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North-East Diary

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


The following paragraphs do not necessarily appertain solely to the North East, but are of interest as background to the general picture. In addition, there are quite a few firsts, always handy, to use as the base parameter.

Wednesday, 6th September 1939  FD4

The first of the East Coast convoys from the Thames to ports up to the Firth of Forth began today.

Fighter Command's first casualty in action died at the hands of his fellow airmen. Scrambled at 06.27, Hurricanes of Squadrons 56 and 151 were searching for supposed enemy aircraft. Spitfires of Squadrons 54, 65 and 74 were also searching for the same foe. Unfortunately they found each other, two of the Spitfires from 74 Squadron piloted by Flying Officer Byrne and Pilot Officer Freeborn managed to get bursts of fire in (before proper identification) at two late start Hurricanes of 56 Squadron piloted by Pilot Officer Rose and Pilot Officer Hulton-Harrop. Rose was shot down but unwounded and he managed to force-land his plane near Ipswich. Hulton-Harrop was not so lucky, he was shot in the back of the head and killed, his plane crashing into the ground also near Ipswich.

Byrne and Freeborn were court marshalled and acquitted, both returning to operational flying. Freeborn eventually became Commanding Officer of 118 Squadron and was released from the RAF in 1946. Byrne, however was partly responsible for another unfortunate accident. While instructing Blenheim pilots in night landing techniques, he let an inexperienced pilot fly in conditions for which he was unready, who then crashed the plane, killing himself and two civilians, one of them a child. Byrne was then posted back to 74 Squadron where, on Thursday, 23rd May 1940, he was shot down and taken prisoner, he was released at the wars end and was discharged from the RAF in 1946. Pilot Officer Rose stayed with 56 Squadron and promoted to Flying Officer, but was shot down and killed on Saturday, 18th May 1940 in France. He is buried there.

Tuesday, 26th September 1939  FD24

The first German aircraft to be destroyed by British Forces was a Dornier Do 18, shot down by Skua aircraft from 'HMS Ark Royal', in a sortie in the North Sea.

Tuesday, 17th October 1939  FD45

The first enemy aircraft to crash in Great Britain was a Junkers Ju 88A brought down by AA gunfire. It crashed and exploded on the Island of Hoy in the Orkneys. Three of the crew were missing and one was rescued and captured.

Monday, 13th November 1939  FD72

The first bombs dropped on Great Britain were the four that were dropped on Sullom on the mainland of Shetland at 13.00. There were no casualties and little damage.

Winter 1939/1940   FD140

The first winter of the war, was the coldest since 1881. The Thames froze and 20 degrees of frost (12?F) was recorded in London on Saturday, 20th January 1940. The weather was not reported in the newspapers but featured prominently in Home Security Records of that period. The long freeze up was followed by floods. It was at the height of this cold snap that the Luftwaffe's first aircraft was brought down on English soil . . .

Saturday, 3rd February 1940   FD154

The first enemy aircraft to crash in England was a Heinkel He 111H, shot down by Flight Lt P.W. Townsend, flying a Hurricane of 43 Squadron operating from Acklington. The Heinkel was forced to land at Bannial Flat Farm, Whitby, Yorkshire at 09.40. Fw H. Wilms was captured, Uffz K. Missy lost his right leg and had other serious injuries was also captured, but his injuries were so serious that they led to him being returned to Germany in an exchange of POWs in October 1943. The two other crew members, Uffz K. Leuschake and Uffz J. Meyer were killed. The aircraft was captured damaged. Peter Townsend's description of the event is as follows . . .

"On the morning of the 3rd of February, in a cutting wind, the other pilots in my flight and I, went for our Hurricanes dispersed on the far side of the airfield. Far away at Danby Beacon Radar Station, the duty operator picked up the phone, it was 09.03 - the operator had seen a blip, then another - unidentified aircraft, some 60 miles out to sea, were approaching at 1000 ft.

