World War Two Daily: October 14, 1940: Balham Tragedy

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October 14, 1940: Balham Tragedy

Monday 14 October 1940

14 October 1940 Balham Underground bombing
Damage to Balham underground station. The bomb on the High Road created a crater 50 feet wide. A bus (nobody hurt) drove into the crater in the darkness due to blackout conditions. (The New Guardian).
Battle of Britain: The fickle weather of 1940 continues on 14 October 1940. Today there are clouds and intermittent shows. Missions are scattered throughout the day until the skies clear after dark.

Before dawn, a Dornier Do 17 from 4(F)./14 drops a stick of bombs on Bristol. Otherwise, it is a fairly quiet early morning. The first real operations begin at 10:30 when high-altitude fighter-bombers (Jabos) fly up from the Cherbourg area. The attack does not accomplish much, however, due to the weather and the lurking presence of RAF fighters.

RAF North Weald receives attention late in the morning. Four squadrons are based there, so it is a vital link in the chain of fighter airfields across southern England. While the attacks are small-scale affairs, bombing accuracy during the day is notably better than at night.

Since the weather is poor, the Luftwaffe apparently feels better about including more lumbering Heinkel He-111s and other medium bombers in the mix. London, Portsmouth, East Anglia and nearby points are bombed. Airfields hit in the London region include RAF Hawkinge and Duxford, with bombs also falling over nearby South London either intentionally or due to bombing inaccuracy. A direct hit on an air-raid shelter in Middlesex kills 20 people.

An odd incident happens during the afternoon. Fighter pilots of RAF No. 17 Squadron spot a Dornier Do 17 bearing British markings on all the upper surfaces. As it banks to turn, however, German markings are seen on the underside. When attacked, the bomber fires two Very rockets - but of the wrong color. Despite being damaged, the odd plane makes it away safely through the balloons over Harwich.

After dark, the pace of attacks increases dramatically. The Luftwaffe sends a total of 240 across the Channel, helped by a full moon. London, Birmingham, Coventry, Liverpool, Preston, Bristol, Avonmouth, and East Anglia take damage. The scale of the attacks is reflected in the fact that 565 people are killed and 2125 seriously injured. Coventry, with many medieval wooden buildings, is consumed by fires caused by incendiary oil bombs. In London, The Carlton Club is hit, but nobody is hurt.

14 October 1940 Balham Underground bombing
The Balham bus after being hoisted out of the hole.
In a notorious incident which since has become iconic for The Blitz, a 1400 kg armor-piercing bomb hits the Balham underground station at 20:02. It sends those inside who survive (66 people perish) fleeing when the water mains, a gas pipe, and a sewer pipe burst and flood the north-bound tunnel with a tidal wave of smelliness. The water rises 25 feet above the trackbed. Many people drown in the slurry. A bus drives into the immense creator in the blackout darkness, but nobody in it is hurt. The underground line is out of operation until 1941, with bodies being recovered past Christmas. This incident features in the Ian McEwan novel "Atonement," made into a feature film starring Keira Knightley. A plaque is laid at the site in 2010 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the tragedy.

In London alone, 500+ casualties are taken to the hospital or killed.

Due to the small-scale of the raids, the inability of the RAF to manage effective interceptions due to the weather, and the majority of the raids being undertaken at night, both sides take less than a handful of casualties (some accounts say no losses on either side). The day is a successful one for the Luftwaffe, which takes sustainable losses but still inflicts measurable damage both to civilian and RAF targets.

Rear Admiral I.B.B. Tower, DSC, perishes in an air raid "on the steps at the bottom of Regent's Street." He has been in charge of gunnery training ship HMS President and has held a number of senior staff positions, including chief naval liaison officer to the Commander-in-Chief Home Forces, General Sir Alan Brooke.

KG 53's Major Friedrich Kless receives the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

14 October 1940 Balham Underground bombing
Another view of the Balham blast.
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command raids Berlin, oil plants in Stettin, the ports of Hanover, Hamburg and Le Havre, and various airfields in northwest Europe.

Night fighter ace Werner Streib, Gruppenkommandeur of I./NJG 1 and the man considered to be the "Father of German night-fighter forces," scores his tenth night-fighter victory during the evening.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-137 (Kapitänleutnant Herbert Wohlfarth) torpedoes and damages 10,552 ton Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser HMS Cheshire northwest of Ireland. The 220 onboard are taken off by destroyer HMS Periwinkle and corvette HMCS Skeena. The Cheshire is taken under tow and makes it to Belfast Lough where it is beached. It ultimately is brought to Liverpool for extensive repairs.

