BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

First Air Attack on Forth Bridge.

by greenhill2

Contributed by 
greenhill2
People in story: 
Edward Thomson
Location of story: 
On Forth Bridge
Article ID: 
A1975872
Contributed on: 
05 November 2003

On the 16th October 1939 I was a passenger on the Dundee section of an Edinburgh to Aberdeen train which had just entered the first arch at the Southern end of the Bridge. The next stop was to be Leuchars Junction. I was in the corridor with an older boy called Jack Thomas from Edinburgh. We were looking downstream to the right of the carriage and were trying to identify some of the fleet at anchor below the bridge. Almost simultaneously there was a giant waterspout as high as the bridge alongside one of the capital ships and a barge tied up alongside; it seemed to fly up in the air! In later life I discovered it was HMS Southampton. There were two or three other explosions further off and one of the ships was actually struck; it was HMS Mohawk and casualties were sustained on board. The German bombers were in plain sight only a short distance away flying parallel to the bridge. Meanwile the train stopped briefly and as it did so the painters and riggers working scrambled from the scaffolding of the bridge and made for shelter.

The train carried on without futher incident, only by this time the RAF fighters had become involved and drove the raiders out to sea bringing dowm (I believe) three Heinkel bombers in the Forth estuary

There are two sequels to this story:-

(1) One bomber was brought down off the May Island and two crew were rescued by a trawler; they were transferred to Military Custody at Edinburgh Castle and my Uncle William Thomson was with the British Red Cross at the Castle and had to deal with the POW registrations back to Germany. He said the crew were almost certain the War would be over in a matter of weeks.

(2) In 1977 I was working at Edinburgh Airport and had bought a house in South Queensferry in the shadow of the Forth Bridge. One of my neighbours was a retired bridge inspector and I shared with him our memories of that day. Only then did I learn that due to Wartime Security at that time, information regarding the casualties on HMS Mohawk, which included 15 Sailors who were killed, was not released for many years. Some of the dead are interred in the Naval section of South Queensferry Cemetery.

I hope this is of interest to you there cannot be many of us left that were actual eye witnesses to that air battle.

[personal details removed by moderator]

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - First raid

Posted on: 06 November 2003 by 602Sqn_Puff

The first raid indeed happened on the 16th Oct 1939 , the bombers involved were Ju88's and were harried home by the local sqn's of fighter Command. 603 Sqn "City of Edingburgh" based at Turnhouse and 602 Sqn " City of Glasow" based at nearby Drem airbase.
603 got the first raider to be shot down in the war and only a few minutes later did George Pinkerton of 602 Sqn claim the second bomber which went down into the Forth. Two crew members did get rescued and were visted by George in hospital.
Later in November Archie McKellar of 602 Sqn shot down a Heinkel 111 which crashed on british soil , the first to do so in the war.

Message 1 - First raid

Posted on: 06 November 2003 by 602Sqn_Puff

The first raid indeed happened on the 16th Oct 1939 , the bombers involved were Ju88's and were harried home by the local sqn's of fighter Command. 603 Sqn "City of Edingburgh" based at Turnhouse and 602 Sqn " City of Glasow" based at nearby Drem airbase.
603 got the first raider to be shot down in the war { I think it was "Sheep" Gilroy who got the credit } and only a few minutes later did George Pinkerton of 602 Sqn claim the second bomber which went down into the Forth. Two crew members did get rescued and were visted by George in hospital.
Later in November Archie McKellar of 602 Sqn shot down a Heinkel 111 which crashed on british soil , the first to do so in the war.

 

Message 2 - First raid

Posted on: 06 November 2003 by greenhill2

Thank you for the prompt reply as you will realise from my typing dyslexiaI am over 70 now and I'd almost forgotten about 602 and 603 Squdns.By the way do you know that the RAF Memorial at Edinburgh Airport has been repositioned to the left of the entrance road recently.The plaque rcords 603 Sqdn. Many thanks.Greenhill2.

 

Message 3 - The 16 October 1939 raid on warships in the Firth of Forth

Posted on: 20 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ed

As I said in a previous message this is an excellent eye-witness account. I have however, since my first posting consulted both British and German records of this incident.

