Please read Ministry of Home Security - The R&E Files, before continuing.
The events at Ventnor of 2 October 1942 were the third attack of its type over the previous two months.
The earlier attacks, dated 18 August and 2 September, delivered equal or more devastating effects than that of 2 October – begging the question, why did the Research and Experiments Department not despatch an investigator to make inquiries concerning the earlier events?
Evidenced in letters home, Luftwaffe pilot Leopold Wenger (Enemy of the People), flying a Focke-Wulf 190 with a single wingman, was involved in both the August and September raids. Writing a letter dated 21 August, he included - On the 18th, we flew an attack against the Isle of Wight and bombarded the city of Ventnor. The row houses received a direct hit. They didn’t have time to set off any air raid alarms, either. So there was a lot of traffic in the streets. The flak only started firing when we had already turned around to fly off.
Responding fire and ARP services that attended the scene in and around the junction of the High Street and West Street, recovered one person injured. But within the shattered walls of the ‘row of houses’ were the bodies of 53-year-old Catherine Victoria White, a widow who served with the WVS, killed at 1 Springfield Terrace in West Street, and those of 38-year-old Eva Mabel Cheverton of Myrtle Cottage, Albert Street, who died inside Geneva in the High Street alongside 78-year-old Frank Hollis Damp Russell. Mrs King who was in the kitchen of the same residence was recovered, largely due to the immediate efforts of her brother-in-law G.H. King. It was incredible that not more casualties were reported given that five homes and the Police Station took direct hits. Several other buildings sustained damage including the fire station, strafed with machine gun fire that caused facial injuries to Section Officer Coleman.
In her end of month report the Centre Organiser for Ventnor WVS recorded that 32 persons were rendered homeless requiring billeting as a result of the raid, in addition to being issued second-hand clothing and blankets from WVS stock. In respect of one of their own, Catherine Victoria White, the report included – It is our sad duty to record the death of a valued member of the WVS who, it is believed, was actually carrying our her WVS duties at the time of her death, which was caused by enemy action. She leaves an orphan son of 13 years; and the WVS arranged with the Ministry of Pensions for his immediate future, fixed up a guardianship and put through an orphan’s pension on his behalf. An expected entry in the same report, of no connection to these events but of interest to those studying the wartime activities of the ladies of the WVS, is the following – Twice a week during this month our shooting squad have been out on the range. Weapon training included rifles, Bren guns and Tommy guns.
On the 6 September Wenger wrote of the second raid of four days earlier - On the 2nd, we bombarded the city of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. They were shooting flak like mad.
The attack opened when the raiders raced at low level across the sea and peppered the beach and High Street with machine gun and cannon fire, before lifting slightly to drop two 500kg bombs in the town. Given the time of day, the bombs being dropped over the High Street, and the damage being described as extensive in the IW County Press, it was fortunate that no persons were killed. The local press suggested 8 were injured whereas official reports state fourteen. Of the injured the CP reported the following – A 20-months old baby, son of a local chaplain, escaped from injury through the courage of a nurse attached to a local institution who was in charge of his perambulator at the time of the raid. They were in a newsagent’s shop a few feet distant from where one of the bombs fell. The nurse threw herself over the child and sustained head injuries. Percy Boxall, local building manager, was found in a passage buried up to his neck in fallen bricks and debris suffering only minor injury to his head and ankle.
After this event the admirable and stoic WVS rehoused 55 individuals, emphasising how incredibly fortunate it was that no lives were lost. The monthly reported stated – As the scene of the raid was close to the Office which mercifully was undamaged all persons suffering from shock, etc; and light casualties were sent in to us. A dressing post was improvised, nurses were sent for, and hot drinks were soon forthcoming. Peoples came to us covered with debris, but otherwise unharmed, and we soon made them presentable. In nearly every case the homeless have now found new homes; and have been visited by us.
Given the tip-and-run nature of the raids, and that the third raid of 2 October was also conducted by two FW 190s, it is surprising that Wenger (who’d found time to bomb Bembridge on 26 September) was not involved. His writings reveal he had more pressing concerns over France and Belgium. We cannot know which of his colleagues of the Red Foxes were responsible.
