The Euro World War II History Collections part Prolog 1939


The Euro world War II History Collections


Prologue  1939

Created By

Dr Iwan suwandy,MHA

Private Limited E-book In CD-Rom edition

Special for Senior Collectors



Photo: this is the german promotional postal staioner card durin Nazi era pre WWII in 1939

Kiessling &Schiefner Dresden

 on  6 cent Hindenbverg postal stationer card send from Desden 15.2.1939 to Mr L.Christ  Neurenberg,

Photo: this is the written Nazi salut heil Hitler and local revenue of the cad below,more info click hhtp://


at back  promotional picture of Hus un Kundhegerate Hotelbedarf Aufrag fur  Fa, L.Christ

Place 3 pieces waiter number one varietal vergoldest, emaeilliert with 1:30 sichcherheitsnadel gross count 1-12.
Heil Hitler!
hand sign Kiessling & Sciefner chopped on delcredere token Nord Sud eGmbH Dresden gottig nuf for delkrendere tolerate Lieteranten revenue 20 RM and 10 RM

Original in germany

Je 3 stuck kellner  nummern sorte 1  vergoldest,emaeilliert mit sichcherheitsnadel  brutto 1.30 Zahl 1-12.

Heil Hitler !

Photo: look the closed up salut heil hitler and local revenue of germany nazi era 1939 pre WW III

handSign Kiessling & Sciefner chopped on  Delkredere Wertmarke Nord Sud E.G.M.B.H  Dresden gottig nuf fur  delkrendere vertrage Lieteranten 10 und 20 RM



the Hitler salut Heil Hitler ! on this card

(Courtecy dr Iwan suwandy,found at Kotakinibalu sabah(before Yeseltown North Borneo)

look the same card

Reklame Ak Kiessling & Schiefner, Kinderzimmer

postally used 1939, blotchy, corners bumped, otherwise good condition

Reklame Ak Kiessling & Schiefner, Kinderzimmer

Backside Reklame Ak Kiessling & Schiefner, Kinderzimmer



Photo: this is another germany Bhoeringer Promotional leaflet send to Indonesia in 1939 pre WWII

The rare C.F.Boeringer &Sohned G.m.b.H ,Mannheim-Waldhof  promotional(reclame)  Perlaten-Calcium  in Climacterium card folder send from CDs Manheim  10.3.39 special nazi postmark Deutch reich 5 cent to Dr Thung Sin Nio (the frist Chinese overseas medical docter  of Indonesia University)Batavia-centrum(now Central Jakarta)

Photo: this is inside of Bhoeringer promotional leaflet sedn to Indonesia in 1939 inside the leaflet below,medicine promotion

(courtecy Dr Iwan found at Jakarta in 1994)

The pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim was founded in 1885 by


 Albert Boehringer (1861-1939)

in Ingelheim am Rhein.

 From its beginnings in 1885 when it employed just 28 people in Nieder-Ingelheim, the company has since become a global enterprise.

As part of research and development activities for innovative drugs, the company focuses primarily on the therapeutic areas of cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, diseases of the central nervous system, metabolic diseases, virological diseases and oncology.

Boehringer Ingelheim is a global group of companies embracing many cultures and diverse societies. Learn more about the financial highlights, the corporate vision, the organisation, the Board of Managing Directors and the company’s history as well as our engagement for scientific, cultural and environmental purposes



Hitler’s Ambitions

Adolf Hitler wanted more land, especially in the east, to expand Germany according to the Nazi policy of lebensraum. Hitler used the harsh limitations that were set against Germany in the Versailles Treaty as a pretext for Germany’s right to acquire land where German-speaking people lived. Germany successfully used this reasoning to envelop two entire countries without starting a war.



 Invasion of Poland

Finally accepting that Germany could not be appeased Britain and France stepped up their rearmament programmes and gave guarantees to Poland, Hitler’s next target.

After signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviets, Hitler demanded territorial concessions from the Poles. These were refused and the Germans attacked on 1 September 1939. Britain and France declared war two days later. The Second World War had begun.

A British anti-aircraft gun, 1939.

NAM. 1985-04-49-47


 Commonwealth at war

On the outbreak of war in 1939 the British Army comprised 50 regular and Territorial divisions. Many of these troops were stationed throughout the world. Over 50,000 soldiers were based in India and garrisons east of Suez.

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that was dispatched to France in 1939 consisted of only ten divisions. This force was relatively small compared with those of other combatants. But in addition to their own Army, the British could draw on additional divisions from Australia, Canada, South Africa, West Africa, East Africa and New Zealand. There were also around 200,000 men of the Indian Army stationed on the Indian sub-continent.

General Gamelin, the French Commander-in-Chief, inspects Canadian troops at Aldershot, 1939.

NAM. 1985-04-49-79



Soldiers wearing the new battledress and equipment issued to all branches of the Army in 1939.

NAM. 1975-03-63-1-75




Derrick joined the RAF early in 1939


 and trained as a Wireless Operator (Passing out on 06.05.40), later retraining as a Wireless Operator Mechanic (Wom) (07.03.41) after which he was posted to No.12 WI (Wireless Interception) screen

Northern Ireland where he was to occupy a farm cottage on the border of Northern Ireland and Eire to maintain a listening watch, along with another RAF wireless operator and six soldiers to act as guards

 (I believe this to be part of the “Y” service but cannot get confirmation of it), whilst here in Northern Ireland, his home base was RAF Aldergrove, and it was on one of his regular visits to collect his pay he heard that due to the introduction of the new four engine bombers, as well as to enemy action there was a shortage of Air Gunners and they were recruiting for replacements, Derrick volunteered and on completion of his training (20.07.41) he was eventually transferred to Coastal Command.

March ,14th, 1939,


 Hitler made it clear that he intended to force

the central Czechoslovakian government to give Slovakia its independence, which would make the “rump” Czech state “even more completely at our mercy,” remarked Hermann Goering.

