CONSIDERING Worcester’s entire anti-aircraft defences consisted of three lone Bren guns, one each on top of the Cathedral, Whittington Tump and the keep of Norton Barracks, the pilot of the German plane that swooped low over the city and dropped two bombs on the MECO factory on October 3, 1940, killing seven people and injuring more than 60, would have fancied his chances of getting away unscathed. 

“It would not be impossible to shoot down a flying aircraft with a Bren gun, “ said Battle of Britain expert Dilip Sarkar, “but the pilot would have to be very, very unlucky. This one wasn’t. Records appear to indicate he returned safely to his base, which was most likely Orly, near Paris.” 

The MECO raid is back in the news again because moves are afoot to erect a memorial in Sanctuary Park, St John’s to those killed that day. In fact there has long been a memorial plaque to the seven who lost their lives. It was in the former MECO factory in Bromyard Road and then retained when spin-off company Joy Mining took over the complex.

Today it is in the entrance hall to the design offices of American mining equipment giant Komatsu, the site’s latest owners. As well as the plaque, on display in the building during the MECO era was the nose cone of one of the bombs, which was found some time later during excavations.

For many years the attack was considered a random raid by a German pilot looking to unload remaining bombs before returning back across the Channel. However, Dilip Sarkar considers this highly unlikely and the available evidence presents an alternative and more likely thesis, that this was a well executed raid on a specific target. 

He explained: “The event took place during the Battle of Britain’s final phase. Such bombing was clearly not preparatory to an invasion, Hitler having already postponed such plans indefinitely on September 19, but was considered an investment by the enemy, showing growing damage to both industrial and domestic property.

These attacks by lone bombers were called Störflug – harassing attacks – and were actually flown throughout the Battle of Britain by twin-engined Junkers (Ju) 88s, relying upon speed and cloud to reach and withdraw from their targets undetected. In fact the MECO raid was a very skilful piece of flying.”

Before the war, MECO produced equipment for the mining industry, but in 1940 was sub-contracted by the Air Ministry to produce surge drums for barrage balloons. Precautions against air attack were taken jointly with Worcester Corporation, including the construction of shelters and provision of an auxiliary fire station and a direct landline to the Guildhall. At a cost of £800 the factory had also been camouflaged. MECO was, therefore, producing an item connected with air defence, so was consistent with Luftwaffe target selection during the Battle of Britain’s final phase.

Although Worcester’s principal industries concerned porcelain, light engineering and clothing manufacture, the city had been scrutinised by German reconnaissance aircraft. Indeed, the Imperial War Museum holds copies of surviving Luftwaffe target photographs which show the Worcestershire Regiment Headquarters at Norton, petrol storage tanks at Diglis, government buildings at Whittington, and the airfield at Perdiswell. The fact the IWM’s target photographs do not include MECO does not mean that the enemy was unaware of it. Indeed, the provision of air raid precautions and camouflage was noticed and marked the factory as being worthy of further scrutiny.

Dilip added: “At 0700 hours on Thursday October 3, 1940, the Meteorological Office recorded that at Birmingham there was a light NNE wind and a layer of stratus cloud at 5,700 feet, the weather generally being ‘dull, rainy and rather cold.’

As the day wore on, the cloud base descended to just 500 feet and was a complete covering, even out of it visibility was down to just 500 yards. This foul weather was perfect for Störflug incursions.

The Daily Home Security Report indicates from mid-day onwards a fairly continuous stream of lone raiders began crossing the coast, heading for targets around London or in the Midlands. Fighter Command sent up patrols to intercept them, but because of the bad weather was unable to find any. 

“Eyewitness evidence confirms the lone enemy aircraft that bombed Worcester circled the city several times before attacking the MECO factory, suggesting, therefore, that this was no random attack but one against a pre-selected target. The report on War Damage to Factories notes that the MECO’s canteen was demolished, seven men were killed, three were seriously injured and 60 suffered minor wounds. Had the attack occurred a few minutes later when the workforce was clocking out for lunch and therefore concentrated in the damaged area, the death toll would have been far greater.

“Production was halted for five days and many adjacent houses were damaged. By any standards, therefore, the attack was successful, especially given the prevalent weather conditions dictating that the enemy pilot had to fly entirely to and from his target using instruments, without visual reference to landmarks.

Care was also taken to positively identify the target. If the attack was random, having emerged from cloud over Worcester, the enemy pilot would have simply dropped his bombs immediately. He also straffed various areas of the city with his machine guns before leaving to cause further panic.”

 Among several eye witness accounts Dilip collected during his research one of the most vivid came from Lesley Adams, who was actually working in the MECO’s riveting shop at the time: “‘Someone shouted ‘Jerry gone over!’ but we all laughed, thinking it was a leg-pull. He said ‘It's true, I’ve seen the crosses!’ We all went out and from the gloom came this aircraft and true enough there were the big black crosses. I shouted ‘God, strewth!’ and ran!

"The bomb went through the roof of the assembly shop, bounced through a brick wall and exploded adjacent to MECO Lane and near houses in Happy Land West. There was another which skidded and hit some houses. The bomber then opened fire at the factory as it flew on towards Laugherne Brook.”

It was the day WW2 well and truly came to Worcester.