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Normandy Landings – D-Day – They Fought & Died for our Freedom

Normandy Landings –  D-Day

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Rare D Day Footage In Colour

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The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.

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Archive Video Of The D-Day Normandy Landings

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Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, but postponing would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialised tanks.

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Surviving D-Day Omaha Beach 1944 – Full Documentary

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The Allies failed to achieve all of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June. However, the operation gained a foothold that the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Museums, memorials, and war cemeteries in the area host many visitors each year.

Background

Between 27 May and 4 June 1940, over 338,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army, trapped along the northern coast of France, were evacuated in the Dunkirk evacuation.[12] After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for the creation of a second front in western Europe.[13] In late May 1942 the Soviet Union and United States made a joint announcement that a “… full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942.”[14] However, Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to postpone the promised invasion as, even with American help, the Allies did not have adequate forces for such a strike.[15]

Instead of an immediate return to France, the Western Allies staged offensives in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where British troops were already stationed. By mid-1943, the North African Campaign had been won. The Allies then launched the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September 1943. By then, Soviet forces were on the offensive and had won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.[16] Initial planning was constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific.[17] At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin that they would open the long-delayed second front in May 1944.[18]

Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944. Front row: Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Bernard Montgomery. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley; Admiral Bertram Ramsay; Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory; Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith

Four sites were considered for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected.[19] As the Pas de Calais is the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, the Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region.[20] But it offered few opportunities for expansion, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals,[21] whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site.[22] The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial Mulberry harbours.[23] A series of specialised tanks, nicknamed Hobart’s Funnies, were created to deal with conditions expected during the Normandy campaign, such as scaling sea walls and providing close support on the beach.[24]

The Allies planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944.[21] The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).[25] General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion.[26] On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg.[27] The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.[27] Eventually, thirty-nine Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: twenty-two American, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops[28] all under overall British command.[29]

Operations

Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune.[23] To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields.[23] Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion.[30]

The landings were to be preceded by airborne landings near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Carentan and St. Lô the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold Beach and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the AvranchesFalaise line within the first three weeks.[31][32] Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, lasting until all Allied forces reached the Seine.[33]

Deception plans

Shoulder patches were designed for units of the fictitious First United States Army Group under Patton.

Under the overall umbrella of Operation Bodyguard, the Allies conducted several subsidiary operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings.[34] Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway,[35] and Fortitude South, a major deception involving the creation of a fictitious First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Fortitude South was intended to deceive the Germans into believing that the main attack would take place at Calais.[30][36] Genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there.[37] Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais.[38]

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings.[39] In addition, on the night before the invasion, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe that an additional airborne landing had occurred. On that same night, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of “window”, metal foil that caused a radar return which was mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy near Le Havre. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small craft towing barrage balloons. A similar deception was undertaken near Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas de Calais area by No. 218 Squadron RAF in Operation Glimmer.[40][2]

Weather

The invasion planners determined a set of conditions involving the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that would be satisfied on only a few days in each month. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach, while minimising the amount of time the men would be exposed in the open.[41] Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were unsuitable for a landing: high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.[42]

Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June. He and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed on 6 June.[43] The next available dates with the required tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) would be two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. Postponement of the invasion would have required recalling men and ships already in position to cross the Channel, and would have increased the chance that the invasion plans would be detected.[44] After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead on the 6th.[45] A major storm battered the Normandy coast from 19 to 22 June, which would have made the beach landings impossible.[42]

Allied control of the Atlantic meant German meteorologists had less information than the Allies on incoming weather patterns.[39] As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave.[46] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife’s birthday and to meet Hitler to try to obtain more Panzers.[47]

German order of battle

Nazi Germany had at its disposal fifty divisions in France and the Low Countries, with another eighteen stationed in Denmark and Norway. Fifteen divisions were in the process of formation in Germany.[48] Combat losses throughout the war, particularly on the Eastern Front, meant that the Germans no longer had a pool of able young men from which to draw. German soldiers were now on average six years older than their Allied counterparts. Many in the Normandy area were Ostlegionen (eastern legions) – conscripts and volunteers from Russia, Mongolia, and elsewhere. They were provided mainly with unreliable captured equipment and lacked motorised transport.[49] Many German units were under strength.[50]

German Supreme commander: Adolf Hitler

Cotentin Peninsula

Allied forces attacking Utah Beach faced the following German units stationed on the Cotentin Peninsula:

Grandcamps Sector

German troops using captured French tanks (Beutepanzer) in Normandy, 1944

Americans assaulting Omaha Beach were faced the following troops:

  • 352nd Infanterie-Division logo.jpg 352nd Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, a full-strength unit of around 12,000 brought in by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments.[53]
    • 914th Grenadier Regiment[54]
    • 915th Grenadier Regiment (as reserves)[54]
    • 916th Grenadier Regiment[54]
    • 726th Infantry Regiment (from 716th Infantry Division)[54]
    • 352nd Artillery Regiment[54]

Allied forces at Gold and Juno faced the following elements of the 352nd Infantry Division:

  • 914th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 915th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 916th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 352nd Artillery Regiment[55]

Forces around Caen

Allied forces attacking Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches faced the following German units:

Atlantic Wall

Main articles: Atlantic Wall and English Channel

Map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in green

  German Reich and Axis powers
  Allies
  Neutral countries

Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler had ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, meant that most of the strongpoints were never built.[59] As it was expected to be the site of the invasion, the Pas de Calais was heavily defended.[59] In the Normandy area, the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo.[27] Rommel was assigned to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg,[59][60] and was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. Reserves for this group included the 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer divisions.[61][62]

Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beaches to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks.[63] Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high water mark.[41] Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.[63] On Rommel’s order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled.[27] The Allied air offensive over Germany had crippled the Luftwaffe and established air supremacy over western Europe, so Rommel knew he could not expect effective air support.[64] The Luftwaffe could muster only 815 aircraft[65] over Normandy in comparison to the Allies’ 9,543.[66] Rommel arranged for booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel’s asparagus) to be installed in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings.[27]

Armoured reserves

Rommel believed that Germany’s best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore. He requested that the mobile reserves, especially tanks, be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, Geyr, and other senior commanders objected. They believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. He also noted that, in the Italian Campaign, the armoured units stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel’s opinion was that, because of Allied air supremacy, the large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was under way. Hitler made the final decision, which was to leave three Panzer divisions under Geyr’s command and give Rommel operational control of three more as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders.[67][68][69]

Allied order of battle

D-day assault routes into Normandy

Commander, SHAEF: General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Commander, 21st Army Group: General Bernard Montgomery[70]

American zones

Commander, First Army (United States): General Omar Bradley[70]

The First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions.

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D-Day – Omaha/Utah Beach

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Utah Beach

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Omaha beach amazing real pictures

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Omaha Beach

British and Canadian zones

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.

Commander, Second Army (Britain and Canada): Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey[70]

Overall, the Second Army contingent consisted of 83,115 men, 61,715 of them British.[11] The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of personnel from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by overseas air crew. For example, the Australian contribution to the operation included a regular Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron, nine Article XV squadrons, and hundreds of personnel posted to RAF units and RN warships.[74] The RAF supplied two-thirds of the aircraft involved in the invasion.[75]

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D-Day Gold Beach WWII British Landing Beach Normandy France

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Gold Beach

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WW2: Juno Beach

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Juno Beach
                                              

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D-Day revisited: assault on Sword Beach

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Sword Beach

Some elements of the 79th Armoured Division (commanded by Major General Percy Hobart[79]) provided specialised armoured vehicles which supported the landings on all beaches in Second Army’s sector.

Coordination with the French Resistance

French Resistance members and Allied paratroopers discuss the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944

Through the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance. The Allies developed four plans for the Resistance to execute on D-Day and the following days:

  • Plan Vert was a 15-day operation to sabotage the rail system.
  • Plan Bleu dealt with destroying electrical facilities.
  • Plan Tortue was a delaying operation aimed at the enemy forces that would potentially reinforce Axis forces at Normandy.
  • Plan Violet dealt with cutting underground telephone and teleprinter cables.[80]

The resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by messages personnels transmitted by the BBC’s French service from London. Several hundred of these messages, which might be snatches of poetry, quotations from literature, or random sentences, were regularly transmitted, masking the few that were actually significant. In the weeks preceding the landings, lists of messages and their meanings were distributed to resistance groups.[81] An increase in radio activity on 5 June was correctly interpreted by German intelligence to mean that an invasion was imminent or underway. However, because of the barrage of previous false warnings and misinformation, most units ignored the warning.[82][83]

A 1965 report from the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Center details the results of the French Resistance’s sabotage efforts: “In the southeast, 52 locomotives were destroyed on 6 June and the railway line cut in more than 500 places. Normandy was isolated as of 7 June.”[84]

Naval activity

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on 6 June 1944.

Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett as a “never surpassed masterpiece of planning”.[85] In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had served as Flag officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years earlier. He had also been responsible for the naval planning of the invasion of North Africa in 1942, and one of the two fleets carrying troops for the invasion of Sicily the following year.[86]

The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.[11] The majority of the fleet was supplied by the UK and Canada, who provided 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft.[75] There were 195,700 naval personnel involved.[11] The invasion fleet was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the American sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors.[87][86] Available to the fleet were five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors.[88] German ships in the area on D-Day included three torpedo boats, twenty-nine fast attack craft, thirty-six R boats, and thirty-six minesweepers and patrol boats.[89] The Germans also had several U-boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined.[41]

Naval losses

At 05:10, four German torpedo boats reached the Eastern Task Force and launched fifteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the battleships HMS Warspite and Ramillies. After firing, the German vessels turned away and fled east into a smoke screen that had been laid by the RAF to shield the fleet from the long-range battery at Le Havre.[90] Allied losses to mines included USS Corry off Utah and USS PC-1261, a 173-foot patrol craft.[91] In addition, many landing craft were lost.[92]

Bombing

Main article: Bombing of Normandy

Map of the invasion area showing channels cleared of mines, location of vessels engaged in bombardment, and targets on shore

Bombing of Normandy began around midnight with over 2,200 British and American bombers attacking targets along the coast and further inland.[41] The coastal bombing attack was largely ineffective at Omaha, because low cloud cover made the assigned targets difficult to see. Concerned about inflicting casualties on their own troops, many bombers delayed their attacks too long and failed to hit the beach defences.[93] The Germans had 570 aircraft stationed in Normandy and the Low Countries on D-Day, and another 964 in Germany.[41]

Minesweepers began clearing channels for the invasion fleet shortly after midnight and finished just after dawn without encountering the enemy.[94] The Western Task Force included the battleships Arkansas, Nevada, and Texas, plus eight cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers, and one monitor.[95] The Eastern Task Force included the battleships HMS Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor HMS Roberts, twelve cruisers, and thirty-seven destroyers.[6] Naval bombardment of areas behind the beach commenced at 05:45, while it was still dark, with the gunners switching to pre-assigned targets on the beach as soon as it was light enough to see, at 05:50.[96] Since troops were scheduled to land at Utah and Omaha starting at 06:30 (an hour earlier than the British beaches), these areas received only about 40 minutes of naval bombardment before the assault troops began to land on the shore.[97] Some of the landing craft had been modified to provide close support fire, and self-propelled amphibious Duplex-Drive tanks (DD tanks), specially designed for the Normandy landings, were to land shortly before the infantry to provide covering fire. However, few arrived in advance of the infantry, and many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.[98][99]

The landings

Airborne operations

The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead to allow the buildup of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counter-attacks before the buildup of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy’s ability to organise and launch counter-attacks during this critical period, airborne operations were used to seize key objectives such as bridges, road crossings, and terrain features, particularly on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings some distance behind the beaches were also intended to ease the egress of the amphibious forces off the beaches, and in some cases to neutralise German coastal defence batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.[100][101]

The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach, where they hoped to capture and control the few narrow causeways through terrain that had been intentionally flooded by the Germans. Reports from Allied intelligence in mid-May of the arrival of the German 91st Infantry Division meant the intended drop zones had to be shifted eastward and to the south.[102] The British 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank, was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, destroy five bridges over the Dives 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east, and destroy the Merville Gun Battery overlooking Sword Beach.[103] Free French paratroopers from the British SAS Brigade were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June through August in Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney.[104][105]

BBC war correspondent Robert Barr described the scene as paratroopers prepared to board their aircraft:

Their faces were darkened with cocoa; sheathed knives were strapped to their ankles; tommy guns strapped to their waists; bandoliers and hand grenades, coils of rope, pick handles, spades, rubber dinghies hung around them, and a few personal oddments, like the lad who was taking a newspaper to read on the plane … There was an easy familiar touch about the way they were getting ready, as though they had done it often before. Well, yes, they had kitted up and climbed aboard often just like this – twenty, thirty, forty times some of them, but it had never been quite like this before. This was the first combat jump for every one of them.[106]

American airborne landings

Gliders are delivered to the Cotentin Peninsula by Douglas C-47 Skytrains. 6 June 1944.

The American airborne landings began with the arrival of pathfinders at 00:15. Navigation was difficult because of a bank of thick cloud, and as a result only one of the five paratrooper drop zones was accurately marked with radar signals and Aldis lamps.[107] Paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering over 13,000 men, were delivered by Douglas C-47 Skytrains of the IX Troop Carrier Command.[108] To avoid flying over the invasion fleet, the planes arrived from the west over the Cotentin Peninsula and exited over Utah Beach.[109][107]

Paratroops from 101st Airborne were dropped beginning around 01:30, tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah Beach and destroying road and rail bridges over the Douve River.[110] The C-47s could not fly in a tight formation because of thick cloud cover, and many paratroopers were dropped far from their intended landing zones. Many planes came in so low that they were under fire from both flak and machine gun fire. Some paratroopers were killed on impact when their parachutes did not have time to open, and others drowned in the flooded fields.[111] Gathering together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the bocage terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes.[112][113] Some units did not arrive at their targets until afternoon, by which time several of the causeways had already been cleared by members of the 4th Infantry Division moving up from the beach.[114]

Troops of the 82nd Airborne began arriving around 02:30, with the primary objective of capturing two bridges over the River Merderet and destroying two bridges over the Douve.[110] On the east side of the river, 75 per cent of the paratroopers landed in or near their drop zone, and within two hours they captured the important crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église (the first town liberated in the invasion[115]) and began working to protect the western flank.[116] Because of the failure of the pathfinders to accurately mark their drop zone, the two regiments dropped on the west side of the Merderet were extremely scattered, with only four per cent landing in the target area.[116] Many landed in nearby swamps, with much loss of life.[117] Paratroopers consolidated into small groups, usually a combination of men of various ranks from different units, and attempted to concentrate on nearby objectives.[118] They captured but failed to hold the Merderet River bridge at La Fière, and fighting for the crossing continued for several days.[119]

Reinforcements arrived by glider around 04:00 (Mission Chicago and Mission Detroit), and 21:00 (Mission Keokuk and Mission Elmira), bringing additional troops and heavy equipment. Like the paratroopers, many landed far from their drop zones.[120] Even those that landed on target experienced difficulty, with heavy cargo such as Jeeps shifting during landing, crashing through the wooden fuselage, and in some cases crushing personnel on board.[121]

After 24 hours, only 2,500 men of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd Airborne were under the control of their divisions, approximately a third of the force dropped. This wide dispersal had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response.[122] The 7th Army received notification of the parachute drops at 01:20, but Rundstedt did not initially believe that a major invasion was underway. The destruction of radar stations along the Normandy coast in the week before the invasion meant that the Germans did not detect the approaching fleet until 02:00.[123]

British and Canadian airborne landings

Main article: Operation Tonga

An abandoned Waco CG-4 glider is examined by German troops.

The first Allied action of D-Day was Operation Deadstick, a glider assault at 00:16 at Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and the bridge (since renamed Horsa Bridge) over the Orne, half a mile (800 metres) to the east. Both bridges were quickly captured intact, with light casualties, by members of the 5th Parachute Brigade and the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.[124][125] The five bridges over the Dives were destroyed with minimal difficulty by the 3rd Parachute Brigade.[126][127] Meanwhile, the pathfinders tasked with setting up radar beacons and lights for further paratroopers (scheduled to begin arriving at 00:50 to clear the landing zone north of Ranville) were blown off course, and had to set up the navigation aids too far east. Many paratroopers, also blown too far east, landed far from their intended drop zones; some took hours or even days to be reunited with their units.[128][129] Major General Richard Gale arrived in the third wave of gliders at 03:30, along with equipment, such as antitank guns and jeeps, and more troops to help secure the area from counter-attacks, which were initially staged only by troops in the immediate vicinity of the landings.[130] At 02:00, the commander of the German 716th Infantry Division ordered Feuchtinger to move his 21st Panzer Division into position to counter-attack. However, as the division was part of the armoured reserve, Feuchtinger was obliged to seek clearance from OKW before he could commit his formation.[131] Feuchtinger did not receive orders until nearly 09:00, but in the meantime on his own initiative he put together a battle group (including tanks) to fight the British forces east of the Orne.[132]

Only 160 men out of the 600 members of the 9th Battalion tasked with eliminating the enemy battery at Merville arrived at the rendezvous point. Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, in charge of the operation, decided to proceed regardless, as the emplacement had to be destroyed by 06:00 to prevent it firing on the invasion fleet and the troops arriving on Sword Beach. In the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, Allied forces disabled the guns at a cost of 75 casualties. The emplacement was found to contain 75 mm guns rather than the expected 150 mm heavy coastal artillery.[133]

With this action, the last of the D-Day goals of the British 6th Airborne Division was achieved.[134] They were reinforced at 12:00 by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who landed on Sword Beach, and by the 6th Airlanding Brigade, who arrived in gliders at 21:00 in Operation Mallard.[135]

Utah Beach

Main article: Utah Beach

Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto Utah Beach. Landing craft can be seen in the background.

Utah Beach was in the area defended by two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment.[136] Members of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division were the first to land, arriving at 06:30. Their landing craft were pushed to the south by strong currents, and they found themselves about 2,000 yards (1.8 km) from their intended landing zone. This site turned out to be better, as there was only one strongpoint nearby rather than two, and bombers of IX Bomber Command had bombed the defences from lower than their prescribed altitude, inflicting considerable damage. In addition, the strong currents had washed ashore many of the underwater obstacles. The assistant commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the first senior officer ashore, made the decision to “start the war from right here”, and ordered further landings to be re-routed.[137][138]

The initial assault battalions were quickly followed by 28 DD tanks and several waves of engineer and demolition teams to remove beach obstacles and clear the area directly behind the beach of obstacles and mines. Gaps were blown in the sea wall to allow quicker access for troops and tanks. Combat teams began to exit the beach at around 09:00, with some infantry wading through the flooded fields rather than travelling on the single road. They skirmished throughout the day with elements of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, who were armed with antitank guns and rifles. The main strongpoint in the area and another 1,300 yards (1.2 km) to the south were disabled by noon.[139] The 4th Infantry Division did not meet all of their D-Day objectives at Utah Beach, partly because they had arrived too far to the south, but they landed 21,000 troops at the cost of only 197 casualties.[140][141]

Pointe du Hoc

Main article: Pointe du Hoc

Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc, a prominent headland situated between Utah and Omaha, was assigned to two hundred men of 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Their task was to scale the 30-metre (98 ft) cliffs with grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top. The cliffs were defended by the German 352nd Infantry Division and French collaborators firing from above.[142] Allied destroyers Satterlee and Talybont provided fire support. After scaling the cliffs, the Rangers discovered that the guns had already been withdrawn. They located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them with explosives.[142]

The now-isolated Rangers fended off numerous counter-attacks from the German 914th Grenadier Regiment. The men at the point became isolated and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not arrive until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion and others arrived.[143][144] By then, Rudder’s men had run out of ammunition and were using captured German weapons. Several men were killed as a result, because the German weapons made a distinctive noise, and the men were mistaken for the enemy.[145] By the end of the battle, the Rangers casualties were 135 dead and wounded, while German casualties were 50 killed and 40 captured. An unknown number of French collaborators were executed.[146][147]

Omaha Beach

Main article: Omaha Beach

Assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944.

