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France Falls & Britain Prepares

Luftwaffe ground crew service a Bf109-E          'Scramble' somewhere in France

It was General Erhard Milch who was the State Secretary for the German Air Ministry who made the proposal to Berlin that German Military forces should immediately make paratroop landings at strategic positions in South-East England to make way for a full scale invasion across the Channel with whatever amount of forces and equipment that could be assembled soon after Britain had made its withdrawal from Dunkirk. But Hitler believed that, like he had done with the French, he could force Britain to sign and accept a peace treaty. He firmly believed that Britain had seen how, with his forcefulness and military might he had overpowered such countries Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium and France, and that with a record such as this Britain would not want to risk devastation of military combat with Germany.

"My Luftwaffe is invincible. And now we turn to England. How long will this one last - two, three weeks?
Hermann Goering in June 1940.

We might, had the plans been ready, have crossed to England with strong forces after the Dunkirk operation".
General Guenther Blumentritt in June 1940.

"How long would they last in battle, they ran from Dunkirk, they deserted France completely for the safety of home, England is there for the taking."
General Hugo Sperrle June 1940.

"We may therefore, be sure that there is a plan, perhaps built up over years for destroying Great Britain, which after all has the honour to be his main and foremost enemy."
Winston Churchill in July 1940.

But Adolph Hitler underestimated Britain's new Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was not about to bow to tyranny and dictatorship by accepting the terms of peace as set down by the German government by stating that Germany would have to relinquish all territorial gains before Britain would negotiate.

"No news yet of the expected peace terms, we are living as people did during the French Revolution - every day is a document - every hour is history. Winston wound up with his usual brilliance and out of place levity. His command of English is magnificent, but strangely enough, although he makes me laugh, he leaves me unmoved. There is always the quite unescapable suspicion that he loves war which broke Neville Chamberlains better heart."
From the 'Diaries of Sir Henry Channon MP' in June 1940.

Throughout the June of 1940 it was still not clear to most as to the intentions of Hitler and a proposed invasion of England. On June 17th 1940 the Assistant to General Jodl stated that with the regard to an invasion, the Führer had not so far uttered any such intention. On June 25th 1940 General Hans Jeschonnek the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff said that the Führer has no intention of mounting an invasion on England, "...there will be no invasion and I have no time to waste on planning one." he said. Yet on June 30th 1940, Walter Hewel who was Hitler's Diplomatic Liaison Officer stated that "It matters a lot what the British expect the Führer's purpose to be in fighting their country.....Can the British swallow their envy and pride enough to see him (Hitler) not the conqueror but the creator of a new Europe."

But in the May of 1940, we can safely be assured that Hitler had no intention of invading England at this stage, but he had often mentioned that it was a possibility just as it was a possibility of invading the United States, but these were only possibilities, there is a great difference in what would be termed 'as a possibility' and an actual 'plan for invasion'. But how good was the word of the German Chancellor, already we have found that he was a man of deceit and deception, a man who it would be foolhardy to place one's trust and faith in.

Way back in November 1939, Admiral Raeder the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy gave the order for the 'possibility of invading England' to be examined. The Naval strategists stated that a seaborne assault on a grand scale across the North Sea would appear to be a possible expedient for forcing the enemy to sue for peace. The German Army then had made comments and suggestions that many were not acceptable to the Navy. The Luftwaffe in December 1939 made their views known which were at the time thought to be most sceptical. Peter Flemming in his book "Invasion 1940" states:

All variants of this early plan envisaged landings on the east coast. At no stage was it referred to OKW (Oberkommando der Wermacht) and there is no reason to suppose that Hitler knew that any preliminary planning for invasion had been done until Raeder had told him about it on May 21st 1940.
Peter Fleming Invasion 1940 Readers Union 1958 p35

*OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) was the Armed Forces Supreme Command of Germany

Raeder had another meeting with Hitler on June 4th 1940, and despite the Navy's strong thoughts on an invasion, the subject was not even mentioned by either party. On June 17th 1940 General Jodl's deputy Warlimont mentions that "...with regards to a landing in Britain, the Führer has not up to now expressed any such intention as he fully appreciates the unusual difficulties of such an operation.

