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Invasions and threats of invasion have been a feature of life in this country since before the days of the Romans. Even a cursory look at 2000 years of local military history would require much more space than is available but I will give a few snippets in the next few paragraphs. The Brigantes, who occupied our area when the Romans arrived in 43 A.D., became first a puppet state under the Romans and were then completely overrun around 79 A.D. -the Roman Fort at Ebchester, Vindomora, dates from around this date. A marching camp, or a series of marching camps, at Washing Well Woods, Whickham, also provided temporary accommodation for their legions. The legions camping at Whickham were probably following the ancient north-south road which includes Clockburn Lonnen and crossed the Derwent at Winlaton Mill, passed Winlaton and Blaydon Burn before crossing the Tyne to Newburn using Stoney Ford, the lowest fordable point on the Tyne until the dredging and river bed changes of comparatively recent years. This was followed by the string of Roman Forts across the Tyne Solway Gap, Hadrian's Wall and the bridge at Newcastle or Pons Aelii (after the emperor Aelius Hadrianus). Roman influence lasted until around 410 when most of the garrisons left and the pay of those who stayed failed to arrive. Then came the Saxons, Angles and Jutes from around the year 449 who eventually killed, enslaved or drove out the partly Romanised Britons in the East and South and established a series of Kingdoms including the powerful and dominant Kingdom of Northumbria. This was followed by centuries of fighting between the Saxon Kingdoms and between the Saxons and the remnants of the Britons. Northumbrian kings fought many battles, including the Battle of Heavenfield (beside Hadrian's Wall north of Hexham) in 635 when King Oswald of Northumbria defeated the Welsh under Cadwallon.
|Courtesy of Gateshead Council|
The Vikings from Denmark began pillaging and plundering along the coast towards the end of the eighth century. Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island was destroyed in 793 and church property at Jarrow and Tynemouth suffered greatly too, as did the convent at Ebchester which was destroyed during a raid in 883. The Danes came in ever greater numbers and many battles were fought between the Saxons and the Danes eventually resulting in the Kingdom of Northumbria being reduced to an earldom with parts assigned as a "patrimony" to the Bishop of Durham. The Danes had settled in huge numbers in Yorkshire but there were hardly any in the present counties of Durham and Northumberland, so it was a largely Saxon population here when the Normans arrived at Hastings in 1066. The appointment of a Norman, Robert de Comines, as Earl of Northumbria in 1069 caused an immediate revolt and the day after he arrived at Durham, he and 700 of his followers were killed. The appointment of Walcher of Lorraine as Bishop of Durham and Earl of Northumberland had similar consequences; on May 14th 1080 he and his entourage of about 100 were killed at St Mary's Church, Gateshead, following the murder of a Saxon noble called Liulf by the Normans. Terrible reprisals followed both revolts and the Normans tightened their grip on the area.
Then followed centuries of conflict with the Scots, which led to the building of the castles at Newcastle (1080) and Prudhoe amongst others, and many threats and attacks by the French and Spanish. Dere Street, the old Roman road through Ebchester, was used by an army under the Scottish King David in 1346 on his way to defeat at the Battle of Neville's Cross on October 17th. The last battle between the Scots and the English was the Raid of the Reidswire at Carter Bar in 1575 (the Scots won) but the Scots were involved in the Civil War. Indeed it was a dispute between Charles I and the Scottish Covenanters which laid the foundations of that conflict. One battle between the Covenanters under General Leslie and the English took place at Stella Haughs on August 28th 1640 when the Covenanters were victorious. The English retreated and camped at Whickham, but a rumour that the Scots were following them led them to burn their tents and flee. Unfortunately the fires ignited an exposed coal seam and it burned for years - somewhat like the underground fire recently extinguished at Watergate. Dere Street was again involved a few years later when General Leslie used it on a march south. He is said to have paused at Ebchester on February 29th 1644 after crossing the Derwent on a bridge of tree trunks. The Scots later besieged Royalist Newcastle for several weeks before finally storming the town at 3 p.m. on October 19th 1644 - in this venture they were greatly assisted by miners from Elswick and Benwell who undermined the walls. The diary of Major John Sanderson of Hedleyhope, a Roundhead, records that on September 14th 1648 he was at Chopwell and Winlaton. Cromwell's artillery and baggage train used the Clockburn Lonnen and Newburn Ford (they were too bulky for the Tyne Bridge) on July 15th 1650 on their way to the Battle of Dunbar. On their return through the area, Cromwell himself is said to have stayed at Dockendale Hall, Whickham for two nights at the end of September; no doubt he turned in his grave when the Hall later became a Catholic Presbytery.
The Spanish too had been quite a threat to this country with attempted invasions in 1588 (the famous Armada), 1601, when they landed in Ireland, and 1719, when they landed in Scotland. The Armada threat led to the setting up of a network of beacons to warn the country of any Spanish landing. Two of these were local - Jackie's Plantation near Chopwell and Beacon Lough near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Gateshead -both areas now have radio masts; the criteria for beacons and radio stations being the same. The Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745, when attempts were made to restore the Catholic monarchy, involved local families: Lord Widdrington of Stella Hall supported the Jacobite cause in the first and Sir Thomas Clavering, who built Axwell Hall around 1760, raised a troop of horse militia in support of the Government in the second. Fears of trouble were also raised on April 14th 1718, when 50 or 60 armed horsemen rode through Winlaton heading south.
The French were ready to support the rebel cause during the 1745 rebellion. They had made earlier raids or attempted invasions too -1359, 1377, 1690, and 1692- and they made more later - 1756, 1759, 1776, 1779 and 1797 when they landed at Fishguard during the troubles arising from the French Revolution. These troubles also gave rise to the threat of invasion by the French, Spanish and Dutch Fleets and led to the formation of many Volunteer Regiments. Locally we had the Gateshead Volunteer Infantry, the Gibside Volunteer Associated Troops of Cavalry and the Loyal Axwell Volunteer Association. Newcastle also had an Armed Association of 1,200 men. The Newcastle Courant of June 24th 1799 records that two members of the Gibside Troop were charged with absenting themselves on the days of exercise and were discharged from the Corps. The threat of invasion passed quickly but most of the Volunteer Regiments were maintained and, when the threat returned in 1803, they were reactivated. Some names had changed; now there were the Gibside Troop of Cavalry of the Derwent Legion and the Axwell Yeomanry Cavalry but essentially they were the same regiments. Near panic gripped the area in February 1804 when the Volunteers were suddenly called to arms in response to what was thought to be an invasion signal from a beacon on the Lammermuir Hills to the south-east of Edinburgh -it proved to be a fell fire. The Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805, when Nelson's fleet defeated those of the French and Spanish, ended the threat and over the next ten years or so the Volunteer Regiments disappeared.