Omaha, the most heavily defended beach, was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division.[148] They faced the 352nd Infantry Division rather than the expected single regiment.[149] Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or caused them to be delayed.[150] For fear of hitting the landing craft, American bombers delayed releasing their loads and, as a result, most of the beach obstacles at Omaha remained undamaged when the men came ashore.[151] Many of the landing craft ran aground on sandbars and the men had to wade 50 to 100 yards (46 to 91 m) in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach.[99] In spite of the rough seas, DD tanks of two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion were dropped 5,000 yards (4,600 m) from shore, and 27 of the 32 flooded and sank, with the loss of 33 crew.[152] Some tanks, disabled on the beach, continued to provide covering fire until their ammunition ran out or they were swamped by the rising tide.[153]

Casualties were around 2,000, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above.[154] Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to provide fire support so landings could resume.[155] Exit from the beach was possible only via five heavily defended gullies, and by late morning barely 600 men had reached the higher ground.[156] By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the gullies of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach.[156] The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives for Omaha were accomplished by D+3.[157]

Gold Beach

Main article: Gold Beach

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach.

At Gold, high winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were released close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned.[158] Three of the four guns in a large emplacement at the Longues-sur-Mer battery were disabled by direct hits from the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut at 06:20. The fourth gun resumed firing intermittently in the afternoon, and its garrison surrendered on 7 June.[159] Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strongpoint, which had its embrasure facing east to provide enfilade fire along the beach and had a thick concrete wall on the seaward side.[160] Its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00, when a modified Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tank fired a large petard charge into its rear entrance.[161][162] A second casemated emplacement at La Rivière containing an 88 mm gun was neutralised by a tank at 07:30.[163]

Meanwhile, infantry began clearing the heavily fortified houses along the shore and advanced on targets further inland.[164] The No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando moved toward the small port at Port-en-Bessin and captured it the following day in the Battle of Port-en-Bessin.[165] Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis received the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day for his actions while attacking two pillboxes at the Mont Fleury high point.[166] On the western flank, the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry “B”), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno.[167] Bayeux was not captured the first day due to stiff resistance from the 352nd Infantry Division.[164] Allied casualties at Gold Beach are estimated at 1,000.[11]

Juno Beach

Main article: Juno Beach

Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” land on Mike Beach sector of Juno Beach, 6 June 1944.

The landing at Juno was delayed because of choppy seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences.[168] Several exits from the beach were created, but not without difficulty. At Mike Beach on the western flank, a large crater was filled using an abandoned AVRE tank and several rolls of fascine, which were then covered by a temporary bridge. The tank remained in place until 1972, when it was removed and restored by members of the Royal Engineers.[169] The beach and nearby streets were clogged with traffic for most of the day, making it difficult to move inland.[92]

Major German strongpoints with 75 mm guns, machine-gun nests, concrete fortifications, barbed wire, and mines were located at Courseulles-sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, and Bernières-sur-Mer.[170] The towns themselves also had to be cleared in house-to-house fighting.[171] Soldiers on their way to Bény-sur-Mer, 3 miles (5 km) inland, discovered that the road was well covered by machine gun emplacements that had to be outflanked before the advance could proceed.[172] Elements of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade advanced to within sight of the Carpiquet airfield late in the afternoon, but by this time their supporting armour was low on ammunition so the Canadians dug in for the night. The airfield was not captured until a month later as the area became the scene of fierce fighting.[173] By nightfall, the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep.[174] Casualties at Juno were 961 men.[175]

Sword Beach

Main article: Sword Beach

British troops take cover after landing on Sword Beach.

On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks of the first wave made it safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30.[176] The beach was heavily mined and peppered with obstacles, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous.[177] In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, so manoeuvring the armour was difficult. The beach quickly became congested.[178] Brigadier Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and his 1st Special Service Brigade arrived in the second wave, piped ashore by Private Bill Millin, Lovat’s personal piper.[179] Members of No. 4 Commando moved through Ouistreham to attack from the rear a German gun battery on the shore. A concrete observation and control tower at this emplacement had to be bypassed and was not captured until several days later.[180] French forces under Commander Philippe Kieffer (the first French soldiers to arrive in Normandy) attacked and cleared the heavily fortified strongpoint at the casino at Riva Bella, with the aid of one of the DD tanks.[180]

The ‘Morris’ strongpoint near Colleville-sur-Mer was captured after about an hour of fighting.[178] The nearby ‘Hillman’ strongpoint, headquarters of the 736th Infantry Regiment, was a large complex defensive work that had come through the morning’s bombardment essentially undamaged. It was not captured until 20:15.[181] The 2nd Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry began advancing to Caen on foot, coming within a few kilometres of the town, but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support.[182] At 16:00, the 21st Panzer Division mounted a counter-attack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the Channel. It met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Division and was soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux.[183][184] Estimates of Allied casualties on Sword Beach are as high as 1,000.[11]

Analysis

Situation map for 24:00, 6 June 1944

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.[185] Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day,[29] with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.[186] Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.[187] The Germans lost 1,000 men.[188] The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah) linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches; none of these objectives were achieved.[32] The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep.[189] Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July.[190] The Germans had ordered French civilians, other than those deemed essential to the war effort, to leave potential combat zones in Normandy.[191] Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000 people.[192]

Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere.[193] The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obligated to defend a huge stretch of coastline.[194] The Allies achieved and maintained air supremacy, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks.[195] Transportation infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies.[196] Some of the opening bombardment was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact,[151] but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches.[197] Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command were also factors in the Allied success.[198]

War memorials and tourism

The La Cambe German war cemetery, near Bayeux

At Omaha Beach, parts of the Mulberry harbour are still visible, and a few of the beach obstacles remain. A memorial to the American National Guard sits at the location of a former German strongpoint. Pointe du Hoc is little changed from 1944, with the terrain covered with bomb craters and most of the concrete bunkers still in place. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is nearby, in Colleville-sur-Mer.[199] A museum about the Utah landings is located at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and there is one dedicated to the activities of the American airmen at Sainte-Mère-Église. Two German military cemeteries are located nearby.[200]

Pegasus Bridge, a target of the British 6th Airborne, was the site of some of the earliest action of the Normandy landings. The bridge was replaced in 1994 by one similar in appearance, and the original is now housed on the grounds of a nearby museum complex.[201] Sections of Mulberry Harbour B still sit in the sea at Arromanches, and the well-preserved Longues-sur-Mer battery is nearby.[202] The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003, was funded by the Canadian federal and provincial governments, France, and Canadian veterans

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

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McGrath, J (Pilot Officer) – 15 kills

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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.”

The Falklands War – The Untold Story

The Falklands War – The Untold Story

Falklands Crisis was a 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The conflict resulted from the long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which lie in the South Atlantic, east of Argentina.

The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas), also known as the Falklands Conflict, Falklands Crisis, and the Guerra del Atlántico Sur (Spanish for “South Atlantic War“), was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two British overseas territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It began on Friday, 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands (and, the following day, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands) in an attempt to establish the sovereignty it had long claimed over them. On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.

The conflict was a major episode in the protracted confrontation over the territories’ sovereignty. Argentina asserted (and maintains to this day) that the islands are Argentinian territory,[6] and the Argentine government thus characterised its military action as the reclamation of its own territory. The British government regarded the action as an invasion of a territory that had been a Crown colony since 1841. Falkland Islanders, who have inhabited the islands since the early 19th century, are predominantly descendants of British settlers, and favour British sovereignty. Neither state, however, officially declared war (both sides did declare the Islands areas a war zone and officially recognised that a state of war existed between them) and hostilities were almost exclusively limited to the territories under dispute and the area of the South Atlantic where they lie.

The conflict has had a strong impact in both countries and has been the subject of various books, articles, films, and songs. Patriotic sentiment ran high in Argentina, but the outcome prompted large protests against the ruling military government, hastening its downfall. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party government, bolstered by the successful outcome, was re-elected the following year. The cultural and political weight of the conflict has had less effect in Britain than in Argentina, where it remains a continued topic for discussion.[7]

Relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina were restored in 1989 following a meeting in Madrid, Spain, at which the two countries’ governments issued a joint statement.[8] No change in either country’s position regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands was made explicit. In 1994, Argentina’s claim to the territories was added to its constitution.[9]

Lead-up to the conflict

Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri, leader of the Argentinian Junta
Admiral Jorge Anaya was the driving force in the Junta’s decision to invade.[10][11][12]

In the period leading up to the war – and, in particular, following the transfer of power between the military dictators General Jorge Rafael Videla and General Roberto Eduardo Viola late in March 1981 – Argentina had been in the midst of a devastating economic stagnation and large-scale civil unrest against the military junta that had been governing the country since 1976.[13] In December 1981 there was a further change in the Argentine military regime bringing to office a new junta headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri (acting president), Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo and Admiral Jorge Anaya. Anaya was the main architect and supporter of a military solution for the long-standing claim over the islands,[14] calculating that the United Kingdom would never respond militarily.[15]

By opting for military action, the Galtieri government hoped to mobilise the long-standing patriotic feelings of Argentines towards the islands, and thus divert public attention from the country’s chronic economic problems and the regime’s ongoing human rights violations.[16] Such action would also bolster its dwindling legitimacy. The newspaper La Prensa speculated in a step-by-step plan beginning with cutting off supplies to the Islands, ending in direct actions late in 1982, if the UN talks were fruitless.[17]

The ongoing tension between the two countries over the islands increased on 19 March when a group of Argentine scrap metal merchants (actually infiltrated by Argentine marines) raised the Argentine flag at South Georgia, an act that would later be seen as the first offensive action in the war. The Royal Navy ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance was dispatched from Stanley to South Georgia in response, subsequently leading to the invasion of South Georgia by Argentine forces on 3 April. The Argentine military junta, suspecting that the UK would reinforce its South Atlantic Forces,[18] ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands to be brought forward to 2 April.

