The Chronology: Page-29
THE SITUATION AFTER EIGHT WEEKS OF BATTLE
Denis Richard's tells us, that the first phase of the battle was now over and that Fighter Command had more than held its own. A total of 363 German aircraft had been shot down and destroyed between August 8th and the 18th, compared with 211 British fighter aircraft. This comprised of 181 in the air and a further 30 on the ground. Two important German decisions had also been made during this period. They had learnt from their mistake on daylight attacks across the North Sea where the distance was too great for German bombers to have a fighter escort, therefore daylight missions from Luftflotte 5 were withdrawn. They also realized that the 'Stuka' Ju87 dive bomber, although inflicting considerable damage to the British defences, was also easy prey for the Spitfires and the Hurricanes of Fighter Command. Ju87 casualties were high and was costing the Luftwaffe dearly. Regular missions by the Luftflotte 2 Ju87 squadrons were also withdrawn.
But although it did appear that Fighter Command was more than holding its own on these figures, there was still some concern at the Air Ministry.
In that same ten day period Aug 8th - Aug 18th, with total losses at 211 aircraft, the figure that had been presented to Dowding indicated that aircraft replacements between those dates was only 171, they had lost 40 more aircraft than had been produced. Another important factor was that again during this first phase of the battle, Fighter Command had lost 154 pilots, many of them experienced, while the number of pilots that had come out of the RAF training schools numbered only 65, and all of these had never experienced combat experience before, so they were far less skilled than the pilots that they were replacing. This was a slightly different picture to that of only three months prior.
But what went on behind the scenes was of no importance to the people of Britain. They carefully studied the newspapers every day and listened to the radio for the 'latest score', almost as if the battle was a football match. The media of the day always seemed to inflate the latest result. The British were always winning. But then they had too, for the press were conducting a propaganda war against its own peoples in an effort to maintain morale.
MONDAY AUGUST 19th 1940
By this time, Fighter Command as well as the Luftwaffe were looking into the reasons as to why very little progress was being made, things now seemed at a stalemate. Both sides called important meetings and conferences as they entered the next phase of the battle. Air Chief Marshal Keith Park told a staff group conference of 11 Group that utmost priority must be given to the defence of the airfields. He informed the meeting that Sector Airfields were under continuous attack and that he had no doubt the Luftwaffe would continue to bomb them especially those in his group which are still the main threat to the German Air Force. He made it quite clear that we must avoid airfields from the devastating attacks like the ones on Kenley and Biggin Hill of the last few days. He pointed out to the conference that '....now Göring knows that he can penetrate our inland airfields, there will be no stopping him from continuing.'
Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory still insisted that more use should be made of the 'big wing' theory, and Leigh-Mallory was now gaining more supporters of this. But Park still stood firm, stating that a statement of figures had been placed before them regarding the losses and replacements, and that he would still object to the 'big wing' theory;
".....but we are at moment in no position to implement it anyway".
Park at this time still had the support of Dowding who agreed that the area 11 and 10 Groups had to cover on the south coast was too great for a 'big wing' to be successful at this time. The idea of sending anything up to five squadrons to attack the same formation, would be nothing short of catastrophic, remarked Dowding, his thinking was that the more planes you sent into battle, meant that the possibility of losing more pilots would be greater than ever. Fighter Command could not afford to lose more pilots than absolutely necessary.
Keith Park also brought to the notice of the meeting that he had become aware that many pilots were still chasing the 109 escorts, probably because of the thrill of high speed combat and inexperience. But he went on to add, that now that the Luftwaffe were now concentrating more on bombing missions, that it is imperative that these bombers must be regarded as priority targets. He went on to add that the escorts had only limited fuel once over English soil, and that they would have to return back to their bases, but the bombers had a far greater range, and not only that, could cause far greater destruction. So the order was to be given, "Prime targets are the bomber formations and that fighter to fighter combat must be avoided if such bomber formations are present". Dowding also agreed to Parks request that immediate assistance be given to 11 Group by 10 and 12 Groups when requested.