Slovakia indeed declared its “independence” (in fact, complete dependence on Germany) on March 14, 1939, with the threat of invasion squelching all debate within the Czech province

March ,15th.1939

1939 Nazis take Czechoslovakia

On this day, Hitler’s forces invade and occupy Czechoslovakia–a nation sacrificed on the altar of the Munich Pact, which was a vain attempt to prevent Germany’s imperial aims.

Then, on March 15, 1939, during a meeting with Czech President Emil Hacha–a man considered weak, and possibly even senile–Hitler threatened a bombing raid against Prague, the Czech capital, unless he obtained from Hacha free passage for German troops into Czech borders.

He got it. That same day, German troops poured into Bohemia and Moravia. The two provinces offered no resistance, and they were quickly made a protectorate of Germany. By evening, Hitler made a triumphant entry into Prague.

The Munich Pact, which according to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had purchased “peace in our time,” was actually a mere negotiating ploy by the Hitler, only temporarily delaying the Fuhrer’s blood

July 1939


 Photo: this is another Nazi Promotional postmark of Merz Jodo Muc,all collections look at with click hhtp//


The Fragment postal used cover with Promotion Machinal postmark  Merz  Jodo Muc  der sanitarer in der Westentasche  deutch reichpost 0.65 CDS Frankfurt(mann.) stadt des Deutchen Handwerks14.7.39 n red ink

August 1939

Messerschmitt 110

The Messerschmitt 110 was originally designed as a twin engined fighter. The Messerschmitt 110 first flew in May 1936 and by August 1939, the Luftwaffe had 159 110Cs available for the blitzkrieg attack on Poland.
The Me 110 proved a valuable plane to the Luftwaffe in the Polish campaign — though it was up against old fashioned fighters in the Polish Air Force.

The German Army that crossed into Poland on September 1 had with it more than 200 Ju87s for support, and the years between the Spanish Civil War and the Poland invasion provided now-General Richthofen with time to experiment with new techniques for controlling close air support missions.

Named the “air commander for special purposes,” his main contribution to the development of CAS was the creation of four Special Air Detachments. Traveling with army division commanders and using armored cars, these units were sent to General von Reichenau’s Tenth Army to experiment calling in precision air strikes.

When not being used for direct support work, Stukas were used throughout the campaign to attack bridges, fortifications, and other “hard” targets. Some early lessons in the vulnerability of the Stuka operating alone could have been taught had the Poles used a unified, coherent command for their air force.

They did not. Contrary to most reports, the Polish Air Force was NOT destroyed on the ground in the first day, but rather sent to dispersal fields, where interaction with larger air units was difficult at best.


The Polish Air Force was therefore unable to stop the widespread attacks by the Stukas as they protected the German army’s flanks and blasted targets at or near front lines. While the attack on Poland is often considered the first real Blitzkrieg,

it was a far more traditional attack. Points of resistance were simply bypassed, trading distance for all else. Air power preserved the flanks of the German advances and froze Polish units, who usually found themselves surrounded by the German army in large pockets.

When the Polish Army finally launched a major counteroffensive on the flanks of the fast-moving German army, they became early martyrs to the effectiveness of airpower. On September 9, about 170,000 Polish forces gathered and attacked German forces near Poznan. The attack briefly looked like it would work, cutting the 10th Army off from its logistics trail.

Unfortunately for the Poles, the 10th was the unit with von Richthofen’s Special Air Detachments. Quickly, the attacking Poles found themselves under withering dive-bombing from Stukas and constant strafing by Hs123 biplanes (the Hs123 was the German’s premier ground attack strafer for the first several years of the war). However, it wasn’t just the dive bomber and ground attack assets of the Luftwaffe that were used.

Any available aircraft in the theater was sent to plug the gap. Horses, still crucial to both Polish and German ground forces, panicked under the air attacks; their troops did little better. Stukas had been fitted with sirens on their wings, and the Hs123’s engine sounded like a loud machine gun itself at low altitude. The effect on the fresh Polish troops, who had never come under air attack, was total. It was an utter route, and 1,700 sorties later, the Luftwaffe has effectively crushed the Polish counterattack.

Polish General Kutrzeba

described the scene:

“Towards ten o’clock, a furious air assault was made on the river crossings near Witkovice – which for the number of aircraft engaged, the violence of their attack, and the acrobatic daring of their pilots, must have been unprecedented. Every moment, every troop concentration, every line of advance, came under pulverizing bombardment from the air. It was just hell on earth. The bridges were destroyed, the fords blocked, and the waiting columns of men decimated.”

Although the battle for Poland was handily won by the Germans, air power theorists such as von Richthofen still saw much room for improvement. A wide range of issues had arisen from the actual application of the theory of the Special Air Attachments. Army officers didn’t feel the need to call in air strikes as much as they could have, and there were the inevitable SNAFUs of radio frequencies and target identification.

The fact that the Polish campaign really was more a battle of encirclement rather than a true concentrated armor attack also weighed heavily. Largely free of concentrated attacks, the Stukas were used to protect the flanks of German units and strike point targets.


Operational Doctrine
Much of the operational doctrine was based upon French strategic planning which by the late 1930s was inadequate to deal with Germany’s mechanized war (Zaloga and Madej, 1991).
Each army was allotted its own air units, usually made up of two squadrons of P.7 fighters or P.12 air defence/ ground attack aircraft.
In addition one reconnaissance squadron made up of eight to ten P.23 Karas light bombers and one or two observation squadrons made up the Lotnictwo Wojskowe attachments to the army.

While Poland had some 300 fighters (Zaloga and Madej, 1991; Koniarek, 1994; Zamoyski, 1995) only 10% were in combat condition. The remainder were either in a training role or undergoing repair prior to the outbreak of war.
The Karas bombers numbered around 240 and never really fulfilled its role as a light bomber or ground attack aircraft.
The P.37 Los bomber was more advanced in design, but only 75 available for combat duty in 1939.