Understandably, you believed it was a raid on the bridge, but the bridge wasn't the target nor was it intended that it should be bombed. The bridge was a vital rail-link to Scotland and, had the war ended in Germany's favour, would have been of use to them. The attack was on the battleships, the bridge was merely photographed at low level on, what was, a clear sunny day.

The raid was made by nine aircraft of the first group of Kampfgeschwader 30 commanded by Oberst Pohle, causing slight damage to two cruisers, HMS Edinburgh and HMS Mohawk, and to a destroyer, HMS Southampton, despite all three ships sustaining direct hits. The raid took British air-defence completely by surprise, which was the reason your train was on the bridge. No alarm was sounded and the performance of the early-warning system gave cause for apprehension. The gunners at one site were engaged in gun-drill and had to quickly exchange their dummy ammunition for live as German planes appeared overhead.

There was an immediate enquiry; where the guns were concerned, the verdict of Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Pile, officer I/C Anti-Aircraft Command, was that evidently neither the standards of training nor the equipment of his command was yet up to the standards of modern war. It was a timely and salutary lesson.

The Germans also learnt lessons from this raid, one the Ju 88s were at the extreme limit of their range leaving no safety-margin for adverse weather, and two, that the German SC 550-lb bombs were ineffective against battleship deck armour. Göring, as a consequence, ordered the development of heavier bombs and temporarily called off all such raids.

The Germans lost three aircraft. Two shot down by, as has been said, Spitfires of Nos. 602 and 603 Squadrons and, posibly, one to Ack-Ack fire. These were the first German aircraft destroyed over Britain. As a result of this action No. 603 Squadron, commanded by Squadron Leader E.E. Stevens) was officially credited with the destruction of the first aircraft destroyed by Fighter Command. Oddly, there is no mention of any German plane being shot down by Ack-Ack fire in British records, but there is in "Luftkrieg 1939-1945", a German book based on German records, by J. Piekalkiewicz.

British details are in volume one of the official history of WW2, United Kingdom Military Series: "The Defence of the United Kingdom", published in 1957. Plate 1 is one of the photographs taken at low level.

Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 4 - The 16 October 1939 raid on warships in the Firth of Forth

Posted on: 20 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

The German bombers were Heinkel HE IIIs, not Stukas.

PG

 

Message 5 - First raid

Posted on: 20 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear 602Sqn_Puff

I found the detail you give of the two squadrons involved very interesting. However, whilst checking this first action I note that the first kill on 16 October 1939 was credited to Squadron Leader Ernest H. Stevens.

Kenneth G. Gwynn in his authoritative biographical compendium says of Pilot Officer George Kemp Gilroy "He shared in destroying a He 111 over the Firth of Forth on October 28 1939, the first enemy aircraft to crash on British soil in the war."

Kind regards,

Peter

 

Message 6 - The 16 October 1939 raid on warships in the Firth of Forth

Posted on: 21 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Please disregard my Message 4 above.

On further reflection the planes were Junkers Ju-88C-0 bombers of Kampfgeschwader 30, based at Westerland on the island of Sylt in north Germany.

Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 7 - The 16 October 1939 raid on warships in the Firth of Forth

Posted on: 28 September 2005 by greenhill2

Hello Peter
It is coming up to the 66th Anniversary of the Forth bridge Attack
as an eye wtness I am indebted to you for the additional details. I have heard from a member of the Mohawk crew and also a local saturation diver who looks after the safety at Hound Point.The pinnace that was alongside the Mohawk still rests on the riverbed!
I also have a copy ofthe local uncensored newspaper which gives an excellent account of the entire actions of the 18th Oct. It was on loan to the Museum of Flight at East Fortune and in gratitude they returned it to me recently "restored" and beautifully mounted as a Souvenir of my first Eperience with the Luftwaffe.See my contribution A2224333.

Regards
Ed Thomson
Glamis Castle Angus.