When the pilots
heard of the order that attacks be given to the German bombers instead
of the fighter escorts, they were far from happy about this. The tactic
of selected squadrons attacking the escorts above while other squadrons
attacked the bombers was working and was far easier to control because
the combat would be broken into two different combat actions. If greater
priority was given to the bombers, then;
But it was not only Fighter Command that were indulging in important conferences. Across the Channel, Göring realizing that at the moment his Luftwaffe was not gaining the upper hand against the RAF was holding an important conference with his commanders at Karinhall also. It was from this meeting, that a number of important changes to strategy would be made.
First, he confirmed that the Ju87 and the StG Staffels would cease front line operations against British targets and that only two Staffeln would be maintained. This would be for reasons that some operations may require the services of the Ju87 for pin-point bombing accuracy that only the Stuka could be used to greatest effect. They would also be used for attacks on any British merchant convoy that would be passing through the Channel.
was that because RAF Bomber Command could possibly engage in counter attacks
on German airfields and towns, he instructed his Air Fleet Commanders to
make continued attacks on airfields of Bomber Command.
Another decision made by Göring, was that fighter crews be given the chance to 'get to know' the bomber crews that they were to escort. They should meet, build up friendships, and work together like brothers. This was further highlighted when the commander stated that all bomber crews should always have the same escorts. A view that was not received with the same enthusiasm by fighter and bomber crews alike. If anyone wanted to do something that would bind the two crews together, they said, then we should be given radio communication with each other, our radios should also be on the same frequencies making for easier and less confusing understanding of radio messages. [ Document 36 ]
Overcast and dull during the morning. Forecast was for showers to develop my midday, which they did turning mainly to rain periods especially in the east. In the west, although overcast, it was brighter, although the midday drizzle periods ceased by early afternoon and it remained dry.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
1230hrs: After a very quiet morning, a formation of approximately 100 Bf109s, in two waves, 60 plus being detected just off the coast of Dungeness while forty plus were sighted to the north of Dover and flew along the south coast of England on a 'free chase' mission but the RAF were not to fall for such a tactic and ignored them allowing them to return to their bases. (Free Chase is an operation where enemy aircraft patrolled close to the coast in the hope that they would lure the RAF fighters into the air).
1300hrs to 1600hrs: Spasmodic attacks by Bf109 fighters from Calais airfields during the course of the afternoon made strafing attacks on many of the British coastal airfields. These included Manston, Lympne, Hawkinge and a number of airfields in the south-west. Manston received the most serious damage once again, but was not recorded as being serious.
1430hrs: 602 Squadron Westhampnett (Spitfires) were dispatched to intercept a formation of Ju88s detected off the Sussex coast. One Ju88 was shot down off the coast near Bognor with all four crewmen killed. One of the Spitfires was also shot down about 15 minutes later by return gunfire from a Ju88. The pilot managed to bale out although sustaining burns to both hands and landed near Arundel. All Ju88s aborted the mission and returned to their bases in Northern France.
1500hrs: Bilbury airfield, a satellite aerodrome of Pembury was attacked by what was thought to be Ju88s, possibly the same that attacked the oil tanks later at Pembroke. A number of Spitfires were damaged on the ground, but all were repairable.
1520hrs: Believed to be two Ju88 bombers managed to cross the south-west counties of England without interception by British fighters and cross the River Severn and head for the oil storage tanks at Llanreath close to the Pembroke Docks in South Wales. Two tanks received direct hits and eight tanks of the fifteen total exploded and burst into a flaming inferno. The fire was not brought under control until the early hours of the next morning.
N.B. Richard Hough and Denis Richard's in their book The Battle of Britain claim that 302 Squadron, a newly formed Polish squadron claimed their first victory on this day when they destroyed a Ju88 who's target was the airfield at Thornaby (Yorkshire). This engagement was in fact the next day August 20th 1940.
1130hrs: Norwegian Coast. Blenheim
L9497 248 Squadron Sumburgh
TUESDAY AUGUST 20th 1940
Overcast and dull during the morning. Cloud base was very low in the north with rain in many places. As the morning progressed, the rain moved further south. London and the Thames Estuary remained cloudy and overcast, but the Channel area was fine with sunny periods.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
The orders given by Göring in his Luftwaffe Command Orders Staff 1A (described in full in Document 36) were in part put into action during the night of the 19th/20th. In this document we see that Göring mentioned that the weather conditions expected in the next few days was cloud over much of Britain, and that we (the Luftwaffe) must take full advantage of the situation.
