AHC: Peerless Air Ministry

10.09 Serious Damage And Real Concern For The Future
  • 10.09 Serious damage and real concern for the future.

    Of all the days that Winston Churchill in his combined roll as both Prime Minister and Minister of Defence could have chosen to visit the Headquarters of Fighter Command, he had to chose this day; when the Luftwaffe had mounted it’s largest aerial assault yet to test and try the air defences of Great Britain. As Air Minister and War Cabinet member, Sir Phillip had also been in attendance at Fighter Command headquarters for the day. His primary concern, other than managing Churchill’s expectations, was to ensure as little interference into the daily operations of the command as possible. Sholto Douglass also took the opportunity to make his presence felt as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, a post he had only held since April, prior to which he had been assistant CAS and before that had been Director of Staff Duties. It was whilst Sholto Douglass was the Director of Staff Duties, that he and Sir Phillip had first locked horns in the period of 1936 through to 1938, over the treatment of Sir Hugh Dowding and his impending retirement from the active RAF. Sholto Douglas had not actually held an operational post since the Great War and had become the consummate staff officer and civil service manipulator. Now with Newall basically invisible and ineffective, as assistant CAS Sholto was out to promote his own prowess and this certainly did not impress Sir Phillip one jot.

    On the other hand, the quiet competence of Sir Douglas Claude Strathern Evill as Dowding’s Senior Staff Officer had always met with Sir Phillips appreciation, as had his working relationship with both of the Dowding brothers in forging a good working relationship with the FAA at the highest level. As an ex-RN officer, he was one of a handful of senior RAF officers who had transferred from the RNAS when the RAF had been formed in 1918 and had remained interested in naval aviation.

    As the evening wore on and more and more reports were received at the Air Ministry, Sir Phillip’s concerns increased, for the day’s action had spread far and wide over the Fighter Command Groups. The only Group not to engage in major combat was 14 Group, who’s commander was voicing his dismay that his group had only been faced with the occasional high flying intruder bent on stealing a photographic look at a place of interest. In the South, Eleven Group had been hard pressed at times and for a short period in the afternoon had every single operational squadron under its command committed to the fray. Here the co-operation and interdependency of the Groups as well as the handling of the ‘Bigger Picture’ by the Fighter Command headquarters at Bentley Priory really illustrated the strengths and adaptability the system devised and built under Sir Hugh Dowding’s stewardship.

    Sir Phillip and Strathern Evill had quietly explained the strategic thinking and the operational tactics being used by Sir Hugh Dowding to frustrate the Luftwaffe. Two salient points in the day became apparent to the Prime Minister: these were, firstly that Dowding through Sir Keith Park, along with the other Group commanders was determined to oppose every attack before it reached its target and thereby not give the Luftwaffe bombers any easy missions. Secondly’ that it was essential not to over commit forces against any single raid and thereby leave insufficient squadrons to oppose another assault separated by either geography, time or a combination of these. The perils of this situation arising was clearly illustrated during the afternoon when Luftflotte three had attacked the north of England whilst the other German Luftflottes stretched Eleven Group to the absolute limit of its resources. The coordination and cooperation between the Groups was a component of the days conflict that had a marked impression upon Churchill.

    The importance of the combined information from the GCI stations giving accurate almost real time plotting of both enemy and friendly aircraft over the bulk of the British Isle, joined with the ability of the Observer Corps to advise on the type and number of aircraft in any given raid, weather and time permitting of course, was today made self-evident. The subsequent analysis of the day’s actions by both operational research at Bentley Priory and the Air Ministry linked with the Intelligence and after action reports meant much would be learnt.

    However, all of that would take time and time was something Sir Phillip and Sir Hugh were playing for as they knew that they had only a few precious hours to prepare for the next onslaught by the Luftwaffe, expected the following day. The intelligence services were striving as hard as they could to see beyond ‘the hill’ and divine the enemies’ intentions but at the moment there was precious little hard information that they could give. Signal intelligence from the Y Station intercepts by the still hush hush process of Signal Analysis was the most useful single source of information to Dowding’s planning staff at the current time.

    Of the day’s events, several were causing Sir Phillip and Sir Hugh Dowding particular angst. This was primarily the attack on the RDF sites and on the sector stations. Damage to these though disruptive had not yet become critical. Though if the Luftwaffe continued to hit the vulnerable south coast RDF stations and concentrated on the vital sector stations, the situation could quickly deteriorate. In an attempt to lessen the impact that the loss of a sector station would have, Sir Keith Park had been having Eleven Group controllers practicing using the CGI stations to control fighters directly as an alternative to giving instructions via the sector stations. One unintended consequence of these trials had been the realisation that the GCI stations could actually handle more squadrons and guide them in real time to interceptions than the sector station controllers were able to do.

    Recently, Sir Phillip had discussions with Sir Hugh and agreed that placing the sector control rooms actually at the sector stations had proven to be a mistake and that as soon as possible they would be moved off the RAF stations to dedicated hardened locations. Though of course this was rather a case of shutting the stable door.

    The other factor really exercising the Air Ministry and RAF Fighter Command at this juncture of the current battle was the situation regarding fighter pilots. Whilst the flying schools and OTU’s were doing their utmost to produce the necessary replacement pilots, the quality of the pilots was inevitably decreasing as the more experienced pre-war cadre was whittled away. Sir Phillip daily counted the reports of pilots saved from death and debilitating injury by the armour plate and self-sealing fuel tanks that were now factory fitted in every new fighter. Adding to this was the increasing number of pilots plucked from the waters around the shores of Britain and he daily gave thanks to the Air Sea Rescue Service and others who were returning so many pilots to the battle.

    In fact, that evening Sir Phillip had the pleasant personal task of signing an Official Air Ministry Letter of Commendation and thanks to a certain Miss Prince, who on the early morning of the fourteenth of August had sallied forth in a small canoe into the Channel to rescue one of the crew of a Bomber Command Blenheim that had ditched as it returned from the raid on Turin. Fortunately, a fishing boat had also managed to rescue the other two crew members. Whilst approving of the efforts of Miss Prince, the same could not be said of the current head of Bomber Command. As far as Sir Phillip was concerned, Portal was getting his priorities all wrong, sending a handful of Blenheim bombers carrying an insignificant bombload all the way to Italy to attack what were currently irrelevant aircraft factories. This was in Sir Phillip’s view a gross error of judgement whilst there were invasion barges and Luftwaffe airfields just across the channel to be attacked that were at this juncture far more important targets for Britain’s survival. So it was mixed thoughts that Sir Phillip finally left the Air Ministry for the night. On one hand hew was impatient to read the more detailed reports of the days air fighting and to look at the analysis provided by his tame boffins. On the other hand he was very concerned that if tomorrow brought the Luftwaffe in such force again, especially against Eleven Group then the system might break. With Churchill intending to visit Sir Keith Park at his Group Headquarters the next day it would only add to the pressure.
     
    10.10 The View From The Other Side Of The Hill
  • 10.10. The View from the other side of the Hill.

    The fifteenth of August also happened to be the day the Reich Marshall Goering had called another conference of his senior officers at Kerrinhall. Unlike the last conference at Goering’s Prussian retreat where the performance of his stallions at stud seemed to be the most important item on the agenda this meeting was all business. Goering opened proceedings by instructing his commanders to provide heavier and closer escorts to protect the Ju 87 Stuka’s which seemed to be attracting particular attention from the RAF fighters and where taking serious losses as a consequence. To achieve the necessary level of protection Goering was instructing the fighters to provide three levels of escort, First a Gruppen of fighters was to provide close escort and even dive with the Stukas to stave of fighter attacks. A second Gruppen flying at medium altitude was to range ahead of the Stuka formation to sweep aside the defending fighters. The Third Gruppen’s task was to fly top cover over the whole formation and finally Goering reiterated that the escort must stay with the Stukas as they crossed the channel on their return from the target. Goering stated that the latest intelligence reports confirmed that the RAF fighter defences had taken crippling losses in aircraft and pilots whilst their ground facilities had been pounded into rubble. With his head of intelligence Colonel ‘Beppo’ Schmid reiterating that Fighter Command was on it’s knees Goering was confident that the major attacks taking place as he spoke would, with another day or two of attacks of the same intensity, secure air supremacy over southern England for the Luftwaffe. Goering concluded his opening address by stating ‘Operations are to be exclusively directed against the enemy air force including the targets of the enemy aircraft industry. . . . . Our night attacks are essentially dislocation raids, made so that the enemy defences and population shall be no respite.’ Efforts were to be to ensure that in daylight secondary targets conformed to this policy and that the same criteria was to be applied to all night attacks other than of course the continuing mine laying program. Goering also instructed that the special navigation and night bombing unit K.Gr.100 was to be committed to the general air assault. At this juncture Goering gave probably due to faulty intelligence, Fighter Command some respite exactly where it would be of the most benefit by stating, ‘It is doubtful whether there is any point in continuing the attacks on radio site, in view of the fact that not one of those attacked so far has been put out of action.’

    In the subsequent discussions the performance of the RAF fighters came under scrutiny with the effectiveness of the cannon armed fighters being particularly noted as being a fundamental difference from the experience of the campaign in Belgium and France. Where in that earlier campaign Luftwaffe aircraft would return to base riddled with bullet hole and little significant damage it was noted that only two or three cannon shells could wreak havoc with even the largest bomber aircraft and this was definitely resulting in higher losses and many more wounded aircrew. The Luftwaffe commanders were particularly concerned by the effectiveness of the RAF Defiant fighters when they managed to get into a bomber formation, their four 20mm cannons were earning them a fearsome reputation amongst The Bomber Gruppen. The similarity in the silhouette between the Hawker Hurricane and the Bolton and Paul Defiant was resulting in Bombers crews mistaking the latter for the former when attacked and calling for ever closer and heavier fighter escorts. To minimise the losses in officers an edict was issued that no more than one officer was to fly in any aircraft.

    Much debate was made over the ratio of fighters to bombers and it was noted in that in the planning for the operations taking place at that very moment that the ratio of Fighters to bombers had risen to a factor of two and a half times as many fighter sorties as bomber ones. This level of escort was putting serious strain on the fighter Gruppen and meant that up to half the bomber force was sitting on the ground due to insufficient escorts.

    The ever increasing losses being suffered by the night bombers had been noted, ‘Beppo’ Schmitt and his intelligence team ascribed these increasing losses to the longer duration of the raids, the short summer nights and finally to the apparent increase of 1.5m wave length RDF stations which they believed were used primarily by the AA and searchlight batteries. Reports of the possibility of the RAF night fighters having an airborne RDF system were dismissed as mere fantasy.

    To add to the Luftwaffe’s woes the initial reports received in the evening of the fifteenth of August from Luftflotte two and three were that both the Ju87 Stuka and the much vaunted Me 110 had again suffered major losses. For some reason no provisional reports had been yet received from Luftflotte five bases in Denmark and Norway. With major operations due to continue on the fallowing day all the senior officers departed as soon as practical to return to their units spread over occupied Europe.

     
    10.11 Counting The Cost And Taking Stock
  • 10.11 Counting the cost and taking stock.

    On arriving at his desk in the Air Ministry early on the morning of the sixteenth of August Sir Phillip first checked the days weather forecast summary that was laid out ready for him. Even a quick glance told him that it was likely to be another busy day. Putting the weather forecast to one side He picked up the initial intelligence report on the previous days combat. First was the estimates for enemy aircraft shot down, the collated after action reports from the previous day gave a claimed figure of one hundred and eighty two enemy aircraft downed with a further thirty six claimed as probable’s and over fifty damaged. With Fighter Command having made a total of nine hundred and seventy four sorties that was a very high success rate, from experience Sir Phillip cut all these figures in half and still considered it an impressive achievement. The Reports from the wreck checkers was that they had so far identified no less than sixty two confirmed enemy aircraft crash sites on British soil and another thirteen aircraft confirmed to have crashed in the sea. Giving a figure of at least seventy five enemy air craft downed which was still less than half the total claimed.

    The next sheet contained the adverse of the balance sheet detailing the combat losses of Fighter Command for the last twenty four hours. The list made for very sombre reading for thirty four aircraft had been shot down with thirteen pilots killed and fourteen pilots wounded, half of whom would be out of action for at least two months. Some would consider that with ‘ Lord Haw Haw’ stridently announcing that the Luftwaffe had shot down ninety nine RAF fighters including eighty two Hurricanes and Spitfires, five Curtis Hawks (of which there were none in RAF service at the time) and a further fourteen aircraft of various unspecified types that the RAF was losing the battle. These figures were approximately three times the RAF figures and if the German intelligence service believed in the figures that they were broadcasting it would indicate that they believed that fighter and pilot numbers available to Fighter Command had been seriously hit and that might well explain why Luftflotte five had been sent virtually unescorted by fighters against targets in northern England and southern Scotland.

    Privately Sir Phillip blessed the fact that Luftflotte five had been sent against the north as without escort the RAF fighters had by all accounts hit them hard. The inexperienced RDF teams in Thirteen Groups area had badly under estimated the number of aircraft in these raids and the figures from the Observer Corps and the fighter pilots who intercepted where not that accurate either. The figures Sir Phillip had were seventy Heinkels with thirty plus Me 110’s as escort in the first wave and sixty Ju 88’s in the second wave further to the south.

    Only after the war was it confirmed just how high the losses had been, though reports from resistance fighters in Norway and Denmark had noted the number of crashed and wrecked aircraft there these reports took time to filter through. Luftflotte 5 in Norway from bases at Sola and Stavanger had dispatched sixty-three Heinkel He111 bombers from I and III/KG26. twenty-five Bf110s of I/ZG76 based at Stavanger/Forus lifted off twenty minutes later laden with one thousand litre drop tanks to escort the Heinkels to their targets. Further south fifty plus Ju88 bombers from KG30 in Denmark were tasked with the more southerly attack. Fifteen Heinkel 111’s were shot down or written off and another seven were damaged to the point to render them un- operational. Less than a third of the aircraft returned undamaged. The losses in the crews were proportionate. The twenty-five Me110’s also suffered badly with a loss rate of just under fifty percent as twelve aircraft written off. The Ju 88’s were only slightly better of with losses of eleven for around a twenty percent loss rate. Unknown to the Air Ministry and the RAF the remains of most of Luftflotte Five were reassigned to the areas of Luftflotte one and two to make up for the losses there. This off course was unknown to Fighter Command and the Air Ministry at the time so the fighting strength of twelve and thirteen group had to be maintained in anticipation of further assaults from The Luftflotte bases in Norway and Denmark.

    Another thing in the reports that caught Sir Phillips attention was the number of different aircraft types that had been listed amongst the wrecks and crash sites examined. There were multiple examples of Me 109’s, Me 110’s, He 111’s, Ju 88’s, Ju 87’s and Do 17’s but additionally three float planes had been also found, these being an Arado 196, and He 115 and an He 59. The wreck of the He 115 had been washed ashore as far north as Arbroath.
     
    10.12 Another Big Effort Both Sides Of The Channel
  • 10. 12 Another big effort both sides of the Channel.

    Friday sixteenth of August.

    Day. Airfields in Kent, Hampshire and West Sussex attacked. Wide spread damage. Ventnor Radar station out of action. Other targets in Oxfordshire, Essex and Suffolk. Goering in Conference.

    Night, Many light attacks.

    Weather Mainly fair and warm. Channel Haze. (1)

    The Haze was welcomed by the Luftwaffe pilots as it offered them some cover despite it being a sunny summers day. Around eleven o’clock around the plotting tables the WRAFFs sprung into action as the first raid of the day was plotted. These plots quickly showed a number of raids heading for Kent, Norfolk and Greater London. Once again Eleven Group airfields were the primary targets. The greatest damage was done to the group station at West Malling where eighteen bombers added to the destruction wrought the day before and rendering the station unable to carry out operations until the twentieth of August. Park had responded to these attacks by sending aloft a dozen squadrons as he did not wish to over commit when a second wave could appear at any moment. This was what he Told Churchill who had arrived at eleven groups underground command centre at Uxbridge a few minutes earlier. Seemingly just to prove Park’s prudence correct at Midday an even larger force was observed on the RDF screens with enemy formations being plotted from Great Yarmouth in the north round to Portland in the south. Estimates put the total enemy force approaching at some three hundred and fifty aircraft in total.

    The plot table at Uxbridge showed the most easterly enemy formation was by passing Dover and consisted of an estimated one hundred plus Do17 bombers and Bf109 fighters and was on track for the Thames Estuary. With the attack on the Shorts factory the day before fresh in the controllers minds Park ordered 54 Sqn (Hornchurch), 56 Sqn (North Weald) and 64 Sqn (Kenley) scrambled. They duly intercepted the enemy over the Thames Estuary.

    Only fifteen minutes behind this attack a larger enemy formation was tracked between Brighton and Folkestone and Park scrambled three squadrons. 32 Sqn (Biggin Hill), 111 Sqn (Croydon) and 266 Sqn (Hornchurch). All three squadrons joined into an impromptu wing and swept en-masse into the bomber formation hoping to break the formation and spread the bombers to be attacked piece meal. This result in a huge melee of nearly two hundred aircraft and this inevitably resulted in a number of collisions,

    Meanwhile a third Luftwaffe formation had departed from Cherbourg and was heading towards the Southampton/Portsmouth area. Park ordered 43 Squadron and 601 Squadron (Tangmere) to be scrambled, even as Ten Group were launching their own response the Luftwaffe formation of again over one hundred aircraft split up as it approached Portland Bill with elements attacking Tangmere, Ventnor, Lee on Solent, RAE Farnborough and Gosport. At Tangmere personnel were ordered to the shelters as once again the enemy attacked the airdrome, here the close escort now provided for the Ju 87’s initially worked as planned and the airdrome was extensively damaged with every hanger and most of the other building destroyed or damaged to some extent with nearly a dozen RAF aircraft destroyed on the ground. Those aircraft of 43 and 601 squadrons who managed to evade the fighter escort took their toll of the Ju 87’s as they fled towards the nearby coast and the long haul across the channel to the safety of their bases. Five Ju 87’s had split off from the main attack as it passed the East end the Isle of Wight and carried out a precision attack on the RDF Chain Home station at Ventnor, this had only just returned to service after the previous attack and this one again rendered Ventnor inoperative, with hardly a single building undamaged, repairs would take until the twenty third of August. The expedient temporary RDF cover instigate after the earlier attack would just have to continue to plug the gap.