Moments later, blue section of 43 Squadron were scrambled and on their way from Acklington airfield to intercept. Myself with Folkes and Sgt Hallowes in my wake - "Vector 190, bandit attacking ship off Whitby - 'Buster' - with throttles wide open, racing south at wave top height and spreading into search formation, Hallowes on my left and Folkes on my right.

Suddenly there it was, a Heinkel just below cloud, 'Tally-Ho two-o-clock', banking right in a climbing turn, it came into my sights - I pressed the button - I was firing at Missy, Wilms, Leuschake and Meyer (the names of the Heinkel's crew) who at Schleswig only a few hours earlier had been shovelling snow and enjoying coffee and sandwiches. It never occurred to me that I was killing men. I only saw a Heinkel with big black crosses on it, but in that Heinkel, Uffz Rudolph Leuschake was already dead, Uffz Johann Meyer, his stomach punctured by bullets was mortally wounded - closing in fast, I passed it as it entered cloud - seconds later Folkes, the Heinkel and I tumbled out of the cloud almost on top of one another, then the German turned shorewards with a trail of smoke behind him and force-landed".

Special Constable Arthur Barratt dashed up to the Heinkel and saw Fw Wilms, the pilot, burning the aircraft's papers - it took five fire extinguishers and a shovel full of snow to put the fire out. Uffz Meyer was screaming in pain, Uffz Leuschake had died instantly, shot through the head, Uffz Missy, the upper gunner had been grievously wounded, with one leg broken and the other terribly mutilated, cried out in agony as he was pulled clear. Peter Townsend visited him in hospital.

Later the Squadron buried Rudolph Leuschake and Johann Meyer at Catterick. On their wreath, a simple message - 'From 43 Squadron, with sympathy'.

Saturday, 16th March 1940   FD196

The first civilian killed in Great Britain, occurred during a two part action in which 18 Junkers Ju 88s of KG30 attacked ships of the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in which the cruiser 'HMS Norfolk' was damaged.

A concurrent sortie, carried out by Heinkel 111s of KG26 was directed at shore targets which included the naval air station at Hatston, NW of Kirkwall and the landing ground near Stromness - this attack only succeeded in damaging some cottages at the Bridge of Waithe (4 miles E of Stromness). Casualties were one killed and six injured. Two cottages badly damaged, others with windows broken, and some superficial damage to roads. The - one killed - referred to here, was Mr James Isbister, aged 27, the first British civilian casualty in World War II.

Wednesday, 3rd April 1940   FD214

A Heinkel He 111H was forced to ditch into the sea off Redcar, Yorkshire at 12.45 after combat with Flight Lt Ryder of 41 Squadron who also ditched when his Spitfire crashed after return fire damaged his machine, he was picked up by the fishing boat 'Alaska'. The five man crew of the Heinkel were picked up and captured. Flight Lt Ryder was awarded the DFC after this incident and is recorded as the first home based pilot to be shot down by an enemy aircraft.

Tuesday, 30th April/Wednesday, 1st May 1940   FN241

The first civilian killed in England, occurred during a minelaying operation by a Heinkel He 111H near Harwich. The Heinkel was damaged by AA gunfire at Harwich and eventually crashed outside 25 Victoria Road, Clacton on Sea at 23.15. Number 25 was known as Orchard House, and in it perished Mr Frederick and Mrs Dorothy Gill, after one of the two mines it was carrying exploded, the four man crew of the enemy bomber were also killed. The explosion also injured 156 people, four houses were demolished and forty-six damaged.

The high casualty list was generally caused by people running to give assistance or looking through windows when the first C Type parachute mine exploded and created thousands of missiles, i.e. broken glass and rubble etc.

The second mine was thought to be a domestic water tank, until someone who was standing on it, looked down and saw that it had stencilled instructions in German on it. It was eventually defused by Lt Commander R.J.H. Ryan and CPO R.V. Ellingwood from 'HMS Vernon' - both later killed in the London Blitz and both later awarded a posthumous George Medal.

