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Luftwaffe View of Birmingham

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Harry W. Flannery was CBS correspondent in Berlin for a year from October 1940. The USA was of course still neutral at that time. Whilst on a trip to occupied Paris in November 1940, not long after the first major air raids on Birmingham, he was given the opportunity to interview a Luftwaffe bomber group commander, "Captain" Burchard Flakowski. The interview was broadcast live to the American people via shortwave radio. These are abstracts from the interview and may be of interest to someone.


Flannery: Captain Flakowski has taken part in the air war over Norway and England, in flights recently over London, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, and Southampton.............How black is an English blackout? Can you see anything?
Captain: England is blacked out well. But one can always see something.
Flannery: That means that ordinarily you can see very little. In that case, how can you find your objectives?
Captain: We find our objectives by accurate navigation and by thorough preparation beforehand. One can always see certain landmarks - rivers and so on - and from these one can determine the definite target.
Flannery: Can you see your objectives at night? How do you know when you hit your target?
Captain: Yes, of course, you can see your objectives at night. It's easy to see the objectives if there's some blaze down there. Usually we drop flares first. In Birmingham, for instance, I saw several hundreds of goods wagons near the central station, lighted by a blaze of fire set by a previous plane. It was easy to hit this target, and my rearguard saw the goods wagons thrown about in all directions.............
Flannery: How about mass attacks? How many planes did you use over Coventry?
Captain: Well, the German Command said five hundred.
Flannery: How many were used over Birmingham, Bristol, and the other cities recently attacked?
Captain: About the same. Just about the same.
Flannery: How much damage would you estimate was done in Coventry, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton?
Captain: My opinion is that these cities attacked must be almost - as far as the military objectives are concerned - destroyed. For instance, I flew over Birmingham the morning after the bombing. I could see that at least the east side - where several big factories are - was all on fire. And I saw the station burning, too. You could see the blaze for about a hundred miles away.
(Source: "Assignment to Berlin" by Harry W. Flannery, Michael Joseph, London, 1942)

Chris
 

fellowkev

master brummie
Hi ChrisM
Feelings of anger and defiance well up within me, and I wasn't even alive during the war!!
My mom Sylvia Bayliss, was not evacuated during the war. When the Germans planes would come over, they would all get into a shelter in the garden. Her old and stubborn grandfather, George Pillinger (a Boer war veteran), would refuse to go in the shelter. He would stay in the house (in Harrowfield road) and from time to time, bring down mugs of hot cocoa.
Fool hardy or not, I love that British spirit!
 

Rupert

master brummie
Very interesting piece. The sounds of euphoria for some early success whether real or otherwise. It was short lived and retribution was dished out in spades.
 
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Beryl M

Guest
LET US NOT FORGET - Air power was a key Factor the Allies Won World War11 - The night was cool the moon was high search lights crisscrossing against the sky.‚.. probing the stars with its ruthless beam to catch the enemy within its gleam as wailing air raid sirens began to sound people stream to shelters underground -Evading adults I kept out of sight so not to be stopped to watch the fight

Above the fires the sky an angry red making the heavens pink smoke overhead -Saw brilliant specks of flashing light anti aircraft shells exploding the night -The heavy drones of planes fill the skies I shield with my hand to shade my eyes -See Heinkels Dornier's from the glow semi - illuminated in the street below - Watch a Hurricane climb for height from out of nowhere to join the fight - A Heinkel with engine all aflame chased by Hurricane's perfect aim - Awaiting explosions hold my breath inevitably it came with certain death? A burst of light smoke before mine eyes
Added to the destruction and demise - High in the heavens see with my eye long vapours trailing through the sky -At times through a gap - a star will glow in whirls of dark smoke the fighters go

The warring sounds left a sombre pall the barrage balloons still pink stand tall One balloon drifts through a broken cloud then the all clear came strong and loud The fighter boys were all so very brave need show a little of their courage they gave -It's not that I didn't feel any shame for worrying my mom I am to blame!
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Whilst Captain Flakowski was risking his life above, he was also risking mine several thousand feet below where I was four and a half and being hurried in a blanket towards our shelter. We were very lucky: we lived a mile or so outside the city boundary, to the north-east, and therefore a reasonable distance away from the main industrial targets like "The Dunlop", Nuffields, BSA, ICI, Lucas and the rest. But the ghastly air raid warning siren was nevertheless taken very seriously indeed. I would be roused from my slumbers, wrapped up in a blanket and carried to the half open french windows at the back of our house. There the wooden blackout frames would have been removed and we would wait by the open door in total darkness for my father to decide that there was a lull overhead and it was safe to scurry the twenty-odd yards to the shelter down the garden.

