous:

The Germans are dive-bombing a convoy out at sea: there are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven German dive-bombers, Junkers 87s. There’s one going down on its target now – bomb! No! He missed the ships, it hasn’t hit a single ship – there are about 10 ships in the convoy but he hasn’t hit a single one and – There, you can hear our anti-aircraft going at them now.

There are one, two, three, four, five, six – there are about 10 German machines dive-bombing the convoy, which is just out to sea in the Channel. I can’t see anything! No! We thought he had got a German one at the top then, but now the British fighters are coming up. Here they come.

The Germans are coming in an absolutely steep dive, and you can see their bombs actually leave the machines and come into the water. You can hear our guns going like anything now. I can hear machine-gun fire but I can’t see our Spitfires. They must be somewhere there.

Oh! Here’s one coming down. There’s one going down in flames. Somebody’s hit a German and he’s coming down with a long streak – coming down completely out of control – a long streak of smoke – and now a man’s baled out by parachute. The pilot’s baled out by parachute. He’s a Junkers 87 and he’s going slap into the sea – and there he goes: SMASH! A terrific column of water and there was a Junkers 87. Only one man got out by parachute, so presumably there was only a crew of one in it.

Now then, oh, there’s a terrific mix-up over the Channel! It’s impossible to tell which are our machines and which are the Germans. There was one definitely down in this battle and there’s a fight going on. There’s a fight going on and you can hear the little rattles of machine-gun bullets. Crump! That was a bomb, as you may imagine.

Here comes one Spitfire. There’s a little burst. There’s another bomb dropping. Yes, it has dropped. It has missed the convoy. You know, they haven’t hit the convoy in all this. The sky is absolutely patterned with bursts of anti-aircraft fire, and the sea is covered with smoke where bombs have burst, but as far as I can see there is not one single ship hit, and there is definitely one German machine down.

And I am looking across the sea now. I can see the little white dot of a parachute as the German pilot is floating down towards the spot where his machine crashed with such a big fountain of water two minutes ago.

In fact he was mistaken. The pilot shot down was British, although rescued from the sea Pilot Officer Michael Mudie died the next day in hospital. The original recording can be heard in the BBC Archives.

Opinion was divided over the nature of Gardner’s broadcast. There were letters to The Times complaining that mortal combat was being reduced to the terms of a sporting contest. However Mollie Panter-Downes reported in her weekly column for New Yorker magazine:

The majority of citizens, possibly less squeamish, sat by their radios, hanging onto their seats and cheering.

This perspective appears to have been very accurate, it is consistent with a ‘Listener Research Report‘ that was urgently conducted by the BBC, concerned about the controversy, after the broadcast.

German bombing of Britain intensifies

A Dornier 17 begins its bombing run, summer 1940.

Winston Churchill had just sent out a secret memo to senior commanders putting the threat of invasion into perspective, but even those right at the top thought that a surprise attack might come any day now. It was becoming increasingly clear that the crucial issue was how Britain’s air defences stood up to the Luftwaffe.

General Sir Edmund Ironside, formerly Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was now Chief in Command Home Defence, responsible for preparing the response to any invasion. His diary shows that he believed that an attack could come at any time, but that intensive air attack was likely to come first:

July 13

It is curious how one goes to bed wondering whether there will be an attack early the next morning. As we have done all we can in the way of preparation, it doesn’t worry me much. I merely give thanks that we have another day of preparation and issue of defence material.

The attack upon us by air is intensifying. Chiefly against aerodromes, ports, shipping and aircraft factories. But so far the attack has been badly directed and not carried out in great strength.

The R.A.F. say that that is what happened before the German attack in France. Desultory bombing and then one morning a very heavy attack on everything. It may be coming again.

The seemingly desultory bombing may be a method of testing our defences. Certainly the Germans have never been up against such a good fighter defence, such A.A. fire, and such a warning system.

