TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 10th 1940
Clear during the early hours but cloud was expected to move in from the North Sea during the early morning and this would give rain over most areas during the day.
Low cloud and periods of heavy rain over Northern Europe stopped any form of Luftwaffe air activity and any operations planned against England had to be canceled. For Fighter Command the day was nothing but a rest day and pilots and command leaders were trying to work out as to why Germany had decided to turn its attacks against London. If an invasion was Germany's highest priority, why the decision to bomb London. For an invasion to be successful, Germany would have to knock out as many military establishments as possible. As ACM Keith Park stated after the war, "The decision to bomb London was germany's greatest mistake, in those first few days of September our airfields were a shambles, pilot and aircraft strength was still at an all time low. By switching tactics and concentrating on London he will give us the time we need to strengthen our forces." There were many reasons as to why Park could do with some respite from his airfields becoming targets, the aerodromes were now functioning better than they had been for a number of weeks, aircraft factories were still operating as normal and military hardware was still pouring out of the factories. The radar was functioning at full capacity and Fighter Command HQ as well as Bentley Priory were operating normally. These should be the targets if Germany was to continue with its plan to make an invasion of Britain. Even the German Naval Staff could not understand the situation, as described in their diary:
So why turn its attack on London. True the oil storage tanks at Thameshaven had suffered badly as did the London Docks, but these would have no opposition to any planned invasion. Suffering most were civilian properties and inconvenience caused to the inhabitants, especially those in the East End, all major railway stations had been damaged but had not been completely put out of action. Of the attacks of the previous nights, some newspapers made comparisons to the blitzkrieg attacks on a number of towns and cities in northern Europe, and many of the Londoner's abbreviated the name and called the attacks on their city as "The Blitz" and from then on, the name stuck.
A few German aircraft were detected in and around the southern and eastern coastline of England, but most of these were on either weather or reconnaissance patrols. Fighter Command decided to leave them alone. Bomber Command sent 248 Squadron (Blenheims) on a mission to Norway but this had to be aborted because of deteriorating weather conditions over the North Sea. A flight from 236 Squadron St Eval (Blenheims) is placed on escort duty for the steamship Scillonian and the mission is successfully completed.
With cloud cover persisting during the late afternoon, radar picks up various single aircraft coming across the Channel from 1700hrs onwards. With Fighter Command again not responding, a number of attacks were made by the Luftwaffe. A couple of lone bombers ventured into 10 Group territory and made some nuisance drops. Another lone raider attacked West Malling again but causing no serious damage. Tangmere reported that it had come under machine-gun strafing with nearby Portsmouth was attacked by single Do17s.
72 Squadron Croydon (Spitfires) was one of the few squadrons scrambled and attacked one of the Do215s and one was believed to have been brought down, although one of the Spitfires was hit by return gunfire from the bomber and had to make a forced landing at Etchingham (Kent). Just after 1800hrs, a small formation crossed the coast near Dungeness and targeted Biggin Hill aerodrome, but were intercepted by British fighters and one of the Dorniers of 9/KG76 was shot down and the mission aborted.
By nightfall, the Luftwaffe was again targeting London and this time they were making full use of the cloud cover. Also taking advantage of the weather attacks were also made on industrial areas of South Wales and on the Lancashire area of Merseyside. London was though, the main target where over 150 bombers pounded the city once again.
But RAF Bomber Command also took advantage of the weather conditions. 17 Whitleys attack the Pottsdamer railway station at Berlin causing considerable damage, then they went on to attack the Bremen dock area while a Blenheim squadron attacked the important bomber aerodrome at Eindhoven. Eight Heinkel He111 bombers were destroyed, two were badly damaged and another was damaged when it crashed into craters upon landing later.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 11th 1940
The heavy cloud cover was expected to disperse overnight giving way to a fine day in most areas, occasional cloud and some local showers in the midlands and the north with the exception of the English Channel and south-eastern England where cloud was expected to continue.
This was the day that Hitler had planned to invade Britain. But in reality, Germany ws no where nearer ready for an invasion than they were three or four weeks previous. Britain's coastal defences still stood firm along the southern and eastern coastlines, naval ports and other small seaports that were being used by the Royal Navy along the southern coast of England were still intact and most of Britain's Civil Defence forces were just waiting for the word that would put them into action. On top of this, RAF Bomber Command had been continually bombing ports from Calais to Boulogne and along the Dutch coast destroying many of the barges that were to be used in "Operation Sealion".
