The Chronology: Page-30
SUNDAY AUGUST 25th 1940
After early morning mists, especially in the north, the morning is expected to be fine and clear with cloud developing during the afternoon. The north can expect scattered cloud during the afternoon and evening.
Winston Churchill dispatched an order to Bomber Command that an attack of retaliation be made on Berlin. Hitler had still not issued a directive that the City of London should be attacked, and subsequently he issued the command that any aircrew that drops bombs on London will be severely reprimanded. Göring in turn, then issued telegrams to all bomber units requesting the names of any aircraft captain and crews that drop bombs on London. These names would then be submitted to Luftwaffe High Command in that the offenders may be transferred to Army Infantry Units. It is still unsure at this stage as to whether the bombing of London was a deliberate attack or not.
Surprisingly, although the weather could only be termed as cloudy but fair, it was in fact warm to hot with ideal flying conditions. But for a day of any serious activity, it was not to be, not for the morning period anyway. Dowding and Park were discussing the possibility that the Luftwaffe were turning their attention to the bombing of London and the cities after the previous night encounter, unaware at this stage that the bombing may have been accidental. Air Vice Marshal Sir Christopher Brand of 10 Group in the south- west disagreed that they were in for a lull in activities that had often been the case on previous occasions, and his foresight had been proven correct when, during the mid-afternoon, Ventnor CH had detected a formation coming in across the Channel again heading towards the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton.
1700hrs: Up until now, it had almost looked like being a perfect day off for the pilots of 10 and 11 Groups. Many just lazed around most of the day in the warm sunshine hoping that the Luftwaffe pilots were too, lapping it up and could not be bothered with fighting a wretched war. But now the non-events of the day changed. Some 100 plus aircraft had been detected coming in over the Channel from Cherbourg. Further to that, another three waves of enemy aircraft were coming in from the Channel Islands that totalled some 100 plus aircraft.
Headquarters FC immediately notified 10 Group in which they dispatched 609 Squadron Warmwell (Spitfires) under the command of Squadron Leader Horace Darley. 11 Group dispatched 17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes) while 87 Squadron Exeter (Hurricanes) was under the command of Wing Commander John Dewar and made up the three squadrons vectored to attack the incoming German formations.
All squadrons met at the vectored position just to the south of Weymouth and Portland where the British fighters found a heavy contingent of Bf110s from 1/ZG 2 and Bf109s. As with nearly all occasions of combat, they were outnumbered and once again indulged in some serious dog fighting and a number of bombers managed to get through and attack the airfield at Warmwell causing damage only to a couple of hangars and cutting the communications. where the Bf110s turned back on another aborted mission.
Squadron Leader Cedric Williams of 17 Squadron was shot down and killed when gunfire from one of the 110s hit his Hurricane, while another pilot was seen to bale out of his crippled Hurricane to safety. But if there has to be a hero of the day, it has to be Czech pilot Count Manfred Czernin of 17 Squadron who by accurate head on and rear attacks shot down three Bf110s in just one minute. As the number of Bf110s shot down became greater, more Bf109s came in from above who shot down more British fighters, but the damage had been done, the force of 110s had diminished considerably, and the 109s had to return to their bases because they were low on fuel. In this combat, Fighter Command lost sixteen fighters from the three squadrons while the Luftwaffe lost a total of twenty aircraft.
1810hrs: At the same time, there was a small skirmish on Dover where a Staffel of 110s again bombed the harbour and docks, but fighters from Gravesend and Biggin Hill chased them back out over the Channel. Later that afternoon, eighty-one British Hampden bombers were preparing for what to be the first attack to be made on the German capital Berlin. "If ever a bomb drops on Berlin, then you can call me Meier" Göring once joked convinced that British bombers would never be able to reach the capital. That night, the Hampdens did get through and Berlin was bombed, although damage was described as only being light.
But the new Luftwaffe tactics were working, and to a point were working well. Germany at this time although not doing considerable damage during the daylight attacks, were said to be at this stage just probing, but the cost in loss of aircraft was still a major problem that displeased High Command.
