Chief Petty Officer - John Thomas Steele

No. P/JX 130991

Seaman in the Royal Navy

28/9/1927    26/4/1959

 

 

 

 

 

1st Air Raid of World War II

October 16th 1939, Forth of Firth Scotland.

Sixty years ago, on the Third of September 1939, The Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain uttered the words that would plunge the world into the bloodiest conflict between Nations ever; "... Great Britain is at war with Germany... "

Let us pause to reflect on a particular day in dark and distant 1939, over a month after the declaration of war when the German armed forces, full of pride from their swift subjugation of Poland, struck at the British Isles for the first time since 1918. The young men of the Luftwaffe were brimming with confidence in their dynamic leaders and their newest warplane. Soon they would be faced with a more formidable enemy, which would shatter their confidence and dent their pride, RAF Fighter Command.

In the early afternoon of October the sixteenth, the Luftwaffe airfield at Sylt on the Island of Westerland was buzzing with activity. Nine Junkers Ju-88 schnellbomber's of 1/KG30 were taking off for an attack on the Royal Naval Base at Rosyth, believed to be the location of the pride of the Royal Navy, HMS Hood. Just before 14.30 hours, the German bombers had sighted the distinctive peaks of the Forth Rail Bridge, beyond lay the Naval Base. At the RAF Station Turnhouse, recently acquired Supermarine Spitfires of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force were scrambled to intercept the raiders.

Airborne at that time were also Spitfires of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, from RAF Drem, East Lothian, they were assigned to patrol the Midlothian skies at 20, 000 feet. The stage was set for the first air battle over Britain since 1918.

Hauptmann Helmut Pohle, the Commander of 1/KG30 could see several warships in the harbour, including a large battlecruiser at Rosyth, though none of them was HMS Hood. The decision was made to attack nonetheless, though Pohle was advised against bombing the dockyards for fear of inflicting casualties on civilians. At approximately 14.35 hours, bombs rained down on the vessels moored in the harbour, anti aircraft fire opened up from land positions and from the vessels in the harbour, adding to the conflagration from the exploding ordnance.

No sooner had the 603 Squadron Spitfires left the ground when they made contact with the first wave of three Ju-88s at 4000 feet. The German formation was scattered, with the bombers being pursued in all directions. Three Spitfires of 'Red' Section, led by Flt Lt. Pat Gifford encountered a stray '88 that had veered away from the first wave of their attackers, the fighters pounced on the bomber and sent it earthward, Gifford himself firing the final shots into the doomed Junkers. The aircraft dived into the sea four miles off the coast of Port Seton. A local fishing boat picked up three survivors. It was one-nil to the RAF. Meanwhile, the flight of 602 Squadron Spitfires received the signal: "Enemy aircraft bombing Rosyth. Patrol five miles north of present position." Aircraft were sighted and hotly chased, Royal Navy Blackburn Skuas on training operations out of Donibristle had strayed into the aerial battlefield causing some confusion, being mistaken for enemy aircraft in the heat of combat.

During his diving attack on the vessels in the Forth, the cockpit canopy of Hauptmann Pohles Ju-88 flew off, leaving the four crewmembers open to the elements. In his embarrassingly exposed position, Pohle climbed away northwards to observe the efforts of his unit. Almost instantly, .303 shells began pounding his aircraft from behind, 602 Squadron had entered the battle. Pohle struggled to shake off his Glaswegian assailants, Flt Lts George Pinkerton and Archie McKellar, who chased the Junkers out to sea. The stricken bomber plunged into the water three miles east of Crail, nearly colliding with a coaster. Pohle was recovered, bleeding from facial wounds suffered in the crash; the other three crewmembers were dead on impact.

The German raid continued into the early evening before 1/KG30 returned to Sylt, battered and bruised from the days pounding. They failed in their objective to sink the Hood, losing two aircraft with four crewmembers killed and four captured, including their commanding officer. Though they did inflict damage upon the vessels in the Forth, notably HMS Southampton, a light cruiser at anchor and HMS Mohawk, a destroyer escorting a convoy assembling in the river. The total Royal Navy casualties were 16 killed and 44 wounded.

The day's efforts were a kill each for 602 and 603 Squadrons and the first victories for the Supermarine Spitfire in combat. Both Pat Gifford and George Pinkerton received Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC) for their efforts. Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command sent the following message to 602 Squadron the next day, "Well done. First blood to the Auxiliaries".

