Tag Archives: Battle of Britain

Belfast Blitz – April and May 1941

Belfast Blitz

Belfast Under attack

The Belfast Blitz was four attacks of high-casualty German air raids on strategic targets in the city of  Belfast  in Northern island . in April and May 1941 during  World War II. The first was on the night of 7–8 April 1941, a small attack which probably took place only to test Belfast’s defences. The next took place on Easter Tuesday , 15 April 1941. Two hundred  bombers  of the Luftwaffe attacked military and manufacturing targets in the city of Belfast. Some 900 people died as a result of the bombing and 1,500 were injured. High explosive bombs predominated in this raid. Apart from those on London, this was the greatest loss of life in any night raid during the Blitz.

 

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The Belfast Blitz-narrated

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Rescue workers searching through the rubble after an air raid on Belfast

 

The third raid on Belfast took place over the evening and morning of 4–5 May 1941; 150 were killed. Incendiary bombs predominated in this raid. The fourth and final Belfast raid took place on the following night, 5–6 May.

Background

 

 

As the UK was preparing for the conflict, the factories  and shipyards   of Belfast were gearing up. Belfast made a considerable contribution towards the Allied war effort, producing many naval ships, aircraft and munitions; therefore, the city was deemed a suitable bombing target by the Luftwaffe. Meanwhile, unlike Northern Ireland, southern Ireland was no longer part of the UK. Under the leadership of Éamon de Valera, it had declared its  neutrality during the Second World War. Although it arrested German spies that its police and military intelligence services caught, the state never broke off diplomatic relations with Axis nations: the German Legation in Dublin remained open throughout the war.

Government

Junction of Antrim Road and Hillman Street

 

 

The Government of Northern Ireland lacked the will, energy and capacity to cope with a major crisis when it came. James Craig, Lord Craigavon, was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since its inception in 1921 until his death in 1940. Richard Dawson Bates, was the Home Affairs Minister. Sir Basil Brooke, the Minister of Agriculture, was the only active minister. He successfully busied himself with the task of making Northern Ireland a major supplier of food to Britain in her time of need

John Clarke MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, after the first bombing, initiated the “Hiram Plan” to evacuate the city and to return Belfast to ‘normality’ as quickly as possible.[5] It was MacDermott who sent a telegram to de Valera seeking assistance. There was unease with the complacent attitude of the government, which led to resignations:

  • John Edmond Warnock, the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, resigned from the government on 25 May 1940. He said, “I have heard speeches about Ulster pulling her weight but they have never carried conviction.” and “the government has been slack, dilatory and apathetic.”[6]
  • Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Gordon (politician), Parliamentary and Financial Secretary at the Ministry of Finance (i.e. Chief Whip), resigned on 13 June 1940,[7] explaining to the Commons that the government was “quite unfitted to sustain the people in the ordeal we have to face.”

Craigavon died on 24 November 1940. He was succeeded by John Miller Andrews, then 70 years old, who was no more capable of dealing with the situation than his predecessor. On 28 April 1943, six members of the Government threatened to resign, forcing him from office. He was replaced by Sir Basil Brooke on 1 May.[8]

Manufacturing facilities

The Titan was built by Harland & Wolff

 

 

  • During the war years, Belfast shipyards built or converted over 3,000 navy vessels, repaired more than 22,000 others and launched over half a million tons of merchant shipping – over 140 merchantmen.[10]
  • Short Brothers manufactured aircraft. They are best known for the Sunderland flying boat and the Stirling long-range heavy bomber. Up to 20,000 people were employed. The factory was re-equipping as early as 1936 for the manufacture of 189 Handley Page Hereford bombers
  • James Mackie & Sons were re-equipped in 1938. They were the primary supplier of Bofors anti-aircraft shells.
  • Harland’s Engineering works built tanks. They designed the Churchill.
  • Aero linen for covering aircraft, such as the Hawker Hurricane, and military glider frames was manufactured by a number of Belfast flax spinning mills, such as The York Street Flax Spinning Co.; Brookfield Spinning Co.; Wm. Ewart’s Rosebank Weaving Co.; and the Linen Thread Co.
  • Other Belfast factories manufactured gun mountings, ordnance pieces, aircraft parts and ammunition.

War materials and food were sent by sea from Belfast to Britain, some under the protection of the neutral Irish tricolour. The M.V. Munster, for example, operated by the Belfast Steamship Company, plied between Belfast and Liverpool under the tricolour, until she hit a mine and was sunk outside Liverpool.[11]

Preparation

Sir James Craig, former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Government preparation

There was little preparation for the conflict with Germany. However at the time Lord Craigavon, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since its inception in 1921, said: “Ulster is ready when we get the word and always will be.” He was asked, in the N.I. parliament: “if the government realized ‘that these fast bombers can come to Northern Ireland in two and three quarter hours’ “. His reply was: “We here today are in a state of war and we are prepared with the rest of the United Kingdom and Empire to face all the responsibilities that imposes on the Ulster people. There is no slacking in our loyalty.”

Dawson Bates, the Home Affairs Minister, simply refused to reply to army correspondence and when the Ministry of Home Affairs was informed by imperial defence experts that Belfast was a certain Luftwaffe target, nothing was done.[13]

Air-raid shelters

Belfast, the city with the highest population density had the lowest proportion of air-raid shelters. Prior to the “Belfast Blitz” there were only 200 public shelters, although 4,000 households had built their own shelters. No searchlights were set up, as they had only arrived on 10 April. There were no night-fighters. On the night of the raid, no Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft took to the air. There were only 22 anti-aircraft guns, six light, and sixteen heavy. On the night, only seven were operated for a short time. There was no smokescreen ability. There were some barrage balloons. These air-raid shelters were Anderson shelters. They were sheets of corrugated galvanised iron covered in earth. Since most casualties were caused by falling masonry rather than by blast, they provided effective shelter for those who had them.

Children

Few children had been successfully evacuated. The “Hiram Plan” initiated by Dawson Bates, the Home Affairs Minister, had failed to materialise. Fewer than 4,000 women and children were evacuated. There were still 80,000 more in Belfast. Even the children of soldiers had not been evacuated, with calamitous results when the married quarters of Victoria Barracks received a direct hit.

 

Earlier raids

There had been a number of small bombings, probably by planes that missed their targets over the River Clyde in Glasgow or the cities of the northwest of England. On 24 March 1941, John MacDermott, Minister for Security, wrote to Prime Minister John Andrews, expressing his concerns that Belfast was so poorly protected: “Up to now we have escaped attack. So had Clydeside until recently. Clydeside got its blitz during the period of the last moon. There [is] ground for thinking that the … enemy could not easily reach Belfast in force except during a period of moonlight. The period of the next moon from say the 7th to the 16th of April may well bring our turn.” MacDermott would be proved right.

Heinkel He 111 bomber

 

 

The first deliberate raid took place on the night of 7 April. (Some authors count this as the second raid of four). It targeted the docks. Neighbouring residential areas were also hit. Six Heinkel He 111 bombers, from Kampfgruppe 26, flying at 7,000 feet (2,100 m), dropped incendiaries, high explosive and parachute-mines. By British mainland blitz standards, casualties were light. Thirteen lost their lives, including a soldier killed when an anti-aircraft gun, at the Balmoral show-grounds, misfired. The most significant loss was a 4.5-acre (1.8 ha) factory floor for manufacturing the fuselages of Short Stirling bombers. The Royal Air Force announced that Squadron Leader J.W.C. Simpson shot down one of the Heinkels over Downpatrick. The Luftwaffe crews returned to their base in Northern France and reported that Belfast’s defences were, “inferior in quality, scanty and insufficient”.

Easter Tuesday Blitz

William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw“) announced in radio broadcasts from Hamburg that there will be “Easter eggs for Belfast”.

Junkers Ju-88

On Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, spectators watching a football match at Windsor Park noticed a lone Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88 aircraft circling overhead.

200 Bombers headed to Belfast

That evening up to 200 bombers left their bases in northern France and the Netherlands and headed for Belfast. There were Heinkel He 111s, Junkers Ju 88s and Dorniers. At 10:40 pm the air raid sirens sounded. Accounts differ as to when flares were dropped to light up the city. The first attack was against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives were dropped. Initially it was thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal were being repaired. However that attack was not an error. Three vessels nearing completion at Harland and Wolff’s were hit as was its power station. Wave after wave of bombers dropped their incendiaries, high explosives and land-mines. When incendiaries were dropped, the city burned as water pressure was too low for effective firefighting.

Public buildings destroyed or badly damaged included Belfast City Hall’s Banqueting Hall, the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children and Ballymacarrett library, (the last two being located on Templemore Avenue). Strand Public Elementary school, the LMS railway station, the adjacent Midland Hotel on York Road, and Salisbury Avenue tram depot were all hit. Churches destroyed or wrecked included Macrory Memorial Presbyterian in Duncairn Gardens; Duncairn Methodist, Castleton Presbyterian on York Road; St Silas’s on the Oldpark Road; St James’s on the Antrim Road; Newington Presbyterian on Limestone Road; Crumlin Road Presbyterian; Holy Trinity on Clifton Street and Clifton Street Presbyterian; York Street Presbyterian and York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian; Newtownards Road Methodist and Rosemary Street Presbyterian (the last of which was not rebuilt).

Streets heavily bombed in the city centre included High Street, Ann Street, Callender Street, Chichester Street, Castle Street, Tomb Street, Bridge Street (effectively obliterated), Rosemary Street, Waring Street, North Street, Victoria Street, Donegall Street, York Street, Gloucester Street, and East Bridge Street. In the east of the city, Westbourne and Newcastle Streets on the Newtownards Road, Thorndyke Street off the Albertbridge Road and Ravenscroft Avenue were destroyed or damaged. In the west and north of the city, streets heavily bombed included Percy Street, York Park, York Crescent, Eglinton Street, Carlisle Street, Ballyclare, Ballycastle and Ballynure Streets off the Oldpark Road; Southport Street, Walton Street, Antrim Road, Annadale Street, Cliftonville Road, Hillman Street, Atlantic Avenue, Hallidays Road, Hughenden Avenue, Sunningdale Park, Shandarragh Park, and Whitewell Road. Burke Street which ran between Annadale and Dawson streets in the New Lodge area, was completely wiped off the map with all its 20 houses flattened and all of the occupants killed.

The Hawker Hurricane accounted for the most kills during the Battle of Britain

There was no opposition. In the mistaken belief that they might damage RAF fighters, the seven anti-aircraft batteries ceased firing. But the RAF had not responded. The bombs continued to fall until 5am.

Fifty-five thousand houses were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, with some 900 dead, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz. A stray bomber attacked Derry, killing 15. Another attacked Bangor, killing five. By 4 am the entire city seemed to be in flames. At 4.15am John MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, managed to contact Basil Brooke (then Agriculture Minister), seeking permission to seek help from the Irish government. Brooke noted in his diary “I gave him authority as it is obviously a question of expediency”. Since 1.45am all telephones had been cut. Fortunately, the railway telegraphy link between Belfast and Dublin was still operational. The telegram was sent at 4.35am,[citation needed] asking the Irish Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera for assistance.

Human cost

Over 900 lives were lost, 1,500 people were injured, 400 of them seriously. Fifty-thousand houses, more than half the houses in the city, were damaged. Eleven churches, two hospitals and two schools were destroyed. These figures are based on newspaper reports of the time, personal recollections and other primary sources, such as:-
Jimmy Doherty, an air raid warden (who later served in London during the V1 and V2 blitz), who wrote a book on the Belfast blitz;
Emma Duffin, a nurse at the Queen’s University Hospital, (who previously served during the Great War), who kept a diary;
and Major Seán O’Sullivan, who produced a detailed report for the Dublin government. There are other diarists and narratives. Brian Barton of Queen’s University, Belfast, has written most on this topic. There is an eye-witness account from John Potter online.

Instructions

There were few bomb shelters. An air raid shelter on Hallidays Road received a direct hit, killing all those in it. Many people who were dug out of the rubble alive had taken shelter underneath their stairs and were fortunate that their homes had not received a direct hit or caught fire. In the New Lodge area people had taken refuge in a mill. Tragically 35 were crushed to death when the mill wall collapsed. In another building, the York Street Mill, one of its massive sidewalls collapsed on to Sussex and Vere Streets, killing all those who remained in their homes.

Major O’Sullivan reported that “In the heavily ‘blitzed’ areas people ran panic-stricken into the streets and made for the open country. As many were caught in the open by blast and secondary missiles, the enormous number of casualties can be readily accounted for. It is perhaps true that many saved their lives running but I am afraid a much greater number lost them or became casualties.”

That night almost 300 people, many from the Protestant Shankill area, took refuge in the Clonard Monastery in the Catholic Falls Road. The crypt under the sanctuary and the cellar under the working sacristy had been fitted out and opened to the public as an air-raid shelter. Prayers were said and hymns sung by the mainly Protestant women and children during the bombing.

Mortuary

The mortuary services had emergency plans to deal with only 200 bodies. 150 corpses remained in the Falls Road baths for three days before they were buried in a mass grave, with 123 still unidentified. Two hundred and fifty-five corpses were laid out in St George’s Market. Many bodies and body parts could not be identified.[19] Mass graves for the unclaimed bodies were dug in the Milltown and City Cemeteries.

Nurse Emma Duffin

Nurse Emma Duffin, who had served in the Great War, contrasted death in that conflict with what she saw:

(Great War casualties) had died in hospital beds, their eyes had been reverently closed, their hands crossed to their breasts. Death had to a certain extent been … made decent. It was solemn, tragic, dignified, but here it was grotesque, repulsive, horrible. No attendant nurse had soothed the last moments of these victims; no gentle reverent hand had closed their eyes or crossed their hands. With tangled hair, staring eyes, clutching hands, contorted limbs, their grey-green faces covered with dust, they lay, bundled into the coffins, half-shrouded in rugs or blankets, or an occasional sheet, still wearing their dirty, torn twisted garments. Death should be dignified, peaceful; Hitler had made even death grotesque. I felt outraged, I should have felt sympathy, grief, but instead feelings of revulsion and disgust assailed me.

Major Seán O’Sullivan

Major Seán O’Sullivan reported on the intensity of the bombing in some areas, such as the Antrim Road, where bombs “fell within fifteen to twenty yards of one another.” The most heavily-bombed area was that which lay between York Street and the Antrim Road, north of the city centre. O’Sullivan felt that the whole civil defence sector was utterly overwhelmed. Heavy jacks were unavailable. He described some distressing consequences, such as how “in one case the leg and arm of a child had to be amputated before it could be extricated.”

In his opinion, the greatest want was the lack of hospital facilities. He went to the Mater Hospital at 2 pm, nine hours after the raid ended, to find the street with a traffic jam of ambulances waiting to admit their casualties. He spoke with Professor Flynn, (Theodore Thomson Flynn, an Australian based at the Mater Hospital and father of actor Errol Flynn), head of the casualty service for the city, who told him of “casualties due to shock, blast and secondary missiles, such as glass, stones, pieces of piping, etc.” O’Sullivan reported: “There were many terrible mutilations among both living and dead – heads crushed, ghastly abdominal and face wounds, penetration by beams, mangled and crushed limbs etc.”. His report concluded with: “a second Belfast would be too horrible to contemplate”.

Refugees

Two hundred and twenty thousand people fled from the city. Many “arrived in Fermanagh having nothing with them only night shirts”. Ten thousand “officially” crossed the border. Over 500 received care from the Irish Red Cross in Dublin. The town of Dromara saw its population increase from 500 to 2,500. In Newtownards, Bangor, Larne, Carrickfergus, Lisburn and Antrim many thousands of Belfast citizens took refuge either with friends or strangers.

Major O’Sullivan reported on a:

continuous trek to railway stations. The refugees looked dazed and horror stricken and many had neglected to bring more than a few belongings… Any and every means of exit from the city was availed of and the final destination appeared to be a matter of indifference.

Train after train and bus after bus were filled with those next in line. At nightfall the Northern Counties Station was packed from platform gates to entrance gates and still refugees were coming along in a steady stream from the surrounding streets … Open military lorries were finally put into service and even expectant mothers and mothers with young children were put into these in the rather heavy drizzle that lasted throughout the evening. On the 17th I heard that hundreds who either could not get away or could not leave for other reasons simply went out into the fields and remained in the open all night with whatever they could take in the way of covering.

Moya Woodside noted in her diary: “Evacuation is taking on panic proportions. Roads out of town are still one stream of cars, with mattresses and bedding tied on top. Everything on wheels is being pressed into service. People are leaving from all parts of town and not only from the bombed areas. Where they are going, what they will find to eat when they get there, nobody knows.”

Dawson Bates informed the Cabinet of rack-renting of barns, and over thirty people per house in some areas.

Newspaper reaction

The Irish Times editorial on 17 April:

Humanity knows no borders, no politics, no differences of religious belief. Yesterday for once the people of Ireland were united under the shadow of a national blow. Has it taken bursting bombs to remind the people of this little country that they have common tradition, a common genius and a common home? Yesterday the hand of good-fellowship was reached across the Border. Men from the South worked with men from the North in the universal cause of the relief of suffering.

Aftermath

Southern reaction

By 6am, within two hours of the request for assistance, 71 firemen with 13 fire tenders from Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire were on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. In each station volunteers were asked for, as it was beyond their normal duties. In every instance, all stepped forward. They remained for three days, until they were sent back by the Northern Ireland government. By then 250 firemen from Clydeside had arrived. Taoiseach Éamon de Valera formally protested to Berlin. He followed up with his “they are our people” speech, made in Castlebar, County Mayo, on Sunday 20 April 1941 (Quoted in the Dundalk Democrat dated Saturday 26 April 1941):

In the past, and probably in the present, too, a number of them did not see eye to eye with us politically, but they are our people – we are one and the same people – and their sorrows in the present instance are also our sorrows; and I want to say to them that any help we can give to them in the present time we will give to them whole-heartedly, believing that were the circumstances reversed they would also give us their help whole-heartedly …

Frank Aiken, the Irish Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures was in Boston, Massachusetts at the time. He gave an interview saying: “the people of Belfast are Irish people too”.

German response

 

Initial German radio broadcasts celebrated the raid. A Luftwaffe pilot gave this description “We were in exceptional good humour knowing that we were going for a new target, one of England’s last hiding places. Wherever Churchill is hiding his war material we will go … Belfast is as worthy a target as Coventry, Birmingham, Bristol or Glasgow.” William Joyce “Lord Haw-Haw” announced that “The Führer will give you time to bury your dead before the next attack … Tuesday was only a sample.” However Belfast was not mentioned again by the Nazis. After the war, instructions from Joseph Goebbels were discovered ordering it not to be mentioned. It would appear that Adolf Hitler, in view of de Valera’s negative reaction, was concerned that de Valera and Irish American politicians might encourage the United States to enter the war.

Eduard Hempel, the German Minister to Ireland, visited the Irish Ministry for External Affairs to offer sympathy and attempt an explanation. J.P. Walshe, assistant secretary, recorded that Hempel was “clearly distressed by the news of the severe raid on Belfast and especially of the number of civilian casualties.” He stated that “he would once more tell his government how he felt about the matter and he would ask them to confine the operations to military objectives as far as it was humanly possible. He believed that this was being done already but it was inevitable that a certain number of civilian lives should be lost in the course of heavy bombing from the air”.

Recriminations

 

The government was blamed by some for inadequate precautions. Tommy Henderson, an Independent Unionist MP in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, summed up the feeling when he invited the Minister of Home Affairs to Hannahstown and the Falls Road, saying “The Catholics and the Protestants are going up there mixed and they are talking to one another. They are sleeping in the same sheugh (ditch), below the same tree or in the same barn. They all say the same thing, that the government is no good.”

A map showing the location of Belfast Lough

At night Dublin was the only city without a blackout between New York and Moscow, and between Lisbon and Sweden; German bombers often flew overhead to check their bearings using its lights, angering the British. One widespread criticism was that the Germans located Belfast by heading for Dublin and following the railway lines north. In The Blitz: Belfast in the War Years, Brian Barton wrote: “Government Ministers felt with justification, that the Germans were able to use the unblacked out lights in the south to guide them to their targets in the North.” Barton insisted that Belfast was “too far north” to use radio guidance.

Other writers, such as Tony Gray in The Lost Years state that the Germans did follow their radio guidance beams. Several accounts point out that Belfast, standing at the end of the long inlet of Belfast Lough, would be easily located. Another claim was that the Catholic population in general and the IRA in particular guided the bombers. Barton wrote: “the Catholic population was much more strongly opposed to conscription, was inclined to sympathise with Germany”, “…there were suspicions that the Germans were assisted in identifying targets, held by the Unionist population.” This view was probably influenced by the decision of the IRA Army Council to support Germany. However they were not in a position to communicate with the Germans, and information recovered from Germany after the war showed that the planning of the blitz was based entirely on German aerial reconnaissance.

Firemen return south

After three days, sometime after 6pm, the fire crews from south of the border began taking up their hoses and ladders to head for home. By then most of the major fires were under control and the firemen from Clydeside and other British cities were arriving. Some had received food, others were famished. All were exhausted. Two of the crews received refreshments in Banbridge; others were entertained in the Ancient Order of Hibernians hall in Newry. In 1995 on the fiftieth anniversary of the ending of the Second World War an invitation was received by the Dublin Fire Brigade for any survivors of that time to attend a function at Hillsborough Castle and meet Prince Charles. Only four were known still to be alive; one, Tom Coleman, attended to receive recognition for his colleagues’ solidarity at such a critical time.

Second major raid

 

Soldiers clearing rubble after the May air raid

There was a second massive air raid on Belfast on Sunday 4–5 May 1941, three weeks after that of Easter Tuesday. Around 1am, Luftwaffe bombers flew over the city, concentrating their attack on the Harbour Estate and Queen’s Island. Nearby residential areas in east Belfast were also hit when “203 metric tonnes of high explosive bombs, 80 land mines attached to parachutes, and 800 firebomb canisters containing 96,000 incendiary bombs” were dropped. Over 150 people lost their lives in what became known as the ‘Fire Blitz’.

