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The harbour is targeted again


The previous day the Flushing harbour had been one of the centre-points of activities in the southern regio. The first French troop convoy had arrived, bringing the first regiment strength of French infantry to Walcheren. The French navy was extremely occupied with the shuttle service between the Westerscheld and Dunkirk, escorting convoys, clearing the routes from German sea-mines and scanning the sea for expected German U-boats.

The Germans were very much aware of the value the area and more particularly the harbour of Flushing had for the French. The Flushing area was therefore a regular patrol target for their strategic recce planes and every bit of Allied movement was countered by yet again a striking Luftwaffe formation.

New convoy in arrival

Just after midnight the FS Pavon - a 4,000 BRT freighter - moored in Flushing harbour and started offloading its cargo of heavy military equipment. The FS Pavon would some days later play a macabre role involving the transport of Dutch soldiers.

Shortly after, three French chasseurs [FS Fougueux, FS Frondeur, FS l'Adroit] left Flushing to return to Dunkirk in order to pick up the next shuttle to be escorted.

A heavy strike hits the harbour

The two French chasseurs no. 6 and no. 9 - containing fuel loads for the French army - were finally being offloaded at the quays. The Dutch had not managed to requisition a suitable tanker lorry on the previous day, but had finally managed to get their hands on one overnight. The no. 6 was eventually relieved of its cargo during the first hours of light and left the harbour as an escort of the cargo vessels FS Rouen and FS Newhaven around 1000 hrs. The two had carried provisions, material and ammunition for the French troops.

Meanwhile the French AA battery of six 2,5 cm guns, that had been positioned on the unfinished foundation of a projected new harbour fortress for the last 24 hrs, left this position. The unit would be redeployed at Goes, nearby the most forward French defence position behind the canal. The battery would soon be missed ...

After the chasseur no.6 had finished offloading and had left the quay, the small destroyer FS Diligente moored in its stead. It may have been thirty minutes later that the harbour was raided by numerous German bombers, accompanied by a squadron of fighters. Within no time the civilians of Flushing witnessed an orchestra of blazing guns, rattling machineguns, detonating bombs and diving and dog-fighting airplanes. It was simply all out war over their heads. This time the Luftwaffe raid would cause a lot of damage though.

It was quite obvious that previously spotted German scout planes had witnessed the presence of many French ships in and close to Flushing harbour. Probably the extended offloading activities had been witnessed too. The Luftwaffe command decided that a large strike had to be launched against the landing of French forces in Zeeland. An unknown number of bombers were made available for this mission. The bombers were escorted by Bf-110 fighter-cruisers.

Around 1100 hours the German planes arrived over Flushing. As before the bombers operated in so called Kettes, formations of three bombers. Witnesses spoke of at least twenty bombers in many waves, and as such it is likely that at least two squadrons operated over Flushing during this raid, possibly even three.

The Allied ships immediately opened fire on the German formations and managed to disperse the attacking planes. Meanwhile a few French navy-airfleet fighters challenged their German counterparts. The bombers then started attacking the moored ships and harbour facilities. The Texaco tanker-lorry that was parked on the quay next to FS Diligente was blown sky-high by a near miss and landed on top of the command bridge of the French ship. The ship got heavily damaged by this bizarre incident, but would still be able to reach Dunkirk harbour later that day.

No less than four ships were sunk by direct bomb hits. The freighter HrMs Stella and the petrol barge HrMs Ulfer sunk from direct hits, although without loss of life. The military hospital ship HrMs Luctor et Emergo, clearly identified as a neutral ship by a huge red cross, was hit and sunk taking eight men on board with her into the deep. The obsolete but still active brown-water gun boat HrMs Bulgia received a full hit too and sunk while her mooring-lines still kept her tied to the quay poles. With her, twelve crew members perished. Two other ships, the ferries HrMs Koningin Wilhelmina and HrMs Prins Hendrik, sustained medium to heavy damage. The first one burnt for quite some time before the fires could be extinguished. The French ships, like the FS Pavon and the FS Cote d'Argent, and the French and British warships outside the port, were not hit although virtually all were targetted. Both moored French freighters did sustain some light damage from debris and shrapnel.

Later the HMS Valentine [Old Admiralty V&W class 1,100 tons destroyer escort] was seriously damaged by German bombs and on the 15th she was stranded on the beach and as such a full write-off. Her wreckage was never salvaged and still lays at the same spot where she was beached in 1940.

Aftermath of a large air raid

Besides the bombs that had been aimed at the quays and the shipping in the harbour, much of the harbour-facilities and infrastructure had been hit by bombs. Cranes, offloading systems, storage buildings and the office of the local ferry line were damaged or destroyed. Also the railway-station was hit several times. There was almost no house in the harbour quarter that had any windows left in it and torn off roof tiles were all over the place. Other houses and a church well away from the harbour had been heavily damaged or destroyed entirely. The only reason for the modest loss of civil lifes [5 fatalities] was the fact that many had already left their houses after the Luftwaffe raids on the previous days. After the raid of this morning much of the remaining civilians - for as far not wounded or dead - fled the city into the country. No less than 7,000 civilians from the harbour area evacuated their homes.

The hospitals were confronted with lots of wounded and shocked soldiers and civilians. The sudden flood of patients was not the only challenge they had to face. The German bombs had destroyed many facilities and utility supplies. The public gas line had been hit and so sterilisation had to be done by using stoves. Power would soon fall out too, after a follow-up strike had killed the main power supply as well.

Besides the exodus of virtually all civilians from the harbour area, all the labour hands vanished from the quays too. The majority of the harbour operation had been done by civilians up to that point. But after the most punishing raid thusfar, all these men had made a run for it and the vast majority didn't show up when the "all clear" had sounded.

Rear-Admiral Van der Stad instructed the mayor of Vlissingen that the labourers - especially the crane drivers - had to be rounded up and forced into manning their machines again. He even instructed the mayor that refusal would be seen as insubordination and sanctioned with immediate execution. Although understandable in its intention, an absurd order once the essence of it is weighted. Civilian people that were forced into para-military labour was an offence against the governing law. All the same, it was sanctioned.

In the late afternoon most of the harbour facilities were operated again, but only a handful of the operators were civilians. The majority didn't show up again, regardless of the military threats that had been made. For the physical offloading and handling of the cargoes, French and Dutch soldiers as well as available navy personnel were used. It would still take another 24 hours before both the FS Pavon and FS Cote d'Argent were finally emptied and able to return to Dunkirk to fetch the next loads.