A Better Show in 1940

A Better Show by the Luftwaffe in 1940

Question: Could the Luftwaffe put up a better show in 1940, being more effective in engaging the British in an air campaign? Answer: Yes.
Question: Would this be beneficial to Germany in the long run? Answer: not necessarily…


In 1936, General Walther Wever, chief of staff of the fledgling new German armed force, the Luftwaffe, miraculously survived a potentially deadly accident. Wever was an able, competent chief of staff. Had he died, he would have been hard to replace, also because it would take a skillful man to get along with Erhard Milch, the ambitious second in command of Goering.
Instead, Wever remained in service as an invaluable chief of staff, filling in wherever Goering found the homework too boring. General Albert Kesselring, a promising officer coming from the ranks of the Heer, was chosen as his deputy.
Goering, Wever and Kesselring managed to corral Milch to dealing mostly with aircraft production. In that field he could vent his propensity for feuding by quarrelling at length with Great War ace Ernst Udet, instead of bothering the others about strategic choices and doctrine theories. Even so, the German heavy bomber designs got scrapped; Wever would have liked them, but they could only be built in puny numbers. Goering drew a line at that, given that he thought the Führer would ask how many bombers the Luftwaffe had, not how large they were.
But with Wever pushing for those strategic weapons, at least some doctrinal thought went into the concept of strategic bombing. Wever managed to stop Udet's requirement that the Ju 88 be a dive bomber, too. This would later turn out to be a meaningful improvement over an otherwise quite likely outcome.

Kesselring drew the right conclusions from the Spanish Civil war experience. He got interested in EW, not only radio direction (Knickebein) but also the studies about air radar. He was highly unimpressed by the Luftwaffe's aces' lone-knight mystique, and pushed for tighter command and control, effective radio communications, team tactics. From his position in the Luftwaffe staff, he managed to muster enough clout, even though Goering would normally be against such ideas, as a matter of principle - if and for as long as he could be bothered with technical details.

Kesselring, almost casually, developed a fixation for the air bases and airports in and around Madrid. He was surprised that the enemy air force kept flying off them while under sustained attack by the Italian Aviazione Legionaria in early 1937. He initially thought that was due to the Italians botching it. So he ordered a series of raids, followed by photo recon flights. He repeated the attempts at different times, by different means, with different durations. By the end of 1938, he came to the conclusion that airstrips in particular and air bases in general were very tough targets, hard to destroy for good. On the contrary, he thought they could however be effectively kept out of action, albeit temporarily, provided that one was able to sustain an onslaught with at least one air attack per day.

Meanwhile, the continuing multi-sided disputes about ground attack, tactical bombing, strategic bombing that involved Wever, Udet and Milch over those crucial pre-war years yielded an unexpected side effect. Wever, in order to assuage Udet about being overruled as to the Ju 88 being no dive bomber, decided he would give him something; a better ground attack option. He convinced Goering that the Bf 110 was really a multi-purpose aircraft, that a "destroyer" (Zerstörer) should have been even more effective against ground targets, too; in short, that it should have been always able to operate in a dual role, long-range fighter or ground attack aircraft. By the beginning of the war, most of the Bf 110 force could already be fitted with bomb racks and most of the pilots of these aircraft had a reasonably good training in the ground attack role.

In 1939, Wever, the good chief of staff that he was, seeing war coming, ordered a complete review of the intelligence material about all European air forces, the Polish, French and British in particular. Some more homework went into that, than it would probably have been done under a lesser man.

When the war broke out, Kesselring managed to obtain permission from Wever to have a double hat. He remained his deputy at the Luftwaffe Oberkommando staff, but also took command of Luftflotte 1, thus getting further hands-on experience after Spain, and additional personal prestige.

Most of the Bf 109 fighter force was held back in Germany as a defensive asset, thus the main escort and attack fighter committed in Poland was the Bf 110. This allowed great flexibility, as the Bf 110s were initially mainly used as escorts, but after a few days they were put to good use as attack aircraft. Since the Lotnictwo Wojskowe had refused to play dead, they came in handy; as escorts, of course, but also as a much faster, better armed attack aircraft than most. The Bf 110's strafing runs got almost as much publicity as the Stuka's dives.

A fact Kesselring duly noted was that despite the Luftwaffe's efforts, destroying the enemy aircraft strength on the ground was difficult. The Poles had dispersed their few aircraft over several discreet (or outright secret) satellite airstrips, and the Brygada Poscigowa had to be destroyed through air combat, mostly. However, he concluded that it would pay to also try going for the airfields, provided a saturation effort, sustained over time, could be carried out.

His subordinate, General Grauert, brought an interesting detail to his attention in a report. The Luftwaffe had been experimenting with drop tanks for its Bf 109s, even though the pilots loathed them because they negatively affect the performance. On September 4, a bomber Gruppe of Grauert's 1. Fliegerdivision, escorted by a Staffel of Bf 110s, was engaged twice while on a bombing mission over the Warsaw marshalling yards. The Bf 110s easily chased away the Polish fighters in the first interception, but in this fight they burned up most of their fuel and had to head back to their relatively distant airfield. A couple of PZL P.11 fighters showed up in the vicinity of the front lines and seriously damaged three German bombers.
The following day, having the same mission profile for his bombers, Grauert decided to use as escort the Bf 109s of LG2. This was a "model" unit, testing new devices. Its pilots were by then used to take off with external payload: a bomb or a drop tank. This time, no Polish interception took place, but the Bf 109s were able to stay with the bombers all the time and land with plenty of unused fuel. Had enemy fighters showed up, even at the last moment, the escorts would have been there to protect the bombers, and possibly to score hits.
Thus, Kesselring decided to intensify the experiments with drop tanks, and, in particular, to find out whether the current, leaky model could be replaced.

During the short Polish campaign, Wever saw that another important lesson from the Spanish Civil war was confirmed: combat attrition would always be higher than expected. By October 1939, he took steps to strengthen his flight schools, increasing the number of veterans temporarily detached back to the schools as trainers.

Wever also noticed another thing: if the kill claims were correct, then the pre-war intel estimates as to the enemy aircraft numbers were wrong, or vice versa.
He tasked an intelligence officer to investigate on this. By January of the following year, having access to plenty of captured Polish documents, the worrisome conclusion seemed to be that both figures were wrong; the intelligence underestimated the Lotnictwo Wojskowe, but the fighter pilots grossly overestimated their kills. The OKL kept this conclusion a well-guarded secret, but Wever and Kesselring were now both aware of this potential problem.

During the winter of 1939, the Luftwaffe, tirelessly spurred by Wever, kept preparing and training for the continuation of the hostilities. The Polish campaign had confirmed what Wever feared as to the output of the training centers, so he managed to establish two new schools.

Hitler's desire to attack France as soon as possible caused a series of redeployments, replacements and transfers. Fortunately no winter war ensued, but in this occasion two generals pointed out to Kesselring that the ground services needed to be strengthened and made more effective, in order to reduce both the number of non-operational aircraft at any given time and the delays caused by redeployments. Kesselring started trimming personnel away from Luftgau, garrison and office work positions and sending them to the ground crews.

Wever also came up to Goering with the idea of an Unternehmensbefelshaber for future operations, an operation commander. In theory, when more than one Luftflotte was committed to an operation, the coordination would take place at the OKL; but in practice, that was too far back and high up, and too large an organisation, while the Luftflotte commanders had a lot of free rein. The Polish campaign had just shown that Luftflotten might have problems in cooperating with each other. An HQ coordinating the Luftflotten for a given operation or campaign should improve the overall effectiveness.
Goering accepted the idea in principle; he thought of it as a good perk for some of his old chums, somebody personally faithful to him, maybe Udet, who was smarting for a more active post. But Wever, though not stating it, was actually thinking about Kesselring.

In December, 1939, the first two bomber Geschwader phased out the Do 17 and became operational with the Ju 88. This bomber was unable to dive-bomb, since Udet's requirement had been overruled back in 1938. The Ju 88 was thus much lighter than it could have been. This bomber's top speed was 485 km/h with a payload of 2,000 kgs. This was not only quite faster than the He 111; it also meant that after bombing, the Ju 88 would be almost as fast as the main British fighter, the Hurricane Mk I.

