British Homefront during WW1. Germany’s strategic air attacks against British cities and civilian targets in 1917.

German bomber crew among those who took part in the attack (IWM)

During the war Britain had experienced several air raids on cities by Zeppelins but in 1917 Germany started strategically bombing British cities using bomber aircraft instead of their slow-moving Zeppelins.

On Wednesday 13 June 1917, 20 German bombers called Gotha GI. V’s took off from airfields in Ghent, Belgium to start the strategic bombing of London which was called Operation Tûrkenkreuz. Some aircraft dropped bombs on Margate, three bombs hit Shoeburyness and the remaining fourteen aircraft flew over east London.  

After dropping bombs on Barking, East Ham and the docks in East London by 12pm 70 bombs had been dropped near Liverpool Street Station; three hit the station killing 100 people and a further 400 were injured.

Upper North Street School was a London primary school in Popular which was rebuilt after the war and is now called Mayflower Primary School (the road is still called Upper North Street).

Upper North Street school was full with children when the German bombers flew over and dropped two 110 lb (50Kg) bombs which crashed through the roof then through the  top two floors before exploding in the ground floor class room killing 18 children, sixteen of whom were aged between four and six years old, 30 children were seriously injured and two older children were killed as the bombs passed through the upper floors of the building.

Upper North Street School (IWM)

15 children were buried together in an east London cemetery and the last coffin in the funeral procession contained the remains of children who could not be identified.

School caretaker Benjamin Batt whose son was killed in the explosion looking for body parts

The Mazabotto Massacre, Italy 1944

5th October marks the anniversary of the Mazabotto Massacre (29 September to 5 October 1944) also called the massacre of Monte Sole, Italy.

Italian Partisans (Resistance fighters)

After German troops came under sustained attacks from Italian Partisans (resisters) the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsfuhrer- SS killed 700 civilians of all ages and genders in the village of Marzabotto in the mountains south of Bologna. Major Walter Reder, the SS commander who signed the order for the executions was later tried for war crimes and was sentenced to death by an Italian court but was released in 1985 and is said to have returned unremorseful to Austria and died in 1991.  Ten other SS officers were not convicted due to lack of evidence.

Lilian Rolfe SOE wireless operator in France

Lilian Rolfe (left) standing outside a safe house in France with the daughter of the family working for the resistance. (IWM)

After completing her training and being accepted as an agent by the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the night of 5/6 April 1944 Lilian Rolfe was dropped by parachute onto remote farmland near Orléans in north-central France to be the wireless operator for the Historian network supporting the Maquis (French Resistance). Apart from reporting German troop movements, arranging and organising arms and supplies to be dropped by parachute she also worked alongside the Maquis and is known to have been involved in a firefight in the town of Olivet south of Orleans.

George Wilkinson head of the Historian Network (common source)

Shortly after D-day her circuit leader, George Wilkinson, was captured by German troops and Rolfe continued sending messages to London to support the Maquis but was later captured by the Gestapo whilst transmitting from a safe house in Nargis. Although she was repeatedly tortured for information her wireless was not ‘played back’ to London by a German operator which means she refused to reveal her codes and in August 1944 Rolfe was deported to Ravensbrück Concentration camp in northern Germany. During an investigation after the war it was discovered Rolfe was so ill she was unable to walk (later reports state this was due to leg injuries sustained during torture) and on 5 February 1945, 30-year-old Lilian Rolfe was executed and her body disposed of in the camp crematorium.


The Battle of Vercors 1944.

Vercors 1944

In July 1944 the Maquis (French Resistance) held a plateau known as the Massive du Vercors consisting of rugged mountains when they were faced by overwhelming German forces including an airborne attack by glider troops. During the battle an estimated 639 members of the Maquis were killed. Those who were wounded were executed on the spot, 201 civilians were killed, and 500 houses burned. It has been estimated German casualties were 83 killed and missing. 

Marcel Pinte the six-year old who worked for the French Resistance

(Musee Resistance)

French Resistance. Six-year old Marcel Pinte worked for the resistance carrying secret messages to various parts of the resistance network and his father, Eugéne Pinte (aka La Gaubertie) ran a resistance cell from their remote family farm. It was later said, with his school satchel on is back he didn’t raise suspicion.
  In August 1944 Marcel accompanied the Maquis to a night parachute drop of weapons and supplies and whilst waiting for the drop a member of the resistance had an accidental discharge with a Sten Gun during which Marcel was hit by several rounds and killed.  He was later honoured during the Armistice Day at a ceremony in Aixe-sur-Vienne, near the city of Limoges in central France.

Norwegian Resistance during WW2: Anne-Sofie Ostvedt

Anne-Sofie Ostvedt (soure common)

Anne-Sofie Østvedt, (later married Strømnæs), (2 January 1920 to 16 November 2009) was second in command of a Norwegian Resistance group called XU. Like many throughout occupied Europe during WW2 who later joined the resistance she started resisting by publishing underground newspapers and in December 1941 she was recruited by XU. Despite being only in her early 20’s she was vital to XU’s underground movement and became their second in command.  In 1942 the Gestapo was attempting to track her down, but her identity was not known by other members of the movement and she was only known as ‘Aslak’ which I understand is a male name in Norway. According to several accounts, after the war many members of the group who she gave orders to were surprised at her young age and the fact she was female.

