The Chronology - Page-21
With the Battle of France now over, it was obvious where Germany's next plan of action would lie. Although Hitler was preoccupied with his thoughts on Russia, it was on 2nd July 1940 that he ordered a study to be made regarding the current possibilities of an invasion of Britain. Although many believe that even before or during the early part of the war, Hitler was in possession of plans regarding an invasion of Britain. The truth is, Germany never regarded Britain as a natural enemy and even during the Battle of France, no plans had been made in relation to an invasion of Great Britain. Goering had submitted a Luftwaffe Directive earlier, but was only directed at industrial and RAF targets on a minor scale, but it did include the following:
When, in a full state of readiness the Luftwaffe will aim:
Just two weeks later, after a complete study of the possibilities of an invasion of Britain, Hitler made the official announcement on July 16th 1940 that Germany would make an invasion of Britain through his Directive No.16 thus endorsing his formal approval of such an invasion.
When we now look back
and think of the 'Battle of Britain' we no doubt always think of it as
the battle of the skies, the period when Fighter Command and the brave
pilots who flew the planes defended Britain against a hostile enemy. But
the 'Battle of Britain' was more than that, it was the support of the whole
of Great Britain's Defence Force, it was the support of the Anti-Aircraft
Command, Coastal Command and Bomber Command, the Royal Observer Corps and
the home based Civil Defence Force. We must also include the Royal Navy
for the support that they gave and to the British Army who by now gave
no thought about their withdrawal from Dunkirk and fought under some terrible
conditions in the defence of Britain.
There was no way that the guns of the anti-aircraft units could defend the country alone, even with the inclusion of the Royal Navy in the Channel, complete defence of the country would not be possible. There was only one war machine that could be placed in the front row of defence, and that was Dowding's Fighter Command. Not only could the planes and pilots of Fighter Command stop the advance of the German Luftwaffe, but no one understood the role of the fighter plane and Fighter Command more than the man who created it, Lord "Stuffy" Dowding. Ironically, Dowding was due for retirement on July 14th, but Air Chief Marshall Newall had earlier written to him asking him to delay his retirement until the end of October. Dowding agreed, and this quiet, often unliked man was to become the spearhead and heart of Fighter Command during the months that followed. [ Document-21 ]
"Mine was the purely defensive pole of trying to stop the possibility of an invasion, and thus give this country a breathing spell......it was Germany's objective to win the war by invasion, and it was my job to prevent such an invasion from taking place".
The official date that was given as being the start of the Battle of Britain was July 10th 1940, which is claimed by many historians and that it continued until31st October 1940. It is also between these two dates that all aircrew that were serving under the operational control of Fighter Command of the RAF were entitled to wear the Battle of Britain Star and the 'Rosette and clasp' on their medal ribbons indicating that they flew at least one operational sortie between these two dates. Official war records indicate that the Battle of Britain was divided into four phases.
It has always been a point of controversy as to how many phases there were in the Battle of Britain. At least in Britain all historians agree that the Battle of Britain commenced on July 10th 1940. Like a book that is broken into chapters, the Battle of Britain was broken up into phases, with each phase depicting a different approach to combat attack and defence. Some historians claim that there were four phases in the battle while others make claim to it consisting of five. Officially, there are no official phases, those listed in the many historical reference books on the battle, are how the author/s see the Battle of Britain from their own perspective.
Richard Townshend Bickers in Battle Diary - Battle of Britain claims that there were four phases.
Phase 1: Aug 8 - Aug 18. Phase 2: Aug 19 - Sept 5. Phase 3: Sept 6 - Oct 5. Phase 4: Oct 6 - 31.
Norman Franks in Fighter Command Losses
also claims there were four phases but with different dates.
Derek Wood & Derek Dempster in the
Margin claim that there were five phases.
Len Deighton in Fighter-The True Story
of The Battle of Britain claims four phases.
John Ray, Battle of Britain - New Perspectives
uses only three phases in his book.
All these authorities have excellent reasons for quoting the dates as they have done, and after reading their material I can see good reason as to why they have quoted the above dates in their books. I agree with John Ray in his statement that did the battle begin either in late June or the fall of France because airmen killed or wounded from those dates to what is regarded as the first day of the battle on July 10th 1940 were not regarded as to have taken part. My own opinion is that Germany turned their attentions to attack and invade Britain as soon as the battle of France was over, and as Winston Churchill announced "The Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin". And he was right.