In January, 1940, Kesselring organized a Kriegsspiel featuring a series of coordinated attacks on several targets, with many bomber units involved, escorted by several fighter units. He had the commanders use the standard radio equipment the bases and aircraft involved would be equipped with; the exercise was a large-scale failure due to communications breakdowns. Enraged, Kesselring pushed through an overhaul of the whole system; while looking for ways to improve it, he met with a communications officer, Ulrich Steinhilper, who suggested that fighter unit commanders should be able to talk with bomber unit commanders. Kesselring slapped his forehead and ordered just that.
This started a flurry of memos and, more importantly, backroom meetings among old comrades. The fighter Gruppe and Geschwader commanders positively hated the idea; if they had to become radio geeks, holding back from the action to coordinate with bombers, how could they down more enemy fighters, which is why they would be the air in the first place? Goering sided with them, and for the time being, the order was countermanded.

The Norwegian and French campaigns unfolded somewhat predictably, though the cumulative effect of all the improvements in the Luftwaffe was certainly felt. Less losses were incurred, generally, than what might have happened without those improvements. The exception is that the Bf 110 force took some more losses, actually, but this was because it was employed far more as an attack aircraft tool. In exchange, more British light vessels were damaged in Norwegian waters, and the Bf 110, when equipped with two small bombs and AP ammo for its two 20mm cannons, also turned out to be a good vehicle hunter.
The combat-readiness rate was satisfactory for Wever. More trainees reached the units from the schools than expected. More losses were inflicted on the enemy air forces than one could have hoped, including on the RAF units deployed on the Continent.
An experimental series of missions was carried out against a few chosen Belgian and French air bases, bombing them both at night and in daylight. At night, this involved the elite Kampfgruppe 100, specially trained for using the Knickebein radio guidance system, bombing the targets first with incendiary ordnance; the fires served to guide in subsequent waves of other bombers. These operations were followed by early-morning recon flights, which usually showed the accuracy wasn't all that good anyway, but some disruption had taken place and some damage had been done to the runways. The targets were further kept under attack during the day, with one or two small raids, usually one of them by level bombers at high altitude and the other either by escorted Stukas or unescorted Bf 110s. At the end of these tests, Kesselring concluded this approach had fair chances of keeping the bases non-operational, though he was aware the opposition met by day over those targets was weak.

The Norwegian experience showed the Luftwaffe anti-shipping capabilities could be improved, anyway. Yes, the Bf 110s was able to seriously damage light vessels, and the Stukas were accurate in placing larger bombs on ship decks, but AP bombs would be needed, and the torpedo bomber force was hampered both by unreliable torpedoes and aging aircraft. Wever tried to take steps to improve this situation, too, with less success than in other fields.

At the end of June 1940, the Luftwaffe could count on the following:

Strength Serviceable
level bombers, Do 17 (1) 182 137
level bombers, Ju 88 729 515
level bombers, He 111 (2) 673 528
total level bombers 1,584 1,180

dive bombers, Ju 87 436 304

fighters, Bf 109 (3) 1,231 874

fighter-bombers, Bf 110 (4) 322 219

night fighters, sundry 91 69

recon, liaison, attack, sundry 562 406

maritime and torpedo, sundry 244 187

(1) included about 60 aircraft mostly used for long-range recon and weather recon.
(2) included 34 aircraft of KGr 100 and 101, "pathfinder" Knickebein units.
(3) included 66 aircraft in one Schlacht- and one LehrGruppe, trained as fighter-bombers too.
(4) all trained for the fighter-bomber role, but also included 37 aircraft in ErProGr 210, specially trained for high-accuracy pinpoint attacks.

The lull after the battle of France was short-lived. Germany defeated France in an incredibly short time, also because of the excellent performance of the Luftwaffe; but Hitler was in a hurry to achieve stability in the West, which meant dragging the British to the peace talks.

By June 16, Kesselring had taken stock of the situation and he clearly saw the chance of an important air campaign. Wever and Goering agreed, and on that date Goering acknowledged Hitler's order not to intrude into the British air space - in hopes of a negotiated settlement. But he also ordered his subordinates that outside that space, the RAF was fair game, anywhere else, for instance over the Channel.

Wever organized a staff meeting on June 21, summoning his Luftflotte commanders and other top officers. He made a general after-action assessment of the Luftwaffe's operations in France, pointing out things that worked well. However, he also highlighted cases of ineffective cooperation between the Luftflotten, between units, and in particular between bombers and fighters. He underscored the communications problems. One such communications failure brought about the final bombing of Rotterdam, which gave the enemy fuel for their propaganda. On two other occasions, lack of communication between bombers and fighters caused problems, and on one such occurrence a bomber was downed and two damaged by French fighters.
Therefore, he announced, tests would begin immediately to equip the Gruppe and Geschwader commanders' fighters with radios capable of communicating with the bomber units' commanders. These wouldn't be a burden for the fighter pilots when engaged in defensive interceptions or Freijagd sweeps, but would be used when on close escort duties.
Additionally, should a sustained air war be waged against Britain, Wever planned to establish the already discussed Unternehmensbefelhaber position. He portrayed it as a forward post of the OKL, coordinating operations among the Luftflotten. This time, he had managed to let each Luftflotte commander believe he might be the chosen commander for this job, so the opposition to this idea was minimal.

Meanwhile, Luftwaffe units were redeploying to French bases along the Channel. The assignments to the Luftflotten clearly placed the emphasis on direct operations against Britain: Luftflotte 5, deployed in Norway and Denmark, soon saw its Bf 109s reassigned to France, and only had a token number of bombers. It had its complement of coastal aircraft. Its Bf 110s were only a Staffel from LG 1, one of the "model" units; its pilots had been testing and training with the new, improved and sizable drop tanks. The Bf 109s and about half of the bombers that Luftflotte 5 had at the end of the Norwegian campaign, went to France.
Some time later, Luftflotte 5 got its one reinforcement batch: two Staffeln of the new Ju 88Cs, the gunship/heavy fighter version of this aircraft.

On June 24, after having been repeatedly urged and even threatened by Wever, his intel staff delivered a preliminary report assessing the British mobile radar station captured near Boulogne. It was wrapped in ifs, but the disturbing likelihood seemed to be that the enemy had a radio detection system much better than what could be expected. Kesselring wasn't going to ignore this report.

Talks had begun about a landing operation, and on June 26 Keitel required the OKL to submit plans for such a venture. Air superiority had already been acknowledged as a precondition, thus the Luftwaffe plan would have to foresee operations to achieve that. Wever, Kesselring and the latter's right-hand man, Deichmann, started working on the plan. It was however already evident that the tempo had to increase immediately, if the attempt had to be carried out before the autumn. Indeed, small skirmishes were taking place over the Channel and other sea areas; patrol clashes, and Luftwaffe lone recon flights being ambushed.
Wever decided these had to quickly evolve into more sizable engagements.

On June 29, Wever managed to convince Goering that the right man for the Unternehmensbefehlshaber position was Kesselring. He pointed out that it was only a temporary, functional posting, not a promotion; just an experiment, and besides, this HQ would probably have to deploy to some inconvenient backwater like Calais (actually, Kesselring would set up shop in Paris). Goering accepted. Sperrle had a bout of rage at the news, but it was too late to do anything; he decided to wait for some mistake that could be pinned upon Kesselring's "meddling" to complain. Stumpff went along without too much complaint. Therefore, the command structure came to be the following:
Adlerangriff Unternehmensbefehlshaber (Paris): Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring
Luftflotte 2 (Brussels): Generaloberst Stumpff
Luftflotte 3 (Paris): Generalfeldmarschall Sperrle
Luftflotte 5 (Stavanger): Generaloberst Jeschonnek

On June 30, a report landed on Kesselring's table just as he prepared for the move to Paris. A weather recon aircraft which had taken off from Brest two days before had been reporting low cloud cover for 10/10. It was flying over a sea of clouds, no sightings reported - until it was intercepted by a flight of Hurricanes out from nowhere, and downed. To Kesselring, this was a confirmation: the British couldn't have spotted this Heinkel by visual means.
His chief of staff, Deichmann, argued that if the purpose was to have the British fighters come up and fight, then it might be better to leave their detection system working. But Kesselring decided he'd try both approaches: fight them while their tall antennas stand all along the coast, and while they don't. The score would tell him what was better.

