A Better Show in 1940


August 16 saw unpredictable weather, and therefore some rest for the aircrews (not for the ground crews, though).
For August 17, Kesselring issued orders to use the renewed British radar capability against itself.
Around 10:00, many small-sized bomber formations were detected again well in advance, again over Luftflotte 2's area, and followed on their progress. When they were over the Pas de Calais, the trackings seemed to close in, and they crossed the Channel as one wide cloud. To the operators and officers observing it, it seemed headed straight towards the center of London. When over the coast, it split suddenly, taking the operators by surprise; the attack on Dover was not intercepted at all, the one on Rye was tackled belatedly, only the fight over Dunkirk began with a good British interception.
These were level bombers, flying high, without many chances of mowing down an antenna; but, apart from the off chance of a lucky hit, these attacks softened up the defenses around the real targets and distracted the crewmen – as yet another unannounced wave of low-flying Bf 110s swooped in.
The mission had become very difficult and dangerous; even though the defenders were a bit shaken by the high-level attack, and taken by surprise, the targets still bristled with guns, there were balloons to dodge, and the dust raised by the level bombers' payload didn't make things easier. Even so, at a high price, the Zerstörers were successful and downed two antennas at Dover, putting it out of action for three days. Rye took some damage, but it would be back on line by the evening.

The Germans pressed their advantage, attacking into the breach. Many small raids were sent against the airfields, to confuse the enemy and to do some damage on their own, while the Stukas reappeared again in numbers with the large one, against Dunkirk. Their accuracy was telling, and this time the radar station took very heavy damage.
The only problem for the Germans was that, in order to achieve this new hole, they had once again expended more aircraft than they could afford… 3 Stukas, 8 Bf 110s, 11 level bombers and 6 Bf 109s were downed on this day alone, for the loss of 10 enemy fighters. The toll was light for Stukas because of the damage to the radar network and since the defenders were already committed to fend off many other raids.

The Germans kept pushing for two more days; casualties mounted on both sides. The British were now operating almost entirely from second-line airfields. The alarms were already late and inaccurate to start with, because of the degraded radar system; and the scrambled Squadrons now tended to arrive late or too low. The Luftwaffe was now often using feints: raids started on a course, seemingly headed on a given target, then halfway through the Channel or on the coast veered off to the real one.
On the other hand, the Germans now had range problems for their fighters, which they tried to counter with the drop tanks. However, they were eating through these stores faster than they expected. The fighter/bombers had to keep returning over the radar bases and the forward airfields, to make sure these places remained out of service, and the Bf 110s' numbers were really dwindling.
A noticeable success was achieved on a diversionary raid by Luftflotte 3; a junior officer made a mistake at the peripheral base of Exeter (#10 Group), and 7 Hurricanes were destroyed on the ground by a Bf 110 raid. The attackers arrived undetected, skimming the sea, and strafed the dispersal area. A Bofors battery had just been transferred from that airfield to the Poling radar station.

Meanwhile, on August 18, back in Germany, Hitler met with Keitel, von Brauchitsch, Raeder and Goering, who was enthusiastically optimist. He believed the air offensive to be on the verge of destroying the RAF, and said so; he added that it was possible the air defeat alone would bring the British to the negotiation table. Once unable to defend London from bombing, they were likely to try and cut their losses. Raeder also hoped so, because he was still very much worried about the Royal Navy. He did everything he could to prevent any naval operation, lamenting the barge fleet was not going to be ready before September 15, and that the window of opportunity for the invasion would be very short.
However, given Goering's rosy report, Hitler decided to go ahead with the preparations for Unternehmen Seelöwe. If the British would sue for peace just thanks to the Luftwaffe, so much the better; otherwise, the air superiority over the Channel and the coast was going to allow the invasion to get through, on September 15. The planning and preparations kicked into the highest gear.

On the same date, another combined twilight/night bombing took place, this time against the Hawker plants in Kingston. This time the British expected the second punch and put out most of the fires timely, and the damage done was only moderate. But the deliveries of Hurricanes would be delayed for a day of two anyway.

On the following day, only a few raids were launched; Kesselring was redeploying his assets. Luftflotte 2 got reinforcements from the other two; Luftflotte 5, in particular, was left almost only with coastal and recon aircraft. Luftflotte 3, apart from the transfers to Stumpff's command, sent in three small high-altitude conventional attacks against mixed targets (Tangmere, the radars of Poling and naval objectives in Portsmouth). There were only enough bombers in it to force the British to engage, but few enough that there were about 3.5 fighters per bomber. Damage to the ground targets was minimal, but Fighter Command's reaction was weak, belated, and costly – to the British fighters.
Sperrle complained with Berlin for the transfers, but his complaints were intercepted by Wever.

Also on August 19, the Kriegsmarine carried out its one exercise off Boulogne. Fifty barges were used, half of which powered and the other half towed. When they made a 90° turn towards the coast, a barge capsized and another lost its tow. When reaching the beach, the masters of the powered barges opened the gaps amongst them, fearing collisions. About half of the troops were unloaded within an hour of the first man ashore, another barge capsized, two failed to reach the shore, several did land but far away from the planned landing zone. The masters of three barges lost control while running aground, and their vessels ended up parallel to the beach line, which prevented the ramps from being lowered. This exercise was carried out over a short distance, with perfect weather and in broad daylight, and of course with no opposition. This was officially classed as a success. Privately, Raeder's case of cold feet got way worse.