Casualties were lower than at Easter, partly because the sirens had sounded at 11.45 pm while the Luftwaffe attacked more cautiously from a greater height. St George’s Church in High Street was damaged by fire. Again the Irish emergency services crossed the border, this time without waiting for an invitation. On 31 May 1941, German bombers attacked neutral Dublin in error.

See Battle of Britain -Triple Aces

battle of britain

 

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Battle of Britain – Triple Aces – Who were the ‘Triple Flying Aces’

Triple Aces were pilots who were credited with shooting down 15 or more enemy aircraft. The Battle of Britain produced many aces (men who shot down 5 or more enemy aircraft) but triple aces were very rare. The figures below for triple ace kills are from July 1st 1940 to October 31st 1940 and include where necessary, where a pilot was in more than one squadron

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The views and opinions expressed in this page and  documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in The Battle of Britain They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

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The Best fighter pilot of Battle of Britain

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WWII: Battle of Britain

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Carbury, B (Flying Officer) – 15 kills, 1 shared

 Flight Lieutenant Brian John George Carbury DFC* (27 February 1918 – 31 July 1961) was a New Zealand fighter ace of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.[1] He was credited with being one of three “aces in a day” in the Battle of Britain as he shot down five aircraft on 31 August 1940. The others were Archie McKellar, a British pilot, and Antoni Glowacki of Poland.

Biography

The 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) son of a Wellington, New Zealand veterinarian, Brian John George Carbury was raised in Auckland where he attended King’s College from 1932 to 1934. He joined Farmers’ Trading Co. on leaving school, but sick of the job as a shoe salesman,[2] he headed to the United Kingdom in 1937 to join the Royal Navy. Being told he was too old, he joined the Royal Air Force on a short service commission as an Acting Pilot Officer.[3]

June 1938 – July 1940

Carbury joined No. 41 Squadron RAF in June 1938, his rank was confirmed on 27 September 1938,[4] flying the Hawker Fury. In August 1939 he was posted to RAF Turnhouse near Edinburgh, Scotland with No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force as training officer, flying Spitfires. As an Auxiliary Air Force squadron, No. 603 were week-end ‘part-time’ airmen doing other jobs during the week. But as war approached the squadron was put onto a full-time footing and Carbury was permanently attached from the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. During the Phoney War, No. 603 gained pilots P.O Richard Hillary—later the author of The Last Enemy; and B. G. ‘Stapme’ Stapleton who shot down Franz von Werra, the only German PoW to escape and return to the Third Reich.

Scotland was far away from the more accessible targets in the south of England, but was in range for the Luftwaffe’s long range bombers and reconnaissance aircraft shadowing the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet in Northern Scotland and the North Sea. On 16 October a section of 603 was scrambled and shot down a Junkers Ju-88 bomber into the North Sea east of Dalkeith, the first German aircraft to be shot down over British territory since 1918. Carbury probably destroyed an Heinkel He 111 on 7 December, and claimed a third share in the destruction of another He 111 during January 1940. Carbury was promoted to Flying Officer on 27 April 1940.[5]

August 1940 – October 1940

In light of RAF Fighter Command‘s dire need for pilots in the battles over southern England during August 1940, No. 603 redeployed to RAF Hornchurch, becoming active in the Battle of Britain from 27 August 1940.

Carbury claimed his first victory on 29 August, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. He claimed another on the 30th, and three more on the 31st, together with two He 111’s[6] – taking his total to 8 and 1/3, and making him a fighter ace. Hillary was shot down on 3 September in combat with Bf 109’s of Jagdgeschwader 26 off Margate at 10:04hrs – rescued by the Margate lifeboat, he was severely burned and spent the next three years in hospital.[7] In September Carbury claimed three more Bf 109’s, and after sustaining wounds to his feet during actions in September, his efforts were recognised by the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The award was gazetted on 24 September 1940:[8]

Air Ministry, 24th September, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the undermentioned appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy : —

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Flying Officer Brian John George CARBURY (40288).

During operations on the North East coast Flying Officer Carbury led his section in an attack on two enemy aircraft. Both were destroyed. From 28th August, 1940, to 2nd September, 1940, he has, with his squadron, been almost continuously engaged against large enemy raids over Kent, and has destroyed eight enemy aircraft. Five of these were shot down during three successive engagements in one day.

Carbury continued his toll of victories in October, as the German’s intensified their high-level fighter-bomber attacks on London. His first two victories for the month were a Bf109 over the Thames Estuary on the 2nd, and another in southeast London on 7 October. Based at RAF Manston on the 10th, Carbury noticed three Bf 109’s returning to northern France—leading three Spitfires into attack, he shot the first in to the English Channel, and a second on to the beach at Dunkirk. On 14 October, he damaged a Junkers Ju 88.

The official end of the Battle of Britain came at the end of October, when Carbury was awarded a Bar to the DFC—one of fewer than five pilots given the double award for victories claimed during the period of the Battle of Britain. With destruction of 15 enemy aircraft destroyed (and 2 victories shared destroyed), 2 probables and 5 damaged,[9] Carbury was among the five top-scoring pilots in RAF Fighter Command and the top scorer against Bf 109s [10] during the Battle of Britain along with Eric Lock. The award of the bar to his DFC was gazetted on 25 October 1940:[11]

Air Ministry, 25th October, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—

Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross

Flying Officer Brian John George CARBURY, D.F.C. (40288).

Flying Officer Carbury has displayed outstanding gallantry and skill in engagements against the enemy. Previous to 8th September, 1940, this officer shot down eight enemy aircraft, and shared in the destruction of two others. Since that date he has destroyed two Messerschmitt 109-5 and two Heinkel 113’s, and, in company with other pilots of his squadron, also assisted in the destruction of yet another two enemy aircraft. His cool courage in the face of the enemy has been a splendid example to other pilots of his squadron.

December 1940 onwards

No. 603 Squadron and Carbury returned to Scotland on scheduled rotation in December 1940. On Christmas Day Carbury was scrambled to intercept a Junker Ju 88 reported off St Abb’s Head, inflicting damage before the German aircraft turned for home.

Early in 1941 Carbury was posted to be an instructor at the Central Flying School and then 58 OTU at Grangemouth, and did not fly operationally in combat again. Unfortunately later that year he was charged with fraud after being accused of passing between 9 and 17 false cheques, an offence that at the time could attract a prison sentence. At his RAF court martial, he was found guilty and on 21 October 1941 the London Gazette announced: “Flg. Off. B. J. G. CARBURY, DFC (40288), to be dismissed the Service by sentence of General Court-Martial. 1 Oct 1941.” [12]

Hillary on Carbury

In his book The Last Enemy, Richard Hillary said of Carbury:[2]

I thought of the men I had known, of the men who were living and the men who were dead; and I came to this conclusion. It was to the Carburys and the Berrys [Alan Berry] of this war that Britain must look, to the tough practical men who had come up the hard way, who were not fighting this war for any philosophical principles or economic ideals; who, unlike the average Oxford undergraduate, were not flying for aesthetic reasons, but because of an instinctive knowledge that this was the job for which they were most suited. These were the men who had blasted and would continue to blast the Luftwaffe out of the sky while their more intellectual comrades would, alas, in the main be killed. They might answer, if asked why they fought, ‘To smash Hitler!’ But instinctively, inarticulately, they too were fighting for the things that Peter had died to preserve.

Combat Record

Date Service Flying Kills Probables Notes
7 December 1939 Royal Air Force Spitfire Damaged 1 *Heinkel He 111 Flying from RAF Turnhouse
7 March 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1/2 * Heinkel He 111
3 July 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1/3 * Junkers Ju 88
29 August 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1 *Messerschmitt Bf 109 Flying from RAF Manston
30 August 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1 * Messerschmitt Bf 109 Fw. Ernst Arnold of 3/JG27[13]
31 August 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 2 * Heinkel He 113
3 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
September, 1940 Awarded DFC
2 September 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
7 September 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 2 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
14 September 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
2 October 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
7 October 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 1 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
10 October 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire 2 * Messerschmitt Bf 109
14 October 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire Damaged Junkers Ju 88
October, 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire Awarded DFC Bar
25 December 1940 Royal Air Force Spitfire Damaged Junkers Ju 88 Flying from RAF Turnhouse
TOTALS 15½ kills 0 probable

Post war

After leaving the RAF, he lived in England until his death in July 1962.[14] In 1949, he along with three others, in a trial at Princes Risborough Magistrates’ Court, was found guilty of two offences relating to the illegal export of Bristol Beaufighters to Palestine.[15] Each man was fined a total of £100.[15] The defence solicitor described the four as “stooges” of a fifth man who had remained in Palestine.[15]

Death

In 1961, Carbury was diagnosed with terminal acute leukaemia and died soon after in High Wycombe Hospital (then the War Memorial Hospital). He was later cremated at Breakspear crematorium near Ruislip. A memorial to his memory was erected in his home town of Wellington, New Zealand.

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Frantisek, J (Sergeant) – 17 kills –

Killed in Action 08/10/40

 Sergeant Josef František DFM * (7 October 1914, Otaslavice – 8 October 1940) was a Czech fighter pilot and World War II flying ace who flew for the air forces of Czechoslovakia, Poland and the United Kingdom. He is famous as being one of the highest scoring Allied aces in the Battle of Britain.

Career

Born in Otaslavice in 1913, Josef František joined the Czechoslovak Air Force in 1934. After basic training he joined the Czechoslovak Air Force Air Regiment 2. In 1935 he was a Corporal in Air Regiment 1 and returned to Air Regiment 2 as a Sergeant in 1937. In June 1938 he became a fighter pilot serving in the 40th squadron in Prague flying the Avia B-534 and Bk-534 fighter. After Czechoslovakia fell under German occupation (15 March 1939) like many other Czechoslovak airmen he escaped to Poland. Most Czechoslovak airmen then left Poland for France before the start of the Second World War, though František decided to stay and serve with the Polish Air Force.

During the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, František initially evacuated training aircraft from the air base at Dęblin. From 7 September he flew reconnaissance missions in an unarmed training plane, a RWD-8. On 19–20 September he attacked enemy columns near Kamionka Strumiłowa, throwing hand grenades on the troops below. On 20 September he was shot down near Złoczów, but was saved by a Polish crew that landed nearby. On 22 September František’s unit was ordered to withdraw with their remaining aircraft to Romania. František managed to abscond from an internment camp in Romania and reached France via North Africa in October 1939.

In France František elected to remain with the Poles instead of joining the exiled Czechoslovak air force (a probable reason for this decision was a conflict with a Czech officer, who tried to arrest him for insubordination.)

He was flying only old fashioned planes with fixed undercarriage and there are no official French records to confirm he flew combat missions during the Battle of France. After the fall of France František fled to Britain and after training on 2 August was assigned to No. 303 Polish Squadron based at RAF Northolt, flying Hawker Hurricane fighters. The squadron entered action in the last phase of the Battle of Britain. The first confirmed victory of Sgt. František was a German Bf 109E fighter on 2 September 1940.

A very ill-disciplined pilot,[1] he was seen by his commanding officers as a danger to his colleagues when flying in formation. His British CO Squadron Leader R. Kellett, offered to arrange for František’s transfer to a Czech squadron, but František preferred to stay and fight alongside his Polish colleagues. As all pilots were valuable, a compromise was created whereby František was allotted a “spare” aircraft so he could fly as a “guest” of the Squadron as and when he wanted to. Thus, František fought his own private war – accompanying the squadron into the air, but peeling off to fly a lone patrol over Kent, patrolling in the area through which he knew the German aircraft being intercepted would fly on their way back to base, possibly damaged and low on fuel and ammo. During the following month he shot down 17 German aircraft and 1 probable, of which 9 were Bf 109s, becoming one of the top scoring Allied fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain. His last victory was on 30 September 1940 and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

On 8 October 1940, František’s Hurricane crashed in Ewell, Surrey during a landing approach after a patrol. Reasons for the crash are not known, but according to some theories, he may have been making aerobatic figures to impress his girlfriend,[citation needed] or it might have been a result of battle fatigue and physical exhaustion.

He was buried in a Polish military cemetery. He was awarded several decorations, among them the Virtuti Militari 5th class and he was the first foreigner awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal with Bar.

Honours and awards

Virtuti Militari Ribbon.png Virtuti Militari Silver Cross (Poland)
POL Krzyż Walecznych 3r BAR.svg Cross of Valour 3 times (Poland)
Ruban de la croix de guerre 1939-1945.PNG Croix de guerre (France)
DFM w Bar ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Medal and bar (United Kingdom)
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Gray, C (Pilot Officer) – 15 kills, 1 shared

Colin Gray.jpg

Group Captain Colin Falkland Gray DSODFC & Two Bars (9 November 1914 – 1 August 1995) was the top New Zealand fighter ace of the Second World War.

Born in 1914, Gray was accepted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1939 after two previous attempts failed on medical grounds. He flew with No. 54 Squadron during the Battles of France and Battle of Britain, and had shot down 14 aircraft and had a half share in another by September 1940. He later added another 13 kills while leading fighter squadrons and wings in the North African and Italian Campaigns, and finished the war with a confirmed 27½ kills. After the war he held a number of staff and command positions in the RAF before his eventual retirement in 1961. He returned to New Zealand to work for Unilever. He died in 1995 at the age of 80.

Early life

Colin Falkland Gray and his twin brother Ken were born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 9 November 1914, the sons of an electrical engineer and his wife. He attended schools in the lower North Island and in Christchurch. He gained employment as a stock clerk in 1933, working at Dalgety and Company. In 1937, Gray, along with Ken, attempted to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1937. While Ken was accepted, Colin failed for medical reasons.[1]

A second attempt also resulted in failure on medical grounds and after this, to improve his fitness, Gray took up sheep mustering. He was successful on a third application to join the RAF and was granted a short-term commission at the beginning of 1939. His flight training was conducted at the de Havilland flying school at Hatfield in Hertfordshire, England. He was posted to No 11 Flying Training School from which he graduated as a probationary pilot officer in October 1939.[1]

Second World War

Gray was posted to No. 54 Squadron, at the time equipped with Supermarine Spitfires and based at Hornchurch, in November.[1] He was confirmed in his rank of pilot officer on 17 January 1940.[2] During the Phoney War he participated in patrols over the English Channel up until May 1940. The death of his brother Ken, in a flying accident on 1 May 1940, affected his morale.[1]

After initial combat on 24 May (claiming two ‘probable’ victories), Gray had a share in his first confirmed enemy aircraft, a Messerschmitt Bf 109, on 25 May 1940, while escorting a formation of Fairey Swordfish to dive-bomb Gravelines. His Spitfire was badly damaged in the engagement, and damage to the port aileron forced the aircraft into a dive that was controlled only with great difficulty. His aircraft had also lost its airspeed indicator and control of guns, flaps or brakes.[3] Despite this damage, Gray managed to force land safely at Hornchurch.[1]

On 13 July 1940, Gray shot down his second Bf 109 near Calais after a long chase at sea level. The pilot, Leutnant Hans-Joachim Lange of III./JG 51, was killed.[4] 54 Squadron was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain, tasked with the defence of the approaches to London. On 24 July, he shot down Staffelkapitän Lothar Ehrlich of 8./JG 52. Gray observed Ehrlich to bail out into the Channel and swim for what Gray believed to be a dingy. He radioed the man’s position, but the pilot did not survive the water conditions.[5] Alternately, it is possible his victim was Leutnant Schauff from III./JG 26.[6] On 16 August, he claimed two Bf 109s destroyed. No. 54’s opponents were JG 54. I./JG 54 lost one Bf 109—the unnamed pilot being killed in a crash at Saint-Inglevert airfield after returning from the battle. 3./JG 54 and 9./JG 54 suffered the loss of one Bf 109 each and their pilots (one killed and one missing) over English territory. Their names are unknown.[7] On 24 August, his flight was attacked by elements of I./JG 54 near RAF Manston. During the battle, he shot down Oberleutnant Heinrich Held.[8] On 31 August, he downed Oberleutnant Karl Westerhof from 6./JG 3.[9] Another source identifies 9./JG 26 pilot Oberleunant Willy Fronhöfer as his victim.[10] By early September, Gray had claimed 14½ kills, and his squadron was sent north to rest and re-equip. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on 15 August 1940.[1]

Gray was promoted to flying officer on 23 October 1940.[11] He then served with 43 Squadron, before returning to 54 Squadron. Gray remained with the squadron until he was posted to 1 Squadron.[12] He was promoted to flight lieutenant in August 1941[13] and the following month was awarded a Bar to his DFC. The same month, he was posted to No. 616 Squadron to serve as its commander until February 1942, at which time he took up a staff posting at 9 Group.[1]

Returning to operations in September 1942, Gray, promoted to acting squadron leader, took over No. 64 Squadron, which operated over the English Channel and France. At the end of the year, he was posted to the Mediterranean Theatre,[1] firstly to 333 Group[12] and then in January 1943, to command of No. 81 Squadron, based in Algeria, the first unit to fly the Spitfire Mk. IX in the Middle East. During his service with the squadron, he shot down a further eight aircraft bring his personal tally to 22.[1] For his leadership and actions during this period, Gray was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.[12]

Gray was promoted to acting wing commander on 1 June 1943 and took over No. 322 Wing, which at the time was based on Malta. Conducting patrols over the Italian coast and supporting the Allied invasion of Sicily, he shot down a further five aircraft. His final kills came on 25 July 1943, when he shot down two Junkers Ju 52 transports.[1] He was promoted to war substantive squadron leader on 1 September 1943.[14] Later that month, he returned to England for a rest from active duty.[1]

A second Bar to Gray’s DFC was awarded in November.[1] He returned to operational duty in England, with 9 Group.[12] In August 1944, he was appointed Wing Commander of the Lympne Wing, which carried out operations over France and the occupied Netherlands.[1] He did not increase his tally of kills and finished the war with 27 aerial kills, two shared destroyed, six probable kills, with a further four shared probables,[15] the top New Zealand fighter ace of the Second World War.[16]

Post-war

Gray returned to New Zealand on secondment to the Royal New Zealand Air Force from July 1945 to March 1946.[12] He was retroactively promoted to the permanent rank of flight lieutenant from 23 January 1943,[17] and received a retroactive promotion to temporary squadron leader from 1 July 1945.[18] He was promoted to the substantive rank of squadron leader on 1 September 1945.[19] Back in England after the end of his secondment, he was promoted to wing commander on 1 July 1947.[20] He served in the Air Ministry until 1949.[12] He then served in Washington, D.C. on the Joint Services Mission United States as an air liaison officer.[1] In 1954, after a period of time training in the Gloster Meteor, he commanded RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire for two years,[12] during which he was promoted to group captain on 1 January 1955.[21] He was posted to HQ Far East Air Force in Singapore for three years before a return to the Air Ministry in 1959 and his subsequent retirement in March 1961.[12]

Later life

Gray returned to New Zealand to work for Unilever in Petone as its personnel director until 1979, at which time he retired. He settled in Waikanae and in his later years, he wrote Spitfire Patrol, an autobiography detailing his time in the RAF and which was published in 1990.

Gray died in Kenepuru Hospital, Porirua, on 1 August 1995, survived by his wife, Betty, whom he had married in October 1945, and his four children and a stepdaughter.

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Lacey, J (Sergeant) – 18 kills

Ginger Lacey.jpg

 Squadron Leader James Harry “Ginger” Lacey DFM & Bar (1 February 1917 – 30 May 1989) was one of the top scoring Royal Air Force fighter pilots of the Second World War and was the second highest scoring British RAF fighter pilot of the Battle of Britain, behind Pilot Officer Eric Lock of No. 41 Squadron RAF. Lacey was credited with 28 enemy aircraft destroyed, five probables and nine damaged.[1]

Early years

Lacey left King James Grammar School, Knaresborough[2] in 1933 continuing his education at Leeds Technical College.[3] After four years as an apprentice pharmacist, he joined the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) in January 1937 as a trainee pilot at Perth, Scotland. In 1938, he then took an instructor’s course, becoming an instructor at the Yorkshire Flying School, accumulating 1,000 hours of flight time before the war.[4] Called up at the outbreak of war, he joined No. 501 Squadron RAF.

Second World War

Battle of France

On 10 May 1940, the Squadron moved to Bétheniville in France where Lacey experienced his first combat. On the afternoon of 13 May over Sedan, he destroyed a Heinkel He 111 of KG 53 [5] and an escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109 on one sortie, followed by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 later in the afternoon.[6] He claimed two more He 111s on 27 May, before the squadron was withdrawn to England on 19 June, having claimed nearly 60 victories. On 9 June, he crash landed and was almost drowned in a swamp. During his operational duties in France, he was awarded the French Croix de guerre.

Battle of Britain

Flying throughout the Battle of Britain with No. 501 based at Gravesend or Croydon, Lacey became one of the highest scoring pilots of the battle. His first kill of the battle was on 20 July 1940, when he shot down a Bf 109E of Jagdgeschwader 27. He then claimed a destroyed Ju 87 and a “probable” Ju 87 on 12 August along with a damaged Bf 110 and damaged Do 17 on 15 August, a probable Bf 109 on 16 August. He destroyed a Ju 88, damaged a Dornier Do 17 on 24 August and shot down a Bf 109 of Jagdgeschwader 3 on 29 August. He bailed out unharmed after being hit by return fire from a Heinkel He 111 on 13 August.

On 23 August 1940, Lacey was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal after the destruction of 6 enemy aircraft.[7]

On 30 August 1940, during combat over the Thames Estuary, Lacey shot down a He 111 and damaged a Bf 110 before his Hurricane was badly hit from enemy fire. His engine stopped and he decided to glide the stricken aircraft back to the airfield at Gravesend instead of bailing out into the Estuary.

A highly successful August was completed when he destroyed a Bf 109 on 31 August.