But pressure was growing on Berlin to draw up and make plans for an invasion of Great Britain, but Hitler stood firm that an invasion was not the highest priority. There was still a possiblity that the British government would sue for peace. But Russia was high on the priorit list of the Führer, and it was possible that if Germany did make an invasion of Russia, then Britain would have no alternative than to request talks of peace with Germany. On July 29th 1940, General Jodl who was Chief of Operations OKW called a meeting with Oberst Warlimont who was Chief of Plans OKW and his senior assistants and this took place at Bad Reichenhall Station at Berchtesgaden.

After making sure that all doors and windows were closed and secure in the dining car, Jodl announced that Hitler had decided that he would now make a surprise attack on Soviet Russia to rid any such danger of Bolshevism, and that this should be done at the earliest possible moment. Jodl's visitors were asounded, could what they were hearing be so true, with the possiblity of an attack on Britain, now talk of an invasion in the west against Russia. 'Germany was strong and with power' said a surprised Warlimont, 'peace plans with Russia are not yet a year old, and now you want to reverse the situation and wage war, and pray tell me, how are you going to wage war on two fronts?" Such were the decisions of the Führer, lacking in foresight and ones of sheer stupidity. At this stage, very few agreed with the decision, and once again all eyes turned back to the possible invasion of Great Britain.

If Germany was to make an invasion of England, then surely the best time was when Britain was at their lowest ebb, that was soon after the evacuation of Dunkirk, but even at this time, Hitler still had no immediate plans for an invasion. Admiral Raeder of the German Navy, the German Army and the Supreme forces of the Luftwaffe had all put forward their plans, but Hitler requested a peace treaty. When this was turned down by Winston Churchill, Hitler stated that he had now no alternative but to contemplate an invasion of England. This was done on July 2nd 1940, an order was issued by OKW and signed by Keitel:

"The Führer and Supreme Commander has decided......that a landing in England is possible, provided that air superiority can be attained and certain other necessary conditions fulfilled."

So by now, the plans for an invasion were slowly becoming a reality, although one question still remained, would the invasion be on a wide front stretching from Dover in the east to Lyme Regis in the west, or would it be on a narrow front from Ramsgate in the east to Bexhill in the west. The arguments between the Führer, and the Army, Navy and his commanders continued. But the order just mentioned was still only to be regarded only at this stage as a plan. The plan called for 25-40 divisions which would be the invading forces and imperative that these forces be highly mechanized and numerically superior to the opposing armies. Just two weeks later, the order issued by OKW was given complete approval, was ratified and was further backed up by the issuing of Directive No.16 which was Hitler's order that Britain be invaded.

"Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no signs of being ready to come to a compromise, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England, and, if necessary, to carry it out"
Adolph Hitler in July 1940"


To the people in Britain things were uneventfully quiet. Even way back in September 1939 when Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain had declared war on Germany, the British people had immediate visions of German bombers coming over the Channel and bombing the cities, they thought of thousands of German paratroopers landing in the countryside, they visualized thousands of tanks and guns being shipped across the Channel. But it was the exact opposite, things were all quiet on the British home front. There were no Germans, no bombers, no tanks and.....well in fact to most, it was business as usual.

People went to work in the same way as they had done for years, they caught the same bus or train, they shopped at the same shops, they still went to local football matches, they only thing that was different....was the conversation. What they heard on the wireless or read in the newspapers was what was going on which at that stage did not affect the average everyday 'bloke' in the street. Some of these were:

MONDAY 4th SEPTEMBER. The RAF bombed German naval bases at the entrance to Kiev Canal, and that the crews of Bomber Command were proud to have struck the first blow in the war.
WEDNESDAY 6th SEPTEMBER. South Africa declares war on Germany.
SUNDAY 10th SEPTEMBER.Canada declares war on Germany.
SUNDAY 17th SEPTEMBER.The Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier H.M.S. Courageous was sunk by a German submarine. Over 600 lives were lost while nearly 700 managed to survive. It was this account that brought home to the British people that their country was at war.
FRIDAY 22nd SEPTEMBER.Two flying boats went to the rescue of survivors of the 5,000 ton Kensington Court which was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean by a German submarine.
THURSDAY 12th OCTOBER. Neville Chamberlain rejects peace proposals but forward by Adolph Hitler.
MONDAY 16th OCTOBER.German aircraft make the first attack on Britain by trying to bomb the Forth Bridge at Edinburgh. Although not a target of great importance, it was regarded that the bombing run was just an exercise for the german Luftwaffe pilots. No damage was done and three German aircraft were shot down.
SUNDAY 12th NOVEMBER.Both Britain and France rejected any peace proposal until the menace of German aggression was removed and any injustices done to Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were redressed. 
 