That evening, another meeting took place, in Bentley Priory. Dowding received the visit of Air Marshal Newall, Chief of Air Staff, and Sir Archibald Sinclair, Under Secretary of the Air Ministry. Both visitors were worried about what was going on; the evidence seemed to be that Fighter Command was losing the battle, and Newall, in particular, made no mystery of the fact that his confidence in Dowding was decreasing. Several options were discussed. Trying to keep all airfields open seemed either impossible or at least very difficult, even taking into account the emergency measures already adopted to intensify the repair works. Withdrawing from the battle, redeploying the fighters to the North, and letting the Germans do what they wanted along the coast, would be suicidal: the core of the British aircraft industry, and other key factories, would be destroyed in a relatively short time. Then there was the currently adopted solution: trying to fend off all the enemy attacks while keeping most of the fighter force more to the North. In that way, the fighter force wasless vulnerable, but also way less effective, and the result seemed to evolve towards a seriously contested air space along the coast. This might become unsustainable, especially if and when the Germans launched a final offensive to accompany their dreaded invasion attempt.
But Dowding had a fourth policy to propose... late that night, the visitors left, their faith in Fighter Command restored.
I'd heard about the trial landings, but not how bad they truly were :) I dont think people not in the UK or pehaps northen France realise how unpleasant the Channel can be in even normal summer weather.

One point that might amuse; I was at a panel this year at Worldcon, where one of the panelists explained that a few years aho, they found the original plans in the German archives, the ones with the German Navy's comments all over it...:)

Who says the germans cant do sarcasm....:D:D


One point that might amuse; I was at a panel this year at Worldcon, where one of the panelists explained that a few years aho, they found the original plans in the German archives, the ones with the German Navy's comments all over it...:)
For Op. SL? Like the comment "the Army does not know anything about conducting amph. ops"?

Kesselring had been reviewing reports together with Deichmann and Oberst Schmid of the Luftwaffe intelligence. They did cut their pilot's claim a bit; even so, they ended up with an inflated figure of the enemy losses.
The evidence seemed clear, however. First of all, it paid to keep the radar stations under attack. True, aircraft were lost while bombing them, but the British, too, lost fighters while defending them; additionally, the British reactions appeared to be slower, less accurate, than when they had their wizardries intact. Some recent raids against air bases were not even intercepted, while in the days when the radars had not been touched, no raid went unscathed.
Second, even though Kesselring's remained wary of the intelligence figures, it would have seemed the British were down to some 300 to 350 fighters (the real figure on August 20, only counting Spitfires and Hurricanes, was actually 511 in the units, plus some 100 in the reserve). The British counterattacks seemed to grow weaker by the day, which would have confirmed that either they were really this down, or had decided to spare their strength.
Third, the tactics of bombing the air bases repeatedly seemed to be working; if the Germans were doing a Sisyphus job with their destruction, the enemy was facing a similar task with their repairs, and many airfields were clearly not in use any more.
Kesselring decided to continue with the current plan.
By then, however, he was very worried about conserving his. The Bf 109 force had markedly decreased, but it was still large enough in his view. The bombers had started with a large surplus, considering that they needed to be always heavily escorted; but the problem that was developing was with crews. Many bombers made it back damaged, and they could often be repaired. But a bomber arriving damaged would usually unload wounded or dead crewmen, and the quality of his personnel pool was decreasing.
The Stukas were at a bare minimum for their future task in the support of the invasion.
Finally the Bf 110s, which he had always considered the most expendable, had indeed been expended; not only they were down to 91 operational machines, but there were predictable problems with personnel quality and morale.
On the other hand, with the enemy strength also waning, his units' losses should soon be decreasing. Kesselring concluded there was a chance of breaking Fighter Command in the 25 days before Seelöwe, without ending up with a broken Luftwaffe, too.