Britain was initially taken by surprise by the Argentine attack on the South Atlantic islands, despite repeated warnings by Royal Navy captain Nicholas Barker and others. Barker believed that Defence Secretary John Nott‘s 1981 review (in which Nott described plans to withdraw the Endurance, Britain’s only naval presence in the South Atlantic) sent a signal to the Argentines that Britain was unwilling, and would soon be unable, to defend its territories and subjects in the Falklands.[19][20]

Argentine invasion

The Argentine destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad landed Special Forces south of Stanley

On 2 April 1982, The Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings off the Falkland Islands, following the civilian occupation of South Georgia on 19 March, before the Falklands War began. The invasion was met with a nominal defence organised by the Falkland Islands’ Governor Sir Rex Hunt, giving command to Major Mike Norman of the Royal Marines. The events of the invasion included the landing of Lieutenant Commander Guillermo Sanchez-Sabarots’ Amphibious Commandos Group, the attack on Moody Brook barracks, the engagement between the troops of Hugo Santillan and Bill Trollope at Stanley, and the final engagement and surrender at Government House.

Initial British response

The cover of Newsweek magazine, 19 April 1982, depicts HMS Hermes, flagship of the British Task Force.

Word of the invasion first reached Britain from Argentine sources.[21] A Ministry of Defence operative in London had a short telex conversation with Governor Hunt’s telex operator, who confirmed that Argentines were on the island and in control.[21][22] Later that day, BBC journalist Laurie Margolis was able to speak with an islander at Goose Green via amateur radio, who confirmed the presence of a large Argentine fleet and that Argentine forces had taken control of the island.[21] Operation Corporate was the codename given to the British military operations in the Falklands War. The commander of task force operations was Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. Operations lasted from 1 April 1982 to 20 June 1982.[23] The British undertook a series of military operations as a means of recapturing the Falklands from Argentine occupation. The British government had taken action prior to the 2 April invasion. In response to events on South Georgia, the submarines HMS Splendid and HMS Spartan were ordered to sail south on 29 March, whilst the stores ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Austin was dispatched from the Western Mediterranean to support HMS Endurance.[24] Lord Carrington had wished to send a third submarine, but the decision was deferred due to concerns about the impact on operational commitments.[24] Coincidentally, on 26 March, the submarine HMS Superb left Gibraltar and it was assumed in the press it was heading south. There has since been speculation that the effect of those reports was to panic the Argentine junta into invading the Falklands before nuclear submarines could be deployed.[24]

The following day, during a crisis meeting headed by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, advised them that “Britain could and should send a task force if the islands are invaded”. On 1 April, Leach sent orders to a Royal Navy force carrying out exercises in the Mediterranean to prepare to sail south. Following the invasion on 2 April, after an emergency meeting of the cabinet, approval was given to form a task force to retake the islands. This was backed in an emergency session of the House of Commons the next day.[25]

On 6 April, the British Government set up a War Cabinet to provide day-to-day political oversight of the campaign.[3] This was the critical instrument of crisis management for the British with its remit being to “keep under review political and military developments relating to the South Atlantic, and to report as necessary to the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee”. Until it was dissolved on 12 August, the War Cabinet met at least daily. Although Margaret Thatcher is described as dominating the War Cabinet, Lawrence Freedman notes in the Official History of the Falklands Campaign that she did not ignore opposition or fail to consult others. However, once a decision was reached she “did not look back”.[3]

Position of third party countries

On the evening of 3 April, the United Kingdom’s United Nations ambassador Sir Anthony Parsons put a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution, which condemned the hostilities and demanded the immediate Argentine withdrawal from the Islands, was adopted by the council the following day as United Nations Security Council Resolution 502, which passed with ten votes in support, one against (Panama) and four abstentions (China, the Soviet Union, Poland and Spain).[25][26][27] The UK received further political support from the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Economic Community. The EEC also provided economic support by imposing economic sanctions on Argentina. Argentina itself was politically backed by a majority of countries in Latin America and some members of the Non-Aligned Movement.[citation needed] On 20 May 1982, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rob Muldoon, announced that he would make HMNZS Canterbury, a Leander class frigate, available for use where the British thought fit to release a Royal Navy vessel for the Falklands.[28]

The war was an unexpected event in a world strained by the Cold War and the North–South divide. The response of some countries was the effort to mediate the crisis and later as the war began, the support (or criticism) based in terms of anti-colonialism, political solidarity, historical relationships or realpolitik.

The United States was concerned by the prospect of Argentina turning to the Soviet Union for support,[29] and initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. However, when Argentina refused the US peace overtures, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both Houses of the US Congress passed resolutions supporting the US action siding with the United Kingdom.[30]

The US provided the United Kingdom with military equipment ranging from submarine detectors to the latest missiles.[31][32][33][34] President Ronald Reagan approved the Royal Navy’s request to borrow the Sea Harrier-capable amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) if the British lost an aircraft carrier. The United States Navy developed a plan to help the British man the ship with American military contractors, likely retired sailors with knowledge of the Iwo Jima‍ ’​s systems.[35] France provided dissimilar aircraft training so Harrier pilots could train against the French aircraft used by Argentina.[36] French and British intelligence also worked to prevent Argentina from obtaining more Exocet missiles on the international market,[37] while at the same time Peru attempted to purchase 12 missiles for Argentina, in a failed secret operation.[38][39] Chile gave support to Britain in the form of intelligence about Argentine military and early warning radar.[40][41] Throughout the war, Argentina was afraid of a Chilean military intervention in Patagonia and kept some of her best mountain regiments away from the Falklands near the Chilean border as a precaution.[42]

In recent years, it has become known that a listening post located in Fauske, Norway was vital in giving the British intelligence information regarding Argentinian fleet locations. The listening post was designated Fauske II by Norway. The information was “stolen” from Soviet spy satellites, which were the only space assets that covered the South Atlantic.[43] Western powers such as the United States and the UK did not have their own satellite presence in this area at the time. A high ranking British military source claimed that the intelligence the British got from the Fauske II post as “Incredibly vital”:

When the war broke out, we had almost no intelligence information from this area. It was here we got help from the Norwegians, who gave us a stream of information about the Argentinian warships positions. The information came to us all the time and straight to our war headquarters at Northwood. The information was continuously updated and told us exactly where the Argentinian ships were.[43][44]

While France overtly backed the United Kingdom, a French technical team remained in Argentina throughout the war. French government sources have said that the French team was engaged in intelligence-gathering; however, it simultaneously provided direct material support to the Argentines, identifying and fixing faults in Exocet missile launchers.[45] According to the book Operation Israel, advisers from Israel Aerospace Industries were already in Argentina and continued their work during the conflict. The book also claims that Israel sold weapons and drop tanks in a secret operation in Peru.[46][47] Peru also openly sent “Mirages, pilots and missiles” to Argentina during the war.[48] Peru had earlier transferred ten Hercules transport planes to Argentina soon after the British Task Force had set sail in April 1982.[49] Nick van der Bijl records that, after the Argentine defeat at Goose Green, Venezuela and Guatemala offered to send paratroops to the Falklands.[50] Through Libya, under Muammar Gaddafi, Argentina received 20 launchers and 60 SA-7 missiles, as well as machine guns, mortars and mines; all in all, the load of four trips of two Boeing 707s of the AAF, refuelled in Recife with the knowledge and consent of the Brazilian government.[51] Some of these clandestine logistics operations were mounted by the Soviet Union.[52]

British Task Force

HMS Invincible, part of the task force. Pictured in 1990

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Sea Harrier FRS1. The gloss paint scheme was altered to a duller one en route south.

The British government had no contingency plan for an invasion of the islands, and the task force was rapidly put together from whatever vessels were available.[53] The nuclear submarine Conqueror set sail from France on 4 April, whilst the two aircraft carriers Invincible and Hermes, in the company of escort vessels, left Portsmouth only a day later.[25] On its return to Southampton from a world cruise on 7 April, the ocean liner SS Canberra was requisitioned and set sail two days later with 3 Commando Brigade aboard.[25] The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was also requisitioned and left Southampton on 12 May with 5th Infantry Brigade on board.[25] The whole task force eventually comprised 127 ships: 43 Royal Navy vessels, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and 62 merchant ships.[53]

The retaking of the Falkland Islands was considered extremely difficult. The US Navy considered a successful counter-invasion by the British “…a military impossibility.”[54] Firstly, the British were significantly constrained by the disparity in deployable air cover.[55] The British had 42 aircraft (28 Sea Harriers and 14 Harrier GR.3s) available for air combat operations,[56] against approximately 122 serviceable jet fighters, of which about 50 were used as air superiority fighters and the remainder as strike aircraft, in Argentina’s air forces during the war.[57] Crucially, the British lacked AEW aircraft.

Many of the British were also concerned by the Argentine surface fleet because it possessed many of the same weapons systems and capabilities as the British fleet, specifically Exocet-equipped vessels, in addition to two Type 209 submarines.[58] For this reason, the British planned to screen their fleet with submarines. They also envisaged a naval retreat on the appearance of Argentine ships to avoid surface combat.

By mid-April, the Royal Air Force had set up the airbase of RAF Ascension Island, co-located with Wideawake Airfield (USA) on the mid-Atlantic British overseas territory of Ascension Island, including a sizeable force of Avro Vulcan B Mk 2 bombers, Handley Page Victor K Mk 2 refuelling aircraft, and McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR Mk 2 fighters to protect them. Meanwhile, the main British naval task force arrived at Ascension to prepare for active service. A small force had already been sent south to recapture South Georgia.