On 2 September 1940, Lacey shot down two Bf 109s and damaged a Do 17. He then shot down another two Bf 109s on 5 September. During a heavy raid on 13 September, he engaged a formation of Kampfgeschwader 55 He 111s over London where he shot down one of the bombers that had just bombed Buckingham Palace. He then bailed out of his aircraft, sustaining slight injuries, as he could not find his airfield in the worsening visibility.

Returning to the action shortly thereafter, he shot down a He 111, three Bf 109s and damaged another on 15 September 1940, one of the heaviest days of fighting during the whole battle, which later became known as “Battle of Britain Day”. During the battle he attacked a formation of 12 Bf 109s, shooting down two before the other had noticed before escaping into cloud[8]

Two days later on 17 September, he was shot down over Ashford, Kent during a dogfight with Bf 109s and bailed out without injury. On 27 September, he destroyed a Bf 109 and damaged a Junkers Ju 88 on 30 September. During October he claimed a probable Bf 109 on 7 October, shot down a Bf 109 on 12 October, another on 26 October and on 30 October, he destroyed a Bf 109 before damaging another.

During the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, Lacey had been shot down or forced to land due to combat no less than nine times.

On 26 November 1940, with 23 claims (18 made during the Battle of Britain) Lacey received a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Medal [9] for his continued outstanding courage and bravery during the Battle of Britain. The citation in the London Gazette stated:

“Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Medal. 740042 Sergeant James Harry LACEY, D.F.M., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 501 Squadron. Sergeant Lacey has shown consistent efficiency and great courage. He has led his section on many occasions and his splendid qualities as a fighter pilot have enabled him to destroy at least 19 enemy aircraft”.

After 1940

Lacey works on a model aeroplane in No 501 Squadron’s dispersal hut at Colerne on 30 May 1941

His final award for outstanding service during 1940 was a Mention in Dispatches announced on 1 January 1941.[10] Lacey was commissioned a pilot officer (on probation) on 25 January 1941 (seniority from 15 January)[11] and promoted to acting flight lieutenant in June. On 10 July 1941, as “A” flight commander, he shot down a Bf 109 and damaged another a few days later on 14 July. On 17 July, he claimed a Heinkel He 59 seaplane shot down and on 24 July, two Bf 109s (by causing them to collide). He was posted away from combat operations during August 1941, serving as a flight instructor with 57 Operational Training Unit. He was promoted to war substantive flying officer on 22 September.[12]

During March 1942, Lacey joined No. 602 Squadron, based at Kenley flying the Spitfire Mk V and by 24 March had claimed a Fw 190 as damaged. He damaged another Fw 190 on 25 April 1942 before a posting to 81 Group as a tactics officer. Promoted to war substantive flight lieutenant on 27 August,[13] in November he was posted as Chief Instructor at the No. 1 Special Attack Instructors School, Milfield.

In March 1943, Lacey was posted to No. 20 Squadron, Kaylan in India before joining 1572 Gunnery Flight in July of the same year to convert from Blenheims to Hurricanes and then to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. He stayed in India, being posted to command 155 Squadron flying the Spitfire VIII in November 1944 and then as CO No. 17 Squadron later that month. While based in India, Lacey claimed his last aircraft on 19 February 1945, shooting down a Japanese Army Air Force Nakajima Ki 43 “Oscar” with only nine 20mm cannon rounds.

“Ginger” Lacey was one of the few RAF pilots on operational duties on both the opening and closing day of the war. His final tally was 28 confirmed, four probables and nine damaged.

Postwar

After the war was over, Lacey went to Japan with No. 17 Squadron, becoming the first Spitfire pilot to fly over Japan on 30 April 1946. He returned to the UK in May 1946. He received a permanent commission in the rank of flight lieutenant on 8 December 1948 (seniority from 1 September 1945),[14] and retired from the RAF on 5 March 1967 as a flight lieutenant; he retained the rank of squadron leader.[15]

After retirement, Lacey ran an air freight business and instructed at a flight school near Bridlington, UK.

Death

“Ginger” Lacey died on 30 May 1989 at the age of 72. In September 2001, a plaque was unveiled at Priory Church, Bridlington, Yorkshire in memory of the fighter pilot and ace.

There was/is also a plaque at the location of the house Lacey grew up in, on the old site of Nidd Vale Motors, Sandbeck Lane, Wetherby, sadly the house where he was raised was knocked down a few years ago.

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Lock, E (Pilot Officer) – 21 kills

Eric Stanley Lock DSODFC & Bar (19 April 1919 – 3 August 1941) was a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace of the Second World War.

Born near Shrewsbury in 1919 Lock had his first experience of flying as a teenager. In the late 1930s with war a possibility and the likely event of him being called to arms, Lock decided that he would prefer to fight as an airman. He joined the RAF in 1939. He completed his training in 1940 and was posted to No. 41 Squadron RAF in time for the Battle of Britain. Lock became the RAF’s most successful Allied pilot during the battle, shooting down 21 German aircraft and sharing in the destruction of one.[1][2]

After the Battle of Britain Lock served on the Channel Front, flying offensive sweeps over France. Lock went on to bring his overall total to 26 aerial victories, one shared destroyed and eight probable in 25 weeks of operational sorties over a one-year period—during which time he was hospitalised for six months.[3][4] Included in his victory total were 20 German fighter aircraft, 18 of them Messerschmitt Bf 109s. In mid-1941 Lock was promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant.

Lock earned the nickname “Sawn Off Lockie”, because of his extremely short stature.[5] Within less than six months of becoming one of the most famous RAF pilots in the country, he crash–landed in the English Channel after his Supermarine Spitfire was damaged by ground–fire. Lock was posted missing in action. He was never seen again.

Early life and career

Eric Stanley Lock, younger son of Charles Edward Lock, was born in 1919 to a farming and quarrying family, whose home was then in the rural Shropshire village of Bayston Hill at Bomere Farm, and who later farmed nearby at Allfield, Condover. He was privately educated, at a boarding school called Clivedon at Church Stretton, at Shrewsbury Boys’ High School and at Prestfelde School, London Road, Shrewsbury. At the latter, he was a proficient swimmer and ice skater.[6] On his 14th birthday his father treated him to a five-shilling, 15-minute flight with Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Circus. Unlike most teenagers, Lock was unimpressed by flying and had soon lost interest. At 16 he left school and joined his father’s business.[7] He later changed his mind and attempted to enlist in the RAF as early as the age of 17, but his father refused to sign the papers.[8]

Although as a child he had lost the former strength of his left arm after a horse riding accident,[6] in 1939 he made the decision that if there was going to be a war, he wanted to be a fighter pilot, and so immediately joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Within three months Lock had been called up and began flight training.

Second World War

Training and Early Posting

On the outbreak of war in September 1939, as a trained pilot Lock joined the RAF as a sergeant pilot. After further training at No. 6 Flying School RAF Little Rissington,[9] he was commissioned as a pilot officer (Service Number 81642)[10] and posted to No. 41 Squadron at RAF Catterick, North Yorkshire, flying Spitfires.[7]

Lock completed his training in late May 1940. Officially qualified as a fighter pilot, he was posted to No. 41 Squadron at RAF Catterick as acting pilot officer. Lock spent several weeks with his Squadron before taking two weeks leave pass in July 1940 to marry his girlfriend Peggy Meyers, a former “Miss Shrewsbury”. Lock returned to his unit and soon began combat patrols over the North of England, defending British airspace against Luftflotte 5 (Air Fleet 5) based in Norway. Lock was bored by the patrols as it involved chasing lone enemy raiders without success.[7]

Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain began in July 1940 with the Luftwaffe making attacks on British shipping in the English Channel and Britain’s East Coast. In August RAF Fighter Command‘s bases came under attack as the Germans attempted to establish air superiority over southern England. The battles grew larger in scale, but 41 Squadron, based in the north, were well clear of the main combat zone and saw little action for the first four weeks of the German air offensive.[11]

Lock’s frustration ended on 15 August 1940. On this date the Luftwaffe attempted to stretch Fighter Command by launching a wave of aircraft against targets in northern England where German intelligence believed there to be little opposition. It was in this battle Lock gained his first victory. Climbing at 20,000 feet (6,100 m) north of Catterick Lock spotted a massed formation of Messerschmitt Bf 110s and Junkers Ju 88s. The Squadron was ordered into line-astern formation and made an attack. In the first attack Lock followed his Section Leader. In the second he had an opportunity to fire at a Bf 110 heavy fighter. After two short bursts the starboard engine caught fire. Following the enemy fighter down to 10,000 feet (3,000 m), Lock fired into the fuselage and set the port engine on fire. The machine-gunner ceased firing and Lock left it at 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Lock was going to claim only a probable, but another No. 41 pilot saw it crash into Seaham Harbour and confirmed his victory. Lock soon attacked the Ju 88s, downing one of their number.[7]

In light of Fighter Command’s need units in the south of the country, No. 41 Squadron was redeployed to RAF Hornchurch in Essex on 3 September 1940. On 5 September, Lock flew as Red 2, positioned behind and protecting the Squadron’s Leader. He shot down two Heinkel He 111s over the Thames Estuary. One of his victims crashed into a river, the other caught fire and its undercarriage fell down. Lock followed it down.[12][13] He quickly realised his mistake—reducing height to pursue a damaged enemy put a pilot at risk from enemy fighters—but it was too late.[12] A Messerschmitt Bf 109 attacked him and he sustained damage to his Spitfire and a wound to his leg.[12] Lock immediately zoom-climbed. The Bf 109 attempted to follow but the pilot stalled and fell away. Lock reversed direction and dived. Waiting for the German fighter to come out of its dive he fired several short bursts and it exploded.[12] Looking around he saw the second He 111 land in the English Channel, about ten miles from the first.[12] Lock circled above the He 111 and noticing a boat he alerted the boat to its presence by flying over it and led the vessel to the crash site. As he left the scene he saw the crew surrendering to the occupants of the boat. On the way home he saw his first victim in the river, with a dingy nearby.[12] A further Bf 109 was claimed destroyed on that date.[14]

The following day, despite pain from his leg and against medical advice, Lock claimed his seventh victory, a Ju 88 off Dover at 09:00.[12] On 9 September he claimed two Bf 109s destroyed over Kent and he followed the success with two victories—over a Ju 88 and Bf 110—on 11 September 1940. The victory brought his tally to nine enemy aircraft destroyed, eight of them in less than seven days. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).[12] The award was gazetted on 1 October 1940 with a citation reading:[12][15]

Air Ministry, 1st October, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the undermentioned appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Pilot Officer Eric Stanley LOCK .(81642), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

This officer has destroyed nine enemy aircraft, eight of these within a period of one week. He has displayed great vigour and determination in pressing home his attacks.

Lock continued to shoot enemy aircraft down regularly. On 14 September he recorded two victories over Bf 109s and the following day shared in the destruction of a Dornier Do 17 before destroying a Bf 109 on 15 September 1940—the Battle of Britain Day—over Clacton-on-Sea. Two rest days followed. On 18 September he claimed a Bf 109 probably destroyed on his first patrol then another destroyed plus one probably destroyed in the afternoon over Gravesend.[12]

On 20 September he filed a curious report that saw him attack three “Heinkel He 113s“, shooting down one and forcing the others to flee back to France.[16] During that sortie he sighted a Henschel Hs 126 which he pursued across the English Channel before finally downing it over the German gun batteries at Boulogne-sur-Mer.[16] Upon landing he was told by his commanding officer that he had been awarded a Bar to his DFC for 15 victories in 16 days.[16] Published on 22 October 1940, the citation read:[17]

Air Ministry, 22nd October, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—

Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Pilot Officer Eric Stanley LOCK, D.F.C. (81642), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

In September, 1940, whilst engaged on a patrol over the Dover area, Pilot Officer Lock engaged three Heinkel 113‘s one of which he shot down into the sea. Immediately afterwards he engaged a Henschel Hs 126 and destroyed it. He has displayed great courage in the face of heavy odds, and his skill and coolness in combat have enabled him to destroy fifteen enemy aircraft within a period of nineteen days.

No. 41 Squadron’s pilots were placed on four weeks’ rotation rest following the intense period of operational sorties, returning to RAF Hornchurch in early October 1940. Lock immediately commenced where he had left off. On 5 October he was credited with another Bf 109 with two probables over Kent; on 9 October another Bf 109 was claimed 10 miles from Dover and a probable followed seconds later. Off Dungeness he dispatched yet another Bf 109 on 11 October then on 20 October 1940 shot down a Bf 109 directly above RAF Biggin Hill. This victory brought his total to 20, making Lock a ‘Quadruple Ace’. On 25 October Lock destroyed a Bf 109 to bring his tally to 21 aerial victories. The Battle of Britain ended on 31 October 1940 and Lock, with 21 enemy aircraft destroyed, was the most successful Allied ace of the campaign.[16]

Channel Front

On 8 November 1940 his Spitfire was badly damaged during a skirmish with several Bf 109s over Beachy Head in East Sussex. The Spitfire was so badly damaged that Lock crash-landed in a ploughed field, but was able to walk away. On 17 November 1940 No. 41 Squadron attacked a formation of 70 Bf 109s that were top cover for a bomber raid on London. After shooting down one Bf 109 and setting another on fire, Lock’s Spitfire was hit by a volley of cannon shells, which severely injured Lock’s right arm and both legs. The rounds also knocked the throttle permanently open by severing the control lever. The open throttle enabled the Spitfire to accelerate swiftly to 400 mph (640 km/h), leaving the Bf 109s in his wake without Lock having to attempt to operate it with his injured right arm. At 20,000 feet (6,100 m), he began to descend. With little control and no means of slowing the fighter down, he could not execute a safe landing. Too badly injured to parachute to safety, Lock was in a perilous situation. After losing height to 2,000 feet (610 m), Lock switched the engine off and found a suitable crash site near RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, into which he glided the stricken fighter for a “wheels down” landing.[18]

Lying in the aircraft for some two hours, he was found by two patrolling British Army soldiers and carried two miles (3 km) on an improvised stretcher made of their Enfield rifles and Army issue winter coats—made after instruction from Lock. By this point, Lock had lost so much blood that he was unconscious, and so unable to feel the additional pain of being dropped three times, once into a dyke of water.[18] After being transferred to the Princess Mary’s Hospital at RAF Halton, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 17 December 1940, the citation read:[18][19]

Air Ministry, 17th December, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—

Appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.

Pilot Officer Eric Stanley Lock, D.F.C. (81642). Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 41 Squadron.

This officer has shown exceptional keenness and courage in his attacks against the enemy. In November, 1940, whilst engaged with his squadron in attacking a superior number of enemy forces, he destroyed two Messerschmitt 109’s, thus bringing his total to at least twenty-two. His magnificent fighting spirit and personal example have been in the highest traditions of the service.

Lock underwent fifteen separate operations over the following three months to remove shrapnel and other metal fragments from his wounds.[18] For the following three months he remained at Halton recuperating from his injuries, leaving on only one occasion to travel on crutches and in full uniform to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI presented him with his DSO, DFC and Bar.[20] He was also Mentioned in Despatches in March 1941.[21]

Last battles and death

Lock spent several months in hospital. He stayed at the Royal Masonic Hospital with Richard Hillary, another Battle of Britain ace. They were operated on by Archibald McIndoe, a famous surgeon. While there, Hillary wrote his memoirs The Last Enemy, before his death in a flying accident on 8 January 1943. He remembered Lock having Sulfapyridine treatment and being “vociferous”.[22][23] The nurses wore anti-infection masks and gloves, and Eric, “with an aimiable grin” would curse them for it “from dawn till dusk”.[24]

In June 1941 he received notification that he had been promoted to flying officer[25] and was requested to report back for immediate flying duty with 41 Squadron. Four weeks later he was promoted again to flight lieutenant and posted to No. 611 Squadron in command of B Flight.[20] In July 1941 he gained three victories against Bf 109s flying offensive sweeps over France—on 6 July at 15:00, on 8 July at 06:30 and 11:00 on 14 July near Le Touquet.[26]

The road sign for Eric Lock Road in Bayston Hill, Shropshire

On 3 August 1941, Lock was returning from a fighter “Rhubarb” when he spotted a column of German troops and vehicles on a road near the Pas-de-Calais. Signalling the attack to his wingman, Lock was seen to peel off from the formation and prepare for the ground strafing attack—the last time he was seen.

He was believed to have been shot down by ground–fire,[14] a line supported by a Ministry of Defence report that concluded his plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, without establishing exactly what happened and the location of his crash.[6]

In 2000 research by historian Dilip Sarkar cross-referenced Lock’s disappearance with Luftwaffe combat records for the day. Lock’s was the only British plane lost that day and the only claim from a Luftwaffe pilot of shooting down such a plane had been made by Oberleutnant Johann Schmid, who reported he had shot down a Spitfire into the sea near Calais.[6][27]

Neither his body or his Spitfire Mk V, W3257, have ever been found, despite a thorough search of the area in the years following the war by both the RAF and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.[28]

Lock was the first of three successful RAF aces who were shot down during this period: Douglas Bader was shot down in error and taken prisoner on 9 August 1941; Robert Stanford Tuck‘s Spitfire was hit by enemy ground-based flak near Boulogne-sur-Mer on 28 January 1942 and he was forced to crash land and taken prisoner.[29] In July 1942, Paddy Finucane would be lost in similar circumstances to Lock.[30]

Memorial

Lock’s name is carved in Panel 29 on the Runnymede Memorial along with the 20,400 other British and Commonwealth airmen who were posted missing in action during the war. A new road was named after him in Bayston Hill, Shropshire where his family’s former home lies, as well as the members’ bar at the Shropshire Aero Club based at a former wartime airfield, RAF Sleap.[31][32]

List of victories

Lock was credited with 26 air victories and eight probable victories. The total included 17 Bf 109s, one ‘Heinkel He 113‘ (probably a Bf 109), one Henschel Hs 126, two Bf 110s, two He 111s, two Ju 88s and a Do 17 destroyed.[2]

Victory No. Date Flying Kills Notes
1–2. 15 August 1940 Spitfire 1 x Messerschmitt Bf 110
1 x Junkers Ju 88
Operating from RAF Catterick. Bf 110 belonged to I./Zerstörergeschwader 76 (ZG 76—Destroyer Wing 76). ZG 76 suffered heavy losses; 14 Bf 110s were shot down with 22 crew members killed and four captured. Among the victims was the Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) Hauptmann Restemeyer—likely lost in action against No. 72 Squadron RAF—and pilots Oberleutnant Ketling, Bremer and Leutnant Kohler and their gunners killed.[33]
3–6. 5 September 1940 Spitfire 2 x Heinkel He 111
2 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
Becomes fighter ace. Claimed one He 111 and one Bf 109 in the space of a minute over the Isle of Sheppey at 15:00. Other claim times not recorded.[34] Opponents at 15:00 hours are unknown. In the morning battle, at approximately 10:00, No. 41 Squadron engaged Bf 109s from Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54) over the Thames Estuary. Two Bf 109s were shot down. A Bf 109E-4, Werknummer 5353 crashed and pilot Unteroffizier Behse was killed in action. Bf 109E-4 Werknummer 5291 also crashed. Hauptmann (Captain) Ultsch was killed. Both were from II./JG 54 (Second Gruppe or Group).[35]
7. 6 September 1940 Spitfire 1 x Junkers 88 Victim identified as Ju 88A-1, code F1 + DP, Werknummer 8070 belonging to I./Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30 — or Bomber Wing 30) crashed in France. Aircraft 60 percent destroyed. Crew unhurt.[36]
8–9. 9 September 1940 Spitfire 2 x Messerschmitt Bf 109 Claimed over Maidstone, south of London at 18:00.[37] Identity not known.Seven Bf 109s are known to have been shot down on 9 September that cannot be matched to any specific RAF unit or pilot. Lock’s possible opponents were from, Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3 — or Fighter Wing 3), Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27 — or Fighter Wing 27), Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 53 — or Fighter Wing 53) or Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54 — or Fighter Wing 54). German casualties in the air battles were; Oberfeldwebel Muller of 4. Staffel (Squadron) JG 3 flying Werknummer 6138 posted missing. Feldwebel Bauer, 7 Staffel JG 3 flying Werknummer 5351, posted missing. Unteroffizier Massmann, Werknummer 6316, missing in action. Stab, I./JG 27’s Oberleutnant Bode, flying Werknummer 6316 posted missing. Oberleutnant Daig, II./JG 27, missing. Feldwebel Höhnisch, Werknummer 1508 missing. Feldwebel Biber, I Staffel JG 54, Werknummer 6103, missing.[38]
10–11. 11 September 1940 Spitfire 1 x Junkers Ju 88
1 x Messerschmitt Bf 110
Awarded DFC. Claimed both victories at 17:30 over Kent.[39] Opponents unknown. Ju 88 claim unknown. Three Bf 110s known to have been shot down but not credited to a specific pilot. I./Zerstörergeschwader 2 (ZG 2 or Destroyer Wing 2) lost two machines. Werknummer 3376, code A2+MH, Gefreiter Kling and Sossner missing. Another Bf 110 crash-landed at St. Aubin. Werknummer 3623 50 percent destroyed, crew unhurt. Another II./Zerstörergeschwader 76 (ZG 76 or Destroyer Wing 76) crash-landed in the sea off Étaples. Werknummer 3285, Code M8+KC lost. Crew rescued Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue) service.[40]
12–13. 14 September 1940 Spitfire 2 x Bf 109 Claimed over DungenessRamsgate at 19:15.[41] Victims unknown.
14. 15 September 1940 Spitfire 1 x Bf 109
1 x Do 17 shared
Claimed both kills at 14:30 over Shoeburyness.[42] Identity of Bf 109 unknown. The Do 17 victory was assisted by Pilot Officer Neil but credited to Lock as one shared destroyed. One crew member was killed and one posted missing. The machine, Werknummer— (factory number) —3401 from III./Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2—Bomber Wing 2), crashed into the sea off Clacton at 15:30. German air-sea-rescue service, the Seenotdienst, rescued the remainder.[43]
15. 18 September 1940 Spitfire 1 x Bf 109 Claimed a Bf 109 probably destroyed over Kent at 10:10 and another destroyed at 13:15 over Gravesend.[44] Lock’s opponents in the afternoon air battle were 9 Staffel JG 27. The unit suffered two known losses in combat with 41 Squadron Spitfires. During the air battle Werknummer 2674 crashed at approximately 13:15. Gefreiter Glöckner was posted missing. Werknummer 6327 crashed in the same area. The pilot,Feldwebel Schulz, was killed.[45]
16–17. 20 September 1940 Spitfire 1 x ‘He 113′(sic), 1 x Hs 126 Awarded Bar to DFC. Claimed one He 113 and one Hs 126 northwest of Boulogne, France[disambiguation needed] at 11:15.[46] Lock most likely misidentified the ‘He 113’ as a Bf 109. A Bf 109E-1, Werknummer 5175, force-landed after combat near Boulogne. The machine, belonging to 7 Staffel JG 53, was slightly damaged and the pilot unhurt. The identity of the Hs 126 is unknown.[47]
18. 5 October 1940 Spitfire 1 x Bf 109 Claimed two Bf 109s at 14:30 over the English Channel and another Bf 109 probably destroyed south of Dungeness at 16:00.[48] One of the 14:30 claims can be identified as Feldwebel von Bittenfeld. After being shot down by Lock, Bittenfeld crashed near Canterbury at 14:27. Bittenfeld was posted missing in action.[49]
19. 9 October 1940 Spitfire 1 x Bf 109 Claimed two probable victories and one destroyed off Dover at 16:00.[50] Victim identified as Feldwebel Fritz Schweser. Schweser’s Werknummer 5327, White 6 of 7 Staffel JG 54, crashed near Rochester. Schweser posted missing in action.[51] Schweser crash–landed on Meridan Hunt Farm and was captured.[52]
20. 11 October 1940 Spitfire 1 x Bf 109 Victim identified as Bf 109E-1 Werknummer 6267 belonging to 5 Staffel JG 27 crashed near Deal. The pilot was wounded and taken prisoner.[53]
21. 20 October 1940 Spitfire 1 x Bf 109 Victim identified as Feldwebel Ludwig Bielmaier of 5 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52 — or Fighter Wing 52). His Bf 109E-7 Werknummer 5930 Black 4 crashed near RAF Biggin Hill at 13:50. Bielmaier posted missing.[54]
22–23. 17 November 1940 Spitfire 2 x Bf 109 Awarded DSO. Lock wounded in action in P7544.[55] Lock’s opponents were from 5 Staffel JG 54. No. 41 Squadron claimed five Bf 109s, but only two losses are recorded.[56]
24. 6 July 1941 Spitfire MkV 1 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
25. 8 July 1941 Spitfire MkV 1 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
26. 14 July 1941 Spitfire MkV 1 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
TOTALS 26 kills 8 probable

————————————————————————————————————————————

McGrath, J (Pilot Officer) – 15 kills

————————————————————————————————————————————

McKellar, A (Flight Lieutenant) – 17 kills, 1 shared

Squadron Leader Archibald Ashmore McKellar[1] DSO DFC & Bar (10 April 1912 – 1 November 1940) was a flying ace of the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War.