But these amounted to only small raids, between 12 and 15 He111 bombers attacked Liverpool and the Merseyside Docks and some dropped more bombs in the Midlands on the way back. Damage was only minimal and one He111 was shot down on the return journey over County Durham. These were some of the first bombs to be dropped on the City of Liverpool.
A Large formation
of 100 plus aircraft was detected coming in from the North Sea into the
Thames Estuary. They seemed content in maintaining their altitude and started
to take in a circular pattern and their flight path seemed to be over Rochford,
Hornchurch, North Weald and turning back along the North Kent coastline.
No attempt was made to bomb any of the areas and Hurricanes from 32 Squadron
Biggin Hill and 56 Squadron North Weald chased them back out to sea. It
is believed that the German formation was on a reconnaissance flight.
The most serious of the days actions were during the mid-afternoon.
1530hrs: Another raid was made
on the airfield at Manston. Bombs were dropped and the airfield strafed.
Damage was only minimal although a hangar was damaged, a couple of buildings
hit by debris and a Blenheim aircraft of 600 Squadron was damaged, but
there were no casualties during the incident.
1545hrs: The oil tanks at Llanreath
at Pembroke Docks which were still burning from the previous days bombing
were again attacked. Defence was by anti-aircraft gunfire that failed to
hit any of the German bombers, but they did manage to hit a Blenheim of
236 Squadron St Eval, that although damaged, managed to return to base.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 21st 1940
Cloud and winds continuing to come down from the north, much cooler and conditions expected top deteriorate during the day. Rain periods are expected in the south during the afternoon especially in coastal districts.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
The weather, which was slowly getting worse from the previous day was expected to continue. Fighter Command knew that large scale operations would be out, but they were not stupid enough to acknowledge the fact that the Luftwaffe would not attempt the occasional mission to possibly airfields and/or industrial targets.
This was borne out just after midday when the days events started to unfold.
1215hrs: Radar picks up a small to medium formation out over the North Sea off Norfolk. The formation is tracked for a while before Fighter Command dispatched any aircraft. This was due to the possibility that the formation may have been on a reconnaissance mission and not causing any particular threat. The formation breaks into two groups. One comes inland and flies on a south-westerly course, the other continues north past the Wash and the Humberside region. Newly formed 302 Squadron Leconfield (Hurricanes) and 242 Squadron Coltishall (Hurricanes) were instructed to intercept.
The Dorniers are from KG2 and head towards Norwich crossing the coast near Great Yarmouth. The other formation also consisted of Do17s were from KG3 and continued their flight path along the east coast towards Hull.
1230hrs: 242 Squadron Coltishall (Hurricanes) make first contact and throw the Dornier formation into disarray. As the bombers twist and turn, Blue Section led by Fl/Lt G.F. Powell-Sheddon, tear into the front part of the formation and with two of his section hit one of the Dorniers. The Do17 of KG2 goes down and crashes in flames in Norfolk. Many of the formation seek cover in the low cloud and abort the mission. 302 squadron, a new Polish squadron was returned to base.
1235hrs: As the other portion
of the formation flying north-west pass Hull, they are closer to the coast
and Fighter Command release 611 Squadron Digby (Spitfires) and interception
is made just off the coast at Skegness.
1240hrs: The next casualty is one of the Spitfires of 611 squadron, when P/O M.P. Brown launches in to attack a Dornier, but as he pulls away his Spitfire his hit by gunfire from the Do17 which damages the tailplane and one of the ailerons on his starboard wing and he is forced to return to base with a very unresponsive Spitfire. More Spitfires go into the attack, F/O D.H. Watkins lines up a Dornier in his gunsight and gives it a five second burst. Smoke trails from the stricken bomber and it goes down crashing into the sea off Scotts Head killing all the crew.
