"We goton patrol and drifted up and down the sky. Then suddenly: "Hullo, Ganerleader; Hullo, Ganer leader, bandits on your right, over". And there sureenough was a tiny slanting black line which we knew were bombers. We turnedtowards them. I turned the gun button to "Fire" and looked to see thatthe reflector sight was working O K. I opened the hood, and immediatelyI could see 50 per cent better, although it is 50 per cent colder. I sawthat the rapidly closing bombers were surrounded by black dots, which Iknew to be Me 109s. So we were in for it this time ! Before we knew wherewe were, we were doing a beam attack on the Dornier 215s. All I rememberis trying to avoid hitting anyone else as we attacked, and being consciousof Me 109s coming down to attack us. I had a long burst at one sectionof Dorniers and as I broke away noticed at least two lagging behind andstreaming glycol or white smoke. Those weren't necessarily the ones I hadfired at.... The odds today have been unbelievable (and we are all reallyvery shaken !). There are bombs and things falling around tonight and aterrific gun barrage.GEORGE BARCLAY249 Squadron, 7 September 1940.
Has a blitzbegun? The Wing-Commander's coolness is amazing and he does a lot to keepup our morale - very necessary tonight."
"It wasburning all down the river. It was a horrid sight. But I looked down andsaid 'Thank God for that', because I knew that the Nazis had switched theirattack from the fighter stations thinking that they were knocked out. Theyweren't, but they were pretty groggy"Air ViceMarshal Keith Park AOC 11 Group on the switch to attack London.
".....Allwe 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 myright, a 110 flashed across my vision and disappeared into the fog of battlebefore I could draw a bead on it. Everyone was shouting at once and theearphones became filled with a meaningless cacophony of jumbled noises.Everything became a maelstrom of jumbled impression - a Dornier spinningwildly with part of its port mainplane missing; black streaks of tracerahead, then I instinctively put my arm up to shield my face; taking a breatherwhen the haze absorbed me for a moment ...SQUADRONLEADER 'SANDY' JOHNSTONE, 602 Squadron, 7 Sept. 1940.
This momentis a historic one. As a result of the provocative British attacks on Berlinon recent nights the Führer has decided to order a mighty blow tobe struck in revenge against the British capital of the British Empire.I personally have assumed the leadership of this attack and today I haveheard above me the roaring of the victorious German squadrons.HermannGöring September 7th 1940
The previous day, General OfficerCommanding I Air Corps Grauert, issued a statement that would outline the high intensity attacksto be made on London. [Document43. The German invasion plan to attack London ]
SATURDAYSEPTEMBER 7th 1940
High cloudearly giving way to light cloud but remaining fine throughout the south.Channel areas can expect early morning haze which should quickly disappearleaving clear skies. Temperatures were expected to be normal. The northcould expect mid to high level cloud with good visibility.
The day previous was a day when extremepressure was brought upon Fighter Command. Six of the seven sector airfieldshad suffered considerable damage, and five of the advanced air bases alongthe Kent coast feared no better. Losses of aircraft again exceeded productionand pilot strength was now down to about seven hundred in all.
The Luftwaffe had pounded and poundedat 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 atFighter Command, and slowly Fighter Command was weakening. Even on September6th, the heads at the War Office were ready to implement the order of 'InvasionAlert No.1' It had already been served as a warning only to all RAFCommands, 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 pilotswould have to shoot down the German planes at a rate of three to one, atask which at this stage when his airfields were almost unoperational,and his pilots were tired and many were near to exhaustion. Dowding saidin his office at Bentley Priory, "......all we can do now is to pray toGod, because only a miracle can save us now."
What was to happen on September 7th1940, goes back to the night of August 24th / 25th when German bomberstargeted a number of British cities and towns. Birmingham had about fourraids in as many hours, Liverpool came under a Red Alert when it was bombedas was Hull and Sheffield. But it was the German bombers that were supposed to drop theirbombs on Thameshaven and Rochester, but dropped them in the heart of Londoninstead, the Luftwaffe crew claiming that they had lost their bearings. The British War Cabinet sanctioned, as a retaliation, an attackon Berlin on the following night of August 25th/26th. About 50 Britishbombers made up of Wellington's and Hampdens were to carry out the attack.But according to Bomber Command, heavy cloud covered the German capitaland only half of the bombers dropped their bombs, but most fell wide ofthe city doing little damage. The only bombs to fall within the city limitsdamaged a summer house in the Berlin suburb of Rosenthal and only two peoplewere injured and no deaths were recorded.
But a different picture was paintedby William L.Shirer who was in Berlin at the time of the raid. He was dueto make his evening broadcast to America at the time of the raid. Todayhis diary reads:
Todaythe bombing is the one topic of conversation among Berliners. Its especiallyamusing therefore to see that Goebbels has permitted the local newspapersto publish only a six-line communiqué about it, to the effect thatenemy planes flew over the capital, dropped a few incendiary bombs on twosuburbs, and damaged one wooden hut in a garden. There is not a line aboutthe explosive bombs which we all plainly heard. Nor is there a word aboutthe three streets in Berlin which have been roped off all day today toprevent the curious from seeing what a bomb can do to a house. It willbe interesting to watch the reaction of the Berliners to the efforts ofthe authorities to hush up the extent of the raid.BerlinDiary William L.Shirer 1940
Interesting tonote that Bomber Command reported only the garden shed in the suburbs andno 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 nightof August 28th / 29th and stated that Berlin would now be bombed on regularroutine missions into Germany. Yet William Shirer states in his diary thatBerlin was again bombed the following night after the first initial raid..[ Document44. Fighter Command Order of Battle September 7th 1940 ]
So it was onthe night of September 4th 1940, that Hitler, in his speech at the BerlinSportpalast stated amongst the cheers of the partisan audience, "...thepeople 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 meetingon August 30th with Göring Hitler stated then that he had decidedthat he would withdraw his ban on the bombing of London and showed thathe was now keen on regular attacks on the British capital in retaliationfor the consistent attacks on Berlin by the RAF.
