|Part of the Battle of Britain|
A British convoy under air attack, 14 July 1940. The attack was filmed by a BBC crew and radio listeners tuned in to listen to the commentary.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Hugh Dowding
| Hermann Göring
W. von Richthofen
|Casualties and losses|
115 fighters destroyed
42 fighters damaged
71 pilots killed in action
19 pilots wounded in action
4 pilots missing in action[N 1]
35 transport ships sunk
7 fishing vessels
a number of naval vessels
losses include some neutral ships
at least 176 sailors killed
~300 casualties in total
80 fighters destroyed
36 fighter aircraft damaged
22 Dive bombers destroyed
22 Dive bombers damaged
100 medium bombers destroyed
33 medium bombers damaged
13 naval aircraft destroyed
1 naval aircraft damaged
201 airmen killed
75 airmen wounded
277 airmen missing
16 airmen captured[N 2]
The Kanalkampf or "Channel Struggle" was the name given to a series of Second World War air battles fought by the German Luftwaffe and British Royal Air Force (RAF) which marked the beginning of the Battle of Britain.
In June 1940 the Allies had been defeated in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Rather than come to terms with Germany, Britain rejected all overtures for a negotiated peace, resulting in Adolf Hitler issuing the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) Directive No. 16 ordering the invasion of the United Kingdom. The invasion of the United Kingdom was codenamed Operation Sea Lion (Unternehmen Seelöwe). Before this could be carried out, German air superiority or air supremacy was required. The Luftwaffe was to destroy the RAF in southern England in order to prevent it from attacking the invasion fleet or providing protection for the Royal Navy's Home Fleet which may have attempt to intercept a landing by sea. Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe's commander-in-chief, Reichsmarschall ("Imperial Marshal") Hermann Göring and the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (High Command of the Air Force) to prepare for the assault. The primary target was RAF Fighter Command: the destruction of which would deny the British their air superiority asset and hand the Luftwaffe command of the skies.
In June and July 1940 the Germans were engaged in an enormous logistical effort, moving two entire Luftflotten (Air Fleets) into airfields in France and Belgium along with all their administrative, manpower and material resources. Unable to begin operations against the island of Great Britain immediately, the Luftwaffe began a series of military operations against British merchant convoys and shipping passing through the English Channel from the Atlantic on their way to ports in eastern England. The German operations were designed to help cut off British shipping communications in the south and to encourage the RAF to battle as a prelude to the main effort in August.
The attacks against the Channel convoys are considered to be the start of the Battle of Britain. There is some dispute in the historiography among historians concerning the dates for the beginning and end of the Battle of Britain. The British histories of the battle generally hold 10 July as the official start date. However, writers and historians in Germany and Britain acknowledge that large-scale air battles were fought over the Channel in between the Battle of France and Britain. Deliberate attacks against British coastal targets and convoys began on 4 July. Throughout Kanalkampf operations, the Luftwaffe was supported, albeit minimally, by the E-Boats of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy).
The Luftwaffe achieved success against the convoys. RAF Fighter Command did not protect the convoys adequately and German attacks inflicted heavy casualties on British shipping. The Royal Navy was forced to order a cessation of large convoys in Channel waters and the abandonment of those sea lanes to all major sea-going vessels until late summer 1940, when the core emphasis of German strategy switched to the British mainland and RAF-related targets. The battles did draw out Fighter Command as planned, but the Germans failed to cripple it. British air defences remained a formidable obstacle for the Luftwaffe in the coming campaign. During the course of the battle, both sides suffered heavy casualties.
- 1 Background
- 2 Forces involved
- 3 The Channel battles
- 3.1 1–3 July: prelude
- 3.2 4 July: Portland Harbour and Convoy OA.178
- 3.3 7–8 July: The battle of CE and CW Convoys
- 3.4 9 July: Zerstörergeschwader debuts
- 3.5 10 July: Battle over BREAD
- 3.6 11–12 July: BOOTY and AGENT
- 3.7 13–18 July: Sporadic fighting
- 3.8 19 July: Disaster for the Defiants
- 3.9 20 July: Battle over BOSOM
- 3.10 21–28 July: Skirmishes
- 3.11 29 July: Air battle over Dover
- 3.12 30 July–7 August: Weather and relative quiet
- 3.13 8 August: Battle over and around PEEWIT
- 3.14 11 August: BOOTY, AGENT, again, and ARENA
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 References
- 6 External links
German build up
The campaign did not start against the RAF until August. Throughout the intervening period, the Luftwaffe undertook its third major operational move within the space of two months. The first had seen it push forward its Air Fleets into the Low Countries and the second into southern France. Now it was expanded into northern France and Belgium, along the English Channel coast. It took time to establish the signal system in France owing to a shortage of trained staff officers while the units replenished after losses through the Ergänzungsverbände (supplemental formations).
The logistics challenge was also evident in the lethargic build up. Matters were not helped by the fact that the Luftwaffe and army had to repair the French and Belgian infrastructure which had been badly damaged during the Battle of France. The army was forced to rebuild bridges to supply forward bases. Air bases also required rebuilding after war damage in May and June. This often meant short-range dive bombers and fighters were sent to forward airfields which were urgently in need of electricity and running water for personnel.
Upon the French surrender the Luftwaffe supply system was breaking down. For example, on 8 July only 20 of the 84 railway tanks with aviation fuel had reached the main depot at Le Mans. The Transportgruppen (Transport Groups) could not pick up the slack and barely kept its own units running. Preparations continued at a glacial pace since the men responsible for the organisation of German air power and its transfer to the Channel in the most efficient way were enjoying the fruits of their new assignments in Paris. Senior staff members were distracted toward victory parades and accepting their promotions, including Göring who was promoted to Reichsmarschall. In the event, during the phase of the Kanalkampf the Germans succeeded in compiling powerful air forces to strike at convoys in the Channel. However, it took some 40 days after the French capitulation for the Luftwaffe to begin its assault on the British mainland.
Aside from a very few, isolated cases, the Luftwaffe did not operate over Britain in any force until France was on the brink of collapse. Any diversion of effort during the continental campaign ran contrary to the German methods in concentration of force. When German bomber crews flew over the country they did so a night and sorties were recorded in May and June 1940. When it was clear that Britain would not accede to Hitler's demands, the Luftwaffe undertook preparations to neutralise the country and end the fighting in Western Europe. This involved the transfer of two Luftflotten (Air Fleets)—Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3—into France and Belgium. Over the course of June and July sporadic attacks were carried out at night, both inland and along Britain's east and southern coastlines to keep the civil population awake and to damage British morale. However, these attacks were ill-directed and it was not clear to the British exactly what German intentions would be.
Operations against British sea communications did not appeal to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. The Luftwaffe was not prepared for naval warfare and this strategy was tantamount to Blockade. Blockade, which the German government announced would be in effect against Britain (from 18 July), required the cooperation of the Luftwaffe for the benefit and support of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy). It was not forthcoming. Göring loathed the navy and its Commander-in-Chief Großadmiral Erich Raeder. In Göring's eyes, both Raeder and the navy represented the bourgeois clique of German society the National Socialist revolution had pledged to eliminate. Cooperation would not be easy and the Reichsmarschall consistently refused to accept the navy's calls for assistance in the war against the Royal Navy and British commerce throughout the conflict.