Sixty years later, on October Sixteenth 1999, with the co-operation from the 602 and 603 Squadron Associations, the Museum of Flight at East Fortune in East Lothian opened a commemorative display of images and dioramas reflecting that day's events. Over a two-day period, the exhibition included squadron reunions, talks and speeches, culminating in a fly past of a surviving Spitfire, all adding a unique perspective to the history on display.

 

 

While providing escort for a North Sea convoy on 16th October 1939, MOHAWK was attacked by a German Ju88 aircraft. Before the dive-bomber was destroyed, it released two bombs, which fell to starboard (abreast of the bridge) and to port (abreast of the torpedo tubes). The bombs exploded on the surface of the sea well before most men had time to reach their action stations. Machine gun bullets and jagged metal splinters decimated the mooring party on the fo'c'sle, slashed through the bridge, the wheelhouse, the director and the communications system. The personnel manning the machineguns, the search light position and after control position were mowed down by the projectiles. Fifteen men were killed and thirty injured, mostly experienced executive officers. On the bridge, Commander Jolly suffered a mortal stomach wound. While denying the comfort of medical attention, and in great pain and suffering, he commanded his ship for 35 miles until she was safely in port. After being taken to hospital at South Queensferry, he died several hours later. For his gallantry, the Captain was awarded the George Cross posthumously. The ship was patched up at Rosyth then made her way to the Hawthorn Leslie Yard on the Tyne River for permanent repairs and a refit.

 

 

 

This was the first aircraft ever shot down by a Spitfire, and the first enemy plane downed on British territory during WWII.
     Twelve Junkers 88as were involved in "the Forth Bridge Raid" on 16 October 1939, its purpose to sink HMS Hood. Hitler had ordered that the bridge should not be bombed, and that if the Hood was in dock at Rosyth, it should be spared, as civilian casualties would result.
    
Only seven weeks in, this was still a gentleman's war.
     The Hood was indeed at Rosyth, so the Junkers went for the cruisers Edinburgh and Southampton, anchored not far from the bridge. Luckily they were intercepted by a group of Spitfires, and only moderate damage was inflicted, though the destroyer
Mohawk, steaming towards Rosyth, was also attacked and 16 sailors died, including its captain.
     The two lead Junkers were shot down, one off Fife Ness three miles from Crail, the other probably crashing in Aberlady Bay, about four miles from Port Seaton.

 

 

 

 

This is one of the aircraft that bombed HMS Mohawk; it was shot down shortly afterwards.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

14/10/1939

U47 (Kapitanleutnant Prien) sinks HMS Royal Oak at anchor in Scapa Flow, killing 883. U47 then escapes undetected and returns home to Germany. The press in Germany declare Prien a hero. Polish submarine Orzel arrives in Britain having escaped internment in Estonia.

16/10/1939

A German air attack damages the British cruisers HMS Southampton, HMS Edinburgh and the destroyer HMS Mohawk in the Firth of Forth, in Scotland.

 

 

21/10/1939

The Luftwaffe starts attacks against North Atlantic convoys.

25/10/1939

U-boats sink four more British ships.

 

 

 

‘Note – As can be seen from the time line above, Granddad’s brother died only two days before Granddad was injured when HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scapa.

It must have been a terrible week for the Steele family.’

 

 

 

 

In Britain... Nine of the new Ju88 dive-bombers attack warships at Rosyth, Firth of Forth. An unexploded bomb penetrates the cruiser HMS Southampton. HMS Edinburgh also sustains damage. The crew of the destroyer HMS Mohawk suffers casualties. RAF Spitfires, piloted by "part-time" pilots of the Glasgow and Edinburgh Auxiliary Air Force squadrons, engage the German aircraft.

 

 

 

 

When hostilities began with Germany, RAF Drem became a fighter defence base. 602 Squadron Spitfire Mk.1 aircraft moved in on 13 October, and on the 16th flew from here to intercept the first air raid by German bombers on Britain - twelve Junkers Ju88 attacking naval shipping near the Forth Bridge. Spitfires from 603 Squadron, based at RAF Turnhouse near Edinburgh, joined the fight and claimed the first kill - a Ju88 that hit the sea off Port Seton. Drem aircraft of 602 shot down a second '88 off the Fife village of Crail a few minutes later, the kill being claimed by Flight Lieutenant Pinkerton. These two Ju88s were the first enemy aircraft downed over Britain in World War Two

 

 

 

 