They were pleased at the decision that the Bf109 bases had been moved to the area of Calais which had now allowed them to spend more time over enemy territory. Also, the new tighter Luftwaffe formations were allowing the bombers now to at least get through to their target areas. A point recognized by Fighter Command who stated that all they have to do now is to learn that even from the air, dockland areas do not look like oil refineries and storage areas and that with the new formations they have taught the navigators how to read a map.
MONDAY AUGUST 26th 1940
Most of the country could expect a cloudy day, but little or no rain was expected. The north should be dull, but dry while in the south brighter conditions with higher cloud , good visibility and dry. Mild condition should persist throughout the day in all areas.
From first light, German aircraft on reconnaissance patrols had been picked up by radar throughout the Kent and Sussex areas. 11 Group kept a watchful eye but they came to the conclusion that these aircraft were only on photographic missions and posed no threat.
1120hrs: Fighter Command was a little hesitant at first when a build-up of enemy aircraft was detected coming from the direction of Lille. This was joined by further aircraft from Luftflotte 2 and the force was estimated at 150 plus. Fighter Command had no option but to take defensive action.
11 Group "scrambled" 616 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) who had not long come down from Church Fenton, and the very depleted 264 Squadron Hornchurch (Defiants) operating from Manston.
1200hrs: 616 Squadron was one of the first squadrons of the day that was "scrambled" and according to reports, far too late, a flight of Bf109s were almost on top of them as they desperately tried to gain height. They tangled desperately, but the 109s had the upper hand. Seven of the squadrons Spitfires were shot down, all of them destroyed, while two pilots were killed and the other five either baled out or crash landed their aircraft.
1230hrs: Although six squadrons were involved, it was only 264 Squadron Hornchurch (Defiants) that did suffer further casualties. The Defiants have never been successful in combat operations, and why these aircraft should constantly be used in combat is will always be questioned. On this occasion, they lost three aircraft destroyed with one managing to return to base that was to live to see another day. All the Defiant's were shot down while over the Herne Bay-Margate area soon after 1230hrs. The Dorniers managed to bomb Dover and Folkestone as well as the seaside resorts of Margate and Broadstairs. Some of the Do17s went on to drop bombs on the airfields of Biggin Hill and Kenley again. But opposition from Fighter Command was strong, and all the bombers and the escorts were flying back over the Channel by 1250hrs.
The first couple of hours after midday seemed like a break for lunch as no combat activity was recorded. But two hours into the afternoon, it was back to.....business as usual:
1400hrs: Radar again detected enemy activity off the Belgian coast. A large build-up was forming over the Channel and heading towards the Thames Estuary. This formation consisted of about 50 Do17s from 1/KG2 and 11/KG3 escorted by 120 Bf109s and Bf110s. A formation coming in from the direction of Lille was the first to be detected, but within minutes, another formation was detected coming from St Omer. The Observer Corps made a visual sighting off the coast at Deal, made a far more accurate assessment regarding strength and height of the enemy. One formation took a wide berth around the Thames Estuary, the bombers and their escorts turning east and approaching the Essex coast just south of Harwich. The other formation came in through the Estuary and took the usual course along the River Thames.
Fighter Command put 10 squadrons into action. Among them were 1RCAF Squadron
Northolt (Hurricanes), 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes), 111 Squadron Debden
(Hurricanes), 310 Squadron Duxford (Hurricanes) and 615 Squadron Kenley
(Hurricanes). The flight path of the enemy bombers could give them a possibility
of three targets. The aerodromes of Hornchurch and North Weald, or another
attack on London. Debden could also be a possibility but was located just
a little to the north of the flight path.
Keith Park's tactics now, was to release half of his required squadrons leaving the other half on standby at their respective bases. Looking at the overall situation, he could possibly pinpoint the obvious targets of the Luftwaffe. Once the airborne squadron flight leaders reported the enemy strength, height and position, Park would vector the squadrons that had been on standby to allocated positions to cut the enemy off.
First interception was made by the Czech's of 310 Squadron Duxford (Hurricanes).
