The Chronology: Page-51
Mist and fog patches were to be widespread in most areas especially over the French and British coastlines during the morning. Mist or haze was expected to be prevalent for most of the day, with high cloud expected to clear by late afternoon.
0810hrs:Radar stations at Foreness, Dover and Rye picked up a large formation coming across the Channel from Calais. It turned out to be a formation of about 200 plus that consisted of bombers with fighter escort. The formation was broken up into a number of smaller formations that were to cross the Kent coast on a wide front.
Keith Park decided that he would send up eleven squadrons. 72 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) were scrambled early to meet an advance formation of Bf109s. It appears that the bomber formation continues its route in a northerly direction heading towards the Thames Estuary and it was in this area that they were met by 17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes) and 92 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires). The area over the Thames Estuary was misty with fog areas over the resort towns, but above this, the two fighter squadrons engaged in combat with the bombers.
The first casualty of the morning was from 72 Squadron that engaged the advance party of Bf109s. At 0820hrs a Spitfire flown by Sgt J. Steere sustained damage while in combat over Dartford, but not enough for him to abandon his aircraft and he managed to return to base. In return, 72 Squadron managed to shoot down one Bf109 before the enemy gained height and redirected themselves east to meet up with the main bomber formation. Over the Thames Estuary, 72 Squadron was to claim another two possibly damaged, and one definitely damaged. 92 Squadron Biggin Hill (Spitfires) were also in attendance over the Estuary where they claimed six enemy aircraft damaged, with two of them possibles. One of them, a He111 was seen returning back out towards the North Sea badly smoking from both engines. One of the 92 Squadron Spitfires was hit by gunfire from one of the Bf109s and was seen to crash near North Weald and bursting into flames on impact. The pilot did not bale out and went down with the aircraft.
17 Squadron Debden (Hurricanes) also claimed one damaged and another possibly damaged, but unfortunately lost one Hurricane after it crashed into the sea off Chatham after being hit by gunfire from a Bf109. The pilot P/O H.A.C. Bird-Wilson managed to bale out of his burning aircraft with burns to his hands and body, but was rescued from the sea by a boat. According to German records, a number of the bombers did sustain damage in this action, and although they managed to return to their bases many of them crashed upon landing due to combat damage, but the times are sketchy and in many cases are not available.
Of the squadrons that were also despatched, but did not make contact, often left the pilots in a discerning mood as to them they could have stayed on the ground back at their bases and finished their breakfasts in peace and quiet. P/O George Barclay of 249 Squadron said once, that after being vectored into one location, it almost seemed a waste of his time, and a waste of precious fuel to fly around an empty sky in search of something that wasn't there. But on reflection, we must have been there for a reason.
The morning had been a busy one for Fighter Command although we cannot say that they were pushed anywhere near the limit. Almost as if on cue, everything seemed to be quiet while everybody went home for lunch!!
1330hrs: 41 Squadron (Spitfires) Hornchurch was out on patrol over the Channel near Hell Corner when they were bounced on by a flight of Bf109s. The squadron was forced to take defensive action and failed to turn the action into one of attack. two aircraft were lost, one crashed into the sea and the pilot rescued, while the other sustained serious damage and once over the Kent coast was forced to crash land somewhere outside Dover. The pilot was unhurt.
1350hrs: A small to medium formation of Bf110 aircraft from I/Erprobungs Gruppe 210, 4ZG/76 and IIIZG/76 made a surprise attack on the docks and naval ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. Wood and Dempster in "The Narrow Margin" incorrectly state that these were bomb carrying Bf109 fighter bombers. It cannot be ascertained as to whether they flew across the Channel at very low level remaining undetected by Ventnor radar until observed by the Observer Corps, or whether Fighter Command was too late scrambling squadrons in time to intercept.
The Bf110s managed to fly past the Isle of Wight and up the Solent with not one Hurricane or Spitfire in sight and headed towards the Spitfire factory at Woolston where a number of direct hits caused considerable damage to a number of buildings and an air raid shelter where it is estimated that 100 factory workers were killed. The main factory and assembly plant was not hit and production was unaffected.
The only defence that could be offered by the British defences was by the anti-aircraft units who excelled with accurate gunfire with one Bf110 crashing into the sea, two Bf110s of III/ZG76 also sustaining hits and crashing into the Channel while a Bf110 of 4ZG76 sustained damage and managed to get back to base.
After the raid on Southampton, the attackers then turned on Portsmouth where they dropped their bomb loads on mostly residential and commercial areas of the city with the naval dockyard and factories remaining undamaged.
Soon after darkness fell, they usual formations of bomb laden Heinkels, Dorniers and Junkers arrived over the coastline of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire for the continuation of the night bombing raids that had been so prevalent over the last couple of weeks. The bombing was very widespread with heavy forces again targeting London, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Other areas targeted by the Luftwaffe bomber formations were Hull and Humberside, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Manchester and a number of areas in the west and in South Wales. It was by far one of the most widespread of bombing attacks so far and it continued until about 0600hrs the next morning.
Again the above casualty list does really not reflect on the severity of the combat action that took place during the morning. Six Hurricanes and Spitfires were destroyed, three pilots baled out, four damaged aircraft crashed on landing while eight other aircraft, although damaged by enemy gunfire were repairable.