Engineers working on the South Esk viaduct, Montrose, have discovered shrapnel marks and bullet holes consistent with a bombing attack by the Luftwaffe during World War II.
Montrose was bombed 15 times during the war and the South Esk viaduct – part of the northern section of the East Coast main line – was attacked on several occasions too.
It is thought the damage is likely to have occurred during a bombing raid in August 1941 when a freight train was attacked and several wagons derailed after a bomb exploded below the girders.
At the time, the line would have been an important route for moving goods, munitions and personnel to and from nearby airfields and further afield as part of the wider war effort.
Following the attack in August 1941, the bridge was repaired and services resumed in 14 days.
Network Rail route delivery director Matthew Spence said uncovering the damage offered an “unexpected though fascinating glimpse into the harsh reality of life during the war”.
He added: “These structures are solid and built to last and so the power unleashed by the bombs and bullets to mark and pierce the metal in the way that they have must have been ferocious.
“Seeing the bullet holes close up gives those working on the bridge today a reminder of the contribution made by everyone on the railway to the war effort – often in challenging, tragic and dangerous circumstances.
“While the emphasis then was to patch up the damage and get the railway moving again as quickly as possible, we now take it as our duty to pick up the repairs started by those railway engineers in August 1941 and properly complete the job they started.”
The Grade B-listed (equivalent of Grade II listing in England and Wales) structure, which stands on the River Esk at the mouth of the Montrose Basin, is currently undergoing a £4.2 million refurbishment.
As part of this project, the metal work was grit-blasted to remove paint, rust and take the structure back to the original metal work.
The 16-span, 440m-long viaduct was then surveyed to identify areas of metal in need of repair and it was during this survey that the bomb and bullet damage was revealed on span 3 of the bridge. Some of the holes had previously been patched over, while others of less of a concern will be addressed as part of the project.