War in the Air
Numerous authors (Davies, 1981, Zaloga and Madej, 1991; Koniarek, 1994; Zamoyski, 1995) have attempted to correct historical myth surrounding the role of the Lotnictwo Wojskowe. The airforce was not destroyed on the airfields on the 1st

September 1939.
Most aircraft were dispersed to secret airfields and the Luftwaffe primarily shot-up and bombed empty airfileds obscured by early morning mist. Air defences concentrated on air cover over Warsaw as the prime objective that enabled the Luftwaffe air superiority to disrupt mobilization of the army.

The military high command requested low-level raids on advancing German columns that proved to be very wasteful in planes. While most air units quickly retreated into the heartland of Poland, spares and fuel became an increasing problem.
Communication between units and the army broke down and in some cases units were requested to carry out tactical support against an army which could outgun them or take on a superior airforce.
Pilots and ground-crew fought heroically with limited resources and often found ‘friendly-fire’ was as lethal as taking on the enemy (Zamoyski, 1995). As planes moved from airfield to airfield, ground crews struggled to rendezvous and quite often became separated for up to three days before rejoining their squadrons.
These experiences shaped tactical policy which were put to good effect, but not in this theatre of the war.

<span>PZL Los B, Bomber Brigade</span>

On the 3rd September

onwards all units were to withdraw to southeastern Poland in order to re-group. All personnel and reservists had by now been called up.
By the 5th September,

the physical intervention by Britain and France had not materialized and the airforce had lost 30% of its aircraft. Zamoyski, (1995) pointed out that 14 Hurricanes and 36 Fairey Battles having being loaded aboard ships in Liverpool bound for Gdynia were rerouted to the Rumanian port of Galti on the Black Sea once hostilities commenced.
On the 10th September

200 pilots and technical staff were ordered to Rumania to collect replacement machines. Unfortunately, Rumania under German pressure rescinded its alliance with Poland and became neutral while 6,000 airforce personnel massed on the border.
The ship carrying its valuable cargo had passed Gibraltar as Rumanian neutrality was announced and unknown to the Poles, the ship was once again re-routed.
From the 16th September onwards,

combat casualties to aircraft and personnel escalated with squadrons being annihilated or simply running out of fuel and spares.
On the 17th September

100 war planes and 50 civilian aircraft flew into Rumania to an airfield at Galati. The crews suddenly realized the war was over and that Rumania, Britain and France had not supported them in their hour of need.
Most airmen were reasonably well treated. Polish army units began to cross the Rumanian border shortly afterwards.
In Eastern Poland, the Polish army and airforce were engaging both the German and Soviets and continued to fight hard until 6th October.

In the aftermath, it appeared significant numbers of military personnel had escaped and started their campaign in exile. The navy had escaped and Poland’s gold reserves too thanks

to the planning of General Rayski.
900 airforce personnel had made their way to Hungary and approximately 1,000 to the Baltic States of Latvia and Lithunia. Another 1,500 had been captured by the Soviets and sent to the gulags — many did not survive (Anders, 1949; Zamoyski, 1995).
Security at the internment camps was poor and the inmates too keen to get to France and Britain to fight while in exile. 90,000 Polish military personnel were to be clandestinely removed from the Balkans through an underground network.
Britain was acutely short of trained airmen who were given priority together with the elements of the Enigma decoding material Zamoyski, 1995:39).

Aircraft camouflage of 1939 campaign

Since 1937 Polish Air Force standardised camouflage schemes on all of its aircraft. There were four basic schemes:
Upper surfaces of wings and elevators and entire fuselage in Khaki. Lower wing and elevator surfaces in Light Blue. The most used scheme.
Upper surfaces camouflaged in three colors: Light Olive, Dark Olive, Khaki. Lower surfaces Sliver or Light Blue for fighter. Color edges feathered or splintered.
Trainer aircraft were painted overall Khaki. Overall Sliver or Overall Ivory White.
Sea aircraft were painted Light Green-Grey on the upper and Silver on the lower surfaces and floats.
Generally all aircraft produced by PZL and LWS carried scheme no. 1. Scheme no. 2 was typical for Lublin R-XIII.

Color Name
Comment Federal Standard
Equivalent Humbrol

Light Khaki
Upper surfaces of fighter and reconnaissance aircraft. Also present in Lublin R-XIII camouflage. In their entirety for training airplanes 30118

Dark Khaki
Upper surfaces of bombers as the PZL 37 “Los” 30097
5pHu:110 + 1pHu:33 + 1pHu:10

Light Olive
Upper camouflage of R-XIII 34151 Hu:151
Dark Green
Upper camouflage of R-XIII 34097
2pHu:80 + 1pHu:116

Upper camouflage of R-XIII 33245

Light Blue
Lower surfaces of camouflaged R-XIII 35550
6pHu:34 + 1pHu:25 + 1pHu:89 + 2pHu:64

Light Blue-Grey
Lower surfaces of fighter and bomber 36329
7pHu:87 + 3pHu:34

Sea Grey
Sea aircraft 34410
6pHu:90 + 5pHu:34 + 1pHu:76 + 1pHu:64

Lower surfaces of reconnaissance aircraft (even some R-XIII) and cockpit interiors. 17178




1939, Germany and the Soviet Union sign a non-aggression pact, stunning the world, given their diametrically opposed ideologies. But the dictators were, despite appearances, both playing to their own political needs.

After Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, Britain had to decide to what extent it would intervene should Hitler continue German expansion. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, at first indifferent to Hitler’s capture of the Sudetenland, the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, suddenly snapped to life when Poland became threatened. He made it plain that Britain would be obliged to come to the aid of Poland in the event of German invasion. But he wanted, and needed, an ally. The only power large enough to stop Hitler, and with a vested interest in doing so, was the Soviet Union. But Stalin was cool to Britain after its effort to create a political alliance with Britain and France against Germany had been rebuffed a year earlier. Plus, Poland’s leaders were less than thrilled with the prospect of Russia becoming its guardian; to them, it was simply occupation by another monstrous regime.