Nevertheless, it was always the intention of the Reichsmarschall and the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL—High Command of the Air Force) to strike at the RAF and establish air superiority or air supremacy. This aspect of future operations was clear in Göring's 30 June directive. Göring hoped that a victory in the air battle would preclude an invasion of Britain by persuading the Churchill Government to either submit to, or reach a peace settlement with, Germany. This was most evident during a conference in Berlin on 31 July when Hitler outlined Operation Sea Lion and its objectives. Not a single Luftwaffe representative was present and Göring had ignored a number of summonses by Hitler to conferences aimed and inter-service cooperation. While the army and navy made tentative steps toward planning an amphibious assault, the OKL was engaged in an internal debate about which target sets should be attacked to attain control of the air as quickly as possible. Though Göring's directive mentioned cutting off British supplies he did not specifically mention shipping. On 11 July Chief of the General Staff Hans Jeschonnek ordered that coastal shipping should be attacked as a prelude to the main battle against the RAF and its infrastructure. His order was sanctioned by Göring. The two Luftflotten commanders, Hugo Sperrle and Albert Kesselring, had already begun such operations as the indecision of the OKL had left them with little else to do.
A number of inferences can be drawn from the OKL's decision to pursue coastal targets. The first was that these targets and locations were easier to find than targets inland. The second, was the Royal Air Force (RAF) would suffer a higher degree of attrition in comparison to fighting over land in defending them, since they would be fighting over an area which could and would be strongly contested by the bulk of its enemy. Moreover, RAF pilots that abandoned their aircraft over water would face the same peril as their German counterparts. Unlike the Luftwaffe, the RAF lacked an air-sea rescue service at that time and consequently the Germans stood to gain more of an advantage under those circumstances. A third was the obvious advantage in eliminating the English Channel as a conduit through which British imports could supply Greater London via the Thames Estuary. Shipping could still travel north of Scotland, but it would slow down the supply of materials for the British war effort. Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding preferred the navy to re-route its convoys that way to ease the burden on his forces.
Air Ministry and Admiralty
The Air Ministry and the Admiralty had a tempestuous history. Since the inception of the independent air force in April 1918 through the early 1930s, the two Services had been fighting over resources, influence and the right of the RAF to exist. Both the British Army and to a greater extent to the Navy, had attempted to divide the RAF into two, abolish the independent force, and return army and naval aviation to the older services. By 1940, tensions had cooled but suspicion on the part of the Air Ministry remained.
Fighter Command had cooperated in joint operations with the navy over Dunkirk when the RAF provided air superiority support for the naval forces withdrawing the British Army. These operations were not completely successful and incurred heavy casualties to both services. By 1 June the RAF was reducing its effort and saving its strength for the defence of Britain. On this day one Minesweeper, one transport, and three Destroyers were sunk and a further two destroyers damaged in their absence. Absence of air cover was not uncommon and the RAF believed itself to be more successful in battle than it was. The RAF over claimed German losses by 4:1. Of the 156 German aircraft lost over the entire theatre, some 35 were downed by fire from naval vessels leaving 102, aside from other causes, likely to have been shot down by the RAF against 106 British losses.
Air cooperation was not helped by Fighter Command retaining rigid control of its units. The Admiralty complained that RAF methods did not permit the direct contact of operational staff allocated for duty with he naval command. Much time was lost and the fluidity of battle meant that in the ever-changing operational situation RAF forces were brought into play at the wrong time or place and often without adequate resources to defend shipping. The Dover Naval Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Max Horton, was responsible for organising the evacuation and he asked if he could meet Hugh Dowding in late June 1940 to prevent the same operational difficulties occurring in future. Horton was told to put his complaints on paper and send them to Dowding with a copy to the Air Ministry. The two men did never met to discuss the issues facing British coastal defences. The indifference displayed by the Air Service perhaps demonstrated a measure of division between the two organisations. It was felt by the Admiralty that the RAF was fighting a separate war with little consideration given to join operations.
The protection of shipping was a source of controversy in the RAF since it required the substantial commitment of Fighter Command. On average the 12 convoys passing through the Channel waters needed cover every day and roughly one-third were attacked. It became an immediate burden to No. 11 Group RAF under the command of Keith Park which was responsible for defending south-west England. The employment of convoys from the Suffolk coast to Lyme Bay negated the value of using the sea as a protective shield because the location, from an operational perspective, meant the fighting conditions favoured the attacker. Coastal radar could give little advance warning of incoming raids since the location of the battlefield and its close proximity to Luftwaffe airbases allowed German aircraft to make their attacks and withdraw very quickly making interception during this early phase of the battle difficult.
The Air Staff did not disregard coastal or convoy defence completely and they assumed a place in fighter defence policy. Dowding had to decide how best to employ Fighter Command to meet the German threat which he did so, apparently without the input of the navy. In the pre-war era the Command had expected attacks only by unescorted German bombers upon the eastern part of the country. The German occupation of the French coast put western targets in reach of German aircraft. Dowding considered that airfields and factories, but also convoys and British ports would be German targets. He assumed the German intention was to destroy these as a priority, while the attacks would serve to draw RAF fighter forces into battle and weaken them. Still, Dowding was prepared to offer a defence over these targets if necessary.
On 3 July Dowding asked for convoys to be re-routed via Scotland, appreciating not all could be adequately protected. He also wanted to reduce the burden on his forces and reduce their exposure to the enemy in an effort to preserve Fighter Command's strength for the main battle. Yet four weeks later the Air Ministry (ostensibly after complaints from the Admiralty) instructed him to meet the enemy with large formations while shipping maintained the Channel as a primary route. Pressure on Dowding and the Admiralty was applied until August. On 9 August Winston Churchill was still asking the navy to use the convoys as bait to lure German bombers out for Fighter Command to destroy. This method, while successful, led to much greater casualties in Fighter Command.
The Channel battles
1–3 July: prelude
Events on the Channel Front began to unfold with the German occupation of the Channel Islands on 30 June. On Monday 1 July 1940 the first air battles were fought between the Luftwaffe and the RAF. Early morning mist had curtailed operations by Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3. Limited reconnaissance by the Aufklärungsgruppen took place and two Dornier Do 215s were shot down by British ground defences. A Junkers Ju 88 from 3.(F)/121 was also lost to mechanical failure. The British attempted to carry out reconnaissance over Abbeville. A number of Bristol Blenheims escorted by No. 145 Squadron RAF Hawker Hurricanes made flights without any losses.
Combat soon followed. No. 72 Squadron RAF engaged an Heinkel He 59 seaplane and the Supermarine Spitfires dispatched it. The crew were rescued by a British cruiser. They complained that they were a Red Cross service and should not have been fired upon. However, the British later issued a warning that any naval aircraft operating in the vicinity of the convoys did so at their own risk. A scramble was issued soon afterwards to protect the convoy JUMO that was approaching Portsmouth. It came under attack by Ju 87s which vacated the area before RAF fighters could reach it. In further skirmishes, fighters from No. 235 Squadron RAF claimed a Dornier Do 17 damaged while Spitfires from No. 64 Squadron RAF engaged and shot down another Do 17 from Kampfgeschwader 77 (Bomber Wing 77) that was approaching RAF Kenley.
Dowding was still in the midst of re-organising his forces and changing his Command's order of battle. With shipping now apparently a target he utilised coastal airfields. In the afternoon he transferred 79 Squadron to RAF Hawkinge from Biggin Hill to be nearer the battlefield.