THE GERMAN PLAN OF INVASION
So nothing was happening on any of the streets of Britain, but there was plenty being done behind the scenes. Germany was taking its time in deciding which would be the best and most effective way in which to invade Britain. It is true, that landings will have to be made, these would come in the form of amphibious operations 'en masse' across the Channel which would be closely followed by paratroopers and gliders from the air. Although river crossings had always been a part of the German Army training, the channel crossing would present a different problem, namely it would be the widest crossing ever made, but for those that participate, they would have to contend with strong currents, possible high winds and there was always the possibility of attack from the air by the RAF.

The decision was made that the Luftwaffe would prepare the way for a German invasion. Before any amphibious or paratroop landings could be made, the Royal Air Force would have to be eliminated, and Hitler and his Commander-in-Chiefs agreed that the Luftwaffe would have to establish total air supremacy over the English Channel and Southern England. This would then allow German aircraft to support the amphibious landings on the beaches. The plan was to eliminate the RAF on the ground, destroying aerodromes and aircraft before they had a chance to take off. Heavy bombers would be launched for the initial attack supported by Bf110 aircraft which had a longer range than their front line fighters, but these would be used to attack any aircraft that would manage to take off. Goering thought that this would be an easy task as he impressed upon his flight leaders "that not only do the RAF not have enough aircraft to win an air battle, their pilots are untrained in air combat and to clear the skies ready for our invasion should take no more than two......three weeks".

Once the Luftwaffe had maintained air superiority, the plan was to land a number of German Army Groups around the south-eastern coastal beaches of England. Army Group A led by General Field Marshall Karl Von Rundstedt would control the main force making the crossing close to the narrowest part of the Channel near Dover. The sixteenth Army under General Ernst Busch would make their landings to the right of the main force near the townships of Ramsgate and Margate. General Strauss's ninth Army would land to the left of Army Group A in the region of Hastings. The landings in Southern England would be made by Army Group B who would launch their operations from Cherbourg in France and cross at the more wider section of the English Channel and make their landings between two points, namely Weymouth and Sidmouth in the Devon and Dorset area of England. The main force of Army Group B would land in the vicinity of Lyme Bay and this Army Group would then push northwards capturing the industrial port of Bristol before driving north-east towards the busy centres of Birmingham and Wolverhamton.

The landings would be broken up into waves, the initial wave to land on Army Group B's beaches would comprise no less than ten infantry divisions made up of 120,000 infantry soldiers, 4,650 horses, 700 tanks, 1,500 army vehicles. Each side of the landings would be supported by some 30,000 paratroopers whose job it would be to cut communications, secure bridges, railways and small villages. The landings in the Dover and Ramsgate areas would also be carried out in waves and the final objective here would undoubtedly be London.

That, basically was Hitler's plan, there is no doubt that Germany had the manpower, there was also no doubt that they also had the tanks, aircraft and military know-how. But some of the German Generals had repeatedly said that the plan was to rushed, that not enough research had gone into any of the tactics to be used. Others said that more has to be done as to find the exact strength of the British military forces before any such plan is to be put into operation. But Hitler, the man who at one stage did not want to have anything to do with an invasion of Britain, was now determined that these rushed plans for "Operation Sealion" the invasion of Britain should go ahead and the due date for this would be in mid August 1940. We must remember here that it was not until July 13th that the German Staff had put before Adolph Hitler the draft plans for an invasion. By the July 31st Hitler had been convinced that the operation must go ahead and his approval was stamped on "Operation Sealion" with the date of the invasion to be postponed from mid August until September 17th 1940.

The initial plans for the Luftwaffe to wipe out the Royal Air Force started to take shape. They used the airfields in such countries as Belgium, Holland and France and used them as Luftwaffe bases and after stocking them up with aircraft, fuel, ammunition and bombs, installing a base communications system slowly converted them into operational bases.