Royal Navy 683 ton pilot vessel Reculver hits a mine and sinks in the Humber Estuary south of Spurn Point. All 31 aboard survive.

Royal Navy 448 ton trawler HMS Lord Stamp (Chief Skipper J. D. McKay RNR) hits a mine and sinks about 31 km from Portland Bill, Dorset. The 23 crew on board perish.

British 1076 ton collier Glynwen sinks in the English Channel of unknown causes relating to enemy action.

German submarine chaser UJ-173 Heinrich Wesselhöft runs aground near Kvitsøy, off Stavanger in the North Sea. It is a total loss.

German 1879 ton freighter Euler hits a  mine and sinks off Saint-Nazaire in the Bay of Biscay.

As discussed in our entry for 13 October, sometime during the night Captain Phillip Vian of HMS Cossack leads a destroyer force in Operation DN. It torpedoes and sinks German net layer Genua off Egersund, Norway. There are 78 deaths. The vessel sinks in shallow water and can be refloated and returned to service. It is the only success of the night engagement despite somewhat more elaborate claims by the Royal Navy at the time.

Convoy FN 308 departs from Southend, Convoys FS 309 and OA 229 departs from Methil.

The escort destroyer HMS Mendip (L 60) is commissioned.

14 October 1940 General Wavell
General Wavell, British Middle East Commander, makes the cover of Time Magazine on 14 October 1940.
Battle of the Mediterranean: In the early hours of the morning, Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, returning to Alexandria after escorting a convoy to Malta, detaches briefly from the main force with cruisers HMS Gloucester and Liverpool. It conducts airstrikes against the Italian bases at Leros. The Illustrious then returns to the main battle group.

At 16:55, the Italians reciprocate for the attack on Leros by launching their own strike on the Royal Navy forces nearby. An Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM79 bomber torpedoes HMS Liverpool, which sets off fuel and other flammables in the ship and blows off its bow from just ahead of the bridge. There are 30 deaths when all is said and done, with 42 others wounded. Light cruiser HMS Orion takes the Liverpool in tow back to Alexandria. Liverpool eventually will go to Mare Island, California for full repairs shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Battlecruiser HMS Renown, light cruiser HMS Sheffield, and destroyers HMS Gallant, Firedrake and Griffin arrive in Gibraltar to reinforce Force H.

The RAF bombs Italian forces in Benghazi.

At Malta, Governor Dobbie and the local military institute new rules for shore-based artillery. They are to wait until opening fire until the target has approached within 5000 yards by day and 1800 yards by night. Local gunners are given independent authority to open fire if they deem the intruder to be hostile. In addition, it is "fire at will" on any submarine unless they have been notified of a friendly submarine in the vicinity. The cargo from the recent convoy is still being processed, with ammunition being dispersed to the gunners.

Battle of the Pacific: German raider Orion stops and sinks 7302-ton Norwegian freighter Ringwood in the Pacific about 600 miles Northwest of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. The 35 neutral crewmen and the ship's cat become the ship's "guests" and eventually are repatriated to Norway.

Meanwhile, German raider Pinguin and converted minelayer Passat continue heading south toward their destinations off the coast of southeastern Australia. The voyage will take roughly two weeks.

Italian/German/Romanian Relations: Mussolini protects Italy's historic interest in the Balkans by sending air officers to Bucharest. They join the German troops who have arrived there and elsewhere in the country. Their purpose is to set up a seaplane base at the Romanian port of Constanta on the western coast of the Black Sea, 179 nautical miles (332 km) from the Bosphorus Strait.

Hitler's fears about British sabotage in Romania are perhaps heightened today when a fire breaks out in Băicoi, a train stop away from the main oil center of Ploiești. The fire destroys three oil wells.

German/Soviet Relations: The German embassy staff in Moscow is still translating von Ribbentrop's interminable letter to Stalin about a New World Order ruled by Germany, the USSR, Italy and Japan. It will take several more days.

14 October 1940 Balham Underground bombing
Another view of the Balham incident.
US/Japanese Relations: With war tensions rising, the US State Department announces that it is sending three passenger liners (Monterey, Mariposa, and Washington) to Japan and China for the purpose of repatriating American citizens. China, in particular, is a top destination for missionaries. The Monterey is headed for Yokohama and Shanghai, and the Mariposa to Shanghai, Chinwangtao, and Kobe, Japan.