4 July: Portland Harbour and Convoy OA.178
In the morning of the 4 July, the Luftwaffe targeted Portland harbour, an exposed port on the English coast, located near to the Pas de Calais. Messerschmitt Bf 110s from V.(Z)./Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG 1 or Experimental Wing 1) and two Staffeln (Squadrons) of Messerschmitt Bf 109s from I./Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1 or Fighter Wing 1)—re-designated III./Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27 or Fighter Wing 27) the next day—were ordered to provide escort to a large force of Junkers Ju 87 Stukas. The Ju 87s were from II./Sturzkampfgeschwader 51 (StG 51 or Dive Bomber Wing 51) (also re-designated as II./Sturzkampfgeschwader 1—Dive Comber Wing 1 or StG 1—the following day). Their target was the naval base at Portland.
At 08:15 the Ju 87s arrived over the harbour. With no RAF fighters in sight they began their attacks. The German pilots singled out HMS Foylebank, a converted pre-war merchant ship which was armed with four twin four-inch high-angle guns, multiple two-pounder Pom-Pom guns and 0.5 inch calibre machine guns. The ship was stationed in Portland on 9 June to protect the Harbour but only succeeded in attracting the bulk of the 26 Ju 87s.
Caught by surprise the ship could not take evasive action and gunners did not have the time to man their weapons properly. 104 bombs were dropped and a great many struck the vessel. A direct hit destroyed Foylebank's tender which sank immediately. Within a few minutes 176 Royal Navy sailors had been killed. Only one four inch gun fired in defence of the ship, expending 55 rounds. In their attacks, the Stuka pilots dived steeply, up to 90°. At around 1,500 feet the angle was decreased to 45° and the pilot's gun-sight was lined up on the ship's stern. The pilots fired their MG 17 machine guns and as the altitude decreased the fire wound move along the ship. When the rounds struck the water ahead of the bow, they released their bombs. In this way the machine gun aided in bombing accuracy and subduing enemy gunners. When the Ju 87 pulled out of its give the rear-gunner would take over to maintain suppression fire.
The tactic caused massive casualties amongst the crew. Leading Seaman Jack Foreman Mantle manned one of the guns. After unjamming the weapon he opened fire at the Ju 87s but was mortally wounded by machine gun fire. After the battle the ship's Captain, H.P. Wilson praised his actions in a report to the Commander-in-Chief of Portsmouth naval base. Mantle was awarded the Victoria Cross. The Stukas were not finished. They hit and sank the Silverdial while merchantmen East Wales (4,358 tons), William Wilberforce (5,004 tons), City of Melbourne (6,630 tons) were all damaged. The latter suffered a flooded engine room.
Not a single RAF fighter intercepted the raid. Only one British aircraft, a Fairey Battle of the No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School based at RAF Warmwell was present. On a training flight, pilot A.W Kearsey fled the scene at full speed, apparently unnoticed by the German fighters. The Germans suffered minimal loss. One Ju 87 had been shot down by fire from Foylebank and Leutnant Schwarze and his gunner were posted missing. Another landed with light damage. Both machines were from StG 51. One Bf 109 was damaged.
The Luftwaffe also drew blood from British naval convoys. Convoy OA 178 (Convoy Outbound Atlantic) left the Thames Estuary and passed Dover safely on 3 July. The convoy was made of 14 heavily-laden merchantmen carry cargoes to west coast. German radar had picked up the convoy and the Luftwaffe was ordered to intercept the ships after the Portland operation.
As smoke was still rising over Portland a single Junkers Ju 88 reconnaissance aircraft from 1.(F)/123 flew out over the Channel to check on the progress of Convoy OA 178. It reported the convoy south west of Portland and a strike was immediately ordered. I./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2 or Dive Bomber Wing 2) took off, led by Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) Oskar Dinort, from Falaise with 24 Ju 87s with escort from a single staffel from I./JG 1. The attack was followed by 23 Ju 87s of the hastily refuelled and re-armed III./StG 51. The ships were close to the French coast at the time of the attack. Four of the convoys ships were sunk. Dallas City was crippled and engulfed in flames and later sank. It collided with Flimson which was also hit and the two ships were locked together for 15 minutes. Antonio was also damaged. Antonio and Flimson limped into Portland Harbour where the Foylebank was still sinking. Another ship, the SS Canadian Constructor, was also damaged. No losses were sustained in the attacking force. Once again Fighter Command had failed to intercept the Germans. Deucalion (1,796 tons), Kolga (3,526 tons) and Britsum (5,225 tons) were destroyed.
In the late evening, Hurricanes of No. 79 Squadron scrambled to defend shipping under attack off Dover. Led by Geschwaderkommodore Oberst Johannes Fink, the Dornier Do 17s of Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2 or Bomber Wing 2), had attacked several ships, badly damaging one freighter that beached itself to avoid sinking. Escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s from II./Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51 or Fighter Wing 51) shot down one Hurricane. Sergeant Henry Cartwright, a flying ace with five victories, was killed. The German losses stood at one Do 17 damaged.
The day had been a victory for the Luftwaffe and a complete failure for the RAF defences. The air attack on Portland inflicted the heaviest loss of life in history against British military personnel based in the British Isles. Churchill was perturbed by the days events. He submitted a memo to the Admiralty entitled "Action This Day":
Could you let me know on one sheet of paper what arrangements you are making about the Channel Convoys now that the Germans are all along the Channel coast? The attacks yesterday both from the air and by E-boats, were very serious, and I should like to be assured this morning that the situation is in hand and the Air is contributing effectively.
The situation, as it stood on 4 July, was not in hand and the air was not contributing effectively. The Admiralty spelt this out to the Prime Minister tactfully. He demanded the Fighter Command do much more to protect Channel shipping. Horton regarded the episode as a disgrace.
7–8 July: The battle of CE and CW Convoys
The weather over the Channel was poor over the Channel on 5 July. No. 65 Squadron RAF intercepted an 8 staffel Heinkel He 111 belonging to Kampfgeschwader 1 (KG 1 or Bomber Wing 1) over the sea. It was shot down with the loss of all five crew missing. Late in the evening Spitfires of No. 64 Squadron RAF undertook a reconnaissance patrol over Calais. Bf 109s from JG 51 intercepted and one Spitfire was shot down and its pilot killed and another damaged for no loss to the German fighters.
There was now growing evidence the main attack would fall in the south. As more of Dowding's fighters re-gained operational readiness and were rebuilt with pilots from Operational Training Units (OTU), the Air Marshall agreed with his group commanders, Air Officer Commanding (AOC), No. 11 Group Keith Park, and AOC No. 12 Group RAF Trafford Leigh-Mallory to a limited re-deployment of Squadrons to bases within range of the coast on 6 July. It seemed to the Air Staff that German attacks would emanate from the Cherbourg peninsula and as a precaution, 609 Squadron was moved from RAF Northolt to RAF Middle Wallop on Salisbury Plain while 87 Squadron was re-deployed to Exeter to cover Bristol and Plymouth and the Western Approaches.
Convoy patrols were resumed on 7 July in defence of CW and CE (West and East-bound) convoys. 145 Squadron shot down a Do 17P reconnaissance aircraft over the Channel while 43 Squadron achieved the same success against another that was shadowing an eastern-bound convoy. The Luftwaffe tracked the convoy persistently and another Do 17 fell to 601 Squadron later on. The Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wings) were encouraged to embark upon freie jagd (free hunt) combat patrols and engage RAF fighters wherever possible. The tactic offered exceptional opportunities for the German fighters, which did not have to worry about protecting slower bomber aircraft and could thus operate with the maximum tactical flexibility. 54 Squadron fell victim to one sweep. Preparing to attack a lone He 111 they were "bounced" by Bf 109s. Two pilots force-landed and another fighter suffered damage. All three pilots survived.