Being the first squadron on the scene, they found it difficult to get at
the bombers because of the Bf109 escorts, so they matched their Hurricanes
against the Messerschmitt fighters. Weaving in and out of enemy aircraft,
and in many cases....themselves, 310 squadron went in full of exuberance
and enthusiasm. It was not until the arrival of 56 Squadron North Weald
(Hurricanes) and 111 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes) that the first enemy
aircraft were shot down. 56 Squadron claimed the first Bf109 over the beaches
of Clacton, then 111 Squadron and 310 Squadron claimed Bf110's in the same
area. But 310 Squadron was to lose two Hurricanes although both pilots
baled out and sustained only minor injuries, and two others were damaged
and managed to return to base.
1530hrs: The German bomber formation and their escorts were over the area between Clacton and Colchester when they were intercepted by 1RCAF Northolt (Hurricanes). At this stage, some of the Bf109s had turned back, but Fighter Command still had to contend with the Bf110s as well as the Do17s. Soon, the German formation turned nor' west and it became apparent that the target was Debden. With 56 and 111 Squadrons still involved, the three squadrons managed to steer many of the Dorniers off their intended bombing run. One of the Do17s fell to the guns of a Hurricane of 1RCAF Squadron, then another Bf110 went down in flames crashing at Great Bentley, and believed shot down by P/O P.J. Simpson of 111 Squadron.
F/O R.L. Edwards of 1RCAF Squadron was killed in this combat, while the 1RCAF commander S/L E. McNab was hit by return gunfire from a Do17 and returned to base. Although all three Fighter Command squadrons managed to disperse the bombers, six Do17s managed to get through to Debden and release about 100 bombs doing considerable damage to the landing area, one hangar, the sergeants mess, the transport and equipment depots and the NAAFI. Water mains and the electricity were hit and were out of action for a short period and it is reported that six people at the airfield were killed. Although Hornchurch and North Weald may have been targets, they were spared on this day.
1530hrs: At the same time as combat operations were taking place inland from Harwich, 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes) and 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) intercepted the formation that was approaching up the Thames. Interception was made just off the coast near Margate. A number of Bf109s were shot down over North Kent, and the Do17s fared no better. One of them being shot down by newly promoted P/O G. Allard of 85 Squadron. The Dornier, with both engines stopped, decided he could make a wheels up landing at nearby Rochford aerodrome, a satellite of Hornchurch. P/O Allard followed him all the way down. The Dornier slid on its belly almost the whole length of the grass covered airfield before coming to rest. "Now that's one way to give yourself up" was one remark from the ground staff at Rochford, "door to door service, things must be bad over the other side." as they waved at P/O Allard's Hurricane who flew overhead, then went back to join in the rest of the action.
1600hrs: Attention was now turned to the Portsmouth area where 50 plus He111 bombers and 100 plus Bf109 fighters came in from over the Solent. 11 Group released 43 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) and 602 Squadron Westhampnett (Spitfires), while 10 Group released 234 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires), 152 Squadron Warmwell (Spitfires) and 213 Squadron Exeter (Hurricanes). The weather was by now closing in with low cloud covering much of southern England, and a number of squadrons failed to make contact with the enemy. Those that did, managed to cause havoc amongst the Heinkel's dispersing them in different directions. Coupled with the fact that the weather situation was getting worse, the bombers turned back towards home with most of them jettisoning their bomb loads over the Channel. Three He111s were shot down, and two, crippled by accurate gunfire from British fighters limped home in damaged condition.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
It had been a bad day for both sides on a day when fierce combat was the order of the day, although Fighter Command fared better than the Luftwaffe. Although the RAF lost 27 fighters destroyed in combat, only six pilots lost their lives. German fighter pilots blamed the new order of flying close to the bombers as the main reason that some forty-one German aircraft had been shot down. They claimed that they lost the element of surprise, and that we were spotted by British fighters as soon as the bomber formation was seen. The German High Command had for some time had reservations of these daylight bombing raids on British airfields and naval bases even though the new strategy was working, and this latest mission failure from Hugo Sperles Luftflotte 3 was now to prove a point and subsequently major daylight raids were suspended indefinitely. (This suspension was to last about four weeks.)