Luftwaffe Fighter Ace Hans-Joseph Marseille.

Hans-Jospeh Marseille (German Federal Archives)

Hans-Joachim Marseille was a German Luftwaffe fighter Ace during WW2 and by the age of 22 was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. Apart from being well-known in Germany for his impressive successes during aerial combat he was also known for his Bohemian Lifestyle.

On 26 September 1942 (some say 30 September) he was flying in formation over Sidi Abdel Rahman, Kingdom of Egypt in a Messerschmitt Bf 109 when the aircraft developed a serious engine failure and the cockpit rapidly filled with thick smoke and Marseille reported by radio he was bailing out.   After peeling away from the formation to give him room to manoeuvre, eyewitness statements from other pilots reported seeing him using the standard procedure of rolling the aircraft onto its back to make it easier to exit. A subsequent investigation concluded Marseille was disorientated by thick smoke and was unaware his aircraft had entered a deep dive of approximately 70-80 degrees and was travelling at a considerable speed and after bailing out his chest hit the vertical stabilizer of his aircraft which either killed him instantly or rendered him unconscious and was unable to pull the ripcord to open his parachute. His watch stopped at 11:42 am which is the time he struck the ground and a Luftwaffe doctor pronounced him dead on the scene after suffering massive head and other injuries. 

Another forgotten conflict since WW2: Borneo

Borneo (Paradata)

The Battle of Plaman Mapu on 27 April 1965 was one of the largest battles during the Indonesian- Malaysia Confrontation over the creation of the new Malaysian state. Plaman Mapu was a small base in the jungle on the border between the Malaysian state of Sarawak and Indonesia, and the battle commenced in the early hours of 27 April after Indonesian troops crossed the border and launched a surprise attack against 36 men of B Company 2 Para who found themselves fighting an estimated 400 Indonesian troops which had artillery support.

Borneo (Paradata)

Sergeant-Major Williams organised a counter attack and whilst under heavy fire led men towards a captured position and engaged around thirty Indonesian soldiers and during a second attack Williams killed several more with a GPMG during which he was blinded in one eye. When they launched a third attack Williams began receiving support from rifle fire which was followed by artillery and grenades and the Indonesian infantry retreated across the border after an intense two-hour fire fight.

From most accounts the Battle of Plaman Mapu was a turning point in the conflict. Due to heavy losses (total numbers unknow) the Indonesian Army did not launch another large cross-border attack and their defeat was a disaster for the government: within months there was revolution in Indonesia and peace was secured within a year as the conflict ground to a halt. (photo Para Date) More information can be found at Airborne Assault Para Data .

https://www.paradata.org.uk/article/battle-plaman-mapu

British Forces in the Radfan 1 April 1964 to 30 June 1964: One of several forgotten conflicts.

British Paratrooper on the Radfan Moutains. (Paradata)

One of many forgotten conflicts since WW2: the Aden Emergency was an armed insurgency by the NLF and FLOSY against the Federation of South Arabia, a protectorate of Britain which is now part of Yemen. 

The 5000-foot Bakari Ridge which dominated the Wadi Dhubson was regarded as impregnable by the insurgents and accommodated their leadership. To capture the Wadi Dhubson members of 3 Para (3rd Battallion Parachute Regiment) scaled the mountain carrying 90lb loads and covered 11 miles during two-night marches and after a number of skirmishes and a large firefight they occupied the ridge on 24 May.

Radfan (Pradata)

Soldiers descended from the ridge on 30-foot ropes and surprised the insurgents and this was followed by a violent fire-fight and air attacks from RAF fighters and concentrated fire from the battalion broke all resistance and the insurgents withdrew leaving their dead and all their weapons behind. Villages were searched, and arms dumps destroyed. Within nine days 200 square miles of territory which had been an insurgent stronghold and had never been entered by Europeans was secured and place under government control and many insurgents had been killed.

(Paradata)

3 PARA withdrew back to Aden on 28th May having won a DSO, an MC and four additional medals, three MIDs and six CinC commendations. D Coy, 3 PARA were deployed on 6 June and remained behind for a further four weeks.


The British Homefront during WW2: The Café de Paris bombed during the London Blitz

The Café de Paris was a London nightclub in Coventry Street W1 near Leicester Square which opened in 1924 but closed permanently in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After receiving a direct hit during the Blitz, it was reported in newspapers but due to censorship the full story only became known several years after the war.

On the night of 8 March 1941, the Café de Paris which had a maximum capacity of 700 people was described as heaving with couples dancing to Ken ‘Snake hips’ Johnson’s big band. Twenty-six-year old Ken Johnson was from British Ghana and had just started playing when according to one of the few survivors there was an immense blue flash. Two bombs entered the night club down a ventilation shaft from the roof and exploded in front of the band. Ken Johnson’s head was blown from his shoulders and the legs of dancer’s were sheared off. Due to the confined space the blast was magnified and burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.

Ken ‘Snake Hips’ Johnson

When rescuers arrived one tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying where heaped everywhere.

The number of fatalities determined by body parts is not known and numbers varying considerably but this was not uncommon during the Blitz.