on patrol and drifted up and down the sky. Then suddenly: "Hullo, Ganer
leader; Hullo, Ganer leader, bandits on your right, over". And there sure
enough was a tiny slanting black line which we knew were bombers. We turned
towards them. I turned the gun button to "Fire" and looked to see that
the reflector sight was working O K. I opened the hood, and immediately
I could see 50 per cent better, although it is 50 per cent colder. I saw
that the rapidly closing bombers were surrounded by black dots, which I
knew to be Me 109s. So we were in for it this time ! Before we knew where
we were, we were doing a beam attack on the Dornier 215s. All I remember
is trying to avoid hitting anyone else as we attacked, and being conscious
of Me 109s coming down to attack us. I had a long burst at one section
of Dorniers and as I broke away noticed at least two lagging behind and
streaming glycol or white smoke. Those weren't necessarily the ones I had
fired at.... The odds today have been unbelievable (and we are all really
very shaken !). There are bombs and things falling around tonight and a
terrific gun barrage.
249 Squadron, 7 September 1940.
Has a blitz
begun? The Wing-Commander's coolness is amazing and he does a lot to keep
up our morale - very necessary tonight."
burning all down the river. It was a horrid sight. But I looked down and
said 'Thank God for that', because I knew that the Nazis had switched their
attack from the fighter stations thinking that they were knocked out. They
weren't, but they were pretty groggy"
Marshal Keith Park AOC 11 Group on the switch to attack London.
we could see was row upon row of German raiders, all heading for London.
I have never seen so many aircraft in the air all at the same time....
The escorting fighters saw us at once and came down like a ton of bricks,
when the squadron split up and the sky became a seething cauldron of aeroplanes,
swooping and swerving in and out of the vapour trails and tracer smoke.
A Hurricane on fire spun out of control ahead of me while, above to my
right, a 110 flashed across my vision and disappeared into the fog of battle
before I could draw a bead on it. Everyone was shouting at once and the
earphones became filled with a meaningless cacophony of jumbled noises.
Everything became a maelstrom of jumbled impression - a Dornier spinning
wildly with part of its port mainplane missing; black streaks of tracer
ahead, then I instinctively put my arm up to shield my face; taking a breather
when the haze absorbed me for a moment ...
LEADER 'SANDY' JOHNSTONE, 602 Squadron, 7 Sept. 1940.
is a historic one. As a result of the provocative British attacks on Berlin
on recent nights the Führer has decided to order a mighty blow to
be struck in revenge against the British capital of the British Empire.
I personally have assumed the leadership of this attack and today I have
heard above me the roaring of the victorious German squadrons.
Göring September 7th 1940
The previous day, General Officer
Commanding I Air Corps Grauert, issued a statement that would outline the high intensity attacks
to be made on London.
43. The German invasion plan to attack London ]
SEPTEMBER 7th 1940
early giving way to light cloud but remaining fine throughout the south.
Channel areas can expect early morning haze which should quickly disappear
leaving clear skies. Temperatures were expected to be normal. The north
could expect mid to high level cloud with good visibility.
The day previous was a day when extreme
pressure was brought upon Fighter Command. Six of the seven sector airfields
had suffered considerable damage, and five of the advanced air bases along
the Kent coast feared no better. Losses of aircraft again exceeded production
and pilot strength was now down to about seven hundred in all.
The Luftwaffe had pounded and pounded
at the RAF, and now it appeared that victory was now within their grasp.
It had taken the German war machine much longer than they had anticipated,
mainly due to their own mistakes, but slowly they were grinding away at
Fighter Command, and slowly Fighter Command was weakening. Even on September
6th, the heads at the War Office were ready to implement the order of 'Invasion
Alert No.1' It had already been served as a warning only to all RAF
Commands, but as yet had not been released as 'official' to the public.
ACM Hugh Dowding knew the situation,
he knew that if the RAF was at all to gain the upper hand, then his pilots
would have to shoot down the German planes at a rate of three to one, a
task which at this stage when his airfields were almost non-operational,
and his pilots were tired and many were near to exhaustion. Dowding said
in his office at Bentley Priory, "......all we can do now is to pray to
God, because only a miracle can save us now."
What was to happen on September 7th
1940, goes back to the night of August 24th / 25th when German bombers
targeted a number of British cities and towns. Birmingham had about four
raids in as many hours, Liverpool came under a Red Alert when it was bombed
as was Hull and Sheffield. But it was the German bombers that were supposed to drop their
bombs on Thameshaven and Rochester, but dropped them in the heart of London
instead, the Luftwaffe crew claiming that they had lost their bearings. The British War Cabinet sanctioned, as a retaliation, an attack
on Berlin on the following night of August 25th/26th. About 50 British
bombers made up of Wellington's and Hampdens were to carry out the attack.
But according to Bomber Command, heavy cloud covered the German capital
and only half of the bombers dropped their bombs, but most fell wide of
the city doing little damage. The only bombs to fall within the city limits
damaged a summer house in the Berlin suburb of Rosenthal and only two people
were injured and no deaths were recorded.
But a different picture was painted
by William L. Shirer who was in Berlin at the time of the raid. He was due
to make his evening broadcast to America at the time of the raid. Today
his diary reads:
the bombing is the one topic of conversation among Berliners. Its especially
amusing therefore to see that Goebbels has permitted the local newspapers
to publish only a six-line communiqué about it, to the effect that
enemy planes flew over the capital, dropped a few incendiary bombs on two
suburbs, and damaged one wooden hut in a garden. There is not a line about
the explosive bombs which we all plainly heard. Nor is there a word about
the three streets in Berlin which have been roped off all day today to
prevent the curious from seeing what a bomb can do to a house. It will
be interesting to watch the reaction of the Berliners to the efforts of
the authorities to hush up the extent of the raid.
Diary William L. Shirer 1940
note that Bomber Command reported only the garden shed in the suburbs and
no mention of the dropping of any high explosive bombs in Berlin itself.
The next raid on Berlin according to RAF Bomber Command was on the night
of August 28th / 29th and stated that Berlin would now be bombed on regular
routine missions into Germany. Yet William Shirer states in his diary that
Berlin was again bombed the following night after the first initial raid.
44. Fighter Command Order of Battle September 7th 1940 ]
So it was on
the night of September 4th 1940, that Hitler, in his speech at the Berlin
Sportpalast stated amongst the cheers of the partisan audience, "...the
people in Britain ask, but why doesn't he come?" and Hitler gave his reply
"Calm yourselves, be calm, for he is coming! He is coming!" At the meeting
on August 30th with Göring Hitler stated then that he had decided
that he would withdraw his ban on the bombing of London and showed that
he was now keen on regular attacks on the British capital in retaliation
for the consistent attacks on Berlin by the RAF.
earlier, that on September 3rd Göring called a meeting at the Hague
with two of his commanders, Kesselring and Sperle. Kesselring agreed that
the attacks should be switched from fighter airfields to the city of London,
but Sperle did not agree stating that the RAF had more reserves than they
were led to believe. From Berlin, Adolph Hitler gave the order that plans
for attacks on London should begin immediately. He was now firm in his
beliefs that by concentrating on an all out bombing campaign on the British
capital would bring Britain to its knees, and that the bombing should continue
until Britain submits under the strain. In between missions to England
by day and by night during September 5th and the 6th, the Luftwaffe was
busy in its preparations of strengthening all bomber units and moving Bf110
and Bf109 units to specific locations close to the French coast. An all
out bombing campaign on London was to commence on September 7th 1940.
The question here is, did ACM Hugh
Dowding or AVM Keith Park have any idea that the German tactics were
about to change. Ever since the attacks commenced on the aerodromes of
11 Group, both men believed that the assault would continue until most
airfields were virtually non-operational. They firmly believed that the German
plan was to strike a severe a blow on the sector organization as soon as
possible, and both men knew, that as August drew on and went into September,
they were succeeding. My belief is that the answer was yes, they did know.
Fighter Command had the advantage of 'Ultra' and the 'Y' Service (RAF Radio
Intelligence). Between these two intelligence sources Fighter Command could
listen in on the German communications system, and not only be forewarned
of any impeding attacks or strategic tactics ordered by the German High
Command. Prior to the Battle of Britain, a listening station was situated
at Hawkinge where German linguists of the RAF could translate messages
and forward these to Fighter Command HQ. Later, this task was given to
selected members of the WAAF who worked on six hour shifts.
Because of the importance of Hawkinge
and its vulnerability to attack, more suitable premises was located at
Hollywood Manor at Kingsdowne near Wrotham in Kent, and this became the
official operations centre for radio-telephony monitoring of German messages
and instructions for the duration of the war. All messages received, were
sent to RAF commands as well as to the navy and the army. Len Deighton
makes mention of this when the Luftwaffe was preparing for Adlertag on
August 11th 1940:
also had access to the reports from men eavesdropping on German frequencies.
The German weather reconnaissance units were not asked simply for general
information but for weather conditions at the intended targets. As an added
risk to security such aircraft sent radio reports while still over Britain.
This, and any other Luftwaffe radio traffic, was correlated by a secret
unit known as the 'Y" service. And as each German aeroplane was prepared
for an operational flight, its radio was tested. Monitoring of these test
signals provided intelligence with a fairly accurate guess at the number
of aircraft to be used in the following 24-hour period. As Eagle Day approached,
the listening service was able to tell Dowding that he was about to be
attacked on a scale far exceeding all previous attacks.
Fighter Pluriform 1993 p158
At this point
certain threads came together, as they often do at critical moments. The
bombs which fell on London on the night of August 24/25 had immediate repercussions;
81 aircraft of Bomber Command
attacked Berlin the following night. This was an act which deeply pleased
the Prime Minister, the Government, the Press and the overwhelming majority
of a public which was displaying unexpected reserves of belligerency. The
Air Staff was less pleased; it had little faith in the effectiveness of
pure reprisals, and still firmly believed that its slender bomber forces
could do real damage to military targets. How much damage Bomber Command
actually did to Berlin on August 25/26 is uncertain; that it caused considerable
annoyance to Hitler and Goering, who had boasted that such a thing would
never happen, is obvious. And some damage was certainly done by attacks on other
targets in Germany. ‘Thus Hitler had more than one motive for rescinding
his prohibition of deliberate attacks on the British capital, and Goering
now ordered the matter to be put in hand with immediate
effect. On September 5 the “Y” Service intercepted his order for an attack
by over 300 bombers with massive fighter cover on the London docks on the
afternoon of September 7.
Right of the Line Hodder & Stoughton 1985 p207
Ultra, Goering’s signal was in the hands of the Prime Minister and of Dowding
within minutes of its despatch.
A number of sources
state how Dowding and Park were prepared for other attacks especially during
September and the initial raid on September 7th 1940 was no exception.
Dowding and Park had received knowledge of an impeding raid that was to
be targeted at East London on September 5th. They knew that it was to take
place within a few days, and calculating the time that it would take to
bring the number of units forward and organize such a large raid, it was
estimated that the attack on London would be either September 7th or the
8th. According to John Terraine the Air Ministry had also informed
then of Invasion Alert No.1 signifying "an attack is imminent:".
was grim in the extreme as from August 24th to September 6th. 295 fighters
had been totally destroyed and 171 badly damaged, against a total output
of 269 new and repaired Spitfires and Hurricanes. Worst of all, during
the fortnight 103 pilots were killed or missing and 128 were wounded, which
represented a total wastage of 120 pilots per week out of a fighting strength
of just under 1,000.
Dempster The Narrow Margin McGraw Hill 1961 p332-3
pilots were like gold dust, and each one lost had to be replaced by an
untried man who for some time would be vulnerable, until he acquired battle
know-how. Fresh squadrons, moved in to replace tired units, very often
lost more aircraft and pilots than the formations they replaced. For instance,
616 Squadron lost twelve aircraft and five pilots between August 25th and
September 2nd and had to be retired to Coltishall in No.12 Group.
No. 603 Squadron,
newly arrived in 11 Group on August 28th, had by September 6th lost sixteen
aircraft and twelve pilots, while 253 Squadron at Kenley lost thirteen
Hurricanes and nine pilots in the seven days they were in battle, from
A strange deadly quiet was experienced by all the radar stations along
the south coast. The CRTs were all blank, not a sign of the enemy. For
the first time the WAAFs could have breakfast in peace, and there were
more calls for another 'cuppa' than usual. Some took advantage of the mild
balmy early morning to stroll outside, something that had not been done
for weeks. But it was at Wittering that the first contact had been made
with the enemy. A single blip had been detected and 266 Squadron that had
just been transferred to Wittering for a rest after being in the battle
zone was sent to intercept. Three Spitfires took off and made for their
vectored position at twenty-eight thousand. All three aircraft were at
full boost trying to catch the enemy aircraft, and one of them had to turn
back because the engine started to become erratic. The enemy aircraft was
a Dornier 215 and it was not until they were well out over the North Sea
close to the Dutch border that they managed to make their first attack.
Their shots went wide and they came under some accurate gunfire from the
German aircraft. A second attack was more successful with the Dornier exploding
in a ball of flame.
Across the Channel. Göring, commander of II Fliegerkorps Bruno Loerzer
and Albert Kesselring drive through the French countryside towards the
township of St Omer. Göring, who had now pronounced himself
as the leader of the Luftwaffe operations wanted to see for himself the
beginning of the final stage of the battle, and had invited Loerzer and
Kesselring along. They were to position themselves at the closest point
of the French mainland to the English coast, as it would be from here that
they could witness what they thought would be the greatest onslaught that
Britain would ever endure.
Along the way they found time to have
breakfast, and called in to some of the Luftwaffe fighter stations one
of them being the Lehrgeschwader of Bf109s based at Calais-Marck, where
a midday banquet was held. Here, Göring in his open heavy leather
coat that displayed all his war medals talked and chatted with the many
pilots. He spoke of his days as a fighter pilot when air combat was fought
with open cockpit biplanes. He was in a sort of jovial , yet somewhat cocky
After lunch, the procession of three
Mercedes escorted by motorcycle police made their way to the high picnic
grounds at Cape Blanc Nez, where a team of non-commissioned officers with
almost a precision like mentality set out tables and white table linen,
and hastily set out the sandwiches, biscuits and champagne. There was a
war on, the British were lazily sitting around almost bored with themselves,
the German pilots were preparing to deploy themselves on the greatest attack
yet, and Göring was going to have a picnic.
1155hrs: The radar at Dover
and Pevensey picks up the first blips of the day, a small formation just
off the coast. They appear to be content on staying just within striking
distance of the English coastline but made sure that they would not cross
the coast. 66 Squadron Kenley (Spitfires) who were on a routine patrol
were sent to intercept. It was a small formation of Bf109s possibly trying
to draw the British fighters out, just as they had done during the early
Channel attacks in July. Being as the enemy was content in staying out
there, Fighter Command decided that as long as they kept their distance
from the coast, no other squadrons would be sent to intercept.
66 Squadron engaged combat, but after
two of its aircraft had to return to base, decided to break off the action.
One of the Spitfires did not make it back to Kenley, instead the pilot
P/O C.A.W. Bodie decided to crash land the aircraft close to Hawkinge when
he was losing height rapidly. The other Spitfire is believed to have made
it back to Kenley and also made a crash landing.
1300hrs: On the other side
of the Channel, it was a different story. German
ground personnel were busy putting the finishing touches to new airfields
that were positioned very near to the French coast. Many new gun emplacements
were being constructed, and word broke through to British intelligence
that heavy bombers were being moved into readiness. More amphibious landing
craft were still arriving at the Channel ports.
War Office and Air Ministry were advised that after consultation with the
meteorological office that the tides and moon favoured a date between the
8th and 10th of September for the commencement of the invasion. A meeting
that was called by the British Chiefs of Staff and was to commence that
day at 5.30pm to discuss whether or not the "Alert No.1" should be issued.
At this stage, Dowding and Park had no idea as to the change in tactics
that the Luftwaffe was to implement later this day.
AVM Keith Park
issues the statement to all his controllers and squadron commanders to
obey the orders from Group Operations "exactly, and without any modification".
This instruction was made because squadrons were often too high to successfully
make an interception of enemy bombers without engaging combat with the
escorting fighters. The instruction also ordered that two squadrons were
to operate together, and that because of there better high altitude performance,
the Spitfires should engage the escorting fighters while the Hurricanes
make contact with the bombers. "We must harass and destroy they as many
bombers as possible" he said.
Across the Channel, Göring and his party of invited guests started
to take their positions on the cliff edge. Everyone is relaxed, talking
and smiling with a sort of waiting in anticipation. It looked like a picnic
day for the rich. Suddenly, in the distance the dull drone of engines could
be heard, it was coming from the south. Shortly, the same sounds could
be heard to the north, an eerie sort of sound yet you could not see anything.
After about ten minutes, one of the Major's called and pointed to the south.
The first of the huge formations could just barely be seen coming over
the high ground behind them. All eyes were at straining point, some members
of the party were on tip toes stretching their necks to get the first glimpses
of the great armada of bombers that were soon to fill the sky.
As hundreds of bombers formed a sheet of black cross like figures in the
sky above, the smile on Göring's face went from cheek to cheek, he
excitedly placed his hands on a Major's shoulder and shook it, and pointing
towards the mass of aircraft high above. The noise was deafening.
stood up from his collapsible seat, settling his binoculars on the first
spearhead of the Heinkels and Dorniers which were now circling some ten
miles away before forming up with the twin-engined fighter screen on each
flank and, almost invisible above, the little 109s - some from the airfield
that they had recently inspected. As the bombers and their escort groaned
deafeningly overhead, gaining altitude, to these senior officers it was
as if the frustrating weeks of struggle in the air, with its distressing
casualties, and the Phoenix-like reappearance of the Hurricanes and Spitfires
when none should have survived, had been wiped clean. Now the real battle
was about to begin - and surely nothing on earth, or in the air, could
prevail against this massive destructing power..........
Hough and Denis Richards The Battle of Britain The Jubilee History
H&S 1989 p255
again Heinkels, Dorniers and intermixed with Bf110s came in from the east,
and as the main formation passed over the French coastline high above Göring's
head, more formations could be seen way back over the mainland to the west.
The total blanket of bombers and fighters now covered an area that was
at least 800 square miles, and still the excitable Göring could hardly
control himself as the huge formation of droning bombers headed towards
the English coast.
1540hrs: The coastal radar
stations, that had been extra quiet all day, suddenly could not believe
their eyes. At first, it was just a few blips off the French coast that
slowly appeared to join and increase in size like a formidable cancer.
The radar station at Foreness was the first to detect the appearance of
the enemy on the CRT screen. A WAAF corporal could not explain the size
of the formation and she called for one of her superior officers. Within
moments, Dover had also picked the giant build up as did Rye. Those that
had been relaxing outside in the late afternoon sun were called in, cigarettes
were stubbed in the already full ashtrays as everybody's attention was
turned to the armada that was crossing the Channel and coming towards them.
1550hrs: All personnel at Bentley
Priory were in the relaxed mood as they had been all day. It had been a
day that had been a blessing to all as everyone took advantage of the peace
and quiet of this late September day. The Officer-in-Charge even strolled
about casually on the mezzanine level of the Operations Room known as the
"Balcony", the WAAFs below sat casually round an empty map table as they
had done since daybreak. Some sat sipping cups of tea, some were reading
newspapers or just casually chatting to one of the others. One could be
forgiven in thinking that this was the nerve centre of Fighter Command.
Even though most were indulging in this relaxed mood, many of the WAAFs
maintained their headsets on 'just in case'. Little did they know then,
that within a couple of minutes the "Hole" as the Operations Room at headquarters
was known, would take on a sudden transformation.
1554hrs: The message came through
from the radar stations. The Filter Room at 'the hole' was the first
to receive such messages and one of the Tellers there passed the initial
position sighted of the enemy to the plotters at the large map table below
the balcony. One of the Plotters reached for her long rake that had a battery
powered magnetic tip, then reached into the tray at the edge of the table
picking up one of the coloured arrows and placing it on the small plaque
that were placed a letter, either "H" for hostile, "X" for an unidentified
aircraft, "F" for fighter aircraft or "C" for Coastal Command aircraft.
A number was placed beside the letter which indicated the number of aircraft
in the formation. Another number was placed below this to indicate the
height of the enemy.
On the balcony, seated in a prominent
position would be seated the C-in-C, his aides and his guests if any. On
both sides of him would be the Tellers. These fellows would have to look
down on the huge map below and be able to "read" the action and operations.
This called for good eyesight as they had to read the figures that were
on the plaques being pushed across the map by the plotters. On the filter
room wall was a colour coded clock with its face divided into five minute
segments by the aid of colours. Each five minutes from the hour the colour
was different, starting with red, then yellow and then blue, and then the
sequence was repeated over again.
One of the Plotters commenced placing
a plaque just off the French coast, then just alongside another Plotter
placed another plaque. At first, until confirmation of its identity could
be made, the letter "X" was placed on the plaque together with the number
of aircraft. An arrow would also be placed giving the direction of flight
as well as the grid letter and the grid position.
1600hrs: The plots on the large
map show that the build up of enemy aircraft is increasing and covering
a wider area. The information was passed on to Group HQ, but at this stage
no reports of squadrons being scrambled are recorded. The usual procedure
of the Luftwaffe attacks was after the Channel crossing, the formations
would split up upon reaching the English coast, and it was presumed that
this would be no different.
1615hrs: The huge armada of
German aircraft were now over the coast and within the range of the Observer
Corps posts. They report in to the Maidstone HQ that "Enemy
sighted, 100 plus, 20,000," within moments, they would lift the telephone
again, "Further to my last report.....make that 200 plus," and so
it continued. In reality, a total of some 1,100 aircraft were crossing
the English coastline consisting of 300 medium-heavy bombers, 200 Bf110s
with bomb loads and about 600 Bf109s flying as escorts.
|1 Sqn Northolt
|303 Sqn Northolt
|504 Sqn Hendon
|501 Sqn Gravesend
|249 Sqn North Weald
|253 Sqn Kenley
|73 Sqn North Weald
|43 Sqn Tangmere
|253 Sqn Biggin Hill
|111 Sqn Croydon
|603 Sqn Hornchurch
|66 Sqn Kenley
|19 Sqn Fowlmere *
|242 Sqn Duxford *
|310 Sqn Duxford *
|609 Sqn Mid Wallop
|602 Sqn Tangmere
|1RCAF Sqn Croydon
|72 Sqn Croydon
|46 Sqn Stapleford
|257 Sqn Debden
|234 Sqn Middle Wallop
|1 Sqn Northolt
|* Combined as a "Big Wing"
not at Group HQ at Uxbridge he was not able to control squadron and fighter
units, but in his absence this task was left to his senior controller John
Willoughby de Broke with whom Keith Park had every confidence. Quite often
he would let his controllers make the early decisions and he would act
on these making the final decisions later based on his natural instinct.
Immediately orders eleven squadrons to scramble, he is of the belief that
once and for all the Luftwaffe are intent on completely destroying his
airfields. Seeing the size of the approaching formation, he orders every
squadron covering London into the air. The dispersal's at Northolt, Kenley,
Croydon, Hendon, North Weald and Hornchurch all become a immediate hub
By 1620hrs, 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes)
completes its scramble, as does 303 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), 504
Squadron Hendon (Hurricanes), 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes). The
table opposite gives the full scramble times for the initial order given
Expecting the assault to be directed
at the sector airfields, all squadrons are ordered into positions to that
would provide protection for the important sector stations and such installations
as the oil refinery at Thameshaven.
43 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes)
were ordered by their controller in a variety of directions but keeping
the south coast within sight. Eventually they see a formation of Dorniers
1,500 feet below. The leader orders the bulk of his squadron to attack
the escorting Bf109s while he and another section leader move in on the
Dorniers. They open fire on the bombers for all they are worth until their
ammunition is nearly exhausted, then turn sharply in front of descending
Bf109s. Both Hurricanes are shot down, one pilot is trapped in his diving
plane, while the other manages to bale out, but his parachute fails to
Once over the Kent coast, the huge armada of German bombers and their escorts break into separate groups with
each one seemingly heading for a different target.
Fighter Command becomes bewildered as
the change in direction sees many of the bombers heading away from the
sector airfields and away from patrolling RAF fighters.
One large formation starts to head
towards west of London, while another turns to the north-east as if to
go up the east coast of Essex and Suffolk. Although Willoughby de Broke
was to direct and vector the squadrons to their respective areas, he would
have been in communication with Keith Park at FCHQ. Instructions would
have been given to de Broke as to where to place the various squadrons
and also to notify Duxford that their assistance would be required and
the area that they were to cover. Keith Park knew that his senior controller
could control operations from there, and what was to happen in the next
couple of hours, de Broke was well capable of taking control of.
1620hrs: Four squadrons had
initially been scrambled. 1 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes), the Poles that
so far had more than proved themselves with 303 Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes),
504 Squadron Hendon (Hurricanes) and 501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes).
The station controller were still undecided as to which were really the
targets, but the general feeling was that the fighter station surrounding
London would be the first targets. It was of no surprise when the first
squadrons scrambled were directed to give cover to the all important airfields.
1700hrs: Within thirty minutes,
Fighter Command had twenty three squadrons in the air, (see table above)
most had been vectored to cover the aerodromes around London while others
had been vectored towards the Thames Estuary to meet the phalanx of aircraft,
one and a half miles high and covering nearly 800 square miles sky.
It took Duxford's
"Big Wing" twenty minutes to gain formation. Douglas Bader was leading
242 Squadron, the other two squadrons being 310 and 19. This had
been the first time that the "Big Wing" had officially been involved in
large scale operational combat with 11 Group. It was Bader's plan, that his wing of
36 fighter planes should be scrambled early and meet the enemy in advance
of the Maidstone area, with the purpose of disrupting the enemy bombers.
Once the bombers had been forced to scatter, it would then make it easier
for the fighters of 11 Group to attack.
The length of time that it took the
"Big Wing" to gain formation, was again by far too long. Bader's 242 Squadron
took off first with 310 squadron close behind, then they had to throttle back, losing valuable time while waiting for 19 Squadron to catch up. Then they had to climb
to a height of 20,000 feet to put them in an advantageous position. The
outcome was, was that they were attacked by Bf109s while still climbing,
and because of this, they could not make contact with the enemy bombers
at their vectored position near Maidstone. They did however manage to make contact with an enemy formation over the Thames Estuary and again their results were more than favourable.
As the numerous German formations
spread-eagled their way over Britain, it now became apparent that they
were after something other than the airfields of Fighter Command. One group,
that headed west of London, had bypassed the airfields of Biggin Hill and
Kenley. It was reported that between Brooklands and Windsor there were
over 200 bombers in this group. This group was sighted by Flight Lieutenant
James McArthur of 609 Squadron.
German bombers and their Bf109 escorts
began forming over inland France from 1500hrs onwards. Slowly, as other
groups took off, they joined forces with other formations, with each formation
flying at a different altitude, and flying some minutes either above or
below the formation in front.
From the French coast, they flew in
a direct line across the Channel towards the Kent coast, just as they had
done on previous occasions. The flight pattern used was also the same as
had been done previously, and it was this that had Fighter Command fooled
as they were to believe that the airfields were again to be attacked.
But on reaching the English coastline,
many formations broke into smaller groups, and at their varying altitudes
changed direction criss crossing the flight paths of the formations below
them. One group, flew almost north-west, then once over the Guildford area
turned north flying over Windsor and Maidenhead, then making a circle
around the city of London and headed towards their target of the dock area
and industrial borough of West Ham.
Two other groups, once over the coast
near Beachy Head turned north as if to make towards the coast of Essex,
but once over the Thames close to the Isle of Sheppy, turned west following
the River Thames until they reached the London docks and West Ham.
Another group took the direct line and from the coast of Kent flew direct
towards the east end of London. For the Luftwaffe, a well though out plan.
They succeeded in confusing Fighter Command who had no idea that the Luftwaffe
target was London's dockland area and the industrial and heavily populated
all twenty one squadrons around London were in the air or taking off. The
sight that they encountered east of Sheppy astounded them: a formation
one and a half miles high, covering 800 square miles of sky.
- Battle of Britain Jonathon Cape 1980 p169
looked eastward downstream towards the estuary. Never had he seen such
a terrifying sight; the sky was dotted with a mass of specks which seemed
quite motionless. Then he realized they were approaching, he recognized
them as Heinkels and Dorniers, flanked by escorts of Messerschmitt 109s
and 110s. The boys could not imagine there could be so many at once. In
fact the Luftwaffe had amassed nearly four hundred bombers and more than
six hundred fighters - over a thousand aircraft - for this all out attack.
- Duel in the Dark Harrap 1986
far below could see the occasional glint of a wing in the sun as the enemy
raiders swept in. But there were no British fighters to intercept them,
except on the fringes of their flight path, where a few dogfights developed.
As news of the developing massive attack was flashed to Britain's ground
defences, antiaircraft fire opened up along the banks of the Thames and
steadily increased in intensity. But the planes were too high, and the
white puff balls of smoke as the ack ack shells burst proved to be more
of a salute to the raiders than a threat. The German airplanes came in
like a neat and inexorable procession; at fixed points on their flight
path, a signal would be given by the leaders and the bombs would be released.
Molsey - Battle of Britain Time Life 1977
Many of the
defending squadrons had been ordered to patrol above the airfields. Day
after day, these had been the primary target for high level, low level,
glide- and dive bombing attacks, and no one airborne that afternoon made
any other target assumption. The sector controllers, too, felt no reason
to believe that the Luftwaffe's strategy had made a sudden and dramatic
departure from the pattern prevailing for a full month.
Hough & Denis Richards - Battle of Britain The Jubilee History
Keith Park watched
the action developing with Dowding in the ops room at Bentley Priory. There
was little that they could do, except watch the huge map below as their
fighters tried to penetrate the fighter escorts and disrupt the bombers.
501 Squadron Gravesend (Hurricanes) and 249 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes)
made some inroads to the north of Rochester, but the first load of bombs
had already been unleashed on the oil storage tanks at Thameshaven which
was still burning from the raid the previous day. There was little chance
that they could get near to the bombers as they were outnumbered by ten
to one by the Bf109 escorts.
to know where the Duxford wing had got to, he remarked that they should
have intercepted the enemy bombers in the vicinity of Rochford and Maidstone,
where the addition of thirty-six fighters could have assisted 501 and 249
Squadrons and made more of an impact on splitting up the bomber formation.
There was no way now that Park could offer assistance 501 and 249, the
map board below showed him that another formation was approaching the east
end from the north and that another formation coming up from the south
was already almost at the target area.
Over 300 Heinkels and Dorniers with
an escort of some 600 Bf109s and Bf110s continued the path along the Thames
although many of the escorts had previously had to turn back because of
their fuel situation, some of the bombers had turned back after unleashing
their bombes on Thameshaven, but as many as 230 continued on towards London
with no British fighters there to infiltrate or stop their progress.
With the Spitfires and Hurricanes
kept busy on the fringes of their flight path, the German bombers flew
at a much higher altitude than normal escaping the bursting shells from
the anti aircraft fire down below. The bombers flew towards London as if
in a great procession, with different formations flying at different levels.
Sightseers on the ground had never seen such an armada of aircraft before,
never had such an onslaught been aimed at the British capital.
While this huge formation continues
its course along the Thames, the other large formation that is approaching
from the south is intercepted by 609 Squadron Middle Wallop (Spitfires)
over Dartford in Kent and slightly to the south-east of London. The mixture
of Dorniers and Heinkels is again protected by their Bf109 escorts. The
609 squadron leader positions his squadron in a positioned to attack when
suddenly the bombers change direction ready for their attack on the dockland
area of London. The coordinated attack by 609 is now off guard, so Squadron
Leader J. Curchin instructs his men to make individual attacks. Many manage
to out manoeuvre some of the 109s and line up one of the bombers in their
leader of Green section 609 Squadron, breaks through the protecting escorts,
a few rounds were aimed at them as he passed, but none of the Bf109s were
hit. Churchin, lines up one of the Dorniers, approaches very quickly and
fires a short burst before pushing the stick forwards and flying underneath
the enemy bomber. He is quickly clear of the formation, so he turns his
Spitfire and makes a return run. Two Dornier Do17s come within his sights,
he picks out the leading one, then at the required range again fires a
four second burst. Closing in, he fires another short burst while at the
same time pushing the stick to the left where the second of the Dorniers
peels away and starts to go in a steep dive.
thinks about coming in for a second attack when he spots a Bf109 slightly
ahead and below him. He goes after the 109, who is now aware that he has
a Spitfire on his tail. The German escort flies into the safety of the
billowing thick black smoke that is coming from the burning oil tanks at
Thameshaven. The Spitfire follows him through and out at the other side,
Churchin is closing in, he fires a short volley, the 109 suddenly heaves
and quivers, he has been hit, the at about 50 yards he fires with the 109
squarely in his gunsight. Pieces of the Bf109 fly off before he starts
to make that final dive and into the waters of the Thames Estuary.
in the book A Few of the Few by Denis Newton.
It appeared that
Fighter Command were not going to gain the upper hand. There were just
far too many bombers and escorts. 609 Squadron managed to destroy 2 Dorniers,
2 Bf 110s and a Bf 109 and surprisingly without loss to themselves. An
impressive victory to 609, but against 200+ bombers it was not even the
skin off of the custard.
success came from the combined efforts of 603 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires),
1 Squadron Northolt and 303 Squadron (Polish) who manages to destroy a
total of 11 Dorniers. One of the pilots of 603 Squadron said, that these
Poles went in with great determination and ferocity and screamed idle chit
chat in their own native tongue, but who cares, they were there to rip
into the Germans and destroy them, and that's just what they went and done.
A vast mixture of Dornier Do17s, Heinkel He111s and Junkers Ju88s first
dropped their bombs with great accuracy on Woolwich Arsenal on the south
side of the River Thames and the entrance to London's dockland. The huge
factory of Harland and Woolfe suffered almost total destruction, and the
munitions factory at Woolwich was also hit. Here the shells for the Army
were manufactured, and just one hit and the gunpowder storage bins erupted
causing great sheets of flame to rise hundreds of feet into the air.
of bombers rained their bomb loads down on the Royal docks at North Woolwich.
Queen Victoria dock, King George V dock, Royal Albert dock and many backwaters
blazed from end to end. Large ships that had brought in supplies were hit
and themselves were on fire. Other important
docks at Millwall, Wapping right up to St Katherine's dock near Tower Bridge
were ablaze. Some forty miles of warehouses along the Thames had been hit
and were a blazing fury.
But it was not
just the docks themselves that suffered this unforeseen onslaught. The
heavily populated area of London's east end was regarded as the poorer
side of the city. These were the battling workers, the slums, a different
class of people that resided to the south and to the west of London. West
Ham, Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping and
Whitechapel all became enveloped in a blazing fury. Factories and terraced
houses were destroyed. The fire brigades in all the suburbs were fighting
a losing battle that was to continue on for another four hours as wave
after wave of German bombers came over and dropped, instantaneous, incendiaries,
2 - 4 hour delayed action bombs.
day of bombing was most dreadful. Most of us thought '...my God, what on
earth is happening, this is it....we are finished', but of course, this
was really only the beginning.
were everywhere, there just was not a break, bang after bang after bang.
The clang of bells from fire service vehicles and ambulances were drowned
out by these bombs. You would here a whistle as a stick of bombs came down
then a loud explosion as they hit factories and houses, the ground shook.
Then as soon as that explosion happened, another whistle and another explosion.
God, this seemed to go on for hours.
- A Home Guard member on the bombing in Limehouse
If it was to be
any advantage to Fighter Command, while the bombers were over the east
end of London, their Bf109 escorts had long since made the return trip
back to their bases because of the fuel situation. This was to be the one
of the longest and busiest days so far for the pilots. Time and time again
the had to return back to base for refuelling and rearming. Two, three,
four even maybe five sorties in one day. But as the bombers turned back
and headed for home, the Spitfires and Hurricanes tore into the defenceless
and unescorted bombers.
Hornchurch, some forty miles away from the docks, was practically closed
down because of the drifting smoke from the blazing east end enveloped
the airfield. Leigh-Mallory's "Big Wing" that had missed the interception
of the incoming bombers, managed to attack the first wave after they had
dropped their bomb load and headed for home. All squadrons were still airborne
even as light started to fade and eventually Fighter Command had to be
content in letting the bombers return unmolested in the dark.
But all was
not finished. At 2022hrs, as many of the attacking bombers were returning
home, another wave was crossing the Kent coast at Beachy Head. They could
hardly be seen against the night sky, and what a target they would have
been if Fighter Command had an effective night fighter squadron available,
as this formation did not have the protection of a Bf109 escort. Two planes
of 213 Squadron Tangmere (Hurricanes) were sent up, but were ordered not
to intercept. It had been a formidable day for Fighter Command, their defences had been stretched to the limit. Just about every squadron in 11 Group had been called upon as well as reinforcements from 10 Group and 12 Group. Details of the days action are shown in [ Document 45 ]
As the evening
wore on, the German bomber made up from Gruppes from Hugo Sperle's
Luftflotte 3, most of the daytime bombers had landed. The commanders made
out their reports which were more than favourable. The result were immediately
posted to Göring, who for once felt satisfied when he learnt of the
devastation that his bombers had done, and that most of London was ablaze
with the report also that the east end had been totally destroyed.
with himself, that Göring immediately telegraphed his wife Emmy and
told her that "....the English have had enough". He also broadcast
on German radio to the German people, that this being the first blow while
he had been in charge of the battle, over half of London now lay in ruins
and that he had struck a serious blow...straight at the enemy's heart.
continued well into the night, in fact, the total bombing lasted for seven
hours. The weather, which had been a glorious late summer's day, and it
seemed only right, that it should end with a 'most beautiful sunset', until
it was realised that the sun was setting in the wrong direction, the red
glow that they saw was the reflection in the evening sky of the burning
East End. In all, over three hundred tons of bombs were dropped, and by
midnight, the whole of London's East End was engulfed in flames. 490 London
civilians were killed, 1,200 more were injured and to add fuel to the fire,
a report comes in that Germans have landed on the South Coast of England.
The signal for this alert is "Cromwell",
a code name that was used only by the Army. And one of those Army battalions
that were alerted was the 18th Australian Infantry that was based at Amesbury
Abbey. The report came through at about 9.30pm. The 18th Infantry Brigade
was at this time, only at about half strength because half of the brigade
was on leave, many of them now trapped in London because of the bombing.
But was hard to keep such a secret, church bells started to peel, road
blocks were set up and even plans were put in place for the blowing up
of some of the bridges.
For those that were on duty, they
were told to stand by for an immediate move. By midnight, no further information
or orders had been received so the men were allowed to return to their
billets, but were to be prepared to move at one hours notice should the
invasion be confirmed.
1205hrs: Catterick. Spitfire
P9560. 54 Squadron Catterick
F/O D.J. Saunders
killed. (Crashed during low altitude training practice flight)
1430hrs: Flamborough. Spitfire
R6901. 54 Squadron Catterick
P/O W. Krepski
listed as missing. (Believed crashed into sea during operational
1550hrs: Rainham. Blenheim
L6684. 600 Squadron Hornchurch
Sgt J.W. Davies
killed. (Crashed due to engine failure during landing approach)
1645hrs:South London. Hurricane
V6641. 43 Squadron Tangmere
S/L C.B. Hull
killed. (Shot down in combat with Bf109 and crashed in grounds
of Purley High School)
1645hrs: Blackheath. Hurricane
V7257. 43 Squadron Tangmere
Fl/L R.C. Reynell
killed. (Baled out after being shot down by Bf109. Died on landing)
1700hrs: Maidstone. Hurricane
R4114. 249 Squadron North Weald
killed. (Shot down by Bf109s during combat operations)
1700hrs: Billericay. Hurricane
P3234. 73 Squadron Debden
Fl/L R.E. Lovvett
killed. (Shot down by enemy aircraft during combat operations)
1700hrs: Thames Estuary. Hurricane
L1615. 504 Squadron Hendon
F/O K.V. Wendell
died of injuries. (Shot down over Estuary but crashed in flames
1730hrs: Thames Estuary. Hurricane
P3049. 257 Squadron Debden
killed. (A/C crashed on Isle of Sheppey. Pilots remains unearthed)
1730hrs: Biggin Hill. Spitfire
N3198. 602 Squadron Westhampnett
F/O W.H. Coverley
died of injuries. (Shot down by E/A and crashed in flames. Pilot
baled out with severe burns)
1730hrs: Thames Estuary. Hurricane
V7254. 257 Squadron Debden
listed as missing. (Last seen in action in combat. Believed
crashed into sea)
1730hrs: Biggin Hill. Spitfire
X4256. 602 Squadron Westhampnett
P/O H.W. Moodey
listed as missing. (Failed to return to base after combat operation)
1825hrs: St Mary Cray. Spitfire
P9466. 234 Squadron Middle Wallop
S/L J.S. O'Brien
killed. (Shot down by enemy aircraft and crashed near Biggin
1830hrs: Bessels Green. Spitfire
X4009. 234 Squadron Middle Wallop
Fl/L P.C. Hughes
killed. (Believed crashed into Do17 wreckage after he shot it
THE FOLLOWING AIRCRAFT CRASHED
or DAMAGED BUT PILOTS WERE DECLARED SAFE:
Squadron Kenley. Forced landing at Hawkinge after combat. (U)
1235hrs: P/O I.J.A. Cruikshanks
66 Squadron Kenley. Forced landed after combat operations. (U)
1615hrs: P/O G.H. Bennions
41 Squadron Hornchurch. Undercarriage collapsed Rochford after combat (U)
1700hrs: S/L D.R.S .Bader 242
Squadron Coltishall. Seriously damaged in combat over Thames Estuary. (U)
1700hrs: Fl/L R.J. Cork 242
Squadron Coltishall. Landed at Duxford badly damaged in combat. (Inj/Sl)
1700hrs: P/O J. Daszewski 303
Squadron Northolt. Shot down by Bf109s. Thames Estuary. (B/O:Sv/W)
1700hrs: Fl/L A.S. Forbes 303
Squadron Northolt. Returned to base. Damaged by Do17. (W)
1700hrs: F/O Z. Henneberg 303
Squadron Northolt. Damaged by Bf109s. Returned to base. (U)
1700hrs: Sgt R. Smithson 249
Squadron North Weald. Shot down by Bf109 over Maidstone. Crashed. (W)
1705hrs: P/O R.G.A. Barclay
249 Squadron North Weald. Crash landed from gunfire He111 Maidstone. (U)
1705hrs: Sgt F.W. Killingback
249 Squadron North Weald. Shot down by Bf109 over Maidstone. (B/O:W)
1705hrs: F/O M. Pisarek 303
Squadron Northolt. Crashed into back garden at Loughton. B/O:U)
1710hrs: Sgt B.M. Bush 504
Squadron Hendon. Damaged by Bf109. Forced landed Eastchurch. (Sev Bu)
1720hrs: Sgt A.E. Marshall
73 Squadron Debden. Damaged by Bf110 Forced landing Burnham. (Inj/Sl)
1720hrs: P/O A.P. Pease 603
Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over London. Crash landed at base. (U)
1720hrs: F/O P.H.V. Wells 249
Squadron North Weald. Caught fire during attack on He111. (B/O:W)
1725hrs: P/O D.W. Cowley-Milling
242 Squadron Coltishall. Forced landing at Stow-St-Maries. (U)
1730hrs: P/O E.W. Aries 602
Squadron Westhampnett. Crash landed Wrotham Damaged by Do17. (U)
1730hrs: S/L D.L. Denholm 603
Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over S London. Forced landed at base. (U)
1730hrs: P/O O.V. Hanbury 600
Squadron Hornchurch. Returned to base. Damaged by Do17 Sth London. (U)
1730hrs: Sgt A.R. Sarre 603
Squadron Hornchurch. Shot down over Thames during combat (B/O:W)
1730hrs: P/O B.G. Stapleton
603 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged by Bf109s S London. Force landed (U)
1745hrs: Sgt R.C. Ford 41 Squadron
Hornchurch. Forced landing West Hanningfield Essex (U)
1745hrs: P/O A.K. Ogilvie 609
Squadron Warmwell. Damaged over S London. Returned to base. (U)
1745hrs: P/O D.W.A. Stones
79 Squadron Biggin Hill. A/C damaged by Bf109 over base. (Sl/W)
1745hrs: F/O B. Van Mentz 222
Squadron Hornchurch. Cooling system damaged in combat Rochester (U)
1750hrs: P/O J.D. Bisdee 609
Squadron Warmwell. Damaged over S London. Returned to base. (U)
1800hrs: P/O N. le C. Agazarian
609 Squadron Warmwell. Dam by He111. Forced landed White Waltham. (U)
1800hrs: Sgt J.M.B. Beard 249
Squadron North Weald. Shot down by friendly AA gunfire. B/O:U)
1808hrs: Sgt J. McAdam 41 Squadron
Hornchurch. Crashed on farm after combat operations. (U)
1810hrs: Sgt J. Koukal 310
Squadron Duxford. Crashed at Harty Marshes after combat over Estuary. B/O:Bu)
1815hrs: Sgt J. White 72 Squadron
Croydon. Forced landed after combat over Thames Estuary. (Inj/Sl)
1820hrs: F/O T.A.F. Elsdon
72 Squadron Croydon. Crash landed at Biggin Hill after combat. (Inj/Ser)
1820hrs: P/O V. Goth 310 Squadron
Duxford. Damaged by Bf110 Southend. Forced landed Purleigh. (U)
1820hrs: P/O O.B. Morrough-Ryan
41 Squadron Hornchurch. Forced landing Great Wakering. (U)
1825hrs: Sgt J.H.H. Burgess
222 Squadron Hornchurch. Damaged over Maidstone and force landed. (U)
1830hrs: Sgt P.T. Robinson
257 Squadron Debden. Aircraft damaged in combat Over Thames Estuary. (U)
1830hrs: Sgt T.Y. Wallace 111
Squadron Croydon. Shot down by Bf109 over Ashford. (B/O:U)
1835hrs: Sgt D.J. Hulbert 257
Squadron Debden. Forced landed at Sittingbourne. Damaged by Bf109. (U)
B/O=Baled Out. Bu=Burned. Inj/Sl=Slightly
Injured. Inj/Ser=Seriously Injured. Sl/W=Slightly wounded.
Sv/W=Severely wounded. Sev Bu=Severely burned. U=Unhurt. W=Wounded.
 Dennis Newton A Few Of The Few Australian War Memorial p156