In the publication 'FRONT LINE', Mr S.E. Sterck wrote in his resume for The Evening Chronicle " .... the North East gets small mention .... but though its ordeal has been less concentrated and cannot point to large areas of devastation, the North East can show many hundreds of scars, the result of drip bombing over a long period. This has not been experienced in most other parts of Britain .... On Tyneside alone, nearly 400 people were killed between July 1940 and December 1941 .... to that total can be added many more in other North East towns." It was reading that simple statement of fact, 40 odd years after it had been written that led to the discovery that, as far as I know, the North East's story, as usual, had been left out of most works on World War II. All I have done here, is bring to the attention of those interested, a collection of facts already researched by other people.
By the time the war broke out, the Germans already knew a lot about Tyneside, the Luftwaffe had made reconnaissance flights over the area and had built up an archive of aerial photographs and detailed descriptions of important targets. It is now known from German records examined after the war that some of those targets were - the Tyne Bridges - the new Spillers Building - Byker Bridge - the Docks - Elswick Works - the oil tanks at Jarrow - Swan Hunter's, Vickers Armstrong Naval Yard and Wallsend Slipways - Newburn Steelworks and the Brancepeth Cokeworks. Having mentioned the shipbuilders of Tyneside, the war record of North-East shipyards as a whole, deserves a mention, bearing in mind that during the conflict Britain lost more than 4,000,000 tons of shipping - it must be a matter of pride that more than half of this total was replaced by the North-East.
There can be no doubt that the Germans knew just as much about Wearside, Teesside and Humberside. The North-East also merited a mention in Hitler's War Directive No 9, all in all, considering us a prime target. This view is reinforced by an end of report conclusion contained in the Home Security Operations Bulletin No 34 it reads " The attention paid to Hull and the North East, though as yet the scale of attack has been light, is a significant development in an area which has been surprisingly unmolested hitherto. It is too early to say what end these attacks may be meant to serve, but the importance of the area is strongly stressed in German Broadcasts, which have heavily exaggerated the results of the raids.
The North-East Coast here needs definition - so for the southern boundary, the river Humber was chosen, and for the northern boundary, just north of the river Tweed, about 185 miles apart as the crow flies. It must be said, however, that there will be occasional trips over these borders, to follow the action to their respective conclusions.
During the so-called 'Phoney War' there were a lot of tip and run raids, often by single aircraft testing defences or unloading unused bombs. In the summer of 1940 the attack on Britain's industrial cities began and the first major raid on Tyneside took place in broad daylight in the late afternoon of July 2nd 1940. From that moment, for many people, the Phoney War ended, and the Proper War began, in reality much had happened before then, especially off our coasts.
The reason for the double dates in some of the entries is that the phrase 'in the 24 hours from noon yesterday' featured in a lot of wartime reports, in other cases of course it means that the event lasted from before midnight until after midnight. Home Security Operations Bulletins of course run from 06.00 to 06.00 the following day.
When details are given in the diary for occurrences outside the scope of this work, it is because they were taken from references that covered a much wider area and include facts or statistics that can not be separated one from the other. An example of this can be seen in the entry for Thursday 2nd May 1940 where the source states simply 'minelaying suspected off the east coast between Berwick and Grimsby.'
At the end of each diary year there is a page or two devoted to events that occurred during the year under review but which have not or cannot be pinpointed to a specific date. There is also a list of warships and Fleet Auxiliaries launched or completed in North-East shipyards during the period covered by the diary. They served their country well, as did the many built before the war, but are not listed because they were built before 1939, they include the Battleships 'Malaya' - 'Nelson' - Resolution', the Aircraft Carriers 'Courageous' - 'Hermes' - 'Eagle' - 'Furious'. the Cruisers 'Newcastle' - 'Dauntless' - 'Delhi' - 'Emerald' - 'Coventry' - 'Sheffield' - 'Sussex' - 'Manchester' - 'York', and many, many destroyers, but just mention 'HMS Kelly' and it will give the reader a pointer to the quality of construction and repair.
