IT was designed to take the enemy by surprise and destroy the Navy’s mighty battlecruiser HMS Hood which had been spotted in the Firth of Forth.

The dramatic Luftwaffe mission saw a fleet of German bombers venture up the Forth just weeks after the Second World War broke out.

The raid by 12 Junkers which had flown from their base in Northern Germany to the Firth of Forth saw them target HMS Hood which had been spotted early on the morning of October 16, 1939.

Luckily, the Hood had moved into dock and the bombers turned their attentions to three ships on the eastern side of the Forth Bridge. HMS Edinburgh, HMS Southampton, HMS Mohawk were then attacked in four waves of three.

Although a fault in the radar system at Cockburnspath meant there was no warning, anti-aircraft guns blasted at the raiders from Dalmeny Estate.

But two Auxiliary Spitfire Squadrons were scrambled to defend the Forth, 602 Squadron (City of Glasgow) who were based at Drem in East Lothian and 603 Squadron (City of Edinburgh) based at Turnhouse.

Flight Lieutenant Pat Gifford from the 603 Squadron, shot down the first bomber which crashed just off the coast at Port Seton.

A second was downed at Crail by Flight Lieutenant George Pinkerton from 602 Squadron. A third crippled bomber limped back to Holland, where it crashed killing all on board.

In all, eight German airmen died while two bodies recovered received a full military funeral in Edinburgh.

Four German airmen were captured after being picked up by HMS Jervis and local fishing boat the Dayspring and taken as prisoners of war to Edinburgh Castle.

News soon spread of the raid, and it hastened the introduction of barrage balloons and early air raid warning systems throughout the UK.

It was the first bomber raid by the Luftwaffe over British skies and was also the first instance of an enemy plane being shot down by a Spitfire.

It was also the first time German personnel became prisoners of war on British turf.

Yesterday the RAF squadron was honoured by its home city when it was given the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh by The Queen.

The Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force joins the Queen, Sir Sean Connery, Sir Walter Scott and Sir Chris Hoy on the list of famous names to receive the city’s highest honour.

The Freedom of the City was awarded to the Squadron at a ceremony in Edinburgh, which recognised the sacrifices of its members over nearly 100 years.

A Freedom Scroll was presented at the City Chambers followed by a Squadron parade along the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Air Marshalls and members of the Squadron were then received by the Queen, the Honorary Air Commodore to the Squadron, currently in Edinburgh for Royal Week.

Frank Ross, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost and Veterans Champion, said: “The 603 Squadron has become an integral part of this city’s long and proud history. For decades we have proudly thought of them as ‘Edinburgh’s Squadron’, and in this centenary year of the Royal Air Force, it feels particularly fitting to show our pride and gratitude with this lasting tribute.

“As Lord Provost of this great city of ours, I am absolutely delighted to take the opportunity to recognise the contributions and sacrifices made by all those connected with 603 Squadron since it was first established in 1925.”

The squadron’s affiliation with the Scottish capital goes back to 1925 when it was formed at RAF Turnhouse, which is now Edinburgh Airport.

It would later become the highest scoring of all the RAF squadrons in the Battle of Britain, before being deployed to defend Malta in 1942.

The unit, reformed in 1999, remains a Force Protection and Operations Support Squadron, headquartered in an A-listed Victorian townhouse at 25 Learmonth Terrace.

Air Officer Scotland, Air Vice-Marshal Ross Paterson CB OBE ADC DL, said: “In this, the Centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, the conferring of the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh is a great honour for 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron and marks a very proud moment in its long and distinguished history. We are very grateful indeed for the personal support of our Lord Provost and also this great city.”