Thursday, 9th/Friday, 10th May 1940  FN250

With the Press fully absorbed with the closing stages of the Battle of France, the first bombs to fall on England since 1918, were stated to have been those that exploded on Saturday, 25th May 1940. on Essex and Yorkshire. However the very first attack on England's mainland is officially recorded as taking place at 04.00 on Friday, 10th May 1940, when 23 incendiary bombs fell on East Stour Farm, Chilham near Canterbury in Kent, 20 minutes later, 14 HE were dropped, possibly from the same aircraft, 11/2 miles to the east at Pennypot Wood.

Friday, 24th May 1940  FD265

The first aircraft downed by the balloon barrage was an RAF Hampden bomber, which hit the barrage over Coventry and landed in the cricket ground. Another Hampden collided with the barrage on 4th June 1940, at Shotley, 2 miles NW of Harwich - this is the first balloon casualty to be recorded by Home Security. On 13th June, a third Hampden hit the barrage at Harwich and crashed in the dock area at Felixstowe. Only one man survived these 3 crashes. The first enemy aircraft brought down by the balloon barrage was on 13th September, 1940 (which see).

Friday, 24th/Saturday, 25th May 1940  FN265

Middlesbrough was the first industrial town, and Dorman & Long's the first industrial plant, to be bombed.

Wednesday, 19th/Thursday, 20th June 1940  FN291

The first Civil Defence worker to be killed by enemy action was John Punton, an air raid warden. He was killed in an air raid on West Hartlepool.

Friday, 21st/Saturday, 22nd June 1940  FN293

The first bombs to be dropped on South Shields are recorded thus: Four HE bombs dropped on a field near the junction of Marsden Road and Centenary Avenue in South Shields. Several houses were slightly damaged by shrapnel. There were no casualties.

Tynemouth had its baptism of fire, its first bomb, to be followed by a total of 329 such incidents, during which three Tynemouth policemen were killed: P.C. Clements, First Reserve Murray and First Reserve Hannah.

Monday, 1st July 1940  FD303

A Heinkel He 59 landed on the sea 8 miles east of Sunderland after being badly damaged by Spitfires. The crew of four (one of whom was injured) were picked up in their dinghy by a cruiser's sea boat. The aircraft was beached and examined for armament. This was possibly the first British violation of a Red Cross marked aircraft which was on a genuine search and rescue mission. The aircraft's markings were clearly visible and seen by the RAF pilots concerned who also commented on the fact that no return fire or armament were discernible.

Tuesday, 2nd July 1940  FD304

The first bombs to fall in Newcastle fell at the following locations, one bomb exploded between Forth Banks and Orchard Street, one bomb fell on Hanover Street at the end of Orchard Street, another fell into the Tyne between the King Edward Bridge and the High Level Bridge and the last one fell into the Tyne on the seaward side of the Tyne Bridge.

It was during this raid, that one of the very first males to be killed in Newcastle due to enemy action, fell. John Kelly was locking the gates to Spillers old flour mill when a bomb fell nearby, killing him.

Sunday, 28th July/Monday, 29th July 1940 1940  FN330

One of the very first females to be killed due to enemy action in Newcastle was Mary Mackay at the School House at Heaton Secondary Girls School.

Monday, 12th August 1940  FD345

The first German heavy artillery shell exploded in Edgar Crescent, Dover. The first of 3514 shells that were to land in Kent over the next 4 years, that is until the batteries were overrun in 1944. By that time 148 people had been killed, 255 seriously injured and over 1000 homes had been destroyed.

