The Chronology: Page-36
Saturday September 7th 1940

"We got on patrol and drifted up and down the sky. Then suddenly: "Hullo, Ganer leader; Hullo, Ganer leader, bandits on your right, over". And there sure enough was a tiny slanting black line which we knew were bombers. We turned towards them. I turned the gun button to "Fire" and looked to see that the reflector sight was working O K. I opened the hood, and immediately I could see 50 per cent better, although it is 50 per cent colder. I saw that the rapidly closing bombers were surrounded by black dots, which I knew to be Me 109s. So we were in for it this time ! Before we knew where we were, we were doing a beam attack on the Dornier 215s. All I remember is trying to avoid hitting anyone else as we attacked, and being conscious of Me 109s coming down to attack us. I had a long burst at one section of Dorniers and as I broke away noticed at least two lagging behind and streaming glycol or white smoke. Those weren't necessarily the ones I had fired at.... The odds today have been unbelievable (and we are all really very shaken !). There are bombs and things falling around tonight and a terrific gun barrage.
Has a blitz begun? The Wing-Commander's coolness is amazing and he does a lot to keep up our morale - very necessary tonight."
GEORGE BARCLAY 249 Squadron, 7 September 1940.

"It was burning all down the river. It was a horrid sight. But I looked down and said 'Thank God for that', because I knew that the Nazis had switched their attack from the fighter stations thinking that they were knocked out. They weren't, but they were pretty groggy"
Air Vice Marshal Keith Park AOC 11 Group on the switch to attack London.
".....All we could see was row upon row of German raiders, all heading for London. I have never seen so many aircraft in the air all at the same time.... The escorting fighters saw us at once and came down like a ton of bricks, when the squadron split up and the sky became a seething cauldron of aeroplanes, swooping and swerving in and out of the vapour trails and tracer smoke. A Hurricane on fire spun out of control ahead of me while, above to my right, a 110 flashed across my vision and disappeared into the fog of battle before I could draw a bead on it. Everyone was shouting at once and the earphones became filled with a meaningless cacophony of jumbled noises. Everything became a maelstrom of jumbled impression - a Dornier spinning wildly with part of its port mainplane missing; black streaks of tracer ahead, then I instinctively put my arm up to shield my face; taking a breather when the haze absorbed me for a moment ...
SQUADRON LEADER 'SANDY' JOHNSTONE, 602 Squadron, 7 Sept. 1940.
This moment is a historic one. As a result of the provocative British attacks on Berlin on recent nights the Führer has decided to order a mighty blow to be struck in revenge against the British capital of the British Empire. I personally have assumed the leadership of this attack and today I have heard above me the roaring of the victorious German squadrons.
Hermann Göring September 7th 1940

The previous day, General Officer Commanding I Air Corps Grauert, issued a statement that would outline the high intensity attacks to be made on London.

[ Document 43. The German invasion plan to attack London ]

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 7th 1940

WEATHER:

High cloud early giving way to light cloud but remaining fine throughout the south. Channel areas can expect early morning haze which should quickly disappear leaving clear skies. Temperatures were expected to be normal. The north could expect mid to high level cloud with good visibility.

OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:

The day previous was a day when extreme pressure was brought upon Fighter Command. Six of the seven sector airfields had suffered considerable damage, and five of the advanced air bases along the Kent coast feared no better. Losses of aircraft again exceeded production and pilot strength was now down to about seven hundred in all.

The Luftwaffe had pounded and pounded at the RAF, and now it appeared that victory was now within their grasp. It had taken the German war machine much longer than they had anticipated, mainly due to their own mistakes, but slowly they were grinding away at Fighter Command, and slowly Fighter Command was weakening. Even on September 6th, the heads at the War Office were ready to implement the order of 'Invasion Alert No.1' It had already been served as a warning only to all RAF Commands, but as yet had not been released as 'official' to the public.

ACM Hugh Dowding knew the situation, he knew that if the RAF was at all to gain the upper hand, then his pilots would have to shoot down the German planes at a rate of three to one, a task which at this stage when his airfields were almost unoperational, and his pilots were tired and many were near to exhaustion. Dowding said in his office at Bentley Priory, "......all we can do now is to pray to God, because only a miracle can save us now."

What was to happen on September 7th 1940, goes back to the night of August 24th / 25th when German bombers targeted a number of British cities and towns. Birmingham had about four raids in as many hours, Liverpool came under a Red Alert when it was bombed as was Hull and Sheffield. But it was the German bombers that were supposed to drop their bombs on Thameshaven and Rochester, but dropped them in the heart of London instead, the Luftwaffe crew claiming that they had lost their bearings. The British War Cabinet sanctioned, as a retaliation, an attack on Berlin on the following night of August 25th/26th. About 50 British bombers made up of Wellington's and Hampdens were to carry out the attack. But according to Bomber Command, heavy cloud covered the German capital and only half of the bombers dropped their bombs, but most fell wide of the city doing little damage. The only bombs to fall within the city limits damaged a summer house in the Berlin suburb of Rosenthal and only two people were injured and no deaths were recorded.

But a different picture was painted by William L.Shirer who was in Berlin at the time of the raid. He was due to make his evening broadcast to America at the time of the raid. Today his diary reads:

 Today the bombing is the one topic of conversation among Berliners. Its especially amusing therefore to see that Goebbels has permitted the local newspapers to publish only a six-line communiqué about it, to the effect that enemy planes flew over the capital, dropped a few incendiary bombs on two suburbs, and damaged one wooden hut in a garden. There is not a line about the explosive bombs which we all plainly heard. Nor is there a word about the three streets in Berlin which have been roped off all day today to prevent the curious from seeing what a bomb can do to a house. It will be interesting to watch the reaction of the Berliners to the efforts of the authorities to hush up the extent of the raid.
Berlin Diary William L.Shirer 1940
Interesting to note that Bomber Command reported only the garden shed in the suburbs and no mention of the dropping of any high explosive bombs in Berlin itself. The next raid on Berlin according to RAF Bomber Command was on the night of August 28th / 29th and stated that Berlin would now be bombed on regular routine missions into Germany. Yet William Shirer states in his diary that Berlin was again bombed the following night after the first initial raid.