On 16th October 1939 I was an eyewitness to the attack by German raiders on the fleet at anchor below the Forth Bridge.  I know HMS Mohawk and HMS Southampton were struck.  I actually saw the waterspouts of the bombs, which killed several naval personnel.  Many years later in 1977 I bought a house just beside the Forth Bridge and my neighbour was a retired Bridge Inspector.  We exchanged memories of that dreadful day but I would like to know any information from the crews of these warships as due to wartime censorships I was never able to learn the aftermath aboard the ships afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

An artist’s impression of the raid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A report citing Commander Richard Frank Jolly’s posthumous medal for gallantry

 

 

British George Cross Recipient. Born in Wandsworth, South London, he was educated at Bedford School, and joined the Royal Navy in September 1914. He gained first prize for gunnery and torpedo in his term at Keyham College. During the First World War, he served for two years as a midshipman on a battle cruiser, before being promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to a destroyer. In 1932, he was promoted to the rank of Commander. Soon after the Second World War broke out, H.M.S. Mohawk, commanded by Richard Jolly, was patrolling the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, when she was attacked by an enemy aircraft, and suffered many casualties. Commander Jolly, who was on the bridge, was wounded in the stomach, but refused to leave his post or to receive medical attention, with the words, "Leave me, go and look after the others." He continued to direct the Mohawk for the 35 mile passage, which took eighty minutes, and, although he was too weak for his orders to be heard, they were repeated by his Navigating Officer, who was, also, wounded. Five hours after he bought the ship into port, he died, and was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal posthumously. On September 24, 1940, this was exchanged for the George Cross, upon the inauguration of the new medal. The inscription on his grave is: "Commander Richard Frank Jolly, G.C., R.N., killed in action when commanding H.M.S. Mohawk, October. 10th. 1939. Aged 43 years." 

 

 

Eyewitness statements.

Location of story: On Forth Bridge


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. Meanwhile 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 further incident, only by this time the RAF fighters had become involved and drove the raiders out to sea bringing down (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.

 

 

 

The following is an E-Mail I received from the eyewitness on the train travelling to Aberdeen.

 

 

Hello Again Andy
 
Sorry for the delay I was having an attempt at sending you news cutting, But I think my Scanner has developed a fault so I don’t know if you received the Luftwaffe photo taken on 2/10/39. However the following is the detail from the local Courier newspaper of the date.16 October 1939. And if you refer to my Contribution A1975872 in the WWII Archive you will see how it all comes together!!
 
Admiralty Communiqué
16 October 1939
 
Today (Monday) between 09.00and 13.00 hrs several German aircraft Reconnoitred the Forth Estuary.
About 14.30hrs a series of bombing attacks commenced against the Fleet. AA Batteries opened fire and RAF Fighters from 603 Squadron (Turnhouse) engaged the Attackers. No serious damage was done to HM Ships. (!)
 
One bomb struck the Cruiser Southampton causing damage to he bow and sinking the Admirals barge moored alongside. There are three casualties on board and seven on HMS Edinburgh. Another Bomb was dropped near HMS Mohawk causing twenty-five casualties to crew on the deck. Four Luftwaffe bombers have been brought down out of fourteen attackers. One off Crail, another off North Berwick and tow in the North Sea.  (END)
 
I was able to witness most of this action from the Dundee train as it proceeded at a snails pace over the Forth Bridge. On occasions I have used it in Probus club Dinners "as an after dinner speech item".
So that’s my story.
 
I have also heard from a Martin Russ, his father was aboard Southampton and gave him this account I quote--
 
"There was no serious damage the bomb passed through a semi opened scuttle and exploded harmlessly in the sea. The scuttle plate was not secured hence the reason the bomb passed through striking it a glancing blow sending it into a parabola and killing a senior officer."
 
Kind regards
 

Ed. Thomson Glamis Angus.

 


People in story: Ronnie McAllister
Location of story:
Near the Forth Rail Bridge
Unit name:
Royal Army Pay Corps
Background to story:
Army

On the 16th Oct 1939 I, along with several pals were playing on the beach at Fisher row, Musselburgh on the South side of the Firth of Forth. A plane came over our heads so low that we recall innocently waving to the pilot who in turn waved back to us. As children of around 10 years of age we had no idea it was a German plane, however it was quickly followed by a spitfire from the 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron who shot the bomber down and it eventually ditched in the Forth. Our adventure to the beach was brought quickly to a close as our parents arrived to grab us and virtually haul us home. Only some time later we were told of the seriousness of the day as the War increased in its ferocity.
Ships in the Forth at the time were cruisers HMS Southampton and Edinburgh and a destroyer HMS Mohawk. Some hits were made and 16 British sailors were killed. Many are buried in the Douglas Bank Cemetery at Pattismuir... some 40 others were wounded.
Two German bombers were shot down and the pilot’s bodies were recovered and like our own servicemen were buried with full military honours in Edinburgh.
I am now 74 years of age and my brother and I can recall this as if was yesterday.
Unknown to me at the time my wife witnessed the same event from a different part of the beach and it was ironic that we should tell each other the story some 14 years later when we married.