I am inclined to think that Germany will try to wear down our air defence before she tries any invasion. It seems the natural thing to do…

See Time Unguarded: The Ironside Diaries 1937-1940

Royal Artillery gunners manning a 6-inch coastal defence gun at Sheerness, November 1939.
Royal Artillery gunners manning a 6-inch coastal defence gun at Sheerness, November 1939.
Working a 6 inch Coast Gun, the gunner sets the range from instructions received by telephone from range-finders, who also communicate corrections during the raid, July 1940.
Working a 6 inch Coast Gun, the gunner sets the range from instructions received by telephone from range-finders, who also communicate corrections during the raid, July 1940.
A shell being loaded into the breech of a 6 inch Coast Gun, July 1940.
A shell being loaded into the breech of a 6 inch Coast Gun, July 1940.

Britain: everyone prepares for War

Your-Britain-fight-for it-now
One of the famous series of four posters by Frank Newbould, already noted for his travel posters before the war.
The Local Defence Volunteers: Members of the Local Defence Volunteers being taught simple German phrases.
The Local Defence Volunteers: Members of the Local Defence Volunteers being taught simple German phrases.

The nation had already been prepared for the beginning of the ‘Battle of Britain’ by Winston Churchill, a phrase that at this time encompassed every aspect of the threatened invasion not merely the RAF’s defence of Britain. The Local Defence Volunteer’s had been formed in May but the government was struggling to arm and equip them. Although a million ‘LDV’ armbands had been produced, and were in the process of being issued, Churchill was now arguing that the title “Home Guard” would be much more inspiring – his decision would be implemented later in July 1940.

Many diarists were recording how the war was progressing internationally alongside their own observations about how it was affecting people locally. In mid Sussex in southern England, very likely to be in the firing line should any invasion come, Helena Hunt was keeping a journal that reflected many of the issues affecting a typical English village:

July 12th Friday

Mr Duff Cooper broadcasted an appeal last night for recruits for ‘an imaginary regiment, the Silent Column’ composed of men and women resolved to say nothing that can help the enemy. He emphasised the danger of dropping scraps of information, sometimes vital parts of a vast jigsaw puzzle being pieced together by the enemy.

As part of an ‘anti—rumour’ campaign a new poster is published….

I have often wondered how the term Fifth Column came into being and what Fifth Columnists meant originally.. A Fifth Columnist, properly so called, is a man or woman who works against his or her country for the aid and comfort of the enemy, in fact a Fifth Columnist is a traitor…

Many of the most precious art treasures of Paris are to go to Berlin for ‘exhibition’. Herr Otto Greif has arrived in Paris to make the selection. He went on similar missions to Vienna, Warsaw and Amsterdam, and treasures from there are all ‘on exhibition’ in Germany.

Three girls came to the door yesterday saying ‘ARP for animals, have you a dog?’ ‘No’ I said, ‘but there’s a cat next door I’m always shooing off my garden’. They were taking account of all animals.

More details of the central jam making are given in this week’s ‘Mid’. It was begun in the Village Hall here last Wednesday, the 10th. The jam is made on Tuesdays and Thursdays in each week. Fruit must be brought on those mornings when it will be weighed and paid for at Wholesale prices. The jam will be sold at retail prices.

Mid Sussex dairymen have formed a Mutual Aid Assistance Pact. If an air raid causes damage to a dairyman’s business premises, arrangements will be made for his customers to be supplied. On the Emergency Committee formed, Barnett represents Lindfield, and the district comprises of this village, Cuckfield, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill, Danehill, Hurstpierpoint and Ditchling. Nearly all the dairymen are joining the Pact.

Recruits for the LDVF no.5 Lindfield Platoon are needed. All between 17 and 65 not already serving in Defence may enrol at the Headquarters, Red Lion Yard, any evening between 7.30 and 9.30.

I went to Brighton today and was told that in all the streets near the sea, curfew is enforced at 9.30, the time altering with sunset time. Sentries go along the streets to see that they are clear. No one is allowed on the beach, guns and forts abound.

The London children who were evacuated to seaside places last autumn are to be removed further inland, North Sussex or South Surrey….