So it was on the night of September 4th 1940, that Hitler, in his speech at the Berlin Sportpalast stated amongst the cheers of the partisan audience, "...the people in Britain ask, but why doesn't he come?" and Hitler gave his reply "Calm yourselves, be calm, for he is coming! He is coming!" At the meeting on August 30th with Göring Hitler stated then that he had decided that he would withdraw his ban on the bombing of London and showed that he was now keen on regular attacks on the British capital in retaliation for the consistent attacks on Berlin by the RAF.

As mentioned earlier, that on September 3rd Göring called a meeting at the Hague with two of his commanders, Kesselring and Sperle. Kesselring agreed that the attacks should be switched from fighter airfields to the city of London, but Sperle did not agree stating that the RAF had more reserves than they were led to believe. From Berlin, Adolph Hitler gave the order that plans for attacks on London should begin immediately. He was now firm in his beliefs that by concentrating on an all out bombing campaign on the British capital would bring Britain to its knees, and that the bombing should continue until Britain submits under the strain. In between missions to England by day and by night during September 5th and the 6th, the Luftwaffe was busy in its preparations of strengthening all bomber units and moving Bf110 and Bf109 units to specific locations close to the French coast. An all out bombing campaign on London was to commence on September 7th 1940.

.
[ Document 44. Fighter Command Order of Battle September 7th 1940 ]

The question here is, did ACM Hugh Dowding or  AVM Keith Park have any idea that the German tactics were about to change. Ever since the attacks commenced on the aerodromes of 11 Group, both men believed that the assault would continue until most airfields were virtually unoperational. They firmly believed that the German plan was to strike a severe a blow on the sector organization as soon as possible, and both men knew, that as August drew on and went into September, they were succeeding. My belief is that the answer was yes, they did know. Fighter Command had the advantage of 'Ultra' and the 'Y' Service (RAF Radio Intelligence). Between these two intelligence sources Fighter Command could listen in on the German communications system, and not only be forewarned of any impeding attacks or strategic tactics ordered by the German High Command. Prior to the Battle of Britain, a listening station was situated at Hawkinge where German linguists of the RAF could translate messages and forward these to Fighter Command HQ. Later, this task was given to selected members of the WAAF who worked on six hour shifts.

Because of the importance of Hawkinge and its vulnerability to attack, more suitable premises was located at Hollywood Manor at Kingsdowne near Wrotham in Kent, and this became the official operations centre for radio-telephony monitoring of German messages and instructions for the duration of the war. All messages received, were sent to RAF commands as well as to the navy and the army. Len Deighton makes mention of this when the Luftwaffe was preparing for Adlertag on August 11th 1940:

The RAF also had access to the reports from men eavesdropping on German frequencies. The German weather reconnaissance units were not asked simply for general information but for weather conditions at the intended targets. As an added risk to security such aircraft sent radio reports while still over Britain. This, and any other Luftwaffe radio traffic, was correlated by a secret unit known as the 'Y" service. And as each German aeroplane was prepared for an operational flight, its radio was tested. Monitoring of these test signals provided intelligence with a fairly accurate guess at the number of aircraft to be used in the following 24-hour period. As Eagle Day approached, the listening service was able to tell Dowding that he was about to be attacked on a scale far exceeding all previous attacks.
Len Deighton Fighter Pluriform 1993 p158

At this point certain threads came together, as they often do at critical moments. The bombs which fell on London on the night of August 24/25 had immediate repercussions; 81 aircraft of Bomber Command attacked Berlin the following night. This was an act which deeply pleased the Prime Minister, the Government, the Press and the overwhelming majority of a public which was displaying unexpected reserves of belligerency. The Air Staff was less pleased; it had little faith in the effectiveness of pure reprisals, and still firmly believed that its slender bomber forces could do real damage to military targets. How much damage Bomber Command actually did to Berlin on August 25/26 is uncertain; that it caused considerable annoyance to Hitler and Goering, who had boasted that such a thing would never happen, is obvious. And some damage was certainly done by attacks on other targets in Germany. ‘I’hus Hitler had more than one motive for rescinding his prohibition of deliberate attacks on the British capital, and Goering now ordered the matter to be put in hand with immediate effect. On September 5 the “Y” Service intercepted his order for an attack by over 300 bombers with massive fighter cover on the London docks on the afternoon of September 7.

Thanks to Ultra, Goering’s signal was in the hands of the Prime Minister and of Dowding  within minutes of its dcspatch.

John Terraine Right of the Line Hodder & Stoughton 1985 p207
A number of sources state how Dowding and Park were prepared for other attacks especially during September and the initial raid on September 7th 1940 was no exception. Dowding and Park had received knowledge of an impeding raid that was to be targeted at East London on September 5th. They knew that it was to take place within a few days, and calculating the time that it would take to bring the number of units forward and organize such a large raid, it was estimated that the attack on London would be either September 7th or the 8th. According to John Terraine the Air Ministry had also informed then of Invasion Alert No.1 signifying "an attack is imminent:".
The position was grim in the extreme as from August 24th to September 6th. 295 fighters had been totally destroyed and 171 badly damaged, against a total output of 269 new and repaired Spitfires and Hurricanes. Worst of all, during the fortnight 103 pilots were killed or missing and 128 were wounded, which represented a total wastage of 120 pilots per week out of a fighting strength of just under 1,000.

Experienced pilots were like gold dust, and each one lost had to be replaced by an untried man who for some time would be vulnerable, until he acquired battle know-how. Fresh squadrons, moved in to replace tired units, very often lost more aircraft and pilots than the formations they replaced. For instance, 616 Squadron lost twelve aircraft and five pilots between August 25th and September 2nd and had to be retired to Coltishall in No.12 Group.

