Victims of the Swastika

Today most people who visit Milltown completely ignore or just give a passing glance to the ‘Blitz Grave’ in Milltown Cemetery. Most people don’t understand what it is as most of the time its inscription, which is along the bottom of the memorial, is covered by overgrown grass. But this grave marks the graves of those unidentified victims of the German Luftwaffe who bombed Belfast without mercy in Easter 1941.

Belfast was the most unprotected city in the British Isles in the early years of the Second World War, based on the belief that the Luftwaffe would never risk the 1000 mile flight from France. However, as early as December 1940, the Germans had flown reconnaissance sorties over Belfast, taking photographs of Harland & Wolff, and when a short sharp raid on the night of the 7th - 8th April 1941 (during which Squadron Leader Simpson flying a Hurricane of No. 245 Squadron based at Aldergrove brought down a hell down over Dundrum Bay) it was too late to rectify a situation which was to leave Belfast open on Easter Tuesday, April 15th, 1941. On that night Luflotten 2 and 3 combined to put 180 aircraft over Belfast, 118 of them belonging to Luflotte 3. It could have been worse as 327 bombers were dispatched that night, but 147 bombed alternative targets, with 51 attacking Liverpool. Most of the aircraft that failed to reach Belfast diverted due to weather conditions as from 11.00pm the cloud was thick, but it cleared later in the night, giving late arrivals a clear bombing run. The air raid sirens sounded over Belfast at 10.40pm and the Luftwaffe had plenty of targets to get through. The shipyard, Shorts, various mills, Victoria Barracks and the nearby Antrim Road Waterworks. Many people still believe that the Waterworks was mistaken for the docks but nothing could be further from the truth. Their intention was to destroy the water supply for their next raid which was to be almost exclusively fire bombs. No water supply no water to put the fores out. The Blitz was a dreadful experience for the people of Belfast. Hundreds of high explosive bombs falling out of the sky and no one knowing where the next one was going to hit. When the Luftwaffe was finished Belfast was devastated. Hundreds lay dead, countless more were injured and many parts of Belfast were in flames. Large sections of the city centre were destroyed. York Street Mill was burning out of control and at one stage a massive gable wall fell on the crammed streets below it killing all those who believed they were safe in their own homes. The first priority was to put all the fires out and this was done with the assistance of fire crews from the Irish Free State. Next was the rescue operations and many dreadful stories are recollected in connection with this unenvious task. Jimmy Doherty was an Air Raid Warden at the time. He explains one of his experiences when the Germans had left:-

We left the Irish firemen on the Shankill Road and went down Percy Street, the scene of the greatest disaster of the raid. A shelter had suffered a direct hit and almost 70 people were killed when it collapsed. I knew many of those who died. When I was serving my apprenticeship in that area, I had walked up Percy Street every evening. One of the women standing close by remembered me and recalled my friendship with a young girl who lived in the street. She was very pretty and she often waited for me as I came out of the workshop. The older boys chaffed me about this but, as I have said, she was very pretty and I was proud that she had singled me out from the other boys. She was in the shelter when the bomb hit it. I swallowed hard and held back a tear. My memory went back to those days and my first day at work. But we had to push on, so I wished the old woman goodbye and we continued down the debris strewn street towards the Falls Road.

Victoria Barracks, Newlodge, Belfast

We were getting nearer to the baths and the long, grim, heartbreaking experiences that will never be forgotten. It was about 8.00am when we arrived. We expected a similar scene to that of the Mater Hospital where relatives were milling around searching for news of families or friends. This morning, however, there were no crowds and comparatively few people. On our way in, the first shock of the morning was the sight of a burned hand lying in the doorway, but there was more to come. We had volunteered but we were totally unprepared for the real horror that was to follow. Hundreds of bodies brought in from scattered incidents were lying all around us. They were men and women, young people, children and infants. How could anyone have visualised seeing so many broken bodies in one place?

The all clear was not sounded until 5.00 am the following morning and the Luftwaffe left a mass of death and destruction behind them. Belfast was burning and 745 people lay dead, 1,500 injured and 28,000 buildings destroyed or damaged. As Jimmy’s account shows bodies were laid out in the empty pools of the Falls Baths which were used as a temporary morgue. It was a truly gruesome sight. At St. George’s Market there were 200 bodies laid out. Most were eventually identified but unfortunately there were many unidentified bodies buried in mass graves in Milltown Cemetery and the City Cemetery. Holy relics were used to identify Catholic victims and it is these who lie buried in Milltown but the reality is the carnage suffered by these innocent people prevented, in many cases, proper religious identification. Such an act in war is irrelevant and all these people are buried in consecrated ground whether in Milltown or the City. After all, religious segregation was the last thing on these people’s minds when so many bombs were falling out of the Belfast sky.