    A dozen JU 88’s with an escort of Me 110’s had attacked Gosport casing damage and casualties whilst the Fleet Air Arm base at Lee on Solent also suffered damage. The finale of this attack was carried out by eight Ju 88’s that bombed the RAE at Farnborough causing some damage but even greater disruption by dropping delayed action bombs, the last of which did not detonate more than forty-eight hours.

    It was at the height of this action that Churchill had enquired of Park what Squadrons Eleven Group had in reserve, Park’s slightly terse reply of “None, they are all up” was apparently a source of sobering thought for Churchill. In fact at that moment 213 Sqn (Exeter) and 249 Sqn (Boscombe Down) both from Number Ten Group were involved in combat over Southampton temporarily reinforcing the western edge of number Eleven Group’s area just as Number Twelve Group had sent squadrons as far south as London and the Thames estuary in the east of Eleven Groups zone on similar missions. This flexibility and co-ordinated effort once again impressed Churchill, much as it had done the day before when he was at Bentley Priory. To Park, Churchill seemed to be fascinated by the relatively small number of pilots engaged in the battle on hand rather than the vast number of people involved in all aspects of the current air conflict.

    The finale of the day was an attack by two Ju 88’s that swept north from the coast at Christchurch and hit the number Twenty Three Group Maintenance Unit and the Number Two Service Flying Training School at Brize Norton. Some thirty two bombs were scattered over the airfield causing extensive damage and destroying no fewer than forty-six training aircraft and injuring ten personnel.

    It was for his valour during the fight over Gosport that, Flight Lieutenant J.B. Nicholson was awarded the first VC for a Fighter Command pilot, flying a Hurricane Mk Ic with 249 squadron he spotted three Ju 8’s fleeing south over the Solent, as he lined up to attack them his hurricane was attacked from behind by an Me 110, who’s first burst of cannon shells shattered the canopy. wounded Nicholson on the head where a large gash flooded his right eye with blood, struggling to see through a haze of blood and the blast of air through his shattered cockpit Nicholson’s aircraft was raked again by a burst of cannon shells The explosion of one of these causing a wound to his left lower leg whilst another shell hit the reserve fuel rank just in front of the cockpit, however good the self-sealing system on the tank was it was overwhelmed by the effect of the cannon shell, whilst the smaller holes remained sealed the main impact had ruptured the tank and flaming fuel started to spew over the cockpit. Despite this Nicholson manoeuvred his dying fighter such as to get one good burst from his own cannons at the Me 110 that had now overshot his aircraft. This burst from the Hurricanes cannons and machine guns wrecked the port engine and shredded the left wing sending the Me 110 spinning into the sea. Even as the flames began to enter the cockpit and burn Nicholson, he had to grab his injured left leg and pull it up onto his seat as he undid his harness and fell clear of the now doomed aircraft.

    Later estimate had Nicholson free falling some four thousand feet before he pulled his ripcord and parachute to what he assumed was the safety of the Hampshire countryside. Unfortunately an over enthusiastic member of the Home Guard added insult to injury by peppering Nickolsons backside with bird shot from his shotgun. It would be some months before He was fit to fly again, Nicholson’s burns were bad but not critical and this was ascribed by him to the time the self-sealing tank had bought him and the fact that only his left leg had been hit by cannon shell fragments was clear evidence of the effectiveness of the armour plate behind him.

    Further to the east the camaraderie of the sea was shown when the RNLI lifeboat ‘Canadian Pacific’ happened upon a ‘Mexican stand off ‘ between a disabled RAF air sea rescue launch and a Luftwaffe seaplane that had landed to recover a pilot who was in the water between them and the launch but was now under the rescue launches guns. The Coxswain of the lifeboat pulled alongside the seaplane and passed over the bodies of two dead Luftwaffe aircrew they had recovered and instructed the aircraft to depart. The coxswain then manoeuvred his lifeboat to pickup the pilot and proceeded to tow the disabled RAF launch into Pagham Harbour. This pragmatic approach by the RNLI Coxswain not only secured the safety of the launch and it’s crew but also the RAF pilot in the water, the Coxswain reckoning being that one live pilot was worth at least two dead ones,



    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster

     
    10.13, An Easier Day For The RAF but A Day of Preparation Across The Channel
  • 10.13, An easier day for the RAF but a day of preparation across the Channel.

    Saturday August the 17th.

    Day, Activity limited to reconnaissance. Fighter Command faces pilot shortage.

    Night, Light Raids midlands , Merseyside, South Wales.

    Weather Fine in Channel, haze and some cloud in the east. (1)



    With the Luftwaffe needing to rest, rearm and rethink today was a quite day for Fighter Command. Though that did not prevent them from flying some two hundred and eighty eight sorties chasing reconnaissance aircraft and single intruders. For no loss the RAF claimed no less than seven enemy aircraft destroyed and a further half a dozen damaged. Whilst the very high altitude enemy air craft were proving nigh on impossible to intercept and the very low level ones needed to stray into the path of a VLL RDF station some were being intercepted successfully. Those that bumbled along at mid altitudes were by and large tracked successfully with the sector controllers more often than not passing the control of the interception to the relevant PPI station. This had the duel advantage of giving more experience and in fact training to the PPI stations and also dramatically increased the chance of a successful interception due to the faster and direct control of the fighters movements. The success obtained especially on days with heavy cloud cover had given rise to discussions as to the practicality of guiding single seat non RDF equipped fighters for nighty interceptions. Though great strides in night-fighter interception techniques had been made Dowding and all at Fighter Command were aware that if and when the Luftwaffe resorted to mass night raids the system could be overwhelmed. Also it was always good in the minds of Dowding and Sir Phillip to have a second string on one’s bow.

    Despite the losses the Luftwaffe had sustained in the last few days including the drubbing received by Luftflotte five the Luftwaffe high command were confident that they had done serious damage to Fighter Command. The confidence of the Luftwaffe Commanders in that they were winning the battle and that one more big push would finish the job was bolstered by the evidence being provided to them via their own intelligence reports. The latest report issued after the days fighting on the sixteenth of August contained the summary that the RAF’s fighter strength had been reduced to less than three hundred operational fighters in Britain. Bolstering this assumption was the claim that between the first of July and the fifteenth of August the Luftwaffe had shot down a total of six hundred and sixty two RAF fighters. This figure being broken down into the following numbers by aircraft type: Spitfires 372, Hurricanes 179, Defiants 12, Reapers 2 and finally 10 Curtis Hawks. If they had known it the last figure and type of aircraft it would have been of great interest to Fighter Command as there were no Curtis Hawks flying with RAF units in Great Britain at that time.

    Whilst the claim that the RAF was reduced to less than three Hundred operational fighters was a gross miscalculation, there were in fact just over seven hundred operational fighters available, there was however what could be considered a shortage of pilots. Despite the increase of flow through the OUT’s and the transfer of pilots from others duties the loss of experienced pilots and especially squadron and flight leaders was a cause of concern to Sir Hugh Dowding. The policy of rotating squadron out of 11 Group to rest and make up numbers would continue for the time being but plans would be put in place to alter the system if the fighting qualities of the front line squadrons was eroded any further.

    One action to be taken immediately was to commit the squadrons of the Polish Air Contingent to the battle in the south east. After discussions with Sir Keith Park the decision was made to send the four Spitfire Squadrons from the PAC to Duxford and Debden that day to form the Duxford/Debden wing. The Polish Night fighter squadron was also transferred south to replace 25 squadron at Martlesham, going with them were a number of bilingual controllers to be posted as super numeries to the PPI stations that the squadrons would be working with. This meant that 85, 17, 19 and 264 Squadrons would head north to Fourteen group.

    There were three newly operational Beaufighter Squadrons, No’s 235,236 and 248 having completed their conversion from the Blenheim aircraft they had been flying. With the co-operation of Coastal Command, who were releasing control of them to Fighter Command, they were now to be stationed at Lossiemouth and Banff where their heavy fighters were more than capable against the un-escorted attacks of Luftflotte Five. This would allow the four squadrons, 85 and 17 from Debden and 19 and 264 from Duxford to take a back seat to rest and reform in Fourteen Group. It also Gave Sir Hugh the option to take three further Squadrons from 13 and 14 Groups to reinforce 10,11 and 12 Group if requires. In discussion with Sir Phillip, Sir Hugh Dowding Expressed his opinion that this would only need to be done if the German invasion fleet sailed. Sir Keith Park was happy with the exchange as he had gained four fresh Spitfire Squadrons who were full of vim and vigour in exchange for four depleted and tired squadrons of Hurricanes. The other factor was that the Polish squadrons were used to acting in concert with each other and had experience of forming up into squadron pairs or even a four squadron wing as they climbed for altitude. This ability if used wisely by the Eleven Group controllers might enable them to bounce a German formation with overwhelming force and inflict serious losses on it.

    What was a godsend as far as Sir Hugh was concerned was the steady stream of experienced pilots returning to action having been plucked from the sea or recovering from minor injuries. Sending these pilots to leaven the rookies joining the squadrons in the northern Groups gave Sir Hugh hope, that contingency plans already discussed with Sir Keith Park, whereby his Group’s squadrons would be kept at their full pilot strength by robbing other Group’s squadrons of their best pilots would not become necessary. This would be what Sir Hugh had described to Sir Phillip “as going down hill” and was to be avoided if at all possible but planning for such actions was only wise. However if the Luftwaffe concentrated on the sector stations and the RDF stations in Eleven Group the ability of Fighter Command to keep air superiority over the south coast from the Thames estuary round to the Isle of Wight could be in jeopardy, which in itself could be the harbinger of a German invasion.





    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.15 Called “The Hardest Day”
  • 10.15.This has been called “the Hardest Day”

    Sunday August the 18th

    Day, Massed Formations return. Airfields in south and south-east attacked. Luftflotte 3 against Sussex and Hampshire.

    Night, Light bombing, Bristol, East Anglia and South Wales. Minelaying.

    Weather, Fine and fair early, rest of day cloudy. (1)



    At Bentley Priory and Uxbridge the plotting tables remained clear as the staff prayed that the lull would last giving time for the newly transferred squadrons to settle and give everybody else a respite. Parks and Dowding had discussed whether to transfer the PAC squadrons on block or to drip feed them into Eleven Group. The decision had been made to do an emblock switch of all four Spitfire Squadrons to the two airfields at Duxford and at Debden.

    This was accomplished late in the afternoon of the 17th August. It was a pre-planned move and an advance party from the PAC had been in place at both airfields for some days, it was merely a matter of choosing the day. After the heavy fighting of the 16th the 17th had been chosen and fortuitously the day had seen a lull in the action. The PAC liaison officer at Uxbridge now became the PAC assistant controller in the ops room working with the duty control officers to ensure that all interception instruction were clearly understood by the sector controllers who would be directing PAC squadrons.

    After a slow start that Sundays, action finally commenced around noon when significant formations attacked airfields to the south east and south of London. Targets included West Malling, Biggin Hill, Croydon and Kenley.

    Two raids hit Kenley, one at high level of nearly fiftyDo17’s with ME 109’s as escort and a low level raid of some ten Do 17’s. all three of the squadrons controlled by Kenley were committed to stopping this raid. 64 and 505 Squadrons were sent to intercept the high level attack whilst 111 Squadron took off from Croydon and were vectored to intercept the low level raid, this proved problematical due to the very low level of the attack and 111 squadron only got a couple of inconclusive attacks in before having to break of as they approached Kenely’s low level defence perimeter.

    Here the four 40mm Bofors guns protecting the southern side of the station proved their worth by inflicting damage on several enemy aircraft two of which subsequently crashed before reaching the coast. The fate of the other damaged aircraft was at the time unknown. This incident did much to show the effectiveness of the Bofor’s Gun in airfield defence. The other surprise was just how effective the PAC (parachute and cable) device was in disrupting the low level attacks. Meanwhile the high level raid was intercepted by both 615 and 64 squadrons who exacted their own toll from the attackers. Despite these success over one hundred bombs impacted within the station perimeter causing extensive damage. Many camp buildings were damaged or destroyed but the wrecking of ten hangers and a dozen or so assorted aircraft was the biggest loss. With all the communications circuits cut and the operations room damaged Kenley was for a time out of action.

    Despite this 64 Squadron landed back at Kenley on a safe strip of grass between the craters and unexploded bombs marked out with flags. With a dozen dead and a similar number injured the efforts of the ground staff to maintain an operational status was seen as the very embodiment of the Fighter Command Spirit.

    Croydon had again been hit but was able to turn 111 squadron around, refuelled and rearmed is under a quarter of an hour. This attack was followed by KG76 attacking Biggin Hill. The attack was planned as a coordinated assault by a high level formation of Ju 88’s and a low level raid of Do 17’s, due to a timing cockup the low level raid of Do 17’s arrived some minutes before the Ju 88’s, a combination of the observer corps and the PPI/RDF stations at Durrington, Wartling and Willesborough reporting directly to Biggin Hill as the sector station, enabled the Station Commander on his own authority to launch both 603 Squadrons Spitfires and 32 Squadrons Hurricanes before the raid arrived despite the Group and HQ plotting tables being congested with plots to the point that the raid warning arrived even as did the attackers commenced their bomb runs. With 32 Squadrons Hurricanes chasing the low level Do 17’s 603 Squadron in their Spitfires were clawing for altitude towards the high level attack. Despite the fighters intervention once more the airfield was peppered with fresh craters but no greater damage than that was done. In retribution five Ju 88’s and seven Do 17’s were shot down before the remnants of KG 76 made it back across the channel.

    So ended the morning assault, at around two thirty, the afternoons attacks commenced with Luftflotte 3 send formations to attack airfields and RDF stations in West Sussex and Hampshire. JU 88’s in three groups of seven bombe Gosport dive bombing workshops and motor transport. Meanwhile two dozen Ju 87’s escorted by a flight of Me 109’s attacked the 16 Group airfield at Thorney Island, a couple of air craft and two hangers being wrecked or damaged. The Fleet Air Arm airfield had Ford was also attacked causing major fuel tank fires and destroying several hangers.

    All this came at a cost to the Luftwaffe, with the Hurricanes of 43 and 145 squadrons flying out of Tangmere shooting down no less than fourteen Ju 87’s, a further two being downed over Thorney island by a Reaper of 263 squadron from Filton in 10 Group. The loss of so many Ju 87’s mostly from St.G77 was to force the Luftwaffe to rethink the use of the dive bomber within the campaign.

    The daylight finale was when Croydon was again attacked this time by aircraft from Lufteflotte 2 which approached from over London having flown up the Thames estuary through the gap in the AA defences that this provided. As a Diversion twelve Me 109’s carrying bombs swept across the channel at low level and attacked Manston again, injuring fifteen and killing one whilst damaging two spitfires.

    Through the night further raids were carried out on Bristol, South Wales and across East Anglia whilst mining took place in the Thames Estuary and the Bristol Channel.

    When the sun set and there was time to draw breath and the reports started to arrive at Bentley Priory allowing the days reckoning to take place. Working late in his office Dowding grimly waited to receive the days toll of young flesh and blood shed by “his Chicks”. The figures were not good, having flown some seven hundred and eighty eight sorties Fighter Command had lost twenty five fighters destroyed with eight pilots killed. On the positive side from Fighter Commands perspective there were seventy six confirmed Luftwaffe aircraft downed, this included at least Eleven Me 110’s, Twenty JU 87’s and thirty seven other bombers of various types the balance being Me 109’s. Though of course, the combined claims from the Squadrons were somewhat higher and the figures released for public consumption higher still. The analysis of the days fighting would continue right through the night and Dowding would hold his usual conference call in the morning with his Group Commanders to discuss the results and issue his instructions.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.16 August 19th-23rd
  • Monday August the 19th.

    Day Goring again confers. Isolated Raids on Britain, Heavy Reconnaissance activity.

    Night Widespread harassing Raids. Minelaying

    Weather Mainly Cloudy. Occasional showers in the East. (1)

    After the massive efforts of the previous day coupled with the cloudy weather turning to rain later the day started quietly with the activity being confined to Luftwaffe photographic reconnaissance flights. Due to the cloud cover many of these sorties had to come in at a lower than optimum altitude resulting in a cat and mouse games as the RAF fighters were guide towards interceptions as the enemy aircraft dodged in and out of the clouds. One again the PPI/RDF system came to the fore demonstrating how director control of the fighters by the RDF operator cot out all the time lag of the Group and sector systems. So despite the cloud several Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft were hunted down and destroyed that morning. The high level photographic flights were also not getting away scot free as specially prepared Spitfires and Reapers challenged them at ever higher altitudes with some success.

    Shortly after noon RDF detected some sixty or more hostile aircraft flying over the channel between North Foreland and Dungeness at 20,000 feet. Just before one O’clock a force of some fifty further aircraft left Calais to attack Dover. The majority of this formation were Me 1009’s which escort some bombers as far as the southern suburbs of London. This set the pattern for the rest of the day with feints and probes covering attacks. The raids often numbering fifty or more aircraft were not pressed home and little damage was done.

    The night times activities was a continuation of the Luftwaffe’s dislocation campaign, where wide spread penny packet raids caused at times for over seventy five percent of the country to at yellow or red air raid status.

    Having flown some four hundred sorties through the day Fighter Command accounted for eight enemy aircraft for the loss of three of their own aircraft whilst one pilot was killed, one wounded and the other escaping unhurt.



    Tuesday August the 20th

    Day Scattered raids in morning. Kent and Essex airfields attacked in afternoon.

    Night Negligible activity. One or two raids in south-west.

    Weather Cloudy Generally, rain spreading from north. Channel mainly fine. (1)



    Due to the distinctly autumnal weather there was little Luftwaffe activity in the morning, though pin prick raids were made on Cheltenham, Southwold and Oxford. Of more significance, as far as Dowding, Park and their Staffs were concerned were the reconnaissance flights that visited no less than six of Eleven Groups air fields covering the full arc around north London. The stations overflown were, Northolt in the west of London, Hatfield and Duxford to the north, Debden and North Weald to the north east and finally Hornchurch to the east. Once again the still smoking oil tanks at Pembroke Docks attracted yet more bombs. Despite the poor weather the balloon barrage at Dover was once more attacked as were the airfields at West Malling, Manston and East church. Even with a dozen fighter squadrons being scrambled few conclusive engagements took place, Despite flying a total of over four hundred sorties, on what was considered by the controllers a quite day only eight enemy aircraft were destroyed for the loss of two.

    The night was one of the quietest for a long time with just a few single intruders off the south west coast. Here the PPI/RDF stations at Newford, Tkeleaver, Salcombe and Exminster working with the Beufighter NF’s based at Filton finally manged to vector several fighters onto any intruder that strayed high enough to appear above the ground/sea clutter on the PPI screens. Of the three successful interceptions that night one was confirmed as a kill when the burning enemy aircraft was observed to hit the sea off Start Point light house, the other two could only be listed as a probable and a damaged.



