Saturday, 1 July 2017

115 Air Raid Precautions

115 Air Raid Precautions
In previous centuries people affected directly by war lived near the scene of conflict, hence the particular horror of civil war, when fighting might occur nearby, not just on the Continent or at sea.  Even sinister First World War developments such as introducing tanks and poison gas still affected primarily people near the action – such as those caught up in trench warfare in northern France.  But during the build-up of international tension in the 1930s a new dimension meant that even island inhabitants like the British could be involved directly in conflicts other than by invasion.  Towards the end of the First World War the Zeppelins and Gotha bombers had indicated the shape of things to come: aerial bombardment.  The threat was limited by the range that enemy aircraft could travel, though by the Spring of 1940 the Luftwaffe could launch attacks from airfields in Norway, Holland, Belgium and France, right around to Brittany, which brought not just London and the home counties (hitherto threatened from the east) but also southern England and South Wales into range of attack from enemy aircraft.
Swansea was an important target for aerial bombardment because of the Llandarcy Oil Refinery, and having four docks (the North Dock had closed in 1928).  The principal target for the bombers should have been the docks and industrial sites, rather than residential areas, but the town endured 44 air raids, with 387 fatalities, 841 people injured and about 7,000 made homeless.  The most intensive bombardment was during the ‘Three Nights Blitz’ in February 1941, when on three successive nights the Luftwaffe’s attacks killed 230 people and injured 409. 
The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Act came into force at the start of 1938, with basements of both public and private buildings, and church crypts, designated public air-raid shelters.  At the time of the first aerial attack, on the King’s Dock in June 1940, Swansea had no anti-aircraft guns, but a month later 16 were in emplacements, along with searchlights.  St Helen’s cricket and rugby ground had a searchlight battery.  Anti-aircraft guns, known as ack-ack guns because of their noise, were sited on Mumbles Hill, on the King George V playing fields, at Port Tennant, Jersey Marine, Ravenhill and Morriston. 
A different tactic was the use of barrage balloons, which aimed to damage aircraft that collided with their steel cables.  Called “silver fish” or less politely “pigs”, they were approximately 19m long, part filled with hydrogen (which needed to be topped up each day), and often winched to the required altitude from vehicles for mobility.  Members of the WAAF were recruited for a four-week course to operate them, using crews of 16 women, though otherwise 10 airmen would suffice.  Swansea docks had half-a-dozen barrage balloons, while London had over three hundred.
On 8 May 1995 a heavy anti-aircraft gun was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on a plinth at the junction of New Cut Road.  This 3.7-inch quick firing gun was presented to the City of Swansea by the Royal Artillery Association “to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in Europe and in memory of the 387 civilian and military personnel who died in air-raids on Swansea”.  It could propel a 28½lb shell up to 32,000ft, and was from batteries 247 and 248 sited around Swansea during the war.  The monument was financed by donations from the general public, local businesses and service organisations.  Later in the war a few 4.5-inch heavy guns were used, capable of firing 54lb shells to a range of 42,600ft, which exceeded the operational height of any bomber.  In July 1940 Swansea had three heavy anti-aircraft guns, while Newport had six, Cardiff had 12, and Portsmouth had 44.
Swansea’s anti-aircraft gun complements the Cenotaph on the promenade and SA1’s Merchant Navy memorial, a reminder that modern warfare can produce civilian casualties, even when they live far from the main scenes of conflict.

No comments:

Post a Comment