August 21 came to be known as "the Hardest Day" among Fighter Command crews. The radar network was still badly degraded after the previous day's renewed pinpoint raids that, at the expense of four Stukas and two fighters, had destroyed the Dunkirk transmitter and severed Dover's power cables once more. The warning time was short and the data unclear.
Stumpff's crews compounded that by achieving bombing height only over the Channel, with what seemed to be two large raids. Actually they split up in five smaller ones, each with about one Gruppe of 25-30 level bombers and no less than 60 fighters. After changing course over landmarks, they headed for Eastchurch, Horchurch, Gravesend, Biggin Hill and Kenley. One of these bases (Eastchurch) had no fighters there and indeed it did not belong to Fighter Command, but three of the others were Sector Stations.
Meanwhile, Luftflotte 5 did its usual North Sea tour (this time, the British did not even scramble fighters from East Anglia) and Luftflotte 3 carried out a smaller diversionary raid against Tangmere and Westhampnett.
In the face of this gigantic mass of 130 bombers and 300 fighters, the British hurried to scramble their defenses. Three Squadrons (one of them from #10 Group) engaged Luftflotte 3's diversion, and no less than 21, that was almost all the rest of #11 Group, were scrambled to engage the main attacks. They were 231 fighters in all, mostly in waves of two Squadrons each, which pitted about 22 British fighters at a time against each group of 60 German ones. Two British units had just deployed South from Scotland, were largely unexperienced and took severe losses, and another one was bounced from above. Even so, the Luftwaffe lost 12 bombers and 8 fighters, for a loss of 17 British fighters.
But the worst was still to come. The bombing was reasonably accurate at Hornchurch and Biggin Hill. At Biggin Hill, the Sector Station HQ was damaged, the backup should have taken over – but a German bomb destroyed the local telephone exchange. At Hornchurch, the Sector Station was destroyed, and no backup location had been prepared there. Kenley took some damage, and its personnel was shaken, but they had to take up Biggin Hill's tasks, while a way less experienced officer in North Weald had to replace his Hornchurch counterpart.

This was the situation, when, some 20 minutes after the last bomb had fallen, the first Observer Corps' report was in with low-flying intruders across the coast. It was most of the remains of the Bf 110 force, swooping in against two other targets (Rochford and West Malling, the latter a mistake) and, again, Kenley and Biggin Hill.
The British had almost nothing ready to counter them. They sent out the one Squadron of #11 Group that had not been committed, but this was the first time they engaged a target flying under 200 meters of height. They attacked the enemy, but failed to achieve anything and actually took losses: #151 Squadron lost one fighter to air-to-air combat and another one to a hill. The first two Squadrons to engage the previous wave were ready and they took off, but, due to the situation of the control network, failed their interceptions. Four units of #12 Group took off, but, although they didn't form a big Wing, climbed to altitude even if their targets were hopping over the hills; which had the same result, they arrived late. The Bf 110s destroyed 25 fighters on the ground, further heavily damaging Biggin Hill, for the loss of one of theirs.
That single loss was fateful, however; it was the Gruppe commander of II./ZG 76. His second in command took over, but the Zerstörers had suffered heavy casualties, and this was a junior officer; flying nap of the earth, he mistook Croydon for Kenley. The former had never been bombed because it was already in the London area, and indeed, a couple of bombs ended up hitting civilian buildings. Three civilians died.

The day continued with further Wartung raids against already bombed airbases and radar stations, and further small dogfights; the British were clearly exhausted. The final tally was 46 British fighters destroyed in a single day, for 27 German aircraft. It was indeed the bleakest day for the RAF.

However, such a pace couldn't be sustained by the Germans, either. The following day, only smallish, half-hearted engagements took place, and August 23 was another day of sudden summer storms. Both sides took some rest.
Kesselring received a message from Goering. The OKW was asking for more attacks against key industrial and military targets, especially naval ones, with a view to paving the way for Seelöwe. Kesselring had little time for such a dispersion of his dwindling strength. He decided that some night raids by small numbers of bombers would do; he wouldn't be risking too much and he'd be able to show some reports.

The Germans changed tack on August 24. No less than 9 small raids were sent in, one every half hour. The first was actually a dogfight trap, with 6 Bf 110s playing the role of the bombers amongst 51 Bf 109s; in the second, there was just a Staffel of half-empty Ju 88s. In the following ones, the proportion of bombers grew steadily. The British controllers were initially surprised, but actually Park's staggered-scramble policy was able to deal with such a threat better than with the swamping tactics, and the outcome was more favorable to the British (a 1.3:1 kill ratio). The targets were the radar stations again, and damage on the ground was minimal, these being mostly level bomber raids.

On that night, three raids attacked sundry targets unrelated to the air battle: Portsmouth, Liverpool and the Thameshaven oil terminal. This area was bordering on London, and indeed some bombs fell over the East End, hitting the church of St. Giles.
Taking into account the previous bombing at Croydon, too, the War Cabinet authorized a retaliatory night mission against Berlin, selecting industrial and military targets (the Siemens compound and the Tempelhof airport). The night was cloudy and 28 bombers managed to drop two bombs within the target areas. The rest either plowed farmland or peppered residential areas.
There was a quick escalation. The Luftwaffe kept applying the same tactics as before during the day, therefore it only had small bomber forces to spare for the night attacks; but given the inaccuracy inherent in trying to hit at night industrial targets within such a sprawling city as London, they were enough to make the Londoners feel targeted. And when 8 Berliners were killed on August 27, it was time to take gloves off: unrestricted city bombing was allowed by both governments.
Kesselring had doubts, though: would direct daylight attacks on London serve the purpose of gaining air superiority better than what he had been attempting until that time?
Kesselring seems far less believing of the inflated RAF losses reported in the OTL. Is this just him, or is it a deliberate change?
I seem to remember that in the OTL the RAF losses, and the number of estimated remaining fighters, were kept to by Luftwaffe intelligence even though the pilots didnt believe them and kept reporting that they were wrong.
Kesselring seems far less believing of the inflated RAF losses reported in the OTL. Is this just him, or is it a deliberate change?
I seem to remember that in the OTL the RAF losses, and the number of estimated remaining fighters, were kept to by Luftwaffe intelligence even though the pilots didnt believe them and kept reporting that they were wrong.
The intention is to allow the Luftwaffe to carry out a better show, by changes that are essentially within reason, and which can mostly be reasonably tracked back to the POD (Wever survives his accident).
Indeed, if you go back to 2., you will see that it's Wever who notices when cross-checking the captured Polish data and the intel assessments, that there must be something wrong in the assessments.

