On this day in history….15th April 1941

On this day in history : 15th April 1941 – Over 900 people are killed and a further 1500 injured during the Belfast Blitz – when 200 Luftwaffe bombers strike military and manufacturing targets in the city….

Rescue workers searching through rubble after an air raid on Belfast – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

It was Easter Tuesday night, at around 10.40pm, when the air raid sirens sounded…. Many had believed that Belfast was out of reach of the Luftwaffe – and so the city was unprepared…. A smaller attack had taken place a few days before – possibly as a test of Belfast’s defences…. A cryptic warning had come across the airwaves from the traitor William Joyce, otherwise known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, when he announced in a radio broadcast from Hamburg, that there would be “Easter eggs for Belfast”….

The city played a great part in the war effort – with its large shipyard, aircraft manufacturing facilities and munition factories…. 200 Luftwaffe bombers had taken off from bases in occupied Northern France and the Netherlands…. The six hours of horror, death and destruction they were to unleash on Belfast resulted in the greatest loss of life in a single night’s raid – apart from London….

Visibility on the night was poor – which may account for the heavy civilian loss…. Over 55,000, half of Belfast City’s houses, were hit by bombs…. Streets were wiped away, all their occupants killed….over 100,000 were left homeless…. Many public buildings were destroyed , including the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children, the Strand Public Elementary School, the Belfast City Hall’s Banqueting Hall, countless of churches, railway stations, hotels….all obliterated….

Antrim Road corner of Duncairn Gardens, Belfast – Public Records of Northern Ireland

Few children had been evacuated from the city – some 80,000 still remained….

Mortuary services only had the capacity to deal with 200 bodies…. A further 150 corpses were buried in a mass grave, 123 of which remained unidentified…. St. George’s Market became a temporary mortuary for 255 of the dead…. Many more bodies and body parts were unidentifiable and were buried in mass graves in the city’s cemeteries….

Haw-Haw was later to announce…. “The Fuhrer will give you time to bury your dead before the next attack…. Tuesday was only a sample….”

A second massive air raid took place three weeks later…. A further 150 people lost their lives….

Soldiers clearing rubble after the May air raid – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

On this day in history….25th September 1983

On this day in history : 25th September 1983 – In a mass break-out from the Maze high security prison, near to Lisburn, Northern Ireland, 38 prisoners manage to escape….

The breakout had been planned for several months and was masterminded by Dermot Finucane…. Using smuggled-in guns and knives at just after 2.30pm prisoners overpowered prison guards and then hijacked a delivery lorry which they used to get to the main gate…. A prison officer attempted to block the entrance using his own car – and then violence erupted…. An officer was stabbed and then proceeded to suffer a fatal heart attack as a result….

Once outside the prison the escapees hijacked several cars to make their getaway…. The biggest search operation ever seen in Northern Ireland was launched…. Police and soldiers set up checkpoints on all roads within a five mile radius of the prison and the area was sealed off….

Ten prisoners were recaptured in the first few hours – nineteen more within the next few days…. The rest got away but by 1992 five more had been caught, whilst three had been killed…. Twenty prison officers had been injured during the escape, four had been stabbed and two shot….

The closing of the Maze Prison was part of the Good Friday Agreement – the last inmates were transferred in September 2000….

H-block corridor – Image credit : Patrick McAleer CC BY-SA 2.5