In 1839 Winlaton became perhaps the most heavily defended village in the country. It was the northern headquarters of the Chartists, the political party demanding Parliamentary reform which very nearly started a civil war. Almost every villager had a gun; hand grenades, caltrops (four-pointed spurs to deter cavalry), pikes and many other weapons were manufactured by the hundred; and they even acquired 14 ship's cannons. Luckily the threatened fighting did not take place. Winlaton's reputation as a rebellious village was made some years earlier. Service in the military was not an attractive proposition in the 18th century and the regular army was recruited largely from the gaols. The navy was even less attractive and Press Gangs were used to round up drunken seamen from ports and fishing villages around the country. From 1793 Newcastle keelmen were especially popular targets and the Press Gangs, usually operating from the Plough Inn on Spicer Chare, lifted so many men that the poor rate had to be raised in Newcastle to support the families of the missing men, men who would probably never be heard of again. Occasionally the tables were turned, however, with the whole populous of the Sandgate area attacking the Press Gangs. This had also happened earlier in 1759 when the Press Gang visited Swalwell and took such a beating from the local workmen from Crowley's factory that they never returned to Swalwell or to Winlaton, another Centre for Crowley's men. In fact Winlaton became a popular hideaway for North-East seamen when the Press Gangs were active; everyone knew that it was an absolute "no-go" area for the Press Gangs. Troubles also resulted from recruitment to the militia. Local Militia had been raised for many centuries for internal military duties and by the 18th century this was done by ballot. Suspicions were high that the balloting was not conducted fairly and this led to riots in 1761 in parts of Northumberland and Durham with militia lists and records being burned or destroyed. Eventually eighteen rioters were shot dead at Hexham Market Place by soldiers of the Yorkshire Militia.
Napoleon III's coup in France in 1851 revived the fear of invasion and this was accentuated in 1858 when the French accused the British of being implicated in an assassination attempt against Napoleon -the bomb which was thrown by Orsini had been made in England. In fact the French were correct; Joseph Cowen (1829-1900) of Stella Hall, mine owner and M.P., a friend of many "freedom fighters" including Orsini and Garibaldi, admitted shortly before his death that he had financed the assassination attempt, but claimed not to have known what the money was to be used for. The invasion threat prompted the Government to authorize (on May 12th 1859) the raising of another Volunteer Force. Locally the Blaydon Rifle Volunteers were formed on May 3rd 1860 under Joseph Cowen and other Corps were raised at Beamish on May 12th and at Shotley Bridge on December 1st. The Blaydon Rifle Volunteers, sometimes called The Tyne and Derwent Rifles, drilled every evening at Blaydon Railway Station but disputes between volunteers from Blaydon and Winlaton (the down-hillers and the up-hillers) made it necessary to use separate drill grounds after 1864. In February 1861 the Rifle Volunteers Corps at Blaydon, Gateshead and South Shields became the 9th Durham Rifle Volunteers and on June 1st in the same year, the 3rd Administrative Battalion. Other name changes followed: in 1880 they became the 5th Durham Rifle Volunteers and in 1887, the 5th Volunteer Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. Members of this Battalion served in Natal during the South African (or Boer) War of 1899 to 1902. In 1908 the 5th Volunteer Battalion became the 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and under this name they saw active service in most major engagements during both World Wars.
In retrospect, the invasion threat in World War I was not very great, but at the time it must have seemed real enough because plans to meet such an eventuality were drawn up. One very interesting document is preserved at Gateshead Library Local Studies Department entitled The War. Memorandum for the guidance of the owners of horses, mules, donkeys, cattle, sheep, pigs, etc., also the owners of motor vehicles, bicycles, carts, carriages, etc., and the proprietors of petrol stores, garages, etc., in the event of a hostile invasion. Basically this stated that if so ordered by the military, any livestock, vehicles or fuel must be handed over to them or, if not required by the military, it must be taken to a collecting Centre on the riverside at Allensford by way of Chowdene Bank, Ladypark, Sunniside, Burnopfield, Hamsterley Mill, Medomsley, Shotley Bridge and Snods Edge. Otherwise vehicles had to be disabled by removing a wheel and livestock had to be slaughtered by shooting and leaving the animal unbled and with entrails intact so that it became unfit for consumption within hours.
In World War II the devasting attack on Poland and, later, the occupations of Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France, left little doubt about the dangers we faced. The response was manifold, first the military provision. The first line of defence would obviously be to intercept the enemy on the sea, or even as they assembled in port. This task would fall to the Royal Navy and R.A.F. Coastal Command, who would also be the most likely to first detect any major flotilla heading our way -Coastal Command flew regular reconnaissance patrols across the North Sea and English Channel, and the Navy had 1,100 lightly armed trawlers and small craft which, in addition to escorting convoys, also acted as lookouts.
The sea off the North-East coast came under the Royal Navy's Tyne Sub-Command area which was part of Rosyth Command under Vice-Admiral C.G. Ramsay. The other Sub-Commands within the Rosyth Command were Aberdeen and Rosyth. Naval deployment was constantly changing throughout the war, but at the outbreak of war there were 8 destroyers attached to Rosyth Command and also the aircraft-carrier H.M.S. Furious at Rosyth itself. In July 1940 the cruisers H.M.S. Birmingham and H.M.S. York* were stationed at Rosyth and the cruiser H.M.S. Coventry* together with 12 destroyers were stationed on the Tyne, ten of these destroyers were part of the escort force. The cruiser H.M.S. Newcastle together with H.M.S. Manchester*, H.M.S. Sheffield and 7 destroyers were stationed on the Humber. Locally we also had the 6th Submarine Flotilla who were based at Blyth with their Depot Ship HMS Titania. After the war a top secret German plan, dated October 6th 1940, came to light. This called for three motor torpedo boats, armed with torpedoes and mines, to enter the Tyne under the cover of an air attack and place mines alongside the warships at Newcastle. The plan was cancelled when reconnaissance showed that the warships had been moved -presumably because the British were aware that Operation SEALION, the planned invasion, had been postponed.