And the problem was not just with the intel. The intel people started with shoddy estimates. The pilots kept reporting, yes - that they were shooting down about 3 times what they were actually shooting down. So the two aspects fed into each other, throwing the whole picture off the wall. If the intel guys kept guessing wrong, that was not in small part the pilots' fault (that applies to both sides, of course, but as I mentioned, the British had an advantage, the physical evidence - crashed enemy aircraft to count).
If aircraft MGs finally got cameras, there is a reason - pilots over-reporting.
I have a point to make:

Since the RAF losses are greater here than in OTL, wouldn't it be reasonable for Fighter Command to ask for assistance in attacking German airfields?
How about having the RAF go over the Channel to bomb the German airfields?
Bomber Command would probably suffer serious losses, the Germans would be hit too however.

Bomber Command did something of that in OTL and in this ATL, but it's not a very useful help.

For starters, Bomber Command and Fighter Command were not on the best terms when it came to cooperation. Air Marshal Portal already believed in the bomber's theory of strategic bombing, and initially did not want his assets diverted "for the purpose of bolstering Fighter Command, the AA defences and the ARP before these have really been tried and found wanting". In OTL he changed his mind, maybe because he found those wanting; so yes, the same comes to pass in ATL.

But, second, the bombers' target would be the invasion, not the air-to-air battle. That's what happened in OTL and happens in this ATL, too. And rightly so.
The British bombers could (and did occasionally) go to bomb enemy airfields at night. They tended to achieve virtually nothing due to a host of problems. Airfields are difficult to target; they include lots of empty space; airstrips are easily repaired, and, last but not least, the Germans had plenty of them. Some were more important than others (namely, fighter airstrips crammed into the Pas de Calais corner to reduce range problems), but exactly these were mostly makeshift installations, even easier to repair. Look how hard is the Germans' work to keep enemy air bases out of commission, with daylight bombing and low-level precision attacks.
Which brings us to the alternative: the bombers could use daylight. In that case, their losses were prohibitive. Yes, the Germans lacked the British integrated radar-based defense network, but had radars all the same, and plenty of fighters. Look at the casualty ratios of the December 18th, 1940 anti-shipping raid.
Of course, that's without fighter escort. One might argue that the British bombers should be sent out with fighter escort, and that the German airfields in the Pas de Calais were within range of the British fighters. To that, it should be pointed out that the Germans also suffered heavy bomber losses in OTL during the Battle of Britain – with heavy fighter escort. On top of that, admitting the bombers needed fighter escort to do the thing they were built for was not in the cards this early in the war, not for Bomber Command officers. And if they had accepted that, then you'd have one more stubborn opponent to this scheme, Dowding himself. Fighters, in his mind, were a defensive weapon, needed to defend _Britain_, not bombers.

That is not to say the bombers didn't play a part in OTL and don't play one in this ATL. In OTL, after Portal accepted the fact that they had to contribute, they were intensively used, but mostly not against the Luftwaffe's airfields – against the Kriegsmarine's barges. Keep reading.

"Mostly not" means that the British bomber did attack airfields and aircraft factories between the beginning of July and October 31st, 1940. 17% of their missions were against airfields, and 14% against the aircraft industries. But none of that was very successful or very important, and increasing the percentages would not have been really very useful. Much more important were the missions (36%) dedicated to sinking the German barge fleet.

Another Luftwaffe staff meeting was held on August 29, in Paris. Wever met with Kesselring, Sperrle, Stumpff and their chiefs of staff. The main point in the agenda was how to implement the daylight attacks on London, which had become a political necessity.

These top commanders could not rule out the possibility that the British, faced with extensive destruction in their capital, might decide to sue for peace. Possibly they were just waiting for a face-saving excuse, which would allow them to seek for terms.
On the other hand, however, it was likely they would not. In that case, the daylight attacks on the city had to serve the overarching purpose of the whole campaign: shooting British fighters down, thus achieving German air superiority, if not air supremacy, a key factor for the success of Seelöwe. Wever stated that when planning the missions, causing damage to ground targets came second; exploiting the circumstance to engage Fighter Command and defeat it in the air came first.
This went down well with Kesselring. Over the past few days, the British countermoves had been weaker. It was possible the Luftwaffe was winning its fight; but, everything considered, the Feldmarschall was seriously concerned that the British were simply giving up ground, withdrawing their fighters North, and saving their strength. Even with drop tanks for his fighters (of which, anyway, the stocks were quickly decreasing), the Germans could attack British fighters only so far North; if all of them should retreat to the Midlands, they would have been effectively be out of range. If that happened, and if they managed to redeploy South again when the invasion date came, that would be bad news for Seelöwe.
Therefore, going for London made sense. It would force the British to come up and fight.