The following phases are broken into the different tactics and scenarios that took place between the official dates of the Battle of Britain and these compare favorably with the dates suggested by Norman Franks and are also very close to the dates given by Wood and Dempster with the exception that they have broken phase two into two phases, which is understandable because phase two was an exceptionally hard phase on the Royal Air Force.
Phase 1. (July
10th - August 7th 1940) Attacks on the Channel
The bulk of attacks were in the south where the Luftwaffe went on probing attacks on British shipping in the English Channel and in the outer Thames Estuary. Smaller raids, and a number of German reconnaissance aircraft were spotted along the east coast while other nuisance raids took place in the north. During this phase, London remained unscathed, in fact many Londoner's went about their business as usual as if there was no war on at all, the only reminder that their country was at war was the AA gun emplacements, the barrage balloons, an occasional searchlight and of course purchasing restrictions and the supply of Anderson Shelters to the majority of backyards and gardens.
Most of these attacks in the Channel were on the merchant convoys conveying much needed coal, raw materials, machinery and foodstuffs to Britain. By sinking these merchant ships Germany would deny the British people of the various commodities required just for their sheer existence. But at the same time, by attacking these channel convoys, it was hoped that it would draw out the British fighters from their bases. This way the Luftwaffe could analyze the strength of the RAF, determine the speed and efficiency that the RAF could deploy its squadrons, in other words, Germany was testing the efficiency and strength of the Royal Air Force and it was hoped that the Luftwaffe would destroy the RAF in the air.
Spasmodic bombing raids continued throughout this first phase on such places as Portsmouth, Falmouth, Swansea, Newcastle and Merseyside, but these raids were not consistent like the channel convoy raids.
Phase 2. (August
8th - September 6th 1940) Attacks of RAF Airfields
Phase 3. (September
7th - September 30th 1940) Bombing of London,
Major Cities & Airfields
Phase 4. (October
1st - October 31st 1940) Concentrated Night
Phase 3. (September
7th - September 30th 1940) Bombing of London,
Major Cities & Airfields
Phase 4. (October
1st - October 31st 1940) Concentrated Night
Phase 4. (October
1st - October 31st 1940) Concentrated Night
THE OFFICIAL START OF THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Heavy cloud at 9/10ths covered most of Britain. Rain was widespread over most of the west, the midlands and the north. Showers were prevalent over the south and the south-east and over the Channel.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
The heavy clouds of the dawn along with the driving rain made most of the pilots turn over and take advantage of a 'lie-in'. In these conditions, the Germans made the most of the cloud cover and made photographic reconnaissance flights over possible and probable targets, but the Dornier 17s that usually made these flights often suffered heavy losses. But being as no 'scramble' calls were made during the early hours of this day by Fighter Command it was believed that the German Luftwaffe enjoyed the freedom of the skies although most kept out over the sea but keeping the distant English coastline in sight.
0730hrs (7.30am): 66 Squadron (Spitfires, Coltishall) got a 'scramble' call and one section took off into the driving rain after the Chain Home radar station at West Beckham had picked up a blip on the radar. (RAF aircraft carried a sensor unit attached underneath the fuselage which would show up on the radar screens as a friendly aircraft). The section was led by Pilot Officer Charles Cook and soon as they climbed first through the driving rain, then through the thick cloud they broke out into brilliant sunshine at about 10,000 feet. P/O Cook was given a vector bearing that led them in the direction to where the enemy aircraft was last spotted. It was radar that gave the RAF the upper hand in the Battle of Britain, it was an early warning system that informed Fighter Command that not only were enemy aircraft approaching the English coast, but it also told them the exact location, direction and with the aid of the Observer Corps, type of aircraft and about how many. Very often in the early stages of the war, the Germans could not understand as to why, whenever they were on a mission, the RAF was always there to meet them before they could reach their targets.
0815hrs (8.15am): 66 Squadron finally spots the enemy, a lone Dornier 17z of Kampfgeschwader 3 (KG3) possibly on one of those recon missions. As the Spitfires peeled off one by one, engines roaring, the crew of the Dornier spotted them and soon it was weaving and sliding in a desperate effort to evade the gunfire from the Spitfires. The gunners in the Dornier tried in vain in warding off the Spits but to no avail, the Spitfires continued to harass the bomber and in the melee P/O Cookes windscreen was hit and a hole developed in the canopy letting in extremely cold air. Then one of the Spitfires came up from underneath firing at the Dornier with all eight Browning's and went in close and the Dornier went into a banking glide bellowing smoke until it hit the sea between Yarmouth and Harwich. A couple of hours later, the three Spitfires of Pilot Officer C.A.Cooke, Pilot Officer J.A.P.Studd and Sgt F.N.Robertson landed back at Coltishall and rejoiced at their success.
