The Chronology: Page-45
Wednesday September 18th 1940


It now appeared that the Royal Air Force were starting to gain the upper hand, but even though London suffered serious damage and hundreds of casualties from September 7th onwards, the battle was far from being over, although the turning point could be said, happened on September 15th. Adolf Hitler may have postponed the invasion once again, but the intensity of day and especially night raids were about to increase.

Göring was under instructions to continue bombing attacks on the British capital although personally, he would have like to revert back to destroying the fighters, the airfields and ground support installations of the RAF, but unlike the British chain of command, he was under instructions from Hitler personally. Daytime attacks would still continue, and by increasing Bf109 and Bf110 escort duties to the bombers, he could hopefully destroy at least some of Fighter Command by forcing them to send fighters into the air, but with instructions to concentrate on the industrial areas of London's East End and bombing London itself, it was going to be a big ask if the targets were not the fighter aerodromes themselves. Night time bombing would continue, and this was to become more widespread with greater intensity and with more high explosive bombs followed by thousands of incendiary bombs.

Keith Park was now under pressure to pursue the tactics of flying his squadrons in pairs. The instruction was given by the Air Ministry, mainly under pressure by those in favour of the "Big Wing" theory and as it had turned out, that the British tactical position had improved greatly. [1]

The flying of squadrons in pairs was more of a compromise on the part of Park who refused to send up the number of squadrons as Douglas Bader and Leigh-Mallory had wanted, although it must be admitted that Bader's "Big Wing" was destroying large numbers of enemy aircraft when given the opportunity. The combination of the "Big Wing" and other squadrons flying in pairs proved how successful the method was during the British victory on September 15th. We were not to see the last of paired squadrons yet.

During the early hours of the morning, Bomber Command flew a number of sorties which comprised of some 194 aircraft. Seventy-five per cent of the bombers were attacking the Channel ports as they had done throughout September, with special emphasis on Antwerp targeting the barges that would be used in any impending invasion. 187 of the bombers despatched reported successful missions with only two Hampdens being lost during the night operations. [2]


WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 18th 1940

WEATHER:

Conditions were expected to be a continuation of the previous day except that the low to medium cloud that brought the rain periods would disappear. The day was expected to be bright and clear although the squally winds would continue.

OPERATIONS:

0900hrs: Radar stations from Pevensey to Foreness detect a formation building up just off the Channel coast at Calais. The information is passed on to FCHQ immediately.

0920hrs: Keith Park was ready to issue orders to his station commanders after a meeting with Hugh Dowding the previous day. But the news of another detection allowed him to delay the new instructions. The Observer Corps reported tiny specks at high altitude which indicated that it was a formation of fighters flying at heights in the region of 20,000 feet between Folkestone and North Foreland.

At varying intervals, a total of fifteen squadrons of Fighter Command were scrambled to intercept.

0940hrs: The enemy fighters reach Maidstone and decide to break up into two separate formations. One headed towards Sheerness while the other veered north towards the open waters of the Thames Estuary. Only six of the fifteen Fighter Command squadrons make contact between Maidstone and Chatham. These were 17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes), 46 Squadron Stapleford (Hurricanes), 73 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes), 257 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes), 501 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) and 603 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires). Most of these squadrons, once they observed that the enemy was all Bf109 fighters, made their presence felt but broke off any form of attack in accordance with Parks instructions not to be drawn into combat with German fighters unless they were escorting their bombers.

A couple of flights from both 501 Squadron and 603 Squadron did become involved in combat after being jumped by Bf109s. One pilot baled out of his Hurricane over Staplehurst while Spitfire pilot of 603 Squadron was killed after his aircraft was shot up and crashed near Ashford.