By evening the convoy was passing Dover. At 19:30 Greenwich Mean Time, 45 Do 17s from four Staffeln of I. and II./KG 2 took off from their bases at Arras and struck the convoy at 20:15. They sank one ship and damaged three more. The radar chain at Pevensey, Rye and Dover gave good warning of the attack and seven Spitfires from No. 64 Squadron were ordered up from RAF Kenley with support from six more from No. 65 Squadron from RAF Hornchurch. The RAF units took off too late and could not prevent the attack. No. 65s interception also coincided with a fighter patrol by 70 Bf 109s from Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27 or Fighter Wing 27) over the area. They bounced the Squadron and three Spitfires were shot down and all three pilots were killed for two Bf 109s claimed destroyed—although neither can be identified through loss records. No. 64 Squadron fared better. One Do 17 crash-landed at Boulogne severely damaged while another suffered light damage. Before dark He 111s hit Portland Harbour near missing the steamer British Inventor, killing one man and hitting HMS Mercury, whose crew suffered four dead and three wounded.
Both sides took stock of the days events. Dowding was in no doubt that sea targets were the enemy's focus at the present time. The seven coastal convoys and deep-sea convoys could now expect to attract strong enemy formations. Dowding regarded the defensive effort as wasteful fearing his Command could be sapped of its strength before main battle. For the Germans, the losses in reconnaissance aircraft were too much. Seven had been lost in a week and now the Jagdgeschwader were ordered to provide escort from this point forward.
On 8 July the weather was conducive for the attacker with heavy cloud extending from 1,500 to 20,000 feet shielding the bombers from defending fighters. Another convoys sailing up the Bristol Channel was shadowed by a Do 17 which was intercepted by 92 Squadron and claimed destroyed though German records do not identify it. In the early hours another convoy set out to sea via the Thames Estuary. It was a large convoy which caused much anxiety for Dowding. It was due to cross the Channel, east to west, and pass Dover at 12:00. At 11:30 an He 111 found prowling near the convoy off North Foreland was claimed shot down by Spitfires of 74 Squadron and appears to have escaped, though witnessed saw it on fire, with undercarriage down, diving into cloud. An hour later, radar picked up considerable aerial activity over the Pas de Calais.
Running battles were fought over the convoy. 610 Squadron intercepted an unescorted staffel of Do 17s off Dover which dropped their bombs wide of the ships. The Spitfires got close enough to damage one bomber but lost one pilot killed to return fire. Six other Spitfires reached the area and sighted more Do 17s escorted by a staffel of Bf 109s. One Bf 109 was claimed without loss—one II./JG 51 Bf 109 force-landed, the pilot wounded. Hurricanes of 79 Squadron took off from Hawkinge to assist, but north of Dover were attacked and lost two pilots killed to Bf 109s. Kampfgeschwader 54 (KG 54 or Bomber Wing 54) Ju 88s delivered unsuccessful attacks while Geoffrey Allard of 85 Squadron dispatched a KG 1 He 111; the pilot was killed and the four crew members were posted missing. No. 74 Squadron shot down a Bf 109 from 4./JG 51 which was patrolling the area—Leutnant Johann Böhm was taken prisoner—while 65 Squadron lost Squadron Leader D. Cooke killed that same afternoon.
9 July: Zerstörergeschwader debuts
On 9 July Kesselring was to commit the Zerstörergeschwader (Destroyer Wings) to battle en masse for the first time against the RAF defences. The Germans were soon to be shocked at the Bf 110s inadequacy when pitted against modern and well organised fighter opposition.
The first air battle that day took place when No. 257 Squadron RAF damaged a Kampfgeschwader 3 (KG 3 or Bomber Wing 3) Do 17 which crash-landed near Antwerp, Belgium with one crew member dead. The weather built up into a cold front and generated thick cloud which caused German activity to peter out. Park ordered section strength (three to four aircraft from a 12-strong Squadron) to conduct standing patrols over six small coastal convoys. He also moved 609 Squadron to RAF Warmwell, which offered the only way of effectively covering Portland. A number of single-aircraft raids succeeded in penetrating the defences and Do 17s bombing the docks at Cardiff damaging the steamers San Felipe (5,919tons) and Foxglove. A local airfield was bombing and damaged and two pilots were killed on the ground.
At 12:45 Dover's radar picked up a large build-up of German forces behind the Pas de Calais. Faced with the possibility of an enemy raid using the cloud cover to approach unseen and attacking the convoys from the trailing edge of the cloud base, Park ordered six No. 11 Group Squadrons into action. At 13:00 he ordered six Hurricanes aloft from RAF North Weald. At this station, its AOC Wing Commander Victor Beamish became so impatient he ordered his own personal aircraft to be readied and took off in support leading 151 Squadron. Upon reaching the enemy, they were confronted with a stepped up formation, ranging from 12 to 20,000 feet, of 100 bombers and fighters. The six RAF fighters formed into two sections of three, one pursuing the Ju 88s and He 111s, the other engaged the escorting aircraft numbering some 60 Bf 109s and Bf 110s. The number of RAF fighters was over-estimated by the German bombers which splintered into six formations. Only one found the convoy but bombing was scattered and no ships were hit. One 151 Squadron Hurricane was shot down and another damaged. One of the pilots was wounded; Squadron Leader C.G Lott was wounded and withdrawn from active service. They likely fell victim to II./JG 51. In return III./Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26 or Destroyer Wing 26) lost three Bf 110s destroyed and one damaged. Seven airmen were posted missing, with one pilot safe. The Gruppe were intercepted by No. 43 Squadron RAF which was responsible for the German losses. No Bf 109 appears to have been lost and they prevented the RAF fighters reaching the bombers.
Evidently annoyed at the failure of the raid, Kesselring ordered a fresh assault. Park, who had moved three Squadrons to RAF Manston, was now in a position to intercept. The Germans reached the area of North Foreland and circa 15:50. No. 65 Squadron engaged enemy aircraft in battle and No. 17 Squadron RAF Hurricanes also reached the area and dispatched a Kampfgeschwader 53 (KG 53 or Bomber Wing 53) He 111 with all the crew killed. No. 65 Squadron shot down one Bf 109 from II./JG 51, the pilot was posted missing. With a number of aircraft lost, Kesselring ordered Seenotflugkommando 1 in to action with its Heinkel He 59 float planes covered by a staffel of Bf 109s to search for German airmen. Whether they were ordered to search for convoys is unknown, but one He 59 found itself above one and was attacked by 54 Squadron Spitfires led by Alan Christopher Deere. The He 59 was forced to land on the Goodwin Sands and its crew were captured. Two Spitfire pilots were killed in action against the escorts of II./JG 51 for another Bf 109 and its pilot missing. The bombers hit the steamer Kenneth Hawksfield (1,546 tons) and Pol Grange (804 tons) but none of the crew were killed and the 1,546-ton vessel beached to avoid sinking. She was patched up and repaired two days later, returning to London docks.
The last actions of the day witnessed 27 I./Sturzkampfgeschwader 77 (StG 77 or Dive Bomber Wing 77) Ju 87s led by Hauptmann Friedrich-Karl Lichtenfels escorted by Bf 109s attacking the Portland naval base. Intercepted by 609 Squadron Lichtenfels was killed with his gunner while one Spitfire pilot was killed in action with the Bf 110 escort. His was the only Ju 87 to fall in battle but it was a bitter blow to StG 77. Lichtenfels was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross holder and experienced pilot. One of the escorting Bf 110s from 13./LG 1 was also lost. The 7,085-ton freighter Empire Daffodil was damaged.
