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The Forth Bridge Raid

In the early afternoon of the 16th of October 1939, only six weeks into World War II, twelve Junker 88 Luftwaffe bombers flew from their base on the German island of Sylt to the Firth of Forth.

Given its obvious strategic importance in Britain’s transport network, everyone assumed they were about to attack the Forth Bridge. Instead their mission was to attack the shipping from Rosyth Naval Dockyard.

Earlier that morning German reconnaissance planes reported they had spotted HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy. But by the time the bombers arrived above the Forth, what they thought was HMS Hood was now docked at Rosyth Naval Dockyard.

The bombers could not attack the ship as Hitler had given specific orders that no bombs should be dropped over land or where civilians could be injured or killed. The bombers instead focused on the three war ships on the Forth at the time: HMS Edinburgh, HMS Southampton and HMS Mohawk. All three ships were attacked killing 16 men and injuring 44. As this was a surprise attack there was very little warning and through the confusion the Edinburgh to Aberdeen train was allowed to carry on over the Forth Bridge.

Aerial Shot Forth Raid

Two auxiliary Spitfire squadrons were scrambled to defend the Forth: 602 City of Glasgow, which was based at Drem and 603 City of Edinburgh based at Turnhouse, which is now Edinburgh Airport. A dog fight ensued over the Forth Bridge. Some of the WWII British pilots – known as “The Few” - scrambled included George Pinkerton, Archie McKellar, Paul Webb and Pat Gifford. Two planes were shot down, the first over Britain during WWII. A third plane was crippled and limped its way to Holland where it crashed. The four pilots that were captured became the first POW’s in Britain and were taken to Edinburgh Castle.

The raid brought WWII to Britain and to the British People for the very first time. The Battle of Britain was still nearly nine months away. The raid was a severe warning to Scotland and to Britain that, despite being so far away from the front line, lives here were still in danger. Extra defence measures were quickly put in place and life on the Forth changed dramatically for the duration of the war.

Pat Gifford Next to Spitfire after Raid

 

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Thanks to Mark Taylor from Queensferry Tours for assistance with this page.