No. 603 Squadron, newly arrived in 11 Group on August 28th, had by September 6th lost sixteen aircraft and twelve pilots, while 253 Squadron at Kenley lost thirteen Hurricanes and nine pilots in the seven days they were in battle, from August 30th.

Wood and Dempster The Narrow Margin McGraw Hill 1961 p332-3

0830hrs: A strange deadly quiet was experienced by all the radar stations along the south coast. The CRTs were all blank, not a sign of the enemy. For the first time the WAAFs could have breakfast in peace, and there were more calls for another 'cuppa' than usual. Some took advantage of the mild balmy early morning to stroll outside, something that had not been done for weeks. But it was at Wittering that the first contact had been made with the enemy. A single blip had been detected and 266 Squadron that had just been transferred to Wittering for a rest after being in the battle zone was sent to intercept. Three Spitfires took off and made for their vectored position at twenty-eight thousand. All three aircraft were at full boost trying to catch the enemy aircraft, and one of them had to turn back because the engine started to become erratic. The enemy aircraft was a Dornier 215 and it was not until they were well out over the North Sea close to the Dutch border that they managed to make their first attack. Their shots went wide and they came under some accurate gunfire from the German aircraft. A second attack was more successful with the Dornier exploding in a ball of flame.

1030hrs: Across the Channel. Göring, commander of II Fliegerkorps Bruno Loerzer and Albert Kesselring drive through the French countryside towards the township of St Omer. Göring, who had now pronounced himself as the leader of the Luftwaffe operations wanted to see for himself the beginning of the final stage of the battle, and had invited Loerzer and Kesselring along. They were to position themselves at the closest point of the French mainland to the English coast, as it would be from here that they could witness what they thought would be the greatest onslaught that Britain would ever endure.

Along the way they found time to have breakfast, and called in to some of the Luftwaffe fighter stations one of them being the Lehrgeschwader of Bf109s based at Calais-Marck, where a midday banquet was held. Here, Göring in his open heavy leather coat that displayed all his war medals talked and chatted with the many pilots. He spoke of his days as a fighter pilot when air combat was fought with open cockpit biplanes. He was in a sort of jovial , yet somewhat cocky mood.

After lunch, the procession of three Mercedes escorted by motorcycle police made their way to the high picnic grounds at Cape Blanc Nez, where a team of noncommissioned officers with almost a precision like mentality set out tables and white table linen, and hastily set out the sandwiches, biscuits and champagne. There was a war on, the British were lazily sitting around almost bored with themselves, the German pilots were preparing to deploy themselves on the greatest attack yet, and Göring was going to have a picnic.

1155hrs: The radar at Dover and Pevensey picks up the first blips of the day, a small formation just off the coast. They appear to be content on staying just within striking distance of the English coastline but made sure that they would not cross the coast. 66 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) who were on a routine patrol were sent to intercept. It was a small formation of Bf109s possibly trying to draw the British fighters out, just as they had done during the early Channel attacks in July. Being as the enemy was content in staying out there, Fighter Command decided that as long as they kept their distance from the coast, no other squadrons would be sent to intercept.

66 Squadron engaged combat, but after two of its aircraft had to return to base, decided to break off the action. One of the Spitfires did not make it back to Kenley, instead the pilot P/O C.A.W.Bodie decided to crash land the aircraft close to Hawkinge when he was losing height rapidly. The other Spitfire is believed to have made it back to Kenley and also made a crash landing.

1300hrs: On the other side of the Channel, it was a different story. German ground personnel were busy putting the finishing touches to new airfields that were positioned very near to the French coast. Many new gun emplacements were being constructed, and word broke through to British intelligence that heavy bombers were being moved into readiness. More amphibious landing craft were still arriving at the Channel ports.

The British War Office and Air Ministry were advised that after consultation with the meteorological office that the tides and moon favoured a date between the 8th and 10th of September for the commencement of the invasion. A meeting that was called by the British Chiefs of Staff and was to commence that day at 5.30pm to discuss whether or not the "Alert No.1" should be issued. At this stage, Dowding and Park had no idea as to the change in tactics that the Luftwaffe was to implement later this day.

AVM Keith Park issues the statement to all his controllers and squadron commanders to obey the orders from Group Operations "exactly, and without any modification".  This instruction was made because squadrons were often too high to successfully make an interception of enemy bombers without engaging combat with the escorting fighters. The instruction also ordered that two squadrons were to operate together, and that because of there better high altitude performance, the Spitfires should engage the escorting fighters while the Hurricanes make contact with the bombers. "We must harass and destroy they as many bombers as possible" he said.

1400hrs: Across the Channel, Göring and his party of invited guests started to take their positions on the cliff edge. Everyone is relaxed, talking and smiling with a sort of waiting in anticipation. It looked like a picnic day for the rich. Suddenly, in the distance the dull drone of engines could be heard, it was coming from the south. Shortly, the same sounds could be heard to the north, an eerie sort of sound yet you could not see anything. After about ten minutes, one of the Major's called and pointed to the south. The first of the huge formations could just barely be seen coming over the high ground behind them. All eyes were at straining point, some members of the party were on tip toes stretching their necks to get the first glimpses of the great armada of bombers that were soon to fill the sky.

1420hrs: As hundreds of bombers formed a sheet of black cross like figures in the sky above, the smile on Göring's face went from cheek to cheek, he excitedly placed his hands on a Major's shoulder and shook it, and pointing towards the mass of aircraft high above. The noise was deafening.