Hitler believed that Britain would never take him on alone, so he decided to swallow his fear and loathing of communism and cozy up to the Soviet dictator, thereby pulling the rug out from the British initiative. Both sides were extremely suspicious of the other, trying to discern ulterior motives. But Hitler was in a hurry; he knew if he was to invade Poland it had to be done quickly, before the West could create a unified front. Agreeing basically to carve up parts of Eastern Europe-and leave each other alone in the process-Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, flew to Moscow and signed the non-aggression pact with his Soviet counterpart, V.M. Molotov (which is why the pact is often referred to as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact). Supporters of bolshevism around the world had their heretofore romantic view of “international socialism” ruined; they were outraged that Stalin would enter into any kind of league with the fascist dictator

  On August 23, 1939,



 the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty which contained an additional secret protocol with maps, in which a demarcation line through Eastern Europe was drawn, dividing it into the German and Soviet interest zones. Bessarabia was among the regions assigned to Soviet sphere of interest by the Pact. Article III of its Secret Additional Protocol states:

With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinterestedness in these areas



1939:The Heinkel He 178,



the first jet-plane takes to the air with Erich Warsitz at the controls.

Just five days before the German attack on Poland, and the beginning of WWII the tiny plane lifts off the airfield of Rostock-Marienehe.
The story of this airplane is not just about building the aircraft as well as the constructing of the engine to power it.

Heinkel received a letter of Proff. Robert W. Pohl from the Göttingen University in March 1936.

In it he explained that there was a young student by the name of Pabst Von Ohain who was working on the principle of jet propulsion and who needed the necessary funds to continue his research.

Heinkel was very busy creating ever faster airplanes and was interested. He invited Von Ohain on March 17th 1936 to explain his ideas.


Soon after, Von Ohain and his mechanic Max Hahn were working at the Heinkel plant on his He S 2. (together with a few men from the Heinkel factory under guidance of Dipl-Ing. Wilhelm Gundermann). The He S 2 ran on hydrogen and was only build to demonstrate the idea. This engine ran in March or April 1937. ( On April 12th ’37 Frank Wittle undertook his first test-run in England).
The engine for the He 178 however was the He S 3 wich was ready for flight-testing in the summer of 1938 (He S 3A). This engine was tested in the air whilst hanging under a He 119 dive-bomber prototype. After several test-flights the jet-engine is destroyed in a fire because of leaking fuel-line. The experiences lead to the He S 3B engine, and it is this engine that ends up in the He 178. It has a thrust of about 450kg.

At the same time as Ohain starts to develop his engine a team of Heinkel employees was set to work on developing the airplane that was to be powered by the new jet-engine.
A mock-up was build and ready on August the 8th 1938. Some of the developers were: Karl Schwarzler ( head of construction) and the brothers Siegfried and Walter Gunther (aerodynamics). A second prototype was constructed either at the same time or a little later. This plane was pretty much the same as the first one although it had a bigger wing and a retractable undercarriage.

First prototype during rolling.

Second prototype.

The pilot Erich warsitz was chief pilot at the Peenemunde experimental rocket station and was on loan to Heinkel.(on June 20th he flew the first rocket plane, the He 176).

He had flown with the He 119 airplane to find out the handling of the jet-engine and was the only flier involved to make the flight in the first jet-plane.
During the first flight a speed of 600 km/h was reached and the flight lasted some 7 minutes. On finals Warsitz notices that one fuel-pump has stopped working but it doesn’t affect the flight. After landing mechanics lift Proff. Ernst Heinkel on there shoulders as everybody present cheers



‘Not Forgotten’, the 1939 IRA bomb attack – by Simon Shaw

John Corbett Arnott aged 15.
Elsie Ansell aged 21.
Rex Gentle aged 30.
Gwilym Rowlands aged 50.
James Clay aged 82.

On 12th January 1939 the Irish Republican Army, claiming to be the “Government of the Irish Republic”, issued an ultimatum to the British Government. It gave them four days to withdraw all British armed forces stationed in Ireland and declare that they would renounce all claims to interfere in Irish domestic policy. If they received no response, they said they would be compelled to intervene actively in the military and commercial life of Great Britain. Four days passed with no reply so a campaign known as the “S-Plan” was launched against Britain. This mainly involved bombing commercial premises, sabotaging electricity supplies, blowing up telephone kiosks, public lavatories, mail boxes and railway stations. Coventry was mentioned by name in the I.R.A. plans, which had singled out its electricity supply as a prime target. Civilians were not supposed to be targeted.

Remains of the bicycle in Little Park Street Police Museum, Coventry The remains of the bicycle, now in Coventry’s Police Museum, Little Park Street.
(Photograph by Simon Shaw with permission of West Midlands Police. Unauthorised reproduction may result in prosecution.)

Unless you have a reasonably good knowledge of local history the five names at the start of this article will probably not be familiar to you. They are the forgotten victims of the worst terrorist attack Coventry has ever suffered. On 25th August 1939 all of them had the misfortune to be in Broadgate. It was a busy Friday lunchtime. Elsie Ansell, a shop assistant at Millet’s in nearby Cross Cheaping, was on her lunch break and looking at jewellery in the H Samuel shop. She was due to be married a fortnight later. Gwilym Rowlands, known as Bill, was a road sweeper. He and his colleague (John Worth) were working outside Astley’s and Burton’s shops. John Arnott and Rex Gentle both worked at W H Smiths and were returning after their lunch break. Rex had changed his lunch hour so he could spend it with John. James Clay had left a meeting at a nearby cafe with a business friend earlier than usual due to not feeling well. This was the first time in six years the two friends had not left at the same time. Around 2:30 pm these people and many others were in the vicinity of Astley’s shop when the normal hustle and bustle of the city centre was shattered by an I.R.A. bomb.

Ironically, in the city that is regarded as its British birthplace, a bicycle played an instrumental part in the mass murder and carnage that shocked the nation.

Broadgate in 1939. A typical Broadgate day in 1939 – just as it would have appeared shortly before the tragic event of August the 25th.