TUESDAY AUGUST 27th 1940
Rain that had developed overnight would continue throughout the morning. Heavy cloud should continue for most of the day although the Channel area could expect a break up of the cloud by midday. Rain periods could be expected in the north with low cloud. Conditions should be expected to be cooler in all areas.
Most of Britain awoke to a very damp and gloomy morning. Many of the pilots, as they did so often on seeing wet and waterlogged airfields, breathe a sigh of relief as they knew that once again they could possibly take things easy, even if was for four or five hours. Most civilians done, what they had been doing so far every day since the war began. The early morning 'cuppa' before breakfast and then the family sat around the kitchen table reading and talking about the previous days, or nights events from early morning editions of the newspaper.
[ Document 38 ]
Air Vice Marshal
Keith Park took advantage of the wet and miserable morning to make contact
with his controllers, a meeting that also had Air Vice Marshal Sholto Douglas
present.. The main subject was his disagreement with Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory
regarding the sending up of a possible three squadrons of fighters flying
as a wing, to intercept large numbers of enemy formations. Leigh-Mallory's
persistence in the 'Big Wings' [ Document 39 ] was that at least Fighter
Command could meet the enemy with an equal or near equal number of fighters
instead of the tactics used by Keith Park and supported by Dowding in sending
up a minimum number of fighters where at all times there were outnumbered
by anything up to three to one. It is a well documented fact that neither
Park or Leigh-Mallory saw eye to eye, disagreements continued throughout
the Battle of Britain, possibly due to the fact that it was resentment
on Leigh-Mallory's part that he thought that it should have been he (Leigh-Mallory)
that should have had control of 11 Group and not Keith Park.
[Leigh-Mallory].........came out of Dowding's office, paused in mine and said in my presence that he would move heaven and earth to get Dowding removed from Fighter Command..............and he made it quite clear to me that he was very jealous of my group, which was in the front line.
Park told the meeting that not only was it not feasible to put up large formations of fighters, but greater time would have to be taken in the initial stages of forming them up. He gave the instance of the previous day, when he asked Leigh-Mallory for assistance in intercepting a Dornier formation coming in from the east, and to intercept before they got to the 11 Group airfields east of London. Park continued, that by the time that Leigh-Mallory had got the 12 Group squadrons airborne, the raiders had got through to Debden, caused damage by bombing and were on the way home by the time that the Duxford squadrons had arrived. 12 Groups reaction to Parks comments was that they were informed far too late, and by the time that the Duxford squadrons had arrived at the vectored position, they could not find the enemy.
Keith Park questioned this, stating that four squadrons were already managing to hold the enemy between Clacton and Harwich, but as a precautionary measure, called for 12 Group assistance in giving protection to the airfields east of London should the event happen that some of the bombers may get through. Park went on to say that the enemy had twice the distance to travel than the 12 Group fighters, were slower than the 12 Group fighters, yet could not give Debden the protection needed. He compared this with 310 Squadron, a single squadron dispatched from Duxford that managed to intercept the enemy before it had reached the Essex coast.
The weather started to clear by midday, and the Luftwaffe moved more Bf109 units to the coast at Calais with the intention here of providing the bombers of Luftflotte 2 with even greater numbers as escorts than ever before. But still only restricted daylight activity.
1015hrs: A lone Do17 was detected over the Channel south of Plymouth and 238 Squadron Middle Wallop (Hurricanes) sent a flight to intercept. The Dornier was spotted and one of the Hurricanes managed to shoot it down and it crashed at Tavistock in Devon. The aircraft was on a photo-reconnaissance flight.
1200hrs -1230hrs: Radar picked up an enemy formation coming across the Channel from the direction of Cherbourg. 10 Group released two squadrons to intercept just as they reached the coast. 152 Squadron Warmwell (Spitfires) managed to claim one Ju88 off the coast near Portland, while two other Ju88s were damaged, one of them crashing on landing back at its base.