Coastal Command had a number of functions but was mainly engaged in reconnaissance and anti-shipping work, both of which involved working closely with the Royal Navy. The only Coastal Command Aerodrome in the North-East was at Thornaby, just over the river from Stockton. This airfield was opened in the late 1920s and was transferred to Coastal Command in September 1939. Thornaby came under No 18 Group of the R.A.F. under Air Vice-Marshal C.D. Breece based at Rosyth. The first operational squadron at Thornaby, 220 Squadron, which was equipped with Hudson aircraft was a general reconnaissance unit. In February 1940 three of their aircraft located the German prison ship Altmark off Norway enabling H.M.S. Cossack to intercept the ship in Jossingfjord and release 299 British prisoners, despite the apparent efforts of the Norwegians to assist the Germans. A Coastal Command Strike Squadron equipped with Beaufighters was based at Thornaby for a few months in 1941. The station later took on a training role with the arrival in July 1941 of No 6 (C) Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.). Twelve Hudsons from 6 O.T.U. at Thornaby took part in the third Thousand Bomber Raid against Bremen on the night of June 25/26 1942. Air Sea Rescue work was also undertaken from Thornaby from October 1943. Thornaby remained in service until October 1958 but there is now no trace of the airfield.
The detection of small-scale sea-borne raids might well fall to the Coastguard service. This organisation went onto a war footing a few days before the actual outbreak of war when the code word GUARDIAN was flashed to all Coastguard establishments around the coast. Auxiliary Coastguards were recruited and both they and the regular coastguards soon lost their civilian status when the whole service was taken over by the Admiralty. The coastguards became naval personnel, nominally on the staff of a fictitious HMS President II, but surprisingly, at the same time, they changed their naval-style uniforms for khaki battledress with COASTGUARD shoulder flashes. By the end of 1940 the coastguards and the auxiliaries were manning 371 Coastguard Stations, 375 Coast-Watching Posts and 199 Coast-Searching Posts. As well as performing their peacetime functions relating to safety at sea, their wartime functions included the reporting of all shipping movements, British and foreign, to the Admiralty, and the guarding of all otherwise undefended stretches of coastline.
The next line of defence against invasion was a huge mine-field measuring 500 miles by 35 miles right down the east coast. This was completed in December 1939 and was situated about 30 miles off the coast with gaps to enable friendly shipping to gain access -there was one such gap off the Tyne and others off the Forth, Humber and Thames. After the mine-field there were the coastal gun batteries intended primarily to prevent ports and harbours being used by the enemy, but also capable of attacking landing craft approaching nearby beaches. On the North-East coast there were part-time batteries at Berwick (Fidra Battery), Amble, Druridge Bay, Blyth (Gloucester Battery), South Shields (Park Battery), Whitburn, Seaham, Seaton Carew, Whitby and Scarborough, and full-time batteries at Blyth (Seaton Battery), Tynemouth (Castle, Spanish and Clifford's Fort Batteries), South Shields (Frenchman's Fort), Sunderland (Roker Battery), Hartlepool (Heugh Battery), Teesmouth (South Gare Battery) and Redcar (Coatham Battery). These batteries were equipped with a variety of heavy guns including 4 inch, 6 inch and 12 pounders, and the Coatham and Tynemouth Castle Batteries each had a giant 9.2 inch gun. Most of these batteries were closed in 1946 but a few -Castle, Clifford's Fort and Spanish Batteries at Tynemouth and the Coatham Battery at Redcar- were retained until 1956. The three Tynemouth Batteries were the oldest in the area; the Castle and Clifford's Fort Batteries dated from the sixteenth century and the Spanish Battery from 1892. Very few of the coastal battery sites show much evidence of their wartime role, but Tynemouth Castle is preserved as an Historic Monument and in recent months the Castle Battery has had a gun installed in one of its turrets which is very similar to its World War II armament.
Next came the beach defences designed to delay and contain any enemy landing. All the vulnerable beaches in the North-East were strewn with large concrete blocks (most measuring 4 X 5 X 5 feet) to stop heavy equipment -many can still be seen especially around Druridge Bay and Bamburgh. Between these and the sea were impenetrable barriers of barbed wire and, in some cases, scaffolding below the water line. On some beaches concealed machine gun positions dominated open stretches of sand, but none of this would have stopped a determined landing, so these defences were backed up by a devastating secret weapon, little reported to this day. Concealed perforated pipes hidden below the water line would have spewed petrol and then the floating fuel would have been ignited.
Long before this stage the "Beetle" invasion warning network would have been activated. Under this scheme warnings would be passed to five military headquarters by point-to-point radio links. At each of these centres a powerful long-wave radio station would then transmit the warning which could be picked up on ordinary broadcast receivers installed at every R.A.F., army and navy establishment in the area. The Centre for the North was the headquarters of Northern Command at York and the whole system was ready by August 1940. Bomber, Coastal and Fighter Commands and the Navy would, of course, engage the enemy but in addition Operation BANQUET would be initiated. This involved the R.A.F.'s Flying Training Command who would use 350 old Tiger Moth and Magister trainers fitted with rudimentary bomb racks to drop 20 lb bombs on the beaches. Lysanders, Wellingtons, Battles and Blenheims would spray Mustard Gas on the landing craft and Tiger Moths fitted with crop sprayers would do the same with Paris Green a lethal mixture of arsenic trioxide and copper acetate.
Mustard Gas of two types, H.T. or Runcol and H.S. or Pyro, was manufactured in huge quantities at I.C.I.'s Randle Works near Runcorn and the nearby Rocksavage Works made Chlorine and Phosgene for use as war gases. The I.C.I. works at Springfields near Preston also made Lewisite, which was similar in its effects to Mustard Gas but included arsenic. Poison Gases were stored at five Forward Filling Depots at key points for use by Bomber Command and in smaller quantities at many more airfields for use against the beaches. The Forward Filling Depot serving the Bomber Command Airfields in Yorkshire was at West Cottingwith, eight miles south-east of York. It has been suggested that Churchill would have authorized the use of chemical weapons against German cities if the Germans used it first or if there was a successful landing on our shores.
There were also a large number of mine-fields on land along the south and east coasts, usually just inland from the vulnerable beaches. All were clearly marked and surrounded by barbed wire; they were intended to deny these areas to the enemy, not to kill. The only victims of the numerous Northumberland mine-fields were actually British civilians; on August 7th 1941, three foolish people entered a mine-field and were blown up and killed -no information about the age or identity of the victims or the location of the tragedy has been found. After the war the army had to undertake the horrendous task of clearing these mine-fields. It took many years -well into the 1960s for some of the East Anglian mine-fields.
