TUESDAYSEPTEMBER 10th 1940
Clear duringthe early hours but cloud was expected to move in from the North Sea duringthe early morning and this would give rain over most areas during the day.
Low cloud andperiods of heavy rain over Northern Europe stopped any form of Luftwaffeair activity and any operations planned against England had to be cancelled.For Fighter Command the day was nothing but a rest day and pilots and commandleaders were trying to work out as to why Germany had decided to turn itsattacks against London. If an invasion was Germany's highest priority,why the decision to bomb London. For an invasion to be successful, Germany would have toknock out as many military establishments as possible. As ACM Keith Park stated after the war, "The decision to bomb London was Germany's greatest mistake, in those first few days of September our airfields were a shambles, pilot and aircraft strength was still at an all time low. By switching tactics and concentrating on London he will give us the time we need to strengthen our forces." There were many reasons as to why Park could do with some respite from his airfields becoming targets,the aerodromes were now functioning better than they had been for a numberof weeks, aircraft factories were still operating as normal and militaryhardware was still pouring out of the factories. The radar was functioningat full capacity and Fighter Command HQ as well as Bentley Priory wereoperating normally. These should be the targets if Germany was to continuewith its plan to make an invasion of Britain. Even the German Naval Staffcould not understand the situation, as described in their diary:
So why turn itsattack on London. True the oil storage tanks at Thameshaven had sufferedbadly as did the London Docks, but these would have no opposition to anyplanned invasion. Suffering most were civilian properties and inconveniencecaused to the inhabitants, especially those in the East End, all majorrailway stations had been damaged but had not been completely put out ofaction. Of the attacks of the previous nights, some newspapers made comparisonsto the blitzkrieg attacks on a number of towns and cities in northern Europe,and many of the Londoner's abbreviated the name and called the attackson their city as "The Blitz" and from then on, the name stuck.
A few Germanaircraft were detected in and around the southern and eastern coastlineof England, but most of these were on either weather or reconnaissancepatrols. Fighter Command decided to leave them alone. Bomber Command sent 248 Squadron (Blenheims) on a mission to Norway but this had to be abortedbecause of deteriorating weather conditions over the North Sea. A flightfrom 236 Squadron St Eval (Blenheims) is placed on escort duty for thesteamship Scillonian and the mission is successfully completed.
With cloud coverpersisting during the late afternoon, radar picks up various single aircraftcoming across the Channel from 1700hrs onwards. With Fighter Command againnot responding, a number of attacks were made by the Luftwaffe. A coupleof lone bombers ventured into 10 Group territory and made some nuisancedrops. Another lone raider attacked West Malling again but causing no seriousdamage. Tangmere reported that it had come under machine-gun strafing withnearby Portsmouth was attacked by single Do17s.
72 SquadronCroydon (Spitfires) was one of the few squadrons scrambled and attackedone of the Do215s and one was believed to have been brought down, althoughone of the Spitfires was hit by return gunfire from the bomber and hadto make a forced landing at Etchingham (Kent). Just after 1800hrs, a smallformation crossed the coast near Dungeness and targeted Biggin Hill aerodrome,but were intercepted by British fighters and one of the Dorniers of 9/KG76was shot down and the mission aborted.
By nightfall,the Luftwaffe was again targeting London and this time they were makingfull use of the cloud cover. Also taking advantage of the weather attackswere also made on industrial areas of South Wales and on the Lancashirearea of Merseyside. London was though, the main target where over 150 bomberspounded the city once again.
But RAF BomberCommand also took advantage of the weather conditions. 17 Whitleys attackthe Pottsdamer railway station at Berlin causing considerable damage, thenthey went on to attack the Bremen dock area while a Blenheim squadron attackedthe important bomber aerodrome at Eindhoven. Eight Heinkel He111 bomberswere destroyed, two were badly damaged and another was damaged when itcrashed into craters upon landing later.
WEDNESDAYSEPTEMBER 11th 1940
The heavy cloudcover was expected to disperse overnight giving way to a fine day in mostareas, occasional cloud and some local showers in the midlands and thenorth with the exception of the English Channel and south-eastern Englandwhere cloud was expected to continue.
This was theday that Hitler had planned to invade Britain. But in reality, Germany was no where nearer ready for an invasion than they were three or four weeksprevious. Britain's coastal defences still stood firm along the southernand eastern coastlines, naval ports and other small seaports that werebeing used by the Royal Navy along the southern coast of England were stillintact and most of Britain's Civil Defence forces were just waiting forthe word that would put them into action. On top of this, RAF Bomber Commandhad been continually bombing ports from Calais to Boulogne and along theDutch coast destroying many of the barges that were to be used in "OperationSealion".
RAF FighterCommand was now known to Luftwaffe Intelligence that it had not been defeatedand that most aerodromes were on standby. Adolph Hitler had no option butto re-schedule the warning of the invasion which had been scheduled forSeptember 14th, and by bombing London and other important centres it wouldbe regarded as a strategic as well as a tactical concept, and wouldbreak the will of the British people and bring the British fighters outto fight a final pitched battle. Hitler now decided that the next warningof the planned invasion would be September 24th 1940.
[ Document 48: Winston Churchill speech ]
At the time, thepostponement by Hitler was not known, as stated here by Churchill to thepeople, that an attempted invasion was imminent. The sector controllershad received notification from Keith Park that it was obvious that theGermans had changed tactics from two or three separate attacks during thecourse of the day, to mass raids of 300 to 400 aircraft that were comingacross the Channel in two waves in quick succession. He further informedthem that with this change in tactics, that they were not to place toomany squadrons to intercept the first wave, and that enough aircraft hadto be held back to intercept the second wave which so far had proven tobe larger in number than the first.
He told thecontrollers that paired squadrons were to be used wherever possible. Spitfireswere to concentrate of the enemy fighters that were at higher altitudewhile the Hurricanes are to attack the bombers and close fighter escort.With the two German waves, generally only fifteen minutes apart, Park orderedthat those squadrons brought to 'readiness' first were to attack the firstwave and their escorts. The squadrons available and at "Readiness fifteenminutes" were to attack the second wave. Squadrons held in reserve and'Available thirty minutes" were to be vectored to reinforcements to thosesquadron requiring assistance and to provide protection to industrial centresand sector airfields.
The morningperiod was just as quiet as previous mornings of the last four days, andit appeared that things were to take the usual practice of large formationsof bombers coming over at about 1700hrs. It was a fine morning, not aswarm as many other mornings but pleasant, and many pilots just lazed aroundoutside their dispersal's doing what they usually done. Some read old newspapersor magazines, many tried to write letters home while the rest fell asleeptaking full advantage of the lull in activities. But after lunch, theirafternoon 'siesta' was interrupted by radar detection of a large build-upfrom Calais to Ostend. The Luftwaffe were to come early today.
1445hrs:Mostof the radar stations along the Kent coast detected and followed the coursepatterns of a number of German formations that were building up from Calaisalong to Ostend. Information as quickly dispatched to Fighter Command headquartersand to 11 Group, where Keith Park ordered his sector controllers to placea number of their squadrons at readiness. As on previous occasions, whichwas now becoming a regular occurrence, the Duxford Wing of 19, 242 and310 squadrons was also placed at readiness.
1515hrs: After the crossingof the Channel, large formations are sighted by the Observer Corps at Foreness,Dover, Folkestone and Bognor. The largest of these crosses the coast nearRamsgate. Estimated as two large formations of one hundred and fifty bomberseach making a total of three hundred in total, escorted by Bf109s and Bf110shead towards the Thames Estuary and the River Thames. One formation crossesbetween Ramsgate and Deal while the other is further out over the sea.The Observer Corps also report of a large formation of bombers and escortsthat appear to be heading towards Portsmouth or Southampton. Park releasessquadrons at Tangmere and Westhampnett from 11 Group activities so that10 Group can deal with the impending operations over Southampton and Portsmouth.
1530hrs: Now, most of 11 Groupsquadrons are airborne. 1(RCAF) Squadron Northolt (Hurricanes) along with222 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires) and 238 Squadron Middle Wallop (Hurricanes)are in action over central Kent, 17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes), 46 SquadronStapleford (Hurricanes), Spitfires of 72 Squadron Croydon, 73 SquadronDebden (Hurricanes), 249 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes) and 266 SquadronWittering (Spitfires) were involved in heavy combat action spread overthe Thames Estuary. 19 Squadron Duxford (Spitfires), 74 Squadron Coltishall(Spitfires) and 266 Squadron had been brought down as usual from 12 Groupto protect Hornchurch and North Weald and all of them became involved inaction over southern and eastern areas of London.
It had been estimated that over 300enemy aircraft in two separate formations and both covered by their Bf109escorts flying at higher altitude had crossed the coast between Deal andForeness then turned 45 degrees over the Thames Estuary and followed theusual pattern of using the River Thames as their flight path. Over theEstuary between Herne Bay and Shoeburyness and Gravesend and Tilbury andhuge melee of high altitude dogfights began to develop creating long twistingspirals of vapour trails. Many of the bombers continued on towards Londonescorted mainly by Bf110s, the Bf109s being contained by British fighters.But time was on the side of Parks fighters, the 109s were now at the criticalstage of their fuel supply.
The leading bombers had now been spottedby the fighters from 12 Group. At 23,000 feet, they now could attack withthe required height advantage. Bader's 242 Squadron had been given a rest,so now it was up to 19, 74 and 266 Squadrons to fly the flag for Leigh-Mallory'sgroup.
In the same melee,Green Section did not have the best of luck. F/O L.A. Haines flying Green1 climbed to attack some 40 Bf110s at a higher altitude than the Heinkels.As usual they went into a defensive circle, but F/O Lane decided to gostraight into one of them. As he did so, a Bf109 came down on him and theSpitfire was hit in both mainplanes and was forced to crash land his aircraft.Green 2 was F/O F. Dolezal and he took aim at one of the Bf109s, and asit went into a slow dive belching black smoke Dolezal followed it downbut was hit by a descending Bf109 and its gunfire ripped open the sideof the Spitfire and the pilot sustained injuries in the knee and leg. Hemanaged to get the aircraft back to base and land safely.
In the meantime,two heavily escorted Luftflotte 3 formations from Cherbourg and Seine Baywere heading towards Southampton and Portsmouth and 10 Group released squadronsfrom Tangmere, Westhampnett and a flight from Middle Wallop. Most of theBritish fighters intercepted the enemy off the coast at Selsey Bill andintense combat ensued. Although some of the bombers managed to get throughthe fighter defence, both the towns of Portsmouth and Southampton receivedbomb damage. But most of the formations and their escorts were scatteredand were forced to turn back.
In all, it hadnot been the best of days to either side. RAF Fighter Command would haveto be commended for the effort that they put in in defence, but it cameat a price. For the first time, Fighter Command casualties exceeded thatof the Luftwaffe. Many of the bombers managed to get through with Londonagain suffering considerable damage. The Woolwich Arsenal was hit as wellas much of the dockland areas again. Finsbury, Holborn, Bermondsey andCentral London were hit once again.
In another account,Wood and Dempster while painting a similar picture of the events of theday, come up with different figures as regards the casualty rate, and theylead us into the evening raids by the German bombers:
One of the mostnotable observations made by strategists and historians was the fact thatthe German Luftwaffe was making no attempt to make any attack on Britishmilitary targets. As long as the bombers were over London, they droppedtheir bombs at random and being as the city's population occupied a greaterpercentage of the area than military installations it was obvious thatthe Luftwaffe was targeting the civilian areas with no thought regardinginnocent people and property. But we must not lose track of reality, becausein their night raids over enemy territory, RAF Bomber Command were bombingGerman cities, although the greatest percentage of damage was being doneto military or industrial targets. In any case, innocent civilians wouldnot always avoid being killed or injured in any form of bombing raid.
On both sidesof the Channel, the thought of the invasion of Britain was still to begiven a date and become a reality. Adolph Hitler was to call a meetingand this was now expected to happen within the next few days. Churchill,on the other hand was emphasizing to his military leaders that they mustprepare themselves as if the invasion was to happen on the very next day.Regarding the invasion, Winston Churchill made a broadcast to the people,as was the normal policy that the British Prime Minister had implementedin keeping the people informed.
Again London was pounded by nightbombing from 2100hrs until 0430hrs the followingmorning,and still the RAF had no answer to these night attacks.Hundreds of searchlights picked out the invading bombers but it all seemedin a lost cause because of the high altitudes that they were flying at.London's dockland is again hit as well as parts of Central London and BuckinghamPalace sustains damage and gives reason for the Queen (now the Queen Mother)to state "....now the palace has been bombed, I feel now that I can lookat the people of the East End straight in the eye". But this attack onLondon was a disaster for the Luftwaffe. A formation of He IIIs from KG26 were bombing the northern areas of London, notably Paddington, Finsburyand Islington when they were intercepted by Hurricanes and Spitfires from249 Squadron North Weald (Hurricanes), 609 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires)and 41 Squadron Hornchurch (Spitfires). The fighters broke up the formationwho tried desperately to evade the deadly Spitfires while the Hurricaneskept the Bf 110 escort at bay and who were fighting desperately for theirown survival. 7 Heinkels were shot down in this battle, while 12 more limpedback towards home nursing burning aircraft, smoking engines and air conditionedcockpits.
Other areasthat were the targets of the German bombers were Merseyside, Bristol Channeland South Wales, as well as isolated raids on towns in Norfolk, Lincolnshireand Yorkshire.