Göring stood up from his collapsible seat, settling his binoculars on the first spearhead of the Heinkels and Dorniers which were now circling some ten miles away before forming up with the twin-engined fighter screen on each flank and, almost invisible above, the little 109s - some from the airfield that they had recently inspected. As the bombers and their escort groaned deafeningly overhead, gaining altitude, to these senior officers it was as if the frustrating weeks of struggle in the air, with its distressing casualties, and the Phoenix-like reappearance of the Hurricanes and Spitfires when none should have survived, had been wiped clean. Now the real battle was about to begin - and surely nothing on earth, or in the air, could prevail against this massive destructing power..........
Richard Hough and Denis Richards The Battle of Britain The Jubilee History H&S 1989 p255
Other formations, again Heinkels, Dorniers and intermixed with Bf110s came in from the east, and as the main formation passed over the French coastline high above Göring's head, more formations could be seen way back over the mainland to the west. The total blanket of bombers and fighters now covered an area that was at least 800 square miles, and still the excitable Göring could hardly control himself as the huge formation of droning bombers headed towards the English coast.

1540hrs: The coastal radar stations, that had been extra quiet all day, suddenly could not believe their eyes. At first, it was just a few blips off the French coast that slowly appeared to join and increase in size like a formidable cancer. The radar station at Foreness was the first to detect the appearance of the enemy on the CRT screen. A WAAF corporal could not explain the size of the formation and she called for one of her superior officers. Within moments, Dover had also picked the giant build up as did Rye. Those that had been relaxing outside in the late afternoon sun were called in, cigarettes were stubbed in the already full ashtrays as everybody's attention was turned to the armada that was crossing the Channel and coming towards them.

1550hrs: All personnel at Bentley Priory were in the relaxed mood as they had been all day. It had been a day that had been a blessing to all as everyone took advantage of the peace and quiet of this late September day. The Officer-in-Charge even strolled about casually on the mezzanine level of the Operations Room known as the "Balcony", the WAAFs below sat casually round an empty map table as they had done since daybreak. Some sat sipping cups of tea, some were reading newspapers or just casually chatting to one of the others. One could be forgiven in thinking that this was the nerve centre of Fighter Command. Even though most were indulging in this relaxed mood, many of the WAAFs maintained their headsets on 'just in case'. Little did they know then, that within a couple of minutes the "Hole" as the Operations Room at headquarters was known, would take on a sudden transformation.

1554hrs: The message came through from from the radar stations. The Filter Room at 'the hole' was the first to receive such messages and one of the Tellers there passed the initial position sighted of the enemy to the plotters at the large map table below the balcony. One of the Plotters reached for her long rake that had a battery powered magnetic tip, then reached into the tray at the edge of the table picking up one of the coloured arrows and placing it on the small plaque that were placed a letter, either "H" for hostile, "X" for an unidentified aircraft, "F" for fighter aircraft or "C" for Coastal Command aircraft. A number was placed beside the letter which indicated the number of aircraft in the formation. Another number was placed below this to indicate the height of the enemy.

On the balcony, seated in a prominent position would be seated the C-in-C, his aides and his guests if any. On both sides of him would be the Tellers. These fellows would have to look down on the huge map below and be able to "read" the action and operations. This called for good eyesight as they had to read the figures that were on the plaques being pushed across the map by the plotters. On the filter room wall was a colour coded clock with its face divided into five minute segments by the aid of colours. Each five minutes from the hour the colour was different, starting with red, then yellow and then blue, and then the sequence was repeated over again.

One of the Plotters commenced placing a plaque just off the French coast, then just alongside another Plotter placed another plaque. At first, until confirmation of its identity could be made, the letter "X" was placed on the plaque together with the number of aircraft. An arrow would also be placed giving the direction of flight as well as the grid letter and the grid position.

1600hrs: The plots on the large map show that the build up of enemy aircraft is increasing and covering a wider area. The information was passed on to Group HQ, but at this stage no reports of squadrons being scrambled are recorded. The usual procedure of the Luftwaffe attacks was after the Channel crossing, the formations would split up upon reaching the English coast, and it was presumed that this would be no different.

1615hrs: The huge armada of German aircraft were now over the coast and within the range of the Observer Corps posts. They report in to the Maidstone HQ that "Enemy sighted, 100 plus, 20,000," within moments, they would lift the telephone again, "Further to my last report.....make that 200 plus," and so it continued. In reality, a total of some 1,100 aircraft were crossing the English coastline consisting of 300 medium-heavy bombers, 200 Bf110s with bomb loads and about 600 Bf109s flying as escorts.

1 Sqn Northolt 1620hrs
303 Sqn Northolt 1620hrs
504 Sqn Hendon  1620hrs
501 Sqn Gravesend 1620hrs
249 Sqn North Weald 1625hrs
253 Sqn Kenley 1625hrs
73 Sqn North Weald 1630hrs
43 Sqn Tangmere 1640hrs
253 Sqn Biggin Hill 1640hrs
111 Sqn Croydon 1640hrs
603 Sqn Hornchurch 1645hrs
66 Sqn Kenley 1645hrs
19 Sqn Fowlmere * 1645hrs
242 Sqn Duxford * 1645hrs
310 Sqn Duxford * 1645hrs
609 Sqn Mid Wallop 1645hrs
602 Sqn Tangmere 1700hrs
1RCAF Sqn Croydon 1700hrs
72 Sqn Croydon 1700hrs
46 Sqn Stapleford 1700hrs
257 Sqn Debden 1700hrs
234 Sqn Middle  Wallop 1700hrs
1 Sqn Northolt 1800hrs
* Combined as a "Big Wing"
With Park not at Group HQ at Uxbridge he was not able to control squadron and fighter units, but in his absence this task was left to his senior controller John Willoughby de Broke with whom Keith Park had every confidence. Quite often he would let his controllers make the early decisions and he would act on these making the final decisions later based on his natural instinct. Immeadiately orders eleven squadrons to scramble, he is of the belief that once and for all the Luftwaffe are intent on completely destroying his airfields. Seeing the size of the approaching formation, he orders every squadron covering London into the air. The dispersal's at Northolt, Kenley, Croydon, Hendon, North Weald and Hornchurch all become a immediate hub of activity.
By 1620hrs, 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes) completes its scramble, as does 303 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), 504 Squadron Hendon (Hurricanes), 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes). The table opposite gives the full scramble times for the initial order given by FCHQ.

