Air attack on Eastbourne in 1942
Air attack on Eastbourne in 1942.
Just before 2 pm on Monday 4th May 1942 the town of Eastbourne was attacked by 9 Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Each aircraft was carrying a 250kg bomb below the fuselage.
They had crossed the Channel at wave height in order to keep under the Radar system. This was going to be the first ‘Tip and Run’ air attack on Eastbourne and, although they didn’t know it, there would be a number of these types of air raids over the next few months with devastating results for the town.
The aircraft of 10/JG2 screamed over the town at not more than 100 feet high, causing people to run for their lives. They machine-gunned the streets causing great panic. They came in over Holywell and then crossed the Meads area which lies to the west of the town. They then roared over Beachy Head before banking tightly in a right handed turn to head back over land and over Eastbourne en route. As the roared over the town they released their bombs and quickly heading back across the Channel.
One of the first bombs to explode struck St.John’s Church in St. John’s Road. The bomb exploded in the organ loft, demolishing the North Chapel, setting fire to the roof and the choir and clergy’s vestries. The fire quickly took hold and eventually spread to the spire and then finally engulfed the whole church. It was a shell in minutes.
Eastbourne Railway Station
Meanwhile the other 8 bombs exploded in various parts of the town. The places they hit included the gasworks, a favourite target for these types of raids. Another bomb struck platform one at Eastbourne Railway Station. Another scored a direct hit on Fremlin’s Brewery in Commercial Road. The coal wharf and the east wing of the Cavendish hotel were also hit and severely damaged. Yet another target was the locomotive sheds and several more buildings were badly damaged in that locality.
At the time of this attack the Cavendish Hotel was occupied by the RAF who were using it for training. Two members of the RAF were killed there in this raid, together with two civilians. It took until the 1960s before this part of the building would be finally repaired.
There were a number of casualties which included Mrs. Henrietta Wise, Mrs Winifred Matthews, Mrs. Mary Richardson, Mr. Claude Benjamin and one other, they were all killed outright. Another 36 other casualties were confirmed from this one raid.
Claude Benjamin who was killed at the railway station while Anne Wise, 84 years, was killed in an upstairs bedroom at her home address in Willingdon Road. Two members of the Royal Canadian engineers and two RAF personnel were killed at Fremlin’s.
A small fishing boat was off Langley point
Out in the Channel was a small fishing boat off Langley point and manned by two fishermen, Alec Huggett and Micky Andrews, both from Eastbourne. They suddenly found they were at the mercy of these retreating German Fighter-bombers and had no shelter. The aircraft shot at them, hitting both men who were seriously injured as a result. The local people’s anger knew no bounds when at 9.15pm the same day William Joyce, known as Lord Haw-Haw, said in his broadcast that an armed trawler had been attacked off the coast of Eastbourne. He was totally wrong as the two men badly injured were local fisherman and carried no arms of any description.
A powerful new feature of this raid, apart from the fire-power of the fighters being turned against ordinary unarmed civilians, was that almost every bomb caused serious damage. In general, the fighter pilots with their medium-capacity bombs had caused maximum damage and death.
The whole raid lasted less than 4 minutes but served as a warning to the authorities just how damaging these types of raids were. It appears that the Germans had found a formula which really worked. More were to come before the war was finished.
It happened again, just 3 days later on the 7th May. It was just after 3pm when 4 Messerschmitt 109s attacked the town. They approached from the west, flying approximately 500 feet high. Each carried a 250kg bomb under the fuselage. The first bomb struck numbers 7, 9 and 11 Victoria Place, demolishing all three properties. One bomb fell on the coal wharf, another on the railway goods yard whilst the last one luckily fell harmlessly on the foreshore opposite the Hydro Hotel. This destroyed about ten yards of barbed wire which was soon repaired.
At the coal wharf Jack Payne, who was 36 years old, was killed. He was helping to clear up the debris from the bombing three days earlier when the coal wharf was hit.
As the raiders left the town area they shot up a Royal Navy patrol boat injuring Christopher Willcocks and Albert Reeve. 31 people were injured 4 seriously hurt.
These attacks flying at low level gave the authorities no chance to sound the air raid warning and people and property were at the raider’s mercy all the time.
It was about this time that the long awaited local warning system was brought into action and the ‘cuckoo’ system was also introduced.
Unteroffizier Oswald Fischer
On the 20th May 1942 Eastbourne came close to yet another attack when two BF 109s led by Unteroffizier Oswald Fischer flew across the Channel and took part in what was planned as an attack on shipping at Newhaven. Whilst circling the harbour, Fischer spotted a corvette to the south west but his bomb bounced over the small ship. At the same time his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. It hit his engine and he knew he would never make it back across the Channel. He landed in a field near Beachy Head and was taken into custody and became a POW. For him the war had ended.
The next raid occurred about 11pm on 11th August 1942. This time it was an attack by conventional bombers. It was a full moon, a ‘bombers night’ as it was known. The numbers taking part isn’t officially known but they dropped 47 HE bombs on the town. This time it was the Upperton Road district that suffered most. Firstly, St. Anne’s Church was set on fire and gutted. Other nearby streets were hit and severe damage done to people’s homes and some other properties in Grassington Road, College Road, Grove Road and the railway station once again. Additional reports stated that Arundel Road, Ashford Road, Gaudick Road, Compton Place, and Compton Place Road were also hit. Another bomb exploded on the Royal Eastbourne Golf course. There were five unexploded bombs found too. There were also an estimated 2,000 incendiary bombs dropped. These had been fitted with ‘burster’ charges timed to explode after the main filling had ignited.
The civilian casualties included Mrs. Mary Taylor, Mrs. W. Walker and Miss Boucher who were all killed. There were also 8 Canadian RAMC men who were also killed. Luckily there were only 9 people injured including 3 Canadian soldiers. It appears that one enemy aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire as a plane was seen on fire to the east of the town on its way home. It was obvious that the aircraft wouldn’t be able to cross the Channel.
4 FW190 As
Just before 6am on Thursday 13th August 1942 4 FW190 As crossed the coast near Cooden Beach and turned westwards. 2 aircraft dropped their bombs at Pevensey Bay then turned for home. The other two aircraft carried on to Eastbourne. They raked the streets with canon and machine-gun fire and dropped one bomb near on the gas works hitting it and causing it to catch fire. The second bomb struck properties in Roseveare Road injuring two people.
On Wednesday 26 August 1942 just before 9am two FW2190As came in over the coast dropping their bombs. One fell on Marlow Avenue, destroying several houses while the second one struck Eastbourne Corporation Electricity Generating Station. This killed one of the employees, Mr. Frank Moore outright. Mrs. Lucy Dann and Mrs. Ruth Chatfield of Marlow Avenue were badly injured and died in hospital the same day. Seven other people were injured. One of these attacking FW190As was shot down and crashed at the side of the old Lottbridge Drove. It was shot down by a Canadian Bren gunner who fired a long burst at both aircraft.
There was again a short break from these ‘Tip and Run’ attacks until Wednesday 16th September. About 11am another attack by just 2 FW190As and both made for the railway station. Just one of these aircraft carried a large 500kg bomb slung under the fuselage. It fell on No. 1 platform. It then ricocheted into the ‘passenger dock’ where it exploded causing huge damage. The two aircraft then machine-gunned the local streets on their way out.
Six people lost their lives while another 9 suffered serious injuries and another 27 had to be treated for less serious injuries.
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