What had happened on August 15th 1940 could only be told as a victory for the RAF. Once again, too many blunders by the Luftwaffe had cost them dearly. Deichmann had taken his own initiative and ordered an all out attack on Britain, much to the displeasure of Göring. Luftflotte 5 made its first open daylight raid on the north of England from bases in Norway and Denmark and considering the damage they caused, their losses were high, and further to that, any aircraft that sustained damage, the long journey back across the North Sea accounted for many of them ditching before reaching the Norwegian coast.
The heavy concentrations of bombing in the south-east did cause considerable damage, and the attacks on the radar stations were probably their only claim to success, but even that was not fully accomplished as Britain had the radar back on air within a matter of days. But even so, many of the German bomber formations had lost their fighter cover transferring the advantage over to the RAF. Then came the mistaken target by Rubensdorffer that caused the first attack on a London suburb, which meant that not only had Göring's orders been disobeyed earlier by Deitchmann, but Rubensdorffer had also disobeyed orders laid down by Hitler. If anything that could be said of the German attacks on August 15th, it was that they managed to stretch RAF Fighter Command to the limit. 11 Group showed that they could in the event of a heavy attack, they could hold their own, just. In an all out attack, they would have to bring down support from 13 Group or 10 Group, but by doing this it would seriously weaken the defences of these Groups leaving the west and the midlands under strength.
Douglas Bader was still in favour of 'the big wing', that is attacking the German formations with multiple squadrons flying as though they were one, and he was slowly bringing No.13 Group Commander Leigh-Mallory round to his way of thinking. But Keith Park commanding 11 Group would hear nothing of it. The onslaught by the Luftwaffe on August 15th making attacks the whole width of the south coast and along the east coast proved, that the 'big wing' on occasions such as this was just not a feasible proposition.
FRIDAY AUGUST 16TH 1940
The morning of the 16th August was slightly overcast with a haze out over the Channel, the forecast was for the day to become fine. The question for the RAF was, would the fine weather bring on a repeat of the previous day. German intelligence reported that the RAF had suffered considerable losses the previous day, and coupled with the fact that British losses for the first part of August was heavy, and it was estimated that the RAF had only 450 operational aircraft with a further 300 that were classed as serviceable. The truth was that Britain was turning out fighter planes at a far greater rate than ever before, and that now with some 450 Spitfires and Hurricanes being added each month, (against 175 Bf109s that the Germans were producing during August) the actual strength of Fighter Command was 570 front line fighters, with an additional 100 plus Defiants, Blenheims and Gladiators that could be called upon. What advantage the Luftwaffe had was in the strength of manpower. They could boast 1,560 pilots against the RAF's 1,380.
Reichmarschall Herman Göring had held a meeting on August 15th 1940 after his Luftwaffe and Fighter Command had built Adler Tag into a crescendo. His plan that the RAF would be destroyed in a matter of days was not going to come true, and a new set of plans was sent to all Luftflotte Commanders. [ Document-33 ]
Trying to lure the British fighters into combat over the Channel by attacking Channel convoys did not bear fruit. Keith Park would not be drawn into sending all his fighters in one large force, in actual fact he sent only selected squadrons keeping many in reserve. The bombing of radar stations also was not working, as soon as it was thought that they were destroyed, Fighter Command had them back in operation within a matter of days. Attacking targets in the north of England and Scotland from bases in Norway and Denmark was proving suicidal, especially by day as it seemed that Fighter Command had many experienced squadrons based there and that their losses on these missions were proving far too costly. The use of the Junkers Ju87 dive bomber was not proving a success as it was hoped, and the Bf110 twin engined fighters were not faring much better either. In all, the Luftwaffe was not making much impression on the RAF at all. After the meeting, he dispatched new orders to all commanders to be effective immediately.
It looked as though it could be a carbon copy of the previous day, the weather was right, and Britain's pilots were tired after the events of the previous day. But surprisingly, no major attacks were planned by Germany which was a really a mistake on their part because they did at this time have the opportunity in pushing Fighter Command to the brink, and seeing just how far they could hold out.
True, the radar stations were back on the air usually within hours, a few days if major damage had been done, but was this a tactical move by the Chief of the Luftwaffe, or was it to be another blunder on the part of the enemy.
1200hrs: Radar picked up formations of enemy aircraft on three fronts coming across the Channel. The first was just off Dover where 100 plus Do17 bombers and Bf109 fighters appeared to be heading for the Thames Estuary. A larger force was detected between Brighton and Folkestone while a third had departed from Cherbourg and was heading towards the Southampton/Portsmouth area. 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), 56 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) and 64 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) engaged combat with the enemy over the Thames Estuary with only one Hurricane destroyed and a Spitfire of 64 Squadron damaged.
1215hrs: The formation that was approaching the Kent coast between Folkestone and Brighton was larger than the one over the Thames Estuary and Park scrambled three squadrons. 32 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes), 111 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes) and 266 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires). All three squadrons decided to go in en masse at the middle of the bomber formation hoping to spread the bombers apart. The combat action from here was fierce and ruthless with fighters and bombers weaving this way and that and the sky was nothing but hundreds of black shapes manoeuvring in spectacular fashion. But such action often culminates in danger and this was no exception. The Hurricane of F/L Henry Ferris collided with one of the Dorniers and both aircraft exploded in mid-air. The Spitfire of 266 Squadron commander S/L Rodney Wilkinson had two Bf109s attack him and he went down in flames after it is believed he collided with a Bf109 in which its pilot Uffz E. Buder baled out and was captured. Although the Luftwaffe had lost up to ten aircraft, one Hurricane and five Spitfires were lost in this action.
1300hrs: A large formation of enemy aircraft were detected coming in over the Channel east of the Isle of Wight. 43 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) and 601 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) were scrambled as orders were given to all base personnel that the formation was Ju87 dive bombers and that they were heading towards Tangmere Aerodrome. Residents of the surrounding villages and personnel on the airfield had a clear view of the gull winged attackers as they made their near vertical dives onto the airfield. Passengers on an electric train that plied the Portsmouth-South Coast railway line also had a clear view of the events, and saw hangars and buildings explode as bombs found their mark. A number of Hurricanes and Blenheim aircraft were destroyed in many of the hangars that were hit. After just fifteen minutes, it was all over with eight Ju87 aircraft destroyed and many others trailing smoke as they went back across the Channel.
43 Squadron lost four Hurricanes on the ground, and another flown by P/O C. A. Woods-Scawen crashed on the Isle of Wight although the aircraft was destroyed, the pilot was unhurt. Two other Hurricanes were damaged but managed to return to base.
1310hrs: Tangmere also became victim to the Ju88s of Air Fleet 3 who targeted the airfield with extreme accuracy. Not one building or hangar escaped damage, aircraft were smashed both in the hangars and as they stood out in the open, in fact a total of fourteen aircraft were destroyed.
Ventnor radar station, now restored since its devastation on August 12th, was the next target for the Luftwaffe. Five Ju87s hammered the radar station for just five minutes and with accurate bombing it was once again put out of action, but this time considerable damage was done and Ventnor was to be out of action until September 23rd. Across the Solent, the stretch of water that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland, Ju88s had attacked with great success the anti-aircraft installations at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.
More enemy action was seen over the Naval establishments of Gosport and Lee on Solent. Both these bases, although not belonging to Fighter Command, were targets for the Luftwaffe and they came under constant bombing attacks. 213 Squadron Exeter (Hurricanes) and 249 Squadron Boscombe Down (Hurricanes) were involved in combat over Southampton and Portland with both squadrons losing aircraft. Ju88s and Bf110s dived down on Gosport seriously damaging a number of buildings and killing a number of people.
1345hrs: Later, three Ju88s were visually spotted over the Solent. One of the pilots that spotted the threesome was Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson flying his Hurricane of 249 Squadron based at Boscombe. Nicolson had seen many enemy aircraft, but this was the first time that he had been close enough to make an attack. It happened so fast, he turned and dived to improve his position, but lost the formation. Then he saw a squadron of Spitfires attacking the Ju88s and again made a turn to join in the combat. But suddenly, while he was concentrating on the melee in front of him a burst of cannon fire ripped his canopy apart. Partially blinded by the sudden rush of cold air that was now engulfing him, plus the fact that blood was seething out of a wound on his forehead and running into his eyes.
Momentarily dazed, and not knowing that a Bf110 had been on his tail he was again hit, this time by another cannon that split open his reserve fuel tank and in a sheer split second the Hurricane was engulfed in flame. Again he was hit, this time by gunfire and this time as bullets cut into the whole length of the plane he was hit in the left leg and that portion of his trousers was ripped right off. Losing speed, he tried in vain to blindly turn the aircraft away from the pursuing German fighter bomber when the Bf110 had overshot him. Nicolson straightened the Hurricane and still bellowing smoke and flame and with a damaged cockpit cover dived and set chase for the German. He was now only 200 yards from the 110 and within striking distance. Flame and smoke wrenched from the instrument panel with glass popping from the instruments.
He then got the 110 in his sights, he lined it up and with his finger rock
hard on the firing button blasted away at the bandit, his badly injured
hand taking all the pain that it could. Suddenly, the 110 was engulfed
in smoke , and it then turned, went into a gentle dive and spiralled down
into the sea below.
Once landed, he saw with his good eye, that blood was pouring through the lace holes of his left boot, his flying jacket showed signs of being burnt, and the glass on his wrist watch had melted. It was actions such as this that typified the courage and determination of the fighter pilot, it was actions such as this that brought out the emotions of Churchill, and it was Dowding who said that "...the pilots are doing their best." Believe me, each and every one of them was giving 150%. For his actions, James Nicolson was awarded the VC, the only one to be offered to a fighter pilot.
1730hrs: 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), 610 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) and 615 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) are vectored towards Sussex after a formation of He 111 bombers and an escort of Bf110s are detected coming in across the Channel. By the time that the squadron engage the enemy, they are well inland and combat operations take place on the Surrey/Sussex border. Four He111s were reported to have been destroyed also two Bf110s, while another Bf110 was reported to have been damaged in this action crashed in France. Four of the 1 Squadron Hurricanes received damage, but all returned to base with no loss of pilots, and all aircraft repairable. 610 Squadron lost a Spitfire while 615 had one Hurricane damaged.
1735hrs: Late afternoon action saw 234 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires) in combat with Bf109s over Portsmouth and the Solent. The a lone He111 was rammed by an unarmed Anson trainer by a sergeant pilot. It will never be known as to whether the sergeant pilot rammed it intentionally or by accident will never be known as both aircraft plunged earthwards joined together.
1750hrs: Flying back to Duxford from Coltishall, 19 Squadron Duxford (Spitfires) were given mid-air instructions to proceed to a vectored position just off the east coast at Clacton-on-Sea Essex. At first there was no sign of the raiders, but it was not long before a flight made contact with 70 He111 and about 50 Bf110s just south of Harwich. Joined by another flight, a strong and intense battle emerged with weaving planes and long glowing lines of tracer above the coastline. One He111 was brought down over the sea, but a number of Bf110s crashed into the Essex countryside.
notice above that one of the casualties is P/O W.M.L."Billy" Fiske. "Billy"
was and today still is known as the only American killed during the Battle
of Britain. It has been widely accepted that a number of Americans may
have obtained Canadian passports and entered service with the RAF as Canadians.
This is because the U.S. State Department would not allow Americans to
serve with forces engaged in warfare in Europe. (At the time, the United
States was not at war with Germany).
SATURDAY AUGUST 17th 1940
The last few days had been hectic and tiring for all those that had taken part. Throughout the daylight hours of the 15th pilots and ground crews had been up since first light and worked non stop until well into the hours of darkness. By the 16th, they would all have appreciated a rest but although not as intense a day as the day previous, it did turn out to be a busy one. Come the 17th August, everyone hoped for a break, for time to regather themselves, to relax and to many, to sleep and rest. For some unknown reason, their prayers were answered. Even though the 17th dawned an exceptional summers day, little wind and cloudless skies, but there was not a German aircraft in sight, the skies around the south coast were empty. Radar operators at many of the stations began to suspect that their masts or receivers were faulty, not a blip could be seen on any of them.
While Fighter Command were asking the question "Why? Why don't they come?" Station Commanders took the opportunity to clean up their airfields. Biggin Hill, Manston, Brize Norton, Tangmere, Kenley and Hornchurch all had work to do in clearing up the mess caused by the bombing of the previous day.
But even though the pilots of Fighter Command were in need of a rest, so were the German bomber crews of Luftflotten 2 and 3. German commanders had pleaded for a rest for their battle weary crews, and this was granted. Taking advantage of this were the ground crews who repaired damaged aircraft, and replacement aircraft were supplied where needed. Many of the Ju87 'Stuka' aircraft were showing scars of battle damage and the Dorniers and Heinkels too were in desperate need of servicing and repair. Fighter Command had inflicted serious damage to many of the German aircraft, and if these aircraft were to perform, then there just no alternative, satisfactory repairs had to be made. New aircraft had been flown in, but these to had to go through a period of inspection before they could be sent in to actual combat.
Although ground crews managed to repair buildings, fill in holes and craters and repair damaged aircraft, it was with pilots that replacements could not keep up with losses. Over the last five days Fighter Command had lost sixty-eight valuable pilots killed or posted as missing. As well as this some seventy had been injured or wounded and would not return to action for many weeks, some not at all. Records show that since August 1st, only seventy replacements entered service with Fighter Command.
On the brighter side, 310 Squadron made up of Czechoslovakian pilots became operational. They were posted to Duxford. The language was a bit of a problem, on the ground it was not all that bad as there was always someone available to interpret, but in the air they talked in their own tongue over the RT and conveying instructions started to become a work of art. The same was to apply to the Poles later.
The Luftwaffe sent no major bombing operations on this day, only the occasional reconnaissance flight and Fighter Command did not even send out any fighters to intercept these either. There was no apparent reason for the lull, only that both sides, after the heavy engagements of the last few days both sides were in need of a rest. But for the Luftwaffe not to attempt any operation against Britain, it just proved the fact that they too were feeling the brunt of constant engagements and a days rest was the only way that they could regather and recompose themselves.
Taking advantage of the lull in operations, Fighter Command found the badly needed precious time to catch up on general running repairs without hindrance of enemy bombing interfering with the clean up, even if it was only for one day. Ventnor radar station appreciated the unexpected quiet, although more than one day was really needed to complete all repairs. Tangmere had been badly damaged and took advantage to fill in craters scattered all over the airfield, Brize Norton was also in the same boat. Broken communications were repaired and in many cases arrangements were made to rehouse pilots where accommodation areas had been badly damaged or destroyed. It was also an opportune time to move out the dead and injured. Wherever possible, the dead were given decent burials, while those suffering serious injuries were transferred to civilian hospitals. Most of the ground staff found the time to complete repairs instead of just doing a quick patch-up to the aircraft. It may have only been one day, but it was a day that was welcomed by all.