HC Deb 20 March 1940 vol 358 cc2000-1
Mr. Attlee (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he has any statement to make about the attacks carried out last night by the Royal Air Force on the island of Sylt?

Sir K. Wood

Yes, Sir. Squadrons of the Royal Air Force last night delivered a continuous series of attacks for a period of six hours on the base at Hoernum in the island of Sylt from which German seaplanes have been engaged in mine-laying and in attacks on our shipping. These operations were carried out in answer to the raid by German aircraft on land bases in the Orkney Islands last Saturday. A strong force, involving more than double the number of German aircraft engaged on Saturday, took part in the operation. The weather conditions over the target were clear moonlight during the early part of the raid, gradually clouding over towards morning.

The aircraft encountered intense antiaircraft fire from gun positions on Sylt and on adjacent islands, but this did not prevent them reaching and dropping a large number of bombs on their target. Such fighter aircraft as were encountered sheered off on meeting our fire. With one exception all our aircraft taking part in the attack returned safely to their bases. Both high and low altitude attacks were carried out, and many tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped. The reports already received from the pilots show how extensive is the damage that has been done. Direct hits were obtained on the hangars which were set on fire. The oil storage tanks were also seen to be on fire, and many hits were obtained on the jetty, light railway and other parts of the base.

A further reconnaissance of the island of Sylt was carried out this morning. Although the aircraft were heavily engaged they were able to make observations of the island which confirm the success of the operation. All these aircraft have returned to their bases. I may add that the Royal Air Force has been very gratified and encouraged to have had this opportunity. This action has once more demonstrated the fighting spirit and the skill of our captains and crews and their willingness and readiness to meet the call.

Mr. Simmonds

May I ask my right hon. Friend will he bear in mind that the country sincerely hopes that this will be no isolated instance and that there will be given to the Royal Air Force wide liberty of action to distinguish itself in similar enterprises?

Mr. Maxton

Can the Minister say how many casualties there were?

Sir K. Wood

No, Sir. I have no information.