Our shelter was an impressive structure. My father, an inveterate do-it-yourselfer years before it became fashionable, had constructed it himself in late 1938 and early 1939, well before the outbreak of war and to the ill-concealed derision of friends and neighbours. But now eighteen months later his family was protected by a two foot thick slab of concrete while the neighbours sheltered under their stairs or beneath a structure of thin corrugated iron covered by a few inches of soil. One of my earliest memories is of its construction, its walls being cast with barrowloads of concrete reinforced with steel mesh. It was mainly below ground and its design must have owed much to the dugouts my father had occupied on the Western Front just 23 years earlier. It was always known within the family as "The Dugout" and it almost certainly survives today, still defying efforts to demolish it.

One entered the dugout down several angled steps. Inside there were a couple of bunks, one above the other, made of rough wood and chicken netting. These were for my sister and my mother. I reclined in some sort of orange box wedged across the far wall. I don’t ever remember it as being uncomfortable - in fact it was quite cosy - but my main recollection is the ever-present smell of mustiness and of fumes from the paraffin heater and the hurricane lamp or candles which we inhaled over the following hours.

While Capt. Flakowski and his Kamaraden were overhead, the three of us would spend the rest of the night in relative safety and comfort whilst my father and elder brother, if they were not elsewhere on Home Guard duty, would maintain a vigil up at ground level protected only by their tin hats. One was well aware of the seriousness of the situation - I once got thoroughly ticked off for allowing the torch I was holding to point briefly upwards as I went down the steps - but it never seemed particularly frightening, thanks, I suppose, to my parents protecting me from their worst fears. Nevertheless my own sense of security had been somewhat compromised by my sister who airily advised me one day that this massive structure would of course not survive a direct hit. This was a disturbing nugget of information which I did not find particularly helpful or welcome.

We spent many nights like that - I cannot remember how many. But as the war progressed and the siren continued to sound from time to time my father seemed to develop some sort of system to assess the risk. Sometimes I was allowed to stay in bed where I would lie awake, waiting for the wail of the all-clear and the feeling of relief. On other occasions I would be taken downstairs where it was deemed safe enough to sleep on the floor whilst unknown aircraft droned far overhead in the darkness. And sometimes it would be back to the orange box.

But history reveals that no direct hit ever materialised, neither on the dugout, nor in the immediate vicinity. Many of those nights were full of distant thumps and glows on the horizon and on one occasion we could see an area of Sutton Park ablaze - "The so-and-sos really thought they had hit something worthwhile", the grown-ups chortled the following morning. But nothing close, the buckets of sand and water standing ready in the house were never put to use, the stirrup pump stayed idle. Unlike those living in the more central areas - who have contributed to other threads on this subject - we were, as I say, very lucky.

Chris
 
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fellowkev

master brummie
Wonderfully written Chris, I could imagine the entire scene. What is it with all the great writers and poets on this site? It's uncanny.
It is a pleasure to read your accounts.
I wish my parents would write about their wartime experiences. When I write about these things, I am only conveying fragments of stories told to me round the kitchen table. Stories that are, without the benefit of experience, mere facts.
My point is that I appreciate you and all the others out there, who take the time to write these things down. We all benefit from knowing what it was really like.
 
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Beryl M

Guest
My father was overseas - So my mom being a nurse wanted to do her bit - joined a mobile unit of 4 attached to the Army Barracks at Witton - They would go out after a raid to help those who were hurt!
 
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W

Wendy

Guest
ChrisM, What a wonderful recollection. I hope you will send this to Carl Chinn. I am sure there are many like us who would love to read it. Thank you Wendy.
 

Di.Poppitt

master brummie
I was two when the war started. We had an Anderson shelter in the garden, but because my dad was usually on firewatch duty when there was an air raid mom carried me along the path to an elderly neighbours garden two doors away. The musty smell is my enduring memory, and the pitch black darkness. I have a memory of the old lady saying 'Ssh, there's one coming' we all sshushed, everyone listening and sure enough from no sound at all a faint hum turned into the loud roar of a 'plane overhead. I was never afraid, but I learned after the war as I grew up that my poor mother was always terrified. The 'all clear' must have been a relief to her, and I was always woken up as it wailed. I wasn't aware of bombs falling or people being killed, to my parents credit they totally shielded me from what was happening in our city.

We lived very close to ICI, and another worry for mom was that an aunt and uncle were often working there at night. Everyone thought that eventually Jerry would find the factory, but they never did. My husband's family lived within yards of Holford Drive which ran alonside ICI's boundry, and their bathroom took a hit but it was a single bomb that fell and was probably the crew dropping their last one before heading for home.

In 1943 when I started school I carried my gas mask with me. We had an air raid shelter which was built on to the end of the school building. It was brick built and there were no windows. It is still standing as I recently discoverd and is now the staff meeting room complete with windows.

Our Anderson shelter soon became covered in weeds, grass and poppies.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Thanks for your kind words, Wendy and Kevin. You risk encouraging geriatric self-indulgence!