June 29 and 30, and July 1 and 2, 1940 saw some desultory air fighting over the Channel. Upon orders by Kesselring, the Germans were now more actively seeking confrontations, but a combination of unstable weather and sheer chance prevented any serious action from taking place.
This, however, allowed the Germans time to set up for the immediate task at hand. Goering had singled out two Fliegerkorps for the specific objective of closing the Channel to the enemy shipping, one from each Luftflotte. Sperrle was lukewarm about the task, thus most of the work seemed likely to end up in the hands of General Lörzer's II Fliegerkorps, in the Pas de Calais. Lörzer, in turn, was tempted to delegate the task to Oberst Fink, commander of KG 2. This would mean the Kanalkampfführer (commander of the Channel battle) would be a bomber Geschwader commander, having to ask to his peers for fighter escort. The fact alone that the leader would be a bomber commander implicitly pointed out that the objective of the operation was indeed the shipping.
But Kesselring was going to have none of that. At this time, while Deichmann was setting up his HQ in Paris, he was working on the general plan for a short air war against Britain, with the final aim of achieving air superiority - which would allow the landing operation. Therefore, he had by then very clear in his mind that the ships in the Channel were interesting in that the British fighters would have to defend them (outside the Führer's no-go zone over the British soil); to him, the primary target were the British fighters.
If ships could be sunk, so much the better, but that was secondary.
Thus he ordered Stumpff and Lörzer not to delegate down the chain of command; Fink might be the tip of Lörzer's and Stumpff's sword, but he wanted Stumpff commanding the operation, since he'd be the one having under his command not only bombers but also fighters and fighter-bombers. Stumpff also transferred ZG26 to the II Fliegerkorps, which added to the elite ErProGr 210. This was a telling decision, because the vague job description of the Bf 110 had left, until that time, most of the machines in Jagdfliegerführer units, i.e. fighter units.
At the same time, Kesselring reminded Sperrle that Goering's order mentioned Von Richtofen's VIII Fliegerkorps. The focus of the action would be on the Straits of Dover, thus Luftflotte 3 should be in the front seat, but Kesselring's main task was to make sure the Luftflotten's efforts are coordinated, and thus he fully expected Von Richtofen's assets to support Lörzer. When, by July 2, it had become clear that Sperrle was about to obfuscate, object to and obstruct any attempt to "order him around", Kesselring simply crossed the city and showed up for a half-day visit at Sperrle's HQ, with Sperrle snorting and chafing. Kesselring didn't go away until Sperrle had accepted to commit Von Richtofen in coordinated operations with Lörzer.

On July 3, the Kanalkampf began in earnest. At first sight, the attacks might have seemed simply occasional anti-shipping raids. But actually, the difference was made by the fact that at least somebody in the chain of command was aware of what were the real primary targets and what the end purpose of the operation was. The Stukas were thus committed only very sparingly; the main anti-ship platform was the Bf 110 in its fighter-bomber role (on a few occasions, II./LG 2, now testing the Bf 109 as a fighter bomber, also had a go). This meant less ships were sunk outright; smaller bombs were used, and the shallow fighter-bomber dive was far less accurate than what a Stuka could do in its near vertical dive. However, many of these ships were smallish trawlers and coalers, not particularly tough, and the Bf 110s peppered them with good bursts of 20mm fire. Had they been attacked by Stukas only, it might have been a matter of either being sunk or missed; with the Bf 110 raids, virtually no ship in an attacked convoy got away without extensive damage and casualties to the crew. Which meant the British still had to come up and try to defend the convoys.
In the air, the near absence of Stukas meant, first, very few losses for them, obviously. It also meant more losses for the British fighters, since most of the German fighters were not tethered to the slow, highly vulnerable Ju 87s and could react not just by fending off the enemy, but by actively counterattacking. It also meant less losses on the Bf 109s, for the same reason. There was a price to pay, of course: a higher loss rate for the Bf 110s themselves, but Kesselring was willing to pay that. He had no intention of telling this to his Zerstörer crews, but he thought they were more expendable. Pure fighters would always be needed to achieve and maintain air superiority, bombers would be needed later as flying artillery,... Bf 110s could always be useful as fighter-bombers, but less indispensable than the other two.

Another difference in comparison to previous Luftwaffe operations was the greater cooperation between Luftflotten. Convoys were often attacked throughout the day, with the two large units taking turns.
Additionally, Kesselring, by encouraging Stumpff, Lörzer and Osterkamp, and by goading Sperrle and his subordinates, managed to do, already in this first stage of the fight, what he would do later, too: change tactics often. The British were never going to know if a raid on a convoy would be immediately followed by a second, or not; or whether it would feature Stukas or not. On a few occasions, the Germans sent in simultaneously a high raid with Stukas and escorts, and a low raid with Bf 110s without bombs, just to strafe the ships, and the British were hard-pressed to react properly and timely. It did not always work, because the more complex the choreography, the greater the potential for mistakes; but on the other hand, the British were also still learning their ropes. Sometimes, the radar operators misjudged the height of a raid, a mistake which was bad enough if that was the one and only raid coming; but much worse if there was a complex pattern to be sprung on the defenders.

Air Chief Marshal Dowding, commander of Fighter Command, had no easy choices. He could scramble his fighters from forward airfields upon detection of enemy raids, but the targets were often quite off the coast, and it repeatedly happened that the scrambled Squadrons arrived late, or worse yet, were still climbing to altitude when arriving and were "bounced" from above by the enemy, taking losses. Alternatively, he could keep constantly flying combat air patrols (CAPs) over the convoys, but this was exhausting for the pilots and a waste of resources, so these patrols had to be small, maybe a flight (6 fighters). This in turn meant the patrols could be quickly outnumbered by a fast fighter-only attack, of which the Germans sent in some, too. In both situations, the British fighters took heavy casualties.

Throughout these days of July, Wever was working about the requirements for achieving air superiority over the Channel and the coast, and no matter which way he tackled the problem, he always came down to the kill ratio needed. If the Luftwaffe was to provide cover to the landing forces and the convoys, and to serve as flying artillery, it needed to survive in sizable numbers after the fight for air superiority; this meant it must down many more enemy aircraft than it lost itself. A choice might have been to engage the enemy only when advantaged; choose the sure kills, so to speak. But the problem with this was, given the numbers involved and the very short time window, that the Luftwaffe could simply not waste any sunny day; it needed to attack very very often, it could not afford to pass an opportunity to fight just because it implied the risk of losing some aircraft.
The solution was to find ways to stack the conditions; force the enemy to fight at a disadvantage as often as possible. What Kesselring was already doing with the convoys until then was a good starting point.

Indeed, over the time between July 3 and July 21, the Luftwaffe often came out ahead. The final average kill ratio was 1.5:1, in favor of the Luftwaffe. It was far from being enough to achieve air superiority by September, especially given the rate of replacements. But Kesselring, anway, even after discounting a bit his pilots' inflated kill claims, still believed the real ratio to be something like 2:1, so he concluded that there was a chance.
Most of the pilots downed were also lost in this context, since the fighting took place over the sea. The Germans came out slightly ahead, however, having a sea rescue service (the British, by and large, had none). The British decided not to acknowledge the German He 59 rescue planes' right to use the Red Cross symbol on July 17. That was bad news for the Germans, but on the other hand, it happened only a few days before the end of the Kanalkampf.

Indeed, on July 21, the Admiralty decided to suspend, at least temporarily, the merchant convoy transit in the Dover area. On July 23, daylight warship movements in the area were also discontinued. The Kanalkampf was already over.

Meanwhile, on July 11 Hitler's Directive 16 had been issued; Seelöwe, the invasion of Britain, became a contingency plan. On July 15, the first top joint service meeting was held; Raeder, Von Brauchitsch and Wever were present. Since the Luftwaffe's first task was to achieve air superiority over the Channel and the coast, Wever understandably asked for the ban against attacks on British soil to be lifted. Hitler agreed.
This sent the planning for operation Adlerangriff, the beginning of the air warfare against Britain proper, into high gear. Wever, Kesselring and Deichmann had been working on it already. The crucial staff meeting took place in Paris, at Kesselring's HQ, on July 22. And there was somebody present who had already done his homework and had a complete, well thought-out proposal to push through...