The first massive daylight raid against London took place on September 1. The target were the Surrey Commercial Docks to the South of the Thames, and Kesselring had selected four somewhat understrength Gruppen to attack these, equipped with Heinkels and Dorniers. These 86 bombers flew out in a close square formation. They were escorted by 327 fighters, almost a 4:1 ratio. About a hundred of them flew ahead, with drop tanks, in a large Freijagd action to sweep the skies, while another third flew open cover high over the bombers. The remaining third served as close escort.
But the British initially thought that the raid on London was way larger than this, and for a very good reason: while they crossed the Channel, the Germans had 71 bombers more and 163 fighters more, right behind the formation above. The British thought the whole air armada was heading for the docks, but actually, this second force split out over Sevenoaks to attack Kenley and Croydon. Kesselring was exploiting the cover of the London attack to keep up with his single-minded policy.

As expected, the British reacted in strength. A single, high, very large signal on the Dunkirk screens (the station was back on line now) was something the battered Fighter Command could still deal with well. As the enemy crossed the Channel, the first Squadrons to scramble were already at a useful altitude, and everyone else in #11 Group was alerted. The first fighter-to-fighter action took place already over the coast, and Parks fed his Squadrons in couples into the running battle. The British fighters were outnumbered (as they almost always were), but before the escort and close escort German units could make their numbers be felt, the British usually had already done their passes. Things were different against the free-hunting forward Bf 109s, among which the aces of JG 26 and JG 51. But then again, when they were seriously committed in a dogfight, they had a chance to down British fighters, but they were also peeled away from their vanguard role.
The British dealt out more than what they took – as long as the main attack formation is considered. Indeed, in the fight against the bombers, which did unload their bombs over the docks, the British suffered 31 losses, but downed 44 enemy aircraft; most of the British casualties were caused by the Freijagd sweep. Leigh-Mallory's big wing (no less than 5 Squadrons having formed up over Duxford) did show up and they also engaged this raid.
However, the diversionary tactics worked. When the radar operators noticed the split, it was late. The attack on Kenley was intercepted from below and at a bad angle, and the British here suffered more losses than those they caused. The raid against Croydon went in unchallenged; this force was then attacked belatedly, while withdrawing. What was worse, #85 Squadron had just landed to "pancake" (rearm and refuel) at Croydon, and it was hit on the ground. The tally of these two attacks was 14 British fighters destroyed for the loss of 5 German aircraft. Overall, the day's balance was less than a 1.1:1 ratio for the RAF. And Croydon remained not operational throughout the following day.

That day, however, only the dangerous drudgery of keeping the forward airfields and the radar stations as out of service as possible was undertaken by the Germans. The effectiveness of this policy was decreasing, because neither Stukas nor Bf 110s were used (in order to spare their dwindling numbers), and also due to the law of diminishing returns. Casualties were low on both sides.

September 3 came with some indifferent weather, so in order to keep up with the insistent demands from Berlin, the enemy capital was bombed at night. This didn't convince the British to come to terms, and two bombers were uselessly lost to unknown causes.
A different night mission was carried out by a handful of seaplanes and Dorniers from Denmark; they tried to keep at least some pressure up against the damaged Hawker plants at Kingston-upon-Thames. This was about the most the depleted Luftflotte 5 could do at this time, but in the event they missed their target entirely.
On the same day, an inter-service meeting was held in Berlin among the chiefs of staff. As Unternehmen Seelöwe was getting nearer, it also became clearer that it was a terrible gamble. The chiefs came up with countless details that had not been hammered out, unknown factors they had no way to discover, and time was running short for everything.
All of this, however, might not matter – provided that the Luftwaffe was really able to deliver what Goering had promised a few days before. Wever had been pushed in a tight corner by his boss. However, it was true that Kesselring was faring reasonably well. It was true his fighters seemed to be winning the battle. Reluctantly, Wever gave a cautiously favorable forecast. Seelöwe went ahead.