People in story: Bob Hamilton
Location of story: North Queensferry, Fife
Background to story: Civilian
On Monday 16th October 1939 I was a schoolboy nearly 8 years old living in the village of North Queensferry beside the Forth Railway Bridge on the Firth of Forth. That afternoon at about 2.30pm Three friends and myself who for some reason had the day off school were watching from a good vantage point several naval ships which included the cruisers HMS Southampton and HMS Edinburgh which were anchored on east side of the Forth Bridge.
Suddenly three aircraft approached and we thought they were British aircraft on an exercise and we continued to watch and saw
bombs explode in the sea slightly damaging the Southampton. During this period there had been no air raid warning sounded and no anti aircraft fire but we realized that this was an air raid. We ran for home and after some time the air raid warning sounded and anti aircraft fire started from the ships. I found out years later that a total of 12 Junkers Ju 88 bombers in several waves attacked that day, two were shot down by Spitfires from RAF Turnhouse. The only fatal casualties were on HMS Mohawk, which was attacked several miles away.
Following this raid as we lived only three miles from Rosyth Dockyard All the village children was evacuated, I went to live in the West of Scotland with my Grandparents but returned home after nine months.


Location of story: Port Seton East Lothian

ON the 16th October 1939 during the first air raid over mainland Britain a German aircraft was shot down into the sea near my village. The village is Port Seton on the south shore of the Firth of Forth and I was a 13 year old boy attending the local school on the above date when I heard low flying aircraft along with machine gun fire over the school. It turned out to be spitfires chasing the German aircraft out over the sea. Later in the afternoon I heard that the German aircraft had been shot down into the sea a few miles off Port Seton and a local fishing boat had picked up the crew I ran down to the harbour in time to see the Germen airmen brought onto the pier one of the Germans had an injury to his face and was taken to the local doctors surgery. An army vehicle then arrived and the prisoners were transferred to the army base at Edinburgh Castle. The 16th October 1939 is a date I will never forget.

 

People in story: Cameron Horne
Location of story: Edinburgh
Background to story: Civilian

I lived near the suburb of Portobello in Edinburgh, and my parent's house backed on to a field with views over the Firth of Forth. I was eight years old at the time, and my friends and I were playing in the field, when we happened to look up to see a twin engined aircraft coming from the direction of the Rosyth Naval Base, flying very low over the water. As boys we were very excited about this, and we started waving. Looking back, the aircraft may have been at 150 to 200 feet, and as it neared us it started to climb. There was a trail of smoke from one engine.
To our surprise the Observer in the nose of the aircraft, which turned out to be a Heinkel 111, waved back to us. We realised it was German from the crosses on the wing after it had passed over.
We watched as it climbed towards the Lammermuir Hills, when we witnessed it being attacked by one of our Fighters, and to this day I remember distinctly the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns.
The plane came down on the Lammermuirs and two of the crew were killed. According to information I have from a Magazine of the time, "The bodies of two Airmen lay in the Church of St Philip in Portobello, and afterwards were buried with full military honours, with RAF Pipers playing a lament."
Seventeen British sailors lost their lives in the attack, and over 40 were wounded.
This is a memory, which I have kept all those years, and is as lucid today as it was then.

 

People in story: Mrs Nan McDonald of Goole.
Location of story: Scotland
Background to story: Civilian

At 11 years of age I was sat outside in the garden when the Air Raid Siren sounded. Civil Defence Wardens started blowing their whistles and shouting for everyone to get inside and under cover. There was a strange unfamiliar sound above and on looking upwards I saw puffs of 'cotton wool' bursting in the sky. This was the anti-aircraft shells announcing the first German air raid on Britain when German bombs fell on British soil.
The raid took place on the Firth of Forth (Scotland) on 16th October 1039 when the Forth Rail Bridge and the Royal Navy vessels were bombed.
I did not know at the time that it was a young Group Captain Dunholm, a man from Bo'ness - my own home town, that commanded and led the 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron of Spitfires which shot down the first German plane over British soil in WW2.
Group Captain Denholm with the 603 Squadron flew to Hornchurch in 1940 and it was one of the top scoring Squadrons in the Battle of Britain.

