As the nation gears up to commemorate the Battle of Britain, the Daily Echo takes a look back 78 years, when daytime bombing raids were carried out on the Supermarine Aviation Works Vickers Ltd factory.

As the country writhed in the clutches of the Second World War, men and women worked 18-hour days at the warehouse to tirelessly produce an essential piece of machinery in the country’s war effort – the Supermarine Spitfire.

The Woolston-based factory was subject to two bombing raids in September 1940 which claimed the lives of many of the workers. The company was one of the RAF Fighter Command’s main suppliers and therefore became a target for the Luftwaffe.

Seventeen aircraft approached from the south during daylight hours on the 24th, dropping a total of 29 high-explosive bombs and an incendiary. The Supermarine works was lucky – of the 17 bombs which fell on the site, the majority landed in the mud of the river bed resulting in only slight damage to the buildings.

There was, however, a large cost to human life. Some of the workers had taken shelter beneath the railway embankment which took a direct hit, killing most of those inside.

Lives were also lost in many of the nearby houses that were hit during the raid.

Just two days later and the German air force were back – this time in greater numbers and with more firepower.

In the early evening, between 60 and 100 fighters and bombers flew at high altitude over the west side of Southampton Water before diving as much as 6,000 feet to unleash their deadly payload.

Amid the storm of anti-aircraft fire, 60 high-explosive bombs were dropped west of the river and 80 on the east side. The Supermarine factory was not so lucky this time. It was levelled, as was the Itchen annex upstream.

A shelter took a direct hit from an enemy bomb, but was unoccupied. With the memories of two days prior still fresh in the employees’ minds, many of them ran up the slope behind the factory instead of taking refuge underground.

More than 100 people lost their lives in the two raids. Two of the employees, Douglas Cruikshank and Kenneth Doswell, were just 14 when they were killed.

The men and women were some of the Second World War’s unsung heroes – those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in one of the darkest weeks the city has known.

A plaque commemorating the fallen workers can be found near the end of Wharf Road.

In its subsequent account of the battle, the Air Ministry described the attacks as “well executed and pressed home”.

As planes unleashed their death roars above and their white vapour trails scarred the blue skies, much was also happening on the ground.

Pilots waited anxiously on Hampshire’s airfields as ground crews worked at break-neck speeds to refuel and rearm the RAF’s Hurricanes and Spitfires as they were prepared to reenter the dogfight against the Messerschmitts and Heinkels.

Hampshire was strewn with wrecked German machines – a gruesome but hopeful sight for those who could only hear the battle raging three to five miles in the air.

The Daily Echo carried pictures of the devastation – something that was unfortunately commonplace at that time.

Southampton residents were eager to pick up their copy of the paper, this time not for the football or cricket scores, but for those of the Axis and Allied plane losses.

The Supermarine factory turned out more than 800 Spitfires between 1938 and 1940.