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Past Times

On This Day 1939: Fraserburgh trawler bombed in North Sea

In a terrifying Nazi Luftwaffe attack, a Fraserburgh trawler was strafed by enemy machine guns and bombed. reports.
Susy Macaulay
The reality of World War Two was drawing closer on this day in 1939. Image: DCT.
The reality of World War Two was drawing closer on this day in 1939. Image: DCT.

A little more than 100 days after the outbreak of World War Two, the gravity of the situation was beginning to hit close to home in the pages of the P&J.

The war certainly wasn’t going to be over by Christmas.

Although Aberdeen hadn’t yet been bombed—the main Aberdeen blitz wouldn’t happen for more than three years—trawlers in the North Sea were being targeted by the Nazi  Luftwaffe.

In terrifying attack on Sunday December 17, bombers from FliegerKorps X (10th Flying Corps) sank five trawlers, crippled two, and attacked sixteen others along with a steamer, but without causing damage.

Closest to home was the Fraserburgh-built trawler Craigielea, attacked by machine guns and bombs by two German planes, leaving two men wounded.

Black and white photograph of a Luftwaffe bomb attack on a ship on the North Atlantic at around the same time as the one by FliegerKorps X on Fraserburgh trawler Craigielea.
The North Atlantic was a terrifying place to be during World War Two. This image shows a Luftwaffe bomb attack at around the same time as the one by FliegerKorps X on Fraserburgh trawler Craigielea. Image: Northcliffe Collection/ANL/Shutterstock

“Suddenly, while the trawler was at sea, the roar of planes was heard overhead, and two planes hove into sight,” our paper said in 1939.

“They swooped down. The first attacked the trawler with machine-gun and then the second machine began to drop bombs.

At least five Luftwaffe bombs dropped on Fraserburgh trawler

“Mr Frank Dale, mate of the Craigielea, interviewed by a Press & Journal representative this morning, said he counted at least five bombs dropped. Four of them missed the ship.

“The two men wounded were on deck. One was wounded on the body and the other about the shoulder and head.”

P&J newspaper clipping from 1939 covering news of the Fraserburgh trawler that was bombed during WW2, with headline that reads: 'Trawler bombed, 2 wounded'
Image: DCT

The captain signalled to the attackers to allow his men to be put off in a lifeboat, but the only reply was a renewed burst of fire.

The vessel eventually made it to an unnamed Scottish port in the small hours of Monday, where the two men, named as fisherman Murray, and fireman Innes, were taken to hospital.

German airman’s body washed ashore on Scotland’s north coast

And as a grim reminder that the horror of war affects both sides, the body of a young German airman had been found washed shore on the north of Scotland coast.

“He was in full flying kit. From its appearance the body had been in the sea for about a week,” reported the P&J.

ARP air raid test in Aberdeen

The Air Raid Precaution Services Drill taking place on December 17, 1939.
The Air Raid Precaution Services Drill which took place on December 17, 1939, as reported in the P&J. Image: DCT

On dry land, more than 1500 Air Raid Precautions (ARP) workers took part in an air raid test that weekend.

In light of the bombing that would eventually come, it was just as well.

“Bombs were supposed to have rained down on the western district of the city causing fire to break out in five places, and men and women, and boys and girls to be wounded, gassed or trapped in fallen buildings,” the P&J reported.

Scouts and Guides ‘gassed’

A group of Scouts and Guides were supposed to have been gassed and had to go through the whole process “down to having a spray bath.”

“It took a little time to set the machinery in motion” said an official, “but it should be borne in mind that this is bound to happen in the event of a genuine air raid.”

War Savings plea by Aberdeen Sheriff

1939 P&J clipping covering news of a war savings plea by Sheriff Laing in Banffshire.
Image: DCT

Meanwhile Savings committees were being formed all over the country to raise money for the war effort in what was known as War Savings.

Sheriff Laing of Aberdeen had been to Banff at the weekend to make an appeal in support of the savings movement.

He made quite a speech.

‘Gigantic struggle’

“We are engaged in the most gigantic struggle which Great Britain and the Empire has ever been engaged in in its thousand year history.

“The sooner you and I realise the seriousness and the gravity of the task which lie before us the better it will be not only for ourselves but for our country.

“We are engaged in a grim struggle, and only our stern resolution and grim determination and courage and resource will see us through.”

Aberdeen Church’s imaginary sale flops

Clipping covering the imaginary sale by Ferryhill North Church to raise funds for WW2.
Image: DCT

Let’s hope his rhetoric inspired better results than a mystifying ‘imaginary sale’ at Ferryhill North Church in Aberdeen.

It was not the success that was hoped for, reported the P&J.

“The congregation were invited to visit the Church Hall and hand over to a committee what they would normally spend providing goods for a sale of work and what they would spend at a sale of work.

“As a result of this novel scheme a sum of about £30 was raised. [although not too shabby at nearly £2,500 in today’s money]

“A week or two previously the members of the Women’s Guild held a small bring and buy sale and with the combined efforts a total sum of about £65 [£5,200] has been raised.”

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