German flier asks forgiveness for bombing

 

One of the German pilots who bombed the North Strand in Dublin in May 1941 has told an interviewer that the attack was a mistake and asked for forgiveness from the Irish people, particularly those who suffered as a result of the bombing.

Thirty-four people died in the bombing of the North Strand/ Summerhill area of Dublin on the night of May 31st-June 1st. Ninety were seriously injured, and hundreds had their homes destroyed.

The pilot, known only as "Heinrich", said their target had been Belfast. But either a fault in the guiding beam system or the bad weather that night led them astray.

"Can you forgive us for that mistake? Please forgive me for this mistake which was beyond our control," he said. The strategy was always to bomb military targets, and if they missed they hoped for minimal civilian injuries and damage.

There was an inquiry when they got home and, when they realised what had happened, "quite a bit of excitement." A lot of blame was put on the meteorological people for giving the wrong forecast. Nobody knew what had happened.

They also knew that the British were able to interfere with the flight beams, but they would not be able to deflect a plane over a certain target. "There was no wrongdoing on our side. Everybody was upset, not only the members of the air force, but politically as well."

The beams directing flights usually came from three locations, France, Norway and Spain.

The 80-year-old pilot, in an interview on the RTE radio Gay Byrne Show yesterday, said he was in the lead "pathfinder" plane, and his job was to identify the target by dropping flares for the following bombers. Behind him on the mission were two squadrons of 30 planes.

The flares were of no use that night because the weather was so bad, and they had to rely on the beam to identify targets. He stopped dropping the flares.

"Heinrich" was interviewed in Canada by Mr Micheal Holmes, a producer with The Gay Byrne Show. He declined to allow his real name to be used and refused to reveal anything about his life there. He agreed to the interview only provided the location was kept secret.

"Heinrich" was shot down four times during the war. He was badly injured and burned after being shot down over France. He still carries scars on his face as a result of that experience.

He was decorated by Hitler. Asked what he thought of the Fuhrer, he said: "I thought him quite a guy. I was impressed because he let me criticise my boss, Goering. I thought he was a very kind man. I say he was a weakling because he was too kind."

At the time there were several theories as to why the bombs were dropped on Dublin. One was that it was to teach Dublin a lesson for helping out when Belfast had been bombed some weeks earlier. The city's fire brigade went north to fight the fires.

Mr Holmes produced a documentary in 1978 on the bombing, featuring interviews with some of the survivors. During his research for another Gay Byrne Show he came across information that one of the German pilots in the 1941 bombing was still alive and might be prepared to speak about the fateful night.

He described "Heinrich" as a very reluctant interviewee. "He was a little, wiry man, dressed in a sober, dark suit. He was very wary and he thought I was looking for war secrets. He was a very tough, courageous man."