R&E File RE/B16/15/1
Research and Experiments Department file RE/B16/15/1 includes sparse information and sadly no photographs.
What it does include informs that on 9 December a brief was despatched to investigator Mr Francis of the Flying Squad – At 18:05 hours on the above date, two FW 190s dropped two bombs, since established as 500kg S.C. A report is required on each of these incidents.
The brief required the furnishing of a plot map to the scale of 1/1250 showing all A, B, and C damage. The precise location of demolished and badly cracked walls was to be annotated complemented by a description of the building type, method of construction, and room-to-room surveys. This was to be supplemented by photographs. Due to the demands of Mr Francis’ time and that more serious events were due investigation elsewhere, his superior rejected the request by memo five days later.
However, a person of indecipherable name, in the role of Regional Technical Intelligence Officer at R&E, did find the time to pop across the Solent and take a look. Written for the attention of one Mr Scarterfield at the Ministry of Home Security his brief report refers to the raid in question, in context with the two previous raids.
The scene of the incidents were visited and it was noticed that in the case of Bomb No.1 that this incident overlapped two previous incidents in the same street, all three incidents being within 100 yds, so that whilst it is agreed that the A. and B. damage do not overlap, the C damage does and it will also be appreciated that a number of properties which are now A, B, or C. were either C or D before this incident took place. It is possible from the Borough Engineers records to obtain this information accurately and indicate it, if this is desired.
The IW County Press report included – For the third time in less than two months, two German fighter-bombers attacked a South Coast town on Friday week. Defensive action was stronger than usual. One of the bombs fell a few yards from the main street, a short distance from the spot where considerable damage was caused a few weeks ago. The largest multiple shop in the town, the International Stores, was completely demolished. Little trace could be seen afterwards of the extensive stock, and a portion of the weighing scales was found in a garden 300 yards away. A hotel next to the shop was destroyed, only a room above an archway escaping destruction.
There was wholesale damage to the shop fronts and windows by blast. Much of the repair work recently effected was rendered useless by this further visitation. The hotel bars were just about to be opened for the evening, but only residents were on the premises. One or two were injured. The multiple shop had closed, and the manager and his assistants had fortunately left the building. Until recently the managed resided over the shop.
By the time of the R&E Officer’s visit, he reported that – almost the whole of the A and B. damage has been cleared away and most of the C. damage has been repaired or in the case of some of the C they have been left and have been made worse by the heavy traffic down the High Street, by weather and by reason of the fact that several Marine Mines have recently been exploded off the Coast. The properties are in the main, shop type, with dwelling rooms over and are very old, and it would be difficult, if possible, to find properties of a similar nature undamaged for comparative photographs.
The County Press remarked that the second bomb fell to the east of the town seriously damaging an end-terrace house. The R&E report stated – In the case of Bomb No.2, this bomb registered a direct hit on one house which stood on a high bank above the road. A large proportion of the property fell down the bank on to the road, and has been cleared away and much of the blast effect of the Bomb was wasted in view of the fact that there was no obstruction to Blast facing the South, owing to the height of the house on the bank. Here again the A and B damage has been cleared and much of the C damage has been repaired.
The Officer concluded that due to the alacrity with which reparations and clearances were conducted under the orders of the Borough Engineer – much of the evidence required is now non-existent, and consequently a true picture of the incident as it was immediately after the fall of the Bomb cannot be obtained and rendered either by a report or by photographs.
The County Press was less succinct – The occupants of the shattered house, Mr and Mrs F.W. Channing and their married daughter and baby, had a miraculous escape from death. Five people were removed to a first-aid post by ambulances, and one or two were befriended by residents. A man who was telephoning from a kiosk in the upper part of the town was wounded in the leg by a bullet, and there were several facial injuries from falling glass.
The upper part of the main street referred to is a scene of desolation. There were two or three hundred people in a cinema at the time of the raid, but the programme was not interrupted, and only a few left their seats. Help in every direction was prompt. Doctors, the WVS, town employees, Police and ARP workers gave commendably praiseworthy service.