McKellar grew up and joined the family business in his native Scotland, but in 1936, aged 24, he joined the RAF and began pilot training. He completed his training in 1938 and was assigned to No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron RAF, an Auxiliary Unit. In 1939 he converted to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter. He experienced his first combat with No. 602 Squadron, credited with two victories soon after the outbreak of war in 1939 against German bombers attacking Royal Navy ships and installations over northern Britain during the “Phoney War” period. McKellar’s first victory earned him the distinction of being the first pilot to shoot down a German aircraft over the British Isles during the war.

A year later, he gained fame in 1940 during the Battle of Britain as a part of, and later Squadron Leader of, No. 605 Squadron RAF, equipped with the Hawker Hurricane fighter. The Auxiliary Unit was moved to southern England and participated in the large air battles. McKellar’s combat career proved to be very brief, lasting just over a year. He claimed all but two of his victories within the last two and a half months of his life; 15 August–1 November 1940. On 7 October 1940 he shot down five Messerschmitt Bf 109s, thus becoming an ace in a day; one of only 24 Allied aces to achieve the feat. At the time of his last mission he had claimed 21 aerial victories and another two shared destroyed against enemy aircraft. Included in this total of 21 air victories are 11 Bf 109s.[2][3] McKellar, along with Brian Carbury, were the only British pilots to achieve the feat of “Ace in a Day” during the Battle of Britain.[4][5][6][7]

On 1 November 1940—one day after the official end of the Battle of Britain—he was killed in action. He took off and engaged a formation of German fighters, one of which he possibly shot down for his 22nd—albeit uncredited—and final victory. McKellar was then shot down himself.[3]

Early life

Archibald Ashmore (“Archie”) McKellar was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland on the 10 April 1912, the son of John and Margaret McKellar, of Bearsden, Dunbartonshire and was then educated at Shawlands Academy in the Southside of Glasgow. Upon leaving school he joined a local stockbroker‘s firm. This did not suit McKellar, who preferred an open–air life style. Keen to leave, but unsure of what direction to take in life, he joined his father’s general contractor and construction business as a plasterer.[8] He spent five years as an apprentice plasterer. During this time he was given no special privileges despite being the boss’ son.[1]

McKellar was also a keen fitness enthusiast and, despite his short stature, built up a great physical strength. Though he enjoyed wine and smoked the occasional pipe or cigar he kept in peak physical shape until his death. Even at the height of the Battle of Britain he was always clean shaven and immaculately dressed.[1] McKellar’s spare time was used reading about sport and First World War fighter pilots. His interest in the flying personalities of the past spurred him to take up flying. He joined at his own expense the Scottish Flying Club,[8] which had been founded in 1927; it leased and managed Renfrew Airport from 1933 until it was requisitioned during the Second World War.[9] McKellar quickly acquired a pilot’s licence. By the time he began his military career, McKellar was a very experienced pilot, and he soon began earning relatively quick promotions.[8]

Joining the AAF and RAF

His flying skills earned him the attention of Lord Hamilton, Commanding Officer of No. 602 Squadron AAF. Hamilton invited McKellar to join the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) and was soon commissioned into the RAF as a Pilot Officer on 8 November 1936, joining No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron RAF. McKellar’s comrades affectionately nicknamed him “Shrimp” owing to his short, 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m), stature.[10] McKellar stayed with the Squadron and on 8 May 1938 was promoted to Flying Officer.

Based at RAF Abbotsinch near Paisley, the squadron operated the Hawker Hind light bomber. The members of squadron—both pilots and ground staff—were reservists and completed their service on a part-time basis, in the evenings, weekends and an annual two–week summer camp. With the approach of war, the squadron converted to a fighter role and re-equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. It mobilised on the outbreak of war at RAF Grangemouth on 6 October 1939 and then to RAF Drem a month later, charged with defending Edinburgh and the shipping area around the Firth of Forth.[11][12]

Upon completing training McKellar was deemed to have exceptional eyesight which earned him a reputation as a good marksman in air-to-air combat. Yet, paradoxically, when shooting with his rifle he was a well below average shot – a trait he shared with some other successful pilots. MacKellar was a keen sportsman. He believed physical fitness was a critical attribute in aerial combat; fitness, he believed, would ensure that the mind and body were always at their peak of alertness, and enable a pilot to react swiftly within a fluid battle situation.[13]

McKellar was also considered a capable leader in combat. Aggressive and instinctive, his fighting spirit was an inspiration to his squadron but according to one biographer, he was highly strung, vociferous and blunt with members of his unit. Nevertheless, his directness and socially confident nature singled him out for command. His dedication to his job as a fighter pilot and leader led him to refuse any leave from his Squadron while the Battle of Britain lasted. Invariably McKellar led from the front of his unit.[14] He spent a large proportion of his time with his squadron practising combat tactics. While intensely loyal to anyone he considered a friend, McKellar’s attitude to others outside the squadron was either of utmost friendliness or utter dislike. He is said to have tended to see everything and everyone in black and white.[15]

Second World War

602 Squadron

On 16 October 1939, the Luftwaffe made its first attack on target in Great Britain. I./Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30—Bomber Wing 30) targeted Royal Navy ships in the Firth of Forth. The target was HMS Hood. However, she was in dry dock and the cruiser HMS Southampton and destroyer HMS Mohawk were attacked.[16] Though none of the bombs that struck exploded Mohawk’s commander was killed. Spitfires from No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron joined 602 Squadron, The Queen’s “City of Glasgow” Squadron, in intercepting the raid. During one attack, the cockpit canopy of Hauptmann Helmut Pohl‘s Junkers Ju 88 released itself. Pohl was an experienced test pilot and Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) of KG 30. He had helped develop the Ju 88 and had taken part in the Polish Campaign. Pohl tried to fly northwards to take an observation position, but the aircraft was hit by the fire of Spitfires piloted by George Pinkerton and McKellar. The Ju 88 crashed into the sea, Pohl being the only survivor of his crew. The victory was credited to McKellar. Thus, McKellar is officially credited with the downing the first enemy aircraft to fall in British waters during the war.[11][17][18][19][20]

Following the 16 October success, Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Marshal Hugh Dowding sent word to 602 Squadron; “Well done, first blood to the auxiliaries.”[21][22] This area around Firth of Forth became nicknamed “suicide alley” by Luftwaffe pilots.[23]

On 28 October 1939 McKellar intercepted a Heinkel He 111H-2 of Stab./Kampfgeschwader 26 (KG 26—Bomber Wing 26), code 1H+JA piloted by Unteroffizier Lehmkuhl. Acting on the advice of his navigator Leutnant Niehoff, dropped down towards cloud layers. The cover, however, quickly dispersed. Their gunners were killed, Lehmkul was hit in the back by machine gun fire and was wounded while Niehoff suffered a fractured spine during the crash–landing.[24] Debate continues to this day as to which squadron or pilot was the victor. Post–war sources credit the victory to McKellar.[25] It was also the War’s first German aircraft shot down onto British soil.[26]

605 Squadron

In early 1940, No. 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron moved to RAF Drem, as they converted to Hurricanes. McKellar was transferred to No. 605 and promoted to Flight Lieutenant, assuming the responsibilities of a flight leader on 21 June 1940.[11][27] McKellar imposed strict discipline, both in standard of dress on the ground and in tactical discipline in the air. Despite his strict methods McKellar was held in high regard. His popularity arose from his desire to help mould his unit into a well-disciplined fighting team.[11]

On 15 August 1940 No. 605 intercepted a German raid against Tyneside mounted by He 111s based in Norway with Luftflotte 5 (Air Fleet 5). McKellar was credited with three He 111s destroyed during the encounter. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and was gazetted on 13 September 1940 and made reference to the “outstanding leadership and courage” displayed by Mckellar.[28][29]

Hawker Hurricane I R4118 of No 605 Squadron, flown by Bob Foster, McKellar’s Squadron comrade who also flew on McKellar’s last mission.[30]

On 7 September 1940, No. 605 moved on rotation to Croydon Aerodrome under the command of Squadron Leader Walter Churchill. McKellar scored a further four victories in a single mission on 9 September.[31] McKellar attacked with the sun at his back with his Squadron, save for one Section which was left to provide top cover against Bf 109s. The attack was made head-on to break up the German bomber formation which consisted of a large mass of He 111s.[32] He destroyed three He 111s with a single, 12–second burst. The first He 111 exploded. It damaged a second which rolled over and dived down into the ground. McKellar then moved his fire to a third. Its port wing snapped off.[31] He then destroyed a Bf 109 in the afternoon giving him a fourth success.[1]

McKellar took over from Squadron Leader Churchill on the 11 September. He achieved a further three victories 15 September. The raids were made in large formation leading the fighting that day to be christened the Battle of Britain Day. McKellar led 605 into combat twice on that date claiming two Bf 109s and a Do 17. That night, at an hour past midnight, 16 September, he claimed another He 111 shot down. A Medal bar to the DFC followed which cited his “excellent fighting spirit … particularly brilliant tactician, and his led his Squadron with skill and resource”.[33]

On 3 October McKellar became one of the select few pilots of Fighter Command to sit for one of Cuthbert Orde‘s charcoal portraits. On 7 October his score rose by five victories, all Bf 109s—becoming an Ace in a day. McKellar explained three of the five victories in the combat that day in his combat report;

I attacked the Number One and saw a bomb being dropped from this machine. I fired and pieces fell off his wing and dense white smoke and vapour came from him and he went into a violent outside spin. In my mirror I could see another ‘109 coming to attack me and therefore turned sharply right and found myself behind another ‘109. I opened fire and saw my De Wilde (explosive ammunition) hitting his machine. It burst into flames and went down inverted east of Biggin Hill. As I again had a ‘109 on my tail I spiralled down to 15,000 feet and by this time there appeared to be ‘109s straggling all over the sky. I followed one, pulled my boost control and made up on him. I gave him a burst from dead astern and at once his radiator appeared to be hit as dense white vapour came back at me and my windscreen fogged up. This speedily cleared and I gave him another burst and this machine burst into flames and fell into a wood with a quarry near it, west of Maidstone.[34]

Thirteen days later, on 20 October 1940, McKellar brought down another Bf 109. Its pilot, Feldwebel Adolf Iburg from 9 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54), was slightly wounded in action. Iburg managed to force–land near New Romney and was captured. The victory was credited to him in a post-war account, but there is no official accreditation of the Iburg victory to McKellar by the RAF, though he was credited with another Bf 109 victory on that date.[35][36]

Death

By 1 November 1940 McKellar had claimed 21 victories. Taking a section of No. 605 that included Flight Lieutenant Bob Foster, up to meet a flight of Bf 109 Jabos (Bf 109s equipped with bombs). The section climbed to high altitude to meet the enemy aircraft. In the ensuing battle it is believed McKellar was shot down by II./Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27—Fighter Wing 27) Hauptmann (Captain) Wolfgang Lippert.[2][37] McKellar’s Hurricane MkI (V6879) crashed at the side of Woodlands Manor near Adisham, Kent at 18:20hrs.[38]

On 8 November 1940 his actions brought a final award—the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[39] His DSO was gazetted posthumously on 26 November 1940 and again cited both ‘outstanding courage and determination’ in leading his squadron.[40] Further recognition came in a Mention in Despatches gazetted on 31 December 1940.[41]

On 16 January 1941 Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, visited Glasgow to deliver the eulogy;

Not long ago I visited a fighter squadron which was taking part during the dark days in the battle of this island. That squadron lost its leader in an air fight—and they felt the loss. He had been wounded in combat and had been withdrawn from service. I found in his place, taking to the air with daring resolve, proving himself a leader amongst leaders, a young Scot. His name was Archie McKellar. He had come from the City of Glasgow Squadron to lift up this squadron in its dark hour and to carry it on to fresh victories and achievement by his spirit. It was quite apparent to me that he had the whole squadron with him. He was regarded with the greatest admiration and affection by his officers. I will never forget the impression he made upon me when I saw him.[14]

As McKellar died outside the Air Ministry “nominal” dates for the Battle of Britain (10 July—31 October 1940), he is not listed on the Battle of Britain roll of honour at The RAF Chapel, Westminster Abbey. McKellar is buried at New Eastwood Cemetery, Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, by Glasgow.[42][43]

photograph of headstone

List of victories

Historian Alfred Price credited McKellar with 17 air victories, three shared destroyed, five probably destroyed and three damaged.[44] Historians Christopher Shores and Clive Williams credit him with 21 air victories, three probably destroyed and three damaged as does E.C.R Baker.[45] In his last combat they credit him with a possible 22nd victory, since a Bf 109 crashed in the area of his last combat and no RAF pilot made a claim. John Foreman credits him with at least 17 victories and acknowledges the unclaimed Bf 109 that crashed on 1 November 1940 near to McKellar might have been his last victory.[46] Chaz Bowyer, another prolific historian and writer on RAF personnel credits McKellar with at least 20 victories.[14]

During the period he flew Hurricane P3308, McKellar scored 13 victories and shared one more destroyed, four probable and one damaged, between 15 August and 7 October 1940. Thus earned the distinction of being the Hurricane with the highest number of kills during the Battle of Britain. It was later handed over to a Czech unit, No. 312 Squadron RAF on 4 January 1941 and written off in an accident on 30 April 1941.[47]

Victory No. Date Kills Notes
1. 16 October 1939 1 x Junkers Ju 88 First enemy aircraft shot down in British waters. Gruppenkommandeur I./KG 30 Hauptmann Helmut Pohl’s Junkers Ju 88 destroyed. Pohl survived and was captured by the Royal Navy; the rest of his crew were killed in action.[11][17][18][19][20]
2. 28 October 1939 1 x Heinkel He 111 First enemy aircraft to fall on British soil since 1918;[11] Stab./KG 26 code 1H+JA destroyed. Pilot Unteroffizier Lehmkuhl and Leutnant Niehoff were wounded and two other crew members killed. The fate of the fifth is unknown.[48]
3–5. 15 August 1940 3 x He 111s Unknown. Claimed at 13:15.[49] Opponents from KG 26. Of the eight He 111s lost by KG 26, two have not been attributed to any particular squadron, two are credited to ground fire and four to No. 79 Squadron RAF and No. 235 Squadron RAF. The two outstanding victims were from 8 and 9 Staffel. In the first aircraft, He 111H-4, Leutnant Burk and his crew were missing and presumed dead. The second, He 111H-4, was lost with its unnamed crew. The two He 111s believed to have been shot down by ground fire were both from 8 Staffel. Oberleutnant von Lübke and Oberleutnant Besser were lost with all of their unnamed crew members.[50]
6–9. 9 September 1940 3 x He 111s
1 x Bf 109
Claimed over the Brooklands area at 17:45.[51]The identity of the He 111s are unknown. Seven Bf 109s are known to have been shot down on 9 September that cannot be matched to any specific RAF unit or pilot. McKellar engaged enemy aircraft over Canterbury and Croydon region at around 17:45. After patrolling at 15,000 feet, 605 engaged. The account of the air battle is confusing.[52]

McKellar’s possible opponents were from Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3, Fighter Wing 3), Jagdgeschwader 27, Jagdgeschwader 54 or Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54). German casualties in the air battles were: Oberfeldwebel Müller of 4. Staffel (Squadron) JG 3 flying Werknummer 6138 posted missing. Feldwebel Bauer, 7 Staffel JG 3 flying Werknummer 5351 posted missing. Unteroffizier Massmann, Werknummer 6316, missing in action. Stab, I./JG 27’s Oberleutnant Bode, flying Werknummer 6316 posted missing. Oberleutnant Daig, II./JG 27, missing. Feldwebel Höhnisch, Werknummer 1508 missing. Feldwebel Biber, I Staffel JG 54, Werknummer 6103, missing.[53]

10–12. 15 September 1940 2 x Bf 109s
1 x Do 17
Claimed two Bf 109s over Edenbridge, Kent at 12:00. Later, at 14:30, claimed a Do 17 over Rochester, Kent.[54]

605 Squadron engaged Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—Fighter Wing 51). Pilot Officer Currant dispatched Werknummer 3266, from 7 Staffel and flown by Leutnant Bildau was posted missing. Another Bf 109 from 9 Staffel, Werknummer 2803 was also shot down. Feldwebel Klotz was wounded and taken prisoner.[55] Also involved in the action were Bf 109s from Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3—Fighter Wing 3), Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53—Fighter Wing 53) and Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—Fighter Wing 77). Lehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—Learning Wing 2) provided top cover.[56]

JG 26 suffered no losses. JG 3 lost three Bf 109s in aerial combat. I./JG 3 lost Werknummer 1563, pilot unhurt. 1 Staffel lost Werknummer 0945 and Feldwebel Volmer missing. 2 Staffel lost Werknummer 1606, pilot Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader) Oberleutnant Helmuth Reumschüssel missing.[55]

JG 53 lost eight Bf 109s, with seven completely destroyed. Seven were not directly credited to RAF units. In air combat, I./JG 53 lostUnteroffizier Schersand, killed in Weknummer 6160. 1 Staffel Bf 109, Werknummer 5111 crash-landed in France, 15% destroyed and the pilot unhurt. 3 Staffel lost Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän Julius Jase, killed in Werkummer 1590. The same unit lost Unteroffizier Feldmann. Two more Bf 109s — Werknummer 1174 and 5251 from III./JG 53 – were destroyed, but their pilots were unhurt. One was rescued from the Channel.[55]

JG 77 lost a 1 Staffel Bf 109, pilot unhurt, Werknummer 4847 force-landed after combat over Dungeness. Another, Werknummer 4802 from 3 Stafel, was lost with its pilot Unteroffizier Meixner.[55]

At 14:00, McKellar led 605 on an attack against II./Kampfgeschwader 3 (KG 3—Bomber Wing 3), II and III./Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2—Bomber Wing 2), I and II./Kampfgeschwader 53 (KG 53—Bomber Wing 53) and I and II./Kampfgeschwader 26.[57]

He claimed one of the Do 17s before being recalled by No. 11 Group RAF commanding officer Keith Park to create a reserve for further operations.[58] McKellar would be credited with one Do 17 destroyed whose identity is uncertain. Among the Do 17 losses, that have not been credited to a specific squadron, were: Do 17 Werknummer 3405 (code U5+FT) and 3230 (code U5+JT) from 9 Staffel KG 2. In the first crew, Oberleutnant Staib, Unteroffizier Hoppe were killed, Gefreiter Zierer and Hoffman posted missing. In the second crew, Unteroffizier Krummheuer, Feldwebel Glaser, Unteroffizier Lenz were killed and Unteroffizier Sehrt missing.[59]

Two more Do 17s were lost around the same time. 8 Staffel KG 2’s Werknummer 4245 U5+GS, piloted by Oberleutnant Hugo Holleck-Weitmann, was lost. Holleck-Weitmann was killed, Unteroffizier Schweighart wounded, and Unteroffizier Lindemeier was missing. The remaining crewmen’s fates are unknown. The second, Werknummer 3440, U5+PS, was lost. Oberleutnant Werner Kittmann, Unteroffizier’s Stampfer and Langer posted missing. The remaining crewmen’s fates are unknown.[59]