Expecting the assault to be directed at the sector airfields, all squadrons are ordered into positions to that would provide protection for the important sector stations and such installations as the oil refinery at Thameshaven.

43 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) were ordered by their controller in a variety of directions but keeping the south coast within sight. Eventually they see a formation of Dorniers 1,500 feet below. The leader orders the bulk of his squadron to attack the escorting Bf109s while he and another section leader move in on the Dorniers. They open fire on the bombers for all they are worth until their ammunition is nearly exhausted, then turn sharply in front of descending Bf109s. Both Hurricanes are shot down, one pilot is trapped in his diving plane, while the other manages to bale out, but his parachute fails to open.

Once over the Kent coast, the huge armada of German bombers and their escorts break into separate groups with each one seemingly heading for a different target.

Fighter Command becomes bewildered as the change in direction sees many of the bombers heading away from the sector airfields and away from patrolling RAF fighters.
One large formation starts to head towards west of London, while another turns to the north-east as if to go up the east coast of Essex and Suffolk. Although Willoughby de Broke was to direct and vector the squadrons to their respective areas, he would have been in communication with Keith Park at FCHQ. Instructions would have been given to de Broke as to where to place the various squadrons and also to notify Duxford that their assistance would be required and the area that they were to cover. Keith Park knew that his senior controller could control operations from there, and what was to happen in the next couple of hours, de Broke was well capable of taking control of.

1620hrs: Four squadrons had initially been scrambled. 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), the Poles that so far had more than proved themselves with 303 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), 504 Squadron Hendon (Hurricanes) and 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes). The station controller were still undecided as to which were really the targets, but the general feeling was that the fighter station surrounding London would be the first targets. It was of no surprise when the first squadrons scrambled were directed to give cover to the all important airfields.

1700hrs: Within thirty minutes, Fighter Command had twenty three squadrons in the air, (see table above) most had been vectored to cover the aerodromes around London while others had been vectored towards the Thames Estuary to meet the phalanx of aircraft, one and a half miles high and covering nearly 800 square miles sky.



It took Duxford's "Big Wing" twenty minutes to gain formation. Douglas Bader was leading 242 Squadron, the other two squadrons being 310 and 19. This had been the first time that the "Big Wing" had officially been involved in large scale operational combat with 11 Group. It was Bader's plan, that his wing of 36 fighter planes should be scrambled early and meet the enemy in advance of the Maidstone area, with the purpose of disrupting the enemy bombers. Once the bombers had been forced to scatter, it would then make it easier for the fighters of 11 Group to attack.

The length of time that it took the "Big Wing" to gain formation, was again by far too long. Bader's 242 Squadron took off first with 310 squadron close behind, then they had to throttle back, losing valuable time while waiting for 19 Squadron to catch up. Then they had to climb to a height of 20,000 feet to put them in an advantageous position. The outcome was, was that they were attacked by Bf109s while still climbing, and because of this, they could not make contact with the enemy bombers at their vectored position near Maidstone. They did however manage to make contact with an enemy formation over the Thames Estuary and again their results were more than favourable.

As the numerous German formations spread-eagled their way over Britain, it now became apparent that they were after something other than the airfields of Fighter Command. One group, that headed west of London, had bypassed the airfields of Biggin Hill and Kenley. It was reported that between Brooklands and Windsor there were over 200 bombers in this group. This group was sighted by Flight Lieutenant James McArthur of 609 Squadron.
German bombers and their Bf109 escorts began forming over inland France from 1500hrs onwards. Slowly, as other groups took off, they joined forces with other formations, with each formation flying at a different altitude, and flying some minutes either above or below the formation in front.

From the French coast, they flew in a direct line across the Channel towards the Kent coast, just as they had done on previous occasions. The flight pattern used was also the same as had been done previously, and it was this that had Fighter Command fooled as they were to believe that the airfields were again to be attacked.
But on reaching the English coastline, many formations broke into smaller groups, and at their varying altitudes changed direction criss crossing the flight paths of the formations below them. One group, flew almost north-west, then once over the Guildford area turned north flying over  Windsor and Maidenhead, then making a circle around the city of London and headed towards their target of the dock area and industrial borough of West Ham.

Two other groups, once over the coast near Beachy Head turned north as if to make towards the coast of Essex, but once over the Thames close to the Isle of Sheppy, turned west following the River Thames until they reached the London docks and West Ham.  Another group took the direct line and from the coast of Kent flew direct towards the east end of London. For the Luftwaffe, a well though out plan. They succeeded in confusing Fighter Command who had no idea that the Luftwaffe target was London's dockland area and the industrial and heavily populated east end.

By 1630hrs, all twenty one squadrons around London were in the air or taking off. The sight that they encountered east of Sheppy astounded them: a formation one and a half miles high, covering 800 square miles of sky.
Len Deighton - Battle of Britain  Jonathon Cape 1980 p169

.....Ray looked eastward downstream towards the estuary. Never had he seen such a terrifying sight; the sky was dotted with a mass of specks which seemed quite motionless. Then he realized they were approaching, he recognized them as Heinkels and Dorniers, flanked by escorts of Messerschmitt 109s and 110s. The boys could not imagine there could be so many at once. In fact the Luftwaffe had amassed nearly four hundred bombers and more than six hundred fighters - over a thousand aircraft - for this all out attack.
Peter Townsend - Duel in the Dark  Harrap 1986

Watchers far below could see the occasional glint of a wing in the sun as the enemy raiders swept in. But there were no British fighters to intercept them, except on the fringes of their flight path, where a few dogfights developed. As news of the developing massive attack was flashed to Britain's ground defenses, antiaircraft fire opened up along the banks of the Thames and steadily increased in intensity. But the planes were too high, and the white puff balls of smoke as the ack ack shells burst proved to be more of a salute to the raiders than a threat. The German airplanes came in like a neat and inexorable procession; at fixed points on their flight path, a signal would be given by the leaders and the bombs would be released.
Leonard Molsey - Battle of Britain  Time Life 1977