Thursday, 15th August 1940   FD348

The first major air attack on the North East took place today. A remarkable success was scored on this day by the radar stations of the North East coast. The Luftwaffe launched its first strong daylight attack from bases in Norway and Denmark. On the assumption that the RAF fighters had been drawn south by previous operations. The attack on the North East was aimed at Tyneside industries and airfields in Yorkshire. From shortly after mid-day, radar stations gave warnings of enemy formations while still 100 miles from the coast, this was ample warning for them to be intercepted by defending fighters. The approaching force was described as being 10+, 20+ and 30+, though in the event there were closer to 100 aircraft - Heinkel He 111 bombers and their escort of Messerschmitt Me 110s - the defenders broke up the attacking formations and claimed many successes. The first major attack in daylight from this direction also proved to be the last.

Saturday, 24th/Sunday, 25th August 1940  FN357

For the first time since the Gothas of 1918, Central London was damaged in an air raid. Mostly due to bad navigation, German bombers directed to Rochester and the Thameshaven oil-tanks dropped their loads on the City of London.

Thursday 5th/Friday, 6th September 1940  FN369

The first confirmed incident of any enemy landing by parachute (other than enemy airmen baling out) took place today. A German parachutist in civilian clothes, armed, equipped with a small wireless, money and a British Identity Card, was captured at Denton, near Nottingham at 17.20. He said his orders were to report on damage done to airfields and that he had landed at 03.00 that same day, September 6th, his destination being Birmingham.

Thursday, 12th/Friday, 13th September 1940  FN376

The first German loss reliably attributed to the Balloon Barrage, was the loss of a Heinkel He 111, claimed by a mobile unit of 966 Squadron on station at Belle View Park, Monmouthshire. The plane was returning from a raid on Merseyside, when it struck the cable and plunged into a built-up area of the above district. On the ground two children were killed. Three of the aircraft's crew were killed, the pilot managed to bale out in time. The aircraft was destroyed.

Saturday, 21st/Sunday, 22nd September 1940  FN385

The first known victim of German night intruder patrols was shot down near Thornaby, it was a Whitley bomber of 58 Squadron.

Sunday, 22nd December 1940  FD477

The first German bomber to fall victim to a Defiant night fighter was a Heinkel 111 which had taken off from Dreux at 17.00 bound for Manchester. After crossing the Channel at 17,000 ft, the Heinkel was attacked by the Defiant and its starboard engine was set on fire. it crashed at Etchingham in East Sussex at 18.05. Two of the crew were found dead in the wreckage, two baled out but one was found dead some distance away, at Burwash with a damaged parachute, the other baled out successfully and gave himself up, also at Burwash.

Thursday, 29th January 1942  FD880

First edition of Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley.

Friday, 17th April 1942  FD958

First ATS casualty of the war. Private Nora Caveny, killed operating a range finder on an anti-aircraft site at Southampton.

Sunday, 15th November 1942  FD1170

Church bells are rung for first time since June 1940 to celebrate the victory at El Alamein.


The first kill credited to an AA battery manned by the Home Guard was that of an enemy bomber which fell to No 110 Battery on Tyneside. This had such an admirable effect on morale that Battery Commanders, subsequently had trouble in preventing men not on duty, from cluttering up the site when the sirens sounded.

Sunday, 25th April 1943 (Easter Day)  FD1331

The ban on ringing church bells on Sundays and special occasions lifted today.

Sunday, 13th June 1943  FD1380

Germans drop "butterfly" anti-personnel bombs on Britain for first time. A total of 74 people were killed and 130 injured.

Tuesday, 18th January 1944  FD1599

First batch of 600 Bevin Boys begin training for work in the pits.

Thursday, 6th April 1944  FD1678

The taxation system 'Pay As You Earn' (PAYE) starts today.

Monday, 12th/Tuesday, 13th June 1944  FN1745

First V1s reach England. The V1s had a variety of nicknames, the most common were 'flying bomb', 'doodle bug' and 'buzz bomb'.

Friday, 8th/Saturday, 9th September 1944  FN1833

18.40.. The first V2 or rocket, landed at Chiswick, West London.

Monday, 15th January 1945  FD1962

The first civilian boat-train to the Continent.

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