The staff meeting was held in Kesselring's HQ in Paris, on July 22. Goering appeared in his new white gala uniform. Wever, Kesselring, Sperrle, Stumpff and Jeschonnek were of course present; additionally, most of the Fliegerkorps and Jagdfliegerführer commanders were there.
Wever put forth his (and Kesselring's) plan. It was divided in two parts; the second wass to protect and support the landing operation Seelöwe; the first, to make this possible, by achieving air superiority over the Channel and the South-Eastern English coastline. In order to do that, Fighter Command was to be destroyed; in the impossibility of doing that, given that the Luftwaffe couldn't attack all of the British Isles' territories, it had to be weakened as much as possible, and what remained of it after this process had to be barred from intruding in the area of operations.
Therefore, the main, if not the only target, was Fighter Command; its operational aircraft, its men, its air bases, and its supplies, in that order. Not only the air-to-air combat, but also the bombing operations had to stay focused on that; attacking other targets could be done as a secondary option, insofar as this could force the British to scramble their fighters, so that they could be engaged in the air.
It followed that Fighter Command's air bases were the primary target for bombing and strafing operations. The secondary targets for bombing were the aircraft factories, those producing fighters, not bombers. Fighter Command's airfields must be attacked in succession, starting with the Southernmost ones and moving North as they were destroyed; but the airfields were to be attacked again and again, in order to make sure the British couldn't repair and use them again.

Goering interrupted Wever at this time. He mentioned intelligence reports claiming the British are already short on fighters. He stated that repeatedly hitting the same targets was unnecessary, once his bombers had razed a ground installation, it was destroyed. He added that the defeat of the British fighter force could be achieved in three weeks, by attacking any kind of ground targets with the bombers; this would force the fighters up, where the Luftwaffe aces would quickly down them.
He thanked Wever for his excellent work on such a meticulous plan, but said he thought the enemy had been overestimated. He asked the Luftflotte and Korps commanders to make their own suggestions as to the strategy and lists of targets. Personally, Goering thought the attacks should already begin to focus on British ports and shipping, so as to start strangling the island nation. Grauert immediately said he agreed; the RAF had to be attacked, too, and the motor industries and the Royal Navy, switching to other ground targets as the invasion began. Lörzer stated that while the British might try to conserve their fighters' strength, and/or withdraw them North, by attacking London the Luftwaffe could force them to fight instead. This was generally considered a good suggestion, but not immediately applicable because Hitler had forbidden attacks on London, for the time being. Sperrle believed the main effort should go against shipping, ports and the Royal Navy. The British would find themselves short on everything; the Royal Navy would be weaker when the invasion came; and the RAF would be forced to react, thus being defeated as an afterthought. Junck was pessimistic as to a quick invasion and believed a long-haul strategy would be needed; for that, it would be better to start with the shipping and all kinds of industrial targets, in particular the armaments industry.

Kesselring intervened. He pointed out that everybody agreed that a correct choice of targets - be they the RAF bases, the seaports, or the cities - would be needed to force Fighter Command to come up and fight, which was the one necessary requirement. Therefore, he said, there was no need to decide straight away about a hard and fast target list; his HQ, as the Unternehmensbefehlshaber, could change the target selection as the operation unfolded, depending on what targets would seem to bring about the most intense and desperate reaction by the enemy. He said that if and when the Führer would allow attacks on London, he was sure that could be the way to have the enemy scramble for their last fight. He added that he hoped Fighter Command would be defeated in a short time as predicted, but contingency plans had to be done, just in case that didn't happen. He concluded that further details can be left to his staff. Goering agreed.

Later that day, Wever and Kesselring met in private. The plan that was going to be actually carried out was their own original plan. Secondary targets might be attacked sometimes, as nuisance/diversion actions by smaller raids, and/or if weather prevented the attack of main targets; they would also serve as a token to show Goering, if and when he asked about the attacks on the British seaports or industries. But actually, from then on the Luftwaffe's sights would be on Fighter Command.

Adlertag, the day in which the direct air attack against the British air defenses began, was July 26, 1940. The few days after the Paris staff meeting were used for final preparations and detailed planning, and also to wait for a spell of favorable weather forecasts.

Kesselring and his chief of staff, Deichmann, had discussed again the issue of the British radio direction stations. Kesselring finally decided to have a go at Fighter Command without touching them for a few days. After which, he would try to attack them, too, for a few more days. He reserved the decision about what choice would be better, depending upon the results achieved.

The first day of the offensive didn't see the full array of attack types being used. However, the Germans did use the Bf 110s in their fighter-bomber role. The raids came in two main great waves, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Luftflotte 2 attacked the airfields of Lympne, Manston, Hawkinge and Detling in the morning. In the afternoon, it went in some more depth, but by using a sideways move over the sea, coming in from the East at Manston (again), Gravesend, Eastchurch and Rochford. Luftflotte 3 chose a more concentrated approach, concentrating its airfield attacks, both in the morning and the afternoon, on Tangmere, Westhampnett, Worthy Down and Warmwell, even though changing weather conditions did not allow a second go against Warmwell. Anyway, a couple of minor raids from this Luftflotte were tasked with attacking targets other than airfields, thus Southampton and Portsmouth got their sirens blaring.

From the list above, it is already obvious how the Luftwaffe was concentrating on airfields, and also that truly diligent intelligence work done was already paying off; only three of the airfields listed above did not belong to Fighter Command.

About half of the raids featured level bombers, a quarter went in with Stukas (but in small numbers) and a quarter with Bf 110s carrying bombs. The attack on Lympne was virtually pointless, as it had been deemed too exposed and it was going to be used mostly as an emergency landing strip. The morning attack on Manston was particularly successful, on the contrary, because it was carried out quickly and from medium altitude with Bf 110s. It was a pity that at this moment, only one of the experimental night-fighter units was deployed there, because two hangars suffer substantial damages and with them the aircraft inside - only, they were Blenheims. The other attacks were reasonably successful as these things went at the time, that is, not terribly: because the early-warning system worked rather well. Mistakes were made by the operators as to altitudes and bearings, but the warning, as such, was given timely, and no operational fighters were on the ground when their bases were attacked. Even so, the Germans managed to destroy a few fighters that were grounded, under repairs.

The enemy reaction was substantial, prompt and dangerous. The fair weather the Luftwaffe counted on turned out to be very useful both to the Observer Corps in confirming the radar data, and to the intercepting Squadrons in locating the Germans. The approach over the sea wasn't actually a way to get in unnoticed, given the radars. And the afternoon mass drive by Luftflotte 3 was probably too large: even though there was plenty of fighter escorts, some Hurricanes from Middle Wallop get through to a Stuka Staffel.

The end result was that the British lost 18 fighters, 4 of them on the ground, not counting the Blenheims and a couple of bombers. The Germans lost 34 aircraft, including 7 that did make it back but would never be operational again. Of these, 9 were Bf 109s, 11 were Bf 110s, 6 wre Stukas and 8 were other bombers. The final kill ratio was 1.8:1 in favor of the RAF. Kesselring, however, believed it to be 1:1 (and Dowding 2.5:1).

On July 27, the patterns were almost the same, though the targets partially changed (not entirely; Kesselring was determined to see whether Manston, Hawkinge and Tangmere could be kept closed down by attacking them repeatedly). The results were similar, too.
Kesselring understood, on the morning of July 28 (a day in which there was less air activity due to a sudden worsening of the weather), he had a problem which he would not have as a Luftflotte commander: by adding a higher command layer, he managed to unify the strategic direction, but he was one step farther from the units. Therefore, his reaction-decision cycle was longer. He tried to counter this by demanding the Fliegerkorps to send copies of their reports directly to his HQ, too, but this was one step too far and both Sperrle and Stumpff first reacted angrily and then tried to sabotage this; Kesselring would never entirely solve this problem.

But for July 29 and 30, he managed to tweak the approach a bit. More fighters were sent along (changing the ratio to bombers from 2:1 to 2.5:1), some Gruppen in advance Freijagd sweeps. Stukas were only used when they could be well protected, not so much by having fighters tethered to them, but by sending them in as a second or even third wave (this did not always work, though, given that the British used to scramble their fighters in waves, too). More importantly, Bf 110s were used for surprise attacks against airfields close to the coast (Hawkinge and Warmwell); they didn't approach at high altitudes, and moved in fast. Not fast enough to surprise British fighters on the runways, but fast enough to prevent interception, or at least favorable interceptions. V./LG1 put in three high-accuracy small attacks on aircraft factories in the Southampton area, disrupting for a few days the production of Spitfires.