1245hrs: Within five minutes, his Spitfire is hit, but damage is only minor. The pilot, F/O D.H. Watkins tries to stay with the combat but his crippled aircraft is just a burden in the affray so he decides to return to base.
1300 hrs: A section of 242 Squadron led by S/L D.R.S. Bader was coming in to land at Coltishall just to the north of Norwich from a normal practice flight when Bader heard over the R/T that an enemy aircraft had been spotted near Yarmouth. The call was actually not for 242 Squadron, but for 66 Squadron also based at Coltishall. Bader could not resist the temptation, Yarmouth was only minutes away and he could be there within minutes.
S/L Douglas Bader lost the aircraft in the cloud, he stayed just under the cloud base twisting and turning, but the Dornier eluded him. Bader returned to base exceptionally annoyed and in a state of rage.
1305hrs: The combat action continues and moves off the coast at Skegness, the Dorniers have been foiled in their attempt in attacking a coastal convoy coming down the coast. Many of the bombers try to gain height and take cover in the cloud. The Spitfire of P/O J.W. Lund takes a hit from gunfire from a Dornier and decides to return to base only to crash on landing with the pilot escaping any injury.
1320hrs: Another Spitfire takes a hit in the glycol system and it is believed that he also sustained damage to the hydraulic system, and returned to base. With 611 Squadron losing half of its aircraft the rest attempt to block access to the cloud cover forcing many of the Dorniers to take evasive action.
1330hrs: In a desperate attempt to seek the safety of the clouds, one Do17 collides with another receiving damage that forces the bomber to make a forced landing between Skegness and Maplethorpe. The crew were believed to have been captured. The other Do17 is immediately attacked by 611 Spitfires and crashed in the vicinity of Maplethorpe.
In the south west, German bombers made several attacks targeting 10 Group airfields and oil installations.
1425hrs: 234 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires) intercepted and attacked a Ju88. Possibly shot down by P/O R.F.T. Doe. The bomber crashed and burst into flames killing all on board.
1615hrs: An attack was made on Brize Norton airfield and also at Middle Wallop. 17 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) intercepted a formation of Ju88s making the attacks. One of which was shot down, the Junkers crash landed at Earnley and the crew captured. 17 Squadron sustained no casualties. One Blenheim bomber was damaged at Middle Wallop during the raid.
THURSDAY AUGUST 22nd 1940
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
The weather again was to be a deciding factor in the course of the days events. Most Luftwaffe units had been grounded for the day, although the RAF reported over 500 sorties. By day, the action was very light for the obvious reasons, but the Luftwaffe stepped up night bombing operations to a number of areas. But the first action of the day was during the morning.
0900hrs: The convoy code named "Totem" was battling heavy seas through the Straits of Dover when they reported that they were under attack. The report was forwarded to Fighter Command, but no reports had come through from the radar stations of enemy activity in the Channel. As it turned out, the convoy was under attack by German gun batteries based at Cap Griz Nez. The convoy later reported that most of the shells were wide and no damage was done to the ships.
The convoy continued on after the eighty minute bombardment without any further enemy attack. But their position had been reported and with the weather postponing any air attacks on the English mainland, it presented a target for the Luftwaffe.
1230hrs: Radar picked up a formation of enemy aircraft coming across the Channel. The plot showed that it was heading towards convoy "Totem". 11 Group released 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) and 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes).
1300hrs: Both 54 Squadron and
610 Squadron arrive over the convoy in time to see the raiders approaching.
They go into action immediately, and just as they approach the Ju88s, they
are attacked by Bf109s. They manage to turn the bombers back, but not before
one of the 54 Squadron Spitfires was shot down and crashed into the Channel
off the coast of Deal. One Ju88 was damaged and is thought to have crash
landed in France.
1900hrs: With the afternoon
over, the raids continued. On a number of occasions, the Luftwaffe sent
over waves of Bf109 fighters, usually to strafe aerodromes and landing
strips. This raid, seemed to be one of those.
