The following booklet was written by Leslie Scarborough in 2000.
Click on the link below to open the booklet …
Patrick Gifford – Squadron Leader RAuxAF, DFC.
Leslie Scarborough’s article in St Ninian’s Review (Summer 2007, see below) on Patrick Gifford made me realise that I had almost certainly seen Gifford’s Spitfire in action on the day in which he shot down the first German plane of the War.
On the 16th October 1939 I was six years old and playing in our back garden at Wardie Road, North Edinburgh. A plane flew low directly overhead and I shouted to my disbelieving mother, “It’s a Jerry, Mummy, it’s a Jerry !”
My 98 year old mother told me the other day that she could then not only spot the crosses on the wings, but could see the pilot in the cockpit – anyway, she then grabbed me to come inside, as the plane was followed closely by a Spitfire firing its guns at the German. Both Turnhouse Aerodrome and the Forth Bridge were in the direction from which the planes came, making it certain that it was 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron involved; the closeness of the pursuit makes it most likely that this was Gifford, as the planes were heading towards Leith (just beyond which the Junkers 88 came down in the sea).
Thank you, Leslie, not just for your usual immaculate research, but for filling in a bit of my family’s personal history. You and other readers might, incidentally, be interested in the fact that my mother recalls being held up by her father to a skylight in their Edinburgh flat to see a Zeppelin “like a great big sausage” on the only raid on Edinburgh in the First World War. It dropped some bombs and she remembers boys the next day throwing stones at the windows in a German Lutheran Church in the sort of pointless revenge which war can generate.
Patrick Gifford – Squadron Leader RAuxAF, DFC
When I wrote the notes on Patrick Gifford for the Memorial Booklet in 2000, I referred to the research and disagreement that had taken place for over 40 years as to whether he had shot down the first German plane in WWII, or whether Flight Lt Pinkerton of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron had that honour, and that it was finally proven and agreed that Gifford shot down the first but that Pinkerton’s was the first over land!! I have now been given the definitive story of what actually happened that day in October 1939, with an extract from a book written by Andrew Jeffrey based on his research of both British and German records. The following may be of interest.
On 16th October 1939, the battleship HMS Repulse (wrongly identified by the Germans as HMS Hood) was making her way up the River Forth as were the cruisers HMS Edinburgh and Southampton and an escort of three destroyers.
Twelve Junker 88 bombers, commanded by Hauptmann Helmut Pohle, had been ordered to attack HMS Repulse but, as neither side wished to be the first to cause casualties, Pohle had been given a direct order from Hitler that, should Repulse have reached Rosyth, she was not to be attacked in the dockyard. Civilian targets, including the Forth Bridge, were not to be bombed.
Drone Hill radar station, near St Abbs Head, detected the first bombers at 9.20 a.m. and three Spitfires of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron under flight leader George Pinkerton were scrambled from RAF Drem at 9.45 and the first shells in anger were fired at 10.20 a.m.
Technology and equipment were not of a reliable standard at this early stage of the war, and power failed at Drone Hill radar station twice that morning, with resulting loss of where the enemy were. Plotting errors also occurred, which led to fighters being sent in the opposite direction intended, and confusion also arose when a searchlight detachment at Dunbar misidentified six training aircraft as hostile!
Finding Repulse already in Rosyth dockyard, Pohle decided to attack the two cruisers lying just east of the Forth Bridge, which he did at 2.30 p.m. At the same time, Spitfires of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron became airborne from RAF Turnhouse under the command of Patrick Gifford. After chasing German bombers all over the area, Patrick Gifford attacked a bomber, supported by other aircraft of his flight, and it crashed into the sea off Port Seton at 2.45 p.m. The crew were picked up by John Dickson and his crew of the fishing yawl, Dayspring. Gifford and his flight landed at Turnhouse at 2.55 p.m.
Back at Queensferry, Pohle completed his attack on the cruisers and, while he circled overhead, his second bomber attacked, when the anti-aircraft guns from Dalmary Park opened fire, having at long last been given permission to do so! This resulted in shrapnel falling in various parts of Edinburgh and the surrounding country, causing damage and casualties.
Meanwhile, George Pinkerton and his flight of Spitfires from 602 Squadron were again airborne and over Dalkeith when they received the message that enemy aircraft were over Rosyth. On arriving in the area, Pinkerton spotted Pohle’s aircraft heading east over Kirkcaldy and he gave the order to pursue and attack. Pinkerton’s first attack severely damaged the German aircraft, and Pohle headed away along the coast for another 12 miles, attempting to get to a German trawler placed in the North Sea for the purpose of rescuing crashed aircrews, but he was again attacked and the aircraft crashed three miles east of Crail. It was 2.55 p.m.
While all this was taking place, another wave of German bombers attacked the two cruisers, damaging HMS Southampton and causing casualties.
A section of 602 Spitfires was refuelling at Leuchars when the station siren sounded. Three of the pilots were eating sandwiches on top of a shelter, watching what they thought were three RAF Blenheim bombers flying over Fife. One of them wandered over to the mess to find out what was happening, only to come running back shouting, ‘Get a move on! They are not Blenheims, they’re ruddy Germans!!’
Rapidly taking off, they raced towards the bombers but were too late to save an attack on HMS Mohawk, in which three officers and 13 ratings were killed. The Commanding Officer was seriously wounded and died later in the day. The aircraft escaped. No air raid warning was sounded in Edinburgh and most people thought the activity was part of an exercise.
Patrick Gifford left 603 Squadron in November 1939 and took command of No.3 Hurricane Squadron. In May 1940, he took the Squadron to France and, six days later, he was killed. George Pinkerton survived the war, rising to the rank of Group Captain, returning to his farm in Renfrewshire from where he corresponded with fellow farmer Helmut Pohle for many years. He died in 1993.
Air Chief Marshal Sir John Dowding, C-in-C Fighter Command (later Lord Dowding of Moffat) signalled to both squadrons, ‘Well done. First blood to the Auxiliaries.’ Unwittingly, he fuelled the controversy by crediting both squadrons with first blood!
The Auxiliary Squadrons were all peacetime, part-time aircrew, separate from the regular Royal Air Force.
My acknowledgements to Andrew Jeffrey’s book: ‘This Present Emergency: Edinburgh, the River Forth and South-East Scotland in the Second World War’. Leslie Scarborough
Postscript: Having written and submitted the article on the events involving the two City air squadrons, I was surprised to read in the Daily Telegraph of 28th July the obituary of Air Commodore Paul Webb. As a 22-year old pilot, his was one of the three Spitfires of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron which shot down the Junker aircraft of Helmut Pohle, Commander of the Luftwaffe Aircraft, and sole survivor of the German crew. It was interesting that the obituary conformed the detail that I had used, but disappointingly made no mention of Patrick Gifford or of the part played by 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron. The Air Commodore transferred to the regular Royal Air Force in 1945 and retired in 1973. He was 89 at the time of his death.