RAF Fighter Command was now known to Luftwaffe Intelligence that it had not been defeated and that most aerodromes were on standby. Adolph Hitler had no option but to re-schedule the warning of the invasion which had been scheduled for September 14th, and by bombing London and other important centres it would be regarded as a strategic as well as a tactical concept, and would break the will of the British people and bring the British fighters out to fight a final pitched battle. Hitler now decided that the next warning of the planned invasion would be September 24th 1940.
[ Document 48: Winston Churchill speech ]
At the time, the postponement by Hitler was not known, as stated here by Churchill to the people, that an attempted invasion was imminent. The sector controllers had received notification from Keith Park that it was obvious that the Germans had changed tactics from two or three separate attacks during the course of the day, to mass raids of 300 to 400 aircraft that were coming across the Channel in two waves in quick succession. He further informed them that with this change in tactics, that they were not to place too many squadrons to intercept the first wave, and that enough aircraft had to be held back to intercept the second wave which so far had proven to be larger in number than the first.
He told the controllers that paired squadrons were to be used wherever possible. Spitfires were to concentrate of the enemy fighters that were at higher altitude while the Hurricanes are to attack the bombers and close fighter escort. With the two German waves, generally only fifteen minutes apart, Park ordered that those squadrons brought to 'readiness' first were to attack the first wave and their escorts. The squadrons available and at "Readiness fifteen minutes" were to attack the second wave. Squadrons held in reserve and 'Available thirty minutes" were to be vectored to reinforcements to those squadron requiring assistance and to provide protection to industrial centres and sector airfields.
The morning period was just as quiet as previous mornings of the last four days, and it appeared that things were to take the usual practice of large formations of bombers coming over at about 1700hrs. It was a fine morning, not as warm as many other mornings but pleasant, and many pilots just lazed around outside their dispersal's doing what they usually done. Some read old newspapers or magazines, many tried to write letters home while the rest fell asleep taking full advantage of the lull in activities. But after lunch, their afternoon 'siesta' was interrupted by radar detection of a large build-up from Calais to Ostend. The Luftwaffe were to come early today.
1445hrs:Most of the radar stations along the Kent coast detected and followed the course patterns of a number of German formations that were building up from Calais along to Ostend. Information as quickly dispatched to Fighter Command headquarters and to 11 Group, where Keith Park ordered his sector controllers to place a number of their squadrons at readiness. As on previous occasions, which was now becoming a regular occurrence, the Duxford Wing of 19, 242 and 310 squadrons was also placed at readiness.
1515hrs: After the crossing of the Channel, large formations are sighted by the Observer Corps at Foreness, Dover, Folkestone and Bognor. The largest of these crosses the coast near Ramsgate. Estimated as two large formations of one hundred and fifty bombers each making a total of three hundred in total, escorted by Bf109s and Bf110s head towards the Thames Estuary and the River Thames. One formation crosses between Ramsgate and Deal while the other is further out over the sea. The Observer Corps also report of a large formation of bombers and escorts that appear to be heading towards Portsmouth or Southampton. Park releases squadrons at Tangmere and Westhampnett from 11 Group activities so that 10 Group can deal with the impending operations over Southampton and Portsmouth.
1530hrs: Now, most of 11 Group
squadrons are airborne. 1(RCAF) Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes) along with
222 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) and 238 Squadron Middle Wallop (Hurricanes)
are in action over central Kent, 17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes), 46 Squadron
Stapleford (Hurricanes), Spitfires of 72 Squadron Croydon, 73 Squadron
Debden (Hurricanes), 249 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) and 266 Squadron
Wittering (Spitfires) were involved in heavy combat action spread over
the Thames Estuary. 19 Squadron Duxford (Spitfires), 74 Squadron Coltishall
(Spitfires) and 266 Squadron had been brought down as usual from 12 Group
to protect Hornchurch and North Weald and all of them became involved in
action over southern and eastern areas of London.
It had been estimated that over 300 enemy aircraft in two separate formations and both covered by their Bf109 escorts flying at higher altitude had crossed the coast between Deal and Foreness then turned 45 degrees over the Thames Estuary and followed the usual pattern of using the River Thames as their flight path. Over the Estuary between Herne Bay and Shoeburyness and Gravesend and Tilbury and huge melee of high altitude dogfights began to develop creating long twisting spirals of vapour trails. Many of the bombers continued on towards London escorted mainly by Bf110s, the Bf109s being contained by British fighters. But time was on the side of Parks fighters, the 109s were now at the critical stage of their fuel supply.