13. 16 September 1940 1 x He111 Awarded DFC*[28]DSO[40] Victory claimed at night, 01:00. Location of victory not recorded.[60]
14–18. 7 October 1940 5 x Bf 109s Claimed four in one battle at 13:30—one near the village of Brasted, Westerham; one east of Biggin Hill; Maidstone; and the final opponent near Ashford, Kent. The last and fifth claim of the day was made at 16:30 over Mayfield and Five Ashes.[61]The Germans lost 12 Bf 109s on this date. Most can be credited to other RAF Squadrons. Two of McKellar’s victories can be identified. Werknummer (factory number) 3665, of 5 Staffel (Squadron) Jagdgeschwader 27 was shot down between Maidstone and Westerham. Unteroffizier Lederer posted missing, presumed killed. The second was Werknummer 3881—Unteroffizier Paul Lege killed in action. Another loss was Werknummer 5391, of 4 Staffel Lehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—Learning Wing 2). Pilot Unteroffizier Ley missing, presumed killed in action by 605 Hurricanes. Also lost that day was a 2 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—Fighter Wing 51) Bf 109, Werknummer 5805, which crash–landed near Calais after combat and was 65% destroyed. A second Bf 109 from the same unit, Werknummer 4103, was also destroyed. The pilot Oberleutnant Viktor Mölders—brother of the famous ace Werner Mölders—was posted as missing in action by the Luftwaffe. No times are given for these losses.[62][63]
19. 20 October 1940 1 x Bf 109 His first victory that day can be identified as belonging to 3 Staffel Lehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—Learning Wing). Unteroffizier Franz Mairl was killed in action in Bf 109 Werknummer 2059 Yellow 8 over Ashford, Kent at 10:00.[64] A second enemy also fell that afternoon. Feldwebel Adolf Iburg from 9 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54) crash–landed and was captured. The victory McKellar claimed was credited as damaged only.
20. 26 October 1940 1 x Bf 109
21. 27 October 1940 1 x Bf 109 Claimed a Bf 109 at 09:30 over Croydon, Dungeness.[65] The Germans lost 13 Bf 109s to all causes on this date. Seven machines were lost that day to unidentified squadrons over Kent: I./Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3—Fighter Wing 3) lost Bf 109E-7 Werknummer 4124. The pilot, Leutnant Wilhelm Busch, was posted missing in action. 8 Staffel JG 27’s Bf 109 Werknummer 1329 damaged, force-landed in France after combat 20% destroyed. The same unit’s squadron leader Oberleutnant Anton Pointer went missing. 9 Staffel Werknummer 4818 force-landed near Calais 40% destroyed. Pilot Albert Busenkeil was wounded. 2 Staffel Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—Fighter Wing 52) Werknummer 1268 Black 5 was lost over Kent. Karl Bott was posted missing in action. 3 Staffel JG 52 lost Werknummer 2798 Yellow 2. Oberleutnant Ulrich Steinhilper was captured (and later made numerous escape attempts from Canada). In the same unit, Yellow 4, Werknummer 3525, was shot down. Lothar Schieverhöfer missing in action.[66]
22. (Uncredited) 1 November 1940 1 x Bf 109 Logged as a claim over Faversham at 08:15.[46] An Bf 109 did crash near McKellar, and no other RAF pilot claimed it as destroyed. It could have been brought down by McKellar, but remains uncredited.[36]
TOTALS 21 kills

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Urbanowicz, W (Flying Officer) – 15 kills

Witold Urbanowicz.jpg

Witold Urbanowicz (30 March 1908 – 17 August 1996) was a Polish fighter ace of the Second World War. According to the official record, Witold Urbanowicz was the second highest-scoring Polish fighter ace, with 17 confirmed wartime kills and 1 probable, not counting his pre-war victory. He was awarded with several decorations, among others the Virtuti Militari and British Distinguished Flying Cross. He also published several books of memoirs.

Biography

Urbanowicz was born in Olszanka, Augustów County. In 1930 he entered the Szkola Podchorazych Lotnictwa cadet flying school in Dęblin, graduating in 1932 as a 2/Lt. Observer. He was then posted to the night bomber squadron of the 1st Air Regiment in Warsaw. Later he completed an advanced pilotage course to become a fighter pilot. In the 1930s he flew with the 113th and No. 111th “Kosciuszko” Squadron.

In August 1936, flying an PZL P.11a, he shot down a Soviet reconnaissance plane which had crossed into Polish airspace. He was officially reprimanded and unofficially congratulated by his superior officer and as “punishment” in October 1936 was transferred to an air force training school in Deblin where he was nicknamed “Cobra“.

Second World War

During the Invasion of Poland in 1939, Urbanowicz was in an improvised Ulez Group, composed of flying instructors, flying obsolete PZL P.7a fighters and covering the Dęblin and Ułęż airfields. Despite a few encounters with enemy airplanes the Polish fighters (which could barely match the speed of German bombers) were not able to shoot down any enemy planes. On 8 September the school was evacuated from Ulez and Dęblin.[1]

He was ordered with the cadets to Romania, where they were told to await re-equipment: British and French aircraft were rumoured to have been sent, but no aircraft arrived. Urbanowicz returned to Poland to continue to fight, but after the Soviet invasion on Poland, he was captured by a Soviet irregular unit. The same day he managed to escape with two cadets and crossed the Romanian border and eventually found his way to France where, after the fall of Poland, a new Polish army was being formed.

While in France he and a group of other Polish pilots were invited to join the Royal Air Force in Great Britain. After initial training with 1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum, he was sent to 6 OTU for re-training on fighters in July 1940. In August he was assigned to No. 145 Squadron RAF, and became operational on 4 August 1940. On 8 August he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 Major Joachim Schlichting of V./LG 1 while flying with No. 601 Squadron (although he was never officially attached to the unit) and on 12 August a Junkers Ju 88 of KG 51.[1]

On 21 August he was transferred to the Polish-manned No. 303 Squadron, flying a Hawker Hurricane as “A” Flight commander. On 6 September he shot down a Bf 109 of JG 52. On 7 September he became Squadron Leader, after Zdzisław Krasnodębski was badly burned. On 15 September Urbanowicz claimed two Dornier Do. 17’s of KG 2.[1]

On 18 September 1940 Urbanowicz was awarded the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari by the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Forces, General Sikorski. On 24 October, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[2]

On 27 September he was officially credited with shooting down four aircraft: two Ju 88s of KG 77, a Bf 109 and a Bf 110 of 15.LG 1. On 30 September he claimed three Bf 109s (one from stab.JG 26, one of II./JG 53 and one of 4.JG 54) and one Dornier Do 17 of KG 3. Despite his success Urbanowicz was never popular at Polish headquarters and on 21 October he was forced to hand over command of the Squadron to Zdzisław Henneberg.

During the Battle of Britain, he claimed 15 confirmed kills and 1 probable, which made him one of the top Polish aces (second only to Stanisław Skalski) and in the top ten Allied aces of the battle.

Between 15 April 1941 and 1 June 1941 he commanded the 1st Polish Fighter Wing based at RAF Northolt, before being posted to staff work at No. 11 Group RAF HQ. In June 1941 he was assigned as the 2nd Air Attaché in the Polish Embassy in the United States.[1]

In September 1943 Urbanowicz joined the USAAF 14th Air Force on attachment in China. On 23 October he joined the 75th Fighter Squadron of the 23rd Fighter Group (Flying Tigers). Flying a P-40 Warhawk he took part in several combat missions. On 11 December he fought against six Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros and claimed two shot down (these were actually Nakajima Ki-44 “Tojo” fighters of the 85th Sentai ).[3]

According to his reports he also shot other airplanes over China, and destroyed some on the ground but those victories were not officially confirmed. According to Kenneth K. Koskodian, he downed 11 Japanese aircraft while being Claire Lee Chennault‘s guest.[4] He was later awarded the US Air Medal and a Chinese Flying Cross.

In December 1943 he returned to the United Kingdom and later became an Air Attaché in the USA again.[1]

During the war none of Witold Urbanowicz’s planes were hit by a single enemy bullet.

After the war

Hurricane gate guardian at RAF Uxbridge in the colours of Witold Urbanowicz’s 303 Squadron aircraft

In 1946 he returned to Poland, but was arrested by the communist Służba Bezpieczeństwa secret police as a suspected spy. After his release he fled to the USA. He lived in New York City working for American Airlines, Eastern Airlines and Republic Aviation, retiring in 1973. In 1991 he visited Poland after the fall of communism and again in 1995 when he was promoted to the rank of General. He died in New York on 17 August 1996.[5]

A fibreglass Hawker Hurricane gate guardian was unveiled at RAF Uxbridge in September 2010 in the colours of Urbanowicz’s aircraft from the Battle of Britain.[6]

Awards

Virtuti Militari Ribbon.png Virtuti Militari, Silver Cross (18 September 1940)
POL Krzyż Walecznych (1940) 4r BAR.PNG Cross of Valour, four times
DistinguishedFlyingCrossUKRibbon.jpg Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom)
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal (United States)
Flying Cross[clarification needed] (China)

References

Citations
  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e King 2010, p.339
  2. Jump up ^ King 2010, p.338
  3. Jump up ^ Aircraft of the Aces 100, Ki-44 “Tojo” Aces by Nicholas Millman, Osprey Publishing, p.26
  4. Jump up ^ Koskodian 2009, p. 98.
  5. Jump up ^ King 2010, p.340
  6. Jump up ^ “RAF commemorates Battle of Britan [sic] with services at RAF Uxbridge and Polish War Memorial”. This is Local London. 3 September 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
Bibliography
  • King, Richard. (2010) 303 (Polish) Squadron Battle of Britain Diary. Surrey: Red Kite ISBN 978-1-906592-03-5
  • Koskodian, Kenneth. K. (2009) No Greater Ally. New York City: Osprey Publishing
  • Fiedler, Arkady. Translation by Jarek Garlinski. (2010) 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron. Los Angeles: Aquila Polonica Publishing ISBN 978-1-60772-004-1

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Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few

Dowding with some of “The Few”

The Few were the Allied airmen of the Royal Air Force (RAF) who fought the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. The term comes from Winston Churchill‘s phrase “Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few.” It also alludes to Shakespeare‘s famous speech in his play, Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”[

Aircrew

Nearly 3,000 men were awarded the “Battle of Britain” clasp. As of 2009[update], there were fewer than 90 alive.

By one tally, British RAF aircrew numbered 2,353 (80%) of the total of 2,927 flyers involved, with 407 Britons killed from a total of 510 losses. The remainder were not British, many coming from parts of the British Empire (particularly New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and South Africa), as well as exiles from many conquered European nations, particularly from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Other countries supplying smaller numbers included Belgium, France, Ireland, and the US.[2][3][4][5]

Statistics

The Battle of Britain was considered officially by the RAF[6] to have been fought between 10 July and 31 October 1940.

  • RAF pilots claimed to have shot down about 2,600 German aircraft, but figures compiled later suggest that Luftwaffe losses were more likely nearer 2,300.
  • Of 2,332 Allied pilots who flew fighters in the Battle, 38.90 percent could claim some success in terms of enemy aircraft shot down.
  • The number of pilots claiming more than one victory amounted to no more than 15 per cent of the total RAF pilots involved.
  • To be proclaimed an “ace” a pilot had to have five confirmed victories. During the Battle of Britain just 188 RAF pilots achieved that distinction – eight per cent of the total involved. A further 237 of those RAF pilots claiming successes during the Battle became “aces” later in the war.
  • There were four pilots who were “ace in a day” in the Battle of Britain: Archie McKellar, a British pilot, Antoni Glowacki, a Polish pilot, Ronald Fairfax Hamlyn and Brian Carbury, a New Zealand pilot.

Leading aces

The leading aces of the Battle of Britain (between 10 July and 31 October 1940) were: [7]

Rank Pilot Nationality Squadron Aircraft Kills Notes
1 Plt Off Eric Lock United Kingdom United Kingdom 41 Spitfire 21 Total 26 kills. KIA 3 August 1941.
2 Sq/Ldr Archie McKellar United Kingdom United Kingdom 605 Hurricane 19 Total 21 (possibly 22) three probable and three damaged. 5 Bf-109’s on 7 Oct, 1940. KIA 1 November 1940.
3 Sgt James Lacey United Kingdom United Kingdom 501 Hurricane 18
(23 by end of November)
Total 28 kills.
4 Sgt Josef František Czech Republic Czechoslovakia 303 Hurricane 17 Killed 8 October 1940.
5 Fg Off Brian Carbury New Zealand New Zealand 603 Spitfire 15 + ⅓
6 Fg Off Witold Urbanowicz Poland Poland 145 and 303 Hurricane 15 Total 18 (possibly 20) kills.
7 Plt Off Colin Gray New Zealand New Zealand 54 Spitfire 14 + ½ Total 27.7 kills.
8 Plt Off Bob Doe United Kingdom United Kingdom 234 and 238 Spitfire / Hurricane 14 (+ 2 shared)
9 Flt Lt Paterson Hughes Australia Australia 234 Spitfire 14 + ⅚ KIA 7 Sep 1940.
10 Sqn Ldr Michael Crossley United Kingdom United Kingdom 32 Hurricane 14 Wartime total 22 victories.

Memorial

The memorial to The Few at Capel-le-Ferne, on top of the white cliffs of Dover

…which faces towards the English Channel

The pilots are remembered on the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne, Kent, and their names are listed on the Battle of Britain Monument in London. The Battle of Britain Roll of Honour is held in Westminster Abbey in the RAF Chapel, and is paraded annually during the Service of Thanksgiving and Re-dedication on Battle of Britain Sunday.[8]

There is a preserved Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft known as “The Last of The Many”—which may be a play on words with “The Few”—that flies as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, along with a Supermarine Spitfire that flew in the Battle (one of five Spitfires in the Memorial Flight). As the Hurricane was the last production model of that type, it did not itself fly in the Battle.

Popular culture

Pink Floyd loosely refers to “the Few” on the track, “One of the Few”, on their anti-war concept album The Final Cut. The heavy metal band Iron Maiden released a single named “Aces High“, telling the story of a pilot flying in the Battle of Britain. In 2010 the Swedish power metal band Sabaton recorded a song called “Aces in Exile” about the foreign contingent of the Few, on their album Coat of Arms.

The Few, a novel by Alex Kershaw, tells the stories of the men who flew in the Battle of Britain. As of 2003[update], a Hollywood film similarly named The Few was in preparation for release in 2008, based on the story of real-life US pilot Billy Fiske, who ignored his country’s neutrality rules and volunteered for the RAF. A Variety magazine outline of the film’s historical content[9] was said in The Independent to have been described by Bill Bond, who conceived the Battle of Britain Monument in London, as “Totally wrong. The whole bloody lot.”

Battle of Britain 1940 – WWII BATTLEFIELD. The Hardest Day

Battle of Britain 1940

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The Battle Of Britain

1 – 5 Short Films

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The Battle of Britain (German: Luftschlacht um England, literally “Air battle for England”) is the name given to the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces,[18] and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date.

The objective of the Nazi German forces was to achieve air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially its Fighter Command. Beginning in July 1940, coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later, the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in World War II aircraft production and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing strategy.[nb 10]

By preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the British forced Adolf Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel Operation Sea Lion, a planned amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain. However, Germany continued bombing operations on Britain, known as The Blitz. The failure of Nazi Germany to achieve its objective of destroying Britain’s air defences in order to force Britain to negotiate an armistice (or even surrender outright) is considered by historians to be its first major defeat in World War II and a crucial turning point in the conflict.[20]

The Battle of Britain has an unusual distinction in that it gained its name prior to being fought. The name is derived from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on June 18, more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle

… What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour”.[21]

— Winston Churchill

Background

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

The early stages of World War II saw successful German invasions on the continent aided decisively by the air power of the Luftwaffe, which was able to establish tactical air superiority with great efficiency. The distressing speed with which German forces defeated most of the defending armies in Norway during the spring of 1940 created a significant political crisis in Britain. In early May 1940, the Norway Debate questioned the fitness for office of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. On 10 May, the same day Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister, the Germans initiated the Battle of France with an aggressive invasion of French territory. RAF Fighter Command was desperately short of trained pilots and aircraft, but despite the objections of its commander Hugh Dowding that the diversion of his forces would leave home defences under-strength, Churchill sent fighter squadrons to support operations in France,[22] where the RAF suffered heavy losses.[23]

After the evacuation of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French surrender on 22 June 1940, Hitler mainly focused his energies on the possibility of invading the Soviet Union[24] in the belief that the British, defeated on the continent and without European allies, would quickly come to terms.[25] The Germans were so convinced of an imminent armistice that they began constructing street decorations for the homecoming parades of victorious troops.[26] Although the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, and certain elements of the British public favoured a negotiated peace with an ascendant Germany, Churchill and a majority of his Cabinet refused to consider an armistice.[27] Instead, Churchill used his skilful rhetoric to harden public opinion against capitulation and to prepare the British for a long war. In his “This was their finest hour” speech of 18 June 1940, he declared that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”[28]

After a series of military victories, Germany took control of huge territories in central, northern, and western Europe that mainly corresponded to the boundaries of the defeated countries of Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In addition to these conquests, the boundaries of Germany itself had already been swelled considerably by the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. Germany’s position thus seemed invincible to many Europeans. Hitler hoped for a negotiated peace with Britain, thus made no preparations for amphibious assault on a hostile shore. In any case, at the time, the only forces with experience in this type of warfare and modern equipment to support it were the Japanese, who became adept with it at the Battle of Wuhan in 1938.[29] On 11 July 1940, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy), told Hitler that an invasion of Britain could only be contemplated as a last resort, and only after full air superiority had been achieved. The Kriegsmarine had been nearly crippled by the Norwegian Campaign, with many of its ships sunk or damaged, while the Royal Navy still had over 50 destroyers, 21 cruisers and eight battleships in the British Home Fleet.[30][31][nb 11] There was little that the weakened Kriegsmarine could do to stop the Royal Navy from intervening. The only alternative was to use the Luftwaffe’s dive bombers and torpedo bombers, which required air superiority to operate effectively. Grand Admiral Raeder said, “A powerful and effective air force might create conditions favourable for an invasion, whether it could was not in the Navy War Staff’s province.”[33]

Although he agreed with Raeder, Hitler ordered the preparation of a plan to invade the United Kingdom on July 16.[34] He hoped that news of the preparations would frighten the UK into peace negotiations. “Directive No. 16; On the Preparation of a Landing Operation against England” read, in part, as follows:

Since England, despite its militarily hopeless situation, still has not shown any signs of being prepared to negotiate, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, carry it out.

The objective of this operation is to eliminate the English home country as a base for the continuation of the war against Germany …
2) Included in these preparations is the bringing about of those preconditions which make a landing in England possible;
a) The English air force must have been beaten down to such an extent morally and in fact that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing. (italics added)[35][nb 12][36]

All preparations were to be made by mid-August. For secrecy, this directive was only issued to Commanders-in-Chief, but Hermann Göring passed it on to his Luftwaffe Air Fleet commanders by coded radio messages that were intercepted by Britain’s Y-Service and successfully decrypted by Hut 6 at Bletchley Park.[37]

The Kriegsmarine produced a draft plan for achieving a narrow beachhead near Dover. On 28 July the army responded that they wanted landings all along the south coast of England. Hitler held a meeting of his army and navy chiefs on 31 July in his residence of Berghof, and on 1 August the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or “High Command of the Armed Forces”) issued its plan.[38] The plan, code named Operation Sea Lion, was scheduled to take place in mid-September 1940. Operation Sea Lion called for landings on the south coast of Great Britain backed by an airborne assault. Neither Hitler nor OKW believed it would be possible to carry out a successful amphibious assault on Britain until the RAF had been neutralised. Raeder believed that air superiority might make a successful landing possible although it would be a risky operation and require “absolute mastery over the Channel by our air forces”.[39]

For his part, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz believed that air superiority was “not enough”. Dönitz later stated, “we possessed neither control of the air or the sea; nor were we in any position to gain it.”[40] Some writers, such as Derek Robinson, have agreed with Dönitz. Robinson argues that the massive superiority of the Royal Navy over the Kriegsmarine would have made Sea Lion a disaster and the Luftwaffe could not have prevented decisive intervention by British cruisers and destroyers, even with air superiority.[41][42] Williamson Murray argued that the task facing the Germans in summer 1940 was beyond their capabilities; the three German armed services were not capable of solving the problem of invading the British Isles. Murray contends that the Kriegsmarine had been effectively eliminated owing to heavy losses during the Norwegian Campaign.[43] and states that it is doubtful that the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe could have prevented the Royal Navy from engaging the invasion fleet.[44]

The Luftwaffe had not been represented at the Berghof, but Göring was confident that air victory was possible. Like many commanders in other air forces, including the RAF, he was convinced by the ideas of Giulio Douhet that “The bomber will always get through” and if attacks on military targets failed, the bombing of civilians could force the British government to surrender.[45]

Opposing forces

The Luftwaffe faced a more capable opponent than any it had previously met: a sizeable, highly coordinated, well-supplied, modern air force.

Fighters

The Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110C fought against the RAF’s workhorse Hurricane Mk I and the less numerous Spitfire Mk I; Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires in RAF Fighter Command by about two to one when war broke out.[46] The Bf 109E had a better climb rate and was up to 40 mph faster in level flight [47] than the Rotol (constant speed propellor) equipped Hurricane Mk I, depending on altitude. The speed and climb disparity with the original non-Rotol Hurricane was even greater. In spring and summer 1940, all RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighter squadrons converted to 100 octane aviation fuel,[48] which allowed their Merlin engines to generate significantly more power and an approximately 30 mph increase in speed at low altitudes[49][50] through the use of an Emergency Boost Override.[51][52][53] In September 1940, the more powerful Mk IIa series 1 Hurricanes started entering service in small numbers.[54] This version was capable of a maximum speed of 342 mph (550 km/h), some 20 mph more than the original (non-Rotol) Mk I, though it was still 15 to 20 mph slower than a Bf 109 (depending on altitude).[55]

Hawker Hurricane R4118 fought in the Battle of Britain. Here it arrives at the 2014 Royal International Air Tattoo, England.