On Tuesday 22nd August 1939 James McCormick (alias James Richards), the leader of the I.R.A. unit operating in Coventry, and another unknown I.R.A. man visited the shop of the Halford Cycle Company in Smithford Street, where McCormick purchased a Halford ‘Karriwell’ – a tradesman type cycle built for Halford by the Birmingham Bicycle Company which had a carrier basket to the front of the handlebars. He gave a false name and address – Mr Norman, 56 Grayswood Avenue, Allesley Old Road, Coventry – and paid a deposit of £5 – pledging to pay the remaining 19s 6d on collection, which would be either Friday or Saturday. On the morning of Thursday 24th August 1939 another unknown I.R.A. man began constructing the bomb at 25 Clara Street, Stoke, Coventry. The house was being rented from Loveitt & Sons by Joseph Hewitt who lived there with his wife Mary, their baby child Brigid Mary and his mother-in-law, Brigid O’Hara. After marrying his wife at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, in August 1935, Hewitt came to Coventry in 1936 to find work. His wife and mother-in-law soon followed. Their baby was born in Coventry in 1938. They moved to Clara Street from Meadow Street, Spon End in June 1939. James McCormick lodged with them. It was effectively a ‘safe-house’ for the I.R.A. where McCormick had constructed a concrete storage pit under the stairs a few weeks earlier to store explosives, but the Hewitt’s were not part of the organisation. That evening, at around 7:00 pm, a Transport Officer in the I.R.A. called Peter Barnes arrived at the house from London. He had travelled by train and brought with him potassium chlorate to be used as the explosive in the device. Barnes’ role in the I.R.A. was to ferry explosives from their main ammunition dumps in Liverpool and Glasgow to their operatives across the country. He left later in the evening and returned to London.

The unknown bomb maker completed his task the following morning. It was a 5lb device with an alarm clock used as the timer. The bicycle was collected from Halford’s by McCormick at 12:30 pm and left in the back lane (known as a jetty) at the rear of the house around 1:10 pm. By this stage the bomb had been parcelled up in a box that was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. The bomb maker placed it in the carrier basket and began his journey into town. Sometime between 1:30 and 1:45 pm the bicycle with its deadly cargo was left standing against the kerb outside Astley’s shop where it was to shortly explode with such devastating consequences.

Many victims of terrorism or political conflict are totally forgotten about once the initial outrage or shock has died down. Just a week or so after the Coventry bomb, Great Britain declared war on Germany, and a year or so later our city was to suffer carnage on a much greater scale with the blitz of 14th November 1940. Perhaps these events helped play a part in effectively ‘burying’ the tragedy that took place in August 1939?

* * * * *

Part of the carrier cycle lying in front of the damaged car Part of the carrier cycle lying in front of the damaged car.

An excellent book called “Lost Lives” was first published in 1999. It attempts to record all those who died in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ from the 1960’s through to the ceasefires of the 1990’s and beyond. It is an incredibly poignant and moving book which had me in tears on several occasions. Below I give a few details of Coventry’s “Lost Lives” which were gleaned from contemporary newspaper reports and kindly provided by relatives:

Elsie Ansell, (also called Laura in Newspaper reports) from Clarendon Street, Earlsdon, died instantly. Her face was blown away and her body terribly mutilated. She could only be identified by her engagement ring and clothing. Instead of being married at St. Barbara’s Church to her fiancé Harry Davies her funeral service took place there instead on August 30th. On top of her coffin was a wreath of cream roses from Harry. The coffin bearers were from the nearby Albany Social Club. A crowd of 600 to 700 people were at London Road cemetery to see her laid to rest. She was buried in her wedding dress.

John Corbett Arnott, from Daimler Road in Radford, was the youngest victim of the atrocity. After leaving Radford School he went to work for W H Smith in town. With his curly hair and glasses he was a familiar face to many Coventrians through selling newspapers and magazines at the store. At first it was thought his body was actually that of a Mr Hollander of Coundon Road as young John had a bill in his pocket for this man which he was due to deliver. He was buried at London Road cemetery on August 29th with around 100 mourners in attendance. On August 30th the Midland Daily Telegraph published this letter from John’s mother:

Dear Mr Editor

Will you please print my thanks where you will, but I feel I would like to put into print my thoughts as well. The doctors and nurses tried to save my boy’s life but God said “No.”

The kind thoughts of the people go to help me bear my cross. We all have a cross to bear, and when I look at others plight, I feel my cross is only light.

To the kind nurses who took me to kiss him “Good-bye” thanks, and I’ll always remember the youngest nurse’s sweet face. God gave me these words in the loneliness of the night when his little sister was sleeping by my side. Once again thanks for all your kindness, I’ll never forget.

Rex Gentle Rex Gentle

Rex Gentle was born on 3rd April 1909 in Newtown, Montgomeryshire in Wales. He was an identical twin. He left Newtown, where he was engaged to May Hart, to do relief work at W. H. Smith. While in Coventry he lodged with the Arnott family in Daimler Road. Rex had only been in the city for a couple of weeks.

On the day of the explosion, his twin brother Jack was working in Newtown. In the afternoon he was sent home from work suffering from a severe headache. It is often said that when one identical twin suffers pain the other can feel it – Rex had indeed suffered severe head injuries.

After the explosion, word reached the Gentle family in Wales that Rex had been badly injured in an incident in Coventry. His parents could not travel so his twin brother Jack and his wife Rene made the unenviable journey to Coventry. On the train, Jack turned to his wife and told her that he knew his brother, who he was very close to, was dead – again, when he said this it turned out to be almost to the minute that Rex did pass away. When the couple arrived in Coventry a trial blackout was in operation in preparation for the probable forthcoming war with Germany. They could not find the hospital so approached a policeman, who, knowing about the bomb, took them there. Jack was needed to identify his brother but apparently passed out, so his wife Rene carried out the traumatic task. The body was covered in bandages and she identified Rex by his mouth. While they were at the hospital the manager of W.H. Smith paid a visit and had an almighty shock when he saw Rex’s identical twin brother Jack – he thought it was Rex! The same thing happened when a sister of the twins in Birmingham was visited. Jack and Rene called on her to break the bad news. She opened the door with, “Hello Rex! What are you doing back here?” Jack explained that he wasn’t Rex and informed her of what had happened in nearby Coventry.