Possibly the most notable, and in a way controversial was the bombs that were dropped on the township of Harrow and the adjoining Wealdstone. Records have always shown that at 0330hrs on the morning of August 22nd 1940, the first bombs to be dropped on London were at Harrow. Geographically, in 1940 Harrow was in the county of Middlesex, the Greater London area did not extend as far as either Harrow or Wealdstone. But as far as the Civil Defence was concerned, Harrow was included and was within the boundaries of Civil Defence Area No.5 which was classed as the London area. To take the matter further, Harrow and Wealdstone also come under the jurisdiction of the London Metropolitan Police. Yet look in any gazetteer, and you will most certainly see Harrow and Wealdstone listed as being in Middlesex.
The Luftwaffe also dropped bombs on Aberdeen in Scotland, Bristol in the west and on South Wales industrial areas during the night of August 21st-22nd. It is believed that Bradford and Hull was also bombed during this night, but this cannot be confirmed.
The heaviest attack came during the night of August 22nd - 23rd when Ju88s dropped more than sixteen tons of high explosive on the aircraft works at Filton seriously disrupting production.
FRIDAY AUGUST 23rd 1940
Bright intervals were expected with the possibility of showers over most of Britain. Cloud and overcast could persist over the Channel and the south coast.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
The typical English summer was behaving in its usual unpredictable way which again meant that any major assault was out of the question. Overnight, the Luftwaffe targeted Filton again and up to sixteen tons of high explosive fell on the airfield causing some damage, but although hangars and machine shops were hit it was not enough to put them out of action. An occasional German patrol aircraft was detected off the coast, but Fighter Command was not going to waste time on these, and those enemy aircraft that did cross the coast and penetrate inland managed to avoid interception in the low cloud cover.
The afternoon was still clear of any enemy activity due to the inclement weather. A few single aircraft managed to cross the coast, but they stayed very close to the cloud base and they done little or no damage. Again, with combat operations virtually non existent, Attention was given to the repair of airfields and tele communications.
SATURDAY AUGUST 24th 1940
Since August 18th, things generally were relatively quiet, the lull of the last five days had allowed both sides to regroup and re-establish themselves. So far, all the Luftwaffe had been doing was to cause inconvenience to Fighter Command. The radar stations had been damaged, but in nearly all cases they were back in operation within 24 hours. Some airfields had been damaged, but again, the damage was not enough to make them non-operational. Both sides were losing both pilots and aircraft, and with the Battle of Britain now over two months old, the Luftwaffe had not yet achieved the advantage that it had hoped for, and Göring's plan that the Royal Air Force would be wiped out in two weeks were hopelessly dashed.
Another directive was issued by Göring:
Göring went on to add that concentrated attacks were to be made on Royal Air Force airfields. The tactic of trying to lure the fighters of Fighter Command into the air would continue, as "...these fighters must be destroyed if we are to succeed." German fighter pilots were still opposed to the fact that they were not being given 'free hunt' instructions and that they could fly above the bombers that they were escorting. The instruction to stay close to the bombers thus giving them full protection continued.
At 11 Group Fighter Command, the controllers were instructed by AVM Keith Park:
It seemed now, that it was going to be a battle of tactics. Previously, the bombing had become far more widespread. In the early stages bombing was only concentrated on the radar stations and some of the production factories in the Southampton and Portsmouth areas with an occasional attack on the midlands, but now destruction by bombing was getting far more intense. Most of the airfields had received some sort of damage, bombing was getting closer to London and in some cases the suburbs had been hit, inland towns and cities in the industrial midlands were now sustaining bomb damage. The air Ministry and the War cabinet were very concerned at the close proximity the bombing was on the capital itself. Göring had issued instructions that London was not to be bombed except only upon his orders which was a directive that had been passed down from Adolph Hitler.
London was ringed by the Sector Stations that were there to protect it. These were Kenley to the south in the county of Surrey, Biggin Hill also in the south in the county of Kent both just a short drive away from London. Hornchurch to the east, which was a vital airfield because it protected the London Docks, the Thames and the Thames Estuary as well as the large factories at Dagenham and Tilbury. North Weald to the north-east protected much of the Home Counties as well as providing back up for the busy Hornchurch. Northolt in the west of London completed whatever protection London needed.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
It was with a tired and exhausted German Air Fleet, that Göring unleashed a savage all out bombing attack on Britain. August 24th was to be the start of a campaign of sustained bombing, sending over the Channel more aircraft that the RAF could cope with. On the night of 23rd/24th August, over 200 heavy bombers made a night raid on the Dunlop Fort rubber works at Birmingham in the midlands seriously affecting tyre production.