In addition to the warships, the repair and replacement of ships for the Merchant Navy was of great importance, naturally North-East shipyards played a major part in this too. We also supplied the crews .......
.......In his book 'Still on my Way to Hollywood', Ernie Wise writes "I decided to join the Merchant Navy and my first posting, once trained, was as a cook on board a ship called 'Firelighter' - Although no chef, I did my best - the food, as things turned out, was the least of the worries. Though the Merchant Navy didn't have the glamorous image of its Royal counterpart, it was suffering fantastic casualties performing its part in the war effort - ferrying essential supplies to the capital, it was the constant target of air and sea attack, and on my particular run an awful lot of people, especially Tynesiders, lost their lives." That short extract, led to a closer examination of maritime casualties, which in turn, revealed the extent of the conflict off the North-East coast.
Briefly the state of play, in the North Sea at the beginning of the war was as follows. The sea off the North East coast came under the Royal Navy's Tyne Sub-Command area which was part of Rosyth Command under Vice Admiral C.G. Ramsay. The other Sub-Commands within the Rosyth Command were Aberdeen and Rosyth. Naval deployment was constantly changing throughout the war, but at the outbreak of war there were eight destroyers attached to Rosyth Command and also the aircraft carrier 'HMS Furious' at Rosyth itself. In July 1940 the cruisers 'HMS Birmingham' and 'HMS York' were stationed at Rosyth and the cruiser 'HMS Coventry' together with twelve destroyers were stationed on the Tyne, ten of these destroyers were part of the escort force. The cruiser 'HMS Newcastle' together with 'HMS Manchester', 'HMS Sheffield' and seven destroyers were stationed on the Humber. The 6th Submarine Flotilla was based at Blyth with their depot ship 'HMS Titania'.
Between mid-August and early September, twelve of the (250t) coastal U boats and six of the (500t) ocean-going U Boats were on station between the Orkneys and Shetlands and in the North Sea. Among the last to leave was U 23 bound for the mouth of the Humber with the future U Boat ace Kretschmer as commander. Some twenty other U Boats were armed and made ready to sail. U 13, U 15, U 17, and U 26 were loaded with mines, however their destinations were unknown to the Admiralty at this time.
The pocket battleship 'Admiral Graf Spee' left Wilhelmshaven on the 21st August and on the 24th August the pocket battleship 'Deutschland' left the same port. Supply ships for the pocket battleships also put to sea, neither warship had been spotted by British naval forces, they could have been anywhere, including the North Sea.
By the end of the month, all ships of the Royal Navy's Home Fleet had moved or were moving to their war stations, Merchant ships were being requisitioned. Coastal Command aircraft were flying North Sea reconnaissance patrols. The Home Fleet was patrolling between Shetland Islands and Norway, returning to Scapa Flow on the 6th September.
Obviously a number of wrecks reported during the war could be due to normal maritime hazards, but they have been included simply because there is always uncertainty about the cause of the loss of a ship, with or without survivors when enemy aircraft are sowing mines on a regular basis. It may seem curious at first glance to find a paragraph that gives one location for the mining or bombing of a ship, and another for the position that it eventually sank. This is exactly what happened. A ship could travel many miles with appalling damage, but would succumb if the fires took a greater hold or flooding increased as the pressure on the Damage Control doors burst the seals etc. as the weather got worse. The latter reason was particularly noticeable during the winter months.
If the item contains a phrase like - much of the wreck still remains - it must be remembered that the book that the information came from, was written around 1988, for underwater swimmers. The figures in the brackets, with the suffix t - i.e.(1,234t) - after the name of a ship denotes its tonnage.
RAF casualties in the first two or three years of the war were usually fighters damaged in action against enemy bombers or their escorts and although, compared to the rest of the country, not as numerous. The number of enemy aircraft shot down was also, not as numerous, compared to the rest of the country, but the battle that took place on 15th August 1940 off and over the north-east, had a very significant effect on the conduct of the air war over Great Britain. The Luftwaffe never ever again took the risk of losing so many aircraft, in an area so fraught with danger, so far from their home bases. The consequences for the rest of the country can be assumed.
