First German air raid on UK

Aerial view of HMS Southampton being bombed near the Forth Bridge

Edward Thompson saw it all from the 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. 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 down (I believe) three Heinkel bombers in the Forth estuary”

Read his full story at BBC People’s War

HMS Mohawk was the third ship attacked while escorting a convoy further down the Forth. The following report was made by Lieutenant Hall-Wright on the 17th October:

3. At 1455, a twin engined monoplane was sighted bearing Green 170°, angle of site 40°, distance 6000 yards. It circled to Green 90° before commencing the attack. The A. A. Director was immediately put on the target, but before there was time to open fire the aircraft commenced a dive bombing attack. The starboard 0.5 machine-gun opened fire at 1200 yards and continued firing throughout the attack. The Pom-pom failed to fire as it appears no orders to do so were passed.

4. Two bombs were released apparently together, while aircraft was still diving, from an approximate height of 600 feet. The dive was continued for some 2 or 3 seconds while the bridge and superstructure were machine gunned. He then pulled out of the dive and climbed rapidly into the clouds.

5. Both bombs fell some 15 yards short of the ship’s starboard side, one in line with the break of the forecastle and one abreast the torpedo tubes. Blast was upwards and damage was very minor below the upper deck. Above it, it was considerable . … Casualties were severe and included the Captain (wounded), 1st Lieutenant (killed). …

6. In view of the severe casualties, the VALOROUS, who was in the vicinity, was asked to take charge of the convoy and the ship proceeded to Rosyth and secured in Y berth at 1640. The behaviour of the whole ship’s company in the face of adversity was magnificent, and I can but mention that my Captain, Commander R. F. Jolly, Royal Navy, in spite of a severe stomach wound, insisted on bringing the ship into the harbour, and only collapsed as he ordered the main engines to be rung off.”

See TNA: ADM 40/298.

Commander R. F. Jolly subsequently died of his wounds. Consideration was given to awarding him the V.C. but he was eventually awarded the Empire Gallantry medal.

HMS Mohawk has a full history of all of the Royal Navy ships of that name.

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