10 July: Battle over BREAD
Göring's 30 June order had delegated responsibility of attacking shipping to Bruno Loerzer's Fliegerkorps II (Air Corps II) and Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's Fliegerkorps VIII (Air Corps VIII) since they contained powerful concentrations of Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers. Loerzer nominated one of his senior airmen as the field commander responsible for carrying out the tactical strikes. Geschwaderkommodore Johannes Fink, who commanded KG 2, was given the title Kanalkampfführer (Channel Battle Leader) and the first airmen to lead his unit into battle against the convoys as part of the OKL's official strategic policy.
Theo Osterkamp's JG 51 was based at Wissant, not far from KG 2. Until other Jagdgeschwader could be brought to action JG 51 would severe as the Jagdwaffe's spearhead over England. Until now his unit had been carrying out fighter sweeps over Kent. He disliked the idea of fighter escort for bombers since the fighters were tied to them and prevented from chasing the enemy or exercising freedom of action. Fink compromised. The Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter could be used for close escort but JG 51's Messerschmitt Bf 109s were free to roam and engage enemy fighters on their own terms. Any operation was to proceed on that basis. However, Kesselring was to commit the Zerstörergeschwader (Destroyer Wings) to battle en masse for the first time against the RAF defences. The Germans were soon to be shocked at the Bf 110s inadequacy when pitted against modern and well organised fighter opposition.
The first Do 17 of 4.(F)/121 was sent out to reconnoitre the Channel in foul weather, thick cloud and rain, accompanied by a staffel of I./JG 51 Bf 109s. No. 74 Squadron scrambled six Spitfires to intercept. They succeeded in engaging and crippling the Do 17 while two Spitfires were damaged in combat with the Bf 109s. All aircraft returned to base. Eight convoys were at sea. Before the air battle the German formation just had time to report and record the composition and heading of a large convoy codenamed BREAD. It had set sail in ballast from the Thames Estuary and rounded North Foreland at 10:00. At his Headquarters, Fink decided that BREAD was a too tempting a target. He decided to call KG 2 to action, deploy III./ZG 26 as close escort while deploying JG 51 as high cover over both. While preparations were being made, a staffel of Bf 109s on a sweep over Dover engaged and shot down one 610 Squadron Spitfire without loss.
Park's reaction was initially to send up a patrol over BREAD. 32 Squadron at 13:15 GMT. 15 minutes later, when it was clear the Germans were mounting a stronger raid, Park dispatched 56, 111 and 74 Squadrons at 13:31. Twenty minutes later the opposing forces met over BREAD. About 26 Do 17s from I./KG 2 escorted by all three staffeln of I./ZG 26 Bf 110s and two staffeln of I./Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3 or Fighter Wing 3) which had just recently arrived in France. Mistaking the Bf 110s from Do 17s, the Squadron Leader No. 32, called in more reinforcements, reporting 60 bombers. Park had already ordered three additional Squadrons and they would serve as back-up.
Within minutes the battle had been joined and a large air battle, numbering around 100 aircraft broke out. The real time nature of the battle made if difficult for the RAF fighters to coordinate attacks since the radio was full of chatter between excited pilots. The Bf 109s frustrated the British' attempts to upset the bomber's aim. What was notable about this air battle was the then, as yet little known, unique attack tactics of No. 111 Squadron who charged head-on into the Do 17s. One Hurricane collided with a bomber, Pilot Officer Higgs' body was later washed ashore in the Netherlands. The Do 17, piloted Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader) Hauptmann Krieger, also crashed with the loss of two of its crew. It was possible the Higgs was hit by a budding German ace Walter Oesau of II./JG 51 and lost control before the collision.
The interception succeeded, eventually, in disrupting the bombing. Just one ship, A 700-ton sloop was sunk after the bombers had dropped 150 bombs. Six No. 64 Squadron RAF Spitfires arrived to harass the Germans all the way back to coast. A Bf 110 fell to No. 64 and another to 56 Squadron. One Do 17 fell to 111, 66 Squadrons and a further two fell to No. 32. Two Bf 109s were destroyed—one from 2./JG 3 and II./JG 51—and two damaged, one pilot being rescued by a He 59. Aside from the Hurricane lost in the collision, only one other Hurricane (No. 111) was damaged in the battle. It had been a victory for the defending fighters.
The Germans had some success on this date around the coast. British tanker Tascalusa (6,499grt) was sunk in Falmouth Harbour. Greek steamer Mari Chandris (5,840grt) (Convoy HG.33), which had been towed to Falmouth in June after a collision, was set on fire by Tascalusa. The entire crew of the Greek steamer was rescued. Tascalusa was refloated on 29 August and beached at Mylor Flats for scrapping. The British steamer Waterloo (1,905grt) was sunk by Ju 88s after some accurate level-bombing. The crew was rescued. The Dutch steamer Bill S. (466grt) was badly damaged from convoy CW.3 and sank 6.7 miles off Dungeness. The entire crew was rescued. The British tanker, Chancellor (7,085grt), from Convoy OA.170, was damaged by an air raid off Falmouth and the Dutch salvage tug Zwarte Zee was crippled by splinters from a blast and sank.
11–12 July: BOOTY and AGENT
German reconnaissance had kept a watchful eye on British convoys and another determined attempt was made against shipping on 11 July. Von Richthofen ordered Fliegerkorps VIII to prepared for operations at first light. Taking off at 07:00 from the Cherbourg Peninsula Ju 87s from StG 2 led by Geschwaderkommodore Dinort attacked shipping along the coast. The Stukas intercepted the British steam yacht HMS Warrior (1,124 tons). The 36-year old ship was sunk with only one casualty. No. 501 Squadron had scrambled but was engaged by the Bf 109 escort and lost one pilot shot down and drowned. A further Squadron, 609, arrived as the Ju 87s began their dives. The six Spitfires split, one section of three engaged the Stukas while the other attempted to hold off the escort. Overwhelmed by odds of 6:1, the Squadron was routed with the loss of two pilots killed with no loss to the Germans. The merchant vessels, of which Warrior was a part, where not hit.
A steady stream of German reconnaissance aircraft scanned British waters over the morning. The Luftwaffe operated as far north as Scotland. Over Yarmouth, one Hurricane was damaged by return fire by a Do 17, only for the German aircraft to by shot down by the famous ace Douglas Bader from 242 Squadron based at Coltishall. It was his first victory in the battle. Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, 85 Squadron, baled out near Harwich after being hit by a Do 17 belonging to II./KG 2, which returned home with three wounded crew members. Encouraged by the relative immunity of the Stukas in the morning attack, Hugo Sperrle ordered Luftflotte 3's staff to follow up the attack. This time, Bf 110s from ZG 76 would provide escort in place of the Bf 109s.
At 11:00 GMT, Hurricanes from 601 Squadron were scrambled to intercept a reconnaissance Do 17 which they failed to locate. While airborne they stumbled across a formation of Ju 87s from III./StG 2 escorted by roughly 40 Bf 110s. It was a fortunate piece of luck since radar had failed to warn of the raid. The German escort was too high above the Ju 87s to be able to stop the first attack. At the time of contact, most other Squadrons on the Middle Wallop sector were re-fueling. Six No. 238 Squadron Hurricanes were scrambled with a further three from 501, 87, and a further nine from No. 213. near Exeter None arrived to stop the attack at Portland at 11:53 GMT, but little damage was done and only one vessel was damaged.