In her wonderful reminiscence Di.Poppit wrote of ICI’s Kynoch Works at Witton:
Everyone thought that eventually Jerry would find the factory, but they never did

In fact, Di., they did, even if not catastrophically, thank goodness. There must be more facts around about this - Cromwell’s excellent air raid maps for example - but all I have succeeded in gleaning so far is here:
https://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/DotherReminiscences28staffshg.htm

Do you have anything on this by any chance, Cromwell?

Chris
 
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O.C.

Guest
ChrisM, First of all I would like to thank you for your contributions as it seems I have been on a battle to get threads started on WW2 with the exception of a few people....there is so much knowledge out their and people do remember and its all lost if not wrote down or told.
Lots going on with the forum at the moment but will be posting as normal after the weekend...
Interesting to note that after the Blitz of Birmingham the German Reconnaissance revealed massive air defenses at Wolverhampton and the big raids never came but what they did not know was all the guns were mostly dummies..The government kept a tight rein on the information of the shadow factories and when they got hit the information was kept quiet.
A lot of the factories in the Jewelery quarter were involved in the war effort Gillots the pen factory making bullet clips and many more items for the guns and ammo.etc but this deserves another thread
Look forward to another post.........
 
Good Story

It gets you mad reading this post, Arrogant German ****:|
Lets Hope that the German Pilot Hailed from Dresden, then he would realise the devastation caused.
 

Di.Poppitt

master brummie
There is always something new, I have lived all of my life believing that ICI never took a hit. Blow me down.

Thanks you for the link to the ICI site ChrisM. I knew Michael Clapham when he was MD, I worked in what was called Staff Records which was on the directors floor, and I used to take messages between directors secretaries, when I first started working there. I still have a memory of him, he was tall and slim, a very boyish looking man. His account of the bombs was quite telling, he could have mistimed things with awful consequenses. People were wonderful weren't they, he would have been quite a young man in the 1940's, and he was given the responsibility of the lives of so many people.
 
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Rupert

master brummie
Hitler was a seriously warped person who bent the minds of the German people through propaganda. Maybe they were a willing audience, who knows. Remember the harsh reparations from the first world war were causing major problems at the time. We have all heard of a loaf of bread requireing wheelbarrows of marks to purchase.
From what I can remember of the bombing of Birmingham, it does not compare with what the German cities recieved. Devastation in real terms. Fire storms that melted people to a blob on the side walk. Our people did that. As I have said before, you can't do war ever so nicely. As they were doing it the brave air crews were operating under a mortality rate that was horrendous. Life expectancy was but a few weeks. It was the same for the German crews and later in the war far worse for them. The German aircraft were on the verge of being obsolescent at the start of the war. They never developed a four engined heavy bomber as we did. With the exception of the Me 109 fighter and later the ju88 the German aircraft were slow or cumbersome or both and the German heirarchy were absorbed with the divebomber requirements.
The allies had thousand bomber raids going, on many nights and in the daytime the American Eigth Airforce was doing strategic bombing with their high flying B17s escorted by long range fighters that could fly with them to Germany and back, the P51, what a plane.
There is a book titled, I believe, 'Reap The Whirlwind', by a Canadian author that recounts the air war as experienced by the Canadian crews flying Halifaxes. I read this book a while back and found it absorbing. It's a great read that is hard to put down. It gives us a perspective of events.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Captain Flakowski

Don't know, Kieronpatt, you may be right but.............

Compared with other contributors to this forum, it's perhaps easier for someone like myself, who never lost a loved one or home during the Birmingham Blitz, to be more charitable about those at the sharp end whose job it was to follow their orders and inflict it all upon us. It's the same debate as the one about the ethics of Bomber Command's activities, although we have the consolation that the latter were one of retaliation, not of aggressive conquest - we do not have a Warsaw or a Rotterdam on our conscience - and that our cause was not, like that of the Nazis, at its heart an evil one. The actual Luftwaffe aircrew were no doubt young, or youngish men, doing a job that they had trained for and were now being ordered to do. I doubt that they enjoyed it much and one suspects that their main thoughts were trying to do the job properly, not being the one to make a mistake or let their mates down and striving to ensure that they got back in one piece. As far as the ethics were concerned, well, if they thought about it at all in the struggle for survival I suppose they found consolation in the fact that as far as the Birmingham attacks were concerned their targets were in theory those with a direct bearing on Britain's war effort - industrial and communications - even though in practice it didn't work out quite like that. Whatever one thought about what they were doing, they had to be brave men, just like their counterparts in the RAF.