As mentionedearlier, that on September 3rd Göring called a meeting at the Haguewith two of his commanders, Kesselring and Sperle. Kesselring agreed thatthe 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 theywere led to believe. From Berlin, Adolph Hitler gave the order that plansfor attacks on London should begin immediately. He was now firm in hisbeliefs that by concentrating on an all out bombing campaign on the Britishcapital would bring Britain to its knees, and that the bombing should continueuntil Britain submits under the strain. In between missions to Englandby day and by night during September 5th and the 6th, the Luftwaffe wasbusy in its preparations of strengthening all bomber units and moving Bf110and Bf109 units to specific locations close to the French coast. An allout bombing campaign on London was to commence on September 7th 1940.
The question here is, did ACM HughDowding or AVM Keith Park have any idea that the German tactics wereabout to change. Ever since the attacks commenced on the aerodromes of11 Group, both men believed that the assault would continue until mostairfields were virtually unoperational. They firmly believed that the Germanplan was to strike a severe a blow on the sector organization as soon aspossible, 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 RadioIntelligence). Between these two intelligence sources Fighter Command couldlisten in on the German communications system, and not only be forewarnedof any impeding attacks or strategic tactics ordered by the German HighCommand. Prior to the Battle of Britain, a listening station was situatedat Hawkinge where German linguists of the RAF could translate messagesand forward these to Fighter Command HQ. Later, this task was given toselected members of the WAAF who worked on six hour shifts.
Because of the importance of Hawkingeand its vulnerability to attack, more suitable premises was located atHollywood Manor at Kingsdowne near Wrotham in Kent, and this became theofficial operations centre for radio-telephony monitoring of German messagesand instructions for the duration of the war. All messages received, weresent to RAF commands as well as to the navy and the army. Len Deightonmakes mention of this when the Luftwaffe was preparing for Adlertag onAugust 11th 1940:
The RAFalso had access to the reports from men eavesdropping on German frequencies.The German weather reconnaissance units were not asked simply for generalinformation but for weather conditions at the intended targets. As an addedrisk to security such aircraft sent radio reports while still over Britain.This, and any other Luftwaffe radio traffic, was correlated by a secretunit known as the 'Y" service. And as each German aeroplane was preparedfor an operational flight, its radio was tested. Monitoring of these testsignals provided intelligence with a fairly accurate guess at the numberof 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 beattacked on a scale far exceeding all previous attacks.Len DeightonFighter Pluriform 1993 p158
At this pointcertain threads came together, as they often do at critical moments. Thebombs which fell on London on the night of August 24/25 had immediate repercussions;81 aircraft of Bomber Commandattacked Berlin the following night. This was an act which deeply pleasedthe Prime Minister, the Government, the Press and the overwhelming majorityof a public which was displaying unexpected reserves of belligerency. TheAir Staff was less pleased; it had little faith in the effectiveness ofpure reprisals, and still firmly believed that its slender bomber forcescould do real damage to military targets. How much damage Bomber Commandactually did to Berlin on August 25/26 is uncertain; that it caused considerableannoyance to Hitler and Goering, who had boasted that such a thing wouldnever happen, is obvious. And some damage was certainly done by attacks on othertargets in Germany. ‘I’hus Hitler had more than one motive for rescindinghis prohibition of deliberate attacks on the British capital, and Goeringnow ordered the matter to be put in hand with immediateeffect. On September 5 the “Y” Service intercepted his order for an attackby over 300 bombers with massive fighter cover on the London docks on theafternoon of September 7.John TerraineRight of the Line Hodder & Stoughton 1985 p207
Thanks toUltra, Goering’s signal was in the hands of the Prime Minister and of Dowding within minutes of its dcspatch.
A number of sourcesstate how Dowding and Park were prepared for other attacks especially duringSeptember and the initial raid on September 7th 1940 was no exception.Dowding and Park had received knowledge of an impeding raid that was tobe targeted at East London on September 5th. They knew that it was to takeplace within a few days, and calculating the time that it would take tobring the number of units forward and organize such a large raid, it wasestimated that the attack on London would be either September 7th or the8th. According to John Terraine the Air Ministry had also informedthen of Invasion Alert No.1 signifying "an attack is imminent:".