The leading bombers had now been spotted by the fighters from 12 Group. At 23,000 feet, they now could attack with the required height advantage. Bader's 242 Squadron had been given a rest, so now it was up to 19, 74 and 266 Squadrons to fly the flag for Leigh-Mallory's group.
In the same melee, Green Section did not have the best of luck. F/O L.A.Haines flying Green 1 climbed to attack some 40 Bf110s at a higher altitude than the Heinkels. As usual they went into a defensive circle, but F/O Lane decided to go straight into one of them. As he did so, a Bf109 came down on him and the Spitfire was hit in both mainplanes and was forced to crash land his aircraft. Green 2 was F/O F.Dolezal and he took aim at one of the Bf109s, and as it went into a slow dive belching black smoke Dolezal followed it down but was hit by a descending Bf109 and its gunfire ripped open the side of the Spitfire and the pilot sustained injuries in the knee and leg. He managed to get the aircraft back to base and land safely.
In the meantime, two heavily escorted Luftflotte 3 formations from Cherbourg and Seine Bay were heading towards Southampton and Portsmouth and 10 Group released squadrons from Tangmere, Westhampnett and a flight from Middle Wallop. Most of the British fighters intercepted the enemy off the coast at Selsey Bill and intense combat ensued. Although some of the bombers managed to get through the fighter defence, both the towns of Portsmouth and Southampton received bomb damage. But most of the formations and their escorts were scattered and were forced to turn back.
In all, it had not been the best of days to either side. RAF Fighter Command would have to be commended for the effort that they put in in defence, but it came at a price. For the first time, Fighter Command casualties exceeded that of the Luftwaffe. Many of the bombers managed to get through with London again suffering considerable damage. The Woolwich Arsenal was hit as well as much of the dockland areas again. Finsbury, Holborn, Bermondsey and Central London were hit once again.
In another account, Wood and Dempster while painting a similar picture of the events of the day, come up with different figures as regards the casualty rate, and they lead us into the evening raids by the German bombers:
One of the most notable observations made by strategists and historians ws the fact that the German Luftwaffe was making no attempt to make any attack on British military targets. As long as the bombers were over London, they dropped their bombs at random and being as the city's population occupied a greater percentage of the area than military installations it was obvious that the Luftwaffe was targeting the civilian areas with no thought regarding innocent people and property. But we must not lose track of reality, because in their night raids over enemy territory, RAF Bomber Command were bombing German cities, although the greatest percentage of damage was being done to military or industrial targets. In any case, innocent civilians would not always avoid being killed or injured in any form of bombing raid.
On both sides of the Channel, the thought of the invasion of Britain was still to be given a date and become a reality. Adolph Hitler was to call a meeting and this was now expected to happen within the next few days. Churchill, on the other hand was emphasizing to his military leaders that they must prepare themselves as if the invasion was to happen on the very next day. Regarding the invasion, Winston Churchill made a broadcast to the people, as was the normal policy that the British Prime Minister had implemented in keeping the people informed.
Again London was pounded by night bombing from 2100hrs until 0430hrs the following morning, and still the RAF had no answer to these night attacks. Hundreds of searchlights picked out the invading bombers but it all seemed in a lost cause because of the high altitudes that they were flying at. London's dockland is again hit as well as parts of Central London and Buckingham Palace sustains damage and gives reason for the Queen (now the Queen Mother) to state "....now the palace has been bombed, I feel now that I can look at the people of the East End straight in the eye". But this attack on London was a disaster for the Luftwaffe. A formation of He IIIs from KG 26 were bombing the northern areas of London, notably Paddington, Finsbury and Islington when they were intercepted by Hurricanes and Spitfires from 249 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes), 609 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) and 41 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires). The fighters broke up the formation who tried desparately to evade the deadly Spitfires while the Huricanes kept the Bf 110 escort at bay and who were fighting desparately for their own survival. 7 Heinkels were shot down in this battle, while 12 more limped back towards home nursing burning aircraft, smoking engines and air conditioned cockpits.
Other areas that were the targets of the German bombers were Merseyside, Bristol Channel and South Wales, as well as isolated raids on towns in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.