The inland defences in the North were surprisingly based on a roughly North-South barrier known as the G.H.Q. Line which used natural obstacles such as waterways and steep inclines and man-made obstacles where necessary to form a barrier which was impenetrable to tanks. Constructing the defences on the G.H.Q. line involved some 150,000 workmen nationally and virtually all the earth-moving equipment in the country. In our area the G.H.Q. Line ran from Goole on the Humber to Musselburgh on the Firth of Forth and was roughly 30-45 miles from the coast. It passed through York, Boroughbridge, Topcliffe, Barnard Castle, Wolsingham, Stanhope, Rookhope, Allenheads, Hexham (by way of Devil's Water), Humshaugh, Wark, Bellingham, Falstone, Kielder, Hawick, Melrose, Galashiels and Dalkeith. The idea of this section of the G.H.Q. Line was to restrict the enemy to a coastal strip following a landing on the Northumberland beaches. The enemy would be engaged immediately by Coastal Defence Units and by Bomber, Coastal and Fighter Commands and would then face the major infantry battalions of the Home Forces held in reserve away from the coast (the composition varied but for the most part this involved the 15th, 54th or the 59th Divisions). These would then perhaps be joined by armoured units such as the 24th Army Tank Brigade from Yorkshire or, later in the war, the 35 Army Tank Brigade from Haydon Bridge, but if the landing had been on a large scale there was little chance that such intervention could do much more than delay the enemy.
But, as the enemy tried to move south, they would face a succession of road-blocks, defended road junctions, defended defiles (places where the topography forms a narrow passage), and a series of of east-west Stop Lines. The mainstay of this type of defence were the concrete blocks already mentioned, concrete "coffins" and "pimples" (or Dragon's Teeth), anti-tank ditches and "pillboxes". Pillboxes were of many types -some square, some circular, some hexagonal- but were basically strong, generally concrete, buildings with one or two small openings from which rifle or machine-gun fire could be directed at the enemy. These were built in thousands during the first year of the war and Northumberland had more than its share, the biggest concentrations being near the coast and along the Stop Lines described below -many can still be seen dotted around the countryside.
The Stop Lines were heavily defended lines designed to delay or stop an enemy -at each the defences were arranged on the basis that the enemy forces were to the north, so on that side cover was to be as limited as possible, whereas to the south, the British side, it was to be maximised. If the enemy breached the first Stop Line then the British would retreat to the next. The first Stop Line followed the River Coquet for about 25 miles inland and the second the River Wansbeck for about 20 miles. Neither of these extended west to the G.H.Q. Line but would be difficult to by-pass and furthermore the major troop concentrations were in this area -such as the large encampment at Thropton near Rothbury.
The third Stop Line, however, did extend to the G.H.Q. Line; this was the Tyne Stop Line, and it was actually meant to stop the enemy. As soon as an invasion was confirmed members of the 280th Field Company, Royal Engineers, would dash north via Durham, Leadgate, Ebchester and Hexham and blow up every road, rail and foot bridge -more than 100 bridges- on the Tyne from the Rede Valley to Scotswood; the holes for the charges were already drilled, indeed many can still be seen to this day. Approaches were to be cratered -200 craters were planned- and even small ferries, like that at Barrasford, would have its cables cut and the boat sunk. The Newcastle bridges would be mined but not immediately blown -they were to be defended to the last man- and the Swing Bridge would be opened and disabled. Everything involved in the Battle of the Tyne was planned to the last detail -the battle headquarters was even picked, Beaufront Castle between Hexham and Corbridge.
Militarily Tyneside itself would be divided into eighteen districts, each with its own detailed plan of action to stop the invader in its tracks. Industrialists met with the Regional Commissioner and the Military to arrange a scorched earth plan for Tyneside's major industries. Each was given a code word -e.g. DAFFODIL, MUSTARD, POTATO, ASPARAGUS, MINT, CAULIFLOWER- and, on receipt of their particular word, all machinery in their premises would be disabled by removing essential parts. Other code words, or the ringing of Tyneside's 62 sets of church bells, would activate other plans - makeshift road blocks would appear all over the Tyneside and even in Newcastle itself (at the West Road, Nuns Moor Road, Fenham Hall Drive, Shields Road, Walker Road, Heaton Road and Chillingham Road, for example), other roads would be mined; electricity would be cut by exploding charges at nodal points on the network; L.N.E.R. locomotives would disappear along country lines south of the Tyne, like the Victoria Garesfield branch line, and then be disabled; on the Tyne and right along the coast docks would be blocked and machinery disabled; fuel stores, even garage supplies, would be destroyed; the ferry landings at North and South Shields would be blown up and the ferries scuttled; and all major explosive and ammunition dumps would have their stocks either blown up or otherwise destroyed -the dump at Lemington had railway tracks laid into the river ready to "drown" its stocks if necessary.
The smaller explosive and ammunition stores, and there were very many of these, would of course be needed for roadblocks and other defence measures, and would be retained as long as possible. Some of these stores were in rather unexpected locations such as Manors Railway Station, the Royal Grammat School and the Newcastle Co-op premises on Newgate Street. (See Tyne & Wear Archives Service document T136-102 - "Home Guard Explosive Stores"). They even stored ammunition and explosives in Jesmond Cemetery and at the Sewage Treatment Plant at Blackhall Mill, although the latter was not associated with the Tyne Stop Line, it was part of another -the Derwent Stop Line!
This little known measure is described in Public Record Office document PRO/WO 199/1516, and was one of several notional Stop Lines on the south of the Tyne. These did not involve much in the way of fixed defences -the planners expected the Tyne Stop Line to stop the enemy or at least to hold them back long enough to allow massive reinforcements from the G.H.Q. Reserve to reach the area. The plans had to be made, however, because there was always the possibility of enemy airborne units landing on the south of the river and then attacking the Tyne defences from the rear - and, no matter how good the defences, the enemy might still manage to cross the river. The Derwent Stop Line specifically involved the blowing of all bridges across the river and the cratering of all main roads in the valley by mining culverts under the roads. This would almost certainly have involved the A694 road which has numerous culverts for the many streams feeding into the river, including several in and around Rowlands Gill. Unfortunately it is not at all clear whether these measures would have automatically followed an enemy landing in Northumberland, or if they they would only have been implemented as a last resort. The Home Guard would also have attempted to delay any enemy troops passing through the area, but without the benefit of the concrete obstacles and pillboxes which were a major feature of the Northumberland defences - the Spigot Mortar base on Hamsterley Bank and the nearby trenches which are mentioned elsewhere in this booklet would probably be a typical defended position on the Derwent Stop Line.
