Lone wolves that rained terror on city; November 1940 marked the darkest days of the Blitz for Birmingham and Coventry. Large-scale night attacks laid waste to large swathes of the cities. But the Germans also used daylight raids of solitary bombers as a weapon of terror. Now Blitz historian Steve Richards has researched three such attacks on Birmingham.
AT 1.50pm on November 4, 1940, a German bomber flew at just 1,000 feet through the balloon barrage that crowded the skies above Kings Norton. It dropped three bombs, damaging houses and two factories.
Minutes earlier the same aircraft had bombed and machinegunned Henley-in-Arden, in Warwickshire.
Five days later, on a Saturday lunchtime, Kings Norton and nearby Cotteridge were the initial focus for another 'lone wolf' raid.
A single Junkers Ju 88 bomber approached from the south-west and shortly after 12.30pm dropped bombs and machinegunned a number of streets. Eye-witnesses report it flew very low, startling shoppers and residents in the Hobs Moat and Sheldon district. The Junkers followed the Coventry Road and continued spraying machinegun fire.
The pilot guided his aircraft to the principal target, Elmdon Aerodrome. Here the plane dropped three or four bombs, causing minor damage to five Tiger Moth training aircraft, before opening fire on two barrage balloons, damaging one.
At this point in the war, the Austin Aero works had ostensibly escaped the attention of the Luftwaffe, unlike the aircraft factory at Castle Bromwich.
In fact, German intelligence held the mistaken notion that the Austin factory was producing Spitfires. Although involved in wartime production for the RAF, it did not produce the fighters though did produce the Fairey Battle aircraft, as well as Hurricane fighters and the Short Stirling heavy bombers.
A German reconnaissance flight took place on September 5, and plans for an attack drawn up.
Shortly after 4pm on November 13, barrage balloon posts in the Longbridge area were alerted that enemy aircraft were approaching from the south.
Orders were given for balloons to fly just below the cloud base. Within a couple of minutes the air-raid warning sounded. Ten minutes later a solitary Heinkel He 111 was overhead and greeted with errant anti-aircraft fire. The Heinkel turned to the west, circled and came in to attack. Over the next ten minutes, it dropped at least 15 bombs, most of which fell in surrounding fields.
The electricians' shop at the Austin Motor factory was hit, resulting in six deaths and 25 injuries. The damage caused meant the night-shift was cancelled for the following two nights. As for the important aero works at Cofton Hackett, only the water mains were damaged as three high explosive bombs missed their mark.
A further three bombs fell in Northfield, completely blocking the main Birmingham-Bristol LMS railway track.
Then 914 (barrage balloon) Squadron reported the Heinkel being chased off by three RAF Hawker Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes belonged to the newly-operational 306 (Polish) Squadron, which had taken up residence the previous week at the Shropshire airfield of Tern Hill.
Yellow Section had scrambled at 4.05pm and was initially instructed to patrol the Coventry area.
Within a few minutes the three pilots were given a series of new courses which led them to Birmingham.
Anti-aircraft fire alerted them to the whereabouts of the Heinkel heading north-east. The Hur-ricanes prepared for a head-on attack, but the enemy aircraft, which had been flying at about 6,000 feet, executed a steep turn to the right. With the fighters closing the gap, the bomber turned in a westerly direction, making for the safety of cloud cover.
The section leader, Flt Lt Hugh Kennard, led his two Polish comrades in an attack on the Heinkel, which was now down to 4,500 feet.
Closing in on the bomber at a distance of 250 yards, he let off a long burst from his eight Browning machine guns, and some of his bullets found their mark. Next in was Pilot Officer Edward Jankowski, who also saw his bullets strike as he started firing from 350 yards. Last in was Pilot Officer Bohdan Bielkiewicz, who came in on the Heinkel's starboard beam and fired three short bursts from 300 yards, registering hits on the fuselage and port wing.
Each pilot reported seeing the starboard propeller slow down and Bielkiewicz observed smoke coming from that engine. Bielkiewicz's own Hurricane suffered some hits from the enemy's return fire.
No further attacks were made as the Heinkel escaped into cloud.
Flt Lt Kennard, aware of the proximity of the Malvern Hills, elected not to enter the cloud and broke off the engagement.
The action had taken place at 4.40pm over the Bromsgrove area and witnessed by residents below.
Of course, it was the night attacks which were the most devastating.
Just over 24 hours later the Germans would launch their infamous attack on Coventry.
And between November 19 and 23, a series of raids resulted in more than 750 people in Birmingham and neighbouring areas being killed.
BIRMINGHAM'S darkest days have now been chronicled in a book by Steve Richards, The Luftwaffe Over Brum.
The fascinating book is made even more remarkable by one detail.
The Solihull author is blind. He relied on wife Carole, daughters Emma and Julie and friends to be his eyes during the three-and-a-half year project.
"I'm very proud of the end-product but I couldn't have done it without them," he said.
The Luftwaffe Over Brum costs PS19.95 and is available at www.birminghamair-raids.co.uk or via your local bookshop.
German intelligence thought the Austin factory was producing Spitfires
<B A map showing every bomb and incendiary dropped on Birmingham
<B A Heinkell 111 was used in one of the raids
<B The Germans' targeting map of the Austin works at Longbridge
<B Knowle Road, in Sparkhill, Birmingham, after one of the larger raids during the Blitz
<B Fairey Battles being built at the Austin works
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Nov 30, 2017|
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