Boy Ellis has been called up. He gave me his printed letter of welcome from the War Office signed by the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. I think it an inspiring as well as useful letter.

It was the first time I had been to Brighton since the names of the stations had been removed, no station names are now to be seen.

See A Woman Living in the Shadow of the Second World War: Helena Hall’s Journal from the Home Front

UK-FLAG
US FLAG
"But For Heaven's Sake Don't Say I Told You!"
“But For Heaven’s Sake Don’t Say I Told You!”
Mrs Carter enjoys a Sunday lunch with her evacuated children Michael and Angela (seated either side of her at the table) during a day trip to their foster home in Hayward's Heath. The children were evacuated from their home in London and are staying with several other evacuees in the home of Mrs Cluton, seen here serving potatoes to Michael.
Mrs Carter enjoys a Sunday lunch with her evacuated children Michael and Angela (seated either side of her at the table) during a day trip to their foster home in Hayward’s Heath. The children were evacuated from their home in London and are staying with several other evacuees in the home of Mrs Cluton, seen here serving potatoes to Michael.

Luftwaffe probe British air defences

Hawker Hurricane Mk I, P2923, VY-R, flown by Pilot Officer A G Lewis of No. 85 Squadron, landing at Castle Camps, RAF Debden's satellite airfield, July 1940. (See also HU 57626 and HU 57627). This aircraft was lost in action on 25 August 1940.
Hawker Hurricane Mk I, P2923, VY-R, flown by Pilot Officer A G Lewis of No. 85 Squadron, landing at Castle Camps, RAF Debden’s satellite airfield, July 1940. . This aircraft was lost in action on 25 August 1940.
An air gunner climbs into a Boulton Paul Defiant of No. 264 Squadron, July 1940.
An air gunner climbs into a Boulton Paul Defiant of No. 264 Squadron, July 1940.
RAF personnel examine the wreck of Heinkel He 111H (G1+LK) of 2./KG 55 on East Beach, Selsey in Sussex, shot down by P/O Wakeham and P/O Lord Shuttleworth of No. 145 Squadron, 11 July 1940.
RAF personnel examine the wreck of Heinkel He 111H (G1+LK) of 2./KG 55 on East Beach, Selsey in Sussex, shot down by P/O Wakeham and P/O Lord Shuttleworth of No. 145 Squadron, 11 July 1940.

The “Battle of Britain” is now generally considered to have begun in mid July 1940 as the Luftwaffe stepped up their attacks on shipping in the Channel. RAF Fighter Command had been carefully nursing its resources, not allowing them to be frittered away in the battle for France, however much they might have been needed.

This policy of maintaining vital reserves continued as the Luftwaffe began probing into British airspace. Even so air activity over southern England had increased and the number of sorties being flown was beginning to increase dramatically.

Flying Officer Alan Geoffrey Page of 56 Squadron, RAF was amongst many pilots who received their baptism of fire during this period:

My first time in combat; six of us — half a squadron – were sent up. As we climbed, the controller advised us that there were 20 bombers coming in to attack a convoy and 6O fighters above them, acting as their escort.

Our leader ordered Taffy Higginson to take three aircraft down to attack the bombers and he ordered the other three of us to climb to attack the 6O fighters. As we climbed, I caught sight of this enormous swarm of aircraft. They were above us and this was dangerous. When you’re climbing, your speed is low whereas the enemy is way up in the sky and flying quite fast. He has a tremendous advantage over you.

Anyway, we got up and we saw two types of aeroplanes, both fighters. One was a twin-engine fighter, the Messerschmitt 110 and the other was the single-engine Messerschmitt 109. The Messerschmitt 110s started flying in a defensive circle when they saw the three of us. That made me chuckle to myself, despite my mouth feeling rather dry with fear.

I dived into this circle, firing rather wildly through absolute inexperience and then the 109s came down on us.

Suddenly came the phenomenon that I saw again and again throughout the war. You’re in a dogfight with so many aeroplanes about and then suddenly it’s as if the hand of God has wiped the slate clean and there’s nothing else in the sky. I found myself alone except for one speck of an aeroplane in the distance.