Well before the dawn of September 4, another massive raid against London was in the making – or so it seemed to British radar operators. The bombers had taken off first and gathered over the fighter bases in the Pas de Calais; the fighters took off about half an hour before the first light and the large ("300 plus") formation headed straight for the docks. Most of #11 Group's Squadrons were alerted.
At dawn, however, the huge raid was on the coast and it split to hit the radar stations of Dover and Dunkirk and the already out-of-service airfields of Hawkinge and Manston. These being level bombers at considerable height, the additional damage was scarce, and the limited actions that only a few of the British fighters managed to develop ended up in basically a draw.
But the real attack was actually against Rochford, Hornchurch, Gravesend and Eastchurch. 34 Do 17s, 21 Bf 110 fighter/bombers (including the 12 survivors of ErProGr 210), and 43 Bf 109s flying on drop tanks had closed in skimming the North Sea waves, and appeared roughly at hangar height with the dawning sun right behind them. At Rochford, attacked by half the bombers, the timing was perfect; the Spitfires of #222 were lined up for scrambling, the defenses were unprepared, and 8 British fighters were destroyed on the ground for no German loss; the handful of escorting Bf 109s strafed the personnel. At Hornchurch and Gravesend the timing was not that good. At the former, the operational enemy fighters had all taken off, and actually #54 Squadron was still not far; it was recalled and it downed 4 German aircraft for the destruction of 4 Spitfires under maintenance (and 1 Blenheim). At the latter, attacked late by the Germans with respect to the diversionary raids, the locally based Squadron was widely dispersed, having just been stood down, and the Germans lost 1 Bf 110 to the flak, while destroying 3 Hurricanes. Finally, Eastchurch still had no active fighter squadron based there, but Park had taken care to send a couple of old trainers that might resemble fighters, and a handful of unrepairable hulks, made up as serviceable aircraft, to reinforce the Germans' continuing mistake. The raiders later reported the destruction of 7 fighters for no loss, but actually they had scored no point at all – and their leaders remained convinced Eastchurch was a worthy target.
In any case, the three other airfields had been seriously damaged; apart from the airframes mentioned above, hangars were hit, personnel killed, runways cratered. The initial forecast was that Gravesend would be operational again by the evening, but the Dorniers had scattered lots of antipersonnel mines and time bombs; in the end, it would take three days. And the morale was low; the men began to feel they were fighting a losing battle.
The bad thing about this surprise raid was that it would the last time drop tanks were used before S-2. The Luftwaffe had not planned to drill through the stock so quickly, and the deliveries were late, so the remaining ones had to be spared.

Once more, the Germans had managed to surprise the British with feints and unconventional tactics, and had succeeded in dishing out something more than what they had taken. While reviewing the reports and the intel analysis for the previous week, that evening, Kesselring thought the campaign had a fair chance of succeeding. He still had two or three tricks in his bag, and given that by now he was left with just 10 days to Seelöwe, it was almost time to use them.
mm, Kesselring seems just a bit fixated on those airfields....:)
Wonder if thats going to bite him at some point?

Slightly surprised the RAF havent made more use of decoys and so forth - the British were very good at this sort of thing later in the war.

Also, it doesnt look like the Luftwaffe is destroying much more than the factory output..wasn't it around 100 fighters a week at this point?

Looking forward to seeing what kesselrings been kepping back, though :)
mm, Kesselring seems just a bit fixated on those airfields....:)
Wonder if thats going to bite him at some point?

Slightly surprised the RAF havent made more use of decoys and so forth - the British were very good at this sort of thing later in the war.

Also, it doesnt look like the Luftwaffe is destroying much more than the factory output..wasn't it around 100 fighters a week at this point?

Looking forward to seeing what kesselrings been kepping back, though :)
The average in the first nine months of 1940 was 327 fighters delivered per month (and the figure is above 400 if you include the last 3 months). And it is roughly 100 per week, yes, during the battle.
Which ain't bad at all, and better than what the German industries were doing.

Nevertheless, there are several factors to take into account.
First, the Germans in this ATL have attacked and will continue to attack the aircraft industries. More often, with more determination, and with better results than in OTL.
Second, what counts is operational aircraft at any given time. Fighters with the units but not serviceable don't count (and the tempo of operations, the destruction of hangars, the strafing of ground personnel etc. all contribute to reduce the serviceability rate). Fighters in the reserve and with training schools and OTUs don't count, at least until they are not transferred to front-line units.
Third, the production figure above includes aircraft suitable for night fighting (Blenheims and if I'm not wrong the first Beaufighters). I suspect it also includes some run of Defiants. It might also include the naval fighters, but I think not.
Fourth, aircraft downed by the enemy are the majority, but by no means the only cause of losses during a sustained campaign. Mere operational attrition takes a toll, heavier than one usually expects, especially today. The Norwegian campaign was undoubtedly a difficult one for the Luftwaffe, from the point of view of the environment, the operational conditions, the wide range of tasks to carry out etc. They lost a total of 260 aircraft in that campaign. Care to guess how many of those went down to accidents?

Additionally, there is the usual problem with hindsight. You are right to focus on airframes, but you are using hindsight. You know the British training programs were working way better than the German ones and were churning out more pilots than the Germans expected, and that most Squadrons had more pilots than aircraft; you know that many British pilots parachuted to safety and were back in the saddle the day after having been downed. The Germans did not know about the former and could only reasonably guess the latter. Additionally, they had this tendency to overstate the importance of the personal qualities of the warrior. So they thought that in defeating Fighter Command, killing pilots was at least as important as destroying airframes, if not more.
Of course that helped, but airframes were the narrower bottleneck.

However, the Germans did not know that. Whence the stress on engaging the enemy in the air. Kesselring and Wever are less obsessed with that, as you noticed, in this ATL. But they still cannot know much of the above details.

