Belfast 1941 blitz recalled in major new book

Brian Barton, author of 'The Belfast Blitz - The City in the War Years', discusses his book on a visit to the News Letter office
Brian Barton, author of 'The Belfast Blitz - The City in the War Years', discusses his book on a visit to the News Letter office
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A major book about the 1941 German aerial bombardment of Belfast is now on sale.

Entitled ‘The Belfast Blitz: the City in the War Years’, the 650-page paperback was written by Brian Barton, a historian.

Cover of 'The Belfast Blitz - The City in the War Years' by Brian Barton

Cover of 'The Belfast Blitz - The City in the War Years' by Brian Barton

The blitz caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people in Northern Ireland’s capital city in raids on four separate nights, around a quarter of the death toll of the Troubles which lasted several decades.

Dr Barton, a former lecturer, spent around seven years working on the book.

“It is, I genuinely believe, the definitive account of the blitz,” he told the News Letter.

“The blitz was, as Jimmy Doherty states, the ‘most disastrous event in the history of the city’ – tragic, unprecedented and, in many ways, defining.”

The book examines Belfast’s preparations for aerial attack, and examines the reasons why it was ill-prepared – “largely due to decisions taken in London,” said Dr Barton.

“It goes through each of the city’s four raids in graphic detail; it also covers in detail the raids on Londonderry/Derry, Bangor, Newtownards, and the bombing of Dublin on 30/31 May ‘41.”

The book includes the list of around 900 civilian casualties, compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It has been illustrated with almost 200 original photographs.

“If military casualties are included, over 1,000 died as a result of the air raids on Northern Ireland,” said Dr Barton.

The book also deals with the impact of the blitz on public morale, on North/South relations, on Stormont/Westminster relations, and on inter-communal relations within Northern Ireland.

“It considers the evidence as to whether the Dublin bombing was an act of German retaliation for Eire’s perceived breaches of wartime neutrality,” said Dr Barton. “It examines the IRA campaign in wartime, IRA attitudes towards Germany, to the blitz, to the war, etc., how the IRA threat influenced the distribution of Belfast’s active defences (eg its barrage balloons).”

The author drew on documentary material from archive centres in Ireland, Great Britain, Germany and Israel.

He also interviewed over 80 people who either provided eyewitness accounts or contemporary documents such as letters or diaries.

The son of a Methodist minister, Brian Barton was born in Donegal in 1944 and lived in various parts of Ulster. He studied at Queen’s University, Ulster University, and later at Cambridge. Dr Barton taught at the College of Business Studies and later tutored in modern history at the Open University.

The book, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation, is on sale in shops for £19.99.

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