WHEN the devastating bombing raids took place at Supermarine Aviation Works Vickers Ltd, as reported in Friday’s Echo, Southampton had already come under the heinous dark shadows of German bombers on a daylight mission to cripple aircraft production in the city.

More than 50 hard-working men and women lost their lives when Luftwaffe bombers mercilessly attacked the Cunliffe Owen factory in Swaythling on September 11, 1940.

The company was originally formed in 1937 as a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco Company with the objective of building the The Burnelli Flying Wing aircraft. It was renamed Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Limited in May 1938 by Hugo Cunliffe-Owen.

Once in the throes of the Second World War, the company turned their efforts to the manufacturing of parts for the Supermarine Spitfire - this made them high priority target for the Luftwaffe.

Henry Hunt from Thornhill, who worked in the factory at the time, told the Daily Echo in 1979 of the harrowing experience when the German Air Force unleashed their deadly cargo.

On that dark day 78 years ago, a large amount of workers were standing outside the hangar in Swaythling.

While Mr Hunt was with his colleagues, they watched as four aircraft approached - which initially they took for British planes coming into the factory for repair - it wasn’t unusual for planes to be in the skies nearby.

“There were quite a number of us waiting around as we were expecting some Blenheims in for quick repairs,” Mr Hunt told the Daily Echo.

“There had been an air raid warning for quite a time, but nothing had happened. The planes looked a bit like Hurricanes and they had their wheels down so we thought they were going to land.”

Mr Hunt said the attack took everyone by surprise. “The bombs fell right through the middle of the new hangar which had only recently been opened.

“I think it must have been a deliberate target especially as our neighbouring aircraft factory over at Woolston was hit a week later.”

The circumstances of the raid were particularly horrifying as one aircraft section which was in the hangar at the time awaiting repair contained a large amount of high octane fuel.

“There were quite a few women and boys working in the hangar at the time. I remember seeing three bodies which were inseparable, they had been so badly burnt in the fire.”

Mr Hunt was convinced that many deaths could have been avoided if they had realised sooner that the approaching aircraft were enemy planes.

“As we were expecting three or four planes anyway we just didn’t take any notice. No-one was prepared,” said Mr Hunt.

After the war, the factory was used to design and build prototypes for the the Cunliffe-Owen Concordia, a project which was scrapped in 1947.

That same year, owing to the dip in post-war civil aviation contracts, the firm dissolved.

In 1949 the factory was purchased by Briggs Motor Bodies who made vehicle bodies for Ford of Britain. Ford acquired Briggs in 1953 and changed the factory name to Ford Southampton.

Almost 60 years later, in September 2011, Ford Southampton shut their doors for the last time.

In 1991 a brief ceremony took place to honour the brave workers whose unrelenting labour was vital to the war effort. At the event a roll of honour, containing the names of all those who died in the raid, was placed in the Chapel of Remembrance at the South Stoneham Cemetery, within sight of the spot where the workers tragically lost their lives.