The weather was rather bad on September 5, and variable on the following day (night bombings took place, without results worth of note). Dowding exploited the circumstance for his second last major redeployment before the invasion. That an invasion was going to be attempted was confirmed by a mounting swell of intel reports. So he entrusted the protection of all of Scotland to the FAA fighters and a Blenheim squadron. The Midlands was to be defended by #141 and #264, with their Defiants, by a handful of Gladiators, by the experimental Whirlwind Squadron (#263; although it was far from ready for action, it had just been declared operational anyway) and by some more Blenheims.
This made all of the Spitfire and Hurricane Squadrons available for the main battle area (plus some Blenheims). In this penultimate deployment, there were 6 Squadrons in #10 Group's area, Cornwall, Wales, Devon and Dorsetshire. #12 Group, the second line and the main defense of London, now controlled 13 Squadrons. Everything else was in #11 Group, whose territory was by now unofficially divided into the so-called "staging area", its North-Western ends, where the bases were still operational, or returned to operational status within a day if bombed; and the so-called "combat-area", the contested one, to the South-East.
On September 6, the operational aircraft available to Fighter Command were:

Hurricanes: 269
Spitfires: 178
Total front-line fighters: 447

Defiants: 17
Gladiators: 8
Blenheims: 59
Whirlwinds: 10
FAA fighters (Sea Gladiators and Fulmars): 21
Total second-line fighters: 114

Reserve (all Spitfires or Hurricanes): 42

Overall: 603

Of which, in #10, #11 and #12 Groups:
Hurricanes: 269
Spitfires: 178
Blenheims: 43
Total available within range of the combat area: 490

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, Luftflotte 2 and 3 fielded the following operational aircraft:
level bombers, all types: 923
dive bombers: 278
Bf 109s: 621
Bf 110s: 82
The Stukas' numbers had grown up again, thanks to being largely held out of the last days' actions. The single-seat fighters were critically low.
Another figure was possibly as significant as all the above, even though it was a wrong one. The Germans, even after taking into account that the pilots' claims must be inflated, still believed that the British serviceable single-engine fighters were no more than 300, possibly 250. One final push might deliver the prerequisite for a victorious Seelöwe.

That final push began on September 7, but not with an air raid. Kesselring tried with another of his tricks, which, however, did not take the enemy entirely by surprise. German ground troops landed in England!
They were just two small commando raids, one unloaded by a submarine and the other by torpedo boats; one featured a platoon of paratroopers, and the other a similar unit of Brandeburgers. They had specific targets: to take out the coastal radar stations of Poling and Pevensey. Goering needed to be convinced this stunt was necessary, and then he had to push his weight around to convince the Kriegsmarine and the Heer to cooperate. It was a long fight, and indeed it had been going on behind the scenes for weeks by that time. But it finally bore this fruit.
Unfortunately for the Germans, the Brandeburgers being a Heer unit, radio messages were used for coordinating some detail of the operation – and they were intercepted and decrypted by the British Ultra system. The German commandos walked into a trap at Pevensey, and were slaughtered or captured. The British did not intercept the U-Boot sent to retrieve them, so that the Germans would not understand their security was compromised; something just went wrong in the night over the cliff.
The interception had encouraged the British to heighten their defensive measures around all their radar stations, but first and foremost they worried about the Kentish ones, which had been targeted more often; besides, Poling was well protected by a surplus of AA guns and their crews (it having been turned into an AA trap). Indeed, only four Fallschirmjägers made it back to the rendez-vous with their submarine; but not without having demolished the antennas and most of the compound. They should have captured operators, equipment, and intel material, but none of that was possible.

At dawn, low-flying Bf 110s attacked the CH station of Truleigh and the CHL one at Beachy Head. They paid another heavy toll, and the latter was not damaged, but Truleigh went off for a few hours. The British had both a mobile unit and a makeshift belltower installation on the Isle of Wight, replacing the oft-attacked and currently non-operational Ventnor station, but their range was limited and their reliability low. Worth Matravers was having technical problems. In sum, there was a large hole in the early-warning capability of the radar network in the midst of the Channel – save for Pevensey. But one station alone could not triangulate, and assessments as to the size and height were initially inaccurate. Its operators were late in warning about a hefty raid at about 07:30, but even with subsequent readings it turned out to be difficult for them to assess the distance... because the course seemed to be heading straight for them.
The British were hard pressed to intercept the raid, and initially they believed it was aimed for the radar station or coastal bases. Many Squadrons were scrambled, but some failed to intercept, at least until it was too late. Because the raid (73 level bombers, 28 Stukas, and some 300 fighters) headed through the frayed radar network inland, and attacked the already damaged Hawker factories at Kingston-upon-Thames. Going this deep into enemy territory, many of the Stukas were lost, but not without delivering a devastatingly accurate blow, followed by the level bombers' attentions.
The Germans paidy a high cost of 6 Bf 110s, 8 Stukas, 4 level bombers and 3 Bf 109s (the British only lose 3 fighters). But for that, they closed down the factories producing the Hurricanes. Even with the most intense effort for repair work, production would start again, at a lowered output, by September 14. The Supermarine plants had already been hit hard, and were struggling to put forth a handful of Spitfires per day. There were some 40 new fighters currently being flight-tested or in transit to units; once those were assigned, Fighter Command was going to be basically without replacement aircraft until sometime in the second half of the month.

