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Map showing area covered.

North-East Diary

Roy Ripley &
Brian Pears
© Copyright Brian Pears 1994-2011

Sections 23 to 26

[23] .. HOME GUARD

On the six o clock news broadcast on Tuesday May 14th 1940, Anthony Eden appealed for men between 17 and 65 to form anti-paratroop units to guard local installations of importance, it met with a tremendous response. Men had to enlist at main police stations, within one week of the appeal, Newcastle and Sunderland had 2,000 volunteers each. They were called at first Parashots, then Local Defence Volunteers or just LDVs, some wags said the initials stood for Look, Duck and Vanish. By the end of the month a total of 400,000 men were on the strength of the force. On Tuesday July 23rd 1940, the name was changed to the Home Guard, at which time the force was 1,300,000 strong. The Government had expected an eventual total of 250,000!

On Monday December 15th 1941 a White Paper was issued containing proposals for (1) Compulsory enrolment of men from 18 to 55 years of age, where required. (2) Abolition of the right to resign on giving 14 days notice. (3) Imposing liability of one months imprisonment, or £10 fine, for absence, and also military sanctions for military offences. A peak figure of 1,793,000 was reached in March 1943. On Friday September 1st 1944 the HG numbered 1,727,095 all ranks of whom 141,676 were on Anti-Aircraft duties, 7,000 were on duty with Coastal Artillery and 7,000 on Bomb Disposal work. The women's section, the Home Guard Auxiliaries, numbered 30,696 - they were known until Wednesday July 26th 1944 as Nominated Women.

The Home Guard was ordered to stand down with effect from Wednesday November 1st 1944. Stand Down parades were held throughout the country on Sunday December 3rd 1944, including a march-past before the King in London, and by the 31st December 1944 the Stand-Down was finally completed. A year later in December 1945 the Home Guard was disbanded, although some members did take part in the Victory Parade in London in June 1946.

The cost to the nation, at least in money, of training this vast part-time army was astonishingly small. Maintaining a fully trained Home Guard, calculated one Commander, cost the nation no more than one-fortieth of the amount needed to support an ordinary soldier, even in peace time, for the Home Guard received no pay, and when not on duty, fed, housed and clothed himself. The annual cost to the country for each man was estimated in 1944 to be £9/5/- (£9.25). The Home Guard budget for a year was only £16,600,000 - roughly equal to 1 days expenditure on the war, making it a tremendous bargain, the cheapest army of its size and firepower that any nation ever possessed.

Another record is that the Home Guard suffered fewer casualties than any comparable army. 1206 Home Guards were killed on duty or died of wounds; 557 were injured, a total of 1763, fewer than 1 in 1,000 of all those who served. Many of the casualties caused by enemy action were inflicted by 'flying bombs'. Where being a Home Guard was uniquely dangerous, more so than the regular army, was in having to handle firearms and explosives, with inadequate training. The worst single accident happened in 1944 during a lecture when a grenade exploded and killed six men and injured fourteen. Heroism during such incidents accounted for many of the decorations awarded to Home Guards. Two George Crosses were awarded, and both were posthumous. One went to a sergeant killed rescuing people trapped after an air raid; the other to a 61-year-old lieutenant who had survived 2 campaigns, in South Africa and Flanders, only to lose his life when to protect his men, he threw himself on a Mills Grenade that had bounced back into the firing trench. Other distinctions included 13 George Medals; 11 military MBEs and 46 British Empire Medals.

A story of the Home Guard with a local flavour is told by Judge Rodney Percy, one of the contributors to the book ' Out of the Blue'. Setting the scene by telling of the enthusiasm of the teenagers of the time (of whom he was one), and their keenness to ' get into it' somehow, pending the arrival of the magic day of their 18th birthday. One way was to join the Home Guard to get a head start in the basic military training. He tells of how as a member of the Home Guards 'Z' batteries at North and South Shields, they were able to help in the defence of Tyneside alongside the professional gunners of the Royal Artillery who had at their disposal predictor controlled anti-aircraft guns - Now for the action ...

'About a hundred sleepy, confused and incompletely and improperly dressed, part-time soldiers ran out to the rocket site in the park of Westoe .... Soon we could hear the distant drone of aircraft. The excitement increased .... This was 'it'.

With headphones on beneath my steel helmet, I bawled out to my No 2 man the dictated fuse setting. With ... icy fingertips and trembling hands, I fiddled about with the with the circular key and supplied it to the stubborn, grease congealed fuse ring on the nose of the shell ...

