Today 80 years ago my hometown, Geleen, was bombed by the RAF by mistake. Originally the target was the German city of Aachen. 84 were killed.
This is the story of that day:
England, 5 October 1942:
The weather at 9:15 am: rain and low clouds; at 12:15 p.m.: clearings extending South; 4:10 pm: further clearing up to the Felixtowe-Lizard line. North of this, the Allied Air Force expects clear skies well past midnight, important for returning aircraft. It is decided to carry out a bombing flight on Aachen. Due to expected clouds over the target area, the attack should be brought forward slightly. Between 19:09 and 19:40 hours, 257 aircraft take off from various airports for the flight. Leading the way are the pathfinders who will mark the target with flares. Bad weather makes the flight more difficult and some pathfinders do not reach their target area. The planes spread out over a large area.
At 9:42 pm the command post of Staatsmijn Maurits of the air surveillance centre / Luftschutzcentrale receives the air danger signal. A warning signal is given: aircraft approaching.
No more coke ovens should be emptied to prevent glowing embers from emitting light. At 10.10 pm, dozens of flares suddenly hang in the sky over Geleen to the west and northwest. Shortly after the air raid siren of 22.15, bombs down whistling. The explosions become more and more numerous and more violent. Fire breaks out in several places. Again and again, planes turn over Geleen and drop new loads of bombs.
Geleen turns into hell. Houses collapse. Debris is thrown around and clouds of dust hang over the burning city like a thick fog. Finally, around 11:10 pm, the violence subsides. The planes fly off again, leaving behind death and destruction. Miners are locked up underground in the Maurits. Shaft lifts no longer work. They are forced to embark on a long climb to the top. Miraculously, they accomplish it without accident. The last miner does not see daylight again until 10:30 the next morning.
About thirty aircraft were involved in the bombing of Geleen. 36 high-explosive bombs were dropped*. Five of them are direct hits in the Eindstraat, Vueling, Minister Ruysstraat, Nachtegaalstraat and Romaniestraat. The other bombs fell in the open field and some bombs failed to explode. Spread over the entire municipality, approximately twelve thousand incendiary bombs and three hundred phosphorus bombs were also dropped.
Fire brigades from all major Limburg places, even from Den Bosch, Tilburg, Breda, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Aachen, provided assistance in Geleen and at the Maurits State Mine. Due to the poor visibility, the attackers have become so dispersed that there are casualties throughout South Limburg. When one of the pathfinders returns to base, he declares: We had no idea where we were.
The action has claimed about a hundred lives in South Limburg, of which 83(an 84th victim was later added) in Geleen. Among them was a twelve-year-old boy, probably Jewish, who was buried as an unknown victim. There is no death certificate for him. There were also fatalities in Beek (1), Schimmert (3), Heerlen (7) and the hamlet of Aalbeek (2).
Geleen counted 22 seriously injured. 59 homes were destroyed, 227 were heavily damaged, 103 of which had to be demolished. 528 homes suffered serious or minor damage. And 1728 homes had roof and glass damage. In addition to the streets already mentioned, the Groenstraat, Rijksweg-Zuid, Geenstraat and Annastraat were heavily affected. Three thousand inhabitants were homeless, about twenty per cent of the population. Only one plane dropped its bombs over Aachen, the actual target of the attack. Near Maastricht, a Wellington bomber crashed and five crew members were killed and one was taken prisoner wounded. A bomber exploded during a firefight over Brunssum. The wreckage and corpses of the crew landed scattered across that municipality. In all places in South Limburg, there was damage from high-explosive and incendiary bombs. What came to be called the bombing of Geleen was a night of terror for all of South Limburg. “A night that haunts you like a nightmare,” a resident of Geleen noted. Geleen experienced the darkest day in its history.