Many of the defending squadrons had been ordered to patrol above the airfields. Day after day, these had been the primary target for high level, low level, glide- and dive bombing attacks, and no one airborne that afternoon made any other target assumption. The sector controllers, too, felt no reason to believe that the Luftwaffe's strategy had made a sudden and dramatic departure from the pattern prevailing for a full month.
Richard Hough & Denis Richards - Battle of Britain The Jubilee History H&S 1989
Keith Park watched the action developing with Dowding in the ops room at Bentley Priory. There was little that they could do, except watch the huge map below as their fighters tried to penetrate the fighter escorts and disrupt the bombers. 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes) and 249 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) made some inroads to the north of Rochester, but the first load of bombs had already been unleashed on the oil storage tanks at Thameshaven which was still burning from the raid the previous day. There was little chance that they could get near to the bombers as they were outnumbered by ten to one by the Bf109 escorts.
Park wanted to know where the Duxford wing had got to, he remarked that they should have intercepted the enemy bombers in the vicinity of Rochford and Maidstone, where the addition of thirty-six fighters could have assisted 501 and 249 Squadrons and made more of an impact on splitting up the bomber formation. There was no way now that Park could offer assistance 501 and 249, the map board below showed him that another formation was approaching the east end from the north and that another formation coming up from the south was already almost at the target area.

Over 300 Heinkels and Dorniers with an escort of some 600 Bf109s and Bf110s continued the path along the Thames although many of the escorts had previously had to turn back because of their fuel situation, some of the bombers had turned back after unleashing their bombes on Thameshaven, but as many as 230 continued on towards London with no British fighters there to infiltrate or stop their progress.

With the Spitfires and Hurricanes kept busy on the fringes of their flight path, the German bombers flew at a much higher altitude than normal escaping the bursting shells from the anti aircraft fire down below. The bombers flew towards London as if in a great procession, with different formations flying at different levels. Sightseers on the ground had never seen such an armada of aircraft before, never had such an onslaught been aimed at the British capital.

While this huge formation continues its course along the Thames, the other large formation that is approaching from the south is intercepted by 609 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires) over Dartford in Kent and slightly to the south-east of London. The mixture of Dorniers and Heinkels is again protected by their Bf109 escorts. The 609 squadron leader positions his squadron in a positioned to attack when suddenly the bombers change direction ready for their attack on the dockland area of London. The coordinated attack by 609 is now off guard, so Squadron Leader J.Curchin instructs his men to make individual attacks. Many manage to out maneuver some of the 109s and line up one of the bombers in their sights.

Churchin, leader of Green section 609 Squadron, breaks through the protecting escorts, a few rounds were aimed at them as he passed, but none of the Bf109s were hit. Churchin, lines up one of the Dorniers, approaches very quickly and fires a short burst before pushing the stick forwards and flying underneath the enemy bomber. He is quickly clear of the formation, so he turns his Spitfire and makes a return run. Two Dornier Do17s come within his sights, he picks out the leading one, then at the required range again fires a four second burst. Closing in, he fires another short burst while at the same time pushing the stick to the left where the second of the Dorniers peels away and starts to go in a steep dive.

Churchin thinks about coming in for a second attack when he spots a Bf109 slightly ahead and below him. He goes after the 109, who is now aware that he has a Spitfire on his tail. The German escort flies into the safety of the billowing thick black smoke that is coming from the burning oil tanks at Thameshaven. The Spitfire follows him through and out at the other side, Churchin is closing in, he fires a short volley, the 109 suddenly heaves and quivers, he has been hit, the at about 50 yards he fires with the 109 squarely in his gunsight. Pieces of the Bf109 fly off before he starts to make that final dive and into the waters of the Thames Estuary.
From information in the book A Few of the Few by Denis Newton.

It appeared that Fighter Command were not going to gain the upper hand. There were just far too many bombers and escorts. 609 Squadron managed to destroy 2 Dorniers, 2 Bf 110s and a Bf 109 and surprisingly without loss to themselves. An impressive victory to 609, but against 200+ bombers it was not even the skin off of the custard.

The greatest success came from the combined efforts of 603 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), 1 Squadron Northolt and 303 Squadron (Polish) who manages to destroy a total of 11 Dorniers. One of the pilots of 603 Squadron said, that these Poles went in with great determination and ferocity and screamed idle chit chat in their own native tongue, but who cares, they were there to rip into the Germans and destroy them, and that's just what they went and done.

1730hrs: A vast mixture of Dornier Do17s, Heinkel He111s and Junkers Ju88s first dropped their bombs with great accuracy on Woolwich Arsenal on the south side of the River Thames and the entrance to London's dockland. The huge factory of Harland and Woolfe suffered almost total destruction, and the munitions factory at Woolwich was also hit. Here the shells for the Army were manufactured, and just one hit and the gunpowder storage bins erupted causing great sheets of flame to rise hundreds of feet into the air.

Another wave of bombers rained their bomb loads down on the Royal docks at North Woolwich. Queen Victoria dock, King George V dock, Royal Albert dock and many backwaters blazed from end to end. Large ships that had brought in supplies were hit and themselves were on fire. Other important docks at Millwall, Wapping right up to St Katherine's dock near Tower Bridge were ablaze. Some forty miles of warehouses along the Thames had been hit and were a blazing fury.

But it was not just the docks themselves that suffered this unforeseen onslaught. The heavily populated area of London's east end was regarded as the poorer side of the city. These were the battling workers, the slums, a different class of people that resided to the south and to the west of London. West Ham, Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping and Whitechapel all became enveloped in a blazing fury. Factories and terraced houses were destroyed. The fire brigades in all the suburbs were fighting a losing battle that was to continue on for another four hours as wave after wave of German bombers came over and dropped, instantaneous, incendiaries, 2 - 4 hour delayed action bombs.

This first day of bombing was most dreadful. Most of us thought '...my God, what on earth is happening, this is it....we are finished', but of course, this was really only the beginning.