I approached the speck and he approached me until I saw that he was a Messerschmitt 109. It became the equivalent of tilting at the lists in medieval times. We attacked each other head on and I could see the little white flashes on the leading edge of his wing as he fired at me. I was feeling a bit stubborn that morning so I didn’t budge. He flashed over the top of me and I returned to base and landed.

This account appears in Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle For Britain: A New History in the Words of the Men and Women on Both Sides.

Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in flight, April 1940.
Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in flight, April 1940.

Extracts from the WEEKLY RESUME of the

NAVAL, MILITARY AND AIR SITUATION to 12 noon July 11th, 1940

 

MILITARY SITUATION. German Activities.

27. Increased preparations for a possible invasion of the United Kingdom have been reported, and it is possible that in Norway preparations for a seaborne expedition of two to three divisions, including some A.F.Vs., must now be nearly complete. It is, however, still uncertain if all, or any, of these forces are intended for the invasion of the United Kingdom. Eire, the Shetlands, the Faroes and Iceland are all possible subsidiary objectives. Air reconnaissance of Bremen and Emden has not shown the presence of any abnormal quantity of shipping. No concentration of shipping has been observed in the ports of the Low Countries and Northern France. While there is a considerable number of barges in these ports, this may be due to the interruption of other communications and does not necessarily indicate preparations for invasion.

AIR SITUATION.

General Review.

35. Our bombing attacks have been on a lower scale than recently, owing to adverse weather conditions, though minelaying has been more extensive. Fighter operations have been considerably more intense than recently and have been almost entirely over this country. Enemy air attacks were mainly concentrated against ports and shipping and were becoming heavier towards the end of the week. Operations in the Mediterranean and Middle East were of a similar character to those of last week.

Great Britain.
36. Enemy bombing attacks by day have been concentrated mainly on our Southern and South-Western ports and on shipping in the Channel. Casualties have been higher, but little serious damage has been done to objectives on land. Raids on the East Coast and on Scotland have been less frequent and reconnaissance appears to have been their primary objective. There has been little deep penetration except during the hours of darkness, when attacks were relatively light and achieved little success. Activity increased steadily up to the 10th July, when a formation of about 120 bombers and fighters assembled behind Calais and attempted to attack a convoy between Dover and Dungeness. Minelaying appears to have continued nightly during the week off the South and East Coasts.

37. Fighter operations have been of considerably increased intensity. Enemy attacks have been escorted by fighters, which have, also carried out sweeps over the South Coast. Fighter Command flew 1,040 patrols, involving 3,275 sorties, over this country and destroyed 44 enemy aircraft confirmed “and 33 unconfirmed; enemy casualties included 33 fighters. Our losses totalled 18.

See TNA CAB /66/9/42

Secret Churchill Memo – German invasion unlikely

Local Defence Volunteers soon to be renamed Home Guard
The formation of the Local Defence Volunteers was announced on the 14th May, they were renamed the ‘Home Guard’ on the 22nd July at Churchill’s insistence, despite the cost of replacing the million armbands that had been prepared for them. Many did not get proper weapons until much later in the year.

In a memorandum to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, circulated to the War Cabinet, Winston Churchill set out his views on the practicality of an invasion.

His assessment of the prospects of a German landing placed great weight on the strength of the Royal Navy. He was encouraged by the fact that the battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Barham would soon be ready for sea and would enable the creation of further battle groups that could break up any invasion force.

He also felt that the largest German ships were under the close surveillance of the RAF and would not be able to mount a surprise breakout. His one caveat is the need for ‘strong Air support’ necessary to protect the Royal Navy during daylight hours.

I FIND it very difficult to visualise the kind of invasion all along the coast by troops carried in small craft, and even in boats. I have not seen any serious evidence of large masses of this class of craft being assembled, and, except in very narrow waters, it would be a most hazardous and even suicidal operation to commit a large army to the accidents of the sea in the teeth of our very numerous armed patrolling forces.

