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02 March 2021
NOR Llandarcy Air Raid Defences

AIR RAID DEFENCES

AT THE

NATIONAL OIL REFINERIES (LLANDARCY)

Philip John

                                         Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery - Jersey Marine - February 1941                              courtesy of Peter Street

Britain started preliminary preparations for the possibility of a Second World War as early as 1936, but it was in 1938 that the government began its preparations for war in earnest by building new warships and increasing its armaments production.  In line with preliminary preparations for war, the National Oil Refineries (NOR) process plants, pipes and tankage, at Llandarcy, which were painted the colour of aluminium, were gradually painted green as part of a scheduled maintenance Programme.[1]  This conversion, aluminium to green, was expedited following the “Munich Crisis” of 1938.[2]  Other camouflaging attempts included disruptively painting large structures green and black and installing rough timber rafts, covered with brush wood, to form large islands and promontories on the body of water known as North Site Reservoir.  The government also considered the possible dangers and difficulties the Home Front would face during war and started to take precautions.  People were needed on the Home Front to help with all sorts of things.  The biggest danger on the Home Front would undoubtedly come from air raids.  People were also encouraged to think about their safety and the government spent a great deal of time educating people on what to do in situations such as an air raid or a gas attack. Volunteers were needed to be trained in civil defence duties; these included fire-fighters, first aiders and ambulance drivers, special constables and air raid wardens to name but a few of essential positions to be filled.

 

For the residents of Llandarcy Village, and the surrounding districts of Neath, it was generally appreciated, that in the event of war, the NOR was liable to attack from enemy aircraft.  With the expansion of Britain's Anti-Aircraft (AA) defences in the late 1930s, new formations were created to command the growing number of Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE) AA gun and searchlight units. The Territorial Army's AA units were in a state of mobilisation because of the Munich crisis, although they were soon stood down.  The 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade was formed at Newport on 29th September 1938 to take over the Territorial Army (TA) AA units in South Wales.  In June 1939, during the period of tension leading up to the outbreak of war, a partial mobilisation of AA Command was begun in a process known as 'couverture', whereby each unit did a month's tour of duty, in rotation, to man selected AA gun and searchlight positions.  AA Command mobilised fully on 24th August, ahead of the official declaration of war on 3rd September 1939.  The 65th Light AA Battery, RA TA, was deployed at Llandarcy and Clydach.  Over forty men, from Llandarcy and Skewen, enlisted to serve in the Territorial Army and were recorded as serving with the 65th Battery in September 1939.  Initially the 65th Battery, at Llandarcy, was deployed with two 3-inch Naval guns and twelve Lewis Guns.[3]  However, photographs confirm that the volunteers of the 65th LAA Battery, at Llandarcy, were at some time, trained on a Bofors gun.  Each Bofors Gun crew generally consisted of five men: a gun layer seated on the left of the gun who was responsible for traversing the gun onto its target; a gun trainer seated on the right who was in charge of elevating or lowering the gun barrel; the loader fed the breech with magazine clips (each consisting of four rounds); the gun commander; and at least two other men who kept the gun supplied with ammunition.  In addition to the men of the 65th LAA Battery, De-contamination Squads and Rescue and Repair Squads were created and both men and women volunteered to fill the roles previously mentioned.  On 14th May 1940, the Government made a broadcast calling for men between the ages of 17 and 65 to enrol in a new force, the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV); at the end of July 1940, the name was changed to Home Guard.  Prior to 1942, when the Women's Home Guard Auxiliaries was formed, the military policy was that women were not allowed in 'front line' or combat duties, and so no women were permitted to join the Local Defence Volunteers.[4] 

                                       Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery - Jersey Marine - February 1941                               courtesy of Peter Street

Following the declaration of war on Germany, on 3rd September 1939, Germany did not immediately attack British cities by air as was expected.  In fact, there followed a period that was known on the Home Front as the phony war when, and apart from a few brief skirmishes and some consequential naval engagements, both sides tended not to initiate major confrontations on land.  This period came to an end with the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940.  Through June and July the national mood of Britain was reportedly at its darkest with the population on Britain’s south coast witnessing the first serious air battles over Britain’s coast.  In late June the first bombs were dropped on Swansea; six High Explosive bombs dropped on Danygraig Road and a further four bombs on Kilvey Hill.  In a bombing raid in July both Swansea and the NOR, Llandarcy, were targeted.  At about 11.00am on the morning of 10th July 1940, two German Luftwaffe planes dropped fourteen bombs in the tank farm area of the refinery but amazingly only one storage tank was damaged.[5]  Later that day, at about 3.00pm, a single plane flew up the Neath River before dropping four 500lb high explosive (HE) bombs on the process area of the refinery.  Three of the four bombs detonated with one destroying the Sulphur Dioxide Plant.  Six employees were injured, but sadly three more died as a result of this action.  These were:

Frederick David Bowen, Engineering Fitter and Turner aged 42. Husband of Eleanor Ann Bowen (nee Davies) of 6 Springfield, Skewen, who died at the National Oil Refineries, Skewen.