X4382, a late production Spitfire Mk I of 602 Squadron flown by P/O Osgood Hanbury, Westhampnett, September 1940

The performance of the Spitfire over Dunkirk came as a surprise to the Jagdwaffe, although the German pilots retained a strong belief that the 109 was the superior fighter.[56] The British fighters were equipped with eight Browning .303 (7.7mm) machine guns, while most Bf 109Es had two 7.92mm machine guns supplemented by two 20mm cannons.[nb 13] The latter was much more effective than the .303; many German planes landed despite large numbers of .303 hits. At some altitudes, the Bf 109 could outclimb the British fighter. It could also engage in vertical-plane negative-g manoeuvres without the engine cutting out because its DB 601 engine used fuel injection; this allowed the 109 to dive away from attackers more readily than the carburettor-equipped Merlin. On the other hand, the Bf 109E had a much larger turning circle than its two foes.[57] In general, though, as Alfred Price noted in The Spitfire Story:

… the differences between the Spitfire and the Me 109 in performance and handling were only marginal, and in a combat they were almost always surmounted by tactical considerations of which side had seen the other first, which had the advantage of sun, altitude, numbers, pilot ability, tactical situation, tactical co-ordination, amount of fuel remaining, etc.[58]

The Bf 109E was also used as a Jabo (jagdbomber, fighter-bomber)—the E-4/B and E-7 models could carry a 250 kg bomb underneath the fuselage, the later model arriving during the battle. The Bf 109, unlike the Stuka, could fight on equal terms with RAF fighters after releasing its ordnance.[59][60]

At the start of the battle, the twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110C long range Zerstörer (“Destroyer”) was also expected to engage in air-to-air combat while escorting the Luftwaffe bomber fleet. Although the 110 was faster than the Hurricane and almost as fast as the Spitfire, its lack of manoeuvrability and acceleration meant that it was a failure as a long-range escort fighter. On 13 and 15 August, 13 and 30 aircraft were lost, the equivalent of an entire Gruppe, and the type’s worst losses during the campaign.[61] This trend continued with a further eight and fifteen lost on 16 and 17 August.[62] Göring ordered the Bf 110 units to operate “where the range of the single-engined machines were not sufficient”.[citation needed]

The most successful role of the Bf 110 during the battle was as a Schnellbomber (fast bomber). The Bf 110 usually used a shallow dive to bomb the target and escape at high speed.[63][64] One unit, Erprobungsgruppe 210 – initially formed as the service test unit (Erprobungskommando) for the emerging successor to the 110, the Me 210 – proved that the Bf 110 could still be used to good effect in attacking small or “pinpoint” targets.[63]

Four 264 Squadron Defiants (PS-V was shot down on 28 August 1940 over Kent by Bf 109s.)

The RAF’s Boulton Paul Defiant had some initial success over Dunkirk because of its resemblance to the Hurricane; Luftwaffe fighters attacking from the rear were surprised by its unusual gun turret.[65] However, during the Battle of Britain, this single-engined two-seater proved hopelessly outclassed. For various reasons, the Defiant lacked any form of forward-firing armament, and the heavy turret and second crewman meant it could not outrun or outmanoeuvre either the Bf 109 or Bf 110. By the end of August, after disastrous losses, the aircraft was withdrawn from daylight service.[66][67]

Bombers

Heinkel He 111 bombers during the Battle of Britain

The Luftwaffe’s primary bombers were the Heinkel He 111, Dornier Do 17, and Junkers Ju 88 for level bombing at medium to high altitudes, and the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka for dive bombing tactics. The He 111 was used in greater numbers than the others during the conflict. Forming the main brunt of the heavy formations, it is better known, partly due to its distinctive wing shape. Each level bomber also had a few reconnaissance versions accompanying them that were used during the battle.[68]

Although it was successful in previous Luftwaffe engagements, the Stuka suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Britain, particularly on 18 August, due to its slow speed and vulnerability to fighter interception after dive bombing a target. As the losses went up along with their limited payload and range, Stuka units were largely removed from operations over England and diverted to concentrate on shipping instead until they were eventually re-deployed to the Eastern Front in 1941. However, for some raids, they were called back, such as on 13 September to attack Tangmere airfield.[69][70][71]

The remaining three bomber types differed in their capabilities; the Heinkel 111 was the slowest; the Ju 88 was the fastest once its mainly external bomb load was dropped; and the Do 17 had the smallest bomb load.[68] All three bomber types suffered heavy losses from the home-based British fighters, but the Ju 88 disproportionately so. The German bombers required constant protection by the Luftwaffe’s fighter force. German escorts, however, were not enough. Bf 109Es were ordered to support more than 300–400 bombers on any given day.[72] Later in the conflict, when night bombing became more frequent, all three were used. However, due to its reduced bomb load, the lighter Do 17 was used less than the He 111 and Ju 88 for this purpose.

German propaganda photo purporting to show a Spitfire I flying very close to a Dornier 17Z.[nb 14]

On the British side, three bomber types were mostly used on night operations against targets such as factories, invasion ports and railway centres; the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, the Handley-Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington were classified as heavy bombers by the RAF, although the Hampden was a medium bomber comparable to the He 111. The twin-engined Bristol Blenheim and the obsolescent single-engined Fairey Battle were both light bombers; the Blenheim was the most numerous of the aircraft equipping RAF Bomber Command and was used in attacks against shipping, ports, airfields and factories on the continent by day and by night. The Fairey Battle squadrons, which had suffered heavy losses in daylight attacks during the Battle of France, were brought up to strength with reserve aircraft and continued to operate at night in attacks against the invasion ports, until the Battle was withdrawn from UK front line service in October 1940.[73][75]

Pilots

Before the war, the RAF’s processes for selecting potential candidates were opened to men of all social classes through the creation in 1936 of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, which “… was designed to appeal, to … young men … without any class distinctions …”[76] The older squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force did retain some of their upper-class exclusiveness,[77] but their numbers were soon swamped by the newcomers of the RAFVR; by 1 September 1939, 6,646 pilots had been trained through the RAFVR.[78]

A Spitfire pilot recounts how he shot down a Messerschmitt, Biggin Hill, September 1940

By summer 1940, there were about 9,000 pilots in the RAF to man about 5,000 aircraft, most of which were bombers.[citation needed] Fighter Command was never short of pilots, but the problem of finding sufficient numbers of fully trained-fighter pilots became acute by mid-August 1940.[79] With aircraft production running at 300 planes each week, only 200 pilots were trained in the same period. In addition, more pilots were allocated to squadrons than there were aircraft, as this allowed squadrons to maintain operational strength despite casualties and still provide for pilot leave.[80] Another factor was that only about 30% of the 9,000 pilots were assigned to operational squadrons; 20% of the pilots were involved in conducting pilot training, and a further 20% were undergoing further instruction, like those offered in Canada and in Southern Rhodesia to the Commonwealth trainees, although already qualified. The rest were assigned to staff positions, since RAF policy dictated that only pilots could make many staff and operational command decisions, even in engineering matters. At the height of fighting, and despite Churchill’s insistence, only 30 pilots were released to the front line from administrative duties.[81][nb 15]

For these reasons, and the permanent loss of 435 pilots during the Battle of France alone[23] along with many more wounded, and others lost in Norway, the RAF had fewer experienced pilots at the start of the initial defence of their home. It was the lack of trained pilots in the fighting squadrons, rather than the lack of aircraft, that became the greatest concern for Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, Commander of Fighter Command. Drawing from regular RAF forces, the Auxiliary Air Force and the Volunteer Reserve, the British were able to muster some 1,103 fighter pilots on 1 July. Replacement pilots, with little flight training and often no gunnery training, suffered high casualty rates thus exacerbating the problem.[82]

The Luftwaffe on the other hand, were able to muster a larger number (1,450) of more experienced fighter pilots.[81] Drawing from a cadre of Spanish Civil War veterans, these pilots already had comprehensive courses in aerial gunnery and instructions in tactics suited for fighter-versus-fighter combat.[83] Training manuals discouraged heroism, stressing the importance of attacking only when the odds were in the pilot’s favour. Despite the high levels of experience, German fighter formations did not provide a sufficient reserve of pilots to allow for losses and leave,[80] and the Luftwaffe was unable to produce enough pilots to prevent a decline in operational strength as the battle progressed. Eventually, without the personnel available to continue the assault, the Luftwaffe failed during this segment of the war.

International participation

Allies

126 German aircraft or “Adolfs” were claimed by Polish pilots of 303 Squadron during the Battle

The Royal Air Force roll of honour for the Battle of Britain recognises 595 non-British pilots (out of 2,936) as flying at least one authorised operational sortie with an eligible unit of the RAF or Fleet Air Arm between 10 July and 31 October 1940.[13][84] These included 145 Poles, 127 New Zealanders, 112 Canadians, 88 Czechoslovaks, 10 Irish, 32 Australians, 28 Belgians, 25 South Africans, 13 French, 7 Americans, 3 Southern Rhodesians and one each from Jamaica and Mandatory Palestine.[85] “Altogether in the fighter battles, the bombing raids, and the various patrols flown between 10 July and 31 October 1940 by the Royal Air Force, 1495 aircrew were killed, of whom 449 were fighter pilots, 718 aircrew from Bomber Command, and 280 from Coastal Command. Among those killed were 47 airmen from Canada, 24 from Australia, 17 from South Africa, 35 from Poland, 20 from Czechoslovakia and six from Belgium. Forty-seven New Zealanders lost their lives, including 15 fighter pilots, 24 bomber and eight coastal aircrew. The names of these Allied and Commonwealth airmen are inscribed in a memorial book which rests in the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey. In the chapel is a stained glass window which contains the badges of the fighter squadrons which operated during the battle and the flags of the nations to which the pilots and aircrew belonged.”[86]

Axis

Main article: Corpo Aereo Italiano

An element of the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) called the Italian Air Corps (Corpo Aereo Italiano or CAI) first saw action in late October 1940. It took part in the latter stages of the battle, but achieved limited success. The unit was redeployed in early 1941.

Luftwaffe strategy

Hermann Göring, the commander of the Luftwaffe

Hugo Sperrle, the commander of Luftflotte 3

The Luftwaffe strategy was devised to provide tactical support for the army on the battlefield. During the blitzkrieg offensives against Poland, Denmark and Norway, France and the Low Countries, the Luftwaffe had co-operated fully with the Wehrmacht. For the Battle of Britain however, the Luftwaffe had to operate in a strategic role, something for which it was unsuited. Its main task was to ensure air supremacy over southeast England, to pave the way for an invasion fleet.

The Luftwaffe regrouped after the Battle of France into three Luftflotten (Air Fleets) on Britain’s southern and northern flanks. Luftflotte 2, commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, was responsible for the bombing of southeast England and the London area. Luftflotte 3, under Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle, targeted the West Country, Wales, the Midlands, and northwest England. Luftflotte 5, led by Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen Stumpff from his headquarters in Norway, targeted the north of England and Scotland. As the battle progressed, command responsibility shifted, with Luftflotte 3 taking more responsibility for the night-time Blitz attacks while the main daylight operations fell upon Luftflotte 2’s shoulders.

Initial Luftwaffe estimates were that it would take four days to defeat the RAF Fighter Command in southern England. This would be followed by a four-week offensive during which the bombers and long-range fighters would destroy all military installations throughout the country and wreck the British aircraft industry. The campaign was planned to begin with attacks on airfields near the coast, gradually moving inland to attack the ring of sector airfields defending London. Later reassessments gave the Luftwaffe five weeks, from 8 August to 15 September, to establish temporary air superiority over England.[87] To achieve this goal, Fighter Command had to be destroyed, either on the ground or in the air, yet the Luftwaffe had to be able to preserve its own strength to be able to support the invasion; this meant that the Luftwaffe had to maintain a high “kill ratio” over the RAF fighters. The only alternative to the goal of air superiority was a terror bombing campaign aimed at the civilian population, but this was considered a last resort and it was (at this stage of the battle) expressly forbidden by Hitler.[87]

The Luftwaffe kept broadly to this scheme, but its commanders had differences of opinion on strategy. Sperrle wanted to eradicate the air defence infrastructure by bombing it. His counterpart, Kesselring, championed attacking London directly— either to bombard the British government into submission, or to draw RAF fighters into a decisive battle. Göring did nothing to resolve this disagreement between his commanders, and only vague directives were set down during the initial stages of the battle, with Göring seemingly unable to decide upon which strategy to pursue.[88] He seemed at times obsessed with maintaining his own power base in the Luftwaffe and indulging his outdated beliefs on air fighting, which would later lead to tactical and strategic errors.

Tactics

Fighter formations

Luftwaffe formations employed a loose section of two (nicknamed the Rotte), based on a leader (Rottenführer) followed at a distance of about 183 metres (200 yards)[nb 16] by his wingman (nicknamed the Rottenhund or Katschmareks), who also flew slightly higher and was trained always to stay with his leader. With more room between them, both pilots could spend less time maintaining formation and more time looking around and covering each other’s blind spots. Attacking aircraft could be sandwiched between the two 109s.[89] [nb 17] The rotte allowed the Rottenführer to concentrate on getting kills, but few wingmen had the chance,[91] leading to some resentment in the lower ranks where it was felt that the high scores came at their expense. Two sections were usually teamed up into a Schwarm, where all the pilots could watch what was happening around them. Each Schwarm in a Staffel flew at staggered heights and with 183 metres (200 yards) of room between them, making the formation difficult to spot at longer ranges and allowing for a great deal of flexibility.[83] By utilising a tight “cross-over” turn, a Schwarm could quickly change direction.[89]

The Bf 110s adopted the same Schwarm formation as the 109s, but were seldom able to use this to the same advantage. The Bf 110’s most successful method of attack was the “bounce” from above. When attacked, Zerstörergruppen increasingly resorted to forming large “defensive circles“, where each Bf 110 guarded the tail of the aircraft ahead of it. Göring ordered that they be renamed “offensive circles” in a vain bid to improve rapidly declining morale.[92] These conspicuous formations were often successful in attracting RAF fighters that were sometimes “bounced” by high-flying Bf 109s. This led to the often repeated myth that the Bf 110s were escorted by Bf 109s.

Higher-level dispositions

Luftwaffe tactics were influenced by their fighters. The Bf 110 proved too vulnerable to the nimble single-engined RAF fighters. This meant the bulk of fighter escort duties fell on the Bf 109. Fighter tactics were then complicated by bomber crews who demanded closer protection. After the hard-fought battles of 15 and 18 August, Göring met with his unit leaders. During this conference, the need for the fighters to meet up on time with the bombers was stressed. It was also decided that one bomber Gruppe could only be properly protected by several Gruppen of 109s. In addition, Göring stipulated that as many fighters as possible were to be left free for Freie Jagd (“Free Hunts”: a free-roving fighter sweep preceded a raid to try to sweep defenders out of the raid’s path). The Ju 87 units, which had suffered heavy casualties, were only to be used under favourable circumstances.[93] In early September, due to increasing complaints from the bomber crews about RAF fighters seemingly able to get through the escort screen, Göring ordered an increase in close escort duties. This decision shackled many of the Bf 109s to the bombers and, although they were more successful at protecting the bomber forces, casualties amongst the fighters mounted primarily because they were forced to fly and manoeuvre at reduced speeds.[94]

The Luftwaffe consistently varied its tactics in its attempts to break through the RAF defences. It launched many Freie Jagd to draw up RAF fighters. RAF fighter controllers, however, were often able to detect these and position squadrons to avoid them, keeping to Dowding’s plan to preserve fighter strength for the bomber formations. The Luftwaffe also tried using small formations of bombers as bait, covering them with large numbers of escorts. This was more successful, but escort duty tied the fighters to the bombers’ slow speed and made them more vulnerable.

Pattern of condensation trails left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight.

By September, standard tactics for raids had become an amalgam of techniques. A Freie Jagd would precede the main attack formations. The bombers would fly in at altitudes between 16,000 feet (4,900 m) and 20,000 feet (6,100 m), closely escorted by fighters. Escorts were divided into two parts (usually Gruppen), some operating in close contact with the bombers, and others a few hundred yards away and a little above. If the formation was attacked from the starboard, the starboard section engaged the attackers, the top section moving to starboard and the port section to the top position. If the attack came from the port side the system was reversed. British fighters coming from the rear were engaged by the rear section and the two outside sections similarly moving to the rear. If the threat came from above, the top section went into action while the side sections gained height to be able to follow RAF fighters down as they broke away. If attacked, all sections flew in defensive circles. These tactics were skilfully evolved and carried out, and were extremely difficult to counter.[95]

Adolf Galland, the successful leader of III./JG 26, became Geschwaderkommodore of JG 26 on 22 August

Adolf Galland noted:

We had the impression that, whatever we did, we were bound to be wrong. Fighter protection for bombers created many problems which had to be solved in action. Bomber pilots preferred close screening in which their formation was surrounded by pairs of fighters pursuing a zigzag course. Obviously, the visible presence of the protective fighters gave the bomber pilots a greater sense of security. However, this was a faulty conclusion, because a fighter can only carry out this purely defensive task by taking the initiative in the offensive. He must never wait until attacked because he then loses the chance of acting.

We fighter pilots certainly preferred the free chase during the approach and over the target area. This gives the greatest relief and the best protection for the bomber force.[96]

The biggest disadvantage faced by Bf 109 pilots was that without the benefit of long-range drop tanks (which were introduced in limited numbers in the late stages of the battle), usually of 300 litres (66 imp gal; 79 US gal) capacity, the 109s had an endurance of just over an hour and, for the 109E, a 600 km (370 mi) range. Once over Britain, a 109 pilot had to keep an eye on a red “low fuel” light on the instrument panel: once this was illuminated, he was forced to turn back and head for France. With the prospect of two long flights over water, and knowing their range was substantially reduced when escorting bombers or during combat, the Jagdflieger coined the term Kanalkrankheit or “Channel sickness”.[97]

Intelligence

The Luftwaffe was ill-served by its lack of military intelligence about the British defences.[98] The German intelligence services were fractured and plagued by rivalries; their performance was “amateurish”.[99] By 1940, there were few German agents operating in Great Britain and a handful of bungled attempts to insert spies into the country were foiled.[100]

As a result of intercepted radio transmissions, the Germans began to realise that the RAF fighters were being controlled from ground facilities; in July and August 1939, for example, the airship Graf Zeppelin, which was packed with equipment for listening in on RAF radio and RDF transmissions, flew around the coasts of Britain. Although the Luftwaffe correctly interpreted these new ground control procedures, they were incorrectly assessed as being rigid and ineffectual. A British radar system was well known to the Luftwaffe from intelligence gathered before the war, but the highly developed “Dowding system” linked with fighter control had been a well-kept secret.[101][102] Even when good information existed, such as a November 1939 Abwehr assessment of Fighter Command strengths and capabilities by Abteilung V, it was ignored if it did not match conventional preconceptions.

On 16 July 1940, Abteilung V, commanded by Oberstleutnant “Beppo” Schmid, produced a report on the RAF and on Britain’s defensive capabilities which was adopted by the frontline commanders as a basis for their operational plans. One of the most conspicuous failures of the report was the lack of information on the RAF’s RDF network and control systems capabilities; it was assumed that the system was rigid and inflexible, with the RAF fighters being “tied” to their home bases.[103][104] An optimistic and, as it turned out, erroneous conclusion reached was:

D. Supply Situation… At present the British aircraft industry produces about 180 to 300 first line fighters and 140 first line bombers a month. In view of the present conditions relating to production (the appearance of raw material difficulties, the disruption or breakdown of production at factories owing to air attacks, the increased vulnerability to air attack owing to the fundamental reorganisation of the aircraft industry now in progress), it is believed that for the time being output will decrease rather than increase.

In the event of an intensification of air warfare it is expected that the present strength of the RAF will fall, and this decline will be aggravated by the continued decrease in production.[104]

Because of this statement, reinforced by another more detailed report, issued on 10 August, there was a mindset in the ranks of the Luftwaffe that the RAF would run out of frontline fighters.[103] The Luftwaffe believed it was weakening Fighter Command at three times the actual attrition rate.[105] Many times, the leadership believed Fighter Command’s strength had collapsed, only to discover that the RAF were able to send up defensive formations at will.