Explosions were everywhere, there just was not a break, bang after bang after bang. The clang of bells from fire service vehicles and ambulances were drowned out by these bombs. You would here a whistle as a stick of bombs came down then a loud explosion as they hit factories and houses, the ground shook. Then as soon as that explosion happened, another whistle and another explosion. God, this seemed to go on for hours.
George Turnbull - A Home Guard member on the bombing in Limehouse

If it was to be any advantage to Fighter Command, while the bombers were over the east end of London, their Bf109 escorts had long since made the return trip back to their bases because of the fuel situation. This was to be the one of the longest and busiest days so far for the pilots. Time and time again the had to return back to base for refueling and rearming. Two, three, four even maybe five sorties in one day. But as the bombers turned back and headed for home, the Spitfires and Hurricanes tore into the defenceless and unescorted bombers.

Ironically, Hornchurch, some forty miles away from the docks, was practically closed down because of the drifting smoke from the blazing east end enveloped the airfield. Leigh-Mallory's "Big Wing" that had missed the interception of the incoming bombers, managed to attack the first wave after they had dropped their bombload and headed for home. All squadrons were still airborne even as light started to fade and eventually Fighter Command had to be content in letting the bombers return unmolested in the dark.

But all was not finished. At 2022hrs, as many of the attacking bombers were returning home, another wave was crossing the Kent coast at Beachy Head. They could hardly be seen against the night sky, and what a target they would have been if Fighter Command had an effective night fighter squadron available, as this formation did not have the protection of a Bf109 escort. Two planes of 213 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) were sent up, but were ordered not to intercept. It had been a formidable day for Fighter Command, their defences had been stretched to the limit. Just about every squadron in 11 Group had been called upon as well as reinforcements from 10 Group and 12 Group. Details of the days action are shown in [ Document 48 ]

As the evening wore on, the German bomber made up from Gruppes from Hugo Sperle's Luftflotte 3, most of the daytime bombers had landed. The commanders made out their reports which were more than favourable. The result were immediately posted to Göring, who for once felt satisfied when he learnt of the devastation that his bombers had done, and that most of London was ablaze with the report also that the east end had been totally destroyed.
So pleased with himself, that Göring immediately telegraphed his wife Emmy and told her that "....the English have had enough". He also broadcast on German radio to the German people, that this being the first blow while he had been in charge of the battle, over half of London now lay in ruins and that he had struck a serious blow...straight at the enemy's heart.

The bombing continued well into the night, in fact, the total bombing lasted for seven hours. The weather, which had been a glorious late summer's day, and it seemed only right, that it should end with a 'most beautiful sunset', until it was realised that the sun was setting in the wrong direction, the red glow that they saw was the reflection in the evening sky of the burning East End. In all, over three hundred tons of bombs were dropped, and by midnight, the whole of London's East End was engulfed in flames. 490 London civilians were killed, 1,200 more were injured and to add fuel to the fire, a report comes in that Germans have landed on the South Coast of England.

The signal for this alert is "Cromwell", a code name that was used only by the Army. And one of those Army battalions that were alerted was the 18th Australian Infantry that was based at Amesbury Abbey. The report came through at about 9.30pm. The 18th Infantry Brigade was at this time, only at about half strength because half of the brigade was on leave, many of them now trapped in London because of the bombing. But was hard to keep such a secret, church bells started to peel, road blocks were set up and even plans were put in place for the blowing up of some of the bridges.
For those that were on duty, they were told to stand by for an immediate move. By midnight, no further information or orders had been received so the men were allowed to return to their billets, but were to be prepared to move at one hours notice should the invasion be confirmed.

CASUALTIES:
1205hrs: Catterick. Spitfire P9560. 54 Squadron Catterick
F/O D.J.Saunders killed. (Crashed during low altitude training practice flight)
1430hrs: Flamborough. Spitfire R6901. 54 Squadron Catterick
P/O W.Krepski listed as missing. (Believed crashed into sea during operational flight)
1550hrs: Rainham. Blenheim L6684. 600 Squadron Hornchurch
Sgt A.F.C.Saunders killed.
Sgt J.W.Davies killed. (Crashed due to engine failure during landing approach)
1645hrs:South London. Hurricane V6641. 43 Squadron Tangmere
S/L C.B.Hull killed. (Shot down in combat with Bf109 and crashed in grounds of Purley High School)
1645hrs: Blackheath. Hurricane V7257. 43 Squadron Tangmere
Fl/L R.C.Reynell killed. (Baled out after being shot down by Bf109. Died on landing)
1700hrs: Maidstone. Hurricane R4114. 249 Squadron North Weald
P/O R,D,S.Fleming killed. (Shot down by Bf109s during combat operations)
1700hrs: Billericay. Hurricane P3234. 73 Squadron Debden
Fl/L R.E.Lovvett killed. (Shot down by enemy aircraft during combat operations)
1700hrs: Thames Estuary. Hurricane L1615. 504 Squadron Hendon
F/O K.V.Wendell died of injuries. (Shot down over Estuary but crashed in flames at Faversham)
1730hrs: Thames Estuary. Hurricane P3049. 257 Squadron Debden
Fl/L H.R.A.Beresford killed. (A/C crashed on Isle of Sheppey. Pilots remains unearthed)
1730hrs: Biggin Hill. Spitfire N3198. 602 Squadron Westhampnett
F/O W.H.Coverley died of injuries. (Shot down by E/A and crashed in flames. Pilot baled out with severe burns)
1730hrs: Thames Estuary. Hurricane V7254. 257 Squadron Debden
F/O L.R.G.Mitchell listed as missing. (Last seen in action in combat. Believed crashed into sea)
1730hrs: Biggin Hill. Spitfire X4256. 602 Squadron Westhampnett
P/O H.W.Moodey listed as missing. (Failed to return to base after combat operation)
1825hrs: St Mary Cray. Spitfire P9466. 234 Squadron Middle Wallop
S/L J.S.O'Brien killed. (Shot down by enemy aircraft and crashed near Biggin Hill)
1830hrs: Bessels Green. Spitfire X4009. 234 Squadron Middle Wallop
Fl/L P.C.Hughes killed. (Believed crashed into Do17 wreckage after he shot it during combat)

