Just over a week after the shock, second air-raid of the city, when bombs fell and led to casualties in the Malton Road area of York, the Luftwaffe carried out their third raid on the city. This time it was the western side of the city to suffer.
At 22:00 on Tuesday 5 November 1940 – when ordinarily Bonfire Night fires and fireworks might have been expected – three explosions were heard across the city. The A.R.P. Report informs us that ten minutes later it was reported that “a bomb had fallen within the York Waterworks Company’s premises” near the East-Coast railway mainline.
It was discovered the next day that the “bomb had fallen into soft ground” and “appeared to have exploded and lift[ed] a quantity of earth and masonry of the reservoir structure, but done little material damage”. The damage comprised a valve shaft that was loosened and the masonry linings to the reservoirs’ embankments were disturbed for c.7.3m. It meant that serious leakages were caused to both Nos.1 and 2 subsiding reservoirs – but evidently downplayed in the official reports of the time. (Indeed, the A.R.P. report proudly concludes by saying the “efficiency of the filter bed system does not appear to have been impaired”.) The cause or location of the other two explosions is not recorded.
The Luftwaffe’s aim in this raid is not known, but most likely was the railway points to the east of York, where the east-coast line curves out from the station and city before mainlining north to Newcastle and Scotland beyond. Just as York remains an important junction on the East-Coast railway line today, with control of signal points for much of the central stretch of the line, so it was during the War. Luftwaffe bombing maps highlight just how important the rail infrastructure at York was; a justified target for them.
That the bomb landed in the site of the York Water Works Company’s Acomb Landing Treatment Works, which is positioned directly alongside and parallel to the railway tracks, is noteworthy. An annotated OS map that the Luftwaffe used to identify targets for raids includes the waterworks – or Wasserwerk -on the map as a target of interest. And sure enough, on 3rd April 1941 an incendiary bomb was dropped on these waterworks (mostly on No.3 treatment Plant). It could be that the (presumably) lone raiding enemy aircraft chose this approximate site to hedge its bets that if it did not strike the primary target of the railway tracks, then it might still strike the waterworks; just as it did.
This third raid on the city came five days after the date when British historians consider ‘The Battle of Britain‘ had come to an end. That aspect of the War, when the Luftwaffe had tried, but ultimately failed, to gain daylight air superiority over the British R.A.F so as to permit a Nazi invasion force good protection from aircraft as they arrived by sea and air, is understood to have lasted from 10 July to 31 October 1940. [German historians consider the battle to have lasted until June 1941.] At the time, British airmen and civilians would not have known this battle had come to an end, especially given ‘the Blitz‘ raids over Britain continued and intensified until 11 May 1941, but it is evident from two archive details relating to the region that the military personnel were learning the tricks of their foes, and yet continued to hold them in high esteem.
A ‘Detailed Intelligence Report of enemy Activity in Divisional Area, Night 5/6 November, 1940’ by the 7th Anti-Aircraft Division made reference to ‘Enemy Tactics’ of an enemy aircraft to the north of York. The tactics comprised flying “in a haphazard way” to behave “in a manner similar to one of our own [R.A.F.] bombers lost, and looking for an aerodrome at which to land”, possibly hoping “to deceive the defences and induce the lighting up of an aerodrome”.
It is unclear if the aircraft’s deception was successful or not, but at 22:50 two high explosive bombs fell on the edge of R.A.F. Clifton. While there was no material damage, Private Peter W.T.E. Browne, 19 years old, and of the West Yorkshire Regiment (70th Bn.), was fatally wounded by a bomb splinter and another serviceman injured.
There is only little to identify York’s Clifton Moor retail park as having formerly been R.A.F. Clifton. There are a few, generic street names (Hurricane Way; Amy Johnson Way), and names of modern pubs (Flying Legends; Lysander Arms), and a small memorial tucked away off Kettlestring Lane that act as pointers to the site’s former use. There are two stubs of the original runways still visible north of the A1237 near the roundabout leading to the shopping centre, and another stub of another runway and taxiway visible to the south of the A1237 just west of Wigginton Road, but you would have to go looking for any of these clues and have a good eye in recognising them.
The airfield was originally known as York Municipal Aerodrome and had only opened shortly before the war (in 1936). On 1 September 1939, the site was requisitioned by the RAF for Bomber Command and duly became a target for the Luftwaffe – as was the case in York’s third raid on the night of the 5th November 1940.
Recalling how this raid on York came days after the end of ‘The Battle for Britain’, it might be assumed that animosity between British and Nazi German forces would have been at its most intense. One snippet from a regional newspaper written the day after the third raid over York suggests otherwise.
The North-Eastern Gazette records that four German airmen whose Junkers Ju-88 aeroplane had crashed near Glaisdale Head on the North York Moors on Friday 1st November, causing their deaths, “were buried with full military honours at Thornaby” on the 5th November. Furthermore, “[m]embers of the R.A.F. acted as bearers, and each coffin was borne to the cemetery on an R.A.F. wagon, the cortege procession being headed by a service band”, it was attended by 50 R.A.F. airmen, “the coffin of the ‘plane commander was covered by a red flag bearing the swastika”, and they were laid to rest “in the R.A.F.’s own little ceremony at Thornaby”.
It is a wonderful insight into a sense of respect of one’s foe and perhaps even comradeship across the division that existed in serving personnel. It is strange also to think that whilst the interment of these four German airmen took place during the daytime, and being so well attended by R.A.F. servicemen based nearby, come the nighttime, they would be responding to more enemy aircraft flying overhead, including those of the third raid on York.
[More details of the Glaisdale Head crash of the Junkers Ju-88 can read here]
[Some anniversaries can be more timely than others. Just as we enter a second ‘lockdown’ from a global pandemic on the 5th November 2020, when we are warned to take action to avoid being in close proximity with one another, especially in enclosed environments, an advertisement from The Yorkshire Post‘s write-up of the 5th November raid on York, warns of a very similar concern… ]
Thanks to Wing-Commander Newbould for making available his detailed archive research to the Raids Over York project team.