The positionwas grim in the extreme as from August 24th to September 6th. 295 fightershad been totally destroyed and 171 badly damaged, against a total outputof 269 new and repaired Spitfires and Hurricanes. Worst of all, duringthe fortnight 103 pilots were killed or missing and 128 were wounded, whichrepresented a total wastage of 120 pilots per week out of a fighting strengthof just under 1,000.Wood andDempster The Narrow Margin McGraw Hill 1961 p332-3
Experiencedpilots were like gold dust, and each one lost had to be replaced by anuntried man who for some time would be vulnerable, until he acquired battleknow-how. Fresh squadrons, moved in to replace tired units, very oftenlost more aircraft and pilots than the formations they replaced. For instance,616 Squadron lost twelve aircraft and five pilots between August 25th andSeptember 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 sixteenaircraft and twelve pilots, while 253 Squadron at Kenley lost thirteenHurricanes and nine pilots in the seven days they were in battle, fromAugust 30th.
0830hrs:A strange deadly quiet was experienced by all the radar stations alongthe south coast. The CRTs were all blank, not a sign of the enemy. Forthe first time the WAAFs could have breakfast in peace, and there weremore calls for another 'cuppa' than usual. Some took advantage of the mildbalmy early morning to stroll outside, something that had not been donefor weeks. But it was at Wittering that the first contact had been madewith the enemy. A single blip had been detected and 266 Squadron that hadjust been transferred to Wittering for a rest after being in the battlezone was sent to intercept. Three Spitfires took off and made for theirvectored position at twenty-eight thousand. All three aircraft were atfull boost trying to catch the enemy aircraft, and one of them had to turnback because the engine started to become erratic. The enemy aircraft wasa Dornier 215 and it was not until they were well out over the North Seaclose to the Dutch border that they managed to make their first attack.Their shots went wide and they came under some accurate gunfire from theGerman aircraft. A second attack was more successful with the Dornier explodingin a ball of flame.
1030hrs:Across the Channel. Göring, commander of II Fliegerkorps Bruno Loerzerand Albert Kesselring drive through the French countryside towards thetownship of St Omer. Göring, who had now pronounced himselfas the leader of the Luftwaffe operations wanted to see for himself thebeginning of the final stage of the battle, and had invited Loerzer andKesselring along. They were to position themselves at the closest pointof the French mainland to the English coast, as it would be from here thatthey could witness what they thought would be the greatest onslaught thatBritain would ever endure.
Along the way they found time to havebreakfast, and called in to some of the Luftwaffe fighter stations oneof them being the Lehrgeschwader of Bf109s based at Calais-Marck, wherea midday banquet was held. Here, Göring in his open heavy leathercoat that displayed all his war medals talked and chatted with the manypilots. He spoke of his days as a fighter pilot when air combat was foughtwith open cockpit biplanes. He was in a sort of jovial , yet somewhat cockymood.
After lunch, the procession of threeMercedes escorted by motorcycle police made their way to the high picnicgrounds at Cape Blanc Nez, where a team of noncommissioned officers withalmost a precision like mentality set out tables and white table linen,and hastily set out the sandwiches, biscuits and champagne. There was awar on, the British were lazily sitting around almost bored with themselves,the German pilots were preparing to deploy themselves on the greatest attackyet, and Göring was going to have a picnic.
1155hrs: The radar at Doverand Pevensey picks up the first blips of the day, a small formation justoff the coast. They appear to be content on staying just within strikingdistance of the English coastline but made sure that they would not crossthe coast. 66 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) who were on a routine patrolwere sent to intercept. It was a small formation of Bf109s possibly tryingto draw the British fighters out, just as they had done during the earlyChannel attacks in July. Being as the enemy was content in staying outthere, Fighter Command decided that as long as they kept their distancefrom the coast, no other squadrons would be sent to intercept.
66 Squadron engaged combat, but aftertwo 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 pilotP/O C.A.W.Bodie decided to crash land the aircraft close to Hawkinge whenhe was losing height rapidly. The other Spitfire is believed to have madeit back to Kenley and also made a crash landing.
1300hrs: On the other sideof the Channel, it was a different story. Germanground personnel were busy putting the finishing touches to new airfieldsthat were positioned very near to the French coast. Many new gun emplacementswere being constructed, and word broke through to British intelligencethat heavy bombers were being moved into readiness. More amphibious landingcraft were still arriving at the Channel ports.
The BritishWar Office and Air Ministry were advised that after consultation with themeteorological office that the tides and moon favoured a date between the8th and 10th of September for the commencement of the invasion. A meetingthat was called by the British Chiefs of Staff and was to commence thatday 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 tacticsthat the Luftwaffe was to implement later this day.
AVM Keith Parkissues the statement to all his controllers and squadron commanders toobey the orders from Group Operations "exactly, and without any modification". This instruction was made because squadrons were often too high to successfullymake an interception of enemy bombers without engaging combat with theescorting fighters. The instruction also ordered that two squadrons wereto operate together, and that because of there better high altitude performance,the Spitfires should engage the escorting fighters while the Hurricanesmake contact with the bombers. "We must harass and destroy they as manybombers as possible" he said.
1400hrs:Across the Channel, Göring and his party of invited guests startedto take their positions on the cliff edge. Everyone is relaxed, talkingand smiling with a sort of waiting in anticipation. It looked like a picnicday for the rich. Suddenly, in the distance the dull drone of engines couldbe heard, it was coming from the south. Shortly, the same sounds couldbe 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 overthe high ground behind them. All eyes were at straining point, some membersof the party were on tip toes stretching their necks to get the first glimpsesof 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 thesky above, the smile on Göring's face went from cheek to cheek, heexcitedly placed his hands on a Major's shoulder and shook it, and pointingtowards the mass of aircraft high above. The noise was deafening.