BROKEN WINGS ON BRANDON

How Five Polish Airmen Came To Be Buried in Milltown

Walking through Milltown Cemetery amid the sprawling lines of graves, one may be surprised to see a row of five Polish graves, the dark headstones illustrating no gloss or glamour, their only embroilment being the distinctive Polish eagle, a name and 303 Squadron. How these five Polish airmen came to rest in West Belfast, is a story that stretches from Warsaw, to Cornwall, from Kerry to Belfast.

The German invasion of Poland in September 1939, was the spark that ignited the greatest conflict in the history of mankind - the Second World War. The Poles, though gallant in their resistance, were no match for the modern mechanised German war machine and their ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics.

PACT

Under equipped, and sandwiched between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, Poland was quickly swallowed up. It also found itself the victim of a deceptive Nazi-Soviet pact. Hitler had always aimed as his ultimate goal, the destruction of the Soviet Union, but at this early stage not knowing how quickly France would fall, and Britain would need to evacuate from France, he couldn’t afford to fight on two fronts, so a pact with Russia seemed, for the time being, appropriate. Stalin also favoured the pact; knowing Hitler’s true intentions he needed time to rebuild his army especially his officer corps which had been the victim of his own purges.

ESCAPED

These historic events sealed Poland's fate. The remnants of the Polish army, encircled by the Germans, surrendered by the end of September. Thousands were taken prisoner, but thousands more escaped to France and later to England.

SOVIET INVASION

On the 17th of September, 1939, Soviet Russia, with troops and political commissaries, invaded the large areas of undefended eastern Poland assigned to it under the Nazi- Soviet pact. Stalin had no love of Poland and its anticommunist feeling, and while Hitler set about turning Poland into a reservoir of cheap labour of Nazi military requirement, Stalin set about murdering thousands of Polish officers in secret. (In April 1943, German Intelligence Officers discovered mass graves in Katyn Forest near Smolensk, containing the bodies of thousands of Polish officers in uniform.) However, what neither the German’s or the Russian’s could not do was kill the human spirit that flourished in Poland. While one division began to make route for the Middle East to join the British Army, many thousands more formed up in Britain as the Free Polish Brigade within the British Army. Other remained at home building a secret army of resistance.

PILOT INSTRUCTOR

Many flyers also escaped to Britain, and whilst some found fame during the Battle of Britain, others were eventually formed into a few squadrons within RAF bomber and Coastal Commands. One such man was Flight Sergeant Klemens Adamowitz, an experienced pilot who had before the war trained as a pupil at the Pilots Training School in Bydgoszez, north-west of Warsaw, and later became a pilot instructor in the 4th Air Force Regiment at Torun in Poland. In December 1943, Klemens Adamowicz was flying Wellington bombers with No. 304 (Polish) Squadron, RAF Coastal Command

ELDEST MEMBER

Born on the 25th of April, 1911, at the ripe ‘old’ age of thirty two, he was the eldest member of the crew of six of the Wellington HF208. The other members of the crew were the co-pilot Sergeant Stanislaw Czerniowski, the navigator Sergeant Hirsz Pawel Kuflik, the wireless operator Sergeant Paeel Kowalewicz and the two air gunners, Sergeant Wincenty Pietrzak and Sergeant Hirsz Kuflik, the aircrafts navigator was Jewish of German descent. Born in Cologne on the 4th of January 1923, he was brought up in Poland from where, with so many others, he fled before the invasion, later joining the Polish Forces in Britain.

 

 

 

U-BOAT THREAT

RAF Coastal Command, of which No. 304 Squadron was part, was fighting the most crucial campaign of the Second World War - the war against the U-Boats and the protection of the sea lanes through which convoys carried the vital war supplies from the United States and the British Commonwealth to Britain, and in turn, troops and supplies moved from Britain to Gibraltar and the Middle East. By 1943 German U-Boats in the North Atlantic were increasingly becoming causalities to British convoy tactics, in May 1943 alone, 41 U-Boats were sunk. It was a situation where the scale of losses, not matched by compensating successes, was becoming unacceptable to U-Boat command. However the U-Boat threat continued.

LOSSES

In December 1943, 304 Squadron was based in Predannack in Cornwall. They shared the base with several detachments of Mosquito and Beaufighters Squadrons whose job it was to counter increased German fighter activity over the Bay of Biscay, in which Coastal Command had concentrated its efforts attacking U-Boats leaving their French bases. 304 Squadron had moved to Predannack from Davidstow Moor in Wales from where during the summer months of fighting over the Bay the squadron lost five aircraft and twenty men.