There were some pillboxes to the south of the Tyne but, except along the River Tyne itself and around the heavily defended beaches near Seaton Carew and Redcar, they were rather thinly distributed and largely confined to military installations such as searchlight sites. Close to Rowlands Gill there were several pillboxes along the Blaydon to Dunston railway line -part of the Tyne Stop Line defences- and others at the Bone Hill Searchlight Site at High Spen, at the Flint Hill Searchlight Site and on Ebchester Bank near the Broomhill Farm Searchlight. The pillboxes defending Searchlight Sites were authorized on July 15th 1940 and erected very soon afterwards. The Bone Hill pillbox is now several feet beneath a golf course, but one of the pillboxes beside the railway line can still be seen -if you take the road from the Metro Centre to Dunston past the Federation Brewery, you will see it on your left just before you reach the railway bridge- and another was recently unearthed and demolished during the site clearance for the IKEA premises at the Metro Centre.
It was assumed that any major landing on the beaches would be accompanied by airborne landings by parachute, gliders or sea-planes and possibly by small craft entering the rivers. To counter these threats a wide range of steps were taken. Farmers were encouraged to leave heavy equipment, like ploughs, on open fields to deny their use to gliders, long stretches of very wide roads, although we had very few of those, were also obstructed by erecting semi-circular metal arches over them. All open stretches of water were also obstructed; this included all the large collecting reservoirs in the area such as Catcleugh, Colt Crag and Hallington. The Tyne was to be blocked by sinking two steamers across the harbour bar and two torpedo tubes were installed on the river banks ready to sink any German ships managing to enter the river. In addition tugboats stood by ready to ram seaplanes as they landed.
The thought of parachute troops silently descending from the skies was perhaps one of the greatest fears of the war -it was the reason for the formation of the Home Guard, but their duties were widened considerably. However, it would have been extremely unlikely that any major attack from the air would have escaped immediate detection. All official bodies -Home Guard, Special Constables, A.R.P. personnel, Searchlight and Anti-Aircraft detachments, for example- had a prearranged procedure for reporting parachutists which would, from this area, ultimately reach the Headquarters of Northern Command at York and thence G.H.Q. Home Forces at Kneller Hall, Twickenham. Six or less parachutes were of no interest, except locally of course, because they would almost certainly be the crew of an aircraft, British or German, but any more than six and the reports were passed straight up the line to the top. More than 25, and the Home Guard and local military formations would immediately institute all of their anti-invasion measures, including the ringing of church bells, without waiting for orders from above.
Most difficult and time-wasting were isolated reports of "parachutists" without details of numbers, and such reports were numerous throughout the country especially during the second half of 1940. Only a small sample can be listed here: 12.42 a.m. on the morning of June 21st 1940 parachutists reported at Ponteland - military detachments from Gosforth Park dispatched; 6.06 a.m. on the morning of July 6th 1940 parachutists seen between Pegswood Drift and Longhirst School - L.D.V. mobilised; night of August 26th/27th 1940 several reports of parachutists descending in the West Hartlepool and Stockton districts - searches instituted but nothing found, Home Guard at Norton overreacted and ordered that the church bells be rung; 9.35 p.m. on November 7th 1941 reports of parachutists at Kenton Bank Foot - because of the location (near Fighter Group Headquarters), troops of the Northumberland Division were mobilised from Gosforth Park and police from both the Northumberland and Newcastle City forces were turned out.
Needless to say, none of the reports was correct; the Pegswood incident was caused by a drifting barrage balloon, the others were probably shell bursts or clouds illuminated by the searchlights, or just plain malicious reports. Rowlands Gill had its own minor invasion scare on August 3rd 1940 when two airmen baled out of a crippled Fairey Battle aircraft and landed in Gibside Estate- two men hardly constituted a viable invasion force, and the enemy would hardly have chosen 7.00 p.m. on a sunny summer evening, but nonetheless the village policeman recalled that women ran up into the village from the "Bottoms" absolutely panic stricken. (More details of this incident are given later).
On the civilian side, in the event of an invasion causing disruption to communications or the fall of the central government, then absolute power would immediately devolve to one man, Sir Arthur Lambert, the Regional Commissioner -he would be the government, in fact he would have more power than any government over both civilian and military affairs in his Region. Recognising the power of radio, the Commissioners were given their own network of radio stations. A brief picture of broadcasting at that period might be helpful. In this area prior to the war there was really only one service which could be easily received; the North Regional Service transmitted from Stagshaw on 267m (1,122 kHz). A National Programme was gradually being extended around the country but had not yet reached this area; it could be received on expensive receivers from Moorside Edge (Yorkshire) on 261m (1,148 kHz) or on long-wave from Droitwich on 1,500m (200 kHz) but not reliably. At 6.55 p.m. on September 1st 1939 Stagshaw and the other Regional Stations fell silent and the National Programme carried music and announcements for those able to receive it. Meanwhile engineers at Stagshaw, like those at the other Regional Stations, were retuning the station to a new wavelength. Then, at 8.15 p.m., the National Programme closed down permanently and Stagshaw came back on the air with the new Home Service on 391m (767 kHz).
The idea of the frequency change was simple; most Regional Service stations had their own wavelengths (frequencies) and enemy aircraft could therefore use the transmitting stations as an aid to navigation. (Just as today we often have to turn a portable radio to pick up a particular station). The new Home Service used only two wavelengths; 391m (767 kHz) was shared by the Stagshaw, Westerglen, Burghead and Lisnagarvey Stations (known as Group B, later Group N); the other four stations (group A, later Group S) in the south used 449m (668 kHz). The idea of having four stations sharing one wavelength was that directional information could not be gained unless the aircraft was very close to one of the stations. To meet this eventuality Fighter Command would order any station to close down immediately if the enemy looked like getting too near; if three stations in a group had to close then, of course, the fourth would have to close too. Nationally, during 1940 there were no less than 8,591 closures -an average of 23 per day. And this was the public excuse for the installation of a new network of low-power stations carrying the Home Service, known as Group H, all operating on 204m (1,474 kHz). Because of their low-power and common frequency these stations only had to close if there was a local air-raid alert or if bombs or gunfire were heard. Newcastle Group H Station came on the air on November 1st 1940 and was the eighth in the country; its mast was right behind the New Bridge Street B.B.C. Studios. Other stations in the Civil Defence Region were located at the Blind Institute at Middlesborough and the Poor Law Institution at Scarborough and there were others at Barrow, Whitehaven and Carlisle.