On the night of July 29, two Knickebein raids were launched, both spearheaded by some 15 "pathfinders", against two more distant, until now untouched airfields. The one against Middle Wallop was a complete failure; the recon photos taken at dawn showed that a nearby village must have been hit by the first incendiary bombs, and attracted the rest of the raiders. But Biggin Hill suffered some marginal damage. The dispersion was too high for these raids to be really effective; there were craters all over the countryside.
But, Kesslering conclude, should a shortage of fighters reduce the number of bombers that can be used in daylight, this might be a good way to keep some pressure up against the enemy at all times.

A relative lull followed for two days, due to weather conditions and the need to give the crews some rest. The Luftwaffe had not mounted maximum-effort onslaughts yet. By attacking clusters of relatively close targets, they had managed to send in recon aircraft, for after-action assessment photos, mixed with the flights attacking other targets. In this way, they got a lot fo recon photos. Kesselring summoned Sperrle and Stumpff on August 1, and they went over the after-action assessments. The kill ratio had improved; they thought it to be now Luftwaffe:RAF 1.5:1 (it was actually 1:1.2 in favor of the RAF), but Kesselring was far from satisfied with it. Very recent recon photos seemed to confirm Kesselring's educated guess as to airfield serviceability. Manston and Tangmere showed signs of intense repair works still going on, and no air activity; there were no recent photos of Hawkinge. By contrast, airfields that had been bombed once, especially if at the beginning of the operational cycle, seemed to be perfectly operational.
The reports also showed that an overwhelming number of raids has met with some opposition. Only a very small number of attacks was unopposed.

The three generals agreed that it was time to step up the effort; that more non-conventional tactics must be used; and most importantly, that it was time to try, for a week or so, attacks against the British radio direction stations.

Looking at things from the other side of the hill, until that time Dowding could be cautiously satisfied. Fighter Command was under pressure, but he was sure it was dishing out more than it suffered (he also had a safe baseline figure as to the enemy losses which the Germans lacked: the wrecks on British soil). Some of the airfields were undergoing repairs, but filling in the holes in the runways was a quick job. Losing hangars and other buildings was going to degrade the overall logistical capabilities, but with so many air bases, that could be sustained.

However, on August 2 the Germans launched Operation Abmähen; a cycle of raids featuring a determined effort to take out the British radars, along with renewed attacks on the airbases. At dawn, the radar stations of Dover, Rye, Fairlight and Pevensey were attacked by Luftflotte 2, and those of Truleigh, Poling and Ventnor by Luftflotte 3 (East to West). The attackers were, respectively: ErProGr 210 (17 Bf 110s) escorted by I./JG 3 (27 Bf 109s); I. And II: KG 53 (37 He 111s) escorted by the whole JG 26 (89 Bf 109s); II:/LG 2 (25 Bf 109s in the fighter/bomber configuration), unescorted; II./StG 2 (26 Ju 87s) escorted by I. and II./JG 51 (61 Bf 109s), from Luftflotte 2; and V./LG 1 (23 Bf 110s) escorted by I./JG 27 (28 Bf 109s); I./StG 77 (28 Ju 87s) escorted by I. and II./JG 2 (51 Bf 109s); and the two available Gruppen of ZG 2 (57 Bf 110s) escorted by two Gruppen of JG 53 (61 Bf 109s). This list is so detailed in order to show that at that time, the Germans had enough precision-bombing potential with plenty airpower left to subsequently attack the airbases.
The British were taken by surprise, both by the hour of the raid and by the fact that the radar stations had never been targeted this far. Ventnor had always been particularly exposed, and its defenders didn't make it in time; the Bf 109 fighter/bombers' raid on the CHL station of Fairlight went unchallenged, being too fast in; and #145 Squadron, scrambling from Westhampnett (its base, Tangmere, was still under repairs) to protect Poling, got wrong interception data. They pursued the attackers over the sea, but by then it was too late to prevent the bombing.
Dover went off the air for the whole day due to multiple damages, but repairs were completed by the next day. Rye, attacked by level bombers, suffered no real damage and remained fully operational, after its antennas swayed in the explosions. Fairlight was bombed with great accuracy, but the Bf 109s' puny payload wasn't enough to cause real damage and the station was operational within the hour, though with personnel losses. Pevensey was hit hard, with an antenna collapsing and the power being cut; it would remain not operational for three days. Something similar happened to Truleigh and Poling. Smaller, mobile units were sent there to fill in the gap, but they had inferior range and accuracy. Ventnor was flattened, power went off in the whole area, and it took some ten days to be finally operational again; here, too, a mobile unit was deployed, but it took two days for it to arrive and set up.
The net result was that in the East, Rye and the stations of Dunkirk (near Canterbury) and Foreness, which weren't attacked, could take up the slack; the radar cover was still there. But a huge hole had been punched in the CH between Rye and Worth Matravers. Attempts could be made at plugging it with the aforementioned mobile stations, and the CHL station of Beachy Head could do some of the work; also, near the CH station of Poling there were further CHL antennas, which survived. But the early warning capability in this area was very low, and would remain so for some time.
It came at a cost; the Germans lost 13 aircraft of all types, to the loss of just 3 British fighters. This toll was going to increase, too, as the British would realize they had to defend the radar stations more effectively.
Three days later, Kesselring, after perusing the reports of these attacks and those to come on the same targets, would draw the following correct conclusions: level bombers and Bf 109s with light bombs shouldn't be used against these targets; Bf 110s and Stukas were to be used; the latter were more effective but would pay a higher price than the former.

At about 11:00, the Germans launched the main attack, against Fighter Command airfields. They knew from the recon flights that the day before, Tangmere, Hawkinge and Manston were still undergoing repairs (they didn't know that Hawkinge was by then serviceable again), so Luftflotte 2 focused on West Malling (which had no fighters), Biggin Hill, Kenley and Gravesend, and Luftflotte 3 on Warmwell, Westhampnett, Boscombe Down and Middle Wallop. Token daylight raids were thrown in against naval and industrial targets in Portland and Southampton for good measure.
All told, the Germans sent about 350 bomb carriers escorted by some 550 Bf 109s. The proportion might seem too low, but it's important to mention that some 100 of the bomb carriers were Bf 110s, which needed escorts way less than the bombers. The British, unsurprisingly, reacted more effectively over Kent, where they had radar cover. Gravesend was untouched due to local haze, and Detling (no Fighter Command base) was bombed instead. ZG 26 was particularly effective over Biggin Hill, because the raid was fast enough to be mistaken for a fighters-only party, not to be engaged under standing orders. The other two airfields attacked by Luftflotte 2 suffered moderate damages. In the air, the British maintained their margin in this area, downing just less than one fighter and one bomber per each fighter they lost.
Things went differently in the West. The Beachy Head CHL station gave a late warning, with inaccurate bearings. Fortunately, there were no units on the satellite airfield of Warmwell. However, #145 was not scrambled in time, and it was just taking off as the bombs start falling over Westhampnett; this unit had had two fighters downed in the morning, and now five more were lost, either destroyed on the ground or in the air fight. Considering that the day before it had 11 serviceable Hurricanes, the Squadron was almost been wiped out. Boscombe Down was empty save for a few trainers, and the two Squadrons based at Middle Wallop could make it in the air and engage the attackers of their base, but at a distinct altitude disadvantage; and anyway, two Hurricanes that were undergoing repairs were destroyed in a hangar fire. #238 Squadron was bounced from above and lost three fighters in two minutes.

Before the evening, the Germans sent in a few more nuisance raids; snap, low-altitude strafings of Westhampnett and Tangmere in the West, Hawkinge, Lympne and Manston in the East (Lympne being a waste of effort, but the Germans didn't know that). Also, some of the radar stations were strafed too; a mobile unit that had just arrived in the Poling location was destroyed, and here and there personnel was surprised while carrying out repairs, and killed. At Hawkinge, two Hurricanes of #245 Squadron were destroyed on the ground.

The first day of operation Abmähen ended with 36 British fighters destroyed, including 9 on the ground (something that would never have happened if the radar network had been intact), for the price of 32 German aircraft of all types. It was a 1.125:1 ratio, finally in favor of the Luftwaffe, with substantial figures involved.