 

People in story: Margaret Burnett nee Wheeler, Robert Wheeler, John Wheeler, Ann Robertson nee Wheeler
Location of story: Leith
Background to story: Civilian

This is a note I sent to our grandchildren a year or so ago, from "Grandma's” recollection, mentioned to me many years ago
"Grandma " is Margaret Burnett
GRANDMA'S WAR
Grandma at two years of age (2yrs 7mths 4 days) was living in the Port of Leith, Edinburgh, at Portland Place which overlooks the Firth of Forth. And Grandma, on Monday October 16th 1939, was at the window when she saw something she thought was interesting. “Something fallen out of 'plane.”
In the room with her were her brother Robert, two years older, who was in bed with chicken pox, her brother John, and her sister Ann both in their early teens. In seconds this relaxed family cluster was radically rearranged: the teenagers swept the children flat onto the floor and covered them.
Only just in time. The explosion of the bomb “fallen out of 'plane" blew in the window, spearing the walls with shards of glass and shafts of wood.
So, no one was hurt. Lucky for us all.
Granma remembers this clearly, as her earliest memory; no doubt because of the impact her observation made.
The recollections of a very young child were later confirmed by this account in
THE PEOPLE'S WAR Angus Calder 1969
Chapter Two " The Strangest of Wars" September 1939 to April 1940 Page 69
Two days later (Oct 16 1939), the Luftwaffe bombed cruisers in the Firth of Forth.
For the first time a real air raid had occurred. Shrapnel fell on Edinburgh and Dunfermline, and the Scots were outraged that no air raid warning had been given.
Twenty five sailors had been killed, but no civilians. For a moment it appeared that the war had actually started.
Subsequently we discovered other evidence
Reported further east of Leith came this item from the Portobello newspaper:
"The people of Joppa and Portobello were to see the first air raid over Great Britain. On 16th October 1939, German aircraft attempting to hit the Forth Bridge, hit Portobello. During this daring daylight raid, the rooftop dog fight caused damage to houses in Morton Street. The Luftwaffe pilots that were shot down and killed during this action were buried in Portobello Cemetery. These pilots were the first enemy casualties to be buried on British soil."
So dramatic was the whole episode that it became the subject of a film documentary “The Hour of the Eagle”, about German bombers attacking the Fleet at Rosyth.

People in story: Inchgarvie
Location of story: Firth of Forth
Background to story: Civilian


Born in 1929, I was 10 years old when I heard Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, broadcasting the declaration of war with Germany. Gas masks and National Identity Cards were issued. I still have the card. I do not remember how soon after the declaration of war identity cards were issued, but I well remember that the use of gas masks became a regular classroom drill and that the ID numbers were used for National Insurance when it was introduced by the post-war Labour government. Like my army number (National Service 1948-49) and date of birth, it is indelibly printed in my memory.
However, the main purpose of this contribution is to record my recollection of the first air raid of the war, which was in Scotland, over the Firth of Forth, on 16 October 1939. I then lived in South Queensferry and was on my way home from school, about lunch time, when the action began over the Forth, less than a mile away. I stopped to watch Junkers 88s etc. versus Spitfires, naval guns and shore artillery, but when the direction of the noise changed and I turned round and looked up to see little white clouds which had nothing to do with the weather, I thought I should get a move on, but not before watching a cluster of bombs falling from the belly of one of the bombers just before it was broken in two, presumably by naval gunnery. * A few minutes later I was called into the shelter of a house, followed by one or two employees of a local whisky distillery ("King George IV"), like me, on their way home for lunch, one of whom, a teenage girl in a state of shock, was offered a cigarette which she held with some difficulty in violently shaking hands. For a ten-year-old boy all of this was very interesting rather than alarming.
As far as I am aware, the local population did not suffer any casualties in that raid, but a number of sailors, whose ships were primary targets, lost their lives. The Forth Bridge, thought to be another target, was undamaged. Apart from the bomber I saw falling into the Forth; I do not know what the German losses were.

