It's now time for Sinn Fein to say sorry for IRA's role in helping Nazi warplanes obliterate large parts of our city
This month marks the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz in which 900 died. Less well-known is the role of republicans in guiding the Luftwaffe to its targets, writes Nelson McCausland
During the Second World War the factories and shipyards of Belfast made an important contribution to the war effort and so it was inevitable that the city would eventually become a target for the Luftwaffe during the bombing of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.
On November 30, 1940, a single German plane flew over Belfast. It took high definition aerial photographs and these were then used by the Germans as they planned to bomb the city.
The plans were completed by the following spring and the Luftwaffe bombed the city in April and May 1941, causing terrible damage and many deaths in what was known as the Belfast Blitz.
On the night of April 7-8 a small squadron of German planes targeted the Belfast docks.
They completely destroyed the Harland & Wolff fuselage factory and killed 13 people.
The Luftwaffe returned to Belfast on the night of April 15. At least 900 people were killed, around 1,500 were injured and 55,000 homes were damaged.
No other city in the UK - except London - lost so many lives in a single air raid.
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There was another attack on the night of May 4 and 200 German bombers pummelled Belfast for over three-and-a-half hours.
The docks and the city centre were hit hardest and 191 people were killed. Two-thirds of Harland & Wolff's premises were destroyed and four ships were sunk in Belfast harbour.
The final German attack came on the next night, May 5-6, when three bombers hit east Belfast.
One of the often-forgotten aspects of the Belfast Blitz was that the IRA, which was hoping and working for a German victory in the war, provided the Nazis with information about targets in the city.
According to the late Sam McAughtry (above), a former IRA activist confessed to him that it helped Hitler bomb Belfast.
The IRA activist said that he gathered intelligence information about vulnerable targets before and after the Germans carried out the four air raids in 1941, and also reported on damage caused in the attacks.
After the raids the IRA produced a 14-page survey of the damage caused by the Luftwaffe and provided information and advice for the Axis power.
The typescript IRA document was entitled Comprehensive Military Report on Belfast and was "issued by the director of intelligence in co-operation with the military intelligence officer of northern command".
It came to light on October 20, 1941, when an IRA courier was arrested in Dublin and the document was found in her handbag.
The IRA report gave a detailed account of the damage caused by the Luftwaffe and identified targets which had escaped destruction. There was also a map on which the IRA had marked "the remaining and most outstanding objects of military significance, as yet unblitzed by the Luftwaffe".
The report contained a diagram of the Short & Harland aircraft factory, a plan of Sydenham aerodrome, details on the British Army, the names and addresses of British officers, a scheme for sabotaging the Belfast telephone system and details of RUC barracks in the city.
A "special note" from the IRA explained: "Re the symbol coloured light blue, it may be noted that the road thus marked is the Falls Road, the chief site of nationalism, while the square is the prison, where some 300 to 400 Irish republican soldiers are imprisoned."
The sectarian message from the IRA for the Nazis was very clear, even though it was not explicitly stated: please come back and finish off bombing Belfast, but do not bomb our people and our prisoners.
Throughout the Second World War the IRA collaborated with the Nazis and its assistance for the Luftwaffe was part of that collaboration.
The 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz provides an opportunity for Sinn Fein - which was the political arm of the IRA - to now acknowledge that rather sordid aspect of its republican history.