- POW Treatment - German, British and American bomber pilots occasionally fell into the hands of the Irish. These POWs were often interred in Irish camps. Mysteriously, many of the American and British captives somehow managed to escape back to their Flights. On the other hand, German captives were held throughout the war.
- Weather Reports - weather reports from the West Coast of Ireland made their way into Allied hands, a critical part of the planning for Operation Overlord (D-Day). Irish weather reports, indicating bad weather, helped Allied commanders to actually delay the D-Day landing by a day. Had Ireland not made these reports available to the Allies, D-Day might not have been as successful as it was.
- Assistance to Northern Ireland - during the early days of 'The Emergency', Northern Ireland's capital city Belfast was bombed by the Germans in what was the 2nd worst aerial blitz on Allied soil in WWII. While it is often forgotten, this Blitz (occuring in April 1940) destroyed 50 percent of Belfast's housing stock in a massive conflagration. Despite its neutral stance, The Republic responded with fire tenders to help quench these flames of destruction. For its efforts, and when the Germans learned of this so-called treachery, Ireland was repaid by German Luftwaffe bombardments of Dublin City.
Northern Ireland - a Field of War
But if The Republic rendered some assistance to the War Effort, the people of Northern Ireland contributed mighty, and often heroic, resources to the defeat of Nazi Germany:
- Pre-1941 - in the early days of WWII, bomber groups stationed in Northern Ireland including B24s (lent to Britain by the US) and Sunderland Bombers kept the North Atlantic sea lanes open through their sorties against German U-Boats. Their efforts allowed tonnes of materials to make their way to England. Had it not been for this effort, and had the supply lanes been cut, England possibly would not have survived until America's entrance into the War on Dec 7 1941.
- January 1942 and the Staging Post - on January 24th 1942, only weeks following Pearl Harbor, a massive flotilla of US soldiers and materials landed in Northern Ireland. Here, those people - with the assistance of the Northern Irish - geared up to position that Northern province as a critical staging post for the defeat of Nazi Germany. What is interesting is this: despite America's neutrality prior to Pearl Harbor, it is obvious that this was a pre-planned activity, and undoubtedly agreed between Roosevelt and Churchill prior to America's official entrance into WWII.
- Northern Ireland, the Allied Aerodrome - Northern Ireland quickly became a critically important supply and training location that fed the European Theatre of War with vital men and materials. Aircraft from the United States, including B17 and B24 bombers, P47 and P38 Lightning fighters, and similar equipment was flown or transported into the North. There, the aircraft were prepared for European operations. American, British, and Canadian pilots were trained in Northern Ireland. Aircraft manufacturing and ship repair facilities located in Belfast and Derry (Londonderry) helped to supply much needed materials to Allied efforts.
The men and materials transported into the North, and then on into England, helped to assist the US 8th Army Airforce in its daylight bombing efforts against Nazi-occupied Europe. This massive assistance in all probability helped to shorten the war. What is also interesting - and poignant - is the fact that accidents did occur. Today, you can find the graves of American fliers buried in the Province.
- Belfast Harbor as a Staging Post for D-Day - meanwhile, thousands of American military (including Army and Navy personnel and materials) eventually assembled and trained in Northern Ireland. Belfast became a sort of immense Irish USO as they brought an American view to the country: Americans were everywhere in Northern Ireland, and invariably they handed out items that could not be found in the Province. Silk stockings, cigarettes, booze, and chocolates were particularly popular. I've had the privilege of meeting Northern Irish War Brides who married American soldiers. Bob Hope played to American and Northern Irish audiences, as did Glen Miller. For a number of years, love blossomed to the sounds of American Swing. Then, in 1944, a massive fleet began to assemble in Belfast Harbor. Troops were called from their training posts, ordered to board the many vessels that swamped the local waters. General Dwight D Eisenhower visited in mid-June of that year, wishing his troops luck. And a fleet destined for eventual victory sailed from those waters, bound for a remote French coastline, and many would never return.
Churchill, never a fan of Northern Ireland, stated categorically that if it had not been for the sacrifice of the people of Northern Ireland, the war would not have been ended as quickly. Today, no monument stands in Belfast to remember the thousands who died in the 1940 Belfast Blitz. Few remember that the German Battleship Bismark was spotted by an aircraft flown from Northern Ireland that led to its eventual sinking. Few remember that if it were not for Northern Ireland and its efforts to keep open the North Atlantic, Britain might have been defeated by Nazi Germany.
Few remember the courageous contribution that Northern Ireland and her people made to the War Effort. And few discuss the critical roll that Northern Ireland played in the implementation of D-Day, Operation Overlord.
On this 65th Anniversary of D-Day, I hope to remind us all of that sacrifice. And to those who are still alive, or who are the proud off-spring of those who participated so courageously, I would like to state my humble thanks for helping us in the fight for freedom.
June 6th, 2009.