    Wednesday August the 21st. (1)

    Day Small raids in the east and south. Targets airfields.

    Night Slight activity, some in Scotland.

    Weather Cloudy, Occasional rain.



    The continuing inclement weather precluded the Luftwaffe from staging any large scale attacks but nuisance raids of single aircraft or small formations were staged. Principle targets airfields in a swath from Cornwall all the way round the south and south-east England as far north as Coltishall in East Anglia. Concurrently feints or raids were also wide spread with Pembroke in west wales being the most north-westerly target and Grimsby being the furthest north-east. These divers raids in the prevailing weather conditions were extremely difficult to counter but during the day Fighter Command downed no less than sixteen enemy aircraft for the loss on one in a total of around six hundred sorties.

    The night saw relatively few intrusions or attacks by the Luftwaffe.



    Thursday August the 22nd

    Day Shipping reconnaissance and attacks on two channel convoys.

    Night Increased activity. Industrial Targets in Midlands, north and west. Minelaying

    Weather Cloudy and squally. (1)

    The convoy ‘Totem’ in the Dover Straits reported being bomb at nine o’clock, this turned out however to be shell fire from the newly established German batteries at Cape Gris Nez. In an hour and twenty minutes a hundred rounds were observed without a single hit or in fact any material damage to the convoy. With the guns proving ineffectual the Luftwaffe had a go at the convoy around one o’clock. Eleven group responded with two squadrons that successfully drove the attackers off. The rest of the day was quite until the early evening Dover and Manston were again struck by low level hit and run attacks.

    Once again despite the inclement weather Fighter Command flew over five hundred sorties with disappointing results only down six enemy aircraft whilst losing four of their own.

    The night sky was busy with Luftwaffe bomber flying their now familiar nuisance and diversion raids. Filton was attacked and the Bristol works damaged. The night fighters despite the difficult conditions continue to exact a slow but steady toll of the raiders.



    Friday August the 23rd

    Day Single raids in the south. Reconnaissance.

    Night Main Targets South Wales.

    Weather Showers and bright intervals. Cloud in Straits, Channel and Estuary.(1)

    With the continuing rain and cloud air activity was confined to small scale but wide spread attacks. Several attacks were made on metropolitan London with some of the raiders being forced to jettison their bomb loads over the suburbs as they tried to escape attack from RAF fighters. Once again Fighter Command flew almost five hundred sorties, definitely destroying six enemy aircraft and damaging a dozen more. This low level od success of only about one percent of sorties resulting in the destruction of an enemy aircraft with maybe a further two percent of sorties resulting in damage to the enemy might seam very low to the casual observer, or those hunkered down in a shelter but was actually a remarkable achievement in the prevailing conditions.

    The night again saw the Luftwaffe once more attacking South Wales and the midlands. As on the previous night the night-fighters managed to score a few success despite the conditions favouring the intruders.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.17 More Noise Off (and Conflict On) The Ground
  • 10. 17 More noise of and conflict on the ground.

    On the ‘other side of the Hill’ the Luftwaffe was taking stock. Goering had reason to be concerned despite what the propaganda might say in the period from and including the 15th to 18th of August had lost no less than 200 aircraft and crew. That was an average of fifty a day, a loss level that could not be sustained for long. The estimates of the losses to the RAF particularly in fighters was predicting a collapse in the defence with just one more big push. On the 19th of August Goering had held another conference at Karinhall.

    At this meeting of the Fighter leaders Goring made the following statement regarding the Luftwaffes intentions:

    ‘Until further notice the main task of the Luftflotten 2 and 3 will be to inflict the Utmost Damage possible on the enemy fighter forces. With this are to be combined attacks on the ground organisation of the enemy bombers conducted, however, in such a manner as to avoid all unnecessary losses’ (1)

    Goering blamed the rising bomber losses on a ‘lack of offensive spirit’ on behalf of the fighter escorts. This ignored the failure of the Me 110 in the escort role (in fact the Me110’s needed their own fighter escort) and the severe limitations put on the escorting Me 109’s by their very restricted range. Once again Goering was laying the blame on the operational units rather than the Luftwaffe higher command and their planning staff. To counter this dressing down Goering promoted two of the new generation of ‘Ace’ pilots to each command a fighter Gruppe. So it was that Molders and Galland would return to France with even more weight on their shoulders. With the remains of Luftflotte five arriving in France from Scandinavia, the decision was taken to move all the short range fighters currently with Luftflotte 2 into the Pas de Calais. To increase the pressure on the RAF when conditions were suitable single aircraft would carryout hit and run disruption attacks on both airfields and aircraft production facilities.





    Near midnight on Friday the 23rd of August Sir Phillip had returned to the Air Ministry from a late sitting in the House (of Parliament) in a foul mood, having a Squadron Leader disobeying the instruction of the sector controller was bad enough but for Sir Phillip to be bearded on the matter in the lobby of parliament by an MP was just to much. The MP was a serving officer in the RAF and happened to be the Squadron Adjutant of the Squadron Leader in question and that he should presume that he could use his privileged position as an MP to influence the outcome of a possible court-martial was beyond the pale. The fact that Flight Leader Peter Macdonald, the MP in question had worked with Sir Phillip as his parliamentary private secretary for over a year in the late 1920’s just made the presumption worse.

    As if this was not bad enough, to add insult to injury Sir Philip had spotted Peter Macdonald in deep discussion with another MP in the lobby of the House, a certain Harold Balfour, who as the Under-Secretary of State for Air should have owed his loyalty to Sir Phillip and the Air Ministry, and not be conspiring to undermine the discipline of the RAF by supporting a fellow MP in trying to protect a mutinous officer.

    Well Sir Phillip had informed Peter Macdonald in no uncertain terms that the charges faced by the Squadron Leader were a matter for his commanding officer and Sir Phillip had no mandate to interfere. The fact that Balfour was playing politics at this time of national crises had really got Sir Phillip riled. Even with the needs to keep the peace within the Wartime Coalition government a quick word in Churchills ear as they sat on the front bench in the House had sufficed and Balfour would be out of the AM by the morning.
    As for Peter Macdonald, who’s nick name of ‘Boozey Mac’ was well earned , well there was a requirement for good administrators and squadron officers in the far east at the moment. A quick word with the chief whip had got Peter Macdonald paired with another MP from the Labour party who was also being sent overseas so that particular problem had been resolved. Now it was up to Sir Keith Parks and Sir Hugh Dowding to deal with Squadron leader Bader.

    Here the Commanders of Fighter Command had a dilemma, The whole defence system constructed by Fighter Command was dependant upon the fighting formations following the instructions of the controllers, That was why it was called ‘Ground Controlled Interception’ and the fighting of the previous weeks had shown beyond all doubt that the system worked. Simple comparison of the outcome of air engagements since the war began where the defending fighters did not have such a system, Poland, The Netherlands, Belguim and France for instance, with the current performance of Fighter Command clearly showed that the system was working. So the breaking of the discipline required for the system to work was a major concern. However was a Court-martial of a charismatic and inspirational Squadron leader in the best interest of the service and the nation.
    Nobody could deny Bader’s fighting spirit and that he had revitalised 242 Squadron since he had taken command. Removing their commanding Officers and court-martialling him would in all likelihood shatter that squadrons moral and render it a liability rather than an asset to Fighter Command which would be counter productive. At this point in the battle every squadron and every skilled pilot was invaluable. So what to do, that was a question that had been vexing Sir Keith Park as Bader’s Group Commander. His solution was simple, after Bader was given a dressing down at Uxbridge which had rattled the windows in Stanmore, he was temporarily assigned to be an assistant controller at Eleven Group's underground control room. Sir Keith hoped that looking at the other side of the mirror might give Bader a chance to reflect and reform his views on modern fighter combat. Hopefully when he returned to Squadron service he would follow orders. If not Sir Keith had made it quite clear that Douglass Bader would face full weight of a wartime court-martial. Meanwhile 242 squadron were assigned another commanding officer.

    Park did not need distractions like bloody Bader, he had enough problems trying to preserve his command and the defeat the German attacks to that end with the weather lull Sir Keith took the opportunity to issue his instruction number four to his controllers to take account of the changing situation. This instruction was intended to reinforce the policy that every attack from the Luftwaffe would be opposed and no target would be bombed with impunity so it read:

    (A) Despatch fighters to engage large enemy formations over land or within gliding distance of the coast. During the next two or three weks we cannot afford to lose pilots through forced landings in the sea. (Protection of all convoys and shipping in the Thames Estuary are excluded from this paragraph.)

    (B) Avoid sending fighters over the sea to chase reconnaissance aircraft or small formations of enemy fighters.

    (C) Despatch pairs of fighters under PPI/GC to intercept single reconnaissance aircraft that come inland. If clouds are favourable, put a patrol of one or two fighters over an aerodrome which the enemy aircraft are approaching in clouds.

    (D) Against mass attacks coming inland despatch a minimum number of squadrons to engage enemy fighters. Our main object is to engage enemy bombers, particularly those approaching under the lowest cloud layer.

    (E) If all our squadrons around London are off the ground engaging enemy mass attacks, ask No. 12 Group or command controllers to provide squadrons to patrol aerodromes, Duxford, Debden, North Weald, Hornchurch.

    (F) If heavy attacks have crossed the coast and are proceeding towards aerodromes, put a squadron, or even the sector training flight, to patrol under clods over each sector aerodrome.(2)



    These instructions were intended to afford as much protection as was possible to the vital sector stations and to account for the changing enemy tactics. If the Luftwaffe changed its operations again then Park would have to adapt his defence to counter them. What the Luftwaffe would do next once the weather cleared was a major concern for all.

    (1) Quoted verbatim from OTL as in ‘The Narrow Margin’ page 177.

    (2) Adapted from OTL as in the ‘Narrow Margin’.
     
    10.18 Working To Keep A Step Ahead
  • 10.18. working to keep a step ahead.

    There was no way that Sir Phillip could keep up with everything happening in the AM and the RAF, that is why he had a trusted staff who drew his attention to certain items and quietly dealt with others. The work being done by the RDF Boffins was a case in point. Getting the information from the CH, CHL and now the CHUL as well as the PPI/GCI stations through the filter room at Stanmore and out to the Group HQ plotting rooms had become a problem and had been recognised as such, the first fix to this overloading problem additional Filter rooms at Group level and to have data sent directly to a group filter room at their Headquarters, leaving Stanmore to only handle the big picture. With the plotting table at each of the group head quarters being linked on an open line to the Stanmore plotting room information could flow both ways keeping every bodies plots up to date and synchronised.

    Even with this diversification the Group filter rooms could be swamped by the mass of observations coming in and the spoofing and feinting of the enemy formations. Here the GCI/PPI had come into their own. With the advent in mid 1940 of the ‘Skiatron’, this being a horizontal plan position indicator scope with a glass plotting screen on top mounted in a table. This permitted several operators clustered around it to read information of the screen in real time and to china graph tracks straight on to the ‘table’ thereby providing much faster plots to the control rooms. Unfortunately height find was very difficult with the early GCI system due to the small size of the antenna in relationship to the wavelength limiting the sensitivity in the vertical plane. This would not be solved until the advent of centric wavelength systems but was mitigated by the introduction of height finding receiver aerials on some sites.

    Inter service co-operation with all three service separate research centres, the A M’s Air Defence Research and Development Establishment at Cheltenham being the host centre with the Armies Telecommunications Research Establishment at Worthy Down and the Royal Naval Signal School at Gosport was fundamental to maximising the advantages of all the diverse developments. A case in point here was the integration of a RN aerial system with the Coast Defence RDF installation to form a back up system to CH and CH L. When Ventnor CH was virtually destroyed by dive bombing it left the potential of a critical gap in the southern defence line covering the RN naval base and dock yard at Portsmouth, despite the chain home low stations at Bembridge and Freshwater Highdown . Some bright spark at the RNSS at Gosport realised that the use of the new shipboard air search aerial that had just finish trials, linked to the send and receiving set of the coastal defence surface search and ranging RDF unit adapted for the purpose could quickly give an RDF system capable of detecting targets up to seventy miles at medium and high altitudes. Aerial systems were quickly fabricated and transported to the Coastal Batteries at Culver and the Needles where a simple input lead switch permitted changing from the air search aerial to the sea search aerial if required. Later each battery would get two separate sets for simultaneous operation. It was at Culver that the CD/RDF system now named, Chain Home High/Low Mobile (mobile in so far as it needed no huge masts and could in theory be dismantled and moved to a new location) was first used with a PPI display to successfully track a mine laying aircraft though both range and height finding were limited by the ground clutter inherent in the use of the 1.5m wave length.

    With the advent of the Magnatron there was the prospect of centimetric wavelength RDF systems which would have the definition to cut through and mitigate ground clutter. Unfortunately such sets were at least a couple of years in the future in the summer of 1940 and a system capable of tracking a Ultra low level was required not late but now. So in keeping with Watson Watt’s old maxim of ‘second best now’ the boffins had cast around all the available kit to see what could be produced quickly and perform better than the current systems. This was a continuation of the process that had so quickly produced the 1.5m wave band short range CH H/L M detailed above.

    What was causing excitement in the RDF research community was the performance of GEC’s 0.25m band system. Two scientists with the TRE, Dr Bernard Lovell recruited from Manchester University and Alan Hodgkin a marine biologist, from Cambridge university had since early 190 been working on a 25cm version of the GEC 50cm RDF system and had been using this 25cm set to investigate Horn and parabolic type transmition and receiver aerials for use in a compact AI system. These very short wave lengths were being generated not by one of the new top secret Magnatrons but by using a specially modified form of the then new VT90 Micropup valve (the spacing between the valves electrodes had been reduced amongst other tweaks) working in pairs in push-pull mode had been developed until it was produce several kWs of transmition power. Using horn aerials about a yard long (unsuitable of aircraft use, but valuable for development of the system) Lovel’s team had a demonstrated a viable 25cm set with a capability of detecting aircraft at altitudes less than two hundred feet and ranges up to fifteen miles. In June Lovel’s team had received the first parabolic aerial of spun aluminium and with the advent of the magnatron had moved on to working on 10cm AI system.

    However Lovel had discussed with Bowen and others the use of the 25cm RDF set and Horn aerials as an ultra low level GCI set. By using one horn in the vertical plain for height finding and another Horizontal one for direction. A team was set up and attached to Lovel’s AI team to develop the 25cm set into a viable UL GCI system with the specific task of tracking mine laying aircraft and detecting low level raiders approaching from seaward. One of the Frist actions of this new team was to canvas all the other teams working on Naval and Army projects, such as gun control RDF, for developments that might help their solve their particular problems. This led in early August to a number of demonstrations of the existing 25cm unit. It was a short summary of the report of these events that finally found it’s way on to Sir Phillip’s desk and kept him reading late into the night. His conclusion was that Fighter Command, using operational research was adapting to the technical challenges posed by the enemy whilst at the same time the scientific community were not only reacting to the needs of the services but trying where possible to be pro-active in proposing new equipment.
     
    10.19 Battle Is Not Only In The Air
  • 10.19. battle is not only in the air,

    Others might speak with awe of how a small number of pilots were fighting to protect the country but Sir Phillip and Sir Archibald Sinclair at MAP were responsible for the tens of thousands who toiled daily to produce and preserve the tools required to fight.

    The efforts of the maintenance personnel to keep the aircraft flying through the battle was remarkable and Sir Phillip was keen that their efforts were marked and appreciated. Therefore the RAF film unit and the news reel cameras of the Pathe Company were encourage to document their work.

    Also station Commanders were encouraged to commend ground personnel for their efforts and accelerate promotion where deserved. The work of the Civilian Repair Organisation was also of great importance in maintaining the supply of aircraft to the fighting Squadrons. Ferrying the aircraft to and from the active airfields was the task of the Air Transport Axillaries (ATS). This civilian organisation utilised pilots who for various reasons, of age, gender, disability or possible all three, who were not eligible for service in the armed forces. This remarkable group of pilots who turned the initials ATA into two alternatives titles of “Ancient and Tattered Airmen” due to their physical attributes and alternatively “Any Thing Anywhere” because they flew unarmed aircraft often without radios or navigation aids through all kinds of weather and into sectors where raids were still in progress. Again recording and publicising the work of the ATA had been undertaken to boost moral and to show the general public the efforts being made in their defence by the whole spectrum of society.

    The necessity of the work of all these services had been neatly summed up by the record setting history of a single Spitfire Mk II on the 18th of August. This Aircraft No X4110 was picked up factory fresh that morning by the ATS and flown down Westhampnett near Chichester where it was taken on charge by 602 Squadron. That afternoon in combat over Bognor Regis the aircraft was struck by at least three twenty millimetre cannon shells on the portside between the cockpit and the tail. Whilst the armour plate did its work the Pilot Flight Lieutenant Dunlop Urie still suffered splinter wounds to both feet. Breaking off combat, Urie nursed his crippled spitfire back to Westhamonett where he made a safe, if heavy, landing on the grass runway.

    Upon examination by the Base Maintenance Officer it was found that the cannon shells expotion and splinters had so damage and weakened the Spitfire fuselage that it had broken it’s back on landing and was therefore a structural right off. The Erks were quickly set to stripping the aircraft of all useful and salvageable equipment. This was then inventoried and added to the stock of spares to be used to effect repairs to damaged aircraft that could be done quickly by the Base Maintenance Unit (BMU RAF Tangmere) .

    X4110 now had the unenviable record of the shortest service life of a combat aircraft in the RAF of just twenty five minutes.

    Making sure that there were sufficient replacement aircraft coming from the factories and repair depots was the responsibilities of the MAP under Sir Archibald Sinclair, deciding what aircraft were required in the future was a task for the Air Ministry and the RAF in line with the policies of the Government in the prosecution of their war aims. After the fall of France the MAP was instructed to concentrate on the production of fighters and other aircraft, as to the priorities laid out by the War Cabinet. There had been much angst about the delay to new aircraft types and Sir Phillip had fought hard in the War Cabinet to keep development moving forward. As a direct result of that lobbying not only were the first Avro Manchesters now entering squadron service, the first pre-production Halifax having flown a week earlier despite Bristol’s earlier problems with the Hercules, meaning that a second four engine bomber would be in service by the long winter nights. One conundrum was sorting out the priorities for the available engines. The Tornedo fighter completing preproduction unit trails meant that soon the demand for the Fairey Monarch engine would increase, especially as the FAA’s new Barracuda aircraft used the same engine. So with the Stirling taking four Monarchs and the Manchester two for each aircraft, at the current levels of production their would by the spring be a shortage of engines and a backlog of airframes of all types. Whist the MAP and Fairey Aviation were working to increase engine supplies, other solutions would need to be found. One possible solution had come from Avro’s where Roy Chadwick and his team had been working on a four Merlin engine development of the Manchester. Hives at Rolls Royce had discussed this with both Avro’s and the Air Ministry and reassured them that with the new production capacity flowing from the factories at Crew and Glasgow there would be sufficient Merlin engines for this new aircraft. Four Merlin X’s had been provided for the prototype and the MAP had sanctioned the start of construction of the protype of what was now being called the Lancaster

    One of the prime arguments had been settled by results of the fighter battles that were still ongoing and that was which fighters were to be continued in production and which replaced by newer designs. Whilst the Spitfire could hold it’s own with even the latest marks of the Me 109, both the Hurricane and the Defiant were struggling in the dogfights and there was not much more performance that could be wrung out of them. Therefore in the near future they would both need to be replaced, at least in Fighter Command. Whilst the newest Spitfire type with the latest Merlin developments would suffice the replacements for the other two types would need to enter production as soon as practicable. At this moment the Hawker Factory at Langely whilst churning out Hurricanes as fast as possible was also finalising and fabricating the jigs for mass production of the Tornedo. These were being used by those who would spearhead the production teams to learn how to build the aircraft. Whilst the wings of the new aircraft were not that different in construction to the all metal wings of the Hurricane the all metal fuselage was completely different. The Tornedo fuselage construction was of alloy frames with a stressed metal skin rather than the tubular skeleton and canvas covered construction of the Hurricanes and so new skills and methods had to be learnt. Those Tornedos so far completed to service standard were being held at Langley and used for trials, testing and training purposes, so that when the Tornado entered squadron service it would be a mature aircraft with as many flying and maintenance bugs worked out as possible.


    Both the prototype of the new De Haviland twin engined wooden bomber and the top secret Whittle engined version of the Westland fighter had flown for the first time in recent weeks. Both occasions that Sir Phillip had missed but he had subsequently witnessed the two aircraft in flight. Both off them had left a deep impression on Sir Phillip and had suprised him with not only there performance but also their sheer beauty in flight. He had thought to himself that if they fought half as well as they flew then the RAF had a couple of aircraft coming along which would set the standard for years to come.
     
    10.20 The Luftwaffe Pump In The Pressure. Targeting More Sector Stations
  • 10.20. The Luftwaffe pile in the pressure. Targeting more sector stations.

    August the 24th

    Day Airfield Attacks in south-east. Heavy Raid on Portsmouth. Manston evacuated.

    Night Heavier attacks, widely spaced targets. Minelaying.

    Weather Fine and clear in south. Drizzle in north. (1)

    The Weather forecasters had promised an improvement in the weather for the morning and as the sun rose they were proved correct and in the Headquarters and Group control rooms the entire staff braced themselves for the onslaught they expected to commence any moment. They did not have long to wait, by nine in the morning the cathode ray tubes at the southern CH stations were starting to dance with electronic echoes. Flying in steps from twelve to twenty four thousand feet this first raid comprising over ono hundred aircraft left Cap Gris Nez on course for dover a little over twenty miles away. Two sub formations broke off to attack Dover itself from the North. The Uxbridge controllers committed no less than eleven of Eleven Groups squadrons to oppose the raid, by eleven Am the last of the raiders were flying or fleeing towards France.

    There was a short respite, just enough time for Eleven Group aircraft to land, refuel and re-arm in what the pilots were calling a ‘Grand Prix Pit Stop’ before the next German raid appeared. At one o’clock this next raid headed for Manston again with a number of feints to try and draw of the RAF fighters. Today it was the turn of 152 Squadron from Hornchurch to be forward based at Manston and they had barely finished their pitstop when they were scrambled again only just clearing the field before bombs were exploding across it once more. However 603 Squadron from Biggin Hill, already airborne had been vectored over to the raid and had managed to engage the defensive escort of Me109’s. Unmolested by fighters 152 Squadron clawed for height and started to engage the bombers. Despite the interceptions by several Squadrons, with the heavy escort of Me109’s, they had been unable to prevent the bombers form attacking their targets. In exchange for more serious damage to Manston the Germans were driven back with the loss of six bomber and three fighters. The RAF lost one aircraft with it’s pilot safe and several other fighters damages with one of those pilots suffering superficial wounds.

    By three thirty another raid was observed forming up over Le Havre. Once again this large raid was destined to bomb Manston and Ramsgate. Manston having suffered loss of communications after the morning raid was basically devastated with hardly an intact building left standing, services wrecked and the airfield strewed with a deadly combination of craters and unexploded bombs.

    After the morning raid 152 Squadron had been recalled to Hawkinge so after their lucky escape were spared the carnage of the afternoon attack. Part of the attacking force had broken off and targeted the small grass landing field at nearby Ramsgate. More damage was done to the town than the airfield. As ever plumes of smoke and swaying parachutes marked the battle area as attackers withdrew across the channel and RAF controllers urgently recalled eager young fighter pilots determined to finish of their fleeing targets.

    Whilst Eleven Group were engrossed in defending the Kentish coast. Another bomber formation skirted around the air battel over Kent and used the defensive gap provided by the Thanes Estuary to attack Hornchurch sector station just to the north of the river. Scrambled hastily once more 152 squadron clawed for height. Help was on its way. Whilst 242 Squadron from Twelve Group at Coltishall was scrambled with explicit instructions to orbit over Debden and protect the sector station. The four PAC squadrons at Duxford and Debden had been scrambled on mass to defend Hornchurch. 306 and 308 squadron taking off from Debden simply climbed straight into an attack on the bomber formation. Taking on the close escort and tempting the high escort to dive in.

    Flying from Duxford 302 and 303 Squadrons had a little more room to manoeuvre in hand to gain height before joining the fray. 302 Squadron went for the remains of the high escort whilst 303 squadron joyously dived after those Me 109’s of the top escort who had been lured down. Soon the whole area around Hornchurch was one massive dog fight as 152 Squadron were directed over the Thames estuary to cut of the German formations line of retreat.

    Squadron Leader Kellet flying with 302 Squadron would describe in awe the ferociousness of the Polish pilots who would fly in so close to the enemy that they could not miss and their cannons would tear the enemy aircraft apart. This tactic whilst ensuring a kill did result in a large number of the Polish aircraft being damaged by the defensive fire of the bombers. Under this onslaught the German formation beat a retreat toward the airfields in France and Holland running the gauntlet of the spitfires of 152 squadron waiting to pounce over the Thames Estuary. Despite this onslaught a section of the German formation consisting of nearly fifty Dorniers and He 111’s with an escort of Me 110’s managed to bomb North Weald sector station, nearly two hundred bombs descended onto the station causing considerable damage and casualties. The relief in Squadron Leader Douglas Bader’s voice when he as the controller had sent 252 squadron in to defend North Weald was almost discernible over the radio, though he would later complain that he should have been able to get them there earlier. Whilst London again heard the wail of the air raid sirens as the Eleven Group sector stations to the east were attacked yet another Luftwaffe attack was on its way.

    Flying form their bases north of the Somme over one hundred aircraft from Luftflotte Three formed up and headed north west towards Sellsey Bill and Spithead. With Ventnor CH still out of action the detection in this sector was reliant upon the Poling CH station to the east and the CHL at St Boniface Down with the extemporised CD/Navy RDF units at Culver and the Needles that were still working up to provide better coverage to the east and west of the island. Whether by luck or design this raid manage to hit the long range detection gap to the west of Poling CH and was not identified as a significant raid until it was quite close to the coast. Later operational research would subscribe to the theory that at the time the filter room and plotting table at Uxbridge were suffering from an overload of information as well as concentrating on the attacks to eastern part of the Groups area of operations. Whatever the root cause might have been the result was that the fighter squadrons were scrambled to late to make an effective interception. 601 Squadron were still climbing to the attack from Westhampnett as the raiding aircraft enter the Portsmouth AA box. Despite this the Hurricane continued their attack to try and disrupt the bombers. This assault resulted in the bombers scattering their loads all over the city rather than obtaining a concentrated attack on the naval dock yard. There were over one hundred civilian casualties in the city. This overwhelmed the cities hospitals and some casualties were ferried by naval pinnaces and launches to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar on the Gosport side of the Harbour. 1 RCAF Squadron sent from Middle Wallop in Ten Group arrived just in time to harass the bombers as they turned south over the Isle of Wight to return to their bases.

    In the battle on this crucial day Fighter Command flew over one thousand daylight sorties, principally in the southern region covered by Ten, Eleven and Twelve Groups. Twenty two fighters were lost by Fighter Command during these sorties whilst over one hundred and twenty enemy aircraft were claimed (post war records would show that the Luftwaffe actually lost fifty six aircraft in the day time battle that day)

    In keeping with the day time effort that night saw over one hundred intruders ranging widely all over the country. On one occasion during the night every one of the twenty eight mainland GCI stations south of the border with Scotland was simultaneously actively engaged in at least one interception. Between dusk and dawn no less than twenty one kills were claimed by the night fighter force. Later no less than thirteen of these were confirmed beyond any doubt by the location of wreckage. This amounted to eight percent of the intruder force and represented the highest kill ratio yet. The ten active night fighter squadrons in Fighter Command had for the first time flown one hundred sorties in a single night.

    Not since the end of the Gotha raids in 1918 had the City of London been hit by bombs but tonight fires burn in the city and many of the surrounding boroughs.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.21 The Losses Mount To Critical Levels
  • 10.21.The Losses mount to Critical levels.

    August the 26th

    Day Airfields in Kent and Essex attacked. Bombs on Dover and Folkstone. Raids in the Solent.

    Night Wide spread raiding, Targets industrial centres and airfields.

    Weather Mainly Cloudy, but dry. Brighter in south but Channel cloudy.



    As daylight pushed the dark of night aside Fighter Command and especially Eleven Group was expecting a renewal of the onslaught on the airfields the cloud cover predicted for the day would be considered favourable by the Luftwaffe High Command. RDF on the other hand especially the growing experience of the GCI/PPI stations in tracking multiple raids irrespective of cloud that obscured the view of the Observer Corps was giving the home defence a force multiplying advantage. Unfortunately the GCI/PPI stations were easily located by electronic direction finding and were vulnerable to attack. RAF High Command and the Air Ministry fully expected the stations in southern England to become a priority target of the Luftwaffe any day now. To counter this, rather than complete the coverage of Scotland and Northern Ireland these PPI/RDF units were being held as spair units to be rushed into replace any GCI/PPI station that was knocked out. Also a number or truly mobile systems were being completed, although they had less range than the permanent version and could handle fewer interceptions, they would suffice as gap fillers in the short term.

    After the usual series of reconnaissance flights the main attack of the morning commenced around eleven o’clock when one hundred and fifty enemy aircraft took the short route to cross the channel at Dover with the main objectives once again being the sector stations at Biggin Hill and Kenley, Eleven Groups counter of seven squadrons was sufficient to break up the attack and send both the bombers and their escort scurrying for the safety of the occupied coast. In the early after noon the Luftwaffe came again this time with various elements gaining height then coalescing into three formation crossing the channel simultaneously, being reported as sixty plus, twenty plus and thirty plus aircraft from bases of KG2 and KG3, whilst some aircraft threatened Dover yet again the main weight of the attack was directed at sector stations of North Weald and Hornchurch. Various small elements diverged from the main raid to cause diversions in east London. Eleven squadrons were scrambled by Eleven Group in response and despite all four of the PAC spitfire squadron throwing themselves pell-mell into the melee the German bomber succeeded in planting over one hundred bombs onto the sector Station at Debden, despite the best efforts of the Controllers to place their squadron in advantageous interception positions. However good the plots from the GCI/PPI stations in cloudy conditions an entire squadron could fly past an enemy formation with out actually seeing it and by the time the plots were seen as divergent rather than closing, the opportunity for an interception had been lost. With the newer VHF radio system at least there were enough channels available to give the controllers discreet communications with each squadron but unfortunately not all squadrons could talk directly to all the squadrons and this could and did on occasion lead to friendly formation attacking each other despite the use of IFF. What the Controllers saw on the plot and what the airborne pilots saw around them did not always correspond.

    The day light raids on this day concluded with a major high altitude attack of one hundred and fifty aircraft on Portsmouth, accompanied by a couple of small diversionary raids attempting to split the defence. Co-ordinating their defensive response eleven group scrambled five squadrons and ten group a further three squadrons. This raid resulted in a protracted and fierce engagement over the Isle of Wight and the waters of the Solent. The bombers from KG55 and their escort were intercepted short of their target and jettisoned most of their bombs into the sea. Within an hour the raid had been turned back but the descending smoke trails and parachutes doting the sky spoke of significant losses to both sides. Once again the pilots of Fighter Command had flown over eight hundred sorties the one engagement over Ports mouth had resulted in two thirds of the entire Fighter Command losses for the day, twenty defending fighters with four pilots dead and no less than twelve wounded to some degree. The Luftwaffe losses totalling fifty aircraft was not sufficient compensation for such a heavy toll.

    The night brought attacks on the Midlands industrial centres with diversionary raids spread far and wide, principally targeting air fields. Despite the cloudy skies the night fighter continued to exact a toll of the intruders.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster



    August the 27th

    Day Reconnaissance chiefly in Portsmouth-Southampton area.

    Night Widespread activity industries and airfields from Lincolnshire to Portsmouth.

    Weather, Central and east England light rain. Some cloud in Channel and haze over Dover straits. (1)

    After the sheer pressure of the two previous days the respite caused by todays weather brought brief if welcome relief to everyone in Fighter Command. Hover there was still work to be done. Very necessary maintenance was undertaken on the RDF stations with some shutting down completely for short periods. These shutdowns had to be as short as possible and seemingly random, for if a pattern was discerned and the enemy could predict an imminent shutdown then a breach in the defence might occur. The lull also gave Sir Keith Parks and Sir Hugh Dowding time to confer and to plan the next moves in the defence of the UK. The continued high rate of pilots loss, greater at current levels than the supply of replacements was of course the most pressing cause for concern, for at the moment it meant that Fighter Command was a wasting asset and eventually would cease to be able to provide a viable defence unless the situation changed. One hope was that the proportionally greater losses inflicted on the Luftwaffe would cause critical damage to it’s ability to prosecute the current campaign strategy before Fighter command lost the battle of defence. One major problem highlighted by the actions of the previous day was the continuing problem of accurately getting the height of enemy formations on cloudy days when observer corps observations were intermittent. Though new dedicated height finding RDF sets were starting to be fielded there were far to few of them at the moment. Where practicable Anti Aircraft command were using their range finding RDF units to provide height data but again in cloudy conditions it was proving problematical to identify formations and get timely information to the plotting centres. To try an improve the information flow Parks issued an instruction that all intercepting squadrons should report the number height and location of an enemy formation when they Gave their ‘Tally Ho’ signal prior to engaging the enemy.

    On the morning of the twenty seventh Douglass Bader had requested an interview with Sir Keith Parks. That afternoon Douglass Bader as humbly as it was possible for him do so requested that he be returned immediately to operational flying stressing the fact that every experienced pilot was needed. Sir Keith upon receiving Bader’s request for an interview had sought the opinions of the controllers he had been working with at Uxbridge, specifically if Bader seemed to have learnt how vital it was for the controllers to be obeyed. The response was a qualified yes, Bader however had remained critical of the instructions being given by some Controllers, who he thought lacked a grasp of the tactical element of interception process. However on talking about this to Bader, Sir Keith was pleasantly surprised to hear from the Squadron Leader that he could see that, the controllers instructions had to be followed explicitly, as the controller could see the bigger picture and most importantly the relative movement of all the defending fighters. Sir Keith agreed to return Squadron Leader Douglass Bader to the command of 242 Squadron with a dire warning that a breach of the trust being placed in him by Sir Keith would not be tolerated at all, there would be no second chance.
     
    10.22 The Battle Becomes A Test Of Resources And Tactics
  • 10.22, The battle Becomes a Test of Resources and Tatics

    Day; Airfield attacks, Kent, Essex and Suffolk in three phases.

    Night; First Major attack Wednesday August the 28th

    on Liverpool. 150 bombers. Harassing attacks Midlands, north-east coast and London.

    Weather; Fine and fair. Cold. Cloud in Dover Straits. (1)



    Down in the underground control rooms at both Uxbridge and Stanmore the days activity started earlier than on some other days when enemy formations were detected over Cap Gris Nez at eight thirty in the morning. The RDF stations were soon reporting one hundred plus aircraft in the raid. As it approached Dover the raid split and headed for two separate targets, one was the fighter airfield at Rochford and the other was the Maritime Command airfield at Eastchurch. Four fighter squadrons were scrambled by Eleven Group to intercept these raids. It was only as the two raids were sighted by the fighters that it became apparent that with just ten bombers heading for Eastchurch and twenty seven heading for Rochford that the bulk of the raid consisted of the Me 109s. Fighting at odds the four fighter squadrons were unable to get past the defending Me 109’s and the bombers managed to hit both targets. At East Church Maritime Command lost two De Haviland Flamingo Maritime Patrol Aircraft on the ground to bomb damage and once again the airfield was cratered but remained operational. Even as the last remains of this raid retreated off the edge of the plot table another raid was forming over Calais.

    Once again the target was the airfield at Rochford near Southend. Thirteen squadrons were scrambled to counter this attack. The observer corps had reported the formation was again composed of more fighters than bombers. Despite the commitment of so many aircraft by Fighter Command comparably few fighters broke through the escort to get to the bombers. Over thirty bombs hit the airfield but once again no serious damage was done and the airfield though battered remained open.

    The next attack was in the form of large fighter sweeps coming in over Kent and the Thames Estuary. Here there was a breakdown in communication and Parks instruction that combat with enemy fighter formations was to be avoided was not followed and all the seven squadron sent to counter the attack suffered casualties. That brought the days confrontations to an end with the RAF losses of twenty fighters only being two less than the Luftwaffe losses of Me 109’s. This loss ratio was improved by the fourteen enemy bombers that failed to return safely to their bases.

    The night saw the first concerted large scale attack on the docks at Liverpool. Some one hundred and fifty bomber aircraft were involved in this attack, whilst diversionary attacks, often of only a single bomber were made against Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Coventry, Manchester and Derby. No 80 wing aircraft flying that evening had detected the German navigation beams but this could only give the axis of the attack as they crossed several potential targets. However it did enable the Night Fighter force to concentrate on the track of the main raid. No less than twelve of the GCI/PPI stations were able to direct fighters into the main attack.

    Here the Fighter Command plot table at Bentley Priory became vital in coordinating the various sorties so that the RAF Night Fighters did not clash with their own. At one time so many night fighters were in the area covered by the PPI station at Rack Green that the IFF signals almost blanked out the screens. This was due to aircraft under the control of the neighbouring PPI sites at Trewan Sands, St Annes and Conberton also being in the area covered by Rack Green. Whilst this situation lasted a very short period it raised some very important questions for the Operational research teams. Slightly earlier the four Coastal GCI/PPI stations between Bournemouth and Dover had ceased directing individual night fighters but had instructed them use their RDF 1.5 sets to get close enough to the bomber stream for their RDF.2 sets to get a return. The four coastal stations giving a running commentary to the fighters on their frequencies as to the height location and speed of the main enemy formations. The afteraction analysis of this approach to countering mass night attacks would go a long way to formulating fighter commands response to a large scale night assault. Despite this being the largest night fighter effort to date Liverpool and Birkenhead were badly bombed. With the increased number of GCI/PPI stations now operational the air raid warning system run from Fighter Command HQ was no longer so dependant on the Observer Corps for tracking raids. air raid warnings were issued to indicate three levels of threat from Yellow as a preliminary, Purple, raid approaching douse all working lights etc. Red, Sound Sirens. The Issuing of Purple alerts was very disrupting to the works of docks and marshalling yards that really did require task lighting. So getting the threat level right and issuing timely warning was an important task, now made easier by the almost real time tracking of the bombing raids across the country achieved by the GCI/PPI network.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster





    August the 29th

    Day; Quiet morning. Airfield attacks in south and south-east in afternoon.

    Night; Liverpool again attacked; diversions in the midlands.

    Weather; showers and bright interval. Channel and Straits cloudy. (1)

    The lack of air activity in the morning was a welcome respite after such a busy and frenzied night. At mid-afternoon as the day brightened Luftflotte Two put up three large fighter sweeps, starting to cross the channel from Cape Gris Ness, Boulogne and the mouth of the Somme. The response to these large formations was again the scrambling of thirteen squadrons from Eleven Group. However to day the Squadrons largely obeyed the instructions issued by Parks on the 19th of August that combat should not be engaged solely with fighter formations. The sense of this instruction becomes apparent when later the Luftwaffe records became available it was shown that these sweeps comprised some five hundred and sixty four Me 109’s with an additional one hundred and fifty nine Me 110’s also taking part, this was some what greater that the RAF estimates of four hundred and fifty given on the day. The RAF figure meant that the thirteen squadrons from Eleven Group were facing more than twice their number whilst in reality the odds were actually over three to one. This refusal to engage large enemy fighter formations was in some quarters seen as yielding air superiority to the enemy.

    With the coming of the night Luftflotte Three carried out their second consecutive night of major raids on Liverpool with some one hundred and thirty aircraft bombing the docks and city. The night fighter response was much the same as the previous night but with concerted efforts not to swamp any single GCI/PPI station. Once more the coastal stations used the passive RDF 1.5 sets on the night fighters to try and intercept the raids as they approached the coast. Tonight the stations at Salcombe, Exminster and Sturminster Newton to the west of Bournemouth also employed this tactic.

    The restraint showed by Eleven Group in countering the large enemy fight formations was reflected in the losses for the day. Whilst the RAF losses were restricted to nine aircraft with only three pilots killed the Luftwaffe lost twenty seven aircraft most of which were Me 109’s and 110’s.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.23 The Pounding Of 11 Group Airfields Continues And The Night Skies Are Busy
  • 10.23 the Pounding of 11 Group airfields Continues and the night skies busy.



    August the 30th

    Day; Feint raids on shipping, then heavy attacks on south-eastern airfield. Raid on Luton.

    Night; Main target Liverpool. Single raids over wide area.

    Weather; Fair. Channel and Straits clear. (1)



    Reverting to earlier practice the first raid of the day was on shipping in the Thames Estuary, however this was a feint to draw of fighter cover. At ten thirty a major formation was detected over Cap Gris Nez, flying at fourteen thousand feet, three waves flew over at half hour intervals and totalled over one hundred aircraft. Despite the GCI/PPI stations at Willesborough and Langtoft tracking the raids as they left the French Coast above the cloud cover, that was currently at seven thousand feet, the eleven group controllers at Uxbridge were slow to identify that rather than joining the attack on the shipping in the Thames Estuary the targets were the sector stations in Surrey and Kent.

    To counter this no less than sixteen squadrons were scramble with some squadrons from Twelve Group to the north of London being tasked to provide cover for Biggin Hill, Kenely and Croyden. Due to an error by Uxbridge the squadron guarding Biggin Hill was below the cloud layer at seven thousand feet whilst the bombers high above found a gap and managed to hit the air field sowing the landing ground with delayed action bombs. Even as this raid disappeared back to France another mass attack was observed building to the west of Calais, as this formation of over fifty aircraft crossed the channel it split up into smaller elements to attack a number of airfields at Biggin Hill, Shoreham, Tangmere and Kenley.

    Eight squadrons were tasked to oppose these attacks and most of the bombers were intercepted and driven off before their targets were bombed. Purely by happenstance damage to a main power distribution station had cut the power the CH and CHL stations at Beachy Head, Whitstable, Fairlight, Foreness, Rye, Pevensey and Dover. These stations unlike the GCI/PPI stations did not have their own generators and a huge gap was created in the long range detection system at a crucial time. The GCI/PPI stations and those Coastal Defence RDF stations that had been modified could continue to detect raids but as their range was less than half that of the CH/CHL stations the warning times were much shorter and the task of intercepting before the targets were bombed became far more difficult.

    As this latest round of raids faded from the screens around half past four in the afternoon yet another raid crossed the coast at Dover, several waves of aircraft headed to attack Kenley, North Weald, Slough (Hawkers at Langley being the probable target), Oxford and Biggin Hill yet again. Over forty bombs hit the airfield at Detling causing major damage by destroying buildings, setting fire to fuel stores and cratering the runways. The estimate was that the airfield could be made operational again by the following morning. The worst attack of the day came on the back of this raid when around six o’clock a small raid of ten bombers out foxed the defences by flying low up the Thames Estuary before cutting south to carry out a low level bombing attack on Biggin Hill. Compared to the attacks suffered by this station over the previous days this one was small but its effects were disastrous. The one thousand pound bombs destroyed the armoury, hangers, stores, barracks and workshops The met office was blown to pieces and the water, power and gas lines all cut, the telecommunications line were also cut in three different locations on or north of the airfield. Casualties were high, with thirty nine killed and a further twenty six injured. Despite all of this damage Biggin Hill continued to land, service and send aircraft off.

    As the sun sunk below the horizon in the west Fighter command started to count the cost of the days endeavours. The RAF had again flown over one thousand defensive sorties whilst recording over fourteen hundred enemy ones. The RAF losses were twenty five aircraft whilst the Luftwaffe lost forty. The ratio was not high enough in favour of the RAF and Dowding and the other commanders were aware of this, the only saving grace was that of the twenty five RAF pilots shot down no less than seventeen of the pilots had survived.

    As the darkness deepened the aircraft of Luftflotte three took to the night sky again with Liverpool as their primary target. Tonight’s raids headed north crossing the coast to the west of the Isle of Wight. If the leaders of Luftflotte Three thought there would be a weaker defence to the west of London they were mistaken, though there was still a gap in the GCI/PPI RDF coverage in mid-Wales the bombers heading for Liverpool again had to contend with night fighters under the control of no less than ten GCI/PPI stations. Single aircraft on diversionary missions meant that far more stations than this had an active night. It was quickly noted early in the night that single or pairs of aircraft were attacking those airfields already targeted during the daylight raids. Over night, Calshot, Rochfort, Northweald, Biggin Hill, Hornchurch, Thorny Island, Debden and Detling all had unwanted visitors these raids had the hall marks of nuisance raids intended to wear out the defendants as well as delay and disrupt the repair and recovery work.


    August the 31st

    Day; Fighter Commands Heaviest losses. South-east and eastern air fields again main targets.

    Night; Heavy raid on Liverpool. Light attacks from north-east coast to Portsmouth.

    Weather; Mainly fair. Haze in Estuary and Straits. (1)

    If the previous day had seemed a hard struggle then today would prove the lie, from eight in the morning the attacks came in never ending waves. The day started with a sweep of Me 109’s destroying all the balloons at Dover. This Attack by Me 109’s was followed by waves of bombers with heavy fighter escorts once again targeting airfields when Duxford and Debden and North Weald were the principle targets. Despite the four PAC squadrons engaging both the escort and bombers with their now customary total disregard for danger or convention, still over one hundred bombs struck Debden causing major damage. Whilst the PAC was thus engaged Duxford was saved from a similar fate by the timely intervention of 137 Squadrons from Wittering in twelve Group who swooped into the attack from altitude, diving through the high escort, only firing at targets of opportunity before slashing through the bomber force and climbing hard for a second pass.

    Within the hour another one hundred plus aircraft raid crossed from Calais attacking Eastchurch again and also heavily strafing Detling as well. Just after noon a third attack was detected approaching Dungeness, consisting again of one hundred plus aircraft this raid split into two separate components as it crossed the English coast. Half headed for Biggin Hill and Croydon. Biggin hill was bombed from high altitude, once again the airfield was heavily hit and much of the repairs carried out since the previous days raid negated. To split the defences the simultaneous raid on Croydon was carried out at less than two thousand feet by a dozen bombers, doing considerable further damage. Again Biggin Hill lost all it’s communications as the lines were cut once more.

    The second half of the raid had headed for Hornchurch, all three squadrons at Hornchurch had been scrambled, both 602 and 74 squadron were able to get off in time but 152 squadron were still refuelling and rearming. The last flight of four spitfire were caught on the ground as the bombs began to fall and all the aircraft written off, fortunately despite some hair raising experiences, including one spitfire being blown upside down as it took off and another having a wing sheered cleanly off on it’s take off run, all the pilots survived relatively unscathed. Under the cover of these two major attacks the Luftwaffe made opportunistic attacks on the Coastal RDF stations between the Thames Estuary and the Isle of Wight. Damage was done to the stations at Whitstable, Foreness, Dunkirk, Rye, Beachy Head and Pevensey. Having effectively punched a hole through the CH and CHL lines these attacks were not followed up and all the stations were returned to service by the following morning.

    Through necessity the entire spectrum of RDF systems developed so far were being adapted and utilised to give redundancy and flexibility within the tracking system. Both AA Command and the Coastal Defences were now reporting air activity to the filter rooms as a matter of routine and their operators were getting as skilled in reading their scopes as their RAF counterparts.

    The days activity was not yet concluded at five thirty a further raid consisting of Ju 88’s accompanied by bomb carrying Me 110’s swept in at low level to hit the south eastern airfields yet again. Among the airfields targeted were both Biggin Hill and Hornchurch, where despite further damage being added to that inflicted earlier both airfields were declared operational by the following morning.

    Nightfall did not bring an end to the onslaught just a change in the modus operandi. Nuisance raids of one to three aircraft were wide spread and the majority of the GCI/PPI stations south of the Scottish border had a busy night. For the fourth consecutive night Birkenhead and Liverpool were the principle targets. For the first time the Fourteen Group Night Fighters based at Banff were staged south to join the Thirteen Group Night Fighters in interdicting aircraft north of a line between Liverpool and London. This was the first time that every available night fighter in the UK flew at least one sortie, a select few actually flew more than one, usually this was because they had to either rearm of refuel.

    One Bisley NF from Ten Group had been scrambled at dusk from Bicester to intercept an intruder from a Luftflotte three base on the Cotin Peninsular approaching the coast at Studland in Dorset. This Bisley was vectored to intercept what was probably a weather fight for the subsequent raids on Liverpool and gave chase from the coast all the way to Liverpool being passed from GCI/PPI station to station along the track. The pursuit was continued as the aircraft turned west across the Irish sea and was only broken off when the enemy aircraft flew beyond the range of the GCI/PPI station at Trewan sands. Despite the Biseley having gained an RDF contact on the intruder it became clear that it was heading for Irish airspace so the pursuit was broken off and the Bisley direct to RAF St Valley to refuel and rearm. The target had been fired at, at long range in an inconclusive engagement. The Bisley crew took off as soon as their aircraft was ready and were vectored onto enemy aircraft over Liverpool. An RDF contact was achieved and the crew began to stalk the intruder as this time it flew east. Managing to maintain contact as the enemy aircraft crossed the Pennine gap in the GCI/PPI network. The enemy aircraft was flying at a speed almost equal to that of the Bisley and eventually the chase was abandoned as the intruder left the RDF coverage of the East Anglian coast.

    Having turned back towards land the Bisley and it’s crew were directed on to another intruder approaching the Essex coast by the GCI/PPI station at Trimley Heath, this enemy aircraft appeared to be heading for London and the plot actually showed that it’s tract would take it directly over Fighter Command headquarters at Stanmore. Once more the Bisley crew obtained an RDF contact and pursuit was joined at full power as the Night Fighter slowly gained on the target aircraft. As the intruder approached Stanmore the Night Fighter Pilot being made aware by the GCI/PPI station at Bourscombe of their location and track decide to engage as soon as the target was in rage so as to interrupt a possible bombing attack. Tracer flashing past the intruders cockpit appeared to have the desired effect at it dived away and threw of the night fighter in contact. Despite losing RDF, the GCI/PPI controller patiently guide the Bisley pilot to regain contact by cutting across the enemy aircrafts curving track, having gained contact again the pursuit continued but this time the Luftwaffe pilot had his throttles fully open and was running for home at a speed the Bisley could hardly match. As the pursuit crossed the coast near the Durrington GCI/PPI station the pursuit was called of and the Bisley Night Fighter instructed to return to base at Bicester.

    On route Near Reading another RDF contact was made and after talking to the GCI/PPI station controller at Boarsombe again the pursuit was on as no IDF signal was forthcoming from the suspect contact. Once more pursuit was joined this time to the south west. Just to the west of the Isle of Wight and south of the Bristol Channel there was a cluster of four overlapping GCI/PPI stations that had spent the entire night tracking the coming and goings of Luftflotte Three as those aircraft headed from their bases in France north to Liverpool and thence south again to France. Now from the East came one intruder hotly pursued by a very frustrated and tired Bisley Night Fighter crew. Despite having no less than four Night Fighters already active in their coverage zone the GCI/PPI station at Cricklade quickly passed those Night Fighters covered by the adjacent stations to the south and west of them, off to those controllers so that Boarscombe could hand their contact and pursuit to them. This event was the culmination of hours of practice and practical experience gained in the proceeding weeks. The coordination between plots required was only possible due to the dedicated open line telephone network installed between all the GCI stations and the sector control rooms.

    On this occasion the transition between stations and continued tracking of the pursuit was achieved but once more the intruder turned towards the coast and ran for home. Frustratingly as the target overflew Bournemouth the range began to open despite the Bisley’s throttles and engines being pushed to the limit. With no other option the Bisley pilot expended his remaining ammunition in a long, long range burst of fire at the receding enemy aircraft. Even as the escaping air from the charging system announced that the Bisley’s ammunition was exhausted, a growing orange glow appeared in the direction of the enemy aircraft. With his engine temperature dangerously high and rising the Bisley pilot throttled back and turned towards the coast. Having landed at Warmwell to refuel, full throttle pursuit really does consume a lot of fuel in a short period the pilot and his RDF operator took off once more to return to their home base at Bicester, arriving there as the sun rose. For all the efforts of the ground controllers, ground crews and the aircrew themselves, a long nights work had resulted in the simple statement, “three enemy aircraft pursued, two engaged, one damaged” and that Bisley crews aircraft carrying the name the ‘Weary Wanderer” painted on the nose from that day on.

    All through the night work had gone on to restore as many of the Eleven group airfields to operational status as possible after the days attack, craters were filled in, fires extinguished and communications restore once more. typical of the unsung heroism of this work was the fate of an unexploded delayed action five hundred pound bomb that had landed on the field at Duxford. This eminent danger was dealt with, with out fuss by connection a one hundred yard long tow rope around the fins of the bomb and using the Concrete encased Armadillo truck to tow the bomb to a secluded part of the airfield boundary where it was quietly left to determine the time of own demise. So August 1940 ended most definitely with a bang and not a whimper in the minds of all at Duxford and indeed within Fighter Command as a whole.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.24 The Air Ministry Never Sleeps
  • 10.24. The Air Ministry never Sleeps.

    Early morning on the first of September found Sir Philip sitting at his Air Ministry desk faced with piles of correspondence, reports, official dockets and myriad other documents. With a cup of tea (lemon, no milk, no sugar) by his righthand Sir Phillip began his mornings work, relying on his sectary and staff to have prioritised the documents for his perusal. Urgent ones requiring signature or alterations all bore red tags as usual.
    Even as he had entered the Air Ministry in the early morning light the pall of smoke down river, hanging over the docks and London’s east end was clearly visible. The bald report and statistics on his desk did little to illustrate the true import of the current battle. Only the previous evening he had had a discussion with the Prime Minister about the conduct of the air defence under Sir Hugh Dowding’s control. Was it being as effective as it could be and were we winning were the two most important questions as far as the Prime Minister was concerned.
    Sir Philip was not sure that Winston had been reassured by his response. Where he basically said that if you believed the German figures then we were losing and they would have air superiority in days not weeks. If the analysis by the Air Ministry and intelligence service was correct then the battle was balanced on a knife edge. If the attacks on the sector stations and the CH/CHL site continued at there current level the defence could just about be sustained. If the Germans avoided attacking airfields of the other Commands and concentrated on the sector stations in the south east, or on the RDF sites alone then Dowding’s carefully crafted system might fail. If pilot losses rose any further then air superiority over the south coast might be lost. Or if any of the major aircraft factories were destroyed then the defence might also be compromised.

    Churchill had asked for a simple explanation as to these conclusions. Sir Philip had explained by stating that.

    Currently, Fighter production and repair was just keeping ahead of the losses.

    Pilot replacements were just about keeping up with current losses but whilst doing so quantitively, quality wise Fighter Command was losing ground as experienced pilots lost were replace by under trained novices.

    Our losses of aircraft and pilots was quantified, those of the Germans were not accurately known. The losses admitted to by the Germans was the lowest known figure. Claims by RAF Pilots were the highest estimate. According to the statisticians the real figure was some where in between and by best statistical estimates was around half of those claimed. Wreck counting and kills confimed by other witnesses where no wreck was available gave figures for German losses greater than those admitted to by German sources and were normally less than but close to half of those claimed. Based on those figures and the estimated Luftwaffe order of battle, then the Luftwaffe losses were judged to be nearing a critical level, only time would tell how long the Luftwaffe could and would sustain both the current level of operations and losses. Sir Phillip had stated quite clearly to the Prime minister that it was not really important that Fighter Command win the current battle it just must not lose it and at this juncture by a slim margin that was being achieved. On the basis that by late September a cross channel invasion would be impractical until the spring Sir Philip had suggested to the Prime Minister that now was the time to set the policy of the Government regarding the prosecution of the Air War for the next six months and longer.

    With those decisions in mind Sir Phillip had been canvassing opinions and expert advice as to the way ahead within the Air Ministry and the RAF. Sir Philip had formed a firm opinion in his own mind as to who should be, at least in the short term appointed as the new CAS and was seeking to build a consensus around that choice.

    Putting those thoughts aside Sir Phillip turned to the file marked RAF Radio Counter Measures Unit. This unit had been formed in early June to bring the airborne electronic intelligence gathering original undertaken by R.V. Jones and other scientists from Bawdsey research station under formal RAF control with RAF serving personnel.

    The officer chosen to command this new unit was Wing Commander Edward Addison, a Great War veteran who had subsequently studied at both Cambridge and the Ecole Superieure d’Electricite in Paris. Before taking on the task of forming RCM Unit Addison had been working as one of the founding officers of No 60 Signals Group that had been formed in March of 1940 as the mother unit of the rapidly expanding RDF systems.
    Amongst the reports was one marked “Secret” this detailed how the use of signals intelligence had identified the Luftwaffe’s KG 100 as a specialised navigation unit using the Knickesbien radio navigation system for night bombing sorties which had been recently diverted onto daylight raids. An aircraft from this unit had been shot down during a raid on Croydon on the 18th of August and though it’s specialised electronic equipment was badly damaged the scientists working at RCMU based in Cheltenham were at least able to identify the use of the equipment and it’s purpose. It was evident that this unit was being used to bomb precision targets through the cloud cover using their Knickesbien system. Later, on the afternoon of the 25th of August another He 111 from KG 100 was shot down during a raid on Pembroke. This time the aircraft was crash landed and the crew were captured before they could destroy any of the electronic equipment. It was the findings of the report By Dr Robert Cockburn, the lead scientist at the TRE in Cheltenham for the RCMU that formed the body of the document Sir Phillip was reading. R.V Jones had added his own notations on the possibility of not just jamming the radio signals used by the Knickesbien system but that a more subtle counter measure it might be possible by broadcasting a synthetic signal that they could lead the Knickesbien using units astray. This idea had been described as “bending the Beams”, the apparatus for doing this was called ‘Aspirin’ as it was seen as a remedy for ‘headache’ which was the code name given to the Knickesbien system. The report ended with a summation of the equipment, both electronic and aircraft, required by the RCMU to continue their shadow war against the Luftwaffe. Sir Phillip drafted a short apedom to be written up for the file with a list of those organisation such as MAP and the MoS who would need to be chivvied up to provide the necessary material and resources.

    Next was a summary from AA command forwarded by Dowding at Fighter Command showing the dispositions of AA guns as of the twenty first of August, also shown were the dispositions of the guns as of the eleventh of July so the changes were easily apparent. Quickly turning to the Fourth AA Division which covered the midlands and the black country Sir Phillip noted that Liverpool currently had fifty six heavy AA guns a rise of four since July. Scanning down the other divisions and districts he could see that only London and Birmingham had a higher number of guns, so there could be no claims that Liverpool was being treated unfairly or left undefended. However asinine it might seem to Sir Phillip as an experienced MP and member of the Government he was only to well aware of the sort of reaction the recent intense nightly attacks on Merseyside could provoke.
    He did notice that Coventry had lost fully one quarter of its AA guns in the same period and noted that the reasoning behind that decision should be checked as he was well aware of how important an arms manufacturing centre the town was. Also it’s proximity to Birmingham, another major industrial target, would seem to be a factor. Birmingham gaining an additional five guns in the same period, a gain of around seven percent, even if these guns were emplaced on the Coventry side of Birmingham, say Solihull and that area it still would not balance the loss over in Coventry. Sir Phillip was well aware that there simply were not enough AA guns to meet the defensive requirements of the country and that this had been exacerbated by the loss of so many 3.7 inch AA guns with the BEF in France. One advantage the Home Defence AA guns had was that not only were they now getting Gun Ranging RDF systems but also they were being linked by telephone to the GCI/PPI station so that they could be given real time tracking on incoming raids, this also helped the GCI/PPI stations as the GR/RDF sets of the AA sites could give them accurate heights of the intruder aircraft. This continued integration of the diverse individual cogs of the air defence system was a process that Sir Phillip though was very important as it crossed interservice boundaries at all levels and helped make everyone feel part of the battle. Well might Winston as Prime Minister eulogise what he called “the Few’ but for Sir Phillip the crux of the current battle would be the performance of the many unsung heroes quietly working in the background.

    Sir Phillip’s work on the papers was disrupted by his customary morning briefing call from Sir High Dowding at Bentley Priory. They quickly covered the events of the pervious day and any actions and changes that were being made, as usual the weather was discussed at length and they both concluded that under the prevailing conditions in all likelyhood today would again see mass attacks from across the channel. The changing tactics and targeting by the Luftwaffe was quickly covered with Sir Phillip being briefed on the latest thinking from Sir Keith Parks in Eleven Group. The call was concluded by a necessarily brief discussion on the progress of the night fighter campaign, especially with regards to the continuing heavy assault on Merseyside.
     
    10.25 Does The Enemy Ever Sleep?
  • 10.25, Does the Enemy ever sleep?

    September 1st

    Day: Four Main Attacks on Fighter Command airfields. Heavy Damage

    Night: Liverpool again, Diversions in Midland and South Wales.

    Weather: Fair with cloud patches in Morning. Fine afternoon. (1)



    The tension at in the underground headquarters at Bentley Priory that morning was evident in all who were present. The waiting for the first plots to appear on the large map tables was almost unbearable. All present were aware of the battering the Eleven Group sector fields had been taken and how fragile the lines of communication were. It was not until nearly ten thirty that morning the activity over the channel was observed and plotted. Initially twenty plus were plotted, then a further thirty plus followed quickly by another plot of over a dozen as the enemy raider gathered. By the time this armada approached Dover it numbered over one hundred and twenty aircraft flying in eleven distinct formations. In response, Park’s controllers at Uxbridge had scrambled no less than fourteen squadrons to intercept. The problems for the Eleven Group Controllers were many fold, if the Germans followed their normal pattern this big formation would fragment as it crossed the coast with individual elements heading for separate targets spread all over south east England. If the enemy formation was not attacked before it scattered then there was a good chance that some elements would avoid interception and have a clear run at their targets.

    This was a like a huge three dimensional game of chess, with move and counter move. In recent days a problem had become evident to Parks, in that due to having had to make so many interceptions at a height disadvantage sector controllers were tending to add a couple of thousand feet to the heights that Uxbridge was giving them for instructing the squadrons to intercept, then on top of this for the same reasoning the squadron formation leaders were themselves adding a couple of thousand feet to the height given to them. This was resulting in delays in aircraft getting to their interception locations and in many cases these delays caused a complete failure to intercept at all. This morning proved a case in point, of the fourteen squadrons vectored onto the large enemy formation approaching Dover only half managed to intercept before the enemy formations split to fly to their assigned targets.

    The seven squadrons that did intercept became embroiled in a series of dogfights with the heavy close escort of Me 109’s and very few got through to the bombers. Now the controllers at Uxbridge were left scrambling to intercept the individual raid elements before they dropped their bombs on target. Here the four GCI/PPI stations in the south east really showed their mettle, Uxbridge handing direct control of all seven un-engaged squadrons to the GCI/PPI controllers whilst the sector controllers continued to co-ordinate the seven squadrons already in contact. The German formations were tracked by the GCI/PPI stations as they headed for their targets which quickly became apparent as being, Biggin Hill, Eastchurch, Tilbury docks and Detling.

    Despite their best efforts once more Biggin Hill was heavily bombed by a formation of Dorniers flying at twelve thousand feet, which were only intercepted after they had completed their bombing run, At Tilbury the Poles faired better arriving in time for the two squadrons from Duxford to attack the German bombers head on, having dived down on them with both height and speed. The German formation scattered in disarray doing little damage to the docks. Detling was not so fortunate, the two Polish squadrons from Debden only arriving as the bombs fell, however the attackers paid a heavy price for their presumption as one squadron of Polish spitfires tackled the escorting Me109’s, who were operating near the limit of their range and the other Polish squadron fell gleefully on the now exposed bombers and harassed them all the way back to France.

    Amongst the Squadrons sent to counter the attack on Tilbury docks was 242 Squadron once more with Douglass Bader leading them. With Park’s last warning still burning fresh in his ears he implicitly followed the instructions he was receiving from the GCI/PPI controller at Foulness. This WRAF controller, not a day over twenty one, calmly gave instruction to Dogs Body (Bader’s call Sign) to bring his squadron into the fray at altitude and up sun of the bombers. In this instant the head of the GCI/PPI station had realised that a direct approach to intercept the raid would not get there in time for 242 squadron to engage the enemy before they dropped their bombs so by leaving that task to a squadron based closer it was possible to give 242 squadron a chance to attack with advantage of both position and height. Acting as instructed Bader and 242 Squadron dived on the bomber and hit no less than six of them on their first pass. This morning raid was the sixth to target Biggin Hill in three days and once again the landing field was so badly cratered that thirty two Squadron in their Hurricanes had to be diverted to Croydon on returning from their sortie.

    There was a short break in the assault until one pm. When once again the RDF stations started to pick activity behind Calais. Both the GL/RDF at Dover and the CH stations reporting contacts. Soon the CH Low was report a raid of one hundred plus departing Cap Gris Ness following the same track as the mornings raid. This time nine squadrons were scrambled and the enemy formation was engaged as it made land fall. Spitfire squadrons sent to higher altitudes managed to occupy the attention of the high escort whilst several squadrons of Hurricanes and Defiants took on the close escort and the bombers. Later intelligence reports, from both RAF pilots and interrogation of captured Luftwaffe aircrew would emphasise the difficulty of differentiating visually between the Hurricane MkII and the Defiant. Hurricane pilots noted how on this occasion as soon as Defiants had been identified both enemy fighters and bomber immediately took violent evasive action, this was ascribed to fearing the destructive power of the Defiants four cannons. Conversely the Defiant pilots reported a notably greater reluctance on this occasion for Me 109 pilots to engage in dogfighting, the conclusion was that they were ascribing to the Defiant the same manoeuvrability and dog fighting prowess as the Hurricane. Quite unintentionally the controllers had tactically given both types an edge in this engagement and the casualties reflected this but would likely not easily repeated.

    This attack never reached it’s objectives as bomber and fighter alike broke and ran for France. It would seem that sometimes even the Luftwaffe consider ‘discretion the better part of Valour’. Back at Bentley Priory the quick repulsion of this raid raised concerns that it was merely a feint and another attack was coming elsewhere but for the time being the RDF screen remained blank and the plotting table clear. Some thing was brewing and everybody at Fighter Command new it and by late afternoon their concerns were realised.

    Simultaneously two formations crossed the Channel making the third and fourth large scale raids of the day. One formation of fifty aircraft being a mix of both fighters and bombers attacked Hawkenge and Lympne airfields whilst the other raid also of fifty plus aircraft targeted Detling whilst some fighters amused themselves by yet again attacking the Dover balloon barrage. Several small formations split of in the now common tactic used by the Luftwaffe. One of these formations consisting of Dorniers now delivered the customary six o’clock attack on Biggin Hill. This attack not only cratered the runway but at long last achieved what Dowding and Parks had long feared, that was a direct hit on the operations centre, this reduced the control room to a complete shambles and a five hundred pound bomb despite not detonating caused serious damage to the Defence Teleprinter Network room when it careened of a steel safe. Once again the main telephone and Teleprinter lines were cut.

    So ended the daylight attacks for the day but the night would prove a little less busy than for the previous week. In total between sun set at around nine pm. and the first gleam of daylight at four am on the second of September there had been around one hundred incursions and raids by single aircraft but no concerted assault on a single target. These attacks had ranged from Ashford and Gillingham in the south east, Hull and Grimsby on the east coast, via Burton-on-Trent, Stafford and Sheffield in the heart of England to Sealand and Birkenhead in the west. Once more a busy night for the Nightfighter force with nearly one hundred sorties flown and over a dozen firm contacts, of those there were three confirmed kills, three probable’s and three damaged. All three probable’s were categorised as such because there was no proof that the aircraft had been downed as they flew out to sea. (later by various sources two of these would be confirmed as destroyed, one falling into the seas short of Le Havre and the other crashing even as it approached it’s base in France) Even at the time it was regarded as a very successful night, to engage almost the percent of the enemy night intruders was remarkable and a engagement ratio per sortie flown by the RAF of around nine percent boded well for the future.

    The losses reported for the first of September and the night of the first to second of September when they were relayed by neutrals to the British seemed incredibly low. If believed these figure would make the loses about on par with those of the RAF and would mean that RAF pilots had been over claiming by at least five to one. On examining the wreck count from the enemy aircraft intelligence section the lie was given to the German propaganda as the number of wrecks found was for once considerably greater than the Luftwaffe’s admitted losses. The significance of these figure and the meaning it had for the continuing battle would cause much discussion within certain circles of the Air Ministry and RAF. Fighter Command had flown in excess of seven hundred daylight sources and had lost fifteen aircraft from which nine pilots had been recovered.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster



    September 2nd.

    Day: Once again four main phases of airfield attacks.

    Night: Scattered raids: Liverpool, mid lands and South Wales.

    Weather: continuing fine and warm. Early-morning mist and fog patches. (1)





    Though to fighter Command it hardly seemed possible but today the Luftwaffe would actually up the tempo of their operations again, obviously seeking to knock out the southern defences prior to their much vaunted invasion. The pattern of four main raids through the day was repeated again and was now a recognised modus operandi as a means of trying to stretch out and even over match the resources of Eleven Group (or maybe in the thinking of the Luftwaffe High Command the entirety of Fighter Command) and gain air superiority. Unlike other mornings that started with a series of reconnaissance incursions, to day saw the first large raid building over France before seven o’clock. Conforming to the now established Luftwaffe tactic this raid of some forty bombers with sixty escorting fighters spred to cross the English coast between Dover and Folkstone, where in broke up into it’s separate entities to attack various targets. This morning these included Biggin Hill (yet Again), Rochford, Eastchurch and North Weald. Many of these raids descending to low level to sweep across their targets.

    This happened to Biggin hill that morning and not for the first time while the air defences and the observer corps were absorbed with dealing with several high flying formations a low level attack swept in unopposed and plastered the station with bombs once again.

    The days second attack came in just after midday and was larger than the morning raid numbering some two hundred and fifty fighters and bombers. Though tracked throughout it’s approach via the isle of Sheppy and the Thames Estuary and attacked by squadrons of RAF fighters one element of the raid managed an accurate and damaging attack on the Debden air base. Both Polish squadrons based there were engaged elsewhere fighting other elements of same attack. Unfortunately the covering fighters from Twelve Group were initially vectored to cover both Debden and Duxford and ended up being caught between two stools and actually defending neither.

    Shortly after three in the afternoon even as the last fighters scrambled for the previous raid were landing short of fuel and in most cases ammunition the next raid was detected forming up over France. This was another large raid of over two hundred and fifty aircraft that spread out over much of Kent having again crossed the coast at Dover. For the Germans this raid had mixed results, whilst one section succeeded in attacking Brookland, Kenly and Biggin Hill another section attacking Detling, Eastchurch and Hornchurch were to the most part broken up and scattering their bomb loads widely over the Kentish countryside.. At Hornchurch the surrounding fields were pocked marked by over one hundred new craters, whilst only half dozen bombs fell within the perimeter fence.

    The last daylight raid for the day was mounted at five thirty when another large raid this time with several small diversionary attacks was again mounted mainly against air fields. This time the attacks were slightly further west with the attacker making landfall at Dungenes but once more Biggin Hill was given its customary six o’clock calling card. As this final daylight assault receded back across the Channel the RAF and the people of the southern counties could take stock of the damage. Detling had been hard hit with hangers and other building destroyed and the runways unusable for several hours. The two attacks on Eastchurch had destroyed The N.A.A.F.I. and administrive buildings as well as a bomb store holding dozens of two hundred and fifty pound bombs, who’s recovery much complicated the repair work. Restoring communications was once again the very highest priority unexploded ordnance or not.

    Throughout the day Eleven Group alone had flown over seven hundred and fifty sorties in defence of it’s own fields and today had suffered the largest single days loss of the battle, some thirty one aircraft, fortunately only eight pilots had been killed and seven wounded. Some Luftwaffe units had also suffered badly with Erprobungs Gruppe 210 flying Me 110’s losing no less than eight of their number.

    The night activity was split into two distinct parts with low altitude mine laying off East Anglia and a series of raids on Western England and Wales by aircraft of Luftflotte Three. Of the seventy five recorded tracks, eight contacts were made by Night Fighters and five targets engaged with three confirmed as downed and two damaged one judged as probable but no aircraft wreck had yet been found.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster





    September 3rd.

    Day: Heavy attacks on airfields. losses equal

    Night: Main Attack Liverpool. Harassing raids on South Wales and South East.

    Weather: Fine and warm. Some Cloud and drizzle in North. Haze in channel and straits. (1)



    The new pattern of attack was continued today with the first raid of the day being observed building over France by eight o’clock that morning. Once again the GL as well as CH stations were tracking the aircraft. This mornings targets eventually turned out to be North Weald, Hornchurch and Debden. This attack was met with a rolling series of interceptions by both single and two squadron strength formations. The RAF fighter controls were working tactically to force thew Escorting german fighter to butrn fuel, drawing the top cover down bt attacking the top cover then forcing it to climb to meet the next threat. Meanwhile thw close cover is kept occupied by multiple thretts atcking from different axis. Any defending fighter that turns to follow an attacking fighter finds it’s self being led away from the bomber formation and towards another RAF formation. The Instructions to the RAF fighter pilots had been explicit, to avoid dogfighting at odds and only do so to burn the enemies fuel. Broadly these tactical innovations, only really viable when the Me 109’s were tasked with escorting the bombers to the very limit of their range, were this morning to a greater extent successful. The raid components heading for Hornchurch and Debden were both turned back before they reached their targets, however some thirty Dornier bombers in a single formation managed to bomb North Weald. Hangers were destroyed along with the motor pool. Despite a direct hit, the new protected sector operations block was not seriously damaged and once the VHF radio aerials were reconnected operations could resume as normal. So despite the landing field being strewn with delayed action and unexploded bombs the airfield was open for daylight operations.

    It was early afternoon before the next attack developed and appeared on the plotting tables to be heading for the same targets. As with the earlier morning raid this was intercepted by multiple squadrons and failed to reach its targets. Once again 306 and 308 Squadrons of the PAC were in the thick of the action and completely broke up one bomber formation with their head on attacks and scattered it along with its close escort of Me 109’s.

    It was apparent that the Luftwaffe was still making tactical changes and was using both the stepped formations of bombers covered by fighters and the mixed formation with a close fighter escort. On some occasions both had been encountered on the same interception. Once again today the Luftwaffe achieved parity in fighter losses but the additional loss of bombers swung the balance in favour of the RAF. Though todays the loss of sixteen RAF fighters with half the pilots killed was still a heavy blow.

    Following the recent pattern the major raid of the night was against Liverpool with the main bomber force from Luftflotte three crossing in a steady stream from the Cotin Peninsular. Due to weather and other factors tonight there was no concentration of bombs dropped on the target and in fact bombs fell on towns all over Cheshire. The Night fighters once again were out in force and took a steady toll of the bombers.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster







    September 4th.

    Day: Succession of air field raids in two main phases. Serious damage at Vickers Works at Brooklands.

    Night: Further raids on Liverpool. Harassing Attacks.

    Weather” Fine and warm. Occasional rain and strong winds in north. Haze in Estuary, Channel and Straits. (1)

    Today saw a variation in the targeting of the Luftwaffe, for the first time aircraft production factories were put on the priority target list along with the RAF bases. This change would only become apparent later when the days raids were analysed.

    The first large raid of the day actually conformed to the previous tactic of targeting the RAF stations this time in the area of the Thames Estuary. Once again the Balloon Barrage at Dover was shot up as was the airfield at Lympne. The principle target was again Eastchurch where stores were damaged and half dozen new craters made in the landing field.

    The second attack arrive shortly after noon with mixed force of some three hundred fighters and bombers crossing the English coast at various points between Beachy Head and Dover. Fourteen Fighter Command Squadrons were scrambled to face this attack and nine of them intercepted successfully. The other five tended to be either orbiting potential targets that placed them to far from the actual raid to intercept or were scrambled to late. The ensuing air battle filled the sky from Gillford in the west to Ashford in the east. With the PPI screens full of ‘Maggots’ and the plot table covered in multiple tracks a formation of fourteen bomb carrying Me 110’s slipped though at low level to attack the Vickers works at Brooklands.

    They found their target by the simple expedient of flying up the Southern Railway line from the coast via Guildford till they reach their target. This lowlevel navigation by using the railway lines was euphemistically called “doing a Bradshaw” by the RAF after the eponymous railway guide of that name. Despite the factory defence guns managing to shoot down two of the raiders and 501 Squadron from Middle Wallop in Ten Group intercepting and causing several Me 110’s to scatter their bombs over the countryside. Those Fighter bombers that did make runs on the target did so with devastating effect. The machine shops and the main erecting shop were hit by just six bombe but they killed some eighty eight people within the works and injured another six hundred with many being buried under the rubble and steel work of the buildings.

    Despite this only four days of production were lost before Wellington bombers once more started to flow from the factory. At Rochester the Shorts factory was again targeted but the defences held and the target was left undamaged. The raids also hit Reigate, Shoeburyness, Canterbury, East church and Faversham. Though comprising only two main raids the fierce fight still saw Fighter Command put up over seven hundred sorties. Todays losses were once more favourable to the RAF with seventeen fighters lost and six pilots killed, against a publicly proclaimed score of sixty one enemy aircraft destroyed. In realty the RAF considered that they had actually downed a combined thirty one German bombers and fighters. Post war analysis of German quartermaster returns would actually show that, including aircraft that returned to France the loses totalled twenty nine Aircraft.

    Following the pattern of previous nights multiple incursions by single aircraft or small formations kept the entire night fighter force in England and Wales active through the night. The major targets were, for Luftflotte three again Liverpool, Bristol and South Wales.



    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster



    September 5th.

    Day: airfield attacks in two phases. Park orders special fighter cover for fighter production facilities.

    Night: Continuous activity over most of England.

    Weather: Again fine and Warm, cloud developing later. Channel and Straits fine. (1)

    Tactically no great innovation by the Luftwaffe on this day, two main raids that split up after crossing the coast to attack a variety of targets. In the south and east of the country. The first raid occurring at around ten Am. To the west attacks were made on Biggin Hill and Croydon whilst further east North Weald, Eastchurch and Lymphe were attacked again. The raid on Biggin Hill failed to reach its target as the two resident squadrons were today kept back in its defence, whist 603 in their Spitfires went for the escort 32 Squadron in their Hurricanes attempted with considerable success to concentrate on the bombers. In total fourteen squadrons had been scrambled in the mornings actions.

    As on earlier days shortly after noon a second raid was plotted massing over France. This attack came in very high and proved difficult to counter due to the short flying time to get to altitude available to the defending fighters. Both Detling and Biggin Hill were showered with bombe once again. In a slight tactical variation large enemy fighter formations were plotted patrolling over the channel as the attacking force returned. This was assumed by the RAF controllers to be a counter to the RAF fighters pursing straggling or damaged bombers and shooting them down into the Channel.

    The nights activity was almost predictable with Liverpool being bombed along with London and Manchester. If fact when the bomb fall maps were drawn up in the morning no less than forty towns and cities had been hit, mostly by single aircraft. After a busy night the Night Fighter force could add another half dozen to their accumulated tally. The OR teams were spending much time analysing each nights operations to look for means of increasing the number of successful contact and the number of resulting engagements.



    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster



    September 6th.

    Day: Three main attacks, largely broken up.

    Night: less activity. Harassing raids only.

    Weather: Fine, but cooler, Haze in Straits and Estuary. (1)

    The apparent change in targeting policy by the Luftwaffe was confirmed this morning when Luftflotte two staged a major attempt to attack the Hawker works at Kingston on Thames where currently half of all Hurricane production was based. Los of this production facility would have been a major blow to the Raf defensive capability and it’s targeting by the Luftwaffe bore out the correctness of Park’s instruction that aircraft and engine factories were to be a defence priority. Despite their considerable efforts Luftflotte two were thwarted in their attack and the multiple squadrons scrambled, some working in pairs broke up the raid and dispersed it before the target was reached. This was the first of three major air assaults launched by the Luftwaffe that day aimed at RAF basis and at aircraft production sites.

    The first attack was detected forming over France at eight thirty in the morning and as well as aiming for the Hawker plant at Kingston the sector stations to the south of London were also threatened. The second attack at around lunchtime followed the same pattern but attacking those stations to the south and east of London whilst the last attack starting late in the afternoon returned to attack the sector satiations to the south and west of London. As was becoming traditional Biggin Hill was once again attacked at six pm. The defending fighters managing to scatter the bombers who unloaded the bulk of their ordinance along the Westerham road once again cutting the main communications cables. A fortuitous gift for the RAF was an intact example of the latest version of the Me 109 that ran out of fuel during air combat and landed intact at RAF Hawkinge.

    All set for another night of non stop activity the GCI/PPI RDF crews sat and stared at screens that remained on the whole strangely empty. Those intruders that were detected seemed half hearted and ran for home at the slightest hint of pursuit. There was just sufficient activity to keep the air raids sirens warbling and cause disruption and sleepless nights for many. The RAF intelligence sections when asked if they had any idea what had caused the respite suggested that the high tempo of operations over previous nights had caught up with the Lutfwaffe units and the sortie rate had to be reduced. It was however noted a at this stage that this was just an assumption.





    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.26, Balancing the books, moral and trying not to lose the lot
  • 10.26, Balancing the books, moral and trying not to lose the lot

    On that early September night lights glowed brightly behind the security of the ubiquitous blackout curtains all over the Air Ministry and the various RAF Headquarters. At Bentley Priory Sir Hugh Dowding spoke to each of his group commanders after they had in their turn spoken to all other sector commanders to get their reports of the days fighting and aerial activity. The longest call of all was of course between Sir Hugh and Keith Park at Uxbridge. The condition of the sector stations and the state of the squadrons stationed on them was discussed at great length. Also a topic of some debate was the tactics used and the success or other wise of them. By the end of the evening one thought that had been crystallising for some days with Sir Hugh had now taken centre stage. A few days earlier he had asked a couple of civilian scientist, skilled in statistical analysis to examining the records of every Squadron in Fighter Command since the beginning of June set against a number of parameters. These included, when and where the squadrons fought, how many sorties flown, aircraft downed, planes lost, pilots, killed, wounded, missing and moved. How long squadrons remained in Eleven Group and their losses was included in this analysis.

    For some time Sir Hugh Dowding had been pondering how to manage the qualative if not quantitive decay within the pilots of Fighter Command. The statistical analysis when it was submitted to Sir Hugh contained some surprises. An Important statistic to immerge was a comparative loss rate of pilots between those squadrons who had remained on the ‘front line’ in Eleven Group for some time and those squadrons who had be ‘parachuted in’ to relive other battle worn squadrons. Some of these squadrons dropped into the ‘thick of it’ had only lasted a few days before they had suffered such severe losses as to necessitate them being rotated back out to quieter sectors. Some of the more veteran squadrons of Eleven Group had however survived as a viable fighting unit for some weeks. The statistical analysis seemed to confirm that a squadron with a core of highly experienced pilots could absorb losses by the grafting in of new pilots. A lot of the new pilots were killed before they could gain enough experience to lengthen the odds of survival in their favour. As long as enough new pilots made it past this critical phase to replace the veterans who were killed or reassigned then the combat effectiveness of the squadron remained fairly stable. If a new squadron was transferred in to a sector then all to often they lost a critical number of pilots before they could gain the experience needed to survive in the heat of battle.

    Therefore Sir Hugh found that this report backed up by cold hard numbers something that he had long suspected, in that to try and slow the erosion of the capabilities of Fighter Command it would pay to change the way the Squadrons were run so as to manage the inevitable decline. Rather than move entire Squadrons in and out of Eleven Group, pilots alone would be moved from the Squadrons in the other groups into Eleven Group as individual reinforcements. To achieve this Sir Hugh was issuing instructions that Fighter Command squadrons were going to put into three different categories.



    The bravery of the ground staff of the RAF was to be acknowledged by the awarding of medals where appropriate and their recipients used to raise the profile of the work of the non flying members of the RAF with the general public. To this end the press office of the Air Ministry were requesting that any such recommendations be passed to them prior to the gazetting of the awards so that suitable material and press releases could be prepared. Here Sir Hue and Sir Phillip had had a mild disagreement, Sir Hugh had stated that he was adverse to Fighter Command Personnel being given medals for simply doing there job. Sir Philip’s reasoned reply was that the awarding of such medals was not for merely doing their jobs but continuing to do then in extreme circumstance or doing more than just their jobs. Sir Philip closed his argument by gently reminding Sir Hugh that his knighthood was awarded for ‘just doing his job’. There had been a number of instances of ‘outstanding Service’ in recent weeks and several were put together in a file for further action the recent attacks on the Eleven Group Stations added more to the file.


    At Manston on the 24th August the cable maintenance inspector on being informed that all communications had been cut, gathered up two jointers and with them climb down into the crater and started to reconnect the most vital of the 248 severed wires. This was done despite the presence of a large unexploded bomb adjacent to their crater. In two hours the most important circuits were reconnect and the whole repair was completed early the next day. Similar work by GPO teams were carried out under battlefield conditions at other RAF establishments with Biggin Hill having its main communication cables cut on August the 30th and again on the 31st almost immediately after the final completion of the repairing of the previous days damage. It had been on the 31st at Duxford where the incident of the unexploded bomb being towed out the way had taken place which had drawn Sir Philips attention to the cool calm bravery of countless unsung hero’s. On the First of September Biggin Hill was bombed three times and two WAAFS stayed at their machines even as the operations block was demolished around them. Both would be subsequently awarded the MM. At Biggin again the GPO telephone teams worked magic to reconnect telephone and Teleprinter lines, time and time again.

    Another WAAF to distinguish themselves was an RDF operator based at Poling in susses this diminutive young lady stood only four foot ten inches tall and find a uniform to fit her had proved problematical. On the 16th of August she had been on duty in then brand new receiver block at Poling CH station when the site had been bombed. The WAAF Avis Hearn had stayed at here post passing plots from there receiver block and the adjacent CHL to Stanmore. To do this the WAAFS wore two headsets at once with one ear for each station and passed the information up to Stanmore as it came through. Despite being given the order to ‘Duck’ by phone, Avis remained at her post passing plots. Thirty bombers plastered Poling with over ninety bombs, seriously damaging the receiver block, receiver aerials and other parts of the ‘A site’ such as to take Poling off line for two days. When the other staff who had taken cover in the shelters came out to survey the damage they found Avis Hearn surround by devastation and debris but still calmly pass plots from the still operational CHL site to Stanmore HQ. Dowding had recently confirmed to Sir Phillip that he had endorsed the Co of 600 Groups recommendation of an MM for WAAF Avis Hearn and that it would be Gazetted in early November.

    This was in sharp contrast to some civilian work gangs or even factory workers who refused to work on what they considered to be “targets’ or demanded bonuses in the form of danger money to do so. It was partly to shame such people that the Ministry of Information were so inclined to help popularise the efforts of those who “Kept calm and Carried on”

    Managing the public view of the RAF whilst the battle was in progress might seem a distraction from the real task in hand, however Sit Phillip agreed with his colleague in the Ministry of information that the morale of the nation was an important factor in the support for the war and the RAF. This support was given practical expression in the numerous Spitfire funds that had sprung up around the country.
     
    10.30 The pressure builds further.
  • 10.30 The pressure build further.

    September 7th.

    Day: Bombing switched to London. Heavy attack on the capital. Pressure on fighter airfields eased.

    Night: London raids continue dusk until dawn. Main Objectives east London and docks.

    Weather: Fair in the South, Some haze. (1)


    A slightly later start this morning as the first raid was not detected forming up over France until eleven o’clock. This mass of aircraft followed the now established pattern breaking up as it crossed the English coast and on this day heading for four distinct targets. The main attack being aimed at hawking once again. Park had overnight in his daily orders reiterated to both controllers and pilots that interception heights were to be used based ion the heights given on the plot, the adding of altitude to the interception squadrons was not acceptable as to often enemy bombers were flying blithely on below the defending fighters. To protect the fighters attacking the bombers the policy of pair squadrons, where a Spitfire squadron was sent to take on the escort and either a Hurricane or Defiant Squadron intercepted the bomber was again emphasised. This tactic required good co-ordination between the controllers and the squadrons involved. With the GCI/PPI stations able to give accurate heights of formations in real time made it possible for the controllers to place their squadrons at an advantage if time permitted. This morning the tactic worked and all the raids were intercepted and the sky of the late summer morning was laced with the contrails of high altitude combat. By one pm the last of the enemy aircraft had returned to occupied Europe and the assessment of the damage, rescue of those injured and the restoration of services could commence through out southern England. Even as this work was started the ever vigilant RDF system was watching and waiting for the next assault. Expectation of an invasion was running high as it was obvious to everyone that if the Germans were to invade it had to be within a matter of days of the onset of the autumn gales would provide an insurmountable obstacle.

    The next Luftwaffe assault duly came late in the afternoon when numerous formations of twenty or more aircraft were detected forming up over France, The Eleven Group controllers started warning squadrons and making their dispositions in anticipation of the raid splitting as usual and attacking various RAF and associated targets to the south and east of London. This afternoons raid was soon observed to be something special with the plot showing bomber and fighter formations at greater height than usual as well as in greater numbers. Soon the plots were showing an estimated three hundred bombers with an escort of some six hundred fighters heading for southern England. This attack came in two waves about an hour apart, this was intended to exhaust the fuel and ammunition of the defenders as they tackled the first wave and hopefully permit the second wave a virtually clear run at their targets. Contrary to the now familiar tactic the first wave did not fragment as it crossed the Kent coast but proceeded on mass to Thames Estuary and turned towards London. At Bentley Priory, as at Uxbridge the controllers were scrambling to react to the change, that left their carefully positioned fighter squadrons defending empty skies. In all only four squadrons managed to intercept before the bombs began to fall on London’s Docks and the surrounding areas. These four squadrons were fully engaged by the escorting fighters in a series of melees. The attacking bomber were therefore able to deliver a concentrated and accurate attack that caused major damage in the docks and surround areas, lighting large fires marking the destructions with columns of smoke. Even as this first wave retired from the eastern suburbs of London the second wave was crossing the coast to the west of Dover before heading for central London. Over the ‘square Mile’ the formation turned east towards the docklands and the tall pillars of smoke denoting the target area. Once again the area was hard it with bombs falling on Limehouse, Millwall and the Woolwich Arsenal. Further down river Thames haven and Cliffe were also it. This later attack was subject to a defence that had had a little time to recover it’s poise. One notable success of the afternoon was triggered by 242 Squadron in their Hurricanes. Scrupulously following instruction Douglas Bader lead the squadron in an attack from the east as the bombers approached their target. This drew the escort down to defend the forty Dornier Do 17’s. Simultaneously the four Spitfire Squadrons from the PAC flying from Debden and Duxford arrived on mass from the north with the advantage of height. Whilst two squadrons kept the remaining escort busy the other two dived four thousand feet into the bomber formation with each fighter picking its target. The experience of Squadron leader R. G. Kellet flying with 303 Squadron was typical, He later reported that they opened fire at four hundred and fifty yards and finally breaking away at point blank range to avoid collision. In that one devastating swoop over half the bomber force was claimed shot down and the force lost all cohesion. Just after six pm one of 10 groups Squadrons on Factory defence patrol to the west of the city spotted almost two hundred hostile aircraft to the east of them over the city, getting clearance from Uxbridge control ‘Blue Leader’ led two flights from 609 Squadron in a climbing attack on a formation of Dornier DO17’s. Blue leaders target lost an engine in his first pass at around ten thousand feet and it had descended to three thousand feet over the Thames Estuary before he was able to finish it off, sending it plunging into the muddy brown waters.

    All afternoon the Y service had been monitoring the German propaganda radio stations broadcasting a triumphant rant extolling the devastating effects of the Luftwaffe’s attack on the London Docks. Goering Himself making a contribution to the broadcast had exclaimed that this was ‘an historic hour’. Many of the formations returning to their bases in Holland, Belgium and France reported little or no cohesive opposition and so for a time the Luftwaffe intelligence service could really believe that their goal of destroying Fighter Command was nearly achieved. For fighter command the day had been one of mixed fortunes, losses in the morning had been grievous but in the afternoon the balance was restored. In the daylight engagements Fighter Command lost seventeen pilots with twenty four aircraft written off in a total of eight hundred and eighty two sorties, the Luftwaffe officially admitted to losing forty two aircraft that day describing it as a ‘heavy sacrifice’, post war information would show that total Luftwaffe losses for the daylight raids that day were in fact sixty two aircraft.
    The highest single days losses yet incurred by the Luftwaffe.

    As darkness began to fall the skies over London’s Docks and East End were painted red by the flames of the fire still burning. German pilots taking off in France to bomb the docks reported that they could see the glow of the fires even as they turned north and climbed for altitude. Overnight two hundred and forty seven aircraft bombed London’s east end commencing at eight in the evening and lasting until five in the morning. Three hundred thirty tons of bombs were dropped including many of one thousand kilograms known as ‘Hermans’, these along with over four hundred cannisters of incendiaries resulted in several uncontrollable conflagrations that consumed whole streets in roaring flames. By morning over three hundred civilians were dead and over thirteen hundred more were injured. As the sun rose the fires still burned and the smoke rose into the sky marking the first true night of what would become known as ‘London’s Blitz’. Many on the ground in London looking at the smoke and devastation would ask ‘Where were our fighter?’ the answer was there on the ground witnessed by the still smouldering wrecks of the German bombers that failed to make it back to base. With only seventy miles of hostile land to cross there was precious little time for the night fighters to find and engage their targets. The whole area of that nights attack was covered by five GCI/PPI stations and of those only two actually covered London and the docklands. With so many enemy aircraft streaming into the target it was difficult for the controllers to identify individual target aircraft, so as in the earlier attacks on Liverpool the controllers started talking the night-fighters into the stream and if they reported a successful contact leaving them to their pursuit, whilst they directed the next fighter in. To help this two pre-planned tactics were used one was to hold fighters orbiting GCi/PPI stations on the fringe of the engagement area, tonight the station acting as ‘lamps’ ( so called because the fighters circled them like moths) were Foulness to the east north east and Cricklade to the west of London.

    The other ploy instigated that night was that Sopley GCI/PPI station on the south coast near Bournemouth had it’s own stack of fighters that were fed up channel at intervals to use both their passive and active RDF to try and pick up contacts as soon as the German bombers left the French coast. With their screens seemingly full of maggots it was extremely difficult for the operators and controllers to differentiate between friend and foe as the distinctive ‘crown of thorns’ imposed on a friendly fighters return signal for fourteen seconds in every minute was hard to identify and keep track of. This characteristic of the IFF system where each of four friendly fighters could broadcast sequentially one after the other on the GCI/PPI frequency on a one minute rotation in practical terms limited each station to handling four fighters. As it was during the nine hours of the night engagement over one hundred separate sorties were flown by the night fighters with many making multiple attempts at interceptions.
    Over fifty firm contacts were achieved but only twenty one resulted in guns being fired and of those fifteen were called as kills, four claimed as damaged and two as no hits. Several fighters did not open fire despite a firm contact as they were unable to identify their target as an enemy aircraft. Two fighters being directed by adjacent GCI/PPI stations were in fact being directed onto the same target aircraft that was in the area covered by both stations. It was only when the aircraft ahead of him which he was stalking opened fire on another aircraft ahead of him that the pilot realised that his target was one of his own colleagues. The two fighters had been so close together that their IDF signals were being mistaken for a single aircraft by the two separate controllers. This incident, much studied by the operational research department later served to illustrate why the night fighter pilots insisted on making visual identification before they engaged their target. Three of the main London train stations had been hit during the night, Victoria and London Bridge were soon reopened but Waterloo station world remain closed until the nineteenth of September. Come the dawn Londoners came out from the shelters to stare in bewilderment and sorrow at the damage wrought on their city, Many remembering back to the first aerial attack on their homes exactly twenty five years before with the first zeppelin raid in nineteen fifteen.


    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster



    September 8th.

    Day: only slight activity. Some small attacks on airfields.

    Night: Heavy concentration on London, mainly east

    Weather: Fair early morning and evening. Rest of day cloudy. (1)


    After the Eleven Group controllers had been caught on the back foot the previous day, Keith Park had had a team working through the night to analyse the days events and to work out how to avoid a repetition of the days mistakes. On the morning of the eighth September whilst the operations rooms waited for the first of the days plots to appear on the map tables no clear conclusions regarding the previous days events. The only thing the controllers could do this morning was ‘assume nothing’ and as one controller quipped, “GCI/PPI better than the naked eye” just follow the tracks. Contrary to expectations the morning proved quite with the first significant enemy formations not being shown on the plotting tables until after eleven o’clock, was this a repeat of the previous days attacks or not. For next hour and a half the aircraft of Luftflotte Two made a series of strikes airfields of Kent. Fifteen distinct raids struck at targets such as Dover, Hornchurch, Manston, Detling Hawkinge and Lympne amongst others. Eleven group countered these attacks with eleven squadrons scrambled, many of the bomber formations were successfully intercepted and turned back on seeing the defending fighters. Today was definetly fighter Commands day in flying only three hundred and ten sorties and losing two aircraft of which one pilot was saved they inflicted nineteen losses on the Luftwaffe with the majority of the aircraft crews lost.

    As darkness fell it was the turn of Luftflotte Three to continue the assault on London flying from their bases west of Paris. Starting as early as seven thirty the first of some two hundred and ten aircraft c crossed the coast in the following nine and a half hours. Aircraft departed the French coast from as far west as Caen in Normandy and as far east as Dieppe and the Pas de Calais. This meant that tonight more of the GCI/PPI stations were so to speak on the frontline. At one time during the night the stations at Salcombe, Exminister, Huntspill, Sturminster Newton, Sopely Cricklade, Durrington, Willesborough and Foulness were all actively handling maggot hunts whilst the GCI/PPI station to the north of London at Boarscrofte was marshalling a handful of orbiting night fighters awaiting assignment to a hunting station. For the aircrews as for the ground staff at the GCI/PPI stations there was a very steep learning curve. Over to night and the previous night one fighter had been lost to defensive fire from a bomber and no less than three night fighters had been written off in accident although two of the crews had survived. Tonight despite again flying over one hundred sorties the night fighter force was only able to claim eight definite kills and three damaged. The toll on the ground was of course much higher, with over four hundred dead and seven hundred and fifty injured. By dawn there were still a dozen large fires burning in central London. Once again the railways had been hard hit with not a single line out of the city to the south being in service that morning.


    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
     
    10.31 Dealing With Present Problems does not mean not working on the future.
  • 10.31. Dealing with present problems does not mean not working on the future.



    It was late at night and Sir Phillip was still working through his Parliamentary boxes, once more he thanked his good fortune that he had a good team of civil servants who not only winnowed out the politically inspired dross but also prepared succinct summations and briefing papers on each report and proposal. One report had caught his eye, it was one of the regular updates upon the latest fighter aircraft project undertaken by the Marin Baker aircraft company. This current project had resulted from the failure of the earlier MB 2 project built as a private venture to fulfil specification F5/34 to generate any orders or real interest from the RAF, as it failed to offer any advantage over the new Spitfire and Hurricane that were then entering service. Returning to his drawing board James Martin had drawn up plans for a new aircraft using the latest new and more powerful engines available to provide a fighter that exceeded the performance parameters of any fighter yet designed to an Air Ministry Specification as set out by the requirements of specification F18/37. To this end in late May 1939 James Martin and Valentine Baker had presented their proposal for their MB3 fighter using the new RR Griffon engine. This design had generated much interest within the AM but concerns were raised about the choice of the RR Griffon as Earnest Hives at RR had already informed the AM that with the need to concentrate resources in developing the Merlin engine, that despite the cancelation of the Exe and the Vulture engines, production Griffon engines would be unlikely to be available before the first quarter of 1942. To expedite development of the MB3 RR had agreed to provide several of the most powerful version of the RR Merlin at the time of the construction of a protype.

    One faction within the AM and RAF was at this time pushing the new Sabre engine from Napier as the powerplant of choice for future fighters and recommended that the MB3 design be modified to use it. With the demise of the RR Vulture the Hawker Tornado fighter design to F18/37 had been changed from using that engine to the Fairey Monarch engine whilst the Typhoon aircraft used the Napier Sabre. To mirror this a proposal was generated within the AM to order three protypes from MB aircraft all to share the same basic modular design and ease of construction as previously demonstrated by the MB2 but each to have a different engine installation. So the RAF’s preferred option of the Napier engine would be designated the MB3 and the Fairey Monarch engine version would become the MB4 with the RR Griffon aircraft being given the MB5 designation. The MB3 and 4 prototypes were to be built in parallel whilst the MB 5 would be allocated materials and resource compliant with the progress RR made on the Griffon engine. So in June 1940 contact 1165/39 was awarded to M&B for the three protype aircraft and final design work on the first two proceeded apace.

    Well aware of the very negative effect the Dagger engine had had on the MB2 project and the recorded reservations of both James Martin and Valentine Baker in Napier’s ability to deliver a reliable production engine, Napier with the sanction of the AM had assigned Arthur Hagg an aircraft designer recently poached from De Haviland and an expert on engine cowling and cooling systems to act as their liaison with the Martin Baker company. At his first design meeting with James Martin, Arthur Hagg, on behalf of Napier’s ( with the slightly reluctant agreement of Heston aircraft and Lord Nuffield) had shown James Martin the drawings and specification of the Napier Heston Racer aircraft that was at that time being constructed. The two main points of interest in this design were the low drag wing section and the advanced aerodynamic cooling system. The wings of the Napier Heston were designed for high speed being a thin section airfoil having a thickness to cord ratio of 16.2% at the wing root and only 9% at the tips more unusually the maximum thickness of the wing was designed at 40% of the cord. This was much further aft on the wing than most airfoils at the time. To further reduce drag on the Heston designed aircraft Hagg had helped to design a then novel cooling system, this consisted of a special Galley radiator matrix buried in the fuselage well aft with an air intake on the underside of the fuselage approximately level with the rear or the wing roots, this intake was designed with ducting within the rear fuselage that was designed to slow the air by about two thirds before it past through the large area V shaped Galley radiator matrix at speeds of around 3 MPH before being exhausted out of the rear fuselage. Whilst this exact design might not be suitable for a fighter aircraft Arthur Hagg assured James Baker that a modified version of the system would result in much less drag than a conventional radiator system. After much discussion and checking of figures and calculations James Martin had incorporated these ideas into his design and had forwarded the revisions to the AM for approval. The drawings had been forwarded to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and to the Aeronautical Research Committee for their comments in mid June 1939. As Chair of the Aeronautical Research Committee (amongst several others) Sir Henry Tizard had reported on the finding of the committee. These were that the benefits of applying these advanced design features to a new fighter design were justifiable and could result in an aircraft of remarkable speed and performance. Further the committee recommended that immediate work be done in the wind tunnel at the RAE, to verify the figures and also to investigate whether the Meredith effect could be exploited to further reduce the cooling system drag. It was further recommended that official support for the Napier Heston racer should be forthcoming as a proof of concept aircraft and that it be completed to flight status as soon as possible. Tizard also noted in his report that the engine sub committee of the Aeronautical Research Committee also recommended the AM provide support for this aircraft so as to get at least one example (even if it is a hand built special racing engine) of the Napier sabre engine flying as soon as practicable. This approval and support for the Napier Heston was about to be approved in august 1939 when the critical political situation in Poland intervened. Despite this resources were made to enable work on the aircraft to continue.

    Work on the final design of the MB3 and 4 continued whilst the RAE carried out wind tunnel tests on the proposed radiator system. By early 1940 this research had been completed and the Aeronautical Research Committee had undertaken a review of the results and passed their recommendations on the AM and to MB aircraft.

    By happenstance in late April 1940 Sir Winfred Freeman had signed a contract with North American Aviation to build a new fighter to a British specification. Preliminary designs for this aircraft had been sent to the AM in April and these had been sent to Tizard and the ADC for their comments. The Basic conceptual similarity between the North American design and the Martin Baker MB3/4 and 5 was immediately noted and a complete comparative analysis of the design of both aircraft was recommended.

    The fall of France and the invasion panic had threatened the progress of these projects but after a short hiatus work on both the Martin Baker fighter aircraft and the Napier Heston had resumed. So in late June of 1940 Sir Phillip and a number of other senior people in the AM, MAP and the RAF had been invited along with James Martin and Valentine Baker to the airfield at Heston to witness G-AFOK’s first official flight. Taxing and other ground trials had been proceeding for some weeks in preparation for this flight and there was high expectation as the chief test pilot of Heston Aircraft Squadron Leader G.L.G. Richmond lined up the aircraft at the end of the runway. For this first test flight the cockpit canopy had not been fitted and there was just the wind screen that had been fitted for the ground trials.

    As the throttle was opened and the noise from the large H form Napier Engine rose from a growl to howl as the variable pitch three bladed De Haviland propeller transmitted some two thousand horse power into thrust. The little aircraft seemed to leap forward like a sprinter out of the blocks and gathered speed remarkably quickly. Despite the Engine weighing 2,900lb and constituting some 40% of the entire aircraft weight it was still a very light aircraft for the power and very soon the wheels were clear of the ground as the aircraft climbed gently, for this first flight there was no intention of raising the undercarriage and the flying speed was to be kept fairly low to get a feel of how the aircraft handled. Suddenly there was complete silence from the engine and the left wing was seen to dip as Squadron Leader Richmond appeared to have some difficulty controlling the now powerless aircraft. Abandoning any attempt to get back to the runway Richmond attempted to land the aircraft on the grass just inside the airfield boundary, some thirty feet of the ground the aircraft was observed to stall and impact the ground pushing both sets of undercarriage through the wings as the aircraft broke up under the force of the impact and burst into flames. Squadron Leader Richmond was thrown clear but grievously injured and burnt. All present were shocked by the turn of events and later investigation would show that the engine had suffered a catastrophic failure of one of the sleeve valves resulting in an instant seizure of the engine. The sudden transfer of torque resulting in the drop of the left wing that was observed by those whatching from the ground was exacerbated by the fact that the now motionless propeller could not be feathered. Though he would eventually recover and be lauded as a member of the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ Squadron leader Richmond would never fly again. James Baker was greatly shaken by this near fatal accident and the horrific injuries suffered by a pilot both he and Valentine admired and knew so well. This shocking event would result in James Baker starting research on a number of technical issues that would greatly influence future aviation but that is another story.

    One immediate effect of this untimely accident was that all Napier Sabre engines were grounded until the accident and its causes hand been thoroughly investigated by Vernon Brown and his air accident investigation team based at the RAE Farnborough. This resulted in all MB’s available resources being put into preparing the Fairey Monarch engine MB4 ready for it’s first flight. Here the added complication of have two sets of instruments for the two halves of the engine with duplicated controls as well’ made for a very congested cockpit and instrument panel. Here James Bakers talents as a designer and his skill at ergonomics came to the fore as he designed a logical and clear layout that formed a horseshoe around the pilot, grouping dials and controls logically by function and consistently arranging the two sets required by the left and right side of the engine in pairs. Later the MB4’s cockpit would be used as an exemplar of how things should be done whilst other aircraft were shown to have cockpit panels laid out as if all the instruments had been hurled into the aircraft willynilly.

    The reason for the file now being on Sir Phillips desk was that Valentine Baker had just completed the first series of flight trials in the Fairy Monarch engine MB4. Initial results had shown that the aircraft could achieve four hundred and thirty mph at twenty thousand feet and with development, James Martin was confident that the slight lateral instability experienced by Valentine Baker at high speed could be corrected and a true four hundred knot top speed achieved with an aerodynamically clean aircraft. To that end MB aircraft were requesting permission to complete both the MB 3 and the MB 5 airframes as MB 4’s to expedite the acceptance trials and getting the aircraft ready for series production. Reading the notes there was paragraph summing up a brief design appraisal made by a team from the RAE. They noted that the modular system with a tubular structure with a semi stressed skin permitted large easily remove access panels that facilitated maintenance and servicing the aircraft. They also noted the wide track of the under carriage, fifteen feet two inches on a wing span of thirty five feet. The very good access to the four cannons and the stowage for two hundred and fifty rounds per gun was also noted. Fitting this into the comparatively thin wing of the MB 4 had taken clever design of the ammunition feed system. The overall length of the air craft being also thirty five feet was almost equal to the wingspan and this might be the cause of some lateral stability problems that were becoming apparent as the performance envelope of the aircraft was explored. The immediate solution was to increase the tail fin area and this was being done on the second prototype so as not to delay the service trials on the MB4. Any further developments would need to be accessed once the full service trials had been completed.

    Sir Phillip penciled a note that he recommended proceeding with is course of action. Sir Phillip also noted that the first of the North American Mustang aircraft NA-73X had been rolled out just a few days ago in September and flight testing was due to begin. As yet No MB aircraft had been ordered whilst some three hundred and twenty North American Mustangs had been ordered off the drawing board back in April with the first deliveries due in January 1941. If the MB4 was to be available at any date close to that then production was going to need to be expedited, Sir Phillip again made a note to ensure that decisions were made rapidly and the necessary people in both the AM and the MAP were gingered up. Decisions would have to be made now rather than later if this new fighter was to be in service anytime in 1941. In the rush to expand the RAF in the period immediately prior to the war, in order to get new aircraft into service many new types had been ordered directly from the Drawing Board. This was a high risk strategy that Sir Phillip had always opposed, the number of unsuccessful or compromised designs that the RAF had coming into service in 1940 showed the flaws in this system. Now Sir Phillip with Sir Archibald Sinclair as the MAP was determined to get new aircraft into service that were fit for purpose as rapidly as possible. A prime example of this was the De Haviland Mosquito, once the design was proven to be sound and only then was large scale production implemented. So as soon as the MB4 had proved itself then the button could be pushed but much needed to be done to facilitate a rapid build-up of production and as soon as the basic soundness of the design had been proved.
     
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