The radar at Pevensey and Dover picks up an enemy formation off the coast
of Calais. A short pause as they try to ascertain its flight path, Fighter
Command HQ are alerted and the Observer Corps are ordered to keep a sharp
look out. The formation consisted of over 40 Do17s and Ju88s with 60 plus
Bf109s as escort.
There is no account of bomb damage in this area at the time and it is presumed that the formation was turned back on another unsuccessful mission.
1130hrs: Sgt R.F. Hamlyn and the rest of 610 Squadron had barely had enough time to have breakfast after touching down back at Biggin Hill, when the call went out for 610 Squadron to 'Scramble'.
An enemy formation had been detected coming across the Channel from Cape Griz Nez which consisted of Ju88s and an escort of Bf109s. 264 Squadron Hornchurch (Defiants) had also been deployed as was 151 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) and 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes). Deploying the Defiant squadron was a devastating move, especially as 141 Squadron (Defiants) had almost been decimated about a month previous.
At the time, 264 squadron was at Manston, now after so many attacks was being used mainly as a refuelling station rather than a base. 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) had been vectored to Dover, where they saw nothing for the first 40 minutes.
1215hrs: The Defiants made contact with the bombers who made their first attack on Manston airfield. Although they managed to claim one Ju88 shot down and another damaged, they suffered in the usual way, even in combat with the Ju88s. Three Defiants were destroyed while two others sustained damage. 610 Squadron managed to intercept a flight of six Bf109s, but they turned away and headed back towards France having a head start on the pursuing Spitfires. 610 Squadron broke off the engagement, except for Sgt R.F. Hamlyn, who chased one back across the Channel, despite orders not to chase enemy aircraft back across the Channel. Most of the way he was too far distant to open fire, until reaching the French coast where at a range of 150 yards he sent two short bursts of machine gun fire into the Messerschmitt and watched it dive out of control into the ground below.
had many tunnels and underground shelters, it was now rapidly becoming
useless, the result of regular and constant bomb attacks. In three
days, 264 Squadron had lost some twelve Defiants, fourteen pilots and gunners
including the Commanding Officer were killed with most of the others being
wounded. (Just as the Ju87 was withdrawn from the Luftwaffe, Fighter
Command decided that the end had now come for the Defiant as a front line
fighter, and what was left of 264 Squadron was transferred back to Kirton-on
1500hrs - 1630hrs: The combat action continued throughout this period over the Thames Estuary and the north coast towns of Kent. Manston had taken the brunt of the attack, but a number of German bombers managed to get through to their targets of North Weald and Hornchurch where, although considerable damage was done, operations were not affected. Damage to North Weald and Hornchurch suffered considerable damage, but not enough to make them un-operational. But with this attack, and the other raids around south-eastern England, the toll once again began to mount. The RAF was to lose 20 aircraft and 18 of those damaged were repairable, to the 39 destroyed of the Luftwaffe.
1700hrs: The day was not over yet. Most of the action during the morning was in the Dover, Ramsgate, Thames Estuary and East London area, but by mid afternoon although Ventnor Radar was not in operation, a formation of 50+ heavy bombers were detected east of Cherbourg. Another formation was also detected coming from the south-east. Several squadrons were scrambled, but only 609 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires) found contact with the enemy in most unpleasant circumstances. They spotted the bomber formation 5,000 feet above them, just as the AA coast guns started to fire at the bombers. It was like being caught between 'the devil and the deep blue sea' except in this case it was the thick cloud of a bomber formation and the chilly waters of a cold and bleak English Channel.