Goering divided these now occupied countries into five operational sections. Each of these sections would be known as as Luftflotten or Air Fleets. Luftflotte 1 and 4 were based in Germany and Poland, Luftflotte 2 was based in north-easten France, Luftflotte 3 in central and northern France and Luftflotte 5 was based in Scandinavia. Two of these Luftflotten were to be used on the attacks on the RAF and for the Germans be part of the Battle of Britain. Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring had his General HQ in Brussels attained fame in the German invasion of Poland, and was placed in charge of Luftflotte 2 and it was this Luftflotte that was to have the greatest responsibility in the air war that was to precede the invasion. Luftflotte 2 covered an area from the north-east corner of France, which was the shortest distance that his aircraft would have to travel across the Channel, and the entire coastline of Belgium and Holland. Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperle who had operational success in the Kondor Legion in the Spanish Civil War was appointed commander of Luftflotte 3 and had his operational HQ in Paris.

Generaloberst Hans-Juergen Stumph was given the position to command Luftflotte 5 which covered Norway and Denmark. The main problem with Luftflotte 5 was that because of the distance between base and the English coast, it was impossible for the fighter aircraft to provide any cover for the bombers because they were limited by the range of their fuel load.

Unlike the Royal Air Force who had Fighter Command and Bomber Command as separate identities with each of them having their own Commander-in-Chief's, each of the Luftflotten's C-in-C had both fighters and bombers at his command. Each of the Luftflotte's were divided into smaller sections called Gruppes. These were Jagdgeschwader (JG) The fighter Wing, Kampfgeschwader (KG) The Bomber Wing, Stukageschwader (StG) The Dive-Bombing Wing, Zerstöerergeschwader (ZG) The Destroyer Wing and the Lehrgeschwader (LG) which was the wing where pilots learnt the art of flying and combat. JG normally flew Bf109s, KG flew Heinkels and Junkers 88's, StG flew the Stuka 87 dive-bomber and ZG the Bf110.

The three Luftflotten that formed the front line of attack were of considerable strength having 864 medium and heavy bombers, 248 dive-bombers, 735 single engine fighter aircraft and 200 twin engined Bf110 aircraft. A total of 2047 aircraft at Goering's disposal to attack Britain. In comparison, Britain at the same time had just 540 serviceable aircraft in which to defend with. We should note here, that most of these Luftwaffe planes, and the pilots that flew them were also used in the Spanish Civil War and in the German invasion of Norway, Poland and Belgium. But it was in these conflicts that they were used in conjunction with the German ground attack forces. What was to face them in the Battle of Britain was that they would have to fight this battle totally alone, for this was to be a conquest that would provide them with no assistance from the ground, this was to be a battle that would be fought entirely in the air. This then, was going to test their strengths and their weaknesses, because if Operation Sealion, the invasion of England was to succeed, the Luftwaffe had to at all costs, destroy the RAF both on the ground and in the air and gain control in the air. Once this was done, it would leave the path open for the German bombers to engage operations on bombing all of Britain's industrial centres, and allowing the German Navy free access to cross the Channel virtually unhindered.

This then was the plan. The operation was to be conducted in four phases. The first phase was for the Luftwaffe to make a number of probing attacks at a number of southern England positions testing out the defences of the English military and looking for any weaknesses. At the same time, other Luftwaffe 'Gruppes' would attack the coastal shipping that was plying backwards and forwards through the English Channel. England at this time, relied heavily on the merchant shipping that was bringing in the needed raw materials that was required in building up their forces. The second phase was to destroy the Royal Air Force. The bombers attacking as many RAF airfields as they possibly can, the longer range Bf110 fighters taking on any RAF fighters in the air in the vicinity of the British fighter bases, the Bf109s attacking any British fighters in the air over the Channel, and the Ju87 dive bombers destroying the radar stations that were situated all along the southern English coastline. This then would leave the way open for the third phase which would see German troops, tanks and armoured vehicles make their assault at nominated places along the English coast from Dover in the east to Falmouth in the west.

(The reality of it was that the first two phases went according to plan, but the third phase was put into jeopardy by the accidental bombing of London. The planned German third phase was never put into operation, instead, Hitler gave orders for the invasion of Great Britian insted.)