 

*Postscript
After submitting this report, I was told by my younger brother that he had a closer and frightening view of the event, being on the shore, near the harbour, taking a day off school, that the bomber had in fact been shot down by a Spitfire in hot pursuit, and that the close proximity of all this was enough to send him running for home as fast as his little legs could carry him.

 

 

People in story: William Carnie
Location of story: Newhaven, Edinburgh
Background to story: Civilian


This is a very little known fact, possibly because the period from the start of the war, 3rd September 1939 to April 1940 was generally known as the “Phoney War” much to the anger and disgust of many of those who are serving as seamen whether in the Royal Navy, Merchant Service, fishing, etc. their war started from day one with the immediate action of the ‘U’ boats.
The German submarines had sunk several ships by 16th October. Young as I was at the age of 6 with my brother Colin 9 and Roy 10, living with our parents in Newhaven, Edinburgh, 200 yards from the harbour on the plateau, this gave one a good view of the Firth of Forth and ships.
We knew that quite a number of local men were in the Merchant Navy and younger fishermen were joining the Royal Navy. Not to mention the fact that many of the local families were involved with the services during the First World War and now this one.
Newhaven was situated on the coast between Leith Docks East and Granton, which was both harbour for the trawlers and a Naval Base, all very close.
I was in the walled garden of the stone-built mid-Victorian terraced house with my Mother and Roy. Father had just entered the garden when we all heard this very loud noise. Suddenly a German plane appeared so low that we thought the chimney pots would be knocked off. Close on the Heinkel HeIII’s tail was a hurricane. As our street was on, the plateau side of Newhaven, the sea level part was 75 yards away from our garden; this was indeed a close encounter.
To enlarge the picture, Colin was apparently about 500 yards away in the local Victoria Park where everyone was ushered into the air raid shelter. He only told me this in July 2005.
This raid became known as the Queensferry Forth Rail Bridge Raid. The actual target was Rosyth Naval Base, a mile from the Great Forth Cantilever Bridge, which is a good landmark. The RAF base nearby answered the call very quickly with half a squadron of Hurricanes. This rapid response upset the attack on Rosyth. The ensuring dogfight obviously spread across the sky. The Heinkel that past over the house was at that point 9 miles east of the target. Furthermore the Hurricane chased him to Port Seton, 9 miles further east from Newhaven, where he was shot down. The crew actually survived, not so 18 miles away at the Forth Rail Bridge, where the German crew did not survive, but I believe they received a funeral with full respect given.

 

People in story: Alastair Macpherson Ramsay Hardie
Location of story: Edinburgh
Background to story: Civilian

 

One day on the 16th October 1939 my mother and neighbours were at the side of the house chatting while we played; suddenly four or five 'planes zoomed down from the Pentland Hills heading towards the Firth of Forth and the Fife coast - we all waved to them. Next day we read in the newspaper that a German 'plane had been forced down near the Forth Bridge and when interviewed the captured German pilot had said some "peasants" had waved to him!! - He was obviously being chased by our boys and we were the "peasants".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aerial view of Clyde shipyards and docks taken by a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft in October 1939, shortly after Britain went to war with Germany. Alexander Stephen & Son’s shipyard is marked for special attention, as are the shipyard of Barclay, Curle & Co, King George V Dock, and, at the bottom left hand corner, the Rolls-Royce aircraft engine works on the Hillington Industrial Estate.

 

 

On 16 October 1939, Junkers Ju-88s of 1/KG 30 led by Hauptmann Helmuth Pohle attacked British warships in the Firth of Forth. Nine of the Ju-88s were intercepted over Rosyth by three Spitfires of 603 Squadron, each of which attacked Pohle's aircraft, which was hit repeatedly and crashed into the sea. Pohle was the only survivor and was taken prisoner of war. This, the first enemy aircraft to be destroyed by Fighter Command, was credited to Squadron Leader Ernest Stevens, the commanding officer of 603 Squadron. At the same time, two other sections of 603 Squadron engaged and shot down a Heinkel He-111, which had been sent to observe the results of Pohle's raid. Three more Spitfires, this time from 602 Squadron, were joined by two of 603 in time to catch one more of the Ju-88s and shoot it down. Later that day, another He-111 was shot down by 603 Squadron. Thus did the Spitfire spectacularly open its account against the enemy.