There's nothing worse than having to leave a half cooked breakfast, scramble and push hard to a vectored height and position, look left, right, above and behind and see nothing but clear blue sky. Not a tell tale sign of AA gunfire and you are then ordered back to base reporting nothing seen and that you didn't partake in any combat, only to find that your breakfast is stone cold.
Pilot Officer George Barclay 249 Squadron Fighter Command
1000hrs: No sooner had a number of the squadrons landed that others were scrambled and vectored to intercept enemy formations detected over Dover and over the Thames Estuary. Some of the squadrons that were scrambled earlier were vectored to new locations while more squadrons were released.

Keith Park back at Uxbridge, watched his large map table below as squadrons moved into position. These had been carefully despatched from various airfields to be vectored to intercepting positions. He takes the opportunity in contacting his station commanders with instructions regarding any invasion attempt of Britain. His own fighters were to give protection to naval forces and their bases and also to provide cover for Bomber and Coastal Command operations. They are to distract enemy dive bombers from attack on ships that are engaging enemy vessels and destroy enemy aircraft carrying troops or tanks. They would attack the barges and landing craft and protect British troops from dive bombers. RAF personnel would combine with the Army and jointly defend forward aerodromes. Demolition of installations and withdrawal would take place only as a last resort, pending the arrival of Army mobile forces. Other instructions were; inland aerodromes must not be evacuated and were to be held at all costs, Group control would be maintained as long as sector operation rooms were still intact and telephone links to and from them was still possible. In the event that group control became impossible, then the sector commanders would take charge, and if the sector control failed, then it would be up to senior officers to act on their own initiative. He emphasized that an invasion would be defeated in seventy two hours at the most, and that both pilots and ground crews would expect a 'hard time'. [3]

A number of the squadrons engage the enemy over the Estuary and a number of individual combat actions take place at various locations at the mouth of the River Thames. 1(RCAF) Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes) becomes involved and has one of its fighters shot down, but P/O E.W.B.Beardmore bales out and receives slight injuries. 66 Squadron Gravesend (Spitfires) engage Bf109s over North Kent and one of the Spitfires is hit and the pilot, Sgt D.F.Corfe sustains injuries after he managed to crash land the aircraft at Perham. 72 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) manage to turn a formation of Bf109s around while over Sheerness and continue the chase as the enemy fighters head towards Dover and the Channel. Three Spitfires are damaged with two of their pilots receiving injuries while the third in unhurt.

1200hrs: The first German bombing raid is detected coming in north of Dover. It consists of about 70 Junkers Ju88s escorted by 100 Bf109 fighters. Fighter Command despatches another twelve squadrons who engage, but not before many bombs fall on the dockyards and surrounding areas of Chatham. Many of the bombers scatter going in all different directions, but it is estimated that 60 manage to get though and head towards London. Most bombs fall on the central area of the city, but within forty minutes most of the bombers are heading back towards the coast.

1530hrs: More contacts were made by the south coast radar stations. Again the German forming up position was again over Calais, where two separate formations were detected. Early sightings indicated that there were between one hundred and one hundred and fifty aircraft heading towards the English coast and the Observer Corps reported that they were crossing the coastline between Dungeness and Folkestone and towards Ashford and Chatham. This time, it was reported that there were no sign of fighter escorts, and that the formation was made up of mainly Do17 and Ju88 bombers.
Fighter Command put up at least ten squadrons where most of the action taking place over Maidstone and Chatham.

1630hrs: By now, a number of squadrons had engaged the enemy over the north Kent coast with many squadrons that had left aerodromes in the protectuve area around London. Park again called on 12 Group and in response Woodhall scrambled the 'Duxford Wing' to patrol the area from London to Gravesend. Bader decided that it would be best to keep below the cloud layer of 24,000 feet and stepped his squadrons at altitudes between 18,000 and 20,000 feet.

Although no indication was given over the R/T Bader saw the tell tale puffs of AA Gunfire just south of the Thames in the vicinity of Maidstone. The wing found two formations south of the river below Gravesend and Northfleet and ordered his squadrons to attack. Immediately they broke up the formations with Bader's 242 Squadron diving into the centre with all guns:

He fired in the dive. It was a quarter attack turning astern at the leading three enemy aircraft - Junkers 88s. His bullets scored on the left hand one of the leading section, and as Bader arrived right in amongst them, this Junkers swung away in a leftish dive, its port engine hit. It zoomed down and out of the fight towards the north bank of the Estuary, somewhere west of Thameshaven. Sergeant Brimble as Yellow 3 confirmed the crash.

