The Chronology: Page-28
THE MIDDAY ATTACK ON KENLEY AND BIGGIN HILL
After early morning mist, especially in inland areas the morning was bright with clear skies. Most of Britain could expect warm temperatures although a weak change would come in from the Channel at midday and bring cloud to most of southern England. The Midlands and North should remain fine with patchy cloud.
For the last five days since August 13th the Luftwaffe had been targeting the airfields of Fighter Command and so far all they had done was to cause inconvenience instead of destruction. The German plan to destroy the Royal Air Force on the ground, and in the air was far from bearing fruit. If we look back on some of the previous days attacks, it was true that many of them had been of sizable proportion, but each time Fighter Command had managed to hold their own, if only just. Convoys in the Channel now seemed to be a thing of the past, Göring had already given up on trying to destroy the radar stations and the plan was to destroy the RAF airfields.
But, they were not causing any substantial setback to Fighter Command as yet. Many of the airfields that the Luftwaffe had targeted were either those of Coastal Command, the Fleet Air Arm or RAF training installations. Also, and as was evident of the last few days, the Luftwaffe attacks were not concentrated in any one area. They were scattered, an early attack may be on the east coast, later an attack would occur off the Kent coast, then they switched to the west. With attacks like this, because of the set up of Fighter Command, the RAF were able to hold their own, so to speak. The en masse attacks that were intended just had not occurred. Until now.
The Luftwaffe knew that some of the larger airfields around London, notably Hornchurch, Biggin Hill and Kenley were the key stations of Fighter Command. They were actually unaware that they were sector stations, just important airfields in the organization of Fighter Command. The plan was, for August 18th 1940 to completely destroy both Kenley and Biggin Hill with a well planned attack, that once accomplished, they could duplicate the procedure at Hornchurch and other airfields important to Fighter Command. This was the plan for the day, and it was here that most of the daytime combat took place. During the afternoon there was some activity in the south near the Isle of Wight. Late afternoon saw action mainly along the east coast which kept many squadrons busy, and a few skirmishes took place in the west. But the main activity was Kenley and Biggin Hill.
If the Germans were going to smash through Britain's fighter defences in an effort to make an invasion of England, they would have to do it soon. Again and again Göring brought his Generals together for conference after conference. They discussed tactics, failures, missions, radar, right down to the weather. They too were now becoming frustrated, as it was way back in mid-July that it was estimated that it would take about six days to knock the RAF out of the air. That six days has now turned into four weeks, and still the Luftwaffe where nowhere nearer victory than they were a few weeks ago, in fact they were actually losing ground to Fighter Command.
losses for both sides were generally grossly exaggerated, it was a fact
that for every RAF aircraft shot down, the Luftwaffe were losing two. Couple
this with the fact that British fighter production far exceeded that of
Germany, the RAF by this day were well in front.
0850 - 0910hrs: In methodical fashion, and at pre-arranged times, the German bomber forces and their escorts took off from various airfields in Northern France. The Heinkel He111s of KG/1 were to take off first from Rosieres-en-Santerre and Montdidier. These were to be followed by Do17s and Ju88s of KG/76 and these were to be joined by Bf110s of ZG/26 and Bf109s of JG/51. The He111s had just got airborne when a radio message came through that the mission was to be aborted because of thick haze over the English coast. The message managed to get through to the other Geschwaders before they took off, so the Heinkels were the only ones inconvenienced.
1050hrs: German reconnaissance are dispatched to patrol the Channel between the Isle of Wight and Dover and were to report on weather activity in the Channel areas and over southern England. They reported back that the early morning haze was thinning out and that the skies were clear although cloud was building up over the French coast and was expected to move north over England during the early afternoon.
1155 - 1230hrs: With cloud building up, the bomber formations were given the all clear to take off, some three hours behind the planned commencement of operations. Bombers of KG/1 got away as scheduled and over the French coast meet up with their escorts. The Do17s and Ju88s of KG/76 had problems with cloud and found it difficult meeting up with their escorts. The area to the north of Paris was 8/10ths cloud and the bombers had to climb through 4,000 feet of this before reaching clear blue skies. This was to put them behind schedule for the rest of the operation. Nine Do17s of 9/KG76 had managed to leave their base on time but it was these nine Dorniers that was to be the element of surprise as they were to fly at almost sea level and at between 50-100 feet above the Kent countryside to avoid detection by British radar.