Charles Bertram Fryer, Electrician aged 47. Son of the late Adam Fryer; husband of Marion Florence Fryer, of 215 Glais Road, Birchgrove who died at Swansea Hospital. 

Henry James Rees, Chemical Engineer aged 65. Husband of Ada Priscilla Rees, of 17 Margaret Street, St. Thomas who died at Swansea Hospital. 

  

Damage to the SO2 plant - 10th July 1940

DSWP-PH-AIR-58 & 59 Glamorgan Archives by permissin of the South Wales Police Heritage Centre

On the night of the 1st/2nd September 1940, incendiary and high explosive bombs were dropped in the tank farm area, but because RAF night fighters were in the area engaging with the Luftwaffe, the HAA Battery, located at Jersey Marine, was prevented from firing for the first three hours of the air raid (following this raid a revised barrage scheme for the Swansea sector, codenamed 'Ball of Fire', was implemented).  Those incendiary bombs which fell on the roofs of tanks set fire to the bitumen covered steel wool used to camouflage them.  The burning tanks and ground fires Illuminated the 'target' very effectively for the next raid which dropped high explosive bombs in the area of the tank farm.  By dawn seven tanks were ablaze but the firefighting efforts to control the major blaze were hampered by the large number of unexploded bombs.[6]  The local bomb disposal section were labouring to cope with the number of unexploded bombs and so Lieutenant Bertram Stuart Trevelyan Archer, along with a Sergeant and twelve Sappers, were despatched from Cardiff.  Archer chose to tackle a bomb lodged underneath a storage tank, deciding that it was the best way to stop further fires from breaking out.  Archer and his team managed to work through the bomb disarming two detonating fuses – the first one being the clockwork delayed-action device and the second one was a mechanism meant as a booby trap for bomb disposal experts – and by 2:50pm his (and his team’s) ordeal was over. They had worked on that one bomb alone for over four hours under intense heat and during which time two other bombs had exploded.[7]  With the tanks burning brightly the Luftwaffe returned on the night of 2nd/3rd September, only this time the raid proved to be ineffective.  The refinery’s anti-aircraft defence, aided by a “fighting vessel” in the bay, put up a barrage of fire with the result that only two bombs landed in the refinery (both failed to detonate) and a further five bombs landing in and about Llandarcy Village – one bomb fell near 35 Pretyman Drive and one at the rear of 22 The Greenway, three more bombs detonated on waste ground at the side of 68 The Greenway; fortunately there was no loss of life. [8]   The large fires in the tank farm continued to burn for several days before they were finally extinguished; the pall of smoke had drifted as far east as Cardiff. 

The first major bombing of Liverpool took place in August 1940. The Luftwaffe’s line of approach was from the south west, from aerodromes in Normandy, passing over the English Channel, Devon, the Bristol Channel, then Swansea and on up the Cardiganshire coast to Liverpool.  After circling and dropping their bombs the planes returned over the reverse route. This gave two opportunities for the Heavy AA Batteries at Jersey Marine to engage them (HAA projectiles were high explosive shells, usually fitted with a time delay or barometric pressure fuse to make them explode at a pre-determined height); the enemy planes would pass over in waves at about hourly intervals from early evening.  All the duty manning personnel for the gun positions were quartered in tents in the sand dunes about a hundred yards away from the guns.  A total manning force would amount to four NCO’s and forty gunners, to man four guns, an NCO and five gunners on the predictor (automated anti-aircraft control system used against high-altitude bombers), an NCO and two gunners on the height finder and two spotters.  In addition, there were the Gun Position Office (GPO), Gun Positon Officer’s Assistant (GPOA) and telephonists in the command post. This number was increased in time by the addition of radar personal, plotters and an additional officer, a Tactical Control Officer (TCO), in the command post.[9] 

Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photographs, dated 15th February 1941, highlight various features of interest for bombing.  Swansea docks are shown to be highlighted as a target, with several oil tankers at their moorings also noted.  In addition, several barrage balloons were identified and circled as were numerous HE bomb craters in open ground.  A large rail maintenance and infrastructure yard was earmarked for attack. The nine oil tanks on the docks site were also highlighted and one tank is ringed, signifying that it has been damaged by bombing.  At the NOR site fifteen more tanks are highlighted as being damaged or destroyed.  Further east, towards the River Neath, a heavy anti-aircraft battery was also highlighted.  On the night of 18th February 1941 (the start of the Swansea Three Day Blitz) several planes flew over the bay and dropped bombs on the refinery’s tank farm causing fires which once again lit up the surrounding area.  The Swansea Blitz (during which it was estimated that over 50,000 incendiary and 1200 HE bombs were dropped) left 230 people dead, 409 injured and more than 7,000 people homeless.  After 1941 the Luftwaffe raids became less frequent but sporadic air raids on the refinery continued (on the 1st July 1942 high explosive bombs were dropped on the refinery and at Neath Abbey),  but it was when crude oil stocks were exhausted in September 1941 that refining operations were suspended until March 1942.[10]  

Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photograph - bomb damge and oil tanks blazing    NAS/Ph/45/3/013

As Anti-Aircraft Command's resources expanded responsibilities were reorganised and in November 1940 a new 9th AA Division was created to cover the South Wales Gun Defence Area (GDA).  The 9th AA division's fighting units were organised into three AA Brigades, consisting of Heavy (HAA) and Light (LAA) gun units and Searchlight (S/L).  Many of the Regular Army units posted to anti-aircraft duties were transient spending only a month or so in the locality of Jersey Maine.  Searchlights were manned by men of the 67th Welch Searchlight Regiment and men of the 4th Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment as well as men of 958 Barrage Balloon Squadron.  With the threat of air bombardment much diminished by the end of 1941, the decision was made to draft some 50,000 men away from Anti-Aircraft Command and to replace them with men of the Home Guard and women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).  Locally, the Home Guard men were transferred on a geographical basis in relation to the gun sites and to build this organisation up speedily local battalions were called upon to give up large numbers of men.[11]  Initially a Light Anti-Aircraft Troop was formed within the Home Guard Company appointed to defend the refinery.  Training for men from the NOR was initially given on 40mm Bofors Guns and subsequently on 20mm Hispano Guns.[12]  Eventually the whole of 'I Company' (the Home Guard company attached to the NOR) were trained in anti-aircraft work.  Some of these men from the Neath Home Guard who transferred to AA duties, were trained at Cark, Grange-over-Sands, where anti-aircraft gunnery training was undertaken by shooting at mobile air targets.[13] 

Early in 1941 the manning of Z (Rocket) Batteries began to be transferred to the Home Guard as the equipment was comparatively simple to operate and the rounds were lighter than conventional anti-aircraft gun ammunition.  During 1942 Grace Burnet, Lance Corporal ATS, was in charge of a radar team attached to 113th Z Battery RA Jersey Marine.  The ATS were billeted at Bleak House (which had been the local mortuary) and the radar equipment was sited among the sand dunes of Jersey Marine.  The radar teams monitored the height, distance and location of enemy aircraft which showed on the radar screen and this information was sent to the control room where it was plotted on a table map by the Home Guard.  The solid propelled rockets were about eight feet long and eight inches in diameter with fins at the bottom of them.  At Jersey Marine the Z battery comprised of twin launchers set on circular revolving platforms in a square formation. To facilitate the training the Home Guard by regular soldiers of 386 Battery 'dummy runs' were carried out several times a week.[14] 

Following the D-Day landings in June 1944 and the allied advance into Germany, the threat to Britain from the Luftwaffe planes began to diminish and so on 3rd December 1944 the Home Guard was formally stood down and finally disbanded on 31st December 1945.  The South Wales TA AA Brigade, which had been subject to restructuring during and post-war, continued in its Territorial role until 1955.[15]

Occupations of the Men of the 65th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery RA TA in September 1939[16]

Capt. Valdar Edward Jones - Company Director.

Capt. Edward Jasper Horley - Petroleum Technologist.

Lieut. George Owen Price - Oil Technician.

2nd Lieut. Frank V M Bell - Chartered Civil Engineer.

Sergeant James Allen Boyd - Boilermaker.

Bombardier Evan Alfred Salisbury - Fitter.

Bombardier George H French - Process Worker Oil Refinery.

Lance Bombardier Richard P Carr - Fitter Oil Refinery.

Lance Bombardier David Millar - Shunter.

Lance Bombardier Ernest T C Pannell - Oil Refineries Clerk.

Lance Bombardier David William Mullins - Invoice and Order Clerk, NOR.

Gunner Absalom Follant - Process Worker NOR.

Gunner Lionel Jesse Jones - Charge Hand Fitter NOR.