THE BRITISH PLAN OF DEFENCE
Dunkirk, to some could only be termed as a disaster (even though the evacuation was hailed as an outstanding success) as it followed quickly on the heels of the British withdrawal from Norway, now the British Expeditionary Force and the French forces, hopelessly outnumbered were being pushed back into a small pocket in the corner of north-eastern France. The plan to stop the Germans from making any advance into France had failed and the only option here was a complete evacuation from the beaches at Dunkirk. To others, Dunkirk would go down in history as the most remarkable effort of evacuation ever undertaken, it was an evacuation that even surprised the Germans, it was an evacuation that could never have been pulled off........but it did. 338,225 men, made up mostly of members of the BEF but including some 120,000 French were taken from the shores of France by the most amazing flotilla of boats ever assembled.
The withdrawal from Dunkirk may be seen and accessed from the 'Main Menu'

But Dunkirk had taken its toll, the men were tired and exhausted, hundreds of pieces of military hardware had to be left behind but the worst was that for many of the soldiers it was their first taste of battle, they became disillusioned and disappointed that once again they had suffered defeat at the might of the German Army. The Royal Air Force continued the fight in France, successes were mixed with defeats, they managed to survive even through a lack of organization, but the German armoured divisions were advancing rapidly through France and Friday June 14th 1940 Germans marched into Paris. The RAF started their withdrawal from France, 501 Squadron being one of the last to depart, but even with the 400 or so obsolescent fighter aircraft and bombers, the RAF could hold their heads high even though they were fighting against overwhelming odds.

To the Royal Air Force, the withdrawal from France was not looked upon as a defeat, because during their stay in France, they learnt about Luftwaffe combat tactics. The tight 'V' formation which was the general and accepted formation was dropped in favour of the 'Schwarm' that was four fighters flying in pairs and the leader was always at the head of the formation, his number one always flies on the sun side of his leader protecting him at all times, while on the opposite side of the number one is the leader of the second pair and his wingman flies behind and slightly to one side. Pilots often complained that the fighters guns were harmonized at too far a range. This was corrected so that the bullets from the guns intersected at 250 yards instead of 400 yards as was the case previously. It was found that the Hurricane, which had its guns grouped much closer together than the Spitfire, and had a much denser bullet pattern, it was far more suited to attacking bombers rather than fighter aircraft. It was also borne in mind, that the Hurricane was not as maneuverable as the Bf109, so it was better that the Hurricane was best suited to attacking the bombers while the Spitfire was best suited to attacking the Bf109 especially as it could match the performance of the German fighter.

After the withdrawal from France, for some reason the German Armies seemed to take a 'break'. With the British Army still trying to gather themselves from the defeat at Dunkirk, and the remnants of the RAF making a hasty retreat from France, this would have been the ideal time to commence on the invasion of England. They did not strike while the iron was still hot. They had struck the first blow, why didn't they follow it through. It appeared that Germany was their own worst enemy.

The Royal Navy had now proved that they were vulnerable to the German Luftwaffe and to German naval battleships and U-Boats in the English Channel and in the North Sea not to mention the damage that was being done in the Atlantic. Churchill decided that the Royal Navy would not be the first line of defence against an invasion, besides, the Luftwaffe belief that if it could rid the RAF fighters protecting naval ships and convoys, then the whole British fleet would be at its mercy. Britains war office new this as well. Churchill announced that Britain's lines of defence should be to:

  • Maintain a vigilant watch on the enemy's coastal ports by the RAF and the submarines of the Royal Navy.
  • Any activity at these ports should be attacked and destroyed by either the Royal Air Force Bomber Command and the Royal Navy or by both.
The second line of defence should be:
  • Constant patrolling of British waters by Royal Air Force Coastal Command and by the Royal Navy.
  • Any detected enemy invasion force to be intercepted and destroyed by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force

The last line of defence was 'the beaches'. If the enemy ever got that far then everything would be thrown at them from the Army, Navy and the Air Force. But if the enemy was to use its air power as an advance striking force, then there would be no alternative but to destroy them with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Air Force alone.

Instead, after Dunkirk, they decided to take what could be termed......a holiday. It was a known fact now, that an invasion of Britain was imminent, but when would they strike, why were the Germans holding back. At least it gave Britain time to re-group. More fighter planes arrived at the airfields adding further strength to Fighter Command, more pilots were being assigned to squadrons all over England, new combat tactics were being taught to pilots old and new, a lot of lessons were learnt in France in fact it has been said, that '...what we experienced in France, was only a taste of what was to follow in the defence of England'. More and more fighter aircraft were being fitted with the variable airscrews which would give the fighters far better performance.