The plan here was for about 50 - 60 Bf109s to cross the coast at Dover and head north-west towards London. Their task was a free rein to make contact with any British fighter squadrons that were in the air and lure them away from the main bomber force about five minutes behind. This bomber formation consisted of 12 Ju88s and 27 Do17s with an escort of about 25 Bf110s and 20 Bf109s. The target for this formation was Kenley. About ten minutes behind is a formation of 60 He111s escorted by 40 Bf109s who's target is Biggin Hill. Further west, and to cross the coast near Beachy Head are 9 low flying Do17s who are unescorted.
Once at their target, the 12 Junkers Ju88s were to approach Kenley from the east and make a precision dive bombing attack on the hangars and buildings on the south side of Kenley aerodrome. This was to be followed approximately five minutes later by a high level saturation bombing attack by the Dorniers to destroy ground defences and crater the landing ground. Finally, the nine Do17s coming in at low level from due south were to make the final blow destroying any visible hangars and building still standing.
It seemed a daring sort of plan, but was feasible. A total of 110 bombers and about 150 escorting aircraft. The only problem was that the delay that had occurred with the Ju88s and Do17s in negotiating the cloud base on take off, coupled with the fact that flying time was slower than expected, they were running up to ten minutes behind schedule while the nine low flying Do17s crossing near Beachy Head were on time.
1225hrs: Dover radar station picked up some heavy activity over the Calais area. The CRT's (Cathode Ray Tubes) indicated a large build up on a wide front. At first, it was estimated by the operators that the enemy formation was 350 in strength, a gross exaggeration.
1235hrs: The Observer Corps scattered along the Kent coastline give a more realistic account, but even this was not completely accurate because of the still lingering haze. The lower level Ju88s were accurately accounted for, but it was almost impossible to number the Dorniers flying at higher altitude. But at least they could record the time and direction of the enemy formation.
1245hrs: Activity at 11 Group Headquarters was gaining momentum. Plots were being placed on the map board and just below the area known as 'Hells Corner' at Dover the map board became inundated with black markers stretching right back towards the French coast. A number of squadrons were vectored into the area between Maidstone and Canterbury. These included 17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes), 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), 56 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) and 65 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires). 501 Squadron Gravesend ((Hurricanes) were already on patrol and were preparing to return to base when they received orders to make 20,000 feet and patrol over Canterbury.
1305hrs: Both Fighter Command Headquarters and 11 Group Headquarters were watching the build up intensely and AVM Keith Park had put up what he thought would be adequate fighter defences. The German forces were still ten minutes behind schedule but all aircraft were on course. The Bf109s of JG3 and JG26 were still on a free hunt forward of the Ju88s and Do17s of KG76, while fifteen miles behind came the 60 He111 bombers of KG1. All eyes were now on the triangle bordered by Dungeness, Dover and Ashford.
The squadrons that were patrolling the north Kent area were slightly too far north to make any contact with the German formation, except 501 Squadron who made a sweep between Tonbridge and Maidstone. They did not notice the Bf109s of JG26 above. To Oberleutnant Gerhard Schoepfel who was commanding the 109's, he could not have wished for a better opportunity having height and position. They swooped on 501 Squadron who were taken completely by surprise and were on the defensive from the outset. Five Hurricanes were destroyed but luckily only one pilot was killed.
But coming in across the Channel at
barely 50 feet above the waves, the nine Do17s of 9/KG76 the plan to fly
low to avoid radar detection had worked. Fighter Command knew nothing of
Margaret Birch also remembers as she worked in the garden of her home near Lewes:
It was obvious now that the Dorniers could not keep their presence secret. Radar had not detected them, but the Observer Corps post on Beachy Head had spotted them and reported the sighting to their headquarters at Horsham who in turn reported the situation to the fighter sector stations in their area, namely Kenley and Biggin Hill. Fighter Command was aghast when suddenly a small cluster of black markers appeared between Beachy Head and Lewes. No one knew at this time knew where the Dorniers were making for as they were on a north-westerly course between Beachy Head and Lewes. Both sector stations put up their fighter defences immediately. 32 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes) and 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires), 64 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) and 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes).
But this was the flight plan of the low flying Dorniers. North-west from Beachy Head picking up the railway line at or near the town of Lewes. Then at the railway junction with the main Brighton to London railway line the Dorniers were to turn due north keeping the railway line to their left. This would take them directly to Kenley and the main buildings in the most southerly corner of the pear-shaped aerodrome.
1310hrs: The Dorniers of 9/KG76 were lining up to make their final approach to Kenley [ Document 34 ], the journey had been uneventful except for being shot at by a couple of Navy patrol boats over the Channel. Everything had gone to plan, except for the fact that there was no tell tale smoke over Kenley Aerodrome. What had happened to the Ju88s that were supposed to have dive bombed Kenley first, and the Do17s that were supposed to have bombed the airfield just prior to their approach. The fact was, was that the formation coming in from the east was still running late and that it now appeared that the first attack would have to be made by Walter Roth's low flying Dorniers.
