While many old-timers share memories of what they and their parents had experienced during World War 2, John Castellas, whose family lived in Vizag at that time, researched the historic event. He shares his findings with Yo! Vizag and gives us a synopsis of what had actually happened that day.
As the sun rose to its noontime high on 6 April 1942, five gleaming silver shapes flew over the breaking surf of the Bay of Bengal towards Vizag town, with the old lighthouse and St Aloysius School acting as visual markers.
The five unwelcome visitors were Japanese Aircraft from Vice Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo’s force centred on the light carrier Ryujo, which was equipped with 29 such aircraft. From the Ryujo’s log, the timing of the raids was; ‘1143: Five Type 97s (Kate Torpedo Bombers) armed with one 250 kg bomb and four 60 kg bombs.’ These aircraft attacked Vizagapatam between 13:00 Hrs and 13:45 Hrs, according to a 7 April report by the RAF’s 224 Group. The log goes on further to mention; ‘1655: Five Type 97s armed with one 250 kg bomb and four 60 kg bombs each.’ This strike hit Vizagapatam, probably between 17:25 Hrs and 17:45 Hrs, and was likely flown by the same five aircraft and crews, which had made the early afternoon raid. The main target of the raids appeared to be the new harbour, the new Scindia Shipyard, the powerhouse and steamers in port.
As the aircraft flew past St Aloysius, on their port side (left wing) they would have seen the Ross Hill with the Dargah of Hazrat Ishaq Madina and Hill Chapel in vivid white. On their starboard side (right wing), they would have glimpsed the layout of old Vizag with the backwater, bridge and railway lines, St Mary’s Girls School and the dome spire of St John’s Church. And below them, they would have probably noticed the old powerhouse that provided all the electricity for the port and town.
A Japanese aerial photograph clearly shows the Vizag Port, Ross Hill and the Power House vicinity with bombs dropping. Plainly visible in the photograph, on the left is the Scindia Shipyard with the first two keels, V1 & V2, for the first ships to be built in Vizag. The white splashes mark the falling bombs and luckily, none of the steamers hurriedly moving through the port Turning Basin, were hit as sinking those ships would have disabled all shipping from the harbour.
Vizag’s population at that time was about 70,000 and like, the other cities in India, a practice air raid was enacted in March and this touched off major panic among the population. The air raid siren was interpreted as signalling a real attack, reinforced by a magistrate closing down his court, followed by the other Government offices, leading to widespread rumours and a large exodus. When a real, if small, raid struck on 6 April, panic set in again but on an even bigger scale. It was reported that: ‘The railways were practically paralyzed and all the subordinate staff and labour fled from the place…every jatka and goodu bundi was employed by Vizag’s population in a long road train inland to Waltair and Vizianagaram. All local shops were closed and practically everyone fled the town. The port employees fled, the labour at the Scindia Shipyard fled, as did the coolies employed on the construction of the aerodrome.’ The mass exodus was based on rumour and as was quipped at the time, ‘R is for rumour, someone told me at noon that the Japanese army has invaded the moon’.
Sadly, nine residents of Vizag paid the ultimate sacrifice in this raid during World War 2, eight of whom are remembered by a plaque that is on display at the Visakha Museum.