Confidently, I expected my No 2 to complete the fuse setting on the shell, slung on his side of the frame, and follow the precise procedure of grabbing the 5-foot-long rockets, cradling them in both arms and thrusting each in turn securely onto the launching rails. These were set in their horizontal loading position.

Then, crisis! Nothing happened! He never appeared, as he should have done, round my side. I peered around the frame, fully expecting the anticipated order to fire to be given in the next thirty seconds ...

My heart missed a beat. There was my No 2 man, on his hands and knees in the mud, groping about in the darkness, hunting for his spectacles. He was an elderly man, by occupation a shipyard worker. While making his fruitless search, he was complaining volubly in colourful language .... He couldn't see the 'effing fuse ring without, first, finding his 'effing glasses and wearing the bloody things ...'.

Expediency determined that I should help him. Urgently, I dashed forward, nearly strangling myself in the process. I had forgotten to detach the cable linking my headphones to the framework. It pulled taut, knocked my helmet askew, and swiped my own spectacles from my face; they, too, plopped into the mud ...

It didn't matter; my nearsight was excellent. Successfully, I set the fuse for my No 2 and then dashed back to my own position .... Relieved, I saw him loading up our rockets as the cones of light from the searchlights were probing the darkness to illuminate one or more of the oncoming aircraft ....

Suddenly the order to fire was received. I slammed down the plunger hoping that our two rockets would join with the others in a massed and dramatic ascent into the night sky. But no! What horror! Instead of soaring upwards, our pair of rockets hurtled diagonally across the site, cutting a fiery passage through the air, just above head height, to disappear ignominiously into the North Sea!

My No 2 man had forgotten to set the elevation from the launching platform's horizontal loading position ....

With far too many of my erstwhile 'rocketeers' lying prostrate in front of their platforms, I never did bother to search for my own glasses .... Maybe they are still buried beneath the surface of Westoe's public park as a wartime souvenir!'

An editors note a the bottom of the article states 'Undeterred, Rodney Percy was called up at eighteen and commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals, later to command No 242 Medium Wireless Section, XIV Indian Army, Burma'.

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[24] .. HULL

Had 815 alerts and spent over 1,000 hours under alerts. 1,200 people were killed, 3,000 were injured and received treatment. 152,000 people were rendered temporarily homeless and provided for. 250 domestic shelters and 120 communal shelters were destroyed, from which more than 800 people were rescued alive. By the end of hostilities, approximately 6,000 of the 93,000 homes in Hull had escaped bomb damage (see later paragraph), from the three main attacks in March and May 1941 plus many smaller raids favoured by the Germans for the easy approach across the North Sea. Altogether Hull weathered 70 large and small night attacks from piloted aircraft compared with Southampton (49), Bristol (51), and London (251) plus 101 by day.

A study by a group of Hull citizens reported that 26 reception Centres dealt with 1,773 admissions after the first but smaller (78 plane) raid in March 1941. By the evening of the 16th March 1941, two days before the much larger (378 plane) blitz, 3,294 persons were seeking help of some sort, 2,216 of them for rehousing. The very heavy raid of March 18th 1941 when nearly 400 bombers in an aerial bombardment lasting from 21.15 to 04.00 the following morning, stepped up the pressure on the Reception Centres even more. The 7th / 8th May double raid shook the populace once again and raids across the North Sea continued into July 1941. when the rest of the country was practically at peace again. An observer in autumn of 1941 described Hull as 'the only town to have been heavily raided since the German attack on Russia'.

In September, 1939, Hull had 92,660 houses of varying sizes and values, but all capable of accommodating families. In the course of the war:- 1,472 were totally destroyed, 2,882 so badly damaged that demolition may be necessary, 3,789 needed repairs beyond the scope of first aid, 11,589 were seriously damaged, but patched up, 66,983 were slightly damaged, a total of 86,715.

These figures show that only 5,945 houses escaped damage in any form. Some of the 86,715 were struck more than once, in some instances twice and thrice, so that altogether 146,915 individual damages were sustained.

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In the event of an invasion the Headquarters for No 1 Region, Northern Area would have been at the Royal Exchange Hotel. The men in charge of the defence of the region included Sir Arthur Lambert who was the Regional Commissioner - Mr J.J. Lawson MP and Col C.J. Pickering who were the Deputy Regional Commissioners - Sir Duncan McKenzie was the region's principal civil servant - Admiral Maxwell RN was Flag Officer, Tyneside and Capt Stanley RN was Chief Staff Officer. The Headquarters in Northumberland for Auxiliary Units was to be at Shielow Castle, north of Belford .