The news was widely circulated within the Luftwaffe, and it boosted the crews' morale. This was particularly necessary among the bomber and Bf 110 personnel. The units equipped with these have by now a significant proportion of less-than-experienced crewmen. The Bf 110 missions had begun showing an alarming rate of aircraft that took off, and then aborted their attack due to a variety of suddenly occurring malfunctions, not all of which could then be tracked down by the technicians.

On September 8, the fight continued unabated, but it was a bad day for the Luftwaffe. The Germans launched many smaller raids, all aimed at #11 Group air bases, some already heavily damaged (to keep them that way) and some not. The radar network was not fully efficient yet, Fighter Command should have been very weakened by then, and not being able to use its forward airfields its interceptions should have been more difficult, as it had happened many times in the past.
However, almost all the German raids were intercepted, and some were bounced. They lost 17 aircraft, and downed only 6 enemy fighters. Some of the losses were clearly due to the ever-increasing level of AA defenses against the low-level attacks the Germans had to continue to use if they wanted their bombing to be accurate enough to really keep the runways cratered. By then, airfields were hornets' nests of ground-to-air fire. Most airfield commanders had begun to ignore standing orders, and to cannibalize destroyed aircraft, salvaging their MGs to unofficially improve their defenses. Home Guard units had been more and more stationed around the bases, and they had rickety upward-pointing home-made mounts for their obsolete Maxims. Most of the bases had PAC batteries, and some, given that these were relatively effective at least in spoiling the aim of low-flying attackers, also fielded dummy PACs; i.e., simply fireworks. On top of all those make-do contributions, the real AA batteries' numbers had been increased.
But apart from the losses incurred to AA, the British successfully bounced some raids. Were they implementing some new tactics the Germans were unaware of? Sperrle surmised this was only some sort of last-gasp effort, and Kesselring was unable to find another explanation.

On September 9, Kesselring played his second last Schwindel. It will only harm Fighter Command by chance, but he had decided he had to invest in this surprise attack against Bomber Command, for the very simple reason that the British bombers were almost about to cripple Seelöwe before it began. Over the past two weeks, their efforts had concentrated against the French and Dutch ports where the invasion barges were being gathered, and these being rather easy targets even at night, they had caused painful losses. The British bombers had been at it during that night, too.
So there was no reason to be surprised if at dawn, flying in from the East with the sun behind them, couples of late arrivals appeared low and slow, with their undercarriage down as if to land, over four Bomber Command bases. Only, these were actually Ju 88s. One of the five mission had made a radar operator suspicious and was efficiently intercepted by a hurriedly scrambled Polish flight; another's aim was spoiled by a sharp-eyed airman who rose the alarm by firing his AAMG. But the other three bombed the hangars and dispersed aircraft with flawless aim. For the loss of 5 bombers out of 10, the Germans destroy 84 aircraft: 29 trainers, which were the least painful loss, but also 49 bombers and, unbeknown to the Germans, 6 Hurricanes.
This was a one-time-only trick, and the rest of the day went on with conventional attacks, during which the Germans managed to maintain roughly a 1:1 kill ratio.
That evening, all of the fighters currently in the Fighter Command reserve were ordered out to units. There were no more aircraft being tested or in transit; no Hurricane was coming from production for several days, and an average of 3 Spitfires per day was expected.

The British pilots, airmen and technician braced themselves for renewed attacks when they saw that September 10 was a beautiful sunny day. But no attacks came. The most experienced among them understood the meaning of such a reprieve. The Germans aircrews were taking their final rest, while the ground crews did their best to line up as many operational aircraft as possible. The invasion day couldn't be far away.
Slightly surprised the RAF havent made more use of decoys and so forth - the British were very good at this sort of thing later in the war.
The British used decoy targets at Eastchurch, and dummy PAC batteries elsewhere, as mentioned in 13. and 14.
That won't be the end of British deviousness, however...
Surely if the main Hurricane and Spitfire factories are damaged, massive effort would have been made by the British to up the output at Castle Bromwich? OTL this was delivering by August, so surely Fighter Command is getting aircraft from here?
Surely if the main Hurricane and Spitfire factories are damaged, massive effort would have been made by the British to up the output at Castle Bromwich? OTL this was delivering by August, so surely Fighter Command is getting aircraft from here?

Castle Bromwich had been plagued with delays since the beginning of the production. The problems were mostly founded in sheer lack of know-how, and they wouldn't be easily solved in a matter of a few days.
The factory delivered 10 Spitfires in June, as per the latest update of the target for that month; note I said delivered, not produced, because the aircraft were produced elsewhere and clandestinely moved North for the purpose of meeting the deadline. The figures for July, August and September: 23, 37 and 56. Even with massive effort over a few days, with these figures as the base line, Castle Bromwich is not going to replace the main Supermarine industry hub's output. The British are better off pouring that massive effort in repairing the damaged production lines elsewhere.
In sum, fighters are being delivered by Castle Bromwich in this ATL; but not much faster than in OTL.
And so it begins...

BTW, there are no mayor changes to the Luftwaffe tactics against warships in this ATL, right?