The Admiralty have over 1,000 armed patrolling vessels, of which two or three hundred are always at sea, the whole being well manned by competent seafaring men. A surprise crossing should be impossible, and in the broader parts of the North Sea the invaders should be an easy prey, as part of their voyage would be made by daylight.

Behind these patrolling craft are the flotillas of destroyers, of which 40 destroyers are now disposed between the Humber and Portsmouth, the bulk being in the narrowest waters. The greater part of these are at sea every night, and rest in the day. They would therefore probably encounter the enemy vessels in transit during the night, but also could reach any landing point or points on the front mentioned in two or three hours. They could immediately break up the landing craft, interrupt the landing, and fire upon the landed troops, who, however lightly equipped, would have to have some proportion of ammunition and equipment carried on to the beaches from their boats.

The Flotillas would, however, need strong Air support from our fighter aircraft during their intervention from dawn onwards. The provision of the Air fighter escort for our destroyers after daybreak is essential to their most powerful intervention on the beaches.

Churchill’s conclusion was that the Army had the space and time to regroup and reform inland, rather than be dissipated around the coast:

[I hope] that you will be able to bring an ever larger proportion of your formed Divisions back from the coast into support or reserve, so that their training may proceed in the highest forms of offensive warfare and counterattack, and that the coast, as it becomes fortified, will be increasingly confided to troops other than those of the formed Divisions, and also to the Home Guard.

See TNA CAB 66/9/44

In many ways it is a very re-assuring assessment. It was in fact largely in accord with the assessments being made by the Germans themselves, many of whom, particularly in the Navy, thought that an invasion of Britain in 1940 was an impossibility.

Nevertheless this was a secret assessment. Preparations for a possible invasion were proceeding apace across the country. The mobilisation of tens of thousands of men into the Local Defence Volunteers, soon to be renamed the Home Guard, was transforming the outlook of the civilian population. Churchill was not going to undermine the general stiffening of resolve by going public with the notion that invasion was impracticable.

For more on the Home Guard see The Spitfire Site.

HMS NELSON with HMS BARHAM in the background.
HMS NELSON with HMS BARHAM in the background.
1940 or 1941, on board the Battleship HMS Barham -Taking on board 15" shells.
1940 or 1941, on board the Battleship HMS Barham -Taking on board 15″ shells.
Sponging out the 15" guns after being in action.
Sponging out the 15″ guns after being in action.

Royal Navy clash with Italians at Calabria

 

The Italian Battleship Cesare firing her salvoes near Punta Stilo (Battle of Calabria)

NAVAL SITUATION.

Mediterranean.
2. A force of cruisers and destroyers successfully attacked shipping in Bardia harbour (Libya-Egyptian frontier) on the 6th July and sank two military supply ships. Our ships were attacked from the air without result. Aircraft from the Fleet Air Arm at Malta carried out a dive-bombing attack on Catania aerodrome on the same date; 9,000 lbs. of bombs were dropped and four big fires were started in the hangars and workshops. A combined Fleet Air Arm and E.A.F. raid was also carried out successfully on Tobruk. The destroyer Zeffiro was sunk and 1 other destroyer, 1 submarine and a number of merchant ships damaged.

3. Early on. the morning of the 8th July H.M. Submarine Phoenix reported a force of 2 enemy battleships and 4 destroyers proceeding on a southerly course about 200 miles east of Malta, and later in the day another force of 6 cruisers and 7 destroyers was sighted by our aircraft proceeding north 60 miles north of Bengazi. At this time a strong force of the Mediterranean Fleet, consisting of 3 battleships, 4 6-inch cruisers, 1 aircraft carrier and 11 destroyers, was at sea but well to the eastward of these positions. While passing between Cyrenaica and Crete our ships were continuously bombed and H.M.S. Gloucester was hit on the bridge, killing the Captain and inflicting further severe casualties.

The Italian Cruiser Zara at the Battle of Calabria, 9th July 1940.