 

 

 

1939: Birth of the Few

 

In the early afternoon of October the sixteenth, the Luftwaffe airfield at Sylt on the Island of Westerland was buzzing with activity. Nine Junkers Ju-88 of 1/KG30 were taking off for an attack on the Royal Naval Base at Rosyth, believed to be the location of the HMS Hood. Just before 14.30 hours, the German bombers had sighted the distinctive peaks of the Forth Rail Bridge, beyond lay the Naval Base. At the RAF Station Turnhouse, recently acquired Supermarine Spitfires of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force were scrambled to intercept the raiders.
Airborne at that time were also Spitfires of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, from RAF Drem, East Lothian, they were assigned to patrol the Midlothian skies at 20000 feet. The stage was set for the first air battle over Britain since WWI.
Hauptmann Helmut Pohle, the Commander of 1/KG30 could see several warships in the harbour, including a large battlecruiser at Rosyth, though none of them was HMS Hood. The decision was made to attack nonetheless, though Pohle was advised against bombing the dockyards for fear of inflicting casualties on civilians. At approximately 14.35 hours, bombs rained down on the vessels moored in the harbour, anti aircraft fire opened up from land positions and from the vessels in the harbour, adding to the conflagration from the exploding ordnance.
No sooner had the 603 Squadron Spitfires left the ground when they made contact with the first wave of three Ju-88s at 4000 feet. The German formation was scattered, with the bombers being pursued in all directions. Three Spitfires of 'Red' Section, led by Flt Lt. Pat Gifford encountered a stray '88 that had veered away from the first wave of their attackers, the fighters pounced on the bomber and sent it earthward, Gifford himself firing the final shots into the doomed Junkers. The aircraft dived into the sea four miles off the coast of Port Seton. A local fishing boat picked up three survivors. It was one-nil to the RAF. Meanwhile, the flight of 602 Squadron Spitfires received the signal: "Enemy aircraft bombing Rosyth. Patrol five miles north of present position." Aircraft were sighted and hotly chased, Royal Navy Blackburn Skuas on training operations out of Donibristle had strayed into the aerial battlefield causing some confusion, being mistaken for enemy aircraft in the heat of combat.
During his diving attack on the vessels in the Forth, the cockpit canopy of Hauptmann Pohle’s Ju-88 flew off, leaving the four crewmembers open to the elements. In his embarrassingly exposed position, Pohle climbed away northwards to observe the efforts of his unit. Almost instantly, .303 shells began pounding his aircraft from behind. 602 Squadron had entered the battle. Pohle struggled to shake off his Glaswegian assailants, Flt Lts George Pinkerton and Archie McKellar, who chased the Junkers out to sea. The stricken bomber plunged into the water three miles east of Crail, nearly colliding with a coaster. Pohle was recovered, bleeding from facial wounds suffered in the crash; the other three crewmembers were dead on impact.
The German raid continued into the early evening before 1/KG30 returned to Sylt, battered and bruised from the days pounding. They failed in their objective to sink the Hood, losing two aircraft with four crewmembers killed and four captured, including their commanding officer. Though they did inflict damage upon the vessels in the Forth, notably HMS Southampton, a light cruiser at anchor and HMS Mohawk, a destroyer escorting a convoy assembling in the river. The total Royal Navy casualties were 16 killed and 44 wounded.
The day's efforts were a kill each for 602 and 603 Squadrons and the first victories for the Supermarine Spitfire in combat. Both Pat Gifford and George Pinkerton received Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC) for their efforts.
Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command sent the following message to 602 Squadron the next day, "Well done. First blood to the Auxiliaries".

 

 

RAF FIGHTER COMMAND'S FIRST KILL

On October 16, 1939, German JU 88s from the island of Sylt, attacked naval ships in the harbour at Rosyth, Scotland. About to enter dry dock for repairs was the battle cruiser HMS Hood, but the pilots had strict orders not to attack. A personal order from Hitler stated, "Should the Hood already be in dock, no attack is to be made, I won't have a single civilian killed." After the raid, in which the 9,100-ton cruiser HMS Southampton was damaged, Spitfires from RAF Turnhouse, near Edinburgh, attacked the departing JUs and one was shot down, hitting the sea off Port Seton. This was the first enemy plane to be brought down by RAF Fighter Command.

 

 

Text Box: Dundee to Edinburgh train
Text Box: HMS Southampton
Text Box: Bomb blast to starboard side
Text Box: HMS Mohawk

 

I found this amazing Arial photograph of the Mohawk and Southampton being bombed.

 

 

 

 

FIRST ENEMY ACTION ON THE RIVER FORTH

 

Taken from: - The Scotsman Newspaper dated 17th October 1939.