The formation coming in from the east and the one following the railway line in the south were being closely watched. The sector station operation rooms at Kenley and Biggin Hill were being very cautious at the black markers that were both headed towards the south of London. It now seemed obvious that their targets were either Kenley or Biggin Hill. Both sector station had released their fighters to give cover from altitude, but reports were still coming in that the formation from the south was still at exceptionally low altitude. The observations were still being maintained by the Observer Corps, and still no word had been received from Fighter Command who generated all the decision making. Although Fighter Command HQ had been advised, the duty controller Squadron Leader Norman at Kenley who's airfield was about to be attacked could wait no longer for instructions from FCHQ. He had to make the decision without the consent of Fighter Command and acted as swiftly as he could, which was allowed if an airfield was in danger of being attacked. He requested assistance from nearby Croydon who dispatched the 111 Squadron Hurricanes.This was the only one squadron left that could possibly attack the Dorniers of 9/KG76.
111 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes) were "scrambled" and instructed to vector Kenley, and to 111 commander Squadron Leader John Thompson's surprise, he was told to maintain only 100 feet over the airfield. "You bloody mad" quipped Thompson, "......I could prune trees at that height." "I repeat, yes repeat.......vector Kenley.....patrol at 100 feet........30 plus low level bandits approaching" came the voice over the R/T.
1319hrs: Squadron Leader John Thompson had seen the nine Dorniers directly in front of him as they made their approach to Kenley from the southern end, and had to make the decision as to make their attack on the leading bombers, or sweep round and attack from the rear. The Dorniers were preparing their formation to attack by spreading out, and Thompson decided to place the main thrust of his attack from the rear.
1321hrs: The Dorniers commence to spread out in an arc to commence their attack.
1322hrs: The crews of the Do17s could now see the buildings and hangars of the aerodrome standing out before them. Just as they were about to unleash their bomb loads, the Hurricanes of 111 Squadron had taken up position at the rear of the Dorniers and had commenced their attack. The rear gunners of the bombers answered back with machine guns pointed towards the British fighters. At the same time, the ground defences of Kenley commenced firing in rapid succession with their Bofors, then came the chatter of machine gun fire from the sandbagged circles of the gun emplacements. Other defences were brought into action. Men manned the AA gun emplacements, but they could not fire until the Dorniers were almost directly above them. The parachute and cable were unleashed, while men and women not involved in any of the ground defences were ushered to the nearest shelters, although the approach of the Dorniers was so quick that many were not able to shelter at all and tried to find cover the best way they could.
The specially fused bombs from the Dorniers fell with deadly accuracy. The hangars, mess rooms and other administrative buildings exploded in smoke and flame as each bomb found its mark. One of the Hurricanes was hit as the bombers commenced their attack, hit either by Dornier gunfire or from the guns of the Kenley ground defences. F/L S Connors was killed as his aircraft crashed to the ground at nearby Wallington.
As soon as the Dorniers of 9/KG76 crossed the southern perimeter of Kenley, the Parachute and Cable (PAC) that were sited on the northern perimeter and placed at about 60 feet intervals were fired by rocket into the air. Once the 500 foot cable had reached its limit, a parachute would open leaving the steel cable suspended in the air and making a slow descent. If any aircraft struck the cable, a second parachute would open at the base of the cable automatically making the enemy aircraft difficult to fly as one wing would be pulled back by the entangled cable and the two parachutes.
The machine gunners and the anti-aircraft batteries on the airfield found it difficult to accurately find their targets because of the low altitude and speed of the bombers. One gunner stated that it was difficult following the path of the raiders, so they just pointed the barrel of the gun in front of the bombers and fired hoping that at the bombers would run into the gunfire. One by one the Dorniers dropped their load of twenty 110 pound bombs, and there was little that the defences could do. The noise, smoke, fire and explosions was intense. One by one, they created a path of absolute destruction. Hangars, domestic blocks, administration buildings, the officers mess, the station headquarters building all suffered at the accurate bombing. Bombs that had been released by the bombers in the centre of the formation bounced along the runways like ping-pong balls on a table tennis table before exploding.
But if the bombing had been a success, it was at a price. One Do17 was hit as they made their approach, although it is not known if it was hit by gunfire from one of 111 squadron Hurricanes or from Kenley ground fire, but the bomber continued on streaming smoke and letting loose it deadly cargo of bombs before crashing. Feldwebel Wilhelm Raab had just let his bomb load go when a PAC was sent skywards, but luckily the Dornier was in the process of doing a banking turn that the cable just missed his aircraft. But PAC's did account for two other Dorniers, being caught off balance as the cables caught their wings. (Some sources state that these aircraft were also damaged by ground fire as well). Other Dorniers were hit as they climbed to make height by 111 and 615 Squadrons.
