Spitfires scrambled as German bombers target naval dockyard
Wartime memories were relived at Queensferry Museum last week as an exhibition entitled The Forth Bridge Raid opened to the public.
Curator Mark Taylor, of Queensferry Tours, worked on it with pupils from Queensferry High School.
It tells the story of how German bombers flew up the Forth to attack three battleships, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Southampton and HMS Mohawk, berthed in waters close to the Forth Bridge.
During the attack on October 16, 1939, passengers on a train crossing the Forth Bridge witnessed explosions over the water.
If an attack on the Forth Bridge had been successful, it would have had major implications for the war effort and history.
But thanks to RAF squadrons from Edinburgh and Glasgow, the German attack, which consisted of 12 Junkers JU88 bombers, was thwarted by Spitfires.
At the exhibition launch last Thursday, Edinburgh art impressario Richard Demarco told the pupils how he witnessed the first-ever German air attack of the Second World War as he played on Portobello beach as a child.
With one of the German bombers having been hit and on fire, he said: “I could see this terrible smoke and the sound was horrific.
“I thought the noise was coming from the engine then I realised it was the sound of machine guns firing full blast.”
603 Squadron pilot Flight Lieutenant Pat Gifford shot down the first bomber which crashed just off the coast at Port Seton.
The second bomber was shot down off the coast at Crail by Flight Lieutenant George Pinkerton from 602 Squadron.
There was a third bomber shot which managed to limp its way homewards to Holland, where it crashed – killing all on board.
The nine remaining bombers made it back to their base on the island of Sylt. Eight German airmen died but only two bodies were ever recovered.
They received a full military funeral in Edinburgh with their coffins draped with Nazi swastikas and a 10-gun salute.
The exhibition has been organised to mark the 125th anniversary of the opening of the rail bridge this year.
Mark Taylor said: “For such a landmark event at the beginning of World War Two it seems to me a story that merits re-telling.
“It was the first time Spitfires were ever used in combat.
“It was an important event that should not be forgotten and it all happened here, above our Forth Bridge.”
The exhibition will be on display until June and is open Thursday to Sunday.