Encounters began in April; the British Task Force was shadowed by Boeing 707 aircraft of the Argentine Air Force during their travel to the south.[59] Several of these flights were intercepted by Sea Harriers outside the British-imposed exclusion zone; the unarmed 707s were not attacked because diplomatic moves were still in progress and the UK had not yet decided to commit itself to armed force. On 23 April, a Brazilian commercial Douglas DC-10 from VARIG Airlines en route to South Africa was intercepted by British Harriers who visually identified the civilian plane.[60]

Recapture of South Georgia and the attack on Santa Fe

The South Georgia force, Operation Paraquet, under the command of Major Guy Sheridan RM, consisted of Marines from 42 Commando, a troop of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) troops who were intended to land as reconnaissance forces for an invasion by the Royal Marines. All were embarked on RFA Tidespring. First to arrive was the Churchill-class submarine HMS Conqueror on 19 April, and the island was over-flown by a radar-mapping Handley Page Victor on 20 April.

The first landings of SAS troops took place on 21 April, but—with the southern hemisphere autumn setting in—the weather was so bad that their landings and others made the next day were all withdrawn after two helicopters crashed in fog on Fortuna Glacier. On 23 April, a submarine alert was sounded and operations were halted, with Tidespring being withdrawn to deeper water to avoid interception. On 24 April, the British forces regrouped and headed in to attack.

The ARA Santa Fe sailing on the surface.

On 25 April, after resupplying the Argentine garrison in South Georgia, the submarine ARA Santa Fe was spotted on the surface[61] by a Westland Wessex HAS Mk 3 helicopter from HMS Antrim, which attacked the Argentine submarine with depth charges. HMS Plymouth launched a Westland Wasp HAS.Mk.1 helicopter, and HMS Brilliant launched a Westland Lynx HAS Mk 2. The Lynx launched a torpedo, and strafed the submarine with its pintle-mounted general purpose machine gun; the Wessex also fired on Santa Fe with its GPMG. The Wasp from HMS Plymouth as well as two other Wasps launched from HMS Endurance fired AS-12 ASM antiship missiles at the submarine, scoring hits. Santa Fe was damaged badly enough to prevent her from diving. The crew abandoned the submarine at the jetty at King Edward Point on South Georgia.

With Tidespring now far out to sea, and the Argentine forces augmented by the submarine’s crew, Major Sheridan decided to gather the 76 men he had and make a direct assault that day. After a short forced march by the British troops and a naval bombardment demonstration by two Royal Navy vessels (Antrim and Plymouth), the Argentine forces surrendered without resistance. The message sent from the naval force at South Georgia to London was, “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God Save the Queen.” The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, broke the news to the media, telling them to “Just rejoice at that news, and congratulate our forces and the Marines!”[62]

Black Buck raids

Main article: Operation Black Buck

On 1 May, British operations on the Falklands opened with the “Black Buck 1” attack (of a series of five) on the airfield at Stanley. A Vulcan bomber from Ascension flew on an 8,000-nautical-mile (15,000 km; 9,200 mi) round trip dropping conventional bombs across the runway at Stanley and back to Ascension. The mission required repeated refuelling, and required several Victor tanker aircraft operating in concert, including tanker to tanker refuelling. The overall effect of the raids on the war is difficult to determine, and the raids consumed precious tanker resources from Ascension,[63] but also prevented Argentina from stationing fast jets on the islands.

The raids did minimal damage to the runway, and damage to radars was quickly repaired. As of 2014[update] the Royal Air Force Web site still states that all the three bombing missions had been successful,[64] but historian Lawrence Freedman, who had access to classified documents, said in a 2005 book that the subsequent bombing missions were failures.[65] Argentine sources said that the Vulcan raids influenced Argentina to withdraw some of its Mirage IIIs from Southern Argentina to the Buenos Aires Defence Zone.[66][67][68] This was later described as propaganda by Falklands veteran Commander Nigel Ward.[69] In any case, the effect of the Vulcan raids on Argentina’s deployment of defensive fighters was watered down when British officials made clear that there would be no strikes on air bases in Argentina.[70]

Of the five Black Buck raids, three were against Stanley Airfield, with the other two anti-radar missions using Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

Escalation of the air war

The Falklands had only three airfields. The longest and only paved runway was at the capital, Stanley, and even that was too short to support fast jets (although an arrestor gear was fitted in April to support Skyhawks). Therefore, the Argentines were forced to launch their major strikes from the mainland, severely hampering their efforts at forward staging, combat air patrols and close air support over the islands. The effective loiter time of incoming Argentine aircraft was low, and they were later compelled to overfly British forces in any attempt to attack the islands.

The first major Argentine strike force comprised 36 aircraft (A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers, English Electric Canberras, and Mirage III escorts), and was sent on 1 May, in the belief that the British invasion was imminent or landings had already taken place. Only a section of Grupo 6 (flying IAI Dagger aircraft) found ships, which were firing at Argentine defences near the islands. The Daggers managed to attack the ships and return safely. This greatly boosted morale of the Argentine pilots, who now knew they could survive an attack against modern warships, protected by radar ground clutter from the Islands and by using a late pop up profile. Meanwhile, other Argentine aircraft were intercepted by BAE Sea Harriers operating from HMS Invincible. A Dagger[71] and a Canberra were shot down.

Combat broke out between Sea Harrier FRS Mk 1 fighters of No. 801 Naval Air Squadron and Mirage III fighters of Grupo 8. Both sides refused to fight at the other’s best altitude, until two Mirages finally descended to engage. One was shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile (AAM), while the other escaped but was damaged and without enough fuel to return to its mainland air base. The plane made for Stanley, where it fell victim to friendly fire from the Argentine defenders.[72]

As a result of this experience, Argentine Air Force staff decided to employ A-4 Skyhawks and Daggers only as strike units, the Canberras only during the night, and Mirage IIIs (without air refuelling capability or any capable AAM) as decoys to lure away the British Sea Harriers. The decoying would be later extended with the formation of the Escuadrón Fénix, a squadron of civilian jets flying 24 hours-a-day simulating strike aircraft preparing to attack the fleet. On one of these flights, an Air Force Learjet was shot down, killing the squadron commander, Vice Commodore Rodolfo De La Colina, the highest-ranking Argentine officer to die in the war.[73][74] Stanley was used as an Argentine strongpoint throughout the conflict. Despite the Black Buck and Harrier raids on Stanley airfield (no fast jets were stationed there for air defence) and overnight shelling by detached ships, it was never out of action entirely. Stanley was defended by a mixture of surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (Franco-German Roland and British Tigercat) and Swiss-built Oerlikon 35 mm twin anti-aircraft cannons. Lockheed Hercules transport night flights brought supplies, weapons, vehicles, and fuel, and airlifted out the wounded up until the end of the conflict.

The only Argentine Hercules shot down by the British was lost on 1 June when TC-63 was intercepted by a Sea Harrier in daylight[75][76] when it was searching for the British fleet north-east of the islands after the Argentine Navy retired its last SP-2H Neptune due to airframe attrition.

Various options to attack the home base of the five Argentine Etendards at Río Grande were examined and discounted (Operation Mikado), subsequently five Royal Navy submarines lined up, submerged, on the edge of Argentina’s 12-nautical-mile (22 km; 14 mi) territorial limit to provide early warning of bombing raids on the British task force.[77]

Sinking of ARA General Belgrano

The ARA Belgrano.

Alferez Sobral

Two British naval task forces (one of surface vessels and one of submarines) and the Argentine fleet were operating in the neighbourhood of the Falklands and soon came into conflict. The first naval loss was the World War II-vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano. The nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror sank General Belgrano on 2 May. Three hundred and twenty-three members of General Belgrano‍ ’​s crew died in the incident. Over 700 men were rescued from the open ocean despite cold seas and stormy weather. The losses from General Belgrano totalled nearly half of the Argentine deaths in the Falklands conflict and the loss of the ship hardened the stance of the Argentine government.

Regardless of controversies over the sinking, due to disagreement on the exact nature of the Maritime Exclusion Zone and whether General Belgrano had been returning to port at the time of the sinking, it had a crucial strategic effect: the elimination of the Argentine naval threat. After her loss, the entire Argentine fleet, with the exception of the conventional submarine ARA San Luis,[61] returned to port and did not leave again during the fighting. The two escorting destroyers and the battle group centred on the aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo both withdrew from the area, ending the direct threat to the British fleet that their pincer movement had represented.

In a separate incident later that night, British forces engaged an Argentine patrol gunboat, the ARA Alferez Sobral, that was searching for the crew of the Argentine Air Force Canberra light bomber shot down on 1 May. Two Royal Navy Lynx helicopters fired four Sea Skua missiles at her. Badly damaged and with eight crew dead, Alferez Sobral managed to return to Puerto Deseado two days later. The Canberra’s crew were never found.

Sinking of HMS Sheffield

HMS Sheffield

On 4 May, two days after the sinking of Belgrano, the British lost the Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield to fire following an Exocet missile strike from the Argentine 2nd Naval Air Fighter/Attack Squadron. Sheffield had been ordered forward with two other Type 42s to provide a long-range radar and medium-high altitude missile picket far from the British carriers. She was struck amidships, with devastating effect, ultimately killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. The ship was abandoned several hours later, gutted and deformed by the fires that continued to burn for six more days. She finally sank outside the Maritime Exclusion Zone on 10 May.

The incident is described in detail by Admiral Sandy Woodward in his book One Hundred Days, Chapter One. Woodward was a former commanding officer of Sheffield.[78]

The tempo of operations increased throughout the second half of May as the United Nations’ attempts to mediate a peace were rejected by the British, who felt that any delay would make a campaign impractical in the South Atlantic storms. The destruction of Sheffield (the first Royal Navy ship sunk in action since World War II) had a profound impact on the British public, bringing home the fact that the “Falklands Crisis”, as the BBC News put it, was now an actual “shooting war”.