Similar patterns and tactics were employed on August 3. The British had managed to glue together a rickety radar cover, mostly because the stations' ranges overlapped to start with. However, the Germans attacked it again, going over some of the targets of the previous day, and adding Foreness and Worth Matravers at the two ends. This time the British expected the wave of raids, but many of their forward airfields were out of commission, which, coupled with the less than extensive radar coverage, meant that Rye took it for two days' worth of repairs, and Fairlight, whose light damage had already been repaired, went off for the day. Foreness was going to come back on line in some three hours, while the power was severed for the whole area of Poling, meaning that both the CH and CHL stations were non-operational. Worth Matravers was unscathed; but the end result still was that the gap in the middle of the British defense line was widening.

The consequences were immediately evident in the midday wave. Some intermittent cloud cover had begun gathering here and there. This meant some bomber Gruppen had to give up their primary target, which was bad for the Germans; but on the other hand, it also meant the Observer Corps had a harder time. When the clouds were added to the lack of effective radar coverage, the result was that a few raids were not even detected, and some of those that were detected could not be timely intercepted.
In the air, there were less fights than the day before, for all the reasons above plus sheer chance. As far as air combat went, the British remained still ahead, but only slightly.
However, the runways of Westhampnett and Gravesend, which had just returned operational, were cratered again. At Manston, where the airstrips were still not usable, the last hangar collapsed, and one fighter was destroyed on the ground.

At the end of the second day of operation Abmähen, the loss ratio was 1.1:1 for the Germans, which still was no good news for them; but in addition to the slight advantage, the majority of Fighter Command bases South of London were not operational, some were not going to be for at least a couple of days, and the radar system was in tatters.

In the night, another radio-guided raid took place. The Knickebein raids required time to be prepared, and the Germans had accepted that they couldn't launch more than one of them every two or three days, if they wanted them to be accurate. This attack targeted the Hawker compounds at Kingston-upon-Thames. It was fairly successful, causing some disruptions in the production of the Hurricanes.

August 4 was a rather cloudy day, with largely unpredictable cloud cover. Only a few raids were launched, and some of them were recalled or bomb secondary targets of no consequence. A couple of attacks against radar stations did take place, with mixed results. Aircraft losses were negligible for both sides.

On August 5, the Germans expected to resume the offensive, but the weather was rather indifferent again, especially over Kent. Only a few attacks were ordered, and of those, several had to resort to secondary targets because of lack of visibility over their primary ones. This was, however, a situation for which the Germans had a contingency option ready by then. Since they knew they could not launch an all-out broad-front effort, and since they were aware that damage on the ground was going to be limited, on that day the Germans used the bait and switch tactics, in order to win the fight in the air. Only a handful of bombers were employed on each raid, with about four fighters for each bomber (one outrider ahead in a Freijagd sweep, one high up over the bomber, one flying close escort, and a reserve behind for the last leg of the journey). It was probably a luck for the British that interceptions were particularly difficult, between the clouds and the incomplete radar coverage. The runways of Tangmere were cratered again. The day's tally was five British fighters for three enemy aircraft downed.

But overall, over these days of bad weather the maintenance teams could work to repair runways and antennas, the aircrews could rest and the commanders could assess the latest developments. The crews were not overly tired for the time being; no German bomber had flown more than one mission per day, and of those fighter pilots who had flown twice in a day, none had had more than one escort mission. The British took off more often, but many Squadrons failed the interception, were late, or were recalled, so only a few actually fought twice in a day. The commanders, on the other hand, had their headaches...

Kesselring met with Sperrle, Stumpff and an envoy from Luftflotte 5 on August 5. A comparison of the loss figures, coupled with a hard look at the recon photos of the damage done to the radar stations, showed a difference. Luftflotte 3, attacking into the breach of the radar system on August 2, 3, and 4 seemed to have fared better than Luftflotte 2 on the same days, attacking in an area where the damage to radar was visibly less extensive; and both fared better than in the previous attack cycle, carried out without going after the antennas. This outcome was achieved even if some aircraft were unavoidably lost in the raids against the radars. It is worth noting that the Germans weren't always listening to the stations' emissions, so they didn't always know it when they had actually shut down more radars than the recon photos let them see. Nor did they know that power outages help putting some stations off-line.
The evidence was not definitely conclusive, but for once, the Luftwaffe commanders agreed on something: it was worth giving this approach a try for some days more.
Additionally, Kesselring showed his colleagues something he and Deichmann had been working on: the Schwindelsack ("bag of tricks"). It was a collection of tactical choices meant to surprise and ambush the British, keeping them off balance. They were going to be tested and applied in the days to come.
To that date, the Luftwaffe could rely on the following currently operational aircraft:
level bombers, all types: 1,081
dive bombers: 258
Bf 109s: 699
Bf 110s: 193
The Zerstörers had suffered most, followed by the Stukas; Kesselring however was mainly unhappy about the Bf 109 losses. Also, the rate of serviceability had dipped, the operational fighters were just 68% of the total actually on strength. Kesselring made it clear that this was not acceptable; it remained to be seen whether the ground crews could improve the situation.

Meanwhile, in Bentley Priory, Dowding had no easy choices to make. The most obvious issue was that the defense of the radar stations had to be greatly improved. By then, Dowding had already requested twice a better protection for them from Anti-Aircraft Command. General Pile was more than willing to provide it, but the point was that AA guns were in short supply. Taking them away from the Army or the Royal Navy wasn't easy, so what could be redeployed to the coast had to come either from the Command's reserves or from batteries already assigned to the RAF. The most needed items, i.e. medium-caliber, quick-firing guns to engage low-level attackers (namely, 40mm Bofors guns), were particularly scarce. Dowding also asked Balloon Command to deploy balloons around two radar locations; these were intended to hinder low-level attacks.
Park had asked for more personnel for repair and maintenance work at his bases, and for more AA. Dowding allocated the personnel, and began the painful process of juggling the AA resources he already had at hand. Officially unknown to Dowding, Park was also cutting through the red tape by directly asking local Home Guard commanders to cooperate on a volunteer basis.
Another measure Dowding had already undertook was the redeployment of three of his Squadrons onto Bomber Command and Coastal Command bases. There, they were less likely to be targeted, it seemed, and more likely to have operational runways. On the down side, there were logistical and organizational problems.
Finally, Dowding went over his OB and decided to start rotating Squadrons between the frontline and the quiet area of #13 Group. Some Squadrons already needed rebuilding. Fortunately, pilots weren't in short supply; many of those who lost their fighter had parachuted to safety, or had crash landed without consequences. On the other hand, the aircraft reserve was dwindling, as the factories had begun coming short on their deliveries.
To that date, Fighter Command's daylight currently operational fighters were:
Hurricanes: 371
Spitfires: 245
Defiants: 33
Total: 649
There also were about 180 fighters not with operational units, plus 11 Gladiators, and 103 Blenheim night fighters (better not used in daylight).

August 6 was a beautiful summer day, but the Luftwaffe only sent in recon flights and small nuisance attacks by strafing fighters and lightly loaded fighter bombers. The fact was that staging well-organized, carefully choreographed mass raids was difficult and time-consuming. The nuisance raids managed to slow down repair work at Hawkinge and Tangmere, and to destroy a makeshift, vulnerable replacement installation at Ventnor. Four German planes were lost to just one Hurricane.

On August 7 the weather was fine again, and the Luftwaffe did show up in strength, with multiple raids heading straight towards the radar stations at high altitude. The British had had time to repair several stations, and/or to deploy mobile units, and the early warning system was almost as good as new.
Luftflotte 2 deployed some 40 Stukas and 60 Bf 110s in four raids against Foreness, Dunkirk, Dover and Rye. These were heavily escorted by some 250 fighters. The British were ready, this time, and the battle was hard and bitter. The Germans paid a toll, but by 10:30 they managed to mow down two antennas at Dover, to cut the power line to Foreness, and to damage the Rye installations (which however was going to come back on line in a few hours). Dunkirk only suffered light damage and remained operational.
Luftflotte 3's raids took place earlier in the morning, at dawn. They headed towards Pevensey, Truleigh and Poling. They were very high and fast, marked as fighters. Indeed, #615 Squadron, scrambled for confirmation, sighted two small raids, reported they were only fighters, and quickly disengaged.
Later in the morning, at 11:00, similar trackings were reported. Once more, just one Squadron was scrambled from a rear-area airfield. When the Squadron Leader reported what he saw, it was too late – this was one of Kesselring's tricks. The three radar stations were attacked each by a Staffel only of Bf 110s. They weren't numerous enough, and no antenna was damaged, but the attacks went unchallenged save for AA fire. Additionally, at Pevensey, which had just returned operational after heavy damage and a power failure, a bomb hit the transmitter building, destroying critical equipment even if the antennas remained standing. At Poling, the Bf 109 escorts dived down and strafed the buildings, the personnel, and a priceless mobile radar unit. AA fire took its toll here, but the overall result was that the radar cover was seriously damaged, again.