Prior to July 10th when the RAF was busy regrouping, London was preparing its barricades and defences and indeed a quiet time for all, the Germans as mentioned previously were busy probing the RAF by attacking small convoys and other shipping in the Channel hoping that they would lure the fighters into battle. But at about 1030hrs (10.30am): Weather was still inclement, wet and miserable with shallow visibility, a Dornier on a recon flight and with an escort of about 20+ Bf109s was picked up on both Dover CH and Foreness CHL radar stations. 74 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), in conditions that now seemed to be improving, were directed to the location where the enemy had been spotted. But the damage had been done, the Dornier had spotted a very large convoy (The convoy was code named "Bread") in the Channel heading towards the Dover Straits.
Immediately the German radio operator dispatched a message giving the location of the convoy, size and its present course. The Spitfires of 74 Squadron (Hornchurch) located the Dornier and the Bf109s and as was the usual course, headed for the slower Dornier first, but not before the highly maneuverable 109s turned and got the Spitfires in their sights. Two of the Spitfires were hit, but not bad enough to put them right out of action, but they kept their course and as they approached firing range of the Dornier opened fire. Immediacy the front cockpit of the bomber exploded in smoke and flame, there would have been little chance of survival of the pilot and any other member who was with him. (There is actually no account of this Dornier crashing in the sea, but Len Deighton in his book "Battle of Britain" states that the Dornier, although damaged got home safely). The Dornier went down low and the Spitfires weaved and turned and engaged in combat with the Messerschmitt escort. Two Spitfires that were hit and were forced to return to Hornchurch while the other four remained for a while where only one Bf109 was hit and received only minor damage. The enemy was reinforced by another group of about 12 aircraft later just as the Spitfires of 610 Squadron, (Gravesend) arrived and the remaining four Spitfires of 74 Squadron returned back to base. 610 Squadron scored no 'kills' but managed to stop the 109s and they headed back towards the French coast.
In this combat, 74 Squadron Hornchurch had two of its Spitfires damaged during operations over the Channel while one Spitfire of 610 Squadron had to make a force landing at Hawkinge after being hit during the same combat.
The transmission that the Dornier made at 1030hrs must have been received loud and clear, because at 1350hrs(1.50pm): British radar picks up a strong signal that indicated that a German formation had been detected coming across the French coast just west of Calais and heading in the general direction of Folkestone. It seemed obvious what they were after, this was the largest number of bombers ever seen coming across the Channel. The main force was 24 Dornier 17s spread in three groups, 30 escorting Bf110s and 20+ Bf109s. The 'scramble' order went out to Manston, Biggin Hill, Croydon, Hornchurch and Kenley. Manston dispatched the Hurricanes of 56 Squadron (North Weald) who had been operating there, Biggin Hill dispatched 32 Squadron (Hurricanes), Croydon dispatched 111 squadron (Hurricanes), Hornchurch dispatched the Spitfires of 74 Squadron while Kenley sent out six Spitfires of 64 Squadron towards the closing stages of the battle.
The Dorniers turned and headed for the Channel convoy code named 'Bread' just as 74, 56, 32 and 111 Squadrons arrived on the scene. The Spitfires of 74 Squadron and the Hurricanes of 56 and 32 Squadrons engaged combat with the Bf109s and the Bf110s while the Hurricanes of 111 Squadron went straight in and attacked the Dorniers. The skies off the coast at Folkestone became a maze of vapour trails snaking in all directions. It was a tough dogfight with neither side gaining the upper hand, Flying Officer J Mungo-Park in a Spitfire swept past a Dornier and the resulting 'hit' saw the bomber drift down towards the waters of the Channel, another Spitfire of 74 Squadron scored a 'hit' on one of the Bf109s and saw it head in the general direction of France and safety. As the dogfight continued, the Dornier formation started to break up as many of the fighters began to harass them like dogs snapping at their tails, Flying Officer Tom Higgs of 111 Squadron took to a lone Dornier firing many rounds towards the weaving bomber that was desperately trying to evade the ensuing Hurricane, but Higgs went in closer than his firing range, and still with thumb on the firing button clipped the Dornier with his wing before spinning seawards out of control with one wing missing. The Dornier also spun out of control and hurtled to what seemed a watery grave. Both aircraft crashed into the Channel and a rescue launch that was soon on the scene picked up the pilot of the Dornier and another member of the crew, but there was no sign of the rest of the bombers crew or of Tom Higgs. This was the first major battle of the Battle of Britain, and considering the amount of aircraft that were in the air Higgs was the only British fatality, three Hurricanes were damaged as well as four Spitfires, two Dorniers were shot down and ten of the escort fighters. As far as the convoy "Bread" was concerned, only one ship was sunk the rest were not even attacked and continued their journey.