Jack and Rene Gentle returned to Birmingham for the trial of those charged with murdering Elsie Ansell. The Coroner’s report of the injuries suffered by the victims was so bad that Rene arranged for their relatives to be able to choose to leave the court room while it was read out. She stayed in the room and Jack left. Despite asking her about what she heard she never told him – the injuries being so horrific.

In 1966 the husband of Jack Gentle’s daughter Marie was shown round the police museum at Little Park Street where the remains of the bicycle and some of the evidence gathered during the investigation are kept in a simple glass cabinet. It must have been an upsetting experience to say the least.

Rex Gentle, who was much loved by his family and fondly remembered by them to this day, was buried in Newtown after a service at the local Baptist church.

Gwilym Rowlands, of Poole Road, Radford, worked for the Highways Department of the Coventry Corporation. His wife Mary Ann had the grim task of identifying his body at the public mortuary at 5:00pm on the day of the explosion. His funeral service took place at St. Nicholas Church and he was buried in the adjacent graveyard. A large crowd of mourners were in attendance and the wreaths included one from the Radford Social Club and another from the Transport & General Workers Union, Cheylesmore branch.

James Clay, the eldest victim, was Coventry born and bred but lived at Clarendon Road, Kenilworth. A widower and a grandfather, he was a former President of the Coventry & District Co-operative Society and was working as a Confidential Clerk for C.A. Gray & Son, Printers, of Broadgate. James was a trained printer who took a keen interest in education, being a member of the old Coventry school board, founding the P.S.A. movement in Coventry and also was secretary of the Co-operative Society educational classes. He was also associated with Sunday school work at Warwick Road Church. His burial took place at Kenilworth cemetery on the August 30th and was well attended.

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In addition to the dead some 70 others were injured including 12 seriously. Most were treated at the Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital. Twelve blood donors were called on following the explosion and were praised for their quick attendance at the hospital. Extensive damage was caused to 43 business premises in Broadgate and nearby streets. Astley’s and its adjacent shops – Burton and Manfields – were hit badly as was Sketchley’s directly across the road.

Alexander Ballinger was the manager of Astley’s at the time. When the bomb went off he was standing near the front window. The whole frontage of the shop was blown inside and he was blown off his feet suffering several cuts to his knee, right hand, nose and head. He was clearly lucky to survive.

Robert Kinsella was another who had a lucky escape. He was walking past Burton’s towards Astley’s when the bomb exploded. He described what happened:

The scene of the explosion directly after the occurrence The scene of the explosion directly after the occurrence.

“There was a violent explosion that threw me to the ground. I picked myself up and I could see there had been terrible damage done. There were a lot of people lying about on the ground, but the first person I went to was, I believe, old James Clay, whom I picked up; I could see from his injuries he was almost dead. Of course, I then found I was bleeding very badly myself, and I went to the hospital.” (He had suffered injuries to his shoulder, feet, stomach and leg.)

John Worth was sweeping the gutter outside Burton’s while his colleague Bill Rowlands was sweeping the pavement outside Astley’s. John was at the back of the parked saloon car (see picture) when the explosion occurred. He escaped with injuries to both arms and a thigh.

Youngsters Ian Adams and his cousin were on a bus in Corporation Street when they heard a loud boom. They were on their way to see Will Hay in a film called “Oh Mr Porter!”. Reaching Broadgate minutes later, they were stopped by a police officer and discovered that what they had heard on the bus was actually a bomb going off. The road was closed and the policeman directed them via a different route to the cinema. After the film the two lads returned via Broadgate where the debris was still being cleared up. Much of it was dumped at a tip on Four Pounds Avenue. (When Ian grew up he served in the Special Branch and in early 2010 his excellent book about this I.R.A. campaign and the reaction to it, called “The Sabotage Plan”, was published.)

Prior to this attack the I.R.A. had carried out numerous missions in Coventry. These included bombing telephone inspection chambers, public toilets and commercial premises. In The Sabotage Plan, Ian Adams details several attacks carried out on a single day in the spring of 1939:

On 23rd of March, there were four explosions in underground telephone inspection chambers. The first explosion, at 7.15am was in the Cheylesmore area, and shattered the glass in numerous windows. The bomb blew heavy pieces of metal into a nearby engineering works, and damaged telephone lines, lampposts, and surrounding houses. Three hours later, there was a similar explosion in a telephone junction box in Quinton Road which hurled fragments of the iron box and pieces of concrete paving over a wide area, and through the glass roof of a nearby factory. During the lunch hour there was a third explosion, in an inspection chamber of the electric transformer station at Gosford Green. John Martin, a passer-by, was injured. A fourth explosion in the afternoon, in Coundon Road, hurled a heavy iron manhole cover through the roof of St. Osburg’s Roman Catholic presbytery, the church my parents and I often attended, and a Corporation bus was damaged, but nobody was injured. Balloons filled with nitric acid detonated all the bombs. The explosions disrupted many telephone lines.

In June an unexploded bomb was found near a petrol dump. They also bombed the cloakroom at Coventry Rail Station. The device exploded at 6:45 am on July 2nd. Refreshment staff had bedrooms directly above the cloakroom and eight of them had a lucky escape as fortunately the building did not collapse. They were severely shaken but escaped injury. A couple of weeks before the deadly attack on Broadgate an allotment at the rear of Armfield Street was rocked by an explosion leaving a crater two feet deep and three feet wide. A shed was blown to smithereens and two men were seen running from the scene onto Bell Green Road where they boarded a tram and escaped. The local I.R.A. unit stored explosives here and due to carelessness accidentally ignited them. This explains why the explosive used on August 25th was brought to Coventry from Liverpool via London. Up until this point the police believed that an I.R.A. unit operating from Birmingham was carrying out attacks in Coventry.

