I became acquainted with Peter Godfrey in 2006 when I mistakenly claimed that film star Victor Maddern had attended Mayfield. It was pointed out to me by Peter, and several others, that Victor had attended Beal School. During our email conversations Peter mentioned having witnessed the German attempt to destroy the Plessey factory in Ilford and had subsequently researched the incident. At my request he wrote the following article for ‘The War Years’ section that existed on Mayfield Memories at that time.
– Tony Gocke
The attack on Ilford by German Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft March 12th 1943
It would be a fine day. But visibility early this morning was poor, with misty conditions in low lying Essex along the Thames corridor. In France, at St. Omer, Focke Wulf 190 fighter bombers were fuelled and armed with cannon shells. Their 250 and 500kg high explosive bombs were loaded and primed by the ground crews of Jabostaffeins under the command of Oberstleutant Hannes Trauloft. Stafflekapitan Paul Keller was in charge of planning the operation to destroy the Plessey factory in Ilford, where electronic equipment for the war effort was being made. At around 07.15 hours the ground crews closed the cockpit covers and the aircraft taxied away, rising to begin their mission.
The East coast of England was subjected to numerous hit and run attacks at this period of the war and I recall seeing, with considerable surprise, while passing through the Temple Mills railway yards in July 1943, lines of badly damaged locomotives and rolling stock awaiting repair. These were the result of the Luftwaffe hit and run tactics, which were not reported by our press. Flying with 20f Squadron of the Air Training Corps from Fairlop airfield, a few days before the event, we had been warned to keep a look out for German fighters. None were seen – fortunately.
Ray Easterbrook was on his way to work from his home in Laindon at 07.30 on the morning of March 12th. He heard the sound of approaching aircraft coming up river from the East. To his complete astonishment he saw planes, marked with the black cross of the enemy, skimming the grey waters of the Thames. Ray saw the faces of the pilots glancing left and right as they roared above the river heading towards London. In Chadwell Heath a young woman of about eighteen, Peggy Chipperfield, was settling herself into a tin bath in one of the old wooden cottages in Chadwell Heath. The writer of this account was about to get up from bed. Geoff Berry, aged fourteen, was delivering morning papers where the Eastern Avenue crossed Ley Street. The residents of the boroughs of Ilford and Barking were beginning another day in the long war of rationing, shortages, blackout and absentee men to the armed forces.
The Focke Wulf 190s, flying below radar, were not detected. The Balloon Barrage was not flying above London that morning. A sharp turn and the enemy came inland at Barking. There were probably sixteen in the attacking force. A further twenty-four were operating over Essex.
Alf Tyler, reminiscing in 1986, recalled being about to set out for work at the Beal School by cycle. He listened and heard the roar of low aircraft. In the next road to his, Malvern Drive, Alf saw the planes almost down to chimney pot height. A bomb exploded in Capel Gardens. A seventeen year old girl had just left home for work, but she’d forgotten a letter she needed to post. Reentering her home, she was killed by this bomb. Alf noted his surprise that the guns in Barking Park were silent. He saw no balloons and there had been no siren – that ululating air raid warning so familiar to everyone during those years.
A woman hanging out the morning washing in Francis Avenue died as another bomb exploded. There were casualties on a trolley bus along Ilford High Road. In Dawlish Drive a family was wiped out in their Morrison indoor shelter. Another family – nine of them, were killed in Eton Road when a bomb struck their house horizontally.
Another group of casualties caused by the general din of explosions and gunfire were the litter of rabbits belonging to schoolboy Graham Carver, near South Park. He caught a brief glimpse of a silhouetted wing of an enemy aircraft against the misty morning sun; and it was gone. The rabbits had died of shock.
I leapt out of bed to the sudden noise. The clapping of cannon fire, the explosions of bombs and the roar of aircraft engines. I rushed to the bedroom window of 38 Dellwood Gardens. I could see brown smoke rising from the centre of Ilford. I wanted to see the planes but they’d gone! The air raid warning sounded, too late, it was all over. The Plessey electrical works beside the main railway line was the target. But the bombs were released too low and too early. None reached the factory or the railway yards. The Cop-op on the High Street was on fire.
Another eye witness, Jack Dyer, remembers that Friday morning very well. Jack was an army cadet and had just finished breakfast and was strapping on his anklets – going to school in his army uniform. The unusual engine note, explosions – he and his family dived for cover under a table. He felt the pit of his stomach knotted. Later, with his father, he walked to inspect the damage just beyond the Woodlands crossroads. The Fire Watchers HQ had gone. Several other houses were beyond repair. Jack mused how everyone was so used to aerial attacks that the women just went off shopping as usual, and the milkman continued delivering his milk to the doorsteps. He saw a cat nonchently cross the road. Life went on. Near the Regal Cinema a row of shops had been hit and fires had started. In one a butcher saved his own and the butcher-boy’s life; escaping the flames by getting inside the freezer.