Tyneside itself would be divided into eighteen districts, each with its own detailed plan of action to stop the invader in his tracks. Industrialists met with the Regional Commissioner and the Military to arrange a scorched earth plan for Tyneside's major industries. Each was given a code word - eg DAFFODIL, MUSTARD, POTATO, ASPARAGUS, MINT, CAULIFLOWER - and, on receipt of their particular word, all machinery in their premises would be disabled by removing essential parts.

Other code words, or the ringing of Tyneside's sixty-two sets of church bells, would activate other plans - makeshift road blocks would appear all over the Tyneside and even in Newcastle itself (at the West Road, Nuns Moor Road, Fenham Hall Drive, Shields Road, Walker Road, Heaton Road and Chillingham Road, for example), other roads would be mined; electricity would be cut by exploding charges at nodal points on the network; LNER locomotives would disappear along country lines south of the Tyne, like the Victoria Garesfield branch line, and then be disabled; on the Tyne and right along the coast, docks would be blocked and machinery disabled; fuel stores, even garage supplies, would be destroyed; the ferry landings at North and South Shields would be blown up and the ferries scuttled; all major explosive and ammunition dumps, explosive stores similar to those at Montagu Colliery and Acomb Colliery and the Ministry of Defence depot at Walker Road would have their stocks either blown up or otherwise destroyed - the dump at Lemington had railway tracks laid into the river ready to "drown" its stocks if necessary.

The smaller explosive and ammunition stores, and there were very many of these, would of course be needed for roadblocks and other defence measures, and would be retained as long as possible. Some of these stores were in rather unexpected locations such as Manors Railway Station, the Royal Grammar School and the Newcastle Co-op premises on Newgate Street. They even stored ammunition and explosives in Jesmond Cemetery.

It was assumed that any major landing on the beaches would be accompanied by airborne landings by parachute, gliders or sea-planes and possibly by small craft entering the rivers. To counter these threats a wide range of steps were taken. Farmers were encouraged to leave heavy equipment, like ploughs, on open fields to deny their use to gliders, long stretches of very wide roads, although we had very few of those, were also obstructed by erecting semi-circular metal arches over them. All open stretches of water were also obstructed; this included all the large collecting reservoirs in the area such as Catcleugh, Colt Crag and Hallington. The Tyne was to be blocked by sinking two steamers across the harbour bar and two torpedo tubes were installed on the river banks ready to sink any German ships managing to enter the river. In addition tugboats stood by ready to ram seaplanes as they landed.

The Albert Edward Dock was to be blocked - Tyneside's 150 ton floating crane was to be immobilised - Explosives were to be hidden deep in the Rising Sun Pit at Wallsend - Ports from Berwick to Hartlepool were to be immobilised, however the port of Tyne must be left to be recoverable within seven days - 500 secret bunkers were to be created countrywide, twenty-seven to be in Northumberland and twelve in County Durham - Anthony Quayle, the actor, was to set up the resistance units, he was later parachuted into Albania to organise resistance there. There was to be a unit at Beamish in Co Durham.

Stop Lines were to be created, these were heavily defended lines designed to delay or stop an enemy - at each, the defences were arranged on the basis that the enemy forces were to the north, so on that side, cover was to be as limited as possible, whereas to the south, the British side, it was to be maximised. If the enemy breached the first Stop Line then the British would retreat to the next. The first Stop Line followed the River Coquet for about twenty-five miles inland and the second the River Wansbeck for about twenty miles. Neither of these extended very far, but would be difficult to by-pass and furthermore the major troop concentrations were in this area, such as the large encampment at Thropton near Rothbury.

The third Stop Line, however, did extend to the GHQ Line; this was the Tyne Stop Line, and it was actually meant to stop the enemy. As soon as an invasion was confirmed, members of the 280th Field Company, Royal Engineers, would dash north via Durham, Leadgate, Ebchester and Hexham and blow up every road, rail and foot bridge - more than 100 bridges - on the Tyne from the Rede Valley to Scotswood; the holes for the charges were already drilled, indeed many can still be seen to this day. Approaches were to be cratered - 200 craters were planned - and even small ferries, like that at Barrasford, would have its cables cut and the boat sunk. The Newcastle bridges would be mined but not immediately blown - they were to be defended to the last man - and the Swing Bridge would be opened and disabled. Everything involved in the Battle of the Tyne was planned to the last detail - the battle headquarters was even picked, Beaufront Castle between Hexham and Corbridge. They even stored ammunition and explosives at the Sewage Treatment Plant at Blackhall Mill, although the latter was not associated with the Tyne Stop Line, it was part of another - the Derwent Stop Line!