".......for this victory, we must thank the radar in which placed us in readiness and allowed us to send our fighter squadrons out to meet them. I think that the way that these brave pilots stopped the convoy being attacked shows the maturity attained since France"
ACM Sir Hugh Dowding remarking on this encounter June 10th 1940
Three sources of information indicate this battle in the Channel as a decisive victory for the RAF. Len Deighton's book claims that the RAF lost one aircraft and the Luftwaffe lost eight. Richard Bickers in his book claims that the RAF lost six while the Luftwaffe lost thirteen, although this figure could have included the losses in the battles in the west of England. Another source indicated that this battle in the Channel made the Luftwaffe take notice of the RAF because they had lost one Dornier, seven Bf109s to the RAF's only casualty, a Spitfire.
Yet two personal stories come out of this painting a rather different picture. You compare these with the historical accounts above:
"It is difficult to describe my feelings during the next few days. We had just lost three pilots in thirty-six hours, all of them in fights in which we had been hopelessly out- numbered, and I felt that there was now nothing left to care about, because obviously from the law of probability, one could not expect to survive many more encounters of a similar nature....."
From the Luftwaffe, comes this account:
"The convoy had been sighted between Dover and Dungeness. Our briefing took only a few minutes and within half an hour of being airborne we had sighted the coast of Kent. The Channel was bathed in brilliant sunshine...A light haze hung over the English coast, and there far below us, was the convoy, like so many toy ships with wispy white wakes fanning out behind. As soon as we were observed, the ships of the convoy dispersed, the merchantmen maneuvering violently and the escorting warships moving out at full speed. Anti-aircraft shell peppered the sky. Our fighters now appeared. We made our first bomb run, and fountains leapt up around the ships....By now the fighter squadrons of the Royal Air Force had joined in, and the sky was a twisting, turning melee of fighters....My wing was in the air for three hours in all. We reported one heavy cruiser and four merchant ships sunk, one merchant ship damaged, and eleven British fighters shot down or damaged. We had lost two bombers, two twin engined fighters and three single engined fighters during the course of this engagement."
1530hrs (3.30pm): But it was a different story in the west. Hugo Sperrle dispatched 60+ Ju88 bombers to attack the the targets of Swansea in Wales and Falmouth in Devon. 10 Group in the west at this stage had not been formed, so there really was no fighter protection in this part of England. But 92 Squadron from Pembury scrambled too late to avoid the bombing by the German bombers. An ammunitions factory was badly damaged at Swansea and Falmouth also suffered considerable damage. Shipping was also hit hard as was destruction to a power station.
Writing for "The New York Times", Frank Kelley wrote of the battle:
"Day long sallies by waves of German bombers against coastal objectives in England, Wales,and Scotland reached a grand climax yesterday in the greatest and fiercest battle in ten and a half months of war when seventy-five Nazi bombers, escorted by forty-five or more fighters roared across the English Channel in two formations and showered bombs on a strongly defended convoy bringing vital food and other supplies to these besieged islands."
0700hrs.Hurricane P3359. 253 Sqn. Kirton-on-Lindsay. (Aircraft destroyed)
Sgt I.C.C.Clenshaw. Killed. (Lost control in bad visibility)
1300hrs. Hurricane P3671. 111 Sqn Croydon. (Aircraft destroyed)
F/O T.P.K.Higgs. Killed. (Collided with Do17 off coast near Folkestone. Baled out but drowned. Body found in Norway 15.8.40)
THURSDAY JULY 11th 1940
The morning of the 11th, was typical of what one could expect on a English summers day. Southern England was covered in exceptionally low cloud, and thick fog in many areas would have made flying impossible. In contrast to the events of the previous day, the next few days were very much similar to those of the days leading up to the 10th, that was, spasmodic attacks on coastal shipping in the Channel, recon flights along the English coast, and only a few occasions where the fighters went up and generally engaged air combat on a one-to-one basis. The weather was generally clearer in the west during the morning, and this is where the Germans had to decided to strike, and for many, it was the first time that they had seen the role played by the Ju87 Stuka dive bomber.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
It all started when six Spitfires of 609 Squadron (Middle Wallop) were vectored into an area where radar had picked out a blimp in the region of Portland. What they found was a a formation of Ju87s. They were just ready to make the engagement when they were pounced on by three Staffels of Bf109s. 609 lost its Flight Commander, and another Spitfire was shot down. Another Stuka attack on Portland later incurred slight damage, but with the arrival of Hurricanes from 601 Squadron (Tangmere) the Stukas had to abort after two of them were shot down and two Bf110s also suffered the same fate.