A large dogfight developed near the Dorset. 87 Squadron led by John Dewar attacked the escort out of the sun. He destroyed a Bf 110 which crash-landed. His victim was staffelkäpitain Oberleutnant Gerhard Kadow who was captured. Kadow tried to destroy his aircraft but was shot by approaching soldiers. Another notable victim that day was none other than Oberleutnant Hans-Joachim Göring, the nephew of Reichsmarschall Herman Göring. He and his gunner Unteroffizier Albert Zimmermann crashed into a cliff top at the Verne Citadel on the Isle of Portland, both were killed. Leutnant Friedrich-Wolfganag Graf von und zu Castell had attempted to aid Göring but were killed in action. Four Bf 110s from 9 staffel were lost with their crews. One Ju 87 was destroyed and another force-landed after combat. The light Stuka losses were a result of the Bf 110s bearing the brunt of the attacks. Only one Hurricane was slightly damaged and its pilot unhurt. Hans-Joachim Göring was the first German fighter pilot to die on British soil.
Among the shipping casualties were; British steamer Kylemount (704grt) damaged off Dartmouth; British steamers Peru (6,961grt) and City of Melbourne (6,630grt) damaged in Portland harbour; steamer Eleanor Brooke (1,037grt) damaged off Portland; Dutch steamer Mies (309grt) was damaged south of Portland Bill.
In the evening a He 59 was operating of the Cornish coast when it was forced down by engine failure. Another landed and attempted to rescue the crew. The Coastguard sighted the Germans and two destroyers were deployed by Plymouth naval base to capture the aircraft. Bristol Blenheim's from 236 Squadron shot down a Ju 88 and damaged a He 111 from Kampfgeschwader 55 (KG 55 or Bomber Wing 55) that attempted to interfere. One He 59 was lost, the other evidently evacuated the crew while the other sank. Little action occurred during the night. Raids on Rochester and Chatham killed 36 people. KG 54 was also involved in the convoy operation.
On 12 July the early morning was tainted by showers and grey, overcast skies. Two large convoys set out, one from the Thames Estuary steaming south west off the Essex coast, codenamed BOOTY and another off North Foreland, codenamed AGENT. Both the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) made concerted efforts against the convoy BOOTY. 17 Squadron took off from RAF Debden to patrol the alongside the convoy. While en route, the pilots were warned of a raid and No. 85 from Martlesham, 242 Squadron, led by Bader, from Coltishall and six Boulton Paul Defiants from 264 Squadron based at RAF Duxford and eleven Hurricanes of 151 Squadron from North Weald were rushed to the area as reinforcements. The attacking formation—two staffeln of II./KG 2 Do 17s and staffeln of III./Kampfgeschwader 53 (KG 53 or Bomber Wing 53)—were intercepted by 17 Squadron and attacked at 08:48 as the Germans began to drop their bombs. One He 111 fell as did a Do 17, which carried Hauptmann and Staffelkapitän Machetzki who was killed with his crew. The bombers depended on tight formation to protect themselves and intense accurate fire damaged several Hurricanes and shot down two, killing one pilot from 85 Squadron. Total German casualties amounted to two He 111s and two Do 17s. Some of BOOTY's trawlers rescued German aircrew despite the falling bombs. A further He 111 from Stab./KG 55 fell to Spitfires while on armed reconnaissance. One crew member was killed.
Nevertheless, the convoys incurred penalties. British steamer Hornchurch (2,162grt), from Convoy FS.19, was sunk and the crew rescued by patrol sloop Widgeon. British steamer Josewyn (1,926grt) was damaged eight miles west, northwest of St. Catherine's Point.
Having missed the chance to attack AGENT, Luftflotte 3 sent out more reconnaissance He 111s and Do 17s to track shipping. A He 111 from KG 55 was lost during the afternoon against 43 Squadron Hurricanes and the Luftwaffe failed to find and attack any more convoys. Later that night Geschwaderkommodore Alois Stoeckl led KG 55 on a night attack against Cardiff that night without loss.
13–18 July: Sporadic fighting
On 13 July other, smaller convoys ran the gauntlet through the Channel. A II./Kampfgeschwader 51 (KG 51) Ju 88 was shot down by 43 Squadron Spitfire shadowing a convoy. The convoy was heading west and was now in the area of Lyme Bay, or 'bandit country'. 238 and 609 Squadrons, comprising 12 Hurricanes and three Spitfires were ordered to mount an aerial guard. The convoy (CW.5) was late and instead they found no ships but 50 enemy aircraft equally puzzled at the absence of the convoy. Two Do 17s were shot down for one pilot killed in a force-landing. V./LG 1 Bf 110 fighter-bombers attempted to engaged but became embroiled in a dogfight with RAF fighters who claimed three damaged for no loss. One damaged claim was filed by John Dundas.
As BREAD sailed out of range the smaller convoy was assaulted by StG 1 escorted by three Staffeln of JG 51. 11 56 Squadron Hurricanes engaged the Ju 87s before the Bf 109s could interfere. Two Ju 87s were damaged and the escorts shot down two Hurricanes. 54 Squadron Spitfires attacked the Bf 109s and New Zealander Colin Falkland Gray shot down Leutnant Hans-Joachim Lange who was killed. Luftwaffe losses amounted to six destroyed and eight damaged. Four Hurricanes were lost to enemy action and one Spitfire was shot down in error by the Dover defences. Shipping losses amounted to HMS Vanessa disabled by near-misses. She was taken under tow by tug Lady Duncannonand and repaired in November 1940.
Over the next few days the weather intervened and combat became sporadic. On 14 July just one RAF fighter—a Hurricane from 615 Squadron—was lost in action in Bf 109s while one Ju 87 and one Bf 109 was destroyed and another force-landed. The air battle took place over a convoy which was recorded by Charles Gardiner, a BBC reporter. No damage was done to the convoy. However, an armed merchant cruiser Esperance Bay, carrying ten million pounds in Gold bullion was badly damaged off Land's End; the attack killed Lieutenant commander H. Close and six ratings. The Turkish Navy minelaying sloop Yuzbasi Hakki was also damaged off Weymouth. Convoy CW.5 and CW.6 were also attacked; suffering the British 614grt Mons and 1,129grt Norwegian steamer Balder, damaged. The 779grt Island Queen was sunk. A single ship, the 139grt Belgian trawler Providentia blew up with the loss of her entire crew. Their attackers were likely from IV.(StG)./LG 1.
On 15 July the RAF lost one Hurricane to enemy action while the Luftwaffe lost one He 111, a Ju 88 and a Dornier Do 18 seaplane to RAF fighters. There were naval casualties. The steamer Heworth (2855grt) was damaged in convoy FN.223 . She was taken in tow for Harwich, but ran aground. Four crew were killed and the survivors rescued by HMS Valorous. Steamer City of Limerick (1359grt) was sunk. Destroyers HMS Mackay and HMS Broke were ordered to assist in rescuing the crew. Two men died and the survivors rescued by Belgian trawler Roger Jeannine. The Polish steamer Zbaraz (2,088grt)—in convoy FN.223—was badly damaged by German bombing ten miles south of Aldeburgh Light Vessel. She was taken in tow by tug ST Olaves, but sank. There were no casualties and the survivors were rescued by trawlers Vidonia and tug Muria. The Portuguese steamer Alpha (853grt) was sunk. The entire crew was picked up by destroyers Bedouin, Tartar, and Mashona. The assailants of these vessels are unknown.