This little known measure is described in Public Record Office document PRO/WO 199/1516, and was one of several notional Stop Lines on the south of the Tyne. These did not involve much in the way of fixed defences - the planners expected the Tyne Stop Line to stop the enemy or at least to hold them back long enough to allow massive reinforcements from the GHQ Reserve to reach the area. The plans had to be made, however, because there was always the possibility of enemy airborne units landing on the south of the river and then attacking the Tyne defences from the rear - and, no matter how good the defences, the enemy might still manage to cross the river.

The Derwent Stop Line specifically involved the blowing of all bridges across the river and the cratering of all main roads in the valley by mining culverts under the roads. This would almost certainly have involved the A694 road which has numerous culverts for the many streams feeding into the river, including several in and around Rowlands Gill in Co Durham. Unfortunately it is not at all clear whether these measures would have automatically followed an enemy landing in Northumberland, or if they they would only have been implemented as a last resort. The Home Guard would also have attempted to delay any enemy troops passing through the area, but without the benefit of the concrete obstacles and pillboxes which were a major feature of the Northumberland defences - the Spigot Mortar base on Hamsterley Bank and the nearby trenches would probably be a typical defended position on the Derwent Stop Line.

There were some pillboxes to the south of the Tyne but, except along the River Tyne itself and around the heavily defended beaches near Seaton Carew and Redcar, they were rather thinly distributed and largely confined to military installations such as searchlight sites. Close to Rowlands Gill there were several pillboxes along the Blaydon to Dunston railway line - part of the Tyne Stop Line defences - and others at the Bone Hill Searchlight Site at High Spen, at the Flint Hill Searchlight Site and on Ebchester Bank near the Broomhill Farm Searchlight. The pillboxes defending Searchlight Sites were authorized on July 15th 1940 and erected very soon afterwards. The Bone Hill pillbox is now several feet beneath a golf course, but one of the pillboxes beside the railway line can still be seen - if you take the road from the Metro Centre to Dunston past the Federation Brewery, you will see it on your left just before you reach the railway bridge - and another was recently unearthed and demolished during the site clearance for the IKEA premises at the Metro Centre.

After the war a top secret German plan, dated October 6th 1940, came to light. This called for three motor torpedo boats, armed with torpedoes and mines, to enter the Tyne under the cover of an air attack and place mines alongside the warships at Newcastle. The plan was cancelled when reconnaissance showed that the warships had been moved - presumably because the British were aware that Operation SEALION, the planned invasion, had been postponed.

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Hitler was head of the Oberkommando der Wermacht (OKW: Armed forces High Command), it had three branches, one each for land, sea and air and the head of the latter was the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (ObdL) or Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe - Reichmarschall Herman Göring

The Luftwaffe consisted at this time of five air fleets each Luftflotte was responsible for a particular area. The Luftflotte had a separate bomber unit (Kampfgeschwader), fighter unit (Jagdgeschwader) etc and could have anything from 200 to more than 1000 aircraft. Subordinate commands were called air corps (Fliegerkorps) and could operate independently from the Luftflotte to which they were assigned and ranged in size from 200 to 750 aircraft. An occasional sub-unit was the Fliegerdivision.

The Geschwader was the largest tactical unit comprising of between 80 to 120 aircraft (this was the German wing, the British equivalent was a Group - a lot of confusion arises over this point). The Geschwader breaks down into three or more Gruppen (more like an RAF wing) each with 30 to 40 aircraft of the same type. Three Staffeln (closest to the RAF squadron) comprise thr Gruppe, each Staffeln made up of nine aircraft with three reserves. The Schwarm was a combat formation of four aircraft, three such formations made up a Staffeln. The Rotte was the smallest unit of all, a combat formation of two aircraft.

Luftwaffe Ranks and their British equivalents:-

Table 55
Commissioned Officers
OberstGroup Captain
OberstleutnantWing Commander
MajorSquadron Leader
HauptmannFlight Lieutenant
OberleutnantFlying Officer
LeutnantPilot Officer

Table 56
Non-commissioned Officers
OberfeldwebelWarrant Officer
UnteroffizierNo RAF equivalent but possibly the same as an army Lance-corporal

Table 57
Specialist Titles
BordschützeAir Gunner

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