Göringstood up from his collapsible seat, settling his binoculars on the firstspearhead of the Heinkels and Dorniers which were now circling some tenmiles away before forming up with the twin-engined fighter screen on eachflank and, almost invisible above, the little 109s - some from the airfieldthat they had recently inspected. As the bombers and their escort groaneddeafeningly overhead, gaining altitude, to these senior officers it wasas if the frustrating weeks of struggle in the air, with its distressingcasualties, and the Phoenix-like reappearance of the Hurricanes and Spitfireswhen none should have survived, had been wiped clean. Now the real battlewas about to begin - and surely nothing on earth, or in the air, couldprevail against this massive destructing power..........RichardHough and Denis Richards The Battle of Britain The Jubilee HistoryH&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'shead, 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 wasat least 800 square miles, and still the excitable Göring could hardlycontrol himself as the huge formation of droning bombers headed towardsthe English coast.
1540hrs: The coastal radarstations, that had been extra quiet all day, suddenly could not believetheir eyes. At first, it was just a few blips off the French coast thatslowly appeared to join and increase in size like a formidable cancer.The radar station at Foreness was the first to detect the appearance ofthe enemy on the CRT screen. A WAAF corporal could not explain the sizeof the formation and she called for one of her superior officers. Withinmoments, Dover had also picked the giant build up as did Rye. Those thathad been relaxing outside in the late afternoon sun were called in, cigaretteswere stubbed in the already full ashtrays as everybody's attention wasturned to the armada that was crossing the Channel and coming towards them.
1550hrs: All personnel at BentleyPriory were in the relaxed mood as they had been all day. It had been aday that had been a blessing to all as everyone took advantage of the peaceand quiet of this late September day. The Officer-in-Charge even strolledabout casually on the mezzanine level of the Operations Room known as the"Balcony", the WAAFs below sat casually round an empty map table as theyhad done since daybreak. Some sat sipping cups of tea, some were readingnewspapers or just casually chatting to one of the others. One could beforgiven in thinking that this was the nerve centre of Fighter Command.Even though most were indulging in this relaxed mood, many of the WAAFsmaintained their headsets on 'just in case'. Little did they know then,that within a couple of minutes the "Hole" as the Operations Room at headquarterswas known, would take on a sudden transformation.
1554hrs: The message came throughfrom from the radar stations. The Filter Room at 'the hole' was the firstto receive such messages and one of the Tellers there passed the initialposition sighted of the enemy to the plotters at the large map table belowthe balcony. One of the Plotters reached for her long rake that had a batterypowered magnetic tip, then reached into the tray at the edge of the tablepicking up one of the coloured arrows and placing it on the small plaquethat were placed a letter, either "H" for hostile, "X" for an unidentifiedaircraft, "F" for fighter aircraft or "C" for Coastal Command aircraft.A number was placed beside the letter which indicated the number of aircraftin the formation. Another number was placed below this to indicate theheight of the enemy.
On the balcony, seated in a prominentposition would be seated the C-in-C, his aides and his guests if any. Onboth sides of him would be the Tellers. These fellows would have to lookdown 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 wereon the plaques being pushed across the map by the plotters. On the filterroom wall was a colour coded clock with its face divided into five minutesegments by the aid of colours. Each five minutes from the hour the colourwas different, starting with red, then yellow and then blue, and then thesequence was repeated over again.
One of the Plotters commenced placinga plaque just off the French coast, then just alongside another Plotterplaced another plaque. At first, until confirmation of its identity couldbe made, the letter "X" was placed on the plaque together with the numberof aircraft. An arrow would also be placed giving the direction of flightas well as the grid letter and the grid position.
1600hrs: The plots on the largemap show that the build up of enemy aircraft is increasing and coveringa wider area. The information was passed on to Group HQ, but at this stageno reports of squadrons being scrambled are recorded. The usual procedureof the Luftwaffe attacks was after the Channel crossing, the formationswould split up upon reaching the English coast, and it was presumed thatthis would be no different.
1615hrs: The huge armada ofGerman aircraft were now over the coast and within the range of the ObserverCorps posts. They report in to the Maidstone HQ that "Enemysighted, 100 plus, 20,000," within moments, they would lift the telephoneagain, "Further to my last report.....make that 200 plus," and soit continued. In reality, a total of some 1,100 aircraft were crossingthe English coastline consisting of 300 medium-heavy bombers, 200 Bf110swith 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 Parknot at Group HQ at Uxbridge he was not able to control squadron and fighterunits, but in his absence this task was left to his senior controller JohnWilloughby de Broke with whom Keith Park had every confidence. Quite oftenhe would let his controllers make the early decisions and he would acton these making the final decisions later based on his natural instinct.Immeadiately orders eleven squadrons to scramble, he is of the belief thatonce and for all the Luftwaffe are intent on completely destroying hisairfields. Seeing the size of the approaching formation, he orders everysquadron covering London into the air. The dispersal's at Northolt, Kenley,Croydon, Hendon, North Weald and Hornchurch all become a immediate hubof activity.