By nightfall, Do17s made a bombing run on the west and the south-west of England, again, 10 Group sent up three squadrons who managed to destroy three of the bombers, the others scattered and returned home. The only casualties in this combat were the three Dorniers.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 28th 1940
Cloud was expected to clear overnight giving way to clearer conditions over most of Britain. Cloud was expected to persist over the south east corner of England and over the Channel. Most areas could expect colder conditions throughout the day as southerly winds should keep temperatures down.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
Dowding and Park were hoping that the tranquillity of the previous day would continue. But the day began fine, with scattered cloud, the rain and drizzle of the previous day completely gone.
0845hrs: The answer came in the form of a number of German bomber formations that had been detected building up off the French coast west of Dunkirk. It was a large formation, 50 plus Do17 bombers escorted by as many Bf109s and Bf110s. Fighter Command again "scrambled" 79 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes), 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes), 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) and poor 264 Squadron Hornchurch (Defiants) who were using the satellite station of Manston and were preparing to disband and withdraw the squadron up north to Kirton on Lyndsay.
0900hrs: The bomber formations were again targeting the airfields of Fighter Command. This time Manston received only minor damage as did Eastchurch again mistakenly thought to be a front line Fighter Command airfield, although the bombing was regarded as being heavy with a couple of Fairy Battles destroyed, more hangars damaged and the airfield generally suffering from numerous bomb craters. Sadly, 264's Defiants which were involved in combat over the area proved no match for the Luftwaffe fighters and three of the twelve that were originally scrambled were shot down.
If there was a bright note regarding this raid, it was with 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes). The British fighters found getting through the German fighter escort quite difficult and trying to get at the bombers was proving a difficult task. But, they managed to mix it with the fighters and in this combat, 85 squadron managed to down six Bf109s, with one of them going to the C.O. S/L Peter Townsend.
1230hrs: A second raid some two hours later by Do17s from 1/KG2 attacked the southern Essex airfield at Rochford for the second time that day but did little damage and the airfield remained operational. All squadrons at Rochford were made airborne and Fl/Lt Al Deere of 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) who had been returned to Hornchurch from Rochford had been hit for the third time during the Battle of Britain and again was forced to bale out.
But it was the third raid of the day that angered Keith Park. Bf109s and 110s that were again on a supposedly decoy run over the Channel were met by seven squadrons and a combat battle, fighter to fighter combat took place. Although six Bf109s were lost, five Spitfires and Hurricanes were shot down. Park told his Squadron Controllers in no uncertain terms that unless these enemy formations were proving a threat, they must not allow valuable fighter squadrons to be drawn into fighter to fighter combat.
But these attacks on the RAF airfields, were by and large really only nuisance attacks. None of them had done any major damage and all the targets remained operational. But the real attacks came again during the hours of darkness.
During the afternoon, Winston Churchill was visiting Dover and was staying at Dover Castle. It was while he was there, the air raid siren sounded and Churchill and his entourage watched as fighters clashed with German bombers over the town. A spokesman for the War Office stated later:
2200hrs: Here we saw the first of the mass night bombing raids. While most people thought that the first major bombing raids would be on London, the Germans on this night targeted the large dock areas of Liverpool and Birkenhead. But again, the Germans created a blunder in their accuracy. More bombs fell on untargeted areas than did on the actual target, in fact villages and houses were hit that were over 150 miles away from Liverpool. One stick of bombs fell on houses in the British midlands. But on Liverpool and Birkenhead themselves, most of the damage was caused in the surrounding areas as bombs feel far wide of their target. The German crews were reporting that the target areas had been hit, but German reconnaissance photographs showed that the dockland areas received only slight damage and did not back up the claims made by the crews.
This was to be the first night of bombing by the Luftwaffe for a period of five consecutive nights. Each night in excess of 100 tons of bombs would fall nightly on the Merseyside city.