Earlier, during the dawn period, radar picked up a signal off the east coast near Walton-on-Naze. 66 Squadron sent out a flight to intercept and found it to be lone recon Do17. Suffering from damage by the Spitfires, the German bomber lost height as it made its way out over the North Sea, but not before its gunfire hit one of the Spitfires off the coast south of Great Yarmouth. A Hurricane was also damaged by gunfire from a Do17 off the east coast and the pilot, S/L Peter Townsend was picked up by merchant boat after bailing out.
By afternoon, the weather had cleared in the east and six Spitfires intercepted an Heinkel 59 seaplane that displayed Red Cross markings and was escorted by 12 Bf109s of the coast of Deal in Kent. The He59 was shot down by the RAF and in the ensuing dogfight two Spitfires and two Bf109s were shot down.
Most of the day, spasmodic attacks were being made by Ju87s and He111 to various targets west of the Isle of Wight. Shipping came under fire in Portsmouth and in the Solent, while small convoys were attacked in the Channel off the coast of Weymouth and Portland. 10 Group had not been formed at this time, and squadrons based at Exeter and St Eval came under the control of 11 Group.
THE CASUALTIES: (July 11th 1940)
For the next two or three weeks, the Luftwaffe was quite content on attacking the convoys in the English Channel, some of the conflicts included just a couple of Ju87s dive bombing individual or small convoys, others included using U-boats while some of the larger convoys were attacked by numbers of Do17s backed up by German Artillery from the French coast. The skies over the Channel were a criss cross pattern of vapour trails, then suddenly a Ju87 would come hurtling in a near vertical dive sometimes hotly pursued by a Spitfire or Hurricane. Depending where one was watching from, depended on the sky show to be seen, but the two areas that seemed to attract the most action was an area between the Isle of Wight and Weymouth, and the other was the in the vicinity of the Dover Straights now been given the name of "Hellfire Corner". So where was the expected invasion of England, where was the expected Battle of Britain that Churchill said would happen after the withdrawal from France, why was Germany just content on attacking the convoys that plied to and fro through the Channel. There were a few possibilities:
1. The weather was unexpectedly inclement, with heavy cloud, occasional driving winds and rain that delayed any attempt at launching large scale bombing attacks by the Luftwaffe.
"If these few days in mid-July showed the first hints of vulnerability of the Ju87 Stuka, they also tragically proved the unsuitability of the Defiant for front line fighter duties. These turret fighters of 141 Squadron were unblooded until 19 July, when they were moved down to Hawkinge from West Malling. The day had dawned clear, vulnerable convoys were numerous and trouble was expected.
4. Was the Channel conquest proving a worthwhile tactic, or were they just playing into the hands of the RAF. After all, German records would show that only about eighty British fighters had been destroyed in the first month of the battle, no doubt Britain was producing more fighters than they had lost, or were they?
But, remember the prophecy of Hugh Dowding way back in 1936, who stated to a group of RAF students that if Germany were to prepare for an invasion of England, they would first, knowing that Britain relied heavily of products from overseas, that Germany would attack all forms of merchant shipping bringing in supplies in an effort to cut all supplies into the country. By doing this, he would be able to attack the fighters that would be defending the shipping lanes. This then, looked like a prophecy coming true.
Understandably, it was at a price. Both sides were losing both valuable aircraft and experienced men. So far it was a bit of a stalemate like a case of 'you pop me off, I pop you off'. It could only get better....or a damm sight worse.
FRIDAY JULY 12th 1940
Heavy rain periods in the north with 8/10ths cloud but clearing as the day wears on. In the south-east there was low cloud, occasional showers with thunderstorms but clearing by the afternoon, while in the west the early morning cloud cleared to give way to sunny periods.
Most of the action took place off the Essex and Suffolk coastline. He111 and Do17 bombers were targeting some of the merchant shipping along one of Britain's busy trade routes. The Hurricanes of 85 Squadron (Martlesham Heath) were up early after enemy aircraft had been spotted off the coast near Harwich possibly attacking the merchant convoy code named "Booty". More Do17 and He111 bombers were detected and 151 Squadron (Hurricanes, North Weald) and 17 Squadron (Hurricanes, Debden) were scrambled.