British special forces operations

Given the threat to the British fleet posed by the Etendard-Exocet combination, plans were made to use C-130s to fly in some SAS troops to attack the home base of the five Etendards at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego. The operation was codenamed “Mikado“. The operation was later scrapped, after acknowledging that its chances of success were limited, and replaced with a plan to use HMS Onyx to drop SAS operatives several miles offshore at night for them to make their way to the coast aboard rubber inflatables and proceed to destroy Argentina’s remaining Exocet stockpile.[79]

An SAS reconnaissance team was dispatched to carry out preparations for a seaborne infiltration. A Westland Sea King helicopter carrying the assigned team took off from HMS Invincible on the night of 17 May, but bad weather forced it to land 50 miles (80 km) from its target and the mission was aborted.[80] The pilot flew to Chile, landed south of Punta Arenas, and dropped off the SAS team. The helicopter’s crew of three then destroyed the aircraft, surrendered to Chilean police on 25 May, and were repatriated to the UK after interrogation. The discovery of the burnt-out helicopter attracted considerable international attention. Meanwhile, the SAS team crossed and penetrated deep into Argentina, but cancelled their mission after the Argentines suspected an SAS operation and deployed some 2,000 troops to search for them. The SAS men were able to return to Chile, and took a civilian flight back to the UK.[81]

On 14 May the SAS carried out a raid on Pebble Island on the Falklands, where the Argentine Navy had taken over a grass airstrip map for FMA IA 58 Pucará light ground-attack aircraft and Beechcraft T-34 Mentors, which resulted with the destruction of several aircraft.[nb 4]

Land battles

Landing at San Carlos—Bomb Alley

British sailors in anti-flash gear at action stations on HMS Cardiff near San Carlos, June 1982.

During the night of 21 May, the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp (Commodore, Amphibious Warfare – COMAW) mounted Operation Sutton, the amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water,[nb 5] on the northwestern coast of East Falkland facing onto Falkland Sound. The bay, known as Bomb Alley by British forces, was the scene of repeated air attacks by low-flying Argentine jets.[82][83]

The 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade were put ashore as follows: 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para) from the RORO ferry Norland and 40 Commando Royal Marines from the amphibious ship HMS Fearless were landed at San Carlos (Blue Beach), 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 Para) from the amphibious ship HMS Intrepid was landed at Port San Carlos (Green Beach) and 45 Commando from RFA Stromness was landed at Ajax Bay (Red Beach). Notably, the waves of eight LCUs and eight LCVPs were led by Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who had commanded the Falklands detachment NP8901 from March 1978 to 1979. 42 Commando on the ocean liner SS Canberra was a tactical reserve. Units from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, etc. and armoured reconnaissance vehicles were also put ashore with the landing craft, the Round table class LSL and mexeflote barges. Rapier missile launchers were carried as underslung loads of Sea Kings for rapid deployment.

By dawn the next day, they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations. From there, Brigadier Julian Thompson‘s plan was to capture Darwin and Goose Green before turning towards Port Stanley. Now, with the British troops on the ground, the Argentine Air Force began the night bombing campaign against them using Canberra bomber planes until the last day of the war (14 June).

HMS Antelope smoking after being hit, 23 May

At sea, the paucity of the British ships’ anti-aircraft defences was demonstrated in the sinking of HMS Ardent on 21 May, HMS Antelope on 24 May, and MV Atlantic Conveyor (struck by two AM39 Exocets) on 25 May along with a vital cargo of helicopters, runway-building equipment and tents. The loss of all but one of the Chinook helicopters being carried by the Atlantic Conveyor was a severe blow from a logistical perspective.

Also lost on this day was HMS Coventry, a sister to Sheffield, whilst in company with HMS Broadsword after being ordered to act as a decoy to draw away Argentine aircraft from other ships at San Carlos Bay.[84] HMS Argonaut and HMS Brilliant were badly damaged. However, many British ships escaped being sunk because of weaknesses of the Argentine pilots’ bombing tactics described below.

To avoid the highest concentration of British air defences, Argentine pilots released ordnance from very low altitude, and hence their bomb fuzes did not have sufficient time to arm before impact. The low release of the retarded bombs (some of which the British had sold to the Argentines years earlier) meant that many never exploded, as there was insufficient time in the air for them to arm themselves. A simple free-fall bomb in a low altitude release, impacts almost directly below the aircraft, which is then within the lethal fragmentation zone of the explosion.

A retarded bomb has a small parachute or air brake that opens to reduce the speed of the bomb to produce a safe horizontal separation between the two. The fuze for a retarded bomb requires that the retarder be open a minimum time to ensure safe separation. The pilots would have been aware of this—but due to the high concentration required to avoid SAMs, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and British Sea Harriers, many failed to climb to the necessary release point. The Argentinian forces solved the problem by fitting improvised retarding devices, allowing the pilots to effectively employ low-level bombing attacks on 8 June.

In his autobiographical account of the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward blamed the BBC World Service for disclosing information that led the Argentines to change the retarding devices on the bombs. The World Service reported the lack of detonations after receiving a briefing on the matter from a Ministry of Defence official. He describes the BBC as being more concerned with being “fearless seekers after truth” than with the lives of British servicemen.[85] Colonel ‘H’. Jones levelled similar accusations against the BBC after they disclosed the impending British attack on Goose Green by 2 Para.

Thirteen bombs hit British ships without detonating.[86] Lord Craig, the retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: “Six better fuses and we would have lost”[87] although Ardent and Antelope were both lost despite the failure of bombs to explode. The fuzes were functioning correctly, and the bombs were simply released from too low an altitude.[85] [88] The Argentines lost 22 aircraft in the attacks.[nb 6]

Battle of Goose Green

Infantry deployment in East Falklands after landing in San Carlos

Main article: Battle of Goose Green

From early on 27 May until 28 May, 2 Para, (approximately 500 men) with artillery support from 8 (Alma) Commando Battery, Royal Artillery, approached and attacked Darwin and Goose Green, which was held by the Argentine 12th Infantry Regiment. After a tough struggle that lasted all night and into the next day, the British won the battle; in all, 17 British and 47 Argentine soldiers were killed. In total 961 Argentine troops (including 202 Argentine Air Force personnel of the Condor airfield) were taken prisoner.

The BBC announced the taking of Goose Green on the BBC World Service before it had actually happened. It was during this attack that Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones, the commanding officer of 2 Para, was killed at the head of his battalion while charging into the well-prepared Argentine positions. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

With the sizeable Argentine force at Goose Green out of the way, British forces were now able to break out of the San Carlos beachhead. On 27 May, men of 45 Cdo and 3 Para started a loaded march across East Falkland towards the coastal settlement of Teal Inlet.

Special forces on Mount Kent

Meanwhile, 42 Commando prepared to move by helicopter to Mount Kent.[nb 7] Unknown to senior British officers, the Argentine generals were determined to tie down the British troops in the Mount Kent area, and on 27 and 28 May they sent transport aircraft loaded with Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles and commandos (602nd Commando Company and 601st National Gendarmerie Special Forces Squadron) to Stanley. This operation was known as Operation AUTOIMPUESTA (Self-Determination-Initiative).

For the next week, the SAS and the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre (M&AWC) of 3 Commando Brigade waged intense patrol battles with patrols of the volunteers’ 602nd Commando Company under Major Aldo Rico, normally 2nd in Command of the 22nd Mountain Infantry Regiment. Throughout 30 May, Royal Air Force Harriers were active over Mount Kent. One of them, Harrier XZ963, flown by Squadron Leader Jerry Pook—in responding to a call for help from D Squadron, attacked Mount Kent’s eastern lower slopes, and that led to its loss through small-arms fire. Pook was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[89]

The Argentine Navy used their last AM39 Exocet missile attempting to attack HMS Invincible on 30 May. There are Argentine claims that the missile struck;[90][91] however, the British have denied this, some citing that HMS Avenger shot it down.[92][93] When Invincible returned to the UK after the war, she showed no signs of missile damage.

On 31 May, the M&AWC defeated Argentine Special Forces at the Battle of Top Malo House. A 13-strong Argentine Army Commando detachment (Captain José Vercesi’s 1st Assault Section, 602nd Commando Company) found itself trapped in a small shepherd’s house at Top Malo. The Argentine commandos fired from windows and doorways and then took refuge in a stream bed 200 metres (700 ft) from the burning house. Completely surrounded, they fought 19 M&AWC marines under Captain Rod Boswell for 45 minutes until, with their ammunition almost exhausted, they elected to surrender.

Three Cadre members were badly wounded. On the Argentine side, there were two dead, including Lieutenant Ernesto Espinoza and Sergeant Mateo Sbert (who were decorated for their bravery). Only five Argentines were left unscathed. As the British mopped up Top Malo House, Lieutenant Fraser Haddow’s M&AWC patrol came down from Malo Hill, brandishing a large Union Flag. One wounded Argentine soldier, Lieutenant Horacio Losito, commented that their escape route would have taken them through Haddow’s position.