By 1620hrs, 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes)completes its scramble, as does 303 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), 504Squadron Hendon (Hurricanes), 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes). Thetable opposite gives the full scramble times for the initial order givenby FCHQ.
Expecting the assault to be directedat the sector airfields, all squadrons are ordered into positions to thatwould provide protection for the important sector stations and such installationsas the oil refinery at Thameshaven.
43 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes)were ordered by their controller in a variety of directions but keepingthe south coast within sight. Eventually they see a formation of Dorniers1,500 feet below. The leader orders the bulk of his squadron to attackthe escorting Bf109s while he and another section leader move in on theDorniers. They open fire on the bombers for all they are worth until theirammunition is nearly exhausted, then turn sharply in front of descendingBf109s. Both Hurricanes are shot down, one pilot is trapped in his divingplane, while the other manages to bale out, but his parachute fails toopen.
Once over the Kent coast, the huge armada of German bombers and their escorts break into separate groups witheach one seemingly heading for a different target.
Fighter Command becomes bewildered asthe change in direction sees many of the bombers heading away from thesector airfields and away from patrolling RAF fighters.
One large formation starts to headtowards west of London, while another turns to the north-east as if togo up the east coast of Essex and Suffolk. Although Willoughby de Brokewas to direct and vector the squadrons to their respective areas, he wouldhave been in communication with Keith Park at FCHQ. Instructions wouldhave been given to de Broke as to where to place the various squadronsand also to notify Duxford that their assistance would be required andthe area that they were to cover. Keith Park knew that his senior controllercould control operations from there, and what was to happen in the nextcouple of hours, de Broke was well capable of taking control of.
1620hrs: Four squadrons hadinitially been scrambled. 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), the Poles thatso 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 thetargets, but the general feeling was that the fighter station surroundingLondon would be the first targets. It was of no surprise when the firstsquadrons 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 othershad 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 leading242 Squadron, the other two squadrons being 310 and 19. This hadbeen the first time that the "Big Wing" had officially been involved inlarge scale operational combat with 11 Group. It was Bader's plan, that his wing of36 fighter planes should be scrambled early and meet the enemy in advanceof the Maidstone area, with the purpose of disrupting the enemy bombers.Once the bombers had been forced to scatter, it would then make it easierfor 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 Squadrontook 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 climbto a height of 20,000 feet to put them in an advantageous position. Theoutcome was, was that they were attacked by Bf109s while still climbing,and because of this, they could not make contact with the enemy bombersat 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 formationsspread-eagled their way over Britain, it now became apparent that theywere after something other than the airfields of Fighter Command. One group,that headed west of London, had bypassed the airfields of Biggin Hill andKenley. It was reported that between Brooklands and Windsor there wereover 200 bombers in this group. This group was sighted by Flight LieutenantJames McArthur of 609 Squadron.
German bombers and their Bf109 escortsbegan forming over inland France from 1500hrs onwards. Slowly, as othergroups took off, they joined forces with other formations, with each formationflying at a different altitude, and flying some minutes either above orbelow the formation in front.
From the French coast, they flew ina direct line across the Channel towards the Kent coast, just as they haddone on previous occasions. The flight pattern used was also the same ashad been done previously, and it was this that had Fighter Command fooledas 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 altitudeschanged direction criss crossing the flight paths of the formations belowthem. One group, flew almost north-west, then once over the Guildford areaturned north flying over Windsor and Maidenhead, then making a circlearound the city of London and headed towards their target of the dock areaand industrial borough of West Ham.
Two other groups, once over the coastnear 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 followingthe River Thames until they reached the London docks and West Ham. Another group took the direct line and from the coast of Kent flew directtowards 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 Luftwaffetarget was London's dockland area and the industrial and heavily populatedeast end.
By 1630hrs,all twenty one squadrons around London were in the air or taking off. Thesight that they encountered east of Sheppy astounded them: a formationone and a half miles high, covering 800 square miles of sky.
Len Deighton- Battle of Britain Jonathon Cape 1980 p169
.....Raylooked eastward downstream towards the estuary. Never had he seen sucha terrifying sight; the sky was dotted with a mass of specks which seemedquite motionless. Then he realized they were approaching, he recognizedthem as Heinkels and Dorniers, flanked by escorts of Messerschmitt 109sand 110s. The boys could not imagine there could be so many at once. Infact the Luftwaffe had amassed nearly four hundred bombers and more thansix hundred fighters - over a thousand aircraft - for this all out attack.
Peter Townsend- Duel in the Dark Harrap 1986
Watchersfar below could see the occasional glint of a wing in the sun as the enemyraiders 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 grounddefenses, antiaircraft fire opened up along the banks of the Thames andsteadily increased in intensity. But the planes were too high, and thewhite puff balls of smoke as the ack ack shells burst proved to be moreof a salute to the raiders than a threat. The German airplanes came inlike a neat and inexorable procession; at fixed points on their flightpath, a signal would be given by the leaders and the bombs would be released.
LeonardMolsey - Battle of Britain Time Life 1977
Many of thedefending squadrons had been ordered to patrol above the airfields. Dayafter day, these had been the primary target for high level, low level,glide- and dive bombing attacks, and no one airborne that afternoon madeany other target assumption. The sector controllers, too, felt no reasonto believe that the Luftwaffe's strategy had made a sudden and dramaticdeparture from the pattern prevailing for a full month.