Combat just off the East Anglia coast lasted until almost midday with the Hurricanes having accounted for two He111s, Sgt D.Fopp claiming one at 0900hrs and Sgt G.Griffiths claiming one at 0940hrs. A He111 was detected over the North Sea just off the coast near Aberdeen in Scotland where bombers dropped a number of bombs killing 29 people and injuring 100 and was shot down by Spitfires of 603 Squadron and in the late afternoon. Ju88 bombers attacked Exeter and St Eval airfields with one Ju88 being shot down.
THE CASUALTIES: (July 12th 1940)
SATURDAY 13th JULY 1940
Most commanders kept their squadrons "confined to quarters" because of the weather. There was very little activity, even by the Luftwaffe. As the conditions seemed to improve during the morning, a couple of attacks were made on the port of Dover. 43 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) responded and engaged a force of He111 over the Channel. Early afternoon saw a couple of feint attacks on a convoy off the Essex coast near Harwich. Later in the afternoon, enemy aircraft were detected again in the Channel area and attacked the convoy "Bread" off the Dorset coast near Lyme Bay and 56 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes), 64 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) and 238 Squadron (Hurricanes) were scrambled to intercept. One Do17 was shot down during the afternoon by 238 Squadron while another five were destroyed in mid-Channel.
(July 13th 1940)
SUNDAY JULY 14th 1940
As the convoy "Bread" continued its journey in the Channel, it again became the target for the Luftwaffe but were continually being harassed by fighters and most bombs missed the merchant ships. The Luftwaffe attacked another convoy making its way through the Dover Straits and 74 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), 111 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes) and 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) intercepted. A description of the air combat was verbally captured by the BBC's Charles Gardner and broadcast to the nation:
Manston received some damage in an attack, but an attack on a destroyer in Swanage Harbour done no damage except causing a lot of sea spray and water spouts.
(July 14th 1940)
MONDAY JULY 15th 1940
Not the most ideal weather conditions for flying, and neither side saw, or undertook much activity. The Luftwaffe made a few reconnaissance missions over the North Sea and the English Channel. The convoy "Pilot" was making its way through the Thames Estuary when spotted by the German reconnaissance aircraft and its position and course were radioed back to German HQ. By late-morning the weather had broken up enough for 15 Do17 bombers of KG2 to take off for an intended attack on the convoy.
1130hrs (11.30am): A number of He111 bombers were attacking industrial and dock areas along the Scottish coast.
603 Squadron Dyce (Spitfires) intercepted and avoided any major damage, although quite a number of bombs fell causing only minor damage. A He111 of 2/KG26 was shot down at 1212hrs which crashed into the sea.
1350hrs (1.50pm): A number of German bombers made an attack on an aircraft works at Yeovil in Somerset in the west of England. One of the runways received slight damage, as did one of the hangars and a number of craters appeared, but damage was kept to a minimum. 213 Squadron Exeter (Hurricanes) intercepted and one Hurricane was shot down although the pilot baled out. Interception was also made by 92 Squadron Pembrey (Spitfires) in which the Luftwaffe lost one Ju88 and another damaged.
1415hrs (2.15pm): Through broken cloud and rain squalls a Dornier formation arrived over the convoy "Pilot" but Fighter command had 'seen' them coming and scrambled 56 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) and 151 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) to meet them before the Dorniers had time to attack the convoy. Although some attempted an attack, they were turned around without causing any damage. Once the attack was aborted, the Hurricanes returned to base without scoring.
Casualties were light on both sides, in fact the RAF suffered more aircraft damaged or lost in flying accidents than they did on operational sorties. Some were damaged in heavy landings, another crashed in inclement weather whilst attempting to land and another crashed into a accumulator trolley while taxiing into a hangar.
(July 15th 1940)
TUESDAY JULY 16TH - WEDNESDAY JULY 24TH 1940
The weather played an important part in activities during this time. One day it was heavy fog, not clearing until about midday, another day it was very dull with occasional heavy rain, then when things started to brighten up, the cloud rolled in again and rain became widespread.