Soviet Military: The Politburo stamps its approval on the war plan recently submitted to it by the Stavka for an attack on Germany. There is no such operation currently contemplated but one is a contingency plan for the future. The plan is in some respects the mirror image of the war plans currently being drafted at OKW headquarters at Zossen for Operation Barbarossa.

Italian Military: Benito Mussolini is the in final stages of planning his strategy following the meeting with Hitler at the Brenner Pass earlier in the month. He has decided not to invade Yugoslavia, but Greece is an open question. He is not keeping the Germans informed of his decision-making process. Today, he meets with General Staff Marshal Badoglio and Army Chief of Staff General Roatta, both of whom are known to be very realistic about Italian military capabilities - but they have little influence on Mussolini.

US Military: The US Navy sends heavy cruiser USS Louisville from Recife to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as part of the continuing series of "Show the Flag" missions being undertaken throughout the year.

US Government: President Roosevelt signs into law the Nationality Act of 1940. It provides for three classes of persons eligible for citizenship and defines how one could lose citizenship. It is the first comprehensive attempt at a nationality and naturalization policy in US history. Among other things, the Act specifies that US citizens can lose their citizenship if they emigrate abroad to, say, England and stay there. The law in effect requires many Americans living in Great Britain to return to the United States or risk losing their citizenship - which in fact happens to hundreds of people.

German Propaganda: Dr. Goebbels fine-tunes his ministry's depiction of the effect of the air war on England's capital and Berlin. He cautions his press people via the Reich Press Chief to keep accounts of damage to the respective cities moderate. The aim, the Press Chief writes, is that "the possibility of intensified attacks must be preserved."

Romania: In a sign of further attempts by the Romanian authorities to ingratiate themselves with the Germans, they ban Jewish students from Romanian schools.

China: In the continuing Battle of South Kwangsi, the Japanese 22nd Infantry Division fights off the Chinese Nationalist attack on Lungchin.

American Homefront: Charles Lindbergh makes another national broadcast radio speech. In it, he all but endorses Republican candidate for President  Wendell Willkie, though he does not mention him. Lindbergh, in particular, implies indirectly that President Roosevelt has a hidden agenda to embroil the United States in the European War - which the evidence supports to one degree or another - and states that the country should elect a leader "whose promises we can trust, who know where they are taking us, and who tell us where we are going."

Future History: Cliff Richard is born to his British parents in Lucknow, United Provinces, British India. Richard becomes a top British pop star in the late 1950s as the front-man of The Shadows, continues his success thereafter with various twists and turns in his career, and establishes numerous "records" for longevity in terms of the success of his singing career. Richard remains quite active and in the news during the 21st Century and often is referred to as "ageless."

14 October 1940 Jinx Falkenburg
Life Magazine, 14 October 1940. On the cover is actress/swimmer/model "Jinx" Falkenburg. While largely forgotten now, Jinx (after the war) helped create the modern celebrity chit-chat television show format. She became a long-time resident of Manhasset, Long Island, New York (where I am from, and thus I mention it). Along with her husband, Jinx was instrumental in building the North Shore University Hospital, one of the premier medical centers in the region. Jinx passed away in 2003 and has a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

October 1940
October 2, 1940: Hitler's Polish Plans
October 3, 1940: British Cabinet Shakeup
October 4, 1940: Brenner Pass Meeting
October 5, 1940: Mussolini Alters Strategy
October 6, 1940: Iron Guard Marches
October 7, 1940: McCollum Memo
October 8, 1940: Germans in Romania
October 9, 1940: John Lennon Arrives
October 10, 1940: Führer-Sofortprogramm
October 11, 1940: E-Boats Attack!
October 12, 1940: Sealion Cancelled
October 13, 1940: New World Order
October 14, 1940: Balham Tragedy
October 15, 1940: Mussolini Targets Greece
October 16, 1940: Japanese Seek Oil
October 17, 1940: RAF Shakeup
October 18, 1940: Convoy SC-7 Catastrophe
October 19, 1940: Convoy HX-79 Catastrophe
October 20, 1940: Convoy OB-229 Disaster
October 21, 1940: This Evil Man Hitler
October 22, 1940: Aktion Wagner-Burckel
October 23, 1940: Hitler at Hendaye
October 24, 1940: Hitler and Petain
October 25, 1940: Petain Woos Churchill
October 26, 1940: Empress of Britain Attack
October 27, 1940: Greece Rejects Italian Demands
October 28, 1940: Oxi Day
October 29, 1940: US Draft Begins
October 30, 1940: RAF Area Bombing Authorized
October 31, 1940: End of Battle of Britain


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