The aftermath of the Broadgate bomb led to tension between locals and the Irish community in Coventry. It was estimated that over 2,000 Irish people were working in Coventry’s factories at the time. There were calls for all Irish workers to be sacked and on the day that inquests began into the deaths, 2,000 workers at Armstrong Whitworth in Baginton downed tools at lunchtime and marched to Pool Meadow to protest against the I.R.A., stressing that the protest was “not directed against peaceful Irishmen.” From Pool Meadow they marched through the city centre and held a rally at Market Square where their numbers swelled to 3,000 with shoppers and other workers joining them. A deputation of four then met the Lord Mayor, Sidney Stringer. Many Irish left their lodgings in the city and others were asked to leave. Such was the bad feeling that the Chief Constable of Coventry Police, Captain S.A. Hector, (who was from Somerset) had to deny rumours that he was Irish.

Of course, the vast majority of Irish people in the city were just as appalled by the bombing as everyone else. The attack was condemned during Mass at all Catholic churches in the city the following Sunday. Father Simpson at St. Osburg’s denounced the bombers as “fanatics discrediting and dishonouring Ireland” and reminded worshippers that the penalty for belonging to secret societies and plotting to destroy the state or church was ex-communication. The Midland Daily Telegraph was inundated with letters from Irish people living in Coventry expressing their disgust and horror at the attack. Some suggested forming an “Irish Union” pledging that they were ‘loyal’ and promising to inform the authorities about I.R.A. activity. (Thousands of Irish people continued to work in the factories of Coventry during World War Two – providing an invaluable contribution to the war effort when most young British men had been called up for military service.)

View of Broadgate after the explosion View of Broadgate after the explosion.

A couple of days after the attack “BUSINESS AS USUAL” signs were up in Broadgate, and though many windows were boarded up the shops were open. Of course, it would never be “business as usual” for the dead and their families. The Lord Mayor launched a relief fund for victims of the bombing which by the end of September had raised the substantial sum of £800.

After initially issuing press appeals saying they wished to interview Dominic Adams about the attack, (Dominic Adams was the Uncle of current Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and suspected of being a senior member of the I.R.A. during this period) the police investigation soon led to Clara Street following the arrest of Peter Barnes in London on the same night of the bombing. An attempt to plant a further three ‘bicycle bombs’ in the capital city had been thwarted in the morning. At 8:50 pm Barnes arrived home to find Detective Sergeant William Hughes and some of his colleagues from the Special Branch at Scotland Yard waiting for him. They were there because of the attempted attacks in London, but when Detective Sergeant Hughes and the officers with him searched the building at 176 Westbourne Terrace, they found incriminating evidence linking him to Coventry, which understandably raised their suspicions considering what had happened earlier in the afternoon 100 miles away.

Barnes had called at Clara Street previously on August 21st to acquaint himself with McCormick and discuss the role he would play in the imminent bombing mission. During this visit, McCormick asked Brigid O’Hara to buy a suitcase for Barnes and also asked Mary Hewitt to buy two empty flour sacks. The flour sacks were purchased from Celia’s on Walsgrave Road but had to be returned as they were the wrong type. Both women returned them. The suitcase was brought from Forey’s Ironmongers. For reasons known only to himself – perhaps he had to account to the I.R.A. for his expenses? – Peter Barnes kept the receipts at his lodgings in London where they were found by the police and were to prove crucial in the Coventry investigation. (The owner of Celia’s was able to give a very accurate description of Brigid O’Hara. It is believed the flour sacks were to be used for holding the Potassium Chlorate.)

Chief Inspector Cyril George Boneham of the Coventry City Police led the local investigation. He and his team were assisted by Special Branch detectives. On August 28th, Chief Inspector Boneham and Detective Inspector Sydney Barnes of Special Branch led a search of 25 Clara Street. Tools suitable for bomb making, screws, bolts, insulating tape, labels from a battery and crucially a brass setter for the back of an alarm clock were found. This setter, or key, appeared to be new and did not fit any clock in the house. The occupants were detained and initially released while deportation orders were applied for. On September 2nd they were arrested under the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act. As the investigation proceeded and clear evidence of bomb making at the house emerged those being held were then charged under the Explosive Substances Act, 1883. Later that month, on the 27th, after a thorough police investigation and careful consideration, the Public Prosecutor decided that the facts justified a charge of murder against all five people being held. The charge was limited to the murder of Elsie Ansell and not the other four victims.

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The trial began on Monday 11th of December at the Warwick Assizes, Victoria Courts, Birmingham. One crucial person was missing – the man who actually built and planted the bomb. He was never captured. It was acknowledged that those in the dock – James McCormick, Peter Barnes, Joseph Hewitt, Mary Hewitt and Brigid O’Hara – had not made or planted the bomb, but as it was believed they had all played an active part in a conspiracy that could clearly endanger life it was a murder charge they faced, and consequently the hangman’s noose if found guilty. On Friday 14th December, McCormick, who was tried under his alias of James Richards, and Peter Barnes were found guilty by the jury and convicted of murder. After the guilty verdicts were passed, James McCormick gave this response:

“My lord, before you pass sentence I have something to say. I wish to state, my lord, before you pass sentence of death on me, I wish to thank sincerely the gentlemen who have defended me during my trial and I wish to state that the part I took in these explosions since I came to England I have done for a just cause. As a soldier of the Irish Republican Army I am not afraid to die, as I am doing it for a just cause. I say in conclusion, God bless Ireland and God bless the men who have fought and died for her. Thank you, my lord.”

Peter Barnes said:

“I would like to say as I am going before my God, as I am condemned to death, I am innocent, and later I am sure it will come out that I had neither hand, act or part in it. That is all I have to say.”