On the morning of the 9th numerous reports from our aircraft indicated that an enemy force of 2 battleships, 6 cruisers and 11 destroyers had been joined by several more cruisers and destroyers from Augusta. This force was sighted by H..M.S.Neptune at 1507 and shortly afterwards the Commander-in-Chief reported that he was engaging the enemy. A short and confused action resulted, the enemy retiring under cover of a smoke screen soon after the heavy ships became engaged. H.M.S. Warspite obtained one hit on an enemy battleship at long range. A torpedo attack by aircraft from H.M.S. Eagle is believed to have resulted in 1 cruiser being hit. Subsequently a damaged enemy cruiser was reported to be in tow about 70 miles from Messina at 1900. The Mediterranean Fleet suffered no casualties either in material or personnel other than those in the Gloucester.

From the NAVAL, MILITARY AND AIR SITUATION to 12 noon July 11th, 1940, as reported to the British Cabinet.

See TNA CAB /66/9/42

 

HMS Warspite, a veteran of the First world War ‘Battle of Jutland’, seen in 1942.

 

1945: Welcome back to an impoverished Britain

View of St Paul's Cathedral and the bomb damaged areas surrounding it in London.
View of St Paul’s Cathedral and the bomb damaged areas surrounding it in London.

The war may have been won in Europe but it would take a long time before living conditions improved for many people. In Britain food rationing would continue for many years after the war. Almost every town and city had wide expanses of bomb sites, a daily reminder of the acute housing shortage that would also take years to remedy.

For the great multitude of people who had been damaged, physically and mentally, by the war, resources were scarce. Anthony Faramus had lived on the island of Jersey before falling foul of the German occupiers and being sent off to a concentration camp. Hopelessly emaciated, he was too weak to walk when he was finally liberated. He was to discover that his welcome back to Britain had much to be desired:

My reintroduction into civilization fell somewhat short of my expectations. Incredibly, there were times when I regretted my return. Flown to England courtesy of the American army, who treated me liberally, with compassionate understanding and without counting the cost of a boarder in their hands, I quickly became exasperated by British officialdom; first, when I was abruptly removed from a friendly cottage-type hospital in the peace and quiet of the countryside to a large institution for incurables and the terminally ill.

‘Be grateful,’ I was told, ‘it’s far better than the place you’ve been at, by all accounts’. It was put to me straightforwardly and I understood. Unable to procure the longed-for privacy and medical care for lack of pounds, shillings and pence, I was obliged to accept charity.

I was fed three times a day, bathed and given a book to read. I was not ungrateful, but I was tired of the bedlam and the emotional disturbances of unfortunate people on every side of me. I had some physical discomfort, a loss of power in my legs, but I was neither neurotic nor mentally unbalanced.

I had not informed my mother or any member of my family of my return from the grave. My intention had been first to rehabilitate myself, to put back the five stones I had lost and to see my hair grow to its normal thickness and length.

The institution with its system of rigid rules did not help me to improve. I did not believe the inmates were ever meant to be let loose on the streets, and I resolved to extricate myself from the trap. I made an urgent appeal to my sister, the wartime evacuee from Jersey island to Rochdale in Lancashire.

I was tied down to an invalid carriage, a ridiculous ‘granny’ Bathchair with two large wheels at the back of the basketwork chassis and a small one at the front steered by a long rod with a T-shaped handle. But I was able to move to a warm and loving pied-a-terre with neighbours, run-of-the-mill Rochdale people like the corner grocer and baker, brightening up my days.

‘You need fattening up, lad, those daft buggers at Welfare will give you nowt, not even the skin off a bloody rice pudding, they won’t.’ Young cotton mill girls were an inspiration too, knocking at my sisters street door and bringing me hard-to-come-by eggs and fruit, and pies baked by ‘Mum’. They offered to wheel me out to the park and, after a while, made passes and aroused my passions, breathing fresh life into me with the kind of kisses I hadn’t experienced since leaving Romainville.

