This week's funeral of Squadron Leader George Bennions ended one of the last living links with the day the full wrath of the Luftwaffe turned on the North-East. Chris Lloyd reports.

THE Luftwaffe's tactics for August 15, 1940, were quite logical, but their execution was so fatally flawed that this became the only time the Germans dared launch a large-scale attack on the North-East in daylight.

The Luftwaffe reasoned that with the Battle of Britain filling the skies of the South-East, no one would be minding the shop in the North-East.

So about 120 Heinkel bombers, escorted by 21 Messerschmitt fighters, were despatched from Denmark and Norway to attack aerodromes at Driffield, Dishforth and Linton-on-Ouse. Once these Yorkshire easy-pickings had been pulverised, the bombers would switch attention to Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

They had planned to come ashore over the Durham coast and then fly south to Yorkshire. But someone made a fatal navigation error.

At about midday, British radar picked up the raiders approaching the Northumberland coast, near the Farne Islands - about 70 miles further north than planned. The Germans turned down the coast to get back on track, but as they neared Newcastle they were intercepted by a wave of Northumberland Spitfires.

Losing seven of their number, they continued southwards. RAF Catterick was alerted to their presence - and this is where the Germans' second big mistake of the day arose.

The RAF had just allowed 41 Squadron to have a temporary rest at Catterick from the stressful skies of the South. These were battle-hardened fliers, not the novices the Luftwaffe had been expecting to encounter over the North.

At 12.40pm, 41 Squadron was airborne, with instructions to "patrol Hartlepool at 15,000ft".

Its leader was Flight Lieutenant Norman Ryder, but over Hartlepool it was discovered his radio was not working and so Pilot Officer George Bennions took command.

The British repeatedly drove their planes into the German pack, which splintered, and then the Spitfires picked off the stragglers. The dogfights spilled from Tyne to Tees.

"The noise over Sunderland at the height of the raid was terrific," reported The Northern Echo the following day.

During the course of the next hour, the Germans lost 15 aircraft as they were chased around the Durham coalfield.

"Miners stood on top of a pitheap cheering and waving their caps when a British fighter engaged a bomber fleeing out to sea and shot it down," said the Echo.

Desperate to lighten their load, bombs were dropped randomly. Three people were killed in Sunderland and four in villages around Seaham. Thirteen cows and two horses were also killed in a field near Seaham. At Cockfield some chickens were blown up, and on the edge of Darlington, houses in Blackwell were badly damaged.

In his book Luftwaffe Over The North, Bill Norman says that it was over Seaham Harbour that Bennions discovered a Messerschmitt 110 had attached itself to his tail. A couple of jinks and he had thrown it off, but he found himself only 300 yards from another Me-110. He fired and hit, the Messerschmitt diving for the cloud cover.

Bennions followed, firing furiously.

When Bennions emerged from the cloud, he was over Barnard Castle and alone. The Messerschmitt was smoking below him, having crashed beside Streatlam Camp, near the Queen Mother's private Broomielaw railway station.

The pilot, Hans Kettling, had survived and after the war became a regular visitor to Teesdale.

It was now 1.35pm. The Germans, routed, had fled. Bennions returned to base where he discovered that the only damage his squadron had sustained was two bullet holes in a Spitfire.

Mr Bennions accounted for 12 enemy aircraft during the war and was promoted to Squadron Leader.

He died on January 30, aged 90, and his funeral was held on Saturday in Catterick Village.