Throughout the battle, the Luftwaffe had to use numerous reconnaissance sorties to make up for the poor intelligence. Reconnaissance aircraft (initially mostly Dornier Do 17s, but increasingly Bf 110s) proved easy prey for British fighters, as it was seldom possible for them to be escorted by Bf 109s. Thus, the Luftwaffe operated “blind” for much of the battle, unsure of its enemy’s true strengths, capabilities, and deployments. Many of the Fighter Command airfields were never attacked, while raids against supposed fighter airfields fell instead on bomber or coastal defence stations. The results of bombing and air fighting were consistently exaggerated, due to inaccurate claims, over-enthusiastic reports and the difficulty of confirmation over enemy territory. In the euphoric atmosphere of perceived victory, the Luftwaffe leadership became increasingly disconnected from reality. This lack of leadership and solid intelligence meant the Germans did not adopt consistent strategy, even when the RAF had its back to the wall. Moreover, there was never a systematic focus on one type of target (such as airbases, radar stations, or aircraft factories); consequently, the already haphazard effort was further diluted.[106]

Navigational aids

While the British were using radar for air defence more effectively than the Germans realised, the Luftwaffe attempted to press its own offensive with advanced radio navigation systems of which the British were initially not aware. One of these was Knickebein (“bent leg”); this system was used at night and for raids where precision was required. It was rarely used during the Battle of Britain (see Reginald Victor Jones and Battle of the Beams).[107]

Air-sea rescue

The Luftwaffe was much better prepared for the task of air-sea rescue than the RAF, specifically tasking the Seenotdienst unit, equipped with about 30 Heinkel He 59 floatplanes, with picking up downed aircrew from the North Sea, English Channel and the Dover Straits. In addition, Luftwaffe aircraft were equipped with life rafts and the aircrew were provided with sachets of a chemical called fluorescein which, on reacting with water, created a large, easy-to-see, bright green patch.[108][109] In accordance with the Geneva Convention, the He 59s were unarmed and painted white with civilian registration markings and red crosses. Nevertheless, RAF aircraft attacked these aircraft, as some were escorted by Bf 109s.[110]

After single He 59s were forced to land on the sea by RAF fighters, on 1 and 9 July respectively,[110][111] a controversial order was issued to the RAF on 13 July; this stated that from 20 July, Seenotdienst aircraft were to be shot down. One of the reasons given by Churchill was:

We did not recognise this means of rescuing enemy pilots so they could come and bomb our civil population again … all German air ambulances were forced down or shot down by our fighters on definite orders approved by the War Cabinet.[112]

The British also believed that their crews would report on convoys,[109] the Air Ministry issuing a communiqué to the German government on 14 July that Britain was

unable, however, to grant immunity to such aircraft flying over areas in which operations are in progress on land or at sea, or approaching British or Allied territory, or territory in British occupation, or British or Allied ships. Ambulance aircraft which do not comply with the above will do so at their own risk and peril[113]

The white He 59s were soon repainted in camouflage colours and armed with defensive machine guns. Although another four He 59s were shot down by RAF aircraft,[114] the Seenotdienst continued to pick up downed Luftwaffe and Allied aircrew throughout the battle, earning praise from Adolf Galland for their bravery.[115]

RAF strategy

Commander-in-Chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding
10 Group Commander, Sir Quintin Brand
11 Group Commander, Keith Park
12 Group Commander, Trafford Leigh-Mallory
13 Group Commander, Richard Saul

Dowding system

Chain Home radar cover, bases and group boundaries

Main article: Dowding system

During early tests of the Chain Home system, the slow flow of information from the CH radars and observers to the aircraft often caused them to miss their “bandits”. The solution, today known as the “Dowding system“, was to create a set of reporting chains to move information from the various observation points to the pilots in their fighters. It was named after its chief architect, “Stuffy” Dowding.[116]

Reports from CH radars and the Observer Corps were sent directly to Fighter Command Headquarters (FCHQ) at Bentley Priory where they were “filtered” to combine multiple reports of the same formations into single tracks. Telephone operators would then forward only the information of interest to the Group headquarters, where the map would be re-created. This process was repeated to produce another version of the map at the Sector level, covering a much smaller area. Looking over their maps, Group level commanders could select squadrons to attack particular targets. From that point the Sector operators would give commands to the fighters to arrange an interception, as well as return them to base. Sector stations also controlled the anti-aircraft batteries in their area; an army officer sat beside each fighter controller and directed the gun crews when to open and cease fire.[117]

The Dowding system dramatically improved the speed and accuracy of the information that flowed to the pilots. During the early war period it was expected that an average interception mission might have a 30% chance of ever seeing their target. During the battle, the Dowding system maintained an average rate over 75%, with several examples of 100% rates – every fighter dispatched found and intercepted its target. In contrast, Luftwaffe fighters attempting to intercept raids had to randomly seek their targets and often returned home having never seen enemy aircraft. The result is what is now known as an example of “force multiplication“; RAF fighters were as effective as two or more Luftwaffe fighters, greatly offsetting, or overturning, the disparity in actual numbers.

Effect of signals intelligence

It is unclear how much the British intercepts of the Enigma cipher, used for high-security German radio communications, affected the battle. Ultra, the information obtained from Enigma intercepts, gave the highest echelons of the British command a view of German intentions. According to F. W. Winterbotham, who was the senior Air Staff representative in the Secret Intelligence Service,[118] Ultra helped establish the strength and composition of the Luftwaffe’s formations, the aims of the commanders[119] and provided early warning of some raids.[120] In early August it was decided that a small unit would be set up at FCHQ, which would process the flow of information from Bletchley and provide Dowding only with the most essential Ultra material; thus the Air Ministry did not have to send a continual flow of information to FCHQ, preserving secrecy, and Dowding was not inundated with non-essential information. Keith Park and his controllers were also told about Ultra.[121] In a further attempt to camouflage the existence of Ultra, Dowding created a unit named No. 421 (Reconnaissance) Flight RAF. This unit (which later became No. 91 Squadron RAF), was equipped with Hurricanes and Spitfires and sent out aircraft to search for and report Luftwaffe formations approaching England.[122] In addition the radio listening service (known as Y Service), monitoring the patterns of Luftwaffe radio traffic, contributed considerably to the early warning of raids.

Air-sea rescue

One of the biggest oversights of the entire system was the lack of adequate air-sea rescue organisation. The RAF had started organising a system in 1940 with High Speed Launches (HSLs) based on flying boat bases and at a number of overseas locations, but it was still believed that the amount of cross-Channel traffic meant that there was no need for a rescue service to cover these areas. Downed pilots and aircrew, it was hoped, would be picked up by any boats or ships which happened to be passing by. Otherwise the local life boat would be alerted, assuming someone had seen the pilot going into the water.[123]

RAF aircrew were issued with a life jacket, nicknamed the “Mae West,” but in 1940 it still required manual inflation, which was almost impossible for someone who was injured or in shock. The waters of the English Channel and Dover Straits are cold, even in the middle of summer, and clothing issued to RAF aircrew did little to insulate them against these freezing conditions.[98] The RAF also imitated the German practice of issuing fluorescein.[109] A conference in 1939 had placed air-sea rescue under Coastal Command. Because a number of pilots had been lost at sea during the “Channel Battle”, on 22 August, control of RAF rescue launches was passed to the local naval authorities and 12 Lysanders were given to Fighter Command to help look for pilots at sea. In all some 200 pilots and aircrew were lost at sea during the battle. No proper air-sea rescue service was formed until 1941.[98]

Tactics

X4474, a late production Mk I Spitfire of 19 Squadron, September 1940. During the battle 19 Squadron was part of the Duxford Wing

Fighter formations

In the late 1930s, Fighter Command expected to face only bombers over Britain, not single-engined fighters. A series of “Fighting Area Tactics” were formulated and rigidly adhered to, involving a series of manoeuvres designed to concentrate a squadron’s firepower to bring down bombers. RAF fighters flew in tight, v-shaped sections (“vics”) of three, with four such “sections” in tight formation. Only the squadron leader at the front was free to watch for the enemy; the other pilots had to concentrate on keeping station.[124] Training also emphasised by-the-book attacks by sections breaking away in sequence. Fighter Command recognised the weaknesses of this structure early in the battle, but it was felt too risky to change tactics during the battle, because replacement pilots—often with only minimal flying time—could not be readily retrained,[125] and inexperienced pilots needed firm leadership in the air only rigid formations could provide.[126] German pilots dubbed the RAF formations Idiotenreihen (“rows of idiots”) because they left squadrons vulnerable to attack.[82][127]

Front line RAF pilots were acutely aware of the inherent deficiencies of their own tactics. A compromise was adopted whereby squadron formations used much looser formations with one or two “weavers” flying independently above and behind to provide increased observation and rear protection; these tended to be the least experienced men and were often the first to be shot down without the other pilots even noticing that they were under attack.[82][128] During the battle, 74 Squadron under Squadron Leader Adolph “Sailor” Malan adopted a variation of the German formation called the “fours in line astern”, which was a vast improvement on the old three aircraft “vic”. Malan’s formation was later generally used by Fighter Command.[129]

Squadron- and higher-level deployment

The weight of the battle fell upon 11 Group. Keith Park’s tactics were to dispatch individual squadrons to intercept raids. The intention was to subject incoming bombers to continual attacks by relatively small numbers of fighters and try to break up the tight German formations. Once formations had fallen apart, stragglers could be picked off one by one. Where multiple squadrons reached a raid the procedure was for the slower Hurricanes to tackle the bombers while the more agile Spitfires held up the fighter escort. This ideal was not always achieved, resulting in occasions when Spitfires and Hurricanes reversed roles.[130] Park also issued instructions to his units to engage in frontal attacks against the bombers, which were more vulnerable to such attacks. Again, in the environment of fast moving, three-dimensional air battles, few RAF fighter units were able to attack the bombers from head-on.[130]

During the battle, some commanders, notably Leigh-Mallory, proposed squadrons be formed into “Big Wings,” consisting of at least three squadrons, to attack the enemy en masse, a method pioneered by Douglas Bader.

Douglas Bader commanded 242 Squadron during the battle. He also led the Duxford Wing.

Proponents of this tactic claimed interceptions in large numbers caused greater enemy losses while reducing their own casualties. Opponents pointed out the big wings would take too long to form up, and the strategy ran a greater risk of fighters being caught on the ground refuelling. The big wing idea also caused pilots to overclaim their kills, due to the confusion of a more intense battle zone. This led to the belief big wings were far more effective than they were.[131]

The issue caused intense friction between Park and Leigh-Mallory, as 12 Group was tasked with protecting 11 Group’s airfields whilst Park’s squadrons intercepted incoming raids. However, the delay in forming up Big Wings meant the formations often did not arrive at all or until after German bombers had hit 11 Group’s airfields.[132] Dowding, to highlight the problem of the Big Wing’s performance, submitted a report compiled by Park to the Air Ministry on 15 November. In the report, he highlighted that during the period of 11 September – 31 October, the extensive use of the Big Wing had resulted in just 10 interceptions and one German aircraft destroyed, but his report was ignored.[133] Post-war analysis agrees Dowding and Park’s approach was best for 11 Group.

Dowding’s removal from his post in November 1940 has been blamed on this struggle between Park and Leigh-Mallory’s daylight strategy. However, the intensive raids and destruction wrought during the Blitz damaged both Dowding and Park in particular, for the failure to produce an effective night-fighter defence system, something for which the influential Leigh-Mallory had long criticised them.[134]

Bomber and Coastal Command contributions

A Bristol Blenheim Mk IV of 21 Squadron. The Blenheim bomber units of Bomber and Coastal Commands bore heavy casualties while undertaking a number of tasks during the battle

Bomber Command and Coastal Command aircraft flew offensive sorties against targets in Germany and France during the battle. After the initial disasters of the war, with Vickers Wellington bombers shot down in large numbers attacking Wilhelmshaven and the slaughter of the Fairey Battle squadrons sent to France, it became clear that Bomber Command would have to operate mainly at night to achieve any results without incurring very high losses.[135] From 15 May 1940, a night time bomber campaign was launched against the German oil industry, communications, and forests/crops, mainly in the Ruhr area.

As the threat mounted, Bomber Command changed targeting priority on 3 June 1940 to attack the German aircraft industry. On 4 July, the Air Ministry gave Bomber Command orders to attack ports and shipping. By September, the build-up of invasion barges in the Channel ports had become a top priority target.[136] On 7 September, the government issued a warning that the invasion could be expected within the next few days and, that night, Bomber Command attacked the Channel ports and supply dumps. On 13 September, they carried out another large raid on the Channel ports, sinking 80 large barges in the port of Ostend.[137] 84 barges were sunk in Dunkirk after another raid on 17 September and by 19 September, almost 200 barges had been sunk.[136] The loss of these barges may have contributed to Hitler’s decision to postpone Operation Sea Lion indefinitely.[136] The success of these raids was in part because the Germans had few Freya radar stations set up in France, so that air defences of the French harbours were not nearly as good as the air defences over Germany; Bomber Command had directed some 60% of its strength against the Channel ports.

Wellington crews studying maps at a briefing with the station commander, September 1940

The Bristol Blenheim units also raided German-occupied airfields throughout July to December 1940, both during daylight hours and at night. Although most of these raids were unproductive, there were some successes; on 1 August, five out of 12 Blenheims sent to attack Haamstede and Evere (Brussels) were able to bomb, destroying or heavily damaging three Bf 109s of II./JG 27 and apparently killing a Staffelkapitän identified as a Hauptmann Albrecht von Ankum-Frank. Two other 109s were claimed by Blenheim gunners.[138][nb 18] Another successful raid on Haamstede was made by a single Blenheim on 7 August which destroyed one 109 of 4./JG 54, heavily damaged another and caused lighter damage to four more.[139]

German invasion barges waiting at Boulogne Harbour, France during the Battle of Britain

There were some missions which produced an almost 100% casualty rate amongst the Blenheims; one such operation was mounted on 13 August 1940 against a Luftwaffe airfield near Aalborg in north-eastern Denmark by 12 aircraft of 82 Squadron. One Blenheim returned early (the pilot was later charged and due to appear before a court martial, but was killed on another operation), the other 11, which reached Denmark, were shot down, five by flak and six by Bf 109s. Of the 33 crewmen who took part in the attack, 20 were killed and 13 captured.[140]

As well as the bombing operations, Blenheim-equipped units had been formed to carry out long-range strategic reconnaissance missions over Germany and German-occupied territories. In this role, the Blenheims again proved to be too slow and vulnerable against Luftwaffe fighters, and they took constant casualties.[141]

Coastal Command directed its attention towards the protection of British shipping, and the destruction of enemy shipping. As invasion became more likely, it participated in the strikes on French harbours and airfields, laying mines, and mounting numerous reconnaissance missions over the enemy-held coast. In all, some 9,180 sorties were flown by bombers from July to October 1940. Although this was much less than the 80,000 sorties flown by fighters, bomber crews suffered about half the total number of casualties borne by their fighter colleagues. The bomber contribution was, therefore, much more dangerous on a loss-per-sortie comparison.[142]

Bomber, reconnaissance, and antisubmarine patrol operations continued throughout these months with little respite and none of the publicity accorded to Fighter Command. In his famous 20 August speech about “The Few“, praising Fighter Command, Churchill also made a point of mentioning Bomber Command’s contribution, adding that bombers were even then striking back at Germany; this part of the speech is often overlooked, even today.[143][144] The Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey lists in a roll of honour, 718 Bomber Command crew members, and 280 from Coastal Command who were killed between 10 July and 31 October.[145]

Phases of the battle

German Heinkel He 111 bombers over the English Channel 1940

The battle can be roughly divided into four phases:

  • 10 July – 11 August: Kanalkampf (“the Channel battles”)
  • 12–23 August: Adlerangriff (“Eagle Attack”), the early assault against the coastal airfields
  • 24 August – 6 September: the Luftwaffe targets the airfields. The critical phase of the battle.
  • 7 September onwards: the day attacks switch to British towns and cities.

Channel battles

The Kanalkampf comprised a series of running fights over convoys in the English Channel. It was launched partly because Kesselring and Sperrle were not sure about what else to do, and partly because it gave German aircrews some training and a chance to probe the British defences.[88] Dowding could only provide minimal shipping protection, and these battles off the coast tended to favour the Germans, whose bomber escorts had the advantage of altitude and outnumbered the RAF fighters. From 9 July reconnaissance probing by Dornier Do 17 bombers put a severe strain on RAF pilots and machines, with high RAF losses to Bf 109s. When nine 141 Squadron Defiants went into action on 19 July six were lost to Bf 109s before a squadron of Hurricanes intervened. On 25 July a coal convoy and escorting destroyers suffered such heavy losses to attacks by Stuka dive bombers that the Admiralty decided convoys should travel at night: the RAF shot down 16 raiders but lost 7 aircraft. By 8 August 18 coal ships and 4 destroyers had been sunk, but the Navy was determined to send a convoy of 20 ships through rather than move the coal by railway. After repeated Stuka attacks that day, six ships were badly damaged, four were sunk and only four reached their destination. The RAF lost 19 fighters and shot down 31 German aircraft. The Navy now cancelled all further convoys through the Channel and sent the cargo by rail. Even so, these early combat encounters provided both sides with experience.[146]

Main assault

The main attack upon the RAF’s defences was code-named Adlerangriff (“Eagle Attack”).

Poor weather delayed Adlertag (“Eagle Day”) until 13 August 1940. On 12 August, the first attempt was made to blind the Dowding system, when aircraft from the specialist fighter-bomber unit Erprobungsgruppe 210 attacked four radar stations. Three were briefly taken off the air but were back working within six hours.[147] The raids appeared to show that British radars were difficult to knock out. The failure to mount follow-up attacks allowed the RAF to get the stations back on the air, and the Luftwaffe neglected strikes on the supporting infrastructure, such as phone lines and power stations, which could have rendered the radars useless, even if the towers themselves (which were very difficult to destroy) remained intact.[106]

Adlertag opened with a series of attacks, led again by Epro 210,[147] on coastal airfields used as forward landing grounds for the RAF fighters, as well as ‘satellite airfields’[nb 19] (including Manston and Hawkinge).[147] As the week drew on, the airfield attacks moved further inland, and repeated raids were made on the radar chain. 15 August was “The Greatest Day” when the Luftwaffe mounted the largest number of sorties of the campaign. Luftflotte 5 attacked the north of England. Believing Fighter Command strength to be concentrated in the south, raiding forces from Denmark and Norway ran into unexpectedly strong resistance. Inadequately escorted by Bf 110s, bombers were shot down in large numbers. North East England was attacked by 65 Heinkel 111s escorted by 34 Messerschmitt 110s, and RAF Great Driffield was attacked by 50 unescorted Junkers 88s. Out of 115 bombers and 35 fighters sent, 16 bombers and 7 fighters were destroyed.[148] As a result of these casualties, Luftflotte 5 did not appear in strength again in the campaign.

18 August, which had the greatest number of casualties to both sides, has been dubbed “The Hardest Day“. Following this grinding battle, exhaustion and the weather reduced operations for most of a week, allowing the Luftwaffe to review their performance. “The Hardest Day” had sounded the end for the Ju 87 in the campaign.[149] This veteran of Blitzkrieg was too vulnerable to fighters to operate over Britain. So as to preserve the Stuka force, Göring withdrew them from the fighting. This removed the main Luftwaffe precision-bombing weapon and shifted the burden of pinpoint attacks on the already-stretched Erpro 210. The Bf 110 proved too clumsy for dogfighting with single-engined fighters, and its participation was scaled back. It would only be used when range required it or when sufficient single-engined escort could not be provided for the bombers.

Göring made yet another fateful decision: to order more bomber escorts at the expense of free-hunting sweeps. To achieve this, the weight of the attack now fell on Luftflotte 2, and the bulk of the Bf 109s in Luftflotte 3 were transferred to Kesselring’s command, reinforcing the fighter bases in the Pas-de-Calais. Stripped of its fighters, Luftflotte 3 would concentrate on the night bombing campaign. Göring, expressing disappointment with the fighter performance thus far in the campaign, also made sweeping changes in the command structure of the fighter units, replacing many Geschwaderkommodore with younger, more aggressive pilots like Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders.[150]

Finally, Göring stopped the attacks on the radar chain. These were seen as unsuccessful, and neither the Reichsmarschall nor his subordinates realised how vital the Chain Home stations were to the defence systems. It was known that radar provided some early warning of raids, but the belief among German fighter pilots was that anything bringing up the “Tommies” to fight was to be encouraged.

Luftwaffe targets RAF airfields

Battle

Polish 303 squadron pilots, 1940. Left to right: P/O Ferić, Flt Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski, P/O Zumbach, P/O Łokuciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt. Rogowski, Sgt. Szaposznikow.

Göring ordered attacks on aircraft factories on 19 August 1940; on 23 August 1940 he ordered that RAF airfields be attacked. That evening an attack was mounted on a tyre factory in Birmingham. Raids on airfields continued through 24 August, and Portsmouth was hit by a major attack. That night, several areas of London were bombed; the East End was set ablaze and bombs landed on central London. Some historians believe that these bombs were dropped accidentally by a group of Heinkel He 111s which had failed to find their target; this account has been contested.[151] In retaliation, the RAF bombed Berlin on the night of 25–26 August, and continued bombing raids on Berlin. Göring’s pride was hurt, as he had previously claimed the British would never be able to bomb the city. The attacks enraged Hitler, who ordered retaliatory attacks on London.[152]

From 24 August onwards, the battle was a fight between Kesselring’s Luftflotte 2 and Park’s 11 Group. The Luftwaffe concentrated all their strength on knocking out Fighter Command and made repeated attacks on the airfields. Of the 33 heavy attacks in the following two weeks, 24 were against airfields. The key sector stations were hit repeatedly: Biggin Hill and Hornchurch four times each; Debden and North Weald twice each. Croydon, Gravesend, Rochford, Hawkinge and Manston were also attacked in strength. Coastal Command‘s Eastchurch was bombed at least seven times because it was believed to be a Fighter Command aerodrome. At times these raids caused some damage to the sector stations, threatening the integrity of the Dowding system.

To offset some losses, some 58 Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot volunteers were seconded to RAF squadrons, and a similar number of former Fairey Battle pilots were used. Most replacements from Operational Training Units (OTUs) had as little as nine hours flying time and no gunnery or air-to-air combat training. At this point, the multinational nature of Fighter Command came to the fore. Many squadrons and personnel from the air forces of the Dominions were already attached to the RAF, including top level commanders – Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians and South Africans. In addition, there were other nationalities represented, including Free French, Belgian and a Jewish pilot from the British mandate of Palestine.

They were bolstered by the arrival of fresh Czechoslovak and Polish squadrons. These had been held back by Dowding, who mistakenly thought non-English speaking aircrew would have trouble working within his control system: Polish and Czech fliers proved to be especially effective. The pre-war Polish Air Force had lengthy and extensive training, and high standards; with Poland conquered and under brutal German occupation, the pilots of No. 303 (Polish) Squadron, the highest-scoring Allied unit,[153] were strongly motivated. Josef František, a Czech regular airman who had flown from the occupation of his own country to join the Polish and then French air forces before arriving in Britain, flew as a guest of 303 Squadron and was ultimately credited with the highest “RAF score” in the Battle of Britain.[154]

The RAF had the advantage of fighting over home territory. Pilots who bailed out of their downed aircraft could be back at their airfields within hours, while if low on fuel and/or ammunition they could be immediately rearmed.[155] One RAF pilot interviewed in late 1940 had been shot down five times during the Battle of Britain, but was able to crash land in Britain or bail out each time.[156] For Luftwaffe aircrews, a bailout over England meant capture – in the critical August period, almost exactly as many Luftwaffe pilots were taken prisoner as were killed[157] – while parachuting into the English Channel often meant drowning or death from exposure. Morale began to suffer, and [Kanalkrankheit] (“Channel sickness”) – a form of combat fatigue – began to appear among the German pilots. Their replacement problem was even worse than the British.