In the afternoon, the main event took place. The Germans launched, between Luftflotten 2 and 3, no less than 12 smallish raids, mostly with level bombers, at varying heights, starting again with the airfields from the coast and then inland. Bf 110s, with little or no Bf 109 escort (so that most Bf 109s could escort the level bombers), were used for quick raids against the most exposed targets.
The British reacted, but they lacked coordination and accurate tracking, and with so many raids they failed to predict what the targets were going to be. For the first time, Park asked his colleague, Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory, to send in reinforcements from #12 Group. Three Squadrons took off from Duxford, and formed up a fighter Wing, but that took time, and when they reached the combat zone, the Germans were already retreating. Also for the first time, the Defiant fighters of #141 Squadron were used in combat. They were bounced by Staffel 1./JG 26, and lost six aircraft and eight men in one action.

At about the same hour, Luftflotte 5 put in its first appearance. It was a diversion raid. It was comprised of a seaplane decoy flight, which worked to attract the attention of inexperienced operators. The real attack featured only one Staffel of true Ju 88 bombers, all carrying only half their payload; the rest of the main raid was made up by Ju 88C heavy fighters, and by Bf 110s, who managed to come out this far thanks to the new, improved drop tanks. The raid still lost three aircraft for no damage of consequence. It would serve to convince Dowding that he couldn't leave the Eastern coast ungarrisoned, had Dowding entertained that notion. But for the time being he didn't anyway.

In the evening, Westhampnett, Hawkinge and Manston were strafed (the Germans had rightly concluded that Lympne wasn't operational, otherwise they would have strafed it too). There was no warning at all, as the fighters flew low all the way in. A seriously damaged Hurricane was destroyed in Westhampnett, otherwise there was not much further damage, but there were losses among the airfield maintenance and ground crews, which would delay repairs on both the runways and the aircraft.

On the following day, the weather was good again. The Germans focused on the radar stations that appeared to have suffered little damage (so they attacked Foreness once more, which was not operational, but they didn't know it had no power). Notwithstanding the repair efforts by the British, and the deployment of some more AA guns around the stations, the Central and Eastern approaches across the Channel were now largely unguarded; Fighter Command was blinded.

The midday wave thus struck hard. The British still had some radar reports, and the Observer Corps; but maybe this was worse than nothing, as their reactions were belated and confused. All of #11 Group was scrambled, save for one reserve Squadron and for the shocked survivors of #141. #12 Group sent in a 3-Squadron Wing again, and that was late again; #10 Group had to defend Middle Wallop and Boscombe Down. The Germans applied another of Kesselring's suggestions, the Wartung raids. It means "maintenance", but they did the opposite. While the main, most heavily escorted raids attacked airfields closer to London and inland – and drew the attention of the defenses – smaller flights of bombers, maybe just one Staffel, with much less escort, maybe a Staffel of fighters, detached themselves from the tail of those formations and bombed the more exposed airfields, already attacked many times. The purpose was to prevent or delay the repair work. Most of these Wartung raids included in their payload mix a number of anti-personnel mines and delay-fused bomblets.

On August 9, the script was more or less the same, but the British were learning. Through tireless night-long efforts, Dunkirk had remained always operational and Truleigh had been repaired; they were now surrounded by tethered balloons, which would make dives and low-level attacks very dangerous. Westhampnett, Lympne and Manston had been abandoned, either for good or for the foreseeable future, while Hawkinge and Tangmere were now getting lower priority on repair work, but more repair personnel and equipment had been redeployed to Warmwell, Middle Wallop, Kenley and Biggin Hill, together with more AA guns and some PAC batteries. If Tangmere was not operational as an airfield, it still was as a Sector Station, a very important role in coordinating the units in the area; both there and at Biggin Hill, the local commanders had set up a second command post outside the base, just in case.
The British were reducing their frontage, at least temporarily. More fighter Squadrons had been deployed to airfields not belonging to Fighter Command: Andover, West Malling and Eastchurch. And two more Squadrons had come down from Scotland.

The air fighting was similar to the day before, and both sides were now under strain; this pace couldn't be sustained for long. It is worth mentioning that on one occasion, the fact that the fighter escort commander could communicate with the escorted Kampfgruppe commander saved the bombers from being left alone in the face of enemy opposition. Kesselring's insistence on better radio communications was paying off. The problem was, however, that as the fights moved North, the Bf 109s were beginning to experience range problems. Sperrle first (since many of his fighter bases were farther away from the British coast) and then Stumpff would soon begin experimenting with the new, improved drop tanks.

There were a few noticeable German successes apart from those in air combat and the destruction of ground facilities: i.e., attacks in which British fighters were destroyed on the ground. The best was ErProGr 210's: they came in low over the sea at Rochford and destroyed no less than 8 Spitfires, though they lost two Bf 110s in the process (one to AA and the other probably an accident). A run-of-the-mill level-bomber attack was lucky over Kenley; operational fighters had been scrambled, but three were undergoing repairs and were destroyed.
And finally, Kesselring tried another idea, the unescorted in-depth low-level raid. Two were sent in, one with Bf 110s and the other with Do 17s, a Staffel of the noticeably well-trained KG 76. The Bf 110s were more or less suitable for the task, and, probably also thanks to a good measure of luck, destroyed two fighters at Gravesend for the loss of one of theirs. The Do 17s' stunt was a bad idea, because despite the intermittent radar cover they were reported by the Observer Corps as they headed for Kenley at about 50 meters of height. When they arrived at Kenley, there were no fighters parked save for those not operational, and the defenses were fully alerted; they were hit by MG and autocannon fire and ran across a PAC line, taking losses, and subsequently they were attacked by #111 Squadron. Of the nine Dorniers, one came back unharmed, two were seriously damaged, and the rest were either downed or crash landed irretrievably. Out of 40 crewmen, 9 were killed, 5 wounded, and 5 taken prisoner. They did damage the runways and one hangar, and destroyed a fighter on the ground, but the price was definitely insane and the attempt couldn't be repeated, at least not this deep inland; the trick might still work in places like Westhampnett.

After dark, the Supermarine assembling plant at Woolston and the Short factory at Rochester were bombed. This time, the Kampfgruppen couldn't send a lot of aircraft; the intense activity of the last few days prevented it. On top of that, the Short Bros. didn't produce fighters. It was a luck for the British that the damage at Woolston was light.

The overall outcome for these three days of heavy fighting was 87 British fighters destroyed for 66 German aircraft. It's a 1.3:1 advantage for the latter. Kesselring was told by his intel officers the ratio was 2.5:1, he assumed it was actually closer to 2:1. That was enough to continue trying in this way; but it was a pace neither side could sustain for long. In any case, a spell of unstable weather was forecast for a couple of days.

On August 10, it turned out the bad weather was slightly late; the Western half of the Channel was shrouded in clouds, but it looked line a few hours of decent weather over Kent would be available. The Germans had not planned one of they recursive attack waves on the radars, but they had a contingency plan, which they scrambled to put afoot. Relatively late, while the bad weather front was advancing, Luftflotte 2 launched two classic attacks on Biggin Hill and Kenley, the latter about two hours after the former. Over Biggin Hill, they were slightly better off than the norm; the British weren't expecting a raid because of the worsening weather, the radar network was still degraded, and several forward airfields were not operational. Thus the Germans lost two bombers and one fighter, and the British two Hurricanes (one of which for an engine failure on taking off). Most of the bombs didn't do much damage, but one hit the Sector Station control room, causing painful losses to key personnel. Kenley and Horhchurch took up the slack for about two hours, after which the backup HQ came on line, from a village shop.
The attack on Kenley was a disaster for the Germans. The cloud cover had closed in, and the secondary target (irrelevant: some Army barracks) had to be bombed. Plus, the British were right there, having received accurate interception data this time. Finally, Park had employed staggered attack waves until then, each made by one Squadron. This was sensible, as it allowsedmore flexibility for the next raids, but it also meant the British fighters were always outnumbered. As a rule, this was not going to be important, between the efficient radar network providing accurate interception data (which often allowed the most effective attack, the bounce) and the greater vulnerability of the average German raid. However, at this time the radar network was damaged and the German raids less vulnerable than expected, so Park finally began using couples of Squadrons as a rather common minimum attack strength, starting with this raid. The Spitfires of #64 Squadron had had time to be high up and attack the fighter escort from above, while the Hurricanes of #501 carried out the nerve-wracking but effective head-on pass on the bombers. The tally was four bombers and two Bf 109s for one Hurricane, and Kenley was not touched.
Luftflotte 5 sent in two flights, since the weather was still acceptable over the North sea; both were decoys that turned tail fairly early, not without the British having scrambled fighters of #12 Group.