During the latter part of 1942 until the end of the war, RAF casualties in the north-east were, to say the least, becoming too numerous. This was partly due to the great number of military airfields, particularly in Yorkshire, where the bomber squadrons had their bases. Aircraft returning damaged from operations over enemy territory accounted for many of the losses, other causes were the training flights for bombing, night flying, bumps and circuits, the conversion units, (these were the training units that taught pilots to fly different types of aircraft - usually heavier ones), and by no means last or least, the fickle weather usually associated with the north-east. These things combined, gave the impression that British planes were dropping out of the sky like raindrops, and when the night of December 16th/17th 1943 is looked at objectively, when twenty-nine bombers, mostly Halifaxes, crashed in the UK, who could be blamed for getting that impression?
CRAMLINGTON. JUNE 1994.
By the autumn of 1994, it looked as though poor health and deteriorating eyesight would make it impossible for me continue recording events in the north-east during those momentous wartime years. Once again Brian Pears came to my aid, by volunteering to undertake some of the journeys I had planned in order to gather as much information as possible before it is lost.
He and his wife Christine have spent a good deal of their spare time looking up documents and making notes of points relevant to my quest, he then gave me the information, already processed without even pausing for thanks. This, together with the mountain of data that he had already given me, plus the fact that it was he who suggested and undertook the monumental tasks of adding the black-out and alert times to the end of each days entry and compiling the indices, merited undying gratitude. The only thanks I could think of offering, was to ask if he would mind if I were to include his name on the cover, with mine as co-compiler, after much persuasion on my part he agreed, I am glad that he did so.
I must also thank the people who have looked at these pages with interest and who have added words of encouragement, lastly, my deepest thanks must go to my wife, Brenda, my son Martin and my closest relatives for enduring me and my quest for so long, namely, to get the north-east's war effort and sacrifices documented, recognised and appreciated.
I feel that I must record a reply to Roy's generous acknowledgement of what I regard as a comparatively minor contribution to his work. The original idea was Roy's, Roy selected and edited the archive material, he wrote virtually all of the original material, he chose the formatting and page layout and he did almost all of the printing too. I simply compiled the indexes and the explanatory notes and added the data at the end of each diary entry. These were mostly repetative mechanical tasks easily automated thanks to the power of today's word processors. I think I would regard myself as Roy's technical assistant rather than a co-compiler. Roy also mentioned that I gave him my notes compiled from material at various local libraries and archives, but I should point out that this was material which Roy would have obtained himself if his health had permitted. I must pay tribute to Roy for the way in which he has faced up to his serious illness with its many and increasing complications and limitations, any one of which would have long ago defeated the vast majority of us. To have undertaken and completed such a mammoth task at a time when he could barely see his computer screen is indeed a considerable achievement. It is a privelege to know Roy; I am proud to call him a friend.
One minor point should be noted concerning the Ordnance Survey grid references which appear in some of the air-raid reports. These have been converted by me from the Modified British Grid system in which they were originally recorded. This system was in limited use until the end of World War Two and was superseded by the National Grid which is in use today. Unfortunately there is no recognised method of conversion from one system to the other so I had to devise an algorithm myself. Those converted grid references which I have been able to check are accurate, but I cannot guarantee that all of them are correct.
LOW FELL. AUGUST 1995
Sadly Roy Ripley, who was largely reponsible for this diary, died in October 1995, just a few weeks after the completion of the second edition. The world is a much poorer place without him.
This edition is only available on the World-Wide Web, not in hard copy. It includes an expanded "Background Information" section and, unlike the web version of the 2nd Edition, it includes maps and diagrams. Navigation too is improved with "hot-links" from the indexes to the appropriate sections of the diary or background notes.
LOW FELL. MAY 1999
© Copyright Brian Pears 1994-2011