THE FOLLOWING AIRCRAFT CRASHED or DAMAGED BUT PILOTS WERE DECLARED SAFE:
1230hrs: P/O C.A.W.Bodie 66 Squadron Kenley. Forced landing at Hawkinge aftyer combat. (U)
1235hrs: P/O I.J.A.Cruikshanks 66 Squadron Kenley. Forced landed after combat operations. (U)
1615hrs: P/O G.H.Bennions 41 Squadron Hornchurch. Undercarriage collapsed Rochford after combat (U)
1700hrs: S/L D.R.S.Bader 242 Squadron Coltishall. Seriously damaged in combat over Thames Estuary. (U)
1700hrs: Fl/L R.J.Cork 242 Squadron Coltishall. Landed at Duxford badly damaged in combat. (Inj/Sl)
1700hrs: P/O J.Daszewski 303 Squadron Northolt. Shot down by Bf109s. Thames Estuary. (B/O:Sv/W)
1700hrs: Fl/L A.S.Forbes 303 Squadron Northolt. Returned to base. Damaged by Do17. (W)
1700hrs: F/O Z.Henneberg 303 Squadron Northolt. Damaged by Bf109s. Returned to base. (U)
1700hrs: Sgt R.Smithson 249 Squadron North Weald. Shot down by Bf109 over Maidstone. Crashed. (W)
1705hrs: P/O R.G.A.Barclay 249 Squadron North Weald. Crash landed from gunfire He111 Maidstone. (U)
1705hrs: Sgt F.W.Killingback 249 Squadron North Weald. Shot down by Bf109 over Maidstone. (B/O:W)
1705hrs: F/O M.Pisarek 303 Squadron Northolt. Crashed into back garded at Loughton. B/O:U)
1710hrs: Sgt B.M.Bush 504 Squadron Hendon. Damaged by Bf109. Forced landed Eastchurch. (Sev Bu)
1720hrs: Sgt A.E.Marshall 73 Squadron Debden. Damaged by Bf110 Forced landing Burnham. (Inj/Sl)
1720hrs: P/O A.P.Pease 603 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over London. Crash landed at base. (U)
1720hrs: F/O P.H.V.Wells 249 Squadron North Weald. Caught fire during attack on He111. (B/O:W)
1725hrs: P/O D.W.Cowley-Milling 242 Squadron Coltishall. Forced landing at Stow-St-Maries. (U)
1730hrs: P/O E.W.Aries 602 Squadron Westhampnett. Crash landed Wrotham Damaged  by Do17. (U)
1730hrs: S/L D.L.Denholm 603 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over S London. Forced landed at base. (U)
1730hrs: P/O O.V.Hanbury 600 Squadron Hornchurch. Returned to base. Damaged by Do17 Sth London. (U)
1730hrs: Sgt A.R.Sarre 603 Squadron Hornchurch. Shot down over Thames during combat (B/O:W)
1730hrs: P/O B.G.Stapleton 603 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged by Bf109s S London. Force landed (U)
1745hrs: Sgt R.C.Ford 41 Squadron Hornchurch. Forced landing Werst Hanningfield Essex (U)
1745hrs: P/O A.K.Ogilvie 609 Squadron Warmwell. Damaged over S London. Returned to base. (U)
1745hrs: P/O D.W.A.Stones 79 Squadron Biggin Hill. A/C damaged by Bf109 over base. (Sl/W)
1745hrs: F/O B.Van Mentz 222 Squadron Hornchurch. Cooling system damaged in combat Rochester (U)
1750hrs: P/O J.D.Bisdee 609 Squadron Warmwell. Damaged over S London. Returned to base. (U)
1800hrs: P/O N.leC.Agazarian 609 Squadron Warmwell. Dam by He111. Forced landed White Waltham. (U)
1800hrs: Sgt J.M.B.Beard 249 Squadron North Weald. Shot down by friendly AA gunfire. B/O:U)
1808hrs: Sgt J.McAdam 41 Squadron Hornchurch. Crashed on farm after combat operations. (U)
1810hrs: Sgt J.Koukal 310 Squadron Duxford. Crashed at Harty Marshes after combat over Estuary. B/O:Bu)
1815hrs: Sgt J.White 72 Squadron Croydon. Forced landed after combat over Thames Estuary. (Inj/Sl)
1820hrs: F/O T.A.F.Elsdon 72 Squadron Croydon. Crash landed at Biggin Hill after combat. (Inj/Ser)
1820hrs: P/O V.Goth 310 Squadron Duxford. Damaged by Bf110 Southend. Forced landed Purleigh. (U)
1820hrs: P/O O.B.Morrough-Ryan 41 Squadron Hornchurch. Forced landing Great Wakering. (U)
1825hrs: Sgt J.H.H.Burgess 222 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over Maidstone and force landed. (U)
1830hrs: Sgt P.T.Robinson 257 Squadron Debden. Aircraft damaged in combat Over Thames Estuary. (U)
1830hrs: Sgt T.Y.Wallace 111 Squadron Croydon. Shot down by Bf109 over Ashford. (B/O:U)
1835hrs: Sgt D.J.Hulbert 257 Squadron Debden. Forced landed at Sittingbourne. Damaged by Bf109. (U)

B/O=Baled Out. Bu=Burned. Inj/Sl=Slightly Injured. Inj/Ser=Seriously Injured. Sl/W=Slightly wounded.
Sv/W=Severely wounded. Sev Bu=Severely burned. U=Unhurt. W=Wounded.

[1] Dennis Newton A Few Of The Few Australian War Memorial p156



Have you checked out all the documents linked from this page
Document 43.   The German plan of attack on London 
Document 44.   Fighter Command Order of Battle September 7th 1940 
Document 45.   Fighter Command claims and losses for September 7th 1940 


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