The following joint communiqué was issued by the Air Ministry and Ministry for Home Security last night.

“To-day, October 16, between 9 a.m. and 1.30 p.m., several German aircraft reconnoitred Rosyth. This afternoon, about half-past two, a series of bombing raids began. These were directed at the ships lying in the Forth, and were conducted by about a dozen machines.
All the batteries opened fire upon the raiders, and the Royal Air Force fighter squadron ascended to engage them.
“No serious damage was done to any of His Majesty’s ships. One bomb glanced off the cruiser Southampton, causing slight damage near her bow, and sank the Admirals barge and pinnace, which were moored empty alongside. This was the first hit which German aircraft have made during the war upon a British ship. There were three casualties on board the Southampton and seven on board the cruiser Edinburgh from splinters. Another bomb fell near the destroyer Mohawk, which was returning to harbour from convoy escort. This bomb burst on
the water, and its splinters caused 25 casualties to the men on the deck of the destroyer. Only superficial damage was caused to the vessel, which, like the others, is ready for sea.
On the other hand, four bombers at least out of the twelve or fourteen that were brought down, three of them by fighters of the RA.F.
“The first contact between R.A.F. machines and the enemy raiders took place off May Island at entrance to the Firth of Forth at 2.35 p.m, when two enemy aircraft’ were intercepted. ‘They were driven down by our aircraft from 4000 feet to within a few feet of the water, and chased out to sea. “Another enemy aircraft was engaged ten minutes later, over, Dalkeith. It fell in flames into the sea. Within quarter of an hour a sharp combat took place off Crail, and the second raider crashed into the sea. A third German aircraft was destroyed in the pursuit. “Two German aviators have been rescued by one of our destroyers. Of whom one has since died.
“No civilian casualties have been reported and none occurred in the Roya1 Air Force.”
The attack was presumably intended against Rosyth and the naval units. Enemy aircraft were first sighted at sea, east of the Forth, and were immediately engaged by fighter squadrons. The raiders, consisting of two squadrons, were broken up and engaged by fighter aircraft.
It is understood that the German bombers consisted of twin-engined Heinkel HE 111s, described recently in The Scotsman, and Dornier Do 17s.
The Forth Bridge, over which a train was passing at the time of the raid, was not damaged.
Three of the raiders were destroyed by the R.A.F one was brought down in the sea near Port Seton, another crashed in the sea off Crail, and a third was destroyed in the Pentland Hills. The fourth plane was brought down by anti-aircraft fire, crashing in flames behind a wood at North Queensferry.
There were no serious casualties among civilians or the R.A.F.
The passengers on the train, which passed over the Forth; bridge during the raid had a grandstand view of the bombers swooping down on either side and of the huge waterspouts leaping as their bombs fell into the water.
An amazing feature of the attack was that many places, including Edinburgh, sounded no air raid sirens, and people stood in The streets gazing up at aerial “dog fights” unaware that It was the real thing. Even officers of the defence forces were for a time under the impression that all the planes were British. One explanation of the absence of warning was that earlier there had been British bombing practice on the Forth.
So little disturbance was caused by the dramatic events over Edinburgh that most of the population were unaware until a late hour in the afternoon that anything out of the usual had happened. Gunfire was heard over the city, but as there was no air raid warning, it was concluded by most people that all that was taking place was by way of “practice.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘….. Action against enemy aircraft was wounded on 16th October ’39 by bomb splinters, thereby sustaining: - Fracture of upper 1/3 right lumeus, comminuted and involving right shoulder joint: - He had extensive skin lacerations over the right deltoid region, which completely severed the deltoid muscle. The injuries were sustained while in action against enemy aircraft and were caused by a bomb bursting alongside and penetrating the gun shield, behind which he was on duty.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Granddad’s medals

 

This star was awarded for service in the Second World War between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945.

 

This star was awarded to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic within the period 3 September 1939 to 8 May 1945.

 

This medal was awarded for 1 or more days service in North Africa between 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943

 

This medal was awarded for service in France, Belgium, Holland or Germany in the period 6 June 1944 and 8 May 1945.

 

 

This medal was awarded to all full-time personnel of the Armed Forces. Operational and non-operational service of at least 28 days counted

 

 

Synopsis
Producer Ian Rintoul reconstructs the bombing of the British Fleet at Rosyth by the German Luftwaffe in October 1939. Plus archive film footage of the warships before the raid, including HMS Hood.