The Spitfire of American, Pilot Officer Andy Mamedoff was hit and fighting with broken controls just managed to land the plane in a field. (Andy was to lose his life later in the war after dying from sustained wounds.) With only a single squadron against 70+ bombers, it was too much to ask that 609 force the bombers into retreat, and the formation continued on to the City of Portsmouth where the let loose over 200 250 kg bombs. This raid resulted in the largest amount of casualties so far in a single raid during the Battle of Britain. Over 100 people in the city were killed on that afternoon, and 300 sustained serious injuries. Houses, shops, factories, the Naval barracks and the dockyards were all seriously damaged, and for the first time, the newspapers had to print the grim reality of truth in their headlines. For months previously Britons were reading newspaper headlines, "144 down out of 1,000", 25 Spitfires stop 70 Bombers" and "115 Raiders out of 600 Destroyed" figures were very much exaggerated. Now the headlines were to read "Portsmouth Suffers Heavy Bombing", simply that, in an effort to maintain morale the amount of dead and injured was only placed in small print.
2250hrs: But the bad news was not to stop there. No sooner had the bombers began their return journey, another radar station detected another large formation building up off the Cherbourg Peninsular. This was joined by another formation from the south east again and radar tracked them across the Channel. But by this time darkness had fallen and it was an impossibility for any squadron to be 'scrambled'. With the small amount of night fighters that Fighter Command possessed it would be a disaster to allow them to go up and fly the flag for the RAF. Instead, Britain's only defence for the oncoming bombers would be the searchlights and AA groundfire. This time, the target was London itself. A target that was not to be attacked unless ordered to do so by Göring himself from instruction direct from Adolph Hitler.
2300hrs: So far for the period of the war, Londoners although often hearing local gunfire, seeing vapour trails of dogfights in the sky and hearing about the war in newspapers and on the radio, and the only experience of bombing was when Croydon was mistakenly identified as Kenley and just a couple of bombs dropped on nearby Croydon and Purley, the target hear was naturally the aerodrome at Croydon. The other instance was earlier in the morning when bombs were dropped on the docks and outskirts of East London. But that was in daylight. This was to be a new experience, a frightful experience, for this was the first time that London would be bombed at night. London had never been bombed since the Gotha bombing raids of 1918, and this was to be far more frightening, and spectacular than anything Londoners had seen before. Bombs fell at Aldgate in the city, at Bloomsbury, Bethnal Green, Finsbury, Hackney, Stepney, Shoreditch and West Ham. Fires covered the whole of London's East End, the night sky glowed blood red, fountains of flame bellowed out of factory windows, and wall structures came crashing down.
On this first night of night bombing by the Luftwaffe, had one experienced not only what they saw, but the sounds, terrible human sounds, cries of despair and terror. For the people of not only London, but Birmingham, Portsmouth and Manchester and many other cities.....their battle was just about to begin. The seaside town of Ramsgate suffered badly this day. A broad mixture of people, wardens, policemen and civilians were amongst 24 people killed in the town in what has been described as 'the worlds worst assault from the air' when 1,200 houses were destroyed and damaged.
Churchill knew of Hitler's instruction, '......that London was not to be bombed...unless on my sole instruction'. This attack on the August 24th 1940, was this another blunder by the Luftwaffe bombers. Most reports state that the bombing of London was an accident, and that it was not a planned raid. The explanation was that the Luftwaffe bomber crews that were involved, were to bomb the storage oil tanks at both Rochester and at Thameshaven, but they had overshot the target area and continued on towards the City of London. While most of the bombs landed in the dockland area of East and West Ham and others fell in North London and as far west as Esher and Staines, one of the Heinkels left his release of bombs far too late , and it was these that landed in Central London that was to have immediate consequences in the days following.
But can we really accept the fact that it really was an accident? Let us look at some of the facts that have risen from the night of August 24th-25th 1940.
It is pleasing to note that Winston S. Ramsey of After the Battle series has picked this up and published his findings in "The Blitz - Then and Now Volume 1"
Within twenty four hours Bomber Command was to launch its first attack on the city of Berlin. This was a reprisal raid for the sudden attack on London. We wonder now as to whether this was a good move or not, for the bombing of Berlin only provoked the Luftwaffe into a series of regular night raids on the British capital. This was to be the warning that the Blitzkrieg on London had now begun.
 Len Deighton
|Document 36. Goring's document of August 19th 1940
Document 37. Map showing bomb damage August 24th 1940