Bader's initial dive broke up the front of the formation and he found himself shortly afterwards among another hostile group. He gave a couple of quick squirts and then got out of this collection. He nearly collided with two of the enemy before extricating himself - and also nearly collided with at least one Hurricane. He spun off someone's slipstream and lost about 3,000 feet in altitude in next to no time. Regaining control, he set for the south-east. Bader discovered a Dornier 17 rather detached, so he closed to the shortest range and fired. The immediate result startled him. He got no return fire but the rear gunner at once baled out and in doing so wrapped his parachute around the tailplane of the bomber. The Dornier started doing aerobatics in the shape of steep dives followed by zooms onto its back. Bader watched.

After the second or third performance like this, two members of the crew baled out from in front and the Dornier was left doing its aerobatics alone with the rear gunner. Bader tried to kill him to put him out of his misery, but he was unsuccessful.

John Frayn Turner Battle of Britain Airlife 1998 p151[4]
The 'Big Wing' continued its success in the combat. Against the white of the cloud base the enemy bombers stood out almost beckoning to be picked out one by one. The sky ws a kaleidoscope of frantically weaving bombers and marauding fighters leaving trails in the air of criss-crossing vapour trails. One by one the bombers went down in flames and by 1730hrs the action was still continuing to the south of London.
Debden who earlier had released three of its squadrons towards the combat area failed to make contact with the enemy.

Evening: By 1800 hrs many civilians were making the most of the period that was the noted evening meal time in London and other main cities in Britain, before the now routine trek down to their Anderson shelters for evening protection. Others close to larger shelters and Underground stations also made the nightly haul to places where they believed would render them safe.

By 1930hrs, the first of the bombers came over and the first of the raids began. London was again hit bad and many buildings which had just their fires extinguished where hit again and it started all over. As one formation arrived, dropped its bombload, another formation was approaching lining up in the queue to add further destruction as the other formation left. Other targets were Liverpool and Manchester where the Merseyside docks received some heavy attacks. Although other bombs were dropped in various areas of Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Middlesex, it is believed that they were bombs from aircraft dropped at random to lighten the load for the return journey.

The night was cloudless and starry, with the moon rising over Westminster. Nothing could have been more beautiful and the searchlights interlaced at certain points on the horizon, the star like flashes in the sky where shells were bursting, the light of distant fires, all added to the scene. It was magnificent and terrible: the spasmodic drone of enemy aircraft overhead, the thunder of gunfire, sometimes close, sometimes in the distance, the illumination, like that of electric trains in peacetime, as the guns fired, and the myriad of stars, real and artificial in the firmament. Never was there such a contarst of natural splendour and human vileness.
Jock Coleville on two sides of the bombing.
Finest Hour Tim Clayton & Phil Craig Hodder & Staughton pp323-4

CASUALTIES:
0950hrs: Ashford. Spitfire X4323 603 Squadron Hornchurch
P/O P.Howes killed. (Shot down in combat with Bf109s. Pilot did not bale out)
1230hrs: Chatham. Hurricane V7442. 46 Squadron Stapleford
Sgt G.W.Jeffries killed. (Shot down by enemy aircraft, baled out but parachute failed to open)
1325hrs: Gravesend. Hurricane V6600. 249 Squadron North Weald
Fl/Lt D.G.Parnell killed. (Crashed and burnt out after combat with enemy aircraft)

[1] Len Deighton Battle of Britain Jonathan Cape 1980 p186
[2] Middlebrook and Everitt Bomber Command War Diaries Midland 1995 p84
[3] Vincent Orange Sir Keith Park Methuen 1984 p112
[4] John Frayn Turner Battle of Britain Airlife 1998 p151



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