On 16 July the RAF did not lose a single aircraft while RAF fighters down a KG 54 Ju 88 and a Do 17 intruder from 5.(Nacht)./Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1) fell to RAF bombers. The 17 July was no better; one He 111 and Ju 88 from III./Kampfgeschwader 26 (KG 26) and I/KG 51 were shot down and a single No. 64 Squadron Spitfire was shot down with the pilot wounded.
The scope of German operations was undoubtedly having a serious effect upon Fighter Command. While losses on paper were by no means crippling, the attrition sustained patrolling (80 percent of flying time over the sea) was making itself felt. The poor weather imposed additional strain on pilots and slowed down the training of new ones. The isolated and dispersed flights conducted by the enemy kept pilots that should be resting in action. Among the casualty list were a worryingly high proportion of experienced Squadron Leaders and Flight Commanders. Fortunately, only one-third of RAF Fighter Command's units had been committed to battle. Alongside this, the growing numbers of Hurricanes in RAF Maintenance Command meant each Squadron was allotted 18 fighters, allowing two flights of six to operate when called upon while several more machines could be retained for training purposes and reserves.
The 18 July ended insignificantly in a strategic sense. A substantial number of RAF casualties were incurred against the return fire from German bombers on this date. Two 609 Spitfires were shot down by Ju 88s from I. and II./KG 54 which lost one Ju 88 destroyed and one damaged in return. A 603 Spitfire was damaged by a He 111 while KG 27 lost Geschwaderkommodore Oberst Bernhard Georgi and his crew killed in action opposing 145 Hurricanes for one Hurricane damaged. One 152 Spitfire was damaged and one 610 Spitfire was shot down by Bf 109s. One LG 1 Ju 88 fell to anti-aircraft fire while a StG 77 Do 17 reconnaissance aircraft fell to 152 Squadron over a convoy.
19 July: Disaster for the Defiants
On 19 July there were nine convoys at sea. As usual, German aircraft were scouting the shipping lanes in the early morning. One Do 17 from 4(F)./121 was caught and shot down by 145 Squadron at 07:04. Aside, little else occurred over the next hour. The Boulton Paul Defiant was to see action that day for the first time. No. 264 Squadron RAF had operated with success over Dunkirk eight weeks earlier and its sister unit, comprising 12 aircraft from No. 141 Squadron RAF were moved from West Malling to Hawkinge. The unit was untested in battle and over the early summer, the aircraft had been fitted with Constant speed propeller which denied the crews time to practice in the air. The gunners also felt uneasy about the difficulty they may have in escaping their turrets in an emergency. Dowding and Park were not confident in the aircraft, but allowed the committal of the Squadron over a convoy that morning.
At the same time Geschwaderkommodore Theo Osterkamp took the opportunity of a break in the weather to lead III./JG 51 on a patrol over the Dover area. Leading with his Gruppenkommandeur Hannes Trautloft, they spotted a formation of enemy aircraft at 12:45. Identifying them for what they were they attacked from the rear and below to avoid return fire. Four of the Defiants fell on the first pass and another as it sought cloud cover. The Bf 109s were interrupted by 111 Squadron which arrived and dispatched a German fighter which crashed into the sea. It allowed the four remaining Defiants to escape; one crash-landed one was written off and the other two were damaged. Osterkamp noted the pilots delight with their success was tempered with knowledge of the their own mortality after this mission. Post-battle analysis suggests the RAF controller had failed to get the Squadron airborne before the German aircraft arrived in the target area and a scramble alert had only been sounded when German fighters had been seen by spotters at RAF Hawkinge. Coupled with the high-altitude Bf 109s choosing to loiter in the airspace to catch any British fighters trying to make a late interception, the conditions spelled disaster for 141 Squadron.
Dowding passed on the report of the battle to Churchill, telling him that many men had died. Churchill acknowledged Dowding's misgivings with the Defiant and turned away. The surviving units saw very little action for the remainder of the Battle of Britain. The 19 July had been Fighter Command's worst defeat of the battle, and it would remain so for its duration. The RAF had lost 10 to the Luftwaffe's four on this date. On very few occasions would RAF losses be greater than the Luftwaffe during the battle. Encouraged by the Luftwaffe's successes, Hitler made his last "appeal to reason" on 19 July. Millions of copies of his speech were circulated in Britain.
A few skirmishes took place at 87 Squadron intercepted Ju 87s off Portland harbour without result. 64 Squadron shot down a Heinkel He 115 floatplane attempting to sow mines in the Thames Estuary. III./KG 55 lost a bomber to 145 Squadron while in battles with Bf 109s, No. 1,and 32 Squadrons lost one Hurricane each and 43 lost two and one damaged—two pilots were seriously wounded and another killed. 141 Squadron lost 10 men killed and one wounded. Although the losses on this day were small in comparison to the escalating air war, at every point thus far the defending RAF fighters had been overwhelmed by the enemy. The Germans were not only more experienced, they were operating in greater numbers and their Bf 109 units were fighting with greater flexibility in combat. Operating at generally higher altitudes, the Finger-four tactics used by German fighter pilots proved far more effective than the close-formations of British pilots. The Germans used the eyes of every pilot to look for the enemy while the RAF airmen relied on their leader to spot any danger since the British flights were packed closely each pilot was focused on avoiding a colliison in formation.
20 July: Battle over BOSOM
21–28 July: Skirmishes
29 July: Air battle over Dover
30 July–7 August: Weather and relative quiet
8 August: Battle over and around PEEWIT
At 07:00 on 7 August 1940, a large convoy sailed from Southend-on-Sea. PEWIT was moving out, it carried coal, vital to fueling the industrial economy. Merchant sailors delivered goods around the sea routes to ease the pressure on the congested rail traffic in Britain—now overworked ferrying war material up and down the country. The routes become know as the "Indestructible Highway" during the Kanalkampf. At the same time, a KG 2 reconnaissance Do 17 was patrolling the Channel. The crew spotted two minesweepers that were out looking for four mines dropped by He 115s from Ku.Fl.Gr 106. The Do 17 and its crew made headed northwards into the North Sea, missing the large convoy now approaching their position from the west. It landed at soon afterwards.
PEEWIT continued through the Channel reaching Dover at 14:30. Three Hurricanes from 85 Squadron covered the convoy in its initial stages. Winds were light but overhead fog down to 2,000ft gave the convoy cover. Visibility ranged from 2—5 nautical miles. As it rounded Dover, it had ample cover from 32, 615 and 501 Hurricanes. It appeared that the convoy, despite the ever present Luftwaffe, would evade German air patrols. Within four hours it had reached Dungeness completely undetected. The convoy's luck then turned. The German radar observer station at Wissant sighted PEEWIT as conditions improved.
At 18:30 the sighting was relayed to the headquarters of Alfred Saalwächter, Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine Group Command West. The information was then transmitted to Carl-Heinz Birnbacher, commanding the 1. Schnellbootflottille (1st Fast Attack Boat Flotilla) in Cherbourg. S-20, S-21, S-25 and S-27 were ordered to fuel and arm immediately. The British ordered four Motor Torpedo Boats from Dover Command eastward, in the opposite direction, to ascertain enemy movements along the French Channel ports. The German vessels were commanded by Siegfried Wuppermann, Götz Freiherr von Mirbach, Bernd Klug and Hermann Büchting. All of these men would become highly decorated aces holding at least the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The MTBs sighted the Germans but did not engage considering their mission was one of reconnaissance. Birnbacher worried that he had been lured into a trap, but assumed a position off Beachy Head and Newhaven. At 02:00 on 8 August the attack began.