RichardHough & Denis Richards - Battle of Britain The Jubilee HistoryH&S 1989
Keith Park watchedthe action developing with Dowding in the ops room at Bentley Priory. Therewas little that they could do, except watch the huge map below as theirfighters 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 bombshad already been unleashed on the oil storage tanks at Thameshaven whichwas still burning from the raid the previous day. There was little chancethat they could get near to the bombers as they were outnumbered by tento one by the Bf109 escorts.
Park wantedto know where the Duxford wing had got to, he remarked that they shouldhave intercepted the enemy bombers in the vicinity of Rochford and Maidstone,where the addition of thirty-six fighters could have assisted 501 and 249Squadrons 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, themap board below showed him that another formation was approaching the eastend from the north and that another formation coming up from the southwas already almost at the target area.
Over 300 Heinkels and Dorniers withan escort of some 600 Bf109s and Bf110s continued the path along the Thamesalthough many of the escorts had previously had to turn back because oftheir fuel situation, some of the bombers had turned back after unleashingtheir bombes on Thameshaven, but as many as 230 continued on towards Londonwith no British fighters there to infiltrate or stop their progress.
With the Spitfires and Hurricaneskept busy on the fringes of their flight path, the German bombers flewat a much higher altitude than normal escaping the bursting shells fromthe anti aircraft fire down below. The bombers flew towards London as ifin 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 continuesits course along the Thames, the other large formation that is approachingfrom the south is intercepted by 609 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires)over Dartford in Kent and slightly to the south-east of London. The mixtureof Dorniers and Heinkels is again protected by their Bf109 escorts. The609 squadron leader positions his squadron in a positioned to attack whensuddenly the bombers change direction ready for their attack on the docklandarea of London. The coordinated attack by 609 is now off guard, so SquadronLeader J.Curchin instructs his men to make individual attacks. Many manageto out maneuver some of the 109s and line up one of the bombers in theirsights.
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 werehit. Churchin, lines up one of the Dorniers, approaches very quickly andfires a short burst before pushing the stick forwards and flying underneaththe enemy bomber. He is quickly clear of the formation, so he turns hisSpitfire 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 afour second burst. Closing in, he fires another short burst while at thesame time pushing the stick to the left where the second of the Dornierspeels away and starts to go in a steep dive.
Churchinthinks about coming in for a second attack when he spots a Bf109 slightlyahead and below him. He goes after the 109, who is now aware that he hasa Spitfire on his tail. The German escort flies into the safety of thebillowing thick black smoke that is coming from the burning oil tanks atThameshaven. The Spitfire follows him through and out at the other side,Churchin is closing in, he fires a short volley, the 109 suddenly heavesand quivers, he has been hit, the at about 50 yards he fires with the 109squarely in his gunsight. Pieces of the Bf109 fly off before he startsto make that final dive and into the waters of the Thames Estuary.From informationin the book A Few of the Few by Denis Newton.
It appeared thatFighter Command were not going to gain the upper hand. There were justfar 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. Animpressive victory to 609, but against 200+ bombers it was not even theskin off of the custard.
The greatestsuccess came from the combined efforts of 603 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires),1 Squadron Northolt and 303 Squadron (Polish) who manages to destroy atotal of 11 Dorniers. One of the pilots of 603 Squadron said, that thesePoles went in with great determination and ferocity and screamed idle chitchat in their own native tongue, but who cares, they were there to ripinto 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 firstdropped their bombs with great accuracy on Woolwich Arsenal on the southside of the River Thames and the entrance to London's dockland. The hugefactory of Harland and Woolfe suffered almost total destruction, and themunitions factory at Woolwich was also hit. Here the shells for the Armywere manufactured, and just one hit and the gunpowder storage bins eruptedcausing great sheets of flame to rise hundreds of feet into the air.
Another waveof 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 backwatersblazed from end to end. Large ships that had brought in supplies were hitand themselves were on fire. Other importantdocks at Millwall, Wapping right up to St Katherine's dock near Tower Bridgewere ablaze. Some forty miles of warehouses along the Thames had been hitand were a blazing fury.
But it was notjust the docks themselves that suffered this unforeseen onslaught. Theheavily populated area of London's east end was regarded as the poorerside of the city. These were the battling workers, the slums, a differentclass of people that resided to the south and to the west of London. WestHam, Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping andWhitechapel all became enveloped in a blazing fury. Factories and terracedhouses were destroyed. The fire brigades in all the suburbs were fightinga losing battle that was to continue on for another four hours as waveafter wave of German bombers came over and dropped, instantaneous, incendiaries,2 - 4 hour delayed action bombs.
This firstday of bombing was most dreadful. Most of us thought '...my God, what onearth is happening, this is it....we are finished', but of course, thiswas really only the beginning.
Explosionswere everywhere, there just was not a break, bang after bang after bang.The clang of bells from fire service vehicles and ambulances were drownedout by these bombs. You would here a whistle as a stick of bombs came downthen 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 beany advantage to Fighter Command, while the bombers were over the eastend of London, their Bf109 escorts had long since made the return tripback to their bases because of the fuel situation. This was to be the oneof the longest and busiest days so far for the pilots. Time and time againthe 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 backand headed for home, the Spitfires and Hurricanes tore into the defencelessand unescorted bombers.