The real reason for these stations was not the public one, it was to give the Regional Commissioner a speedy and secure means of speaking to the population of his Region. If the Commissioner was forced to leave Newcastle he would evacuate, in the first instance, to Hexham -chosen because it was conveniently close to the Stagshaw radio transmitter, and here there is a strange parallel with very recent arrangements. There is a building just to the west of Hexham Railway Station which was, until the demise of the Soviet Union, known as Sub-Regional Headquarters 11 or S.R.H.Q. 11 (you can't miss it; it is a large brick windowless building surrounded by a security fence and it has a large radio mast on top). This would have been the base for the Regional Commissioner designate in the event of war or civil insurrection. Secure links were provided to the Stagshaw Transmitting Station, the Military at Albermarle Barracks (Armed Forces Headquarters 1 or A.F.H.Q. 1), the Police, and all local authorities, as well as to neighbouring Regions and Central Government. Now the building, just completed in the 1980's at a huge cost, is up for sale. (The post-WW II War Room for this Region was the wartime R.A.F bunker under the Government Buildings at Kenton Bar which had housed the Operations Room of 13 Group Fighter Command, and then, from 1957, it was at Catterick - one of the infamous Regional Seats of Goverment, R.S.G. 1).
To complete the broadcasting story: English-language broadcasts from Germany by Lord Haw-Haw, the traitor William Joyce (not to be confused with the popular former Hookergate School gardener/caretaker with the same name) offered some light relief, with just a hint of menace. His early broadcasts, on 384m (782 kHz) from Germany itself, were rather difficult to pick up, but this was remedied when the Germans began using the Lopik station in Holland and the powerful Radio Luxembourg transmitters for Haw-Haw's tirades and threats. The BBC also introduced an alternative to the rather stuffy Home Service. This was the Forces Programme, an early version of Radio 2, and it was carried by Stagshaw from April 14th 1941 on 342m (877 kHz) -changed to 296m (1.013 kHz) on February 23rd 1942. Like the Home Service, there were two groups of stations, each group sharing a common wavelength. The Forces Programme was very popular with the general public as well as the Forces, as was the B.B.C. European Service -easily picked up in the North-East on 1,500m (200 kHz) after February 12th 1943 when a powerful new station opened at Ottringham near Hull. Those with short-wave wirelesses could also hear this service from the new Skelton Transmitting Station near Penrith (opened April 15th 1943) which, with its 12 powerful transmitters and 31 tall masts, was the largest broadcasting station in the world for many years; the station is still in use today. It was the European Service which carried the coded messages to the resistance fighters in occupied Europe. These consisted of a string of seemingly innocuous phrases, meaningless except to those for whom they were intended: I kiss you darling three times, for instance, informed a resistance group in the Ain that three planes would be making an arms drop.
No messages were more important than those broadcast on June 5th 1944, D.Day-1; at 6.30 p.m. Kindly listen now to a few messages - Napoleon's hat is in the ring, John loves Mary, The arrow will not pierce, The dice are on the table (told units all over Normandy to implement the RED PLAN - the cutting of vital telephone links), It is hot in Suez (told other units to implement the Green Plan - the sabotaging of railway links). Then, at 9.15 p.m., after a string of messages like Molasses tomorrow will spurt forth cognac, John has a long moustache, The beer is good and Sabine has just had mumps and jaundice, came the message that all of Europe was awaiting Wound my heart with a monotonous languor (the second line of a poem) -the invasion was imminent. Exactly three hours later the first of 23,500 airborne troops were dropping on the French countryside and more than 6,000 ships carrying 132,500 men headed towards the Normandy beaches. The distinctive tuning signal of the wartime European Service -"V" (for Victory) in morse on drums- was used again on the B.B.C. World Service throughout the recent Gulf War. Incidentally, the old Group H transmitter from Newcastle was moved to Stockton after the war and carried the Third Programme/Radio 3 Service until around 1972.
The British anti-invasion measures also involved preparations on a local level with Invasion Committees making detailed plans to maintain the essentials of life under the most adverse conditions imaginable, even under enemy occupation, and ensure that nothing was done to interfere with the military scheme of defence. There were 184 Invasion Committees in County Durham and 110 in Northumberland. Blaydon Invasion Committee was typical and included the Clerk to the Council, the Surveyor, the Medical Officer, the Sanitary Officer, the Food Officer, the Billeting Officer, the Chief Air Raid Warden, the Chief Fire Guard Officer and representatives of the Fire Service, the Police, the Women's Voluntary Service and the Home Guard. The plans were secret and little has survived but it is known that the Food Officer had detailed lists of stocks held by every shop in the Blaydon District and that a secret stock of some 144 tons of basic foodstuffs was held at Hookergate Cooperative Store. In case power had to be devolved below Regional or District level, a number of appointments were made in great secrecy. Few details have survived but it is known that the Food Officer for Rowlands Gill would have been Mr Samuel Paine of the Lilley Institute and that the Transport Officer for the area would have been Mr John George Adamson, a High Spen butcher. There was even a "Head Man" appointed to oversee the village under emergency conditions. The then village constable, W.S. (Bill) Meehan, admitted that there was a man in the village to whom he and others in authority had to report for instructions if their normal chains of command broke down, but refused to identify him as he was then (1979) still alive. A number of indications, however, strongly suggest that he was probably the Head Warden, Harry Swan. Invasion Committees continued to update their plans until told that they were no longer needed -but that was not until September 11th 1944.
Maintaining the most vital public utility, water, required a lot of careful planning and the water boards and companies went to great lengths to ensure that supplies did not fail. The Newcastle and Gateshead and the Sunderland and South Shields Water Companies connected their huge supply mains together by means of a pipe under the Tyne at Ryton. They also had to consider the possibility that their main collecting reservoirs might be sabotaged, and so water in local collieries, including those at Clara Vale, Greenside and Watergate, was analysed and some were actually connected to the mains, although these supplies were never used. Other measures were taken which were principally aimed at recovery after bomb damage but would also help after a major land battle. These included the transfer of standby plant from pumping stations and other installations to remote reservoirs like that at Hallington. If a pumping station, say, was blown up, the standby plant could be brought back and installed quickly.
