The Ministry of Home Security was a Government department established in 1939 to direct national civil defence, primarily tasked with organising air raid precautions. The Ministry's responsibilities covered all central and regional civil defence organisations, such as air raid wardens, rescue squads, fire services, and the Women's Voluntary Service. It was also responsible for approving local ARP schemes and providing public shelters.

The work of the Research and Experiments Department of the Ministry, often in association with the Air Ministry, was many and varied, but in connection with air raids, R&E were concerned with observation and research into both allied and enemy bombs, bombing methods and effects, fire prevention, and air raid damage both at home and in enemy occupied territory. The series of air raid report documents comprise correspondence, technical reports and assessments, surveys of air raid damage to towns and to various categories of buildings, infrastructure, and shelters, and are often accompanied by maps, plans and photographs. 

Several R&E files concern events on the Isle of Wight. 

The Ministry was disbanded in May 1945.

Since researching the records of R&E reports into air raids on the Isle of Wight which are listed below, I unearthed a file at the National Archives entitled 'The History of the Research and Experiments Department - 1939-1945'. Those wishing to understand more about R&E's many, varied and substantial contributions to civil defence during wartime can do so by clicking HERE

Features of R&E reports

Raids were often followed by a general R&E report accompanied by several sibling reports of the same event. For example, the package of analysis conducted by R&E following the raid on Shanklin in January 1943, was as comprehensive in its study of the incredible undamaged survival of a Morrison table-shelter in the kitchen of a collapsed property, as it was of the bomb that killed twelve members of the National Fire Service. The two matters may appear incomparable, but to R&E understanding why the NFS station was blown to bits by the same bomb type that a Morrison shelter withstood, was vital in providing future protection for the civil population - and in January 1943, with the end of the war impossible to predict, continued research and vigilance was essential.

One notable aspect of most raid reports concerning the Isle of Wight is that they were of the tip-and-run variety. Accordingly the Raid Summary sheet rarely includes an entry in the Assumed Target box. These raids were not focussed on military targets, they were attacks designed to break the morale of the British public. The Luftwaffe was attacking the people.

Former RAF Wing Commander Chris Goss, now a learned military aviation historian and published author, wrote in Luftwaffe Fighter Bombers Over Britain that by New Year 1943 the objective of the Jabo attacks was becoming clear - Back in May 1942 a Jabo pilot from 10/JG 26, the first to be captured, made mention that some of the targets were 'cows, cyclists, motor-buses, and railway engines', leading the interrogator to deduce that there was a lack of defined bombing policy. However, another 10/JG 26 pilot captured in January 1943 admitted that pilots - "have been given no specific objectives but have been told quite frankly to attack anything and everything liable to terrorise the British public. Trains, motor-buses, gatherings of people, herds of cattle and sheep etc. have been mentioned specifically at the briefing as likely targets."

The story of the local effect of these raids is inherently linked to one man, featured in Enemy of the People.

By 1944 much of the Luftwaffe's fighter-bomber capacity had been redeployed to the Eastern Front, resulting in a substantial reduction in the number of tip-and-run raids and the numbers of aircraft assigned to them. Between January and May 1944, Luftwaffe emphasis shifted, for reasons explained in 1944 May 15 - East Cowes.

Throughout the R&E reports there is considerable use of abbreviation. The most common and most often referred to in the examples below include;

S.C. - Sprengbombe Cylindrisch (cylindrical explosive bomb) - a general purpose bomb. S.C.s were most often dropped on Island targets at 500kg capacity by fighter-bombers flying a low trajectory, resulting in some bizarre bounces and ricochets before exploding some distance from original contact point.

M/G - Machine guns. Most common on the aircraft favoured for attacks on the Island was the arming of two synchronised MG131 (13mm) or MG17 (7.92mm) machine guns. 

C/F - Cannon fire. Two belt-fed MK108 (30mm) electric ignition outer-wing mounted cannons.

D/H - Direct Hit

It's also worthy of note that in the R&E reports each bomb is numbered for reference purposes, but this doesn't necessarily correspond to the order in which they were dropped, which in many cases most likely was never known or recorded.

Throughout the reports much use is made of the categories of damage to buildings, A, B, C, and D.

A - House demolished

B - House partially demolished and having to be pulled down

Ca - House uninhabitable until minor repairs are carried out 

Cb - House damaged too severely to be habitable without major repairs

D - House habitable, but slight damage to roofs, windows etc. 

It becomes apparent that in 1944 a far greater degree of precision was demanded of its field investigators by R&E. This included a new group of damage categories specific to air raid shelters, to which the following applied.

SA - At least 1/4 of the roof fallen and/or at least 1/2 of not less than two outside walls demolished.

SB - Less than SA damage, but a complete breach in roof, or in at least one wall, or damage to floor, resulting from any of these causes in sufficient debris in the shelter to have caused casualties.

SC - Less than SB damage, but severe cracking of roof or of at least one wall sufficient to admit daylight, and/or movement of shelter or part of it on its base or D.P.C. exceeding 2 in., and/or floor, fragments or other damage necessitating repairs before the shelter can be re-used.

SD - Minor cracking of walls, roof or floor, and/or any fragment or other damage not sufficient to make repairs essential before the shelter can be re-used. 

SE - No damage of any significance, i.e. very slight damage not warranting repairs. 

What R&E didn't focus on was details of casualties and fatalities. Numbers of persons in each category is included in the files but with no greater depth of detail. Flying Squad investigators were usually despatched to the site of an attack of interest within a few days of the event. Accordingly they obtained numbers of those known to have been killed at the time of the investigation, which often increased in the following days and weeks as persons injured succumbed to their wounds in hospital.

I have added additional information relating to the effect on the people of the Isle of Wight, drawn from other verifiable sources, to create a rounded story of each raid based on ministry documents, press reports, photographs and eyewitness accounts.

Click on the images below to access each of the raids for which an R&E file has been located at the National Archives.

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