601st Commando tried to move forward to rescue 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain. Spotted by 42 Commando, they were engaged with 81mm mortars and forced to withdraw to Two Sisters mountain. The leader of 602nd Commando Company on Estancia Mountain realised his position had become untenable and after conferring with fellow officers ordered a withdrawal.[94]

The Argentine operation also saw the extensive use of helicopter support to position and extract patrols; the 601st Combat Aviation Battalion also suffered casualties. At about 11.00 am on 30 May, an Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma helicopter was brought down by a shoulder-launched Stinger surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired by the SAS in the vicinity of Mount Kent. Six National Gendarmerie Special Forces were killed and eight more wounded in the crash.[95]

As Brigadier Thompson commented, “It was fortunate that I had ignored the views expressed by Northwood HQ that reconnaissance of Mount Kent before insertion of 42 Commando was superfluous. Had D Squadron not been there, the Argentine Special Forces would have caught the Commando before de-planing and, in the darkness and confusion on a strange landing zone, inflicted heavy casualties on men and helicopters.”[96]

Bluff Cove and Fitzroy

By 1 June, with the arrival of a further 5,000 British troops of the 5th Infantry Brigade, the new British divisional commander, Major General Jeremy Moore RM, had sufficient force to start planning an offensive against Stanley. During this build-up, the Argentine air assaults on the British naval forces continued, killing 56. Of the dead, 32 were from the Welsh Guards on RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram on 8 June. According to Surgeon-Commander Rick Jolly of the Falklands Field Hospital, more than 150 men suffered burns and injuries of some kind in the attack, including, famously, Simon Weston.[97]

The Guards were sent to support an advance along the southern approach to Stanley. On 2 June, a small advance party of 2 Para moved to Swan Inlet house in a number of Army Westland Scout helicopters. Telephoning ahead to Fitzroy, they discovered that the area was clear of Argentines and (exceeding their authority) commandeered the one remaining RAF Chinook helicopter to frantically ferry another contingent of 2 Para ahead to Fitzroy (a settlement on Port Pleasant) and Bluff Cove (a settlement on Port Fitzroy).

This uncoordinated advance caused great difficulties in planning for the commanders of the combined operation, as they now found themselves with a 30 miles (48 km) string of indefensible positions on their southern flank. Support could not be sent by air as the single remaining Chinook was already heavily oversubscribed. The soldiers could march, but their equipment and heavy supplies would need to be ferried by sea.

Plans were drawn up for half the Welsh Guards to march light on the night of 2 June, whilst the Scots Guards and the second half of the Welsh Guards were to be ferried from San Carlos Water in the Landing Ship Logistics (LSL) Sir Tristram and the landing platform dock (LPD) Intrepid on the night of 5 June. Intrepid was planned to stay one day and unload itself and as much of Sir Tristram as possible, leaving the next evening for the relative safety of San Carlos. Escorts would be provided for this day, after which Sir Tristram would be left to unload using a Mexeflote (a powered raft) for as long as it took to finish.

Political pressure from above to not risk the LPD forced Commodore Clapp to alter this plan. Two lower-value LSLs would be sent, but with no suitable beaches to land on, Intrepid’s landing craft would need to accompany them to unload. A complicated operation across several nights with Intrepid and her sister ship Fearless sailing half-way to dispatch their craft was devised.

The attempted overland march by half the Welsh Guards failed, possibly as they refused to march light and attempted to carry their equipment. They returned to San Carlos and landed directly at Bluff Cove when Fearless dispatched her landing craft. Sir Tristram sailed on the night of 6 June and was joined by Sir Galahad at dawn on 7 June. Anchored 1,200 feet (370 m) apart in Port Pleasant, the landing ships were near Fitzroy, the designated landing point.

The landing craft should have been able to unload the ships to that point relatively quickly, but confusion over the ordered disembarcation point (the first half of the Guards going direct to Bluff Cove) resulted in the senior Welsh Guards infantry officer aboard insisting that his troops should be ferried the far longer distance directly to Port Fitzroy/Bluff Cove. The alternative was for the infantrymen to march via the recently repaired Bluff Cove bridge (destroyed by retreating Argentine combat engineers) to their destination, a journey of around seven miles (11 km).

On Sir Galahad‍ ’​s stern ramp there was an argument about what to do. The officers on board were told that they could not sail to Bluff Cove that day. They were told that they had to get their men off ship and onto the beach as soon as possible as the ships were vulnerable to enemy aircraft. It would take 20 minutes to transport the men to shore using the LCU and Mexeflote. They would then have the choice of walking the seven miles to Bluff Cove or wait until dark to sail there. The officers on board said that they would remain on board until dark and then sail. They refused to take their men off the ship. They possibly doubted that the bridge had been repaired due to the presence on board Sir Galahad of the Royal Engineer Troop whose job it was to repair the bridge. The Welsh Guards were keen to rejoin the rest of their Battalion, who were potentially facing the enemy without their support. They had also not seen any enemy aircraft since landing at San Carlos and may have been overconfident in the air defences. Ewen Southby-Tailyour gave a direct order for the men to leave the ship and go to the beach. The order was ignored.

The longer journey time of the landing craft taking the troops directly to Bluff Cove and the squabbling over how the landing was to be performed caused an enormous delay in unloading. This had disastrous consequences. Without escorts, having not yet established their air defence, and still almost fully laden, the two LSLs in Port Pleasant were sitting targets for two waves of Argentine A-4 Skyhawks.

The disaster at Port Pleasant (although often known as Bluff Cove) would provide the world with some of the most sobering images of the war as TV news video footage showed Navy helicopters hovering in thick smoke to winch survivors from the burning landing ships.

British casualties were 48 killed and 115 wounded.[98] Three Argentine pilots were also killed. The air strike delayed the scheduled British ground attack on Stanley by two days.[99] However, Argentine General Mario Menendez, commander of Argentine forces in the Falklands, was told that 900 British soldiers had died. He expected that the losses would cause enemy morale to drop and the British assault to stall.

Fall of Stanley

The road to Stanley

Argentine prisoners of war – Port Stanley.

On the night of 11 June, after several days of painstaking reconnaissance and logistic build-up, British forces launched a brigade-sized night attack against the heavily defended ring of high ground surrounding Stanley. Units of 3 Commando Brigade, supported by naval gunfire from several Royal Navy ships, simultaneously attacked in the Battle of Mount Harriet, Battle of Two Sisters, and Battle of Mount Longdon. Mount Harriet was taken at a cost of 2 British and 18 Argentine soldiers. At Two Sisters, the British faced both enemy resistance and friendly fire, but managed to capture their objectives. The toughest battle was at Mount Longdon. British forces were bogged down by assault rifle, mortar, machine gun, artillery fire, sniper fire, and ambushes. Despite this, the British continued their advance.

During this battle, 13 were killed when HMS Glamorgan, straying too close to shore while returning from the gun line, was struck by an improvised trailer-based Exocet MM38 launcher taken from the destroyer ARA Seguí by Argentine Navy technicians.[100] On the same day, Sergeant Ian McKay of 4 Platoon, B Company, 3 Para died in a grenade attack on an Argentine bunker, which earned him a posthumous Victoria Cross. After a night of fierce fighting, all objectives were secured. Both sides suffered heavy losses.

The night of 13 June saw the start of the second phase of attacks, in which the momentum of the initial assault was maintained. 2 Para, with CVRT support from The Blues and Royals, captured Wireless Ridge at the Battle of Wireless Ridge, with the loss of 3 British and 25 Argentine lives, and the 2nd battalion, Scots Guards captured Mount Tumbledown at the Battle of Mount Tumbledown, which cost 10 British and 30 Argentine lives.

A pile of discarded Argentine weapons in Port Stanley

With the last natural defence line at Mount Tumbledown breached, the Argentine town defences of Stanley began to falter. In the morning gloom, one company commander got lost and his junior officers became despondent. Private Santiago Carrizo of the 3rd Regiment described how a platoon commander ordered them to take up positions in the houses and “if a Kelper resists, shoot him”, but the entire company did nothing of the kind.[101]

A ceasefire was declared on 14 June and the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Brigade General Mario Menéndez, surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore the same day.

Recapture of South Sandwich Islands

The Argentine Thule Garrison at the Corbeta Uruguay base

On 20 June, the British retook the South Sandwich Islands (which involved accepting the surrender of the Southern Thule Garrison at the Corbeta Uruguay base), and declared hostilities over. Argentina had established Corbeta Uruguay in 1976, but prior to 1982 the United Kingdom had contested the existence of the Argentine base only through diplomatic channels.

Casualties

In total 907 were killed during the 74 days of the conflict:

Of the 86 Royal Navy personnel, 22 were lost in HMS Ardent, 19 + 1 lost in HMS Sheffield, 19 + 1 lost in HMS Coventry and 13 lost in HMS Glamorgan. Fourteen naval cooks were among the dead, the largest number from any one branch in the Royal Navy.

Thirty-three of the British Army’s dead came from the Welsh Guards, 21 from the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, 18 from the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, 19 from the Special Air Service, 3 from Royal Signals and 8 from each of the Scots Guards and Royal Engineers. The 1st battalion/7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles lost one man killed.

Two more British deaths may be attributed to Operation Corporate, bringing the total to 260:

  • Captain Brian Biddick from SS Uganda underwent an emergency operation on the voyage to the Falklands. Later he was repatriated by an RAF medical flight to the hospital at Wroughton where he died on 12 May.[114]
  • Paul Mills from HMS Coventry suffered from complications from a skull fracture sustained in the sinking of his ship and died on 29 March 1983; he is buried in his home town of Swavesey.[115]

There were 1,188 Argentine and 777 British non-fatal casualties.

Further information about the field hospitals and hospital ships is at Ajax Bay and List of hospitals and hospital ships of the Royal Navy. On the Argentine side beside the Military Hospital at Port Stanley, the Argentine Air Force Mobile Field Hospital was deployed at Comodoro Rivadavia.

Red Cross Box[edit]

Before British offensive operations began, the British and Argentine governments agreed to establish an area on the high seas where both sides could station hospital ships without fear of attack by the other side. This area, a circle 20 nautical miles in diameter, was referred to as the Red Cross Box (

 WikiMiniAtlas

48°30′S 53°45′W / 48.500°S 53.750°W / -48.500; -53.750), about 45 miles (72 km) north of Falkland Sound). Ultimately, the British stationed four ships (HMS Hydra, HMS Hecla and HMS Herald and the primary hospital ship Uganda) within the box, while the Argentinians stationed three (Almirante Irizar, Bahia Paraiso and Puerto Deseado).