Ironically,Hornchurch, some forty miles away from the docks, was practically closeddown because of the drifting smoke from the blazing east end envelopedthe airfield. Leigh-Mallory's "Big Wing" that had missed the interceptionof the incoming bombers, managed to attack the first wave after they haddropped their bombload and headed for home. All squadrons were still airborneeven as light started to fade and eventually Fighter Command had to becontent in letting the bombers return unmolested in the dark.
But all wasnot finished. At 2022hrs, as many of the attacking bombers were returninghome, another wave was crossing the Kent coast at Beachy Head. They couldhardly be seen against the night sky, and what a target they would havebeen if Fighter Command had an effective night fighter squadron available,as this formation did not have the protection of a Bf109 escort. Two planesof 213 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) were sent up, but were ordered notto 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 eveningwore on, the German bomber made up from Gruppes from Hugo Sperle'sLuftflotte 3, most of the daytime bombers had landed. The commanders madeout their reports which were more than favourable. The result were immediatelyposted to Göring, who for once felt satisfied when he learnt of thedevastation that his bombers had done, and that most of London was ablazewith the report also that the east end had been totally destroyed.
So pleasedwith himself, that Göring immediately telegraphed his wife Emmy andtold her that "....the English have had enough". He also broadcaston German radio to the German people, that this being the first blow whilehe had been in charge of the battle, over half of London now lay in ruinsand that he had struck a serious blow...straight at the enemy's heart.
The bombingcontinued well into the night, in fact, the total bombing lasted for sevenhours. The weather, which had been a glorious late summer's day, and itseemed only right, that it should end with a 'most beautiful sunset', untilit was realised that the sun was setting in the wrong direction, the redglow that they saw was the reflection in the evening sky of the burningEast End. In all, over three hundred tons of bombs were dropped, and bymidnight, the whole of London's East End was engulfed in flames. 490 Londoncivilians 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 battalionsthat were alerted was the 18th Australian Infantry that was based at AmesburyAbbey. The report came through at about 9.30pm. The 18th Infantry Brigadewas at this time, only at about half strength because half of the brigadewas 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, roadblocks were set up and even plans were put in place for the blowing upof some of the bridges.
For those that were on duty, theywere told to stand by for an immediate move. By midnight, no further informationor orders had been received so the men were allowed to return to theirbillets, but were to be prepared to move at one hours notice should theinvasion be confirmed.
1205hrs: Catterick. SpitfireP9560. 54 Squadron Catterick
F/O D.J.Saunderskilled. (Crashed during low altitude training practice flight)
1430hrs: Flamborough. SpitfireR6901. 54 Squadron Catterick
P/O W.Krepskilisted as missing. (Believed crashed into sea during operationalflight)
1550hrs: Rainham. BlenheimL6684. 600 Squadron Hornchurch
Sgt J.W.Davieskilled. (Crashed due to engine failure during landing approach)
1645hrs:South London. HurricaneV6641. 43 Squadron Tangmere
S/L C.B.Hullkilled. (Shot down in combat with Bf109 and crashed in groundsof Purley High School)
1645hrs: Blackheath. HurricaneV7257. 43 Squadron Tangmere
Fl/L R.C.Reynellkilled. (Baled out after being shot down by Bf109. Died on landing)
1700hrs: Maidstone. HurricaneR4114. 249 Squadron North Weald
P/O R,D,S.Flemingkilled. (Shot down by Bf109s during combat operations)
1700hrs: Billericay. HurricaneP3234. 73 Squadron Debden
Fl/L R.E.Lovvettkilled. (Shot down by enemy aircraft during combat operations)
1700hrs: Thames Estuary. HurricaneL1615. 504 Squadron Hendon
F/O K.V.Wendelldied of injuries. (Shot down over Estuary but crashed in flamesat Faversham)
1730hrs: Thames Estuary. HurricaneP3049. 257 Squadron Debden
Fl/L H.R.A.Beresfordkilled. (A/C crashed on Isle of Sheppey. Pilots remains unearthed)
1730hrs: Biggin Hill. SpitfireN3198. 602 Squadron Westhampnett
F/O W.H.Coverleydied of injuries. (Shot down by E/A and crashed in flames. Pilotbaled out with severe burns)
1730hrs: Thames Estuary. HurricaneV7254. 257 Squadron Debden
