80 years since deadly bombing raid on Yate

February 03 2021
80 years since deadly bombing raid on Yate

FEBRUARY marks the 80th anniversary of one of the darkest days in Yate's history, the bombing of the Parnall aircraft factory.

A daylight raid on the previously-untouched factory on February 27 killed 53 people and injured 150 more. Just over a week later, on March 7, the same German bomber returned, bombing the factory again and killing three more people.

Days before the start of the Second World War Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes secretly photographed Parnall's, providing an image of the target to help bomber pilots identify it.

As the main producer of Frazer-Nash gun turrets (below), used to defend bombers including the Wellington and Lancaster, Parnall's was an obvious target.

But a total of 19 Luftwaffe raids aimed at the plant between August 1940 and February 22 the following year had all either failed to find the target, aborted their missions or been brought down by air defences.

Workers grew to expect the factory not to be hit, with one saying: "We were under the impression that Germany didn’t know where Parnall’s was."

All that would change on the afternoon of February 27 1941, when a lone Heinkel 111 finally reached Yate and released six delayed action bombs over the works.

Arriving undetected on a cloudy day, the bomber flew in below the range of anti-aircraft guns and its crew (below) described making a shallow dive towards the factory before seeing "our bombs fall into and through the roofs".

Workers described "bullets coming through the roof like hailstones".

As well as 53 workers being killed and 150 injured, considerable damage was caused to the factory (pictured at top of page) and drawing office. However, staff turned up for work the next day and production continued.

But a second raid by the same aircraft on March 7, which claimed the lives of three people including an RAF wing commander sent to assess the damage, led to a complete standstill in operation. A warning siren meant that most staff had got to the shelters this time around.

Production was dispersed to factory sites across the Bristol region - from Dursley, Wickwar and Charfield to Fishponds in Bristol and Melksham in Wiltshire, as well as the Slab Works at Yate - but Parnall's Yate factory was not ready to resume full production until 1944.

After it was rebuilt, 3,500 employees worked to manufacture nose and tail turrets for a number of British bombers, Avro Lincoln and Avro Lancaster bomber parts, Supermarine Spitfire airframes and wing components, and components for the revolutionary Gloster Meteor jet fighter.

Those workers who lost their lives in the two raids were never forgotten by the people of Yate.

A memorial erected in the churchyard of St Mary’s church, and dedicated on February 26, 1950, records the names of all those who lost their lives in the bombings.

Three of them, however, remain unidentified to this day.

Every November the memorial (below) still provides a focus during the town’s Remembrance Sunday service.

 

This year the pandemic means that no major public event to commemorate the anniversary is possible, but those who died will be in the thoughts of many.

This article has been produced using accounts written by John Penny, Alison Newey and David Hardill, with thanks to all three.

Pictures courtesy of Creda Archive and John Penny