Hecla at HM Naval Base Gibraltar, during conversion to a hospital ship for service during the Falklands War

The hospital ships were non-warships converted to serve as hospital ships. The three British naval vessels were survey vessels and Uganda was a passenger liner. Almirante Irizar was an icebreaker, Bahia Paraiso was an Antarctic supply transport and Puerto Deseado was a survey ship. The British and Argentine vessels operating within the Box were in radio contact and there was some transfer of patients between the hospital ships. For example, the British hospital ship SS Uganda on four occasions transferred patients to an Argentinian hospital ship. The British naval hospital ships operated as casualty ferries, carrying casualties from both sides from the Falklands to Uganda and operating a shuttle service between the Red Cross Box and Montevideo.

Throughout the conflict officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) conducted inspections to verify that all concerned were abiding by the rules of the Geneva Convention. On 12 June, some personnel transferred from the Argentine hospital ship to the British ships by helicopter. Argentine naval officers also inspected the British casualty ferries in the estuary of the River Plate.

British casualty evacuation

Hydra worked with Hecla and Herald, to take casualties from Uganda to Montevideo, Uruguay, where a fleet of Uruguayan ambulances would meet them. RAF VC10 aircraft then flew the casualties to the UK for transfer to the Princess Alexandra Royal Air Force Hospital at RAF Wroughton, near Swindon.[citation needed]

Aftermath

This brief war brought many consequences for all the parties involved, besides the considerable casualty rate and large materiel loss, especially of shipping and aircraft, relative to the deployed military strengths of the opposing sides.

In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity increased. The success of the Falklands campaign was widely regarded as the factor in the turnaround in fortunes for the Conservative government, who had been trailing behind the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the opinion polls for months before the conflict began, but after the success in the Falklands the Conservatives returned to the top of the opinion polls by a wide margin and went on to win the following year’s general election by a landslide.[116] Subsequently, Defence Secretary Nott’s proposed cuts to the Royal Navy were abandoned.

The islanders subsequently had full British citizenship restored in 1983, their lifestyle improved by investments Britain made after the war and by the liberalisation of economic measures that had been stalled through fear of angering Argentina. In 1985, a new constitution was enacted promoting self-government, which has continued to devolve power to the islanders.

In Argentina, the Falklands War meant that a possible war with Chile was avoided. Further, Argentina returned to a democratic government in the 1983 general election, the first free general election since 1973. It also had a major social impact, destroying the military’s image as the “moral reserve of the nation” that they had maintained through most of the 20th century.

Various figures have been produced for the number of veterans who have committed suicide since the war. Some studies have estimated that 264 British veterans and 350–500 Argentine veterans have committed suicide since 1982.[117][118][119] However, a detailed study[120] of 21,432 British veterans of the war commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence found that only 95 had died from “intentional self-harm and events of undetermined intent (suicides and open verdict deaths)”, a ratio no higher than that of the general population.[121]

Military analysis

Militarily, the Falklands conflict remains the largest air-naval combat operation between modern forces since the end of the Second World War. As such, it has been the subject of intense study by military analysts and historians. The most significant “lessons learned” include: the vulnerability of surface ships to anti-ship missiles and submarines, the challenges of co-ordinating logistical support for a long-distance projection of power, and reconfirmation of the role of tactical air power, including the use of helicopters.

In 1986, the BBC broadcast the Horizon programme, In the Wake of HMS Sheffield, which discussed lessons learned from the conflict—and measures since taken to implement them, such as stealth ships and close-in weapon systems.

Memorials

The Monumento a los Caídos en Malvinas (“Monument for the Fallen in the Falklands”) in Plaza San Martín, Buenos Aires; a member of the historic Patricios regiment stands guard.[nb 8]

In addition to memorials on the islands, there is a memorial in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London to the British war dead.[122] In Argentina, there is a memorial at Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires,[123] another one in Rosario, and a third one in Ushuaia.

During the war, British dead were put into plastic body bags and buried in mass graves. After the war, the bodies were recovered; 14 were reburied at Blue Beach Military Cemetery and 64 were returned to Britain.

Many of the Argentine dead are buried in the Argentine Military Cemetery west of the Darwin Settlement. The government of Argentina declined an offer by Britain to have the bodies repatriated to the mainland.[124]

Minefields

Although some minefields have been cleared, a substantial number of them still exist in the islands, such as this one at Port William on East Falkland.

As of 2011, there were 113 uncleared minefields on the Falkland Islands and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) covering an area of 13 km2 (5.0 sq mi). Of this area, 5.5 km2 (2.1 sq mi) on the Murrell Peninsula were classified as being “suspected minefields” – the area had been heavily pastured for the previous 25 years without incident. It was estimated that these minefields had 20,000 anti-personnel mines and 5,000 anti-tank mines. No human casualties from mines or UXO have been reported in the Falkland Islands since 1984, and no civilian mine casualties have ever occurred on the islands. The UK reported six military personnel were injured in 1982 and a further two injured in 1983. Most military accidents took place while clearing the minefields in the immediate aftermath of the 1982 conflict or in the process of trying to establish the extent of the minefield perimeters, particularly where no detailed records existed.

On 9 May 2008, the Falkland Islands Government asserted that the minefields, which represent 0.1% of the available farmland on the islands “present no long term social or economic difficulties for the Falklands,” and that the impact of clearing the mines would cause more problems than containing them. However, the British Government, in accordance with its commitments under the Mine Ban Treaty has a commitment to clear the mines by the end of 2019. [125][126] In May 2012, it was announced that 3.7 km2 (1.4 sq mi) of Stanley Common (which lies between the Stanley – Mount Pleasant road and the shoreline) was made safe and had been opened to the public, opening up a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) stretch of coastline and a further two kilometres of shoreline along Mullet’s Creek.[127]

Press and publicity

Argentina

Gente‍ ’​s “Estamos ganando” headline (“We’re winning”)

Selected war correspondents were regularly flown to Port Stanley in military aircraft to report on the war. Back in Buenos Aires, newspapers and magazines faithfully reported on “the heroic actions of the largely conscript army and its successes”.[17]

Officers from the intelligence services were attached to the newspapers and ‘leaked’ information confirming the official communiqués from the government. The glossy magazines Gente and Siete Días swelled to 60 pages with colour photographs of British warships in flames – many of them faked – and bogus eyewitness reports of the Argentine commandos’ guerrilla war on South Georgia (6 May) and an already dead Pucará pilot’s attack on HMS Hermes[17] (Lt. Daniel Antonio Jukic had been killed at Goose Green during a British air strike on 1 May). Most of the faked photos actually came from the tabloid press. One of the best remembered headlines was “Estamos ganando” (“We’re winning”) from the magazine Gente, that would later use variations of it.[128]

The Argentine troops on the Falkland Islands could read Gaceta Argentina—a newspaper intended to boost morale among the servicemen. Some of its untruths could easily be unveiled by the soldiers who recovered corpses.[129]

The Malvinas course united the Argentines in a patriotic atmosphere that protected the junta from critics, and even opponents of the military government supported Galtieri; Ernesto Sabato said: “Don’t be mistaken, Europe; it is not a dictatorship who is fighting for the Malvinas, it is the whole Nation. Opponents of the military dictatorship, like me, are fighting to extirpate the last trace of colonialism.”[130] The Madres de Plaza de Mayo were even exposed to death threats from ordinary people.[17]

HMS Invincible was repeatedly sunk in the Argentine press,[131] and on 30 April 1982 the Argentine magazine Tal Cual showed Prime Minister Thatcher with an eyepatch and the text: Pirate, witch and assassin. Guilty![132] Three British reporters sent to Argentina to cover the war from the Argentine perspective were jailed until the end of the war.[133]

United Kingdom

The Sun‍ ’​s “Gotcha” headline

Seventeen newspaper reporters, two photographers, two radio reporters and three television reporters with five technicians sailed with the Task Force to the war. The Newspaper Publishers’ Association selected them from among 160 applicants, excluding foreign media. The hasty selection resulted in the inclusion of two journalists among the war reporters who were interested only in Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Andrew, who was serving in the conflict.[134] The Prince flew a helicopter on multiple missions, including anti-surface warfare, Exocet missile decoy and casualty evacuation.

Merchant vessels had the civilian Inmarsat uplink, which enabled written telex and voice report transmissions via satellite. SS Canberra had a facsimile machine that was used to upload 202 pictures from the South Atlantic over the course of the war. The Royal Navy leased bandwidth on the US Defense Satellite Communications System for worldwide communications. Television demands a thousand times the data rate of telephone, but the Ministry of Defence was unsuccessful in convincing the US to allocate more bandwidth.[135]

TV producers suspected that the enquiry was half-hearted; since the Vietnam War television pictures of casualties and traumatised soldiers were recognised as having negative propaganda value. However, the technology only allowed uploading a single frame per 20 minutes – and only if the military satellites were allocated 100% to television transmissions. Videotapes were shipped to Ascension Island, where a broadband satellite uplink was available, resulting in TV coverage being delayed by three weeks.[135]

The press was very dependent on the Royal Navy, and was censored on site. Many reporters in the UK knew more about the war than those with the Task Force.[135]

The Royal Navy expected Fleet Street to conduct a Second World War-style positive news campaign[136] but the majority of the British media, especially the BBC, reported the war in a neutral fashion.[137] These reporters referred to “the British troops” and “the Argentinian troops” instead of “our lads” and the “Argies”.[138] The two main tabloid papers presented opposing viewpoints: The Daily Mirror was decidedly anti-war, whilst The Sun became well known for headlines such as “Stick It Up Your Junta!,” which, along with the reporting in other tabloids,[139] led to accusations of xenophobia[131] [139][140] and jingoism.[131] [140][141][142] The Sun was condemned for its “Gotcha” headline following the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano.[143][144][145]

Cultural impact

There were wide-ranging influences on popular culture in both the UK and Argentina, from the immediate postwar period to the present. The then elderly Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges described the war as “a fight between two bald men over a comb”.[146] The words yomp and Exocet entered the British vernacular as a result of the war. The Falklands War also provided material for theatre, film and TV drama and influenced the output of musicians. In Argentina, the military government banned the broadcasting of music in the English language, giving way to the rise of local rock musicians.[147]

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]