F/O L.R.G.Mitchelllisted as missing. (Last seen in action in combat. Believedcrashed into sea)
1730hrs: Biggin Hill. SpitfireX4256. 602 Squadron Westhampnett
P/O H.W.Moodeylisted as missing. (Failed to return to base after combat operation)
1825hrs: St Mary Cray. SpitfireP9466. 234 Squadron Middle Wallop
S/L J.S.O'Brienkilled. (Shot down by enemy aircraft and crashed near BigginHill)
1830hrs: Bessels Green. SpitfireX4009. 234 Squadron Middle Wallop
Fl/L P.C.Hugheskilled. (Believed crashed into Do17 wreckage after he shot itduring combat)
THE FOLLOWING AIRCRAFT CRASHEDor DAMAGED BUT PILOTS WERE DECLARED SAFE:
1230hrs: P/O C.A.W.Bodie 66Squadron Kenley. Forced landing at Hawkinge aftyer combat. (U)
1235hrs: P/O I.J.A.Cruikshanks66 Squadron Kenley. Forced landed after combat operations. (U)
1615hrs: P/O G.H.Bennions41 Squadron Hornchurch. Undercarriage collapsed Rochford after combat (U)
1700hrs: S/L D.R.S.Bader 242Squadron Coltishall. Seriously damaged in combat over Thames Estuary. (U)
1700hrs: Fl/L R.J.Cork 242Squadron Coltishall. Landed at Duxford badly damaged in combat. (Inj/Sl)
1700hrs: P/O J.Daszewski 303Squadron Northolt. Shot down by Bf109s. Thames Estuary. (B/O:Sv/W)
1700hrs: Fl/L A.S.Forbes 303Squadron Northolt. Returned to base. Damaged by Do17. (W)
1700hrs: F/O Z.Henneberg 303Squadron Northolt. Damaged by Bf109s. Returned to base. (U)
1700hrs: Sgt R.Smithson 249Squadron North Weald. Shot down by Bf109 over Maidstone. Crashed. (W)
1705hrs: P/O R.G.A.Barclay249 Squadron North Weald. Crash landed from gunfire He111 Maidstone. (U)
1705hrs: Sgt F.W.Killingback249 Squadron North Weald. Shot down by Bf109 over Maidstone. (B/O:W)
1705hrs: F/O M.Pisarek 303Squadron Northolt. Crashed into back garded at Loughton. B/O:U)
1710hrs: Sgt B.M.Bush 504Squadron Hendon. Damaged by Bf109. Forced landed Eastchurch. (Sev Bu)
1720hrs: Sgt A.E.Marshall73 Squadron Debden. Damaged by Bf110 Forced landing Burnham. (Inj/Sl)
1720hrs: P/O A.P.Pease 603Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over London. Crash landed at base. (U)
1720hrs: F/O P.H.V.Wells 249Squadron North Weald. Caught fire during attack on He111. (B/O:W)
1725hrs: P/O D.W.Cowley-Milling242 Squadron Coltishall. Forced landing at Stow-St-Maries. (U)
1730hrs: P/O E.W.Aries 602Squadron Westhampnett. Crash landed Wrotham Damaged by Do17. (U)
1730hrs: S/L D.L.Denholm 603Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over S London. Forced landed at base. (U)
1730hrs: P/O O.V.Hanbury 600Squadron Hornchurch. Returned to base. Damaged by Do17 Sth London. (U)
1730hrs: Sgt A.R.Sarre 603Squadron Hornchurch. Shot down over Thames during combat (B/O:W)
1730hrs: P/O B.G.Stapleton603 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged by Bf109s S London. Force landed (U)
1745hrs: Sgt R.C.Ford 41 SquadronHornchurch. Forced landing Werst Hanningfield Essex (U)
1745hrs: P/O A.K.Ogilvie 609Squadron Warmwell. Damaged over S London. Returned to base. (U)
1745hrs: P/O D.W.A.Stones79 Squadron Biggin Hill. A/C damaged by Bf109 over base. (Sl/W)
1745hrs: F/O B.Van Mentz 222Squadron Hornchurch. Cooling system damaged in combat Rochester (U)
1750hrs: P/O J.D.Bisdee 609Squadron Warmwell. Damaged over S London. Returned to base. (U)
1800hrs: P/O N.leC.Agazarian609 Squadron Warmwell. Dam by He111. Forced landed White Waltham. (U)
1800hrs: Sgt J.M.B.Beard 249Squadron North Weald. Shot down by friendly AA gunfire. B/O:U)
1808hrs: Sgt J.McAdam 41 SquadronHornchurch. Crashed on farm after combat operations. (U)
1810hrs: Sgt J.Koukal 310Squadron Duxford. Crashed at Harty Marshes after combat over Estuary. B/O:Bu)
1815hrs: Sgt J.White 72 SquadronCroydon. Forced landed after combat over Thames Estuary. (Inj/Sl)
1820hrs: F/O T.A.F.Elsdon72 Squadron Croydon. Crash landed at Biggin Hill after combat. (Inj/Ser)
1820hrs: P/O V.Goth 310 SquadronDuxford. Damaged by Bf110 Southend. Forced landed Purleigh. (U)
1820hrs: P/O O.B.Morrough-Ryan41 Squadron Hornchurch. Forced landing Great Wakering. (U)
1825hrs: Sgt J.H.H.Burgess222 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over Maidstone and force landed. (U)
1830hrs: Sgt P.T.Robinson257 Squadron Debden. Aircraft damaged in combat Over Thames Estuary. (U)
1830hrs: Sgt T.Y.Wallace 111Squadron Croydon. Shot down by Bf109 over Ashford. (B/O:U)
1835hrs: Sgt D.J.Hulbert 257Squadron Debden. Forced landed at Sittingbourne. Damaged by Bf109. (U)
B/O=Baled Out. Bu=Burned. Inj/Sl=SlightlyInjured. Inj/Ser=Seriously Injured. Sl/W=Slightly wounded.
Sv/W=Severely wounded. Sev Bu=Severelyburned. U=Unhurt. W=Wounded.
 Dennis NewtonA Few Of The Few Australian War Memorial p156