THE OPERATIONS IN BRIEF:
Operations were according to the weather pattern. On the 16th, late in the afternoon when clearing conditions prevailed, 601 Squadron (Spitfires) intercepted an enemy formation and a Ju88 was shot down over the Isle of Wight. Again the east coast of Scotland came under attack and bombing occurred at Fraserburgh and Peterhead and 603 Squadron Dyce (Spitfires) shot down one He111. Next day, on the 17th, Scotland's industrial east was bombed, as was the city of Bristol, but on the 18th, with improved flying conditions, a number of channel ports came under attack and things started to 'hot up' off the coast near Dover. What could be described as a major dog-fight off the coast at Beachy Head, fifteen Spitfires of 152 Squadron Warmwell and 610 Squadron Biggin Hill came into contact with about thirty Bf109s over the channel. 152 had two aircraft damaged, but 610 lost one Spitfire over Calais. 235 and 236 Squadrons lost six aircrew between them when three Blenheims were shot down over the French coast that ended a bad day for the RAF.
The 19th was a disastrous day for the RAF. 141 Squadron Biggin Hill (Defiants) twelve of which had just recently arrived within 11 Group from Turnhouse and on this day had flown from West Malling to operate out of Hawkinge. They took off on routine patrol at 1232hrs, ordered to patrol a line just south of Folkestone at 5,000 feet. Three of the aircraft had aborted the patrol because of engine malfunctions. At 1300hrs, the nine Defiants were patrolling in the middle of the English Channel, it was obvious that they were unaware of 16 Bf109 flying "up sun" and were were unexpectedly jumped on without any warning by the Bf109s of JG51 led by Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft. One by one the RAF fighters fell from the sky into the channel, being no match for the far superior Bf109 (the Defiant could only attack and defend itself from the sides and the rear, as it had no forward facing guns). Six Defiants were shot down in rapid succession while three just managed to make it back to Hawkinge, thanks to the intervention of 111 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes) while one Bf109 was severely damaged and crashed on landing back at its base. Serious thought was now to be given as to the future of the Defiant in the role of a front line fighter.
By the 20th, the Luftwaffe again continued attacks on coastal shipping and convoys in the channel. They were hoping that their efforts would draw RAF Fighter Command into combat over the open waters, but this was not to happen. Keith Park would not be a part of contemplating aerial warfare at great distances from the fighter bases. So, many convoys came under attack, and many dogfights took place over the channel and as close as possible to the English coast. 32 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes) were providing air cover for a channel convoy when attacked by Ju87s and Bf109s with the loss of two Hurricanes. 238 Squadron Middle Wallop (Hurricanes) were also busy over Swanage, 65 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) had also engaged the enemy off the French coast destroying a Bf109, while 56 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) destroyed a Ju88 off the Essex coast. Up north, a Do17 was shot down by 603 Squadron (Spitfires) off the coast at Aberdeen.
The 21st was again not much different to any other day, the attacks by the Luftwaffe at this time were following a constant pattern and with little variance. Again, Do17s attacked shipping off the Scottish coast with one from 1/606 destroyed. A Do17 on reconnaissance was shot down by Hurricanes of 238 Squadron Middle Wallop and the squadron also destroyed a Bf110, both in the Hampshire region, and at 1350hrs 238 Squadron also badly damaged a Me110 off Portland that eventually crashed in France.
Although the weather improved on the 22nd, activity was light. Occasional attacks on Channel shipping occurred, but little damage was done. Two Hurricanes of 145 Squadron Tangmere attacked a lone Do17 off Selsey Bill and it crashed into the Channel after accurate firing from F/L A.H.Boyd and P/O A.N.C Weir.
Tactics changed on the 23rd, as the Channel was almost free of all shipping movements. Dowding had earlier suggested that convoys use the east coast route, go around the top of Scotland and head out into the Atlantic from there. The reason was that convoys were becoming to easy a target for the Luftwaffe conveniently positioned all along the French coast. The other advantage of this, was that any attacking bombers would not have the luxury of fighter escort as the distance would be too great from any of their bases. Although a number of convoys did enter the Atlantic via the Shetlands, convoys still navigated the Channel.
German bombing attacks took place at a number of British towns on the 24th. Houses were damaged in the usually quiet suburb of Walton-on-Thames, the aircraft factories at Weybridge were attacked as was Brooklands airfield by a Ju88 pretending to come into land. But the day will be remembered as the day that the seaside town of Margate had a grandstand view of the Battle of Britain. At 0755hrs, an enemy formation had been detected coming in from the German coast and heading towards a convoy in the Thames Estuary. Fighter Command scrambled 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) that was using Rochford at 0815hrs to make an interception. 64 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) also intercepted. No German aircraft were shot down, but 54 Squadron had three Spitfires shot down by accurate gunfire from the Dorniers. At about 1100hrs, another enemy formation was detected heading for the Thames Estuary.
