The Chronology: Page-32
Sunday September 1st 1940

Three WAAFs that were decorated for bravery for their actions          A Dornier Do17 taken during Luftwaffe operations against Britain

Up until the final days of August, the whole of Fighter Command had been under extreme pressure. Day after day, the Luftwaffe had targeted the airfields of 11 Group, the radar stations along the south coast while at night they had now turned to heavy bombing raids on the larger cities. The last few days of August, and the first days of September were to prove of great concern for both Dowding and Park. One of these concerns was the high loss of pilots. Hugh Dowding questioned Park as to why we were losing so many pilots to the German fighters when pilots had been instructed to attack the bombers. Park stated that since most of the Bf109 squadrons had been posted to the Pas de Calais, they are now double in number and are working in close company with the bombers. "Our fighters have first to break the fighter screen before they can get to the bombers.".
Richard Hough and Dennis Richards print the quote in their book "Battle of Britain - A Jubilee History":
For most of the phase [24 August - 6 September] the defending squadrons were flying and fighting singly. Only too often the units of combat were a British squadron of twelve aircraft at most and a German formation of twenty to forty bombers and up to 100 fighters. Some British squadron commanders attempted to contain the enemy escort with one flight, and with the other attack the bombers; but time after time there were sufficient German fighters to engage both British flights.
The Air Defence of Great Britain Vol II-The Battle of Britain
Figures now started to indicate that aircraft as well as pilots had been a source of concern for Fighter Command. Prior to August, many new pilots straight from OTC units were thrown into the fray will very little flying experience and definitely no combat experience at all. Combat training for them was being thrown into action and most had to learn by their mistakes, but this was also to place additional pressure on the squadron commanders who had to carry them through their first operational sorties. But as many of these pilots were shot down, it also meant a loss of yet another aircraft for Fighter Command. Aircraft were being repaired as fast as they could, and aircraft production had been increasing slowly, but the fact remained, aircraft were being shot down as fast as the factories could produce them. [ Document 42 ]

Furthermore, with the constant raids on the airfields Fighter Command had to make the necessary arrangements regarding their maintenance. Without constant and on-going repair work being done it would be so easy for an airfield top become non-operational. The whole structure of communications, defence, supplies and organization was of utmost priority. Things like damaged hangars could possibly wait until the more important tasks such as telephone lines and the rebuilding or relocation of ops rooms had been accomplished.

When many of the service blocks had been destroyed or damaged, it was not uncommon to see many of the ground personnel going about their duties under canvas tents, even much of the cooking had been done out of doors. But some tasks could not be fully functional in some circumstances. Biggin Hill made use of a local chemists shop a couple of miles down the road, and within a period of twelve hours had converted it into a fully functional operations room.
Later in the week Keith Park issued the following statement of which it is applicable to put here:

Contrary to general belief and official reports, the enemy's bombing attacks by day did extensive damage to five of our forward aerodromes and also to six of our seven sector stations. There was a critical period when the damage to sector stations and our ground organization was having a serious effect on the fighting efficiency of the squadrons, who could not be given the same good technical and administrative service as previously.........The absence of many essential telephone lines, the use of scratch equipment in emergency operation rooms, and the general dislocation of ground organization, was seriously felt for about a week in the handling of squadrons by day to meet the enemy's massed attacks, which were continued without the former occasional break of a day.
Report by Air Vice Marshal Keith Park - 6th September 1940
When asked later about the general situation, Park simply stated "...we are holding our own...just".

But there seemed to be something that was brewing into a storm. For some time now, Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory of 12 Group, had been pushing for multi-squadron formations, a scheme that had been instigated by one of his squadron leaders Douglas Bader and was to become known as the "Big Wing". It was required that a number of squadrons would act as one, en masse, and that it would prove far more damaging than the present one or two squadrons that are more often than not always outnumbered. But Park was seriously against the scheme. It would mean pulling out squadrons from all important sector stations, and this would take time, time that once the enemy had been sighted they didn't have, anyway  it would leave aerodromes and London without the necessary protection.

But there was controversy, and very often there were outburst from both Keith Park and the 12 Group Commander Leigh-Mallory. Group Captain Sir Hugh Dundas tells us that Leigh-Mallory insisted in quite vocal manner that his squadrons could have been used by Park with greater and better effect. He claimed that his squadrons were  being excluded from any action that was taking place within the areas where the main action was taking place. Hugh Dundas verifies this. He said that as a young Pilot Officer, that he had experience in 11 Group being stationed at Kenley, and was withdrawn to the Duxford wing after the squadron had lost quite a number of pilots. Many times, he said, we just sat there on the ground while large scale operations were taking place within 11 Group.

He also claimed that his squadrons were being called in to assist 11 Group far too late, and more often than not the squadrons of 12 Group missed making contact with the enemy.
Park made the claim that the reason that Leigh-Mallory's squadrons were coming in too late, was that they were taking far lo long to assemble the 'Big Wing', and further added that that was another reason that he strongly opposed it.

This is backed up by Len Deighton (Battle of Britain), who gave an example. Park once again had asked assistance from 12 Group on August 26th, while his own squadrons were involved with German raiders. Debden airfield was at this stage unprotected and obviously Park was relying on 12 Groups fighters to provide the necessary cover. When Debden was bombed with devastating results by the Luftwaffe, Leigh-Mallory's squadrons had not arrived. When park wanted an explanation, Leigh-Mallory claimed that he was asked too late.

The 12 Group Commander and one of his squadron commanders Douglas Bader launched an attack on the way that Dowding and Park were handling the Battle. It was claimed that no way were they going to create an advantage by sending up ridiculous small forces of fighters against the armada of massed formations of the Luftwaffe.

Bader supported Leigh-Mallory's  theory of the 'Big Wing', sending up possibly five squadrons of fighters. They agreed that it took time to organize, it took time for them to make formation in the air, and that on many occasions would not intercept the German aircraft until after they had dropped their bombs. But they both insisted that it was far better to shoot down German aircraft in substantial numbers on their way home after they had bombed their targets, rather than just to snap at their flanks as they approached and put valuable planes and pilots at risk.

Keith Park argued back, that Leigh-Mallory was to be reminded that these targets that were being bombed were his airfields, and at least we are scattering the enemy bombers forcing them either to make mistakes or to abort and return home. Park continued, that the 'Big Wing' theory was ridiculous and that how on earth could it succeed if there was no airfields for the aircraft to take off from. (It should be remembered here, that 80% of their targets were the airfields of 11 Group).

Park won the support of Dowding, who, for the time being would not allow such 'Big Wing' tactics to be instigated. But Leigh-Mallory was not to let the matter rest, he was later to take his theory to the Air Ministry and even direct to the Prime Minister. Was the "Big Wing' theory worthy of being implemented? Was Leigh-Mallory still bitter about not getting command of 11 Group as he originally wanted? Was Park carrying bitter resentment because he thought that Leigh-Mallory was telling him his job? Did Leigh-Mallory carry any resentment because of Dowding's close relationship with Park?

Although the 'Big Wing' was a controversial matter, It really comes down to the fact that it was a battle of two men's personalities.
As we shall see as the month of September wears on, the 'Big Wing' theory does in fact win in the end.


By this period, the Luftwaffe pilots were reporting that the British fighter defence was not as intense as it had been previously. Pilots attached to 11/KG 1 on reporting after a mission over the dockland areas of East London officially placed in their report that 'Only slight enemy fighter resistance easily countered by own escort'.
The British were suffering badly, they were losing more aircraft than were being produced, which meant that if things continued like this, the resources of Fighter Command would soon be depleted. Pilots too was becoming an even more serious issue. Since the Battle of Britain had begun, Dowding had lost some 75% of his squadron commanders, nearly 400 pilots had either been killed or seriously wounded.

Air Vice Marshal Dowding had for some time been under pressure to include the two hundred or more Czechs, Poles and a few other European pilots into operational service. But so far, Dowding had resisted. Now with the situation that could only be classed as critical, he now had to consider that anyone who could fly a fighter plane, be put into operational service. This also included drawing on pilots from both Bomber and Coastal Commands.

Now, new pilots were being attached to squadrons with as little as fifteen or twenty hours flying experience on either Spitfires or Hurricanes. This posed new problems for Dowding and Park. The new English pilots were young and enthusiastic, the Czechs and the Poles were using their native language that was to cause immense problems as far as communications were concerned and those from Bomber and Coastal Commands had to get used to a new way of fighting. But these problems also had there effects down through the chain of command. Station and squadron commanders tried to give some of the new pilots additional training, but by pushing through inexperienced men seriously weakened the effectiveness of many of the squadrons. It also put additional pressure on the more experienced who found themselves flying sortie after sortie until they could barely stand up.

I watched as one by one our aircraft returned to base after yet another sortie. Most of the aircraft to our delight had returned unscathed, but then I saw this Hurricane coming in to land. His wings were tipping up, then down, then suddenly he hit the ground rather hard only for him to bounce right up again. Then at the second attempt, he finally kept the aircraft on the ground and taxied a short way and stopped in the centre of the airfield. Casualty procedures were put into action and crash tenders and ambulances rushed towards him only to find that the pilot fast asleep, he did not even have time to switch the engine off
Squadron Leaders remarks at 111 Squadron Croydon September 1940.
Hough & Richards in their book "Battle of Britain - A Jubilee History" p238 state that the pilot in question was in fact Canadian Pilot Officer J.A. (Johnny) Walker of 111 Squadron was actually leaning forward still in his Sutton harness, head on his chest and asleep with exhaustion.
Towards the end of the Battle I had just taken about as much as I could bear. My nerves were in ribbons and I was scared stiff that one day I would pull out and avoid combat. That frightened me more than the Germans and I pleaded with my C.O. for a rest. He was sympathetic but quite adamant that until he got replacements I would have to carry on. I am glad now that he was unable to let me go. If I had been allowed to leave the squadron, feeling as I did, I am sure that I would never have flown again.
Sgt. J.H (Ginger) Lacey 501 Squadron Fighter Command


SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 1st 1940

WEATHER:

Most of the country could expect cloudy patches for most of the morning with sunny periods. Temperatures expected were to be a little higher than average with the cloud burning off about midday giving way to fine and sunny conditions.

OPERATIONS IN DETAIL:

1015hrs: The day held the same usual pattern as did many of the preceding days, quiet early, but at mid morning a build up of enemy aircraft was detected by the radar stations at Dover, Foreness and Pevensy. The Luftwaffe kept to their standard pattern of sending in a small formation of Bf109s first as a diversionary, but as usual they are ignored by Fighter Command. These are followed by 60+ bombers that consisted of formations of Dornier Do17s and Bf110s with the fighter escort of Bf109s at higher altitude.

Just prior to reaching the Kent coast, they broke up into a number of smaller formations, each designated to a different target. Again it was the airfields of Fighter Command that bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe attacks, Eastchurch, Rochford, Detling and once again Biggin Hill. A total of ten squadrons were given the order to readiness, and once again, it seemed as though 11 Group would be stretched to the limit as the German bombers were heading for four different areas at the same time.

1025hrs: Keith Park was still cautious as he viewed the large map table below him at Group HQ, forty Bf109s were positioned off the coast to the west, and seemed quite content at staying there, but he was more concerned with the three other formations positioned eastwards on the map table. Park, like Hugh Dowding, relied heavily on radar and had great faith in the radar operators and the Observer Corps. When the bomber formations were 'X' number of miles off the English coast, that's when he would want the squadrons to scramble to intercept them. If the squadrons left too early, they would be in combat action over the waters of the Channel, Fighter Command knew that there was only a 20% recovery rate for pilots downed in the Channel. If the squadrons left too late, then they could not attain the height and position required to launch a successful attack on the incoming enemy formations. The timing had to be correct. [1]

Fourteen squadrons were scrambled and were vectored to intercept the enemy formations as they crossed the coast from Dungeness to Margate, and as others entered the Thames Estuary and headed due west along the River Thames heading towards London.

1100hrs: Fierce dogfights occurred over the eastern half of Kent. Most of these were in separate pockets scattered in different areas. 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) and 72 Squadron Croydon (Spitfires) are vectored towards the Maidstone area. Here, they engage a formation of Dorniers after they had crossed the coast near Beachy Head. 72 Squadron had just arrived at the Biggin Hill sector but because of the damage sustained at Biggin Hill, the squadron were posted to Croydon and were immediately thrown into the action.

1130hrs: As 54 Squadron intercept the Dornier formation, they are joined by 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes) while 72 Squadron made their approach on the enemy from the west and as they lined up their attack, they were jumped on by Bf109s who tore into the squadron with deadly accuracy. The dock areas of London now come under attack by enemy bombers that had managed to get through. Park order a number of squadron at Hornchurch, Biggin Hill and Kenley to be at readiness to protect the main sector station including 79 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes).

F/O Desmond Sheen watches as one of his squadron is attacked by a Bf109 as he prepared to line up a Dornier, he calls out but gets little or no response as Sgt. M. Pocock takes a hit and dives earthwards. Soon after, Desmond Sheen is hit himself as five or six Bf109s bear down on him. His engine bursts into flames and he is forced to bale out. [2]

As he floats down Sheen surveys a scene that will live in his memory forever. On his right he can see explosions from bursting bombs in the Dover area with answering anti-aircraft fire from the defences. On his left he can see bombs falling on London Docks. The air is pungent with the acrid smell of cordite and its throbs to the engines of the bombers punctuated by the whining, straining sounds of fighters as they dive, climb and turn somewhere above. Not far off a Bf109 falls in flames. A parachute blossoms out but its harness must be faulty because the airman dangling beneath suddenly falls away to oblivion. Another 109 turns towards him but there is a Spitfire on its tail. It twists away and both planes merge into the panorama.
Dennis Newton A Few of the Few Australian War Memorial 1990 p146
1330hrs: The fighters of the morning raid had hardly returned to their bases, rearmed and refuelled when they were once again placed at readiness as a large formation had been detected again coming in over Dover. It was all a carbon copy of the earlier raid and the enemy bombers again broke into smaller groups with some approaching London over Dover and Ashford while another headed north and came in following the Thames.

Again Keith Park put up as many squadrons as he could while at the same time keeping enough back at the sector stations for close protection. 1 (RCAF) Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires), 72 Squadron Croydon (Spitfires), 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes), 253 Squadron Kenley (Hurricanes) and 616 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) were among many of the squadrons scrambled to intercept.

1345hrs: The first interceptions were made between Folkestone and Hastings and 85 Squadron made contact near Lympne. P/O G. Allard was about to make an attack when his aircraft developed a loss in oil pressure. He decided that he would make a landing at nearby Lympne airfield when the engine started to cough and splutter. As he was about to touch down, he was losing enough power that the Hurricane became hard to control but he managed to land the aircraft safely just as bombs started to fall on the airfield. P/O Allard managed to get out of the aircraft which was damaged by bomb fragments as it lay parked on the airfield.

72 Squadron Croydon (Spitfires) made their interception over Dungeness, 616 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) followed soon after. 85 Squadron Croydon (Hurricanes) stayed with the combat but could do nothing to slow down the advance of the German bombers which had been reported as being 150 plus strong and consisted of Do17s, Bf110 and Bf109s.

1400hrs: The squadrons protecting the sector stations, including 79 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes) were scrambled as the bombers approached. This was now the sixth raid on Biggin Hill in three days. During the day, they had been trying to hold a funeral service at a cemetery just outside the airfield for the fifty or so personnel that were killed in earlier raids on the station. All the coffins were lined up next to the graves, some were draped with the flags, but many were not as there were not enough of them to go round. The service is in progress as the air raid siren sounds, and 79 Squadron (Hurricanes) is immediately put into the air once again. The airfield is hit yet once again, and Group Captain Grice, the Station Commander wonders when it is all going to stop.

Inside the airfield, everything seemed to be in disaster mode. Hangars are hit, as are mess halls, workshops and the telecommunications system. Bf110s come in low and bomb with accuracy, Do17s at higher altitude drop high explosive bombs. Damage is extensive.

The attack continues on to Kenley where Do17s come in low. One of them is shot down by the Hurricanes of 85 Squadron. It tries to return towards the coast hoping that it could get back to base, but with both engines now in flames the bomber crashes near Dungeness. Three of the crew managed to bale out and were captured, but a fourth was killed when the aircraft crashed. P/O Colin Gray of 54 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) managed to hit a Bf109 which with a damaged engine had to make a forced landing in a field near Rye. The pilot was also captured. A Bf110 after completing its bombing run on Biggin Hill, was shot down by P/O P.F. Mayhew of 79 Squadron Biggin Hill (Hurricanes) and it exploded as it hit the ground at Brasted killing both crew on board.

Another Bf110 was attacked by the Hurricanes of 85 Squadron over Biggin Hill. Damaged by machine gun fire, it managed to keep flying and a Spitfire of 616 Squadron  Kenley went in to assist. It was finally shot down by P/O C.E. English of 85 Squadron hitting the 110 in its only remaining engine and it made a forced landing at Ham Street where both of the crew were captured.

1415hrs: But the glory experienced by 85 Squadron was to be short lived. Over the Kenley area, they were jumped on by a number of Bf109s cutting the squadron to pieces. First to be hit was P/O A.V. Gowers who managed to bale out of his burning Hurricane and received severe burns. Next was Sgt. G.B. Booth whose aircraft caught fire after an attack by a Bf109. The flames spread rapidly and Sgt. Booth baled out, but his parachute pack had been burnt and he fell without an open parachute to the ground. He survived the impact, but broke his back in the process. (After five months of agonizing pain and hospitalization he died of his injuries on February 7th 1941). F/O P.P. Woods-Scawen who was leading the squadron also baled out and his parachute failed to open as well and was killed on impact with the ground. ( His body was not discovered until six days later in scrub in Kenley Lane Kenley). The Hurricane of P/O A.G. Lewis was badly shot up over Kenley and he had to make a wheels up landing after he suffered a jammed undercarriage. Sgt. J.H.M. Ellis was also believed to have been killed as he never returned to base. His body has never been found. [3]

1530hrs: In the two attacks of the day by German bomber formations, RAF fighter stations had suffered badly. Although Biggin Hill and Kenley had taken the brunt of the damage, Hornchurch, North Weald, Gravesend and Detling also took a battering. Targets at Tilbury also suffered as did the London Docks. Now, for the third time for the day, 100 plus aircraft came across the coast intent on doing further damage. Their course was the same as the two earlier raids.

This time they started to bomb targets along the way. One formation dropped bombs on Hawkinge and Lympne airfields while another formation and making their attack on Detling and Chatham. Bf110s also decided to strafe the Dover balloon barrage along the way. A formation of Do17 bombers headed towards South London and it was at 1730hrs that Biggin Hill realized that they were again to be the target.

1800hrs: A direct hit on the operations rooms put them completely out of action. All telephone lines were cut and the Teleprinter Network was destroyed by a single 500lb bomb. One of the workshops was on fire and four Spitfires were destroyed on the ground and the station armoury was ablaze.

Anyone would think that we were the only important aerodrome protecting London. Day after day, raid after raid. As soon as the bombers come over and make bloody holes in the ground, we go out and fill 'em up again. Everything is in poor shape, but Jerry hadn't broken our spirit. Hangars continued to operate even with no roofs on. There was always a steady stream of ambulances to take the injured to hospital, in fact it got to a bloody state where they queued up waiting for the next raid. If there were heroes though, then it had to be the women. They just don't know how to bow to defeat. Bloody marvellous they were, stuck to their posts like glue, each one deserved a medal.
Sgt. Gunner Ben Elswood AA Gun Battery at Biggin Hill
In fact, two of the women at Biggin Hill, for their actions that day were awarded the Military Medal. Corporal Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner, both members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) Already the previous day when Biggin Hill was attacked, both women along with Assistant Section Officer Felicity Hanbury went along to the airwomen's trenches at the request of the station chaplain. The trenches were close to the stores and the Guardroom and had received a direct hit. [4] The Station Officer was already there and ordered that everybody grab a shovel and dig like mad. Its not a pretty sight to see your first dead person, and although most of the girls were only shaken or had minor injuries, the dead had to be laid out and their bodies covered with blankets.

Now, the station was under attack again. Could it be that the girls would have to go through it all again.

Enemy bombers throbbed once more over Biggin Hill. The two women were both on duty, Elspeth in charge of a special telephone line and Helen as the switchboard operator. The bombs began falling perilously near to their building, but both of them went on with their jobs - although they knew they had only a light roof over their heads.

Then came a direct hit. Neither of them was hurt and they still carried on with their work. Elspeth said later: "There was nothing much else we could do anyway, was there?"

Then the building caught fire, and the flames spurted and spat across the room. At last they were ordered to leave. Helen said "When we did leave, we had to crawl out through the wreckage, crawling through the broken down walls to safety. I felt a bit sorry for some of the youngsters in the building at the time, because it was their first experience with bombs. I did my best to cheer them up."

The Commanding Officer of Biggin Hill later said "These three girls have shown amazing pluck in carrying on their work under the strain of falling bombs. I am proud to have them working on this station. There is no doubt that their example during two days of bombing inspired all around them.

John Frayn Turner The Battle of Britain Airlife Publishing 1998 pp84-85
Biggin again is declared non-operational temporarily, six squadrons of RAF fighters could not stop this final attack, although 603 Squadron managed to claim one Bf109 that crashed at Chilham and 79 Squadron is diverted to Croydon because Biggin Hill is temporarily declared non-operational.

Work began immediately on rebuilding the operations room. Men that were normally AA gunners and fitters during the day, were instructed to assist in the clean up and re-establishment of the airfield. Post Office engineers worked throughout the night to repair damaged and severed telephone cables. Ruptured gas and water mains made many night time repairs hazardous and many of these were delayed until first light the next morning.  Work had already been undertaken on many of the telephone cables from earlier raids, one of which was the main cable that engineers worked throughout the hours of darkness, even through an air raid, but much of this work was undone with this last evening attack.

As a precaution, in case that Biggin Hill could not be repaired in time for the next day, more Post Office engineers connected telephone cables and a switchboard in one of the local village shops which was to be used as a temporary operations room until the one on the airfield was ready. [5]

CASUALTIES:
1115hrs: Pluckley (Kent). Spitfire P9458. 72 Squadron Croydon
F/O O.St J. Pigg killed. (Failed to bale out after his aircraft was shot down during combat with Bf109s)
1130hrs: Ruckinge (Kent). Hurricane P3276. 1 Squadron Northolt
F/Sgt F.G. Berry killed. (Shot down by Bf109s during combat action over Kent)
1400hrs: Dungeness. Hurricane P5185. 253 Squadron Kenley
P/O J.K.G. Clifton killed. (Shot down in combat with Do215 and Bf110s and failed to bale out)
1415hrs: Tunbridge Wells. Hurricane L2071. 85 Squadron Croydon
Sgt. G.B. Booth died of injuries 7-2-1941. (Baled out of burning aircraft but burnt parachute failed to open)
1415hrs: Kenley. Hurricane P2673. 85 Squadron Croydon
Sgt. J.H.M. Ellis listed as missing. (Last seen in combat with Bf109s. Failed to return to base)
1415hrs: Kenley. Hurricane P3150. 85 Squadron Croydon
F/O killed. (Shot down by Bf109, baled out but parachute failed to open)

[1] Richard Hough & Dennis Richards The Battle of Britain - A Jubilee History Hodder & Stoughton 1989
[2] Dennis Newton A Few of the Few Australian War Memorial 1990 p146
[3] Winston G Ramsey ed Battle of Britain Then & Now After the Battle 1980 pp404-406
[4] John Frayn Turner The Battle of Britain Airlife Publishing 1998 p84
[5] Derek Wood & Derek Dempster The Narrow Margin Macgraw Hill 1961 p318



The Battle of Britain - 1940 website Battle of Britain Historical Society 2007