The day the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over Hartlepool

Winston Churchill pictured during an inspection of invasion defenses near Hartlepool on July 31, 1940 - just two weeks before the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over the town.
Winston Churchill pictured during an inspection of invasion defenses near Hartlepool on July 31, 1940 - just two weeks before the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over the town.
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This month marks the 75th anniversary of probably the most significant day in the Battle of Britain for the North East - when the conflict was fought in the skies over Hartlepool and East Durham.

Hitler’s Luftwaffe dropped dozens of bombs along the coast - including Easington Colliery and Thornley - in an attempt to saturate British defences on August 15, 1940. Dozens of civilians were killed or injured.

The Hurricane flown by 607 Squadron ace Francis Blackadder pictured at Usworth after the attack.

The Hurricane flown by 607 Squadron ace Francis Blackadder pictured at Usworth after the attack.

But the enemy raiders were beaten back during fierce battles with the RAF - including County Durham’s own 607 Squadron. A Luftwaffe flank attack was never attempted again.

“It was the largest raid on the North East by the Luftwaffe, and became known as Black Thursday by the Germans,” said John Stelling, of the North East Land Sea and Air Museum at Usworth.

“The Luftwaffe believed all RAF fighters were committed to the Battle of Britain on the south coast. They expected little opposition, and their reception came as a painful surprise.”

The first evidence of a possible daylight raid was picked up by radar just after midday on August 15, when a formation of 20-plus enemy aircraft was spotted some 90 miles from the Firth of Forth.

RAF squadrons across the North East were immediately placed in attack positions, with 72 Squadron Spitfires at the Farne Islands, 605 based over Tynemouth and 607 patrolling County Durham.

An initial attack by No. 72 Squadron saw some enemy planes jettison their bombs and head home. Many, however, diverted south - where a fierce tussle for supremacy of the skies over County Durham finally saw the Germans retreat.

Enemy casualties were severe. A Heinkel He 111H was shot down during a sortie to attack Middlesborough, while five were lost over the sea and another was shot down 30 miles off the coast of Hartlepool.

Not all the casualties were German. Indeed, an RAF Hurricane was forced to land near Hart Railway Station, leaving Pilot Officer K.S. Law badly injured.

But the damage caused by the Luftwaffe to civilians was far more severe. One person died while out horse riding in Hawthorn, another perished at Thornley and four were killed in Sunderland.

Two pit villages, however, bore the brunt of bombing. Twelve people were killed at Dawdon and 119 left homeless, and a further dozen died at Easington Colliery when explosives dropped on Station Road.

The final death tally could, however, have been much worse had it not been for the actions of the RAF in pushing back the raiders.

“It was the first, and only, major daylight raid during the Blitz,” said John.

Appeal to find people who received wartime gift of help from USA

Hartlepool families who received CARE packages at the end of World War Two are being urged to step forward and tell their stories.

Thousands of parcels were provided by the American-based aid organisation CARE International during the dark days of wartime rationing.

Now, as Britain marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict, a search has been launched for townsfolk who received a package.

“People are surprised to hear that British people were among the first to receive international aid,” said CARE spokeswoman Nicola Peckett, from Hartlepool.

“Those who received packages could not believe that, in their hour of need, someone on the other side of the world had reached out to help.

“Many recipients, though some only children at the time, will remember receiving their CARE package. We want to find them and hear their story.”

Each care package from America contained food and basic supplies - helping to add variety, and flavour, to the often drab post-war rations.

One of those to benefit was Josephine Povey, who was studying at Beechwood School in Middlesbrough when the packages arrived one day.

“I remember opening the contents on the way home, and eating it before I got home!” she said. “Not the dried eggs though. Those made it home in one piece.”

Some 100 million CARE packages were sent out over the two decades following the war – first to Europe, then the developing world.

“In a climate of scepticism and aid fatigue it’s good to remember that for this aid organisation, charity did begin at home,” added Nicola.

l If you have a CARE package story to share contact 0800 320 2233.