Who bombed Cunliffe Owen? The intriguing story of the bombing in 1940 of the aircraft factory in Southampton

Andy Jones, former director at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton, kept the audience at our memory sharing café enthralled as he shared the results of his research into the bombing of Cunliffe Owen during the Second World War. On 11th September 1940 the factory took a direct hit from German bombers and 52 people lost their lives. It is a lesser-known story than the bombing of the Supermarine later that month and one that our project has been exploring through the memories of Helen, whose father was one of those killed.

Andy and his team have been researching the story for a film due to be broadcast later this month and which looks at the mystery of a German bomber known to have been inside the factory at the time of the bombing. Andy showed photographs of the Heinkel at the factory taken before and after the raid and explained his efforts to identify the plane and through it find out more about its journey to Southampton. He has since pieced together the plane’s extraordinary journey from Paris to southern England where it was shot down and landed on the South Downs near Bramber in West Sussex. Surreptitously photographed by a local man as it lay on the top of the downs and later on a lorry trailer on the A27 near Bursledon, the plane was transported to Cunliffe Owen. Tracing its journey after the bombing, Andy discovered that it was taken to Reading before being transferred to Cowley for scrapping.

Andy’s research has led to more questions than answers – the presence of the Heinkel 111 inside the aircraft factory during the early months of the war raises puzzling questions – how it came to be there, why it was there, and whether the bombing raid was targeted at destroying it. Other intriguing aspects of the story point to the lack of an air-raid siren warning of the approaching German bombers and how they were not spotted before they reached the factory. Given the patchy and inaccurate reporting in the early days of the war, there are several conflicting versions of the details – which direction they came from, the altitude they were flying at, whether they were aiming to bomb the factory or released the bombs to reduce weight before returning across the Channel.

The film is due to be released soon with the intention that responses from other researchers and people with memories of the bombing may come forward to fill in the gaps in the story and help solve the mystery. For the Ford Transition project, the links made with Andy have added an extra dimension to our own research into the history of the old Ford site.

For more information on Andy’s film:

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Footage of the aftermath of bombing raid at Cunliffe Owen (via forum below)

Written by Padmini Broomfield



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