Again, 54 Squadron Hornchurch was dispatched. On reaching the formation, F/L A.L.Deere leading one of the sections reported back to his sector controller that the formation consisted of about 18 Do17s and forty plus Bf109s and requested immediate assistance. 65 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) was scrambled to assist as was 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) that was based at Gravesend. The ensuing battle in the skies took place almost over the town of Margate. Dorniers diving low and pulling out at almost sea level attempting to avoid the Spitfires almost touched the rooftops of seaside hotels, Spitfires being chased by Bf109s weaved about in all directions in the sky above. A Bf109 was shot down by one of the Spitfires and its pilot baled out but his parachute failed to open and his pilotless aircraft smashed into a quiet avenue in residential Margate. Another Bf109 of III/JG26 was hit and had to make a forced landing just outside the town, the pilot, seriously injured was taken prisoner. A Spitfire of 54 Squadron was hit by gunfire from a Bf109 and nearly crashed into the town centre of Margate, but the pilot managed to regain a little height and clear the township, but crashed in a ball of flame at nearby Cliftonville. Two other Spitfires, both from 54 Squadron crashed after being hit by gunfire from enemy fighters.
As the melee moved towards Dover, four Bf109s were shot down including Adolph Galland to conclude a disastrous period for the Luftwaffe. Four days earlier, Major Riegel Gruppe Kommandeur of I/JG 27 was killed, as was Staffelkapitaen Oblt Keidel of 8/JG 52, then Major Werner Molders was shot down, and severely wounded and was hospitalized for over a month.
July 17th 1940
July 18th 1940
July 19th 1940
July 20th 1940
July 21st 1940
July 22nd 1940
July 24th 1940
If we compare
this with Richard Hough and Denis Richards book 'Battle of Britain', in
the chronology, it tells us that during the first month (July), Britain
lost only 69 aircraft, and if we exclude the disastrous day in which the
RAF lost eight Defiants, the largest number of aircraft lost in a single
days fighting was only seven and that was during one of the biggest battles
of the month. These figures are claimed to have come from the actual historical
records. On reading the account by Richard and Denis, it appears that even
though the fighters had to be 'scrambled', on most occasions the British
fighters still met the enemy while still over the Channel.
It is not easy
to find the accurate figures, or who to agree with when we read these magnificent
books. If we take the 19th July as an example, the chronology in Richard
and Denis's book tells us that eight aircraft were lost but make no mention
of any other skirmish taking place on that day. But in a contribution to
"The Battle of Britain - a 50th Anniversary", Mike Spick tells us that
only six Defiants were lost on the 19th July, and that later in the day,
eleven British fighters were lost and four damaged when 1, 32, 43, 64,
145 and 603 Squadrons were involved in action.
It seems that
all of these books, and possibly other splendid books on this subject,
all seem to agree on the dates and the actions that took place on these
days, it is only the number of losses that seem to differ.
July 19th 1940
July 20th 1940
July 21st 1940
July 22nd 1940
July 24th 1940
If we compare this with Richard Hough and Denis Richards book 'Battle of Britain', in the chronology, it tells us that during the first month (July), Britain lost only 69 aircraft, and if we exclude the disastrous day in which the RAF lost eight Defiants, the largest number of aircraft lost in a single days fighting was only seven and that was during one of the biggest battles of the month. These figures are claimed to have come from the actual historical records. On reading the account by Richard and Denis, it appears that even though the fighters had to be 'scrambled', on most occasions the British fighters still met the enemy while still over the Channel.
It is not easy to find the accurate figures, or who to agree with when we read these magnificent books. If we take the 19th July as an example, the chronology in Richard and Denis's book tells us that eight aircraft were lost but make no mention of any other skirmish taking place on that day. But in a contribution to "The Battle of Britain - a 50th Anniversary", Mike Spick tells us that only six Defiants were lost on the 19th July, and that later in the day, eleven British fighters were lost and four damaged when 1, 32, 43, 64, 145 and 603 Squadrons were involved in action.
It seems that all of these books, and possibly other splendid books on this subject, all seem to agree on the dates and the actions that took place on these days, it is only the number of losses that seem to differ.
|Document 21. Dowding, Park and Leigh-Mallory
Document 22. Fighter Command Order of Battle on July 10th 1940
Document 23. Text of Charles Gardner's BBC Broadcast
Document 24. 54 Squadron Order of Battle - July 24th 1940