But it was those ‘buggers’ at Welfare, the ‘gauleiters’ of bumbledom who gave me the hump. The to-ing and fro-ing, the waiting in line, the form-filling, the fatuous questions, all for a pint of milk, a loaf of bread, a jar of malt extract and a pittance in a warrant to be cashed at the post office, not enough to cover what my sister was paying out.

Perseverance and strength of will put my wheel-chair up ‘for sale’. I took to a pair of crutches, an event ruled unrealistic three months before, and, before my first Christmas of liberty, I was standing on my two feet unaided.

See Anthony Faramus: Journey into Darkness.

In 1945 there was no ‘Welfare State’ and the National Health Service was just a manifesto promise of the Labour Party in the General Election that was now under way.

Bricklayers repair the front wall of a terrace of houses badly damaged by German bombs.
Bricklayers repair the front wall of a terrace of houses badly damaged by German bombs.

HM Submarine Shark surrendered and sunk

HMS-Safari
HMS Shark was a Royal Navy S class submarine,
in most respects identical to HMS Safari, pictured here.

World War II submarines could only run submerged on electric motors. They routinely surfaced at night to run on Diesel engines and re-charge their batteries. In operations in the northern latitudes off Norway during the summer this posed particular problems – as the in the ‘land of the midnight sun’ the sun never set. The commander of HMS Shark, Lieutenant-Commander Buckley, was well aware of the hazard involved when he surfaced in the evening of 5th July – but the batteries had to be re-charged so that they could maintain their patrol the following day. The risk of being spotted by German aircraft was considerable – and at 2215 this was exactly what happened. HMS Shark made a crash dive that left two members of the deck crew swimming in the water.

Despite managing to submerge the submarine was badly damaged by bombs that hit while she was at a shallow depth. At 2245 the damage sustained forced them to the surface, which they just managed to achieve with the little compressed air they had left. Miraculously they soon came across and were able to rescue the two crew members who had been left swimming in the sea. It was now apparent that the submarine was badly damaged, could not dive and had severely impaired steering. She was a sitting duck when German aircraft spotted her again at about midnight.

HMS Shark put up a fierce fight with her deck gun and many of the crew were injured in the series of attacks that followed, including Lieutenant-Commander Buckley, who sustained wounds to the head and legs. Nevertheless they probably accounted for two German aircraft shot down or badly damaged.

The outcome was never really in doubt:

Some time about 0300, four Messerschmidt 109s appeared from the direction of Stavanger and from now on continued to rake the bridge and guns crew with machine gun and cannon fire. Their fire was devastating and it obvious that the end was now in sight although everyone stuck to their posts in the most magnificent manner until wounded, or in one case, killed outright.

One of the seaplanes now signalled us by light to “stop or steer to.. Stavanger”. No notice was taken of this signal but about a quarter of an hour later, after continuous attacks from the 109’s, our ammunition being expended and having many wounded or dead (l could not tell which), I reluctantly decided to capitulate.

Some time after, the “fighter” attacks had commenced, I called the First Lieutenant on to the bridge as I was feeling particularly shaky and-, from this time on, I have only a vague recollection as to what actually happened.

Wounded men of HMS SHARK stand on the deck awaiting the arrival of one of the German trawler’s boats. At this moment all preparations had been made by the SHARK’s crew for the submarine to sink as soon as she was taken in tow by the Germans.

Lieutenant-Commander Buckley was only able to complete his report on the action when he was released from prisoner of war camp in 1945. It is an extraordinarily detailed account of all the damage sustained, the fight back by the crew, as well as the measures taken to ensure that the submarine was not captured.

Wounded from HMS SHARK being brought on board the German trawler.

HMS Shark did sink shortly after German trawlers arrived and got her under tow. In compiling his report Lieutenant-Commander Buckley would have been very conscious of the very similar circumstances of the surrender of HMS Seal. Lieutenant-Commander Lonsdale of HMS Seal was also released from POW camp in 1945 but he now faced a Court Martial. In the case of HMS Seal, despite his efforts, the submarine had been captured by the Germans.