 

Message 8 - The 16 October 1939 raid on warships in the Firth of Forth

Posted on: 28 September 2005 by greenhill2

Hello Peter
It is coming up to the 66th Anniversary of the Forth bridge Attack
as an eye wtness I am indebted to you for the additional details. I have heard from a member of the Mohawk crew and also a local saturation diver who looks after the safety at Hound Point.The pinnace that was alongside the Mohawk still rests on the riverbed!
I also have a copy ofthe local uncensored newspaper which gives an excellent account of the entire actions of the 18th Oct. It was on loan to the Museum of Flight at East Fortune and in gratitude they returned it to me recently "restored" and beautifully mounted as a Souvenir of my first Experience with the Luftwaffe.See my contribution A2224333.

Regards
Ed Thomson
Glamis Castle Angus.

Message 1 - General Home Front desk: A1975872 - First Air Attack on Forth Bridge.

Posted on: 11 March 2004 by greenhill2

Entry: First Air Attack on Forth Bridge. - A1975872 Author: greenhill2 - U523377

++

Message 1 - First Air Attack on Forth Bridge.

Posted on: 12 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Edward

This is a fine story and an excellent eye-witness account, but it deserves a wider audience. Unfortunately you have posted it to the General Home Front Research desk where it will only be seen by voluntary WW2 Rearchers like myself and a few others. A Research Desk is where you can ask questions about WW2 or search for long lost comrades, relatives, or friends; in sum, where you 'Ask a Question'.

Your story should be sent to the Editorial Desk. To do so now follow these instructions:

1. Highlight all the text of your story. Either by dragging your mouse pointer over it or by going to the Edit menu and clicking 'Select all'

2. Copy it: on your keyboard press Ctrl (far left) and 'c' together. Usually indicated by Ctrl+c.

3. In the green column on the left, click on Personal Story.

4. Follow the instructions.

5. When you come to the window where you type your story, paste yours in.
To do this just press Ctrl+v.

6. You can Preview it for final adjustments.

7. When you are happy with it, send it to the Editorial Desk.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - First Air Attack on Forth Bridge.

Posted on: 13 March 2004 by greenhill2

Attention Peter:

I have tried to transfer my article on the Forth Bridge but do not know if the amended article has managed to be transferred to the Editorial Desk.

Can you please let me know if this is so, as it comes up with registration and login and this is as far as I can get.

Ed Thomson

Message 1 - First Air Attack

Posted on: 06 April 2004 by Bob Marshall

Hello Ed Thomson
This is Bob Marshall - you kindly sent me a message after reading my piece 'Wartime Boyhood in Scotland' a couple of weeks ago. I replied to your message but it ended up on my site so am putting it here as well in the hope that you'll see it. Thank you very much for directing me to your two articles which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. You're right - lots in common! Would have responded sooner but am doing this through my daughter (who, appropriately, works for Age Concern!). I see you've ended up in a most beautiful part of the country. I myself have been in the border country - Berwick upon Tweed - for the last 55 years or so (apart from a few years in Canada in the 50's). Again, many thanks for making contact. With best wishes from Bob Marshall.

Message 1 - first air raid

Posted on: 06 December 2005 by Bobhamilton

Hello Ed Thomson,
Thanks for your message,there are so many conflicting stories about this raid.I was given a book a few years ago called Birth of the Few by Henry Buckton which is excellent and goes into great detail. Earlier this year I visited the graves of the 16 crew of the Mohawk They are in a civilian cemetary near Rosyth Dockyard except for the Captain a man called Jolley who was buried at home.
Good to hear from you, By the way I now live in Milton Keynes.
Bob Hamilton.

 

Message 2 - first air raid

Posted on: 25 January 2006 by greenhill2

Hello Bob Marshall
ATt this late date "A Happy New Year".thanks for your comments re the Forth Bridge actions. Only getting round to answers now as was staying with my son in law at RAF Uxbridge over Xmas.
That was some bang at the fuel farm!!
Regards from Glamis
Ed Thomson

 

Message 3 - first air raid

Posted on: 25 January 2006 by greenhill2

Hello Bob Hamilton
ATt this late date "A Happy New Year".thanks for your comments re the Forth Bridge actions. Only getting round to answers now as was staying with my son in law at RAF Uxbridge over Xmas.
That was some bang at the fuel farm!!
Regards from Glamis
Ed Thomson

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Edinburgh and Lothian Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy