AHC: Peerless Air Ministry

10.32 September 9th, 10th, 11th
  • September 9th.

    Day: Unsuccessful sorties against London, Thames estuary and Aircraft Factories.

    Night: Main Target. London, Including City and West End.

    Weather: Scattered showers. Thundery in the east. Channel Fair. (1)

    For the third day in succession the RDF screens remained clear of reflected energy after the last of the night time raiders had made their exit to the other side of the channel. RAF pilots waited at dispersals for the ‘yell and Bell’ to send them running to their aircraft, some passed the time by reading other played cards, whilst some just slept whilst they could. It was early afternoon before the plots appeared denoting various formations of enemy aircraft, of twenty plus, thirty plus, fifty plus, fifteen plus and dozen more gathering in the Calais-Boulogne region. As these disparate formations headed for the shores of England a high altitude fighter sweep by Me 109’s attempted to draw the defending fighters away. Today the Eleven group controllers were on the ball ignoring the fighter feint and vectoring nine squadrons of fighters onto the main bomber formations. Simultaneously as was no the standard procedure both twelve Group and Ten Group launched fighters to provide standing patrols over airfields to the north of the Thames and vital aircraft factories to the south and west of London. It was after five o’clock before the bombers crossed the English coast with the westering sun low over their left shoulders. The main targets appeared to be central London, the docks and the Estuary industries again with another attack heading towards the aircraft factories at, Weybridge, Brooklands and Kingston.

    Few bombers today actually reached their targets as concerted attacks from the defending fighters broke up their formations and caused them to jettison their bombs willy-nilly over the English country side. Soon the Y service radio interceptors were hear aircraft distress calls from the German bomber formations, followed remarkably by plain language radio transmitions from French bases their authorising them to abort their missions ,if the defences are too strong, or if the fighter protection is too weak’. With bombs being scattered all over Kent it was inevitable that some urban areas should be hit. Bombs fell on Wandsworth and Lambeth to the south of the Thames and in Chelsea close by on the opposite side of the river. The suburbs of Purely, Kingston, Norbition and Surbiton were struck as was the county seat of Canterbury. Today in daylight the advantage was with Fighter Command , twenty two German aircraft were lost in the days battle whilst the RAF lost sixteen from which nine pilots survived.

    As Darkness fell Luftlotte three continued their night attacks that now followed and established pattern. Three waves of bombers came over throughout the night. The first formations came in over the south coast west of Brighton and exited to the east through the skies above Essex. The next wave passed then as they approached via the gap in the anti-aircraft defence created by the width of the Thames Estuary and then turned south to exit just to the East of Beachy Head. They in turn were passed by the third wave who crossed the coast between Brighton and Hastings before returning to France via Dover. The RDF teams had estimated around two hundred aircraft attacking in total. The city and central London were again heavily bombe with damage occurring in many other London Boroughs. The anti-aircraft fire and the searchlights with the aid of DL/RDF fire an almost continuous barrage. Though only two aircraft were claimed the guns at least kept the bombers high and in many cases made accurate bombing difficult. Further the guns were a visible and very audible defence that had a moral value far greater than their direct military one. The night fighter force again to night manage to shoot down a dozen bombers and damaged a couple more. Another two night fighter crews reached double figures in their personal scores but one RAF crew was lost, whether to return fire or accident could not be determined as the aircraft disappeared off the RDF screen over the Thames Estuary whilst closing on a ‘Maggot’. The third night consecutive total civilian casualties exceeded seventeen hundred, with fourteen hundred wounded and just under four hundred dead. Total casualties ibn London over the nights of seventh to ninth September included now exceed five thousand dead and wounded. The civil authorities were becoming more and more concerned by the pressure such raids were putting on the London Hospitals and the emergency services. However to balance this the ARP system seemed to be coping remarkably well so far.

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

    September 10th.

    Day: Slight Activity. Single Raiders over airfields in afternoon.

    Night: London main Objective but also raids on Merseyside and South Wales.

    Weather: Generally cloudy. Some rain. (1)

    The pattern of the last three days was again repeated, by a lull in activity in the morning with the first hostile raid not being detected until aircraft were plotted leaving the region of Cherbourg. Flying singly, a number of bombers and Me110’s carried out a series of hit and run attacks in Ten Groups area and the western sector of Eleven Group. These raids made good use of the available cloud cover to try and evade those flights and squadron sent to intercept. Despite the GCI/PPI stations being able to talk the fighters into close proximity, interception was nigh on impossible whilst the enemy aircraft remained hidden in cloud. Two Dorniers attacking airfields in Ten Groups Middle Wallop sector were caught and shot down. As the last of these raiders retired Luftflotte two entered the fray for the day by sending several small formations towards Beachy Head where they split up to attack various airfield south of London. One bomber was shot down south of Kenley and an attack on Biggin Hill was thwarted with bombs scattered all around but none actually hitting the airfield. This was the last daylight attack of the day and as darkness gathered so did the bombers of Luftflotte three. Once again London was the prime target with some one hundred and fifty bombers attacking throughout the night. Other cities were also attacked these included Swansea and Cardiff in South Wales as well as Meseyside. If these attacks were intended to distract the night fighter force then German intelligence had baldly misread hoe the system worked. Those GCI/PPI controllers west and North of London revelled in the chance to rack and vector their guys onto the bandits and with the targets requiring two or three times the flying time to reach they had a lot more time available to achieve this. By now controllers had become quite adapt at passing their maggot from their PPI screen to the next GCI station on the enemies’ flight track. Now that each GCI station had its own plotting table showing all the neighbouring RDF stations and their areas of coverage this task was much easier and what the OR Boffins would label as ‘Situational Awareness’ was much improved. Every intercept where the bomber was fired on or forced to take evasive action was considered a success by the night fighter crews, as they saw it, preventing the enemy from hitting their targets was in reality seven eighths of their task. For these crews the bomb fall survey report was an indication of their efforts. Bombs recorded as falling close to the time and location of their attack confirmed for them that one more bomber had not wrought destruction on its intended victims. Tonight, in total five enemy bombers were confirmed as having been shot down over the UK, with another couple of possible, one in the north sea and a second on fire when the attack had to be called off as the bomber crossed the occupied coast.

    Late in the afternoon a Maritime Command patrol aircraft had spotted a convoy consisting of some thirty E-boats, five Destroyers and twelve merchant ships off the French port of Dieppe, greatly increasing the apprehension that the long awaited invasion was about to start. A sweep by the duty destroyer flotilla out of Portland during the night had failed to find the enemy convoy in mid channel, where they would be expected as part of an invasion fleet. By the time the destroyers started to close the coast between Boulogne and Dieppe, dawn was fast approaching and they had to break off to return to the English side of the channel and the air defence protection that it provided. Subsequently, in certain informed circles the morning of the eleventh of September there were loud sighs of relief when the dawn did not reveal a German invasion fleet off the English beaches.

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

    September 11th.

    Day: Some bombs on London. Three large raids in south-east. Raids on Portsmouth and Southampton. Seelowe postponed until the 14th.

    Night: London attacked and Merseyside.

    Weather: Mainly fine. Some local showers. Channel and Estuary cloudy. (1)

    Today Keith Park had issued another instruction to his controller, this was the sixteenth such instruction he had issued and was intended to adjust the operations of Eleven Group to counter the latest change in the Luftwaffe tactics as experienced by Eleven Group in the previous three days. The summary of these new tactics was that where previously the Luftwaffe had staged two or three separate raids per day, they had now adopted mass raids of between three and four hundred aircraft attacking in two to three consecutive waves of a period of between three quarters to one hors duration. The basics of the new instructions were the whenever possible pairs of squadrons were to be used, if practicable one of Spitfires to tackle the escorting fighters, with a squadron of Defiants or Hurricanes to attack the bombers. The first wave was to be intercepted by Squadrons who were at ‘Readiness’. As soon as these had been scrambled pairs of squadrons on ‘standby’ and hence available in fifteen minutes would then be brought to ‘Readiness’ in anticipation of being scrambled to intercept the second wave of enemy aircraft. Those remaining squadrons on notice to be ‘available in thirty minutes’ would then be brought to ‘Readiness” status to either enter the fray as single squadrons or be used to defend sector stations and aircraft production plants. In the advent of a third wave then the last reinforcements would be brought into action in pairs. This final instruction caused a bit of an problem as four of these squadrons based at Debden and Duxford as part of the PAC were all Spitfires. After discussions with the Polish Headquarters a compromise was adopted in that if necessary, Squadrons from Debden would be paired with those from North Weald, whilst those from Duxford would pair with those from Coltisall. Elsewhere Hornchurch would pair with Biggin Hill and Northolt with Kenley. Tangmere would be reinforced and work with squadrons from Ten Group when the threat was to the south and west of Eleven groups area. Paired Squadrons when scrambled by the controller would rendezvous over an airfield designated by the controller. As soon as this description had been made the direction of the squadrons would be handed to the sector controllers to carry the interception through.

    A quite morning gave the sector controllers and the squadron commanders to work out the details of how the new tactics would be applied and carried out. The only Luftwaffe activity in morning was patrolling over the French side of the Channel, in an attempt to draw a reaction from Fighter Command, and a hit and run raid by a bomber on poling CH station. This morning for the first time jamming of the CH stations on the south coast was attempted by the Germans. This was a form of blanket noise transmitted on the CH frequency was hampered by the relatively low power attainable by the valves of the German transmitting equipment. The official way of countering the Jamming was for the insertion of coloured slides in front of the cathode ray tubes which would help them distinguish the true afterglow of a contact from the fuzzy mass of the jamming interference.

    Around lunch time more reconnaissance flights were plotted and the tension in the control rooms rose even further until the first formations gaining altitude over France were detected by the CH stations and plotted onto the tables. Then everyone in the command bunkers were just too busy to worry about anything at all other than their immediate task. As the plots for these raids developed a variation on the practice of the previous three days became apparent. One which Keith Park had allowed for in his instructions issued that morning. For whilst a big raid in three waves was mounted from the Pas de Calais by Luftflotte two co-ordinated with it was a further attack by Lufttflotte three to the west heading for the area of Isle of Wight. At around a quarter to three in the afternoon the first wave from Luftflotte Two started to form up between Ostend and Calais, this wave headed for London Followed and hour by a second wave crossing the English coast in the vicinity of Folkstone. The third wave followed closely behind the second one also heading for London. Whilst Eleven Groups efforts were focused towards London and the south east another series of raids were forming up in the area of Cherbourg and the Seine Bay. This formation principally attacked Southampton and Portsmouth. Endeavouring to implement the new instruction the Eleven Group Controllers sent Spitfire Squadrons after what were adjudged to be the escorting fighter formations and the other fighters directly at the bombers. The coordination between several of the paired squadrons was not as it should have been and the Hurricane and Defiant pilots were out numbered and caught by the ME 109’s escorting the Luftwaffe bombers. Where the coordination did work some bomber formations did take considerable losses. As the Luftwaffe bombers turned south to return to their bases further sweeps of Me109’s crossed the channel to attack, Dover and shipping convoys as a further distraction to Eleven Groups defensive operations. Despite the claims made by the Ministry of Information.

    As the sun set and the skies darkened the more RDF stations started to report attempts to Jam them with the usual of blanket noise interference transmittions. Here the foresight of Watson-Watts and his team came to the fore, for each of the CH stations had a series of aerial systems strung from their masts that permitted, with some effort, the stations to change frequency. By this means most stations were able to break through the clutter and observe the enemy at or near the maximum range of their equipment. Eighty Wing had several of their special Flamingos flying on electronic surveillance missions, to not only observe, measure and record the jamming signals but to also located their source as well. Fortunately tonight at least the German efforts appeared to be confined to the longwave transmittions of the CH stations and not the 1.5m wavelengths utilised by the CHL and other systems. The main assault fell once again on London with harassing attacks of small formations or even single aircraft spread out across the United Kingdom and a second major raid om Merseyside to stretch the defence even more.

    Under the cover of all this nocturnal activity Flieger division IX were out in force laying mines off the south and east coasts. This mining activity was seen as a certain preparation for the invasion which was expected on a nightly basis whilst the tides served. Under General Pyle’s direction the antiaircraft defences of London had been strengthened greatly since the sixth of September. Concentrating the guns on fewer big targets such as London, Merseyside and the Manchester conurbations also gave the Night Fighters larger zones free of guns to pursue their quarry. Whilst gun raging RDF helped the barrage it was the noise and sound of guns that did most to bolster the civilian morale. On this night alone nearly fifteen thousand rounds were fired by the anti aircraft guns. With one definite and a probable over London and another definite on Merseyside the guns were scoring some successes.

    In daylight Fighter Command had once again flown over seven hundred sorties, twenty nine fighters were lost that day, nine pilots were killed and seven pilots wounded, the other lucky thirteen got away with nothing more than scratches and for some a cold dunking in the sea. At the time the RAF via the Ministry of Information claimed to have shot down over seventy aircraft. Whilst the Germans in their nightly broadcast claimed to have lost only twenty two. The actual figure only came to light much later and that was a figure of twenty seven aircraft failing to return from the day light raids with a further six either wrecked on landing or written off as beyond worthwhile repair. In fact one particular bomber group was very hard hit, KG 26 losing no less than eight He 111’s in a single raid.

    It was on this evening that Churchill made a broadcast on the wireless in which he summed up the current situation

    “The effort of the Germans to secure Daylight mastery of the air over England is of course the crux of the whole war. So far it has failed conspicuously . . . . . . For Him [Hitler] to try and invade this country without having secured mastery in the air would be a very hazardous undertaking. Nevertheless, all his preparations for invasion on a great scale are steadily going forward. Several hundreds of self-propelled barges are moving down the coasts of Europe, from the German and Dutch harbours to the ports of northern France, from Dunkirk to Brest, and beyond Brest to the French harbours in the Bay of Biscay.”

    Countering these shipping movements were principally the aircraft of Maritime Air Command. Using Blenheims to bomb them, Bisleys to shoot them up and also drop bombs and the few Wellingtons available to drop torpedoes. Maritime Command were exacting a toll on almost every night time passage. ASV was serving an import roll in this work and several patrol aircraft were now being used as airborne command stations to guide hunting formations onto their pray.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10.33 Poor Flying Weather reduces the sortie tempo for a time
  • 10.33 Poor flying weather reduces the sortie tempo or a Time.

    September 12th

    Day, Only small raids in south. Reconnaissance.

    Night. Reduced effort. Main force London. Single aircraft over wide area.

    Weather. Unsettled, rain in most districts. Channel cloudy. (1)

    As now usual the morning was relatively quite except for the continual reconnaissance flights. Interceptions were made more difficult by the weather with the clouds providing plenty of hiding places for the enemy aircraft to dodge into. Around noon three small raids were plotted by RDF, In fact the RDF station at Fairlight was the target but the bombs did no damage to the station. One of the raiders hounded by fighters finally crashed into the base of the Cliffs at Cape Gris ness right in front of a group of senior Luftwaffe officers who had gathered at their favourite viewing point. The afternoons activity consisted of raids by single aircraft. Despite being hampered by the weather Fighter Command flew just over two hundred and fifty sorties, accounting for a half dozen enemy aircraft destroyed and twice that number damaged. This was achieved without loss to the RAF. The night activity was similarly curtailed by the weather with the main raid on London consisting of only around fifty bombers. There were single bomber incursions over the Kent, Surrey, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, the Midlands and Merseyside. Aircraft were shot down as far apart as Newport in Monmouthshire, Felixstowe and the Wash.

    It was on this night that a ‘Herman’ (1000kg) bomb with a delayed action bomb landed by the North wall of Saint Paul’s Cathedral coming to rest against the foundations some twenty seven feet below ground level. Digging down to this bomb, rendering it safe and removing it was an operation that took three days and saw Lieutenant R. Davies and his assistant Sapper Wylie becoming the first persons to be awarded the newly instigated George Medal.

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

    September 13th.

    Day, Small raids mainly directed at London. Hitler in conference, discussing air offensive and invasion.

    Night, Renewed effort against London.

    Weather, Unsettled. Bright intervals and showers. Rain in Channel. Straits Cloudy. (1)

    As usual the mornings activities commenced with Luftwaffe aircraft carrying out reconnaissance and weather fights. Despite tracking these aircraft Fighter Command was unable to intercept any of these high altitude intruders. Through analysing the tracks of these fights the RAF intelligence branch tried to deduce the Luftwaffe’s intentions for the day, this mainly meant comparing todays flights with previous days flights and targets and trying to find probable matches. All in all little better than guess work. Meanwhile the Y service monitored all transmittions from the German aircraft and transcripts of these enciphered messages were passed up the intelligence chain. At round eight Am a lone Focke Wulf 200 from I/KG40 attacked the SS. Longfort as she sailed close to the Copeland Light Off Belfast. Local RDF stations at Bishops Road and Ballinderry had been tracking the intruder for some time and even as the bombe aimer lined up the steamer in his sites there was the fearful cry of “Achtung Spitfire” and his world disintegrated in a hail of twenty millimetre vengeance.

    The next event for that morning was that for two hours, individual aircraft departed the French coast at Dieppe and headed for Hastings before attacking targets to the south of London. During these attacks the RDF stations at Rye, Dover and Canewdon reported various levels of jamming. The OR boffins at Stanmore considered that these two events were linked and the Luftwaffe were actually using aircraft as live bait to test the effectiveness of their jamming efforts. At noon the Y service got a gem of information when any enemy bomber flying over Kent began transmitting in the clear a message that read ‘Cloud is /10th at 15,00 meters and the attack is possible between 1,500 and 2,500 meters altitude’ Stanmore immediately alerted 11 Group and ‘Low and Behold’ and hour and a half later a number of raids flying between the specified altitudes crossed the south coast to attack airfields in Kent and Biggin Hill a little further west. One of these raids even included some Ju87’s, Eleven Group forewarned, had fighters at the correct altitude and despite plenty of cloud for the enemy to hide in many of the intruders were attacked. The Ju87’s from Luftflotte 3 were attacked as soon as they dropped out of the cloud cover, several were shot up before the rest turned for France and used the clouds for cover.

    Targets in central London hit by the single aircraft raids in the morning included Downing Street, Whitehall and Buckingham Palace. Due to the very difficult interception conditions the results for the day were in RAF terms disappointing with only eight enemy aircraft definitely destroyed for the loss of two fighters, though both pilots were saved though one was badly burnt and would be out of action for many months. Despite the armour plate and self sealing tanks now fitted to all British fighters the placement of a fuel tank in front of the cockpit in both the Spitfire and the Hurricane was unfortunate for even a single hit from a twenty mm cannon could defeat the self sealing system, rupturing the tank and turning it into a high octane blowtorch aimed directly at the pilot in his cockpit, it did not matter how quickly he bailed out in most such cases the result was major burns to the pilots face and hands, resulting in a long stay in East Grinstead and automatic membership of the ‘Guinea Pig Club’.

    Continued sightings of barges under tow and enemy shipping off Cape Gris Ness and nearby French ports only served to heighten the expectation of an imminent invasion.

    The night brought continued attacks principally on London where over one hundred attackers were recorded. The night-fighters had a busy night but in difficult cloud conditions only destroyed four of the bombers.

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

    September 14th.

    Day. Hitler postpones Seelowe until September 17th. Succession of afternoon raids aimed at London, but mainly consisting of fighters.

    Night. Reduced activity Main force over London.

    Weather. Showers and local thunder. Cloud in Straits, Channel and Estuary. (1)

    The previous days schedule seemed deemed to be repeated when a similar pattern of reconnaissance flights was detected and plotted. This was backed up by more RDF jamming principally of the CH stations at Great Bromley and Poling. There were several forays by enemy bombers towards coast targets and one raider was shot down over Selsey Bill having dropped bombs on Eastbourne, elsewhere RAF fighters and single Luftwaffe aircraft played cat and mouse with the clouds with most Luftwaffe aircraft managing to avoid combat. Everything changed at around three in the afternoon when formations were detected forming up over France before heading towards London in three waves. These attacks used the two by now familiar attack routes, one directly across Kent and the other via the Thames estuary. To counter these attacks Eleven Group fielded no less than twenty two squadrons. Twelve Group also put up five squadrons, one to chase a diversionary raid off Lowestoft where one enemy bomber was successfully shot down and the other four squadrons to provide cover for the northern bases of eleven group. Ten Group Likewise provided cover for aircraft production sites and airfields to the west. Where successful interceptions were achieved large dogfights took place but clouds especially in the Thames estuary provide the German bombers with ready cover. Even as the final squadron to land rearmed and refuelled the next assault was assembling over France and Belgium. This raid was presaged by a feint from Cherbourg towards Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight and Southampton, However this raid turned back too France before the scrambled fighters from Ten and Eleven Group could intercept and engage. As soon as the controllers were convinced that this formation was retreating they had so to speak ‘called off the hounds’, even as the squadron leader of one of defending squadron had called the ‘Tallyho’! apparently he had some choice words with the controller once he was back at base but orders were orders and that was that. Unbeknown to the Twelve Group Squadron Leader at the very time he was about to pursue a fleeing formation towards Cherbourg another major attack was brewing toward the central southern and eastern areas of Eleven Groups territory. This succession of raids number between ten or twelve aircraft and up to as many as fifty continued in quick succession to cross the coast and head for London at altitudes between seventeen and twenty thousand feet, A lot of these raids turned back upon finding opposition waiting for them and others consisting mainly of Fighters were deliberately not engaged. As these attacks petered out single aircraft continued nuisance raids through until nine o’clock that night. When Luftflotte Three began their now customary nightshift, though it was noted that the intensity of the activity was much reduced compared to earlier nights and many of the RAF night fighters spent a frustrating time orbiting GCI stations and never being given any trade. Over all the day was fairly even with the RAF loosing a dozen aircraft with seven of the pilots surviving. All told for the twenty four hours Luftwaffe losses totalled some twenty two aircraft and the majority of their crews.

    Perhaps the most important event of the day was the conclusions drawn by the Luftwaffe intelligence service and the High Command regarding the state of the RAF and Britain’s air Defences. Their appraisal was that the defence was becoming less co-ordinated and that fewer interceptions were being pressed home into attacks. In fact the Luftwaffe intelligence appraisal was that Fighter Command was entering a state of collapse and that another major attack would finally wrest control of the skies over southern England and the Channel from the RAF.

    Fighter command meanwhile assumed from the relatively lower intensity of the days attacks that the Luftwaffe were preparing for a major assault on the morrow.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10.34 Just who is on the Ropes and is the opponent on wobbly legs
  • 10.34, Just who is on the Ropes and is the opponent on wobbly legs.

    September 15th.

    Day, Heavy attacks on London, broken up by Fighter Command. Highest German Losses since August 18th. Serious rethinking by German High Command.

    Night. Main Target London. Heavy Damage.

    Weather, Fair but cloud patches. Fine evening (1).

    As usual the morning started with a series of reconnaissance flights normally at high altitude. This morning at least one of the Reapers sent in pursuit was successful and shot down an He 111 in the vicinity of Start Point. By eleven in the morning the CH stations were detecting the reflections from large formations over Calais and Boulogne. Eleven Group scrambled fifteen squadrons in response whilst as usual Twelve group sent three squadrons to patrol over Duxford and Debden airfields, whilst Ten group sent a couple to protect the cluster of aircraft factories to the south and west of London. This time there were no deceptions or other shenanigans as the entire huge formation of Luftwaffe aircraft made a be-line for London. Due to the time it took for such a large formation to get organised and sorted out at altitudes between sixteen thousand and twenty six thousand feet, Parks and the controllers at Uxbridge were able to marshal their squadrons and mount their defence. The confrontation commenced over mid Kent with two squadrons of spitfires attacking the high altitude escort of Me 109’s. then as they approached the River Medway three more squadrons of spitfires dove onto the remaining escorting fighters. As the formation approached the southern suburbs of London four squadrons of Hurricanes and one of Defiants confronted the bomber formation in a concerted attack, In all no less than twenty two squadron fighters engaged the German attack, the coup de grace as far as the cohesion of the bomber formations was the arrival of all four Polish squadrons as one single mass diving attack. The bombers jettisoned their loads willy-nilly over London and the southern counties as they turned and fled for the coast. There was a short respite for a couple of hours before the cathode ray tubes one again betrayed the activity over France that presaged another assault. The first reports came into Fighter Commands HQ about one o’clock but it took fully an hour before the attacking force flying in three waves started its foray across the Channel, Eleven Groups response was very much a repeat of the mornings operations. The German formation was attacked as soon as it crossed the coast and Parks fed more and more squadrons into the fray as the formation approached central London. Once again the four spitfire Squadrons from the PAC were held back and given time to get to altitude up sun so as to be decisive in their plunging attack. At some time every squadron in Eleven group was engaged as were two squadrons from Twelve Group and three from Ten Group. To complicate the picture further a formation of Heinkel 111’s from KG55 based in the region of Vilacoubly attacked Portland in Ten Group’s Bailiwick, with squadrons committed to the east in Eleven Group’s manor the controllers in the Middle Wallop sector were struggling to intercept this raid. A squadron flying from Filton did get there but only as the bombs were falling. A second squadron from Exeter was sent up the Channel in an attempt to intercept the returning bombers but only caught a single already damaged straggler sending it plunging into the sea. The daylight raids were not yet over as flying in low a formation of some twenty bomb laden Me 110’s from Gr.210 based at Denain in France made an attack on the Supermarine factory on the banks of the Itchen River at Woolston. No less than five squadrons of fighters were scrambled to intercept this raid before it hit such a vital target, a combination of the AA guns at Southampton and the Intervention of the first squadron of fighters prevent any bombs from hitting the intended target though the local area suffered greatly. There then issued a general chase as the fighters hotly pursued the now lighter Me 110’s as they fled for their home base, again only a solitary straggler was dispatched though several RAF pilots claimed probable’s and damaged targets.

    Of all the mornings that Churchill could choose to visit Keith Park’s Eleven Group HQ at Uxbridge he had to chose today. Sitting on the glass fronted operation room balcony beside Parks, with a brandy glass in one hand and a cigar in the other Churchill was a keen observer of the mornings events. When in the midst of the first major attack of the day Churchill observed that all the lights were on, on the tote board he enquired of Parks where the reserves were, Churchill apparently was only momentarily taken aback by Parks terse response that there were none, (2) everything he had was up and fighting. Knowing the situation Churchill was impressed with the calmness of everybody in the command centre as they quietly got on with the task in hand, slowly the tote lights came back on as the squadrons refuelled and rearmed ready to scramble again. Here was shown to Churchill again another facet of the many who worked hard to keep the few in the fight and to make possible the countries very survival. After the wars end Churchill would write at length about this visit as an illustration of why the battle was won. Long after Churchill departed that day and through the night the work of Fighter Command continued unabated. London was again the focus of the main nights effort with over one hundred and eighty bombers being sent there in a continual stream through the dark hours. Night fighters were fed into this stream as frequently as the GCI/PPI stations could cope with. Elsewhere smaller raids on Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol kept the rest of the RDF stations and night fighter squadrons busy.

    Even before nightfall the evening papers, especially those in London where trumpeting the success of the RAF that day, claiming no less than two hundred and one enemy aircraft destroyed that day. Sir Phillip was well aware how inflated these figures were and divided them by three to get the expected number of confirmed downed aircraft and by half if being optimistic. Whichever way you cut it, to Sir Phillip losses of around seventy at the low estimate and one hundred at the optimistic end would to Sir Phillip seem unsupportable even by the Luftwaffe. The figures of the losses to Fighter Command where in Sir Phillips opinion a far more important measure of how the day went. Here they were quite encouraging, Twenty aircraft had been lost with twelve pilots saved. The savagery of the days fighting was encapsulated in the returns from one of the PAC squadrons at Duxford, at nightfall on the fifteenth of September they had only four operational spitfires, by dawn, with herculean efforts by the ground crews and fitters no less than a dozen aircraft were ready on the flight line. Such mini—miracles were being repeated in hangers all over Fighter Command and with those aircraft coming from the factories and repair shops the numbers were being maintained. Here the ATS was doing sterling work and due to the sheer pressure of numbers female pilots were now delivering frontline fighters to squadrons within the combat zone. The coolness, composure and complete professionalism of these women pilots was being noted by many including the Ministry of Information who were quick to grab the opportunity of some uplifting propaganda for the consumption of the general public.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    (2)This is as OTL

    September 16th.

    Day, Goering confers on losses of the 15th. Policy changes. Park Changes tactics. Only slight air activity.

    Night. Continuous attacks on London. Smaller raids Merseyside and midlands.

    Weather. General rain and cloud. (1)

    The Luftwaffe high command had had high expectations of successfully breaking the defence of fighter command on the fifteenth as a result of the intelligence analysis of their perceived success on the twelfth. Instead of delivering the expected ‘Coup de Grace’ the Luftwaffe had suffered the highest losses since the 11th of August. No less than sixty four aircraft had failed to return to their bases and another dozen had been either wrecked or written off upon landing. As to the number damaged that was still being assessed, as aircraft were brought into the hangers and stripped down to reveal the true extent of the damage incurred. Having been led to believe that the RAF was almost bereft of fighters the anger of the surviving bombers crews was barely hidden as they described to the intelligence officers the appearance of multiple supposedly non existent fighter squadrons to sew death and mayhem within the ordered formations stacked up and flying blithely across the English skies. Some German pilots pointedly suggested to their intelligence officers if they truly believed that the RAF Squadrons they claim had been destroyed no longer existed then perhaps they would like to come along on the next mission and experience the effect of these supposable non existent fighters for themselves.

    Goering addressed the gathering of Luftflotten and Fliegerkorps commanders he had called together. Berating the assembled men for the failure of their forces to destroy what he called the final reserves of the RAF. Goering reiterated the belief that Fighter Command was feeding new pilots and aircraft into the battle, Whilst in actuality they were facing the same force but using changing tactics under Park’s direction. Goering ordered that smaller bomber formations with even heavier fighter escorts and these escorting fighters primary task was not to defend the bombers but to destroy the last reserves of the British fighter force. Goering told the assembled officers that in four or five more days the RAF would be a beaten and spent force. Goering continued by instructing that only when perfect weather conditions existed were mass formations to be used. Attacks on the British aircraft production factories were also to be intensified. He finished his tirade by stating that if his orders were followed then operation ‘Seelowe’ would be rendered unnecessary as the British would seek an armistice. Finally acknowledging how tired the aircrews were he reiterated that the exhaustion of the British pilots must be worse.

    The result of this was that the Luftwaffe high command ordered the fighters to fly even closer escort on the bombers. This would of course curtail the initiative of the fighter pilots to manoeuvre for advantage before engaging attacking fighters.

    It was not just Goering who was making use of the bad weather to take stock. Park took this opportunity to issue another fighting instruction to his controllers, this was no 11 so far in the series. Despite the success on the 15th Parks was still concerned that two many interceptions were not being made. So at the start of the instruction he listed a series of faults that hindered successful interception.

    • Individual Squadrons Failing to rendezvous.
    • Single squadrons being detailed to large raids.
    • Paired squadrons being rendezvoused to far forward and too low.
    • High flying massed formations of German fighters attracting most of the Group whilst bombers got through.
    • Delays in vectoring of paired squadrons on to raids by Group controllers
    • Errors in sector reports on pilot and aircraft effective strengths. (1)
    • Failure by Group and Sector controllers to pass control of squadrons to GCI/PPI stations for direct vector instructions.
    • Having set out the problems Park then laid out a series of measure in the form of instructions intended to solve these problems. The first of these instructions was that the squadrons based at Hornchurch and Biggin Hill would fight in pairs and their principle target would be the high escort. In low cloud or overcast conditions the rendezvous of squadrons into pairs should take place at altitude and well in front of the enemy formation. If the skies were relatively clear then the squadrons would come together below cloud base and climb together as required.
    • Secondly if for any reason the raid track was uncertain the squadrons were to be assigned short patrol lines, if possible with two squadrons very high and another pair at between 15,000 and 20,000 feet.
    • The third instruction was regarding how to counter High-flying German fighter diversions, Park instructed that several pairs of squadrons would be vectored towards the fighters, at the same time ample Defiant and Hurricane squadrons would be paired up and instructed to orbit sector airfields ready for vectoring onto any bomber formations that followed the fighters.
    • The Fourth instruction was for the squadrons at Tangmere and Northolt were to form three squadron strength wings and to be principally vectored onto the second and third waves of any attack which tended to contain the bulk of the enemy bomber force. When time permitted Parks would by this means give his controllers a big wing to attack mass enemy formations when they were detected. (2)
    • Due to the inclement weather on the 16th of September there was by recent standard little air activity and many RAF squadrons were able to stand down, Those squadrons that were scrambled to intercept the few bombing raids that headed for east London were relatively successful. Ten Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed for the loss of two aircraft and one pilot.
    • London was once more the principle target for the night time bombers with some one hundred and seventy five sorties made on the capitol. It was not only the RAF night fighters who took their toll, tonight the Balloon barrage had a rare success and the AA guns around London also added to their tally. Other targets attacked to included Liverpool again and Bristol.
    • With the invasion expected any day Sir Phillip was growing more and more convinced that Portal was too busy playing politics with Bomber Command. Whilst Maritime Command were hitting the concentration of barges in the channel ports almost every night the bulk of Bomber Command were still being directed at strategic targets such as Berlin and Ruhr. Whilst bombing Berlin made for good headlines in the British press and proved popular with the public who wanted the Germans to get some of their own treatment, it would have very little effect on the immediate prosecution of the war. Whereas hitting the barges in the channel ports actually had a double impact upon the German war making capability. Not only did the loss of the barges effect the Germans ability to stage an invasion but also according to the ‘Department of Economic Warfare’ the need to replace those lost barges with more taken from the waterways of Germany and the occupied countries was and would have an increasing effect on the German war economy and it’s transport of essential food and fuels. In fact the effect on German production of the loss of barges was much greater than that currently being caused by a few bombs being scattered virtually at random across the Reich. A recent deciphered signal had indicated the scale of the problem facing the Nazis when the German Naval High Command had complained that the loss of no less than eighty barges on the night of the 14th of September was serious and that their replacement was vital for the invasion sea lift capacity, yet the powers that be in Berlin were resisting the release of any more barges. (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster. (2) Keith Park’s Instruction adapted form OTL as quoted in The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10.35 Managing expectations and preparing the ground.
  • 10.35, Managing expectations and preparing the ground.

    Even with the current air campaign continuing Sir Phillip had been preparing the ground ‘so to speak’ for Sir Hugh Dowding to take over as the Chief of the Air staff. Persuading the Prime Minister Winston Churchill that Sir Hugh was the right choice had not been as difficult as Sir Phillip had feared, with no Professor Lindemann to drip verbal poison in his ear it was much easier to remind Winston of just what a remarkable achievement had been wrought through the foresight and dedication of Sir Hugh. Sir Hugh’s ability to grasp the implication of new technology and to get civilian scientists and the military personnel to work together towards a common goal was an attribute which would be invaluable in a CAS trying to build an offensive bomber force based on new aircraft, new technology and methods.

    Going down to Checkers with Sir Hugh for dinner with Churchill, had given Churchill a little time to get to know Sir Hugh in a more relaxed and informal setting. Churchill had in years past dubbed Sir Hugh as ‘A Dismal Jimmy’ however within the dour and stern public persona, dwelt a man not only of deep thought but of strong passions and unconventional beliefs. Hearing Sir Hugh infusing about skiing in the Alps and actually regretting the fact the current war prevented him from pursuing his passion for winter sports showed another side of the man. However it was later when Churchill was sitting brandy and cigar in hand after dinner that he started asking the difficult questions, such as what should be the priorities for the CAS over the next six months to a year? Sir Phillip had of course as AM been working with his own staff and the current leadership of the RAF on various iterations of future plans but he now waited to see what Sir Hugh would come up with, would he stay on script or like Portal a couple of weeks earlier say only what he thought the Prime Minister wanted to hear and what would boost the importance of Bomber Command.

    After pausing for a moment, Sir Hugh had looked at the PM and started by saying that currently his first priority was still on winning the current daylight battle and dealing with the tactical changes being instigated by the Luftwaffe and containing the burgeoning night time attacks, However the changes in the Luftwaffe assault and the approach of the autumn equinox meant that in reality the immediate threat of invasion was receding and that for practical purposes the nation would have at least six months to prepare before any such renewed threat of invasion could be turned into reality. With this as a given and the fact that any preparations on the continent for a renewed attempt at subduing Great Britain by air assault or invasion would become apparent well before such operations could proceed, then the nation and the RAF could plan with some confidence on where to allocate the available resources for the next six months at least. Sir Hugh having set the ground, continued by stating within the codicil of the RAF and in particular Fighter Command being in a position to face the possible renewed assault in the spring it was import to evaluate and priorities what other actions by the Nazis were likely to be the biggest threat to the UK in the next six months. With the fall of France in particular, the strategic land scape had changed beyond any previous measures planned for by any of the British armed services.

    Sir Hugh ventured that the biggest effect would be on the navy who’s task of ensuring the safe flow of men and materials in and out of UK ports had just been made immeasurably more difficult with the German U-boats and aircraft now having direct access to the North Atlantic from French bases. Also with the loss of air cover for Royal Naval units operating in the western Mediterranean due to the declared neutrality of Vichy France meant that Malta was now more vulnerable and immensely more valuable to the RN.

    Therefore Sir Hugh suggested that in those circumstances the RAF priorities would remain the rebuilding the home defense force with day and night fighter squadrons to a level determined by the Government. These Squadrons must have the newest and best fighter designs available. This meant, Sir Hugh continued that the current three frontline single engine fighters would need to be replaced before the Spring. In the case of the Spitfire that would mean a newer mark armed with four cannon and the latest mark of Merlin engine. For the Hawker Hurricane that meant as it was now marginal as a front line fighter then it’s replacement, the Tornado needed to be phased into production and squadrons rearmed. As to the Defiant, Bolton and Paul had no aircraft of their own to replace it and it was intended that they would build another deign such as the Tornado, however the production capability of the three main Hawker group factories was quite sufficient to meet future requirements for the Tornado. So therefore Sir Hugh thought it would be better to keep Bolton and Paul building the Defiant as it already had the four cannon armament and would remain a viable fighter in operational theaters where the opposition was of commencerent quality. As they are replaced the existing Spitfire Mark 2’s and the Hurricane Mark 2’s would come available for reinforcing the RAF squadrons in other theaters of operations.

    Having concluded that point Sir Hugh briskly continued by stating that training in all it’s guises needed to remain a top priority so that the RAF could continue to grow in capability. Training abroad especially of pilots would in the next six months start to have a major effect, as the first classes of pilots, and other ranks who started their training at the outbreak of war graduated from their training and joined their units. Sir Hugh stressed that as far as he was concerned the conservation of experienced crews to pass their experience and skill onto the new intakes was more important than wasting their lives in offensive gestures and propaganda stunts.

    At this Juncture Sir Hugh reminded Winston Churchill of the series of discussions they had had late in nineteen thirty five stretching into nineteen thirty six, regarding the importance of the then embryonic RDF research, where Churchill himself had stated that in nineteen seventeen it was the U-boat and not the Hun Bombers that had almost brought Britain to the brink of disaster. With this in mind the new offensive capability given to the Nazi U-boats by the fall of France could not be underestimated.

    As to Maritime Command, Sir Hugh was emphatic that providing sufficient aircraft and crews to carry out the now much harder task of protecting the trans ocean trade, so vital to the country should have priority above that of Bomber Command. Before Churchill could interject angrily as Sir Phillip thought he would, Sir Hugh continued by stating that currently Bomber Command was not fit for purpose and as CAS one of his highest priorities would be to rectify that but not at the cost of stripping other commands of resources needed to pursue the countries war aims and even its survival as a free nation.

    Sir Hugh then finished by saying that the primary task of the next CAS over the next six months to a year was to lay the ground work resources wise to enable the British Nation to Rearm and to be in a position to prosecute an offensive war as soon as practicable. Turning to Sir Phillip he concluded by saying that detailed plans and dispositions as well as resource requirement were and would be prepared by the AM in line with the stated war aims of the Government. Looking Churchill strait in the eye Sir Hugh then reminded him that all of them had served on the western front in the Great War and had experienced the horrific losses incurred when offensive action was taken with unprepared troops, without the right weapons and tactics purely for the sake of being seen to be doing something and that it the Prime Minister merely wanted a ‘yes man’ for the post of CAS then Sir Hugh was not his man.

    Churchill had sat quietly for a moment took a puff on his cigar, a quick quaff of his brandy and then slowly broke into a grin. Sir Phillip gave an almost audible sigh as Sir Winston looked at him and said words to the effect that sometimes having a contrary curmudgeon at your elbow was timely and a necessary restraint. Churchill continued by saying that he looked forward to receiving their plans and recommendations as soon after the formal transfer of Command as possible and that the date of that transfer would be agreed with Sir Hugh as soon as practicable in the current circumstances so that he and Sir Phillip could arrange for his replacement at Fighter Command. To this Sir Phillip replied that the intention of the AM was that Keith Parks would be promoted to take over Fighter Command’ as not only was he successfully handling his Group against the might of the Luftwaffe but he had previously served as Sir Hugh’s deputy at Fighter Command and therefore had an intimate knowledge of the entire command that would mean that he would as the expression went ‘be able to hit the ground running’. Sir Hugh smiled and continued to say to Churchill that such a promotion would definitely put some other very senior noses in the RAF out of joint but so be it, Sir Hugh was not going to be CAS to court popularity but to get the job done whilst losing as few of the country’s fine young men as possible.
    10.36 If They are coming it will be sooner rather than later.
  • 10.36, If They are coming it will be sooner rather than later.

    September the 17th.

    Day, Slight activity. One Large Fighter sweep in afternoon. Seelowe postponed until further notice.

    Night. Heavy attacks on London. Lighter raids on Merseyside and Glasgow.

    Weather. Squally showers, local thunder, bright intervals. Channel, Straits and Estuary drizzle. (1)

    As the weather was not conducive to mass raids as per Goering’s new instruction today the Luftwaffe daytime activity was limited to a number of fighter sweeps escorting just a few bombers. These were intended to draw the few remaining fighters in Fighter Command into combat at a disadvantage. Some two hundred and fifty Luftwaffe aircraft crossed the English coast around Deal in the early afternoon and Eleven Group scrambled twenty eight squadrons to oppose them. As per the recent instruction from Eleven Group HQ upon observing that the German formations consisted almost exclusively of Me 109 fighters the RAF fighters declined combat unless they could achieve a tactical advantage to stage a quick attack and withdraw. By this operational method over a dozen enemy aircraft were shot down and the bulk of the enemy fighters turned back for the loss of only three RAF fighters from which two pilots were recovered though one was seriously injured.

    The night attack was on a larger scale than that of the previous night with almost three hundred aircraft heading for London whilst over formations and single aircraft attack targets as far apart as Glasgow and Merseyside.

    Tonight was a full moon and perhaps in response to Sir Phillip’s ire for once the bulk of Bomber Command was committed along with Maritime Command to attacking the concentrations of barges, tugs, steamers and sundry warlike stores gathered in ports stretching from the Scheldt down to St Malo. Whilst the Luftwaffe intelligence reports make very little of these attacks, in fact labelling them as largely ineffectual the reports received from the German naval authorities at the ports told a very different story. The loss in Dunkirk harbour of twenty eight barges sunk and another fifty eight receiving various degrees of damage, plus the explosion of five hundred tons of munitions would seem hardly trivial. Add to this the damage to loading facilities at several harbours and the destruction of a major ration depot, along with the sinking of two tugs, a steamer and a torpedo boat (small destroyer) and the cumulative effect was far from small. To add to the enemies woes many of these same ports were bombarded by RN warships demonstrably showing that the Channel was far from placid river to be crossed at will.

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

    September the 18th

    Day, Oil targets in Thames estuary attacked.

    Night, London and Merseyside raided.

    Weather, Bright and squally. (1)

    The action started relatively early on this bright and breezy morning as some two hundred German aircraft were recorded by the CH stations as massing in formations over Calais by 9.30 AM. This raid consisted of mainly ME 109 fighters at heights over 20,000 feet. The response from Fighter Command was robust with over seventeen RAF fighter Squadrons engaging them over Kent and the estuary. In the face of this determined defence by the supposedly now non existent Fighter Command the German fighters broke off and returned to France. The lull was short lived as by 11.3 AM. The RDF screens once again were aglow with the responses from four attacking formations that manged to penetrate as far as London and Chatham. Before the defending squadrons once again drove them back over the fields of Kent towards the channel and occupied France.

    By two PM. The next thrust was crossing the Channel, again from Calais at 20,000 ft one hundred and fifty aircraft from Luftflotte 2 set course for Gravesend. Descend through Cloud these formations found themselves once more facing the massed squadron of Eleven Group. The bulk of the formations were broken up and turned back but some elements broke through and headed further inland to continually harass and eventual doggedly attacked till they departed the English coast for the safety of France.

    Around five PM a further couple of formations totalling some fifty aircraft attempted to fly up the Thames from the Estuary and were ambushed by the entire PAC in a text book interception. Of the Five Polish squadrons engaged one was kept on a patrol line between the bombers and London as a back stop. Whilst a squadron of high flying Spitfire engaged the fighter escort. The remaining three squadrons then swooped onto the enemy bombers to great effect. Only a couple of vics of five bombers each penetrated far enough up the Thames to require the uninterrupted attention of the flying Backstop. In just a few minutes the late afternoon sky was streaked with smoke form falling German aircraft and the remains of the formation were beating a hasty retreat. All though some of the Polish fighters were damaged and a couple of pilots wounded not a single aircraft or pilot of the PAC was lost that day. The Poles would claim some thirty aircraft destroyed and with a further twelve hit of which eight were claimed as probable. The Intelligence officers in their subsequent analysis of the day fighting had reduced this to sixteen destroyed (this was the number of crashed aircraft found) with six probable and a further eight damaged (only post war would it be confirmed that for once the claims were closer to the actuality. German Quartermaster returns showed that this raid had lost a total of no less that twenty six aircraft, included structural write-offs that made it back to France, with no less than a further twelve aircraft having some degree of battle damage) Crew losses were equally heavy with the local hospital struggling to cope with the numbers of injured airman. All in all it was not credible to deny that today at times the defences had been formidable, so much the surviving aircrews thought for the promise that the RAF was a spent force. On the Coast however the preparations for the imminent invasion continued and were close to reaching their highwater mark in terms of number of invasion craft available.

    Once again No 7 O.T.U. despite not being an operational unit had got into action and downed an enemy bomber when three of their aircraft had taken off from the schools base at Hawarden airfield in Cheshire and intercepted a pair of DO 17’s from a formation that attacked Liverpool, one was observed to crash in the sea of the Welsh coast and a second damaged one was seen trailing smoke at it flew towards the Luftwaffe bases in Britany. This was the third victory by pilots from No7 O.T.U. and put that units score above that of some operational Squadrons. Fighter Command had flown the massive total of one thousand one hundred and sixty five sorties. Losses were twelve aircraft with only three pilots killed.

    The night bombing raids commenced at seven thirty PM almost as the last daylight raid had finished and the last attack of the night did not end until Five thirty AM. The primary targets were London and Liverpool but both Kent and Surrey saw scattered bombing.

    Throughout the day the RAF had been flying reconnaissance flights over the continental posts to check on the German invasion preparations. The figures were very disconcerting for the defenders, the photographs taken on the 15th showed 102 barges in Boulogne by the 17th that had risen to 150 barges, on the same day Calais had 266 barges crammed into it’s basins. There were on the 18th one thousand and four invasion craft jammed into the channel ports with an additional six hundred lying up-river at Antwerp.

    Finally Bomber Command were concentrating at least sixty percent of their bombloads on the invasion ports with one thousand four hundred tons of bombs being dropped on those targets. The balance being used to attack strategic targets in Germany and occupied countries that were directly related to invasion preparations’

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

    September 19th

    Day, Reduced activity, attacks chiefly over the Thames Estuary and east London.

    Night, London and Merseyside.

    Weather , Showery. (1)

    The morning started as quietly as previous experience had indicated after the high sortie rate attained by the Luftwaffe the previous day. This was fortuitous because the centre of London was still a scene from Dante’s inferno, the west end of London between Park lane in the west and Tottenham court road in the east was full of the smoking shells of some of the most recognised shops in Britain, most of the main roads were blocked with rubble and debris. The massive task of clearing up was even now beginning as the last of the living casualties were delivered into the care of the Hospitals. At no time in the daylight battle had a city centre been hit as hard as this, in what was already being called the ‘ Blitz”. Liverpool was also counting the cost of yet another night full of death and destruction.

    The Luftwaffe planes that did come that morning came in alone and high heading for diverse parts of the country. So instead of meeting mass formations with squadron or wing strength ripostes to day it was mainly sections or flights climbing hard to make altitude in an attempt to intercept. Here the GCI/PPI stations replicated their night time role with the direct control of these small fighter formations vectoring them towards the elusive intruders. Today those few squadrons flying the single seat variant of the Reaper came into their own, as the greater range of these twin engine fighters not only enabled them to climb to altitude and take up a patrol line but also enabled then to chase down hostile aircraft that a single ingle engine fighter would be unable to catch.

    An even dozen enemy aircraft were shot down today, with several more damaged, there was also the bonus of a virtually undamaged Ju 88 landing at Oakham airfield when it’s second engine started to fail.

    Cloud and rain curtailed the Luftwaffe’s night assault that night but over two hundred off shore mine laying missions gave much work to the coastal based GCI/PPI stations. By dint of hard work and technical wizardry the new Chain home extra low, with the assistance of the Coastal Defence gunlaying/ranging RDF sets the accurate tracking of these mine laying aircraft flying at less that five hundred feet was not possible, the problem was that when vectored unto such a hostile aircraft even the one point five meter wavelength RDF sets lost their targets in the ground clutter long before they were in visual range. So despite no les than thirty attempts at interception not one of the mine laying aircraft was successfully engaged but a number were force to abandon there missions as they came under accurate AAA fire or a pursuing night fighter fired a long range burst as a frightener before contact was lost in the clutter.

    A quite night was not had by Merseyside and Liverpool where no less than six raids kept the sirens going through most of the night.

    Unbeknown in Britain the threat of immediate invasion was receding quickly for it was on this day that Hitler officially halted the assembly of the invasion fleet and instructed the barges and ships should be returned to normal service as quickly as possible as their absence was having a very serious detrimental effect on the German war economy.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10.37 Forewarned is forearmed as much in politics as in war
  • 10.37, Forewarned is forearmed as much in politics as in war

    With the increased intensity of the night attacks Sir Phillip felt it was prudent to brief the entire Cabinet rather than just the smaller War Cabinet on the current status of the countries night defence system and had arrange to this with the Prime Minister. This required all the Cabinet to have signed the official secrets act, some of the Cabinet aired feelings that this requirement impinged their integrity as gentlemen but sign they did, before Sir Phillip delivered his summary that then became part of the cabinet records.

    Summary of the progress regarding the Night Time air defence for the mainland UK from the Declaration of War to the current Date

    Prepared by the Air Ministry. September 1940

    Document Status:- Confidential, Circulation Restricted.

    August 1939 the RDF/DF network consisted of 21 chain home stations and 9 chain home low stations, with an additional five GCI/PPI (Ground Controlled Interception/Plan Position Indicator) type one stations being built. By the end of September 1940 that network now comprised 35 Chain Home stations, 45 chain home low stations and 32 GCI/PPI stations. Additionally all CHL stations had been updated to Hight finding and GC/PPI standard. this rapid expansion did not include additional work, done on upgrading the CD RDF sets with height finding and PPI displays or the provision of mobile back-up units as gap fillers in advent of stations going off line due to damage. The scale of work can also be illustrated for example by the fact that CHL alone used eight different forms of aerial installation to deal with the variations in local conditions and topography.

    Purely from the infrastructure and building aspect in just over one year from August 1939 to September 1940 the Completion of CH, CHL and CHL. Establishment of GCI/PPI network had been achieved, with the additional work of Upgrading of CHL to GCI. and Decentralised filtering. So fourteen new CH stations and thirty six new CHL Stations had been built from scratch under wartime conditions. Alongside this a further thirty two GCI/PPI stations had been constructed, starting initially with mobile units then converting/upgrading to mark two permanent installations and then commencing to upgrade the stations to the Mk3 or ‘happidrome’ status of which ten of the southern station had been now completed with all thirty six stations at least completed to mark 2 standard. The original mobile stations were being held in reserve in case of any of the existing stations being damaged beyond quick repair.

    It was just not new hardware and structures that had to be designed procured and constructed, there was the need to supply and train the personnel to man all these new installations.

    An appreciation of the scale of expansion in technical staff can be gained by appraising the staffing requirements of a single GCI/PPI station. Each watch at a GCI/PPI station has; On the PPI, one operator . four plotters. One Radio Maintenance Technician. One plotter on the table and four fighter directors/Talkers, plus a Watch leader. Each station has five watches. Allowing for rotation and rest periods. Sixty personnel in total. This number of technical staff is normally at least matched in number by the service staff on the B site (accommodation and administration). B site staff for security reasons are not permitted on to the A or technical site. The two sites are physically separated for that reason and to disperse the staff in case of attack. All of these installations have had to be built furnished, and commissioned. Additionally, they have all had to be linked into the Government communications network for both telephones and teleprinter a major undertaking in itself in time of war.

    This extraordinary achievement in recruiting and training personnel has been achieved by the creation of an entirely new and dedicated unit within the RAF

    60 group was formally set up as the RAF parent organisation for all the RDF stations and the personnel who operated and maintained them. This took effect in September 1939 under the command of Air Commodore A. L. Gregory, The chain of command was to A.O.C. Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding via the Director General of Signals Air Vice Marshal Nucking. With the dispersion of the research unit from Bawdsey it was necessary for 60 Group to quickly acquire an administrative headquarters.

    Once again the spirit of cooperation between the civilian scientist and the serving RAF personnel has proved beneficial as one of the Bawdsey scientists, called Edward Fennsey, experienced in the siting of and acquisition of land and property for RDF stations came up trumps by finding and requisitioning a property known as Oxedon, Plantation Road, Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, which has room for expansion and is expected to serve as 60 groups base throughout the war. Through RAF channels the RAF base at Yatesbury which had been an old RFC airfield and later a private flying school site was assigned to 60 group as their ground training school. The possible culture clash of simply putting the ‘Bawdsey Boffins’ into RAF uniform and expecting them to immediately conform to RAF discipline and procedure was circumvented by adopting a solution recommended by one of the Naval Group working at Bawdsey. This was to adopt the system used by the Admiralty regarding the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, who like the Bawdsey scientists were Civil Servants, When Constructors were required to work at sea or in charge of naval personnel they adopted an acting rank and wore naval uniform for that rank, however otherwise they dressed and acted as civilians. By adopting this strategy Air Commodore Gregory set the tone for an informal marriage between RAF discipline and attitude and the freedom to act as an individual of the academics to achieve quick results.

    60 group are responsible for the administration of all the existing RDF station and the acquisition of new sites, their manning and maintenance. Also within 60 Groups remit was the recruiting and training of all the operators and technicians for the burgeoning RDF system.

    Recruitment of radio enthusiasts and radio maintenance people. Even at the recruiting stage there was a difference between those recruited for communications training, known as wireless and those selected for RDF/DF training, known as Radio. This distinction was used as an elementary method of obscuring the nature of the RDF/DF work whilst differentiating between the two function in both correspondence and planning.

    Recruitment and training of women in all roles ;- as operators, mechanics and technical supervisors had already been established as the norm before the establishment of 60 group and this legacy was built upon under the new Commanding Officer. Training centres were set up at Yatesbury (No 9 Radio school) and at Cranwell ( No 8 Radio School) with the RDF station at Danby Heath being used as an OTU. Though the requirements for training and establishing new sites had grown so great that by July 1940 the whole of 60 Group had to undergo re-organisation in order to cope. Principally this reorganisation consisted of decentralisation to dissolve, site selection, installation work and maintenance to separate Wings, each responsible for a different geographical area.

    Even before the start of the war it was realised that the radio retail and repair and other allied industries could be a rich source of skilled recruits at the outset of hostilities but in a long war recruits would need to be trained from the ab initio level. The already skilled intakes from industry and the amateur enthusiasts were sent on course suitable for the skill required in their deployment. For Operators this was normally a six week course. Mechanics, initially eight to ten weeks and technical officers varying periods depending on specialisation. To this end at the declaration of war a number of suitable departments in the technical colleges were mobilised to provide a six months foundation course that covered comprehensively from the theory of electricity such as Ohm’s law and DC and AC theory to the practical use of hand tools and soldering to build and repair circuits as diverse as tuned radio-frequency receivers, push-pull valves systems and tuned-plate-tuned-grid oscillators, just as a sample of the topics covered on the courses.

    From the start the policy was to over train the recruits for any particular job so that they had a grounding in the greater degree of the technical aspects of the task. This was a way of future proofing the technically trained recruits as the speed of development of the apparatus they used brought new marks and models, if not completely new systems into service almost before the last round of updates and modifications had been completed.

    Additionally training was required for the fitters and operators for the new VHF radio sets that were now fitted to all RAF day and Night fighters. Ground based version of these radios were also being installed at all the RAF sector stations and GCI/PPI stations . This in itself was a huge task and put additional strain of the available technical staff as well a causing problems between those recruiting for the ‘Wireless’ service and those doing the same task for the ‘Radio’ Service.

    As can be seen by all of the above the headquarters and administration work of No Sixty Group has had to be expanded rapidly as well. Commensurate with the ground based expansion there had been a parallel expansion in the night fighter force. Not only had two new types of aircraft been brought into service but no less than three iterations of airborne installation of the 1.5m waveband AI RDF system had been gone through, till eventually all aircraft were fitted with AIMkIV . Currently there are 11 active squadrons flying Nightfighters with a further five squadrons working up in preparation for operations. Every fighter required not only a highly skilled night flying pilot but also an RDF operator who has the technical skill to use complicated electrical systems under the stress of combat conditions. To support these crews the squadrons and bases need not only the usual ground crews but additional technical staff and facilities to maintain and service the AI equipment. At the start of the war a scant fourteen months ago there were only five PPI stations and they were all of the mark one variety and none of them were in the true sense fully operational, neither were the two squadrons of AI night fighters fully equipped or trained. In the period since then, as can be seen a vast amount of work has been done and the night fighter system currently operational in Great Britain is un-matched by any other in the world.

    The operational night fighter squadrons covering the UK currently have on strength one hundred and seventy eight night-fighters, with a further five squadrons numbering an additional eighty aircraft currently training to operational standards. As the GCI/PPI system currently exists theoretically one hundred and twenty eight night fighters can be controlled at any one time. Though for practical purposes the figure is closer to half that number. In order for the night fighter force to function not only do they need to track the enemy aircraft, their own aircraft have to be tracked as well and the identity of friendly aircraft known. Also there must be two way radio communication directly between the controller and the fighter on a dedicated frequency. Current VHF radio sets have four frequencies, as do the ground stations this enables them theoretically to control four aircraft at once, the problem then is if the adjacent controller is on the same frequency then their transmittions will cause interference and if they are not on the same frequency then the night-fighter cannot be handed from one GCI controller to another. These constraints currently limit the number of fighters being controlled in by any one GCI.

    To differentiate between our own and enemy aircraft there is an electronic identification system but this is not infallible so currently no night fighter will engage a target aircraft until they have a positive visual identification that it is in fact an enemy aircraft. To establish this visual identification in the dark of the night takes time and patience on the part of the night fighter crew who often have to manoeuvre to within feet of the aircraft being pursued whilst themselves endeavouring to remain undetected.

    As the prime Minister will recall on the 30th of June 1939 he visited the Bawdsey Research Station and the staff of 60 group who were at that time still based there. Before he left the research station that afternoon he made a speech in which he both praised them for their achievements and set them a challenge. This is the essence of what was said on that afternoon.

    ‘today has been one of the most exciting days of my life, for you have shown me the weapon with which we shall defeat the Nazis. But Gentlemen, you still have one problem to solve. Let me illustrate it for you. I am a German pilot flying across the North Sea, briefed to bomb London. I am a very frightened pilot, for I know that with your wonderful invention you are watching my every move. But I cross the English coast and I am a very happy pilot. Why is that? Because I have flown from the twentieth Centaury into the early Stone Age. And that, Gentlemen, is the problem you must solve.’ (2)

    At the time that speech was made once an aircraft passed the Chain Home stations it was not tracked by RDF but solely visually by the Observer Corps and other service establishments, Who might baulk at being called ‘Stone Age’. However in the sixteen months that have passed since then the challenge has been met and the full force of twentieth century technology has been brought to bear to solve the problem that Churchill had so eloquently identified. This has been done not only against the day bomber but also against the night attacker as well. This leaves no hiding place the for Luftwaffe in the skies over our country.

    The electronic battle for mastery of the skies is an ongoing endeavour which requires continual diligence, innovation and incessant application of all aspects of scientific knowledge.

    Having finished going through the briefing paper Sir Phillip concluded by stating that no matter from what source they might have heard to the contrary everything that practically could be done to counter the German night raids was being done and that as explained in the briefing papers. Nearly all the uninformed ideas currently being thrown at the Air Ministry both from within the RAF and the Air Ministry as well as from elsewhere would in fact be counter productive and inhibit the carefully constructed defence apparatus and system crafted under the control of Sir Hugh Dowding as Head of Fighter Command.

    Churchill having glanced or perhaps more accurately glowered around the cabinet table brought the proceedings on that topic to a close by giving the Air Ministry, RAF and Fighter Command his full support and stating that the Government through all it’s ministries would convey the confidence of the Government in the Air Defence system and those who spoke otherwise would be quietly briefed and told by the whips to hold their tongues.

    This endorsement of Sir Hugh Dowding Further strengthened Sir Phillip in his opinion that he was making the right Choice regarding the next head of the Air Staff.

    (2), this 20th Centaury to Stone Age quip has been frequently quoted, this version comes from. ‘Radar a Wartime Miracle’, Page 216, as remembered by Sidney Jefferson who at the time was on the technical staff of Watson Watt at Bawdsey Manor
    10.38 Why do they not come?
  • 10.38. Why do they not come.

    September 20th.

    Day, One large fighter sweep towards London otherwise reconnaissance only.

    Night; London.

    Weather, Fair with bright periods. Showery. (1)

    There was a slow start to the morning but at ten thirty a large formation of German aircraft was detected assembling over Calais. This mass of aircraft split up into several elements that approached England at various parts of the coast stretching from dover on the East to Dungeness in the west at varying altitudes in an attempt to split Eleven Groups defensive squadrons up. Here the Eleven Group Sector stations into who’s areas the enemy were encroaching showed the real value of the GCI/PPI stations which were now working at full stretch twenty four hours a day. The Kenly sector station handed two of it’s squadrons off to the GCI at Durrington to control the interception of the raid approaching Dungeness, Biggin Hill handed two of it’s squadron over to the GCI station at Wartling as a raid was heading their way and finally Detling sector station passed two squadrons over to the GCI at Willesborough to intercept the raid approaching Dover. This allowed the sector station controllers to concentrate on moving the rest of their squadrons into position to close any gaps or chase down any enemy aircraft that evaded the initial countermoves. The next hour was busy to say the least but no enemy aircraft penetrated inland further than Kenley, Biggin Hill or Detling though a small formation made it as far up the Thames estuary as Tilbury where they were finally intercepted by squadrons from Hornchurch. Two squadrons of RAF fighters fell upon less than a dozen enemy bombers with only a handfull of Me 19’s for escort. Within minutes the retreat of the enemy formation was marked by the tell tale columns of black smoke marking the final resting place of more of their comrades. As the plots finally cleared no new enemy formations were detected and the RAF pilots had a chance to draw breath and as the lull continued it eventually became clear that there would be no further attacks before door that night.

    With a waning moon giving what should have been sufficient light for a major Luftwaffe bombing attack the night fighter force was anticipating a very busy night. The one target that the Germans could not resist was London so the sirens summoned one and all to take shelter yet again. Those who remained above ground were rewarded by seeing more than one enemy aircraft become a bright meteor of flame descending to earth and final destruction. To night the guns claimed two enemy bombers shot down over London. The night fighters claimed an additional three of the attackers. Whilst nothing like the number of daylight losses inflicted on the bombers this steady attrition of their numbers was notable and witnessed by the empty chairs in the messes as the crews sat down to breakfast.

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

    September 21st.

    Day, Slight activity; some fighter sweeps in East Kent.

    Night, London and Merseyside attacked.

    Weather, Mainly fine. (1)

    With the south east of England covered in a thick haze for most of the day there were few attacks until very late in the afternoon. Those attacks that did take place earlier were mostly single aircraft attacking targets of opertunity. For the defenders conditions were particularly difficult and against lone aircraft flyinf fairly low the setor conrolers were struggling to achieve interceptions. Like the day before but for very different reasons the sector controllers start to pass flights or even single fighters off to the GCI stations so that they could use their PPI sets to rapidly vector and intercepting fighter or flight onto an intruder. Even with this innovative system few successful interceptions were made. There was a major change in the early evening when a major attack consisting of five raids again crossing the coast at Dungenes, Lympne and Dover just as they had the day before. Once again the sector stations at Hornchurch, Biggin Hill and Kenley were the primary targets with one enemy formation attempting to break through to central London. To counter this assault eleven group scrambled twenty squadrons including the PAC wing from Debden and Duxford. To the West a single squadron from ten Group was also scrambled. Due too the difficult conditions only two squadrons made successful interceptions but as a counter balance not a single bombs fell on a sector station though windows were rattled at both Biggin Hill and Kenley.

    For the second night in a row the Luftwaffe failed to take advantage of nearly perfect bombing conditions b y only mounting moderately strong attacks on Colchester, Nottingham, Bolton, Warrington, Liverpool and London.

    Today fighter Command did not suffer a single loss whilst the Luftwaffe lost a total of a dozen aircraft in the period from dawn on the 21st to dawn on the 22nd.

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

    September 22nd

    Day, Slight activity.

    Night, London bombed.

    Weather, Dull with fog in morning. Cloudy in afternoon. Fair to fine late. Some rain. (1)

    Today saw the lowest mission count for fighter command since the start of the summer battles. Only one hundred and sixty daylight sorties were flown by defending fighters as due to the weather and other factors the Luftwaffe bombers had the Sunday off. For their efforts Fighter Command scored ten victories today for not a single lost aircraft. Some were damaged an a couple of pilots received minor wounds. All in all Sir Hugh Dowding could be pleased with the day encounters.

    After dark the situation changed completely as large numbers of enemy aircraft crossed the channel to principally attack London. Soon the city was once more ablaze to an extent not seen since the Great Fire of 1666. Over one hundred and fifty bombers attacked the city with last one turning for home as the first hint of the new days light announced itself on the eastern horizon. Despite their best efforts the night fighter only downed five bombers, though a few more were damaged or as one night fighter crew put it ‘Bloody frightened and praying hard’. The guns again claimed a ‘brace of birds’. So though London had taken another pasting the number of enemy aircraft intercepted, attacked and destroyed was slowly rising. The big question for Sir Hugh was would it rise high enough to cause the Germans to cease their attacks and would relief come to Britain before the final straw broke. Tonight also saw the use of a new tactic by the Luftwaffe, that was to insert intruder aircraft into the returning RAF bomber streams. These aircraft would follow the bombers to their bases and then carry out a quick harassing attack using guns and bombs before running for home.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10.39 There Is No Hiding In The Dark
  • 20,39. There is no hiding in the dark.

    Several times during the daylight battles the King, amongst other VIPs, had visited Fighter Command HQ at Stanmore, one of the other HQs or an airfield but the request from the Royal Household to visit an operational GCI/PPI station at night had come somewhat as a surprise and caused not a little consternation amongst Sir Hugh Dowding’s Staff. After a little bit of to and from, the staff at Bentley Priory had arranged for the Royal Party to visit the GCI station at Sopley in Hampshire. This location had been chosen for a number of reasons, it was close enough to London and Windsor to be easily accessible but far enough away that it was unlikely to be caught in a major raid. It was very close to the Bournemouth/London railway so the Royal train could be used as an overnight base for the King and Queen and lastly but by no means least, Sopley had the record of being the most successful of all the GCI stations with almost double the number of intercepts, so therefore statistically it was the best station to choose from the point of the King actually witnessing an interception.

    Having decided the where, the AM and Fighter Command had now to decide the when, the word from the Royal Household had been that it should be as soon as was practical and involve as few Brass Hats as possible and cause no disruption to the normal operation of the station. So it was that on the night of the XX of September the King and Queen were quietly ushered into the PPI and plotting room, where they were shown how the PPI screen showed the position and range of the target which could be passed directly to the intercepting pilot and plotted on the station’s map board, so that the control staff could track the enemy and it’s position relative to adjacent stations and other contacts. For the King’s visit the personnel at Sopley had been thoroughly briefed, one important aspect of his visit was that he was there in his capacity as a senior officer of the RAF and not as the King. So if he addressed any of the personnel they would respond with a curt “Sir” rather than “Your Majesty”.

    So that the King could observe the operating procedure he was provided with a seat in front of the large Perspex grid reference map upon which the duty fighter plotter was marking and recording the plots and tracks of the various RDF returns. From these plots the duty fighter plotter would pass the course and speed of the plots to the duty controller. The Duty Controller would then use this information to direct the night fighter towards a hostile contact. So as to allow the duty fighter plotter to concentrate on the task in hand the King, who was sitting to his left, was separated from him by a curtain.

    This carefully orchestrated demonstration was interrupted when as the duty plotter was concentrating on passing accurate courses and speed on a potential target to the controller, the curtain was whisked back by the King, who enquired in his guttural low voice ‘’and what are you doing?” completely unnerved by the unexpected interruption the duty fighter plotter forgot his prior instructions and leaped to his feet, sending his chino graph crayon flying to the floor, stood to attention and stated loudly “plotting, Your Majesty”. With nary a pause the King bent down, picked up the errant chino graph crayon and place it back on the ledge on the edge of the plotting table with the words “Oh are you” upon which both men sat down and the chase continued as if nothing had happened, which was fortuitous. The enemy aircraft had approached Sopley from the north and as the King now quietly observed an RAF night fighter was calmly and carefully coxed into a position below and behind the enemy aircraft. There was a brief flutter of excitement in the room as the night fighter reported gaining an RDF contact and the hushed silence as the two plots came ever closer to each other as they came ever closer to Sopley. Final the night fighter pilot radioed that he had visual contact and confirmed it as a ‘Hostile’ and was about to engage. At this juncture the senior RAF officer escorting the King and Queen discreetly invited then to step out side as there might be something to see. As they cleared the blackout curtain the party was directed to look towards the north. Hardly had these words been spoken when distinct streams of flashing lights were seen in high in the sky followed shortly by the sound of distant cannon fire. Seconds later a glow appeared which grew into visible flames that descended at an ever decreasing angle and increasing speed until disappearing into the darkness of the horizon. The door of the Control room opened and a measured voice announced, “pilot reports target destroyed, Sir’

    The German aircraft crashed close to the town of Ringwood on the edge of the New Forest some six miles north of Sopley.

    On their return journey to the Royal Train the King had turned to his Aide de Camp and remarked that “it had been quite a ‘Command Performance’ and that He would personally endorse the awarding of a DFC to the night fighter pilot, who he understood to be one of the service’s leading aces”. The King added that if RAF Command could arrange It, he would like to visit the night fighter squadron in question and carry out the investiture himself at that time.

    After a quick flurry of activity between the RAF and the AM, arrangements were duly made, Dowding as an Equerry to the King and the Commanding officer of the proposed recipient of the medal had a couple of salient observations of which he advised the King. One was that the Reaper night fighter aircraft had a crew of two, the pilot and the RDF operator and the success of the pilot was wholly tied to the skill and competence of the RDF operator flying with him. In the case of Flight lieutenant Cunningham his RDF operator was a Sargent, Cecil Frederick Rawnsley but known as ‘Jimmy’ and as a Sargent could not be awarded the DFC. The non-commissioned equivalent award was the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) and Sir Hugh Dowding suggested that it would be appropriate in this case to awarded both members of the air crew. That then lead onto Sir Hugh’s second observation and that was that the awarding of a medal to the RDF operator in a night fighter-had all sorts of security and operational implications. The very existence of airborne RDF and its use in fighter aircraft was a very sensitive security matter and the attention drawn to it by an investiture which included the reading of the citations for the medals awarded would be problematical. Sir Phillip and others working with both the Royal Household and Sir Hugh Dowding as the Commanding officer of Fighter Command came up with a workable solution.

    Whilst Cunningham’s award of the DFC would be duly Gazzeted, under the Official Secrets Act the award of the DFM to Sargent Rawnsley would not be published.

    A couple of weeks later the King paid a visit to the Worthy Down air base where all the squadron personnel both commissioned and non-commissioned were presented to him. Then in the full glare of the Newsreels and print media Cunningham was with full pomp and ceremony duly decorated with the DFC. An hour later in a closed hanger, a second ceremony was held where Sargent ‘Jimmy’ Rawnsley was decorated with the DFM by the King, a nice touch was that the actual citation was read out to the assembled company by the newly decorated pilot John ‘Cats-Eyes’ Cunningham.

    Forever afterwards there was a friendly rivalry over whether the Sergeants Mess or the Officer’s mess threw the best celebration party.

    Both men had the distinction of being the first RDF night fighter crew to be decorated for their actions.
    10.40 And They Still Keep Coming
  • 10. 40. And they still keep coming.

    September 23rd.

    Day, Fighter sweeps towards London.

    Night. London and Merseyside.

    Weather. Fine (1)

    Unlike yesterday the action commenced quite early with RDF stations reporting considerable activity around Calais by nine thirty. This proved to be a mass of some two hundred aircraft that divided into six formations of varying sizes mainly comprising Me109’s head across channel towards land fall at dover. To counter this Eleven Group scrambled no less than twenty Squadrons of fighters. Ten Squadrons successfully intercepted and engaged the enemy aircraft, resulting in dogfights painting the sky with streaks of white vapour and occasionaly black ones.

    Later in the day a further incursion ha Eleven group headquarters a Uxbridge scrambling twelve squadrons working as four wings to intercept the Messerchmitts that crossed the coat at Dover, South Foreland and Hythe in five distinct waves. Within forty five minutes the last of these intruders were heading back to France but the formations had proved elusive and difficult to engage despite the best efforts of the GCI/PPI stations to vector the fighters onto them. With the enemy aircraft being of similar performance capabilities as the defending fighters unless the defending controllers are able to place their fighters above and ahead of the enemy formations the resulting stern chase will almost inevitably fruitless.

    Today the daylight battle proved expensive for Fighter Command, as eleven fighters were shot down with two pilots killed and no les than six of the surviving pilots wounded. However the Germans lost eighteen aircraft over the southern counties and the channel that day and all but two of the pilots being killed or captured.

    Whilst fierce encounters took place in the sky another fierce engagement was being fought in No 10 Downing Street as the Cabinet demanded reprisals against Berlin in the form of area bombing of the entire city using. As the representative of the RAF in the Cabinet Sir Phillip had to state that this was completely contrary to the advice and policy of the Air Staff. Who recommended concentrating of hitting specific high value targets. To illustrate the reason for this advice Sir Phillip used the example of the effect on London of the four bombs that struck Fulham Power station as against the several hundred bombs that had been scattered through the rest of the borough and the surrounding area.

    After further discussion with the Air Staff a compromise was reached in that Berlin would be now included in the target selection but only targets of value in the city would be attacked. This decision taken at Cabinet level resulted in a force consisting one hundred Hampden, Whitleys, and Wellingtons head for Berlin on the evening of the 23rd September.

    That night the Luftwaffe sent two hundred and sixty one bombers that once again set large areas of the city ablaze.

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

    September 24th

    Day, Tilbury and Southampton raided.

    Night, London and Merseyside attacked.

    Weather, Early-morning fog in northern France. Channel cloudy, haze in the Straits and Thames Estuary. (1)

    With the equinoctial gales that had been lashing the channel for the last few days dying down and promising calmer conditions once more the British High Command were again bracing themselves for the invasion that was still expected to fall on British shores. The dawn reconnaissance flights found the channel clear of invasions fleets and any offensive German moves. In the sky above the channel it was a different story as by eight thirty in the morning the British RDF stations were recording large formations of German aircraft massing over Calais. This mass composed principally of twin engine bombers split into five formations and headed across the channel flying at altitudes between ten thousand and twenty five thousand feet the German aircraft headed for London spread over a front of ten miles. However the bombers were met by squadron and wing strength formations of Spitfires, Defiants and Hurricanes from Eleven Group and all the enemy bomber turned back before reaching London. By midday a further formation of two hundred German aircraft formed up behind Cape Gris Nez, again they split into five into five formations before heading north for the English coast. Fighter Command sent eighteen squadrons up to oppose them. Discretion being the better part of valour upon spotting the climbing fighters the German Bomber jettisoned their bomb loads and turned back for France. As a result only two of Eleven Groups squadrons actually manged to engage on this occasion and then only inconclusively.

    Quite early in the afternoon a gaggle of around a score of bomb laden Me 109’s crossed the Channel at very low level, flew into Southampton water via Spithead and the eastern Solent. Such a route opened up a large number of potential high value targets that needed to be defended, these included the RN dockyard Portsmouth, Gosport, Cowes with it’s shipyards and aircraft factory, the Naval air stations at Lee on Solent and Calshot, Oil refineries at Fawley and Hamble the Follond factory also at Hamble, Southamton and it’s docks, The Cunliffe Owen and Supermarine factories at Eastleigh airport and the Railway works that formed the airfield’s northern boundary. With such an array of potential targets and with them straddling the junction of Ten and eleven Groups there were problems with intercepting the attack. The actual target turned out to be the Supermarine works at Woolston on the river Itchen. This very factory was very distinctive and easy to identify and even as intercepting fighters dived to attack them the Me109’s dropped their bombs. Dispersed and headed for safety as fast as possible. Of all the bombs dropped not a single one actually struck the Supermarine Factory complex. Unfortunately one bomb landed squarely on a nearby municipal shelter destroying it completely, resulting nearly one hundred casualties (2)

    This attack brought an end to the daylight activity but from sunset till five thirty in the morning there were continuous attacks spread throughout the United Kingdom, At one stage every active GCI/PPI station was handling at least one night fighter. Here was a real test for the system and the combined plot log at Bentley Priory bore stark witness to the enormity and complexity of the task in trying to curtail the night bomber attacks.

    Sir Philip was shocked and saddened to hear of the large loss of life that occurred in Woolston but gave silent thanks that the valuable Supermarine facility had been spared this time. However he was, as he always had been, convinced that the Luftwaffe would continue to attack the Supermarine factory until they managed to destroy it. It was this belief that had led Sir Phillip to insist that Sir Archibald Sinclair as Minister for Aircraft Production arrange earlier in the summer For Super Marine and Vickers to disperse Spitfire production all over Southampton and the surrounding area. This was not as disruptive as some had feared, for as it was all Spitfires had to be transferred to Eastleigh airport for final assembly and test flying. At Eastleigh there was the large Cunliffe Owen aircraft factory where a lot of Spitfire components and subassemblies were being manufactured, all these pieced had up until the decision to disperse production from the Supermarine factory been transported to the production line and then back to the final assembly shed back at Eastleigh. Now every dispersed facility delivered strait to Eastleigh where both the final assembly shop and Cunliffe Owen assembled the complete aircraft. All that was done at Supermarine Wolston now was administration, type development and production design, mock up and prototype construction, plus construction of special aircraft like PRU Spitfires. With this near miss Sir Phillip was certain that the Luftwaffe would try again and so wrote a memo to the MAP requesting that they immediately check that Supermarine had completed dispersal of all design storage and other non replaceable items.

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

    (2) This is as OTL,
    10.41 The War Goes Elsewhere And Cannot Be Neglected
  • 10.41. The War goes elseware and cannot be neglected.

    Iceland, to most of the British population it would have come as a bit of surprise to find this remote north Atlantic Island on the edge of the Artic Sea as being a priority for the Air Minister in the midst of the current air battle over England. However, it was, simply because since the invasion of Demark by Germany in the spring and the subsequent occupation of Iceland by the British in conjunction with the fall of France the island was now strategically very important for the British. With the basing of long range aircraft and U-boats in western France the ability of Nazi Germany to interdict the trans-Atlantic convoys as well as those to the rest of the empire had been greatly enhanced. As a counter the basing of Very Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (VLRMPA) in Iceland was an obvious move. Therein lay a problem, VLRMPA either require sheltered waters and extensive shore facilities if they were flying boats or large, long all weather runways if they were large land aircraft. Both types of facilities were to all intents and purposes none existent on Iceland in the early Summer of 1940.

    With the invasion of Iceland on the 10th of May by a force of Royal Marines planning had immediately started for the construction of base facilities and especially a large airfield.

    As it would take some months for these facilities to be built an interim solution was sought and for a limited time Short Sunderlands and other seaplanes could be operated from sheltered waters such as Reykjavik harbor with the aid of a Seaplane tender but this would not be viable through the long harsh winter of the near artic. To set up a temporary base the services of HMS Pegasus had been requested from the Admiralty. This course of action had been quickly agreed upon and after a short refit HMS Pegasus was loaded with stores to support not only the Sunderland Flying boats but also all the various types of catapult launched aircraft that the ships of the Northern patrol carried. In the short term the accommodation of the RAF maintenance and administrative personnel would be resolved by using a requisitioned small cargo liner that could also double up as a stores ship. It proved harder to get the cargo liner from the Ministry of Supply than it had been to get HMS Pegasus from the Navy. In the end the impasse was resolved when the Navy stepped in again and reminded the Ministry of Supply of two pertinent facts,

    1 the temporary reassignment of one ship could and probably would result in saving multiple ships from permanent loss.

    2. There were currently several cargo liners that had been earmarked for conversion to AMC’s that had not yet been requisitioned by the Navy perhaps now was the time for the RN to exert their prerogative and insist on having one of these ships delivered to the nearest naval dockyard before sending it to Iceland.

    Sir Phillip was always thankful for the good relationship between the Admiralty and the AM/RAF that had been forged since the decision to return the FAA to the RN and the passing of Operational control of Maritime Command to a joint RN/RAF staff.

    The long term solution was to complete all weather airfield at strategic locations on Iceland. Here was where Sir Phillip and the Air Ministry ran into a major problem. Just as plans were being made with the Ministry of Supply to send the necessary materials to Iceland, France fell and all priorities changed. Suddenly every ton of concrete and reinforcing steel was required for the building of anti-invasion defenses in the UK. With All weather airstrips required by the RAF for Fighter Command, Bomber Command and others the AM was struggling to ensure construction supplies for domestic airfields let alone those on a faraway island.

    Some times Sir Phillip felt very frustrated by the inability of certain civil servants and their political bosses to see the bigger picture. It would not be the first or last time such a conflict of interest would occur in wartime. Heaven forbid that Sir Phillip or anyone else in the Air Ministry might suggest that at this precise moment in time certain Whitehall mandarins might be more concerned with protecting their own skins from a potential invasion rather than protecting the lives of Merchant seaman struggling to supply the vary materials required to repel that feared invasion.

    The solution had proved remarkedly easy, a request to Canada House resulted in a meeting with the deputy High Commissioner Lester Bowles "Mike" Pearson. Mike Pearson had been recruited by Sir William Samuel Stephenson the Canadian born spymaster to act as a ‘Kings’s Messenger’, Sir William had been a fighter pilot in the Great war and was a confidant of both Sir Phillip and Sir Hugh Dowding. It also helped that Sir William’s mother was Icelandic. The meeting held at Sir Phillips club one evening discussed the problem of building all weather airfields in Iceland, Sir Phillip enquired whether the Canadian Government could be of assistance by supplying and shipping materials to the Island. Lester’s response had been that he thought he could do better than that and not only arrange supplies and shipping but also the construction crews and machinery required. This meeting had taken place in July shortly after the arrival of Canadian troops to take over the Garrison of the Island. By this simple expedient the building of the Islandic airfields particularly at Keflavik and Kaladarnes was back on the agender. Still with the short summer construction season it would still be a race against time to have these airfields ready before the onset of winter. Now in Late September that race was drawing to a close and it would be ‘nip and tuck’ whether the runways would be ready or not. As for the rest of the facilities, using prefabricated Nissan huts and hangers had greatly speeded up construction of the base facilities which whilst crude they would at least be serviceable.

    The next problem was finding the squadrons and aircraft to send out to Iceland. The first aircraft sent was a detachment of Sunderland MkIs from 210 squadron of Maritime Command. This detachment would rotate back to the squadron base at Oban for major maintenance and leave. It was the allocation of a greater air component to Iceland that was currently vexing Sir Phillip. So what was needed? The Naval appreciation that had been passed to him was that there was a requirement for a wing of Long range RDF equipped maritime patrol aircraft, a wing of medium range RDF equipped Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a further wing of Coastal patrol aircraft. So in the first category were the short Sunderland and the Short Sterling, of which the Sterling had the longer endurance and range. In the medium range category there was the Wellington and the Consolidated Catalina (the first squadron of which was being raised). The Blackburn B20 was entering series production at Dunbarton and should be on Squadron service by late winter. In the Coastal category there was the Flamingo. Pulling together these resources would all take time. Currently a single squadron of Sunderland’s were on station and carrying out patrols.

    The MAP were juggling production between manufacturers and factories. For instance Saunders Roe had been incensed when the Lerwick had been cancelled after just a few flights of the prototype. The test team had condemned it as unfit for service and unlikely ever to be. On the other hand when Blackburn’s B20 was almost lost due to uncontrollable aileron flutter the pause in testing required to remedy this had been used also to swap the RR Vulture engines for the Fairy Monarch. This had necessitated a redesign of the engine Nacelles and all the engine control and instrument cable runs. Blackburn had achieved this in time for the first production/prototype to be modified. The MAP had taken the decision to instigate full production with the central float pontoon and the wing floats being built by Saunders Roe at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, they would then be mated with the Blackburn built wings and Fuselage at Dunbarton. Remaining capacity at Saunders Roe Cowes was being used to flesh out Sunderland production. Whilst it was considered risky to go with the B20’s unusual design the performance gains were considered worth it. When the problems with both of the next generation medium size Flying boats became apparent early in 1939 the AM had acquired a commercial model 28-5 flying boat for trials to see if it would be suitable for RAF use. This had resulted in an order being place in early 1940 for delivery in late 1940 early 1941. Therefore for the time being the only option was for Sunderlands to be based at Reykjavik harbour until the all weather airfields were ready for operations. Then LRMPA Sterlings, Wellingtons, and Flamingos would be sent.
    10.42 As The Battle Goes On, The Devil Is In The Detail
  • 10.42 As the battle goes on, the devil is in the detail

    September 25th.

    Day Bristol and Plymouth Bombed.

    Night, London, North Wales, and Lancashire attacked.

    Weather, Fair to fine in most districts. Cool. Channel cloudy with bright intervals: Hazy. (1)

    The early morning was quite, just the usual German reconnaissance flights and a diversionary build up over France around half past eight. The mornings main assault commenced shortly after eleven o’clock when a large formation crossed the channel further west than normal, whilst a diversionary attack consisting of fighter bombers attacked Portland drew the attention of No 10 Groups ready squadrons. A force consisting of Heinkel 111’s from Three Gruppen of KG5 total sixty air craft accompanied by Me110’s of ZG26 successfully evaded the defending fighters to attack the Bristol Aircraft factory at Filton. Nearly one hundred tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs caused extensive damage to the plant and killed two hundred and fifty people. Full production was curtailed for several weeks. Having sent two squadrons to defend Portland a further three Squadrons had been scrambled by 10 group to intercept the main attack. Un fortunately these defending fighters had been sent by the group control to orbit Yeovil as he had anticipated that the aircraft factories there were the main target. Once the true track of the raid had be ascertained these squadrons were vectored towards Filton and managed to intercept prior to the bombing but were engaged by the Me110’s enabling the bulk of the sixty Heinkle 111’ to carry out a measured and largley unopposed attack. The two squadrons that were using Filton as a sector station had been dispersed to Exeter and Bibury to counter coastal attacks. The retreating bombers were harried all the way to the coast and losses were inflicted.

    Later that afternoon eighty seven Squadron flying from Exeter intercepted a dozen bombers with another dozen Me 110’s as escort near Plymouth and forced them to break off their attack. At the same time three squadrons of fighters from Eleven Group were at twenty thousand feet over London to intercept another bomber attack.

    By the time darkness had fallen the day fighters had flown over six hundred and fifty sorties, destroying twenty enemy aircraft (as confirmed by wreck counts and verified observation by multiple witnesses) NIghtime again saw large attacks on London with widely dispersed smaller formations trying to distract the night fighters. Despite far from perfect conditions for the defenders again a steady tole of the attacking bombers was taken both by the fighters and the ever improving AA guns. The new gun laying and ranging RDF sets using the fifty centimetre transmitters were beginning to prove their worth. Especially with the big four inch calibre AA guns in the London sector.

    Tonight the Civil Defence organisations recorded the highest number yet of people seeking shelter in the deep tube stations. Despite wide spread fears of panic, it would seem that Londoners could take it and that the cockney gallows humour was thriving as the populace went about their daily lives. (2).

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    (2) Based upon a weekly report from the Eastend, Home Security operations Room.

    September 26th.

    Day, Supermarine factory at Southampton attacked and wrecked.

    Night, London and Merseyside.

    Weather, Mainly fair to cloudy in the south. (1)

    Just as Sir Phillip had surmised the German reconnaissance photographs had clearly showed that the Supermarine works had been undamaged and today the Luftwaffe were determined to rectify that failure. So that afternoon after a quite morning the Luftwaffe sent a fleet of seventy six bombers and fighters consisting of Ju 88’s, He 111’s and Me109’s left the French coast and using the available cloud cover and diversionary missions to both east and west plus judicious use of jamming managed to evade any major interception by RAF fighters until they had delivered a highly accurate and devastating attack consisting of seventy tons of high explosive bombs that completely devastated the Supermarine Factory. Only as the Luftwaffe aircraft turned for home did the fighters of 10 and 11 group successfully intercept them with two squadrons from each of the groups engaging in a running fight that lasted almost to the French Coast. This resulted in more than a dozen of the enemy aircraft being shot down whilst two Spitfires and a single Defiant were shot down in return. One British pilot bailed out and fortuitously landed on the beach at Whitsand bay on the Isle of Wight, another was rescued by an MTB in mid channel along with an even dozen very damp and disgruntled Luftwaffe air crew. The fact that their two seriously injured comrades were receiving medical aid and the MTB headed for Halslar at high speed was did not go unnoticed by the others, who’s demeaner improved visibly. Unfortunately the third pilot RAF was lost.

    The success of this raid would result in a major post-mortem at Bentley Priory involving both Ten and Eleven group. The fact that in just a few days two raids had managed to evade interception and attack the same major target was a cause of great concern for all at Fighter Command. Factors examined included, the fact that Southampton was close to the boundary with Ten Group and that fighters from that group were often called in to reinforce Eleven Group which was still causing problems with coordination. This was exacerbated by the fact that the nearest GCI/PPI was in Ten Groups area at Sopley. The RDF team at Sopely was the most experienced and successful of the GCI Stations so for them to have had problems was an unpleasant surprise. The GCI coverage of Sopley in Ten Group overlapped with the GCI coverage of Durrington to the East in Eleven Group. Southamton was right on the edge of the GCI coverage of Durrington, so any attack or enemy aircraft approaching from the east had to be passed to Sopley just prior to it arriving at a Target in Southampton. Though there was direct communication between Sopley and Ten Group HQ and between Durrington and Eleven Group HQ there was no direct connection from the sector stations to GCI/PPI stations though there was a direct line between Sopley and Durrington. In fact every GCI/PPI station had a direct line to each GCI/PPI station it overlapped with. It appears that one major problem encountered in this instance was the delay in information flow between the GCI/PPI stations and the sector stations via the Group HQ’s. Keith Parks and Quinton Brand also sought answers to the problems highlighted by this failure, not to apportion blame, as some would expect but to avoid recurrence and further loss. The first decision made was to install direct lines from all GCI/PPI stations to their nearest and adjoining sector stations.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10.43 Lessons Learnt And Action Taken
  • 10.43. Lessons learnt and action taken,

    September 27th.

    Day. Heavy attacks on London and one on Bristol.
    Night. London, Merseyside and the Midlands.

    Weather, Fair in extreme south and south-west. Cloudy in the Channel with haze. Slight rain in southern England. (1)

    The day’s activity started early as at 8.AM the plots appeared on the table at the Uxbridge headquarters of Eleven Group. This raid consisted of bomb carrying Me110’s with an escort of Me109’s. Intercepted by squadrons from Biggin Hill the attack was broken up with bombs scattered from the beach at Dungeness to the suburbs of London. The Me 109’s pushed on further into London to the extent of their fuel duration. The reason for this became apparent as a second attack composing Ju88 and Do17 bombers approached the coast on route for London. Attacked by successive Squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes as well as the Defiants with their bomber-smashing four cannons the nice neat formations of German bombers were quickly broken up, jettisoning their bombs and high tailing back across the channel. The now isolated Me109’s were soon facing overwhelming odds and were left no option but to dive to the deck and make a low level escape to the coast.

    The morning’s attempt to clear the way for a bomber formation by sending a fighter sweep ahead of it had abjectly failed so after lunch the Luftwaffe reverted to their usual practice of sending a mixed formation to two divergent targets. In this instance three hundred bombers with escort targeting London whilst a further eighty bombers with fighter escort headed for the aircraft factories at Bristol. Today there was no confusion between the various stations and controllers, Ten Group controlled the defense against the attack on Bristol and Eleven group took on the larger raid on London. Twelve Group was warned to stand by to reinforce whichever of the two forward Groups might require assistance.

    Ten Group set the pace with the attacking formation being continually attacked from the coast just to the west of the Isle of Wight all the way across the West Country as it headed north. By the time the formation reached the suburbs of Bristol no less than seventy of the attackers had either been destroyed or forced to flee. The remaining ten Me 110’s and 109’s dumped their bombs and fled when they were attacked by a full wing of fighters sent down from Twelve Group. The enemy fighters and bombers were harried and chased all the way to the French coast before the fighters were recalled.

    Further south the larger formation faired no better. Park had sent entire wings to attack the large formations and the first of these coming in from Tangmere in the west stripped away the fighter escort, allowing the squadrons from Biggin Hill and Debden to climb virtually unopposed to the bomber fleet. Furthers squadrons from the eastern stations then entered the fray at high altitude. By the time the bombers approached the London suburbs they were scattered and in disarray. A small formation of twenty aircraft penetrated as far as the city center only to meet the full wing strength of the PAC. The Polish Pilots flung themselves at the enemy with such ferocity that in the ensuing melee they actually impeded each other’s attacks and thereby enable a few surviving aircraft to flee south.

    The Majority of allied pilots who were shot down either crash landed or parachuted down onto English soil. However the channel was dotted with the white jelly fish of German parachutes and the yellow dye of aircrew markers. A second battle was fought as the RN, Air Sea rescue service and Maritime Command aircraft did their utmost to bag as many as the enemy airman as was possible. By night fall the tally was that for the loss of twenty eight allied aircraft and seven pilots killed, the confirmed losses to the Luftwaffe were counted as being fifty five aircraft, of which twenty eight were twin engined bombers. At the time the RAF and the British government had no way of knowing how many further aircraft had been lost or written off beyond the channel. However the Germans manipulated the propaganda, there was no hiding the facts from their own high command that on this day their much vaunted air force had been roundly trounced.

    As the dark of night gathered around the country like a cloak, the Erks on the RAF fighter fields continued their work of preparing and repairing as many of the fighters in their charge as possible, in anticipation of the renewed onslaught after sunrise. In some cases even on the same airfields, the night fighter crews were preparing to pick up the mantle of being the Nations defense. The night lived up to the mayhem of the day, with concerted attacks on London from virtually dusk till dawn and smaller raids spreading death and destruction around the country but with Merseyside and the midlands again receiving the bulk of the bombload. The night fighters had a busy night with contacts taking place in all GCI/PPI covered areas other than in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Out of the thirty two active stations only nine did not have maggots on their screen before dawn. Fighter Command at Bentley Priory took the decision shortly after midnight to release the night fighter squadrons based at Ballyhalbert, Ayr, Drem and Acklington so that they could be sent south to reinforce the Liverpool, Merseyside and Midlands. This was required as night fighters committed earlier had to land to rearm and refuel. Also as the bombers turned back from their targets in the north of England they tended to draw the night fighters south leaving fewer fighters orbiting the northern beacons and hence available to intercept later raids. Here the importance of Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory was clearly demonstrated as the control room there was able to see the ‘Bigger Picture’ and make adjustments to the defensive posture accordingly.

    1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    10. 44 Accolades and Brickbats
  • 10. 44 Accolades and Brickbats.

    September 28th.

    Day, London and Solent area attacked.

    Night, target London.

    Weather. Fair to fine generally. Straits of Dover and Thames Estuary cloudy. Winds moderate. (1)

    Sir Phillip sat at his desk in the Air Ministry early in the morning and read the message that he had just received from the PM.

    ‘Pray congratulate the Fighter Command on the results of yesterday. The scale and intensity of the fighting and the heavy losses to the enemy make the 27th of September rank with the 15th of September and 15th August, as the third great and victorious day of Fighter Command during the course of the Battle of Britain.’ (2)

    A quick call to No 10, confirmed from the PM’s Private Sectary that this message had not been passed directly to Bentley Priory, Sir Philip in the politest political terms suggest this was a grave omission as such a message coming directly from the Prime Minister rather than being passed on second hand by the Air Ministry would have far greater weight and meaning within the entire RAF. An hour later Sir Hugh Dowding called Sir Phillip on his private line and informed him that he had just had a congratulatory message from the Prime Minister and sought the AM’s clearance to send it to all Fighter Command units via the telex system, Sir Philip concurred with this as long as it did not interfere with normal defensive operational communications.

    The morning started slowly with no major build up of enemy aircraft being detected, however just after noon several large formations were detected over the Pas de Calais. These approached the English coast between Dungeness and Deal and it was only when the intercepting fighters approached that it was confirmed that the attacking force was some thirty Ju’88’s escort by a large number of Me109’s stacked up to high altitude. This led to the first intercepting squadrons doing so at a distinct disadvantage. Though the enemy aircraft were turned back before they could reach central London it had resulted in the scrambling of every squadron in Eleven group with an additional two squadrons from Twelve Group being called in as a back stop over the city.

    To the west at two thirty in the afternoon Ten Group intercepted a large formation of over fifty ME 110’s as they attempted to attack Portsmouth. What was significant here was that Portsmouth is in the Tangmere sector of Number Eleven group and due to the commitment of that sectors squadrons aircraft to the defense of London from the still ongoing threat of the large attack that had crossed the coast earlier to the east their squadrons were out of position. Number Ten Group managed to successfully turn this attack back with the help of five Eleven Group squadrons diverted from the earlier raid. Once again this demonstrated the team work and flexibility of the Groups within Fighter Command.

    After this there was little hostile activity other than reconnaissance until after nine in the evening, when the night bombers began their nocturnal activities. Tonight this was mainly restricted to London and followed the familiar pattern of night fighters trying to latch onto an attacking bomber before it entered the gun zone or attempting to catch and destroy the bomber on it’s return journey before it reached the permitted limit of engagement for the night fighter which was basically the occupied coastline.

    Despite these constraints the night fighter force was achieving a measure of success that was slowly taking a toll of the attacking force. success was not just measured in the number of bombers shot down but also in those that had to abort their missions.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    (2) Message from Churchill as OTL.

    September 29th.

    Day. Reduced activity in southeast and East Anglia.

    Night, London and Merseyside attacked.

    Weather, Fine and fair early. Fair late. Cloudy for the rest of the day. (1)

    Again a relatively quiet start in the morning with some attacks on coast convoys by fighter bombers. Later on, targets in the Home Counties were attacked by high flying formations. Attacks were not pressed home and most enemy aircraft jettisoned their bomb loads and fled for home when confronted with RAF fighters. The losses on both sides were much lower than on the previous day with an even dozen enemy aircraft downed for the loss of five RAF fighters with two pilots killed.

    Night time again brought continuous attacks on London and one sizeable attack on Liverpool and Merseyside. Tonight the guns had some success both on Merseyside where one bomber was shot down and in London and the Home counties, where guns based on Clapham Common and Weybridge respectively both claimed bombers.

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

    The evening session on the 29th of September in the House of Commons had descended into an uproar when questions had been asked in the house regarding the failure of the RAF to stop the Blitz on London and other cities. The questions had come from two MPs from Merseyside and Liverpool who used parliamentary privilege to accuse the government of putting the defence of London above that of any other city and in particular Liverpool. The question as phrased was an inquiry of the Minister of defence (the prime Minister) as to why the fighter group defending London had 20 squadrons of fighters and Nine Group which defended Liverpool and Merseyside did not have a single squadron assigned to it. The supplementary question asked was as to when the Air Ministry was going to move Spitfires, Hurricanes and Defiants to Nine group to provide an adequate defence against the Luftwaffe night time attacks on Liverpool and Mersey side.

    Even before the Member for Liverpool Everton, the Honourable Bertie Kirby completed his question, Sir Phillip sitting on the Front Bench alongside Winston Churchill, glanced to his left to see the colour rising in the Prime Ministers face to the extent that Sir Phillip feared Winston wold have a stroke on the spot. As the Honourable member finished hid question and sat down to cries of support from the other five members who had constituencies in Liverpool and Birkenhead. Sir Phillip leant over, whispered “my Bird, I think” in Winston’s ear and stood up. Once acknowledged by the Speaker of the House, Sir Phillip addressed the commons as they fell silent.

    “If the Honourable Member for Liverpool Everton, thinks for one minute that I am as Air Minister going to traitorously reveal the details of our air defence dispositions in an openly reported session of this house with the strangers gallery full of who knows whom he is sadly mistaken.

    However under the provisions of the Official Secrets act as passed by this house, As Air Minister, I do provide the Full Cabinet of this Government of National Unity regular and full briefings not only on the strengths and dispositions of our forces but also on the action planned and being taken to strengthen those defences.

    As to Liverpool and Mersey side being left undefended there, again the Honourable member is inadvertently misleading this house. Any enemy aircraft attempting to bomb Liverpool or Merseyside has to fly either the full width of the country from the east coast or the even greater distance from the Channel coast. This means that those attacking bombers have to pass through a continuous system of night defences including night fighters and gun zones that stretch from the coast all the way to their target cities.

    As to Liverpool and Merseyside being defended by a Fighter Group without any aircraft, I am afraid the Honourable member has been listening to scurrilous defeatist claptrap. The Group the honourable Member described as being bereft in fighters, is in fact at this time in the process of being formed, once it’s command structure and support facilities are fully ready the and only then will it assume control of the squadrons within it’s area from the existing groups. This shows that far from neglecting. the defences of the North west they are being strengthened even as we speak.

    I suggest that the Honourable Members for Liverpool and Merseyside would better serve their constituents by offering practical support for this government rather than wasting the time of this House”

    Sir Phillip sat down to shouts of “Here, Here” and loud applause as the Speaker of the House attempted to restore calm by his customary call of “Order, Order”. Once calm had descended on the chamber the Speaker introduced the next Item on the sessions agenda.
    10.45 The Bombers do not always get through
  • 10.45, The Bombers do not always get through.

    September 30th.

    Day. Fighter sweeps towards London but few bombs dropped.

    Night. London attacked.

    Weather. Generally fair but cloudy. Winds light. (1)

    The first two attacks in the morning came an hour apart, the first at 9 AM consisted of thirty bombers with an escort in excess of one hundred fighters. The second raid was a formation of a further sixty aircraft. Both these formations crossed the coast as Dungeness and were intercepted by multiple RAF fighter squadrons who attacked and harassed them as they continued towards their targets in London. Neither of these attacks actual managed to reach their intended targets in central London and ended up scattering their bomb loads over the southern suburbs.

    A follow up attack at eleven o’clock was detected over Cherbourg, This raid consisting of bomb carrying Me110’s escorted by Me 109’s was intercepted well off-shore by Ten Group squadrons from Exeter, Warmwell and Middle Wallop. So effective was the defence that the attackers were driven off before a single German aircraft managed to cross the coast. As per their standing orders none of the Ten Group squadrons crossed the channel in pursuit, though some aircraft from Exeter were stated to have taken the southern route home.

    These attack merely presaged the main assault that occurred shortly after lunch and lasted the entirety of the afternoon. It started with a large fighter sweep by Me109’s over Kent. The Uxbridge controllers read this as an attempt to clear away the fighters for a following bomber attack, so the minimum number of Eleven Group fighters were scrambled to intercept. Mid afternoon, a series of small formations of bombers duly followed but these too drew only the smallest viable response as they were also considered diversionary in nature. Their intuition was correct as even before these formations made landfall the RDF stations were recording further activity over France. This resolved itself into a one hundred plus aircraft raid that headed strait for London. Around a third of the bombers managed to reach the city and bomb scattered targets. Within the hour a further larger attack of one hundred and eighty bombers and fighters was tracked as it crossed the coast and headed towards the concentration of aircraft factories at Kingston, Weybridge and Langley. As the Eleven Group controllers gathered their squadrons to oppose this assault, Number ten Group had their own assault to deal with as nearly one hundred miles to the west a formation of forty Heinkel 111 twin engine bombers with an escort of Me110’s and Me109’s was approaching the coast heading north. Ten Group scrambled squadrons to cover the aircraft factories at both Bristol and Yeovil. As the course from their point of landfall to reach the Bristol works at Filton was taking them virtually right over Yeovil, the controllers took the decision to concentrate the squadrons there. Yeovil was hidden under a blanket of cloud as the bombers approached. Four squadrons from Ten Group had been attacking them since they crossed the coast so the bomber dropped their loads blindly into the cloud ( hitting the town of Sherborne, some ten miles from Yeovil) before turning south for safety. The sanctuary offered by the far side of the channel must have seemed a very distant refuge to the Luftwaffe crews as a further full wing of four squadrons of Fighters from Ten Group arrived at altitude to dive into enemy formation. Ten group lost four Hurricanes and a Defiant in this protracted encounter, Three pilots bailed out successful but the Defiant flown by Wing Commander Constable-Maxwell was struck by a single bullet from the rear gunner of a Heinkel 111 even as it was explosively dismantled by the Defiants four Hispano cannons. That one bullet struck a vital oil line on the Defiant’s merlin engine that very quickly began to overheat. Loathing to abandon a virtually undamaged aircraft Constable-Maxwell turned the nose of his stricken aircraft back towards the coast of Dorset. Attempting to glide into RAF Christchurch he realized he was not going to reach the grass landing field and elected to put the aircraft down on the beach at Southbourne, which at low tide forms a broad hard packed stand onto which Constable-Maxwell glided his crippled aircraft and made a successful forced landing. Now there was a race to move the heavy aircraft up the beach above the high watermark of the incoming tide from where an RAF recovery unit could dismantle it and take to a repair depot.

    Dusk heralded the end of that day’s actions. Once again the Luftwaffe had taken heavy losses with a total loss for the twenty four hours fifty one Luftwaffe aircraft were shot down but at the cost of eighteen RAF fighters and six pilots killed.

    As the darkness deepened two hundred and fifty bombers from Luftflotte 2 were warming up and preparing for the nights operations. Their targets were spread from Liverpool in the north west to Norwich in the east, Bristol in the west to London in the south east. Their route to these targets brought them over the coast between the Isle of Wight and Beachy Head, this brought them within range of three GCI/PPI stations but to get to London an attacking aircraft only has to pass through the airspace controlled by a single GCI/PPI station. Flying to Liverpool a Luftwaffe bomber had to pass through four GCI/PPI station controlled zones, attacking Norwich also meant flying through at least four zones. Depending on the route taken. Bristol could be reached via two zones but more often three would actually be traversed. Therefore it was plain to see that in many ways London was an easier target with less chance of interception than many others. One thing the Luftwaffe night bomber crews were becoming very aware of, was that they had to be internally vigilant and instantly ready for action. For many bomber crews the first and last thing they saw of their attacker was the flash from the cannon muzzles as they spat destruction at them. The empty places at breakfast in the messes stood silent witness to the growing effectiveness of the British night fighters.

    In contrast in Britain it was announced that the King had raised Dowding to Knight Grand Commander of the Bath.

    • Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    Chapter 11 New Month New Tactics
  • 10.46. New Month New Tactics.

    October 1st

    Day, London raids, Southampton and Portsmouth also targets.

    Night, London, Liverpool, Manchester main targets.

    Weather, Mainly fair but generally cloudy (1)

    Luftwaffe tactics had definitely evolved and this morning was an example of how they were changing. The morning started with several coat trailing flights by formations of German fighters attempting to lure Fighter command to respond at a disadvantage. This was followed in mid morning by a one hundred plus raid departing the French coast at Caen heading for Southampton. Both Eleven and Ten Group responded with multiple Squadrons who forced the German formation to turn back. It was again noted by the intelligence officers when debriefing the RAF fighter pilots that the enemy formations that they were now facing in daylight were composed entirely of Me 109 and Me 110 fighters with up to a third of them carrying bombs. By flying at hight these fighter based formations were intended to wear down the last remaining fighters in Fighter Command. This might have seemed a sound tactical change as it would force the RAF fighters to climb to hight as the fighters approached and then identify which enemy aircraft were carrying bombs, without RDF this tactic might have been successful but once the enemy formation was detected by the CH stations as they climbed for altitude over France then the GCI stations would confirm the altitude of the formation as it came within their range. This enabled the controllers at Group Head Quarters to assign Fighter Squadrons to oppose each attacking formation. Without the aid of the GCI stations and the Anti Aircraft hight finding/range setting RDF units the Fighters would have spent many more fruitless hours chasing the enemy formations as they attempted to climb to the correct interception hight.

    Between one Pm and three Pm this afternoon there was a series of incursions by Luftwaffe formations between Selsey Bill and Deal. Before two Pm three waves of aircraft had crossed the coast consisting of some fifty Me 19’s which were intercepted over Maidstone. Within the hour a further seventy five aircraft crossed the channel from Calais and attempted to reach central London. Successfully intercepted before reaching the cities centre bombs were scattered over the southern suburbs as the enemy aircraft retreated via Maidstone. The next attack a short time later was not pressed home at all and turned back for France before it could be intercepted. Not all the activity was confined to the Southern Groups, in Scotland and the north small formations and single aircraft were plotted and engaged where possible, an enemy aircraft was brought down into the Moray Firth. Another fell at Aberdeen. One High altitude intruder was tracked all the way back to Britany via Wales and Devon, despite attempts to intercept. The day ended for the day fighters with two attacks in the early evening, the first crossed the French coast at twenty thousand feet and consisted of some fifty fighter aircraft as soon as the RAF fighters had been committed to counter this first wave a masse of aircraft from Luftflotte 2 consisting of a further fifty Me 109’s and Me 110’s attempting to exploit any gaps in the defences. Both attacks were intercepted and disrupted.

    Even as the last of the day attacks was fading from the RDF screens the first blips denoting the night bombers recorded the aircraft climbing and forming up into their formations, Over night one hundred and seventy five enemy aircraft crossed across English coast between the Isle of Wight and Beachy Head before heading for targets in London and cities as far north as Liverpool and Manchester. RAF nightfighters flew multiple sorties with mixed success.

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

    October 2nd

    Day, High Flying and fighter sweeps on south-east London and Biggin Hill.

    Night, London Main Target. Manchester, Usworth and Aberdeen also attacked.

    Weather, Brilliant blue skies during the day, turning to cloudy later.

    The morning dawned bright and clear with nary a cloud in the sky. Despite this no activity on the enemies behalf was observed until RDF returns started to be detected from aircraft over Cape Geis Nez at around eight thirty. These were seen by the GCI stations at Willesborough and Wartling to climb to altitudes between twenty and thirty thousand feet before attempting to cross the channel towards London and the Eleven Group stations to the cities’ south. Up until lunch time no less than seventeen separate attacks were made varying from up to fifty aircraft down to a single fighter. Primary targets were Biggin Hill and the aircraft factories in south and south east of London. These attacks were repeated but in smaller numbers throughout the afternoon.

    By night fall Fighter Command had flown one hundred and fifty four patrols varying in size from a single flight up to an entire wing. Foe the loss of only two aircraft and one pilot the RAF shot down eighteen of the daylight fighter/fighter bomber intruders.

    The night battle lasted for eleven hours from shortly after seven in the evening until just before dawn the following morning. Of the one hundred and eighty bombers dispatched by the Luftwaffe overnight, one hundred attacked targets in the London area and the defending airfields. Further afield bombers attacked as far north as Aberdeen as well as targets in Manchester and Unsworth. Currently Aberdeen was outside the coverage of the most northern GCI station and despite a night fighter being sent from Drem no contact was made. Despite the Pennine gap in GCI coverage the Manchester raid was countered by fighters from High Ercall, Wrexham and Squires Gate all scoring victories. One Night fighter from RAF Valley chased a fleeing bomber from off the Wirral all the way down to the Cornish coast where the chase had to be abandoned due to lack of fuel, the fighter refuelled at RAF Predannack before returning to it’s home base in daylight once the crew had rested. Tonight the RAF claimed six bombers shot down and a further two damaged (plus one more claimed as ‘Scared Shitless’ by the attacking pilot).

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    11.1 October 3rd
  • October 3rd

    Day, Scattered raids on East Anglian and southern England targets.

    Night, London and Suburbs attacked.

    Weather, Rain and drizzle in the Channel. Visibility in England Reduce to 500 yards. (1)

    With such poor conditions over the channel and southern England many Eleven Group pilots woke up hoping if not expect a more restful day that the recent ones. However their hopes were short lived as Reconnaissance flights off the east coast announced that the days activity would commence to the north. By mid morning raids were coming in north of the Thames estuary from bases in Holland and Belguim. These raids were principally a single or a pair of aircraft and once making landfall would diverge to attack widely scattered targets. In the prevailing conditions the GCI/PPI network was fully engaged directing fighters to intercept these raiders. Whilst GCI could vector the Fighter Command aircraft to the track and position of the intruders in real time with only the delay of transmittion time in the prevailing conditions it was still very difficult for the defending fighters to actually spot, identify and engage the enemy aircraft. A JU 88 that made a successful attack on the De Havilland plant at Hatfield in Hertfordshire at very low level. Was however hit by the local air defence guns and brought down, crashing near Hertingfordbury. Later examination of the wreck showed that hits had been made by at least one 4omm Bofors gun from AA Command a 303 machinegun from an RAF defence attachment and finally there was evidence of hits from an old 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun manned by the local Home Guard. As to who had delivered the mortal blow to the enemy aircraft remained a hotly contested honour.

    Despite the problems of low cloud through the night some Sixty Lufwaffe bombers managed to attack London mainly flying singly. The RDF controlled guns in the inner artillery zone were however able to engage the enemy aircraft at an altitude of around ten thousand feet and claimed several successes.

    Overall the day’s count of only one hundred and seventy three daylight fighter sorties by the RAF was one of the lowest for several weeks. Not a single RAF fighter or Pilot was lost to enemy action on this day though two pilots ere lost in operational accidents and a further three fighters damaged. The Luftwaffe lost a total of eleven aircraft to enemy action through the day and night operations with several more damaged.

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

    October 4th.

    Day, Single raiders in stream to London and south-east.

    Night, London again main target, with Liverpool a subsidiary target.

    Weather, Mist, rain and poor visibility throughout the day.

    Fog at night.

    Todays opening gambit was an attack on two channel convoys commencing at nine in the morning. This was followed by around seventy fighters and fighter bombers heading singularly in a continuous stream. Despite fighter commands best efforts around one in the afternoon a round dozen of these intruders managed to reach central London and drop a number of bombs. Other scattered targets in the home counties were also struck. The most successful interception of the afternoon saw two JU 88’s being shot down with several more claimed as probable’s or damaged. In total for the daylight battle fourteen enemy aircraft were shot down for the loss of three RAF fighters from which one pilot survived virtually unscathed whilst unfortunately one of his comrades was badly injured and the third was mortally wounded and died as he was pulled from is wrecked spitfire.

    Due to the fog there was very little overnight hostile activity.

    Despite the days success the change in the Luftwaffe tactics was vexing Keith Park at Uxbridge and so today he issued another of his now famous (at least among eleven Group squadrons) fighting instructions. This one bore the title:- Hight of Fighter Patrols (2).

    (1) With the t prevailing cloudy skies despite the hight information gained from RDF on incoming enemy raids it is difficult for controllers to place defending fighters into advantageous intercepting position with respect to the cloud cover concealing the enemy. A special flight of fighters has been formed to forward intercept enemy formations and to shadow them and report to the controllers accurate hight of local cloud cover.

    (2) Due to the cloud conditions squadrons of fighters instructed to form up into pairs or wings have been taking to long so that they have been unable to climb to altitude ordered by the controller before making their interception.

    (3) Tip-and-run raids across Kent by 110’s carrying bombs or small formations of long-range bombers escorted by fighters give such short notice that the group controller is some times compelled to detail even single fighter squadrons that happen to be in the air to intercept the enemy bombers before they attack factories, sector aerodromes or vital points such as docks, Woolwich, etc. Normally, however, group controller has sufficient time to detail from one to three pairs (two to six squadrons) to intercept with the aid of the GCI controllers, raids heading for bombing targets in the vicinity of London.

    (4) Whenever time permits I wish group controllers to get the readiness squadrons in company over sector aerodromes, Spitfires at 25,000ft, Hurricanes and Defiants 20,000ft, and wait until they report they are in good position before sending them to patrol lines or to intercept raids having a good track established by a GCI RDF station.

    (5) This does not mean that the controller is to allow raids reported as bombers to approach our sector aerodromes or other bombing targets unengaged because pairs or wings of squadrons have not reported they have reached the height ordered in the sector aerodromes or other rendezvous.

    (6) I am sending a copy of this instruction to all sector commanders and controllers also squadron commanders in order that they may understand why their squadrons have sometimes to be sent off to intercept approaching bombers before they have reached the height originally ordered or perhaps have joined up with another squadron or pair of squadrons of a wing. Our constant aim is to detail one or more pairs of squadrons against incoming bomb raids, but the warning received at group is sometimes not sufficient and our first and primary task is to intercept and break up bombers before they can deliver a bombing attack against aircraft factories, sector aerodromes, docks, etc.

    (7) Circumstances beyond the control of group or sector controllers sometimes demand that the squadrons engage enemy bombers before they gained height advantage and got comfortably set with the other squadrons detailed by group.

    (8) I wish the squadron commanders and sector controllers to know everything humanly possible is being done by group to increase the warning received of incoming enemy raids. Meanwhile squadrons can help by shortening the time of take-off, assembly and rendezvous with other squadrons to which they are detailed as pairs of wings.

    After the clashes on daylight the night time assault was taken up principally by the aircraft of Luftflotte 2. The initial assault comprised someone hundred aircraft departed the French coast between Le Havre and Deippe on a heading for London. The prevalent fog and rain made RDF night interception difficult as it was virtually impossible to identify the target aircraft visually before opening fire. The RDF controlled anti aircraft guns were given permission to engage unseen targets within the gun zones. An additional two hundred bombers later crossed the coast heading for London, Liverpool and other targets.

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

    (2) Adapted from the text of the OTL instructions as issued by Keith Parks on the 4th October 1940 as published in multiple sources and archives.
    11.2 October 5th
  • October 5th.

    Day, Targets in Kent and Southampton attacked.

    Night, London and East Anglian airdromes raided.

    Weather, Local showers in most districts, Bright periods. Winds light and variable.

    The morning started with a lot of activity on the RDF screens with some thirty individual aircraft being tracked at hights between ten and fifteen thousand feet being plotted before nine am. By ten am another raid was being observed building over Calais. By ten thirty, the GCI stations at both Wiliesborough and Watling, as well as the observer corps. were tracking two raids of fifteen and twenty aircraft heading towards the airfields at Detling and West Malling. As these raids were still being tracked inland by eleven o’clock another raid was crossing Kent where multiple formations, varying in size from a dozen up to forty aircraft, had crossed the coast on mass before splitting up to attack targets across southern England. An additional assault by two waves comprising an advanced sweep by thirty ME 109’s was followed closely by a further one hundred aircraft of which a third were carrying bombs. From this raid some fifty aircraft managed to penetrate as far as central London. Whilst the attention of Twelve Group was concentrating on the threat to London yet another attack was approaching the south coast. This, the fourth raid of the day comprising two formations of thirty and fifty aircraft, departed the French coast at Cherbourg and headed for the Solent and Southampton.

    Without the need to attack large bomber formations, the Hurricane and Defiant squadrons were now able to take on the ME109’s and 110’s in more even combat. Upon being intercepted those Luftwaffe fighters carrying bombs tended to dump their loads and turn on their attackers whilst the Spitfire squadrons having gained more altitude attempted to keep the escorting German fighters engaged and not able to intervene in the dog fights below. So the clear late autumn skies were now being painted with swirling white contrails as the high altitude conflict twisted and turned in the skies above the southern English countryside. Far below on the ground two official war artists were going about their business and both were struck by the surreal beauty of the deadly conflict taking place high above them.

    On an airfield in northern Kent where he had gone to sketch pilots and ground crew, Paul Nash had been sketching activity around the dispersal bays. As the last of the station’s aircraft took off, Paul Nash followed them with is eyes. Later as he stood outside the dispersal hut, he saw high above him the contrails of fighters as they turned, dived and climbed in combat, sometimes the white streaks were joined by descending stains of black smoke that marked the final decent of a dying aircraft. On the ground Paul Nash could not tell who was friend or foe as he sketched the scene high above him but he knew that in his final depiction of the scene he would create an allegory for the whole Battle of Britain. To do that he would need a way to portray the evil power and threat of the Luftwaffe’s assault and the valiant pilots of the RAF defending their green and pleasant land. As he sat and observed, the germ of the format for his final painting was forming. He would have the viewers perspective, as that of an RAF Pilot following his colleagues towards the distant air battle. Their fighters, small and vulnerable, would be visible in the foreground. Also, in the fore ground would be some barrage balloons to balance the composition and to show the involvement of the ground defences. The lower middle ground would depict the tranquillity of southern England with the distant menace of a darker continent under gathering storm clouds behind. The upper half of the painting would be dominated by the air battle itself with the swirl of contrails and the smoke of falling aircraft. To emphasise the menace of Teutonic military might, the artist would place a large, ordered and ominous formation of enemy bombers proceeding implacably towards England to rain down their deadly loads of destruction. Unbeknown to the artist at the time, when the painting was first displayed to the public in 1941, it would not only become an iconic portrayal of the Battle of Britain, being reproduced in countless books and articles, it would also draw criticism from some circles as being little more than overt propaganda masquerading as art.

    Further to the north in the London suburbs, another war artist was also looking skywards at the swirling white stripes in the sky and being inspired to capture the surreal nature of the conflict taking place above, virtually unheard and unseen by the populous below. When finished, Francis Dodd’s picture would be a far more subtle comment on the nature of the air battle taking place. At first perusal, Dodd’s painting could be a landscape painting from any time in the late 19th or early 20th century and from any European country, it’s air of domestic normality is evidenced by the neat trellised fence and the sitting black cat. The middle ground was a scene of arboviral perfection and tranquillity. It is only when one studies the surreal swirls of cloud, that give an abstract aspect to the picture, that the artist gives the viewer cues that this is not a picture of pure tranquillity. For with careful observation the viewer will discern the ominous shapes of distant barrage balloons floating above the trees hinting at the maelstrom of fighting taking place above. Later critics would compare this subtly of treatment of warfare with that of Nash’s portrayal and debate which was the more valid depiction of the reality of the Battle of Britain.

    Sir Philip as AM was in communication with the War Artists Advisor committee and sometimes was asked to either intervene in order to gain access for an artist or to adjudicate upon a decision by the RAF regarding subject matter. When possible, Sir Phillip liked to attend private viewings of the artist’s work as well as receive reports on how that work was received by the general public. The War Artists work like that of the official photographers covered both historical recording and public information. Pure propaganda was something that Sir Phillip was not interested in whereas how the RAF was portrayed in the historical record was.

    Painting by Paul Nash, Imperial War museum collection.


    Painting by Francis Dobbs, Imperial War museum collection.


    (1)Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    11.3 Everything Changes but stays the same (Plus Ca Changes..)
  • 10.49 Everything Changes but stays the same.

    October 6th.

    Day, Single raiders or small formations attacked London and East Anglia.

    Night, Very quite.

    Weather, Dull with continuous rain all day. (1)

    Todays air activity would be dominated by the weather, the low cloud and almost constant rain would make air operations difficult, their were a few hit and run attacks by single German aircraft in the morning with one successful low level raid damaging building at BiggIn Hill. Later raids attacked airfields at Northolt, Middle wallop and Uxbridge, however the raids had almost ceased by early afternoon and eavesdropping by the Y service confirmed that messages calling a halt to Luftwaffe operations for the day had been transmitted. Despite the sharply reduced tempo of operation through the day light hours the RAF still destroyed eight enemy aircraft in reply to a single loss. The night was the quietest for several weeks with only a half dozen or sp raiders plotted attacking London, on of which was downed when hit by RDF directed AA fire as it flew above the cloud base searching for it’s target.

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

    October 7th.

    Day, Mixed force of bombers and fighters attacked Yeovil.

    Night, main targets London and Merseyside, otherwise raids scattered from Harwich to Newcastle and the Firth of Forth.

    Weather, Occasional showers. Visibility fair. Variable cloud. (1)

    The first assault of the day saw Eleven Group send up eighteen full squadrons to oppose a force of almost one hundred and thirty fighters and fighter bombers over Kent and Sussex. The large formation split and there were dog fights and melees spread all over the two counties as the opposing aircraft sought an advantage. The majority of the encounters proved inconclusive as the forces were evenly matched. At Half past twelve Luftflotte 2 attacked again with around one hundred and fifty Me 109’s Crossed the channel from Calais. With a large proportion of his fighters committed Keith Park requested that 12 Group come to readiness to send help whilst Ten Group prepared to Guard Eleven Groups western flank as the Tangemere wing were sent east. After this there was a third attack at mid afternoon when around three thirty some fifty Me109’s crossed the coast near Dymchurch o attack targets od opportunity including railways and RAF stations. Having hopefully drawn Fighter Command to the east with this third attack the Luftwaffe launched an attack comprising of a mixed force of over one hundred Me 110’s Ju 88‘s and Me 109’s from Cherbourg to attack the Westland aircraft Factory at Yeovil, Ten Group were alert to the threat and the raid was intercept by fighters from Exeter, Middle Wallop and Filton. No damage was done to the Westland Factory and several of the German aircraft were shot down, The days battle was brought to a close by another raid a five pm targeting the dover area again.

    As night fell there was no let up in the operational tempo with formation of German bombers heading for targets as far afield as Swansea in the west and Harwich in the east, Aircraft based in Holland headed for Newcastle whilst those based in Denmark attacked the Firth of Forth. Despite these far flung efforts still the greatest weight of bombs fell on London and Merseyside. At one moment every GCI station in Wales, Scotland and England was actively controlling an interception. Not all were successful but enough were to cause some satisfaction at Fighter Command HQ. Using there RDF 1.5 sets Night fighters from Drem pursued bombers that had attacked the Firth of Forth on their long fight back to Denmark. This enabled the night fighters to continue beyond the range of the GCI stations. The tactic was to use the reflected CH signal received by the RDF 1.5 set to close within range of the RDF Mk IV set for the final interception. This was a very difficult technique to master as the returns on the RED 1.5 sets could be very inconsistent and the target could be lost completely at any moment . However tonight the fighters from Drem claimed one kill and a probable whilst their comrades further south from Acklington, chasing the raiders from Newcastle back towards Holland were only able to claim a probable. None of these claims could be confirmed at the time.

    In the last twenty four hours the RAF fighter force had lost seventeen aircraft whilst flying just under one thousand sorties day and night, These losses included one night fighter that simply vanished off the RDF screens off the east coast. In return the Luftwaffe twenty six. Among these were no less than nine Me 109’s from LG2, interrogation of the surviving pilots revealed that they had each carried single 250kg bomb on the centerline under the fuselage. Most of those shot down had been bounced whilst still carrying their bomb. The pilots also confirmed that they were flying between two and three sorties an day and were getting exhausted by the need to keep up such an operational tempo.

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

    October 8th.

    Day, London.

    Night, Widespread raids on London and the suburbs.

    Weather, Cloudy in the south-east but fair. Winds high. (1)

    If the early morning activity was anything to go by the controllers at Uxbridge and at Bentley prior speculated that it would be a very busy day with plenty of “trade” crossing the channel.

    They were soon proved correct, by eight thirty two large formations of enemy aircraft the first of some fifty aircraft and the second almost double that, As usual they crossed the coast near Dymchurch before heading towards London. The controllers directed squadrons from Kenley and Biggin. Despite being engaged some aircraft from both formations managed to reach central London and scatter bombs across the city. Among the many buildings hit was Adastral house the Home of the Air Ministry. Emerging from the basement shelter Sir Phillip appraised the damage and counted him and his staff lucky that the Luftwaffe fighter-bombers could only carry relatively small bombs.

    By ten thirty another thirty fighter bombers crossed the channel heading for London just as the RAF fighters were being refuelled and rearmed. Fighters from bases to the east and west of the tract had already been scrambled and vectored onto Patrol lines to protect Biggin Hill and Kenley as their squadrons landed. These Squadrons were ready just in time to gain hight and intercept the days third attack as thirty enemy aircraft again crossed the coast near Dymchurch at eleven thirty. The final enemy effort of the day came at twelve thirty when a further two formations crossed the coast, these two formations were somewhat smaller than the previous ones at only twelve aircraft each. When faced with Wing strength formations of RAF Fighters these aircraft dropped their bombs willy nilly and fled for France.

    Despite it being a very rough night weather wise the Luftwaffe were out in force with well over one hundred individual raids being plotted. The majority of these were single aircraft coming in streams with the occasional larger formation. Up until four am bomber streams were recorded departing from Holland in the East, through the Pas De Calais to as far west as Cherbourg. Once more the main target was London and again General Pyle after discussions with Sir Hugh Dowding authorised AA guns in the inner gun zone to engage unseen aircraft using RDF Direction and Ranging. The resulting barrage was most impressive and reassuring to the populace of London. Many would later argue how effective this AA fire was, General Pyle when asked stated that it forced the enemy bombers higher and prevented them from saturating a single target. Also the bombers were taking losses to the guns and however many were destroyed they were a fraction of those damaged.

    In the daylight engagements Fighter Command flew some six hundred and fifty sorties losing only four aircraft. The Luftwaffe however lost sixteen in day light and a further eight to the guns and fighters overnight.

    During the day Keith Park issued another order to all his units, clearly setting out what he was expecting his controllers and squadrons to do under the current situation.

    ‘When a Spitfire squadron is ordered to readiness patrol on the Maidstone line its function is to cover the area Biggin Hill-Maidstone-Gravesend, while the other squadrons are gaining their height, and protect them from the enemy fighter screen. The form of attack which should be adopted on the high enemy fighters is to dive repeatedly on them and climb up again each time to regain height.

    The squadron is not be ordered to intercept a raid during the early stages of the engagement, but the sector controller or when control has been handed over the GCI Controller must keep the squadron commander informed as to the hight and direction of the approaching raids.

    The object of ordering the squadron to patrol at 15,000 feet while waiting on the patrol line for raids to come inland is to conserve oxygen and to keep the pilots at a comfortable height. Pilots must watch this point most carefully so that they have ample in hand when they are subsequently ordered to 30,000feet which is to be done immediately enemy raids appear to be about to cross our coast.

    When other squadrons have gained their hight and the course of the engagement is clear, the group controller will via the sector and GCI controllers take a suitable opportunity to put this Spitfire squadron on to enemy raids where its height can be used to advantage.’ (2)

    In later years some historians would cite these orders and instruction coming from Keith Parks as being signs of micromanagement and his becoming too involved in the operational minutiae of his command. Others would take a contrary view stating that Keith Park’s very hand’s on command style, where he frequently flew his own Hurricane to visit his squadrons and bases, showed that he was responding to the needs of his command, by issue clear, timely and unequivocal instructions. In modern parlance Keith Park was ensuring that his entire command was ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. Certainly Sir Hugh Dowding thought these instruction important and relevant as he had them forwarded to all the other Group Commanders for their information. Though Sir Hugh has himself faced criticism for his lack of visibility during the battle, for unlike Park, Sir Hugh seldom visited operational stations and when he did so it was purely as part of a formal occasion, such as and investiture of Inspection. This gave a clear illustration of the different command styles of these two wartime leaders with some comparing the stiff upper lip of ‘stuffy’ Dowding with the more open and ‘Colonial’ and iformal style adopted by the New Zealander Park. Whatever their differences Sir Phillip as AM thought that the two men, though differing in command style perfectly complemented each other’s skill set and made a better Command team for it.

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

    (2) Adapt from Sir Keith Park’s OTL instruction of 8th October as recorded in the RAF archives and various publications, including ‘The Narrow Margin.’
    11.4 Move and counter move, parry and thrust
  • 10.50 Move and counter move, parry and thrust.

    October 9th.

    Day. London and airfields attacked.

    Night. Heavy raid on London.

    Weather. Cloudy in Channel with rain in northern France and the straits. Winds high. Squalls. (1)

    With foul weather the early morning was quite but this all changed around eleven Am. When, continuing for the next two and a half hours, a total of more than one hundred and thirty Me 19’s made attacks on targets mainly in Kent and the London suburbs. After a very short break a further two hundred fighter bombers carried out a series of continuous raids targeting the RAF airfield on the southern boundary of London. These raids inflicted the heaviest damage of these airfields since the large scale attacks of August.

    Despite the difficulty of intercepting raids in the prevailing adverse weather conditions the RAF flew more than four hundred sorties and downed and even dozen German aircraft for the loss of one. However several fighters were damaged to varying degrees due to landing accidents caused by the poor conditions.

    Over night even with the poor weather conditions and the unfavourable quarter moon a heavy raid was made on central London and the Docks. Again both the fighters and the guns had a measure of success despite the difficulties.

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

    October 10th.

    Day Hostile Operations over east Kent, London Suburbs and Weymouth.

    Night. London, Liverpool, Manchester and fifteen airfields also attacked.

    Weather. Showery with Bright intervals, Haze in the Thames Estuary and East Anglia. (1).

    The tactical change by the Luftwaffe of not attacking in large formations but utilising a continuous stream to penetrate the defence was proving much harder to counter. In the current weather conditions the drop in the rate of loss to the enemy was worrying factor for Fighter Command. Today this was illustrated by the fact that whilst the Luftwaffe lost five aircraft so did the RAF. In total for this disappointing return, during daylight hours Fighter Command once more had exceeded seven hundred and fifty sorties. The Night Fighters faired a little better having shot down two for a loss of one, which had been damaged by return fire and crashed on landing. Though badly injured both crewmen were rescued from the wrecked aircraft.

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

    October 11th.

    Day, Targets in Kent, Sussex and Weymouth attacked.

    Night. Main Objectives London, Liverpool, Manchester and Tyne and Tees.

    Weather. Mainly fair apart from showers chiefly in coastal areas. Mist in Straits and Estuary early, clearing later. Fog developed in the night. (1).

    Ten and Eleven group were busy allday countering incursions by formations of high flying Me 109’s some at altitudes in excess of thirty three thousand feet. Unless RAF squadrons were already patrolling at altitude intercepting such raids they made the short dash across the channel was virtually impossible. For an ME 109 at that altitude flying at three hundred and sixty miles an hour was covering the ground at a rate of six mile every minute. So the channel could be crossed and the enemy fighter diving onto English targets in less than four minutes of actually leaving the French coast. This need to mount standing patrols particularly of Spitfires to counter this tactic was problematic for Fighter Command as it was wearing on both pilots and machines. The first foray of one hundred aircraft was at ten Am. and concentrated on hitting targets on the south coast and southern Kent. At Eleven, in an attempt to catch the Squadrons on the ground having returned from the earlier raid, attacks were made on Biggin Hill and Kenley. Here Park’s foresight and instructions proved their worth as both airfields had a protective umbrella of fighters on patrol lines placed to counter such attacks. Here also was demonstrated why the Observer corps was so important. Whilst GCI could track those attacks that were at sufficient altitude to be detected. Lower level attacks had to be tracked and reported by the observer corps and this they had with long practice over the summer and autumn got down to a fine art. The other important task that only the Observers Corps with their ‘mark one eyeballs’ and binoculars could do was discern whether the passing formations were purely fighters or whether some were carrying bombs. Counting numbers of attacking aircraft when practical was also important information for the group controllers as this made it easier to assign appropriate numbers of squadrons to engage. With the airfields successfully defend and the last of the attackers heading back to France the third wave of the days air assault was directed at the Thames estuary. This attack by around one hundred Me109’s and 110’s only got as far as the coast around Southend before the defending fighters forced the fighter bombes to drop their bombs and defend themselves. The final daylight was also halted and turned back this time in mid Kent before the raid reached it’s intended targets in London.

    The night fighting force was kept busy as targets across the country were attacked. Whilst London was still the principle target, Liverpool and Manchester was also attacked as was the area of the Tyne and the Tees. As on previous occasions the AA guns of the inner London zone were given permission to engage unseen aircraft using RDF fire control. What ever the effectiveness of this fire against the Luftwaffe bombers might be a source of conjecture the effect on the London Public was probably more important. Could their be anything more dispiriting than sitting in a shelter with bombs crashing down, as the silent guns stood mute testimony to the government’s inability to defend it’s own capitol city. Using RDF 1. The northern night fighters were again given carte Blache to chase the bombers back towards thir Bases in Denmark and Holloand. All the night fighter crews new that to cross the enemy coast with an RDF fitted aircraft was an automatic court marshal and they were well aware that IFF and RDF CH would be tracking their every move.

    The current tactics used in day light by the enemy meant that today the losses of the RAF fighters was only slightly less than the losses inflicted on the enemy, in fact the enemy lost ten aircraft whilst the RAF lost nine, six pilots were save but all were wounded to a greater or lesser extent. Once again the Fighter Command had approached a thousand sorties in the day and both Dowding and Park were concerned at the strain this level of operations was placing on their pilots.

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

    October 12th.

    Day. London and suburbs again main target.

    Night. Fairly quite but National Gallery damaged.

    Weather. Widespread mist and fog during the day, clearing with light winds off the North Sea. (1)

    Following the pattern of the previous few days from early in the morning there was a continuous series of fighter and fighter bomber attacks targeted at London and it’s surroundings. Eleven Group had another busy day countering these elusive attackers and had a modicum of success in that few of the fighter bombers actually reached their intended targets with the majority being forced to jettison their bombe when faced with interception by RAF fighters.

    For once there was little night activity and very few night interception missions were flown

    Today the fighter command again exceeded seven hundred sorties, though of course that was almost a third less than the previous day it was still a very high intensity of operations to maintain.

    RAF lose for the day were nine aircraft whilst the Luftwaffe lost thirteen. Whilst still a positive ratio it was not as favourable to the RAF as those in command could wish. Dowding and Park conferred again Park set about adjusting Eleven Groups tactics one more.

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

    October 13th.

    Day, Targets in London and Kent attacked.

    Night. London, Bristol, Wales, Liverpool, Birmingham and Birkenhead raided.

    Weather. Almost cloudless but foggy early. Fine in the Morning. Fair at midday, Clouding over later. (1)

    Utilising there successful tactic of gaining high altitude over France before dashing across the channel this mornings attacks were started by fighter and fighter bombers harassing a convoy in the Thames Estuary. If the Germans intention was to Draw the Defences east to defend the convoy thereby leaving the Kent and Sussex Coast clear of fighters they were mistaken. The Uxbridge controllers scrambled squadrons from the PAC at Duxford and Debden from north of the Thames to defend the convoy. Just after noon the first serious attempt at attacking London took place. This attack comprising fifty Me 109’s, many carrying a single 500lb bomb on the centre line, was duly intercepted and was forced to turn back as it reached Woolwich. Within the hour another large attack came in, this one fragmented on crossing the Kent coast with all elements attempting to reach central London by differing routes. Again the defence was, to the most part, successful in preventing the enemy from bombing their targets with very few bombs actually falling on central London. A third wave of fighter bombers headed for the capitol around four thirty and this time despite being intercepted they were able to drop bombs on central London. Though not all the attacking aircraft made it back to their bases this was definitely the most successful of the day’s raids.

    Hardly had the last of the days raider faded away into the evening gloom than the first wave of the night time attack was being detected forming up over France, A hundred bombers made the short journey to London where despite the combined efforts of the AA guns and the night fighters the majority of them drooped their bombs causing considerable damage. Other raids headed further afield. The GCI stations to the mid-lands and to the north of London were kept busy with plenty of ‘magots’ to be chased. With Thirty two GCI/PPI stations now in operation and with several mobile units filling in gaps in the network as well as providing cover north of the stations at Fullarton and Dirleton in Scotland there were few places where the night intruders could avoid being tracked. Tonight proved a good night for the night fighter force as they achieved seven confirmed shot down with claims of three more probable’s. One singular success was a kill achieved by an OTU Bisley aircraft that was on exercise with a mobile GCI unit to the south of Aberdeen when they were directed onto a bomber from a raid on Dundee and shot it down. The counter point to this was during the day a Hurricane was shot down by AA guns south of London by mistake and during the night another OTU Bisley was shot down by a Beaufighter from Coleby Grange airfield. Records showed that the Bisley never radiated a ‘crown’ IFF signal and it was assumed that the IFF set had failed.

    In daylight the Germans had lost eight aircraft to RAF’s three, at night the ratio was slightly better with seven aircraft downed for the loss of one.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    11.5 The nights are getting noticably longer
  • 10.51. The equinox approches and the nights get longer.

    October 14th.

    Day. Widespread small attacks.

    Night. Widespread and serious damage in London. Coventry also damaged.

    Weather. Occasional rein or drizzle spreading to the south-east. Rain in Channel, misty in the straits and the Estuary. Cloudy in the North sea. (1)

    The Germans were late this morning, nothing showed on the RDF screens until well after ten Am. When the raids did come they were serious no less than fifty small raids were plotted leaving various parts of the France and heading or the coast of Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. Ten Group and Eleven Group put up Squadron and Wing size patrols the were then vectored onto the small and elusive enemy formations. With the enemy dodging above and below the cloud and with reduced horizontal visibility due to the rain successful interceptions proved difficult. Only four enemy aircraft were destroyed, whilst one RAF fighter was written off in a landing accident, no pilots were lost. Later record showed that the Luftwaffe attackers had lost a further three aircraft to accidents. With a full moon Goering’s latest directive could be implemented and a large force of bombers made good use of the full moon to bomb the city of London, the Eastend and the Westend were hit in equal measure. Combinations of HE. And incendiary bombs caused large fires that made the skyline pulse with an obscene orange glow. Overnight two thousand Londoners were seriously injured and five hundred killed. Some very lucky escapes were also recorded one such incident was the destruction of the Carlton Club, at the time there were two hundred and twenty members of the Conservative Party inside at the time and every last one of them was able to crawl out of the rubble. Reports that on hearing the news a Labour MP had quipped “the Devil Looks after his own” have not been confirmed.

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

    October 15th.

    Day. Hostile elements penetrate to London targets and targets in Kent and the Estuary.

    Night. Unusually heavy attack on London and Birmingham.

    Weather. Fair but cloudy in the Straits. Winds southerly and variable. Moonlit night. (1)

    This morning Park had had circulated another set of detailed instruction to all his group, sector and GCI controllers, They read as follows:-

    ‘Owing to the very short warning given nowadays by the R.D.F. stations, enemy fighter formations (some carrying bombs) can be over London within twenty minutes of the first R.D.F plot, and have on occasions dropped bombs on south-east London seventeen minutes after the first R.D.F. plots.

    Under these circumstances, the only squadrons that can intercept the enemy fighters before they reach London or sector aerodromes are the squadrons in the air on readiness patrol, or remaining in the air after an attack, plus one or two squadrons at stand-by at sectors to east and south-east of London.

    In these circumstances it is vitally important for the group controllers, also both sector and GCI controllers, to keep clearly in mind the time taken for squadrons and other formations to climb from ground level to operating hight. The following times are those for a good average squadron of the type stated:

    (a) Spitfire (Mark 2) 13 minutes to 20,000 feet.

    18 minutes to 25,000 feet.

    27 minutes to 30,000 feet.

    (b) Hurricane (Mark 2c) 16 minutes to 20,000 feet.

    21 minutes to 25,000 feet.

    (c) Defiant (Mark 2) 17 minutes to 20,000 feet.

    22 minutes to 25,000 feet.

    Pairs: The rate of climb for a pair of squadrons in company will be 10 per cent to 12 per cent greater than the time given above.

    Wings: The rate of climb of wings of squadrons in company is between 15 per cent to 18 per cent greater than the times given above.


    In view of the above, controllers will see the importance of ordering pairs or wings to rendezvous over a point at operating hight in order that they climb quickly, singly, and not hold one another back by trying to climb in an unwieldy mass. Bitter experience has proven time and again that it is better to intercept the enemy with one squadron above him than by a whole wing crawling up below, probably after the enemy has dropped his bombs.’ (2)

    The mornings events commenced at nine Am. With a raid consisting of thirty Me109’s and 110’s attacked both Waterloo station in central London and Hornchurch airfield to the East in Essex. After the attack on Waterloo only two tracks remained operational. Fifteen minutes later a second raid of fifty aircraft attacked targets in the city of London. Even as these attacks were returning to their French bases a third raid saw attacks on targets in Kent and the Thames estuary around eleven thirty. At half past twelve a further formation of over one hundred enemy fighters were plotted forming up over the French coast but no attack developed. This was the last of the daylight activity.

    By half past six The first signs of the impending night attacks was being observed by the south coast CH stations. Following instructions from Goering the Luftwaffe were it seems going to make the best use they could off the full moon. Successive waves of bombers flew over from the different Luftflotte on the continent. Once again the southern GCI stations found themselves overwhelmed, having difficulty in distinguishing individual targets to guide their night fighters onto. Though the GCI system had been upgrade to that each station could control multiple fighters onto multiple targets they were still having problems. The stations themselves and the Fighter Command operational research teams were working closely with the scientists at the TRE I Cheltenham to solve these problems and to improve the system.

    Overnight the city took a battering, all five main railway stations were damaged and closed whilst repairs were completed, all other London terminals were running a reduced service due to damage to track and signals up the line. Overground section od the London Underground system had been damaged or blocked by debris. As to the roads, many were impassable due to rubble, cratering or fires. Two power stations were temporarily off the grid, as were three gas works. With over nine hundred separate fire burning city wide, three of London’s major dock complexes had to be closed whilst fires there were brought under control. The nights casualties numbered eight hundred hospitalised with major wounds and another four hundred dead.

    The Luftwaffe did not go unscathed, Losing three aircraft to the guns over London and a further four definitely shot down by the night fighters, several more bombers were claimed as probable’s or damaged. Despite the difficulties of the night the cities defences had had some success.

    The day and night operations of Fighter Command saw a total of over eight hundred sorties with total Luftwaffe losses of twenty aircraft against an RAF loss of nine for the same period.

    The War Cabinet had held a second meeting of the day late in the night ae the various service departments presented their appreciations of the current state of the Germans Invasion preparations and thence the likelihood of an invasion being launched.

    The First Sea Lord put the RN’s position quite bluntly, with the evidence from photo reconnaissance flights showing that the number of Barges, Tugs and steamers being held in Channel ports has been reduced beyond the attrition caused by both RAF air attack and Naval bombardment, then the only conclusion was that the Germans had given up upon launching an invasion in the immediate future. That meant that no invasion could be realistically made until the spring and realistically that meant not before the equinox so early April would be the start of the next possible invasion window. Sir Phillip, in the absence od Newall as CAS concurred, reiterating that the Luftwaffe had to all intense and purpose ceased to try to gain air superiority over the southern counties and was now principally attacking major population and production centres rather than the counties defences directly.

    (1) Daily summary quoted verbatim from the The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster
    (2) Adapted from the instructions issued by Keith Park on this day OTL.

    October 16th.

    Day. Quiet

    Night. Limited attack on London by single raiders.

    Weather. Fog widespread in Germany and France. Warm front lying the length of French coast. Wet misty night.

    The poor weather today really curtailed operations by the Luftwaffe. Those few attacks made were principally at targets in Kent and the west country. Having flown around three hundred sorties the RAF were able to claim nine aircraft destroyed for the loss of one Defiant. The Luftwaffe had also lost a further six aircraft in accidents.

    The weather saw very little improvement before nightfall but this did not stop the Luftwaffe from sending two hundred bombers to attack targets in Britain. The night fighter force had mixed fortunes claiming two enemy aircraft destroyed and two damaged. Unfortunately one night fighter was downed by defensive return fire and a second one was written of in a landing accident caused by the poor conditions. RDF controlled AA guns claimed one definite and brace of enemy aircraft damaged.

    Of a force of RAF Bomber Command aircraft sent to bomb industrial targets in northern Italy eight Whitley’s and a Wellington crashed either due to fuel shortage or crashed on landing.

    To say Sir Phillip was not impressed with these losses when he saw the reports, would be somewhat of an understatement. Portal as AOC. Bomber Command was summoned to the Air Ministry to explain what had gone wrong and why.

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