Impact of offensive

The effect of the German attacks on airfields is unclear. According to Stephen Bungay, Dowding, in a letter to Hugh Trenchard[158] accompanying Park’s report on the period 8 August – 10 September 1940, states that the Luftwaffe “achieved very little” in the last week of August and the first week of September.[159] The only Sector Station to be shut down operationally was Biggin Hill, and it was non-operational for just two hours. Dowding admitted 11 Group’s efficiency was impaired but, despite serious damage to some airfields, only two out of 13 heavily attacked airfields were down for more than a few hours. The German refocus on London was not critical.[159]

Retired air marshal Peter Dye, head of the RAF Museum, discussed the logistics of the battle in 2000[160] and 2010,[161] dealing specifically with the single-seat fighters. Dye contends that not only was British aircraft production replacing aircraft, but replacement pilots were keeping pace with losses. The number of pilots in RAF Fighter Command increased during July, August and September. The figures indicate the number of pilots available never decreased. From July, 1,200 were available. In 1 August, 1,400 were available. Just over that number were in the field by September. In October the figure was nearly 1,600. By 1 November 1,800 were available. Throughout the battle, the RAF had more fighter pilots available than the Luftwaffe.[160][161] Although the RAF’s reserves of single seat fighters fell during July, the wastage was made up for by an efficient Civilian Repair Organisation (CRO), which by December had repaired and put back into service some 4,955 aircraft,[162] and by aircraft held at Air Servicing Unit (ASU) airfields.[163]

Richard Overy agrees with Dye and Bungay. Overy asserts only one airfield was temporarily put out of action and “only” 103 pilots were lost. British fighter production produced 496 new aircraft in July and 467 in August, and another 467 in September (not counting repaired aircraft), covering the losses of August and September. Overy indicates the number of serviceable and total strength returns reveal an increase in fighters from 3 August to 7 September, 1,061 on strength and 708 serviceable to 1,161 on strength and 746 serviceable.[164] Moreover, Overy points out that the number of RAF fighter pilots grew by one-third between June and August 1940. Personnel records show a constant supply of around 1,400 pilots in the crucial weeks of the battle. In the second half of September it reached 1,500. The shortfall of pilots was never above 10%. The Germans never had more than between 1,100 and 1,200 pilots, a deficiency of up to one-third. “If Fighter Command were ‘the few’, the German fighter pilots were fewer”.[165]

Other scholars assert that this period was the most dangerous of all. In The Narrow Margin, published in 1961, historians Derek Wood and Derek Dempster believed that the two weeks from 24 August to 6 September represented a real danger. According to them, from 24 August to 6 September 295 fighters had been totally destroyed and 171 badly damaged, against a total output of 269 new and repaired Spitfires and Hurricanes. They assert that 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 fewer than 1,000. They conclude that during August no more than 260 fighter pilots were turned out by OTUs and casualties in the same month were just over 300. A full squadron establishment was 26 pilots whereas the average in August was 16. In their assessment, the RAF was losing the battle.[166] Denis Richards, in his 1953 contribution to the official British account History of the Second World War, agreed that lack of pilots, especially experienced ones, was the RAF’s greatest problem. He states that between 8 and 18 August 154 RAF pilots were killed, severely wounded, or missing, while only 63 new pilots were trained. Availability of aircraft was also a serious issue. While its reserves during the Battle of Britain never declined to a half dozen planes as some later claimed, Richards describes 24 August to 6 September as the critical period because during these two weeks Germany destroyed far more aircraft through its attacks on 11 Group’s southeast bases than Britain was producing. Three more weeks of such a pace would indeed have exhausted aircraft reserves. Germany had seen heavy losses of pilots and aircraft as well however, thus its shift to night-time attacks in September. On 7 September RAF aircraft losses fell below British production and remained so until the end of the war.[167]

Raids on British cities

Main articles: The Blitz and Battle of Britain Day

Calais, September 1940. Göring giving a speech to pilots about the change in tactics: to bomb the towns instead of the airfields

Hitler’s No. 17 Directive on the conduct of war against the United Kingdom, issued on 1 August 1940, specifically prohibited the Luftwaffe from conducting terror raids on its own initiative, and reserved the right of ordering terror attacks as means of reprisal for the Führer himself:[168]

The war against England is to be restricted to destructive attacks against industry and air force targets which have weak defensive forces … The most thorough study of the target concerned, that is vital points of the target, is a pre-requisite for success. It is also stressed that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary loss of life amongst the civilian population.[169]

The Luftwaffe offensive against Britain had included numerous raids on major ports since August, but Hitler had issued a directive that London was not to be bombed save on his sole instruction.[170] However, on the afternoon of 15 August, Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörffer leading Erprobungsgruppe 210 mistakenly bombed the Croydon airfield (on the outskirts of London) instead of the intended target, RAF Kenley;[171] this was followed on the night of 23/24 August[137] by the accidental bombing of Harrow, also on the outskirts of London, as well as raids on Aberdeen, Bristol, and South Wales. The focus on attacking airfields had also been accompanied by a sustained bombing campaign which began on 24 August with the largest raid so far, killing 100 in Portsmouth, and that evening the first night raid on London as described above.[151] On 25 August 1940, 81 bombers of Bomber Command were sent out to raid industrial and commercial targets in Berlin. Clouds prevented accurate identification and the bombs fell across the city, causing some casualties among the civilian population as well as damage to residential areas.[172] Continuing RAF raids on Berlin in retaliation led to Hitler withdrawing his directive,[173] and on 3 September Göring planned to bomb London daily, with General Albert Kesselring‘s enthusiastic support, having received reports the average strength of RAF squadrons was down to five or seven fighters out of twelve and their airfields in the area were out of action. Hitler issued a directive on 5 September to attack cities including London.[174][175] In his speech delivered on 4 September 1940, Hitler threatened to obliterate (ausradieren) British cities if British bombing runs against Germany did not stop.

Bombing of London

On 7 September, a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in the East End of London, day and night. The raids were code named Operation Loge. The RAF anticipated attacks on airfields and 11 Group rose to meet them, in greater numbers than the Luftwaffe expected. The first official deployment of 12 Group’s Lee-Mallory’s Big Wing took twenty minutes to form up, missing its intended target, but encountering another formation of bombers while still climbing. They returned, apologetic about their limited success, and blamed the delay on being scrambled too late.[152][176] Fighter Command had been at its lowest ebb, short of men and machines, and the break from airfield attacks allowed them to recover. 11 Group had considerable success in breaking up daytime raids. 12 Group repeatedly disobeyed orders and failed to meet requests to protect 11 Group airfields, but their experiments with increasingly large Big Wings had some success. The Luftwaffe began to abandon their morning raids, with attacks on London starting late in the afternoon for fifty-seven consecutive nights.[177]

Members of the London Auxiliary Firefighting Service

The most damaging aspect to the Luftwaffe of targeting London was the increase in range. The Bf 109E escorts had a limited fuel capacity resulting in only a 660 km (410 mile) maximum range solely on internal fuel,[178] and when they arrived had only 10 minutes of flying time before turning for home, leaving the bombers undefended by fighter escorts. Its eventual stablemate, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A, was only flying in prototype form in the summer of 1940; the first 28 Fw 190s were not delivered until November 1940. The Fw 190A-1 had a maximum range of 940 km (584 miles) on internal fuel, 40% greater than the Bf 109E.[179] The Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7 corrected this deficiency by adding a ventral center-line ordnance rack to take either an SC 250 bomb or a standard 300 litre Luftwaffe drop tank to double the range to 1,325 km (820 mi). The ordnance rack was not retrofitted to earlier Bf 109Es until October 1940.

On 14 September, Hitler chaired a meeting with the OKW staff. Göring was in France directing the decisive battle, so Erhard Milch deputized for him.[180] Hitler asked “Should we call it off altogether?”. General Hans Jeschonnek, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, begged for a last chance to defeat the RAF and for permission to launch attacks on civilian residential areas to cause mass panic. Hitler refused the latter, perhaps unaware of how much damage had already been done to civilian targets. He reserved for himself the power to unleash the terror weapon. Instead political will was to be broken by destroying the material infrastructure, the weapons industry, and stocks of fuel and food.

On 15 September, two massive waves of German attacks were decisively repulsed by the RAF by deploying every aircraft in 11 Group. Sixty German and 26 RAF aircraft were shot down. Two days after the German defeat Hitler postponed preparations for the invasion of Britain. Henceforth, in the face of mounting losses in men, aircraft and the lack of adequate replacements, the Luftwaffe switched from daylight to nighttime bombing. 15 September is commemorated as Battle of Britain Day.

On 16 September, Göring ordered the air fleets to begin the new phase of the battle.[181] Hitler hoped this might result in “eight million going mad” (referring to the population of London in 1940), which would “cause a catastrophe” for the British. In those circumstances, Hitler said, “even a small invasion might go a long way”. Hitler was against cancelling the invasion as “the cancellation would reach the ears of the enemy and strengthen his resolve”.[nb 20][nb 21]

Gun camera film shows tracer ammunition from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of 609 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant J H G McArthur, hitting a Heinkel He 111 on its starboard quarter. These aircraft were part of a large formation from KG 53 and 55 which attacked the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s works at Filton, Bristol, just before midday on 25 September 1940.

A Junkers Ju 88 returning from a raid on London was shot down in Kent on 27 September resulting in the Battle of Graveney Marsh, the last action between British and foreign military forces on British mainland soil.[183]

Hitler postponed the invasion on 13 October “until the spring of 1941”, and October is regarded as the month regular bombing of Britain ended. It was not until Hitler’s Directive 21 was issued, on 18 December 1940, that the threat of invasion finally ended.[137]

During the battle, and for the rest of the war, an important factor in keeping public morale high was the continued presence in London of King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth. When war broke out in 1939, the King and Queen decided to stay in London and not flee to Canada, as had been suggested.[nb 22] George VI and Elizabeth officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they often spent weekends at Windsor Castle to visit their daughters, Elizabeth (the future queen) and Margaret.[184] Buckingham Palace was damaged by bombs which landed in the grounds on 10 September and, on 13 September, more serious damage was caused by two bombs which destroyed the Royal Chapel. The royal couple were in a small sitting room about 80 yards from where the bombs exploded.[185][186] On 24 September, in recognition of the bravery of civilians, King George VI inaugurated the award of the George Cross.

Attrition statistics

Overall, by 2 November, the RAF fielded 1,796 pilots, an increase of over 40% from July 1940’s count of 1,259 pilots.[187] Based on German sources (from a Luftwaffe intelligence officer Otto Bechtle attached to KG 2 in February 1944) translated by the Air Historical Branch, Stephen Bungay asserts German fighter and bomber “strength” declined without recovery, and that from August – December 1940, the German fighter and bomber strength declined by 30 and 25 percent.[11] In contrast, Williamson Murray, argues (using translations by the Air Historical Branch) that 1,380 German bombers were on strength on 29 June 1940,[9][188] 1,420 bombers on 28 September,[189] 1,423 level bombers on 2 November[190] and 1,393 bombers on 30 November 1940.[190] In July – September the number of Luftwaffe pilots available fell by 136, but the number of operational pilots had shrunk by 171 by September. The training organisation of the Luftwaffe was failing to replace losses. German fighter pilots, in contrast to popular perception, were not afforded training or rest rotations unlike their British counterparts.[80] The first week of September accounted for 25% of the Fighter Command, and 24% of the Luftwaffe’s overall losses.[191] Between the dates 26 August – 6 September, on only one day (1 September) did the Germans destroy more aircraft than they lost. Losses were 325 German and 248 British.[192]

Luftwaffe losses for August numbered 774 aircraft to all causes, representing 18.5% of all combat aircraft at the beginning of the month.[193] Fighter Command’s losses in August were 426 fighters destroyed,[194] amounting to 40 per cent of 1,061 fighters available on 3 August.[195] In addition, 99 German bombers and 27 other types were destroyed between 1 and 29 August.[196]

From July to September, the Luftwaffe’s loss records indicate the loss of 1,636 aircraft, 1,184 to enemy action.[188] This represented 47% of the initial strength of single-engined fighters, 66% of twin-engined fighters, and 45% of bombers. This indicates the Germans were running out of aircrews as well as aircraft.[197]

Throughout the battle, the Germans greatly underestimated the size of the RAF and the scale of British aircraft production. Across the Channel, the Air Intelligence division of the Air Ministry consistently overestimated the size of the German air enemy and the productive capacity of the German aviation industry. As the battle was fought, both sides exaggerated the losses inflicted on the other by an equally large margin. However, the intelligence picture formed before the battle encouraged the Luftwaffe to believe that such losses pushed Fighter Command to the very edge of defeat, while the exaggerated picture of German air strength persuaded the RAF that the threat it faced was larger and more dangerous than was the case.[198] This led the British to the conclusion that another fortnight of attacks on airfields might force Fighter Command to withdraw their squadrons from the south of England. The German misconception, on the other hand, encouraged first complacency, then strategic misjudgement. The shift of targets from air bases to industry and communications was taken because it was assumed that Fighter Command was virtually eliminated.[199]

Between the 24 August and 4 September, German serviceability rates, which were acceptable at Stuka units, were running at 75% with Bf 109s, 70% with bombers and 65% with Bf 110s, indicating a shortage of spare parts. All units were well below established strength. The attrition was beginning to affect the fighters in particular.”[200] By 14 September, the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109 Geschwader possessed only 67% of their operational crews against authorised aircraft. For Bf 110 units it was 46 per cent; and for bombers it was 59 per cent. A week later the figures had dropped to 64 per cent, 52% and 52 per cent.[197] Serviceability rates in Fighter Command’s fighter squadrons, between the 24 August and 7 September, were listed as: 64.8% on 24 August; 64.7% on 31 August and 64.25% on 7 September 1940.[195]

Due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy, a conference assembled on 14 September at Hitler’s headquarters. Hitler concluded that air superiority had not yet been established and “promised to review the situation on 17 September for possible landings on 27 September or 8 October. Three days later, when the evidence was clear that the German Air Force had greatly exaggerated the extent of their successes against the RAF, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely.”[201]

Aftermath

The Battle of Britain marked the first defeat of Hitler’s military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory.[202] Pre-war theories had led to exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and UK public opinion was buoyed by coming through the ordeal.[203] For the RAF, Fighter Command had achieved a great victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskip’s 1937 air policy of preventing the Germans from knocking Britain out of the war. Churchill concluded his famous 18 June ‘Battle of Britain’ speech in the House of Commons by referring to pilots and aircrew who fought the Battle: “… if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”[204][nb 23]

The battle also significantly shifted American opinion. During the battle, many Americans accepted the view promoted by Joseph Kennedy, the American ambassador in London, who believed that the United Kingdom could not survive. Roosevelt wanted a second opinion, and sent “Wild Bill” Donovan on a brief visit to the UK; he became convinced the UK would survive and should be supported in every possible way.[205][206] Before the end of the year, American journalist Ralph Ingersoll, who had been in Britain, published an influential book concluding that “Adolf Hitler met his first defeat in eight years” in what might “go down in history as a battle as important as Waterloo or Gettysburg“. The turning point was when the Germans reduced the intensity of the Blitz after 15 September. According to Ingersoll, “[a] majority of responsible British officers who fought through this battle believe that if Hitler and Göring had had the courage and the resources to lose 200 planes a day for the next five days, nothing could have saved London”; instead, “[the Luftwaffe’s] morale in combat is definitely broken, and the RAF has been gaining in strength each week.”[207]

Both sides in the battle made exaggerated claims of numbers of enemy aircraft shot down. In general, claims were two to three times the actual numbers, because of the confusion of fighting in dynamic three-dimensional air battles. Postwar analysis of records has shown that between July and September, the RAF claimed 2,698 kills, while the Luftwaffe fighters claimed 3,198 RAF aircraft downed. Total losses, and start and end dates for recorded losses, vary for both sides. Luftwaffe losses from 10 July to 30 October 1940 total 1,652 aircraft, including 229 twin- and 533 single-engined fighters.[208] In the same period, RAF Fighter Command aircraft losses number 1,087, including 53 twin-engined fighters.[208] To the RAF figure should be added 376 Bomber Command and 148 Coastal Command aircraft conducting bombing, mining, and reconnaissance operations in defence of the country.[11]

Dr. Andrew Gordon, who lectures at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, and a former lecturer Professor Gary Sheffield, have suggested the existence of the Royal Navy was enough to prevent the Germans from invading;[209] even had the Luftwaffe won the air battle, the Germans had limited means with which to combat the Royal Navy, which would have intervened to prevent a landing. Some veterans of the battle point out the Royal Navy would have been vulnerable to air attack by the Luftwaffe if Germany had achieved air superiority,[210] citing the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse in December 1941 by an attack by Japanese aircraft.[210] In late May 1941 during the successful German airborne assault which seized Crete, the Royal Navy was able to prevent attempted German seaborne landings on the coast of Crete, despite losing six ships in three days due to undisputed Luftwaffe air supremacy. Churchill later wrote that the Royal Navy’s defeat of “these practically defenceless convoys of troops across waters of which they did not possess naval command as well as that of the air is a sample of what might have happened on a gigantic scale in the North Sea and English Channel in September 1940.”[211][212] Crete was lost to German airborne troops which neither the RN nor the absent RAF could stop.

A considered view of the battle also has to take into account the vital role of the Royal Navy. It was widely acknowledged by both sides that the only way of achieving a successful invasion of the British Isles was through the establishment of naval supremacy. Given the inability of the Luftwaffe to effect real damage on the RN throughout the battle and during the Dunkirk and Norwegian campaigns, as well as the lack of surface assets in the Kriegsmarine‘s inventory, sea control of the Channel by Germany was impossible. As one of ‘the Few’, Wg Cdr H R Allen said, “It was sea power that ruled the day in 1940, and fortunately Britain had a sufficiency. The air situation was, of course, important, but by no means fundamental. Without doubt the five hundred or so section, flight and squadron commanders in Fighter Command earned their laurels. But the real victor was the Royal Navy, the Silent Service.”[213] The Luftwaffe had 1,380 bombers on 29 June 1940. By 2 November 1940, this had increased to 1,423,[214] and to 1,511 by 21 June 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa, but showing a drop of 200 from 1,711 reported on 11 May 1940.[215][216][nb 24] 1,107 single- and 357 twin-engined daylight fighters were reported on strength prior to the battle on 29 June 1940, compared to 1,440 single- and 188 twin-engined fighters, plus 263 night fighters, on 21 June 1941.[188][215]

There is a consensus among historians that the Luftwaffe simply could not crush the RAF. Stephen Bungay described Dowding and Park’s strategy of choosing when to engage the enemy whilst maintaining a coherent force as vindicated; their leadership, and the subsequent debates about strategy and tactics, however, had created enmity among RAF senior commanders and both were sacked from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the battle.[217] All things considered, the RAF proved to be a robust and capable organisation which was to use all the modern resources available to it to the maximum advantage.[218] Richard Evans wrote:

Irrespective of whether Hitler was really set on this course, he simply lacked the resources to establish the air superiority that was the sine qua non-of a successful crossing of the English Channel. A third of the initial strength of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, had been lost in the western campaign in the spring. The Germans lacked the trained pilots, the effective fighter aircraft, and the heavy bombers that would have been needed.[219][nb 25]

The Germans launched some spectacular attacks against important British industries, but they could not destroy the British industrial potential, and made little systematic effort to do so. Hindsight does not disguise the fact the threat to Fighter Command was very real, and for the participants it seemed as if there was a narrow margin between victory and defeat. Nevertheless, even if the German attacks on the 11 Group airfields which guarded southeast England and the approaches to London had continued, the RAF could have withdrawn to the Midlands out of German fighter range and continued the battle from there.[221] The victory was as much psychological as physical. Writes Alfred Price:

The truth of the matter, borne out by the events of 18 August is more prosaic: neither by attacking the airfields, nor by attacking London, was the Luftwaffe likely to destroy Fighter Command. Given the size of the British fighter force and the general high quality of its equipment, training and morale, the Luftwaffe could have achieved no more than a Pyrrhic victory. During the action on 18 August it had cost the Luftwaffe five trained aircrew killed, wounded or taken prisoner, for each British fighter pilot killed or wounded; the ratio was similar on other days in the battle. And this ratio of 5:1 was very close to that between the number of German aircrew involved in the battle and those in Fighter Command. In other words the two sides were suffering almost the same losses in trained aircrew, in proportion to their overall strengths. In the Battle of Britain, for the first time during the Second World War, the German war machine had set itself a major task which it patently failed to achieve, and so demonstrated that it was not invincible. In stiffening the resolve of those determined to resist Hitler the battle was an important turning point in the conflict.[222]

The British victory in the Battle of Britain was achieved at a heavy cost. Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died. With the culmination of the concentrated daylight raids, Britain was able to rebuild its military forces and establish itself as an Allied stronghold, later serving as a base from which the Liberation of Western Europe was launched.[20]

Battle of Britain Day

Winston Churchill summed up the effect of the battle and the contribution of Fighter Command with the words, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“.[144][223] Pilots who fought in the battle have been known as The Few ever since; at times being specially commemorated on “Battle of Britain Day”, the 15th of September. On this day in 1940, the Luftwaffe embarked on their largest bombing attack yet, forcing the engagement of the entirety of the RAF in defence of London and the South East, which resulted in a decisive British victory that proved to mark a turning point in Britain’s favour.[224][225]

Within the Commonwealth, Battle of Britain Day has been observed more usually on the third Sunday in September, and even on the 2nd Thursday in September in some areas in the British Channel Islands.

The day has been observed by many artists over the years, often with works that show the battle itself. Many Mixed Media artists have also created pieces in honor of the Battle of Britain.[226]