Geoff Berry sheltered in a shop doorway on the Eastern Avenue, near to Whitehead’s aero modelling shop, when he heard the approaching planes and sounds of machine guns and cannon bursts. Don Drew, in Benton Street near his old school – Beal, caught a glimpse of the enemy planes. Graham Carver, who lived further along Ley Street, had a good though brief view of a pair of the FW 190’s. Peggy Chipperfield’s morning bath was postponed! Jack Dyer’s sister Hilda was on a trolley bus in Ley Street, approaching Plessey’s, when the straffing along Ley Street took place. His other sister watched shells bursting on the bridge over the railway moments before she arrived there. Both girls continued to the factory where the day’s work went on uninterrupted. Both were worried in case their lipstick had become smudged! This was war. Things like that happened. No one was bothered if they were not directly affected.
It was all over. The attackers turned and headed away over Kent. They left behind thirty-one dead, forty-three injured and one hundred and seventeen homeless. Of the Focke Wulf 190s six were brought down by fighters from Biggin Hill. How many had taken part? British records believed sixteen planes were involved but this is an estimate from the number of bombs dropped on Ilford – seven tonnes.
A year later, in December 1943, the Luftwaffe’s Operation Steinbok began. It was named the ‘Pocket Blitz’ or ‘Baby Blitz’ by Londoners, and was followed by the V1 flying bombs in June of that year, and the V2 rockets from September. The German attacks only ceased five weeks before their capitulation. London’s penultimate rocket fell on Hughes Mansions in Vallence Road, Stepney – close to the railway line into Liverpool Street Station, killing 134 residents. I was aboard a train from Ilford, just passing the flats at the time. The explosion left a ringing in my ears and passengers fell onto the compartment floor. A narrow escape! The final V2 fell a little before five in the evening on the same day killing Mrs Ivy Millichamp in Orpington. Hers was the final fatality. It was over.
Regarding this article about the attack near the Plessey factory my mother, May Lowry (Parker), lived between Plessey and the bus garage in Ley Street. She, with a friend, were going to work and were walking over the “iron bridge” as it was commonly called and thought they were waving to our pilots until they were strafed. Until about 20 years a go, maybe still, the evidence of this was still visible with bullet holes in a lamp-post in the High Road by the alley-way leading to the bridge. I wonder if this is the same raid as mentioned in the article. Regards to all your readers, Danny Lowry.
I wonder if that was the morning I remember as a lad, living in Brixham Gardens, Ilford, near to Barking Bus Garage. A German plane, flying very low, machine gunned our row of houses. I was just getting out of bed at the time, the noise from the plane engine was deafening. My elder sister was cut on the ankle from flying glass, luckily no one was seriously hurt.
Wow, after all these years, I have finally come across an article that I remember as a child 7 years old. I lived in Kings Gardens one road back from Vicarage Lane, my parents owned the Vic Cafe opposite Plessey facing Vicarage Lane. My sister and myself were getting ready for school when all of a sudden my mother threw us under the dining room table because she had heard machine gun fire and planes low over the top of our house and being close to Plessey she knew it was a raid (although as mentioned there was no air raid warning).
When it was all over, my sister and myself walked to school via the Iron Bridge which led to the High Road (we both went to SS Peter & Paul school). When we got to the end of the Iron Bridge a Policeman turned us back and told us to return home, I caught a glimpse of a trolley bus that had been hit and people with stretchers. My father told me that he had been standing in the Cafe doorway that morning and saw the planes thinking they were ours until all hell let loose and he and his customers made a dash for the store cellar. My god I have never forgotten that morning.
Another incident another time in Vicarage Lane, both of us were just near the railway bridge when we saw a Doodlebug coming towards us and as it got nearer it’s engine started to stop and start and a man ahead of us told us to lay down in the gutter, we were lucky because it’s engine started again and it carried on. As kid’s we took a lot in and saw plenty during the war.
Tony ; Of all the articles within your fabulous website, this one interests me by far & away the most !
Especially so, as I was bought-up on a strict diet of building wartime version Airfix models & reading countless ‘Commando’ comics,
I’d both bought & built my earliest Focke-Wulf 190 models around 1971. In fact I still currently have about 10-12 unbuilt Tamiya 1/48th Fw.190’s with countless different JagdGeschwader decal sheets (different versions/pilots), as well as about 10-11 different metal-diecast Hobbymaster 1/48th Fw.190 display models… (all BMW.801 versions).
I’d best split my answers into two different (seperate) posts – one covering my input into my (slight) human link/association with it & the other regarding what ‘should’ be additional military info’ regarding the event & it’s aftermath.
Firstly then, I was both surprised & amazed to learn of this ‘local’ raid that I knew nothing of.
