The day they bombed Dublin

 

THERE were numerous incidents of bombs and assorted ordnance, being dropped on "Eire", as we were wont to be called, during the war years. The majority came from German aircraft, but Germany accepted culpability in only a few instances, despite the evidence of the embossed German eagle and the heavily indented instructions (in the same language) discovered by the Irish Army on the remnants of, or the unexploded cases of their bombs.

The first Luftwaffe salvo on neutral Ireland was lethal, when, on August 26th, 1940 a German aircraft dropped five high explosive bombs at Campile, Co Wexford; three girls were killed and buildings were damaged. The German government admitted responsibility, paid compensation and expressed regrets.

On October 25th their air force struck again - this time at Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, where a stick of four high explosive bombs, accompanied by incendiaries straddled the nearby vale of Clara. Fortunately there were no casualties or damage. The onslaught was to continue:

December 20th, 1940

This was the date on which two bombs fell on Sandycove in Dublin causing damage to ESB wires and gas mains. The first bomb exploded at the junction of Summerhill Road and Rosmeen Park, the second landed in the gardens of 14 and 15 Rosmeen Park. Two more German bombs cascaded down on Shantonah near Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, causing minor damage to house property.

January 1st, 1941

Julianstown, Mornington and Bettystown, Co Meath caught the brunt of nine more bombs - fortunately with only minor damage to houses. On the same day two unexploded magnetic mines were discovered at Kitmacanogue, Co Wicklow. The following night four missiles descended on Terenure in Dublin - Rathdown Park and Lavarna Grove were the unlucky recipients. Seven people were injured, two houses demolished and several others badly damaged. This salvo arrived with the compliments of Luftflotte Two whose assigned target was to have been Liverpool, but all of the bombers got lost due to bad weather and they bombed everywhere except Liverpool.

About this time, further up the country, Duleek caught it, with 10 heavy bombs mixed with incendiaries - minor damage resulted. The Curragh plains were not immune from the blitz, and, on the same day as the other assaults it received a further eight German heavies with the usual mix of incendiaries - again no damage.

The village of Knockroe in Borris, Co Carlow was not so fortunate, because a salvo of eight Luftwaffe bombs killed three people and injured two others - the home of the Shannon family was demolished by a direct hit. The final toll for this day came to Oylegate in Wexford - three German bombs - no damage.

January 2nd, 1941

Donore Terrace on the South Circular Road in Dublin took two direct hits on two houses and 22 people were injured.

There was a respite until March 12th, when eight explosive devices, not unlike parachute flares, fell to the ground at Carndonagh Co Donegal with no damage; Culkeeny, in the same county received one explosive device on May 5th, with no deaths or injuries.

May 31st, 1941.

On that tragic early Saturday morning there had been intense belligerent aircraft activity all along the east coast. The searchlights in the Dublin defences were first switched on at 12.04 a.m. and were on and off intermittently until finally doused at 2.13 a.m.

Aircraft were spotted in the beams, but were not identified however the anti aircraft batteries opened up, firing a total of 131 heavy shells. As far as could be ascertained from Air Defence Command there were 20 planes in all, some grouped in fives, but apparently one aircraft seems to have done all the subsequent damage as it kept circling around for approximately half an hour.

The streets of the North Strand area of Dublin took the dreadful punishment of numerous high explosive bombs and landmines (bombs also dropped in the Phoenix Park at the same time), 90 people were injured and 28 died again the remnants of those bombs were clearly stamped with German insignia and German instructions.

During the air raid the control room at the Dublin Central Fire Station had received a call from Belfast, offering fire engines and ambulances, but the equipment was not required. Later, the Ulster Union Club in Belfast proposed raising funds for the disaster and conveyed their deepest sympathy to the homeless and the relatives of the people who had lost their lives.

They referred to Dublin as "the duty that responded so nobly to the call of humanity in our hour of need". The club was, of course, referring to the action of Mr de Valera, who had sent similar equipment to Belfast after the bombing of that city, only three nights before.

THE aerial activity which preceded the bombing of Belfast was exactly similar to the pattern before the Dublin raid: intense air movements of belligerent aircraft were reported from all of the observation posts in the south of Ireland, and particularly from those along the southern coast.

Large waves of aircraft, totalling 50 in all, flew in over the country at Carnsore and Cahore, Kilmichael, Wicklow and Brownstown. Numerous observations were received of heavy flashes and explosions, but they were probably due to the ground defences engaging the aircraft; there were also numerous explosions near various posts along the coast.

Subsequent to the North Strand bombing, some British sources were to express the view that aircraft may have mistaken Dublin for Belfast as a result of the beam bending techniques of the RAF. The Germans were using an array of signal beams for their bombing accuracy - a radio technique that proved extremely accurate after the war, as a navigational aid both for aircraft and shipping.

It was a simple radio transmission system which, when received by the bomber, enabled it to fly along a predetermined track marked by these radio signals; the target was marked by the interception of similar signals but on a different frequency (further development provided all the information on one beam).

The British found a way of cueing in on the frequencies and bending the beams, thus conveying erroneous information to the bombers; unfortunately the side effect was that they could not predict where, precisely, the beams would bend; in other words there was no deliberate attempt on their part to divert the German bombers towards Dublin - in any event a city whose lights were on while the blackout existed in Belfast.

An immediate protest was made by the Irish Government to Berlin, and, at their foreign press conference given in that city on June 5th, the German spokesman, in answer to a question, confirmed that the Irish Government had protested to Berlin of the "alleged" bombing of Dublin by a German plane. According to the spokesman, a strict inquiry into the matter was being made and the allegation of a German intention to violate Irish territory could only be described as absurd.

In this connection the official repeated the viewpoint at the press conference, namely "that the possibility of a provocative bombing by British planes was by no means out of the question, and bomb splinters do not form proof". Nevertheless, 12 days later, the Germans accepted responsibility and issued a statement of condolence and compensation, together with an assurance that they would take every step necessary to prevent the possibility of a recurrence of such incidents.

In the analysis of such bombings, there is no doubt that they were the side effects of the massive German air attacks on England between September 7th, 1940 and May 16th, 1941, plus a few weeks on either side. Many of those bombs would have been jettisoned, as the relatively slow flying Heinkels and Junkers sought to escape from pursuing RAF fighters; others would have been dropped as a result of navigational errors or simply pure panic - it was not unknown for pilots on either side to deliberately avoid their assigned target, and seek their own personal safety by dumping their bombs on what, to them, was an undefended area.

Even though the lights were on in Irish towns and cities, they could often be obscured by cloud, but the sky was not that cloudy on the night of the North Strand bombing; was it anger at the guns, or the panic action of inexperienced German bomber crews? Or was it the result of, those pilots being misled by the British radio countermeasures against their navigational bombing aid, the Knickerbein "Y" system?

Despite the subsequent Berlin assurance, Lambertstown at Arklow was to receive the unwelcome attention of two further Luftwaffe high explosive bombs but it seems that with a massive farewell salvo of 12 more dropped near Dundalk on July 24th, 1941, the German airforce got its act together and stopped dumping their explosive hardware on neutral Ireland.