Two weeks ago these pages outlined the forthcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day and the programme of commemorations

taking place at Enniskillen’s Model School on the 6th June.

Apart from the heroic local soldiers, sailors and airmen who were at the Normandy Landings - tagged by historians as ‘the beginning of the end’ of WWII - Enniskillen and Fermanagh played a vital role, hosting many thousands of US soldiers in preparation for D-Day.

Local folk also played their part in Northern Ireland’s intensified agricultural and industrial output - the ‘war on the home front’.

Even school children volunteered, packing gas masks after classes.

Tragically, the German Luftwaffe attempted to stop Belfast’s unmatched wartime production of ships, aircraft and weaponry.

The exact figures vary but around 1,000 people lost their lives in four German air raids on the city between 7 April and 6 May 1941, when substantial numbers of houses, factories and infrastructure were damaged or destroyed.

For around five hours during the Easter Tuesday blitz on 15/16 April around 180 enemy aircraft dropped hundreds of bombs and thousands of incendiaries, mainly on residential areas in the city’s docklands.

During a three-hour raid on 4/5 May over 200 bombers deposited a further 237 tons of high explosives and 96,000 incendiaries on the city.

The Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum (niwarmemorial.org) at 21 Talbot Street, Belfast, hosts a permanent exhibition about WWII and the Easter blitz where

visitors can reference an Ordnance Survey map that was used by Hitler’s aircrews in the raids.

The ‘Stadtplan von Belfast’ is an extremely poignant document - a ‘map of mayhem’.

Measuring 110cm by 70cm, enemy strategists and Luftwaffe officers overprinted it with a hit-list of important targets.

Outlined and highlighted in red-ink on the faded, patched-together document are the German bombers’ principal objectives (Einzelobjekte) including the docks, railway stations and reservoirs.

German pilots and navigators, peering through their goggles at Stormont (Parlamentsgebäude und Ministerien) and the City Hall (Stadthalle) far below, must have wondered as they released their bombs on the shipyard (Werft von Harland and Wolff) how a German surname was associated with such a strategic enemy target!

Following a previous, solo reconnaissance-flight they had detailed aerial photographs of the Waterworks, the Power Station, Victoria Barracks, the Connswater Fuel Depot, the docks and shipyards, Short and Harland’s aircraft factory and the Rank and Co. Flour Mill.

The original ‘Stadtplan von Belfast’ reproduced here today was retrieved by the Allies from Berlin’s Gatow air field in 1945.

Along with other landmarks like the City Hall, bridges, schools and even a confectionary factory, the targets were highlighted and listed on the map and were easily recognised by the German pilots, navigators and bomb aimers in 1941.

Belfast was ill-prepared for the Luftwaffe bombardment.

There were only 200 public air raid shelters and no searchlights.

No RAF planes took off on the night of the biggest raid to engage the bombers. It is said they didn’t want to get in the

way of the anti-aircraft guns, and for whatever reason no guns were fired.

In his book ‘The Belfast Blitz’ author Sean McMahon recounts “civilian air-raid shelters were essentially non-existent. To be effective against high-explosive (HE) bombs, shelters had to be built well below ground level. Belfast…. was built on sleech, a wet, peaty, mobile swamp that made the construction of deep shelters impossible.”

This was particularly tragic as these river-side areas were prime targets for the German bombers.

“The giant linen mills, the rope works and the shipyards were essentially defenceless,” Sean McMahon explains “streets of tiny houses that huddled round the factories collapsed like dominoes when even a single bomb fell in the vicinity.”

A few days before the Easter attacks the Nazi propagandist William Joyce (‘Lord Haw Haw’) announced in his broadcast from Hamburg that Belfast could expect ‘some Easter eggs.’

The old Air Raid Precautions (ARP) handbooks issued during WWII are hugely poignant to peruse.

I’ve been reading two of them and looking at the rather frightening photographic illustrations - how to escape from burning buildings; dousing incendiary bombs with stirrup pumps; finding your way through smoke-filled houses and escaping through windows.

But some folk never got the chance to escape.

Belfast-evacuees alighted from a train at a Fermanagh railway station, still frightened after the air attacks.

Bewildered city-kids eyed a lush, green countryside they’d never seen before.

Amidst the hustle and bustle on the platform, a dazed and despairing man - blinded with tears and voiceless with grief - elbowed through the new arrivals clasping a single, flame-charred, child’s shoe.

His wife and children had been asleep in their East-Belfast family home when it received a direct hit by a German bomb. His daughter’s little shoe was all that was left of his family.

D-Day was the start of the end of such terrible tragedy.