By July 3rd 1940, Britain was experiencing exceptionally warm summer days and balmy nights and this allowed the Army, Navy, Air Force, defence personnel and members of the many auxiliary authorities to secure the defence arrangements that were required to thwart any threat of invasion. The Royal Navy was busy laying minefields in the Channel and at the entrances to the many ports around the coast, nets were being laid across the entrances to all the major seaports. More and more radar stations were being installed at specific points all around the south-eastern and southern coastline of England. Coastal Command were busy on reconnaissance photographic flights photographing all the major seaports that were possible targets of invasion. And hundreds of miles of curled and twisted coils of barbed wire were being laid by the Army along beaches and cliff tops and along the promenades of the many seaside resorts helped by some 150,000 civilians who offered their services. They also helped construct the hundreds of pill-boxes, tank traps and sandbag barriers as well as assisted in the removal and obliteration of road signs and any other sign that depicted a landmark such as signs and guides on railway stations.

A huge recruiting campaign of immense proportions went out nationwide for people to join the services or to the various departments within the country that would contribute to the war effort. It was compulsory for all males over eighteen to register for military service either in the army, navy or air force, the only exception being those that had jobs in governmental departments and in industries classified as contributing to the war effort. Females (and there was no equal oppertunities then) were given the opportunity to volunteer for duties in various departments of the forces, in jobs that had been vacated by men that had been called up such as in public transport, railways, nursing and civil defence.

So great was the response from women who wished to "do their bit" that the military forces either expanded their womens sections or created new ones. The womens section in the army was the Womens Land Army. In the navy it was the WRENS (Womens Royal Naval Service) and in the air force it was the WAAF (Womens Auxiliary Air Service)and the ATS (Auxiliary Transport Service) virtually served all three. Although their tasks were not classed as full manual labour, many took on jobs that one only thought that was in a male dominated area. They worked in rural areas, as telephonists, in clerical, in munitions and in some areas such as the balloon service and radar and filtering there were more women than there were men. They worked as wardens, as drivers in the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service), as drivers in the ambulance service (in fact by September 1940, 2,000 women were driving ambulances), worked on the production line in aircraft factories, in munition manufacture and in the hospital service. Britain no doubt was indebted to the role that women played during the whole of WWII.

Mothers and children had the opportunity to be evacuated to areas that were possibly not under threat of danger, but those that stayed behind were given orders to stay put. Among those that were required to stay were bankers, water, gas and electricity workers, bus and train crews, lifeboat crews, firemen, ambulance workers, hospital staff, members of local councils and authorities and farm workers.

In London itself, all references to to districts and place names were obliterated, a number of statues and monuments were hoarded up and covered in posters like the one seen here advising people that 'Careless Talk Costs Lives' and that even 'Walls Have Ears'. A strict set of rules was implemented and violation of these orders was made an offence with serious repercussions. A blanket blackout was enforced, where all street lamps would be extinguished during hours of darkness, all residential homes had to darken or cover their windows so that not one speck of light would shine through. People were told that a one inch hole in their curtains would appear like a searchlight to an aircraft flying overhead. Church bells would toll if there was any indication of a landing, and newscasters of the BBC were to identify themselves by name before reading any news item of the day, and any motor vehicle that was left unattended was to be immobilized. Britain was doing everything in its power to prepare itself for the planned German invasion.

All these precautions were made to assist those that were not to take an active part in the defence of Britain or to cause confusion and delay to any invasion forces should they happen to land on British soil. But, all this was dependent on one thing, and that is for the German military forces to attempt an invasion of Britain they would have to come by sea, by air or both. To counterattack this measure we now must solely rely on our pilots and crews of the Royal Air Force and in particular, Fighter Command. The Battle of Britain was soon to begin. 



EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Although much of Britain was free of German air attacks and bombing raids from Sept 3rd 1940 until the official start of the Battle of Britain on July 10th 1940, spasmodic incidents across the country made people aware that a war was in progress and that no area could be classed as being free of danger. In the first few months of the war, short circuits in the siren system often caused havoc leading residents to believe that an air raid was imminent and by Christmas 1939 people were complaining that these sirens going off unnecessarily was nothing but a sheer inconvenience. Barrage balloons, breaking away from their moorings was another problem that had to be faced, some causing damage to houses and starting fires. From the south of England to Scotland the greatest inconvenience was very heavy snowfalls that made driving and communications almost impossible. Some notable events were:

SUN SEPT 3rd 1939 The Government has ordered that gas masks must be carried at all times and that cinemas, theatres and public places are to be closed. The drivers of horse drawn vehicles (milkmen, coalmen etc.) were ordered to tether their horses to the nearest lamp post or tree and all traffic was to stop when an alert was sounded. The BBC closes all radio stations except the Home Service.