I’m sure my views would’ve been shared by three of my closest friends & neighbours… all of whom became Plessey employees… Matt Dove, who went on to become a BBC sound-engineer after his time at Plesseys – also the beautiful & gorgeous blonde Caroline Halden (‘Caz’) who not only worked there for many years, but also used to give me a lift into work (nearby) each day & invited me to her ‘Plessey’s Sportsday’ social event. As well, I might mention that she not only used to be a fellow Mayfield-Girls school pupil, but also, like me, she initially lived down Christie Gdns opposite the Mayfield Girl’s school for the first 22-25 years of her life. (I should also mention another mate, Paul Young who was still at Plesseys thru the 1980’s till closure). ~
I’d love to know “if” Carol (‘Caz’) is still about, as she was VERY instrumental (no pun intended) in getting me both involved in & getting me fluent on playing guitar – plus she was a real good mate in & during both my younger (single figure) & later teenage years !
Perhaps my biggest surprise was mentioning THIS article to my Dad in the kitchen the other day, only to have him reply…. “Your Nan, my Mother used to work there during the war & was actually there during 1943” – which came as news & a complete surprise to me.
(she’d previously worked next-door to Greyfriar’s Passage/Church EC.4 & was there on the night of 29th/30th Dec’ 1940 ‘offically’ known as THE worst & most devastating/damaging night of the entire Luftwaffe London ‘Blitz’)
I’ll post a few additional (military) items relating to March 12th 1943 after this…
I was intrigued about this (previously unknown to me) ‘local’ raid & was wondering as to how Peter Godfrey had gone about his research. Just seeing the name ‘Trautloft’ reminded me of how many times he’d been mentioned in Capt.James Goodson’s books – James Goodson, a P.51 Mustang ace, of the USAAF 4th F.G. held Trautloft in quite some high regard.
By chance, I met James Goodson over North Weald one afternoon in 1992 for 1/2hr (only break in conversation were two P.51 Mustangs landing) – the link here between North Weald & Luftwaffe ‘raid-leader’, Major Trautloft leads me to question the part of Peter Godfrey’s article which states…
“Of the Focke Wulf 190s six were brought down by fighters from Biggin Hill”.
Looking it up for myself (unsure) on the ‘net, revealed this…
Group Captain KAJ BIRKSTED – “Birksted led 331 Squadron’s Supermarine Spitfires into battle many times, gaining particular distinction in the interception of a German bomber formation over London on March 12, 1943. His unit broke up the formation, downed six bombers, and damaged four others.” – I knew from my own experience that RAF’s 331 Sqdn were definitely based at North Weald & it turns out they were still based there on the date of this raid. – (incidentally, not only is there a huge memorial to the Norsk squadrons at North Weald, but they also send a pair of current-day F.16 fighter a/c each year in commemoration of their airfield links & ancestry !). It seems therefore that it was ESSEX based Norwegian lads (rather than those in Kent) that deserve credit ?
Luft’ Major Trautloft had a (good) humanitarian side too – He & his adjutant just 18 months later, were personally responsible for rescuing, saving & delivering no less than 168 Allied airman from the notorious Buchenwald ‘death-camp’ from the clutches of the Gestapo & SS running the camp – They clashed directly with harsh words exchanged, but by that stage, Trautloft held such a high Luftwaffe position (he was by then in charge of ALL Luftwaffe fighter a/c on the Eastern Front), that he easily out-ranked any of the local SS & merely brushed them aside.
It’s also worth mentioning the (huge) part (in this) played by RNZAF Sqdn-Ldr Phillip Lamason, whose written report managed to reach Trautloft’s desk & an American B.17 gunner named Bernard Scharf, as for during the ‘visit’, the SS were trying to “pull the wool” over Trautloft’s eyes, but they got caught out.
This amazing ‘168 man’ rescue has also been given verbal testimony on the superb BBC television documentary “Bomber Boys” by RAF Sgt.Ron Leverington, a Handley-Page Halifax turret-gunner from 102 Sqdn in Yorkshire… just one of “the” 168 men who were destined to be executed less than a week later.
BTW ; the ‘other’ Fw.190 ‘raid’ pilot that Peter Godfrey mentions is Stafflekapitan Paul Keller (of JG.26).
It might be of interest to know that he was shot-down & killed on March 25th 1943 on a raid over Ashford, less than a fortnight after the raid on this thread.
In March 1943 I was 10 years old living at Chadwell Heath. I remember being wakened from my sleep by loud noises and going to my bedroom window to see a German aircraft flying past, at roof level just over the bottom of the garden, with all guns firing. I could actually see the German pilot in detail. My mother then pulled me back. I do not remember being frightened then, or at any time during the air raids, strange.
I am very thankful to Peter Godfrey and Mayfield Memories for the German Focke-Wolf attack article. I am coming up 90 now and feel reassured that my memories do not play tricks.
Ironically, I now have a German Great Grandson – funny old world.