Büchting sank SS Holme Force with torpedoes. The British were so stunned by the attack and the noise of the E-Boats they thought the convoy was under air attack. Six of the 13 crew were killed. Its cargo, coke, spilt out onto the open sea. The Norwegian SS Tres stopped its engines and avoided attracting attention. Fife Coast chose the opposite strategy, increasing speed to 12 knots and zig-zagging. The Germans, with surprise now gone, used flares to illuminate the targets. Fife Coast was hit and sank. The destroyer HMS Bulldog arrived on the scene but could do little in the darkness, its gunners struggled to locate the fast enemy boats. Polly M survived by steaming through the wreck of Fife Coast, throwing the Germans off. Her Captain, P. Guy, stated the vessel blew up. Rye escaped an attack by S-27 (but was sunk on 7 March 1941 by the very same vessel). Wupperman attacked SS Polly M and SS John M. The British Captains skillfully evaded his torpedoes but the German commander was determined to succeed. He racked Polly which machine and cannon fire causing damage. Polly was abandoned having been heavily damaged. The crew re-boarded the next morning and she limped to Newhaven. John was subjected to fire for one and three quarter hours but remained afloat. The German naval crews claimed 17,000 grt sunk. In fact, the tonnage worked out to 2,587. At 04:20, Bristol Blenheims from 59 took off from Thorney Island to intercept German torpedo boats but returned without success after three hours.
The following day brought fine and clear weather. The British crews tried to make sense of what had happened. The convoy was now spread out over 10 miles. A Do 17P from 4(F)./14 had been ordered to report on the convoy after the nocturnal battle. It duly reported 17 merchant vessels south of Selsey Bill. The convoy was only formation in name. The lead ships had only the barrage balloon vessel HMS Borealis to guard against air attack. The Dornier was spotted and the Captain remarked to his helmsman; "look, the angel of death." The Dornier reported the speed and heading of the ships. Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's VIII. Fliegerkorps dispatched II. and II./StG 1 and its Ju 87s to attack the convoy.
At 09:00—10:45, led by Major Paul-Werner Hozzel and Hauptmann Helmut Mahlke respectively, both units dove onto their targets while Bf 109s from JG 27 protected them from above. The Dutch vessel SS Ajax was sunk in five minutes. Four men were killed and four wounded. 601 Squadron were soon on the scene having been detailed for convoy escort. Spitfires from 609 and 234 Squadron arrived too late to engage. Having raced at full-throttle to reach the convoy they burned their fuel and three made emergency landings. However, three Hurricanes from 145 Squadron did make contact. Three more from the Squadron assisted. The battle that followed was difficult to surmise. III./StG 1 lost two Ju 87s and their crews while II./StG 1 suffered one damaged. Three Bf 109s were shot down by 145 Squadron. The British lost two Hurricanes and their pilots at 09:00. The Germans sank Coquetdale with only two men wounded.
In the late morning StG 2, 3 and 77 were readying at their airfields near Angers, Caen and St. Malo. Escorted by Bf 110s from V./LG 1, they were to destroy the convoy south of the Isle of Wight. II. and III./JG 27 would provide some 30 Bf 109s for high cover. A second air battle unfolded from 12:20. 609 Spitfires and Hurricanes from 257 and 145 attacked the German formations. 238 Squadron also joined the battle. The German fighters allowed the Ju 87s to bomb the ships and cripple Surte, MV Scheldt and Omlandia. Balmaha was sunk soon afterwards. The Norwegian SS Tres, a survivor of the E-Boat attack, was sunk by StG 77. Empire Crusader, the lead ship, was hit by StG 2 but survived for several hours before sinking. Four ships were sunk as the battle intensified and a further four were damaged. The British aircraft then engaged with around 20–30 fighters. The air battle that erupted involved 150 aircraft. I. and II./StG 2 suffered one damaged Ju 87 each. StG 3 lost three from I. Gruppe and another two damaged. In attempting to engage and save the Ju 87s LG 1 lost one Bf 110 and three damaged. JG 27 lost three Bf 109s and two damaged; all three of the lost pilots coming from II. Gruppe. British losses amounted to three Hurricanes from 238 Squadron; two pilots were killed by Bf 109s. One of them was lost when it spotted and tried to down a He 59 floatplane. The pilot, Squadron Leader H. A Fenton, was wounded and rescued by the trawler HMS Basset. The He 59 was also destroyed. Over Dover, No. 64 Squadron and 65 Squadron lost one and two Spitfires between 10:45 and 12:07, along with all three pilots in unrelated to battles.
A final assault on PEEWIT was prepared in the afternoon. Werner-Hozzel's I./StG 1 made an attempt to locate the convoy. While reporting 9/10 cloud cover conditions were not ideal for a dive bombing attack Hozzel noted the base of the clouds ended at between 3,500 and 4,000 feet. Hozzel abandoned the mission. Hauptmann Waldemar Plewig, commanding II./StG 77 was frustrated at the failure of the OKL to order another strike. At his own discretion he flew over the convoy from Le Havre in the units Do 17P reconnaissance aircraft. He found the conditions operationally acceptable. Immediately 82 Ju 87s from III./StG 1, I./StG 3 and Stab., II./StG 77 were readied for another attack. Major Walter Sigel led StG 3 to rendezvous with Bf 110s from II./Zerstörergeschwader 2 (ZG 2—or Destroyer Wing 2) and LG 1. Bf 109s from II./JG 27 provided support.
The ships of CW9 had moved out of harms way. A fleet of six ships that were sent out to pick up any potential casualties of these later attacks became the unwitting decoys. The anti-submarine yachts HMS Wilna, Rion, trawlers HMS Cape Palliser, Kingston Chrysoberyl, Kingston Olivine and Stella Capella. Cape Palliser was badly damaged as was Rion. Once again Fighter Command dispatched 145 Squadron along with 43 Squadron to defend the convoy. The battle commenced just after 16:00. Three 145 Hurricanes were lost with their pilots in action with the Bf 110s while a further three were lost from 43 Squadron. Of the six pilots, five were killed. Three StG 77 machines fell to 145. Four were damaged in combat with 43 Squadron; two were 70% and 80% damaged. LG 1 suffered two damaged Bf 110s. Three Bf 109s from II./JG 27 were lost, two falling to 43 Squadron. A further fighter was damaged. The attack had failed to register a direct hit and none of the ships were sunk.
11 August: BOOTY, AGENT, again, and ARENA
Effects on British trade
Battle of Britain
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- 45 Spitfires destroyed
20 Spitfires severely damaged
4 Spitfires lightly damaged
64 Hurricanes destroyed
12 Hurricanes severely damaged
6 Hurricanes lightly damaged
6 Defiants destroyed
10 crewmen killed
- 53 Bf 109s destroyed
21 Bf 109s damaged
27 Bf 110s destroyed
15 Bf 110s damaged
22 Ju 87s destroyed
22 Ju 87s damaged
24 Ju 88s destroyed
10 Ju 88s damaged
28 Do 17s destroyed
17 Do 17s damaged
33 He 111s destroyed
6 He 111s damaged
10 He 59s destroyed
1 He 59 damaged
3 He 115s destroyed
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