The government swings into action at once, and announces that the National Service (Armed Forces) Act having been passed orders that all men between 18 and 41 years of age are, from this day liable for conscription. Only those persons in reserved occupations would be exempt from the act

WED SEPT 6th 1939  The merchant ship "SS Rio Claro" (4,086 tons) en route from Sunderland to the River Plate, was torpedoed and sunk by U 47, NW of Cape Finisterre. This was the first of the merchantmen sinkings since the start of the war three days previous and the second ship to be sunk by U boats, the first was the sinking of the Athenia [ Document-19 ] on the first day of the war.

THUR SEPT 7th 1939 Up until this date, all merchant and passenger ships were supposed to have been informed by the enemy, of their intentions. The "SS Olivegrove" (4,060 tons) [ Document-20 ] was sailing from Cuba to Britain when in a gentlemanly way, the U-boat captain after seeing all merchant seamen of the Olivegrove safe, blew up the vessel. It was just after this date, that Admiral Dönitz, commander of the German Navy ordered that all ships recognised as the enemy can be destroyed without any warning.

TUE SEPT 26th 1939 Nine He111 and four Ju88 bombers attack the Home Fleet in the North Sea. The first German aircraft shot down on an operational mission against Britain was a Do17D, shot down by Blackburn Skuas of 803 Squadron operating from H.M.S. Ark Royal.

SUN OCT 8th 1939 A Do18 was detected off the coast near Aberdeen Scotland. A Lockheed Hudson of 224 Squadron intercepted about 15 miles north-east of Aberdeen and successfully shot it down. The crew of three were picked up by Danish ship and taken prisoner.

SAT OCT 14th 1939 The battleship H.M.S. Royal Oak is torpedoed and sunk at Scapa Flow by U-boat U-47. 833 officers and men died in the inferno. Churchill orders the construction of the Churchill Barrier across the bay.

MON OCT 16th 1939 The first air attack on Britain occurred in the Firth of Forth at Edinburgh when nine Ju88 bombers attempted to sink H.M.S. Hood at Rosyth. But as she was in dock, the bombers targeted H.M.S. Southampton and H.M.S. Edinburgh that were anchored in the Firth of Forth. (German aircrews were obeying a directive that no bombing should occur where civilians may be put in danger) 603 Squadron flying Spitfires were the first squadron to become involved in a hostile engagement over Britain and managed to destroy three of the enemy bombers.

SAT OCT 28th 1939 A Heinkel bomber on a photographic reconnaissance mission was detected over the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth in Scotland. First damage to the aircraft was done by anti-aircraft fire, then 602 and 603 Squadrons, both on patrol in their respective areas were vectored to intercept the enemy aircraft. The Spitfires of 602 went in first, followed by 603, both riddling the bomber with gunfire and with tow of the crew dead, the pilot and co-pilot managed to land the crippled plane on a hillside at East Lothian north of Edinburgh. It is believed that this was the first enemy aircraft to land intact on British soil during the war.

MON NOV 20th 1939 Londoners had their first glimpse of hostilities when Spitfires of 74 Squadron intercepted an unidentified aircraft was seen flying over North London, East London and Rainham in Essex. The aircraft, a Do17 on a recon mission was chased out to sea by the Spitfires that eventually shot it down into the sea off the town of Southend-on-Sea.

WED DEC 6th 1939 A Heinkel He115 hit one of the radio masts at West Beckham CH Station and eventually crashed on a beach at Sherringham Norfolk killing all on board.

WED JAN 24th 1940 Enemy aircraft were reported over the Shetland Islands and this was confirmed when four bombs were dropped. The bombs dropped in open country and no damage was done.

MON JAN 29th 1940 The Shetland Islands again reported that they were under attack. More bombs were dropped but again no damage was done.