A number of people in the Merseyside region were killed, and in past bombing raids on Britain especially in Portsmouth and Southampton hundreds of people had already been killed. Yet, it was on this night, that RAF Bomber Command again dropped bombs on the city of Berlin killing ten people. Hitler in a speech to the people called the RAF murderers, while the German press outlawed the British attacks as 'Cowardly' and called Bomber Command 'British Air Pirates'. So, ten people that were killed in Berlin was a 'Cowardly Act' and the British were being claimed as murderers, so what do we call the Germans that had already killed over a thousand innocent people in Lufwaffe air raids on Britain in August alone.
But it did appear that a pattern was now being adopted. The German heavy bombers were coming over in large waves on night attacks on the British cities and industrial areas and docks. By day they were attacking the RAF airfields, and as we shall see, this, as time goes on, would only increase in ferocity while at night, their attention was turned to cities, docks and industrial targets.
It had been decided by Fighter Command, that due to the number of Defiants being shot down, and many others receiving severe damage, that it would be foolish to maintain these aircraft in operational front line duties, and that within the next twenty-four hours they should be withdrawn where they could be used on other duties.
THURSDAY AUGUST 29th 1940
Low cloud and showers would persist for most of the morning in most areas, but was expected to clear and most of the country could expect some cloud with sunny periods with the exception of the Channel areas where cloud was expected to continue. Most areas were to expect a continuation of cooler temperatures.
OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:
Because of the weather, enemy activity was very light with only the occasional reconnaissance aircraft along the east coast and Fighter Command decided to leave them alone leaving the map boards at both headquarters completely clear.
1445hrs: A radar plot was picked up by south coast radar of a formation that again was coming in from the Channel towards the Kent coast. A mixture of Bf109s and Bf110s from JG3, JG26, JG51, ZG26 and ZG76. At first, the radar sent through the message of 700 plus bandits approaching, and Park ordered no less that 13 fighter squadrons of 11 Group into the air. This figure was later amended and confirmed by the Observer Corps that it was in fact a formation of some 650 aircraft.
1530hrs: 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes) was the first on the scene and straight away got caught into combat with the Bf109s. Three of their Hurricanes were shot down with two of them destroyed although no pilots were lost. 603 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) were also on the scene and two of these were damaged by German fighters. 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) also lost two aircraft with one of their pilots killed. Park immediately saw that the British fighters would have no choice that to mix it with the huge number of 109s and could see no point in fighter to fighter combat and called for all Squadrons to abort.
1915hrs: Again a number of squadrons were dispatched to intercept German fighters again trying to lure RAF fighters into combat. Again, Keith Park would not fall to the bait and sent only minimal squadrons to meet the German fighters. 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes), 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes) and 603 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) were involved and although all squadrons suffered casualties, four Bf109s were shot down.
F/L Richard Hillary of 603 Squadron made his debut with the squadron in spectacular fashion by destroying one Bf109 over Manston and claiming a probable Bf109 over Deal. Unfortunately, losing sight of his own squadron he came upon a formation of Hurricanes of 85 Squadron and decided to tag along as a "tail end Charlie", but an unseen Bf109 fired a volley of shots at him and damaged his engine. He tried to make it to Lympne, but with smoke pouring out of his engine and missing badly he decided to make a forced landing in a field in Kent.
2430hrs: The usual night raids over many parts of Britain including The Tyneside area, Hartlepool, Swansea in South Wales and the Merseyside cities of Manchester and Liverpool but no serious damage was recorded. In an attempted raid on Liverpool, a Heinkel He111 was shot down by a Spitfire of 92 Squadron stationed at Pembrey. It is believed that the bomber crashed into a house in or near Fordingbridge.
The last two days of the month of August were to stretch Fighter Command to the limit, and although it was not known then, but this was to be the shape of things to come. For not only was the RAF going to be hit hard on the ground and in the air, the night air raids were to begin in earnest and for the first time, the people of London were going to wage war on their own. They were not going to fight their war with guns, bullets and bombs, but they were going to fight it with stubbornness and a tenacity of a silent army that was to make a mockery out of the German bombing of their city.
Albert Kesselring had placed his military reputation on the line as he had stated that he would have the defence system of Britain broken by September. But he was running out of time, already we were at the end of August and the defences of Britain were still intact. Now, he was to throw everything that he had in a last ditch effort to hammer the British into submission.