I remember one glorious summer's day, probably in 1941, standing by my father gazing up into a cloudless blue sky. "What a wonderful day", he said. "If Jerry comes over today, he won't stand a chance". And then, to my utter astonishment, as I was firmly convinced by then that the sole aim of every single German was to ensure my certain, and preferably painful demise, he added "Poor devils!" What? Sympathy for the enemy? The comment, I suppose, of an ex-Tommy of the Great War who remembered that in those extraordinary circumstances one just did what one was supposed to do, whether one liked it or not and probably didn't; and that on the other side there were many in exactly the same boat.

At the same time as the CBS interview in November 1940, the RAF was mounting regular attacks on Berlin, minor inconveniences compared with what was to come but sufficient, according to the evidence of contemporary reports, to disrupt life in the capital and its government. Here was bravery once again, and even more so since the journey from East Anglia to Berlin in twin-engined Wellingtons was far more daunting than that in equally inadequate aircraft from the Channel coast to the West Midlands.

Now for all I know our Captain Flakowski may have been a dedicated, fully indoctrinated Nazi who was more than happy with his Fuehrer's foreign policy and who furthermore quite liked the thought of maiming babies. But more likely he was just a brave man, serving his country to the best of his ability and not yet seeing sufficient evidence that his leaders and their policies were essentially evil. And even if and when he eventually did, what could he then have done about it? As for his interview with CBS he was presumably plucked from his base in northern France - as a speaker of English - by officials from Goebbel's Propaganda Ministry, taken to Paris and there allowed to be interviewed, on the basis of prepared questions and answers. I believe that there was very little scope allowed in what was said or the manner in which it was expressed. But it must have given him a couple of unexpected nights in Paris which was a more enjoyable experience than trying to find Fort Dunlop in the dark and sending me off down the garden to my orange box. I wonder if he survived to 1945. The odds are against it.

As I say, it's easier for me to adopt an even-handed attitude to all this than many others and I hope I don't upset anyone by having done so.


Chris
 
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O.C.

Guest
Chris, My sentiments, exactly...each soldier sailor or airman does his job to the best of his or her ability...each believing their cause is just..who is wrong and who is right...we can all analysis in later years as armchair historians the rights and wrongs of any war but we had very brave folk on each side who today I feel no animosity towards...I look past the point of anger and am glad bridges have been built
 
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Wendy

Guest
A relative through marriage was a German and had to serve in the war. He told my son most of the young men were like our young men they just wanted to hang out with their mates but had to go to war. Although he lost all the toes on one foot he was still riding a bike at 80. He would go into the local town especially to fetch my son a CRATE of beer, and bring it back on his bike! Not far from where he lived was a small town that stood up against the Nazi's they were rounded up and shot behind the local church. There is a plaque on the wall and the bullet holes are still visable. Imagine my suprise when doing my family history I found my grandmothers grandfather was Martin Zipfel a German clockmaker who lived in Chappel St and is buried at St Martins!
 
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O.C.

Guest
When I was at the Commonwealth war grave site at Cannock Chase I was amazed to see a party of German Schoolchildren researching the airmen who died in the Zeppelins in the Great War placing wreaths upon their graves and I got talking to an elderly German couple who were photographing one particular grave and through the English guide from the CWGC who accompanied them I was told they wanted to pay their last respects to a relative before they died, as they were both crying it was a bit sad but they went away happy..knowing they had forfilled their quest
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
I echo the sentiments of the above stories regarding fighting in wars. In particular WW2, since it's within my experience and having lived and worked with German people I have seen both sides of the story. I grew up in a world that talked about hatred of German people and German goods, etc. and I can hardly blame that stance since Germany was our enemy and the consequences of Britain not winning WW2 had extrememly grim consequences . Plus, my Uncle was killed by a bullet through his brain in WW1. It was l941 when I came along and didn't understand much of it until later.

In my first job I worked with two German war brides at British Railways,
New Street Station in l957. Anna and Elfie. They had both met and married British soldiers during the war in Germany. I had never met any German people before and as I was only l5 years old I kept very quiet and watched and listened to as much as I could. Their desks were adjacent to mine. Elfie was beautiful and dressed in very stylish clothes and used a long cigarette holder when she smoked. I was totally fascinated by both of them. They were typists in the typing pool.

They were very careful not to speak German in the office and that must have been difficult for them. Their English was excellent both spoken and written. Elfie was a high born German from a wealthy family and part of her maiden name was "von". Anna was more middle class. I got to know them and ran grocery errands for them mostly food from an European style delicatessen located in Burlington Arcade at the time. I learnt a lot about German food from them. I really liked them and I know it was difficult for them in many ways given the general dislike of most things German at that time in Britain. They treated me very well as I remember and I have such good memories of them.

I have met many German people on my travels and have been able to talk to the ones in my age group about WW2. It was always a relief to hear another side of the story. War is hell no matter what.

I visited Germany for the first time in l960 An amazing trip to the Rhineland. I discovered there are good and bad in all races. Finally, my only bridesmaid was a German girl.
 
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