1945: The occupying armies start to cope with Germany

Major H P G L O'Connor of Southampton and Sergeant W W Lynas of the Public Safety Department of the Allied Military Government disarm German policemen shortly after the entry of British forces into Hanover.
Major H P G L O’Connor of Southampton and Sergeant W W Lynas of the Public Safety Department of the Allied Military Government disarm German policemen shortly after the entry of British forces into Hanover.
Picture taken on 4 July 1945 shows the entry of troops into Berlin of the 7th Armoured Division, led by the 11th Hussars, the famous "Desert Rats" who had travelled with them from El Alamein, to Berlin, via Benghazi, Tripoli, Tunis, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Belgium and Holland. Major General LD Lyne CB, DSO, COG 7th Armoured Division and commander of the British forces in Berlin took the salute as his troops entered the city.
Picture taken on 4 July 1945 shows the entry of troops into Berlin of the 7th Armoured Division, led by the 11th Hussars, the famous “Desert Rats” who had travelled with them from El Alamein, to Berlin, via Benghazi, Tripoli, Tunis, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Belgium and Holland. Major General LD Lyne CB, DSO, COG 7th Armoured Division and commander of the British forces in Berlin took the salute as his troops entered the city.
Signaller R W Chater from North Shields and Signaller Syddall of Horwich look at the scorboard in the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, set up by some unknown British humorist.
Signaller R W Chater from North Shields and Signaller Syddall of Horwich look at the scorboard in the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, set up by some unknown British humorist.

Europe remained convulsed by change two months after the end of hostilities. The occupying armies of America, Britain, France and the Soviet Union were struggling to come to terms with their responsibilities – and the carve up of Germany into different zones of responsibility was only just under way.

The British entered their sector of Berlin on the 4th July – the beginning of an uneasy relationship with the Soviet forces who had completely occupied the ruined capital until then.

British Army General Sir Brian Horrocks describes the situation elsewhere in Germany:

During those first few days after the German capitulation we all felt as though an immense weight had been lifted from our shoulders; but this wonderful, carefree atmosphere did not last for long. We were faced by the many intricate problems involved in the resuscitation of a stricken Germany.

Having spent the last six years doing our best to destroy the German Reich, almost overnight we had to go into reverse gear and start building her up again. This required a considerable mental switch.

The British zone of occupation, containing some twenty million Germans, was divided up among the corps for administrative purposes, and I found myself responsible for the Hanover Corps District.

There is something terribly depressing about a country defeated in war, even though that country has been your enemy, and the utter destruction of Germany was almost awesome.

It didn’t seem possible that towns like Hanover and Bremen could ever rise again from the shambles in which the bulk of the hollow-eyed and shabby population eked out a troglodyte existence underneath the ruins of their houses.

Things were better in the country districts, but what struck me most was the complete absence of able-bodied men or even of youths – there were just a few old men, some cripples, and that was all. The farms were almost entirely run by women.

How appalling were the casualties suffered by the Germans was brought home to me forcibly when I first attended morning service in the small village church of Eystrop where I lived. The Germans commemorate their war dead by means of evergreen wreaths; and the whole wall was covered with wreaths — dozens and dozens of them. In a similar church in the United Kingdom I would not expect to see more than eight to ten names on the local war memorial.

The Germans certainly started the last war, but only those who saw the conditions during the first few months immediately after the war ended can know how much they suflfered.

See Brian Horrocks: A Full Life

Germany under Allied Occupation: German U-Boat pens at Hamburg with a scuttled U-Boat in the foreground.
Germany under Allied Occupation: German U-Boat pens at Hamburg with a scuttled U-Boat in the foreground.
Germany under Allied Occupation: German civilians employed by the Economics Department of the Allied Military Government requisition furniature from a former Nazi party or SS member's house in Hanover. British soldiers are present to assist the civilian workers in case of trouble.
Germany under Allied Occupation: German civilians employed by the Economics Department of the Allied Military Government requisition furniature from a former Nazi party or SS member’s house in Hanover. British soldiers are present to assist the civilian workers in case of trouble.