Instructions to civilians in the event of invasion were also detailed. A widely distributed leaflet dated June 1940 and entitled "If the INVADER comes" told the population how best to help the country and themselves. The seven sections can be summarised: 1) STAY PUT -if refugees block roads they will hinder our armies and you will expose yourself to danger if out in the open. 2) DO NOT BELIEVE OR SPREAD RUMOURS -make sure all orders are genuine, only believe officials you know by sight. 3) REPORT ANYTHING SUSPICIOUS TO THE POLICE OR MILITARY -but only facts, not vague rumours. 4) DO NOT GIVE ANY GERMAN ANYTHING, DO NOT TELL HIM ANYTHING -hide food, maps, bicycles and petrol, disable cars. 5) BE READY TO HELP THE MILITARY, BUT DO NOT BLOCKS ROADS UNLESS SO ORDERED - blocking roads can help prevent the enemy advancing, but it can also hinder our own forces. 6) FACTORIES SHOULD ORGANISE TO RESIST A SUDDEN ATTACK - keep suspicious strangers out, have a chain of command in advance. 7) THINK BEFORE YOU ACT. BUT THINK OF YOUR COUNTRY BEFORE YOU THINK OF YOURSELF. Later instructions headed "Plans for Civilian Action in Invasion" (dated June 8th 1942) were not so widely distributed and were probably intended to be made known by word of mouth. These were even more detailed and included (Paragraph 6) If stray enemy marauders or small parties of enemy soldiers are moving about in an area not in effective occupation of the enemy the Government expects that every stout-hearted citizen will use all his powers to overcome them. Needless to say, a civilian should not set out to make independent attacks on enemy formations... Similar instructions went out to police, fire service personnel and those of the other civilian services and public utilities. For all the bottom line was that they should try to carry on with their jobs, not helping but not actively resisting the enemy. The fire service, for example, were instructed not to resist the enemy, and any arms which may have been carried for the purpose of guarding fire stations....should be surrendered. (The Duty of Fire Brigades in Case of Invasion. Paragraph 4).
The major national invasion scare occurred on the night of September 7th 1940. Reconnaissance of the Channel ports -Ostend, Le Havre, Flushing, Ostend, Dunkirk and Calais- had shown a substantial build-up of barges. At Ostend alone 280 had arrived during the previous week. Substantial numbers of motor-boats and larger vessels had also moved down the coast to the same area. Considerable numbers of bombers had just moved to airfields in the Low Countries and dive-bombers were known to be assembling near the Straits of Dover. The moon and tide were known to favour a landing between September 8th and 10th. The Luftwaffe had just switched from bombing the R.A.F. stations to bombing London itself; that very day 352 bombers had wreaked havoc on the East London docks. Everything pointed to an invasion and at 5.20 p.m. the Chiefs of Staff met. At 8.07 p.m. they decided to bring Home Forces to a state of "immediate readiness" and issued the word CROMWELL -invasion imminent.
Of course no system, however well planned, is foolproof, and this was no exception. At that time on a Saturday night most duty officers at military commands were junior officers, most of whom had not been briefed fully on procedures. Many interpreted the signal as meaning that an invasion had begun. All over the country coastal batteries were manned, thousands of units donned steel helmets and awaited the enemy and Home Guard units were mobilised. The Beetle invasion warning network, just completed days earlier on August 26th, crackled into life and Operation BANQUET was initiated - police rounded up trainee pilots from pubs, dance halls and cinemas and as they reported back to their airfields they were astounded to see bombs being loaded onto their flimsy trainer aircraft. More than half of Bomber Command's medium bombers stood by to support Home Forces. Some Home Guard Captains sounded church bells, which they were only supposed to do on their own initiative if they actually saw more than 25 of the enemy, and other units, both Home Guard and regular, interpreted the bells as confirmation of enemy troops in the area. Gradually senior officers managed to restore sanity to the situation but not before several East Anglian bridges had been blown up by the Royal Engineers. There were more serious consequences; three Guards officers were killed in Lincolnshire when their vehicle went over a newly laid land mine as they hurried back to their unit.
Much later in the war, after October 1943 when my father was stationed at Greenford, West London, there was apparently another scare. He recalled that one evening his whole unit were suddenly ordered into battledress; they were then taken in the back of a covered lorry in a north-easterly direction. Soon they were part of a sizeable convoy and, at every road junction, police or military police controlled the flow as other vehicles joined them from every direction. Then, after driving perhaps 70 to 80 miles, they turned around and returned to barracks. No explanation was ever given but, in later years, he wondered if perhaps the novel "The Eagle has Landed" was entirely fictional.
Close behind the fear of invasion came the fear of spies and saboteurs arriving by parachute or boat, and of the "fifth column" -Nazi sympathisers already living here and ready to support the enemy. This term dated from the Spanish Civil War when one of Franco's officers, General Mola, said that he had four columns of troops approaching Madrid and a fifth column already living there. Rumours abounded that the invasions of Belgium and Holland were preceded by German parachutists dressed as local troops or even as nuns. The fear approached paranoia especially as regards foreigners or "aliens" as they were known. Enemy aliens were cruelly treated and interned, even Jewish escapees from the Nazi menace were included. The Figiolini family, who had shops at Chopwell and Blackhall Mill, had windows broken and other insults, despite the fact that one member of the family was serving in the British army and the fact that the family generously gave large quantities of cigarettes and food to Dunkirk evacuees billeted at Chopwell. Even those who escaped internment were banned from coastal areas and not even allowed to perform duties such as firewatching.
MI5 checked the employees of all factories engaged on war work for foreign blood or affiliations. They even checked for communist sympathies, -even then, with Hitler knocking on the door. Few factories received more attention than those of Vickers Armstrongs at Elswick and Scotswood where tanks, ships' guns and many other weapons such as torpedoes were made, even the Bouncing Bombs designed by Barnes Wallis for Operation CHASTISE, the famous Dam Busters raid of May 16th 1943, were produced at Elswick -120 were made there and at Barrow, 60 live ones painted dark green and 60 with inert filling for practice which were painted grey. Ordinary families living close to Key Points came under Security Service scrutiny, like the peaceful residents of Crossbank Road, Spenfield Road and Highfield Road on the Blakelaw Housing Estate which overlooked Fighter Command's 13 Group Headquarters at Kenton Bar. It says a lot for the local population that all of the Vickers Armstrongs employees and the residents of Blakelaw passed their secret vetting; they were all above suspicion.
Many steps were taken, some public, some secret, to make life difficult for spies. Road signs disappeared on May 31st 1940 as did place names, mile posts and even shop signs which included the name of a town, to quote the official regulation it became an offence to show any sign which could indicate the name of, or the situation of, or the direction of, or the distance to any place. In Rowlands Gill we can still see evidence of this order. High on the corner of the old Co-op building the carved place names "ROWLANDS GILL" and "BURNOPFIELD" are, in some lighting conditions, distinctly lighter than the remainder of the inscription "----- BRANCH ----- CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY LIMITED 1903", because the former were covered between 1940 and 1945. Some larger place names, those large enough to be read from the air like station name boards, had disappeared back in September 1939.