1324hrs: In just 90 seconds, Kenley had been made a shambles, and as the Dorniers had passed, many thought that the raid was over and emerged from whatever shelter they could find, only to be told by someone yelling at the top of his voice to get back under cover as the raid was not over.
1327hrs: The six remaining Dorniers had made their low level sweep over the aerodrome, their mission had been completed all bar getting back to their bases. The nine Dorniers which between them had unleashed twenty bombs apiece, that's 180 bombs in total or 19,800 lbs of explosive. Three had been hit and crashed and now the remaining six had no reason to remain at low level. They had to get out the best way that they could.....and with two squadrons of RAF fighters now circling a battered Kenley, their task was not going to be easy.
The Bf 109's heading the formation from the east was now approaching Kenley and were constantly being kept busy by 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes). At 20,000 feet they were suffering heavy losses but they managed to keep the Bf109s away from the bombers that they now should be protecting. 5,000 feet below, the 27 Dornier Do17s of KG76 who were unescorted now became the targets for 32 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes). Under the command of S/L "Mike" Crossley, the squadron had practiced head-on attacks, and here was one occasion that they could put all their learning into practice. Mike Crossley called the all familiar "Tally Ho" which now placed him in control of the situation. The twelve Hurricanes banked round sharply and headed for the formation of black dots, which through his windscreen looked as if they were almost stationary, which meant that the Hurricanes and the Dorniers were heading towards each other. At a closing speed of over 400 mph, that was seven miles a minute. 
The Dorniers were accompanied by an escort of Bf110s, and Crossley ordered "B" Flight to engage the escort while he himself would lead "A" Flight in line abreast head-on attack at the Dorniers. F/O Alan Eckford claimed the first Do17. As they closed in, it was almost like a game of 'Russian Roulette' to see who would give way first. One of the Dorniers, piloted by Oblt. Stoldt could not maintain course any longer with the Hurricanes coming straight at him. He banked to port, pulling out of formation and it was an ideal opportunity for Alan Eckford who opened up with all guns blazing at the under belly of the Dornier. The bomber trailed smoke then went into a spin spiraling earthwards finally crashing at Hurst Green. One other Dornier is thought to have been hit and crashed, but 615 squadron was up to its task and the Dornier formation were the ones who finally broke formation and scattered putting every one of them of their approaching bombing run. All bombs dropped fell mainly in surrounding areas and little further damage was done to Kenley.
615 Squadron was to suffer though. Four Hurricanes were shot down in the combat and one of the pilots was killed. S/L Mike Crossley went on to claim one of the Bf110s, and further back engaged the Ju88s and sent one of these spiraling to the ground, although it leveled out and trailing thick smoke could only get as far as Ashford where it crashed.
1337hrs: The sound of the departing Dorniers had hardly disappeared when cleaning up operations went into action. The attempt to destroy Kenley had failed although considerable damage had been done:
All R/T communication with the aircraft had been severed when the attack commenced, but this was soon re-established by 1337hrs. Eight Hurricanes were destroyed on the ground, two hangars were totally destroyed while five others were severely damaged, the operations room suffered considerable damage and was put out of action, while many other buildings, including the hospitals were reduced to rubble. Had all the bombs exploded on impact, Kenley could have been totally destroyed, but many were released too low and hit the ground horizontally and failed to activate the warheads. A fireman at Kenley stated that the hangar fires were extremely difficult to extinguish. The roofs frames were made of timber, which was covered with asphalt and bitumen, most of the jangars had many drums of paint and thinnes in them and most of the aircraft in them had petrol in their tanks. It was really an explosive situation.
Unexploded bombs were everywhere. But the most iminent danger was the fires, made worse because one of the bombs had exploded and fractured the aerodromes water mains. Three of the four aircraft hangars had been destroyed, the main sector operations room lost all electricity and telephone services and the main power cable had been severed rendering the mainframe useless. Many station buildings and the medical sick bays were destroyed as was both the officers' and the sergeants' messes. A hangar housing the stations motor transport was wrecked, and four Hurricanes and a Blenheim had been destroyed with three Hurricanes and a Spitfire badly damaged.