Gunner Albert Charles Griffiths - Charge Hand Lub Oil Drum Reconditioning.

Gunner Harold Clough - Engine Fitter.

Gunner Ira Gilbert Millard - Engine Fitter.

Gunner Thomas Noble - Process Worker Anglo Iranian Oil Co.

Gunner William Laird Richmond - Despatch Foreman Oil Refinery.

Gunner William Dowdeswell - Oil Refinery.

Gunner George Gibson - Foreman Oil Refinery.

Gunner William Dodd - Process Worker Oil Refineries.

Gunner Myles McNiff - Boiler Maker NOR.

Gunner Richard Gwyn Clement - Boiler Cleaner National Oil Refineries.

Gunner Thomas William Richards - Process Worker, National Oil Refineries.

Gunner Howell Bevan - Process Worker NOR.

Gunner John T Price - Process Worker NOR.

Gunner William J Dodd - Process Worker Oil Refineries.

Gunner Sidney T Davies - Screw Cutter & Driller NOR.

Gunner William Gulley - Filter Sheeter Oil Refinery.

Richard Stanley Pape - Stores Ledger Clerk NOR

Maelgwyn E Thomas - Refinery Managing Stocks Clerk.

Fred Bell Miler Mann - Lub Oil Drum Reconditioning.

Daniel Davies - Fitter.

George Frost - Electrician Canning Plant.

Idris Arthur Davies - Clerk.

Robert Pegg - Process Worker NOR.

Howard Williams - Process Worker NOR.

William F Johnson - Fitter at Oil Refinery.

John Edward Pryce - Oil Process Worker.

George Edward Halter - Foreman Fitter NOR.

Richard John Gibbings - General Labourer.

Gad Elias Jones - Process Worker NOR.

Henry John Phillips - Fitter and Turner Oil Refinery.

Thomas Davies - Oil Blender.

Bernard Tamma - Charge Hand NOR.

William Gaskings - Process Worker.

William Barrons - Fuel Package Distribution NOR Llandarcy.

James Thomas Watts - Loco Driver.

Frederick George Fiddler - Sup. Instrument Engineer.

William George Lawrence - Process Worker NOR.

Sidney Nicholas - Process Worker NOR.

John E Arnold - Painter.

Frederick David Bowen - Engineering Fitter NOR.

Ivor Rhys Jenkins - Cost Acct Clerk.

Llewellyn Jones - Pay Clerk.

Thomas Stitsan Saunders, - Builders Labourer.

David Davies - Process Worker NOR.

David J Phillips - Acid Tar Operator NOR.

David Davies - Process Worker Oil Works.

Thomas Symonds - Process Worker NOR.

George A G Brooks - Engineering Fitter, NOR.

Edgar O Williams - Refrigerator Compressor Driver.

Thomas B Walters - Sports Groundsman NOR.

Joseph Reason - Oil Packer NOR.

David Richards - Still Cleaner.

William P Richards - Process Worker NOR.

William R Evans - Process Worker, NOR.

Thomas G Gibbs - Process Worker NOR.

Rueben J Phillips - Process Worker NOR.

Edward P Thomas - Process Worker NOR.

William J Hill - Still Cleaner NOR.

William Hickman - Storeman (Territorial Army Home Defence).

Charles Ballard - Bricklayer (Anti-Aircraft Gunner).


[1] A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes 

 

[2]  Nazi Germany invasion of Czechoslovakia

[3] 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade - Wikipedia

[4] Fourteen Refinery female staff immediately joined - A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes

[5] Estimated 10% of German bombs dropped between September 1940 and May 1941 failed to detonate - Imperial War Museum

[6] A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes

[7] War History Online

[8] Proposed Residential Development, Heritage Gate, Coed Darcy, Neath Port Talbot – Earth Science Partnership

[9] BBC WW2 People’s War - Lt Graham Nott-Macaire

[10] Explosive Ordnance Threat Assessment in respect of Swansea Docks to Baglan Burrows – BACTEC International Limited; A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes

[11] Home Guard Anti-Aircraft Formations – UWE Bristol

[12] The smallest unit was the Section in infantry battalions.  At the beginning of the war, a section was eight men but by 1944 it had increased to ten men. A Section was usually commanded by a Corporal and three sections formed a Troop in artillery regiments.

[13] Notes relating to Llandarcy Village during the Luftwaffe attacks. – West Glamorgan Archives D/D Z 779/7

[14] ATS Remembered.org.uk

[15 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade - Wikipedia

[16] Not a complete list of men of the 65th LAA Battery.


 

 

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