TUE JAN 30th 1940 A mine dropped by German aircraft exploded at the East Cliff Defence Works at Folkestone causing severe damage to the factory and causing slight damage to about 40 houses nearby. There were no casualties.

SAT FEB 3rd 1940 Three He111s and a Ju88 were shot down, with many onlookers watching RAF fighters engaging combat with the bombers in the vicinity of Whitby in Yorkshire. The Hurricanes of 43 Squadron brought down the He111s while the Ju88 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire from a minesweeper.

TUE APRIL 30th 1940 A Heinkel 111 said to be on mine laying operations was spotted off the east coast and was fired upon by anti-aircraft fire. The aircraft could not escape the band of searchlight being played on it and it suffered severe damage and in the darkness of the evening crashed into a residential part of Clacton-on-Sea Essex demolishing 50 houses and killing two residents. This was not the first British casualties (the first was on March 16th 1940 in Orkney) but it has been recorded as the first civilian English casualties of the war.

The above incidents were just a small number of incidents that occurred in the early months of the war. Up until April 30th 1940, 55 German bombers had either been shot down or had failed to return to their bases. But to many, to the majority in actual fact, they had up until this time not heard any gunfire or seen any hostile combat, and many were not to see any for the next couple of months. But it was not until the morning of July 4th 1940, that Britain saw the highest loss of military personnel in a single German raid. This was in Portland Harbour on the south Dorset coast when H.M.S. Foylebank was sunk by some 26 Ju87 "Stuka" dive bombers with the loss of 176 sailors. The dive bombers dived at will as no RAF fighter aircraft were ordered to cover the attack. The reason given by Fighter Command was that they did not have any patrols in the area at the time and that it was impossible to scramble any squadrons in time to meet the attack. Was this a fair assumption, or was it just a lame excuse. Ventnor and Poling radar were working, why were not the Ju87 formation detected, and Middle Wallop and Tangmere were only minutes flying time away from Portland, this could have been one of the few dark hours of Fighter Command.

By now, the British people were getting used to the war that was still in most cases, a little distant. German air attacks were spasmodic and followed no particular routine. The English Channel and the Channel convoys were still where most of the action was centred although there had been numerous scattered attack in the north.

The BBC was broadcasting about six news bulletins daily, but the most popular was the evening nine o'clock news. Most listeners had begun almost a ritual that the nine o'clock news gave them a complete rundown on the events of the day, from the almost total disaster in Norway, to the terrible bombing in Holland and Belgium to the hour by hour descriptions of the evacuations of Dunkirk.

The British by now had varied opinions on food and clothing rationing, having to construct Anderson  shelters in their backyards and the constant flow of evacuees from all the major centres. But when a lone German Dornier bomber was brought down and crashed into houses in Clacton Essex, the attacks on the Kentish port of Dover and the sinking of the Foylebank in Portland Harbour, the war was now coming closer to home. Newspaper and radio reports were under censorship as to what they could announce to the public so that they could not under any circumstances report on troop movements or but were allowed to present reports of damage to towns that had come under attack.

There was also a lot that the British public was not aware of, because of censorship laws. In the early stages of the war, the German plans of invasion were never revealed. British Intelligence knew of the plan, as it had been picked up by 'enigma' but was classified as top secret. The last thing that the government wanted was any form of panic, they also did not want the news to get back to Germany that Britain new of the plans of operation of a German invasion. As a precaution, Britain's gold reserves were taken out of the country. The first shipment was taken by the cruiser H.M.S. Emerald to Canada to be housed in the vaults at Montreal. Many other ships, both fast merchantmen and British warships followed with their consignment of 'fish'' as the precious cargo was called. In all, some seven billion dollars of 'fish' had been carried across to Canada, and not one ship was attacked or even shadowed in this biggest financial transaction in world history. [1]

The war had now come to Britain, and just as Winston Churchill had told his peoples:

"The Battle of France is over I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin"

[1] Peter Fleming Invasion 1940 1958 Hamish-Hamilton


We now go to a chronological account of the day by day activities of the Battle of Britain starting with July 2nd 1940, although the first recognized day of the battle was July 10th 1940 and the one that is officially recorded as the the day of commencement.


Have you checked out all the documents linked from this page
Document 19.   The sinking of the liner "Athenia" 
Document 20.   The sinking of the merchantman "Olivegrove" 

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