The weather was uniformly bad on the following day. The Germans decided to take some rest; the serviceability rate needed to improve.
However, they put night raids in: a Knickebein mission over the Itchen factory and two conventional ones against the Woolston compound and the Biggin Hill airfield. Itchen was too small a target, and while the total area of the air base was large, actually hitting something significant at night was highly unlikely; but Woolston was damaged and the deliveries of Spitfires would be disrupted a few days later.

On August 12, the Germans began to understand what Sisyphus must have felt. The sky was reasonably clear, and they began their day with six fighter/bomber and two escorted Stuka raids on radar stations. They found that several of those they had seriously damaged now have makeshift antennas or mobile units; the damaged latticework antennas had been repaired, and there were even brand new ones up. Dunkirk, Truleigh and Rye had a crown of balloons. Poling, on the other hand, had none, but the attackers were bound to discover it had been turned into an AA trap.
At about 10:00, Pevensey went off line, to stay so for the day, Poling had only been defeated because the Germans had once again severed a power line, but the other stations were operational and the radar cover acceptable (the warning time remained shorter, though). On top of that, seven Stukas, four Bf 110s and two Bf 109s were lost to two Hurricanes, a terrible tally.

For the next few days (until August 15) the Germans tried to continue with the tactics they had already used. They achieved some success, both against the radar network and the air bases. However, their high-accuracy, high-effectiveness tool, the low-level raid by fighter/bombers, was becoming expensive. AA guns, which were almost useless save as a form of disturbance against aircraft at high altitude, were reasonably effective against low-flying targets. The British were still short on smaller-caliber, high-firepower AA around the critical objectives, but they were getting better. And more Bf 110s were being downed by ground fire. By August 15, they were down to just 124 operational machines.

Kesselring nevertheless insisted that low-level raids be carried out at least against coastal targets (radar stations and forward airfields). The AA reaction was less effective there, and the Germans managed to keep the radar network always damaged, and those airfields either under repairs or completely closed.

Over this cycle of raids, the kill ratio went to 2.3:1 for the British. Things were getting hard again for the Luftwaffe. The British had understandably begun to adapt to the tactics the Germans were employing. Not that Dowding was happy; he had now 568 fighters (counting only Spitfires and Hurricanes), plus a reserve of some 150. Fighter Command was now downing less enemy aircraft (although in the meantime, the successes of the anti-aircraft batteries were mounting). Additionally, having to scramble the fighters from bases further inland was not of any help.

When tea-time arrived with no further attacks on August 15, the British started to relax. But around 18:40, reports flowed in about enemy aircraft forming up over the German bomber bases in Eastern France and Belgium.
Between 20:00 and 20:30, that is, not long before sunset, the Germans carried out conventional, high-altitude level-bomber raids against the Supermarine plants in the Southampton area, especially at Woolston and Itchen. They were heavily escorted, and the kill ratio for the action was in their favor, albeit barely (1.1:1). Most of the payload was incendiary bombs. With sunset, the raid moved away and the British started working on containing the fires. But at around 21:30, Luftflotte 3 came to strike at the these same targets, which had been marked by Luftflotte 2's fire bombing. The marking had been much more accurate than that done at night with Knickebein, since the bombardiers could see their targets in the last daylight; and the following wave could go in real low and slow, since darkness protected it.
This was another of Kesselring's new tricks; and it worked. The damage was considerable and, although it could be repaired, the deliveries of Spitfires from this industry hub were stopped altogether for four days, and the output remained reduced until the end of the month. The "shadow" factory of Castle Bromwich, far away from the vulnerability of the coast, would produce no more than 37 Spitfires in the whole month of August.
I honestly don't know which TL is more epic, CalBear's Pacific War or this one. Please continue writing so I can get some more samples for comparison.

Also, because I like to learn as much as possible, what are some of your sources for researching this TL?
I honestly don't know which TL is more epic, CalBear's Pacific War or this one. Please continue writing so I can get some more samples for comparison.

Also, because I like to learn as much as possible, what are some of your sources for researching this TL?

History Books
Bekker, Cajus. The Luftwaffe War Diaries.
The German Air Force in World War II (Macdonald,
1967). Dated and biased, but useful for the Luftwaffe’s
point of view.
Bungay, Stephen. The Most Dangerous Enemy. A
History of the Battle of Britain (Aurum Press, 2000).
Probably the most complete, exhaustive, up-to-date
Caldwell, Donald. The JG26 War Diary 1939-1942
(Grub Street, 1996). Short on ambiance and war stories,
but overflowing with hard data, military history, and
Collier, Richard. Eagle Day. The Battle of Britain,
August 6 – September 15, 1940 (1968). The classic
story, brimming with atmosphere, personal accounts
and anecdotes.
Cormack, Andrew and Volstad, Ron. The Royal Air
Force 1939-45 (Osprey, 1990). The main source for
British uniforms, personal gear and equipment;
includes details on the WAAF.
Deighton, Len. Fighter. The True Story of the Battle
of Britain (Jonathan Cape, 1977). Inaccurate in a
few details, but goes a long way in showing the relationships
between men and machines, careful planning
and wishful thinking.
Price, Alfred. Spitfire Aces 1939-41 (Osprey,
1996). The iconic fighter and its best pilots.
Price, Alfred. The Hardest Day (Arms & Armour
Press, 1988). Painstakingly details all the events, raids
and fights of one day, August 18, 1940.
Price, Alfred and Pavlovic, Darko. Britain’s Air
Defences 1939-45 (Osprey, 2004). A recent and agile
treatment of the defense system, with plenty of photos
and technical details.
Stedman, Robert and Chappell, Mike. Luftwaffe
Air & Ground Crew 1939-45 (Osprey, 2002). The Luftwaffe’s
flight suits, equipment and uniforms, but also
organizational data.
Vasco, John. Bombsights over England (JAC Publications,
1990). The history of Erprobungsgruppe 210.
Wood, Derek and Dempster, Derek. The Narrow
Margin. The Battle of Britain and the Rise of Air Power,
1930-1940 (Arrow Books, revised edition 1969). The
margin was not narrow as far as victory goes, but it was
narrower than it was believed when this book was first
published. It deals with the pre-war buildup and the
actual losses.
Galland, Adolf. The First and the Last (Bantam,
1978). Highly opinionated, but it provides invaluable
insights and it’s a good read.
Townsend, Peter. Time and Chance (Methuen,
1978). Very useful for the atmosphere and mindset
information, though it perpetuates some myths.
The Battle of Britain (MGM/UA Studios, 1969). A
classic movie using the mosaic-of-stories approach, it
stars Michael Caine, Curt Jurgens, but most importantly
many original aircraft and impressive air scenes.
The Royal Air Force – History Section provides
exhaustive information on the history of the RAF, and
it also includes the following as a sub-section. Available
at: www.raf.mod.uk/history/index.html.
The Battle of Britain is the RAF’s official
history of the campaign. Information about the
squadrons, the aircraft, the airfields. It includes
data about the opposition, too. Available at
The Luftwaffe 1939-1945 is a non-official site
detailing the German Air Force’s organization, orders
of battle, and unit histories. Available at www.ww2.dk.
The Battle of Britain 1940 is the site of the Battle of
Britain Historical Society. It contains extensive quotes
from original documents. Available at www.battleofbritain.
Thank you for typing up that huge list of sources. I'm going to be lucky if I actually find the time to read just one of those books.
Thank you for typing up that huge list of sources. I'm going to be lucky if I actually find the time to read just one of those books.

Well... I had already typed it long ago.
If you can read just one of those, start with Bungay, I'd say.
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