Strangers were to be regarded with suspicion, fine in theory but difficult in practice at a time when men from all over Europe and the Commonwealth were stationed in every park and clearing in the neighbourhood. A poor Royal Engineers officer surveying for new searchlight sites in Northumberland was arrested and detained until someone could be found who knew him, an army private whose mother lived (and still lives) near the Lobley Hill H.A.A. Battery had trouble every time he came home on leave because of his vaguely German accent picked up at Whitley Bay from his German grandmother. Then there was a man "dressed in black and in possession of a revolver" who called at a house at Horden at 10.06 p.m. on August 28th 1940 and left in a hurry as soon as the police were mentioned, and another in a maroon coloured car at Shiremoor Crossroads who stopped a miner on his way to work at Backworth Colliery at 3.15 a.m. on June 22nd 1940 to ask his way to Whitley Bay. He was described as "dark and wearing spectacles" and moreover his clothes were wet and he had a foreign accent -obviously a spy! Even the police and military came under suspicion by civilians in Northumberland when the authorities totally ignored a German plane which flew very low across the County on the morning of August 14th 1940. People at Whittingham even reported parachutists dropping from the plane at 10.45 a.m. and more were reported leaving the plane over Cresswell Farm. It turned out to be a captured German plane being flown south by the Air Ministry.
The thought of German spies sending radio messages back to Germany prompted the setting up in December 1938 of the Radio Security Service. The bulk of the workforce were the 1,200 volunteer interceptors, mostly radio amateurs, who used their own equipment to search for illicit transmissions. The headquarters of the service was at Barnet in London with Regional representatives around the country; the North-East came under Captain Mappin, a Royal Signals Officer based at City Chambers, Clifford Street, York. Their duties were quickly extended on the outbreak of war to include the interception of transmissions from known German intelligence and security service establishments, transmissions from British agents and resistance units and any unidentified transmissions. Many became expert at picking out anything new or suspicious from the mass of routine radio transmissions they heard. Sometimes they were told what to listen for, at other times they used their own initiative. The vast bulk of their intercepts were in code and the coded messages together with the frequency, date and time of reception were sent off to a Post Office Box number at Barnet. Some of these messages, and those from the interception networks of the Armed Services and Foreign Office, ended up at Station X, the Government Code and Cipher School establishment at Bletchley Park, where they were decoded. No less than 268,000 enemy intercepts were decoded at Bletchley Park during the war, including 140,000 described as "Ultra" or "ISK" decrypts, and they provided the Allied leaders with an unprecedented picture of the enemy's intentions.
Most Radio Security Service interceptors wore the Royal Observer Corps uniform to allay the suspicions of neighbours but some local interceptors had no need of this, they were Newcastle City policemen and they operated the "Police Radio Interception Unit" located first at the Pilgrim Street Police Headquarters and later at the West Road Police Station. When the unit was proposed, the names of officers who could read morse code were submitted to MI5 officers based at South Shields, and three constables, P.C. 73B Walter Busfield, P.C. 30C Edward Barron and P.C. 43B Henry Spendiff, and Sergeant Riddell were accepted. They used two sensitive receivers, a Hallicrafters "Super Skyrider" and a Hallicrafters "Skyrider 23", to scan the airwaves. Of the hundreds of intercepts by these officers one was particularly exciting, not that they ever knew what this or any other of the messages actually contained. But this one, picked up on 7050 kHz by P.C. Barron at 7.05 p.m. on June 15th 1941, began: SOS (several times) DE (from) OKL FOR ENGLAND. PSE (please) QSP (pass on) TO GENERAL INGR IN ENGLAND. Then followed 25 five-figure code groups, and it ended: PRAGUE. PLEASE QSL (transmit verification of reception) ON 7160 kHz. An attempt was made to contact Captain Mappin at his office and his home without success. Eventually York City Police located him and he telephoned Newcastle at 1.00 a.m. and ordered that the message should be passed immediately to R.S.S. Headquarters at Barnet by telephone. Some time later the R.S.S. expressed their thanks and Superintendent Todhunter wrote on the file copy of the intercept - "Apparently this message is of great importance". It would be nice to know what it actually said.
Sometimes strange finds heightened fears that the enemy might be wandering our countryside. What lay behind the epaulette of German field grey with light grey stitching around the edges and bearing the number 140 in red stitching, which was found in a field at Haughton Castle (just north of Humshaugh) just after incendiary bombs fell there on the evening of March 3rd 1941? What were they to make of the airman's boot which was found at Longshaws (west of Morpeth) on Christmas Day 1941 at the spot where something was heard to fall from an aircraft at 7.50 p.m. on December 17th and which led initially to an unexploded bomb scare? The police did eventually discover that the boot had fallen from an R.A.F. fighter based at Acklington, but how? Most worrying for Rowlands Gill residents, however, though few heard of it, was the German parachute found in Sherburn Woods by Air Raid Warden Jackie Tindale. All the crews of crashed enemy planes in the area were accounted for, so who landed there?
Of course the invasion never came, and all the fears of fifth-columnists proved groundless. There were Nazi sympathisers but they were the type who would only have crawled out of the woodwork of their country houses or London clubs if the sound of jack-boots had echoed across the land; they could, after all, have made money just as easily in a Nazi Britain. Little did they know that men of the Auxiliary Units had already planned their executions; they would have died as soon as the first German landed. Two men were convicted of spying on shipping in Newcastle and other ports, but that was in World War I. The two, Haicke Janssen and William Roos, who conducted their spying under the guise of Dutch businessmen, were executed at the Tower of London on July 30th 1915. The North-East did breed one traitor, but his spying was against the U.S.A. not Britain. Wilhelm August (Willie) Fisher was born at Benwell, Newcastle, on July 7th 1903. He emigrated to Russia in 1921 and reappeared in the United States in 1949 using the name Rudolph Abel. He spied there for the Soviet Union until he was caught by the F.B.I. in 1957. In 1962 he was exchanged for the U2 Spy Plane pilot Gary Powers. Willie/Rudoplh died in Russia in 1971 and is commemorated in the cemetery of the Donskoi Monastery in Moscow.
After the war, when German plans were uncovered by the Allies, it became clear that anti-invasion precautions in the North-East would not have been wasted. Although the main thrust of Operation SEELOWE (Sealion) was to have been between Kent and Brighton, there were to have been diversionary attacks known as Operation HERBSTREISE (Autumn Journey) involving landings between Edinburgh and Newcastle by the 36th Higher Command from ports between Oslo and Bergen and the 31st Higher Command from the German Bight. Later plans dated May 1st 1941 described Operation HAIFISCH (Shark) -landings between Folkestone and Worthing- and two diversionary attacks, one of which, Operation HARPUNE NORD (Harpoon North), involved landings between Berwick and Newcastle from ports between Oslo and Bergen and between Esbjerg and Aarhus.
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