It had been a surprise attack to all members of air and ground crews at Kenley. The Luftwaffe plan was to send in a small formation of nine Dornier Do17 bombers to make a low level approach and attack, flying at between 50 and 100 feet between crossing the coast at Beachy Head and following the main Sussex railway line towards London crossed the southern perimeter of Kenley aerodrome and in one sweep across the airfield that took just ten seconds dropped specially fused bombs causing havoc and confusion, fire and destruction but with only a small amount of casualties. The plan was that a large formation of Heinkel HeIII and Junkers Ju87 dive bombers should follow and would be guided by the visual sighting of fire and smoke. But these were late in arriving. The 50 plus Heinkels flying at high level escorted by some 75 Me109 fighters were attacked over Surrey. 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) led by "Sailor" Malan mixed it with the fighters but outnumbered by five to one, 615 Squadron lost four Hurricanes before the Messerschmitts turned for home. The remaining six Hurricanes then tore into the 50 Heinkels and split them up. Some turned away, some obviously damaged attempted to turn for home while it is estimated only fifteen managed to get through to Kenley.
A formation of Junkers Ju88 and Dornier Do17 bombers where also on a flight path towards Kenley. But 32 Squadron from Biggin Hill intercepted them and one Ju88 and a Do17 were shot down. Some managed to get through to the Kenley area, but most of the bombs dropped were way off target.
1345hrs: While the ground staff started to commence repair work on Kenley, and civil services arrived to assist in whatever way that they could, the Do17s and Ju88s of KG76 and He111s of KG1 lined themselves up to attack Biggin Hill, just a short distance away from Kenley. With a cover of some forty Bf109s the formation was spotted by 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) with Squadron leader John Ellis in command. The bombers were in a stepped formation from 12,000 to 15,000 feet. Again, the timing of the attack was all wrong. The plan was very similar to that of the attack on Kenley, but either the low flying Dorniers were early or the Junkers were early.
1350hrs: By the time the Dorniers had got into position at 100 feet to commence their low altitude attack, 610 Squadron had been joined by 32 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes) and between them they managed to play havoc with the Luftwaffe's well thought out plan of attack. As at Kenley, the ground staff released the PAC rockets as the Do17s made their approach and accounted for the destruction of two of them. Other aircraft were forced to take evasive action. This meant that many of the bombs were released too early and either fell in the open areas of the landing field or amongst the trees in the wooded area to the east of the aerodrome. Some bombs and shrapnel fell close to the station buildings, but were not to cause any serious damage. Joan Mortimer worked in the operations room. [ Document 35 ]
The attack on Biggin Hill was to have been a carbon copy of the earlier attack on Kenley. Nine low flying Dorniers made the initial attack followed by high level bombing raids by Heinkel and Ju88 bombers. The difference here was that of the nine Dorniers that made the low level attack, seven of them were never to return to their bases. Again, as in the Kenley attack, timing of the attacks were out. The Dorniers arrived too early and the Heinkels arrived far too late than planned.
1353hrs: Just three minutes after the low flying Dorniers had passed, the high level bombers were to release tons of high explosive on the airfield. But many of the He111 and Ju88 bombers were far too busy evading the onslaught of 32 and 610 Squadrons that were doing a superb job of the defence of Biggin Hill. The bombing could only be regarded as very inaccurate with most of the bombs falling away to the east of the airfield, although a few did land on Biggin Hill only to cause large craters in the centre. No buildings were destroyed, only windows blown in by some close blasts. Compared to Kenley, Biggin Hill escaped unscathed.
[ 1 ] Alfred Price The Hardest Day p75
THE AFTERNOON ATTACK ON FORD, GOSPORT & THORNEY ISLAND NAVAL AIR STATIONS
While August 18, 1940 will always be noted for the attacks on Kenley and Biggin Hill fighter stations, very little has ever been recorded on the German air attacks on the Coastal Command aerodrome of Thorney Island, and the Fleet Air Arm aerodromes of Gosport and Ford. Why attack Fleet Air Arm airbases has always posed a question to historians and researchers as they were not a part of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command. Maybe the German authorities thought that these FAA bases posed a threat, but the most logical and the one generally accepted was the poor intelligence service that Germany had relied on.
It was around midday that 109 Junker Ju87 Stuka dive bombers from 2/StG77, 3/StG77, 5/StG77 and III/StG77, 65 Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter escorts and 55 Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters following up on a free hunting patrol left their bases in Normandy and Brittany to attack the aerodromes in Hampshire and Sussex and Poling Radar Station also in Sussex. The Messerschmitt Bf 109s were from 6/JG2, 1/JG27 and 6/JG27. Their flight path would take them across the English Channel and twelve miles to the east of the Isle of Wight. About ten miles south of the English coastline they would break up into three distinct groups. Twenty-Two Ju87s would attack Gosport, 27 would attack Thorney Island, 29 would attack Ford while 31 would attack Poling.