MALFUNCTION

The squadron was equipped with Wellington MK XII aircraft which carried the Leigh Light enabling it to illuminate U-Boats on the surface at night. The original trials for this light had been carried out at RAF Limavady in 1941. The searchlight was mounted in a swivel ring to allow it at least 20% downwards or sidewards movement. By the end of the war Leigh Light fitted aircraft had made 218 attacks on U-Boats, 206 on ships and 27 U-Boats had been sunk. The Germans hated it calling it Verdamnte Licht. The Wellington bomber itself was constructed of geodetic engineering designed by the legendary Barnes Wallis renowned for the ‘Bouncing Bomb’ and the famous RAF dam raids of 1943. The Wellington was a very versatile aircraft, it could take a lot of flak and still manage to get back home. However, any aircraft is venerable were winter conditions, and mountainous terrain are concerned. When Flight Sergeant Adamowicz and his crew took off at dawn from their base at Predannack, it was a bitterly cold day. The aircraft would be involved in sweeps across the Bay of Biscay, it was a normal operation being carried out by aircraft of Coastal Command on a daily basis. Later that afternoon a request by Flight Sergeant Adamowicz to return to base was received at the Predannack operations room. This request for an early return was based on a malfunction of radio location equipment, and they were having difficulty getting a fix.

OTHER CRASHES

What happened after that no one knows except that, probably as a result of poor visibility, the aircraft crashed into Arraglen on Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry killing all six on board. The area had already witnessed two other crashes in previous months. In July a BOAC Sunderland crashed slightly west of where the Wellington impacted, at Slieveglass; a month later an RAF Sunderland based at the Castle Archdale flying boat base in Co. Fermanagh, crashed very close to were the Wellington had now gone down.

ROSARY BEADS

The alarm was raised by a local man, Michael Brick, who contacted the Irish Army HQ at Tralee. Whilst they were en route to the crash area, a local Garda officer from Cloughan village at the foot of Brandon, together with a few members of the Local Defence Force proceeded to the crash site. With them was a Red Cross party from Dingle. Working in extreme cold and dark conditions, the tangled wreckage of the aircraft and the bodies of its crew were located on the mountain. What had been in the minds of these men before they died no one knows, we can just surmise. Priority would have been the job at hand, the Poles had a fervent hatred of the enemy, survival certainly is always a factor. Christmas may also have been in their minds, the Poles were devout Catholics, a poignant reminder of that being a pair of rosary beads found on one of the dead airmen.

BURIALS

They may have been looking towards the new year of 1944 with much hope, Germany’s defeat was certain, it was a matter of time before the Allies invaded Europe. What we can be sure of, is that Poland would always be on their mind. Unfortunately these six Poles would never return home, they had met their untimely end on a bleak mountain, a long way from Poland but in equally Catholic Ireland. The bodies of the six Poles were handed over to the British by an Irish guard of honour at Middletown on the Monaghan/Armagh border, were they proceeded to Belfast for burial. All but Sergeant Hirsz Kuflik were buried at Milltown, he was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Carnmoney. Today at the crash site a portion of Geodetic framework lies lodged in a gully on the mountain, close by a turret ring. The crashes on Mount Brandon are now well embedded into local folk lore. A plaque in Cloughan commemorates all the crashes in the area. 304 ‘Silesion’ Squadron lost 106 men in total during wartime operations. During its two years with Coastal Command it attacked 34 U-Boats and sank two, U-441 and U-3221. The squadron ended the war based at St. Eval in Cornwall, from were W/O Marezak Flying Wellington HF329 - ‘Y’ attacked and sank U-321 at the wars end.WAR GRAVES Within the registers of the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Milltown is listed as: “Belfast (Milltown) Roman Catholic Cemetery (Index No. U.K. 7220)” The 1914-1918 (First World War period) burials, numbering 105, are scattered throughout the burial ground. After the war a Cross of Sacrifice, approached by a short flight of steps, was erected on a prominent corner site, with a screen wall behind it on which are recorded the names of those casualties whose graves cannot be marked by headstones.

In the early months of the 1939-45 War a special section was set aside for service war graves, but this was not generally used. Originally there were 28 burials in the plot, but 13 Belgian graves were moved by the authorities concerned to the Belgian plot in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. There are now in this group 15 graves, and also a special memorial commemorating three British soldiers whose collective graves elsewhere in the cemetery could not be marked by a headstone. The total number of British service graves in the cemetery is 56; 50 World War 2, and six post war 1940’s circa. (See classified chart illustrated below) The British a Commonwealth graves have the traditional commission headstones and the seven Polish airforce graves have the Polish eagle on headstones designed to harmonise with them.

 

 

 

In the World War 1, cemeteries of France lie the remains of those Belfast Catholics who died as a result of service within the 16th Irish Division.

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