The Hewitt’s and Brigid O’Hara were acquitted – they were later charged with the murder of the other four people who were killed and five counts under the Explosive Substances Act and all three pleaded not guilty. No evidence was offered by the prosecution on the murder charge and the judge ordered the jury to return a formal verdict of not guilty. The women were discharged while Joseph Hewitt was remanded in custody. At the Old Bailey in London on 6th February 1940 he was charged with maliciously causing an explosion and having explosive substances in his possession. No evidence was offered by the prosecution and after a verdict of not guilty by the jury he was discharged. The following day, the guilty pair – Peter Barnes and James McCormick – were executed at Winson Green Prison. An appeal against their convictions had been dismissed in January. In the very same week of the hangings the mother of Elsie Ansell died at the early age of 49. Laura Ansell was being cared for by the mother of Harry Davies, her late daughter’s fiancé. Mrs Davies said that she never recovered from the loss of Elsie and died of a broken heart.

The hangings of McCormick and Barnes caused outrage in Ireland and other parts of the world. It was felt unjust that as they had not planted the bomb they should die because of the actions of another person. Appeals for clemency were ignored. Public mourning was observed and flags flew at half-mast in Ireland on the day of the executions.

A crowd gathers to see the aftermath of the incident A crowd gathers in Broadgate soon after the incident. The actual site of the bomb is just out of shot to the left.
For those unfamiliar with the pre-war street scene, we are facing the west side of Broadgate, and stretching to the north in the distance is Cross Cheaping, Burges and Bishop Street respectively. The small street on the left just after Boots is Market Place, and the tall building just visible on the far right of the picture is the original Owen Owen store; itself bombed in November the following year.

It has been suggested that the real target for the bomb was an electricity generating station and this is where McCormick and Barnes believed the bomber was cycling to. Some people claim that a faulty timer (the alarm clock) on the bomb caused the bomber to abandon the bicycle in Broadgate while en-route to the real target, but a leading author on Irish Republicanism describes the bomber as a ‘psychopath’ and as it was placed outside Astley’s an hour before it exploded it would seem this was an intentional act by the bomber. Even if the timer was faulty, it would have been a strange decision to abandon the bomb in the busiest shopping street in Coventry which obviously put civilians at risk of death contrary to I.R.A. instructions. Just why he chose to do this we will probably never know.

This particular badly timed and ill-judged I.R.A. campaign against Britain is often said to have petered out following the carnage in Coventry, but in fact there were a further 42 incidents attributed to the I.R.A., with the last bomb exploding on a rubbish dump in London on 18th March 1940.

After their acquittals, the Hewitt’s and Brigid O’Hara were deported from England and presumably went back to Belfast. The remains of James McCormick and Peter Barnes were moved from the grounds of Winson Green prison and re-interred in Ballyglass cemetery, Mullingar, Westmeath, Ireland in 1969. 15,000 people attended. Both men continue to be remembered by the Republican movement in Ireland with yearly parades and speeches at their graveside.

In Coventry, no memorial plaque or sculpture marks the spot where the bomb exploded killing five innocent people and devastating families across the city and further afield. There is not even an annual memorial service in any of Coventry’s churches. The excellent Police Museum in the basement of Little Park Street Police Station houses the remains of the bicycle and some of the evidence gathered after the explosion. With the kind permission of its curator, Tony Rose, I was able to photograph the remains of the bicycle in June 2010. The handlebars, front wheel and carrier basket are missing but remarkably, much of the rest of it is still intact. Some parts are dented, rusted, scratched and mangled but others bits are unscathed and look nearly new. When Mr Rose opened the cabinet I was hit by the smell of rubber and explosive. It was very sad gazing at this unwitting instrument of death and destruction and my thoughts turned to the victims and their families. I am very grateful to Mr Rose, who is an expert on the history of policing in Coventry, for sharing his knowledge of the incident with me and allowing me to take pictures. The image at the start of this article is copyright of the Coventry Police Museum and is not to be reproduced elsewhere – anyone doing so is liable to prosecution.

Thanks to the Luftwaffe and various town planners, Broadgate has changed almost beyond recognition from that fateful day. I believe the present day location of the explosion lies between the Lady Godiva statue and the entrance to the Cathedral Lanes shopping centre – see below for Rob Orland’s comparison of contemporary and modern maps. Next time you pass this spot spare a thought for John, Elsie, Gwilym, Rex and James. May they Rest in Peace.

* * * * *

Below is a 1937 map showing the spot where the bomb detonated.
Clicking on the map will reveal where it occurred on a modern-day aerial view (courtesy of Google Maps).



The Excuse


After having gained both Austria and Czechoslovakia,





was confident that he could again move east, this time acquiring Poland without having to fight Britain and France. (To eliminate the possibility of the Soviet Union fighting if Poland were attacked, Hitler made a pact with the Soviet Union – the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.)

So that Germany did not officially seem the aggressor (which it was), Hitler needed an excuse for entering/attacking Poland.

It was


Heinrich Himmler



who came up with the idea; thus the plan was code named Operation Himmler.

On the night of August 31, 1939,

Nazis took




an unknown prisoner from one of their concentration camps, dressed him in a Polish uniform, took him to


the town of Gleiwitz (on the border of Poland and Germany), and then shot him.

The staged scene with the dead prisoner dressed in a Polish uniform was supposed to appear as a Polish attack against a German radio station.

Hitler used the staged attack as the excuse to invade Poland.


The Excuse
After having gained both Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler was confident that he could again move east, this time acquiring Poland without having to fight Britain and France. (To eliminate the possibility of the Soviet Union fighting if Poland were attacked,

Hitler made a pact with the Soviet Union – the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.)
So that Germany did not officially seem the aggressor (which it was), Hitler needed an excuse for entering/attacking Poland. It was Heinrich Himmler who came up with the idea; thus the plan was code named Operation Himmler.

On the night of August 31, 1939,

Nazis took an unknown prisoner from one of their concentration camps,

dressed him in a Polish uniform, took him to the town of Gleiwitz (on the border of Poland and Germany), and then shot him.

The staged scene with the dead prisoner dressed in a Polish uniform was supposed to appear as a Polish attack against a German radio station.

Hitler used the staged attack as the excuse to invade Poland.

At 4:45 on the morning of September 1, 1939

(the morning following the staged attack),

to be continued

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